Tag Archives: Super Bowl LII

5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Dallas Cowboys

The NFC East is up next in our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams, beginning with the Dallas Cowboys, who finished in second place in the division last season.

A year after QB Tony Romo retired, TE Jason Witten — one of his favorite targets — also called it a career to go into broadcasting. But Witten isn’t the only veteran pass-catcher to leave the Cowboys this offseason. The team released WR Dez Bryant, who has yet to sign with another team. The offseason wasn’t all about departures, though. The Cowboys signed DE Kony Ealy and WR Allen Hurns, in addition to trading a sixth-round draft pick to the Rams for WR Tavon Austin. In the draft, the Cowboys took LB Leighton Vander Esch in the first round and WR Michael Gallup in the third round, both of whom could have an impact on the team this season. Entering last season, much of the talk about the Cowboys was regarding the looming suspension for RB Ezekiel Elliott, but with that behind him Elliott can now focus on his performance for the upcoming season.

The Cowboys were around the middle of the NFL last season with 5,311 yards and 354 points. In his sophomore season, QB Dak Prescott had a big of a regression in his stats. He threw for 3,324 yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions; he also had six rushing touchdowns on 57 runs. Aside from Bryant and Witten, WR Terrance Williams was the team’s top receiver, hauling in 53 receptions for 568 yards but not finding the end zone at all. WR Cole Beasley caught 36 balls for 314 yards and four touchdowns. Hurns had 39 receptions for 484 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games — eight starts — with the Jaguars. Elliott was limited to 10 games due to his suspension, and he carried the ball 242 times for 983 yards and seven touchdowns and RB Rod Smith scored four times on 55 carries. The defense finished in the top 10 in yards allowed and top 15 in points allowed.

The schedule kicks off on the road with a Week 1 contest against the Panthers. The Giants come to AT&T Stadium for the Cowboys’ home opener in Week 2. The Cowboys continue to alternate home and road games, visiting the Seahawks in Week 3 and hosting the Lions in Week 4. After that, they get a Sunday nighter at the Texans followed by a home game with the Jaguars in Week 6. The Cowboys visit the Redskins in Week 7, which takes them into their Week 8 bye. Out of the bye, the Cowboys have a Monday night home game against the Titans, then they visit the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles in Week 10’s Sunday night game. They visit the Falcons in Week 11, which is followed by three straight home games. The homestand starts with the middle game of the Thanksgiving tripleheader, with the Redskins visiting the Cowboys in Week 12. The Saints come to town for the Thursday nighter in Week 13, and the Cowboys host the Eagles in Week 14. The Cowboys visit the Colts in Week 15 and host the Buccaneers in Week 16 before ending the regular season at the Giants in Week 17.

Losing Witten and Bryant is a blow to the Cowboys offense, but Hurns could be a worthy replacement if he can play all 16 games and return to the 1,000-yard receiver that he was in 2015. And having Elliott for the whole season should also be a boost for Prescott and the offense. There has been a recent setback for the offense, though, when C Travis Frederick was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease that could cause him to miss the season. The Cowboys are the second best team in the division and should be in content to get a wild card in the NFC. They won nine games last year, and if the main players in their offense can stay healthy they may be able to get up to 10 or 11 wins this season, putting them in the midst of the playoff race.

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

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: New England Patriots

The New England Patriots are up next on our previews of all 32 NFL teams, continuing to make our way through the AFC East which the Patriots won last season en route to appearing in Super Bowl LII.

Last season, the Patriots fell short of winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles when they lost to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. They’re trying to make it to the big game for a third straight season, but in order to do that they will have to overcome a four-game suspension handed down to WR Julian Edelman for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. That takes away one of QB Tom Brady’s favorite weapons for the season’s first four games, but Edelman missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in the preseason so having him for any of this season will be a bonus. They did add some pass-catchers who he will be able to throw to, though, including WRs Cordarrelle Patterson and Eric Decker. This offseason also saw them trade for CB Jason McCourty, sign RB Jeremy Hill and select RB Sony Michel in the first round of the draft. Among players departing the Patriots since the end of last season are TE Martellus Bennett RB Dion Lewis and WRs Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks. Despite the personnel changes, as long as Brady stays healthy the Patriots should continue one of the best offenses in the league.

