The Weekend Cap: Rams/Chiefs Rise, Scouting Notes, Packers Thoughts

A wise man once said that we really don’t know anything. That statement has never been more true than this past weekend in the NFL. We believed we had foregone conclusions, positive for some teams, negatives for others, and we were shocked to find out those conclusions were incorrect.

Somehow we keep doing this every single year. After two weeks, we assume we know where teams are at and where they will go. We assume no upsets will occur, certain teams are done, and certain teams won’t falter.

I’m not saying I disagree with the condition that 90 percent of teams who start 0-2 don’t make the postseason. That data still holds. But, there will be 0-2 teams that finish in the middle of the pack and don’t end up with the top pick in the draft. Some 1-1 teams will finish better than 2-0 teams.

What I am saying is it’s a long season and we don’t quite know where every team will be come December.

What we can do is react to what we saw in week three of the NFL season.**

**Plus, some scouting notes and a Packers-only section.

Two Teams At The Top

There are three teams sitting at 3-0 after week three in the NFL season, and one undefeated team still has a chance to get themselves to 3-0 tonight. However, two of those teams are very much in their own class.

Also, quick note. It is interesting that there will be a max of four undefeated teams after three week. It speaks to the parity that still exists in the NFL, something that is a great product driver.

The Rams and Chiefs are the class of the league at this point. There is no denying that.

The Chiefs are still riding the hot start of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who now has 13 touchdown passes after three weeks, breaking the record previously held by Peyton Manning. He has also found nine different receivers for a touchdown, which is impressive after only three weeks. The offense is full of weapons, from stars like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, to Sammy Watkins, who is clearly thriving in this offense.

This speaks to the success and genius of head coach Andy Reid. Reid has consistently been one of the best offensive minds in the league, and his work with Mahomes so far is especially astounding. Mahomes ran a spread at Texas Tech, and NFL concepts like taking snaps under center and working through progressions had plenty of analysts weary. It shows how much Andy Reid can help young quarterbacks and shape an offense to tailor to their strengths.

Speaking of the development of Mahomes, the Chiefs did something that isn’t common in today’s NFL with rookie quarterbacks. Kansas City moved up to select Mahomes in 2017, certain he would be the franchise quarterback in the future. Then, they let him sit behind Alex Smith to work on his game and his transition to the NFL. Most quarterbacks who are first round picks nowadays end up thrown into the fire at some point, whether it be because of injury or incompetence in front of them. Not the Chiefs though. They had the plan in place to draft someone like Mahomes. That plan is a reason why you are seeing the start he is having.

Let’s move over to the other 3-0 team with plenty to be excited about. The Los Angeles Rams acquired plenty of veteran talent in the offseason, adding Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Brandin Cookls, and Aqib Talib. Many wondered if head coach Sean McVay could work all the new guys in along with continuing to evolve as an offense. So far, the transition looks good. Brandin Cooks is not just playing decoy in the offense as a deep threat (seven catches for 90 yards on Sunday), and Suh looks like he is racing Aaron Donald to the quarterback on every play.

Let’s also not forget about the continued rise of quarterback Jared Goff. Many wrote him off as a franchise quarterback after one season under Jeff Fisher, but the presence of Sean McVay completely turned his career arc around. He is the comfortable pocket maneuvering, dime-dropping player that many saw leading up to the 2016 draft. He made a throw to the sideline yesterday in between two defenders to Robert Woods that made jaws drop.

They are dealing with some injuries right now on both sides of the ball, but the Rams are the most complete team on both sides of the ball at this point in the season.

Roughing The Passer Is Out Of Hand

Another week, another showing of why the roughing the passer call needs to be changed. Clay Matthews has been the center of attention in this saga after three roughing the passer penalties in three weeks. The first one against Chicago was a fair call, as Matthews went up high at Mitchell Trubisky’s head. Last week, Matthews hit Kirk Cousins as he threw and “drove him into the ground” (he did not). This week, Matthews was penalized sacking Alex Smith. Smith didn’t get rid of the ball, and Matthews just took him down. However, he was penalized because he put all of his weight on him.

This rule is absolute garbage.

On most plays, players put their full body weight on each other, defined as a tackle. This rule that was enforced yesterday seems like a penalty will be assessed for sacking the quarterback.

Or will it? Because it happened in that game, with Da’Ron Payne throwing Aaron Rodgers hard into the ground wit his head hitting the ground first. Penalty? None whatsoever.

Officiating in general is pretty inconsistent, but this is next level. If you are going to implement a rule as bad as this, and then not be consistent with it, that’s a problem on top of a problem.

The issue of not being able to sack the quarterback normally creates an issue for a defender when they reach the quarterback, and it could lead to injury. Oh wait, it’s already happened. Dolphins defensive end William Hayes tore his ACL trying to avoid landing hard on Derek Carr when he sacked him. This could become more common under this rule.

Not only that, but the league is standing strong on the idea of player safety when talking about this rule. They say player safety, but they mean quarterback (and offense) safety. It doesn’t seem like anyone seems to care about defensive player safety. Out in space Sunday, an Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman went low on Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson and proceeded to roll over into his leg, leading to most likely a severe injury.

What’s the takeaway here? The NFL has issues with the product right now, and the unrest is growing.

Don’t Worry About The Patriots, Yet

The Patriots didn’t look quite like themselves last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, allowing Blake Bortles and company to shred them through the air. The offense also only mustered 20 points. After that, many expected that the rout would be on Sunday in Detroit.

It didn’t quite go that way.

The offense only scored 10 points, and Tom Brady completed just 14 of 26 for 133 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The defense allowed Detroit to have their first 100 yard rushing game since 2013. This wasn’t the performance everyone expected.

So, is there something wrong with the Patriots? They haven’t lost back-to-back games by double digits since 2002. Yes, you read that correctly.

If you look back at previous seasons, the trend is there. The Patriots just do not start well in the regular season. This is a team that consistently starts slow and finishes strong. The offense doesn’t look quite right, but Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman will soon be joining the offense. The defense will hopefully get Trey Flowers back soon.

So, the Patriots are fine, for now. However, there are definitely concerns on the defensive side of the ball that need to be addressed. The offense doesn’t get a pass for last night’s performance either.

What Are The Cardinals Doing?

We discussed above that the Chiefs sitting Mahomes paid huge dividends. When it comes to the 2018 quarterback class, all five first round selections have had some sort of game action. Sam Darnold and Josh Allen are the only two who have started games so far, but that will change this coming week with Baker Mayfield set to start for Cleveland.

The debuts have shown mixed results. However, no debut is as nuts as the debut of Josh Rosen for the Arizona Cardinals this weekend.

Arizona built a quick 14-0 lead on the Chicago Bears with a couple of Sam Bradford touchdown passes. However, Arizona didn’t get anything else going after that with Bradford at the helm, turning it over several times.

Down 16-14 with just a few minutes remaining, head coach Steve Wilks decides to put in Josh Rosen for his first game action in the NFL.

What a fantastic idea. Put a rookie in against a very good defense to try to run a two minute drill for a victory in his first meaningful action.

Since Bradford didn’t get injured, it begs the question of why. If Bradford had gotten hurt, then okay, someone has to go out there. But he didn’t. If Wilks had even thought about playing Rosen yesterday, how do you not give him reps all week to be ready to go in? Or, even better, let him prepare as the starter for the week!

Hopefully the Cardinals terrible start and organizational decision making doesn’t ruin what could be a great young trio of Josh Rosen, David Johnson, and Christian Kirk.

Scouting Notes From Week Four

This will be a staple every week on the Weekend Cap as we start to build towards the 2019 NFL Draft. Here are some bullet points on some guys I got to watch this weekend and my thoughts on their draft stock.

  • Quick thought on the quarterbacks. Right now, it’s Drew Lock and Justin Herbert competing for QB1. Herbert looked excellent against Stanford, showing great anticipation and decision making all game long. Oh, and his arm is very good too. Drew Lock made some great throws against Georgia, but he didn’t get much help, as his receivers caused two turnovers and dropped several passes on the day.
  • Will Grier also looked very good against Kansas State, and he will certainly keep himself in the conversation. Wide receiver David Sills V also showed out.
  • The wild card is Dwayne Haskins. He is rising big time and could declare as a redshirt sophomore.
  • Rodney Anderson’s injury is very unfortunate, and RB1 feels pretty open right now. One guy who has his sights set on it is Kentucky running back Benny Snell. Snell is a hard-nosed back with plenty of power, but he’s shown some juice when he hits the hole and better lateral quickness this season.
  • J.J. Arcega-Whiteside helped himself a ton Saturday night, especially on a sluggo move later in the game. He sold a slant route, and used lateral quickness to separate for his second touchdown. His first was a great usage of his frame to box out the defender.
  • Oregon linebacker Troy Dye is an intriguing name to keep an eye on. He is a taller linebacker at 6’3″, and he played extremely well Saturday. He showed his coverage ability on a Bryce Love wheel route and played instinctive near the line of scrimmage.
  • Deandre Baker (CB, Georgia) had some concerns coming into the season, especially when it came to man coverage. He is on a mission to erase those doubts, and he dominated against Missouri. He stayed glued to receivers and continued his physical style of play.
  • An important injury to monitor is Wisconsin center Tyler Biadasz. He is currently my top interior offensive lineman, but as a redshirt sophomore he might not declare. The severity of the injury could affect Wisconsin along with his decision to declare early.

Quick Packers Thoughts

Finally, let’s talk about the Packers 31-17 loss to the Redskins on Sunday. Here are some notes in bullet point form as well.

