In this week’s episode, Chris breaks down the key free agents for every NFC team and discusses how these crucial decisions will impact the draft strategy for each franchise. Dallas dominates the NFC East conversation with its trio of high-impact free agents, but New York, Washington and Philadelphia have a couple of notable players no longer under contract. Pretty much every team other than the Falcons has questions at quarterback in the NFC South. The Saints, Panthers and Buccaneers all could have new starters in 2020. Most of the NFC West teams have a few important players that could hit the open market. Chicago has very few notable free agents, but will likely be aggressive anyway. Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit have several players they will be focused on bringing back. Catch up on all the major pending free agents ahead of the scouting combine! Listen to the latest episode now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. https://anchor.fm/theaftermath
Well NFL trade season is off and running with Marcus Peters headed to Baltimore from Los Angeles and Jalen Ramsey taking his place in Los Angeles coming from Jacksonville. Those weren’t even the only trades the Rams were involved in on Tuesday, as they acquired Austin Corbett from the Browns. With all the wheeling and dealing already underway, I’ve got to jump in on the action. As I noted in Week 7’s NFL Power Rankings, there is no question this week of NFL action will be the deciding factor for a lot of teams on the fringe. Let’s start talking about some moves that should happen in the next week before the October 29th trade deadline.
Carolina Panthers trade QB Cam Newton Tennessee Titans trade 2020 2nd round pick, 2021 2nd round pick, CB Adoree’ Jackson
Let’s start with a bang. Cam Newton is a former MVP in this league and has played in a Super Bowl. Still, it might be time for the Panthers to think about moving on from the 30-year-old signal caller. For one, Newton has not been able to stay on the field the past two seasons. Even when he has been available, he has struggled mightily. Carolina has some capable options in Kyle Allen and 2019 third-round selection Will Grier. So far this year, the Panthers are undefeated with Allen under center (4-0) and winless (0-2) with Newton. I will admit that Allen has a very small sample size, but he has shown flashes of real potential. Some fans might be miffed at not getting a first rounder for Newton, but his injury history could make that tricky. Getting more draft capital is nice, but so is adding Adoree’ Jackson. The third-year corner has been losing favor in Tennessee, playing just 52 percent of his team’s defensive snaps on Sunday. At 24, Jackson still has plenty of time to develop. Carolina could use some depth at corner back to help them right away, so this is not just simply a long-term move.
On the Tennessee side of this, I know this team seems content to just win with a grinding defense and a couple of playmakers, but this team needs a better short-term solution at quarterback than Ryan Tannehill. Marcus Mariota is done and while Tannehill is fine as a replacement starter, he is not good enough to lead this team to the playoffs. He takes care of the football for the most part, but the Titans need more playmaking ability from the quarterback position. Getting Newton would be a huge development for the offense. He is a more dynamic player, with the ability to change the game as a passer or a runner. Honestly, he is exactly what the Titans thought they were getting when they drafted Mariota. Assuming Newton can get healthy, he should be well-positioned to lead an offense that boasts a good group of running backs and a bunch of young pass catchers. If Newton does go down for a game, Tannehill can step in as well. Tennessee has the cap space to absorb Newton’s contract and could move on from him as early as this offseason if it doesn’t work out. It would not prohibit the Titans from drafting a quarterback in the first round this year either, but given that they do not seem positioned to grab one of the top passers, getting Newton gives them some other options.
Don’t look now but the Buffalo Bills are 5-1 and seem headed for the postseason. It hasn’t been pretty most of the way and part of that is the offense’s inability to get into a rhythm. Buffalo’s defense is championship caliber, arguably the best in the NFL, but the offense has been pedestrian at best. To help remedy that, the Bills acquire the 31-year-old A.J. Green. With John Brown and Cole Beasley, Buffalo has a couple of good complements to a top-tier receiver. Green would immediately take over as the top option for Josh Allen to target. It would give this offense a legitimate big-play threat and also a reliable outlet when Allen is under pressure. Given how close the Bills were to knocking off the Patriots earlier this year, this move could be what pushes them into the realm of winning a division title. Green projects as a one-year rental for now with his contract expiring after the season, but that is a risk worth taking.
