Today, we continue our offseason preview of every team in the NFL one division at a time with the NFC South, a division that sent two teams to the postseason last year. Let’s check out the offseason needs of the four teams in the NFC South.
Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons are coming off a disappointing season, but they lost a lot of close games and struggled mainly because of injuries, so with a positive offseason they can become a contender once again in 2014. Offensively, they have the quarterback and receivers that can win games when everyone’s healthy, but they need to make significant improvements to their offensive line. They don’t necessarily need to use their first round pick on a lineman, but they may need to bring in three or four new starters up front, and that needs to be their biggest priority this offseason. Defensively, the Falcons also need help at the line of scrimmage. The best-case scenario for Atlanta would be to get a young pass rusher early in the draft and then try to bring in a couple of interior linemen later in the draft or through free agency. If they address their needs along the line of scrimmage early in the draft, they could stand to get younger at running back and tight end later in the draft.
Carolina Panthers – The Panthers won the NFC South in 2013 on the back of a top-flight defense, and their top priority this offseason is to keep that defense in tact as best they can. Carolina needs to re-sign Greg Hardy, even if it means putting the franchise tag on him. The Panthers also have a few free agents in their secondary, and they’ll need to re-sign those players unless they have a specific plan on how to replace them. On offense, they’ll have to make a decision on whether or not to re-sign tight end Greg Olson. They should also look for a place in the draft where they can pick up a wide receiver, possibly two, as Steve Smith may not have much left in the tank. The Panthers could also look to reinforce their offensive line and perhaps look to upgrade their backup quarterback.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints have plenty of key players entering free agency this year, and they’ve already had to cut a few players to save cap space, so they should have a challenging offseason ahead of them. The biggest question is the status of Jimmy Graham and whether they’ll be able to sign him to a long-term deal or have to use the franchise tag on him. Elsewhere, the team has already cut Jabari Greer and Roman Harper, while Malcom Jenkins is entering free agency, which means there are a lot of empty spots in the New Orleans secondary alongside Kenny Vaccaro, and the Saints need to make filling those spots a priority if they’re going to remain one of the top passing defenses in the league. The Saints will also need to add help at linebacker, and could utilize an early-round draft pick at that position. Offensively, there are a couple of starters on the offensive line entering free agency that New Orleans may want to re-sign if they have the cap space, but the rest of the offense looks to be in good shape, assuming Graham is back with the team one way or another.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – With Lovie Smith being the new head coach and Leslie Frazier the new defensive coordinator, expect that side of the ball to be Tampa’s focus this offseason. The top priority for the Bucs should be to find an impact pass rusher; the talent in the secondary isn’t an issue, but that unit could be even better if Tampa get put a lot more pressure on the quarterback, so the Bucs could be looking for a defensive end early in the draft. Tampa Bay will also be looking for a middle linebacker in the first two rounds of the draft that can lead that unit into the future much like Luke Kuechly is doing for division rival Carolina. On offense, the Bucs will probably wait a year until they decide if they want to move forward with Mike Glennon as their quarterback, but they do need to make sure that their offensive line is in good shape heading into 2014, and if possible they may try to add a wide receiver or tight end to help put Glennon in position to have success in 2014.
The Sunday matinee in week 2 of the NFL playoffs offers up a matchup between a pair of 12-win teams that were separated by a single point two months ago, except this time, Carolina will be the home team. Let’s take a closer look at the Panthers and 49ers.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
San Francisco continued its dominance over Green Bay last week by braving temperatures that were well below freezing and coming away with a three-point win on a last second field goal. Meanwhile, the Panthers overcame a 1-3 start to the season by winning 11 of their final 12 games and coming out on top in the NFC South to earn a first round bye.
SAN FRANCISCO OFFENSE VS. CAROLINA DEFENSE
Carolina held the 49ers in check back in week 10, limiting San Francisco to just three field goals and 151 total yards. Colin Kaepernick threw for just 91 yards and was sacked six times against a ferocious Carolina pass rush. However, the San Francisco offense is in much better shape now than it was back then, as Michael Crabtree has returned and combined with Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis to give the 49eres a formidable receiving trio. More importantly, Kaepernick looks more like the player he was in the postseason last year after overcoming his mid-season slump that included the week 10 game against the Panthers. Carolina has a stout rush defense that should be able to keep Frank Gore in check, just as they did in week 10, but Kaepernick is more dangerous throwing the ball than he was earlier in the season, and as the Packers re-learned last week, Kaepernick can do a lot of damage when he gets out of the pocket, which is something Carolina has to watch out for. The Panthers have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, as defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson have combined for 26 sacks this season, but while they’d like to sack Kaepernick, just keeping him contained in the pocket may be a better strategy. If Carolina can force Kaepernick to beat them with his arm, they should feel good about their talented secondary being able to keep the 49ers out of the end zone.
