Archive for December, 2013

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Another long, enduring regular season is in the books for the NFL and that means that it is the end of the second season of ATS predictions for SkoodSports. After a brilliant 2012 campaign that saw the site put together a sparkling 116-104-7 record, 2013 was not as kind. Following a brutal 4-12 week seventeen, the final record for 2013 was a mediocre 114-128-11. There’s still time to make up some ground in the playoffs. But, one thing is for sure; betting is not my strong suit.

Alas, maybe some silver lining can be found in my preseason predictions, which can be found here.

AFC East Projected Standings

1. New England Patriots – 12-4
2. New York Jets – 9-7
3. Miami Dolphins – 7-9
4. Buffalo Bills – 3-13

AFC East Actual Standings

1. New England Patriots – 12-4
2. New York Jets – 8-8
3. Miami Dolphins – 8-8
4. Buffalo Bills – 6-10

Analysis

Not a bad prognostication at all. Granted, the AFC East is typically the easiest division to predict. Just slot the Patriots at the top and work your way down from there. Still, my faith in an underestimated Jets squad was found to be justified. As was my lack of faith in the finishing ability of Joe Philbin’s Dolphins. I didn’t give enough credit to Doug Marrone, who got the Bills to 6 wins despite no quarterback play to speak of.

AFC North Projected Standings

1. Baltimore Ravens – 11-5
2. Pittsburgh Steelers – 10-6
3. Cincinnati Bengals – 10-6
4. Cleveland Browns – 8-8

AFC North Actual Standings

1. Cincinnati Bengals – 11-5
2. Pittsburgh Steelers – 8-8
3. Baltimore Ravens – 8-8
4. Cleveland Browns – 4-12

Analysis

So I overestimated the defending champion’s ability to get back to the big dance. Oh well. Other than that, this division wasn’t too far off. If it weren’t for a bad referee call in Sunday’s Kansas City-San Diego affair, both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh would have made the playoffs. As for Cleveland, well, the factory of sadness continues to churn out mistakes by the lake.

AFC South Projected Standings

1. Indianapolis Colts – 10-6
2. Houston Texans – 10-6
3. Tennessee Titans – 10-6
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – 5-11

AFC South Actual Standings

1. Indianapolis Colts – 11-5
2. Tennessee Titans – 7-9
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – 4-12
4. Houston Texans – 2-14

Analysis

I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one that saw Houston, the two time defending division champions, as more of a threat to make the playoffs than acquire the first pick. Oh well. I also clearly overrated Tennessee, who has been searching for a quarterback ever since Steve McNair left. Jacksonville’s prediction was right on, as Gus Bradley and Co. continue to improve one of the worst franchises in sports.

AFC West Projected Standings

1. Denver Broncos – 12-4
2. Kansas City Chiefs – 6-10
3. San Diego Chargers – 6-10
4. Oakland Raiders – 3-13

AFC West Actual Standings

1. Denver Broncos – 13-3
2. Kansas City Chiefs – 11-5
3. San Diego Chargers – 9-7
4. Oakland Raiders – 4-12

Analysis

I nailed the order of this division, although the records were wildly off. Everyone and their mother knew that Denver was going to take the top spot. However, the Andy Reid led Chiefs surprised, starting 9-0 before losing 5 of their last 7. San Diego, always an enigma, finally showed up just early enough to squeak into the playoffs. As for Oakland, I was spot on with their futility as well. It’s always easy to find the failure buried amid the freaks of the black hole.

NFC East Projected Standings

1. New York Giants – 11-5
2. Washington Redskins – 8-8
3. Philadelphia Eagles 7-9
4. Dallas Cowboys – 5-11

NFC East Actual Standings

1. Philadelphia Eagles – 10-6
2. Dallas Cowboys – 8-8
3. New York Giants – 7-9
4. Washington Redskins – 3-13

Analysis

God bless Chip Kelly, who turned a rag tag group of underachievers in Philadelphia into the division champions in one fell swoop. As for the Giants, well, an 0-6 start put the kibosh on any hopes of this pick coming true (I’ll take it). Washington was a disaster from start to finish and Dallas was, predictably, Dallas.

NFC North Projected Standings

1. Green Bay Packers – 11-5
2. Chicago Bears – 9-7
3. Detroit Lions – 7-9
4. Minnesota Vikings – 5-11

NFC North Actual Standings

1. Green Bay Packers – 8-7-1
2. Chicago Bears – 8-8
3. Detroit Lions – 7-9
4. Minnesota Vikings – 5-10-1

Analysis

Much like the AFC East, this division’s picks were just about spot on. This is more impressive because heading into the campaign, it was a virtual toss up among most analysts as to who would come out on top in the uber-competitive North. Green Bay got just enough from Aaron Rodgers to beat out Chicago, whose porous defensive couldn’t stop a schoolboy. The Lions’ record was nailed, as was Minnesota’s. Both teams are inconsistent and SkoodSports knew that heading into 2013.

NFC South Projected Standings

1. Atlanta Falcons – 13-3
2. New Orleans Saints – 7-9
3. Carolina Panthers – 6-10
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 5-11

NFC South Actual Standings

1. Carolina Panthers – 12-4
2. New Orleans Saints – 11-5
3. Atlanta Falcons – 4-12
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 4-12

Analysis

Atlanta, like Houston, ruined most prognosticator’s projections. I underestimated the impact that Sean Payton would have on the Saints, who surged back to the postseason. Meanwhile, the Panthers finally played up to expectations, something I wasn’t sure Cam Newton would ever do. The Bucs were the Bucs, giving me at least one correct prediction in every division but the East and West.

NFC West Projected Standings

1. San Francisco 49ers – 11-5
2. Seattle Seahawks – 10-6
3. St. Louis Rams – 5-11
4. Arizona Cardinals – 4-12

NFC West Actual Standings

1. Seattle Seahawks – 13-3
2. San Francisco 49ers – 12-4
3. Arizona Cardinals – 10-6
4. St. Louis Rams – 7-9

Analysis

Mixing up Seattle and San Francisco, two of the best teams in football, can be forgiven. Holding the Cardinals and Rams to such low standards, cannot. I should have seen the potential on defense for both of these teams. That mistake won’t happen again in 2014.

Preseason Award Predictions

League MVP: QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Likelihood: No chance. Although it’s not a terrible pick because many believe that if Manning weren’t putting up record numbers, Brady would be a frontrunner for the award during a season in which he led the Patriots to a 12-4 record despite very few legitimate offensive weapons.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Likelihood: Woah boy. Ryan put together the worst offensive season of his career. Although, much of that blame can go to a terrible offensive line and the lack of Julio Jones on the outside.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Navarro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers
Likelihood: Not a bad pick; though he won’t win the award. Bowman is the leader of a talented and ferocious 49ers defense that could lead them back to the Super Bowl. Luke Kuechly or Levonte David would have been better picks.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: QB Geno Smith, New York Jets
Likelihood: Geno’s team had a better than expected season. But, the same cannot be said for Geno, who was historically bad in November before playing more to his standards in the season’s final few weeks. This award is Eddie Lacy’s to lose.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: OLB Barkevious Mingo, Cleveland Browns
Likelihood: No shot. Mingo was a disaster in his first season in Cleveland. Though, I suppose everything is a disaster for the Browns.

