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ATPF Preview Divisional Round

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Wildcard weekend proved to be a thriller. The Colts started the ball rolling with a 28 point comeback against the Chiefs in which they had plenty of luck and plenty from Luck. The Saints then got over their road woes to beat the Eagles. Andy Dalton’s postseason struggles returned and he was pretty abysmal as the Chargers made light of the cold weather to beat the Bengals and the weekend concluded with the 49ers continuing their recent dominance over the Packers in a game that was tense and close throughout.

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks

When these two NFC powerhouses met earlier in the season in the same stadium the Seahawks completely dominated proceedings winning by 27 points. What was most surprising that day was the way Seattle’s defense completely stifled the Saints offense with Drew Brees averaging less than 5 yards per pass attempt. Seattle meanwhile moved the ball with consummate ease with Russell Wilson averaging over 10 yards per attempt as the turnover free Seahawks racked up over 400 yards against Rob Ryan’s defense which has been excellent on the whole this year.

The Saints were only 3-5 on the road in the regular season but did manage to win in Philadelphia last week. They will need two more road wins if they are to be NFC Champions which looks a tall order. The Seahawks were 7-1 at home and there are few louder or more hostile stadiums around than Centurylink field. The Seahawks defense was the best in the NFL during the regular season and the unit is ultra disciplined yet able to make big plays as well. Their offense led by the relentless running of Marshawn Lynch and dual threat of quarterback Wilson can beat you in a variety of ways and they will hope to make big plays when Ryan takes his big gambles. The Saints need their defense to get pressures, hits and sacks on Wilson and to limit Lynch’s effectiveness to have a chance. Their offense is almost certain of a bolder showing and they will hope that Mark Ingram can be productive as he was last week to take a Seahawk out of coverage.

It was a surprise to everyone that the first meeting was so one sided but we expect the Saints to make a game of it here although we still think Seattle will prove too strong.

ATPF PredictionThe Seahawks advance to the NFC Championship with a 27- 24 win.

Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots

The Colts were dead and buried when they fell 28 points behind against the Chiefs last week but Andrew Luck suddenly found his rhythm and led his team to a thrilling comeback. Luck has been a little more reserved than we expected in his sophomore year but he threw for 443 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in a true gun slinging performance. T.Y. Hilton is one of the more underrated receivers in the league and despite the lack of a viable receiver opposite him he had 224 yards receiving and two (including the game winner) touchdowns.

The Patriots have had plenty of problems this year and have been decimated by injuries so to get a first round bye was remarkable and it should have helped heal a few of the stricken. Unfortunately though it won’t heal Rob Gronkowski, their superstar tight end who is one of the most feared weapons in the league and it won’t heal Vince Wilfork their man mountain nose tackle who has been sorely missed since his season ending injury. Tom Brady minus Gronkowki for most of the year and with both Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez gone has not put up nearly the numbers of years past and there is no getting away from the fact that his receiving corps is substandard.

Both teams are pass first teams here and both have average defenses but both groups are capable of making big plays. It should be quite close but Luck seems to be the man with the Midas touch and he and main man Hilton can be crucial. Tom Brady’s legacy was set long ago but he has struggled in the playoffs in the last few years and he looks short of targets here so we favour a road win for Indianapolis.

ATPF PredictionThe Colts take another major scalp as they beat the Patriots 31- 27.

San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers

These two teams met in week ten when the Panthers won 10-9 in San Francisco. There may be a few more points scored here but expect defenses to dominate again. The hosts Carolina led by brilliant young linebacker Luke Kuechly won twelve of their last thirteen games and only once in that stretch allowed over twenty points. San Francisco were just as stingy, allowing over twenty just once in their last thirteen games and they have two superstar linebackers in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman as well as superstar pass rusher Aldon Smith and consistently dominant lineman Justin Smith.

