November 27, 2013

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2013 NFL Q4 Must-See Games

By: Matt Bowen

The 2013 NFL season is nearing a close but there are plenty of questions yet to be answered. This year more than ever it seems that every game is a coin flip. Right now there are literally 26 teams still in playoff contention. This is great—every game from here on out will be a nail-biter. Here’s a list of the most crucial games during the final quarter of the season. Remember, each week will contain three categories; the heavyweight bout, the divisional battle and the hidden gem.

Week 13

The Heavyweight Bout: New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks

Games don’t get bigger than this one. A potential NFC Championship Game in the making, both teams have a statement to make. Nothing like ending a holiday weekend with a cherry on top, Monday Night Football is not to be missed—Drew Brees and Russell Wilson will have their teams primed for a battle. Find time for this one.

The Divisional Battle: Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions

NFL fans can thank the Detroit Lions for this Thanksgiving tradition. The Lions provided football on Thursday before football was on Thursday. Hooray! Hey, there’s nothing like spending family time together watching the Lions and Green Bay Packers pummel one another. Here’s some added fuel to the fire—first place in the division is on the line. The Lions currently hold the top spot but the Packers want it badly. Another added bonus, we get to watch Calvin Johnson—who doesn’t like to watch greatness?

The Hidden Gem: Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles

These teams are both surprises this year and playing their best ball of the season right now. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer just may be the hottest in the league. He’s thrown for 733 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions the last two games. The Cardinals have also won four straight games.

The Philadelphia Eagles, led by the NFL’s leading rusher through Week 12 LeSean McCoy are also sizzling. Winners of three straight and coming off their bye week, there’s no time to lose momentum now.

Neither team will give an inch. Expect plenty of offense. Give this one a go.

Week 14

The Heavyweight Bout: Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers

Few words need to describe this matchup between bitter divisional rivals. Remember when the Seattle Seahawks dismantled the San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 2, 29-3?

The Niners do too, expect them to exact revenge.

The Divisional Battle: Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints

Winners of seven straight, the Carolina Panthers are the hottest team in the league right now. The NFL is far from easy and the Panthers will travel to the Big Easy in Week 14. This is to prove that they’re the best team in their division.

The New Orleans Saints don’t plan on relinquishing their A1 status anytime soon.

Cam Newton is living up to the hype—his counterpart Drew Brees is the standard. Jaw-dropping action will occur.

The Hidden Gem: Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Out of all the true Super Bowl contenders in the league, the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals may have the most questions surrounding them.

One week they look like outright champs, the next it looks like they don’t belong.

Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton have to find a way. The winner of this one will gain the confidence it takes to go all the way. They’ll also do some convincing.

This is a true make-or-break game for both sides.

Week 15

The Heavyweight Bout: Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys

Two iconic franchises, two franchise quarterbacks, playoffs lives on the line—this game has all the elements to be a classic.

Aaron Rodgers will have returned from injury and Tony Romo will be psyched to make a run for the coveted Lombardi trophy. These two guys may just combine for 800 passing yards.

Fun, fun, fun—please pay attention to this one.

The Divisional Battle: San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos

Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning on Thursday Night Football is a great start to Week 15. The San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos have something to fight for as the Chargers are only 5-6 heading into Thanksgiving, but have a real punchers chance. Rivers has never performed so well and the Chargers are electric on offense.

Manning and the Broncos need little introduction, they’re the real deal.

The Hidden Gem: New York Jets vs. Carolina Panthers

Believe it or not, the New York Jets are currently in the playoff hunt. Yes, even at 4-7 they have a shot. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith has had his ups and downs, but the future is promising for him and the Jets.

The weak spot the Jets have this season is playing on the road. If they’re to make the postseason, they’ll have to head into Carolina and win. The Panthers defense, led by Luke Kuechley is one of the best in the league; don’t think they’ll let a rookie show them up.

Considering what’s at stake, this will be a good one.

Week 16

The Heavyweight Bout: Chicago Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles

The Chicago Bears are currently in a dogfight for the NFC North with the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. The Eagles are in the same situation in the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.

Both teams are currently 6-5 and not in the playoffs. Considering their divisions will be on the line, neither team can afford to lose. This game has smash-mouth football written all over it. Last team with the ball wins.

The Divisional Battle: New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers

See Week 14—the loser of that game will want redemption. The winner will want to claim NFC South supremacy.

Scary thing is they may meet again in the playoffs. Awesome.

The Hidden Gem: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens

Hey, the champs haven’t thrown in the towel quite yet. The Baltimore Ravens still have a pulse and are picking up steam down the stretch. Don’t cross-off Joe Flacco and Ray Rice because after all, they’re stars.

If they are to truly be playoff contenders, they’ll have to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. For them, it’s business as usual. They have yet to be their best and are still 8-3. That fact is downright frightening.

