All In The Cards: Recapping The Stupidly Crazy End To Arizona’s Win Over Green Bay

Anything can happen in the NFL playoffs. If someone ever questions that fact, show them the Green Bay-Arizona game from this past weekend. The amount of insane things that happened in that game still boggles my mind and the mind of many other football fans even a few days removed from watching the spectacle. So for part one of All In The Cards’ coverage of the Arizona Cardinals this week, I will go over every crazy situation, one by one, from the fourth quarter and overtime of Saturday night’s thriller. Prepare yourself for some strong opinions, especially about a certain coin toss. 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 go over the weirdest hour of sports I can remember:

Start of the 4th Quarter: Green Bay 13, Arizona 10

Palmer’s 2nd INT: This drive started late in the third quarter  and the first play was yet another reminder that the NFL desperately needs to properly define a catch. I personally think that four steps and a knee down should constitute a catch regardless of if the ball came out at the end. I know that in a similar situation last playoffs that Dez Bryant was called for an incompletion but the differing of calls only illustrates why this needs to be fixed, not that the call was wrong.

Now to the interception. While the pass was much shorter than it needed to be, the real cause behind this interception was the fact that Green Bay wasn’t afraid of Arizona running the ball. The play started as a play-action pass that immediately got snuffed out by a blitzing linebacker. It was a good risk considering the Cardinals only rushed for 40 yards on 19 rushing attempts. With the added pressure, Carson Palmer threw off his back foot and was unable to put enough behind his pass as Damarcus Randell incepted a pass that should have been out of his reach. Palmer had some bad throws Saturday night, but this one was a little more understandable. (Green Bay 13, Arizona 10 – 14:10 left)

The tip-drill, go-ahead score: This entire drive was a soap opera. The first play was a miscommunication between Palmer and Andre Ellington, not a great first pass after a back-breaking interception. What does Palmer do the next play? Throw a picture-perfect pass just above Packer linebacker Jake Ryan’s outstretched arms to John Brown. At this point we have now entered into “full gunslinger” mode for Palmer. Two plays later Larry Fitzgerald shakes two defenders and reaches out the ball for the first down marker and barely gets it by the narrowest of margins. Then during the Cardinals’ first play in the redzone, Palmer forces a pass to Michael Floyd that cornerback Sam Shields lets bounce off his hands. That pass was much worse than the endzone interception the previous drive and probably would have ended the game. Yet the game didn’t end as a pass between two defenders to David Johnson gets the Cardinals another first down, this time by an even smaller margin than Fitzgerald’s first down.

The true madness began the next play. Arizona ran a pick play with Jaron Brown to get Fitzgerald open on a slant route in the middle of the field. Yet despite Brown’s best (and probably illegal) effort, a defender was able to get an arm and break up the pass. However, instead of the pass falling to the ground, the ball jumped into the air only to land in Floyd’s hands in the back of the endzone. In the span of a second, it went from being a touchdown, to a probable interception, to a touchdown. At this point it seemed that the Cardinals uncharacteristically lucky season after decades of heartbreak would continue. (Arizona 17, Green Bay 13 – 3:44 left)

Arians passes on 2nd down: Then Bruce Arians’ aggressive approach backfired on him. I was really disappointed in the numerous amount of people who questioned Arians and said the pass was a dumb play call after praising him for doing the exact same thing earlier in the season and succeeding. Should he have run the ball? Of course he should have but this is who Arians is and the Cardinals and their fans know and accept Arians’ aggressive approach. Palmer completes that pass to Fitzgerald (or draws a pass interference call) and the game is over. As Arians says, “no risk it, no biscuit.” (Arizona 20, Green Bay 13 – 1:55 left)

Rodgers throws two Hail Marys: After the Cards finally got their first and only sack of the game, it looked like it was over at fourth and 20. Then Rodgers escapes to his left and, with Calais Campbell chasing him, throws a laser to Jeff Janis who was able to get behind the defense thanks to Rodgers extending the play. Then Rodgers decides not to spike the ball and runs another play which not only runs 20 seconds off the clock but an illegal shift by Richard Rodgers stops the clock and backs the Packers up five yards.

