The Obstructed NFC Wild Card Preview

As we sit on the eve of the playoffs, the NFC Wild Card games are going to be a couple of interesting games. We have the defending Super Bowl champions having to take the long road to a repeat. We have a team who has relied on their defense to win games again, just like they did over 30 years ago for their only Super Bowl Title. We have a team who has rebuilt and retooled for another Super Bowl run. And finally we have a team who made a big trade midway through the season hoping to catch fire the rest of the way. And they ultimately did. So we have teams set with storylines and goals so it really should be a fun start to the playoffs.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT DALLAS COWBOYS, 8:15 (SATURDAY), FOX

FOR THE SEAHAWKS: They got there with a revamped defense and a young one. They god rid of the major veterans from the Legion of Boom years (save really Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright) and have started over, but it really worked as the poise and focus has been there (something I felt was missing for the past three seasons in Seattle). The Seahawks will rely once again on offense with Russell Wilson who probably had his best season of his career this year (3,000+ yards, 35 TD’s only 7 INT’s with a comp. rate of 65.6). However, Wilson can be like Barry Sanders of quarterbacks where he tries to do too much and can actually lose yards now and then (51 sacks on him this year, most in his career). And Dallas is a team that Wilson can’t try to be cute with the football against as they can get after him like nobody else. However, what has made Wilson more difficult has been the presence of a run game, something that really has been missing since 2014 when Marshawn Lynch was there. Chris Carson is a back who had over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns. If he has a good game, it will make Dallas’s defense honest which is great for Wilson.

FOR THE COWBOYS: The Amari Cooper trade installed new life into the franchise from top to bottom. Dallas went 7-1 down the stretch with Cooper on the roster (not counting the Tennessee game). Dak Prescott was the one who benefited the most as many started to view him as a flash in the pan. Prescott completed 69% of his passes with 12 TD’s and 3 INT in that span. Ezekiel Elliott showed he is one of the game’s elite backs and can really put pressure on any team himself. And in the game against Seattle earlier this season rushed for over 100 yards. The Cowboys defense has been pretty strong all season if not spectacular. They have guys who can get after quarterbacks (Demarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford), and a great young linebacker that is fun to watch in Leighton Vander Esch. So the front seven for Dallas will have to be a major issue for Seattle.

OUTLOOK: The key match-up is going to be Seattle’s receivers against Dallas’s secondary. The one thing about Seattle and how great they’ve been has been the play of Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett notably for the Seahawks. If the Cowboys can’t get pressure Wilson, this may be a long game for Dallas. It will also be can Wilson play without trying to do too much with the ball such as trying to extend plays. If he can avoid that, then I think Seattle is in great position to win. However, he has also been hit a lot this year again. I don’t know if the Seahawks line can stop Dallas’s pass rush. On the other side, Dallas has been a far different team than the one that lost to Seattle in what feels like a century ago. I don’t know for as good as the Seahawks defense is, if there is any one player that can stop Cooper on the outside. That may be the two things I give an edge on Dallas with and that may be enough to send them into the Divisional round. COWBOYS 23, SEAHAWKS 20

EAGLES AT BEARS, 4:40 (SUNDAY), FOX

FOR THE EAGLES: Well, it has a small ring to it. Starting QB is injured and backup comes in and gets them to the playoffs. Philadelphia who had been somewhat lying in the weeds all season, strung a winning streak near the end of the season to defend their Super Bowl title. Nick Foles gets the nod, hoping to keep that magic like they had last season. But this time they have to do it away from Philadelphia and do it in a hostile environment in Chicago. Tough task to take. But Foles has Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, and now Golden Tate to have a formidable passing game. However, the lack of a running game is very problematic this year (28th in the league in rushing yards) and going against the #1 run defense in the league in Chicago. This right here, if Philadelphia has no luck whatsoever, the game could not last very long. Foles however has been solid, but again, Chicago’s defense is excellent against the pass and opportunistic as well. So the Eagles will need to do something on defense such as getting interceptions and fumbles. That means the Eagles front four need to put pressure on Mitch Trubisky to have a shot. Trubisky had a great sophomore season, but hasn’t been tested in playoff time yet. The Eagles will have to force Trubisky into making some errors and stop the tandem of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. It’s a tough task to do doing everything on Chicago’s fairly balanced offense.

