NFL: Week 14 Picks

Pretty amazing that it’s week 14 and nothing is really close to being decided as the playoff approach.

I went 9-7 in my week 13 picks, bringing my season total up to 118-73.

Thursday Night Football

  • Cowboys @ Bears: Dallas is coming off a thanksgiving day loss to the Eagles which saw them drop back in the NFC East. Chicago was also blown out on Thursday by their divisional foes, the Lions. So who bounces back? Give me the emote consistent team in Dallas to get the road win. Romo and company aren’t historically good in December, but I think they shake off those demons and ensure their first winning record since 2009, also their last postseason appearance. DALLAS WINS

Sunday 1pm Games

  • Steelers @ Bengals: Questions surrounding the health of Ben Roethlisberger throws  wrench into this game (reports are he has broken his wrist).  But with the struggles of the Bengals (who still managed to win their last two and get a lead in the tightest division in football), this game won’t be easy. I still like Cincinnati at home, especially if Andy Dalton can avoid the redone turnovers. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Rams @ Redskins: The St Louis Rams have impressed me this season more than their 5-7 record might dictate.  But look at some of their wins coming against the 49ers, Broncos and Seahawks.  And now they’re coming off a 52-0 dismantling of the Raiders (who of course stink but still). As for the Redskins, they continue to sleep walk to another high draft pick and questions around who will be their quarterback next year rage on.  Give me the Rams and their impressive defense to move to 6-7 in fairly easy fashion. ST LOUIS WINS
  • Giants @ Titans: The best thing for New York to do would be to lose out, because changes are coming whether they win again this season or not.  A 3-13 record isn’t want you want, but it’s better for draft purposes than say a 5-11 or 6-10. But the Titans are terrible and not in a Jags only had 1 win kind of way. So give me Eli Manning pride to snap their 7-game slide. NEW YORK WINS
  • Panthers @ Saints: A win for Carolina means they snap a 6-game losing streak and remain in the NFC South division chase. If New Orleans can get the job done, they will keep pressure on the Falcons and step closer to respectability record wise. You’d think Carolina would wake up eventually, but it’s hard to win on the road against the Saints. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Jets @ Vikings: It took 13 weeks, but the Jets finally realized they are allowed to run the football, putting up over 200 yards on the ground against a good Miami Dolphins team.  Unfortunately for New York, they started Geno Smith in favor of Mike Vick, to see what they could get from him, didn’t utilize him enough and still lost their 10th game.  As for Minnesota, the Vikings 5-7 record isn’t bad considering their lack of offense without Adrian Peterson and a rookie under center. I truly think Tedddy Bridgewater can get himself going against the Jets non-existent secondary at home. MINNESOTA WINS
  • Ravens @ Dolphins: A win for Baltimore means they gain on someone in the AFC North by virtue of the Steelers/Bengals match-up (unless there’s a tie). The Ravens have been very up-and-down this season, losing a tough one a week ago late against San Diego.  New England’s loss a to Green Bay helped the Dolphins pick up a game in the AFC East thanks to their win over New York.  So this is a big game for both teams who look to secure at least wild card spots.  I like Baltimore on the road because they know what it takes down the stretch, while Miami has shown flashes of breaking down. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Colts @ Browns: Brian Hoyer is still the starting quarterback for Cleveland despite many calling for Johnny Manziel. Andrew Luck is still the guy in Indy, and better than both of those guys combined. Sure Cleveland’s defense will be up to the task, but the Colts team is on a different level right now then the Browns are. INDIANAPOLIS WINS
  • Buccaneers @ Lions: The Lions need this one.  The NFC playoff picture is so jumbled with 4 teams in line for a wildcard spot.  The Bucs are bad and could play spoiler, but I don’t see it happening. They don’t do anything particularly well. Mike Evans is their lone star on offense and the Lions defense will be all over that. DETROIT WINS
  • Texans @ Jaguars: The Jaguars showed something, particularity on defense in their comeback win over the Giants a week ago.  But I like Houston in this one.  JJ Watt is a monster, and there wasn’t anyone like that on New York for Jacksonville to contend with. HOUSTON WINS

