Tag Archives: 49ers

4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Carolina Panthers

As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we move on to the next team in the NFC South, the Carolina Panthers, who finished in last place in the division last season.

A year after going 15-1, the Panthers finished 2016 with a disappointing 6-10 record behind a subpar season from QB Cam Newton, who failed to throw for 20 touchdowns a season after earning NFL MVP honors. They tried to improve their offense in the early part of the draft, taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey as the No. 8 overall pick and making Ohio St. WR Curtis Samuel their second-round pick. McCaffrey is expected to see a lot of action right away as the backup to veteran RB Jonathan Stewart and as an action in the passing game, catching passes out of the backfield. The team is also welcoming back a familiar face with the signing of free-agent DE Julius Peppers, who began his career with the Panthers, playing with them from 2002-2009.

In 15 games last season — 14 starts — Newton completed just 52.9% of his passes for 3,509 yards and 19 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. Newton also rushed for 359 yards and 5 touchdowns. TE Greg Olsen’s 80 receptions was a team high. He totaled 1,073 receiving yards with 3 touchdowns. WR Kelvin Benjamin faded a bit after a good start to the season, finishing with 63 catches for 941 yards and 7 touchdowns. Stewart led the rushing attack with 218 carries for 824 yards and 9 touchdowns. The offense was middle-of-the-pack, scoring the 15-most points in the league. The defense allowed the seventh-most points but was tied for the fourth-most interceptions with 17.

With his track record of success in the league, I don’t expect Newton to have another season with numbers similar to last year.He may not return to the level of his 2015 MVP campaign, but 20-25 passing touchdowns should be attainable for the quarterback. Olsen is one of the best tight ends in the league, but the Panthers don’t have much depth in the receiving game behind him and Benjamin. That is where McCaffrey could be a help, He had 99 receptions in three seasons at Stanford, giving Newton someone to throw to in the backfield when McCaffrey is not running the ball to give Stewart a breather. At 37, Peppers obviously isn’t as good as he was in his prime, but he still had 7.5 sacks last year with the Packers. He could provide some help for a defense that didn’t do great last year.

The 2017 Panthers schedule begins with what looks to be a relatively easy road game against the 49ers. The Panthers then go home to play the Bills in Week 2 and the Saints in Week 3. They hit the road again in Week 4, heading to Foxboro to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. After a Week 5 game at the Lions, the Panthers return home for a Thursday night game against the Eagles. The Panthers face the Falcons at home in Week 9 before a Monday night game against the Dolphins in Week 10. Week 11 is when the Panthers finally get their bye, which is followed by consecutive road games against the Jets and Saints. A couple NFC North opponents follow, with the Vikings in Week 14 and Packers in Week 15 — both at home. The Panthers host the Buccaneers in Week 16 before hitting the road to finish the season against the Falcons in Week 17. I think the Panthers will win eight or nine games this season, better than last year but not likely to get them in the playoffs.

Source: http://www.panthers.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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Texans trade Osweiler on first day of NFL free agency

For the second straight season, the Texans made headlines on the first day of NFL free agency, but this time it was for getting rid of a player instead of signing one. Also making significant moves today were the Jaguars, Browns and Bears.

Last year, the Texans gave free-agent QB Brock Osweiler a four-year, $72 million contract, but his performance this season left a lot to be desired and led many people to consider that one of the worst free-agent signings in NFL history. Texans GM Rick Smith righted that wrong today, trading Osweiler —  and the $16 million guaranteed to him for the 2017 season — along with their sixth-round pick in this year’s draft and a second-rounder next year to the Browns in exchange for Cleveland’s fourth-round pick in this year’s draft and, more importantly, salary-cap relief. Getting Osweiler’s salary off the books for this season gives the Texans more flexibility to potentially sign a quarterback. Reports have been running wild of late that Cowboys QB Tony Romo is on their radar, and moving Osweiler makes it seem like they are closing in acquiring Romo, either by trade or signing him if the Cowboys cut him.

For the Browns, it’s not exactly clear what they want with Osweiler. There have been reports that teams have already contacted them about possibly trading for the Browns’ newly acquired quarterback. The possibility also exists that the Browns could simply cut Osweiler and take the cap hit. They have plenty of cap room so it wouldn’t have a significant negative effect on them. If the Browns don’t keep Osweiler, they can use the No. 1 overall draft pick to get a quarterback or sign a veteran quarterback to act as a bridge to QB Cody Kessler when he’s ready to take the reins as the starter.

