The AFC West was one of the best divisions in the NFL in 2013, putting three teams into the postseason. That means it could be a bit of an arms race this offseason, as the teams know that competition within the division will be tough in 2014. Let’s take a look at the offseason plans for the four teams in the AFC West.
Denver Broncos – As long as Peyton Manning is still around the Broncos are going to do everything they can to win in the short term. Eric Decker may leave in free agency and Wes Welker is getting old, so Denver needs to find a receiver that can team up with Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas to make sure Manning still has an elite arsenal of receivers at his disposal. The Broncos also have a few free agents along their offensive line, and whether they re-sign those guys or bring in new players, they have to make sure that unit is strong and Manning is well protected. On defense, something has to give at cornerback, where the Broncos need help, regardless of whether or not they’re able to bring back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Denver also needs to invest in a young pass rusher to complement Von Miller, who will need some help next season after coming off an ACL injury.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs have a team that can reach the playoffs, but they won’t have a team that can play at a championship level until they address certain areas. Alex Smith is likely to stay at quarterback, who is fine for now, but Kansas City needs to get him more help around him outside of Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs should explore the free agent market for wide receivers while also taking advantage of a deep class of wide receivers in the draft, which should help them pick up at least two talented wide outs this offseason. The Chiefs also have a few starters along the offensive line approaching free agency, which is something they’ll have to adequately address if they’re going to remain competitive in 2014. Defensively, the Chiefs are in relatively good shape, except in the secondary, where they got exposed late in the season when their pass rush wasn’t quite as dominant as they were early in the season. If Kansas City can get more talent around safety Eric Berry they’ll be in good shape on the back end of their defense.
Oakland Raiders – Dennis Allen has one more season to start turning things around in Oakland or he’s going to be unemployed. The first thing Allen will have to do is decide on a course of action at quarterback, because if he doesn’t want to commit to Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin in 2014, the Raiders may have to use their first round pick on a new quarterback. Once the quarterback position is figured out, Oakland may have to make due with the rest of the offense as is, because their defense needs a lot of attention. Oakland had a terrible pass defense last year, and they’ll not only need to overhaul their secondary, but they’re going to need to find pass rushers along the defensive line. On the off chance Jadeveon Clowney falls to them in the draft, they may need to take him, even if it means waiting until later in the draft to pick a quarterback, because generating a pass rush may be equally important to becoming a competitive team in 2014.
San Diego Chargers – The resurgence of Philip Rivers and the emergence of rookie receiver Keenan Allen have given the Chargers a boost and a chance to remain competitive for a few more years. Some improvement to the offensive line could be made this offseason, and it also wouldn’t hurt San Diego to add another receiver or two, perhaps a tight end that can ultimately take over for Antonio Gates. But the biggest priority for the Chargers this offseason could be cornerback, where the team may need to invest an early round draft pick while also acquiring one or two players in free agency to give that position a boost. Finally, San Diego could use another pass rusher, and if they can find a way to make a splash in that area, it could go a long way towards helping them challenge for a division title in 2014 if Rivers can continue to perform at the level he did in 2013.
For the first time ever, these two bitter division rivals will face one another in the postseason, doing so appropriately in a season in which they split the regular season matchups, with each team winning on the other’s home field. Let’s take a closer look at round 3 between the Chargers and the Broncos.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
Rarely was there a doubt this season that the Broncos would end up being the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Despite a couple hiccups, Denver finished 13-3 and will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. As for the Chargers, they won their final four games of the regular season in must-win situations and they carried that mentality into Cincinnati last week and came out with a convincing win after a dominating performance in the 2nd half.
