NFL Week 6 Winners and Losers

Week six is almost finished, leaving audiences buzzing on who’s the real deal and who needs to improve before the playoffs. Continuing from last week, a lot of yesterday’s games were close at certain points. Additional teams are gaining ground and look close to complete on both sides of the ball, even with a handful distancing from the rest. Who stood out yesterday, positively and negatively in this third week of October?

Winners: Raheem Morris

Arthur Blank is bogus if he said Morris has to go 11-0 in order to secure an interview for the Falcons’ head coaching job. Blank’s probably picked candidates out mentally, but this is a great time for interim coach Raheem Morris to show he’s still one of the best coaches available.

A lot of analysts had Minnesota bouncing back after a crushing loss to Seattle last Sunday night with good reasons. The Vikings could’ve overlooked an 0-5 team that’s played dreadful on defense. In Morris’ first game coached since 2011, the Falcons played like they were 5-0, setting the tempo early in the game by intercepting quarterback Kirk Cousins on Minnesota’s first drive. The audience was right to wonder if Atlanta would blow another double digit lead when they were up by 26. That didn’t happen as the Falcons rolled on to an easy win.

Raheem Morris won’t go 11-0 as interim, but general managers will give him interviews at the end of the season, and it’s possible he’ll go to a team such as Cincinnati where he can lay a better foundation. If Morris can make a winless team look focused and competitive, then he should be hired over someone like Adam Gase.

The Perplexing Career of Vic Fangio

I personally don’t think there’s been any team in the National Football League who’s gone through more injury trouble than the Denver Broncos. They couldn’t even get a real bye week. They get rewarded by playing the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts later than expected, with Cam Newton coming back to start for the home team. Drew Lock returning for Denver was ok, but the team outside of quarterback played pretty well for the win.

Sometimes a coach has to settle in and get the locker room sold when there’s chaos, internal or external. Broncos head coach Vic Fangio looks to be the right hire despite general manager John Elway doing…whatever. 99% of the time, New England takes this game, especially if the opposing quarterback looks bad. This was a rare game both Newton and Lock were rusty. The game came down to which coach could top the other. Fangio won by a landslide, besting one of the game’s best ever coaches despite scoring 18 points.

Denver won’t be in the Winner’s section most of this season, and most of it isn’t because they lack talent. They should feel good about their head coach, who’s keeping the franchise from hitting New York Jets levels of bad. A win like this you savor long-term.

The Twin Franchises Established in 1976

Those two would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks (yes, in that order). Any of the readers familiar with these two teams know Sunday was one of their better days together in the league, and they both fed positives into each other.

Tampa Bay had one of their best recent games in franchise history, pummeling an undefeated Green Bay Packers team that sprinted to an early 10-0 lead. Head coach Bruce Arians and team captain Tom Brady took their last loss against the Chicago Bears personally, playing disciplined and precise against what was considered the best team in the NFC North and maybe the conference. The Buccaneers scored 38 straight points, harassed Aaron Rodgers on a level not seen since Ndamakung Suh’s heyday in Detroit (outside of the NFC West), and courtesy of FOX Sports, hadn’t committed a penalty in a game for the first time since playing Detroit in 1983.

Bruce Arians and Tom Brady may be polar opposites when it comes to how they play the game but there’s no denying they’re the reason the Bucs are better in almost every facet, the big one being team culture. The classic Buccaneers would’ve given up after falling behind by 10 especially after an ugly loss. Arians definitely called the locker room out and Tom Brady put in that extra work with the offensive line. The team as a whole played clean, aggressive football. We’ve learned over the years when Brady’s bitter in a bad loss, the team feels it and works better before next game. Thanks to these two, Tampa Bay is alone in first place in the NFC South.

Tampa’s win over Green Bay came when two playoff contenders were on bye weeks. New Orleans will have another go with them soon, so there isn’t much lost. Seattle though was on their bye week, and had to be pleased with what they watched.

Seattle is in direct control in the NFC, the last remaining undefeated team still standing. Russell Wilson is at the top of the MVP race as Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers were thrown around in their last games, affecting their teams performances. Players on defense should contribute and fix a porous unit by next Sunday. The biggest win for the Seahawks came within their division, as the San Francisco 49ers bullied a Los Angeles Rams team. First place is separated by two games, so Seattle can play loose some quarters in their next three games to see how much depth they have. Finally, the Seahawks play their first divisional game against a Cardinals team coming off of a Monday night game. This was the best week for the 1976 franchises in at least five years.

Joe Burrow…

What builds winners? Failure. Rookies have games where they learn what it takes to win. Easing up on an opponent who’s behind 21 points is an area even the best players have to methodically plan so they can leave no doubt who’s better.

Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis after roaring out to a 21-0 nothing lead in the first half is a learning lesson to this year’s number one overall pick. Every team gives up leads like this at some point, but it’s up to those teams to make the adjustments. Burrow put up good numbers facing a tough defense. For those who’ve watched him play in college, they can say his claim to fame at LSU was continual growth. The Bengals’ young star will keep this game tape with him a long time to break down do’s-and-don’ts in future matchups against playoff contenders.

The Bengals will struggle winning this season (more on them next), but maybe they needed this loss in order for Joe Burrow to take the next step. There’s no denying after Sunday they could be trouble for teams like the Miami Dolphins have.

Losers: …Zac Taylor’s Coaching

Here’s a candidate on the hot seat. Earlier in the week, star receiver A.J. Green addressed issues in Cincinnati. It’s clear he wants to go play for a contender. Any player would feel the same if all they had to show for their best seasons were playoff performances and no wins. Teams feed off those energies from star players. It’s safe to say the Bengals locker room isn’t in a good place.

Taylor made few second half adjustments on all sides of the ball. His team scored three points in the second half. The Bengals defense can hold to a point, but even expiration date Philip Rivers broke through. Head coach Zac Taylor is an offensive minded coach, and while the offensive line is an issue that precedes him, Taylor couldn’t find the right plays to keep the Colts defense on the field. It’s one thing for a rookie player to take this loss because it sparks growth and more want to win. In the case of a coach and his staff, it shows the play-callers have to go since they can’t play with double digit leads.

Gary Kubiak and Mike Zimmer

Last Sunday night took more of a toll on the Vikings collectively than we realized. They followed up that heartbreaker with one of the worst losses in Mike Zimmer’s coaching career, and the game wasn’t close to start.

Sometimes teams have games they overlook an opponent, particularly when the previous opponent is difficult to beat. The coaches botched this on every level. On a scoring drive in the first half near the Atlanta goal-line, starting runningback Alexander Mattison again missed a hole on the right side of the offensive line that could’ve resulted in not just a one yard gain, but a touchdown. For a coach who likes to run the ball, Gary Kubiak didn’t work hard or well enough with Mattison to not make the same mistake. The Vikings were shut out that first half 20-0.

For Zimmer, his message either fell flat or he trusts his starters too much. The cornerbacks Minnesota’s starting are pretty young, but that doesn’t excuse being overmatched against a receiving core dealing with injuries. They were burned for 137 yards alone from an hobbled Julio Jones. Quarterback Kirk Cousins should’ve been pulled when the score was 33-7 to see if there’s additional depth. The players had to show up and shake off last week’s loss, but failed because the coaches didn’t prepare them well enough for the next game.

Green Bay Packers

If Denver won’t be in the Winners section much this year, then Green Bay won’t be here much either. The 1976 twin franchises had a day to remember in the right ways Sunday. Green Bay though is in a few holes, and familiar questions will be raised.

Unfortunately for the Packers, the NFC will be ultra competitive throughout the year. Every loss teams take produce ripple effects. Green Bay losing to Tampa Bay produced these things heading into Week 7:

  • Seattle unanimously as the No. 1 team in the conference
  • Tampa Bay division leader in the NFC South
  • Division rival Chicago Bears jump up to first place via tie-breaker

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t going to look flawless this season. It doesn’t help his worst performance came in a nationally televised game versus Tom Brady. He made those mistakes Tampa created to grab control and dominate for the win. The Packers have an easy schedule until November 22nd, but the difference is they have to play perfect. It could take a toll heading into January.

Joe Flacco

If there was ever a fall from grace in the past decade of football, this is the prime example. Announcers Andrew Catalon and James Lofton went through the analysis of Flacco’s storied career. Here is a brief analysis of what they talked about.

Flacco’s first win in the playoffs came against Tony Sparano’s surprise 2008 Dolphins, making him the third rookie quarterback to win a playoff game. He was a quarterback deemed Tom Brady’s kryptonite. He’s won seven road playoff games, more than any quarterback in NFL history, and yes he has a historic championship run.

Flacco’s narrowly outside the top 20 of all-time passing yards, yet experienced a downturn unlike any other. Many fans and analysts knew after he won a Super Bowl with Baltimore his play would drop off a bit. It’s bottomed out. He’s a backup quarterback on a winless New York Jets team who took a 28 yard sack. Sunday was the first time he was shutout, on all games a nationally televised one.

Anyone could describe how bad the Jets offense is, with great reasons and accuracy. If there’s anything worse, how bad Joe Flacco’s played is up there. This is also a lesson to appreciate true greatness from quarterbacks whenever they win a championship.

NFL Week 5 Winners and Losers

Week five is almost finished, and we’re finding out who’s the real deal and who needs to improve before the playoffs. Unlike the first four weeks, a lot of yesterday’s games were close at certain points. More teams are finding their rhythms on both sides of the ball, even with a handful distancing from the rest. Who stood out yesterday, positively and negatively in this second week of October?

Winners: Wide Receivers in Pennsylvania

The Eagles-Steelers matchup was one of the better early afternoon games, and we have Travis Fulgham and Chase Claypool to thank for that. Fulgham, in his sophomore season and first with the Eagles, couldn’t be stopped. He gashed the Steelers for 152 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches. Travis Fulgham became quarterback Carson Wentz’s go-to target on third downs, averaging just over 15 yards whenever he caught the ball. His touchdown put Philadelphia into a two point deficit and the undefeated Steelers on their toes the rest of the game. In order for the Eagles to win games against playoff contenders this fall, they need their new guys and depth to step up like Fulgham did yesterday in Pittsburgh.