For Cincinnati, it is time to move on from your franchise receiver. This team is about to begin a major overhaul with Andy Dalton clearly on the way out and possibly the worst offensive line in the league. Flipping Green, who is likely going to leave in the offseason anyway, for a pair of picks seems like the best move to set up the Bengals for long-term success. His return to action this year is not going to make up for the awful start to the year this group has had. Green carries a lot of value right now for a contender, and at 0-7, Cincy is very far from being in that conversation.
Washington is being about as stubborn and ridiculous as I’ve seen an NFL franchise act. Rather than trading Trent Williams at the deadline, they are saying they want to trade him after the season is over. Just a reminder, Williams is holding out and Washington has way more leverage trading to a team in need of immediate help midseason than during the offseason. I’m focusing on what should happen, not what will happen. Bruce Allen should absolutely cash in on his disgruntled left tackle before the deadline. At 31, there is not going to be a much larger trade market for him in the offseason. Getting a second round pick and a late pick next year is a decent haul for a player who has no interest in being on your roster and carries a large cap hit. Saying you plan to trade him in the offseason feels like showing your hand as well. There is no chance Washington lands a Jalen Ramsey-type haul either. Regardless, Washington would be smart to capitalize on the pressing need a team will have at tackle.
One such team in this case would definitely be Cleveland. After re-signing Cam Robinson this offseason, it is clear the Browns need a bit more help protecting Baker Mayfield. After trading away former Pro Bowl guard Kevin Zietler for Olivier Vernon, nothing was ever done to replace him. The former former overall pick from Oklahoma has suffered 16 sacks in just six games this season. He has been hit way more than last year and has spent chunks of games running for his life. Robinson could bump inside as well in an effort to revitalize the offensive line. Williams would be a significant upgrade. Even though he projects as a shorter term solution rather than a long one, he probably still has a few good years left in him. After all, Jason Peters is still going at 37. Eventually, Cleveland will have to pay Baker Mayfield. In the meantime, load up on talent around him to give yourself a championship window with a quarterback on a rookie contract.
Emmanuel Sanders might be one of, if not Denver’s best offensive player, but at 32 years old with a team beginning to turn things over to a younger group, it is time to move on. Sanders is in a contract year, so this would be a one-year rental for the 49ers, but given that there are a few other teams that could use some help at receiver, specifically the Bears and Patriots, they will have to give up at least a fourth-round selection to ensure he arrives in the Bay Area. With Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton already on the roster as second-year pros, the Broncos won’t be stranding their offense completely for the future. Given that this is a loaded wide receiver class coming up as well, the front office could easily find some additional help in the 2020 draft. They also add Solomon Thomas. The 2017 third overall pick has not panned out in San Francisco and has yet to play 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in a given game. He would provide the Broncos with a situational rusher that also provides some defensive line depth. In his limited time on the field, Thomas does have a pair of sacks this year. He won’t make a huge difference, but he could prove to be a useful piece.
For the 49ers, this fills a clear need. Through their first six games, Jimmy Garoppolo has been throwing to the collection of Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis and 2019 second round pick Deebo Samuel on the outside. George Kittle is one of the top tight ends in the league, but adding a proven receiver like Sanders could help open up the offense a bit more. After all, Kittle is the only receiver to eclipse 200 yards so far this season. Given the investment in both Samuel and Jalen Hurd, who is on injured reserve, San Francisco should have no problem making a short-term addition before turning it over to the young draft picks. This defense looks ready for a championship run, now it is time for the 49ers to bring their offense closer to that level.
