NFL: Week 2 Recap and Week 3 Picks

It’s pretty amazing how many teams most thought would be good this season are 0-2.

Most Impressive Teams From Week 2

  1. New England Patriots (2-0)– The Tom Brady revenge tour raged through Buffalo this weekend and put up three touchdowns and 466 yards passing on the Buffalo defense.  Rob Gronkowski went over 100 yards, Julian Edelman caught two TDs and nine different Patriots caught passes.  The defense let up late, allowing 19 points in the fourth to the Bills to make the final score close, but it really wasn’t.
  2. Arizona Cardinals (2-0) –Carson Palmer is healthy and it means this team is a force to be reckoned with in a division that has the NFC Champs bringing up the rear at 0-2. Palmer was efficient throwing 4 touchdowns on just 185 yards passing.  The Cards got help from their defense, and special teams with a team record 108-yard kickoff return.  Not to mention that Larry Fitzgerald had one of the best games of his career, catching 3 scores after going nine straight (including the playoffs) without a single one.
  3. Green Bay Packers (2-0) –Make it nine straight regular season home wins for the Packers who got revenge for their NFC Championship loss to the Seahawks. Both defenses played well, but the big play came by Green Bay in the fourth, an interception of Russell Wilson as the Pack went to score 11 to take the lead and the game.  The fact that Green Bay could come out on top after losing both Eddie Lacy and Devonte Adams early to injury shows how deep this team is.

Most Disappointing Teams From Week 2

  1. New York Giants (0-2)– The New York Giants are now 0-2… against the New York Giants. They got Odell Beckham Jr and Shane Vereen going, Eli Manning hasn’t thrown a pick and the defense shutdown Matt Ryan for most of the game.  But it hasn’t mattered. In both games, they played the 55 minutes of football that should have them 2-0 and atop the NFC East. Instead, they’ve shot themselves in the foot to end two games with poor time management and poor play calling.
  2. Indianapolis Colts (0-2) –For just the second time in his young career, Andrew Luck has lost two straight games.  The fourth year QB threw 3 interceptions for the first time in nearly two years, and added a fumble to his bad night.  The defense hasn’t been terrible, but they haven’t been able to make up for the bad offense.
  3. Detroit Lions (0-2) – The defense hasn’t been a strengthlike it’s been in the past. Matthew Stafford has been erratic.  But the most distressing part has the running game. They managed just 38 yards on the ground against the Vikings a week after surrendering 230 yards in week 1.  When Matt Stafford leads you in rushing, that’s a problem. When he has most yards than four other guys combined, that’s a serious problem.

Most Surprising Performances from Week 2

  1. Carolina Panthers (2-0) – I honestly don’t know how they’re doing it.  Sure the defense is good, but offensively they haven’t done anything spectacular.  Cam Newton looks better than last season, and has gotten it done on the ground, but their actual backs haven’t done much. Their big play threat in Kelvin Benjamin is down for the season, leaving Newton under 200 yards passing.  But they’re doing enough and sit tied atop the division.
  2. Oakland Raiders (1-1) – One week after a blowout loss to Cincinnati, they went toe-to-toe offensively with the Ravens and came out on top. David Carr threw for a career high 351 yards, and put a late turnover behind him quickly to throw the game winner with 26 seconds to go.  He’s got two big weapons in rookie Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to throw to, something Oakland has been missing for years.
  3. New York Jets (2-0) –I knew they’d be good this season.  But I don’t even think they’ve played their best football and here they are at 2-0 coming off a nice win in Indianapolis.  Ryan Fitzpatrick has looked great and forged a quick connection with Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall.  Chris Ivory got banged up in practice but has looked good so far.  And the defense after being torched at times in week 1, specifically in the secondary, generated a great pass rush in week 2, and has an incredible 10 takeaways already.

Now we can get to my picks for week 3.  I went just 5-11 to bring my season total to 15-17, so clearly I need a rebound.

Thursday Night Football

  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington’s defense has been one of the biggest surprises this season.  New York’s defense is stopping the run, but allowing QBs to have a field day.  The Giants offense looked a lot better in week 2, but they beat themselves late again. I should probably stop picking New York, but they handle the Skins well and without their late-game mistakes, I still think they’ve looked like the best team in the division.  NEW YORK WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Falcons @ Cowboys: Both teams enter 2-0 but with varying levels of health concerns.  Dallas has been hit at QB with Tony Romo’s fractured clavicle, wide receiver with Dez Bryant’s broken foot and Jason Witten’s knee.  Atlanta will be without rookie running back Tevin Coleman who injured his rib in their week 2 win.  The Cowboys traded for guys to replace their injured stars, including a pick for Matt Cassel, who is a very capable starter.  But Matt Ryan has a very healthy and electric Julio Jones paired with Roddy White and I think he’ll be able to out-pass anything the Boys throw out there. ATLANTA WINS
  • Colts @ Titans: Tennessee went from great to average in a weeks’ time, something to expect with a rookie QB.  I’ve already gone over Indy’s problems so I won’t here.  But the Jets showed you can do damage to the Colts secondary, so expect Marcus Mariota to throw early and often this week.  However, I don’t think it will be enough.  Andrew Luck will figure out how to play past his turnovers and explode in week 3 and get win number 1. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Raiders @ Browns: Johnny Manziel was supposed to get another start after picking up his first win a week ago. Not so fast. Josh McCowan will be back after missing week 2 with injury. I don’t like the move, but I guess Cleveland is operating under the “you don’t lose your job because of injury idea.”  As for Oakland, no one thought they’d be good this year, and yet they’ve done some good things early on.  So who moves to a surprising 2-1? Give me the Raiders in a close one on the road.  OAKLAND WINS
  • Bengals @ Ravens: Andy Dalton is off to one of the best starts of his career, the run game is producing and the defense is doing what it needs to do, holding opponents to 16 points a game. Now they face a hungry 0-2 Ravens team in an AFC North showdown.  Baltimore’s defense has allowed that has allowed the seventh most points per game in the first two weeks.  I thought Baltimore would be in contention for a playoff spot against this season, and while I know they can win this game and avoid an 0-3 start, I like the Bengals too much right nowCINCINNATI WINS
  • Jaguars @ Patriots: The Jacksonville Defense has been solid through two weeks of play, but they’re going to need to get to Tom Brady early and often if they want to unseat the champs.  Blake Bortles looked better in week 2 than week 1, but he’s still got a lot of work to do.  New England is just on another level and at home.  They’ll get to 3-0 rather easily. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Saints @ Panthers: Already at 0-2, the Saints are now without Drew Brees.  Carolina is seeing a better Cam Newton through two weeks than they saw all of last season.  New Orleans defense has been atrocious, the Panthers pretty good.  If all holds true, we’ve got another easy win for a soon-to-be 3-0 squadCAROLINA WINS
  • Eagles @ Jets: DeMarco Murray has been very, very bad.  Sam Bradford has been very bad. The Eagles special teams hasn’t been what it was, nor has the defense.  New York has been good in every phase of the game, but it’s been their defense that has stood out above all. NEW YORK WINS
  • Buccaneers @ Texans: Bryan Hoyer did a better job than Ryan Mallett, but it wasn’t enough.  Houston’s running game has been non-existent without Arian Foster.  The defense isn’t what they can and have been in the past.  Jameis Winston bounced back from a rough NFL debut to show flashes. If the Texans get some help on the ground, I like the Texans at home to pick up their first win. HOUSTON WINS
  • Chargers @ Vikings: Philip Rivers has been on point this season, completing 81 percent of his passes through two games.  But turnovers hurt the Chargers chances at a 2-0 start a week ago.  As for the Vikings, Adrian Peterson got back to his old self, racking up nearly 200 total yards to help get his team to 1-1. MINNESOTA WINS
  • Steelers @ Rams: The Steelers have looked good on offense through two weeks, and that was without Le’Veon Bell. Now with the AFC’s leading rusher from a year ago back, look out.  St. Louis’s defense hasn’t been as good as I thought it would be, and the offense has had one great game, and one they’d like to forget about.  So give me the more experienced Pittsburgh team on the road. PITTSBURGH WINS 