Sunday 4/4:25 Games

  • Bills @ Broncos: Another game with playoff implications for both teams in the AFC.  Buffalo is still in contention for a playoff spot, jumbled with a number of 7-win teams. Denver could become the first team to 10 wins in the far superior AFC.  The Broncos haven’t been as dominant this season as they were last season, yet I think they are a more complete team, especially with the emergence of CJ Anderson in the backfield. So I don’t think this will be a blowout, but I also don’t think the Broncos will have too much trouble getting to double digit victories. DENVER WINS
  • Chiefs @ Cardinals: Kansas City, like so many other teams, happens to play in a division with a dominant team, and yet is having a playoff worthy season.  Arizona has dipped of late following the loss of Carson Palmer, and needs a win to keep a hold on their once runaway lead in the NFC West.  So which western team makes a statement?  I think the Cardinals find a way to snap their mini skid at home in a low scoring affair.  Look for Bruce Arians comments post game last week in a loss to Atlanta to spark pride (he said they weren’t ready to play a week ago). ARIZONA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Eagles: The Legion of Boom is back and Philly is in position to defend their NFC East crown. The Eagles offense is doing a good job under Mark Sanchez, and the special teams continues to come up big.  But the reigning champs are rounding into shape at the right time, so give me Russell Wilson and company to get a big road win against a team they could play in the postseason, should they get there. SEATTLE WINS
  • 49ers @ Raiders: San Francisco is putting up a good fight for a playoff spot in a tough NFC West.  Oakland is Oakland.  The niners can’t afford a let down, and despite the questions of where their head coach will be next year, I don’t think a let down happens here in week 14. SAN FRANCISCO WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Patriots @ Chargers: San Diego has been a team of runs this season, and they’re latest hot streak has them back in contention not only fr a wild card spot, but they could still win the AFC West.  New England lost a week ago to a very good Packers squad, so it’ll be interesting to see how they rebound from their worst game in nearly more than a month.  I think the inconsistency of the Chargers versus Tom Brady is a huge advantage for the Patriots.  Big road games have never fazed the 3-time Superbowl champ, and I think he rallies his team to a 10th win on Sunday night. NEW ENGLAND WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Falcons @ Packers: As of right now, this is somehow a match-up of division leaders, but it’s not an evenly matched affair.  Atlanta sits atop the NFC South by default, while Green Bay has taken over the NFC North and look like the best team in football. They’re stellar at home, with Aaron Rodgers having not thrown an interception at Lambeau in two years. GREEN BAY WINS
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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

NFL: Week 2 Picks

How great is it to have football back?  And how entertaining were those games?  Answer: VERY.

Huge comebacks, blowouts and injuries galore.  So basically everything happened in week one.

10-6 to start my season.  Not too shabby.  Here’s what I’m thinking goes down in week 2.

Thursday Night Football

  • Steelers @ Ravens: With all the bad press surrounding the Ravens, look for the team on the field to rally together and pick up their first win.  Not to mention Pittsburgh was not impressive in their win over the Browns.  So give me a defensive struggle ending in a home victory. BALTIMORE WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Dolphins @ Bills: An AFC match-up of two teams I thought would be 0-1 for, yet here we are, with one team set to move to 2-0.  Buffalo’s success hinges on their run game, while the Dolphins pass attack is key.  Neither starting quarterback is proven, but right now, give me Ryan Tannehill to lead his squad to a road win, and a perch atop the AFC for another week. MIAMI WINS
  • Lions @ Panthers: Still no word as to whether the Panthers will have starting QB Cam Newton back.  But they’ve shown they can win without him.  However, the Detroit Lions looked like a team ready to finally take the next step in week 1.  They’re healthy and Matthew Stafford played a smart, mistake free game. I’m thinking Detroit moves to 2-0, even if Newton is healthy and on the field. DETROIT WINS
  • Falcons @ Bengals: Both teams looked pretty good on Sunday.  Matt Ryan had maybe the best game of his career in the come-from-behind win over the Saints, while Andy Dalton looked solid.  The difference was the play of the defenses.  Sure Atlanta made the plays to win the game, but the Bengals front-seven were on point from the jump against Baltimore.  Look for Cincy to get their first of many wins at home. CINCINNATI WINS
  • Patriots @ Vikings: Sunday was one of the single worst performances I’ve ever seen out of Tom Brady and the Pats.  And I don’t think the Vikings are as good as they looked.  So what gives?  It’s not often New England has two bad games in a row.  So as long as Brady is healthy, I’m taking the Patriots. NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Saints @ Browns: The offense was great, the defense not so much for New Orleans a week ago.  But expect better things at home, where it’s tough for opponents in the Superdome.  Cleveland looked good in the 2nd half last week, but are without starting running back Ben Tate, and could be without superstar in the making, tight-end Jordan Cameron. Look out for a big day from wide-out Marques Colston for the Saints following a rare fumble that led to the Falcons game-winner last week. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Cowboys @ Titans: Dallas’ defense looked as good as expected… note the sarcasm.  But the real concern is Tony Romo and the offense.  There were no positives, and the Titans at home could prove to be too much to handle.  Give me another win-less week for the NFC East squad. TENNESSEE WINS
  • Cardinals @ Giants: This is a tough one.  The Cardinals offense wasn’t great in week 1.  And the Giants defense, after the 1st quarter, did all it could to keep New York in the game against Detroit.  But the G-Men’s offense looked bad and the Cardinals defense could have a field day. I wouldn’t be surprised if New York finds a way at home, but I’m still taking the Cards in this one. ARIZONA WINS
  • Jaguars @ Redskins:  Eventually Washington will win again.  But I don’t think it happens this week.  Until they figure out how to get RGIII going on the ground again, this offense just isn’t the same as it was a couple years ago.  The Jags defense is much improved and their young guys on offense showed something in week 1, despite losing. JACKSONVILLE WINS

