Our preview of the NFL offseason continues today with the teams of the AFC North, a division where all four teams are disappointed at how they did in 2013, and are hoping to rebound quickly next year. Let’s take a look at the needs that the four teams of the AFC North will hope to address this offseason.
Baltimore Ravens – The biggest surprise in Baltimore during the 2013 season was how poorly they ran the ball, and fixing that is going to require changes on the offensive line. The Ravens will definitely look to upgrade at center, while both starting tackles are free agents, so that will have to be addressed, and could lead to Baltimore drafting an offensive tackle within the first few rounds. The Baltimore offense could also use another receiver, preferably a big target with reliable hands, as well as a tight end if the team doesn’t re-sign Dennis Pitta. On defense, the Ravens have some young players that they hope will improve, while their biggest priority will be to either re-sign Arthur Jones or find someone to replace him on the defensive line if he ends up signing with another team.
Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals are in an interesting position, as their two biggest losses this offseason were their two coordinators, which could hurt them. Cincinnati’s roster remains one of the strongest in the league, at least outside of the quarterback position, but don’t expect a change to be made there. The Bengals will look for the most help at cornerback, where they could try to sign a big-time free agent entering the prime of his career. Meanwhile, they should look to add depth to their defensive line so that they can continue to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks next year. Offensively, the Bengals should have all the skill players they need, but giving the offensive line a boost is something to consider.
Cleveland Browns – Quarterback is obviously at the top of Cleveland’s to-do list this offseason, and the Browns will likely address that with their first round pick. Of course, the rest of the offense needs help as well. The Browns need to find a running back and at least one wide receiver, maybe two, so that their new quarterback has some support. On top of that, center Alex Mack has to be re-signed because there are a slew of teams that will want to sign him if the Browns let him go. Once the offense is improved, new head coach Mike Pettine can turn his attention to the defense, which is his specialty. Cleveland will need to bring in a lot of help at linebacker, as Pettine wants to pressure the quarterback as much as possible, which is something the Browns didn’t do well enough last year. If they have a chance, the Browns could also improve their secondary, but that’s not as big of a priority as the offense or the linebacker position.
Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers came painfully close to the postseason this year, but they’re going to have to make some changes this offseason if they want to be in a similar position next season. Pittsburgh has been known for its defense for many years, but now is the time to replenish that defense with youth and talent. The secondary is their biggest concern, as they’ll need to acquire a number one cornerback, while also addressing the depth in their secondary, especially at the safety position. Pittsburgh could also use a fresh face along the defensive line and possibly some help at linebacker. The Steelers may also need to look into improving the offensive line, especially with an aging Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, while perhaps giving Roethlisberger another receiver or two to throw to, specifically someone with high-end speed, as the Steelers lacked a deep threat in 2013 after Mike Wallace left last offseason.
Yesterday we took one final look at the NFL’s rookie head coaches from the 2013 season, and now it’s time to look at all of the new head coach hires for the 2014 season. Obviously, a few of these guys have been head coaches in the NFL before, but none were NFL head coaches in 2013. Let’s attempt to rank how each of the seven teams that hired a new head coach did in their coaching search.
7. Cleveland, Mike Pettine – It certainly took the Browns long enough to find a new coach after firing Rob Chudzinski after just one season. Cleveland was never going to find the most impressive candidate to be their head coach, but Pettine isn’t a bad choice. He spent four seasons as the right hand man to Rex Ryan while working as the defensive coordinator for the Jets, which could be seen as both a positive and negative attribute, depending on your feelings about Ryan. In 2013, he orchestrated a solid defense in Buffalo, despite some obvious personnel weaknesses at a few spots. The name won’t blow people away, but considering Cleveland’s situation, Pettine was about the best person they could get to fill their coaching vacancy.
6. Houston, Bill O’Brien – This could be the biggest risk-reward hire this offseason. O’Brien is a branch on the Bill Belichick coaching tree, so there should be some skepticism, but at the same time O’Brien is a terrific offensive coach. O’Brien has also spent a lot more time in college than in the NFL, which could be a concern, but at the same time, the work he did at Penn State the last two seasons was nothing short of extraordinary. O’Brien has a lot of potential as a head coach in the NFL, but he also has plenty of drawbacks, so this is coaching hire could go either way.
5. Minnesota, Mike Zimmer – Year after year Zimmer has put together top-10 defenses in Cincinnati, and he’s been one of the top assistant coaches in the NFL for the last several years, so there’s no denying that he’s qualified to become a head coach in the NFL. However, the NFL is all about offense these days, and without previous head coaching experience or experience on the offensive side of the ball puts Zimmer at a disadvantage compared to some of the other new coaches in the league, especially since the Vikings have some things to figure out on offense, specifically at the quarterback position.
4. Detroit, Jim Caldwell – Caldwell is a tough guy to figure out with just three years of experience as a head coach in the NFL. Obviously, things went well for him in Indianapolis when Peyton Manning was playing, as the Colts went to the Super Bowl in Caldwell’s first season at the helm. But when Manning didn’t play in 2011, the wheels completely fell off. Caldwell also won a Super Bowl as the offensive coordinator of the Ravens last year, but this past season his offense struggled for long stretches of the season. For now, Caldwell will get the benefit of the doubt, because he inherits a talented roster in Detroit, but there are reasons to be skeptical about Caldwell’s ability to do more with all the talent the Lions have than Jim Schwartz did.
