We have officially hit the second half of the 2016 NFL season and it is already November. As the weeks turn colder, the games will get more intense and important as we begin to draw focus on a playoff picture. If the season were to end today we would see three AFC West teams in the dance as well as two NFC East squads for the first time since 2009. There are plenty of interesting developments taking place and some teams are beginning to separate themselves in their respective divisions. Since we are at the halfway point, I thought I would revisit my end of the year awards and update them with our more recent happenings. Following this list will be, as always, my predictions for the upcoming week’s games.
MVP: Tom Brady, QB, Patriots- Matt Ryan and Derek Carr were also up for consideration here, but I can’t see anybody besides Brady taking this award home. He has played out of his mind since returning from suspension throwing for 1319 yards and 12 touchdowns without a pick. The Pats are on a roll and it’s mostly because of #12.
Offensive Player of the Year: Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons- If he can’t win the MVP then I figured it would be nice to hand him the OPOTY award. Ryan is dominating the stats sheet having thrown for the most passing yards, touchdowns, and plays of over 20 yards. He is second in quarterback rating behind Brady and is leading this Falcons offense.
Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller, LB, Broncos- I considered sticking with Marcus Peters of Kansas City since he has accounted for six total turnovers this year, but in the end I could not discount what Miller has done for the Broncos. He is a dominant pass rusher for them, of course, and has single-handedly won games for Denver. He is becoming even better in pass coverage too which is scary.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles- You could certainly make the case that Ezekiel Elliot is deserving of this spot, but I don’t want to discount what Wentz has done with almost no preseason action and almost no help around him on offense. It is rare that you see a rookie carry a team, and that is what Wentz has done. Elliot has had help from elsewhere, although he is certainly deserving as well. In the end, it is easier for quarterbacks to win being in the league we are nowadays.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Joey Bosa, DE, Chargers- This one is probably the easiest choice out of the bunch. Since coming in during Week 4, Bosa has been dominant rushing the passer and has even drawn attention for the DPOTY award. He has had such a huge impact on the San Diego defense that it would be wrong not to hand him this award.
Comeback Player of the Year: Andrew Luck, QB, Colts- Luck was hurt for a large part of last season and since returning this year has played phenomenally. He’s about all the Colts have right now and they would be wise to get him some help on that side of the ball before they waste away the prime years of his career.
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, Patriots- My opinion on this one has not wavered even slightly since Week 4 when I made my original list. He has his team at 7-1 right now and looking unstoppable. The Patriots are the odds on favorite to win the Super Bowl and a near lock to win at least 14 games this season it is largely because of the coaching of this future hall of famer.
Now, on to the picks!
Last Week: 5-8
Thursday, November 3rd, 8:25 e.t.
Atlanta Falcons (5-3) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)
The first time these two teams hooked horns was in the initial week of the season where the Buccaneers went into the Georgia Dome and clipped Matt Ryan and the Falcons 31-24, which right now stands as one of the most surprising results of the season. However, that was back when the Bucs were at full health and Jameis Winston played one of his best games in his short career throwing four touchdown passes. Yes, Winston has never lost to these Falcons going 3-0 against them. Improving to 4-0 seems like a long shot though mainly because of how hot the Atlanta offense has been and how unimpressive the Tampa Bay defense was last week. Yes, the game went deep into overtime, but they still surrendered well over 600 yards of offense and 513 yards passing to Derek Carr’s Raiders. The Falcons are no worse on that side of the ball than Oakland is. The first time these two battled, we saw Tampa Bay rookie Vernon Hargreaves on Julio Jones about half the time as he was on the left side of the field exclusively. This time I expect him to follow Jones around for a majority of this contest (with safety help, of course). Look for #11 to have a nice game in this environment as he is due. All and all, the Falcons have too many weapons to defend whereas the Bucs are really reeling at the moment and have had struggles on the defensive side of the ball. I’m thinking that Jameis Winston does have a nice game, but in the end his efforts will falter. I like Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense to steamroll in Tampa Bay where the home field advantage is almost non-existent.
