NFL Divisional Playoff Picks Against the Spread

Wild Card Weekend rung in the NFL playoffs with a whimper rather than a bang. However, the divisional round has arrived and the general consensus is at least three of the four games should be highly contested. I was 2-2 against the spread last week and 3-1 straight up. My system remains the same with my picks being in bold and outright upsets having an asterisk. Hut hut, hike!

*Seahawks at Falcons (-5) – This is your classic defense versus offense matchup. Games like this are a yearly occurrence for the Seahawks. The same cannot be said for the Falcons. Thus, I just trust Seattle more here. Playing Detroit last week was a good way to prepare for Atlanta. The Seahawks defense finally seemed to figure out how to play without Earl Thomas. If Thomas Rawls can run the ball anywhere close to the way he did last week, Seattle becomes even more difficult to deal with.

The Falcons have had a fantastic season. However, I am just not sure how they will handle this occasion. They are about as anonymous a playoff team as you will ever come across. Their only primetime appearances this year were a Thursday night game and a Monday night game that went opposite a presidential debate. Even though the Falcons defense has vastly improved from a year ago, Matt Ryan and company are still having to put up 28-30 points to feel comfortable. Seattle will not allow that to happen. Sea 24 Atl 20

Texans at Patriots (-15) – 15 points in a playoff game? No one disputes that New England is a much better team, but I will take 15 points every day of the week and twice on Sundays. It becomes all the more enticing when one considers that the Texans have the NFL’s top defense. The Patriots could very easily go out and win this game by a ridiculous margin. However, Houston’s defense and coaching staff are good enough to make anyone sweat. Jadeveon Clowney is finally staying healthy and being the game wrecker everyone knew he was capable of being. Brady and Belichick will find a way like they always seem to do this time of year, but it will not be the bloodbath that most people are anticipating. NE 27 Hou 17

Photo courtesy of espn.com

Steelers at Chiefs (-1.5) – I genuinely believe Kansas City is the more balanced and complete football team. The early-season 43-14 Steelers blowout in this matchup is hard to ignore though. Teams do change a lot throughout the season. The emergence of Tyreek Hill, Kansas City’s now healthy pass rushers, and a dinged up Ben Roethlisberger are enough to nudge me toward the home team in my least favorite pick of the week. KC 23 Pit 20

*Packers at Cowboys (-4.5) – I would have picked the Giants had they reached this spot as well. Dallas has not played a truly meaningful game in roughly a month. That worries me. As good as Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have been, this is still uncharted territory for them as well as most of the Cowboys roster.

Photo courtesy of sportdfw.com

On the other side, the universe is running out of words to describe how hot Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense are. I am not sure if the health of Jordy Nelson even matters in terms of who wins this game. Rodgers is playing well enough to carry whoever is out there with him to win right now. Also, the Packers have been in “do or die” situations since about week 11. Let another offseason full of drama begin in Dallas. GB 34 Dal 30

 

 

 

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Hagan’s Haus NFL Picks (Divisional Round)

(http://thebiglead.com/2017/01/07/video-paul-richardson-made-an-insane-one-handed-td-grab/)

Talk about a major dud! The wildcard round of the playoffs was a major snoozefest. There were some great highlights, such as the Paul Richardson touchdown catch, or the amazing performances by Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. By and large, though it was blowout city. The closest game was decided by 13 points. All home teams won and the average margin of victory was by 19 points. Now there are only eight teams remaining in the playoffs. Every game in the divisional round is a rematch from the regular season. This round should be more exciting than the last and the games should be closer as well. Here are this week’s Hagan’s Haus NFL picks.

Last Week: 3-1

Regular Season: 148-103-2

Playoffs: 3-1

Overall: 151-104-2

AFC

Saturday

(https://uk.pinterest.com/explore/tom-brady-records/)

Houston 10 @ New England 27: This game is most likely to be the least entertaining of the four games. The Patriots beat the Texans 27-0 in September. Brock Osweiler played well last week, but Jadeveon Clowney was the one to spark the team and lead the Texans in the wild-card round. New England has a great offense led by the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Their defense is playing great as well. In the month of December, the Patriots defense only gave up 10.6 points per game. The Texans must hope their defense shuts down Brady, but that won’t happen. The Patriots will be heading to another AFC Championship game.

Sunday

(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh 20 @ Kansas City 19: This was one of the most difficult games to pick. Pittsburgh is on fire right now. Le’Veon Bell is having a career season. Big Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are also playing great football. This offense is a juggernaut. These two teams met early in the season and it was a blowout. The Steelers won that game at home 43-14. This game will be much more competitive at Arrowhead as the Chiefs have improved since that early season matchup. It won’t be enough though and the Steelers will edge by the Chiefs to meet Tom Brady in the AFC Championship.

NFC

Saturday

(http://www.sportingnews.com/nfl/news/seahawks-falcons-picks-predictions-spread-odds-vegas-divisional-playoffs-2017/1tm3kxvdhv0781xfllb4b2nmtd)

Seattle 27 @ Atlanta 24: There is talk that Matt Ryan will end up winning the MVP, but the quarterback has much to prove in the postseason. Seattle has heard so much talk about how great and prolific this offense is. One of the interesting storylines in this game is that Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn was the former defensive coordinator for the Seahawks. He knows this defense and it may help Matt Ryan prepare for it. Atlanta is at home, but they aren’t used to this stage in the same way the Seahawks are. Russell Wilson is going to have a huge game and the Seahawks will find themselves back in the NFC Championship.

Sunday

(https://www.google.com/search?q=cowboys+vs+packers&client=safari&rls=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwip69vmkLvRAhUF_4MKHaf1Ag0Q_AUICigD&biw=1308&bih=611#imgrc=VzPSCzWZBFm1-M%3A)

Green Bay 27 @ Dallas 28: Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are the hottest team in all of football right now. They completely dismantled the Giants last week and have won seven straight games. They look unbeatable and picking against them might be considered crazy. They were originally the team who I thought would win this game, but there is a reason to hesitate. The Cowboys have been the best team in football all season. Why would they stop now? Jordy Nelson may not play in this game, making the Packers less dangerous on offense. Dallas is going to have a lot of pressure, but if they run the ball and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field they will win this game. That is precisely what the Cowboys will do and they will be heading to the NFC Championship.

 

 

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Keys to the NFL Divisional Playoffs

NFL fans and media rarely agree on much. However, I think we can all agree that Wild Card weekend did not produce much excitement or competitive football. While it is a little early in the week to pick the divisional playoff matchups, here is a key to each.

