December 28, 2012
For the majority of NFL teams, there is just one game left in the season. Some of them know who they are. I’m talking to you Kansas City and Jacksonville. Others enter week 17 in do or die mode. You hear me Washington and Dallas? No matter who you are rooting for, this post season is setting up to be a great one. Now on to the rankings.
1 Atlanta Falcons (13-2) — The Falcons have clinched the top seed in the NFC and won’t have to play outside again until next season. Let’s see how they handle three weeks between meaningful games.
7 Seattle Seahawks (10-5) — Pete Carroll’s squad could still win the NFC West, but they are probably headed to Washington or Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.
9 Washington Redskins (9-6) — The Skins are 6-0 since they had their bye week but it’s going to have to be 7-0 for them to win the NFC East.
11 Dallas Cowboys (8-7) — Once again the Cowboys head into week 17 with everything on the line. You can bet this will come down to the fourth quarter.
12 Indianapolis Colts (10-5) — The turnaround of the Colts is one of the most impressive stories in the NFL. They are here to stay too.
14 New Orleans Saints (7-8) — Finishing at .500 would be pretty impressive considering all the drama in New Orleans this season.
15 Chicago Bears (9-6) — The Bears need to beat the reeling Lions and then root for Green Bay to knock off the Vikings.
16 New York Giants (8-7) — The defending champs have lost five of seven and need lots of help on Sunday to sneak into the playoffs.
17 Miami Dolphins (7-8) — If the season was 18 games like the commissioner wanted, the Dolphins would have a good shot to get in with the way they are playing.
18 St. Louis Rams (7-7-1) — After finishing 2-14 last season, the Rams are one of the most improved teams in 2012.
19 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) — Five losses in six games is not how the Steelers saw the stretch run going and they are out of the playoff hunt.
20 Carolina Panthers (6-9) — The Panthers waited too long to get hot. They have been one of the better teams after starting 2-8.
21 Tennessee Titans (5-10) — Clearly they are ready for the offseason. Nobody likes going to Green Bay in December but losing 55-7 is as bad as it gets.
22 New York Jets (6-9) — Looks like the Jets could go three for three on getting rid of quarterbacks this offseason. Should be interesting.
24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) — The Bucs won four straight to climb into the playoff hunt…then lost five in a row to fall out of it.
25 Arizona Cardinals (5-10) — It doesn’t appear that the Cardinals know who their quarterback is. But have they at least figured out who their quarterback isn’t?
26 Detroit Lions (4-11) — Were these guys really in the playoffs last year? What happened?
27 Cleveland Browns (5-10) — The Browns are making progress. Winning in Pittsburgh on Sunday would be another step forward.
28 Buffalo Bills (5-10) — Will either team show up when the Bills and Jets meet in the season finale?
29 Oakland Raiders (4-11) — If it wasn’t for beating the Chiefs twice, the Raiders could have the worst record in the league.
30 Philadelphia Eagles (4-11) — Will the Eagles knock the defending champs out of the hunt or improve their draft position?
31 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) — The Jags already beat Tennessee once. If they do it again, it could cost them the first pick in the draft.
32 Kansas City Chiefs (2-13) — Don’t expect the Chiefs to finish with a win in Denver against the hottest team in the league.
October 3, 2012
The NFL season is already a quarter of the way finished. We have a good idea of what a lot of these teams will be in 2012. Here’s where I have them so far.
1. Houston Texans (4-0) – The Texans have more wins than the rest of the AFC South combined. Nobody has really challenged them yet. That will change with the Packers and Ravens coming up.
3. San Francisco 49ers (3-1) – The 49ers 34-0 dismantling of the Jets was a nice bounce-back win after losing to the Vikings. They won’t hit the road again until an Oct. 29 showdown with Arizona.
4. Baltimore Ravens (3-1) – The Ravens could easily be 4-0 and look like a team ready for another trip to the AFC Championship Game.
5. Chicago Bears (3-1) – After three dominating wins Chicago heads to Jacksonville. Should be 4-1 heading into their bye.
6. Arizona Cardinals (4-0) – The Arizona defense is for real. Did anybody see this coming?
8. Denver Broncos (2-2) – The Broncos aren’t getting much respect for a team who has played well in 14 of 16 quarters this season and has losses against the NFL’s top two teams. The defense hasn’t allowed a fourth quarter point since week 1.
9. San Diego Chargers (3-1) – Three wins over mediocre teams. We’ll see how good the Chargers really are against the Saints and Broncos in the next two weeks.
10. Dallas Cowboys (2-2) - Dallas has its bye week to figure things out before a season-defining month begins as they take on the Ravens, Panthers, Giants, Falcons and Eagles with only the Giants coming to Dallas.
11. Green Bay Packers (2-2) - Green Bay barely avoided a disastrous 1-3 start, edging out the Saints. Looking more and more like that controversial finish in Seattle will have big postseason implications.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) – The Eagles are finding ways to win. Tough trip to Pittsburgh ahead with the Steelers coming off a bye.
