NFL: Preseason Predictions and Week 1 Picks

Another year is upon us! The Denver Broncos are the reigning World Champions, and look to repeat with a brand new man under center with the retirement of Peyton Manning. Nope, not Brock Osweiler. And no it’s not Mark Sanchez either.  Another AFC powerhouse in the New England Patriots will also be without their future hall-of-fame quarterback as Tom Brady serves a four game suspension.  Absences and shakeups at the top means a lot can change from last season’s playoff picture.  My team to watch this season will be the Oakland Raiders.

For me, the NFC is where the powerhouses will be in the in the 2016-2017 season.  Carolina is fresh off a Superbowl loss, but were able to keep together their core.  Arizona and Seattle will be there once again in an absolutely loaded NFC West.  Green Bay gets back one of their biggest weapons in Jordy Nelson to go along with what the Packers hope is a reinvigorated Eddie Lacy at running back.  And not to be forgotten are Superbowl vets like Drew Brees and Eli Manning who are looking to regain control of their respective divisions.

NFC Playoff Teams              AFC Playoff Teams

Cardinals                                  Chiefs

Panthers                                   Bengals

Packers                                      Broncos

Giants                                        Colts

Seahawks                                  Jets

Saints                                         Raiders

NFC Championship

  • Cardinals @ Panthers: CAROLINA WINS

AFC Championship 

  • Bengals @ Chiefs: KANSAS CITY WINS

Superbowl XLI

  • Panthers vs Chiefs: CAROLINA WINS

Now that I’ve gotten ahead of myself, here are my week 1 predictions.

