NFL Week 9 Predictions: Packers-Bears, Vikings-Cowboys, Saints-Jets, Eagles-Raiders, Patriots-Steelers and More
Will the Chiefs keep a direct course for home field advantage? Will Rex Ryan get the better of Rob Ryan? Will the Bucs even be close in Seattle? Get our predictions below:
(Bryan Zarpentine 61-35 overall)
(Cole Stevenson 60-36 overall)
Bryan Zarpentine: Carolina 27, Atlanta 13 – Cam Newton keeps it going and the Falcons continue to spiral out of control.
Cole Stevenson: Carolina 30, Atlanta 16 – Tough to see the Panthers losing right now and even tougher to see the Falcons winning.
Bryan Zarpentine: Buffalo 20, Kansas City 17 – Upset alert! Buffalo’s pass rush causes problems for Alex Smith, who turns the ball over a couple times, allowing the Bills’ offense to do just enough in the 4th quarter to steal a win at home.
Cole Stevenson: Kansas City 21, Buffalo 16 – I know the Chiefs are going to lose eventually, but to Jeff Tuel or Thad Lewis? I don’t buy it.
Bryan Zarpentine: Dallas 21, Minnesota 13 – The Cowboys are unimpressive, but not even Adrian Peterson can carry this Viking’s team to a win on the road against a halfway decent team.
Cole Stevenson: Dallas 24, Minnesota 16 – Cowboys have to win this game.
Bryan Zarpentine: Tennessee 19, St. Louis 10 – Jake Locker and the Titans have trouble in the red zone, but it doesn’t matter against an offense led by Kellen Clemens.
Cole Stevenson: St. Louis 18, Tennessee 15 – I don’t have a lot of faith in this pick, but if the St. Louis defense from Monday night shows up, they have a good chance.
Bryan Zarpentine: New Orleans 45, New York Jets 21 – This isn’t as ugly as last week for the Jets, but they have no chance of slowing down the New Orleans offense.
Cole Stevenson: New Orleans 30, New York Jets 20 – I like Rex Ryan more than Rob, but not in this game.
Bryan Zarpentine: Washington 34, San Diego 24 – The Redskins need this game a little bit more, as we see one turnover too many from Phillip Rivers.
Cole Stevenson: Washington 30, San Diego 21 – This is a coin flip for me, but Washington has more playmakers.
Bryan Zarpentine: Oakland 20, Philadelphia 13 – The Raiders look stout on defense and at home they find a way to put some points on the board against the Eagles.
Cole Stevenson: Oakland 21, Philadelphia 16 – Tough to see the Eagles beating anybody right now.
Bryan Zarpentine: Seattle 24, Tampa Bay 6 – Not the prettiest game, but there’s no way the Bucs can beat the Seahawks in Seattle.
Cole Stevenson: Seattle 28, Tampa Bay 3 – Seahawks will be looking to make a statement after a ‘disappointing’ win last week.
Bryan Zarpentine: Cleveland 24, Baltimore 13 – The Browns get the job done on defense and Jason Campbell provides the little spark they need on offense to get the win.
Cole Stevenson: Cleveland 22, Baltimore 18 – I repeat, I will pick against Joe Flacco for the rest of the year.
Bryan Zarpentine: New England 28, Pittsburgh 17 – There’s no way the Patriots fall at home to this year’s Steelers.
Cole Stevenson: New England 31, Pittsburgh 20 – Look for Gronkowski to finally find the end zone.
Bryan Zarpentine: Indianapolis 21, Houston 13 – It’s not as easy as it looks for the Colts without Reggie Wayne, but the Texans are a mess and they won’t be able to stop Andrew Luck in the 4th quarter.
Cole Stevenson: Indianapolis 23, Houston 17 – I want to pick the Texans in an upset here so badly, but I can’t just yet.
Bryan Zarpentine: Green Bay 38, Chicago 21 – The Bears will score some points with Josh McCown, but they won’t be able to stop Aaron Rodgers.
Cole Stevenson: Green Bay 31, Chicago 22 – The Packers offense seems locked in right now.
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There’s not a whole lot of movement at the top of the NFC power rankings following week 6, but there was plenty of shake up towards the bottom. Six weeks into the season, let’s check out the NFC’s top 10:
1. New Orleans – It’s going to take more than a last second loss at the hands of Tom Brady to move the Saints out of the top spot in the NFC. Fighting back from a 10-point halftime deficit on the road was impressive, and getting beat by Brady like that is something that happens to everybody, so New Orleans has nothing to be concerned about regarding their one and only loss of the season, as they remain the top team in the NFC.
2. Seattle – The Seahawks probably should have won a little more easily against a team that started Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, but the Titans are a tough team to beat regardless, and Seattle should feel good about getting the win. There’s nothing wrong with Marshawn Lynch touching the ball 25 times, but the fact that he led the team in receiving yards doesn’t speak well about Seattle’s wide receivers and their passing game. Seattle’s ability to score points consistently is a bit concerning, and enough to keep them below the Saints.
