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2019 NFL Season Storylines and Predictions

Happy NFL Kickoff my fellow fans. With the season underway tonight, I wanted to share some thoughts on what I believe are the most interesting stories of the 2019 NFL Season. At the conclusion, you will find my standings, playoffs and championship predictions. Enjoy!

It’s Time for Big Red

Andy Reid is only missing a Super Bowl victory before becoming a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He enters the 2019 season with the 8th most Head Coaching victories in NFL history (195). Reid has led a team to the playoffs in 14 of his 20 years as an NFL Head Coach. He is a great coach with uniquely tremendous ideas but has fallen victim to repeated mistakes. Regardless of his past, he is in a Super Bowl window with the Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes appears to be the most talented quarterback he has ever coached. He’s got his guy, and at a cheap price for another couple of years. Andy Reid has a true Super Bowl contending team. He’s had the squad before and on multiple occasions. But can he finally bring it home? I’d love to see it. 

Houston is….all in?

The Houston Texans have been operating without a General Manager since June 7th and have certainly been acting like it. In the past week, they have shipped out Jadaveon Clowney for a modest return and shortly after sent multiple first round picks to Miami for Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills. On the surface, these look like very contradictory moves. They traded away an elite pass rusher who most could argue has not reached his full potential. It’s also safe to question whether Clowney ever will. But he was entering the final year of his contract and all signs were pointing to him leaving in free agency. So, Houston cashed in on his value in a move that usually resembles that of a rebuilding team. But the trading of high picks for two players who fit immediate needs is certainly a “win now” move. So, I guess they are in win-now mode. But, you’d think they’d love to have a guy like Clowney rushing the QB down the stretch of a Super Bowl run. 

The second-year QBs

The 2018 NFL QB Draft Class is a fascinating group. There were five selected in the first round (1 – Baker Mayfield/CLE), 3 – Sam Darnold/NYJ, 7 – Josh Allen/BUF, 10 – Josh Rosen/ARZ, and 32 – Lamar Jackon/BAL), the most since 1999.  It’s one with the potential to be historic. A case can be made for all five former first-rounders to make significant jumps in their second year. Rosen already finds himself on his second team, being traded to Miami when Arizona determined they wanted to select Kyler Murray #1 overall this year. He is being thrown into a tough spot: a team that has made every move suggesting they have already punted on the season. I really like Darnold to progress this season. He has a good pedigree, is still very young he really started to show a lot of promise towards the end of the season. I’m a big fan of the talented young QB who takes early lumps, is forced to get better faster, and learn to overcome those challenges. You could say Allen and maybe to an extent, Jackson fit in that category. Either way, I think all three take big steps forward in 2019. And Mayfield, he’s the star of the class…for now. He’s got the QB moxie that I love and is present with several all-time great QBs. He has the spotlight on him this year, but I think he may be ready for it. 

Brady and Brees…decline?

Tom Brady and Drew Brees are the lone starting QBs in the 40+ club. While both are unquestionably first-ballot hall-of-famers, it seems inevitable that at least one, if not both will decline in 2019. Brees and Brady have already defied father time, managing to be very effective at their respective ages. In many cases, the decline for QBs is steep is sudden. Just look at Peyton Manning in 2015. The good thing for both guys is that they on teams where they are not forced to carry the load like they had to do occasionally at different points of their career. There were moments in 2018 that Brees and Brady showed their age (like Manning in 2014), and I will not be entirely shocked if either QB shows a prominent decline this season. Either way, regardless of your rooting interests, it has been a pleasure to watch both these guys over the past two decades.

Carson Wentz Revenge Tour

The failure of Wentz to finish the past two seasons have significantly impacted his perception around the league. I will not completely dismiss the injury concerns, but it blows my mind how so many people forget how great he was in 2017, prior to tearing his ACL against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15. He was well on his way to winning the NFL MVP, finishing the season with 33 TDs, 7 INTs and a passer rating of 101.9. Despite improving his rating to 102.2 in 2018, Wentz was clearly limited and still recovering before injuring his back in December. For the first time since 2017, Carson Wentz is completely healthy and has an arsenal of weapons that should help him have a big year. If he can stay healthy, Wentz will be a serious challenger for the MVP. 

Predictions
Playoff Seed in ()

AFC East
New England Patriots 11-5 (2)
New York Jets 9-7
Buffalo Bills 8-8
Miami Dolphins 3-13

AFC North
Pittsburgh 11-5 (3)
Baltimore Ravens 9-7 (6)
Cleveland Browns 8-8
Cincinnati Bengals 4-12

AFC South
Houston Texans 10-6 (4)
Jacksonville Jaguars 9-7
Indianapolis Colts 8-8
Tennessee Titans 6-10

AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs 12-4 (1)
Los Angeles Chargers 9-7 (5)
Denver Broncos 7-9
Oakland Raiders 4-12

AFC Playoffs

Wild Card
Chargers over Texans
Steelers over Ravens

Divisional
Steelers over Patriots
Chiefs over Chargers

Championship
Chiefs over Steelers

 

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles 11-5 (3)
Dallas Cowboys 9-7
New York Giants 5-11
Washington Redskins 3-13

NFC North
Minnesota Vikings 11-5 (2)
Green Bay Packers 10-6 (5)
Chicago Bears 9-7
Detroit Lions 6-10

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons 10-6 (4)
New Orleans Saints 9-7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-9
Carolina Panthers 6-10

NFC West 
Los Angeles Rams 12-4 (1)
Seattle Seahawks 10-6 (6)
San Francisco 7-9
Arizona Cardinals 3-13 

 

NFC Playoffs

Wild Card
Packers over Falcons
Eagles over Seahawks 

Divisional 
Eagles over Vikings
Packers over Rams

Championship
Eagles over Packers

 

Super Bowl
Chiefs over Eagles

 

Photo credit: https://www.arrowheadpride.com/

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The Timing of Andrew Luck’s Retirement

I am shocked by the news of the Andrew Luck retirement. I am sure there is so much we don’t know. So I won’t even get into the reasons or try to speculate. I have my theories. But, what is on my mind is the timing of it. We knew he was dealing with an injury and his Week One status was up in the air. We also know he has previously missed an entire season for an injury that still has some suspect details. 

But the timing is bizarre within the context of his career. Basically, since Luck was drafted in 2012, the Colts received a lot of criticism for not building a better team around him. The criticism was very fair. They especially struggled to draft and develop an offensive line that would better protect him. 

That is not the case entering 2019. The Colts are good. They have an up and coming defense with playmakers, a strong offensive line, a good receiving core, and solid running back group. Indy was entering the season as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. I was pretty confident in their chances to at least reach the AFC Championship Game, if not win it. 

You have to figure this has to do very little if anything to do with football. Well, it could be a cause of football. We are starting to see more and more NFL players retiring earlier than they used to. In this case, it had to be something major for Luck to walk away from the best team he has ever had just weeks before the season started. 

Oh, the money? He walked away from $12.8 million over the next two years. But, I guess that doesn’t matter as much when you’ve already banked about $97 million. 

Speaking of money, if you were quick enough to place the Colts under 9.5 wins bet, I applaud you. It’s currently 6, and am intrigued by the over. The Colts are still a decent team, even without Andrew Luck.

Photo credit: https://thespun.com/

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Week 1 NFL Overreactions

One of my favorite new NFL traditions is the abundance of overreactions following Week 1 of the NFL Season. These topics dominate the radio waves, social media feeds, podcast discussions and barroom debates. Now, I am not at all suggesting I am above this practice. Therefore, I am compelled to share my observations (or overreactions) from Week 1. 

