By Jeff Risdon
This is the busiest bye week of the season, strangely coming after the World Series is over and on the opening weekend of NBA festivities. For as much as the NFL micromanages its public persona and tries to maximize revenue, they sure do a terrible job manipulating the schedule.
Cold weather begins to be more of a factor this week. Pay attention to field conditions for teams that like to run the ball outside the tackles, as that is the primary negative impact of colder and slicker conditions.
Last Week: 9-6, which isn’t bad considering the demoralizing upset picks of Chicago and Jacksonville went horribly wrong. The season forecast is now 78-41-1.
Gambling Update: Wagered a total of $2000 and two of the three bets were losers. My only hit was Carolina getting 4.5 at home to Seattle. The net loss of $1500 reduces the kitty to $12K after starting at $10K.
- New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (+2.5): As with real estate, the key here is location. The Saints are a multimillion dollar beachfront mansion at home, but when they’re on the road the mansion sits in a dingy mud flat next to a contaminated river. They haven’t won on the road this year, yet are undefeated at home. Normally that would make me easily default to picking the host Panthers, but they’re not an easy team to trust.
The Carolina offense has scored 26 points in the last two weeks. The Panthers defense has allowed 24 or more points in five of the last six, ranking in the bottom 10 in just about every defensive stat metric over the last month. The Saints offense appears to have found its stride over the last two weeks, and I see that trend continuing. Mark Ingram’s impressive running last week against Green Bay should give the Panthers fits. I agree with the book makers here, the visiting Saints should win by about a field goal. Those road property values are going to trend up for New Orleans.
Saints 30, Panthers 27
- Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (+3.5): The Patriots are home underdogs for just the second time since 2005. Both those games have pertinence here.
Last year the Broncos were 2-point favorites in New England. The Patriots won 34-31. The undefeated Bengals in Week 5 is the other instance, and the Patriots won that game 43-17. In fact, since Tom Brady took over as New England’s QB the Patriots are an astonishing 9-1 when a home underdog. Denver might be the better team, but the Patriots do not take the disrespect lightly. Denver has lost three of the four meetings since Peyton Manning became a Bronco, though he didn’t play in one. Moreover, the Patriots have a recent history of lighting up the Broncos. They’ve scored at least 31 in five of the last seven meetings, topping 40 in three of those. The last four times Denver has travelled to Foxboro they’ve allowed 45, 41, 31, and 34 points and this Patriots offense is significantly better than three of those teams putting up the big numbers. Gimmie $500 on New England with points at home.
Patriots 36, Broncos 34
- Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys (-4.5): Monday night’s loss to Washington brought the Cowboy haters out of the woodwork. It’s like they’ve been storing up all this anger and resentment towards Dallas’ strong start for far too long. Everyone who doubted the validity of their 6-1 start immediately felt justified in their skepticism.
This week figures to continue those salad days for the haters, though this time it’s more about the opponent than the Cowboys themselves. Washington exposed flaws in the offense that the Cardinals are nicely equipped to replicate. Arizona is opportunistic and relentlessly aggressive, a bad combo for a Dallas offense playing on a short week with a clearly wounded Tony Romo. I also really like the Cardinals speed on offense and depth of receiving talent to expose a Dallas defense that has been overachieving for a little too long.
Cardinals 33, Cowboys 24
- Philadelphia Eagles at Houston Texans (+2.5): Total hunch pick here. I sat down to evaluate this one and I was overcome with the strong notion that the Texans somehow win. I’m not sure how, but I’m riding with the gut.
Texans 22, Eagles 20
- San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins (-1.5): Big test for the Chargers, coming off their worst game of the season in losing at Denver. It’s an early game on the East coast, never an easy task for the West coast teams. Yet they get an unexpected boon in the end of Daylight Savings Time, which means the early start is physiologically one hour later. Coupled with the extra rest--their Week 8 game was a Thursday nighter--and I think San Diego will overcome the negatives here. They’re the better football team, and as long as they protect Philip Rivers the Chargers handle their business.
