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.

 


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


1 Comment

ATPF Division Preview- NFC East

Dallas CowboysThe Cowboys have missed the playoffs by losing season finales to their chief divisional rival each of the last two seasons. In 2011 Miles Austin lost a pass in the lights and the Giants blocked a Dan Bailey field goal as time expired, the Giants went on to win the Superbowl as the Cowboys watched on wondering what if. In 2012 Dallas failed to perform on a slow muddy FedEx Field as the Redskins edged them. An injury ravaged defense and poor offensive line play cost the Cowboys dearest last year, the roster hasn’t seen a huge amount of upturn but the Cowboys still have arguably the most talented roster in their division.

Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan takes over playcalling duties from Head Coach Jason Garrett though the offense should run a similar scheme. Quarterback Tony Romo remains a polarising figure and 2012 saw the best and worst of him again. He threw four first half interceptions against the Giants last year and three in that season ender in Washington. He however threw for nearly 5000 yards and 28 touchdowns and always puts the Cowboys in games with a chance. This year Romo needs to look after the ball better, he is often guilty of trying to do too much. Receiver Dez Bryant emerged as the superstar that he always had the talent to be in the second half of 2012. Bryant ended the season just shy of 1400 yards and hauled in a dozen touchdown catches, the Cowboys need him to continue where he left off as the dominant playmaker who simply can’t be stopped one on one. Opposite him Miles Austin is a good second receiver when healthy; trouble is its three years since he was last healthy for a full season. Third receiver Dwayne Harris improved as the season went on but will be pushed by rookie Terrance Williams, a big, productive college receiver expected to challenge for a starting berth in 2014. Tight end Jason Witten is by far the most reliable and consistent player in the Cowboys offense, the seven times pro-bowler remains as good as any tight end in the league as an all round player. The running game simply has to be stronger for Dallas to take the next step; in 2012 they averaged less than 80 yards per game on their way to a franchise low total. Demarco Murray is actually a pretty good back but he simply can’t be relied upon to stay healthy, behind him depth is weak and if Murray goes down it could be all on Romo again. The line must take some blame for the rushing total and the battering Romo gets every year. Rookie Travis Frederick will start at center and should bring solidarity to the position. Left tackle Tyron Smith is easily the best lineman on the team but Doug Free was a liability last year whilst guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary both have major health question marks and have never shown themselves to be NFL quality starters either. A talented, always productive offense should be competitive, they need more from the line and Demarco Murray but having been 6th overall last year they should again be a top 10 unit.

73 year old Monte Kiffin is the new defensive coordinator and will switch the scheme to his hugely successful 4-3 alignment Tampa 2. Kiffin has a few round pegs for square holes but most of the players he inherits will find a position. The defense actually started well in 2012 but they imploded after a raft of injuries, the problem with Rob Ryan’s scheme was its complexity, new players simply couldn’t learn it quickly enough. Kiffin’s biggest concerns are likely his offensive linemen, tackle Jay Ratliff has become a liability and having missed 10 games in 2012 will start ’13 on PUP (physically unable to perform). Jason Hatcher was Dallas’ best lineman last year but switches from end to tackle while DeMarcus Ware, one of the league’s best pass rushers moves to end. Anthony Spencer had probably his best ever year in 2012 and returns to play opposite Ware but an injury to Tyrone Crawford means depth of any quality is slim on this line. Linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are both immense talents who finished last season on injured reserve. Lee is the leader of the unit; he is a coordinator on the field and is always around the ball. Carter is one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL and is tipped to be a star in Kiffin’s speed reliant defense, Justin Durant, recruited from Detroit should complete the starting unit. Cornerback Brandon Carr was a big money free agent signing last year but earned his cheque, first round pick Mo Claiborne was up and down but has elite ability, they are a solid pair.  Third corner Orlando Scandrick was lost to injury last year. Safety Barry Church is another returning from injury, he is joined by Will Allen, a long-time backup for Pittsburgh. The safety play was poor in 2012 but should improve. Kiffin’s job is to improve last year’s 22nd ranked defense which fell apart late on and better luck with injuries alone would make that possible. He has seven starters capable of making a pro bowl so will be expected to make this a top 10 unit, in his first year expect improvement but not to top 10 status.

Image

Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee

2013 Predicted wins8-9 wins

Playoff Prediction- All four teams will fancy their chances in the NFC East, all four have claims but the Cowboys may have the most all-round talent and are our narrow favourites.

New York GiantsIn 2012 the Giants matched their 9 regular season wins of the previous year but failed to make the playoffs where in ’11 of course they got in and the rest as they say is history. Since Tom Coughlin’s first year in charge back in ’04 the Giants haven’t had a losing season and have won two superbowls, Coughlin is heavily under-appreciated. Inconsistency was their downfall in 2012; at times they looked like the reigning champions but not often enough. Coughlin and his staff made changes to the roster in an attempt to bring improvement, he knows from experience you don’t have to dominate all season to have a shot.