3. San Francisco – The 49ers get bumped up to number 3 after a much better outing from Colin Kaepernick against the Cardinals. The San Francisco defense also continued to play well, forcing four turnovers. With three straight wins, this is starting to look like the team we thought we’d see in San Francisco this year, despite missing a few key players. If they can win in Tennessee this weekend, they’ll be on cruise control until their week 11 showdown with the Saints.
4. Green Bay – The Packers barely edge out the Bears for the fourth spot in this week’s power rankings. Beating Detroit and home and Baltimore on the road in back-to-back weeks is impressive, especially when rookie running back Eddie Lacy ran for 219 yards in those two games. With a little more balance to their offense, Aaron Rodgers can be deadly, while the Green Bay defense has started to put it together following their bye in week 4, which has the Packers looking far more dangerous than they were a few weeks ago.
5. Chicago – A six-point win against the Giants after two straight losses is enough to knock the Bears back a couple spots from last week. Offensively, they have enough to be explosive, but they’re still leaving points on the field, which is disappointing to see. Defensively, this isn’t the kind of unit we’ve come to expect in Chicago, and that needs to change or else the Bears will have to get used to winning shootouts.
6. Detroit – The Lions were in a bit of trouble this past week, but they managed to finish strong in the second half and avoid an upset against the Browns. For a team that’s played four of their first six games on the road, they’re in real good shape, but home games against Cincinnati and Dallas the next two weeks will challenge them and show how good they really are this year.
7. Dallas – The Cowboys look like the best team in the NFC East, but that doesn’t mean much these days. Despite the win over Washington, the Cowboy’s running game was largely absent and the Redskins doubled them in total yardage, both of which are bad signs. There’s no doubt they have talent, but the three teams they’ve managed to beat have combined for just four wins, so we still don’t know for sure if they’re capable of beating a quality team, and that keeps them from climbing any higher in the power rankings.
8. Arizona – The Cardinals lost to San Francisco, but they move up in the power rankings and are back in the mix because they played well, and even outgained the 49ers in total yards. Despite two interceptions, Carson Palmer and the passing game came to life a little bit, which is what the Cardinals need in order to stay competitive. Being down two points entering the 4th quarter in San Francisco was a good place to be, even if Arizona couldn’t finish the job in the final 15 minutes.
9. Philadelphia – The Eagles still haven’t beaten a quality team this year, but putting up 31 points against Tampa Bay’s defense is impressive enough to get them back into the top-10. Defensively, they’re still a mess, and if they had trouble against the Bucs’ offense, things could get ugly when they face Tony Romo and company this week, but they do have an offense that can keep them in games, and a home win against the Cowboys this week would put them into first place in the NFC East and give them a considerable boost in the power rankings.
10. Carolina – The Panthers edge out the idle Falcons for the final spot in our top-10 this week. If Cam Newton can throw the ball the way he did against Minnesota on a regular basis, Carolina could have something, because the defense is getting the job done more times than not. They have a manageable schedule the next three weeks, so the opportunity is there to crawl back into contention if Newton and company can play with more consistency.
It was another week of shakeups in the NFC, as a few of the better teams were able to shake off a sloppy September and start to look like the teams we thought they would be. Let’s take a look at the NFC’s top 10 teams five weeks into the season.
1. New Orleans – The Saints move to the head of the class, as the lone undefeated team remaining in the NFC. The Seahawks loss allows the Saints to move up, but beating Chicago on the road was impressive as well. New Orleans continues to look like a whole different team than last season now that Sean Payton is back on the sidelines and Rob Ryan is running the defense. They now have a chance to go into their bye week at 6-0 if they can get a road win against the Patriots this week.
2. Seattle – There’s no shame in a road loss to the Colts, who look like they could be one of the top teams in the AFC, but Seattle’s defense couldn’t quite contain Andrew Luck for four quarters, as the Seahawks took a lead into the 4th quarter but couldn’t close out the game. Offensively, Seattle played better than they have in recent weeks, especially at the wide receiver position, but they definitely took a half step back with the loss to Indianapolis.
3. San Francisco – The 49ers have played the last two weeks more like the team we thought they would be this year. Even without Aldon Smith, San Francisco is clamping down defensively and winning games even when Colin Kaepernick isn’t giving them a lot of production with his arm. The NFC is loaded with good defenses at the top of the conference, and San Francisco appears to have one of them.
4. Chicago – The Bears shouldn’t feel too bad about back-to-back losses against the Lions and Saints, especially since they were within one score of each team. Of course, their biggest win of the season is a three-point win over the Bengals at home, and that’s not terribly impressive five weeks into the season. A loss against either the Giants or Redskins in the next two weeks would send them plummeting down the power rankings, but for now they remain close to the top.
5. Green Bay – Coming out of the bye week the Packers put together a complete game, shutting down the Lions defensively and showing a balanced offensive approach with 99 rushing yards from rookie Eddie Lacy and a solid day from Aaron Rodgers. The question becomes whether Green Bay can play like that on a consistent basis. Beating the Ravens on the road this week would be a nice way to prove that they can.
6. Detroit – The Lions appear to be a little too dependent on Matthew Stafford, who gets a bit of a pass for only getting nine points on the board in Green Bay without Calvin Johnson. Detroit stays on the cusp of the top-5 in the power rankings because they still have a lot of talent and potential, but they can expect to drop considerably if they lose to the Browns this week, even on the road.