Coach of the Year: Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans
Likelihood: Up until Monday, it appeared that Munchak was on his way to being fired. Still, canned or not, this was a terrible selection. Andy Reid or Chip Kelly will take home this award.

First Coach Fired: Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Likelihood: Cowboys fans wish this were true. Instead, it went to Gary Kubiak, who was tossed by the Texans with a few weeks left in the season.

Projected Final Four

Conference Championships
Denver OVER New England
Green Bay OVER Atlanta

Super Bowl XLVIII
Denver OVER Green Bay

My Super Bowl pick is still very much alive. Though, Atlanta’s placement in the final four is nearly as bad as my pick of Munchak for Coach of the Year.

Final Analysis

All in all, it was a mediocre hoard of predictions. Yes, I did quite well in the AFC East and NFC North, and also nailed a few other teams along the way. But, my inability to foresee the failures of Atlanta, New York (Giants), Houston, and Tennessee will bring down the rating just a bit. Overall, I’d give the preseason predictions a 6/10. Some good calls mixed in with a lot of bad ones. Hey, kind of sounds like the NFL referees on a daily basis. Stay tuned this month for SkoodSports’ in depth postseason preview.

Philadelphia Eagles vs Dallas Cowboys

Quarterbacks

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Eagles – Nick Foles leads Philadelphia into Dallas for the NFC East Championship Game this Sunday night as one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL. With a 118.8 quarterback rating, Foles paces the entire NFL. The gunslinger is coming off an electric 21-25, 230 yards, 2 TD performance against Chicago on Sunday night. While Foles may be dominating defenses this season, he hasn’t exactly soared against the Cowboys. He’s 0-3 against Dallas in 3 career starts.

Cowboys – With Tony Romo likely out for this weekend’s game, the Cowboys will turn to veteran Kyle Orton. The former Purdue Boilermaker has plenty of experience, having started 69 career games (35-34 record). He’s a capable decision maker with a strong arm whose best season came in 2009 with Denver, when under the tutelage of Josh McDaniels, the then 27-year old threw for 3802 yards and 21 touchdowns. When it comes to backups, Orton is one of the better ones in the league. However, he is still a backup, having not started an NFL game since 2011 with Kansas City.

The Edge – Philadelphia

Running Backs

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Eagles – LeSean McCoy is the best RB in the NFL right now. He’s also on the verge of his first rushing title in his five year career. That spells disaster for a Dallas team that was gashed on the ground last week by Alfred Morris and the Redskins. In fact, the Cowboys’ run defense is 31st in the league, besting only Chicago, who gave up over 300 yards on the ground to Philadelphia on Sunday night. The Eagles also boast impressive depth at the position, with Bryce Brown and Chris Polk both scoring touchdowns against the Bears.

Cowboys – DeMarco Murray is also a very talented and elusive back. If he got the ball over 20 times a game, there’s little doubt that the former Oklahoma Sooner could contend with McCoy for the league rushing title. The only problem, as McCoy experienced for years under Andy Reid, is that his coaches don’t seem too keen on giving him the rock. Murray has rushed for over 1000 yards this season on just 200 carries. It’s an impressive mark, as is his career 5.0 yards per rush. If Murray goes down, the Cowboys aren’t as lucky to have the depth that the Eagles have. Phillip Tanner is the backup at this point.

The Edge – Philadelphia

Wide Receiver/Tight End

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Eagles – Philadelphia’s offense would be even more dynamic if it weren’t for a preseason knee injury to 2009 first round pick Jeremy Maclin. Still, the Eagles passing game has suffered little since Foles has entered the fray. DeSean Jackson (pictured) has put together a career year (79 rec, 1304 yards, 9 TD) and he is balanced out well by Riley Cooper and the tight end combination of Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. The Eagles could use a stronger slot receiver than Jason Avant. But, they’re still strong both at the top of the depth chart and towards the bottom.

Cowboys – The strength of the Dallas offense comes from this group of electric playmakers. Dez Bryant (pictured) is among the league’s leaders with 85 receptions for 1134 yards and 12 touchdowns. Behind him are Terrance Williams, Miles Austin, and the diminutive Cole Beasley, who is a terror on third downs out of the slot. One of the best tight ends in the league provides an adequate safety valve for Orton in Jason Witten, who is once again on his way to a Pro Bowl in 2013.

The Edge – Dallas

Offensive Line

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Eagles – Considered one of the worst lines in football in 2012, the Eagles did a tremendous job revamping this unit to swiftly evolve into one of if not the best in the league. The acquisition of rookie lineman Lane Johnson allowed Todd Herremans to move back to his customary right guard spot. With Jason Kelce (pictured) emerging as one of the best young centers in the game, this unit is mean, powerful, and ready to run. Their secret weapon is the screen game, where the speed of this athletic line really comes into play. Jason Peters and Evan Mathis join the aforementioned trio to form the nucleus of Chip Kelly’s offense.

Cowboys – The Dallas offensive line has steadily improved as the season has gone on. First round pick Travis Frederick, considered a reach at the time, has been a stabilizing force for the unit. They’d like to get more out of RT Doug Free, whom they signed to a monster extension a few years ago. But, overall, this is an above average line led by former first round pick Tyron Smith (pictured). One significant problem could be depth, as Dallas has ZERO backup guards on their depth chart at this time.

The Edge – Philadelphia

Defensive Line

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Eagles – For years, the roles were reversed. The Eagles had long been a 4-3 defensive team whilst Dallas countered with a 3-4 pass rush. Now, it’s the Eagles who bring the edge with the outside linebackers and allow their stout defensive front to provide the run stuffing punch. Cedric Thornton (pictured) has done just that, emerging as a dynamite 3-4 defensive end opposite 2012 first round pick Fletcher Cox. Bennie Logan has done an adequate job in the middle for a rookie on a front that has improved dramatically since Isaac Sopoaga was traded in October.

Cowboys – It’s all about DeMarcus Ware (pictured) and Jason Hatcher for the Cowboys this week. They both need to have A+ games if the Cowboys have any hopes of winning. Ware, a multiple time All-Pro, has just 6 sacks this year (and just 2 since September 22nd). Hatcher has emerged as a very good pass rusher from the inside. But, with the injury to Anthony Spencer and the loss of Jay Ratliff, the Cowboys’ front four is not nearly as potent as it once was.