Bills and Cardinals will be forced to play their Josh’s sooner than later

Buffalo and Arizona look destined for very long seasons. What else do they common? They invested top-ten picks in quarterbacks (which also happen to be named Josh). Most teams prefer the scenario where the rookie QB doesn’t have to play right away. But if their performances in Week 1 are a sign of things to come, the Bills and Cardinals could be out of playoff contention by October. Assuming that will be the case, there won’t be any logical reason for the rookie QBs to maintain clipboard duties. These teams clearly invested these picks with the hopes of finding their next franchise quarterbacks, and I anticipate both will make their debuts very soon. Even if neither is “the guy”, the sooner they play, the sooner they will have an answer. 

Andrew Luck can’t carry the Colts

Indy is rejoicing with the return of Andrew Luck. Make no mistake about it; having a franchise QB is the most valuable asset in the NFL. And give Colts credit for having that. However, I can’t quite be jealous of a franchise that went from Manning to Luck seamlessly, but I digress. However, despite having the QB back and healthy, the rest of the roster is still a lot to be desired. There’s no doubt an elite quarterback can cover up for a team’s flaws. But based off Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, that task looks insurmountable for Luck. A 7-9 finish looks like the ceiling for the Colts. Hopefully, the 2019 offseason leads to a more concerted effort to build around their star QB. Don’t get me wrong, I like what the Colts did this past draft, with their high pick investments in the offensive line. But, I doubt that will be enough to get the Colts back into contention this season.

The Giants will be haunted by passing on Sam Darnold

For the record, I am a big fan of Saquon Barkley. I’d go as far to say he has superstar potential. But even if he reaches his full potential, I have a tough time believing that selecting Barkley with the #2 overall pick over Sam Darnold will end up being the correct, long-term decision. It would generous to say Eli Manning’s best years are behind him. He looks cooked and the Giants are kidding themselves if they think he can reclaim the Super Bowl magic. I have a hard enough time justifying the use of a draft pick that high on a running back when you consider the shelf-life of the position and overall impact on a team’s success these days. Maybe if the Giants were a locked and loaded Super Bowl contender with a franchise QB in his prime, I could get behind adding a player like Barkley as the “missing piece”. But the Giants are coming off a 3-13 season with a 37-year starting quarterback. Oh, and I haven’t mentioned how Darnold dazzled in his NFL debut on Monday Night Football, a broadcast that had to be a tough watch for every Giants fan.

The Ravens are a legit AFC contender

This might seem like a foolish suggestion, considering my very low opinion of the Bills, who they dismantled in Week 1. But that win aside, there is a lot to like about the Ravens. They have a dominant defense and vastly improved offensive line. Baltimore has also revamped their receiving core with guys like John Brown and Michael Crabtree. Everyone including Flacco himself knows that he has been a disappointment since signing that huge contract following the 2012 Super Bowl victory. But there are three reasons why I am optimistic that he will have a good 2018. First, he appears to be completely healthy, which wasn’t the case in 2017. Secondly, he is one of the best deep-ball throwers in the NFL, something that should pair well with the weapons in the passing game. Lastly, I’m a believer in the idea that a fire it can light under a QB after the team drafts a quarterback in the first round of the draft.

Winning isn’t a priority for the Raiders

As I wrote in my most recent post, I do not have very high expectations for Oakland in 2018, despite the Jon Gruden hype. They traded away their best player a week before the season in exchange for nothing that will help them in 2018. I get the sense that Jon Gruden isn’t a major Derek Carr fan, despite his time in the MNF booth leading us to believe he loved every player in the NFL. For Gruden, he has an easy out if the Raiders fail to make the playoffs: That he didn’t draft Carr. His contract is manageable in that they will be able to cut him after next season without a significant cap penalty. I can very easily foresee a scenario where the Raiders finish with 4-6 wins, thus are able to use a high pick on a QB in 2019 with the intention for that to be the lame-duck year for Carr. Then Gruden gets to draft his guy, and build the team the way he likes as they start fresh in Sin City.

Source Credit:

http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2018/04/26/cleveland-browns-draft-baker-mayfield-with-no-1-pick-in-nfl-draft.html

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Season-Long NFL Picks & 5 Bold Predictions

A brand new NFL season kicks off this week, starting with the defending champion, Philadelphia Eagles hosting the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night. With that being the case, the time is as good as any to present my annual NFL predictions.

  1. The Washington Redskins will miss Kirk Cousins

I have never been a big Alex Smith fan, primarily due to the limitations of his arm. I’ve always considered him a QB who was good enough to keep your team competitive, but not one capable of leading one to a Super Bowl. On the flipside, Kirk Cousins may be one of the more underrated and underappreciated players in the NFL. You’re probably thinking I’m crazy to suggest a player who cashed in the largest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history is underappreciated. But, with how seemingly desperate the Redskins were to get rid of Cousins, you’d think he was Tim Tebow.

The Redskins were decimated with injuries last season and Cousins still threw for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. Despite his performance, Washington made it clear they were ready to move on from him. The Minnesota Vikings, the beneficiary of the Washington fallout, filled a major void on an already loaded roster. Sure, Case Keenum played very well in 2017. However, the Vikings knew they needed to upgrade at QB in order to have a realistic shot of winning the Super Bowl. And that is exactly what they did.

  1. Jon Gruden will be a massive failure in Oakland

For the past decade, the rumors of Gruden returning to coaching have become an annual tradition. As we know, the rumor finally became reality when he left the Monday Night Football booth to return to the Oakland Raiders for an unprecedented $100 million contract. Gruden has made waves this offseason with very questionable roster moves, but none had been as puzzling as jettisoning Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears this past weekend.

It’s hard not to be concerned about a new coach who seemed to make such a little effort to get along with the team’s best player and determine a solution to keep him. One side may argue that the move will send “a message to the locker room”. But will that be the right message? My hunch says no. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a player on a team that traded away the best player a week before the season in exchange for nothing that will help them in 2018. While the Raiders are yet to play a game, I cannot be too optimistic based off his first offseason.

  1. NFC North will be the best division

There is a clear hierarchy of divisions across the league. But, I genuinely believe the NFC North is the strongest from top to bottom. The Vikings are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They have a truly elite defense devoid of weaknesses. On the offensive side of the ball, Kirk Cousins takes over as the new signal caller and joins a potent passing attack and promising running game. Shift to the Packers, who get Aaron Rodgers back healthy. Unlike most Green Bay teams of the recent past, they appear to finally have a stable running game and enough play-makers on defense to prevent that side of the ball from being a liability. Like Minnesota, they’re a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

By looking to the “bottom half” of the division, the Lions and Bears do not look to be your typical bottom dwellers. The Lions should have an improved offensive line, recent additions to hopefully stabilize their running game to compliment an already strong passing game, and a good enough defense to keep them in every game this season. Last we turn to the Bears, who fortified their defense after acquiring Khalil Mack. The offense will go as far as second-year QB, Mitch Trubisky can take them, but he has enough weapons to lead a very effective offense.

  1. The Philadelphia Eagles will (eventually) be better in 2018

The defending champs enter the regular season very banged up, and most notably without Carson Wentz. Wentz was on his way to winning the NFL MVP before tearing his ACL in Los Angeles last December. As expected, it has been a long recovery and he is yet to be cleared by the doctors. With his status in addition to a handful of other players slated to miss the beginning of the season, I anticipate a bumpy start, even with the first quarter arguably being the easiest part of the schedule.