7. Dallas – Despite the loss, the Cowboys showed what they’re capable of doing offensively, and a lot of credit goes to a much-improved offensive line, which has given Tony Romo a lot of time to find his receiving targets. However, Dallas also showed how weak it is on defense, especially in the secondary. They have two close losses to two teams that are still undefeated after five weeks, but their only two wins are against the Giants and Rams, so there’s still reason to be skeptical about the Cowboys.
8. Arizona – The Cardinals are a little Jekyl and Hyde this season, but they do have a win over Detroit on their resume, and they’ve only allowed 16 points over their last two games, albeit against Tampa Bay and Carolina. Arizona can definitely stuff the run, which works to their advantage, especially with division foes San Francisco and Seattle on the schedule the next two weeks. However, the Cardinals need to get it going offensively, because the defense isn’t going to hold up forever and they’re far too talented at wide receiver to have only five passing touchdowns in five games.
9. Atlanta – It’s going to be a long bye week for the Falcons, who fell to 1-4 after their Monday night loss to the Jets. Matt Ryan and the offense did well to erase a 13-point deficit in the 4th quarter, but the defense let them down once again. Atlanta is barely hanging on to a spot in the top-10 in the NFC, but what saves them is that all four of their losses have been close and all four losses have been against good teams (yup, even the Jets are considered a good team right now). The Falcons aren’t that far from everything coming together, but they have dug quite a hole for themselves at 1-4, especially with the 5-0 Saints at the top of the division.
10. Philadelphia – The Eagles are another team that you don’t know what to expect from week to week, but more times than not they’re going to move the ball and score points. No one’s saying Philadelphia is going to make the playoffs just yet, but they’ve won both of their games within the division and they have winnable games in each of the next four weeks if the offense can keep it going, even with Michael Vick nursing an injury, but at some point the defense is going to have to give them support.
NFL Week 5 Preview: Saints-Bears, Patriots-Bengals, Packers-Lions, Eagles-Giants, Chargers-Raiders and More
What stands out about the week 5 schedule in the NFL is that many of the league’s bad teams are getting a bye and many top teams are hitting the road. In fact, the four teams on bye have combined for just two wins, while all five teams that remain undefeated will face a tough road test this weekend. It should be a great weekend in the NFL, so let’s take a closer look at each game.
New Orleans at Chicago – The Saints have had the home-field advantage in three of their four wins, so playing in Chicago will be a test for them. The Bears will also be the best team New Orleans has played so far, as Jay Cutler and company will be a challenge for a Saint’s defense that played great all throughout September. Of course, Chicago’s defense will also have its hands full, as this game could turn into a track meet and could come down to whether or not Cutler can avoid turning the ball over like he did last week.
New England at Cincinnati – The Bengals will try to rebound from a disappointing loss in Cleveland last week. Cincinnati needs to find a way to get its running game going, and they also need to get big plays out of A.J. Green. If Aqib Talib can slow down Green this week the same way Joe Haden did last week, the Bengals could have trouble outscoring a New England offense that’s starting to find its stride with Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman.
Detroit at Green Bay – The Packers have had an extra week to prepare for this game, and they also need the game a lot more in order to avoid a 1-3 start. Meanwhile, the Lions are flying high after their win against the Bears last week and they have a chance to take control of the NFC North if they can get a win at Lambeau Field. Despite its two losses, the Packers have done a lot well this season, except for stopping the pass, which is where the Lions can really hurt them. Unless Clay Matthews and company can slow down the Lion’s passing attack, this could be another game in which Aaron Rodgers is on his own and needs to win the game himself.
Kansas City at Tennessee – These two teams are awfully similar, as they’ve both had success early in the season with good defense and mistake-free play from their quarterback. However, the Titans now have to move forward with Jake Locker on the sidelines. The Chiefs will do their best to put pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick, and how he handles the pressure could be the biggest factor in the outcome of the game.
Seattle at Indianapolis – This could be the best matchup of the weekend. Andrew Luck and the Colt’s offense have looked good this season, but they haven’t gone up against a defense like the one the Seahawks have. On the other side of the ball, Seattle’s offense hasn’t exactly been impressive this season, although Russell Wilson has made the right plays at the right time. Despite two great quarterbacks facing off, this game should be low scoring, and could depend on which quarterback makes a mistake at the wrong time.
Jacksonville at St. Louis – This may actually be one of Jacksonville’s best chances to win a game this year. The Rams have had all kinds of problems stopping the run the past two weeks, and if the Jaguars can find a way to get Maurice Jones-Drew going, they can put themselves in a position to win the game in the second half. The Jaguars will have to play better as well, but if the Rams play like they have the last two weeks, they’ll be in danger of losing to the lowly Jaguars.
Baltimore at Miami – The Dolphins took a step backwards Monday night in New Orleans, but the Baltimore offense they’ll face this week is nothing like what they saw in the Super Dome. The Ravens haven’t had an effective running game this season, and they don’t have the weapons in the passing game that Joe Flacco needs. Miami’s run defense has been pretty stingy this year, which means Ryan Tannehill doesn’t have to worry about getting into a shootout. This will be a 4th quarter game and could come down to either Flacco or Tannehill leading their team on a game winning drive late in the game.
