Apr 17, 2014 fbook icon twitter icon rss icon

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11NFC West Offseason Needs: Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers, Rams

We wrap up our look at the offseason needs of every NFL team with the best division in football, the NFC West. These teams don’t have much to improve upon, but in this division they can’t afford to have many flaws, so they need to make sure any needs they have get addressed this offseason. Let’s take a look:

Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals were the best NFL team to not make the playoffs in 2013, but there’s still significant distance between them and the top of the division, so they’ll need a strong offseason if they want to make the playoffs in 2014. For Arizona, it starts up front, where they’ll need to upgrade at the offensive tackle position. Even if Eric Winston re-signs, the Cardinals would be wise to use their first round pick on an offensive tackle to help protect Carson Palmer. Speaking of Palmer, he needs a backup that can one day take his place, so Arizona could be looking to find a quarterback in the middle rounds of the draft that could be ready to take over as the starter in a year or two. Arizona might also be looking for a running back to complement Andre Ellington, preferably a bigger power back. Defensively, Arizona needs to get younger at outside linebacker, so one or two draft picks should be dedicated to that position. They can always look to add depth, but other than that they’re in good shape on that side of the ball.

San Francisco 49ers – After three straight trips to the NFC Championship Game the 49ers are close to winning a Super Bowl, but they’ll need a strong offseason to help get them over the hump. The first area they need to pay attention to is the secondary. A few of their cornerbacks are free agents, and even if they re-sign one or two, they may want to use an early round draft pick at that position. They’ll also need to re-sign safety Donte Whitner and keep him paired up with Eric Reid on the back end of their defense. The next area of focus is wide receiver, where both Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham are about to hit the free agent market. Their preference will be to re-sign Boldin, but if they can’t do that they may need to use their first-round pick on a wide receiver. San Francisco may also need a center if Jonathan Goodwin decides to retire, and those can be tough to find beyond the first few rounds of the draft, which could change their plans. If they have some late-round draft picks or extra money available, the 49ers could also add depth to their front-seven.

Seattle Seahawks – Even after winning a Super Bowl, the Seahawks have plenty of room for improvement this offseason. Doug Baldwin will be back at wide receiver, while Golden Tate is hitting the open market, but even if Tate returns to Seattle the Seahawks may want to take advantage of the depth at wide receiver in this year’s draft class and pick one up in the second or third round. Seattle should also consider using a couple draft picks, and possibly an early-round pick on an offensive lineman to help keep their franchise quarterback better protected. Defensively, the Seahawks are in great shape, although they could lose Michael Bennett in free agency, creating a hole in their defensive line that needs to be filled, and they could use some more depth at cornerback, which is something they can find in the middle or late rounds of the draft.

St. Louis Rams – If the Rams are going to compete in this division, they’re going to need a quarterback, and Sam Bradford may not be the guy they need. St. Louis owns the second overall pick, and they could get a quarterback there if they want, if not then they’ll certainly pick an offensive tackle, which is their greatest need outside of quarterback. In fact, the Rams may need to end up using two or three draft picks on offensive linemen. St. Louis may also be looking to add a wide receiver, either in free agency or in the draft, possibly someone with size that can complement all the speed they added last offseason. Defensively, the Rams need to bring in an impact player at linebacker, most likely an outside linebacker that can help out James Laurinaitis. St. Louis could also look for another young safety to pair with T.J. McDonald, although they can wait until the middle rounds of the draft to do that.


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11Grading NFL Rookie Coaches: Cardinals, Jaguars, Browns, Eagles, Bills and More

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.
 


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11NFC Week 17 Power Rankings: Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers, Eagles, Cardinals, Saints, Packers and More

With one week left to play in the NFL season, things are finally coming into focus in the NFC, so let’s take one last crack at the NFC power rankings.

1. Seattle – It turns out the Seahawks aren’t unbeatable at home, but they’re still the top team in the NFC. Seattle may have lost two of their last three games, but their defense is still playing well and will be hard to score against in the postseason, while Russell Wilson has made game-winning plays when he’s needed to more times than not this season, and that’ll make them tough to take down in the playoffs.

2. Carolina – The Panthers have two things that make them the second best team in the NFC and a contender in the postseason: first, they have a top-5 defense that will play well whether they’re at home or on the road; and second, just as he did on Sunday against the Saints, Cam Newton has been great at driving the ball down the field in the final minutes to win games, and that clutch play will make them dangerous in the playoffs.