 

Seahawks at Falcons- Are the Falcons ready for the big time?

Seattle should have zero concerns about being ready for a game like this. They have played in dozens of them over the last handful of years. Like always, the defense will limit scoring opportunities and the Seahawks will ask Russell Wilson to make a few key throws to get the win.

Atlanta is a different story. Despite Matt Ryan having an MVP worthy season, the Falcons have flown mostly under the radar and have not been placed in the glamorous national TV windows very often. A scenario where Atlanta’s offense simply scores too much for Seattle to keep up is conceivable. However, a scenario where Atlanta folds under newfound spotlight is just as conceivable. With Earl Thomas out, Seattle’s defense is a tad more vulnerable. Given what the Falcons are capable of on offense and their much improved defense, it is now or never for Atlanta.

Texans at Patriots – Houston needs some kind of early break

The Texans are 15.5 point underdogs for a reason. New England shut them out early in the year with a third-string quarterback. Fast forward a few months and now Tom Brady is back in the fold for New England. As ominous as that may sound for Houston, anything is possible. If that was not the case, games like this would never be played.

There are a few things that work in Houston’s favor. First, the coaching staff has numerous ties to New England. There isn’t much the Patriots can do that would surprise the AFC South champs. Also, much-maligned quarterback Brock Osweiler had the best game of his young career last year in Denver against the Patriots defense.

The Texans are here because of its defense. As atrocious as the quarterback play has been, the top-ranked defense has been that good. It will be up to that unit to force a turnover that leads to easy points early in the game and give the massive underdogs some belief. A big play on special teams would also serve the same purpose. Houston cannot fall in a big hole early if they want any chance at all.

Steelers at Chiefs – Steelers pass protection

No matter how good he is at sandbagging his injuries, there is no way Ben Roethlisberger goes from a walking boot to fully healthy in a week. Thus, those trademark Roethlisberger scrambles under pressure to extend plays are likely off the table. It is up to Pittsburgh’s offensive line to keep Kansas City’s pass rushers away from their franchise quarterback.

Photo Courtesy of steelersdepot.com

This will not be an easy task. The Chiefs have three or four guys that are capable of chasing down any quarterback in this league. Their defense is led by a healthy Justin Houston. Le’Veon Bell will not run wild against the Chiefs like he did against Miami last week, but he will need to run well enough to take some heat off of the offensive line as well. Looking back on it, Pittsburgh’s 43-14 early-season blowout of Kansas City is one of the true oddities of the NFL season. This game will be a lot closer one way or the other.

 

 

Packers at Cowboys – Green Bay’s third-down defense

This may be the toughest game of the weekend to call, but it is the easiest to size up. The only way anyone is going to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers right now is by keeping their offense on the sideline. Dallas has been near the top of the league in time of possession and third-down conversions all year long.

Photo Courtesy of thelandryhat.com

The Packers defense has struggled to get off the field on third down, raking just 22nd in that category. Dallas will dance with what brought them here. They need to stay in manageable down and distance scenarios with a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott. It is up to Clay Matthews and company to ensure that Rodgers gets enough opportunities to work his magic. Here is to hoping at least one of these games is half as good as Monday’s national championship game I fell asleep during.

 

 

 

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Week 17 NFL Picks Against the Spread

How in the world is week 17 already upon us? It is always a tough week to pick games. No one really knows how motivated many teams are. While I understand that, winning is a hell of a lot better than losing. Thus, I firmly believe there is no such thing as a “meaningless” game. After posting a .500 mark against the spread last week, I now sit at 118-125-7 on the year. Not great, but not terrible. All spreads are from rtsports.com, my picks are bolded, and outright upsets have an asterisk. Here is to finishing the regular season strong.

*Ravens at Bengals (-2.5) – The Ravens (my preseason Super Bowl pick) tumbled out of the playoff picture last week. The Bengals were eliminated long ago. Despite calls for sweeping changes, I expect Cincinnati to resist the temptation, and rightly so. However, I struggle to see them doing much on offense. It is not sexy, but Baltimore’s edge in the kicking game will be the difference. Bal 16 Cin 13

Bills (-3.5) at Jets- Both teams are a dysfunctional mess. For reasons that depend on who you ask, EJ Manuel will get the start for Buffalo in the first game of the post Rex Ryan era. Nothing would surprise me in this game, but Buffalo’s ground game should be enough. Buf 21 NYJ 17

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

*Panthers at Bucs (-4) – Last week, the young Bucs fought for their playoff lives against a losing team loaded with talent and it didn’t go so well. This week, the situation is very similar. There is no reason to think it will go any differently. Another year of seasoning and Tampa Bay could be really special. Last week showed they are not quite ready. Car 27 TB 24

*Bears at Vikings (-6) – Many times season finales simply come down to who is playing harder. This matchup could be a classic case of that. The Vikings have more talent, but the Bears have been playing much harder for the last month or so. Chi 19 Min 16

Browns at Steelers (-5.5) – The Browns will not go winless, and they deserve credit for that as well as playing hard all year long. With Pittsburgh locked into playoff position and playing it coy about resting starters, the line is not as big as one might expect. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Steelers backups are better than the Browns starters. After this game, the Browns will officially be on the clock. Pit 30 Cle 21

*Cowboys at Eagles (-4.5) – This line is a stunner. Dallas is making no secret of its plans to limit reps of starters, particularly quarterback Dak Prescott. Even so a 13-2 team getting points against a 6-9 team is eye popping and too good to pass up. Dallas has a surplus of solid running backs and Mark Sanchez and Tony Romo are not nearly as bad as the mainstream media would like you to believe. Dal 24 Phi 20

*Texans at Titans (-3)- Just like we all thought a few weeks ago, this game will feature a Tom Savage vs Matt Cassel quarterback duel and Houston, not Tennessee is locked into the playoffs. No telling what could happen here. When in doubt, go with the best unit. That would be the Texans defense. Hou 20 Ten 13

Jaguars at Colts (-4.5) – Jacksonville did a nice job of playing spoiler last week, but that does not change the fact that both of these teams had high expectations that ended in disaster this year. Something tells me Andrew Luck is too much of a pros pro not to finish the season really strong. Ind 28 Jac 17

Patriots (-9.5) at Dolphins – The Patriots need this game to lock down home field advantage in the playoffs. If last year taught them anything, it should be the importance of having home field. Miami has always been a tough place to play for Brady’s Bunch. The Dolphins will look to get backup quarterback Matt Moore as sharp as possible for the playoffs while Ryan Tannehill races to get healthy. This will not be a blowout. NE 27 Mia 21