SAN DIEGO OFFENSE VS. DENVER DEFENSE
The Chargers beat the Broncos back in week 15 because they were able to run the ball effectively and control the clock, keeping Peyton Manning and the Denver offense off the field, and that’s something the Broncos need to be aware of repeating itself this week. Outside of his 23-yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter, San Diego running back Ryan Matthews rarely broke off a big run, but he consistently got positive yards with each rush attempt, which moved the ball down field and kept the Denver pass rush at bay. Matthews and the Chargers need to do their best to repeat that performance if they expect to knock off the Broncos in Denver for the second time this season. As well as Philip Rivers has played this season, San Diego does not want him in a shootout with Manning, as the Chargers have a .500 record when Rivers attempts more than 30 passes in a game, so they need to make sure they stay balanced on offense. Moreover, even without Von Miller on the field for the Broncos, San Diego does not want to give the Denver pass rush a chance to pin their ears back and come after Rivers, if that starts to happen the Chargers will be in trouble. But the Broncos need to make a commitment towards stopping the run so that they aren’t dominated in time of possession, even if it means relying on their banged-up secondary to contain Rivers and the San Diego skill players.
DENVER OFFENSE VS. SAN DIEGO DEFENSE
In the last meeting between these two teams, the Broncos had the ball for just 21 minutes but still managed to score 20 points, which says all you need to know about the Denver offense this season. The Broncos have been historically good this season, and keeping them off the field is just about the only way they’ve been stopped this season. Wes Welker has been cleared to play, which means he will rejoin the lineup alongside Demaryius Thomas, who is heading to the Pro Bowl, Eric Decker, who came on strong late in the season, and tight end Julius Thomas, who is also heading to the Pro Bowl. Of course, it’s not all about Manning and the passing game, as the Broncos stay balanced with running back Knowshon Moreno, who’s had a great season and has been an underrated part of the Denver offense. San Diego’s best hope for defending the Broncos would be to put pressure on Manning, as their pass rush was a big part of their 2nd half dominance over the Bengals last week. However, the Denver offensive line has held up well this season amidst injuries, Manning is great at getting rid of the ball quickly, and blitzing the Broncos leads to one-on-one matchups with their receivers, which can be a problem, putting the San Diego defense between a rock and a hard place. If the pass rush is effective, the Chargers will have a chance to keep the Denver offense from blowing them out; otherwise, the Broncos could start clicking on offense and be tough to stop.
To San Diego’s credit, they’ve played two good games against the Broncos this season, and they’ve made a great run by winning their last five games and reaching the second weekend of the playoffs. However, this is where their magical run comes to an end. It’s unrealistic to think that the Chargers can control the clock the way they did in week 15. That game was also played on a short week, while this time around Manning and the Broncos have had an extra week to prepare, which should make a difference. The Chargers will play well and put up a fight once again, but the Broncos will eventually be too much for them. Denver 38, San Diego 21.
The Chargers and the Bengals are probably the least intriguing matchup of the weekend, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an entertaining game between two teams that believe they can reach the Super Bowl. Let’s take a closer look.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
The Chargers had quite the journey to get into the playoffs, winning five of their final six games, including two against Kansas City and one against Denver just to stay mathematically alive heading into week 17. With Miami and Baltimore losing games early in the day last Sunday, San Diego controlled its own destiny in their game against the Chiefs, but struggled to defeat a watered down Kansas City roster, needing a 4th quarter comeback and some good fortune to beat the Chiefs in overtime and clinch the final playoff spot in the AFC. The Bengals, meanwhile, have been as steady and consistent as any team in the NFL this season, and while they didn’t clinch the AFC North until week 16, Cincinnati won their division with a three-game cushion after putting up a record of 11-5 during the regular season.
SAN DIEGO OFFENSE VS. CINCINNATI DEFENSE
Philip Rivers has had a resurgent season, and he and the San Diego offense are rolling heading into the postseason, as the Chargers won five of their final six games. Of course, their only loss over that span was to the Bengals in week 13, when the Chargers only scored 10 points, in part because of three turnovers. Rivers has received plenty of help this season from rookie receiver Keenan Allen, reliable tight end Antonio Gates, short-yardage receiver Danny Woodhead, and running back Ryan Matthews; as a result the Chargers have a top-5 passing attack. However, the Cincinnati defense is top-5 against both the run and the pass, which made it tough for San Diego to put points on the board back in week 13. In that game, Allen was the only dangerous skill player for San Diego, and in the rematch this weekend they’re going to need a few more players to step up and make plays for them, especially since they’ll be on the road. It’ll also be critical that Rivers doesn’t turn the ball over, which is a problem he’s had in the past but has been able to keep in check this season. If Rivers can avoid turnovers and spread the ball around, it’ll put the Chargers in a position to score points against a tough Cincinnati defense.
