Author Archives: seancumming

Colin and Sean’s Week 12 Fantasy Football Podcast

Colin and Sean are back again with their Week 12 podcast, discussing five under-the-radar players they expect to score monster points.  Then they discuss streaming defenses to get you ready for the fantasy football playoffs.

Click Here To Listen To the Week 12 Podcast

Questions/Comments? Send a message on Twitter @Cummingpodcast or email us at seanandcolinpodcast@gmail.com

Colin and Sean’s Five Players to Play Week 11 Podcast

Colin and Sean explain why fantasy owners should start Drew Stanton, Sterling Shepard, Austin Hooper, Dion Lewis, and Marshawn Lynch.  Then they discuss three good defenses to start: Los Angeles Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, and Baltimore Ravens.

Click Here To Listen to the Week 11 Podcast

Questions/Comments?  Email: seanandcolinpodcast@gmail.com     Twitter: @Cummingpodcast or @Sean__Cumming

Sean and Colin’s Week 10 Fantasy Football Podcast

Colin and Sean look at 5 players they think are good starts for week 10: Marlon Mack, Blake Bortles, Robert Woods, Tyler Kroft, and Robby Anderson.  Then they look at three key defenses to grab off the waiver-wire before answering a listener’s question about which of the Miami Dolphin’s running backs to start – if any.

Click Here to listen to Sean and Colin’s Week 10 Fantasy Football Podcast on Soundcloud.

Questioning who to start on before a game?  Questions/Comments about the podcast?  We love answering listener’s questions in the podcast, so send some of the toughest to us:  @Sean__Cumming

 

Sean and Colin’s Week 9 Fantasy Football Podcast

In Colin and Sean’s Week 9 Fantasy Football Podcast, they discuss five players they think are good starts: Alex Collins, Evan Engram, Jay Ajayi, Jared Goff, and Paul Richardson.  Then they discuss three key defensive starting teams to start in Week 9.

Click here to listen to Sean and Colin’s Week 9 Fantasy Podcast podcast on Soundcloud.

Questions/Comments for the next show?  @Sean__Cumming

 

 

NFL Saturday Wildcard Matchups: Preview And Predictions

There’s nothing like wildcard Saturday games to get the playoffs started.  All 12 playoff teams are still in contention, and, at this point, any team – even the underdogs – can make it to Super Bowl 50.  This year’s Saturday matchups feature teams that could all be dark-horse candidates to go the distance in the playoffs because most of the teams are playing at their peak performance right now.  Who will win?  Who will lose?  Let’s take a look at Saturday’s wildcard matchups.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) vs. Houston Texans (9-7)  at 4:35 ET (ESPN)

The Chiefs come into the wild-card round of the playoffs with a ten-game winning streak, becoming just the second team in NFL history to start the season 1-5 and still make the playoffs.  However, they also enter the contest with eight consecutive playoffs losses, a streak that is tied with the Lions for the longest losing streak in NFL postseason history.

In addition, while going 1-5 to start the season, the Chiefs lost to teams with a winning percentage of .625, but, during their current ten-game winnning streak, they have won against opponents with a .419 win percentage.  The Texans, in a similar situation, are 5-1 against division opponents but 4-6 against teams outside their division.  Both teams have a lot to prove in the playoffs this year.

When the Texans and Chiefs met in week 1 of the regular season, the Chiefs won 27-20 before going on a five-game losing streak.  The Texans, after that loss to the Chiefs, won only two of their next six games, but, like the Chiefs, they rebounded as the season moved on.

Since week 8, the two teams have a combined 16-2 record, and defense is the key factor in the turnaround for both teams.  Since week 8, the Texans have allowed the fewest points-per-game (12.7) while the Chiefs have allowed the second-fewest (12.8).

In addition, for the season, the Chiefs have allowed the third-fewest points while the Texans have allowed the seventh fewest.  Clearly, defense is the cornerstone of success for both teams, and, as such, this game should be a defensive battle to the end.

On offense, Kansas City ranks 9th in the league in scoring while Houston ranks 21st, and that factor is a key point to look at when predicting who will win the game.  In terms of overall yards, the Texans (ranked 19th) have put up more yards than the Chiefs (27th).  However, you don’t win a game with yards alone; you win a game with points.

What is interesting about Kansas City’s offense is that it ranks 30th in passing yards per game while ranking 6th in rushing yards per game, and therein lies the reason why most people think the Chiefs cannot make a deep run in the playoffs: Alex Smith.

