Tag Archives: Buccaneers

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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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Divisional Playoffs - Denver Broncos v New England Patriots

NFL Quarterly Report: Patriots win three without Brady, Panthers struggling out of the gate

We’re essentially a quarter of the way through the season, with all but two teams now through their first four games of the season. As is typical in the NFL, there are some teams that have been surprising — both positively and negatively. Among the surprising teams are the Ravens, Eagles, Panthers, Rams and Cardinals.

One of the biggest stories entering the season was how the Patriots would do the first four weeks while QB Tom Brady was serving his Deflategate suspension. Most people thought they’d go 2-2 or 3-1 (I had them going 2-2). They’re 3-1 at the quarter pole, but they didn’t get there the way people expected. After beating the Cardinals, Dolphins and Texans — shutting out Houston — the Patriots got shut out Sunday at home against the Bills. Brady comes back in Week 5, getting a road game against the winless Browns — the only team in the league yet to get a win — in his first game of the season. The win over the Patriots put the Bills at 2-2, while the Jets and Dolphins are bringing up the rear in the division, each at 1-3. Even without Brady, the Patriots have been the best team in the AFC East, and they should only get better when their quarterback returns to action this weekend.

At 3-1, the Ravens are leading the AFC North, tied with the Steelers, who are coming off an impressive win against the Chiefs on Sunday night. The Bengals, who won the division last year, haven’t looked great so far this season but have a 2-2 record, so they’re staying in the division race while the Browns are 0-4, down to third-string QB Cody Kessler following injuries to QBs Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown. It’s looking like this could be a three-team race for the division, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ravens falls behind the Steelers and Bengals after their hot start.

Moving on to the AFC South, it’s not pretty. There’s a three-way tie for second or last, depending on your perspective, with the Colts, Jaguars and Titans all 1-3. The division-leading Texans are 3-1 and haven’t looked bad, outside of Week 3 when they lost to the Patriots 27-0. They took a hit this past week, however, when DE J.J. Watt was ruled out for the season with a back injury. That hurts a defense that played well in the first couple weeks of the season. Despite Watt’s injury, this should be the Texans’ division to win with the Colts having a poor defense and the Jaguars not looking like the breakout team some people thought they would be this year.

Despite having QB Trevor Siemian, who left Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, being their starter, the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos are 4-0 and leading the AFC West, with the Raiders right behind them at 3-1. Oakland was a trendy playoff pick this year and they’re living up to the hype thus far. I’m still not totally buying into the Raiders, but they’re off to a good start. The Chiefs are 2-2 after losing to the Steelers this week. The Chargers, who had a bad loss to the Saints on Sunday, are at the bottom of the division, at 1-3. I still think this division will come down to the Broncos battling the Chiefs, but let’s see if the Raiders can stick around in the race.

The Eagles, who had a bye in Week 4, are perched atop the NFC East with a 3-0 record. Rookie QB Carson Wentz looks like the real deal under center, even doing well in a tough matchup with the Steelers in Week 3. Dak Prescott, another rookie quarterback, is having similar success with the Cowboys; he has them at a 3-1 record. The Giants and Redskins are each 2-2 at this point. This is still a tight race all around, with all four teams at .500 or better, but as of now it appears the rookies are making Philadelphia and Dallas the teams to beat in the division. The question is can they keep it up all season?

After beating the Giants on Monday Night Football, the Vikings are 4-0, which is particularly impressive when you consider that QB Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending leg injury in preseason and RB Adrian Peterson suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2.  The Vikings traded for QB Sam Bradford when Bridgewater went down, and he has done a good job leading the team so far. The Packers, who were on a bye this week, are 2-1 but have looked inconsistent on offense in their three games. The Bears and Lions round out the NFC North, each at 1-3. The Vikings and Packers were the best teams in the division last year and that appears to be the case again this season. I still think the Packers will win the division, but the Vikings could stick around the playoff hunt throughout the season.

The Falcons lead the NFC South with a 3-1 record, which is kind of a surprise but not as big of a surprise as the Panthers, who lost again in Week 4 to drop to 1-3 after the first quarter of the season. QB Cam Newton, who left Sunday’s game with a possible concussion, is not playing like his MVP season of 2015. In four games, he has 6 TD passes and 5 interceptions. The defense has also been a disappointment, giving up 48 points to the Falcons this week. The Buccaneers and Saints are also 1-3, meaning both the AFC and NFC South divisions have one team at 3-1 and the other three teams at 1-3.  Unlike in the AFC South, I don’t expect the current division leader to hold on all season. Assuming Newton doesn’t miss much time with the possible concussion, I expect the Panthers to get better in the coming weeks.

The Seahawks are 3-1 to put them at the top of the NFC West, which is to be expected, but the fact that they’re tied with the Rams was definitely not expected. After being shut out by the 49ers in Week 1, the Rams have won their last three games, including handing the Seahawks their only loss so far, to give something for their fans to cheer about in their first season back in Los Angeles. The Cardinals, who won the division last year with a 13-3 record have already matched that loss total this year, going 1-3 in their first four games. QB Carson Palmer left Sunday’s game early and entered the concussion protocol, and he has already been ruled out for Thursday night when the Cardinals visit the 49ers in a battle of 1-3 teams. The Rams are another team that I don’t expect to keep up this hot start so it looks like the Seahawks should win this division, with the Cardinals — who many picked to repeat as division champs this year — getting off to a slow start.

