11NFL Week 5 Preview: Saints-Bears, Patriots-Bengals, Packers-Lions, Eagles-Giants, Chargers-Raiders and More
What stands out about the week 5 schedule in the NFL is that many of the league’s bad teams are getting a bye and many top teams are hitting the road. In fact, the four teams on bye have combined for just two wins, while all five teams that remain undefeated will face a tough road test this weekend. It should be a great weekend in the NFL, so let’s take a closer look at each game.
New Orleans at Chicago – The Saints have had the home-field advantage in three of their four wins, so playing in Chicago will be a test for them. The Bears will also be the best team New Orleans has played so far, as Jay Cutler and company will be a challenge for a Saint’s defense that played great all throughout September. Of course, Chicago’s defense will also have its hands full, as this game could turn into a track meet and could come down to whether or not Cutler can avoid turning the ball over like he did last week.
New England at Cincinnati – The Bengals will try to rebound from a disappointing loss in Cleveland last week. Cincinnati needs to find a way to get its running game going, and they also need to get big plays out of A.J. Green. If Aqib Talib can slow down Green this week the same way Joe Haden did last week, the Bengals could have trouble outscoring a New England offense that’s starting to find its stride with Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman.
Detroit at Green Bay – The Packers have had an extra week to prepare for this game, and they also need the game a lot more in order to avoid a 1-3 start. Meanwhile, the Lions are flying high after their win against the Bears last week and they have a chance to take control of the NFC North if they can get a win at Lambeau Field. Despite its two losses, the Packers have done a lot well this season, except for stopping the pass, which is where the Lions can really hurt them. Unless Clay Matthews and company can slow down the Lion’s passing attack, this could be another game in which Aaron Rodgers is on his own and needs to win the game himself.
Kansas City at Tennessee – These two teams are awfully similar, as they’ve both had success early in the season with good defense and mistake-free play from their quarterback. However, the Titans now have to move forward with Jake Locker on the sidelines. The Chiefs will do their best to put pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick, and how he handles the pressure could be the biggest factor in the outcome of the game.
Seattle at Indianapolis – This could be the best matchup of the weekend. Andrew Luck and the Colt’s offense have looked good this season, but they haven’t gone up against a defense like the one the Seahawks have. On the other side of the ball, Seattle’s offense hasn’t exactly been impressive this season, although Russell Wilson has made the right plays at the right time. Despite two great quarterbacks facing off, this game should be low scoring, and could depend on which quarterback makes a mistake at the wrong time.
Jacksonville at St. Louis – This may actually be one of Jacksonville’s best chances to win a game this year. The Rams have had all kinds of problems stopping the run the past two weeks, and if the Jaguars can find a way to get Maurice Jones-Drew going, they can put themselves in a position to win the game in the second half. The Jaguars will have to play better as well, but if the Rams play like they have the last two weeks, they’ll be in danger of losing to the lowly Jaguars.
Baltimore at Miami – The Dolphins took a step backwards Monday night in New Orleans, but the Baltimore offense they’ll face this week is nothing like what they saw in the Super Dome. The Ravens haven’t had an effective running game this season, and they don’t have the weapons in the passing game that Joe Flacco needs. Miami’s run defense has been pretty stingy this year, which means Ryan Tannehill doesn’t have to worry about getting into a shootout. This will be a 4th quarter game and could come down to either Flacco or Tannehill leading their team on a game winning drive late in the game.
Philadelphia at New York Giants – The Giants just need to forget about the first four games of the season. They were on the road for three of them, and played the Broncos in the other one, but if they can win their games within the division the rest of the way, they’ll have a chance. There’s not much the Giants can do offensively if their line doesn’t play better, but if their defense can put pressure on Michael Vick and force turnovers, they’ll be able to prevent the Eagles from putting a lot of points on the board, which will give Eli Manning a chance to win, something that hasn’t happened the past two weeks.
Carolina at Arizona – The Panthers have looked promising through their first three games, but they have just one win to show for it. As for the Cardinals, after a couple of poor games on the road, expect the Arizona offense to look a lot more dangerous upon returning home. On the other side of the ball, Carolina has an effective rushing attack, while the Cardinals have one of the best defenses against the run, and whoever gets the better of that matchup could be in the driver’s seat in this game.
Denver at Dallas – The Cowboys have been good this season, just a little inconsistent, and they’ll be put to the test this weekend against the Broncos. Dallas hasn’t exactly had a strong pass defense this season, allowing over 300 yards a game, and that doesn’t bode well against Peyton Manning and the Denver offense. The Cowboys will need their running game to show up and do their best to keep Manning off the field. It will also allow them to set up play action and take advantage of a Denver defense that’s missing some key players. But if Dallas can’t run the ball, there’s little chance of Tony Romo being able to keep up in a shootout against Manning.
Houston at San Francisco – This game could be lacking offense. Both defenses have played well this season, especially against the pass, while both quarterbacks are struggling a bit and searching for some confidence. Colin Kaepernick is probably in a little better shape, as his team won easily last week and has had a few extra days to prepare. For Matt Shaub, it may not be such a bad thing to get out of Houston and hit the road this week, although the San Francisco defense isn’t exactly who he’d like to see. Look for both teams to let their running backs do a bulk of the work, at least early in the game, and hope their quarterback can settle in and make winning plays in the second half.