However, while most people point to Alex Smith – who is 1-2 in playoff games – as the main reason the Chiefs are unlikely to advance in the playoffs, consider that Smith has thrown nine touchdowns and zero interceptions in playoff games.  On a Chiefs team that ranks second in takeaway differential (Houston ranks 10th), the advantage of not turning the ball over gives the Chiefs an edge in the playoffs.

In addition, while the Chiefs have had the same quarterback all season, the Texans have had multiple quarterbacks start throughout the season, and that situation should obstruct their playoff hopes.  Of the seven teams that have played four or more quarterbacks in a season since 1950 (with the Texans becoming the seventh), only the 1984 Bears have won a playoff game.  Having a quarterback who has played consistently should be the deciding factor in this game between two teams with strong defenses.

If the teams decide to run the ball more to keep the ball away from questionable quarterbacks, the Chiefs have the advantage in that category, too.  The Chiefs rank 6th in rushing yards per game while the Texans rank 15th.  Both teams lost their starting running backs early in the season, yet, in my opinion, the Chiefs have the better backup – now starting – running backs.

i can see this game being close, but it is difficult to say that the Texans will stop the momentum that the Chiefs have been rolling with recently.  I can see the Chiefs advancing far into the playoffs.

Prediction: Chiefs 21, Texans 17

 

Cincinatti Bengals (12-4) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) at 8:15 ET (CBS)

The Bengals had a chance to skip the wildcard round with a win over the Broncos in week 16, and, since the Bengals have been a one-and-done team for the past four years in the wildcard round, coming back again could be a bad omen for the team heading forward – if you’re superstitious.  (Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who, when asked about his bad luck in the wildcard round, stated “it’s time to right the ship…you know, exorcism,” apparently sees something supernatural going on).

The Bengals bad luck in wildcard rounds, coupled with the fact that Andy Dalton will not be playing – and that the bye week could have really helped Dalton’s probability to play in the Bengals first playoff game – means that the Bengals have a tough road ahead of them.  Now, after the Bengals had such a great start to the season, seeing them lose in the first round again would be tough to see.

The Bengals started the season with an eight-game winning streak before going 4-4 afterwards while the Steelers went 6-5 in their first 11 games before winning four of their last five games.  As a result, the Steelers currently have the hot hand heading into the playoffs while the Bengals, who, over the past four weeks, have defeated sub-par teams (49ers and Ravens) while losing to playoff teams (Steelers and Broncos), have the disadvantage in regards to momentum heading into the game.

When the two teams last met, Andy Dalton injured the thumb on his throwing hand, and the Steelers won the one-sided contest, 33-20.  (The Steelers were winning 33-13 before the Bengals scored a meaningless touchdown with 1:03 left in the fourth quarter).

Overall, the two teams went 1-1 this season as the Bengals won the first contest against the Steelers in November by a score of 16-10.  However, that win happened to be the only game among the past five matchups between the two teams in which the Bengals have defeated the Steelers.  In addition, when the two teams met in the playoffs for the first and only time, the Steelers won a decided victory, 31-17.  The history between these two teams, then, displays that the Steelers are favorites to win this game.

The quarterback situation, as well, is a distinct advantage for the Steelers.  A.J. McCarron threw two touchdowns against two interceptions against the Steelers when he came in for Dalton, but, since then, he has thrown four touchdowns against zero interceptions in his three starts following the game.

However, in regards to people who use his high passer rating and completion percentage as a way to gauge progress, the thing to remember is that, as described above, two of his three starts came against below-average teams (49ers and Ravens).  He had a 100+ rating against the Ravens and 49ers but an 87.8 rating when playing the Broncos.

Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, has a 10-5 playoff record with two Super Bowl rings, and that kind of familiarity in big situations is important in the playoffs.  Still, Roethlisberger had zero touchdowns and one interception when he faced the Bengals four weeks ago, and, over the past four weeks, he has six touchdowns against seven interceptions.  Further complicating the situation, he will be playing without DeAngelo Williams, so he will be counted on to throw the ball more than usual – unless Fitzgerald Toussaint proves to be the next Le’Veon Bell.

The Cincinatti defense has held opposing defenses to the second-fewest points in the league, but the 33 points the Steelers put up against them four weeks ago was the second-most points Cincinatti has given up all season.  Moreover, the Bengals rank 20th in passing yards and 7th in rushing yards allowed, so the statistical weakness of the Bengals is the Steelers strength.

