No division in football needs to make more improvements this offseason than the AFC South, which is coming off a terrible 2013 season. Let’s take a look at the offseason needs for the four teams in the AFC South.
Houston Texans – The Texans are going to need a new quarterback next year, and they may use the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft to get one. However, a majority of their other needs are on the defensive side of the ball. Houston needs a complete makeover at linebacker, especially when it comes to pass rushers, which could be something they target in free agency, unless they use the first overall pick on Jadeveon Clowney instead of a quarterback. The Texans also need to make improvements in their secondary, which is an area they can’t ignore. Back on the offensive side of the ball, the Texans will also need to get better along the offensive line, which was a huge problem in 2013, unless they want their new quarterback running for his life.
Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck took the Colts to the second round of the playoffs, doing so almost single handedly, and now the team needs to give him more support so he doesn’t have to do everything himself. Indianapolis has a nice set of skill players, although they could use more depth at wide receiver, especially after Reggie Wayne’s injury. The offensive line is their biggest issue on that side of the ball, as they need to do a better job of protecting their franchise quarterback. On defense, the Colts may need to start from scratch in their secondary, although re-signing Vontae Davis would help their rebuilding effort. Elsewhere, the Colts need to find a middle linebacker that can be the leader of the defense. They should also try to add a pass rusher to work in tandem with Robert Mathis so that they can do a better job of getting pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Obviously, quarterback is at the top of Jacksonville’s list, as they can’t continue with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, so the Jaguars are likely to use the third overall pick on a quarterback. However, that won’t solve all of the problems Jacksonville has on offense. Maurice Jones-Drew is on his way out of town, so Jacksonville needs to pick up a young running back that can step into the starting lineup right away. The Jaguars also have a few holes to fill on the offensive line, specifically at center after the retirement of Brad Meester. Of course, even though there’s a lot to fix on offense, the Jaguars can’t ignore their defense. Jacksonville needs some help at linebacker, as they need to bring in one or two guys that can play alongside Paul Posluszny to boost that unit. The Jags also need some more talent on the front line to help protect its secondary, which is young and continuing to get better, but remains vulnerable.
Tennessee Titans – There’s a new head coach in Nashville, but there’s not necessarily a lot of time for Ken Whisenhunt to turn things around, so changes have to be made to make the Titans a competitor in 2014. The most important thing the Titans were missing last year was a pass rush, and finding one or more players that can get after the quarterback will be their biggest priority, whether it happens through free agency or with their first round pick in the draft. If Tennessee can’t re-sign cornerback Alterraun Verner, they’ll have to fill that void in their secondary, but most of their other needs are on offense. Running back Chris Johnson is unlikely to be back next season, so the Titans will need to find a suitable replacement. The Titans will also want to continue building up their offensive line after drafting Chance Warmack and Brian Schwenke last year. With those two guys on board, Tennessee will want to focus on drafting or signing offensive tackles this offseason.
If you watched Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck play the last two weeks, it was hard not to be impressed. Heck, if you’ve seen him over the past two years it’s hard not to be impressed with him, and how far he’s taken a team that won just two games the year before he arrived. Luck’s performance over the past two seasons is that of someone poised to one day take over as the best quarterback and most impactful player in the NFL. But he’s not there yet, as Luck will be sitting at home this weekend while veterans Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will square off in the AFC Championship Game.
The accomplishments of Luck’s team over the past two seasons do not compare favorably to Brady or Manning, or even the other young quarterbacks in the league like Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, who will be meeting one another in the NFC Championship game. However, over the past two seasons Luck has done more with less and elevated his team to great heights, despite supporting cast around him that pails in comparison to what the four starting quarterbacks still playing have around them.
