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.

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2016 NFL Preview: NFC North

The black and blue division in football. Storied franchises like the Bears and Packers. Cold, wintery, meaningful games being played in November and December at historic venues like Lambeau Field and Soldier Field. The NFC North has that certain midwestern, blue-collar, lunch pail type of mentality, doesn’t it?

The division has for the most part been owned by the Green Bay Packers over the past decade plus. But now Minnesota has taken on the personality of their defensive-minded head coach, Mike Zimmer, and appear to be a credible and longterm threat to the Packers’ divisional supremacy — don’t forget the Vikings won the North last year.

While the best defense in the division belongs to Minnesota (and only appears to be getting better), the Packers should be operating with a higher level of offensive efficiency with a healthy Jordy Nelson. So it should be a contentious fight for the North crown in 2016. And, oh yeah, the Bears and Lions are in the division.

 

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings defense will supplant Seattle’s as the NFL’s stingiest defense.

The Legion of Boom defense has presided over the NFL over the past 4 seasons, as the league’s most frugal defense. vikings-defense2.jpg.af4e403847f4b89ebb6c91f376689274Although, a dip in the Seahawks offensive efficiency and the loss of Marshawn Lynch should make for a more difficult year in 2016 for the defense.

This leaves the door open for a change at the top of the defensive ranks. And the Vikings are right there ready to lead that charge. Head coach Mike Zimmer has had time to put the players in place that he wants; and a solid running game behind All-Pro Adrian Peterson helps keep the offense on the field.

While the questions about Minnesota’s offense are legitimate, there aren’t many when it comes to their defense. If AP stays healthy now that he’s in his 30s and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater progresses (and impresses) in his third year, Minnesota should improve upon what was an already very successful 2015 campaign.

 

Green Bay Packers

Randall Cobb will have receiving numbers that mirror his numbers from 2014 — 90 catches for over 1,200 yards.

Expectations shifted last August to Randall Cobb when the Packers lost Pro Bowl WR Jordy Nelson to a season-ending knee injury. Cobb was used to settling in as a very productive second fiddle to Nelson’s first chair in the Packer passing attack. With Nelson gone, many believed Cobb would seamlessly slide into carrying the pass nfl_a_cobb_b1_576catching load as Aaron Rodgers’s number one go-to guy. However, things don’t always work out as expected.

Albeit, Cobb’s disappointing 2015 year could be chalked up to a number of factors, aside from the simple fact that he was the guy having to face every team’s top cornerback — something he had never experienced in Green Bay. The Packers run game was terrible — Eddie Lacy looked like Shawn Kemp ate Charles Barkley. The Packer defense was not as stout as they had been over the years. And Aaron Rodgers seemed to be constantly trying to get comfortable with his receivers.

As Nelson returns this season, expect Cobb to gladly resume his secondary role. He will face less daunting matchups from week to week. In addition, Lacy looks slimmed down and Green Bay will be committed to running the ball, which will only serve to help the passing game.

 

Detroit Lions

For a second consecutive season, the Lions will rank dead last in the NFL in rushing.

Ameer Abdullah was a questionable drat choice for a franchise that had missed on so many running backs in past few years — Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith come to mind immediately. Abdullah was great at Nebraska, but he had a i-3fumbling problem in college and he put tons on miles on his legs there. Those usually tend to be red flags for NFL teams. Not the Lions. Abdullah has the potential, but his first year was incredibly underwhelming. And a porous offensive line won’t help the 2nd-year back hit his stride.

The Lions went out and signed former Patriot and Jet Stevan Ridley; but Ridley, too, had trouble hanging onto the football — which caused his release from New England. To add, Ridley is not known as a pass-catching RB and admits that’s not his forte. At best, he will serve as a 3rd down, change of pace back. But if the Lions are counting on much more from Ridley, they’re likely expecting too much.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter will try and play to quarterback Matt Stafford’s strengths — as he did in the final 8 games in 2015 when the team went 6-2. But with the loss of Calvin Johnson to retirement, how this offense will look is a big question mark. If the offense turns pass-heavy or finds itself behind in games, this projection is all but a guarantee.

 

Chicago Bears

Jay Cutler will need an MVP-type of season to get the Bears in contention for the playoffs; finishes 5-11.

