Last week we took a look at the offseason needs for all of the teams in the AFC, and now it’s time to tackle the NFC. We’ll start by taking a look at the offseason needs of the four teams in the NFC East.
Dallas Cowboys – The Dallas defense is going to need a lot of work done this offseason. It starts along the defensive line, as Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer are likely to go elsewhere in free agency, which could force the Cowboys to add defensive linemen early and often during the NFL Draft. Dallas will need at least a couple of interior linemen, and if they get a chance, they’d be wise to add a defensive end that can play opposite DeMarcus Ware. Dallas definitely needs to add depth at linebacker, although if they can find an outside linebacker that can step in and start right away, that would be the best-case scenario. Once the defensive front-seven is addressed, Dallas can always look to add help along the offensive line to help protect Tony Romo, although the offensive line was much improved in 2013.
New York Giant – The Giants started remaking their offensive line last year when they drafted Justin Pugh in the first round, and that rebuilding effort will have to continue this offseason, preferably with a left tackle early in the draft. Elsewhere, New York needs to add at least one top-flight pass rusher, assuming they’re unable to re-sign Justin Tuck. But even if Tuck returns to New York the Giants could use another pass rusher, not to mention a serious upgrade a linebacker, although re-signing Jon Beason would be a good move. The Giants also have to figure things out at the running back position, and while they may be able to make up for the inevitable loss of wide receiver Hakeem Nicks to free agency with Reuben Randle, signing a pass-catching tight end to add to their offensive arsenal would be helpful after Brandon Myers was a huge disappointment in 2013.
Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles will enter the offseason in good shape offensively, although both Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are free agents, so if they can’t retain both Philadelphia will have to find a way to replace them. On defense, the secondary needs a lot of work after the Eagles had trouble holding onto big leads this past season. It would be great if the Eagles could find an impact player in free agency, if not they’ll have to use their early-round draft picks at either cornerback or safety. If Philadelphia can improve in the secondary through free agency or early in the draft, they should look to add help at linebacker, specifically an outside pass rusher that can put pressure on the quarterback and help protect a questionable secondary.
Washington Redskins – There’s not a whole lot Washington can do offensively in 2014 except hope that Robert Griffin III is healthy and clicks with new head coach Jay Gruden. However, there is a laundry list of areas that need to be addressed on defense. All four starters in the secondary are free agents, and while there are a couple of young players that may be ready to step into starting roles in 2014, that unit is going to need a lot of attention this offseason, and it wouldn’t hurt to find some veterans in free agency rather than rely on rookies coming out of the draft. Washington will also have a lot of vacancies at linebacker, most notably Brian Orakpo, who will be a highly-sought free agent this offseason and could be tough to re-sign. Re-signing Perry Riley should be a priority for them, as he will help solidify the middle linebacker spot, although they’ll have to add players around him if the Washington defense is going to show significant improvement in 2014.
Before we start making a big deal about all of the new head coaches in the NFL who are receiving that title for the first time, let’s take a look at all of the rookie head coaches in the NFL during the 2013 season. Of the eight head coaching vacancies last offseason, seven were filled with coaches who had never been a head coach in the NFL before, with Andy Reid being hired by the Chiefs being the lone exception. Let’s take a look at how each coach did during their rookie season and how their future looks as a head coach in the NFL.
Bruce Arians, Arizona – It helped that Arians had experience as the interim coach of the Colts in 2012, but he wasn’t exactly set up for success, as he found himself in the toughest division in the league with a quarterback past his prime. However, Arians made it work and led the Cardinals to 10 wins, making them arguably the best team to get left out of the playoffs. Arians’ coaching job was one of the most impressive in the NFL this year, and while it won’t be easy for Arizona to compete in the same division as Seattle and San Francisco in the years to come, but with Arians the Cardinals at least have a fighting chance. Grade: A.
Gus Bradley, Jacksonville – Bradley walked into a tough situation in Jacksonville, and things got even tougher when the Jaguars lost their first eight games. But Bradley weathered the storm and Jacksonville finished the second half of the season with a 4-4 record. There’s still a lot of work left to do and a lot working against them, but Jacksonville showed some promise at the end of the season and they don’t play in a great division, so Bradley has a real chance to make them a respectable team in 2014. Grade: B-.
Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland – Admittedly, losing the final seven games of the season and 10 of the last 11 did not bode well for Chudzinski, but it was a rash move by the Browns to fire him after one season, especially since the Browns have struggled to find his replacement. As unfair as it may have been to fire Chudzinski after one year, he’s ultimately responsible when the team keeps finding ways to losing close games, and the Browns did plenty of that the second half of the season. Chudzinski should land on his feet as an offensive coordinator somewhere, even if it means taking a year off, but he probably won’t get a chance to be a head coach in the NFL anytime son. Grade: D+.
Chip Kelly, Philadelphia – We weren’t too sure what to expect from Kelly as a head coach in the NFL, but after a mid-season slump his innovative offense was spectacular the second half of the season, carrying the Eagles to a division title. His opponents will now have a full offseason to study his offense and figure out how to stop it, but Kelly is smart enough to make adjustments right back. He seems comfortable with Nick Foles as his quarterback, and Foles looks comfortable standing behind a strong offensive line, which puts the Philadelphia offense in great shape moving forward. As long as he doesn’t get tempted to return to the college game, Kelly appears to have a bright future in the NFL. Grade: B+
Doug Marrone, Buffalo – Marrone’s first year in Buffalo was a combination of frustrating moments that Bills’ fans are accustomed to seeing and flashes of brilliance that offer a glimmer of hope for the future. The season was plagued by injuries to rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel that hindered his development and prevented the team challenging for the final wildcard spot late in the season. Marrone is smart enough succeed as a head coach in the NFL, but his fate his largely tied to the success of Manuel, and whether or not he lasts longer than most of the head coaches in Buffalo’s recent past depends on the development of Manuel and a collection of young skill players. Grade: B.
Mike McCoy, San Diego – McCoy led the Chargers to the second week of the playoffs, which is better than any other rookie head coach this season. He did wonders to help Philip Rivers have his best season in years, which helped to reaffirm his reputation of adjusting well to the personnel he has to work with. San Diego has a nice collection of young players, including offensive rookie of the year Keenan Allen, and it looks like Rivers will be a viable quarterback for a few more seasons, McCoy is in good shape moving forward to make the Chargers a playoff-caliber team on a yearly basis. Grade: A.
Marc Trestman, Chicago – Trestman had a rather challenging season, as he had to deal with an atrocious defense that put a lot of pressure on his offense, as well as an injury to starting quarterback Jay Cutler that made the second half of the season difficult to manage. In the end, the Bears would have made the playoffs had they been able to win the final week of the season, which should be a good sign for Chicago after such an up and down season. Trestman knows that he’ll have Cutler to work with for several more years and for at least one more season he’ll have an elite wide receiver tandem with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, which puts he and the Bears are in good shape moving forward. Grade: B.
The NFL has given us what could be a spectacular playoff game on Saturday night between two offenses that have the potential to be explosive. Let’s take a closer look at the wildcard matchup between the Saints and Eagles.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
Earlier in the season, the Saints were arguably the top team in the NFC, but they struggled heading down the stretch and in the end they needed to beat Tampa Bay in week 17 to secure a playoff spot after losing three of their previous four games. Even more troubling is that they’ve lost their last three road games, and their only road win since week 5 is a close game against the Falcons. As for the Eagles, they weren’t in great shape at the midway point of the season, but they went 7-1 during the second half of the season and won the NFC East, so they enter the postseason with plenty of momentum.
NEW ORLEANS OFFENSE VS. PHILADELPHIA DEFENSE
This is a matchup, which some might call a mismatch, between one of the top passing offenses in the NFL and one of the most porous pass defenses. Drew Brees had another outstanding season, but like the rest of the team he struggled on the road down the stretch, throwing three touchdowns and four interceptions in the team’s three most recent losses. The forecast calls for low temperatures, but little wind or precipitation, which should help keep Brees somewhat comfortable throwing the ball, although the conditions are not what the Saints would like them to be. If Brees plays well and isn’t hindered by the weather conditions, he has the weapons to do a lot of damage against the Philadelphia defense, especially Jimmy Graham, who should be a matchup nightmare for the Eagles. However, New Orleans doesn’t have the most balanced offense, and sometimes their running game is either under-utilized or ineffective. The Eagles are strong up front and have been good at stuffing the run most of the season, especially lately. Between that and a high-scoring offense, the Eagles have a chance to make New Orleans one-dimensional on offense, which would allow the Eagles to attack with their pass rush, and teams with a good pass rush have been kryptonite to the Saints this year. If Philadelphia is able to get consistent pressure on Brees, the New Orleans offense could have trouble moving the ball down the field consistently.
