All In The Cards: Week 12 Recap and Ranking Every Team By Category

Welcome to the Week 12 NFL recap! We are entering the final month of the season so that means it’s time for the NFL Playoff Machine! It also means that by now most teams have fallen into a particular category and this week I will designate which category every team falls under. In addition I’ll have my takes on last week’s games but they will be a little shorter this time. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Let’s see which category each team falls under with a month to go:

The Super Bowl Contenders: Carolina Panthers (11-0), New England Patriots (10-1), Arizona Cardinals (9-2), Denver Broncos (9-2), Cincinnati Bengals (9-2).

Obviously these aren’t the only teams that can win the Super Bowl (after all we have quite a few examples of fringe playoff teams getting hot over the last month and riding that momentum to a title), but right now I think no one would be surprised if any of these five teams hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in February. I thought about giving the Panthers their own spot as they are the only undefeated team left, but perfect season or not their goal is still to win the Super Bowl. I do think that they have become the favorite thanks to all of the Patriots’ injuries but they are not a lock by any means. The Cardinals will want revenge for losing to the Panthers in last year’s playoffs while the Patriots and the Bengals have offenses capable of overcoming Carolina’s defense and the Broncos have a defense capable of shutting down Cam Newton.

Want A Little More Than Just Make Playoffs: Minnesota Vikings (8-3), Green Bay Packers (7-4), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5), Seattle Seahawks (6-5), Indianapolis Colts (6-5), Kansas City Chiefs (6-5).

These are teams who will not be satisfied with just making the playoffs. If there is a “hot playoff team” this season, it will probably come from this group with the Seahawks and the Steelers as the likely suspects. The Vikings are here and not in the contenders group for the time being, but could easily jump if they beat the Seahawks this week and either beat or come close to beating the Cardinals next week. The Packers are also a team that could jump up but they have been so unimpressive the last few weeks I don’t think you can call them contenders at the moment. The Chiefs are currently the hot team but I wonder if they might have peaked a few weeks too early and will cool off by the start of the playoffs. The Colts are only in this group because they are still placing high expectations on themselves even though those expectations seem a little unrealistic at the moment.

Just Happy If They Make The Playoffs: Atlanta Falcons (6-5), Houston Texans (6-5), New York Jets (6-5), Chicago Bears (5-6), Buffalo Bills (5-6), New York Giants (5-6), Washington Redskins (5-6).

In college basketball this group would be called the “bubble”. At least one of these teams will make the playoffs (because the rules state someone has to win the NFC East) but there is a possibility that two or even three could play in January. What separates these teams from the group above is that there are no expectations if they make the playoffs. The Texans and Bears have turned things around and can already consider this season a success as long as they don’t self-combust over the last few weeks. The playoffs would just be icing on the cake for them. The Jets and the Bills want to make the playoffs just so they can start off their new coaching regimes with some promise for the future. The Falcons want to make the playoffs just so they don’t become one of the few teams in NFL history to start 5-0 and miss the playoffs. The Redskins just want to make their fans proud of them again and winning the division, and subsequently making the playoffs, would be the best way to do that. Finally, while you can never count out Eli Manning in the postseason, I’m pretty sure that Giants’ fans know that expecting more than a playoff berth would be asking for too much from this team.

Teams Trying To End The Season With Some Momentum: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6), Oakland Raiders (5-6), Detroit Lions (4-7), Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7), San Diego Chargers (3-8).

While the Buccaneers, Raiders, and Lions all still have an outside shot of winning a wild card spot, I placed them in this category because they also still have a chance at a top-10 draft pick if they tank the rest of the season. Honestly, either direction would help the team in the long run but they need to decide now before they go 7-9 and miss out on both. The Jaguars and Chargers on the other hand would actually benefit from finishing 7-9 or 8-8 so they can gain momentum going into next season, where they would have a shot to take a step forward.

Want Nightmare Season Just To End: New Orleans Saints (4-7), Miami Dolphins (4-7), St. Louis Rams (4-7), Baltimore Ravens (4-7), Philadelphia Eagles (4-7), Dallas Cowboys (3-8).

While all of these teams theoretically still have a chance to make the playoffs, all are very unlikely to be in contention much longer due to the turmoil that is currently surrounding them. The Ravens and the Cowboys are actually decent teams that in a parallel world where they avoided injuries and bad luck would be in the thick of the playoff race. The Saints and the Rams are on the fence as to whether or not they should blow things up and start rebuilding. The Dolphins are doing their best not to have to rebuild by getting rid of coaches left and right. Then we have Philadelphia. The Eagles shouldn’t be in this category as they are only one game behind the Redskins and the Giants in the NFC East race. With neither of those teams likely to run the table, the Eagles still have plenty of chances to make up the deficit and win the division. That is, if they hadn’t imploded these past two weeks. I don’t see how they turn things around after just allowing 10 passing touchdowns to Jameis Winston and Matthew Stafford back-to-back. In fact, I’d be surprised if they win another game this season. Even if this team somehow wins the division, I doubt this season would still be considered anything else than a failure unless they won a playoff game.

