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11NFL Week 10 Preview: Seahawks-Falcons, Bills-Steelers, Lions-Bears, Bengals-Ravens, Eagles-Packers, Raiders-Giants and More

We’ve officially passed the midway point of the NFL season, and things are starting to take shape, with games getting increasingly important. Let’s take a look at the games on the week 10 schedule:

Seattle at Atlanta – The Seahawks are the top team in the NFC right now, record wise at least, but they’ve played with fire the past two weeks, and definitely have some flaws that can be exploited. However, Atlanta may not be the kind of team that can exploit those flaws, as the Falcons continue to spiral, losing five of their last six games. Matt Ryan is having a good season, even without getting a lot of help from his top two receivers, but this week he’ll face one of the stingiest pass defenses in the NFL. If Seattle’s offense gets going, this game could be over early, as Ryan will have trouble facing Seattle’s defense playing from behind, but if Atlanta’s defense can play well, the Falcons will have a chance to knock off the struggling Seahawks.

Buffalo at Pittsburgh – E.J. Manuel returns this week, hoping to provide a second-half spark for the Bills, who had inconsistent quarterback play during his absence that kept them from staying in contention in the AFC East. If Manuel can move the ball, Buffalo should like its chances of getting a road win, as their defensive line should have no trouble having its way with a weak Pittsburgh offensive line, which will make it hard for Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense to score points. However, if Manuel shows some rust, this could turn into a low-scoring field goal game.

Detroit at Chicago – With the Packers in trouble without Aaron Rodgers, the winner of this game will be in control of the NFC North, making it of vital importance, especially for the Bears, who lost to Detroit earlier in the season. Jay Cutler is expected to return, which should help the Bears, but the real key to this game will be Chicago’s defense, which allowed the Lions to score 30 points in the first half alone back in week 4. Playing at home with Cutler returning, the Bears could have a slight edge, but only if they don’t put themselves in a hole early in the game. Of course, the Lions have had an extra week to prepare, while Chicago has had a short week, so Detroit could have an edge there. Expect this to be a 4th quarter game with the last team to have the ball having a chance to win late.

Cincinnati at Baltimore – It’s now or never for the defending champs. If the Ravens don’t win this game, the road back to the playoffs will be too difficult to traverse. Baltimore still can’t run the ball, and if that continues, the Cincinnati defensive line will be able to put a lot of pressure on Joe Flacco and cause all sorts of problems for the Raven’s quarterback, who isn’t getting enough support. The Bengals should be able to bounce back quickly from their overtime loss in Miami last week, and unless Andy Dalton struggles again, Cincinnati should be able to score points against Baltimore’s defense, which will make it difficult for Flacco and company to keep up, even at home.

Philadelphia at Green Bay – This should be an interesting matchup; Seneca Wallace will have a full week to practice, but he still doesn’t have a full stable of receivers to throw to. Instead, the Packers will try to pound the ball on the ground with rookie Eddie Lacy, and how the Eagles fair stopping the run could go a long way to determining which team has the advantage. Philadelphia’s offense was firing on all cylinders last week, and if that carries over it’ll pose a stiff challenge for the Green Bay defense, who needs to do its best to keep the game low scoring in support of a backup quarterback.

Jacksonville at Tennessee – Despite winning last week against the Rams, Jake Locker didn’t look sharp in his return from injury, throwing two interceptions. However, things should be easier for Locker this week against Jacksonville’s defense, as this is a good opportunity for Locker to get back on track and play the way he was early in the season.

St. Louis at Indianapolis – The Colts came out sluggish last week, which is a trend they’d like to avoid, beginning this week against the Rams. St. Louis is in the midst of their second three-game losing streak of the season, but they may have found something in the running game with Zac Stacy, who will be key for them this week against a weak Indianapolis run defense. On the other side of the ball, the Colts are hoping that T.Y. Hilton can continue to step up in the absence of Reggie Wayne. If the Colts struggle throwing the ball the way they did in the first half last week, St. Louis has a pass rush that can really make things difficult for them, and make this game closer than most think it’s going to be.

Oakland at New York Giants – If there’s any hope for the Giants to make a move in the NFC East, they need to win this game. They’d also like to play well and get their offense going after settling for five field goals in their last game, but a win anyway they can get it keeps them in contention. Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor won’t threaten New York’s secondary much, but he could give the front-seven headaches if they can’t contain him. The Giants have played well on defense the past two games, and that needs to continue, as they won’t want to put their offense in a tough position against a Raider’s defense that has hung tough this year.

Carolina at San Francisco – This could be the game of the week, as the Panthers try to prove that they’re a contender in the NFC. The Panthers have won four in a row, but all five of their wins this year are against teams with three or fewer wins. Cam Newton has made incredible strides over the past month, but he hasn’t faced a defense this good season week 1 when Carolina scored just seven points against the Seahawks. Of course, Carolina’s defense has been a big reason for the team’s success, and unless Colin Kaepernick can become a bigger threat throwing the ball, the Panther’s defense should be able to keep the game close and at least give Newton and the offense a chance.