That trade wasn’t the only move the Browns made today, They also tried to bolster their offensive line by re-signing OL Joel Bitonio and signing free-agent OLs JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler to multi-year deals. They also signed WR Kenny Britt, who is coming off of a career year in 2016 with the Rams.

The Jaguars signed some free agents they hope to help their defense, signing CB A.J. Bouye, DE Calais Campbell, S Barry Church and LB Lerentee McCray, which should help them compete in the AFC South. The Bears made a quarterback swap today, releasing QB Jay Cutler and signing QB Mike Glennon to a three-year contract. They lost one of their key players on offense, though, as WR Alshon Jeffery signed with the Eagles.

Other notable players who changed teams today, either through free agency or trade, include:

WR DeSean JacksonBuccaneers
WR Torrey Smith — Eagles
RB Danny WoodheadRavens
CB Stephon GilmorePatriots
QB Brian Hoyer49ers
WR Pierre Garcon — 49ers
WR Brandon MarshallGiants
TE Julius ThomasDolphins
OT Branden Albert — Jaguars
OL Russell OkungChargers

In non-player news from today, the Redskins fired GM Scott McCloughan

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NFL Divisional Round Preview: Patriots are big favorites, Packers-Cowboys play to advance to the NFC championship

With the wild-card games in the books, the top two seeds in each conference take to the field for the first time in this postseason. That means the Patriots, Chiefs, Cowboys and Falcons host games coming off of their first-round byes. For a team like the Patriots, that means veteran QB Tom Brady, one of the best in the postseason, takes on a Texans team with a mediocre offense while Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott not only gets his first taste of the playoffs but also the first truly meaningful game of his career, as the Cowboys led the NFC East virtually all season. The Falcons and Chiefs, meanwhile, have veteran quarterbacks — Matt Ryan and Alex Smith, respectively — who haven’t achieved a great deal of success in their postseason careers, save for Smith helping the 49ers reach the 2012 NFC Championship game. After finishing two games over .500 with a 129-127 record against the spread (and 156-98-2 picking games straight up) in the regular season, I went 2-2 against the spread (and 4-0 straight up but just 1-3 on the over/unders) last weekend.

Saturday

No. 3 seed Seattle Seahawks at No. 2 seed Atlanta Falcons (11-5, NFC South champions) (-5, over/under 51.5)

The Seahawks are coming off of an impressive win in the wild-card round against a Lions team with a quarterback that has been dealing with a broken finger for the last several weeks. This week, they’ll have a tougher matchup against a squad led by Ryan, who is a leading candidate for league MVP honors. RB Thomas Rawls was the Seahawks’ main offensive weapon last week, running for 161 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. QB Russell Wilson was 23-for-30 for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns. Catching nearly half of those completions was WR Doug Baldwin, whose 11 receptions led to 104 receiving yards and a touchdown. WR Paul Richardson put up decent numbers for him, with 3 catches for 48 yards, including a touchdown on an impressive catch in the end zone, making up for a lack of production from TE Jimmy Graham.

Ryan is coming off of a career year in which he threw for 4.944 yards and 38 touchdowns with just 7 interceptions, giving him a NFL-best passer rating of 117.1. He hasn’t had much success in his postseason career, though, going 1-4 with a 9-7 TD-interception ratio in five starts, and he has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in three of those five games. Looking at what the rest of the Falcons offense did during the season, RB Devonta Freeman led the way on the ground, carrying the ball 227 yards for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. No. 2 RB Tevin Coleman added another 520 yards and 8 scores on the ground on 118 rushes. WR Julio Jones had another of his typically great seasons, with 83 receptions for 1,409 yards and 6 touchdowns in 14 games. WR Mohamed Sanu added another 59 grabs for 653 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Freeman had good production in the air game out of the backfield, with 54 catches for 462 yards and 2 touchdowns. Defensively, the Falcons are among the worst in the league,ranking in the bottom 10 in both points and yards allowed.

This game is a battle of the league’s best scoring offense in the Falcons against a Seahawks defense that allowed the third-fewest points in the league during the season and gave up just 6 against the Lions last week. If the Seattle defense can’t keep the Falcons from getting into the end zone, which I don’t think they will, I think the key offensive weapon for the Seahawks will be Rawls. He’ll have to have another good game, like his 161-yard performance against Detroit, if the team has a chance to win. I don’t think Wilson will be able to keep up with Ryan in the air so it’ll be up to the rushing attack to outplay Freeman and Coleman, in my opinion. I don’t think they’ll be able to do it. Falcons win the game, 30-24, to advance to the fifth conference championship game in franchise history. They’ll cover the five-point spread, and the game will go over the 51.5.