Fighting For Draft Position: San Francisco 49ers (3-8), Tennessee Titans (2-9), Cleveland Browns (2-9).

The difference between these three teams (since technically they aren’t yet eliminated from playoff contention) and the ones above is that the expectations for these teams were considerably lower heading into the season, making these situations nowhere near as dire. I know some may argue that the 49ers are a proud organization and so this should be considered a nightmare season for San Francisco, but everyone else knew this team would stink this season. You could also make an argument for the Titans and Browns, stating they will probably have to start over after this season. However, neither was expected to do anything this season so a rebuild was always possible from the beginning. There’s a chance that some other team earns the first overall pick, but right now these three teams are the leaders.

How I Did With My Week 12 NFL Predictions:

  • Arizona 19, San Francisco 13: This was maybe the worst officiated game I have ever seen. People have been talking about the terrible “roughing the passer “call on Quinton Dial’s sack of Carson Palmer and how the Cardinals weren’t penalized for snapping the ball after the play clock expired, but there were some equally horrendous call that went against Arizona. The referees called the 49ers’ “too many men on the field” penalty as a live ball foul and cost the Cardinals a down in the redzone and on another play an incomplete pass was ruled as “illegal touching” because they thought the receiver caught it with two feet in-bounds and you can’t review penalties. (1-0)
  • Detroit 45, Philadelphia 14: I actually thought the Lions might obliterate the Eagles but I didn’t have the guts to make the prediction last week. Now that I know that the Eagles’ defense has checked out, I won’t be afraid to make this prediction in the future. (2-0)
  • Carolina 33, Dallas 14: Maybe it’s for the best that Tony Romo got injured again so the Cowboys can tank the rest of the season and get a high draft pick instead of fighting for a useless playoff spot that will do nothing to help the franchise going forward. (3-0)
  • Chicago 17, Green Bay 13: You are on national television, during Thanksgiving, where you are retiring Brett Favre’s number and have the great Bart Starr in attendance, and you play like that? Bears deserve a lot of credit for the win, but I just don’t understand how the Packers have fallen off so much. (3-1)
  • Minnesota 20, Atlanta 10: I gave up on the Falcons last week so this didn’t come as a surprise. What did catch my eye was how the Vikings rebounded from the home loss to Green Bay. Also, I stand by what I said last week about Adrian Peterson deserving to be in the MVP conversation. (4-1)
  • Kansas City 30, Buffalo 22: The Chiefs look like the hot playoff team at the moment but I’m not sure they can keep up this level of play for the rest of the season and during a playoff run. I mean, sooner or later Alex Smith will throw another interception. (5-1)
  • Cincinnati 31, St. Louis 7: Bengals got back on track with a dominant win over a Rams team that is falling apart fast. Also, since the Texans are playing great ball and have a shot at either a division title or a wild card spot, the Bengals no longer have a bad loss on their resume. (6-1)
  • Oakland 24, Tennessee 21: Entertaining game between two young teams. However, the fact it was this hard for the Raiders to win tells me this isn’t the same team from the beginning of the season and that even though they won they probably aren’t in the playoff race anymore. (7-1)
  • Indianapolis 25, Tampa Bay 12: A humbling loss for the Buccaneers, who may have gotten caught up in all the media excitement of them possibly making the playoffs. Also, how well does Matt Hasselbeck have to play before we start talking about whether or not Andrew Luck gets his job back? (I’m talking strictly this season. It may be in the Colts’ best interest to sit him out the rest of this season and guarantee he’s healthy for next season.) (8-1)
  • New York Jets 38, Miami 20: A season-saving win for the Jets, who have somehow found their swagger after looking rather bland the last few weeks. Then again, it may just be a product of facing the Dolphins. Their game against the Giants will be a better test to see if they can make a run. (9-1)
  • Houston 24, New Orleans 6: As I already mentioned, the Texans have not only played their way into a tie for the division, but have also put themselves near the top of the wild card standings. Such a huge turnaround for a team that couldn’t decide on quarterback for the first several weeks. (10-1)
  • Washington 20, New York Giants 14: If the Redskins win the division that means they will play a home game in the playoffs. That means the Redskins will have good Kirk Cousins (11TDs, 2INTs at home) in the playoffs and will give the NFC East a chance to actually win a playoff game. (10-2)
  • San Diego 31, Jacksonville 25: What little hopes of the Jaguars somehow winning the AFC South probably ended this weekend when you combine this loss with how the Colts and Texans are playing right now. However, there’s still a lot going for this team if they finish strong. (10-3)
  • Seattle 39, Pittsburgh 30: A huge win for the Seahawks that currently has them in the final wild card spot. However, in that game they also lost Jimmy Graham (who was starting to click with the offense) and confirmed that the Legion Of Boom is no longer an elite defense, just a good one. (10-4)
  • Denver 30, New England 24: It should be made clear that the Broncos, not Brock Osweiler, beat the Patriots on Sunday night. That being said, with every win Osweiler gets, it becomes harder and harder to argue that Peyton Manning should get his job back. (10-5)
  • Baltimore 33, Cleveland 27: Just read this. It’s a list of all 43 games the Browns have lost in the last minute since they returned in 1999. I thought as a Cardinals fan I had seen heartbreak. Aside from the Super Bowl loss, I can’t begin to comprehend the amount of heartbreak the Browns have endured. (10-6)