Four weeks down, 13 to go in the regular season. So there’s still the majority of the season left to turn things around for underperforming teams like the Panthers and the Cardinals so they shouldn’t be panicking yet, but they also don’t want to fall too far behind because pretty soon they may be thinking that “it’s getting late early,” as Yankees C Yogi Berra once said.

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3rd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Los Angeles Rams

Up next in our previews of all 32 NFL teams is the Los Angeles Rams, who finished in third place in the NFC West last season.

This is a season of change for the Rams, who have moved from St. Louis back to their former home, Los Angeles. With the move comes what the team hopes is a new franchise quarterback, QB Jared Goff, the first-overall draft pick out of California. But the offense will probably run through RB Todd Gurley, who put up impressive numbers in his rookie season in 2015.

QBs Case Keenum and Sean Mannion return from last season’s squad. Of the two, Keenum is the only one who got significant playing time; he played in six games — five starts — and threw for 828 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 1 interception on 125 passes. WR Tavon Austin was the leading pass-catcher despite having just 52 receptions for 473 yards and 5 touchdowns. WR Kenny Britt added 36 catches for 681 yards and 3 touchdowns. TE Jared Cook had 39 catches for 481 yards without a touchdown. In 13 games, 12 of which were starts, Gurley carried the ball 229 yards for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns. Defensively, the Rams were slightly above average in points allowed and just below the league average with 13 interceptions.

The Rams didn’t get much out of the quarterback position last season, which led to a lack of production from the receiving core. The Rams have not yet announced which quarterback will get the start in Week 1, but neither Keenum nor Mannion has much of a track record and you never know what you’ll get out of a rookie like Goff so the team can’t really count on getting much in the passing game this season. That means Gurley will once again have to play a key role in the offense. The better he does, the better the offense will be.

The schedule starts off with a road game against the 49ers on Monday night in Week 1. After that, the Rams host the Seahawks in Week 2 in their first home game in Los Angeles since 1994. They hit the road in Weeks 3 and 4, taking on the Buccaneers and Cardinals, respectively. The Rams “host” the Giants in Week 7 in a game being played in London. That leads into the Week 8 bye, followed by a home game with the Panthers. The Rams visit the Patriots in week 13, and travel to the Seahawks in Week 15. The Rams host the 49ers in Week 16, then complete the season with a home game against the Cardinals. The Rams are coming off a seven-win season, but I think they’re taking a step back in their return to Los Angeles; I’m projecting a 6-10 record for the Rams.

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

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3rd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

As we conclude our previews of NFC South teams with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are coming off a last-place finish last year, we reach the halfway point of our previews of all  32 NFL teams

Selecting QB Jameis Winston in the 2015 draft gave the Bucs four more wins last season than they had in 2014, but that brought them up to just a 6-10 record, a fifth-straight losing season for the team. There’s not much on the team other than Winston, though, so it’s looking like it’ll be at least another year before the Bucs break that streak.

In his rookie season, Winston putting up decent numbers for a first-year quarterback, throwing for 4,042 yards, with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He added 6 rushing touchdowns to his stat line on 54 carries. Leading the receiving core was WR Mike Evans, who caught 71 passes for 1,206 yards but just 3 touchdowns. Veteran WR Vincent Jackson started just nine games due to injury, ending the year with 33 receptions for 543 yards and 3 touchdowns. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who started three games, tied for the team lead with 4 receiving touchdowns on 21 catches. RB Doug Martin bounced back from a disappointing 2014 to run for 1,402 yards and 6 touchdowns on 288 carries. Backup RB Charles Sims had 529 rushes on 107 carries but was a big part of the passing game, with 51 receptions for 561 yards and 4 touchdowns. Defensively, the team was near the bottom of the league in points allowed, giving up 417 to the opposition, and tallying 11 interceptions.

The Bucs didn’t add any significant pieces to the offense this offseason, opting to focus on the defense in the draft, going with CB Vernon Hargreaves in the first round and DE Noah Spence in the second to join the likes of DT Gerald McCoy, DE Robert Ayers and CB Brent Grimes on that side of the ball. That means the offense will likely look similar to what it was last season, with Winston and Evans leading the way for their second season together. The team has to hope that Martin puts up numbers similar to 2015 rather than 2014; the latter would hurt the team in the running game. Seferian-Jenkins has the potential to be among the league’s top tight ends, starting just 12 games total in his first two seasons in the league due to injuries. If he can get to the next level, that would provide the offense with a significant boost in production.

The Bucs face a tough schedule, which begins with consecutive road games at the Falcons and Cardinals. That is followed by back-to-back games at home, against the Rams in Week 3 and the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos in Week 4. Week 5 sees them playing the other team that played in Super Bowl 50, when they visit the Panthers for a Monday night contest. Later in the season, the Bucs visit the Chiefs in Week 11 before hosting the Seahawks in Week 12. Both games against the Saints come late in the season in Weeks 14 and 16, with a road game at the Cowboys sandwiched in between. And the season ends with the second game against the Panthers, this one in Tampa. Lots of good offenses await the Bucs on the schedule this season, and with a subpar defense, it’s not looking like the Bucs will win many games this season.

