This Weekend in Football: 5 Must See Matchups on the Gridiron

It’s still tremendously early in both the NFL season and college football season. But that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying some intriguing games, beginning Friday night. It’s not too often we get treated to three games featuring top-10 teams going head-to-head. While it’s not even October yet, there promises to be major ramifications for the College Football Playoff after Saturday night. We always have lots of questions at this point in the season, and three of them should be answered this weekend: (1) who’s the team to beat in the Pac-12?; (2) is Michigan as good as their ranking? and (3) can Death Valley-bound Louisville traverse the second of three major obstacles on their schedule after demolishing Florida State a couple weeks ago?

In the pro game, it’s really too hard to say if any game this weekend will impact the playoffs — every game means the same, no matter when it’s played, I suppose. But let’s just target a couple games this weekend in the NFL that have the potential to excite and entertain us, the viewing audience.

Here’s five games that shouldn’t disappoint this weekend. Schedule your errands around these matchups.

 

7 Stanford (+3.5) at 10 Washington, Friday, 9:00pm

Seattle is host to a battle of top-10 teams for the first time since Big Red visited in 1997. The Huskies of 2016 are hoping for a better result than the 27-14 loss that the ’97 version of U-W was dealt by Tom Osborne’s Cornhuskers.

Tenth-ranked Washington enters the showdown for Pac-12 North supremacy with a defense that has been very stingy and a quarterback, who is amongst the best in the country through the first four games. The Husky defense has only allowed 14.5 points per game and leads the nation with 13 takeaways. They will, undoubtedly, face their toughest test when All-American Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey takes the field. Last year’s Heisman finalist gashed the Huskies in 2015 to the tune of 221 yards from scrimmage, including a 50-yard touchdown catch. The Cardinal won that game in dominating fashion, 31-14, but this year’s game should be much more competitive.

Washington’s sophomore quarterback Jake Browning has been the model of perfection so far this season with 14 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. His QB efficiency places him third in the country, and he will be looking to add to his offensive output Friday night against a Stanford defense who is missing its top two cornerbacks.

The Cardinal has won a school-best 7 consecutive road games in conference so don’t expect them to be rattled when entering Friday night’s tilt under the lights in a hostile environment.

 

8 Wisconsin (+10.5) at 4 Michigan, Saturday, 3:30pm

Perhaps the biggest question all of college football wants an answer to is “how good is Michigan?”. The Wolverines have eviscerated their opening four opponents while averaging 52 points a game — the most during any four game stretch to open any season in Michigan history. And while they have risen to fourth in the country, there is still an uncertainty about who this team really is. They haven’t gone on the road, they haven’t played anyone even close to being ranked, and they have gotten exposed at times with regard to running the ball and stopping the run — just check out the Colorado game.

Saturday’s game at the Big House will definitely help us understand what kind of team head coach Jim Harbaugh has there in Ann Arbor. Wisconsin enters the game ranked 8th in the country and coming off a huge 30-6 upset win in East Lansing a week ago over the Spartans. The Badgers won that game with their defense and their ability to force turnovers. They will no doubt want to do the same this weekend. The Badger defense comes to Ann Arbor ranked 7th in scoring defense (11.8 points per game against), 12th in total defense, and 10th against the rush.

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst will do his best to grind out the win on the ground. His team is third in the country in time of possession. The Badgers game plan is simple — run and stop the run. They will need to do a better job of converting third downs, though. That is one area that the Badger offense struggles at despite their “pound the rock” philosophy. The Michigan defense ranks first in the country in third down conversion rate (stopped 44 of 50 conversion attempts). And they get a healthy Jourdan Lewis back after the All American cornerback was limited in last Saturday’s win over Penn State.

 

3 Louisville (-2) at 5 Clemson, Saturday, 8:00pm

Who would have thought when the schedule makers were finished that this game would turn out to be the most anticipated of the weekend? This battle of top-5 teams comes down to one thing: can Clemson’s defense stop Louisville’s Heisman-hopeful quarterback Lamar Jackson? Period.

Louisville has 19 rushing touchdowns and gains an average of 7.8 yards per carry — Clemson has only allowed 3 touchdowns and allows just 2.6 yards per carry. Louisville’s passing game is just as potent — 15 passing touchdowns through 4 games. In turn, Clemson’s pass defense is equally as strong — just allowing 2 scores and leading the ACC with 7 interceptions.

What these two teams each do best will be pitted against each other, face-to-face, on the field Saturday night. Louisville’s high-octane offense, led by a quarterback who can reach 100 yards rushing easily in one half, going against a Clemson defense that can force mistakes and turnovers and has a defensive front 4 that makes some NFL teams jealous.

If Clemson is to win, they will do so on the back of their defense, but quarterback Deshaun Watson will need to summons some of his 2015 magic. The preseason Heisman favorite has failed to rush for more than 55 yards in a game this season and has lacked that special something that helped make the Tigers so dominant last year. It’s early, though, and maybe this is just the stage for Watson to breakout and show Lamar Jackson that the Heisman hasn’t been handed out quite yet.

 

New Orleans (+4) at San Diego, Sunday, 4:25pm

If you like defensive dogfights, you may want to click over to House Hunters or jump on a Law & Order: SVU marathon. Bottom line — this game is not for you. The Saints defense ranks dead last in the NFL against the rush and 25th against the pass. The Chargers, you ask? Not much better — 30th against the pass (and the against the rush, well, it won’t matter because they’re playing the Saints — and we know the Saints don’t run it).

Both teams will come out testing the other’s secondary. Drew Brees and company lead the league in passing offense and are third in total yards from scrimmage while Phillip Rivers is the 2nd highest rated quarterback, behind only Matt Ryan. The gamelans are pretty transparent in this one. Buckle up. First team to 40.

 

New York Giants (+4.5) at Minnesota, Monday, 8:15pm

This game is intriguing because of the matchup between a very high-powered offense and a defense that is tough and nasty. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. will do their best to find inroads against the stingy Viking defense. The Giants offense operates very efficiently — 6.3 yards per play — while the defense has, surprisingly, been better than most anticipated.

On the other sideline, Sam Bradford has stepped into the best situation he could have imagined. Even minus all-pro running back Adrian Peterson, Bradford is not being asked to win games or do too much — that’s the defense’s job. And they’re good at it. Really good. It should be fun to watch Manning and this offense respond to Minnesota’s complex defensive schemes and blitzes.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

 

 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

30 Things We Know After Sunday of Week 3 in the NFL

1. Bill Belichick can prop up a corpse under center and still win a football game. Even more impressive, we now know he can do it on a 4-day week and beat a QB who is making $20 million more than his. Save the debate of who runs this Patriot engine — Belichick or Brady — for another day. For now, let’s appreciate the head coach.