Denver Broncos trade CB Chris Harris Jr. Philadelphia Eagles trade 2020 3rd round pick
Wow this secondary needs loads of help. The backend of the defense was not supposed to be a strength, but it also wasn’t supposed to be this big of a weakness. Sidney Jones and Jalen Mills have both really struggled. Avonte Maddox is still out and while Ronald Darby is finally back from injury, this group needs a boost. Enter Chris Harris Jr., who would not only raise the level of play, but also bring some swagger to this secondary. Rumors have been swirling for a while now about the 30-year-old corner leaving Denver. Philly has more than enough space to absorb his cap hit and parting with a third-round pick seems like a no-brainer for a team that has its eyes set on returning to the postseason.
For Denver, the fire sale continues. Harris has been a good player for the Broncos, but he is nearing the end of his career and on an expiring contract. Netting a third round pick in the 2020 draft is nice compensation for a player they likely would’ve let walk in free agency. It essentially just means Denver receives it’s compensatory pick a year earlier. After an embarrassing showing on Thursday night, it’s time for John Elway to start looking to build for next year and amass draft capital to find some future contributors on this roster.
New York Jets trade DL Leonard Williams Baltimore Ravens trade 2020 3rd round pick, 2021 5th round pick
The Baltimore Ravens find themselves in an interesting place six weeks into the 2019 NFL season. After watching the Browns faceplant out of the gates, coupled with quarterback injuries in Pittsburgh, the Ravens comfortably hold the division lead. Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is a lot of season left, but this feels like a team that could try to take advantage of a struggling division and start planning for the postseason. One major area of need is at pass rusher. I don’t think the front office is in swing for the fences mode, but they could try to add a quality contributor in the final year of his contract. Leonard Williams fits that bill nicely. Williams is not a pure edge rusher, but he might fit well into Baltimore’s defense scheme. He has enough speed to play outside and enough power to kick inside as well. He is far from a prolific pass rusher, just 17 sacks in his previous four years, without one yet in 2019. I have a feeling though that a change of scenery could see Williams turn into a player who generate six to eight sacks per year and contributes to building a strong culture. That’s something this Ravens team could use, with just 12 sacks so far this season.
Over in New York, this is a team under new management with Joe Douglas taking over for Mike McCagnan late in the offseason. Williams was not a player he drafted and general managers have a tendency to want “their guys” on the roster. Additionally, this is the final year of Williams’ deal. The Jets would likely land a compensatory pick if he walked in free agency, which they can recoup here and add an additional late-round pick to make trading him worth it. New York is desperately in need of pass rushers, but given the signings and draft picks it has made along the defensive line in recent years and Williams’ general lack of production in this scheme, it seems safe to say its time to move on. This will give Douglas some immediately draft capital to start reshaping the roster.
Terrell Suggs is one of the most dominant pass rushers of the past 15 seasons. He had 132.5 sacks in 16 seasons for Baltimore. He is up to five already this season with the Cardinals. While Arizona seems like it is heading in the right direction, there is no question that Suggs is a luxury they don’t really need right now. He is 37 and on a one-year deal in the desert. With a number of contenders in need of some pass rushing help, Arizona should look to turn the still productive veteran into a late pick.
Kansas City needs all kinds of help right now defensively. It finally put together a great showing on Thursday night against Denver, but that feels more like an aberration than a sign of things to come. Adding a rotational pass rusher who has lots of big game experience could be transformative for the Chiefs. Suggs has played in and won the games that Kansas City wants to win this year as a part of the Ravens 2012 Super Bowl team. Even though he slowing down, Suggs posted seven sacks last year and seems on pace to at least match that this season. This seems like a logical one-year rental for the Chiefs.
There have been few careers as wonky as Vic Beasley’s in Atlanta. After an uninspiring rookie season, the former Clemson edge rusher led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016, earning himself a 1st-team All-Pro nod. Beasley hasn’t been able to get over the five sack mark in the two seasons since. With the Falcons spiraling, they have already voiced hopes of trading away their former first round pick. Moving on from Beasley, who is a free agent after the season, makes a ton of sense for the front office.