CAROLINA OFFENSE VS. SAN FRANCISCO DEFENSE
Much like San Francisco, Carolina’s offense is more effective at running the ball than throwing it, although much like San Francisco, the Panthers will face a tough defense this week that is capable of containing that rushing attack. In the first matchup between these two teams, the Panthers managed just 250 yards of offense and struggled to move the ball for large stretches of the game. However, as was the case in so many of Carolina’s wins in the second half of the season, Cam Newton came through in the clutch and led the Panthers on a 4th quarter scoring drive to give them the lead late in the game. This is the biggest concern for the San Francisco defense, as Newton has shown this season that he’s fine with not taking risks and living to see the next play, especially since he knows he has a defense that will keep him in the game, and then when the game is on the line he can take chances and make spectacular throws that lead to the game-winning score. The 49ers can’t get over confident if they shut down Newton and the Carolina offense early in the game; they need to stay focused and find a way to shut him down for four quarters, which is something most teams have struggled to do this season.
These two teams are mirror images of one another; they both have tough defenses that can dominate a game, and they both have athletic quarterbacks that have shown the ability to make big plays with the game on the line. This game is also likely to be a mirror image of the game between these two teams during the regular season, with dominating defenses performances that leads to more field goals than touchdowns. In the end, the 49ers have more playoff experience and are a team that isn’t afraid to play on the road, and that ends up being the difference with the game on the line: San Francisco 19, Carolina 14.
NFL Week 17 Preview: Panthers-Falcons, Ravens-Bengals, Jets-Dolphins, Browns-Steelers, Eagles-Cowboys and More
Well, it all comes down to this. With one week left in the NFL season, there have already been eight teams that have clinched a playoff spot, but that means there are still four spots available, while all four divisions in the NFC are still undecided, as well as the home-field advantage in both conferences. Let’s take a closer look at the games on the week 17 schedule that have postseason post-season implications:
Carolina at Atlanta – With a win the Panthers can clinch the NFC South title, secure a first-round bye, and possibly get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if Seattle loses. However, Atlanta has not been a pushover late in the season, especially at home, so despite the disparity in their records, it won’t be an automatic win for Carolina. The Falcons are the worst rushing team in the league, but if they can get Steven Jackson going, they’ll have a chance to keep the game close and put some pressure on Carolina, who is one of the best teams in the NFC, but they’re also a team that hasn’t had to handle success before this season, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Panthers play with a lot on the line.
Baltimore at Cincinnati – The Bengals have a chance to earn a first round bye with a win and a New England loss, which would give their postseason hopes a huge boost. They’d also like to avenge an earlier loss to the Ravens, and at home they should be expected to win. As for the Ravens, there are a lot of scenarios that will get them into the postseason, but most require them winning, and there’s no way they’ll win if they play like they did last week. The Baltimore offense needs to get its act together and not put the defense in a bad situation like they did last week, as it’ll be tough to keep the Cincinnati offense out of the end zone for four quarters.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis – A lot needs to happen for the Colts to get a first round bye, but after some unsavory play during the latter part of the season, it’d be nice to enter the playoffs on a three-game winning streak, so they need to secure a win even if there’s nothing to gain in the standings. The Jaguars have shown that they can stay competitive with good teams, so the Colts need to take them seriously or else they could struggle to come away with the win. Andrew Luck and the offense should be fine, but the key for Indy is their defense, which has only given up 10 points over the past two weeks, and needs to keep that going with the postseason approaching.
New York Jets at Miami – The Dolphins will need some help to get the playoffs, but they’ll also have to win, which isn’t a certainly after the way they played last week against the Bills. Miami dominated the Jets less than a month ago, but Gang Green has played better since that game and started to find their stride offensively, which could be a concern for a Miami defense that doesn’t exactly shut down opponents on a regular basis. This game could come down to Ryan Tannehill’s health and his effectiveness after a disastrous game last week. Look for Rex Ryan’s team to come out loose and excited to play spoiler, and if the Dolphins come out tight, they could be in trouble.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh – The Steelers will need a lot of help this week, but getting a win shouldn’t be much of an issue against a Cleveland team that has lost six in a row. Pittsburgh has looked the part of a playoff team down the stretch, and even if the Browns come to play and compete, the Steelers should be able to find a way to win at home.
Green Bay at Chicago – It’s as simply as it gets in the NFC North, the winner of this game goes to the playoffs and the loser stays home. The Packers have somehow held on long enough to get Aaron Rodgers back on the field. Rodgers may be a bit rusty, but he’ll be facing a Chicago defense that was humiliated last week against Philadelphia with a chance to clinch the division. Of course, the Chicago offense is capable of putting points on the board as well, so this game could come down to how sharp Rodgers is in his return and which offense can be more effective.
Denver at Oakland – Even with the loss of Von Miller and a slew of other injuries, the Broncos should be able to handle the Raiders and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s a rivalry game, so Oakland will be ready to play and hoping to play spoiler against Denver, but Peyton Manning won’t let his team lose focus this late in the season, especially since a loss could mean a return trip to New England, which is the last thing the Broncos want.
Buffalo at New England – The Bills almost pulled out the win when these teams met back in week 1, so perhaps they’re ready to surprise the Patriots on the road, especially after an impressive shutout of the Dolphins last week. Buffalo doesn’t have an offense that can keep up if the Patriots get rolling, but they have a defensive line that can put a lot of pressure on Tom Brady and slow down the New England offense, would could keep the game low scoring and give them a chance to win.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans – A win and the Saints are in the postseason; it’s as simple as that. However, New Orleans has lost three of their last four games, and the Bucs are just good enough to make things difficult for them, especially after the Saints barely survived a 16-14 game with Tampa in week 2. The Tampa offense has sputtered in recent weeks, which will make it tough to win on the road, but if they can put pressure on Drew Brees and slow down the New Orleans offense, they’ll give themselves a fighting chance.
