Now that the Super Bowl and the 2013 season are in our rearview mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to the 2014 season and the NFL offseason that’s just getting underway. The first step is to examine the offseason needs of each to team to see where they need to focus their efforts in free agency and the draft. We’ll start today with the teams of the AFC East.
Buffalo Bills – Much of the Bills’ 2014 season will hinge on the development of quarterback E.J. Manuel and the team’s young wide receivers, but there are several areas where they can improve their roster. A pass-catching tight end and an improved offensive line could go a long way toward helping Manuel make big strides in 2014, so those are two areas for the Bills to address. Buffalo does have one of the strongest defensive lines in the NFL, but they need to add one, if not two, quality linebackers to play alongside Kiko Alonso. The team also needs to re-sign safety Jairus Byrd, and if they can’t do that they’ll need to find a way to adequately replace his presence in their secondary.
Miami Dolphins – For a team that was so close to reaching the postseason, the Dolphins have a lot of work to do this offseason. Miami may need to completely overhaul its offensive line, which is a task that could take up a majority of their time and resources during the offseason. Adding help at running back could also be a part of Miami’s plans this offseason. Defensively, Miami could stand to make improvement at all three levels, although the interior of the defensive line and the secondary are their most pressing needs.
New England Patriots – The Patriots making it to the AFC Championship Game this year with a watered down set of skill players shows that the window to get to the Super Bowl is still open if they can make some improvements. Tom Brady can still do a lot, but he needs more support. New England would be wise to bring in the best wide receiver they can find, while also acquiring a tight end to both guard against another injury to Rob Gronkowski and give them a two tight end attack, which has worked well for them in the past. Help along the offensive line is also a must for the Patriots, as they need to keep Brady healthy for as long as possible. Defensively, New England has some good young talent, although they could use some more depth in their secondary.
New York Jets – Before they do anything else, the Jets need to find some offensive playmakers. New York needs to add at least two, perhaps three, quality wide receivers that they know will be productive in 2014. Adding a tight end would also be beneficial for their offense. The offensive line could use some help as well, but it’s not as much of a priority as the skill positions. Defensively, the Jets are in good shape under Rex Ryan, although they are in need of a safety after their mid-season signing of Ed Reed didn’t work out and they’re also going to need some reinforcements at linebacker, specifically an outside pass rusher.
Before we start making a big deal about all of the new head coaches in the NFL who are receiving that title for the first time, let’s take a look at all of the rookie head coaches in the NFL during the 2013 season. Of the eight head coaching vacancies last offseason, seven were filled with coaches who had never been a head coach in the NFL before, with Andy Reid being hired by the Chiefs being the lone exception. Let’s take a look at how each coach did during their rookie season and how their future looks as a head coach in the NFL.
Bruce Arians, Arizona – It helped that Arians had experience as the interim coach of the Colts in 2012, but he wasn’t exactly set up for success, as he found himself in the toughest division in the league with a quarterback past his prime. However, Arians made it work and led the Cardinals to 10 wins, making them arguably the best team to get left out of the playoffs. Arians’ coaching job was one of the most impressive in the NFL this year, and while it won’t be easy for Arizona to compete in the same division as Seattle and San Francisco in the years to come, but with Arians the Cardinals at least have a fighting chance. Grade: A.
Gus Bradley, Jacksonville – Bradley walked into a tough situation in Jacksonville, and things got even tougher when the Jaguars lost their first eight games. But Bradley weathered the storm and Jacksonville finished the second half of the season with a 4-4 record. There’s still a lot of work left to do and a lot working against them, but Jacksonville showed some promise at the end of the season and they don’t play in a great division, so Bradley has a real chance to make them a respectable team in 2014. Grade: B-.
Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland – Admittedly, losing the final seven games of the season and 10 of the last 11 did not bode well for Chudzinski, but it was a rash move by the Browns to fire him after one season, especially since the Browns have struggled to find his replacement. As unfair as it may have been to fire Chudzinski after one year, he’s ultimately responsible when the team keeps finding ways to losing close games, and the Browns did plenty of that the second half of the season. Chudzinski should land on his feet as an offensive coordinator somewhere, even if it means taking a year off, but he probably won’t get a chance to be a head coach in the NFL anytime son. Grade: D+.
Chip Kelly, Philadelphia – We weren’t too sure what to expect from Kelly as a head coach in the NFL, but after a mid-season slump his innovative offense was spectacular the second half of the season, carrying the Eagles to a division title. His opponents will now have a full offseason to study his offense and figure out how to stop it, but Kelly is smart enough to make adjustments right back. He seems comfortable with Nick Foles as his quarterback, and Foles looks comfortable standing behind a strong offensive line, which puts the Philadelphia offense in great shape moving forward. As long as he doesn’t get tempted to return to the college game, Kelly appears to have a bright future in the NFL. Grade: B+
Doug Marrone, Buffalo – Marrone’s first year in Buffalo was a combination of frustrating moments that Bills’ fans are accustomed to seeing and flashes of brilliance that offer a glimmer of hope for the future. The season was plagued by injuries to rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel that hindered his development and prevented the team challenging for the final wildcard spot late in the season. Marrone is smart enough succeed as a head coach in the NFL, but his fate his largely tied to the success of Manuel, and whether or not he lasts longer than most of the head coaches in Buffalo’s recent past depends on the development of Manuel and a collection of young skill players. Grade: B.