At this point Rodgers has two shots at the endzone. Both times, the Cardinals sent seven men on the blitz to hurry up Rodgers’ throw. The first time it worked perfectly as Rodgers kept backpedaling until he threw it away. However the second time Rodgers escaped to his left and threw up a beautiful pass to Janis for the game-tying touchdown. It should be noted that the reason Janis beat Patrick Peterson to the ball was because earlier in the drive Janis got behind the coverage and played deeper so it wouldn’t happen again. That backfired as Janis was able to get in front of the pass to complete the hail mary.

One thing that should be discussed is whether or not Mike McCarthy should have gone for the win with a two-point conversion instead of opting for the extra point to send the game to overtime. To me, the decision should be based on whether or not you believe in momentum. If you do, then you should go for the kill now immediately with the Cardinals still trying to get their head around the fact that the Packers just scored. If you don’t believe in momentum, then you go with the sure bet and go to overtime. There isn’t really a right or wrong decision; it just depends on your philosophy. (Arizona 20, Green Bay 20 – end of regulation)

The overtime coin toss: This may be the most stupid controversy I have ever seen and the fact that some people think that the coin flip prevented the Packers from winning is so asinine that it had me tearing my hair out just reading and listening to this.

First off, in the NFL rulebook it is not stated anywhere that the coin needs to flip on a coin toss. The referee Clete Blakeman was not obligated to do-over the coin toss but did do it because he thought the first toss wasn’t fair. I personally was okay with doing another toss, but the Packers shouldn’t have acted like it was their right to have a do-over. It was a nice gesture by Blakeman and with the Cardinals winning both tosses, the situation should have ended there.

Then Rodgers made his postgame statements. I met Rodgers for a short time back when he was Brett Favre’s backup and from what I can tell he is a good person. Honestly, I think his remarks after the game were just a result of him being frustrated the Packers lost. That being said, I blame him for making this a bigger controversy than it ever needed to be in the first place. He may have just been letting off steam but he needs to realize that he is one of the key players in the NFL and if he complains about something the masses will respond to that complaint.

Rodgers said after the game that he was upset he didn’t get to choose which side of the coin he wanted on the retry. Rodgers said he chooses which side to call based on which side is showing. On the first flip heads was showing so Rodgers called for tails. Since the coin didn’t flip it landed on heads. When Blakeman went for the second toss, he flipped the coin with tails showing. Because of that, Rodgers said he wanted to change his call to heads. The coin landed on heads again and the Cardinals won the toss again.

Some people think Rodgers should have been allowed to change his call but that’s ridiculous. He was already given a gift in the form of a second toss, so also asking to change your call sounds greedy. Also I’ve watched the whole exchange numerous times and I still don’t see how Rodgers could have had enough time to notice the coin being turned over, think about his coin toss ritual, and try to ask for the chance to change his mind. To me this sounds like hindsight bias, with Rodgers  trying to come up with an excuse for the Packers losing. Again it probably wasn’t intentional but he can’t make those kinds of statements.

Fitzgerald takes over: Then Fitzgerald made overtime end so quickly that now people are complaining that this set of overtime rules are unfair because Rodgers didn’t get a chance to go back on the field. If Rodgers wants to look for an excuse for why the Packers lost, he needs to look no further than his defense letting Fitzgerald turn a 15-yard pass into a 75-yard completion. Fitzgerald is very shifty but for him to get so wide open and then have four defenders fail to tackle him is a complete defensive breakdown. You can be disappointed Rodgers didn’t get a chance to respond, but don’t ask to change the rules because the Packers couldn’t stop the Cardinals from scoring a touchdown.

Fitzgerald ended the game two plays later on unique play design where Palmer ran what looked like an option run but instead threw a shovel pass to Fitzgerald. It capped possibly his greatest postseason performance and that is saying something. Look at his playoff game log:

  • 2008 Playoffs
    • vs. Atlanta – 6 receptions, 101 receiving yards, touchdown
    • at Carolina – 8 receptions, 166 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
    • vs Philadelphia – 9 receptions, 152 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns
    • vs Pittsburgh – 7 receptions, 127 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
  • 2009 Playoffs
    • vs Green Bay – 6 receptions, 82 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
    • at New Orleans – 6 receptions, 77 receiving yards
  • 2014 Playoffs
    • at Carolina – 3 receptions, 31 receiving yards
  • 2015 Playoffs
    • vs Green Bay – 8 receptions, 176 receiving yards, touchdown

His three games with 150+ receiving yards are already the most in NFL playoff history and he’s scored 10 receiving touchdowns in one fewer game than the great Jerry Rice, which is amazing considering two of those games were throwaways because of bad quarterbacks (three quarters of Matt Leinart vs Saints and a whole game with Ryan Lindley vs Panthers last year). Fitzgerald looks like a man on a mission and I don’t know if anyone can stop him.