CINCINNATI OFFENSE VS. SAN DIEGO DEFENSE
The Bengals have one of the top wide receivers in football in A.J. Green, as well as a deep contingent of skill players, who have helped Andy Dalton have a great season in 2013. However, Cincinnati has two issues on offense. First is the health of tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, as the presence of those players opens up the offense and helps give the Bengals a dynamic passing attack. Without them on the field, opposing defenses can pay more attention to Green on the outside, which makes it harder for Dalton to get the ball to their best playmaker. The other issue Cincinnati has is that Dalton can be turnover prone, throwing 20 interceptions this season. Dalton has looked brilliant at times this season, but he’s also looked terrible at times, and that inconsistency from week to week can be both frustrating and costly. If Dalton doesn’t play well, the Bengals have trouble winning, and considering the fact that he’s coming off a four-interception performance in the regular season finale, there’s no telling how Dalton will fair this week. However, the San Diego pass defense is vulnerable, as even Chase Daniel had success throwing against them last week, so Dalton should be in a position to have success, although he was mediocre against the chargers in week 13, and if he has a similar performance the Bengals will be in for a fight, as Dalton’s performance will dictate the direction of the game.
The first meeting between these teams was low scoring, but expect this game to open up a little more, as San Diego struggles defending the pass, while Rivers should rise to the occasion and play well to help make up for a bad defense. However, the Bengals have a better defense and a better overall roster, so unless Dalton has a disastrous game, they’ll be in good shape. Cincinnati is also perfect at home this season, and it’s hard to imagine that ending now. Cincinnati 28, San Diego 23.
Yesterday, we took a look at the leading candidates for defensive rookie of the year, and now it’s time to take a closer look at the first-year standouts on the offensive side of the ball. There are a lot of great candidates for this award, but we’ve narrowed it down to the top five.
Keenan Allen, San Diego – In a tight and crowded rookie of the year race, Allen may be one of the few players that is starting to stand out. The Chargers needed somebody to step up at wide receiver and Allen responded, as he has become San Diego’s leading receiver with nearly 1,000 yards on the season and eight touchdowns. Few rookie receivers are able to make a big impact, but Allen has made a seamless transition from college to the NFL, and that has put him in good position to be offensive rookie of the year.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati – Bernard is only playing part time, but he has taken that part time play and carried it a long way. The Bengals drafted him to be a change-of-pace back, but he’s nearly in equal to BenJarvus Green-Ellis in yards, while averaging 4.3 yards per carry. What has separated Bernard from a lot of the other rookie running backs has been his pass catching ability, as he’s the team’s third leading receiver with 51 catches for over 400 yards and three touchdowns. He may not have enough carries or played a big enough role on his team to win the award, but he’s been a great addition to an offense with a lot of playmakers and has shown great promise during his rookie season.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston – His team’s terrible record will probably prevent him from garnering serious consideration for the award, as will some of his inconsistencies, but Hopkins has made an instant impact for the Texans as a nice complement to veteran Andre Johnson. Hopkins has nearly eclipsed the 800-yard mark this season and is averaging 16 yards per reception. His chances to win are hurt by the fact that he only has two touchdowns on the season, but compared to other rookie wide receivers, Hopkins has had a good season and made a difference, even on a bad team.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay – Lacy is most likely Allen’s biggest competition for offensive rookie of the year. He has gone over the 1,100-yard mark and found the end zone 10 times, while averaging nearly 80 yards per game. Most importantly, he has helped carry a team that has been without its starting quarterback for half the season. Lacy has had no trouble adjusting physically to life in the NFL, even against teams stacking the box against him. Perhaps most importantly, he’s only fumbled the ball once, so he’s taken care of the football and his team has been able to rely on him, which should carry him a long way in the rookie of the year race.
