NFC Overview: Week 9

Week 8 brought a few teams back into playoff consideration (Lions & Eagles) but it also may have ended some other teams’ hopes (Bears & Panthers).  With 9 weeks remaining, there are still many things that can happen, but right now the conference looks like a three team race between the Saints, Packers, and 49ers.  Power Rankings are posted below, as well as predicted playoff matchups new this week.

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (7-1)

Aaron Rodgers has found his groove in 2019.  After a lackluster 2018 with a few injuries and the firing of his old head coach, the fans in Green Bay were uncertain how this season would play out.  Fortunately for them, Aaron Rodgers is playing like an MVP candidate right now (16 Touchdowns, 2 Interceptions).  With a four game win streak, including a Week 8 win over the Chiefs in Arrowhead, the Packers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now and are looking to continue that into Week 9 against the Chargers in L.A.

 2. Minnesota Vikings (6-2)

The Vikings have rattled off four in a row since their Week 4 embarrassment in Chicago. Kirk Cousins has led this charge, and Dalvin Cook continues to dominate on the ground.  With a top ten defense complimenting their offense, Minnesota looks to have a playoff spot locked down. Whether it be a wildcard position or the division crown remains to be seen.  Week 9 starts a tough 4 game stretch in which the Vikings have 3 road games against the Chiefs, Cowboys, and Seahawks.

3. Detroit Lions (3-3-1)

The Lions are a sneaky team in the NFC.  With a win against the Giants in Week 8, Detroit has moved back to .500. Matthew Stafford is having another solid season and the Lions are averaging 25.7 points per game. The Lions have a tough road test in Oakland for Week 9.  With the division crown seemingly out of reach, the Lions need almost every game in this second half to keep pace with other teams competing for the wildcard in the NFC.

4. Chicago Bears (3-4)

Things can’t get much worse for the Bears.  Mitchell Trubisky has continued to struggle and put his team (and his defense) in horrible situations.  Matt Nagy has also received heavy criticism after taking a knee and settling for a 41-yard field goal instead of trying to gain a few more yards.  Eddie Pineiro ended up missing the potential game winning kick and now the Bear’s season is all but derailed.  With such promise coming into this season, Chicago has fallen flat on their faces.  Week 9 takes the Bears to Philadelphia for a tough matchup.

NFC WEST

1. San Francisco 49ers (7-0)

In Week 8, the 49ers proved that they are the team to beat in the NFC. With a 51-13 rout of the Panthers, the ‘Niners dominated on all sides of the ball.  The defense is probably the best in the conference, and the offense is playing mistake free football and making the most of their redzone opportunities.  As Week 9 approaches, San Francisco heads to Arizona for a Thursday Night matchup against the Cardinals.  The 49ers have one of the tougher schedules in the league for the second half, so winning the games against “non-playoff caliber teams” is important going forward.

2. Seattle Seahawks (6-2)

Although the Seahawks rebounded with a win against the Falcons in Week 8, the last few games for Seattle have been shaky.  With a home game against the Buccaneers in Week 9, the Seahawks can prove themselves as one of the “Elites” in the conference.  Seattle has a difficult second half schedule, so the Seahawks need to be careful not to look past any teams.

3. Los Angeles Rams (5-3)

The Rams have won two in a row after losing three straight and are now 5-3.  Although the wins came against bad teams, it was refreshing to see the Rams look dominant again.  This week L.A. travels to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers who have won three out of four.  The Rams need to continue winning to stay close to the 49ers and leave a chance to still win the West.  A wildcard is the likely playoff route for the Rams.

4. Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1)

The Cardinals lost to the Saints in Week 8 and now have the 49ers coming to Arizona in Week 9.  Facing two of the best teams in the conference in back-to-back weeks will most likely derail any faint playoff hopes left in Arizona.  The Cardinals traded for Kenyan Drake this week who looks to be taking over the running duties in Arizona.  Kyler Murray is continuing to develop which is a good sign as well.  2020 could be special for the Cardinals.

 

NFC EAST

1.Dallas Cowboys (4-3)

The Cowboys come off of their bye with a half game lead over the Eagles. At 4-3 the Cowboys still have some things to prove to show that they are the best team in this division.  Although they handled the Eagles rather easily in Week 7, the Cowboys have games against the Vikings and Patriots in the coming weeks which will show the true colors of this team.  For week 9, Dallas heads to New York to face the Giants in an NFC East tilt on Monday Night football

 2. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)

The Eagles beat the Bills in Week 8 and improved to 4-4.  Despite the win, the Eagles are the most inconsistent team in the NFC. You just never know what team you’re going to get each week.  With a home game against the Bears in Week 9, this is seemingly an elimination game for playoff contention. Considering the high expectations for both of these teams heading into the year, it’s a shame that there isn’t more riding on it.

3. New York Giants (2-6)

The Giants have lost four straight but Daniel Jones is developing nicely.  Jones had four touchdowns in a losing effort against the Lions.  At 2-6, the Giants are simply looking to developing their young team for the 2020 season.  Up next is the Cowboys at home on Monday night.

 4. Washington Redskins (1-7)

The Redskins lost a sloppy game to the Vikings last Thursday and fell to 1-7.  The rumors are stirring in Washington that Dwayne Haskins may make his first start in Week 9 against the Bills.  This could be the turn for the Redskins’ Franchise that puts them back on the map.

NFC SOUTH

1.New Orleans Saints (7-1)

Drew Brees made his return in Week 8 and it looks like he hasn’t missed a beat.  A win against the Cardinals isn’t all that impressive, but it was the perfect game for Brees to jump back into things for the Saints. Week 9 is the bye week for New Orleans as they will get two weeks to prepare for the Falcons at home a week from Sunday.  With Brees ,the Saints have this division locked up.

2. Carolina Panthers (4-3)

 The Panthers got embarrassed in San Francisco in Week 8.  Cam Newton will be out again for Week 9 but he may start practicing later this week.  With the Titans coming into town this Sunday, the Panthers can reinsert themselves into the NFC playoff picture with a win.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5)

The Buccaneers have lost three in a row and their season is all but over.  The the Jameis Winston experiment is over and the Bucs should move on and draft another quarterback this year.  Week 9 brings a tough road game for the Bucs who have to travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks.

5. Atlanta Falcons (1-7)

Six straight losses for the Falcons has destroyed the morale in Atlanta.  With the Saints up next after the bye, the Falcons should focus on securing a top five draft pick to tighten up their defense.  Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are still in their primes and the Falcons need to make moves to salvage the offense productivity still remaining in the team.

NFC POWER RANKINGS (Week 8 Ranking)

  1. New Orleans Saints (1)
  2. Green Bay Packers (2)
  3. San Francisco 49ers (3)
  4. Minnesota Vikings (5)
  5. Seattle Seahawks (4)
  6. Los Angeles Rams (6)
  7. Dallas Cowboys (7)
  8. Detroit Lions (9)
  9. Philadelphia Eagles (11)
  10. Carolina Panthers (8)
  11. Chicago Bears (10)
  12. Arizona Cardinals (12)
  13. New York Giants (14)
  14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13)
  15. Atlanta Falcons (15)
  16. Washington Redskins (16)

Playoff Predictions

  1. New Orleans Saints *BYE*
  2. Green Bay Packers *BYE*
  3. San Francisco 49ers vs 6. Seattle Seahawks
  4. Dallas Cowboys vs 5. Minnesota Vikings
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NFC Overview: Week 8

The Super Bowl contenders are separating themselves in the Conference. The Saints, Packers, and 49ers all proved once again that they have what it takes to represent the NFC in February.  The second tier, headlined by the Seahawks, is still a bit murky, but the Vikings, Rams, and Cowboys are rebounding after some question marks earlier this year.  See how each division stands and the updated power rankings for this week below.

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (6-1)

Aaron Rodgers had a historic day on Sunday.  He had a perfect passer rating (first time in Packers’ history) and accounted for 6 touchdowns (5 passing/1 rushing).  The Packers are firing on all cylinders right now, and a huge road test against the Chiefs awaits in Week 8.  The Chiefs will be without Patrick Mahomes, and Davante Adams should be back for the Packers.