PHILADELPHIA OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS DEFENSE
Over the last eight games, the Philadelphia offense has been nearly impossible to slow down for four quarters. Even in their only loss in the last eight weeks, the Eagles scored 30 points; and even when they were held scoreless for the first half in the snow against Detroit, the Eagles ended up with 34 points. Nick Foles has received a lot of the credit for making good decisions and playing mistake-free football, but LeSean McCoy has been the real catalyst for the offense. McCoy is averaging five yards per carry this season, and the fear opposing defenses have of him breaking containment along with a strong offensive line have given Foles time in the pocket and open passing lanes. However, the Saints have one of the best defenses the Eagles have seen in a long time, as New Orleans ranks second against the pass, allowing less than 200 yards per game. The Saints have the fourth most sacks in the NFL this season, and even against a good offensive line they’re going to have the ability to put pressure on Foles, which could lead to sacks, as Foles tends to hold the ball instead of risking throws that could lead to turnovers. If New Orleans can get pressure on Foles and keep the Eagles in long-yardage situations, it will make McCoy less dangerous and keep Philadelphia from moving up and down the field with great ease on every drive. However, stopping McCoy on early downs is another issue, and the Eagles will be able to get in a good rhythm and open up the playbook if McCoy is getting big chunks of yards on first down, so slowing him down on early downs will be the key to the game for the New Orleans defense.
This is a tough game to call; both teams can put a lot of points on the board, but both defenses have a chance to pressure the quarterback and at least slow down the opposing offense. Weather may not be much of a factor, outside of cold temperatures, but momentum coming into the game will play a role. The Eagles have played great football over the second half of the season and have won their last four home games, while the Saints have struggled on the road, especially on offense. Ultimately, the Philadelphia offense will be harder to keep under wraps for four quarters, and the Eagles will get the job done at home against a New Orleans team that looked more threatening two months ago than they do right now. Philadelphia 30, New Orleans 20.
NFL Week 17 Preview: Panthers-Falcons, Ravens-Bengals, Jets-Dolphins, Browns-Steelers, Eagles-Cowboys and More
Well, it all comes down to this. With one week left in the NFL season, there have already been eight teams that have clinched a playoff spot, but that means there are still four spots available, while all four divisions in the NFC are still undecided, as well as the home-field advantage in both conferences. Let’s take a closer look at the games on the week 17 schedule that have postseason post-season implications:
Carolina at Atlanta – With a win the Panthers can clinch the NFC South title, secure a first-round bye, and possibly get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if Seattle loses. However, Atlanta has not been a pushover late in the season, especially at home, so despite the disparity in their records, it won’t be an automatic win for Carolina. The Falcons are the worst rushing team in the league, but if they can get Steven Jackson going, they’ll have a chance to keep the game close and put some pressure on Carolina, who is one of the best teams in the NFC, but they’re also a team that hasn’t had to handle success before this season, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Panthers play with a lot on the line.
Baltimore at Cincinnati – The Bengals have a chance to earn a first round bye with a win and a New England loss, which would give their postseason hopes a huge boost. They’d also like to avenge an earlier loss to the Ravens, and at home they should be expected to win. As for the Ravens, there are a lot of scenarios that will get them into the postseason, but most require them winning, and there’s no way they’ll win if they play like they did last week. The Baltimore offense needs to get its act together and not put the defense in a bad situation like they did last week, as it’ll be tough to keep the Cincinnati offense out of the end zone for four quarters.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis – A lot needs to happen for the Colts to get a first round bye, but after some unsavory play during the latter part of the season, it’d be nice to enter the playoffs on a three-game winning streak, so they need to secure a win even if there’s nothing to gain in the standings. The Jaguars have shown that they can stay competitive with good teams, so the Colts need to take them seriously or else they could struggle to come away with the win. Andrew Luck and the offense should be fine, but the key for Indy is their defense, which has only given up 10 points over the past two weeks, and needs to keep that going with the postseason approaching.
New York Jets at Miami – The Dolphins will need some help to get the playoffs, but they’ll also have to win, which isn’t a certainly after the way they played last week against the Bills. Miami dominated the Jets less than a month ago, but Gang Green has played better since that game and started to find their stride offensively, which could be a concern for a Miami defense that doesn’t exactly shut down opponents on a regular basis. This game could come down to Ryan Tannehill’s health and his effectiveness after a disastrous game last week. Look for Rex Ryan’s team to come out loose and excited to play spoiler, and if the Dolphins come out tight, they could be in trouble.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh – The Steelers will need a lot of help this week, but getting a win shouldn’t be much of an issue against a Cleveland team that has lost six in a row. Pittsburgh has looked the part of a playoff team down the stretch, and even if the Browns come to play and compete, the Steelers should be able to find a way to win at home.