Both teams will look to lean heavily on their run games with San Francisco sure to offer a heavy dose of bruising Frank Gore and plenty of read option looks to try and get the speedy Colin Kaepernick to the edge where he is so dangerous. Carolina aren’t too dissimilar with veterans DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert all effective runners and Cam Newton an even bigger danger on quarterback keepers. The difference maker for this game in our view is San Francisco’s receivers. Michael Crabtree is back and has been lauded by his head coach for his catching ability while Anquan Boldin is as tough as they come and has bucket loads of playoff experience including one winning and one losing Superbowl appearance. Vernon Davis remains one of the fastest tight ends in football and he will be a real threat running the seams between these two receivers. Carolina still have veteran Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen has had a nice season but there is little doubt San Francisco is stronger in this area and we think it will be key in a game where points will be at a premium and touchdowns like gold dust.

ATPF PredictionThe 49ers make a third straight NFC Championship, we think the score will be something like 17-13.

San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos

The Chargers seem to have the football gods smiling on them of late but make no mistake they are playing some good football as well. A whole catalogue of events got them into the playoffs at Pittsburgh’s expense two weeks ago and they rode a catalogue of Andy Dalton errors to victory at Cincinnati’s expense last week. Their next game may on the face of it a daunting one but the Chargers were the lone team to beat Denver in this stadium this year so they won’t be overawed.

The Broncos have been the most entertaining team in the NFL this season with their league best offense scoring over thirty points in thirteen of their sixteen games. Crucially they managed just twenty in that shock defeat to the Chargers which was all the more surprising given the Chargers defense is pretty average and their secondary short on top level talent apart from safety Eric Weddle. Denver’s orchestra of offense has been led sublimely by veteran Peyton Manning who has had a career year. Receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker both had 1000 yards season for the second straight year and both Wes Welker and Julius Thomas would have gotten really close but for injuries. Running back Knowshon Moreno has had a fine year also as an every down back whose rugged style is perfect as a change of pace to the much feared passing game.

The Chargers offense ended the year a top five unit also with Philip Rivers enjoying a remarkable career renaissance under new head coach Mike McCoy, formerly of the Broncos of course. McCoy is an expert in teaching quarterbacks and has again excelled with Rivers. Veteran tight end Antonio Gates, breakout rookie Keenan Allen and journeyman Eddie Royal have been among Rivers favourite targets and talented running back Ryan Mathews has finally stayed healthy. The Chargers defense will have its work cut out; Manning and co won’t fall for the same tricks as in their last meeting so it will be interesting to see the Chargers defensive game plan. When the Broncos won these two teams first clash in San Diego the Chargers too often had to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns. They must find the end zone on drives here because the Broncos defense is significantly weakened by the loss of explosive edge rusher Von Miller.

The Chargers have performed admirably to get this far but we expect a different Broncos team to the slightly complacent one they beat a month ago. It’s hard to see the Chargers secondary coping with all the talent at Manning’s disposal although both offense should have plenty of success.

ATPF PredictionThe Broncos offensive juggernaut leads them into the AFC Championship; our score prediction is 41-31.

 


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ATPF Preview Wildcard Round

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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.

 


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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


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ATPF Division Preview- NFC South

Atlanta FalconsThe Falcons have emerged as one of the best and most consistent teams in the NFL under head coach Mike Smith and ambitious, enterprising GM Thomas Dimitroff. 57 wins in the last five years, 37 in the last three is a staggering effort. Their postseason improvement has been steady, last year they came up agonisingly short of the Superbowl, in 2013 anything but a trip to the New York showpiece will be a disappointment. The Falcons have the talent, experience, hunger and leadership to be a major contender again, the AFC South looks stronger but so do Atlanta.

