Across the pond football

UK based NFL Blog – Opinions and Articles on American Football


1 Comment

ATPF Preview Wildcard Round

Image

What a crazy week to finish the season. The Steelers mustn’t be able to comprehend how the Chargers ‘won’ their game against the Chiefs backups. The Bears must also be hurting, they had their winner takes all game in their grasp, Julius Peppers had Aaron Rodgers in his grasp, Rodgers escaped, Green Bay escaped and piled more misery on their deadly rivals. There was a familiar theme even minus Tony Romo in Dallas as for the third straight year the Cowboys lost a winner takes all NFC East clash; all three teams have beaten them in the three year skid. The coaching carousel is in full swing too, Gary Kubiak’s position was untenable, Mike Shanahan and Greg Schiano had lost their locker rooms and both Leslie Frazier and particularly Jim Schwartz had failed to meet expectations relevant to the talent level on their rosters. I do feel most for one year head coach Rob Chudzinski, fired by the Browns. Chudzinski inherited a woeful roster and organisation which knows only how to lose, admittedly they fell apart once the season was lost but if Michael Lombardi thinks anyone is making this team competitive in one season he is very much mistaken.

Anyway to look back, we went 13-3 in our condensed week 17 preview, our best week of the year. In our first season we went 151-87 on predictions; we have had plenty of fun and a few headaches along the way but turned out reasonable numbers. Onto the playoffs now and the stakes are raised, we are excited about the next month but hope it doesn’t go too quick.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts

A fortnight ago the Colts beat the Chiefs 23-7 in this stadium so will certainly enter this game with confidence. They have been giant killers in an 11-5 AFC South winning season, San Francisco, Denver and indeed Kansas City were all favoured but all beaten by the Colts. The Colts are not without their flaws but they certainly have the winning knack. Their defense ranked 20th in yards allowed but eighth in scoring, allowing just 21 points per game and the 27 turnovers forced by the unit were vital. Offensively the Colts haven’t been ultra dynamic, Trent Richardson has disappointed on the whole but showed a few signs down the stretch and the loss of Reggie Wayne has put a lot on the shoulders of T.Y. Hilton who has had a solid sophomore year. Andrew Luck hasn’t yet reached the pantheons of the likes of Manning, Brees or Rodgers but is smart, accurate and more athletic than many realise.

The success of the Chiefs, 2012’s worst team has been surprising but not completely shocking. They have a lot of talent; we already knew that and in Andy Reid brought in a highly respected, experienced and successful coach. Reid has got the best out of a team that past managements got the least out of. Kansas City have been led by Jamaal Charles, their superstar running back who was deprived of a 2000 yards from scrimmage season by being rested for the final game and had nineteen total touchdowns. Quarterback Alex Smith’s accurate short and intermediate passing has been an ideal fit for Andy Reid’s west coast offense and Smith has had arguably the best year of his career. Kansas’ defense is laden with stars and boasts one of the league’s most feared pass rushes and most talented secondaries. Few teams in fact can boast the talent that K.C. can on defense with playmakers throughout the starting eleven.

In the first meeting Kansas uncharacteristically committed four turnovers, couldn’t complete on third down and lost the time of possession battle by almost seventeen minutes. They are a team built to not turn it over, not get in third and long situations and to control the clock so the game went all wrong. Andy Reid will want to shut down the Colts run game here first and foremost and allow Jamaal Charles to both control the clock and make big plays. The Colts will hope to do a better job on Charles than in the last meeting but he can make plays in so many ways. Kansas defense is entirely reliant on pressure but they couldn’t get at Luck nearly enough last time and when their blitz doesn’t get home they can be vulnerable.

ATPF PredictionThe Colts finished the season strongly including a verdict over the Chiefs. Kansas City are more solid as an all round team but the Colts were able to exploit all of their weaknesses last time out. Reid will want to correct many of these issues but the Colts won comfortably that day so have to get the edge. It will be closer however this time; we predict the Colts win by a score of 27-20.

New Orleans Saints @Philadelphia Eagles

All credit to Chip Kelly who took the Eagles from worst to first in the NFC East behind one of the league’s most feared offenses. The Eagles finished the season 7-1 to power past the Cowboys and will enter the playoffs with great confidence. Their offense went from explosive but self destructive under Michael Vick to just flat out explosive under Nick Foles. LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing and DeSean Jackon came back to his best as the dynamic deep threat that terrified defensive coordinators in his first couple of years in the league and a word must be said about the offensive line which paved the way for McCoy’s great season at a tempo which is hardly comfortable to men weighing around 300 lbs. The Eagles have languished in the bottom five of the defensive rankings all year yet they have allowed over 22 points just once in their last 12 games.

The Saints finished the season with an 11-5 record but lost the NFC South to the shock success story of the Carolina Panthers. The Saints are imperious at home but won just three of their eight road games this season and none of those were convincing. Defeats to the substandard Jets and Rams on the road, a crucial loss to the Panthers and a whipping in Seattle further backup the view that this team needs the comforts of home to be at their best. Their best is however arguably better than the Eagles best so there is hope if they can find their best form. The Saints always prolific offense ranked fourth in the league and Drew Brees’ pass attack was good for second best overall. The biggest difference for New Orleans this year was their fourth ranked defense which was second best in the league against the pass. Rob Ryan’s defense uses many different formations, sub-packages, coverages and blitzes and he will hope to disguise his plays from the relatively inexperienced but usually unflappable Nick Foles; it will be an interesting battle.

Offenses grab the headlines in these two cities but don’t be fooled, the Saints defense is the best we have seen for years and I include their Superbowl year in that and the Eagles are way better than the stats suggest too. The Eagles have great momentum, are at home and will find conditions much more to their liking than their opponents. The Saints are a very experienced postseason team and can go toe to toe with anyone but their away form just doesn’t add up to the same as their home form.

ATPF PredictionThis game won’t be an offensive shootout like some are suggesting but nor will it be dull. The Eagles were brilliant in the snow against Detroit a month ago so minus 6 celsius (21 Fahrenheit) temperatures shouldn’t be an issue. The Eagles have enough in their favour to upset the better side here and we see something like Philadelphia 34 New Orleans 28.

San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals

As we spoke of earlier San Diego winning their decisive week 17 game wasn’t far short of miraculous. I have heard a few cynical whispers but the Chiefs did not want their AFC West rivals in the playoffs so such talk is ridiculous. The Chargers have been behind the eight ball all year as their West rivals Denver and Kansas City blazed such a trail yet beating both in their own backyards gave them hope and their win last week saw them in against the odds. They look the most flawed team in the playoffs but their schedule has been brutal so a 9-7 finish was no mean feat and they have one major thing in their favour here. That is quarterback Philip Rivers who has led them to a top five ranking in total offense and in passing. Defensively the Chargers are in stage one of a major revamp and there are some obvious holes particularly in their secondary.

The Bengals at last won the NFC North from perennial Lombardi trophy contenders Pittsburgh and current holders of the trophy Baltimore. In their third straight year in the playoffs they need to win at least one postseason game and with a home game in the cold against the Southern Californians they will fancy their chances. Few teams are as strong on both sides of the ball as Cincinnati; their defense has been strong for a few years now and despite some big name injuries they ended the season as the third ranked unit in the league. Their offense is full of talent too; superstar receiver A.J. Green is among the league’s elite and Marvin Jones has emerged as a valid number two. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert are both good pass catchers and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard form an effective one-two. The lone issue on this team is quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton enters his third straight postseason needing a win and needing to prove that he is capable at this level. Dalton passed for a seventh best in the league 4296 yards and a third best in the league 33 touchdowns but his 20 interceptions is the most of any quarterback to make the playoffs. If Dalton can hold it together and use his weapons the Bengals will be tough to beat.

The Chargers need Phil Rivers to be at his best as he has been for much of the year here against a very stout defense capable of constant pressure from just their four man rush. The Chargers will also hope that Dalton errs as he has in the last two postseasons.

ATPF PredictionThe Bengals shouldn’t struggle against the Chargers defense and should score plenty of points. San Diego will score points also despite the Bengals defensive strength but we can’t see them matching their rivals on the scoreboard. Our prediction is Cincinnati 34 San Diego 24.

San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers

There is history here and it favours the 49ers but the Packers will be ready for Colin Kaepernick this year but minus Clay Matthews they may still struggle to contain him. The bitter weather of Lambeau Field may have been a problem to 49ers teams of the past but strangely the blue collar 49ers ought to be more suited by it than the dynamic Green Bay Packers. San Francisco are a run first, ground and pound offense and veteran Frank Gore sets the tone. The Niners ended the year with the third ranked ground game in the league but they will need more from their passing attack. Michael Crabtree stepped up on their run to the Superbowl last year and they will need more of the same from him having missed the majority of the year. The 49ers ended the year ranked fifth in total defense and haven’t given up thirty points once this season.

The Packers scored 28 against that stingy defense in week one but it wasn’t enough. Their offense has struggled on the most part this season with Aaron Rodgers missing more than half of the season but we all know how dangerous they can be with him at full speed. He was slow to get going on his return last week but typically made a brilliant game winning throw inside the final minute. Randall Cobb is back also and caught two touchdowns against Chicago, Cobb, speedy James Jones and Rodgers favourite target Jordy Nelson are a formidable trio especially when you consider that the Packers have run the football the best that they have since their Superbowl campaign of three years ago. Their defense is one of the weaker units in the playoffs and injuries to their front seven will certainly give Dom Capers some headaches when you think back to the way Kaepernick consistently got to the edge in the playoffs last year and then picked up huge chunks of yardage en route to a quarterback rushing record.

The Packers are a team everyone will fear now but perhaps less so San Francisco who have such a fine recent record against them. The Packers must pick their poison with San Francisco’s multi faceted offense but the matchups seem to largely favour the 49ers.

ATPF PredictionThe Aaron Rodgers factor will be big here but the 49ers are a more talented all round team so they again hold the edge in this matchup. It was 34-28 last time and a similar score is likely. We are going to say 30-28 this time.

 


Leave a comment

ATPF Preview Week 11

Image

Week 10 in the NFL proved to be one of the most surprising in terms of results yet. Who thought the Rams could beat the Colts? And by 30 points? What about the winless Jaguars and Buccaneers both winning? We predicted the latter but both? It was a tough week to predict and ATPF’s first losing week of the season, 6-8 was pretty disappointing. The Bengals, our bogey team were incredibly naive in overtime, leading to their loss having been given a second chance and that loss hurt the most.