Luck has played the last two seasons behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, which has kept him under constant pressure and forced him into turning the ball over an in ordinate amount of times, which is one of the biggest complains against Luck, and is seen as a hindrance to his team’s success. However, many of those interceptions, including some of the seven he threw in this year’s postseason, were the result of trying too hard to make plays under pressure, and were not necessarily his fault. At the same time, being under constant pressure has allowed Luck to showcase his superb pocket presence and surprising skills as a runner, which will be even more of an asset when the Colts get better support for him along the offensive line.
Many of Luck’s mistakes the past two seasons, including his seven interceptions in this year’s postseason, have come as a result of trying to bring his team from behind, which has forced him to take more chances and ultimately make more mistakes. The Colts have not had a strong defense the past two years, which has constantly put Luck in a position in which he has to overcome a deficit, much like 28-point deficit he erased last week against Kansas City. Obviously, Luck hasn’t overcome every deficit he’s faced, but he has made some spectacular comebacks, none more impressive than last week against the Chiefs, and as the Colts improve their defense, they will be less reliant on Luck to do everything for them, which will help Luck to cut down on mistakes and perform at an even higher level.
For now, Luck remains a shade behind Brady and Manning, and not quite as accomplished as Kaepernick and Wilson. But his play over the past two weeks has re-affirmed what we have seen over the past two years: he’s capable of some extraordinary things, even when facing an uphill battle, and without a suitable supporting cast behind him. As Luck continues to improve even more and the Colts presumably get more help around him, he will continue his take over of the league as the as the pre-eminent quarterback and most impactful player in the NFL. He’s already done so much in the first two years of his career, and while he’s not there yet, if the past two weeks are any indication he’s real close.
Saturday night in primetime it’ll be an inter-generational matchup at the quarterback position between young Andrew Luck, fresh off the first playoff win of his career, and the aging Tom Brady, who is hoping to win his fourth Super Bowl. Let’s take a closer look at the Colts and Patriots.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
The Colts completed the second biggest comeback in NFL playoff history against the Chiefs, overcoming a 28-point 3rd quarter deficit to beat Kansas City and earn a trip to New England. Meanwhile, the Patriots enjoyed the week off after yet another AFC East Division championship. It wasn’t quite as easy as it’s been in past years, but New England won 12 games and earned the second seed in the AFC Playoffs.
INDIANAPOLIS OFFENSE VS. NEW ENGLAND DEFENSE
The Colts have had their rough moments offensively this season, but when they get going they can be close to unstoppable, and there’s no better example of that than the 35-point 2nd half they had against the Chiefs on Saturday. Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton were a lethal combination that were responsible for 224 of Luck’s 443 passing yards, with LaVon Brazill and Cobi Fleener also being frequent targets. However, things may not come so easy against New England. The Patriots will rely on Aqib Talib to help take Hilton out of the game, in what could be the most important one-on-one matchup of the game. New England will also go after Luck with pass rushers Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, as they attempt to expose an offensive line that has had its problems this season. Luck has done well to use his legs to escape pressure this season, and he may have to do a lot of it against the Patriots. One area where the Colts may have a distinct advantage is running the ball against the 30th best rush defense in the NFL, especially with the injuries the Patriots have on defense. Indianapolis can’t always commit to the run, as they tend to fall behind early in games, but Donald Brown has had a nice season, and if they can get him a lot of touches early in the game, it could make things a lot easier for Luck, especially if he doesn’t have to worry about coming from behind. But if the Colts have to come from behind again, the Patriots will be in better shape than the Chiefs were to prevent Luck from pulling off another historic comeback because of their pass rush and the presence of Talib in their secondary.
NEW ENGLAND OFFENSE VS. INDIANAPOLIS DEFENSE
Giving up 44 points to an offense that had Alex Smith at quarterback doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence heading into a game against a team that has Tom Brady at quarterback. To make matters worse, there are some injury concerns for Indianapolis, especially in the secondary, which is the last place they can afford to be thin against Brady. The Patriots don’t have a particularly frightening or intimidating set of skill players, but Danny Amendola is healthy for once, Julian Edelman has been a headache for opposing defenses all season, rookie Kenbrell Thompkins has had moments of brilliance this season, and Shane Vereen is a versatile threat that needs to be accounted for. If Indianapolis is missing starters on defense due to injury, the Patriots have just enough skill players to be dangerous with Brady at quarterback, and forcing turnovers may be the only way the Colts can slow down the New England offense enough to give Luck and company a fair shot at winning without having to make another spectacular comebacker.
