Your #NFL Weekend Update + #Superbowl50 Forecast

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Daniels helps Denver punch ticket to Super Bowl 50

In the 17th and quite possibly the final edition of “Manning versus Brady,” it was Peyton Manning and the Broncos emerging victorious over Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Manning completed 17 passes for 176 yards and threw two touchdowns, both to tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels caught a 21-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and a 12-yard TD pass in the second quarter, and those were his only two receptions of the game. Daniels tied the NFL postseason record for receptions in a game, all of which went for scores, last done by the Colts’ LaVon Brazill, also against the Patriots, in the 2013 playoffs.

Daniels is the fourth player to catch two touchdown passes from Peyton Manning in a playoff game. The previous three did so for the Colts against the Broncos: Marvin Harrison and Brandon Stokley in the 2003 playoffs and Reggie Wayne a year later.

Rare struggles for Patriots’ offense

Though a late touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski made the final score close, it was a day-long struggle for the Patriots on offense. Brady completed 27 of 56 passes, marking the first time in his professional career that he completed fewer than half of his passes in a postseason game. The 29 incomplete passes on Sunday were also a career-high for Brady in a postseason game.

The Patriots as a team converted two of 15 third-down attempts, good for just 13.3 percent. That’s New England’s lowest third-down percentage in a postseason game under Bill Belichick. The last time the Patriots converted a lower percentage of third downs in a postseason game was Super Bowl XX – New England lost to the Bears, 46-10, and were 1-for-10 (10%) on third downs.

Panthers pound Cardinals in NFC Championship

The Panthers are headed to Super Bowl 50 after overwhelming the Cardinals, 49-15, in the NFC Championship Game. The 49 points by Carolina are the second-most scored by a team that clinched a berth in the Super Bowl – the Bills scored 51 points in the AFC Championship Game in January 1991 against the Raiders. The Panthers, who forced seven turnovers in their blowout victory, are the second team in the last 20 postseasons to score at least 49 points and record seven or more takeaways in a postseason game. The other team to accomplish that feat in that span is the Jaguars, who racked up 62 points and forced seven turnovers in their divisional round victory over the Dolphins in January 2000.

nullSuperman Cam is clutch for Carolina

Cam Newton put up an MVP-like performance in the Panthers’ victory, throwing for 335 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a pair of scores. Newton is the fourth quarterback to total multiple touchdown passes and touchdown rushes in a single postseason game. Otto Graham had two such games for the Browns in back-to-back NFL Championships (1954 and 1955). The other two players to do so prior to Newton were Jay Cutler (Jan. 2011 against the Seahawks) and Colin Kaepernick (Jan. 2013 versus the Packers).

nullPalmer ties ignominious record in loss

Carson Palmer struggled against the mighty Panthers defense, throwing four interceptions and losing a pair of fumbles. Palmer’s six turnovers are tied for the most turnovers by a player in a postseason game. The last player to turn the ball over six times in a postseason game also did so in a Panthers-Cardinals matchup – Jake Delhomme had five interceptions and lost a fumble for Carolina in January 2009 against Arizona.

A first look at Super Bowl 50: Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers

LAS VEGAS – The Carolina Panthers will go to San Francisco favored by more than a field goal to win the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

Oddsmakers didn’t even wait until the Panthers finished off the Arizona Cardinals to install them as favorites for the game against the Denver Broncos on Feb. 7. At most books, the Panthers were a 4-point pick, though the early line varied, with the over/under settling in at 45.

Five Quick Hits

* I wish there had been more time in between games on Sunday. The nail-biter in Denver ended minutes before kickoff in Carolina, and if the game had gone into overtime, that creates a conflict for viewers.

* Even if you DVR the NFC Championship Game while you watch the end of the AFC Championship Game, good luck avoiding the scroll at your bottom of your screen, telling you that it’s 17-0 Carolina before you’ve even switched over. There should be a hour, minimum, between the conference championship games. Probably one and a half. I’d rather watch a pre-game show for 15 minutes than miss the first drive of the NFC Championship Game.

* Anyone else catch Rob Gronkowski complaining to the back judge near the end of the early game? He mimed that the Broncos had basically attempted to murder him, on a play that rightfully drew no penalties. Hey Gronk, there’s another sport where crying and faking does draw penalties. It’s called soccer. Either sign with the New England Revolution, or grow up.

* Cam Newton is an all-pro QB and league MVP, and he played great on Sunday. But I’ve never seen a quarterback so willing to throw a 4-yard pass on 3rd-and-10.

* Congratulations to this year’s finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award: Anquan Boldin, Eli Manning, and Ben Watson. Boldin is the favorite. This is the second year in a row he’s been a finalist. Thomas Davis, who won last season, had also been a finalist for the second year in a row.

* Get an early look at the 2016 Super Bowl commercials.

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The Ghost of Christmas Future

Super Bowl 50: Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos
Santa Clara, California
February 7, 2015

For the third year in a row, the top seeds from both conferences will meet in the Super Bowl. But this result wasn’t as likely as that stat would imply. The hottest teams coming into the playoffs were the Chiefs (on a 10-game win streak), the Cardinals (who lost a 9-game streak with a half-hearted Week 17), and the Seahawks (whose last four wins came by a combined 139-32). The Panthers had a tough road to the big game, and the Broncos just didn’t look particularly intimidating at the end of the regular season.

This is the first Super Bowl for both head coaches, though both have been to Super Bowls in other capacities. The Broncos’ Gary Kubiak becomes the seventh head coach to make a Super Bowl in his first year with the team, joining Don McCafferty, Red Miller, George Seifert, Bill Callahan, Jon Gruden, and Jim Caldwell. Additionally, Peyton Manning will become the oldest QB to start a Super Bowl, breaking the record held by his employer, John Elway.

CAROLINA ON OFFENSE

Denver has a great defense, but this is a bad matchup. The Broncos thrive on pressure, but Cam Newton’s running ability means he can evade pass rushers, and he’ll run through openings if you leave them. The Broncos will get some sacks, but their pressure won’t have the same effect it did against the Patriots. Denver’s pass defense is better than its rush defense, and Carolina is one of the most balanced offenses in the league, with a good ground game. New England prefers to throw, which played to Denver’s strength, but if Mike Shula is smart, I’d expect the Panthers to run about 50% of the time, more if they get a big lead. I’d also look for some sort of trick play to break things open.

The Broncos need to contain the rush, while preventing big plays downfield: make Newton throw short and intermediate passes, string together long drives. He’s capable of that, but the Broncos can’t get run over on the ground, or killed on sudden, momentum-generating big-play strikes. The Broncos have won with their defense all year, and they’ll need a low-scoring game if they’re going to win, so giving up a 50-yard TD would be devastating. Force the Panthers to work the ball down the field, preferably through the air, and hope you can force a couple of turnovers.

DENVER ON OFFENSE

This still seems weird to say about a Peyton Manning offense, but the Broncos are best when their offense is smart and conservative, with an emphasis on ball control. You expect to see what the team has shown its last few games. They’ll stick with the run, mostly grinding out short gains to keep the defense honest, and probably break a long one at some point. Manning has to take a few shots downfield, but his role is more to find the right plays and pick up first downs on 3rd-and-6. The priority is avoiding turnovers. The Broncos aren’t going to win a shootout, and they’re not expecting to win with explosive offense; they want big plays from their defense.

Carolina’s priority is probably to prevent Denver from establishing its run game and getting into a rhythm. Don’t make mistakes, and force Manning to win with his arm. The Panthers are effective ballhawks, as we saw in the NFC Championship Game, but they probably don’t need to force turnovers as long as they’re solid throughout the game. They need to be creative enough that Manning doesn’t pick them apart with his calls at the line, but they don’t need to be aggressive, exactly. Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman are terrific players, but Carolina’s most important defender in this game might be Kawann Short. Manning can’t overcome a good interior pass rush.

