2019 NFL Power Rankings: Week 16

The playoff picture is coming into full view now. Well at least the teams that will be in the postseason. The only spot that feels truly undecided is the sixth seed in the AFC. The order is still very much up in the air. There was a lot of movement in the projected seedings with San Francisco losing a stunner at home. We will see a pretty good slate of meaningful games in the final two weeks given that so many teams still have something to play for.

On the flip side, the draft order is going to be very interesting. With the Giants topping the Dolphins, there is now a huge collection of teams with three wins and five wins. The Bengals sit two games clear of everyone else in the running for the top pick. As teams wrap up their years, there is still a lot of potential movement that could occur here. For those not in the postseason, these final two weeks will be just as important with so much still left up in the air.

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1. Baltimore Ravens: 12-2 (Last Week: 1)
Won 42-21 vs. New York
The Ravens continue to roll, this time taking care of an injury-riddled Jets team with ease. Lamar Jackson all but solidified his MVP campaign with five passing touchdowns. He also broke Michael Vick’s record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season. This team looks almost unstoppable. The AFC is going to run through Baltimore and that is a scary thing for the rest of the league.

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2. New Orleans Saints: 11-3 (Last Week: 3)
Won 34-7 vs. Indianapolis
How do you follow up losing a heartbreaker? Dominating what comes at you next works well. Drew Brees rewrote a good chunk of the record book on Monday Night Football. He is now the NFL’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns. He also posted the best completion percentage in a single game in league history. The defense pitched a shutout for much of the night. This version of the Saints could absolutely win a Super Bowl.

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3. Seattle Seahawks: 11-3 (Last Week: 4)
Won 30-24 at Carolina
It was another less-than-convincing performance from the Seahawks, but they still got the win. Now with the news that Josh Gordon is suspended indefinitely as well, the outlook in Seattle is not as positive as it was maybe two weeks ago. Still, with the San Francisco loss, Seattle now holds the top spot in the NFC. The Seahawks just need that defense to step it up a bit down the stretch. Anything could happen here, but Seattle controls its fate.

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4. Kansas City Chiefs: 10-4 (Last Week: 5)
Won 23-3 vs. Denver
Kansas City is humming along right now. The Chiefs have won four straight and remain hot on the Patriots’ heels for a first-round bye in the playoffs. It was far from your typical offensive showing from Patrick Mahomes and company, but the weather was not very cooperative so it feels justified. Travis Kelce played like a beast though and the defense took advantage of an overmatched rookie quarterback. The defense should get a boost too with the addition of veteran pass rusher Terrell Suggs.

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5. San Francisco 49ers: 11-3 (Last Week: 2)
Lost 29-22 vs. Atlanta
Last week, San Francisco outlasted a true NFC contender and took over the top spot in the conference. This week, Kyle Shanahan lost to his former club and the 49ers are back down in fifth. San Francisco still controls its own destiny, but this was the type of game that has me worried about this team’s ability to make Super Bowl run. The pass rush couldn’t get home and Jimmy Garoppolo did not play well enough to make up for it. It was just one game, but this was a major let down.

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6. New England Patriots: 11-3 (Last Week: 6)
Won 34-13 at Cincinnati
The Patriots got back on track, but had a very rocky start in doing so. New England trailed at the end of the first quarter in Cincy and led just 13-10 at halftime. The defense bailed out another pedestrian effort from Tom Brady (128 passing yards) and the offense. New England’s run game got rolling in the second half, but it was really the defense’s five takeaways that made the difference. While the Pats have a tendency for pulling it together and playing their best ball in the postseason, the offensive concerns just grow by the week.

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7. Green Bay Packers: 11-3 (Last Week: 7)
Won 21-13 vs. Chicago
Green Bay is winning ugly and doesn’t seem to care. The Packers had a bit of a scare late in the game from the Bears, but pulled out a third straight victory. This has been a very uncharacteristic season from Aaron Rodgers, who ranks 11th in passing yards and 15th in yards per attempt. He completed fewer than 50 percent of his throws on Sunday as well. Green Bay’s offense is going to need to break out of its funk soon. Week 16 will decide the NFC North as the Packers visit the Vikings on Monday Night Football.

