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2017 Season: Week 8 Preview

We are just about halfway through the NFL season already and it has been a strange one.  The Jaguars and Rams are relevant, the Eagles have the best record in football, the Browns are winless… okay that one is not so weird, but how about the AFC East finally being a pretty competitive division?  Or the AFC North being a bad one?  It has all been hard to figure but we will continue to pick ’em.  Here are my picks/thoughts for the thirteen Week 8 games.

Last Week: 11-4

Season: 63-43

Locks: 2-4

Upsets: 2-4

Thursday, October 26th, 8:25 e.t.

Miami Dolphins (4-2) @ Baltimore Ravens (3-4)

The last handful of Thursday night affairs have been pretty solid games, especially last week in Oakland.  This one, on paper, doesn’t scream quality matchup but who knows?  I do like the Ravens at home though, and here is why.  Baltimore’s defense is due for a breakout game and the Dolphins come into town with Matt Moore at the helm.  Is he that much of a downgrade from Jay Cutler, maybe not, but I do think he will struggle with a short week hitting the road against a team desperate to stay relevant.

Baltimore 23, Miami 10

Sunday, October 29th, 9:30 am e.t.

Minnesota Vikings (5-2) @ Cleveland Browns (0-7) (in London)

What a clash at the Twick!  Okay, that was a lie.  London seems destined for another poor game with one of the best teams in the league taking on the worst.  This is actually not the biggest mismatch with records of the week, but it is the biggest in terms of talent.  The Browns hung tough with the Titans at home but that was more of an aberration in my opinion.  They don’t have the skill players on offense to make much headway against this swarming defense from the Vikings.

Minnesota 31, Cleveland 7

Sunday, October 29th, 1:00 e.t.

Carolina Panthers (4-3) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)

The Panthers are certainly a week-to-week proposition because one week they look like world-beaters and then the next they can fall flat on their face.  I could see them blowing this game out or getting blown out.  Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s offense has been inconsistent on the year.  They’ve yet to put a complete game together and their defense has been very bad to this point.  Against a Panther team with a good defense and an, at times, scary offense, I do not like their odds of pulling this game out.

Carolina 30, Tampa Bay 24

Indianapolis Colts (2-5) @ Cincinnati Bengals (2-4)

A couple of two win teams hook horns in Cincy here when the Colts face the Bengals.  After getting shut out by the Jaguars, Indy’s season can officially be considered done while the Bengals are desperate to stay alive.  I like them to do just that at home with an offense that until last week under Bill Lazor has looked pretty good.  The Colt “D” is not very good.

Cincinnati 33, Indianapolis 13 ***LOCK OF THE WEEK***

San Francisco 49ers (0-7) @ Philadelphia Eagles (6-1)

This game pits the team with the best record in the league, at home mind you, against the team that is tied for the worst record.  The Eagles lost two key players in their Monday night win over the Redskins in Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks, but that is not going to matter this week.  Carson Wentz cemented his case for being in the MVP discussion on Monday and he is capable of carrying the team.  He won’t have to this Sunday as the Eagles should win easily with their running game and defense.

Philadelphia 27, San Francisco 14

Oakland Raiders (3-4) @ Buffalo Bills (4-2)

This game is one of the better ones on the docket for Week 8 and it is probably the hardest one for me to pick.  I think I am going to go with the Raiders to win because they seem to have found their mojo on offense and could be at the beginning of an upswing.  Marshawn Lynch will miss his chance to play in Buffalo for the first time since being traded due to a suspension so that could hurt, but I think that Tampa Bay exposed the Buffalo “D” a bit last week and I like the well rested Raiders to pick up on that.

Oakland 26, Buffalo 19

Los Angeles Chargers (3-4) @ New England Patriots (5-2)

The Patriots played their best game of the season last Sunday night at home against a reeling Falcon team and seem to be peaking as we forge towards November, like they usually do.  The Chargers defense did just shut out the Broncos and has been a very underrated unit to this point in the year and I like them to keep this game close through three quarters.  However, you can only slow Tom Brady for so long and I can see them running away with this one in the fourth quarter at home.

New England 33, Los Angeles 17

Atlanta Falcons (3-3) @ New York Jets (3-4)

The Atlanta offense has been struggling lately and has people calling for O.C. Steve Sarkesian’s job.  They are 0-3 against the AFC East and desperately need a win to keep pace with the suddenly hot Saints in their own division.  I think they get something going on offense against the Jets and take this one on the road.  New York hung tough but eventually blew the game against Miami and can do the same thing here.  The thing is, if this does turn into a shootout I don’t think that Josh McCown can keep pace with Matt Ryan.