The Falcons have no obvious weaknesses on offense. They overhauled a decent offensive line; decent doesn’t cut it in Atlanta. Second year center Peter Konz and fellow sophomore Lamar Holmes move into starting spots as does right guard Garrett Reynolds, a fifth year pro. Sam Baker and Justin Blalock the only two remaining starters on the line are both gritty blue collar blockers. The infusion of new talent brings more size and athleticism to the line and this is the area the Falcons have looked too to bring improvement to their offense. The skill positions could hardly be improved, quarterback Matt Ryan is a calm, composed pocket passer who makes all the throws and is no longer questioned for lack of playoff success. Wide receiving duo Julio Jones and Roddy White are similar, big physical presences and both are threats on any down and distance. They may be the best receiving duo in football but future hall of fame tight end Tony Gonzalez is just as important, his return after planned retirement avoids a hole on the roster and expect another productive year from a man desperate for a shot at the Lombardi trophy. The Falcons expect veteran Steven Jackson, coming off a ninth straight 1000 yard season to upgrade Michael Turner who never seemed to have a run of over 10 yards last season. Jackson is a powerful runner but has excellent vision and is a better receiver than Michael Turner. Veteran Jason Snelling and small but powerful Jacquizz Rodgers are both capable players who will get touches of the ball. This is an offense that is destined for success once more; if they get better play from the young line as expected they could easily be a top 5 offense and be even better than the 26.2 points per game they averaged last year.

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Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan

Defensively the Falcons surrendered yards to team’s chasing the game but not points, the sign of a good defense. Veteran John Abraham left, he is no longer an elite end, Osi Umenyiora takes his place but he isn’t the force of old either, the fact that both Umenyiora and Kroy Biermann can be pushed around in the run game is a worry. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux wears down offensive linemen with his relentless style; he plays bigger than his size and is the Falcons best lineman. Alongside him Corey Peters and underachiever Peria Jerry will split time. Linebackers Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas are reliable players but Sean Weatherspoon is one of the leagues very best. Weatherspoon has the speed to chase down plays all over the field and can take over a game at times. The Falcons couldn’t afford to re-sign corners Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson but drafted rookies in the first two rounds to compensate. First rounder Desmond Trufant is a big powerful corner expected to start alongside veteran Asante Samuel. Samuel gives up big plays and makes big plays, he is a gambler by nature but the Falcons believe that they are good enough offensively to take a few chances on defense. Safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore are both underrated, they form a fine partnership, both have range and hit hard. The defense isn’t as strong as the offense but perhaps it won’t need to be. In Weatherspoon and Babineaux the Falcons have two excellent players but there are question marks over the defensive ends and corners. They will struggle to match just 18.7 points per game allowed with a tough schedule but this is a well coached, disciplined unit that rarely give up big plays.

2013 Predicted wins12-13

Playoff PredictionAtlanta will surely return for a fourth straight season, they may now be ready to go all the way as they expect too.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers– The Buccaneers haven’t been to the playoffs in five years. The Glazer family got the chequebook out in the offseason to try and Holt that run. A 1-5 collapse saw the Bucs unable to stop anyone down the stretch, only the resting Falcons failed to score over 20 on the Bucs in the last 10 games. Signing the league’s best corner Darrelle Revis and pro bowl safety Dashon Goldson is expected to put a stop to such free for alls at Tampa’s expense and instead it will be on the offense to take the Buccaneers back to the postseason.

 Quarterback Josh Freeman had a career year but major doubts still surround him and in a contract year he must play well or second round pick Mike Glennon could get a look. Centerpiece of coordinator Mike Sullivan’s offense is running back Doug Martin who had almost 2000 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns in a fantastic rookie year. Martin is small but stocky and powerful, he showed explosiveness, vision and consistency and his pass catching ability gives him the potential to join the elite very quickly. Vincent Jackson was a huge success and the tall receiver was Freeman’s favourite target en route to a 1300 yard, 8 touchdown season. Mike Williams was a catch shy of 1000 yards himself and hauled in 9 scores, the size of this duo causes team’s real matchup problems. Depth at receiver is an issue and tight end Luke Stocker looks little more than a stop gap. The line was hampered by Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph both sustaining injuries last year, unfortunately for Tampa, Nicks, the highest paid guard in football and one of the best will miss the start of the season again. Giant tackles Donald Penn and Demar Dotson and center Jeremy Zuttah complete a line that was significantly better when it had two healthy guards last year. With two big skilled playmakers on the outside and the outstanding Doug Martin in the backfield offensive success is dependent on Freeman. He led the Bucs to top 10 finishes in passing and overall yards last year and has the talent around him to repeat. He must improve on the 17 picks he threw a year ago to keep his team from facing an uphill battle.