Green Bay at Chicago – It’s as simply as it gets in the NFC North, the winner of this game goes to the playoffs and the loser stays home. The Packers have somehow held on long enough to get Aaron Rodgers back on the field. Rodgers may be a bit rusty, but he’ll be facing a Chicago defense that was humiliated last week against Philadelphia with a chance to clinch the division. Of course, the Chicago offense is capable of putting points on the board as well, so this game could come down to how sharp Rodgers is in his return and which offense can be more effective.
Denver at Oakland – Even with the loss of Von Miller and a slew of other injuries, the Broncos should be able to handle the Raiders and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s a rivalry game, so Oakland will be ready to play and hoping to play spoiler against Denver, but Peyton Manning won’t let his team lose focus this late in the season, especially since a loss could mean a return trip to New England, which is the last thing the Broncos want.
Buffalo at New England – The Bills almost pulled out the win when these teams met back in week 1, so perhaps they’re ready to surprise the Patriots on the road, especially after an impressive shutout of the Dolphins last week. Buffalo doesn’t have an offense that can keep up if the Patriots get rolling, but they have a defensive line that can put a lot of pressure on Tom Brady and slow down the New England offense, would could keep the game low scoring and give them a chance to win.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans – A win and the Saints are in the postseason; it’s as simple as that. However, New Orleans has lost three of their last four games, and the Bucs are just good enough to make things difficult for them, especially after the Saints barely survived a 16-14 game with Tampa in week 2. The Tampa offense has sputtered in recent weeks, which will make it tough to win on the road, but if they can put pressure on Drew Brees and slow down the New Orleans offense, they’ll give themselves a fighting chance.
San Francisco at Arizona – The defending NFC champs can rest easy knowing they’re in the playoffs, but there’ll be nothing easy about a trip to Arizona, especially with the Cardinals riding high from their win in Seattle last week and knowing that they need to win to give themselves a chance to reach the postseason. The Cardinals have the top rushing defense in the NFL, so if they can slow down the San Francisco running game it’ll put more pressure on Colin Kaepernick to move the ball with his arm, which isn’t necessarily what the 49ers want. Of course, Arizona will also have to move the ball and score points, while avoiding four turnovers like they had last week.
Kansas City at San Diego – The Chargers need a win and some help to get into the playoffs, but they should feel good after winning four of their last five games, including a road win over the Chiefs. Meanwhile, Kansas City knows they’ll be playing a road playoff game next week, and they also know that they need to get their act together, as the only teams they’ve beaten in the last six weeks and Washington and Oakland. The Chiefs are no longer dominant on defense, which will make it difficult to stop Phillip Rivers and win this game. This should be a good practice game for next week, but if the Chiefs can’t rediscover their incredible pass rush from earlier in the season, they’ll not only have trouble beating San Diego, but they’ll also enter the playoffs on a downward spiral and void of confidence.
St. Louis at Seattle – The Seahawks need to shake off a home loss from last week and get ready for a St. Louis team that has proven they can go toe to toe with some top teams. Seattle is in fine shape on defense, but their offense has had some trouble in previous weeks, which could cause problems against a great Rams pass rush. St. Louis doesn’t have anything to play for except trying to finish the season at .500, but is the Seahawks lose it could cost them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and possibly the division, which could take them from being the NFC favorite to a team that needs three road wins to get to the Super Bowl, so it’s imperative that Seattle finds a way to win this game.
Philadelphia at Dallas – The winner goes to the playoffs while the loser goes home, just the way it should be in the NFL regular season finale. All the focus has been on the health of Tony Romo, but ultimately this game will be decided by whether or not the Dallas defense can slow down the Philadelphia offense, which has looked close to unstoppable in recent weeks. The Cowboys have been deplorable on defense the second half of the season, and it won’t matter who’s playing quarterback or what their offense does if they can’t find a way to get stops, or at least force turnovers, which has been tough for any defense to do against Nick Foles this season. If Dallas expects to make the playoffs, their defense will have to make some kind of positive contribution, or else the Eagles and their high-powered offense will soar into the postseason.