Chargers 24, Dolphins 16
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns (-6.5): The Browns draw a team in the bottom four of pretty much every power ranking for the third week in a row. No team is playing worse than the woeful Buccaneers, who tried to trade away anyone for pennies on the dollar this week. They dumped 2012 first-rounder Mark Barron, a major liability in coverage at safety but the only player in the secondary who could reliably tackle. Guess what Cleveland likes to do? Run the ball right at the defense with powerful depth at RB. The Browns run for over 200 yards in this one and the Dawg Pound woofs approvingly.
Browns 27, Buccaneers 17
- Washington at Minnesota Vikings (-2.5): This game will apparently mark the return of RG3 to the helm in Washington, just a few quick days after Colt McCoy impressively guided them to a huge win in Dallas.
I’m not sure I like the timing here. Washington has a bye after this week, and McCoy seemed to have a great command of Jay Gruden’s offense. Moreover, it’s a short week and a road game. The pressure on RG3 will be intense, and the last time he rushed back from an injury the results were not positive. The Vikings don’t do many things well, but one area they excel is getting to the opposing quarterback; only the Chiefs have a higher sack percentage. Griffin figures to have limited mobility and acceleration to escape the likes of Everson Griffen (8 sacks), Tom Johnson (5) and Anthony Barr (3). This figures to be a low-scoring affair decided by a turnover or special teams play, and the home team has the advantage in both areas.
Vikings 19, Ethnic Slurs 16
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals (-11.5): The Bengals look like they righted the listing ship in the win over Baltimore, and the jungle is no safe place for Jaguars rookie QB Blake Bortles. Okay, technically the jaguar is a jungle animal. Which reminds me of the underrated movie Apocalypto, the last hour of which is one of the most intense chase scenes ever filmed. Alas, I don’t see Bortles pulling off the sort of savvy cunning Jaguar Paw does to survive in the movie. Do yourself a favor and see that film, but be warned it’s grisly. So is Jacksonville’s chance to win here.
Bengals 30, Jaguars 17
- New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5): I’ll let the picture of my Survivor Fantasy picks say all my words here…
Chiefs 30, Jets 9
St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers (-9.5): The Niners are coming off a bye, while the Rams are coming off a blowout loss at Kansas City. The last two times the Rams have hit the road, they’ve given up 34 points. With an astonishing 21% of their salary cap investment now on IR after Jake Long’s second blown out knee in less than a year, there’s little reason to see anything different for the hopeless Rams against a fresh, motivated Niners team looking to edge back into the NFC playoffs and make up some ground on Arizona. I’ll put $1000 on the Niners to cover.
49ers 34, Rams 12
Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks (-14.5): I’ll channel the great Gil Brandt here. Listeners to Sirius NFL Radio will know exactly what I’m saying…
Let me just say this about Seattle. The Seahawks here, they’re a real good football team and I think they know they need to play better. Pete Carroll is a good football coach, see, and he’s not going to let them look past the Raiders. You know, Al Davis was a great owner and a competitor and I like that these young Raiders compete. But right now they’re too young and the long and the short of it is they’re not quite ready to win a game like this yet.
Seahawks 24, Raiders 10
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-1): These two fierce rivals seem to always play close games. Both contests last year were decided by a field goal. It’s odd that it comes down to such a close margin for two teams that throw the ball so much. These are not your older brother’s Steelers or Ravens; these two teams combine to average 73 passes per game (not counting sacks). In 2010 they combined to average just 58 per game. There’s all the evidence you need that the game is spiraling away from being run-oriented.
The Steelers offer a little more balanced production, and I’ll take Antonio Brown as the playmaking receiver over Steve Smith in a close game. Yet if it comes down to kickers, I’m not betting against Baltimore’s Justin Tucker. Sorry to my Steelers friends, of which I have a surprising amount being a native Clevelander who has lived in Michigan, Texas and Virginia, but I see Tucker kicking a walk-off field goal to give the Ravens the win.
Baltimore 34, Pittsburgh 33
Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants (+4.5): Several reasons why I really like the visiting Colts here:
- Andrew Luck in prime time >>> Eli Manning in prime time
- The Colts were embarrassed last week and are eager to prove the 51 points Pittsburgh hung on them was a fluke
- New York’s ground game will miss Rashad Jennings once again
- Luck found a talented new toy in Donte Moncrief, mitigating the questionable status of Reggie Wayne
- The Giants are 1-6 in their last seven games as a home underdog, including 0-3 last year
Colts 32, Giants 24
New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, IQ
By Christopher Reina
Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards.
Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage.
The chief aim of the Trench Counter is to take the subjective out of the equation and even the somewhat fluky nature of teams actually scoring points, which is of course the whole point on a game-by-game basis.
The Denver Broncos take the top slot for the first time this season, which matches up what most NFL observers are seeing with the eye test. The Broncos' defense has been extraordinarily better in 2014 and of course Peyton Manning's offense continues to have no issues scoring points in bunches.
The New Orleans Saints had a convincing victory over the Green Bay Packers and are now the top team in the NFC based on Trench Counter despite a mediocre record.
Week 8 Rankings
1. Denver Broncos: 5.9
2. Baltimore Ravens: 5.8
3. Miami Dolphins: 5.7
4. New Orleans Saints: 5.1
5. Dallas Cowboys: 3.7
6. Indianapolis Colts: 3.3
7. Arizona Cardinals: 3.2
8. San Francisco 49ers: 2.7
9. Seattle Seahawks: 2.6
10. San Diego Chargers: 2.4
11. Green Bay Packers: 2.3
12. Kansas City Chiefs: 2.2
13. Detroit Lions: 1.8
14. Cincinnati Bengals: 1.7
15. New England Patriots: 1.4
16. Cleveland Browns: 1.2
17. Houston Texans: 1.1
18. Chicago Bears: 1.1
19. Buffalo Bills: 0.8
20. Washington: 0.5
21. Philadelphia Eagles: 0.4
22. Minnesota Vikings: -1.1
23. Pittsburgh Steelers: -1.4
24. New York Giants: -2.1
25. Atlanta Falcons: -3.0
26. Carolina Panthers: -3.1
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: -4.7
28. Tennessee Titans: -5.3
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -7.9
30. New York Jets: -8.2
31. Oakland Raiders: -8.6
32. St. Louis Rams: -9.3
Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
$.01--The Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles staged quite a duel in the desert. The Cardinals prevailed 24-20 to improve to 6-1, handing the Eagles their second defeat in a penalty-plagued game brightened by a thrilling finish.
The contest featured over 900 yards of offense, none more impressive that rookie John Brown’s 75-yard basket catch behind two Eagles defenders to put the Cardinals ahead late. The play was the result of Arizona’s relentless aggression. Instead of trying to dink and dunk down the field for a tying field goal attempt, Carson Palmer aired it out on Arizona’s first play. The Eagles blew the coverage, apparently not expecting the quick challenge down the field.
The Cardinals defense also kept attacking once Philly had the ball. It didn’t look promising for them when Nick Foles moved the Eagles within striking distance, but Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles never took his foot off the gas. Blitzing in a situation where most teams fall back into passive “prevent” coverage is something many football aficionados clamor for, and Bowles proved them correct.
On the final play, Bowles brought the house. Foles actually got off a decent throw under duress, but rookie Jordan Matthews couldn’t stick either foot inbounds one play after a player half a foot shorter than him outleapt him to swat a pass away.
The aggressiveness can cost the Cardinals at times, but it’s a great way to inspire the fans. It’s also a great way to inspire the players, who are clearly excited about going for the throat instead of trying to simply hang on. Other teams don’t see it very often, and it causes problems…just as it did for Philadelphia on Sunday.
$.02--At the other end of the spectrum, the New York Jets lost their seventh in a row. Buffalo massacred the hapless Jets 43-23, thanks to four touchdown passes--in just 10 completions--by Kyle Orton and New York’s quarterbacks taking that position to new depths.
Geno Smith threw three interceptions in the first quarter, all within six Jets offensive plays of one another. Rex Ryan yanked him in favor of Mike Vick, and the move initially validated the raucous MetLife cheers. The Jets stormed back into the game with 17 second-quarter points, and that includes a drive Vick fumbled away.