San Francisco at Arizona – The defending NFC champs can rest easy knowing they’re in the playoffs, but there’ll be nothing easy about a trip to Arizona, especially with the Cardinals riding high from their win in Seattle last week and knowing that they need to win to give themselves a chance to reach the postseason. The Cardinals have the top rushing defense in the NFL, so if they can slow down the San Francisco running game it’ll put more pressure on Colin Kaepernick to move the ball with his arm, which isn’t necessarily what the 49ers want. Of course, Arizona will also have to move the ball and score points, while avoiding four turnovers like they had last week.
Kansas City at San Diego – The Chargers need a win and some help to get into the playoffs, but they should feel good after winning four of their last five games, including a road win over the Chiefs. Meanwhile, Kansas City knows they’ll be playing a road playoff game next week, and they also know that they need to get their act together, as the only teams they’ve beaten in the last six weeks and Washington and Oakland. The Chiefs are no longer dominant on defense, which will make it difficult to stop Phillip Rivers and win this game. This should be a good practice game for next week, but if the Chiefs can’t rediscover their incredible pass rush from earlier in the season, they’ll not only have trouble beating San Diego, but they’ll also enter the playoffs on a downward spiral and void of confidence.
St. Louis at Seattle – The Seahawks need to shake off a home loss from last week and get ready for a St. Louis team that has proven they can go toe to toe with some top teams. Seattle is in fine shape on defense, but their offense has had some trouble in previous weeks, which could cause problems against a great Rams pass rush. St. Louis doesn’t have anything to play for except trying to finish the season at .500, but is the Seahawks lose it could cost them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and possibly the division, which could take them from being the NFC favorite to a team that needs three road wins to get to the Super Bowl, so it’s imperative that Seattle finds a way to win this game.
Philadelphia at Dallas – The winner goes to the playoffs while the loser goes home, just the way it should be in the NFL regular season finale. All the focus has been on the health of Tony Romo, but ultimately this game will be decided by whether or not the Dallas defense can slow down the Philadelphia offense, which has looked close to unstoppable in recent weeks. The Cowboys have been deplorable on defense the second half of the season, and it won’t matter who’s playing quarterback or what their offense does if they can’t find a way to get stops, or at least force turnovers, which has been tough for any defense to do against Nick Foles this season. If Dallas expects to make the playoffs, their defense will have to make some kind of positive contribution, or else the Eagles and their high-powered offense will soar into the postseason.
With just one week left to play in the regular season, it’s almost award season in the NFL. In preparation for awards season, let’s take a look at the top five candidates (in no particular order) for defensive rookie of the year.
Kiko Alonso, Buffalo – Many people believe that Alonso will end up winning the award, as he’s one of the leading tacklers in the entire NFL. His production has been incredible with 145 tackles this season, and he has given life to an otherwise terrible set of linebackers in Buffalo. He’s not only played well against the run with seven games of double-digit tackles, but he’s also done well in pass coverage with four interceptions and five passes defended. Alonso makes plays all over the field and is having the kind of season that warrants serious consideration for defensive rookie of the year.
Ziggy Ansah, Detroit – After missing a few games it’ll be hard for Ansah to win defensive rookie of the year, but his performance definitely deserves consideration. He hasn’t been the most consistent player this year, which should be expected as a rookie, but there’s no doubt that he’s made an impact, leading all rookies with eight sacks. Ansah has three games with multiple sacks, showcasing what he’s capable of doing and the kind of impact he’s made this season.
Alec Ogletree, St. Louis – There have been some growing pains for Ogletree this year, as he definitely had some maturing to do after his three years at Georgia, but he has shown improvement throughout the season and has really come on strong late in the season. Ogletree has adjusted well to playing outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme after playing in the middle of a 3-4 scheme in college, and he’s made 45 tackles over the last five games. Most importantly, Ogletree has shown the propensity for creating turnovers, as he returned a 98-yard interception for a touchdown in week 6 and forced four fumbles, indicating he has a promising future in the NFL after a nice rookie season.
Star Lotulelei, Carolina – The stats don’t tell the whole story with Lotulelei, who has been an unheralded but important part of Carolina’s great defense this season. The Panthers are far less effective against the run when he is not on the field, as having a big body like Lotulelei that can stuff the run has helped raise the level of play of the entire defense. He has 40 tackles and two sacks, so without eye-catching stats it’s going to be hard for him to win rookie of the year, but based on the impact that he’s made on the field, he’s as deserving as anybody else.
Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets – The Jets have been one of the best teams at defending the run this season, and the addition of Richardson is a big reason why. He has 76 tackles on the season, which is astounding for a defensive lineman and will draw a lot of attention from rookie of the year voters. He got off to a fast start, has been consistent throughout the season, and has had several dominating performances. If there’s anybody that has a chance to take the award from Alonso, it’s Richardson, who is a safe bet to at least be a close runner up for defensive rookie of the year.
With one week left to play in the NFL season, things are finally coming into focus in the NFC, so let’s take one last crack at the NFC power rankings.