Chase Claypool had the game of his life on the opposite end. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense found ways to bring new receiver depth non-stop last decade. Claypool could be another hit. He had 110 yards and three touchdowns on seven catches and ran the ball three times for six yards and an additional touchdown. That’s 24 of Pittsburgh’s 38 points. They may have found a new weapon to give defenses fits, which helps them as the season extends.

Nelson Agholor, Derek Carr and Jon Gruden

The Raiders were blown out most of the games they played against the Chiefs in the past five years, and a lot of analysts predicted that again yesterday. Not only was the game close, the Raiders took home a much needed and coveted win against their rival. The Raiders won’t be an easy mark for the Chiefs anytime soon.

A big part of the change starts with head coach Jon Gruden. Gruden was angered by previous results, and he knew in order to beat a team like the Chiefs, he needed a physical and gritty team. Las Vegas’ front four tore through Kansas City’s offensive line, with one lineman leaving the game (and done for the year) with multiple knee injuries. Gruden knew how he wanted to build this team, and it showed up for this crucial divisional win.

Josh Jacobs looks to be the real deal, but the two offensive players who stood out were Derek Carr and Nelson Agholor. Arrowhead Stadium is where Carr’s played his worst football for years. Without a crowd, he did surprisingly well, going 22 of 31 for 347 yards and three touchdowns. Carr’s best pass went to new addition receiver Agholor, who shook off two defenders on one of his two catches on the day. Agholor was tired of Philadelphia’s culture and wanted out. The past two games, he’s scored three touchdowns with not a lot of drops. That’s the receiver a lot of viewers want to see.

The Raiders’ offense was shaky the previous two weeks, and their next two opponents will be tricky to stop, but going into the bye week, they have a lot to feel proud about.

Cleveland Browns

There was a lot to feel great about last week in Cleveland when the Browns set records against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington. True, it was against an awful defense where even Daniel Jones and the New York Giants (more on them later) put up 31. Could the Cleveland Browns do the same to the Indianapolis Colts?

The answer to that was mostly yes. They started slow in the first quarter trailing 7-3, but outscored Indianapolis 29-16 the rest of the game. The Colts needed a test, and while they weren’t successful, they have time to re-tool and get ready for their next few opponents. They could still take their division.

The Browns look to be in a great place. Their offense is a two-way threat even without starting runningback Nick Chubb. Kareem Hunt is a top three back in the league and Baker Mayfield is showing progress within head coach Kevin Stefanski’s system. Receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. are a pain to cover for a full game. This team can win games in clutch-time, something we haven’t seen the Browns do in years.

Brian Flores’ Impact in Miami

It was impossible to ignore yesterday’s Miami-San Francisco score for anyone tuning into any of the late afternoon games. The Dolphins throttled the 49ers for 60 minutes and didn’t give an inch to the defending conference champions. Miami probably played their best game as a team in the past year, and that’s saying loads about how far they’ve come since head coach Brian Flores took over.

Commentator Chris Spielman noted why Flores was hired, “He’s a Bill Belichick disciple, but he’s his own person. He’s not a clone or like the others who were hired working for Bill. That’s what makes him stand out. He knows the physical parts of the game, but the mentality is his own.” The Dolphins may have the best coach from the Bill Belichick tree and can be a threat with him even after Belichick leaves New England. While Seattle beat Miami the previous week, Flores and his staff found ways for the defense to give Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf fits. This week they jumped on a creaky 49ers offense and torched the defense on the other end. The Dolphins should give teams fits for the rest of the season, and it starts with their coaching staff.

Losers: Stephen Hauschka

Anyone who follows the game closely can tell you kickers get the short end of the stick, especially in critical scoring opportunities. However, there are times when it’s fully deserved, and Hauschka’s timing fits right in.

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense stalled on multiple drives in the second quarter against a winless Houston team that had new life with interim head coach Romeo Crennel calling plays. It is hard to plan against a team with a new coach within a week, and it was in the first half. Hauschka had two attempts in the game and both came in the first half. One was a chip shot around 27 yards. How’d he fare?

His is the first name in the losers section here, so it isn’t a hard guess.

The Jaguars could’ve gone into half-time up 13-10 on the Texans. Instead they trailed by three, and were blown out 20-7 in the second half. Here’s where the six points come into play. Let’s say the Jaguars get a touchdown like they did a third of the way into the fourth quarter with those six points added on. Houston probably would’ve scored again with a field goal. But it’s still Jacksonville who controls the tempo. That’s the difference late in the game, and it’s why in this situation, both the kicker and special teams get a big part of the blame.

Whoever is an active quarterback on the San Francisco 49ers

It’s time to retract the Nick Mullens praise and cheerful thoughts about San Fran’s quarterback depth. It’s excusable to have a crap performance one week. It happens. Getting bludgeoned at home a second straight week is alarming. As mentioned here two weeks ago, the 49ers needed those wins against the Eagles and Dolphins before they started running their mid-season gauntlet against the Los Angeles Rams. Not only are they 0-2 in those games, their quarterbacks look horrendous.

Kyle Shanahan made the right move putting Jimmy Garoppolo in yesterday. He had to see action before playing a division rival. He lead San Francisco to one dominant scoring drive in the first half, but was awful the rest of his start. He threw for 77 yards and two interceptions while taking three sacks. Backup C.J. Beathard fared a bit better but faced limitations due to the Dolphins torching the defense.

It’s a fair point saying the team played down to their competition. That may be okay if they didn’t do that already the week prior. Mullens and Garoppolo were awful in those games, with Beathard seeing limited action in those losses. The conference champions are feeling everyone’s best games (outside of New Jersey) and aren’t passing the tests. This could be a mighty long season in the bay.

New York Giants

It has become a race to the bottom in not just the NFL but in the state in which the Giants play. The Giants and Jets are playing a game of How Low Can You Go?– with each other. The 2017 Browns and 2008 Lions weren’t this atrocious, and that’s saying a lot.

In their first game against the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants had this on their side:

  • a 17-3 lead
  • momentum swing after Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott broke his ankle
  • a three point lead at the final two minute warning
  • the second-to-last possession where they could take a lead.

These are reasons on why you get on the Losers list if you have all four of these going your way and still go 0-5, even with a garbage Dallas defense yielding over 30 points a game.

Kyle Allen

Allen is a nominee and resounding winner for Week 5 unluckiest player. Clearly coach Ron Rivera didn’t want Dwayne Haskins starting another game, so he let his former Carolina quarterback Kyle Allen get the start. Allen had the sobering misfortune to face the Los Angeles Rams’ front four. He scored a touchdown early in the game to give the Washington Football Team a one point lead. After that first quarter, it was all downhill.

Allen was sacked twice and left the game because of a concussion. That paved the way for Comeback Player of the Year nominee Alex Smith to make his first appearance under center since breaking his leg in 2018.

Alex Smith playing (poorly, but upright nonetheless) is what fans and pundits will focus on the remainder of this week, probably to the point where Smith gets the starting job with Allen in concussion protocol. None of that’s on Allen, it’s just cruel timing in a bad situation.

NFL Week 4 Winners and Losers

One fourth of the season is almost in the books, and it’s been worth it. We’re finding out more who are playoff qualifying teams and who’s done when November rolls around. Almost every game Sunday was competitive and worth tuning in for at least a quarter. So who stood out, positively and negatively for the first week of October in the regular season?

Winners: Tre’Quan Smith

No Michael Thomas? No problem. Saints quarterback Drew Brees knew Emmanuel Sanders was his top target with Thomas out. Inserting Tre’Quan Smith means more to the offense. The Lions targeted him in the second and third quarters after plays to intimidate him, but Smith got the last laugh with four catches for 54 yards and two touchdowns, the second gave New Orleans a 28-14 lead.

Those two touchdowns are his first of the year. His yards per game has doubled in four games than his previous high, which was 28.5 in 2018. Simply put, the Saints have a great third option receiver for Drew Brees to throw to. We know about Thomas and Sanders. Jared Cook is a decent tight end to work with, but New Orleans’ improvement means getting Smith involved, and it seems they’re starting to realize that. The Saints play the Chargers next on Monday night and head into a bye after. With Carolina and Chicago to close out October before their second game against Tampa Bay, New Orleans could have their offense clicking at the right time.

The Ageless Wonder of Tom Brady

Yesterday is a lesson to all you sportswriters to NOT publish pieces on what’s wrong with Tampa Bay at the quarterback position until the game is over, and to not judge Tom Brady until he’s done for good.

Brady did throw another interception for a touchdown, and Tampa was in a deep hole early against the Los Angeles Chargers. Tom Brady is the captain of the offense for many reasons, and he showed leadership driving down the field, connecting with Mike Evans for his second touchdown of the afternoon to close out the second quarter.

Brady threw five touchdowns to five different receivers on his team and wasn’t intercepted again. He broke Warren Moon’s record with this feat, making him the oldest quarterback to throw for five scores in a game. His 369 yards and 117.0 quarterback rating compliment his performance. Most importantly, head coach Bruce Arians put some praise on the team saying, “This is a game we wouldn’t have won last year.” Brady and the offense deserve the praise, but Tampa Bay’s defense played its part and made sure the Chargers stalled in the second half.

Dalvin Cook and Dalvin Cook only on Minnesota

It’s pretty safe to say the Minnesota Vikings will have a hard season. The Texans are a shipwreck thanks to Bill O’Brien. While the win was ugly, Dalvin Cook is a player to feel confident in moving forward.

Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak isn’t having a premier season, but making Dalvin Cook the focal point of the offense may be the best move the team has. The defense isn’t what it used to be with key players gone and 23 points a game averaged on them. Making the offense run centered takes some of the pressure off. After four games, Cook has career highs in rushing yards/game (106), yards per attempt (5.7), and his second highest number of touchdowns scored in a season (6). Minnesota’s fifth in the NFL running the ball too.

Even at 1-3, this is a game-plan to stick with. The Vikings have a good chance of going 1-1 before their bye week. After their second Green Bay game, Minnesota plays four opponents who struggle to stop the run. Here’s hoping Dalvin Cook continues his career year.

The Los Angeles Rams

The Rams are here for several reasons, and yes, that ugly win is a big reason why.

It’s a good theme to keep up with like Patrick Mahomes’ ugly win in Los Angeles two weeks ago. Not every game will be double digit win margins and pretty statistics. These kinds of games the coaches and players have to dig and grind out.

Yesterday’s win against the New York Giants was a game the Rams could’ve lost last year if Jared Goff threw for 200 yards and one touchdown. They didn’t need much from him, yet they held the lead and did enough. Seattle is undefeated at 4-0, but they were off a good part of their game against Miami (more on that later). The Rams are 3-1 and could remain at one loss until their Week 10 matchup against the Seahawks.

The Rams were gifted with second place yesterday as both the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers took shocking losses to teams with a combined record of 1-4-1. You don’t get that gift every Sunday, so the Rams must maintain the mindset of 1-0 every week.

Losers: Dak Prescott

If I told you that the Dallas Cowboys were number one in the NFL in passing yards and yards per game, what would you think their record is? Probably 2-2 at worst or possibly around 3-1 right? After all, quarterback Dak Prescott has been playing his best football and wants to get a massive contract. My, how wrong you’d be.

The Cowboys are 1-3, tied for second place in the worst division in professional football. We know given those offensive rankings, it’s because the defense plays like legendary bust linebacker John Bosa leads them. Awful coverage in the passing game, bad pass rush, can’t stop the run. That puts a lot on the offense to win high-scoring games. Even if Dallas was 2-2, those wins would be shocking, double-digit comebacks where their opponents couldn’t close out. This Browns team isn’t the Falcons, so 2-2 wasn’t happening.

Before Dak Prescott was picked off twice against Seattle the week prior, he hadn’t thrown an interception in close to a half dozen games. He’s had three in two weeks, two in the fourth quarter alone. The offensive line isn’t his best friend either. He was sacked three times, two of which he fumbled and lost the ball to an improved Browns defense led by former number one pick Myles Garrett. There’s only so much Dak can do and it doesn’t seem to be enough.

The Damning Play of Tre Flowers

Football fans were used to Seattle’s Legion of Boom throwing receivers and tight ends around for most of last decade. The hard hits, shutdown coverage, staying ahead of quarterbacks and route-runners on a scale we hadn’t seen since the 2000 Ravens. And then, there’s this incompetent spineless nut who somehow would make Pope John Paul II look All-Pro if he ever took the field.

Simply put, Tre Flowers might be the WORST cornerback you’ll lay eyes on in the 21st Century, and that’s saying something. It’s shocking how defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. not only made him starter last season, but has him playing major minutes this season. Part of that are injuries to Quinton Dunbar, Neiko Thorpe and half of Seattle’s safeties. Even then for some unknown reason, Norton likes to play Flowers, and opposing quarterbacks love when he’s in.

Last year in the playoffs, audiences wondered how Davante Adams put up a career playoff game against a corner one-on-one. What they should’ve been asking is, “How the hell is this corner in the league playing off of him every five yards?” Flowers’ stats give him 14 total tackles, nine unassisted, which is ok for a corner four games into the season. What the stats DON’T show is the blown coverages on almost all his tackles. In Seattle’s game against Dallas, audiences saw his blooper trying to pick off Dak Prescott, but since he can’t catch, Michael Gallup caught the ball and ran for a first down.

Coach Pete Carroll stated before the season he’d let the defense compete for the first four weeks to see who the best defenders are. Corners Ugo Amadi and secondary specialist Ryan Neal (who had two straight interceptions, the last Dallas possession and the first Miami possession) should be locks for the rest of the season with how well they’ve played. If the rest of the coaches have working eyes, Flowers won’t see another down.

The Jacksonville Jaguars

Every year there’s that stunning upset in the first week of the season. It looks like Jacksonville beating Indianapolis is that one. The Jaguars are 0-3 since and look worse every game.

It’s one thing for the winless Cincinnati Bengals, led by number one pick Joe Burrow and runningback Joe Mixon to beat you. It’s another for them to come out of the locker room after half-time and dominate play. The Bengals went on a 17 point tear in the 3rd quarter, going from a three point deficit to leading by 14. The Jaguars rallied in the fourth, but came up short in an eight point loss, giving Joe Burrow his first career win and the record of first rookie quarterback to throw for 300 or more yards in three straight games.

The Jaguars are in third place behind the team they beat, the Indianapolis Colts by two games. The Tennessee Titans are undefeated at 3-0. COVID-19 or not, that’ll get you the division lead. The Jaguars have four easy games in the next five weeks (that other week is their bye) and need to find a way to reach .500. If they can’t, then that’s a career year of long-term starting quarterback Gardner Minshew wasted and coach Doug Marrone’s job.

Anthony Lynn

A lot of praise and great analysis was put on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady for yesterday’s comeback win. What isn’t talked about is how horrendous the Los Angeles Chargers are at maintaining double-digit leads.

The Chargers are 1-3 after the first four weeks of the season. That one win was in the first week where Bengals kicker Randy Bullock missed a chip-shot field goal, preserving a three point win without having to go to overtime. The Chargers have lost three one possession games since. Two of those they dominated at least two and a half quarters of play.

This last loss, the Chargers scored once in the second half against Tampa Bay. Receiver Jalen Guyton caught a 71 yard catch-and-run touchdown from rookie quarterback Justin Herbert to close out the third quarter, and somehow was their leading receiver off that one catch alone. When Tampa made the game competitive, the Chargers didn’t show up.

Los Angeles had this problem last year. There aren’t fans in the stands to blame for miscommunication to players this time, and this isn’t a new problem. The Chargers are a top ten passing team, and there are worse defenses around than theirs. Losing games to teams like Carolina shouldn’t happen if you’re serious about winning. Anthony Lynn better find an answer quick or this could be his swan song.

NFL Week 3 Winners and Losers

The NFL’s third week of the season and the last full week of play for September was mouth-dropping. As we head into October, we’re finding out which teams could make the playoffs, which ones could pick early in the draft, and which ones should can their coaches early. Like the last two weeks, most of the games were close, fun and physical at least for three quarters. So who stood out, positively and negatively for the last week of September in the regular season?

Winners: Russell Wilson’s case for MVP and the Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson discovered this offseason that he hasn’t had a vote for Most Valuable Player, and he’s taken that personally. The Seahawks hosted the Dallas Cowboys in America’s Game of the Week. He did everything but disappoint. Wilson went 27 of 40 for 315 yards, five touchdowns and a 130.7 quarterback rating. He would’ve had a sixth had DK Metcalf not celebrated too early, letting Dallas defender Trevon Diggs punch the ball out for a touchback past Dallas’ endzone. Wilson is the first quarterback in franchise history to throw for five touchdowns in back-to-back games, and he’s the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to do this:

NBC’s Tony Dungy has a point when he says, “If Wilson stays unstoppable, averaging 35 points a game, it won’t matter how good the defense plays”. It’s good enough to be 3-0 for the first time since 2013, ending September as one of a handful of teams to be undefeated.

When a team gets in first place, 85% of the time it’s because they earned it. The other 15% comes with luck. No one expected the Detroit Lions to beat Arizona on a last second field goal, or for Kyler Murray to throw three interceptions and lay into coach Kliff Kingsbury, but it happened. The Buffalo Bills (more on them later) aren’t the classic losers we’ve expected, thanks to Josh Allen leading a great drive on their last scoring possession to give the Los Angeles Rams their first loss of the season. Knowing their injuries to Chris Carson, Damien Lewis and Jamal Adams aren’t season ending while sitting alone in first place, in the NFL’s best division, and undefeated feels great before they head to Miami this weekend.

Josh Allen

There’s a lot to unpack with that Ram-Bills game. The one player who stands out is Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who should be in the MVP race besides Mr. Wilson. Allen was 24 of 33 for 311 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and a 128.9 quarterback rating. Allen also ran for a touchdown in Buffalo’s second score of the game. The NFL Network put a neat stat out Sunday night: Josh Allen is the second quarterback in two years to go 3-0, throw for over 1,000 yards and 10 or more passing touchdowns in the first three weeks of regular season play (he’s the second in franchise history as Jim Kelly did this in 1991).

The Bills will go as far as Josh Allen takes them, which was pivotal on their last offensive possession of the game. The Los Angeles Rams are a scary good team in the second half, and Buffalo not only squandered a 25 point lead but came close to taking their first loss of the season. While Tyler Kroft’s touchdown will be controversial for a no-call on offensive pass interference, Allen led the Bills downfield when it mattered most, not because it was an easy game. Allen hit at least 4 different receivers that last drive, spreading the ball and showing audiences he won’t hammer it to just one play-maker every down.

Teams in the past had to prepare for Buffalo’s defense and ignored the offense. That can’t happen anymore as their quarterback can lead the offense to over 30 points a game.

Matt Eberflus and the Indianapolis Colts Defense

Audiences saw last October when the Colts defense bludgeoned the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football that they don’t play around. This year, they’ve taken a few steps forward, with the last two teams Indy’s played score a combined 18 points.

Give some credit to the Jets offense for putting up a fight that first half. Quarterback Sam Darnold had a couple of good drives before the Colts put a stop to that. Former Minnesota Viking Xavier Rhodes had two interceptions, and scored on his first one to give the Colts the lead. T.J. Carrie had Indianapolis’ third interception and added a second touchdown with it to cap off one of the best performances they’ve had in a while.