Sunday 4/425 PM Games

  • 49ers @ Cardinals: After a big first week, the Niners looked overwhelmed by the Steelers in week 2, particularly on defense, which is normally a strong suit.  And now they have to contend with a hot Cardinals team on the road.  Arizona is clicking on all cylinders, picking up where they left off last season with Carson Palmer.  They might not give up 48 again, but San Francisco is going to have a tough time stopping the Cardinals. ARIZONA WINS
  • Bills @ Dolphins: Both of these teams looked great in week 1, and not so great in week 2. Buffalo is waiting for LeSean McCoy to look more like the guy Philadelphia ran out of the backfield last season.  The Dolphins shot themselves in the foot with 13 flags for 113 penalty yards including a personal foul that set up the Jags game winning field-goal.  The inconsistent showings of the Bills defense through two weeks makes it hard to gauge them.  For that I’m taking the home team to improve to 2-1. MIAMI WINS
  • Bears @ Seahawks: One of these teams will be 0-3 (barring a tie) when the clock hits zero.  And it’s easily going to be Chicago. While the Hawks haven’t been as good as they’ve been the past two years, they have been in both games and have played well enough to win.  The Bears have looked awful and are now without Jay Cutler, though many are probably okay with that. SEATTLE WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Broncos @ Lions:  Peyton Manning woke up in week 2 but it was the Chiefs mistakes and Broncos defense that won the game in the end.  Detroit is a surprising 0-2, but Matt Stafford always plays better at home than on the road.  Denver is lucky to be 2-0, and I think that luck runs out this week.  Look for the run game to get going for Detroit. DETROIT WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Packers: Kansas City made some poor choices to end week 2.  But they have to be happy with what they’ve seen from their skill position guys, now they just have to hope Jamaal Charles holds onto the football. Green Bay overcame injuries to key players in week 2 to get revenge on the Seahawks, thanks in large part to their defense.  Both teams have impressed, but give me another home win for Aaron Rodgers and company this week.  GREEN BAY WINS
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NFL Preview: 2015-16 Playoff Picks and Week 1 Predictions

As the calendar turns to September, NFL fans everywhere rejoice! Hey everyone, and welcome to another year of Santiago’s Scoreboard.

I know, I know.  It feels like forever go that the New England Patriots outlasted the Seattle Seahawks in Superbowl XLIV. What with all the drama surrounding the World Champions, another big draft and all the craziness that surrounds free agency, we’ve had plenty to keep us occupied.

My 2014-15 season predictions had the Denver Broncos over the Green Bay Packers. Obviously I was very wrong there, but I had a very good season overall picking games so time to improve.

Here’s how I see the 2015-16 season going down:

NFC East                                                          AFC East

  1. Dallas Cowboys                                       1. New England Patriots
  2. New York Giants                                      2. New York Jets
  3. Philadelphia Eagles                                  3. Miami Dolphins
  4. Washington Redskins                               4. Buffalo Bills

NFC West                                                           AFC West

  1. Seattle Seahawks                                     1. Denver Broncos
  2. Arizona Cardinals                                      2. San Diego Chargers
  3. Louis Rams                                               3. Kansas City Chiefs
  4. San Francisco 49ers                                 4. Oakland Raiders

NFC South                                                          AFC South

  1. New Orleans Saints                                    1. Indianapolis Colts
  2. Carolina Panthers                                       2. Houston Texans
  3. Atlanta Falcons                                            3. Tennessee Titans
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers                              4. Jacksonville Jaguars

NFC North                                                           AFC North

  1. Green Bay Packers                                       1. Baltimore Ravens
  2. Detroit Lions                                                  2. Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Chicago Bears                                               3. Cincinnati Bengals
  4. Minnesota Vikings                                         4. Cleveland Browns

NFC Playoff Teams

  • Cowboys, Giants, Packers, Seahawks, Saints, Cardinals

AFC Playoff Teams

  • Broncos, Chargers, Colts, Steelers, Jets, Patriots

NFC Championship Game

  • Packers over Saints

AFC Championship Game

  • Colts over Steelers

Superbowl

  • Packers over Colts

So with all that said, here are my week 1 picks.