No. 4 seed Houston Texans at No. 1 seed New England Patriots (14-2, AFC East champions) (-16, over/under 44.5)

In a rematch of a Week 3 game that saw the Patriots — with QB Jacoby Brissett starting — shut out the Texans at Gillette Stadium, the Texans head back to Foxborough for a chance at redemption as they try to make it to their first AFC Championship game in team history. Last week, the Texans beat the Raiders at home behind a strong showing by the defense — particularly DEs Jadeveon Clowney, who recorded his first career interception, and Whitney Mercilus, who had 2 sacks and 5 tackles in the game. CB A.J. Bouye had an interception of his own in the winning effort. The offense, as has been the case all season, wasn’t very explosive, although QB Brock Osweiler did show some promising signs at times, making a couple of nice throws to WR DeAndre Hopkins, who had 5 receptions for 67 yards and 1 touchdown on 9 targets. Overall, Osweiler was 14-for-25 for 168 yards and 1 touchdown. Not impressive but the lack of interceptions was a good sign because he had more interceptions than touchdown passes — 16 vs. 15 — during the regular season. The Texans couldn’t get much done in the running game; RB Lamar Miller was only able to get 73 yards on 31 carries, though he did get into the end zone once.

After missing the first four games of the season while serving his suspension for Deflategate, Brady put up impressive numbers, leading many to make him their MVP pick despite missing a quarter of the season. In his 12 starts, Brady had a 28-2 TD-interception ratio while throwing for 3,554 yards. Unlike Ryan, who hasn’t done well in the postseason historically, Brady almost seems to up his game in January. He has won 22 of his 31 starts — including four Super Bowl victories — and thrown 56 touchdowns compared to 28 interceptions. With TE Rob Gronkowski missing most of the season to injury, WR Julian Edelman was the team’s leading receiver with 98 receptions 1,106 yards and 3 touchdowns. TE Martellus Bennett stepped up in the second half of the season after Gronk went on IR. He finished the year with 55 catches for 701 yards and 7 touchdowns. RB James White was productive in the passing game out of the backfield, with 60 catches for 551 yards and 5 touchdowns. RB LeGarrette Blount was the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 299 times for 1,161 yards and an impressive 18 touchdowns. As if having one of the league’s best offenses wasn’t enough, the Patriots also had the best scoring defense during the season, giving up only 250 points — 34 fewer than the next best team, the Giants.

On paper this game seems like a blowout, and that is reflected as well in the 16-point spread. The Week 3 shutout doesn’t do much to refute that. While I don’t think this game will be close, I find it hard to give a team 16 points in the playoffs. The Texans defense will have to keep Brady and the Patriots in check if they want to have any chance of pulling off the upset because the Texans offense may be hard pressed to get into the 20s against a Patriots defense that allowed an average of 15.6 points per game during the regular season. Patriots win the game easily, but with a 27-13 score I’ll take the Texans with the points, and that will also be under the 44.5.

Sunday

No. 3 seed Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 2 seed Kansas City Chiefs (12-4, AFC West champions) (-1.5, over/under 44)

The Steelers easily took care of the Dolphins in the wild-card round to earn the trip to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. In Sunday’s game QB Ben Roethlisberger didn’t have a great outing, going 13-for-18 for 197 yards and 2 touchdowns with 2 interceptions, but he didn’t have to be at the top of his game thanks to RB Le’Veon Bell, who set a Steelers postseason record by rushing for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns on 29 rushes. WR Antonio Brown helped the Steelers jump out to an early lead with a couple of first-quarter scores. Overall, he had 5 receptions for 124 yards and those 2 touchdowns. The defense had three turnovers, including an interception by LB Ryan Shazier.

For the Chiefs, Smith set a career high this season with 3,502 passing yards, though that resulted in just 15 touchdowns and he threw 8 interceptions, which was his highest total since throwing 10 in 2010. RB Spencer Ware was the team’s leading rusher, getting the start in 14 games and carrying the ball 214 times for 921 yards and 3 touchdowns. TE Travis Kelce caught 85 passes to lead the team with 1,125 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. It was WR Tyreek Hill who was the Chiefs’ breakout star on offense this season. He had 61 receptions for 593 yards and a team-high 6 touchdowns in the passing game, but that’s not the only part of the game in which he was active. He had 24 carries for 267 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he added another 3 touchdowns on special teams, returning two punts and a kickoff for scores. Defensively, the Chiefs allowed 311 points during the season — seventh best in the league — but was in the bottom 10 in yards allowed.