Thursday Night Football

  • Panthers @ Broncos: The season kicks off with a rematch of Superbowl XL. Denver will raise their banner, and get their first look at Trevor Siemian at QB.  Cam Newton and company will begin their quest to get back to the Superbowl. The Panthers have put the big loss behind them, and with their core still in tact, they are better prepared for a run than Denver is for their title defense.  The Broncos will still be good, especially if CJ Anderson can continue to grow in the run game.  But I like the Panthers to get the win this time around. CAROLINA WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Buccaneers @ Falcons: The battle for the South gets going quickly with a Bucs team with ambitions of not finishing last in their division, and a Falcons team looking to get back to the playoffs. This is going to be a shoot out with two great offenses going head-to-head.  I simply have more trust in Atlanta during the regular season right now, so I’ll take their defense to make the big stop down the stretch over Tampa Bay. ATLANTA WINS
  • Bills @ Ravens: I see both of these teams being better than they were last season, but not by much.  Buffalo has a higher ceiling right now, especially if Tyrod Taylor can figure out his fumbling problem.  He makes pretty good decisions in the passing game, should get more out of LeSean McCoy this season and has a defense capable for being near the top of the league.  Joe Flacco won’t be without back Justin Forsett, who led the team in rushing the past two season, as previously thought since he has re-signed after being cut days ago. Beyond that, I’m not a fan of the Ravens offense past Mike Wallace and Steve Smith Sr.  I’m going with the AFC in this one. BUFFALO WINS
  • Bears @ Texans: Chicago finished last season in the cellar of the NFC North, while Houston won the AFC South.  I see little evidence to suggest the Bears can get back into relevancy this season, while I think the Texans will lose the division to the Colts once again.  The Bears let Matt Forte walk, as well as the franchise leader in scoring, kicker Robbie Gould. Houston is expected to have their defensive weapon in JJ Watt ready to go, so expect Jay Cutler to feel the pressure all day.  HOUSTON WINS
  • Browns @ Eagles: Both teams will have new starting quarterbacks this season.  Former rookie of the year Robert Griffin III gets a fresh start with Cleveland, while actual rookie Carson Wentz will become the first rookie to start week 1 in Eagles history (ELIAS). The Browns were bottom 10 in total defense and offense last season, resulting in a 3-13 record. Philly hopes their new QB and another year with DeMarco Murray will help get them over the .500 mark and challenge in the East.  Opening at home with these pieces means a week 1 win for the birds.  PHILADELPHIA WINS
  • Raiders @ Saints: Week 1 features a matchup of two teams I think will make the playoffs this season. The Saints defense wasn’t anything to write home about a season ago, allowing at least 20 points in every game but two (17 allowed in each of those).  But Drew Brees had another stellar year, leading the league in passing yards.  New Orleans parted ways with the team’s all-time leader in TD receptions, Marques Colston, but expect big things from Mark Ingram.  Oakland gets another year of Derek Carr and Amari Cooper doing big things in the pass attack.  A lot of moves on defense in the offseason has the Raiders poised for a big season.  That being said, I like the Saints in a tight one at home.  But I will not be surprised at all if Oakland steals one at the Superdome either. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Chargers @ Chiefs: Kansas City’s offense never really looks pretty on paper after Jamaal Charles, but they continue to make it work.  Their defense is one of the league’s best and that will carry them again this season.  The opposite can be said for San Diego.  Philip Rivers has a very good group of pass catchers that should give the Chargers a chance in every game.  Their consistency is always questionable on defense, and in a tough AFC West, they’ll need to figure that out.  I really like the Chiefs this season, they return a lot of key pieces off a second round playoff appearance last year. KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Bengals @ Jets: Here’s another game with two teams I think will see the postseason.  New York hopes their run game will be revitalized with the acquisition of Matt Forte, while getting even more out of Ryan Fitzpatrick than they did a year ago.  I’ve said it before, but it’s time for the Bengals to take the next step. There’s some concern that Cincinnati is lacking depth at defensive end, but they’ve been able to dominate defensively in the past, and I think they can figure it out. It won’t be easy, but I like the Bengals to get a road win off the jump. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Packers @ Jaguars: Aaron Rodgers has his favorite target in Jordy Nelson back.  If he can get 2013-14 Eddie Lacy back, look out for the Packers once again.  Jacksonville’s offense took a step in the right direction last year, and they were much better at home.  But while the Jaguars are still a few pieces away, the Packers are primed to make a deep run through the NFC once again. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Vikings @ Titans: Coming into the season, I thought this was going to be a very good game against two teams looking to prove themselves.  Minnesota is coming off a playoff year where they lost to Seattle in the Wildcard round… by one point at home.  Tennessee on the other hand are coming off a 3-13 season in which they won their first two games. Offense wasnt exactly their issue, with the 2nd ranked running game.  But losing Marcus Mariota didn’t help. I really like the Vikings, but losing Teddy Bridgewater before the start of the season is tough, and now they look to Sam Bradford to keep them afloat in an always competitve NFC North.  Give me the Titans on the ground with a healthy Mariota in week 1. TENNESSEE WINS