3. Washington, Jay Gruden – Gruden was a highly sought candidate, and he does have a lot of head coaching experience and success in the Arena Football League, which obviously isn’t the same as being an NFL head coach, but it’s better than having no head coaching experience. His last name gives him some credibility, and so does the fact that he’s put together good offenses in Cincinnati the last few years, even without an elite level quarterback. Washington wants to win behind Robert Griffin III at quarterback, and hiring one of the top offensive coordinators in the game was a great choice to help make that happen, as Gruden was arguably the best available candidate that didn’t have NFL head coaching experience.
2. Tennessee, Ken Whisenhunt – Despite reaching a Super Bowl and winning two division titles, Whisenhunt had a rather uneven six-year tenure as the head coach in Arizona. However, he’s always had success as an offensive coordinator, and after San Diego ranked 5th in total offense this past season, Whisenhunt was deserving of another chance to become a head coach. Obviously, the Titans wanted to move in a new direction after firing Mike Munchak, and with his previous coaching experience and success as a coordinator, Whisenhunt is definitely an upgrade over Munchak.
1. Tampa Bay, Lovie Smith – The Bucs moved fast after firing Greg Schiano, and when all was said and done they have the best coach out of all seven teams that made a coaching change this year. Smith was 18 games above .500 during his nine seasons in Chicago, which means he averaged a 9-7 record in what is usually one of the toughest divisions in football, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He has a long history of being one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL, and with the talent in Tampa on that side of the ball, he has a chance to put together something special defensively next year, which could make the Bucs a respectable and competitive team right away. On top of all that, having served under Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay for five seasons makes Smith a perfect fit for the Bucs and the best new coach hire heading into 2014.
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.
NFL Week 17 Preview: Panthers-Falcons, Ravens-Bengals, Jets-Dolphins, Browns-Steelers, Eagles-Cowboys and More
Well, it all comes down to this. With one week left in the NFL season, there have already been eight teams that have clinched a playoff spot, but that means there are still four spots available, while all four divisions in the NFC are still undecided, as well as the home-field advantage in both conferences. Let’s take a closer look at the games on the week 17 schedule that have postseason post-season implications:
Carolina at Atlanta – With a win the Panthers can clinch the NFC South title, secure a first-round bye, and possibly get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if Seattle loses. However, Atlanta has not been a pushover late in the season, especially at home, so despite the disparity in their records, it won’t be an automatic win for Carolina. The Falcons are the worst rushing team in the league, but if they can get Steven Jackson going, they’ll have a chance to keep the game close and put some pressure on Carolina, who is one of the best teams in the NFC, but they’re also a team that hasn’t had to handle success before this season, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Panthers play with a lot on the line.
Baltimore at Cincinnati – The Bengals have a chance to earn a first round bye with a win and a New England loss, which would give their postseason hopes a huge boost. They’d also like to avenge an earlier loss to the Ravens, and at home they should be expected to win. As for the Ravens, there are a lot of scenarios that will get them into the postseason, but most require them winning, and there’s no way they’ll win if they play like they did last week. The Baltimore offense needs to get its act together and not put the defense in a bad situation like they did last week, as it’ll be tough to keep the Cincinnati offense out of the end zone for four quarters.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis – A lot needs to happen for the Colts to get a first round bye, but after some unsavory play during the latter part of the season, it’d be nice to enter the playoffs on a three-game winning streak, so they need to secure a win even if there’s nothing to gain in the standings. The Jaguars have shown that they can stay competitive with good teams, so the Colts need to take them seriously or else they could struggle to come away with the win. Andrew Luck and the offense should be fine, but the key for Indy is their defense, which has only given up 10 points over the past two weeks, and needs to keep that going with the postseason approaching.
New York Jets at Miami – The Dolphins will need some help to get the playoffs, but they’ll also have to win, which isn’t a certainly after the way they played last week against the Bills. Miami dominated the Jets less than a month ago, but Gang Green has played better since that game and started to find their stride offensively, which could be a concern for a Miami defense that doesn’t exactly shut down opponents on a regular basis. This game could come down to Ryan Tannehill’s health and his effectiveness after a disastrous game last week. Look for Rex Ryan’s team to come out loose and excited to play spoiler, and if the Dolphins come out tight, they could be in trouble.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh – The Steelers will need a lot of help this week, but getting a win shouldn’t be much of an issue against a Cleveland team that has lost six in a row. Pittsburgh has looked the part of a playoff team down the stretch, and even if the Browns come to play and compete, the Steelers should be able to find a way to win at home.
Green Bay at Chicago – It’s as simply as it gets in the NFC North, the winner of this game goes to the playoffs and the loser stays home. The Packers have somehow held on long enough to get Aaron Rodgers back on the field. Rodgers may be a bit rusty, but he’ll be facing a Chicago defense that was humiliated last week against Philadelphia with a chance to clinch the division. Of course, the Chicago offense is capable of putting points on the board as well, so this game could come down to how sharp Rodgers is in his return and which offense can be more effective.
