The NFL is wildly popular in America for many reasons. One of the biggest is that it is the only mainstream American sport where it is not all that uncommon for a team to go from really bad to really good in a very short amount of time. The Super Bowl champion Eagles as well as the Jaguars finished at the bottom of their respective divisions in 2016 before winning them last year.
Also, it is not like teams like the Bills and Saints were on everyone’s radar as far as contending last year either. Still, the worst to first turnaround is most impressive. There are three teams with a realistic shot at doing what the Eagles and Jags did last year.
Denver Broncos: The AFC West is pretty unique headed in to 2018. It is not difficult to imagine any one of the four teams winning it, or finishing last. A lot depends on whether or not two-time defending division champion Kansas City misses a beat in the transition to Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. The former first-round pick is basically a rookie apart from a throwaway start at the end of last season.
The addition of Case Keenum gives the Broncos some long-sought and much-needed stability at the quarterback position. Even if he regresses closer to the player he was prior to last year in Minnesota, he is certainly an upgrade over what Denver put on the field at that spot last year. Only Cleveland had more turnovers than the Broncos in 2017. A quarterback carousel was not the only reason for this but was certainly the biggest factor.
If Keenum only raises the turnover numbers to the middle of the pack, Denver will be a much better football team in 2018. A defense that was top five in both rushing and passing yards allowed last year got younger and hungrier with the addition of Bradley Chubb up front and the departure of Aqib Talib at the back end.
The Broncos also spent another offseason taking a big swing at improving the offensive line. They are counting on veterans to stay healthy and youngsters to improve. Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas saw their production drop off last year, but Keenum showed last year he can get the ball to talented wide receivers. With the improvements made and the question marks that surround their division rivals, the Broncos could be in for a very quick turnaround.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers are going to win the NFC West this year. They won five games in a row once midseason acquisition Jimmy Garoppolo was inserted as the starting quarterback to finish out the season. This included defeating three playoff teams. The most impressive showing was putting up 40+ points on a Jacksonville defense that carried that team to within an eyelash of the Super Bowl.
Everyone has been singing the praises of the Rams all offseason long. However, the Jared Goff/Sean McVay offense took everyone by surprise last year. Whenever that happens, defensive coordinators always adjust the next year. Then, the offense either readjusts or never gets back to where it was. The same thing happened with the Wildcat offense in Miami as well as the Dak Prescott-led Cowboys. The Wildcat vanished almost as quickly as it appeared and this year will be the moment of truth for Prescott as an NFL quarterback.
For the Rams, this is the year where the offense regresses a little bit. We will see what Goff and McVay come up with in 2019. Los Angeles added some very splashy names on defense.
However, when you put that many strong personalities on one side of the ball, it is going to backfire. Los Angeles is a horrible place for guys like Talib and Marcus Peters to go. Their previous teams could not wait to unload them and it wasn’t because they are not good football players. To think those guys are going to be on their best behavior in Los Angeles is just plain dumb.
Seattle’s roster is a complete mess outside of Russell Wilson and Arizona is starting over as a franchise. Neither team will be a factor in the division race. San Francisco’s roster outside of Garoppolo is not full of household names.
The former Tom Brady understudy completed 67% of his passes and went 5-0 as a starter for a team that had won one game without him. Imagine what the 49ers can do with an entire off-season to build around their franchise quarterback.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has proven to be one of the league’s finest quarterback gurus in recent years. What those two are capable of doing together is flat out scary. The small sample size for Garoppolo is worrisome, but his toughest challenge should be being thrown on the field with last year’s awful team. He passed with flying colors.
Houston Texans: This one probably has the most ifs attached to it, but it is very intriguing. Prior to getting injured last year, then rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson had Houston looking like Super Bowl contenders. He threw 16 touchdown passes in one month and went toe to toe with Brady and Wilson on the road.
Blake Bortles is still Blake Bortles. If the Jacksonville defense is even slightly less dominant than it was last year, that team will take a step back. Tennessee has similar limitations at quarterback with Marcus Mariota. You can only go so far ranked 23rd in pass yards per game.
If Watson can stay healthy on offense along with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus on defense, it is sure going to be fun to see what this team is truly capable of. The Colts are capable of a similar turnaround in the same division if Andrew Luck stays healthy.
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The NFL offseason is primetime for wild speculation, and outlandish trade theories run rampant in the news cycle. Earlier this year, we saw this with the trade rumors regarding Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Now that the draft has come and gone, those talks have mostly died down. However, there is another story that many people don’t seem to be following: Andrew Luck’s future in Indianapolis.
After missing the entire 2017 season due to a shoulder injury, Luck will be a welcome sight for Colts fans, as he is expected to be available during training camp. Since he was drafted, the Indianapolis Colts have had a 10-16 record without the services of Andrew Luck. Compare this to his 43-27 record and it is clear why he is the face of the Colts’ franchise.
When he is on the field, Luck is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. But with his injury history and his high cap number, could we see Andrew Luck in a new uniform in 2019? It is unlikely, but if he cannot perform next season, there are some reasons why Indy could move on from the former No. 1 overall pick.
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
For starters, Luck’s contract puts the Colts in a tricky situation.
In 2016, the team signed Luck to a six-year, $140 million extension, the biggest contract in NFL history at the time. With a $24 million cap hit this year, Luck will be the seventh-highest paid player in the NFL in 2018. This is a hefty price for a player who has struggled to stay on the field as of late.
One interesting piece of information regarding Luck’s contract is his guaranteed money. The contract’s front-heavy structure would allow Indy to move on from the quarterback next season with little repercussion. If the Colts were to release Luck right now, it would result in $40 million in dead cap space. If things don’t work out next season, the Colts could move on from him with only a $12.8 million cap penalty.
This potential out would save the team over $50 million in cap space over the next three years. This, along with an already large sum of cap space, would allow the team to enter a full rebuild and find their next quarterback of the future.
The front office
Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard. (Photo from offthemonstersports.com)
Along with this, the current Colts’ front office has no emotional ties to Luck. Since he was drafted in 2012, the entire coaching staff has left Indianapolis. Former general manager Ryan Grigson is also no longer with the team.
After three outstanding years, Luck struggled to stay on the field in 2015. A sprained shoulder and later a lacerated kidney derailed his season, allowing him to only start seven games. His nagging shoulder injury bled into the next season, but Luck was able to start 15 games. He then underwent shoulder surgery, and he has not played a down since.
With such a laundry list of injuries, there will be even more pressure on Andrew Luck to bounce back. He will need to prove to his new coaching staff that he is still the top-tier quarterback we saw from 2012-14. It is common for new regimes to start fresh with a new quarterback, so patience may grow thin if he cannot produce next season.
Although there will be plenty of pressure on Andrew Luck to return to form, saying that he will not return to Indianapolis in 2019 is purely speculative. Since he was in college, Luck has been heralded as a generational talent.
He turned his team into a playoff contender, and when healthy, is easily one of the league’s top five quarterbacks. Barring another major setback with his shoulder rehab, Luck should be the Colts’ franchise quarterback for years to come.
Featured image by Getty Images
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The Eagles have signed former Redskins and Colts running back Matt Jones to a contract. Ian Rappoport stated that Jones took part in a three back workout yesterday that also involved running back Terrance West.
Who is Matt Jones?
Matt Jones. Photo by Micheal Reeves/Getty Images
Matt Jones was a 2015 third round pick of the Washington Redskins. He showed promise as a power back in his rookie season gaining 490 yards on 144 carries. He also scored three touchdowns. However the next season he failed to live up to expectations. His fumble prone nature caused him to fall out of favor with the Redskins coaching staff. He had eight fumbles in just two seasons in Washington. Then after the season he was released. The Indianapolis Colts signed him, but he failed to make an impact bouncing around from their practice squad to their active roster.