Atlanta 27, New York 20

Chicago Bears (3-4) @ New Orleans Saints (4-2)

The Saints have won four straight games and will now host the Chicago Bears who just won a game with only five first downs!  They are going to have to do a heck of a lot better than that this week if they want to hang in there against the Saints who can actually lean on their defense and running game a bit.  For the first time since 2013 New Orleans has a winning record and it is no fluke as I believe they are favorites to win the south at this point in the season.  They should improve to 5-2 with a win over the Bears who do not typically travel well this year.

New Orleans 29, Chicago 15

Sunday, October 29th, 4:05 e.t.

Houston Texans (3-3) @ Seattle Seahawks (4-2)

The Texans are coming off of their BYE Week and immediately get thrown back into the fire on the road in Seattle.  DeShaun Watson has been fantastic for Houston this year but I don’t like his chances going against Seattle’s defense on the road here.  The Hawk’s offense looked great against the Giants last week, even though they struggled to finish some drives.  I think they put it together this week and blow out the Texans.

Seattle 39, Houston 14

Dallas Cowboys (3-3) @ Washington Redskins (3-3)

I like this game.  The loser is going to have a tough time getting back into the NFC East race, especially if it’s Washington having already lost twice to the Eagles.  The Cowboys looked phenomenal on the road in San Fran and it was mostly because of the efforts of Ezekiel Elliot.  He makes this team better and Dallas can keep pace with Philly if he stays on the field.  I was going to take the Redskins here because they will be desperate, but I really don’t like the way their defense stacks up to the Cowboys.  Dallas should take this one on the road.

Dallas 28, Washington 22

Sunday, October 29th, 8:30 e.t.

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) @ Detroit Lions (3-3)

Will this be the week that Al and Cris finally get a good game?  I think it is.  I really like Pittsburgh and where they are going this year, but I am going to take the Lions at home.  Detroit is coming off of a BYE and almost made a 35 point comeback the week prior.  Of course, they played poorly enough to go down by 35 in the first place but if the game is on the line I think we can all trust that Matthew Stafford will make some plays.  Look for this one to go down to the wire on Sunday night.

Detroit 30, Pittsburgh 28 ***UPSET OF THE WEEK***

Monday, October 30th, 8:30 e.t.

Denver Broncos (3-3) @ Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)

Both of these teams come into this game having lost two straight contests but I feel much better about KC than I do Denver.  The Bronco offense has vanished over the past couple of weeks while the Chiefs attack looked great against the Raiders.  It was their defense that let the game get away.  Playing at home on a Monday night for the second time this year, I think that they can use that crowd to their advantage and really get after Trevor Siemian.  Look for the Chiefs to get back to their winning ways.

Kansas City 34, Denver 17

Week 8 Recap: Seattle Seahawks @ New Orleans Saints

Brandin Cooks
Brandin Cooks celebrates his early fourth quarter touchdown against the Seahawks.

Final: New Orleans 25, Seattle 20

It was a thriller in the Big Easy as the Saints hold off a late Seattle surge for their third win of the season.  It was a, perhaps, season-saver for New Orleans and their defense showed signs of improvement, closing out the game on the final play of the game.  Seattle was slow getting started, especially with their running game, and the Seahawks defense was gassed and gashed by the end of this game.  Here is what went down on the final Sunday in October in the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

Let’s start off by looking at the most important key in this win for the Saints: their defense.  It was not an overly dominant showing on their behalf, but they did do one thing better this week than they have all season and that is tackle.  Last week against Kansas City there were multiple missed tackles and players were out of their posisions and over-scheming.  While there were some defenders being over aggressive and out falling out of posision, which was exposed on many misdirection plays by Seattle’s offense, when there was a play in front of Dennis Allen’s unit rhe players made it.  The safety play was good and New Orleans was not beat deep in this game.  Cameron Jordan had his best game of the season by far.  He accounted for seven total QB pressures, and one pass defended.  The man was a nightmare to block.  Another Saint that stood out in this contest was Nate Stupar.  He had one interception off of a duck pass, but that is not why he is receiving praise.  He made a few run stuffs and was decent in coverage.  Playing alongside Dannelle Ellerbe helped as well.  Dannelle’s return to the lineup was huge as he brought a sideline-to-sideline tackling element to this team that they have not had.  He looked a bit rusty at times but was lurking around the ball for a majority of the game.