San Diego at Oakland – Phillip Rivers has looked like a much different quarterback this season than he’s been the past couple of years, and he and the Chargers have a chance to keep it going against the Raiders. Unfortunately, the San Diego defense hasn’t been quite as good this season, leaving it up to Rivers to win games for them. Terrelle Pryor will return to the field after missing last week with a concussion, and he’ll have a chance to put points on the board against the Charger’s defense, but if not, the Chargers should run away with the win, as the Oakland defense could be in for a long night.
New York Jets at Atlanta – The Falcons face a must-win situation on Monday night, as they can’t afford to go to 1-4 heading into their bye week. Atlanta has been good offensively, but they haven’t really exploded the way they’re capable of, and that’s unlikely to change against the stout defense of the Jets. On the other side of the ball, the Jets will be in good shape if they can just stop turning the ball over. Last week, they gained more yards than the Titans, but they turned the ball over four times. New York should be able to rely on its defense to keep the game low scoring, and if they can run the ball and avoid turnovers, they’ll be in position to win the game and surprise everyone by getting off to a 3-2 start.
We’re now four weeks into the NFL season, and the picture in the NFC is still a bit muddy, as there’s several teams that we’re just not sure about. Nevertheless, at the quarter point of the season, here’s how the entire NFC stacks up:
1. Seattle – Sunday wasn’t the first time the Seahawks looked sluggish on offense; in fact, they’ve been slow to get going offensively against everybody except Jacksonville this year. However, they can run the ball, they have a quarterback that can make plays in key moments, and they have one heck of a defense. Right now, that’s enough to keep them atop the NFC power rankings.
2. New Orleans – The Saints have been awfully good in September, and truth be told, they’re awfully close to taking over the top spot in the NFC away from the Seahawks. New Orleans made it look easy on Monday night, as they moved the ball up and down the field effortlessly in their blowout of the previously undefeated Dolphins. The Saints have had the luxury of playing three of their first four games at home, and now they have challenging road games against the Bears and Patriots the next two weeks, but it’s going to take an extraordinary effort to slow this team down.
3. Detroit – When Reggie Bush is healthy and playing well, Detroit’s offense reaches a completely different level, and they showed that over the weekend against the Bears. The Lion’s defense leaves something to be desired, but they have a good amount of talent on that side of the ball, especially up front, and so far this year it’s been enough to win games when their offense gets going. We should learn a lot about the Lions this week when they travel to Green Bay, but coming off their win against the Bears they look awfully impressive.
4. Chicago – The Bear’s performance on Sunday showed why I was reluctant to buy into their success too soon, as Jay Cutler was back to being turnover prone with three interceptions, although he once again performed great in the 4th quarter. Chicago has been good, and a lot more impressive than many of the teams we thought would be good, but they’ve yet to prove they’re one of the NFC’s elite teams, but a home game against the Saints this week is a great opportunity to show that belong at the top.
5. San Francisco – The 49ers got back on the winning track Thursday night, but the Rams look like one of the worst teams in the NFC, so it’s nothing to get too excited about. They know they can pound the ball with Frank Gore, but they’re going to need a whole lot more out of Colin Kaepernick, as they’re barely averaging 200 yards passing per game. San Francisco will get a test this week with a home game in primetime against the Houston Texans, who will challenge them both offensively and defensively.
6. Green Bay – The Packers had week 4 off, but now they face what is essentially a must win game against Detroit this weekend. If the Packers lose, they’d be more than two games behind the Lions in the division, putting them in a hole early in the season, which is something they didn’t expect to have happen this season.
7. Atlanta – The Falcons are in rough shape after their home loss to the Patriots Sunday night. They still can’t run the ball, their two elite wide receivers are under performing, and their defense couldn’t even slow down New England’s skill players. They’re better than most 1-3 teams, and the schedule eases up a bit over the next few weeks, but they shouldn’t be too proud about the way they’ve played this year.
8. Dallas – Just when you think they’re getting somewhere, the Cowboys take a step backwards. Both of their losses have come on the road, which is understandable, but they had a big halftime lead against the Chargers over the weekend, and they should have been close out the game and didn’t, which is a concern. Things don’t get any easier for Dallas, as they have to host the Broncos next week, and if they lose that game, they will have wasted an opportunity to take a commanding lead early in the season in a mediocre NFC East division.
9. Carolina – The Panthers had this past week off, and now they’ll hit the road for three of their next four games. Carolina will have a chance to win all four games, but they need to find a way to win close games, which is something they failed to do the first two weeks of the season in close losses before blowing out the Giants in week 3, which right now is the only thing they can hang their hat on.
10. Minnesota – The Vikings aren’t all that bad for a team that’s 1-3. The three teams they’ve lost to have a combined eight wins, and their three losses were only by 15 points combined, so they’re not far from being 2-2 or even 3-1. Minnesota gets a week off after returning from London, and then they have a slew of winnable games in front of them to help them get back on track.
