Posts Tagged ‘Dallas Cowboys’

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo looks for an opening to pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Will Tony Romo finally lead America’s team back to the playoffs? (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

 

 

By KELTON BROOKS

(@BrooksWeekly)

This is part two of the series of preseason predictions. Last week was the AFC divisional predictions, this week is the NFC, who has won the Super Bowl four of the last five seasons.

 


NFC North

1. Detroit Lions (11-5)

Last season was a tale of two different teams for the Detroit Lions. The Lions started off hot with a 6-3 record, only to lose six of the last seven games. In those first nine games, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw 19 touchdowns to seven interceptions. His first brilliant nine game stretch was quickly forgotten after throwing 10 touchdowns to 12 interceptions the remainder of the season.

Inconsistency as a team and inconsistency from a player whose job is to lead the team.

Now comes new Lions’ coach Jim Caldwell whose job is to do just that,  add consistency. Caldwell knows how to work with quarterbacks. When he was the quarterback coach in Baltimore, the Ravens demoted offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and named Caldwell to the same position. The Ravens never looked back and Caldwell helped lead the Ravens offense and quarterback Joe Flacco to a historic postseason run ending in a 34–31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

Caldwell works well with talent under center. He led Peyton Manning and the Colts to a 14-2 record and one of the top offensive in the NFL in 2009. On a team with Stafford, the best wide receiver in the NFL in Calvin Johnson, recently acquired receiver Golden Tate and the rookie, athletic tight end Eric Ebron, the Lions may have the best passing attack in the league. Not to mention Reggie Bush slipping out the backfield. If the Lions’ secondary improves from last year, then this team will be dangerous throughout the season.

2. Green Bay Packers (10-6)

The Packers finally developed a running game in snagging running back Eddie Lacy who turned out to become the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 71 time the past two seasons and he only appeared in nine games last season due to a collarbone injury. The presence of Lacy was a sigh of relief to take the load off Rodgers, but the Packers still have a leaky offensive line.

Green Bay is seen as a finesse team who lack physicality. Nothing has been done to wipe away this notion as San Francisco ended their playoff run in back-to-back seasons rushing for a combine 490 yards.

The Packers are in a talented yet vastly underrated division. They have elite offensive weapons and are poised to make the playoffs lead by Rodgers, but if their defense doesn’t catch up, they will endure another one-and-done in the postseason.

3. Chicago Bears (8-8)

This team is an enigma. Putting your trust in Jay Cutler is like putting your trust in a blind man telling you to stick your hand in a bucket of hissing water hoses. On arm talent alone, Cutler is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. But it’s something about him that’s always missing.

Last year, I pondered over whether the Bears could represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. In all fairness, Cutler only played 11 games. Josh McCown, who is now the Buccaneers starting quarterback, played admirably is Cutler’s absence, but even he couldn’t succeed in an offense with two 6-foot-4 towers on the outside in receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.

The offensive line is much improved lead by second-year guard Kyle Long and left tackle Jermon Bushrod. Chicago has one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL in Matt Forte. They have a talented front seven on defense led by Jared Allen, formerly with the division rival Vikings, and breakout linebacker to watch Jon Bostic. Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman will continue smother receivers on the outside.

The downfall of this team is at safety. Rookie Brock Vereen is currently listed at the starting free safety and the acquisition of Ryan Mundy who came over from the Giants, at strong safety. An unproven player and a player who has plateaued.

You never know what you’re going to get out of the Bears.

4. Minnesota Vikings (4-12)

It’s hard watching future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson’s talent washed away on a mediocre team. The Vikings have bright spots in some areas in highlight reel receiver Cordarralle Patterson and Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph. But who will throw them the ball?

Matt Cassell has proved he’s only a quick-fix at the position and Christian Ponder is the forgotten man. Minnesota traded back up in the first round to select Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The former Heisman hopeful and consensus preseason lock for the No. 1 overall pick watched his stock nose-dive after a poor pro day workout.

On the defensive side of the ball, Minnesota drafted the pass rushing linebacker Anthony Barr out of UCLA ninth overall, but even he alone can’t fix the Vikings 31st ranked defense from a year ago. The Vikings defense gave up 30 points per game last season, giving up 397.6 yards a game. In a division with the Bears, Packers and Lions high-powered offenses, the Vikings don’t have the manpower to stop them. Or keep pace in scoring for that matter.


 

NFC South

1. New Orleans Saints (13-3)

The only team stopping the Saints from winning the South is the Saints. The pass-happy Saints will continue to follow the lead of quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham, wide receiver Marques Colton and lighting rookie in a bottle Brandin Cooks. It’s pass first, second and third in New Orleans—ranked second overall in 2013 in passing but 25th in rushing at 92.1 YPG—but when you have a record breaking quarterback in Brees and an offense tailored around his skill-set, the Saints will march down the field on any team.

Rob Ryan catapulted a poor defense to fourth overall in 2013, giving up 305.7 yards per game and a stifling 194.1 through the air (2nd). The defense has only gotten better adding All-Pro safety Jarius Byrd to pair him next to last year’s standout rookie Kenny Vaccaro. New Orleans also added veteran, future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey into the mix. Bailey is a shell of himself at this point in his career, but he’s still an upgrade nonetheless.

The road to the NFC South crown is through New Orleans.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)

I’m not sold on the newly acquired Josh McCown, but I am sold on the talent around him. Drafting Johnny Manziel’s favorite target at Texas A&M in Mike Evans to pair with Vincent Jackson on the outside—the Bucs’ have re-created a Brandon Marshall-Alshon Jeffrey duo that McCown grew so accustomed to, lobbing the ball up in jump ball situations. The Bucs’ will welcome back a healthy Doug Martin at running back, who hasn’t been the same since his 1,000 yard rookie season.

On defense, Tampa Bay essentially rented shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis for a season as he abandoned ship to take his talents to Foxboro. The Bucs’ replaced Revis with physical corner Alterraun Verner, adding another piece to a defense already loaded with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and safeties Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson.

If McCown takes form, the Bucs could become a surprise team in the NFC.

3. Carolina Panthers (7-9)

From first to third. Unless Carolina plans to win every game by a score of 14 to 10, the Panthers won’t duplicate last year’s success. Aside from Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton is one of the few big bodied quarterbacks who can sustain the constant physical abuse in the NFL, but the Panthers’ star  is hampered by an ankle injury that may linger over into the regular season.

The defense will remain intact behind a dominant front seven, featuring reigning Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly. D’Angelo Williams will lead the rushing attack that ranked 11th in 2013, but beyond Williams, the offense might come to a standstill.

Greg Olsen is the only respectable and known commodity of the Panthers’ receiving group, and he’s a tight end. Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery? Mediocre, mid-level players at best. Tiquan Underwoon and Marvin McNutt? Players who have yet to make a name for themselves in the NFL, aside from Underwoods’ hair catching headlines. 

The only answer Carolina has at wide receiver is first round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin. The rookie has hauled in tough catches in the preseason, but unless the 6-foot-5 receiver has a Randy Moss-like rookie season, the Panthers won’t have any help on the outside.

4. Atlanta Falcons (6-10)

The Falcons have fallen from grace, and fast. Before an abysmal 2013 season dropping to 4-12, Atlanta previously went 36-12 between 2010-12. Those days are long gone, even after a one year fall. Several perennial playoff teams have gotten better, with up-and-coming teams like St. Louis, Arizona and Washington jockeying for divisional supremacy.