But, the Eagles will get healthy and I anticipate them getting their stride between October and November. I am also very encouraged by the offseason additions as well as the returning players who missed the Super Bowl run. Once healthy, an argument can be made for this roster being even stronger than the one that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy last February. I truly believe that the team will be fueled by those players who missed out on the triumph and will be extremely motivated to experience it for themselves. I don’t anticipate a Super Bowl hangover.

  1. Dak Prescott will continue to regress

I was alone by thinking a lot of Prescott’s rookie season was a fluke. For most of the season, he was working with ideal conditions that typically leads to a high level of performance. The offensive line and running game were elite and he had several very good options in the passing game. But now as we are entering his third NFL season, the Cowboys’ line looks in disarray and with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten gone, it won’t get any easier.

A lot of pressure comes with being the QB of the Dallas Cowboys. Despite an impressive rookie campaign, I remain extremely skeptical about his long-term potential. He had a down year in 2017 and while a lot of Cowboys supporters assume it was an anomaly, I’m more likely to believe it’s a sign of things to come. Sorry Dallas fans, Dak is a lot closer to Quincy Carter than he is to Troy Aikman or even Tony Romo.

Final Standings

AFC East
New England 11-5
New York Jets 6-10
Miami 5-11
Buffalo 2-14

AFC North
Pittsburgh 10-6
Baltimore 10-6
Cincinnati 7-9
Cleveland 4-12

AFC South
Jacksonville 11-5
Houston 10-6
Tennessee 9-7
Indianapolis 7-9

AFC West
Los Angeles Chargers 10-6
Kansas City 8-8
Denver 6-10
Oakland 4-12

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles 11-5
New York Giants 7-9
Washington 7-9
Dallas 6-10

NFC North
Minnesota 12-4
Green Bay 10-6
Detroit 8-8
Chicago 7-9

NFC South
Atlanta 11-5
New Orleans 10-6
Carolina 9-7
Tampa Bay 6-10

NFC West
Los Angeles Rams 11-5
Seattle 9-7
San Francisco 8-8
Arizona 4-12

AFC Championship
Los Angeles over Pittsburgh

NFC Championship
Atlanta over Minnesota

Super Bowl
Atlanta over Los Angeles

 

Source Credit: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2018/09/05/nfl-power-rankings-week-1-eagles-patriots-khalil-mack/1197206002/

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The UCF Critics are Missing the Point

There has been a lot of debate surrounding UCF’s claim of a National Championship, following their defeat of Auburn in Monday’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. One side is claiming it to be ridiculous, looking at their proclamation as illogical by mocking their bold statement. This group is primarily made up of SEC elitists that have discredited UCF’s 13-0 season by citing their weak schedule and diminishing their win over Auburn by questioning the Tigers’ motivation in the game following an SEC Championship Game loss that knocked them out of the Playoff.

In the other corner, there is the group that has mostly defended UCF all season, claiming they should have had a fair shot at the National Championship, despite the schedule that was perceived as very weak in the eyes of the College Football Playoff Committee. This is a committee that ranked teams with two and three losses ahead of UCF with the argument that those teams played a much tougher schedule.

UCF’s victory over Auburn served as vindication that they did, in fact, deserve to be in the National Championship conversation. This belief was backed up by the fact that Auburn defeated both teams in Monday’s Championship Game earlier in the season. If we applied the transitive property, the logic is very sound.

But despite the arguments, nothing will magically insert UCF into Monday’s game, nor pit them against the winner the following week. So, UCF Athletic Director, Danny White took matters into his own hands by proclaiming UCF as National Champions. He has gone as far to commit to putting up a banner in Spectrum Stadium and honoring the bonuses built into the contract of the coaching staff for winning a National Championship.

But if you think these actions are only about an unofficial proclamation of a championship that the biggest critics think is delusional, you might be missing the point. That is just the tip of the iceberg. This action by UCF has forced the football program into the national sports conversation this whole week. This is completely foreign territory for the Knights. Sure, they had their fifteen minutes of fame following a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor four years ago. But while that 2013 season helped put the UCF Knights on the map, they essentially became lost and forgotten from the national perspective of the college football landscape the following season.

The program calling itself National Champs is an attempt to prevent that from happening again. It’s a message to the rest of college football that UCF is a nationally relevant program and is here to stay. So far, it is working. This week, several prominent current and former college football coaches and analysts have weighed in on UCF’s accomplishments and the merits behind the idea of them being National Champions.

Just yesterday, former long-time FSU Head Coach Bobby Bowden voiced his support for UCF calling themselves National Champions. 

“I’ll be honest with you, they deserve [the national title], in my opinion,” the retired coach said in an interview with The World-Herald.

“But they won’t win it because they’re not in the Power Five, you know? But you take Auburn in November, probably the hottest team in the country, Auburn beat No. 1 and No. 2, then Central Florida beats them. And so I think they got a right to claim it. But the NCAA won’t recognize it.”

The full story on Knight News can be found here.

His detailed quote leads right to the other issue at play and more importantly the next component of UCF’s motivation behind their championship claim. It is an indirect protest of the current system that makes it virtually impossible for a Group of 5 team to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. If the 12-0 UCF Knights can only rise to as high as #12 in the rankings, how can any other Group of 5 program have any hope in future years?

The only exception may be if one of those programs is lucky enough to secure an out-of-conference schedule that includes Alabama, Clemson, and Oklahoma. The problem? Those schools and others at that level will never schedule games against those top Group of 5 programs. Why? Because they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by doing so. There isn’t any incentive.

The current system we have in place is a corrupt and biased one. We have a committee that has shown the evidence of making a conscious effort to block Group of 5 from ever sniffing the playoff. UCF is exposing that problem and for now, they are getting exactly what they want – a national conversation about it.

I have written previously about the need to expand the playoff, and this has been a season to support it. But this time it has been for different reasons. Every year an argument can be made for the teams just outside the playoff field to get a spot. That will always be an issue regardless of how big the playoff field gets. Just look at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, which has a field of 68 teams. There is always an argument put up for the 69th and 70th team.

But what the basketball tournament has is a way for teams of the Mid-Major conferences (the basketball equivalent of the Group of 5) to earn a spot. For them it’s simple. Win your conference and you’re automatically in the tournament. There isn’t a biased and elitist committee that can exercise their power to block those teams from proving their worth in a real game because they weren’t impressed with their regular season schedule. It all gets settled on the floor, as it should be settled on the football field.

Thanks to UCF, this is something that is now getting further examined and their proclamation of a National Championship is only the first domino to fall. It may be naive to suggest anything significant will change next season. But whether the playoff field expands and guarantees a spot or more to Group of 5 teams, or the selection criteria changes, I can safely say this was the first significant step for college football to become a more fair and even-level playing field. It may not fix the revenue gap between the Power 5 and Group of 5, but I feel good about the potential for a more fair playoff system becoming a reality sooner than later.

Source Credits:

https://twitter.com/

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

https://www.theroot.com/

http://www.espn.com/

 

 

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Despite Frost’s Departure, UCF is a Sleeping Giant

The past week has been an unbelievable roller coaster for the UCF Knights Football Program. Rumors of Scott Frost’s departure for Nebraska continued to mount on the eve of the AAC Championship Game against the Memphis Tigers. Following a thrilling victory in double overtime, the rumors became reality and the Knights were without a coach as they were extended an invitation to the Peach Bowl to play the Auburn Tigers on New Year’s Day. Despite what looked like a shaky situation, all signs point to UCF being able to continue their momentum and taking the next step as a football program.