Moving on swiftly to week eleven and this may be the most exciting round of fixtures so far. Obviously the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs back after their bye visiting the 8-1 Denver Broncos headlines the fixtures but the 49ers visiting the Superdome and Monday night’s clash of New England and the hugely improved Carolina Panthers are just as big. Crucial games such as Thursday Night’s AFC South clash, the Browns @ Bills game and Redskins @ Eagles will all have major impacts on the shape of the team’s seasons; it’s now or never this season for many.

Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans

Did both teams have one eye on this fixture when they were both upset last week? Hard to think they didn’t because both were pretty unimaginable failures. The Colts were humbled 38-8 at home by the Rams who arrived in Indianapolis at 3-6 and with a backup quarterback starting. Tennessee meanwhile handed the lowly Jaguars their first win and lost oft-injured quarterback Jake Locker for the season too.

Had the Titans been able to win that week 10 game they would have been able to top the division with a win here, instead they are staring down the barrel of 4-6 which would be the end of their season. Tennessee truly shot themselves in the foot by gifting the Jaguars four turnovers. Their ninth ranked defense allowed just 214 total yards but was powerless againt the four turnovers. Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t the man responsible, the backup quarterback threw two touchdown passes and ran one in himself, he isn’t a big drop off from Locker. Chris Johnson returned from a season in the wilderness in week nine but disappeared again last week. Whether he needs a change of scenery or is simply running on empty now remains to be seen but as much as the Titans need him he can’t be relied on any more.

The Colts thirty point humbling may have been the biggest shocker of the season so far. The Colts committed five turnovers and allowed Tavon Austin, a rookie who was already hearing the dreaded word ‘bust’ whispered to take in a long return and two long touchdown passes. It will have been an uncomfortable few days in Indianapolis and nobody will escape blame. Everything went wrong that has been going right really, the Colts have consistently won turnover battles this year but lost by four to St.Louis. Andrew Luck has generally been pretty conservative in games this year but asked to really force it he made mistakes. The Colts defense has allowed yards but always made big plays to make up for it, on Sunday they were exposed by Austin’s blazing speed and ability to run after the catch.

Both teams were pretty poor last week and turnovers were the common theme. Neither has made a habit of losing the turnover battle previously so we can expect a cagey start here with both looking to protect the ball better. If Ryan Fitzpatrick can compete with Andrew Luck his defense may give his side the edge but Luck has been pretty cerebral on the whole this year and we would rather take our chances on him bouncing back than on Fitzpatrick whose inconsistency is the reason he is now a backup rather than a starter.

ATPF PredictionIn a low scoring, tense affair the Colts edge to victory by three or four points.

Baltimore Ravens @ Chicago Bears

Defeat for the Bears last week saw them again slip behind the Lions in the fiercely competitive NFC North while the Ravens survived an overtime forcing hail mary to eventually overcome the Bengals; the win keeps them just about in the playoff hunt.

For Baltimore the season has been as tough as you would expect for them having lost two future hall of fame defenders their starting center and a starting wide receiver. Jim Harbaugh’s team know what it takes to make the playoffs and as reigning Superbowl champions they know how to win in the postseason. The Ravens have struggled to 4-5 and realistically can probably only lose one more game if they want to play on into January. Their offense and particularly its lack of firepower has been the biggest issue, only three teams have less yards and the Ravens average just 20 points per game. Defensively Baltimore still have their share of talent minus Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger. They have given up just one rushing touchdown but the secondary is vulnerable when the rush can’t get home.

Chicago got within a two point conversion of overtime against the Lions but saw Matt Forte stuffed by Nick Fairley. Returning quarterback Jay Cutler put the Bears ahead early but again left the game injured; he continues to frustrate in the windy city. Cutler will miss this game with a high ankle sprain; his backup Josh McCown is a smart veteran but lacks the playmaking skills of Cutler. In Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery McCown has two big productive receivers but with the Ravens so good against the run can he get it into the end zone enough times to beat the Ravens? The Bears defense is ailing, linebacker Lance Briggs and corner Charles Tillman are both out and they are two of the Bears top three defenders so Baltimore shouldn’t find this unit as tough as normal Chicago defenses.

A tough one to call this; the Bears season is in danger of collapsing behind the weight of key injuries they have suffered yet they have been the better of these two teams so far. Baltimore didn’t inspire even in winning last week but they could be ready to finish the season strongly. The Ravens defense needs to make some big plays in the passing game but if they can do so the Ravens can edge this one.

ATPF PredictionThe Ravens superior defense inspires the win; again it’s by just a field goal.

Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals

After their call to Mary was answered the Bengals managed an eleven yard loss on fourth down in overtime to setup Baltimore for the game winning drive. Such plays seem to be too common in Cincinnati and a supremely talented team like they are should be better than 6-4. Cleveland beat the Ravens in week nine and had their bye week to prepare for another AFC North war. At 4-5 the underdog Browns know that back to back wins could see them join Cincinnati atop the division.

Cleveland snapped a losing run just in time when they edged the Ravens in week nine. Their defense has been one of the league’s most impressive units through ten weeks, they rank fifth in yards allowed but could improve by creating more than the eleven turnovers they have so far. Their offense has seen three different quarterbacks start and all have at least one win. Journeyman Jason Campbell, a physically gifted underachiever is now under center and his play in two starts has been the best the Browns have seen at the position this year. Wide receiver Josh Gordon and rookie tight end Jordan Cameron are both having fine seasons and both could have very bright futures in Cleveland but the Browns do need more from their rushing attack which averages a paltry 3.7 yards per carry.

Cincinnati rank in the top ten both offensively and defensively. Losing all-pro tackle Geno Atkins was a blow to the defense yet in their first game without him the Bengals allowed less than 200 yards in four and a half quarters in Baltimore. Offensively Cincinnati will go as far as inconsistent third year quarterback Andy Dalton can take them; Dalton has thrown nine picks in his team’s four losses including six in the last two. In their six wins Dalton has managed to restrict it to just four interceptions and is in pace for a 4000 yards, 30 touchdown season.

The Browns defense saw them take the first battle of Ohio but at home the Bengals and their superiorly talented offense look to hold the aces this time around.

ATPF PredictionCincinnati get back on track, win by ten.

New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills

Inconsistency is the theme to these two AFC East rivals. Defeat for Buffalo in week ten saw them slip to 3-7 but the Jets who beat the high flying Saints in week nine return from their bye ready to make a real push for the playoffs.

Gang Green are enjoying a bounce back season under inspirational coach Rex Ryan and rookie quarterback Geno Smith. With the Tim Tebow sideshow gone and Mark Sanchez’s embarrassing glamour shoots no longer at the forefront the Jets have got back to doing what they do best; playing hard, physical, smart football. Ryan’s defense rank eighth in yards allowed with their defensive line the basis for their success. Geno Smith’s thirteen interceptions have put the defense under pressure but the Jets top ten rushing attack keeps Smith from being asked to do too much too often.

The Bills like their state rivals are a run first team with a rookie quarterback under center. E.J. Manuel returned from injury to start in Pittsburgh but managed just 155 yards passing. Explosive runner C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, the power back are a feared tandem but injuries and lack of a passing threat have hampered them and after getting almost 200 yards between them against the Chiefs they could muster just 78 against the Steelers. Like Pittsburgh the Jets will focus first on stopping the run and take their chances with Manuel. Defensively the Bills have been pretty bad, they have given up 21 touchdown passes and all ten of their rivals so far have scored over twenty against them.

The Jets edged the first game at home, winning by seven. Since then the Bills form has slipped so it’s hard to see a reverse here.

ATPF PredictionLike the first battle the Jets win by seven.

Atlanta Falcons @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay finally got their first win on Monday Night but for their NFC South rivals there was more misery in a beat down by the NFC leaders Seattle. Both would have thought this could be a pivotal game before the season but with both so disappointing it is for little more than divisional pride now.

Morale will be high in Tampa after that first win against their state rivals Miami. The Buccaneers have played better than 1-8, several close games have gone against them and they could easily be around .500. Nevertheless they found a way to win such a close game at last against the Dolphins and should have gained some confidence from it. A crucial interception from big money acquisition Darrelle Revis was the key play in that win and he is starting to come back to something like his best after knee surgery. The Buccaneers defense, a respectable fourteenth in yards allowed has the talent to improve and push for a top ten end of year spot. They have been helped by rookie Mike Glennon who has limited turnovers since being handed the starting job and is starting to find chemistry with star receiver Vincent Jackson.

Atlanta have been so consistent over the last 5 years that a 2-7 season has been a huge shock. As we have continually mentioned injuries have plagued them but a porous defense and now a quarterback who has finally imploded as all those around him have has seen them become in grave danger of being the NFC’s worst team. Since beating the Buccaneers in week seven the Falcons have lost all three games and managed just one touchdown in each. Their offense minus Julio Jones seems to have lost all belief. Defensively Atlanta rank 25th in yards allowed and their inept pass rush has seen their secondary picked apart all too often.

The Falcons have taken three consecutive hammerings; their offense is as poor as their defense. Tampa Bay have a real chance to win this game if they play smart football.

ATPF PredictionBack to back wins for the Bucs who prevail by a touchdown.

San Diego Chargers @ Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are a strange team. With their season spiralling out of control they beat the high flying Bengals in week nine only to lose to the 0-8 Buccaneers ten days later. The Chargers make the long journey East on the back of consecutive defeats since their week eight bye.

Defeat by eight to the Broncos was not the end of the world for San Diego. The Chargers were too conservative in their offensive play calling early on and ended up chasing the game. With the Broncos so hard to slow down it was a bad idea to settle for field goals early on. Now at 4-5 and four behind the top two in the AFC West the playoffs look out of reach to first season head coach Mike McCoy. There is plenty to build on however in San Diego. Philip Rivers has had a bounce back year and can now again be considered an upper tier starter. The Chargers heavily retooled defense has improved dramatically as the season has gone on also.

Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill is still inexperienced and even as a sophomore is making rookie mistakes. His development from year two to three is as critical to the Dolphins as it is to his own career. With big money targets Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller signed things looked promising for Miami but the former hasn’t produced and the latter landed on Injured Reserve before a ball was thrown. The already struggling offensive line has been hit hard by the Incognito- Martin issues so Tannehill could have more of the same having already been sacked 37 times. Defensively the Dolphins are a middle of the pack team who still need more help in the secondary.