How I Did With My Divisional Round Picks:

  • Arizona 34, Green Bay 20 (OT) (1-0 this weekend, 3-2 in playoffs)
  • New England 27 Kansas City 20 (2-0, 4-2)
  • Carolina 31, Seattle 24 (3-0, 5-2)
  • Denver 23, Pittsburgh 16 (4-0, 6-2)

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 6-2 (.750)
Total Record: 165-99 (.625)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

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All In The Cards: Arizona-Green Bay Playoff Preview

It has been a magical season for the Arizona Cardinals, one in which almost every positive franchise record was broken. While they have accomplished so much already, the team knows that all of those records will be forgotten if the Cardinals don’t win a single playoff game. The Cardinals’ goal was and still is to win the Lombardi Trophy, but the unpredictability of the one-and-done format of the postseason means anything can happen. That being said, exiting without a single playoff win would be unacceptable. So the Cardinals look to achieve that first goal this Saturday when they host the Green Bay Packers. This week I’ll recap what has changed for both teams in the three weeks since they last played and how those changes will affect the rematch. 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. Now let’s preview the Cardinals playoff match against the Packers.

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

Last Meeting: W 38-8 vs. Green Bay (12/28/15)

Having played each other only three weeks ago, you would think that this week’s matchup between the Cardinals and Packers would go roughly the same way? While there are definitely more similarities in this rematch in comparison to say the Seahawks-Panthers rematch (those teams played back in October), this weekend has no chance of being a repeat of the Cardinals dominating 38-8 win.

Let’s take a look at what has changed for both teams, both positive and negative:

Green Bay changes:

  1. The Packers have a functioning offensive line: It’s no secret by now that part of the reason behind the Packers’ blowout loss last time they played in the desert was because their offensive line was in shambles and got gradually worse when other linemen left partway through the game with injuries. This time around the Packers could possibly have all starting five linemen back if left tackle David Bakhtiari (who didn’t play the first time) is able to play. While Green Bay’s starting offensive line is only average by NFL standard, it will still be a huge improvement over the disastrous group they played the first time.
  2. Aaron Rodgers is playing much better: I’ve written about Rodgers’ body language during the previous matchup more times than I’ve probably needed to, but it’s a fact that Rodgers was not himself during the second half of season. Over his last six regular season games, Rodgers had thrown an interception in all but one of those games and only tossed multiple touchdowns twice. Against the Redskins last week, Rodgers threw two touchdowns and no interceptions. He still completed less than 60% of his pass attempts (something he did in three of his last six regular season games) but the performance was still a net positive, giving Packer fans hope that Rodgers is beginning to play like himself again.
  3. Defense is creating pressure: While the Cardinals’ offensive line is much better than the Redskins’ front five, you can’t ignore that the Packers’ defense looked much sharper last week. Against Washington, the Packers sacked Kirk Cousins six times and hit him 13 times. Compare that to what they did in week 16 in Arizona (two sacks, four QB hits). The big difference between the two games was the play of Clay Matthews. Matthews got 4 tackles and 1.5 sacks against the Redskins but was held without a single tackle against the Cardinals. Don’t expect another donut from Matthews this time around.

Arizona changes:

  1. Cardinals were humbled by the Seahawks: Coming off a blowout win over Green Bay and a Carolina loss, the Cardinals (winners of nine straight) became the talk of the league as possibly the Super Bowl favorite. Then the Seahawks slapped the Cardinals in the face, shoved them in a locker, and took their lunch money. How else do you explain being down 30-6 at halftime in your own building? Obviously the Cardinals are still very confident that they can win a championship, but at the same time it was a reminder that all it takes is one bad game and your season is over. This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because Arizona can learn from its mistakes and that playoff success isn’t guaranteed, but it’s bad in that opposing teams now fear the Cardinals less.
  2. Pass rush shakeup: Over the playoff bye week, Cardinals outside linebacker Alex Okafor found himself on the non-football injury list with a toe injury. While Okafor’s production can easily be replaced since his level of play was way down from last season, what it does cause is a depth shakeup at Arizona’s weakest position. Second-year pass rusher Kareem Martin will likely start but it may also mean more snaps for Dwight Freeney and newly-signed Jason Babin. While not the end of the world, the Cardinals would prefer to only play them in situational roles so as to maximize their impacts.
  3. Rashad Johnson is back: He missed the first game against Green Bay and if Rodgers is really back, the Cards will need Johnson in the secondary. Besides Tyrann Mathieu, no other player means more in the defensive huddle for Arizona, as Johnson is basically the quarterback of the defense. He’s also played extremely well, intercepting five passes to tie Mathieu for team-high. Whether or not he’s able to perform at a high level could be the difference between whether or not Rodgers can pass downfield on this defense.