The Steelers defense ranks 30th in the league in passing yards, but I think the deciding factor in the game ultimately comes down to A.J. McCarron not being ready to perform on the elite stage at this period in time, but this game should be a great step in the learning process for him.

I would have picked the Bengals to win if Dalton were playing, but, with McCarron, my pick goes with the Steelers.

Prediction: Steelers 33, Bengals 24

Questions/Comments:  Follow me @sean__cumming

 

Did Eagles Make Correct Decision Releasing Chip Kelly?

After only three years as head coach, the Philadelphia Eagles “released” Chip Kelly on Tuesday night.  What is most interesting, however, is that the team and media used “released” instead of “fired.”  Was the separation mutual?  Did Chip Kelly want to leave Philadelphia?  Or, did Eagles owner Jeffrie Lurie realize that Chip Kelly was taking the team in the wrong direction, and he wanted to release Kelly before things got worse?

One thing is for certain: Kelly’s role as general manager for the Eagles organization was getting in the way of Kelly’s role as head coach, and that situation had to change.

In Lurie’s first news conference since releasing Chip Kelly, he said that he “did not offer the opportunity for Kelly to be coach but not have control of the personnel.”  Therefore, Lurie was also not satisfied with how Kelly was coaching the team, too, even though limiting Kelly’s power as general manager was a primary factor.

The decision to release Kelly was based both on bad coaching and bad general manager decisions Kelly made.  Lurie said the decision to release Kelly was a “clear and important decision,” and, in making the decision he used a “three-year evaluation,” asking, “what’s the trajectory” before stating, “the end result was mediocrity.”

Lurie also stated that he wants “a collaborative approach between coaching and personnel.”  Releasing Chip Kelly was the only way to fix both problems simultaneously as the team had nowhere to go but down with Chip Kelly as head coach going forward.

The fact that Chip Kelly got rid of talented players and did not replace them with adequate talent is one of the major issues for Eagles fans.  After all, the argument can be made that all Kelly had to do was tweak the defense while his offense exploded with efficiency during his first two years as head coach.

Now, the team is stuck with players like DeMarco Murray – removing him is expensive – and Kiko Alonso, who has done nothing this season but is most likely staying because Kelly traded LeSean McCoy for him in the offseason.

Kelly has left the the outside receiver position in shambles, and that mistake could take years to fix.  Riley Cooper should not be on the team.  Josh Huff has shown nothing to prove he can be an elite receiver in this league.  Nelson Agholor had a bad year, and, although it is too soon to adequately judge him, he seems to have a long way to go.

In addition, the team is stuck with an unresolved question at quarterback.  Sam Bradford does not seem to be the player who will take the Eagles far into the playoffs – if he can even get into the playoffs at all – and, regardless of what happens, Philadelphia lost a second-round draft pick in this year’s draft to acquire him.  With Kelly’s poor draft choices in the past considered, the pick may not have been too important before the firing; however, the new coach may have been able to do something effective with that second-round pick.

Will the new coach even want to keep Sam Bradford, who is free to leave in free agency at the end of the season?  If the answer is no, the Eagles would be worse off for letting another player go with little to no compensation in return, again.  Therefore, after looking at Chip Kelly’s personnel moves, the team is much better off without him.

Looking at him from the coaching perspective, moreover as an offensive-minded coach, further explains why his release is a good decision for the team.  The offense’s production has decreased every year since his first year, and the blame focuses directly on Kelly for getting rid of the Eagles core offensive playmakers during his first two years.  He believed his gimmicky scheme was better than talent.  He was wrong.

As a result, he is leaving the team in a much worse state now than than when he became head coach just three years ago, and it is amazing that it only took three years to set the Eagles on a rebuilding phase that could take years to complete.

Under that undeniable fact, finding a reason why he should still be head coach is extremely difficult.

He was not a personable coach to his players or the majority of people around him, so, when the hard times came and losses started rolling in, he didn’t have relationships built with players that he could use to turn things around.  As reported by Phialdelphia media, few hugs and teary-eyed conversations between players and Chip have occurred before or after the release, and, since he was fired after practice on Tuesday, the timing of his firing and the lack of players surrounding him in that moment represents how awkward he was at communicating to his players.

The team checked out on him.

This situation represents how giving too much power too quickly before receiving adequate results can hurt a team for years in advance.  He took a 4-12 team and turned them into a 10-6 team in his first season but lost his first – and only – playoff game, and the team steadily regressed from that point onward.  He should not have been given total power based on those results alone.