Sunday 4:05/4:25PM Games

  • Seahawks @ Chargers: It would be weird for San Diego to start out 0-2, even after their slow start a year ago.  But the Hawks are just too good.  I would be very surprised if the reigning champs don’t start 2-0 this year.  SEATTLE WINS
  • Rams @ Buccaneers: Before the season started, I would’ve said this game would be won by the team who makes the fewest mistakes.  Two very good defenses, but two teams with new QBs.  But the Rams are already in a downfall as they could start their 3rd string quarterback on the road in week 2.  So give me a fairly easy victory for the Bucs, who could be 2-0 by weeks end.  TAMPA BAY WINS
  • Chiefs @ Broncos: Kansas City isn’t as bad as they were good last season, so if this weren’t a road game for them, I’d give them a chance in this one.  But despite almost blowing a 24-0 lead to Indianapolis, the Broncos are too good at home to pick against.  DENVER WINS
  • Jets @ Packers: New York got a huge boost from the run game in their season opening win.  The Packers were blown out by the Seahawks, but they didn’t look horrible doing so.  So as good as the Jets defense is, I can’t go against Aaron Rodgers at home here. GREEN BAY WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Texans @ Raiders: So JJ Watt is still really good.  The Texans offense wasn’t spectacular in week 1, but it didn’t need to be.  Oakland was okay on both ends to open up their season on the road.  But Houston’s defense is better than the Jets, so despite being around their silver and black faithful, give me Houston to start another season 2-0. HOUSTON WINS
  • Bears @ 49ers: Chicago lost a heart-breaker in overtime, while the Niners defense had some fun against Dallas to open their seasons.  San Fran is going to be near the top of the league all season, so give me them to keep pace with the defending champs and move to 2-0. SAN FRANCISCO WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Eagles @ Colts: It took a half for both of these teams to wake up from the off-season.  Luckily for Philly, they were able to recover for a win, while Indy was facing the AFC Champs.  Neither defense showed much in week 1, but at home, Andrew Luck has been great in his young career, so I’m looking for both sides to be 1-1 on the young season by Tuesday morning.  INDIANAPOLIS WINS

 

NFL: Season Preview & Week 1 Picks

Hello again!

I know, I know.  It feels like forever ago that the Seattle Seahawks made easy work of the Denver Broncos in Superbowl XLVIII.  But never fear.  It’s September, which means football is back! 

My 2013-14 season predictions had the Denver Broncos over the Seattle Seahawks.  And here as we enter week 1, I’m just happy I had the matchup correct.

Here’s how I see 2014-15 will go down:

NFC East                                                            AFC East

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

NFC West                                                           AFC West

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

NFC South                                                          AFC South

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

NFC North                                                           AFC North

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

NFC Playoff Teams                                                               

  • Eagles, Packers, Seahawks, Saints, Panthers, 49ers

AFC Playoff Teams

  • Broncos, Patriots, Colts, Bengals, Ravens, Chiefs

NFC Championship Game

  • Packers over Seahawks

AFC Championship Game

  • Broncos over Colts

Superbowl

  • Broncos over Packers

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

Thursday Night Football

  • Packers @ Seahawks: It’s opening night and a rematch of the infamous “game-winning interception.”  It’s also as you read, a preview for my NFC Championship game.  I have the Packers winning in the playoffs, but it is too difficult to win in Seattle, and add the Superbowl ceremony the 12th man will get to experience, give me the Seahawks in a close one. SEATTLE WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Bills @ Bears: The run-game needs to be supreme for Buffalo for this team to have a chance.  But I think even if it is, the Bears are simply a better team on both sides of the ball.  Give me the home team big. CHICAGO WINS
  • Browns @ Steelers:  You have to love an AFC North showdown in week 1.  The Browns enter another season with massive changes to adjust to, while the Steelers come off an 8-8 record.  Pitt doesn’t miss the playoffs two years in a row often, but I think that happens this year.  That being said, the Steelers will take the opener.  PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Bengals @ Ravens: Two teams with good defense, two teams with guys who know how to get their teams to the playoffs.  Only one team has succeed in the postseason.  I’m taking the team that HASN’T succeeded.  Andy Dalton was given a monster deal in the off-season, the defense is healthy this year, and AJ Green is a monster.  It’ll be close, but without Ray Rice, Baltimore is in a tough spot.  CINCINNATI WINS
  • Redskins @ Texans: Can RGIII get back to his Rookie of the Year form?  Washington definitely needs him to get close if they hope to get back to the playoffs.  As for Houston, they made sweeping changes in the off-season following a 14-game losing-streak to end 2013, after many had them making a Superbowl run.  The Texans defense was very good last season despite being put in horrible field position over-and-over again, so I think JJ Watt and company end their losing streak. HOUSTON WINS
  • Patriots @ Dolphins: Tom Brady is getting old, as everyone tends to do, but no one told his game.  He did great things with a young receiving core last year, and with the return of Rob Gronkowski, there’s no reason he shouldn’t flourish again.  Miami is looking to put last year’s issues behind them and make some noise in the AFC East.  I just don’t think they do it at home this time around.  NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Vikings @ Rams: This might be the worst quarterback match-up of the week.  But Minnesota does have the crazy talented Adrian Peterson to pick up the slack.  But St. Louis has one of the better defenses in the league, and they know who to shutdown.  ST. LOUIS WINS
  • Jaguars @ Eagles: Jacksonville is definitely moving in the right direction.  But they’re still young.  Philly made the playoffs last season, but it was in a down year for the NFC East.  Can Nick Foles duplicate his great 2013?  If he continues to be accurate, it could mean another playoff run for the Eagles, starting with this home win to open the season. PHILADELPHIA WINS
  • Saints @ Falcons: The first taste of the NFC South rivalry.  Atlanta had a down season last year, but look to make another run at a Superbowl.  New Orleans is always in the discussion, and I think they’re the best team in that division. NEW ORLEANS WINS
  • Raiders @ Jets: This might finally be the year the Jets get back to the playoffs.  Upgrades at the skill positions should help 2nd year QB Geno Smith.  And don’t forget that defense.  Oakland could keep it close, but I don’t see them getting the road win. NEW YORK WINS