3. San Francisco – The 49ers have made it into the playoffs behind a top-notch defense, a defense that will make them tough to beat when they get to the postseason, even if the have to win three road games to get back to the Super Bowl. Colin Kaepernick has been a little inconsistent this year leading the offense, but he’s capable of doing some incredible things, and if he comes close to playing the way he did in the playoffs last year, San Francisco is a dangerous team.

4. Philadelphia – Who would have thought when the season began that the Eagles would end up being the fourth best team in the NFC, but they are. The offense is really clicking, which should be enough to get them past Dallas this week and into the postseason as a 10-win team. Philadelphia is for real, and they’ll be an interesting matchup for most of the teams in the NFC playoffs.

5. Arizona – If the Cardinals don’t make it to the playoffs, it’ll only be because they play in the toughest division in football. Arizona has won 10 games this season and they’re the only team to beat Seattle on the road this season, which is an impressive feat. Regardless of if they make the playoffs or not, the Cardinals are a top-5 team in the NFC.

6. New Orleans – The Saints have really slipped heading down the stretch, losing three of their last four games, albeit against quality teams. They simply aren’t reliable playing on the road and it looks like they’re going to be playing every game of the playoffs on the road, so unless they can find a way to get their offense going outside of the Super Dome, they may not last long in the playoffs.

7. Green Bay – The Packers are still overwhelmed with injuries, and there’s still no guarantee Aaron Rodgers will be back by the season finale, but they’ve managed to put themselves in position to get to the postseason with a win this week, and that’s quite an accomplishment for a team that’s been missing its starting quarterback for more than half the season and endured a five-game winless streak. It hasn’t been easy or pretty, but Green Bay has survived a tough stretch and over the last few weeks they’ve looked like a playoff-caliber team, even without Rodgers at the helm.

8. Chicago – The Bears have some serious issues on defense, which could ultimately keep them out of the postseason, but they’re going to be able to score against most teams with a balanced offensive attack that’s better than most of the offenses in the NFC. They probably don’t deserve a spot in the playoffs, but they’ve overcome an injury to their starting quarterback and have a chance to get to the postseason, and that’s something to be proud of.

9. Dallas – Tony Romo’s injury is meaningless, because the Dallas defense is going to be what keeps the Cowboys out of the playoffs. They may have stopped the Eagles back in week 7, but that’s unlikely to happen again the way the Philadelphia offense is playing. Looking back on the season, it’s hard to believe the Cowboys have lost as many games as they have, especially when they had a chance to runaway with the NFC East early in the season, but they have and the biggest reason for their struggles has been a terrible defense.

10. St. Louis – If they only had a quarterback, there’s no telling how good the Rams could have been this year. Even in the NFL’s best division, they still have a chance to finish .500, with wins over at least three playoff teams, possibly five. Regardless of their record, the Rams were one of the toughest teams for opposing teams to play all season with their vicious pass rush, and for that they deserve some recognition.

11. New York Giants – It wasn’t a good season for the Giants, but after starting the season 0-6, they have a chance to finish with a 7-9 record, which doesn’t sound all that bad, especially considering the number of times they turned the ball over this season. Things could have spiraled out of control for the Giants, but with a win this week they will have won seven of their final 10 games, which is a nice silver lining to such a disappointing season.

12. Detroit – Even though several of their losses came in close games, Detroit’s collapse over the second half of the season has been one of the worst in the NFL in recent memory, and it’ll likely cost Jim Schwartz his job. Considering that Chicago and Green Bay played without their starting quarterbacks for significant chunks of the season, there’s no excuse for the Lions not winning the division with all of their talent, as they might be the most disappointing team in the NFL.

13. Minnesota – The Vikings have suffered some close losses this season and they’ve played fairly well towards the end of the season, but with little clarity at the quarterback position, this wasn’t the season Minnesota was hoping for, and that’ll likely mean a new head coach and a new quarterback for the Vikings next season.

14. Atlanta – Some key injuries and an ill-equipped defense hurt the Falcons this season after they had high hopes for a Super Bowl run coming into the year. Atlanta has played much better down the stretch and stayed competitive with playoff-caliber teams, which isn’t much, but it’s something.

15. Tampa Bay – At times this season, the Bucs looked competitive and played like a team you wouldn’t want to face, but they hurt themselves in close games and didn’t show much consistency throughout the season. Tampa was terrible at the start of the season and they haven’t been much better towards the end of the season, showing little growth or improvement over the course of the season.