From a team perspective, Atlanta has no running game (32nd ranked in ’13) as All-Pro running back Steven Jackson, who has been a bust acquisition, is still battling soft tissue injuries. To make matters worse, the Falcons have lost starting left tackle Sam Baker for the season with a torn patellar tendon, and as a result, rookie right tackle Jake Matthews will make the switch to left tackle. Atlanta couldn’t stop the run either, giving up 135.8 yards per game on the ground (31st).

Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzales has retired and Julio Jones saw his first live game action since week 5 of the 2013 season as he recovered from foot surgery. Best case scenario for the Falcons is becoming the team “nobody wants to play” at the end of the season because of their attempts to keep other teams out the playoffs like themselves.


 

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

Chip Kelly’s offense was a success last season. He’s either a quarterback guru or Nick Foles channeled his inner Randall Cunningham.  A 27:2 touchdown to interception ratio is a rarity from any quarterback, let alone a quarterback coming off his first full season as a starter. Foles will have to play to last year’s level to convince spectators around the league if he’s the answer in Philadelphia. LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, rookie receivers Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, the speed and talent on offense is undeniable.

The Eagles are primed to repeat as division champs, especially in a weak NFC East. But with so much speed and finesse and lacking in physicality, there have been whispers of labeling the Eagles as a soft team. The only knock on the Eagles is their lackluster pass defense. Philadelphia ranked dead last in 2013 (32nd) opening airways for opposing quarterbacks, nearly allowing 300 yards a game through the air.

2. Washington Redskins (9-7)

A rebound season for Robert Griffin III is in order after coming back prematurely from a torn ACL. The hiring of former Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was a brilliant move as he will look to better protect his star quarterback with quick three to five step drops and deviating away from the zone-read.

Washington is only a year removed from a 10-6 season after losing to the Seahawks in the divisional round in 2012. This team isn’t getting the notoriety it deserve from a talent perspective. Jordan Reed is a bright, young star at tight end, bringing over DeSean Jackson from the Eagles is an enormous addition and Alfred Morris has had back-to-back 1,200+ yard seasons. Pierre Garcon’s productivity will only grow with Jackson opposite of him.

If Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan continue to rack up sacks and the secondary continues to improve, then the Redskins could very well win this division. It all depends on the health and maturation of RGIII.

3. New York Giants (7-9)

In one week, the Giants look like a surefire Super Bowl contender. In the next week, they look like they’re prepping themselves for the No. 1 overall pick.

When the Giants won their two Super Bowls against the New England Patriots, they prided themselves on getting to the quarterback early and often. New York had 53 sacks in their 2007 championship year and 48 in 2011. They only had 33 in 2012 and 34 in 2013 (tied for 25th). Jason Pierre-Paul and former Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers will have to lift this group back to prominence. Second-year end Damontre Moore and veteran Mathias Kiwanuka will also have to provide an impact.

But it’s a quarterback driven league. It’s doesn’t matter if you’re a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, if you throw 27 interceptions in a season, you won’t win many games, if any. The Giants hired Ben McAdoo, who is well respected for his work with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay the last two seasons as the team’s quarterbacks coach. Switching to a west coast offense to get the ball out of Eli Manning’s hands quickly is the plan to curb the interceptions, but his preseason performance hasn’t looked promising.

Manning has talent at wider receiver with Victor Cruz, Ruben Randle and first round pick Odell Beckham Jr., but from early indications, this team will miss out on the playoffs.

4. Dallas Cowboys (5-11)

Statistically, the Dallas Cowboys had one of the worst defenses in NFL history in 2013. The Cowboys gave up 425 points last season (30th). They allowed 71 passing plays of 20+ yards (32nd). Dallas gave up 2,368 yards after the catch (30th). And teams scored in the redzone 64.5 percent of the time.

They couldn’t stop a nose bleed last season.

With injuries to linebacker Sean Lee, cornerback Orlando Scandrick missing the first four games due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy and first round bust Morris Claiborne still dwelling on the roster, the Cowboys may be even worse this season.

All hopes lies on Tony Romo. Those who have watched Romo play over the past eight seasons knows placing all your hope in the fluky quarterback is comparable to landing on tails on a two-headed coin with heads on both sides. The connection of Romo to Dez Bryant will occur early and often, but it won’t mean a thing if they can’t stop the other team from scoring.


 

NFC West

1. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)

San Francisco is one of the deepest teams in the NFL. To revamp the 30th ranked passing offense, they’ve surrounded Colin Kaepernick, fresh off a signing a six-year, $126 million contract extension in June, with wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, Stevie Johnson and rookie Bruce Ellington. The 49ers also get a healthy Michael Crabtree for a full season and Anquan Boldin returns after a 1,179 yard season.

Part of the 49ers passing woes is attributed to their run-first offense. But a backfield consisting of Frank Gore and second round rookie Carlos Hyde, is a luxury San Francisco can afford. Even if it means less production through the air.

Their biggest concern is at corner with Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver, who have benefited from a dominant front seven. Also, starting right guard Alex Boone has been involved in a lengthy contract holdout. Teams have been acquiring about the Pro Bowl guard and there have been no indications that he will commit to a long term deal unless the price is right. This is a major issue for a team surrounded by top defensive lines throughout the division.

2. St. Louis Rams (10-6)

Speaking of defensive lines, the best D-Line in the NFL belongs to the St. Louis Rams. A line featuring pass rushing specialist Robert Quinn, who terrorized quarterbacks with 19 sacks last season, the locomotive Chris Long, an underrated Michael Brockers and first round rookie Aaron Donald has caused for some to resurrect the nickname of the “Fearsome Foursome” to describe this line.

The Rams have finally grabbed receiver help in the signing of Kenny Britt. Third year wideout Brian Quick has been stepping up throughout practice and the preseason and the electrifying Tavon Austin returns for his second season. Stedman Bailey has reportedly been the most productive receiver in camp, but he will miss the first four games for violating the leagues substance abuse policy. His return will only bolster the group.

It all comes down to quarterback Sam Bradford who is returning from ACL surgery. The fifth year quarterback has played a full 16 game season only twice in his career. He got off to a hot start last year throwing 14 touchdowns to 4 interceptions before going down to injury in week 7, albeit, nine of those touchdowns coming against teams that ended up with losing records.

If Bradford has a successful and healthy season, the Rams will claim the Wild Card in the NFC.

3. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)

The hunter will now become the hunted. This brass team will welcome any dog fight from opponents, but Seattle was ravaged by free agency this offseason. Seattle lost receiver Golden Tate, defensive linemen Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, and defensive backs Brandon Browner, and Walter Thurmond, They also have an unhappy Marshawn Lynch at running back after holding out briefly for a contract.

The Seahawks Achilles Heel is their offensive line who experienced a number of injuries last season. This group, who recently added president of the NFLPA, Eric Winston at right tackle, gave up seven sacks to the Rams in week 8 in 2013 and sacked 44 times overall. Aside from Percy Harvin, the Seahawks don’t have a reliable target at receiver. A 10-6 record would mean a waltz into the playoffs in any other division in the NFC, but I expect Seattle’s 4-2 division record to drop in 2013, causing them to miss the playoffs.

4. Arizona Cardinals (7-9)

A talented team trapped in the toughest division in the NFL. They have a top-5 secondary with shut down corner Patrick Peterson on the outside, adding Antonio Cromartie opposite of him. The Cardinals drafted safety Deone Bucannon to pair with Tyrann Mathieu, who is is expected to be activated from the PUP list after tearing ACL and LCL last December.

