10 Biggest Questions Surrounding Wildcard Weekend in the NFL

  1. Can the Chargers fix the problems their defense encountered against the Ravens rushing attack when the two played three weeks ago? The stars are there in L.A. That’s not the question. Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Derwin James (and that secondary) are designed to disrupt the quarterback and make plays on the ball — they are not built to clog lanes and stop the run. Even if the Chargers know what they need to do to stop Lamar and the run game, the question becomes “do they have the personnel to actually do it?”.
  2. Is Phillip Rivers going to look more like the MVP candidate we all talked about for the first 15 weeks of the season or the guy we saw against the Ravens and Broncos the last two weeks? Melvin Gordon’s return should be helpful, and Rivers has played enough football over the course of his career to be able to make adjustments to a defense he saw just three weeks ago. But Baltimore’s defensive front embarrassed those pass blockers in Week 16.
  3. Who out-“ballsys” the other, Matt Nagy or Doug Pederson? Of course, we all watched in awe as Pederson went against the traditional grain in last year’s Super Bowl against the Patriots with his playcalling. Matt Nagy comes from the same Andy Reid tree and understands the importance of making bold decisions in this era of football. In a close game, I’d expect one (or maybe more one) decision to swing the outcome.
  4. Will Mitchell Trubisky be given the time he needs to pick apart the Eagles’ secondary? Philadelphia’s defense is predicated on its pass rush — and it has to be because that secondary has been through the ringer this season. Fletcher Cox, Tim Jurnigan, Derek Bennett, and Michael Bennett will have to make Mitchell Trubisky feel pressured and rushed. The Bears coaching staff has to understand if Trubisky isn’t given enough time to get the ball out, he can easily be forced into some big mistakes. However, if given time, the second-year QB should be able to move the ball down field.
  5. How big of an impact will Khalil Mack have going up against Lane Johnson and/Jason Peters? The versatile edge rusher is better than either of Philly’s two tackles, but Johnson and Peters only need to combine to outplay Mack on Sunday night. Bears’ DC Vic Fangio has moved Mack to the right, to the left, dropped him into coverage, and pretty much played him all over the field, and this has freed up other Bears’ defenders to make plays all year long. Mack doesn’t need a handful of sacks to have a meaningful impact on this game.
  6. Who do you trust more: Jason Garrett and Dad Prescott or Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson? Silly question, I know, but I had to ask it. This game might just be that simple.
  7. Can Seattle’s defense get off the field and limit Dallas’ T.O.P.? Seattle has a top-5 defense on stopping third-down conversions while the Dallas offense converted in those situations at over a 45% rate — top 10 in the NFL. Strength on strength. If Jason Garrett could have it his way, Dallas would grind this win out on the back of Ezekiel Elliott — and that’d be the smart way to go. But Seattle’s defense, you better believe, is going to ask Dak Prescott to make some big plays in the passing game or with his legs. Third down success rate will be a telling stat in the game.
  8. Is the Dallas defense good enough to stop the explosive plays from the Seahawks passing game? We talk about how the Seahawks have transformed their offense into a ground-and-pound attack on the ground, but yards on the ground do not necessarily translate into wins — red zone efficiency and chunks plays are two more predictive indicators of wins and losses. And it just so happens the Seahawks have a Super Bowl-winning QB, who can throw a magnificent deep ball, and has two exceptional weapons on the outside who can get open deep down the field.
  9. If not DeAndre Hopkins, then who? Ummm. I wish I had an answer here, but Houston doesn’t have much in the way of offensive weapons. You’d have to imagine Houston would like to establish the run game with Lamar Miller.
  10. Can the Texans generate an effective pass rush with just JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney? Disrupting Andrew Luck will be a key to Houston’s gameplan. And the Texans have the pass rushers, however of their 43 sacks only 18 have come from players not named Watt or Clowney. That’s about a sack a game. If Indy’s very much improved offensive line can limit Watt and Clowney, Houston might have a tough time getting to the QB.

Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to EPISODE 123 (“The Keys to the Wild Card Games “) right here:

Listen to EPISODE 124 (“Ranking the NFL Playoff Teams, Picking Wild Card Weekend Winners, and Predicting the Eight Head Coaches to Get Hired”) right here:

 

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NFL Playoff Predictions

In the spirit of the holidays, I want to open up by saying thank you to everyone who’s been keeping up and reading with these weekly picks — you’ve been witness to three of the finest weeks I’ve ever had in picking games over the last 12 years. Twice I went undefeated and last week I was 14-2 straight up. For the season, I went 148-75 straight up picking winners and losers; and against the spread, I won us money — 110-104-10.

Why am I talking in the past tense, like it’s all over? Well, let’s face it, it is. Unless you’re a complete degenerate, you’re not risky your well-earned money on Week 17 games that will likely feature myriad back-ups and coaches changing their gameplans on the fly as other scores and results become clearer. For instance, the Bears will likely bench players mid-game and turn their focus to keeping guys healthy for Wildcard Weekend, if they look up at the scoreboard and see that the Rams are burying the 49ers. Same with the Chargers, if the Chiefs appear to have wrapped up their game against the Raiders.

So why would I try and pick these games? It’s plenty hard enough when normal factors are at play, let alone all these wild implications from games that are happening in real time and at the same time. What I’d rather spend a few minutes doing would be predicting who’s in and who’s out of the playoffs in each conference.

AFC

  1. Kansas City (12-4) — A win at home over the Raiders is all that stands in between Chiefs and home filed throughout the playoffs. Not leaving Arrowhead gives the Chiefs as good a shot at making to the Super Bowl with Andy Reid as they’ll ever have. This one’s easy.
  2. New England (11-5) — A win at Foxboro over the Jets would clinch a much needed bye for the Pats, who’ve looked older and more “un-Patriot” like than in over a decade. The players know how important that bye is.
  3. Houston (11-5) — Yes, the Texans have definitely come back down to earth after reeling off 9 straight wins after an 0-3 start. But a loss in Week 17 to the Jaguars means Houston will wind up the 6th seed and having to go on the road in order to reach the Super Bowl. Talk about limping into the postseason.
  4. Pittsburgh (9-6-1) — If you listen to my podcast, you know how much this kills me. But listen, this is typical 2018 Steelers: inconsistent, unpredictable, and in the end, still pretty good. Honestly, this has more to do with the Ravens and their Week 17 opponent — the Steelers just happen to be the beneficiaries, assuming they roll the Bengals like they should.
  5. Los Angeles (11-5) — The Chargers have nothing to play for as long as the Chiefs beat the Raiders. I imagine head coach Anthony Lynn has a quick hook for his starters once he’s told the score at Arrowhead.
  6. Indianapolis (10-6) — This is the underrated story of the year. Andrew Luck has returned to the form we grew accustomed to seeing when he was healthy, and the Colts have a really good offensive line and defense to match. They’ll dispatch Blaine Gabbert (or Marcus Mariota) to get in. And once they’re in, they’re dangerous.
  7. Baltimore (9-7) — Last year’s Week 17 ending was a nightmare for John Harbaugh’s team, as they gave up a final minute touchdown bomb from Andy Dalton, as the Bengals — with nothing to play for themselves — enabled the Buffalo Bills to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 1999. The scenario this year is quite similar: a “win-and-you’re-in” game against the Browns, who’ve been eliminated from playoff contention. Each year a team in a situation like this inexplicably lays an egg. You can be sure Baker Mayfield will not be giving this game up easily — the Browns have a chance to finish with a winning record a year after going 0-16. Don’t tell this team this game is meaningless for them.

