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 second weekend of the NFL playoffs gets started with a rematch of two teams that were once thought to be the best two teams in the NFC, and possibly the entire league. They now meet with a spot in the NFC Championship Game on the line; let’s take a closer look at the Saint and Seahawks.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
The Saints traveled to cold and blustery Philadelphia last week and came away with the first road playoff win in franchise history, continuing the momentum they built up in their regular season finale after losing three of their previous four games, a run that started with a 34-7 loss in Seattle. The Seahawks have been virtually unbeatable at home this season, losing only to the Cardinals in week 16, and despite losing two of their final four games, Seattle finished 13-3, which was enough to give them a bye last week and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
NEW ORLEANS OFFENSE VS. SEATTLE DEFENSE
Despite some struggles late in the season, Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense have started to click again the past two weeks. Brees shook off a couple early turnovers against the Eagles and went on to throw for 250 yards, doing a great job of spreading the ball around to a multitude of receivers. More importantly, the Saints were effective running the ball, getting a surprising effort from Mark Ingram. If the Saints can repeat that performance this week, they’ll be in great shape. However, the Seahawks are much better defensively than the Eagles, and the New Orleans offense had all kinds of problems when they played at Seattle earlier in the season, as they were made one-dimensional after falling behind early. It’s imperative that the Saints establish a viable rushing attack, because without it the Seahawks will be able to blitz Brees and put pressure on him, which is when the Saints tend to struggle offensively. The Seahawks also have three players in their secondary who were either first or second team All-Pro selections, which puts them in good position to defend Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and the rest of the New Orleans playmakers, especially if the Saints aren’t a threat running the ball. If the Saints can avoid trailing by multiple scores and force Seattle to respect their running game, they’ll be in position to win the game with a quarterback like Brees leading the way; however, if New Orleans becomes one-dimensional offensively, the Seahawks should have their way against them, just like they did back in December.
SEATTLE OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS DEFENSE
Russell Wilson had his way with the New Orleans defense back in week 13, throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, but with the Saints having the second best pass defense in the NFL, he’s unlikely to repeat that kind of performance. Wilson has been solid but unspectacular this season, and with New Orleans getting a second chance to face him this season, they’ll be better prepared to face him than they were in the first matchup, especially after the Saints held Nick Foles and the high-flying Philadelphia offense in check last week, limiting the Eagles to 256 total yards. The Saints should have little reason to fear the Seattle wide receivers, which means the Seahawks will need to rely on Marshawn Lynch and their running game to move the ball, while hoping Wilson can make plays without turning the ball over. The Saints may have to sell out on stopping the run, especially against a powerful back like Lynch, and take their chances on Wilson not being able to beat them with a 300-yard passing game for the second time this season.
Seattle beat New Orleans 34-7 during the regular season, but this game will be a lot closer, especially with the Saints getting the monkey off their back with regard to winning a road playoff game and the Seahawks not being perfect at home this season. Expect a close game without either offense having a lot of success, but expect the Seahawks to pull it out at home. Seattle 21, New Orleans 17.
The NFL has given us what could be a spectacular playoff game on Saturday night between two offenses that have the potential to be explosive. Let’s take a closer look at the wildcard matchup between the Saints and Eagles.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
Earlier in the season, the Saints were arguably the top team in the NFC, but they struggled heading down the stretch and in the end they needed to beat Tampa Bay in week 17 to secure a playoff spot after losing three of their previous four games. Even more troubling is that they’ve lost their last three road games, and their only road win since week 5 is a close game against the Falcons. As for the Eagles, they weren’t in great shape at the midway point of the season, but they went 7-1 during the second half of the season and won the NFC East, so they enter the postseason with plenty of momentum.
NEW ORLEANS OFFENSE VS. PHILADELPHIA DEFENSE
This is a matchup, which some might call a mismatch, between one of the top passing offenses in the NFL and one of the most porous pass defenses. Drew Brees had another outstanding season, but like the rest of the team he struggled on the road down the stretch, throwing three touchdowns and four interceptions in the team’s three most recent losses. The forecast calls for low temperatures, but little wind or precipitation, which should help keep Brees somewhat comfortable throwing the ball, although the conditions are not what the Saints would like them to be. If Brees plays well and isn’t hindered by the weather conditions, he has the weapons to do a lot of damage against the Philadelphia defense, especially Jimmy Graham, who should be a matchup nightmare for the Eagles. However, New Orleans doesn’t have the most balanced offense, and sometimes their running game is either under-utilized or ineffective. The Eagles are strong up front and have been good at stuffing the run most of the season, especially lately. Between that and a high-scoring offense, the Eagles have a chance to make New Orleans one-dimensional on offense, which would allow the Eagles to attack with their pass rush, and teams with a good pass rush have been kryptonite to the Saints this year. If Philadelphia is able to get consistent pressure on Brees, the New Orleans offense could have trouble moving the ball down the field consistently.