Atlanta 35, Tampa Bay 24
Sunday, November 6th, 1:00 e.t.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) @ Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)
The Chiefs, after getting absolutely crushed by the Steelers back in Week 4, have bounced back to go 3-0 since that time and they are dominating teams through that stretch. The most encouraging thing about Andy Reid’s team is that they are beating the opponents that they should be. Kansas City is not one of those squads that fails against lowly teams like these visiting Jaguars. Sure, Blake Bortles and Jacksonville have had an entire week and a half to think about their poor road performance against Tennessee, but I really can’t see them coming into KC and downing a superior team like the Chiefs. Another thing worth noting here is that the Kansas City offense actually looked more explosive, by far, with Nick Foles in at quarterback over Alex Smith who will still be in concussion protocol come kickoff on Sunday. Who knows, maybe Foles could be the better of the two options here.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, it was only one game against a cruddy defense with the element of surprise, so jumping to such conclusions would seem insane. Anyways, I see the Chiefs taking this game no matter who climbs under center because they have a fundamentally sound team and a very opportunistic defense that will take advantage of any and all mistakes that Blake Bortles could (and I say will) end up making.
Kansas City 30, Jacksonville 15
Dallas Cowboys (6-1) @ Cleveland Browns (0-8)
Okay, realistically, who sees the Browns picking up their first win of the season against the Cowboys who come to town riding an NFL high six-game winning streak? I know I don’, but let’s pretend for a second they do end up winning. How will it end up happening?
- Cleveland, firstly, plays turnover free football and shortens the game by limiting possessions against the Cowboys and capitalizes by turning drives into points when they do have the ball.
- The defense stops Ezekiel Elliot. Cleveland rush D is the second worst in the league. They will have to stack the box to stop the rookie phenom Elliot and leave the secondary to cover the Dallas receivers one-on-one. They will have to win those match-ups.
- Tackle. The number one thing that the Browns can do to help their chances here is make the plays that are right in front of them. Cleveland’s defense has been one of the worst in football this year largely because of their inability to bring down the ball-carrier and teams are consistently turning what should be five yard gains into seventeen yard gains. They can’t let this happen.
- Lastly, the Browns will have to create pressure on Dak Prescott and force him into bad throws. The Eagles did this well on Sunday night and they forced Prescott to win the game himself, which he did, but Philly was certainly in it. Cleveland has to duplicate this.
There is a lot that has to go right for the Browns to win here, and on top of that they don’t know who will be their starting quarterback going forward. It is looking like Josh McCown in this game, who will bring a veteran presence but an often reckless style of play with the ball. If he’s careful then I honestly think the Browns can make this one interesting. Don’t be surprised if this is a one-score game, in fact. Even if it is, I don’t see Cleveland stopping the Dallas offense and getting penetration on that offensive line. The Cowboys should certainly pick up their seventh win of the year, but don’t think that it is going to be so easy.
Dallas 26, Cleveland 21
New York Jets (3-5) @ Miami Dolphins (3-4)
So the Dolphins have actually looked like a competent NFL team over their last two games and they hit their BYE having won both contests. This is largely due to the legs of Jay Ajayi who has rushed for over 200 yards in each of those wins and Ryan Tannehill has not been careless with the football. Also, the Miami defense has really stepped up their game as of late and has the team knocking on the door of .500 at their half-way point. Meanwhile, the Jets who had lost four straight games snapped that skid two weeks ago against Baltimore and turned it into a two game winning streak last week in Cleveland with a narrow win over the Browns. It is easy to say that Gang Green is not that great of a team given their injuries and inconsistent play lately but I think there is still hope for them if they can defeat the Dolphins in Miami. New York has really had a tough time ripping off explosive runs this season with an older Matt Forte at the head of their rushing attack. If there were ever a game where the Jets could get their ground game going, it would have been last week against the Browns and they did not. The Dolphins defense is far from a perfect product but they have gotten a lot better over the last month. That said, I do like the Jets in this contest. The New York defense may not be great against the pass, but they are tops in the league when it comes to stopping the run. Ajayi running for a pile of yards is not going to happen, and this was a big reason why the Dolphins have revived their season. With this aspect taken away, I doubt Miami can make enough plays to win it in the end. Not to mention, I really don’t see the Dolphins as a .500 team at their halfway point. They just aren’t good enough in my opinion.