Denver at Oakland – Even with the loss of Von Miller and a slew of other injuries, the Broncos should be able to handle the Raiders and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s a rivalry game, so Oakland will be ready to play and hoping to play spoiler against Denver, but Peyton Manning won’t let his team lose focus this late in the season, especially since a loss could mean a return trip to New England, which is the last thing the Broncos want.
Buffalo at New England – The Bills almost pulled out the win when these teams met back in week 1, so perhaps they’re ready to surprise the Patriots on the road, especially after an impressive shutout of the Dolphins last week. Buffalo doesn’t have an offense that can keep up if the Patriots get rolling, but they have a defensive line that can put a lot of pressure on Tom Brady and slow down the New England offense, would could keep the game low scoring and give them a chance to win.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans – A win and the Saints are in the postseason; it’s as simple as that. However, New Orleans has lost three of their last four games, and the Bucs are just good enough to make things difficult for them, especially after the Saints barely survived a 16-14 game with Tampa in week 2. The Tampa offense has sputtered in recent weeks, which will make it tough to win on the road, but if they can put pressure on Drew Brees and slow down the New Orleans offense, they’ll give themselves a fighting chance.
San Francisco at Arizona – The defending NFC champs can rest easy knowing they’re in the playoffs, but there’ll be nothing easy about a trip to Arizona, especially with the Cardinals riding high from their win in Seattle last week and knowing that they need to win to give themselves a chance to reach the postseason. The Cardinals have the top rushing defense in the NFL, so if they can slow down the San Francisco running game it’ll put more pressure on Colin Kaepernick to move the ball with his arm, which isn’t necessarily what the 49ers want. Of course, Arizona will also have to move the ball and score points, while avoiding four turnovers like they had last week.
Kansas City at San Diego – The Chargers need a win and some help to get into the playoffs, but they should feel good after winning four of their last five games, including a road win over the Chiefs. Meanwhile, Kansas City knows they’ll be playing a road playoff game next week, and they also know that they need to get their act together, as the only teams they’ve beaten in the last six weeks and Washington and Oakland. The Chiefs are no longer dominant on defense, which will make it difficult to stop Phillip Rivers and win this game. This should be a good practice game for next week, but if the Chiefs can’t rediscover their incredible pass rush from earlier in the season, they’ll not only have trouble beating San Diego, but they’ll also enter the playoffs on a downward spiral and void of confidence.
St. Louis at Seattle – The Seahawks need to shake off a home loss from last week and get ready for a St. Louis team that has proven they can go toe to toe with some top teams. Seattle is in fine shape on defense, but their offense has had some trouble in previous weeks, which could cause problems against a great Rams pass rush. St. Louis doesn’t have anything to play for except trying to finish the season at .500, but is the Seahawks lose it could cost them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and possibly the division, which could take them from being the NFC favorite to a team that needs three road wins to get to the Super Bowl, so it’s imperative that Seattle finds a way to win this game.
Philadelphia at Dallas – The winner goes to the playoffs while the loser goes home, just the way it should be in the NFL regular season finale. All the focus has been on the health of Tony Romo, but ultimately this game will be decided by whether or not the Dallas defense can slow down the Philadelphia offense, which has looked close to unstoppable in recent weeks. The Cowboys have been deplorable on defense the second half of the season, and it won’t matter who’s playing quarterback or what their offense does if they can’t find a way to get stops, or at least force turnovers, which has been tough for any defense to do against Nick Foles this season. If Dallas expects to make the playoffs, their defense will have to make some kind of positive contribution, or else the Eagles and their high-powered offense will soar into the postseason.
NFL Week 15 Preview: Redskins-Falcons, Bears-Browns, Patriots-Dolphins, Packers-Cowboys, Bengals-Steelers
We’re getting down to the nitty gritty with just three weeks left to play, and the playoff picture in both conferences is still far from decided. Things are bound to start taking shape after this weekend’s games, so let’s take a closer look at the week 15 schedule:
Washington at Atlanta – This game is meaningless playoffs wise, but it does have draft order significance, although the Redskins won’t have their first round pick anyway. Kirk Cousins is taking over at quarterback, so it’ll be interesting to see if he moves the ball any better than Robert Griffin III did. Of course, Cousins will have little affect on Washington’s defense, which will have to stop an Atlanta offense that is capable of scoring points against a weak defense.
Chicago at Cleveland – The Browns let one slip away last week, but they’ll have another chance to play spoiler this week, as the Bears can’t afford to lose another game the rest of the season. Chicago was lightning in a bottle offensively Monday night, but that won’t be so easy against a tough Cleveland defense. Despite winning one game in the past two months, the Browns have a solid defense, and with Jason Campbell at quarterback, Cleveland’s offense is capable of scoring points against a questionable Chicago defense, which means a win is far from a certainty for the Bears, whose defense needs to play with a sense of urgency on the road in order to win.