 2. Minnesota Vikings (5-2)

The Vikings were tested by the Lions, but ultimately pulled away to secure their first divisional victory.  Despite a 1-2 divisional record, the Vikings still have 3 home games against the NFC North ( where they are 3-0 this year).  Kirk Cousins is playing some of the best football of his career lately and the Vikings remain just a game back of the Packers.  With the Redskins coming to Minnesota this week, a (likely) victory could put them even with the Packers who may lose in Kansas City.

3. Chicago Bears (3-3)

The Bears’ season is at a breaking point.  Putting on one of the most embarrassing performances of the season this season, the Bears offense failed to get anything going, committing 2 turnovers and 6 three-and-outs.  Mitchell Trubisky continued to struggle and Matt Nagy received harsh criticism for only calling 7 run plays, amounting to 17 rush yards.  With the Chargers coming to Soldier Field in Week 8, the Bears have a favorable chance to get back on track.  A loss may end any playoff hopes and waste another season with a top 10 defense.

4. Detroit Lions (2-3-1)

Detroit played another very tough game against the Vikings, but weren’t able to pull off the upset.  This Lions team is very talented, but their record juts doesn’t match it.  I’m not ready to write them off as a playoff team, but they need to start stringing together a few wins if they want to make a push.  The first step would be to take care of the Giants at home this week.

NFC WEST

1. San Francisco 49ers (6-0)

The 49ers won an ugly game in Washington 9-0 this past week.  The rain had a huge impact on the game so it is tough to take away much of anything from this game except for the road victory for the ‘Niners.  Although the hot start is refreshing in San Francisco, the second half of the season doesn’t have many weak opponents.  This week the 49ers play host to the Panthers who are 4-2 and fresh off of their bye week.  After a gritty win in Week 7, a letdown wouldn’t be that surprising.

 2. Seattle Seahawks (5-2)

The Seahawks got roughed up on Sunday against the Ravens, and Russell Wilson finally looked human again.  Even with this tough loss, the Seahawks are still a dangerous team and have plenty of opportunities to win this division.  The best news for Seattle is getting to play the Falcons this week to secure a bounce back win.

3. Los Angeles Rams (4-3)

The Rams embarrassed the Falcons in Atlanta last Sunday, and looked similar to the Rams we have become used to seeing each week.  At 4-3, the Rams can still find a way to win the division, although a wildcard seems like the probable playoff route for L.A.  For Week 8, the Rams host the winless Bengals as they look to start a much needed win streak.

4. Arizona Cardinals (3-3-1)

At the bottom of the division is the Cardinals who have won 3 straight and look dangerous.  Kliff Kingsbury is utilizing Kyler Murray well, and the young quarterback is playing within himself and making the plays he was brought in to make.  Although nobody really considered the Cardinals a playoff team with a new head coach and rookie quarterback at the beginning of the year, they have an opportunity to sneak in.  Every victory is precious at this point, but a visit to New Orleans this week makes that a tough task.

NFC EAST

1.Dallas Cowboys (4-3)

The Cowboys looked very good on Sunday night and made easy work of the Eagles.  With the conference having so many teams (10) at .500 or better, it looks like the only payoff team from the NFC East will be the division winner.  Dak Prescott bounced back in Week 7 and needs to continue to build on this against the Giants in Week 8 if the Cowboys really want to prove that they are the best team in the division.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)

The Eagles are sliding fast.  The season is looking all but over after their Sunday Night performance.  Carson Wentz looked horrible and the defense came nowhere close to stopping the Cowboys’ offense.  If the Eagles want any hope restored in their playoff chances they MUST WIN in Buffalo this week. 

3. New York Giants (2-5)

The Giants lost to the Cardinals this past week in the battle of rookie quarterbacks. Daniel Jones needs to continue his positive development and Saquon Barkley returning will certainly help that. If this offense can stay healthy and make strides towards the end of this season, the Giants will be one wide receiver away from being a dangerous offense next year. In Week 8 New York travels to Detroit where both teams are still searching for their third win of the year.

 4. Washington Redskins (1-6)

The Redskins lost again at home.  The Redskins have nothing to lose and should start playing Haskins now. If he begins to play well, fans will have some hope heading into next season. If he doesn’t get any more experience this year, the 2020 season could be another year of growing pains in Washington.

NFC SOUTH

1.New Orleans Saints (6-1)

The Saints dominated the Bears in Week 7 and this team is running like a well-oiled machine right now.  After Drew Brees’ injury many people wrote off the Saints, but now 5 straight wins have kept them near the top of the conference and Drew Brees is almost ready to return.  There are rumors of him practicing this week, and has not been ruled out for their game against the Cardinals this week, but it seems more likely he will return in Week 10 after the Saints’ bye week.  Nonetheless, Teddy Bridgwater and Sean Payton deserve all the credit for keeping this team from falling apart after losing Brees in week 2.

2. Carolina Panthers (4-2)

The Panthers come out of their bye with a big game awaiting in Week 8 against the 49ers.  A win would put the Panthers on everyone radar as a serious playoff team. A loss would continue the Panthers’ season on this path of mediocrity it is seemingly already on.  Cam Newton is rumored to start practicing again, but will not play in Week 8.  With Kyle Allen still undefeated as the starter, who knows if this job still belongs to Newton when he is finally healthy.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)

The Bucs enjoyed their bye in Week 7 and now travel to Nashville to play the Titans.  This is definitely a winnable game, but thats assuming Jameis Winston avoids another 5 interception game. A few weeks ago, this game looked like the awaited the rematch of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, but with Mariota on the bench, we will have to settle for Winston v Tannehill. 

4. Atlanta Falcons (1-6)

The Falcons lost yet again to the Rams in Week 7, making it 5 in a row. Wide Receiver Mohamed Sanu was traded this week, and it may be the start of a larger unload in Atlanta.  This team needs to fix its defense, as they rank 27th in total defense.  Hosting the Seahawks this week will likely be another loss, especially if Matt Ryan remains on the sidelines.

NFC POWER RANKINGS (Week 7 Ranking)

  1. New Orleans Saints (1)
  2. Green Bay Packers (4)
  3. San Francisco 49ers (3)
  4. Seattle Seahawks (2)
  5. Minnesota Vikings (6)
  6. Los Angeles Rams (8)
  7. Dallas Cowboys (11)
  8. Carolina Panthers (9)
  9. Detroit Lions (7)
  10. Chicago Bears (5)
  11. Philadelphia Eagles (9)
  12. Arizona Cardinals (14)
  13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12)
  14. New York Giants (13)
  15. Atlanta Falcons (14)
  16. Washington Redskins (16)

NFC Overview: Week 7

The NFC playoff picture is beginning to clear up as teams are becoming more predictable.  With 10 teams at .500 or better, it looks like even the Wildcard teams will have 10 or 11 wins. Here is how each division stand after the sixth week of action, followed by the conference power rankings at the end. 

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (5-1)

The Packers came out slow on Monday night and looked rather sloppy for most of the game.  On the final drive two very questionable “Hands to the Face” calls against the Lions helped extend the drive to set up the game-winning field goal.  The Packers won but looked outplayed.  At the end of the day, a win is a win and a division win is even sweeter for the Packers. Next week Green Bay welcomes the Raiders to Lambeau field.

 2. Minnesota Vikings (3-2)

The Vikings exploded on offense against the Eagles.  Stefon Diggs caught 3 touchdowns and the Eagles couldn’t overcome the poor defensive performance.  Right now the Vikings are looking like a playoff team, just two weeks removed from their dismal loss in Chicago where they scored 6 points.  A huge divisional game in Detroit awaits this Sunday.

3. Chicago Bears (3-2)

The Bears took Week 6 off and got plenty of injury updates. Wide Receiver Taylor Gabriel and Defensive Lineman Bilal Nichols are healthy.   Lineman Kyle Long went on the IR and Akiem Hicks looks to be out for a few weeks.   Mitchell Trubisky returned to practice and looks like he will play.  With the Saints coming to town, it is a big opportunity for the Bears to reassert themselves in the elite conversation.  A loss would hurt the Bear’s playoff hopes tremendously in a cluttered NFC.

4. Detroit Lions (2-2-1)

Detroit came out firing against the Packers, going up 13-0 in the first half. At some junctures of the game, the Lions looked a bit stagnant and complacent kicking field goals.  That being said, they played a pretty good game Monday night and if not for some “iffy” calls on the last drive, they would have three victories.  Bouncing back won’t come easy though as the Vikings come into Ford Field after an impressive win in Week 6.