The shot in the arm soon aimed lower down the body. Vick’s final line wasn’t much better than Smith’s:
After the game, Ryan seemed resigned to his fate. He couldn’t offer any thoughts on who will start at QB next week, Scylla or Charybdis. His team sorely lacks impact talent, nowhere more glaringly than at the most important position. GM John Idzik sat on piles of cap room instead of giving Ryan more tools, though it’s hard to know if Ryan could do much better with more talent. He’s a good coach, at times a great coach, but his shelf life in New York has expired. Both sides will be better for his departure after the season, but I believe Rex has done enough in the past to merit surviving the season.
$.03--Every team in the AFC North has a winning record. Every team in the NFC South has a losing record. While you ponder that inequity, consider how they’ve arrived at this feat…
The Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens in a back-and-forth affair. Andy Dalton came up clutch for the Bengals, who desperately needed a win. Now they’ve swept the Ravens, thanks to a controversial offensive pass interference call on Steve Smith on what would have been a game-winning touchdown bomb. Smith clearly pushed off, but safety George Iloka did his best Vlade Divac impression in selling the contact to the watching eyes of the officials.
Pittsburgh bombed the high-flying Colts 51-34, with Ben Roethlisberger becoming the first QB in NFL history to have two 500-yard passing games. Big Ben threw for 522 yards and 6 TDs, while the Steelers defense picked off Andrew Luck twice in the statement victory. They’re not normally regarded as one of the league’s most explosive offenses, but the Steelers rank in the top 10 in yards per play, first downs per game and plays per game. Their defense isn’t good, but it’s good enough when the offense is humming.
Cleveland struggled for most of its game against Oakland, but some clutch throws by Brian Hoyer (love the pitch-and-catch with Gabriel) and an opportunistic defense allowed the Browns to pull away late. Confidence in Cleveland was shaky after losing to the previously winless Jaguars last week, but the Browns righted the ship and stayed firmly in the AFC playoff mix.
Carolina lost an offensively challenged 13-9 decision at home to Seattle. The final play, a 4th-and-25 situation near its own goal line, saw Carolina attempt a screen pass. Cam Newton bounced it behind the running back, and the ugly game was over. The Panthers defense was impressive in bottling up the Seahawks, but Newton threw for just 152 yards as the heretofore weak Seahawks pass rush harangued him all afternoon.
New Orleans matched Carolina at three wins by blowing away the Packers 44-23 in the Sunday night game. It didn’t hurt the Saints that Aaron Rodgers hurt his hamstring and was clearly hindered the rest of the night, allowing a 16-16 game to evolve into a beatdown. Mark Ingram ran like a man possessed, thrashing a cheesy Packers defensive front for 172 yards, including 8 runs of at least 10 yards. The Saints offense appeared to finally find its stride, and at 3-5 they’re the team with momentum.
I’ll cover the Falcons in a moment, but suffice to say Atlanta is in real trouble. Yet they’re still better than Tampa Bay, which barely topped 200 offensive yards in an overtime game. Their win over the Steelers, the only victory the Bucs have and perhaps the only one they get all year, stands as firm evidence of “Any Given Sunday”.
$.04--Those of us in the East woke up to actual football on Sunday. Atlanta and Detroit kicked off in London at 9:30 AM ET. And befitting the Dickensian location, it was a Tale of Two Halves.
Atlanta dominated the first half, routing the punchless Lions 21-0. Matt Ryan was sharp, picking apart the top-ranked Lions defense with a flurry of precise short passes and smart play calls. Atlanta’s offensive and defensive lines controlled the line of scrimmage, a shocking development. The Lions were playing without Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, all three tight ends and their starting right tackle, and it sure looked like they were content to absorb a loss and limp into the bye week at 5-3.
Whatever Jim Caldwell told his team at halftime, it must’ve rivaled William Wallace in Braveheart. Matthew Stafford, awful in the first half, dramatically improved his play. The Lions had five possessions in the second half and scored on all of them, alternating field goals and touchdowns. The defense smothered Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense, holding them to just 75 yards on four drives, none of which produced points. Detroit’s furious rally capped off when Matt Prater made a 47-yarder as time expired, bending it like Beckham inside the left upright.
