2022-23 NBA Western Conference Playoff Picks

The NBA is back to pre-pandemic levels of sold out arenas and fan interactions with players and the western conference boasts the last NBA championship team. Fans and analysts are excited to see Kawhi Leonard, Jamal Murray and Damian Lillard return to play. Many people will focus on how well the Pacific division featuring the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers perform in the regular season. LeBron James could break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record, Draymond Green could be traded before the All-Star game, and the Utah Jazz might bottom out for a top five pick.

That’s a lot to process, so let’s turn the attention to which eight teams have the best chances of making the western conference playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies

Both the Grizzlies and Clippers are expected to keep the momentum from last year going and clinch a top seed for the playoffs

Memphis was one of the most exciting teams to watch last season. They lead the league in points scored, rebounds per game and have an energetic roster. The Grizzlies won a playoff series and learned valuable lessons in their second round defeat to the champion Warriors. Expect an even better season for Grind City.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers bulked up on depth acquiring John Wall, Reggie Jackson, Robert Covington, Nicholas Batum and Norman Powell one year since Kawhi Leonard’s leg injuries. Los Angeles has one of the best coaches in the league with Tyronn Lue and get both Leonard and Paul George back fully healthy. Barring a plague of injuries, the Clippers will be hard to beat.

Denver Nuggets

The Warriors exhausted the star players on each team they eliminated to win a title. One of the stars, Nikola Jokic (middle), has a better roster this year to counter championship level threats.

Jamal Murray finally returns this season and will play his first game since tearing his ACL in what was Steph Curry’s highlight performance surpassing Wilt Chamberlain as the Warriors’ all time top scorer. Nikola Jokic is in the peak of his career and the offseason signings of Ish Smith and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finally give Denver the upgrade in shooting and point guard depth.

Golden State Warriors

The reigning NBA champions extended Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole before their season opener versus the Lakers. That means Draymond Green could be moved before the season ends after punching Poole’s face in practice. Even if Green is traded before the All-Star game, there’s no doubt the Warriors can return to the playoffs. Unless there are a multitude of season ending injuries to Golden State’s core players, pencil the champions in for a high playoff seed.

Phoenix Suns

While Phoenix fizzled against Dallas, New Orleans didn’t go quietly against a favored Suns team. Hopefully both teams stay healthy and make the postseason.

While not the reigning champion Warriors, the Suns need to find a suitable trade partner for disgruntled star forward Jae Crowder.

If Crowder is traded, Phoenix still has one of the best guard duos in the NBA. Monty Williams is still a top ten coach in the league and the added depth at forward and center solidifies the Suns as favorites to enter the playoffs.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans should have an even better season than last year barring any major injuries to their starting lineup. CJ McCollum will be the starting pointguard when the season starts. Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Ingram and Jose Alvarado will give opponents fits on one-on-one matchups.

Last but not least, franchise star Zion Williamson should play minimum half the scheduled games this year. He’s already slimmed down and looks to be in the best shape of his life. New Orleans could be scary good early and often.

Los Angeles Lakers

Both LeBron James and Anthony Davis need to stay healthy for the Los Angeles Lakers to reach the postseason.

This pick and the next will be unpopular because of how low they’re ranked. However let’s be honest on what is now the category of play-in: the six teams mentioned above have better depth, quality coaching and younger franchise stars. I’m not saying Los Angeles is a bad team, but the age and current roster can’t beat out their inner city rivals the Clippers on a nightly basis.

The Lakers still have quality starters in LeBron James and Anthony Davis (when healthy). However the guard positions will be filled with drama since both point guards are Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook, and the shooting guards are Kendrick Nunn and Dennis Schroder.

This is also a dark-horse pick. Either the Lakers are good enough to make the playoffs or become a franchise crippling dumpster fire. They have the talent to at least surpass teams such as San Antonio, but the coaching and locker room chemistry need to be at least average to propel the team forward.

Before I talk about the last pick, I wanted to ask the reader if they’ve ever watched a movie inspired by real events and wonder where the people are now? Or about how much of what was shown really happened? Before the Script is your podcast that has the answers. Check them out wherever you get your podcast fix. New episodes drop on Sunday night, so take a listen to Jazzy’s educational and fun podcasts. You won’t be disappointed by the last two Halloween themed ones on Spotify.