If there is a team that has shown they are willing to take fliers on players who have flashed talent, but struggled with consistency, it would be Seattle. The Seahawks also desperately need pass rushing help entering the weekend averaging just two sacks per game. Beasley has not been very productive this year, with just 1.5 sacks so far. At just 27 years old though, he is worth it, especially for a conditional late-round pick. There are a lot of similarities between the Atlanta defense and the Seattle one because that is where coach Dan Quinn came from when taking the top job for the Falcons. Few other teams are going to be willing to part with potential pass rushers, especially with Terrell Suggs playing for a division rival, so the Seahawks will make do with what they’ve got here.
Miami Dolphins trade WR Albert Wilson Chicago Bears trade 2020 6th round pick
Chicago needs a major boost on offense. This offense already has plenty of speed with Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen, but the Bears could desperately use another explosive playmaker. Mitch Trubisky threw the ball 54 times for just 251 yards on Sunday, which is a microcosm of this unit in 2019. Trubisky on the season is averaging a woeful 5.5 yards per attempt. With Chicago likely to get outbid for the top receivers on the market, Albert Wilson seems like a solid option to help this offense’s efficiency. He seems like the type of player Matt Nagy would be able to integrate into his system quickly to maximize his skill set. His is withering away on a Dolphins team determined to land a top-three pick. He will not solve all of Chicago’s issues on that side of the ball, but he would provide another veteran pass catcher at an affordable price. If he doesn’t work out, the Bears can cut the 27-year-old with just $1.3 million in dead money.
On the Miami end of things, moving on from a player who has been hurt a lot for another late pick always seems logical when you are 0-6. Wilson is not going to make a difference for this team in the long-term and is barely doing enough right now as it is. Part of that is because he is trapped in a floundering offense. The Dolphins might not acknowledge they are tanking, but it really doesn’t look much like they are trying to win. At this point, the more draft capital, the better for this front office.
Washington trades TE Vernon Davis Seattle Seahawks trade 2020 7th round pick
Russell Wilson could use a short term upgrade at tight end. With Will Dissley done for the season after the best start to a year in his short career, Seattle has a big need at the position. Luke Wilson is valuable, but he is not a reliable pass catcher. Nabbing Vernon Davis for a 7th round pick would be a great move to aid the offense. Davis might turn 36 in January, but he has shown flashes that he still has something left in the tank on a terrible Washington team. He would immediately offer the Seahawks another pass catcher capable of picking up some third downs and making plays in the red zone. It is the type of move you make to bolster a team capable of making a deep playoff run.
For Washington, this is just another player that has more value elsewhere. Davis still clearly has a role to play in the nation’s capital, but he is far from the only option the offense has at tight end with Jeremey Sprinkle and Jordan Reed, if the latter ever gets healthy. Picking up another draft pick for this year doesn’t hurt the rebuilding process that is undoubtedly needed. Put it this way, Vernon Davis probably won’t be in the NFL anymore by the time Washington is ready to compete for a division title again, so send him elsewhere and get something in return.
It has been a wild couple of years in sports in terms of ending title droughts. In 2016, Cleveland won its first championship in any sport in over half a century and the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year curse by winning the World Series. In 2017, the Houston Astros won their first ever World Series title. 2018 has already seen the Philadelphia Eagles win a long-awaited championship and the Washington Capitals finally bring home the Stanley Cup. Some of the most historic title droughts in all of sports have ended in recent years, begging the question of which cities remain the most tortured for a title. Here is my top ten.
Teams: Lions (NFL), Pistons (NBA), Red Wings (NHL), Tigers (MLB),
Last title: 2008
It has only been a decade since a Detroit team has won a title, but the history of sports success in the Motor City is not a great one. The Lions have famously (or infamously) never won a Super Bowl, or even appeared in one. They also hold the NFL record for most consecutive playoff losses. Baseball is a little more promising because the Tigers have won before, three times actually, but the last World Series victory came in 1984. The Pistons have had some great teams, but have also been one of the worst run NBA franchises in the last ten years. In the NHL, the Red Wings represent the true bright spot. Detroit has hoisted the Stanley Cup twice since the turn of the century. It hasn’t been that long for Detroit, but it might be a while before one of these four teams wins another title.