Power Pick of the Week: New York 21, Miami 14
Detroit Lions (4-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
The Vikings, after hopping out to an impressive 5-0 start hit their BYE and have come back with a resounding thud having scored a total of 20 points over the past two weeks. This created a chain reaction that caused Norv Turner to step down from calling plays for the Vikes. This offense has been struggling this year, mainly because of the shaky offensive line play and inability to get the running game going. Of course their defense has been fantastic and seeing as how they are playing at home here, I think that “D” will be the difference. When Matthew Stafford and company hear this, it should send quivers down their spines:
Last week in Houston the Detroit offense had a tough time piecing a drive together and that should not get much easier this week in Minnesota. This team has a serious home field advantage going in their beautiful US Bank Stadium. I think that the Vikings are a very flawed team, but as long as their fans show up and are boisterous (which they should be with a divisional rival in town) they should be fine this week. However, going forward there could be some issues, but after seeing the Lions fall flat in Detroit I don’t have confidence that they will fare much better against an even better defense belonging to a team that has a recent chip on its shoulder.
Minnesota 23, Detroit 10
Philadelphia Eagles (4-3) @ New York Giants (4-3)
The Eagles have gone 1-3 following their surprising 3-0 start and have really lacked explosive plays on offense ever since Week 6. Coincidentally that is when their right tackle Lane Johnson began his 10-game suspension. The O-line was exposed against Washington and ever since then the offense has been limited and really predicated around Carson Wentz getting the ball out of his hands quickly. Unfortunately, he has little to no help on offense and that became apparent on Sunday night against Dallas. The receiving corps continues to drop easy catches and to break tackles. Simply put, they are not very good and it has caused Wentz to have to carry this team, which he has. Philly has been in every game this season. This brings us to the Meadowlands where the Giants await, coming off of their BYE (side note, this will be the third straight team the Eagles have faced that will have been returning from an off-week). New York’s defense finally lived up to its $200 million bill against the Rams. However, this was against the Rams in London. If there was another offense in the NFL that was even more flimsy weapon-wise than the Eagles, it would be Los Angeles. The New York offense has been almost unwatchable lately. Eli Manning has been uncomfortable in the pocket and his footwork has been choppy. The Eagles pass-rush has been very good and the birds boast the fifth-best pass D in the league. If they can put pressure on Eli Manning like they did last week on the road against Dallas and Dak Prescott then they should have a great chance at winning. Brandon Graham has been unblockable over the past month, earning the highest grade among all rushers per pro-football focus. Manning may continue to feel pressure in the pocket and make quick, ill-advised decisions. I’ll take Philly for this reason.
Philadelphia 27, New York 17
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) @ Baltimore Ravens (3-4)
Ahh, Steelers/Ravens. These games are always fun to watch no matter who is playing for them and the first installment of one of the league’s most intense rivalries should be a good game. Will it be Landry Jones in at QB for Pittsburgh or will Ben Roethlisberger be coming back? Part of me wants to think that it will be Landry Jones just because the Steelers may want to play it safe and not re-aggravate that meniscus injury. Jones did not play too poorly at home against the Patriots so the team has no reason to think that marching him out there is going to mean an automatic loss. However, the Ravens are very good at stopping the run, so that could mean problems for Le’Veon Bell and company. This leaves it up to the Pittsburgh receivers to make plays down the field. Obviously the offense is much more explosive with Big Ben under center, but there are plays to be had against these Ravens who are giving up a few of those this season. Anyways, Baltimore has looked very inconsistent on offense, especially in the second halves of their games. They will probably need to put up at least 25 points to beat the Steelers at home. I think if they can do that then a win will be on the horizon. Being that this is a divisional game for Baltimore, I could see Joe Flacco rising to the occasion and getting it done. I’d probably pick the Ravens to win this contest regardless of whether it was Ben or Landry calling signals because I think that they can shut down the running game of Pittsburgh and make the team one-dimensional. By the way, both of these teams come in off of a BYE so each should be prepared and ready to make this one of the week’s most titillating contests.
Baltimore 27, Pittsburgh 26
Sunday, November 6th, 4:05 e.t.