As far as Group of 5 Programs, UCF has been one of the best programs since 2007. Thanks to Saturday’s AAC Championship game win over Memphis, UCF will earn their second trip to a New Year’s Six/BCS Bowl since 2013. UCF is the only Group of 5 program with that distinction. The Knights are one of 15 FBS teams since 2013 to play in multiple New Year’s/BCS Bowl Games.

Teams to Play in Multiple New Year’s Six/BCS Bowls Since 2013

5 Alabama
5 Ohio State
4 Florida State
4 Oklahoma
4 Clemson
3 Michigan State
2 Washington
2 Auburn
2 UCF
2 Baylor
2 Stanford
2 USC
2 Penn State
2 Ole Miss
2 Wisconsin

That’s a pretty special group of storied, big-time college football programs that UCF is a member of as well. From 2007-2016, the Knights have won 10+ games four times, played in seven bowl games while winning three. That’s a pretty good span of success over a ten-year span. Now insert a historic, undefeated 2017 season as the highest scoring team in the nation.

It’s been a storybook season minus the cloud of Scott Frost to Nebraska rumors that grew darker through November until becoming reality this past weekend. The news broke that Frost would be accepting the Nebraska job during overtime of UCF’s thrilling 62-55 win over Memphis.

Under normal circumstances, a fan base would be completely elated to celebrate their third conference title in five years. But this was not a normal circumstance. As much as fans were cheering, the mood in the stadium turned bittersweet as the video board focused on Frost, who was clearly trying to hold back his emotions. During this sequence, he exchanged a few words with outgoing UCF President, Dr. John Hitt in what I imagine Dr. Hitt was taking the time to express his appreciation for what Scott Frost did for the football program in such a short period of time.

By applying logic, Scott Frost cannot be faulted for taking the opportunity to return home to Nebraska to coach his alma mater. It’s a dream job. And while we found out in a story on Monday that the decision was much tougher than anyone thought it would be, Frost did what we expected by accepting the job to become the Cornhuskers next Head Coach.

Despite UCF fans being able to understand and accept Frost’s departure after only two seasons, it’s hard not to still be disappointed. For years I watched big-time Power 5 programs poach successful coaches from Group of 5 programs. It’s an unconscionable system that takes a coach from his team, usually before the big bowl game that getting to was the major goal of the season.

On top of that, it leaves the team in purgatory before the unavoidable process of starting over with a new coach, culture, and class of incoming players. It’s nearly impossible for a good Group of 5 program to sustain success due to inevitable departure of the coach for a bigger job with more money and resources.

Naturally, it’s easy for UCF fans to feel uneasy about the near future. In a way, it’s a Catch-22 because if the best case scenario occurs and UCF comes back strong, what is standing in the way of this process repeating itself within the next couple years? That’s a fair question.

The head coaching job was vacant for less than 72 hours as UCF announced the hiring of Josh Heupel, former Missouri offensive coordinator Monday afternoon. Heupel draws multiple similarities to Scott Frost. Both are former National Championship winning quarterbacks from the Big 12 who served as successful OC’s of major programs before taking the reins at UCF.

UCF athletic director Danny White deserves a lot of credit for not just acting quickly following Frost’s departure, but for working in a $10 million buyout into Heupel’s contract. Clearly White wanted to make a hire that appears to be a seamless transition on paper while doing what he can to prevent another quick exit (Frost’s buyout was $3 million).

UCF fans should be just as excited about the hiring of defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. Shannon recently held the same title with the University of Florida. In addition to Shannon’s credentials as a defensive coach, his recruiting connections to Miami, a historically talent-rich area cannot be understated.

The program has the right people in place to build off the momentum from this historic season. Former head coach George O’Leary did a tremendous job putting UCF on the map in from the mid-2000s before stepping down in 2015. Scott Frost became the first coach to take an 0-12 team to a bowl the following season in 2016, before following up with a 12-0 campaign this season. Now the program is in the hands of a well-respected coaching staff with great recruiting ties.

UCF may still be in the Group of 5, which can certainly be limiting considering their media revenue is roughly 10% of their Power 5 counterparts. Given what UCF has accomplished over the past decade, the size of the university, tv market and upgraded facilities, I have to think their time outside the Power 5 is limited.

It may not be until the early 2020’s until the realignment discussion creeps up again, as the end of the major TV deals draw close. At this rate, there is no question UCF will be one of the most attractive candidates to make the move to a conference like the ACC, SEC or Big 12. And based on what they have been able to accomplish with very limited resources in comparison to major in-state programs like Florida, Florid, and Miami, the sky’s the limit for what UCF can be once they finally get a seat at the table.

 

Source Credits: 

http://www.tampabay.com/sports/college/UCF-s-foes-in-AAC-title-game-Memphis-and-USF-hangover_163150368

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2017/12/02/frost-returning-to-nebraska-after-leading-ucfs-turnaround/108237108/

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/sports/ucf-knights/knights-notepad/os-sp-ucf-josh-heupel-new-coach-20171205-story.html

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Midseason NFL Power Rankings

It’s hard to believe the NFL Regular Season is halfway through the books. Here is where how we would rank all 32 teams at the midpoint of the season. Keep in mind, each teams’ win/loss record is borderline irrelevant. Moreso, these are the rankings based on how good we think the teams are right now.

1. Philadelphia Eagles 8-1

The Eagles are the most complete team in the NFL. Carson Wentz is the odds-on favorite to win the MVP and the defensive front is playing at an elite level. Those two elements generally equate to great success on the football field. It is even more remarkable that Philadelphia is doing this with all of their injuries. (Casey Gillespie)

2. Pittsburgh Steelers 6-2

The Pittsburgh offense has struggled out of the gate and there have been questions about Ben Roethlisberger’s future. They looked to have snapped into gear lately and the defense is also starting to come together. The Steelers have all the talent and experience emerge from the AFC as the conference’s representative in the Super Bowl. (CG)

3. New England Patriots 6-2

The Patriots had a very rocky start on defense, but have somewhat stabilized over the past few weeks. The loss of Julian Edelman has been noticeable, but Tom Brady has had enough to work with on offense to be productive. New England is not the flawless team many of the prognosticators expected they would be, but they looked poised to return to the postseason for the 14th time in the last 15 years. (CG)

4. New Orleans Saints 6-2

Coming off a big win over the disappointing Bucs, New Orleans now sits atop the NFC South at 6-2. They won the first meeting against Carolina, who seems most likely to challenge them as division champs, with a rematch scheduled in the Superdome Week 13. They will also play the Falcons in two of their last four games, making it mandatory for them to keep up this momentum if they want a shot in the playoffs. (Chris Himes)

5. Kansas City Chiefs 6-3

Kansas City leads the AFC West as the only team over .500 and has the best chance of making the playoffs. Alex Smith is having a career year, and not many predicted Kareem Hunt to be Rookie of the Year. The biggest red flag is a bottom-5 defense, but their ability to cause turnovers and have Hill as a returner leaves them hope to go far in the playoffs. (CH)

6. Los Angeles Rams 6-2

The Rams are the most pleasant surprise of the season. New coach, Sean McVeigh has worked wonders to help Jared Goff make an enormous second-year jump. With the reemergence of Todd Gurley and additions in the passing game like Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, and rookie, Cooper Kupp. The defense has had pieces in place for the past few years, but it looks like the offense has caught up. (CG)

7. Carolina Panthers 6-2

The Panthers will play the Dolphins on Monday Night Football before a Week 11 bye. They’re coming off two division wins against the Falcons and Bucs, whom they will play again to close out the season. McCaffrey will play an even bigger role in the passing game now that Benjamin is gone, and Cam Newton needs to be smarter with the ball (11 interceptions, 5 fumbles). Many are still scratching their head at that Buffalo trade. (CH)