Mike McCoy, San Diego – McCoy led the Chargers to the second week of the playoffs, which is better than any other rookie head coach this season. He did wonders to help Philip Rivers have his best season in years, which helped to reaffirm his reputation of adjusting well to the personnel he has to work with. San Diego has a nice collection of young players, including offensive rookie of the year Keenan Allen, and it looks like Rivers will be a viable quarterback for a few more seasons, McCoy is in good shape moving forward to make the Chargers a playoff-caliber team on a yearly basis. Grade: A.
Marc Trestman, Chicago – Trestman had a rather challenging season, as he had to deal with an atrocious defense that put a lot of pressure on his offense, as well as an injury to starting quarterback Jay Cutler that made the second half of the season difficult to manage. In the end, the Bears would have made the playoffs had they been able to win the final week of the season, which should be a good sign for Chicago after such an up and down season. Trestman knows that he’ll have Cutler to work with for several more years and for at least one more season he’ll have an elite wide receiver tandem with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, which puts he and the Bears are in good shape moving forward. Grade: B.
With just one week left to play in the regular season, it’s almost award season in the NFL. In preparation for awards season, let’s take a look at the top five candidates (in no particular order) for defensive rookie of the year.
Kiko Alonso, Buffalo – Many people believe that Alonso will end up winning the award, as he’s one of the leading tacklers in the entire NFL. His production has been incredible with 145 tackles this season, and he has given life to an otherwise terrible set of linebackers in Buffalo. He’s not only played well against the run with seven games of double-digit tackles, but he’s also done well in pass coverage with four interceptions and five passes defended. Alonso makes plays all over the field and is having the kind of season that warrants serious consideration for defensive rookie of the year.
Ziggy Ansah, Detroit – After missing a few games it’ll be hard for Ansah to win defensive rookie of the year, but his performance definitely deserves consideration. He hasn’t been the most consistent player this year, which should be expected as a rookie, but there’s no doubt that he’s made an impact, leading all rookies with eight sacks. Ansah has three games with multiple sacks, showcasing what he’s capable of doing and the kind of impact he’s made this season.
Alec Ogletree, St. Louis – There have been some growing pains for Ogletree this year, as he definitely had some maturing to do after his three years at Georgia, but he has shown improvement throughout the season and has really come on strong late in the season. Ogletree has adjusted well to playing outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme after playing in the middle of a 3-4 scheme in college, and he’s made 45 tackles over the last five games. Most importantly, Ogletree has shown the propensity for creating turnovers, as he returned a 98-yard interception for a touchdown in week 6 and forced four fumbles, indicating he has a promising future in the NFL after a nice rookie season.
Star Lotulelei, Carolina – The stats don’t tell the whole story with Lotulelei, who has been an unheralded but important part of Carolina’s great defense this season. The Panthers are far less effective against the run when he is not on the field, as having a big body like Lotulelei that can stuff the run has helped raise the level of play of the entire defense. He has 40 tackles and two sacks, so without eye-catching stats it’s going to be hard for him to win rookie of the year, but based on the impact that he’s made on the field, he’s as deserving as anybody else.
Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets – The Jets have been one of the best teams at defending the run this season, and the addition of Richardson is a big reason why. He has 76 tackles on the season, which is astounding for a defensive lineman and will draw a lot of attention from rookie of the year voters. He got off to a fast start, has been consistent throughout the season, and has had several dominating performances. If there’s anybody that has a chance to take the award from Alonso, it’s Richardson, who is a safe bet to at least be a close runner up for defensive rookie of the year.
11NFL Week 11 Predictions: Bills-Jets, Bears-Ravens, Bengals-Browns, Lions-Steelers, Texans-Raiders and More
With the Broncos-Chiefs, Pats-Panthers, Saints-49ers, etc on the schedule, this week is full of exciting matchups. Here are the teams we like to come out on top:
Bryan Zarpentine: Tampa Bay 23, Atlanta 21 – The Bucs keep up some forward momentum while the Falcons continue to spiral out of control.
Cole Stevenson: Atlanta 23, Tampa Bay 21
Bryan Zarpentine: Buffalo 20, New York Jets 10 – The Bills respond to Doug Marrone’s fiery comments last week and play a complete game.
Cole Stevenson: New York Jets 21, Buffalo 13
Bryan Zarpentine: Chicago 27, Baltimore 13 – The Baltimore defense can’t put together two straight weeks quality performances, especially against a talented Chicago offense.
Cole Stevenson: Chicago 24, Baltimore 19
Bryan Zarpentine: Cincinnati 20, Cleveland 17 – It isn’t pretty, but while at home the Bengals find a way to edge out the Browns.
Cole Stevenson: Cincinnati 23, Cleveland 18
Bryan Zarpentine: Detroit 30, Pittsburgh 17 – The Lions get their running game going and become too much for the Steelers to handle.
Cole Stevenson: Detroit 27, Pittsburgh 20
Bryan Zarpentine: Houston 21, Oakland 10 – The Raiders can’t do much on offense against Houston’s defense, giving the Texans a much-needed win.