Thursday Night Football

  • Steelers @ Patriots: I had Pittsburgh winning this game before Tom Brady’s suspension was lifted.  Ben Roethlisberger shows up in big games, and I think he makes a statement to open up the 2015 season with a little help from the NFL’s leading rusher in 2014, Le’veon Bell. But in the end, the raising of the banner plus the desire to put the off-season in the past will lift the Pats to an opening night victory. NEW ENGLAND WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Packers @ Bears: Aaron Rodgers is without his favorite target, Jordy Nelson for the season. But he still has a lot of weapons, including being reunited with James Jones, and of course, one of the best up-and-coming backs in Eddie Lacy.  Chicago is coming off a disappointing season, and I don’t think they did enough in the off-season to fix all the problems they had last season.  It’s never easy to win on the road, but I think the reigning NFC North champs take their opener. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Chiefs @ Texans: Both teams ended last season 9-7 and second in their respective divisions. Alex Smith has Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Macklin to help open up the offense and a defense capable of shutting anyone down. Houston has a new starting QB in Brandon Hoyer, JJ Watt and a big question mark at running back with the questionable health of Arian Foster. I like Kansas City better as a team, but I think the Texans find a way at home in a close game.  HOUSTON WINS
  • Browns @ Jets: Cleveland had a pretty good 2014-15 season as compared to what they’d dealt with years prior. But they are a new team on offense, and they have to contend with a very good Jets defense to open the season.  New York had their own changes in the off-season, adding Ryan Fitzpatrick to the QB depth chart; a good move as they’re without their starter Geno Smith for a while after a locker-room scuffle that left him with a broken jaw. But it could be a blessing in disguise, as Fitzpatrick has been a solid quarterback in this league, and can spread the offense a bit more than Smith can at this point in his career. Add a solid starting running back in Chris Ivory and that defense, New York should at the very least be in the running for a wild card this season. NEW YORK WINS
  • Colts @ Bills: Buffalo’s defense was a highlight last season, and they’re going to need it to be every bit as good as last season if they want to defeat Andrew Luck and the Colts in week 1. I think this could be a close one, but even with the Bills defense and Rex Ryan at the helm, Andrew Luck has Andre Johnson and T.Y. Hilton to go deep to, and I think he will take that next step as he enters his fourth year in the league, and lead his team to the first of many wins this season.  INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Dolphins @ Redskins: Washington is a mess. Or should I say still a mess. Remember when RGIII was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012? Yeah, me neither.  And neither do the Redskins apparently.  The struggling franchise has given the reigns over to Kirk Cousins.  DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon always have the possibility of breaking the big play, but Miami is just a better team.  They have a QB in Ryan Tannehill who has gotten better every year in the league, a solid defense that only got better with the addition of Ndamukong Suh. MIAMI WINS
  • Panthers @ Jaguars: Two very good defenses look to get their teams off to a good start. Carolina enters the season with virtually no one for Cam Newton to throw to, while the Jags are going with rookie running back TJ Yeldon to help ease Blake Bortles and the passing game that now includes Julius Thomas who left Denver via free agency.  There’s probably more potential CAROLINA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Rams: These two teams play in arguably the toughest, most evenly competitive division in football.  Seattle has been to back-to-back Superbowls while the Rams have been getting better every year, particularly on defense. Now that the Seahawks have locked their QB up for the next four years, they look to figure out how to keep Kam Chancellor as a key part of their vaunted defense. This is going to be a real battle, but give me the defending NFC Champs in this early West matchup. SEATTLE WINS

Sunday 4/4:25PM Games

  • Saints @ Cardinals: Arizona’s great season was derailed by injuries at quarterback a season ago. But with Carson Palmer healthy again, the Cardinals look to get to their winning ways.  New Orleans on the other hand just played down to their normal standards a season ago.  The Saints lost a big offensive weapon in Jimmy Graham, but their running back core is stronger than ever with the addition of CJ Spiller.  Their defense cannot be much worse than it was last season, a season where at 7-9 they almost won their division.  So give me Drew Brees and his winning pedigree to start a bounce back season off right for New Orleans on the road. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Titans @ Buccaneers: It’s a battle between the first and second picks of the 2015 NFL draft in week 1, as Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston both look to prove themselves and earn their first professional wins.  TENNESSEE WINS
  • Bengals @ Raiders: Cincinnati continued its great regular season, disappointing playoff performance run a year ago, while Oakland was just bad. Neither team should be proud of what they did defensively last season.  I think the Raiders will be a bit better this season than the three-win team of a year ago, but the Bengals need to get wins wherever they can with the teams they are competing with in the AFC North. Not to mention having one of the toughest schedules in the league this season.  CINCINNATI WINS
  • Lions @ Chargers: Detroit is the NFC equivalent of San Diego in that they both shows flashes of pure greatness one minute, and flashes of pure mediocrity the next. Matt Stafford has one of the most dangerous weapons at his exposal in Calvin Johnson, but injuries and road woes last year saw a 7-1 start slowdown in the second half. And it’s those road struggles that led me to choose the home team to take this game SAN DIEGO WINS
  • Ravens @ Broncos: Both teams lost in the Wild Card round a year ago, so both have some unfinished business to attend to. Peyton Manning is back and like the Spurs every year, we wonder when the decline will come. The Broncos lost a big piece in Julius Thomas, while the Ravens lost Torrey Smith and continue to move on without Ray Rice. I still like the team that Denver has, and the regular season has never been the problem for Manning, so give me the home team. DENVER WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Giants @ Cowboys: This is a tough one. Dallas usually starts the season as the best team on paper in the NFC East.  I’m not sure the loss of DeMarco Murray is as big as most think, but it’s no small thing either as the Cowboys did a good job adding depth at the running back position.  New York’s defense remains a question thanks to Jason Pierre-Paul’s uncertain status and a trouble spot at safety. But I can’t help but be intrigued by the Giants offense.  After a rough start to a new scheme last year, the Giants became very efficient in the second half of the season.  They get back Rashad Jennings and added a versatile Shane Vereen to the back mix.  Their biggest offensive question mark will be Victor Cruz, but if he can get on the field at even 80% of what he was before the injury, you can make the argument they have the deepest receiving core in the league with Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr. and Ruben Randle. NEW YORK WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Eagles @ Falcons: Philly had another good season last season but missed the playoffs, while Atlanta struggled in nearly every facet of the game a year ago. The Eagles have a new quarterback in Sam Bradford who hasn’t played a game in nearly two years and a new running back in DeMarco Murray after LeSean McCoy left for Buffalo.  The Falcons have their top wideouts healthy and a revamped running game. So which bird flies higher in this week 1 contest? I like home team in this one because experience in this league is important, and if nothing else, this Falcons team knows each other better at this point, not to mention they have something to prove.   ATLANTA WINS
  • Vikings @ 49ers: San Francisco had one of the worst off-seasons in recent memory, losing important guys in seemingly every key position except quarterback. Minnesota got their all-pro running back in Adrian Peterson back, and have Rookie of the Year Teddy Bridgewater back under center. Peterson has something to prove after missing most of last season, and giving Bridgewater a number 1 receiver like Mike Wallace will only make his job easier. MINNESOTA WINS

Well, that’s it.  We’re just hours from kick-off.  Enjoy the action.

NFL Playoffs: AFC & NFC Championship Picks

And then there were four.  After the divisional round, the top 2 seeds in the NFC, the Seahawks and Packers will do battle for the right to play in the Superbowl.  On the AFC side, the Patriots will take on the Colts after a clear passing of the torch.

How did we get here?

The Packers were the first to secure a final four spot when Aaron Rodgers played through an injury to lift his team over the the Dallas Cowboys.  Both teams went over 100 yards on the ground, but Eddie Lacy ran for 22 more than the NFL league leader in DeMarco Murray.  Tony Romo was out-passed by nearly 130 yards and a TD.  The turning point was a 1st and goal catch by Dez Bryant that was overturned with 4 minutes to go in the game on 4th down.  They were down 5, and who’s to say the Packers don’t stop the TD on the goal line?  But the Cowboys weren’t given a chance when it was ruled Bryant didn’t complete the process of the catch to the ground.

Then we saw the Carolina Panthers run end when they went into 12th man territory. The big play was was when Kam Chancellor returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory in the 4th in a game that saw Seattle never trail. The Seahawks became the first reigning Superbowl Champ to win a playoff game since the Pats did so in 2006.