Sunday 4:25PM Games

  • 49ers @ Cowboys: San Francisco has had some off-the-field issues during the off-season, while Dallas looks to avoid another 8-8 season.  It’s going to be tough for the Boys this season with a lot of questions on defense, including the loss of DeMarcus Ware. Dallas has issues at home, the Niners are a favorite to make it back to the NFC Championship.  Give me the road team to open up the season with a W.  SAN FRANCISCO WINS
  • Panthers @ Buccaneers: I have been back and forth about this one.  Carolina was so good on both sides of the football last season, but Cam Newton is banged up and the Panthers aren’t returning enough of their offensive play-makers.  While I think Carolina has a better season than the Bucs, give me Tampa’s defense to steal one at home.  TAMPA BAY WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Colts @ Broncos: Revenge for a regular season loss to the Colts a season ago, give me the Broncos in a high scoring game months after scoring just 8 points in the Superbowl. Yes I know that an important piece in Wes Welker will be missing for the Broncos, and while I think both teams will have great seasons, a tough 3 game stretch to open the year, Denver has to take advantage at home. DENVER WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Giants @ Lions: New York is in transition offensively, and is coming off a bad season.  The Lions continue to boast a lot of big time names, but never seem to put it together.  If they can all season remains to be seen, but I do think their familiarity will help them edge out Eli Manning and his Giants. DETROIT WINS
  • Chargers @ Cardinals: Philip Rivers got back to being Philip Rivers last season, forcing San Diego into the playoffs.  The Cardinals are on the rise, thanks in large part to their defense.  And that’s why I like the home team in this one. ARIZONA WINS

There you go.  The first week of picks in a 17-week season! Looking forward to this season and hearing from you on why my picks are right or wrong. Enjoy opening week!

Enjoy.

NFL: Week 10 Thoughts

10 down. 7 to go.  No more win-less teams, and just the 1 undefeated team left as week 10 wrapped up.

A number of quarterbacks went down, while many crazy, circus catches were made.  Long story short, this week was fun.

4 teams were off this week: the Patriots, the Jets, the Chiefs and the Browns.

NFC EAST (The Eagles Have Flown Into a Tie for First)

  • Cowboys: A week after winning despite not running the ball, Dallas went run early and often.  DeMarco Murray had 80 yards rushing and a touchdown at the half. But they abandoned the run in the 2nd half, Murray finished with just 89 yards and Tony Romo couldn’t pick up the slack.  Dallas’ QB completed less than 50% of his passes, and threw just 1 touchdown pass. Injuries continue to come on to key members on defense, this time to linebacker Sean Lee. All of those injuries are showing themselves, with this defense allowing the most yards in a 10 game span in franchise history. They continue to be up and down, and now it has cost them sole possession of 1st place.  (5-5)
  • Eagles: Nick Foles was never going to put up 7 touchdown passes for a second straight week, but Philly’s QB did enough to get a second straight win.  Foles threw for 228 yards and 3 scores.  And how about this stat: just the 3rd QB to throw at least 16TDs before their first interception of the season. The other two: Milt Plum in 1960, and Peyton Manning earlier this season. LeSean McCoy had a monster day on the ground, rushing for 155 yards, while Riley Cooper added two 3rd quarter touchdowns to help Philadelphia pull away. (5-5)
  • Giants:  Make it 3 straight in the win column for New York.  The special teams put them down with an opening kickoff fumble which was then turned into 7.  Then they got it back with a blocked punt for a score, New York’s first since 1988. Then normal scoring took place. Andre Brown returned from a fractured leg suffered in pre-season, and looked like his old self. Speaking of a guy who’s done big things coming off a big injury, Terrell Thomas was named NFC Defensive Player of the week after week 8, and he made his presence felt in the 3rd quarter this week.  A 47-yard interception return helped the Giants find the end zone on a Brown run and take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.  Going back to before the injury suffered late last year, it gives the back a rushing TD in 6 straight games.  Eli Manning survived his 3rd pick six of the season. (3-6)
  • Redskins: It’s hard to lose a game when you don’t turn the ball over, but that’s what happened on the road to start week 10.  Alfred Morris had a good day on the ground, while Robert Griffin III threw 3 touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough.  They had a shot to tie at the end 4th quarter, but Santana Moss couldn’t get his second foot in bounds on a pass in the corner of the end zone on fourth down.  Washington was 3-6 last season when they went on a 7-0 run to steal the Division and get into the playoffs(3-6)