Cardinals (-6.5) at Rams- The Rams are plain awful and the Cardinals are merely average. David Johnson is the only reason to watch this game. The coaching search in LA will be fascinating. Ari 27 LA 13

Chiefs (-4.5) at Chargers- Sadly, what is likely the Chargers final game in San Diego will end with a division rival celebrating a straightforward win. It quite possibly could be a division title along with a first round bye. KC 27 SD 13

Saints at Falcons (-7) – These two teams always play wacky games. Atlanta locks up a first round bye with a win. Even with Matt Ryan playing at an MVP level, the team as a whole should not scare anyone. There is something to be said for finding ways to win. Atlanta should continue that trend here, but do not expect Drew Brees and company to roll over and play dead. Atl 31 NO 28

Giants at Redskins (-7.5) – Playoff scenarios make my head hurt. According to everything I have read, the only way Washington wins this game and misses the playoffs is if the night game ends in a tie. Much like the Steelers, no one seems to know how the playoff bound Giants will approach this one. As dangerous as the Redskins could be in the playoffs, it is hard to see the Giants letting them coast. Was 30 NYG 24

Raiders at Broncos (-1.5) – The reigning champs have really struggled down the stretch and will not be going back to the playoffs. However, keeping a fierce rival like Oakland from the division title and the chance to finish with a winning record is plenty of incentive. Denver will take one last good look at both of its young quarterbacks. The Raiders fairytale season took a sad turn last week with the injury to MVP candidate Derek Carr. The Broncos defense is not an ideal one for backup Matt McGloin to face as he tries to rally the troops for a playoff run. Den 24 Oak 19

Seahawks (-9.5) at 49ers- The state of the Seahawks is worrisome. Getting pushed around for the majority of the game by Arizona just should not happen to this team. Thankfully for them, a first round bye could still happen and the 49ers are not much of a threat. Sea 30 SF 13

Packers (-3) at *Lions– The importance of this game may shift a bit depending on earlier results. Regardless, the winner of this Sunday Night showdown will take the division title and the loser may be headed home to watch the playoffs. Both offenses are rolling behind two very hot quarterbacks. There will not be many defensive stops on either side. It is more of a gut feeling than anything else, but Detroit’s defense uses the home crowd to get one more stop in the closing moments. Det 38 GB 34

Photo courtesy of zambio.com

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LA Blues: The Sad State of the Rams and How to Fix It

The Rams put everyone involved out of their misery by firing Jeff Fisher earlier this week. A blowout loss to Atlanta at home sealed his fate. Believe it or not, Fisher was a really good coach in this league at one time. However, a 31-45-1 record in almost 5 full seasons in St. Louis/Los Angeles speaks for itself. That time is no longer now. His dismissal creates one of the most unique head-coaching openings in NFL history.

 

The Rams return to the crowded LA sports market has gotten off to a disastrous start. This is a city that has lost its fair share of NFL franchises in the past, but has never lacked big-time sports. Right now LA has the exciting and fun Clippers, the young and rebuilding Lakers, a resurgent USC football program and the star filled Dodgers and Angels. At best, the Rams are the sixth most relevant sports story in their own city, and the second most relevant in their own stadium. USC is infinitely more competitive in college football than the Rams are in the NFL at the moment. Forget the NFL as a whole, the Rams are irrelevant in their own city. That is a battle no other franchise has to fight.

 

There are a few other issues working against the Rams right now. All of which are their own doing. Rams ownership seems more concerned about building a new stadium and finding a second team to join them in LA than they do about the current state of the franchise. Also, the Rams sit at 4-9 with the worst offense in the league, averaging just 12 points a game. Rookie quarterback Jared Goff is quickly headed down the path of David Carr (not Derek) if they do not surround him with better talent quickly. Their drafts on offense have turned out to be comically bad in recent years. Following Sunday’s loss running back Todd Gurley said the Rams “look like a middle school offense.” Honestly, that is insulting to middle school offenses everywhere. Gurley is the one offensive draft pick the Rams have gotten right in recent years, even he has faded into obscurity in 2016. On Sunday, Atlanta’s defense scored as many points as the Los Angeles offense. That is not even taking into account the Rams botching the opening kickoff and setting up Atlanta at the LA 3 yard line. It was the kind of performance that leaves an organization no choice but to make changes immediately, even though Fisher had inexplicably just been given a contract extension. After the season, the rest of the current staff is probably gone as well.

 

Despite the many challenges facing whoever takes over the head-coaching gig in Los Angeles on a full-time basis, it is not all bad. It is LA after all. The fact that the Rams have somehow accumulated four wins speaks to how good the defense is and can be. Even so, the Rams cannot give this job to whoever the hot coordinator candidate winds up being. That is doomed to fail. There is too much going on with this franchise for it to be anyone’s first NFL head coaching job. One name already being floated around is Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. While McDaniels seems to have grown up a lot since failing miserably as a head coach in Denver, the Rams need someone with both star power and substance. McDaniels does not check either box.

 

This narrows the list considerably. Names like Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll would certainly fit the bill, but both have said they are not interested. Additionally, I will eat my own left arm if either one of them leaves their current gig for such a massive undertaking like rebuilding the Rams in Los Angeles. There are two names that have been rumored that would be slam dunk hires. In fact, they may be the only realistic candidates that could be successful in such a chaotic environment. They are Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden.

 

It is not known if either one of them are on the Rams list. Everything that is out there right now is speculation. I know there are going to be some eye rolls at Shanahan’s name, but there should not be. Yes, his time with the Redskins was largely a failure , but dig deeper. He has been the only coach to get a good year out of Robert Griffin III. Griffin was rookie of the year and led the Redskins to the playoffs in 2012. No other coaching staff has figured out how to even keep him on the field, much less get any sort of production out of him. Shanahan also has two Super Bowl rings as the head coach Denver in the late-1990s. Often times, he gets no credit for that because those Denver teams were loaded. While true, realize that John Elway did not win a Super Bowl until Shanahan came along, then he won two.