Miami’s off field crisis left them ripe for the pickings against Tampa Bay. San Diego are significantly more talented and may be the best team in the league with a losing record.

ATPF PredictionIn a battle of 4-5 teams San Diego cruise past Miami, win by over ten.

Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles

A crucial battle in the NFC East which looks set to be won by the least flawed rather than most talented team; we aren’t sure who is the least flawed at this stage. For Washington defeat would surely end their chance, 3-7 is terminal. Philadelphia have gotten back to back wins and can take the division lead with a win here.

Nick Foles return from concussion coincided with Michael Vick’s latest injury and how crucial it proved to the Eagles. Foles is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league and has thrown ten touchdowns to no interceptions in two games since his return. Ball security was the issue with Vick but it is one of Foles’ strong points along with his deep ball which has terrorised the Raiders and Packers. With Riley Cooper becoming a favourite of Nick Foles and DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy both having bounce back years the Eagles offense suddenly looks pretty scary. Defensively the Eagles are still very weak, only their NFC East rivals Dallas have given up more yards.

Washington couldn’t afford to lose to the toiling Vikings as they did in week ten. They are now on life support at 3-6 and don’t look a team capable of going on a winning run. Once again they dominated the game in Minnesota. They had far more possession, far more yards and won the turnover battle but again just couldn’t turn yards into points. Their defense has barely made a stand all year and again it has been down to their offense to win games. Last year the mercurial RG3 and battering ram Alfred Morris were able to make up for their defensive ineptitude but with team’s more aware of the duo they have struggled to do so in 2013.

Both teams are considerably better offensively than defensively and a shootout could be in store. The Redskins must control the clock with Morris to slow down the Eagles high octane offense if they are to have a chance. The Eagles won in Washington in the first clash so at home they should take some beating and their superior receivers can be the difference.

ATPF PredictionPhiladelphia takes control of the NFC East, wins a shootout by seven.

Arizona Cardinals @ Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags finally got a win in week ten, riding the Titans turnovers to the victory. The Cardinals, a team supposed to be rebuilding are having a great season and in a weaker division than the brutal NFC West they would still be contenders.

The 5-4 Cardinals have had a brutal schedule; they have beaten the Lions and Panthers but fallen to Seattle, San Francisco and New Orleans, that’s five likely NFC playoff teams. Their offense hasn’t been hugely effective but in veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald and rookie running back Andre Ellington they have a couple of playmakers. Defensively the Cards are just outside the top ten but have forced twenty turnovers and in cornerback Patrick Peterson they have arguably the most talented cornerback in football.

Jacksonville are dead last in total offense and just one place better in rushing. Maurice Jones-Drew was a factor in their win but he is a long way off his form when the NFL’s leading rusher in 2010. With Justin Blackmon suspended for the foreseeable future Chad Henne has few targets and the stop gap isn’t likely to improve greatly on his three touchdowns to seven interceptions ratio anytime soon. The Jags defense are allowing almost 400 yards and over three touchdowns per game, way too many for their feeble offense to overcome.

The Jags had their day in the Sun but that one win may be it. Arizona have faced some tough opponents so far so will welcome this easier task.

ATPF Prediction- The Cards success continues, they beat the Jags by two scores.

Detroit Lions @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The Lions defense finally came to the aid of their ultra-productive offense when twice denying the Bears a game tying two-point conversion in the final minute at Soldier Field. Pittsburgh’s 0-4 start put them in a huge hole but they are 3-2 since and beat the Bills comfortably a week ago.

The Steelers are not the sort of 3-6 team that playoff teams like the Lions will fancy playing, especially at Heinz field. Since they regrouped during their bye the Steelers have returned a much better and much harder to beat team. Their defense had an aberration in New England but has otherwise been sound if some way off Steelers teams of the past. Offensively rookie running back Le’Veon Bell has given them some balance and the Steelers are up to fifteenth in offensive yards. Journeyman Jerricho Cotchery is proving a go-to-guy in the red zone for Ben Roethlisberger and Bell has four touchdown runs; no other back on the roster has scored this season.

Detroit can be unstoppable at times; Matthew Stafford is a real gun-slinger but his huge arm and unshakable self confidence teamed with the league’s best receiver Calvin Johnson and playmaker Reggie Bush makes this a unit which can terrorise even the league’s better defenses. The Lions defense has two dominating defensive tackles in bad boy Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley who came up with the potentially season defining play for the Lions last week. The secondary of the Lions can be gotten at but Suh and Fairley will hope to collapse the pocket against a poor Steelers offensive line.

The Steelers are a team lacking talent at a number of positions and playmakers are few and far between. The Lions meanwhile are stacked with playmakers and have better talent in every position offensively. Last time Pittsburgh played a top tier offense they conceded 55, that won’t be repeated but reflects their weakness against the very best.

ATPF Prediction The Lions strong run continues, they win on the road by ten.

Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans

Two teams in woeful form match up here and picking a winner isn’t easy. The Raiders were going along ok until they were torn apart by the Eagles and beaten by the Giants. They are now at 3-6 and easily the worst team in the AFC West. Houston’s record is even worse, they stand at 2-7 and could or maybe should have won all of their last three games, instead they have lost them all.

The Texans have been a big disappointment, last year they narrowly lost out on homefield advantage but still won a playoff game but this season has been a disaster. Head coach Gary Kubiak had a stroke two weeks ago, assistant head coach\defensive coordinator Wade Phillips lost his father the week before that and on the field quarterback Matt Schaub imploded and was benched and star running back Arian Foster is on injured reserve. If it could go wrong in Houston it has done. With three straight home games now Houston desperately needs to regain some pride. To have the league’s stingiest defense and a top ten offense and be 2-7 is unheard of.

The Raiders have enjoyed the play of dual threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Pryor leads the team in passing and rushing and while he has a lot to learn he is a regular on the highlight reels. With oft injured Darren McFadden again out in week ten Pryor struggled and completed less than half of his passes against the Giants. Teams are starting to direct their focus to keeping him in the pocket and from there he isn’t effective. The Raiders inexplicable defensive no-show against Philadelphia has spoilt an otherwise satisfactory season by the heavily retooled unit.

The Texans will be the death of us but again we are on their side. Statistically they are streets ahead of their rivals and at home surely can at last win one.

ATPF PredictionTexans defense strangles the ineffective Raiders and Houston wins by ten.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos

 The game we have been waiting for. The unbeaten Chiefs have had a week to prepare for their visit to Mile High and they are fully aware that a win would not only make them odds-on favourites for home field advantage but would also make a perfect season a real possibility. Denver have just a single blip on their record and have been irresistible at times. This is the best two teams in the AFC squaring off and when you throw in the divisional rivalry you have a game to savour.

The Chiefs turnaround from league’s worst to league’s best has been unbelievable. Andy Reid is a lock for coach of the year for his turnaround of this team after he was sacked in Philadelphia. We knew the Chiefs had talent but Reid and his coaching staff have added to what was already in place and then maximised what the Chiefs have to build a truly formidable team. Defensively Kansas City have as much talent as anyone, they have seven or eight players who have played at a pro-bowl level so far. The 23 turnovers and 33 sacks so far show the big play ability of this defense led by unstoppable pass rush duo Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. The offense is centred around Jamaal Charles, a running back who is still underrated around the league, make no mistake this guy is a genuine contender for Adrian Peterson’s best in the business tag. The Chiefs west coast passing attack which relies on short, accurate passes and receivers gaining yards after the catch has been perfect for quarterback Alex Smith who is having a career year in KC.

The Broncos are a far more open, attacking team. Their league leading offense led by soon to be MVP again Peyton Manning averages over 450 yards per game and Manning has already thrown a staggering 33 touchdown passes; he is set to break all sorts of records. Manning has four genuine playmaking receivers each with different skill sets and a running back as reliable as any in short yardage and goal line situations. The Broncos defense has gotten in its share of shootouts and is vulnerable to the deep pass but with Von Miller back they were far better against the Chargers this past Sunday and the talent on Jack Del Rio’s unit is not of a team in the bottom half of the standings.

The Chiefs wonderful run could come to an end here and if it does there is no discredit in losing to the Broncos on the road. As good as the Chiefs defense is it’s hard to see them stopping Manning and co doing their thing and the Chiefs simply won’t be able to keep pace if their defense can’t force turnovers.

ATPF PredictionThe Broncos end the Chiefs streak at nine, win by ten.

San Francisco 49ers @ New Orleans Saints

Defeat for the 49ers after an abject offensive display against the Panthers has put them two behind the Seahawks and also a game behind the Saints who now hold second position in the NFC. New Orleans bounced back from a shock defeat to the Jets by dismantling the Cowboys.

The Saints offense is always among the league’s best and against the Cowboys they were irresistible, scoring seven touchdowns. Drew Brees is the catalyst behind the league’s second best offense and second best passing offense. Brees already has twenty five touchdowns and over 3000 yards but against the Cowboys the running game showed up also as three different backs rushed for a touchdown. New Orleans defense was the league’s worst a year ago but has been turned around under Rob Ryan and is now seventh in yards allowed. If Ryan’s unit continue at that level the Saints are major contenders for the Superbowl.

San Francisco’s five game win streak was ended when they lost a brutal game 10-9 at home to Carolina on Sunday. The 49ers, the preseason NFC favourites had looked to be coming good after a slow start but couldn’t find a way to breach the Panthers excellent defense a week ago, managing just three field goals and not scoring a point in the second half. Colin Kaepernick couldn’t even muster 100 yards passing and was intercepted as the Panthers defense overwhelmed him. The 49ers were excellent themselves defensively, forcing two turnovers and holding Carolina to just 151 yards. With Aldon Smith back there is little doubt that they are a top five defense.

An intriguing battle between the Saints multi-dimensional offense and the 49ers hugely talented defense. As good as they are the 49ers won’t be able to totally shut Drew Brees down but can Kaepernick and the defense bounce back against another sound unit? Home field advantage is said to be worth around three points but the Superdome is surely worth more. The 49ers are too good to write off but beating New Orleans here is near impossible.

ATPF PredictionA really close game but the Saints can score last, win by a touchdown.