Houston at Indianapolis – The Colts have already locked up the division, but they need to start playing better down the stretch or their postseason will be brief and disappointing, and this is a game the Colts should be able to win in order to get back on track. As for the Texans, they are still riding an 11-game losing streak, but they’ve lost plenty of close games during that stretch and looked better with Matt Schaub back at quarterback last week, so this is a game they can steal if Indianapolis continues to struggle and doesn’t play a complete game.
New England at Miami – The Patriots are lucky to have won the last two weeks, and they won’t have much margin for error this week down in Miami against a team that needs to win to stay in the playoff hunt. Despite some deficiencies, the Dolphins are playing good football and always put themselves in position to win in the 4th quarter; Ryan Tannehill and company need to make sure they’re the ones making the game-winning plays late, especially against a team that has a history of making key plays when it matters the most. Miami is tied with Baltimore for the last playoff spot, but the Ravens own the tiebreaker between the two teams, so there is no margin for error down the stretch for the Dolphins, as they have to finish ahead of Baltimore to make the postseason, and that’ll be tough to do if they lose this game.
Philadelphia at Minnesota – The Eagles are really rolling right now, and their offense should be tough to stop inside a dome, where there’s no chance of the weather becoming a factor. The Vikings are a little better than their record indicates, and they’ll put up a fight against a contending team, but if Adrian Peterson doesn’t play, or isn’t 100%, it’ll be difficult to keep up with Philadelphia’s offense.
Seattle at New York Giants – The Giants put up a fight after starting the season 0-6, but after their performance last week in San Diego it looks like their season is over. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are comfortably in first place, but they won’t be happy about last week’s loss, which means they’ll be motivated to play on the road, whereas the Giants may have resigned themselves to just playing out the season.
San Francisco at Tampa Bay – The 49ers made a statement by beating Seattle last week, but their playoff spot is not yet secure, so they need to bring that same intensity with them to Tampa Bay. We know the Bucs are going to play hard, and they’re just good enough to take advantage of teams that aren’t at the top of their game, especially on defense. The San Francisco offense needs to do a better job of finishing drives in the end zone than they did last week, because if they don’t the Bucs will hang around and have a chance to pull off the upset.
Buffalo at Jacksonville – Nothing much to see here, although the recent resurgence by Jacksonville is a pleasant surprise for a team that some had pegged as a one or two win team this season. The Bills embarrassed themselves last week in Tampa, and they need to avoid repeating that this week and at least play with some pride.
Kansas City at Oakland – There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned AFC West rivalry. The Raiders are out of contention, but they’re going to play hard and look to knock off the Chiefs on their way to the postseason. If the Oakland offense can get it going like they have the past couple of weeks, this game could get interesting, although the Chiefs can lock in a postseason birth with a win, so they won’t be taking the Raiders lightly, while also hoping that their recent offensive surge will continue.
New York Jets at Carolina – The Panthers had a rough time last Sunday night and they need to respond well this week or speculation will start to grow that they peaked too early. Of course, the Jets may be the best team for them to play right now. New York had a nice game offensively last week against Oakland, but that’ll be tough to repeat against Carolina’s defense. As long as the Panther’s defense gets back on track, winning shouldn’t be an issue and they can go back to setting their sights on the postseason.
Green Bay at Dallas – It doesn’t look like Aaron Rodgers will play in this one, but that doesn’t mean the Packers won’t be able to score against the Dallas defense, which was atrocious Monday night and now has a short week to prepare for the Packers. If Green Bay can establish their running game early, it could soften up the Cowboy’s back-seven and create some space in the secondary for Matt Flynn to get the ball downfield. If the Packers are anywhere close to as efficient on offense against Dallas as the Bears were Monday night, once again all the pressure will be on Tony Romo and the offense, which is not where Dallas wants to be. The Cowboys can score on offense, but it won’t matter unless their defense can get some stops.
Arizona at Tennessee – This could be a tricky game for the Cardinals, but with Seattle and San Francisco on the schedule the final two weeks, it’s a game they need to win. Arizona has built up a lot of momentum over the past month and a half, and they need to keep that going into the final three weeks. In this game, the Cardinals need to start fast and take an early lead. The Titans would like to win and play spoiler, but if Arizona gets up early, it’ll be easier to take care of business against a team that’s just 2-4 at home this season.
New Orleans at St. Louis – The Saints were quite impressive last week at home against the Panthers, but now it’s time to show everybody that they can just as impressive on the road. The Rams haven’t looked all that threatening the past couple of weeks, but they’re capable of pulling of a surprise, so the Saints need to make sure they’re crisp and efficient on offense by controlling the St. Louis pass rush, which could pose some problems for the Saints. For now, New Orleans has a strong hold on the NFC South, but a loss in St. Louis could cause some problems for them heading into their road trip to Carolina next week.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh – A couple of close losses the past two weeks have all but ended Pittsburgh’s postseason hopes, but they’ve playing much better than they were early in the season, and they’ll have a chance to knock off the Bengals at home Sunday night. The Steelers are going to have to clamp down defensively and force Andy Dalton into making bad decisions and bad throws because playing from behind against the Cincinnati defense will be a difficult task for them. If the game stays low scoring, the Steelers will have a good chance of winning, but if Dalton plays mistake free football the Bengals should score plenty of points, making it hard for the Steelers to keep up.