With one week left to play in the NFL season, things are finally coming into focus in the NFC, so let’s take one last crack at the NFC power rankings.
1. Seattle – It turns out the Seahawks aren’t unbeatable at home, but they’re still the top team in the NFC. Seattle may have lost two of their last three games, but their defense is still playing well and will be hard to score against in the postseason, while Russell Wilson has made game-winning plays when he’s needed to more times than not this season, and that’ll make them tough to take down in the playoffs.
2. Carolina – The Panthers have two things that make them the second best team in the NFC and a contender in the postseason: first, they have a top-5 defense that will play well whether they’re at home or on the road; and second, just as he did on Sunday against the Saints, Cam Newton has been great at driving the ball down the field in the final minutes to win games, and that clutch play will make them dangerous in the playoffs.
3. San Francisco – The 49ers have made it into the playoffs behind a top-notch defense, a defense that will make them tough to beat when they get to the postseason, even if the have to win three road games to get back to the Super Bowl. Colin Kaepernick has been a little inconsistent this year leading the offense, but he’s capable of doing some incredible things, and if he comes close to playing the way he did in the playoffs last year, San Francisco is a dangerous team.
4. Philadelphia – Who would have thought when the season began that the Eagles would end up being the fourth best team in the NFC, but they are. The offense is really clicking, which should be enough to get them past Dallas this week and into the postseason as a 10-win team. Philadelphia is for real, and they’ll be an interesting matchup for most of the teams in the NFC playoffs.
5. Arizona – If the Cardinals don’t make it to the playoffs, it’ll only be because they play in the toughest division in football. Arizona has won 10 games this season and they’re the only team to beat Seattle on the road this season, which is an impressive feat. Regardless of if they make the playoffs or not, the Cardinals are a top-5 team in the NFC.
6. New Orleans – The Saints have really slipped heading down the stretch, losing three of their last four games, albeit against quality teams. They simply aren’t reliable playing on the road and it looks like they’re going to be playing every game of the playoffs on the road, so unless they can find a way to get their offense going outside of the Super Dome, they may not last long in the playoffs.
7. Green Bay – The Packers are still overwhelmed with injuries, and there’s still no guarantee Aaron Rodgers will be back by the season finale, but they’ve managed to put themselves in position to get to the postseason with a win this week, and that’s quite an accomplishment for a team that’s been missing its starting quarterback for more than half the season and endured a five-game winless streak. It hasn’t been easy or pretty, but Green Bay has survived a tough stretch and over the last few weeks they’ve looked like a playoff-caliber team, even without Rodgers at the helm.
8. Chicago – The Bears have some serious issues on defense, which could ultimately keep them out of the postseason, but they’re going to be able to score against most teams with a balanced offensive attack that’s better than most of the offenses in the NFC. They probably don’t deserve a spot in the playoffs, but they’ve overcome an injury to their starting quarterback and have a chance to get to the postseason, and that’s something to be proud of.
9. Dallas – Tony Romo’s injury is meaningless, because the Dallas defense is going to be what keeps the Cowboys out of the playoffs. They may have stopped the Eagles back in week 7, but that’s unlikely to happen again the way the Philadelphia offense is playing. Looking back on the season, it’s hard to believe the Cowboys have lost as many games as they have, especially when they had a chance to runaway with the NFC East early in the season, but they have and the biggest reason for their struggles has been a terrible defense.
10. St. Louis – If they only had a quarterback, there’s no telling how good the Rams could have been this year. Even in the NFL’s best division, they still have a chance to finish .500, with wins over at least three playoff teams, possibly five. Regardless of their record, the Rams were one of the toughest teams for opposing teams to play all season with their vicious pass rush, and for that they deserve some recognition.
11. New York Giants – It wasn’t a good season for the Giants, but after starting the season 0-6, they have a chance to finish with a 7-9 record, which doesn’t sound all that bad, especially considering the number of times they turned the ball over this season. Things could have spiraled out of control for the Giants, but with a win this week they will have won seven of their final 10 games, which is a nice silver lining to such a disappointing season.
12. Detroit – Even though several of their losses came in close games, Detroit’s collapse over the second half of the season has been one of the worst in the NFL in recent memory, and it’ll likely cost Jim Schwartz his job. Considering that Chicago and Green Bay played without their starting quarterbacks for significant chunks of the season, there’s no excuse for the Lions not winning the division with all of their talent, as they might be the most disappointing team in the NFL.
