Top Games of the 2013 NFL Season

19 04 2013

 

Guest writer: Josh McSwain

 

15. Minnesota at Green Bay — Week 12
Good old fashioned rivalry game, but the reason it makes the list is because Greg Jennings will make his return to Lambeau Field. They booed Brett Favre when he returned in purple. Jennings will get booed for sure.

14. Carolina at San Francisco — Week 10
This game features two of the most dynamic dual threat QBs in the game. Cam Newton has been brilliant at times and not shaky at others through his first two years, he must become more consistent to get Carolina into the playoffs. Who better to see him against than a top defense? Colin Kaepernick is out to prove last year was no fluke and that he’s the man in San Francisco.

13. Kansas City at Philadelphia — Week 3
Pretty simple on this one. Andy Reid returns to Philadelphia after fourteen years and numerous playoff appearances. We also will get to see Chip Kelly‘s new offense.

12. Washington at Minnesota — Week 10
Simple star power here- RG3 will be healthy by this time (assuming he doesn’t get hurt again), and Adrian Peterson for Minnesota. Both of those guys have suffered recent ACL injuries. ACL bowl?

11. Denver at New York Giants — Week 2
Pretty simple here- Manning Bowl III.

10. Atlanta at San Francisco — Week 16
Rematch of the NFC title game, on Monday night in a game that could be crucial in determining playoff position.

9. Green Bay at Detroit — Week 13
How does Detroit get up here? Well, it is a Thanksgiving game, and the Lions have this guy, who’s kind of a big deal. I also think Detroit will be much better this coming season after having a down year in 2012.

8. Dallas at New York Giants — Week 12
This could be a pivotal game in the NFC east. Not to mention these two have developed a pretty intense rivalry in recent years, and the Romo-Eli comparisons will never end.

7. New Orleans at New England — Week 6
If you like passing offense, this one is for you. Two bad secondaries and two loaded passing attacks. Kicker here- Tom Brady could tie Drew Brees‘ record of 54 straight games with a TD pass if he throws one in this one (assuming he throws TDs in each game until this one).

6. Houston at Baltimore — Week 3
Ed Reed coming back to Baltimore will be the headline in this one. But these two teams are powers in the AFC and this game could have early playoff implications.

5. Atlanta at New Orleans — Week 1
The rivalry in the Deep South should be enough to get it on this list. But think about the rest this game has to offer. It’ll be Steven Jackson‘s first game in a Falcons uniform. It’ll be Sean Payton‘s first game back from suspension and Rob Ryan‘s first chance to trot out his reconstructed defense.

4. Denver at New England — Week 12
Peyton vs. Brady again, and now Wes Welker is going to be catching passes from the former instead of the latter. Not much needs to be said.

3. San Francisco at Seattle — Week 2
Forget the big markets on the East Coast, these two staged the signing war of the offseason. Seattle added Percy Harvin, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Antoine Winfield, among others. The 49ers countered with Anquan Boldin, Glenn Dorsey and Nnamdi Asomugha among others. The 49ers also likely remember the beatdown they took in Seattle late last season. Early chance for some revenge.

2. Baltimore at Denver — Week 1
I don’t care that the Ravens lost a ton of guys. This is the season opener, a rematch of one of the best playoff games ever, and a chance for the Ravens to show that they will still be a contender this season. This would be number one, except for…

1. Denver at Indianapolis — Week 7
The Sheriff goes back to the house that he built. I don’t think there will ever be a warmer reception than the one he will get on that day. For the first time Peyton will get to play against the guy who Indianapolis chose over him in the 2012 offseason.

 

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NFL Preview 2012: AFC

5 09 2012

 

 

 

Co-writer: Josh McSwain

 

AFC east

1. New England Patriots (12-4)

Offense — (A).      With a great line and a bevy of offensive weapons, they are primed to put up a lot of points again. The question remains in the backfield though. Who will be the starter a running back? Stevan Ridley has impressed the most so far, but fellow 2011 draft pick Shane Vereen and the versatile Danny Woodhead will also contribute. Brandon Lloyd will also be an x-factor for them. Can he be the guy that stretches the field for them? No matter what roles are taken on by which players, this will surely be another dazzling year for Tom Brady.

Defense — (B-).     They got aggressive in the draft, trading up for Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. With Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and a host of others up front, such as Trevor Scott and Kyle Love, they should be passable up front. The secondary is the question mark. They allowed Joe Flacco to look like an All-Pro quarterback in the AFC title game, and once again allowed Eli Manning to beat them. With the names they have back there – Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington – they should have played better. With a much lighter schedule and only one All-Pro starting quarterback going up against them, we’ll see if a this new season provides a boost.

Special teams — (A-).      Stephen Gostowski is a solid kicker, and Zoltan Mesko has been respectable ever since breaking the starting lineup 2 years ago. Woodhead is a decent return man, but I imagine Jeff Demps will be taking over in that department this season.

 

2. Buffalo Bills (9-7)

Offense — (C+).      Kind of a work in progress. But with Fred Jackson carrying the load in the backfield, they will be fine. They really missed him after he got hurt last season. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the big question mark. He was Dr. Jekyll during the first part of last season and Mr. Hyde at the end. Injuries to the line and receivers certainly played their part in that though. As long as he takes care of the football, they should be just fine. The line has improved, and they got a steal with Cordy Glenn in the second round. He’s going to be a fine player.

Defense — (A-).      They were awful last year, I realize. But with Kyle Williams returning from injury, they have a front that can rival any in the league. Mario Williams will command attention. You can only double one of them. After those two, you have to deal with Marcel Dareus. And when you think you’re done, you have to deal with 10-sack man Mark Anderson. At linebacker, they have a solid core with Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard and Arthur Moats, with depth with veteran Kirk Morrison. Adding Stephon Gilmore to the secondary will help. Aaron Williams and Gilmore will form a good duo for years, and Jarius Byrd and George Wilson are solid at safety.

Special teams — (A).      Brian Moorman is a very good punter, still as good as ever, and Rian Lindell is still a solid kicker. Leodis McKelvin averaged almost 20 yards per punt return, and Justin Rogers averaged almost 30 per kick return.