Is there any one, single player in the NFL who people seem to have such universal distaste for like they do for Jay Cutler? It’s not a hatred for him, just a distaste. I can’t imagine another year of underachieving for the quarterback or for head coach John Fox with either of them surviving for another year in Chicago. Unfortunately for them, chicago-bears-quarterback-jay-cutlerthere’s not a lot of reason for optimism. While WR Alshon Jeffery has established himself nicely as a top pass catcher in the league, the Bears lack much else on the offensive side of the ball. Cutler isn’t exactly surrounded by a ton of weapons; but that excuse is unacceptable at this stage in his career, and the Bears front office and, especially, Bears fans don’t want to hear it.

The defense should be improved and may even find a way to steal a game or two along the way. But in order for the bears to be playoff contenders, Cutler will have to put the team on his back and do what elite QBs do — make others around him better. But that’s just not something Cutler’s ever proven to be able to do.

 

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

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NFL 2016 Preview: The AFC East

New England Patriots

Dion Lewis makes the Pro Bowl.

After a 2015 campaign cut short due to a devastating knee injury, Dion Lewis will be given every opportunity to

New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis (33) runs past Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier (50) in the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

resume his role as the featured back in the running and passing game. With Tom Brady missing the first month of the season, Jimmy Garoppolo will indeed be searching for his security blanket — with all the weapons Bill Belichick has stockpiled, Garopollo should have his pick of the litter. Dump off passes to his quick, stealthy running back will likely to be easy and help build confidence in the young signal-caller.

Expect Lewis to play a very big role in the offense this year. With all that the Patriots spread out with at the line of scrimmage, defenses cannot hunker down on everyone. With Lewis’s speed and elusiveness — coming out of the backfield or lined up in the slot, he could be the guy who finds the openings in New England’s short passing attack.

 

Buffalo Bills

Seven wins, max.

Expectations haven’t been this high in upstate New York for a long time. Head coach Rex Ryan proclaimed his team

Nov 23, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan walks the sidelines against the New England Patriots during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

“the winners of the offseason”; and the Bills did do a lot to restructure their defense — drafting potential standouts DE Shaq Lawson and LB Reggie Ragland, hiring Rex’s brother Rob to head up the defense, bringing on former Ryan player Ed Reed as an assistant, and letting go of disgruntled DE Mario Williams. So in short, yes, the defense will be much improved and should end up as a top 5 defense this season.

The offense, however, is a different story. Star wide receiver Sammy Watkins is coming off a spring and summer that required foot surgery. All reports point to the wideout healing in plenty of time and not being hampered by any lingering effects; but foot surgeries for receivers are like knee surgeries to running backs. Watkins is a stud and has all-world talent, but if he is in any way impacted by the result of the surgery and cannot perform to his standard, the Bills offense will suffer.

Buffalo’s backfield will need to have a great season in order for the Bills to meet the expectations and make a playoff run. Karlos Williams filled in and looked very strong as LeSean McCoy’s replacement last season. He is young and will need to prove he can do it again, and for a full year; McCoy will need to prove some things himself — the first being that he can stay healthy. Although productive when healthy, McCoy has missed significant time in 4 of his 7 seasons in the league.

 

New York Jets

Tough schedule early on will have Jets trying to play catch-up in the win column all year.

You try not to make game-by-game predictions because it’s all based on last season and what’s most recent in your gettyimages-502027040memory. But there’s no mistaking it — the Jets have a difficult opening 6 games, where they are on the road 4 times against the Bills, Chiefs, Steelers, and Cardinals. Their two home games in the stretch aren’t much easier: Cincinnati and Seattle.┬áThe schedule eases a bit after that, but a 2-4 or 1-5 start may be too big of a hole to dig out from.

With Brady missing the first 4 games in New England, it’s critical for any team in the division — including the Jets — who expects to contend to get out to a fast start and attempt to put some early distance between themselves and the perennial division champs. And watching Buffalo improve on the defensive side of the ball and Miami doing the same, the Jets aren’t going to find any easy divisional games this year.

 

Miami Dolphins

Jay Ajayi will resemble a young Matt Forte in Adam Gase’s offense.

The Dolphin defense is designed to get after opposing quarterbacks. Don’t expect that to change — Cameron Wake ajayiis back healthy, Ndamakong Suh is still able to play at a high level, and the addition of Mario Williams could inject even more “umf” into the line. But head coach Adam Gase was brought on the help make the offensive pieces realize their potential, beginning with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Gase’s offense should allow Tannehill to see growth and improvement this season — Gase has a very good track record. What it should also do is showcase the talents of running back Jay Ajayi. Look for Ajayi to be a significant weapon out of the backfield, as a runner and as a pass catcher. His play alone could be the deciding factor when it comes down to if this Dolphins team is playoff-bound in January.

 

 

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