2014 November : Packers Insider

NFL Week 11 Winners and Losers: Packers Set the Pace

November 17, 2014 by  
Filed under News

By Robert Mays, Grantland.com

~Winners

The Packers

Just inside the Packers locker room, off to the right in an adjacent equipment room, a wooden carving of the season’s defining word sits on a shelf in plain view. “It was a gift,” a smiling Aaron Rodgers said Sunday. “Fan mail.” The decorative “Relax” sign arrived after Rodgers’s Week 3 plea to Green Bay, and now, it’s more an artifact than a directive. For the second straight week, the Packers put up 50 points in a rout and became the first team in NFL history to score 28 first-half points in four straight home games. Panic is no longer a problem.

As the weather gets colder in Green Bay, and in Minnesota and Buffalo where two of the Packers three remaining road games are, Eddie Lacy might become more and more of a factor.

Outside of a speed bump in New Orleans, since Rodgers’s decree, all that has slowed down the Packers offense at Lambeau Field is mercy. They’ve thrown the ball at will, and they wasted little time starting that engine again Sunday, as Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson on a perfect 64-yarder lofted down the right sideline on the third play from scrimmage. Nelson was asked after the game if there were moments these days when Green Bay’s offense felt unstoppable. “Kind of,” he replied, which, coming from him, may as well be an answer the Macho Man would give Gene Okerlund.

Sunday’s throttling was the most notable thus far because it came against a defense that had been playing remarkably well. Lesser offenses than the Packers had left their tread marks on teams like the Panthers and Bears, but the Eagles came into this weekend ranked sixth in defensive DVOA, fresh off 60 minutes of turning Carolina’s offensive line into kindling. Philadelphia sacked Cam Newton nine times, but that pressure was nowhere to be found against Green Bay. Rodgers set up camp in the pocket and Green Bay’s receivers chewed up Philadelphia’s corners — the weakest group on the Eagles defense, but one that had avoided exposure thanks to a frightening pass rush.

For some reason, many opposing cornerbacks keep underestimating Jordy Nelson’s speed. That’s a good thing for the Packers.

With an offense that has faltered at times, the Eagles had been buoyed in other areas — by a stout, opportunistic defense and dominant special teams. But the Packers won in every hidden area Sunday, taking back both a fumble and an interception for touchdowns, while also adding a score in the return game. They beat the Eagles at Philadelphia’s game while also perfecting their own. “I told Fox in the production meeting,” Rodgers said, “this was important to gauge where we were at.” Green Bay’s defense got a leg up from Mark Sanchez turning back into a pumpkin, but it also had a strong day against the run and terrorized Sanchez when he went back to pass. He was sacked only three times, but the shots put on him — all three of them, really — should probably count double.

None of the Packers’ offensive success is new. Rodgers may be the league’s deserving MVP, but that’s true in any season he’s healthy. Rodgers has already played more games this season than he did all of the last one after breaking his collarbone, but the rest of the offense has also stayed on the field — and that, more than anything else, is what’s different about these Packers. Randall Cobb played only six games last year. Nelson played all 16 games last season, but missed four and parts of a few others in 2012. “We’ve been able to stay pretty healthy this year,” Rodgers said. “Having Randall stay healthy and be able to put up the kind of numbers he’s putting up. Obviously, Jordy is having a Pro Bowl season. But the offensive line, being able to have some continuity there … it’s given those guys a consistency they haven’t had here in a while.” Their Week 2 win against the Jets is the only game the Packers have played without the starting offensive line they took into the season.

Continuity has returned for Green Bay’s offense for the first time in a long time, and the Packers have used it to settle into a run of scoreboard pyrotechnics. For the second straight week, Eddy Lacy took a screen pass and chugged at least 30 yards for a touchdown. Lacy says he didn’t expect to score, that the final push from tight end Andrew Quarless is what got him into the end zone, but right now the Packers look like a group that expects to score on any play from anywhere on the field. Both Rodgers and Nelson were insistent Sunday that none of this is as easy as they’re making it look. If they want us to believe them, someone’s going to have to start making it look a little harder.

Original story here

Packers dominate Eagles, appear ready for playoff run now

November 17, 2014 by  
Filed under News

From Donny Banks, Sports Illustrated

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — It’s something of a stretch to be sure, but if there is any downside to the epic roll the Green Bay Packers are on as mid-November arrives, it’s that it’s not yet mid-January, when such dominance yields the most returns and earns a team some serious hardware.