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

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NFL: New York Giants at New Orleans Saints

3rd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: New Orleans Saints

We continue in the NFC South as part of our previews of all 32 NFL teams, with the New Orleans Saints, who finished in third place in the division last season.

The Saints look to get back to the winning ways they enjoyed for much of the early part of this decade following consecutive 7-9 seasons. Their window of opportunity is likely closing, with QB Drew Brees entering his age-37 season. Their hopes for a good season have already taken a blow with first-round draft pick DT Sheldon Rankins suffering a broken fibula that will require him to undergo surgery, with the team hoping that his recovery time is about six weeks, but it could be longer depending on the severity of the injury.

In 15 games last season, Brees completed 68% of his passes for 4,870 yards and 32 touchdowns, in addition to 11 interceptions. The biggest beneficiary of his impressive passing numbers was WR Brandin Cooks, who had 84 receptions for 1,138 yards and 9 touchdowns in his sophomore season. TE Ben Watson caught 74 balls for 825 yards and 6 touchdowns. Rookie WR Willie Snead put up decent numbers, as well, with 69 receptions for 984 yards, but just 3 touchdowns. RB Mark Ingram‘s 166 rushes led the team, as did his 769 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns in 12 games, 10 starts. The defense was the worst in the league in terms of points allowed, giving up 476 points, and had just 9 interceptions, tied for the third-fewest in the league.

The passing game should have another good season, with the likes of Cooks, Watson and Snead catching the ball from Brees. Ingram was the lone bright spot in the running game, but RB Tim Hightower put up some good stats late in the season after being signed by the team in November. He is currently No. 2 on the depth chart behind Ingram and could prove to be a viable change-of-pace back for the Saints. The defense could be the ultimate determining factor in how the Saints’ season goes. The team tried to address the D by drafting Rankins, but his injury will be a setback to his development and will likely

Exploring the Saints’ schedule, they get a home game with the Raiders to begin the season before heading to Jersey to take on the Giants in Week 2. After their Week 5 bye, they face three teams that made the playoffs last season: they host the Panthers in Week 6, visit the Chiefs in Week 7 and head back home for a meeting with the Seahawks in Week 8. They get a bit of a reprieve after that brutal stretch when they visit the 49ers in Santa Clara in Week 9. Their second game with the Panthers is a Thursday night battle in Week 11. Week 15 presents another challenging game on the road, when they visit the Cardinals. After that, they host the Buccaneers in Week 16 and end their season at the Falcons in Week 17. This is not an easy schedule for the Saints, and that is reflected in my projection for them. I have them going 6-10, a game worse than they’ve done each of the past two seasons.

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

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3rd 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 won the division last season.

The Panthers went 15-1 last season en route to winning the NFC South and eventually advancing to Super Bowl 50, when they lost to the Broncos. QB Cam Newton won the league’s MVP last season, and this year he is getting back WR Kelvin Benjamin, an offensive weapon who missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL he suffered in August.

On his way to earning MVP honors, Newton threw for 3,857 yards and 35 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. He also added 10 rushing touchdowns to his offensive output, with 636 yards on 132 carries. RB Jonathan Stewart was the team’s leading rusher, with 242 carries for 989 yards and 6 touchdowns in 13 games, his best numbers since 2009. TE Greg Olsen was the team’s best pass-catcher, with 77 receptions for 1,104 yards and 7 touchdowns. WR Ted Ginn Jr. was the leader at that position, catching 44 balls for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns. The defense was among the league’s best, giving up 308 points — sixth-fewest in the NFL — and tallying a league-best 24 interceptions.

The Panthers have a tough road ahead if they want to repeat the 15-1 performance they had last season. If Benjamin can return to the form he showed in his rookie season in 2014, he will provide another strong option in the passing game to complement Olsen, who is one of the best tight ends in the league. Having Stewart as the main option out of the backfield is always a concern because of durability issues he has had throughout his career. Even last year, when he had one of his best seasons, he missed three games.

Looking ahead to this year’s schedule, the Panthers get a shot at redemption on the opening night of the regular season, heading to Denver to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos in Week 1. They face another playoff team in the Vikings at home in Week 3. Coming off their Week 7 bye, the Panthers host the Cardinals in Week 8. After a Week 9 visit to Los Angeles to duel with the Rams, the Panthers return home in Week 10 to host the Chiefs. The team heads west in Weeks 12 and 13, with games against the Raiders and Seahawks, respectively. After visiting the Redskins for a Monday night game in Week 15, the schedule eases up a bit in the final two weeks, with a home game against the Falcons on deck for Week 16, followed by a Week 17 road game against QB Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers. Overall, it’s a fairly tough slate for the defending NFC champions, but I’m projecting them to match their record from last season, with another 15-1 record. Will they make a repeat Super Bowl appearance to go along with that record? We’ll find out in our playoff preview in a couple weeks.

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

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