13. Minnesota – The Vikings have suffered some close losses this season and they’ve played fairly well towards the end of the season, but with little clarity at the quarterback position, this wasn’t the season Minnesota was hoping for, and that’ll likely mean a new head coach and a new quarterback for the Vikings next season.
14. Atlanta – Some key injuries and an ill-equipped defense hurt the Falcons this season after they had high hopes for a Super Bowl run coming into the year. Atlanta has played much better down the stretch and stayed competitive with playoff-caliber teams, which isn’t much, but it’s something.
15. Tampa Bay – At times this season, the Bucs looked competitive and played like a team you wouldn’t want to face, but they hurt themselves in close games and didn’t show much consistency throughout the season. Tampa was terrible at the start of the season and they haven’t been much better towards the end of the season, showing little growth or improvement over the course of the season.
16. Washington – The Redskins have actually looked better with Kirk Cousins at quarterback than RG3, which should make for an interesting offseason, but ultimately it’s hard to argue against Washington being the worst team in the NFC this season, as they’ve been a disaster from beginning to end and could close out the season on an eight-game losing streak.
There were some big time matchups in the NFC this past week, let’s take a look at how they’ve affected this weeks power rankings.
1. Seattle – Is a two-point loss on the road to a more desperate team enough to knock the Seahawks from the top spot? No way. Seattle is still the top team in the NFC and they’ve proved that enough times this year. There’s no huge flaw that’s waiting to be exploited; they’re perhaps the most complete team in the NFL.
2. New Orleans – Now that’s more like it from the Saints. We’ve been cooling on New Orleans for the past month or so, but Sunday night against the Panthers they reminded us of how good they can be. At some point, they’ll have to be that good on the road, and they’ll get tough road tests the next two weeks to prove that they can.
3. San Francisco – It’s getting harder and harder to deny that the 49ers are peaking at the right time, and the win over Seattle is further proof of that. At some point, some of those field goals will have to become touchdowns, but the defense is starting to look real good and the offense is adding some dangerous weapons to the mix. A playoff spot isn’t yet secure, but it’s looking all the more likely, and once they get to the postseason, they’ll be dangerous.
4. Carolina – The Panthers have finally been brought back down to earth. It’s not that Carolina shouldn’t be considered one of the top teams in the NFC, but they need to realize that teams are going to bring their best effort against them week after week. For a team like the Panthers, a loss at this time of year isn’t nearly as important as how they respond to it, so how they perform this week against the Jets will be very telling.
5. Philadelphia – A lot of credit goes to the Eagles for adjusting to the elements on Sunday and coming away with an impressive win that they had to have. Philadelphia was far from their comfort zone in half a foot of snow, but they still found a way to put a lot of points on the board and overcome some special teams blunders; that’s a sign of a real good team that can overcome adversity and win in multiple ways.
6. Arizona – It’s easy to criticize the teams they’ve played, but the bottom line is that the Cardinals have won five of their last six games and they’re only one game out of a playoff spot, with the bonus of owning the tiebreaker with the Panthers. The last three weeks will be tough, but they’re in good shape and they’re capable of playing with anybody they step on the field with.
7. Detroit – Regardless of the weather conditions, turnovers have become a huge concern for the Lions, and it’s something that could really hurt them down the stretch in what is still an incredibly tight NFC North Division race. With losses in three of their last four games, Detroit isn’t exactly inspiring a lot of confidence heading into the final three games of the season.
8. Chicago – There’s still a lot of work left to do to get to the postseason, but the Bears took a big step forward on Monday night with an offensive explosion. If the defense can hang tough, Chicago has the offense to give them a chance to win every game they play down the stretch, regardless of who’s playing quarterback, although that’s an issue the team will have to sort through, and it’s important that they make the right decision.
9. Dallas – The Dallas defense was just atrocious on Monday night, and unless that changes they’re going to have a tough time winning the games they need to win in the final three weeks. Tony Romo and the offense are fine, but they’re not going to win if the defense allows the other team to score on every possession, and that’s a huge issue for the Cowboys right now.
10. Green Bay – The Packers narrowly kept their season alive on Sunday by winning their first game since October. The schedule isn’t easy, but Aaron Rodgers isn’t far from coming back, and if he returns it gives Green Bay a chance to win every game they play, which makes them a much better team, and a team that might be able to sneak into the postseason.
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.
NFL Week 13 Power Rankings: Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers, Saints, Eagles, Lions, Cowboys, Cardinals and More
There are just four weeks left in the NFL season and things are starting heat up throughout the NFC. As we prepare for the final month of the season, let’s take a look at how every NFC team stacks up heading down the stretch.