NFC Championship

  • Packers @ Seahawks: This is the game I thought we would see before the season.  And honestly, I think this match-up could be better than whatever turns into the final Superbowl.  Why?  Because you get the reigning champs playing the possible MVP.  You get the best home QB in the league playing on the road in the best home field advantage in football.  It’s a rematch of the season opener, a Seattle blowout at home and the reason why Green Bay didn’t get home-field as both teams finished with identical 12-4 records.  That will not happen again this time around. Aaron Rodgers calf injury is a concern, as is Eddie Lacy’s, but I still think this is the team that can go into Seattle and upset the reigning champs. Rodgers showed he could put this team on his back time and again.  This is going to be fun, and probably the better game of the day, but this is my reach pick, and I’m sticking with the my preseason pick of Packers over Seahawks for the right to play in the superbowl. GREEN BAY WINS

AFC Championship

  • Colts @ Patriots: New England is one win away from the Superbowl… again.  Remember when everyone thought they were done early in the season? They’ll play host to the Colts in a rematch of the 2006 AFC Championship game, except for one very big difference.  His counterpart at QB isn’t Peyton Manning, but the heir apparent in Indy, Andrew Luck. Indianapolis’ defense stepped up on the road, limiting the passing game of the Broncos.  The Patriots need to look to exploit their run defense however, which was the best part of Denver’s offense a week ago. Joe Flacco had his way with the Pats secondary as well, so look for Luck to have more success with deep passes in addition to his stellar short game.  Tom Brady has been here many times before, which is why I would say he has more to lose than the Colts in this game.  The Pats have been eliminated in this round the past two seasons and haven’t won on in a decade.  Indy continues to trend upward under Luck, so while they of course want to advance, but this was a great season no matter what happens Sunday.  Don’t forget that the Pats have blew out the Colts the past 3 meetings, including a 22-point victory in November. I want to pick Indianapolis, but I think it’s time for New England to make a reappearance in the big one.  It’ll be close.  NEW ENGLAND WINS

NFL: Divisional Round Picks

Round 2 is upon us… and the Cardinals, Steelers, Bengals and Lions are no long in playoff contention.  The first round was nothing short of boring, with flags being picked up, a road win for the Ravens and big games from the game winning QBs.

I went in the 2-2 in first round.

Saturday Games

  • Baltimore @ New England: The Ravens showed us once again they aren’t afraid to go on the road in the playoffs.  This is the first postseason match-up between these two since Baltimore defeated New England in the 2012 AFC Championship game during their run to winning the Superbowl.  The Patriots are well-rested coming off their bye week, and look to make it back to a 4th straight Conference championship.  Tom Brady and company finished with the best record in the AFC, but numbers wise these two teams are very similar.  The Pats finished 12th in total offense, the Ravens at 13th.  New England’s defense isn’t top 10 like Baltimore, while Brady out passed Flacco in the regular season.  This is going to be a tough game, and I don’t see it being very high scoring.  Baltimore has a huge advantage on the ground and have to exploit that.  But many doubted Brady early on when they got off to a slow start (for them) and I won’t do that here.  He knows this defense well, and will want revenge for that 2012 knockout.  Give me the top seed to advance in this one. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Panthers @ Seahawks: Two top 10 defenses clash in this NFC battle. Carolina is hot, winners of 5 straight games, playing like the team that made the playoffs a season ago.  Seattle is rested, and look to continue their top rated defense and get a lot out their 9th ranked offense. This won’t be as easy for the Seahawks to win as Carolina’s round 1 win, but I do think the defending champs will get the win.  Proof of that came in their week 8 game, a 13-9 defensive struggle that went the way of the Hawks.  I don’t think this one will be as low scoring as both offenses are in better shape, but the 12th man will be out in force, and this Seattle team is playing like a Superbowl champion looking to repeat.  SEATTLE WINS

Sunday Games

  • Cowboys @ Packers: Two 12 win regular season teams meet up in cold Lambeau this weekend.  Dallas played well in their win over Detroit, but they also benefited from some missed calls including a flag that was picked up on PI that would’ve put the Lions close to the red zone. Aaron Rodgers and company had a week to rest, and now they look to take advantage of their home-field advantage and their 8-0 home record. Dallas did play well on the road, going 8-0 away from home.  So what gives?  There are MVP candidates on both sides, both QBs are hot, and both have capable run games. This is going to be fun, but I think this is comes down to which team I like in big spots, and Aaron Rodgers knows how to come up big in big games, and he has been unbelievable at home.  I think that continues.  GREEN BAY WINS
  • Colts @ Broncos: Before the season, I had this game as a possible AFC Championship game. I love what I saw from the Colts on offense in their win over the Bengals, especially getting Dan Herron and the ground game involved early. Denver is getting used to being here, so a week off did them and their aging QB good.  This could be a shoot out with both high powered offenses, but the biggest change to the Broncos from last season to this is their improvement on defense.  So give me a big stop late at home by Denver, not to mention I think we’re destined for another Brady-Manning match-up. DENVER WINS

NFL: Week 15 Picks

One week closer to the playoffs, and we still don’t have any spots clinched! Which means it’s unofficially the start of the playoffs, and is a testament to parody in the game today, with how even teams are.  Of course there are standouts, with two teams in the NFC (Packers, Cardinals) and two teams in the AFC (Patriots, Broncos) who all have 10 wins apiece.  Add to that 5 other squads with 9 and 3 others with 8, and we have the makings of a very entertaining final 3 weeks of the regular season.

One of my best weeks picking in week 14, going 13-3 to bring my season total up to 131-76. Take a look at my week 15 predictions, and tell me where I am wrong and why I am right!

But first, answer the polls on who you think finish with the top seed in each conference!