NFC WEST

1. San Francisco 49ers (5-0)

The 49ers continued their dominate start to the season by easily handling the Rams on the road.  The ‘Niner’s defense looks dominant and the offense has many weapons.  The return of Tevin Coleman has been noticed and Nick Bosa is making his presence felt every game.  This week the 49ers head across the country to Washington D.C. to play the Redskins.  Although Washington earned its first victory this past week, the 49ers look like an unstoppable force right now.

 2. Seattle Seahawks (5-1)

The Seahawks put together an impressive comeback win against the Browns in Week 6.  This team is looking more and more capable of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl with each game they play.  A tricky home game against the Ravens  is up next in Week 8. Even with a playoff spot likely locked down, the Seahawks would much rather win the division and (most likely) get a first round bye in the playoffs, so every game is important to keep up with the 49ers.

3. Los Angeles Rams (3-3)

The Rams have lost three in a row, matching their loss total from last year.  The team looks completely out of sync, and securing a playoff spot seems more and more unlikely with each week.  the Rams made headlines this week trading two first round picks to receive Jalen Ramsey from the Jaguars.  Ramsey will add even more star power to the Rams’ defense, but they have not looked as dominant as advertised lately.  Maybe Week 7 will be the turning point for L.A. as they travel to Atlanta.

4. Arizona Cardinals (2-3-1)

The Cardinals have put together two in a row, and Kyler Murray is no longer looking like a rookie quarterback.  A trip to play the Giants and fellow rookie quarterback, Daniel Jones, is up next for Murray and the Cardinals.  A win would bring the Cardinals to .500 just under halfway through the season.  Although a playoff appearance seems like a reach, crazier things have happened.

NFC EAST

1.Dallas Cowboys (3-3)

The Cowboys have dropped three straight and do not look playoff worthy.  A road loss against the winless Jets is definitely an eye opener, and now Jason Garrett’s seat has warmed up a bit.  Failing to make the playoffs would almost certainly be the end of Garrett’s time in Dallas. The first step to avoiding  this letdown is this Sunday at home against the Eagles.  

2. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)

The Eagles performed rather poorly in Minnesota last week coming off of two consecutive wins. Although the Vikings played very well themselves, some fans still consider the Eagles Super Bowl contenders and playing like they did this past week isn’t going to get the job done.  Week 7 brings us the long awaited matchup in Dallas.   With both the Cowboys and Eagles sitting at 3-3, it looks like the division winner may be the only playoff team from the NFC East.  Expect a tight one in Dallas with playoff like atmosphere.

3. New York Giants (2-4)

The Patriots were too much to handle for this young Giants’ team in Week 6.  Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley are the future in New York and getting back to the winning tradition may be closer than we think in  New York.  With the Cardinals coming to town in Week 7, getting to 3-4 would leave the Giants just a game out of first place.  Even with the early season struggles, the lack of dominance in the NFC East will leave the door open for the Giants for quite a few weeks; it will be their job to seize the opportunity.

 4. Washington Redskins (1-5)

The Redskins won the tank bowl against the Dolphins 17-16.  The team is still without a (permanent) head coach, and Case Keenum is starting over Dwayne Haskins.  The Redskins’ organization is in shambles, and trading away players for draft picks would be the ideal approach to rebuilding this historic franchise.

NFC SOUTH

1.New Orleans Saints (5-1)

The Saints won an ugly game in Jacksonville, 13-6.  Teddy Bridgewater didn’t look very sharp, but the defense led them to a road victory which is never easy in the NFL.  This week the Saints head to Chicago where Khalil Mack and the Bears’ defense awaits.  With both defenses playing well, it looks like a big turnover or special teams play could be the deciding factor.  This is a big game for the Saints as the Panthers are just a game back.

2. Carolina Panthers (4-2)

Kyle Allen has led the Panthers to four straight wins as the starter and the murmurs are beginning to spread that even with a healthy Cam Newton, the Panthers should go with Allen at quarterback.  With a bye in Week 7, the Panthers are expecting Newton to be healthy for their Week 8 matchup in San Francisco, but that does not mean he will be the starter.  Whatever the Panthers decide, they will have Christian McCaffrey running the ball out of the backfield, building on his MVP type season.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)

The Bucs are trending in the wrong direction.  Jameis Winston threw FIVE interceptions against the Panthers in London this past week and the Bucs may have now lost any playoff hopes they had heading into Week 6.  Tampa Bay will take Week 7 off to rest up and prepare for a trip to Tennessee in Week 8 looking to get things back on track.

4. Atlanta Falcons (1-5)

The Falcons’ Week 6 loss summed up their whole season. There is nothing more frustrating than missing a potential game-tying extra point in the final few seconds.  For a team that was expected to be competitive, these losses prove why the Falcons have lost four straight.  This week the Falcons host the Rams who have been on a losing streak themselves, in a battle of hungry teams dying to get back in the win column.

NFC POWER RANKINGS (Week 6 Ranking)

  1. New Orleans Saints (1)
  2. Seattle Seahawks (2)
  3. San Francisco 49ers (4)
  4. Green Bay Packers (3)
  5. Chicago Bears (7)
  6. Minnesota Vikings (10)
  7. Detroit Lions (5)
  8. Los Angeles Rams (6)
  9. Carolina Panthers (11)
  10. Philadelphia Eagles (9)
  11. Dallas Cowboys (8)
  12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12)
  13. New York Giants (13)
  14. Arizona Cardinals (15)
  15. Atlanta Falcons (14)
  16. Washington Redskins (16)

NFC Overview: Week 6

Week 5 brought us upsets, blowouts, and nail biters.  There are now only two undefeated teams, four winless teams and 10 teams in the league with a record of 3-2. The NFC became even more uncertain in some divisions, but it seems that we may have found the team to beat in the conference.   Find out below where each team is trending, and if they will be competing on wildcard weekend.  

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (4-1)

Aaron Rodgers owns Dallas.  He was 4-0 when playing the Cowboys on the road coming into Sunday, and this one was never really close.  The Packers sprinted out to a 31-3 lead before coasting in the second half.  Although the score indicates a closer game, you never felt that the Cowboys had a chance.  The Packers proved that they are a top 3 team in the conference.  Next week is a big divisional matchup on Monday Night Football as they host the Lions

2. Detroit Lions (2-1-1)

The Lions moved into second place during their bye week thanks to the Bears’ loss.  This Lions’ team has looked competitive in every game, and some people are considering them legitimate contenders for the division title.  Right now it looks like the NFC North will go through Green Bay, but a Lions’ win on Monday night would change everything.

3. Chicago Bears (3-2)

Sunday was a tough loss for the Bears in London.  They came out flat and the Raiders took advantage, putting up 17 points in the first half, exposing the Bears’ defense along the way.  The third quarter belonged to the Bears who scored three touchdowns and took the lead.  In the end, the Raiders put together a 93-yard drive for the winning score late in the fourth.  The Bears head into the bye week with many injuries and are hoping to get back Mitchell Trubisky for a big game against the Saints in two weeks

4. Minnesota Vikings (3-2)

The Vikings responded well to the criticism they received during last week.  They threw the ball well and took care of the Giants to remain just a game back of the Packers. Next up is a tough game at home against the Eagles who seem to have found their identity in the past few games.  A win at home could loom large for wild card tiebreakers later in the season.  Although the passing game looked corrected, Stefon Diggs still might not be sure if he wants to be in Minnesota.  Check out his reaction to being asked: “Do you want to be in Minnesota?”source

NFC WEST

1. San Francisco 49ers (4-0)

The 49ers look for real.  They beat up on the Browns on Monday night forcing four turnovers and rushing for over 200 yards.  Although the Browns certainly have their own issues, the 49ers embarrassed a team that put up 40 points last week in Baltimore.  Now, the 49ers have a target on their back and will get everyone’s best shot.  Week 6 takes the ‘Niners to L.A. for a big divisional game against a Rams team looking for a bounce-back win after back to back losses.

2. Seattle Seahawks (4-1)

The Seahawks and Rams put on the best Thursday night game of the season.  Russel Wilson looked unstoppable and the Seattle defense came up with a big interception to seal the game late in the fourth. This game also contained an early “play of the year” candidate in Russel Wilson’s Touchdown throw to Tyler Lockett during the second quarter (see below).  At 4-1, the Seahawks look like an elite contender in the NFC.  This week the Seahawks travel to play the Browns who haven’t lived up to their preseason hype just yet.