  • The secondary struggled mightily. Kentrell Brice is a fill the hole, tackling type of safety and not a guy who can play in coverage. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix continues to miss tackles and is still trending in the wrong direction. Earl Thomas and Eric Reid are available.
  • Aaron Rodgers looked a bit better moving around the pocket this week. However, there were a couple plays where Rodgers looked to be in significant pain. This injury isn’t going away anytime soon.
  • Aaron Jones only played 17 snaps and carried the ball 6 times for 42 yards. Yes, he can’t be relied on in pass protection, but he should be the guy on early downs.
  • Not a great game on Randall Cobb’s part. A couple of big drops and a costly fumble got the “trade Cobb” crew back up and running. Don’t be a part of that crew.
  • There were a few more drops, including Lance Kendricks on a key deep ball down the sideline. This receiving core has to get it together.
  • Nick Perry hasn’t done much at all since his game-sealing sack in week one. Yes, he left with an injury, but he didn’t do much when he was in.
  • Clay Matthews’ sack should NEVER be a penalty.
  • Muhammad Wilkerson, Bryan Bulaga, and Perry all suffered injuries. It’s likely Wilkerson is done for the year.
  • All this said, the Packers are still 1-1-1 and it is early. R-E-L-A-X for now. And get Thomas and Reid, Gute.

 

Thanks for making it to the end! Follow me on Twitter @JakeNFLDraft for all things football!

Also, check out my recent posts on Fansided!

NFL Draft 2019 player rankings, Week 4: Defensive linemen rule

2019 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

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2018 NFL Season Predictions

We have finally arrived. It seems like every year the countdown to the NFL season gets longer and longer. But fans, rest easy, because it all starts tonight with the last two NFC Champions facing off.

Every year is a fresh start for all 32 teams. Every team comes in with hopes to reach the postseason and win a Super Bowl. Of course, some of those hopes are much higher than others. The Los Angeles Rams are thinking Super Bowl, while the Cleveland Browns are looking to improve in the win column.

Also, a new year means new storylines. The biggest storyline is all of the stars returning from injury in 2018. Both Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson are ready to come back and dominate for their teams. Odell Beckham is ready to carry that Giants offense. Don’t forget about the return of Aaron Rodgers.

Another storyline to watch is all the stars on the move. Everyone is still buzzing about the Raiders sending Khalil Mack to the Bears for multiple first round picks. It might not happen this year, but Le’Veon Bell’s situation could force Pittsburgh’s hand and they may move him.

Who isn’t excited for the rookie debuts also? Everyone is waiting to see what Saquon Barkley can do for the Giants this season. The Bears drafted a couple studs who could see the field right away. With five quarterbacks drafted in the first round back in April, the hype and debuts will be watched closely (especially Sam Darnold, who gets the start Monday night in Detroit).

There is so much excitement in the air, so let’s get to the predictions for the 2018 season! A quick note on these, I will probably get plenty wrong.

z – first round bye

y – division winner

x – wild card

AFC

AFC North

y – Bengals 8-8

Steelers 8-8

Ravens 7-9

Browns 6-10

The AFC North will be hotly contested down the stretch this season, and could in fact see a .500 team make the postseason. A lot of analysts and fans see a year of struggle for the Steelers, especially dealing with the Le’Veon Bell situation. The offense is still very good without him, but he does so much for that team. Their defense isn’t what it’s been on championship teams, and their schedule (particularly against AFC division winners and the NFC South) concerns me.

Instead of the Ravens (a popular selection), the Bengals surge to become champs of the division. The offensive line gets a bit better with Cordy Glenn manning the blindside, and a bounce back year is in store for Andy Dalton with rising stars Joe Mixon and John Ross taking pressure off of A.J. Green. On defense, there aren’t many holes to discuss. The secondary should be fine with William Jackson leading the way, and the front seven is full of stars and has plenty of depth. Look for a jump in year two from Carl Lawson and contributions from rookies Sam Hubbard and Malik Jefferson.

As far as the Ravens go, adding Michael Crabtree and John Brown helps the receiving core a bit, as well as grabbing two tight ends in the draft. Here’s the issue though: Joe Flacco just isn’t that good. The defense and a solid running game will keep them in the thick of the division for a while, but they don’t have enough.

Moving to the Browns, this could be the start of something big for this franchise. With a quarterback room in place, things will run smoother. They have a solid backfield and plenty of weapons for Tyrod Taylor to throw to. The offensive line might shuffle a bit through the season though. On defense, Myles Garrett is primed to break out and become an All-Pro pass rusher. Don’t forget about their solid linebacking core and rookie Denzel Ward in the secondary. No division title this year, but finishing only two back is a start.

AFC South

z – Texans 11-5

x – Jaguars 10-6

Titans 9-7

Colts 4-12

Get ready, cause Houston is back in a big way. We briefly discussed above that quarterback Deshaun Watson is back in a big way. He isn’t the only elite player returning from injury. Both J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus returning give the Texans a fierce front four, for sure one of the best in the league. The rest of the defense is well-equipped too, especially at linebacker, with relative unknowns Bernardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham leading the way. A healthy Watson with DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Keke Coutee should scare the league.

The Jags again return to the playoffs, thanks to a top defense and an offense that doesn’t make big mistakes. Jacksonville loaded up on defense again in the draft, snagging Taven Bryan in the first round and getting a steal late in safety Ronnie Harrison. Harrison joins an uber-talented secondary lead by Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. On offense, this team goes as far as Blake Bortles can take them. They beefed up the offensive line in the offseason, and added some talent on the boundary. But can they repeat last season’s postseason success?

The Titans have a new head coach in Mike Vrabel, and there’s no doubt he will provide some fire in the locker room. The question is, in a very competitive division, does Tennessee have the horses? It’s tough to say. Marcus Mariota had an odd season last year, throwing more picks than touchdowns. The running game is still a question mark, as they are waiting on a Derrick Henry breakout season. A more dynamic offense would go a long way. Can the Titans get Corey Davis and company going? That’s another major question heading into 2018. I left them out of the playoffs, but I would not be shocked if they were playing in January.

The Colts just don’t have it right now. Yes, Andrew Luck is returning, but Chris Ballard has a long way to go with this roster. Ballard got help to protect Luck in Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith. What concerns me is the lack of playmakers on offense. The receiver room is desperate for playmakers that they are trying rookie Nyheim Hines as a slot receiver. On defense, there’s talent in the secondary, but they don’t have anyone elite on the front seven to make any noise.

AFC East

z – Patriots 13-3

Dolphins 6-10

Jets 5-11

Bills 3-13

Oh I have to write things here? Fine. The Patriots are set up well for another route in the AFC East race. Even with Julian Edelman out, there are enough pieces on offense for the Patriots to hold up until he returns. There’s so much potential to be harnessed with Sony Michel, so it will be interesting to see how much he is used early on. On defense, the Pats have talent coming back from injury on the edge. Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise both have shown potential to bring juice to their front. There’s enough elsewhere for this team to hold up just fine, especially with a resurgent Stephon Gilmore in the secondary.

The Dolphins have so many questions coming into the season. How will Ryan Tannehill hold up after yet another injury? Is this finally the year Devante Parker reaches his potential? Can the defensive line create enough pressure with no Ndamukong Suh? Who is replacing Jarvis Landry’s production in the slot? There are too many for this team to make noise, even in a wide open wild card race that is the AFC.

We will make the Jets and Bills short here. The Jets have a ton of potential, especially on defense and with their rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, but the schedule looks tough for them to make a playoff run. The Bills are lacking so much on the offensive side of the ball that ending up with the number one pick is likely for their future.

AFC West

y – Chargers 10-6

x – Chiefs 10-6

Broncos 7-9

Raiders 5-11

It could once again be the wild west. It’s about time for a Chargers team to win the division, isn’t it? Bad luck and injuries seem to plague this team from the start. Still, things are setting up well for this Los Angeles team. Philip Rivers leads this team yet again, and he has plenty of weapons at his disposal, along with a healthier offensive line. It should be fun to watch second-year guys like Mike Williams, Forrest Lamp, and Dan Feeney work. On defense, they still have the best pass rushing duo in football in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The secondary is also loaded and welcomes first round pick Derwin James.

A new era beckons in Kansas City. Patrick Mahomes is ready to start his first full season at quarterback. The Chiefs haven’t left him helpless, adding Sammy Watkins to an already explosive offense. In fact, this offense may be the most fun to watch all year. The main question for this team lies on defense and whether or not they have enough pass rush to hide the issues in the secondary. They will have to outscore opponents as much as possible.

Denver is a new look team with Case Keenum leading the way. The backfield will be led by rookie Royce Freeman, and the receiving core is loaded with talent. On defense, Bradley Chubb joins Von Miller to form an exciting duo. Bradley Roby and Chris Harris should suffocate opposing receivers. So why isn’t this a playoff team? I’m not sure I trust Keenum after a strong showing last season. I think it’s one-hit-wonder city and he’s driving that bus.

Oakland is destined for the bottom after an offseason of disastrous moves. It started with the draft, unloading a third rounder for Martavis Bryant, and drafting a fourth round tackle in round one. It didn’t end there, as Gruden offloaded Khalil Mack for future selections, and added A.J. McCarron for another pick. The offense might be alright with Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, and an established offensive line. However, the defense is desperate for someone to step up. It could be a long year.

AFC Playoff Picture

1. Patriots

2. Texans

3. Chargers

4. Bengals

5. Chiefs

6. Jaguars

 

NFC

NFC North

y – Packers 10-6

x – Bears 10-6

Vikings 9-7

Lions 7-9

ALL THE SHOCK VALUE RIGHT HERE. Nope, this isn’t for clickbait folks. I’ve just seen stuff like this before. A crushing loss in the NFC Championship game with pages turning to the next year with a crazy amount of hype. All I’ve heard is “division lock”, “easy 13 wins”,  “safest bet around”. There are no safe bets.