11. Philadelphia – The jury is still out on the Eagles, but two of their losses have come against 4-0 teams, and it would have been asking a lot to think their defense could slow down Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver. They can move the ball and score points when they don’t turn the ball over, and they’re one of the top rushing teams in the NFL, and that’s enough to keep them within shouting distance of the top 10 in the NFC, at least for now.
12. Washington – The Redskins start to creep out of the basement after getting their first win, but they still have a lot of work ahead of them. Once again, Washington’s offense was slow to get going, forcing them to climb out of a 14-0 hole. They’ll have to work out that problem and plenty of others during their bye week before an important divisional matchup against Dallas the following week.
13. Arizona – Carson Palmer isn’t having the kind of season we thought he might have after the skill players around him improved so much when he moved from Oakland to Arizona. Although they’ve played against two quality defenses, the Cardinals have just 20 points over the past two weeks, and that’s not going to cut it in an offense-oriented league.
14. Tampa Bay – For all the Bucs problems, three of their losses have come by three points or less, so they’ve been competitive. However, there’s no getting around the fact that they don’t have any wins, and that they’ve already made a quarterback switch and a relying on a rookie.
15. St. Louis – Yes, the Rams fall even below the winless Bucs. A season-opening win against Arizona seems like a distant memory after getting blown out the past two weeks. St. Louis can’t run the ball and they can’t stop other teams from running the ball, which is why they’ve been steamrolled the past two weeks. Luckily, they have the Jaguars this week, but if they keep playing the way they have the past two weeks, winning that game may not be such a guarantee.
16. New York Giants – The Giants just aren’t even close to winning, as they’ve scored seven points over the past two weeks, while allowing 69 points. In their defense, they’ve played three of their first four games on the road, and their only home game was against the Broncos, but that’s not an excuse for getting blown out and not looking competitive in games.
112013 NFL Week 3 NFC Power Rankings: Seahawks, Saints, Bears, Falcons, 49ers, Packers, Cowboys and More
There are some major shakeups in the NFC power rankings this week after NFC teams lost six of eight matchups against AFC teams, indicating the conference may not be as deep as we thought. Let’s take a look at how the NFC stacks up heading into week 4.
1. Seattle – Yes, all they did was beat the lowly Jaguars, but there seems to be a growing distance between the Seahawks and everybody else in the NFC. Defensively, they are as tough as can be, and they’ll be almost impossible to beat at home this season. They could be challenged with road games against Houston and Indianapolis the next two weeks, but for now nobody is close to unseating them atop the NFC power rankings.
2. New Orleans – Sean Payton is making a strong case for coach of the year, as the Saints are a totally different team with him around this season. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan deserves a ton of credit as well, as the Saints have allowed a combined 38 points in three games this season, doing so against three teams with talented skill players capable of doing a lot of damage. The schedule really heats up the next three weeks, but New Orleans looks like a strong contender that’s getting the job down on both sides of the ball.
3. Chicago – I’m almost sold on the Bears, but not quite yet. They’re 3-0, but the teams they’ve beat have combined for two wins, and they needed to come from behind in the 4th quarter in two of those wins. That being said, Jay Cutler looks far more comfortable with Marc Trestman than he has with any head coach he’s had before, and he seems to have three or four skill players he’s comfortable throwing the ball to, and not just relying on Brandon Marshall. Going 3-0 is no fluke, but winning next week in Detroit will go a long way towards proving the Bears are for real.
4. Atlanta – There are three teams in the NFC that we thought would be towards the top all season that have instead started the season 1-2, and Atlanta has been the best of the three. The Falcons have their issues, like their running game and their secondary, but losing to New Orleans and Miami on the road by less than a touchdown is nothing to get worked up about. The pressure is on to beat New England next Monday, but as long as they win that game they’ll be fine, as it’s the first of three straight home games they can use to get back on track.
5. San Francisco – The 49ers get a pass for losing in Seattle, but there’s no excuse for losing by 20 points at home, it doesn’t matter how good the Colts may or may not be. It’s not the time to panic because the schedule has been tough, but they’re getting gashed on the ground defensively, and their quarterback doesn’t look all that confident. On top of that, they have the Aldon Smith situation hanging over their head and a short week before playing in St. Louis Thursday night, which means getting things back on the right track won’t be easy.
6. Green Bay – They’ve lost two close games, both on the road, but the Green Bay teams of the past would have found a way to win at least one of those games. Things are slowly falling apart for the Packers, as their offensive line is struggling, their running backs are dropping like flies, and there seems to be a rift between the head coach and the starting quarterback. Outside of Aaron Rodgers, there isn’t a lot that makes the Packers a good team right now, and unless he gets some help soon, there’s only so much Rodgers can do to keep the Packers towards the top of the NFC.
