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.

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All In The Cards: Week 14 Recap

Welcome to the Week 14 NFL Recap! So many things happened this past week that I could a couple of paragraphs about each game. However, at this point of the season each team and each game isn’t created equally so for this week I am going to give my in-depth opinion on what I believe are the eight biggest storylines instead. 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 take a look at what happened this past week:

How I Did With My Week 14 NFL Predications:

  • Arizona 23, Minnesota 20: (1-0)
  • Carolina 38, Atlanta 0: (2-0)
  • Philadelphia 23, Buffalo: (2-1)
  • Washington 24, Chicago 21: (2-2)
  • Pittsburgh 33, Cincinnati 20: (3-2)
  • Cleveland 24, San Francisco 10: (3-3)
  • Louis 21, Detroit 14: (3-4)
  • New York Jets 30, Tennessee 8: (4-4)
  • Jacksonville 51, Indianapolis 16: (4-5)
  • Kansas City 10, San Diego 3 (5-5)
  • New Orleans 24, Tampa Bay 17: (5-6)
  • Seattle 35, Baltimore 6: (6-6)
  • Oakland 15, Denver 12: (6-7)
  • Green Bay 28, Dallas 7: (7-7)
  • New England 27, Houston 6: (8-7)
  • New York Giants 31, Miami 24: (9-7)

Week 14 Record: 9-7
Season Record: 127-81 (.611)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