 
Week 11 Record: 10-6
Season Record: 110-66 (.625)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

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All In The Cards: Midseason Grades For All 32 Teams (Week 9/Bye Week)

Welcome to a special bye week edition of All In the Cards! Just because the Arizona Cardinals have off this week doesn’t mean that I get the week off too. However, this week I’m going to take a different approach. Since the Cards’ bye week just happened to land at the midpoint of the season, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to give my midseason grades for every team as well as my midseason awards. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s grade every team so far this season based on expectations:

Midseason Grades:

AFC East:

  • New England Patriots: A+
    • If any team deserves an A+, it’s the Patriots. You would think they would be satisfied finally earning their fourth Super Bowl last year, but this team is gunning for history. Five championships would permanently cement Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as the best in NFL history at their positions. This team has a good chance to complete their second perfect regular season.
  • New York Jets: B
    • Todd Bowles has done wonders for the Jets, as they team has already taken on his personality. The defense is a typical aggressive Bowles defense and the offense has been better than expected thanks to the offseason additions of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall. Tendency to beat themselves and the recent loss to the Raiders prevented this from being an A.
  • Buffalo Bills: C
    • The Bills had such a great start to the season, but injuries have hampered what looked like a promising season, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Key offensive players such as Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, and Sammy Watkins have all missed playing time. The offense will be fine when everyone is healthy. The real surprise is the defense, which started off really well but has been burned multiple times the past few weeks.
  • Miami Dolphins: C-
    • The Dolphins under Dan Campbell would probably get a B+/A- grade, but I’m grading the entire first half of the season so that includes the ugly start under Joe Philbin. While the Dolphins have played great lately (minus the blowout loss to New England), this was a team expected to compete for the AFC East so a record of 3-4 is still disappointing. They still have a chance to turn things around a compete for a wild card.

AFC North

  • Cincinnati Bengals: A+
    • I expect the Patriots to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but if they don’t it will be due to the Bengals beating them. What’s so cool about this team in particular is that an organization is finally being rewarded for years of development as players like Andy Dalton and Tyler Eifert are having career years. As long as Dalton doesn’t revert, I think this team has to be considered one of the favorites.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: B-
    • The Steelers haven’t had the best of luck, never really having a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell at the same time. Luckily the defense has been better than expected, which is why the team was able to stay afloat when Big Ben was out. They have an uphill battle with the loss of Bell and a tough second half schedule, but this team has already shown this season they can grind through the hard times.
  • Baltimore Ravens: D+
    • I could be mean and give the Ravens a failing grade, but the truth of the matter is that the Ravens are a decent team but have been really unlucky. In all six losses,they have had the ball late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win. To me, the crunch time struggles has more to do with Joe Flacco’s unfamiliarity with Marc Trestman’s system and his receivers than it does with Flacco himself.
  • Cleveland Browns: C
    • Despite their record, the Browns been a decent surprise and have played good teams (such as Oakland, Denver, and Arizona) really tough. However, it’s the record that gives them a C grade and makes this season seem like another disappointment. There’s also the fact that the Manziel vs McCown debate doesn’t really have a definitive answer, which is hurting the identity of this offense.

AFC South

  • Indianapolis Colts: D
    • Despite all the turmoil Indianapolis has gone through this season, the Colts still lead the AFC South. For that reason alone, no matter how badly they have underachieved, I can’t give them a failing grade. What’s sad is that all three of the Colts’ wins have come against other AFC South teams. What’s even sadder is that all they need to do is win their other three games against the AFC South and they’ll win the division.
  • Houston Texans: C
    • Some people are calling the Texans’ first half of the season a disappointment but I didn’t expect a lot out of the Texans this season anyway. The fact that they have switched between quarterbacks, watched their franchise running back get injured again, and have seen their once strong defense get humiliated multiple times, just makes the fact that they are tied for first in their division both impressive and sad.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: B-
    • While this may look like your typical 2-5 Jaguars team at a glance, what we have here is a scrappy team that is finally showing progress but still can’t get over the hump. Besides getting annihilated by the Patriots, Jacksonville has been competitive in every one of its games. We are also seeing some promise from young guys like Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, and T.J. Yeldon. The wins should come soon if they continue to improve.
  • Tennessee Titans: C-
    • A lot has happened since the Titans blew out the Buccaneers in week one. For one thing, the Titans have a new head coach because they haven’t won since. However, I expected this kind of season from the Titans so I’m not going to give them too terrible of a grade. Being only two games behind the Colts in the AFC South, I think the Titans will try to make a second half push, even though getting another top five pick would be a better plan.