Is this going to be the passing of the torch? Not just yet. The Colts remain notorious for getting off to slow starts, and that’s going to be a big problem if it happens against the Patriots; Brady and company will blow out Indy if the Colts aren’t ready to play from the start, and coming back on the road against the pass rush duo of Jones and Ninkovich is asking too much of Luck. New England 41, Indianapolis 24.
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.
NFL 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.
The Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans are set to meet Thursday night in a critical AFC South matchup. If the Colts win, they will likely have enough separation to win the division, but if the Titans win it will lead to a tight division race down the stretch, especially with the two teams meeting again two weeks later. Both teams have had their ups and downs this season, but at least one of them, and possibly both, will end up in the playoffs. With that in mind, are either the Colts or Titans true contenders to make a deep run in the AFC playoffs, or are they pretenders that will only get into the playoffs by virtue of winning a weak division?
The Colts have some of the most impressive wins in the NFL this season; they have handed both Denver and Seattle their only losses of the season, and they had a convincing road win over San Francisco early in the season that also caught everyone’s attention. However, ever since their win over the Broncos, the Colts have spiraled downhill, with a poor effort and a narrow win against Houston and an embarrassing loss to St. Louis.
For the past month, the Indianapolis defense has played much like they did last season, giving up 32 points per game over the last three games, and just like last year, it has put a lot of pressure on Andrew Luck and the offense. It’s possible that there’s even more pressure on Luck this season, as the Indianapolis running game has been inconsistent and at times non-existent, despite the team acquiring Trent Richardson earlier in the season. To make matters worse for Luck and the offense, Reggie Wayne went down with a season-ending injury in the Denver game, and his absence has coincided with Indy’s downward trajectory. Even with T.Y. Hilton playing his best in Wayne’s absence, Luck missing his best receiver has thrown him off his game.
The verdict on the Colts is that they’re a pretender. Even if they can get things turned around quickly, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to repeat their 11-win total from last year, even though they play in a weak division and have early-season wins against three of the NFL’s best teams. Even if Luck breaks out of his slump and plays well down the stretch, having a defense that’s unreliable and a running game that’s inconsistent will make it tough to do any damage in the playoffs, even if they can hold off the Titans and win the AFC South.
The Titans got off to a fast start this year, beginning the season 3-1 and giving the impression that they would be competitive in 2013. However, since then things have been different for the Titans. They understandably lost three straight games to three of the best teams in the NFL while Jake Locker missed time due to an injury, and then a loss to lowly Jacksonville and a season-ending injury to Locker have put them in a tough position heading down the stretch, making Thursday’s game against the Colts a must-win for them.
What gives Tennessee hope despite the loss of Locker for the rest of the season is that their defense may still be able to carry them. In a passing league, the Titan’s have one of the top-10 pass defenses in the NFL, and that could be enough to keep them in games and give them a chance to win going down the stretch. If backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick can avoid the turnovers that have plagued his career, the Titans have the receivers that can move the ball, as well as a running back in Chris Johnson that can create big plays, and when combined with a stingy defense, that could be enough for the Titans to sneak into the playoffs.
However, despite a glimmer of hope, the Titans have to be labeled as pretenders. Even before Locker went down with a season-ending injury, there were questions about his ability to lead the Titans to wins against quality opponents, and there are similar questions about Fitzpatrick. Even if the Titan’s defense that we saw in September shows up for the rest of November and December, Tennessee is in too big of a hole to win the division without the Colts continuing to struggle, and even if that were to happen, the Titans don’t have the offensive firepower to make any noise in the playoffs.