The 1.5-point spread indicates that this game is expected to be close. The Steelers have the better offense with the Roethlisberger-Bell-Brown triplets, but the Chiefs have the better defense, which the team will rely on to keep the Steelers out of the end zone as much as possible as Smith and Ware can’t compare to Roethlisberger and Bell. The X-factor for the Chiefs is, of course, Hill. If he can continue the strong second half of the season that he had, it could be enough to get the Chiefs the win If he can score on a kick or punt return, that would certainly help take some of the pressure off of both the offense and defense. In the end, though, I don’t think the Chiefs will be able to score enough points to pull out the victory. The Steelers are the slight underdogs so I’ll take the points. I think Pittsburgh wins, 23-20, and I’ll go under the 44.

No. 4 seed Green Bay Packers at No. 1 seed Dallas Cowboys (13-3, NFC East champions) (-4.5, over/under 52.5)

The Packers pulled away from the Giants in the second half of their wild-card game last week and ended up winning by 25 points, but they may have lost a key player in the process. WR Jordy Nelson left the game early with what was later determined to be fractured ribs. Even without Nelson playing the entire game, QB Aaron Rodgers had a big game for the Packers, going 25-for-40 for 362 yards and 4 touchdowns. He had two receivers cross the 100-yard mark; WR Davante Adams had 8 receptions for 125 yards and 1 touchdown, while WR Randall Cobb came back after missing a couple games with an injury and had 5 receptions for 116 yards and 3 touchdowns, including one on a hail-mary pass just before halftime. The running game struggled, as it has most of the season, with RBs Christine Michael and Ty Montgomery splitting the touches almost evenly but totaling just 74 rushing yards between them. On defense, LB Clay Matthews had a sack and a forced fumble and CB Damarious Randall intercepted an Eli Manning pass.

Led by rookies Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys had their best season since 2007 with a 13-3 record. Prescott threw for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns with 4 interceptions. He also had 6 rushing touchdowns on 57 carries. That was nothing compared to what Elliott did on the ground, carrying the ball 322 times for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns. WR Cole Beasley was the team’s leading receiver with 75 receptions for 833 yards and 5 touchdowns. Veteran TE Jason Witten added 69 receptions for 673 yards and 3 touchdowns while WR Dez Bryant had 50 catches for 796 yards and 8 touchdowns in 13 games. The defense was the team’s weak point during the season, allowing both the fifth-most points and yards in the league.

Both teams have good offenses and questionable defenses so points should be easy to come by in this one. Nelson’s availability is a big question mark for the Packers. The team is saying he likely won’t be able to practice until Saturday, so a decision on his status for the game won’t be known until the weekend. If he can’t go, that would be a blow to the Packers offense and would require the likes of Adams and Cobb to repeat their performances from last week. I give the Cowboys a slight edge in this game because of Elliott. The Packers run game can’t come close to the production he is likely to put up, and that could be the difference in the game. Cowboys win, 30-27, so they don’t cover the spread but do advance to the NFC Championship game. And that score means I’m going over 52.5.

If these results happen, it’ll eliminate the possibility of my preseason Super Bowl LI pick — Packers over Patriots — from happening. With the Patriots likely beating the Texans, that prediction will stay alive if the Packers can manage to beat the Cowboys.

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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NFL Quarterly Report: Are the Cowboys and Raiders the best teams in the league?

All 32 NFL teams have now played 12 games, which means we’re three-quarters through the regular season. With just 25% of the season remaining, the playoff picture is becoming much clearer. It appears as if the Cowboys are continuing to coast to the top seed in the NFC as they are the first team to clinch a playoff spot, while the Patriots likely won’t be as dominant in the postseason as people thought they could be earlier on, and the Raiders could be heading toward the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The Patriots took a hit a couple weeks ago when TE Rob Gronkowski suffered a back injury that required surgery and will sideline him for the rest of the season. While the Patriots are still the best team in the AFC East and will make the playoffs, their chances of making a deep postseason run are not as good as they would have been if they had Gronkowski, who is QB Tom Brady’s favorite target and best receiver. TE Martellus Bennett has not yet stepped up in Gronk’s absence. For the rest of the division, the Dolphins are currently in second place at 7-5 but coming off a bad loss to the Ravens to end their winning streak. At 6-6, the Bills are in third place but gave up 29 unanswered points on Sunday to lose at the Raiders. The Jets, meanwhile, are playing out the string for the final four games of what has been a disappointing season. Judging by how their defense played on Monday night, it could be a long four games for the Jets. The Patriots are likely going to be the only playoff team coming out of the division.