Zac Stacy, St. Louis – Stacy was my pick before the season as a rookie running back that could come out of nowhere and make an impact, and now he’s a dark horse to win rookie of the year. He didn’t start playing regularly until October, and yet Stacy still has 958 yards rushing on the season, making him second only to Lacy among rookies, and giving him a chance to eclipse 1,000 yards in what would essentially be three-quarters of a season. If his stats could be extrapolated to a full season and his team was better, Stacy would certainly be among the top two or three candidates for the award and have a real chance to be rookie of the year.
11NFL Week 16 Preview: Cowboys-Redskins, Saints-Panthers, Steelers-Packers, Raiders-Chargers and More
There are two weeks left in the NFL season and yet the playoff picture remains unsettled. Let’s not waste our time with the meaningless games on this week’s schedule and take a closer look at all the games that have playoff implications.
Miami at Buffalo – The Dolphins need to win and get some help over the final two weeks in order to get to the playoffs, and a win over the Bills isn’t a guarantee, especially after Buffalo beat them earlier in the season. The Dolphins hurt themselves with turnovers when the teams met in week 7, and that’s not something that can repeat itself this time around, as Miami will have to do a better job of handling Buffalo’s defensive front, which can be disruptive against the Dolphin’s suspect offensive line. Thad Lewis will be Buffalo’s quarterback for the injured E.J. Manuel, but Lewis was the quarterback when the Bills beat the Dolphins in week 7, so that shouldn’t hold them back from trying to pull off a season sweep of the fish.
Minnesota at Cincinnati – Believe it or not, the Bengals still haven’t wrapped up the AFC North, nor have they assured themselves of a playoff spot yet. With a win and some help Cincinnati can lock up a postseason spot, but that may not be so easy against the Vikings, who have just one loss in their last four games. Matt Cassel has played great over the last three weeks, and even if Adrian Peterson doesn’t play, Cassel is capable of leading the offense and putting points on the board, which could put pressure on Andy Dalton to have a good game as well, and if Dalton doesn’t play well, the Bengals could be in trouble.
Indianapolis at Kansas City – If the Colts are going to be taken seriously in the postseason, this is a game they need to win. Indy hasn’t won two in a row since week 9, as their play since then has been erratic and inconsistent. If the Colts have another sluggish first half, they’re likely to be blown out, as the Chiefs have found a groove offensively in recent weeks, even though their defense has taken a step back. It all hinges on Andrew Luck, but if he’s sharp and the Chiefs can’t put pressure on him, Kansas City could find themselves in another shootout, which is something they’d like to stay away from.
Dallas at Washington – The Cowboys are sinking fast, but they may be catching a break by playing the Redskins this week. However, Kirk Cousins looked good in his first start of the season last week, and he’s certainly capable of carving up the Dallas defense, which has been downright terrible in recent weeks. If Cousins can get the Washington offense moving, it would put a lot of pressure on Tony Romo and the Dallas offense to win a shootout, which could lead to Romo forcing throws and making mistakes. As bad as the Redskins have been this year, all the pressure in this game is on Dallas, whose season will be over if they lose and the Eagles win, so all the problems the Cowboys have had the past two weeks need to be fixed in a hurry, because Washington would love to play spoiler against their division rivals.
New Orleans at Carolina – The winner of this game will win the NFC South and get a first round bye in the playoffs, although technically the Panthers would have to win in Atlanta next week to wrap everything up. Carolina has some adjustments to make after getting dominated by the Saints two weeks ago, but being at home should help, especially considering that the Saints have been a mediocre road team this season. New Orleans is most vulnerable when Drew Brees is put under pressure, so Carolina’s best chance to reverse the outcome of two weeks ago is to have an effective pass rush. Offensively, the Panthers will have to capitalize on red zone opportunities by getting into the end zone, something they’ve struggled to do. If Carolina can do those two things, they’ll have a chance to take down the Saints and win the division.