Now, Eagles fans have to hope that the next coach can better utilize the players Kelly brought in and somehow get around a massive rebuilding process.  In addition, the firing means that Howie Roseman is moving back to a more powerful role in personnel decisions again.  Is that good or bad?  He has made some good and bad decisions in the past, but, at the least, he will be an improvement over Kelly.   Who wouldn’t be an improvement over Kelly as general manager?

Eagles fans can celebrate now because they have their team back after the tyrannical rule of Chip Kelly has ended.  Most Philadelphia fans seem shocked – considering the timing – but pleased by the overall decision.  While listening to Philadelphia sports radio after the firing, no one seems upset, and, instead, a mass celebration rides the airwaves of Philadelphia.

One thing is for certain: the Eagles are in a much better situation without Chip Kelly as head coach.

Questions/Comments? @sean__cumming

NFL Week 16: The Storylines That Drive The League

Week 16 is here; the playoffs are coming, and the pressure is on.  The end of the regular season brings with it a mad dash to the playoffs, and, with it, the playoff dreams for some teams will be realized or deferred.  Some teams have one or two more battles to fight in an attempt to make a run into the postseason, and there is where the most interesting stories are found.  Let’s take a look at the storylines that drive week 16.

* The Panthers are the fourth team to go 14-0, and the other three teams have reached the Super Bowl.  Will the Panthers do the same?  They finish the season against the Atlanta Falcons (7-7) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8), division rivals with sub-par records; however, divisional games can be unpredictable.  Will they finish with an undefeated regular season?  Cam Newton became the first player in NFL history to throw for five touchdowns and run for 100 yards in a game against the Giants last week.  Can the division rivals stop that production?

* Speaking of the Atlanta Falcons, they had the NFC East figured out this season.  They just struggled against every other division.  Four of their first five games were against the NFC East, and they swept the division, finishing 5-0 after a week 5 win against the Redskins.  After that, though, they lost seven of their following eight games.  They will have to figure out how to win against another division next year.

* If the Redskins (7-7) beat the Eagles (6-8), they win the NFC East.  If the Eagles win, different scenarios can occur depending on what happens in week 17.  Last season, the Redskins knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs with a 27-24 win on Saturday night football in week 16, and the two teams face off on Saturday Night Football in week 16 again this year.  Chip Kelly’s decision to let DeSean Jackson go was the first mistake in a string of bad offensive subtractions made after becoming head coach.  How will Kelly look if DeSean Jackson, who had four receptions for 126 yards last year, has a great performance and causes the Eagles to miss the playoffs two years in a row?

* The Houston Texans (7-7) took a one-game lead in the AFC South with a 16-10 win against the Indianapolis Colts (6-8) last week.  With the win, the Texans won in Indianapolis for the first time in NFL history and just the fifth time against the Colts in 28 contests.  This week, the Texans play the Titans, and the Colts play the Dolphins.  Next week, the Texans play Jaguars, and the Colts play the Titans.  No matter what happens, though, the AFC South and NFC East are in a race to see which division can send the most mediocre team into the playoffs.  Playing against either division in the wildcard round is about as close to a first-round bye that an opposing team can have in the first week of the playoffs.

* The Steelers (9-5) are fighting to hold onto the last wildcard spot over the last two weeks of the season, and they finish with sub-par divisional opponents: Baltimore Ravens (4-10) and Cleveland Browns (3-11).  Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 300 yards in five of his last six games, and Antonio Brown finished last week’s game with 16 receptions for 189 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first player in NFL history to have multiple 16-reception games in NFL history.  Pittsburgh could be destined for the playoffs, but the Chiefs (9-5) and Jets (9-5) are fighting for the playoffs, too.

* Speaking of the Jets, they would not be in the playoffs if they started today, and they have a more difficult schedule than the Chiefs and Steelers.  They face the Patriots this week – although New England could be resting some of their starters – and the Bills next week. They have the least likely chance of making the playoffs of all the 9-5 AFC teams due to tiebreaker losses but have a four-game winning streak heading into week 16.

* The Denver Broncos (10-4) are in a tricky situation.  Depending on whether or not they win on Monday Night Football against the Cincinnati Bengals, they could either have a first-round bye or be watching the playoffs on a couch or local bar somewhere.  If the Broncos lose, and the Chiefs (9-5), Jets (9-5), and Steelers (9-5) all win out, the Broncos would lose a tiebreaker for the final wildcard spot even if the Broncos beat the Chargers in Week 17. They would lose a tiebreaker to the Chiefs for the divisional win, too.  Will they be watching the playoffs at home despite starting the season with a 7-0 record?

