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.
The NFL playoffs get underway Saturday afternoon when the Chiefs visit the Colts, a rematch of a week 16 game that the Colts won in Kansas City. Let’s take a closer look:
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
Kansas City backed into the playoffs, losing five of their final seven games, although they played well in their week 17 loss to the Chargers while many of their key starters were inactive. However, the Chiefs are far from the team that started the season 9-0, and while some may marvel at an 11-5 wildcard team, they haven’t looked like an 11-win team in two months. Meanwhile, a month ago the Colts looked like a team that was going to back up into the playoffs, but they ended up playing well down the stretch, winning their final three games and outscoring their opponents 88-20, albeit against weak teams, including the Chiefs.
KANSAS CITY OFFENSE VS. INDIANAPOLIS DEFENSE
The Indy defense has really stepped up its play over the final three weeks of the season, allowing just 20 points during that span, including just seven points against the Chiefs two weeks ago. They do have a bit of a weakness at stopping the run, which is a strength of the Kansas City offense behind Jamaal Charles, but the Chiefs trailed for most of the game two weeks ago, which means they couldn’t take advantage of the Indianapolis rush defense, as Charles was limited to just 13 carries, even though he averaged eight yards per carry. The Chiefs need to get Charles as many touches as possible and stay out of obvious passing downs, as the Indy pass rush sacked Alex Smith five times two weeks ago, forcing three fumbles from Smith and six fumbles overall. Kansas City was hurt by four turnovers in that game, and that’s something they’ll have to avoid this time around. The Chiefs will also need to stay ahead of the chains and remain within striking distance of the Colts, as they’ll be in trouble if they have to overcome a deficit against Indianapolis on the road.
INDIANAPOLIS OFFENSE VS. KANSAS CITY DEFENSE
The Kansas City defense that dominated teams the first half of the season has been no better than average during the second half of the season, and they had all kinds of trouble trying to defend Andrew Luck two weeks ago. Injuries to their linebacker corps have taken away their terrifying pass rush and left the rest of their defense vulnerable. Meanwhile, Luck has survived the loss of Reggie Wayne and rebounded from a mid-season slump, looking real sharp the final two weeks of the season. T.Y. Hilton continues to emerge as a big-time playmaker and a favorite target of Luck, and the Colts also have a few solid complementary receivers like Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen, who were both college teammates of Luck at Stanford and players he’s comfortable throwing the ball to. Of course, Indy’s offense has its flaws, as their running game can be inconsistent and the offensive line is not always reliable either. Some of the banged up players on Kansas City’s defense should benefit from sitting out last week, and if they can get healthy and stuff the run, they’ll give their pass rush a chance to do some damage. However, if Luck is given time in the pocket, he’ll be tough to keep under wraps for four quarters.
A big part of the postseason is momentum and playing well at the right time of year. The Chiefs have sputtered down the stretch, and on the season they have exactly one win over playoff teams. Meanwhile, the Colts are riding a three-game winning streak and have come out of their mid-season slump playing good football in December, and that gives them an advantage heading into this game. This game will go just like the game two weeks ago went: Luck will have his way with the Kansas City defense and the Chiefs will struggle to come from behind. Indianapolis 27, Kansas City 10.
There’s just one week left in the NFL regular season, and hopefully by now we have everything figured out. However, that’s not so easy to do in the AFC. Let’s take a look at the AFC power rankings as we close out the season.
1. Denver – There’s no doubt about it, the Broncos are the best team in the AFC. By no means are they perfect; they have some flaws and some injury concerns heading into the postseason, but they have one of the best offenses in NFL history and have been a dominant team for much of the season. Regardless of what the weather is like, Peyton Manning and company will be tough to beat in the postseason.
2. Cincinnati – The Bengals can be frustrating to watch at times, and among all the division winners in the AFC they have the least reliable quarterback, but it’s important to remember that from top to bottom they have arguably the most talented and balanced roster in football. Cincinnati can win in a number of different ways and they’re going to have a chance to win every game they play, which is why they’re a distant second to the Broncos in the AFC.
3. New England – Winning in Baltimore the way they did was a great reminder of what exactly the Patriots are capable of doing, as they completely shut down the hottest team in the NFL on the road. Of course, with the depleted supporting cast that Tom Brady has, New England won’t be the favorites in the AFC heading into the playoffs, but they’ll definitely be contenders.