NFC NORTH (And Just Like That the Pack Aren’t Leading the Pack)

  • Lions: Make it a season sweep of their division rivals from Chicago, thanks in large part to a stop on a two-point conversion with 40 seconds left in regulation. Calvin Johnson’s two touchdowns moved into first for the most TD receptions in Lions history.  Matthew Stafford completed just over 50% of his passes, but still managed to throw for 3 scores. Reggie Bush had 89 of his 105 yards rushing in the 2nd half to help Detroit move into a tie for 1st. (6-3)
  • Bears: Jay Cutler wasn’t very sharp in his return from a groin injury, throwing for just 1 touchdown and 1 interception.  To make matters worse, he left the game with an ankle injury.  Brandon Marshall benefited from having Cutler back, grabbing that one score in a 139 yard day.  Alshon Jeffery also had over 100 yards receiving on the day.  But other than that, no one else really contributed on offense, with Matt Forte gaining just 33 yards on 17 carries.  The defense didn’t do a good job stopping the run or getting to Stafford.  (5-4) 
  • Packers: They lost Aaron Rodgers last week, then lost backup Seneca Wallace in the 1st quarter this week around. This team had been able to find ways to score after losing many big targets in the passing game, but it’s hard to win when you get down to your 3rd string QB, especially as fast as this team did.  Third year QB Scott Tolzien came in and threw two interceptions.  The defense couldn’t help out, allowing the Eagles to run all over them.  Mason Crosby continues to struggle kicking the ball, missing two of his four field-goal attempts.  Eddie Lacy did a good decent on the ground, while Jarrett Boykin went over 100 yards receiving. (5-4)
  • Vikings: Christian Ponder went down late, but not before he helped lead his team to their first win since week 3 against Pittsburgh.  After an early interception, Ponder settled down to throw 2 touchdowns, before leaving with a left shoulder injury late in the 3rd quarter.  Adrian Peterson with a second straight big week, with 2 touchdowns on 75 yards rushing. Tight-end John Carlson with the big day in the receiving game, grabbing 7 balls for 98 yards and a score.  The defense did enough to hold off the Skins in the end. (2-7)

NFC SOUTH (Things Are Getting Interesting)

  • Saints: After a bad road loss in week 9, a big bounce back moved them to 5-0 at home.  Receiver Marques Colston and running back Darren Sproles both returned from injury and made their impact felt immediately, with a combined 3 touchdowns in the 1st half. Drew Brees was on point all night, and finished with nearly 400 yards passing and 4 touchdowns. Colston, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram (career high 145 yards rushing) each finished with over 100 total yards.  Rookie Kenny Stills, Ingram and Thomas each found the end-zone as well.  New Orleans finished with 600-plus total yards on offense, and their 40 first downs set an NFL record. (7-2)
  • Panthers: This team is for real.  Make it 5 straight wins after absolutely dominating last years NFC Superbowl representatives, the San Francisco 49ers.  The league’s only defense ranked top 10 in the rush and pass, as well as points allowed, showed they’re not there by accident.  DeAngelo Williams scored the games only touchdown, while Graham Gano’s 53-yard field goal in the 4th proved to be the game-winner.  Cam Newton didn’t do much against a good niners defense.  Luke Kuechly continue to have a good year defensively, with a game high 11-tackles and one of the teams 5 sacks. (6-3)
  • Falcons: They’re just not the same team this season. Matt Ryan finally figured out how to avoid the turnovers, something to take away from a turnover happy Seattle defense.  But he couldn’t even reach the 180 yards passing mark to go with no run game.  Not to mention the defense had no answers for the Seahawks. It’s their 3rd straight loss, putting them two losses away from their first losing season since 2007 or pre-Ryan. (2-7)
  • Buccaneers: Watching the Jaguars get their first win must have inspired Tampa Bay.  They saw their 15-7 halftime lead evaporate heading into the 4th quarter, but their defense pitched a final quarter shutout to give the offense a chance.  Mike Glennon led the team on a long drive to start the 4th, and it ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tackle Donald Penn.  The run defense was on point to say the least… holding the Dolphins to just 2 yards on the ground, a staggering number.  The defense added a safety 2 key sacks and a pick to their impressive night. (1-8)

NFC WEST (The Hawks Are Flying High)

