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.

 

 

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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.

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“Slightly Too Early” NFL 2016 Bold Predictions: AFC West

With NFL Training Camps opening, it seems appropriate that our sport-oriented minds start making room for football. And albeit a plethora of things could change between July and the start of the regular season in September, it’s still fun to project what may happen this year for teams and players. Over the next few weeks, I will take each division at a time and point to one prediction I have for each team. Let’s start out west where the defending champions reside: the AFC West.

 

Denver Broncos

No Denver QB, RB, or WR will rank in top 10 at their respective position in the major statistical 635636018155898264-AP-Broncos-Rams-Football-MOJcategories.

There were many times last season that this team did not appear to be championship-caliber: unproven quarterback, question marks and injuries plaguing the backfield, rumors surrounding the hall-of-fame veteran QB, who was benched. But in the end and when it mattered most, the Bronco offense was efficient and the defense stellar.

This season features a different quarterback at the helm in journeyman Mark Sanchez or rookie first round pick Paxton Lynch. While the defense should remain formidable, the changes on offense could serve to hamper Denver’s chances at the playoffs, let alone repeating as conference and Super Bowl champions.

Regardless of who head coach Gary Kubiak settles on at QB, the ramifications will have an impact on the team’s ability to run the football and convert explosive pass plays. Expect a down year from Pro Bowl wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, and with a quarterback starting who has a lot to prove, defenses are likely to spend a lot of their time focusing in on the Denver running game.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

hi-res-186038894-running-back-jamaal-charles-of-the-kansas-city-chiefs_crop_exactJamaal Charles’s 2015 torn ACL has been and will be a blessing in disguise.

When All-Pro RB Jamaal Charles suffered his second torn ACL in 5 years last season, who would have thought the Chiefs would still make the playoffs and that they would be in  such a good position this season with their running backs? Charles’s injury opened the door for Spencer Ware and Charcanderick West to prove themselves as viable options out of the backfield. This year, expect fewer touches for Charles — saving his legs for what the Chiefs hope is a playoff run into January — and more carries for Ware and West.

With this solid RBBC and a very staunch defense, the Chiefs’ Super Bowl hopes may rest squarely on the shoulders of Alex Smith and his receiving corps.

 

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders will win the AFC West.

All four teams in this division have the feel of 7 to 9 wins. No team currently stands without big question marks NFL: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefssomewhere on their roster. So with that said, the Raiders look like the team that might have the highest ceiling. A young QB entering his 3rd season as a starter, who has put up some of the best numbers in his first 2 years in the league of any quarterback ever; a solid run game; young, explosive wide receivers; and a defense built around speed and rushing the QB.

If Derek Carr continues to progress as he has in his early career, the Oakland offense should be highly potent. And head coach Jack Del Rio has put together a defense that is physical, ball-hawking, and hell-bent on getting to the quarterback, led by third year DE Khalil Mack. It might be time to welcome the Raiders back to the playoffs this January.

 

San Diego Chargers

Chargers will double their win total from 2015.

Evidence, collected by people way smarter than me, shows the San Diego Chargers were not quite as bad as their 4-12 record indicated last season. Mike McCoy’s team blew 4 halftime leads and posted a 3-8 record in games decided iby one score. The law of averages usually straightens things out — either the Chargers’ 2015 season was an anomaly and they suffered a great deal of bad luck or they are just trending in a downward direction. With Phillip Rivers manning the ship and playmakers Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen healthy, San Diego looks more like a team who is looking to rebound in 2016.

The Chargers made upgrades to a defense that struggled immensely last year. Not to mention, they are lucky to play in a division where no team appears to be head and shoulders above the rest.

 

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

 

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