Will he make it through offseason cuts?
Matt Jones. Photo by USA TODAY Sports
Matt Jones has a lot of competition. He was brought in to try to fill the role LeGarrette Blount vacated this offseason. His competition for a spot on the roster is undrafted free agent Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood and Donnell Pumphrey. The Eagles currently have seven running backs on their roster. They will most likely reduce that number to four or five through the offseason cuts.
Matt Jones is going to have to really impress the Eagles coaching staff to beat out all of his competition. I wouldn’t say it is impossible, however, I would say that rookie Josh Adams is my favorite to fill the role of power back. It will most likely be an uphill climb for Jones to make the roster. However, it is a positive for Matt Jones that the Eagles do not seem very confident that their current running back group can fill the void. Maybe Jones has more of a chance than you would think.
Featured image from 247 Sports
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This offseason has already seen the making of a memorable one for history. Big crazy trades and free agent signing has set an overcast in the journey to the upcoming NFL Draft. One signing, in particular, would be the San Francisco 49ers acquisition of Pro Bowl corner Richard Sherman. Sherman, whose season was cut short after an Achilles injury in week 8, agreed to a contract worth up to $39.15 million dollars for three years, three days before free agency opened up. But there has been some controversy surrounding the deal itself and Sherman’s role in it. It is reported that Sherman himself handled the negotiations without the representation of an agent.
Some questions now have surfaced to why Richard Sherman would go this route and the future of players handling their own affairs pertaining to contracts. Some see this as the future of the league while others see this as Richard Sherman’s ego getting in front of his talent once again. Sherman has been critical of how agents operate and encourages a path for players to be more proactive in these areas. However, the same can be said about the team he signed to minutes after he was released, comprised a deal that many have criticized.
First, let’s talk about the contract. Richard Sherman has signed a deal that is worth $39.15 million dollars. The key word is “worth”. Most NFL contracts, like other sports and management positions, are worth a dollar amount. Most of the money to be earned is tied up in incentives, bonuses and allowances. Sherman’s deal includes $3 million dollars in full guarantees, $7 million in practical guarantees and up to $9 million in earnings baring injury during the 2018 season.
In an offseason where the value of individual prospects and a team’s desire to certain prospects have set an unprecedented amount of money for their acquisitions, this deal doesn’t seem to make much sense. This could be a fault towards Sherman who essentially worked out the deal himself. This contract is purely based on Sherman’s ability to stay healthy and perform at a high level. However, this opens a door for other players. Sherman, who is also a Stanford grad, is a key player in the NFLPA and knows how the business works. If players are to take the same route, they too might be able to capture some control in the debating process.
Players ultimately have all the power. They decide whether to take deals or leave hem on the table. Agents look to give them the best deal possible. In return, this could leave the player losing the ability to play for a favorable destination. Not saying that players aren’t sitting at the negotiation table but what Richard Sherman did, extends the amount power a player has.
Because of this, the player is able to negotiate a deal that they might feel is good for them. Most agents meet with teams with a hardline offer and it doesn’t really dip or bend from there. Plus with the ability of players to sit out, this pretty much twists the hands of management into submission. Most teams now have tried to stay away from hardline offers as they have led to some of the worst deals. Kirk Cousins suffered from franchise tag-itis because of The Washington Redskins horrible deal with Albert Haynesworth. As other teams have been ultimately forced to give in to player demands. If players want to take slashes in their guaranteed money in favor of being placed with the team that they desire to be on, then they should have that power.
What makes this deal seem sour is the subject at hand, Richard Sherman. Richard Sherman anchored one of the best defenses in five years that led to two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl title. With the right defense, Richard Sherman is arguably the best cornerback in the National Football League. With that being said he should be paid accordingly to his value. Looking at this contract, it seems that he is selling himself a bit short. For example, as an analogy, Richard Sherman believes he should get $10 million dollars a year. Team A is willing to give him $10 million dollars and Team B is willing to give him $15 million dollars.
Your value isn’t the price tag that you put on yourself but rather how much someone is willing to pay. Despite his wishes, Richard Sherman is worth $15 million dollars in actuality. In comparison to the deal made in reality, Sherman would never see those $15 million dollars. If he never talks to Team B, it would be impossible. The idea of him not talking to other teams is quite depressing. He would never fully exercise the potential of the deal. This could be a downside for players who really want to play for a particular team and might be blindsided by their “wants” when they should focus on what should be owed to them.
At the end of the day, Richard Sherman has to accept or decline a deal. This particular deal is what he wanted and it is what he got. Other players in the future may not be so lucky. Determining a players’ value really depends on a broad spectrum. It’s not a discussion with a team who only really seems to benefit themselves and not the player. Despite this, a lawyer never acts as a legal representation for himself and a doctor doesn’t examine herself.
Agents are there to work out a deal. They know more about the process and are able to twist numbers and squeeze out the best deal possible. If that means shelving off between 1.5% to 4% in earnings so be it, there is no such things as a free lunch. In the future, negotiations should be left to agents as most believe that one would never let Sherman walk away with that deal. Sherman’s deal isn’t bad at all for other cornerbacks.
However, for an all-pro player, that gravitates a brand presence and is arguably the best cornerback in the league, it’s a terrible one. This contract is a deal for players that are on the cusp of proving themselves. For Sherman, he doesn’t have to. Despite suffering an injury and turning 30 years old in a matter of days, Richard Sherman has already proved his worth. A contract suited for someone who hasn’t is deplorable in his situation.
Fortunately, Richard Sherman got the deal he wanted. He went to the team he wanted and is in the best situation for himself. He’s happy and everyone should. More than likely, the deal will mature to be a wise one. It also might open the doors for other players to follow. On the other hand, if it flops, it would be a disaster and cemented as “pulling a Richard Sherman”. Who knows? Only time will tell.
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The 2018 NFL Draft is now under a month away, which means that Draftmas is back. Draftmas will take a look at each NFL team heading into the NFL Draft, what their needs are and who they could be targeting. You will find it here. Draftmas will continue with the Indianapolis Colts 2018 NFL Draft profile.
The Colts have had a rough couple years and last year showed just how many flaws this team has. Andrew Luck didn’t play all year and his status for next year is uncertain. They went 4-12 in 2017 which was good enough for third in the AFC South. Jacoby Brissett came over in a trade right before the season and was a pleasant surprise. With the trade to the Jets, which was a steal, they have shown that they are fine with starting Brissett until Luck returns.
The Colts showed that Anthony Castonzo, TY Hilton, Luck (if he ever plays again, sorry Colts fans), Jack Doyle, Malik Hooker, Mathias Farley and Jabaal Sheard are worth building around. Other than that every position could use an upgrade or two. They have been pretty quiet this offseason, even though they need major upgrades, only resigning some backup players and signing Eric Ebron to go alongside Jack Doyle.
One major area of struggle for the Colts was the offensive line. As mentioned before Castonzo was a pretty solid tackle last year, outside of that this unit was not good. They will hope that Ryan Kelly, a former first-round pick, can stay healthy and prove he was worth the selection. They gave up 56 sacks as a unit in 2017, which would kill drives constantly.
This team did not do a whole lot right last year overall, as their offense looked anemic at times and their defense got beat at just about every level. They are in full rebuild right now as they let a lot of older players walk. This draft is going to be very important for them.
