Tag Archives: Seahawks

4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Atlanta Falcons

As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we turn our attention to the NFC South, beginning the division with the Atlanta Falcons, who won the division last season and made the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

The Falcons’ season ended on a bitter note in February, giving up a 28-3 lead to lose to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI by a score of 34-28. Leading up to that, though, the Falcons had a strong year in which they finished the regular season 11-5 to secure their first division title since 2012. The team didn’t have any notable additions in the offseason, so the front office must think the team the Falcons had last season is good enough to have similar success in 2017. The team made UCLA DE Takkarist McKinley its first-round draft pick.

QB Matt Ryan had the best season of his career in 2016, completing 69.9% of his passes for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns, with 7 interceptions — all career bests. The bulk of his production went to WR Julio Jones, who recorded 83 receptions for 1,409 yards but just 6 touchdowns in 14 games. WR Mohamed Sanu played 15 games, with 59 receptions for 653 yards and 4 touchdowns. RB Devonta Freeman ran the ball 227 times for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns;l he added 54 receptions for 462 yards and 2 touchdowns in the passing game. RB Tevin Coleman had 118 rushing yards in 13 games, totaling 520 yards and 8 touchdowns, in addition to 3 receiving touchdowns on 31 receptions. Not surprisingly with the numbers Ryan put up, the Falcons’ offense scored the most points in the NFL last season, and their 540 points was 71 points better than the No. 2 team. They needed to score a lot because the defense allowed opponents to score the sixth-most points in the league.

When a player has a career year, you expect him to slip back a bit the next season so don’t expect Ryan to get close to 5,000 yards this season, but 4,500 yards or better is likely given that he’s surpassed that number every season since 2012. He still has all of his offensive weapons entering the year, and I expect TE Austin Hooper to take a step forward in 2017 after a rookie season that saw his reps increase as the year went on. One thing to note is the team has a new offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian, who replaces Kyle Shanahan, who got the head coaching job in San Francisco this offseason. With the way the offense played last year, I wouldn’t expect Sarkisian to stay from the offensive game plan that obviously worked well in 2016.

The Falcons open their post-Super Bowl season on the road against the Bears in Week 1. They get a home game in Week 2 as they play their first regular-season game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, hosting the Packers on Sunday night. Up next on the schedule is a road game at the Lions, followed by a home game against the Bills in Week 4. That leads into an early bye in Week 5, followed by a home contest with the Dolphins. Week 7 has a Super Bowl rematch on tap as the Falcons head to Gillette Stadium to try to avenge their overtime loss to the Patriots. They host the Cowboys in Week 10 and then take a cross-country flight to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in Week 11’s Monday night contest. A divisional battle with the Buccaneers in Atlanta follows in Week 12. Another primetime game is slated for Week 14, with the Falcons hosting the Saints on Thursday night. The same teams meet two weeks later, this time at the Superdome in New Orleans in Week 16. The Falcons finish out their regular season schedule at home against the Panthers in Week 17. I think the Falcons are looking at a 10-12 win season this year, and I’m leaning more toward the higher end of the range.

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

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Tennessee Titans

As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we conclude our look at the AFC South with the Tennessee Titans, who finished in second place in the division last season.

The Titans are coming off their first season above .500 since 2011, but a late-season injury to QB Marcus Mariota derailed their hopes for a playoff appearance. Mariota is recovered and ready for the season, and he’ll have new weapons to throw to with the offseason addition of WRs Corey Davis — the No. 5 overall draft pick out of Western Michigan — and Eric Decker, who the Titans signed after he was released by the Jets. They’ll join returning WR Rishard Matthews, who is coming off a career year.

In the 15 games he played last season, Mariota threw for 3,426 yards and 26 touchdowns, with 9 interceptions. Matthews had 65 receptions for 945 yards and 9 touchdowns. TE Delanie Walker wasn’t far behind Matthews; in 10 games, he also caught 65 passes for 800 yards and 7 touchdowns. Decker played in just three games with the Jets last year but averaged a respectable 21.6 yards per reception in the limited sample size. RB DeMarco Murray carried the ball 293 times for 1,287 yards and 9 touchdowns, adding 53 catches for an additional 377 yards and 3 touchdowns. RB Derrick Henry, No. 2 on the depth chart, had 110 carries for 490 yards and 5 touchdowns. In total, the offense ranked in the top half of the league in points scored, and the defense also ranked in the top half of the NFL in points allowed.