Denver at Houston – Despite last week’s loss, the Broncos are still in line to have home field throughout the playoffs if they win their final two games. On paper this looks like a mismatch, but if the Texans can run the ball effectively and control the clock the way San Diego did against the Broncos last week, Denver could have a problem. The Denver secondary also has to start playing better amidst all the injuries, as Houston has two quality wide receivers that have the potential to do some damage against a vulnerable secondary.
New York Giants at Detroit – The Lions are now on the outside of the playoffs after losing four of their last five games, but a home game against the Giants could be just what they need. After a brief glimmer of hope, the Giants have been abysmal the last two weeks and appear to be just playing out the season. If Detroit can start fast and get an early lead, the Giants may not put up much of a fight, but if the Lions are sluggish and can’t get their pass rush going against a questionable offensive line, the Giants will be able to hang around and could be a tough team for the struggling Lions to beat.
Arizona at Seattle – The Cardinals are still in contention, but if they’re going to make the playoffs they have to beat the Seahawks, who are virtually unbeatable at home. The first time these two teams met, Arizona couldn’t run the ball at all, which put a lot of pressure on Carson Palmer. If the Cardinals expect to win this game, they’ll need to run the ball effectively and play great defense, as they’ll need just about everything to go their way if they’re going to win in Seattle.
Pittsburgh at Green Bay – With or without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers need to win this game. They’ve found a way to win each of their last two games by a single point, but the Steelers are far better than either of the teams they’ve played the last two weeks. Pittsburgh has slim odds to reach the postseason, but they’re playing quality football on both sides of the ball, and there is no team in the NFL that wants to play them right now. Green Bay may have to beat Pittsburgh at their own game, by grinding it out on the ground and trying to be more physical than the Steelers, which will be tough, but if the Packers don’t have Rodgers, they’re going to have a hard time beating the Steelers, even at home.
Oakland at San Diego – San Diego still has slim playoff hopes if they can win out, but beating the Raiders may not be a lock. Oakland has picked it up offensively behind Matt McGloin and they may be able to keep pace with San Diego. However, the Raiders will need to avoid turning the ball over if they hope to win, and that could be a problem.
New England at Baltimore – There may be no hotter team in the NFL right now than the Ravens, and a win in this game will set up a de facto AFC North championship game next week against the Bengals. Baltimore is coming on strong at the right time of year while the Patriots are beginning to sputter and are barely able to pull out wins against bad teams. New England will need their defense to step up and play well in this game in order to stay close and have a chance in the 4th quarter, because the offense could have a tough time against the Baltimore defense, especially if they have to come from behind late in the game.
Chicago at Philadelphia – All of a sudden, the Bears control their own destiny in the NFC North, but to keep it that way they need to win a night game in Philadelphia against an offense that can be tough to stop. Chicago does not have a strong defense, and that could be a problem against Philadelphia’s potent offense. If the Bears can’t slow down the Eagles, it’ll be up to Jay Cutler to not only put a lot of points on the board, but also avoid costly turnovers. We know that Nick Foles takes care of the football while helping the Eagles reach the end zone, and it’ll be up to Cutler to do the same if the Bears are going to pull off the win on the road.
It was not a good week for the top teams in the AFC, as three division leaders all suffered a loss. Let’s see if it makes a difference in this week’s power rankings:
1. Denver – Let’s not overreact too much to Denver’s loss last Thursday. If it were easy to control the clock and keep the ball away from Peyton Manning, more teams than the Chargers would have done so. The Broncos are still in position to have home field advantage in the playoffs, and they should still be seen as the favorites in the AFC.
2. Kansas City – Giving up 31 points to the Raiders is a major red flag. The Chiefs won’t be scoring 56 points against any team they’ll meet in the postseason, so they need to find a way to get their defense back on track. This week’s game against the Colts will be an interesting test for Kansas City, as it’ll be their first game against a playoff-caliber team other than Denver since September.
3. Baltimore – Despite being kept out of the end zone, the Ravens pulled out a huge road win on Monday night. The Baltimore defense is looking like the Baltimore defenses we’ve seen in years past, and it’s delivered the Ravens four straight wins, control of their own destiny in the wildcard race, and a shot at winning the AFC North. The Ravens will be challenged the final two weeks, but they’re playing good football and finding a way to win close games, which makes them a dangerous team right now.