Quarterback Eli Manning was nearly 1000 yards behind Tony Romo and lost out to RG3 in pro bowl voting last year but is still the best quarterback in the NFC East. Manning can make all the throws but most crucial is his ability to perform at his very best when it really matters. His top two receivers are Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz but Nicks was never 100% in 2012 with a knee injury. When healthy Nicks is a dynamic, powerful playmaker while Cruz is a matchup nightmare from the slot, he is one of the most feared players in the NFL. The Giants have high hopes for Rueben Randle and when Cruz moves inside he will get plenty of looks, a breakout year is very possible. Fourth year veteran Brandon Myers had a career year in Oakland and promptly left, in an offense more diverse in talent he won’t put up the same numbers but is expected to be an upgrade from departed after one year Martellus Bennett. The Giants moved on from oft-injured Ahmad Bradshaw in the offseason and David Wilson will get the start. The 2012 first round pick is explosive but needs to look after the football better, defenses are well aware of his capacity to fumble. The offensive line of the Giants gets little investment in youth but the aging group continue to do enough to allow Manning to flourish. Of the starters only left tackle Will Beatty is under 30 and long time right side linemen Dave Diehl and Chris Snee are surely coming to the end of the road. The Giants could only manage 14th overall last year but expect them to be in the top 10 this year, infact if Nicks and the aging line can stay healthy the Giants could be one of the most dangerous offenses in all of football.

The Giants defense can be a Jekyll and Hyde sort of unit. They look distinctly ordinary at times like most of last year; they look unplayable at others, like the 2011 Playoffs. The Giants rather than making drastic changes are heavily relying on better play from their incumbents to lift them away from last year’s woes.  Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell loves to rotate his linemen and adding Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and rookie second rounder Johnathan Hankins at tackle gives him that capacity. Jenkins and Joseph will start but all four will see plenty of the field. The same can be said at end where again the Giants have four players likely to all see plenty of action. Jason Pierre-Paul was one of the most dominant players in the NFL in 2011 but struggled to reach that level in ’12 and had back surgery in June. He may be ready to play week one but he can’t be 100%, whether he can be later in the season is crucial to the Giants. Thirty year old Justin Tuck has been a brilliant player in New York but looked slow and unexplosive last year, whether he bounces back or continues to decline will also be vital to the defense. Veteran Mathias Kiwanuka and rookie Damontre Moore are the two key backups who will both see action. Linebackers Keith Rivers and new recruit Dan Connor are both players with something to prove and Jacquian Williams’s promotion to likely starter also raises question marks. The Giants inability to stop the run last year was fatal and this group must offer improved play in that area. The loss of safety Stevie Brown, their best defensive back last year to injury hurts a Giants secondary that is suspect anyway. Veteran corner Corey Webster struggles to match up with elite receivers and Prince Amukamara, a first round pick in 2011 is yet to play to that level. Second year pro Jayron Hosley and reacquired Aaron Ross can improve the play at the third and fourth corner positions. Antrel Rolle is a pretty good free safety but with Brown’s injury the strong safety position is a real worry. Ranking 31 overall would have been incomprehendable this time last year to the Giants but that was what happened. In 2013 they must be better and although they almost certainly will be this defense could put their high powered offense in a lot of shootouts.

Image

Defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul

2013 Predicted wins8-9 wins

Playoff PredictionThe Giants are a different team in January, if they get in they will be a danger to all but to do so their defense must improve significantly from last year’s performances.

Washington RedskinsWhen owner Dan Snyder brought in Superbowl winning coach Mike Shanahan it was expected that the Redskins period of being the NFC East whipping boys was over. It took him two years but in his third, Shanahan not only ended it but took the Redskins to the playoffs as division champions. You would think it was to be onwards and upwards but quarterback Robert Griffin III, the rookie of the year last year ended the season needing triple surgery to repair his right knee and although he will be fit for week one he missed training camp and all of the Redskins pre-season games.

With Griffin’s electrifying ability last year the Redskins offense was completely transformed and he is one of the most exciting players in the game. Griffin’s dynamic running however will likely be unavailable to coordinator Kyle Shanahan, at least early on and whether Griffin can have the same success as a pure pocket passer is in doubt. Behind Griffin’s brilliance last year Alfred Morris’s incredible rookie season was often overlooked. The sixth round pick won the starting job in preseason and rushed for 1613 yards and 13 touchdowns. Repeating those figures would see Morris ranked near the top of the tree in NFL running backs but asking him to stay healthy again if given close to the 335 carries he had in 2012 would be risky. Returning Roy Helu is one of four other backs who need to reduce wear on Morris by being reliable producers. Receiver Pierre Garcon’s health is cause for more optimism, he is fully healed after missing six games last year and Josh Morgan should be stronger a full year on from ankle surgery. The duo’s run blocking is underestimated and played a major part in being the number one rushing team in the NFL last year. Losing Fred Davis to injury last year cost the Redskins one of their biggest weapons, Davis is healthy again and don’t underestimate rookie Jordan Reed as a pass catcher. The Redskins return all five starting linemen from last year and their rushing statistics show how well the unit played. A 5th overall ranking was had to foresee a year ago but this time around hopes are higher, unfortunately without an elite receiver Griffin will struggle to put up the passing numbers to compensate for his expected reduction in run plays so they will likely slip out of the top 10.