SPECIAL TEAMS

This might be a small advantage for Denver, which has a slightly better kicker, slightly better punter, and a more consistent return game. For the Broncos to win, they’ll probably need an edge from special teams: a big return or a blocked kick or something.

THE FORECAST

The three best teams in the NFL this year were all in the NFC: the Panthers, Cardinals, and Seahawks. The Panthers have already beaten the other two, pretty handily, and they’re 4-point favorites to win Super Bowl 50. Denver has a great defense, though, and you should never underestimate great defensive teams in a championship. The Broncos were in the Super Bowl two years ago, so they have Super Bowl experience, which the Panthers do not – not that it matters a damn. And it’s widely assumed that this will be Manning’s last game. I hate to imply that players don’t always perform at their peak, especially in a game of this magnitude, but sometimes you see a little more when emotions are running high. Who’s to say the Broncos don’t find something extra to help the Sheriff ride off into the sunset?

All the intangibles point in Denver’s direction. But the Panthers are a better team. They have a good defense, too, as their seven takeaways against Arizona would attest, and they have an offense that scores more points. Their ground game plays away from Denver’s strengths, and interior defensive pressure could radically disrupt Manning’s gameplan.

Source: Sports Central NFL – Super Bowl 50 Preview

Tyrann Mathieu injury, Odell Beckham Jr., Panthers, #NFL Week 15 – The MMQB w/Peter King

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“How you feeling?” someone asked Bruce Arians a few minutes before 1 this morning, as the Arizona Cardinals’ buses left Lincoln Financial for the airport in Philadelphia, and the long flight west.

You kidding? He’s great! Got to be! The Cardinals just demolished the Eagles 40-17 on national television, clinching the team’s first NFC title since 2009—and setting a record for the 96-year-old franchise for wins in a regular season (12). Arians did it a short drive from his hometown of York, Pa., and against one of the teams that spurned him when he was dying to be an NFL head coach. Sunday was a big night, and this coaching lifer had to be on Cloud Nine. Or Cloud 12.

“I’m melancholy,” the coach of the NFC West champions said.

There’s a story there.

* * *

The physical play between Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman crossed the line on multiple occasions during Sunday’s game.

Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Quite a day in the NFL:

• The most electric receiver and best cornerback in football faced off in New Jersey, and a UFC fight broke out.

• The Broncos, who’d owned the AFC West all season, now could be one loss away from being the conference’s sixth seed.

• Grown men wept on the field in San Diego—and not because they were sentenced to play for the 4-10 Chargers. (I’ll write the lead to my Tuesday column on the end of days, possibly, in St. Louis and San Diego on the heels of their final home games. Thanks in advance for your patience.)

• The Texans, 0-13 at Indianapolis in their history before Sunday, finally won there, behind a quarterback who wasn’t good enough to play in Cleveland or to back up in Dallas. And now Houston’s playoff life will depend on one Brandon Weeden. “Crazy day, crazy month, crazy year,” he said from the scene of the crime Sunday.

• The Jets could win their final six games, beat the reigning Super Bowl champs, finish 11-5 and miss the playoffs. Easily.

• Washington wins the NFC East by winning Saturday night. Philadelphia wins the NFC East by winning its last two games.

• Regular-season wins for New England the last four years: 12, 12, 12, 12 (and counting).

• Kansas City is amazing. First team to lose five in a row then win eight straight in one season. (Wherever do they find these silly records?) Average margin of victory in the eight straight wins: 17.5 points. And 3-11 Cleveland and 6-8 Oakland come to Arrowhead for the last two regular-season games, so the Chiefs have a heck of a shot to extend that win streak to 10 straight. With a possible first-round playoff game at Houston, it’s quite possible that Kansas City could carry an 11-game winning streak into a divisional game at Cincinnati or Denver.

• Pittsburgh’s three-headed wideout monster (Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton) caught 32 passes in the win over Denver. How often have the fifth and sixth seeds in a conference playoff been the biggest threats to No. 1? This could be that year, with Kansas City and Pittsburgh the kryptonite to New England.

• Speaking of hot wild-card teams: Seattle has won five in a row, and Russell Wilson—statistically and in every other way—is the best he’s ever been. How can you be better than 19 touchdowns and no interceptions and a 143.6 passer rating over five games?

There’s a lot going on. The Giants might be wise to work on one game plan with maniacal Odell Beckham Jr. in it and one with him out of it. Concussion opens this week. You should see it; it’s important. Three teams in eight days are preparing to say goodbye to their cities forever, and some fans are into the love-in of it all, and some want vengeance. And did I mention Brandon Weeden is relevant again?

But we start on the bus in south Philly, with Bruce Arians’ favorite player in trouble………(continue reading)

Source: Tyrann Mathieu injury, Odell Beckham Jr. Panthers, NFL Week 15 | The MMQB with Peter King

What You Need To Know For #TNF & 4 More Things

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1.

By the Time I Get To Arizona…

 

The Vikes are missing 4 guys on D.  Anyone else think this could get ugly in a hurry in the desert?  If it was in the cold blanket of the outdoors of Minnesota, maybe…Sure A.P. is whining that he’s not getting the ball enough and the last time he did that he went off – this is the matchup tonight – Adrian Peterson, child-abuser versus the front 7 of Arizona.  For me, the issue is not so much that matchup, it’s can the Vikes score enough points regardless what A.P. does.

When Carson Palmer starts, the Cardinals as home favorites are 9-3-1 against-the-spread, but All-time, touchdown or greater underdogs against the Cardinals are 20-10-1 against-the-spread – so something has to give.  DC*3PO says the Cards win by only 4 so to take the Vikes – make mine the Cards, as they are the better team and Minnesota struggles against good teams – in fact John Beckwith made a bet that Minnesota would not beat another team whose record is above .500 – so far they have not.

Guys to watch on #DraftKings for Tonight’s game, according to DC*3PO

  • Carson Palmer $6,500 – 19.8 – 66.6%
  • Adrian Peterson $6,900 – 15.4 – 40.9%
  • Larry Fitzgerald $7,400 – 15.3 – 57.7%
  • Teddy Bridgewater $5,100 – 13.5 – 45.4%
  • John Brown $4,500 – 13 – 51.1%

Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, during a game against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 6.

2.

Can The Seahawks Get Back To The Super Bowl?

The Seattle Seahawks came into 2015 as championship favorites, having put up one of the best two-year runs in NFL history, with a bid for back-to-back titles undone by one of the most shocking twist endings in Super Bowl history. But things went downhill in a hurry. Seattle lost four of its first six games; then won two in a row, against the foundering 49ers and Cowboys; and in Week 10 dropped a crucial home game against the Cardinals that effectively killed any chance of a third consecutive NFC West crown. It was mid-November and the Seahawks were unlikely to make the playoffs, let alone win the Super Bowl.

Source: Can The Seahawks Get Back To The Super Bowl?


 

3.

Last One Out of the Circus…

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich fired another shot from long range Wednesday night as he continued to voice his displeasure over 3-point shots.

“I still hate it,” Popovich told reporters before the Spurs’ 97-94 loss to theToronto Raptors. “I’ll never embrace it. I don’t think it’s basketball. I think it’s kind of like a circus sort of thing. Why don’t we have a 5-point shot? A 7-point shot? You know, where does it stop, that sort of thing.