4. Indianapolis – The Colts finally won back-to-back games, and doing so in convincing fashion in Arrowhead Stadium this late in the season was quite impressive. The defense has gotten the job done the past two weeks, albeit against weak offensive teams, and Indy is now going to enter the postseason with some momentum and some confidence, and when those two intangibles are combined with Andrew Luck at quarterback, the Colts start to look like a team that might be dangerous in the postseason after all.
5. Pittsburgh – All of a sudden the Steelers look like the hottest team in the NFL the past two weeks, dominating the Bengals and pulling out a close win in wintry conditions at Lambeau Field. They’ll need a lot of help next week to get into the playoffs, but rest assured that the Pittsburgh team we’ve seen the last seven weeks is a playoff worthy team and will be a tough matchup if they can find a way into the postseason.
6. Kansas City – The Chiefs don’t look like a team that’s won 11 games, as they’ve lost four of their last six games. Granted, two of those losses came against the Broncos, but Kansas City has lost three in a row at home, which won’t matter for them in the postseason, but it indicates a team that the Chiefs are a team that reached its peak a long time ago, as their offense is still limited and their defense looks fairly average. It’s been a great rebound season under Andy Reid, but their trip to the postseason could be brief.
7. San Diego – Regardless of what happens in week 17 and whether or not the Chargers sneak into the postseason, they won’t have a losing record in a tough division, and they’re going to have at least four wins over playoff teams, including a road win in Denver, which is one of the most impressive results by any team all season. San Diego does have a lot of moments they wish they could take back, but they’re a quality team that has finished the season strong, and if they some how find their way into the playoffs, no one can say they don’t deserve to be there.
8. Baltimore – The defending champs had us believing that they were going to pull off something special at the end of the season, but playing that poorly at home in the most important game of the season is unacceptable. The Baltimore defense deserves a lot of credit, but the Ravens have been mediocre on offense all season and it’s finally caught up to them, and it’s the reason they fall all the way to eight in the power rankings, as the season comes to its conclusion.
9. Miami – With so much on the line, there’s no excuse for the Dolphins playing as poorly as they did in Buffalo on Sunday. Miami has been too streaky this season, winning three in a row on two separate occasions, but also losing four in a row at one point, and that’s not the M.O. of a playoff team. The Dolphins were in a lot of games, but to get shutout by a sub-.500 team with so much to play for is not what quality teams do, even if there’s still a decent chance they can find their way into the postseason.
10. Buffalo – The Bills crack the top 10, and for good reason. Consider this, they have wins over Carolina, Baltimore, and Miami twice, with close losses against New England, Cincinnati and Kansas City. They’ve done all that with either a rookie or a practice-squad player at quarterback, so despite the continued disappointment in Buffalo, that’s not a bad season.
11. New York Jets – As bad as the Jets have been for large chunks of the season, they’ve won two of their last three with a chance to finish .500 on the season, and they have wins over New England and New Orleans to hang their hat on. It might not be enough to save Rex Ryan’s job, but it’s not bad for a team that had the lowest of expectations coming into the season.
12. Tennessee – Despite a hot start and a little bit of hope this year, the Titans are going to finish the season without a win over a playoff team. On top of that, they’re going to finish below .500 in arguably the weakest division in football, which is not a season they should be proud of.
13. Jacksonville – The Jaguars were as bad as can during the first half of the season, but they’ve shown real signs of improvement and progress over the second half of the season. They have a long way to go, but they do have three wins inside their division, which is a nice start under new head coach Gus Bradley.
14. Cleveland – There was a glimmer of hope at the midway point in the season, but the Browns have been an absolute mess late in the year and they remain at the bottom of the AFC North, where they’ve been for quite some time.
15. Oakland – It’s going to be six straight losses for the Raiders at the end of the season, and eight losses in their last nine games. There are no answers at quarterback and the defense hasn’t played particularly well either. Oakland is bottom-5 team in the NFL, there’s no doubt about it.
16. Houston – With 13 straight losses, the Texans may very well be the worst team in the NFL. Head coach Gary Kubiak didn’t survive the season, and now this organization needs a new coach and a new quarterback, and has a long climb ahead of them to get back to where they were a couple of years ago.
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.
There are just three weeks left to play in the season, and the picture in AFC isn’t getting any clearer. Let’s try to make some sense of everything with this week’s power rankings of the top-10 teams in the AFC.
1. Denver – The injuries and the personnel turnover in the secondary are definitely a concern, but the Broncos played in freezing temperatures on Sunday and Peyton Manning looked as sharp as ever, proving that he is capable of playing in cold weather. There’s no reason why the Broncos shouldn’t be able to win their final three games and close out home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
2. Kansas City – The Chiefs accomplished two things in week 14: they put a stop to their three-game losing streak, and they continued to look impressive on the offensive side of the ball. The Kansas City defense may not be the same as they early in the season, but if the offense continues to score at a high rate, they’ll be a more balanced team and a dangerous team down the stretch and in the postseason.