NFC

  1. New Orleans (14-2) — The road the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through the Superdome. That’s already been determined.
  2. Los Angeles (12-4) — The 2-seed is their’s with a win over the 49ers. Sean McVay has a bit of a history of preferring to rest his players than play for playoff positioning — he rested Todd Gurley last week and rested everyone in Week 17 last season, which led to the Rams getting the 4-seed and not the 3. I think he knows the importance of earning the bye, though.
  3. Chicago (11-5) — Once the Rams have demonstrated that they want the 2-seed, it’d be logical to see Matt Nagy sit some starters, which would in turn give the Vikings the advantage and a great shot at securing the 6th seed — and a return trip to Soldier Field next weekend.
  4. Dallas (9-7) — The division has been locked up and Dallas is firmly entrenched in that 4-seed, no matter the result against the Giants.
  5. Seattle (10-6) — A loss could theoretically push Seattle down to the 6th seed. Fortunately for the Seahawks, they play the Cardinals, who you’d have to figure are in a rush for this season to come to an end.
  6. Minnesota (9-6-1) — I’m not picking Kirk Cousins to win a must-win game against the Bears. But considering the circumstances and what I mentioned above with the Rams, the bears probably let Cousins off the hook. If he can’t win then, we’ve got some major problems brewing in Minnesota.
  7. Philadelphia (9-7) — All the defending champs can do at this point is go out and try to win a game against the Redskins. Take care of their business and let the chips fall where they may. If the Bears decide they want to play all-out for a full 60 minutes, the Eagles will get in.

Thanks again to everyone for sticking around this year and humoring me by reading all my picks and predictions. It’s fun and I hope you found some levity in reading it. We’ll be back next week with predictions for Wildcard Weekend.


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to EPISODE 119 (“The Running Back Question, Wild Playoff Scenarios, and Top MVP Candidates “) right here:

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Week 8 NFL Picks

This is the time in the NFL season where you really start to have a good feel for who teams actually are. Perhaps, teams haven’t reached their potential per se, but we can see what they want to be and what they are trying be. This is also the time of the season when we tend to forget about a team or two, who’s under the radar, not really grabbing anyone’s attention; but the potential is there for them to all of a sudden be right in the mix in a few weeks. Maybe it’s the Chargers or Titans or Packers or Bengals or Ravens. I’m not sure, but you know that there will be a couple “surprise” teams that come Thanksgiving are just sitting in the middle of the playoff race and we can’t remember how they got there. Week 8 has some games that could impact the teams that might be in that boat.

Last week, your boy won you some money!! Against the spread, I was 8-5-1 (44-42-5 for the year) and straight up I was 11-3 (60-30 for the year). You’re welcome. Let’s see what we got this week:

Big Time Games

New Orleans (+1) at Minnesota

If this is a shootout — and nothing tells me it won’t be, give me the Saints. I trust Drew Brees in a game like this over Kirk Cousins. Saints, 30-27

Green Bay (+9) at Rams

The Rams will get anything they want against this Packers defense. But don’t dismiss Aaron Rodges against the Rams D. That secondary isn’t completely healthy and hasn’t been uber impressive this year. Brace for a shootout and take the over. Rams, 41-34

Philadelphia (-3.5) v. Jacksonville

Philly was a measly fourth quarter away from beating the Panthers and being 4-3. As it is, though, they blew the lead and can’t shake this stigma of not being able to put together a complete game on a consistent basis this year. But the Jags are in some turmoil and could be on the brink of something worse. Eagles, 24-20

Baltimore (-2.5) at Carolina

Put me on the side of thinking neither of these two teams is a very good. Yes, the Ravens hung with the Saints, and Panthers are 4-2 and just had an epic fourth quarter comeback in Philadelphia. I’m just not a believer in either one. This should be a low scoring game with a premium placed on running the ball, controlling the clock, and not turning the ball over. Baltimore has athletes to contain Cam, and they’re 5th in the NFL in time of possession. Ravens, 24-21

There’s a Reason to Tune In

Jets (+7) at Chicago

The Jets have a good defense that can give problems to Mitchell Trubisky. There’s a lot of potential for this one to be very tight. I expect a defensive struggle — something we don’t see much of anymore. Bears, 20-17

Denver at Kansas City (-10)