Image

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III

Washington’s practices must be hard fought when it comes to running the ball as their defense plays the run as well as their offense runs it. Nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive ends Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker, Jarvis Jenkins and Kedric Golston are all well over 300 pounds and all play the run well, getting better pass rush should be aided by the return of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan at outside linebacker. Orakpo is a particularly disruptive player, one of the league’s best at his position and Kerrigan a former first round pick had 8.5 sacks last year. Inside London Fletcher is still going strong as he enters his 16th season and alongside him Perry Riley is a 4th year pro who led the Redskins in tackles a year ago. Cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson have both found home in Washington, the former has been excellent the past couple of years. In addition the Redskins added second round rookie David Amerson and free agent E.J. Biggers from Tampa and suddenly have a pretty strong group of corners. The biggest question mark on this defense is at safety, Brandon Meriweather returns from a torn ACL but such injuries take time to get back to 100% from. Denard Jackson has been suspended all off-season and Reed Doughty’s lack of speed limits what he can do. It would be no surprise if one of the rookies Phillip Thomas or Baccari Rambo get a starting job and in the future they may both become starters. So basically this is a good defense and could be the best in the NFC East this year. The front seven are up there with any in the league against the run but the pass rush must improve; with Orakpo and Kerrigan both healthy there’s no reason it won’t. Safety would have to be a major concern with uncertainty over both spots which only heightens the urgency to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Redskins ranked 28th in total defense last year but are too good to not be better this time around, a top 20 spot should be a minimum expectancy.

2013 Predicted wins6-7

Playoff PredictionA tough schedule makes a return trip to the playoffs a tall order, winning divisional games as they did last year (5-1 record) is their best chance. They could be interesting if they did get in; Griffin would be 100% by then but overall they are short of championship quality.

Philadelphia Eagles– A disastrous season saw Andy Reid’s long tenure in Philly finally end and the Eagles are now in the hands of Chip Kelly whose high octane offense brought unparalleled success to Oregon in the NCAA. The self proclaimed ‘dream team’ of two years ago seems a long time ago and a lot of the disappointing free agents who formed it are gone. Still, Kelly inherits enough talent to be much better than the 4-12 record a year ago.

Offensively Michael Vick won the quarterback battle and should fit Kelly’s scheme. Even as more and more young dual threat quarterback’s emerge Vick is still the fastest and most dangerous with his legs. As much as the scheme may suit Vick it won’t protect him and his inability to stay healthy has heightened in the last couple of years, he can’t do anything about that but Vick must protect the ball better, 21 turnovers in 10 starts is completely unacceptable. Star receiver DeSean Jackson is Vick’s best weapon but he is inconsistent and has a poor attitude, getting the best from him is a challenge for Kelly. With Jeremy Maclin on IR it will be up to Jason Avant, Riley Cooper and Damaris Johnson to pick up the strain with Jackson. Tight end Brent Celek has rarely produced too much but James Casey is a decent acquisition and rookie Zach Ertz could be better than either, he looks a particularly exciting addition. Running back Shady McCoy was mismanaged in 2012; he is one of the best and most versatile backs in football but was totally underused. He should see more touches this year and 1500 yards from scrimmage is expected again. McCoy’s backup Bryce Brown impressed at times last year and will expect playing time also. The return of three starters on the line helps, particularly Jason Peters who is one of the best left tackles in the NFL. They added the ultra athletic Lane Johnson in the first round to play right tackle, his upside is off the charts and they could be a dominant duo. Inside Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans will likely start and overall this is a good line that could be great if Johnson hits the ground running. The quarterbacking situation is the main issue in Philadelphia, there is plenty of talent on offense but have the Eagles got anyone to utilise it? If Vick can stay on the field and cure his turnover issues this offense could be in the top 10.

Image

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick

The thing keeping the Eagles from contending in 2013 will likely be the defense which is low on talent. New coordinator Bill Davis runs a hybrid defense that lines up in both 3-4 and 4-3 alignments. Rookie Benny Logan and veteran Isaac Sopoaga are defensive tackles in either scheme, Fletcher Cox will play end and tackle and Vinny Curry, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham will play end in the 4-3 or outside linebacker in the 3-4. A lot of moving parts upfront which in my experience is generally not successful, players prefer to have one defined role. DeMeco Ryans, probably the Eagles best defender is joined by fellow former Texan Connor Barwin and second year pro Mychal Kendricks as starting linebackers in either setup. New additions Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams are the starting corners having been solid backups in their last jobs. There is very little experience behind the starters and injuries could leave the defense ripe for the picking. Safeties Patrick Chung (New England) and Kenny Phillips (New York Giants) complete an entirely new secondary but both were injured last year and Phillips is injured more than he is fit. This looks a defense low on talent and will likely need heavy investment in the next couple of years to be competitive. The Eagles at least have some potential in getting after the quarterback and will need to do so to protect their fragile secondary. They were 15th overall in total defense last year but will likely be in the high 20s in 2013.

2013 Predicted wins5-6

Playoff PredictionNot totally inconceivable that they win this ultra close division to make the postseason but on paper they are the definite outsiders.


1 Comment

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.