Picks and Needs
After what can only be called a steal of a trade for the third overall pick to the Jets the Colts have positioned themselves well in this draft and even got a bit for next years. They go in with nine picks:
First round (1 pick): 6
Second round (3): 36, 37, 49
Third round (1): 67
Fourth round (1): 104
Fifth round (1): 140
Sixth round (1): 178
Seventh round (1): 221
Wide Receiver – The Colts still have T.Y. Hilton and not much else. Luck and Brissett need someone else to get the ball to in order for T.Y. to stop being double covered constantly.
Offensive Line – They should take the best offensive lineman they can get. Remember, 56 sacks led the league last season.
Courtesy of: SB Nation
Running Back – Frank Gore is gone and Marlon Mack has shown flashes, but a lot of teams have two good running backs these days and the Colts have maybe one.
EDGE – Last season they only had 25 sacks which was second last in the league. With a switch to a 4-3 defense they will need someone disruptive up front.
Linebacker – There was not a whole lot going on with this group either. John Simon and Jon Bostic weren’t bad but also weren’t anything to write home about. Jabaal Sheard was mostly an edge rusher so he could go either way.
Cornerback – Vontae Davis is sadly gone. So too is Rashaan Melvin. Quincy Wilson is getting better but will definitely need some help on the other side.
Pick No. 6: Bradley Chubb, DE/OLB, N.C. State
Courtesy of: si.com
As stated before the Colts need to put more pressure on the quarterback and there is probably no one better at this than Chubb. Even with a trade down it is likely the Colts will get exactly who they have been looking for. He is fast and has great size at 6’4″ 276 pounds. He is a freak athlete and will give many opposing tackles a tough time as he is able to get around them or go inside.
His speed is going to be key in a division where all of the starting quarterbacks, Mariota, Watson and Bortles are not afraid to use their legs. Keeping them contained, even on his side of the ball, will allow for players like Jabaal Sheard to come up and make big plays.
Pick No. 36: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
It is odd to see a player of his caliber still here, but many experts have him falling and some even have him as the fourth or fifth best tackle in the draft. That being said, McGlinchey boasts great technique and is able to handle either right or left tackle after getting plenty of experience from starting the last three years.
Castonzo playing opposite of McGlinchey would give the Colts two nice bookends for their offensive line. This would limit sacks which is especially important, as the Colts can only be competitive if Andrew luck is able to stay on the field. It is likely that this pick would be a great start to the overhaul this offensive line needs.
Pick No. 37: Braden Smith, OG, Auburn
Courtesy of: AL.com
Guess what? The Colt get to pick again and here is another chance to upgrade the offensive line, specifically at guard. While some may have him going later there is a significant dropoff in guard talent after him. Losing out on a chance to improve an area of significant need would be a crime.
Smith is very strong as he did 35 reps at the combine, 11 more than McGlinchey. He will be a formidable presence in the middle for this offensive line. Scouts and others worry about his quick twitch movements and balance as he allows for defenders to get in on him. It may not be a sexy pick, but Colts fans will be happy when they see Luck upright and healthy throughout the season.
Pick No. 49: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
It seems possible that Chubb will go before this, but if not he should fit right in. Before his injury Chubb was seen as a star in the making. This is still possible, but he is not nearly as explosive as he was before. He will have to rely on the fact that teams will be looking for the Colts to pass first. This will allow him the chance to be a quiet 1,000 yard rusher.
Chubb also fits in well with the way the NFL is moving with two running back systems. Mack can handle passing situations and some running downs to keep Chubb from overworking. Also, now the Colts have the Chubb cousins.
Pick No. 67: D.J. Chark, WR, LSU
There are some nice wideouts that could compliment T.Y. Hilton in the seconnd, third and possibly even fourth rounds this year and Chark is one of them. Hilton is much smaller at 5’9 and he gets double teamed, but is still able to put up big numbers. Chark would give the Colts a bigger option down the field at 6’3 and in the endzone while taking a defender off of Hilton.
The Indianapolis Colts need a ton of work. They are absent of talent at some pretty important positions. With Luck coming back and five picks in the first three rounds this team has the chance to start heading in the right direction.
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While teams are still holding their cards close to the vest, next month will officially kick off an NFL offseason that could be the busiest ever in terms of player movement at the quarterback position.
The names that could be on the move are well documented, but Jacoby Brissett seems to be getting lost in the shuffle. His situation is worth a closer look.
Why should teams want him?
Photo from 1070thefan.com
Andrew Luck’s injury set up last season for disaster in Indianapolis. However, for a guy who was inserted as the starter less than two weeks after being acquired, Brissett did a heck of a job last year.
13 touchdowns, seven interceptions and an 81.7 passer rating is pretty good when you consider the circumstances in the above paragraph. Also, the roster only had two pro bowlers on it. Add in the fact that Indianapolis has a bad offensive line for a while now and Brissett’s 2017 campaign looks even better.
No quarterback is meant to take 52 sacks the way Brissett did last year. He was also sacked 14 times by Jacksonville alone. Of course, he probably needed to get rid of the ball quicker on some of those, but those numbers are still astronomically high.
Brissett has a unique perspective as to part of the reason why Luck has struggled to stay healthy in recent years. The last offensive lineman Indianapolis sent to the Pro Bowl was Jeff Saturday, who is now a television analyst. When the Colts offense did manage to put points on the board, the league’s 30th ranked defense gave them up just as quickly.
Despite all that, Brissett put his team in position to win a lot more than four games last year. They had the halftime lead in nine of their first 11 games, but did not have a coaching staff that could adjust or enough overall talent on the roster to finish games. When you take everything into account, it is clear that Jimmy Garoppolo is not the only former Patriots understudy that can be a long-term NFL starter.
The sample size is considerably larger for Brissett, but he is a far more attractive option for teams that need a quarterback than soon to be free agent AJ McCarron who is destined for a big payday despite putting up comparablenumbers under far more quarterback friendly circumstances.
The teams preparing to woo McCarron in free agency should be calling the Colts about Brissett instead. This leads to an obvious question.
Is he even available?
Brissett is under the control of his current club for 2018 and beyond. So if he is going to play somewhere else, it will have to come via trade.
Given the questions surrounding Andrew Luck’s health, it is easy to see why the Colts may want to keep Brissett around. The last time the Colts franchise quarterback got hurt, they did not have a capable backup, went 2-14 and drafted Luck. Peyton Manning went to Denver and the rest is history.
Still, Indianapolis has lots of needs on the roster. The Colts are not going to be able to address them all in the draft and free agency. Brissett is one of few pieces they have that would entice another team.
Luck’s health is now apparently headed in the right direction. If the Colts can get additional draft picks, offensive line help or a serviceable defender for Brissett, they need to pull the trigger. Indianapolis can always draft a quarterback in the middle rounds to sure up the depth chart behind Luck.
Photo from indystar.com
The only opinions that truly matter here are those of new head coach Frank Reich, owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard. Reich has said he wants to keep Brissett. Even so, we all know every player is available for the right compensation. We also know Irsay will have the final say for better or worse.
At the very least, Brissett would be a nice fallback option for the losers of the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes. Denver has to clear cap space to compete with teams like the Browns and Jets for Cousins. The Broncos will no doubt try to do that, but shipping a draft pick or a pass rusher not named Von Miller to Indy is not out of the question and may prove to be more realistic.
Brissett is not going to carry a franchise on his back, but teams like Arizona and Denver already have some nice pieces. He can certainly get a team like that right back in the mix.
Featured image from ninersnation.com
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My run of solid late season weeks continued with an 8-8 mark against the spread. Headed into the final week of the regular season, my record sits at 104-124-11. With several teams resting starters, lines are strange this week. All games will be played on Sunday afternoon. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.
Bears at Vikings (-12) – A win is all Minnesota needs to ensure that first-round bye in the playoffs. They will get it, but the Bears have been tough out all year long. This includes playing the Vikings to the gun during Mitchell Trubisky’s starting debut on Monday Night Football.