Philadelphia at New York Giants – The Giants just need to forget about the first four games of the season. They were on the road for three of them, and played the Broncos in the other one, but if they can win their games within the division the rest of the way, they’ll have a chance. There’s not much the Giants can do offensively if their line doesn’t play better, but if their defense can put pressure on Michael Vick and force turnovers, they’ll be able to prevent the Eagles from putting a lot of points on the board, which will give Eli Manning a chance to win, something that hasn’t happened the past two weeks.
Carolina at Arizona – The Panthers have looked promising through their first three games, but they have just one win to show for it. As for the Cardinals, after a couple of poor games on the road, expect the Arizona offense to look a lot more dangerous upon returning home. On the other side of the ball, Carolina has an effective rushing attack, while the Cardinals have one of the best defenses against the run, and whoever gets the better of that matchup could be in the driver’s seat in this game.
Denver at Dallas – The Cowboys have been good this season, just a little inconsistent, and they’ll be put to the test this weekend against the Broncos. Dallas hasn’t exactly had a strong pass defense this season, allowing over 300 yards a game, and that doesn’t bode well against Peyton Manning and the Denver offense. The Cowboys will need their running game to show up and do their best to keep Manning off the field. It will also allow them to set up play action and take advantage of a Denver defense that’s missing some key players. But if Dallas can’t run the ball, there’s little chance of Tony Romo being able to keep up in a shootout against Manning.
Houston at San Francisco – This game could be lacking offense. Both defenses have played well this season, especially against the pass, while both quarterbacks are struggling a bit and searching for some confidence. Colin Kaepernick is probably in a little better shape, as his team won easily last week and has had a few extra days to prepare. For Matt Shaub, it may not be such a bad thing to get out of Houston and hit the road this week, although the San Francisco defense isn’t exactly who he’d like to see. Look for both teams to let their running backs do a bulk of the work, at least early in the game, and hope their quarterback can settle in and make winning plays in the second half.
San Diego at Oakland – Phillip Rivers has looked like a much different quarterback this season than he’s been the past couple of years, and he and the Chargers have a chance to keep it going against the Raiders. Unfortunately, the San Diego defense hasn’t been quite as good this season, leaving it up to Rivers to win games for them. Terrelle Pryor will return to the field after missing last week with a concussion, and he’ll have a chance to put points on the board against the Charger’s defense, but if not, the Chargers should run away with the win, as the Oakland defense could be in for a long night.
New York Jets at Atlanta – The Falcons face a must-win situation on Monday night, as they can’t afford to go to 1-4 heading into their bye week. Atlanta has been good offensively, but they haven’t really exploded the way they’re capable of, and that’s unlikely to change against the stout defense of the Jets. On the other side of the ball, the Jets will be in good shape if they can just stop turning the ball over. Last week, they gained more yards than the Titans, but they turned the ball over four times. New York should be able to rely on its defense to keep the game low scoring, and if they can run the ball and avoid turnovers, they’ll be in position to win the game and surprise everyone by getting off to a 3-2 start.
We’re now four weeks into the NFL season, and the picture in the NFC is still a bit muddy, as there’s several teams that we’re just not sure about. Nevertheless, at the quarter point of the season, here’s how the entire NFC stacks up:
1. Seattle – Sunday wasn’t the first time the Seahawks looked sluggish on offense; in fact, they’ve been slow to get going offensively against everybody except Jacksonville this year. However, they can run the ball, they have a quarterback that can make plays in key moments, and they have one heck of a defense. Right now, that’s enough to keep them atop the NFC power rankings.
2. New Orleans – The Saints have been awfully good in September, and truth be told, they’re awfully close to taking over the top spot in the NFC away from the Seahawks. New Orleans made it look easy on Monday night, as they moved the ball up and down the field effortlessly in their blowout of the previously undefeated Dolphins. The Saints have had the luxury of playing three of their first four games at home, and now they have challenging road games against the Bears and Patriots the next two weeks, but it’s going to take an extraordinary effort to slow this team down.
3. Detroit – When Reggie Bush is healthy and playing well, Detroit’s offense reaches a completely different level, and they showed that over the weekend against the Bears. The Lion’s defense leaves something to be desired, but they have a good amount of talent on that side of the ball, especially up front, and so far this year it’s been enough to win games when their offense gets going. We should learn a lot about the Lions this week when they travel to Green Bay, but coming off their win against the Bears they look awfully impressive.
4. Chicago – The Bear’s performance on Sunday showed why I was reluctant to buy into their success too soon, as Jay Cutler was back to being turnover prone with three interceptions, although he once again performed great in the 4th quarter. Chicago has been good, and a lot more impressive than many of the teams we thought would be good, but they’ve yet to prove they’re one of the NFC’s elite teams, but a home game against the Saints this week is a great opportunity to show that belong at the top.
5. San Francisco – The 49ers got back on the winning track Thursday night, but the Rams look like one of the worst teams in the NFC, so it’s nothing to get too excited about. They know they can pound the ball with Frank Gore, but they’re going to need a whole lot more out of Colin Kaepernick, as they’re barely averaging 200 yards passing per game. San Francisco will get a test this week with a home game in primetime against the Houston Texans, who will challenge them both offensively and defensively.