Things are going better for the first-place team in the NFC East as the Cowboys have won 11 in a row behind QB Dak Prescott after dropping their season opener. At 11-1, they have clinched a playoff spot, the only team to do so to this point, and are the front-runners to land home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Giants lost a tough game to the Steelers this weekend, with QB Eli Manning not playing well, to end their six-game win streak and put them at 8-4, good for second place. They will continue to try to hold off the 6-5-1 Redskins for second place in the division and a potential Wild Card berth. The Giants currently hold the No. 5 seed in the conference, while the Redskins have fallen out of the NFC’s second Wild Card but are still in the hunt. The Eagles continue their downward spiral into last place in the division at 5-7, having lost their last three games and five of their last six. QB Carson Wentz has regressed significantly from his hot start and the team is now likely out of playoff contention.

The Ravens and Steelers are tied at 7-5, though the Ravens lead the AFC North due to tiebreakers. Baltimore’s convincing Week 13 win over the Dolphins was the team’s second straight win, and the Steelers have won three in a row but are on the outside of the playoff race. The Bengals picked up their first win since October on Sunday, but it won’t do them much good at this point as they sit at 4-7-1. The only thing keeping them out of last place in the division is the Browns, who are still winless at 0-12. After their bye in Week 13, they host the Bengals this week as they look to finally get in the win column. It appears as though QB Robert Griffin III could get the start after missing much of the season with an injury. Will that be what the Browns need to win a game? If not, their final three games are at the Bills, hosting the Chargers and visiting the Steelers. I think San Diego is the best shot for the Browns to pick up a win but it’s obviously not a certainty.

The Lions are in control of the NFC North, with an 8-4 record and two-game lead over the Vikings and Packers, who are each 6-6. The Lions appear to have the advantage in the division, facing the lowly Bears this week while the Vikings battle the Jaguars, which should be a winnable game, and the Packers face a stiff test against the Seahawks. If the Packers can gain a game on the Lions in the next couple of weeks, Week 17 could feature a win-and-in game for the division title with the Lions hosting the Packers. Winning the division will be important because there will likely be just one playoff team coming out of the NFC North. And it won’t be the Bears, who are 3-9, with their most recent win coming at the expense of the 1-11 49ers.

The AFC South is up for grabs after the Texans dropped their third straight this week, losing a snowy contest at Lambeau Field, putting them in a dead heat with the Titans, who had their bye this week, and the Colts at 6-6; the Texans, who are a perfect 3-0 in the division, hold the tiebreakers and are technically in first pace. The Texans’ offseason signing of QB Brock Osweiler is looking worse every week as he has not shown much improvement as the season as progressed. Houston’s defense, still without DE J.J. Watt of course, will have to continue to play well enough to keep scoring low and the Texans offense in games if they want to have a chance to repeat as division champs. An 8-8 record could win this division with the way things are looking right now. And the Jaguars are on their way to a last-place finish as the breakout season that many predicted for QB Blake Bortles and the Jags offense has not materialized. The Texans play the Titans in Nashville in Week 17, which could be a winner-take-all battle for the division title.

The NFC South has turned into a good two-team race between the Falcons and Buccaneers as the former suffered a tough loss to the Chiefs in Week 13 and the latter continued their winning ways, winning their fourth straight game to tie the Falcons at 7-5. The Falcons currently hold the tiebreaker over Tampa and technically lead the division, but the Bucs have a hold on the NFC’s second Wild Card. The Saints, at 5-7, hold third place in the division, but the biggest surprise in the South is the 4-8 Panthers, who were blown out by the Seahawks on Sunday night. After making it to Super Bowl 50 last season, the Panthers have really dropped off this year with QB Cam Newton not able to live up to expectations that were set for him after his MVP campaign in 2015. Back at the top of the division, winning the division is obviously important to get a home playoff game, but it may not be the only way to get into the postseason as one of the Wild Cards could come out of the NFC South.

The Raiders’ successful season continues after coming back to beat the BIlls in Week 13 to improve their record to 10-2, putting them at the top of the AFC. With Gronkowski out for the Patriots, the Raiders may be able to make a deep playoff run, possibly even making it to Super Bowl LI in Houston. Oakland isn’t the only good team in the AFC West, though, with the Chiefs at 9-3 and the Broncos right behind them at 8-4. I believe both of the AFC’s Wild Card teams will come out of the West, meaning all three of those teams will make the playoffs. The division winner will likely get one of the top two seeds in the conference and the important first-round bye that comes along with that. The Raiders visit the Chiefs on Thursday night, which could be a key game in determining the division champion. The Chargers, who aren’t having a bad season but have given up leads late to lose some games, round out the division with a 5-7 record heading into the last quarter of the regular season.