The Brady-led offense ranked first in the league with 6,307 yards and second with 458 points last season. Brady threw for 4,577 yards last season, with 32 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. TE Rob Gronkowski was the team’s best receiver, recording 69 receptions for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games. WR Chris Hogan had 34 catches for 439 yards and five touchdowns in nine games. Patterson had 31 receptions for 309 yards with the Raiders last season. RB Mike Gillislee carried the ball on the ground 104 times, gaining 383 yards with five touchdowns in nine games. RB Rex Burkhead had 64 carries in 10 games for 264 yards and five scores, with 30 receptions for an additional 254 yards and three touchdowns. RB James White only had 43 carries in his 14 games, but he caught 56 passes for 429 yards and three touchdowns. The defense ranked near the bottom of the league in points allowed but was fifth in points allowed.

The Patriots open at home in Week 1 against the Texans, then have an AFC Championship rematch in Week 2 when they play the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Another road game follows in Week 3, against the Lions. The Patriots have three straight home games in Weeks 4-6 when the Dolphins, Colts and Chiefs come to Foxborough. The Patriots visit the Bears in Week 7 and the Bills in Week 8, then face the Packers at home in Week 9.  A Week 10 road game against the Titans leads into the Patriots’ Week 11 bye. Coming out of the bye, the Patriots visit the Jets in the first of the teams’ two meetings. The Patriots host the Vikings in Week 13, and then they have road games against the Dolphins and Steelers in Weeks 14 and 15, respectively. The Patriots get two divisional games at home to end the regular season; the Patriots host the Bills in Week 16 and the Jets in Week 17.

As has been the case for much of the Patriots’ dynasty under Brady and Bill Belichick, the other three teams in the AFC East aren’t very good and the Patriots are clearly the best team in the division. Having said that, Brady is 41 and is likely to start regressing at some point, but he showed no signs of that last season. As long as he can stay healthy this year, the Patriots should get another division title with double-digit wins. Edelman missing the first four games gives other players a chance to get involved in the passing game, and Michel should get worked into the team’s game plan as the season progresses, although he has been dealing with a meniscus injury that could limit his playing time early in the season. At the end of the season, expect the Patriots to earn their 10th straight division title and get another playoff appearance.

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

 

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5th 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 won the division last season.

The Saints won the division last season for the first time since 2011 with an 11-5 record, thanks in part to the emergence of rookie RB Alvin Kamara after taking a chance on veteran RB Adrian Peterson, who didn’t work out. This offseason, the team added depth to the offense with the signings of TE Ben Watson, RB Shane Vereen, and WRs Cameron Meredith, Michael Floyd and Brandon Tate. In the draft, they went with DE Marcus Davenport as their first-round pick. They’re hoping these additions will help them continue the success they had last year, when they had their first winning season in four years.

The offense was second in the NFL with 6,259 yards and fourth with 448 points scored in 2017. Despite the team’s high offensive ranks, QB Drew Brees had his fewest passing yards and touchdowns in more than a decade with 4,334 yards and 23 touchdowns. He did, however, throw just eight interceptions, which was the lowest total of his career in a season in which he played all 16 games. WR Michael Thomas had a team-best 104 receptions for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns. Kamara was the team’s second-best pass-catcher with 81 receptions for 826 yards and five touchdowns. WR Ted Ginn played in 15 games, including 10 starts, and caught 53 balls for 787 yards and four touchdowns. With the Ravens, Watson had 61 catches for 522 yards and four touchdowns, while Meredith had 66 receptions for 888 yards and four scores in 14 games — 10 starts — with the Bears. RB Mark Ingram was the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 230 times for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns, with 58 catches for an additional 416 yards. Kamara had 120 rushes for 728 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Defensively, the Saints ranked near the middle of the league in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed.

The Saints have two consecutive home games to open the season, the first against the Buccaneers — who will be without QB Jameis Winston — and the second against the Browns. They then hit the road for a Week 3 game at the Falcons and a Week 4 contest at the Giants. After returning home to face the Redskins in Week 5, the Saints have their bye in Week 6. Week 7 sees them traveling to Baltimore to take on the Ravens, followed by a visit to the Vikings. They host the Rams in Week 9 and the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles come to New Orleans to take on the Saints in Week 11. The Saints host the Falcons in Week 12 in the nightcap of the Thanksgiving tripleheader, and then they head out on a three-game road trip. It begins at the Cowboys in Week 13, followed by contests at the Bucs and Panthers. The Saints host the Steelers in Week 16 and end the regular season at home with another game against the Panthers.