Adding the likes of Decker and Davis to an offense that already includes Matthews and Walker gives the Titans with an offense that has a chance to compete with just about any other team in the league. The defense was middle-of-the-pack or so last year so even a slight improvement on that side of the ball should give the team an even better chance to win games. In a division like the AFC South that doesn’t have a Patriots-esque team that’s expected to be significantly better than the others, the Titans have a legitimate shot at winning their first division title since 2008.

The Titans open the season at home to take on the Raiders. Their schedule then brings them to Jacksonville to do battle with the Jaguars in Week 2. The Seahawks come to Nashville in Week 3, and road games against the Texans and Dolphins follow in the next two weeks. The Titans’ first primetime game comes in Week 6, when they host the Colts on Monday night. A visit to the Browns is next, followed by a Week 8 bye. After the bye, the Titans have three straight games against AFC North foes, starting with a home game against the Ravens in Week 9. That’s followed with another home tilt against the Bengals, then a Thursday nighter at the Steelers in Week 11. The Titans stay on the road for Week 12, taking on the Colts, before hosting the Texans in Week 13. After another stretch of three games against teams from one division — this time the NFC West — the Titans finish the season at home against the Jaguars in Week 17. I’m thinking they’ll win nine or 10 games and again be in contention for a playoff spot in late December.

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

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Jacksonville Jaguars

Moving on with the AFC South in our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days, today it is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who finished in last place in the division last season.

A lot of people thought the Jaguars were going to take a step forward last season and have a shot at winning the division. Not only did that not happen, but the Jaguars actually took a step backward. After going 5-11 in 2015, they went 3-13 in 2016. This offseason, they traded TE Julius Thomas to the Dolphins for T Branden Albert while their big move in free agency was signing CB A.J. Bouye, who had a breakout season last year with the Texans. In the draft, the Jaguars went with LSU RB Leonard Fournette with the No. 4 overall pick. That selection is probably a sign that the team wants to put an emphasis on the running game and not rely so much on QB Blake Bortles, something that head coach Doug Marrone has also hinted at.

Like the team, Bortles regressed last year compared to 2015, completing less than 59 percent of his passes and throwing for 3,905 yards and 23 touchdowns — 12 fewer than the year before — with 16 interceptions. WR Allen Robinson led the team with 73 receptions for 883 yards and 6 touchdowns. WR Marqise Lee caught 63 balls for 851 yards and 3 touchdowns. RBs T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory put up similar stats, with Yeldon totaling 130 rushes for 465 yards and 1 touchdown, adding 50 receptions for 312 yards and 1 touchdown. Ivory carried the ball 117 times for 439 yards and 3 touchdowns. Overall, the offense ranked 25th in points scored and the defense allowed the eighth-most points in the NFL.

Fournette could be the key to the Jags’ offense this season. If he has a good rookie campaign, the team should be improved. Ivory and Yeldon will be backing him up, providing a veteran presence able to give him some rest. The more Fournette can carry the ball, the less Bortles will have to throw it. When Bortles does pass it, though, he has some good receivers on the team if he can get the ball to them. Overall, though, the offense will likely be in the bottom half of the league again and have to rely on the defense to keep the teams in games. The defense should be better this year than it was last year, but I’m not sure the improvement will be enough to keep the Jaguars in the conversation for a possible playoff run.

The Jaguars begin their schedule with two divisional games, at the Texans in Week 1 and hosting the Titans in Week 2. After that, they head to London to take on the Ravens in Week 3. When they return stateside, they visit the Jets in Week 4 and then the Steelers in Week 5. They get their first true home game in nearly a month in Week 6 when the Rams visit. The Jags then visit the Colts in Week 7, followed by a Week 8 bye. They come back from the week off to host the Bengals in Week 9. They later visit the Cardinals in Week 12, then host the Colts in Week 13. They host the Seahawks in Week 14 and have a third straight home game in Week 15, their second game with the Texans. Their final game of the season is in Nashville to take on the Titans in Week 17. I’m thinking the Jaguars will win four or five games this season, a little better than last year but still not good.

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

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Indianapolis Colts

Next up in the AFC South as part of our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days, is the Indianapolis Colts, who finished in third place last season.

The Colts are coming off of consecutive .500 seasons after three straight playoff appearances from 2012-2014. With QB Andrew Luck dealing with a shoulder injury in preseason and questions about whether he’ll be ready to take the field for Week 1, the Colts may be looking at another disappointing season in 2017. The team traded TE Dwayne Allen to the Patriots in March, leaving TE Jack Doyle as the top guy at the position. As for players joining the team, the Colts tried to bolster their defense by signing DT Johnathan Hankins and a couple smaller signings in LBs Jonathan Bostic and Barkevious Mingo. They also went with defensive picks in the first two rounds of the draft, selecting Ohio State S Malik Hooker and Florida CB Quincy Wilson. Offensively, the team added to its receiver depth by signing WR Kamar Aiken.