 

3. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

Offense — (C+).      Ryan Tannehill is raw and ordinarily would not be ready for the NFL, but playing in his college coach’s system will certainly decrease the learning curve, though it will still be there. It also doesn’t help that his receivers are absolutely awful. Davone Bess, their slot guy is their best receiver. Brian Hartline, Roberto Wallace, Legedu Naanee? They leave a lot to be desired. By the end of the year B.J. Cunningham and Jeff Fuller, Tannehill’s college teammate could be starting. The only constants on their offense are Jake Long and Reggie Bush. Mike Pouncey and Jonathan Martin are both young linemen that could be pretty good.

Defense — (A-).      They have a very good unit here. Paul Soliai anchors a 4-3 line that also features Cameron Wake, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick. Karlos Dansby is a very good ILB, and Kevin Burnett and Koa Misi are a solid group of LBs. Trading Vontae Davis will hurt their secondary, but they do have a good group back there still with Sean Smith, Richard Marshall, Nolan Carroll at the nickel, Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons at safety.

Special teams — (A-).      Dan Carpenter has been up and down in his 3 NFL seasons, kicking with a 89% accuracy rate in 2009, regressing to 73% in 2010 and improving back to 85% last season. Brandon Fields is one of the best punters in the league. Rookies Marcus Thigpen and Lamar Miller will fight it out for the kicker returner spot, and Davone Bess anchors the punt returner duties.

 

4. New York Jets (5-11)

Offense — (D).      They have a recipe for disaster. Sanchez is a competent but not confident QB, and Tebow is an unorthodox quarterback that is going to be hemmed into a box when he takes over the starting job (you know he will unless Sanchez lights it up). It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if McElroy finished the season, and wouldn’t surprise me if he did well. But they have lots of other issues than the QB spot. Shonn Greene has not been anything spectacular at running back, their WRs are very lackluster, Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and whomever else they have at WR won’t scare anybody. They have to hope Dustin Keller has a pro bowl caliber year. Right Tackle is another problem. The rest of the line is solid with Ferguson, Mangold, Moore and Slauson. But they have to find a starter out of Vladimir DuCasse, who though listed at guard could slide over, ex 2nd overall pick Jason Smith who failed epically in St Louis, Austin Howard and Paul Cornick.

Defense — (A-).      They have always been very good and hard-nosed on this side of the ball. Starters Mike Devito, Muhammed Wilkerson and Quentin Coples, their first round pick, will wreak havoc, and Sione Pouha is a solid anchor at NT. They need to find an edge rusher. Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are not that guy. But David Harris and Bart Scott are a good duo. Their secondary is good, with Revis Island leading the way. But the injury prone LaRon Landry will be a liability, particularly in coverage. Yeremiah Bell and Antonio Cromartie are both solid players back there.

Special teams — (C).      Who will be the kicker? Nick Folk? After you brought in Josh Brown? What does that say about Folk? TJ Conely is a serviceable punter, and they do have some spark in the return game with Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley.

 

 

AFC west

1. San Diego Chargers (10-6)

Offense — (B+).      Rivers had a down year last year, but he will bounce back this season. Vincent Jackson is gone, but he is very overrated. He’s great one week and terrible the next. Gates needs to stay healthy, and hopefully for them, Robert Meachem will be more consistent than Jackson. But Rivers is a superstar QB who has shown he can play at a high level no matter who is around him. Ryan Mathews needs to step up though. He finally passed 1000 rushing yards last season, but he needs to take the next step forward. After losing Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman, they will need to work out the kinks of their offensive line, but they can get those worked out.

Defense — (B).      They regressed under Greg Manusky last season, but under the leadership of John Pagano, they should rebound. They need to find a duo of rushers. Shaun Phillips, Larry English, first round pick Melvin Ingram and Antwan Barnes are all vying for that spot. Barnes had 11 sacks last season. Phillips had 11 in 2010. They need to all get on the same page to have success. Jammer is a solid corner, but is getting old. Cason is young but has broken in well. Weddle is a great safety. Is Atari Bigby the answer beside him? We’ll see.

Special teams — (B).      Kaeding is the most Jekyll and Hyde kicker in the league, being great in the regular season and terrible in the playoffs. Mike Scfries is a phenomenal punter. Eddie Royal will spice up the return game, and Richard Goodman will compete for returns as well.

 

2. Denver Broncos (8-8)

Offense — (B+).      Though Manning will turn their passing game upside down and make the true talent of their receivers come out, he will hinder the run game, which was tops in the league last season. Willis McGahee also figures to not have as good of a year. The offensive line will have to adjust from all the run blocking to a lot of pass blocking. The level of rust Manning has will be the ultimate determinant of how well this season goes.

Defense — (C).      They kept them in a lot of games last season. But can Tebow’s energy boost that made them play over their heads last season be preserved this season? They have a great pass rush with Ayers, Dumervil and Miller, but after that they have a primordial secondary and weak interior.

Special teams — (B).      Prater is a good kicker, and Britton Colquitt is a solid punter who will be very good in time, particularly in the thin air in Denver.

 

3. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)

Offense — (C).      Even with Jamaal Charles coming back, they still have issues on this side of the ball. First, Matt Cassel. He is not and never will be an NFL starter. He is merely a good backup who looked good in the Pats system the two years he was in it. They thank the Lord every day they have Dwayne Bowe, a top 5 NFL receiver. That guy is a monster. They need Baldwin to step up and be a #2 guy. Tony Moeaki returns from injury, which will also help at least some. Peyton Hillis brings a good bruising back to complement Charles, and they will carry the ball a lot this season.

Defense — (A-).      They have a chance to be an excellent unit. They need more out of Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey though. But Tamba Hali is great. Derrick Johnson is great. Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry lead a good secondary. But losing Brandon Carr will hurt. Kendrick Lewis stepped up last season when given the chance, and they need him to continue this season.

Special teams — (B+).      Ryan Succop is a serviceable kicker. Dustin Colquitt is a fine punter. Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas are both threats to take the ball back all the way every time they touch it.