Let me get this straight: the Broncos get ramrodded by the Rams and Jets running games for two straight weeks, but then get right and beat the God-awful Cardinals so they feel good and decide to throw some big “cocaine-filled” party? Oh, also they seem to be wiling to trade team captain Demaryius Thomas. That’s great. Forget that you still have no quarterback or head coach. This thing in Denver is on the verge of complete collapse. Chiefs, 42-13

Cleveland (+8) at Pittsburgh

Cleveland is in every game. They might not be be all that good, but no one blows them out — they could realistically have four ties on the year!! I don’t think either team is good enough to back an 8-point spread. Steelers, 30-27

Seattle at Detroit (-3)

The Lions seem to have found their running back, finally, in Kerryon Johnson. I don’t have a lot of faith in Seattle going on the road. Detroit has more weapons and I don’t see the Seahawks keeping up. Lions, 27-20

Tampa Bay at Cincinnati (-4.5)

Expect a bounce-back for the Bengals, coming off back-to-back losses. Tampa’s defense struggles and going on the road won’t help matters. Bengals, 30-21

Washington (-1) at Giants

Usually these divisional games are tight and nasty and you just hope to come away with the win no matter how you get it. But the Giants are atrocious, and if Washington wants to be the class of the NFC East, they win this game and make a statement. The Redskins defense should be able to get after Eli. Redskins, 24-17

There’s No Reason to Tune In

San Francisco at Arizona (-1)

I can’t believe I have to pick this game. I’ll keep it brief. The Cards might be the absolute worst team in the league. It’s hard to find something they do well. At least the Niners can run the ball, and against the Arizona defense, they should be able to move up and down the field and control the clock. Plus, I give Kyle Shanahan the advantage over Steve Wilks. 49ers, 23-20

Miami (+7.5) at Houston

I don’t know what it is, but Vegas loves Houston. For the second straight week, the Texans are giving an inordinate amount of points. DeShaun Watson’s lung is busted and the o-line stinks. Too many issues for me to take Houston to cover. Texans, 23-17

Indianapolis (-3) at Oakland

I’m convinced Jon Gruden does not want to win this year. He denies it and that’s fine. But this team is more interested in getting the top pick in the draft. Gruden’s already on to 2019. Colts, 34-24

New England (-13.5) at Buffalo

Whoever plays QB for the Bills is going to have a tall order because Bill Belichick isn’t going to make life easy for them. On the offensive side for the Patriots, Tom Brady should be able to get anything he wants at any time in this one. Patriots, 31-13


Thanks for reading. Subscribe to the Sports Talk Center blog and you can receive emails when content is updated. Also, follow me on Twitter @brian22goodwin. You can also subscribe and download the Sports Talk Center Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts from: Apple iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Google Play, or Spotify. Just subscribe, download, listen, and enjoy.

Listen to Ep. 90, “Week 8 Preview” right here:

Listen to Episode 89, “The Amari Cooper Trade & My CFB Rankings” right here:

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NFL Predictions for 2018

NFC North

GB            11-5

MIN        10-6

CHI          7-9

DET          7-9

NOTES: Green Bay has it’s guy back and that’s the difference in the division. Davonte Adams will be fantasy’s top WR. The run game is a question mark but it will sort itself out – Rodgers makes everyone
better. The defense will be good with Mike Petine as DC. Can the young CBs make an impact in rookie year? That would put them over the top. PREDICTION: Rodgers  looks as good as we’ve come to expect him to every year, but the defense finishes in the top 10 — and that’s the difference. Mike Petine is a head coaching candidate next offseason.

Minnesota has a lot of pressure. They have a potentially great running game, the WRs are excellent, and the defense is stout. But the new QB has to be the savior and take them to the Super Bowl. PREDICTION: Expectations are too much, coupled with Aaron Rodgers’s return in GB. 

Chicago has all the right pieces around their young QB, including an offensive-minded head coach in Matt Nagy. The Bears have time to get better – it won’t all happen in one year. Next year could be a big season for Chicago. PREDICTION: Mitchel Trubisky makes the leap forward (not quite like Carson Wentz) with one of Wentz’s former weapons, Trey Burton.