Teams: Colts (NFL), Pacers (NBA)
Last title: 2006
Only two teams reside in Indianapolis and the Colts have won a title. The Peyton Manning era is still one fans could look back on proudly, but for a long time the Colts were one of the most tortured franchises in the NFL. They have resumed that post since then. For a city as crazy about basketball as Indy, zero NBA titles is a real bummer as well. The Pacers have only reached the NBA finals once in franchise history losing to the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. Both the Colts and Pacers have been competitive in recent years as well, but always end up faltering in the playoffs, leaving a bitter taste in fans’ mouths.
Teams: Hurricanes (NHL), Hornets (NBA), Panthers (NFL)
Last title: 2006
It has also been 12 years since Charlotte has won a title, but they get the edge for having three teams as opposed to Indy’s two. The Hornets have been one of the worst franchises in NBA history. It has been 30 years since the Hornets were founded and the team has never so much as won a division title. Football has treated fans a little better, as the Panthers did reach the Super Bowl back in 2003. They came agonizingly close to beating that Brady guy, but Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winner as time expired to beat Carolina. The Hurricanes are the only team in Charlotte to win a title. After losing in the 2002 Stanley Cup final, Carolina broke through in 2006 to lift the cup. Still, just one title between three teams over the past 30 years is a poor return.
Teams: Predators (NHL), Titans (NFL)
Last title: N/A
If you also lump in the Memphis Grizzles, the Tennessee would likely move up a few spots on this list. Seeing as Memphis and Nashville are on opposite sides of the state though, it did not seem too fair. Both teams moved to town in 1997, but the Predators came close to bringing home a title in 2017. On the other hand, the Titans made the playoffs in 2017 for the first time in nearly ten years. What holds Nashville back is how new of a sports city it is. It has only had pro teams for 20 years, so the lack of a title is not totally shocking. Only one appearance in a finals setting is more than enough to qualify for this list though.
Teams: Bengals (NFL), Reds (MLB)
Last title: 1990
Oh, where to begin with Cincinnati. For one, the Bengals have been a punch line in the NFL for quite some time. Head coach Marvin Lewis took over in 2003 and has taken the team to the playoffs seven times in his tenure. He is also 0-7 in the postseason. It has been 27 years since Cincy has won a playoff game, the longest active streak in the league. The Bengals weren’t always this way though. In the ’80s, Cincinnati made it to two Super Bowls, both times losing by less than a touchdown to the Joe Montana led 49ers. The Reds haven’t been a whole lot better. Since winning the World Series in 1990, Cincy’s baseball team has only made the playoffs four times. With the Bengals looking like an average team and the Reds in the middle of a rebuild, it could be a while before Cincinnati celebrates another championship.
5. San Diego
Teams: Padres (MLB), Chargers (NFL)
Last title: N/A
Technically, there is only one pro team still in San Deigo, but to not include the struggles of the Chargers in evaluating the drought this city has gone through would be unfair. I actually think the fact the Chargers left makes life as a fan in this city even more torturous. Boasting one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, San Diego never managed to reach a Super Bowl. Its lone appearance was a blowout loss to the 49ers in 1994. Even during the early 2000s, it seemed like the Chargers would finally break through, but never managed to reach the Super Bowl. For the Padres, opportunities for postseason success have been few and far between. In 49 years as a franchise, the Padres have made the playoffs just five times, including two different losses in the World Series. San Diego has long awaited a title and now will have an even tougher time securing one with only the Padres left in town.
