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.

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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.

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Reid’s NFL Mailbag: Jets vs. Cowboys, Serena vs. a Horse

By Reid Kerr
PSDC Offensive Coordinator

We’re finally to the time of the year when the NFL expands onto Saturdays, giving us four out of five days straight containing pro football. I can only assume the NFL does this out of compassion for those of us who always get depressed around this time of the year, and could use a few more concussions and torn knee ligaments to get us through the holiday season.

With that in mind, time to check back in with the ol’ mailbag.

Q: Is Johnny Manziel finally the answer in Cleveland?
A: The best you can say right now is that young Jonathan Livingston Football is no longer a negative certainty, and for the Browns, that’s a huge deal. Cleveland is consistently such a grease-fire-train-wreck-clown-autopsy, having any bright spot in this season is a plus. Manziel’s first two seasons have been a mess in every way, but now that he’s finally getting to start and accepting that responsibility, he’s worth taking a look at. He probably had his best pro game against the 49ers last week. The Browns are characteristically awful this year and will probably clean house again as soon as the season ends, but Manziel has given them enough to think about that the next coach will at least have him as an option. And if not, expect the Browns to draft another quarterback and Manziel to go exactly where you think he’ll go.

Q: How many coaches will get fired on Black Monday, and is Jason Garrett safe?
A: Last question first, yes. He’s still Jerry’s guy, although both of them need to share the blame for stocking a roster of useless backfield parts behind Romo. Garrett’s done an awful job of getting his team ready to play without his starting quarterback, and Jerry is well aware of that. The clock is ticking on Romo and the Cowboys window to make a playoff run, and the cupboard is bare behind him. Keeping the band together right now is the best idea.

As for the rest of the league, I’ll say the Chargers, Colts, Browns, and Lions will all make a move. The Falcons and 49ers should but won’t, and the Dolphins and Titans have already switched, and should keep looking.

Q: What do you think about Sports Illustrated naming Serena Williams as their Sportsperson of the Year, and snubbing American Pharoah?
A: Since the NFL player who probably deserved it was the same one on trial for Deflategate the entire year, I can see how they’d ignore the NFL. I would have probably gone with the Kansas City Royals, but I can see their point about Williams. As for people rooting for a horse, good luck with all that.

Don’t get me wrong, I get horse racing. It’s like the lottery for rich people and organized crime figures. But I prefer to follow sports that have more than three events people can name, and consider athletes who actually know they’re in a competition.

And don’t tell me that horses understand they’re racing in the Preakness or wherever. Even if you believe that, you definitely don’t believe they’re aware enough to understand the concept of “injuries.” If they had any idea of what would happen to them if they broke their leg while racing, every event would take the half-speed pace of Pro Bowl out there.

On to the picks. In Week Fourteen I went 3-3, overestimating the Bucs, Falcons, and Cowboys. And as bad as the Cowboys are, the Falcons are even more soul-crushingly worse. Remember when they were 5-0 this season? I do, and so does Falcon ownership, and that’s a major problem.

I’m now 51-38-2 on the year. Here’s my picks for the early games in week fifteen, I’ll be back Sunday with the rest. Remember, these are for the purposes of discussion only. As always, no wagering.

Tampa Bay (+1.5) at St. Louis – They lose games they should win, then pull off upsets. They’re led by the highest-regarded coach in history with the lowest winning percentage. Forget LA, the only way the Rams could be any less stable would be to move them directly onto the San Andreas Fault.
Pick: Bucs

NY Jets (-3.5) at Dallas – At some point you just have to stop rooting for wins, and turn all of your hopes towards tanking and getting a good draft pick. You have to go “Full Browns.”
Pick: Cowboys

I’ll also take Christmas Vacation over White Christmas, “Please Come Home For Christmas” over “Santa Baby,” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” over “Silent Night.”

- Reid Kerr talks a lot, as his wife always reminds him. Reid’s novel “The Great Texas Trailer Park Escape” is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com. You can always tweet questions, comments, and angry messages to him at @reidaboutit.

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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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State of the NFL Week 11

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

Entering Week 11 there are only 11 teams with winning records in the NFL. That’s incredible. While it does help that so many teams went undefeated for a relatively long time, the real factor is that teams aren’t dominating or going on streaks. This has made the NFL very hard to predict this year. One week a team will look like world beaters. The next, they’ll get trounced by a cellar-dweller. Fans have been taken on an emotional roller coaster and there are no signs of it stopping soon. As usual, we’ll take a look at every game this weekend, but first, my picks from last week and the Thursday Night game.

Week 10 Against the Spread 8-6 (74-60 Overall)

Another solid week and I’m deeper in the black. I don’t even feel that bad about my misses. Philly and Miami are always hard to pick this year and honestly who saw Green Bay losing to Detroit? My victories felt much sweeter, especially picking New York to lose to New England, but beat the spread. Time to head into the home stretch myself.

MY THURSDAY NIGHT PICK

Jaguars 19 Titans 13

Well it was the second straight week of the color rush uniforms and most people don’t really seem to care. It’s an interesting idea, but this isn’t the NBA. The uniforms were more fun to watch than the product on the field however. This was a real snoozer up until Jacksonville scored 10 points in the final quarter to steal a victory. In the AFC South, every win is a big deal and Jacksonville is suddenly, incredibly, in the division hunt.

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State of the NFL Week 10

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

Photo Credit: John Leyba, The Denver Post

It really is a strange year in the NFL. Peyton Manning is benched on the same day he breaks Brett Favre’s record for career yardage. Farther north, Brett Favre’s replacement, Aaron Rodgers, struggles to get the Packers to score at all. The NFL can’t figure out what a catch is and we might genuinely have two teams racing for perfection come December. It has been a wacky year and more is sure to come. Let’s take a look at some of the top stories from around the NFL in Week 10.