NFL Week 12 Predictions: Steelers-Browns, Redskins-49ers, Chargers-Chiefs, Patriots-Broncos, Cowboys-Giants and More
In a weekend headlined by Manning vs. Brady and RG3 vs. Colin Kaepernick find out who else we like to come out on top in week 12:
(Bryan Zarpentine 86- 49 overall)
(Cole Stevenson 84-47 overall)
Bryan Zarpentine: St. Louis 27, Chicago 24 – I don’t trust the Bears on the road, as they lose the Howie Long Bowl.
Cole Stevenson: Chicago 24, St. Louis 21 – I am picking Chicago only because almost all of my other picks match Bryan’s.
Bryan Zarpentine: Pittsburgh 23, Cleveland 13 – This game could go either way, but Jason Campbell’s turnovers last week are a huge concern.
Cole Stevenson: Pittsburgh 21, Cleveland 18 – Pittsburgh finally seems to have righted the ship and should win this crucial game.
Bryan Zarpentine: Detroit 24, Tampa Bay 20 – This one stays close, but the Lions will find a way to scratch this one out.
Cole Stevenson: Detroit 27, Tampa Bay 24 – Detroit MUST rebound from one of the worst losses of the year.
Bryan Zarpentine: Green Bay 23, Minnesota 10 – The Packers step up on defense and come out on top in a must-win game.
Cole Stevenson: Green Bay 25, Minnesota 17 – I have very little faith in Green Bay, but even less in Minnesota.
Bryan Zarpentine: Kansas City 24, San Diego 21 – Phillip Rivers and company come close, but they can’t pull out the win at Arrowhead Stadium.
Cole Stevenson: Kansas City 24, San Diego 23 – I really want to pick San Diego in this one, but at Arrowhead is too much.
Bryan Zarpentine: Carolina 23, Miami 20 – The Panthers make the plays on defense when the game is on the line, and that gives them seven straight wins.
Cole Stevenson: Carolina 25, Miami 17 – Carolina defense is too good for a depleted Miami offensive line.
Bryan Zarpentine: New York Jets 15, Baltimore 7 – The Jets have alternated wins and losses all season, and this week is a win, but no one’s saying it’s going to be pretty.
Cole Stevenson: New York Jets 17, Baltimore 13 – Still not picking Joe Flacco the rest of the year.
Bryan Zarpentine: Houston 21, Jacksonville 7 – It’s temping to pick the Jaguars, but Houston is more talented and will get the job done.
Cole Stevenson: Houston 24, Jacksonville 13 – Gary Kubiak might lose his job if the Texans lose this game.
Bryan Zarpentine: Tennessee 20, Oakland 13 – Ryan Fitzpatrick builds off last week and finally leads the Titans to a win.
Cole Stevenson: Tennessee 23, Oakland 18 – Not a huge believer in either of these teams, but Tennessee is more fundamentally sound.
Bryan Zarpentine: Arizona 31, Indianapolis 27 – The Colts start slow again, but their comeback falls short against the Cardinals.
Cole Stevenson: Arizona 29, Indianapolis 24 – I become less and less sold on the Colts every week.
Bryan Zarpentine: New York Giants 28, Dallas 21 – The Giants won’t be giving Dallas six turnovers this time around; instead, Eli Manning and company torch a Cowboy’s defense that’s in rough shape.
Cole Stevenson: Dallas 30, New York Giants 27 – Everyone seems to be picking the Giants, which is why I am going Cowboys.
Bryan Zarpentine: Denver 38, New England 24 – The Patriots hang around for a while, but their not stopping Denver’s offense.
Cole Stevenson: Denver 27, New England 24 – My head says Denver, but my heart says New England. If the weather is bad, the Pats will win on a late game winning drive by Brady.
Bryan Zarpentine: San Francisco 27, Washington 21 – Another late comeback by the Redskins falls short, while the 49ers get back on track.
Cole Stevenson: San Francisco 28, Washington 17 – After being ripped off last week, the 49ers will be playing with an extra chip on their shoulder.
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NFL Week 12 Preview: Steelers-Browns, Vikings-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Panthers-Dolphins, Cowboys-Giants and More
The playoff race is heating up in the NFL, and with six weeks left to play almost every team is still alive, but many face must-win situations this week in order to keep their hopes alive. Let’s take a closer look at every game on the week 12 schedule:
Pittsburgh at Cleveland – Both teams need this game, as the winner will be in the midst of the wild card chase while the loser will be a long shot to get there. The Steelers have come on strong as of late, winning four of their last six and looking real good the past two weeks. Meanwhile, the Browns shot themselves in the foot last week with turnovers, and that’s a problem they’ll have to get under control this week against a Pittsburgh defense that will be looking to force turnovers. If Jason Campbell can take better care of the ball Cleveland will have a chance to get back on track; if not, expect the Steelers to keep their momentum going.