Action from SEA@NO
Richard Sherman and Willie Snead competing from 10/30/16

Compairatively, the Seattle defense was not very good on the whole in this game.  That is mainly because of their secondary.  Richard Sherman was victimized once long down the field on a flea-flicker when he cheated to the inside of his man Brandon Coleman before he waggled out the back door and made a 38 yard reception down the field.  Earl Thomas whiffed on some tackles in the open field which came at inappropriate times, a couple of them on third downs.  The Saints successfully converted 9/15 of their third down situations which lead to the large 36:12/23:48 slant in time of possession.  There were a couple of pick plays that the referees allowed to happen that did benefit the Saints largely, once on a third down late in the fourth quarter when Snead went out and chopped of DeShawn Shead and the other when Brandon Coleman knocked Jeremy Lane to the ground in the end zone when Brandin Cooks scored the go-ahead touchdown earlier in that period.  With that being said, the Seahawks were not good on defense.  Part of this is due to the fact that the Saints have a remarkable offense at home with so many weapons, and the other was just great game planning by Sean Payton and company.  The one thing that the Seahawks did do well was goal-line defense for the second straight week.  The Saints came into the game scoring touchdowns 80% of the time for a touchdown in the red zone.  Seattle did let up two touchdowns in these situations, but one of them came on fourth down when Brees did a quick quarterback sneak and the other was one that should not have been allowed to stand because of the pick play.  As far as individual play is concerned, the top standout here was Cliff Avril.  He penetrated into the backfield on a couple of different occasions creating stops behind the line of scrimmage on run plays and he generated some QB pressures as well.  Kelcie McCray looked fine in place of Kam Chancellor, but the team is still missing their big thumper because he was much better in helping out against the run.  Also worth mentioning, Earl Thomas did have a scoop and score in the first quarter putting his team up by seven early on.

Earl Thomas
Earl Thomas was flagged for hugging an official after his return touchdown during Sunday’s game.

On offense, the Saints really got away with anything they wanted in this game.  Tim Hightower ran the ball 26 times for 102 yards.  Nine different Saints had a reception in this game, the pace being set by Michael Thomas and Willie Snead who had six catches apiece.  Thomas, who is pretty much far and away, the best rookie wide out in the NFL continued to display great hands and terrific route running ability.  Given time, this guy could really make things tough on defensive coordinators as his career progresses.  The Saints offensive line did a great job fending off the Seattle pass rush.  The only time the Seahawks were able to get any pressure on Drew Brees was when they brought a Cat (corner) blitz or overloaded a rush to one side.  Otherwise, Drew did not have much trouble completing passes as he was sitting in the rocking chair for a majority of the game.

For the Hawks, the offense was shaky at times.  The number one reason for this was a failure to get the running game going.  Seattle as a team ran for just three yards total in the first half.  Their best looking drive of the game was probably their first drive of the second half where they actually were able to find some room to maneuver on the ground.  The Seahawks had just four first downs running the football, and Russell Wilson was hardly able to help out at all with this.  Without the threat of a read-option play to break contain, the Saints were able to play a vanilla defense against Seattle and contain them that way.  On the final drive of the game, Russell Wilson was fine, completing some big passes and moving his team down the field.  It ultimately came down to a 4th and 2 with two seconds remaining with the ball at the New Orleans 10.  Wilson attempted to connect with Jermaine Kearse in the back corner of the end zone but put too much air under the ball and slightly overthrew it, allowing for Saints’ corner B.W. Webb to make a play on the ball.  It was actually a poor throw on Wilson’s behalf.  Not being able to get the ground game going hurt Seattle and the offense simply could not stay on the field, hence why stars like Jimmy Graham did not shred a suspect defense.  Wilson, while on the field, did make some very nice throws but the Seahawks just did not have enough possession time to create some continuity on offense.

The Seahawks lost their second game of the season in heart-breaking fashion, but since their closest competition in Arizona also lost, they are in no worse shape in the NFC west than they were coming into this game.  Next week they will host Buffalo at home; a team that will be desperate for a win.  New Orleans will get a shot at going back to .500 when they hit the road to the west coast to play the 49ers.  The main sign of encouragement for the Saints was their defense, but they were helped out by the fact that their offense was able to stay on the field so long.  It would appear as that their best hope for defense is for their offense to keep them off the field.