 

4. Oakland Raiders (7-9)

Offense — (B-).      Carson Palmer is a gunslinger. He resembles a lesser form of Brett Favre… now you have the picture. He will throw for a lot of TDs, may even lead the AFC in TDs (yeah, I said it). But he may also lead it in ints, and he will accumulate seemingly good stats because of the fact their defense is so bad and he will have to throw a lot. If McFadden gets hurt, then he will have to throw even more. If McFadden stays healthy, they could have one of the most lethal offenses in the league. But without Michael Bush, if he goes down they don’t have a reliable backup.

Defense — (D).      They are simply awful. They have too much talent to have been as bad as they have over the last few seasons. Tyvon Branch is good at safety, but Michael Huff has not lived up to his draft spot, and their corners are a big question mark. LBs are another concern, and while the DL can rush the passer, they do need to stop the run better.

Special teams — (A).      They have the best punter in the AFC, if not the league, and the kicker with the strongest leg. They set the standard. Whether they will get the chance to play a part toward winning football is still to be determined.

 

 

AFC north

1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

Offense — (B).      Joe Flacco proved he can be counted on to win in the playoffs last season. Ray Rice is a great back. But they have below average receivers and OL. Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are both coming into their own right now at TE. Unfortunately, they are average at best at the WR position. Boldin has struggled to stay healthy, and Torrey Smith was kind of a feast or famine player last season. The offensive line has also been nothing spectacular. They used to have one of the best in the league, but now Ben Grubbs is gone, Birk is old, and Oher has played nothing close to his level of fame. Yanda is great at RG, and Bryant McKinnie has shown he has a little left, but how much will he have this season?

Defense — (A).      Even without Suggs, they have a loaded unit. Ngata is the scariest DL in the league, and Terrance Cody and Pernell McPhee are both excellent. Ray Lewis is still solid, Courtney Upshaw was a steal in the second round, Jameel McClain is solid, and Paul Kruger is a solid fill in who will move back to a situational rusher when Suggs comes back. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are a great duo of corners, and Ed Reed is still a ball hawk, even though he is declining. Bernard Pollard is a good run defending safety.

Special teams — (B).      Justin Tucker, the rookie from Texas who has shown off an impressively strong leg in the preseason. Sam Koch is one of the most underrated punters in the league, never gets much credit because of Shane Lechler’s stranglehold on the AFC pro bowl spot.

 

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)

Offense — (B+).      They have a one of a kind QB that can make plays that no other QB in the NFL can. He is the toughest QB in the league, and has played through all kinds of injuries. With Mike Wallace, the league’s premiere deep threat and up and coming star Antonio Brown in the fold, as well as the solid handed Heath Miller. Finding a runner will be one concern. Can Isaac Redman carry the load? Will Jonathan Dwyer be able to contribute? Chris Rainey has looked good so far, and will certainly make some plays this season. Getting Mendenhall back for the stretch run will certainly help them. Having David DeCastro would have made their offensive line a lot better, but unfortunately they have lost him for what we presume is for the year. But, as they have proven in the past, they can win without a great offensive line.

Defense — (A-).      They have undergone a lot of change this offseason, but they are still the Steelers. No matter who is out there, they put out a successful unit. James Harrison needs to come back quickly though. He is a guy who absolutely scares the crap out of people. He and Lamarr Woodley are both players to fear. With James Farrior being released this offseason, Larry Foote slides into the starting lineup. He is on the tail end of his career, but if they can get any sort of leadership out of him he has done his job. Timmons and the outside guys are the playmakers. On the line, Hampton and Keisel are certainly getting up there in age, while Ziggy Hood is only 25. Cameron Heyward provides good depth. Troy Polamalu is still one of the ultimate playmakers on the defensive side of the ball in the league. He is the MVP of the defense. When he is out due to injury, they aren’t the same. Ryan Clark is serviceable at FS, and Ike Taylor is still solid. Keenan Lewis has a lot on his plate on the other side, and should get plenty of attention this season.

Special teams — (C).      The Achilles heel of this team if there is one. Shaun Suisham has always been a very inconsistent kicker, and they cleaned house at punter, going with undrafted rookie Drew Butler. Emmanuel Sanders held the return duties last year, but Rainey will certainly push him for those jobs. I expect him to take them at some point.

 

3. Cincinnati Bengals (5-11)

Offense — (C).      I think they overachieved last season. Andy Dalton has a very low ceiling at QB, and was the most NFL ready QB in his class of QBs. For all those who expect huge things out of him, they will be disappointed. A.J. Green is a phenomenal receiver, but they need a #2 guy. They drafted Mohammed Sanu for that (twice, by some estimates). Jermaine Gresham is a fine tight end, arguably one of the ten best in the league. But they went 9-7 with one of the easiest schedules in the league last season. I think they will get knocked back to reality this season.

Defense — (B).      A solid unit under Mike Zimmer, they have been one of the best in the league in the 2009 and 2011 seasons. They were roasted by injuries in 2010. They have a who’s who of corners with Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Nate Clements, Jason Allen, Terence Newman and first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick. Geno Atkins and Domata Peko are one of the better DT duos in the league. Those are the two strongest points of the unit.

Special teams — (C+).      Mike Nugent comes back from injury at kicker, and Cincinnati Bearcat turned Bengal Kevin Huber is a serviceable punter. Brandon Tate is not as spectacular as others, but he can get it done returning the ball.

 

4. Cleveland Browns (3-13)

Offense — (D).      Brandon Weeden is a gunslinger at QB, and because Cleveland will be behind a lot this season, he will rack up the interceptions this season. Unfortunately, with only Greg Little, Mohammed Massaquoi and others at WR, the TDs don’t figure to come easily. Trent Richardson was a wasted pick at #3. He may end up being good someday, but they could have picked up a good runner later. They could have had Justin Blackmon at #3, or traded down for more picks, because they have a lot of holes.