8. Seattle Seahawks 5-3

While the Seahawks are one of the better teams in the NFC, they don’t look like their usual dominant selves at the midpoint of the season. The defense has been great and has arguably played at their championship level of the past few years. Their limitations lie within their running game and offensive line. The line got a boost following the acquisition of Duane Brown before the trade deadline. (CG)

9. Jacksonville Jaguars 5-3

Things are finally coming together for the Jags this season. Behind a dominant defense, they seemed to have figured out their formula for success: control the ball with a run-heavy offensive attack, limit the chance for Blake Bortles to make big mistakes and ride a dominant defense. It’s nice to see all the high draft picks and big free agent signings start to translate to results on the field. (CG)

10. Dallas Cowboys 5-3

Dallas is coming off a convincing victory over Kansas City this past Sunday. Ezekiel Elliot is clearly the team MVP, and the Cowboys postseason hopes may rest on his ability to continually avoid a suspension. The defense is still very suspect, but if they can keep getting pressure up front on a consistent basis, they could cover up their liabilities on the back end. (CG)

11. Buffalo Bills 5-3

The Bills made moves in the preseason to suggest winning was not a priority in 2017. New head coach, Sean McDermott has done a tremendous job as the Bills miraculously find themselves at 5-3 at the halfway point. Buffalo is firmly entrenched in the playoff race and has a chance to return to the postseason for the first time since 1999. (CG)

12.  Tennessee Titans 5-3

The Titans are starting to put together some wins as Marcus Mariota’s health has gradually improved. The offense has plenty of weapons and it should only get better with Corey Davis now healthy. The defense is still very suspect and the more they are exposed, the more their playoff chances will shrink. But if Tennessee can stay balanced on offense and play ball control, they have a good shot to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. (CG)

13. Minnesota Vikings 6-2

The Minnesota defense has been phenomenal and Case Keenum has essentially held down the fort and done enough not to lose. Despite being 6-2, it’s hard to get super optimistic about the ceiling for the Vikings if they make it to January and will need Keenum to keep pace with the top teams in the NFC. If Teddy Bridgewater can return and is effective, the ceiling could be much higher. (CG)

14. Washington Redskins 4-4

The Redskins are coming off the most shocking win of the weekend after winning at Seattle. Things were beginning to trend downward following consecutive losses to their division rivals. Kirk Cousins was impressive, despite playing behind only one regular starter on the offensive line. If Washington can get healthy, don’t rule them out for making a run at a wild-card spot. (CG)

15. Detroit Lions 4-4

The Lions clearly have the talent on both sides of the ball to return to the postseason. Matt Stafford is playing very well and the defense has been solid. The Lions have a very good secondary and the defense as a whole could be even better if they could generate more consistent pressure from their front four. (CG)

16. Atlanta Falcons 4-4

How have the Falcons followed up blowing the Super Bowl? By starting 4-4 despite decent team statistics. It would be crazy to expect Matt Ryan to repeat 2016, but what about Julio? He is on pace for just two receiving TDs, which would be tied for a career low when he only played 5 games in 2013. Playing against the Cowboys with Zeke before traveling to Seattle will be quite the challenge, but will be a solid measure to determine if this team has a legit shot at the big game again. (CH)

17. Oakland Raiders 4-5    

The addition of Marshawn Lynch had many thinking this team had an easy route to the Super Bowl; unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. They only have one division one in three games, which is worst in the West. So what needs to be fixed? Their defense. They are ranked 28th in the league, while the offense sits at 10. Mack has yet to force a turnover this season and only has four sacks. They will take this week off and look to make a second-half run. (CH)

18. Baltimore Ravens 4-5

There may not be another team in the NFL more impacted by injuries than the Ravens. Unfortunately, Baltimore has not been able to overcome those injuries. Joe Flacco’s mediocre play has kept the offense very limited and the defense has not been the dominant unit we have been accustomed to seeing over the past 10-15 years. The Ravens appear to have an 8-8 ceiling. (CG)

19. Arizona Cardinals 4-4

Despite being without David Johnson and Carson Palmer, the Cardinals are not completely dead…yet. They have enough talent on defense to remain competitive but look like a 7-9 team at best behind Drew Stanton. Many people thought this would be the last hurrah for the aging core in Arizona, but injuries are making it look like the championship window has closed. (CG)

20. Los Angeles Chargers 3-5

Despite sitting at 3-5, the Chargers have too much talent to count them out of the playoff picture. They have an offense capable of being very prolific and arguably field the best defensive end duo in the NFL, with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Getting constant pressure on the QB without blitzing usually leads to good things. Los Angeles has a handful of close, excruciating losses in the first half of the season. If they can get better at finishing games, don’t sleep on the Chargers going on a run. (CG)

21. New York Jets 4-5

The Jets may be the biggest overachievers of the season to date. Every move in the offseason indicated this was a throwaway season. Apparently, the coaches and players didn’t get the memo. The defense has been solid and Josh McCown has led what has been an adequate offense. (CG)

22. Houston Texans 3-5

Losing their Rookie of the Year quarterback is devastating for the Texans. Although they’re in the weakest division in football, it will be near impossible to make the playoffs with Tom Savage at the helm and Watt out until next season. While the present seems gloomy, the future appears bright for Houston. (CH)

23. Denver Broncos 3-5

The vaunted Denver defense got taken to the woodshed this past Sunday to the Eagles, giving up 51 points, the most since 2010. Even if that was just a bad day, the bigger concerns are on offense and specifically at the quarterback position. Paxton Lynch is looking like a bust, especially if he cannot beat out Trevor Semenian or Brock Osweiler. The Broncos are a great example of a team that can have talent in so many places but cannot be successful with a terrible quarterback situation. (CG)

24. Miami Dolphins 4-4

The Dolphins may be the worst 4-4 team in the NFL. Their wins have been hollow and Jay Cutler doesn’t look like he is up to lead Miami back to the playoffs. Outside of a couple of playmakers, the defense looks mediocre and incapable of keeping the better offenses in check. It looks like .500 may be the ceiling for the Dolphins this season. (CG)

25. Chicago Bears 3-5

The Bears defense has kept them competitive through the first half of the season as rookie QB, Mitchell Tributzky continues to get eased into the NFL. A lot of credit has to go to John Fox, who has done a lot with a team that looked destined to lose 12-13 games back in the preseason. (CG)

26. Cincinnati Bengals 3-5

The losses to the offensive line this past offseason have been glaring, as the Bengals have struggled mightily to move the ball. Cincinnati looks primed to miss out on the postseason for the second straight year and one has to wonder if major changes are coming at the end of the season. (CG)

27. Green Bay Packers 4-4

The Packers without Aaron Rodgers were on a national stage Monday Night and it was not a pretty site. Brett Hundley managed the game fine, but the emphasis needs to be put on the word “managed”. Assuming Rodgers doesn’t return this year, it looks like a lost year for Green Bay. (CG)

28. Indianapolis Colts 3-6

Statistically, Indianapolis has the worst defense in the league. Offensively, they’re really missing Luck. Much like other terrible teams who look forward to the future, the Colts have two future stars on each side of the ball: Marlon Mack is looking like a solid replacement for Gore, and Malik Hooker leads the team with three interceptions. Fans are keeping their fingers crossed that Luck will return to 100% next season. (CH)

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2-6

The recent move by the Bucs won’t sit well with fans favoring instant gratification. It’s smart for the future, as they don’t want an Andrew Luck situation. It’s frustrating for the fans who had so much hope going into the season, and for the team who has so much talent, to be sitting at 2-6 halfway through the season. And what’s worse, they used up their bye in week 1. The rest of 2017 doesn’t look good for the pewter players. (CH)