The Edge – Dallas

Linebackers

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Eagles – Philadelphia’s linebacking corps has been the most pleasant surprise on defense this season. Left for dead after a mediocre 2012 season, MLB DeMeco Ryans has been the MVP of the defense. As the unit’s captain and play caller, Ryans has led both by example on the field and off of it. He’s joined in the middle by second year man Mychal Kendricks, who had perhaps the finest game of his career last week against Chicago. On the outside, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin bring the pass rush. As we all know, Cole typically brings his A game late in the season. That was evident last weekend, when the veteran sacked Jay Cutler twice.

Cowboys – Dallas’ 4-3 linebacking unit took a big hit a few weeks ago when Sean Lee was lost for the season with a neck injury. The former Penn State Nittany Lion was the heart and soul of the defense and has been sorely missed. Without Lee, the burden falls on Bruce Carter (pictured). An athletic and physical freak, Carter is joined by unknowns Kyle Wilber and DeVonte Holloman. Something tells me that Shady McCoy is going to have a heck of a good time running on some of these no-namers.

The Edge – Philadelphia

Secondary

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Eagles – Cary Williams (pictured) and Bradley Fletcher have been a steadying force as the team’s starters for most of the season. Both were brought in as free agents last offseason to little fanfare. But, their consistency and ability to stay on the field has been a godsend for a team that doesn’t have a lot of depth in the secondary. Behind them is second year stud Brandon Boykin, who leads the team in interceptions, including a pick-six of Jay Cutler a week ago. Roc Carmichael, the team’s fourth corner, is a liability and could have been a big problem against Romo. The safeties are mediocre and will need to be upgraded this offseason. But, Nate Allen has looked a lot better in the second half of the season. The same cannot be said about Patrick Chung, who is starting only because he’s a former Oregon Duck and that there’s literally no one else to do the job.

Cowboys – Dallas’ secondary, once again, is a massive liability. Injuries have taken their toll on a unit that was one of the worst in football in 2011 before improving last year. Brandon Carr (pictured) was signed to a huge contract prior to 2012. However, he is having a dreadful year in coverage and could be picked on by Foles and Co. As for the rest of this group, there’s not a whole lot to write about. Safety Jeff Heath is atrocious both tackling and in coverage and should be targeted all evening. Their other safety, Barry Church, has been impressive and probably is the team’s defensive MVP (sans Lee) this season.

The Edge – Philadelphia (amazingly)

Special Teams

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Eagles – Philadelphia’s special teams have been hot-and-cold all season. The kick return unit has been better in recent weeks, although they have not broken one for a touchdown all season. DeSean Jackson is great as a punt returner with Demaris Johnson providing spot duty when Jackson is fatigued or the game is no longer in doubt. Kicker Alex Henery is quite solid from 45 and under but an absolute coin flip at anything longer than that. Punter Donnie Jones (pictured) has easily been the team’s special teams MVP, winning two Special Teams Player of the Week awards this season for his fantastic distance and accuracy.

Cowboys – The strength of the Cowboys’ special teams comes from their dynamic returner Dwayne Harris. Having missed a few games due to injury, Harris is scheduled to return this weekend against the Eagles. That could prove dangerous for Philadelphia considering their struggles against Detroit in kick coverage and their persistent squib kicks in the game against Minnesota perhaps costing the team dearly. If Harris can break a few long ones, Dallas could shock Philadelphia. As for the kicking game, Dan Bailey is steady, especially at home. Punter Chris Jones (no relation to Donnie) has also had a brilliant season, with 28 of his 74 punts landing inside the 20-yard line.

The Edge – Dallas

Coaching

Eagles – What can really be said about the coaching job that Chip Kelly has done this season? Few projected that Philadelphia would even be .500 this season, let alone contending for a division championship and the 3rd seed in the NFC. While Kelly has struggled at times with clock management and challenges, his dynamic offense and innovative methods with regards to practice and handling of the volatile Philadelphia media have been spectacular. Bonus points for his ability to connect with the boisterous Eagles’ fan base, something his predecessor, Andy Reid, was never able to do.

Cowboys – Jason Garrett may still return next year even if Dallas loses this game, as Jerry Jones has done nothing but support the beleaguered coach for years. Considered an offensive genius, Garrett’s play calling at times has been straight up offensive. His penchant for passing when the situation dictates the opposite confuses fans and pundits alike. Whether or not Garrett returns next year, Cowboys fans can’t feel confident that he will put together a winning game plan on Sunday. After all, this is his third straight NFC East Championship Game with zero wins to show for it.

The Edge – Philadelphia

Intangibles

Eagles – Philadelphia’s Nick Foles is 0-3 against the Cowboys in his career, although to be fair, he played rather well against them in two games last season. Chip Kelly and Dallas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin faced each other numerous times when both were in the Pac-12 (Kelly at Oregon, Kiffin as the defensive coordinator for USC). Last season, in their final collegiate meeting with a Pac-12 title on the line, Kelly’s Ducks decimated the Trojans for 730 yards in a 62-51 victory. Shady McCoy has averaged 5.27 yards per attempt vs. Dallas in his career (107 att – 564 yards, 2 TD in 7 games).

Cowboys – Kyle Orton, starting for the injured Tony Romo, is 24-14 at home in his career compared to just 13-23 on the road. However, he has struggled in December, with a 71.7 quarterback rating, the lowest of any month for the veteran. DeMarco Murray has rushed 328 times in 19 career victories. In 17 career losses, he’s touched the ball just 197 times. In two games against Philadelphia in his career, the back has 31 carries for 157 yards (5.06 per rush) and one touchdown.

The Edge – Philadelphia

The Final Call

If Dallas had Tony Romo healthy and starting, this would be a game decided by 5 points or less. Instead, the Cowboys have to turn to Orton, who has never started a playoff game and is 5-18 in his last 23 starts. To make matters worse, Dallas is also missing the captain of their defense in Sean Lee. Without Lee’s presence in the middle, stopping LeSean McCoy and the Eagles’ ground game could prove too difficult a task. An inability to stop the run will open up the play action game which will create a massive hole for the screen game to dominate.

Philadelphia is too healthy and filled with too many playmakers to miss out on this opportunity. Their 54-11 victory over Chicago last week was a sign of what this team is capable of when all 53 players are performing to their capabilities. There will be no more letdowns like two weeks ago in Minnesota, when the team admitted that they took their opponent for granted.

Come Sunday night, there will be no doubt who the best team in the division is. The Eagles, for the first time since 2010, will be crowned NFC East champions. Eagles, 34-20

Week 17 NFL Predictions

Posted: December 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

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All good things must come to an end and the 2013 NFL season is just another one of them. The good news for Eagles fans is that, for all intents and purposes, they’re already in the playoffs. Philadelphia has won 6 of 7 to set up a one-game playoff for the NFC East title against the Dallas Cowboys. If the Eagles win their next 5 games, they will bring a Lombardi Trophy home to the City of Brotherly Love for the first time.