FOR THE BEARS: Chicago will rely on their #1 defense to get them to Atlanta in February. They are one who relies on getting turnovers and making those big stops especially from keeping the drive from extending into longer drives. With the Eagles having a non-existent running game this season, the Bears may not have to worry much on that and focus on going after Foles. In that case, you can see it being a long game or Philadelphia’s offense. With the Bears offense, Trubisky will have to play smart and not try to take major chances down the field if he is pressured. He threw for 12 INT’s (not bad) but it seems like those INT’s have come at times where he’s been under the gun and tries to do too much a la Russell Wilson. It may have to come with experience for him as the Bears have’t seen the playoffs for a good while. But I think to take pressure off of Trubisky, both Cohen and Howard will have to be actively involved in the offense so Trubisky has a great chance. When they are involved, Trubisky fares far better than when that aspect is shut down.

OUTLOOK: This is the one game that I feel “comfortable” in my pick. Chicago’s defense is tough across the board and Philadelphia right now is really one-dimensional. That bodes well for the Bears who can just get after Foles. As for the other side, if Trubisky plays smart and doesn’t turn the ball over, then I don’t see it being much of a game. The only way Philadelphia wins is if Chicago makes mistake after mistake. I don’t see it happening. Chicago has been a pretty disciplined group all season. Maybe a concern should be the special teams notably with Cody Parkey on the Bears. If it does, I don’t know if it affects this game. BEARS 27, EAGLES 10

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed NFC West Preview

Much like the PAC-12 Conference in college football, the NFC West somewhat has that “forgotten” feel to the NFL.  When the division isn’t entirely great, people really tune out as the 4:00 games are somewhat of a “no mas” type for the typical football fan as they watched a large portion of the 1:00 NFL games on Sundays.  And then we get Arizona vs. Seattle or something to that.  While a few years back that was entertainment between the Cardinals and Seahawks, it doesn’t have that same vibe now.

A debate can be made as the NFC West could be the weakest of the NFC Divisions.  Seattle looks to be trending down (and yes I think they will trend down big time), Arizona is somewhat in a rebuild phase.  But then the Rams and 49ers look to make some noise.  Los Angeles re-tooled in getting star players in the off-season while San Francisco hopes to build off their run at the end of the year where they beat three playoff teams down the stretch (in a row).  So if the NFC West is weak, at least the top half may provide some must-see TV in 2018.  Onto the preview.

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(1) SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

LAST SEASON: 6-10, 4TH PLACE

KEY ADDITIONS: RB-Jerick McKinnon (FA-Minnesota), RB-Alfred Morris (FA-Dallas), G-Jonathan Cooper (FA-Dallas), C-Weston Richburg (FA-New York Giants), DT-Cedric Thornton (FA-Buffalo), CB-Richard Sherman (FA-Seattle), P-Jeff Locke (FA-Detroit), T-Mike McGlinchey (Draft-Notre Dame), WR-Dante Pettis (Draft-Washington), LB-Fred Warner (Draft-BYU), S-Tavarius Moore (Draft-Southern Mississippi)

KEY LOSSES: C-Daniel Kilgore (Trade-Miami) T-Trent Brown (Trade-New England), RB-Carlos Hyde (FA-Cleveland), TE-Logan Paulsen (FA-Atlanta), G-Brandon Fusco (FA-Atlanta), DE-Tank Carradine (FA-Chicago), LB-Elvis Dumervil (FA), S-Eric Reid (FA), CB-Dontae Johnson (FA-Seattle)

I admit, I’m buying into the 49ers Bandwagon with Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo.  Sue me.  But also, while seeing Carlos Hyde leave was a shocker, I think Jerick McKinnon was more suited in what Shanahan wants to run in San Francisco.  Garoppolo’s winning streak in San Francisco, say what you want, was no joke.  While the Niners look to have the quarterback and the running back in place, questions will be if Garoppolo has a receiver to throw at and yes, he has Marquise Goodwin.  I kinda think the days of Pierre Garcon as a #2 receiver are over so there are questions on that side but they have an underrated tight end in George Kittle. He will be missing the remainder of the pre-season but he should be healthy enough to start week 1.  So I think the Niners have a quality offense, though may not be tops, but strong enough.  The key issue for San Francisco will be on defense and to see if they make strides.  They weren’t terrible last year, but they weren’t the teams we saw Jim Harbaugh have with having the likes of Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, and others.  But there are pieces such as Solomon Thomas and others like DeForest Buckner.  The 49ers added former nemesis Richard Sherman from Seattle in the off-season, so it brings hope that San Francisco will improve.  However, at this point, Sherman may be better off as a safety given his skills have gone backwards over the last few years in Seattle.  But still, the 49ers defense should improve.  KEY QUESTION:  Was Garoppolo’s run a fluke last year?  I don’t think so.  I don’t know if he will put up the big numbers, but he will find ways to win games.  MY PREDICTION: 12-4  I think the 49ers just have a favorable schedule and they will take advantage of it to be in the mix of a first round bye.  