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8. Minnesota Vikings: 10-4 (Last Week: 8)
Won 39-10 at Los Angeles
It looked like Minnesota had brought back the Purple People Eaters in Los Angeles. The Vikings forced seven (!!!) turnovers on Sunday. Now the Chargers might not be world class competition, but it is still a huge confidence booster for the defense. The concern offensively will be regarding the health of Dalvin Cook, who left the game with a shoulder injury. Even before he got hurt though, Cook had started to lose steam. He failed to crack 30 yards rushing in three of his four contests, averaging 3.1 yards per carry in the process. Cook needs to get back on track fast with the Packers coming to town this week.

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9. Houston Texans: 9-5 (Last Week: 11)
Won 24-21 at Tennessee
Houston wiped away a lot of the damage it sustained in Week 14’s loss to Denver. Edging the Titans means the Texans are in sole possession of first place in the AFC South. The division is far from locked up though with a rematch with Tennessee slated for Week 17. It was another uneven outing from Deshaun Watson, but this time the defense and ground game stepped up. Consistency is the next step for this team as it looks to lock up a playoff spot.

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10. Buffalo Bills: 10-4 (Last Week: 12)
Won 17-10 at Pittsburgh
Sean McDermott has the Bills playing some old school football and it travels well. This game was unlikely to produce fireworks, but Buffalo’s offense ended up being just a little less ugly than Pittsburgh’s. In truth, the Bills defense deserves credit for that, picking off Delvin Hodges four times. Holding the Steelers to 51 yards rushing and recording four sacks didn’t hurt either. If Josh Allen can find a way to play just a little bit more efficiently, this team could make a run at a division title.

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11. Tennessee Titans: 8-6 (Last Week: 10)
Lost 24-21 vs. Houston
The second half resurgence hit a bump in the road with the loss to Houston, but Tennessee’s playoff hopes are very much still alive. What is likely more significant is the overall improved play of the offensive line in recent weeks. The Titans are beginning to look like a complete football team, even in the loss. A.J. Brown is starting to look like a steal of a draft pick as well. As long as Tennessee wins Week 17 and Pittsburgh loses in Baltimore, the Titans should reach the postseason regardless of what happens in Week 16.

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12. Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-6 (Last Week: 13)
Lost 17-10 vs. Buffalo
The wheels fell off this make-shift Pittsburgh offense. I really don’t feel good about putting anyone in this 12 spot. Dallas picked up a big win, but that doesn’t wipe out the past five weeks. Tampa Bay is feeding on cupcakes and Jameis Winston won’t stop throwing interceptions. Los Angeles just got steamrolled by Dallas. Pittsburgh’s defense is the only thing that is keeping them alive right now, but as the offense gets a bit healthier, there is a chance this team could find a bit more balance.

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13. Dallas Cowboys: 7-7 (Last Week: 18)
Won 44-21 vs. Los Angeles
Talk about getting back on track. The Cowboys blew out the Rams in spectacular fashion. I have been trying to figure out for weeks what is going on in Dallas. The team is mostly healthy with a good young quarterback, a talented offensive line and some great skill position players in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott. This team leads the league in total offense and ranks top five in points. Defensively, the Cowboys are top 10 in yards allowed and 13th in points allowed. They are sixth in point differential. That should be a recipe for winning more than half your games, but somehow Dallas just can’t seem to get it done in close contests.

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14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 7-7 (Last Week: 15)
Won 38-17 at Detroit
Jameis Winston strikes again. Against a dreadful Lions secondary, the Bucs quarterback threw for 458 yards and four touchdowns. Of course he also tossed an interception, but Tampa Bay is playing a fun brand of football right now, and it’s working. The Buccaneers are winners of four straight, tied for the second longest active streak in the league. This run is a credit to what Bruce Arians is building. No one should want to face Tampa right now.