8 Biggest Storylines After Week 14:

  1. 2015 Bengals = 2014 Cardinals: I’ve mentioned a few times over the past couple of weeks that I actually felt bad for the New England Patriots because I believe no team should ever have to suffer what happened to the Arizona Cardinals last year in terms of sustaining so many key injuries. Unfortunately the Cincinnati Bengals are now living the 2014 Cardinals’ nightmare with the recent injury to Andy Dalton. The parallels are uncanny: both were teams who were good the year before but seemed to take it to another level and suddenly found themselves as one of the best teams in the NFL, yet everyone doubted that the teams were as good as their record stated. Both teams used the doubt to fuel their motivation only to lose their quarterback who was in the midst of having a career year. Both teams were loaded at every other position so the idea of the team still succeeding with a backup quarterback was plausible enough that the team and their fans still held out hope. Well we know how it played out in Arizona, and the same ending looks to be coming Cincinnati’s way. While there is still a chance Dalton could return for the playoffs, there’s no guarantee he plays at the same level he did earlier in the season. I hope I’m wrong as I don’t want any team to go through that kind of heartbreak, but I’ve seen this movie.
  2. Peyton Manning Vs. Brock Osweiler Is Becoming A Lose-Lose Situation: I’ve seen enough of Brock Osweiler to make this statement: it doesn’t matter who Denver starts at quarterback during the playoffs as the Broncos will only go as far as the defense can drag them. While Osweiler did lead an offense that scored 30 points in a win over the Patriots, the Broncos have only managed a total of 29 points the past two weeks against two defenses (Chargers and Raiders) that each average 25 points allowed per game. Of course, Manning has been a turnover machine as he still leads the NFL in interceptions (17) by three despite not playing the last three games. However, the biggest reason the Broncos can’t win in this situation is the fact that they have to commit to one quarterback. Regardless of whom the Broncos chose, unless they win the Super Bowl they will be criticized for choosing the wrong quarterback when their season ends.
  3. The Panthers Deserve More Respect: I’ve always been a fan of the underdog or the team that doesn’t get the respect it deserves (how do you think I became an Arizona Cardinals fan?). So while I do think the Cardinals have good shot at making the Super Bowl, neither they nor the “red-hot” Seahawks should be favorited over the Panthers in the NFC. I can’t remember a team getting less credit for being undefeated as these Panthers. What does this team need to do to prove to the public that its a dangerous football team? Worries of this team not having enough offensive firepower should have been quelled weeks ago when this team started rolling off 30-point games. Also, let’s not forget that the offense has proven they can win games when the defense is having an off day (Remember when the Saints posted 38 points?). The remarks about an easy schedule are a little overexaggerated considering that by the end of the season the Panthers could hold wins over three division champions (the AFC South champ, the NFC North champ if it’s Green Bay, and the NFC East champ unless they lose to New York and the Giants win that division) as well as a huge comeback win in Seattle.
  4. Undefeated Or Not, Cam Newton Should Be The Favorite For MVP: I also feel that Cam Newton isn’t getting the respect he deserves, with most people saying Newton is only the favorite because you need to give MVP to the quarterback of an undefeated team. While I admit that quite a bit of his campaign is based on leading an undefeated team, people are acting like he’s just the game-manager of a juggernaut. His passing yards may not be on par with Tom Brady and Carson Palmer, but Newton has thrown 28 touchdowns this season without playing a single down with his best wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Newton has also rushed for 480 yards and has scored seven rushing touchdowns, which means he’s in the top ten of both passing touchdowns (tied for fourth) and rushing touchdowns (tied for sixth). There’s also the huge strides he has made as a pocket passer and the fact he has conducted quite a few game-winning drives. He basically is the Panthers offense, which makes him sounds very valuable to me.
  5. The Cardinals DO Have Weaknesses, But They Aren’t Fatal: These Arizona Cardinals are a great team. I fully believe this team has what it takes to win Super Bowl 50. However, the idea that this team doesn’t have any weaknesses is a little overblown. Anyone who watched the Cardinals “closer-than-it-should-have-been” win over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night could point out the key areas where the Cardinals could cost themselves in the playoffs. On offense this group can score from anywhere on the field but weirdly enough has a tendency to stall when they get in the redzone, trading touchdowns for field goals more often than you’d expect from the number one offense. On defense the Cardinals’ defensive line specializes more in run-stopping, which means that they rely on blitzes to create an effective pass rush. This type of play style has led to a lot of forced turnovers but has also left the defense vulnerable to certain plays such as the screen pass or slant routes over the middle in areas where the blitzers would usually cover. Any combination of those weaknesses will likely be the reason if the Cardinals don’t win the Super Bowl but the Cards have proven they can win even with these disadvantages. It will take fantastic execution of a fantastic gameplan to beat Arizona, but even then the Cardinals have shown that these weaknesses aren’t 100% fatal.
  6. The NFC East Is More Inconsistent Than Terrible: With two divisions likely to produce champions without winning records, it makes sense that we would compare the AFC South and the NFC East and discuss which division is worse. My take is not only is the AFC South worse, but the NFC East isn’t terrible but instead just fields four very inconsistent teams. The Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys have plausible reasons behind their inconsistencies: the Redskins play 10x better at home than they do on the road and the Cowboys have been good with Tony Romo and bad without him. However, I wish the best of luck to anyone brave enough to find the reasons behind the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles’ inconsistencies. The Giants treat each fourth quarter like a mad lib, making sure something unique and weird happens every single game, while the Eagles produce three-week spans where they give up 45 points each to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions only to find themselves up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter against the Patriots in New England the following week. With how unpredictable this division is I wouldn’t get too comfortable if I was the fifth seed in the NFC.
  7. Seattle’s Offense Is Great But Its Defense Is Not As Good As You Think: I do believe that the Seahawks are one of the favorites in the NFC and they have a realistic chance to make their third straight Super Bowl. However, these aren’t the same Seahawks of the past two years. They may have the same players but this is a team that will go as far as Russell Wilson’s career-best run will lead them. It’s understandable to think the Legion Of Boom is back to playing like their old self again, as they rank sixth in passing yards allowed per game (225) but let’s take a closer look at the quarterbacks they have faced and how many yards they threw during those games. In order, the quarterbacks the Seahawks faced were Nick Foles (297), Aaron Rodgers (249), Jimmy Clausen (63), Matthew Stafford (203), Andy Dalton (331), Cam Newton (269), Colin Kaepernick (124), Matt Cassel (97), Carson Palmer (363), Blaine Gabbert (264), Ben Roethlisberger (456), Teddy Bridgewater (118), and Jimmy Clausen Act 2 (274). That equals out to allowing 199.9 passing yards in their eight wins and allowing 301.8 passing yards in their five losses. That’s right: when teams have beaten the Seahawks this season they’ve done it by throwing on their defense. The argument that they are playing better during their four-game winning streak isn’t true either. Sure they basically shoved Bridgewater into a locker, but that doesn’t counteract the fact they gave up 250+ passing yards to Gabbert and Clausen and gave up 456 yards to Roethlisberger, who didn’t even play the whole game. The Seahawks are talented enough to win in the postseason but they’ll likely have to win shootouts.
  8. Jacksonville’s Missed Opportunity: Nobody batted an eye when the Jacksonville Jaguars lost to the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans in back-to-back weeks. I bet even Jaguars’ fans said something along the lines of “oh well I guess we are out of the race for the AFC South title. Didn’t really matter as there’s no way we were going to catch up with the Colts and the Texans anyway.” Now as week 15 rolls around, the Jaguars are retroactively grieving those two losses as just one win against those two terrible teams would have Jacksonville tied for the division lead and a win over both of them would have given the Jaguars a one-game division lead with three weeks to go. Take one look at both the Colts and the Texans and what you see are two teams that are battling for the chance to get utterly destroyed by Kansas City, Pittsburgh or the New York Jets in the first round of the playoffs. While the Jaguars probably wouldn’t win that game either, there’s no doubt that the game would at least be more enjoyable with Blake Bortles flinging the ball around to Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.