It has been 17 years since the largest city in Arizona brought home a sports championship. The Cardinals came agonizingly close in 2009 before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild Super Bowl. The Suns haven’t been good in years, but still remember the days of Charles Barkley and Steve Nash fondly. Neither of the ever managed to bring home a title. The Coyotes have never made it to a Stanley Cup final, much less won one. That leaves the Diamondbacks, who won the cities last championship in 2001. It is the only title in the city’s history. The Cardinals won an NFL Championship in 1947, but that was actually while the team was located in Chicago. Only one title between four teams is tough for fans to swallow and it does not seem like any of them are close to a title for a least a few more years.
Teams: Hawks (NBA), Falcons (NFL), Braves (MLB),
Last title: 1995
Between the Hawks, Falcons and Braves, Atlanta has only brought home one title in the history of sports in the city. The Braves broke through in 1995, which isn’t really that long ago, but this city definitely knows what it is like to want a title. The Hawks have never made it to the NBA Finals while in Atlanta. The 2016 Falcons made it to the Super Bowl and blew the largest lead in the history of the game. It marked the second time the Falcons lost in the championship. Looking at the Braves, they lost four other World Series during the ’90s. Had it not been for that World Series in ’95, Atlanta might very well top this list.
Teams: Bills (NFL), Sabres (NHL)
Last title: N/A
Western New York is home to one of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports. The aptly named “Bills Mafia” provides a fun home field advantage whenever the Bills are hosting. Sabres fans have suffered through many years of woeful play on the ice, but still support the team nonetheless. Between these two franchises, Buffalo has appeared in six different championships, winning none of them. The Bills came up short in four consecutive Super Bowls! Talk about torture for fans. The Sabres made two different runs to the Stanley Cup final over the years, but fell short in both. It was the NHL team who made Buffalo’s last championship appearance in 1999. Up until last year, the Bills hadn’t even been to the playoffs since 1999. What holds Buffalo back from the top spot is the fact that the city only has two teams.
21 years ago was the last time a team from the Twin Cities won a title. Minneapolis is home to some of the most tortured fan bases in sports. On one hand, you have the Vikings. The Purple People Eaters lost four Super Bowls from 1969 to 1976. The Vikings have never made it back to the big game since their loss in ’76. It seemed like they would in 1998, with a historically good offense, only to lose in their first playoff game that year. Then there are the Timberwolves. Minnesota finally broke the second longest playoff drought in NBA history in 2018 after 13 years of failing to qualify. In a league where more than half the teams make it to the postseason, that is quite a feat. The Wild haven’t been in town long, but like the Timberwolves, have never even reached the finals. The Twins are the only team in town with a title, but have not returned to the World Series. While Minneapolis has won a title, none of the teams in the city have even reached the championship stage in the 27 years since. This city is starved for a title and well-deserving of the top spot on our list.
Welcome to the final four. The conference championships. There is nothing quite like it. The Super Bowl is always a great spectacle, but often these games are even more exciting to watch. Today we will get to witness all three MVP candidates on display, the best rivalry in football over the last 15 years and some of the most dynamic defensive playmakers the game has to offer. And all of it comes with a trip to Santa Clara on the line.
New England vs. Denver
When you think of NFL MVP, it is hard not to think of Peyton Manning. The Broncos signal caller has won the award more times than anyone else in history, with five such distinctions. However, he is the only quarterback in Sunday’s games that isn’t in contention for this year’s award.
Tom Brady on the other hand is right in the thick of anpther MVP-caliber campaign. Even with some of his top weapons missing time this year, Brady managed to steer New England to a first round bye and has them playing some spectacular football yet again.
This game is being billed as yet another class Manning-Brady matchup but in reality, this is more a battle between Brady and the Denver defense. The last time Denver and New England met it was Week 12 at Mile High. The Denver defense did not do much to contain Brady that day, as he threw for 280 yards and three scores. However, the Broncos knocked Brady around a lot, hitting him on nine occasions, three of them being sacks. The Patriots also had no running game to speak of, as LeGarrette Blount led the way in rushing for New England with a measly 27 yards on the ground. Brady also struggled to find the mark in that game, completing only 54.7 percent of his passes.