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15. Los Angeles Rams: 8-6 (Last Week: 9)
Lost 44-21 at Dallas
After back-to-back wins, the Rams were firmly in the playoff chase. With the whole team forgetting to show up on Sunday, Los Angeles is now the longest of longshots to reach the postseason. The defense was horrible. It allowed 256 rushing yards and never managed to get after Dak Prescott. The lopsided scoreline lead to Jared Goff throwing the ball 51 times while Todd Gurley got only 14 touches. Sean McVay ran the ball 14 times, three of them with Goff. That formula has been killing the Rams all year long. This team has a lot of soul searching to do in the offseason because LA is built like a contender, but it isn’t playing like one.

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16. Chicago Bears: 7-7 (Last Week 14)
Lost 21-13 at Green Bay
Futility set in once again in Chicago as it missed a chance to grab a massive win. Three straight wins had given the Bears hope, but an ineffective offense cost them a fourth. Mitch Trubisky threw the ball 53 times, which is highly questionable. However, Chicago ran the ball 27 times, so it wasn’t like it completely abandoned the run game. This offense needs an infusion of talent along the offense line and some more reliable contributors at the skill positions. Trubisky has certainly struggled this season, but his supporting cast has also been subpar.

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17. Philadelphia Eagles: 7-7 (Last Week: 16)
Won 37-27 at Washington
Philly keeps finding new ways to win and somehow make me feel worse about its long-term success. Against a paltry Washington side, the defense made Dwayne Haskins look like a Pro Bowler. Offensively, the Eagles played pretty well. Carson Wentz had a really good game despite having no receivers to speak of. Winning with Greg Ward and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is impressive. Wentz does need to solve this fumbling issue that has cropped up in recent weeks. As more starters return, the offense should improve. There might be no hope for this defense though. The showdown to decide the NFC East looms for Philadelphia.

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18. Atlanta Falcons: 5-9 (Last Week: 22)
Won 29-22 at San Francisco
After a dismal first half of the season, Atlanta has really turned things around. It threw the mother of all wrenches into the NFC playoff picture after shocking San Francisco. There have still been some hiccups along the way with lopsided losses to Tampa Bay and New Orleans. However, the Falcons have wins over the Saints, Panthers and 49ers. They are 4-2 in their last six games. Finishing the season with two more wins could save Dan Quinn’s job. With Jacksonville and Tampa Bay on the slate, it is certainly possible.

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19. Cleveland Browns: 6-8 (Last Week: 17)
Lost 38-24 at Arizona
This was likely the dagger in the Browns playoff hopes. It was another unpleasant result for Freddie Kitchens and company. Measuring the Browns based on their expectations entering the year will lead anyone to conclude this has been a shockingly disappointing year. If you look at Cleveland’s past though, not regressing is a big step in the right direction. A better offensive line is crucial for this team to finally reach those highs next year. With $51 million in projected cap space and not a ton of free agents, this team is still in position to make the jump.

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20. Indianapolis Colts: 6-8 (Last Week: 19)
Lost 34-7 at New Orleans
That was an absolute drubbing. It has become abundantly clear that this Colts offense is nowhere near ready to compete with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. He is not Andrew Luck and he has a much worse supporting cast than Luck likely ever did. T.Y. Hilton has been banged up all year. Marlon Mack has dealt with his own injuries. Eric Ebron, Chester Rogers, Paris Campbell and more are on injured reserve. It is hard to win games when no one is available to play. That being said, this was a blow to morale. The defense looked powerless and the offense had nowhere to turn. Indy is heading into the offseason with a ton of question marks.

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21. Denver Broncos: 5-9 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 23-3 at Kansas City
If this was a test, Drew Lock failed miserably. It was a rough outing for the rookie making just his third start, this one in the snow back in the same state he played college football in. He should never have been asked to throw the ball 40 times in this game, but he also looked horrible in the process. He threw one interception, and was lucky that it was only one. This serves as a tough reminder there are going to be growing pains with a young quarterback and that Denver is still a ways from competing in the AFC West.

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22. Los Angeles Chargers: 5-9 (Last Week: 21)
Lost 39-10 vs. Minnesota
For the second week in a row, the Chargers were involved in a blow out. This one didn’t happen to go their way though. The Vikings defense tormented Philip Rivers and company. Rivers threw three interceptions and Los Angeles lost four fumbles. That is a recipe for disaster. The Chargers defense didn’t have its best game either, but it was far from being the problem in this one. Expect a major shakeup to that offense during the offseason.