NFL 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
There were certainly some unexpected occurrences during week 10 of the NFL schedule. Let’s try to recap everything and wrap up the week that was with the good, the bad, and the ugly:
Tavon Austin – We’ve impatiently waited for the 8th overall pick in this year’s draft to show us something and Austin finally delivered. He caught just two passes, but they totaled 138 yards and both finished with him running into the end zone. Austin also ran a punt back 98 yards for a touchdown, as he finally showed off his explosiveness and was the primary catalyst for the Ram’s blowout win over the Colts. The key is now for Austin to repeat that type of performance in the weeks to come, as St. Louis still doesn’t have much of a passing attack, even with his dynamic playmaking ability.
Seattle’s offense – The Seahawks have had some really poor performances in recent weeks and nearly lost their last two games, but they had a real nice bounce back effort against the Falcons on Sunday. Quarterback Russell Wilson flirted with 300 yards passing, running back Marshawn Lynch went for 145 yards on the ground, and Golden Tate topped the 100-yard mark receiving. Of course, it did come against Atlanta’s defense, so take it with a grain of salt, but Seattle gained nearly 500 yards, had great balance, and didn’t turn the ball over, which is a huge step in the right direction for their offense.
Antonio Brown – Brown was a one-man wrecking crew against the Bills. He had 104 yards receiving and broke off a 50-yard punt return, as he was Pittsburgh’s best player in two phases of the game. Brown has been the only reliable receiver Ben Roethlisberger has had this season, and when he has games like this the Steelers have a chance to win, which they did quite easily on Sunday.
Carolina’s defense – The Panthers were unbelievably impressive on defense against San Francisco. Granted, the 49ers haven’t been the most impressive offensive team in the NFL this year, but holding them under 100 yards throwing the ball and 151 total yards is a great accomplishment. Even against a quality offensive line, the Panthers were able to get pressure on Colin Kaepernick all game long and sacked him six times, holding San Francisco to just three field goals and giving their offense opportunities to put enough points on the board to win.
New York Giant’s turnovers – The good news is that the Giants won and kept their slim playoff hopes alive, but they certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves by turning the ball over three times. The Giants fumbled the ball away twice and Eli Manning continued his unsteady play by throwing a pick six. Ultimately, they were able to hang on for the win, but they won’t be able to get away with mistakes like that against tougher teams moving forward.
E.J. Manuel’s return – The Bills were glad to welcome back their starting quarterback, especially after last week’s failure with Jeff Tuel at quarterback, but Manuel definitely had some rust to shake off and didn’t play the way Buffalo was hoping he would. Manuel had trouble with his accuracy, and even when he did make accurate throws, his receivers didn’t do him any favors, as the Buffalo offense was stagnant for much of the game. For a rookie to miss a month with an injury, we should have expected him to struggle, but if Manuel had been sharper the Bills would have had a chance to win a game they needed to have to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Jay Cutler’s return – There was a lot of excitement in Chicago about Cutler’s return for the big divisional matchup against the Lions, but things did not go according to plan for the Bears. Cutler looked a little off for much of the game, and despite plenty of good throws, he completed just 21 of his 40 pass attempts. By the end of the game, Cutler was back on the sidelines with another injury, as Josh McCown nearly led the Bears to a game-tying score. McCown played well while Cutler was out, and who knows if things would have gone differently had Cutler taken another week off to recover and McCown had played the entire game.
Injury to Sean Lee – Lee left the Cowboy’s game against the Saints in the first half with a hamstring injury, and it completely changed the complexion of the game. Dallas was missing the leader of their defense, and it showed. The Cowboy’s defense looked like last year’s defense, as they got torched against Drew Brees and the New Orleans passing game without Lee’s intelligence and coverage skills.
Jake Locker’s injury – This week was supposed to be an opportunity for Locker to get back on track, but instead Locker threw just nine passes, including an interception, before having to leave with an injury that appears to be season ending. Back up Ryan Fitzpatrick played well, but the Titans still lost to Jacksonville, and despite still being in the middle of the wild card race, they can’t feel good about their chances with Fitzpatrick as their quarterback for the rest of the season.