4. Miami – Just about every game they play is close, but after a rough patch earlier in the season and plenty of drama off the field, the Dolphins are coming on strong late in the year. The eye test says that they’re a playoff team, and they could be a tough team to face if they’re able to get there.
5. Cincinnati – The Bengals take a big hit in the power rankings after their poor effort Sunday night. Special teams was their biggest problem in their loss to the Steelers, and as solid as they’ve been on offense and defense this season, they need to be good in all three phases when they get to the postseason. The Bengals also hold a 3-5 record on the road, and those three wins are by a combined 13 points, so they haven’t been great away from home, which would be another problem if they want to go deep in the playoffs.
6. San Diego – The Chargers get a big boost in the power rankings for figuring out and executing the formula for beating the Broncos, doing so in Denver nonetheless. They’ll need a lot of luck to reach the postseason, but they’ve played good football for the past month, and that deserves some recognition.
7. Pittsburgh – If only the Steelers hadn’t gotten off to that 0-4 start, because they look like a playoff-caliber team after manhandling the Bengals on Sunday night. If Pittsburgh were to make the playoffs, they’d be a team that nobody wants to play, which means something, even if their postseason hopes are slim.
8. New England – This is just not the same team without Rob Gronkowski, as they don’t have the red zone target they need in clutch situations, and that was evident at the end of the game on Sunday against the Dolphins. The Patriots barely got past Houston and Cleveland, and without Gronkowski beating playoff-caliber teams is going to be a real struggle, which is why they don’t look like a big threat in the AFC.
9. Indianapolis – Even after a comfortable win over the Texans, the Colts still look very pedestrian. They haven’t beaten anybody outside of Houston and Tennessee in two months and they’re one of the least feared teams in the AFC right now. The Colts will travel to Kansas City this week with a chance to make a statement and pick up some momentum heading into the postseason, which is something they need because they won’t survive in the playoffs unless they start playing better.
10. Tennessee – The Titans nearly pulled out a win against a quality team on Sunday, but they found a way to lose the game in overtime. Of course, Tennessee still has a chance to finish the season strong and avoid a double-digit loss total.
11NFL 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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11NFL 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.
11NFL Week 10 Power Rankings: Broncos, Chiefs, Patriots, Colts, Titans, Chargers, Jets, Ravens and More
The AFC went 0-4 against the NFC last week, while the Colts and Bengals both suffered disappointing losses, what does that mean for the week 11 power rankings? See below:
#1 Denver Broncos
Here for now, but haven’t been very impressive as of late; Big test against Kansas City on Sunday.
#2 Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are undefeated, but have had a soft schedule and they play the Broncos this weekend. The Chiefs pass rush better be locked in.
#3 New England Patriots
Bill Belichick has always loved Ed Reed, but will they take a flyer?
#4 Indianapolis Colts
I have thought this team was slightly overrated and last week’s 38-8 loss to the Rams didn’t help change my mind.
#5 Cincinnati Bengals
This team continues to confuse everyone. Extremely impressive one week, sub par the next.
#6 Tennessee Titans
Now that Jake Locker is out, this team will likely be sliding out of the top 10 very soon. However, the AFC is so weak that they are still alive for a wild card.
#7 San Diego Chargers
It was pretty surprising how little success the Chargers had throwing the ball, but they are still in the think of a playoff berth.
#8 New York Jets
The Jets have the 3rd worst point differential in the AFC, but they are still in the drivers seat for the second wild card.
#9 Baltimore Ravens
As much as I do not care for Joe Flacco, the Ravens’ win over the Bengals was both impressive and might have saved their season…for now.
#10 Cleveland Browns
Browns remain in good position since they boast the only winning record within the AFC North.
#11 Pittsburgh Steelers
Somehow, this team has put themselves in a position to get back in the divisional race… don’t hold your breath though Steelers fans.
#12 Houston Texans
It’s hard to find anything going right in Houston right now… Case Keenum might help some Aaron Rodgers owners though.