The Saints’ window is likely closing with Brees now 39 years old and on the backend of his career, but having a top running back tandem like Ingram and Kamara — once the former returns from his four-game PED suspension — allows the offense to rack up yards and points without relying as much on the veteran quarterback as the team has in the past. The defense last year was one of the best the Saints have had in a while, and if that continues into 2018 the Saints will likely be able to make the postseason again, with another season of double-digit wins a distinct possibility. With the team owning just one Super Bowl title in its history, the Saints are hoping to get another championship before Brees eventually retires.

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

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5th 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 came in third place in the division last season .

A season after playing in Super Bowl LI the Falcons finished in third place in the NFC South, but their 10-6 record was good enough to earn one of the conference’s wild cards. The Falcons still have one of the top quarterback-receiver tandems in the league with QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones, and they added to their offensive depth this offseason by taking WR Calvin Ridley with their first pick in the draft. They also signed TE Logan Paulsen to serve as the No. 2 at the position.

The offense ranked eighth in the NFL last season with 5,837 yards and they were 15th with 353 points. Ryan’s 2017 numbers were down significantly from 2016; he threw for 4,095 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Jones had 88 receptions for 1,444 yards — which was the second most in the league — but just three touchdowns. WR Mohamed Sanu caught 67 balls for 703 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games, and TE Austin Hooper added 49 catches for 526 yards and three touchdowns. RB Devonta Freeman was the team’s top rusher with 196 attempts for 865 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games, adding 36 receptions for another 317 yards and a touchdown. RB Tevin Coleman played in 15 games, including three starts, and ran the ball 156 times for 628 yards and five touchdowns, with another three scores through the air. The Falcons were pretty good defensively, as well, ranking ninth in yards allowed and eighth in points allowed.

The Falcons’ season begins with the season opener as they visit the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles on the first Thursday night of the season. After that they have three straight home games, beginning with divisional rivals the Panthers and Saints, followed by the Bengals in Week 4. They then head to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in Week 5 before hosting the Buccaneers in Week 6. The Falcons host the Giants in Week 7 before their Week 8 bye. Coming out of the off week, they have consecutive road games at the Redskins and Browns. A home date with the Cowboys is on the slate for Week 11, followed by a Week 12 game at the Saints. The Falcons head to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers in Week 14 and host the Cardinals in Week 15. They then end the regular season with back-to-back road games, at the Panthers and Buccaneers.

The NFC South is a tough division, with three of the four teams having made the playoffs a year ago. The Falcons may be the best all-around team in the division, with a strong offense and a defense that was in the top 10 in the league in 2017. If the defense can continue that success into this season, it will help the Falcons stay out of shootouts against teams like the Saints and Falcons. They have a relatively easy schedule on paper, including a game with the Browns. I think the Falcons should be able to get to double-digit wins again this year, with another postseason appearance likely for the team that hopes to return to the Super Bowl after a one-year hiatus.

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

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5th 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 came in last place in the division last season.

The Texans’ 4-12 record last season is not representative of the amount of talent on the roster. The defense took a big hit with injuries to DE J.J. Watt and LB Whitney Mercilus, who each played just five games. And QB Deshaun Watson was on pace to set rookie records before he suffered a torn ACL in Week 7 that ended his season. Getting those three players back improves the team — especially on offense, which wasn’t good with Watson out — so they feel like the team’s big offseason acquisitions. The one major free agent the Texans signed was S Tyrann Mathieu, who was released by the Cardinals. They also signed veteran QB Brian Hoyer to serve as Watson’s backup. In terms of losses, the team released veteran LB Brian Cushing.

The Texans ranked in the bottom half of the NFL with 5,120 yards and 338 points in 2017. In the seven games — six starts — Watson played, he threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions; he also ran for 269 yards and two touchdowns. WR DeAndre Hopkins had 96 receptions 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns in 15 games last season, and WR. No one else had more than 36 catches — and that was RB Lamar Miller, who went for 327 yards and three touchdowns on the 36 receptions. In 10 games, WR Will Fuller caught 28 balls for 423 yards and seven touchdowns. Miller was the team’s leading rusher, with 888 yards and three touchdowns on 238 carries. In 10 games, RB D’Onta Foreman ran the ball 78 times for 327 yards and two touchdowns, and RB Alfred Blue had 71 carries for 272 yards and a touchdown in 11 games. With Watt and Mercilus out for most of the season, the defense ranked 20th in yards allowed and last in points allowed.