  • Seahawks: After two straight shaky wins, there was nothing shaky this week against Atlanta. Marshawn Lynch continues to live up to the nickname “beastmode” after a averaging 6 yards a carry, finishing with 145 and a rushing touchdown.  Russell Wilson threw connected with Golden Tate on a one-handed grab in the corner of the end-zone as a part of his 2 touchdown day.  It was a rematch of a 2012 playoff game, a match-up won by Atlanta.  How quickly things change. (9-1)
  • 49ers: Colin Kaepernick couldn’t get anything going against a stout Panthers defense.  The mobile QB couldn’t crack 100 yards passing, and only gained 16 yards on the ground. His one interception iced the victory for Carolina.  Phil Dawson was the only offense, kicking 3 field goals, including a season high 53-yarder. Frank Gore ran for 82 yards, while Mario Manningham caught 3 passes for 30 yards in his season debut. (6-3)
  • Cardinals:  They almost gave it away, but held on to move match their win total from a year ago. The Cards took a quick 7-nothing lead when on the game’s first play John Abraham caused a fumble and Matt Shaugnessy returned it 6 yards for the score.  Carson Palmer threw 2 touchdowns, but also threw a pick and lost a fumble.  It was Rashard Mendenhall’s fumble deep in their own territory that allowed the Texans to stay in the game, but in the end the defense held.   (5-4)
  • Rams: Snapping a 3 game losing streak was due to a big defensive performance, and this time they got a lot of help on offense as well.  Tavon Austin had just two catches, but he made them both count; 138 yards and two scores.  Add a 98-yard punt return for a touchdown, and the rookie helped blow out the previously 6-2 Indianapolis Colts.  3 interceptions of Andrew Luck, to go with a strip sack, helped St Louis make easy work and pick up their first win since losing Sam Bradford. (4-6)

AFC EAST (The Two Best Teams Didn’t Play)

  • Patriots: Bye Week. (7-2)
  • Jets: Bye Week. (5-4)
  • Dolphins: They got off to a slow start, but were able to rally back to score 19 unanswered points to hold a lead heading into the 4th over a win-less bucs team.  But it wasn’t enough as they couldn’t get anything done in the 4th, losing by 3.  Ryan Tannehill threw two touchdown passes and Caleb Strugis hit on two field-goal attempts in the comeback effort. Their biggest problem came on the ground, with the team managing just 2 measly yards on the ground all night. In their first game since the bully scandal really blew up, they sure did miss their offensive linemen.  The loss drops them further back from the top two teams, with a match-up with the Jets upcoming. (4-5)
  • Bills: EJ Manuel’s return wasn’t a good one.  After coming back from an MCL injury, the rookie only managed 155 passing yards, a score and a turnover.  He couldn’t help himself out on the ground, and the rest of the backs didn’t do much against a Steelers defense that needed to bounce back after a horrible week 9 performance.  Rookie tight-end Chris Gragg scored the Bills lone touchdown in the 4th quarter. Make it 3 straight losses for the East’s bottom-dwellers. (3-7)

AFC NORTH (Cincy Falters, Still Holds a 2 Game Lead)

  • Bengals: Andy Dalton connected on a crazy tipped hail mary touchdown as time expired to AJ Green to send the game to overtime. Green finished with a 151 yards receiving thanks to that 51-yard TD catch. But a questionable play call on 4th and 2 in their territory gave Baltimore good field position, and they ultimately lost on a field-goal.  Dalton threw 2 touchdowns, but also threw 3 interceptions in their 2nd straight loss. (6-4) 
  • Browns: Bye Week. (4-5)
  • Ravens: Justin Tucker’s 46-yard field-goal in overtime saved Baltimore from a crushing loss at home, and snapped their 3 game skid.  They blew a 17-0 halftime lead when they didn’t bat down the Bengals hail mary attempt. The run game continues to be non-existent, while Joe Flacco continues to under perform.  Sure he threw two touchdown passes, to Torrey Smith and Dallas Clark, but he also threw two interceptions, and fumbled in the fourth. They found a way to win, a division game at that, and that’s all that matters for the Superbowl Champs.  (4-5)
  • Steelers: After a franchise low on defense a week ago, the Steelers stepped up and made easy work the Bills.  They held Buffalo to just 95 yards on the ground, nearly 50 below their average  while giving up just 10 points, after 55 a week ago. Add 3 sacks and a pick to their defensive effort. Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t great, passing for just 204, a touchdown and an interception, while Le’Veon Bell added 52 and a score on the ground. But they did enough for the home win. Shaun Suisham added 3 field-goals. According to ESPN stats, Pittsburgh is now 17-2, including the playoffs, against rookie quarterbacks since 2004.  (3-6)

AFC South  (The Jags Won and the Colts Didn’t- Fact)