 

Somehow, Shanahan has gotten the “washed up old hack” label by fans and media. Unlike Fisher, he does not deserve it. He did the best he could under the dysfunctional conditions of the Redskins at that time. Shanahan would likely bring his son Kyle on as his offensive coordinator. He is the coordinator behind the 2016 resurrection of Matt Ryan. Both Shanahans have proven they know how to build an offense and make it productive. This is exactly what the Rams need. Hiring the elder Shanahan would bring instant relevance and credibility to Los Angeles and may set the Rams up coaching wise in both the short and long-term.

photo from zambio.com

photo from zambio.com

 

If there ever was a situation for Jon Gruden to return to coaching, the Rams are it. Those close to Gruden have always said that he has not gone back to coaching because he likes the celebrity that comes with his role on Monday night football. In LA, he can coach and be a celebrity. The two franchises Gruden left (Tampa Bay and Oakland) are really just now starting to recover. His legendary reputation as a disciplinarian that loves to work with young quarterbacks would be perfect for the Rams. Come on, just look at the guy.

photo from deadhitsports.com

photo from deadhitsports.com

 

Both Shanahan and Gruden would require a lot of money, but they have jewelry on their fingers for a reason. Judging by artist renderings of the Rams future home in Inglewood, California, they must have some deep pockets. It would be great for the NFL to have a good franchise in LA again, but it is going to take a very special coach to turn the Rams into winners in a timely manner.

NFL Mid-Season Awards

The NFL season is flying by and mid-season of the NFL is already here. Week nine has now passed and it is time to discuss which players are having the best season and who would win the awards if the season ended today. This 2016 NFL season has seen a ton of great performances and crazy games. As is the case in every season, there have been upsets and surprises. So much more can happen this season and we are in for a great finish. There are eight weeks remaining in the season. A lot can change, but here are all the NFL mid-season awards.

Coach of the Year: Mike Zimmer- Minnesota Vikings

(http://scoreboredsports.com/nfl/post-draftfree-agency-minnesota-vikings-2016-winloss-predictions/)

(http://scoreboredsports.com/nfl/post-draftfree-agency-minnesota-vikings-2016-winloss-predictions/)

There is little debate on who should be the coach of the year. What Mike Zimmer has done with the Minnesota Vikings is nothing short of miraculous. The Minnesota Vikings sit at 5-2 on the year and are in first place in the NFC North. They have struggled of late but that isn’t because of Mike Zimmer. Mike Zimmer has the Vikings in second place in the entire NFC halfway through the season despite injuries from starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, starting running back Adrian Peterson, and starting offensive tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith. All have all been placed on injured reserve. They have had other numerous injuries that haven’t required placement on the injured reserve list. If the Vikings win the division and get a first round bye, Mike Zimmer deserves the coach of the year award.

Honorable Mention: Jack Del Rio-Oakland Raiders

Offensive Rookie Of The Year: Ezekiel Elliott RB- Dallas Cowboys

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

There has not been a rookie running back as good as Ezekiel Elliott since Adrian Peterson took the league by storm in 2007. The Cowboys have one of, if not the best offensive line in football. So many want to discredit some of what Elliott has done because of it, but give the kid credit. Elliott is highly talented and deserves the great year he is having. Elliott leads the NFL in rushing yards at 799. He also has added five touchdowns on the ground. If he keeps this pace up, he will be the first rookie running back to win the rushing title in his first season since Edgerrin James in 1999.

Honorable Mention: Dak Prescott QB-Dallas Cowboys

Defensive Rookie of The Year: Joey Bosa DE- San Diego Chargers

(http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com)

(http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com)

There haven’t been many standouts from first year players on defense this season so far. Joey Bosa is quietly dominating offensive lineman. Bosa missed the first 4 games of the season, but has already made a big impact. It will be interesting to see what he will do for the remainder of the season. Since 2006, no player has pressured the quarterback more in their first three games. In 2011, Jabaal Sheard had 15 quarterback pressures in his first three games, which was the most since 2006. Bosa has had 20 in his first three games. In just four games this season, Bosa has 13 tackles and four sacks.

Honorable Mention: Karl Joesph S-Oakland Raiders

Comeback Player of The Year: DeMarco Murray RB- Tennessee Titans

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

This was the easiest award to pick. After last year’s failed experiment in Philadelphia with Chip Kelly, DeMarco Murray is having a fabulous season in Tennessee. Murray is second in the NFL with 756 rushing yards. In the first eight games, he already has 54 more yards than he had all of last season. He is also tied for fourth with six rushing touchdowns. Murray has resurrected his career this season after many believed his best days were behind him. Now everyone is wishing Murray was on their fantasy team.

Honorable Mention: Jordy Nelson WR- Green Bay Packers

Offensive Player of The Year: Matt Ryan QB- Atlanta Falcons

(http://sacrificefly.blogspot.com)

(http://sacrificefly.blogspot.com)

This award would go to Tom Brady if he hadn’t been suspended. This is all about who is putting up the best offensive numbers. Brady would have better numbers had he played the first four games. Matt Ryan has the Falcons atop of the NFC South at 6-3 because of his stellar play. Ryan leads the NFL in passing yards with 2,980. His 23 touchdown passes are also the most in the NFL. If Matt Ryan plays like this the entire season, he will also add his name to the MVP conversation.

Honorable Mention: Tom Brady QB-New England Patriots

Defensive Player of The Year: Marcus Peters DB- Kansas City Chiefs

(http://www.chiefs.com)

(http://www.chiefs.com)

Defensive Player of the year was the most difficult award to pick because there is not one player who just stands out above the rest. There is not a single player who is doing unbelievable things. With that being said, Marcus Peters is still having a great second season in the NFL. Last year in his first season, he finished tied for first with eight interceptions. So far he has picked up right where he left off and leads the NFL with five interceptions.

Honorable Mention: Lorenzo Alexander LB- Buffalo Bills

Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady QB- New England Patriots 

(http://www.chatsports.com/nfl/a/nfl-power-rankings-16-best-players-nfl-2016-29912)

(http://www.chatsports.com/nfl/a/nfl-power-rankings-16-best-players-nfl-2016-29912)

There is no question on who is the most valuable player in the NFL. Tom Brady looks like a robot or alien from another planet this season. His numbers are straight filthy. Yes, the Patriots were still good and went 3-1 without him, but with him the Patriots look unstoppable. When they have Tom Brady, people have nobody else to pick as the favorites in the AFC. The Patriots look like the best team in the NFL and it is all because of number 12. On the season, Brady has passed for 1,319 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has done all that in just four games and has yet to throw an interception. The Patriots would be good without Brady, but wouldn’t be Super Bowl contenders and AFC favorites.

Honorable Mention: Derek Carr QB-Oakland Raiders

 

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Dallas Quarterback Controversy

Injuries are a funny thing. A lot of times injuries hurt a team and turn them bad or uncompetitive. You should not get better as a team if one of your best players goes down for a significant amount of time. From time to time there are exceptions of course. Take a look at this year’s Minnesota Vikings. They have a starting quarterback, starting running back, and two starting offensive tackles that have been placed on injured reserve. Despite these losses, they find themselves at 5-1.