K.J. Wright
K.J. Wright knocking the ball away before it could get to Travaris Cadet.

The Skinny:

  • For the second straight week, Seattle’s defense was on the field for a very long time.  New Orleans dominated the time of possession battle 36:12/23:48.  The Saints’ offense ran 72 plays while the Seahawks ran 54.
  • Once again, the Seahawks struggled to get a running game going.  They managed only 3 yards in the first half and 74 for the game.  Russell Wilson’s inability to scramble due to injury really handicapped the offense at times in this contest.
  • The Seattle defense did not have much success rushing the passer.  They did record two sacks, but Drew Brees was afforded a lot of time when the Seahawks did rush four and only got pressure on Cat blitzes or overloads.  The one thing they did do well was hold up by the goal line, stopping the very good Saints multiple times in that area of the field.
  • The Saints scored on six straight possessions to end the game, offensively doing whatever they pleased for the most part after early troubles in the first quarter.
  • New Orleans pshed the pocket on defense and made a lot of solid open field tackles on defense, something that they struggled to do so far this season.  They also were not on the field very much, which helped as well.
  • Tim Hightower had 102 yards rushing on the ground and nine different Saints caught a pass from Drew Brees.  Everybody was involved and New Orleans turned in their best effort of the season.

 

Week 3: Minnesota Vikings @ Carolina Panthers Recap

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Tom Johnson and Everson Griffen combining for one of eight sacks on Cam Newton.

Final: Minnesota Vikings 22, Carolina Panthers 10

It was a smothering effort by the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon as the team went on to score 22 unanswered points en route to a dominant road win over the 2015 NFC Champs.  There was not a ton to clap about on offense, however the defense swarmed and there were many standout players in this contest.

For the Vikings offense, the line was actually harassed by Carolina.  A lot of the time it is due to a dominant defensive effort, but that was not necessarily the case this afternoon.  Injuries and poor play really hampered the front and made it tough for Minnesota to do anything with the football in the first half.  Once the team went into the half and made corrections, it became much easier for them to move down the field.  Sam Bradford, after completing only four out of eleven passes in the first half, went a solid 14/17 in the second with a touchdown pass.  He was getting rid of the ball in a hurry on the back end of three step drops.  Credit Norv Turner for some fantastic in-game adjustments.  Stefon Diggs looked very good with his route running in this game, twisting many of defenders around.  Kyle Rudolph grabbed seven balls for 70 yards and a score.  Sam Bradford loves his tight ends and is fixing to make a star out of Rudolph.

sambradfordminnesotavikingsvcarolinadk4rf_w8jubl
Sam Bradford went 14/17 in the second half to bring his team back from a 10 point first quarter deficit.

Defensively for the Vikings, there were a ton of stars in this game.  Danielle Hunter sacked Cam Newton in the end zone for a safety in the first quarter, and that looked small compared to some of the efforts from other players.  Everson Griffen pitched in with three out of the team’s eight total sacks as well as a couple of additional pressures and some help in the run game.  He was a force.  Xavier Rhodes did an amazing job locking down Kelvin Benjamin throughout this game in man coverage.  The Panthers’ number one wide-out was shut out in this game and was only targeted one time; very late in the game.  Harrison Smith played like a man on fire, flying all over the field and tackling everybody in frame.  Erik Kendricks missed a couple of tackles to account for one of the only down performances in an otherwise dominant defensive effort for the Vikes.

Offensively for the Panthers, it got ugly in a hurry.  They started out great, scoring ten points over the course of their first two drives, but their momentum was quickly stymied by the buzz-saw known as the Minnesota defense.  For starters, Carolina ran a surprising amount of 12 and 11 personnel (meaning one back and two tight ends or one back and one tight end).  This was likely to keep the Vikings in their base defense and force them into some rather vanilla looks.  On paper, this was a good plan but unfortunately Minnesota wised to it and outplayed the Panthers.  As stated above, Kelvin Benjamin was completely shut out, and the rest of the wide receivers looked very ordinary in this game.  Philly Brown and Ted Ginn did chip in with some nice plays, but neither of them were able to get behind the defense after the first quarter.  Cameron Artis-Payne was not bad in this game, and it would have benefited the Panthers to run the pall more with him.  They got too aggressive with the offense and were looking for the big play down the field in the pass game.  The Minnesota corners would not let the wide-outs shake loose and this forced Cam to hold the ball and take sacks.  Poor play-calling was a big part of the twelve point loss.  Also, the Panthers made many silly and sloppy mistakes.  False starts, illegal formations, and holdings were among some of the terrible penalties that hampered drives for Carolina making it hard for them to move the ball.  They may have gotten away with these errors had they been facing a more inferior team, but the Vikings are too good to goof up against.