Carolina Panthers (2-5) @ Los Angeles Rams (3-4)
Okay, I have to come forward and say that I am a bit disappointed that I did not pick the Panthers to win last week. I have been predicting that they would get on a bit of a roll this year and I missed the boat to be the first to hop on with that theory. I do think that their secondary is awful, but at the same time I don’t believe that they are a bad team. Cam Newton is still fully capable of making big plays and they have one of the most creative and hard to stop running games with a combination of power backs and his legs. If the Rams are to win this game they will have to get good play out of their quarterback Case Keenum. I said, following my write-up of the Giants/Rams game in London, that Los Angeles should not necessarily consider benching Keenum following his four-pick game as a lot of those were not his fault. However, if he plays poorly against a Carolina secondary that is in shambles at the moment, there may be cause for concern. Also, if the Rams are not a playoff team this season (which, it looks like they will not be) there is no reason why Jared Goff shouldn’t get some reps this season. Let the kid show off what he’s got. It is possible that we see him in the second half of this game as the Los Angeles fans are beginning to get restless with Case under center. The biggest issue I have with the Rams is their lack of receiving threats. Todd Gurley is handicapped week after week because teams are stacking the box to shut him down. They are not respecting Los Angeles’ receivers in large part because Keenum is way too inclined to take shots down the field; low percentage passes. He isn’t always taking what the defenses are giving him. That is what a lot of quarterbacks are doing against the Panthers defense and it has worked. I don’t see Case following this blueprint because it is not in his DNA. Ron Rivera’s team should take this game on the road as they begin to build some momentum heading into the second half of the season.
Carolina 33, Los Angeles 17
New Orleans Saints (3-4) @ San Francisco 49ers (1-6)
The Saints come into this contest having just beaten the Seahawks in a thriller at home. The most encouraging thing from that game was the fact that New Orleans actually tackled well, something they have not done at all over the past couple of seasons. The Niners defense has suffered from the same fate and have shown no signs of getting any better. New Orleans can throw the ball all over the yard, we know this. What they did slightly better last week than they did at any other point this year is run the ball. Tim Hightower rumbled for 103 yards and brought a physical element to the ground game that the Saints did not see out of Mark Ingram thus far in the season. Drew Brees continues to play at a high level and this San Francisco defense isn’t scaring anybody this year. The only way they can win this game is if their offense is able to trade points with the Saints and Brees. Of course, they have Chip Kelly calling plays so there is always a small chance that they can break out and drop 30 points or so. Will this be the week that happens? I can see it, but I’m not going to predict it. Controlling the clock is almost a given when you play a Chip Kelly coached team, and even though the Saints are 0-2 this year when winning the time of possession battle, I think that is an aberration. Look for them to piece drives together and hold the ball for around 35 minutes en route to a nice win.
New Orleans 36, San Francisco 21
Sunday, November 6th, 4:25 e.t.
Indianapolis Colts (3-5) @ Green Bay Packers (4-3)
The Packers are coming off of a one-point loss on the road to Atlanta despite being without the services of many of their key players. With that being said, Aaron Rodgers has put together back-to-back good performances and he appears to be back to his old self. The offensive line in Green Bay continues to be the strength of this team and this week they match up against a Colts defensive line that isn’t exactly known for getting after passers. I expect Rodgers to carve up the Indy defense. So, that leaves us with the question of how Andrew Luck will respond on the other side of the ball. In his first trip to Lambeau field, I can see the Colts struggling to protect their star QB, and that should be the difference in this game. Indy was held to 14 points at home against the Chiefs which has to make some Colt fans a bit nervous. They also gave up 30 to a team that was guided by a backup quarterback for a majority of the contest. If they can’t hold Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to less than 24 points then they could be in trouble. However, the Colts do seem like they will make this game somewhat interesting because that is what they have been able to do a lot of the time with Andrew Luck being their guy. Do I think he can trade points with Aaron Rodgers at the top of his game, no, but I can see him carrying his team as he always does. By the way, the last time these two matched up wasn’t too bad of a game either.
Green Bay 31, Indianapolis 24
Tennessee Titans (4-4) @ San Diego Chargers (3-5)
Okay, I want to start off by saying that I was going to pick the Titans to win this game originally because I love what they have been able to do with the ground game marching behind that offensive line and how Marcus Mariota has shown improvement from week-to-week. However, it would almost feel criminal to pick against the Chargers since they are always in every game they play this season and they are in a desperate spot to win here or risk falling even further out of contention in the AFC West. Let’s face it, it will be a long shot for San Diego to sneak its way into the playoffs, but if it is going to happen they will likely have to win seven out of their next eight games.