Minnesota Vikings @ Seattle Seahawks

The Vikings season ended long ago but they have improved of late and after just failing in Dallas they beat the Redskins in the Metrodome in week ten. Seattle bounced back after a couple of uninspiring efforts to overwhelm the struggling Falcons and improve to 9-1 and remain the team to beat in the NFC.

Minnesota’s second win of the season and first in North America was inspired by a second half comeback where their defense held Washington to just three points. Quarterback Christian Ponder is back under center and may just about be the best of a bad bunch in Minnesota. Adrian Peterson is hot again now and seems to be better with Ponder at quarterback. The Vikings defense has on the whole been poor, only two teams have given up more yards but after a strong second half showing last week they could be ready to improve down the stretch; plenty of jobs depend on it.

Seattle’s defense conversely is consistently excellent and even more so at CenturyLink Field where the ‘12th man’ plays a big part. They are third in yards allowed and should cause Ponder fits if they can get the lead and force him to pass. The Seahawks offense is still waiting for the energy and playmaking skills of Percy Harvin but behind the relentless Marshawn Lynch they now rank eleventh overall and second in rushing.

Nothing is ever certain in football but the Seahawks on all known form will win this comfortably. Their defense should come up with a few big plays as usual and they will have little problem scoring points against the Vikings 30th ranked defense.

ATPF PredictionSeahawks win by twenty in a one sided game.

Green Bay Packers @ New York Giants

The Giants are really making a go of it after their 0-6 start and won a third straight game on Sunday. Green Bay minus Aaron Rodgers were comfortably beaten at home by the Eagles and without their star quarterback looked a shadow of their usual selves. Rodgers injury looks sure to cost the Packers the NFC North but they may even miss the playoffs altogether.

The Giants undoing early in the season was turnovers. They crept back in against the Raiders and the three they had there will have been a warning to Kevin Gilbride’s unit that ball security has to remain a focus. Eli Manning has weapons, Reuben Randle, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are a talented trio but Manning has to make better decisions when throwing to them. The Giants defense has improved greatly in recent weeks and bailed them out against Oakland. Early in the season they would have lost that game.

The Packers drafted in former backup Matt Flynn who has failed to hold down a starting job since leaving the Packers two years ago this week. Flynn knows the system and will likely start ahead of Scott Tolzien who threw two interceptions against the Eagles. Flynn has plenty of targets and if he isn’t too rusty he should score points here. Running back Eddie Lacy was quiet against the Eagles but if the passing game can have success he could get back to his rookie of the year audition. Green Bay will have to play solid defense if they are going to win without Rodgers, Dom Capers unit gave up over 400 yards to the Eagles and are at best a middle of the road unit. The paltry eight turnovers the unit has forced can be hidden when Rodgers is tearing teams up but when he isn’t around such big plays become really needed.

The Giants have a great chance to win a fourth straight game here, their turnover prone offense faces a decidedly inopportune defense which helps. Their improving defense has a nice matchup also against the Rodgers-less offense.

ATPF PredictionThe Giants make the most of their opportunity, win by ten.

New England Patriots @ Carolina Panthers

The Patriots flexed their offensive muscles two weeks ago by scoring no fewer than 55 points against the Steelers. Their offense was already getting healthy and has now had a bye week to further heal. Carolina meanwhile are red hot, they have won five straight and beat the 49ers in San Francisco last week.

The Panthers defense has a real case for being the league’s best. They haven’t given up two touchdowns in a game since week five and held the 49ers to just three field goals last week. Rookie Star Lotulelei has rounded out a front seven which was already excellent but is now outright dominant. Cam Newton has learned that he can be a star on the team rather than the star on the team and he is doing a nice job of taking what is available rather than trying to always create big plays. Running back DeAngelo Williams had the only touchdown in San Fran and remains a productive player for the Panthers.

The Patriots leant on their defense early in the season with their offense so banged up. Since Vince Wilfork and Aqib Talib went down however the defense has unravelled but at the same time the offense got players back. With the unstoppable Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola both fit and joining Aaron Dobson they looked like the Patriots of old against Pittsburgh. Running back Stevan Ridley has also worked his way back to full health and has been a major factor in the last few games also. Tom Brady once again has an arsenal of weapons to go to war with; he will need them all against this defense.

What a matchup we have between the Patriots offense and Panthers defense. We normally favour a great offense but the Patriots have only been great once, the Panthers defense has been great for weeks now. Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams should both have room to manoeuvre and can guide the Panthers to another huge win here.

ATPF PredictionThe Panthers edge a close one, a field goal is the approximate margin of victory.

 


Leave a comment

ATPF Preview Week 7

Image

Week six in the NFL went unusually pretty much to form, we selected ten of the 15 winners but of the losers most rue the Saints inexplicable inability to put the game away against the Patriots in the last three minutes. We went for a couple of upsets with winless teams, the Steelers rewarded us but Tampa lost again, we have frequently backed them but they have always let us down. The Saints defeat leaves just the Broncos and Chiefs unbeaten, both belong of course to the unusually strong AFC West, neither was at their best in week six but neither had to be against modest teams.

Still winless are the Giants, Jaguars and Buccaneers, the latter play the Falcons who only have one win themselves and the others are both at home against teams with a .500 or worse record so you would expect at least one to break their duck. This week’s bye teams are the Raiders and Saints. Oakland at 2-4 are at least fighting hard and have some winnable games when they return although their December stretch looks tough. They have played about as well as could be hoped for a team in full on rebuild mode and by finding quarterback Terrelle Pryor they have added the potential cornerstone of the new era. The Saints could have really enjoyed their bye but for a late capitulation against the Patriots, still they would have taken 5-1 and a three game division lead going into their bye if you had offered it to them. Sean Payton is once again proving his worth as one of the league’s best head coaches and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has vastly improved this defense. The Saints are locks for the playoffs and the NFC South as long as Drew Brees stays upright but need to keep winning to challenge for home field advantage in the playoffs; the Superdome truly does give them an advantage.

Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals

Each week we stress that the Seahawks on the road can be beaten and the overachieving Cardinals, a 3-3 divisional rival are a potential banana skin. Arizona are unbeaten at home and gave San Francisco a real game for a long time last week. Quarterback Carson Palmer has been patchy and committed too many turnovers for the Cards but at least he can move the ball unlike last year’s band of misfits at the position. Arizona’s defense is pretty solid and will try to pressure Russell Wilson here; slowing Marshawn Lynch down of course is equally vital.

Seattle responded to their first defeat by beating Tennessee in a hard fought, low scoring battle to get back on track. Their defense needs little introduction as one of the league’s best but their offense could desperately do with getting Percy Harvin back to provide a spark. Wilson has just eight touchdown passes so far and despite ranking second in the league in rushing Seattle have just an average offense at the minute.

The key to this game is Seattle’s enormously talented defense and the turnover prone Carson Palmer’s battle. You would expect the Seahawks to create turnovers and they look after the ball well themselves so should win the turnover battle which is always big. On the road they edge it in another war.

ATPF PredictionA brutal encounter goes to Seattle by just a point or two.

Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins

At 3-2 the Dolphins are still well in contention for a playoff berth and should be well prepared to go again after their bye last week. The 2-4 Bills lost in overtime against the Bengals but have been well beaten in both road games so far and rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel remains out with a knee problem.

Miami’s solid start has been powered by the improved play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a turnover hungry defense. They still give up way too many sacks and pressures and their run game frequently disappears but there is talent upfront, players just need to execute better.

Buffalo’s much vaunted running duo of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson have flattered to deceive and again injuries have bit both. Quarterback Thad Lewis has patiently awaited his chance in the league but was solid last week when he got a go, rushing for a touchdown and throwing two strikes without interception. Buffalo’s defense rely on turnovers as they can’t seem to slow anyone down or get off the field on third down, Tannehill could give them chances but he will also fancy putting points up.

The Dolphins are outplaying Buffalo and at home, facing a backup quarterback they have to be favoured. Buffalo must win the turnover battle to have a chance but are second favourites in that race too.

ATPF PredictionMiami are too strong, win by a touchdown.

Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles

The winner of this will have control of the NFC East but both 3-3 teams are deeply flawed despite having some elite talent. The Eagles have won back to back games and been re-invigorated by quarterback Nick Foles’s return to the starting quarterback job. Foles came off the bench to throw two touchdowns in week five and threw three more without interception against Tampa Bay; he doesn’t have Mike Vick’s dynamic abilities but is accurate and looks after the ball. The Eagles defense will keep the pressure on their quarterback; they have given up more yards than any team in the league and average three touchdowns conceded per game.

Dallas lost a remarkable 51-48 shootout in week 5 before a relatively uneventful, special teams inspired win over the Redskins last week. The Cowboys are 0-2 on the road but got within a point of Kansas City in week two, that looks a useful effort now. The Cowboys are starting to get thin in some areas due to injuries. All-pro lineman DeMarcus Ware leads the casualty list, other starting end Anthony Spencer is out for the year and primary backup Tyrone Crawford was lost for the year in preseason, the Cowboys are struggling upfront and have struggled with Shady McCoy in the past. Tony Romo is having another fine season; he has 14 scores to two interceptions but has been conservative on the road so far, nevertheless Dallas are the second highest scoring team in the league. Romo has talented receivers, particularly Dez Bryant but with running back DeMarco Murray out any ground game would be a surprise.

Dallas are the concensus best team in the NFC East but with no run game of their own and LeSean McCoy having torched them here in the past they are highly vulnerable in this matchup. For the Eagles, Nick Foles must offer enough to complement the running game while Dallas will prioritise slowing McCoy down; Romo versus Foles is a matchup they would like.

ATPF PredictionThe Eagles beat the battered Cowboys by a field goal.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons

Two teams having nightmare seasons meet in this all NFC South clash. The winless Buccaneers travel to Atlanta who have just one success themselves. Injuries have been Atlanta’s main problem while Tampa have been let down by poor quarterbacking. Both are better than their records but confidence is low in both camps.

Tampa arrive on the back of a defeat to the Eagles, Mike Glennon their new starting quarterback is still learning the trade and has a tough matchup here in the loud, hostile Georgia Dome where the Falcons usually are so strong. Glennon has weapons, receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin are both talented but the Bucs are struggling for an identity and rank 31st in both offensive yards and scoring. Their defense has plenty of talent and has actually improved for the enormous investment it received in the offseason but they aren’t good enough to carry the hapless offense.