That’s about where these Packers are at right now, after they inflicted their latest beat down, a 53-20 romp of the Philadelphia Eagles. At this point, they’re probably wishing they could press the fast forward button and skip through the next two months at warp speed, cutting to the chase that is the playoffs in the NFC. Because that’s obviously where they’re headed once again, and this time, the ultimate goal is to make sure the rest of the conference has to deal with the overwhelming challenge of Lambeau Field in the postseason.

The Packers aren’t just winning at home this season. They almost always do that. Instead they’re destroying people. Like the Eagles on Sunday. Philadelphia entered the game 7-2 and flying high after Monday night’s 45-21 demolition of visiting Carolina. But Chip Kelly’s club left Wisconsin looking positively fraudulent, on the wrong end of that 53-20 score, and having offered absolutely nothing in the way of true competition for the Packers.

If that all seems familiar, it’s because we just saw Green Bay reduce the Chicago Bears to a quivering mass last Sunday night, beating their division rivals 55-14 in a game that was no where near as close as the score indicated. The Packers had never before topped 50 points in consecutive games in their long and storied franchise history, but then every week seems to bring a new high-water mark in Green Bay.

“We’re on a roll right now,’’ Packers receiver Randall Cobb said, amid the celebratory vibe of the winning locker room. “We’re playing great, all phases. And offensively for us to continue to put points up like this and continue to score touchdowns and have big plays, it’s big for us. We just have to continue to have that going forward and continue to execute.”

Rodgers again was near-flawless at home. He was 22-of-36 for 341 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Eagles, and has now thrown a league-record 322 passes at home without being picked off.

Let’s be real here: If the Packers continue to execute like this, the rest of the NFL doesn’t stand a chance. In their past four first halves at Lambeau, they’ve outscored the visitors 128-9, and with Sunday’s 30-6 halftime lead over the shell-shocked Eagles, Green Bay became the first team in league history to score 28 or more points in the first half of four straight home games.

There are statement wins, and then there are victories that fairly well scream “juggernaut,” with an intensity that convinces you a Super Bowl may well be within reach. As long as the Packers can keep this kind of offensive momentum going, all things seem possible.

“It’s tough to win a game in this league, no matter who you’re playing, whether a team is undefeated, winless or somewhere in the middle,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “But I told Fox in the production meeting, this was important to gauge where we’re at. Playing against a top-tier team in this league that’s leading their division to see how we can match up. We’ve beaten some teams with losing records and blown them out. This was the kind of win we needed just to remind ourselves and our fans and the league that we are a good football team and it’s tough to play here.”

That is what it has to be about from this point forward for Rodgers and Green Bay, making sure the road to the NFC championship and the Super Bowl go through Lambeau, where they are 5-0 this season and almost unchallenged. The Packers are just 2-3 on the road, with losses at Seattle, Detroit and New Orleans, but if they can stay home in January, who would give them a game?

“Obviously, around here, it’s about winning division titles, getting a home playoff game and [exploiting the] advantage that we have here at home, with the weather, with the way the weather affects the football and the footing,” Rodgers said. “This is the kind of stretch you want to be on at this point in the season, when things are starting to sort themselves out. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re putting ourselves in position to be in the mix.”

Davante Adams was first Packer into the end zone Sunday. -Photo Mark Hoffman

Davante Adams was first Packer into the end zone Sunday. -Photo Mark Hoffman

Green Bay got a favor done for it by Arizona on Sunday, when the now 9-1 Cardinals beat the visiting Lions 14-6, thereby allowing the Packers to tie Detroit for the NFC North lead at 7-3. The Lions beat Green Bay at home in Week 3, and thus hold the head-to-head tie-breaker for now, but with a Week 17 showdown against the Lions looming at Lambeau, does anybody like Detroit’s chances of holding that advantage by season’s end? Especially since the schedule is about to get more favorable for Green Bay, with winnable road games at Minnesota, Buffalo and Tampa Bay still on tap, to go with home games against New England, Atlanta and the Lions.

So while the Cardinals stayed two full games ahead of Green Bay in the race for the NFC’s top seed and home field honors in the playoffs, Arizona still could lose the necessary ground the Packers need to make up. The Cardinals have to play Seattle twice, travel to both San Francisco and St. Louis, and play host to the red-hot Chiefs in the season’s final six weeks. Looking at both teams’ remaining schedules, I can see Green Bay picking up two games on Arizona and making Lamebeau Field their ultimate postseason weapon.