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3. Los Angeles Rams (3-2)

The Rams have lost two in a row and are not looking like last year’s 13-3 division winners.  Jared Goff is having a terrible start and Todd Gurley doesn’t seem like he will ever reach the level he did last year.  The defense looks uncertain on every drive and they have now given up 85 points in the last two games.  With the NFC West looking this good, the Rams need to straighten things out to remain in wild-card contention.  A win against the 49ers this Sunday would put them right back into the mix for the division crown, but that’s easier said than done against this ‘Niners’ team.

4. Arizona Cardinals (1-3-1)

Winless no more! The Cardinals won the battle of the worsts with the Bengals and secured their first victory of the season 26-23.  Kyler Murray rushed for a touchdown and the defense did just enough to hold off Cincinnati.  Now the Cardinals come home to host the abysmal Falcons for a chance to start a nice win streak.

NFC EAST

1.Dallas Cowboys (3-2)

The Cowboys got dominated by the Packers.  Sure they showed some life in the second half, but they never had a chance.  Dak Prescott had another forgettable performance when facing a good team, and just like that the Cowboys and the Eagles have drawn even.  After a trip to New York to face the Jets, the Cowboys will host the Eagles in two weeks on Sunday Night Football.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (3-2)

The Eagles quietly took care of the Jets and improved to 3-2.  The Eagles look to have found themselves and are gaining a lot of momentum before their first showdown with the Cowboys in two weeks.  Standing in between that is a tricky road game in Minnesota where the Vikings are 2-0 this year. 

3. New York Giants (2-3)

Although this Giants’ loss proves that they aren’t quite playoff competitive yet, they still show great signs of growth.  Week 5 will be a forgettable one, but with Saquon Barkley’s return on the horizon, the Giants could definitely upset some teams who are overlooking them down the road.  That first chance for a huge upset will come this week on Thursday Night Football against the undefeated Patriots in Foxborough.

 4. Washington Redskins (0-5)

The deed is done! Gruden is gone!  The only problem is the Redskins are still winless and now without a head coach.  Whatever they do, they need to find someone interested in developing Dwayne Haskins while the team continues to lose.  It’s looking like the Redskins and Dolphins are leading the charge for next year’s number one pick…and how convenient that they play each other this week.  Don’t miss the tank bowl!!

NFC SOUTH

1.New Orleans Saints (4-1)

Teddy Bridgewater is 3-0 as the Saints’ starter and as it stands right now, they look like one of the top teams in the conference, even without Drew Brees.  This week the Saints head to Jacksonville to take on Gardener Minshew and the Jaguars. The Saints are the team to beat in the conference, and considering the lack of competition in this division, it looks like the Saints could have the South clinched by December.

2. Carolina Panthers (3-2)

 The Panthers put together a nice win against the Jaguars last week and are back above .500. Cam Newton continues to remain on the sideline and has already been ruled out for Week 6. With a win this week, the Panthers would remain just one game back of the Saints, while virtually erasing any chance the Bucs had of winning the division crown.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3)

The Bucs put up a good fight in New Orleans last Sunday but ultimately fell short against the Saints.  This is a tough game to swallow as the Bucs are now two games behind for the division lead.  This week, the Bucs head to London for another big divisional matchup with the Panthers whom they have already beaten this season.  A win would draw them even with the Panthers, and keep them within shouting distance of the Saints. A loss might derail any slim playoff hopes the Bucs still have.

5. Atlanta Falcons (1-4)

The Falcons continue to lose. The offense put up 32 points, but giving up 53 points will never win a game in the NFL.  Clearly, the Falcons are the biggest disappointment of the season thus far.  Many thought they could compete with the Saints, but even with the weapons the Falcons have, they remain in the basement of the NFC.  Week 6 takes the Falcons out to Arizona where they should have a good chance to get back in the win column.  With each week, their win against the Eagles in Week 2 looks even more surprising.

NFC POWER RANKINGS (Week 4 Ranking)

  1. New Orleans Saints (1)
  2. Seattle Seahawks (6)
  3. Green Bay Packers(3)
  4. San Francisco 49ers (8)
  5. Detroit Lions (7)
  6. Los Angeles Rams (2)
  7. Chicago Bears (4)
  8. Dallas Cowboys (5)
  9. Philadelphia Eagles (9)
  10. Minnesota Vikings (12)
  11. Carolina Panthers (13)
  12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11)
  13. New York Giants (10)
  14. Atlanta Falcons (14)
  15. Arizona Cardinals (15)
  16. Washington Redskins (16)

NFC Overview: Week 5

With Week Four in the books, we’ve gained some more clarity on which teams will be playoff contenders come January.  As it stands now, the conference looks very competitive with a log jam of teams at 3-1.  Some teams impressed, and others didn’t show up. Here is the Week 5 overview in the NFC with the updated Power Rankings below.

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (3-1)

The Packers had a tough game against the Eagles on Thursday night, and Carson Wentz and his squad delivered. Beating Rodgers and the Packers in Lambeau is tough to do especially in a short week. The offense looked a little better, but still has room to improve. The Packers would have loved the 4-0 start but are still sitting atop the NFC North heading into a big game against the Cowboys this week.

2. Chicago Bears (3-1)

The Bears won a huge divisional game against the Vikings on Sunday despite being without 3 defensive starters, a starting offensive lineman, and Mitchell Trubisky.  On the first drive Trubisky went down with a shoulder injury and backup Chase Daniel came into the game and played very well.  The Bears defense overpowered the Vikings in every aspect and showed why the Bears can be a Super Bowl contender despite the uncertainty on offense.  Next up is a trip to London to face the Raiders.  Trubisky will not play in Week 5.  The early indication is a dislocated shoulder, but he will not need surgery.

3. Detroit Lions (2-1-1)

Although the Lions were not able to pull off the upset against the Chiefs, they definitely proved that they are no pushover.  In recent years the Lions have been mediocre at best, usually at the bottom of the NFC North.  After the start through four games, folks in Detroit are very excited.  Yes, the loss does bump them in the standings, but in the large scope, the Lions took large steps this past week.  To get back in the win column, the Lions will have to wait until their trip to Lambeau field in two weeks on Monday Night Football after their bye. 

4. Minnesota Vikings (2-2)

The worst performance on Sunday belonged to the Vikings.  I understand they played the Bears’ defense on the road, but that’s no excuse for the pitiful effort they put out.  The offense certainly has some soul searching to do after this one.  Even though their rushing game should bounce back against the Giants, we found out how bad the Vikings pass attack is.  Kirk Cousins is essentially stealing from the Vikings with his forgettable performances in primetime games.  Next week the Vikes head to New York, which is looking like a much tougher game than many originally thought after the emergence of Daniel Jones.

NFC WEST

1. San Francisco 49ers (3-0)

The 49ers took Week 4 off and benefitted from the Rams loss.  San Francisco sits atop the NFC West and is the lone unbeaten team in the conference. This Monday the 49ers host the Browns who impressed many with their win on Sunday in Baltimore.  A Monday night win at home to improve to 4-0 will surely boost their stock and put them into serious playoff talks.

2. Los Angeles Rams (3-1)

The Rams were the biggest surprise of the weekend…in a bad way.  The offense looked out of sync, Todd Gurley only rushed for 16 yards, and Jared Goff turned the ball over four times.  Although the Buccaneers gave the Rams a few chances to get back into the game, a better opponent would almost certainly not allow for those opportunities.  A loss at home giving up 55 points is a real gut-check, and the Rams need to do some soul searching.  This comes at a horrible time, as the Seahawks await Thursday night in Seattle.

3. Seattle Seahawks (3-1)

The Seahawks beat up on the Cardinals this past week.  Russel Wilson is playing some of the best football of his career (must be the fat paycheck) and the Seahawks are right in the thick of things at 3-1.  The biggest concern with the Seahawks is their weak schedule to open the season.  The three wins have come against teams with a combined record of 1-10-1.  This Thursday they welcome the Rams for a pivotal division matchup that could loom large come December. 