1. Seattle – It turns out the Seahawks aren’t unbeatable at home, but they’re still the top team in the NFC. Seattle may have lost two of their last three games, but their defense is still playing well and will be hard to score against in the postseason, while Russell Wilson has made game-winning plays when he’s needed to more times than not this season, and that’ll make them tough to take down in the playoffs.
2. Carolina – The Panthers have two things that make them the second best team in the NFC and a contender in the postseason: first, they have a top-5 defense that will play well whether they’re at home or on the road; and second, just as he did on Sunday against the Saints, Cam Newton has been great at driving the ball down the field in the final minutes to win games, and that clutch play will make them dangerous in the playoffs.
3. San Francisco – The 49ers have made it into the playoffs behind a top-notch defense, a defense that will make them tough to beat when they get to the postseason, even if the have to win three road games to get back to the Super Bowl. Colin Kaepernick has been a little inconsistent this year leading the offense, but he’s capable of doing some incredible things, and if he comes close to playing the way he did in the playoffs last year, San Francisco is a dangerous team.
4. Philadelphia – Who would have thought when the season began that the Eagles would end up being the fourth best team in the NFC, but they are. The offense is really clicking, which should be enough to get them past Dallas this week and into the postseason as a 10-win team. Philadelphia is for real, and they’ll be an interesting matchup for most of the teams in the NFC playoffs.
5. Arizona – If the Cardinals don’t make it to the playoffs, it’ll only be because they play in the toughest division in football. Arizona has won 10 games this season and they’re the only team to beat Seattle on the road this season, which is an impressive feat. Regardless of if they make the playoffs or not, the Cardinals are a top-5 team in the NFC.
6. New Orleans – The Saints have really slipped heading down the stretch, losing three of their last four games, albeit against quality teams. They simply aren’t reliable playing on the road and it looks like they’re going to be playing every game of the playoffs on the road, so unless they can find a way to get their offense going outside of the Super Dome, they may not last long in the playoffs.
7. Green Bay – The Packers are still overwhelmed with injuries, and there’s still no guarantee Aaron Rodgers will be back by the season finale, but they’ve managed to put themselves in position to get to the postseason with a win this week, and that’s quite an accomplishment for a team that’s been missing its starting quarterback for more than half the season and endured a five-game winless streak. It hasn’t been easy or pretty, but Green Bay has survived a tough stretch and over the last few weeks they’ve looked like a playoff-caliber team, even without Rodgers at the helm.
8. Chicago – The Bears have some serious issues on defense, which could ultimately keep them out of the postseason, but they’re going to be able to score against most teams with a balanced offensive attack that’s better than most of the offenses in the NFC. They probably don’t deserve a spot in the playoffs, but they’ve overcome an injury to their starting quarterback and have a chance to get to the postseason, and that’s something to be proud of.
9. Dallas – Tony Romo’s injury is meaningless, because the Dallas defense is going to be what keeps the Cowboys out of the playoffs. They may have stopped the Eagles back in week 7, but that’s unlikely to happen again the way the Philadelphia offense is playing. Looking back on the season, it’s hard to believe the Cowboys have lost as many games as they have, especially when they had a chance to runaway with the NFC East early in the season, but they have and the biggest reason for their struggles has been a terrible defense.
10. St. Louis – If they only had a quarterback, there’s no telling how good the Rams could have been this year. Even in the NFL’s best division, they still have a chance to finish .500, with wins over at least three playoff teams, possibly five. Regardless of their record, the Rams were one of the toughest teams for opposing teams to play all season with their vicious pass rush, and for that they deserve some recognition.
11. New York Giants – It wasn’t a good season for the Giants, but after starting the season 0-6, they have a chance to finish with a 7-9 record, which doesn’t sound all that bad, especially considering the number of times they turned the ball over this season. Things could have spiraled out of control for the Giants, but with a win this week they will have won seven of their final 10 games, which is a nice silver lining to such a disappointing season.
12. Detroit – Even though several of their losses came in close games, Detroit’s collapse over the second half of the season has been one of the worst in the NFL in recent memory, and it’ll likely cost Jim Schwartz his job. Considering that Chicago and Green Bay played without their starting quarterbacks for significant chunks of the season, there’s no excuse for the Lions not winning the division with all of their talent, as they might be the most disappointing team in the NFL.
13. Minnesota – The Vikings have suffered some close losses this season and they’ve played fairly well towards the end of the season, but with little clarity at the quarterback position, this wasn’t the season Minnesota was hoping for, and that’ll likely mean a new head coach and a new quarterback for the Vikings next season.
14. Atlanta – Some key injuries and an ill-equipped defense hurt the Falcons this season after they had high hopes for a Super Bowl run coming into the year. Atlanta has played much better down the stretch and stayed competitive with playoff-caliber teams, which isn’t much, but it’s something.
15. Tampa Bay – At times this season, the Bucs looked competitive and played like a team you wouldn’t want to face, but they hurt themselves in close games and didn’t show much consistency throughout the season. Tampa was terrible at the start of the season and they haven’t been much better towards the end of the season, showing little growth or improvement over the course of the season.
16. Washington – The Redskins have actually looked better with Kirk Cousins at quarterback than RG3, which should make for an interesting offseason, but ultimately it’s hard to argue against Washington being the worst team in the NFC this season, as they’ve been a disaster from beginning to end and could close out the season on an eight-game losing streak.