Arizona recently lost Darnell Dockett for the season with a torn ACL and MCL. Linebacker Daryl Washington was suspended for the entire 2014 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He was suspended four games last season for violating the same policy. Injuries and suspensions are beginning to decimate the roster.

On offense, a Carson Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd trio will put points on the board. Second-year running back Andre Ellington will enter the season as the full-time starter after a promising rookie campaign. Palmer is creeping up in age at 34-year-old and hasn’t proved to be a big time difference maker in his career. If the Cardinals get off to a bad start, don’t be surprised if rookie quarterback Logan Thomas comes unto the field.

Jun 17, 2014; Florham Park, USA; New York Jets quarterbacks  Matt Simms (5), Geno Smith (7) ,  Michael Vick and Tajh Boyd (3) with quarterback coach David Lee during New York Jets minicamp at Atlantic Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 17, 2014; Florham Park, USA; New York Jets quarterbacks Matt Simms (5), Geno Smith (7) , Michael Vick and Tajh Boyd (3) with quarterback coach David Lee during New York Jets minicamp at Atlantic Health Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

By KELTON BROOKS

(@BrooksWeekly)

Are you ready for some football?

As of Sunday, the NFL is six weeks away from opening kickoff. That’s 42 days and 1008 hours. But before Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers travel to the vaunted CenturyLink Field of the 12th Man to take on the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, positional players will need to win their training camp battle as they hold heavy implications on their team’s outcome at the end of the season.

Now that every team has reported to their respective training camp sites, here are the top-10 2014 NFL training camp battles in descending order.


10. Chicago Bears, Safety

The parties involved: Adrian Wilson, Ryan Mundy, Chris Conte, M.D. Jennings, Brock Vereen, Danny McCray

The Skinny: Overall, the Bears passing defense ranked 15th in the league in 2013, largely due to Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings deflecting passes and hauling in interceptions from the cornerback position. But the Bears were decimated on the back end of the defense and haven’t done much to stop the bleeding.

Incumbent Chris Conte, who is a three-year starter for the Bears, will start the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, as he’s still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Chicago lost former starting safety Major Wright—who gave up five touchdowns; fifth most in the NFL for safeties—to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. Mundy ventured over from Meadowlands where he compiled 77 tackles and an interception for the New York Giants. McCray was mediocre at best in his stint with the Cowboys, and Vereen is a rangy and athletic 4th-round rookie from the University of Minnesota.

The most intriguing yet perplexed member of the group is the 34-year-old, five-time Pro Bowl addition, Adrian Wilson. The 14-year veteran missed the entire 2013 season with an injury. Wilson suffered a torn Achilles, but he posted on Twitter recently that he was dealing with Haglund’s deformity, which is a bony enlargement on the back of the hell that rubs against and irritates the Achilles.

 

In 181 career games, Wilson has racked up 978 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 27 interceptions, 106 pass breakups, and 13 forced fumbles in addition to recovering nine fumbles, according to ESPN Stats&Info.

Wilson turns 35 in October.

Week 1 starters: Mundy and Conte. Even with those predicted two, the verdict is still hazy. Wilson and Conte are interchangeable, and Vereen is the wild cald depending on how soon he adjusts to the NFL.


 9. Carolina Panthers, Wide Receivers

The parties involved: Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood, Jason Avant, Tavarres King, Marvin McNutt.

The Skinny: Even with the departed Steve Smith, the Panthers still had one of the league’s poorest passing offenses. The Panthers averaged 190.2 yards through the air in 2013—29th in the NFL. Topple that with quarterback Cam Newton still hampered by his off-season ankle surgery, this group may have dark days ahead of them.

It’s not about who will lineup as week 1 starters, but who will show up and produce. Who are these guys?

Steve Smith is now with the Baltimore Ravens. Cotchery has been a serviceable possession wideout in stints with the Jets—where he had his only 1,000 yard season in 2007— and Pittsburgh, but nothing spectacular. He did have 10 touchdowns in 2013, which is more than he had in the past four seasons combined (7). McNutt, King, Underwood—all college standouts, but haven’t elevated their play in the NFL. And Avant has never amassed 700 yards in his career.

All eyes fall on the 1st-round receiver Benjamin, who formerly caught passes from Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston and the National Champions Florida State Seminoles. Benjamin and his 6-feet-5, 240 pounds of muscle, will have to transition into the rigors of the NFL immediately. Typically, rookie receivers don’t come into the league blazing, but Benjamin will have to break the trend if the Panthers will have any production from their receivers.

Week 1 starters: Benjamin, Cotchery and Avant in the slot. The Panthers are a run-first team. It’s their bread and butter, but the receivers Achilles Heel as well.


 

8. Oakland Raiders, quarterback

The parties involved: Matt Schaub, Derek Carr, Matt McGloin, Trent Edwards

The Skinny: Schaub punched his ticket out of Houston faster than the pick-sixes he threw in four straight games, ultimately losing his job. The Houston faithful displayed a classless act as they cheered Schaub after he fell pray to an ankle injury week 6 of the 2013 season against the St. Louis Rams that caused him to miss the rest of the season.

Perhaps a change of scenery was needed for a veteran quarterback who is good in the regular season, but falls flat in the playoffs. Raiders coach Dennis Allen reportedly said he doesn’t have any problem with Schaub’s confidence going forward. That’s a big check to cash knowing Schaub had his worst season as a pro throwing 14 interceptions in 10 games.

The Raiders invested in Carr in round two of the 2014 NFL Draft. Carr, who is the younger brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr, will get the nod if Schaub struggles early on in the season as coaches have spoken highly as about the former Fresno State Bulldog.

This team has talent, especially with the signing of James Jones and oft-injured running back Darren McFadden, but in this day and age in the NFL, you will go as far as the quarterback takes you.

Week 1 starter: Schuab. The veteran will start on opening day unless Carr shines throughout camp and the preseason.


 

7. New York Giants, defensive ends

The parties involved: Jason Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers, Mathias Kiwanuka, Damontre Moore

The Skinny: When the Giants won their two Super Bowls against the New England Patriots, they prided themselves on getting to the quarterback early and often. New York had 53 sacks in their 2007 championship year and 48 in 2011. They only had 33 in 2012 and 34 in 2013 (tied for 25th). If the Giants have any resolutions to get back to their disruptive ways on defense, then the four mentioned above will have to produce.

Pierre is the most prolific and athletic of the group, sacking opposing quarterbacks 16.5 times in 2011. Although, he has only garnered 8.5 sacks since then and missed five games due to injury in 2013. Ayers is an underachieving former 1st-round pick from the Broncos, who has never had more than six sacks in a season. Kiwanuki briefly spent time at linebacker when he first got to the NFL, so his sack numbers are a bit skewed. However, the nine year pro reached the quarterback eight times in 2008.

Kiwanuki is the player that will have to increase his production on the Giants defensive line and become a mainstay alongside Pierre-Paul. Moore was once regarded as a possible first round selection, but his stock plummeted during the 2013 draft for a number of reasons. He essentially was redshirted in 2013 for the Giants, learning the playbook and figuring out what it takes to play amongst the best in the league.

The defense must capture its old form if they wish to compete in an improving NFC East.

Week 1 starters: Pierre Paul and Kiwanuki. The Giants will rotate all four ends, but those two will headline the bunch.


 

6. Cincinnati Bengals, quarterbacks

The parties involved: Leon Hall, Terrance Newman, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard

The Skinny: The Bengals have been trying to replace Jonathan Joseph for three seasons now. Joseph has continued to excel in Houston while Cincinnati has been a revolving door opposite of Leon Hall to find some sort of consistency. While Hall is the Bengals most talented cover corner, he is coming off a torn Achilles Tendon.  Newman has still shown flashes, but has been a shell of himself in Cincinnati with only four interceptions combined the past two seasons. He also turns 36-years-old come September.