Atlanta lost Julio Jones for the season and Roddy White, Steven Jackson and Sam Baker are all again in doubt. At least they have a few starters back on defense where pass rush or more specifically lack of a pass rush has been huge. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been excellent considering what he has around him; he has 10 touchdowns to three picks and has the Falcons second in the league in passing yards per game. Getting either White or Jackson back would be a big boost for the offense but even without Ryan can move the football.

The Bucs search for a win is likely to continue, the Falcons defense can have success here and Matt Ryan should at least engineer a few scoring drives to guide his team to success.

ATPF PredictionAtlanta win a low scorer by a touchdown.

San Diego Chargers @ Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are still seeking that first win but actually played quite well against the Broncos last week and the way they kept fighting impressed, receiver Justin Blackmon was unstoppable and in him the Jags have a potential superstar. San Diego beat an in form Colts team to keep their playoff hopes alive although the brutal AFC West gives them plenty to do in that regard. Early in the season the Chargers heavily rebuilt defense was really struggling but they are starting to get some chemistry going and are much improved of late as seen on Monday Night.

Quarterback Phil Rivers’ renaissance has been the headline in San Diego and with a fit at last Ryan Mathews in the backfield the Chargers have the league’s sixth best offense. Recent improvement has seen their defensive ranking climb to 21st and this is no longer a vulnerable unit.

Jacksonville backup quarterback Chad Henne is outplaying starter Blaine Gabbert as he did last year and with Henne the Jags will likely sneak a win somewhere. The non-existent running game hasn’t helped the mediocre signal callers, Jacksonville are dead last with running back Maurice Jones-Drew again injured. The Jags have the legaue’s worst offense and Blackmon is the only bright spot. Their defense have battled on to their credit but lack talent in too many areas and are never off the field long.

San Diego haven’t been great on the road thus far and have just six days to prepare for this but are still a vastly superior football team to Jacksonville. The Chargers improved defense should enjoy this matchup and Rivers is certain to rack up yards so San Diego can’t be opposed.

ATPF PredictionChargers win by around ten.

New England Patriots @ New York Jets

The miraculous win which the Patriots pulled from the hat on Sunday did little to hide their weaknesses but they nevertheless are in control of the AFC East. The Jets are trying to keep pace but losing to an 0-5 team is not the way to do it and they could be virtually eliminated from the race with defeat here.

The Patriots are hoping all-pro tight end Rob Gronkowski can return to their embattled offense; even with Tom Brady under center they have just one passing touchdown in their last two games. In addition to their already shopping list of injuries they lost guard Dan Connolly and receiver Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman is now battling an injury also. Their defense is starting to catch up now too, starting tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are joined by corner Aqib Talib on the treatment table and several other contributors are nursing injuries also.

The Jets are comparably healthy but rookie quarterback Geno Smith is inconsistent and turnover prone. The Jets want to run the ball but aren’t the force they were a few years ago on the ground and they have particularly struggled in the redzone. Defensively as we have come to expect under Rex Ryan they are very sound and may be the league’s strongest team against the run where a host of high draft picks upfront are starting to payoff. Getting pressure on Tom Brady is always a help but they should have ample talent to contain the Pats receivers anyway and if Gronkowski doesn’t make it again they could come up big.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the only reason the Pats keep surviving and being 5-1 with the players they have turned out is remarkable. The Jets and their passionate fans will really fancy their chances in this grudge match and if they can establish the run which they should do they can get the upset.

ATPF PredictionGang Green win a war by a narrow margin in this low scorer.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Detroit Lions

Consistency is what is holding back both of these talented teams. The Bengals are all about defense whereas the Lions offense is there strong point. Both won on the road to get to 4-2 last week but the Bengals remain inconsistent away from home and needed overtime to beat the inferior Bills.

The spotlight in Cincinnati is permanently on quarterback Andy Dalton. He has been better in his last two outings and has to understand his own game and limitations. With a battery of talented receivers led by the brilliant A.J. Green and a dynamic duo in the backfield Dalton really should be flourishing. The Bengals feared defense boasts one of the league’s best defensive lines and they rank eighth overall and have eighteen sacks.

Detroit led by Matthew Stafford’s four touchdowns outgunned the in-form Browns last week and their talented offense can compete with anyone. Despite injuries to Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson the Lions have a top ten unit and with Johnson and Bush both on the field they really are a dangerous offense. The Lions defense remains vulnerable and inconsistent and the almost constant lack of safety Louis Delmas is a major factor in them giving up big plays.

The Lions offense versus the Bengals defense is a mouth-watering clash but equally important will be how Dalton performs, if the Lions can get points to pressure him into making throws they become favourites.

ATPF PredictionThe Lions are tough to stop at home; they beat the Bengals by a touchdown.

St. Louis Rams @ Carolina Panthers

Two teams unlikely to make the playoffs do battle here but both won on the road by 25 points last week so an upturn in form is possible for the victor here.

Hosts Carolina got a big performance from inconsistent quarterback Cam Newton and their defense grabbed two picks as well as stifling Adrian Peterson in the metrodome. Newton’s inconsistency shows with the Panthers ranking a lowly 27th in passing but he has little talent at the receiving position in fairness. The Panthers rank top ten in rushing and will hope to establish their ground game early on here. Their third ranked defense has been a surprise but makes plenty of appeal against a team which isn’t particularly physical on offense.

Sam Bradford is quietly having a good season in St.Louis, he has thirteen touchdowns to three picks but is over cautious at times and isn’t backed up by a viable running game. Rookie Tavon Austin was meant to provide a major spark on offense but has been of little influence by and large. The Rams defense has taken a step back after coming on strong in 2012; they are giving up nearly 400 yards per game and haven’t been the strong point they were supposed to be.

Both teams could reignite their season with wins here but Carolina’s solid run game and defense gives them the edge. Their two wins this season have come by a combined 63 points so close games are not their modus operandi.

ATPF PredictionPanthers win by around ten points.

Chicago Bears @ Washington Redskins

The 1-4 Redskins are on life support after defeat in Dallas but the 4-2 Bears who easily beat the winless Giants are still fighting tooth and nail in the too close to call NFC North.

For Washington RG3 remains someway short of full speed and without his dynamic running the ‘Skins have lacked an x-factor on offense. They have moved the ball, they are 4th in total yards but can’t find the end zone and rank an out of proportion 20th in points scored. Dallas defense should have been the tonic last week but field goals still outnumbered touchdowns. Defensively Washington have bigger problems, they are aggressive in pass rushing but when the blitz breaks down they are too often burned for big plays. They have conceded the 28th most yards in the league and are constantly pressurising the offense to get away from their favoured fun first style.

The Bears have had ten days to prepare for this road game and are a sound football team. Quarterback Jay Cutler can be self destructive but the strong armed veteran has more talent around him than ever before and the Bears offense are now a top 10 unit. Chicago have had better defenses than this in the past and they will not be happy with their 20th ranking in yards conceded. Turnovers are the focus of this unit however and they already have seventeen to their name.

Washington’s homefield advantage will be nullified by their playing surface being similar to Soldier Field and the Bears with the extra three days and a far more complete roster look strong favourites.

ATPF PredictionChicago have too much and win by a touchdown.

San Francisco 49ers @ Tennessee Titans

The NFC West’s 49ers at 4-2 visit the AFC South’s Titans who are 3-3. The 49ers, the NFC pre-season favourites have recovered from a slow start while the Titans are playing better than expected and remain bang in contention in a wide open division.

Tennessee were outlasted by the Seahawks last week but gave them plenty to think about which is no mean feat in the Hawks nest. Quarterback Jake Locker has missed the last couple but is in contention to return here, his ball security and mobility are both upgrades over Ryan Fitzpatrick on a team who pride themselves on not turning it over or giving up penalties. The Titans defense, so poor last year have been excellent, the most points they have given up in four quarters was 26 to the unbeaten Chiefs and they rank 10th overall, a huge improvement.

The 49ers resurgence has been aided by the return to form of their relentless running attack led by Frank Gore. The San Francisco offense is a different beast with their running game grinding opponents into submission, it is especially important with a Michael Crabtree-less Colin Kaepernick short on targets, the return to form of Vernon Davis a week ago was certainly welcome from that perspective. San Francisco’s defense has been among the leagues best for a few years now and 2013’s unit rank in the top 10 in most categories.

Two excellent defenses go head to head here but San Francisco have the edge due to their more consistent rushing attack and healthy starting quarterback; even if Jake Locker plays for Tennessee he can’t be 100%.

ATPF Prediction49ers outlast the Titans, win by between a field goal and a touchdown.

Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs

Each week we marvel at the schedule handed to Kansas City, they are 6-0 and we are 6-0 in selecting them to win. This looked a tough one before the season but the Texans are in absolute crisis and both head coach Gary Kubiak and starting or not as the case may be quaurterback Matt Schaub are staring down the barrel. Despite that the Texans are still close enough to compete in the AFC South but they look to be in a spiral of decline. Kansas City march on relentlessly and even the Arrowhead faithful, so used to mediocrity of late are setting records.

We don’t mean to knock the Chiefs when we mention their schedule, all they can do is win out on Sunday and each week they do. Last year they did a great job of minimising talent, this year they are doing equally well at maximising it and surely Andy Reid is a lock for coach of the year. The Chiefs offense is heavily reliant on running back Jamaal Charles an MVP candidate but has been well marshalled by quarterback Alex Smith who is playing smart, cautious football. Defensively the Chiefs are truly star studded and their ultra aggressive unit sacked Terrelle Pryor ten times and picked him off three times a week ago. This is one of the most talented defenses in football and crucially this year, healthy.

These two teams’ fortunes couldn’t be more different and for the Texans, so short on confidence a tougher game they could hardly find. The raucous Chiefs fans and dominant defense could again overwhelm their opponent’s offense.

ATPF PredictionKansas City win again, easily, by ten or more.

Cleveland Browns @ Green Bay Packers

Green Bay remain heavily banged up but are clawing their way back into the race in the NFC North and as long as they have Aaron Rodgers they have a shot. Cleveland’s unfamiliar territory of a winning record slipped away last week and they have another tough game here but they are outplaying expectations.

The Browns won three straight before defeat to the Lions where they fell away in the fourth quarter. The strength of the Browns is undoubtedly their seventh ranked defense, a cohesive unit with a dose of top notch performers and no obvious weaknesses. Offensively they are still desperately low on talent so have to focus on sensible, conservative plays to put the emphasis on their defense.