The Falcons played a major role in their own demise. Ryan threw one of the worst interceptions ever, hitting a wide open Cassius Vaughn with no Falcon within 10 yards in any direction of the Lions backup nickelback. Coach Mike Smith woefully mismanaged the clock, opting to throw when the Lions had no chance to stop the clock and then calling timeouts to help Detroit catch its breath on the final drive. Two dumb penalties, including a blatant defensive holding call, helped the Lions immeasurably.
Smith might not deserve to have his job when the Falcons land back in the states. On the flip side, Caldwell’s calm perseverance has helped the Lions overcome two double-digit 4th quarter deficits in a row. Stafford is doing his best Andrew Luck 2013 impression with his flair for digging a deep hole for his team, only to triumphantly lead the team back to the shocking comeback victory. It’s a remarkable turn of events for a Lions team with a long history of finding ways to lose games like these.
$.05--Thursday night brought an AFC West showdown between the Broncos and Chargers, both of which entered with legit claim to best team in the conference. Denver emphatically snared that designation with an impressive 35-21 home throttling.
Peyton Manning leapt ahead of Philip Rivers in the battle for MVP in the process. Manning was magnificent, completing 25-of-35 for 286 yards and three TDs. Rivers was no slouch, going 30-of-41 for 252 yards and three TDs of his own. But he made two mistakes, one of which came on San Diego’s first possession of the second half when the score was 14-7 Denver. The Broncos capitalized on Chris Harris’ interception when Manning found Emmanuel Sanders for his third touchdown catch of the night.
This is the beauty of Denver’s attack. San Diego did a great job focusing coverage on the Thomases, Julius and Demaryius. Manning simply shifted his focus to Sanders, and the Chargers--with injury issues in the secondary--had no answer. Sanders had just 6 catches for 79 yards in the prior two games. Yet when Manning looked his way, he delivered. Ditto running back Ronnie Hillman, now with 283 yards on 58 carries in the last three weeks after taking over for the injured Montee Ball. The depth of their skill position talent is overwhelming.
Yet the biggest reason why I place the Broncos atop my mid-year power poll (see the next cent!) is their improving defense. Von Miller is a terror, and with Demarcus Ware on the other side there is balance. Malik Jackson deserves more attention for his improved play up front, while Brandon Marshall (not that one) has emerged as a good cover linebacker. The AFC is clustered, but there’s one clear team above all others and that’s Denver.
$.06--Since every team has now played 8 games, save Dallas and Washington on Monday night, I finally feel comfortable enough to do a legit power poll. Here are my rankings:
1. Denver Broncos
2. Arizona Cardinals
3. Dallas Cowboys (assuming they win Monday)
4. New England Patriots
5. Philadelphia Eagles
6. Green Bay Packers
7. San Diego Chargers
8. Detroit Lions
9. Indianapolis Colts
10. San Francisco 49ers
11. Baltimore Ravens
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
13. Seattle Seahawks
14. Cincinnati Bengals
15. Kansas City Chiefs
16. Buffalo Bills
17. New York Giants
18. Miami Dolphins
19. Carolina Panthers
20. Houston Texans
21. Cleveland Browns
22. New Orleans Saints
23. Minnesota Vikings
24. Washington Ethnic Slurs
25. Chicago Bears
26. Atlanta Falcons
27. St. Louis Rams
28. Tennessee Titans
29. Oakland Raiders
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
32. New York Jets
I know, I know…how can I rate Indy above Pittsburgh, or Baltimore above Cincinnati after their Sunday outcomes. Easy. It’s a cumulative ranking in an Any Given Sunday league.
$.07--The NFL trade deadline comes this week, and we’ve already seen a couple of moves, notably Percy Harvin to the Jets. While there will be speculative articles written by every major publication trying to drum up rumors, there likely won’t be more than a minor move or two for a conditional, late-round pick.
It’s a shame, really. NFL teams should be much more active in making deals. Teams decimated by injuries but still harboring playoff run aspirations ought to try. Here are some teams with pressing needs and some players from likely non-playoff teams who should be available:
New England needs a running back. Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin should be available for a warm shower, but another NFC South team could offer something a little more intriguing. How about Steven Jackson in Atlanta, a team heading in the wrong direction and in desperate need of future depth?