16. Washington – The Redskins have actually looked better with Kirk Cousins at quarterback than RG3, which should make for an interesting offseason, but ultimately it’s hard to argue against Washington being the worst team in the NFC this season, as they’ve been a disaster from beginning to end and could close out the season on an eight-game losing streak.


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11NFC Week 15 Power Rankings: Seahawks, 49ers, Panthers, Saints, Cardinals and More

There’s just two weeks left to play in the season, but there’s still plenty left to settle in the NFC. Let’s try to make sense of everything with the week-15 power rankings.

1. Seattle – The Seahawks were quite impressive on Sunday against the Giants, and they didn’t even need to be home to do it. It was a perfect dress rehearsal for a possible return trip to Met Life Stadium for the Super Bowl in a couple months, and the way things have gone this season, it’s hard not to think that’s how things will end up going for the Seahawks.

2. San Francisco – The 49ers deserve to be in the two-spot heading into the final two weeks of the season after a dominating effort on Sunday against a Tampa Bay team that can be tough to play. The San Francisco defense is as good as they’ve been all season, and the offense is becoming more dangerous by the week, as the 49ers are finally starting to look like the team we thought they’d be when the season started.

3. Carolina – The Panthers bounced back nicely from their loss the previous week, which helps them maintain their position as one of the top teams in the conference. Carolina does have to do a better job in the red zone, especially since their offense isn’t always able to create big plays, but their defense is going to ensure that they have a chance to win just about every week. They now get a rematch with the Saints, along with an opportunity to take a lead in the NFC South if they can win. It’s the biggest game the franchise has had in years, so it’ll be interesting to see how they play, especially after getting blown out by the Saints just a couple weeks ago.

4. New Orleans – The Saints had an abysmal effort on Sunday for the second time in three weeks. New Orleans can really struggle against teams that can put pressure on the quarterback, and they are not always reliable on the road, which are two rather big concerns for them as the postseason approaches, especially if they can’t win in Carolina next week and guarantee themselves a home playoff game.

5. Arizona – The Cardinals are the team in the NFC that just won’t go away; they keep hanging around and hanging around. By winning six of their last seven games, Arizona has taken care of business against less teams and given themselves a chance to make the playoffs in their final two games against the top two teams in the conference, so if they get to the postseason they’ll have earned it.

6. Philadelphia – The Philadelphia defense from early in the season showed up on Sunday against the Vikings, putting a stop to their five-game winning streak. The Eagles blew an opportunity to take full control of the NFC East and showed some vulnerability on Sunday, which is not what they want to do heading into the final two weeks of the season. At this point in the season, the Eagles need to prove that they can bounce back from a loss and get back on track quickly.

7. Chicago – The Bears were able to make a fairly seamless transition from Josh McCown to Jay Cutler, and having Cutler at quarterback without any controversy will make their offense even better than it’s been. Even though they still have a world of problems defensively, they look rather formidable heading into the final two weeks of the season.

8. Green Bay – Against all odds, the Packers are still alive in the NFC North playoff race. They pulled off an amazing comeback against the Cowboys and bought Aaron Rodgers another week to get back on the field. If Rodgers can make it back for the final two games, Green Bay will have a great chance to win both games and could sneak into the postseason.

9. Detroit – The Lions are in real trouble after losing four of their last five games. Detroit is capable of winning their final two games, but they’re also in freefall mode, so nothing is guaranteed and now they need outside help to get into the postseason when a few weeks ago they were in complete control of the division, which is a huge drop off in a short period of time.

10. Dallas – The Cowboys have really embarrassed themselves the past two weeks. There are no excuses for being that inept against the Bears defensively, and then for blowing a 23-point halftime lead against the Packers, especially when they had a chance to run down the clock instead of throwing the ball and turning it over. There’s incredible chaos in the organization right now, and that could make it difficult to win the games they need to win the final two weeks, even this weekend against the woeful Redskins.


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11NFC Week 14 Power Rankings: Seahawks, Saints, 49ers, Panthers, Eagles, Cardinals and More

There were some big time matchups in the NFC this past week, let’s take a look at how they’ve affected this weeks power rankings.

1. Seattle – Is a two-point loss on the road to a more desperate team enough to knock the Seahawks from the top spot? No way. Seattle is still the top team in the NFC and they’ve proved that enough times this year. There’s no huge flaw that’s waiting to be exploited; they’re perhaps the most complete team in the NFL.