6. Green Bay – The Packers had week 4 off, but now they face what is essentially a must win game against Detroit this weekend. If the Packers lose, they’d be more than two games behind the Lions in the division, putting them in a hole early in the season, which is something they didn’t expect to have happen this season.
7. Atlanta – The Falcons are in rough shape after their home loss to the Patriots Sunday night. They still can’t run the ball, their two elite wide receivers are under performing, and their defense couldn’t even slow down New England’s skill players. They’re better than most 1-3 teams, and the schedule eases up a bit over the next few weeks, but they shouldn’t be too proud about the way they’ve played this year.
8. Dallas – Just when you think they’re getting somewhere, the Cowboys take a step backwards. Both of their losses have come on the road, which is understandable, but they had a big halftime lead against the Chargers over the weekend, and they should have been close out the game and didn’t, which is a concern. Things don’t get any easier for Dallas, as they have to host the Broncos next week, and if they lose that game, they will have wasted an opportunity to take a commanding lead early in the season in a mediocre NFC East division.
9. Carolina – The Panthers had this past week off, and now they’ll hit the road for three of their next four games. Carolina will have a chance to win all four games, but they need to find a way to win close games, which is something they failed to do the first two weeks of the season in close losses before blowing out the Giants in week 3, which right now is the only thing they can hang their hat on.
10. Minnesota – The Vikings aren’t all that bad for a team that’s 1-3. The three teams they’ve lost to have a combined eight wins, and their three losses were only by 15 points combined, so they’re not far from being 2-2 or even 3-1. Minnesota gets a week off after returning from London, and then they have a slew of winnable games in front of them to help them get back on track.
11. Philadelphia – The jury is still out on the Eagles, but two of their losses have come against 4-0 teams, and it would have been asking a lot to think their defense could slow down Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver. They can move the ball and score points when they don’t turn the ball over, and they’re one of the top rushing teams in the NFL, and that’s enough to keep them within shouting distance of the top 10 in the NFC, at least for now.
12. Washington – The Redskins start to creep out of the basement after getting their first win, but they still have a lot of work ahead of them. Once again, Washington’s offense was slow to get going, forcing them to climb out of a 14-0 hole. They’ll have to work out that problem and plenty of others during their bye week before an important divisional matchup against Dallas the following week.
13. Arizona – Carson Palmer isn’t having the kind of season we thought he might have after the skill players around him improved so much when he moved from Oakland to Arizona. Although they’ve played against two quality defenses, the Cardinals have just 20 points over the past two weeks, and that’s not going to cut it in an offense-oriented league.
14. Tampa Bay – For all the Bucs problems, three of their losses have come by three points or less, so they’ve been competitive. However, there’s no getting around the fact that they don’t have any wins, and that they’ve already made a quarterback switch and a relying on a rookie.
15. St. Louis – Yes, the Rams fall even below the winless Bucs. A season-opening win against Arizona seems like a distant memory after getting blown out the past two weeks. St. Louis can’t run the ball and they can’t stop other teams from running the ball, which is why they’ve been steamrolled the past two weeks. Luckily, they have the Jaguars this week, but if they keep playing the way they have the past two weeks, winning that game may not be such a guarantee.
16. New York Giants – The Giants just aren’t even close to winning, as they’ve scored seven points over the past two weeks, while allowing 69 points. In their defense, they’ve played three of their first four games on the road, and their only home game was against the Broncos, but that’s not an excuse for getting blown out and not looking competitive in games.
2013 NFL Week 3 NFC Power Rankings: Seahawks, Saints, Bears, Falcons, 49ers, Packers, Cowboys and More
There are some major shakeups in the NFC power rankings this week after NFC teams lost six of eight matchups against AFC teams, indicating the conference may not be as deep as we thought. Let’s take a look at how the NFC stacks up heading into week 4.
1. Seattle – Yes, all they did was beat the lowly Jaguars, but there seems to be a growing distance between the Seahawks and everybody else in the NFC. Defensively, they are as tough as can be, and they’ll be almost impossible to beat at home this season. They could be challenged with road games against Houston and Indianapolis the next two weeks, but for now nobody is close to unseating them atop the NFC power rankings.
2. New Orleans – Sean Payton is making a strong case for coach of the year, as the Saints are a totally different team with him around this season. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan deserves a ton of credit as well, as the Saints have allowed a combined 38 points in three games this season, doing so against three teams with talented skill players capable of doing a lot of damage. The schedule really heats up the next three weeks, but New Orleans looks like a strong contender that’s getting the job down on both sides of the ball.
3. Chicago – I’m almost sold on the Bears, but not quite yet. They’re 3-0, but the teams they’ve beat have combined for two wins, and they needed to come from behind in the 4th quarter in two of those wins. That being said, Jay Cutler looks far more comfortable with Marc Trestman than he has with any head coach he’s had before, and he seems to have three or four skill players he’s comfortable throwing the ball to, and not just relying on Brandon Marshall. Going 3-0 is no fluke, but winning next week in Detroit will go a long way towards proving the Bears are for real.