Thursday Night Football

  • Cardinals @ Rams: St. Louis has a chance to play spoiler, and with the ins they have on their resume this season, they are very capable of doing so.  Not only that, with the inconsistency of the 49ers, the Rams have a chance to not finish last in the powerhouse West, which would be huge for a young team.  As for Arizona, this is a must win game.  A loss and Seahawks win would mean a tie atop the division with a week 16 matchup in Seattle awaiting the.  The Cardinals have already lost to the champs, so a loss here and a loss next week could mean no playoffs at all, despite an early season head start that had them looking like a shoo in for a top 2 seed.  After a couple rocky games after losing Carson Palmer, the Cardinals got back on track last week, and I think they do secure the win to keep a hold of the West before heading into 12th man territory. ARIZONA WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Steelers @ Falcons: It’s a game of teams in very different divisions.  Pittsburgh is in the most competitive division in the league, while Atlanta is in the only division where no team will finish above .500.   The Falcon’s offense isn’t the problem, which we saw in the 2nd half on Monday night against the Packers, it’s defense is.  The Steelers have shown flashes of dominance on offense, but are pretty balanced and can run you out of the stadium with Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. I think the consistency on both side of the football, and ability to control the time of possession will get the Steelers the crucial road win to keep the AFC North that much more up for grabs in the final 2 weeks of the season. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington is terrible, while New York is less so.  The Giants snapped their 7-game slide with a dominating performance against Tennessee on the road.  The Redskins losing skid grew to 5, despite benching RGIII.  While both teams would benefit from losing out at this point, barring a tie, someone has to win, and I think the Giants at home can have another week 14 type performance to pick up their 5th win of the season. NEW YORK WINS
  • Dolphins @ Patriots: Without a win in New England, the Dolphins are out of the playoff picture.  Too many teams already have 8 wins to put the math in their favor.  Miami saw a lot of good things from their QB Ryan Tannehill to make them think next year is the year to make a run, but I think they’ve run out of steam.  The Patriots at home are always tough, but it’s December and it’s Tom Brady.  So give me the home team to get win number 11 and stay in the conversation for a 1st round bye and home-field throughout. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Raiders @ Chiefs: Oakland has two wins… I know I’m shocked too.  They upset the 49ers a week ago for that 2nd win, but I don’t see them getting their 3rd win this week. Maybe the Chiefs will finally throw a TD to a wide-receiver this week.  I won’t hold my breath. But I do think they will get  the win, and I expect another nice day for Jamaal Charles. KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Texans @ Colts: The AFC South was a two team race from week 1, and it comes down to this game in Indianapolis.  A Colts win gives them their 2nd straight division crown.  A Texans win keeps the crack in the door open for another week.  Andrew Luck wasn’t  great in their win over the Browns last week, and face another tough defensive test in the one and only JJ Watt.  I love Luck and the Colts as a whole, so give me the home team to lock up their playoff spot this week. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Bengals @ Browns: It’s officially time for Johnny Football in Cleveland.  Brian Hoyer has been benched for this pivotal game for the Browns, who must beat the Bengals to have a shot at the playoffs.  It’s been a great season for Cleveland no matter what, but a loss would almost guarantee no postseason.  As for the Bengals, they laid an egg a week ago, giving everyone else a shot at overtaking them in the AFC North.  But they hold the edge, and seem to follow up bad losses with wins, so I think they overcome the QB controversy on the road. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Jaguars @ Ravens: Jacksonville has quite the defense to grow with next season.  But they are still a young and growing team.  Baltimore has been in this position before, in a playoff push.  They’ve had some good stretches, that have been halted by bad losses.  I think they continue to keep their postseason hopes alive at home.  Look for a big game from Joe Flacco. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Packers @ Bills: Let’s be honest, the Packers are the best team in the NFL right now.  Sure they aren’t as dominant on the road as they are at home, but they’re still pretty darn good away from Lambeau.  And playing in cold weather of Buffalo will be almost like being home, so I expect good things for Green Bay this week.  As I’ve said all season, the Bills have been very impressive, and have kept themselves in the playoff conversation all season.  But I think that comes to an end here.  Aaron Rodgers is just too good. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Buccaneers @ Panthers: Cam Newton is OUT after suffering back fractures (similar to Tony Romo) in his car accident earlier in the week. So Derek Anderson gets the start.  So that means an easier time for the Bucs, but the Panthers are still better than Tampa, even in a down year for them.  They broke out a week ago thanks to a big performance from the usually quiet Jonathan Stewart.  So look for the running game to be big and the defense to be brought to life at home. CAROLINA WINS

Sunday 4/4:25PM Games

  • Jets @ Titans: Neither of these teams want to win this week, let’s be honest.  They’re two of the teams in the running for the number 1 draft pick.  But someone is going to win, and I think it’s going to be the Jets.  The run game has a chance to do damage, and the Titans have no real threats on offense to contest with time of possession battle New York should win. NEW YORK WINS
  • Broncos @ Chargers: This is a better game than I thought it would be while the Chargers were losing 3 straight including 2 in the division.  One of those losses came the Broncos, who were unable to runaway with the AFC West, though it’s just a formality at this point.  CJ Anderson is taking the Broncos to another level and it’s made Denver that much more dangerous.  A win locks up the division, and you know Peyton Manning and company want that as soon as possible. DENVER WINS
  • Vikings @ Lions: Calvin Johnson is heating up at the right time, and boy did the Lions need it. They’d been struggling offensively, letting the Packers take control of the division.  Minnesota has been up and down all year, but must be commended for playing .500 football without their starting QB and starting running back all season.  That being said, I think Detroit keeps their wild card hopes alive with a home victory over their NFC North foes.  DETROIT WINS
  • 49ers @ Seahawks: The loser of this match-up is out of the running for the NFC West crown.  If the Niners lose, they’d also be in jeopardy of missing out on the playoffs all together. The Legion of Boom is back in full force and after San Francisco was shutdown by the lowly Raiders a week ago, there’s little faith that they can go into Seattle and outscore the defending Superbowl champions. SEATTLE WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Cowboys @ Eagles: How big is this game?  Well, both teams enter action with identical 9-4 records, with Philly just ahead of Dallas in the NFC East by virtue of their Thanksgiving day beat down of the Cowboys.  Philly all but ensures a second straight division crown with a victory, while big D would be in a tough battle for a wild card spot.  We know a good team is going to be left out of the NFC playoffs because of the NFC South winner getting a spot with a .500 or lower record.  The loser of this game could be that team that is left out if push comes to shove.  If Philly can limit the turnovers, I think they take this game at home.   PHILADELPHIA WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Saints @ Bears: I liked both of these teams heading into the season, but both have been huge disappointments.  Drew Brees just doesn’t look like the guy of the past few, Jimmy Graham has been shut down, and with no run game, they’ve been very one dimensional.  Jay Cutler’s big off-season deal looks like a bigger mistake than I thought it was when it happened.  He’s got two of the best receivers in the game, but hasn’t used them efficiently all season.  And neither team’s defense is anything to write home about. So who wins?  New Orleans still has a shot at the playoffs, which is is just disgusting.  The bears haven’t been great at home.  So despite the strange showing by the Saints this season, I think they see a chance with Carolina losing Cam Newton, and knowing that the Falcons tend to shoot themselves in the foot, that this division is still very much up for grabs.  Expect Brees to play like that this week.  NEW ORLEANS WINS

NFL: Week 12 picks

The playoff push heats up as action enters week 12, and we’ve got a lot more great games this week.

98-63 after 11 weeks. Here are my next batch of picks.  It’s the Panthers and Steelers on their bye this week.