Denver at San Diego – The Chargers need a win in order to stay in contention and they also need to make a statement following last week’s disappointing loss in Washington. San Diego’s defense has been able to contain some quality offenses this season, holding the Colts to just nine points and Dallas to a mere 21 points, but Peyton Manning and the Denver offense are in a league of their own, and could prove to be too much for San Diego to handle. The Chargers are going to need a big game from Phillip Rivers if they’re going to have a chance to take down the Broncos, and Rivers will undoubtedly be looking to redeem himself after his poor performances he had against the Broncos last season, turning the ball over nine times in two games: a performance that can’t be repeated.

Houston at Arizona – The Texans are reeling after a terrible collapse last week on the heels of their coach going down with a serious health issue, and they really need a win to lift their spirits, even if making the postseason is a stretch at this point. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are holding out hope for a postseason run with a strong second half, and this is not a game they can afford to lose if that’s going to happen. There are two key matchups to watch in this game. First, Arizona has good skill players on the outside that can move the ball through the air, but the Texans possess the top pass defense in the NFL and a pass rush that can get after Carson Palmer. Second, the Cardinals have a stout run defense while Houston relies on their running backs to ignite their offense. Whichever team can get the better of these two matchups will win the game.

Dallas at New Orleans – On paper, this game looks like it could have some offensive fireworks. New Orleans struggled on offense last week against a Jets front-seven that was putting pressure on Drew Brees, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue against the Cowboys, even if DeMarcus Ware returns to the lineup. If that’s the case, this game should come down to the Dallas offense scoring points against the New Orleans defense and winning in a shootout. But if the Cowboys can’t find more balance in their offense and look at least somewhat threatening running the ball, they could have a tough time against Rob Ryan’s defense.

Miami at Tampa Bay – Distractions are rampant on both sidelines, as the Dolphins are the center of attention in the league for all the wrong reasons, while the Bucs continue to deal with being winless and head coach Greg Schiano being on the hot seat. Whichever team can do a better job of shutting out the distractions and focusing on the game will have the advantage, although the game has a lot more importance for the Dolphins if they’re going to stay in the playoff hunt, as a loss to the Bucs amidst this scandal could spell doom for their season.


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11Can the Green Bay Packers Survive Aaron Rodgers' Injury?

Few teams have been inundated with injuries the way the Green Bay Packers have been this season. But the Packers have found a way to survive injuries to players like Bryan Bulaga, Randall Cobb, and Jermichael Finley and remain one of the top teams in the NFC. They’ve been able to do so in large part because of the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. However, now that Rodgers has joined the list of injured players, and will miss roughly three weeks, is this one injury too many for the Packers? Can they survive three weeks without Rodgers?

At first glance, it would seem like Green Bay has a manageable schedule for the next three weeks, with home games against the Eagles and Vikings, and a road game against the Giants. However, without Rodgers that schedule may be harder to traverse than people think. While the Eagles have been maddeningly inconsistent this season, they’re also coming off a 49-point outburst last week, and if their offense performs close to that level against the Packers, the Green Bay offense could have a hard time keeping up with Rodgers and key skill position players on the sidelines. The Giants shouldn’t be considered an easy win either, as they’ve won their last two games and possess enough talent to give the Packers problems, especially with Green Bay being far from full strength. Minnesota may seem like an easy win as well, but without Rodgers nothing should be taken for granted.

With Rodgers, the Packers would have been considerable favorites to win all three of those games. But if they lose one or possibly two of those three games because Rodgers is injured, it could have a lasting effect on their season, even after Rodgers returns. Following Green Bay’s loss to the Bears on Monday night, the Packers are now in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC North along with Chicago and Detroit. It’s unlikely that that all three teams will be able to make the playoffs, which means that in the NFC North there could be a thin line between winning the division and missing the postseason altogether, and if the Packers trip up during Rodgers’ absence, it could make all the difference at the end of the season.

What makes Rodgers’ injury particularly worrisome is the fact that it’s on top of all the other injuries the Packers have been forced to endure this season. Backup Seneca Wallace would have a far easier time filling in for a few weeks if the rest of the Green Bay offense were at full strength. But while Rodgers has been able to get by a lackluster group of receivers, such a task won’t be so easy for Wallace, who was just 11 for 19 for 114 yards Monday night against a Chicago defense that’s average at best.

Against the Bears, Green Bay converted just one of their nine third-down opportunities, which is a concern for the Packers after Wallace did not look impressive throwing the ball down field. The Packers will try to establish the run more with Rodgers out, and that has a chance to work with the emergence of rookie Eddie Lacy, but even with close to 200 yards rushing and nearly seven yards per rush against the Bears, Green Bay was still unable to score more than 20 points without a reliable passing attack.