1. Seattle – After what happened Monday night there is no doubt that the Seahawks are the best team in the NFC, and will be a difficult team to beat in the postseason, when they will certainly have home-field advantage. Seattle dominated the Saints on both sides of the ball, and look head and shoulders above nearly every other team in the NFL, especially at home.
2. Carolina – The Panthers just keep on rolling, even in what could have been a pair of trap games the last two weeks with a showdown with the Saints on the horizon. Carolina finally had a dominating outing on Sunday against Tampa Bay and that moves them up to the second spot in the power rankings with a trip to New Orleans coming up this week.
3. San Francisco – The 49es are definitely starting to peak, and while Colin Kaepernick is far from where he was this time last year, he is showing signs of breaking out of his slump. San Francisco is not far behind the two teams ahead of them in the power rankings, and they have a chance to prove that they should be on equal footing with everyone else when they host the Seahawks this week.
4. New Orleans – The Saints have been sputtering for a while, but they fall hard after being humiliated on Monday night. Not only is home-field advantage in the postseason all but lost, New Orleans is now tied in the NFC South with a red-hot Carolina team that they will see twice over the next three weeks, and if they don’t start to play better, the Saints may have to settle for a wildcard spot.
5. Philadelphia – The Eagles aren’t quite an elite team, but they’re definitely better than the pack in the NFC, as four straight wins displays a level of consistency that most teams in the NFL lack. Philadelphia seems to have an identity, as well as a formula for winning games: the offense gets a lead early and the defense does just enough to hang on. It’s not a flawless philosophy, but it’s certainly working for the Eagles, especially with the way Nick Foles is playing.
6. Detroit – The Lions jumped back in control of the NFC North with a convincing win on Thanksgiving. The defense came to play, albeit against an under-manned Green Bay offense, and their offense was spectacular. However, they also committed four turnovers in that win, which is a concern, as is their lack of consistency, which is what’s holding them back from being in the same category as the top-tier teams in the NFC.
7. Dallas – Once again, the Cowboys showed how good they’re capable of being on offense when they run the ball effectively. If Dallas can keep on running the ball the way they have the past couple of weeks, there aren’t too many defenses that can keep them contained on four quarters, but finding that consistency is still as issue for them. The Cowboy’s other problem is their pass defense, which struggles against mediocre teams, and could hold them back against several of the teams they’ll face down the stretch.
8. Arizona – We may have jumped the gun on the Cardinals just a little, although they only lost to the Eagles by a field goal on the road, and that was with a -3 turnover ratio. Arizona is definitely on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture, but they’re still alive and good enough to make a strong push during the final month of the season.
9. New York Giants – It may be too little too late for the postseason, but the Giants have won five of their last six games and are playing better than nearly half the teams in the NFC. At the moment, they’re almost on a level playing field with Detroit, Dallas, and Arizona, but their 0-6 start is too much to overcome, even though they’re playing like a team that should be in contention.
10. St. Louis – For a team that’s played with Kellen Clemens at quarterback for much of the season, the Rams are hanging in there. They held San Francisco’s running game to less than three yards per carry on Sunday and are doing what they can on offense, despite being limited at quarterback. They won’t sniff the postseason, but they’ll be a hard team to play the final four weeks of the season.
11. Chicago – It’s a shame Jim Mora isn’t the coach of the Bears, because the phrase “playoffs? I just hope we can win a game” is starting to come to mind. They’ve only been blown out once while losing three of their last four games, but a team with such great weapons on offense needs to be able to find a way to win close games, and they haven’t done that over the past month, even though they had plenty of opportunities to take control of the NFC North.
12. Green Bay – Five straight weeks without a win and Aaron Rodgers still questionable to come back with four games left to play puts the Packers toward the bottom of the power rankings. Without Rodgers they may not be able to win another game the rest of the season and could plummet further in the power rankings by season’s end.
13. Minnesota – The Vikings are tougher to play than people think, and they showed that on Sunday against the Bears. Minnesota has just one loss in their last four games, and they’re going to enjoy playing the role of spoiler down the stretch, as Leslie Frazier fights to keep his job.
14. Tampa Bay – It was a nice three-week winning streak for the Bucs, but they’re back to being a terrible team that needs to make a coaching change after getting completely dominated by a division rival.