PHILADELPHIA OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS DEFENSE
Over the last eight games, the Philadelphia offense has been nearly impossible to slow down for four quarters. Even in their only loss in the last eight weeks, the Eagles scored 30 points; and even when they were held scoreless for the first half in the snow against Detroit, the Eagles ended up with 34 points. Nick Foles has received a lot of the credit for making good decisions and playing mistake-free football, but LeSean McCoy has been the real catalyst for the offense. McCoy is averaging five yards per carry this season, and the fear opposing defenses have of him breaking containment along with a strong offensive line have given Foles time in the pocket and open passing lanes. However, the Saints have one of the best defenses the Eagles have seen in a long time, as New Orleans ranks second against the pass, allowing less than 200 yards per game. The Saints have the fourth most sacks in the NFL this season, and even against a good offensive line they’re going to have the ability to put pressure on Foles, which could lead to sacks, as Foles tends to hold the ball instead of risking throws that could lead to turnovers. If New Orleans can get pressure on Foles and keep the Eagles in long-yardage situations, it will make McCoy less dangerous and keep Philadelphia from moving up and down the field with great ease on every drive. However, stopping McCoy on early downs is another issue, and the Eagles will be able to get in a good rhythm and open up the playbook if McCoy is getting big chunks of yards on first down, so slowing him down on early downs will be the key to the game for the New Orleans defense.
This is a tough game to call; both teams can put a lot of points on the board, but both defenses have a chance to pressure the quarterback and at least slow down the opposing offense. Weather may not be much of a factor, outside of cold temperatures, but momentum coming into the game will play a role. The Eagles have played great football over the second half of the season and have won their last four home games, while the Saints have struggled on the road, especially on offense. Ultimately, the Philadelphia offense will be harder to keep under wraps for four quarters, and the Eagles will get the job done at home against a New Orleans team that looked more threatening two months ago than they do right now. Philadelphia 30, New Orleans 20.
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 are two weeks left in the NFL season and yet the playoff picture remains unsettled. Let’s not waste our time with the meaningless games on this week’s schedule and take a closer look at all the games that have playoff implications.
Miami at Buffalo – The Dolphins need to win and get some help over the final two weeks in order to get to the playoffs, and a win over the Bills isn’t a guarantee, especially after Buffalo beat them earlier in the season. The Dolphins hurt themselves with turnovers when the teams met in week 7, and that’s not something that can repeat itself this time around, as Miami will have to do a better job of handling Buffalo’s defensive front, which can be disruptive against the Dolphin’s suspect offensive line. Thad Lewis will be Buffalo’s quarterback for the injured E.J. Manuel, but Lewis was the quarterback when the Bills beat the Dolphins in week 7, so that shouldn’t hold them back from trying to pull off a season sweep of the fish.
Minnesota at Cincinnati – Believe it or not, the Bengals still haven’t wrapped up the AFC North, nor have they assured themselves of a playoff spot yet. With a win and some help Cincinnati can lock up a postseason spot, but that may not be so easy against the Vikings, who have just one loss in their last four games. Matt Cassel has played great over the last three weeks, and even if Adrian Peterson doesn’t play, Cassel is capable of leading the offense and putting points on the board, which could put pressure on Andy Dalton to have a good game as well, and if Dalton doesn’t play well, the Bengals could be in trouble.
Indianapolis at Kansas City – If the Colts are going to be taken seriously in the postseason, this is a game they need to win. Indy hasn’t won two in a row since week 9, as their play since then has been erratic and inconsistent. If the Colts have another sluggish first half, they’re likely to be blown out, as the Chiefs have found a groove offensively in recent weeks, even though their defense has taken a step back. It all hinges on Andrew Luck, but if he’s sharp and the Chiefs can’t put pressure on him, Kansas City could find themselves in another shootout, which is something they’d like to stay away from.
Dallas at Washington – The Cowboys are sinking fast, but they may be catching a break by playing the Redskins this week. However, Kirk Cousins looked good in his first start of the season last week, and he’s certainly capable of carving up the Dallas defense, which has been downright terrible in recent weeks. If Cousins can get the Washington offense moving, it would put a lot of pressure on Tony Romo and the Dallas offense to win a shootout, which could lead to Romo forcing throws and making mistakes. As bad as the Redskins have been this year, all the pressure in this game is on Dallas, whose season will be over if they lose and the Eagles win, so all the problems the Cowboys have had the past two weeks need to be fixed in a hurry, because Washington would love to play spoiler against their division rivals.