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23. Arizona Cardinals: 4-9-1 (Last Week: 25)
Won 38-24 vs. Cleveland
Snap. That is the sound of Arizona finally snapping its losing streak. After six in a row, the Cardinals got back in the win column, mostly thanks to Kenyan Drake. He ran all over the Browns to the tune of 137 yards and four touchdowns. It was an important win for the overall rebuilding process of this team. It was a good reminder that Arizona is headed in the right direction. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but this felt good for Kliff Kingsbury.

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24. Carolina Panthers: 5-9 (Last Week: 24)
Lost 30-24 vs. Seattle
Christian McCaffrey is a one-man wrecking crew. Kyle Allen spoiled another incredible effort from Run CMC with three interceptions, but the Panthers only lost by one possession. Allen’s constant inability to take care of the ball along with a struggling run defense are major concerns, but their are some bright spots. DJ Moore had another great game and the defense hit Russell Wilson seven times. This team is already in flux with Ron Rivera’s firing so expectations should be kept fairly low for these final two games. We might even get a chance to see rookie quarterback Will Grier.

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25. Jacksonville Jaguars: 5-9 (Last Week: 28)
Won 20-16 at Oakland
Gardner Minshew worked his magic and engineered a comeback for the Jags. He almost waited too long, as Jacksonville’s offense essentially did nothing for the first three quarters. Lucky for them, Oakland’s offense went into hibernation after halftime and the defense could not hold up. The win really does not mean a whole lot, but it does point towards Minshew being the starter to open the 2020 season.

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26. Oakland Raiders: 6-8 (Last Week: 23)
Lost 20-16 vs. Jacksonville
I hate to say this was a fitting end to the Raiders time at the Coliseum, but that was about as textbook a choke job as you could get. Oakland held a 13-point halftime lead and posted two zeros on the scoreboard in the second half. As this team prepares to move to Las Vegas, it must hope it can unearth a new defense and some wide receivers in the process. Jon Gruden is not happy and Mike Mayock can’t be either.

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27. New York Jets: 5-9 (Last Week: 27)
Lost 42-21 at Baltimore
That was about how you would have expected this game to go for the banged up Jets. The Ravens dominated the first three quarters and once they called off the dogs, Sam Darnold led a pair of scoring drives to provide some false hope to a beaten down team. New York had no answer for Lamar Jackson and continues to add to the list of needs it will have to address in the offseason. Just remember, there were 28 players selected after Darnold and before Jackson.

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28. Washington: 3-11 (Last Week: 26)
Lost 37-27 vs. Philadelphia
For a while there, it looked like Washington was about to deal a critical blow to Philadelphia’s playoff chances. Even though the defense couldn’t see the game through, the front office has to feel good about the level at which Dwayne Haskins played. He threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns while also showing some running ability. It is hard to peg where this team will go next with an interim head coach and a general manager on the hot seat. However, those issues would seem less significant if Washington knew it was set at quarterback.

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29. New York Giants: 3-11 (Last Week: 31)
Won 36-20 vs. Miami
For the first time in months, Saquon Barkley looked like an All-Pro running back. He finally broke out of his sophomore slump with 112 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. It was actually a very productive day for Giants skill position players that figure to feature heavily in the future. Sterling Shepard caught nine balls for 111 yards and Darius Slayton hauled in his eighth touchdown of the year. New York might have hurt its draft stock, but snapping a long losing streak has to feel good.

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30. Miami Dolphins: 3-11 (Last Week: 29)
Lost 36-20 at New York
DeVante Parker made the Dolphins front office look very good on Sunday. Just a few days after signing a big extension, Parker scored two touchdowns. Unfortunately, they were Miami’s only two touchdowns of the game. The ‘Fins have a long way to go, but this team is also identifying pieces it can build around in the future. Given how talent-deprived this roster is, that fact that Miami is even competitive speaks volumes about the job Brian Flores has done this season.