Cole Stevenson: Houston 24, Oakland 16
Bryan Zarpentine: Philadelphia 38, Washington 28 – The Redskins can’t stop Philadelphia’s offense and RG3 can’t keep up.
Cole Stevenson: Philadelphia 31, Washington 24
Bryan Zarpentine: Arizona 31, Jacksonville 10 – The Cardinals win going away in a rout.
Cole Stevenson: Arizona 27, Jacksonville 17
Bryan Zarpentine: San Diego 27, Miami 21 – The Chargers have played well on the east coast this year, and take advantage of a team that’s still going through turmoil.
Cole Stevenson: San Diego 24, Miami 20
Bryan Zarpentine: New York Giants 24, Green Bay 14 – The Giants continue to make incremental progress, and they have just enough to beat a depleted Packer’s team.
Cole Stevenson: Giants 25, Green Bay 20
Bryan Zarpentine: Seattle 24, Minnesota 7 – The Seahawks are sluggish offensively at first, but ultimately they’re too good for the Vikings.
Cole Stevenson: Seattle 23, Minnesota 10
Bryan Zarpentine: New Orleans 34, San Francisco 17 – The 49ers don’t put up much of a fight in the second half against a much better team.
Cole Stevenson: New Orleans 30, San Francisco 19
Bryan Zarpentine: Denver 31, Kansas City 20 – The Chiefs keep Peyton Manning under wraps in the first half, but the Broncos blitz them with big plays in the 3rd quarter and pull away.
Cole Stevenson: Denver 28, Kansas City 19
Bryan Zarpentine: Carolina 20, New England 16 – The Carolina defense keeps Tom Brady under wraps just enough to pull out another impressive win.
Cole Stevenson: New England 24, Carolina 20
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11NFL Week 10 Predictions: Falcons-Seahawks, Bills-Steelers, Bears-Lions, Bengals-Ravens, 49ers-Panthers, Broncos-Chargers and More
Will the Jaguars or Buccaneers get their first win? Will Packers be able to bounce back without their star QB? Find out our picks/predictions below:
(Bryan Zarpentine 69-39 overall)
(Cole Stevenson 68-40 overall)
Bryan Zarpentine: Atlanta 23, Seattle 14 – The Seahawks are due for a loss after the last two weeks. Matt Ryan will do just enough to lift the Falcons to victory.
Cole Stevenson: Seattle 24, Atlanta 18
Bryan Zarpentine: Buffalo 20, Pittsburgh 17 – E.J. Manuel’s return sparks the Bills, who find a way to win a close game for once.
Cole Stevenson: Buffalo 24, Pittsburgh 21
Bryan Zarpentine: Chicago 34, Detroit 28 – The Bears are riding high after their Monday night win, and with Jay Cutler’s return, they pull out a close win in the 4th quarter.
Cole Stevenson: Detroit 31, Chicago 27
Bryan Zarpentine: Cincinnati 31, Baltimore 13 – Things get even worse for the Ravens, who simply can’t slow down the Cincinnati offense.
Cole Stevenson: Cincinnati 28, Baltimore 17
Bryan Zarpentine: Philadelphia 27, Green Bay 16 – Nick Foles doesn’t throw seven touchdowns the way he did last week, but he can certainly out-duel Seneca Wallace.
Cole Stevenson: Philadelphia 24, Green Bay 18
Bryan Zarpentine: Tennessee 31, Jacksonville 17 – Jake Locker gets back on track and looks like the guy we saw the first few weeks of the season before his injury.
Cole Stevenson: Tennessee 30, Jacksonville 13
Bryan Zarpentine: Indianapolis 28, St. Louis 24 – The Rams make it close, but in the end, they can’t stop Andrew Luck in the 4th quarter.
Cole Stevenson: Indianapolis 23, St Louis 16
Bryan Zarpentine: New York Giants 17, Oakland 10 – Baby steps for the Giants, who win ugly, but do find a way to win their third in a row.
Cole Stevenson: Giants 23, Oakland 17
Bryan Zarpentine: San Francisco 21, Carolina 16 – Cam Newton can’t quite get the job done in the red zone, and the Panthers have to settle for too many field goals to knock off the 49ers.
Cole Stevenson: San Francisco 24, Carolina 19
Bryan Zarpentine: Denver 42, San Diego 24 – Nothing can slow down Peyton Manning, and Phillip Rivers can’t quite keep up.
Cole Stevenson: Denver 38, San Diego 28
Bryan Zarpentine: Arizona 27, Houston 21 – The Texans are reeling, and they won’t be able to get their running game going against Arizona’s defense, which makes it hard to beat the Cardinals on the road.
Cole Stevenson: Arizona 22, Houston 21
Bryan Zarpentine: New Orleans 38, Dallas 31 – Tony Romo does well to keep up with Drew Brees, until a typical Romo mistake in the 4th quarter proves costly for the Cowboys.
Cole Stevenson: New Orleans 31, Dallas 28
Bryan Zarpentine: Tampa Bay 17, Miami 13 – It has to happen sometime, and the Bucs defense proves disruptive for a distracted Miami team, which is enough to give Tampa the win.