What is Going on in Green Bay

In a year full of top teams on the bottom like Seattle and Baltimore, no fall has come more quickly or manifested so dramatically as the decline of the Green Bay Packers. The offense for Green Bay has become abominable. Against Detroit, one of the worst defenses in the league, a team that allowed more than 30 points per game, the Packers mustered all of three points until late in the final quarter of play. No one knows what the answer is. Injuries surely play a role; losing Jordy Nelson and missing Eddie Lacy haven’t helped. Could it be the playcalling? Could it be the schemes? No one knows. What we do know is that, despite a 6-3 record, Green Bay is playing like one of the worst teams in the NFL. They were taken apart by a Denver team that just benched its quarterback the same day he broke the career yardage record. It was one thing for Green Bay to lose back to back roadies against undefeated ball clubs. It is quite another for them to lose at home to a team that hasn’t won in Green Bay in over two decades. The Lions are suffering from internal turmoil and have only won one other game this year, and they beat Green Bay in Lambeau. No one has won at Lambeau since 2013, not even the mighty Patriots. Instead, Green Bay has become a laughingstock. The team started a span of four division games in 18 days on Sunday. They play the division leading Vikings this week. Green Bay is a stable place. They don’t fire folks quickly. However, it is safe to say that a fourth straight loss would turn some heads. The way they are playing, Minnesota might win by 20. Green Bay needs to get things sorted or they’ll joint Baltimore and Seattle: on the outside looking in.

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Look Ahead into NFL Week 10

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

We’re rounding the stretch and will soon close out the NFL’s middle part of the season. Some teams, like the unbeaten clubs will start turning their eyes towards the postseason as they will be tying up their divisions soon. Others, like the Ravens, Lions, and 49ers will be looking to offseason questions (Calvin Johnson or Colin Kaepernick anyone?). For an awful lot of clubs in the middle and their fans this is best time of year. It’s division race time where a victory can feel like the best thing in the world and a loss carries the devastation of a truly missed opportunity. We’ll take a look at all the games this week, but first let’s look at last week’s picks and my “pick” from last night.

Week 9 Against the Spread 8-5 (68-54 Overall)

A marginally better week than last one especially when you consider that one of my losses was the nearly universally mis-picked Colts-Broncos game. Easily my best pick was taking Oakland to lose while beating the spread. They may prove a stern test for the Minnesota Vikings this week. Big misses for me were on the Chargers, Falcons and Packers and miracle of miracles, I finally got a Dolphins game right. Let’s hope for another good week.

MY THURSDAY NIGHT PICK

Buffalo Bills 22 New York Jets 17

Well my readers, you’re going to have to take me at my word on this one. I picked Buffalo to cover the spread and honestly I was hoping they’d lose towards the end so I wouldn’t seem self-serving. My concussion article yesterday certainly lacked the proper tone for a game pick at the end and posting my pick for this game on Twitter just slipped my mind. Regardless, this was a statement win for Big Rex Ryan. As much as he might want to pretend he cares more about beating New England, this game clearly meant a lot to him.

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NFL Midseason Review

By Michael LoCoco
PSDC NFL Beat Writer

Somehow, incredibly, we are halfway through the NFL season. Every team except the Bears (they play tonight) has gone through at least eight games already. For a few teams, the playoffs are a virtual lock at this point and the focus turns to position. For a few other teams, the season is lost already and the focus will turn to evaluating which players should be the core of the rebuild. Most teams find themselves in the middle of the pack. This has been a congested season in particular, but given the NFL focus on putting more division games in the second half of the season, there is still plenty of time for many teams to make a playoff push. That said, let’s take a shot at projecting out the rest of the year and the major awards now that the halfway mark has been reached.

PROJECTED DIVISION WINNERS

Projected NFC East Champion — New York Giants

Photo Credit: Steven Flynn/USA Today Sports

The Giants are currently leading the division, but they shouldn’t get comfortable. At 5-4 they hold a mere half game lead over trailing Philadelphia. To my eyes the Eagles have looked far too ordinary to win the division. Their struggles with Dallas proved that. Washington is only two games back, but they aren’t a serious contender. Poor Dallas languishes at 2-6, their season lost to Tony Romo’s injury. Romo turns 36 this offseason and with his history you have to wonder if there isn’t merit in putting him on the IR at this point.

Projected NFC North Champion — Green Bay Packers

The Vikings technically lead the division by virtue of their three division wins and both teams share a 6-2 record. The Vikings are no joke and the Packers have just lost two straight. That said, losing, even badly, on the road to back to back unbeaten clubs isn’t shameful and Green Bay has the perfect remedy. They play four straight division games, including three games against cellar-dwellers Detroit and Chicago in the next four. The division will likely be decided by the Vikings-Packers matchups. We’ll see the first one in two weeks.

Projected NFC South Champion — Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have some mild concern over late game panics against Green Bay and Indianapolis, but Carolina is a perfect 8-0. They are the best team in the NFC and their thoughts will soon turn to trying to secure home field advantage in the playoffs. At 6-3, the Falcons are likely headed to the playoffs anyway, but three losses is a lot to make up already in the NFC South. The Saints chances at the postseason were probably lost against Tennessee. At 4-5 there is too much ground left.

Projected NFC West Champion — Arizona Cardinals

At 6-2 the Cardinals hold a two-game lead in the West over the Rams and Seahawks. The focus will be on division games and a big December matchup with Green Bay which could determine a first round bye. The Rams lost an absolute heartbreaker to Minnesota that put a huge dent in their postseason hopes. It could be a crucial tiebreaker. The Seahawks will return from their bye with the knowledge that they need a big second half of the season to make the playoffs.

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