It’s been important for new addition quarterback Philip Rivers to adjust to Frank Reich’s playbook and scheme. Yesterday he didn’t have to do much, taking the field late in the first quarter. Some days offenses need that rest so they can save more and get into schemes better. Indianapolis has an easier schedule with the Bears, Browns and Bengals up next before their bye week. Keep an eye on this team when November rolls around.

The Return of Nick Mullens

Strange to have three quarterbacks in the Winners section, but they’re all deserving of it. Nick Mullens hadn’t started a game in over a year, but he didn’t play like it. Mullens went 25 of 36 for 343 yards and a touchdown. Yes, he didn’t have to do much because the New York Giants are dreadful on defense, especially against the running game, but that shouldn’t matter.

The 49ers are down half their starting offense. Thankfully they have a great quarterback behind Jimmy Garappolo. Mullens knows Kyle Shanahan’s system better than Jimmy does at this point. Mullens is trusted by Shanahan on how to utilize the runningbacks to win and play great to get San Francisco in position to score. The Philadelphia Eagles are depleted like the 49ers are, but they don’t have a safe quarterback option who knows how to win with half a starting roster. Like Seattle, San Francisco got a gift with both Arizona and Los Angeles taking their first losses of the season. It’s important to get as many wins as they can before their October 18th divisional matchup against Los Angeles. If somehow Jimmy G and company have some additional time off before then, their schedule between that date and their bye week won’t look or feel as hard, and they can credit that to Nick Mullens.

Losers: Todd Gurley and Arthur Blank

Everyone will jump on the Falcons and for good reasons, but let’s spread the blame wisely. What the team has done with double digit leads the past two weeks hasn’t been done in over 15 years with any NFL team. Coach Dan Quinn tried his best to rid the team of the mindset of squandering leads but that didn’t work. So this goes to the top.

Owner Arthur Blank is here for several reasons. First and foremost is his inability to fire his general manager and head coach in one swift move, probably because he again believes they can salvage something. After he got into an exchange with Quinn over the players knowing the onside kick rules, he should’ve fired his coach. Blank’s goal remains making the Falcons improved and in a better position to win. The problem remains decades later the Falcons find incredible ways to lose regardless of the coaches or the rosters. One has to start thinking that the team is cursed and move out of Georgia.

As for the players, you have to feel a bit for Todd Gurley. Gurley had 14 carries for 80 yards averaging over five yards a carry and scored once. He should’ve closed this game out for a second straight week and lay to rest any doubts the Los Angeles Rams had about him and his health. Not to mention the Falcons should be tied with Tampa Bay for the NFC South lead. Instead, the Falcons play-calling on offense made Matt Ryan throw the ball again with double digit leads, making Gurley a second option for…I don’t know what. The Rams have found a good running game with him gone and are, you guessed it, 2-1. That hurts.

The Bill Belichick and Tom Brady Haters

This stupid debate over who’s better between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady has to end. Both are one in a million that won’t happen again or at least, a very long time. Yesterday proved it as both Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots are 2-1 in the standings.

Tom Brady didn’t have to do much against a Denver Broncos team that won’t win a game until Drew Lock returns. Brady still has the smarts and the will to win another championship, so the Buccaneers will be competitive in almost every game they play despite Brady’s interceptions or the quality of opponent. Bill Belichick out-coached a 2-0 Las Vegas Raiders team that came off an emotional Monday night home win. Even without each other, they’re dangerous and both could be threats in the playoffs. We know the Pats have a chance with Cam Newton, but outside of the NFC West and the state of Wisconsin, who else is going to step up?

The Chicago Bears

This might be the worst 3-0 team since the 2012 Arizona Cardinals. Let’s not kid ourselves on when we talk on records. Yes, you are what your record says you are, but sometimes, you suck and your record doesn’t show it. If that’s hard to believe, then please watch film on said Cardinals.

Let’s break down the Bears’ three wins. They beat the Lions when the Lions didn’t run the ball to close out the game. They beat a Giants team because Daniel Jones ran out of time on the last drive of the game, and they beat a Falcons team that doesn’t want to run the ball to close out games. This is absolutely not a winning formula, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Adam Gase 2.0 decided to pull starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky after he threw his first interception, putting backup Nick Foles in to play the rest of the game. Mitch was part of the problem, not the singular focus. Bill Lazor needs to be called out on why Chicago couldn’t finish their great drives in the first half in Atlanta. The defense was horrid and gave up at least a touchdown to Atlanta because of unnecessary penalties. Trubisky, who’s supposed to be a mobile threat, had only one run: a 45 yard sprint almost leading to six points.

After the game, it was national news the Bears were going to decide when they got back to Chicago who would be the starting quarterback long-term. If Matt Nagy and company wanted Nick Foles to start, why wasn’t the move made before the season started? Do they know how to work with Trubisky or did they always want a quarterback like Foles in the system?

The problem with naming Foles as starter is that he will get hurt at some point, and it will be sooner than later because the Bears offensive line is not meant to protect a pocket passer. Foles took a good number of shots from Atlanta’s front seven yesterday when he entered late in the game. The Bears face a fantastic Indianapolis Colts defense next Sunday and a better and mentally tougher Tampa Bay squad the following week. Let’s see if Nick Foles lasts to November 1.

Houston Texans Getting a High Playoff Seed

Barring injuries to Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger, you can count the Houston Texans out of home-field advantage for January. It’s ok to complain about three top-tier opponents the first three weeks of the season when there was no preseason. We all know with this team though, it’s not just that. Coach Bill O’Brien wants to make winning as hard as possible for his team, and he’s winning that fight so far.

Houston had a great chance to bury the Steelers in the second half. The Steelers put up 11 points total in the third and fourth quarters combined. Houston ranks 31st in rushing yards, and used their star runningback they traded for 13 times for 23 yards. They couldn’t find a way to run the ball in the second half (where have we heard this before?), and it cost them a win as DeShaun Watson again saddled the issues and had to dig out a win. Yes, his center field interception cost them a chance to score, but he shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.

These are Houston’s next games before their bye week: a winless Minnesota Vikings team which may have found its replacement for Stefon Diggs, the Jaguars at home, on the road at undefeated Tennessee, and home against undefeated Green Bay. They may not have two wins heading into that bye.

NFL Week 2 Winners and Losers

The NFL’s second week of the season topped the first, with more headlines, drama, news and comebacks to re-watch and evaluate. The referees were solid another week, going as far as ejecting a player for “malicious intent to injure a defenseless receiver” (yes, we’re looking at you Quandre Diggs). Like last week, most of the games were close, fun and physical at least for three quarters. So who stood out, positively and negatively for the second week of the regular season?

Winners: NFC West

The best and most formidable division in the entire NFL, where the conference has produced the last two Super Bowl runner-ups in the National Football Conference, roared out to a 7-1 record, with three of the four teams posting 2-0 records two weeks into the season. The team with the loss is ironically the team that went to last year’s Super Bowl.

Last week, the Arizona Cardinals were a feature in the Winners section, and with great reasons. Yesterday, they dominated a Washington Football Team that played well against Philadelphia a week prior, and manhandled their defense with ease. DeAndre Hopkins scored his first touchdown with the Cards and Larry Fitzgerald again looks like an ageless wonder. Kyler Murray’s progression and knowledge of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense has him looking like an early MVP candidate, as he looks to be the complete player throwing and running the ball.

The Seattle Seahawks have a top five offense in the league as Russell Wilson’s thrown nine touchdowns in two games, scorching a New England Patriot defense that was the best in the league a season ago. Sophomore receiver D.K. Metcalf highlighted the second week offensive performance, burning the reigning defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore most of the game. Carlos Hyde is a great addition in the runningback department and the offensive line looks improved. Jamal Adams was worth every bit of the trade Seattle executed. While free safety Quandre Diggs could be suspended after his vicious hit on Sunday night, time will tell how the defense adapts with losses to Marquise Blair and Bruce Irvin.

Last but not least are the dangerous Los Angeles Rams who look rejuvenated on all three sides of the ball. Jared Goff and Tyler Higbee are a great pair, combining for three touchdowns in two weeks, with all three against the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday. The defense looks improved and they’re top three in the league running the ball. This is after Todd Gurley went to Atlanta in the offseason. You could say this is what happens when you play a trash NFC East, so the matchup against the Buffalo Bills will be a fun watch next Sunday to see if this team is a true playoff contender.

Patrick Mahomes II

Harrison Butker is great to highlight from this game, but remember he missed the extra point when the Chiefs got their first touchdown, a key reason why this game went into overtime to begin with. Nevertheless, this is why Mahomes was paid the big money, and while this is an ugly win for Kansas City, this game is a great example of why the Chiefs are blessed to have one of the best two quarterbacks in the league.

Usually a team that wins their inaugural game after winning the Super Bowl loses the second week of the season, mostly by falling on their collective face. What stands out in that critical second game is how the quarterback performs. Mahomes went 27 of 47, threw two touchdowns and was sacked once against a Chargers team he’s been stifled against before. He also ran six times for 54 yards, including a game-long 21 yards that put Butker in better field position to make one of his kicks.

The Chiefs will have to face the Chargers again, but it will be in their home on January 3rd 2021. They’ll face everyone’s best throughout the season, yet this win builds confidence early in the season, and it’ll help the team focus more on exploiting their next two opponents, who are much better than Los Angeles.

Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys Coaching Staff

How about that for your first win for America’s Team? We’ll talk more on the Atlanta Falcons later on, but give props to the Dallas Cowboys, especially their coaching staff for keeping the team in the game throughout the second half.

This isn’t a team led by Jason Garrett anymore. Adding special teams coach John Fossel pays off more than just a dinky onside kick. Fossel’s respected as one of the best coaches on that side of the ball and knows kicker Greg Zuerlein well. McCarthy put together a pretty good staff that can still come out of the NFC East as one of the best teams in football once they find consistency. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan faces depth issues especially at linebacker, but he’s been in the league for a few decades because of how well he can fix and improve defensive rosters.