* Speaking of the Chiefs, who went 1-5 to start the season before an eight-game winning streak, how crazy is it to think that they were four games behind the Broncos in the middle of the season and are now one game behind with the tiebreaker advantage.  The Chiefs could become the second team in NFL history to go 1-5 in their first six games and still make the playoffs.

* Will the Bengals, who have already made the playoffs, finally get past the wildcard round this year?  If they win Monday night, they could earn a first-round bye and escape the unlucky wildcard round by default.  They seemed destined for a deep playoff run before Andy Dalton fractured the thumb on his throwing hand, causing him to miss the finish of the regular season.  Now, how A.J. McCarron plays against the Broncos is important for the Bengals’ hopes.  Dalton will be the second player in NFL history to go to the playoffs in each of his first five years in the league but could desperately use another week to rest his injury (along with a rest from having to play in the wildcard round, where he is 0-4).

* The NFC North is the only division that has one game separating first and second place.  The Packers (10-4) currently lead the division, but the Vikings (9-5) are only one game behind and holders of the sixth wildcard spot.  The Packers have already made the playoffs, but they play the Arizona Cardinals (12-2) this week with a chance to win the division outright while the Vikings play the New York Giants (6-8) and need the win to keep their hopes of winning the division alive or even making the postseason.  Needless to say, the Vikings have a much easier matchup, but they could miss the playoffs if they lose to the Giants.  If the Vikings defeat the Giants – and the Packers lose to the Cardinals – a week 17 matchup between the Vikings and Packers will decide who wins the NFC North.

Questions/Comments:  @sean__cumming

Who Is The Eagles Most Invisible New Addition?

The Eagles just suffered a 40-17 bashing from the Arizona Cardinals.  The game measured how well the Eagles can perform against playoff-level talent – just in case they can sneak into the playoffs – and they got rolled by the Cardinals.  Eagles fans just wanted was a good game against a top-ranked Cardinals team but did not receive anything close.

After watching the game, the hope of a deep playoff run has pretty much disappeared as the team has serious deficiencies in talent from the personnel moves made over the past two years.  The question now is not who is the best player on the team, but, rather, who among the 2015 additions has become the most invisible person on the field.

DeMarco Murray On The Sidelines

DeMarco Murray was on the sidelines for the majority of the game.  He finished the game with two carries, and, even though he is a perfect 12-for-12 on conversions this season, he was not given a carry on a crucial 4th and inches with 50 seconds left in the second quarter on a drive that would have tied the game at 17.

Since the Eagles barely used Murray in the game, the Cardinals would have seen Murray entering the game and knew he was getting the ball.  However, the pre-snap routine signaled exactly what the call was going to be anyway, like directions for assembling the defense to stop the play.  Riley Cooper’s motioning to the right before the snap clearly telegraphed that the Eagles were going to run it off the right tackle.

Any defensive player could clearly see how the play would develop pre-snap, yet, on the other hand, why were they using Cooper and not an offensive lineman as the lead blocker anyway?  In addition, the Eagles strength on the offensive line is the left side, where Pro Bowl lineman Jason Peters plays, but they decided to go off the right tackle.

When 94.1 WIP morning show host Angelo Cataldi asked Kelly why he did not use Murray considering Murray’s record of short conversions, Chip said he wanted to “go with the bigger back.”

DeMarco Murray is 6-foot, 217 pounds while Ryan Mathews is 6-foot, 220 pounds.  Neither one is technically the “bigger back.”  Murray or Mathews would have both struggled to make the play considering the poor play calling, but, by not using Murray, it is fair to wonder if he fits anywhere in this team’s offense.

With Kelly’s questionable GM decisions added to the equation, the Eagles are likely stuck with Murray for the future. What team will take on his salary if the Eagles want to move on from him?  The team could cut him, but they would suffer a considerable salary-cap hit.  Still, is it worth paying Murray the way designated by his $40 million salary to sit on the bench and run the ball twice a game?

It is fair to question if Kelly is just signing people at whim and throwing them into the mix of the team without any rhyme or reason for how they fit into the overall scheme and the salary-cap situation if they don’t work out.

The Eagles Traded LeSean McCoy for What?

At inside linebacker, Kiko Alonso has done little to nothing this season, and, what is worse is that Kelly exchanged the Eagles franchise-leading running back for him in the offseason.

Alonso had a good game against the Falcons in week 1 with a one-handed interception, but he has done little since then.  He has 26 tackles this season.  When compared to the 159 tackles he had in his rookie season, he would have to play five to six seasons at his current rate to come close to what he did in his rookie season in Buffalo.