That means they will have to defeat teams like the Titans at home. How do you do this? Well, firstly you must stop DeMarco Murray and the Tennessee running game. That is easier said than done but San Diego has had success clogging holes and slowing ground attacks lately. Next, getting pressure on Marcus Mariota and forcing him into errant passes will be very important. In steps Joey Bosa, who not only looks like a lock for defensive rookie of the year, but is also generating noise for the defensive player of the year. I think he and the rest of the Chargers line will get after Mariota and make him uncomfortable. The good news for the Titans, though, is that their division is very weak and a loss here would not cripple them. They are finding their knack on offense and have an underrated defense to boot. I just feel better going with the more desperate team with a veteran quarterback at the helm. Otherwise, I’d love the Titans in an upset.
San Diego 30, Tennessee 24
Sunday, November 6th, 8:30 e.t.
Denver Broncos (6-2) @ Oakland Raiders (6-2)
And for the third Sunday night in a row, we have ourselves a gem of a game. This is the best match up between two teams of this week and it is also the hardest to call. On one hand you have the Broncos who are still balling on defense while on the other you have Derek Carr out there breaking Oakland passing records and carrying his team to thrilling wins week after week. The Raiders are also breaking penalty records as well, having been penalized 23 times last week against Tampa Bay, a new NFL record.
The Oakland defense has begun to turn the corner somewhat, and it is going to have to come up big on Sunday night because you can’t expect the Denver defense to sputter. When I am trying to decide who is going to win this game, I can’t help but think back to the game that took place in Week 6 when the Chiefs came in and dominated the Raiders with their defense and coherent offense. If that happens again, then the Broncos won’t have any trouble coming out with a W. It is awesome that a Sunday Night game is being broadcast from Oakland for the first time in forever, so the environment should be electric. This is the closest thing that Raiders fans have had to a playoff game in quite some time and it should be awesome. However, I see Trevor Seimian playing much better than he did a week ago where he made a couple of bad throws. This Oakland secondary still worries me, and even though they have played much better lately I don’t know if they will be able to stand up in big spots like this. It is certainly the weakness of the team and fast receivers give them problems. The Broncos have two of ’em in Demariyus Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. The Raiders are also primarily a zone-coverage team which is something that Denver does well against on offense. As long as Seimian takes good care of the ball I think that the Broncos have an excellent shot at winning this game because of their defense. I hate saying I think the Raiders will fail being on the big stage, but it is likely that we will see it happen. This could be the week’s best game, though.
Denver 20, Oakland 17
Monday, November 7th, 8:30 e.t.
Buffalo Bills (4-4) @ Seattle Seahawks (4-2-1)
The ninth week of the NFL season culminates in the Emerald City when the Bills take on the Seahawks. Both are coming in having not won either of their last two games and having problems on the offensive side of the ball. The Seahawks have not been able to run the ball while the Bills are having trouble passing it. Last week against New England, Tyrod Taylor missed a lot of his throws high and was off the point completing only half of his throws against a solid secondary. While that was going on, the Seahawks were putting up lousy rushing numbers. This is a team that ran the ball for just three yards in the first half against the Saints. This lead to a huge lapse in the time of possession battle, and the ‘Hawks will have to do a better job on the ground in this game because you know the Bills are going to try to run the ball when their on offense to try and control the clock. Now, I love the Seahawks and what they can become, but a game like this just seems fishy to me. The Bills are ravaged by injuries, sure, but their defense is not a horrible unit. Their linebackers are making plays all across the field and are probably the fastest unit in all of football (among linebacking corps, of course). You also have guys like Jerry Hughes and Lorenzo Alexander who can collapse a pocket and Marcell Dareus who will bull rush up the middle. With an immobile Russell Wilson, this could be a problem. Ultimately I think the key to this game is whether or not the Seahawks can get their running game going. I am going to go out on a limb and say that they will not, not this week anyways. This sets up nicely for a Buffalo upset because they will be able to play hands-on coverage with the Seattle receivers. Also worth noting, the Bills are 3-0 against the NFC this year and are actually 4-1 in play outside of their division thus far. This is an interesting battle, and I feel it fit to pick an upset in this spot since I don’t think I’ve done enough of that this week and nobody likes to read boring columns.
Buffalo 23, Seattle 20
Week 9 Bonus Predictions
Sure Bet of the Week (5-2): Kansas City over Jacksonville
Upset of the Week: Buffalo over Seattle
Offensive Player of the Week: Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Cowboys
Defensive Player of the Week: Dee Ford, DE, Chiefs
Rookie of the Week: Elliot
Best Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Best Running Back: Elliot