Defense — (B).      One of the more well coached units in the league under Dick Jauron. Joe Haden, DTs Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin, D’Qwell Jackson are the best players on the unit. Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker are two decent rushers off the edge, but won’t give offensive coordinators sleepless nights. But give Sheard time and he could be great. T.J. Ward is a big hitter at safety, and newcomer Eric Haag will be good.

Special teams — (C).      Phil Dawson is not what he used to be, missing 10 kicks over the last two seasons. Reggie Hodges has been a journeyman punter, and missed all of last season with injury. Don’t expect much from him. Josh Cribbs – he used to be a big factor in the return game, but not as much anymore. He hasn’t returned a kickoff for a TD since 2009 and only one punt return for a TD in the last two years. Returners never seem to be great for that long.

 

 

AFC south

1. Houston Texans (12-4)

Offense — (A-).      Their only real weaknesses are a lack of a #2 WR, which is a problem because of the fragility of Andre Johnson, and the health of Matt Schaub. Can they really depend on him to lead them to a title? He has always been solid when healthy, but he has not played in a playoff game his whole career. Assuming they make it back to the playoffs and he can stay healthy, how will he react? Will he be the same guy? We may find out this season. The offensive line is terrific, but losing Eric Winston was a difficult blow. I have no doubt they can adequately replace him, but there will be a drop off. Owen Daniels is another fragile player that is a great threat over the middle when he is healthy.

Defense — (A-).      They were one of the best defenses in the league last season after having terrible defenses ever since the franchise began a decade ago. Personnel wise, there is not much fault you can find with them. Antonio Smith, JJ Watt and Shaun Cody are terrific, Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed and rookie Whitney Mercilus are a QBs worst nightmare, Brian Cushing is great inside, and Johnathan Joseph leads a good secondary. My questions for this unit are as follows- will Wade Phillips finally sustain success? And will complacency ever get into their heads? They need one more year before I give them an A grade, as I did with the Ravens, because the Ravens have been a dominant defense for years. The Texans have the ability to be that good, but will they?

Special teams — (B).      Shayne Graham and Donnie Jones are both journeymen. Trindon Holliday is an electrifying return man, but health must be a concern moving forward because he is so small.

 

2. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)

Offense — (C+).      This is a very conditional grade. I always thought Gabbert would improve this season because of the fact he had an offseason and got a competent offensive coaching staff. In the preseason, he has improved for sure, but still has a ways to go. Justin Blackmon will help get him there. Anything they can get out of Marcedes Lewis is a bonus. Even with all the talk about MJD, he will be there this season. He has nothing to gain from holding out. As long as the offensive line holds up, they could be a sneaky productive offense.

Defense — (B+).      They have a fundamentally solid unit, but the injury bug has always hit them hard. Particularly in the secondary. Mathis is over the hill and Cox needs to stay healthy. But they have a front 7 that can rival most in the league. Terrence Knighton is one of the best DTs in the league that nobody has ever heard of. But Tyson Alualu needs to start playing like the 10th overall pick he was. Upgrading the pass rush is also essential. Maybe Andre Branch will be the guy who can complement Jeremy Mincey.

Special teams — (A).      Josh Scobee is one of the best kickers in the game, very underrated. Bryan Anger was picked extremely high, but he can really boot it. Experience doesn’t mean a whole lot at the punter spot. Finding a return man is a must. I would think they could use MJD on returns a little bit now that their offense can throw more, and with Jennings and Toston taking carries it can free up some touches for MJD in that way. Otherwise Cecil Shorts and others will be duking it out for those spots.

 

3. Tennessee Titans (6-10)

Offense — (C-).      Jake Locker. A bad pick at #8 two years ago. He was never a very accurate QB at Washington, and he won’t be in the NFL. He does have intangibles and can run, which basically makes him much like Tim Tebow. Without Kenny Britt, who is constantly in legal trouble, he has a bunch of #2 guys like Nate Washington, Damian Williams, etc. to throw to. Jared Cook at tight end will have a break out year this year. He could be in the pro bowl. He’s a big target with freakish athletic ability. But the key is Chris Johnson. Can he get back to his 100+ ypg form? That will be the key to the season.

Defense — (B-).      With former first rounder Derrick Morgan and free agent addition Kamerion Wimbley, they could have a good pass rushing duo. Dave Ball is a good third end as well. But after that it gets a little shaky. Jurrell Casey and Sen’Derrick Marks are two young DTs that need to get stouter inside. Akeem Ayers had a decent rookie season, but he should be better in his second year. Colin McCarthy and Will Witherspoon are decent starters as well. In the secondary Michael Griffin and Alterraun Verner lead a decent group, along with Jordan Babineaux and Jason McCourty, who had a great rookie year but lost the form last season.

Special teams — (B-).      Rob Bironas is a great kicker, has been for years. Brett Kern struggled the last two years punting in Tennessee. He had his best numbers in Denver. Darius Reynaud is slated to handle the kickoff and punt returns, after missing last season with an injury.

 

4. Indianapolis Colts (4-12)

Offense — (C+).      I think Andrew Luck will gel with his new players fairly well, though it might take some time. Knowing Coby Fleener from college will certainly help him. Dwayne Allen is another playmaking tight end, and having Reggie Wayne stick around will help Luck immensely. Donald Brown showed flashes of brilliance last season, and he figures to be the permanent solution there. Putting a line in front of Luck and Brown will be the challenge.

Defense — (D+).      This could be a long year for the defense, which switches to the 3-4. Longtime starters Freeney and Mathis move to pass rushing OLBs. Cory Redding follows former coordinator to Indy to play for Chuck Pagano. Antonio Johnson and Fili Moala round out the D-line. Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner start inside, and they both are good players they will just need time to adjust, as will much of the unit. Vontae Davis will be an upgrade at corner, starting alongside Jerraud Powers, Antoine Bethea and another ex Raven, Tom Zbikowski.

Special teams — (A-).      Adam Vinateri is still there kicking FGs, and still great. Pat McAfee has blossomed into one of the better punters as well. LaVon Brazill is a rookie taking over the return spots, along with fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton. This will be a long rebuilding process, but after last year’s lost season, anything will be an improvement.