Jones resurrected his career after he was derailed from numerous off-the-field issues, but never fully reached his lofty No. 6 overall selection in the 2005 draft with only eight career interceptions. Jones also turns 30 in September. The 2014 season for Cincinnati is the bridge to pass the torch to the recent high draft picks in Kirkpatrick and Dennard.

Kirkpatrick’s career got off to a rocky start in Cincinnati. He didn’t appear in his first game until November during his rookie season and only played in five games with little impact. The third-year cornerback out of Alabama had three interceptions in 2013, with two coming in the last game of the regular season. The Bengals are hoping his late performance will springboard his confidence into the 2014 season.

The defending AFC North Champions also has high hopes in Dennard, who they nabbed in the first round this past draft. Dennard is a physical, press corner at 5-feet-11 and 202 pounds with long arms to strip the ball away from receivers as they try to corral the catch.

Week 1 starter: Hall, Newman and Dennard in the nickel. Newman is still serviceable even at his old age, Hall is still a question mark, but if healthy, he’s one the Bengals best players on defense, and Dennard is an upgrade over Jones at this point in their careers.


 5. St. Louis Rams, wide receivers

The parties involved: Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey, Brian Quick

The Skinny: The consensus around the league is that the Rams are a team on the verge. Arguably the best defensive line in the NFL, a strong running attack and a great coaching staff. But their question mark is the quarterback and wide receiver positions. Since there is no competition at quarterback, lets focus on the receivers.

Word from from Rams camp is that Stedman Bailey has been the most impressive of the group, but he’s scheduled to miss the first four games of the season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. This group comes down to three players who need to make the biggest impact. Austin, Britt and Quick.

The Rams traded up to draft the speedster in the 2013 NFL draft, but Austin was primarily used as a gadget instead of a focal point, what you would expect from the No. 8 overall pick. Aside from his explosive performance against the Colts with three highlight reel plays, he wasn’t a consistent factor and missed the last three games of the season because of an ankle injury. Murmurs of “bust” is circulating around the former 33rd overall pick in the 2012 draft, Quick, who has only 29 catches in his first two seasons. Britt, the talented receiver who has undergone scrutiny because of injury and off-the-field issues, was formerly in Tennessee with coach Jeff Fisher.

If Britt has anything to offer from the promising early start of his career, he is easily the Rams best receiver. Although, Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer plans to ground-and-pound is ever so evident with the drafting of the mammoth Auburn tackle in Greg Robinson and teammate running back Tre Mason. Not to mention 2nd-year back Zac Stacy who was 27 yards shy of a 1,000 in 2013.

Week 1 starters: Givens, Britt and Austin in the slot. Givens was two yards shy of 700 in his rookie season and flashed big play ability, but he slumped in his sophomore season due to Bradford missing the season and a case of the “dropsies.” Pettis routinely manages to creep in as the starter, but if Britt performs well throughout camp, he will beat out Pettis.


4. New York Jets, quarterback

The parties involved: Geno Smith, Michael Vick, Tajh Boyd, Matt Sims

The Skinny: This battle comes down between two players, Michael Vick and Geno Smith. It’s that simple. Up until week 11, the Jets flip-flopped wins and losses. Credit that to the play of Smith. In wins, Smith completed 59 percent of his passes—nothing to applaud—with 10 touchdown and five interceptions. In losses, he completed 52 percent of his passes throwing two touchdown to 16 interceptions. That’s 21 interceptions on the seasons.

If the Jets had any sort of consistent play from the quarterback position, then they would have been a playoff team in 2013. The problem is the Jets head-scratching confidence in Smith. It’s understandable not to give up on a quarterback after one season, but Jets coach Rex Ryan is playing for his job and New York is trying to compete with New England and a young and hungry Bills’ team.

If they vow to demote Smith and pencil in Vick as the starter, then the organization cannot go back to Smith. Vick played admirably before getting knocked out to injury—what has plagued him throughout his career—in week six. He threw for 1,215 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions up until that point.

Week 1 starter: Smith. If the Jets want to win, they will start Vick, but if they want to stand their ground in hopes Smith will become the quarterback they believe he can become, then we’ll see him under center against the Raiders on kickoff Sunday.


 

3. Dallas Cowboys, inside linebacker

The parties involved: Justin Durant, Rolando McClain, Anthony Hitchens, Orie Lemon

The Skinny: Truthfully, the Cowboys entire defense could feature on this list. But the linebacker corps lost its leader in Sean Lee. Regardless of how talented you are, your ability depends on your availability on the playing field of any sport. Lee has never played a 16 game season since entering the league in 2010 and is now slated to miss the entire 2014 season after tearing his ACL the first day of the Cowboys off-season practice.

He teased the NFL in his sophomore campaign totaling 105 tackles, seven pass deflections and four interceptions. Lee was on pace to shatter those number this past season with 99 tackles and four interceptions in 11 games, but missed the rest of the season due to injury.

Durant is the favorite to replace Lee, but wasn’t much of a factor with only 24 tackles in 2013. A 4th-round rookie, Hitchens, is still wet behind the ears as he is still getting acclimated to the NFL. McClain, once a highly-touted first rounder out of Alabama, has retired twice since entering the league and is only 25-year-old. It’s a toss up whether the Cowboys will receive any production from McClain.

Week 1 starter: Durant. When you’re a member of the Dallas Cowboys, everything is heighten. From the secondary to defensive end, the Cowboys have to find away to bounce back on defense. Losing Lee was a phenomenal blow for a team who also lost star defensive end DeMarcus Ware in the off-season.


 

2. Minnesota Vikings, quarterback

The parties involved: Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder, Teddy Bridgewater

The Skinny: The Vikings are one year removed from the playoffs, largely because of Adrian Peterson’s MVP season rushing for 2,097 yards in 2012. But if this talented Vikings roster had a competent quarterback, then they would become a perennial playoff team. Ponder has played himself out of the starting role and hasn’t backed the Vikings after they reached to draft him early in the 2011 NFL draft.

In his defense, Ponder hasn’t been downright awful throwing for 34 touchdowns to 30 interceptions in his three year career, but not worthy of his 12th overall  selection.

The Vikings have already pegged Cassel as their week 1 starter, but after trading back in the first round to draft former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater 32nd overall, Minnesota may be forced to draw back their hands and take a closer look at their young quarterback. Cassel made a name for himself after filling in for Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady after a season-ending knee injury, but he didn’t fit the billing, failing in Kansas City after he was signed to a deal worth $63 million over six years.

Cassel played only four seasons for the Chiefs and was riddled with injuries during his final two seasons. Bridgewater was the consensus No. 1 overall pick after dismantling the Florida Gators in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. A pocket passer first, but mobile Bridgwater, watched his stock drop after a poor pro day performance.

Week 1 starter: Cassel, until later in the season. Cassel will begin the season as the week 1 starter, but his mediocrity will rear its ugly head. Expect Bridgewater to start soon if the Vikings get off to a bad start.