7. Dallas – Hats off to the Cowboys for a convincing win over the Rams this weekend, as they finally got their running game going, which made all the difference in the world. Usually a team that’s 2-1 and whose one loss game by a single point would be higher up, but the Cowboys haven’t beaten a quality opponent just yet and it’s still tough to put them ahead of the teams we thought were good heading into the season but played a tough schedule the first few weeks. Dallas still has plenty left to prove, but at this point they do look like the class of the NFC East, although that’s not saying much.
8. Detroit – Even without the services of Reggie Bush, the Lions managed to put in a good offensive effort this past week, albeit against a terrible Washington defense. Detroit has two wins against 0-3 teams, so let’s not overreact to a promising start, but the Lions look like they’ll be able to be competitive this season, and they’ll have a chance to prove themselves while making a statement within the division when they host the Bears this weekend.
9. Carolina – After what Seattle has done the past two weeks, Carolina’s five-point loss to the Seahawks in week 1 doesn’t look so bad, and the Panthers certainly looked real good against the Giants on Sunday. One convincing win and two close losses is enough to push them slightly ahead the middle of the pack in the NFC, but no one’s buying the Panthers just yet, as they’ll have to play three of their next four games on the road following their bye this week.
10. Blank – There really is no team in the NFC that deserves to round out the top 10 this week. St. Louis and Arizona simply did not show up on Sunday. Everybody’s re-thinking Philadelphia after their old coach completely shut down their high-flying offense. The Giants are terrible. Tampa Bay is a disaster. Washington and Minnesota may actually be the most competitive teams in the group, but neither has a win, so at least for now, the 10th spot stays empty in the NFC power rankings.
We’re just two weeks into the NFL season, and things are still a bit confusing, especially in the stacked NFC. Let’s try to make sense of things with top-10 power rankings from the NFC.
1. Seattle – What a defensive statement the Seahawks made on Sunday night, allowing just three points against the 49ers, who had no problem scoring points the previous week. The offense has a lot of room for improvement, but the Seattle defense has looked virtually impenetrable through the first two weeks, and that makes them the top team in the NFC right now.
2. San Francisco – The 49ers were embarrassed to a certain degree Sunday night in Seattle, but a road loss in prime time to a great team shouldn’t change our perception of San Francisco too much. They may not be pre-eminent leader of the NFC, but even with a poor performance in week 2, there are a lot of reasons to believe they’re still better than just about every other team in the conference.
3. Green Bay – The Packers really flexed their offensive muscle in week 2. Not only did Aaron Rodgers have a career-high in passing yards, but also James Jones had a big game, as did Randall Cobb at the wide receiver position, while James Starks stepped up at running back for the injured Eddie Lacy. Green Bay’s offensive prowess holds them steady at third in the NFC with an interesting match up with the Bengals looming.
4. Atlanta – The Falcons finally took off offensively in week 2, showcasing what we know they’re capable of doing, even with Roddy White hindered by injury. Atlanta allowed St. Louis to get back in the game, but they scored early and often, even scoring a defensive touchdown, and built too big of a lead to let slip away.
5. Chicago – The Bears aren’t the most convincing 2-0 team out there, as they’ve needed to come from behind in the 4th quarter in their first two games, but winning still means something, and so does making plays late in the game, especially when it comes form a guy like Jay Cutler, who’s played well in the clutch the first two weeks of the season.
6. New Orleans – The Saints definitely took a step backwards, despite their win over Tampa Bay. Even against a stout defense, the New Orleans offense should be able to score more than 16 points. However, their defense got shredded on the ground, giving up 144 yards to Doug Martin. Stopping the run could be a problem for them in the weeks to come when they play teams with better quarterbacks than Josh Freeman.
7. Arizona – The Cardinals continue to look better than anybody anticipated. Arizona’s defense only allowed two touchdowns against Detroit’s offense, which is no small feat. It’s also obvious that they an offense capable of putting up big numbers. They could find themselves in a shootout this week when they travel to New Orleans.
8. Detroit – There should definitely be some concern about the health of Reggie Bush; with him the Lions have a frightening offense, but without him they look similar to the team that won four games last season. But despite the loss in Arizona, the Lions do look the part of a team that will stay competitive all season.
9. St. Louis – The Rams put themselves in a big hole early against the Falcons, which is something they need to avoid in the future, but Sam Bradford is off to a good start and they look like they could have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL with the additions of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin. Next week’s game in Dallas will be quite telling for them.
10. Dallas – Despite the loss in Kansas City, the Cowboys crack the top-10, mostly due to the failures of other teams. Losing by one point in Kansas City against a great defense isn’t anything to be ashamed of for Dallas, although they have to get their running game going if they want to be able to take advantage of all the weapons they have in the passing game.
It was another interesting week in the NFL, as we continue to learn about each team. Let’s recap week 2 with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Mario Williams – There was a lot of criticism directed at Williams when he underperformed in Buffalo last year, but on Sunday he recorded a career high 4.5 sacks to help his team to victory. Williams and the Buffalo defense held Carolina to nothing but field goals in the 4th quarter, which kept the Bills within striking distance so that E.J. Manuel could lead the game-winning drive in the final minutes. The Bills don’t win without a great performance by Williams.