(https://insidethestar.com/cowboys-headlines/tony-romo-injury-the-ripple-effect/)

(https://insidethestar.com/cowboys-headlines/tony-romo-injury-the-ripple-effect/)

They aren’t the only team dealing with injuries. Dallas had to start a rookie quarterback due to Tony Romo’s back injury. It may have been the greatest thing to ever happen to the Cowboys franchise. The Dallas Cowboys sit at 6-1 and are in first place in the NFC East without Tony Romo. Dak Prescott has taken the NFL by storm, and it should be no surprise.

Dak has created a quarterback controversy in Dallas not because of what he’s said, but because of how he he’s played. Prescott has been quoted on many occasions saying this is Romo’s team and when Romo is ready to come back he will step aside into his backup role.

There is one problem with that. Dak is not a backup. The rookie quarterback has proven he belongs in the NFL as a starter. It begins to raise the alarming questions: how did he even fall to the fourth round? What did the other teams miss? Should Tony Romo start for the Dallas Cowboys ever again?

College Days

(https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/dakattack-the-definitive-dak-prescott-pun-collection/)

(https://hailstatebeat.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/dakattack-the-definitive-dak-prescott-pun-collection/)

Dak Prescott was a flat out baller at Mississippi State and his stats prove it. In 2013 he appeared in 11 games and threw 1,940 yards, 10 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Dak also made an impact on the ground rushing for 829 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also found a way to contribute as a receiver with two receptions for 53 yards and two touchdowns. He quickly displayed great athleticism. That was just the beginning.

In 2014, his junior year, Dak took the Bulldogs to heights never seen in school history. It was his first full season as a starter and he led the Bulldogs to a 10-2 record and an Orange Bowl appearance. He also helped Mississippi State reach their first ever number one ranking in school history. In his first full season as the starter, he broke 10 school records, most notably: passing yards in a season (3,449), passing touchdowns in a season (27), and total touchdowns in a season (41). He also finished eighth in Heisman voting.

His senior season wasn’t as great as his junior season as far as leading the team to wins, but he still did good things for the Bulldogs. He set a personal record for most passing yards in a season with 3,793. Dak also threw 29 touchdowns to just five interceptions. He also added 588 yards on the ground along with 10 touchdowns.

The statistics were always there for Dak Prescott and so was the eye test. He played in the toughest conference in college football. The proof that he was a great football player was there, so where did his evaluation during the draft go wrong? Why wasn’t he a first round pick like Carson Wentz or Jared Goff? It raises the question, what did other teams miss that the Cowboys didn’t?

The Draft Fall

(http://www.clarionledger.com/story/sports/college/mississippi-state/2016/03/13/how-dak-prescotts-dui-arrest-affects-his-draft-stock/81739262/)

(http://www.clarionledger.com)

One off-field mistake is the reason Dak Prescott fell in the draft. In March, just a month before the NFL draft, Dak was arrested for a DUI. Teams often take chances on players with off-field issues, but at the quarterback position it has more of an impact. A quarterback is the face of the franchise and no owner, general manager, or coach wants their quarterback involved in anything off the field. It may not be fair, but a quarterback has less room for error.

The one thing Dak did well after he found himself in this situation was own up to his mistakes. He took full responsibility and acknowledged his mistakes while apologizing for his short moment of misjudgment. He then vowed to show improvement of character without asking for forgiveness.  This incident caused Dak to fall from the second round to the fourth, but how he handled himself after the mistake showed his poise and maturity. That is what teams should have focused on during the draft process.

Sometimes a young man is going to make mistakes. It is how they approach life after the mistake that shows their character. Dak Prescott has said and done all the right things since the DUI.

Who Should Start for Dallas?

(http://nflspinzone.com/2016/08/29/fantasy-football-early-expectations-dak-prescott/)

(http://nflspinzone.com/2016/08/29/fantasy-football-early-expectations-dak-prescott/)

Now that Dak Prescott is thriving in his rookie season, everyone is asking if Tony Romo should start for the Cowboys when he gets healthy. The answer is absolutely, unequivalently no. Here is why.

Tony Romo is injury prone and aging (36).  In 2010 Romo injured his shoulder and missed 10 games. Tony Romo herniated a disc in his back in week 16 of the 2013 season that required surgery. He suffered a second back injury the following season that only required him to miss two weeks. Just last season Romo fractured his collarbone. This year in the third preseason game Romo fractured a vertebra in his back. This was his third back injury in just four seasons. History makes it clear that he has back troubles and at age 36 he can not withstand the hits of the NFL without getting hurt.

Along with the injuries, Romo has a playoff history that has been extremely unproductive. Tony Romo has been in the NFL 14 years and has had 11 as a starter. In those 11 years Romo has led the Cowboys to just four playoff appearances and his record is just 2-4. He also has the infamous dropped P.A.T. against the Seahawks that resulted in a one point loss because of the play. To Romo’s credit he has thrown eight touchdowns to just two interceptions, but he is not leading the Cowboys to playoff victories. That is what matters most.

(John Froschauer/AP Photo)

(John Froschauer/AP Photo)

Another reason Romo should not start for the Cowboys is the team chemistry. The Cowboys are winning and having fun while doing so. Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones need to let the youth of this team get experience so that this team can become a constant playoff team and Super Bowl contender for years to come. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, and the offensive line have an average age of 25.4 years old. The current success is good, but the long term success can get better This team could become one of the best teams in the NFL for the next 10 to 15 years.

This isn’t just about Tony Romo and his lack of postseason success or injuries. Dak has played lights out this season. Along with the 6-1 record as a starter, he has put up great stats. He is completing 65.2 percent of his passes. Dak has 1,773 yards passing and nine touchdowns. His quarterback rating of 99.6 is good for seventh best in the NFL. Dak has also added four touchdowns on the ground.

The most impressive Dak Prescott stat of the season was also a record he broke. The great Tom Brady went 162 passes to begin a career without an interception. Dak Prescott decided to break that record with 172 passes to begin a career without an interception. He has only thrown two interceptions all year.

It’s Been Done Before

(http://www.nfl.com/photos/0ap1000000154170)

(http://www.nfl.com/photos/0ap1000000154170)

If the Cowboys are worried about giving up on Tony Romo for good, they should look at some of the other teams to make the difficult decision.

Back in 1986 current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski suffered an injury in the second week of the season and the Eagles decided to stick with Randall Cunningham for the remainder of the season. Cunningham continued to play in the NFL until 2001.