Cole Stevenson: Miami 20, Tampa Bay 17
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11NFL Week 10 Preview: Seahawks-Falcons, Bills-Steelers, Lions-Bears, Bengals-Ravens, Eagles-Packers, Raiders-Giants and More
We’ve officially passed the midway point of the NFL season, and things are starting to take shape, with games getting increasingly important. Let’s take a look at the games on the week 10 schedule:
Seattle at Atlanta – The Seahawks are the top team in the NFC right now, record wise at least, but they’ve played with fire the past two weeks, and definitely have some flaws that can be exploited. However, Atlanta may not be the kind of team that can exploit those flaws, as the Falcons continue to spiral, losing five of their last six games. Matt Ryan is having a good season, even without getting a lot of help from his top two receivers, but this week he’ll face one of the stingiest pass defenses in the NFL. If Seattle’s offense gets going, this game could be over early, as Ryan will have trouble facing Seattle’s defense playing from behind, but if Atlanta’s defense can play well, the Falcons will have a chance to knock off the struggling Seahawks.
Buffalo at Pittsburgh – E.J. Manuel returns this week, hoping to provide a second-half spark for the Bills, who had inconsistent quarterback play during his absence that kept them from staying in contention in the AFC East. If Manuel can move the ball, Buffalo should like its chances of getting a road win, as their defensive line should have no trouble having its way with a weak Pittsburgh offensive line, which will make it hard for Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense to score points. However, if Manuel shows some rust, this could turn into a low-scoring field goal game.
Detroit at Chicago – With the Packers in trouble without Aaron Rodgers, the winner of this game will be in control of the NFC North, making it of vital importance, especially for the Bears, who lost to Detroit earlier in the season. Jay Cutler is expected to return, which should help the Bears, but the real key to this game will be Chicago’s defense, which allowed the Lions to score 30 points in the first half alone back in week 4. Playing at home with Cutler returning, the Bears could have a slight edge, but only if they don’t put themselves in a hole early in the game. Of course, the Lions have had an extra week to prepare, while Chicago has had a short week, so Detroit could have an edge there. Expect this to be a 4th quarter game with the last team to have the ball having a chance to win late.
Cincinnati at Baltimore – It’s now or never for the defending champs. If the Ravens don’t win this game, the road back to the playoffs will be too difficult to traverse. Baltimore still can’t run the ball, and if that continues, the Cincinnati defensive line will be able to put a lot of pressure on Joe Flacco and cause all sorts of problems for the Raven’s quarterback, who isn’t getting enough support. The Bengals should be able to bounce back quickly from their overtime loss in Miami last week, and unless Andy Dalton struggles again, Cincinnati should be able to score points against Baltimore’s defense, which will make it difficult for Flacco and company to keep up, even at home.
Philadelphia at Green Bay – This should be an interesting matchup; Seneca Wallace will have a full week to practice, but he still doesn’t have a full stable of receivers to throw to. Instead, the Packers will try to pound the ball on the ground with rookie Eddie Lacy, and how the Eagles fair stopping the run could go a long way to determining which team has the advantage. Philadelphia’s offense was firing on all cylinders last week, and if that carries over it’ll pose a stiff challenge for the Green Bay defense, who needs to do its best to keep the game low scoring in support of a backup quarterback.
Jacksonville at Tennessee – Despite winning last week against the Rams, Jake Locker didn’t look sharp in his return from injury, throwing two interceptions. However, things should be easier for Locker this week against Jacksonville’s defense, as this is a good opportunity for Locker to get back on track and play the way he was early in the season.
St. Louis at Indianapolis – The Colts came out sluggish last week, which is a trend they’d like to avoid, beginning this week against the Rams. St. Louis is in the midst of their second three-game losing streak of the season, but they may have found something in the running game with Zac Stacy, who will be key for them this week against a weak Indianapolis run defense. On the other side of the ball, the Colts are hoping that T.Y. Hilton can continue to step up in the absence of Reggie Wayne. If the Colts struggle throwing the ball the way they did in the first half last week, St. Louis has a pass rush that can really make things difficult for them, and make this game closer than most think it’s going to be.
Oakland at New York Giants – If there’s any hope for the Giants to make a move in the NFC East, they need to win this game. They’d also like to play well and get their offense going after settling for five field goals in their last game, but a win anyway they can get it keeps them in contention. Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor won’t threaten New York’s secondary much, but he could give the front-seven headaches if they can’t contain him. The Giants have played well on defense the past two games, and that needs to continue, as they won’t want to put their offense in a tough position against a Raider’s defense that has hung tough this year.
Carolina at San Francisco – This could be the game of the week, as the Panthers try to prove that they’re a contender in the NFC. The Panthers have won four in a row, but all five of their wins this year are against teams with three or fewer wins. Cam Newton has made incredible strides over the past month, but he hasn’t faced a defense this good season week 1 when Carolina scored just seven points against the Seahawks. Of course, Carolina’s defense has been a big reason for the team’s success, and unless Colin Kaepernick can become a bigger threat throwing the ball, the Panther’s defense should be able to keep the game close and at least give Newton and the offense a chance.