Alonso played 57 percent of snaps against Buffalo and 53 percent of snaps against Arizona after playing a season-high 79 percent against the Patriots, but he played 100 percent of snaps in every game he played with Buffalo in 2013.  His production has disappeared.

When you trade away a running back who rushed for 2,926 yards combined in 2013-14, is it not fair to ask for something close to equal compensation?

This Eagles team was defined by hard hits years ago, but the team has now become a group of players who seem more interested in stripping the ball than making a tackle.

The Eagles First-Round Pick Doesn’t Work Out As Planned, Again

The outside receivers are the weakest part of the Eagles offense.  The team spent its first pick in this year’s draft on Nelson Agholor but are getting little to nothing in return.  Agholor played 89 percent of offensive snaps against the Cardinals, and, even with all those snaps, he finished the game with one target and zero catches.  Is that not the definition of disappearing from a game?

The only player who had more offensive snaps in the game – excluding offensive linemen – was Sam Bradford (98 percent).

When the Eagles lost to the Cardinals last season, 24-20, Jeremy Maclin had 12 receptions for 187 yards and two touchdowns.  The Eagles could have really used production like that again Sunday night.  The Eagles outside receivers – Josh Huff, Riley Cooper, and Nelson Agholor – combined for six receptions for 74 yards.  Philadelphia had 334 yards and two touchdowns from wide receivers against the Cardinals last year and 233 yards and one touchdown this year.  That is what you would call subtraction by subtraction.

This lack of production is not a one-game occurrence, though.  The outside receivers have been severely underperforming all season.  If you combine the overall yards of the current outside receivers for the season, they have 856 yards – just 17 more yards than slot receiver Jordan Matthew’s 839 yards for the season.

Will any Eagles receiver go over 1,000 yards this season?

The wide receivers are the weakest link of the Eagles offense, and Agholor has the fewest yards among all starting wide receivers.  He was billed to be a key part filling in for Jeremy Maclin, but he would be lucky to end the season with anywhere between 400-500 yards.  He would also be lucky to finish the season with more than two touchdowns since he scored his first touchdown in week 14.

Agholor has been held to zero yards in two of the past three weeks – against the Patriots and Arizona – and he has not produced more than 64 yards in a game all season.  The moves Kelly made at the wide receiver position are clearly not panning out.

How are Kelly and the Eagles wide receivers going to look if DeSean Jackson and the Redskins knock the Eagles out of the playoffs for the second year in a row?

Who Is My Pick?

For all that, who among Agholor, Alonso, and Murray is the most invisible new addition on the team?  My pick is Alonso.  Agholor had a touchdown last week before vanishing on the field against the Cardinals, Murray has had good games in the middle of the season before becoming non-existant in recent weeks.  Alonso hasn’t done anything recently.  Who is your pick?

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles Leaders Need To Step Up On Sunday Night Football

Some people will tell you that the Eagles Sunday matchup against the Cardinals isn’t important, but that statement is only half the truth.  If the Eagles lose to the Cardinals, they still have a good chance to win the division by beating the Redskins and Giants in the last two weeks of the season.  However, if the Eagles beat the Cardinals, they may not have to worry about the outcome of their week 17 matchup against the Giants, their only road game left in the regular season.  The Cardinals have been given an advantage from the NFL because the game was flexed into primetime.  The two teams were supposed to play at 1:00 ET, 10:00 in Arizona, before the Patriots game, but, after the Eagles beat New England, they were flexed to the 8:30 ET slot – 5:30 in Arizona.  Thanks a lot, NFL, for taking that advantage away.  Nonetheless, the Eagles need to be tested by the best before their final two-game stretch against division rivals.  Which Eagles players need to have big performances?

*Sam Bradford:  Sam Bradford’s contract is over at the end of the season, and Chip Kelly, no matter how much he tries to deny it, is technically the GM.  What will Kelly do?  Is Bradford worth a franchise tag or contract extension? Bradford has three weeks left in the regular season to make an argument for the extension, and a decision will have to be made soon.  Right now, the franchise tag seems destined for his future, but is Bradford the quarterback who is going to take the Eagles to the Super Bowl at some point?  Is Kelly willing to risk heading into next year’s season with his fourth starting quarterback in four years?  Bradford has improved during the season, but have we seen the ceiling or floor of his production?  Most Eagles fans seem to hope that someone better is out there, but there’s slim pickings at the quarterback position these days.  Is Colin Kaepernick a better option?  Will Bradford shine against a solid Cardinals defense and prove he’s worth keeping?  He threw the deep ball well last week.  Will he be given the opportunity again this week?  Bradford has a lot to prove over these next three weeks.