Luck played in 15 games last season, throwing for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, a nice comeback season after missing much of 2015 with injuries. WR T.Y. Hilton led the receivers with 91 receptions for 1,448 yards and 6 touchdowns. Doyle was next with 59 catches for 584 yards and 5 touchdowns. WRs Phillip Dorsett and Donte Moncrief had 33 and 30 receptions, respectively in seven starts apiece. RB Frank Gore carried the ball 263 times for 1,025 yards and 4 touchdowns, in addition to 38 receptions for 277 yards and 4 receiving touchdowns. Backup RB Robert Turbin only had 47 attempts but made the most of them with 7 rushing touchdowns. The offense ranked in the top 10 in both points scored and yards gained last season, but the defense allowed the third-most yards and was in the bottom third of the league in points allowed.

Luck’s health will be important for the Colts to have a good season. He is currently on the PUP list, but the team said he should not still be on the list to start the season — which would require him to sit out the first six games — but that doesn’t mean he’ll be ready to go in Week 1. QB Scott Tolzien is Luck’s backup; he threw for 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions in his lone start last season. If Luck is able to play for most of the season, the passing game should be fine with some good receivers for him to pass to, with Doyle likely getting more involved in the offense with Allen now in New England. The running game, however, is a question mark with Gore now 34 and a veteran who has gotten a lot of reps in the league and due to start breaking down sooner rather than later, as most players do. Turbin, the likely No. 2 on the depth chart, has never had more than 80 rushes in a season. And the defense will have to do better than last season to help keep the team in games in prevent the offense from being forced to put a lot of points on the board to win games.

The schedule has the Colts starting the season in Los Angeles to play the Rams in Week 1, then head home to take on the Cardinals in Week 2. The Colts visit the Seahawks in the Sunday night game in Week 4. Their first divisional game comes in Week 6, playing at the Titans on Monday Night Football. Another divisional foe follows when the Colts host the Jaguars in Week 7. The Colts are at the Bengals in Week 8 and at the Texans in Week 9. They then host the Steelers in Week 10 before getting a late bye in Week 11. They host the Titans coming off the bye in Week 12. They get a Thursday night game in Week 15 when they host the Broncos, then finish the season at the Ravens in Week 16 and hosting the Texans in Week 17. I’m projecting the Colts to be right around .500 for a third straight season, maybe finishing the year at 9-7.

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

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Houston Texans

We move on to the AFC South in our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so), with the Houston Texans, who won the division last season.

The Texans’ offseason centered around QB Brock Osweiler for the second straight season — last year for signing him to a big-money contract, this year for being able to trade him after a mediocre season. With Osweiler now on the Browns, the Texans decided to trade up in the draft to make Clemson QB Deshaun Watson their first-round pick, and he will compete with QB Tom Savage for the starting job. Whoever gets the nod will be without a key piece of the offense for the first half of the season after WR Will Fuller broke his collarbone early in training camp, which is expected to cause him to miss up to three months. The defense was among the league’s best last season — and that was with DE J.J. Watt not playing after Week 3. With him back and expected to be healthy, the defense should be even better than it was in 2016. The defense will, however, be without veteran NT Vince Wilfork, who retired, and CB A.J. Bouye, who went to the division-rival Jaguars in free agency. Veteran T Duane Brown has yet to report to camp as he holds out in an attempt to get more money, but he will likely to join the team before the regular season begins.

Osweiler started most of the Texans’ games at quarterback last season, with Savage starting two games and playing in three overall. He went 46-for-73 on pass attempts for 461 yards but did not throw a touchdown pass — or an interception — in his limited playing time. WR DeAndre Hopkins was the team’s best receiver, but his production was limited given the team’s quarterback play. He had 78 receptions for 954 yards and 4 touchdowns. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz became a favorite target of Osweiler, who liked to throw short passes his way, and he caught 54 balls for 559 yards and 4 touchdowns. TE Ryan Griffin went 50 for 442 with 2 touchdowns. Fuller played in 14 games and caught just 47 passes — partially due to his tendency to drop passes — for 635 yards and 2 touchdowns. RB Lamar Miller carried the majority of the workload on the ground, with 268 yards for 1,073 yards and 5 touchdowns in 14 games; he also caught 31 passes for 188 yards. Backup RB Alfred Blue totaled 420 rushing yards on 100 attempts, scoring 1 touchdown in the process. In his final season at Clemson, Watson completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns, with 17 interceptions, though college stats don’t always translate well to the NFL because collegiate competition often isn’t to the level that it is in the NFL. The offense was tied for the fourth-fewest points scored last season, but the defense was the top-ranked team in terms of yards allowed and 11th in points allowed.