The Packers take the division in 2018 behind the return of Aaron Rodgers and an offense that should look more creative. Having Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis should give Green Bay some fun 12 personnel options, especially with Graham acting as a receiver. Davante Adams is primed for that elite season everyone has waited for, and the backfield might be better than some think. Speaking of more creative, get ready for Mike Pettine’s defense. It isn’t super complicated, but creating pressure will be the name of the game. Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, and Muhammad Wilkerson will be a tough trio on the interior, and Clay Matthews and Nick Perry will be fine on the edge (depth is a concern though). The secondary is much younger and more talented, with Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. Back to the playoffs for Green Bay.

The responses from non-Bears fans will be “oh Mack doesn’t do THAT much for them”. I mean, he is a top edge rusher in the league, but it isn’t just him getting the Bears to January. Head coach Matt Nagy brings a more electric offense to the windy city, and Mitchell Trubisky is ready to lead. A good offensive line plus plenty of weapons is a great formula for success. The defense will get a boost from Mack, but guys like rookie Roquan Smith and their safety duo make them much better on that side of the ball.

The mighty have fallen. The Vikings roster is insanely talented, there’s no denying that. But, expectations are sky high this season, and teams have cracked under pressure. Here’s the main issue: everyone believes so much in Kirk Cousins, even though he isn’t very good in a) the red zone or b) facing the blitz. The second reason is a problem with the Vikings offensive line. Cousins could face tons of pressure this season and fold into mediocrity. Also, people overrate Cousins quite a bit. Another issue is the schedule. Minnesota has to go to Green Bay, Los Angeles, and Philly in the first five weeks. That is tough. Also, this division is no pushover, so road games will be tough. I just have a funny feeling about this team.

The Lions, to me, didn’t get that much better in the offseason. Yes, they added running back help, something they’ve desperately needed, but they didn’t reload in the trenches. The offensive line could struggle, as could the defensive line. Controlling that area wins games, and the Lions won’t win much if they don’t win there. The back end of the defense is still solid, but there are major holes at linebacker. Detroit will produce fine fantasy seasons for owners, but this is a stacked division and they won’t be able to contend.

NFC South

z – Falcons 11-5

Saints 9-7

Panthers 8-8

Buccaneers 3-13

The Atlanta Falcons continue a trend that it is hard to repeat in the NFC South. Atlanta boasts one of the best rosters in the league, and they just keep reloading like a well-oiled machine. Last year’s “struggles” with Steve Sarkisian were overstated, however, they have to get Julio Jones the ball more in the red zone, because three touchdowns isn’t a good look. Luckily, they added Calvin Ridley in the draft, so his presence could take some heat off of Jones. Their running game is again good with their two-headed monster. On defense, look for improvement from Takk McKinley and a resurgence from Vic Beasley. Deion Jones and Keanu Neal are continuously getting better too. This team is primed for another deep playoff run.

The Saints take a little tumble in 2018 and just miss out on a playoff spot. I think they could easily make the postseason and make this pick look dumb, but I’m looking at a tough schedule for the reigning NFC South champs. Playing Philly, Los Angeles, and Minnesota along with a tough NFC East makes a playoff run daunting. However, this team is built for another year of contending. The rookie class from last year is shaping up to be the best one in a long time, and all of them will be big contributors again this year. The offense should revolve again around a strong running game and timely conversions from one of the best quarterbacks to do it. The defense will be solid again, but the big question is if Marcus Davenport is ready to contribute from the jump.

The Panthers are a candidate for a significant regression in 2018. After a season largely dictated by the play of Cam Newton and breakout of Christian McCaffrey, the offense might struggle a bit more this season. The situation at tackle is particularly concerning, and we’ve seen what happens when Newton faces a ton of pressure. The offense also needs a big threat on the outside, and maybe rookie D.J. Moore will step up. The defense has plenty of concerns, especially rushing the passer and in the secondary. It just doesn’t feel like this is a playoff roster.

The Buccaneers are another team that should be looking forward to picking high in the 2019 draft. It isn’t just losing Jameis Winston for three games, but it’s another year of facing a talented division. Tampa Bay just isn’t ready to contend for a division title or a wild card spot at this point. The defense has talent, but the secondary is a huge question mark, as is a good edge presence. There’s talent on offense, but will this be the year Winston ascends? It doesn’t look like it.

NFC East

y – Giants 10-6

x – Eagles 10-6

Cowboys 9-7

Redskins 6-10

Another shocker in the NFC. The Giants come back from the dead to win the NFC East over the heavily favored reigning Super Bowl champs, and they hang on in a tough race. I wouldn’t say the Giants are a perfect team, especially along the right side of the offensive line and in the secondary (losing Sam Beal right away hurt). But, improvements were made adding Nate Solder and Will Hernandez. Also, drafting Saquon Barkley and getting Odell Beckham back don’t hurt either. I actually think the defense will be okay. There is talent there, especially on the interior and with Landon Collins at safety.

“HOW DARE YOU DISRESPECT THE REIGNING CHAMPS?” Listen, the Eagles are still a very good football team. In fact, they are a top three roster in the NFC, which also means in the league. However, Super Bowl hangover exists, especially with no Carson Wentz to start the season. Yes, Nick Foles ultimately played a huge part in winning the Super Bowl, but we’ve seen quarterbacks go on runs before and ultimately disappoint the next year. The schedule is tough this time around, and even though a good roster returns, they face tough teams in the AFC South and in the NFC as a whole. In fact, they open with Atlanta, which won’t be a picnic. The pressure is there now, and that affects teams. The good news is that the defensive line is even deeper and their offensive line is back as a unit. There might be issues with the receivers until Jeffery returns, but all in all, it’s a playoff team.

The Cowboys are a tough team to figure out overall. They have so much young talent on defense, and the offensive line is set to protect Dak Prescott and pave the way for Ezekiel Elliott on the ground. The problem is I haven’t seen this group put it together completely. I want to see more out of Dak as a pocket passer. I want to see a secondary live up to the billing. It’s a tough road being in the NFC. I expect Dallas to be right there at the end (and they can make the playoffs), but I have them falling just short like New Orleans.

I was very optimistic for this Redskins team, then Derrius Guice got hurt. I know it’s a terrible excuse, and one player does not a team make, but having Guice made Washington look that much more dangerous on paper. I think they have a better quarterback than last year (GASP!!) and a strong offensive and defensive line. My issues for this group exist in the secondary and in the projects they still have at wide receiver. Can Jamison Crowder finally step up and lead? Can Josh Doctson be the guy? They paid Paul Richardson how much? It will be tough for Washington to make the playoffs this year.

NFC West

z – Rams 12-4

Seahawks 7-9

49ers 7-9

Cardinals 6-10

The Rams are locked and loaded to make a deep playoff run this time around. It’s not just getting to elite pairs in Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh along with Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. It’s not just having a top running back in the league and plenty of weapons. It’s the fact that this coaching staff is one of the best in football. Sean McVay is electric and innovative. Wade Phillips’ resume speaks for itself. This team has plenty of pieces to win it all. Now they have to go and do it.

I was surprised to see where I had Seattle finishing, but 7-9 seems to fit right. Russell Wilson is a top quarterback in the league, but he continues to have less and less help each year. The offensive line isn’t any better, even with Duane Brown sticking around, and the running back room is full of inconsistencies (and a draft pick that went WAY higher than he should have). There isn’t much explosiveness outside of Doug Baldwin either. The defense is also being gutted, and it’s unclear how the Earl Thomas situation will play out. The good news for their fans is that they got their title.

I just don’t think it is the time for San Francisco just yet. Why? Well, for one, the offensive line isn’t where you want it to be. Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo looked good last season, but let’s see a full year of it. Their running back room is weak overall, especially with Jerick McKinnon going down. There is plenty of potential with their receivers, but time will tell. On defense, they have some nice pieces, but I want to see them gel a bit more. All in all, there are just a lot of better teams in the NFC right now.

I think Arizona is coming back soon, it just isn’t this year. The goal in 2018 should be to keep developing Josh Rosen and set pieces in place for the runs they will be able to make in coming seasons. They need to extend David Johnson and find an heir for Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona could definitely surprise people this season, but the things holding them back are the offensive line and lack of help next to Chandler Jones. It isn’t their time, but it soon will be.

NFC Playoff Picture

1. Rams

2. Falcons

3. Giants

4. Packers

5. Eagles

6. Bears

Awards:

MVP – Aaron Rodgers

OPOY – DeShaun Watson

DPOY – Myles Garrett

CBOY – Odell Beckham

COY – Matt Nagy

OROY – Saquon Barkley

DROY – Harold Landry

Playoffs

Wild Card Weekend

(5) Chiefs 27, (4) Bengals 17

(4) Packers 31, (5) Eagles 24

(3) Chargers 24, (6) Jaguars 17

(6) Bears 23, (3) Giants 16

Divisional Round

(3) Chargers 28, (2) Texans 27

(2) Falcons 34, (4) Packers 31

(1) Rams 30, (6) Bears 14

(1) Patriots 31, (5) Chiefs 23

Championship Weekend

(1) Patriots 21, (3) Chargers 17

(2) Falcons 27, (1) Rams 24

Super Bowl 

Falcons 35, Patriots 27

A rematch of Super Bowl 51, with a different outcome. This time, Atlanta, in their home stadium, finishes the deal and outscore the Patriots in a classic shootout.