2. The champs are still the champs — with or without a quarterback who we know. If the young man keeps putting up numbers like he did Sunday (22-35, 312 yards, and 4 TDs) on the road against a pretty good defense, we will all know who Trevor Siemian is.

3. Carson Wentz may not be Hall of Fame-ready after just three games, but the rookie starter has played with confidence and moxie. His first two wins — yeah, I know against Cleveland and Chicago — came with skepticism. But putting a thorough beatdown on the Pittsburgh Steelers, who’ve done nothing but run all over opponents and dominate offensively, carries some weight.

4. Maybe it doesn’t matter what injuries Minnesota runs into. The defense has made two great quarterbacks look below average the last two weeks — Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton. Head coach Mike Zimmer might have something real special going on that side of the ball.

5. Can we all agree that Aaron Rodgers is ok? You want to be that guy that says, “Look, he only threw for 205 yards against a beat up Lions defense”? Yep, he did. All in the first half, basically, because the 4 touchdowns he tossed put the game out of reach before 2pm on the East Coast. “R-E-L-A-X”

6. Respect having to travel in the NFL. It’s not easy to go across the country and play on the road. Ask the Cardinals.

7. I’d like to welcome the Kansas City Chiefs defense to the 2016 season. Glad you could make it. Couple weeks late, but better late than never.

8. I’d like to welcome the Seattle Seahawks offense to the 2016 season. Glad you could make it. Couple weeks — well, you get the picture.

9. Kirk Cousins can rest easy and know his job is secure. Until the Redskins proceed to drop 2 games in a row. Seriously, though, this division could very well be Washington’s, if they just commit to running the ball.

10. Maybe they’re beneficiaries of an easy early schedule. But all the games count the same. However, let’s see where the Ravens are in a few weeks.

11. Houston’s got a good enough team to win the AFC South and maybe win a playoff game. But they’re not in the same class as the Pats or the Broncos.

12. If you’d have told me the score of the Steelers-Eagles game would be 34-3, I would have believed you. Except I’d have had the wrong team on top. Pittsburgh’s offense will be fine, but that defense will need to be more consistent.

13. If the Indianapolis defense can keep making progress — played well against the Broncos and the Chargers, then this offense will catch up and Indy will be leading this division in only a matter of time.

14. So the Rams can win 9-3 and they can also win 37-32. Interesting team Jeff Fisher has out there. Wonder which Rams team we’ll get treated to next week.

15. Tough loss by the Panthers at home against a team who’s offense should have been swallowed up by Luke Kuechly and company. Carolina’s lost both games they’ve played against teams who are expected to be playoff contenders. Something to watch moving forward.

16. This was supposed to be the year Jacksonville made a move. At 0-3 (along with some very very uninspired football the past 2 weeks), the only move may be away from head coach Gus Bradley.

17. The Jets schedule for the first 6 weeks is as tough as they come so a loss at Arrowhead isn’t surprising. But losing 24-3 to the Chiefs is tough to swallow. Ryan Fitzpatrick needs Brandon Marshall to be 100% or else he just chucks it to anyone who will catch it — his team or not.

18. Over the last 6 quarters, Miami’s offense has looked like the Dolphins’ front office hoped it would when they hired Adam Gase as their head coach. Tannehill has a plethora of weapons.

19. Without Ziggy Ansah, the Lions have no pass rush. Without a pass rush to pressure the opposing QB, the Lions secondary has no chance.

20. If Chip Kelly’s defense let the Seahawks ailing offense explode on them, there’s work to do in the Bay Area.

21. The Titans may be 1-2, but DeMarco Murray is bright spot in that Tennessee offense. He gives them much needed balance. If Marcus Mariota had a real receiving threat to go along with tight end Delanie Walker, the Titans might have something scary.

22. The Buccaneers defense has given up an average of 38.5 points the last two weeks. I don’t care how potent the offense can be at times — it’s not averaging 40 a game.

23. One win might have saved the Buffalo Bills season. And Rex Ryan’s job.

24. With all the injuries in San Diego, Melvin Gordon is having himself a very nice start to the year. This season might be what the Chargers thought they would get in 2016 from their first round pick out of Wisconsin.

25. Hopes for 0-16 are still alive for the Browns. For the second straight week, they looked victory in the eye and turned away. Magic is happening in Cleveland.

26. Oakland has a bunch of young weapons. But Michael Crabtree is the glue that holds it all together. Starting to remind me of Anquan Boldin — consistently makes catches and is providing veteran leadership.

27. Cincinnati can’t blame Any Dalton for the 1-2 start. But how long before they make the old “change for the sake of change”? Meanwhile, Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard are the division’s best running back duo.

28. The NFC East will not be won earlier than week 17. The Giants-Redskins game Sunday is proof positive that the division is up for grabs.

29. The Cowboys are proving each week that they have staying power in the NFC East. Favorable schedule and a rookie QB who continues to impress and progress each week.

30. Is there a more uninspiring team to watch than the Chicago Bears? At least the Browns take leads and are competitive for a time before they blow it. The Bears just, flat, don’t show up.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

5 Over-exaggerations from Week 2 in the NFL

1. Dak Prescott is the Cowboys quarterback of the future and the present, regardless of when Tony Romo is healthy.

A big win against the hated Redskins and a one-point loss to the Giants has people believing the Cowboys are more than capable of competing in the weak NFC East. Dallas still has one of the best dak-prescott-pi-avoffensive lines in the NFL and Ezekiel Elliott runs well behind it. As long as Dez Bryant is healthy, he’s a big, playmaking target for the young QB. Tight end Jason Witten is a catching machine and is only going to continue helping Prescott progress.

Reports are that Romo is getting healthy and may be ready to return in two or three weeks. But Prescott could have the ‘Boys sitting at 3-1 in a couple weeks after games against the Bears and 49ers, and there would seem to be little rush getting Romo back on the field. After two weeks against stiffer competition in Green Bay and Cincinnati, Dallas faces Philadelphia and Cleveland. With the potential of going 5-3 through the first half of the season, it’s hard to see head coach Jason Garrett messing with a good thing.

2. The Cleveland Browns have a chance to go 0-16.

A 20-0 lead over the Baltimore Ravens wasn’t enough for the Cleveland Browns to earn a victory. After getting completely routed in week 1 at Philadelphia against a rookie QB and a team that many expect hue-jacksonwill finish with one of the NFL’s worst records in 2016, the Browns looked bound and determined to put that loss in their rearview mirror. The Browns opened the game with three straight first quarter touchdowns — Josh McCown looked in control, Isaiah Crowell was running wild, Corey Coleman was showing off his speed and skill set, and the defense was stout. But even when things are going right, they’re going wrong. Seconds after their third TD, Cleveland special teams had their PAT blocked and returned for 2 points the other way. And that was the ballgame.