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Adam Thielen with a one handed catch late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s action.

On defense, the Panthers played a good game.  Luke Keuchly, as he often is, was the best player in the game.  He made quite a few run stops, had a QB rush and hit, and was flying sideline to sideline tackling everybody.  Thomas Davis did his thing as well, reeling in a sack and making 10 tackles.  The two lead the team in takedowns with a combined 23.  Tre Boston was around the line of scrimmage a lot, and made a couple of nice stamps however he was out of position on a couple of plays which really cost the team late.  James Bradberry, the rookie, was nice in man-to-man coverage but really struggled in zone when he was targeted on the afternoon.  Shaq Thompson was a no-show in this game, being completely neutralized by the Vikings on the afternoon.

Simply put, the Vikings looked like the better team in Carolina today.  Their defense was great after getting pushed around in the first quarter and they are the reason for the team’s 3-0 start.  Sam Bradford played well again and had no trouble reading the defense and taking what they were giving him once he was actually protected.  The offense made only eleven first downs in the game, but nine of them were in the second half and five of them came on the touchdown drive that gave them the lead out of the break.  Also, the team racked up 211 yards in the game, but 177 of them did come in the third and fourth quarters.  Marcus Sherels had a 54 yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter that contributed to the team’s win on the day.  The Vikings fly back home to take on the once beaten Giants next Monday night, a team that Sam Bradford got to play twice last year when he was on the Eagles.  The Panthers hit the road to face the Atlanta Falcons, the only team to defeat them in the regular season a year ago.  Being 1-2 with some very sloppy play, Carolina needs to rally the troops and play some better football if they hope to maintain their status as an NFC powerhouse.

Sam Bradford, Jeremiah Sirles
Sam Bradford celebrates a touchdown pass from 9/25/16.

The Skinny:

  • The Minnesota defense was awesome in this game.  They sacked Cam Newton eight times, three of them coming from Everson Griffen.  They also picked Newton off three times and completely shut out Kelvin Benjamin.
  • Marcus Sherels had a 54 yard punt return for a TD in the second quarter that helped the Vikings rally from what was once a ten point deficit.
  • After going 4/11 in the first half, Sam Bradford finished the game 14/17 in the second half despite a poor showing from his offensive line.  He looked good for the second week in a row and it is clear that the Vikings are no worse off at QB without Teddy Bridgewater.
  • The Panthers now have 30 straight games with 100+ rushing yards, but they were barely able to do it in this game, racking up only 105 of them, many coming late on scrambles from Cam Newton.
  • Carolina was flagged ten times for 65 yards.  Many of these were pre-play fouls which could have been prevented with better preparation and more sound play.  They also scored no points after jumping out to a 10 point lead after two drives.
  • Cam Newton is holding the ball too long and is trying to hit too many big plays down the field this season.  Teams that can run with their wide receivers stand a chance against Carolina if they can keep #1 in the pocket like Minnesota did today.

Introduction

Welcome to my blog.  As you may have already picked up on, this is a blog that I plan to update a few times per week with blurbs such as NFL game previews and reviews.  My goal is to get a head-start with the career of my dreams- a sports writer.  I have discovered that many  sports writers today got their start with blog writing.  So, this is my first crack at blog writing.  Hopefully it goes well.

First, I want to address anybody reading this.  I appreciate you taking time out of your day to read what I have to say.  Perhaps what I am saying is what someone else who works for the NFL has already said, or is planning to say.  However, I will not steal ideas and insights from other analysts without giving them their due credit.  This is simply a trial run for me and I hope it can end well.

Lastly (I want to state this upfront), as of this first post (10/24/12), I will be operating under the assumption that nobody knows anything that I have worked on in the past and/or any of the insights I have had about this great game.  I will post for the remainder of the 2012 NFL season, and hopefully for many more seasons to come.  I am not going to bring any previous bias that I have for certain teams into these discussions.  I will try to write as if I am posting columns for websites such as NFL.com or ESPN.com.

Once again, I thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and hopefully what I provide for you is interesting and insightful!