Alex Smith was having a great season in 2012 and had a 19-5-1 record under Jim Harbaugh, who was the coach at time. When Alex Smith went down to injury Colin Kaepernick took over and eventually went to the Super Bowl that season because the 49ers decided to stick with Kaepernick.

Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time but even the great Drew Brees lost his job to injury. In the 2005 NFL season, Drew Brees hurt his shoulder in the final game. The Chargers started Philip Rivers and decided to not resign Brees in favor of Rivers.

Hall of Famer Joe Montana eventually lost his job to Steve Young after an elbow injury in the 1990 NFC Championship game. Once Montana got healthy the team still stuck with Young and Montana had won four Super Bowls.

The most similar situation to the Cowboys current dilemma is when Tom Brady came in for the great Drew Bledsoe. In 2001 the Jets knocked Bledsoe out of the game and in came in the scrawny, unknown Tom Brady. The rest was history. Brady went on to win the Super Bowl and Drew Bledsoe was traded to the Buffalo Bills.

(http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/tony-romo-injury-broken-qb-dak-prescott-stats-salary-highlights-video-cowboys-dallas-nfl-082716)

(http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/tony-romo-injury-broken-qb-dak-prescott-stats-salary-highlights-video-cowboys-dallas-nfl-082716)

There are an abundance of reasons why the Cowboys need to remain with Dak Prescott as the team’s starting quarterback. Dak Prescott is playing great and the team is winning. Tony Romo has a long history of injuries that won’t improve at the age of 36. Romo also has had minimal success in the playoffs with a long body of work. If the Cowboys want to become a great franchise it starts with a great quarterback. It is time to let Dak lead the Cowboys into the future.

 

 

Week Seven NFL Picks Against the Spread

After a one-week hiatus, I am back picking NFL games against the spread. I did pick games last week, just not publicly. I was terrible. I posted a record of just 4-9-2. However, I was on the right side of a Green Bay blowout Thursday night. I am now 43-49-4 on the year. Let’s see if I can head back towards the black this week. As always, my picks are bolded and outright upsets have an asterisk by them.

Giants (-2.5) at Rams (London) – I am opposed to playing games in the United Kingdom, but I am not opposed to having football on at 9:30 AM. As for the game itself, this match-up is proof that not all .500 teams are created equal. Reality continues to catch up with the offensively challenged Rams after their defense carried them to a nice start. Meanwhile the Giants late win against Baltimore last week is the kind that could serve as a springboard to a hot streak. Odell Beckham Jr is a diva, but he played big when his team needed it most last week. NYG 21 LA 10

*Ravens at Jets (-2.5) – This is the strangest line I have seen all year. The Ravens are not exactly gangbusters, but how in the world can the Jets the favorite over anyone with the way they have played the last month or so? It is not like starting Geno Smith at quarterback is turning over a new leaf. He is 11-18 as a starter. Despite their streaky play, the Ravens are still a factor in the turbulent AFC North. Bal 24 NYJ 13.

Bills (-2.5) at Dolphins- Do not be fooled by Miami knocking off the Steelers last week. There are about six results a year in the NFL that defy explanation. That was certainly one of them for this year. This is still the team that needed overtime, three missed field goals, and a missed PAT to beat Cleveland. They were also blown out by the Titans and Bengals. Buffalo’s style is not flashy, but they are playing as well as anyone right now. They are also poised to end a 16 year playoff drought. Buf 23 Mia 14.

Browns at Bengals (-10.5) – Picking the Browns against the spread has served me pretty well this year. So, I will do it again with them getting this many points as they head in to my hometown for a rivalry game. They continue to play people tough. Despite that, God only knows if or when they will actually win a game. Cincinnati is as talented a 2-4 team as you will ever come across. They may finally get tight end Tyler Eifert back. That should help their red zone woes. Cincinnati has played the toughest schedule in the league to this point. They never just blow anyone out, but I do expect this game to get them going on a little bit of a roll. Cin 30 Cle 22

*Colts at Titans (-3) – These teams baffle me. The Colts have the best quarterback in the division by a long ways. Yet, they find themselves looking up at the division leading Texans and Titans after a late game collapse last week. The Titans are somehow .500 despite being 25th in turnover margin. The Colts should be better than they are, and the Titans are fortunate to be where they are. This game will show that. Ind 15 Ten 12

Vikings (-3) at Eagles- Even with an undefeated record, I am still wrapping my arms around the Vikings as a legitimate upper echelon team, particularly on offense. However, they are not turning the ball over. This is always a fine place to start. This week, they are playing a team with a winning record that I buy into even less. Everything I said about the Rams is also true of the Eagles. The only differences Carson Wentz may be the answer at quarterback in Philadelphia. Until we see top pick Jared Goff, no one knows if they have any answers in LA. Min 21 Phi 10

Saints at Chiefs (-6) – The Saints defense is just dreadful. Quite frankly, that is too kind of an adjective. The offense is great, but they are not at home against the struggling Panthers this week. The Chiefs continue to be a physical team that never beats itself, especially at home. That style has proven to have a ceiling for them in recent years, but they continue to play well and should be fine this week. KC 35 NO 24

*Raiders at Jaguars (-1.5) – The Raiders are that rare type of team that plays better on the road. Both losses have come at home and three of their four wins have been on the road. No one can explain that, but it does happen from time to time. Derek Carr continues to establish himself as the NFL’s best young quarterback. Jacksonville has started to show signs of life after a dreadful start. However, the Raiders are simply a better team. The better team in points is always next to impossible to pass up. Even if they drop to 2-4, the Jaguars remain a factor in the horrendous AFC South. Oak 31 Jac 24

Redskins at Lions (-1) – This is the sneaky good game of the week. Both of these teams are carried by their offenses. I expect both teams to be late-season factors. Here, Detroit is at home and a touch more explosive. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate with a healthy and hot Matthew Stafford throwing to them is lethal. Det 38 Was 31

*Chargers at Falcons (-6) – My boldest pick of the week right here. The Chargers should be able to score with Atlanta and they finally closed out a game last week against Denver. Atlanta is also loaded on offense. However, the way they pushed around for much of the game against Seattle last week was worrying. They did not respond well to Seattle’s physicality, despite a late rally. Two hot quarterbacks in Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan will make this fun to watch. Look for Joey Bosa to bring that physicality and the Chargers pass rush to be a touch more disruptive in a shootout. SD 34 Atl 31

photo from denverpost.com

photo from denverpost.com

*Bucs at 49ers) (-1) – This is a tough one. I really thought Colin Kaepernick would spark the 49ers last week. Instead, it became more apparent than ever that they do not have the answer at quarterback in their building right now. The same may be true of head coach Chip Kelly. On the other hand, Tampa Bay and Jameis Winston are going through some growing pains, but between last year and the early part this year, I am convinced Winston’s future is bright.