Tampa Bay at Detroit – The Bucs look like a real NFL team after winning their last two games, and they have a real chance to make it three in a row this week. Look for Tampa to continue feeding the ball to running back Bobby Rainey, although the Lions are one of the best teams at stopping the run, and if they force Mike Glennon to beat them they should be in good shape. On the other side of the ball, the prolific Detroit passing attack that got shut out in the second half last week by Pittsburgh will be challenged again this week by Tampa’s talented secondary. Expect this game to be a lot closer than the team’s records on paper would indicate.
Minnesota at Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers still isn’t back, but with or without him this is a game the Packers need to win after losing three straight. Green Bay’s defense has allowed 27 points each of the last three weeks, and despite some key injuries on that side of the ball, they can’t afford to allow that many against Minnesota, a team that scored 31 points against them a month ago. Scott Tolzien has been decent, but he’s not going to be able to climb out of a hole if he faces a double-digit deficit, so this game will come down to the Packers keeping Adrian Peterson contained and keeping the Vikings out of the end zone.
San Diego at Kansas City – If the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, they’ll need to find a way to beat either Kansas City or Denver down the stretch, and while winning in Arrowhead is difficult, it’s certainly possible for Phillip Rivers and company, despite three straight losses. San Diego has had some success this season with a short, quick passing attack, which could help them take Kansas City’s pass rush out of the game. If the Chargers can control the clock and avoid turning the ball over, they should be able to keep the game close and give themselves a chance to win in the 4th quarter.
Chicago at St. Louis – The Bears enter this game tied atop the NFC North, but beginning a stretch of four road games in five weeks, although the Rams have struggled to win at home this year. Last time out, St. Louis hung 38 points on the Colts and if the Bears don’t play better on defense, there’s a chance something like that can happen again this week. In a battle of backup quarterbacks, Chicago should have the advantage with Josh McCown, but they can’t ask him to do too much on the road, which means their defense better come to play, or their playoff hopes could start to slip.
Carolina at Miami – By now, just about everybody should be convinced that the Panthers are for real, and now they’ll put their six game winning streak on the line down in Miami. Ryan Tannehill has played well the past few weeks, but he’ll have his work cut out for him against Carolina’s defense, and the Dolphins shouldn’t count on scoring too many points. If Cam Newton and the offense can get it going and find the end zone a few times, the Panthers should feel good about getting their seventh straight win.
New York Jets at Baltimore – Based on their pattern of alternating wins and losses this year, the Jets are slated to win this week, but that won’t be a given against the Ravens. Baltimore ran the ball better last week, and their defense has also played better of late, so it’ll be tough for Geno Smith to find a groove and get back on track this week. Of course, the Jets boast the top rushing defense in the NFL, and they’ll be looking to bounce back after last week’s embarrassment against the Bills. If you like stout defenses and futile offenses, this is the game for you, as the first team to reach 20 points should win, assuming either team is even able to score that much.
Jacksonville at Houston – There’s not much at stake here except for positioning in next year’s draft. If the Texans lose at home to Jacksonville, things will get real ugly for Gary Kubiak, although the Texans have been a lot more competitive this year than the Jaguars, as Houston has lost its last four games by less than a touchdown, so the Texans should be clear favorites despite having just two wins on the season.
Tennessee at Oakland – Both teams need to win this game if they expect to remain in contention in the AFC wildcard race. Ryan Fitzpatrick was solid last week against the Colts, but the Titans have yet to win a game that he’s started. On the other sideline, the Raiders will start Matt McGloin for the second straight week after he helped lead Oakland to a win last week. Both teams are desperate for a win and forced to go with a backup quarterback, so whichever defense does a better job of making things difficult for the opposing quarterback will have the advantage.
Indianapolis at Arizona – The Colts have survived a slow start in two of the last three weeks, but they’ll be playing with fire if they start out sluggish again this week, as the Cardinals are a team that can run them out of the building if they start slow, as Arizona comes in with a three-game winning streak. Arizona has a stout run defense that should be able to slow down Indy’s inconsistent running game and put all the pressure on Andrew Luck, who will at least need to get some help from his defense, with Carson Palmer is coming off a game in which he threw for over 400 yards. If the Colts allow him to do that again they could be in trouble. There’s a good chance that this game turns into a shootout between Luck and Palmer, and it could go either way.
Breaking Down the AFC’s Final Wildcard Spot: Ravens, Browns, Dolphins, Jets, Raiders, Steelers and More
Down the stretch they come. With six weeks left to play in the NFL season the playoff race is heating up in both conferences. There is chaos in the NFC, while the AFC playoff race is slightly more settled, except for one spot: the second wild card spot. Three of the four divisions in the AFC appear to be all but spoken for, while both Denver and Kansas City both look destined to make the playoffs out of the AFC West, despite the fact that the division winner is yet to be determined. This leaves the rest of the teams in the AFC scrambling for one, and only one, wildcard spot. Nine teams can make the argument that they’re still alive to win that postseason spot, so let’s look at each team’s journey to the last playoff spot over the final six weeks of the season and try to make sense of the situation.