Julio Jones – Both Jones and Roddy White were less than 100% health wise heading into Sunday, but Jones was able to play through his ailments and have one of the best games of the weekend by any wide receiver. Jones caught 11 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown, helping the Falcons take a big first half lead that turned out to be insurmountable.
AFC West – This was arguably the worst division in the NFL last year, but they had a great week 2, with all four teams winning, including two wins on the road. San Diego was the most impressive by traveling 3,000 miles and being able to slow down Philadelphia’s offense just enough to eek out a three point win. Both Denver and Kansas City are off to 2-0 starts after their wins against NFC East teams on Sunday, as the Chiefs have already matched last year’s win total. Even the Raiders won, albeit against Jacksonville.
Aaron Rodgers – Rodgers has had some great games, but the 480 yards passing Rodgers had tied a single game franchise record. He was nearly flawless, completing 34 of 42 passes, and nearly unstoppable, as he led the Packers to 31 unanswered points to begin the game. The Packers don’t have the most impressive roster they’ve had in recent years, but Rodgers helps to hide that.
Tennessee’s ability to close – Following a pick-6 by Alterraun Verner with less than five minutes left in the game, the Titans had most of us convinced that they were about to pull of a pretty significant upset, but they couldn’t quite seal the deal. The Titan’s offense failed to run out the clock, which gave the Texans another chance to tie the game, which they did. Tennessee couldn’t run the ball and Jake Locker missed throws he needs to make, putting too much pressure on a defense that had played well for most of the game.
The hit on Malcolm Floyd – The word “ouch” doesn’t do a justice to what Floyd must have felt during the hit that knocked him out of Sunday’s win over the Eagles. It’s the kind of hit that will make anybody cringe, and it took Floyd out of the game after catching five passes for over 100 yards. The good news is that Floyd did accompany the team on their flight home and will hopefully be okay.
Reggie Bush – Bush went from so good to so bad so quickly. He missed a significant chunk of the game with a knee injury and was largely ineffective, touching the ball just 12 times and averaging less than three yards per carry. He suffered a minor thumb injury last week and played through it, but he couldn’t do the same this week. Bush is a dynamic player, but he’s not particularly useful if he’s not healthy, and Bush didn’t look anywhere close to healthy on Sunday before leaving the game for good.
Giants on third down – Going 1 for 11 on third down is just not going to cut it for any team, especially a team that’s given up 77 points over the first two weeks. Denver doesn’t have a great pass rush without Von Miller, and so Eli Manning and the Giants should have been able to convert more of their third down opportunities against the Broncos on Sunday. To make matters worse, Manning threw four interceptions, in part because he was trying to do too much on third down. Another culprit is the running game, which is putting the Giants in third and long situations, and needs to be fixed after two bad weeks.
Jets and Patriots scuffle – Just like last week with the Packers and 49ers, there was an unnecessary scuffle in the NFL in week 2, this time between the Jets and Patriots, although this one was a little more serious. Both Willie Colon and D’Brickashaw Ferguson were ejected for their role in the mêlée, which is inexcusable for two veteran players who should both know better, and now both could be facing suspensions. If this is how the Jets react to one loss, how are they going to react several weeks from now when they’ll undoubtedly have a lot more losses? The Jets will have to either learn how to win or lose with more dignity, because they can’t be starting fights on a regular basis, no matter how frustrated they are.
Philadelphia’s defense – The offense is certainly working for the Eagles, but the defense is getting in the way. There has been a lot of moving parts on Philadelphia’s defense this season, both in scheme and personnel, and it shows. They’ve given up over 50 points in the last six quarters and allowed over 500 yards against San Diego on Sunday. Unless this unit shapes up, the Eagles are going to be in a lot of shootouts this season.
Washington’s first half – For the second straight game, the Redskins were downright terrible in the first half. They faced a 26-7 halftime deficit in week 1 against the Eagles and went down 31-0 midway through the 3rd quarter against the Packers in week 2. In both cases, they turned it around in the second half, but it was too little too late, even after they were the better team in the second half in both games. Whatever the reason, the Redskins have been as bad as can be in the first half this year, and they need to find a solution to that problem, and fast.
Josh Freeman – It was definitely an ugly game on Sunday for Freeman, who completed just nine passes to cap off a terrible week for him, as the rift between him and head coach Greg Schiano grew deeper. Freeman turned the ball over twice and after a 1st quarter touchdown pass he did nothing to help the Bucs win a game that they should have been able to win considering the way their defense shut down New Orleans offensively. Considering the situation between Freeman and Schiano, things could get a lot worse before they get better.
We’ll be doing weekly power rankings by conference this year, and even though we’re only one week into the season, we already have a good indication of how things look. Here are the NFC power rankings one week into the season.
1. San Francisco – The 49ers finished last season as the top team in the NFC, and they’ll begin this season in the same spot. The addition of Anquan Boldin paid off huge for San Francisco. Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick did a great job of winning the game with his arm, showing off his ability to make plays from the pocket. After one game, the 49ers look very much like the team that went to the Super Bowl last year, if not a little bit better.