 1. Cleveland Browns, quarterback

The parties involved: Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Tyler Thigpen

The Skinny: Come on, it’s Johnny Football. The scrambling, lightening rod out of Texas A&M is the main attraction of NFL training camps whether he wins the starting gig or not. Manziel will bring life back to the Browns organization who haven’t won a championship since 1964 or reached the playoffs since 2002.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and coach Mike Pettine both have shared comments about Manziel needing make more noise on the field than off. But they knew what they were getting themselves into drafting the former Heisman winner. Neither Hoyer or Manziel have extended themselves from each other in camp, but the odds on favor still side with Hoyer, who played well last season before he suffered a torn ACL. Both the coach and GM have backed Hoyer.

Hoyer threw for 615 yards, five touchdowns and three inceptions before his season was ended early in the first quarter against the the Bills Oct. 3, 2013.

Week 1 starter: Hoyer. It’s only a matter of time before the fans start clamoring for Money Manziel to get on the field.

The week 17 win-and-you're-in between the Eagles and Cowboys lost a chunk of its luster with Dallas' QB Tony Romo out for the season, but it still bodes for an exciting matchup.

The week 17 win-and-you’re-in between the Eagles and Cowboys lost a chunk of its luster with Dallas’ QB Tony Romo out for the season, but it still bodes for an exciting matchup.

Simply put, but boldly stated. Week 17 will be a dramatic week to remember. The winner between Chicago and Green Bay will decide the NFC North champ, the Cardinals can missed the playoffs with an 11-5 record because the Saints own the tie break over Arizona based on head-to-head win percentage, and for the third year in the row, the Cowboys playoff chances come down to the last game of the season.

Week 16 Predictions Results

Brooks: 10-6; Overall: 143-96

Perez: 10-6; Overall: 136-91

Wooten: 10-6; Overall: 130-107

Game Picks

Week 17 Game Picks Brooks Perez Wooten
Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons CAR(W) CAR)W)  CAR(W)
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals CIN(W) CIN(W)  CIN(W)
Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans HOU(L) HOU(L)  TEN(W)
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts IND(W) IND(W)  IND(W)
NY Jets @ Miami Dolphins NYJ(W) MIA(L)  MIA(L)
Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings DET(L) DET(L)  DET(L)
Washington @ NY Giants NYG(W) NYG(W)  WAS(W)
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers PIT(W) PIT(W)  PIT(W)
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears GB(W) GB(W)  GB(W)
Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders DEN(W) DEN(W)  DEN(W)
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots NE(W) NE(W)  NE(W)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints NO(W) NO(W)  NO(W)
San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals SF(W) SF(W)  SF(W)
Kansas City Chiefs @ San Diego Chargers SD(W) SD(W)  KC(L)
St. Louis Rams @ Seattle Seahawks SEA(W) SEA(W)  SEA(W)
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys PHI(W) DAL(L)  PHI(W)

Brooks’ Bits

Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals

After winning four games in a row, with three of their last four wins  decided by a combined seven points, the Ravens 41-7 shellacking by the Patriots put a halt to the Ravens’ fluke-o winning streak.

This NFC North showdown will be the typical black and blue slugfest, or should I say black, blue and orange slugfest? The Bengals won the first matchup in an overtime victory in Baltimore. Both Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco had lackluster performances throwing a combined five interceptions, and both were sacked five times apiece.

Baltimore is currently in a three way tie in the Wild Card with San Diego and Miami who are all 8-7. Miami currently owns the tie-breaker between San Diego and Baltimore based on best win percentage in conference games.

The Ravens need this win, but the defending Super Bowl Champions will miss the playoffs.

Eddie P’s Philosophical Take

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

Chicago will be a tough to beat at home. They boast a 5-2 record when playing at Soldier Field this year. Bottling up Chicago’s top two receivers will be damn near impossible as well. Alshon Jeffrey leads the team in yards with 1,341 yards, along with seven touchdowns. Veteran Brandon Marshall brings in another 1,221 yards to go with his team leading 11 TDs.

Aaron Rodgers is back for the Packers. That’s huge for a team that has struggled at times with Matt Flynn running the offense. Even with outside linebacker Clay Matthews out on defense, I see Aaron coming back with a vengeance in the windy city.

Kansas City Chiefs @ San Diego Chargers 

This is one of the many games that can determine an entry into the playoffs or staying at home. The only they San Diego can do is win and hope the other cards fall into their hands.

Kansas City already has a playoff berth clinched. At 11-4, the Chiefs have the fifth-seed in the AFC. There is a chance, that Andy Reid rests some of his starting and key players, saving them for the playoffs. This can mean no, or a limited, Jamal Charles. It can also mean a defense without Tamba Hali or Justin Houston.

The Chargers having more on the line and absolutely need to win this game. Philip Rivers is an explosive QB and rookie Keenan Allen is a stud at receiver.

Words From Wooten

San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals

As we look back on the season, who would’ve thought that Arizona would be this good. To be honest, I heard almost nothing about them until they beat Seattle last week. Other than that, they pretty much fell off of the face of the earth.
This is a win or go home for Arizona though. Unfortunately, this won’t end well for Arizona. They can say goodbye to their playoffs hopes because San Francisco is coming in and killing all hope.

 Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys

This has been on TV all week. We all want to know exactly what will happen here. Tony Romo is done for the season. Sean Lee isn’t playing as well. DeMarcus Ware is banged up. This isn’t looking too good for Dallas. For Philadelphia, it is looking right. Everyone is healthy and Nick Foles is playing at such a high level to where we all forgot about Michael Vick and his sub par performance. All in all, “America’s Team” will be sitting at home as they watch from the couch.

Jamaal Charles has been on a tear as of late. Could Charles leapfrog Peyton Manning as the MVP favorite?

Jamaal Charles has been on a tear as of late. Could Charles leapfrog Peyton Manning as the MVP favorite?

With only one week away from the final week of the regular season, here are the current leaders of each division:

AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals ( 9-5), South: Indianapolis Colts (9-5), East: New England Patriots (10-4), and the West: Denver Broncos: (11-3). NFC North: Chicago Bears (8-6), South: New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panther are tied at (10-4), East: Philadelphia Eagles: (8-6), and West: Seattle Seahawks (12-4).

With two divisional leaders facing off this week (NO @ CAR and CHI @ PHI), and a slew of divisional matchups that will cause for more drama headed into week 17, this week will be a roller coaster ride for league and for fans.

Week 15 Predictions Results

Brooks: 10-6; Overall: 133-90

Perez: 9-7; Overall: 126-85

Wooten: 7-9; Overall: 120-101

Game Picks

Week 16 Game Picks Brooks Perez  Wooten
Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills MIA(L)  MIA(L)  MIA(L)
Minnesota Vikings @ Cincinnati Bengals CIN(W)  CIN(W)  CIN(W)
Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs KC(L)  KC(L)  KC(L)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ St. Louis Rams STL(W)  STL(W)  STL(W)
Cleveland Browns @ NY Jets CLE(L)  NYJ(W)  NYJ(W)
Dallas Cowboys @ Washington DAL(W)  DAL(W)  DAL(W)
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers CAR(W)  NO(L)  NO(L)
Tennessee Titans @ Jacksonville Jaguars TEN(W)  TEN(W)  TEN(W)
Denver Broncos @ Houston Texans DEN(W)  DEN(W)  DEN(W)
NY Giants @ Detroit Lions DET(L)  DET(L)  DET(L)
Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks SEA(L)  SEA(L)  SEA(L)
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Green Bay Packers PIT(W)  PIT(W)  PIT(W)
Oakland Raiders @ San Diego Chargers SD(W)  SD(W) SD(W)
New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens BAL(L)  NE(W)  NE(W)
Chicago Bears @ Philadelphia Eagles PHI(W)  CHI(L)  CHI(L)
Atlanta Falcons @ San Francisco 49ers SF(W)  SF(W)  SF(W)

Brooks Bits’

Indianapolis Colts  @ Kansas City Chiefs

The Colts haven’t had a 3-plus game winning streak since defeating the 49ers, Jaguars and the Seahwaks in weeks 3 through 5. During that span, they were considered one of the league’s best. Now, the Colts are Jekyll and Hyde, alternating wins since week 9.