  • Colts: Talk about a letdown.  Andrew Luck threw 3 interceptions, and lost a fumble, and still managed to throw for over 350 yards.  And when your not mobile quarter back leads the team in rushing, you know you’re in trouble.  This team doesn’t lose often, let alone this badly and at home, but an improved Rams defense and bad special teams play burned them.  Their lone score came in the 3rd quarter, a Donald Brown score, capped off with a 2-point conversion to Coby Fleener. Their 30-point loss was the largest margin of any game this week. Lucky for them the Titans lost, so they still hold a 2 game lead in the division. (6-3)
  • Titans: Jake Locker just can’t stay healthy, leaving with what is probably a season ending lisfranc injury. Ryan Fitzpatrick did a good job in relief, running in for a score and throwing 2 more.  But the damage was done early, and Tennessee couldn’t recover against a previously win-less Jaguar team. They had a chance late, but with no help on the ground this week, the win-less Jags took advantage.  Four turnovers didn’t help in what ended up a 2-point game. (4-5)
  • Texans: For the first time in franchise history, Houston is on a 7-game losing streak.  A third good start for youngster Case Keenum, but again, it results in a loss.  Keenum threw 3 touchdowns, including 2 to Andre Johnson.  But he did turn the ball over on the games first play, putting them in the hole from the get go.  JJ Watt did all he could to keep his team in the game, forcing two fumbles, including one late in the 4th that helped score and get to within a field-goal of tying the score. Gary Kubiak wasn’t with the team after collapsing at halftime in Indianapolis, but he could be back sooner rather than later after suffering a “mini-stroke.” (2-7)
  • Jaguars: A 13-game losing streak dating back to last season finally comes to an end, and on the road no less.  Maurice Jones-Drew and Jordan Todman each ran in scores, but only combined for 52 yards on the ground.  Chad Henne wasn’t good, throwing two picks to no touchdowns. A fourth quarter safety turned out to be the difference in the game. The reason they won, their defense turned the Titans over 4 times. (1-8)

AFC WEST (It Was Always Going to be a 2 Team Race)

  • Chiefs: Bye Week. (9-0)
  • Broncos: Peyton Manning threw for 4 touchdowns, 3 to Demaryius Thomas to move within a game of the division lead. Manning took a shot late to his ankles and came up hobbling, and underwent an MRI early Monday.  The team was without head coach John Fox, who had heart surgery last week.  But it didn’t slow them down.  Knowshon Moreno had a big day, with over 100 yards of total offense.  Julius Thomas nearly cracked the 100 yard mark, and scored Manning’s fourth TD pass. (8-1)
  • Chargers: Phil Rivers wasn’t great, throwing for just 218 and a score.  It’s a second straight loss by just 1 score, dropping them under .500. Ryan Matthews was better than a week ago on the ground, finding the end zone once, but again didn’t crack the 100 yard mark after two straight games doing so.  This team continues to be very streaky, something they can’t afford with arguably the two best teams in the AFC both in their division. (4-5)
  • Raiders: They scored 17 points off turnovers.  You can call Tracy Porter a Manning magnet.  The 6th year corner-back is the only player with a pick 6 against both Peyton and Eli Manning.  But it was their own turnover late in the 3rd, a Terrelle Pryor interception, that put them down for good.  Pryor was pressured all game long, and despite getting passes off early, eventually it got to be too much.  Rashard Jennings did all he could do on the ground in place of the injured Darren McFadden, but it wasn’t enough. According to CBS, this was their 9th straight loss to NFC opponents.  (3-6)

That’s it.  Week 11 approaches as teams look to better their playoff positioning.

NFL: First Half Recap

So we’ve seen week 8 come and go, marking the unofficial halfway point of the season.

Sure some teams have already taken their bye, meaning they’ve only played 7 of their 16 game scheduled, but many have played 8.  So I figured I’d take a look back at my picks for the major awards and who was gonna win it all, and tell you who really won the 1st half of the season.

My Pre-season Division and Wild Card Winners

  • NFC: New York, Seattle, Green Bay, Atlanta, Dallas & New Orleans

Clearly I, was very off when I picked the Falcons and Giants to win their divisions.  Sure it could still happen, but it’s very unlikely as they sit in 3rd and 4th respectively.  But Seattle and Green Bay are both sitting pretty atop their respective divisions, and while Dallas and New Orleans aren’t wildcard times, they of course lead their divisions and would be playoff teams, as I thought they would be. I think the easiest division for me to pick had been the North.  But this has become of the of the bigger surprises for me, with both Detroit and Chicago right there heading into the second half.  The Saints, who I thought would be in a dog-fight with the Falcons all year for the South are coasting right now, but as we all know, a lot can happen in a short amount of time in the NFL.  If the playoffs started today, 4 of my 6 pick would make the playoffs.

  • AFC: Patriots, Denver, Baltimore, Houston, Cincinnati, and Indy

Here’s another case of getting the teams right (for the most part), just not picking them high enough.  Let’s talk about Indianapolis, who are showing they are a legit Superbowl contender, having knocked off three of the best teams in the league (Denver, Seattle and San Francisco), and easily at that.  I had them winning the a wild card spot, so I wasn’t really off, but I never thought they’d do this well again.  A lot of their success last year came in 4th quarter comebacks, something I didn’t see them replicating.  Denver I’m not wrong about, but my biggest shock might be in Kansas City.  I knew the Chiefs would be improved, never did I think they’d lead this division.  I figured they’d battle for a wild card.  But here they are the last undefeated team standing.  The Pats hold a slim lead, but things can change quickly if they’re not careful.  Baltimore and Houston have been big disappoints, while the Bengals defense has given them a nice lead in the North.  Just like in the NFC, 4 of my 6 picks would make the playoffs if they started today.