Teams that are historically great always have to rely on unexplainable things happening to truly be historic. Luck plays a factor at some point. Conversely, historically bad teams have to rely on luck as well. Bad luck. Like scoring a TD to go up 3 scores at home against a divisional rival then getting an extra point blocked and returned, which in turn starts a cavalcade of scoring from the opponent — and you lose 25 to 20. For example, of course.

The Browns will be starting their third QB in as many weeks next Sunday when they travel to Miami. A rookie quarterback that is. And if the trend continues, they will be bringing in a free agent to start week 4 in Washington. It’s hard to go 0-16. But if any team can join the ’08 Detroit Lions, it’s the 2016 Browns.

3. Seattle needs to change the offense or they won’t make the playoffs.

So Marshawn Lynch’s retirement was no big deal, right? That’s what Seattle fans and the team’s brass robert-quinn-russell-wilson-nfl-seattle-seahawks-los-angeles-rams-1-850x560had us all believing last spring and summer. Thomas Rawls filled in admirably last year when Lynch was hurt. Then the Seahawks added Christine Michael and three running backs in April’s draft. Surely, if one  guy can’t fill Lynch’s shoes, a combination of these five players can. Right?

Well, we’re heading to week 3 and the Seahawks offense has managed a mere one touchdown. Russell Wilson is mobile, but he’s not Usain Bolt; Jimmy Graham is still useless; and the running game is not exactly shining in Lynch’s absence. Many thought Seattle was a serious threat to make it out of the NFC this year. Forget Super Bowl — this team will be fortunate to finish above .500 if they can’t fix the offense.

4. The Chargers resemble more of the team we saw in week 2, than the team we saw implode against the Chiefs in week 1.

I don’t get in the habit of placing any trust whatsoever in the San Diego Chargers. This goes back to the Marty Shottenhiemer days of 11, 12, 13, 14 win rephilip-rivers-dallas-cowboys-v-san-diego-chargers-zvirnhvflvzlgular seasons, then one and done in the playoffs. So listen when I say what I’m about to say. The Chargers are not a playoff team nor are they a team that is
going to seriously contend in the AFC West. However……

The Chargers offense put 27 points on the board against a Chiefs defense that is widely considered one of the best in the NFL, and they scorched a much improved Jacksonville D for 38 points. I’m not saying anything more than this: the Chargers have a potent offense with weapons surrounding Philip Rivers, who is a good quarterback with gunslinging tendencies — ebbs and flows.

5. Rex Ryan will be the first HC fired this season.

It’s never a good sign when you fire your offensive coordinator before the bye week. In Buffalo’s case, they fired Greg Roman before week 3.

And if they think that’s the answer, they may want to re-evaluate the game tape from week 1 and 2 and check out the defense — rather the lack of defense.

Rex Ryan better hope the defense figures itself out — but it won’t be an easy task in the coming weeks. The Bills host the high-powered Cardinals offense in week 3, then travel to Foxboro to battle Ryan’s nemesis, Bill Belichick. A trip to the West Coast against a Rams team that has a staunch defense wraps up the Bills’ next three weeks. There’s potential for this year to get real ugly real fast in upstate New York. Watch week 10 — Buffalo’s bye week. Might be over for Rex then.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

MLB Playoffs: Who’s In, Who’s Out in the American League?

With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the MLB playoffs are right around the corner.  While the National League playoff picture looks clearer, there are a number of teams vying for only a handful of spots in the American League (Texas and Cleveland are in so I’ve left them out of the discussion). Who’s got the best shot at securing a berth and playing in October?

Boston (85-64)

The East is their’s. The Red Sox battled through a tough stretch in their schedule back in July and August. They survived a difficult West Coast trip when other contenders could have pulled away and buried them. The pitching is as good as anyone’s in the AL, and there’s something to be said for this being David Ortiz’s last season. This is a team to watch deep into October.

Playoff Chances: 90%

 

Baltimore (82-67)

Slot the O’s into one of the Wild Card spots. Baltimore has had success all season against fellow AL East teams (36-30) and they wrap up the regular season with 9 of 12 against divisional foes. The other 3 games are at Camden Yards against the woeful Diamondbacks.

Playoff Chances: 65%

 

Houston (78-71)

The Astros finish the year with 13 games against the AL West — however, they get to avoid the division leader, Texas. Houston has gone 35-28 in the division. The A’s and Angels should not test the Astros too much — and that’s 10 games right there. MVP candidate Jose Altuve can carry the team on his back into the playoffs, if they can win the games they are supposed to win.

Playoff Chances: 45%

 

Toronto (81-68)

The big bombers north of the border have picked the wrong time to fall into a slide, having lost 6 of 10. They will need to beat the teams in the division if they want another crack at the postseason. The Jays have gone 34-32 against the rest of the AL East. They’re probably going to need to get to 88 or 89 wins in order to clinch a berth.

Playoff Chances: 40%

 

Seattle (79-70)

The hottest team in baseball might have waited too long to play their best ball of the season. Solid pitching and timely hitting have the M’s on the fringe of the postseason. That said, the Mariners still have work to do. With 7 games against the very beatable Twins and Athletics, Seattle will have to get past fellow Wild Card contenders, Houston and Toronto, with a 3-game series looming with each. If the streaking Mariners can find a way to take 4 of 6 from the Jays and Astros, I think they will get in. But that won’t be easy.

Playoff Chances: 40%

 

Detroit (79-70)

No team exemplifies the phrase “up and down season” like the Tigers. The last week has been disappointing for Detroit as they settled for a series split with the lowly Twins, then dropped 2 of 3 in Cleveland. It would surprise no one who has followed this team this year if the Tigers reeled off wins in 5 of their next 6 games against Twins and Royals. And it would surprise us even less if the team then got swept at home by the Indians and limped into a season finale 3-game set in Atlanta. The short answer here is who knows what the Tigers are. If they finish on a high note, they could be playoff-bound. But their season-long “consistently inconsistent” play makes it hard to see them winning 10 or 13 — which is likely what they’d need to do to clinch a berth in the postseason.

Playoff Chances: 30%

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

30 Things We Learned After Sunday of Week 2 in the NFL

1. Seattle’s offense needs a jumpstart. Not going to win many games if they can’t score touchdowns.

2. Jerry Jones found him — Dak Prescott is the new Cowboys quarterback. And he, along with Ezekiel Elliott, should keep Dallas in the East race.

3. Arizona fans should not panic after the opening week loss at home to New England. Cards are the cream of the crop in the NFC.