Sunday 4/425PM Games

  • Dolphins @ Seawhawks: Miami was one of the more disappointing teams a season ago.  They spent a lot of money on defense in the off-season leading up to last year, and it didn’t do much.  The Dolphins allowed the second most yards a game in the AFC.  Add a bottom 10 offense, and you can see why they finished below .500 and last in the East. Miami is a case of just hoping their talent will come together all at once (sound familiar with Miami teams?). Seattle had another good season in 2015, though they didn’t look great in the playoffs after two straight Superbowl appearances.  They lost Marshawn Lynch, but return most of their stars on offense and always have the Legion of Boom to fall back on.  This should be one of the easier wins of week 1 for the Hawks. SEATTLE WINS
  • Giants @ Cowboys: If ever there was a year for the New York Giants to run through the NFC East, it’s this one.  Even in their Superbowl seasons they couldn’t win the division.  But with Tony Romo out, and two rookies starting in Dallas and Philadelphia, the Skins are the only other team returning their starter from a year ago. Yes, Kirk Cousins got his team to the playoffs last season, but Eli Manning was the best QB in that division last season, and if his defense can at least be middle of the pack, and not dead last, this should be an easy return to the playoffs.  Dak Prescott was impressive for Dallas in the preseason, but Big Blue has never had problems playing in the lone star state, and I don’t see it being a problem this season either. NEW YORK WINS
  • Lions @ Colts:The worst defense in the AFC last season belonged to the Colts.  Not having a run game again meant they couldn’t sustain drives the way you’d want to mask that. The hope is veteran back Frank Gore can regain some of his old magic along with keeping Andrew Luck healthy.  As for Detroit, they are another case of talent never panning out for an entire season.  And with the retirement of Calvin Johnson, the Lions lose their most consistent and explosive weapon.  It could be another ugly season in Detroit, while I expect a bounce back from Indy. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Patriots @ Cardinals: New England starts the season without Tom Brady and defensive end Rob Ninkovich due to suspensions.  In an improved AFC East, those 4 games without them could be trouble, especially since im not a fan of their rushing attack. Add a hungry and dangerous Cardinals team, and you’ve got a recipe for a week 1 loss.  Arizona’s depth on offense is pretty impressive, and their defense should be really good again.  A home win to kick off the season is in the cards for the birds. ARIZONA WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Steelers @ Redskins: Washington got some help on defense in the off-season acquisition of Josh Norman, but I still don’t think it’s going to be enough.  The skins do get a break on defense since Pitt will be without top flight running back Le’Veon Bell who is suspended to start the season.  But the Steelers have more than enough big play threats and I don’t know if Kurt Cousins can replicate what he did last season. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Rams @ 49ers: Blaine Gabbert gets the starting job in San Francisco as that organization looks to distance itself from off-the-field stories.  They open up against a Rams team ready to take the next step.  The newly name Los Angeles Rams biggest issue was inconsistency last season, beating the Cardinals and Seahawks, but losing to the Bears at home.  They’ve got a top flight running back and a better than average defense.  It’s going to be another long season for the Niners. LOS ANGELES WINS

Well that’s it.  Time to sit back, relax and wait for kickoff! Enjoy week 1 everyone.

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NFL: Power Rankings Heading Down the Home Stretch

And then there was one.  Carolina stands alone as the league’s lone remaining undefeated team after starting the week with a Thanksgiving Day win.  Now that the calendar has flipped to December, the race for the postseason heats up.  Here is my look at the 10 best teams, and who the three worst teams are, as we march towards Superbowl 50.