As for my predictions; well, it was a tough start to the campaign. After a wildly successful 2012, this year began with a collection of follies and foibles before the prognostications got hot in the second half. Last week, I put together my best week of the season by going 12-4, including the upset of the year with Arizona over Seattle. With just 16 games left, I sit merely 6 games under the .500 mark. Without further ado, here are SkoodSports’ final regular season predictions of the 2013 season:

Last Week: 12-4-0
2013 Season: 110-116-11

Carolina Panthers (11-4) AT Atlanta Falcons (4-11)

The Spread: Carolina by 6.5
The Pick: Carolina
The Score: Carolina, 27-16
The Rationale: The Falcons are at home, where they spread their wings much more swiftly than on the road (3-4 at Georgia Dome, 1-7 on the road). However, Cam Newton and the Panthers have an opportunity to clinch the South and a first-round bye with a victory. They’ll be coming hard and the banged up Atlanta offensive line will have little chance to stop them.

Baltimore Ravens (8-7) AT Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)

The Spread: Cincinnati by 6
The Pick: Baltimore
The Score: Cincinnati, 34-31
The Rationale: The defending champions will be knocked out of postseason contention with a loss to the Bengals this Sunday. Just a week ago, it looked as though the Ravens were hitting their stride and on their way to another late season run. But, a swift and severe beat down at the hands of the Patriots quickly turned their chariot into a pumpkin. Baltimore would need a win & a Dolphins loss to clinch the 6th seed. As for Cincinnati, they can still get a first round bye with a victory & a New England loss. Expect to see their best and a big game from AJ Green.

Houston Texans (2-12) AT Tennessee Titans (6-9)

The Spread: Tennessee by 7
The Pick: Titans
The Score: Titans, 27-14
The Rationale: Houston hasn’t won in 3 months since a 2-0 start. The Titans have been struggling down the stretch as well, nearly losing on the road to Jacksonville last week. With Matt Schaub back under center for the Texans, the Houston offense is neutralized to the point that even Ryan Fitzpatrick could be confident to cover 7 points on them. The Texans will secure the #1 pick in the draft with a loss.

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11) AT Indianapolis Colts (10-5)

The Spread: Indianapolis by 11.5
The Pick: Jacksonville
The Score: Jacksonville, 24-21
The Rationale: With the exception of last weekend’s road win over Kansas City, the Colts have not played inspired football in the past month. On the other hand, Jacksonville has been running gangbusters since their putrid 0-8 start. Gus Bradley finally has his team believing that they can succeed. That will be big against an Indianapolis team that may be looking ahead the their rematch with Kansas City in two weeks. Upset of the week!

New York Jets (7-8) AT Miami Dolphins (8-7)

The Spread: Miami by 6.5
The Pick: Miami
The Score: Miami, 23-16
The Rationale: The Dolphins return home to the friendly (and sunny) confines of Sun Life Stadium with a playoff spot on their minds. With a win & a Ravens loss, the Dolphins will clinch the 6th seed. Their toughest task has been keeping Ryan Tannehill upright, something that they’ll have to improve on Sunday. As for the Jets, we may be seeing Rex Ryan’s final game on the sideline in a Jets sweater vest. One would hope that New York would put their best “foot” forward in their coach’s finale.

Detroit Lions (7-8) AT Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)

The Spread: Minnesota by 3
The Pick: Minnesota
The Score: Minnesota, 34-21
The Rationale: Why should I believe that the Lions will put together a winning performance on the road after they failed so miserably over the last month? Minnesota would be a playoff team if games were 58 minutes long. Unfortunately, the final two minutes count just as much as the first two. Detroit would also be a playoff team if they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot every single game. The Vikings might not need to give a full 60 minute effort with the Lions in town.

Washington Redskins (3-12) AT New York Giants (6-9)

The Spread: New York by 3.5
The Pick: New York
The Score: New York, 21-17
The Rationale: Talk about a stinker. The two NFC East doormats meet up for a season ending display of hideous football. Washington hasn’t won since November 4th and coughed up a 9-point lead in the final four minutes of last week’s game against Dallas. Meanwhile, the Giants are playing their best football of the year, even if it coincides with the loss of WR Victor Cruz. Giants in a nail biter.

Cleveland Browns (4-11) AT Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)

The Spread: Pittsburgh by 7
The Pick: Cleveland
The Score: Cleveland, 24-21
The Rationale: It’s amazing that Pittsburgh still has playoff hopes heading into the final week of the season. When this team was 0-4, few believed that a rebound was possible. This should spark them as they improve heading into 2014. Cleveland is in the midst of another double-digit loss campaign. But, they saw some bright spots including the emergence of star WR Josh Gordon. He’ll have a huge day on Sunday, eliminating the Steelers from playoff contention in what would be a rare road win for the Browns in Western PA (the last time they won in Pittsburgh was October 5th, 2003).

Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) AT Chicago Bears (8-7)

The Spread: Chicago by 7
The Pick: Green Bay
The Score: Green Bay, 30-27
The Rationale: The Bears had a chance to wrap up the North last week with a road win in Philly. Instead, they got run out of the building, 54-11. Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy is banged up. But, he and James Starks should have enough oomph left in the tank to decimate a dismal Chicago run defense. The Packers will win this game regardless of who is at QB.

Denver Broncos (12-3) AT Oakland Raiders (4-11)

The Spread: Denver by 12.5
The Pick: Oakland
The Score: Denver, 23-13
The Rationale: I’m not sure how much Peyton Manning will play in this game, even though Denver needs to win to secure home field advantage. I reckon that even backup QB Brock Osweiler could beat this Raiders team. Denver has to be concerned about the loss of Von Miller for the season and will not want to risk any further damage heading into the postseason.

Buffalo Bills (6-9) AT New England Patriots (11-4)

The Spread: New England by 9
The Pick: New England
The Score: New England, 20-10
The Rationale: The Patriots haven’t lost at home this season and will complete an 8-0 home slate with a win this Sunday. Buffalo put together their finest defensive performance of the season last week in a 19-0 win over Miami at home. If they can hold New England under 27 points, they should consider it a win.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11) AT New Orleans Saints (10-5)

The Spread: New Orleans by 12.5
The Pick: Tampa Bay
The Score: New Orleans, 33-27
The Rationale: A strong performance in this weekend’s finale could go a long way towards guaranteeing Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano’s return next year. As for New Orleans, they need a win just to secure a playoff spot. The game will be tight as this rivalry often is. But, the Saints have too much riding on it to let it slip away.

San Francisco 49ers (11-4) AT Arizona Cardinals (10-5)

The Spread: San Francisco by 1.5
The Pick: Arizona
The Score: Arizona, 24-21
The Rationale: Arizona will be eliminated from playoff contention with a New Orleans victory. But, with both games kicking off at the same time, neither team will know that. One could argue that Arizona is primed for a letdown after knocking off Seattle last weekend. But, there’s no room for a letdown at home in week 17 and San Francisco is coming off a short week, having defeated Atlanta in a tight game on Monday. The 49ers have already clinched a playoff spot.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) AT San Diego Chargers (8-7)

The Spread: San Diego by 9.5
The Pick: San Diego
The Score: San Diego, 30-20
The Rationale: Expect to see a lot of Chase Daniel and Co. as the Chiefs, already secured into the 5th seed, bench their starters in the season finale. San Diego still has an outside shot at the playoffs (although a Miami loss at 1:00 PM would eliminate them).