2. New Orleans – Now that’s more like it from the Saints. We’ve been cooling on New Orleans for the past month or so, but Sunday night against the Panthers they reminded us of how good they can be. At some point, they’ll have to be that good on the road, and they’ll get tough road tests the next two weeks to prove that they can.

3. San Francisco – It’s getting harder and harder to deny that the 49ers are peaking at the right time, and the win over Seattle is further proof of that. At some point, some of those field goals will have to become touchdowns, but the defense is starting to look real good and the offense is adding some dangerous weapons to the mix. A playoff spot isn’t yet secure, but it’s looking all the more likely, and once they get to the postseason, they’ll be dangerous.

4. Carolina – The Panthers have finally been brought back down to earth. It’s not that Carolina shouldn’t be considered one of the top teams in the NFC, but they need to realize that teams are going to bring their best effort against them week after week. For a team like the Panthers, a loss at this time of year isn’t nearly as important as how they respond to it, so how they perform this week against the Jets will be very telling.

5. Philadelphia – A lot of credit goes to the Eagles for adjusting to the elements on Sunday and coming away with an impressive win that they had to have. Philadelphia was far from their comfort zone in half a foot of snow, but they still found a way to put a lot of points on the board and overcome some special teams blunders; that’s a sign of a real good team that can overcome adversity and win in multiple ways.

6. Arizona – It’s easy to criticize the teams they’ve played, but the bottom line is that the Cardinals have won five of their last six games and they’re only one game out of a playoff spot, with the bonus of owning the tiebreaker with the Panthers. The last three weeks will be tough, but they’re in good shape and they’re capable of playing with anybody they step on the field with.

7. Detroit – Regardless of the weather conditions, turnovers have become a huge concern for the Lions, and it’s something that could really hurt them down the stretch in what is still an incredibly tight NFC North Division race. With losses in three of their last four games, Detroit isn’t exactly inspiring a lot of confidence heading into the final three games of the season.

8. Chicago – There’s still a lot of work left to do to get to the postseason, but the Bears took a big step forward on Monday night with an offensive explosion. If the defense can hang tough, Chicago has the offense to give them a chance to win every game they play down the stretch, regardless of who’s playing quarterback, although that’s an issue the team will have to sort through, and it’s important that they make the right decision.

9. Dallas – The Dallas defense was just atrocious on Monday night, and unless that changes they’re going to have a tough time winning the games they need to win in the final three weeks. Tony Romo and the offense are fine, but they’re not going to win if the defense allows the other team to score on every possession, and that’s a huge issue for the Cowboys right now.

10. Green Bay – The Packers narrowly kept their season alive on Sunday by winning their first game since October. The schedule isn’t easy, but Aaron Rodgers isn’t far from coming back, and if he returns it gives Green Bay a chance to win every game they play, which makes them a much better team, and a team that might be able to sneak into the postseason.


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11NFL Week 13 Power Rankings: Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers, Saints, Eagles, Lions, Cowboys, Cardinals and More

There are just four weeks left in the NFL season and things are starting heat up throughout the NFC. As we prepare for the final month of the season, let’s take a look at how every NFC team stacks up heading down the stretch.

1. Seattle – After what happened Monday night there is no doubt that the Seahawks are the best team in the NFC, and will be a difficult team to beat in the postseason, when they will certainly have home-field advantage. Seattle dominated the Saints on both sides of the ball, and look head and shoulders above nearly every other team in the NFL, especially at home.

2. Carolina – The Panthers just keep on rolling, even in what could have been a pair of trap games the last two weeks with a showdown with the Saints on the horizon. Carolina finally had a dominating outing on Sunday against Tampa Bay and that moves them up to the second spot in the power rankings with a trip to New Orleans coming up this week.

3. San Francisco – The 49es are definitely starting to peak, and while Colin Kaepernick is far from where he was this time last year, he is showing signs of breaking out of his slump. San Francisco is not far behind the two teams ahead of them in the power rankings, and they have a chance to prove that they should be on equal footing with everyone else when they host the Seahawks this week.

4. New Orleans – The Saints have been sputtering for a while, but they fall hard after being humiliated on Monday night. Not only is home-field advantage in the postseason all but lost, New Orleans is now tied in the NFC South with a red-hot Carolina team that they will see twice over the next three weeks, and if they don’t start to play better, the Saints may have to settle for a wildcard spot.

