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: 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
 

All In The Cards: Opinionated Edition (Week 6 Recap)

Welcome to the week six NFL recap of All In The Cards! I thought about writing a whole article outlining the Cardinals current problems, but I was afraid it may end up turning into a 5,000-word rant and I know no one wants to read that so I’ll go straight to the short-recap format, which will still be highly opinionated but at least it won’t be focused all on the Cards. All future recaps will be written in this style since the NBA season is almost here (which means Hoosiers In The NBA is almost here!) and I want to continue posting these on Tuesday. 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 these two teams stack up against each other:

How I did on my NFL Week 6 Predictions:

  • Pittsburgh 25, Arizona 13: While it is true that the change from Michael Vick to Landry Jones messed with the Cards’ defensive gameplan, there are other reasons behind the loss. If you look at the game stats, you’ll notice two big differences between games the Cardinals win and lose: turnovers and redzone efficiency. The Cardinals like to take risks on offense, thus they have turned the ball over in five of their six games (the lone exception being against Detroit). That’s not a problem, as long as the Arizona defense also forces turnovers. The Cards defense has been able to make up for the offense’s 10 turnovers by forcing opponents into 13 turnovers through six games. Actually, it would be more accurate to say the Cardinals defense has forced 13 turnovers in their four wins. They forced zero turnovers against the Rams and Steelers. If the offense doesn’t get those extra possessions then each mistake becomes amplified. Just like with the turnovers, redzone efficiency also follows this pattern. The Cards have scored 16 touchdowns in 17 trips to the redzone during wins, while they have only scored two touchdowns in nine redzone trips during losses. Going forward, succeeding in these two categories will be important for the Cardinals to win. It will also be the key to stopping them. (0-1)
  • New Orleans 31, Atlanta 21: Here’s a trick for picking these supposedly “wacky” Thursday night games: Pick the team that benefits most from the shorter week. In this case, the Falcons were coming off their fourth second half comeback as the beat the Redskins 25-19 and were being praised for never giving up and always coming through in the clutch. On the other side, the Saints were coming off an embarrassing 39-17 loss to the Eagles and wanted to forget that game ever happened. So basically the Saints were focused on their next opponent right away while the Falcons were distracted by all the hype they were receiving. You can overcome those types of distractions during a normal week of preparation but not on a short one. (1-1)
  • Cincinnati 34, Buffalo 21: While I personally think Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are more valuable to their teams, there is no doubt that Andy Dalton is the leading MVP candidate at this point in the season. The main reason is voter fatigue. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term “voter fatigue”, the best way to understand it would be to look at the history of the NBA MVP. Both Michael Jordan and LeBron James have four MVPs, but both were obviously the most valuable player for more than just four seasons. Voters get tired of giving the award to the same person so they look for someone new to give it to when they can. Rodgers is the reigning MVP and Brady is the reigning Super Bowl MVP, so they’ve been celebrated recently, which means now the voters will feel that it’s Dalton’s turn if he keeps up this performance. (2-1)
  • Detroit 37, Chicago 34: A week removed from being obliterated by the Cardinals, the Lions were able to fend off a recently-improved Bears team and earn their first win of the season. This was a crucial win for an organization that started hearing whispers about possibly going 0-16 again after seemingly turning the franchise around. The Lions still won’t be good this season, but as long as they are not bad either, this season will just be a bump in road instead of a full-on dumpster fire. The Bears will be fine; they just need to score more touchdowns in the redzone. (2-2)
  • Denver 26, Cleveland 23: First off, I’d like to give a big shout out to ex-Cardinal great Karlos Dansby for the spectacular performance this week (seven tackles, two pass deflections, two interceptions and a touchdown).However, the main story is the Broncos continuing to win despite being terrible offensively. I brought up Peyton Manning’s projected stats last week so there is no need for me to rehash them again this week after another subpar performance. Instead let me talk about the Broncos offense as a whole. The offense has accounted for just 54 of the team’s 139 points. The rest of those points were scored by the Broncos kicker (Brandon McManus has made 16 field goals in addition to his 13 extra points) and the Broncos defense (two touchdowns by Aqib Talib and one touchdown each for Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby). Even if you want to credit extra points after offensive touchdowns to the offense, 63 of 139 is still less than 50%. The offense needs to start pulling its own weight or else this great start may end in an epic collapse. (3-2)
  • Miami 38, Tennessee 10: It’s these types of occurrences that make sports management and fans think that firing a coach is an easy solution for turning a team around. I’m not claiming it doesn’t work, it obviously worked this week for the Dolphins, but the circumstances have to be right. You need to make sure that the reason the team is under-performing is because they are either disagreeing or ignoring their coach, and not that the team isn’t good enough to execute the coach’s gameplan. It was obvious that the Dolphins and Joe Philbin were not connecting anymore, and since they had a suitable replacement in Dan Campbell, the Dolphins were right to make the move. However, if a team isn’t 100% sure whether or not the coach is more to blame than the players and it doesn’t have a suitable replacement, it should never make a coaching change just for the sake of change. (3-3)
  • Minnesota 16, Kansas City 10: There’s not much to say about this game other than I feel really bad for Chiefs fans. The offense looks like a complete mess without Jamaal Charles and we’ve known for a long time that Alex Smith is a considerably worse quarterback when he doesn’t have a run game to help him. Meanwhile, the Vikings have to be ecstatic about Stefon Diggs’ performance Sunday as well as the possibility of him becoming the go-to receiver for Teddy Bridgewater in the years to come. (4-3)
  • New York Jets 34, Washington 20: With a coach who has a personality as strong as Todd Bowles, it wasn’t a matter of if the team would take on his personality, but rather how quickly will the team take on Bowles personality? By personality I am specifically talking about his uncanny ability to recognize a problem and, in the short 15 minutes each team gets at halftime, come up with a gameplan to counter those problems. Well it seems like the answer was week six. The defense was already playing like a Bowles defense, but against the Redskins the offense also took that step forward. The Jets, trailing 13-10 at half, scored 24 straight points to start the second half and ran away with the win. As long as this team believes in Bowles, I see a trip to the playoffs as a real possibility this season. (5-3)
  • Houston 31, Jacksonville 20: Here’s hoping Texans’ head coach Bill O’Brien has finally made his decision at quarterback. Brian Hoyer was great in the Texans comeback and finally showed what this offense is capable of when they have consistent quarterback play. It helps that DeAndre Hopkins is having a breakout season and that Arian Foster is back. As for the Jaguars, this is the second time in three weeks they have blown a fourth quarter lead, the other one being against the Colts. If they want to start seeing vast improvement they’ll need to learn how to hold on to those leads. (5-4)
  • Carolina 27, Seattle 23: Speaking of blowing fourth quarter leads, did you know that the Seahawks have had led in the fourth quarter of every game they have played this season? I can already tell you don’t believe me so let’s recap:
    • Week 1 (@ St. Louis): The Seahawks scored 18 straight points in the fourth quarter against the Rams to lead 31-24 with 4:39 left to go, only to allow a game-tying touchdown with 53 seconds left and lose in overtime.
    • Week 2 (@ Green Bay): After trailing 13-3 at half, the Seahawks scored two touchdowns in third and led 17-16 heading the fourth quarter. The Packers outscored Seattle 10-0 in the final period.
    • Week 3 (vs. Chicago): Seattle won 26-0 so obviously they led in the fourth quarter.
    • Week 4 (vs. Detroit): The Seahawks led 13-3 entering the fourth quarter and then proceeded to give up a fumble return for a touchdown and allowed the Lions to drive 90 yards before Seattle was saved by an officiating blunder.
    • Week 5 (@ Cincinnati): A Bobby Wagner fumble return has Seattle up 24-7 after three quarters, only to see Andy Dalton rip apart the Legion Of Boom in the fourth quarter as the Bengals score 17 points in the period and win in overtime.
    • Week 6 (vs. Carolina): At home, the Seahawks had a 23-14 lead halfway through the fourth quarter. Then in the final four minutes the Panthers score two touchdowns to win 27-23.

Now you can take this one of two ways: either you’re still positive because the Seahawks have played well all season but have just had some trouble in the fourth quarter, or you’re wondering if there is something psychologically wrong with the Seahawks for them to continuously fall apart in the fourth quarter. I’m starting to lean towards the latter statement. (5-5)

  • Green Bay 27, San Diego 20: This stat should show you just how much pressure the Chargers place on Philip Rivers to keep this team competitive: Rivers became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 500 yards in a game with no interceptions and still lose the game. I know that when a quarterback is throwing for a lot of yards it is usually because they are trailing, but that still doesn’t change the fact he’s the first to accomplish this and still lose. Talk about not getting any support from your team. Then again one could also consider it as a testament to how well the Packers are playing. (6-5)
  • San Francisco 25, Baltimore 20: Since getting destroyed in Arizona, the 49ers have quietly rebounded. They hung tough with the undefeated Packers for a half, came very close to upsetting the Giants at MetLife Stadium, and held on to beat a desperate Ravens team. They now get a reeling Seattle team on a short week, and as I stated, the team that benefits the most from a short week usually wins the Thursday night game. With as much turmoil as there is with the Seahawks, I’d say a short week benefits San Francisco more. Hard to believe but if the 49ers do pull off the win and then beat St. Louis the following week, they’ll find themselves back at .500 halfway through the season. (6-6)
  • New England 34, Indianapolis 27: Recall what I wrote about the Dolphins: “You should never make a coaching change if you are not 100% sure that the coach is more to blame than the players.” This fits the Chuck Pagano situation perfectly. Was the fake punt risky? Yes, it was extremely risky but it was worth the risk just to line up and see how the Patriots would respond. The center Griff Whalen should have snapped the ball only if the Patriots defense didn’t look prepared. As it turns out, they were prepared and the Colts should have taken the delay of game or called a timeout instead. If the Colts were leading the Patriots then I would switch positions, but the fact was that the Colts were down seven against a team that has owned them for a long time. It’s not as dumb of a decision as people might think. (7-6)
  • Philadelphia 27, New York Giants 7: This is why I didn’t want to say the Giants were in control of the NFC East last week because truthfully no one really has control in that division. That being said, the Eagles now find themselves as the division leaders and have a good chance to stay at the top if their defense continues to play like it did Monday night. The problem is I still don’t completely trust the offense and Sam Bradford in particular. However, the Eagles do have a great opportunity to prove me wrong when as they face the undefeated Panthers this week. (7-7)

Week 6 Record: 7-7
Season Record: 60-31
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

All In The Cards: Week 6

Welcome back a new edition of All In the Cards! This week we see the Arizona Cardinals face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Besides being a rematch of Super Bowl XLIII, this game is really personal for the Cardinals, especially for their head coach. 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 these two teams stack up against each other:

Arizona Cardinals @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Last Meeting: L 32-20 vs. Pittsburgh (10/23/11)

Welcome to the Bruce Arians revenge game.

After being forced out after the 2011 season, Arians will finally face the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend. As offensive coordinator of the Steelers, Arians really developed Ben Roethlisberger as a quarterback and was a part of two Super Bowl teams, which includes the 2009 Steelers who beat Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII.

Now Arians returns to Pittsburgh with his own team, a team that mirrors those previous Steeler teams. Since Arians arrival in the desert, the Cardinals have transformed into the late 2000s Steelers, with an unstoppable vertical passing game, a running game that is better than it looks, and a defense that forces turnovers at an incredible rate. With how Arians’ Cardinals obliterated the Bears (who interviewed Arians in 2013 but then decided to hire Marc Trestman instead), you would think Arizona would demolish a Roethlisberger-less Steelers.

Amazingly enough that’s not the case. Even without Roethlisberger, the Steelers have quite a few favorable matchups. Mobile quarterbacks still present the biggest challenge to this Cardinals defense, and at age 35, Michael Vick may have lost some skills but he is still very mobile. Le’Veon Bell is one of the best receiving backs in the NFL and we have seen screen passes to running backs burn the Cardinals before. The Steelers have 16 sacks on the season, and while the Cardinals have done a relatively good job of protecting Carson Palmer (seven sacks allowed in five games), six of those sacks have come in the past two weeks, showing it may have had more to do with facing terrible pass-rushes instead of the Cards having great pass-protection the first three weeks.

In the end, I see the Cardinals finding a way to win this game for their beloved Coach Arians. As long as Palmer can stay standing, he will expose the Steelers defense through the intermediate passing game (also known as Larry Fitzgerald’s sweet spot) and the defense will force Vick to have to win the game with his arm. It will just be harder than people might have expected, and may have been impossible if Roethlisberger was healthy.

Prediction: Arizona 27, Pittsburgh 17

Other NFL Week 6 Predictions:

  • New Orleans 26, Atlanta 24
  • Cincinnati 27, Buffalo 17
  • Chicago 19, Detroit 13
  • Denver 24, Cleveland 12
  • Tennessee 20, Miami 17
  • Minnesota 24, Kansas City 10
  • New York Jets 23, Washington 16
  • Jacksonville 23, Houston 17
  • Seattle 24, Carolina 20
  • Green Bay 31, San Diego 18
  • Baltimore 28, San Francisco 27
  • New England 38, Indianapolis 20
  • New York Giants 27, Philadelphia 23