St. Louis Rams (7-8) AT Seattle Seahawks (12-3)

The Spread: Seattle by 10.5
The Pick: Seattle
The Score: Seattle, 24-3
The Rationale: Something tells me that Kellen Clemens will not go into Seattle and defeat the best team in the NFC on their home turf for the second straight week. The Seahawks will still be fighting for a division title at this point. If San Francisco defeats Arizona and the Rams triumph in the Pacific Northwest, the 49ers are the division champions.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) AT Dallas Cowboys (8-7)

The Spread: Philadelphia by 7
The Pick: Philadelphia
The Score: Philadelphia, 34-20
The Rationale: The Cowboys are likely finished now that both Tony Romo and Sean Lee will miss their finale against Philadelphia. The Eagles are hitting their stride at exactly the right time and will only see their confidence boosted with a victory against Kyle Orton and Dallas this weekend. If the Cowboys are to have any chance at winning, they’ll need to get the running game going. The problem is, the Eagles have one of the best run defenses in the league. That means Orton will see a lot of 3rd and longs and a ton of pressure. Eagles win the NFC East and host a wild card game.

Predicted Playoff Standings

AFC

1. Denver Broncos (13-3)*
2. New England Patriots (12-4)*
3. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
4. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
6. Miami Dolphins (9-7)

NFC

1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)*
2. Carolina Panthers (12-4)*
3. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
4. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
5. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
6. San Francisco 49ers (11-5)

Romo Out For Season

Posted: December 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

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If the Dallas Cowboys have any hope of avoiding their third consecutive loss in a division clinching season finale, they’ll have to do it without All-Pro QB Tony Romo. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the 33-year old signal-caller will miss the remainder of the season (including potential postseason games) with a back injury. Romo suffered the injury evading the Washington pass rush in the Cowboys’ 24-23 victory on Sunday afternoon.

For a player as maligned as Romo and for the team that he commands, the injury couldn’t come at a worse time. This was the veteran’s third chance to clinch the division in the final week in as many seasons. In 2011, Dallas fell in New York before succumbing to the Redskins in Landover in 2012. 

Romo’s replacement, veteran Kyle Orton, has plenty of experience. The 31-year old has played in 74 career games (69 starts). However, the former Purdue Boilermaker has not started since 2011 with Kansas City. Orton has never started or played in a postseason game, making the magnitude of this weekend’s affair all the more intriguing for fans of both Philadelphia and Dallas.

One Day More

Posted: December 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

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It’s deja vu all over again for the Dallas Cowboys. For Philadelphia, it’s one last chance to redeem themselves for the failures of the past. The Eagles and the Cowboys will meet on Sunday night at 8:25 to decide the NFC East today. This was made official after Washington so egregiously choked away a 9-point lead against Dallas with less than 5 minutes to play on Sunday.

This will be the third consecutive “NFC East Championship Game” for the Cowboys, who lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in 2011 before falling to RG3 and the Redskins last year. Bad memories of the past could haunt Dallas’ dream of a division title. Although, to be fair, both of those games were on the road in cold weather environments. This time, Tony Romo and the ‘Boys will be playing in front of 100,000+ at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. One could imagine no better venue for a game of this magnitude. The two vociferous and vicious fan bases will surely make the week leading up to the game one of the nastiest in years.

It’s hard to decipher which team has more momentum heading into the game. Dallas, fresh off a couple of brutal losses to Chicago and Green Bay, survived a scare in Landover thanks to a fourth and goal touchdown pass by notorious December choker Romo. For the Eagles’ part, they dismantled the Chicago Bears on Sunday night 54-11. This despite the fact that Philly had little to play for and Chicago had an opportunity to clinch their division with a win. The Eagles lost to the Cowboys 17-3 back in October. But, this is a much different Eagles team than the one that Dallas faced over two months ago.

Other Week 17 Playoff Scenarios

AFC

– Denver Broncos (12-3) have clinched the AFC West and a first-round bye. They can clinch home-field advantage in the AFC with a win on Sunday at Oakland or a New England loss vs. Buffalo.

– New England Patriots (11-4) have clinched the AFC East. They can move anywhere from:

#1 seed: With a victory vs. Buffalo and a Denver loss at Oakland.
#2 seed: With a victory vs. Buffalo and a Denver victory at Oakland.
#3 seed: With a loss vs. Buffalo, a Cincinnati victory vs. Baltimore, and an Indianapolis loss vs. Jacksonville.
#4 seed: With a loss vs. Buffalo, a Cincinnati victory vs. Baltimore, and an Indianapolis victory vs. Jacksonville.

– Cincinnati Bengals (10-5) have clinched the AFC North. They can move anywhere from:

#2 seed: With a victory vs. Baltimore and a New England loss vs. Buffalo.
#3 seed: With a victory vs. Baltimore and a New England victory vs. Buffalo.
#4 seed: With a loss vs. Baltimore and an Indianapolis victory vs. Jacksonville.

– Indianapolis Colts (10-5) have clinched the AFC South. They can move anywhere from:

#2 seed: With a victory vs. Jacksonville, a New England loss vs. Buffalo, and a Cincinnati loss vs. Baltimore
#3 seed: With a victory vs Jacksonville and a Cincinnati loss vs. Baltimore
#4 seed: Any other scenario

– Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) have secured the #5 seed in the AFC playoffs. They will face the #4 seed on the road in the Wild Card Round.

– Miami Dolphins (8-7) can clinch the #6 seed with a victory vs. New York Jets and a Baltimore loss to Cincinnati or a victory vs. New York Jets and a victory by San Diego vs. Kansas City.

– Baltimore Ravens (8-7) can clinch the #6 seed with a victory vs. Cincinnati and either a Miami loss vs. New York or a San Diego loss vs. Kansas City.

– San Diego Chargers (8-7) can clinch the #6 seed with a victory vs. Kansas City and losses by Miami vs. New York and Baltimore vs. Cincinnati.

– Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) can clinch the #6 seed with a victory vs. Cleveland coupled with losses by Miami, Baltimore, and San Diego.

NFC

– Seattle Seahawks (12-3) clinches NFC West and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory vs. St. Louis or a loss by San Francisco either Monday night or in week 17.

– Carolina Panthers (11-4) have clinched a playoff spot. They will clinch the NFC South and a first-round bye with a victory at Atlanta or a New Orleans loss vs. Tampa Bay.

– Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) can clinch the NFC East and the #3 seed with a victory at Dallas.

– Chicago Bears (8-7) can clinch the NFC North and the #4 seed with a victory vs. Green Bay.

– Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) can clinch the NFC North and the #4 seed with a victory at Chicago.