AFC West

  • Denver Broncos: A-
    • The reason the Broncos are the only undefeated team not to get an A+ from me is because the defense has deteriorated a lot faster than expected. They seem to have a plan going forward, becoming more of a running team, but sooner or later they will need Peyton Manning to throw to win an important game. I still think he can do it but he’s no longer a sure bet. However, that defense is a sure bet.
  • Oakland Raiders: A+
    • It’s been a while but there is finally light in the Black Hole. The emergence of Derek Carr has given the Raiders a shot at making the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. Like Jacksonville, Oakland is also seeing improvement from its young skill position players (Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray) and were able to hit the jackpot with the Michael Crabtree signing. Jack Del Rio won’t win Coach of the Year, but he deserves consideration.
  • Kansas City Chiefs: C
    • Everything looked like it was going downhill when Jamaal Charles was lost for the season, but the Chiefs have rebounded to win their last two. While they find themselves still very much in the playoff picture, I think the Chiefs will not be able to find reliable offense often enough to stay in the playoff race. If anything, the rest of this season can be used as a test to see if Alex Smith is this team’s answer at quarterback.
  • San Diego Chargers: D+
    • I knew the Chargers were going to bad, but watching Philip Rivers trying to single-handedly keep this team afloat is heartbreaking. The Chargers really need to improve their running game as it ranks as the fourth worst in the NFL (86.4ypg). Not only that, but the defense allows the sixth most points per game (28.4). If the Chargers are able to win three more games I would call that a success.

NFC East

  • New York Giants: C
    • Starting the season 0-2, winning your next three games then losing by 20 on national television to one division rival only to beat another division rival the next week? Yep, sounds like a typical Giants’ season to me. The only real problem I see going forward has to do with the defense allowing 52 to New Orleans. Defenses have hard time recovering after giving up so many points so that will be something to watch the rest of the season.
  • Washington Redskins: B-
    • I honestly thought the Redskins would only have one win at most and a new head coach by the time week nine came rolling along. However, I have been really surprised by the toughness this Redskins team has shown as they have battled every game, even against some good opponents. I don’t know if they can keep it up, but they have definitely been one of the pleasant first half surprises in the NFL.
  • Philadelphia Eagles: C-
    • The Eagles had one of the most bizarre and confusing offseasons that I can remember so it is only right that their season has also been bizarre and confusing to this point. Defensively the Eagles are better than expected, but that revamped offense has been hit-or-miss with Sam Bradford really struggling at times. If Bradford can’t string a series of good games together I don’t see the Eagles making the playoffs.
  • Dallas Cowboys: D
    • I wanted to give the Cowboys a pass or at least an incomplete grade due to the absence of Tony Romo, but the way they have handled Greg Hardy’s recent troubles is going to doom this team before Romo can get back on the field. Such a shame too as they looked very promising during those first couple of games, especially on offense post-DeMarco Murray. However, it looks like their window of opportunity has finally closed.

NFC North

  • Green Bay Packers: A
    • Even after a loss to undefeated Denver, I would have considered still giving the Packers an A+, but it was how they lost that game that made me slightly downgrade them. While the Broncos defense is without a doubt the best in the NFL, they completely shutdown the Packers offense. It’s only one loss and the Packers will be fine, but now we know there is a way to stop Rodgers and company. However only a few teams are capable.
  • Minnesota Vikings: A
    • It seems like ages ago that this same Vikings team was handled by the San Francisco 49ers 20-3. Since then the Vikings have won every game save a three-point loss to the Broncos. They haven’t been pretty, but this isn’t college football so you don’t need style points. All you need is wins and the Vikings keep finding ways to win. Reminds of last season’s Arizona Cardinals in some ways, especially how the Vikings’ defense has played.
  • Chicago Bears: C-
    • The Bears are a hard team to evaluate because they are only two two fourth quarter stops away from being 0-7. Yet this team has played much better than a potential winless team, especially when the got Jay Cutler back from his hamstring injury. I don’t think they are going anywhere this season, but if they can continue to improve as the season goes along, I think John Fox’s team be set up for the long run.
  • Detroit Lions: F
    • Every team has a bad day now and again, so I was going to look past the Lions debacle against the Cardinals. I was going to look past the fact that Detroit was the last team to pick up its first win. However, when you mess up so bad (firing your offensive coordinator and then losing 45-10 to the Chiefs the next week) that your owner fires both your general manager and team president midseason, I have no choice but to fail you.