As for McCarthy, we’re gradually seeing Dak Prescott become the quarterback many expected or wanted him to become. Prescott became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 400 yards and run for 3 touchdowns. We’re two weeks in and Dallas has a great chance to take the division lead with four of their next seven games against sub .500 opponents before their bye week.

Tennessee Titans

Monday night football games are grueling. 9:30 p.m. Monday night games are more grueling. Flying two time zones over and then coming home to play a critical divisional game early in the season is hell. You’d be lucky to get a win out of both scenarios.

Tennessee went two of two with the help of their new kicker, who looked better this weekend than he did Monday night. This is the first time Tennessee has been 2-0 since 2008.

I’ll throw away Stephen Gostkowski’s Monday night game until he repeats it. He stepped up against a surprising Jaguars team and Mike Vrabel’s confidence in him has a lot to do with it. Ryan Tannehill looks to be the solution behind center, something that’s crucial for the Titans to make a run in late January. With A.J. Brown out yesterday, Jonnu Smith had a career day, having two touchdowns on four catches. Adam Humphries remains a reliable option just like he was in Tampa Bay, and Anthony Firkser is someone to watch as the season progresses.

The defense had an off-day against Gardner Minshew II, but did enough in the end as they had two interceptions, including the Jaguars’ last offensive possession. This team will be fun to watch after they play the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday, with the opponents being Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Houston. At least they won’t be…

Losers: The Denver Broncos

Tennessee is the best case of winning two straight in less than a week, in one case having to go on the road a few timezones over. On the opposite end, you’ll find the Denver Broncos, who’ve had one of the worst weeks of football in a while. After a horrid Monday night game where they barely lost against Tennessee, the Broncos had to play in Pittsburgh the following Sunday. That didn’t go well.

Starting quarterback Drew Lock was almost body-slammed on a sack by Bud Dupree and left early with a shoulder injury. Audiences instead were treated to Jeff Driskel, the win-less backup the Cincinnati Bengals had last year. Driskel played pretty well, guiding the Broncos to 21 points and only a five point loss.

That itself isn’t bad, it’s what else the Broncos have to deal with. Von Miller already’s on IR for the year. In yesterday’s game, phenom wide receiver Courtlund Sutton tore his ACL. Defensive linemen Dre’Mont Jones and DeMarcus Walker could miss up to four weeks, further thinning out Denver’s pass rush. Minus what we knew about Miller, all of this happened within a week. Brutal.

Tyrod Taylor

I’ll get to the Chargers in the next section, but for right now, it’s of concern that Tyrod take care of his health and body. A lot of us expected Justin Herbert to make his debut some time this season, but no one expected it the second week in, especially because Taylor had chest pains to the point he had to go to the hospital during warm-ups.

We won’t know for sure if Los Angeles could’ve beaten the Chiefs with Taylor behind center. He can run well and isn’t as aggressive as Herbert, so he may not have thrown that game changing interception, but you can say his slow start against Cincinnati last week could’ve given the Chiefs more time to control the clock and find their rhythm earlier. What we do know is that Herbert’s learning curve playing behind center will go up, and he could be a leader on offense.

What’s saddening about the situation is Tyrod Taylor’s been run out of two cities he could’ve had better or legitimate chances to start in with Buffalo and Cleveland (minus Hue Jackson). You can ask if both those teams would be better with him in their systems over who they have now. Taylor should be the starter so Herbert can learn the system more and then hit the spotlight, but that won’t happen.

Losing Franchises Trying to Turn the Page

If you’re a fan or player of a football team who’s repeatedly kicked your jewels in for decades, yesterday could have been a tipping point for you.

Sports fans will bookmark what happened to the Atlanta Falcons yesterday for multiple reasons. The Falcons, who’ve become the Van Gogh of choking with double-digit leads, found another impressive way to lose on the road, early in the season and at the expense of a Matt Ryan-led offense. The turning point in their outstanding loss occurred when Julio Jones pulled a Renaldo Nehemiah and dropped a perfect pass in the endzone, cementing what could have been a double digit win. Then there’s the onside kick where none of the Falcon players remembered to pick the football up, again what could have sealed a win. Coach Dan Quinn said the players know the onside kick rules, but if that’s the case Dan, did they not care?

The Chargers wound up having a gift performance by Justin Herbert, after Tyrod Taylor had to be taken to the hospital for chest pains. Yes, Herbert was at times too aggressive especially on his first pro-career interception deep in Chiefs territory. The Chargers still found a way to lose, even when it involved punting the ball instead of going for it on short yardage. The Chiefs played poorly most of the game, looking like they were led by Tyler Palko and Dexter McCluster instead of Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill. Last but never least, the Chargers gave up two 58 yard field goals to Harrison Butker…in the same half.

Minnesota had yet to win against the Colts in either Baltimore or Indianapolis. Led by Kirk Cousins’ 11 of 26, 113 yards and three interception game, that streak would stay alive. If it wasn’t for Dalvin Cook the first two weeks in, Minnesota’s offense would be on the same level as Adam Gase’s in New York. We knew they lost talent on the defense, but the offense hasn’t stepped up when needed. Mike Zimmer has to improve the team in some aspect if they have any chance of crawling to .500.

Then there’s the Lions.

The Idiocy and Farrago That is Head Coach Matt Patricia

Piggybacking off of the last section, there’s a lot to say about the Lions, and believe it or not, the players don’t deserve too much blame on this. The issues go to the top where somehow, general manager Bob Quinn keeps his job.

The Lions led 14-3 at one point, walloping Green Bay most of the first half. The offense looked great, Jeff Okudah and the secondary held up, the front seven did their job. This was the fourth straight game Detroit led by double digits but lost. What happened?

Bad decisions which led to Stafford getting sacked, intercepted or three plays and back to defense cost them. Not one player had ten rushing attempts or more. That’s on coaching first and foremost. Darrell Bevell is a horrid offensive coordinator, so Stafford throwing more and not handing the ball off to either Adrian Peterson or Kerryon Johnson makes some sense. On the possession where Green Bay grabbed the lead, Detroit committed at least four penalties, all of which involve simple things that shouldn’t happen if you have a good coach, especially roughing or holding receivers.

The Lions play the Cardinals and Saints before having an early bye. One has to wonder with how they’ve lost their last four games, if there’s anything for Matt Patricia to salvage by the time they hit week five. Bob Quinn wanted different and somebody who stood out when he fired Jim Caldwell. Well, he certainly got that with a head coach who’s posted a worse record than Rod Marinelli.

NFL Week 1 Winners and Losers

The NFL’s first week of the season wound up a huge success, given that both players and referees hadn’t been on the field in any type of game for over a month. Regardless, most of the games were great and had a lot of physicality. So who stood out, positively and negatively?

Winners: Aaron Rodgers

Yours truly and a good number of others had written that A-Rod was near the end of his career, and with it, the Packers would be in free-fall this season. The Minnesota Vikings looked to be the team that could take over the NFC North and cement that early on by getting a win at home against Green Bay. Not only did they fail to do that, they failed to contain Green Bay’s offense.

Rodgers finished the game 32 of 44 with four touchdowns thrown, no interceptions, 364 yards and an 8.3 yards per attempt/completion. That’s a huge improvement to even the last month and a half Green Bay played (minus their playoff game against Seattle). While Minnesota lost some defensive pieces, coach Mike Zimmer had no answer for Rodgers or wide-out Davante Adams or other noteworthy adjustments. Just as important, the Packers got a division win to take what could be first place for a month or two (more on the NFC North later).

The Arizona Cardinals

It’s too early for the, “I told you so”, but what audiences saw from Kliff Kingsbury’s squad should leave us wondering. While the Cardinals struggled a good part of their rivalry matchup in Santa Clara, it was more because they couldn’t get out of their own way. Once Kyler Murray scored on his 22 yard run, favor swung to the Cardinals.

It’s fine to jump on Jimmy Garappolo and say he should read the field or not under-throw his receivers, but credit again goes to Arizona’s defensive coordinator Vance Joseph for improving last year’s game plan on San Francisco and slamming the door on any fourth quarter runs. Add in DeAndre Hopkins’ first game was a 14 catch, 151 yard performance against what was rated as the best defense in the NFL and the NFC should be on notice. Even if the Cards don’t win the division, we’ve seen one week in how much trouble they’ll give opposing teams.

That New Football Team in Nevada

The Las Vegas Raiders picked up an exciting win over a Carolina Panthers team most have said will be in the basement this season. While we don’t know how Carolina can consistently play, the Raiders can celebrate their first win returning to Sin City.

Josh Jacobs, the first round draft pick the Chicago Bears gave in exchange for Khalil Mack, ran for 93 yards on 25 carries, and scored three times. Rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III caught three passes for 55 yards, and ran the ball twice for eleven. Free agent acquisition Nelson Agholor had one catch for 23 yards, but scored easily. The Raiders will be in a tight spot most of the season as Kansas City will be the division favorite and both Los Angeles and Denver show improvement. Winning against a team they should beat should build confidence early on.

Audiences whenever they tuned in between 12 p.m. central and 9:30 p.m. central

Five of the 13 games Sunday resulted in double digit finals. While some of the eight remaining games showed who was the better team, almost all the games were fun or exciting to watch at some point. Three of the four late games went down to the wire, with those three resulting in upsets. To have this many close games without both teams and referees having familiarity on open fields for over seven months without play is incredible. It bodes well for when all 32 teams grow more comfortable and start to show progress.

Losers: Audiences Who Were Stuck Watching the Bears-Lions Game

Let’s start outside the game first. Kenny Albert was supposed to call Chicago at Detroit, but because he’s in Edmonton calling the Stanley Cup Finals, there was no way he’d make it back to the U.S. in time. Audiences instead were stuck with Dick Stockton, who hasn’t aged well. At one point, Dick couldn’t tell that Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson was in his second season, not his rookie.