5. Philadelphia – The Eagles aren’t quite an elite team, but they’re definitely better than the pack in the NFC, as four straight wins displays a level of consistency that most teams in the NFL lack. Philadelphia seems to have an identity, as well as a formula for winning games: the offense gets a lead early and the defense does just enough to hang on. It’s not a flawless philosophy, but it’s certainly working for the Eagles, especially with the way Nick Foles is playing.

6. Detroit – The Lions jumped back in control of the NFC North with a convincing win on Thanksgiving. The defense came to play, albeit against an under-manned Green Bay offense, and their offense was spectacular. However, they also committed four turnovers in that win, which is a concern, as is their lack of consistency, which is what’s holding them back from being in the same category as the top-tier teams in the NFC.

7. Dallas – Once again, the Cowboys showed how good they’re capable of being on offense when they run the ball effectively. If Dallas can keep on running the ball the way they have the past couple of weeks, there aren’t too many defenses that can keep them contained on four quarters, but finding that consistency is still as issue for them. The Cowboy’s other problem is their pass defense, which struggles against mediocre teams, and could hold them back against several of the teams they’ll face down the stretch.

8. Arizona – We may have jumped the gun on the Cardinals just a little, although they only lost to the Eagles by a field goal on the road, and that was with a -3 turnover ratio. Arizona is definitely on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture, but they’re still alive and good enough to make a strong push during the final month of the season.

9. New York Giants – It may be too little too late for the postseason, but the Giants have won five of their last six games and are playing better than nearly half the teams in the NFC. At the moment, they’re almost on a level playing field with Detroit, Dallas, and Arizona, but their 0-6 start is too much to overcome, even though they’re playing like a team that should be in contention.

10. St. Louis – For a team that’s played with Kellen Clemens at quarterback for much of the season, the Rams are hanging in there. They held San Francisco’s running game to less than three yards per carry on Sunday and are doing what they can on offense, despite being limited at quarterback. They won’t sniff the postseason, but they’ll be a hard team to play the final four weeks of the season.

11. Chicago – It’s a shame Jim Mora isn’t the coach of the Bears, because the phrase “playoffs? I just hope we can win a game” is starting to come to mind. They’ve only been blown out once while losing three of their last four games, but a team with such great weapons on offense needs to be able to find a way to win close games, and they haven’t done that over the past month, even though they had plenty of opportunities to take control of the NFC North.

12. Green Bay – Five straight weeks without a win and Aaron Rodgers still questionable to come back with four games left to play puts the Packers toward the bottom of the power rankings. Without Rodgers they may not be able to win another game the rest of the season and could plummet further in the power rankings by season’s end.

13. Minnesota – The Vikings are tougher to play than people think, and they showed that on Sunday against the Bears. Minnesota has just one loss in their last four games, and they’re going to enjoy playing the role of spoiler down the stretch, as Leslie Frazier fights to keep his job.

14. Tampa Bay – It was a nice three-week winning streak for the Bucs, but they’re back to being a terrible team that needs to make a coaching change after getting completely dominated by a division rival.

15. Washington – The Redskins have only held an opponent to less than 24 points once this season; even with a healthy quarterback that’s not going to give you a winning record. Things are really bad in Washington right now.

16. Atlanta – Don’t get too excited about the Falcons ending their five-game losing streak because they did not deserve to win that game; the Bills gave the game away with two late fumbles. Atlanta is still a bad team, and probably the worst in the NFC right now.


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11NFL Week 12 Power Rankings: Seahawks, Saints, Panthers, 49ers, Cardinals, Eagles and More

Heading into the week of Thanksgiving, the NFC looks settled at the top, but it’s still quite chaotic everywhere else. Let’s see how the top-10 looks with five weeks left to play.

1. Seattle – Hopefully the Seahawks enjoyed their bye week because the schedule is about to get hard with games against New Orleans and San Francisco the next two weeks. The good news is that if Seattle can take care of the Saints at home Monday night they should have no trouble closing out home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, which will make them awfully hard to beat on the way to the Super Bowl.

2. New Orleans – Outside of their blowout of Dallas, the Saints didn’t look all that sharp throughout the month of November, barely pulling out wins each of the last two weeks. The good news is that November is over and we’re moving into December, but the bad news is that they have a road trip to Seattle upcoming, followed by Carolina twice in a three-week span. New Orleans needs to get straightened out in a hurry, but they keep the two-spot in the power rankings because no one else is quite ready to take it away from them.