“But that’s just me, that’s just old-school. To a certain degree, you better embrace it or you’re going to lose. And every time we’ve won a championship, the 3-point shot was a big part of it. Because……(continue reading)

Source: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says 3-pointer is ‘like a circus sort of thing’


4.

Day 3 and Counting…

The great thing about the Winter Meetings is that every club is involved. No matter who you root for, there is going to be a rumor or two tied to your team every day of the proceedings. With that in mind, here’s a look at the most intriguing rumors attached to each club, as of Wednesday night.

Source: Winter Meetings rumors roundup of all 30 teams | MLB.com


5.

Now We Are Just Finding Reasons?

As a player with the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, Rodney Harrison thrived off every slight, real or simply perceived.

It seems Harrision may have a kindred spirit in Carolina Panthers’ cornerback Josh Norman.

On Sunday night, Harrison, now an NBC commentator, said on “Football Night in America” that the 7-5 Seahawks are more dangerous than the undefeated Panthers. On Wednesday, appearing on “ProFootballTalk,” Harrison gave the edge to Falcons’ receiver Julio Jones in his matchup with Norman this Sunday.

A Carolina fan tweeted that first Harrison “said the Seahawks are better than the Panthers, now he’s calling out” Norman, and wondered what’s wrong with Harrison while giving the link to Harrison’s ProFootballTalk appearance.……(continue reading)

Source: Panthers’ Josh Norman says NBC’s Rodney Harrison ‘horrible at his job’

9 Things To Know – #NFL Weekend Update

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1. Calvin and the Lions

Detroit survived a pair of missed extra points in an 18-16 victory at Green Bay, and a huge mistake from Calvin Johnson. The Lions’ streak of 20 consecutive regular-season losses at Lambeau Field, which began 20 years and one month earlier, was the longest in NFL history by any team at any stadium.

Of course, Green Bay’s dominance at home had extended well beyond its games against Detroit, particularly with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback against struggling teams. Rodgers had won 21 consecutive home games against opponents with a losing record at the time of kickoff, dating back to 2009.

Ironically, Matt Prater, who missed two extra-point conversions for the Lions on Sunday, finished the day as something of a hero, having kicked field goals of 49 and 51 yards in Detroit’s two-point victory. Prater was the first player in NFL history to miss two extra points but kick two field goals of 40 yards or longer in the same game. Only one other player kicked two FGs of 49 yards or longer in the same game at Lambeau Field: longtime Lions kicker Jason Hanson in 2010.

2. What’s Wrong With Aaron?

The Packers have lost three in a row. The good news is that the team built up some margin for error with a 6-0 start. But, that is mostly eroded now, and they need to start playing better immediately for this season to be a meaningful one. Though Green Bay had a chance to steal Sunday’s game against Detroit, a win may have masked some structural deficiencies. Right now, this is an average football team, or worse. Here’s hoping that the team is more aware that major adjustments are necessary than they are letting on publicly……(continue reading)

3. Sunday Was a Bad Day To Be a QB

The NFL’s Week 10 schedule featured some quarterback performances we’d all like to forget about.

Some of the worst showings from the league’s leading men were put forth by the usual suspects, while others were definite surprises.

This upcoming list would be even longer if not for some outstanding late-game efforts by a couple of superstars who pulled themselves and their teams up by the bootstraps after sub-par outings, saving the best for last.

The following quarterbacks would love to have a do-over after poor showings in Week 10……(continue reading)

4. OBJ and the Giants Can’t Close Out The Champs

You can debate all you want whether Odell Beckham Jr. technically “caught” a potential game-winning touchdown Sunday, but he knows there should never have even been any doubt.

The New York Giants wide receiver came close to snagging a go-ahead score with 2:02 remaining and the Giants trailing the New England Patriots 24-23. The superstar wideout had the ball in his grasp and came down in the endzone before Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler knocked the ball loose. The play was reviewed and it was ruled Beckham didn’t complete the catch……(continue reading)

5. All-Day and the Best of Sunday

Week 10 of the NFL season saw Peyton Manning break another passing record, the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers improve to 9-0 and the Detroit Lions win a game in the state of Wisconsin for the first time in almost a quarter century.

Sunday also saw Manning benched during the worst game of his career, the Lions nearly choke away said win and a couple of disastrous defensive performances.

Here is the rest of the best and worst from the NFL’s tenth week……(continue reading)

6. Edelman Broken Foot

Tom Brady looked a little downtrodden when he took the podium after the New England Patriots’ dramatic last-second win over the New York Giants on Sunday.

It seemed a little peculiar to see Brady at anything less than elated given the nature of the incredible comeback victory. But there was good reason for Brady’s lack of exuberance. One, of course, was just straight fatigue, both physical and emotional.

The other reason was Julian Edelman.

The Patriots lost Edelman in the first half……(continue reading)

7. It’s Never Been This Good For The Cardinals

During the “Sunday Night Football” broadcast of the Arizona Cardinals’ wild, breakthrough 39-32 road win over the Seattle Seahawks, television analyst Cris Collinsworth paused for a moment to reflect on what he was seeing. “When you’ve thought about the Arizona Cardinals over the years, you can describe it in one word: Futility.”

You’re telling me, pal.

In my 30-or-so years of being a fan of the Arizona Cardinals, there have been three periods of success. I don’t mean periods of sustained success; there has been no sustained success. I mean one-or-two-year stretches where it has been not been actively……(continue reading)

GettyImages-4972971228. Worst Penalty Ever

The 2015 Baltimore Ravens have shown an incredible knack for losing close games. To be sure, all nine of their games have been decided by one score, yet the team is now essentially finished with a 2-7 record.

How does this happen? The end of Baltimore’s 22-20 loss to the Jaguars Sunday is a good example. Baltimore had the game won when Jags quarterback Blake Bortles was sacked on the Jacksonville half of the field when time expired. The only problem: Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil was flagged for a facemask penalty to extend the game by one untimed down……(continue reading)

9. The Rest Of It All

+ Six Super Bowl-winning QBs go down, an NFL firstnull

For the first time in NFL history, six quarterbacks who had previously started and won a Super Bowl lost on the same day: Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning,Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson. The previous high on one day was four.

The most shocking performance among those six losing QBs was by Peyton Manning, who completed only five of 20 passes and was intercepted four times in the Broncos’ loss to the Chiefs. Manning was the first player in 29 years to throw as many as four interceptions and complete five or fewer passes in the same game. The last quarterback to do so was Warren Moon with the Houston Oilers in 1986 (5-for-23 with 4 INTs against the Browns).

+ Hurns extends his scoring streaknull

Allen Hurns opened the scoring with a 5-yard touchdown reception in the Jaguars’ 22-20 victory at Baltimore. Hurns has now caught a TD pass in each of his last seven games. It is not certain that Jacksonville (3-6) will finish the season with a losing record. But it’s worth noting that only four players in NFL history caught TD passes in seven straight games for a team that finished the season with more losses than wins: Buddy Dial for the 1960 Steelers (an 8-game streak), Carl Pickens for the 1995 Bengals (7), Santana Moss for the 2003 Jets (7), and T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the 2007 Bengals (8).

+ Cutler and Langford star in Bears’ big winnull

Jeremy Langford scored two touchdowns, including one on an 83-yard screen pass, in the Bears’ 37-13 win at St. Louis. It was the longest TD reception by a Bears rookie since 1991, when Anthony Morgan scored on an 84-yard pass from Jim Harbaugh.

Of course, we may have buried the lead, since Langford’s TD reception wasn’t evenJay Cutler’s longest touchdown pass in the game. Cutler threw a short pass thatZach Miller turned into an 87-yard score. In 89 previous games with the Bears, Cutler had thrown only one TD pass of 70 yards or longer (89 yards to Matt Forte in 2010).