Then there’s the game. The Lions were the better team three of the four quarters. Third overall pick Jeff Okudah didn’t play as coach Matt Patricia wants him fully healthy when he debuts, and that’s fine. Detroit was again handed awful luck when both their starting cornerbacks left due to injuries. The Lions were already thin in their secondary before both CBs left, and now they’re thinner.

If both corners don’t fall, the Lions win this game, but again Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky together struggled until that point. The Bears coaching staff hasn’t worked well with improving Mitch’s accuracy and it showed when the Lions pass-rush boxed him in early on. Despite going 1-0 after the first week, this division is for the Packers’ taking with what this game had to offer.

Carson Wentz

As bad as Mitch Trubisky was, it doesn’t come close as to what happened to and how bad Carson Wentz was. Both QBs had under a 60% completion rate, but Trubisky was sacked just once. Wentz, who’ll be playing behind backup offensive linemen for the first month or two, was sacked EIGHT times, losing 62 yards.

This Eagles team will go as far as Carson Wentz can carry them, and yesterday’s game was proof of that. Wentz was great for the first two quarters as the Eagles sprinted to a quick 17 point lead and gave up a touchdown to Washington with less than a minute left in the second quarter. Wentz and the offense imploded in the second half, allowing the Ron Rivera-led Football Team to come back and seize a win. Blame the offensive line and with good reason, but Wentz had to step up against a division rival to seize an early division lead and failed on epic proportions.

The State of Ohio. Again.

With the Ohio State Buckeyes on a leave of absence (as is the rest of the Big10), Ohio football fans again must watch the night-terrors that are the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. Ohio NFL football has turned into a reality show, the only difference is that while the faces keep changing, the teams keep getting worse.

Cleveland had to play the Baltimore Ravens, the first game Lamar Jackson had played in since the Tennessee Titans upset him handily in the divisional playoff round. There’s nothing wrong with Jackson and company running up the score on you. It’s happened to a lot of teams. What’s disappointing is how once promising quarterback Baker Mayfield has imploded on epic proportions. NBC’s analysts and Boomer Esiason on CBS called out Baker for acting too quickly, hurrying passes and plays when they need to progress naturally, and in some ways, tuning out Kevin Stefanski’s play-calling. This is only the first week back! With the offense Cleveland has assembled, they shouldn’t be putting up only six points either.

On the opposite end, the Cincinnati Bengals played their first home game against the Los Angeles Chargers, a team that’s thankful no team will have a full stadium packed the first two months. The Bengals may have something special in Joe Burrow, and he showed flashes of it during the game. While the Chargers started out slow, Tyrod Taylor gradually solved Cincinnati’s defense, and LA led by three when Burrow came out for the final drive. Veteran and potent offensive threat A.J. Green wound up catching Joe Burrow’s first touchdown pass…except he pushed off on a defender and the score was called back. Still, the Bengals had a chance to tie the game up with a field-goal.

Randy Bullock sliced the kick more than pie. Then he was hurt after. Ouch.

2020 may be a wild year, but some things never change.

Dallas Cowboys

That’s as bad a loss as you can take, and the whole country got to watch it.

We’re pretty much done with Week 1, but there are games you (the players, analysts and fans) know are important the first week that will come back to bite you, and a three point loss to the Rams will sting for a bit. Dallas’ schedule does get easier, but here’s what the results for them and Los Angeles are at the moment.

  • Three of the four NFC West teams are 1-0
  • The Washington Football team is up one game in the standings
  • Mike Nolan’s defense had only one sack against a so-so offensive line
  • Blake Jarwin could be out for the year
  • The next best receiver on the Rams behind Robert Woods put up 40 yards (Higbee and Kupp)
  • The Rams, who aren’t considered to be in the NFC West race, looked like the better team for over 45 minutes of the game.

Throw in Dak Prescott had a top five career pass to Michael Gallup nullified by offensive pass interference in the final minute of play and it’s safe to say this team has double the pressure not even two weeks into the season.

NFC Playoff Predictions 2020-2021

NFC-playoffs-logo

What a wild offseason! Two of the top divisions in the West and South stacked up on big money talent, with analysts agreeing those two could have improved seasons. The East and North will feature competitive races for first place, but nothing more past the first two playoff rounds. Though, with how COVID-19 has reared its head in, anything can happen when winter comes around. It’s time for the six picks for who will make the playoffs this season, why they’ll be the ones to not just get in, but why they’re better than the rest of their division. So here goes.

NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

Before I go into the predictions, it’s important to break rank to let fans know that these predictions come with the clause of the NFL staying on schedule the full 17 weeks. COVID-19 caused a break in three of the four major sports (all four if you include the NFL preseason), and if it’s likely a boon comes in winter, then expect the NFL to take a different path. When it comes to predictions though, let’s start with the weakest division like last year with the NFC East.

While many sports writers and broadcasters agree that this is the worst division in the conference, it appears that there’s been structured growth throughout the offseason. Working our way up, we can see that the Washington Football Team made the right hire in Ron Rivera. Rivera is a great judge of talent and how to fix a team right to it’s core (on-field play though. He can’t fix Dan Snyder). Dwayne Haskins can take the next step, but the team needs to show it weekly, and that could be a struggle.

The New York Giants can take the next steps forward with Daniel Jones, a young offensive line and receiving core, and a defense that is still learning. Three of the four teams in this division have a head coach with playoff experience, but the Giants do not. This means division matchups could slow their progress down another year. The Philadelphia Eagles, while last year’s division winner, will have to address roster depth during the regular season, as last year they struggled with injuries to their receivers and defense.

Jerry Jones hired Mike McCarthy to get his Dallas Cowboys back to former glory and bring home a Championship. McCarthy will have to improve Dak Prescott if that’s to happen.

This leaves the Dallas Cowboys as the team that has to and does stand the best chance of winning the division and getting to the second round of the playoffs. The Jones’ made smart offseason moves with the hiring of Mike McCarthy as the next head coach, adding Andy Dalton, Everson Griffen, Aldon Smith and Dontari Poe in free agency for depth and pass rush (in that order), and drafting CeeDee Lamb in the first round to compliment Amari Cooper. McCarthy took a year off for a number of reasons, but fixing his schemes, finding where the best job would be, and developing a quarterback who can be much better makes Dallas a perfect fit for him. Plus while there will be drama, Jones won’t fire McCarthy unless the team tanks.

NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

While the NFC East shows promise and growth, the opposite can be said about this division. The Aaron Rodgers era is over, and the clinic San Francisco put on Green Bay in last year’s NFC Championship game proved it. The Packers were lucky to even win their division last year. Can Detroit and Chicago step up to exploit a fading Packers team? Hey, everyone’s 0-0 so it’s possible, but aren’t flying pigs possible thanks to DNA tampering? Of course.

Realistically, Detroit and Chicago have too many issues that hamper them from having first place secured. If Detroit shows improvement at defense, it’s possible they can be a threat. Chicago’s thick-headed coach Matt Nagy will not run the ball, and injuries to both David Montgomery and Eddie Goldman hamper offseason positives.

That leaves us with yet again a de facto division leader in Minnesota. Unlike the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota lost more in the offseason with Everson Griffen, Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell heading to teams that could make a push or a run in the playoffs. When it comes to coaching, a healthy quarterback, and a better all-around team, the Vikings are the team to beat heading into the season. Kirk Cousins provided a playoff win in critical moments in New Orleans, getting some of the pressure that was on him before off. Cousins could play some of if not his best football this year knowing he can lead the team to the playoffs again and possibly a few more home games.

NFC South: New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The division of absolutes. Two teams will be bad (Carolina and Atlanta) and two teams will be pretty good. Tampa Bay made the bold move of letting Jameis Winston walk after a historic year, then added a plethora of skilled players, the most noted two are Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Adding Leonard Fournette not even two weeks ago, LeSean McCoy, and drafting Antoine Winfield Jr., Tampa Bay will be a hard team to stop especially on offense. While Winston put up numbers a quarterback could never do again, it’s possible Brady can put a lot of the good numbers back on the board and avoid the mistakes his predecessor was used to making.

Alvin Kamara (41) is one of the thorns Tampa Bay has yet to remove from their collective side. New Orleans’ record against Tampa Bay the previous five years is 6-4, so expect the rivalry to heat up as both teams added more offensive playmakers.

New Orleans for now is still the complete team in both southern divisions. Their defense suffocates even top tier teams, while runningback Alvin Kamara, Drew Brees and Michael Thomas will spearhead the offense. Additions of Emmanuel Sanders, Latavius Murray, Janoris & Malcolm Jenkins make this team scarier than last year. While Tampa Bay could be the offensive powerhouse in the NFC, the Saints will be the team to reckon with even outside the feared NFC West.

NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks

The best saved for last, the most talent and layers you can put in four teams will slug it out this season and have audiences captivated for what happens next. The Los Angeles Rams will begin to feel the hampering of progress through their strained salary cap and the ceiling (or lack thereof) Jared Goff has. Todd Gurley to the Falcons puts a strain on their backfield and puts more pressure in the passing game. In a cutthroat conference, the Rams don’t stand a chance.

For San Francisco, it’s possible the 49ers can get back to their form and make teams respect their game, but that’s not likely to happen since most teams didn’t take them as a threat last year outside of their division. The Niners won a handful of close games that most times they wouldn’t have won, a good part because teams hadn’t seen them at their best. Kyle Shanahan can and should have progress with Jimmy Garappolo this season, but for the rest of the team, especially the health of the defense, question marks remain.

Rookie Phenom Nick Bosa (97) was off the charts last year, showing why he was a top two draft pick. The 49ers had a lot of fun and showed up in a lot of pivotal games, but the pressure will crank up in a division where the other three teams will throw everything at them.