What do you think? Comment here or find me on Twitter @JakeNFLDraft. Enjoy the season!

Five Players To Watch In Bears-Ravens Hall Of Fame Game

(Mandatory Photo Credit: Evan Habeeb, USA Today Sports)

FOOTBALL IS BACK.

I know many fans won’t completely agree, since this is the first in a long line of preseason games before the real games begin in September. But, for those of us that hunger for football to be back once the draft concludes, this is still a form of Christmas. Seeing players back in pads again putting in meaningful snaps to make a team provides plenty of intrigue to analysts and fans alike.

Tonight, the Bears face off against the Ravens in the Hall of Fame Game, a game that celebrates the new inductees to the NFL Hall of Fame. This will be a very intriguing game, with hype surrounding the Bears and new Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Let’s take a look at five guys to watch heading into tonight’s game.

1. Lamar Jackson

This is the most obvious selection here. Lamar Jackson dazzled us all in college with his electric playmaking ability. Now, he will get his first game action against NFL players tonight. Everyone wants to see if Jackson has what it takes to improve as a pocket passer, while another group of people are waiting to make remarks for him to move to wide receiver. He’s a quarterback people, so get used to it. We might even get to see meaningful game snaps this year from him. Get ready for fireworks from Jackson.

2. Anthony Miller

Miller has claim as the best route runner to come out in the 2018 draft class. Now, he gets to show the world what they missed when he takes the field. As high as Miller went in the draft, it’s likely we will see him early on in 2018 as the third receiver behind Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. If he shows out big in the preseason, the Bears might get him on the field for more snaps.

3. Kylie Fitts

This name is a little more off the beaten path for fans and growing analysts, but Kylie Fitts has some traits that make him a potential steal. Fitts should get plenty of snaps in the preseason, and we could see some of his promise tonight. With guys like Leonard Floyd still looking to breakout, Fitts has a chance to make some headway in August and get himself in the rotation on the edge in 2018.

4. Anthony Averett

Averett landed in Baltimore in the draft back in April, and he has a chance to show he can get significant slot snaps in 2018. He has the speed and discipline to play corner, as his tape at Alabama showed. He just needs to improve his route recognition and footwork, and an extra preseason game gives him a chance at more reps.

5. Adam Shaheen

The second year tight end in Chicago is ready to show he can breakout and be a big part of the Bears offense. He has some competition this season with the Bears adding Trey Burton. However, Shaheen has that Travis-Kelce-type of potential, so seeing some promise in the preseason can go a long way. He is a big body who, if he develops, can be a problem for defenses in the future.

BONUS: Tyus Bowser

A little bonus for you guys here. Bowser was drafted by Baltimore in 2017, and he’s looking to get on the field more. The Ravens have him listed as a SAM backer on their depth chart, but he did a great job in college rushing the passer. He needs to find his niche on that defense to get on the field more this season.

Enjoy the game tonight football fans! No more weeks without football until February!!

Super Bowl LII Preview: Do the Pats Get Their Sixth, Or Do the Underdogs Come Through?

It all comes down to today. Both the Patriots and Eagles have given every ounce to get to this point. And here we are, sitting here on Super Bowl Sunday, where the Eagles will look to get their first Super Bowl title, while the Patriots look for number six. This game features a pair of number one seeds who took full advantage of home field.

The “David vs. Goliath” narrative has been used plenty throughout the week, mostly because it’s true. The Patriots have been NFL Goliath for a long time, with an unbelievable coaching staff and one of the game’s greats at quarterback. It doesn’t seem like the dynasty train for them is stalling anytime soon.

While the Eagles are of course the David in all of this, it almost doesn’t completely suit them. This may be one of the strongest Davids we’ve seen. Philly dominated the NFC all season long and still wouldn’t be denied a Super Bowl berth after losing starting quarterback Carson Wentz.

Where does it start? The trenches, of course. The Eagles boast a top offensive line and defensive line. Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce have been at the top of their game this season, and even Halapoulivaati Vaitai has done well filling in for the injured Jason Peters. On defense, the rotation is second to none this season. With Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan leading the push, they will be difficult to block. Don’t forget they can bring rookie Derek Barnett in along with Chris Long to get fresh legs rushing the passer. This will be a tough group to control on both sides.

Also, the narrative of Philly being David because of Nick Foles might not hold much water right now. Foles has a passer rating of over 100 in both playoff games he’s started, including the 141.2 passer rating he put up against a very good Vikings defense. Foles isn’t back away from the spotlight. He wants it.

Philly also has the weapons to give defenses fits. First off, their running game can wear you out early. LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi both are strong, physical runners between the tackles. It sometimes takes a village to bring Blount down, and Ajayi can also break things open in space. They also have Corey Clement, who they feel they can bring in on any down.

Their weapons in the passing game are just as potent. Zach Ertz and Trey Burton are a great duo at tight end. Alshon Jeffery can light you up when he gets cooking. Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor can burn you in space.

You must be thinking by now, he’s going to say they really aren’t David and somehow the Patriots are. Not a chance. There’s a reason the Patriots have five rings and are 60 minutes away from six of them.

It starts from the top. Bill Belichick is the greatest coach I’ve ever seen. He gets his own guys for his system, and gets the absolute best out of them. He can trade away Pro Bowl talents and be just fine with the defense he puts out on the field. His coaching staff, led by coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, do a fantastic job.

What else do the Pats do well? They take away the best option on your offense. The likely candidates today? LeGarrette Blount and Zach Ertz. Ertz can make a mockery of a defense due to his underrated route running and physical nature at the catch point, while Blount, as we discussed above, can wear defensive lines out.

The Patriots will find every little thing on film and expose it on both sides of the ball. The Eagles will need to be ready.

Keys To The Game

Patriots: Gap Integrity and Win in the Middle of the Field

I fully expect the Patriots to do both of these things, but let’s cover them anyway. As far as gap integrity goes, the Patriots need to stay aligned along their front to allow linebackers to come up and make plays. If Blount or Ajayi reach beyond the second level, they will wear this team out. The other part of that resides in staying in rush lanes. Nick Foles isn’t electric on the ground, but he will take off if given the opportunity.

The middle of the field is an area the Patriots will need to take advantage of. The Eagles have a weakness at linebacker, and the Patriots have the personnel to attack them there. Their running backs will create mismatches there with their quickness, and targeting them could result in big third down conversions. Of course, that’s an area we expect Gronk to be roaming as well.

Eagles: Pressure Brady and Control the Clock

The first is obvious. We don’t have to sugar coat that at all. Pressuring Brady is the key to throwing off the rhythm of that offense. The issue is that you can’t bring too much pressure, or you will get carved up. The Pats have too good a group of route runners to beat man coverage. Luckily, the Eagles boast a very talented a deep front to get after Brady with just four rushers.

Controlling the clock will come from an established ground game. Having Blount and Ajayi will help give Nick Foles manageable second and third downs. Running the ball effectively also limits the amount of Patriots possessions. With plenty of running back to go to, the Eagles won’t burn anyone out early and keep legs fresh.

Three Match-ups To Watch

Pats RBs vs. Eagles LBs

We’ve discussed the Eagles have a weakness at the linebacker spot. Their key is to not get overaggressive in coverage, because the smallest slip will lead to a big play. Dion Lewis and James White have that potential.

Zach Ertz vs. Pats Secondary

I don’t know how the Pats will come out in coverage against Zach Ertz, but I know he’s the guy they will key on over Alshon Jeffery. In its entirety, you may see Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung, and Stephon Gilmore all on him in different situations. It could be up to the rest of the cast to help out Foles that much more.

Da Trenches

Whoever wins here wins this game. If the Eagles find a way to consistently pressure Brady quick off the ball, then the Eagles can win this game. If Brady is allowed time to maneuver the pocket, forget it. On the other side, if the Patriots pressure Foles enough, he will throw one or two to them and send the game spiraling. As long as the Eagles stay disciplined up front like they have all year, they should make things difficult for a weaker pass rush.

The Pick

Well, another year, another Patriots Super Bowl. I hope to stop writing previews with the Patriots in them eventually, but it doesn’t show signs of stopping. So, let’s make this short and sweet. The Eagles will come out and surprise many people early. It wouldn’t shock me to see them up 10-0 or 13-3 early in the second quarter. However, we know the Patriots make adjustments and are the best situational football team in the league. They will climb back from the inevitable hole they will put themselves in, and ring number six is in the cards for these guys.

Patriots 27, Eagles 20

I know many will be disappointed with the outcome, but make sure to enjoy the final football game of the year.

Predicting Unsung Heroes For Super Bowl LII

A tradition almost as long as the Super Bowl itself, a lesser known player always finds a way into the spotlight on Super Bowl Sunday. We have seen it in the last several years. Who can forget about David Tyree’s catch that ultimately helped put the Giants on top for good? Let’s not forget about the Tracy Porter interception to seal up a Saints Super Bowl title. Kony Ealy wasn’t a big name until his three sacks and an interception in Super Bowl 50. Malcolm Bulter rose to stardom after his big interception at the goal line to seal Lombardi number four for the Patriots. And flip it back to last season, where we saw Grady Jarrett light it up from the interior of the Falcons line, along with a fantastic second half performance from Patriots running back James White.

It happens every year, there’s no doubt about it. Let’s take a quick look at five players who could be the unsung hero in Super Bowl LII.