Being without Rodgers for three weeks doesn’t necessarily signal the inevitable collapse of the Packers, but it puts them in a difficult spot while being in the midst of a tight division race. Rodgers is the primary reason why Green Bay has been able to withstand all of the other injuries they’ve had to key players this season, and he was easily the player they could least afford to lose. Between their running game and their defense, the Packers may have enough to endure three weeks without Rodgers. But the margin for error is thin in the NFC North, and a few games without Rodgers could end up making a big difference.


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11NFL Week 9 NFC Power Rankings: Saints, 49ers, Seahawks, Packers, Lions, Panthers, Bears and More

We’re moving into the second half of the NFL season, but there are still plenty of changes being made in the weekly power rankings. Let’s check out the top-10 in the NFC following week 9:

1. New Orleans – Despite a loss to the Jets, there still aren’t enough reasons to remove the Saints from the top spot. The team obviously isn’t perfect, as the Jets managed to put a lot of pressure on Drew Brees, the Saint’s rush defense was exposed a bit, and Jimmy Graham isn’t fully healthy, but as long as they bounce back at home next week against Dallas, there’s no reason to worry too much about New Orleans, as they still look like the top team in the NFC.

2. San Francisco – The bye week was good to the 49ers, as not only do they move up in the power rankings, but they also look to be getting healthier with cornerback Eric Wright coming off the PUP list and wide receiver Michael Crabtree getting closer to returning to the field. They have a tough game against Carolina this week, but they ride a five-game winning streak and had an extra week to prepare coming off their trip to London, so the 49ers should be in good shape, especially after looking better every week throughout the month of October.

3. Seattle – The Seahawks may not have lost to Tampa Bay, but they drop in the power rankings because their issues nearly caught up with them, doing so at home and against a winless team, which should not have been the case. The comeback was impressive, but they got gashed on the ground and were -3 in the turnover ratio, and that’s not going to fly against playoff-caliber teams. After the way Seattle has played the last two weeks, they definitely deserve to be knocked down from the number 2 spot in the NFC, and they definitely have issues that need to be resolved.

4. Green Bay – For now the Packers stay at number four following their loss to the Bears Monday night. However, if Aaron Rodgers has to miss significant time, it could cause Green Bay to plummet in the power rankings. The Packers have been able to survive a slew of other injuries because they still had Rodgers running the show, but without him it’s a whole different story.

5. Detroit – The Lions stay at number 5 during their bye week, but things are about to get interesting for them with road trips to Chicago and Pittsburgh the next two weeks. Detroit is talented, but they haven’t been the most consistent team this season, and in the NFC North this year, there could be a thin line between being the division champion and being out of the playoffs, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can start showing more consistency, especially on defense.

6. Carolina – A convincing win over the mediocre and under-manned Falcons isn’t enough to push the Panthers any higher in the power rankings, but a win in San Francisco this weekend would almost assuredly move them up. Carolina has won four straight games against sub-.500 teams, and now it’s time for Cam Newton and company to prove that they can compete against on the NFC’s top teams.

7. Chicago – The Bears got a little lucky against the Packers, as the injury to Aaron Rodgers helped them pull off the upset in Lambeau Field. But regardless of who played and who didn’t play, Chicago played an impressive game Monday night, showcasing great balance on offense and a solid defensive effort. Josh McCown did a fine job in relief, but now it looks like Jay Cutler will be back on the field this week against Detroit, and could provide a spark for the Bears moving forward.

8. Arizona – The 4-4 Cardinals enjoyed their bye this past weekend, and now opportunity is knocking for them with games against Houston and Jacksonville the next two weeks, giving them a chance to put themselves into the heat of the wild card race. Their schedule during the second half of December is brutal, so they really need to get hot in November if they’re going to make the playoffs.

9. Dallas – The Cowboys are lucky to be anywhere in the top-10, just as they should feel lucky that they were able to squeak out a home win against the Vikings. Finishing a game with nine total rushing attempts is not a formula that’s going to work late in the season and in the playoffs, if they can get there. Dallas now has a trip to New Orleans this week, and they play three of their next four games on the road, giving them a tough schedule head, meaning it’s time for them to prove themselves.

10. Philadelphia – The inconsistencies are maddening, but every time we try to write off the Eagles, they come storming back with an absurd offensive effort. Oakland isn’t the hapless team they were last year, so putting up 49 points against them on the road is nothing to scoff at, especially with another change at the quarterback position. Of course, winning in Oakland is much different from winning in Green Bay, which is the task the Eagles take on this week, as they’re still searching for more week-to-week consistency on both sides of the ball.


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11Monday Night Football Preview: Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears

Week 9 concludes with a division matchup of old and bitter rivals on Monday night, and with plenty to be gained and lost in the game, lets’ take a closer look at the Packers and Bears.