The breakout team for this year and of course in this division should be the Arizona Cardinals. General Manager Steve Keim knew he had to get the Cardinals competitive, so he built the foundation last year with Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray. What went under the radar as the hire of Vance Joseph as defensive coordinator and making free safety Budda Baker the premier defensive player. Both of these combos will be, if not more important for when Arizona has to face a better Jimmy Garappolo, a potent Seahawks offense and a lethal Rams passing attack. Keim deserves praise for retaining Kenyan Drake and Chandler Jones, picking up a key piece in defense with Dre Kirkpatrick, and on the receiving end of a lopsided trade which brought in top three wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from Houston. With Hopkins, a reliable Christian Kirk and Mr. Cardinal himself Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona’s offense will give the league headaches for a couple of years.

Want to know why Keim put this offense together? He wants Russell Wilson football 2.0. Arguably the top quarterback in the NFL right now, Russell Wilson is in the pinnacle of his career, and his receiving targets have never looked better. Phenom DK Metcalf, Will Dissly and Tyler Lockett are his go-tos, while the team added Greg Olsen, Phillip Dorsett II and made sure to re-sign Josh Gordon when he was reinstated by the league’s front office. Carlos Hyde is a great choice at backup runningback behind Chris Carson, as Carson can show a lot in one of the last year’s of his rookie contract. With Germain Ifedi finally off the team, rookie Damien Lewis will have to show there’s nowhere to go but up at right guard.

The Cardinals get the nod at the division crown because they have better quality defense than Seattle. Don’t get me wrong, Seattle re-vamped their secondary and added linebacker depth, where they have an advantage, but their pass-rush is awful. The Cardinals’ 3-4 scheme gives them fluidity with linebackers to help the front three, and they can do more with their depth. Seattle’s lost three of their top four pass-rushers and they haven’t played a game yet. Seattle will put up points, but the defense could be the team’s downfall come playoffs.

Larry Fitzgerald (11, white) stretches as far he can to get the football into the endzone for six points. Fitzgerald’s Cardinals mopped Seattle in CenturyLink Field last December, with Kyler Murray and the offense getting a key division win. Murray and Co. hope to at least split games with the Seahawks to stay competitive in the standings this year, and maybe get a crack at the playoffs.

NHL Eastern Conference Championship Prediction

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What a wild ride the eastern conference went through. All the talk, predictions, speculations and round robin play. We have two teams who go from Toronto to Edmonton to play in the conference finals, and one will go to the Stanley Cup Finals. Despite what people thought or predicted, this will be another David v. Goliath matchup, which should be exciting to watch. Time for the breakdown.

#2 Tampa Bay Lightning v. #6 New York Islanders

Struggle. That’s the one word and main thing these teams have been through, just in different ways. The Lightning, one of the premier teams with one of the deepest and talented rosters to ever grace the game, will reach its sixth conference finals in eight years. Despite this, they’ve made the championship round only once, losing in some fashion in those five runs (and lost in the championship to the Blackhawks in 2015). Their playoff matchups with the Columbus Blue Jackets will live in the minds of sports fans decades to come. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that after that five overtime win against the Jackets to open the playoffs, they would do every and anything to reach the conference finals. This is the team we’ve been waiting to watch for years, and they look to be in their peak.

Lightning Defense
The Lightning needed better team defense, so they added players like Ryan McDonagh (27 in blue) to push opposing offensive play-makers around.

Struggle has a lopsided meaning for the Islanders. The franchise’s first trip to the conference finals since 1993, they’re the hottest underdog in 2020. Struggling to score and struggling to win when the season stopped (with at least a seven game losing streak), the Islanders came ready to play and embraced the bubble life in Toronto. They’ve taken two of the top four seeded teams out in the East, costing one their head coach’s job. New York has found ways to get under every team’s collective skin they’ve played, throwing the Florida Panthers off-balance, bullying the Capitals and gradually playing better as a game goes on against Philadelphia.

Now to the series itself. Both teams look like they’re the total package in offense and defense. While Tampa gutted out four out of five games against Columbus, they smothered a loaded and dangerous Boston Bruins team, the last game without their two best players. Tampa’s learned that being the best offense in the league won’t cut it in a series, so they added tougher team defense in front of their blue line to compliment. Their third line of Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman could again prove to be the difference maker on the offense, as all three are physical, have a heavy presence in front of the net and don’t mind getting gouged up. Tampa will need their MVP Nikita Kucherov back to expand scoring opportunities and open passing lanes, so it’s important he comes back early in the series rather than middle or late.

Poor Hart
Center Brock Nelson (29 in white) scored on Carter Hart (79 in orange) early in their one-sided Game 7 victory. Nelson is one of a dozen Islanders players to step up when it matters most in these playoffs.

A question that is probably not asked enough would be how are the Islanders going to approach or play the Lightning differently than they have their past three opponents? It’s possible New York could rattle Tampa Bay early on, smother them with defense, or frustration through no chances what-so-ever. Barry Trotz may want to give Thomas Greiss more playing time, since he’s been the better goal-tender in every game he’s played in. Contrary to years before Trotz came in to coach, Greiss has looked like one of the premier net-minders to show up and frustrate opposing offenses that were used to tricking him easily. Outside of who’s in net, defensemen Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews and Scott Mayfield have been excellent at not just their defense but getting scoring opportunities, opening lanes for their top scorers and being difference makers on special teams.

Key matchup of this Conference Finals: Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh & Kevin Shattenkirk v. Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee

Three of the most decorated defensemen in the NHL, including one of the best to grace the ice in Victor Hedman, will be tested more as games go on against an extremely bright and fluid trio. Barzal has gotten better in every game and period he’s played in, while Jordan Eberle and team captain Anders Lee have played smart, physical and controlling, felt and shown when the team has had to go on offense or scored on the power play. Best believe that when said power play opportunities arise for the Islanders offense, we’ll see who could and will probably win each game by which trio comes out on top.

Victor Hedman
Victor Hedman (77 in white) put penalty box resident Nick Ritchie (21 in black) in his place early on in the Toronto bubble. Hedman is a Norris Trophy candidate this year, which is reserved for the top three defensemen in the NHL.

It’s important that the defensive trio for the Lightning has heavy pressure on them to be perfect, since New York proves time and again that once they have a lead, they slam the door on opposing offenses, frustrating teams more.

Prediction and Why: Tampa Bay Lightning Win Series 4-2. What did all three teams that played the New York Islanders have in common? They weren’t ready to show up early on and took the Isles for granted. This is why getting past Columbus was crucial to Tampa to go for a championship run. You can best believe the tempo will be set early in the first four games. Plus, Tampa is the only team in the east that knows how to handle a threat like this from start to finish.

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Eastern Conference First Round Prediction Record: 2-2

NHL Western Conference Championship Playoff Prediction

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There hasn’t been a second round full of excitement, comebacks, scoring and Game 7’s in a while. While Nathan MacKinnon, Michael Hutchinson, Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko stole the show in both of the Western Conference series, they couldn’t get their teams to the next round. Colorado and Vancouver shouldn’t feel too bad though. They both will return and be better than ever in the upcoming years.

Theodore
Shea Theodore (27) was the only Golden Knight to score on Thatcher Demko last series, scoring both goals Vegas had when Vancouver’s net-minder started, including the game winner in the pivotal Game 7.

Dallas and Vegas though, their time is now. Jamie Benn is finally awarded after all these years, finally playing in a conference finals series. Robin Lehner is the undisputed starter Vegas has in net, a year after being bounced out of New York. Both Rick Bowness and Peter DeBoer will have their hands full with the other’s vast roster depth. So who will win this series? Time to break it down

#Vegas Golden Knights v. #3 Dallas Stars

Both teams got off to 3-1 starts last round, sputtered in games 5 and 6, then showed up when it mattered most in their respective seventh games. There are takeaways both teams can use against each other though. For Vegas, Anton Khudobin probably won’t have any rest, which is big considering Ben Bishop hasn’t looked right his whole time in the bubble. If they take his eyes away from the puck, start fast and play hard, physical defense, Dallas could wear down the more the series goes on. Hitting Dallas in the mouth out of the gate is something the Avalanche did half the series, and took most of their games doing it. Vegas doesn’t have two injured goaltenders either.

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Even without last year’s Vezina finalist in net, Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin has proved reliable, clutch, and a game-changer when needed most. He gives the Stars a shot to win this series.

For Dallas, giving Khudobin a clear line of sight will keep them in their series, but they can’t take easy penalties, even if things aren’t going their way. Getting their depth scoring past the first two lines will be important. Vegas can score and hit on any and every line, so Dallas has to parry with theirs and play smarter. Vegas won’t be easy to wear out either, as their persistence got past the white hot Thatcher Demko twice. Dallas has to win this series up front, in numbers, and on the power-play.

Key Matchup of this Conference Finals: Peter DeBoer v. Rick Bowness

Despite how controversial Pierre McGuire has been in recent years, his analysis on Dallas’ lines perked ears up. Last year Stars coach Jim Montgomery broke up the Benn-Seguin-Radulov line to give the St. Louis Blues a harder time. Rick Bowness will have to pull every trick out to beat Vegas early and keep their lead. It may be best to divide that said trio and make Vegas uncomfortable by having Joe Pavelski and either Corey Perry or Blake Comeau play with Jamie Benn on the top line, while having Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin play with Andrew Cogliano on the second. Despite the depth the Golden Knights have, this could cause some chaos with how they’ll counter Dallas and even make a push a few games into the series. This is another reason why the power play will be critical especially for Dallas, because if those three players are on the ice only this amount of time together, they’ll have to make the most of it.

Colorado Avalanche v Dallas Stars - Game Six
Stars interim coach Rick Bowness has pushed all the right buttons with this Stars team that’s right where they should be. He’ll need his 50+ years in the league to get past a Vegas team that easily overwhelms opponents.

Peter DeBoer should feel confident with how his message resonated with the locker room the last game versus Vancouver. A brilliant offensive mind, DeBoer must find ways to break through the tough Dallas defense while making sure games don’t become high scoring on both ends. He has to make sure his team doesn’t fall into the problems both Calgary and Colorado did when it came to the Stars’ power play, and has to emphasize that with the possibility of line changeups happening early on, the defense has to play as good as they did in their final game with the Canucks.