But after a 25-3 win over a Texans team that’s destined for the no. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, Indianapolis will once flip-flop wins and losses. The Colts have developed a nasty habit of playing to the competition level of the opponent, but after embarrassing losses to formidable teams like Cincinnati and Arizona, not to mention the beat down they took from St. Louis, the Colts have  slim chance of winning at Arrowhead Stadium.

Led by MVP candidate Jamaal Charles, who is second in the league in yards per scrimmage (1,836), fourth in rushing yards (1,181),  and first in rushing touchdowns (11), the Chiefs would be tied for the no. 1 seed in the playoffs if the were not in the same division as Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

The Colts have averaged 14 points in its last four losses., and that’s all they might get against the Chiefs defense.

New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens

How fitting, a rematch of the AFC Championship game.

The Raves are winners of four straight after previously losing four of its last five games. The six field goal victory over the Lions Monday night wasn’t the least bit impressive, but the Ravens have a knack at figuring out the Patriots. The Ravens are on some sort of a fluke run that mirrors last season. The three wild wins in a row, first the Steelers, Mike Tomlin stepping on the field of play, the snow game against the Vikings, and Justin Tucker kicking a booming 61-yard field goal to beat the Lions.

I’m not saying Baltimore will take this run to the Super Bowl, but this run has that fluke feel.

The Patriots may have Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, which is a bright spot, but they won’t help the defense. New England has the 31st run defense, the perfect recipe for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce who have been struggling to get the ground game going averaging a pitiful 82.9 ypg (29th).

Eddie P’s Philosophical Take

Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks

Some people might not see it the same way, but this game will be a pretty good one. Seattle has one of the league’s best defense and a potent offense. Arizona boasts a top ten defensive unit as well, in addition to an offense with dangerous receivers.

The Cardinals might be without superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald who is dealing with a concussion. Seattle will be without two of their top three cornerbacks. Walter Thurmond is serving a four-game suspension and starter Brandon Browner is suspended indefinitely (a messy topic on its own). Seattle will most likely be without Percy Harvin as well.

Despite missing several key players, Seattle still poses more of a threat. Arizona is good, but not Seattle good.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Green Bay Packers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a victory over divisional foe, the Cincinnati Bengal. Green Bay is coming off a close win, squeaking pass the Dallas Cowboys by one point.

Matt Flynn played good last week, throwing four touchdowns. Running back Eddie Lacy had a huge day as well, racking up 141 yards on the ground.

On the flip side, Pittsburgh’s defense stood up well against a good offense last week, only allowing 57 yards on the ground and 230 through the air.

Words From Wooten

New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers

Looks like we have us a rematch of a not so stellar game from a few weeks ago. I’m talking about Carolina, of course. Drew Brees is looking very good at this point in the season. The offense possesses a chemistry that almost no team had last season. Look for Brees to air it out against Carolina again.

For Carolina, they need to find a way to get to Brees. If they can’t then they can expect the same results from a few weeks ago. For them to have a top 5 defense, Drew Brees made it look like a bottom 5. All in all, Drew Brees is going in to Carolina hoping to win and he’s leaving Carolina with a win.

Denver Broncos @ Houston Texans

I feel so bad for Houston at this point of the season. JJ Watt isn’t playing on the same level as he did last season. I feel like no one is except for Andre Johnson. In fact, many of the major pieces they had last season are injured or their stinking up the place, like Matt Schaub. And speaking of Schaub, his days may be numbered in Houston now.

With a loss to Denver and a Washington win(which may happen if you know how the Cowboys operate) then they will secure Teddy Bridgewater… excuse me, I mean the number one pick in the 2014 draft. Denver is coming in Houston with no a worries at all. They’re playing Houston of all teams. I feel like they’re the new Jacksonville Jaguars now. Or at least for this season.

Dallas Cowboys @ Washington

One of the best rivalries in sports history go head-to-head again. On one side, we have a quarterback who can’t get the job done. And on the other side, we have a young quarterback who is hoping to get the job done.

When it boils down, I feel like this one is going to Dallas. Washington just isn’t looking good this season. Last season, they won the NFC East, for whatever that is worth, and now they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel with their beloved top-5 in the 2014 draft pick going to St. Louis. The only way they can build is through free agency and no one knows what that will look like this season. In the end, look forward to Tony Romo throwing a few TD’s and possibly a few picks as well, knowing Romo.

The tumultuous saga in Washington continues with shutting down Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season.

The tumultuous saga in Washington continues with shutting down Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season.

The debacle in Washington is spiraling out of control. Does the organization not see the negative message they are sending through the locker room? Yes, the season is a waste, a lost, and a major disappointment for a team who had Super Bowl aspirations after winning the division in Griffin’s first year, but shutting him down for the rest of the season? No.

If it’s because he is still injured, then why let him play up until week 14? By shutting him down for the remainder of the season, is Washington saying a team with a losing record shouldn’t start its starting quarterback?

Or by showcasing Kirk Cousins for the last three games will entice teams to trade for him to regain draft picks they sent to the St. Louis Rams?

Whatever the cause may be, this is the end for the Mike Shanahan era in Washington, and the offensive coordinator, his son, Kyle Shanahan.

But I digress, let’s check out this week’s game picks.

Week 14 Prediction Results

Brooks: 8-8; Overall: 123-84

Perez: 12-4; Overall: 117-78

Wooten: 9-7; Overall: 113-92 

Game Picks
Week 15 Game Picks  Brooks Perez Wooten
San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos DEN(L) DEN(L) DEN(L)
Washington @ Atlanta Falcons ATL(W) ATL(W) WAS(L)
Chicago Bears @ Cleveland Browns CHI(W) CHI(W) CHI(W)
Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts IND(W) IND(W) IND(W)
New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins MIA(W) NE(L) NE(L)
Philadelphia Eagles @ Minnesota Vikings PHI(L) PHI(L) PHI(L)
Seattle Seahawks @ New York Giants SEA(W) SEA(W) SEA(W)
San Francisco 49ers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers SF(W) SF(W) SF(W)
Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars JAX(L) BUF(W) JAX(L)
Kansas City Chiefs @ Oakland Raiders KC(W) KC(W) KC(W)
New York Jets @ Carolina Panthers CAR(W) CAR(W) CAR(W)
Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys GB(W) DAL(L) DAL(L)
Arizona Cardinals @ Tennessee Titans AZ(W) AZ(W) AZ(W)
New Orleans Saints @ St. Louis Rams NO(L) NO(L) NO(L)
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers CIN(L) CIN(L) CIN(L)
Baltimore Ravens @ Detroit Lions DET(L) DET(L) DET(L)

Brooks Bits’

New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins

The divisional foes first matchup was a tale of to halves. Miami jumped out to a commanding 17-3 lead only to have New England score 24 unanswered points. Winners of three out of its last four with a 7-6 record, the Dolphins are currently the 7th seed in the playoffs, only one spot from the final standings.

A win over the division rival Patriots will be a confidence booster behind the 2nd-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and with Baltimore playing Detriot–who currently has the 6th seed in the playoffs–the Dolphins can put themselves in playoff position.