WHAT’S AT STAKE
At stake in this game is first place in the NFC North. With a win, the Packers can remain atop the division, while a win by the Bears would mean a three-way tie for first place along with the Lions. The Bears probably need this game a little more after losing three of their last four games, and while they have a fairly manageable schedule the rest of the season, falling to 4-4 will make it hard for them to win the division and give them an uphill battle in the wildcard race. Meanwhile, the Packers want to keep up the momentum they’ve built during their current four-game winning streak, while maintaining their lead in the division, with both the Bears and Lions close behind.

CHICAGO OFFENSE VS. GREEN BAY DEFENSE
The Bears have had a well-balanced offense that’s had no trouble scoring points all season long, but with Jay Cutler out of the lineup, things may not run as smoothly. Josh McCown played well in relief of Cutler two weeks ago, but that was against Washington’s defense, and Green Bay’s defense will be a big step up in competition. The Bears will have to establish their running game in order to take some pressure off McCown. If they can do that, McCown should be competent enough to get the ball to Chicago’s talented receiving corps of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett. However, the Packers have been great at stopping the run this season, as they are huge across the defensive line, and McCown could struggle if Chiago becomes one dimensional. The x-factor in this matchup could be the health of the Packer’s linebackers, as Clay Matthews is expected to miss the game, while a couple other guys are banged up. If Green Bay’s linebackers struggle it’ll be easier for the Bears to run the ball, and tougher for the Packers to bother with McCown with their pass rush, which would make it easier for the Bears to replace Cutler without skipping a beat.

GREEN BAY OFFENSE VS. CHICAGO DEFENSE
Aaron Rodgers appears largely unaffected by the loss of several key skill players, as he’s still throwing for roughly 300 yards per game, and consistent production from rookie Eddie Lacy has made things easier for him, as the Packers have a more balanced offense than in year’s past. Jordy Nelson is also stepping his game up with so many injuries around him, as he’s gone for over 100 yards receiving in two of the last three weeks. The Chicago defense has been dreadful for most of the season, and even against a depleted Green bay offense, they should have their hands full. The Bears have the fewest sacks this year of any defense in the NFL, and being unable to put pressure on the quarterback can be troublesome against a quarterback like Rodgers. However, the Chicago defense has been good at forcing turnovers, and that could be their only hope against the Green Bay offense. Without forcing a couple turnovers, it could be a long night for the Chicago defense.

PREDICTION
The Bears have had two weeks to prepare for this game, and they need to win a little more than the Packers do, but unless they’ve made monumental strides on the defensive side of the ball, it’s hard to imagine them beating the Packers at Lambeau Field. With plenty of preparation and good players around him McCown will be fine, but he won’t outplay Rodgers, and the Chicago defense won’t provide much support. Green Bay 38, Chicago 21.


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11NFL Week 9 Predictions: Packers-Bears, Vikings-Cowboys, Saints-Jets, Eagles-Raiders, Patriots-Steelers and More

Will the Chiefs keep a direct course for home field advantage? Will Rex Ryan get the better of Rob Ryan? Will the Bucs even be close in Seattle? Get our predictions below:

(Bryan Zarpentine 61-35 overall)

(Cole Stevenson 60-36 overall)

Bryan Zarpentine: Carolina 27, Atlanta 13 – Cam Newton keeps it going and the Falcons continue to spiral out of control.

Cole Stevenson: Carolina 30, Atlanta 16 – Tough to see the Panthers losing right now and even tougher to see the Falcons winning.

Bryan Zarpentine: Buffalo 20, Kansas City 17 – Upset alert! Buffalo’s pass rush causes problems for Alex Smith, who turns the ball over a couple times, allowing the Bills’ offense to do just enough in the 4th quarter to steal a win at home.

Cole Stevenson: Kansas City 21, Buffalo 16 – I know the Chiefs are going to lose eventually, but to Jeff Tuel or Thad Lewis? I don’t buy it.

Bryan Zarpentine: Dallas 21, Minnesota 13 – The Cowboys are unimpressive, but not even Adrian Peterson can carry this Viking’s team to a win on the road against a halfway decent team.

Cole Stevenson: Dallas 24, Minnesota 16 – Cowboys have to win this game.

Bryan Zarpentine: Tennessee 19, St. Louis 10 – Jake Locker and the Titans have trouble in the red zone, but it doesn’t matter against an offense led by Kellen Clemens.

Cole Stevenson: St. Louis 18, Tennessee 15 – I don’t have a lot of faith in this pick, but if the St. Louis defense from Monday night shows up, they have a good chance.

Bryan Zarpentine: New Orleans 45, New York Jets 21 – This isn’t as ugly as last week for the Jets, but they have no chance of slowing down the New Orleans offense.