Thursday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Raiders: It’s not a good game, but we have an AFC West match-up to start week 12.  The Chiefs are feeling pretty good about themselves as they are tied for the division lead with the Broncos.  The Raiders are… well… the Raiders.  Their march to history continues. KANSAS CITY WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Browns @ Falcons: Atlanta is somehow leading the NFC South despite a 6-game losing streak this season.  Cleveland is still in the playoff conversatgion, but hurt themselves with a loss against Houston a week ago.  I like what Cleveland does better than Atlanta.  THey are more consistent on both sides of the ball.  So despite this being a home game for the Falcons, give me the Browns on the road.  CLEVELAND WINS
  • Titans @ Eagles: Philly is coming off an ugly road loss to the Packers, while the Titans are coming off a home loss to the Steelers.  Mark Sanchez has been okay filling in for Nick Foles, but needs more from the run game. I think Tennessee is a good remedy for their ills, so give me the home team in this one. PHILADELPHIA WINS
  • Lions @ Patriots: What a great early match-up.  The Pats have rebounded from a slow start to being one of the two, three best teams in the league.  The Lions have cooled off a bit after a slow start, specifically on offense.  Detroit will need their top rated defense on the road to slow down the Pats, and they very may well do so.  But I still like the Pats in a close one at home. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Packers @ Vikings: The Packers are hot… at home.  They’ve got a lot of games left on the road and have been a different team away from the Frozen Tundra where they look unbeatable.  Minnesota has a good season without Adrian Peterson in the back field, and starting a rookie QB in Teddy Bridgewater for the majority of the season.  They’re home so Minnesota won’t go quietly, but I can’t pick against MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers here. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Jaguars @ Colts: The Jaguars are just looking to the draft and the off-season at this point, while the Colts look to rebound off a blowout loss to the Pats in week 11.  Andrew Luck is having a fantastic season, but needs more out of the run game, which was hurt this week when Ahmad Bradshaw was placed on IR.  But with seeding to play for, I expect Indianapolis to have a fairly easy time with Jacksonville at home. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Bengals @ Texans: Cincinnati is lucky to still hold a lead, however slim, in the AFC North.  But they can’t have any more let downs, even against a pretty good team like they play this week. JJ Watt is keeping Houston in the conversation and with this game being in Texans territory, the Bengals have their work cut out for them, though I do like them to get a big road win. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Jets @ Bills: It’s a big game for the Bills, but this isn’t even happening when it’s supposed to!  Crazy snowfall in Buffalo has forced the game to be moved to Monday… in Detroit! I like the possible playoff team even after the Jets finally picked up a win before their bye.  The run game for the Bills finds ways to get the job done even with injuries, and Sammy Watkins has been one of the most impressive rookies in the league.   BUFFALO WINS
  • Buccaneers @ Bears: This is maybe the worst game of the week.  Both teams are bad despite many thinking both would challenge for the playoffs.  The Bucs don’t do anything well except when they decide to throw the ball in the direction of rookie standout Mike Evans.  As for Chicago, they finally snapped a long losing streak last week against the Vikings, but even that one wasn’t super impressive.  Alshon Jeffery is questionable for the Bears, but they have better offensive weapons even without him than Tampa Bay, so I think they pick up a 2nd straight victory. CHICAGO WINS

Sunday 4/4:25PM Games

  • Cardinals @ Seahawks: How big is this game? An Arizona win goes a long way to locking up the NFC West, and makes the Cardinal the first team in the NFL to get to 10 wins.  A Seahawks win keeps the door in the division open, and keeps pressure on teams like the 49ers, Cowboys and Packers for a Wild Card spot. Going straight off those reasons, you’d say Seattle needs this game way more than Arizona.  But the Seahawks are the defending champs and know what it takes to put a run together.  The Cardinals have been around the playoff picture of a few years now, but with a young QB at the helm, this win would do huge things for their confidence.  Arizona has been consistently good and don’t have any off-the-field issues clouding things. So I’m taking a chance with the red birds in 12 man territory.   ARIZONA WINS
  • Rams @ Chargers: St Louis has made it tough on most opponents this season, despite having a tough schedule and losing Sam Bradford in the preseason.  I mean look at the Rams wins over Seahawks, 49ers and the Broncos last week.  As for the Chargers, they finally got a win after a rough stretch.  I think they build off that and keep pressure on the top heavy AFC West. SAN DIEGO WINS
  • Dolphins @ Broncos: This is a huge game with playoff implications.  Miami took a big step a week ago with a win over the Bills to break a tie with them, while Denver took a big step back against the Rams.  I like what the Dolphins have done all year, but I can’t see Peyton Manning having a second straight bad game, and the Broncos are so much better at home.  DENVER WINS
  • Redskins @ Niners: Like many slow starters, the 49ers have rebounded and fought their way back into the playoff hunt.  Washington continues to struggle and have questions about RGIII.  So give me the home team to stay on pace in the West. SAN FRANCISCO WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Cowboys @ Giants: Every-time questions have surfaced abut Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin, the Giants have rebounded and went on long runs.  They’d have to win out and hope for a lot of help for that to happen this year, but with many of their remaining games at home, and a softer schedule added to games with the Eagles and this week’s opponent, never say never.  But they have to start with a win over the Boys.  The defense has to find a way to stop DeMarco Murray, who’s rested after their bye.  And Manning needs to look like the guy from the 49ers game that drove down the field like no one was trying to stop them in their opening drive, and not the guy who ended up with 5 interceptions.  Something that could help is getting Rashad Jennings going in his second game back.  I keep going on faith and I’m taking another big leap taking the G-men here in week 12. NEW YORK WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Ravens @ Saints: Both teams need this game big-time. Baltimore is playing in the most competitive division in football, with all teams with at least 6 wins through 11 weeks.  New Orleans is surprisingly in the worst division, with no teams over .500.  and they find themselves behind the Falcons, a team that lost 6 straight at one point this season.  So while I think the Ravens are a better overall team, I think Drew Brees and company find a way at home to turn things around. NEW ORLEANS WINS

NFL: Halfway to the Finish Line… Who are the pretenders, and who are the contenders?

I cannot believe we are here already. 9 weeks down. The playoff picture is starting to take shape.

So who has themselves in prime position, who has work to do and who is on the clock?  Here is a breakdown by division of how all 32 teams look midway through the season.

AFC EAST (Remember when we all thought Tom Brady was done?)

  1. New England Patriots (7-2): Since being blown out in week 4, the Pats have won 5 straight, 4 of those by double digits.  They made easy work of the of 3 teams that could be in the playoffs, including a 22-point victory over the Broncos last week.  Tom Brady is top 5 in passing yards in a season where Rob Gronkowski came in off injury and Julian Edelman was leading the team in receiving yards early.   It took a couple weeks for them to figure things out, and now here they are, atop the AFC once again.  It’s almost like in the NBA when everyone calls out the Spurs for being too old, and they go and win the championship.  Maybe we should stop underestimating Brady and Belichick?
  2. Buffalo Bills (5-3): They’ve lost their top running back, their 2nd back is banged up and yet here they are, fighting for a wild card spot.  A big reason why is their defense.  They’re 6th in points per game in the league and are a +7 in turnover differential.  Add to that a steady progression from rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins to a big play threat, the ability to close out games and decent production from QBs EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton (yes that Kyle Orton).  If this team wants to stay in the conversation, they have to continue their strong defensive presence and get Fred Jackson back.
  3. Miami Dolphins (5-3): Ryan Tannehill has taken a step.  It’s in the right direction, but I’m not ready to say it’s a step that puts him in the next tier of quarterbacks step yet.  His decision making has gotten much better, as has his accuracy, all things you want to see as your franchise starter gets older.  Losing Knowshon Moreno was big, but Lamar Miller has done a good job picking up the slack.  They find ways to win, and just demolished the once high flying Chargers to the tune of 37-0.  Like the Bills, their defense is where they make money, and of the two teams, I think they have a better shot at a wild card spot coming off an 8-8 record a year ago.  They’re no worse than a season ago.
  4. New York Jets (1-8): 8 straight losses with no hope on the horizon.  Geno Smith is on the bench. Eric Decker hasn’t been the addition they hoped for.  Their defense has been awful and the run game has been abandoned.  Things are so bad for the Jets that fan put their money together to buy a “Fire Idzik” billboard (their GM).  Could Rex Ryan be out at the end of the season?  Time will tell, but they’re fighting hard for a very high draft pick, and not the playoffs like I thought they would be this season.