Baltimore – The defending Super Bowl champions are still in it at 4-6, especially with their next three games coming at home, where they’re currently 3-1 on the season. Baltimore’s next two games are against the Jets and Steelers, two teams their in competition with for the final playoff spot, and after that they host the lowly Vikings, so there is real opportunity to get hot down the stretch right now. However, they finish the season with Detroit, New England, and Cincinnati in the final three weeks, which will make things tough for them.
Buffalo – The Bills hit rock bottom a couple weeks ago, but E.J. Manuel is back and both he and the rest of the team looked sharp last week against the Jets. Buffalo has a bye this week, but after that their next three opponents have combined for just five wins this year, so the schedule sets up nicely for them to make a run. If the Bills can sweep those three games they’ll be back at .500 and be in the middle of the race the final two weeks of the season.
Cleveland – The Browns host Pittsburgh and Jacksonville the next two weeks, giving them ample opportunity to get back to .500. However, they’ll have to play three of their final four games on the season on the road, where they have just one win this season, with a home game against the Bears mixed in. Cleveland is clinging to hope despite losing four of their last five, but they have to win their next two to have a chance.
Miami – The Dolphins stopped the bleeding with a win over San Diego last week, but they still have a lot of work left to do, despite being currently tied for the final playoff spot with the Jets. Speaking of the Jets, Miami will see them twice before the end of the season, and needless to say those games will be critical for both teams. The Dolphins also have tough road trips to Pittsburgh and Buffalo in December, and they get difficult home games against the Panthers and Patriots as well, so the schedule is not kind to the fish down the stretch.
New York Jets – The Jets have alternated wins and losses all season, and if that continues it could get them into the playoffs, although it would mean dropping both head-to-head matchups with the Dolphins, which they can’t afford to do. Outside of two meetings with Miami, the Jets have winnable home games and Oakland and Cleveland, as well as road games with Baltimore and Carolina. If the Jets can find some consistency they should be considered favorites, but if they keep alternating wins and losses, they’ll be playing with fire down the stretch.
Oakland – The Raiders are in must-win mode this week against Tennessee, who hasn’t won with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback. Of course, Oakland is unsettled at quarterback as well, and that could make things difficult for them with road games against the Cowboys, Jets, and Chargers on the horizon. The Raiders will also see the Chiefs and Broncos in two of the last three weeks of the season, and while those games are at home, it’ll make it tough for Oakland to win when it matters the most.
Pittsburgh – Four of the final six games the Steelers have down the stretch are against teams also fighting for a wildcard spot in the AFC, including two against the Browns and a Thursday night in Baltimore. The Steelers also have a road trip to Lambeau Field right before Christmas, and it’s hard to imagine Aaron Rodgers not being back by then. The next two games for Pittsburgh are both on the road against Cleveland and Baltimore, and if they can win at least one of them, they’ll finish with three of their final four at home and have a fighting chance.
San Diego – The Chargers are on thin ice after three straight losses, and a trip to Kansas City this week will make it hard for them to break that losing streak. San Diego will see the Chiefs twice and the Broncos once over the final six weeks, which will be a monumental challenge, especially since those teams are still competing for the division and will have plenty to play for down the stretch, meaning they won’t take their foot off the gas over the final few weeks. Four of their final five games are at home, but in addition to Kansas City, they’ll have to play the talented Bengals and the surging Giants, giving them a tough road ahead, even if they can upset the Chiefs on the road this week.
Tennessee – If the Titans can prove they can win with Ryan Fitzpatrick this week in Oakland they’ll be able to stay in the race and give themselves a chance. However, they follow up their trip to Oakland with road games in Indianapolis and Denver, which won’t be easy. The Titans finish off the season with Arizona, Jacksonville, and Houston, with the Jaguars being their only road opponent. If they can remain in contention with three weeks to go, Tennessee will have a chance to finish strong and make the postseason, as they hold a tiebreaker with three other teams on this list. However, they have a few more “ifs” than most of their competitors, which is never a good thing.
So, what did we learn from all that? Well, this is bound to be a war of attrition, with several teams facing difficult schedules over the final six weeks. The AFC West teams should fall first, as they can’t count on getting wins over the Broncos and Chiefs. There is a lot of intra-division play among the AFC North teams, which means one team could emerge by beating the other teams in their division, but it could also lead to those teams cancelling each other out. With three straight home games upcoming, the Ravens are the most likely AFC North team to emerge and snag the final wildcard spot. However, the most likely scenario is for an AFC East team to grab it. The Jets should be the favorites, but they’ll have to win at least one of their games against the Dolphins, who may have to sweep the Jets to get to the postseason. The sleeper of this group to keep an eye on is Buffalo, who has the most favorable schedule of all the teams competing for the final wildcard spot, and that could be the difference in getting the Bills into the playoffs.