Timmy Jernigan

The Eagles defensive line is the key to a victory on Sunday, there’s no doubting it. With guys like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham leading the charge up front, they will keep providing pressure to Tom Brady. Despite being left out of the spotlight, Timmy Jernigan has had a very good year on that Philly defensive line. Jernigan was brought in via trade to help the interior, and he has done just that. He helps a lot in the run game, but he will occasionally break through and get to the quarterback. Jernigan is a name to watch on Sunday with the Pats keying in on Graham and Cox.

Rex Burkhead

A New England Patriots running back always seems to find his way onto this list. James White was on last year’s list, and he had a big game as we all know. This time around, Rex Burkhead is the running back under the radar. Burkhead is super productive in the Patriots offense when healthy. The Pats feel comfortable giving it to him in between the tackles and love to use him in space. The Eagles linebacking core isn’t the best without Jordan Hicks, so that could be area the Patriots attack frequently. Dion Lewis and White are on the radar this time, so it could be Burkhead’s turn.

Patrick Robinson

Many believed the Eagles’ secondary would be an achilles heel this season, including myself. To everyone’s surprise, they have held up just fine all season long. Leading the charge is Patrick Robinson, a corner who has been with the Saints and Chargers previously. Robinson is perhaps the deepest dive of the five here, but the opportunity should be there to take one the other way. Tom Brady has thrown at least one interception in his last three Super Bowl starts, and that is likely to continue with the pressure he will face. I think Robinson could end up with that interception, which could be a game changer.

Phillip Dorsett

The Patriots have a group of weapons that fit their offense so well. Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola will get the headlines on the outside at receiver, but Phillip Dorsett could find a way to make a big play for the Pats offense. The Patriots acquired the former first round pick from the Colts in the Jacoby Brissett trade. Dorsett hasn’t seen a ton of targets this season, but when he does, he either catches one in the intermediate-to-deep area of the field or is given the opportunity to make something happen in space. Dorsett could see a deep ball go his way with him finding the end zone.

Trey Burton

The Eagles are loaded at the tight end position. Zach Ertz is rising among the tight end ranks, and Trey Burton continues to make a name for himself. Burton operates very well as a pass catcher with a bit more speed than you would think. Nick Foles also likes to target tight ends, so with the Pats keying in on Ertz, Burton could see a bigger volume of targets than usual. Who knows? Maybe he catches two touchdowns en route to an Eagles victory?

Who do you think will be the unsung hero in Super Bowl LII? Follow Jake on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 or us @SportsGuysBlog to talk all things Super Bowl!

NFL Conference Championship Weekend Preview: Do Jags, Eagles Have What It Takes?

Nineteen weeks of football are in the books. Only three games remain in a season that always goes too fast. But here we are, and championship Sunday always proves to be interesting.

At the start of the season, when all the analysts make their predictions, most people had the usual suspects in the final four teams. Many Packers, Falcons, Steelers, and Cowboys picks graced the pages of major sports sites. Of course, pretty much everyone had the Patriots this far. But, the three others are definitely anything but usual.

The Eagles are still riding the wave, even without second year quarterback Carson Wentz. Wentz tore his ACL in a December game against the Rams, and all hope looked lost in the city of brotherly love. However, the Eagles played enough defense to defeat the Falcons in the divisional round, and here they are, one game away.

The Vikings took the league by storm as well, and their journey didn’t always look bright. The Vikings lost Sam Bradford for a period of time early in the season and turned to journeyman Case Keenum. That move proved to be a good one, as he has flourished in Pat Shurmur’s offense. They also lost Dalvin Cook, who looked like he would be in the offensive rookie of the year conversation by season’s end. But, the Vikings have persevered, and here they stand, one win away from hosting a Super Bowl.

And finally, here sit the Jaguars. Back in March, everyone believed the Jags once again “won the offseason”, and believed it wouldn’t mean much come season time. But the Jags are rolling thanks to a historically good defense (yeah, check the numbers), running the football with Leonard Fournette, and just enough from Blake Bortles.

Analysts and fans consistently doubted these teams, and yet, they are here. No one, including myself, thought the Eagles could win without Wentz. The Vikings looked dead in the water without the steady Bradford and electric Cook. No one thought Bortles could handle the pressure of a playoff game. Yet the push continues, all of them looking to defy the odds.

And oh yes, the Patriots. We cannot forget about the organization that continues to be rock solid. Bill Belichick is still Bill Belichick, building and coaching championship rosters, with great discipline and little to no mistakes. They also have one of the greatest quarterbacks of any generation, and the schemes on both sides of the ball to frustrate opponents. They don’t need any more motivation, because that sixth Lombardi is staring them in the face and they want it. Once again, we could see three Patriots titles in four seasons.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the games that grace the second to last Sunday in the NFL season.

AFC Championship: Jaguars at Patriots, 3:05 ET, Gillette Stadium

On paper, just reading that line above, people are still a little dumbfounded.

How in the world are the Jaguars here?

Defense, running the ball, and enough danger in the passing game is the formula. The presence of Tom Coughlin in the organization wouldn’t have it any other way.

Even with that formula, the matchup still favors the Patriots in so many ways. For one, a home game in Foxborough bids horribly for opponents. The fact of the matter is, the Patriots just don’t lose at home very often in January. In fact, it’s extremely rare.

We’re off to a great start. What else do we know? Oh yes, the Patriots are famous for being a team that takes something away from an offense. With their underrated rush defense (only six touchdowns allowed this year), the Pats have the formula to force the ball into the hands of Blake Bortles.

Third, the Jaguars play a certain style of Cover 3, which this Patriots team has seen plenty of over the years. The Jags certainly have the talent at every level, but there are certain things the Pats offense can do to beat that Cover 3 scheme.

The last of the big keys? The Jags are extremely aggressive on defense, and a disciplined offense can make them look foolish. The Pats have the type of players with the quickness to take advantage of aggressive linebacker play. That will yield big gains for the Pats in the short passing game.

Also, who can forget about Gronk? We aren’t sure how the Jags will attempt to cover him, but it will be a tough test.

All of that is stacked against the Jaguars. And yet, they still have surprises of their own.

The key to beating a Patriots team is to rush with four and get there, allowing seven players to drop into coverage. Luckily, the Jags can do just that with their front. Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler rush the passer off of the edge, while interior guys like Calais Campbell and Avery Jones look to collapse the pocket from the interior. If the Jags can get to Brady early and disrupt the offense, they could force the Pats into obvious passing downs and get off the field.

Offensively, the Jags will have to get creative. It’s likely Fournette will be limited, so they need to get the ball into T.J. Yeldon’s hands. Yeldon isn’t as dynamic as Fournette, but he’s a solid runner who can contribute in the passing game. And of course, Bortles will need to make a few plays. He has done that this year, and there’s no reason he can’t find a way this time.

As for the prediction? Most of America wants this upset-minded Jaguars team to win. But, this is the Patriots. Every little mistake will cost you in this game. So, I’m not giving the Jags much of a chance in this one.

Pats 27, Jags 13

NFC Championship Game, Vikings at Eagles, 5:40 ET, Lincoln Financial Field

With all the talent in the NFC, a Case Keenum-Nick Foles showdown is what is delivered. With that in play, this game may very well be a throwback to the days of smash mouth football with excellent defense. Both teams are top five in many defensive categories this season. Both can get to the quarterback and excel in coverage.

So where does the scale tip for either team?

It’s whether or not their quarterback can handle a bit of pressure.

Neither quarterback handled pressure particularly well, especially not Case Keenum. According to Pro Football Focus, Keenum had a quarterback rating of 5.1 versus the blitz. After seeing that statistic, the Eagles certainly will send extra players at Keenum to frustrate him and the flow of the offense.

How do the Vikings combat that? Pat Shurmur has to design plays to neutralize pressure. Luckily, he has two wide receivers at his disposal who can make plays at any time and in a number of ways. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are do-it-all guys. Whether it be in the screen game or getting open downfield, they will make plays. When pressure comes, they need to be ready to make something happen.

Another key to this game? The middle of the field. The Philly receivers will be on an island a lot, but they have the tight ends to work the middle of the field. However, the Vikings have two linebackers who will make it difficult for anything positive to happen in the middle of the field. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are smart, quick, hard-hitting linebackers that give teams fits. It will be up to guys like Zach Ertz and Trey Burton to win over the field to help the Eagles extend drives.

Lastly, of course, the run game. We talked about this being a grind it out game. Now, both teams have big time players in the middle of the defensive line. The Vikings have Linval Joseph and the Eagles have Fletcher Cox. These guys shouldn’t make either team avoid running the ball. The Eagles have three running backs they give the ball to frequently. Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount should see enough carries to keep the Vikings honest. Corey Clement can come in and be a change of pace back to break off a couple big runs. As for the Vikings, it comes down to trusting Latavius Murray in big spots and Jerick McKinnon in space. Murray has done well filling in for Dalvin Cook all year, and he needs to run well again Sunday to get the Vikings to the promised land. McKinnon is a threat in the passing game, and he will get his chances to make things happen in space. Whichever team’s running backs are more productive in big situations, they win.

So who wins this game? The Eagles showed last week that they won’t be disrespected without Wentz, and the Vikings also silenced the doubters on the last play of the game. The NFC Championship will come down to the very end, and I like the Vikings just a bit more than the Eagles. I believe Case Keenum wants to atone for last week’s performance against the blitz. Also, the Vikings win the turnover battle, which is another big determinant (obviously).

Vikings 20, Eagles 16

 

Analyzing the NFL Playoff Field: Who Is The Favorite?

After 17 grueling weeks, here we are. It’s playoff time in the NFL. The temperature is low, and it’s time here in the next five weeks to crown a champion.