4. Jacksonville still has a ways to go before we start talking about playoffs.

5. The NFC East is a mess, but the Giants look to have to most balance as far as offense and defense goes.

6. Pittsburgh cannot be matched in the dreadful AFC North.

7. New England’s offense has been exceptionally efficient. Can Jacoby Brissett keep it rolling?

8. San Diego has weapons (even without Keenan Allen), and Phillip Rivers is still good enough to make use of them.

9. The Saints are on their way to their worst season with Sean Payton as head coach.

10. Gregg Williams’s defense will need to continue playing at the level they played at Sunday in order to keep the Rams in games.

11. The league’s best offense in 2015 is back at it in ’16. Cam and the Panthers look great.

12. If any Indianapolis defender wants to give back his paycheck from the first two weeks, I think we’d all be good with that.

13. Kirk Cousins doesn’t look right. Washington plays in a bad division so they’re not out of it by any means, but their QB needs to figure this out sooner than later. Hearing calls for Colt McCoy already.

14. Wow — Miami’s offense looked great (when they are down 28 and their only choice is to sling it around). Beginning to wonder about Adam Gase.

15. Denver does it again, in spite of their QB.

16. Jets needed that win. Tough schedule in front of them.

17. Lamar Miller had another nice week of rushing for the Texans. Did it with D against KC this week. Great balance in Houston.

18. Let’s cool it for a sec on the Bucs and James Winston. They’re not as good as they looked in week 1, but they’re not as bad as they looked against the Cardinals.

19. Good point — SF’s offense scored 27 against the vaunted Carolina defense. Bad point — their defense gave of 46. Might be something to start getting used to Niner fans. Gone are the days of the Jim Harbaugh defense.

20. First the OC goes. Next up — the head coach. Beware Rex. Beware. Bills cannot start 0-3.

21. Kansas City offense looked lost in week 2 — and they did for most of the San Diego game too.

22. Giovanni Bernard might be able to keep the Bengals in some games. But Andy Dalton is going to have to win them. Or else AJ McCarron will be taking the snaps.

23. Falcons get an important win on the West Coast — but no thanks to their defense, which is supposed to be improved.

24. Delanie Walker is one of the best tight ends in football. He could be the reason Marcus Mariota has a lot of success this season for Tennessee.

25. Baltimore playing down to the competition against the Browns. Offense is not great and the D is far from what it’s been before.

26. The Raiders are an explosive team on offense. The thought was they’d be better defensively — given up 34 against the Saints and 35 to the Falcons. Lots of room to improve.

27. Bad loss in their home opener for the Lions. All the successes they had in week 1 disappeared against the Titans. Penalties were atrocious. bad discipline — falls on coaching.

28. Cleveland may have had their best shot at winning a game slip through their fingers against the Ravens. Things don’t look good moving forward.

29. Can we get Aaron Rodgers an offensive line, please? Remember New England last year? The Packers may resemble the Pats a lot this season. They have to protect Rodgers.

30. The Vikings defense is really really good. Can they continue if they’re without AP for any substantial length of time?

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Fantasy 3: Trade Now Before Their Value Bottoms Out

Every year there are those key players who you draft with the expectation that they will be the mainstay, the heart and soul, the stalwarts of your fantasy team. But each year something happens to thwart those best-laid plans. Last year it was guys like Andrew Luck, DeMarco Murray, and Eddie Lacy who, due to either ineffectiveness or injury, fell short of expectations and failed to carry their fantasy teams, despite being drafted quite high.

With Week 1 in the books and Week 2 about to kickoff, let’s evaluate three players (I won’t count Dez, who I pointed out over a month ago would suffer in production this year) who, after disappointing starts, should now be traded before their value gets too low. Your fellow owners are still willing to give up quite a bit for these top-end stars — but if you wait too long hoping that they come around, you’ll miss your chance to get great value in return.

Adrian Peterson

It’s not like people were blind to the possibility that AP might be on the verge of slipping out of that top tier of running backs, but many weren’t completely ready to stick a fork in him this season — understandably so. I mean, he did have a very good 2015 year — 1,485 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.Minnesota Vikings v St. Louis Rams Peterson was arguably the most reliable, consistent runner last season.

However, Peterson is 31 years old. His upright running style makes him a big target for defenders so his body and legs have endured plenty of punishment the last 8 years. Running backs don’t often experience tons of success after surpassing the 30 year plateau — i.e. Shaun Alexander, LaDanian Tomlinson, Priest Holmes. When the great Barry Sanders turned 30, he retired so he didn’t even have to mess with it!

Peterson showed some signs at the tail end of last season that maybe age and wear and tear were beginning to take it’s toll. In 4 of his final 5 regular season games, Peterson averaged 54 yards on the ground and only once in that last month did he top 100 yards. In the Vikings lone playoff game (at home in the brutal cold) against Seattle, AP was held to 42 yards rushing in a game where you’d expect the ball to stay on the ground a lot.

All those factors should be enough right there, but to make the situation even more difficult for AP (and his fantasy owners) is that he has no offense around him. There’s no reason teams shouldn’t stack 8, 9, 10 defenders in the box with the clear and obvious objective of stopping Peterson. Who’s going to going scare defenders and make the linebackers play the pass? Shaun Hill? Who’s keeping the safeties from creeping 10 yards up to the line of scrimmage? Sam Bradford? Yeah, ok.

My advice is if you have AP, unload him now. More than one person in your league will be interested solely based on the name recognition. And what about his 19 carries for 31 yards in week 1, they’ll ask you? “It’s only one game. And Tennessee’s D is, ummm, real tough.”

Todd Gurley

The second year back out of Georgia was ultra-impressive in his rookie campaign. Exciting, explosive, fast. Gurley gave the Rams franchise hope, Rams fans hope, and in their move across the country to Los gurley49ers2-e1473810950167Angeles, he’s given the City of Angels hope. However, a lackluster opening week on national TV against the 49ers, who many predict to be well-below average this year, and now the panic sets in. The hope has already started to fade, and if Gurley was one of your high draft picks, you should be re-evaluating immediately.

Too early to bail on a guy who looked like a stud RB less than a year ago? Well, that depends on your definition of “bail”. Don’t cut him or anything!! And don’t trade him for, I don’t know, RG3 or Tony Romo. Seriously, though, there are some alarming factors at play here with Gurley that owners need to be aware of.

First, the Rams have no offensive line and no offense at all for that matter. Tavon Austin has great potential to be a playmaker — ok, I will give you that. But what else? Like AP’s miserable situation in Minny, Gurley has no help surrounding him in L.A. Secondly, Jared Goff will eventually be the quarterback — which is good for the Rams, but not good for fantasy owners, who want Gurley to roll up 120 and a touch every week. Furthermore, it’s not like Case Keenum will provide much help to Gurley in the meantime. Lastly, defenses will continue stuffing their entire 11 men in the box to stop Gurley, daring the Rams to throw it. Again, not good for Gurley.