 

 

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 15

19 12 2011

 

Green Bay 14, Kansas City 19

As the season is winding down, many pundits have been wondering if the Packers were going to go 16-0. An injury-plagued Chiefs team that just fired their head coach didn’t seem like much of a challenge, and this probably was not picked as the upset of the week by very many experts. But the Packers came out flat, and Aaron Rogers and company suffered their first loss of the year. Green Bay is still the NFC favorite, but some might begin to wonder if this team can maintain such a high level of play all the way through the Super Bowl.

 

Tennessee 13, Indianapolis 27

On the heels of the last undefeated team going down, the league’s last winless team finally found the “W” column on Sunday. Obviously the loss of Peyton Manning has devastated the Colts, but many have begun questioning the team’s heart due to some of the nature of their losses. This win showed that they do have some pride left, and they manage to avoid becoming only the second team to go 0-16. Ironically, the quarterback that led Indianapolis to victory was Dan Orlavsky who helmed the Detroit Lions in 2008 when they became the only team to achieve that dubious 0-16 record.

 

Washington 23, NY Giants 10

The Giants had a thrilling victory over their hated rivals last week and took command of the NFC East behind the arm of Eli Manning. Then just like that, the Cowboys won on Saturday night, and the Giants laid an egg back in New York with Manning throwing 3 interceptions. Washington looked like the playoff team with their defense preventing the Giants from scoring a touchdown until about 30 seconds left in the game. Next week the two New York teams square off against each other, and if the Jets come out on top, the Giants playoff dreams might be over.

 

New England 41, Denver 23

The most hyped game of the week ended up being a pretty strong statement game for Tom Brady and company. The Patriots went into the mile-high city and came out with a win and the AFC East division crown with the Jets simultaneously falling to the Eagles. New England actually came out flat and was outgained on the ground 167 yards to 4, but they seized momentum in the second quarter and didn’t look back. The Broncos lost for only the second time since Tim Tebow became a starter, although the QB sensation had a pretty good day throwing for 194 yards and rushing for 2 touchdowns. Denver still leads their division, but both Oakland and San Diego are only 1 game back waiting to seize the lead should the Broncos slip over the next two weeks.

 

Monday Night Football:

Pittsburgh vs. San Francisco – 7:30 p.m. CT

Finally – today will provide NFL fans with a Monday Night Football game that has some significance behind it. Both of these AFC teams sit at 10-3, but are coming from different places. The Pittsburgh Steelers stand as one of the four teams – the Colts, Patriots, and Raiders being the others – from the AFC to win their conference championship in the past ten years. Furthermore, the Steelers have won two of their three appearances in the Super Bowl, both with Roethlisberger at the helm. They have established themselves as consistent winners and the league respects this franchise because of it. This year, specifically, has been nothing short of the usual as Big Ben has done exactly what the team needs him to do while the top passing defense in the league carries the rest (most) of the load. The 49ers used to have the Steelers current reputability in the mid-90s, but haven’t had anything close since then. The last time they matched their current 10 wins and won the division was 2002 when they lost to the future Super Bowl champions – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – in the second round. But it’s looking like things are changing in California. Jim Harbaugh has formed this team into a defensive beast. They lead the league in points given up (14.0) and have one of the best red zone defenses I’ve seen in a while. Harbaugh also has provided 7-year 49er Alex Smith with the perfect role on the offensive side of the field as Frank Gore gives him help on the ground. So who wins this defensive struggle? With a game that has so much on the line and two teams that obviously are in serious pursuit of a high playoff seed, I have to go with the more experienced team. The Steelers have been in more of these types of situations than these 49ers, who aren’t used to this kind of pressure. San Francisco will have their first multi-game losing streak, and the Steelers will be knocking on the Patriots doorstep for the top seed in the AFC. Pick: Steelers

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 13

5 12 2011

 

Kansas City 10, Chicago 3

I don’t think the city of Chicago has ever longed to see Cutler on the field as much as they do right now. Caleb Hanie had a 23.8 passer rating on 11/24 passing, 133 passing yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions. This game epitomizes one team losing the game rather than the other winning it. The second-string quarterback is a piece of a football team that can be completely useless or unexpectedly vital. The Bears’ management has some heated seats right now with the way their back-up plan is going. In addition to these dreadful stats, Matt Forte left the game in the first quarter to an MCL sprain. With the red-hot Broncos up next for the Bears, this season might end much sooner than last year’s NFC championship run.

 

Oakland 14, Miami 34

If the Dolphins didn’t have such a dreadful start to their season, and Reggie Bush didn’t wait so long to begin playing, Miami might be one of the scariest teams in the league right now. The Dolphins pounded the ground with 209 rushing yards led by Reggie Bush with 100 of his own. The Raiders could only manage 46 rushing yards; since Darren McFadden got hurt, Michael Bush handled the load for a couple of games, but now he looks to be unable to sustain any form of consistency. With the Broncos charging quickly from behind, the Raiders look destined to be overcome by those Tebows for the divisional lead.

 

Denver 35, Minnesota 32

Maybe I need to give in to the fact that Tim Tebow might just be a young Ben Roethlisberger with much more hype. Tebow did complete two-thirds of his passes, but he only had to throw fifteen times. Christian Ponder played a solid game with 381 passing yards and three touchdowns, but one of his two interceptions cost his Vikings the game. As long as Willis McGahee doesn’t mind receiving little credit for the Broncos success (111 rushing yards and a touchdown in their victory yesterday), John Fox’s plan to rely heavily on the run game while sporadically letting Tebow pass has them on a five-game winning streak and sitting atop the AFC West. After playing a riddled Bears squad next week, the Broncos will finally face a legitimate NFL squad – the New England Patriots.

 

Atlanta 10, Houston 17

Last week I made the point that T.J. Yates would not work for the Texans as they make a push for a deep playoff run. Well, today both Yates and Gary Kubiak proved me wrong with a game in which Yates was used just enough to snatch a win against the off-and-on Falcons. The Texans ran the ball 44 times, with Arian Foster collecting 111 rushing yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. As long as Houston can hold off the Titans, who are two games behind them, I believe Kubiak would be deserving of Coach of the Year with the way he has handled all of his major injuries. Matt Ryan has been a reflection of his team and how they can look like a contender one week and an Andrew Luck bidder the next. If Ryan doesn’t get his act together, I expect either the Lions or Giants to pass Atlanta for the wild-card spot.