This year, it may not be so easy to predict. After all, the season itself didn’t exactly go the way most believed. Who would have thought that the Atlanta Falcons would be the only NFC team to return to the playoffs from last season? Who would have believed the Bills and Jaguars would be playing each other on Wild Card Weekend? How about the Los Angeles Rams, who flourished under first year head coach Sean McVay? They are legitimate title contenders after looking lost last season.

All of this craziness happened this season, and we are in store for much more craziness in the postseason. Let’s take a look at each team.

The AFC

New England Patriots (1 Seed)

Why they’ll win: Everything in the AFC fell into place for the Patriots. They get to avoid the Jaguars outstanding defense until the championship game, if they make it there. Plus, they have the number of both the Chiefs and Steelers in the postseason. Despite the report of the alleged rift in the organization that came out today, the Patriots are still geared up for another run. Tom Brady is still playing at an MVP level, and the defense has improved from the beginning of the year. This might be their easiest road to the title game.

Why they could struggle: The Patriots struggle when teams can rush four and get there. Brady has been beat up at times this season. When he gets hit early, the offensive rhythm struggles to maintain itself. On defense, they are better, but still struggle against high octane offenses. If they are to be beaten, they will have to be outscored, which has happened this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2 seed)

Why they’ll win: Getting Antonio Brown back would be a great start. If they get him back at at least 80 percent, the offense will put defensive coordinators on high alert. With Le’Veon Bell healthy and a big time playmaking rookie in Juju Smith-Schuster, the Steelers have the offense to go far. They also still have talent on defense to rush the passer. T.J. Watt and Cameron Hayward are having good seasons, and they can provide the pressure the secondary needs.

Why they’ll go home: The Steelers still cannot find a way to get out of their own way at times. They make silly mistakes and don’t execute at the most important times. Back against the Pats in week 15, Pittsburgh still had a chance to win after the Jesse James catch came back. Ben panicked on the fake spike, and threw an ill-advised pass that was picked. The other reason? The secondary. If the pressure doesn’t come on defense, the Steelers tend to give up big plays.

Jacksonville Jaguars (3 seed)

Why they’ll win: They have the best defense in the league. Adding Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye in the offseason, then Marcell Dareus via trade have made a huge difference. Combining that with the improvement of Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack, and the Jags have a spectacular unit. They also can run the ball effectively with their trio of Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, and T.J. Yeldon.

Why they won’t: To keep it short, the inconsistency of Blake Bortles. He has five interceptions in the past two weeks, which isn’t a good sign heading into the postseason. Bortles has had good games this season, but everyone knows he has bad games waiting in the wings. If he’s inconsistent, the Jags won’t go far.

Kansas City Chiefs (4 seed)

Why they’ll win: For one, they are the only AFC team left who’s beaten the Patriots. The offense is potent enough to sustain drives and keep defenses honest. Kareem Hunt had a fantastic rookie season. Tyreek Hill was very productive in his first full season at wide receiver. They also still have Travis Kelce. With Andy Reid at the helm, they can put points up on the board. The defense still has studs. The pass rush is led by Justin Houston. Rookie Tanoh Kpassagnon got meaningful snaps down the stretch as well. They are getting back to playing complete games.

Why they won’t: The corner position still isn’t solved opposite Marcus Peters. That is a weakness teams will exploit. Plus, we’ve all seen the Chiefs team in the postseason. If they play like past Andy Reid teams, they won’t survive the AFC gauntlet.

Tennessee Titans (5 seed)

Why they can win: It’s tough to find a scenario where the Titans make it further than the divisional round at best, but if they are to win, establishing the run with their backs is important. Plus, Marcus Mariota needs to be at his best. We’ve seen efficient Mariota before, but not as much this season. On top of that, the defense needs to stay opportunistic, especially Kevin Byard on the back end.

Why they won’t: We’ve discussed the inconsistent Mariota, which is what we’ve seen all year. This team just doesn’t have the firepower on both sides to continue to move through each week.

Buffalo Bills (6 seed)

First off, congrats to this Bills team for making it to the playoffs. It’s been a long time coming, and they deserve it, along with the city.

Why they can win: Running the football, making timely throws and playing tough defense is the Bills way, and that’s what will keep them going. They have the defense to create turnovers. Rookie Tre White is having an excellent year. They may be old school, but history shows it’s effective.

Why they won’t: They are similar to the Titans in that they don’t have the firepower to stick with teams like the Pats and Steelers. Also, if they don’t have LeSean McCoy, that puts a wrench in the power running attack. More pressure on Tyrod Taylor isn’t a good thing.

The NFC

Philadelphia Eagles (1 seed)

Why they can win: Home field advantage is a good start. The road to Minneapolis still runs through Philadelphia. Despite losing Carson Wentz, the Eagles still boast a good roster. They can get to the quarterback with four, something every team would love to have. The secondary is also better than advertised this season. They also have four running backs who carry the rock, and being able to run the ball in January is a big factor.

Why they won’t: Nick Foles isn’t Carson Wentz, and that’s just fact. If he can’t make the throws he needs to, the offense won’t run, and the Eagles could be out of the playoffs real quick.

Minnesota Vikings (2 seed)

Why they’ll win: They look like the most complete team in the NFC right now. The defense is elite on every level. They have a front seven that will frustrate a run game and the secondary to throw the passing game off of rhythm. On the other side, the offense is balanced and they have enough weapons to be a threat offensively. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are a true duo to reckon with, and Kyle Rudolph is underrated as always.

Why they won’t: Case Keenum had a great year this year, but he’s in uncharted waters now. He hasn’t felt the playoff pressure, and the quality of opponents only goes up now. It’s fair to question whether or not he can lead a team to the Super Bowl.

Los Angeles Rams (3 seed)

Why they’ll win: The Rams have the coach of the year in Sean McVay (my opinion). He turned the offense around after an abysmal 2016. Jared Goff is playing much better, and Todd Gurley is the all-world running back we expected him to be. The Rams have a plethora of weapons for Goff, and enough up front to protect him. On defense, Wade Phillips has the unit in great shape. Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in football, and the unit around him does plenty to keep teams off the scoreboard.

Why they won’t: Jared Goff didn’t do well against consistent pressure this season despite a vast improvement. The Seahawks and Vikings both threw the rhythm out the window. If the offensive line can’t keep Goff upright, the offense could sputter. Plus, this is his first playoffs as well.

New Orleans Saints (4 seed)

Whey they’ll win: Drew Brees has been here before. He has won a championship. There’s no doubt he can take control if he needs to. Luckily, he doesn’t always have to with the excellent running back duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The defense has the talent to actually get teams off the field this season. Cam Jordan is playing to of his mind, and he’s had help from second year pro Sheldon Rankins. The secondary has new juice with Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams.

Why they won’t: Injuries have racked up for the Saints this year, especially on defense. They’ve lost players on every level. The secondary is a little more leaky than the middle of the year. Also, they don’t have a ton of weapons on the outside. A faster defense can give them problems.

Carolina Panthers (5 seed)

Why they’ll win: When Cam Newton is hot, the Panthers can get rolling. He has a good group of running backs around him and Greg Olsen back at tight end. The offensive line paves the way in the running game, and teams still have trouble with the read option. The defense still has the front to wreak havoc, and their linebackers fly around the field.

Why they won’t: When Cam Newton is off, the offense looks anemic. They can’t grab the rhythm and hang onto it, and days like last week happen. They are also vulnerable in the secondary, and that showed playing in a dynamic NFC South. If the offense doesn’t show up, they’ll be out in a hurry.

Atlanta Falcons (6 seed)

Why they’ll win: The Falcons know what it takes to get to the Super Bowl. Their roster is still in good shape. The offense isn’t otherworldly like last season, but they are doing just fine. The running back duo is still great, as is Julio Jones. The defense has new blood in Takk McKinley, while the returning young guns have improved. This is an extremely complete group.

Why they won’t: It’s tough to win three games on the road to get to the Super Bowl. The Falcons can do it, but they will have to win tough games. There are certain games that could be shootouts, and their offense hasn’t played up to shootout caliber. Plus, do they still have the mental warfare of last year handled?

BONUS: If I had to pick every game right now, here it is.

Wild Card Weekend

Chiefs over Titans

Falcons over Rams

Jags over Bills

Saints over Panthers

Divisional Weekend 

Falcons over Eagles

Patriots over Chiefs

Steelers over Jags

Vikings over Saints

Championship Weekend

Pats over Steelers

Vikings over Falcons

Super Bowl LII

Pats over Vikings

 

Week 12 Power Rankings: NFC South Surges, Cowboys and Seahawks Slide

To start, let me wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving! We here at The Sports Guys are thankful for all of you who read here. So enjoy your day with family and friends celebrating with them and watching some football.

As for the power rankings, many NFL teams are thankful to have the division lead in late November. Others are thankful that they are still in the playoff race thanks to the parity that exists this season. And the teams at the bottom? Well, they’re thankful that the draft is coming up quick. Let’s get to the rankings.