3. Carolina – The Panthers came out a little sluggish against the Dolphins, but their defense continues to get the job done and they were able to pull out the win, extending their winning streak to seven. Carolina isn’t exactly blowing anyone away, so they’re not yet on the same level as New Orleans, but soon enough they’ll get their chance to take on the Saints and maybe make a push for the NFC South Division title.

4. San Francisco – After losing two in a row, the 49ers got back on track in impressive fashion against the Redskins on Monday night. Colin Kaepernick threw for more than 200 yards in a game for the first time in more than a month, which is a great sign moving forward, although it came against a bad Washington defense. A playoff spot is far from a certainty, but they’re in good shape and they’ve played well for the past month, settling into the fourth spot in the power rankings.

5. Arizona – Nope, that’s not a clerical error, the Cardinals really are one of the top five teams in the NFC right now. They’ve won four in a row, including an absolute shellacking of the Colts over the weekend. Arizona has lost only two games in the last two months, and those were against San Francisco and Seattle. They also have wins over Detroit and Carolina from earlier in the season on their resume. The schedule gets tough for them down the stretch, starting with a road trip to Philadelphia this week, but they’ve played well this season and they’re a serious playoff contender.

6. Philadelphia – The Eagles drop a spot behind the Cardinals in the power rankings, but they can prove otherwise when they host Arizona this weekend. The offense has been flying high recently, and the entire team, including Michael Vick, is behind Nick Foles as the starting quarterback, and now they aim to finish the season strong and get to the postseason, although they should expect a fight from the Cowboys down the stretch.

7. Dallas – Look what the Cowboys are capable of doing when they try to run the ball, let alone are successful at running the ball. They did blow a 15-point lead, and the Dallas run defense leaves a lot to be desired, but the Cowboys played a more complete game against the Giants than they have in a long time, and they bounced back well after getting blown out by the Saints two weeks ago, as Tony Romo, of all people, led a game-winning drive. The team that showed up on Sunday and found a way to beat the Giants is a team that has a chance to win its division and make some noise in the playoffs, and that’s the team Dallas needs to show up the next five weeks.

8. Detroit – The Lions have had ample opportunity to take control of the NFC North, but instead they have slipped big time the past two weeks, and now they’re in a tight division race. The last two weeks Detroit has lost to a team that hasn’t been able to run the ball at all, and that’s a big problem they’re going to have to fix and doesn’t bode well for them moving forward. The Lions are in games, but they have to be able to finish games down the stretch if they’re going to make it to the playoffs.

9. St. Louis – The bottom half of the NFC is so bad these days that two straight wins is all it takes to move into the top-10 of the power rankings. Of course, the two wins the Rams have had are quite convincing, as they obliterated the Colts on the road and then out-classed the Bears at home. St. Louis doesn’t have an explosive passing game like we thought they’d have this year, but they may have found something with running backs Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy, as well as an occasional big play from Tavon Austin.

10. Chicago – The Bears seem to get more and more disappointing every week, and they’ve shown no consistency, as they’ve alternated wins and losses over their last seven games. The Chicago defense has become unreliable, and unless that changes they’re going to have a tough time winning games during the final month of the season, even with a manageable schedule.


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112013 NFL Week 8 NFC Power Rankings: Saints, Seahawks, 49ers, Packers, Lions, Panthers, Cardinals and More

We’re roughly at the midway point of the NFL season, and in the NFC, the top teams have distinguished themselves from the pack, but the rest of the conference is a cluttered mess. Let’s do our best to rank the NFC teams from 1 to 16 with the week 8 Power Rankings.

1. New Orleans – The Saints have been the most complete team in the NFC this season, playing at a high level on both sides of the ball. Drew Brees looks as good as he’s ever been, and he’s done a great job of spreading the ball around. Meanwhile, Rob Ryan has turned the defense completely around from last year, which makes outplaying the Saints over a period of four quarters an incredibly difficult task for any team.

2. Seattle – The Seahawks probably have a better resume than the Saints, with wins over Carolina, San Francisco, Tennessee, and Arizona, but Seattle has been inconsistent on offense this season and doesn’t have a passing game that’s going to scare too many teams. Following their close call against the Rams on Monday night, the Seahawks are on thin ice with regard to their hold on the two spot in the NFC power rankings, as they had all sorts of problems moving the ball against a below-average defense.

3. San Francisco – We expected the 49ers to be the top team in the NFC this year, but that hasn’t been the case after getting off to a slow start. San Francisco has managed to rattle off five straight wins with relative ease, but much like the Seahawks, they haven’t been impressive throwing the ball and lack dangerous playmakers in the passing game, which keeps them behind the Saints and Seahawks.