If all goes perfectly, the Lions still may only win 9 games. New HC Matt Patricia needs time to build the culture he wants. The defense is still questionable at best and if they cannot be better against the run, there will be lots of player turnover going into 2019. The offense should be fun to watch. PREDICTION: The run game will finally break out with rookie Kerryon Johnson topping the 100-yard mark half a dozen times. 

NFC South

N.O.        12-4

ATL          10-6

CAR         8-8

TB             2-14

NOTES: New Orleans has all the talent and has pushed all their chips into a 2 to 3 year window, centered around Drew Brees’s 2-year contract and the 3 years Sean Payton has left. They were a fluke play away from a trip to Philly for the NFC title game last year. PREDICTION: Alvin Kamara goes for 2,000 yards from scrimmage and is recognized as a stud RB after this season – in real football and in fantasy.

I have a lot of questions about the Falcons coaching staff and the playcalling on the offensive side of the ball. But Matt Ryan should be better in ’18 than he was in ’17, but not as good as he was in ’16. The defense is still fast and athletic. And Julio should be happy. Plus, Atlanta can still run the ball with anyone in the league. PREDICTION: Julio Jones scores 10 touchdowns.

Of the three south teams that made the playoffs last year, the Panthers are the one who won’t in ’18. It should be interesting to see how OC Norv Turner gels with Cam Newton throughout the season. Cam has weapons, but they’re young and unproven. Christian McCaffrey is the wildcard for me. If he’s great, then Carolina could win 10 games. If he’s mediocre, then the team will follow suite. PREDICTION: Cam and Norv have a blow up on the sideline by week 5, and rumors surface the Turner is contemplating retirement before Turkey Day.

Here we go. I can’t find a single nice thing to say about the Bucs so I won’t say anything at all. PREDICTION: They’ll be picking number 1 in next Spring’s NFL Draft and Dirk Koetter will be unemployed before the first snowfall in the Midwest.

NFC East

PHI          9-7

NYG         8-8

WAS        6-10

DAL         5-11

NOTES: Philadelphia won’t sneak up on anyone this year. The roster is deep, again, and they bring back a healthy and potential MVP candidate in Carson Wentz. But playing with a target on your back is a lot different then chasing one. PREDICTION: It will be a dogfight to win the division, and Carson Wentz won’t be in the MVP conversation at any point during the year.

If the Giants don’t turn things around, people will question their passing of a QB at two overall in last year’s draft. I expect the offense to be really good. However, the defense is where this team will earn it’s stripes. Landon Collins shows signs of being the leader of the unit, but they’ll need a consistent pass rush to show up every week. PREDICTION: Saquon Barkley wins Rookie of the Year, the Giants’ offense is explosive, but Eli Manning ‘s play will make fans long for his replacement.

Alex Smith won’t hurt the Redskins at all. The running game lost a big piece when rookie Derrius Guice went down, but if the offensive line can stay healthy, that will make a big difference in 2018. The defense needs to be faster and play more lively than it did last year. PREDICTION: Alex Smith outperforms Kirk Cousins.

Dallas seems fine with having lost Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. I’m not arguing they needed to keep them, but no WRs stand out to me that will get Dak Prescott back to the way his played in his rookie season in 2016. Ezekiel Elliott is an animal, but he can’t do it alone. I think Dallas is trending down. PREDICTION: Jason Garrett is fired, and Dak Prescott gets benched down the stretch.

NFC West

LAR          10-6

SF             8-8

SEA          5-11

ARI           3-13

NOTES: Let’s get the obvious out of the way out West – the Rams made all the offseason moves like a serious contender would. Now all that’s left is to actually go and perform on the field. As I’ve said on podcasts, multiple times, the Rams are in fine shape with all these shorter term contracts even if 2018 isn’t their year. However, let’s not mince words – they’re in it to win it. The biggest question is how this locker room responds to the bumps in the road that it will face. PREDICTION: Jared Goff isn’t as good as his 2017 season showed. His mistakes will be the difference between the Rams being the one seed and them having to play in the Wild Card round.