A bigger contrast you could hardly find than Tampa’s defense in 2012. They were excellent against the run, ranking top overall but woeful against the pass, ranking last overall. They gave up nearly 25 points per game and got worse as confidence evaporated after a narrow home defeat to Atlanta in November. Signing Darrelle Revis was a huge move, if he returns at 100% they can forget about Julio Jones and Marques Colston for years to come, they like many before will become stranded on Revis Island. The other big move was of course for Goldson the instinctive, playmaking free safety who will make chancers pay for errant passes. Mark Barron, Tampa’s first round pick a year ago had rave reports coming out of college; he could form a formidable duo with Goldson. Second corner Eric Wright has had off the field issues and the Bucs will hope rookie Johnthan Banks can beat him to a starting role sooner rather than later. Third year pros Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn are the starting defensive ends, both have upside and the defense needs more from each. Gerald McCoy was healthy for a full season for the first team and went to his first pro bowl after a season where he was easily the Bucs best defender. Rookie Akeem Spence should start with McCoy but he is purely a run stuffer. Linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster each had over 100 tackles last year as part of the Bucs successful run defense, Jonathan Casillas is favourite to step in and round out the starters. There is reason for hope on a defense that was woeful late last year, with the two big name defensive backs coming in and two more young talented players in the secondary they should be a different proposition this year. Getting more from ends Bowers and Clayborn is very important, if they do the Bucs could climb from 29th overall to a top 16 finish.

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Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis

2013 Predicted wins- 8-9 wins

Playoff PredictionHard to see anyone living with the Falcons in the South but the race for second is wide open, the Bucs will hope to win it and sneak into a wildcard spot.

New Orleans SaintsThe Saints offensive juggernaut wasn’t enough to offset a historically bad defense last year. Losing one of the game’s best head coaches, assistants and players to the bounty scandal wreaked havoc on the Saints last offseason. Brees still led the Saints to the second most yards and third most points in the league but the defense gave up the most yards all time in a single season, no team can surrender 440 yards per game and have success. In 2012 new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will try and make this defense competitive but while his record is poor it would be hard for him to not improve this unit.

Drew Brees returns for his seventh year in Louisiana and is the leader of this team in every sense. He continues to play at elite level, rarely has he had much help on defense in his time in New Orleans but he still has a Superbowl ring and can look forward to joining the hall of fame one day. With Brees the Saints are never beaten, his ability to tear even the best defenses apart makes him one of the most feared players in the league. Brees top receivers are tight end Jimmy Graham, 6 feet 7 tall and with wide receiver speed and Marques Colston, a tall if slow receiver who is one of the league’s best catchers. Lance Moore will move into a starting spot opposite Colston and he is at his best in the red zone. Brees like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning can transform ordinary receivers into playmakers so expect more from speedster Joe Morgan and big target Nick Toon and don’t discount Ben Watson from seeing success as the second tight end. The Saints always have been and always will be a pass first offense with Brees at the helm but Sean Payton realises he has a talented trio of running backs and wants much more from them. Former first round pick Mark Ingram hasn’t made a real impact yet but this could be his year, his powerful style could help wear down pass rushers and he will split time with Pierre Thomas who like Ingram is tough to bring down. Darren Sproles is the x-factor on this offense, equally dangerous carrying or catching the ball, once he has the ball in his hands the opposing defensive coordinators heart stops. Losing left tackle Jermon Bushrod to free agency was an expected blow but this team is used to losing starting linemen, Charles Brown takes Bushrod’s place on an always impressive line. Teams are too scared to blitz Brees on a regular basis so they will hold up fine regardless of who is in the lineup. An offense that has been in the top 2 overall in five of the last 7 seasons is a lock for a top 5 ranking and certainly amongst the favourites to be the best offense in the NFL again.