AFC NORTH (Who would’ve thought all these teams would be above .500?)

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2-1): They’ve been inconsistent since coming out of their week 4 by with a record of 3-0.  Inconsistency is bad in any sport, but it’s very bad for Cincy this year, as they can’t afford a slip in the only top-to-bottom over .500 division in football.  Andy Dalton has shown flashes of deserving the big 6-year $115 million contract he got in the off-season.  But again, inconsistency is an issue.  Hopefully AJ Green is over his injury issues, because everyone knows how lethal he is in the passing game, and putting a confident Mohammad Sanu, who stepped up for Green in his absence, next to him is huge.
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3): 12 TDs in two games. Historic numbers.  That’s what Ben Roethlisberger and company have put up of late to get back into the division champion conversation.  Pittsburgh is still very inconsistent.  They started out 3-3, and despite their 3 game win streak, the Steelers defense is nowhere near the “steal curtain” of old. It’s more like a bead curtain.  It’s easy to outscore your opponents, until it’s not.  Can they keep it up?  Yes.  Will they?  Who knows.
  3. Cleveland Browns (5-3): So… we all saw this coming right?  The Browns are 2 games over .500 despite not getting much from Ben Tate on the ground, an oft injured Jordan Cameron and a QB controversy heading into the season.  They’ve been impressive, finding ways to win games late that they would’ve lost in years past.  Brian Hoyer has gotten better at late game decision making and has his team looking at winning it’s most games in a while.
  4. Baltimore Ravens (5-4): After looking like they’d turned a corner, Baltimore has lost two straight in the division, finding themselves momentarily in the basement.  The positive for this team?  They have games left in the division and it’s close, so it won’t take long to jump back into the top.  But they can’t be so inconsistent on defense.  The offense without Ray Rice hasn’t really skipped a beat, so if they can get some more stops, they will be in it til the end.

AFC SOUTH (Indianapolis is starting to pull away)

  1. Indianapolis Colts (6-3): After an 0-2 start, the Colts have righted the ship in a huge way.  Andrew Luck leads the league in passing yards, with a healthy 3,000 plus already! So you wouldn’t be surprised to know they have the best total offense because of it,which has helped cover up their middle of the pack total team defense.  Those numbers are a bit skewed at 18 after allowing over 600 total yards to Pittsburgh in week 8, but it is what it is.  They already beat Houston once, so in affect have a 3 game lead, and with how they’re playing, I think they’re easily on their way to another division crown.
  2. Houston Texans (4-5):  The good news?  JJ Watt is a beast and they’ve already doubled their win total from a year ago.  The bad news. they are in the same division as the Colts, and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the greatest replacement for Matt Schaub, which has led to him being benched in favor of Ryan Mallett.  But they are still in the conversation without any real production out of number 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, so there is room for improvement.  Add better days from offensive weapons Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, and I see them hovering around .500 the rest of the way.
  3. Tennessee Titans (2-6): They’re in the bottom third of the league on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football. So frankly, I don’t know how they have two wins (one of which came against Jacksonville).  Two of their losses were by a combined 3 points, which shows a lack of late game execution, which reeks of bad coaching and bad personnel.  Delanie Walker might be the lone guy that’s having a representative season for Tennessee.  And after a 7-9 season a year ago, there was a place for improvement, and they haven’t and look like they won’t even get back to a similar record this year.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8): They’re not good, but I have to give the Jags some credit.  They aren’t rolling over on a weekly basis.  They took down the Browns for their first win in wee 7. Things weren’t made easy for the Bengals and Dolphins following that win.  Denard Robinson has proven to be a very good starting running back and Blake Bortles has shown some glimpses as the 4th pick in the 2014 draft.  So while the record will again put them in the running for a top pick, there are at least signs of talent at skill positions in Jacksonville.

AFC WEST (Denver might start to run away with this one)

  1. Denver Broncos (6-2): Peyton Manning is still really good, but even he couldn’t lead his team past the red hot Patriots.  But at 6-2, they’re still in prime position to make a deep playoff run despite a very difficult schedule.  The difference between last year’s Broncos and this year’s… the defense.  A bad showing against New England not withstanding, off-season acquisitions are doing big things for this team on both sides of the football.  This offense is so good, Wes Welker is now the 4th option. Think about that.  I’m not worried about this team, and even though they haven’t run away with the division, the Chargers have dropped and they can do no worse than tying the season series with both them and the Chiefs.
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (5-3): The defense hasn’t allowed more than 26 points in a game, and that came week 1.  Jamal Charles continues to have the ability to break out on any day.  Alex Smith isn’t lighting up the stat sheet, but he’s done enough to keep them in the conversation in the division.  This team was never going to repeat the 9-0 start from a year ago, but they’ve responded from a slow start, and can still make a play at a wild card spot, if not the division.
  3. San Diego Chargers (5-4): This team was 5-1 and looked like a top 2, top 3 team in the league.  Now they’re on a 3-game slid that’s seen them score 3 TDs in the past 8 quarters of football.  The defense can’t live up to that, but it’s hard to outscore 35-plus point efforts as well.  So if this team wants to get back in the conversation, both sides of the football need to improve and fast.
  4. Oakland Raiders (0-8): They may never win again.  This team has yet to show me any reason to ever pick them.  Charles Woodson called it early, and it never sparked a fire.  They’re the worst team in the league, but could always fall into a win, and could lose that title to a Jets or Jaguars team.  But I doubt that happens.

NFC EAST (Is this division really as “strong” as the records suggest?)