14. Minnesota Vikings (3-1) – Are they the surprise team of 2012? Should I have them higher?
15. New York Giants (2-2) – World champs are technically in last in the NFC East. The Giants should get back on track against Cleveland.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1) – With Miami and Cleveland up next, the Bengals have a good shot to reach 5-1 heading into game with Steelers.
17. Seattle Seahawks (2-2) – Not sure what to make of this team. A win over the Packers looks pretty good on the resume but did they deserve it?
18. Washington Redskins (2-2) – RGIII was pretty impressive on the final drive against Tampa Bay. The Redskins lead the league in rushing and they’ll need a good ground game next week against Atlanta.
19. Detroit Lions (1-3) – The Lions need more touchdowns and fewer field goals. Especially with trips to Philly and Chicago coming up. 1-5 is a possibility.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) – The bye comes at a good time for Tampa Bay after three straight losses. Dead last against the pass so far.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) – Getting healthy during the bye week was a must for Pittsburgh. Also, improving the 31st ranked running game.
22. New Orleans Saints (0-4) – They looked more like the Saints but a loss is still a loss. They will fight but the hole is already too big.
23. St. Louis Rams (2-2) – Two critical games ahead for the Rams against Arizona and Miami. Don’t want to be 2-4 heading into Packers, Patriots and 49ers stretch.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3) – They are 30th against the run and 31st in passing offense. Not a good combo.
25. Buffalo Bills (2-2) – The Bills were oh so close to delivering a huge blow to New England until a second half meltdown.
26. Indianapolis Colts (1-2)- By not playing last week they looked better than a few teams ranked below this spot. Lets see how they progress after a week off.
27. Tennessee Titans (1-3) – Could easily be 0-4. Now the Titans go on the road to face the red-hot Vikings.
28. Carolina Panthers (1-3) – They looked pretty good in Atlanta but couldn’t close the deal. Must-win game this week against Seattle.
29. Oakland Raiders (1-3) - The Raiders need a week off after allowing 30+ in the last three weeks. Must get the ground game going.
30. Kansas City Chiefs (1-3) – A popular sleeper pick is on the verge of bowing out of the playoff race before the bye in two weeks.
31. Miami Dolphins (1-3) – Thought long and hard about moving the Dolphins up after two straight devastating overtime losses. But I don’t want to reward them for losing.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-4) – They are competing. They just aren’t very good.
August 29, 2012
The NFC is the definition of parity. Since the 2001-2002 season, 13 teams have made an NFC Championship Game appearance. Eight teams have played in the last four. Only the Cowboys, Redskins and Lions haven’t been there in this century. Will an NFC team reach the game for the first time in this millennium this season? I said it would happen last season and the 49ers proved me right (even though that isn’t the team I had in mind.) It’s pretty much the only thing I had right about the NFC so I’m going to press my luck and say that it happens again this year.
Once again, the Washington Redskins win in the offseason. But this time it’s because they moved up in the draft and picked Robert Griffin III to build the franchise around instead of overpaying for big-name free agents. And once again, someone else will win the division. But it won’t be the defending Super Bowl champs in New York. I picked the Philadelphia Eagles last year and it took them 12 games to get their act together. Philadelphia won its last four games and I believe they keep the momentum going to a division title. The heat is on in Dallas as the playoff win drought continues. Tony Romo is going to need better protection and more weapons to stay healthy. I say the Cowboys and Giants will be in a battle for the final wild card spot that won’t be decided until week 17.
Division winner: Philadelphia
It’s going to be a long season for Viking fans. Barring quarterback injuries, Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit will all be in the playoff hunt. Meanwhile, Minnesota is rebuilding. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are still the class of the North and will be looking for redemption from last year’s playoff loss to the Giants. Detroit gets better every year and could make a deep run if the defense gets better. The Bears will be much more dangerous after bringing in Jay Cutler’s favorite target from his days in Denver in Brandon Marshall and worked out a new deal for Matt Forte (if the offensive line can keep Cutler off his back). The Bears visit Detroit in week 17 and the winner will move on to the playoffs.
Division winner: Green Bay
The Saints were mere seconds away from hosting the NFC Championship Game last season. Letting the 49ers go 85 yards in less than two minutes was the beginning of the end for this team. From the Drew Brees contract mess to the Bountygate scandal, there couldn’t be much worse of an offseason. That’s too much to overcome in such a competitive NFC. This leaves the door open for Atlanta in the South. The Falcons have plenty of weapons. They just need to put it all together. In Carolina, the Panthers should continue to improve along with Cam Newton but they are at least a year away from contending. It’s anybody’s guess what we will see in Tampa Bay. The Bucs went from a 10-6 finish in 2010 to losing 10 straight and 4-12 in 2011.
Division winner: Atlanta
Thanks for nothing St. Louis. The Rams were by far my worst pick last season. I’m off the bandwagon but at least they know who the quarterback is going to be. Seattle just made a surprising announcement that rookie Russell Wilson will be the starter over their big-money free agent signing Matt Flynn. That could change with a rough start. In Arizona, the starter hasn’t even been named yet. Considering what they gave up to get him, Kevin Kolb needs to win the job. If he does, he will have a good defense to help him, but the Cardinals aren’t in the playoff class. San Francisco made a huge improvement last year and could be even better this year with the additions of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss at the receiver position.