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New Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan

Rob Ryan has his hands full taking over a unit devoid of talent. Upfront injuries have already bitten and there is a heavy responsibility on former first round pick Cameron Jordan to excel at defensive end. Enormous rookie John Jenkins could win the nose job, his size will cause opposing linemen all sorts of problems and he will clog up running lanes. Veterans Jonathan Vilma and Curtis Lofton are the Saints most reliable players at inside linebacker but finding anyone likely to rush the passer in New Orleans is hard. Unproven duo Martez Wilson and Junior Galette are favourites to play the key outside linebacker spots but it is likely to be Rob Ryan’s complex, blitz heavy scheme rather than their talent that gets the Saints pressures. Former Steeler Keenan Lewis can help at corner; he will replace Patrick Robinson who was dire in 2012. Jabari Greer was little better but will retain his place; he at least has past form as a productive starter. Rookie Kenny Vaccaro should take Roman Harper’s place at safety next to Malcolm Jenkins. Vaccaro is an athletic playmaker charged with cutting down some of the big plays the Saints give up. The defense Ryan inherits are low on talent and confidence, he is an inspirational if close to insane leader and must repair all sorts of issues. You can only go one way from last but don’t expect this Saints defense to be outside the bottom five at year’s end.

2013 Predicted wins7-8

Playoff PredictionOvercoming this defense will be tough for Brees and his offense but if anyone can it’s him. If the Saints were to sneak in as wildcards nobody would want them in the first round of the playoffs.

 

Carolina PanthersAfter a dazzling rookie season the time is now for Cam Newton to take the next step. Likewise head coach Ron Rivera, an average coordinator in San Diego who is 13-19 after two full seasons in charge. A strong finish to 2012 and a linebacker who could become the leagues best however offer Rivera hope. For Rivera to survive the Panthers probably have to make the playoffs but they face an uphill battle to do so.

Leadership and team ethic are the question marks surrounding Newton, nobody doubts his talent. Newton passed for almost 4000 yards last year and accounted for 700 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground, he is learning to be more patient when dropping back to pass and the less he runs it the less he is at risk. Newton shouldn’t lead the offense in rushing again this year, a three headed monster of speedy DeAngelo Williams, abrasive Jonathan Stewart and goal line specialist Mike Tolbert should all get yards and realistically they should be a top 5 rushing unit with Newton’s additional yards thrown in. Carolina’s best receiver by a mile is still Steve Smith who has reinvented himself as he has lost a step at age 34. Tight end Greg Olsen is almost exclusively a receiver and an effective one at that, he is Newton’s only other viable target on a team which has no young talent coming through at the receiver positions. Journeymen Ted Ginn Jr and Domenik Hixon will challenge uninspiring Brandon LaFell for playing time but none will worry opposition. Protecting Newton and allowing this talented stable of backs to flourish has been beyond the Panthers in the last couple of years. Ryan Kalil is one of the league’s best centers and crafty veteran Jordan Gross is still a capable left tackle but beyond them there is plenty to worry about for Panthers fans. Right tackle Byron Bell has slow feet and gets beaten at the snap and there are a whole host of players competing for the guard spots. Second year pro Amini Silatolu should win one job; rookie Edmund Kugbila will have every chance to win the other. Newton led Carolina to a respectable 12th overall last year but to continue to progress this offense needs improved play upfront and a viable third target to emerge in the passing game.

The Panthers front seven looks amongst the league’s best, rookie nose tackle Star Lotulelei will start with Dwan Edwards and second round pick Kawann Short will get plenty of time as a better pass rusher than either starter also. Defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson both had double digit sacks last year and should be helped by the improvements inside them. Linebacker Luke Kuechly was the first rookie to lead the league in tackles since Patrick Willis in 2007. Willis has long been considered the league’s best linebacker but that is another title Kuechly can take from him. The defensive rookie of the year’s speed, instincts and tackling ability stopped rushing attacks in their tracks and adding Jon Beason back into the mix after injury gives Carolina another fast, productive linebacker. Eight year vet Thomas Davis completes the group and had over 100 tackles himself last year. What will likely cost the Panthers and Rivera this year will be a shaky secondary, with the passing talent in the NFC South they will surely be found out. 11TH year career backup Drayton Florence arrives ready to start opposite Josh Norman who started ten games as a rookie at corner while former Raider Mike Mitchell arrives to play safety along with Charles Godfrey, the Panthers best defensive back. A dynamic pass rushing unit can help the secondary but the likes of Brees and Ryan will quickly find ways to attack this unit and a defense that ranked 10th overall last  year are likely to level out somewhere between that finish and their 28th overall in 2011.