#13 Buffalo Bills
The Bills continue to look worse and worse somehow. What a tough NFL start for their new head coach.
#14 Oakland Raiders
What started as a promising season for Pryor has ended up with the Raiders having the 4th worst offense in the NFL.
#15 Jacksonville Jaguars
Good new Jags fans, with the Bucs winning, the Jags are still in the hunt for the #1 pick.
#16 Miami Dolphins
Has any team ever had a worse sequence of events while losing 4 out of 5?
Tell me how wrong I am on twitter @Cole_Stevenson
11NFL Week 10 Predictions: Falcons-Seahawks, Bills-Steelers, Bears-Lions, Bengals-Ravens, 49ers-Panthers, Broncos-Chargers and More
Will the Jaguars or Buccaneers get their first win? Will Packers be able to bounce back without their star QB? Find out our picks/predictions below:
(Bryan Zarpentine 69-39 overall)
(Cole Stevenson 68-40 overall)
Bryan Zarpentine: Atlanta 23, Seattle 14 – The Seahawks are due for a loss after the last two weeks. Matt Ryan will do just enough to lift the Falcons to victory.
Cole Stevenson: Seattle 24, Atlanta 18
Bryan Zarpentine: Buffalo 20, Pittsburgh 17 – E.J. Manuel’s return sparks the Bills, who find a way to win a close game for once.
Cole Stevenson: Buffalo 24, Pittsburgh 21
Bryan Zarpentine: Chicago 34, Detroit 28 – The Bears are riding high after their Monday night win, and with Jay Cutler’s return, they pull out a close win in the 4th quarter.
Cole Stevenson: Detroit 31, Chicago 27
Bryan Zarpentine: Cincinnati 31, Baltimore 13 – Things get even worse for the Ravens, who simply can’t slow down the Cincinnati offense.
Cole Stevenson: Cincinnati 28, Baltimore 17
Bryan Zarpentine: Philadelphia 27, Green Bay 16 – Nick Foles doesn’t throw seven touchdowns the way he did last week, but he can certainly out-duel Seneca Wallace.
Cole Stevenson: Philadelphia 24, Green Bay 18
Bryan Zarpentine: Tennessee 31, Jacksonville 17 – Jake Locker gets back on track and looks like the guy we saw the first few weeks of the season before his injury.
Cole Stevenson: Tennessee 30, Jacksonville 13
Bryan Zarpentine: Indianapolis 28, St. Louis 24 – The Rams make it close, but in the end, they can’t stop Andrew Luck in the 4th quarter.
Cole Stevenson: Indianapolis 23, St Louis 16
Bryan Zarpentine: New York Giants 17, Oakland 10 – Baby steps for the Giants, who win ugly, but do find a way to win their third in a row.
Cole Stevenson: Giants 23, Oakland 17
Bryan Zarpentine: San Francisco 21, Carolina 16 – Cam Newton can’t quite get the job done in the red zone, and the Panthers have to settle for too many field goals to knock off the 49ers.
Cole Stevenson: San Francisco 24, Carolina 19
Bryan Zarpentine: Denver 42, San Diego 24 – Nothing can slow down Peyton Manning, and Phillip Rivers can’t quite keep up.
Cole Stevenson: Denver 38, San Diego 28
Bryan Zarpentine: Arizona 27, Houston 21 – The Texans are reeling, and they won’t be able to get their running game going against Arizona’s defense, which makes it hard to beat the Cardinals on the road.
Cole Stevenson: Arizona 22, Houston 21
Bryan Zarpentine: New Orleans 38, Dallas 31 – Tony Romo does well to keep up with Drew Brees, until a typical Romo mistake in the 4th quarter proves costly for the Cowboys.
Cole Stevenson: New Orleans 31, Dallas 28
Bryan Zarpentine: Tampa Bay 17, Miami 13 – It has to happen sometime, and the Bucs defense proves disruptive for a distracted Miami team, which is enough to give Tampa the win.
Cole Stevenson: Miami 20, Tampa Bay 17
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