*Darren Sproles:  The Eagles’ backfield is finally evolving into the triple-threat attack Chip Kelly wanted since trading away LeSean McCoy.  Sure. the media makes money by talking about how DeMarco Murray is losing rushing attempts, but, in my opinion, the triple-threat attack is what Kelly has been working towards since he started coaching in Philadelphia.  Therefore, arguing about or discussing a running back controversy is a waste of space and time.  What is worth discussing, however, is that, throughout the more equal distribution used recently, Sproles has been benefitting more than any other running back.  He has led the team in rushing yards in both of the past two games, and he has the team’s only rushing touchdown since Ryan Matthews scored one in week 10.

*Fletcher Cox:  If there’s one player on the Eagles team who deserves to be in the Pro Bowl, Cox is the first person who comes to mind.  This guy is the real deal, and, even though he is a defensive lineman, he has literally won games for the team this season.  After the Bills game, the always colorfully outspoken Rex Ryan, the son of ex-Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, said, “I was laughing when I saw him being compared to Jerome Brown, but I’m not laughing now,” after Cox recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and the team’s only sack.  For the year, his 6.5 sacks are tied for the lead on the team with Brandon Graham, and he is tied for the lead in forced fumbles, too.  He is ranked second on the team in fumbles recovered.  Cox will need to put constant pressure on Carson Palmer and stop Cardinals rookie running back David Johnson from getting past the Eagles defensive line.  Cox is the leader of the defensive line.

*Malcolm Jenkins:  Jenkins is the leader of the secondary, and the defensive backfield’s ability to create turnovers and limit receivers have been crucial to winning this season.  His 99-yard interception return off Tom Brady two weeks ago broke a 14-14 tie and sparked the Eagles towards two more unanswered touchdowns to give the Eagles a 35-14 lead.  As a whole, the Eagles secondary has 9 of the Eagles 15 interceptions this season, and the Eagles rank fourth among all NFL teams in interceptions (Arizona ranks third with 16, though).  Earlier in the season, the Eagles defense ranked first in the league in interceptions and had an interception in six of their first nine games.  Then, they had a three-game stretch against the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Lions – all losses – in which they didn’t finish with one.  However, the team had two against the Patriots and one against the Bills – both wins – and are now 6-2 in games in which they have at least one interception.

*Nelson Agholor:  It took Agholor 13 games into his rookie season, but he finally scored a touchdown.  His end zone celebration, circling awkwardly around the end zone, during which he almost tripped himself, was both comical and a pleasure to watch after his 53-yard touchdown.  Hopefully he exorcised the rookie jitters with that celebration, and he is ready to play like a pro now.  The Eagles desperately need a wide receiver who can stretch the field vertically.  Considering that Agholor came into the 13th game of his rookie season with 163 yards and zero touchdowns, last week was the closest he has come to a breakout performance.  How will he follow up last week’s performance against an extremely tough Cardinals’ secondary?

*Eric Rowe:  The Cardinals have three wide receivers who can punish a defense: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown.  Rowe will need to bring his “A” game because, after good performances against the Patriots and Bills, this game will tell a lot about how prepared he is to take the next step in his rookie career.  He will not have a lot of extra assistance on Sunday Night Football against the three dangerous receivers.  The Eagles second-round draft pick struggled against Calvin Johnson in his first real game action of the season, but he has improved since then. Byron Maxwell missed Wednesday’s practice with a back injury, but he was back at practice Thursday; however, Rowe will still be alone in coverage frequently.  When the Eagles played the Cardinals in a 24-20 Cardinals win last season, Larry Fitzgerald finished the game with 160 yards and a touchdown, and John Brown had 119 yards and a touchdown.  Fitzgerald’s longest catch was 80 yards, and Brown’s was 75.  Michael Floyd has at least 100 yards receiving in four of his past five games.  The Eagles secondary have their work cut out for them.

*Chip Kelly:  Kelly saved his job when the Eagles beat the Patriots, and a two-game winning streak has quieted most critics.  However, I still have a problem with Kelly’s misuse of time.  To beat the Cardinals, Chip needs to manage the clock more effectively and keep the Cardinals offense off the field.  Snapping the ball with 15 or more seconds on the play clock throughout the game – even when playing with a lead – will not keep the Cardinals offense warming up the bench, which is what they need to be doing if the Eagles want to win this game.  Watching Kelly continue to use his up-tempo scheme when draining the clock is the better option is agonizingly frustrating, and that is the main reason I would still like the team to move on from Kelly at the end of the season.  Hopefully his use of time management changes.