Today is guaranteed to be different though as New England has a different cast of characters in place. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are back healthy, after not competing in their previous contest with Denver. However, Blount and now middle linebacker Jerrod Mayo will not be suiting up for this one, as both are on season-ending injured reserve.
The most interesting wrinkle though is that Manning will be starting this game. In that Week 12 showdown, Brock Osweiler started and defeated the Pats. He had a lot of help from his running game, as Denver amassed 179 yards on the ground at a clip of 5.6 yards per carry, but Osweiler took a beating. If the Pats generate the same amount of pressure on Manning, I think he will either be forced into some mistakes or be knocked out of the contest.
In the end, I don’t think The Sheriff has enough left in the tank to outduel The Golden Boy one last time. I think it will be an extremely close game that goes down to the wire as both defenses win the day. I think even with a depleted arsenal, Brady will work enough magic to eke out a win and earn his first career playoff victory in Denver, 24-21. Sad day as this will also probably mark the end of an era.
Arizona vs. Carolina
Even with the 17th edition of Manning-Brady in store for us, I think this is the game of the weekend to watch. This game is equal parts high-flying offense, dynamic defense and attitude.
Enter Cam Newton into his first ever NFC Championship game. He is the front-runner for the MVP award this season with his ability to deceive and out-think defenses. Newton is a supreme athlete and always has been. However, this season saw SuperCam evolve into a much better quarterback. He set a career-high in touchdown passes with 35 and even slightly cut down on his turnovers. He also set new marks for Total QBR and passer rating. All of that culminated in his dominant performance against Seattle last week.
He has still kept his athleticism as an often-used weapon. Newton racked up 636 yards on the ground and scored 10 times when he kept it himself. Couple that with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert; suddenly, this Carolina ground game is very difficult to stop.
The Panthers will need to control the clock as much as possible in this game as well, mainly to keep Carson Palmer off the field. Palmer struggled a little against Green Bay last week, but that should not discount the MVP-like season he had.
Editor’s note: It was really difficult to think of other ways to describe Palmer and Newton as they both have a lot in common. Both are first number one overall picks and both won Heisman trophies in college.
Palmer was downright lethal this year, completing nearly 64 percent of his passes while throwing for a career high in yards. The 36-year old was beyond effective when throwing the ball this season as well, posting a league-high 8.7 yards per attempt average. Palmer tossed the same number of touchdowns as Newton this year too. He also piloted an Arizona offense that led the NFL in yards per game and was second in scoring only to Carolina. In short, we could be in line for a shootout.
And we probably would be, if it wasn’t for the defenses lining up across from these quarterbacks. Carolina has four Pro Bowlers on their defense and Arizona has three of their own. These two defenses ranked fifth and sixth in yards per game allowed and sixth and seventh in scoring.
One of the great matchups of the weekend will be Larry Fitzgerald against Josh Norman. Fitzgerald is coming of a worldly performance out in the desert while Norman developed into one of the league’s premier shutdown corners. Past Norman though, this is a Carolina secondary that could be vulnerable to the spread offense Arizona will run. Seattle exploited the Panthers’ lack of depth in the divisional round. I think the Cardinals will do the same, getting the ball to John Brown and Michael Floyd early and often.
Between that and the overall speed of this Cardinal defense, I think Arizona will be heading to Santa Clara. Cardinals upset the Panthers at home, 27-21.
This is painful. I looked back at my preseason playoff picks for the 2015 NFL season and it was ugly. I had the Colts winning the AFC and the Chiefs making it as a strong wildcard team. In the NFC, I had Dallas as the third team in and the Carolina Panthers are nowhere to be found.
Obviously, I made some major gaffes in picking my preseason playoff field. Some of it was due to unexpected injuries. Others were me buying into the hype of some offseason moves. All in all, I have a laundry list of excuses (similar to the one I have for why my fantasy team is so bad this year).