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Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly

2013 Predicted wins4-5

Playoff PredictionThere is no let-up in the schedule for Carolina and while making the playoffs may be Ron Rivera’s target for survival his team has too many holes to expect a serious challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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5 teams who will improve in 2013

1)    Philadelphia EaglesThere are a whole host of reasons to believe that the Eagles can bounce back from a 4-12 season, their second consecutive year of epic disappointment. Two years detached from their ‘dream team’ nickname which they gained after adding a whole host of big name free agents before the 2011 season, the Eagles are under first year NFL head coach Chip Kelly and he is looking for a more level headed under the radar approach. Kelly’s tenure of the Oregon Ducks brought unparalleled success to the school and he became one of the hottest properties in college football. He has a bit of a reputation as a mad scientist but there is no doubting how innovative he is and he is bringing his dynamic, fast-paced offense to the NFL in the city of brotherly love.

Kelly’s predecessor, Andy Reid never got the credit he deserved in Philly but while he did a fine job, it was clear in 2012 that his period in office had run its course. Kelly’s energy and enthusiasm should rub off on a roster that has the talent to be right in the playoff hunt in 2013. Offensively, the Eagles are stacked with talent. A three way quarterback battle should go in the favour of Michael Vick, the mercurial but injury prone veteran looks the ideal fit for the new offensive scheme. Still the fastest and most dynamic running quarterback in the league yet possessing all the throws, Vick should be suited by a fast pace offense and one which won’t require him to make as many pre-snap reads. On the outside the duo of Jeremy Maclin and the enigmatic but explosive DeSean Jackson give the Eagles a deep threat and LeSean McCoy should be much more utilised this year as the top tier do-it-all running back that he is. The key to the Eagles offense is keeping Vick healthy and although that’s easier said than done when he’s 20 yards past the line of scrimmage the returning Jason Peters, a pro bowl calibre left tackle and first round draft choice Lane Johnson who projects to play on the right should help him no end.

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New Eagles Coach Chip Kelly

Going from worst to first in the division is tough but Washington did it last year and it would be no surprise if Philadelphia did it this year. The competitive nature of the NFC East means that 9 wins is normally enough and Philly shouldn’t be far away from that in 2013. All four teams have won the division in the last four years showing just how open it is and the Redskins were the outsiders to do so last season. It’s now 10 years since the Eagles were the last team to defend the NFC East and once again the incumbent champions look very vulnerable.

2)    New Orleans SaintsThree full seasons have passed since the Saints shocked the Indianapolis Colts to win their first Superbowl. Their run of three straight playoff appearances was halted with a disappointing 7-9 season last year but that tells barely half the story. Rocked by the bounty scandal which revealed how players had received cash bounties for injuring opponents the Saints found themselves wrapped up in the biggest scandal since the Patriots Spygate incident of 2007. The repercussions saw several defensive players banned and most importantly inspirational head-coach Sean Payton banned for a year. General Manager Mickey Loomis also received an eight game ban and Assistant Head Coach six matches. With franchise quarterback Drew Brees holding out for part of the offseason the Saints couldn’t possibly have been in worse shape going into the year despite a talented roster. It carried over into a 0-4 start which left the Saints in an impossible position. They regrouped and became competitive again but the playoffs were a bridge too far.

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Former University of Texas Safety Kenny Vaccaro

With Payton now back in full command and Brees signed up and back on board the key to the Saints in 2013 will be their defense which was the worst in the NFL in 2012, particularly against the pass. First round draftee Kenny Vaccaro, a returning Jonathan Vilma and the conversion into a 3-4 scheme under veteran Rob Ryan all give hope and with Brees coming off a third straight 5000 yard passing season (no other quarterback in history has two) the defense doesn’t have to be great. Middle of the road would probably be enough for a playoff berth although the NFC South is as tough now as it ever has been.