Denver at San Diego – The Chargers need a win in order to stay in contention and they also need to make a statement following last week’s disappointing loss in Washington. San Diego’s defense has been able to contain some quality offenses this season, holding the Colts to just nine points and Dallas to a mere 21 points, but Peyton Manning and the Denver offense are in a league of their own, and could prove to be too much for San Diego to handle. The Chargers are going to need a big game from Phillip Rivers if they’re going to have a chance to take down the Broncos, and Rivers will undoubtedly be looking to redeem himself after his poor performances he had against the Broncos last season, turning the ball over nine times in two games: a performance that can’t be repeated.
Houston at Arizona – The Texans are reeling after a terrible collapse last week on the heels of their coach going down with a serious health issue, and they really need a win to lift their spirits, even if making the postseason is a stretch at this point. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are holding out hope for a postseason run with a strong second half, and this is not a game they can afford to lose if that’s going to happen. There are two key matchups to watch in this game. First, Arizona has good skill players on the outside that can move the ball through the air, but the Texans possess the top pass defense in the NFL and a pass rush that can get after Carson Palmer. Second, the Cardinals have a stout run defense while Houston relies on their running backs to ignite their offense. Whichever team can get the better of these two matchups will win the game.
Dallas at New Orleans – On paper, this game looks like it could have some offensive fireworks. New Orleans struggled on offense last week against a Jets front-seven that was putting pressure on Drew Brees, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue against the Cowboys, even if DeMarcus Ware returns to the lineup. If that’s the case, this game should come down to the Dallas offense scoring points against the New Orleans defense and winning in a shootout. But if the Cowboys can’t find more balance in their offense and look at least somewhat threatening running the ball, they could have a tough time against Rob Ryan’s defense.
Miami at Tampa Bay – Distractions are rampant on both sidelines, as the Dolphins are the center of attention in the league for all the wrong reasons, while the Bucs continue to deal with being winless and head coach Greg Schiano being on the hot seat. Whichever team can do a better job of shutting out the distractions and focusing on the game will have the advantage, although the game has a lot more importance for the Dolphins if they’re going to stay in the playoff hunt, as a loss to the Bucs amidst this scandal could spell doom for their season.
It was a crazy week 6 in the NFL, but that shouldn’t be surprising to hear. Let’s see if we can make sense of everything with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Buffalo’s comeback – The Bills couldn’t pull out an overtime win against the Bengals, but to comeback from a 14-point deficit in the 4th quarter with Thad Lewis at quarterback says a lot about the entire team: the offense, defense, and coaching staff. The record doesn’t show it, but the Bills have been competitive this season and made their opponents work hard for the victory, which wasn’t always the case in the past. Buffalo’s schedule doesn’t get any easier, but it’d be surprising to see them role over, even against better teams.
Cam Newton – He was in the ugly category last week, but now we have give Newton some credit for playing well. He completed 20 of his 26 passes and threw for three touchdowns, running the ball into the end zone for another. Doing so on the road was a great pick me up for the Panthers, especially with a few more winnable games on Carolina’s schedule in the weeks to come.
Tom Brady’s comeback – That’s why he’s Tom Brady, and that’s what he does. As long as there’s time on the clock and the ball is in Brady’s hands, the Patriots are going to have a chance. He continues to get by with a lackluster group of receivers, and his last-minute comeback against the Saints was nothing short of remarkable.
Nick Foles – Philadelphia’s offense didn’t miss a beat with Foles taking over for Michael Vick. Even without an athletic quarterback, the Eagles scored 31 points against a defense that had only given up more than 20 points once this season. Foles connected on 22 of 31 passes for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns, proving that you don’t need a running quarterback to have success in Chip Kelly’s offense.
Denver Broncos – We all expected Denver and Jacksonville to be the blowout of the century, but the Broncos were quite sluggish, at least for a team that ended up with 35 points. Peyton Manning looked uncomfortable and rather impatient, and outside of a fake punt and a few short touchdown runs by Knowshon Moreno, Denver didn’t do much in the running game either. The Broncos better be able to refocus for Manning’s return to Indianapolis next week.
Cleveland’s second half – The Browns had Detroit right where they wanted them, but they completely fell apart in the second half and lost a game they had a chance to win. Even against a good team like Detroit, getting outscored 24-0 at home in the second half is unacceptable for a team that has a legitimate chance to win its division.
Terrelle Pryor – The ups and downs continue for Pryor, who started fast but ended up throwing three interceptions. A poor performance against Kansas City’s defense is understandable, but the Raiders had a chance to win in the 4th quarter and Pryor couldn’t seem to get anything going, despite plenty of opportunities to make a game of it and lead Oakland to victory.
New England’s injury list – The Patriots may have won the game, but their roster got a little thinner in the process. Aqib Talib was playing a brilliant game, completing shutting down Jimmy Graham, before leaving with an injury. The injury-prone Danny Amendola also left after taking a crushing blow to the head. Jerod Mayo also left the game with an injury. This is all in addition to the loss of Vince Wilfork and the continued absence of Rob Gronkowski, as New England’s roster is crumbling before out eyes, especially if Talib or Mayo has to miss significant time.
Minnesota’s defense – Coming into their game against Carolina, the Panthers were one of the worst passing teams in the league, but Minnesota allowed Cam Newton to throw for 242 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings have been torched in the passing game week after week this season, which has made it difficult for them to win games, no matter who they decide to play at quarterback.