3. Cincinnati – When the good Andy Dalton shows up, this team is dynamic offensively and is tough to beat. They’ve won three in a row, and if not for a pair of overtime losses, they could have nine straight wins. Not enough people are talking about them as a viable contender, but if Dalton plays well, they’re definitely a threat in the AFC.
4. New England – The Patriots are a bit lucky to have won their past two games against inferior teams, and on top of that, they’ve now lost Rob Gronkowski for the season, which will weaken their offense, much like the beginning of the season. They should be able to wrap up the AFC East at some point, but they have two road games against teams with a lot to play for coming up, so they’ll be challenged even more so than they have in their narrow wins against inferior teams the past two weeks.
5. Miami – Even in the games they’ve lost, the Dolphins have been close and competitive with everybody they’ve played this year. Miami has been both lucky and good, and now they have a real chance to win out and finish the season with 10 wins; they can also put some pressure on the Patriots if they can beat New England at home this weekend.
6. Baltimore – The Ravens survived a rough stretch in October and November, and now they are winners of three in a row, although those three wins haven’t been pretty. There are signs that Baltimore is starting to put things together at the right time, and make a late-season push for the playoffs. Of course, they face a tough schedule the rest of the way, which means Joe Flacco will have to be at the top of his game, whether he gets help from his surrounding cast or not.
7. San Diego – The Chargers have been the victims of a tough schedule and being in a division with the AFC’s two best teams, but on any given day, they can play with anybody. They won’t factor into the playoff picture, but they’re on a level playing field with the teams that still have a realistic chance of claiming the final wildcard spot in the AFC.
8. Indianapolis – They may have clinched their division, and they may be hosting a playoff game, but this is not a good team. They have a lot of injuries, and they tend to start slow, which has hurt them time and time again this season. The Colts have alternated wins and losses for the last six weeks, and that inconsistency is not becoming of a top team that will be a threat in the postseason.
9. Pittsburgh – The Steelers are mere inches away from still being in the midst of the playoff race. Despite their record, they’ve played good football for the past month and have done well to shake off a bad September. It might be too little too late, but expect Pittsburgh to finish the season strong.
10. Tennessee – Somebody’s got to round out the top-10, and unfortunately it’s the team that has lost four of their last five and surrendered 51 points this past week. Aside from their game against Denver, the Titans have hung tough during the past month, and lost a lot of close games, and for now that’s enough to make them 10th in the AFC.
11NFL Week 14 Preview: Colts-Bengals, Falcons-Packers, Raiders-Jets, Lions-Eagles, Chiefs-Redskins and More
We’ve made it to December, and that means just four weeks left in the NFL regular season. There is plenty left to be decided concerning the playoffs, so let’s take a closer look at all the games on the week 14 schedule:
Indianapolis at Cincinnati – Both these teams are heading to the playoffs, although they probably won’t meet unless both get to the AFC Championship Game. As bad as the Colts have been over the past month, they will clinch the AFC South with a win, although if Indy doesn’t get better performances out of their defense and running game, Andrew Luck is going to have a lot of heavy lifting to do against a good Cincinnati defense. Meanwhile, the Bengals have been in a lot of close games and are battle tested; in fact, they’re two overtime losses away from an eight-game winning streak, so they’re actually playing quite well coming into this game. Even if Andy Dalton isn’t at the top of his game, the Bengals have a lot of playmakers that will be tough for a questionable Colts defense to stop.
Atlanta at Green Bay – The status of Aaron Rodgers is still up in the air, but even without Rodgers, the Packers should be able to move the ball against Atlanta’s defense. Green Bay has a sliver of postseason hope left, but they can’t afford to lose at home to the Falcons, who are still playing for pride. The Packers will need to show a sense of urgency to secure their first win in over a month, even against the 3-9 Falcons.
Cleveland at New England – The Patriots almost let one slip away last week, and they need to make sure that doesn’t happen again this week against another inferior team, especially with New England still chasing Denver for the top seed in the AFC. The Browns shouldn’t be able to hang with the Patriots in Foxboro, unless the Patriots let them.
Oakland at New York Jets – Expect this one to be ugly. The Jets are good enough on defense to shut down the Raiders, but they’re also terrible on offense and shouldn’t be expected to score many points. Whichever team can make fewer mistakes and commit fewer penalties, a steep challenge for both sides, will have the advantage in this game.