The NFC West race is all but over, with the 8-3-1 Seahawks holding a three-game lead over the 5-6-1 Cardinals, who picked up a surprising win against the Redskins in Week 13. The Rams, who recently gave head coach Jeff Fisher a contract extension, sit at 4-8 and the 49ers are just 1-11 after losing to the Bears on Sunday. The Cardinals’ lack of success is sort of surprising but people weren’t expecting much out of the Rams or 49ers this season. The Seahawks are currently the No. 2 seed in the NFC so they could be on their way to a first-round bye in the playoffs as QB Russell Wilson appears to be as healthy as he has been all season at the best time for that to happen.

With four weeks left in the regular season, just one team has punched its ticket into the postseason, but others are well on their way to doing that and will clinch playoff berths in the next week or two. At the bottom of the league, the most interesting storyline is whether the Browns will win a game. They have only four more chances to avoid becoming the second team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16.

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NFL Quarterly Report: Romo-less Cowboys lead the NFC, Patriots continue to roll

With Week 9 in the books, we’re halfway through the 2016 NFL season and have a good idea of how good — or bad — teams are. We also have a better idea of which of the teams that got off to surprisingly good starts were for real and have kept it up — such as the Raiders — and which have come back to reality, perhaps most notably the Rams.

The Patriots made it through the first quarter of the season and QB Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension with a 3-1 record. Since Brady returned to the team in Week 5, not only are the Patriots undefeated but Brady is playing on a pace that would make him a lead MVP candidate if he can keep it up through the second half. In four games, Brady has more than 1,300 yards, 12 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. At 7-1, the Patriots are running away with the AFC East; the Dolphins are behind them at 4-4, while the Bills — who handed the Patriots their only loss so far — and Jets are both under .500 and quickly falling out of the playoff race.

Over in the NFC East, when Cowboys QB Tony Romo injured his back in the preseason and expected to miss the first half of the season, things weren’t looking good for the team as rookie QB Dak Prescott would have to lead the team in Romo’s absence. In the team’s first eight games, all Prescott has done is lead the Cowboys to a 7-1 record and two-game lead in the division. Romo has returned to practice, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be returning to the starting lineup anytime soon. As long as the Cowboys keep winning and Prescott performs to the level he has been — he has 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in eight games — the team will likely stick with the rookie under center. Fellow rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott is also exceeding expectations, having run for 891 yards and 7 touchdowns through the first half of his first professional season. After starting the season 3-0, the Eagles have lost four of their last five to put their record at 4-4, last place in the division. Rookie QB Carson Wentz, who had 7 touchdowns in his first four games, has not thrown multiple touchdowns in a game since Week 5. The Giants are on the upswing, having won three in a row to go to 5-3, good for second place in the division. The Redskins are in third place at 4-3-1.

A Week 9 win over the Steelers put the Ravens in a tie with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North, each at 4-4. The loss to Baltimore gave the Steelers a three-game losing streak as QB Ben Roethlisberger returned after missing a few weeks with a leg injury. The Steelers — who have RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, who are among the best in the league at their positions — are underperforming. As Roethlisberger recovers from his injury, the offense should return to form. With the Ravens defense playing well, the Steelers don’t have much room for error or a lot of time to wait, however. The Bengals’ streak of five straight playoff appearances is in jeopardy. At 3-4-1, they can’t fall too far behind the Ravens and Steelers if they want to have a chance at winning the division, which could be their best chance of a sixth straight postseason berth. And then there’s the Browns. At 0-9, they’re still looking for their first win. With the Ravens and Steelers on their schedule the next two weeks, it doesn’t look good for them to get the zero out of their win column anytime soon. They may not get their first win until Week 14 or 15, when they play the Bengals and Bills, respectively. A 0-16 finish isn’t out of the question for Cleveland, though they’ll likely win a game before the season ends.