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(2) LOS ANGELES RAMS

LAST SEASON: 11-5, 1ST PLACE (LOST TO ATLANTA IN WILD CARD ROUND)

KEY ADDITIONS: WR-Brandin Cooks (Trade-New England), DT-Ndamukong Suh (FA-Miami), DE-Ryan Davis (FA-Buffalo), CB-Marcus Peters (Trade-Kansas City), CB-Aquib Talib (Trade-Denver), CB-Sam Shields (FA-Green Bay), T-Joseph Noteboom (Draft-TCU)

KEY LOSSES: WR-Tavon Austin (Trade-Dallas), WR-Sammy Watkins (FA-Kansas City), TE-Derek Carrier (FA-Oakland), LB-Connor Barwin (FA-New York Giants), CB-Trumaine Johnson (FA-New York Jets), DE-Robert Quinn (Trade-Miami), LB-Alec Ogletree (Trade-New York Giants) DT-Tyrunn Walker (FA-Buffalo)

“Those who do not learn from history…”  The Rams came off a great season last year thanks in part to an MVP caliber year from running back Todd Gurley and then defensive player of the year Aaron Donald while Jared Goff made huge strides and won the NFC West.  They lost in the Wild Card so they went out and got Marcus Peters from Kansas City, Brandin Cooks from New England, and Ndamukong Suh from Miami.  Everything went great until Aaron Donald held out.  And currently he is still holding out.  But what was talked about was the Rams created something close to a “SuperTeam” with these guys.  Ehh…we saw that the Eagles tried to do it back in 2011 and that completely backfired on them.  Now with or without Donald, the Rams defense under Wade Phillips should be near the top of the league given his schemes and plays so to think Los Angeles will be completely reeling from Donald’s holdout is pretty silly.  Yes, they will take a hit assuming he doesn’t suit up by Week 1, but it’s still a good defense.  I’m more concerned i on the Rams offense and if Jared Goff can play his game like he did last year.  In the Falcons game he didn’t look all that great and struggled agianst a good defense.  However, if he builds off the season he had last year, he will be considered as an MVP candidate as the Rams SHOULD be in the mix of a first round bye.  But I don’t think he will make as many strides, but he should still be at the very least solid.  The Rams however will have their fates decided if Todd Gurley keeps his running at a top notch level and at an MVP level.  If he can, this team is the Super Bowl sleeper in the NFC.  KEY QUESTION: Will Aaron Donald play in Week 1?  Honestly I believe so.  I think the Rams will give him his money.  And it’s rightfully deserved if you ask me.  MY PREDICTION: 10-6.  Rams will have a good balanced attack, but I’m not 100% sold on Goff being that guy.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Indianapolis Colts

(3) ARIZONA CARDINALS

LAST SEASON: 8-8, 3RD PLACE

KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Sam Bradford (FA-Minnesota), QB-Mike Glennon (FA-Chicago), FB-Derrick Coleman (FA-Atlanta), WR-Brice Butler (FA-Dallas), G-Justin Pugh (FA-New York Giants), T-Andre Smith (FA-Cincinnati), DE-Benson Mayowa (FA-Dallas), CB-Budda Baker (Trade-Cleveland) CB-Bene Benwikere (FA-Dallas), QB-Josh Rosen (Draft-UCLA), WR-Christian Kirk (Draft-Texas A&M), C-Mason Cole (Draft-Michigan),

KEY LOSSES: QB-Carson Palmer (Retired), T-Jared Veldheer (Trade-Denver), QB-Blaine Gabbert (FA-Tennessee), QB-Drew Stanton (FA-Cleveland), QB-Matt Barkley (FA-Cincinnati), RB-Adrian Peterson (FA), RB-Kerwynn Williams (FA-Kansas City), WR-John Brown (FA-Baltimore), WR-Jaron Brown (FA-Seattle), DE-Frostee Rucker (FA-Oakland), LB-Karlos Dansby (FA), CB-Tyrann Mathieu (FA-Houston), CB-Tramon Williams (FA-Green Bay), CB-Justin Bethel (FA-Atlanta)