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

NFL Week 14: The Storylines Drive The League

When you think about it, football teams play regular-season games 16 days out of 365 days in a year.  Sure, the games are important, but, admit it: the storylines drive the league.  The storylines behind the games bring the necessary drama to the field and enhance the overall enjoyment of the game.  So, with that being said, let’s look at the notable stats and storylines of week 14.

* The New England Patriots face the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football this week and will try to stop a three-game losing streak, a rare spot for the team to find themselves. The Patriots have gone 213 straight games without losing three consecutive games, and only the San Francisco 49ers, with 292 straight games between 1980-99 have more.

* The Kansas City Chiefs are riding strong on a miracle six-game winning streak after starting the season with a 1-5 record.  With their recent success, it is hard to remember how poor of a start they had at the beginning of the season.  However, they need the momentum to keep rolling against the San Diego Chargers if they want to be just the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting 1-5 through their first six games.  The only other team to do that was the 1970 Bengals, who went 1-6 before going on a seven-game winning streak.

* When the Cincinatti Bengals play the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, they will have the opportunity to clinch the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.  As a result, Andy Dalton could become just the second starting quarterback to make the playoffs in all of his first five seasons in the league.  The only other quarterback to do that is Joe Flacco. (Bengals fans, however, are hoping that this will be the year when they finally get past the wild-card round, though).

* The Giants (5-7) face off against the Dolphins (5-7) on Monday Night Football, and, even though the two teams have identical records going into the game, they have completely different divisional standings.  The Dolphins are buried in the bottom of the AFC East, while the Giants are tied for the lead atop the NFC East with the Eagles and Redskins.  Does this give the Giants an advantage?  Well, figure this into the equation: the Giants have the most losses (4) when leading after three quarters and the most losses when leading with five minutes left in the fourth quarter (5).

* The Seattle Seahawks have had great success over the past two seasons with two Super Bowl appearances, so, when they had a losing record (4-5) after their Week 10 loss to the Cardinals, questions about them even making the playoffs surrounded the team.  However, they have rebounded over the past three weeks with Russell Wilson throwing at least three touchdowns in three consecutive games, becoming the second player in franchise history to do that feat.  Will Wilson keep the fireworks shooting against the Ravens?

* So, who is going to be the league MVP this year: Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, or Adrian Peterson? Whether or not your answer is Newton, think about this: Newton has 30 games with a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown.  If he does that again against the Atlanta Falcons, he will be tied with Steve Young for the most in NFL history.

* If you’re leaning towards Adrian Peterson as the MVP, consider this: when Mike Wallace scored the touchdown against the Cardinals that tied the game at 20-20 with five minutes left on the clock Thursday, he scored the Vikings’ first offensive touchdown not by Adrian Peterson in 15 quarters (almost four games)!  Peterson also scored his 100th touchdown Thursday.

* Speaking of the Arizona Cardinals, they are proving to be shining stars in the spotlight.  They are 4-0 in primetime games this season and have another primetime game – Sunday Night Football – against the Eagles next week.  Is that bad luck for Eagles fans, who were supposed to play the Patriots last week in primetime but got flexed out of the spot, yet, after beating the Patriots, the league moved them into the Sunday Night Football matchup against the Cardinals?

* With the Heisman trophy set to be awarded soon, five straight awards have gone to quarterbacks in the past five years, and, of them, only Robert Griffin III made the playoffs in his first season.  Jameis Winston still has an outside chance to make the playoffs in his first year.  The Buccaneers (6-6) are tied with the Falcons and one game behind the Seahawks for the sixth playoff spot and two games away from the Vikings for the fifth playoff spot.  Will Tampa Bay start a playoff-worthy stretch of wins against the Saints Sunday?  Winning is now crucial for the Buccaneers.

* Is the NFC East the most mediocre, disinteresting, or most interesting division to watch right now?  The NFC East is the only division in the league in which every team has a losing record, and an argument why any of the four teams can win the division can be made.  Eagles play the Bills; Cowboys play the Packers; Giants play the Dolphins; Redskins play the Bears.  Who will come out victorious on Sunday and in the divisional race as a whole?

Questions/Comments? @sean__cumming