Yet at the same time there are quite a few things that haven’t changed. Green Bay’s receivers still have a hard time creating separation. The Packers were able to manufacture some separation against the Redskins by running the ball effectively, but against Arizona’s sixth ranked rush-defense that’s tougher said than done. What happens if the Packers can’t get the running game going? Also the Packers still have a lot of trouble converting on third down. Green Bay went 3 for 11 (27.3%) on third down against Washington, which actually isn’t that far off from how the Packers did during the regular season (33.7%, fifth worst in the NFL). Arizona has only allowed its opponents to convert on 35.7% of third down attempts (eighth best in the NFL) so that remains a huge hurdle for the Packers.

Meanwhile for Arizona, forcing turnovers still dictates team success. In 13 wins, the Cardinals forced 33 turnovers, but the team didn’t force a single turnover in any of their three losses. While Arizona did generate four Green Bay turnovers during the teams’ first game, that looks more like an anomaly than trend as the Packers have only allowed 17 turnovers all season (fourth fewest in the NFL). Can the Cardinals still win if they can’t force any Green Bay turnovers?

The point I’m trying to make is that you shouldn’t expect a repeat of what happened during week 16. That game was a perfect storm for the Cardinals where everything went right and represents the best-case scenario for Arizona in this matchup. However, I really doubt things will go so smoothly this time around. Both Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians still have to get the “first playoff win” monkey off of their backs. The Cardinals as a team will have to deal with being the playoff favorite for the first time after living in the underdog role for so long. Also, Rodgers has experience taking the Packers to a Super Bowl title when Green Bay was a wild card team, like the team is this season.

I still think the Cardinals will win but it will be dogfight, with the Cardinals possibly needing a fourth quarter comeback to win. Yet the Cardinals know that after the season they have had, losing this game is not an option.

Game Pick: Arizona 34, Green Bay 27


My Wild Card Game Picks:

  • Kansas City 23, Houston – Correct (KC 30-0) (1-0)
  • Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24 – Incorrect (Pit 18-16) (1-1)
  • Seattle 20, Minnesota 17 – Correct (Sea 10-9) (2-1)
  • Washington 31, Green Bay 23 – Incorrect (GB 35-18) (2-2)

My Other Divisional Round Picks:

  • New England 20, Kansas City 16
  • Carolina 24, Seattle 23
  • Denver 24, Pittsburgh 13

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 2-2 (.500)
Total Record: 161-99 (.619)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Super Bowl Scenarios For All 12 Playoff Teams

The long, brutal NFL season came to an end for 20 teams this week but for 12 teams the season has just begun. In a one-and-done tournament anything can happen so it’s pointless to say that only these certain teams can make the Super Bowl because in reality all 12 of these teams proved they are good enough to win two or three games in a row. So for this week’s All In The Cards I’m going to list the best-case scenario for each team to make a run to the Super Bowl. 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. Before we get to the scenarios, here’s a look at how I did with my week 17 picks:

How I Did With My Week 17 NFL Predictions:

  • Seattle 36, Arizona 6 (0-1)
  • Buffalo 22, New York Jets 17 (0-2)
  • Miami 20, New England 10 (0-3)
  • Pittsburgh 28, Cleveland 12 (1-3)
  • New Orleans 20, Atlanta 17 (2-3)
  • Philadelphia 35, New York Giants 30 (2-4)
  • Indianapolis 30, Tennessee 24 (3-4)
  • Cincinnati 24, Baltimore 16 (4-4)
  • Houston 30, Jacksonville 6 (5-4)
  • Detroit 24, Chicago 20 (6-4)
  • Washington 34, Dallas 23 (7-4)
  • Carolina 38, Tampa Bay 10 (8-4)
  • Kansas City 23, Oakland 17 (8-5)
  • San Francisco 19, St. Louis 16 (8-6)
  • Denver 27, San Diego 20 (9-6)
  • Minnesota 20, Green Bay 13 (10-6)