There’s just two weeks left to play in the season, but there’s still plenty left to settle in the NFC. Let’s try to make sense of everything with the week-15 power rankings.
1. Seattle – The Seahawks were quite impressive on Sunday against the Giants, and they didn’t even need to be home to do it. It was a perfect dress rehearsal for a possible return trip to Met Life Stadium for the Super Bowl in a couple months, and the way things have gone this season, it’s hard not to think that’s how things will end up going for the Seahawks.
2. San Francisco – The 49ers deserve to be in the two-spot heading into the final two weeks of the season after a dominating effort on Sunday against a Tampa Bay team that can be tough to play. The San Francisco defense is as good as they’ve been all season, and the offense is becoming more dangerous by the week, as the 49ers are finally starting to look like the team we thought they’d be when the season started.
3. Carolina – The Panthers bounced back nicely from their loss the previous week, which helps them maintain their position as one of the top teams in the conference. Carolina does have to do a better job in the red zone, especially since their offense isn’t always able to create big plays, but their defense is going to ensure that they have a chance to win just about every week. They now get a rematch with the Saints, along with an opportunity to take a lead in the NFC South if they can win. It’s the biggest game the franchise has had in years, so it’ll be interesting to see how they play, especially after getting blown out by the Saints just a couple weeks ago.
4. New Orleans – The Saints had an abysmal effort on Sunday for the second time in three weeks. New Orleans can really struggle against teams that can put pressure on the quarterback, and they are not always reliable on the road, which are two rather big concerns for them as the postseason approaches, especially if they can’t win in Carolina next week and guarantee themselves a home playoff game.
5. Arizona – The Cardinals are the team in the NFC that just won’t go away; they keep hanging around and hanging around. By winning six of their last seven games, Arizona has taken care of business against less teams and given themselves a chance to make the playoffs in their final two games against the top two teams in the conference, so if they get to the postseason they’ll have earned it.
6. Philadelphia – The Philadelphia defense from early in the season showed up on Sunday against the Vikings, putting a stop to their five-game winning streak. The Eagles blew an opportunity to take full control of the NFC East and showed some vulnerability on Sunday, which is not what they want to do heading into the final two weeks of the season. At this point in the season, the Eagles need to prove that they can bounce back from a loss and get back on track quickly.
7. Chicago – The Bears were able to make a fairly seamless transition from Josh McCown to Jay Cutler, and having Cutler at quarterback without any controversy will make their offense even better than it’s been. Even though they still have a world of problems defensively, they look rather formidable heading into the final two weeks of the season.
8. Green Bay – Against all odds, the Packers are still alive in the NFC North playoff race. They pulled off an amazing comeback against the Cowboys and bought Aaron Rodgers another week to get back on the field. If Rodgers can make it back for the final two games, Green Bay will have a great chance to win both games and could sneak into the postseason.
9. Detroit – The Lions are in real trouble after losing four of their last five games. Detroit is capable of winning their final two games, but they’re also in freefall mode, so nothing is guaranteed and now they need outside help to get into the postseason when a few weeks ago they were in complete control of the division, which is a huge drop off in a short period of time.
10. Dallas – The Cowboys have really embarrassed themselves the past two weeks. There are no excuses for being that inept against the Bears defensively, and then for blowing a 23-point halftime lead against the Packers, especially when they had a chance to run down the clock instead of throwing the ball and turning it over. There’s incredible chaos in the organization right now, and that could make it difficult to win the games they need to win the final two weeks, even this weekend against the woeful Redskins.
There were some big time matchups in the NFC this past week, let’s take a look at how they’ve affected this weeks power rankings.
1. Seattle – Is a two-point loss on the road to a more desperate team enough to knock the Seahawks from the top spot? No way. Seattle is still the top team in the NFC and they’ve proved that enough times this year. There’s no huge flaw that’s waiting to be exploited; they’re perhaps the most complete team in the NFL.
2. New Orleans – Now that’s more like it from the Saints. We’ve been cooling on New Orleans for the past month or so, but Sunday night against the Panthers they reminded us of how good they can be. At some point, they’ll have to be that good on the road, and they’ll get tough road tests the next two weeks to prove that they can.
3. San Francisco – It’s getting harder and harder to deny that the 49ers are peaking at the right time, and the win over Seattle is further proof of that. At some point, some of those field goals will have to become touchdowns, but the defense is starting to look real good and the offense is adding some dangerous weapons to the mix. A playoff spot isn’t yet secure, but it’s looking all the more likely, and once they get to the postseason, they’ll be dangerous.
4. Carolina – The Panthers have finally been brought back down to earth. It’s not that Carolina shouldn’t be considered one of the top teams in the NFC, but they need to realize that teams are going to bring their best effort against them week after week. For a team like the Panthers, a loss at this time of year isn’t nearly as important as how they respond to it, so how they perform this week against the Jets will be very telling.
5. Philadelphia – A lot of credit goes to the Eagles for adjusting to the elements on Sunday and coming away with an impressive win that they had to have. Philadelphia was far from their comfort zone in half a foot of snow, but they still found a way to put a lot of points on the board and overcome some special teams blunders; that’s a sign of a real good team that can overcome adversity and win in multiple ways.