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (6-2): They’re well on their way to a possible 2nd straight division crown.  But a couple of big injuries in week 9 could derail their Superbowl aspirations.  Nick Foles is set to be out 6-8 weeks with a broken collarbone, while DeMeco Ryans is out for the season with a torn Achilles.  The latter could prove more costly, as Philly at least has a backup QB in Mark Sanchez who has proven he can help lead a team deep into the playoffs.  But if they want to survive the injuries, the run game has to pick up the slack.  So this team will only go as far as LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles can run, in conjunction with Sanchez limiting the mistakes.
  2. Dallas Cowboys (6-3):  Just when you thought this might be their season, Tony Romo goes down.  DeMarco Murray is on a record pace on the round, but with his injury history, how much more can you ask from him?  Brandon Weedon wasn’t horrible with Cleveland, but you’re not going far with him either.  You’ve got to hope you can get Romo back after the bye week in week 12, while hoping teams like the Packers, Panthers, Seahawks or 49ers don’t get hot and steal a wildcard spot.
  3. New York Giants (3-5): The G-men were feeling good about themselves after a 3-game win streak that saw them score 30-plus to get them above the .500 mark at 3-2.  But it’s been downhill from there.  Eli Manning hasn’t thrown an interception since week 4, and has just 5 all season. But the injuries are piling up and Manning has no real deep threat.  They’ve put themselves behind the 8-ball, but with games left with both the Eagles and Cowboys at home, to go with some softer games in the 2nd half, it’ll be tough, but they don’t have any wiggle room if they want to make a real run for the playoffs.
  4. Washington Redskins (3-6): RGIII came back, for better or worse and it didn’t make them better.  The former Rookie of the Year looked slow and out of it in his return, and I didn’t understand bringing him back when they did.  Colt McCoy (yes he still exists) looked pretty good and got them a win against Dallas. I would’ve run him out there again.  They’re the worst team in the division, even with how banged up the Giants are.

NFC NORTH (This was always going to be a fight between Detroit and Green Bay)

  1. Detroit Lions (6-2): They boast the best team defense in football.  You’ve been looking for this team to put all their talent together for a while now, and this seems to be the year, led by the D.  But that being said, their offense has been off lately. Calvin Johnson has missed time, the run game isn’t what you want and they’ve played games using their 4th string tight-end.  But when your defense is top 5 in rushing and passing defense, it tends to hide offensive question marks.  If they can get Megatron healthy, this team is going to be very dangerous in the playoffs.
  2. Green Bay Packers (5-3): They might be in 2nd place, but they’re the best team in this division.  Green Bay got off to a slow start, but while defense has carried the current leader, the Pack is a much more balanced team.  Aaron Rodgers is an MVP candidate again.  And if Eddie Lacy could ever be the consistent threat they need on the ground, I don’t know how you beat this team.
  3. Chicago Bears (3-5): You boast probably the best wide-receiver combination in football to go with a top 5 running back, and yet they find themselves under .500.  The defense, aside from allowing a 51 spot to New England in their last game has been pretty good.  The issue is on offense, where there is questions of a lack of trust between Jay Cutler and his targets of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.  And when there is questioning of each other in the media, it’s hard to recover from.
  4. Minnesota Vikings (3-5): considering they lost their starting QB and their All-pro running back early on, Mike Zimmer has his team competing.  Even with Matt Cassell and Adrian Peterson, I don’t think this team would be much better than 3-5, but they’ve learned that Teddy Bridgewater is a capable starter.  In a tough division like the North, at least they’ve shown they can play with teams outside.  Now they just have to figure out how to make games in the division close.  And with how bad Chicago looks, finishing 3rd is in the realm of possibility, especially with two left against the Bears.

NFC SOUTH (The most disappointing division in football?)

  1. New Orleans Saints (4-4): It’s been a long trek back to .500 for the Saints after an 1-3 start.  Drew Brees’ low is 17 points scored… that on the road against the Cowboys.  So the offense has been pretty good.  But this team is only going to go as far as the defense.  They are very lucky to be in a division having a down year top-to-bottom.  Having a game up on Carolina already for me gives them a clear path to the division crown.
  2. Carolina Panthers (3-5-1): So I think their defense forgot how to play… well defense.  Carolina finds itself top 3 in points allowed and the bottom 3rd of the league in total yards allowed.  Add to that, a banged up Cam Newton, and an offense that finds themselves in similar spots in offense as defense.  All ingredients for a below .500 record.  And nothing I’ve seen of late has me thinking they can rebound in the second half of the season here.
  3. Atlanta Falcons (2-6): Remember when this was a good team?  Yeah, neither do I. A 2-0 start, the Falcons look like the 2013-14 Texans that finished the season on a 14-game skid. You know, minus the loss of a quarterback.  Matt Ryan has been healthy, and has had enough weapons to get some wins here.  The issue is on defense.  Their secondary is basically swiss cheese, and the front 7 isn’t any better.  I do think they’ll find a way to win again this season, but it might not be more than once or twice.
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7): Ugliness. I thought they’d be a playoff team.  Nope.  A rotating door at quarterback has shifted back to Josh McCown.  Doug Martin looks like he’s never ran a football.  The defense is atrocious.  Vincent Jackson seems to forget that he’s a load and can out muscle any secondary player.  It’s just bad for the Bucs.

NFC WEST (Arizona far atop the hill, just like we all thought… right?)

  1. Arizona Cardinals (7-1): I give you the best team in the NFC, and it’s not really even close.  They swept the NFC East that currently holds 2 of the 4 best records in the conference.  They survived a couple weeks without their starting quarterback.  Not to mention they’re getting healthy and are consistent on both sides of the ball.  Arizona’s only real issue is that they still have two match-ups with the defending champs, but with how they’ve played, there’s no reason they shouldn’t at least split with them and maintain their led in the division.
  2. Seattle Seahawks (5-3): For a team that entered the year as defending champs, they look nothing like a team capable of a repeat.  Russell Wilson is leading one of the worst passing offenses in football.  Marshawn Lynch is a shell of himself. Percy Harvin, a dynamic offensive weapon, was so distracting they traded him for nothing to the Jets.  And the Legion of Boom has been disappointing to say the least.
  3. San Francisco 49ers (4-5): This team is a mess.  Between off-the-field issues and a lack of a run game to help take pressure of Colin Kaepernick who has his team in the bottom half in passing offense, they find themselves on the outside looking in.  Rumors that Jim Harbaugh is leaving don’t help.  Their only bright spot is their team defense, ranked 2nd in total yards allowed.  What they need is to take advantage of 3 games left with the teams ahead of them, and for Kaepernick to figure some things out offensively, particularly in the red zone.
  4. St. Louis Rams (3-5): I have to give them credit, they don’t quit.  They’ve shown glimpses with getting big leads early over the Cowboys and Seahawks, but then they regress to a 3-5 team by losing both of those leads.  Now they look to play spoiler (as they did against San Fran this week).  Losing your starter just before the season starts is tough.  If they could’ve executed better down the stretch of games, they could be in the conversation for 2nd in this division with a down year from the champs and niners.

So if things continue on the track they are, here are my 12 playoff teams as of now:

NFC

– Arizona, Green Bay, Saints, Philadelphia, Dallas (if Romo comes back quickly) and Detroit

AFC

– New England, Denver, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Miami and Baltimore