Chicago has since figured out that Jordan Howard as well as the defense are the best things this team has going for it. While that revelation likely came a little too late to save the employment of John Fox, it has given some good teams like Carolina and Baltimore fits along with the Vikings. Despite this, Minnesota being the team that has something to play for will get him over the line in this one. Min 21 Chi 17
Browns at Steelers (-6) – Both teams have something to play for here. The Browns are trying to avoid joining the 2008 Lions in the 0-16 club. Should New England stumbled against the Jets, Pittsburgh can earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, Reports of Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell resting for the playoffs tell you how little faith the Steelers have in that possibility.
Cleveland played a full strength Steelers team to the wire during opening week. With Pittsburgh nowhere near full strength for this one, something similar should be expected here. Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, the only fitting end to their team’s season would be losing yet another close game to make dubious history. Pit 24 Cle 20
Cowboys (-3) at Eagles- Philadelphia has secured home field throughout the NFC playoffs, but they are banged up. After a shaky showing against the Raiders last week, Nick Foles and the offense clearly need work, but what if he gets hurt? How the Eagles approach this one is anyone’s guess. Dallas is playing for pride here, but Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot are a safer bet than anything the Eagles offense has to offer right now. Dal 27 Phi 20
Texans at Colts (-5.5) – This is possibly the worst game of Week 17. Jacoby Brissett has proven to be serviceable at quarterback for the Colts this year despite being thrown in to a bad situation. Chuck Pagano has ran his course in Indy, but the players have pretty much always played hard for him. Expect no different in what is likely his swan song.
The only Houston’s offense had going for it was DeAndre Hopkins who is set to miss his first career game with a calf injury. If the Texans had stayed healthy, what might have been? We will never know. Both defenses are bad here, but the offenses are worse. Brissett has shown flashes of being able to lead an NFL offense. Meanwhile, the Texans have scored 13 points in their last two games combined. They have been forced to go too deep on their quarterback depth chart to truly compete. Ind 20 Hou 10
Jets at Patriots (-15.5)- Do not be fooled by New York’s record, Todd Bowles has gotten more out of this team make anyone expected this year and is very deserving of the contract extension he signed earlier this week.
New England still has to take care of business here to ensure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. So, the Jets have no chance at winning this game. However, they always play New England very tough and the first meeting this year was no exception. To be a good bet here, New York does not even have to keep it all that close. NE 30 Nyj 17
Redskins (-3) at Giants- Both of these team are bad and ready for the offseason. However, at least the Redskins are not calling their teammates “a cancer” and are still playing hard. Expect Kirk Cousins to play well in what could be his last go around as a Redskin. Was 23 Nyg 13
Cardinals at Seahawks (-8.5) – Seattle is the exact opposite of Atlanta. The Seahawks may be loud and dysfunctional at times, but you can always count on Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll to come through when the chips are down. Look no further than last week.
Ever since the Super Bowl collapse, the same leadership is not in Atlanta. Seattle has a much easier opponent this week, but leadership is why Seattle wins here to force Atlanta to have to do the same to reach the playoffs. Sea 31 Ari 14
Bills (-2) at *Dolphins– Buffalo needs a win and some help to end the longest playoff drought in major American pro sports, but there is no reason to trust them here. Miami has been a disappointment this year, but a home game with a chance to bury a division rival should motivate them.
Slumping offense are worrisome this time of year. Buffalo is not the only desperate AFC team with a sagging offense, but the Bills have scored 20+ points just once since late November. That has to catch up with them eventually, this is the last chance for it to do so. Mia 20 Buf 17
*Panthers at Falcons (-4) – The Falcons get in the playoffs with a win here and may still get in with a loss. This line was made as if Carolina has nothing to play for and that is not the case. The Panthers can still get a first round bye and division title depending on other results. Most important, they need to win this one.
The Falcons have struggled all year to find consistency and beat good teams. They lost to Carolina a handful of weeks ago. The Panthers are the better football team and have been really solid for the last month. Meanwhile, the Falcons were manhandled by the Saints last week and had to squeeze by the lowly Bucs the week before. The cream rises to the top. Car 31 Atl 28
Bengals at Ravens (-9.5)- Of the four teams battling for the final two playoff spots in the AFC, Baltimore is the only team you should feel good about. They are not flashy, but they have a quarterback and coach who have been there and done that when it comes to December and January football. They also run the ball well and play defense. Those two things always translate well this time of year.
We saw the Bengals last best showing for the apparently soon to be departing head coach Marvin Lewis last week. The Ravens take full advantage of a favorable schedule down the stretch to emphatically punch their ticket to postseason. This is the one team New England should be nervous about in the AFC. Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh have gone in to New England and won twice before in the playoffs. Bal 30 Cin 13
*Packers at Lions (-7)- Neither team is playing for anything here, but the Lions folded against a bad Cincinnati team last week when they still had playoff hopes, it is hard not to expect a carryover even though the Lions have more talent. Combine that with the strange statistical reality that Brett Hundley has been better on the road, and that is good enough for me. GB 21 Det 20
*Jaguars at Titans (-2.5) – Tennessee is playing for its playoff life and Jacksonville’s playoff position is secure. Even so, the Jaguars have given every indication that they are playing this game at full tilt.
This means the best defense in football will get a crack at Marcus Mariota and the slumping Titans offense. Mariota has averaged just 224 passing yards for last month and has more interceptions than touchdowns on the year. Nothing we have seen from this offense recently is good enough to make the playoffs. Jac 20 Ten 14
Chiefs at Broncos (-3) – Paxton Lynch will get one last chance to effect Denver’s offseason quarterback plans. The playoff bound Chiefs are resting several starters and giving rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes a look see. The Denver defense is a pretty tough first assignment. Despite the team having an awful year, the defense leads the league in yards allowed.
Photo: Denver Post
Given the quarterback matchup, nobody knows what to expect here, Vegas included. Having the home team favorite by a field goal is the catch all line for NFL games. Denver’s offense is woeful, but it is hard to imagine that throwing a rookie quarterback out there surrounded by several backups against Von Miller and company is going to end well. Den 16 KC 10
Saints (-5) at Bucs- For some reason, the Bucs have reportedly decided to retain Dirk Koetter. Despite a ton of young offensive talent, the losses continue to mount. There no reason to think they can stop the tough, physical, and playoff bound Saints from locking down a division title. NO 31 TB 20
Raiders at Chargers (-7) – The Chargers need a win and help, but a playoff spot is realistic. The Raiders will be pesky as they were last week, so, take the points. In the end, the fiery will of Philip Rivers will be enough. Lac 30 Oak 27
49ers (-4) at Rams- The Rams are guaranteed to host a playoff game next week no matter what happens here. Thus, Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, and several others will sit this one out. With Jimmy Garoppolo still white hot for the 49ers, backups should not be able to slow him down in the season finale. SF 27 Lar 17
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The folks in Vegas were on their game last week as I posted a 6-7-3 mark against the spread. 96-116-11 is my record for the season. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. Happy Holidays everyone!
Colts at Ravens (-13.5) – All Baltimore has to do for a return to the playoffs is beat the Colts and Bengals and have Buffalo lose one of its final two games.
This is a huge amount of points to swallow, but the Colts are just plain bad. Baltimore’s only loss in the span of more than a month was in Pittsburgh as time expired. Other than that, they have ran the ball and played defense to beat teams into submission. Indianapolis certainly isn’t in a position to stop that trend. Despite being pesky all year long, it seemed their last bit of fight went out the window in the second half of last week’s loss. Bal 31 Ind 13
Vikings (-9) at Packers– Now eliminated from playoff contention, the Packers made the wise decision to shut down Aaron Rodgers for the rest of the year. Even so, Brett Hundley had some good moments while Rodgers was out injured.