New England wil yet again be without Rob Gronkowski who is out for the season with a torn ACL. I’d hate to say his career is in jeopardy, but with multiple forearm surgeries, back surgeries, and now a torn ACL, the future doesn’t look bright for the start tight end.

San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning has never faired to well against the Chargers. Manning  has thrown 20 interceptions versus the Chargers during his career, second only to the 25 thrown to the Patriots.

But this is not that same Chargers’ team. With 45 touchdown passes on the season, and needing only 6 to break the record, Manning has at least a chance to tie the record against the Chargers’ 28th ranked passing defense.

On paper, this game just doesn’t bode too well for San Diego, especially if it turns into a shootout. The Broncos 1st-ranked passing attack (341.2 yds/g) vs. the Chargers 28th-ranked passing defense, and the Chargers 4th-ranked passing attack vs. Denver’s 29th-ranked passing defense, fireworks may come a few months early in Denver.

Eddie P’s Philosophical Take

Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys

This game is interesting. Both teams are still in the playoff hunt (technically). Dallas is a game behind Philly in the NFC East, while the Packers are looking more at an uphill battle at 6-6-1 and third place in the NFC North.

Green Bay is pretty limited at quarterback with Matt Flynn running the offense. There have been some reports indicating Aaron Rodgers took some snaps during Wednesday’s practice. However, Flynn is still expected to start.

On the flip side, Dallas has struggled all year on defense. The Cowboys rank among the leagues worst in pretty much every category.

This game would be the Packers’ to lose, but they are without their starting QB. Cowboys win.

Baltimore Ravens @ Detroit Lions

“[Calvin Johnson’s] pretty old, so I don’t know how physical he’ll be,” Matt Elam said, according to ESPN.

Laugh-Out-Loud.

Somebody should have informed the Ravens’ rookie safety who Megatron is, because what he said is quite laughable. But maybe he was talking out the side of his neck because he later said the Ravens are going to have to double and triple team him. Yep, that’s more likely because Megatron is a beast that Baltimore doesn’t really match up well against. The only way the defense can slow down Johnson is by getting to Detroit quarterback, Matthew Stafford; and the D is quite capable with the outside linebacker duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. The pair has 18.5 sacks between the two, Suggs with nine and Dumervil with 9.5.

Baltimore’s 24th in the league in scoring, and you are going to need to score points to keep up with the Lions’ offense. I do not see that happening. Lions win.

Words From Wooten

Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars 

For once this season, I am actually predicting Jacksonville to come out victorious in a game. Buffalo has not been looking too good over the past few weeks, so it looks like Jacksonville may reap the benefits of a disoriented Buffalo Bills team. I’m not sure who’s doing what or who’s starting where in Jacksonville, but they are winning more than they did last season so they should definitely ride the momentum train while they can.

New York Jets @ Carolina Panthers

Carolina needs to bounce back from a disappointing loss handed to them by New Orleans last week.

Looking at their past opponents, only 3 of them have records that are currently .500 or better, so they’re going up against mediocre teams and getting W’s, which isn’t bad, but they need quality wins. The only 2 quality wins they have were against San Fransisco and New England and those were back-to-back weeks for them. But that will not matter this week. They’re competing against a lackluster New York Jets teams, so this will be an easy win for them.

Seattle Seahawks @ New York Giants

Seattle is looking to bounce back from a loss handed to them by San Fransisco. Luckily for them, they’re facing New York. Unfortunately for New York, they’re facing Seattle. Look for Eli Manning to give a few early Christmas presents to Seattle’s aggressive defense.

Are the Eagles a legitimate threat in the NFC?

Are the Eagles a legitimate threat in the NFC?

Only three remain in the 2013 NFL regular season.

Sad as that may seem, as the season winds down, each game will become more important as playoff contending teams jockey for seeding.

The NFC East is still undecided as both the Eagles and Cowboys are 7-5, Even without Jay Cutler, the Bears are still only one back of the Lions who face a red hot Eagles team this week, and New Orleans and Carolina go head-to-head Sunday night with the winner claiming sole position of first in the NFC South.

The season may be close to an end, but the ever-so-changing  playoff scenarios are just beginning to heat up.

Week 13 Prediction Results

Brooks: 10-6; Overall: 115-76

Perez: 12-4; Overall: 105-74

Wooten: 8-8; Overall: 104-85

Game Picks

Week 14 Matchups  Brooks Perez Wooten
Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars JAC(W) HOU(L) HOU(L)
Indianapolis Colts @ Cincinnati Bengals CIN(W) CIN(W) CIN(W)
Atlanta Falcons @ Green Bay Packers ATL(L) GB(W) GB(W)
Cleveland Browns @ New England Patriots NE(W) NE(W) NE(W)
Oakland Raiders @ New York Jets OAK(L) NYJ(W) OAK(L)
Detroit Lions @ Philadelphia Eagles DET(L) PHI(W) DET(L)
Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers PIT(L) PIT(L) PIT(L)
Buffalo Bills @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers BUF(L) TB(W) BUF(L)
Kansas City Chiefs @ Washington KC(W) KC(W) KC(W)
Minnesota Vikings @ Baltimore Ravens BAL(W) BAL(W) BAL(W)
Tennessee Titans @ Denver Broncos DEN(W) DEN(W) DEN(W)
St. Louis Rams @ Arizona Cardinals STL(L) AZ(W) STL(W)
New York Giants @ San Diego Chargers SD(W) NYG(L) SD(W)
Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers SEA(L) SF(W) SEA(L)
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints NO(W) NO(W) NO(W)
Dallas Cowboys @ Chicago Bears DAL(L) DAL(L) CHI(L)

Brooks Bits’

Detroit Lions @ Philadelphia Eagles

Scoring 40 points in an NFL game would be impressive on any other day, but against a back-up quarterback who was called from the couch a little over two weeks ago, and leaching money from his two former teams (Raiders and Seahawks) doesn’t scream dominance.

Detroit was on a two-game slide before burying the Packers early in the third quarter and are 2-2 in its last four games. Unlike the Lions opponents, the Eagles are arguably the hottest team in the league 4-0 in their last four games. Nick Foles 19 touchdowns to zero interceptions is MVP worthy and he has silenced any notion of a quarterback controversy. And not to mention the 2nd overall rushing attack led by LeSean McCoy who has amassed 1,000 yards.

However, my reluctancy to pick Philadelphia is their 32nd-ranked pass defense. Calvin Johnson can take over a game by himself. Just ask the Cowboys.

Eddie P’s Philosophical Take

Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The casual fan would say this game is easily Pittsburgh’s. And even though I am giving this game to the Steelers, an easy win is not the case.

The Steelers are not what they used to be. The once dominant defense has lost some of its intimidation. Its rankings are smack dabbed in the middle (11th run defense, 18th against the pass). The offense is not the ground and pound of years past. They are 31st in the NFL in run offense. Big Ben and receiver Antonio Brown lead the way for the Steelers’ eighth overall passing offense.

Miami – on the other hand – is on the up-and-coming list, but sadly have been derailed off the tracks a few times due to in house issues. Nevertheless, the Dolphins will give the Steelers a tough time.

In the end, the game is at home for the Steelers. Pittsburgh wins.

Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints

It’s a battle for the top spot in the NFC SOUTH. Both teams are tied with records of 9-3. Both teams are undefeated in division play; that is, until they face each other on Sunday.