2. Seattle – A 12-7 win isn’t very convincing, but the Seahawks had to travel east and play an early game against a team that had a lot of momentum coming off of last season. The Seattle defense was in mid-season form and really clamped down hard on Cam Newton while Russell Wilson was efficient with the ball and made plays when he needed to, leading the offense on a game-winning drive and killing the clock once they got a fourth quarter lead.
3. Green Bay – There are a couple question marks for the Packers after one game, but a 6-point road loss against San Francisco is nothing to be ashamed of, as it means they’re not that far from the top. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have the support around him he once had, but he doesn’t’ necessarily need a lot to keep the Packers competitive at the top of the NFC.
4. New Orleans – The Saints have their head coach back and a new defensive coordinator, and they made strong statement in week 1, pulling out a close win over the Falcons. We know they’ll score points this year, and while their defense wasn’t perfect, holding Atlanta to only 17 points, including seven points in the final three quarters, is impressive and a promising start to their season.
5. Atlanta – It’s tough to fault the Falcons for losing in Sean Payton’s return to New Orleans, although they had a chance at the end and couldn’t quite pull it out. This one loss shouldn’t change our perception of the Falcons too much, but it will definitely make it harder for them to run away with the NFC South title the way they did last year.
6. Chicago – The Bears erased an 11-point deficit to beat a talented Cincinnati team to open up their season. Jay Cutler limited himself to one interception and the offensive line kept him well protected, as he looked comfortable and confident while leading the Bears in a come-from-behind win. We’ll need to see a little more out of Cutler before being completely convinced he’s a different player from year’s past, but the Marc Trestman era in Chicago is off to a good start.
7. Detroit – The Lions looked like quite the offensive juggernaut on Sunday, as Matthew Stafford threw for over 350 yards like it was nothing, and Reggie Bush made a great first impression in his Detroit debut. They didn’t get a lot of production from Calvin Johnson, but they didn’t need much from him in order to put 34 points on the scoreboard. Defensively, they forced four turnovers, although doing so against Christian Ponder isn’t anything to get too excited about just yet, although they definitely didn’t look like a team that’s destined to lose four games again.
8. Philadelphia – We didn’t really know what to expect from the Eagles, but who could have seen this coming? Although they allowed the Redskins to creep back into the game in the fourth quarter, the Eagles were in complete control for the first three quarters of the game. It’s too early to be completely sold on the Philadelphia, but during week 1, the Eagles certainly looked better than half the teams in the NFC.
9. St. Louis – It was the Sam Bradford to Jared Cook combination that helped the Rams overcome an 11-point deficit heading in the fourth quarter and win their season opener at home. The Rams would have preferred to win more convincingly, and they would have liked to play better defense while at home, but they played well, especially Bradford, who completed over 70% of his passes. If Bradford can continue to play well, the Rams should have no trouble scoring points this year.
10. Arizona – For a team that blew an 11-point lead and will likely finish last in their division, the Cardinals played pretty well week 1. Arizona racked up nearly 400 yards of offense and nearly pulled out a road win. Even though they have a long road ahead of them in the NFC West, that doesn’t mean they can’t stay competitive, and after one game the Cardinals definitely look competitive.
Dallas and Carolina are on the cusp of the top 10. For the Cowboys in particular, barely winning the game after getting six turnovers isn’t as impressive as Dallas fans think.
As our NFL preview continues, today we take a look at the teams of the NFC North, while also providing a pre-season power ranking of the division.
1. Green Bay – The Packers are obviously the top team in the division heading into the season with arguably the best quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers. With the loss of Greg Jennings, the Packers don’t have the deep collection of offensive skill players that they’ve had in years past, although Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb quality receivers. With the addition of rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay should have an improved rushing attack, which was well below average last season. There could also be some problems for Green Bay along the offensive line after the losing left tackle Bryan Bulaga to a season-ending injury.
Despite some of those questions, the Packers are solid on defense and with Rodgers running the show on offense Green Bay should be one of the top contenders in the NFC once again.
2. Minnesota – The Vikings may be on the verge of taking a step back, but with Adrian Peterson they have one of the most dominant players in the NFL who they were able to ride to 10 wins and a spot in the playoffs last season, and he’ll give them a chance to do the same this season. Of course, Minnesota won’t be able to rely on Peterson for everything, which is why they’ll need Christian Ponder to take his game to the next level in his third NFL season. The Vikings have done enough to give Ponder a good supporting cast around him; aside from Peterson, the Vikings added wide receivers Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, which should be enough to give Minnesota a more balanced offense if Ponder can prove to be a competent quarterback.
Defensively, the Vikings aren’t in the best of shape, but they added two first round picks on that side of the ball, as well as linebacker Desmond Bishop. But despite some questions, having Peterson running the ball should be worth quite a few wins, and if the other pieces of Minnesota’s roster can put it together, the Vikings should be once again in the mix for a playoff spot.