Prediction and Why: Vegas Golden Knights win series 4-2. Khudobin playing with the possibility of no rest and no good backup with Bishop unavailable could be Dallas’ undoing and key once the series extends past four games. Watch for Vegas to dominate tempo in a lot of these games and to evolve faster during this conference championship.

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Western Conference First Round Playoff Predictions Record: 2-2

NHL Eastern Conference First Round Playoff Predictions

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What an exhilarating time we had the first full week of August. The qualifying matchup rounds in the NHL Bubble in the hub city of Toronto were fun, educational and worth all time spent watching and breaking down play. Besides yours truly, who had the Columbus Blue Jackets winning their series, while making the games fun to watch? Coaches John Tortorella and Claude Julien have done some of if not their best work this postseason. The Philadelphia Flyers look to be the team everyone wants to beat and get rid of early in order to take their place in the Stanley Cup race.

With the four teams of the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens advancing, we will see who’s more consistent and threatening for a deep run versus a one-and-done when things get hard. The top four teams finally play for real now that their positions are settled. So without further delay, it’s time for the analyses and predictions heading into these matchups.

#4 Boston Bruins v. #5 Carolina Hurricanes

In a rematch of last year’s conference finals, there’s a different feel for both teams than there was spring of 2019. The Carolina Hurricanes thrashed the New York Rangers, while the Boston Bruins rolled their collective eyes through the Round Robin, placing fourth instead of first. Still, these teams know each other pretty well, and have a history outside of their divisions.

The Hurricanes made a significant move this past offseason and brought in goaltender James Reimer to back up Petr Mrazek, while saying goodbye to Curtis McElhinney. Reimer has history of keeping Boston on their heels a bit, so if the Bruins try to make a fool of Mrazek, Reimer can slow the pace down and trip up the Bruins.

It helps that star players Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Jordan Martinook gained valuable playoff experience against Boston last year. While they looked astonishing in the qualifying round, if they can put up numbers against the Bruins’ famed Perfection Line, then this will be the most exciting series of the first round in any conference.

In order for that to happen, Boston must pick up the pace. Coach Bruce Cassidy counts on his stalwart captain Zdeno Chara and the Perfection Line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand to show up now that these games are meaningful. Tuukka Rask must look like the Vezina finalist people see him as and show up when it matters most.

2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six
The longest tenured captain in the NHL, Zdeno Chara (33, right) faces the task of making sure his team plays like the best team they were in 2019, including his net-minder Tuukka Rask (40, left).

 

Overall analysis: This has the making of a potential upset if the Bruins are still in sleep-mode, but since the locker room seems to know this is for real, expect them to ease into the series much the way St. Louis might with Vancouver. Let Carolina play their game, adapt, then smother them in the following games. As good as the Hurricanes are against most teams in the NHL, Boston has as much if not more than Carolina does, especially a focused locker room.

Prediction: Boston Bruins win series 4-1

#3 Washington Capitals v. #6 New York Islanders

The Capitals played with more alarm this past Sunday against the Bruins knowing the loser would have to face the potent Carolina Hurricanes. Squeaking out a 2-1 win, the Caps can breathe knowing their opponent is a heavily defensive team and needs just enough offense to get by. However, said-team has two former big names that know the roster of the Capitals very well, as Semyon Varlamov and Islanders head coach Barry Trotz will put up as much of a fight as possible.

The Caps haven’t looked like their usual feisty selves the 2019-2020 season. They’re not as dominant, they’re not on the same page for most of 60 minutes, and Braden Holtby has been porous in net several games– so much so his backups have had to play more than usual. Holtby had a 3.11 goals against average in the regular season, was below a .900 save percentage, and Ilya Samsonov, the inactive back-up/1B starter, recorded the only shutout the Caps had all season. Todd Rierden likely obsesses over what line changes he can make against an Islanders team that split the series with the Caps this regular season, hoping that can help the defense long-term against an offense that isn’t known for scoring in bunches.

Carlson
John Carlson brings the swagger for his team, but also the needed and most coveted aspects any team would want their key players to have, especially the foresight of what will happen before the puck arrives.

It’s important for the Islanders to score early and often. While their defensemen will have their hands full, the Capitals aren’t an impatient team like the Florida Panthers. They’re a much better playoff team and will take advantage of turnovers and penalties committed. Anthony Beauvillier was great at doing whatever it took to win, and may be a good matchup against Tom Wilson, but Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle need to step up on offense and make Braden Holtby look how he did in the regular season.

Overall analysis: The most important players in this series? Of course the goaltenders, Beauvillier, Tom Wilson and the omnipresent Alex Ovechkin for sure, but John Carlson is the man to watch in any major Capital’s game. A critical player snubbed of an MVP nomination, Carlson is the lifeblood of Washington’s offense, power-play, special teams and his presence makes that roster look more dangerous than they truly are. If Carlson is targeted and snuffed out by Islander defenders, this could be a very long series for the Capitals. Their defense will give New York fits, but if anyone can frustrate Washington to their core, it’s the tandem of coach Barry Trotz and Semyon Varlamov.

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Coach Barry Trotz (bald guy in black suit) gets the most out of his core players, such as Jordan Eberle when it matters most. His maneuvering of this series will show who the true winner is.

Prediction: Washington Capitals win series 4-2

#2 Tampa Bay Lightning v. #7 Columbus Blue Jackets

We’ve been here before, haven’t we? The nightmare that threw Tampa’s heavenly season out of the playoffs last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets again want to crash the party and ruin the dreams and goals the Lightning have of accomplishing in the playoffs. While both teams are different from that 2019 series, both teams are the same in a lot of ways, but who will come out on top when the dust settles?

Tampa Bay was the first team out of the playoffs last year and had to take a long, hard look at how to move forward. Adding physical players Kevin Shattenkirk, Pat Maroon and Barclay Goodrow, along with the progression of players Brayden Point, Erik Cernak and Yanni Gourde, the Lightning have added the muscle and grit that they lacked last year. Unfortunately, the losses of Steven Stamkos and especially Victor Hedman may be too much if Columbus wants to test just how much better they truly are.

Speaking of tests, the Jackets have passed most of theirs with flying colors, thanks to Jack Adams (coach-of-the-year) nominee John Tortorella. The man who ironically brought Tampa Bay their only championship around two decades ago, Torts will test Tampa’s defense early on and see how much of a loss Victor Hedman is for their back-end. Pivotal players Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and Cam Atkinson took the fight hard to Tampa last year, and will throw themselves again at one of the deepest teams in the east to test their wills. While Sergei Bobrovsky isn’t the Jackets’ goaltender anymore, Joonas Korpisalo may be better, especially since he shut out the Toronto Maple Leafs in half of his starts.

Korpi
The infamous Joonas Korpisalo split will drive some Tampa Bay scorers crazy, especially if he keeps them out of the net for over 40 minutes.

Overall analysis: This will be a fun matchup, and it will have full attention from those who watched last year’s sweep. While the Lightning have more players to counter Columbus, and the Jackets lost their high scorers from last season, the make up of these teams haven’t really changed. Despite Jon Cooper’s success, Tortorella will be the superior coach of this series, again pulling out as many tricks as humanly possible.

Upset Prediction of the series: Columbus Blue Jackets win series 4-2

#1 Philadelphia Flyers v. #8 Montreal Canadiens

How many people predicted this matchup happening? A lot of analysts certainly did not. The Flyers answered questions about consistent play coming back after months of no regular season action, showing they’re better than what even loyal fans expected. They cruised through the Round Robin 3-0 in the three games they played, and weren’t forced to rely on their best players.

Montreal on the other hand has made the most of the gift given to them by the league and ground out win after win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team with the lowest winning percentage who got into the 24 team format, the Canadiens look like a real threat even outside of Carey Price. Coach Claude Julien has his team, which traded their star players by the All-Star break, looking similar to when he took the underdog 2011 Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup Finals run.

The Canadiens roster has stepped up in every facet, from wingers Dale Weise to Brendan Gallagher. Rookie center Nick Suzuki has proved he can be a quality starter moving forward for the franchise, delivering in aspects showing how this team has evolved and grown. Captain Shea Weber hasn’t aged a day since he was traded to Montreal from Nashville, and Carey Price is yet to fall from his peak. As most underdog teams like Montreal can attest, it’s how good you are in the net that shows how far you’ll go, and Price is as solid as they come.

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Claude Julien has his captain Shea Weber (6) and the team believing they’re the ones to go all the way, something he succeeded at in Boston.

Philadelphia’s coach-of-the-year candidate Alain Vigneault has his philosophy of team first and passing-before-shooting mentality in full throttle, as teams who previously went after the Flyers’ stars must respect how Philly involves the whole team in every phase. While back up goalie Brian Elliott has been unpredictable in the postseason, Carter Hart, the undisputed starter, shone brilliantly against the top three teams in the conference, topping all of them. While the big names of captain Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek still shine and leave their marks in every game, breakout players Scott Laughton, Joel Farabee and Nicolas Aube-Kubel have also stepped up and made every line a threat to opposing defenses.

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Sean Couturier (14, orange) and Carter Hart (79, orange) will defend viciously, and drop gloves when need be, while Shea Weber and Carey Price (31, red) know their task will be an uphill battle.

Overall analysis: These teams can grind it out, get physical, play defense and have a lot of heart in their games. Both coaches have squared off before in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, with Julien getting the upper hand in the end. Vigneault though has the upper hand in depth, star firepower and a more flexible roster that can easily adapt to how Montreal plays or what game pace can be set. Carey Price will play as best he can, but with the way the Flyers have improved in every facet, there may not be much even he can do, as he found out in the season series with Philadelphia taking two of the three games.

Prediction: Philadelphia Flyers win series 4-1

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Eastern Conference Qualifying Predictions Record: 3-1