The Ravens must let it be known that they will defend what is rightfully theirs. A win in Week 16 will do just that.

If you think Week 17 was forgotten, think again. Sit tight, for it’ll have its own article. 16 divisional games—Wow!

Then, we’ll talk about playoffs.

August 29, 2012

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NFC Preview

By: Joe Williams

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.

Will the Packers be returning to the Super Bowl this season?

NFC EAST

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

NFC NORTH

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

NFC SOUTH:

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

NFC WEST

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

October 27, 2011

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Division Races Heating Up

By: Joe Williams

It’s seven weeks into the NFL season, and the division races are starting to take shape. NFL teams like Buffalo and Detroit have thrown their hats in the ring, and others like St. Louis and Indianapolis have played their way out of it. Here’s where we stand:

AFC EAST

It was supposed to be a battle between the Jets and Patriots, but the Bills have made it a three team race. New England’s only loss came at the hands of the Bills and their New Year’s Day rematch ought to have playoff implications. Buffalo has a few games against NFL teams at the bottom of the standings and two meetings with the Jets, so the schedule sets up well for them to stay in the race. The next month will be critical for the Jets. They play the Bills twice and New England once. One of these teams is going to be watching at home in January.

AFC NORTH

Cleveland and Cincinnati are hanging around. This is the only division with no NFL teams below .500. Wins against New England and Baltimore in the next two weeks would put the Steelers in the driver’s seat in the AFC. Things are going to get much more difficult for the Bengals with two games left against both Pittsburgh and Baltimore. We’re about to find out what this team is made of. Nov. 6 at Pittsburgh is the game of the year for the Ravens. If they can beat the Steelers for a second time, the division should be in their controls. The Browns are in the conversation at 3-3 but they haven’t beaten anyone worth bragging about. Can they steal a couple against the big boys?

AFC SOUTH

All it took was one injury for the Colts to go from AFC South dominance to one of the worst teams in the league. Someone is going to take advantage and after Sunday’s beat down of the Titans, it looks like it will be Houston. The schedule sets up nicely for them with most of their tough games already behind them. If Tennessee can get back on track, the New Year’s Day rematch could be huge.

AFC WEST

As usual, the Chargers are the heavy favorite in the West. And as usual, they let the rest of the West hang around. They host the Chiefs on Halloween in a must-win for Kansas City. The Chiefs really have to win the next three to stay in the race because they have a brutal five-game-stretch coming up. If the Raiders can get their act together during the bye week and get Carson Palmer ready to go, the West title may be on the line when they meet in the last game of the season.

NFC EAST

There will be lots of entertaining games between now and week 17, but it almost seems like we can just skip ahead to the last day of the season when Dallas is at the Giants and Philadelphia hosts Washington. That’s when this division will be sorted out.

NFC NORTH

The Packers have already got people talking about a 16-0 regular season. It’s probably not going to happen, but as long as Rodgers is healthy, they should win the North division. Detroit still has two shots at the defending champs though so they could make things interesting. Chicago is too far back to catch Green Bay but the Bears will be in the thick of the wild card race.

NFC SOUTH

The Falcons, Saints, and Bucs won a total of 34 games last year. They are on a similar pace right now, and, just like last year, one of them is going to get left out of the playoff picture. New Orleans has a one game lead and the last two at home, so they should have an edge. It could come down to which team gets knocked off by Carolina in the last month of the season.

NFC WEST

San Francisco has five wins. The rest of the division has three. It is the 49ers‘ division to give away. And if they keep playing well with a soft schedule coming up, they could even earn an opening round bye.

October 17, 2011

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Five NFL Trades That Should Happen

By: Anson Whaley

Sure, NFL trades aren’t all that frequent. While we as fans pay strict attention to the MLB, NBA, and NHL trade deadlines, the NFL cutoff date generally comes and goes without much fanfare. Seriously, before this week, did you have any idea that the trade deadline is Tuesday? If you did, the chances are good that you’re probably an agent, a GM, or a player.

That said, there are some moves that should happen – moves that could make teams better in the short or long run. Here are five players that should be moved in exchange for a draft pick.

5. WR Eddie RoyalDenver Broncos to Carolina Panthers: Eddie Royal’s name is one of the most widely heard when the trade deadline comes up. Royal had an extremely productive rookie year in 2008 catching 91 passes for just under 1,000 yards, but since then, has dropped off a bit – particularly with the emergence of other receivers over the years such as Brandon Lloyd and the departed Jabar Gaffney. At 25, though, Royal still should have plenty of productivity left and would make a nice target for rookie Cam Newton in Carolina who could use another wideout.