Trade Gurley now and you for sure will collect a king’s ransom. He’s young and he doesn’t have the mileage on his legs like Peterson. But, for you the fantasy owner, he won’t be able to live up to your expectations as a first round selection.

DeVonta Freeman

Freeman started the 2015 season as Tevin Coleman’s backup. But after Coleman went down, Freeman had cemented himself in the starting role by week 3 with a 30 carry, 141-yard, 3 touchdown game over thefreeman_1004-e1443980948509 Cowboys. He finished the year with 11 TDs and over 1,100 rushing yards.

But Freeman’s stats are a little misleading. Of his 11 scores on the ground, 6 came in back-to-back weeks — 3 and 4. He only rushed for 5 TDs in the remaining 13 weeks. In Atlanta’s 8 games after Halloween, things got downright scary for the RB — only two rushing scores to go along with 2 lost fumbles and zero 100-yard rushing games. Freeman, also, battled lasting effects from a concussion towards the end of the season.

Everyone thought entering 2016 that Freeman was the number one back for the Falcons, but also most recognized that Coleman would be featured alongside him. After week 1 saw Coleman get the majority of the looks in the air and on the ground, Freeman fantasy owners should be thinking what kind of value the Atlanta RB is worth on the trade market. My guess is he would be as valuable as he will be all year right now. Wait too long and you risk everyone realizing that he’s back to playing second fiddle to Coleman.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

32 Things We Learned from Week 1 in the NFL

Yes, it’s way too early to determine much. But the NFL is different than college football, where nothing that happens in September ends up meaning a whole heck of a lot. In the NFL though at least, the teams are all Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens(mostly) at the same level and each game really does mean the same as every other. So after an offseason of wondering and hoping and prognosticating, here’s 32 tangible pieces of evidence that we caught glimpses of in the first week of action (in order of how they got our attention):

 

(1) No coach in the NFL knows his team better than Bill Belichick knows his. No Tom Brady, no Rob Gronkowski or Ninkovich, hodgepodge offensive line, going to the desert to play the NFC favorite Arizona Cardinals — and the Pats win. What’s new?

(2) Seattle’s offense really is inefficient. Without Marshawn Lynch, the running game is in trouble. But more than that, the passing game is not explosive enough and the offensive line is atrocious.

(3) The Raiders are in it to win it! Comeback against the Saints in New Orleans, capped off by going for and converting a two-point conversation in the final minute to put the Raiders up a point??? Statement by Jack Del Rio.

(4) Andy Dalton looks like he’s starting 2016 where he left off in 2015, and A.J. Green is an animal. The Cincinnati offense doesn’t look like it misses Hue Jackson, Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu.

(5) DeMarco Murray is back. After a year off in Philly, the running back carried Tennessee (albeit in a loss) against Minnesota’s fine defense.

(6) Carolina had seven months to adjust the Denver’s defense — and they couldn’t do it. And they even had Kelvin Benjamin this time. The ol’ Super Bowl runner-up letdown or was 2015 an aberration for the Panthers? (Sorry, this is one was more of a question than a statement of what we learned.)

(7) Indianapolis has a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the ball, if they expect to make any sort of run into the playoffs. Just because Andrew Luck is back, doesn’t mean this team is magically healed of it’s deficiencies — many of which can be found on the offensive side of the ball as well.

(8) David Johnson is going to have an electric season. Running, catching, dynamic speed and moves — kid is good.

(9) People better get used to Tampa’s offense scoring points. Against the Dan Quinn defense in Atlanta, the Bucs looked in midseason form.

(10) Who says Kansas City’s offense isn’t explosive? Biggest comeback in franchise history over the Chargers. But we gotta take a second look at that defense.

(11) Cleveland’s rebuild might take awhile. The Eagles, who have wheeled and dealed their team away, dominated the Browns with players who barely know Doug Pedersen’s system.

(12) The Jaguars are no longer a doormat of the AFC, the NFL, or their own division. They played a solid game on both sides of the ball against a very good Packers team.

(13) If Atlanta cannot get over this week’s loss to Tampa Bay, they are staring a 1-6 start in the face.

(14) Rex Ryan is on the hot seat . Buffalo won the offseason, right, Rex? Well, you lost week 1. With 7 points.

(15) Trevor Simian doesn’t have to be an All-Pro for Denver to be a good team. The defense is still one of the best in the NFL.

(16) Antonio Brown is hands-down the best wide receiver in the NFL. This Pittsburgh offense will challenge the all-time single season scoring record.

(17) In a brutally bad division, the Giants have the best offense. Looked balanced against the Cowboys and the defense seems improved.

(18) Aaron Rodgers is a bad dude! Looked very much like a former MVP in the manner in which he kept plays alive and kept the Pack in the game when the Jacksonville defense was coming for him.

(19) Shaun Hill starts at QB and Adrian Peterson only gets 19 carries for 31 yards? Maybe the coaching staff is trying to limit his carries so he’s rested and healthy — or maybe the 30 years old RB is starting to feel like it.

(20) If somehow the Cowboys can play defense, Dak Prescott might be good enough to keep Dallas in the race for the very weak NFC East.

(21) The Ravens are going to have to open up the offense in order to compete in the AFC North.

(22) Maybe the learning curve in Philadelphia isn’t a big as we thought. New coach, new quarterback, no problem. But let’s see what happens when the Eagles play a team that’s not the Browns.

(23) Houston looks efficient. The defense is great and the offense is well-balanced and solid — might not be sexy, but they limit the mistakes. New additions of Osweiler, Miller, and Fuller look good.

(24) San Diego looked a lot like how they looked in 2015. Should have won, didn’t. Should be better, but aren’t. Getting hard to trust or believe in this team.

(25) Lions didn’t blink against Andrew Luck and the Colts. The defense will need to improve.

(26) Adam Gase was supposed to bring an innovative offense with him to South Beach. Granted they played in Seattle, but the Dolphins were not impressive. The defense, however, was great and is what might have the Dolphins hanging around this season.

(27) The Jets defense will need to regroup, despite great play by their defensive front. Too many silly mistakes from a team that is supposed to be well-coached. They have a vey difficult schedule early on this season.

(28) To paraphrase a line from the late Dennis Green, “The Saints are who we thought they were.” All offense, no defense.

(29) Chip Kelly’s offense will be strong in rushing the football. It’s a part of his offense that so easily gets overlooked.

(30) If Washington is going to compete, again, with the league’s best, they will be need their defense to be great. Josh Norman is not a game changer — he was good because of the system he was in with Carolina.

(31) Jeff Fisher’s time in LA will be short-lived if he can’t find a way to get the running game going and get the defense playing to the level they need to be at. Until they settle on a QB who proves he can produce, Todd Gurley might never face less than an 8-man box.