4. Arizona Cardinals (0-3-1)

On Sunday the Cardinals got a real taste of how far away they form being competitive.  This organization is focused on piecing together a roster to compete for division titles in a few years.  For now,  developing Kyler Murray and seeing if Kliff Kingsbury is the right fit are the top priorities.  This week they travel to Cincinnati where they will play the winless Bengals. 

NFC EAST

1.Dallas Cowboys (3-1)

The Cowboys played a tough game in New Orleans but fell short despite scoring the game’s only touchdown.  The offense looked a bit confused at times and had trouble establishing the run game.  Although there were questions surrounding the Cowboy’s ability to compete against playoff-caliber teams, they definitely proved that they should still be considered a top team in the conference. Putting up a close game in New Orleans is a tough feat with or without Drew Brees suited up. The road doesn’t get much easier though, as the Packers come to Dallas next Sunday looking for a bounce-back win.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (2-2)

The Eagles put on one of the more impressive performances of Week 4.  Even with some injuries, and a Thursday night game on the road, the Eagles came out and weathered the storm from the Packers.  In the second half, they made some big plays and despite some questionable play calls from the Packers late in the game, the Eagles rose up to the challenge and picked-off Aaron Rodgers to seal the road win.  This seemed to be a turning point for the Eagles who were sort of spiraling.  Now, they look like they will give the Cowboys a run for the division crown.  This week the Eagles host the Jets looking to build off of Thursday’s progress.

3. New York Giants (2-2)

Daniel Jones is 2-0! The Giants took down the Redskins rather easily on Sunday and are back at the .500 mark.  Daniel Jones didn’t look quite as sharp this week, but a win is a win.  The Vikings are coming in this week, and getting to 3-2 seems a bit more doable, especially after the Vikings performance in Chicago.  Despite the rough start, the Giants’ season is still alive and well.

4. Washington Redskins (0-4)

…Fire Gruden and move on.  An all-time horrible coaching move putting your rookie quarterback into the middle of a game on the road.  The Redskinds should move on from Gruden and find someone to develop Haskins.  This franchise is scrambling right now and the fan base is uneasy.  Oh, and the Patriots come to town on Sunday as 16 point favorites.  Prayers go out to Redkins faithful everywhere.

NFC SOUTH

1.New Orleans Saints (3-1)

No Drew Brees? No problem.  The Saints took care of the Cowboys Sunday night and look like they will be just fine until Brees returns.  Nobody expected the Saints to be 2-0 after losing Brees (especially with their schedule) but here they are at 3-1 with a home contest with the Bucs to get to 4-1.  When Brees does come back, it will be hard to say they aren’t the team to beat in the NFC.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2)

The Bucs won a big game in L.A. on Sunday and looked pretty good while doing it. There were still some defensive issues and a pick-six thrown which opened the door up to the Rams, but they got the win.  There is definitely room to improve still, but with each week it seems less and less improbable to see the Bucs snag a wildcard spot. Remember, this team is a missed field goal away from being 3-1.  The Bucs now have a trip to New Orleans where a win would put them in first place.

3. Carolina Panthers (2-2)

The Panthers didn’t play particularly well this past week, but they got the win against the Texans despite 3 Kyle Allen fumbles.  At 2-2 and no Cam Newton timeline, it is unclear if the Panthers can still push for a playoff spot.  For now, beating the Jaguars at home would keep them on track to make a wildcard push in December.

4. Atlanta Falcons (1-3)

The Falcons 2019 season is already a disappointment.  Many people thought they could surprise and compete with the Saints. Instead, they have made no progress and sit at the bottom of the division.  This week, they travel to Houston to face a tough Texans team.  A 1-4 start for the Falcons may turn up the heat in Dan Quinn’s seat.

 

NFC POWER RANKINGS (Week 4 Ranking)

  1. New Orleans Saints (4)
  2. Los Angeles Rams (1)
  3. Green Bay Packers(2)
  4. Chicago Bears (9)
  5. Dallas Cowboys (3)
  6. Seattle Seahawks (7)
  7. Detroit Lions (6)
  8. San Francisco 49ers (8)
  9. Philadelphia Eagles (11)
  10. New York Giants (12)
  11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13)
  12. Minnesota Vikings (5)
  13. Carolina Panthers (14)
  14. Atlanta Falcons (10)
  15. Arizona Cardinals (15)
  16. Washington Redskins (16)

NFC Overview: Week 4

After three weeks of football, I think it is finally appropriate to analyze each team’s progress and future path with three performances to critique.  The NFC is shaking out to be a very competitive conference with many teams sitting at 2-1 or better.  Read below to find out how I see each division playing out, as well as a preview for Week 4. Finally, in the end, I will provide a power ranking for each team in the conference.

NFC NORTH

I think it is only fitting, to begin with the NFC North because of its combined record of 9-2-1.  Every team looks like it could make a run for the playoffs.  Although some teams may have executed and performed better in some games, I think we can get a true sense of each team’s identity heading into Week 4.

1. Green Bay Packers (3-0)

Heading into the season, Green Bay was holding its breath as new coach Matt LaFleur was beginning his tenure as the leader of one of the NFL’s most coveted franchises.  Of course, there has been some drama regarding Aaron Rodgers in the past few seasons on his coachability, but thus far that doesn’t seem to be an issue. After three games, the Packers are undefeated and their defense is leading the way.  The offense has had some forgettable moments (The ugly win in Week 1 at Chicago) but it seems to be trending in the right direction.  Being 2-0 in the division is certainly an added bonus to this unbeaten start, and they will look to improve to 4-0 on Thursday Night Football as the Packers will host the Eagles who have gotten off to a rocky start themselves.  I predict the Packers to win against a beat-up Eagles squad who is having difficulty on the defensive side of the ball.  Look for the Packers to get an early lead and coast.

2. Detroit Lions (2-0-1)

WOW! What a start for the Lions.  Coming into the year I don’t think many people expected much from this team, but they have proven everyone wrong. At times, they have looked sloppy (4th Quarter against the Cardinals Week 1, and Most of the game against the Chargers) but at the end of the day, they have beaten two playoff teams from a year ago, and have been able to withstand late-game pressures. Matthew Stafford looks solid again this year, and the team is playing well in the early parts of the game, which was often a problem in recent seasons.  This week the Lions host the Chiefs.  Although it seems like a daunting task, I think the Lions are a pesky team that could hang around for a little in this game.  In the end, I expect the Chiefs to remain undefeated and the Lions to fall to 2-1-1, which is by no means a failure considering their early-season opponents.

3. Minnesota Vikings (2-1)

The Vikings look like a playoff team. They have dominated the Falcons and Raiders at home, but in between, they fell to the Packers at Lambeau.  Although they need to improve their ability to play on the road, the Vikings defense is once again looking dangerous, and Dalvin Cook has returned to his rookie form.  Kirk Cousins, however, still leaves questions about his ability to be a reliable quarterback each week in the NFL. Upcoming, the Vikings travel to Chicago where a very important road divisional game awaits.  As good as the Vikings may seem, if they fail to win road games, especially in the division, they could be a team that misses out on a playoff spot with a seemingly worthy record.  All that said, I don’t think the Vikings will be able to pull out a victory against the Bears this week.  The game being at 3:25 pm will only add more pressure to Kirk Cousins who can simply look overwhelmed when he faces pressure, and I expect the Bears to be very hungry to win at home after their Week 1 letdown.

4. Chicago Bears (2-1)

The Bears came into this season with Super Bowl aspirations. After adding pieces to an already stellar defense (HaHa Clinton-Dix) the Bears seemed like they might be on their way to just that.  Although being 2-1 isn’t bad, the Bears have certainly left room for improvement on the offensive side of the ball.  Third-year quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky showed some signs of development and growth last season but hasn’t been able to put together a complete performance.  His play on Monday Night Football against the Redskins was the best it has been, but he still threw a poor interception in the endzone and missed some rather simple throws.  I like the Bears to win this week against the Vikings, but the only way for them to accomplish that is with a good performance from Trubisky. 

NFC WEST

The NFC West is another strong division with a combined record of 8-3-1.  The Rams look like they are definitely capable of returning to the Super bowl. The Seahawks and 49ers have good records but haven’t beaten any team with a winning record yet. Although the Cardinals have a poor record, they have shown positive signs with a rookie quarterback.