“It’s about keeping up the Packers standard, and letting them know when it’s time to play us, they’ve got to come ready,” said Green Bay tight end Andrew Quarless, one of seven Packers to catch passes against Philly, with two for 35 yards, plus some superb blocking on an Eddie Lacy touchdown. “We’re trying to set that standard in the league. Everybody’s stepping up and making plays, and I think we’re headed in the right direction.

“Our biggest worry is always about us, but it’s definitely good that Detroit lost. That probably helps. But I think we’re setting ourselves up right now for the playoffs. We’ve got to just keep winning.”

Julius Peppers is so thankful he's in Green Bay and not Chicago.

Julius Peppers is so thankful he’s in Green Bay and not Chicago.

What Green Bay is accomplishing, as always, starts with Rodgers, who has interjected himself into serious MVP consideration with his past two performances. He was 22-of-36 for 341 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Eagles, and has now thrown a league-record 322 passes at home without tossing a pick, besting Tom Brady’s mark of 288 from 2002-04. Rodgers has thrown a mind-boggling 29 touchdown passes at home since his last last interception, and he already owns seven games this season with at least three touchdown passes and zero interceptions, tied for second-most in history behind only Peyton Manning’s eight for the Colts in 2007.

But the Green Bay offense had help, because the Packers defense scored twice on Sunday — on a Julius Peppers 52-yard interception return and a Casey Hayward 49-yard fumble return — and the special teams chipped in with a 75-yard Micah Hyde punt return. It was the first time since 1983 that Green Bay posted touchdowns via rushing, passing, interception return and a punt return in the same game. The 53 points allowed by the Eagles were the most they’ve allowed in a game since 1972.

“It’s a good time,” said Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who had four catches for 109 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown. “It’s fun watching everyone get involved. That’s probably the best part of it. Seeing the defense scoring touchdowns, the special teams with Micah. It’s the little things.”

The Packers right now are doing the little things, the big things, and everything in between. They just made the first-place Eagles — the best team Green Bay has beaten this season — look a lot like the 4-6 Bears, and that’s no small feat against a Chip Kelly-coached team. If there is a drawback to any of this season’s dominance in Green Bay, it’s just hoping that it can be sustained and doesn’t result in peaking too soon. With January the goal, these Packers are playing so well, they probably wish it wasn’t November.

Original story here

Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated “People always tell me I have the coolest job in the world, covering the NFL for Sports Illustrated,” says SI.com senior writer Don Banks. “And I always tell them they’re absolutely right.” Banks joined the Sports Illustrated Group in March 2000 after a distinguished career in newspapers. He covers the NFL year-round and writes the popular Snap Judgments column during the season. Banks also serves as SI.com’s designated mock draft speacialist.

 

Packers Humiliate Bears 55-14

November 10, 2014 by  
Filed under News

By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — Hands stuffed into his pockets on a chilly night, Aaron Rodgers warmed up near the space heaters on Green Bay’s sideline. He smiled as he patted teammates on their helmets.

There was nothing much left to do in the middle of the third quarter on a record-setting night with the Packers leading NFC North rival Chicago by 38 points.

Rodgers threw six touchdown passes to tie the franchise game record and match the NFL mark for a half, and the Packers routed the reeling Bears 55-14 on Sunday.

Rodgers was 18 of 27 for 315 yards, throwing touchdown passes of 73 and 40 yards to Jordy Nelson to help the Packers (6-3) open a 42-0 halftime lead.

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 09: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers throws 73 yards for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on November 9, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

GREEN BAY, WI – NOVEMBER 09: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers throws 73 yards for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on November 9, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“We just kind of got things going our way,” Rodgers said. “The line did a good job of giving me time to extend plays. If you extend plays, you look down the field and there’s Jordy Nelson. He made some nice catches.”

Rodgers tied the team touchdown pass record that he shared with Matt Flynn and matched the NFL mark for a half set by Oakland’s Daryle Lamonica in 1969.

The 190th meeting of the NFL’s oldest rivalry turned into an old-fashioned blowout and Rodgers watched most of the second half from the sideline in a knit cap.