When the Vikings lost QB Teddy Bridgewater for the season and traded for QB Sam Bradford just before the season started, people weren’t expecting much from the team this season. Which is why their 5-0 start surprised people. They have since lost three in a row to drop to 5-3 on the year, which is still good for first place in the NFC North. The Lions are right behind them, though, at 5-4 having beating Minnesota in overtime in Week 9. Lions QB Matthew Stafford is having one of the best seasons of his career, on pace for 32 touchdowns, which would tie the second-best touchdown total of his career. The Packers find themselves in unfamiliar territory, in third place in the division at 4-4. Green Bay’s offense has been inconsistent this season. QB Aaron Rodgers does have 20 touchdowns through eight games, but he has as many one-touchdown games as he does four-touchdown games, two each. The Bears are in last place at 2-6, but their two wins have come against the top two teams in the division, the Vikings and Lions.

At 5-3, the Texans lead the mediocre AFC South — no other team in the division is above .500 — but their offense has been inconsistent this season as QB Brock Osweiler hasn’t played well in his first full season as a starter. With DE J.J. Watt out for the season, the team has been all right but not what people were expecting coming into the season. The Jaguars were a trendy pick to possibly win the division this season, but at 2-6 it doesn’t look like they’ll factor into the playoff race. The 4-4 Titans look like they could present the biggest threat to the Texans repeating as division champs, but the Colts could still sneak in there at 4-5. If the Texans can just go .500 in the second half to finish 9-7, that should be a good-enough record to win the division for the second straight year.

After going 15-1 and making it to Super Bowl 50 last year, the Panthers were the favorites to win the NFC South, but they have not had a good first half of the season. They started the year 1-5 but have won two in a row to get to 3-5, which ties them with the Buccaneers for third place in the division. Panthers QB Cam Newton has been able to continue the success he had in his MVP run of a year ago; in six starts, he has 8 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Falcons QB Matt Ryan, meanwhile, has led his team to a 6-3 record and the division lead. He is in the MVP discussion at the midway point, having thrown for 2,980 yards, 23 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions in nine games, putting him on pace for a career year if he can keep it up. The Saints got off to a 0-3 start but have had a bit of a resurgence to get to 4-4 and secure second place in the division.

The Raiders are living up to their preseason hype, now in first place in the AFC West by themselves after Sunday night’s win against the Broncos. QB Derek Carr is having a breakout season, with 17 touchdowns and 3 interceptions through nine games, putting him in the MVP discussion. The Chiefs are in second place at 6-2 despite not getting any production out of RB Jamaal Charles, who is on IR and out for the season, and not having a top-tier quarterback in Alex Smith. The Broncos, coming off their Super Bowl title are in third place with a 6-3 record. They have one of the top defenses in the league, but their offense is lacking, with QB Trevor Siemian throwing just 10 touchdowns with 5 interceptions in his eight starts this season. The Chargers, who had trouble holding fourth-quarter leads early in the season, are at the bottom of the division with a 4-5 record. With the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos playing as well as they are, don’t be surprised to see three playoff teams come out of this division, including both of the AFC’s wild cards.

The Seahawks offense hasn’t been as prolific as we’ve come to expect in recent years, largely due to injuries that have been hampering QB Russell Wilson’s play, but they still sit atop the NFC West as the only team in the division with a winning record. The defense has played a significant role in the success the Seahawks have had so far this season. The Cardinals are in second place with a 3-4-1 record, followed by the Rams, who have dropped four straight after starting the season 3-1. The 49ers, who have gone back to QB Colin Kaepernick as their starter after QB Blaine Gabbert couldn’t get the job done, are 1-7. If the Seahawks offense doesn’t pick things up, they could be in danger of the Cardinals passing them for the division lead in the coming weeks.

Halfway through the season, some teams — including the Patriots and Cowboys — look like they’re virtually locks to make the playoffs. Others that many people picked to be playoff teams before the season started, like the Panthers, have some work to do if they want to live up to those expectations and play beyond Week 17.

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3rd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Seattle Seahawks

We finish our previews of all 32 NFL teams with the Seattle Seahawks, who finished in second place in the NFC West last season.

The Seahawks took a step back in 2015 but still finished with a 10-6 record as QB Russell Wilson led the way for the team. The Seahawks’ biggest loss in the offseason was the somewhat-surprising retirement of RB Marshawn Lynch, leaving RBs Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael to take on the majority of the work in the backfield.

Last season, Wilson threw for 4,024 yards and 34 touchdowns, with 8 interceptions. WR Doug Baldwin was his favorite target, hauling in 78 catches for 1,069 yards and 14 touchdowns, while WR Tyler Lockett had 51 receptions for 664 yards and 6 touchdowns. WR Jermaine Kearse added another 49 catches for 685 yards and 5 touchdowns. In the running game, Rawls started seven games and had 147 carries for 830 yards and 4 touchdowns. In limited playing time, Michael carried the ball 39 times for 192 yards. TE Jimmy Graham had a disappointing season after between traded by the Saints, with 48 receptions for 605 yards and 2 touchdowns. The defense led the league, allowing just 277 points,  while their 14 interceptions were right around the league average.