(32) The Bears were unassuming. Nothing special. If John Fox doesn’t mix something up, this team might bore itself to death. The offensive has to protect Cutler if the Bears are going to be worth anything this year.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Down the Stretch in MLB: 4 Burning Questions

With less than a month’s worth of games left on the regular season schedule, there are sure to be some surprises and some no-brainers, some fireworks and some flameouts, and some memorable moments and some forgettable blunders. That’s just how baseball is. Been that way for over a hundred years and will continue being that way for the foreseeable future. As we close in on the postseason, let’s try to answer four key questions that could shape how the 2016 season ends.

 

Question 1: Can the Cubs be beaten?

This has been a magical regular season for the Northsiders in 2016. A perfect blend of youth and veteran leadership mixed with a manager, who knows what buttons to push and when, has the Cubs in prime position for a World Series run. No team can boast the starting pitching, one through five, that the Cubs can. Jake Arrieta has regained Cy Young form from last season, John Lester looks every bit asAR-150528837.jpg&updated=201505272029&MaxW=800&maxH=800&noborder dominant as General Manager Theo Epstein thought he would be when he was signed, and Kyle Hendricks has quietly moved to the front of the class as far as this season’s Cy Young award goes. Riding their starting arms deep into October will make it very difficult on opposing lineups, as rest gets shortened in the postseason.

No team in either the American or National League is winning at a .640 clip like the Cubs are and no team is on pace or has a real shot at winning 105 games. But how will this sensational regular season translate when the whether cools off and the games transition from “regular season baseball” to “postseason baseball”? One has to imagine that the Cubs should be just fine.

One reason for the confidence would be manager Joe Maddon. He has been there before — with less talented teams. He knows how to keep a team loose, but focused and ready to play at the highest level. Secondly, the starting pitching that we already mentioned has the potential to make a 7 game series feel like a best 2 out of 3. None of the five starters are pushovers and with one likely going to the bullpen, it will only serve to add strength to that area. Lastly, we haven’t even discussed the Cubs offense and their two MVP candidates, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. But we don’t even have to. If the pitching dominates like it’s done most of the year and Bryant and Rizzo play even somewhat close to how they have performed all season, the answer is no — no one will beat the Cubs. And the curse will be over.

Question 2: Dodgers or Giants in the NL West?

Perhaps this was a tougher question to answer a week or two ago. Now, however, it seems as elementary as they come. L.A. is trending way up, having won 7 of 10 and building on a 5-game lead over the second place Giants. To make matters worse for Bay Area fans, Clayton Kershaw is returning today after missing all summer to a back injury. The lefty menace takes the hill against the Marlins after opening the year 11-2 920x920-2with an ERA of 1.79 and on, what was, a blistering pace to set some all-time pitching records. What’s even scarier than Kershaw’s return is that the Dodgers have played such great baseball without their stud left-hander — 38-24 since he went down on June 26.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Giants have faded after leading the West at the All Star Break and listening to everyone in the media talk about how the Giants, as they always do in even numbered years as of late, were destined for another long run in October. But then a horrendous stretch that saw the Giants go 17-32 and free fall from their perch in the NL West occurred and gave life to their hated rivals in L.A. Although, all hope should not be lost in San Francisco. A team that can throw Madison Bumgarner out to the bump every few days in the postseason should never be counted out. Add the NL starting pitcher from July’s All Star Game, Johnny Cueto, and the Giants actually seem like team that has a lot going their way. And if the lineup starts hitting, they will. But the bigger question right now will be “Can the Giants make the postseason?”. If they do, watch out. But they have not made the row an ease one to hoe.

Advantage: Dodgers

 

Question 3: Is this the Nationals year?

Just when after years of underachieving and failure to reach expectations you think it might be the Nationals’ year, Stephen Strasburg gets injured. Again.

The Washington ace, who’s health always seems to fail him and the team, suffered a strained muscle flexor mass in his right elbow, possibly derailing championship hopes that the D.C. fan base had. A timetable for Strasburg’s return is unclear right now — some have speculated he will be back for the mets-nationals-baseballpostseason, others fear his season is over.

Of course, this injury hurts the Nationals’ World Series chances; but if we’re looking for reasons to still believe in this team, focus your eyes on Max Scherzer. The perennial Cy Young candidate has earned every dollar of his $210 million contract with numbers that put him at the top of all the major statistical pitching categories: first in IP (197), WHIP (0.92), and strikeouts (243); tied for first in wins (16); second in K/9 (11.27) and batting average against (.190); and sixth in ERA (2.88).

With Scherzer carrying the load, right-hander Tanner Roark can step into the number 2 role. His ERA and IP rank in the top-10 in the NL and he’s proven to be a solid arm in the rotation. Lefty hurler Gio Gonzalez has had a down year, but he is more than capable of eating up innings and giving batters’ fits; but is this rotation now without Strasburg good enough to compete with the league’s other contenders and remain a World Series threat? Tough call.

If Washington’s bats can continue producing — top-5 in total bases, slugging, and OPS, that should relieve some of the pressure placed on the starting staff. But this latest Strasburg injury certainly has the “same old Nationals” feel to it. High expectations, talent all over the field, and lots of regular season wins, but nothing to show for it except an early exit from the playoffs.

 

Question 4: Who in the American League is “for real”?

The closer we get to the postseason, the clearer picture we get of what the American League can offer. What I mean is this whole season seems like either a coronation of the Cubs or a “this is our year” for the Nationals or another even-numbered year World Series for the Giants. All National League stories. But 532654134-645x356now, there seems to be some noise coming out of the AL. The Texas Rangers have separated themselves in their division and have a game lead for the best record in the AL. However, Cleveland’s balance of great starting pitching and good hitting has the Indians looking, statistically, like the most well-put together team in American League; and they, like the Rangers, have built a nice buffer in their division between themselves and the Detroit Tigers — who are playing their most consistent baseball of the season. If the starting pitching stays hot and Justin Upton’s bat does the same, the Tigers might have a say-so in the Wild Card race.

What will be interesting will be watching how the AL East sorts itself out. With three teams all bunched together within 2 games of first (heck, throw the Yankees in their too — they’re only 4 out), the East promises to entertain us as the race for the division climaxes to a boil. Whoever manages to separate themselves from the pack may be the team to watch as far as representing the AL in the World Series. All three teams — Toronto, Boston, and Baltimore — rank at or near the top in most offensive statistical categories; and all three pitch at a high level, with the exception of maybe the Orioles, who fall outside the top-10 in most pitching stats.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

2016 NFL Predictions

The NFL Preseason is, thankfully, over; and now we await the games that really matter. Let’s look at my projections for all 32 teams, division by division, as well as the playoffs and end of season awards.