To be fair, the Cardinals probably overachieved last season as the team was somewhat patchwork especially after David Johnson was lost early on in the season.  He’s a great back, but it just has that rebuilding vibe in Arizona with Carson Palmer out (as well as Drew Stanton) and Josh Rosen in (as well as Sam Bradford).  Whether or not Rosen is the starter in Week 1 remains to be seen but there isn’t a feel that Rosen will just take the league by storm.  He is an emotional quarterback.  When he plays great, he is zeroed in and focused.  But when he isn’t, he’s somewhat of a combustible guy and that to me is a big problem for a rookie.  Adding on, the roster has a lot of turnover from last year and when you have that much turnover on a team in the NFL it does create problems.  Which stinks because the Cardinals have one of the best running backs in the game and probably the best corner in the game in Patrick Peterson.  But there will be some hiccups along the way for Arizona as I really don’t see them being a major threat in the NFC West.  KEY QUESTION:  Is Josh Rosen ready?  Absolutely not.  People call him arrogant a la Baker Mayfield, but Mayfield found ways to win games.  Rosen last year didn’t and you do have to wonder if there is a durability issue.  I just think he is more of a guy that would alienate his teammates more than rally them.  Just my humble opinion.  MY PREDICTION: 5-11.  Arizona has far too many questions on both sides to even be considered a threat.  

Seahawks

(4) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

LAST SEASON: 9-7, 2ND PLACE

KEY ADDITIONS: WR-Jaron Brown (FA-Arizona), WR-Brandon Marshall (FA-New York Giants), TE-Ed Dickson (FA-Carolina), G-DJ Fluker (FA-New York Giants), K-Sebastian Janikowski (FA-Oakland), P-Jason Myers (FA-Jacksonville), LB-Barkevious Mingo (FA-Indianapolis), CB-Dontae Johnson (FA-San Francisco), RB-Rashad Penny (Draft-San Diego State), DE-Rasheem Green (Draft-USC),

KEY LOSSES: DE-Michael Bennett (Trade-Philadelphia), RB-Eddie Lacy (FA), RB-Thomas Rawls (FA-New York Jets), WR-Paul Richardson (FA-Washington), TE-Jimmy Graham (FA-Green Bay), TE-Luke Wilson (FA-Detroit), T-Luke Joeckel (FA), T-Oday Aboushi (FA-Oakland), T-Matt Tobin (FA-New England), K-Blair Walsh (FA), DE-Sheldon Richardson (FA-Minnesota), CB-Richard Sherman (FA-San Francisco), S-Kam Chancellor (retired)

Don’t.  Just don’t.  I don’t want to hear the outcry if you’re a Seahawks fan of why I have Seattle dead last and having one of the worst records in football.  The draft for Seattle the last few years has been a disaster (Malik McDowell?) and so far not many are getting pumped on the idea of Rashaad Penny in the first round.  The offensive line is still a mess which means Russell Wilson will run for his life and try to do too much like he did at times last year.  While most of the unhappy campers are gone, Seattle still has an unhappy Earl Thomas and from what it sounds like there are still others who are unhappy and have “tuned out” coach Pete Carroll.  The running game is a major question mark and has been since the Super Bowl.  So if you think Penny, Chris Carson and others will help out and then bringing in the talented but controversial Brandon Marshall at receiver will solve all ills, then you have far too much faith in the offense, delusional, or just back in time to the 2012-2015 seasons.  I don’t see Seattle being much and if Russell Wilson gets hurt at any point, that’s the season right there and he will take more hits again this year.  So it may be a long year in the Emerald City.  KEY QUESTION:  IF Seattle has a porous record, would the Seahawks consider firing Carroll?  Yes.  I get he won a Super Bowl, but if the Seahawks crash and burn this year, it will be because the players have partly tuned him out with all the rah-rah bit.  It worked with a young Legion of Boom squad and yes they are a young group, but you have players who are there that are key players that will just blow it off like whatever.  MY PREDICTION: 3-13.  I don’t see Wilson making it through a full season either.  

That’s it for the NFC West.  One more to go!

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Is Pete Carroll on the Hot Seat in Seattle?

How much things change in a span over a few years.  Widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the game coaching a team at the forefront of the NFL, Pete Carroll is entering a 2018 season something he really hasn’t seen since joining the Seahawks: an underdog.