Cole Stevenson: New Orleans 30, New York Jets 20 – I like Rex Ryan more than Rob, but not in this game.

Bryan Zarpentine: Washington 34, San Diego 24 – The Redskins need this game a little bit more, as we see one turnover too many from Phillip Rivers.

Cole Stevenson: Washington 30, San Diego 21 – This is a coin flip for me, but Washington has more playmakers.

Bryan Zarpentine: Oakland 20, Philadelphia 13 – The Raiders look stout on defense and at home they find a way to put some points on the board against the Eagles.

Cole Stevenson: Oakland 21, Philadelphia 16 – Tough to see the Eagles beating anybody right now.

Bryan Zarpentine: Seattle 24, Tampa Bay 6 – Not the prettiest game, but there’s no way the Bucs can beat the Seahawks in Seattle.

Cole Stevenson: Seattle 28, Tampa Bay 3 – Seahawks will be looking to make a statement after a ‘disappointing’ win last week.

Bryan Zarpentine: Cleveland 24, Baltimore 13 – The Browns get the job done on defense and Jason Campbell provides the little spark they need on offense to get the win.

Cole Stevenson: Cleveland 22, Baltimore 18 – I repeat, I will pick against Joe Flacco for the rest of the year.

Bryan Zarpentine: New England 28, Pittsburgh 17 – There’s no way the Patriots fall at home to this year’s Steelers.

Cole Stevenson: New England 31, Pittsburgh 20 – Look for Gronkowski to finally find the end zone.

Bryan Zarpentine: Indianapolis 21, Houston 13 – It’s not as easy as it looks for the Colts without Reggie Wayne, but the Texans are a mess and they won’t be able to stop Andrew Luck in the 4th quarter.

Cole Stevenson: Indianapolis 23, Houston 17 – I want to pick the Texans in an upset here so badly, but I can’t just yet.

Bryan Zarpentine: Green Bay 38, Chicago 21 – The Bears will score some points with Josh McCown, but they won’t be able to stop Aaron Rodgers.

Cole Stevenson: Green Bay 31, Chicago 22 – The Packers offense seems locked in right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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112013 NFL Week 7 NFC Power Rankings: Saints, Seahawks, 49ers, Packers, Lions and More

We’re seven weeks into the NFL season, and the top four teams in the NFC are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Other than that, it’s mostly chaos in the NFC, so let’s see how the top-10 shakes out this week.

1. New Orleans – Having a bye doesn’t hurt the Saints at all in the power rankings; they remain the most impressive team in the NFC. They should be able to handle the Bills and the Jets the next two weeks before a string of games against the other top competitors in the NFC.

2. Seattle – The Seahawks got their offense going a little bit against Arizona Thursday night, as Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes and his wide receivers played a lot better than they have earlier in the season. Seattle still isn’t that close to overtaking the Saints for the top spot, and they don’t have any marquee game to prove themselves until their showdown with New Orleans in week 13.

3. San Francisco – Colin Kaepernick still isn’t blowing anyone away with his arm, throwing for just 199 yards this week, but beating the Titans by two touchdowns on the road is a rather impressive feat for the 49ers. If not for their early-season embarrassment against Seattle, they’d be closer to taking over the number two spot from the Seahawks.

4. Green Bay – The injuries keep piling up for the Packers, but Aaron Rodgers keeps plugging along and scoring enough points to win while running back Eddie Lacy is doing his part to help out. Green Bay is a far cry from moving up in the power rankings, but they do have a firm hold on the four spot in the NFC, and they should still be looked at as the favorites in the NFC North.

5. Detroit – The Lions are a distance fifth in the power rankings this week, as there’s clearly a dividing line between the top four and the rest of the pack. It’s tough to punish Detroit too much for losing a close game to a real good Cincinnati team, but the Lions should have found a way to pull out that game at home. Luckily, they have another chance to make a statement this week at home against the Cowboys.

6. Dallas – The Cowboys still don’t have a strong resume, but they held Philadelphia’s offense to just three points, which is impressive. On the other hand, they only scored 17 points against a defense that has struggled to stop anybody all season. The running game has been slow to get going the past few weeks, and if that continues, it’s going to hurt them against better competition.

7. Chicago – After losing three of their last four games and losing Jay Cutler for the next four weeks, the Bears don’t look so good. In addition to losing Cuter, the defense is a big concern, as they’ve failed to hold a team to less than 20 points all season and have allowed 40 or more in two of the last four weeks. With Cutler missing significant time and Chicago facing a difficult three-game stretch after their bye this week, the Bears could be in big trouble.

8. Washington – Moving the Redskins all the way up to eighth in the power rankings is a leap of faith, considering their defense hasn’t stopped anybody this season, but RG3 has looked a lot more dangerous the past two weeks following Washington’s bye week and that means there is still hope for them to get back on track. Even if they don’t win in Mike Shanahan’s return to Denver next week, if the Redskins play well and stay competitive, it’ll be a sign that they’re moving in the right direction.