– San Francisco 49ers (10-4) can clinch a playoff spot with a victory either tonight vs. Atlanta or next week at Arizona. Can clinch the NFC West with victories in both of those games coupled with a Seattle loss to St. Louis.

– New Orleans Saints (10-5) can clinch a playoff spot with a victory vs. Tampa Bay or an Arizona loss vs. San Francisco.

– Arizona Cardinals (10-5) can clinch a playoff spot with a victory vs. San Francisco coupled with either a 49ers loss tonight vs. Falcons or a New Orleans loss next week vs. Tampa Bay.

NFL-Draft-logo

The NFL playoff push is in full swing. However, it’s never too early to begin looking at next spring’s NFL draft. The Houston Texans, champions of the AFC South in 2011 & 2012, are currently on the clock as the top pick in the 2014 draft. Their need for a franchise QB is obvious, and they will kick off a new era of Houston football by selecting…

1. 34Houston Texans – QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

The Texans need to find a new franchise quarterback as Matt Schaub has clearly fallen off a cliff and out of the good graces of Houston fans and personnel alike. Case Keenum looked decent at times this season. But, he’s no franchise savior. Bridgewater, the consensus #1 QB available this May, will contend with the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews, and Johnny Manziel for this pick.

2. 14-1 St. Louis Rams (From Washington) – OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

The son of Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews is a candidate for the number one pick, as bookend tackles typically are. The Rams can thank the Redskins for this pick, as Washington shipped it to St. Louis in the 2012 Robert Griffin III trade. Matthews fills a need opposite Jake Long and gives St. Louis, who lost their starting QB due to injury this season, some serious protection up front.

3. 30-1 Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Derek Carr, Fresno State

Jadeveon Clowney is a candidate to go to Jacksonville. But, Gus Bradley will really want to find his franchise quarterback after spending his first season tutoring Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert. The latter is a bonafide bust who will find himself on the free agent market sometime next summer. Carr is the brother of David, the 2002 #1 overall pick. While his brother busted after being taken by the expansion Texans, Derek shows all the tools that David had and more.

4. oak Oakland Raiders – DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

The Raiders could be looking to land a franchise signal caller. But, with both Bridgewater and Carr gone, they’ll risk another season with Matt McGloin or Terrelle Pryor at the helm in order to select Clowney. The South Carolina DE would have been the #1 overall pick last season. Instead, he is seeing his stock slip due to a perceived lack of determination and commitment during the 2013 season. Regardless, he is a tremendous talent going to a team that has never shied away from taking physical specimens.

5. cle Cleveland Browns – QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

The Browns have seen Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, and Jason Campbell all spend time as their starting quarterback this season. None of them are potential franchise players, either. In fact, Cleveland has not had a bonafide franchise signal caller since Bernie Kosar in the 1980s. It’s time to take one. Johnny Football may have his detractors. But, there’s no doubting his talent as a two-way force at the quarterback position. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner could finally bring some excitement to the Dawg Pound.

6. atl Atlanta Falcons – DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame

The Falcons have fallen on hard times in 2013 after a spectacular five-year run. The main culprit, outside of injuries, is the lack of pressure generated from their defense. Nix or UCLA’s Anthony Barr would go a long way to improve that weakness and get Atlanta back to the postseason.

7. tam Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OT Greg Robinson, Auburn

One of the keys to the Tigers’ run to the National Championship Game was the performance of tackle Greg Robinson. That recent string of success has him shooting up the boards. The Bucs have a ton of talent on defense and at the offensive skill positions. But, they need to make sure that Mike Glennon has a pocket with which to look like Frankenstein in.

8. min Minnesota Vikings – QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida

The last time a Central Florida QB was taken in round one, it was the Vikings selecting Daunte Culpepper in 1999. That obviously turned out pretty well for awhile. The exceptional season for the Knights can be attributed to this young QB’s performance. He may or may not come out. But, if he does, expect him to go early in round one. Minnesota desperately needs a QB after spending millions on Josh Freeman just to watch him hold a clipboard.

9. ten Tennessee Titans – DE/OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA

Tennessee has needs on both sides of the ball, including quarterback and safety. But, their inability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback only serves to make their secondary look worse than it probably is. Barr is a potential top-3 pick and grabbing him at nine would be an absolute steal for the Titans.

10. buf Buffalo Bills – OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

One can never go wrong selecting an Alabama lineman, as plenty have been taken high in the draft over the last few years. Kouandjio may have a tough name to spell. But, he’s also very good at protecting the passer, allowing AJ McCarron to do his thing over the last few seasons without having to worry about a pass rush. Buffalo needs offensive skill as well. But, protecting EJ Manuel, who has missed multiple games with injuries this year, should be priority #1.

11. giants19 New York Giants – ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama

The Giants have tried to patch together their linebacking corps over the last few years with very little success. If they ever hope of getting their defense back to championship caliber, they’re going to have to build up the front seven. Mosley is a big, tough senior who should easily go in round one.

12. pitt23 Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

Pittsburgh is on the verge of back-to-back playoff-less campaigns. That is unacceptable in Steel City. It’s even worse when one considers that many of their losses came on the backs of their once storied defense. Pittsburgh’s secondary has, for far too long, been reliant on aging players like Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor. In Dennard, they’d grab the best secondary player in the draft and a potential shutdown corner.

13. 20 New York Jets – WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

It’s pretty clear that the Jets need to find Geno Smith some weapons, regardless of who the coach is at the time of the draft. Santonio Holmes is aging and, other than an occasional glimpse from Stephen Hill, there’s not much else in the cupboard. Watkins might have been a first round pick last year. Now, as a junior, he is incredibly likely to go in the top-half of round one.

14. 14-1 St. Louis Rams – WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

The Rams took the diminutive yet speedy Tavon Austin in the first round last year. He gives them a brilliant deep threat who can score from anywhere on the field except the red zone. Now, they’ll find their red zone specialist in the 6’5 Evans. Johnny Manziel’s favorite target, Evans will provide a security blanket for Sam Bradford and act as a terror for opposing cornerbacks on fade routes.

15. lions8 Detroit Lions – S Haha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

The Lions will add to their plethora of talent on both sides of the ball by taking the electric Clinton-Dix from Alabama. The Lions’ secondary has been the weakest link on their defense and adding a playmaker like Haha will give them stars throughout a disappointing and underachieving roster.

16. dal6 Dallas Cowboys – DE Trent Murphy, Stanford

I think Dallas will finally recognize that they need to find a legitimate pass rusher opposite Demarcus Ware. Anthony Spencer had a strong 2012. But, the injury that he suffered this year will plague him for at least the beginning of 2014. Murphy is a big (6-6, 261) specimen who can dominate opposing tackles with his strength and long arms.