If the 49ers had given Jimmy G. a few more weapons on offense, I’d be okay with touting the Niners as a playoff team. Instead, they are lacking in too many spots. But Kyle Shanahan knows what he wants and is building this roster his way. Defensively, they have the pieces, but now is the time for high draft picks like DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Solomon Thomas to come into their own. They’re a year away. One year. Then watch out. PREDICTION: I love the value of Jerick McKinnon in fantasy, but on the field, Alfred Morris will prove to be the most productive and important offensive piece for SF.

The re-build is on – whether folks in Seattle want to admit it or not. And now their top draft pick is banged up. Before that this offensive line is not good, they lost Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin is dealing with an injury, and the Earl Thomas drama is hanging over the team. PREDICTION: Russell Wilson will have to be a one-man wrecking crew if this team is going to be anywhere near 8 wins. Also, Chris Carson is not the answer at running back.

Age and injuries will derail Cardinal fans of a successful season. The good news is Josh Rosen will probably play a lot. PREDICTION: Sam Bradford starts less than 4 games – have you SEEN this o-line??? And DJ falls at least 500 yards shy of his 2,000 yards from scrimmage goal.

AFC North

BAL          9-7

PIT           8-8

CIN          7-9

CLE          4-12

NOTES: The Ravens won 9 games last year and were a week 17 Andy Dalton 48-yard TD pass away from being back in the postseason. The wide receiving weapons aren’t deadly, but Michael Crabtree may be looking to prove he’s got something left and John Brown showed flashes of excellence in his years with Arizona. Willie Snead will also be a nice deep threat for Joe Flacco, who loves to throw the deep ball. Alex Collins at running back is also a solid piece. The question is if Flacco and the offense stalls, will Lamar Jackson get his shot? PREDICTION: Lamar starts more games than Flacco.

When it’s over for Big Ben, it’s going to end quickly. All the off-the-field drama (Le’Veon Bell’s contract issue and his past tweets) plus the things we’ve seen happen on the field and in the locker room (blowout playoff loss at home to the Jaguars, Mike Tomlin’s comments) could be too much. Listen, talent-wise on offense, the Steelers are outstanding – 2-time Super Bowl winning QB and the NFL’s best RB and best WR. But the team has no defense, Tomlin doesn’t have control, and these personalities are starting to fray at the franchise’s culture. PREDICTION: Roethlisberger gets benched, Bell gets run into the ground, and AB misses at least 4 games due to injury.

Cincinnati should be better in ’18 than they were in ’17 – the offensive line is better and Joe Mixon showed he can be a bell cow running back – and this year he’ll get carries right off the bat. It’s hard to get behind Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton, but they’ve proven they are more than capable of winning 7 games in a season. PREDICTION: AJ Green is great but no other WR gets more than 60 catches and 700 yards.

When Cleveland fires Hue Jackson, we can seriously talk about the Browns making a turnaround. The talent seems to be there in spots, as does depth in spots, as well. But Hue will wreck any chance this team has of winning 6 or 7 games. PREDICTION: John Dorsey fires Jackson before Christmas and Todd Haley takes over.

AFC South

TEN          13-3

HOU        10-6

JAC           7-9

IND          6-10

NOTES: Mike Vrabel will make an immediate impact in Tennessee.
This team will play tougher. Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry will be a
fantastic 1-2 punch. This offensive line is outstanding. PREDICTION: Marcus Mariota will have an MVP season and Corey Davis will break out.

The weapons on offense will make Houston one of the most explosive and fun to watch in the league. There are questions defensively – mostly injury-related. Oh, and the offensive line is one of the the worst in the NFL. That said, the differences in Houston and Tennessee should make for an interesting race for the divisional crown. PREDICTION: Jadeveon Clowney, JJ Watt, and Whitney Mercilus will all finish in the top 8 for Defensive Player of the Year – with Clowney winning the award.