Green Bay needs an inside linebacker. The Jets have David Harris, a quality player in the final year of his contract who at 30 shouldn’t be part of New York’s future. The Jets make an interesting trade partner because they can absorb a bad contract or two in return…perhaps Brad Jones, a decidedly inferior player to Harris? Green Bay could sweeten the pot by offering a 3rd rounder to rid themselves of Jones instead of the normal 5th-6th Harris would cost them.
Carolina could use a wideout. Don’t snicker, they’re a first-place team at 3-4-1. Anyhow, Tennessee’s Nate Washington is withering away in Nashville in the final year of his contract. He’d make a quality mentor for Kelvin Benjamin, but more importantly is a player who can reliably get open quickly for Cam Newton.
The Dallas Cowboys could use some reinforcements along the defensive line. The Rams can offer either William Hayes or Kendall Langford, either of which would make a great third tackle for the Cowboys. St. Louis has so much invested at that position it makes sense for them to sell one off for a 4th-5th round pick. Dallas would have to do something to absorb a new contract, however.
None of these will happen, unfortunately. That’s too bad because some teams could really help themselves by making a move or two.
--Oakland attempted a fake field goal, which morphed into backup QB Matt Schaub lined up in the shotgun. He fumbled the snap and proceeded to throw a panicked strike directly to Tashaun Gipson…who plays for Cleveland. It didn’t quite end in a pick-six, but no matter. Schaub should never see the NFL field again.
--Tennessee started 6th-round rookie Zack Mettenberger at quarterback against Houston. He led the Titans to one drive lasting more than 6 plays in a 30-16 loss that looks closer than it was thanks to a garbage-time TD pass. He was 10-for-17 or 78 yards and an INT when the game was still competitive.
--As ineffective as Mettenberger was, check out what the Rams did…
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Between opening TD drive, and garbage time yards on final two possessions, Rams had exactly 65 yards over three-quarter span.</p>— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) <a href="https://twitter.com/jthom1/status/526482482229956610">October 26, 2014</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
--Wembley Stadium in London was packed to the gills and enthusiastic, but the playing surface was horrible. Large clumps of long turf repeatedly flew up as if Phil Mickelson was hitting flop shots instead of NFL players cutting and planting.
--Minnesota took some heat for drafting Anthony Barr with the 9th overall pick last May. Their gumption paid off Sunday, as Barr stripped Austin Seferian-Jenkins and ran back the fumble for the overtime game-winner. The UCLA product has been impressive all year, even more so considering this is just his third year playing defense.
--spent Friday night watching South Alabama vs. Troy, with the spotlight on Jaguars (that’s USA) QB Brandon Bridge. The 6’5” Canuck by way of Appalachian State is getting major buzz and Colin Kaepernick comparisons. His first TD throw easily calls Kaep to mind, extending a play with his long legs but keeping his eyes down the field and firing a cannon shot behind the defense.
Unfortunately he is wild with the ball. There is very little touch, and his ball placement is often reminiscent of none other than Tim Tebow. Even his completions, and his percentage while playing in the lowly Sun Belt hovers around 52%, often require great effort and concentration from his receivers. Bridge got hurt late in the first half, but did return. I need to see more of him than this and the one other game I’ve watched, but at this point he’s not anywhere close to NFL ready and should be drafted as such.
--when USA/Troy was on, I was also watching Gunner Kiel and the Cincinnati Bearcats. Kiel is much more pedigreed and a more accomplished passer even though he’s just a redshirt sophomore. He showed his downfield accuracy and polished mechanics, and also flashed some agility. Unfortunately he too left his game early, suffering a rib injury before halftime. If he declares--and there are some hints he will--Kiel could very well be in the top 25. NFL coaches will love his arm, style and total-package talent.
--thought it was weird when I heard Kansas State scheduled Texas for its homecoming game. The Wildcats shut out the Longhorns thanks to another strong effort from stud CB Danzel McDaniel, yeoman DE Ryan Mueller, and just enough offense from Jake Waters and the offense. They’re not pretty but they’re also not a team anyone wants to play.