NFC South

  • Carolina Panthers: A+
    • Each week the Panthers remind me more and more of the Seahawks team that won the Super Bowl just a couple of years ago. Their defense has passed all expectations and somehow Cam Newton is making it work on offense with only Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn Jr. as reliable receivers. It’s really hard to believe this is almost the exact same team that made it to the playoffs on a technicality. They will have earned it this year.
  • Atlanta Falcons: A
    • The defense has completely transformed under new head coach Dan Quinn, while Matt Ryan and the offense have been reborn in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme. The only thing keeping the Falcons from a perfect grade is the fact that they have had to rely on huge second half comebacks to earn the majority of their wins this season. While a win is a win and there are no style points, relying on comebacks can backfire very badly.
  • New Orleans: C
    • After a 1-4 start, the Saints have won three in a row and they have been against decent teams. There was a huge transition for the offense to start the season with the departure of Jimmy Graham but it seems Drew Brees feels comfortable again based on his seven-touchdown performance against the Giants. The defense still needs a lot of fixing and will probably prevent them from making a run at the playoffs.
  • Tampa Bay: C
    • Everyone knew this would be a transition year for the Buccaneers and it has played out exactly like one to this point. This team is constantly learning and sometimes you have to fail to properly learn. That’s what happened recently when the Bucs lost after blowing a big lead against the Redskins and then holding on the next week when they blew another lead to the Falcons. Things seem to be going right on track.

NFC West

  • Arizona Cardinals: A-
    • I’ll go more in-depth on my midseason evaluation of the Cardinals during my week nine recap, but the short version is that the Cards left some wins on the table. For as well as the Cardinals have played this season they should have won against St. Louis and they should have been able to adjust to the Steelers change at quarterback. The only surprising thing from the Cardinals has been the rebirth of Chris Johnson.
  • St. Louis Rams: B+
    • The Rams were a mess offensively to start the season, but they have since found their identity thanks to a historic start by running back Todd Gurley. With that front seven and Gurley to eat up time on the offensive end, opponents face a huge challenge when trying to overcome a deficit. Rams’ management has spent years planning this team out and they are finally starting to see the fruits of their labor.
  • Seattle Seahawks: C+
    • The Seahawks have had a roller-coaster of a season so far  and even though they haven’t performed as well as they did the last two seasons, the fact is that they sit at .500 with a huge opportunity to get within one game of the NFC West lead if the beat the Cardinals. The most surprising thing we’ve seen from the Seahawks is that the defense, and specifically the secondary, hasn’t been consistently great, which could cost them later in the season.
  • San Francisco: D-
    • All you need to know about the 49ers’ season is that they are benching Colin Kaepernick for Blaine Gabbert. The only reason I don’t give them a failing grade is that they have been competitive in quite a few games and even have the upset win over the Vikings. Other than that, this was the down season every 49ers’ fan was dreading after they fired John Harbaugh.

Midseason Awards:

MVP: Tom Brady

Offensive POY: Philip Rivers

Defensive POY: Aqib Talib

Rookie of the Year: Todd Gurley

Comeback POY: Chris Johnson

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick

Assistant Coach of the Year: Wade Phillips, Denver Broncos Defensive Coordinator

My Week 9 NFL Predictions:

  • Cincinnati 27, Cleveland 13
  • Miami 23, Buffalo 20
  • Green Bay 24, Carolina 17
  • New Orleans 31, Tennessee 16
  • Pittsburgh 23, Oakland 21
  • Minnesota 19, St. Louis 16
  • New England 38, Washington 17
  • New York Jets 24, Jacksonville 14
  • Atlanta 28, San Francisco 10
  • New York Giants 38, Tampa Bay 34
  • Denver 27, Indianapolis 17
  • Philadelphia 31, Dallas 20
  • Chicago 27, San Diego 21

Week 8 Record: 9-5
Week 9 Record: 1-0
Season Record: 79-41 (.658)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2
 

All In The Cards: Week 8 Recap

Welcome to the week eight recap of All In The Cards. A lot of wild and crazy things happened last weekend so there are quite a few things to talk about, including the firing of some coaches, some key injuries, and a particular quarterback-benching. The Cardinals are on bye this week but there will still be a regular All In The Cards this week as I will give my midseason grades for each team as well as midseason awards. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s see how I did with my week eight picks:

How I did with my Week 8 NFL Predictions:

  • Arizona 34, Cleveland 20: This game was a tale of two halves. The first half featured the Cardinals of old, as they continuously shot themselves in the foot and let the Browns rack up a 21-7 lead. The pressure of being the favorite was getting to them and after one Chris Johnson fumble (his first of the season) things started to unravel as both the offense and defense were pushed around by the Browns. Despite a late field goal, it looked like the Cardinals had fallen prey to the trap game. Then the Cardinals did something they never do. Instead of playing scared, the Cards played angry. Right from the second half kickoff, the defense smothered the Browns offense, only allowing 86 total yards and forcing two turnovers. The Browns never scored again while the Cardinals offense scored 24 points in the second half to pull out the victory. To the regular observer this seems like an underwhelming win for the Cards but it is more than that. The Cardinals won their first game this season where they lost the turnover battle (the Cards had four turnovers to the Browns two), thus breaking down the preconception that this team only wins when things go their way. The Cards took this game and now have a bye before they face the Seahawks in what will be the biggest game of Arizona’s season so far. (1-0)
  • New England 36, Miami 7: Even toddlers who can’t put together full sentences know that the Patriots’ offense is excellent, but what we saw Thursday night was that the Patriots’ defense is also a pretty good. They held a Dolphins’ offense that had scored a combined 82 points in their last two games to just a measly seven points. Even more impressive is that the Patriots’ run defense held the Dolphins to 15 rushing yards after Miami accumulated 428 rushing yards over its past two games. If the Patriots’ defense can play like they did Thursday night on a consistent basis, we may see Tom Brady and company complete their second perfect regular season. (2-0)
  • Kansas City 45, Detroit 10: A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that you should never fire a coach unless you know for a fact that the coach, not the players, is the reason you are failing. We saw a couple of teams part ways with a coach this week and for their sake they better be right or else the same thing that happened to the Lions will happen to them. In their first game after firing offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, the Lions were humiliated by the Chiefs as Detroit tied a season-low 10 points scored. The Lions’ eighth ranked passing game threw for only 195 yards against a Chiefs’ defense that ranks a mediocre 21st in pass defense. Either the Lions replaced Lombardi with the wrong guy or it’s the group of players that should shoulder the blame. (3-0)
  • Tampa Bay 23, Atlanta 20: While fourth quarter comebacks are exciting, at some point you need to ask yourself why do you need to make these comebacks all the time? That’s the position the Falcons see themselves in at the moment as their flare for waiting until the fourth quarter to make a run has finally come back to haunt them. Give credit to the Buccaneers, who had a similar lead last week against the Redskins but collapsed in the second half, for finding a way to win in overtime, but this was a long time coming for the Falcons. Despite being 6-2, the Falcons are nowhere near that good when you realize they have trailed in the fourth quarter during six of their eight games. That means the Falcons are only a few plays away from being 2-6. The Falcons need to find out why they keep falling behind because as you saw on Sunday, those deficits are starting to catch up with them. (3-1)
  • Minnesota 23, Chicago 20: Down seven with less than five minutes left to go on the road at a place where you have lost seven straight. That was the position the Vikings found themselves after Jay Cutler ran in for the go-ahead touchdown to put the Bears ahead late in the fourth quarter. What we saw was a Vikings’ team grow up and pull through in crunch time. Let me say this because I know some people might want to call me a hypocrite for praising the Vikings comeback but criticizing the Falcons for always having to come back: the difference is that the Vikings were tied in the fourth quarter before seeing the Bears retake the lead, thus prompting the Vikings to have to score late to win. The Falcons on the other hand fall behind early by multiple scores and then start to play better in the fourth quarter. The Vikings showed resolve by falling behind late and coming out with the win. That’s the sign of a well-coached team. (4-1)
  • Cincinnati 16, Pittsburgh 10: When you combine this loss with the loss of Le’Veon Bell, this may be the game the Steelers look back to if they don’t make the playoffs. While DeAngelo Williams should be able to keep the running game afloat in Bell’s absence, the home loss to the still undefeated Bengals is what will hurt more. The race for the wild card spots will be tough and with someone from the AFC South guaranteed to make the playoffs, we may yet again see a 10-6 or better team miss the playoffs. However, it’s not looking good for the Steelers to even finish 10-6 with the schedule they have left. They host the surprisingly good Raiders this week and still have home games against the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts. In addition, they still have to play the Seattle Seahawks as well as the Bengals on road. Getting to 10-6 will be an uphill battle as the Steelers currently sit at 4-4. This would have been considerably easier if they were 5-3. (4-2)
  • Houston 20, Tennessee 6: As a Cardinals fan, the firing of Ken Whisenhunt has me conflicted. On one hand he led the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance and to back-to-back division titles. On the other hand there are all the stats of Whiz with/without Kurt Warner (24-18 with Warner, 24-53 without Warner). It seems that what ultimately led to Whiz’s demise with the Titans was his unwillingness to change his offense, which doesn’t surprise me. Whisenhunt’s progression scheme fit Warner perfectly, but since Warner’s retirement, Whiz has focused more on finding a quarterback who can work in his system instead of adapting his system to fit his quarterback. That is the key reason he has gone through so many quarterbacks during his time as a head coach and honestly is sounds like a fatal flaw. I still respect Whiz for leading the Cardinals to the Super Bowl and I wish him the best of luck, but this was a coach firing I agree with 100%. (5-2)