Patriots (-7) at Steelers- I have nothing revolutionary to add here. With Ben Roethlisberger this is a pick ‘em game. With Landry Jones, it is hard to imagine a scenario that ends well for the Steelers. The loss to a vastly inferior Miami squad last week may really end up hurting them down the road. Oh, New England is really good. NE 31 Pit 17

photo from sportsworldreport.com

photo from sportsworldreport.com

*Seahawks at Cardinals (-1) – The Seahawks are officially back after a slow start. The defense has dropped the hammer three straight weeks now. Most impressive was the way they slammed the door on Atlanta last week. They made the big play to win a close game. Arizona is slowly coming around and is very dangerous, but they may have dug too deep an early hole for the playoffs. They have no business being favorite here. Sea 24 AZ 15

MNF: Texans at Broncos (-7.5) – Brock Osweiler returns “home” to face his former team. With Denver struggling, but finally close to full health thanks to extra rest, I expect it to be a sobering reminder as to why Osweiler never should have left Mile High. If I am right, the entire AFC South is back in it. Den 21 Hou 9

 

 

 

Hagan’s Haus NFL Picks (Week 1)

Welcome to Hagan’s Haus, where football is the only thing that matters. Sundays you won’t find me in a church but instead you’ll find me in a Vikings jersey. Football is my religion and is the number one priority in my life. I am so excited that the NFL season is finally back in action! I pride myself in studying the game of football. We can’t get all our picks or predictions right but I am going to leave it here in the open every week for everyone to see. In Hagan’s Haus, it’s all about bragging rights.

Who is the best? Because winning is the only thing that matters. We don’t get points for second place. I challenge you to post comments of your weekly picks and compare them to mine. This isn’t about point spreads. I will give a score predictions but winning is winning. Doesn’t matter if it’s by an inch or a mile. So try and beat me in picking NFL games. I promise you it won’t be easy, but it will be fun. Here are my week one NFL predictions.

Sunday Morning

(CARLOS GONZALEZ • CGONZALEZ@STARTRIBUNE.COM)

(CARLOS GONZALEZ • CGONZALEZ@STARTRIBUNE.COM)

Minnesota 24 @ Tennesse 17: Shaun Hill will be starting in this game. Hill does not have to do anything spectacular for this team to win. All that needs to be done is handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson and let the defense carry you. He just can’t turn the ball over. Tennesse is not good enough on offense to beat this Vikings team. Vikings win this game due to their talented defense.

Tampa Bay 31 @ Atlanta 27: I really like Tampa Bay in this one. Jameis Winston should have a big day against a very average defense. Matt Ryan throws at least one interception in this game and the Buccaneers start the season off with a big divisional win.

Buffalo 20 @ Baltimore 17: It feels scary to pick three road teams so far but I really believe Buffalo is the better team. Nothing I see from Baltimore excites me. Joe Flacco had one great playoff run but otherwise he had never produced anything special. They should have a good running game but Rex Ryan is a defensive wizard who will have the Bills ready. Tyrod Taylor will have a great year and it will start this week against the Ravens.

Chicago 16 @ Houston 17: This game is a toss up to me and I am picking the Texans because they are at home. Both teams are fairly even on paper. Chicago will have an improved defense from last year but that isn’t saying much. Houston already has a great defense that will force Jay Cutler into a couple of turnovers. That will be the difference in this game.

(http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/other-sports/american-sports/jacksonville-34-31-buffalo-5-6703088)

(http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/other-sports/american-sports/jacksonville-34-31-buffalo-5-6703088)

Green Bay 28 @ Jacksonville 31: My biggest upset of the week goes to the Jaguars. Aaron Rodgers thinks highly of himself and his team but he is going to be shocked down in Florida. It is going to be a hot game. The Jags will have a decent home field advantage from practicing in the conditions. The Jaguars also have an offense that will be explosive this season and it will be enough to upset the Packers.

San Diego 10 @ Kansas City 24: I really believe the Chargers are going to flat out stink it up this year. They play in a tough division with three really good teams that are capable of making the playoffs. The Chiefs have been consistently good under Andy Reid. Alex Smith doesn’t light up the scoreboard but makes the right decisions and gets the wins. The Chiefs have a great defense and will wreck havoc on Philip Rivers.

Oakland 38 @ New Orleans 31: I expect a shootout in the Superdome. It will be fun to see Derek Carr and Drew Brees go back and forth in this game. The reason I think Oakland pulls out this shootout is because they are much better defensively than the Saints. Khalil Mack is going to have a minimum of two sacks and he may even force a Brees fumble. A few extra defensive stops is why the Raiders come out of New Orleans with a win.

(http://nflspinzone.com/2016/03/19/cincinnati-bengals-could-corey-coleman-be-the-best-fit/)

(http://nflspinzone.com/2016/03/19/cincinnati-bengals-could-corey-coleman-be-the-best-fit/)

Cincinnati 24 @ New York (J) 14: This game is pretty simple to me. The Bengals are clearly the better team. They are better defensively. They have a better quarterback, running back and receiving corp. The only thing the Jets have going for them is being at home. It won’t be enough and the Bengals will start the season off 1-0.

Cleveland 24 @ Philadelphia 20: Philadelphia is starting a rookie quarterback that played in the FCS. Wentz also missed most of the preseason due to injury. He will not be ready for the speed of the NFL even if it is the Browns. Robert Griffin III also looked really good in the preseason, especially when connecting with Terrell Pryor Sr. I think the Browns have enough to beat an Eagles team that is going to be in for a long year.

Sunday Afternoon

Miami 17 @ Seattle 28: How can Miami beat Seattle? There is no answer to that question. They can’t and won’t. The Seahawks are just one of those teams we know is going to be good. They have had the top scoring defense for four years in a row. This is a legendary defense. Offensively, Russell Wilson got on a hot streak when Marshawn Lynch went down last year. He will build off of that and the Dolphins have no chance in one of the toughest stadiums in the world to play in.

New York (G) 24 @ Dallas 27: This is going to be a typical Giants vs. Cowboys game. Back and forth. Big plays. Huge momentum swings. It will also come down to the wire. In these divisional games it is hard to choose winners. Ezekiel Elliot will have a huge opening game behind the best offensive line in football and Dak Prescott will make a few key plays that will win it for Dallas at home.