1. Los Angeles Rams (3-0)

The Rams are coming off a solid win in Cleveland on Sunday night.  The most promising part of the Ram’s performances up to this point is the fact that Todd Gurley hasn’t gotten going.  He still has much more to offer in this fire-powered offense, which is benefitting immensely from the return of Cooper Kupp.  The defense looks solid yet again, and I expect them to handle the Buccaneers rather easily this Sunday before a tough Thursday Night Football matchup with the Seahawks in Seattle. A return to the Super Bowl certainly seems possible if things continue this way.

2. San Francisco 49ers (3-0)

The 49ers look like the team everyone expected last season before Jimmy Garoppolo got injured. The offense is producing very well even with injuries and uncertainty in who the top receiver is. The biggest concern at this point is the quality of the opponents they have faced. Combined, the Buccaneers, Bengals, and Steelers are 1-8. This Monday the 49ers host the Browns who are still trying to find themselves as well. Nonetheless, a Monday night win at home to improve to 4-0 will surely boost their stock and put them into serious playoff talks.

3. Seattle Seahawks (2-1)

The Seahawks hosted the New Orleans Saints last Sunday who were without Drew Brees. Even so, the Saints dominated that game. Although the final score was 33-27, the game was over halfway through the third quarter. With their two wins coming against winless opponents, (By slim margins) I still cannot tell if the seahawks will be true playoff contenders. They have a divisional game at Arizona this Sunday which they most likely will win, but I think the Seahawks’ true colors will show next Thursday against the Rams.

4. Arizona Cardinals (0-2-1)

The Cardinals will not make the playoffs this year. The focus is all on developing Kyler Murray and preparing him for important games in November and December for seasons to come. Coach Kliff Kingsbury was criticized for not exploring enough with Murray in the first few weeks. In week three Murray looked overwhelmed at times in the second half against the Panthers, and turnovers killed any chance of pulling out the victory at home. As disappointing as it may be for a Cardinals fan, every young quarterback needs games where they perform poorly because it motivates them for weeks to come. I am excited for this team’s future with Murray at the helm.

NFC EAST

1.Dallas Cowboys (3-0)

The Cowboys look unbeatable right now. Dak Prescott has shown up this season. The move for Amari Cooper gets better with each game he plays, and Zeke is…being Zeke. The defense is strong, and the Cowboys have cruised to every win easily. The strong start is nice, but this Sunday night they will travel to play the Saints in New Orleans. This is the most intriguing matchup this week, but I am leaning slightly towards the Saints at home. Even still, the Cowboys look to be on their way to winning the NFC East again.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)

The Eagles are in a tough spot. after three games they are 1-2 and have a difficult road game in Green Bay on Thursday. Starting out 1-3 was not on the agenda for anyone in Philadelphia, but maybe this game could turn everything around. They haven’t looked particularly sharp in any game. The offense is banged up and the defense can’t keep teams out of the endzone. If a 1-3 start is the case, the panic meter will be tapped out.

3. New York Giants (1-2)

The Giants have entered the Daniel Jones era. Week 3 marked Jones’s first start in a Giants uniform and boy did he show up. Although a missed field goal from the Bucs ultimately decided the game, it would be hard to imagine the Giants in that position with Eli Manning under center. No disrespect to Eli, I believe he will be in the hall of fame someday. For now, he should either find a team who needs another quarterback or just retire. This week I think they will easily handle the redskins and be 2-2. As for the Giants season, I don’t expect them to make the playoffs but they should be much more fun to watch and be competitive each week.

4. Washington Redskins (0-3)

Jay Gruden should be sweating after Monday night. The Redksins did not show up at all, Case Keenum turned the ball over 5 times, and the “boos” were out early and often. Dwayne Haskins should be ready at any moment because at this point they have nothing to lose. The lone bright spot has been rookie receiver Terry McLaurin. He has made an instant impact and scored a touchdown in each game. Things only get worse as the ‘Skins travel to New York to face Daniel Jones in his first home game.

NFC SOUTH

1.New Orleans Saints (2-1)

The Saints got robbed last year in the NFC Championship. With most of the team returning, reaching the Super Bowl is almost the expectation in New Orleans. Everything was on course until Drew Brees broke his thumb and needed surgery which sidelined him for 4-6 weeks. The game against the Rams wasn’t pretty and losing Brees just added insult to injury. The bounceback against the Seahawks was impressive, but another tough test against the Cowboys awaits this Sunday. Although Brees is crucial to the Saints’ success, I think they will stay afloat and then capture the division after his return.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)

The Bucs do look improved under Bruce Aryans. Jameis Winston looks more like himself and although they had a tough loss to the Giants Sunday, I wouldn’t be surprised if they won 7 or 8 games this season. The winning, however, might have to wait a few weeks as road games against the Rams and Saints are up next.

3. Atlanta Falcons (1-2)

The Falcons are a tough team to figure out. After a poor performance week 1 against the Vikings, they responded with a hard-fought, dramatic victory against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football. Week 3 however, they could not secure a road victory against the Colts on the road and are now at 1-2. This week they travel to Houston to play a tough Texans’ defense and Deshaun Watson and Deandre Hopkins. I truly think the Falcons are better than their record, but that doesn’t mean much in this league. Each week is a crapshoot and you have to execute to earn victories.

4. Carolina Panthers (1-2)

I have lost all faith in Cam Newton. Even before his injury in week 2 he looked awful. Kyle Allen, on the other hand, seized his opportunity, and after an impressive win in Arizona, some people are saying there could be a quarterback competition in Carolina. I know it seems impossible that a former MVP could have his job at stake, but this is an unforgiving league and winning is the most important. If that isn’t being done, then changes will be made. Carolina hosts the Jaguars this Sunday and has a good chance to get back to .500.

NFC POWER RANKINGS

  1. Los Angeles Rams
  2. Green Bay Packers
  3. Dallas Cowboys
  4. New Orleans Saints
  5. Minnesota Vikings
  6. Detroit Lions
  7. Seattle Seahawks
  8. San Francisco 49ers
  9. Chicago Bears
  10. Atlanta Falcons
  11. Philadelphia Eagles
  12. New York Giants
  13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  14. Carolina Panthers
  15. Arizona Cardinals
  16. Washington Redskins

 

Sunday Night Football Preview: Rams @ Bears

Week 14 brings NFL fans a very interesting Sunday Night Football game.  The Los Angeles Rams head into to Soldier field with a record of 11-1 to square off with the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears at 8-4.

The Bears are coming off a tough overtime loss to the Giants.  The Bears were without starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, and it really showed.  Backup quarterback Chase Daniel threw 2 interceptions and had difficulties handling some snaps which really hurt the Bears offense in a tight game.  Trubisky should be back Sunday night against the Rams.  Head Coach Matt Nagy seemed optimistic about Trubisky playing this weekend, especially after being a full participant in Wednesday’s practice.  If Trubisky plays and is 100%, this Bears offense has potential to put up some points against a Rams defense that has given up over 30 points on 4 occasions this year.  I would expect the Bears to try to run early on the Rams with Jordan Howard and mixing in some touches for Tarik Cohen.  Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel have given the Bears a much more reliable receiving group this season, and they will need them to be at their best on Sunday night if they are to pull off this upset.  If the Bears go down early, I expect a lot of passing, which opens the door for Aaron Donald who is having a career year on the defensive line for the Rams.

On the other side of the ball, we will see if a good offense can beat good defense.  The Rams are easily one of the best offenses in the league this year.  Third-year quarterback Jared Goff is having his best year as a pro, and running back Todd Gurley is in the MVP race.  Throw in some very talented receivers like Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, and you get a team that is averaging 34.9 points per game.  Lining up across from the Rams is a top 5 Bears defense gives up 317 yards per game and only 20.1 points per game.  This unit is led by Khalil Mack who has been worth every penny for the Bears since trading for him before the season.  His presence on the outside has allowed for Akiem Hicks to become more dominant on the inside.  The Bear’s secondary is led by Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller who respectively have four and five interceptions on the season.  Although they can look shaky at times, the secondary is certainly capable of taking a receiver off of his groove.

Rams Keys to victory: For the Rams, it is simple.  Keep doing what they have been all year. Let Gurley get settled in and run him often.  If the Bears can’t stop the run continue to do it all night.  If the run game isn’t there, Jared Goff is more than capable than slinging the ball around the field and throwing for a couple hundred yards.  The only thing to worry about is the Chicago pass rush.  With Mack lurking every pass play can be a bit nerve-wracking for an offense.  I think Sean McVay is a smart enough coach to realize this and will give Goff quick and easy throws to combat the pass rush.  If the Rams take care of the ball against this pesky defense they should be fine.  The defense just has to be good enough and make the plays they should. The Rams can simply outscore the Bears and win without much of a worry.