9. Carolina – The Panthers still don’t have a win over a quality team, but they’re taking care of business against mediocre opponents with two straight wins. Cam Newton has been a lot more efficient the past two weeks while the defense continues to play well, and that moves Carolina back into the top 10 of the power rankings.

10. Atlanta – It was just a home win against the winless Bucs, but the Falcons managed to break their three-game losing streak, doing so without many of their top offensive playmakers. They have to play three of their next four on the road, and that will test whether or not they belong in the top 10 and can stay competitive this year, but right now, they deserve to sneak back into the top 10 power rankings in the NFC.


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112013 NFL Week 6 NFC Power Rankings: Saints, Seahawks, 49ers, Packers, Bears and More

There’s not a whole lot of movement at the top of the NFC power rankings following week 6, but there was plenty of shake up towards the bottom. Six weeks into the season, let’s check out the NFC’s top 10:

1. New Orleans – It’s going to take more than a last second loss at the hands of Tom Brady to move the Saints out of the top spot in the NFC. Fighting back from a 10-point halftime deficit on the road was impressive, and getting beat by Brady like that is something that happens to everybody, so New Orleans has nothing to be concerned about regarding their one and only loss of the season, as they remain the top team in the NFC.

2. Seattle – The Seahawks probably should have won a little more easily against a team that started Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, but the Titans are a tough team to beat regardless, and Seattle should feel good about getting the win. There’s nothing wrong with Marshawn Lynch touching the ball 25 times, but the fact that he led the team in receiving yards doesn’t speak well about Seattle’s wide receivers and their passing game. Seattle’s ability to score points consistently is a bit concerning, and enough to keep them below the Saints.

3. San Francisco – The 49ers get bumped up to number 3 after a much better outing from Colin Kaepernick against the Cardinals. The San Francisco defense also continued to play well, forcing four turnovers. With three straight wins, this is starting to look like the team we thought we’d see in San Francisco this year, despite missing a few key players. If they can win in Tennessee this weekend, they’ll be on cruise control until their week 11 showdown with the Saints.

4. Green Bay – The Packers barely edge out the Bears for the fourth spot in this week’s power rankings. Beating Detroit and home and Baltimore on the road in back-to-back weeks is impressive, especially when rookie running back Eddie Lacy ran for 219 yards in those two games. With a little more balance to their offense, Aaron Rodgers can be deadly, while the Green Bay defense has started to put it together following their bye in week 4, which has the Packers looking far more dangerous than they were a few weeks ago.

5. Chicago – A six-point win against the Giants after two straight losses is enough to knock the Bears back a couple spots from last week. Offensively, they have enough to be explosive, but they’re still leaving points on the field, which is disappointing to see. Defensively, this isn’t the kind of unit we’ve come to expect in Chicago, and that needs to change or else the Bears will have to get used to winning shootouts.

6. Detroit – The Lions were in a bit of trouble this past week, but they managed to finish strong in the second half and avoid an upset against the Browns. For a team that’s played four of their first six games on the road, they’re in real good shape, but home games against Cincinnati and Dallas the next two weeks will challenge them and show how good they really are this year.

7. Dallas – The Cowboys look like the best team in the NFC East, but that doesn’t mean much these days. Despite the win over Washington, the Cowboy’s running game was largely absent and the Redskins doubled them in total yardage, both of which are bad signs. There’s no doubt they have talent, but the three teams they’ve managed to beat have combined for just four wins, so we still don’t know for sure if they’re capable of beating a quality team, and that keeps them from climbing any higher in the power rankings.

8. Arizona – The Cardinals lost to San Francisco, but they move up in the power rankings and are back in the mix because they played well, and even outgained the 49ers in total yards. Despite two interceptions, Carson Palmer and the passing game came to life a little bit, which is what the Cardinals need in order to stay competitive. Being down two points entering the 4th quarter in San Francisco was a good place to be, even if Arizona couldn’t finish the job in the final 15 minutes.

9. Philadelphia – The Eagles still haven’t beaten a quality team this year, but putting up 31 points against Tampa Bay’s defense is impressive enough to get them back into the top-10. Defensively, they’re still a mess, and if they had trouble against the Bucs’ offense, things could get ugly when they face Tony Romo and company this week, but they do have an offense that can keep them in games, and a home win against the Cowboys this week would put them into first place in the NFC East and give them a considerable boost in the power rankings.

10. Carolina – The Panthers edge out the idle Falcons for the final spot in our top-10 this week. If Cam Newton can throw the ball the way he did against Minnesota on a regular basis, Carolina could have something, because the defense is getting the job done more times than not. They have a manageable schedule the next three weeks, so the opportunity is there to crawl back into contention if Newton and company can play with more consistency.