3. Chicago – Entering the 2013 season, the Chicago Bears are in the rare of position of coming off a 10-win season while also replacing their head coach. The biggest factor in Chicago’s season will be whether new head coach Marc Trestman can help quarterback Jay Cutler take his game to the next level. Cutler has the talent and the marquee receiver in Brandon Marshall necessary to lead the Bears to another double-digit win total and possibly a playoff birth, but his performance has declined in recent years and he’s never been able to take that next step. Another big key to Chicago’s success in 2013 will be their offensive line, which was a disaster last season. The entire left side of the line has been made over with the free agent additions of Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson, while first round pick Kyle Long should provide a big boost to the unit as well.
The Bears were carried by their defense last season, and if Cutler and the offense can’t get it together, that may be the case again this season, although the Bears will no longer have Brian Urlacher to lead the way in the middle of their defense. Linebacker was a big point of emphasis this offseason, with the addition of James Anderson and D.J. Williams in free agency, as well as rookie Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene in the draft. Chicago’s defense should be reliable again this season to keep them in games, but Cutler is too untrustworthy on offense, which is why they head into the season looking like the third best team in the NFC North.
4. Detroit – The Lions have their work cut out for them in 2013, as they look to rebound from a four-win season in a division in which the other three teams all won 10 or more games last season. Detroit should have one of the best passing offenses in the NFL led by Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and a slew of other capable receivers, but Stafford and company will have to find a way to turn those high levels of production into wins. The x-factor on offense will be the addition of running back Reggie Bush, who could be used in a variety of ways and adds a different dimension to Detroit’s offense. Defensively, the Lions may have one of the most talented front lines in football with a trio of first round picks and one second round pick. If that unit can play up to its potential they could have a huge impact on the rest of the defense, which is average at best otherwise. Despite the questions facing the rest of the teams in the NFC North, the Lions still have the most to prove this season, which is why they start out at the bottom of the power rankings.
We’re still a couple weeks away from the start of the regular season, but we’ve made it to the most exciting week of the preseason, as week 3 is usually the week when the starters play the most, giving us the best indication of what to expect during the regular season. With that in mind, here are several NFL games to watch during week 3 of the preseason:
Seattle at Green Bay, Friday – With starters expected to play a lot this weekend, this game could be quite telling, with both teams expected to be contenders in the NFC. Even more interesting will be watching the matchup of Green Bay’s offense against Seattle’s defense. The first half of this game could be an interesting preview of what to expect atop the NFC this season.
Buffalo at Washington, Saturday – Both teams have some quarterback issues to work through. E.J. Manuel all but locked up the Bills’ starting job after two preseason games, but his status for the start of the regular season is in jeopardy after minor knee surgery. Buffalo has to try to get Kevin Kolb ready just in case Manuel is ready to go, although undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel could push Kolb for the spot behind Manuel on the depth chart. Meanwhile, the Redskins have gotten real thin at quarterback, with Robert Griffin III still uncertain for the regular seasons and Kirk Cousins spraining his ankle. If Cousins doesn’t play on Saturday, it’ll be interesting to see how Rex Grossman and Pat White do playing alongside the starters.
Cleveland at Indianapolis, Saturday – The Browns are off to a 2-0 start this preseason, and with the Colts giving their starters extended time this week, it’s an opportunity for Cleveland to show that their fast start is no fluke. It’ll also be pertinent to watch how Brandon Weeden plays after being named the starter, and whether he’s complacent, or if he’ll continue to look sharp.
Jets at Giants, Saturday – The two New York teams facing off is always going to be interesting to watch. This game has the added benefit of watching the Jets’ quarterback competition play out. Mark Sanchez had his good and bad moments last week, and this week should be Geno Smith’s last chance to get an extended look and make his case for being the starter. If Smith struggles, it could give the job to Sanchez by default, but if Smith plays well, things could get even more interesting.
St. Louis at Denver, Saturday – The Broncos might as well get used to playing without Von Miller since they’ll be without him for the first six games of the season. This is the time for Denver to figure out who their top pass rushers will be, especially since they may also be without Derek Wolfe for an extended period of time. For the Rams, we’re still waiting for their revamped offense to show something after adding all that speed during the offseason, and this game should be a good indicator of what they’re capable of doing.
New Orleans at Houston, Sunday – If you want offensive fireworks, even in the preseason, this is the game to watch. The Texans offense has really clicked this preseason, showing an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position and at the skill positions. As for the Saints, their offense was good last year and could be even better this season with Sean Payton back on the sidelines. With the starters getting extended playing time this week, there could be a lot of points on the scoreboard by the time this game is over.
For as long as Aaron Rodgers has been the starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, they have been a pass-heavy offense. However, with their contingent of receivers not quite as impressive as it used to be, it might be time for the Packers to become more balanced offensively. Judging by the fact that they were 20th in the NFL in rushing last year, and haven’t had a running back gain 100 yards in a single game since the 2010 season, Green Bay has a long way to go to develop a consistent and productive rushing attack.