4. CB Asante SamuelPhiladelphia Eagles to St. Louis Rams: The Rams’ secondary is in need of a major boost. Arguably their top three cornerbacks, Ron Bartell, Jerome Murphy, and Bradley Fletcher, are injured and the team needs to shore up that position. Sure, the Rams aren’t likely to contend this year, but Samuel is only 30 and is still capable of being a contributor for several more seasons. The Eagles’ defense has struggled this season, but mediocre linebacker play has been a big factor in that. And with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie, the team can afford to move one of their cornerbacks. Trading Samuel to a team such as the New York Giants might make more sense, but I couldn’t see the Eagles allowing him to go to a division rival.

3. RB Joseph AddaiIndianapolis Colts to Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Addai’s had injury issues the past few years, but when healthy, he’s more than capable of being an adequate running back. Tampa Bay may not win the NFC South, but they could have a shot at a Wild Card. Leading rusher LeGarrette Blount is injured, but more than that, the Bucs could use some help in the backfield. Addai is injured himself, so he may not be immediately available himself. But a second back would provide some insurance for the team should one of them go down later in the season. Indianapolis has young running backs Delone Carter and Donald Brown on the roster and can afford to part with Addai at this point as he’s been solid, but unspectacular.

2. WR Brandon Lloyd – Denver Broncos to San Francisco 49ers: Raise your hand if you expected the 49ers to not only get off to a good start this season, but look like one of the league’s better teams at 5-1. Even San Francisco fans were probably hard pressed to expect the team’s hot start. But now that the 49ers appear to be for real, it’s time they add another receiver to the mix. Enter Brandon Lloyd, who had more than 1,400 receiving yards last season with the Broncos. Lloyd is also familiar with the area having played with San Francisco in his first three seasons. He’s a veteran and can provide immediate help to rejuvenated quarterback Alex Smith. Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn have been serviceable at wide receiver, but adding a steady veteran to the team in Lloyd would go a long way to helping the team not only reach the playoffs, but make some noise once they get there.

1. QB Carson PalmerCincinnati Bengals to Seattle Seahawks: The Carson Palmer/Cincinnati saga hasn’t gone as expected for Palmer, who probably believed he would eventually have his trade request fulfilled. Six games into the season and Palmer is still sitting out while rookie Andy Dalton has taken the reins for the Bengals’ offense. Seriously, though, this is helping no one. Palmer would be better served by being able to play elsewhere and Cincinnati could get something in return for him. A move to Seattle might be ideal for Palmer who could help the Seahawks contend in the mediocre NFC West. He would also be reunited with former USC coach Pete Carroll and is an upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson.

August 30, 2011

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NFC Preview

By: Joe Williams

Unlike the AFC, NFC has been wide open over the last few years. Six different NFL teams have played in the last three conference title games. Can the Cowboys, Redskins, Lions, Vikings, Falcons or 49ers make it 11 teams in 11 years? I think so.

NFC EAST

Traditionally, Daniel Snyder and the Redskins win the offseason with big-name free agent signings and then the games begin and someone else wins the division. But this year, it has been the Eagles grabbing all the headlines and bringing in high profile players. Question: What do you get when you take an NFL team that went 10-6 last season and add Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rogers-Cromarti, Ronnie Brown, Vince Young, and Steve Smith? Answer: The NFC East champs. Washington still needs to figure who is going to play quarterback. Dallas and New York will be in the playoff hunt, but Philly has too much talent.

Division winner: Philadelphia

Will the Philadelphia Eagles come out ahead of the pack?

 

NFC NORTH

This ought to be one of the most compelling divisions in football. Green Bay is the defending Super Bowl champion and returns several players who were out with injury last year. The Bears won the division last year and hosted the NFC title game. How will they rally around Jay Cutler after his knee injury in the NFC title game? Detroit seems poised to make a playoff run if they stay healthy and Minnesota has Donovan McNabb as its new quarterback. Chicago visits Minnesota and Detroit will be in Green Bay in the last week of the season. Expect those games to be meaningful.

Division winner: Green Bay

NFC SOUTH:

I expect the South to be the most competitive division with three teams battling for the division crown all season long. Carolina should be better than the 2-14 team of last year, but the Panthers are another year or two away. The Falcons and Saints remain made the playoffs last year and have Super Bowl aspirations. Tampa Bay won 10 games and should be even better with another year of experience for a young NFL team. One or two of these teams is going to have its playoff hopes dashed in the last week of the season.

Division winner: Atlanta

NFC WEST

Year after year, the West is thought of as the weakest division in the league. However, no other division has had three teams in the Super Bowl in the last decade. Once again, nobody expects much from the West, so watch out for a surprise team to make a run come playoff time. It would be nice if the team that wins this division at least has a winning record this year though. Who will it be? When in doubt, go with the team that has the best quarterback. Kevin Kolb could prove to be that man, but until he gets a full season under his belt I’m going with Sam Bradford.

Division winner: St. Louis

Wild Card winners: Dallas, New Orleans

NFC champion: Atlanta