6. Arizona – It’s easy to criticize the teams they’ve played, but the bottom line is that the Cardinals have won five of their last six games and they’re only one game out of a playoff spot, with the bonus of owning the tiebreaker with the Panthers. The last three weeks will be tough, but they’re in good shape and they’re capable of playing with anybody they step on the field with.
7. Detroit – Regardless of the weather conditions, turnovers have become a huge concern for the Lions, and it’s something that could really hurt them down the stretch in what is still an incredibly tight NFC North Division race. With losses in three of their last four games, Detroit isn’t exactly inspiring a lot of confidence heading into the final three games of the season.
8. Chicago – There’s still a lot of work left to do to get to the postseason, but the Bears took a big step forward on Monday night with an offensive explosion. If the defense can hang tough, Chicago has the offense to give them a chance to win every game they play down the stretch, regardless of who’s playing quarterback, although that’s an issue the team will have to sort through, and it’s important that they make the right decision.
9. Dallas – The Dallas defense was just atrocious on Monday night, and unless that changes they’re going to have a tough time winning the games they need to win in the final three weeks. Tony Romo and the offense are fine, but they’re not going to win if the defense allows the other team to score on every possession, and that’s a huge issue for the Cowboys right now.
10. Green Bay – The Packers narrowly kept their season alive on Sunday by winning their first game since October. The schedule isn’t easy, but Aaron Rodgers isn’t far from coming back, and if he returns it gives Green Bay a chance to win every game they play, which makes them a much better team, and a team that might be able to sneak into the postseason.
NFL Week 13 Power Rankings: Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers, Saints, Eagles, Lions, Cowboys, Cardinals and More
There are just four weeks left in the NFL season and things are starting heat up throughout the NFC. As we prepare for the final month of the season, let’s take a look at how every NFC team stacks up heading down the stretch.
1. Seattle – After what happened Monday night there is no doubt that the Seahawks are the best team in the NFC, and will be a difficult team to beat in the postseason, when they will certainly have home-field advantage. Seattle dominated the Saints on both sides of the ball, and look head and shoulders above nearly every other team in the NFL, especially at home.
2. Carolina – The Panthers just keep on rolling, even in what could have been a pair of trap games the last two weeks with a showdown with the Saints on the horizon. Carolina finally had a dominating outing on Sunday against Tampa Bay and that moves them up to the second spot in the power rankings with a trip to New Orleans coming up this week.
3. San Francisco – The 49es are definitely starting to peak, and while Colin Kaepernick is far from where he was this time last year, he is showing signs of breaking out of his slump. San Francisco is not far behind the two teams ahead of them in the power rankings, and they have a chance to prove that they should be on equal footing with everyone else when they host the Seahawks this week.
4. New Orleans – The Saints have been sputtering for a while, but they fall hard after being humiliated on Monday night. Not only is home-field advantage in the postseason all but lost, New Orleans is now tied in the NFC South with a red-hot Carolina team that they will see twice over the next three weeks, and if they don’t start to play better, the Saints may have to settle for a wildcard spot.
5. Philadelphia – The Eagles aren’t quite an elite team, but they’re definitely better than the pack in the NFC, as four straight wins displays a level of consistency that most teams in the NFL lack. Philadelphia seems to have an identity, as well as a formula for winning games: the offense gets a lead early and the defense does just enough to hang on. It’s not a flawless philosophy, but it’s certainly working for the Eagles, especially with the way Nick Foles is playing.
6. Detroit – The Lions jumped back in control of the NFC North with a convincing win on Thanksgiving. The defense came to play, albeit against an under-manned Green Bay offense, and their offense was spectacular. However, they also committed four turnovers in that win, which is a concern, as is their lack of consistency, which is what’s holding them back from being in the same category as the top-tier teams in the NFC.
7. Dallas – Once again, the Cowboys showed how good they’re capable of being on offense when they run the ball effectively. If Dallas can keep on running the ball the way they have the past couple of weeks, there aren’t too many defenses that can keep them contained on four quarters, but finding that consistency is still as issue for them. The Cowboy’s other problem is their pass defense, which struggles against mediocre teams, and could hold them back against several of the teams they’ll face down the stretch.
8. Arizona – We may have jumped the gun on the Cardinals just a little, although they only lost to the Eagles by a field goal on the road, and that was with a -3 turnover ratio. Arizona is definitely on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture, but they’re still alive and good enough to make a strong push during the final month of the season.
9. New York Giants – It may be too little too late for the postseason, but the Giants have won five of their last six games and are playing better than nearly half the teams in the NFC. At the moment, they’re almost on a level playing field with Detroit, Dallas, and Arizona, but their 0-6 start is too much to overcome, even though they’re playing like a team that should be in contention.
10. St. Louis – For a team that’s played with Kellen Clemens at quarterback for much of the season, the Rams are hanging in there. They held San Francisco’s running game to less than three yards per carry on Sunday and are doing what they can on offense, despite being limited at quarterback. They won’t sniff the postseason, but they’ll be a hard team to play the final four weeks of the season.