Minnesota is not a flashy football team, but they are very complete. The Vikings still have everything to play for as they try to secure home field advantage in the NFC playoffs, but the Packers would love to make life difficult by hanging a late-season loss on their division rival. That will not happen, but the Packers as 9.5 point underdogs at Lambeau Field is one of the stronger best of the week. Min 27 GB 24
Falcons at Saints (-5.5) – The three horse NFC South race will likely be down to two after this one. Atlanta’s inconsistency is still concerning. They ran Tampa Bay out of the building for most of the game last Monday night and still had to rely on a missed field goal to escape with a win. This team is good, but not as good as New Orleans or Carolina.
The Saints got a little too cute at the end of the game in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Do not expect Sean Payton and Drew Brees to make the same mistake twice. Mark Ingram and Alvin Karmara will both be healthy for this matchup. This is a key difference from a few weeks ago. The Saints approach to winning football games is safer and more consistent. NO 28 Atl 21
Bills at Patriots (11.5) – The fact that a team like Buffalo is holding down a playoff spot speaks to what a dismal year the entire AFC is having. Buffalo will need to win at least one of its final two games to end the longest ongoing playoff drought in major American pro sports. Ever since Nathan Peterman briefly became the starter, this team has not played well.
To their credit, they have still managed to find ways to win, which is more than most of their counterparts can say. Even so, they do not have the firepower to go on the road to New England and trouble the reigning Super Bowl champions who got a huge but controversial win to take control of the entire conference last week. NE 31 Buf 17
*Browns at Bears (-6.5) – Unless Pittsburgh is in a situation where they can rest starters next week, this is Cleveland’s last best chance to avoid going winless. This pick has nothing to do with scheme or matchups.
It has everything to do with the fact that Chicago is not a good team and that the Cleveland defense is on pace to give up over 100 points less than the 2008 Lions who became the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. The Browns have played too hard and been so close to win so many times this year to go winless. Somehow, they will find a way. Cle 17 Chi 14
*Broncos at Redskins (-3.5) – As the season winds down, the game of quarterback musical chairs continues in Denver. It will be Brock Osweiler or Paxton Lynch this week.
Regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Broncos, their defense has given up just four touchdowns this month at two of them were off short fields created by turnovers. Combine that with the fact that Washington’s offensive line has been held together with duct tape all year long, and the Broncos are well-equipped for a minor upset here. Den 20 Was 17
Lions (-4.5) at Bengals- It has all but been confirmed that this is the last home game for Marvin Lewis as Bengals head coach. Lewis never could get the franchise over the hump, but he made football relevant in Cincinnati again. For that reason, it would be nice to see his players play hard, send him out a winner, and muck up the playoff picture in the process. However, Cincinnati has been outscored 67-14 in their last two weeks. Thus, there is no reason to think that will happen. Det 28 Cin 17
Chargers (-6.5) at Jets– The Chargers laid an egg in a big game last week. A pattern that has become all-too-familiar to that fan base over the last 15 or so years. They still have miniscule playoff hopes and having Philip Rivers under center ensures that this team will continue playing hard.
Bryce Petty and the Jets surprisingly gave New Orleans a fistfight last week. New York has been a good bet as an underdog this year. They have managed to beat Kansas City and Jacksonville while covering against teams like New England and Atlanta. The Los Angeles pass rush will be too much for the Jets to overcome. They will not win, but their season-long trend of playing talented teams tough will continue. Lac 24 Nyj 21
Rams (-6.5) at Titans- Tennessee is still very much a part of the AFC playoff conversation. Thus, this is the worst possible time for them to be playing their worst football of the year.
Ever since about October, Mike Mullarkey has struggled to get his team to play well on both sides of the ball at the same time. Two weeks ago they gave up just 12 points and lost. Last week, they scored 23 points and still came up short. If you are not playing well, the Rams may be the last team you want to face at the moment.
Even if the Titans manage to contain Sean McVay’s high powered offense, there is no indication that the offense can score enough points to win. This means that Tennessee is also in trouble if this game turns into a shootout. Either way, the Rams coast here. Lar 30 Ten 20
Dolphins at Chiefs (-10)- After teasing the entire Miami fan base by leading an upset of the mighty Patriots, the grumpy and inconsistent version of Jay Cutler made a return last week in Buffalo. With Miami now needing nothing short of a miracle to reach the playoffs, he is probably wishing he would have kept his broadcasting gig.
Miami’s cause is not helped by the fact that Kansas City is finding some of its early-season form after routing division rivals to reestablish control of the AFC West. The Raiders and Chargers offenses have been held under 20 points in recent weeks by the Chiefs. Miami’s offense is not as good as those offenses. Add in the fact that Kareem Hunt has put up consecutive games of at least 100 yards rushing, and this game could get ugly. KC 34 Mia 17
Bucs at Panthers (-10) – Carolina has scored over 30 points in four of the last five games, but the defense has allowed teams to make things interesting late in the games. The Bucs are still fighting hard despite a season that started with such high hopes turning out to be a disaster. The pattern continues and Tampa Bay gets a garbage time touchdown to cover the spread, but the Panthers clinch a playoff spot. Car 30 TB 23
Jaguars (-4) at *49ers– Jacksonville is a legitimate contender that will cause problems for any opponent in the AFC playoffs. This pick has more to do with San Francisco and Jimmy Garoppolo. The former Tom Brady understudy is still undefeated as a starting quarterback in his career. In his three starts with San Francisco, he has limited turnovers while shredding three solid defenses. This is just a case of a team running into a hot quarterback. As good as it is, the Jacksonville defense has not ran into many of those this year. SF 24 Jac 17
Giants at Cardinals (-3.5) – Two bad teams are doing battle for nothing but pride in this one. For the NFL to have so few meaningless games this late in the season is a great thing. The Giants have looked a little more presentable since Eli Manning got his job back, but not much. They are ready for the offseason.
Meanwhile, Arizona is still plugged in despite not finding the end zone in a little more than two games. They managed to beat Tennessee and nearly knocked off Washington on field goals alone. They will break the touchdown drought and smother the Giants. Ari 21 Nyg 13
*Seahawks at Cowboys (-5) – This is the sucker bet of the week. Both teams need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The public is down on Seattle. It is understandable after last week’s surprising blowout. Meanwhile, the public is high on Dallas with Ezekiel Elliott returning to the fold this week.
With Dallas being at home and a relatively small favorite, Vegas is begging you to take Dallas. So, the only logical thing to do is go the other way. If Seattle was not so experienced in situations like this and did not have Russell Wilson at quarterback, I would bail on the Seahawks too, but that is not the case. Sea 24 Dal 20
Steelers (-9.5) at Texans- The only thing to worry about here is Pittsburgh’s strange struggles with bad teams on the road this year. They lost outright to Chicago and failed to cover against Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. Also, Antonio Brown is a massive loss in the short term and possibly long term as well. Despite all that, it is difficult to get around the fact that Houston is a four win football team that is likely going to have to start T.J. Yates at quarterback again this week. Pit 34 Hou 17
Raiders at Eagles (-9) – If the Eagles defense plays like they did last week, Nick Foles will be the least of their worries come playoff time. Foles showed last week that he is very capable of keeping the train on the tracks.
The Raiders found another very creative way to lose a football game last week. With their playoff hopes now all but gone, it is hard to imagine Oakland providing much resistance here, even though they have the talent to do so. If Oakland was playing like they did last year, this would be a fun one, but they aren’t. Phi 38 Oak 24
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Finally, a good week. I went 10-6 against the spread for week 13. This included correctly predicting outright upsets by the Packers, Seahawks, and Cowboys. 82-101-8 is where I stand as the stretch run rolls on. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.