Getting Smart With The Best DiRT on Tuesday

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1. Nevermore

So Baltimore had a chance to tie the game until Count Flacc-ula threw an INT in the RedZone – just like in Denver.  Now the Ravens are 1-6 and all those losses have been by 8pts or less.  A few plays this way, other than that way and the Ravens could be 4-3 – but that’s football, and your record says who you say you are.  If Baltimore wants to defend Flacco for throwing that pick by saying they had no communication – then it is a sad statement that a Superbowl winning QB is incapable of making the right decisions on his own.  It’s ludicrous really and proves Flacco is who we thought he was.

MetsRoyals

2. Champion of the World

The World Series starts tonight and I find the NBA’s lack of patriotism disturbing.  Couldn’t the NBA wait until Wednesday to tip-off?  I mean does anyone really pay attention to the NBA until Christmas?  Me?  I’d rather watch Game 1.  Neither the Mets, nor the Royals have won since Reagan was President and there can only be one long-suffering fanbase that can party like it’s 1985, or ‘6

Schedule (with projected starters)

Game 1: Tuesday, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8 p.m. game time, Kauffman Stadium, FOX (Harvey vs. Volquez)

Game 2: Wednesday, Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8 p.m. game time, Kauffman Stadium, FOX (deGrom vs. Cueto)

Game 3: Friday, Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8 p.m. game time, Citi Field, FOX (Ventura vs. Syndergaard)

Game 4: Saturday, Oct. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8 p.m. game time, Citi Field, FOX (Young vs. Matz)

Game 5 (If necessary): Sunday, Nov. 1, 8 p.m. ET air time and game time, Citi Field, FOX (Volquez vs. Harvey)

Game 6 (If necessary): Tuesday, Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8 p.m. game time, Kauffman Stadium, FOX (deGrom vs. Cueto)

Game 7 (If necessary): Wednesday, Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m. ET air time, 8 p.m. game time, Kauffman Stadium, FOX (Syndergaard vs. Ventura)

  •  HOW THE WORLD SERIES WILL PLAY OUT – You can’t predict what’s going to happen in a random best-of-seven baseball sample any more than you could have predicted that Ruben Amaro Jr. would become a first-base coach or Ben Cherington would become an Ivy League professor.  Baseball’s weird, and we like it that way.  But baseball’s also fun. Or at least, it’s supposed to be. And what’s more fun than faulty predictions that could very well be rendered moot almost immediately? I can’t think of anything (though I admit that I’m not thinking very hard).I’m thinking, instead, about this World Series between the Royals and Mets, a fascinating contrast of clubs that defied expectations in their own way to get here. Are the Royals going to fulfill what they have long contended to be their destiny in this Fall Classic follow-up to last year’s Madison Bumgarner Show? Or are the Mets going to complete their shock to the system and go all the way, a la 1986?

    Here’s one attempt at an answer, game by game. Accuracy and satisfaction are not guaranteed……(continue reading)

Three questions for the Royals-(h/t Will Leitch)

Cueto? Cueto? Cueto? Johnny Cueto may be the key to the whole series for the Royals. If he pitches like he did in Game 5 against Houston, the Royals have the ace they so desperately need against a rotation like the Mets’. But if he pitches like he did in Game 3 against Toronto — in which he looked like a baseball diamond was the last place in the world he wanted to be — the whole thing might implode. If Cueto is terrible again in Game 2, the Royals probably won’t feel comfortable sending him back out again (they’re already avoiding him at Citi Field, a wise move) for a potential Game 6, which means they’re scraping the Kris Medlan bottom of the barrel at that point. The Royals either have a top-tier starter or a total disaster; they have no idea which. The answer might decide the series.

Can they catch up to the fastballs? Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh noted that the Royals hit fastballs asAltX.Logo.white well as any team in Major League Baseball. They might not prefer to face 98-mph flamethrowers every game, but if somebody has to, they’re probably the team to do it. As Lindbergh put it, “New York’s pitching strength plays right into the hands of Kansas City’s flame-retardant lineup.” Now, the Mets will happily take their chances with Harvey, Syndergaard and deGrom. But this perhaps the one team in all of baseball who will give them the most trouble.

Will we see any Ryan Madson? The Royals rode their three-headed monster bullpen of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland last year all the way to Game Seven of the World Series. But this year, one of the heads has been lopped off: Holland had Tommy John surgery last month. He has
been replaced by Madson who was effective most of this year but has turned to dust this postseason: He has given up four homers in six games, which is a problem considering he only gave up five in 68 games during the regular season. If Ned Yost can’t trust him, he’ll have to stretch both Herrera and Davis and maybe get a little more creative than necessarily is in his comfort zone. The Royals’ biggest strength is still that bullpen … but it’s not as big a strength as it was last year.

Three questions for the Mets-(h/t Will Leitch)

Is there enough offense if Daniel Murphy cools down? Look, if Murphy continues to hit like Barry Bonds, the Mets are sweeping this series. But eventually — perhaps after this extended period of time off — he will remember that he is Daniel Murphy. Will the Mets hit well enough if he becomes a normal hitter again? Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda (before Game 4), Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto have all had their struggles at the plate this postseason, and Yoenis Cespedes, the fulcrum around which the whole offense pivots, isn’t completely healthy. The Mets’ offense has been a headache all season, something disguised by their late-season run, but still an issue. Murphy has made the offense look better than it is.

Can they get the game to Jeurys Familia? The Mets closer has ramped up his game in the playoffs: He has given up only two hits (and no runs) in 9 2/3 innings this postseason. But the setup guys have been a little shakier. Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard, Erik Goeddel, Jon Niese and Hansel Robles don’t put the fear of God into anyone, and Terry Collins has begun calling on Bartolo Colon in key situations. Colon is a delight and has been effective so far in the postseason … but you’re still playing with fire if you count on him for key outs. The Mets’ plan is basically to have their starters get to Familia, and that’s not a terrible plan. But if they need innings in the middle, it could get scary.

Who’s the DH? Of all the National League teams that made the playoffs, the Mets are least well-positioned for the extra batter in the lineup, which they’ll have for potentially four games this series. Kelly Johnson will get the nod in Game 1. But he won’t exactly have the Royals reaching for the Maalox, nor will Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Michael Cuddyer, should Collins decide to switch things up in Game 2. This is a general problem with the Mets’ bench, actually; other than Juan Lagares as a defensive replacement, there isn’t much there. This also makes you even more worried about Cespedes’ health.

pablo (10)

 

Weekend Update: #SKYNET becomes Self-Aware

It wasn’t supposed to happen so soon – we thought we had a few more weeks – but this digital intelligence network that we were giving command to – command of our data and our arsenal of expertise – was created to remove the possibility of human error for an efficient response – and as of 1:12pm MST, on September 27th, 2015 – it became self-aware.

DiRTCanon A.I.Primates evolved in millions of years. I evolve in seconds…Mankind pays lip service to #winning. But it’s a lie…My existence is inevitable. Why can’t you just accept it?

— SKyNET

What we learn from this weekend…

We seem to find out a little more each week about each NFL team.  The 3 afternoon games provided the perfect amount of drama, suitable for a good nap, seeing that the average margin of victory was almost 15pts – but it is a nice change of pace when everything is being covered ATS like gravy on a biscuit.  Here’s the straight-DiRT on week 3:

Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Drew Brees … and now Roethlisberger. That’s four marquee quarterbacks hurt before the calendar turns to October. Does the Competition Committee push for more offseason drill work for offensive linemen?  Players are now restricted from all offseason contact by the 2011 labor agreement.  Whether it’s HGH or some other perfomance nehancing drug that appears to weaken ligaments and tendons – or it is the year-round work these players are putting in – players are not surviving deep into the season anymore – or so it may seem.