4. Atlanta – There are three teams in the NFC that we thought would be towards the top all season that have instead started the season 1-2, and Atlanta has been the best of the three. The Falcons have their issues, like their running game and their secondary, but losing to New Orleans and Miami on the road by less than a touchdown is nothing to get worked up about. The pressure is on to beat New England next Monday, but as long as they win that game they’ll be fine, as it’s the first of three straight home games they can use to get back on track.
5. San Francisco – The 49ers get a pass for losing in Seattle, but there’s no excuse for losing by 20 points at home, it doesn’t matter how good the Colts may or may not be. It’s not the time to panic because the schedule has been tough, but they’re getting gashed on the ground defensively, and their quarterback doesn’t look all that confident. On top of that, they have the Aldon Smith situation hanging over their head and a short week before playing in St. Louis Thursday night, which means getting things back on the right track won’t be easy.
6. Green Bay – They’ve lost two close games, both on the road, but the Green Bay teams of the past would have found a way to win at least one of those games. Things are slowly falling apart for the Packers, as their offensive line is struggling, their running backs are dropping like flies, and there seems to be a rift between the head coach and the starting quarterback. Outside of Aaron Rodgers, there isn’t a lot that makes the Packers a good team right now, and unless he gets some help soon, there’s only so much Rodgers can do to keep the Packers towards the top of the NFC.
7. Dallas – Hats off to the Cowboys for a convincing win over the Rams this weekend, as they finally got their running game going, which made all the difference in the world. Usually a team that’s 2-1 and whose one loss game by a single point would be higher up, but the Cowboys haven’t beaten a quality opponent just yet and it’s still tough to put them ahead of the teams we thought were good heading into the season but played a tough schedule the first few weeks. Dallas still has plenty left to prove, but at this point they do look like the class of the NFC East, although that’s not saying much.
8. Detroit – Even without the services of Reggie Bush, the Lions managed to put in a good offensive effort this past week, albeit against a terrible Washington defense. Detroit has two wins against 0-3 teams, so let’s not overreact to a promising start, but the Lions look like they’ll be able to be competitive this season, and they’ll have a chance to prove themselves while making a statement within the division when they host the Bears this weekend.
9. Carolina – After what Seattle has done the past two weeks, Carolina’s five-point loss to the Seahawks in week 1 doesn’t look so bad, and the Panthers certainly looked real good against the Giants on Sunday. One convincing win and two close losses is enough to push them slightly ahead the middle of the pack in the NFC, but no one’s buying the Panthers just yet, as they’ll have to play three of their next four games on the road following their bye this week.
10. Blank – There really is no team in the NFC that deserves to round out the top 10 this week. St. Louis and Arizona simply did not show up on Sunday. Everybody’s re-thinking Philadelphia after their old coach completely shut down their high-flying offense. The Giants are terrible. Tampa Bay is a disaster. Washington and Minnesota may actually be the most competitive teams in the group, but neither has a win, so at least for now, the 10th spot stays empty in the NFC power rankings.
We’re just two weeks into the NFL season, and things are still a bit confusing, especially in the stacked NFC. Let’s try to make sense of things with top-10 power rankings from the NFC.
1. Seattle – What a defensive statement the Seahawks made on Sunday night, allowing just three points against the 49ers, who had no problem scoring points the previous week. The offense has a lot of room for improvement, but the Seattle defense has looked virtually impenetrable through the first two weeks, and that makes them the top team in the NFC right now.
2. San Francisco – The 49ers were embarrassed to a certain degree Sunday night in Seattle, but a road loss in prime time to a great team shouldn’t change our perception of San Francisco too much. They may not be pre-eminent leader of the NFC, but even with a poor performance in week 2, there are a lot of reasons to believe they’re still better than just about every other team in the conference.
3. Green Bay – The Packers really flexed their offensive muscle in week 2. Not only did Aaron Rodgers have a career-high in passing yards, but also James Jones had a big game, as did Randall Cobb at the wide receiver position, while James Starks stepped up at running back for the injured Eddie Lacy. Green Bay’s offensive prowess holds them steady at third in the NFC with an interesting match up with the Bengals looming.
4. Atlanta – The Falcons finally took off offensively in week 2, showcasing what we know they’re capable of doing, even with Roddy White hindered by injury. Atlanta allowed St. Louis to get back in the game, but they scored early and often, even scoring a defensive touchdown, and built too big of a lead to let slip away.
5. Chicago – The Bears aren’t the most convincing 2-0 team out there, as they’ve needed to come from behind in the 4th quarter in their first two games, but winning still means something, and so does making plays late in the game, especially when it comes form a guy like Jay Cutler, who’s played well in the clutch the first two weeks of the season.
6. New Orleans – The Saints definitely took a step backwards, despite their win over Tampa Bay. Even against a stout defense, the New Orleans offense should be able to score more than 16 points. However, their defense got shredded on the ground, giving up 144 yards to Doug Martin. Stopping the run could be a problem for them in the weeks to come when they play teams with better quarterbacks than Josh Freeman.
7. Arizona – The Cardinals continue to look better than anybody anticipated. Arizona’s defense only allowed two touchdowns against Detroit’s offense, which is no small feat. It’s also obvious that they an offense capable of putting up big numbers. They could find themselves in a shootout this week when they travel to New Orleans.