--one week after West Virginia WR Kevin White staked his claim to the top wideout spot, Alabama’s Amari Cooper answered. Cooper had 6 catches for 194 yards and two TDs…with about 7 minutes to go in the first half. He flashed his open-field ability on his 80-yard TD catch and run, something I believe he has improved from last year.
--TCU hung 82 on Texas Tech. 82. Nothing more needs to be said.
$.10--Since the NBA tips off this week, I’ll provide my brief thoughts on what I think happens in my second-favorite league. Frequent readers will note I’m a Cavaliers lifer with a son who loves his Houston Rockets, and we are salivating at the possibility of a Cleveland-Houston finals…
That’s not going to happen. I think the Cavaliers will make it, under two conditions:
1. Kyrie Irving can handle being Lebron’s accomplice and not the featured player
2. Anderson Varejao stays healthy
There’s an awful lot of guys in Cleveland who need the ball. Nobody handles that better than Lebron, and I’m optimistic that Irving & Love’s USA National Team experience helps out.
The team that worries me the most is Chicago, which nicely addressed their horrendous outside shooting. Derrick Rose is the key; if he’s close to his old self, they can beat Cleveland in a 7-game series. Can. Doesn’t mean I think they will, however.
Toronto is the only other team in the East that wins more than one playoff game against either of those top two if the Cavs and Bulls are healthy. As is their annual lot in life, the Atlanta Hawks will win 43 games and capture the 7 seed before falling in five in the first round.
Detroit will chase after Miami and Brooklyn for the 8th seed but winds up 9th, just ahead of the Knicks. The Bucks will lose at least 58 and still be 8 games better than the 76ers, who will threaten the worst record in NBA history. I can’t name more than two Sixers and I’m a pretty big NBA fan.
The West is more competitive. San Antonio’s age makes them vulnerable, but no team plays better together than Duncan, Parker & Co. Oklahoma City will remain a top contender, but I’m quite concerned at how they integrate Kevin Durant back into the lineup once he’s recovered. Russell Westbrook will have full control of the team in his absence and I’m not sold he will relinquish that happily.
Golden State and the Clippers will be fun to watch. I think the Warriors defense will help them pull off a first-round upset, perhaps the Thunder if it’s the 3-6 matchup. Portland always has a chance with Lillard and Aldridge, though their depth isn’t strong enough.
My son’s Rockets will fall back. They’re going to miss Chandler Parsons more than expected, and until James Harden at least tries to play defense or run an offensive play that doesn’t end with him going to the free throw line the offense will have major stagnant patches.
Houston and Dallas will be the 7th & 8th seeds and quickly dismissed. I can see Goran Dragic--the best player you’ve never heard of--sneaking the Suns into the playoffs if anyone in Phoenix can rebound or protect the rim. The Lakers…nope, not gonna happen.
My prediction: Lebron leads our hometown Cavaliers to the first major sports title in Cleveland in 50 years, taking MVP honors as the Cavs beat the Spurs 4-2. And that sound you hear will be me bellowing in pure joy as I sprint around my neighborhood with tears of joy pouring down my face.
Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, IQ
We project Leonard Williams, Marcus Mariota, Shawn Oakman, Brandon Scherff, Landon Collins, Connor Cook and Dante Fowler as the top-7 picks.
The NFL kicks off Week 8 with its best game of the weekend on Thursday in Broncos/Chargers, while the Saints look to salvage their season against the Packers, and the rest of the week's games.
The Dolphins recorded an impressive win at Chicago and now rank No. 2 in the Trench Counter, behind the Ravens and ahead of the Packers, Chargers, Broncos, Cowboys, Colts and Cardinals.
The Cowboys avoid a let down, Seattle loses again, Jaguars get their first win, Denver dominates San Francisco, an interesting day for the NFC North and the Percy Harvin trade.
The Broncos host the 49ers in the matchup of the week, while other intriguing games include Lions/Saints, Bengals/Colts, Bears/Dolphins, Chargers/Chiefs and Cowboys/Giants.
The Chargers and 49ers moved into the top-3 behind the Ravens, while the Cowboys' big win moved them into the top-10 and dropped Seattle from No. 1 to No. 9.