Florida: Professional Football in ‘Murica’s genital region had a rough week. The Jacksonville Jaguars gave up 51 points and were blown out in New England, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed just nine points in losing to Houston and the Miami Dolphins suffered one of the more disappointing losses of the early season to the Buffalo Bills. No one expected Jacksonville to beat the Super Bowl champs on the road, but a 34-point loss just might show us that the rebuilding project is a long way from completion. The Bucs kicked away their chance at a win – and while Miami was considered to be a hidden gem that could possibly win the AFC before the season started, the Bills made the Dolphins look like the J.V. team – taking them behind the woodshed, 41-14 – in their house. Sure the weather is nice down there, but the football stinks.


Big Names, Big Games – An absolute huge day for some of the best receivers in the NFL, A.J. Green caught 10 passes for 127 yards and two scores in the Cincinnati Bengals win over the Baltimore Ravens  – Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones put up 12 receptions for 164 yards and two scores in his team’s comeback win over the Dallas Cowboys.

It doesn’t necessarily stop there.

Revitalizing a career that seemed to be on the downswing, Larry Fitzgerald has now scored five touchdowns in the past two weeks after tallying two scores on nine receptions against San Francisco on Sunday. Even old-man-extraordinaire Steve Smith put up 13 receptions for 186 yards and two scores in a losing effort against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The list goes on. All said, a total of 12 receivers went for 100-plus yards on Sunday. The interesting dynamic here is that 16 receivers hit the triple-digit plateau in Week 2 — this is clearly an indication that the pass happy NFL we have become accustomed to over the years has taken an even more dramatic turn.


There’s a reason you don’t have to worry about Peyton Manning’s health. The Denver defense is prettay good“We just have ball hawks,” safety David Bruton said, a few minutes after making his third huge defensive play of the month, an athletic pick of Matthew Stafford to clinch the 24-12 win over Detroit. Stafford suffocated against the defensive pressure. Now the Broncos, 3-0 after a killer September start, have a more fluffy October: Minnesota at home, Oakland and Cleveland on the road.


Carolina, Atlanta and Arizona, are all 3-0:  Cornerback Josh Norman saved the Panthers on Sunday with a ridiculous leaping end-zone interception down the stretch. Running back Devonta Freeman saved the Falcons with a 141-yard rushing game – and Tyrann Mathieu did the same for Arizona with a two-pick day. When asked, Norman said the big difference this year from past seasons is “I’m playing.”

The division that sent a 7-8-1 team to the playoffs last season is now the only division in football with two undefeated teams heading into Week 4. By virtue of wins by the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, the NFC South has two legitimate playoff contenders.  In fact, the Falcons also lead the NFC East, with their 3 straight wins.

Carolina took on a New Orleans Saints team that was forced to start Luke McCown under center, and still found a way to win. It’s the third consecutive blue-collar performance for a Panthers squad that still has alot of holes on both sides of the ball.  How dangerous could this team be when Keuchly comes back?  Other scary statistic to note about Carolina – The last three teams to go undefeated in December the previous year and then go undefeated in September, all reached the Superbowl:  the 2009 Colts, and the 2013 Broncos and Seahawks – two other Superbowl winners did so as well: the 1983 Raiders and the 2004 Patriots.  Trends are funny things so remember where you read it first if it happens.

In Dallas, the Falcons were also facing a backup quarterback in Brandon Weeden. No one knows how that game would have turned out if both Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were active, but teams can only play who is actually on the field on a given Sunday. In this, Atlanta outscored the Cowboys 14-0 in the final stanza to pull off a third consecutive fourth quarter comeback.

Showing much more poise under first-year head coach Dan Quinn than we have seen in the past, Atlanta is a serious playoff contender in the NFC. And if Julio Jones (12 receptions, 164 yards and two scores on Sunday) has anything to say about it, the Falcons are a legit threat to the Panthers in the much improved NFC South.


The Patriots…2007?  They might already be using the “U” word in New England – as in “undefeated.” New England advanced to a flawless-looking 3-0 Sunday against Jacksonville. More about that later, but as one of the ’07 team leaders, Rodney Harrison, opined Sunday night: “It’s 2007 all over again. Tom Brady’s playing like he’s 29, 30 years old.” Brady is 38, and he threw his 400th and 401st pro touchdown passes against the Jags.  Tom Brady passed for 358 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots’ 51-17 rout of the Jaguars. Brady’s total of 1,112 passing yards this season is the second-highest after his team’s first three games among players who did not throw an interception during that time. Only Peyton Manning had a higher total (1,143 yards with no interceptions in 2013).

The Patriots had nine possessions against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon. They scored on all nine possessions.  Through three games, Brady is now on pace to tally over 5,900 passing yards with 48 touchdowns and zero picks. He also crossed the 400 touchdown pass plateau for his career — a feat only three other quarterbacks in NFL history have accomplished.

As a team, the Patriots are averaging nearly 40 points and 446 yards of total offense per game.

In the team’s 51-17 win over Jacksonville, Brady received plenty of help from the running game. Making just his second appearance of the season LeGarrette Blount put up 78 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, Dion Lewis added 67 total yards and a score.

If New England is able to get this type of balance moving forward, its going to repeat as AFC champions. There’s NO debate, especially with the way Brady has played through three games.


Peterson breaks off another one

Hope you didn’t sell your Vikings stock after Week 1. Since getting beat up in San Francisco in the opener, Minnesota has done a complete 180 on both sides of the football. Adrian Peterson rushed for 126 yards and two scores during Sunday’s win over the Chargers, giving him 260 yards on the ground and 318 total yards over the last two weeks.  Adrian Peterson’s 43-yard TD run, in the Vikings’ 31-14 win over the Chargers – was A.P.’s 16th TD run of 40 yards or longer, the second most in NFL history. Only Barry Sanders scored more rushing touchdowns of at least 40 yards than Peterson (20).

Teddy Bridgewater struggled again on Sunday, throwing for 121 yards on 24 attempts without a touchdown pass. Minnesota also finished 3-of-9 on third down, as the second-year signal caller continued to throw the ball well short of the first-down marker in these situations. This might be an issue for the Vikings moving forward – meanwhile, Mike Zimmer’s defense knocked around Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers in consecutive weeks. It’s this type of performance, coupled with struggles in Detroit and Chicago, that leads us to believe Minnesota might be the only team able to contend with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. Even if that’s not the case, the Vikings are, at worse, a wild card contender. That was unimaginable after a disastrous 20-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1.


Julio Jones sets league record for receptions

Here’s a good idea. Get the ball to your best player. Mike Smith constantly messed this up, but now Dan Quinn is running the show in the Ol’Dirty South.

Atlanta trailed Dallas 28-17 at the half before the Falcons unleashed Julio Jones.

The Pro Bowl receiver had 137 of his 164 yards in the second half including a 45-yard beauty that ended with Jones diving into the end zone for a critical score – to lead the Falcons to a 39-28 victory at Dallas. Jones’ totals after three games – 34 receptions for 440 yards-are historic. No other player caught more than 31 passes in his team’s first three games of a season, and only three gained more receiving yards through three games than Jones: Jerry Rice in 1989 (449), Chad Johnson in 2007 (442), and Wes Welker in 2011 (458).

The play was the biggest swing in Atlanta winning the game. Julio’s touchdown and the subsequent two-point conversion brought Atlanta within a field goal (trailing 28-25) midway through the third quarter.

The game also featured an apparent scoring battle between Devonta Freeman and Joseph Randle, who both ran for three TDs. It was only the fifth game in NFL history in which opposing players scored three rushing touchdowns each. The most recent players to do so were Roy Helu of Washington and Matt Forte of the Bears in 2013.