A night full of milestones included Rodgers’ 16th scoring pass of 70 yards or more to break the record he shared with Denver’s Peyton Manning and Rodgers’ predecessor in Green Bay, Brett Favre. Rodgers looked just fine two weeks after tweaking his left hamstring in a loss to New Orleans.

The 55 points tied a Packers record at Lambeau Field.

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 09: Julius Peppers #56 of the Green Bay Packers rushes past Jermon Bushrod #74 of the Chicago Bears towards quarterback Jay Cutler #6 at Lambeau Field on November 9, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

GREEN BAY, WI – NOVEMBER 09: Julius Peppers #56 of the Green Bay Packers rushes past Jermon Bushrod #74 of the Chicago Bears towards quarterback Jay Cutler #6 at Lambeau Field on November 9, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“The game? Shoot, I don’t really have a whole lot to say,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “That was clearly our best football that we played this year.”

Both teams were coming off byes. The down time didn’t help the Bears, who have lost five of six to drop to 3-6.

Their season is turning into a nightmare, and their defense has fallen apart.

Two weeks after giving up 38 points in the first half in a 51-23 loss to New England, the Bears set a dubious franchise record by giving up 42 points in a half.

“I’m confused, brother. I’m confused. … We’re just not very good right now,” receiver Brandon Marshall said. “It’s a shame to have to say that, but sitting at 3-6, it’s tough. It’s very, very, very disappointing.”

Embattled quarterback Jay Cutler had another night to forget at Lambeau Field with two first-half turnovers. He has thrown 12 interceptions in four career games in Titletown.

Cutler was 22 of 37 for 272 yards. His performance surely won’t ease the withering criticism back home in Chicago.

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 09: Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers rushes toward quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears, resulting in a sack in the first half of the game at Lambeau Field on November 9, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

GREEN BAY, WI – NOVEMBER 09: Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packers rushes toward quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears, resulting in a sack in the first half of the game at Lambeau Field on November 9, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“We’re all look for answers right now,” Cutler said. “We really don’t have a lot of them.”

Rodgers could seemingly do no wrong with his six first-half touchdown passes.

“His statistics at halftime, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that,” McCarthy said.

Rodgers connected with tight end Andrew Quarless on a 4-yard scoring strike with 3:53 left in the first quarter for a 14-0 lead.

The misery was only just beginning for the Chicago secondary.

Rodgers found Nelson for a 40-yard touchdown pass with 12:17 left in the second quarter. A screen pass to Eddie Lacy on Green Bay’s next possession turned into another catch-and-run for a 56-yard score and a five-touchdown lead.

About the only thing that went wrong for the Packers was when Cobb fumbled near the goal line after a 4-yard catch. The Bears recovered in the end zone — but even that play went awry for Chicago after Kyle Fuller was whistled for unnecessary roughness.

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 09: Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers pushes back Tim Jennings #26 of the Chicago Bears in the first half of the game at Lambeau Field on November 9, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

GREEN BAY, WI – NOVEMBER 09: Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers pushes back Tim Jennings #26 of the Chicago Bears in the first half of the game at Lambeau Field on November 9, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“I’m responsible for the play of this football team — and it’s not good enough right now. That’s where we are,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

Nelson had six receptions for 152 yards, while Cobb had 72 yards on four catches. He caught a touchdown pass for the sixth straight game.

Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers each had sacks. Peppers forced a fumble on his sack against his former team that he recovered at the Chicago 32, setting up another score.

The Packers’ league-worst run defense held Matt Forte to 54 yards on 17 carries. Matthews relished this performance after the defense had an embarrassing second-half letdown in the 44-23 loss to the Saints.

“So much emphasis is put on it,” Matthews said about improving defensively. “When we stopped their run and the way our offense was going, it was game over.”

Original story here

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

Research Notes

Aaron Rodgers had three touchdowns on passes traveling at least 15 yards downfield, while Jay Cutler was 1-of-4 on such passes. Sunday’s game continued a season-long trend in which Rodgers outperformed Jay Cutler on deep passes. – Rodgers is the first quarterback this season to have 2 touchdowns on passes traveling more than 30 yards downfield in a game. Jordy Nelson was the recipient of both of those touchdowns.