15. Washington – The Redskins have only held an opponent to less than 24 points once this season; even with a healthy quarterback that’s not going to give you a winning record. Things are really bad in Washington right now.
16. Atlanta – Don’t get too excited about the Falcons ending their five-game losing streak because they did not deserve to win that game; the Bills gave the game away with two late fumbles. Atlanta is still a bad team, and probably the worst in the NFC right now.
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.
Heading into the week of Thanksgiving, the NFC looks settled at the top, but it’s still quite chaotic everywhere else. Let’s see how the top-10 looks with five weeks left to play.
1. Seattle – Hopefully the Seahawks enjoyed their bye week because the schedule is about to get hard with games against New Orleans and San Francisco the next two weeks. The good news is that if Seattle can take care of the Saints at home Monday night they should have no trouble closing out home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, which will make them awfully hard to beat on the way to the Super Bowl.
2. New Orleans – Outside of their blowout of Dallas, the Saints didn’t look all that sharp throughout the month of November, barely pulling out wins each of the last two weeks. The good news is that November is over and we’re moving into December, but the bad news is that they have a road trip to Seattle upcoming, followed by Carolina twice in a three-week span. New Orleans needs to get straightened out in a hurry, but they keep the two-spot in the power rankings because no one else is quite ready to take it away from them.
3. Carolina – The Panthers came out a little sluggish against the Dolphins, but their defense continues to get the job done and they were able to pull out the win, extending their winning streak to seven. Carolina isn’t exactly blowing anyone away, so they’re not yet on the same level as New Orleans, but soon enough they’ll get their chance to take on the Saints and maybe make a push for the NFC South Division title.
4. San Francisco – After losing two in a row, the 49ers got back on track in impressive fashion against the Redskins on Monday night. Colin Kaepernick threw for more than 200 yards in a game for the first time in more than a month, which is a great sign moving forward, although it came against a bad Washington defense. A playoff spot is far from a certainty, but they’re in good shape and they’ve played well for the past month, settling into the fourth spot in the power rankings.
5. Arizona – Nope, that’s not a clerical error, the Cardinals really are one of the top five teams in the NFC right now. They’ve won four in a row, including an absolute shellacking of the Colts over the weekend. Arizona has lost only two games in the last two months, and those were against San Francisco and Seattle. They also have wins over Detroit and Carolina from earlier in the season on their resume. The schedule gets tough for them down the stretch, starting with a road trip to Philadelphia this week, but they’ve played well this season and they’re a serious playoff contender.
6. Philadelphia – The Eagles drop a spot behind the Cardinals in the power rankings, but they can prove otherwise when they host Arizona this weekend. The offense has been flying high recently, and the entire team, including Michael Vick, is behind Nick Foles as the starting quarterback, and now they aim to finish the season strong and get to the postseason, although they should expect a fight from the Cowboys down the stretch.
7. Dallas – Look what the Cowboys are capable of doing when they try to run the ball, let alone are successful at running the ball. They did blow a 15-point lead, and the Dallas run defense leaves a lot to be desired, but the Cowboys played a more complete game against the Giants than they have in a long time, and they bounced back well after getting blown out by the Saints two weeks ago, as Tony Romo, of all people, led a game-winning drive. The team that showed up on Sunday and found a way to beat the Giants is a team that has a chance to win its division and make some noise in the playoffs, and that’s the team Dallas needs to show up the next five weeks.
8. Detroit – The Lions have had ample opportunity to take control of the NFC North, but instead they have slipped big time the past two weeks, and now they’re in a tight division race. The last two weeks Detroit has lost to a team that hasn’t been able to run the ball at all, and that’s a big problem they’re going to have to fix and doesn’t bode well for them moving forward. The Lions are in games, but they have to be able to finish games down the stretch if they’re going to make it to the playoffs.
9. St. Louis – The bottom half of the NFC is so bad these days that two straight wins is all it takes to move into the top-10 of the power rankings. Of course, the two wins the Rams have had are quite convincing, as they obliterated the Colts on the road and then out-classed the Bears at home. St. Louis doesn’t have an explosive passing game like we thought they’d have this year, but they may have found something with running backs Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy, as well as an occasional big play from Tavon Austin.
10. Chicago – The Bears seem to get more and more disappointing every week, and they’ve shown no consistency, as they’ve alternated wins and losses over their last seven games. The Chicago defense has become unreliable, and unless that changes they’re going to have a tough time winning games during the final month of the season, even with a manageable schedule.