30. New York Giants 1-7 

This is a completely lost season for the Giants, and all signs point to blowing things up at season’s end starting with the inevitable dismissal of Ben McAdoo. It may also be time for the front office to prioritize finding the replacement for Eli Manning. (CG)

31. San Francisco 49ers 0-9

Despite being winless at the midpoint of the season, the 49ers should get someone of a jolt following the acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo last week. He is realistically another game or two away from taking the starting QB job away from the rookie, CJ Beathard. However, he should give the 49ers enough of a lift down the stretch to avoid a winless season. (CG)

32. Cleveland Browns 0-8

Much like last season, a major storyline of the season will be the question if the Browns will avoid going 0-16. Sadly, they may be even worse than last year. Passing up on Carson Wentz and most recently Deshaun Watson could haunt this franchise for as long as the NFL allows them to exist. (CG)

 

Source Credit: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/eagles/2017/11/05/carson-wentz-philadelphia-eagles-denver-broncos/834304001/

 

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The Perfect Season for an Expanded Playoff Field

Last November, I made the case for the College Football Playoff needing to expand the field to eight teams. This season is panning out to be one that could benefit from it more than ever. I’d like to think after the conclusion of conference championship games on the first Saturday of December, it may be a lot easier for the committee to come up with a consensus Top 4 then it was for the committee to release their first rankings Tuesday night.

There are a handful of championship-caliber teams that will likely be on the outside looking in thanks to this being a season in which the Big 10 and SEC both boasting multiple teams worthy of a spot. Don’t forget about the notable independent, Notre Dame who will be in the mix all the way to the end.

The initial Top 4 included Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson. This Top 4 significantly contrasted with the latest Associated Press Poll, which would have produced a bracket of Alabama and Georgia of the SEC and Wisconsin and Ohio State of the Big 10. Now we can assume that these schools likely squaring off in their conference’s respective championship games that the rankings will sort itself out. But is that really what is best for college football, assuming those conference runner-ups find themselves on the outside looking in? I’d say no.

Conference Imbalance?

It can be argued that this is a down year for the other three Power 5 Conferences. While Clemson landed at #4 in the initial rankings, the ACC is not a lock to have a representative.

The Big 12 has the 5th, 8th and 11th ranked teams in Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State, respectively. While the Big 12 added a conference championship game that has the potential to improve the resume of its champion, the risk of an upset by a two-loss team could lead to the conference failing to field a team in the bracket for the third time in four years.

The Pac 12 is the most in-flux, with the highest ranked team being the Washington Huskies sitting at #12. For the Pac 12 to send a team to the Playoff, Washington is their best chance and they would need the Huskies to win out and for a lot of teams ahead of them to lose. Even if that happens, is that a good scenario for college football: a team that is outside the Top 10 leaping 9-10 spots thanks to the slip-ups of better teams? Again, I’d say no.

The question of these three conferences has to be asked – Are these teams being penalized for facing tougher competition at the top of their conference than the undefeated teams in the SEC and Big 10. Through Week 9, both Alabama and Wisconsin have not played a single ranked opponent. On the other hand, one-loss teams such as Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Penn State, TCU, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and even Memphis all have wins over ranked opponents.

What’s the point? Most, if not all, of the teams I just mentioned, should still be in the running to compete for the National Championship. Theoretically, just about all of those teams still have a chance. However, most need teams ahead of them in the rankings to lose in order to reach the Top 4. In a world with a Top 8, all of those teams would be able to control their own destiny to secure a spot in the Playoff.

Untested Unbeatens 

Then you have the undefeated teams that arguably have not been tested to the degree in which the previously mentioned teams have been to this point in the season. While Wisconsin, Miami, and UCF have simply taken care of business by beating everyone on their respective schedules, they don’t have quite the resume to be considered Top 4 teams. Should that preclude them from at least getting a shot against the best in the country to compete for a National Championship? Absolutely not.

I’m not naive enough to suggest they would beat or even are at the same level as the undefeated teams at the top. But I don’t think they should miss out on the opportunity to play them just because their schedule wasn’t strong enough. Fortunately for Miami and Wisconsin, both will have the opportunity down the stretch to strengthen their resume. Miami has games scheduled against Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and potentially a highly-ranked opponent in the ACC Championship Game while Wisconsin will likely have an opportunity against a top-ranked opponent in the Big 10 Championship Game.

UCF will not have that same chance, especially after USF fell out of the Top 25 following their first loss of the season to Houston. At the same time, it would be fun to at least give the top Group of 5 team a shot, and in this case UCF a chance to see if they belong with the big boys.

The bottom line is that there are several, high-caliber teams that may technically still be in the mix to make the College Football Playoff, but realistically will not be able to get into that position solely based on their own merits the rest of the season. This is why this season would have been the ideal year to have an expanded playoff field.

Top 8

My proposal that I lined out last November would award would the eight spots as follows: five Power 5 Champs, two at-large and the highest-ranked Group of 5 team. If we followed this formula, following the initial CFP Rankings, we would currently have seedings and first-round matchups that looked like this:

  1. Georgia (SEC)
  2. Alabama (At-Large 1)
  3. Notre Dame (At-Large 2)
  4. Clemson (ACC) 
  5. Oklahoma (Big 12)
  6. Ohio State (Big 10)
  7. Washington (Pac 12)
  8. UCF (Group of 5)

In the Hunt: Penn State, TCU, Wisconsin, Miami

First Round

Georgia vs. UCF, Alabama vs. Washington, Notre Dame vs. Ohio State, and Clemson vs. Oklahoma.

What college football fan wouldn’t want to watch that? The move to eight teams is on the horizon, and hopefully, this season pushes the needle closer to it happening. The best part of this system may be that subjectively will be limited and earning a spot in “the dance” will have a much clearer path.

 

Source Credit: http://www.houstonpress.com/news/what-would-an-8-team-college-football-playoff-race-look-like-this-season-8926518

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NFL Power Rankings after the 1st Quarter of the Season

It’s hard to believe a fourth of the NFL regular season is in the books. While a lot can and will change, there is a decent sample size to assess where all 32 teams rank across the league.

1.Kansas City Chiefs (4-0)

It only took until Week 4 for there to be only one undefeated team left in the NFL. That happens to be the Chiefs and it has not been any fluke. The defense has been as good as to be expected, despite the loss of Eric Berry. The major difference has been the play of Alex Smith, who I’d like to think had a fire lit under him after the team traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes. It also hasn’t hurt that rookie, Kareem Hunt has been the best running back in the NFL through Week 4. Kansas City looks like a team primed for a deep playoff run.

2. Atlanta Falcons (3-1)

The Falcons are very talented on both sides of the ball and have everything it takes to make it back to the Super Bowl. Before a disappointing home loss to the Bills, they were less than a yard away from also losing to the Lions. Therefore, the Falcons could very easily be 2-2 and still have a lot of very tough games ahead on the schedule. As long as the offense plays up to its potential and the defense continues to build off last year, the Falcons should be playing in January again this season.

3. Detroit Lions (3-1)

The Lions have been one of the more impressive and surprising teams to start the year. If not for a heart-breaking and questionable loss to the Falcons in Week 3, Detroit would be the lone undefeated team in the NFC. The most encouraging thing about this team is how balanced they are. Matt Stafford is playing exceptionally well, the running game is solid with a healthy Ameer Abdullah and the defense just keeps making plays. If they can stay healthy and keep it going, they could be a very dangerous playoff team.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)

While the Steelers have gotten off to a 3-1 start that has them in sole position of first place in the AFC North, the offense is yet to flash its full potential. It’s only a matter of time, given the plethora of offensive weapons. I can’t see a scenario where the Pittsburgh offense doesn’t get it together, win double-digit games and get back to the postseason.