[+]

Passing 15+ Yards Downfield This Season

Cutler Rodgers
Comp pct 31.0% 52.3%*
Yds per att 9.5 18.7
TD-Int 4-6 8-0
*5-of-6, 181 yds, 3 TD Sunday
Close [X]
Aaron Rodgers was 8-of-10 with 3 touchdowns when the Bears sent five or more pass rushers. The Bears have given up a league-high 12 touchdowns against added pressure. They have allowed the highest Total QBR when blitzing this season, a year after allowing the lowest QBR.

[+]

Bears Defense With Blitz Last Two Seasons

2013 2014
Comp pct 52.9% 65.1%*
TD-Int 10-9 12-0
Total QBR 19.9 93.1
*8-of-11, 3 TD Sunday
Close [X]
Aaron Rodgers is 5-of-5 for 181 yards and 3 touchdowns on passes traveling at least 15 yards downfield.
Since Mike McCarthy took over as head coach in 2006, only the Patriots and Colts have a better win percentage than the Packers.

[+]

Best Win Pct

Since 2006
W-L-T
Patriots .781 107-30-0
Colts .662 90-46-0
Packers .643 87-48-1
Steelers .620 85-52-0
Ravens .620 85-52-0
Close [X]
Jay Cutler has not been good on deep balls this season. On passes thrown 15 yards or farther, his QBR is 30th in the NFL, only ahead of Jake Locker, Ryan Tannehill and Geno Smith. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers has cashed in on the long balls, while not throwing a pick on such passes yet. Cutler, on the other hand, has tossed 6.

[+]

Passes Thrown 15 Yards Downfield – NFL Ranks This Season

Cutler Rodgers
Yds per att 28th 1st
Int T-29th* T-1st
QBR 30th 2nd
*6 interceptions (Rodgers has 0)
Close [X]
Jordy Nelson‘s touchdown was his third of the season on a pass traveling more than 30 yards downfield, tied for most in the league.
Aaron Rodgers is 11-3 in his career against the Bears, including playoffs, and is 9-1 in head-to-head matchups against Jay Cutler.

[+]

Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler – Head-to-Head Meetings (Inc. Playoffs)

Cutler Rodgers
W-L 1-9 9-1
Comp pct 55.6% 68.0%
Pass YPG 200.0 258.0
TD-Int 12-20 16-8
Total QBR 26.9 73.0
Close [X]
From Elias:

[+]

Largest Halftime Leads – All-Time

Opponent
2009 Patriots 45-0 Titans
Sun. Packers 42-0 Bears
1983 Packers 49-7 Buccaneers
2006 Bears 41-0 49ers
*Source: Elias Sports Bureau
Close [X]
Jay Cutler has started 3 games in Green Bay in his career, and he’s thrown 4 interceptions in 2 of those games. Cutler has thrown 4 interceptions in a game twice in his 109 other games played.

[+]

Jay Cutler Career in Green Bay

W-L 0-3
Comp pct 48.0%
Pass YPG 190.3
TD-Int 2-10
Total QBR 8.5
Close [X]
Jay Cutler has not been good this season on passes thrown 15 yards or farther. His QBR of 50.2 is 30th in the NFL, only ahead of Jake Locker, Ryan Tannehill and Geno Smith.

[+]

Cutler on Passes Thrown 15 Yds – NFL Ranks This Season

Rank
Yds per att 9.3 28th
Comp pct 31.5%* 31st
QBR 50.2 30th
*6 Int (T-29th)
Close [X]

ESPN Stats & Information

Mid-season NFL Playoff Forecast

November 7, 2014 by  
Filed under News

By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor

~As we head into November, with many teams having eight games in the books and eight remaining to play, it’s time to take a look at how things shape up now for the playoff push that will heat up later this month and carry us through September.

If the playoffs started today, and it’s fortunate that they do not, the Packers would not even qualify. They are tied at 5-3 for the final Wildcard spot, with Seattle. Of course, Seattle steamrolled the Packers in the NFL Kickoff game way back on September 4th.

Analysts and experts have been talking about what’s wrong with Seattle for the past month or so, but the fact is, they have the same record as the Packers do, despite playing poorly for their standards.

San Francisco 49ers' Frank Gore (21) breaks away from Green Bay Packers' Morgan Burnett (42) and  D.J. Smith (51) for a touchdown run during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. The 49ers won 30-22. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

It looks likely that the Packers’ season won’t end at the hands of the 49ers for the first time since the 2011 season. But you never know. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Nonetheless, the playoffs do not start today, and the second eight games will go a lot differently for some teams than the first eight have. Predicting a whole half-season for 32 teams is impossible, as predicting one game is hard enough.