NFC

North

Green Bay (11-5): Jordy Nelson’s return will have wide-ranging positive impact on this Packer team. Minnesota’s D is better, but Pack should be able to score with anyone.

Minnesota (9-7): Best defense in the NFL and young QB with weapons should be a formula for success for the Vikings. That is until Teddy Bridgewater went down. Impossible to be the same team without him. The run game is great but can an aging Adrian Peterson put together yet another outstanding 1,500-yard season — and can he do it against defenses that will be 8 guys in the box?

Detroit (6-10): Anyone who tells you Calvin Johnson is a HOFer but then claims the Lions will be better this year without him is talking out of both sides of their mouth. Can’t be. Won’t be. Plus, they didn’t address their nonexistent run game.

Chicago (5-11): Alshon Jeffery should have big numbers for an offense that doesn’t have too many pieces that strike fear into defenses. Jay Cutler will need to have one of his absolute best seasons as a professional, if the Bears are to do anything.

 

East

NY Giants (9-7): No run game? No defense? No problem. High-octane passing attack will have Odell Beckham Jr. in the MVP discussion this year.

Washington (9-7): More complete team than the Giants. I have no good reason to not pick them to repeat in this division. I just can’t see the Redskins going back to back with a team that is merely mediocre — instead, another mediocre team will win it.

Dallas (5-11): Injuries will kill this team — Romo already out, Dez’s foot and ankle aren’t likely to last a full season, and Ezekiel Elliott will be given the ball until his legs fall off.

Philadelphia (5-11): Slow start in Philly, as everyone begins their season-long audition for new head coach Doug Pederson. Should figure things out towards the end and play better in December.

 

South

Atlanta (11-5): A 6-1 start in 2015 with virtually the same cast of characters returning in 2016. Run game should be formidable and Julio Jones is one the best in the NFL. Expect a defense that is much improved and should carry Atlanta to the playoffs.

Carolina (10-6): No 15-win season this year, but the Panthers still have all the pieces in place to be a very good team. But Cam has to prove that it wasn’t a flash in the pan last year and that they shake off any ill-effects from the Super Bowl letdown.

Tampa Bay (8-8): This offense could be very very good. Big pass catching threats and a couple solid RBs along with a mobile quarterback should allow head coach Dirk Koetter’s offense to hang with most teams. Bu the defense still needs to improve. They’re close, though.

New Orleans (4-12): The Saints have been trending backwards for a few years now. I think this is the year they just crash. I know the offense seems to have all the pieces in place — Drew Brees is healthy, Brandin Cooks is a stud, Mark Ingram is used nicely, addition of Coby Fleener. But they don’t play defense in New Orleans and that will hurt because their division has three very good offenses.

 

West

Arizona (12-4): A complete team and a hungry team. Head coach Bruce Arians will keep this team focused all year long. Not sure I can find any flaws with this group — multiple threats at receiver, multiple threats out of the backfield. Even if Carson Palmer were to go down, I think Drew Stanton could step right in. In short, this is a good team.

Seattle (9-7): An inefficient offense will put pressure on the defense causing neither to perform all that well. Question marks in the backfield will haunt this team, at least early on.

Los Angeles (5-11): This isn’t a bad team at all. But with a rookie QB and a new city and all those adjustments that come into play, it’s really hard to envision the Rams winning right off the bat in Los Angeles. Might be a year before they’re ready to challenge for the second spot in the division.

San Francisco (4-12): The Chip Kelly experiment will be looked at as a disaster in Philadelphia, but let’s not forget his back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013 and ’14. Maybe he mismanaged and misassembled the team, but he can coach. If he focuses solely on the coaching, there’s hope in the Bay Area. But there’s certainly potential for this to be ugly. First year might be his toughest in San Fran.

 

AFC

North

Pittsburgh (11-5): Hard to imagine the Pittsburgh Steelers not playing great defense — but it’s true. But the offense is as good as any in all of football.

Baltimore (8-8): John Harbaugh’s been the head coach of the Ravens for 9 years now and his worst season in Baltimore was last year. He’s proven to be a great coach so I expect a turnaround. But this is not the Baltimore defense of old and they don’t seems to have tremendous confidence in their running backs. The pressure will mostly be on Joe Flacco to throw the Ravens back into playoff contention.

Cincinnati (7-9): Hue Jackson will end up being a much bigger loss than many might have thought. A less efficient offense will negatively impact the Cincinnati defense, which has been very good in the last couple seasons.

Cleveland (5-11): Cleveland has some very flashy players who have high ceilings. I expect the Browns to be able to run the ball well, if they can spend time committing to it. But RG3 has to prove he can be a starting QB in this league.

 

East

New England (11-5): Pats should withstand the Brady suspension. These WRs and TEs are some of the best that Belichick has had in all his years in New England. The running backs are versatile and the defense might be top-5 good this season. What’s not to like?

Miami (9-7): Adam Gase brings a certain level of intrigue and optimism to Miami. The offense has a young core of players and the defensive line is one of the strongest in the NFL. If they can start quick and get out in front of New England while Brady sits, the Dolphins could be the surprise team in the AFC.

NY Jets (9-7): A tough schedule could spell doom for the Jets, especially early on. But if they survive the first month and a half, they have a very favorable November and December. Can Ryan Fitzpatrick repeat his 2015 season? And can Matt Forte stay healthy as he puts more miles on those 30-year old legs? Two questions that Jets fans might not want to hear the answers to.

Buffalo (5-11): Ummm, so Rex Ryan said they “won the offseason”. Is that kind of like going undefeated in the preseason? Because you know, Rex, the Lions went 4-0 in the preseason in ’08 on to go 0-16 when the real games began. Tyrod is good, Sammy is good, this defense should be better. But I don’t think there’s enough playmakers or threats in Buffalo to contend.

 

South

Indianapolis (10-6): With Andrew Luck back, and presumedly healthy, the Colts immediately move to the top of the division. If Frank Gore stays healthy and Indy manages to be able to run the ball, the division isn’t the only thing they will win this year. The defense has to be better than it’s been, though — even dating back 2 years ago to when Luck was healthy, the defense was not good enough.

Jacksonville (8-8): I want to say the Jags are talented enough to win 10 games and make the playoffs. In reality, head coach Gus Bradley has all the right pieces and the team is moving in the right direction; but it will take another year before they are serious contenders.

Houston (7-9): Additions of Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller should make Houston better. But Osweiler’s success in 2015 came with a Super Bowl team surrounding him. He will need to prove he can be just as good on a team with less talent and experience. The defense should be outstanding again, but the offense will have it’s hiccups.