Here we are now though in the middle of the season with every team having played at least eight games. With the second half of the season about to get underway, it is time for me to predict how the season will end. Hopefully, this head start will allow me to do a bit better with these.
AFC Playoffs 1. Cincinnati (14-2)
2. New England (14-2)
3. Denver (13-3)
4. Indianapolis (8-8)
5. New York (10-6)
6. Pittsburgh (9-7)
NFC Playoffs 1. Carolina (14-2)
2. Green Bay (13-3)
3. Arizona (12-4)
4. New York (9-7)
5. Minnesota (12-4)
6. Atlanta (11-5)
For the AFC, Cincy wins the conference because it wins the tiebreaker over the Pats for record in common games. Denver slips up just a little bit too much to earn the first round bye. The Jets take advantage of a fairly easy schedule down the stretch to make it back to the postseason for the first time since 2011. Pittsburgh, despite all of their injuries, has games against the Browns (twice) Colts and Ravens. That allows them to sneak into that last spot.
Over in the NFC though, things are much tighter. The Giants don’t really belong but a Week 17 win against the Eagles locks up the division for them. Carolina continues its dominance on its way to the top spot. Green Bay manages to rebound down the stretch and takes the first weekend of the playoffs off. Arizona outlasts the rest of the rugged NFC West to advance to the postseason once again, this year hopefully with Carson Palmer. Minnesota and Atlanta prove to be the best of the rest and lock up wildcard berths.
Wildcard Denver over Pittsburgh
New York over Indianapolis
Arizona over Atlanta
Minnesota over New York
Pittsburgh made the postseason but for the second straight year, not having LeVeon Bell proves to be too much for the Steelers to overcome. The Jets pick up their second win over Andrew Luck and Co. on the year behind a dominant ground game and an opportunistic defense. The Cardinals prove to have way too much for that Atlanta offensive line to handle as Matt Ryan has a rough day on the road. Adrian Peterson runs all over the Giants and the Vikings defense finds a way to limit Odell Beckham Jr. enough to get the win.
Divisional Cincinnati over New York
New England over Denver
Carolina over Minnesota
Arizona over Green Bay
Andy Dalton finally gets his first playoff win as the Jets offense sputters on the road. The game is close but Tyler Eifert ends up being the deciding factor. After beating New England at home in the regular season, Denver fails to take round two in Foxborough. Tom Brady does not lose to Peyton Manning twice in one year. The Carolina defense bottles up Peterson and forces Teddy Bridgewater to beat them with his arm. The Vikings offense is simply not made for that. Despite going on the road, that Arizona defense causes some issues for Aaron Rodgers and the lack of a Packers running game shows.
Championship New England over Cincinnati
Carolina over Arizona
The AFC Championship game comes down to some simply math. Tom Brady is greater than Andy Dalton and the 37-year old out-duels the Red Rifle to return to the Super Bowl. The defense manages to bend but not break against the Cincy offense. Super Cam continues his super season. He ends up coming nowhere near the MVP award but he is closing in on the Lombardi trophy. Carolina’s offense runs through him, Jonathan Stewart and Greg Olsen. The real reason that the Panthers are Super Bowl bound is that defense though. It managed bottled up the Cardinal running game and pressured Carson Palmer all day without having to truly blitz.
Super Bowl Carolina over New England
In a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII, Carolina and New England meet with the Lombardi Trophy on the line. This time though, its the Panthers who walk away having earned a ring. Carolina is able to pressure Brady without truly having to blitz, which is the same way the Giants beat him in the Super Bowl in past years. The Panthers are so deep along their defensive line, especially after getting Charles Johnson back midseason. The Patriots find themselves missing change of pace runner and pass-catching specialist Dion Lewis as they fail to generate much of a ground game. Cam Newton’s running abilities prove to be something New England struggles to contain as well. Julian Edelman has a big game but the Panthers limit Rob Gronkowski en route to the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl win.