Bears Keys to victory:  To keep it simple, the Bears pass rush needs to be firing on all cylinders.  If they can make Goff uncomfortable, the Rams become one-dimensional with Gurley and stopping him becomes that much easier when you can stack the box.  On offense, Trubisky needs to be solid and take care of the ball.  I think the X-Factor for the Bears is Tarik Cohen, who has fit in very well in Chicago’s new offensive scheme this year.  If the Bears can win the turnover battle and make some timely catches on offense I think they can pull it off.

Overall, this is the biggest matchup of the year for the Bears.  This is the best team they will face all year and they will get to do it on national television in primetime.  The weather could play a factor, and the home crowd will only help the Bears chances.  I look for them to come out with some intensity as they did against the Vikings last month on Sunday night.  In the end, the Rams are too talented offensively and will pull out a 33-26 victory on the road.  If the Bears hang tough they should gain a lot of respect around the league.  If they can upset the Rams, they are a team to be feared come January.

5 Postseason Breakout Stars

With the Astros beating the Dodgers in Game Seven of the World Series on Wednesday, the MLB postseason has concluded.  Opening Day 2018 is about five months away and a cold, baseball free winter lingers.  However, October had enough moments to keep every fan in awe until spring breaks next March.  It got started with a bang in both Wild Card games when the home runs started exploding off the bat.  In the division series, we saw two game fives (the road team won both).  The championship series brought a little less drama on the National League side.  The Dodgers dominated, and got their revenge on the Cubs for 2016.  The ALCS was a spectacular series with two young, hungry teams, and it was only fitting it went the distance.  Of course, the World Series was the best of the postseason.  A full seven games gave fans plenty to cheer about on both sides.  Games 2 and 5 could be considered some of the best World Series games in the past 20 years.  In the end, the Astros got the best of the Dodgers.  Over the past month, many players grew up and broke through on the biggest stages in baseball.  Here are five players I who flew under the radar, and made big contributions this postseason.

 

Chris Taylor (Dodgers)

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Taylor opened the World Series with a lead-off home run for the Dodgers in  Game 1
In a postseason full of records, Chris Taylor’s is the most impressive to me.  Reaching base  27 times in 71 plate appearances. Nothing helps your team more than a consistent lead-off hitter, and Taylor delivered. Taylor began the playoffs rather quietly with only 3 hits against the Diamondbacks in the NLDS, but it was against the Cubs where Taylor really took off.  In the five games, Taylor hit .316, with two home runs, and drew five base on balls.  This performance won Taylor co-MVP honors for the series with Justin Turner.  In the World Series, Taylor opened up Game 1 with a shot into left field putting up the Dodgers 1-0.  After that, Taylor would record five more hits and drew four walks for the rest of the series, including a game tying RBI double in game six.  Although the Dodgers came up short, they sure found themselves another everyday player that should compliment this already stacked roster yet again in 2018.

Alex Bregman (Astros)

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Bregman celebrates his walk-off hit in Game 5 of the World Series
 

Here we have yet another young, emerging star in the MLB.  Alex Bregman grew up this postseason.  Bregman had average hitting performances in the first two series, but in the World Series, he got hot and hit .233 with two home runs and 5 RBI.  This is a huge step for a young player. Bregman was also the savior in Game 5.  If you ask me, anyone was bound to get a hit and win that game for the Astros but he stepped up when it was his turn and delivered.   Aside from the hitting, I blown away by his fielding. Bregman had numerous plays in at third base that left me speechless, including a diving stop in Game 7.  This was Bregman’s first full season, and he made the most of it, leaving his mark on a great World Series.  Look for this young, talented Astros core to be around for awhile and Bregman will be a big part of their success.

Lance McCullers Jr. (Astros)

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McCullers Jr. allowed 6 eared runs in 20.2 innings this postseason
 

After the championship season, it looks like the Astros have a three-headed monster in their starting  rotation for 2018.  Once again, Dallas Keuchel was Houston’s ace, and then the Astros acquired former MVP Justin Verlander from the Tigers.  When things got tough in the playoffs however, Lance McCullers is the pitcher that comes to mind when I think of clutch pitching performances this October.  First, I look at his Game 4 start against the Yankees in the ALCS where he pitched 6 innings and only gave up 2 hits and a lone earned run.  The Astros ended up losing that game because of their bullpen, but McCullers gave them a good chance to win.  Next in Game 7, McCullers came in relief to pitch four scoreless innings to wrap up the series and send the Astros to the World Series.  In the World Series, McCullers started Game 3 and gave up three runs on four hits through 5.1 innings.  It was a good outing for McCullers, but he just ran out of gas in the sixth and the Dodgers got to him for two more runs.  Nonetheless, the Astros offense supported their pitcher and outscored the Dodgers.  Finally in Game 7, McCullers went out and had a shaky few first couple innings including giving up a lead-off double followed by hitting two batters in the first.  However, McCullers showed great poise to get out of that inning.  He only lasted 2.1 innings and hit four batters along the way.  The bigger number though, ZERO runs given up. In a game seven on the road, that is all any team can ask for out of a pitcher.  He even had an RBI in the second inning to extend the Astros lead.

Michael A. Taylor (Nationals)

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Taylor rounds the bases after hitting a grand-slam in Game 4 against the Cubs
The man who almost single-handedly put the Nationals into the NLCS.  Although they ultimately lost to the Cubs in five games, Michael Taylor had himself a series.  Taylor batted .333 over the five game series and hit a grand-slam off Wade Davis in Game 4 and sent the series to a fifth game where he would hit a three-run homer in the second inning of that game, which momentarily relieved the nail-biting fans in D.C.  Taylor also had a pretty solid regular season.  He played 118 games, batted .271, and hit 19 home runs.  Safe to say, the Nationals found their next season center fielder. I am excited to see what’s to come of him and the Nationals in the next few years.

 

Greg Bird (Yankees)

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Bird Hits a home run off Andrew Miller in Game 3 of the ALDS
Greg Bird came to play in his first postseason.  I hadn’t heard about Bird until I watched the wild card game and saw his regular season stats.  In only his second season in the big leagues, he played 48 games, had a .190 batting average, hit 9 home runs and batted in 28 runs.  Not eye popping numbers by any means.  However, when I watch him at the plate, I see a very smooth lefty swing, complimented with great discipline.  Because of this, Bird drew 12 walks in 54 plate appearances to go along with 10 hits which equates to about a .243 batting average.  Bird has power as well.  He hit three homers and had 6 RBI.  He also hit a home run in Game 3 off of Andrew Miller to keep the Yankees’ season alive.  Bird’s numbers are pretty good for a young player, and he has the tools (and maybe now the confidence) to put together his first full season next year.

 

 

Rodgers Down, Division left wide open.

This past Sunday, Aaron Rodgers went down with a season ending collarbone injury.
With no initial quarterback resolution, the Packers, who looked like a for sure playoff team, now stand with a huge question mark under center.  As for the division, The Vikings sit at 4-2 tied with the Packers.  The  underachieving Lions are 3-3, and the Bears are at 2-4 with Mitchell Trubisky grabbing his first win as a starter this past weekend.   Simply put, its anyone’s race to win.

First, here’s how each team’s next three weeks look:

Packers: Week 7-  vs Saints   Week 8-  BYE   Week 9- vs Lions

Vikings: Week 7-  vs Ravens   Week 8-  @ Browns  Week 9- BYE

Lions:  Week 7- BYE   Week 8- vs Steelers   Week 9- @ Packers

Bears: Week 7- vs Panthers  Week 8- @ Saints  Week 9- BYE

For the Packers, their bye week will be a much-needed week of recovery.  The only thing in the way is Drew Brees and a Saints team who exploded for 52 points against the Lions this past week.  After their bye comes a huge showdown with a the Lions at home.  I think this will be enough time for the Packers to find a quarterback who can at least give them a chance in games, and the Lions don’t look nearly as good as many predicted coming into the season.  Look for the Packers to be 5-3 at the halfway point.

