By Ron Marmalefsky
Below are five statements/questions relevant to the 2014 NFL playoff picture. Each item carries its own level of intrigue.
1. San Diego’s incredible road journey
Let’s make the assumption that Denver wins the AFC West. This puts San Diego in a dogfight for one of the two Wildcard spots. Last year the Chargers swept Kansas City and made the playoffs based on tiebreakers. To make the playoffs this year, San Diego must come out nearly spotless in three crucial road games. Let me explain. This Sunday they play at Miami. The winner of this game gets a leg up on many tiebreaker scenarios. On 11/30 San Diego travels to Baltimore. Remember what happened two years ago? Baltimore does not make the playoffs or go on to win the Super Bowl without converting 4th and 26 at San Diego! Will the Chargers be able to return the favor? Finally, San Diego visits the Chiefs on closing day. They can’t afford to lose this game (and be 0-2 vs. KC) as that would hurt their Divisional record along with their overall record. Bottom line: All eyes will be on San Diego as they control not only their own, but many other team destinies as it relates to the AFC Wildcard race.
2. Manning vs. Brady: Here we go again!
As long as Denver (previously Indianapolis) and New England keep winning their Divisions the general public will continue to be treated to games featuring two of the greatest QB’s to ever play the game. Playoff slotting will be on the line. A Denver win probably seals up the #1 seed since they have previously defeated the Colts, the only other legit contender for a playoff bye. New England has a bye week after this one before hosting the Colts. A loss to Denver this Sunday gives that game vs. Indy greater meaning, as New England is a much tougher team to face when given extra time to prepare, and that #2 playoff seed carries the bye week as a reward. Bottom Line: This is a huge game for New England. Their schedule is far tougher as compared to Indy’s, so a loss this Sunday to Denver might mean a fight to the finish for the #2 playoff seed.
3. Could Dallas miss the playoffs?
If they lose this Sunday to Arizona, YES! It amused me that several well-known newspapers and television stations along with plenty of “analysts” not only had Dallas as a top three NFL team, but #1 in many cases. My mechanically driven Power Rankings had Dallas tied for 12th! Sure, that represented a vast improvement from preseason projections but this team still has flaws. RB Murray masked many of their flaws by carrying the ball in excess of 200 times. Still, on second and short in overtime the Cowboys reverted back to old form, passing unsuccessfully on three consecutive downs. I’ve said all along that games 11-16 on their schedule are not easy. They play four NFC East opponents in that stretch, three on the road! They also play at Chicago and host a solid Indy team. Bottom Line: With a poor sack ratio and a nearly 67% pass defense Dallas needs to play smart. A loss this Sunday might be crippling.
4. Could Seattle miss the playoffs?
The answer here is a resounding maybe! From what I’ve seen the defensive regression has hurt the most. Seattle had 44 defensive sacks in ’13 but to date has just 10. As a result more passes are being completed vs. the Seahawk defense, leading to an unheard of 67% completion figure. Seattle is 2-2 on the road, amazingly winning a close, low scoring game at Carolina for the third consecutive year. Seattle will control its own destiny, as they have yet to play either San Francisco or Arizona! The other tough game is at KC. Until Arizona wakes up from what must be a marvelous dream, Seattle will need to do more that split their Divisional games in order to secure a playoff spot. Bottom Line: Don’t rule the Seahawks out just yet, but they need to put more pressure on opposing QB’s or else Russell Wilson will have to bail them out a couple of more times down the stretch.
5. Could Houston sneak into the playoffs?
Probably not, but the future looks bright. Houston entered this season with the NFL’s weakest schedule of opponents and not much has changed in that regard. Games remaining include home games vs. Tennessee and Jacksonville and road games at Cleveland and Jacksonville. They host Philly this week and are just a slight underdog. They get to host both Baltimore and Cincy. If teams such as Miami, KC and San Diego keep alternating wins and losses it is quite possible that wins vs. Baltimore and Cincy would give the Texans a huge tiebreaker advantage. Remember, they also beat Buffalo earlier this year. Bottom Line: This is an incomplete team in many ways, with a QB (Fitzpatrick) who is very turnover prone but the schedule does help. Any team featuring RB Foster and the amazing JJ Watt has a chance!
Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers
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
On the Cardinals beating Philadelphia, another loss for the Jets, all AFC North teams with a winning record, all NFC South teams with a losing record, a power ranking and more.
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.