Saints (-1.5) at Falcons- A loss to their division rival here would likely end the relevant part of Atlanta’s season. Even during last year’s Super Bowl run, their defense was average to slightly above average. The difference this year has been the offense being too inconsistent to make up for the defensive shortcomings.
If Atlanta managed to hold an opponent to 14 points last year, that was a certain blowout victory. Last week against Minnesota when that happened, the Falcons lost. Meanwhile, New Orleans is the exact opposite. Run the ball with two great backs, play defense, and ask Drew Brees to go win the game if necessary. The approach is consistent and has worked very well. Taking consistency over inconsistency is always the safe bet. NO 28 Atl 21
Bears at Bengals (-6)- We are getting to the point in the season where there are a few matchups each week featuring teams that don’t have much to play for. This certainly qualifies as one of those. The Bears have stayed scrappy all year long. Firing John Fox would be a mistake, but is likely inevitable at this point.
You could feel the wind come out of Cincinnati’s sails after the close loss to Pittsburgh on Monday night. Chicago has struggled to finish games all year long and Cincinnati definitely has more offensive firepower. The Bengals will win, but six points is too many. Cin 20 Chi 17
Cowboys (-4) at Giants- Dallas is still breathing in the loaded NFC playoff race. They ran the ball down Washington’s throat last week. No matter who is in the backfield, that is what they do best. To call the Giants a dysfunctional franchise right now would be an insult to dysfunctional franchises everywhere.
Eli Manning gets his job back for the Giants a week after his bizarre benching. The regime that made that move as well as all the other moves that have led to New York’s disastrous season has been fired. Who knows what the long-term future of the Giants looks like? In the short term, it is tough to imagine this team being competitive with anyone at the moment. A desperate Dallas team is no exception. Dal 24 Nyg 14
*Lions at Bucs (Pick ‘em) – Here is a game shrouded in quarterback mystery. A pick ‘em line is the only way to go until Matthew Stafford’s playing status becomes clearer. Detroit still has an outside shot at the playoffs. Regardless of who plays quarterback for the Lions, Tampa Bay appears to have closed up shop for the remainder of the season. Their only two wins since the first month of the season came when the guy they drafted to be their franchise quarterback just a few years ago was hurt. This franchise needs to take a long look in the mirror. Detroit is tough to trust, but Tampa Bay is impossible to trust this season. Det 24 TB 20
Packers (-3) at *Browns– The Packers are the better team, but Brett Hundley has been wildly inconsistent since taking over for Aaron Rodgers. He only had 84 passing yards last week in a win against Tampa Bay. The Cleveland defense has been in the top half of most categories all year long. They are one of the more underrated units in the league.
Also, Josh Gordon clearly added a layer to the stagnant Browns offense in his return last week. DeShone Kizer is still responsible for far too many turnovers, but the rookie quarterback has shown real improvement in the last month. Going winless for an entire season in the NFL is hard to do and the Browns could easily have three or four wins by now. This is one of their last realistic chances to avoid legendary embarrassment and they know it. Somehow, they will find a way. Cle 17 GB 14
*Colts at Bills (Pick ‘em) – A 3-9 record is bad, but if games ended at halftime, Indianapolis’s record would be flipped. They have played hard all year long and can play with anybody, even with a backup quarterback. Even though Buffalo is the team that is still alive in the playoff hunt, that same type of fight just is not there. With Tyrod Taylor injured, the line for this game will remain fuzzy right up until kickoff. Things seem to be trending towards backup Nathan Peterman who threw five interceptions in the first half of his NFL debut earlier this year. That is a great reason to pick the road team.
Vikings (-2.5) at *Panthers– The Vikings continue to defy expectations. Defense is their identity, but Case Keenum and the offense are doing enough to win games. Minnesota has won eight in a row.
I might be the last person on earth that is still skeptical of Keenum, but it is tough to pick this team when they go up against top-flight quarterbacks like Cam Newton. The Panthers run a ton of formations and are difficult to prepare for. The Vikings offense did struggle a little bit last week. The defense had to stand on its head to secure the 14-9 victory. This game will come down to which offense will be able to better move the ball against a really good defense. These teams are right next to each other in a lot of statistics. The only definitive advantage is Carolina being at home. Car 14 Min 13
Raiders at Chiefs (-4) – With three teams in the AFC West tied at 6-6, this is a huge game. Oakland won the first meeting with a touchdown at the gun. Both teams were thought to have explosive offenses that have pretty much disappeared ever since that shootout. Anything could happen here, but Kansas City still has one of the toughest home-field advantages in all ofsports. Also, even though Andy Reid is taking a lot of heat for Kansas City’s dramatic drop-off, the Chiefs have a significant coaching edge here. KC 27 Oak 20
*49ers at Texans (-3)- While Texans fans are no doubt wondering what might have been had Deshaun Watson stayed healthy, Tom Savage has settled in and at least played okay the last few weeks. However, Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start had to give the entire 49ers organization a lift last week. The offense struggled in the red zone, but they found a way to win. Like last week, they will not need to score a lot of points to get the job done here. SF 17 Hou 16
Jets (-1) at Broncos- If you had said the Jets would be road favorites in Denver this year before the season, you would have been laughed out of the room. New York has played solid fundamental football all year long to notch five more wins than most people predicted. They do not have a ton of talent, but their ground game is effective and Josh McCown has 10 more touchdown passes than interceptions.
This pick has more to do with Denver. The Broncos defense is still really good, but the offense is constantly shooting itself in the foot. This is a winnable game for both teams, but Denver made the Dolphins look like the 85 Bears last week. It is tough to pick them after that. Nyj 19 Den 13
Titans (-3) at Cardinals- Thanks to the lack of depth in the AFC, Tennessee appears headed for a rare playoff appearance. Tennessee is not flashy, but there is a lot to be said for winning five one possession games this year.
Arizona has been all over the map this year. Despite flashes of looking like the playoff team many thought they would be, sitting at 5-7 means that they are probably closer to the team that got demolished by the Rams last week. A bunch of key people in the organization are old. It could look a lot different in 2018. Tennessee is not really capable of blowing anyone out, but they should get the job done as they have for most of the season. Ten 20 Ari 14
Redskins at Chargers (-6)- The Chargers are suddenly the trendy pick to make noise in the AFC playoffs after getting back to .500 following an 0-4 start. Their remaining game with Kansas City will likely decide that. For now though, with injuries, losses, and questions about the future piling up, the Redskins are in no position to cool off a red-hot quarterback and pass rush at the moment. Lac 30 Was 20
Eagles at Rams (-2.5) – One of the best matchups of the week is a simple one to analyze. Last week, the Eagles faced a team that was playing well on the road for the second time this year. They were manhandled for the second time. The same scenario applies this week. Both these teams have benefited from the fact that there are just a lot of average to below average teams in the NFL right now. They both are probably too young to win a Super Bowl this year, the Rams are coming in with more confidence and playing at home. Lar 24 Phi 16
*Seahawks at Jaguars (-2.5) – Here, you have two likely playoff teams with really good defenses. Jacksonville’s unit is a little better, but rely a lot on sacks. Good luck trying to run down Russell Wilson. This matchup is as simple as one team being quarterbacked by Wilson and the other by Blake Bortles. Sea 21 Jac 13
Ravens at Steelers (-5) – The best rivalry in football takes center stage for Sunday Night Football. Everyone has been panicking about Pittsburgh’s slow starts and locker room drama all year long. They just keep finding ways to win.