Division winner: San Francisco
Wild Card winners: Dallas, Detroit
NFC champion: Green Bay
August 22, 2012
Quite simply, the Bears first-string offense looks phenomenal.
Everybody knew heading into the offseason that the Chicago Bears were at a make-or-break point as far as their offense was concerned. Behind running back Matt Forte, quarterback Jay Cutler didn’t have anyone else to rely upon.
The frustration on Cutler’s face, along with the Bears’ faithful was evident and the Bears’ ownership realized that the entire organization needed a breath of fresh air. The team hired Phil Emery to take over as GM and he wasted little time making drastic changes.
Out was offensive coordinator Mike Martz, in was Mike Tice. Martz has long been known for his elaborate schemes on offense which didn’t necessarily cater to Cutler’s liking. In the end it seemed like it was Martz and Cutler, and it is much easier finding an offensive coordinator who will get along with the franchise quarterback than it is to find someone of Cutler’s caliber.
The team then set out on a mission to improve their offense ad they did just that. Emery quickly made a trade with the Miami Dolphins for star wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who is familiar with Cutler from their playing days with the Denver Broncos.
Emery then signed Michael Bush, who was the best backup running back available in free agency. Bush is similar to Forte in the sense that he can not only run for a solid average, but he has a steady pair of hands that are to be trusted by Cutler. The Bears combination of Forte and Bush gives them the 1-2 punch that every NFL team desires. Within their division, they now have the best rushing attack in the NFC North.
The Bears weren’t satisfied with just one receiver, so they drafted a second. The Bears committed highway robbery when they stole receiver Alshon Jeffery with the No. 45 pick of the second round this year. Jeffery is a big, physical receiver who should make his living in the red zone. He was the icing on the cake and Bears’ fans have big hopes of eating it, too.
So, how good will the Bears offense be exactly? By all indications from their first game together in preseason Week 2, the Bears will contend for the Super Bowl. Sure, they’ve played less than a half of preseason football together, but they looked pristine.
Bush only had five carries, but he scored two touchdowns. Marshall and Jeffery didn’t find pay dirt, but their combined five catches for 123 yards looks downright scary to opponents. Who are opposing defenses supposed to guard? Don’t forget about Forte, who can do it all and will remain fresh throughout the season because of Bush. Another member of the Bears who will reap the benefits of the new and improved team is Devin Hester, who will be the dagger to many opponents this season.
Whether you like the Bears or not, it’s time to get excited to watch them play.
June 13, 2012
NFL teams are starting to get back in the swing of mandatory mini-camps and practices, bringing joy to their fans at the sign of football season nearing. At the same time, some fan bases are worried about key players missing camp and when, or more importantly if, they will return. Here are five players making their fans, and even some teams, nervous.
With all that has happened with the New Orleans Saints this off-season, this is the last thing the city needs. Brees was franchised and has yet to be offered a long-term deal that he finds suitable. While everyone knows that Drew Brees knows the Saints’ offense like he created it himself, he needs this time to work with new head coach Joe Vitt before the season starts. Even though this is more a question of “when” rather than “if”, it just adds to a couple of months Saints fans would love to forget.
Matt Forte is upset at being franchised and doesn’t seem too happy that they tied up money signing RB Michael Bush in free agency. The Chicago Bears are supposed to contend for the playoffs this season, and even with Bush and WR Brandon Marshall added this off-season, you have to assume Forte will be a major cog in that offense. Forte will eventually be back and I don’t think many Bears fans are truly worried about his return. However, they may have to worry about his attitude once he is back.
This is a situation the Baltimore Ravens need to handle carefully. With most of these players it is a foregone conclusion they will play sometime this season. That isn’t necessarily the case with Ed Reed. Reed is almost 34, and with several nagging injuries and complaints about respect, Reed could easily call it quits. All of that aside, I don’t think he will and if it weren’t for his comments about being unhappy I would say his missing camp is the least worrisome. If anyone knows the Ravens defense and how to be ready come Sunday it is Ed Reed. Until he returns to the team though, I would be nervous as a Ravens fan.
Maurice Jones Drew
For a franchise that has had little to celebrate recently, this is just more bad news to hear. Maurice Jones-Drew was the Jacksonville Jaguars offense this past season and now would like to be paid like it. He is currently the 8th highest paid RB and only has two years left on that deal. Jones-Drew is making a statement that could cost him $60,000 by missing camp, but if he holds out during the season, it could cost the Jaguars a lot more than that.
Along the same lines as everyone on this list, Mike Wallace wants a long term contract. Wallace broke out last season with almost 1200 yards receiving and has a bright future as a go to wide receiver. At the same time, the Pittsburgh Steelers have plenty of high-profile players who need to be paid, and with other receivers such as Antonio Brown on the roster, they may not want to spend as much as Wallace would like. Luckily for them, the franchise tag will make sure Wallace gets into camp before losing too much money, but it doesn’t mean he has to be happy about it. Even if Wallace was a distraction, the Steelers are a veteran team that would put a stop to that before it effected the season. I wouldn’t be too concerned as a Steelers fan.