 

Green Bay 38, NY Giants 35

16-0? The only team that will stop these Packers from reaching this goal is themselves. Even though you can point out that the Packers’ defense allowed 35 points or that the Packers struggled to finish off this shaky Giants team, they are doing the one thing that matters in the standings – winning. With his 369 yards and four touchdowns, Aaron Rodgers has now had a 100+ passer rating in every game this season so far. I feel very good about this team making it all the way to 16-0; furthermore, if they can just get Ryan Grant going, then I will have complete faith in these Cheeseheads. As the Giants continue to fall in the standings, if they end up missing the playoffs again this year, I don’t believe this Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin tandem will last much longer.

 

Dallas 13, Arizona 19 (OT)

Icing your own kicker is seldom seen in the football world. It’s difficult to understand the reasoning behind Jason Garrett’s decision… but he just added his name to the “C’mon Man” segment of Monday Night Football with his timeout that prohibited the ‘Boys from defeating the Cardinals 16-13 in the waning seconds of the game. With two last second wins against the subpar Redskins and Dolphins and now a loss to the Cardinals, the NFL nation needs to be wary of putting their eggs in this team’s basket. Kevin Kolb decided to hook up with not Larry Fitzgerald but with Andre Roberts, who collected 111 receiving yards – easily his career-high. Even though the Cardinals’ season is all but over, Kolb is providing the Cardinals’ management with his own argument that he can possibly turn his play on the field around and be their franchise quarterback.

 

Detroit 17, New Orleans 31

If there is one thing to take from this game, it’s this: the Lions are young. Even though the Lions provide a lot of excitement and are very close to a playoff spot, they are immature and still have a lot of growing to do as a team. They pick up a lot of penalties out of frustration that elite teams just don’t do. The Saints, on the other hand, showed poise throughout this game, holding the lead wire-to-wire. “Gunslinging” depicts this game perfectly as these teams combined to rack up 750 passing yards compared to only 187 rushing yards. Darren Sproles has to be the unsung hero for the Saints because he truly does it all. Specifically in this game, he rushed (28 yards), received (46 yards), returned kick-offs (74 yards), and returned punts (13 yards). He leads the league in total yards and will be an integral part of this team as they look to make another deep playoff run.

 

Monday Night Football:

San Diego vs. Jacksonville – 7:30 p.m. CT

Looking over this match-up, I find it difficult to pick a team that will decide to win this game. Phillip Rivers has picked up a lot of yards throughout this season, but he has matched that with a league-leading 17 interceptions. San Diego’s defense sits at the bottom of the league, giving up 25 points a game. The only positive for this 4-7 ball club is Ryan Mathews, who rushed for 137 yards in last week’s loss to the Broncos. The Jaguars have only one positive this year, and that was a 12-7 Monday Night Football victory over the Ravens. (I still don’t know how that happened.) Other than that, they have no quality wins and eight losses. Blaine Gabbert – as many expected – has a lot of potential but just isn’t ready to lead an NFL team yet. Maurice-Jones Drew still has found a way to pick up a good amount of yardage during this season, but just can’t seem to find the end zone as he has only crossed the goal line five times all year. This could be bad red zone blocking or bad calling, but either way, he isn’t finishing off drives. When it comes down to who will win this battle-of-the-bads, I think I have to go with the quarterback that has more potential to have a break-out game and more years in the NFL under his belt. The Jaguars do not have the firepower to keep up with this Chargers team. This will be a pride win for Rivers, who might need to hang his hat on many of those as a ring looks less and less likely. Pick: Chargers

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 11

21 11 2011

 

San Diego 20, Chicago 31

This was a fairly evenly matched game with the score remaining in reach for the Chargers throughout the game. However, another Phillip Rivers’ interception in the red zone during the fourth quarter when the Chargers were closing in on making the deficit four points brought this game to a close. The Chargers’ 2-4 red zone efficiency could not hold up against the Bears’ 3-3 efficiency. Counting Rivers’ two interceptions from last night, he now sits atop the league with an alarming 17 total interceptions. These two teams couldn’t be headed in more different directions; the Bears have now won five straight games and are becoming a solid, balanced offensive club without Matt Forte having to do all of the work while the Chargers are on a five game losing streak and are creating doubt in the minds of all the San Diego fans as to whether this Norv Turner and Phillip Rivers duo has run its course (if you ask me, I say it has).

 

Buffalo 8, Miami 35

Buffalo actually had more total yards (247) than Miami (242). In fact, Matt Moore threw the ball 20 times and racked up only 160 yards. There are some glaring aspects to this game that explain why it was a 27 point blowout. To put it simply, the Bills could not make a play when the pressure was on. They were 0-12 on 3rd down, 0-2 on 4th down, and were a horrid 0-3 in the red zone. Fitzpatrick’s two interceptions occurred right in their own red zone, leading to easy Dolphins’ touchdowns. The Dolphins couldn’t have been more efficient. While the team was perfect in the red zone (4-4), Matt Moore almost matched that perfection, completing 70% of his passes, producing three touchdowns, and throwing no interceptions. To a lesser extent, these two teams are headed in directions similar to the Chargers and Bears. Even though the Dolphins are most likely out of playoff contention, their three game winning streak has allowed Reggie Bush to show his value and has given the fans a reason to show up to their home games. The Bills, on the other hand, continue to give us the impression that “they are who we thought they were.”