5. Green Bay Packers (3-1)

The Packers picked up right where they left off, following a strong close out to the 2016 season. Aaron Rodgers has looked his elite self and is getting contributions from multiple players in the passing game. Mike Daniels may be one of the most underrated defensive players in the NFL, and when healthy helps the Green Bay defense function as an above-average unit. We know what the offense can do. The play of the defense will most likely determine if they can get back to the Super Bowl.

6. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)

The Eagles are off to a 3-1 start thanks to a big second-year jump by Carson Wentz in addition to dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Generally, good QB play combined with strong offensive and defensive line play equates to success in football. The schedule-makers didn’t do Philadelphia any favors, being that they started their first two games and three of their first four on the road. The Eagles overcame the tough opening slate and have the makings of a legitimate playoff contender.

7. Carolina Panthers (3-1)

The Panthers are looking very similar to their 2015 team that went 15-1 and made it to the Super Bowl. In what was the biggest upset of the weekend, they went into Foxboro and defeated the mighty Patriots. Cam Newton isn’t quite playing in top form but he got a lot closer this past Sunday. If he can fully regain his MVP form from two years ago, Carolina could be in line for a postseason berth.

8. Denver Broncos (3-1)

The Denver defense looks like its dominant self through the first quarter of the season. The big difference and possibly the reason for being 3-1 has been the strong play of Trevor Siemian. The Broncos have been trying to solve the quarterback problem since the retirement of Peyton Manning. They’ve attempted to do so by spending a 1st round pick on Paxton Lynch, which is looking like a bust. The Broncos have enough talent on the roster to get back to the postseason as long as Siemian can keep up his performance.

9. New England Patriots (2-2)

It now seems pretty funny that there were a series of debates across the media landscape around the idea of the Pats repeating their 16-0 mark from ten years ago. The offense has been as potent as expected as they have averaged 32.3 points per game. The problem has been on the defense, which severely lacks a pass rush and has led to allowing 32 points per game. For as much of a defensive genius Bill Belichick may be, he has quite the challenge to sort out if he wants to get New England back to another Super Bowl.

10. Houston Texans (2-2)

It looks like Houston hit on Deshaun Watson and Bill O’Brien, who has been labeled a quarterback whisperer, appears to finally have a franchise QB to develop. The defense is elite, and there is very little evidence to dispute that through four games. The Texans will go as far as Watson and the offense will take them.

11. Washington Redskins (2-2)

The Redskins are coming off a hard-fought loss that can be seen as equally frustrating and encouraging. It was encouraging in that they were dominating the only undefeated team left in the NFL for most of the game Monday Night, yet frustrating in how it felt like they gave it away with mistakes and dumb penalties. Nonetheless, Washington is a solid football team that has greatly improved on defense. We’ll see how they deal with the loss of Josh Norman, but I think the Redskins will be in the mix until season’s end.

12. Buffalo Bills (3-1)

The Bills appear to have nailed their hiring of Sean McDermott, as he has led a team that due to their questionable roster moves in the offseason was not making winning a priority in 2017. Even if that was the case, McDermott surely didn’t get the message. They are coming off an extremely impressive win in Atlanta and find themselves in 1st place in an AFC East that the Patriots have owned for the past decade in a half.

13. Los Angeles Rams (3-1)

The Rams are one of the truly pleasant surprises in the first quarter of the season. Jared Goff looks like the QB that deserved to be selected #1 overall and Sean McVeigh is looking like a terrific hire. The offense has been very efficient and the playmakers on defense have done their part in helping the Rams get off to such a great start. It’s not crazy to suggest the Rams could win the NFC West.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1)

Despite having a delayed start to the year due to Hurricane Irma, the Bucs are right in the thick of what appears will be a very competitive NFC South race. Their win against the Giants was a great indicator of how mentally tough this team is, considering how desperate their opponent was playing in order to secure their first win. Third-year QB, Jameis Winston has all the weapons to help him have a breakout season and lead Tampa Bay to its first playoff appearance in ten years.

15. Seattle Seahawks (2-2)

While it came against the lowly Colts, the Seahawks got a much-needed dominant win on Sunday Night Football to even up their record at 2-2. The defense is still one of the NFL’s best, but the offense remains a concern due to its dreadful offensive line. Unlike the Giants who have similar strengths and weaknesses, they have a very mobile QB in Russell Wilson who can buy time with his legs in order to make plays in the passing game.

16. Dallas Cowboys (2-2)

The diagnosis of the Cowboys is fairly simple. The offense is very good and the defense is mediocre at best. When you are very good on one side of the ball and bad on the other side, you have an average football team. Dallas sits at 2-2, an average record. They have playmakers in the front seven who will need to play even better in order to cover up for the inexperience in the secondary if they want to return to the playoffs this year.

17. Tennesee Titans (2-2)

The Titans were the chic preseason pick to come out of the AFC South. A lot of that rests on the health of Marcus Mariota, which is already a concern following an injury in Week 4. When he is in the game and mobile, Tennessee has one of the most dynamic rushing attacks in the NFL. The defense can be very vulnerable, as it showed list past Sunday when they were torched by Deshaun Watson in Houston.

18. Minnesota Vikings (2-2)

The Vikings have one of the best defenses in the NFL, with difference-making players at all three levels. The fate of their season rests on the health of Sam Bradford, which historically has been a pretty bleak bet. Case Keenum has played okay in relief and has managed to grab one win in three starts. But if Bradford doesn’t return soon, the ceiling for Minnesota is likely an 8-8 finish.

19. Arizona Cardinals (2-2)

The Cardinals have had a very up and down first quarter of the season as they sit at .500. Their wins came against teams with a combined record of 1-7 and losses are at the hands of teams with a combined record of 5-3. That is to be expected of a team who lost their best player, David Johnson in Week 1 but has enough talent on both sides of the ball to beat the bad teams.

20. Oakland Raiders (2-2)

The Raiders haven’t quite looked like the dominant 12-win team from a season ago. A lot of their hopes rest on the health of Derek Carr, who will likely be out for a few weeks following a back injury in Denver. Hopefully, EJ Manuel can hold down the fort and keep Oakland in the AFC West race until Carr returns.

21. Baltimore Ravens (2-2)

After starting 2-0 while outscoring their opponents 44-10, the Ravens have dropped their last two while being outscored 70-16. Sunday’s loss to the Steelers made me think they were still shell-shocked by the Jaguars in the drubbing they suffered in London. I don’t want to be too harsh because there is not another team in the NFL that has been hit by the injury bug as hard as Baltimore has. But they’ll have to figure out a way to right the ship or it could have the makings of a very long season.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2)

The Jaguars have been very up and down through the first four games. They have had two extremely impressive wins against the Texans and the Ravens and very bad losses at the hands of the Titans and Jets. The defense is playing very well as all of the top draft picks of the past few years are beginning to translate to results. Jacksonville’s season-long success hinges on a balanced offensive attack and needed improvement from Blake Bortles from last year’s disastrous campaign.

23. New Orleans Saints (2-2)

The Saints are off to a start that is very emblematic of who they have been since 2014, an average team that looks destined to be 7-9. The offense has been very good and Drew Brees looks like his usual elite self. Stop me if you have heard this before, but the defense is below average. The difference is the emergence of a few young promising players, specifically the rookie CB Marshon Lattimore. New Orleans is very much in the mix at 2-2 in what looks to be the best top-to-bottom division in the NFL.