Andy Dalton – For most of their game against the Ravens, Dalton did more harm than good for the Bengals, and reminded us that he may actually be the biggest thing that’s standing in the way of Cincinnati being able to make a deep playoff run. Dalton threw three interceptions and completed less than 50% of his passes, as a subpar performance by him played a big role in a Cincinnati loss for the second straight week.
Indianapolis Colts – The Colts had the advantage in several statistical categories, except for the ones that really mattered: they had just 18 rushing yards, they turned the ball over five times, and they converted just two of their 12 third down opportunities. Andrew Luck had perhaps his worst game as a pro, throwing three interceptions and fumbling a ball that got returned for a touchdown. Indianapolis followed up last week’s close call against Houston with a truly pitiful effort, as they are a far cry from the team that beat Denver a couple weeks ago.
Green Bay’s quarterback situation – If losing Aaron Rodgers wasn’t bad enough, back up Seneca Wallace couldn’t even get through his first series without going down with an injury as well. Wallace actually completed his first five passes and looked to have good command of the offense, but when the Packers had to go to third string quarterback Scott Tolzien they didn’t have much of a chance, especially after the Eagles took a commanding lead early in the 3rd quarter. Not only did Green Bay lose at home, but they are also in real bad shape at quarterback moving forward, and could have trouble staying in contention until Rodgers gets back.
The AFC continues to be the weaker conference overall, with only 6 teams over .500. What does that mean for your team though? See where they rank in this week’s AFC Power Rankings:
#1 Denver Broncos
Not much to complain about in Denver right now. The defense stepped up big time against the Redskins a few weeks ago and they are coming off of a bye.
#2 Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, this team is undefeated, but they have been unimpressive the last few weeks against back up Quarterbacks and have only beaten 1 team with a winning record (Cowboys).
#3 Indianapolis Colts
I don’t think this team is nearly as good without Reggie Wayne. Luck has been great at coming back, but doesn’t seem to know how to put teams away as a frontrunner.
#4 New England Patriots
What a huge mental boost the Pats offense got Sunday against the Steelers. Putting up 55 points (most of the year for any team) is no joke, no matter whom you are playing.
#5 Cincinnati Bengals
This team is hard to read. Beating solid teams one week, then choking against inferior teams the following. I still don’t believe Andy Dalton has what it takes to get them where they want to go.
#6 San Diego Chargers
This team gave away a win after having 1st and goal and failing to score Sunday. With an outside chance at a Wild Card though, this team has still overachieved.
#7 Tennessee Titans
The Titans beat a struggling Rams team on Sunday, but it was road win nonetheless. Plus, Jake Locker is back. All of which leads to the fact that the jury is still out on this team.
#8 New York Jets
This might be the worst 4-3 team in history. Based on point differential, this team is only better than the Jaguars and Texans in the AFC.
#9 Miami Dolphins
All of the drama surrounding this team is overshadowing the fact that they are still alive in the Wild Card hunt.
#10 Cleveland Browns
The Browns look smarter week by week as Richardson continues to struggle and the Browns keep winning division games.
#11 Houston Texans
I love what I am seeing out of Case Keenum… reminds me a little of a young Brett Favre.
#12 Baltimore Ravens
Even the staunchest of Joe Flacco supporters cannot defend his ineptness anymore.
#13 Buffalo Bills
This team has found a way to hang in games against teams they shouldn’t be hanging in against.
#14 Oakland Raiders
Your team is not in a good place when the Eagles embarrass you at home.
#15 Pittsburgh Steelers
Never thought I would see the day when this team would give up 55 points.
#16 Jacksonville Jaguars
With Blackmon gone, the Jags might as well get Tebow and run it every single play.
Tell me how wrong I am on twitter @Cole_Stevenson