Green Bay’s offense conversely is hugely dynamic. Led by all-pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers they are 2nd in yards and 5th in points and are in the league’s top 10 in both passing and rushing yards. The offensive line play has been inconsistent but does seem to be improving; the new found faith in running the ball should help the quintet also. Green Bay’s defense remains a middle of the road unit and injuries particularly to Clay Matthews have certainly been an issue.

Can Cleveland’s defense stop Rodgers and co? They are good but on the road, not that good. With the pressure likely to be cranked up on Brandon Weeden turnovers could ensue.

ATPF PredictionPackers win comfortably; the margin will likely be over ten.

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Always a hard fought brutal game between these two and while the formbook points to the Ravens, Pittsburgh returned from their bye with a win and at home will play like men possessed to try and claw their way back into the AFC North.

In that win against the Jets, Pittsburgh held their opponents to just two field goals and forced a couple of turnovers. It wasn’t quite vintage Pittsburgh defense but was a step in the right direction albeit against a modest offense, that said the Ravens are hardly rivals to Denver offensively. Pittsburgh’s offense has struggled behind poor line play and lack of receiving talent but the return of rookie running back Le’Veon Bell after injury has provided them a shot in the arm.

Baltimore likewise have been better defensively than offensively but are still giving up too many yards behind an aggressive scheme which has yielded 22 sacks already. Eight defensive players are on this week’s injury report so again the unit aren’t likely to be at full strength. The Ravens offense rank 22nd in the league and their inept running game is heavily to blame; Ray Rice’s uncharacteristic injury problems have been a big factor given how crucial he is to both the run and pass games.

This will be close again, Baltimore are so banged up at the minute and Pittsburgh are good enough to turn their start around. At home, Pittsburgh can get the upset.

ATPF PredictionSteelers win this ever close game by a field goal.

Denver Broncos @ Indianapolis Colts

The return to Indianapolis of Peyton Manning should be an emotional one but Manning is too professional to let it affect him. He should get a hero’s ovation and I fully expect him too. Manning’s Broncos are unbeaten and the consensus best team in the league through six games but the Colts are useful also. They lost in San Diego on Monday night but are still at a healthy 4-2 and lead the AFC South.

The Broncos have been sensational so far but dodged a bullet in a shootout in Texas before a lacklustre performance against the Jaguars who they knew were never going to be serious rivals. They will have to be much better here but their offense should quickly slip through the gears again. Defensively the Broncos were atrocious in Dallas and even against Jacksonville they couldn’t get off the field at times and had no answer to Justin Blackmon. The return of Von Miller after suspension can’t be overstated, he is easily Denver’s best defender and one of the league’s premier pass rushers, he should be a huge help to the struggling secondary.

Indianapolis opportunistic defense have made their living on turnovers so far but chances against Manning will be few and far between although Denver do fumble more than would be healthy on any normal offense. The Colts have strangely restrained quarterback Andrew Luck and instead relied on a heavy dose of running so far but here they must turn him loose to try and compete. Luck has a couple of good targets in veteran Reggie Wayne and constant improver T.Y. Hilton but if this becomes a shootout he will be challenged to consistently drive his team down the field and not turn it over. Tony Romo performed remarkably in such circumstances but he finally blinked and that was all it took.

You just can’t oppose Denver right now, Manning and his quintet of playmaking starters are a near unstoppable force. The Colts can use this as the measuring stick as to how close, or far they are from being contenders.

ATPF PredictionDenver’s offense is again irresistible, they win by ten.

Minnesota Vikings @ New York Giants

The lowly Vikings travel to the winless Giants, not exactly a Monday Night Football to saviour. Minnesota can hang on by a thread if they win but the Giants playoff boat sailed long ago. At least the Giants kept it close a week ago in a tough environment, the Vikings were hammered by 25 at home to the modest Panthers.

Minnesota’s offense of course is all about Adrian Peterson but they have a new starting quarterback this week, their third already this year. Josh Freeman was terrible in Tampa as he helped them to 0-4 so he offers little excitement in his debut here. The Vikings defense has given up nearly 420 yards per game so far, the second most in the league and have been in awful in every aspect of the game.

The Giants offensive implosion has been remarkable, with an elite quarterback and several talented receivers an 0-6 start was inconceivable but Eli Manning is having a horror season. His 15 interceptions is on pace for all sorts of unwanted records. The Giants defense, a disappointment last year have continued to decline although they haven’t been quite in the Vikings league for poorness.

Two struggling teams go head to head, if the Giants don’t kill themselves with turnovers they will win, they can’t be relied upon to not do but we will take a chance on them at home.

ATPF PredictionGiants win at last, one touchdown is the margin.

 


1 Comment

ATPF Preview Week 2

With the first week out of the way teams have already been anointed with the titles not given out until December and January. Fans have given up on their entire season and or regimes, general manager’s are already looking at head coaches, head coaches are looking at quarterbacks and we already can vote all 32 teams in power rankings and read experts describing why certain teams and players are failures. All of this tells us that the NFL is back!

Across the pond football gave out our pre season opinions and after one week we haven’t jumped off or onto too many bandwagons but we are looking ahead to week two with the information provided to us a week ago still fresh in the memory bank. Below is our prediction for each game

New York Jets @ New England Patriots

In the legendary words of Herm Edwards ‘they are who we thought they were’. The Patriots are indeed who we thought they were. They are still a tough team to beat but they have lost some firepower and struggled to a late victory against the Bills. It was the sort of game where knowing how to win carried the Pats to success against a team who is trying to learn what that requires.

The Jets meanwhile rode rookie Geno Smith’s 300 yard debut and let their stingy defense grind Josh Freeman and the Bucs into submission. Ultimately a Nick Folk field goal with 15 seconds remaining gave the Jets the 1 point win. When the Jets were successful and able to give the Patriots a run for their money under coach Rex Ryan they played hard, physical defense, ran the ball well and won the close ones, running the ball still needs more commitment but otherwise the Jets practised what Rex Ryan preaches in that week one win.

Looking ahead to week two and everyone has the Patriots cruising to success, Vegas gives the Jets a 12 point start. Don’t be fooled however, this will be a close one. The Jets need to run the ball better; they need to give Geno Smith a chance on third down to put points up but this Patriots defense is still susceptible against the pass, particularly the play action pass. Rex Ryan will have his team right up for this and expect the defense to get in Tom Brady’s face.

ATPF Prediction- Patriots win by less than a touchdown

Carolina Panthers @ Buffalo Bills

The Panthers were desperate offensively in their season opener but the Seahawks may have the league’s strongest defense so things should get easier here. The Bills had the Patriots on the ropes but a heartbreaking late field goal saw excitement turn to the usual despair in upstate New York.

Carolina may have only put up seven points but their defense gave reason for hope. CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson are meant to be a dynamic duo out of the backfield but were stifled by the Patriots. The Panthers are excellent in the front seven and will hope to again frustrate the duo. Rookie EJ Manuel will then be pressured to make things happen but the Panthers will take their chances with the developmental prospect. Cam Newton should have some joy against the Bills if his line can protect him and more rushing production should help him and the team further.

ATPF PredictionPanthers win this one by around a score

Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens

The Superbowl Champion Ravens came down to earth with a bump in Denver but a tougher game this season they won’t have. As it turned out all four teams lost in the AFC North, a very rare occurrence but a bonus for the Ravens. The Browns meanwhile hung with Miami for a while until Brandon Weeden self destructed, his days as the starter look numbered.

The Ravens are still well coached, disciplined and above average in talent, the Browns have none of those attributes and a one sided game should occur. The Browns are unlikely to score many more than their 10 points in week one and the Champs should get back on track here,

ATPF PredictionThe Ravens take this one by at least 10

Dallas Cowboys @ Kansas City Chiefs

A pair of teams who got a W to kick off go head to head here. Andy Reid’s debut saw the Chiefs pummel a woeful Jacksonville side while Dallas won on the back of six Giants turnovers.

Key to this one could be Kansas’ excellent pass rushing duo Justin Houston and Tamba Hali teamed with the raucous Arrowhead faithful. Dallas’ offensive line was better than advertised in the opener but a year ago in a similar early season game the Cowboys were overwhelmed by crowd and pass rush in Seattle, a repeat is very much on the cards here. The Cowboys defense will struggle to match such opportunism as their opening win against an Alex Smith led offense which will concentrate on short passing and a heavy dose of electric rusher Jamaal Charles.

ATPF PredictionThe Chiefs get to 2-0 and win this one by between 3 and 7 points.

Miami Dolphins @ Indianapolis Colts

Both of this duo made the most of very friendly starts to the schedule with wins and both will fancy doubling up. The Colts got a bright start but then were under the cosh against the Raiders and had to come back under Andrew Luck in the fourth quarter while Miami only shook off the Browns in the fourth quarter.

Ryan Tannehill will be keen to show he is ascending closer to an excellent group of quarterbacks drafted last year, led by his rival here Andrew Luck. He received virtually nothing from his run game in the opener and if the Colts can stifle the rushing attack they will fully expect Andrew Luck to guide them to victory.

ATPF PredictionColts win this one comfortably

Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears

A pleasant surprise last year, the Vikings lost an important divisional game to the Lions in week one. The Bears got a huge win over the talented Bengals meanwhile. Adrian Peterson still ran wild for the Vikings but he can’t do it alone, with Christian Ponder having a nightmare the Vikings came off the tracks in the second half and without a playmaker like Percy Harvin he could struggle this year.

The Bears are perennially excellent defensively and will be a match for Peterson; he will certainly be their main focus. If the Bears heavily revamped line can keep Jay Cutler upright he should again be able to lean heavily on star man Brandon Marshall and put up plenty of points for the Bears.

ATPF Prediction- Bears build more momentum with a comfortable win

San Diego Chargers @ Philadelphia Eagles

The Chargers blew a huge lead to the Texans in week one while the Eagles got a crucial win against NFC East rivals Washington. Chip Kelly’s high speed offense crucially got more out of running back LeSean McCoy, his best weapon and he will look to him again here. Phillip Rivers had less than 220 yards passing but four touchdowns, crucial to the Chargers inability to put the game away was their lack of success on the ground, a recurring theme since LaDainian Tomlinson’s departure.