4. Green Bay – After a slow start the Packers are now on a roll, winning four straight following their bye week. Aaron Rodgers has looked unfazed by the loss of several key playmakers around him, as he’s on pace to throw for well over 4,000 yards and more than 30 touchdowns. It also helps that Green Bay has gotten consistent production from running back Eddie Lacy, which has given them a more balanced offense than in past seasons. Right now, they are firmly entrenched at the four spot in the NFC, not as close to the top three as they want to be, but well ahead of everybody else.

5. Detroit – It’s still tough to be completely sold on the Lions because their defense doesn’t always show up, but overcoming four turnovers and beating the Cowboys in the manner that they did definitely grabs your attention, as does the fact that they nearly tripled Dallas in total yards. They don’t have the caliber of defense that can put them in the same category as the four teams in front of them, but so far they’ve done enough to prove that they’re the best of the second-tier teams in the NFC.

6. Carolina – It’s getting increasingly hard not to believe in the Panthers after they’ve rattled off three straight wins. Of course, Minnesota, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay aren’t quality teams, but Carolina has looked impressive in those wins, especially Cam Newton, who looks like a brand new quarterback. If they can keep it going this week against Atlanta, they’ll have a showdown in San Francisco the following week to prove that they’re for real.

7. Arizona – The Cardinals are far better than their 4-4 record indicates. Three of those losses have come against New Orleans, San Francisco, and Seattle, while they have wins against Detroit and Carolina, as well as Atlanta, who they dismantled over the weekend. They’ve really struggled to be balanced on offense this season, but they have threatening playmakers in the receiving game and they can stuff the run and make teams one dimensional, so there’s a lot to like about the Cardinals.

8. Dallas – It’s still too hard to believe in the Cowboys after the Lions handed them four turnovers and Dallas failed to capitalize. Remember, the Giants turned the ball over against them six times in week 1 and they barely won that game. On one hand, their four losses have only been by a combined 14 points, but on the other hand, a better team would have found a way to win at least one or two of those games, which is why it’s hard to put them any higher in the power rankings right now.

9. Washington – It’s been a crazy year for the Redskins, but they seem to have weathered the storm and aren’t out of contention despite being 2-5. Washington’s defense is not what it was last year, but the offense has started to get it in gear with two talented running backs and an emerging tight end in Jordan Reed. As long as Robert Griffin III stays relatively healthy the rest of the season, they’re going to be able to score points and at least stay competitive in games.

10. Chicago – All the Bears can hang their hat on is a win over the Bengals in week 1. Since then, they haven’t beaten anybody worthwhile and their defense has become a serious issue for them. The injury to Jay Cutler will hurt a lot, as the schedule they play in November is unforgiving, beginning with a trip to Green Bay on Monday night.

11. Atlanta – The Falcons have played in a lot of close games, and lost most of them. They’ve also been playing short handed, with Julio Jones out for the season and Roddy White playing injured and missing time. Matt Ryan is actually having a real good season, but the support around him from the receiving corps, the running game, and the defense just hasn’t been there, which is why Atlanta is outside the top-10 in the NFC at the midway point of the season.

12. St. Louis – The Rams don’t have it easy playing in the NFC West, and they’ve certainly taken their lumps this season, but against the Seahawks on Monday they showed what they’re capable of, despite not getting the win. St. Louis has a tough schedule the second half of the season, which they’ll be playing with their backup quarterback, but the eye test says that they’re better than the four teams below.

13. Philadelphia – The Eagles may be the most frustratingly inconsistent team in the NFL this season. At times they look unstoppable on offense, but other times they look completely inept, which has been the case the past two weeks. It’s been musical chairs at quarterback the past few weeks because of injuries, and that’s kept the offense from finding their rhythm and moving the ball the way they were earlier in the season.

14. New York Giants – There has been a glimmer of hope for the Giants with wins the past two weeks, keeping them just two games back in the NFC East, but they still don’t look like a team that has too many more wins in them. They still don’t have much of a running game, and they’re not creating big plays in the passing game the way they should be. That being said, the Giants have three straight home games coming out of their bye week, so there is still a glimmer of hope for them if they can keep moving in the right direction.

15. Minnesota – The Vikings played well early in the season, despite losing their first three games, but the wheels have fallen off the past three weeks. They can’t seem to decide on a quarterback, and because their defense can’t stop anybody, the efforts of Adrian Peterson aren’t enough to carry the team, as was the case last season. They are completely buried in the NFC North and a coaching change for next season looks increasingly likely.