Expect a few setbacks for the Jags, who were very fortunate in 2017. Blake Bortles will make some mistakes and the ground game won’t be able to carry the load week in and week out. And the defense will get tested. Jalen Ramsey ran his mouth in the GQ article – those things have a way of coming back to haunt you. The talent is there, but the maturity is not. PREDICTION: No WR reaches 800 yards receiving and the defense finishes out of the top 10.

Andrew Luck’s health is the elephant in the room. But even if he’s healthy, how good can this team be? PREDICTION: Newly acquired Ryan Grant will put up the best numbers of any offensive player on the Colts roster.

AFC East

NE            12-4

NYJ           9-7

BUF         4-12

MIA         4-12

NOTES: The Patriots faced an offseason filled will questions and anxiety. On the field, they will face some issues – the WR battle needs to work itself out, the offensive line is beginning to lack depth, the linebackers still aren’t fast, and they have a 41-year old quarterback. I know, much of that will end up being just fine and wrapping up the division by early December wouldn’t be a surprise at all. But will any of these items hurt them come January? PREDICTION: Chris Hogan will have over 1200 yards receiving and Jeremy Hill will be the Pats best running back.

The J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets have their quarterback!!! But no offensive line will affect Sam Darnold. In the end, his talent will shine through and he’ll do more with less than anyone else in the league. PREDICTION: Darnold throws for 25 touchdowns and 3800 yards.

Buffalo was bad before AJ McCarron broke his collarbone. Pencil in Josh Allen at QB. He’s talented but not ready – especially with no offensive line and unproven wideouts. PREDICTIONS: LeSean McCoy takes a huge step backwards and the Bills end up starting 3 different QBs over the course of the year.

How can a team be worse than Buffalo this year, you ask? Enter the Dolphins. Limited weapons across the board at practically every playmaking position will make it hard for Miami to score points. PREDICTION: Miami scores the fewest points in the conference.

AFC West

LAC          10-6

KC            8-8

OAK        6-10 (9-7 before the Mack trade)

DEN         6-10

NOTES: The Chargers are so snake-bitten. Injuries kill this team year after year. But this defense has the playmakers to keep them in every game and can even win a few alone. PREDICTION: Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will be top 5 Defensive MVP candidates.

The biggest concern was how Khalil Mack’s contract situation would impact the locker room. Now, since the trade, we are starting to see how current Raiders feel about the move — and it’s not positive. I thought John Gruden would be able to get more out of Derek Carr than any other coach has to this point in his young career. And perhaps the offense will still be good, but the defense is atrocious. The thing here is that good teams don’t trade away guys like Khalil Mack. Gruden clearly doesn’t like this roster and is churning it and twisting it to get draft capital so he can build his team how he wants. Might work later, might not. But it definitely won’t pay dividends this year. PREDICTION: Amari Cooper will catch 90 balls for 1200 yards and 12 touchdowns, and the defense will give up 30 points on a routine basis.

Everything in me says Andy Reid’s history of producing very productive QBs will make the Chiefs good in 2018. And maybe Pat Mahomes will indeed put up very good numbers. But they may not lead to wins. More importantly, the defense must be better than it was a year ago – especially the linebackers and the pass rush. PREDICTION: Sammy Watkins will again disappoint.

Denver’s choice of Case Keenum this offseason was not a bad decision. But the offense is getting older, the running game has been questionable at best for years, and now the defense will feel the need to once again carry the team. PREDICTION: Bradley Chubb will be great, but the defense will struggle to dominate as the offense won’t be able to stay on the field.

PLAYOFFS

NFC

  1. New Orleans
  2. Green Bay
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Atlanta
  6. Minnesota

NFC Championship

New Orleans over Green Bay

AFC

  1. Tennessee
  2. New England
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Baltimore
  5. Houston
  6. Jets

AFC Championship

New England over Tennessee

Super Bowl

New England over New Orleans: Pats won’t lose two SBs in a row. This sends the organization into post-Brady era quickly, as the QB retires.


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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.

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