 

Dallas 27, Washington 24 (OT)

No matter where these two teams sit or when the game takes place, a Cowboys-Redskins match-up always finds a way to be a great game. With neither team gaining more than a seven point lead and an early fourth quarter field goal putting the score at 17-17, this game called for some clutch play from Romo and Grossman. Both men stepped up and made some big plays. Romo started it off with a great 59-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten, which is the longest touchdown reception of Witten’s career. That gave Romo his eighth touchdown in the last three games. Grossman wasn’t down and out yet though. The Redskins’ final drive started at 5:35 on the clock before Grossman decided to take his game to another level. He went 8-11, converted three third downs, and threw a perfect fade ball for Donte Stallworth to go and get. This left only 14 seconds on the clock and forced the game to go into OT. Overtime consisted of a Graham Gano missed field goal followed by a Dan Bailey just-made field goal to give the Cowboys their third straight win and the Redskins their sixth straight loss. The Cowboys now lead the NFC East with two easy Miami and Arizona games coming up, while the Giants have to take on the Saints and the undefeated Packers before facing the Cowboys on December 11th.

 

NY Jets 13, Denver 17

As an avid sports fan, I am continuously bewildered at Tim Tebow’s complete transformation when the last drive comes along. It’s not simply “clutch” play; he turns into an entirely different player. Tim Tebow was 4-6 with 46 passing yards and 50 rushing yards on the winning drive of this game. Prior to that drive, he was 5-14 with 58 passing yards and only 18 total rushing yards – matching Willis McGahee’s total rushing yards to finish the game. (That tells you something about the balance of their offense….) What happens when the Broncos face a team that puts up more than 13 points and Tebow has to play like he does in the waning minutes for the entire game? I don’t have an explanation for his baffling statistics, but Tebow and his Broncos are winning, which is all that matters in the standings.

 

Monday Night Football:

Kansas City vs. New England – 7:30 p.m. CT

It has been difficult to get a grip on where these two teams are headed. The Chiefs have a four game winning streak sandwiched between a bunch of losses. During those wins, they looked like the team that won the AFC West last year. During their five losses, it looked like they were regressing to their 2007-2009 football days. Matt Cassel has had as high of a passer rating as 138.9, but also as low as 38.3. The Chiefs’ main running back, Jackie Battle, has been the closest thing to consistency since his 119 rushing yard burst against the Colts. Even though the Patriots sit at a much better 6-3 and lead the AFC East, many questions are still revolving around this ball club. Tom Brady has put this team at the top of the league in passing yards per game (326), but the defense is counteracting that by being dead last in passing yards given up per game (308.9). When you have Golden Boy, many times simply out-throwing your opponent can be a reasonable option. However, this reliance on their offense might hurt the Patriots in the long run. Even though both of these teams come in to this conference showdown with their own problems, I can’t see the Patriots dropping a game like this. They are 13-5 on Monday Night Football under Bill Belichick and get to play on their own turf. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will go back to his early season form and attack the Chiefs 27th ranked rushing defense, while Tom Brady will… well, be Tom Brady. Pick: Patriots

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 10

14 11 2011

 

New Orleans 26, Atlanta 23 (OT)

This was the Falcons’ game to lose; they had 12 more first downs, 26 more plays, 118 more total yards, and 6:29 more possession time. However, Drew Brees and his Saints got the one stat that counts: the win. Their defense had a big stop against Michael Turner on a 4th-and-1 in overtime which set up the game-winning field goal. With no help from his running game (only 41 total rushing yards), Brees threw the ball 43 times, completing 30 of those passes for 322 yards. He has now thrown the ball a total of 379 times this season, which is by far the highest number in the league. Comfortably sitting atop the NFC South since the three other teams in their division lost yesterday, the Saints definitely need to allow Drew Brees to give his arm a break during the team’s bye week.

 

Buffalo 7, Dallas 44

Wow. Those Cowboys continue to confuse fans as to how good or bad they truly are. Two weeks ago, the ‘Boys seemed completely lost as the Eagles easily sent them to a 3-4 record. Now, they have taken care of Seattle and not only took care of, but destroyed the falling Bills. Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, and Dez Bryant were all at the top of their game today. Romo was 23 for 26 with 270 yards while throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions. DeMarco Murray continued his rookie outburst with 135 rushing yards and a touchdown. Dez Bryant caught six passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. Watching these three studs perform at the level they were playing at made me realize this team can be extremely dangerous if all three threats are playing up to their full potential. On the other side of the field, Ryan Fitzpatrick no longer has the poise he once had early on in the season (especially during his three interceptions), and this Bills team is looking more and more like an early season tease.

 

Denver 17, Kansas City 10

In a crucial divisional match-up, Kansas City went for it on 4th down as many times as Tim Tebow completed a pass…two times. I understand Tebow played a major role in both touchdowns (throwing for one and running for the other), but to be able to win on such poor quarterback numbers leads me to believe that the defense played a much greater role than the offense in this game – and they did. Denver held the Chiefs to only 258 total yards and forced Cassel to be 13 of 28 passing, even though four of those passes were dropped balls by Cassel’s receivers. So, the defense was in fact the larger contributor to this Broncos’ win, but the media will find a way to talk about the fact that the quarterback who completed fewer passes than Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky is now 3-1.

 

Washington 9, Miami 20

Following seven straight losses to start the season, the Dolphins have now put together two solid wins in a row. Furthermore, this is Miami’s first home win since game 1 of the NBA Finals – oh wait, that’s the LeHeat. The Dolphins haven’t won at home since November 14, 2010. Reggie Bush continues his push for relevancy, scoring both of the Dolphin’s two touchdowns. Even though Matt Moore had no touchdowns and one interception, he did throw an efficient 69%. Rex Grossman continues to tempt Mike Shanahan to pull his John Beck card out…again. Grossman has now thrown zero touchdowns and six interceptions in his past two games. That’s simply unacceptable. It’s hard not to feel bad for Shanahan, who has had nothing but problems since having to part ways with John Elway in 1999. The Redskins’ 3-1 start to the season can most assuredly be called a fluke, since they have now lost five in a row and sit at the bottom (yes, even behind the Dream Team Eagles) of the NFC East.