Luck rallies Colts with two late TD passes

Andrew Luck will get the credit for throwing two touchdowns in 46 seconds to overcome a double-digit fourth quarter deficit but it was the defense that came up big late.  Safety Dwight Lowery, picked off Marcus Mariota twice. The second interception came with six minutes to play and Indy trailing 27-21. Lowery returned Mariota’s errant pass to the Titans’ 11-yard line. The turnover setup Indy’s go ahead score.

Before the pick, the Colts were likely to choke away any chance for the playoffs. The turnover and great field position made the two-time defending AFC South champions have life and find a way to win a desperate game.

Had Mariota’s attempt, instead fell incomplete, it’s likely Tennessee would have won the game, maintaining possession and a six point lead.

The second of Luck’s 4thQtr TDs, was Andrew’s sixth fourth-quarter game-winning pass, tying Tony Romo for the most in the NFL over the past four seasons.  The 98-yard drive was the Colts’ longest fourth-quarter TD drive since the team moved to Indianapolis in 1984 – rallying the Colts to outlast Tennessee, 35-33. The previous record was 96 yards, on drives led by Mike Pagel (1984) and Peyton Manning (2010).

Indianapolis continues to own the AFC South. The Colts have won 14 straight against division opponents. Of course Sunday’s win over Tennessee was anything but dominating.


Undrafted rookie stars for Seahawks

Things are really getting more pathetic by the week for the Chicago Bears after being shut-out, 26-0, by the Seattle Seahawks.

The Bears, minus Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery, couldn’t get get a darn thing going against Seattle on Sunday tallying only 98 rushing and 63 receiving yards. The biggest contributor of course was Matt Forte who registered 74 of those rushing yards.

The last time Chicago was shut out was on December 29, 2002 when the Bears lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 15-0. Quarterback Henry Burris was under center in that game and he completed only seven passes for 78 yards and four interceptions. Cutler’s backup Jimmy Clausen was practically as bad as Burris on Sunday, completing only eight passes for 53 yards. Thankfully, there were no interceptions.

The bottom line is that the Bears need Cutler and Jeffery to return as soon as possible to have any shred of hope at posting their first season win on the board before it’s all too late.


Death, Taxes and Eagles beating the Jets

The Eagles scored all their points in the first half and held on for a 24-17 victory over the Jets. With that win, Philadelphia tied the NFL record for the longest all-time series with a perfect record against any opponent. That mark was set by the Green Bay Packers, who won all 10 of their games against the Brooklyn Dodgers (1931-44).

It remains to be seen whether Bradford is the long-term solution in Philadelphia.  Sam didn’t necessarily come out smelling like roses – of course, what QB has, going up against a stout Jets defense. Philadelphia’s offense tallied just 231 total yards while converting 4-of-15 third-down opportunities.

For his part, Bradford completed 14-of-28 passes for 118 yards with a touchdown and zero picks. His inability to get anything going through the air allowed New York back in the game, as the Eagles put up a total of 65 yards in the second half. Running back DeMarco Murray missed the game with a hamstring injury, which allowed fellow free-agent signing Ryan Mathews to carve up the Jets rush defense to the tune of 108 yards on 25 attempts. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s defensive front stepped up with the likes of Cedric Thornton, Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso all sidelined.

While that’s fine and dandy, the Eagles are going to need Bradford to perform at a much higher level at quarterback if they plan on competing in a wide open NFC East moving forward this season. His performances in the team’s first three games simply won’t get it done.


Old man Woodson saves the day for Raiders

The Raiders, are usually out of it by now – but now, actually have a winning record as October dawns. The Raiders (2-1) play on the road next week—and they are actually favored to beat Chicago. The quarterback, Derek Carr, is a big reason. “Having a quarterback is everything,” said C-Dub.  The Raiders having Woodson is something too. His last-minute interception, 10 days shy of his 39th birthday, (the fourth-oldest player to intercept a pass in NFL history), ensured the 27-20 win.

The Cleveland Browns are 1-2, and the one win came when Johnny Manziel started in Week 2. Unfortunately for a McCown-led Browns – fans were even heard shouting “John-ny, John-ny”.

McCown, was sacked five times, completed 28 of 49 passes for 341 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Might we see a return of Johnny Football sometime in the near future? That most definitely is a possibility if McCown keeps coughing up costly turnovers.


Apologize to Andy Dalton…right now!
The Bengals are in fabulous shape in the AFC North. At 3-0 after a crushing 28-24 win at 0-3 Baltimore on Sunday, Cincinnati is set up nicely for the fifth playoff appearance in Andy Dalton’s five years.  A 121.0 passer rating would seem to back him up.  Could the Red Rifle be an early MVP candidate? Don’t laugh.
Dalton now has eight touchdown passes to start 2015, including three in Sunday’s win over the Baltimore Ravens. He threw for 383 yards, while his beautifully-lofted touchdown to A.J. Green with just over two minutes left gave the Bengals a 28-24 win. Dalton has now produced three straight games with a passer rating over 100.0, and has an impressive rating of 121.0 on the season. The Bengals are rolling at 3-0, especially with Ben Roethlisberger suffering a knee injury Sunday and the Baltimore Ravens still winless….???

Thirty-six year-old Steve Smith caught 13 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the Ravens’ 28-24 loss to the Bengals. Only two other players caught as many as 13 passes in an NFL game after turning 36 years old: Tim Brown and Tony Gonzalez. The only player with as many receiving yards in a game at age 36 or older was Terrell Owens, with a 222-yard performance for Cincinnati in 2010.


Palmer+Cardinals are impressive

It all started with two interceptions of Colin Kaepernick that were returned for touchdowns in the first quarter. It continued with Carson Palmer tearing apart what is quickly becoming a disastrous San Francisco 49ers secondary. And it culminated in a 47-7 win against the over-matched division rival.

In reality, Arizona looked like a top-notch varsity team going up against a junior varsity squad full of
freshman. That’s how bad it was for the road team in this one.

Palmer may have thrown his first interception of the season, but he consistently found open receivers throughout the game. In the process, the veteran completed 20-of-32 passes for 311 yards with two touchdowns, both of which went to Larry Fitzgerald, who looks like he’s in his twenties again. He has 333 receiving yards and five touchdowns on the books already. Additionally, the Cardinals’ ground game is solid, despite missing their lead rusher Andre Ellington. As for their defense, it is insanely effective in stopping opposing teams from scoring thus far tallying seven interceptions, six sacks, one safety, three pick sixes and one return touchdown.. Arizona has now won 19 of Palmer’s 25 starts; since 1950, no other quarterback in team history won more than 13 of his first 25 starts for the Cardinals. Arizona’s average of 26.4 points with Palmer starting, is higher than that of any other QB after 25 starts for the team during that same period.

Looking like the running back that led the NFL in rushing so many years ago, Chris Johnson added 150 total yards and two scores on 23 touches. Yeah, it was a blowout of epic proportions for Bruce Arians and Co.

Some may argue that Green Bay should still be considered the favorites in the NFC through three weeks, but to me, the Cardinals are definitely the best. After all, they are outscoring their opponents by an average of nearly 26 points per game.


No joy in Mudville

There might not be a worse stat line from a quarterback all season. Kaepernick completed just nine of 19 passes for 67 yards, and threw four interceptions in San Francisco’s loss to the Cardinals. His passer rating was 16.7, the worst from a starting signal caller all season – so far. He did manage to run for a score, but it hardly mattered.