This is a completely different Ravens team than the one that Pittsburgh manhandled in early October. The defense remains stout, but the emergence of Alex Collins at running back has given the offense a much-needed identity. They have scored over 20 points in their last four games.
Most weeks, that is going to be more than enough for Baltimore’s defense. John Harbaugh’s team has started to separate itself in the mediocre AFC wildcard race. The Steelers might be the toughest offense in football to contain. Their stars will do just enough to pull out a win. Even so, an underdog getting anything more than a field goal in this matchup feels like stealing. Pit 24 Bal 21
Patriots (-11) at Dolphins- Miami’s convincing win over Denver last week is hardly a sign that this team is making progress. They still committed three turnovers. New England is rolling and never beats themselves the way Denver did. Even with Rob Gronkowski sidelined, there is nothing to suggest that the Patriots will not dominate this matchup much like the way they did less than a month ago. NE 31 Mia 14
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December football is upon us, and as the weather gets colder, the NFL playoff races are heating up. Four teams have been officially eliminated from playoff contention; Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago and the New York Giants. There is also a few playoff-clinching scenarios in play during week 14. New England can clinch the AFC East with a win over Miami or a Buffalo loss. Philadelphia can clinch the NFC East title with a win over the Los Angeles Rams, or with a New York Giants win over Dallas. Minnesota can clinch the NFC North with a win over Carolina or losses by both Detroit and Green Bay. With all that being said, here are the current 2017 NFL power rankings for Week 14.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-12)
(Photo Credit: John David Mercer, USA TODAY Sports)
Last week: 32 (no change)
Next game: home vs. Green Bay
There is little to say about Cleveland that hasn’t already been said. They are four games away from an infamous 0-16 season. All Cleveland can focus on is the draft. This year they must find the quarterback that can change the franchise. They have gone too long without a true leader to play under center. In the last two seasons, they have missed out on Carson Wentz, DeShaun Watson, Dak Prescott and other. In 2018, they need to find a way to take Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield.
31. New York Giants (2-10)
Last week: 30 (-1)
Next game: home vs. Dallas
Giant fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Mustache man, Ben McAdoo is gone and can no longer hurt your team. New York is having a disastrous season but at 2-10, they have a lot of talent still. The defense is a couple of players away from being elite. The offense has Odell Beckham Jr. and Evan Engram to build around. Their focus needs to be solidifying their offensive line and finding a workhorse running back. If they do that they can still win with Eli Manning at quarterback. He does not have to be replaced yet.
30. Denver Broncos (3-9)
Last week: 29 (-1)
Next game: home vs. New York Jets
Getting blown out by Miami has shown just how far the Broncos have fallen this season. Nothing is going right and they need to hit the reset button. The Jets will be coming to town to put a beatdown on the Broncos. This once feared defense is now 31st in scoring defense giving up 26.2 points per game. Going forward they will need to fix this defense or find a new identity.
29. Chicago Bears (3-9)
Last week: 28 (-1)
Next game: away vs. Cincinnati
The Bears might not be a playoff contender but man does their future look exciting with players like Tarik Cohen and Mitchell Trubisky. Their defensive play has gone under the radar because they are eliminated from the playoffs. The only thing the Bears can do for the remainder of this season is build momentum for the future.
28. San Francisco 49ers (2-10)
Last week: 31 (+3)
Next game: away vs. Houston
Jimmy Garoppolo has generated a buzz in San Francisco. It appears that he will be the franchise quarterback moving forward. This is good news for the 49ers who will have another top-five pick to build their team. As they continue to build their defense Garoppolo can provide the consistency needed from a signal caller. If the defense steps up next season and the front office gets Jimmy G some weapons on the outside, then the 49ers will be one of the surprise playoff teams as early as next year.
27. Indianapolis Colts (3-9)
Last week: 27 (no change)
Next game: away vs. Buffalo
The Colts defense has kept them in most of their games but it usually breaks in the second half. One thing to keep an eye on for the remainder of the Colts’ season is Frank Gore. Gore is only 368 yards from another 1,000 yard and at age 34 which is remarkable. He is also just 404 yards away from passing Curtis Martin for fourth on the all-time rushing list. If he can reach that mark in the final four games it would be the highlight of the Colts’ season.
26. Miami Dolphins (5-7)
Last week: 26 (no change)
Next game: home vs. New England
Miami blew out the Broncos to end their five-game losing streak. Jay Cutler threw for 235 yards and Kenyan Drake ran for 120 yards on just 23 carries. Drake is proving he could be the feature back moving forward. This week the Dolphins will host the Patriots and Miami have lost three straight to New England and four of the last five.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8)
Last week: 24 (-1)
Next game: home vs. Detroit
Fixing the defense should be the number one priority this offseason. Jameis Winston is a really good young quarterback but the Bucs could end up wasting his talents. The offense around Winston is very solid as well with O.J. Howard, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Doug Martin could be replaced with a more reliable back but overall the offense is solid. The defense must step it up but they can’t salvage this season.
24. New York Jets (5-7)
Last week: 25 (+1)
Next game: away vs. Denver
Somehow, someway the Jets have won five games and continue to be the most unpredictable team in the NFL. They are mathematically alive in the playoff hunt but don’t get it twisted, they are not a playoff caliber team. They should find themselves in the win column again with a road trip to Denver on the schedule. But then again, if anybody could lose to Denver at this point in the season, don’t be surprised if it is the Jets.
23. Arizona Cardinals (5-7)
Last week: 22 (-1)
Next game: home vs. Tennessee
Bruce Arians is a damn good coach who has kept the Cardinals very competitive despite losing David Johnson and Carson Palmer this season. Arizona is struggling to score points but if they had Johnson and Palmer they would be fairing much better. After dropping a game to the Rams the Cardinals get to host the playoff-bound Titans and it will be a tough test.
22. Houston Texans (4-8)
Last week: 23 (+1)
Next game: home vs. San Francisco
For some reason, the Texans threw the ball 49 times with Tom Savage. Anybody who knows anything about football knows that a team can not win with Savage throwing that ball that often. Houston needs to run the ball more and 22 attempts are not enough. It is no surprise they lost to the Titans because of this formula. If they have a similar gameplan against the 49ers they will lose to them as well.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (5-7)
Last week: 19 (-2)
Next game: home vs. Chicago
Cincinnati had a 17 point lead at home against their rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Blowing that game may have cost them a shot at the playoffs. Looking back at that game, it summarizes Marvin Lewis’ time in Cincinnati. In the beginning, it looked great and there have been multiple displays of greatness. At the end though, they always come up short. Cincinnati needs a change of culture and Marvin Lewis needs to be fired.
20. Kansas City Chiefs (6-6)
Last week: 14 (-6)
Next game: home vs. Oakland
Losing to the Jets is the last straw. This team will miss the playoffs and be a footnote in history of the teams that got off to a hot start but eventually folded. Andy Reid finally got back to airing it out and opening the offense for Alex Smith but then the defense decided to go missing. Kansas City has a virtual playoff game this week but the way their season has gone recently they will probably lose again for the seventh time in eight games.
19. Buffalo Bills (6-6)
Last week: 13 (-6)
Next game: home vs. Indianapolis Colts
Buffalo only managed to score three points against the Patriots. LeSean McCoy was held to just 93 yards and as a team, they only threw for 115 yards. The Bills are still in the hunt in the AFC wildcard picture but their schedule doesn’t look favorable. Buffalo should beat Indy this week but then they have to face Miami twice and New England one more time. The benching of Tyrod Taylor against the Chargers might end up being the difference when it is all said and done.