Detroit at Philadelphia – This game has major playoff implications, with the Lions trying to create some distance in their division and the Eagles locked in a tie with the Cowboys in their division. The Philadelphia defense has shown signs of improvement lately, but playing Detroit will be a true test of how good they are. If the Eagles are truly better on defense than most people think, they should be able to slow down Detroit’s offense enough to win this game, because the Lions may not be able to stop Nick Foles and the Eagles on offense. However, if Detroit’s offense gets rolling as well, this one could go back and forth and become a shootout between Foles and Matthew Stafford.
Miami at Pittsburgh – This game is critical in the AFC wildcard race, as the Steelers are still alive, but only if they win this game. Pittsburgh won three straight before losing on Thanksgiving, and if they can get their offense rolling again, they could have the advantage in this game, especially at home. The Dolphins will need Ryan Tannehill to step up his game and lead them to victory in a tough road environment against a defense that can be tough to go against; otherwise, Miami’s playoff hopes could start to slip.
Buffalo at Tampa Bay – The Bills need to win out to have any hope of reaching the postseason, although it’s not impossible, considering their remaining schedule. Doug Marrone had Greg Schiano’s number when the two faced each other as head coaches in college, so the Bills should have an advantage in that department, although most coaches have had Schiano’s number the past couple of seasons. If Buffalo can avoid costly turnovers, they have a good chance to win on the road.
Kansas City at Washington – The last thing the Redskins need right now is to see a Chief’s team that is angry after losing three straight. Of course, Washington is at home and the Kansas City defense isn’t quite as intimidating as they were earlier in the season, so there is some hope for them. If RG3 can avoid Kansas City’s great pass rush, the Redskins should be able to score some points and have a chance to win. However, if the Chiefs get after RG3, a disastrous year in Washington will continue.
Minnesota at Baltimore – The Ravens have moved toward the front of the AFC wildcard race, but even at home the Vikings can be a tricky team to face. Baltimore has one of the top rush defenses in the NFL, but those stats go out the window when facing Adrian Peterson. If Baltimore can stuff the run, they should win easily, but if they can’t, it’ll be up to Joe Flacco to give the Ravens their third straight win.
Tennessee at Denver – The Broncos are rolling again after last week’s win in Kansas City, and they should be able to win again this week, officially end any hope the Titans have of making the playoffs. It will be nice to see John Fox back on the sidelines for the Broncos, and interesting to see how the team to reacts to having their head coach back, as they have four weeks left to come together and prepare themselves for a deep postseason run.
St. Louis at Arizona – The Cardinals need to avenge a week 1 loss to the Rams if they’re going to remain in the playoff hunt. Three turnovers doomed Arizona last week, and that’s something that can’t repeat itself this week against a St. Louis defense that can pressure quarterbacks and force turnovers. The Rams are also a little more dangerous offensively than they were in week 1 with two solid running backs and Tavon Austin starting to breakout, so the Cardinals will have their work cut out for them at home against a team that has the potential to play spoiler down the stretch.
New York Giants at San Diego – The playoff hopes for both teams are bleak and both will need to win out to have a chance, so both teams should have a lot of urgency to win. Outside of that, the matchup of Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers is always an interesting one, as the two were traded for one another on draft day about a decade ago. Whichever team gets better play out of their quarterback should win the game.
Seattle at San Francisco – The Seahawks crushed the 49ers back in week 2, and now San Francisco seeks some redemption against Seattle, who can lock up the division with a win. It’s hard to imagine anybody beating Seattle after what they did to the Saints on Monday night, although the 49ers look much improved in recent weeks and they have a front-7 that may be able to force the Seahawks into throwing the ball to win the game, and Seattle may not have the wide receivers to do that. However, the key to this game is Colin Kaepernick. His slump started when he faced the Seahawks the first time this season, and he’s going to need to make plays with his arm and his legs if the 49ers are going to have a chance to win.
Carolina at New Orleans – This is the game of the week, a Sunday night showdown with the NFC South Division lead on the line. These teams will meet again in two weeks, so this game isn’t the deciding factor in the division race, but it will go a long way. Moreover, the Saints haven’t played great football for the past month, and they are coming off a humiliating loss to the Seahawks Monday night, while the Panthers are riding an eight-game winning streak. However, New Orleans remains undefeated at home this season, so something will have to give. Carolina’s defense has shut down a lot of teams this season, but stopping the Saints in the Super Dome might be their toughest challenge yet, so we’ll see if they’re up to it.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody! While we all reflect on what we have to be thankful for this year, let’s take a look around the NFL at the players, coaches, and teams that have something to be thankful for this time of year.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs should be thankful to the Philadelphia Eagles for firing Andy Reid and making him available for them to hire. Despite losses in their last two games, Reid has helped the Chiefs pull a complete 180 following a disastrous season last year. Already reaching the nine-win mark is better than even the most optimistic fans could have expected from the Chiefs coming into the season after just two wins all of last year. Kansas City is almost certainly going to the playoffs, and they have Reid to thank for their swift turnaround.