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112013 NFL Week 5 NFC Power Rankings: Saints, Seahawks, 49ers, Bears, Packers, Lions and More

It was another week of shakeups in the NFC, as a few of the better teams were able to shake off a sloppy September and start to look like the teams we thought they would be. Let’s take a look at the NFC’s top 10 teams five weeks into the season.

1. New Orleans – The Saints move to the head of the class, as the lone undefeated team remaining in the NFC. The Seahawks loss allows the Saints to move up, but beating Chicago on the road was impressive as well. New Orleans continues to look like a whole different team than last season now that Sean Payton is back on the sidelines and Rob Ryan is running the defense. They now have a chance to go into their bye week at 6-0 if they can get a road win against the Patriots this week.

2. Seattle – There’s no shame in a road loss to the Colts, who look like they could be one of the top teams in the AFC, but Seattle’s defense couldn’t quite contain Andrew Luck for four quarters, as the Seahawks took a lead into the 4th quarter but couldn’t close out the game. Offensively, Seattle played better than they have in recent weeks, especially at the wide receiver position, but they definitely took a half step back with the loss to Indianapolis.

3. San Francisco – The 49ers have played the last two weeks more like the team we thought they would be this year. Even without Aldon Smith, San Francisco is clamping down defensively and winning games even when Colin Kaepernick isn’t giving them a lot of production with his arm. The NFC is loaded with good defenses at the top of the conference, and San Francisco appears to have one of them.

4. Chicago – The Bears shouldn’t feel too bad about back-to-back losses against the Lions and Saints, especially since they were within one score of each team. Of course, their biggest win of the season is a three-point win over the Bengals at home, and that’s not terribly impressive five weeks into the season. A loss against either the Giants or Redskins in the next two weeks would send them plummeting down the power rankings, but for now they remain close to the top.

5. Green Bay – Coming out of the bye week the Packers put together a complete game, shutting down the Lions defensively and showing a balanced offensive approach with 99 rushing yards from rookie Eddie Lacy and a solid day from Aaron Rodgers. The question becomes whether Green Bay can play like that on a consistent basis. Beating the Ravens on the road this week would be a nice way to prove that they can.

6. Detroit – The Lions appear to be a little too dependent on Matthew Stafford, who gets a bit of a pass for only getting nine points on the board in Green Bay without Calvin Johnson. Detroit stays on the cusp of the top-5 in the power rankings because they still have a lot of talent and potential, but they can expect to drop considerably if they lose to the Browns this week, even on the road.

7. Dallas – Despite the loss, the Cowboys showed what they’re capable of doing offensively, and a lot of credit goes to a much-improved offensive line, which has given Tony Romo a lot of time to find his receiving targets. However, Dallas also showed how weak it is on defense, especially in the secondary. They have two close losses to two teams that are still undefeated after five weeks, but their only two wins are against the Giants and Rams, so there’s still reason to be skeptical about the Cowboys.

8. Arizona – The Cardinals are a little Jekyl and Hyde this season, but they do have a win over Detroit on their resume, and they’ve only allowed 16 points over their last two games, albeit against Tampa Bay and Carolina. Arizona can definitely stuff the run, which works to their advantage, especially with division foes San Francisco and Seattle on the schedule the next two weeks. However, the Cardinals need to get it going offensively, because the defense isn’t going to hold up forever and they’re far too talented at wide receiver to have only five passing touchdowns in five games.

9. Atlanta – It’s going to be a long bye week for the Falcons, who fell to 1-4 after their Monday night loss to the Jets. Matt Ryan and the offense did well to erase a 13-point deficit in the 4th quarter, but the defense let them down once again. Atlanta is barely hanging on to a spot in the top-10 in the NFC, but what saves them is that all four of their losses have been close and all four losses have been against good teams (yup, even the Jets are considered a good team right now). The Falcons aren’t that far from everything coming together, but they have dug quite a hole for themselves at 1-4, especially with the 5-0 Saints at the top of the division.

10. Philadelphia – The Eagles are another team that you don’t know what to expect from week to week, but more times than not they’re going to move the ball and score points. No one’s saying Philadelphia is going to make the playoffs just yet, but they’ve won both of their games within the division and they have winnable games in each of the next four weeks if the offense can keep it going, even with Michael Vick nursing an injury, but at some point the defense is going to have to give them support.


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11NFL Week 5 Good, Bad and Ugly: Saints, Colts, Packers, Broncos, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and More

In week 5 of the NFL, two unbeaten teams went down and two winless teams remained empty in the win column. Let’s try to make sense of everything with the good, the bad, and the ugly.

GOOD
Drew Brees – Talk about efficient, Brees connected on 29 of his 35 passes with two more touchdown passes to give him 12 for the season. Brees was smart and didn’t force things, doing a lot of damage with running back Pierre Thomas and tight end Jimmy Graham. His overall numbers weren’t as flashy as the numbers his counterpart Jay Cutler put up, but Brees was more efficient and didn’t turn the ball over, which is why the Saints were able to move to 5-0.