Top 10 Teams Through Week 12

  1. Carolina Panthers (11-0): I would put them at the top even if New England had remained undefeated. Why? Because Carolina has gotten better every week dating back to late last season.  Early in the season they struggled on offense, but their defense has been on point all year, currently ranked second overall just behind the Broncos. Add a top five run game, an extremely confident QB and a balanced passing attack, and you’ve got the clear favorite to come out of the NFC right now.  There are more experienced teams vying to bring them down, but it’ll be hard to do it before the second round, as they will end the season with one of the two byes.
  2. New England Patriots (10-1):  They’ve been close to a loss for a few weeks, and it took overtime for them to finally get one.  But to write them off as some have after their loss to Denver on Sunday night is ridiculous.  They have suffered a lot of injuries on offense, which is why they have been on a bit of a “slide” of late.  But they still have their most important offense weapon in Tom Brady healthy, and Rob Gronkowski’s injury wasn’t as bad as previously thought.  They could lose a bye with the recent issues, but I wouldn’t put it past them to rally and hold on even with the injuries.  And with a huge lead in the AFC East, something catastrophic would have to happen for them not to make the playoffs. They were knocked down in week 12, but they are still the best team in the AFC until they get knocked out.
  3. Denver Broncos (9-2): It remains to be seen if Peyton Manning has been “Wally Pipped” by Brock Osweiler, but what I do know, is the Broncos offense is finally on par with the defense this season.  Sure the run game has picked up, but it doesn’t hurt when the QB isn’t turning the ball over as much as Manning was before he got hurt.  Not only was taking down the undefeated Patriots great for this team’s morale, it also means they still have a shot at the number 1 seed in the AFC.  They found a way to go 8-0 with a less than spectacular QB performance in the first half.  With a younger, hungry QB, this team could go very, very far this season.  
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (9-2): A week 12 loss helped turn the tide after a two-game skid ended their run at perfection.  Other than on loss which was due to poor offense, the other poor defense, Cincinnati has been consistently great on both sides of the ball.  They’ve shown the ability to absolutely dominate, and win the close games.  They have a shot a bye, with a game against their biggest competition, Denver, ahead of them.  Andy Dalton  is having the best season of his young career, something he and the organization need to continue through the playoffs after so many first round exits.  Despite being ranked ninth, the run game has been up and down, and they need it to be more consistent.  But they’ve shown they can play with anyone, and look primed to get the second round monkey off their back if they continue doing what they’ve been doing, and stay healthy and hungry.
  5. Arizona Cardinals (9-2): It’s amazing what this team has been the past two seasons with a healthy Carson Palmer.  15-2 as the Cardinals starter, with a TD-INT ratio of 38-12, the 13-year veteran is doing a great job leading this team. Larry Fitzgerald is having a renaissance.  Their two losses were the only two games where they really let down their guard and played down to their opponents, showing when on point, they can be and have beaten everybody.  Arizona boasts the top ranked total offense and fifth defense in the league, proving they are a legit title contender if they can stay healthy.
  6. Minnesota Vikings (8-3): It’s amazing the difference Adrian Peterson has made on this team.  A rejuvenated rushing attack has lessened the pressure on second year QB Teddy Bridgewater, who really hasn’t been impressive at all this season.  This team truly lives by the ground and pound mentality, relying heavily on it’s top ranked rushing offense, and it’s top 10 defense.  They’re better stopping the pass, which is key in the North with the likes of Matt Stafford and Aaron Rodgers.  They’re a game up in the division while currently holding a better division record than Green Bay.  Their last four games are tough, with two against the best of the NFC West, and a week 17 match-up that could determine the division against the Packers.  But if the run game can continue eating up clock, and Bridgewater can find a way to be even a bit better than mediocre, they are in the drivers seat in the North.
  7. Green Bay Packers (7-4): Despite their poor play of late, this team is still a force to be reckoned with.  A bright spot in their Thanksgiving Day loss was the return of Eddie Lacy, who had been a disappointment this season.  Aaron Rodgers found success early on without his favorite target in Jordy Nelson, throwing to the likes of James Jones.  But for some reason, things haven’t clicked on offense for late.  The Packers QB isn’t turning the ball over, but his completion percentage is down and with the absence of a consistent run game, the offense has become one dimensional.  They know how to win, but one big worry for this team right now is Rodgers health.  He said he lost feeling in his fingers against Chicago, so you have to wonder how that will manifest itself going forward.
  8. Kansas City Chiefs (6-5): They’ve won five straight, and are doing exactly what I said they needed to do when I looked ahead to the second half:

    Five of their final eight are against below .500 teams, and the three that aren’t, are the teams ahead of them in the West.  They can move up quickly if Alex Smith can continue to spread the wealth in the pass game and avoid the late turnovers that have plagued him.

    Smith hasn’t been reckless with the football and the team is scoring points in a major way.  When they started 1-5, the most points they’d managed to score were 28 against Green Bay, but they then allowed 38.  During their five-game winning streak, Kansas City has score no fewer than 23 points, while allowing a total of 61 points.  And with the schedule still in their favor down the stretch, and a struggling AFC, this team is primed for a wildcard spot.

  9. Seattle Seahawks (6-5): They’re finally starting to look like the back-to-back NFC Champs that they are.  Russell Wilson had one of his best performances in week 11, throwing for five touchdowns. The defense still wasn’t what it’s been, but if the offense can look even close to what it did last week for the stretch run, they’ll make it to the playoffs in this season’s NFC.  At this point, they’re only competing with two teams for the wild card (Atlanta and Green Bay).
  10. Houston Texans (6-5):  After making the Dolphins look like an offensive juggernaut in week seven, the defense has gotten back on track in a big way.  This team was built around their defense and run game, but the loss of Arian Foster meant the passing game needed to step up.  And after many changes at quarterback, Brian Hoyer has done enough to lock up the job for now.  Four straight wins have put them in a position not only to make the playoffs, but to win the AFC South.  And we’ve seen what JJ Watt can do in the playoffs, so the AFC should be nervous.

Three Fighting for Number 1

30. Tennessee Titans (2-9)

31. San Francisco 49ers (3-8)

32. Cleveland Browns (2-8)