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

November 15, 2011

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NFL landscape changes in week 10

By: Joe Williams

The path we are going down this NFL season became much clearer this week. Some teams showed they are pretenders, some lost key players to injury and others took a big step toward the playoffs. Here’s what I learned:

Giants vs. Cowboys

The NFC East is a two team race. The Giants hold a one game lead over the Cowboys but face a much tougher schedule the rest of the way. They meet twice in the last month of the season and those games should determine the division winner. The “Dream Team” in Philadelphia has a stranglehold on the most disappointing team in the NFL crown after losing at home to a two-win team playing with its backup quarterback.

Lions must beat Packers or Saints

After losing three of four, the Lions are in danger of blowing their 5-0 start. They are at 6-3 with two games coming up against Green Bay and one against New Orleans. If they lose those three games, they will likely be on the outside looking in at the playoffs because Chicago is also 6-3 and has a much easier schedule the rest of the way.

49ers headed for a bye

It’s no surprise the Packers are headed for a first round bye but who would have expected the 49ers to do the same? San Francisco is already 8-1 with five games left against the NFC West. They should finish with at least 12 wins and probably the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

Colts getting Lucky

After another loss drops the Colts to 0-10 and the Dolphins and Rams both pick up their second win, Indianapolis has a commanding lead in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Now the questions about what they will do are really going to start. Will Manning be back next year? Do they take Luck and let him sit behind Manning? Or could they trade Manning and really begin the rebuilding process?

 Bills, Bengals on the brink

Buffalo and Cincinnati have been surprisingly good teams in the AFC. However, they could be coming back to earth. Cincinnati has three games left against Baltimore and Pittsburgh. They really need to win two of those games to stay in the AFC North race. Buffalo has lost four of six and cannot afford any more no shows like they had against Dallas.

 AFC West truly pathetic

Get ready to see an 8-8 team hosting a first round playoff game. At least the NFC West has one team playing well. San Diego has lost four in a row. The Chiefs,who have lost two straight against two of the worst teams in the league, now get to face five straight teams with a winning record. The Broncos are scared to throw the ball and continue to let the fans run the show in Denver. And you never know which Raiders team is going to show up. They beat some good teams and then turn around and lose to some of the bottom feeders.

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.

October 6, 2011

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Fathead’s NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

NFL Rankings:  As we approach Week 5 of the NFL season, here is how each of the NFL teams stacks up.

1.Green Bay Packers (4-0) — As the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair would say, “To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man.” Until someone beats the Pack, they will be at the top of the rankings.

2. Baltimore Ravens (3-1) — After opening the season by dominating the defending AFC champion Steelers and blowing out the AFC runner-up Jets on Sunday, the Ravens are the class of the AFC.

3. New Orleans Saints (3-1) — Drew Brees and company gave the Packers all they wanted and followed that with three solid wins.

4. Buffalo Bills (3-1) — After pulling off the shocker of the year and beating New England, the Bills get beat by the Bengals.

5. New England Patriots (3-1) — Tom Brady’s offense hasn’t been held under 30 points yet.

6. Detroit Lions (4-0) — They won’t be undefeated much longer if they keep falling behind by 20 points.

7. Houston Texans (3-1) — Wade Phillips has got the defense playing much better.

8. New York Jets (2-2) — A two game losing streak makes this trip to New England huge for the Jets.

9. Atlanta Falcons (2-2) — Important stretch coming up for the Falcons with Green Bay and Detroit coming up in the next couple weeks.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1) — The Bucs need a win at San Francisco to carry momentum into tough stretch with Saints, Bears, Saints, Texans and Packers coming up.

11. San Diego Chargers (3-1) — Chargers should get healthy with the Broncos on Sunday and their bye week.

12. New York Giants (3-1) — G-men getting it done despite injuries. They may have gotten a break with the controversial play against the Cardinals.

13. Tennessee Titans (3-1) – Huge test for surprising Titans this week at Pittsburgh.

14. Washington Redskins (3-1) – The defense is giving up an NFC best 15.8 points per game. They have two weeks to get ready for a divisional showdown with the Eagles.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) – Are the defending AFC champs suffering from a post-Super Bowl loss hangover? Or is it just that they cannot protect the quarterback?

16. Dallas Cowboys (2-2) – No team is more entertaining than “America’s Team”. Do the Cowboys ever play a game decided by more than one score?

17. Chicago Bears (2-2) – The Bears have a good chance to build a lead Sunday in Detroit. The question is will they be able to hold it?

18. San Francisco 49ers (3-1) – Their three wins is one more than the rest of the NFC West combined. The division is theirs to lose.

19. Oakland Raiders (2-2) – It looks like the Raiders are the team that will push San Diego in the AFC West.

20. Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) – It’s been a nightmare start for the “Dream Team”. They are probably glad to be hitting the road after the last two performances at home.

21. Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) – Got a shot to be 4-2 at the bye with two winnable games coming up. Not bad for a team who’s quarterback retired rather than play for them.

22. Cleveland Browns (2-2) – They have an extra week to recover from getting pounded by the Titans.

23. Carolina Panthers (1-3) – The good news is Cam Newton looks like he is their quarterback of the future. The bad news is New Orleans, Atlanta and Washington coming up.

24. Arizona Cardinals (1-3) – They should have beaten the Giants on Sunday. They head to Minnesota to face an angry Vikings team.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3) – The offense is experiencing some major growing pains with rookie Blaine Gabbert now playing quarterback. They average less than 10 points per game.

26. Denver Broncos (1-3) – It’s not Kyle Orton’s fault the Packers put 49 points on the board Sunday. Try telling that to the fans in Denver though.

27. Indianapolis Colts (0-4) – It’s going to be a long season without Peyton Manning. This team won’t quit though.

28. St. Louis Rams (0-4) – Injuries and the schedule have made them look worse than they really are. Unfortunately, they have Green Bay, Dallas and New Orleans for their next three.

29. Seattle Seahawks (1-3) – Put up 21 points in the second half Sunday. Only score 37 in their other 3.5 games.

30. Kansas City Chiefs (1-3) – They have played much better in the last two weeks.

31. Minnesota Vikings (0-4) – They would be ranked much higher if the NFL cut games to 30 minutes.

32. Miami Dolphins (0-4) – With a bye and the Jets coming up they could be winless when the Broncos come to town.