  • St. Louis 27, San Francisco 6: I wanted to talk about how the Rams are now 3-0 against the NFC West or how Todd Gurley has rushed for more yards than any other running back through their first four games since the NFL/AFL merger, but when the 49ers make a decision as dumb as the one they announced this week I have to talk about it. Do people forget how bad Blaine Gabbert was when he last played? Gabbert has the worst career QBR of any quarterback in the last 10 years, sporting a terrible 22.6 during his three years in Jacksonville. For anyone unfamiliar with QBR, all you need to know is that a quarterback with a QBR of 50 is considered to be an average. You can’t use the supporting cast argument either because he has a similar supporting cast now so nothing will change. I know the 49ers are frustrated with Colin Kaepernick, and that the offense is currently last in points scored. It just feels like the 49ers are giving up on the season and trying to distance themselves away from the last link to the Jim Harbaugh-era. I hope another team down the line gives Kaepernick another shot, because this season was hopeless for him from the start. (6-2)
  • New Orleans 52, New York Giants 49: This is the kind of box score you usually see during a Madden game, not an actual NFL game. I can’t help but feel that both defenses have been scarred from this experience. I remember in the 2009 playoffs when Arizona beat Green Bay 51-45 that both defenses took some time to recover after being humiliated by the opposing offenses. Neither the Saints nor the Giants’ defenses were that good to begin with, but you really have to worry about their psyche going forward. Suddenly a stop the defense would usually make doesn’t happen and then the team loses a game they needed to win. It will be very interesting watching both defenses going forward. (6-3)
  • Baltimore 29, San Diego 26: It’s really tough to see a warrior such as Steve Smith go down the way he did. Before the year he called this one his last season but after suffering an Achilles injury Sunday it is hard to believe that this will be the last time we see the future hall-of-famer. As for what the Ravens do without Smith, my answer is run the ball more and hope somebody in the receiving core emerges over the next couple of games to be a go-to receiver for Joe Flacco. As for the Chargers, even more weight is on Philip Rivers now with the injury to Keenan Allen. However, unlike Flacco, Rivers still has Danny Woodhead, Antonio Gates, and Malcom Floyd to throw to. (7-3)
  • Oakland 34, New York Jets 20: Derek Carr became the third Raiders’ quarterback since 1970 to throw for over 300 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions (the other two being Rich Gannon and Jeff Hostetler). Even more impressive is that he did it against a Jets’ defense that is one of the best in the NFL. Suddenly the Raiders are over .500 with a win against a good opponent and hope that a future playoff berth could happen as soon as this season. I think it’s a little early to be thinking playoffs, but if the Raiders are able to win one or both of their next two games (at Pittsburgh and then home for Minnesota) then I would probably jump on the bandwagon. The Jets, on the other hand, have lost two straight and while both were against good opponents (the other loss being against New England) the thought of losing Ryan Fitzpatrick for any amount of time really puts their playoff hopes in jeopardy. (7-4)
  • Seattle 13, Dallas 12: The Seahawks did what they had to do and now they go into their bye week 4-4 with a huge matchup against Arizona the week after. The game is important for both teams, as I’ll go further in-depth during that week’s All In The Cards preview, but there is no doubt that the team with more pressure to win that game is Seattle. Even though it seems the Seahawks’ defense has finally gotten back on track, 15 total points allowed in their last two games, they played two of the five worst offenses in the NFL in the 49ers and Romo-less Cowboys. The Seahawks have still yet to beat a team with a winning record and failing to do it against Arizona at home could put the Seahawks so far behind in the standings that they won’t be able to catch up by the end of the season and miss the playoffs. (8-4)
  • Denver 29, Green Bay 10: I didn’t think the Broncos’ defense could continue to carry the team throughout the rest of the season but I was obviously wrong. What we saw against the Packers was one of the best defenses in recent NFL history. You do not simply hold Aaron Rodgers to 77 passing yards. In fact, the Packers offense, which averages 332.1 yards a game, was held to just 140 yards. Broncos’ wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (168 yards) had more yards than the whole Packers’ offense. I still think the offensive shortcomings will eventually bite the Broncos in the butt, but that defense is going to make extremely hard for any team to take advantage of an offensive mistake. As for the Packers they face another tough defense in Carolina this week. I think Rodgers and company will respond but if they don’t then there might be some cause for concern. (8-5)
  • Carolina 29, Indianapolis 26: If reports are true that Pep Hamilton continuously refused to play an up-tempo offense, then this firing makes a little more sense. However, this just seems like the wrong time to bring in a new offense. I understand the concept that in situations like this there needs to be a fall guy, but the truth is that it wasn’t all Hamilton’s fault. Andrew Luck is obviously not himself as he still seems injured and has committed 13 turnovers this season. The offensive line is still bad, the tight ends aren’t as involved, and the defense is ranked 25th in points allowed which puts even more pressure on Luck to perform. If new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is able to turn this offense around, then firing Hamilton will have been the right call. The problem is that I don’t think things will change that much under Chudzinski. (9-5)