Wilson is still without a big-time receiver, which the team thought Graham would be last year before injuries limited his offensive output, with his season ending a month early with a torn patellar tendon. There are still some questions about his injury status heading into the 2016 season, with some reports leading to speculation that he will not be able to play in Week 1. With the questions surrounding Graham, Baldwin will likely have to lead the receiving corps as he comes off a career year. Although another 1,000-yard season could be on tap for Baldwin, he likely won’t be able to find the end zone 14 times like he did last season. There is uncertainty in the running game with Lynch having gone off into the sunset and Rawls and Michael both unproven in their ability to carry the load for an entire season. The team selected RB C.J. Prosise in the third round of the draft, but as a rookie he likely won’t see much of a workload barring injuries to the other running backs.

The Seahawks begin their schedule hosting the Dolphins in Week 1, then head to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in their long-awaited return to the City of Angels in Week 2. After a Week 4 visit to the Jets, the Seahawks have a Week 5 bye before hosting the Falcons in Week 6. The Seahawks then visit the Cardinals in Week 7. They head to Foxboro to take on the Patriots in a Week 10 contest that could be a Super Bowl preview. The Seahawks host the Panthers in Week 13 before heading to Green Bay to take on the Packers in Week 14. The Seahawks finish off their season hosting the Cardinals in Week 16 and visiting the 49ers in Week 17. I’m expecting the Seahawks to bounce back from last season and win more than 10 games this season.

And that wraps up our previews of all 32 NFL teams. Coming up tomorrow is a preview of the Panthers-Broncos season opener in a Super Bowl 50 rematch, then this weekend it’ll be our season preview and playoff predictions.

Source: http;//www.seahawks.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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3rd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: San Francisco 49ers

Next up for the NFC West in our previews of all 32 NFL teams is the San Francisco 49ers, who finished in third place in the division last season.

The 49ers are in a down period, which seemingly hit rock bottom last season with a 5-11 record — or did it? They brought in head coach Chip Kelly to try to right the ship, but that may be hard to do with their roster. The quarterback position featured a battle between QBs Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick to get the starting job, with Gabbert eventually landing the gig — something that would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. Gabbert eventually supplanted Kaepernick as the starter during last season, and that will continue in the 2016 campaign.

Gabbert and Kaepernick each started eight games last season, with Gabbert putting up better numbers. He threw for 2,031 yards and 10 touchdowns with 7 interceptions. Kaepernick threw for 1,615 yards and 6 touchdowns, with 5 interceptions. WR Torrey Smith caught just 33 receptions last season for 663 yards and 4 touchdowns while WR Quinton Patton added 30 catches for 394 yards and 1 touchdown. TE Vance McDonald caught 30 balls for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns. RB Carlos Hyde was the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 115 times for 470 and 3 touchdowns in seven games. In six games, RB Shaun Draughn had 76 carries for 263 yards and 1 touchdown. The 49ers didn’t get much out of the offense and the defense also struggled, allowing opponents to score 387 points and grabbing only 9 interceptions from opposing quarterbacks, tied for third fewest in the league.

It’s not going to be a good season for the 49ers. Gabbert’s career numbers shouldn’t give the team much confidence that he’ll be a viable starter, and with Kaepernick seemingly on the outs with the 49ers, the other quarterbacks on the roster, Thad Lewis and Jeff Driskel, also shouldn’t be expected to give much production if they’re called upon to play; Lewis is a journeyman and Driskel is a rookie who was selected in the sixth round of the draft. Smith is a fine receiver, but none of the other receivers have had much success in the league. HYde is really the only bright spot on the team, and that won’t be enough to win many games for the team.

Looking at the schedule, the 49ers start their season with a home game against the Rams in the second game of the Monday night doubleheader. They then hit the road for back-to-back games against two of the best teams in the conference — the Panthers in Week 2 and the Seahawks in Week 3. They then host the Cardinals in the Thursday night game in Week 5. The 49ers get their bye in Week 8, then host the Saints the following week. They visit the Cardinals in Week 10 before hosting the Patriots in Week 11. The 49ers end their season at the Rams in Week 16, then hosting the Seahawks in Week 17. The 49ers could be the worst team in the league this season, possibly winning just a couple games.

Source: http://www.49ers.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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