1. Philadelphia Eagles (No Change)

2. New England Patriots (No Change)

3. New Orleans Saints (No Change)

4. Minnesota Vikings (+1)

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (+2)

6. Carolina Panthers (+3)

7. Los Angeles Rams (-1)

8. Atlanta Falcons (+4)

Thoughts: The Eagles remain on top thanks to their drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. Even as Carson Wentz struggled early, Philly still found a way to win in dominating fashion. The Patriots continue to get better on defense, while Tom Brady and company have the offense at peak efficiency. They made the Raiders look five steps too slow all day. The Saints kept their own win streak alive with a crazy comeback and finished it in overtime. Many forget that Drew Brees can take over a game if he needs to so. The Vikings did away with the Rams at home and tighten their grip on the NFC North, and Case Keenum continues to surprise this season. The Steelers did better offensively through the air against the Titans, and the defense continues to get better. The Falcons came away with a big win at the Seahawks Monday night, and kept their playoff hopes alive.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars (+1)

10. Seattle Seahawks (-2)

11. Kansas City Chiefs (-7)

12. Dallas Cowboys (-1)

13. Detroit Lions (+2)

14. Los Angeles Chargers (+5)

15. Washington Redskins (-2)

16. Tennessee Titans (-2)

Thoughts: It wasn’t pretty for the Jags, but they got the job done on the road in Cleveland. The one thing that could hold this team back down the stretch is the sometimes-dormant offense. The Seahawks need a reality check, and they’ve become the team that needs to win shootouts now. The Chiefs take a massive tumble thanks to a loss against the worst team in the NFC. The secondary continues to be the problem for the Chiefs, and the offense is becoming less dynamic. The Cowboys have two important games in a row to determine if they can stay afloat in the playoff race. Getting Tyron Smith and Sean Lee back will help, but the defense has serious holes, even with Sean Lee on the field. The Lions survived again against the Bears and face the rolling Vikings on Thanksgiving. The good news is that they are continuing to win close games. The Chargers got a huge win over the Bills, and the defense took the game over, forcing five Nathan Peterman interceptions. If the offense can keep moving the ball on the ground, the Chargers are a very real threat in the AFC. The Redskins drop a bit after giving away the game at the Saints, but they still have a fighting chance as players continue to work their way back from injury. The Titans got it handed to them last Thursday, but they are still very much alive in the playoff race if they can continue to run the ball and open things up for Marcus Mariota.

17. Baltimore Ravens (+3)

18. Chicago Bears (+4)

19. Buffalo Bills (-3)

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+4)

21. Oakland Raiders (-4)

22. Cincinnati Bengals (+4)

23. New York Jets (+2)

24. Green Bay Packers (-6)

Thoughts: The Ravens defense proved they can keep Baltimore in games with a dominant performance in Green Bay. The Bears are continually in games and they are improving with Mitch Trubisky at the helm. The Bills continued their free fall with an awful half from Nathan Peterman. The good news is that they will play the struggling Chiefs Sunday to try to turn it around. The Bucs picked up another win with Ryan Fitzpatrick running the show. They are creating more turnovers on defense which has contributed to this little run. The Raiders didn’t look ready to play in Mexico City, which is what we’ve seen from them all year. The offense just isn’t the same this season. The Bengals did just enough to beat the Broncos. They have a better roster than people think, but that offensive line holds them back in a big way. The Jets continue to improve with their young guys on defense, but they won’t contend without a franchise quarterback and more playmakers. The Packers are not the same team with Brett Hundley, obviously. He holds the ball far too long, and commits bad turnovers.

25. Arizona Cardinals (-4)

26. Houston Texans (+2)

27. Denver Broncos (-4)

28. Miami Dolphins (-1)

29. Indianapolis Colts (No Change)

30. San Francisco 49ers (No Change)

31. New York Giants (No Change)

32. Cleveland Browns (No Change)

Thoughts: Not too much to say for an Arizona team that is missing its top players. They really don’t have much going for themselves except for a high draft pick. Houston got a key win over the Cardinals, but they won’t make the playoffs with all of their injuries. Denver will try Paxton Lynch this week, and most likely the rest of the year to find out if another quarterback is necessary. The Dolphins are not the team from last year. They don’t run the ball effectively to set their offense up and their defense lacks at every level. As far as Indy goes, they need more help in a lot of places. Hopefully they have a better roster when Andrew Luck returns. The Niners won’t turn to Jimmy Garoppolo this week, but they have the pieces for the long haul. The G-Men came out with some heart and put together a good performance in a win over Kansas City. They ran the ball more effectively and got after it on defense. Cleveland is still looking for their first win, and it may not come if they keep turning it over at the rate that they do.

A quick Thanksgiving treat for you all, my picks for today’s games are:

Vikings over Lions

Chargers over Cowboys

Redskins over Giants

Questions or comments about your team? Put them here or find Jake on Twitter @JSchyvinck13. 

Week 11 Power Rankings: NFC Is Getting Deeper, AFC Thinning

We have reached mid-November, which can only mean one thing. The stretch run to the playoffs is beginning. Many teams are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, while others are focusing on the ultimate goal. The next seven weeks will surely be full of meaningful and exciting football. Let’s get to the rankings.

1. Philadelphia Eagles (No Change)

2. New England Patriots (No Change)

3. New Orleans Saints (+6)

4. Kansas City Chiefs (+1)

5. Minnesota Vikings (+3)

6. Los Angeles Rams (No Change)

7. Pittsburgh Steelers (-3)

8. Seattle Seahawks (-5)

Thoughts: The Eagles and Patriots currently are atop their respective conferences, and it’s easy to see why. Both teams are outplaying everyone on both sides of the ball. The Patriots also dominated on special teams against the Broncos and look back to form in a top heavy AFC. The New Orleans Saints are streaking after winning seven straight thanks to an accompanying defense and running game for Drew Brees. Kansas City remains the second best team in the AFC and will likely grab the division with a weak second half schedule. The Vikings and Rams are surprising everyone offensively so far, and they meet for what should be an excellent and important game on Sunday. Pittsburgh drops due to their constant pattern of playing down to their competition. They are still playing solid defense, but the offense is struggling and needs to find it down the stretch. Despite continued injuries and shuffling at running back, the Seahawks are still alive. Russell Wilson is the under the radar MVP right now keeping this team afloat. It will be interesting to see them without Richard Sherman down the stretch.

9. Carolina Panthers (+7)

10. Jacksonville Jaguars (+1)

11. Dallas Cowboys (-1)

12. Atlanta Falcons (+2)

13. Washington Redskins (+2)

14. Tennessee Titans (+5)

15. Detroit Lions (+2)

16. Buffalo Bills (-9)

Thoughts: The Panthers are surging once again thanks to Cam Newton and a defense that is tightening its grip. They have plenty of division games left to see what they are made of. Jacksonville’s defense continues to dominate, and they pulled off an unlikely win at home against the Chargers. They need to clean things up a bit offensively, but they are very much in playoff contention. Dallas could certainly fall more without Ezekiel Elliott for five more games, and their playoff hopes are diminishing as the weeks go by. The Falcons got a much needed win over those Cowboys, and the defense is still loaded. Adrian Clayborn benefitted from a nice situation, but those six sacks gave the defense that extra boost. They have tough games down the stretch. The Redskins and Titans are two of the more intriguing teams here. The Titans are winning close games against less than average competition, and the Redskins have played a brutal schedule and are still afloat. They both will benefit down the stretch in different ways – the Redskins from the sputtering Cowboys and the Titans from the lack of depth in the AFC. The Lions barely escaped at home against Cleveland, and they need to step it up earlier in games if they want to stay in playoff contention. Buffalo is confusing right now. They are in the thick of the playoff race, and yet they decided to bench Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman this week.

17. Oakland Raiders (+7)

18. Green Bay Packers (+5)

19. Los Angeles Chargers (-6)

20. Baltimore Ravens (No Change)

21. Arizona Cardinals (+7)

22. Chicago Bears (-4)

23. Denver Broncos (-2)

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+2)

Thoughts: The Raiders take a jump with their righting of the ship against the Dolphins. Thanks to the struggling Chargers and Broncos plus a weak AFC, they are still alive. They need to find consistency on both sides of the ball though. Green Bay finally got a win without Rodgers against the Bears, and a weak schedule down the stretch gives them a chance. The Chargers lost in the most Chargers way to the Jags on Sunday. They are the best 3-6 team by far, but they just can’t seem to put a game together. The Ravens are still alive, but they are so inconsistent on offense. They may have to string some together to make a run. The Cardinals aren’t a playoff team, but they have played well recently. They gave Seattle fits last Thursday and the defense looks good for the future. The Bears need some work, especially when it comes to playmakers. Teams are focusing on the running game, and Mitch Trubisky doesn’t have enough to work with. What is there to say about Denver other than they are falling apart. Both sides of the ball are subpar at the moment, and they may clean up contracts and reload in the draft. The Bucs are struggling in two of the most important areas of the game: the offensive and defensive line. Both spots need an influx of young talent. With no extra week to rest, this team will be gassed by the end.

25. New York Jets (No Change)

26. Cincinnati Bengals (-4)

27. Miami Dolphins (No Change)

28. Houston Texans (-16)

29. Indianapolis Colts (No Change)

30. San Francisco 49ers (+1)

31. New York Giants (-1)

32. Cleveland Browns (No Change)

Thoughts: The Jets are playing much better than advertised, but they still need help on offense. They are getting older at running back, and they have to find the quarterback of the future. The Bengals aren’t playing well, and Marvin Lewis is fueling the fire with his comments about rookie John Ross. Since you’re out of the playoff race, play your rookies!! The Dolphins got smoked on Monday night with no relief in sight. They have the Pats twice down the road and major decisions coming in the offseason. The Texans have taken an unfortunate tumble due to injuries. I’m not sure any team could survive what they’ve lost this season. The good news is that next year, the hype surrounding the Texans will be real. The Colts nearly pulled off a great upset on Sunday, but they couldn’t finish. A 3-7 record puts them in a position for serious transition. The Niners finally got a win under Kyle Shanahan over the Giants, and the players rewarded him with a properly sized Gatorade bath (if you didn’t see it, look it up). The roster is looking good, and an overhaul on offense with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm means a turnaround is coming soon. The Giants continue to be abysmal this season, and they can’t buy a win. It might be time to see what you have in Davis Webb. One bright spot for them is that Evan Engram is a nightmare for defenses. The Browns had a chance on Sunday against Detroit, and the nightmarish play with the lead has many wondering if they will win a game this year. Change is coming.