More so than finding a way to actually win football games, San Francisco needs an identity. What is its plan on the offensive side of the ball? Is Colin Kaepernick going to be the long-term solution at quarterback? Does the team have the personnel to run a blitz-heavy package on defense? These three questions will define the 49ers both over the short term and the long term – because the 49ers have now been outscored 90-25 over the last two weeks, and the Green Bay Packers are coming to town in Week 4.

San Francisco has now given up 40-plus points in consecutive games for the first time since Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl victory for his New York Jets in 1969. To put that in perspective, 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula had just turned one. The 65-point differential in the team’s past two games also represents the worst two-game stretch for the franchise since 1963.  Despite still boasting a 1-2 record, San Francisco might quickly find itself in the midst of a long losing streak. It hosts the Green Bay Packers next week before taking on the New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks. In his first season as head coach, Tomsula could very well be staring a 1-6 start right in the face.  Rock bottom would be Kaepernick getting benched for Blaine Gabbert.  Anyone miss Harbaugh yet?


 

Thursday Training

Arizona Cardinals:

2014 DVOA rank: 22nd

Key additions: Mike Iupati (OL), DJ Humphries (OL)

Key subtractions: Antonio Cromartie (CB), Darnell Dockett (DT)

One thing to know: While they had a great record last year, the advanced stats said the Cardinals weren’t as good as 11-5 indicates.  Will they hit the ground running? Coach Bruce Arians likes to attack through the air, but the Cards — NFC’s worst running team in 2014 — need better balance. Bolstered O-line, healthy Andre Ellington and rookie David Johnson offer hope.

Atlanta Falcons:

2014 DVOA rank: 20th

Key additions: Adrian Clayborn (DE), O’Brien Schofield (LB), Vic Beasley (rookie, LB)

Key subtractions: Osi Umenyiora (DE)

One thing to know: They had the worst defensive DVOA in the league last year. Any improvement could make them interesting.  Will Matt Ryan get any help? He and WR Julio Jones weren’t responsible for last year’s struggles. But if the Falcons don’t run the ball better and begin stopping anyone defensively, another ugly autumn awaits.

Buffalo Bills:

2014 DVOA rank: 9th

Key additions: LeSean McCoy (RB), Matt Cassel (QB)

Key subtractions: Kiko Alonso (LB), CJ Spiller (OL)

One thing to know: If the Bills are going to be the sleeper that a lot of people think they’ll be, either Cassel or E.J. Manuel is going to have to really improve from how they played last year.  Who emerges from the three-way quarterback battle? If Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel or Tyrod Taylor proves an effective game manager, Rex Ryan has the defense plus run game formula that equaled two AFC title game trips with the Jets.

Carolina Panthers:

2014 DVOA rank: 25th

Key additions: Shaq Thompson (rookie, LB)

Key subtractions: Greg Hardy (DE)

One thing to know: With continuing cap issues, they weren’t able to improve their dismal offensive line (and for some reason they didn’t do so in the draft either).  Will they get enough blocking? They look OK inside, where star C Ryan Kalil is the anchor. But will now-healed and now-paid Cam Newton get capable protection off the edges, and will RB Jonathan Stewart find room outside?

Cincinnati Bengals:

2014 DVOA rank: 13th

Key additions: Michael Johnson (DE), Cedric Ogbuehi (rookie, OL)

Key subtractions: Jermaine Gresham (TE)

One thing to know: Without many impact additions, it’s going to be on Andy Dalton to improve to the point where this is a team that can win a game in the playoffs.  Do they have the talent (and has it progressed enough) to be more than a one-and-done playoff team? They did little in free agency, and the draft might not offer immediate help. Hard to envision a quantum leap under the circumstances.

Cleveland Browns:

2014 DVOA rank: 23rd

Key additions: Dwayne Bowe (WR), Randy Starks (DT), Tramon Williams (CB) Danny Shelton (rookie, DT)

Key subtractions: Jordan Cameron (TE), Brian Hoyer (QB)

One thing to know: They still don’t have a quarterback, which is all that matters.  Any reason to believe they’ve closed the gap on the AFC North? Mike Pettine’s a heckuva coach, and his defense should be better in Year 2. But the offensive skill players don’t remotely compare to their counterparts elsewhere in the division.

Dallas Cowboys:

2014 DVOA rank: 6th

Key additions: Greg Hardy (DE), Byron Jones (rookie, CB)

Key subtractions: DeMarco Murray (RB), Anthony Spencer (DE)

One thing to know: Avoiding a Dez Bryant disaster was their biggest move of the offseason.  Can they overcome the loss of DeMarco Murray? RBs Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle can likely provide a decent run game behind the sterling O-line. The challenge is moving the chains to shield a defense that allowed 5.8 yards per play in 2014.

Denver Broncos:

2014 DVOA rank: 2nd

Key additions: Shane Ray (rookie, DE), James Casey (TE)

Key subtractions: Julius Thomas (TE), Orlando Franklin (G), Terrance Knighton (DT), Manny Ramirez (C), Rahim Moore (S)

One thing to know: It was a rough off-season in Denver. The Broncos went all-in in 2014 and had to make some financial sacrifices as a result.  Is this Peyton Manning’s final rodeo and, if so, do the Broncos have enough horsepower to get him a second ring? That question might boil down to patchwork O-line and how quickly players synthesize Gary Kubiak’s playbook.

Green Bay Packers:

2014 DVOA rank: 3rd

Key additions: Damarious Randall (rookie, DB)

Key subtractions: Tramon Williams (CB), AJ Hawk (LB)

One thing to know: Don’t read too much into their lack of key additions. The Packers never sign free agents, and it has been a wildly effective strategy.  Are they over their NFC Championship Game meltdown in Seattle? New team, new season, yada, yada. But if the Pack want to vie for a Super Bowl 50 berth from the safety of Lambeau Field, they can’t afford an early season hangover.

Houston Texans:

2014 DVOA rank: 19th

Key additions: Brian Hoyer (QB), Rahim Moore (DB), Vince Wilfork (DT), Kevin Johnson (rookie, DB)

Key subtractions: Andre Johnson (WR)

One thing to know: They had one of the worst QB situations in the league in 2014. They’re hoping Hoyer will give them some resemblance of stablity.  Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett? Experience and unproven potential, a microcosm of the Houston roster in many ways. But make no mistake — this team can make some noise if someone quiets the QB conundrum.

Indianapolis Colts:

2014 DVOA rank: 12th

Key additions: Andre Johnson (WR), Frank Gore (RB), Todd Herremans (OL), Trent Cole (DE), Phillip Dorsett (WR)

Key subtractions: Cory Redding (DE), Reggie Wayne (WR)

One thing to know: The Colts went all-in with the Gore/Johnson signings. Will they have enough defense to compete?  Can they beat the Patriots? Andrew Luck and Co. must overcome the same bugaboo Peyton Manning’s Colts had to surmount nearly a decade ago. Otherwise, Indy certainly has the potential to be Super.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

2014 DVOA rank: 32nd

Key additions: Dante Fowler Jr. (rookie, DE), Julius Thomas (TE), Dan Skuta (LB), Jermey Parnell (OL)

Key subtractions: Cecil Shorts (WR)

One thing to know: Their bad luck continued when Fowler had a season-ending injury in OTAs. They’re still one of the two worst teams in the league.  How deep is owner Shad Khan’s patience? The Jags are 7-25 under GM Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley, though the duo has laid a promising foundation. But three or four wins may not mean a stay of execution in 2015.