11. Chicago – It’s a shame Jim Mora isn’t the coach of the Bears, because the phrase “playoffs? I just hope we can win a game” is starting to come to mind. They’ve only been blown out once while losing three of their last four games, but a team with such great weapons on offense needs to be able to find a way to win close games, and they haven’t done that over the past month, even though they had plenty of opportunities to take control of the NFC North.
12. Green Bay – Five straight weeks without a win and Aaron Rodgers still questionable to come back with four games left to play puts the Packers toward the bottom of the power rankings. Without Rodgers they may not be able to win another game the rest of the season and could plummet further in the power rankings by season’s end.
13. Minnesota – The Vikings are tougher to play than people think, and they showed that on Sunday against the Bears. Minnesota has just one loss in their last four games, and they’re going to enjoy playing the role of spoiler down the stretch, as Leslie Frazier fights to keep his job.
14. Tampa Bay – It was a nice three-week winning streak for the Bucs, but they’re back to being a terrible team that needs to make a coaching change after getting completely dominated by a division rival.
15. Washington – The Redskins have only held an opponent to less than 24 points once this season; even with a healthy quarterback that’s not going to give you a winning record. Things are really bad in Washington right now.
16. Atlanta – Don’t get too excited about the Falcons ending their five-game losing streak because they did not deserve to win that game; the Bills gave the game away with two late fumbles. Atlanta is still a bad team, and probably the worst in the NFC right now.
Heading into the week of Thanksgiving, the NFC looks settled at the top, but it’s still quite chaotic everywhere else. Let’s see how the top-10 looks with five weeks left to play.
1. Seattle – Hopefully the Seahawks enjoyed their bye week because the schedule is about to get hard with games against New Orleans and San Francisco the next two weeks. The good news is that if Seattle can take care of the Saints at home Monday night they should have no trouble closing out home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, which will make them awfully hard to beat on the way to the Super Bowl.
2. New Orleans – Outside of their blowout of Dallas, the Saints didn’t look all that sharp throughout the month of November, barely pulling out wins each of the last two weeks. The good news is that November is over and we’re moving into December, but the bad news is that they have a road trip to Seattle upcoming, followed by Carolina twice in a three-week span. New Orleans needs to get straightened out in a hurry, but they keep the two-spot in the power rankings because no one else is quite ready to take it away from them.
3. Carolina – The Panthers came out a little sluggish against the Dolphins, but their defense continues to get the job done and they were able to pull out the win, extending their winning streak to seven. Carolina isn’t exactly blowing anyone away, so they’re not yet on the same level as New Orleans, but soon enough they’ll get their chance to take on the Saints and maybe make a push for the NFC South Division title.
4. San Francisco – After losing two in a row, the 49ers got back on track in impressive fashion against the Redskins on Monday night. Colin Kaepernick threw for more than 200 yards in a game for the first time in more than a month, which is a great sign moving forward, although it came against a bad Washington defense. A playoff spot is far from a certainty, but they’re in good shape and they’ve played well for the past month, settling into the fourth spot in the power rankings.
5. Arizona – Nope, that’s not a clerical error, the Cardinals really are one of the top five teams in the NFC right now. They’ve won four in a row, including an absolute shellacking of the Colts over the weekend. Arizona has lost only two games in the last two months, and those were against San Francisco and Seattle. They also have wins over Detroit and Carolina from earlier in the season on their resume. The schedule gets tough for them down the stretch, starting with a road trip to Philadelphia this week, but they’ve played well this season and they’re a serious playoff contender.
6. Philadelphia – The Eagles drop a spot behind the Cardinals in the power rankings, but they can prove otherwise when they host Arizona this weekend. The offense has been flying high recently, and the entire team, including Michael Vick, is behind Nick Foles as the starting quarterback, and now they aim to finish the season strong and get to the postseason, although they should expect a fight from the Cowboys down the stretch.
7. Dallas – Look what the Cowboys are capable of doing when they try to run the ball, let alone are successful at running the ball. They did blow a 15-point lead, and the Dallas run defense leaves a lot to be desired, but the Cowboys played a more complete game against the Giants than they have in a long time, and they bounced back well after getting blown out by the Saints two weeks ago, as Tony Romo, of all people, led a game-winning drive. The team that showed up on Sunday and found a way to beat the Giants is a team that has a chance to win its division and make some noise in the playoffs, and that’s the team Dallas needs to show up the next five weeks.
8. Detroit – The Lions have had ample opportunity to take control of the NFC North, but instead they have slipped big time the past two weeks, and now they’re in a tight division race. The last two weeks Detroit has lost to a team that hasn’t been able to run the ball at all, and that’s a big problem they’re going to have to fix and doesn’t bode well for them moving forward. The Lions are in games, but they have to be able to finish games down the stretch if they’re going to make it to the playoffs.
9. St. Louis – The bottom half of the NFC is so bad these days that two straight wins is all it takes to move into the top-10 of the power rankings. Of course, the two wins the Rams have had are quite convincing, as they obliterated the Colts on the road and then out-classed the Bears at home. St. Louis doesn’t have an explosive passing game like we thought they’d have this year, but they may have found something with running backs Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy, as well as an occasional big play from Tavon Austin.
10. Chicago – The Bears seem to get more and more disappointing every week, and they’ve shown no consistency, as they’ve alternated wins and losses over their last seven games. The Chicago defense has become unreliable, and unless that changes they’re going to have a tough time winning games during the final month of the season, even with a manageable schedule.