Houston Texans – Playing the Rams at home was supposed to get things back on track for the Texans, but now they have completely derailed. Houston nearly doubled St. Louis in total yards, but with four turnovers and a quarterback change forced because of an injury to Matt Schaub, the Texans got embarrassed on their home field. They now have to go to Kansas City next week, which isn’t the place they want to go in order to break their four-game losing streak.
The Titans with Ryan Fitzpatrick – The fast start to the season by Tennessee has completely disintegrated with Fitzpatrick taking over for the injured Jake Locker. In fairness to Fitzpatrick, beating the defenses of Kansas City and Seattle was a tall order, but the rest of the team played well enough to win the last two weeks, but he didn’t, and that cost the Titans, who would have liked to win at least one of those two games. It’s going to take more than close losses for Fitzpatrick to hold down the fort until Locker can get back on the field.
112013 NFL Week 3 Good, Bad and Ugly: Ravens, Panthers, Cowboys, Redskins, 49ers, Giants, Jets, Bills and More
Things got crazy in week 3 with a handful of games that went down to the wire and could have gone either way. We’ll try to make sense of what happened with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Baltimore’s defense – There were some serious questions about Baltimore’s defense coming into the season with all the players they had lost and all the new faces, and those questions only grew after their disastrous season opener against Denver, but the Ravens played an outstanding defensive game Sunday against a talented and potent Houston offense. After allowing just six points to the Browns last week, the Ravens held the Texans to just three field goals and scored a touchdown of their own on a pick-six by Daryl Smith. The Baltimore defense has come a long way in a short period of time and is quickly looking like some of the Baltimore defenses of the past.
Cam Newton – He probably didn’t have the best performance of any quarterback in week 3, but considering what he did the first two weeks, Newton is certainly the ost improved, accounting for four touchdowns, including a 47-yard deep ball to Ted Ginn. The Panthers needed a performance like this out of their quarterback, as did head coach Ron Rivera, who was under a lot of heat following a 0-2 start, and Newton’s performance could be just the thing to get the Panthers back on track after losing two close games at the start of the season.
Three great comebacks – Brian Hoyer, Jake Locker, and Ryan Tannehill all led their teams on game-winning drives in the final minute of their games in order to steal a win. All three are young and largely unproven quarterbacks, but they all looked impressive in crunch time on Sunday. Hoyer surprised everybody by throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, but also by shaking off three interceptions and have the confidence to lead a game-winning drive for the Browns. Both Locker and Tannehill orchestrated their drives with incredible efficiency, both executed difficult throws with the game on the line, and both made big statements about their viability as starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
DeMarco Murray – Rather quietly, the Dallas Cowboys had one of the more impressive wins in week 3, and it was because they finally got their running game going. Murray barely eclipsed the 100-yard mark the first two weeks of the season combined, but against the Rams he ran for 175 yards on 26 carries. St. Louis entered the game the 5th best team against the rush in the NFL, which makes Murray’s performance all the more impressive. A solid running game meant a more efficient Tony Romo, who threw three touchdowns with no interceptions, which helped to give Dallas an easy win.
RG3’s fumble – Griffin may have taken a couple small steps forward Sunday, but he also took a substantial step back after fumbling the ball three times. He may have only lost one of the three fumbles, but it came at a critical time and was something he should have been able to avoid. Griffin lost the ball when he the ground after sliding forward, but had he slid feet first instead the play would have ended when he hit the ground and he would not have fumbled the ball, which is a rule he has to know, not to mention the fact that he should be sliding feet first every time anyway. The fumble came at a time when the game was yet to be decided, and Griffin’s error became a huge reason why Washington eventually lost.
Colin Kaepernick – An off night last week in Seattle is understandable, but Kaepernick looking so bad at home against a team that doesn’t exactly have a top-10 defense is hard to fathom. He was 2-8 throwing the ball in the first half, and didn’t get much better in the second half. Kaeperncik wasn’t all that effective with his legs either, gaining just 20 yards rushing and getting sacked three times. If Kaepernick struggles for a third straight game, it could be time to worry, and he’ll have to bounce back quickly, as the 49ers have a Thursday night game in St. Louis this week.
Josh Freeman – Freeman seems to be making it a habit of making it into the bad part of my article every week. He only threw one interception, but once again he failed to even complete 50% of his passes. He may not have the support of his head coach, but he has the skill players around him to be better than he’s been over the first three weeks, and with one game left before their bye week and the Bucs still winless, Freeman may be running out of opportunities before he’s benched in favor of rookie Mike Glennon.
St. Louis in the first half – A week after scoring three points in the first half and putting themselves in a 21-0 hole against the Falcons, the Rams went scoreless in the first half against the Cowboys and put themselves in a 24-0 hole. The Rams have an offense with plenty of potential, but they can’t afford to keep getting off to such slow starts. Sam Bradford was not sharp throwing the ball down the field and for the first time this season was under a lot of pressure, as he was never able to get in a rhythm offensively in a performance the Rams hope is not emblematic of things to come.