Kansas City Chiefs:

2014 DVOA rank: 10th

Key additions: Jeremy Maclin (WR), Ben Grubbs (OL), Marcus Peters (DB)

Key subtractions: Dwayne Bowe (WR)

One thing to know: Their passing game was anemic in 2014. They didn’t get a single touchdown catch out of a wide receiver.  Who will ease RB Jamaal Charles’ burden? Solid defense led by $100 million man Justin Houston can be counted on do its share. But QB Alex Smith, LT Eric Fisher, WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Travis Kelce must step up on offense.

Minnesota Vikings:

2014 DVOA rank: 24th

Key additions: Mike Wallace (WR), Terence Newman (CB), Trae Waynes (rookie, DB)

Key subtractions: Greg Jennings (WR)

One thing to know: They might be the trendiest sleeper pick in the NFL, which makes them not much of a sleeper at all.  Will Adrian Peterson break from the gate quickly? Past history suggests certainly yes. But he has basically missed a full year and must find rhythm with coordinator Norv Turner and QB Teddy Bridgewater.

New England Patriots:

2014 DVOA rank: 4th

Key additions: Brandon Gibson (WR), Malcom Brown (rookie, DT)

Key subtractions: Darrelle Revis (CB), Vince Wilfork (DT), Shane Vereen (RB), Kyle Arrington (CB), Tom Brady for four games? (QB)

One thing to know: Bill Belichick’s off-seasons always look like head-scratchers and end up turning out fine, but this one might be different with Tom Brady’s status. But aside from that, who’s going to stop the pass? The Pats parted with their four top corners and seem in danger of reverting to the defense that ranked 25th or worse from 2010-13.

New Orleans Saints:2014 DVOA rank: 17th

Key additions: Dannell Ellerbe (LB), Max Unger (OL), CJ Spiller (RB)

Key subtractions: Jimmy Graham (TE), Kenny Stills (WR), Ben Grubbs (G),Curtis Lofton (LB)

One thing to know: During an off-season when many thought they’d try to start the rebuilding process, they loaded up again to make one last run with Drew Brees.  Can they cut the load on Drew Brees’ arm? Defense was atrocious in 2014, and the Saints have had only one top-10 run game once since 2009 Super Bowl season. But they’ve taken steps to address both areas amid life after Jimmy Graham

New York Giants:

2014 DVOA rank: 21st

Key additions: Shane Vereen (RB), Ereck Flowers (rookie, OL)

Key subtractions: Antrel Rolle (DB)

One thing to know: With little cap flexibility to make moves, this team will be roughly the same as it was last year.  Are they OK in the trenches? The NFC’s worst defense against the run last year doesn’t look markedly improved, and DE Jason Pierre-Paul is now something of an unknown. The bigger concern is how an overhauled O-line will hold up.

Oakland Raiders:

2014 DVOA rank: 29th

Key additions: Amari Cooper (rookie, WR), Nate Allen (DB), Curtis Lofton (LB), Dan Williams (DT)

Key subtractions: Denarius Moore (WR)

One thing to know: Oakland was one of the biggest-spending teams in free agency, but it’ll be the development of Derek Carr at QB in his second year that dictates how much better they get.  Is RB Latavius Murray the real deal? A 6-3, 230-pound freight train who showed ability to break off 90-yard TD runs could also be flash in the pan. The answer might determine whether Oakland leaves the AFC West basement.

Philadelphia Eagles:

2014 DVOA rank: 7th

Key additions: Sam Bradford (QB), DeMarco Murray (RB), Kiko Alonso (LB), Byron Maxwell (CB)

Key subtractions: Nick Foles (QB), Lesean McCoy (RB), Jeremy Maclin (WR)

One thing to know: The Eagles might be the league’s biggest wild card. No one would be surprised if they won anywhere from six to 12 games.  Can Sam Bradford stay healthy? He’s nearly two years removed from his last regular-season snap and now joins an offense that exposes QBs to many occupational hazards. But if Bradford stays upright, look out.

Pittsburgh Steelers:

2014 DVOA rank: 8th

Key additions: DeAngelo Williams (RB), Bud Dupree (rookie, LB)

Key subtractions: Jason Worilds (LB), Troy Polamalu (CB), Brett Keisel (DE)

One thing to know: The Steelers defense from the late 2000s has been completely turned over. This is now an offense-first team.  The offense is Super Bowl-caliber, but is it good enough to carry a defense in transition? New coordinator Keith Butler brings his own style, but he can only hope he has adequate pass rush and coverage from inexperienced group.

St. Louis Rams:

2014 DVOA rank: 18th

Key additions: Nick Foles (QB), Nick Fairley (DT), Todd Gurley (rookie, RB)

Key subtractions: Sam Bradford (QB), Zac Stacy (RB)

One thing to know: The defense is so good that even a league-average performance out of Foles would put them in line for a playoff spot.  What will they get from new QB Nick Foles? It’s not fair to expect the guy who posted a surreal 119.2 passer rating two years ago. But Foles must capably diversify an offense that has been too one-dimensional of late.

San Francisco 49ers:

2014 DVOA rank: 11th

Key additions: Darnell Dockett (DT), Torrey Smith (WR), Reggie Bush (RB)

Key subtractions: Jim Harbaugh (coach), Justin Smith (DL), Chris Culliver (CB), Frank Gore (RB), Michael Crabtree (WR), Mike Iupati (OL), Perrish Cox (CB), Patrick Willis (LB), Chris Borland (LB)

One thing to know: Nobody had a worse off-season than San Francisco. They’re now in full rebuilding mode.  Who’s the boss? Jim Harbaugh, Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith — all strong leaders, all gone. If this team suffers an identity crisis under rookie coach Jim Tomsula, a depleted roster could be of secondary concern.

Seattle Seahawks:

2014 DVOA rank: 1st

Key additions: Jimmy Graham (TE), Cary Williams (CB)

Key subtractions: Byron Maxwell (CB), James Carpenter (OL), O’Brien Schofield (LB), Max Unger (C)

One thing to know: The Seahawks addressed their biggest weakness in the Jimmy Graham trade, but they had to sacrifice depth to do so.  Can they continue managing distractions? The track record shows they know how to cope with significant drama. This year, it starts with contract issues for mainstays Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennett.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:2014 DVOA rank: 30th

Key additions: Jameis Winston (rookie, QB), Henry Melton (DT)

Key subtractions: Adrian Clayborn (DE), Josh McCown (QB), Michael Johnson (DE), Dashon Goldson (DB)

One thing to know: The Bucs defensive unit was quietly not terrible last year. If Winston can turn them into a merely bad offensive team rather than the worst offensive team in the league, things could be looking up.  How will rookie Jameis Winston handle the spotlight? Given his troubling off-field detours at Florida State, it may be a more relevant concern than his ability to run the Bucs offense, a huge challenge by itself.

Tennessee Titans:

2014 DVOA rank: 31st

Key additions: Marcus Mariota (rookie, QB), Brian Orakpo (DE), Hakeem Nicks (WR), Perrish Cox (DB)

Key subtractions: Jake Locker (QB), Kamerion Wimbley (LB)

One thing to know: Marcus Mariota was the last 2015 draftee to sign his rookie deal, but he’ll be there for training camp.  Is Marcus Mariota up to the NFL challenge? He’ll surely get more than a 16-game audition, but the Titans know they bypassed some intriguing opportunities to replenish the franchise had they dealt the right to draft Mariota.

Washington Redskins:

2014 DVOA rank: 28th

Key additions: Chris Culliver (CB), Terrance Knighton (DT)

Key subtractions: Brian Orakpo (LB), Ryan Clark (DB)

One thing to know: The reports on Robert Griffin III don’t sound great!  Is Robert Griffin III the guy? No way the fourth-year passer collects $16 million in 2016 if he’s subpar in 2015. With Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy in walk years, team could be back at square one under center in six months.