24. Cincinnati Bengals (1-3)

The Bengals secured a desperate win this past Sunday after an abysmal 0-3 start. While Cincinnati has been an impressive 58-36-2 since 2011, the slow start to the season can very easily be attributed to the losses in free agency to their offensive line. They have dug themselves in an early hole, but still have enough talent and experience to go on a run and get back in the playoff race.

 

25. Los Angeles Chargers (0-4)

The Chargers may be the most disappointing team of the season to date. They have enough talent on both sides of the ball to suggest they could be a dark-horse candidate in the AFC West. With all of the talent, Los Angeles has had a tough time closing out games, which has been a chronic issue for this franchise. Three of their four losses have come by a total margin of seven points. If two of those games could have been converted to wins, the outlook for the Chargers would be looking a lot different. But like Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.”

26. Miami Dolphins (1-2)

The Dolphins are coming off a very embarrassing performance in London, as they were shut out by a mediocre Saints defense. They have beaten up themselves with penalties, which is something they have not been able to afford given their lack of playmakers on defense. Jay Cutler has been very underwhelming and the question has to be asked – Would the-the offense be any worse if it was being led by Matt Moore?

27. New York Giants (0-4)

Despite winning 11 games a season ago, the Giants could not have had a worse start to the season. The achilles heel has been their historically abysmal offensive line. This was their weakness in 2016 and one that the front office completely neglected in the offseason. Due to that, the running game has been nonexistent and passing game has been limited to quick hitters. They still have a very good defense, but it has not been enough to avoid an 0-4 start.

28. New York Jets (2-2)

It may be early. But its nothing short of remarkable that the Jets have already won two games in a season most prognosticators questioned whether they would win two games all season. Given the lack of proven talent on the roster and a true journeyman starting quarterback in Josh McCown, its a great of great coaching by Todd Bowles.

29. Indianapolis Colts (1-3)

As much as the Colts obviously miss Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett has been serviceable in relief. While he may be serviceable, he’s not good enough to make up for the talent deficiencies throughout the Indianapolis roster. If Luck doesn’t return soon, the Colts are likely headed for a 4-12 or 5-11 finish. If he can return and play at the level we can expect, the Colts have a chance to stay relevant throughout the season.

30. Chicago Bears (1-3)

While the Bears have a handful of promising young players on defense, the big bright spots lie within the dynamic running back combo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Chicago may be a year or two away from competing for anything significant and it looks like the team has recognized that with their decision to start Mitch Trubisky for the upcoming Monday Night game against Minnesota.

31. San Francisco 49ers (0-4)

The Kyle Shanahan era has gotten off to an even tougher start than even probably would have imagined. The defense has put out two respectable performances in their losses to Seattle and Arizona, as they surrendered 12 and 18 points, respectively. The problem is that your defense has to be practically perfect in order to win with Brian Hoyer under center. San Francisco has a lot of promising young talent and it may not be until late in the season until we see that start to translate to tangible results.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-4)

After wondering if the Browns regret passing on Carson Wentz in 2016, they now possibly now doing the same with Deshaun Watson. Instead, they have to deal with the growing pains of Deshone Kizer as they attempt to evaluate if he can finally be the guy to end the QB carousel. At this point, that has to be the priority for the Browns as they are likely headed for another year at the bottom of the AFC North.

Source Credit: http://www.businessinsider.com/kansas-city-chiefs-backdoor-cover-2017-10

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Week 3 NFL Takeaways and Bets for Week 4

Thursday Night Melee

It’s pretty funny how we all justifiably criticize Thursday Night Football for being a terrible product and leading up to last week’s game. It was set up for a brutal game to watch, with the 49ers and Rams, teams that combined to win six games a season ago, set to play. Much to everyone’s surprise, we were treated with the most thrilling Thursday Night game in many years as Los Angeles topped San Francisco 41-39. The NFL amazes me in the sense that so often the opposite of what we expect ends up happening.

Giants in Trouble

If you told me after Week 3 that three teams would be 2-1 and one would be 0-3, I wouldn’t guess it would be the Giants. Their struggles are a true testament to the importance of an offensive line, as they were manhandled by the Eagles’ defensive front this past Sunday afternoon. New York still has a lot of talent and it may be premature to say their season is over, but they look like a team in turmoil that has dug themselves an enormous early hole in the NFC East.

Falcons look hangover free

Just about every prognosticator assumed the Falcons would struggle mightily after their Super Bowl collapse last February. There has been a documented history of teams losing the Super Bowl to have down season in the following year. Based on the way Atlanta blew a 28-3 lead to New England, it seemed inevitable this trend would continue. After starting 3-0, the Falcons look like one of the best teams in the NFL, thus are not showing any signs of a Super Bowl hangover. It’s a strong sign for how good of a coach Mike Smith is.

Browns look to be in for a long year (again)

Stop me if you heard this before. But, after watching the Browns lose in Indianapolis this past Sunday to the Jacoby Brissett-led Colts, it looks like it will be another tough year in Cleveland. They may finally have a QB to build around in Deshone Kizer, which cannot be overlooked, but the Browns look destined to finish with double-digit losses for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons. I like a lot about what the Browns are doing in terms of their Sam Hinkie approach to acquiring draft picks and building for the long-term, but it looks unlikely that we will see dividends this season.

5 Bets for Week 4 (3-2 Last Week, 7-3 Overall)

New Orleans -3 Miami

In the second London game of the season, I think we have the potential for another lopsided outcome. I’m not suggesting the Saints dominate the Dolphins to the degree that the Jaguars did to the Ravens. But I like the prospect of Drew Brees lighting up the lowly Miami secondary. If I were to throw in an intangible argument to strengthen my case, I think the Saints get an added advantage by traveling over to London a day earlier than the Dolphins, giving them a little extra time to adjust.

Green Bay -7 Chicago

Seven points may seem like a lot to lay in a division game, especially against a team that just defeated the Steelers a week ago. But despite this being the most storied rivalry in NFL history, the Bears are due for a major letdown as they travel to Lambeau Field Thursday Night to face the Packers. The Packers look like a true Super Bowl contender and I like them to win this game comfortably.

Dallas/Los Angeles Rams Over 47.5

I have hit the under’s pretty hard through the first few weeks of the regular season, but this game has shootout written all over it. The Rams finally have a QB who can sling it in Jared Goff and will be facing a banged up and inexperienced secondary. For all the talent on the defensive side of Los Angeles, they have really struggled against the run. This sets up for a big day for Ezekiel Elliott. I like the total for this game to get in the fifties.

Buffalo/Atlanta Under 48.5

I am going the other way with an over/under just one point higher than the last bet. The Bills offense has been borderline prolific at home the past couple years but has been anemic on the road. I see Buffalo really struggling to score points against a very talented Atlanta defense. On the other side of the ball, the Bills have just enough on defense to keep the Falcons potent offense in check just enough to make the under a good play here.

New York Giants +3 Tampa Bay

The Giants are the definition of being “up against the wall” as they travel down to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers. The Bucs are really banged up on defense and the Giants have a good opportunity to capitalize. New York still has an elite defense that is run by arguably one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL, Steve Spagnuolo. With as much promise Jameis Winston shows, he is still a young QB who is very prone to mistakes. I like the Giants to cover the three if not win outright.

Photo Credit: http://lastwordonprofootball.com/2017/09/24/week-three-new-york-giants-takeaways/