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31. Detroit Lions: 3-10-1 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 38-17 vs. Tampa Bay
Detroit lost its sixth straight game and continue to show how valuable Matthew Stafford is to this club. This team is just crawling towards the finish line at this point. Wes Hill led the team in rushing with 21 yards and David Blough threw two interceptions, including a pick-six. I can’t imagine the Lions expected either of those players to see the field this year, much less be the offensive leaders in a given week. Matt Patricia’s seat has to be feeling awfully warm right about now.

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32. Cincinnati Bengals: 1-13 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 34-13 vs. New England
For one half, the Bengals looked like they were really going to press the Patriots. Then the second half came and Cincinnati imploded. Andy Dalton threw four interceptions, coach Zac Taylor criticized his receivers and then wide receiver Tyler Boyd questioned the playcalling. Altogether, not a good look. Cincy pretty much has a vice grip on the first pick with New York winning on Sunday. Bengals fans are already dreaming of Heisman winner Joe Burrow.

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NFL Playoff Preview: Championship Sunday

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

Peyton_Manning
Manning has a career record of 12-13 in the playoffs. 

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.

Tom_Brady
Brady is 11-5 in his career against Manning, but is only 2-6 in career playing in Denver.

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.

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Newton suffered his last home loss on November 16, 2014. He is 12-0 in Charlotte since.

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. 

Carson_Palmer
This will only be Palmer’s fourth career playoff game.

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.

A vote against NFL playoff expansion

This first weekend of the NFL playoffs was interesting to say the least. Brian Hoyer looked colorblind. Aaron Rodgers returned to superhuman form. Blair Walsh missed a chip shot. The Bengals and Steelers got physical with each other. It was equal parts surprising and exciting. For the most part, it delivered on all of the hype.

Roger_Goodell
Roger Goodell has pushed for expanding the NFL season either by adding two more regular season games or two playoff games.

There were definitely things that could have improved the weekend. A better showing from Houston. Shorter games maybe. The one thing that definitely was not missing? Another set of games in each conference.

Over the past few years, there have been whispers about the NFL expanded its current playoff field to 14 teams from the 12-team format. The highlights of the plan would be to add another game, increase the suspense and make the road to the Super Bowl even tougher.

After this season though, I cannot imagine a reason to include two more teams. It simply seems unnecessary. The quality of the competition would drop. Already we saw what happened with the weakest division winners making the playoffs. Houston was embarrassed by Kansas City and Washington found Green Bay way too much to handle. Any games added by introducing more teams would likely be a bust. Sure, the Jets playing the Patriots in Foxborough would be exciting. Watching Arizona trash a .500 Atlanta team, that is something I could live without. It wouldn’t be good football. These mid-tiered teams would just be outmatched.

Moreover, they don’t deserve it. People spent a great deal of time complaining about how weak the AFC South and NFC East was this season. Across message boards and comment sections, there were calls for the NFL to reformat so that these teams that won each division would not automatically receive a bid to the postseason. The argument was that they did not have good enough records to make the playoffs. In the case of Houston, that turned out to be true, as the Jets had a better record, but the Texans made the playoffs instead. If those teams, who were division winners, were not good enough to qualify for the postseason, then why would teams even further down the list be considered in playoff expansion?

I am of the mentality that for a team to really be good enough to compete in the playoffs, they should have a winning record. Only one team that did not qualify for the postseason this year had a winning record. That was the Jets. Some others were close, like Atlanta and Indianapolis, but they finished at .500. In other words, they were average. It is pretty easy to argue that the Jets did not deserve to make the playoffs either. New York only beat two teams with winning records this year. In the NFL, we don’t want to see average teams make the playoffs. We want the best of the best so we can see some truly iconic and terrific games.

In the NFL, teams are made to be average. It is rare that there are 14 teams nowadays that have winning records. Only once in the past five seasons have there been at least 14 teams above .500 at the end of the season. It is not easy to get those kinds of results any more. The league is full of parity. It is also a bit ambitious to expect close to half the league to win more than half of their games.