Looking specifically at the Packers schedule, they play five at home and three on the road. The three on the road are at 4-5 Minnesota, 5-3 Buffalo, and 1-7 Tampa Bay.
Their home games are 3-5 Chicago, 6-2 Philadelphia, 7-2 New England, 2-6 Atlanta, and 6-2 Detroit in the last game of the regular season.

Barring an injury to Aaron Rodgers like last year, or a rash of injuries to key players like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, the Packers will be favored in each of the eight games, with the possible exception of the red-hot New England Patriots, in week 13.

Here’s the current state of affairs in the NFC.
nflplayoffs2014_nfc
The Lions schedule has them at home this week versus Miami, then they visit the NFC’s #1 team in 7-1 Arizona, and then they travel to the opposite corner of the country and visit the AFC’s #1 team in 7-2 New England. Miami is hot right now too, by the way, with their only loss in the past five weeks being the game the Packers won on the last second touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless.

Packer fans want Detroit to lose a couple of these next three games, because after that stretch, the Lions get three straight home games, against teams they will be big favorites against: Chicago, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota. Then the Lions finish up on the road in week 16 at Chicago and the big one, week 17 at Green Bay. These Lions are legit, especially on defense. But they also will be getting Calvin Johnson back, and Reggie Bush, and that offense has a lot of room to improve from what they’ve given in getting to 6-2. Remember, this defense dominated Rodgers and the Packers back in week 2, in  a dome, where Rodgers usually thrives.

This race is wide open, and it’s quite possible the runner-up will earn a Wildcard spot as the #5 or #6 seed.

The NFC West will beat up each other as Arizona plays Seattle twice yet, and they finish the year at San Francisco. Seattle plays San Francisco two times yet, in weeks 13 and 15.

The 7-1 Cardinals and 5-3 Seahawks still have to play each other twice.

For 5-3 Seattle, in addition to playing Arizona and San Francisco two times each yet, they also have to to Kansas City and to Philadelphia. That is a brutal schedule for anyone, and the Seahawks have not looked anywhere near the team that won the Super Bowl last season and whipped the Packers back in week one.

San Francisco at 4-4 is being counted out as dead, and they visit New Orleans this week, where the Saints are almost unbeatable. The 49ers defense is a shell of it’s former self as they are missing Aldon Smith, Novorro Bowman, and have been missing Patrick Willis as well. This team enjoyed unbelievable luck regarding injuries the past three seasons, and they took it for granted. It’s caught up with them finally this season. Their offense is healthy overall, and more loaded than ever, but the offensive line has been bad, Vernon Davis hasn’t been himself, and Colin Kaepernick, well, he hasn’t had the pleasure of facing Dom Capers’ defense this season.

He’s looked like a project against most of the NFL, but looked like a Superhero against the Packers in his short career.

Speaking of the Saints, at just 4-4, they are in control of the NFC South, as the next best team sits at 3-5-1 in Carolina, who look terrible. The Saints just won easily at the Panthers last Thursday, and with five home games and three road games remaining, it would appear to be the Saints division in a cakewalk now. They could conceivably finish 7-1 and at 11-5. Their three road games are all against losing teams except on November 30th, they travel to Pittsburgh in a key AFC-vs-NFC contest. I’m putting the Saints down as 11-5 and red hot entering the playoffs.

Philly plays the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Cowboys in a 3-week stretch from weeks 13-15. And they won’t be doing it with Nick Foles at QB. What about Tony Romo?

The NFC East is all Philadelphia and Dallas. Both teams have six wins, but Dallas has three losses now, after dropping back to back home games the past two weeks, to Washington and Arizona. Dallas still has to visit the Giants, Bears, Philly, and finally the Redskins in week 17. Everyone is well aware of Dallas’ recent history of week 17 collapses. The Cowboys only have two games left in Dallas, and they’re both brutally tough games as the Eagles visit on a huge Turkey Day game on Thanksgiving in week 13, and then Andrew Luck’s Indianapolis Colts pay a visit in week 16. Remember, all three of Dallas’ losses this season have come in the wonderful JerryWorld stadium.

Obviously those two Philly vs. Dallas games will most likely decide who wins the NFC East. But Dallas has plenty of other losable games on it’s slate.