New Orleans at Carolina – The winner of this game will win the NFC South and get a first round bye in the playoffs, although technically the Panthers would have to win in Atlanta next week to wrap everything up. Carolina has some adjustments to make after getting dominated by the Saints two weeks ago, but being at home should help, especially considering that the Saints have been a mediocre road team this season. New Orleans is most vulnerable when Drew Brees is put under pressure, so Carolina’s best chance to reverse the outcome of two weeks ago is to have an effective pass rush. Offensively, the Panthers will have to capitalize on red zone opportunities by getting into the end zone, something they’ve struggled to do. If Carolina can do those two things, they’ll have a chance to take down the Saints and win the division.
Denver at Houston – Despite last week’s loss, the Broncos are still in line to have home field throughout the playoffs if they win their final two games. On paper this looks like a mismatch, but if the Texans can run the ball effectively and control the clock the way San Diego did against the Broncos last week, Denver could have a problem. The Denver secondary also has to start playing better amidst all the injuries, as Houston has two quality wide receivers that have the potential to do some damage against a vulnerable secondary.
New York Giants at Detroit – The Lions are now on the outside of the playoffs after losing four of their last five games, but a home game against the Giants could be just what they need. After a brief glimmer of hope, the Giants have been abysmal the last two weeks and appear to be just playing out the season. If Detroit can start fast and get an early lead, the Giants may not put up much of a fight, but if the Lions are sluggish and can’t get their pass rush going against a questionable offensive line, the Giants will be able to hang around and could be a tough team for the struggling Lions to beat.
Arizona at Seattle – The Cardinals are still in contention, but if they’re going to make the playoffs they have to beat the Seahawks, who are virtually unbeatable at home. The first time these two teams met, Arizona couldn’t run the ball at all, which put a lot of pressure on Carson Palmer. If the Cardinals expect to win this game, they’ll need to run the ball effectively and play great defense, as they’ll need just about everything to go their way if they’re going to win in Seattle.
Pittsburgh at Green Bay – With or without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers need to win this game. They’ve found a way to win each of their last two games by a single point, but the Steelers are far better than either of the teams they’ve played the last two weeks. Pittsburgh has slim odds to reach the postseason, but they’re playing quality football on both sides of the ball, and there is no team in the NFL that wants to play them right now. Green Bay may have to beat Pittsburgh at their own game, by grinding it out on the ground and trying to be more physical than the Steelers, which will be tough, but if the Packers don’t have Rodgers, they’re going to have a hard time beating the Steelers, even at home.
Oakland at San Diego – San Diego still has slim playoff hopes if they can win out, but beating the Raiders may not be a lock. Oakland has picked it up offensively behind Matt McGloin and they may be able to keep pace with San Diego. However, the Raiders will need to avoid turning the ball over if they hope to win, and that could be a problem.
New England at Baltimore – There may be no hotter team in the NFL right now than the Ravens, and a win in this game will set up a de facto AFC North championship game next week against the Bengals. Baltimore is coming on strong at the right time of year while the Patriots are beginning to sputter and are barely able to pull out wins against bad teams. New England will need their defense to step up and play well in this game in order to stay close and have a chance in the 4th quarter, because the offense could have a tough time against the Baltimore defense, especially if they have to come from behind late in the game.
Chicago at Philadelphia – All of a sudden, the Bears control their own destiny in the NFC North, but to keep it that way they need to win a night game in Philadelphia against an offense that can be tough to stop. Chicago does not have a strong defense, and that could be a problem against Philadelphia’s potent offense. If the Bears can’t slow down the Eagles, it’ll be up to Jay Cutler to not only put a lot of points on the board, but also avoid costly turnovers. We know that Nick Foles takes care of the football while helping the Eagles reach the end zone, and it’ll be up to Cutler to do the same if the Bears are going to pull off the win on the road.
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.
The Saints and Seahawks could end up playing one of the best Monday night games of the season tonight, as well as one of the most meaningful. Let’s take a closer look:
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The top seed in the NFC playoffs will probably be decided by this game. The Seahawks are 10-1, which puts them a game ahead of the 9-2 Saints, and a win for Seattle would make it difficult for anybody to in the NFC to catch them for the top seed in the conference. A win for New Orleans would give the two teams the same record and give the tiebreaker to the Saints, giving them the inside track for securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Both Seattle and New Orleans are incredibly difficult teams to beat at home, meaning whichever team gets the top seed in the NFC will be the obvious favorite to reach the Super Bowl, making this game critical for both teams.