Week 8 Record: 9-5
Season Record: 78-41 (.655)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Avoiding The Trap Game (Week 8)

Welcome back a new edition of All In the Cards! This week the Cardinals face a potential trap game against the Cleveland Browns with a bye next week and a Sunday night matchup against Seattle the week after. Can the Cards stay focused and take care of business against the Browns? I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for my in-game thoughts and analysis. Without further ado, let’s see how these two teams stack up against each other:

Arizona Cardinals @ Cleveland Browns

Last Meeting: W 20-17 OT vs. Cleveland (12/18/11)

After their game this week against the Cleveland Browns, the Arizona Cardinals will have completed half of their 2015 regular season and will take a much deserved bye week. Despite a few hiccups against the St. Louis Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate what the Cards have already accomplished as well as plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the second half of their season. Even though the NFL is currently boasting a record five undefeated teams heading into week eight, only the two-loss Cardinals have both a top five offense and a top five defense. This isn’t me being subjective; Football Outsiders’ well-acclaimed DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) has the Cardinals as the third best offensive team and the fourth best defensive team. Here is a link to Football Outsiders’ DVOA Rankings to see every team but let’s compare the Cards to the five undefeated teams:

  • Arizona Cardinals: 3rd in Offensive DVOA, 4th in Defensive DVOA
  • New England Patriots: 2nd in Offensive DVOA, 11th in Defensive DVOA
  • Green Bay Packers: 4th in Offensive DVOA, 7th in Defensive DVOA
  • Cincinnati Bengals: 1st in Offensive DVOA, 13th in Defensive DVOA
  • Carolina Panthers: 9th in Offensive DVOA, 6th in Defensive DVOA
  • Denver Broncos: 32nd in Offensive DVOA, 1st in Defensive DVOA

First thing I want to note is that only two of the five remaining undefeated teams have both a top ten offense and a top ten defense (though I should mention that all of this was calculated before the start of week eight, thus the Patriots’ ranking doesn’t include their performance last night against the Dolphins. They will probably be in the top ten defensively next week.) and the team closest to having top five on both sides of the ball (Green Bay) ranks lower than Arizona on both sides.

However, there is a reason the Cardinals have two losses: they rank an abysmal 21st in Special Teams DVOA. You don’t have to search very long to find an occurrence where the Cardinals’ special teams almost let them down. Just this past Monday, the Arizona special teams single-handily let Baltimore make a huge fourth quarter comeback thanks to a missed extra point (which kept it a two-score game instead of making it a three-score game) and then failing to pick up the blitz on a punt block that gave the Ravens the ball on the one-yard line. The Cards were able to salvage a win but that wasn’t the case against the Rams. David Johnson fumbled the opening kickoff and the Rams took possession of the ball in the Arizona redzone. From the 13-minute mark of the first quarter, the Rams took the lead and never let it go.

So why bring up special teams right now? Almost every statistical measure says the Cardinals should obliterate the Browns this week and while that will probably happen, there is one stat that gives the Browns some hope. While the Cards rank 21st in Special Teams DVOA, the Browns rank 3rd, easily the strength of the team. I’ve mentioned a few times that the Cards struggle when they don’t create turnovers, and if that happens this Sunday we are only one bad Drew Butler punt away from Travis Benjamin scoring his second punt return touchdown of the season and giving the Browns all the momentum and potentially the lead.

What the Cardinals have this week is a bona fide trap game. By definition, a trap game is “when a team faces an opponent they are expected to beat and thus they look past their current game and start preparing for the next game, which is usually against a bitter rival or a very strong team.” While there is a bye week between this game and the next one for the Cards, that next game is against the two-time defending NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. You can’t find a better example of a trap game!

Does this mean the Cardinals are doomed? While the Cardinals do seem to rely on emotions more than regular NFL teams (like needing to prove to themselves they could win close games), the Cards are led by a ton of veterans who have been in this situation before and thus would be able to identify if they felt the team was relaxing and then promptly let the team know. Plus, as weird as this might sound, it helps that this team has already lost twice this season.

There’s a common saying when a team going for an undefeated season gets its first loss: “It’s better that they lost now so they can learn from their mistakes and not lose in the playoffs.” While this statement is usually nothing more than fans and media trying to cope with the fact that a team can no longer go undefeated, getting a few losses does benefit a team if they aren’t accustomed to always being the favorite. Teams who are accustomed to winning, like New England and Green Bay, gain nothing from a loss, but teams not accustomed to winning, like the Cardinals, can find positives in losses.

The Cardinals just recently transformed from the underdog to being the favorite, and for a team that built itself on being the underdog this is new territory. Opposing teams are now counter-gameplanning you, with the hope that a win could jumpstart their own transformation to becoming a favorite. It takes awhile for teams to adjust to this switch and that usually leads to upsets.

Teams in the Cardinals position can take these losses one of two ways: either the loss humbles them and reminds them of how they got to this position in the first place, or the loss spreads doubt among the players and coaches which leads to the team ultimately collapsing. If the Cardinals really are title contenders they will take those losses to heart and remember never to overlook a team like the Browns, because just a few years ago the Cards were in the Browns position. I think the Cardinals are title contenders so I don’t see them falling in this trap game.

Prediction: Arizona 31, Cleveland 10

My other Week 8 NFL Predictions:

  • New England 27, Miami 14
  • Kansas City 23, Detroit 14
  • Atlanta 31, Tampa Bay 23
  • Minnesota 26, Chicago 13
  • Pittsburgh 30, Cincinnati 27 (OT)
  • Houston 23, Tennessee 17
  • St. Louis 27, San Francisco 10
  • New York Giants 28, New Orleans 27
  • Baltimore 34, San Diego 30
  • New York Jets 23, Oakland 13
  • Seattle 27, Dallas 17
  • Green Bay 24, Denver 13
  • Carolina 27, Indianapolis 23

Week 7 Record: 9-5
Week 8 Record: 1-0
Season Record: 70-36 (.660)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2