8. Detroit – There should definitely be some concern about the health of Reggie Bush; with him the Lions have a frightening offense, but without him they look similar to the team that won four games last season. But despite the loss in Arizona, the Lions do look the part of a team that will stay competitive all season.
9. St. Louis – The Rams put themselves in a big hole early against the Falcons, which is something they need to avoid in the future, but Sam Bradford is off to a good start and they look like they could have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL with the additions of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin. Next week’s game in Dallas will be quite telling for them.
10. Dallas – Despite the loss in Kansas City, the Cowboys crack the top-10, mostly due to the failures of other teams. Losing by one point in Kansas City against a great defense isn’t anything to be ashamed of for Dallas, although they have to get their running game going if they want to be able to take advantage of all the weapons they have in the passing game.
As our NFL preview continues, today we take a look at the teams of the NFC North, while also providing a pre-season power ranking of the division.
1. Green Bay – The Packers are obviously the top team in the division heading into the season with arguably the best quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers. With the loss of Greg Jennings, the Packers don’t have the deep collection of offensive skill players that they’ve had in years past, although Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb quality receivers. With the addition of rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay should have an improved rushing attack, which was well below average last season. There could also be some problems for Green Bay along the offensive line after the losing left tackle Bryan Bulaga to a season-ending injury.
Despite some of those questions, the Packers are solid on defense and with Rodgers running the show on offense Green Bay should be one of the top contenders in the NFC once again.
2. Minnesota – The Vikings may be on the verge of taking a step back, but with Adrian Peterson they have one of the most dominant players in the NFL who they were able to ride to 10 wins and a spot in the playoffs last season, and he’ll give them a chance to do the same this season. Of course, Minnesota won’t be able to rely on Peterson for everything, which is why they’ll need Christian Ponder to take his game to the next level in his third NFL season. The Vikings have done enough to give Ponder a good supporting cast around him; aside from Peterson, the Vikings added wide receivers Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, which should be enough to give Minnesota a more balanced offense if Ponder can prove to be a competent quarterback.
Defensively, the Vikings aren’t in the best of shape, but they added two first round picks on that side of the ball, as well as linebacker Desmond Bishop. But despite some questions, having Peterson running the ball should be worth quite a few wins, and if the other pieces of Minnesota’s roster can put it together, the Vikings should be once again in the mix for a playoff spot.
3. Chicago – Entering the 2013 season, the Chicago Bears are in the rare of position of coming off a 10-win season while also replacing their head coach. The biggest factor in Chicago’s season will be whether new head coach Marc Trestman can help quarterback Jay Cutler take his game to the next level. Cutler has the talent and the marquee receiver in Brandon Marshall necessary to lead the Bears to another double-digit win total and possibly a playoff birth, but his performance has declined in recent years and he’s never been able to take that next step. Another big key to Chicago’s success in 2013 will be their offensive line, which was a disaster last season. The entire left side of the line has been made over with the free agent additions of Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson, while first round pick Kyle Long should provide a big boost to the unit as well.
The Bears were carried by their defense last season, and if Cutler and the offense can’t get it together, that may be the case again this season, although the Bears will no longer have Brian Urlacher to lead the way in the middle of their defense. Linebacker was a big point of emphasis this offseason, with the addition of James Anderson and D.J. Williams in free agency, as well as rookie Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene in the draft. Chicago’s defense should be reliable again this season to keep them in games, but Cutler is too untrustworthy on offense, which is why they head into the season looking like the third best team in the NFC North.
4. Detroit – The Lions have their work cut out for them in 2013, as they look to rebound from a four-win season in a division in which the other three teams all won 10 or more games last season. Detroit should have one of the best passing offenses in the NFL led by Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and a slew of other capable receivers, but Stafford and company will have to find a way to turn those high levels of production into wins. The x-factor on offense will be the addition of running back Reggie Bush, who could be used in a variety of ways and adds a different dimension to Detroit’s offense. Defensively, the Lions may have one of the most talented front lines in football with a trio of first round picks and one second round pick. If that unit can play up to its potential they could have a huge impact on the rest of the defense, which is average at best otherwise. Despite the questions facing the rest of the teams in the NFC North, the Lions still have the most to prove this season, which is why they start out at the bottom of the power rankings.
Week three of the NFL preseason is usually our best chance to learn things about teams before the regular season starts, as it’s the week when starters play the most before taking it easy in week four. So after the third and most important week of preseason play, here are some things we can take away looking ahead to the regular season:
The Bears offense is showing promise – Yes, it happened against the lowly Raiders, but for a unit that needed to make a lot of adjustments under new head coach Marc Trestman, Chicago’s offense looked quite cohesive and in sync Friday night in Oakland, scoring 27 points in the first half with the starters in the game. Jay Cutler looked sharp and confident, despite being hurt by a few dropped passes; Matt Forte ran freely, gaining 76 yards on just six carries; and Alshon Jeffery was impressive with seven catches for 77 yards. It was one preseason game against a bad team, but it showcased what the Bears could be capable of doing offensively this season with Trestman pulling the strings and Cutler playing well.