The Packers were so ineffective at running back last season that Rodgers, who doesn’t exactly spring to mind when the phrase dual-threat quarterback is mentioned, was second on the team in rushing, as well as second to wide receiver Randall Cobb in yards per rush. Of course, Green Bay did well to recognize their deficiency and addressed it in the draft, picking up Eddie Lacy in the second round and Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round. They also bring back last year’s leading rushing Alex Green and James Starks, who led the team in rushing in 2011. A wildcard in the group could be DuJuan Harris, who started both of Green bay’s playoff games last season, but is still recovering from a knee injury and may not have the opportunity to earn a spot on the team. It’s from that group of backs that the Packers will hope to find some answers in their running game this season.
Despite being a rookie, Lacy may be the favorite to become the starter. Green Bay was so desperate for a running back that they considered taking Lacy in the first round, and they were lucky that he was still available when they were making their second round selection. Lacy has a great combination of power of speed. He has the look and size of a power back, and is great at breaking tackles, but he also has surprising foot quickness and can be incredibly shifty. Lacy is perhaps best known for his patented spin move, which work wonders in college, even against SEC defenses, and the Packers are hoping it will translate to the NFL. Green Bay drafted Lacy with the hope that he would become their starter, and there should be little doubt that he is the most talented running back on their roster. The only thing left to do is for Lacy to go out on the field and produce, and prove that he should be Green bay’s starter this year.
Of course, with so many issues with their backfield heading into the offseason, the Packers also drafted Franklin as reinforcement. Franklin doesn’t have great size, so he’s likely to be a part-time change-of-pace back, but he does have the skills to play on every down. He’s fast and shifty, which means he fits the mold of a back up in the NFL, but he has the secondary skills to play an even larger role. Perhaps most importantly, Franklin has good receiving skills coming out of the backfield, which is something that Lacy doesn’t do well, and something that the Packers will look to utilize, which should guarantee him plenty of playing time as a rookie.
However promising Green Bay’s rookies may be, Green and Starks should not be counted out. For a team with such high aspirations, experience is at a premium at all positions. Although Green and Starks haven’t proven to be all that productive in the past, they should not be counted out of the running back competition, nor should Harris. Ultimately, the Packers hope they can get something substantial out of this group of five running back candidates. There appears to be enough talent to make that happen, but Green Bay will also need strong play from its offensive line, and make a commitment to running the ball and having a balanced offense. Until we see all those factors come together, we won’t know for sure if the Packers will have an improved running game in 2013, something they may need if they hope to be contenders in the NFC.
We’re merely one week into the preseason and NFL injuries are continuing to pile up. Here’s the latest group of players to suffer serious or season-ending injuries and how their teams will have to cope with the loss:
Danario Alexander, Chargers – This is a tough break for Alexander, who could have been poised for a big season, but also for the Chargers, who had Alexander penciled in as a starter and were expecting a lot from him in 2013. The Chargers don’t appear to be in a rush to check out the free agent market to fill the void left by Alexander, so they’ll have to get more than they expected from guys like Malcolm Floyd (who may be facing a serious injury himself), Vincent Brown, and Robert Meachem. Rookie Keenan Allen could benefit the most, as he now as ample opportunity to push for a starting spot right away. Of course, none of the receivers mentioned are sure things to be productive and reliable options, which means the loss of Alexander could loom large for San Diego in 2013.
Bryan Bulaga, Packers – It’s never a good thing to lose your starting left tackle, but that’s the position Green Bay is in after Bulaga’s knee injury. First in line to replace him is rookie David Bakhtiari, who the Packers picked up in the fourth round. Not many believed Bakhtiari would be a left tackle in the NFL heading into the draft, and so not only does he have a lot to prove to critics, but he is also responsible for protecting the blindside of one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Derek Sherrod is on the PUP list and should be out a while, so unless they find someone in free agency, the Packers will have to live with Bakhtiari at left tackle and hope they don’t suffer any more injuries along the offensive line. He was fine in pass protection during his first preseason game, but obviously things are going to get tougher for him during the regular season, so it should be a while before the Packers feel completely comfortable with their pass protection.
Joe Morgan & Kenyon Coleman, Saints – The Saints will be forced to make adjustments on both offense and defense due to the loss of Morgan and Coleman. Morgan isn’t a starter, but he was their third best receiver and incredibly dangerous as a deep threat, averaging 38 yards per reception last season. Without Morgan, depth becomes an issue for New Orleans, as they’ll have to look to younger guys like Nick Toon, Chris Givens, or rookie Kenny Stills to make significant contributions. As for Coleman, he was going to be a starter and brought a lot of experience to the table. Without him, youngster Akiem Hicks will likely take his place at defensive end. Hicks was previously working at nose tackle for New Orleans, so the injury to Coleman will force them to shift around their defensive front, which could create some issues if they’re unable to find the right combination.
Arrelious Benn, Eagles – Benn doesn’t seem like a huge loss, but after losing Jeremy Maclin for the year and all the issues surrounding Riley Cooper, losing another wide receiver for the season is significant for Philadelphia. The Eagles now have little depth at wide receiver, even if they choose to hang onto Cooper. At least Benn was a player they were familiar with, and now the Eagles will be forced to go with young unproven players or search deep into the free agent pool to find receivers that can learn Chip Kelly’s offense and be productive for them.