16. Tampa Bay – How Greg Schiano remains employed is anybody’s guess. The fans have had it with him and the team isn’t as competitive as they were early in the season, as it seems like they are getting further and not closer to getting their first win. Mike Glennon throwing the ball 51 times like he did last Thursday is not going to be a recipe for winning, and their trip to Seattle this week is not going to be a pleasant one.


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112013 MLB World Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Boston Red Sox

The awesome thing about the World Series is it is entirely unpredictable and always full of unlikely heroes. Here is who has the edge in each individual position though:

 Catcher

            While I absolutely love David Ross, neither he nor Jarrod Saltalacchia can keep up with Yadier Molina when it comes to defense or offensive production. With that being said, Yadi has been very good this postseason and has only 2 RBI in 11 games. Edge: Cardinals.

1st base

            With the health of Allen Craig still in question, Matt Adams will most likely be patrolling 1st base when the series hits St. Louis. While both he and Mike Napoli have put up similar numbers this postseason, Napoli is much hotter at the moment. Keep in mind that both guys are very streaky hitters, though and this could go either way. Edge: Red Sox.    

2nd base

            While Matt Carpenter had a much better statistical regular season, Dustin Pedroia has much more experience and has been steadier so far in October. Also, Pedroia gets the slight edge when it comes to glove work. Edge: Red Sox.

3rd base

            While David Freese has been Mr. Clutch early in his postseason career, I will assume the Red Sox will continue to use both Will Middlebrooks and rookie Xander Bogaerts at the hot corner. Which means more question marks for the Sox. Edge: Cardinals.

Shortstop

            This is really a lesser of two evils. Both guys don’t help you much on the offensive side and aren’t real flashy with the leather either. Edge: Basically, whoever can do the little things right.

Outfield

            This is a really tough one. Obviously, the Cards have Carlos Beltran and Matt Holiday, but Jacoby Ellsbury has been on fire this entire postseason  (.400 average) and Shane Victorino is fresh off his clutch go-ahead grand slam against the Tigers. In the end, the only thing that puts the Sox just barely over the Cards in this position is the fact that Ellsbury/Victorino bring speed to the table. Edge: Red Sox.

Starting rotation

            The Red Sox may have more experience, but unlike the Cardinals’  top two guys, the Red Sox starters haven’t shown the ability to shut people down for 7/8 innings consistently. Edge: Cardinals.

Bullpen

            This one isn’t even close. Trevor Rosenthal has been a very pleasant surprise, but combination of Breslow, Uehara, and Tazawa has just been unreal this October. Edge: Red Sox.         

Tell me how wrong I am on twitter @Cole_Stevenson


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112013 MLB Week 25 Power Rankings: Red Sox, Braves, Athletics, Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers and More

The Red Sox, Braves, A’s, Dodgers, and Cardinals are in, but there are still 5 more spots to officially be decided. Here are your week 25 power rankings:

#1 Boston Red Sox

            Need to lock up home field and keep everyone healthy, otherwise no worries right now.

#2 Atlanta Braves

            Need home field desperately. They are horrendous on the road and tremendous at home. Also, the Braves own the tiebreaker with every other NL team.

#3 Oakland Athletics

            Scorching hot and they boast the best record in baseball over the last 365 days. Not sure if their rotation is built for a 5-7 game series though.

#4 Los Angeles Dodgers

            They have been just as good on the road as at home, so they are not as worried about home field advantage and can rest up accordingly.

#5 St Louis Cardinals

            The lack of depth in their bullpen is finally starting to show. We’ll see how it holds up in October with a rotation that probably won’t get through a ton of innings.

#6 Detroit Tigers

            This team has all the weapons you could ask for to make a postseason run. Need to get Cabrera healthy though.

#7 Cincinnati Reds

            I actually think this team might do the most damage in the playoffs if they can make it through the one game playoff or somehow win the division.

#8 Pittsburgh Pirates

            This team at LEAST needs to play the one game playoff at home. The fans in Pittsburgh deserve it.

#9 Cleveland Indians

            I will be the first to admit that I never saw this team coming. Unbelievable run.

#10 Tampa Bay Rays

            The Rays are finally starting to look better when it really counts. Once they are in, no one will want to face them.

Tell me how wrong I am on twitter @Cole_Stevenson


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