Giant’s offensive line – There was nothing pretty about what the Giants did on Sunday, but it started with the offensive line, which allowed Eli Manning to be sacked seven times, most coming in the first half. Even when Manning didn’t get sacked, he got hit and looked extremely tentative in the pocket, looking uncomfortable and rushing his throws. The end result was the worst defeat the Giants have suffered since Tom Coughlin came to New York, and until they can get their offensive line and running game straightened out, things aren’t going to get any better for Manning and the Giants.
Cincinnati and Green Bay’s ball security – These are supposed to be two of the best teams in their respective conferences, but they didn’t look like it on Sunday, as each team committed four turnovers. Of the eight combined turnovers, five were fumbles, which is unacceptable for teams that are favored to win their divisions this season. Both teams ended up returning a fumble for a touchdown, and when Cincinnati did so, it turned out to be the game-winning score. We were expecting to see two good offenses face off in this game, but with all the turnovers, neither offense was at the top of its game.
Washington’s defense – The Redskins came a lot closer to competing for a full four quarters this week, but their defense is still in terrible shape. They can’t cover, they can’t tackle, and they forced just one turnover and recorded just one sack against the Lions. Through the first three games of the season, Washington’s defense has given up the most yards any team has ever given up in the first three games of a season in NFL history. Something needs to change in a hurray because it’s incredibly difficult to win games with defensive efforts like the ones the Redskins have put on the field the first three weeks of the season.
The Bills and Jets – This game didn’t exactly go smoothly, but things just got out of control during the 4th quarter. There was a seemingly endless parade of flags during Buffalo’s drive early in the 4th quarter, many of them unsportsmanlike penalties that displayed a profound level of immaturity and destroyed any rhythm the game might have had. At one point, Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson was benched for his antics. The Jets ended up committing 20 penalties for 168 yards, as they continuously gave the Bills a chance to win a game that was almost too ugly to watch.
It was another interesting week in the NFL, as we continue to learn about each team. Let’s recap week 2 with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Mario Williams – There was a lot of criticism directed at Williams when he underperformed in Buffalo last year, but on Sunday he recorded a career high 4.5 sacks to help his team to victory. Williams and the Buffalo defense held Carolina to nothing but field goals in the 4th quarter, which kept the Bills within striking distance so that E.J. Manuel could lead the game-winning drive in the final minutes. The Bills don’t win without a great performance by Williams.
Julio Jones – Both Jones and Roddy White were less than 100% health wise heading into Sunday, but Jones was able to play through his ailments and have one of the best games of the weekend by any wide receiver. Jones caught 11 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown, helping the Falcons take a big first half lead that turned out to be insurmountable.
AFC West – This was arguably the worst division in the NFL last year, but they had a great week 2, with all four teams winning, including two wins on the road. San Diego was the most impressive by traveling 3,000 miles and being able to slow down Philadelphia’s offense just enough to eek out a three point win. Both Denver and Kansas City are off to 2-0 starts after their wins against NFC East teams on Sunday, as the Chiefs have already matched last year’s win total. Even the Raiders won, albeit against Jacksonville.
Aaron Rodgers – Rodgers has had some great games, but the 480 yards passing Rodgers had tied a single game franchise record. He was nearly flawless, completing 34 of 42 passes, and nearly unstoppable, as he led the Packers to 31 unanswered points to begin the game. The Packers don’t have the most impressive roster they’ve had in recent years, but Rodgers helps to hide that.
Tennessee’s ability to close – Following a pick-6 by Alterraun Verner with less than five minutes left in the game, the Titans had most of us convinced that they were about to pull of a pretty significant upset, but they couldn’t quite seal the deal. The Titan’s offense failed to run out the clock, which gave the Texans another chance to tie the game, which they did. Tennessee couldn’t run the ball and Jake Locker missed throws he needs to make, putting too much pressure on a defense that had played well for most of the game.
The hit on Malcolm Floyd – The word “ouch” doesn’t do a justice to what Floyd must have felt during the hit that knocked him out of Sunday’s win over the Eagles. It’s the kind of hit that will make anybody cringe, and it took Floyd out of the game after catching five passes for over 100 yards. The good news is that Floyd did accompany the team on their flight home and will hopefully be okay.
Reggie Bush – Bush went from so good to so bad so quickly. He missed a significant chunk of the game with a knee injury and was largely ineffective, touching the ball just 12 times and averaging less than three yards per carry. He suffered a minor thumb injury last week and played through it, but he couldn’t do the same this week. Bush is a dynamic player, but he’s not particularly useful if he’s not healthy, and Bush didn’t look anywhere close to healthy on Sunday before leaving the game for good.
Giants on third down – Going 1 for 11 on third down is just not going to cut it for any team, especially a team that’s given up 77 points over the first two weeks. Denver doesn’t have a great pass rush without Von Miller, and so Eli Manning and the Giants should have been able to convert more of their third down opportunities against the Broncos on Sunday. To make matters worse, Manning threw four interceptions, in part because he was trying to do too much on third down. Another culprit is the running game, which is putting the Giants in third and long situations, and needs to be fixed after two bad weeks.