Philadelphia Eagles – Not only are the Eagles thankful for Chip Kelly, whose offense has put a lot of points on the board this season, despite a few off weeks, they’re also thankful for Nick Foles. The Eagles could have traded away Foles this offseason, as he’s not the proto-typical quarterback you see in Kelly’s offense, but he’s been exceptional over the past month and has the Eagles atop the NFC East and eyeing a potential playoff birth in Kelly’s first season in the NFL.
Greg Schiano – Schiano should be thankful that he still has a job. At any point during Tampa’s 0-8 start to the season, the Bucs would have been justified in firing him, especially since they also lost five of their final six games last year. The Bucs winning three in a row does give them a chance to salvage the season, although it does indicate that they had too much talent to lose their first eight games, and that Schiano’s poor coaching was the main culprit in their poor start to the season. Either way, Schiano is still employed as a coach in the NFL, and he should be thankful for that, because a month ago it was far from a guarantee.
New England Patriots – We tend to take what Tom Brady does for granted, but considering all the problems New England had during the offseason, and the injury problems they’ve had during the season, where would the be without him? Slot receiver Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski are the best weapons Brady has this year, and both of those guys have missed time with injury, forcing Brady to get by with rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Yet, the Patriots are where they always are this time of year: they have a seemingly insurmountable three-game lead in the AFC East and are just a game behind Denver and Kansas City for the top seed in the conference, and an overwhelming amount of the credit belongs to Brady.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints have gotten a huge boost from the return of Sean Payton this year, but they really need to be thankful to the Dallas Cowboys for firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, because Ryan coming to New Orleans to run the defense has been the biggest difference maker for the Saints this season. New Orleans couldn’t stop anybody last year, but now they’re a top-5 defense against the pass and have only allowed 20 or more points on three occasions this season, and with Drew Brees playing quarterback that’s a combination that will win a lot of games. The Saints are 9-2 right now, and should have no trouble making the playoffs and being one of the favorites to come out of the NFC, with a great deal of credit going to Ryan and the play of his defense.
Seattle Seahawks – At the moment, Percy Harvin has exactly one catch for 17 yards, but over the next two months the Seahawks are bound to grow increasingly thankful that they have him, and that he’s been able to come back from his hip injury and get back on the field for them. Harvin gives Seattle a dynamic threat in their passing game that has lacked playmakers all season, despite the fact that they have a quarterback that can create big plays if he has the weapons around him. Harvin is that weapon that Russell Wilson and the Seahawks need, and they’re about to be thankful that they have him down the stretch and in the postseason, because he’s a difference maker.
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.
Here are some AFC news and notes for week 12:
- Are the Chiefs overrated? Well, their defense now has 0 sacks in their opponents last 90 drop backs and they didn’t even manage to hit Peyton Manning on Sunday. Also, Alex Smith, despite winning games, is putting up his worst numbers in 4+ years.
- The Patriots offense is BACK. Since Gronk came back—along with Amendola and now Vereen—the Pats are averaging over 32 points a game and Tom Brady completed over 70% of his passes against the top ranked NFL defense last week.
- The Broncos defense has forced the 6th most punts in the NFL. This group has continued to get a bad rep despite playing pretty well the last 4/5 weeks. The last 3 games (during which the Bronco’s offense has been solid, but not great) the Bronco’s defense has given up less than 20 points per game.
- The Bengals (or should I say Andy Dalton) still have a lot to prove. 1 conversion on 3rd down and passing for less than 100 yards will not usually result in a 41-point performance. Not to mention it won’t get it done come playoffs.
- Gary Kubiak is not handling the QB situation in Houston very well. After pulling Case Keenum in favor of veteran Matt Schaub in the middle of the game on Sunday, Kubiak has announced that Keenum will again be the starter in week 12. These are the kind of desperate spur of the moment moves that get you in the hot seat.
- Only the Jaguars have a worse point differential than the Jaguars, yet the Jets are currently in line for a wild card spot.
- The Titans are the only team with a losing record to have a positive point differential.
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