NFL Week 12 Preview: Steelers-Browns, Vikings-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Panthers-Dolphins, Cowboys-Giants and More
The playoff race is heating up in the NFL, and with six weeks left to play almost every team is still alive, but many face must-win situations this week in order to keep their hopes alive. Let’s take a closer look at every game on the week 12 schedule:
Pittsburgh at Cleveland – Both teams need this game, as the winner will be in the midst of the wild card chase while the loser will be a long shot to get there. The Steelers have come on strong as of late, winning four of their last six and looking real good the past two weeks. Meanwhile, the Browns shot themselves in the foot last week with turnovers, and that’s a problem they’ll have to get under control this week against a Pittsburgh defense that will be looking to force turnovers. If Jason Campbell can take better care of the ball Cleveland will have a chance to get back on track; if not, expect the Steelers to keep their momentum going.
Tampa Bay at Detroit – The Bucs look like a real NFL team after winning their last two games, and they have a real chance to make it three in a row this week. Look for Tampa to continue feeding the ball to running back Bobby Rainey, although the Lions are one of the best teams at stopping the run, and if they force Mike Glennon to beat them they should be in good shape. On the other side of the ball, the prolific Detroit passing attack that got shut out in the second half last week by Pittsburgh will be challenged again this week by Tampa’s talented secondary. Expect this game to be a lot closer than the team’s records on paper would indicate.
Minnesota at Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers still isn’t back, but with or without him this is a game the Packers need to win after losing three straight. Green Bay’s defense has allowed 27 points each of the last three weeks, and despite some key injuries on that side of the ball, they can’t afford to allow that many against Minnesota, a team that scored 31 points against them a month ago. Scott Tolzien has been decent, but he’s not going to be able to climb out of a hole if he faces a double-digit deficit, so this game will come down to the Packers keeping Adrian Peterson contained and keeping the Vikings out of the end zone.
San Diego at Kansas City – If the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, they’ll need to find a way to beat either Kansas City or Denver down the stretch, and while winning in Arrowhead is difficult, it’s certainly possible for Phillip Rivers and company, despite three straight losses. San Diego has had some success this season with a short, quick passing attack, which could help them take Kansas City’s pass rush out of the game. If the Chargers can control the clock and avoid turning the ball over, they should be able to keep the game close and give themselves a chance to win in the 4th quarter.
Chicago at St. Louis – The Bears enter this game tied atop the NFC North, but beginning a stretch of four road games in five weeks, although the Rams have struggled to win at home this year. Last time out, St. Louis hung 38 points on the Colts and if the Bears don’t play better on defense, there’s a chance something like that can happen again this week. In a battle of backup quarterbacks, Chicago should have the advantage with Josh McCown, but they can’t ask him to do too much on the road, which means their defense better come to play, or their playoff hopes could start to slip.
Carolina at Miami – By now, just about everybody should be convinced that the Panthers are for real, and now they’ll put their six game winning streak on the line down in Miami. Ryan Tannehill has played well the past few weeks, but he’ll have his work cut out for him against Carolina’s defense, and the Dolphins shouldn’t count on scoring too many points. If Cam Newton and the offense can get it going and find the end zone a few times, the Panthers should feel good about getting their seventh straight win.
New York Jets at Baltimore – Based on their pattern of alternating wins and losses this year, the Jets are slated to win this week, but that won’t be a given against the Ravens. Baltimore ran the ball better last week, and their defense has also played better of late, so it’ll be tough for Geno Smith to find a groove and get back on track this week. Of course, the Jets boast the top rushing defense in the NFL, and they’ll be looking to bounce back after last week’s embarrassment against the Bills. If you like stout defenses and futile offenses, this is the game for you, as the first team to reach 20 points should win, assuming either team is even able to score that much.
Jacksonville at Houston – There’s not much at stake here except for positioning in next year’s draft. If the Texans lose at home to Jacksonville, things will get real ugly for Gary Kubiak, although the Texans have been a lot more competitive this year than the Jaguars, as Houston has lost its last four games by less than a touchdown, so the Texans should be clear favorites despite having just two wins on the season.
Tennessee at Oakland – Both teams need to win this game if they expect to remain in contention in the AFC wildcard race. Ryan Fitzpatrick was solid last week against the Colts, but the Titans have yet to win a game that he’s started. On the other sideline, the Raiders will start Matt McGloin for the second straight week after he helped lead Oakland to a win last week. Both teams are desperate for a win and forced to go with a backup quarterback, so whichever defense does a better job of making things difficult for the opposing quarterback will have the advantage.
Indianapolis at Arizona – The Colts have survived a slow start in two of the last three weeks, but they’ll be playing with fire if they start out sluggish again this week, as the Cardinals are a team that can run them out of the building if they start slow, as Arizona comes in with a three-game winning streak. Arizona has a stout run defense that should be able to slow down Indy’s inconsistent running game and put all the pressure on Andrew Luck, who will at least need to get some help from his defense, with Carson Palmer is coming off a game in which he threw for over 400 yards. If the Colts allow him to do that again they could be in trouble. There’s a good chance that this game turns into a shootout between Luck and Palmer, and it could go either way.