The Jets need to start Mark Sanchez – Well, at least if he’s healthy enough to play, Sanchez needs to be the starter when the regular season begins. The Jets gave Geno Smith a fair shot to audition against the Giants Saturday night, and despite showing some promise, he threw three interceptions and gave away two points by stepping out of the back of the end zone for a safety. Smith will be ready to be a starting quarterback at some point, and he may even be ready later this season, but he’s not there yet. If the Jets want to have a chance to win games early in the season, especially against a brutal schedule, they need to hope that Sanchez is healthy enough to play, because starting Smith would be like throwing him to the wolves.
The Bills are in deep trouble at quarterback – What’s worse than starting a rookie quarterback who’s missing the final two games of the preseason, while having Kevin Kolb as the backup? Having both Kolb and the rookie injured and being forced to call Matt Leinart to come try out two weeks before the start of the regular season. Buffalo’s quarterback situation went from bad to a complete nightmare when Kolb suffered a concussion on Saturday against the Washington Redskins. The Bills are hopeful that E.J. Manuel will be healthy enough to play when the regular season gets underway, but he also earned the job based on his performance the first two weeks of the preseason, and had to sit out the all-important third preseason game, so how he’ll perform is still a bit of a mystery. But more importantly, if both Manuel and Kolb are unavailable for week 1, the Bills will be left with undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel and whomever they pull off the street, which could be worse than any worst-case scenario new head coach Doug Marrone may have been planning for.
Pump the brakes on the Cleveland Browns – After a couple nice wins early in the preseason, the Browns looked more like the Browns we’re accustomed to in week 3 of the exhibition season. Starting quarterback Brandon Weeden completed fewer than 50% of his passes, as Cleveland’s starters failed to score against the Colt’s defensive starters, and even the Colt’s second string defense held Cleveland’s starting offense to a mere three points on a 50-yard field goal. In the closest thing to a regular season game we’ll see this preseason, the Browns were disappointing against a playoff team from last year, killing any momentum they may have gained from wins the previous two weeks.
Peyton Manning will be fine – This was the first extended action Manning got this preseason, and he looked ready for the regular season to begin. It’s possible that Manning will be even better than he was last season, as he’s even further removed from his neck surgeries. He threw the ball with more zip than last season and he had Denver’s offense moving seamlessly in its hurry-up mode, which allowed him to throw 34 passes in the first half alone. Throwing for 234 yards in one half of football is awfully impressive, even in the preseason against a defense that wasn’t tipping its hand at all, as Manning showed why the Broncos are serious Super Bowl contenders this year.
The 2012 Chicago Bears pulled off an impressive feat of incompetence, becoming the 3rd team in NFL history to miss the playoffs despite a 7-1 start. When futility-related records are set, heads will roll, and the Bears underwent an offseason overhaul after their disappointing finish. With a new Head Coach, the new-and-improved Bears are eyeing a division title in 2013. Let’s take a look at their chances.
Reasons to feel goods
Although he won 10 games last season, there wasn’t exactly widespread outrage in Chicago over Lovie Smith’s firing. The world’s foremost Rex Grossman supporter was replaced by CFL transplant Marc Trestman, bringing with him a highly-effective rendition of the West Coast offense. An annually-soft offensive line was bolstered through free agent additions Jermon Bushrod and guard Matt Slauson, as well as first-round-pick Kyle Long from Oregon. The Bears won’t exactly sport the league’s best O-line, but should improve upon last year’s effort.
Brandon Marshall gives Chicago a top-5 receiving threat, and he will be complemented by second-year-pro Alshon Jeffery, who Jay Cutler praised as the most impressive player in Bears’ camp. Former Giants’ tight end Martellus Bennett was added as a threat over the middle, and has quickly developed a report with Cutler since his arrival in Chicago.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears return a solid core, minus longtime MLB Brian Urlacher. The Bears sport one of the NFL’s best secondaries, led by CB Peanut Tillman, with Henry Melton and Julius Peppers anchoring a formidable front-four.
Reasons to feel not so good
Despite improvements, offensive line play is still a major concern for these Bears. Jay Cutler’s life remains very much in danger—and speaking of Cutler, there are still question marks surrounding the 8-year veteran. Cutler has only one postseason under his belt, continues to be erratic, and has spent most of his career under the impression that throwing to anyone but Brandon Marshall will result in instant death.
The Bears’ defense underperformed down the stretch and relied too heavily on turnovers, and with the offensive-minded Trestman in charge, it remains to be seen if Chicago will move away from the stellar defense they’ve built themselves on. And while we’re on the subject of Trestman, it’s a shame that no Bears’ executive had the courage to tell him just how creepy his hair is. To make matters worse, Trestman often wears a hat, giving him the distinct look of a guy who’s trying to blend into a crowd after assassinating someone in broad daylight.
Questionable hair decisions aside, the Bears face a difficult schedule, including non-divisional matchups with the Ravens, Redskins, Steelers, and Giants.
Trestman’s fast-paced offense is designed for Cutler to get the ball out of his hands before the inevitable offensive line failure, and if successful, the Bears will be a formidable threat in the NFC. With a strong defense and legitimate offensive weapons, the 2013 Bears will challenge the Packers for the NFC North crown.