The Eagles forced three turnovers from the usually careful RG3 in that opening win and Phil Rivers has a penchant for turning it over so that could be decisive here. With the Chargers secondary heavily rebuilt this offseason they could struggle with the tempo and diversity of the Eagles offense.

ATPF PredictionEagles put up some big numbers en route to victory

St. Louis Rams @ Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons couldn’t punch the ball in on their final drive to beat the Saints in week one but the Rams came from the dead to beat the Cardinals in a thriller. The gulf in class between the two’s respective opponents in those matches however is huge so expect a different story here.

The Falcons lost Roddy White to injury but former Ram Steven Jackson had an impressive debut and will be up for this. Jared Cook had a huge debut for the Rams but the Falcons will be ready for him. Key to this game will be quarterback Matt Ryan who is virtually unbeatable at home and should have success against a defense who impressed last year but struggled against the less talented Cardinals last week.

ATPF PredictionFalcons too strong for the Rams and win by around a touchdown

Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans

The Texans performed a miracle comeback against the Chargers whilst the Titans revamped defense overwhelmed the Steelers offense in a week one win. The Titans know this is a big one for them, losing at home to the superior Texans would already put them behind the 8 ball. Houston meanwhile want to right last year’s wrong and get a bye in the playoffs so winning has to be a habit.

The defenses of these teams will be key but Houston’s more potent offense will put points up and they have a way where somebody always beats you. If it’s not superstar runner Arian Foster or superstar receiver Andre Johnson its quarterback Matt Schaub and tight end Owen Daniels as we saw last week. The Titans and quarterback Jake Locker don’t have such diverse talent and if running back Chris Johnson doesn’t come up big the Texans will fancy their chances, patience could be key in a likely defensive battle.

ATPF PredictionTexans win by around a score on the road here

Washington Redskins@ Green Bay Packers

The Packers were left with little doubt that the 49ers remain the team to beat in the NFC as they again found them too strong in week one. The Redskins meanwhile found the new look Eagles a tougher foe as a rusty RG3 took time to get going.

Green Bay needs to keep pace with the Bears and Lions so a home win here is essential. The Redskins ground teams out with battering ram Alfred Morris last year and used the magic of their quarterback to provide the x-factor. With Morris struggling in week one and RG3 still short of full pace the Pack will fancy limiting the Redskins offense and their potent Aaron Rodgers led passing attack should do the rest against an average defense.

ATPF PredictionThe Redskins can’t keep pace here and lose by at least ten

Detroit Lions @ Arizona Cardinals

The Lions offense came up big in an opening win over Minnesota while the Cardinals blew what could be a rare chance to win in week one.

The high powered Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush trio could wreak havoc on a rebuilding Cardinals defense missing star linebacker Daryl Washington. Carson Palmer showed himself to still be capable against a Rams defense at least as strong as the Lions so points are likely in this match.

ATPF PredictionThe Lions could put up big points here and win by upwards of a touchdown

New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A crushing, narrow defeat for the Bucs and a joyous goal line stand for the Saints sees the two meet in complete opposite moods here. Josh Freeman’s woes against a strong Jets defense and the Saints ability to make a stand on defense under Rob Ryan were the back page headlines but things may be a little different here.

With the Falcons so dominant in the NFC South of late the Saints looked like they had spent an entire nine months preparing for them and with a deafening Superbowl behind them they got the win. The offense is always potent but can they keep the ball rolling defensively in an equally important road game here? Tampa are dominant against the run and if Darrelle Revis can keep one target quiet they can hold the Saints juggernaut to reasonable totals. The Bucs meanwhile will look to star runner Doug Martin to earn them the time of possession battle and will expect Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams to cause the Saints secondary fits.

ATPF PredictionThe Bucs have to win this one and narrowly, they do

Denver Broncos @ New York Giants

The Broncos looked unstoppable in week one, annihilating the superbowl champions Baltimore, the Giants outplayed the Cowboys but six turnovers can’t be overcome. The Manning sons face off here with younger brother Eli needing a home win badly, Peyton meanwhile will look to guide his team to beating both of the last two Superbowl winners in as many weeks.

An offensive cast which looked deadly was all that and more in week one as Peyton Manning threw seven touchdown passes. The juggernaut rolls into the big apple against a defense no longer the force of old and it’s tough to envisage the Giants making many stands. New York’s offense put up huge numbers themselves against the Cowboys with three receivers having 100 yards and Victor Cruz scoring three touchdowns. This promises to be a pass fest between two high powered offenses but Denver’s defense are a solid unit even without Von Miller whereas the Giants have plenty to prove on that side of the ball.

ATPF PredictionDenver win an aerial dogfight by around a touchdown

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Oakland Raiders

Both minnows were beaten in week one but the Raiders showed some life, the Jags however were dire. With an extremely long journey out west things may not get much better for them here.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert was injured for Jacksonville, journeyman Chad Henne steps in, little difference there. Terrelle Pryor has taken the start in Oakland, the dual threat had a nice game in week one and teamed with star rusher Darren McFadden could give the Raiders a dangerous run game. A defense likely to be spurred on by the ever passionate Black Hole can again pour misery on probably the worst offense in football.

ATPF PredictionRaiders win, yes you read correctly, infact they win comfortably

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks

The niners proved their worth with a repeat victory over the Green Bay Packers in week one, Seattle got in a battle with Carolina but they won it. One of the most eagerly anticipated rivalries of the season will be hugely affected by the two head to head clashes.

San Francisco had almost 500 yards of offense and 40 minutes possession in that opener. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is emerging into an absolute superstar, the dual threat quarterback had almost 200 yards rushing against the Pack in the playoffs and 400 yards against them passing in week one, pick your poison with him. Seattle’s defense is amongst the league’s toughest, no way will Kaepernick get close to either of those stats nor will receiver Anquan Boldin match the 200 yard debut he had last week against dominant corners Richard Sherman or Brandon Browner, Sherman v Boldin will be unmissable. The Seahawks offense struggled in week one and without Percy Harvin and possibly Sidney Rice the focal point will again be Marshawn Lynch, he couldn’t get going in the opener and the 49ers will no doubt make stopping him their first priority. The twelfth man of Seattle is always important but the talent of San Francisco’s offense makes them favourite nevertheless.

ATPF PredictionThe 49ers wear down Seattle’s defense en route to a hard fought victory

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals

Both teams lost their openers but Baltimore’s defeat softened the blow. The Steelers were awful offensively against Tennessee, the Bengals lost a topsy turvy battle with the Bears. On that form there is little doubt that Cincinnati, at home, should be favourites here.

Two picks from Andy Dalton in that defeat did little to quieten his detractors and the Steelers at least in Ben Roethlisberger have the better quarterback. The Bengals gave up 24 points to Chicago but their defense is still among the league’s best and considering the way the Steelers struggled against Tennessee, one of the league’s worst defenses a year ago this could again be a long night for Roethlisberger and co.

ATPF PredictionThe Steelers make this a game but the Bengals outlast them


2 Comments

ATPF Divisional Preview- AFC West

Denver Broncos- The Broncos have had the entire offseason to think about just how close they were to playing the AFC Championship at home and had they edged that six quarter thriller with the Ravens they must believe that they would have lifted the Lombardi trophy. The good news however is that providing they have gotten over the defeat they look to have leading claims to make amends, indeed their roster is arguably the NFL’s strongest.

Offensively Peyton Manning returned from his no-show in 2011 and took control of the Broncos instantly. He lacked a bit of zip on his throws and the spirals weren’t always tight but his unmatched preparation and ability to read defenses and adjust at the line made up for that and he transformed an average offense to the 4th best in the league. Manning should be better prepared physically this season and his play could improve on 2012. With the huge acquisition of Wes Welker the Broncos now have arguably the best trio of wide receivers in the league. Demaryius Thomas is the most physically gifted; he hauled in 10 touchdowns and over 1400 yards last year as he finally fulfilled his potential under Manning’s tutelage. Eric Decker also had a career year, 1000 yards and 13 touchdowns his return. Throw in Wes Welker who catches 100 balls a season every season in the slot and Peyton must feel like every Sunday is Christmas. Welker’s unmatched ability to get open and find seams will be as missed in Boston as it is welcomed in Denver. Tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme both saw plenty of the field last year but with Welker’s arrival rarely will they both be out together and it would be a surprise if either had a big year. Rookie tailback Montee Ball will get the start but injury prone Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman who had a decent rookie year will also expect touches in a crowded backfield. Upfront the Broncos line gave up the fewest sacks of any team in 2012, a great help to Manning’s rehab. Pro-Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady, physically gifted right tackle Orlando Franklin and underrated Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton are joined by free agent acquisition Louis Vasquez, a massive road grader who should help in the run game and could be the missing piece to making this the NFL’s best o-line. A healthy Manning is the key and if he remains upright this unit should again be very near the top of the end of season rankings in all categories bar rushing yards.

Image

Peyton Manning conducting the Broncos offense

The second best defense in football last year will miss all-world pass rusher Von Miller (suspends first six games) early on, especially with Elvis Dumervil gone after a fax debacle forced his release. Former Charger Shaun Phillips should take Dumervil’s place although he is a downgrade while Wesley Woodyard may take Miller’s spot in the first six weeks. Third year pro Nate Irving and oft injured journeyman Stewart Bradley will compete for the inside backer start. Upfront the Broncos have added size, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is reunited with giant Terrance Knighton who he drafted as Jacksonville head coach, Knighton will start alongside draft day faller Sylvester Williams, an excellent pass rushing tackle. Derek Wolfe moves to end where he is oversized rather than undersized as he was at tackle. A bigger stronger line and another strong unit set to be even better in 2013. The secondary sees future hall of fame cornerback Champ Bailey enter his 15th season still near the top at his position. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a talented underachiever can learn from Bailey and should start opposite. Safeties Mike Adams and Rahim Moore, infamous for getting burned by Joe Flacco and Jacoby Jones in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter in the playoffs complete the starters. Defensively the Broncos have been excellent each of the last 2 years but with Miller’s ban and Dumervil’s departure they won’t lead the NFL in sacks as in 2012, this could put pressure on a secondary which looks the potential Achilles heel of the defense, a top 10 unit is by no means a certainty this time around.

2013 Predicted wins13-14

Playoff PredictionHealth permitting a deep run looks certain for the Broncos and we see them winning the AFC and going to the Superbowl.