Jets and Patriots scuffle – Just like last week with the Packers and 49ers, there was an unnecessary scuffle in the NFL in week 2, this time between the Jets and Patriots, although this one was a little more serious. Both Willie Colon and D’Brickashaw Ferguson were ejected for their role in the mêlée, which is inexcusable for two veteran players who should both know better, and now both could be facing suspensions. If this is how the Jets react to one loss, how are they going to react several weeks from now when they’ll undoubtedly have a lot more losses? The Jets will have to either learn how to win or lose with more dignity, because they can’t be starting fights on a regular basis, no matter how frustrated they are.
Philadelphia’s defense – The offense is certainly working for the Eagles, but the defense is getting in the way. There has been a lot of moving parts on Philadelphia’s defense this season, both in scheme and personnel, and it shows. They’ve given up over 50 points in the last six quarters and allowed over 500 yards against San Diego on Sunday. Unless this unit shapes up, the Eagles are going to be in a lot of shootouts this season.
Washington’s first half – For the second straight game, the Redskins were downright terrible in the first half. They faced a 26-7 halftime deficit in week 1 against the Eagles and went down 31-0 midway through the 3rd quarter against the Packers in week 2. In both cases, they turned it around in the second half, but it was too little too late, even after they were the better team in the second half in both games. Whatever the reason, the Redskins have been as bad as can be in the first half this year, and they need to find a solution to that problem, and fast.
Josh Freeman – It was definitely an ugly game on Sunday for Freeman, who completed just nine passes to cap off a terrible week for him, as the rift between him and head coach Greg Schiano grew deeper. Freeman turned the ball over twice and after a 1st quarter touchdown pass he did nothing to help the Bucs win a game that they should have been able to win considering the way their defense shut down New Orleans offensively. Considering the situation between Freeman and Schiano, things could get a lot worse before they get better.
With the preseason in the rearview mirror, we continue to gear up for the regular season with our division-by-division preview and divisional power rankings. Up today is the AFC East.
1. New England – Few teams are as anxious for the regular season to start as the Patriots after a tumultuous offseason. New England deserves to start the season atop the AFC East power rankings, but they should expect to be tested this season.
Tom Brady is still the quarterback, which is good news, but with Rob Gronkowski’s health in question and Aaron Hernandez behind bars, New England will have to rely on Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and a group of unproven receivers to be their playmakers on offense. Unless a few younger players step up and become dependable receiving targets, Brady could be about to undertake one of the most challenging seasons of his career. New England’s defense is in good shape and should help out some, but after a poor 2012 season, the Patriot’s pass defense has a lot to prove heading into the season. Regardless, until someone knocks them off, the Patriots should be considered favorites to win the AFC East and be a leading candidate in the AFC to get to the Super Bowl.
2. Miami – Hopes are high in Miami this season, to the point of potentially being able to challenge the Patriots atop the division. The reason for the hope quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the belief that he will take a big step forward in his second NFL season. Signing free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace was a major addition to the offense and gives Tannehill a vertical threat to utilize down the field. But if the Dolphins are indeed going to challenge the Patriots in the division and challenge for a playoff spot, their defense is going to have to play an equal part in the team’s success. Miami’s secondary will have to improve upon its performance from last season, although the Dolphins have a good collection of pass rushers that should be able to help out, including top draft pick Dion Jordan. If Miami can make significant strides on both sides of the ball, which they’re expected to do, they should find themselves in the mix for a playoff spot, although taking the division away from the Patriots is something we’ll have to see to believe.
3. Buffalo – There’s a new era in Buffalo with new head coach Doug Marrone and new quarterback E.J. Manuel, who the Bills surprisingly took in the first round of this year’s draft. Despite missing the final two games of the preseason, Manuel earned the starting spot by avoiding mistakes and taking care of the football, two things he’ll need to continue to do during the regular season. Buffalo has a good collection of young wide receivers to join Stevie Johnson, but Manuel and the Bills will rely mostly on running back C.J. Spiller to carry their offense. If Manuel plays well and avoids mistakes, Buffalo’s new hurry-up offense could start to work and the Bills may be able to put points on the board and surprise some people. However, the Bills do have some holes in their defense, especially on the back end, and if Buffalo can’t stop people it may not matter how good their offense is or how fast they move. If nothing else, the Bills should be able to stay ahead of the Jets this season, but other than that, there’s little guarantee of how good Buffalo will be this season.
4. New York Jets – All alone at the bottom of the AFC East are the Jets, who are by far the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL. After Rex Ryan put Mark Sanchez in harm’s way in the 4th quarter of a meaningless preseason game, he has no choice but to start Geno Smith at quarterback. Smith proved in the preseason that he’s not ready to be a starter in the NFL, but that won’t stop the Jets from playing him and hoping that he proves himself competent enough to remain the starter by the time Sanchez is declared healthy enough to play. Perhaps equally as distressing as the mess at quarterback, is New York’s profound lack of playmakers, which won’t make the job any easier for Smith. With disaster written all over the offense, any chance the Jets have to be competitive and respectable in 2013 will have to come from the defense. The Jets won’t be able win many games this season unless the defense is able to keep games low scoring, but finding a way to do that on a consistent basis is too difficult to do in the NFL to think that Ryan and the Jets can pull it off. Since the offense can’t be relied upon to score a lot of points this season, the Jets shouldn’t be expected to win many games, which will put Ryan’s job in serious jeopardy.