  • My AFC and NFC Championship games probably won’t end up quite the way I picked them, but my Superbowl pick of Denver over Seattle (sure call it chalk) does remain as a real possibility.

And how about my pre-season award winners?  Here is how some of my picks have changed.

Offensive Rookie of the Year:

  • I picked Texans Wide-receiver DeAndre Hopkins.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Packers Running Back Eddie Lacy, who I put down as an honorable mention.  He’s given the Packers another option on offense, which just makes them more dangerous.

Offensive Player of the Year:

  • I picked Lions WR Calvin Johnson.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Broncos QB Peyton Manning, another pre-season honorable mention by me.  How could he not be the guy right now? Look at his stats: 29 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. He’s completing nearly 72% of his passes and has only been sacked 11 times in 8 games.  Sure he’s got a lot of weapons but he’s also finding them and making all the throws.  But to be fair to Megatron, he’s having an insane year yet again.

Defensive Player of the Year:

  • I picked Bengals Defensive Tackle Geno Atkins.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to the Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali.  This guy has done a little bit of everything.  4 forced fumbles, 23 tackles, a pick 6 and 9 sacks.
  • Other possibilities: Bills MLB Kiko Alonso, Seahawks CB Earl Thomas or Chiefs OLB Justin Houston.

Most Valuable Player:

  • I picked Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Colts QB Andrew Luck.  This guy has shown he was the right guy to take number 1 last year.  He can outplay the best of them, and can put early game struggles behind him to help his team late.  His numbers aren’t flashy, but he takes care of the ball and is a true leader.
  • Other possibilities: Broncos QB Peyton Manning, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and Lions WR Calvin Johnson.

Coach of the Year:

  • I picked Seahawks Pete Carroll.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid.  When you turn a 2 win team into an undefeated team halfway through the season, you’re going to be considered for awards.
  • Other possibilities: Bengals Marvin Lewis, Colts Chuck Pagano and Panthers Juan Rivera.

And finally my biggest surprises good and bad of the first half.

Biggest Disappointment – Team

  • Houston Texans: This is a team I saw as one of the last two standing in the AFC.  With a running back tandem like Arian Foster and Ben Tate, with a very good defense that got back Brian Cushing to play along side last year’s defensive player of the year in JJ Watt, I thought it was time for this team to take that next step.  But Matt Schaub has regressed, and is now injured, and TJ Yates didn’t do much better backing him up.
  • Dis-Honorable Mention: New York Giants – They collapsed in the 2nd half of 2012, and have carried that bad play into 2013.  Injuries have ravaged the o-line, secondary and running back position, but they still have too many weapons to be just 2-6 in the first half.

Biggest Disappointment – Offensive Player

  • Ravens RB Ray Rice: This is a guy who is usually atop the rushing yards leader board.  But a year removed from helping his team win the Superbowl, Rice hasn’t done much to help his team, and it’s a big reason why they’re just a 2-win team coming out of their bye.  At 26, there should still be something left in the tank, but he hasn’t been producing.  He’s been very good in his career after the bye, so maybe the extra time off will help get him back on track.
  • Dis-Honorable Mention: Redskins QB Robert Griffin III – It might not be fair to say this, as the mobile quarterback is coming off a serious knee injury that knocked him out of the playoffs last year.  But if you’re going to let him play, that means he’s healthy, which means we should be seeing more consistency from last years Rookie of the Year.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise – Team

  • Carolina Panthers: This team is riding on the high of a 3 game win streak that saw their offense put up 30+ points again, and the defense limit its opponents to 13.7 points a game, 2nd only to KC.  This team hadn’t been over .500 since before Cam Newton was drafted.  They are 2nd in a division where the Falcons play.  That means something.
  • Honorable Mention: Kansas City Chiefs – 2 and 14 to 8 and 0.  A sack happy, shutdown defense.  A good run game.  A quarterback who is very good at game management. They get honorable mention because despite a bad record a year ago, this team sent 6 players to the pro bowl, so the turnaround isn’t a huge surprise. This team is primed for a postseason run.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise – Player

  • Cowboys LB Sean Lee: This guy has a nose for the football, tied for 1st in the NFL with four interceptions, one of which he returned for a score.  He also has the most return yards of a defensive player.  He’s also defended 10 passes, recovered a fumble and has a combined 81 tackles.
  • Honorable Mention: Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor – His team only has 3 wins, and his numbers aren’t great, but after a few years of disappointment, he’s shown glimpses. First of all, those 3 wins match Oakland’s win total from a year ago.  He can run with the best of the mobile quarterbacks.  And he wasn’t even supposed to be the starter. Matt Flynn was brought in, and Pryor just flat-out beat him for the job.

So there you have it.  That was fun, looking back at what I thought preseason and seeing how it’s panning out.  Of course there’s still a whole lot of football to be played, and everything I wrote here (or almost everything) could be meaningless come week 9 or 10.   But that’s the beauty of the gridiron, nothing stays the same for long.  So win, lose or draw, let’s go out and enjoy the 2nd half of the 2013 season as much as we did the 1st half.