17. cha24 San Diego Chargers – OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo

San Diego needs pass rushers in order for their 3-4 defense to be successful. Mack was a terror to opposing offenses in 2013, leading the MAC in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (19). The Chargers have the talent on offense to make the playoffs. It’s the defense that needs a few more playmakers and Mack is certainly one of them.

18. pack9 Green Bay Packers – CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

Tramon Williams is a good NFL starter at one cornerback. But, Sam Shields has been exposed at times in 2013 and could use a replacement. Ekpre-Olomu was a great playmaker for the Ducks this season and almost certainly would be taken by Philadelphia if he reached Chip Kelly’s team in the draft. Instead, the Packers will forego their need for a tight end and improve their once fearsome defensive secondary.

19. cards22 Arizona Cardinals – OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan

The Cardinals have needed a tackle for what seems like a decade. They’ll grab a potential top-10 pick in Lewan, who falls down to the late-teens thanks to team need.

20. mia15 Miami Dolphins – OG David Yankey, Stanford

The Cardinal have sent a lot of linemen to the pros, including former Dolphin Jonathan Martin. Hopefully, the Fish’s experience with the aforementioned former Stanford star doesn’t sour their taste for Pac-12 guards. Yankey is the top interior lineman off the board and will go a long way to keeping Ryan Tannehill upright in 2014.

21. chi3 Chicago Bears – DT/DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame

Big defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt is a perfect fit for a Bears team desperate for size up front. With the worst run defense in football, Chicago will need to rectify their leaky front seven if they’re to see the “Monsters of the Midway” return. Tuitt is the second Notre Dame defensive lineman taken. But, he could end up being a better value than Louis Nix if taken this low.

22. cle Cleveland Browns (From Indianapolis) – RB Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona

With the pick acquired from Indianapolis for Trent Richardson, the Browns replace their former #1 pick with another. Carey is an electric back with the potential to be a game changer in the NFL. That’s something that Cleveland hasn’t had since Ernest Byner was fumbling away AFC titles in the 1980s.

23.  ben4 Cincinnati Bengals – CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

One of the faster risers this season, Gilbert helped lead Oklahoma State to a 10-2 season. The Bengals are desperate for secondary help after Leon Hall tore his achilles for the second time.

24. eagles21 Philadelphia Eagles – OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

The Eagles need help in their secondary. There’s no doubt about that. But, the pass rush is just as important as adequate pressure on the quarterback can help cover up the holes in the back of the defense. Ryan Shazier is the #1 available pass rushing linebacker at this point and possibly in the entire draft. He led the Big Ten with 134 tackles and 22.5 tackles for loss this season.

25. bal33 Baltimore Ravens – OT Cameron Erving, Florida State

The defending champs have had a hard time developing any sort of running game thanks to a pitiful offensive line. Erving will be yet another tackle off to board.

26. new17 New England Patriots – TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina

Considered the best tight end in the draft, Ebron caught 55 passes for 895 yards and 3 TD this season. With Aaron Hernandez incarcerated and Rob Gronkowski recovering from a torn ACL, what better way to improve Brady’s passing game than by landing the best tight end in the draft?

27. saints18 New Orleans Saints – OLB Vic Beasley, Clemson

One of the best defensive players in football this season, Beasley recorded 19 tackles for loss for Clemson’s defense, forcing four fumbles in the process. Rob Ryan loves speedy outside linebackers who can cover and rush the passer. That’s exactly what he would be getting out of Beasley.

28. sanf25 San Francisco 49ers – DT/DE RaShede Hageman, Minnesota

Justin Smith is aging and the Pro Bowl DE won’t be around for too much longer. Hageman is the type of hybrid lineman that can either play 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end. In San Francisco’s case, grooming him to supplant Smith as 3-4 end would give them a big piece to keep the pressure off their superstar duo at LB, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman.

29. panth29 Carolina Panthers – CB Jason Verrett, Texas Christian

The one weakness on Carolina’s defense is in the secondary. Verrett may not have the size that NFL teams covet nowadays (5-10, 175). But, his speed (4.49) could be enough to boost him into round one.

30. sanf7 Denver Broncos – OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor

Denver believes that they already have their replacement for Peyton Manning in Brock Osweiler. So, they’ll have to find a couple of linemen in the draft to protect them. Richardson has tremendous size (6-5, 340) and should be available at the end of round one.

31. kc12 Kansas City Chiefs – WR Marqise Lee, Southern California

Dwayne Bowe is a great red zone threat. But, Andy Reid’s offense thrived in Philadelphia the most when it had DeSean Jackson going deep and opening up the underneath routes. Lee could be Reid’s Jackson in Kansas City if the Chiefs are so inclined to make this pick.

32. sea26 Seattle Seahawks – TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

The Seahawks have weapons all throughout their roster. But, Zach Miller is probably the weakest link altogether. The 6-5 tight end may have had the best numbers of anyone in the country, catching 98 passes for 1240 yards and 7 TD.

Handicapping the Coaching Carousel

Posted: December 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

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The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately?” league. Former Falcons coach Jerry Glanville once coined the phrase, “Not For Long,” to describe the NFL’s hiring and firing policy towards head coaches. Even some coaches who led their teams to the postseason as recently as last season are likely to see pink slips handed to them on Black Monday, December 30th.

Below is a classification of each NFL coach’s job security along with a grade for the 2013 season:

Safe and Sound

Bill Belichick, New England Patriots – The most successful coach currently active in the NFL has nothing to worry about. With one more win (or a loss by Miami or Baltimore), the Patriots will be heading to the postseason for the 11th time in 13 years. 
Grade: B

Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins – The second year coach has the Dolphins on the verge of their first playoff berth since 2008 despite all the off-the-field commotion regarding Jonathan Martin and Dick Incognito. He has done a marvelous job.
Grade: A

Doug Marrone, Buffalo Bills – The Bills are a disappointing 5-9. But, the first year coach has had to suffer through monumental injuries to his defense and rookie QB EJ Manuel. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will Buffalo, who hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999, when they went down at the hands of the Titans and the “Music City Miracle.”
Grade: C+

Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals – It wasn’t long ago that Lewis’ seat was hotter than a pistol. With a third consecutive playoff appearance on the horizon, there’s no chance that Cincinnati makes a move. Even if the Bengals flame out in round one again, Lewis should expect to return in 2014.
Grade: B+

John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens started out 4-6 this year. Even then, Harbaugh was cool as a cucumber. After all, these are the defending Super Bowl champions. The Ravens are now in playoff position and should expect to have Harbaugh at the helm for years to come.
Grade: B-

Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland Browns – “Chudz” has not had a very strong inaugural season. But, he has had to deal with injuries to multiple quarterbacks and the lack of a strong foundation in Cleveland. He would have been back even if the Browns went 2-14.
Grade: C-

John Fox, Denver Broncos – This is an interesting case because Fox could decide to step down due to health problems. But, any chance of the former Panthers head coach involuntarily being removed from his position is dubious at best. The Broncos are on their way to the playoffs for the third straight season.
Grade: A

Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs – The former Eagles coach is the frontrunner for Coach of the Year after leading the 2-14 Chiefs to a playoff berth. He will likely be in Kansas City for years to come.
Grade: A+

Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers  First year coaches are rarely relieved of their duties. Especially ones who lead their team to .500 or better records. McCoy has had his growing pains, seeing his Chargers defeat teams like Denver and Kansas City but lose to Washington, Oakland, and Houston. Still, better things are on the horizon for this young coach.
Grade: B-

Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts – Pagano has helped turn around a franchise that looked left for dead without Peyton Manning. Now, they’ve won their second consecutive AFC South title and will look to get Pagano his first playoff win next month.
Grade: B+

Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars – After an 0-8 start, Bradley looked one-and-done in Jacksonville. But, things have changed in the last two months. The players are buying into the former Seahawks’ assistant’s mentality and Jacksonville is 4-2 in their last six. With that surge, Bradley secured another year down in sunny Florida.
Grade: C+

Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints – Payton deserves a few votes for Coach of the Year. After the Saints collapsed without his tutelage in 2012; New Orleans is back in the playoffs, where they can be tough to beat at home. First round loss or not, Sean Payton will remain a Saint for years to come.
Grade: A-

Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers – What a year for this guy? After an 0-2 start, Rivera was considered the frontrunner to be the first coach fired in 2013. Instead, he has his Panthers on the verge of an NFC South title and a bye week in the playoffs. Great work turning around what looked like a sinking ship.
Grade: A

Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears – Another first year coach experiencing a strong start, Trestman has the Bears within striking distance for their first NFC North title since 2010. Whether or not they achieve that goal, the former CFL coach has proven that he belongs in American football.
Grade: B

Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers – It’s pretty amazing that McCarthy has the Packers two wins away from a division title despite not having Aaron Rodgers for half of the season. The 2010 Super Bowl champion coach will likely have plenty of breathing room for the next few years before he has to even worry about his job security.
Grade: B+

Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles – Trust in the Chipper. The first year coach has turned Philadelphia’s offense into a potent weapon with Nick Foles developing into a superstar. If the Eagles win the NFC East, they’ll be building shrines to the former Oregon Duck on Broad and Pattison. He still has some growing pains to work through (challenges, play calling, etc.). But, things are looking up in the City of Brotherly Love.
Grade: A-

Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks – Carroll has been a godsend in his third stint as a professional head coach. After failed performances in New York and New England, the former USC Trojan has taken the Seahawks to heights that they have rarely reached before. If he gets them to the Super Bowl, they may never let him leave.
Grade: A+

Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers – Like his brother, Harbaugh has nothing to worry about. In three seasons at the helm of the 49ers, Jim has gotten to the NFC Championship, the Super Bowl, and now a likely return trip to the postseason. The only question is whether or not he wants to stay there for the long haul.
Grade: A-

Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals – Arians won Coach of the Year last season with Indianapolis. He’s likely going to be in the running this year as well, his first in Arizona. Despite a mediocre quarterback and no real offensive weapons outside of Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals have 9 wins. That is very impressive for a second year coach.
Grade: A-

Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams – Once Sam Bradford went down for the season, it appeared as though the Rams’ chances of remaining respectable would as well. Au contraire, Pierre! The Rams have a fantastic, young defense and will only be getting better thanks to the Washington Redskins.
Grade: B

Could Go Either Way

Rex Ryan, New York Jets – The 6-8 Jets began the season strong after a dismal preseason led everyone to believe that they would be among the worst teams in football. The defense is still decent. But, the offense is devoid of real playmakers and has only gotten worse over the last 3 years. Few would be surprised if Ryan is relieved of his duties following the season. But, it also wouldn’t surprise many to see him return. After all, the Jets can still get to 8-8 with a couple of victories to end the year.
Grade: C-

Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers – At this point, it would be a complete shock if the Steelers cut ties with their Super Bowl winning coach. Still, Pittsburgh hasn’t won a playoff game since 2010 and will likely miss the playoffs for the second straight season. For a franchise with such a proud history, that may be too much to take.
Grade: C

Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders – In his second season with the team, Dennis Allen hasn’t seen enough improvement on either side of the ball to consider himself safe come the new year. His 4-10 Raiders have been inconsistent on offense and downright putrid at times on defense. For a defensive minded coach like Allen, that can only serve as justification for his ouster at the end of the season.
Grade: D+

Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans – When the Titans were 5-6 and in control of their playoff destiny, Munchak looked like he was making a case to stay. Now, after 3 straight losses, it doesn’t look like the third year coach will make it through another season. It’s really a shame because the Titans have the talent to contend and Munchak is considered a very good offensive mind. This is just another case of a coach saddling himself with a first round QB (Jake Locker) who never panned out and in turn cost the coach his job.
Grade: C

Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – At 0-8, Schiano looked as good as gone. After winning 4 of 6, his chances of returning have improved greatly. The same players that chastised Schiano’s coaching methods at the beginning of the season are starting to appreciate his tutelage. This one will remain a question mark at this point.
Grade: C-

Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons – Despite a 4-10 season, Smith is the least likely of all of these “could go either way” candidates to be fired. He has led the Falcons to four playoff berths since 2008 and will need at least one more poor year before he is considered a goner.
Grade: D

Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys – In a sane world, Garrett would have been fired following last season’s collapse. But, the world isn’t perfect and Jerry Jones is clueless. Even if Dallas fails to make the playoffs, there remains a chance that Jones could retain Garrett’s services for 2014.
Grade: D-

Tom Coughlin, New York Giants – I don’t think Coughlin will be fired after this season. But, one has to wonder how long his 2011 Super Bowl title will keep his seat secure. After all, many were clamoring for a new direction during that 2011 season, just four years after their 2007 championship. If the Giants miss the playoffs next year, expect big changes in the Big Apple.
Grade: C-

As Good As Gone

Wade Phillips, Houston Texans – The interim coach for the previously fired Gary Kubiak is unlikely to see a return in 2014. The Texans have already interviewed Lovie Smith for the vacant position and will continue to find viable alternatives to Phillips.
Grade: Inc.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions – I suppose since Detroit still has a slim hope of making the playoffs, I shouldn’t put Schwartz in the “as good as gone” list. Still, the Lions have grossly underachieved again and Schwartz continues to make enemies around the league. Unless a miracle happens, the Lions will be looking for a new leader.
Grade: C-

Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings – Despite an impressive victory on Sunday over Philadelphia, Frazier is still going to receive his pink slip at the end of the year. The fact that he led his team to the playoffs last year is moot. The Vikings still haven’t found a quarterback and the blame will fall on the shoulders of Frazier.
Grade: D

Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins – Even if Shanahan wanted to return, it’s unlikely that Dan Snyder would allow him to following the RGIII shenanigans. The Redskins have been an absolute mess this year in every facet of the game. Shanahan will be just another coach to make the playoffs one year and be fired the next.
Grade: F