The Texans face the tough test to begin the season, playing at the Patriots in Week 1. They stay on the road to take on the Titans in Week 2, then get their first home game in Week 3, when the Giants come to town. The Texans visit the Colts in Week 4, then host the Cowboys in a Lone Star battle. Week 7 sees the Texans heading to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars, then the Dolphins come to Houston in Week 8. After a game in Denver against the Broncos, the Texans have a bye in Week 10. Coming out of the bye, the Texans visit the Redskins. After that, they have three straight home games — against the Titans, Browns and Colts in Weeks 12, 13 and 14, respectively. Following a road game with the Jets, the Texans visit the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles in Week 17. They finish the regular season at home, taking on the Jaguars.

The health of Watson, Watt and Mercilus is going to be the key to how the Texans do this season. If Watson can continue the success he had in the first half of the 2017 season and the defensive guys can play like they have in the past, that will prove the defense that played most of last season, which is already improved by the signing of Mathieu. The Texans have also not had Watt and DE Jadeveon Clowney both healthy at the same time for an extended period. It appears that they will finally get that luxury this season. If things go right for the Texans this season, they should be competitive with the Jaguars for the top spot in the division, and could compete for a wild card if the Jags win the South.

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

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Minnesota Vikings

Our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days leading up to the start of the season, continues as the NFC North comes to an end with the Minnesota Vikings, who won the division last season.

The Vikings came within a game of making it to Super Bowl LII last season, losing to the Eagles in the NFC Championship, after finishing the regular season 13-3. Despite that success, they didn’t stand pat and stick with the same team this season. Instead of doing that, they signed QB Kirk Cousins to a three-year contract, with $84 million guaranteed. He’s replacing QB Case Keenum, who was the starter for the bulk of the 2017 season. Other signings this offseason included WR Kendall Wright and DT Sheldon Richardson, That’ll help them stay atop the division and fight off an expected challenge from the Packers, who are coming off a disappointing season because of a shoulder injury to QB Aaron Rodgers.

The Vikings’ offense finished 11th in the NFL with 5,710 yards and 10th with 382 points scored last season. With the Redskins, Cousins threw for 4,093 yards — almost 900 fewer yards than 2016 — with 27 touchdowns and a career-high 13 interceptions. His favorite target was WR Adam Thielen, who had 91 receptions for 1,276 yards but just four touchdowns. WR Stefon Diggs caught 64 balls for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games, while TE Kyle Rudolph added 532 yards and eight scores on 57 catches. On the ground, RB Latavius Murray carried the ball 216 times for 842 yards and eight touchdowns. Rookie RB Dalvin Cook was limited to four games, but he ran for 354 yards and two touchdowns on 74 carries. The defense led the league in both yards and points allowed.

The schedule sees the Vikings opening at home against the 49ers before heading to Lambeau Field for a battle with the Packers in Week 2. After a Week 4 game at the Rams, the Vikings have to fly across the country to Philadelphia for a Week 5 rematch with the Eagles. They host the Saints and Lions in Weeks 8 and 9, respectively, before getting their bye in Week 10. The Vikings visit the Bears in Week 11 and host the Packers in Week 12. Next on the docket is a Week 13 matchup at the Patriots. That leads to another cross-country trip, as they play the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 14. The season wraps up with a home game against the Dolphins in Week 15, a road game against the Lions in Week 16 and a final home contest with the Bears in Week 17.

The Vikings won 13 games last season and seem to have improved their team this offseason, with Cousins in particular an improvement over Keenum. They’ll face tougher competition in the division with Rodgers’ returning from his injury for Green Bay, but the Vikings probably have a better team than the Packers, so they should repeat as division champs. The offense is improved with Cousins and there’s no reason to think the defense will take a step back after it was the best unit in the league a season ago. Cook will have an increased role in the offense, which should improve the running back if he reaches the expectations the Vikings had when they drafted him. The Vikings should win back-to-back NFC North titles this season.

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

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Super Bowl LII: Foles brings the Eagles their first Super Bowl title, earns MVP honors

Heading into Super Bowl LII, it figured to be a battle of the Eagles defense trying to hold down Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. The Eagles D got the better of the Patriots early on, with QB Nick Foles helping get the Eagles get out to a 15-3 lead, but the Eagles couldn’t feel comfortable with a lead of that size just a year after the Patriots overcame a 28-3 deficit to beat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

Both offenses had long opening drives stall to come away with field goals for an early 3-3 score. The Eagles picked up the next two scores, with a passing touchdown from Foles to WR Alshon Jeffery; a missed PAT made it a 9-3 game after the first quarter. A LeGarrette Blount rushing touchdown about halfway through the second quarter made it a 15-3 Eagles lead after a failed two-point conversion attempt.