Detroit 17 @ Indianapolis 31: Andrew Luck has something to prove this season. He needs to show the world that he can cut down on the turnovers and lead the Colts to a Super Bowl. Coming out of college, experts claimed he was the best prospect ever. It is time to show that. This week he will easily do so against a Lions team that doesn’t have much to look forward too. Luck will throw three touchdowns in this one and the Lions will realize how much they miss Megatron.

Sunday Night Football

New England 27 @ Arizona 24: Next man up- that is what the Patriots are all about. Jimmy Garoppolo is going to get his first career start against an extremely tough, physical Cardinals defense. The good thing for Jimmy is that he has weapons all around him. Tight end Martellus Bennett will provide a big option in the passing game, even with no Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman will find the soft spots in the defense. The Patriots will be playing this game to prove that the next man up motto includes the quarterback position.

Monday Night Football

(Justin K. Aller)

(Justin K. Aller)

Pittsburgh 37 @ Washington 21: Big Ben is going to have a field day in this game throwing to Antonio Brown. I firmly believe Antonio Brown may have a 200 yard game. The Steelers have a dangerous offense even without Le’Veon Bell. Washington will not be able to run the ball which means the game will be in Kirk Cousisn’s hands. That will spell disaster for the Redskins on Monday Night Football.

Los Angeles 20 @ San Fransisco 23: In Chip I trust. Chip Kelly is going to coach the 49ers to a win in this game somehow, someway. I am not sure what we are going to see in this game because I am not totally sure where these teams finish this season. Although, one thing I do know is Todd Gurley will have some big runs but I just don’t think it will be enough to pull out the road win.

The Cold Hard Reality for Every NFC Team

You have heard my two cents take on every AFC Team, now, I tackle the NFC. I will follow the same format. Eight words or less followed by a brief explanation in more detail.

NFC East:

Redskins- Peaked last year

The Redskins won the division last year with a marginal run game and defense, combined with the safest passing offense I have ever seen. Almost 46% of Kirk Cousin’s passing yardage from last year was gained by receivers running after the catch. In other words, he cannot throw the ball downfield. Now that there is a full season of film on Cousins, that success will be tough to duplicate. I am not convinced they can win any other way

Giants- Must learn to finish games

NFC East teams

photo from profootballfocus.com

They still have the talent to play with anybody, particularly on offense, but can the defense hold onto the late leads Eli Manning and crew give them? They failed miserably at this task last year. I cannot trust them.

Cowboys- Praying Romo stays healthy

Anyone who thinks Tony Romo is not a top flight quarterback after seeing what the Cowboys did without him last year needs to have their head examined. If Romo is healthy, I think they are the best team in the NFC. Romo also takes pressure off the defense because they do not have to be on the field as much. I really like Dallas in 2016.

Eagles- With the first pick in the 2017 draft…

The words I chose here are actually somewhat misleading. Philadelphia does not have a 2017 first round pick. That was one of the five draft picks they traded to Cleveland to go up and get quarterback Carson Wentz. It appears Wentz will be the third team quarterback and therefore inactive for most games in 2016. That is right. They gave up five draft picks for a guy who is going to mostly sit on the bench this year. It is going to be a long year for the Eagles.

NFC North:

Packers- Still good, but window starting to close

NFC East teams

photo from cbssports.com

Aaron Rodgers is very good, but he has only taken this franchise on one great championship run. I am not sure why he seems to be immune to criticism from media and fans. The Packers will probably still reach the playoffs, but I have serious questions as to if they can go further.

Vikings- Bridgewater is not the guy

I am still stunned this team made the playoffs last year. They were 31st in passing offense and have/had no consistent receiving threat to speak of. Thankfully, head coach Mike Zimmer, Adrian Peterson, and the defense is amazing. With Peterson another year older, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has to step up. His lack of arm strength was exposed in their playoff loss to Seattle. That was all I needed to see. He just has not progressed since his rookie year. Although I love rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, this team has gone as far as Bridgewater is going to take it and they will not get there again.

Bears- Will surprise people this year

The offense is pretty good. Jay Cutler really cut down on the mistakes last year. The signings of Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman will immediately stabilize the defense. I think they are a surprise playoff team.

Lions- No Megatron, no chance

Newly retired wide receiver Calvin Johnson was the only premier player they had. Unless quarterback Matt Stafford plays a lot smarter, it is hard to see them getting to .500.

NFC South:

Panthers- Tough act to follow

NFC East teams

photo from foxsports.com

A 17-2 record last year was quite surprising. However, one of those losses was the Super Bowl. Defensive coaches have spent all offseason trying to figure out how to stop quarterback Cam Newton. Coaches in this league always figure it out. They will still win the division, but the only way to go may be down.

Saints- Window closed

As good as Drew Brees is, he cannot carry this franchise forever. There simply was not enough player movement in the off season on what was statically one of the worst defenses ever last year. The glory days off about a half a decade ago are long gone in New Orleans.

Falcons- Matt Ryan consistency is key

There is some good young talent on defense here. They are led by 2015 first round draft pick Vic Beasley. Ultimately though, it is the play of quarterback Matt Ryan that will determine if this team is closer to the one that started 2015 5-0 or the one that finished it 3-8.

Buccaneers- Slowly building something special

The playoffs may still be a year away, but I really like where quarterback Jameis Winston is taking this franchise. Running back Doug Martin allows this team to run and throw effectively. The only question for me is the defense.

NFC West:

Cardinals- Well coached, but running out of time

They were so good last year. Head coach Bruce Arians continues to push all the right buttons, but quarterback Carson Palmer is 36 and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will be 33 when the season starts. They are among many ageing key pieces. In Arizona, it is now or never.

Seahawks- Still loaded and dangerous

NFC East teams

photo from profootballfocus.com

There is no obvious weakness on this football team. They may lack just a touch of explosiveness on offense. The very talented Thomas Rawls takes over in the backfield. Other than that, the main cast of characters is the same.

Rams- New home, same lack of talent

It is exciting to have football back in Los Angeles, I am not old enough to remember it. Jeff Fisher will get the most out of what he has to work with. Unfortunately, he does not have much outside of running back Todd Gurley. It is hard to accept much from a team that is likely going with a rookie quarterback. Guys like Andrew Luck are the exception, not the rule.

49ers- Mad scientist at work

The mad scientist is of course head coach Chip Kelly. His odd personnel decisions did not pan out in Philly. He has no control over personnel in San Francisco, but significantly less talent to work worth. I have no idea what this team will look or play like and won’t until I actually see them play.

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