Week 17 Record: 10-6
Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2


Super Bowl Scenarios For All 12 Playoff Teams:

NFC

  1. Carolina Panthers: There are several ways the Panthers can make the Super Bowl but I’m looking specifically at the most optimal way. Well the most optimal way would be to avoid great vertical passing teams. While the Panthers do host a great secondary, the recent injury to Charles Tillman now means that half of the starting secondary is done for the season. Not to mention that since the loss of their other defensive back Bene Benwikere the Panthers have given up a lot more passing yards than normal. They still have Josh Norman but it would be better for this team if they avoided the Seahawks and the Cardinals and instead faced the Redskins and the Vikings over the next two rounds.
  2. Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals were humbled last week by the Seahawks and should be focused against whoever they face in the playoffs. Having said that, the Cardinals would like to avoid the Vikings and Packers as both teams have extra motivation in the form of previous losses if they faced the Cards again. Instead, the Cards would probably want the Redskins. For the NFC Championship, I know the Cardinals want revenge against the Seahawks and want to have the game at home, but the better matchup is against Carolina. The Panthers may have homefield but they will be missing half of their secondary. Josh Norman may well be the best corner in the NFL, but not even he can cover Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown all at the same time.
  3. Minnesota Vikings: As a 3-seed, two-thirds of your playoff run have already been determined. The Vikings will need to defeat both the Seahawks and the Cardinals to advance to the NFC title game. In that game they would probably want to play at home so that leaves two options: the Packers and the Redskins. We’ve already seen the Packers come to Minnesota and it wasn’t pretty, plus the fact that the Packers would get this far means they have turned their offense around. Instead, the optimal matchup would be against a Redskins team that sometimes has trouble playing well away from home.
  4. Washington Redskins: It’s easy to find the Redskins’ best route to the Super Bowl as all they have to do is follow the same road that the 2008 Cardinals took for their only Super Bowl appearance. Both teams were 9-7 division winners stuck in the 4-seed and facing teams that were favored over them. The Redskins are more than capable of taking care of the Packers as long as Green Bay continues to play like it has during the second half of the season. Then the Redskins will need to catch the Cardinals napping and upset them in Arizona. That task will be harder considering the Cardinals will likely be very focused after getting annihilated right before the playoffs. Finally, despite the fact no one wants to face the Seahawks, the Redskins would favor that matchup for the sole reason of having another home playoff game, where Kirk Cousins has been at his best this year.
  5. Green Bay Packers: Like the Redskins, the Packers also have a blueprint for how to make a Super Bowl run but it will require Aaron Rodgers to perform on a 2011 Joe Flacco-level. After a win against the Redskins, the Packers will want to get revenge on the Cardinals and hope the team is still out of sorts from the Seattle loss. Then the Packers will want the Seahawks so they can host the game at Lambeau Field. It will be a difficult task to beat the Seahawks even at home but if Rodgers is playing like ’11 Flacco, he can lead Green Bay to another Super Bowl appearence.
  6. Seattle Seahawks: Unfortunately for the Seahawks, a trip to their third straight Super Bowl requires a win over the Panthers at Carolina after taking care of the Vikings. That leaves us with three potential teams for Seattle to face in the NFC Championship. While the Cardinals, Packers, and Redskins all play very well at home, only at one of those places does the Seahawks also play very well in and that’s University of Phoenix Stadium. Even though the Cardinals will likely be out for blood after the Seahawks destroyed them during week 17, the Seahawks need to play at a place they are comfortable in after playing two other tough road games.

AFC 

  1. Denver Broncos: Looks like Peyton Manning is back at QB for the Broncos, but even if Brock Osweiler returns under center the Broncos will only go as far as their running game and their defense. Both the Steelers and the Chiefs have beaten the Broncos during the season and can do it again in the playoffs so the favorable first matchup would be against the Texans. Despite Houston’s improved quarterback play, I’d still take the Broncos defense 10 out of 10 times in that matchup and a heavy dose of the run game means fewer dropbacks where J.J. Watt can obliterate whoever is playing quarterback. In this scenario Denver would either face the Patriots or the Bengals and even though the Broncos have already beaten both of them I think they’d rather not have to go against Tom Brady again, especially considering Brady’s history over Manning in the playoffs. The Bengals, with a less than 100% Andy Dalton would be the slightly easier path to the Super Bowl.
  2. New England Patriots: Everything will depend on how healthy Julian Edelman and any other returning starter really are when they suit up in two weeks and whether or not they are rusty. If they are fine then it won’t matter who the Patriots face. However if they aren’t, things get a lot more difficult. At that point all five AFC teams would give the Patriots trouble so the best-case scenario would call on New England to win psychological matchups against teams and players who seem to fold in high-pressure situations. Andy Dalton would usually be the poster boy for this kind of situation but the Bengals’ main demon is winning a playoff game and they’d accomplish just that if they would eventually face the Patriots. So instead, the psychological matchup would be against Andy Reid, Alex Smith, and the Chiefs. That would leave a psychological matchup with Peyton Manning, Gary Kubiack, and the Broncos as the favorable AFC Championship opponent.
  3. Cincinnati Bengals: As I previously stated with Minnesota, there’s not much wiggle room for teams with the 3-seed. The Bengals already know they will need to beat the boom-or-bust Steelers and then they’ll have to beat the Patriots. Anything can happen with the Steelers so a little bit of luck will be needed to get past them but they’ll either need a 100% Andy Dalton or a rusty Patriots group to advance to the AFC Championship. In the AFC title game, they would love to face the Texans as one of that defense’s only weaknesses is the play-action pass and even at 80% Dalton is still one of the best play-action passers in the NFL.
  4. Houston Texans: Beating the red-hot Chiefs will be tough but after that the road to the Super Bowl isn’t that far-fetched of a possibility. You have to think that J.J. Watt would be licking his chops to get an opportunity to attack a patchwork Patriots offensive line in the next round. No one wishes to face the Patriots, but with many of their key contributors just coming back from injury it would be easiest to get them early when those players may still be rusty. From there the best matchup would be the turnover-prone Broncos, especially if Peyton Manning  is playing quarterback.
  5. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs may have the longer winning streak, but the Texans are playing better as of late. It will be a tough task for the Chiefs to advance but they are more than capable of winning this game. As I’ve already stated in other sections, you never wish to face the Patriots but if you’re going to face them, do so in the divisional round when the injured players may not be all the way back. While a rubber match with the Broncos would be an advantage for the Chiefs, an even bigger advantage would be having a home playoff game, which only happens if they face the Steelers.
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers will have the benefit of likely facing an Andy Dalton-less Bengals for their first game. From there the Steelers would have to face the Broncos, who the Steelers beat just a couple of weeks ago and would likely face Peyton Manning in a bad weather game, which always favors Pittsburgh. Then in the AFC Championship, the best best to advance to the Super Bowl would be drawing the Texans because unlike the Chiefs and Patriots, the Texans are more susceptible to turnovers, which the Steelers’ defense needs to thrive.

*Big shout out to Bill Barnwell’s article for helping me determine some of the best paths for teams to take.

All In The Cards: New Year’s Edition (Week 16 Recap and Week 17 Picks)

With so much going on I have to yet again combine my week 16 recap with my week 17 preview. However, like I did in a previous combo article I’ll give my thoughts on big stories in the NFL between last week’s and this week’s picks. 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. Now here is how I did with my picks last week and what are picks this week:

How I Did With My Week 16 NFL Predictions:

  • Arizona 38, Green Bay 8 (1-0)
  • Oakland 23, San Diego 20 (2-0)
  • Washington 38, Philadelphia 24 (3-0)
  • Atlanta 20, Carolina 13 (3-1)
  • Buffalo 16, Dallas 6 (4-1)
  • Chicago 26, Tampa Bay 21 (4-2)
  • Kansas City 17, Cleveland 13 (5-2)
  • Detroit 32, San Francisco 17 (6-2)
  • Houston 34, Tennessee 6 (7-2)
  • Indianapolis 18, Miami 12 (8-2)
  • New York Jets 26, New England 20 (9-2)
  • Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 17 (9-3)
  • New Orleans 38, Jacksonville 27 (9-4)
  • St. Louis 21, Seattle 17 (9-5)
  • Minnesota 49, New York Giants 17 (10-5)
  • Denver 20, Cincinnati 17 (11-5)