On the ensuing Patriots drive after the second touchdown, RB Rex Burkhead found a hole for a 46-yard catch-and-run, but the offense couldn’t capitalize on it and had to settle for a 45-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, who had missed a 26-yarder on his previous attempt, to cut the lead to 15-6 midway through the second quarter. After that field goal, the Patriots announced that WR Brandin Cooks was out for the remainder of the game with a head injury after he took a big hit at the hands of S Malcolm Jenkins earlier in the quarter. The loss of Cooks would make a Brady comeback harder to come by.

The game’s first turnover came with 5:01 remaining in the first half when Patriots S Duron Harmon intercepted a pass that was deflected when Jeffery nearly made a one-handed catch that would have put the Eagles in the red zone.

The Patriots took advantage of the takeaway — their first since Week 15 — with a 90-yard drive, helped by a holding penalty against the Eagles, that was capped off by a 26-yard touchdown run by RB James White, who scored the winning touchdown for New England in overtime of Super Bowl LI. Gostkowski missed the extra point, however, to make it a 15-12 game with 2:04 to go in the opening half.

It looked like the Eagles wouldn’t get much offense on the ensuing drive, but a 55-yard pass to RB Corey Clement on a third-down play put the Eagles inside the 10-yard line with under a minute to go before the break. The Eagles couldn’t find the end zone on the first three plays in the red zone. Rather than going for the chip shot field goal, they decided to go for it on fourth down inside the two-yard line. They went deep into their playbook for a trick play, with TE Trey Burton throwing a touchdown pass to Foles. The extra point made it 22-12 with 34 seconds left in the half.

The Patriots couldn’t get into field goal range on their drive following the Burton-to-Foles score and came up empty on their final play of the half. After nearly 700 total yards of offense in the first half, the Eagles had a 22-12 halftime lead. But that is far from an insurmountable deficit for the Patriots to overcome, especially with them receiving the second-half kickoff.

The Patriots came out with a quick scoring drive to start the second half. They went 75 yards in 2:45 with TE Rob Gronkowski making four catches on the drive, including a five-yard touchdown catch to make it 22-19 after Gostkowski tacked on the extra point.

The Eagles responded with a long drive of their own that ended with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Clement in the back of the end zone. It’s not clear that he actually made the case, but the call was upheld on the review to put the Eagles’ lead back up to 10, 29-19, following the successful extra point attempt by K Jake Elliott.

Neither offense let up in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots taking their first lead of the game with 9:22 left in the fourth quarter following another touchdown pass to Gronkowski — this one from four yards out — and the subsequent extra point, which made the score 33-32 in favor of New England. With that, the Patriots officially eliminated a double-digit deficit for the second straight Super Bowl.

The lead wouldn’t hold up, though, as the Eagles responded with another touchdown drive, culminating with a 11-yard touchdown pass to TE Zach Ertz that, like the Clement score, held up when it was reviewed. The Eagles missed the two-point attempt, leaving them with a five-point lead, 38-33.

The Eagles left Brady with 2:21 left on the clock, which could have been enough time for him to lead a game-winning drive for the Patriots. But that drive was cut short when Eagles DE Brandon Graham knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand on a sack and DE Derek Barnett recovered it for the Eagles’ first takeaway of the game to go with their first sack.

They had the ball with 2:16 left and came away with a 46-yard field goal to make it 41-33, leaving Brady and the Patriots about a minute to go 90 yards for a touchdown and convert the two-point try to tie the game and force overtime. Brady was able to attempt a hail mary in the end zone to Gronkowski, but the tight end couldn’t catch the ball. And that was the ballgame. Led by Foles, the Eagles won their first Super Bowl title in franchise history.

The game certainly wasn’t lacking for offense, with Brady breaking his own record for passing yards in a Super Bowl with 505 yards through the air. Foles threw for 373 yards, and the teams combined for a Super Bowl-record 1,151 yards with nine total touchdowns. There was only one punt in the game, which fell one point short of the all-time record for most points scored in a Super Bowl. Although it was close essentially the whole game and the Patriots had a brief fourth-quarter lead, the team that played better tonight ended up hoisting the Lombardi trophy — the first time the Eagles have been able to do that as the best team in the NFL. Not surprisingly, Foles was named the MVP following his tremendous performance in the biggest game of his life.

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