And it may be what he likes.  Before the Legion of Boom dynasty started in Seattle, he took a team not many considered to be worthwhile and showed that he could build a strong team on both sides of the ball, mainly defense.  In 2012, with the help of rookie Russell Wilson at quarterback, Seattle made it to the Divisional round against Atlanta.  In 2013, Super Bowl champions.  In 2014, another Super Bowl appearance.

Then…we see it all the time now: the interception at the goal line.  Many in the media have obliterated Pete Carroll for the decision of having Wilson pass instead of handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, who was having a good day (over 100 yards rushing).  After the game, the Seahawks players took the high road of saying they trusted their coach, including Lynch (where many thought he would have lost his mind).

Regardless of what was said, it was the beginning of the decline for Seattle.  Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn left to coach the Falcons and players started to make their exits one at a time.  The Seahawks lost to Carolina in the divisional playoff in 2015 and then got smacked by Atlanta in the divisional the year after.  Then last year, Seattle didn’t even see the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Worse, players who have exited stage right in Seattle are now saying that their trust in Carroll went out the window in that Super Bowl and they practically tuned him out (Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, etc.).  Also whether it is related or not it doesn’t seem Earl Thomas (holding out) or Kam Chancellor (complaining of nagging injuries even in the off-season) wanting to get in again.  And when you tune out a head coach, bad things happen.

Before the decline in Seattle, you heard that if you signed with the Seahawks, nothing would be given to you and you had to earn it.  Pete Carroll seemed to be the players coach while being a rah-rah coach and had the college mantra where the young players were really excited to have.  When those young players turn to veterans like what we saw in Seattle then things change.  They get tired of it.  Now some point to that.  Others point to maybe the exit of Quinn had something to do with it as he somewhat preached that “brotherhood” in Seattle as the defense was a well gelled defense in Seattle’s Super Bowl years as opposed to after it where we saw instances of players bickering and fighting with each other on the sideline.

Last year’s team many believed Russell Wilson’s effort netted the Seahawks more wins than they should have, thus giving the belief that he should have won the MVP in 2017 (I wasn’t one of them mind you).  But whether you agree or not about the MVP argument, Wilson probably did save Seattle from finishing dead last in the NFC West.  However with all the hits Wilson has taken, the chances are if it continues to happen, he will not see all 16 games, which could mean massive disasters in the Northwest.

Worse, the drafts of recent years for Seattle hasn’t shown much in the way of major results and their top pick in 2017 Malik McDowell, may never play given his injury issues over an ATV accident.  Adding on, the moves the Seahawks have made over this time period has also been somewhat questionable, trading Pro Bowl center Max Unger to New Orleans for Jimmy Graham.  Seemed like a good idea at the time, but Graham never really looked comfortable in Seattle’s offensive system like he had in New Orleans while Unger left a void that is somewhat felt today in Seattle as Wilson is normally on his back after throwing passes.  The running game has been a disaster since the Super Bowl run, even in Lynch’s last year with the team while the signings of free agents like Eddie Lacy and Fred Jackson while Thomas Rawls couldn’t do much either.

Seattle is starting anew somewhat.  They are younger which means Carroll is hoping to have the youngsters buy in to the philosophy.  However, some of these youngsters saw first-hand the likes of Sherman, Avril, Bennett, and others who just tuned out Carroll so the biggest question is, will these youngsters buy in or follow suit of the previous veterans?

To me, Seattle has more of a chance of getting the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft than making it to the Super Bowl.  With the Rams investing in a super-team and the Niners figuring to make massive gains in 2018 Seattle won’t be dominant like they were in their own division.  Adding on top of that, the schedule isn’t too forgiving with seeing road trips to Denver (always hard to win there), Chicago (who should figure to be upstart), Detroit, and Carolina while hosting the likes of the Vikings, Chargers, and Packers, all of whom figure to be in contention for the playoffs.  If Seattle keeps afloat and ends up 7-9 or 8-8, I think Carroll’s job is very safe, but from the looks of it, this team is a Russell Wilson away from being 3-13.  And that’s a far cry than when the Seahawks won a super Bowl with an inexperienced Wilson at quarterback.  But even with Wilson, Seattle is still capable of being a 5-11 or a 4-12 team, which is not going to please the fans in the Emerald City.  So this year Carroll has to show that the Seahawks rebuild is going better, and faster that many believe.  And if he doesn’t, he may be something he hasn’t been too familiar with since his days in New England: having a burned rear end with his hot seat.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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