Tag Archives: Saints

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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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My NFL Picks Week 11: Rams’ Goff set to make debut, Texans and Raiders battle south of the border

The London games may be done for the season, but that doesn’t mean the NFL is out of international games for the year. Week 11’s Monday night game sees the Texans taking on the Raiders in Mexico City. Back in the States, 2016 No. 1 overall pick QB Jared Goff is scheduled to make his first career start for the Rams when they host the Dolphins. Notable games include the Saints visiting the Panthers in a Thursday night contest that could be a must-win for both teams if they want to stay in the playoff race in the NFC and the Eagles heading to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. I went 4-10 last week, bringing my record to 65-80 for the year. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick is in red

Byes: Falcons, Broncos, Jets, Chargers

Thursday Night Football

Saints at Panthers (-3.5) – Both teams lost crucial games late in the fourth quarter last week and are looking to bounce back this week. The Panthers are the better overall team when accounting for both offense and defense, but the Saints have the better offense. New Orleans doesn’t do as well on the road as at home, though, so I think the Panthers will win the game to keep alive any slim playoff hopes they have.

Sunday 1PM games

Bills at Bengals (-3.5) – Both teams have been inconsistent this season and are on the fringe of playoff contention in the AFC. Neither offense has been impressive this season. The Bills have a better defense so I’ll give them the edge here. They are also coming off their bye while the Bengals have a short week, coming off a Monday night loss to the Giants.
Bears at Giants (-7.5) – I think 7.5 points is a lot for the Giants to be giving pretty much any team, but the Bears will be without WR Alshon Jeffery, who will be serving the first game of his four-game PED suspension, and QB Jay Cutler hasn’t been good of late. I think the Giants win the game, but I don’t see them covering so I’ll take the Bears with the points.
Steelers at Browns (+9.5) – The Browns’ record has now reached 0-10 as they continue to look for their first win. I don’t think they’ll get it this week. Despite losing to the Cowboys last week, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger looked like himself after a subpar performance the week before. With Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown, I think the Steelers have the offensive firepower needed to cover the 9.5-point spread against the Browns.
Ravens at Cowboys (-7.5) – QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott have led the Cowboys to an NFL-best 8-1 record. The offense is among the best in the league. I don’t think the Ravens will be able to keep it a low-scoring game, and Ravens QB .Joe Flacco and the offense won’t be able to keep up with Prescott, Elliott and the rest of the Cowboys offense. Cowboys win and cover.
Jaguars at Lions (-6.5) – The Jaguars aren’t good. QB Blake Bortles hasn’t done much in most games this season until garbage time, when the game was already out of reach. QB Mathew Stafford and the NFC North-leading Lions should be able to win by a touchdown and cover.
Titans at Colts (-2.5) – I’m surprised that the Colts are favored in this game. The Titans just put up 47 points on the Packers last week and have the two best offensive players in the game with QB Marcus Mariota and RB DeMarco Murray. Don’t expect them to score 45 points again, but they should be able to put up numbers on a bad Colts defense. I expect the Titans to win the game outright so I’ll take the points.
Buccaneers at Chiefs (-7.5) – The Chiefs came back at the end of last week’s game to beat the Panthers and the Buccaneers looked good in easily beating the Bears. I think the Chiefs win the game, but I expect the Bucs to keep it close. I’ll take Tampa Bay and the points.
Cardinals at Vikings (-0.5) – The Vikings continued their downswing last week, losing their fourth straight after starting the year 5-0. The Cardinals have been the better team in recent weeks and, although QB Carson Palmer hasn’t been having a great season, I expect the Cardinals to win the game.

Sunday 4PM games

Dolphins at Rams (+0.5) – The Dolphins defense has been playing well of late, and this week the unit gets to go against Goff in his NFL debut. Goff is the No. 1 overall pick in this yer’s draft, but the fact that he’s been serving as the backup to QB Case Keenum for the team’s first nine games indicates that the Rams may not be thrilled with the way he’s been performing in practices. I don’t think Goff will have much success against the Dolphins in his first game in the league so Miami wins the games.
Patriots at 49ers (+13.5) – I got burned last week by picking the Patriots +7.5 against the Seahawks, who won the game. I don’t think the 49ers have a chance to win the game but I think they’ll keep it within two touchdowns to stay within the spread. Patriots QB Tom Brady usually performs well after a loss, but he may be without TE Rob Gronkowski, who reportedly suffered a punctured lung in Sunday night’s loss and may sit out this game. Patriots win but don’t cover the spread.
Eagles at Seahawks (-6.5) – The Seahawks beat the Patriots on the road last week and they should have an easier time of things at home against the Eagles this week. QB Russell Wilson seems to be as healthy as he’s been all season and RB Thomas Rawls looks like he’s on track to return this week and see his first game action since suffering an injury back in Week 2. Seahawks win the game and cover.

Sunday Night Football
Packers at Redskins (-2.5) – The Packers got blown out by the Titans last week, giving up 47 points, and I think this is going to be a statement game for QB Aaron Rodgers so he can prove to people that the team’s not done yet. Redskins QB Kirk Cousins has been playing well of late but he’s still not at the same level as Rodgers, who is playing fine despite the team’s struggles. I think the Packers win the game outright so give me the points.

Monday Night Football (Mexico City)

Texans at Raiders (-6.5) – The Raiders are nominally the home team in Mexico City for this battle of the Texans’ strong defense against the high-scoring Raiders offense. Texans QB Brock Osweiler has not played well all season while Raiders QB David Carr has, but I think the Texans D can at least keep the game close so I’ll take the Texans with the points, though I’m not convinced they win the game.

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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: 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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3rd Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Oakland Raiders

We’re up to the third team in the AFC West as we continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams, continuing with the Oakland Raiders, who finished in third place in the division last season.

The Raiders are a trendy pick to make the playoffs this year as QB Derek Carr enters his third season in the league. While I think they’ll be competitive this year, I think it still might be a year or two early to make them a playoff team. They should have one of the better teams they’ve had in recent years, but there are other teams in the league that I think are better.

Carr completed 61% of his passes last season for 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions. WR Michael Crabtree hauled in 85 receptions for 922 yards and 9 touchdowns. WR Amari Cooper added 72 receptions for 1,070 yards and 6 touchdowns. RB Latavius Murray got nearly all of the team’s carries, with 266 rushes for 1,066 yards and 6 touchdowns. The defense ranked in the top half of the league with 399 points allowed and 14 interceptions.

The offense remains intact heading into 2016, with the addition of fifth-round draft pick RB DeAndre Washington to serve as a backup to Murray. Carr still has some room to improve if he is able to take the next step in his development. With the stout defense that the Raiders have — led by LB Khalil Mack — the offense doesn’t need to get into shootouts in order to have a chance to win games.

The Raiders’ schedule begins with two NFC South opponents, a road game against the Saints in Week 1, followed by a home game with the Falcons. Their first divisional games come in Weeks 5 and 6, hosting the Chargers and Chiefs, respectively. They host the Broncos on Sunday night in Week 9, then have a Week 10 bye before serving as the home team in Week 11 when they take on the Texans in Mexico City for the Monday night game. The Panthers then come to Oakland in Week 12, as do the Bills in Week 13. The Raiders visit the Chiefs in Week 14, followed by a road game at the Chargers in Week 15. The Raiders wrap up the season hosting the Colts in Week 16, then hitting the road to take on the Broncos in Week 17. I’m not on the “Raiders are a playoff team” bandwagon yet because I still think they’re a year or two away from finding that kind of success. In fact, I’m projecting them to end the season with an identical 7-9 record that they put up last season.

Source: http;//www.raiders.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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