The Vikings are shaping up to be the favorite at this point, mainly because of their defense.  As for their offense, it has been devastated by injuries to open the season.  Dalvin Cook is out for the season, and Sam Bradford’s status remains uncertain.  The only good news is Teddy Bridgewater’s return to the practice field this week.  If Bridgewater can return in the next few weeks, the Vikings should take control of this division in the near future.

The Lions have possibly been the biggest disappointment in the NFL this season.  They have a great offense, but it only shows up in the fourth quarter.  Matthew Stafford has always been known for leading the Lions to come from behind victories, but these days it looks as if they are okay with going down by two or three possessions in the first half.  This isn’t working for the Lions and if they want to make a move in this division, that has to change fast, along with their struggling defense.

The Bear’s finally pulled the trigger with Trubisky and he earned his team a win in his second start.  Jordan Howard continues to carry the load for this offense in desperate need of a star wide receiver.  The defense played well against the Ravens considering two of their touchdowns came off special teams returns.  Definitely an outsider chance at the postseason, but the league is full of parity this year, and if Trubisky can get going and find himself some receivers, this team has second half potential.  Expect the Bears at 3-5 at the halfway point.

Projected Mid-season standings:

Vikings: 6-2

Packers: 5-3

Lions: 4-4

Bears: 3-5

Projected Final Standings:

Vikings: 10-6

Packers: 8-8

Lions: 8-8

Bears: 7-9

 

Trubisky and the Bears take on the big stage, plus five other games to watch in Week 5

The moment we (Bears fans at least) have been waiting for: “Trubisky Time”.  Earlier this week the Bears finally announced their second overall pick, Mitchell Trubisky, would finally get his first career start.  The rookie comes in to replace a struggling Mike Glennon who’s performance reminded many of “Turnover Jay”.  With Chicago’s recent quarterback failures, it’s hard to believe it can get any worse.  The only question is, “Will the Monday Night Football stage be too big for Trubisky in his debut?”

Here are six games to watch in week five (in no particular order):

Week 5

Monday Night Football:

Minnesota Vikings (2-2) @ Chicago Bears (1-3) Monday 8:30pm EST

Last Thursday, Mike Glennon attempted to lead the Bears to their second consecutive victory of the season.  To keep it short, Glennon accounted for four turnovers and the Bears were embarrassed on national television against their rivals in Green Bay.  This week, with another prime time game upcoming, the Bears made the move that their fans have been waiting for: Glennon grabs the bench and Mitchell Trubisky takes over as the starter.  Trubisky is a play maker with his arm and with his legs.  Look for the Bears to establish the ground game early with Howard and Cohen to get Trubisky comfortable.  On the other side, the Vikings come in off a close loss to the Lions last Sunday.  Rookie running back Dalvin Cook suffered an ACL tear during the game, causing the ground game to take a hit.  This week, look for Latavius Murray to be more sharp with a week of practice as the starter under his belt.  As for Sam Bradford, he is day-to-day at this point.  If he could return Monday night and perform like he did in week one, the Chicago secondary could have a long night chasing around Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen who are both having breakout seasons. Solid defense and inexperienced quarterbacks (if Bradford sits) point towards a low scoring affair, but don’t be surprised if the Bear’s offense has some extra confidence with this quarterback change.

Vikings: 23 Bears: 27

 

Sunday Night Football

Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) @ Houston Texans (2-2) Sunday 8:25 pm EST

The lone undefeated team escaped a scare from the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football in week four.  Now, the Chiefs head to Houston and find a suddenly dangerous Texans team who scored a franchise record 57 points in their win over the Titans in week four.  Rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson led the way with five total touchdowns, while Lamar Miller added another score on the ground.  As expected, the Texan’s defense is one of the best in the league fronted by JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney on the defensive line.  Across from them will be a Chiefs offense that has surprised many with their early season success.  Rookie running back Kareem Hunt has accounted for 659 yards from scrimmage along with four touchdowns this season. Alex Smith looks as confident as ever under center, continually finding Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce through the air.  The Chiefs also boast a talented defense of their own that looks to go into Houston and shut down a high flying offense.

Chiefs: 24 Texans: 20

 

Thursday Night Football 

New England Patriots (2-2) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) Thursday 8:25pm EST

OFFENSE! EVERYWHERE! Tom Brady and the Patriots offense head down to Tampa for a big game as they sit at 2-2 and look to avoid a second straight loss.  The defense probably won’t show up again, so I won’t bother including them in the trip to Tampa.  The Patriots have given up 128 points through 4 games which ranks 31st in the league, just in front of the Colts. If you ask me, the Patriots are suffering the effects of a Super Bowl hangover, but are bound to wake up any moment and be right back in their elite form.  The Bucs rebounded nicely from a week three thrashing to the Vikings, and beat the Giants at home.  This Buccaneer’s offense has many weapons.  James Winston is off to the best start in his career, and Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Cameron Brate continue to help Winston and the passing game thrive. Doug Martin will be back for the Bucs fresh off his four game suspension.  If you have any offensive fantasy players on either team, play ’em.

Patriots: 34 Bucaneers: 37

 

Sunday (Day Games) 

Carolina Panthers (3-1) @ Detroit Lions (3-1) Sunday 1pm EST

The Lions came into the season as slight favorites in the crowded NFC North, and have answered the bell (thus far).  Matthew Stafford, fresh off his huge contract extension, isn’t exactly off to a Pro Bowl start, but nonetheless, he has lead his team to three victories, which is what truly matters at the end of the day.  Averaging just under 300 yards per game, the offense has much room for improvement.  The Lions defense however, is one of the better units in the league, only giving up 17.5 points a game.  The opposing Panthers come in fresh off their upset win in Foxborough in week four over the Patriots.  Cam Newton seems to be playing like his true self once again, throwing for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns, in their week four victory.  He found wide receiver Devin Funchess two times in the end zone, and frequently targeted Kelvin Benjamin who did a nice job filling the void left by Greg Olsen.  The Panthers are off to a nice start and look to keep pace with the Falcons in their division.

Panthers: 34 Lions: 28

 

Seattle Seahawks (2-2) @ Los Angeles Rams (3-1) Sunday 4:05 EST

Four weeks ago, this matchup looked rather uninteresting with the Rams beating a miserable Colts team, and the Seahawks getting beat up at Lambeau to start the season.  However, here in week five, this matchup will play a big part in deciding this division.  The Rams are legit.  If their road win over the Cowboys wasn’t enough to prove it, just take a look at their offense that averages a league leading 35.5 points per game.  Jared Goff is having an incredible bounce back season so far, with seven touchdowns and only a single interception.  Todd Gurley is finally reaching his peak and leading this Rams offense week in and week out.  The Seahawks come in off a second half surge against the Colts last Sunday night to secure a victory.  Exploding for 36 points in the second half, the Seahawks look to continue that success into the game against LA.  The defense looked dangerous once again, forcing two turnovers, and scoring on both.  Of course, this comes against a struggling Colts offense, but it’s a start. Russell Wilson had himself a nice second half as well.  Running back Chris Carson  broke a bone in his leg and was placed on IR.  Eddie Lacy will be the next man up but with many questions about how well he can perform still lingering, the pressure will be on Russell Wilson to make some special plays.

Seahawks: 24 Rams: 35

Green Bay Packers (3-1) @ Dallas Cowboys (2-2) Sunday 4:25 pm EST

The rematch.  These to teams have created a slight rivalry in playoff games over the past few years.  Between the “Dez caught it” incident along with last year’s miraculous throw and catch from Aaron Rodgers to Jared Cook to set up the game-wining field goal for the Pack in Dallas, the Cowboys don’t necessarily love seeing the cheese heads in their stadium.  The Packers sit at 3-1 tied atop their division.  The defense has certainly been an area of concern, and the test against a good Cowboys offense should shine some light on where this unit stands. The Packer’s offense will (most likely) be without Ty Montgomery and Davante Adams who were both injured last week against the Bears.  Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will be in the lineup to help Rodgers and company secure the victory in Dallas.  The Cowboys come in at 2-2 fresh off a loss to the surging Rams at home.  Still, the Cowboys are one of the best teams in the NFC with Das Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot in the backfield running behind one of the best offensive lines in football.  Look for the Cowboys to put up POINTS  this week against a poor Packer’s defense.

Packers: 27 Cowboys: 38