The morale here? 12 is good. 12 is great. That potentially even more than we need. It is nice to keep the hope of some Cinderella teams alive (see 2007 Giants, 2009 Cardinals). However, introducing even more of them would just be overkill. It would detract from the postseason more than it would add to it. Let’s just keep this as it is and put this conversation of expansion to bed.

NFL Playoff Predictions: Wildcard Round

I wish I had a rooting interest in this year’s playoffs, but all the same, this is going to be a year to remember. There are tons of great storylines and some incredible games to be played and that starts today with Wildcard Weekend. Let’s start predicting some matchups.

Kansas City vs. Houston
2014 NFL Pro BowlFar from the sexiest matchup of the wildcard round. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is the least exciting. Still well worth watching though, which lets you know how great these playoffs will be. This projects to be more of a defensive struggle. Duane Brown’s injury is already a big blow to the Texans offense. Houston overall was lucky to make the playoffs. I think Alex Smith will show everyone his ability to handle the pressure of a playoff game. Charcandrick West and Stephen Ware should also help wear down a stout Texans defensive front. Mixing a mediocre Houston offense and the league’s third best scoring defense sounds like a recipe for disaster. I think the Chiefs will win this comfortably, 24-10.

Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati
DeAngelo_WilliamsNothing beats a divisional battle in the playoffs. If it couldn’t be Steelers-Ravens, (one of the best rivalries in NFL history) then I’m happy it could at least be Steelers-Bengals. These two split the season series, with the road team winning each matchup. I don’t think we are going to see that trend continue. I know Cincy is still without Andy Dalton but an even bigger blow comes on the other side. Pittsburgh will be without DeAngelo Williams, meaning that Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman will be carrying the load for the Steelers. For as much as this team relies on Ben Roethlisberger, I think they are going to be too one-dimensional. Throwing the ball constantly doesn’t allow you to control the game offensively and I don’t think the Steelers will be able to close it out late. A.J. McCarron has had a few weeks to learn the offense. Hue Jackson is one of the best offensive coordinators in the league and I think he will have a plan to upend the rival Steelers. Final score, Bengals 31 – Steelers 27

Seattle vs. Minnesota
Russell_WilsonMany are pointing at the midseason meeting between these two teams as the reason for why Seattle will win again. I don’t think it means anything how these two previously played. The Seahawks rode Thomas Rawls for a good portion of that victory. Rawls will not be playing on Sunday and neither will Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson is truly going to have no running game to support him in this one. Christine Michael will be the starting running back for the Hawks. Going up against a defense like Minnesota’s, that doesn’t bode well. That being said, this defense knows how to bottle up Adrian Peterson and will force Teddy Bridgewater to beat them with his arm. Bridgewater does not have a ton of weapons of his own in the passing game that will likely win one-on-matchups with this Seattle secondary. If this is a duel between Bridgewater and Wilson, I am taking Wilson every time. Seattle wins this blizzard bowl 21-10.

Green Bay vs. Washington
Kirk_CousinsThis is not a game many would have predicted at the beginning of the year. I for one though Washington would not come anywhere near the playoffs. I doubt many would have guessed that Green Bay would be on the road either. As much as I like Aaron Rodgers, especially in the playoffs, I don’t think he will be leaving the nation’s capital with a win. The Packers have failed to find any consistency on offense, whether it be running or passing. On the flip side, Kirk Cousins has been on fire for Washington. He’s been yelling, “You like that!” a lot, which is good news for this DC team. I think Washington’s passing attack will prove too much for an underwhelming Packers’ secondary to handle. Momentum has a lot to do with this one. Washington has won four straight while Green Bay has dropped its last two.  It will be close but I think Washington will win its first playoff game in 10 years, 27-24.

The legend or the new guy?

Editor’s Note: I started to work on this before the Broncos made their announcement. Still does not change how I feel about the situation. 

Peyton Manning or Brock Oswieler? This seems like a very simple question. It does not have a clear answer though. Over the past two months, the Denver Broncos accidentally created one of the biggest quarterback controversies we have seen in the quite some time in the NFL.

Peyton_Manning
Manning had the worst statistical season of his 17-year career in 2015.