Kansas City ChiefsThe Chiefs were an awful football team in 2012 but have rung the changes and the sum of their parts should be better than 2-14. Changes upstairs and on the sidelines highlight the moves with former Eagles head coach Andy Reid, a highly respected leader taking over from fired Romeo Crennel, a major upgrade for the Chiefs. Reid is smart enough to know that the Chiefs aren’t in the same stratosphere as their divisional foes Denver so he can concentrate on rebuilding thoroughly and this is year one of a long term project to make the Chiefs competitive again.

New head coaches often mean new quarterbacks and Andy Reid’s man is Alex Smith who controversially lost his job after injury in San Francisco. In his eighth year in San Fran Smith was having his best season until the injury. He has largely been a disappointment and his limitations have long been exposed, as a short to intermediate rhythm passer he is accurate enough but lacks the arm strength to stretch the field. Smith is probably a slight upgrade over Matt Cassel, the departing starter who also lacked arm talent. The running game is the key to Kansas’ offense with Jamaal Charles quietly becoming one of the league’s best running backs. After going down in the 2011 opener he bounced back with a 1500 yard season in 2012, he could be stronger again this year but must be looked after better, thumping rookie Knile Davis can help by taking some of the burden. Pro bowl receiver Dwayne Bowe’s full potential has never quite been realised due to the poor quarterbacks he has suffered in Kansas. Re-signing Bowe was a priority and Reid will hope to get the most from the powerful receiver. A peculiar trade saw A.J. Jenkins, San Francisco’s first round draft choice last year replace Jon Baldwin and he can compete with Donnie Avery, a veteran signed from Indianapolis for the start. Anthony Fasano arrived from Miami and will split time with Tony Moeaki at tight end, both are average players at best and third round draft pick Travis Kelce will hope to win the starting job in 2014. First overall selection Eric Fisher, a hugely talented athlete and Brandon Albert who the Chiefs tried to trade will play tackle. The interior of this line is inexperienced, three former second round picks will be thrown into a sink or swim situation, if a leader emerges the Chiefs could have a promising young line going forward, even if Albert departs. Overall any offense containing Bowe and Charles has potential but with Smith as more of a game manager at quarterback the Chiefs will more be looking to improve on last year’s -24 turnover differential than moving up heavily on their 24th overall in offensive yards.

The Chiefs defense is pretty strong bar the defensive line which has seen a revolving door of high draft picks disappoint. Still there is Tyson Jackson, a former top 10 pick who is just an ok defensive end and he should play opposite free agent signee Mike DeVito who was a forgettable player with the Jets. Giant nose tackle Dontari Poe had his moments in his rookie year, Kansas needs him to become a force to take some of the strain upfront. The Chiefs linebackers are an excellent group, Tamba Hali is one of the league’s best pass rushers but Justin Houston outdid him in his first season in KC as the duo tallied an impressive 19 sacks. Derrick Johnson is a sideline to sideline player inside and a fine player, Akeem Jordan, a man Reid knows well and rookie Nico Johnson will compete for the final linebacker spot. The Chiefs secondary is a good group also; pro bowl safety Eric Berry and near-shutdown corner Brandon Flowers are both elite players. Sean Smith will start opposite Flowers, he was Miami’s best corner last year but the free safety spot is the question mark with rookie Sanders Commings a possible starter. Like the offense the Chiefs defense is diverse in talent, if they can get better play upfront to help stop the run which they couldn’t do last year this unit has the talent to move into the top 16 overall.

Image

Safety Eric Berry and cornerback Brandon Flowers

2013 Predicted wins6-7

Playoff Prediction- A weak division and friendly schedule favours KC but they look to have too many holes to manage a winning record or to make the playoffs.

San Diego ChargersHead coach Norv Turner flattered to deceive in San Diego and finally outstayed his welcome with a seven win season continuing a four year trend of declining win totals. Mike McCoy takes over after impressing as offensive coordinator in Denver but is an unknown as a head coach. With Philip Rivers no longer looking a superbowl calibre quarterback the window has long closed on San Diego and it looks time to rebuild and start again. The race between them and the Chiefs is on as the Broncos window is only as long as 37 year old Peyton Manning lasts, after that divisional dominance could be there for the taking for one of these two rebuilding franchises.

Rivers’ decline has been pretty dramatic in the last couple of years, from best quarterback without a superbowl ring to struggling, turnover prone liability. In fairness to Rivers he has had little help from the rest of the offense during his prolonged slump; the bad news is that things may not be much better in 2013. Starters at wide receiver are Danario Alexander, who was signed off the street but played well in 2012 and Malcolm Floyd, another big bodied receiver who is just an average starter. Free agent signings last year Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal were both huge disappointments, they are both playing for their jobs this year but past form proves both are capable of more. The one receiver Rivers has been able to rely on most of his career is tight end Antonio Gates, a future hall of fame candidate but injuries have taken a heavy toll on Gates in the last couple of years and relying on him now is a roll of the dice. Another future hall of famer whose absence has been huge is now retired running back LaDainian Tomlinson. His replacement, 2010 first round draft pick Ryan Mathews has at times given cause for optimism but injuries have been the recurring theme and he looks another player who simply must be better and indeed healthier this year if he is to have a future here. Danny Woodhead should be a help to Phil Rivers, the versatile back is particularly dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield. The o-line is still missing retired Marcus McNeill, a pro bowl left tackle whose career was cut short by a neck injury. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Max Starks now mans this crucial spot; he is at least an upgrade over released Jared Gaither if not quote in McNeill’s league. Rookie DJ Fluker a huge mauling blocker will play the right side; expect plenty of run plays behind him. Seventh year vet Jeremey Clary and free agent acquisition Rich Ohrnberger will likely start at guard with center Nick Hardwick probably the Chargers best lineman. The offensive line play has to be better than 2012 to give Rivers a chance. The whole offense is reliant on players bouncing back, Rivers from his slump, Mathews and Gates from injury, Meachem and Royal from no shows last year and a line from substandard play. They may get some success here but overall there just isn’t enough to believe that the offense has improved much from a unit that ranked 31st overall in 2012. If Rivers struggles again things could get really ugly.

Image

Tight end Antonio Gates and quarterback Philip Rivers

The strength of the defense is the defensive ends, Corey Liuget a 2011 first round pick and Kendall Reyes a second round pick in 2012 are emerging as stars. Nose tackle Cam Thomas should be the new starter between the talented duo and he is a player the Chargers have always liked. The Chargers were eleventh in the league in sacks last year but their leader in that category, Shaun Phillips left and now Larry English and Jarret Johnson are expected to be the main pass rushers, neither are upper echelon talents but are at least experienced pros. Linebacker Donald Butler had a career year in 2012, he is joined inside by Mant Te’o, a player best known for a mystifying incident which saw him grieve for his dead girlfriend, who turned out to be a fictional character. Te’o will be under the spotlight but for the most part was a pretty good college player and on the field there was never an issue. A completely rebuilt secondary will see third year pro Marcus Gilchrist step up to start at corner, opposite him should be Derek Cox, a victim of the car crash in Jacksonville last season. Depth is slim on the ground but at least in free safety Eric Weddle the Chargers have one of the best around. Second year pro Brandon Taylor a huge hitter will play strong side but has to prove himself in coverage. The front three is the strength of the Chargers but with the overall talent pool lacking, a second consecutive top 10 defense looks unlikely, in any case that was probably a false economy considering they had to play Oakland and Kansas City twice each.

2013 Predicted wins– 4-5

Playoff PredictionThe Chargers look could easily be 0-4 when they go to Oakland in early October, a return to the playoffs from there is virtually impossible.

Oakland Raiders– The Raiders are still trying hard to shed their laughing stock tag, former owner Al Davis death has left Reggie McKenzie in charge and the GM is cleaning house, he needs to. Unfortunately for Raiders fans the mess McKenzie was left with will take a lot more than two years to fix, in the meantime results and performance on the field are unlikely to be positive.

Quarterback Carson Palmer departed for Arizona and in came Matt Flynn who was supposed to be the starter in Seattle last year only to lose out to rookie Russell Wilson in the pre season. Unfortunately lightning may strike twice for Flynn with unproven but athletic Terrelle Pryor gaining momentum in his bid to become starter. Pryor is certainly on-trend as a versatile dual threat quarterback but must prove he has the passing ability to be a success. The most talented Raider by far is running back Darren McFadden but he has missed 23 games in five years in the league. The Raiders nonetheless have built around McFadden, changing their blocking scheme to suit McFadden’s between the tackles style. Rashad Jennings leaves the woeful Jaguars for the equally abysmal Raiders as McFadden’s backup. Center Stefen Wisniewski and tackle Jared Veldheer are the team’s best linemen while guard Mike Brisiel simply must be better than 2012 to earn his hefty paycheck. Denarius Moore is sure to start at wide receiver, beyond him a group of unproven youngsters will compete with Jacoby Ford for playing time. Tight ends Richard Gordon and David Ausberry will both get playing time but a combined 12 career catches are further evidence of the weakness of this Raiders roster. A group with questions over every offensive position leaves little optimism and the 18th ranking of a year ago is hard to see being matched unless Pryor comes straight in and lights it up Colin Kaepernick style.

mcfadden

Raiders running back Darren McFadden

To say the Raiders defense has been revamped would be an understatement, nine new starters and nine new free agent acquisitions in place of eight departures. Free agent signings Vance Walker (Atlanta), Pat Sims (Cincinnati) and Jason Hunter (Denver) will join Lamarr Houston upfront. Three more free agents Kevin Burnett (Miami), Nick Roach (Chicago) and Kaluka Maiava are all likely starters at linebacker and the secondary is also transformed. Former Saint Tracy Porter struggled in Denver and moves on again while Mike Jenkins half hearted attitude saw him out of Dallas, both have ability at least. First round pick D.J. Hayden will compete with the duo for a starting berth and will surely start sooner rather than later regardless. Former Brown Usama Young joins one of two  returnees Tyvon Branch at safety to complete a unit of misfits who need to gel and improve individually and collectively to be competitive, it’s likely McKenzie has some hits and some misses amongst this group but ultimately the Raiders will likely be in the bottom quarter of end of season rankings.

2013 Predicted wins1-2

Playoff PredictionIf the end of season positions were reversed the Raiders would likely have homefield advantage, in the real world they are years away from the playoffs.