No matter who gets the bulk of the starts under center — and it’s looking like Savage will get first crack at it in Week 1 — will almost certainly perform better than Osweiler did last year. With Fuller likely out for about half the season, other wide receivers will have to step up their game, so expect WRs Braxton Miller and Jaelen Strong to see increased reps and targets, with Fiedorowicz probably continuing to be an important part of the passing game. Lamar Miller is still the starting running back, but Blue may lose some of his work as the backup with the Texans having drafted Texas RB D’Onta Foreman in the third round. As the season goes on, he should see an increased workload as he gets more entrenched in the system as he goes through his rookie season. If Watt and DE Jadeveon Clowney can both stay healthy and on the field together — which hasn’t been the case much in Clowney’s first three seasons in the league — the defense should again be a formidable unit and among the best in the league.

The schedule opens with a divisional battle at home against the Jaguars, then the Texans head to Cincinnati for Week 2 to take on the Bengals on Thursday night. Then, for the second straight year, the Texans play at the Patriots in Week 3 as they look to avenge their playoff loss against the eventual Super Bowl LI champs. They go back home to play the Titans in Week 4. They could face off against Osweiler when they host the Browns in Week 6. Their bye follows that game, then it’s off to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in Week 8. The Texans host the Colts in Week 9 and the Cardinals in Week 11. They’re on Monday Night Football in Week 12 when they play at the Ravens, then stay on the road for their second game against the Titans in Week 13. They host the Steelers in Week 16 for a nationally televised game on Christmas Day, and the Texans finish the season on the road in Week 17 to take on the Colts. Obviously the quarterback play will affect how many games the Texans win, but with their stout defense I can see them getting double-digit wins with just decent quarterback play.

Sources: http://www.houstontexans.com/, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Green Bay Packers

The next NFC North team in our continuing preview of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Green Bay Packers, who are coming off a first-place finish in the division.

The Packers came within a game of making Super Bowl LI last season, falling to the Falcons in the NFC Championship. In the Aaron Rodgers era, the Packers have consistently had one of the top offenses in the NFL, and they added to it in the offseason by signing free-agent TEs Lance Kendricks and Martellus Bennett in an attempt to beef up a weak point of their offense. They’ll join a receiving core led by WRs Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. There could be some questions with their running game, with WR-turned-RB Ty Montgomery expected to be the No. 1 back heading into the season.

Rodgers had one of the best seasons of his career last year — a high bar to cross — throwing for 4,428 yards and a league-leading 40 touchdowns, with 7 interceptions. He threw 14 of those touchdown passes to Nelson, who had 97 receptions for 1,257 yards. Adams had 75 receptions for 997 yards and 12 scores. WR Randall Cobb had decent production in the 10 games he played, grabbing 60 balls for 610 yards and 4 touchdowns. Montgomery had 44 catches for 348 yards. After being converted to a running back in the latter part of the season due to injuries, he became the team’s lead running back. Overall for the season, he had a team-high 77 attempts for 457 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. Rodgers had the second-most rushing yards on the team, with RBs Eddie Lacy — who is now with the Seahawks — and James Starks limited in playing time by injuries. With the Patriots last season, Bennett had 55 receptions for 701 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Kendricks totaled 499 yards and 2 touchdowns on 50 catches for the Rams. The offense scored the fourth-most points in the league last season, and the defense was ranked in the bottom third of the league in points allowed.

If the Packers can get good production out of the running game, they should have one of the league’s best offenses again in 2017. The Rodgers-Nelson combo has been one of the best over the last several years when both are healthy. Adams is a strong No. 2 receiver, and the tight ends the team signed should be a vast improvement over what they got out of TEs Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers a season ago. With the defense not doing well last season and no major players signed on that side of the ball, the Packers are likely going to have to put a lot of points on the board to win games. They went with defensive players with their first four picks of the draft, including Washington CB Kevin King in the second round, but you never know how much success a player will have in his rookie year in the league.