 

New England 37, NY Jets 16

The Patriots and Jets both came into this game sitting at 5-3 overall and 2-1 in divisional play. The winner of this game would, for the time being, sit atop of the AFC East with Buffalo’s loss. However, the Patriot’s two “kowskis” didn’t allow this game to even be competitive. Tight End Rob Gronkowski had an outstanding night with eight catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns. He has the second most receiving yards by a tight end, sitting behind Saints Jimmy Graham. It’s amazing how quickly Belichick (or Tom Brady) implements new pieces into his offense and fits them into the system perfectly. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was another major contributor, tacking on three field goals, including a 50-yarder. Tom Brady just did his normal thing with 329 yards, three touchdowns, and a 118.4 passer rating. Even though New England hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 2004, this is a team you always have to consider dangerous and a legitimate contender.

 

Monday Night Football:

Minnesota vs. Green Bay 7:30 p.m. CT

8-0. Aaron Rodgers. Lambeau Field. Enough said. Pick: Packers

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 9

7 11 2011


NY Jets 27, Buffalo 11

The Jets extended their winning streak to three as all aspects of their game looked very solid. Their defense held the Bills to only three points until a touchdown at the very end of the game, but by then the outcome had already been determined. Mark Sanchez held his own with 230 passing yards and an efficient 71% passing rate; however, he still found a way to throw an interception – something he’s done in all but two games this year. The Bills and Jets now both sit at 5-3, and it will be interesting to see where each team goes from here.

 

Miami 31, Kansas City 3

Something happened in this game that many were beginning to feel would not happen this year: the Dolphins won… and won handily at that. Scoring his first rushing touchdown and actually making an impact to the game’s outcome with 92 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards, Reggie Bush offered Stephen Ross hope that his signing might not have been a total bust after all. Kansas City continues to confuse us. When they were 0-3 and Jamaal Charles went down, many marked off their season as a bust. However, fighting back against San Diego last week to make their record 4-3, the Chiefs’ bandwagon fans began to reemerge. With this crushing loss to the Dolphins and their inability to score in the endzone, it is hard to know which Chiefs will show up from week to week. If there’s any silver lining to their inconsistency, it’s that no team in their division has a record above .500.

 

San Francisco 19, Washington 11

Even though Alex Smith will never be a “must have” fantasy quarterback, he continues to play his role effectively and efficiently. He was 17/24 with 200 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. He has the fewest number of interceptions (2) among quarterbacks that have started every game this season. The 49ers took care of business in this game and showed America that, yes, there are college coaches out there that can transition to the NFL and be successful. Jim Harbaugh has his team sitting at 7-1 and 4-0 in their division, with the 2-6 Seahawks being their closest competition. Harbaugh and his coaching staff are changing the way this football team plays; they are creating a team where the players understand their roles and play for the benefit of the team. Even though this franchise provided some heartbreak for my hometown Cowboys in the past, I’m excited to see what this young team likely has in store for the playoffs.

 

NY Giants 24, New England 20

While the Eagles and Cowboys receive their usual media attention, the Giants have quietly put themselves at the top of the NFC East with a 6-2 record. Tom Brady did his usual thing and took his team down the field for what was thought to be a game-winning touchdown. However, Eli Manning took his team 80 yards down the field in 1:21 to leave 15 seconds on the game clock. Even though Manning failed to dominate the offensive side of the field for the majority of the game, he carried the team on his back when the game was on the line and put the Patriots in a three-way tie with the Bills and Jets for the AFC East. The Patriots have been AFC East Champions eight of the last ten seasons; however, if they want this trend to continue, Tom Brady – who has already thrown twice as many interceptions as he did for the entire 2010 season – will need to be more accurate with his throws, and the secondary will need to be better than dead last in the league with 323.1 passing yards given up per game.

 

Green Bay 45, San Diego 38

The Packers have now had two victories in a row decided by less than double digits, but a win is a win. It doesn’t matter if the game becomes a grind-it-out or air-it-out style of match, Aaron Rodgers and his Packers just find a way to win and have a certain sense of determination every time they step on the field. Phillip Rivers did have 138 more yards than Aaron Rodgers and was able to match his four touchdowns, but there was one glaring difference that has been a problem for Rivers – he had three interceptions compared to Rodgers’s none. To add insult to injury, two of these interceptions were returned for touchdowns in the first quarter that put the Chargers at too large of a deficit against too good of a team. There was a silver lining for the Chargers as Vincent Jackson collected 141 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Similar to the AFC East, the Chargers are also in a three way tie with the Chiefs and the Raiders. Their Thursday Night Football game against the Raiders will break this tie.

 

Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 20

In a game I would say was more exciting than the previous night’s LSU-Alabama contest, the Steelers and Ravens had another classic match-up with a down-to-the-wire finish. These teams were very evenly matched throughout the game, but the Ravens had 19 more plays and eight more minutes of possession. Watching Joe Flacco take his team 92 yards in 2:09, leaving only eight seconds on the clock, I was reminded of Eli Manning’s game-winning drive against the New England Patriots earlier in the day. However, there was one major difference: Flacco was going up against a dominant Steelers secondary that is first in the league and is giving up only 171.6 yards passing per game. It’s amazing that this is the same Ravens offense that looked absolutely lost during their 12-7 defeat to the Jaguars on Monday Night Football a few weeks ago. With Cincinnati’s emergence (6-2) as a playoff contender, this AFC North will undoubtedly have an interesting finish.

 

Note: The away team won in every game I discussed, and only 4 of 13 teams at home won yesterday.

 

Monday Night Football:

Chicago v. Philadelphia – 7:30 p.m. CT

The Bears are coming off their first bye week and are currently in their first winning streak of the season while the Eagles have now won two divisional games in a row and look to be meshing quite well. Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy have found a rhythm and a nice balance with each other. Matt Forte continues to play a huge role on the offensive side of the field, being the sole owner of 672 of the team’s 803 total rushing yards – that is 83.6% of the team’s yardage. This heavy reliance will hurt the Bears when they go up against teams that know how to handle the run. With the current groove the Eagles are in and the fact that they’ve only given up 142 yards rushing in their past two games, I believe Forte will be unable to carry the load for Chicago like he usually does. Without Forte dominating the ground game, the Bears will struggle to move the ball in this game, and the Eagles will finally be back at .500, inching closer to a possible run for the AFC East title. Pick: Eagles.

 

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