Tennessee (4-12): Like Jacksonville, the Titans have the young talent on their roster. Led by Marcus Mariota, Tennessee has a bright future. The only problem? The future is at least a year or two away.

 

West

Oakland (10-6): The Raiders have all the offensive weapons to be very good this year. The defense may not be at the level of the ’15 Broncos or what Kansas City’s is expected to be (and has been), but head coach Jack Del Rio has assembled fast edge rushers, hard hitters, and ball hawks that will provide enough nastiness to cause fits for opposing offenses.

Kansas City (10-6): This defense could be one of the league’s best. But how much longer do the Chiefs keep going with Alex Smith, hoping that he’ll manage games well enough for them to win? He still has little help as far as receiving weapons, and the running game can be fragile if Jamaal Charles takes another hard hit to one of his knees. This is a good team — but exactly how high is their ceiling? Not high enough — even if that D is exceptional.

San Diego (6-10): No way SD should have lost 12 games last year. They weren’t that bad — and they won’t be that bad this year either. Phillip Rivers will light up the stat sheet on a weekly basis. If they can find a consistent run game, they’ll have a shot to be over .500. Of course, the Charger defense has to figure out a way to stop the run as well.

Denver (5-11): When was the last time a defending Super Bowl Champion entered the following season with a starting QB who never started an NFL game before? Never. The answer is never. Trevor Siemians is not the answer, Mark Sanchez was not the answer, and only time will tell if first round pick Paxton Lynch is the answer. The defense will be good and the running backs in Denver are solid. But everyone knows you need a QB to win in this league — look no further than the Colts and what happened when Andrew Luck went down.

 

Playoffs

NFC: Arizona, GB, Atlanta, NYG, Carolina, Seattle

AFC: Pittsburgh, NE, Indy, Oakland, KC, Miami

 

Championship Games

NFC: Green Bay over Arizona

AFC: New England over Pittsburgh

 

Super Bowl LI

New England over Green Bay

 

Awards

MVP

Ben Roethlisberger

OPOY

Odell Beckham, Jr.

DPOY

Khalil Mack

O-ROY

Josh Doctson

D-ROY

Miles Jack

Coach of the Year

Jack Del Rio

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

2016 NFL Preview: The NFC East

Washington came out of nowhere to surprise everyone last year by winning the NFC East. Dallas was coming off a 12-win season in 2014; the Eagles were still believers in the Chip Kelly system — and they’d just posted 2 straight 10-win seasons; and the Giants with Eli Manning at QB and Tom Coughlin coaching should never be dismissed easily. So yes, when the Redskins walked away with the division crown last year, it was quite a shock.

It seems 2016 may be a two horse race with the Eagles clearly in rebuilding mode, as new head coach Doug Pederson attempts to undo many of Chip Kelly’s doings, and the Cowboys dealing with the reality of starting a rookie QB, as Tony Romo rehabs from a broken back. The ‘Skins and the G-Men have offenses that could light up the scoreboard most Sundays. Here’s a closer look at each team in the East.

 

Washington Redskins

With the addition of deep threat Josh Doctson, the Redskins passing offense will rank in the top 2 in the NFC.

Kirk Cousins ran that Washington offense with great ease and effectiveness a year ago. A solid running
game, led by Matt Jones, and the addition of former TCU WR Josh Doctson should serve to only make0386114001456532566_filepicker Cousins’s job that much easier. Improvements on the defensive end — namely the signing of cornerback Josh Norman from Carolina — will help to give the Redskins some balance and some added intensity on that side of the ball.

Doctson proved at TCU he can be a deep threat with good hands. He should fit in nicely in the NFC East, where explosive, playmaking receivers are aplenty. With him in the fold, Washington should have an offense that is a little more unpredictable — which will likely give the below average defenses in the division fits.

 

New York Giants

Despite a defense ranked in the bottom 10 of the NFL and a run game in the lower 1/3, the Giants will win the NFC East.

No one should question the Giants offense. (At least they shouldn’t question the passing game.) Eli odell-beckham-121914-getty-ftrjpg_10t5o8xgme9741gqqufdtkxqv0Manning, as stats show, has gotten very comfortable in Ben McAdoo’s offense. He has athletic wide receivers who will make plays on the ball. And with the Giants defense being what it is (that’s my polite way of saying it’s not good), Eli is likely to find himself needing to chuck the ball around and score a lot of points week-to-week.

Don’t expect the Giants to run the ball too much — and that’s not an immediate recipe for disaster in today’s NFL. Look no further than what the Patriots do each year on the ground — it’s not exactly impressing people. Other teams have also proven that a potent air attack can make up for a weak ground game — Saints in 2009 when they won the Super Bowl, the Colts when Peyton won his first ring, the Packers every year.

The old belief of controlling the clock by running the ball and stopping the run can be balled up and thrown right out the window this season in the NFC East. And no team will be better at that than the Giants.

 

Dallas Cowboys

Dez Bryant will not reach 1,000 yards in receiving this year; and Ezekiel Elliott won’t be healthy enough to play in 10 games.

Before Tony Romo went down in the preseason, I thought Dallas had a very solid team — but that was assuming the key pieces (Romo, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, and the offensive line) stayed on the field, usa-today-9312149.0healthy. Now, expect Dez’s numbers to fall (I’m tempted to say he won’t reach 750 yards), but also expect the Cowboys to try and run Ezekiel Elliott all day long. You have to remember, this is just a kid, who isn’t really used to playing more than 13 games in a season and has never faced the caliber of defender he is about to take on this year in the NFL.

The offensive line is one of the best in the NFL, but that won’t help Zeke, if he’s getting 25 to 30 touches a game. That’s too many and he’s likely to feel it. But what other option do the Cowboys really have? Plus, Jerry Jones did not take the former Buckeye number 4 overall last May to gingerly nurse him along. He’s going to play and play a lot because he might be their best hope at winning this season. And if he’s actually able to stay healthy and withstand the punishment, Elliott very well could have Dallas in playoff contention in December and January. Personally, I have my doubts.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles would have been better served to have selected Ezekiel Elliott rather than Carson Wentz.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-OTAPhilly has a lot of weak spots on their roster. New head coach Doug Pederson will spend most of his first season at the helm auctioning players and evaluating his talent. Will Ryan Mathews turn into his Jamaal Charles? Mathews will have the whole season to prove whether he can be or not. Is Zach Ertz finally going to live up to all the hype he’s received over the last year or two? And is Carson Wentz Philadelphia’s quarterback of the present and the future? Peterson will find out.

Look for the Eagles to play spoiler down the stretch. Don’t mix up my words — I don’t expect them to contend nor do I expect the first 10 or so weeks to be very fruitful for Philly fans. But towards the end, I think Pederson will have an idea of what he’s got and that should translate into some better play on the field in the final month of the season.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail