The NFL Playoff Seeding Offers Intrigue in the Final Two Weeks

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

With only two weeks left in the regular season, there is still much in the balance in both conferences. Neither conference has any of its seeds decided for sure yet and the Wild Card spots are still in the mix. There is still a ton of meaningful football left and it’s very likely that few teams in contention, if any, will be able to rest their starter in Week 17 (assuming of course that Carolina goes for 16-0). Elsewhere, 14 teams have already been eliminated and their players and coaches are giving their all to both play spoiler as well as to pad their own resumes for the offseason. Let’s take a look around the league.

NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

In the NFC there are nine teams fighting for the six playoff spots. Carolina, Arizona, Green Bay and Seattle have made the postseason for sure. Minnesota and Washington currently occupy the six and fourth seeds respectively as well. Beyond them, the Eagles, Giants, and Falcons are all still alive for the playoffs. This is a little bit deceiving however. Neither the Giants nor the Eagles can win the sixth Wild Card spot as both are now three games behind Minnesota with two to play. The Eagles and Giants are only in the mix by virtue of a weak NFC East. Washington and the Eagles play next Saturday and then the Giants and Eagles play in Week 17. Those two matchups will decide the NFC East winner who will take the fourth overall seed and host the fifth seed on Wild Card weekend.

[Read more…]

Look Ahead into NFL Week 15

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

Jingle Bells and Merry Christmas everyone! This is the last week of NFL football before one of the best holidays of the year. Christmas day itself is devoted to NBA basketball because the NFL decided to let another league have a holiday all to itself. As such, this weekend and next weekend are days of merriment for football fans.

Week 14 Against the Spread 9-7 (107-89 Overall)

After a weak week in Week 13, the home stretch is looking promising. I felt somewhat undone by Andy Dalton’s tragic broken thumb (to say nothing of what his injury did to my fantasy team). Ultimately, I have to feel pretty good about my season. Picking against the spread can be daunting, even for analysts more experienced than I. With three weeks to go, and I may not count Week 17 due to the rather typical benching of star players. Let’s take a look at the games this week.

[Read more…]

Who’s Up for Black Monday in the NFL?

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

As sad as it is to say, for 20 teams in the NFL the season ends in just three weeks. As the page turns from season to offseason, the NFL has its own perverse version of Black Friday. On Black Monday, teams across the league will issue pink slips to the coaches and staff who just didn’t get it done. Sometimes it’s justified; sometimes it’s an owner caving to the pressures of fans who want blood in exchange for their butts in the seats. Regardless, every year things change. This year is no different. The following are the coaches who should have the most to fear when Week 17 comes to an end.

Jeff Fisher — St. Louis Rams

Most of the time when you see a coach fired it’s due to one of two things (or both). Either the coach hasn’t lived up to the high expectations of a particular season, or the team has been perennially awful or mediocre under his watch. For Jeff Fisher, it’s both. Currently at 22-30 with the Rams, Jeff Fisher has the least success of probably any coach ever with as long as he’s been in the league. He’s professional, he gets the game and the team owners he’s played for have liked him which has kept him around. His big claim to fame was shepherding the Titans through three stadiums and two cities. This year though, the Rams, heralded as up and comers in the NFC West, have been middling at best. It’s been the same old story in St. Louis. With news the team may move to L.A. the ownership would likely fancy a total makeover. Fisher could be done.

[Read more…]

Homestretch in Run for NFL Playoffs Getting Clearer

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

It’s hard to believe there are only three weeks of regular season football left. As the season draws to a close, more and more clarity is granted to the postseason picture. Each conference contains a dangerous red-hot Wild Card contender and both conferences feature mediocre divisions (the AFC South and NFC East). Let’s take a quick look at the postseason as we learn more and more from the regular season.

THE TWO MOST DANGEROUS POSTSEASON TEAMS

Photo Credit: Jason Bridge/USA Today Sports

It’s been a year of incredible parity in the NFL. It wasn’t until this weekend that teams really started to get sorted out in the playoffs and other clubs began to get eliminated. That also means that the difference in talent between the sixth seed and the first seed might be a lot less than usual. Maybe the Wild Card clubs had bad injuries. Maybe they played a tougher schedule. Maybe they just suffered rotten luck. Whatever the case may be, the old adage that you want to be the hot team going into the playoffs could certainly hold true again. For the two most dangerous teams in the postseason, that would certainly seem to be the hope.

There are two teams no one wants to face right now in January, the Steelers and the Seahawks. Both will likely end up Wild Cards, possibly the worst seed in each conference. They are also teams that are getting hot at the right time. Now to be clear, neither team in flawless. Seattle has incredible weakness on the offensive line and their battered running back corps, so long a strength for the Seahawks, is taking huge hits. The Steelers, for their part, can’t seem to defend anyone in the passing game. Ultimately, there is a reason these teams will be Wild Cards; they aren’t invincible. Still, both teams are blisteringly hot, and both teams are lighting it up through the air.

Over the past weeks, quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger can do no wrong. They are dropping bombs all over the field. Touchdown after touchdown, both teams have gotten hot by torching teams through the air. They are blowing out opponents left and right and no one wants to see that in December. After all, the Panthers or Patriots might be more balanced, but like a basketball team that can rain threes, a bomber squadron passing unit can get white-hot in an individual game and be almost impossible to stop. Early season struggles may make both teams road warriors for the entirety of the playoffs, but neither team should be considered a long-shot to play in Santa Clara.

[Read more…]

Look Ahead into NFL Week 14

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

Here we are, the last quarter of the regular season. Where does the time go? Just about every team knows what they need to do from here on out and despite the parity in the NFL the path to the postseason for most teams is clear: Just Win Baby. As with last week, top matchups this week focus on games with a large amount of postseason meaning. Let’s take a look at all of them.

Week 13 Against the Spread 6-10 (98-82 Overall)

Yikes. Not the kind of week I needed if I want to finish the season respectably. While I do get one freebie on the Pats-Eagles game (honestly who saw that one coming), the rest of the week was mostly a nightmare and if Aaron Rodgers doesn’t bail me out with that home run ball on an untimed down I’d be an even worse looking 5-11. Brutal.

MY THURSDAY NIGHT PICK

Cardinals 23 Vikings 20

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Chris Petersen

Boy the Vikings have had some tough losses in Arizona (Nate Poole anyone?). This is a tough game to lose though going down to the wire and fighting the way they did. Definitely showed that Teddy Bridgewater is the man though. The big consequence of this game is that a Green Bay win against the Cowboys means that Green Bay can do no worse than have the division up for grabs in Week 17. For the Vikings it means they cannot fall another game behind Green Bay because to fall two games back would make Week 17 meaningless. For the Cardinals they cleared a major obstacle to the second overall seed, but a Packers loss would make the Week 17 game massive if Green Bay were to win out. Lots of scenarios there. Let’s take a look at the games.

MUST WATCH GAMES

Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh (Cincinnati -2.5)

In a week of (surprisingly) mostly mediocre contests, this one stands alone. Back when Pitt lost the first leg of this division series most figured them for dead. They’ve surged back to life in the second part of the season with a blistering aerial assault that has them marked as a classic “no one wants to see them in the playoffs” club. Cincinnati, for their own part, is looking to tie off the division and contend for the first overall seed. The Pats dumping two straight to the Broncos and Eagles has the conference looking like it could be more up in the air than we thought with three clubs sharing a 10-2 record. Lots to play for, Dalton and Roethlisberger, offense and defense. It’s good old-fashioned AFC North football. Game of the week.

My take on this game is that the Bengals do just about everything really well, where as the Steelers are just lighting it up on offense. Their defense could get them into trouble though. They just aren’t doing much well on that side of the ball against top QBs. In Cincy I’ll take the Bengals.

(Cincinnati Covers the Spread)

[Read more…]

Why Aren’t the Panthers Getting More Love?

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

Listen to what the media types and pundits are saying about the NFL. Listen to what they’re saying about the best teams. Some say it’s the Patriots. Some say it’s the Cardinals. A few say it’s the Bengals. Sure it would be unfair to say that nobody is saying the Panthers, but for the life of me I cannot understand why this team is not getting more love. They are 12-0! They will be heavy favorites in their last four games and as such, heavy favorites to become only the second team in the history of the NFL to go 16-0 in the regular season. Barring a spectacular egg laying a la Green Bay versus the Chiefs in 2011, the Panthers will have set themselves up to make history like no other team since the 2007 Patriots. So why aren’t they getting more love? As I look at the team the answer seems apparent. They just don’t pass the ball very well.

[Read more…]

NFL Race to the Playoffs Preview

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

Other than tonight’s matchup between Dallas and Washington, Week 13 is in the books. Every team in the NFL has now played 12 games. With 3/4 of the season gone, the run-up to the playoffs has taken clear shape. However, this is one of the most even seasons in recent memory. Due to this, it won’t be until Weeks 16 and 17 until most divisions are decided and the conferences are all sorted through. So let’s take a quick look at each division and conference with a look to the playoffs.

NFC East

Photo Credit: Danny Wild/USA Today Sports

Current Leader — Washington 5-6

Key Remaining Games: Week 13 Washington vs. Cowboys; Week 17 Giants vs. Eagles 

The NFL’s crappiest division this year sees Washington, a team with a losing record, leading the division. This division won’t be won until the final week though with everyone but Dallas within a game of the division lead. Dallas likely won’t recover from losing Tony Romo. They’d likely need to win the next five straight. It’s hard to like anyone in this division.

NFC North

Current Leader — Green Bay 8-4

Key Remaining Games: Week 17 Packers vs. Vikings

The NFC North picture is actually incredibly straight-forward. As long as the Vikings and Packers are within one game of each other going into Week 17, that game will be for the division due to how the tie-breakers work out. Both teams are tied in the standings, but Green Bay has the tie-breaker for now. Minnesota has a tough run-in and after losing to Green Bay and Seattle and with Arizona coming up, the goal for them is to make Week 17 count. Smart money is probably still on Green Bay though.

[Read more…]

Look Ahead into NFL Week 13

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

Ton of stuff to cover this week ladies and gentlemen. It’s been two weeks since a normal week of posting and I’m a day behind as it is. So let’s get to the pick recaps, my Thursday night pick and then all the action this weekend.

Week 11-12 Against the Spread 8-6 and 10-6 (92-72 Overall)

Thanksgiving and the week before were both solid weeks for me and have officially turned this year into a winner barring some incredibly bad picking weeks. My best picks over this span were easily the Lions on Thanksgiving picking them to win big and for believing in Brock Osweiler who I have been a big fan of for a long time. Time to keep the streak alive.

MY THURSDAY NIGHT PICK

Green Bay 27 Detroit 23

It’s pretty hard to undersell what a phenomenal finish this game was. Green Bay came back from 20 points down to avoid being swept by the Lions. Aaron Rodgers threw, on the untimed game-winning Hail Mary, possibly the greatest throw of all time. Now there might be some other throws that equal it, but in terms of distance, accuracy and arc that throw is likely at the very limits of human capability. It came straight down to Richard Rodgers, the tight end and he snagged it like a rebound. You can watch football another 40 seasons and not see another pro game end like that. Preposterous.

[Read more…]

Sorry Top NFL Team Fans, I Want Your Team to Lose

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

My self-imposed rule of leaving offseason stuff to the seven months of offseason we have is taking a beating this week. Between the catch rule, possible team movement to LA and discussion of a possible total rewrite to the NFL rulebook, there’s simply a ton of “offseason” content to take a look at. However, I will soldier on. With 28 teams in the NFL within two games of a playoff spot with just five games to go there is just too much to consider. With so many teams jockeying for the postseason what I really want to discuss is how little I want the top four seeds to go through to the Super Bowl.

[Read more…]

State of the NFL Week 12

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

Tie a bow on November sports fans, after tonight’s contest we are in December. December is one of the best months of the year in pro football because it means a race to the finish. Most of the league still has playoff hopes and those will burn until math eliminates a team. Already games of consequence are being played with Denver winning a massive game against New England. Carolina has the NFC in its grasp as they look to stay perfect and just about everyone else is in for a Wild Card. Let’s take a look around the league.

Patriots Lose and Lose

Photo Credit: Aaron Ontiveroz/Fox Sports

It’s hard to imagine the latest edition of Sunday Night Football going any worse for the New England Patriots. In addition to being beaten for the first time all season, the team suffered an injury that could only be topped if Tom Brady were to go down. New England has made a living in the Belichick era being a “patch” team, plugging in free agents to fix problems. However, you don’t just replace a future Hall of Fame talent at tight end. That is the sobering reality for the Patriots as Rob Gronkowski fell to the turf in apparent agonizing pain. Should the worst be realized and Gronk be lost for the season, a distinct possibility, it’s hard to see the Patriots as favorites for the Super Bowl with all their other injuries. Tom Brady can only cover so much.

Still, all is not lost for New England. Hope certainly remains for Gronkowski until official word is heard. Beyond that, the schedule in December is fairly forgiving. The hardest game left is against surging Houston at NRG Stadium. Aside from that the remaining games are against the Eagles, Titans, Jets and Dolphins, hardly a who’s who of the NFL’s elite. In all reality, the Patriots should still have a firm expectation of grabbing the first overall seed, or at the very least a first round bye. Brady can win with this club, but it’s uphill from here. One night has dashed New England’s hopes of the ultimate revenge season.

[Read more…]

NFL Triple-Feature Turkey Day Preview

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday of the year. It has the best food. It isn’t burdened down with all the gift-giving and getting consumerism of Christmas. Oh, and there’s football, tons and tons of football. Since the NFL started airing three games a year on Thanksgiving, I’ve been able to stuff myself full of food and football every year. It’s wonderful. The NFL has taken hold of a holiday like no other sport. The closest any of the other leagues come is the NBA on Christmas. This year breaks down rather nicely too. All three games are of consequence to varying degrees and the games get better as the day goes on. Let’s take a quick look at all three.

Lions vs. Eagles (Lions -2.5)

Let’s be clear on one thing shall we? There are only nine teams in the NFL with winning records. NINE! No one is out of the playoffs just yet. It’s a long shot for the Lions to be sure, especially with two of those winning teams in their own division, but there is still hope. For the Eagles, the NFC East is lead by a .500 Giants club. They can be caught. This is a massive game for the Eagles and one they have to feel they need to win. The big question for them is whether or not injured (shocking right?) Sam Bradford starts or Mark “Sanchise” Sanchez. Talk about being burdened with riches. Detroit is realistically just trying to get through the year. Still they’ve been far more competitive lately. The real key to this game has to be Philly’s rushing attack against a porous Detroit rush D and Detroit’s ability to pass the ball versus a suspect Eagles secondary. With two teams that have been incredibly inconsistent, it’s hard to predict what will happen. Still I’d take the hotter home team. The Lions are tough on Thanksgiving.

(Lions Cover the Spread)

[Read more…]

State of the NFL Week 11

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

Let us know spare a thought for the less fortunate among us. This Thanksgiving week, as attention increasingly turns to the playoff race, it is only right that we spend some time thinking on the fans of the truly disappointing squads. Of course there are the Dolphins and Ravens. Both these teams hoped to contend for a Super Bowl, instead, one team lost its season to poor performance and the regression of Ryan Tannehill while the Ravens were simply injured to death. Then there are the Cowboys, another injured squad too proud to throw in the towel. Of course, we can’t forget the Lions. At the very least, they hoped to be competitive and while beating Green Bay in Wisconsin for the first time in decades serves as a consolation, this team certainly wasn’t hoping to get another top five draft pick. Thus, we turn our gaze to the playoffs, but not before we bow our heads and remember those who have fallen. Amen.

Now for a review of the week’s action.

[Read more…]