3)    Detroit LionsIt’s hard to see how a team with the talent of the Lions could go 4-12 last season but it’s even harder to see them not improving on it in 2013. Admittedly the NFC North containing the mighty Green Bay Packers, consistent Chicago Bears and 2012’s surprise team the Minnesota Vikings is tough, really tough but the Lions have the talent on both sides of the ball to compete with anyone. Offensively former number 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford has got over the injuries that plagued his early NFL career and now developed into a dynamic pocket passer. His arm strength and accuracy have combined to help him to over 10,000 passing yards in the past two years. Wide receiver Calvin ‘Megatron’ Johnson sees the lion’s share of those yards (excuse the pun) as the best receiver in all of football.  Although expected to be a viable option on the other side Titus Young ended up as a bust way more notorious to the police than defensive coordinators. They still however have upper echelon tight end Brandon Pettigrew and in Jahvid Best and new addition Reggie Bush a rushing attack that should be improved.

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Ndamukong Suh

Defensively the strength of this unit is the line. Ndamukong Suh gets criticised (sometimes rightly) as a dirty player but he can also be a dominant one. Nick Fairley adds a young solid complement alongside and first round draftee Ziggy Ansah should improve their edge rush. The Lions were a respectable 13th in yards allowed but inexplicably 27 in points allowed in 2012. They need to improve their red-zone defense and improve on a minus 16 turnover ratio that was huge. The talent on this roster is top 10 on both sides of the ball so it would be no surprise if they were competing for a playoff spot in 2013 and they certainly shouldn’t be last in the NFC North again as strong as it is.

4)    Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins finished 7-9 in 2012 and will hope to take further steps to firstly secure their place as the Patriots biggest rival in the division and secondly gain a playoff place. This is a franchise that has disappointed consistently in the last decade, making just one playoff appearance since 2001 but could be on the verge of turning the corner. Second year quarterback Ryan Tannehill is the key to progress. The former Texas A & M Aggie had an up and down rookie year which was expected due to his lack of experience at College level but physically he has the tools required. A second full off season should be big and he can add further to the class of 2012 which of course starred Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. He will be protected by second round pick Jonathan Martin rather than the departed Jake Long but most vitally the acquisition of speed demon Mike Wallace and big target Dustin Keller should give him a massive boost.

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Former Steelers Wide Receiver Mike Wallace

Defensively the Dolphins ranked 21st in yards allowed but 7th in points allowed. A middle of the road unit overall but again retooled and likely to improve in 2013. Linebackers Phillip Wheeler and particularly Dannell Ellerbe were prized acquisitions and Brent Grimes although coming off an injury is a top tier cornerback who should further upgrade this defense. First round draft choice Dion Jordan was the consensus top pass rusher in the draft and alongside Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Cameron Wake he should be a part of one of the top defensive lines in football. Big things are expected of second year head coach Joe Philbin’s team and a playoff place is likely if Tannehill is the real deal.

5)    Tampa Bay BuccaneersPicking two improvers in one division is perhaps controversial but it’s hard to think the Buccaneers won’t be stronger in 2013 under second year head coach Greg Schiano. The marquee signings of all-world corner Darrelle Revis and pro-bowl safety Dashon Goldson should turn their secondary round from team weakness to team strength, adding second round corner Jonathan Banks further shows the point of emphasis of their off season. Three more defensive linemen drafted add to the rotation upfront and a team which was first in the league against the rush, last against the pass should this year be around the top 10 overall.

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Buccaneers Quarterback Josh Freeman

            Offensively quarterback Josh Freeman has something to prove but promising draftee Mike Glennon will push him and will want to compete for the job if Freeman doesn’t step up. Freeman is certainly surrounded by talent, Doug Martin rushed for almost 1500 yards as a rookie and receiving tandem Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams give him two big bodied targets. With the defensive acquisitions this team should go as far as Freeman can take them in 2013 and I fully expect a three way battle for supremacy in a brutal looking NFC South.