Disagree with the rankings??? Follow Jake on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 and tell him why he’s wrong. 

Week 9 Power Rankings: SNF Features Tumbling Teams, Seahawks Rise

What a Sunday we had in the NFL, and what a trade deadline we had as well. The Seahawks and Texans have an argument for game of the year with a wild duel between Russell Wilson and DeShaun Watson. The Eagles and Bills got stronger at the deadline. The Patriots finally unloaded Jimmy Garoppolo. The Cowboys continued to get back on track, and now they have lost Ezekiel Elliott for six games. The Steelers and Chiefs both edged out their opponents this past week.

In all of this craziness, here are the latest NFL power rankings.

1. Philadelphia Eagles (No Change)

The Eagles are still the most complete team in the league. They have the offense and weapons to put points on the board. Adding Jay Ajayi only makes them stronger, especially because they won’t wear down any single back come playoff time. The defense is playing fantastic up front and the secondary still holds their own.

2. New England Patriots (No Change)

An ugly win on Sunday against the Chargers, but the defense did their job. That unit is finally coming together, which many figured would happen at some point. They get the bye week to get healthier for the stretch run.

3. Seattle Seahawks (+2)

The defense couldn’t stop DeShaun Watson on Sunday. The offensive line couldn’t hold up against Jadeveon Clowney. Russell Wilson and the offense would still not be denied. He ran and threw all over the Texans. Now, enter Duane Brown from Houston who will certainly help keep Wilson upright. Seattle is getting scarier by the week.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (-1)

The offense was a bit lethargic on Sunday night. Le’Veon Bell didn’t find many holes and the passing game looked off minus the 97 yard touchdown to Juju Smith-Schuster. However, the defense stood tall, especially in the red zone. Stopping the Lions on multiple fourth down plays in the red zone is a big deal. That defense continues to get better.

5. Kansas City Chiefs (-1)

Not the greatest win on Monday night, but it will do. Kareem Hunt was stifled most of the night, but Alex Smith and Travis Kelce keyed the offense when they needed it. The defense is still very good, no matter how bad Trevor Siemian is. They will be just fine going forward, as they get Tamba Hali back this week.

6. Los Angeles Rams (No Change)

Not too mention for this club coming off the bye week. They are playing very well on both sides of the ball. They are clearly still a threat in the NFC West and certainly look like a playoff team.

7. Buffalo Bills (+2)

It would have been easy for the Bills to tank this season and focus on the future. Yet, here they are, fresh off a domination of the Oakland Raiders. LeSean McCoy had a big day on the ground, and the defense forced big time turnovers. That is a recipe for a playoff team. They get the Jets next, and a win there keeps the wagon moving.

8. Minnesota Vikings (-1)

The Vikings have a grip on the NFC North and may get Teddy Bridgewater back sooner rather than later. If the defense continues to play well and they can get the ground game rolling, they should cruise to a division title.

9. New Orleans Saints (-1)

A win is a win. The Saints relied on the defense to escape with a win Sunday against the Bears. Drew Brees and the offense played well, but two Mark Ingram fumbles kept the Bears in it. As long as the defense can keep up the pace they are on, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be the favorites to win the NFC South.

10. Dallas Cowboys (No Change)

Big division win for the Cowboys Sunday. They didn’t realize how much they needed it until they realized Ezekiel Elliott would in fact be suspended for six games. It isn’t an easy stretch by any means. We will certainly find a lot out about this Cowboys team without Elliott.

11. Jacksonville Jaguars (+1)

Defense, defense, defense. They should look good coming off the bye week with their new addition Marcell Dareus. That front is extremely dangerous and can wreck a game at any time. Leonard Fournette will also be back this week. With the Watson injury, they are the favorites right now.

12. Houston Texans (+2)

An excellent performance Sunday by DeShaun Watson only proves that he is the future for the Texans and for the NFL. It was unfortunate to hear about his ACL tear today, and I wish him the best on the road to recovery. It’s hard to imagine the Texans will be able to weather that storm.

13. Los Angeles Chargers (No Change)

The Chargers held their own against the Patriots Sunday. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram continue to dominate, and the secondary is slowly getting better. It’s up to the offense to be better moving forward. They are still in the playoff hunt with the talent they have.

14. Atlanta Falcons (+3)

The Falcons picked up a key win against the Jets Sunday. The unlikely heroes, Tevin Coleman and Mohamed Sanu, need to keep it up if the offense has a shot to return to what it was. The defense still plays fast and will be the key for them going forward.

15. Washington Redskins (-4)

An unfortunate tumble for the Redskins on Sunday. They are loaded with injuries and a bye week would do them good. Unfortunately, they are headed to Seattle this week. The offense needs to pick it up down the stretch if a playoff berth is desired.

16. Carolina Panthers (No Change)

Super ugly win for the Panthers on Sunday. A win over the Bucs isn’t much to brag about these days. Their offense is still lethargic, and better teams won’t hand them opportunities. The loss of Kelvin Benjamin hurts their offense, and a big matchup looms with the Falcons.

17. Detroit Lions (-2)

The defense did a great job containing Le’Veon Bell, but the offense has to find a way to get in the end zone. Matt Stafford has the weapons back, so they need to forget that loss and regroup. They have a great opportunity to move forward with the Packers coming up next.

18. Chicago Bears (+2)

The defense played well against the Saints in the Superdome, but they eventually need to give Mitchell Trubisky more in order to win games. They need to continue to be creative with their two headed monster at running back. Also, on a more important note, wishing the best to Zach Miller on his recovery.

19. Tennessee Titans (-1)

The good news for Tennessee is that the division is opening up. The bad news is that they don’t look like a playoff team. The Jags are dominant on the defensive side of the ball, while the Titans sit at mediocre on both sides. Marcus Mariota isn’t having his best year, and the defense lacks playmakers.

20. Baltimore Ravens (+8)

The defense played well and the offense found life against the Dolphins. That was certainly the performance they needed to climb their way back into relevance. The key now is repeating those performances in a crowded AFC.

21. Denver Broncos (No Change)

The change to bench Trevor Siemian is understood. While he started out hot, he has become inaccurate and even a turnover machine. Many believed a better run game would help, but it hasn’t. With Paxton Lynch hurt, Brock Osweiler will get the start. In better news, the defense is still good and played a heck of a game containing Kareem Hunt.

22. Cincinnati Bengals (+2)

They did just enough to beat the Colts Sunday. The outlook is good for the Bengals due to the performance of the young guns. Joe Mixon is getting more carries and is improving. Carl Lawson has been excellent in the first half of the season. Even Jordan Willis is getting good playing time. It’s just about putting a game together for this team.

23. Green Bay Packers (No Change)

Nothing doing over the bye week. It will be interesting to see what the Packers have in store for Monday night. Will they lean on Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones, or will they air it out more. If they want to be in position for a run if Aaron Rodgers can return, this is a big one against Detroit.

24. Oakland Raiders (-2)

I think it’s about time to stick a fork in the Raiders. The offense didn’t have the rhythm against Buffalo and the defense couldn’t get the stops they needed. The defense clearly needs more help, and the Derek Carr hype took off too soon. The Raiders certainly didn’t envision this in 2017.

25. New York Jets (+1)

The Jets are way better than people believed they would be. The defense doesn’t get enough credit. Leonard Williams is a force. Jordan Jenkins is improving on the edge. Jamal Adams is a superstar in the making, and Marcus Maye looks good as well. The offense just needs a makeover in the coming draft and free agency.

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1)

Stick a fork in the Bucs as well. They had an abysmal performance on offense against Carolina. Jameis Winston still hasn’t been able to outgrow turnovers. The defense still struggles to get pressure. To top it off, they don’t get a bye to help stop the bleeding.

27. Miami Dolphins (-8)

The Dolphins had an even worse week than the Bucs did. They laid an egg at Baltimore. They aren’t dynamic enough offensively with Matt Moore at the helm. The defense is still trying to gel as a unit. Plus, they just traded away Jay Ajayi. There isn’t much else to say.

28. Arizona Cardinals (-1)

The Cardinals are dealing with injuries all over the place, injuries that really derailed their season. They have big decisions coming this offseason at a multitude of positions.

29. Indianapolis Colts (No Change)

The Colts just couldn’t finish on Sunday against Cincinnati. With the bad news that Andrew Luck will not play at all this season, Chris Ballard will have decisions to make regarding the coaching staff and Andrew Luck himself.

30. New York Giants (No Change)

They really don’t have a shot at the playoffs, but we will see what pride they have to go out and try to play hard the rest of the year. The defense isn’t as good as last season, but they will give some teams headaches down the stretch. Now is a good time to see what they have on offense and prepare for offseason additions.

31. San Francisco (No Change)

The Niners didn’t even wait until the offseason to make decisions. They went out and traded for Jimmy Garoppolo and shook up the quarterback carousel for 2018. He may not get much time this season, but Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have a plan for this team, and they will contend in the near future.

32. Cleveland Browns (No Change)

The botched trade for AJ McCarron (with details that are still a bit uncertain) puts the front office and decision makers in a bad light. It’s clear they don’t believe in the quarterback room they have. In a time where many believed they could turn this around, changes are certainly coming for this team.

Disagree with the rankings? Follow @JSchyvinck13 and lay into his rankings on Twitter or here.