18. Oakland Raiders (6-6)
Last week: 18 (no change)
Next game: away vs. Kansas City
The Raiders control their own destiny in the AFC West as the Chiefs and Chargers are both 6-6 as well. If they win their next four games they will win the division title but they have Kansas City this week followed by Dallas, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Chargers. It will not be easy to accomplish but if they run the table it would be well earned.
17. Washington Redskins (5-7)
(Photo Credit: AP Photo)
Last week: 16 (-1)
Next game: away vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Washington got completely manhandled by the Cowboys and that is a disturbing outcome. The Redskins will not make the playoffs and still have to worry about Kirk Cousins walking away from them this offseason. If that happens Washington will no longer have an identity and will have to start yet another rebuild. They must travel to Los Angeles to face the scorching hot Chargers.
16. Green Bay Packers (6-6)
Last week: 20 (+4)
Next game: away vs. Cleveland
Green Bay got a much needed, momentum building, win against the Buccaneers. All they have to do is beat Cleveland and then they get Aaron Rodgers back for the final three games. 10 wins are typically the benchmark to make the playoffs and with Aaron Rodgers returning it is very possible they reach that benchmark. Cleveland should present an easy opportunity for a win. The rest of the NFC should be on the lookout for the Packers.
15. Detroit Lions (6-6)
Last week: 15 (no change)
Next game: away vs. Tampa Bay
The Lions have lost back to back important games and must finish the season on a four-game win streak to have a shot at making the playoffs. Detroit’s final four games include the Buccaneers, Bears, Bengals and Packers. All their remaining games are winnable. One thing the Lions must do is play better defense as they are giving up 25.7 points per game which is sixth worst in the NFL. Matthew Stafford can’t do it all himself and if the defense doesn’t lend a hand then Detroit will miss the playoffs.
14. Dallas Cowboys (6-6)
Last week: 17 (+3)
Next game: away vs. New York Giants
The Cowboys season may have changed for the better after a huge win against their biggest rival, the Redskins, 38-14. Dallas got back to running the ball. Alfred Morris had 27 carries for 127 yards and one touchdown. Dallas sits at 6-6 and is on the outside looking in of the playoffs. if they can win four straight, like many other teams, they will find themselves in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they still have games against the Raiders, Seahawks and Eagles so the playoffs do not look likely.
13. Baltimore Ravens (7-5)
Last week: 21 (+8)
Next game: away vs. Pittsburgh
For a while now I have not given the Ravens the credit that they have earned. Their defense has been recognized but their inept offense gave a cause for pause. After thrashing the Lions, it is clear that the Ravens will likely be a playoff team. Now, they probably won’t go too deep into the playoffs but this a good team. If they get an upset win on the road this week, they are all but a lock for a playoff berth and could even have a shot at winning the division.
12. Tennessee Titans (8-4)
Last week: 12 (no change)
Next game: away vs. Arizona
Tennessee is an old-school football team that pounds the rock behind two really good running backs. Derek Henry is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and a total of 629 yards while DeMarco Murray has racked up 518 yards. As a team, Tennessee is averaging 122 yards per game on the ground. Marcus Mariota has the ability to get hot at any moment and if he does then the Titans become a darkhorse in the AFC.
11. Atlanta Falcons (7-5)
Last week: 8 (-3)
Next game: home vs. New Orleans
How many times have these Atlanta Falcons been held to under 10 points and no touchdowns at home? Not very often. The loss at home to the Vikings dampers their chance of returning to the playoffs. However, if they can find some of that old offensive magic this week against the Saints, then they still have a shot at winning the division.
10. Carolina Panthers (8-4)
Last week: 7 (-3)
Next game: home vs. Minnesota
Carolina does not match up well with the Saints. New Orleans swept Carolina and holds all the tiebreakers against them. The Panthers don’t get much of a chance to catch their breath either because the first seeded Vikings are coming to town to finish their road trip. The Panthers are going to have to control the clock. If they can win the time of possession they will tire out Minnesota’s stellar defense and have a shot at winning.
9. Los Angeles Chargers (6-6)
Last week: 9 (no change)
Next game: home vs. Washington
Los Angeles is one of the hottest teams in the league, winning six of their last eight. That is why they are ranked in the top ten of these rankings. The Chargers have caught up to the Chiefs. Nobody wants to play the Chargers because they can get after the quarterback and create havoc for opposing offense. On the other side of the ball, they have an experienced quarterback and a young running back to rely on. Los Angeles will continue to win games and just like the Titans, be a darkhorse to challenge in the AFC.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4)
Last week: 10 (-2)
Next game: home vs. Seattle
Jacksonville’s defense is Super Bowl caliber and can lead them deep into the playoffs as long as Blake Bortles doesn’t mess it up. The Jaguars rank first in total defense (282.5 yards allowed per game), passing defense (167.1 passing yards allowed per game), sacks (45) and second in takeaways (27). Seattle will be a difficult challenge but Jacksonville has the luxury of playing this one at home.
7. Seattle Seahawks (8-4)
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Last week: 11 (+4)
Next game: away vs. Jacksonville
Just how good is Russell Wilson? He has the Seahawks winning games with a horrible offensive line and half of the Legion of Boom missing. Wilson should be the favorite to win the MVP award because without him the Seahawks would be lucky to have three wins. Wilson has thrown for 3,256, 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Beating the Eagles was a statement to the rest of the NFC that the Seahawks are not to be overlooked.
6. New Orleans Saints (9-3)
Last week: 6 (no change)
Next game: away vs. Atlanta
There is no better running back duo in the NFL than Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. This duo is doing so well they need a nickname. Ingram likes Boom and Zoom but I am sure they can find a better one. New Orleans has swept Carolina because of these awesome backs that have led the way. If they can repeat that success against Atlanta this week they will put a nice hold on the division.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)
Last week: 2 (-3)
Next game: away vs. Los Angeles Rams
Philly had their long win streak snapped and it wasn’t a huge surprise. Winning in Seattle is tough and the Eagles had not been in many close games against good teams. The defense was a bit exposed and may struggle to shut down the Rams explosive offense. Carson Wentz will need to play great to keep the Eagles soaring.
4. Los Angeles Rams (9-3)
Last week: 5 (+1)
Next game: home vs. Philadelphia
Los Angeles has been on a scheduling gauntlet lately. The recently played the Vikings and Saints and now they have to face the Eagles. This is a big game for both teams as they are fighting for a possible first-round bye and possibly home-field advantage. Their recent win against the Cardinals was a tune-up for this showdown. There should be fireworks as the teams are tied for first in scoring offense averaging 30.1 points per game.
3. Minnesota Vikings (10-2)
Last week: 4 (+1)
Next game: away vs. Carolina
The Vikings are a win away from clinching the division title. All they have to do is win one game against the Panthers, Bengals, Packers and Bears. That should be easy enough for a team with a defense as strong as theirs. Case Keenum continues his MVP-level play completing 25 of 30 pass attempts against the Falcons. He didn’t throw a single incompletion in the second half. Minnesota has a third straight road game this week against the Panthers. It will be impressive if they can pull off another win.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-2)
Last week: 3 (+1)
Next game: home vs. Baltimore
The Steelers keep catching flack for winning close games against inferior teams but wins are hard to come by in the NFL. A win is good no matter if it is by one or 100 and Pittsburgh just keeps winning. They are earning a lot of experience for close battles they will encounter in the playoffs. When the playoffs start the Steelers will find themselves prepared for anything and everything.
1. New England Patriots (10-2)
Last week: 1 (no change)
Next game: away vs. Miami
New England continues to win games and look like champions while doing it. The Patriots are the best team in the NFL because they have the greatest coach and quarterback of all-time. Their defense is coming off a great performance against the Bills allowing just three points. New England has nothing to worry about and are gearing up for their favorite time of the year.
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