So does Philadelphia. They visit Green Bay next week. They did win in Green Bay last year, but that was Scott Tolzien starting and not Rodgers. It also was Nick Foles in the middle of an unbelievable season, and not Mark Sanchez. I actually like Sanchez more than Foles, but we’ll see how that plays out. Sanchez has a history of turnovers, but I still think he’s going to be able to do just fine.

The Eagles also host Seattle in week 14. That game could doom Seattle’s playoff chances, or damage the Eagles NFC East chance.

In the AFC, the scene looks like this.

nflplayoffs2014_afc
I’m not going to go as in depth here. But look at all those teams at 5-3 who won’t make the playoffs.

But let me start at the top with the suddenly red-hot Patriots. They just earned the tiebreaker over Denver by whipping the Broncos last week in Foxboro. New England’s remaining schedule is: at 6-3 Indianapolis, 6-2 Detroit, at the 5-3 Packers, at 5-4 San Diego, 5-3 Miami, at 1-8 New York Jets, and then finish at home versus the 5-3 Bills.

That’s a tough schedule and their next 5 games are all against good teams with a combined 27-15 record.
Denver has the same 6-2 record, and their remaining games are at 0-8 Oakland, at 3-5 St. Louis, vs 5-3 Miami, at 5-3 Kansas City, vs 5-3 Buffalo, at 5-4 San Diego, at 5-3-1 Cincinnati, and then finishing up at home against the Raiders again. That’s not an easy slate, but I think it’s a bit easier than New England’s is.

Kansas City is tough at home, and they already stole a win at San Diego back in week seven, which is what started the then-5-1 Chargers onto their slide. San Diego now sits at 5-4 and looks dead in the water, when they looked like perhaps the AFC’s best team before that home loss to the Chiefs.

The AFC North is wide open from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, Baltimore and Cinci.

The two Wildcard spots will come from that North, the East (Miami or Buffalo), and the West (Chiefs or Chargers). Kansas City has to go to Buffalo this week, which might prove fatal in the end for the loser. KC also visits Arizona and Pittsburgh yet, plus hosts Denver, Seattle, and San Diego.

Here’s my final predictions:

NFC
1- Arizona 12-4
2- Detroit 11-5
3- Dallas 11-5
4- New Orleans 10-6

5- Philadelphia 11-5
6- Green Bay 11-5

Wildcard Round
Green Bay at Dallas
Philadelphia at New Orleans

Notes
Like Herm Edwards last week, I don’t have either Seattle or San Francisco in at all. I would not be surprised to be wrong, and have one of them make it. But it would come at the expense of Green Bay or Detroit, or Dallas or Philly.
Also, there’s a huge difference between the 11-5 Packers and 11-5 Lions. Number one, it probably is a bye, and number two, it takes having to go to New Orleans out of the picture. The Saints are two different teams, one at home and one away from the Superdome.
Lastly, the road to the Super Bowl in Arizona goes thru Arizona in the NFC. No team has ever played in a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

AFC
1- Denver 13-3
2- New England 12-4
3- Indianapolis 11-5
4- Pittsburgh 11-5

5- Miami 10-6
6- Kansas City 10-6

Wildcard Round
Kansas City at Indianapolis
Miami at Pittsburgh

Notes
Picking any of the Wildcard teams is like picking who will pick who in the NFL Draft. I went with Miami and Kansas City mostly because they each only currently have two losses within the AFC, whereas Cleveland, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and San Diego each have three, and Baltimore has four.
I really wanted to pick the Ravens, but already having four AFC losses, their path is tougher because it’s going to come down to tiebreakers with it this bunched up. THe Bengals do have an ugly tie though, so they won’t factor in the tiebreakers as the others will.

Once again, this is the matchup almost everyone expects. Who’s at home though?

I think Denver will make up one game on the Patriots and will secure the AFC homefield advantage again. That’s a big deal obviously.
Watch out for Andrew Luck and the Colts. If they can somehow secure a top-two seed, and play at home, who knows. They are on their bye right now, then their next three games are home games, starting with the big one against New England. If they can beat the Patriots, that’s the big swing game for a bye. Then they welcome two underdogs into Indianapolis in Jacksonville and Washington.

I’ll save the playoff game predictions for later.

This would be a sensational Super Bowl Matchup, and it’s as possible as any others.

 

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