NFL 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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10 NFL Teams That Should Draft A Quarterback Next Year: Browns, Texans, Chiefs, Vikings, Raiders, Steelers and More
The NFL season is only a little more than half over, but there are still plenty of teams that are ready to move on towards next season, especially at the quarterback position. Last year’s draft didn’t provide much at quarterback outside of Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel, but this year’s draft class looks a lot more promising and much deeper, which is a good thing because there are a lot of teams that should be taking a close look at this year’s crop of college quarterbacks. Here are 10 teams that should be seriously considering taking a quarterback within the first few rounds of next year’s draft:
Arizona – The Cardinals are getting by this season with Carson Palmer, but he has only so many throws left in his arm, and they need to start looking for his replacement, even if Palmer still has another year or two left in him. Arizona could be stuck in the same division with Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick for a long time, and they need to find a quarterback that can measure up to those two guys. With Wilson and Kaepernick both being dual-threat quarterbacks, the Cardinals may be looking for someone in that same mold, perhaps Brett Hundley or Marcus Mariota if they pick high enough, or possibly Tajh Boyd is those two are off the board or decide to stay in school.
Cleveland – It looks like Brandon Weeden is all but finished as a starter in the NFL, and the Browns can’t afford to wait for Brian Hoyer to recover from his injury to see if he’s the real deal, which he probably isn’t after only a few good starts. Cleveland has been in this situation before and they’ve failed to find a franchise quarterback in the draft, but here’s one more chance to get it right. The Browns need to make a splash in some way, and while they’ve probably won too many games this season to have a chance at Teddy Bridgewater, if they have a chance to take Johnny Manziel, they should jump at it, as he would create the kind of excitement around their organization that they need.
Houston – It’s time for the Texans to move on from Matt Schaub, and it’s tough to be sold on Case Keenum just yet since the team isn’t winning games, so it’s more than likely that they’ll be looking for a franchise quarterback in the draft. Houston looks like a team that will be drafting high, but they could also wait until the second or third round to take a quarterback. The Texans may look to go the Andy Dalton route, which means college guys with a lot of experience like Aaron Murray, Stephen Morris or Derek Carr could be potential choices if they pass on taking a quarterback in the first round. Of course, if Gary Kubiak is fired, that could change the team’s approach depending on whom they hire to replace him.
Jacksonville – The Blaine Gabbert era has to be over in Jacksonville, and Chad Henne isn’t exactly the answer either. The Jaguars will do their homework, but it’s hard to imagine them not reaching the conclusion that Teddy Bridgewater is their best bet at quarterback. Of course, Bridgewater could decide to return to school (not implying that he will, just playing devil’s advocate), in which case the Jaguars would be in a tough spot, as there may not be another quarterback worthy of being the top overall pick, but they can’t really wait until the second round to take a quarterback.
Kansas City – No one’s trying to run Alex Smith out of town because the Chiefs are winning with him, but he’s not that young and he’s not a high-end quarterback that you feel confident can take you to the Super Bowl. Kansas City has the talented Tyler Bray on their roster, but they’ll want someone else who they know can push Smith for the job after a year or two, just like Colin Kaepernick did in San Francisco. Kansas City won’t be taking a quarterback in the first round, but if anyone catches Andy Reid’s eye in the second or third round, the Chiefs won’t hesitate to take him.
Minnesota – Let’s not pretend that Christian Ponder still has a chance of working out. Josh Freeman probably isn’t the guy the Vikings want to move forward either. Despite making the playoffs last year, Minnesota is right back where they were when they took Ponder a few years ago. The Vikings will be looking at quarterbacks with first round talent, which means Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, and Johnny Manziel are all possibilities.
Oakland – Just because Terrelle Pryor beat out Matt Flynn in the preseason doesn’t mean Pryor is the future. He has a chance to prove otherwise with his play throughout the rest of the season, but the Raiders should definitely be considering their options at quarterback. Oakland should be picking high this year, which will give them a chance to take Johnny Manziel or Marcus Mariota, or possibly Tajh Boyd early in the second round. They could also choose to play it safe and take another shot at a polished pocket passer like A.J. McCarron or Aaron Murray.
Pittsburgh – The Steelers drafted Landry Jones last year, but he’s probably more of a long-term backup or a stopgap if Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt. Rumor has it that Roethlisberger is looking to be traded this offseason, and even if that’s not true, Pittsburgh may need to start thinking about how much longer Roethlisberger is going to be able to play with the hits he’s taken the past few years. They could try waiting another year or two and see how Jones develops, but with a lot of good choices available this season, why wait if there’s someone they really like. The name to keep an eye on is Zach Mettenberger, who is a big guy with a big arm, and he could be ready to pick up where Roethlisberger leaves off.
St. Louis – Even before the injury to Sam Bradford, the Rams should have been looking at this year’s crop of college quarterbacks, and now it’s obvious that they’ll be looking to draft a quarterback early next year. Jeff Fisher is probably going to want more of a pocket passer, which could make Zach Mettenberger one of their top choices, although Tajh Boyd, Derek Carr, and Aaron Murray are also guys that could fit in St. Louis and take the reins from Bradford.
Tampa Bay – Greg Schiano may like Mike Glennon, but Schiano probably won’t be the head coach next season, and Glennon may not be the quarterback the new coach wants to move forward with. The Bucs didn’t draft Glennon high enough to owe him more of an opportunity, especially when they’ll have a high draft pick next year and a chance to take just about anybody they want. Just about every quarterback available is on the table for the Bucs, including Teddy Bridgewater if they end up with the top overall pick.