The Packers’ schedule kicks off with a home game in Week 1 against the Seahawks, who should be among the better teams in the NFC this season. It doesn’t get easier in Week 2 when the Packers do battle with the Falcons as they open up their new stadium in the Sunday night game. They have a primetime rivalry game, taking on the Bears at Lambeau Field in Week 4’s Thursday nighter. The Packers then face the Cowboys on the road in Week 5, then travel to Minneapolis to take on the Vikings — likely their biggest competition in the division — in Week 6. They host the Saints in Week 7, then get their bye and come back to host the Lions in Week 9. The Packers face the Steelers in Pittsburgh in a primetime contest in Week 12. They end the season with back-to-back divisional contests, hosting the Vikings in a Saturday night special in Week 16 and visiting the Lions in Week 17. I think the Packers should at least match last year’s 10-win total, and they could improve upon that by a game or two, depending on how well the defense plays.

Sources: http://www.packers.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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Super Bowl LI Preview: Brady, Belichick go for record 5th rings as Patriots battle Falcons

For the first time in four years, the Super Bowl does not consist of the two No. 1 seeds going against each other. It’s the AFC’s top-seeded Patriots — going for the franchise’s fifth title, which would tie the team for second-most all-time behind the Steelers — taking on the Falcons, the No. 2 seed from the NFC, who are playing in just their second Super Bowl and looking for their first title. The Patriots, on the other hand, are playing in their NFL-record ninth championship game. Patriots QB Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have each been part of the Patriots’ four prior championships and are making their seventh overall Super Bowl appearances, the most in league history for a player or coach.

Neither team struggled to win its conference championship game, both more than doubling their opponent’s score. The Falcons defense stifled QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense and Green Bay’s defense couldn’t stop QB Matt Ryan and the rest of the Atlanta offense as the Falcons won 44-21. Brady and the Patriots put up 36 points on the Steelers defense and limited Pittsburgh’s offense, which played without RB Le’Veon Bell for most of the game when he exited early with a groin injury. New England won the game by a final score of 36-17.

With two of the league’s best offenses playing in Super Bowl LI, it looks to be a high-scoring game, which is reflected in the 59 over/under in Vegas, which is up from the already-high 56.5 where it opened. The Patriots are three-point favorites in the game, which opened as a pick ’em. Heading into the final game of the postseason, I am 9-2 picking games straight up, 6-4 against the spread and 5-5 on over/unders.

The Falcons had the league’s top scoring offense during the regular season and have kept up the offensive attack through their first two playoff games, scoring 36 and 44, respectively. The Patriots can put points on the board, as well, scoring 34 and 36, respectively, in their first two games of this postseason. Both quarterbacks are MVP candidates after putting up big numbers during the season but I’ll give the advantage of the Brady and the Patriots. It’s hard to go against the clutch performances he has put up throughout his career and the four Super Bowls he has one. I say the Falcons have the advantage at the receiver position with WR Julio Jones, who is one of the best in the game, gaining more than 1,400 receiving yards with 6 touchdowns during the season and adding another 4 touchdowns in his two playoff games so far this season. The question is how healthy he is, as he has been limited in practice this week. WR Julian Edelman should have a good game for the Patriots, but a key for them could be WR Chris Hogan repeating the performance he had in the AFC Championship, when he had 9 receptions for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Steelers. Falcons RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 19 rushing touchdowns in the regular season, but Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount ran the ball into the end zone 18 times himself while rushing for more than 1,100 yards. The Patriots rushing attack hasn’t been able to get much going yet in the postseason, which could hurt them against the Falcons if they can’t keep up with the Freeman-Coleman combo. I think the running games are pretty even between the two teams.

The Patriots had the top scoring defense during the regular season and the Falcons defense has improved in recent weeks, having allowed 21 points or fewer in five of their last six games. Other than the Packers last week, though, they didn’t face a team with as strong of an offense as the Patriots have so New England will present a big challenge for the Atlanta defense. For the Patriots defense, CB Malcolm Butler — who made the game-winning interception in Super Bowl XLIX — led the team with 4 interceptions during the regular season. Patriots have the advantage at defense.

There’s no doubt that the Patriots have the advantage at head coach, with Belichick coaching in his record-setting seventh Super Bowl. Although Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is in his first Super Bowl as a head coach, he was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator when they made it to Super Bowls XLVIII and XLIX so he knows what it’s like to be on the sidelines for a Super Bowl. But it’s Belichick who is considered by many to be the best coach in NFL history. He knows how to come up with a game plan that helps to limit the opponent’s best weapon. If he can do that on Sunday, it’ll likely mean Jones has a subpar performance.

This should be a close game, but I think Brady and Belichick will lead the Patriots to the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl title. I’m predicting a final score of 31-27 Patriots so I’ll take them to cover and that’ll be under the 59. Blount is named MVP.

(Spread and over/under from Vegas Insider)

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