NFL Thoughts Going Into Week 17:
  • While I’m very proud to see my Arizona Cardinals finally getting the respect they deserve, but all of this talk about them being the favorites over the Carolina Panthers is a little premature. While the Panthers did lose to the Atlanta Falcons, that loss isn’t worse than the two losses the Cardinals already had (vs St. Louis and Pittsburgh). However, if the Cardinals are able to wrestle away home-field advantage from the Panthers then you can slate the Cards as the favorites based on the two teams’ equal records and different ends to their seasons. One loss does not make a season unless that loss is in the playoffs or prevents you from making the playoffs and the Panthers’ loss to the Falcons was neither.
  • I would say that the Packers’ offensive performance against the Cardinals set the franchise back 50 years but the Packers were playing much better offensively 50 years ago. While the Cardinals defense had a lot to prove in their first game without Tyrann Mathieu, what really troubled me about the Packers is how much it seems Aaron Rodgers has checked out. Anytime there was a dropped pass or a missed block, instead of consoling or getting on the guy who made the mistake he just had this “I’d rather be anywhere else” look on his face and went right to the huddle. That’s not the look of a guy who wants to lead. Maybe whatever has Rodgers so lifeless can be patched up behind the scenes before the playoffs start but my guess is that this team probably just wants to start the offseason.
  • I’ll admit that I know 10x as much about the NFC West than I do about the AFC North so the St. Louis Rams’ upset over the Seattle Seahawks doesn’t surprise me nearly as much as the Baltimore Ravens’ upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers. As I have said numerous times in this column, the Rams seemingly transform from a mediocre team into a very gritty and tough team when they face their divisional rivals, and the Seahawks in particular seem to bring out the best in the Rams. That’s why I was so surprised that the Cardinals beat the Rams very easily a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know the intricacies of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry but in my opinion the Ravens, a team that is pulling guys off the street just to field a team, win over the Steelers exposes Pittsburgh as a team that only plays to the level of its competition and to me those types of teams don’t deserve to make the playoffs. They could prove me wrong by destroying the Browns by 20 but it might be too late for them.
  • My biggest question about the Philadelphia Eagles getting rid of Chip Kelly has less to do with the move than the timing of the move. Why couldn’t they just do after this week’s games when most teams fire their underperforming head coaches? If the early firing was meant to give interim head coach Pat Shurmur a chance to demonstrate how he would do as the coach going forward, I don’t think a single game against a New York Giants team that has probably checked out is a good enough indicator to change an opinion on his candidacy. To me this was more of a message by owner Jeff Lurie saying that he wanted Kelly gone long ago and only put up with him as long as the Eagles were still in the playoff hunt. Kelly’s plan to rebuild the Eagles was unnecessary and made the team worse so Lurie wanted Kelly out before the eventual rebuilding job became too big. I guess it’s possible that the extra game is to see if the Eagles should keep Kelly’s acquisitions or if they should go out with the head coach that brought them into Philadelphia.
  • I can understand the Indianapolis Colts giving Josh Freeman a chance (the team needs a backup for Andrew Luck as Matt Hasselbeck isn’t going to be around much longer) as Freeman has shown in the past that he can be decent and they way his career ended in Tampa Bay was a little unfair. However, there are no words for the Colts also picking up Ryan Lindley. Ask any Cardinals fan about Lindley and they won’t say anything in return. Instead they will just curl up into a ball and try to find their happy place. Let’s just say I hope the Colts start Freeman this week.

My Week 17 NFL Predictions:

  • Arizona 31, Seattle 27
  • New York Jets 27, Buffalo 17
  • New England 38, Miami 10
  • New Orleans 31, Atlanta 30
  • Cincinnati 16, Baltimore 13
  • Pittsburgh 28, Cleveland 16
  • Houston 27, Jacksonville 24
  • Indianapolis 15, Tennessee 10
  • Washington 21, Dallas 10
  • New York Giants 27, Philadelphia 23
  • Detroit 30, Chicago 19
  • Carolina 34, Tampa Bay 28
  • Oakland 24, Kansas City 20
  • Denver 26, San Diego 13
  • St. Louis 23, San Francisco 14
  • Minnesota 31, Green Bay 21

Week 16 Record: 11-5
Season Record: 149-91 (.621)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

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