All In The Cards: Thursday Night Football Edition (Week 13 Recap and Week 14 Preview)

Because the Arizona Cardinals are playing on Thursday night I decided to yet again combine the previous week’s recap this this week’s preview. This week the Cardinals will be hosting a Minnesota Vikings team that was just destroyed by the Seattle Seahawks and is looking to bounce back in a huge way. 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 this week’s matchup, let me make a couple of comments about last week’s games:

How I Did With My Week 13 NFL predictions:

  • Arizona 27, St. Louis 3 – (1-0)
  • Green Bay 27, Detroit 23 – (2-0)
  • Tampa Bay 23, Atlanta 19 – (3-0)
  • Buffalo 30, Houston 21 – (3-1)
  • San Francisco 26, Chicago 20 – (3-2)
  • Cincinnati 37, Cleveland 3 – (4-2)
  • Tennessee 42, Jacksonville 39 – (4-3)
  • Miami 15, Baltimore 13 – (4-4)
  • Seattle 38, Minnesota 7 – (4-5)
  • New York Jets 23, New York Giants 20 – (4-6)
  • Denver 17, San Diego 3 – (5-6)
  • Kansas City 34, Oakland 20 – (6-6)
  • Philadelphia 35, New England 28 – (6-7)
  • Carolina 41, New Orleans 38 – (7-7)
  • Pittsburgh 45, Indianapolis 10 – (8-7)
  • Dallas 19, Washington 16 – (8-8)

Week 13 Observations:

  • I understand that referees don’t want to get in the way of the final play of the game and thus let the players play in those situations, but if you just called a facemask penalty on the Detroit Lions that extended the game to an untimed down, you should stay consistent and call the holding and block in the back penalties on the Green Bay Packers offensive line during the “hail mary” throw. Maybe they were ticky-tacky calls but so was the facemask call.
  • Was it a fluky win that required everything to go right? Yes but I still give a lot of credit to the Philadelphia Eagles after a two-week span that looked like they had given up. Also, I can’t help but feel that what happened to Arizona last season is happening to New England this season. Patriots fans are literally putting all of their faith on players returning for the playoffs. News flash: it may take awhile for those players to get re-acclimated so even if they do come back they won’t be like their old-selves.
  • It’s weird how the media defines a team as “hot”. Two teams that are considered the hottest teams are the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks. The reason they are considered hot is because they are on long winning streaks, with Seattle winning three in a row and Kansas City winning six in a row. However, by that definition the Arizona Cardinals, winners of six in a row, should also be considered a hot team and the Carolina Panthers, who have won 12 in a row, should be considered the hottest team. Maybe a “hot” team is a designation for a good team playing great lately while the Cardinals and Panthers are great teams who have just won a bunch in a row? I don’t know the answer but that’s just my best assumption.
  • We have put up with division-winners making the playoffs despite not having winning records because the argument has been that it doesn’t happen very often. Well it’s going to happen for the fourth time in the last six seasons (2010 Seahawks, 2011 Broncos, 2014 Panthers, and the 2015 NFC East Winner as well as possibly the 2015 AFC South Winner). That list doesn’t even include the 2013 Packers who won their division at 8-7-1. This seems more like a problem than a coincidence and should be looked at by the NFL during this offseason.

Minnesota Vikings @ Arizona Cardinals

Last Meeting: L 21-14 @ Minnesota (10/21/12)

Due to the fact that the Minnesota Vikings were just obliterated by the Seattle Seahawks, there are mixed opinions on how that will affect the team when the Arizona Cardinals host them Thursday night.

One side of the argument is that the Vikings will be playing with a chip on their shoulder and will throw everything they have at the Cardinals to prove that they really are contenders this season. Crazy things always tend to happen on Thursday night (see the Hail Mary in Detroit last week) so this may be an instance where the Vikings just want this one more and so they will pull out the win.

The other side of that argument is that the Vikings were exposed against the Seahawks as a “good but not great” team that benefited from an easy schedule and can be easily shut down if you can contain Adrian Peterson and force Teddy Bridgewater to throw. The Cardinals will see that the Seahawks are rounding into playoff form and will want to clinch the division as soon as possible to prevent Seattle from making a last-second push. With the wounds of Sunday’s game still fresh, the Vikings will fall behind early against the Cardinals and will give up, clinching Arizona its second straight playoff berth.

As you might expect from me, I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I do think this is a “kitchen sink” game for the Vikings as they have a lot to prove after being blown out their last two home games. Cardinals fans know how the Vikings feel as Arizona has been in this position before,  trying to recover from a Seattle beatdown. That being said, Cardinals fans also know how a huge loss like the one Minnesota had last week can affect a team. The Vikings will give it their all but if at any point during the game the Cardinals have a two-score lead, the Vikings will start to panic and things will fall apart again for Minnesota. As long as Arizona gets off to a quick start they should win this one, but the longer they let Minnesota hang around the better chance the Vikings have of pulling off the upset.

Prediction: Arizona 31, Minnesota 20

My Week 14 NFL Predictions:

  • Carolina 27, Atlanta 16
  • Buffalo 30, Philadelphia 27
  • Chicago 23, Washington 17
  • Pittsburgh 35, Cincinnati 31
  • San Francisco 20, Cleveland 6
  • Detroit 28, St. Louis 10
  • New York Jets 27, Tennessee 24
  • Indianapolis 29, Jacksonville 26
  • Kansas City 38, San Diego 14
  • Tampa Bay 31, New Orleans 24
  • Seattle 28, Baltimore 17
  • Denver 24, Oakland 20
  • Green Bay 23, Dallas 18
  • New England 28, Houston 23
  • New York Giants 24, Miami 17

Week 13 Record: 8-8
Season Record: 118-74 (.615)
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
 

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