NEW ORLEANS OFFENSE VS. SEATTLE DEFENSE
The Saints are one of the top offensive teams in the NFL, but they’ve been vulnerable this year against teams that are able to put pressure on the quarterback, which is something the Seahawks are capable of doing, averaging three sacks per game. Seattle has one of the top pass defenses in the league, and despite the suspension of cornerback Brandon Browner, they should pose a challenge for Drew Brees and the New Orleans wide receivers, especially since the Seahawks are also one of the league leaders in interceptions. The Saints have sputtered on offense in their last two games, even against a mediocre Atlanta defense last week, and New Orleans will have to be sharp and at the top of their game if they’re going to have sustained success against Seattle’s defense, who will have the home crowd behind them.
SEATTLE OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS DEFENSE
Defense is a big reason for New Orleans’ success this year. The Saints are one of the best defenses against the pass this season, although that may not be much of a factor in this game, as the Seahawks are a run-based team. Marshawn Lynch has been the biggest contributor to the Seattle offense all season long, and stopping him will be the biggest priority for the Saints in this game. The Seahawks will ride Lynch for as long as they can, and if New Orleans can’t stop him, it’ll be easier for Russell Wilson and the Seattle passing game to have success. The x-factor in the game could be Percy Harvin, who will be playing in just his second game of the season. If Harvin can make an impact, it could give the Seahawks enough of a boost to be the difference in the game.
These two teams are starting to move in opposite directions. The Saints have looked fairly average the past couple of weeks, while the Seahawks are finding their stride at the right time of year. New Orleans will bring their A-game, but Seattle is too tough to beat on the road, and the Saints won’t be able to get over the hump after staying close with the Seahawks throughout the game. Seattle 27, New Orleans 20.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody! While we all reflect on what we have to be thankful for this year, let’s take a look around the NFL at the players, coaches, and teams that have something to be thankful for this time of year.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs should be thankful to the Philadelphia Eagles for firing Andy Reid and making him available for them to hire. Despite losses in their last two games, Reid has helped the Chiefs pull a complete 180 following a disastrous season last year. Already reaching the nine-win mark is better than even the most optimistic fans could have expected from the Chiefs coming into the season after just two wins all of last year. Kansas City is almost certainly going to the playoffs, and they have Reid to thank for their swift turnaround.
Philadelphia Eagles – Not only are the Eagles thankful for Chip Kelly, whose offense has put a lot of points on the board this season, despite a few off weeks, they’re also thankful for Nick Foles. The Eagles could have traded away Foles this offseason, as he’s not the proto-typical quarterback you see in Kelly’s offense, but he’s been exceptional over the past month and has the Eagles atop the NFC East and eyeing a potential playoff birth in Kelly’s first season in the NFL.
Greg Schiano – Schiano should be thankful that he still has a job. At any point during Tampa’s 0-8 start to the season, the Bucs would have been justified in firing him, especially since they also lost five of their final six games last year. The Bucs winning three in a row does give them a chance to salvage the season, although it does indicate that they had too much talent to lose their first eight games, and that Schiano’s poor coaching was the main culprit in their poor start to the season. Either way, Schiano is still employed as a coach in the NFL, and he should be thankful for that, because a month ago it was far from a guarantee.
New England Patriots – We tend to take what Tom Brady does for granted, but considering all the problems New England had during the offseason, and the injury problems they’ve had during the season, where would the be without him? Slot receiver Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski are the best weapons Brady has this year, and both of those guys have missed time with injury, forcing Brady to get by with rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Yet, the Patriots are where they always are this time of year: they have a seemingly insurmountable three-game lead in the AFC East and are just a game behind Denver and Kansas City for the top seed in the conference, and an overwhelming amount of the credit belongs to Brady.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints have gotten a huge boost from the return of Sean Payton this year, but they really need to be thankful to the Dallas Cowboys for firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, because Ryan coming to New Orleans to run the defense has been the biggest difference maker for the Saints this season. New Orleans couldn’t stop anybody last year, but now they’re a top-5 defense against the pass and have only allowed 20 or more points on three occasions this season, and with Drew Brees playing quarterback that’s a combination that will win a lot of games. The Saints are 9-2 right now, and should have no trouble making the playoffs and being one of the favorites to come out of the NFC, with a great deal of credit going to Ryan and the play of his defense.
Seattle Seahawks – At the moment, Percy Harvin has exactly one catch for 17 yards, but over the next two months the Seahawks are bound to grow increasingly thankful that they have him, and that he’s been able to come back from his hip injury and get back on the field for them. Harvin gives Seattle a dynamic threat in their passing game that has lacked playmakers all season, despite the fact that they have a quarterback that can create big plays if he has the weapons around him. Harvin is that weapon that Russell Wilson and the Seahawks need, and they’re about to be thankful that they have him down the stretch and in the postseason, because he’s a difference maker.