Flashback to November 15, when Manning lead the Broncos against the rival Chiefs at home. Manning broke Brett Farve’s record for most career passing yards early in the game, but as the afternoon wore on, it became clear that he no longer looked like a future Hall of Famer. He looked a lot like Tim Tebow, if Tebow couldn’t run. Manning completed just 5 of his 20 passes and threw four of them to the wrong team. Peyton’s 17 interceptions are the second most by any quarterback this season, even though he only played 10 games. In the second half, Manning found himself on the bench and Denver gave Brock Osweiler his chance.

Brock Osweiler
Osweiler earned his first career start this season against Chicago.

The Broncos drafted Osweiler in the second round of the 2012 draft; the same one that produced Luck, RG3, Wilson and Cousins. Osweiler had waited a long three and a half years to get his shot at the starting gig. He made the most of it. He didn’t have the greatest second half against Kansas City, but the 25-year old showed poise as he helped Denver win four of their next six games. It seemed like Osweiler had the Broncos headed in the right direction. No one was looking to have Manning step back into the picture. It seemed like it was Osweiler’s team going forward.

Then Osweiler fell apart against San Diego. He had three turnovers in the first half. That led to Gary Kubiak pulling Osweiler in favor of Manning. The 39-year old played decently well in his first game action since November, but not enough to put the conversation to bed.

Now, Denver faces a very difficult situation. Do you play the young quarterback who carried you to the playoffs or do you return to the legendary five time MVP? It is not an easy question to answer.

Osweiler seemed to play well over his six starts before his benching. Manning struggled all season. However, Manning had a serious foot injury that he spent the last six weeks recovering from. Rumor is that he is completely healthy now.

Comparing their stats side by side makes it seem like Osweiler is the better option. On the season Peyton has 225 yards per game, 9 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in ten games played, with a completion percentage of just 59.8. Brock has 245.8 yards per game, 10 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in eight games played, with a completion percentage of 61.8. That is pretty easy to see on paper; Osweiler has outplayed Manning this season.

However, you have to take into account that Osweiler has never played in a playoff game before. Manning has played more than a full regular season worth of playoff games during his long career. Having playoff experience is priceless. The atmosphere is different. That is something Peyton is used to and Brock is not.

That being said, Manning’s career playoff record is far from stellar. He is 11-13 lifetime in the postseason. Those 11 wins are invaluable, especially when compared to Osweiler’s zero, but a losing playoff record does not inspire confidence.

Brock_Osweiler
Osweiler is in a contract year and will be an unrestricted free agent following this season.

While he is not in his best form heading into the playoffs, I think the Broncos should go with Osweiler at quarterback. I love Peyton. I love watching him play. I would love for him to get a second ring and retire on top like his current team president John Elway did all those years ago in a Broncos uniform himself. I also don’t see Manning returning to his pre-2015 form. All season he has struggled. For more than a year now, people have placed the cause of his declining play on injuries. Those injuries have been to his thigh and foot, never to his arm. He no longer has the same arm strength he once did. He constantly under throws receivers and often puts the target of the pass in a tough spot when he tries to compensate for the lack of arm strength.

I think Denver is trying too much to have a storybook narrative here. Yes, Peyton was one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever touch a football. That’s a general fact. It is also a fact that his prime is behind him and by delaying his assent to the throne, the Broncos are holding Osweiler back from entering his prime. Osweiler has shown he has all of the tools to be a great NFL quarterback and more playing time is the only way he is going to develop. He has already spent three plus years on the bench. There is not a whole lot more he can learn as a backup.

Denver has not had a strong running game for much of this season either and the offensive line has allowed for a ton of pressure to reach the quarterback over the course of the season. Peyton will not hold up under the constant siege. Osweiler, being 14 years younger and much more mobile, is better suited to run the Bronco offense right now.

The Broncos playing Manning should not discount their chances of winning the Super Bowl though. This is still the league’s best defense and Manning can make enough plays for Denver to win, especially when throwing to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. However, I think Osweiler gives them a much better chance to win, and less of the pressure then falls on the defense to be great.

Kubiak will start with Manning. If he struggles though, it will be interesting to see how long it takes before the Denver crowd forces him to change to the heir apparent.