Indianapolis in the 4th quarter – The Colts pulled off the most impressive win of the weekend, and they did so by dominating the Seahawks in the 4th quarter. Andrew Luck was brilliant throughout the final quarter, leading the Colts to the go-ahead score and then helping Indianapolis kill a lot of time, putting the Seahawks in a tough spot when they finally got the ball back. The rest was the Indianapolis defense being able to close out the game once they got the lead.

Green Bay’s defense – Holding the Detroit Lions to just nine points and fewer than 300 yards of offense is impressive and deserves recognition. Calvin Johnson being absent helped, but the Lions were averaging over 30 points per game over the first four weeks of the season, and even Johnson isn’t worth 21 points per game. Green Bay sacked Matthew Stafford four times and held Reggie Bush to just 69 total yards, which took a lot of pressure off Aaron Rodgers and the Packer’s offense, which was a welcome change from the first month of the season.

The Peyton Manning/Tony Romo shootout – It was a lot like we expected, only better. Manning and Romo went back and forth all game, especially in the second half, ultimately combining for over 900 yards passing and nine touchdowns. It was one of the most entertaining games of the season and displayed what both teams are capable of doing offensively, and had both head coaches smiling after the game. Of course, the same can’t be said for the defensive coordinators.

BAD
E.J. Manuel’s injury – The Bills caught a tough break when Manuel went down with an injury Thursday night. Not only did it ruin any chance of coming back to beat the Browns, but he’s supposed to out a few weeks, which is going to make things very difficult for them with Cincinnati, Miami, and New Orleans on the schedule the next three Sundays. As long as Manuel is out, Buffalo’s options are either undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel or someone they pull in off the street, which doesn’t bode well for a team that has been competitive, despite being just 2-3 this season.

Tom Brady’s streak ends at 52 – Brady’s streak of 52 consecutive games with a touchdown was quite impressive, but it’s no more after the Patriots managed just two field goals in Cincinnati on Sunday. Even with Danny Amendola back, Brady continued to struggle with the lackluster group of receivers around him, as he completed only 18 of his 38 passes for fewer than 200 yards. The Bengal’s pass rush didn’t help Brady either, as he was under a lot of pressure and had one of his worst performances in a long time.

Luke Joeckel’s injury – Jacksonville’s top draft pick wasn’t exactly having a good rookie season, but he’s a talented player and it’s a shame to see his first year in the NFL end so quickly. The Jaguars aren’t going to win many games this year, if any, but there’s a lot that Joeckel could have learned from playing out the season, which is something he won’t be able to do after breaking his ankle.

Tom Coughlin wasting 2 timeouts on one challenge – It may not have changed the outcome of the game, but Coughlin threw away two timeouts on a challenge that he lost on a play that wasn’t exactly game changing. It was a move that reeked of desperation by a coach searching for answers, but in the end trying to win that challenge did more harm than good

UGLY
Michael Vick’s passing skills – Vick is a good fit for Chip Kelly’s offense because of his legs, but his arm still leaves a lot to be desired. He didn’t complete a pass the entire 1st quarter against the Giants and was just 6-14 for the game. Vick, as always, relied on his legs too much, and that may have been a factor in the hamstring injury that sent him to the sidelines and forced Nick Foles to finish the game for Philadelphia. With his inaccuracy throwing the ball combined with the efficiency of Foles, Vick may have to worry about his job, even if he’s healthy enough to play.

The New York Giants – It’s not just one thing or another, the entire Giant’s team is playing ugly football, and a team that actually has a lot of talent can’t seem to find any answers. Against the Eagles, they couldn’t run the ball, they couldn’t stop Vick from running the ball, they couldn’t stop Foles throwing the ball, they committed 12 penalties for over 100 yards, and they turned the ball over four times. It seems to get more ugly every week, as the Giants have now fallen to an unthinkable 0-5 on the season.

Miami’s dropped passes – In a close game, the Dolphins hurt themselves by dropping too many passes. Mike Wallace caught seven passes for over 105 yards, but he also dropped a few passes, as he’s been known to do throughout his career. Wallace wasn’t the only offender, but if you’re going to gripe about how often the ball gets thrown your way, you have to haul it in when the ball does come to you, which Wallace and the Dolphins didn’t do, and in a three-point game, it made a difference in the outcome of the game.

Cam Newton – Yes, the 308 yards passing looks impressive, but not the three interceptions, seven sacks, or the fact that his team failed to score a touchdown. It was a typical game from Newton, as he put up some good numbers, but didn’t do a whole lot to actually help his team win. Going on the road is tough, but Newton needs to find a way to put more than six points on the board, as now the Panthers are 1-3 with their only win coming against the winless Giants.


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