Carolina has one of the league’s best defenses. Led by Luke Kuechly, the Panthers are the second best team against the run. The defense is also ranked sixth against the pass. On offense, the Panthers are a huge threat on the ground. DeAngelo Williams leads Carolina’s rushing attack, with Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert being threats out of the backfield as well. And let’s not forget veteran trash-talking receiver Steve Smith.

New Orleans is as potent on offense as Carolina is deadly on D. With Drew Brees under center, the offense will be explosive. Jimmy Graham will always be a threat. The 6-foot-eight tight end is 10th overall in terms of receiving yards, and he is tied for first in touchdown receptions with 12. On defense, coordinator Rex Ryan has really had an impact. The Saints are fourth against the pass. Defensive end Cameron Jordon also adds on 9.5 sacks.

The Saints are looking to bounce back from a disastrous defeat on Monday Night. The Panthers are on a eight-game winning streak. All good things must come to an end. New Orleans gets the Dub.

Words From Wooten

Atlanta Falcons @ Green Bay Packers

This time last year, this game would’ve been a great one to talk about. Now, both teams are banged up and they’re not the same team because of injuries, bad coaching, and the lack of chemistry on both sides of the ball.

Neither teams can execute like they were able to last season, and because of that, both are suffering. Falcons’ players are constantly on and off the field because of injuries while Packers players are out for the count like Randal Cobb and Aaron Rodgers(there is no reason for him to come back this season). All in all, Green Bay will take this because their defense will hold up against a struggling Falcons offense.

Dallas Cowboys @ Chicago Bears 

Ok, Chicago needs this win here. My Bears should’ve won against Minnesota last week, but Robbie Gould couldn’t come through for the Bears when they needed him. Hopefully, they will not need him on this night seeing as though Tony Romo has a way of throwing games away.

Romo has the potential to be better than what he is, but there needs to be changes in the coaching at staff because Jason Garrett is not getting it done for the $100 million man who has yet to get them a playoff win. Here’s a nice stat for you, Tony Romo has thrown 18 touchdowns and 1 intercepetion in the last 8 games in November. As you can see, there is some hope for the Cowboys to win, but I do not think it will happen Monday.

At 7-4, are the Carson Palmer-led Arizona Cardinals a threat in the NFC?

At 7-4, are the Carson Palmer-led Arizona Cardinals a threat in the NFC?

Hopefully, everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving.

And for the New Orleans Saints, I’m willing to bet they are more than thankful for having a top-3 quarterback in the NFL in Drew Brees. The Saints are going to need Brees and more as they travel to Seattle to take down arguably the best team in the NFL and their vaunted defense on Monday Night Football.

This week has heavily contested division and conference bouts that could have drastic playoff implication as the end of the season draws near. Could their be three teams from the AFC West to make the playoffs this year?

It’s possible.

Week 12 Prediction Results

Brooks: 7-6-1; Overall: 105-70-1

Perez: 6-7-1; Overall: 93-69-1

Wooten: 6-7-1; Overall: 98-77-1

Game Picks

Week 13 Matchups Brooks Perez Wooten
Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions DET(W) DET(W) DET(W)
Oakland Raiders @ Dallas Cowboys DAL(W) DAL(W) DAL(W)
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens PIT(L) BAL(W) PIT(L)
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Cleveland Browns CLE(L) CLE(L) CLE(L)
Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts IND(W) IND(W) IND(W)
Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings MIN(W) CHI(L) CHI(L)
Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets NYJ(L) MIA(W) NYJ(L)
Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles AZ(L) AZ(L) PHI(W)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers CAR(W) CAR(W) CAR(W)
New England Patriots @ Houston Texans NE(W) NE(W) NE(W)
Atlanta Falcons @ Buffalo Bills BUF(W) BUF(W) ATL(L)
St. Louis Rams @ San Francisco 49ers SF(W) SF(W) SF(W)
Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs DEN(W) DEN(W) DEN(W)
Cincinnati Bengals @ San Diego Chargers SD(L) CIN(W) CIN(W)
New York Giants @ Washington NYG(W) NYG(W) NYG(W)
New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks NO(L) NO(L) NO(L)

Brooks Bits’

Arizona Cardinals @ Philadelphia Eagles

The Battle of the Birds.

While a real life cardinal wouldn’t stand a chance in flight fight with an Eagle, the Cardinals of the NFL are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

And even before the two teams have stepped on the field, the coaches have also exchanged verbal barbs. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said the Eagles have a “great college offense, and Chip Kelly responded by saying:

I don’t care what other people think. It doesn’t bother me. To spend time to think about what someone else thinks is counter to everything I’ve ever believed in my life. If I believe what other people think, that means I value their opinion more than I value my own. That’s not the case.

Arian can mock the Eagles offense all he wants, but Kelly has led the Eagles to the 5th-ranked offense in the NFL, and 2nd in rushing averaging 150.6 yards per game.

But what troubles me about Philadelphia is their last 32-ranked passing defense. Carson Palmer has thrown for 733 yards and four touchdowns the in the past two games. Michael Floyd is coming of age in Arizona as the second-wideout is on his way to a thousand yard season. Floyd, paired with one of the league’s best in Larry Fitzgerald is going to cause issues for the Eagles secondary.

Key stat to look out for, Eagles 2nd-ranked rushing offense vs. the Cardinals 2nd-ranked rushing defense.

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks

The top two teams in the NFC go head-to-head on Monday night.

The Seahawks have been physically manhandling teams this season, and it doesn’t get any easier when the 12th-man has their back at home. Seattle has intercepted opposing quarterbacks 10 times at home this season, only six have come on the road. Seattle 2nd-ranked overall defense is a force to be reckoned with, but ask Kansas City what is the kryptonite to a great defense–and even greater quarterback.

The best quarterbacks Seattle has played this season is arguably Matt Ryan and Andrew Luck. Seattle pummeled the hapless Falcons, but lost a tight one to Luck and the Colts.

Neither quarterbacks are on the level of Drew Brees, who would be the MVP favorite if it wasn’t for Peyton Manning’s monster season.

Give me Brees and 2nd-ranked offense in the NFL to hand Seattle its first loss at home.

Eddie P’s Philosophical Take

St. Louis Rams @ San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick has struggled a bit this season (sophomore slump?). But he is getting back one of his most trusted receivers in Michael Crabtree. The Rams’ offense has been impressive these past two games. The defense has also notched it up a level for the Rams. So this will not be a repeat of the teams’ first encounter earlier this season.

However, St. Louis might be without two key starters. Running back Zac Stacy and corner Trumaine Johnson both received head injuries last week. Losing both will hurt the Rams on both sides of the ball.

Hence, the 49ers victory.

Words From Wooten

New York Giants @ Washington

Washington really needs to bounce back from last week’s catastrophe against San Francisco. After that game, a few of San Fran’s players basically exposed Redskin’s quarterback Robert Griffin III’s abilities by saying  he shouldn’t be playing right now because he isn’t 100 percent and not living up to his rookie year.

Now, if he is starting, then the Giant’s defensive front seven will definitely get to him a few time this weekend. This will not be an easy one for neither of the teams. Sad part is that the Redskins cannot build through the draft due to the trading away of a few prime picks. All they can look forward to now is firing coaches.

Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings

Looks like Chicago needs to bounce back from a loss they received from St. Louis last week and the loss wasn’t pretty at all.

We all know that Minnesota is a one dimensional offense, so it shouldn’t be hard to stop them, but somehow, it is. The Vikings’ running game is very good thanks to a good offensive line and Adrian ‘All Day’ Peterson.

But Chicago will struggle against Minnesota’s defense with Josh McCown under center. In the end, the Bears will come out victorious in this one.