On to the final pick.

Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic (middle) might have led Dallas to the Finals if the Golden State Warriors didn’t have a veteran core and one of the winningest coaches in all of American sports.

The Mavericks might have added better talent around star pointguard Luka Doncic but that has to be consistent throughout the season. Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith take some pressure off, but an aging JaVale McGee at center and Tim Hardaway Jr. at shooting guard can only do so much.

Still, Dallas has a premier player that pushes them past teams such as Portland and Minnesota who need to rely on everything available just to stay relevant in the standings.

Play-in losing teams: Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs

2021-22’s Western conference prediction record: 6-4

2022-23 NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Picks

Despite last season’s finals loss, the east gained more talent. The conference finally looks superior in terms of quality teams. Cleveland is close to being a dangerous playoff unit. Chicago and Philadelphia desperately want a championship. Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami view anything less than a finals appearance a failure. It’ll be a fun and competitive regular season.

Have you ever watched a movie inspired by real events and wonder where the people are now? Or about how much of what was shown really happened? Before the Script is your podcast that has the answers. Check them out wherever you get your podcast fix. New episodes drop on Sunday night, so take a listen to Jazzy’s educational and fun podcasts. You won’t be disappointed by the last two Halloween themed ones on Spotify.

Now it’s time to break down which eight teams in the eastern conference have the best chance of getting to the playoffs.

Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris should lead their teams to the top three spots in the eastern conference.

Anchored by Giannis, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, there’s no way Milwaukee misses the playoffs unless all three players have season ending injuries.

Philadelphia 76ers

Stars Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tobias Harris will be a fun trio to watch. The signing of P.J. Tucker in the offseason should elevate Philadelphia to the top three in the eastern standings if all remain healthy.

Miami Heat

Jimmy Butler v. Jayson Tatum was a fun seven game conference finals last year. Both Miami and Boston can make another deep postseason run.

The Southeast is still the weakest division in the Association but Miami’s a top team in championship contention. While Tucker signed with the 76ers, Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo draw a lot of attention. Last but not least the Heat still have one of the best coaches in Erik Spoelstra.

Boston Celtics

No one expected coach Ime Udoka to be out the whole season due to sexual relations with staff (not players thankfully). Boston will have a hard time re-grouping after a Finals loss and an interim running the team. However the Celtics have a deep roster and started off the season with a win at home to the 76ers. As long as forward Jayson Tatum starts every night, the Celtics are a serious contender.

Chicago Bulls

Demar DeRozan and Kevin Durant were standout players in the east last year. Both should elevate their teams to middle seedings.

No Lonzo Ball for what might be the whole regular season will sting and drops the Bulls to middle playoff seeding. They do have point-guard depth with Alex Caruso coming back and Goran Dragic if the first few months get bumpy. Andre Drummond is a solid backup center who can give Nikola Vucevic some rest. Coach Billy Donovan has to get more out of his role players and his new starting point-guard Ayo Dosunmu.

Brooklyn Nets

Like last year, I’m hesitant on where to put the Nets for playoff seeding. The sixth spot is generous not because of last season but because Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons should know how to play well with their teammates by December.

There’s also speculation coach Steve Nash could be fired early if the team doesn’t start well. Drama aside, Brooklyn has a talented roster that shouldn’t miss the postseason. Therefore, a middle ranking is fine until the All-Star break.

Atlanta Hawks

Dejounte Murray’s move to the Hawks puts the other 14 eastern teams on notice. Atlanta now has one of the top guard duos in the NBA.

The guard duo of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray will captivate audiences this fall and winter. Clint Capela returning to the starting lineup helps solidify the defense and Bogdan Bogdanovic is a needed role player.

Coach Nate McMillan needs to get this team on a faster start than last season. Atlanta’s capable of getting a sixth seed or better but they need to show it or else people will start to wonder if more change is necessary.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Fear the…land? Center Jarrett Allen (31) and point guard Darius Garland (10) will give opposing teams headaches as they hope to build off of last season’s success.

Like Atlanta, the Cavaliers need one of the six teams above to falter while playing good basketball to not be in the play-in round. Unlike the Hawks, Cleveland is a younger team that needs more playoff experience and time to grow. The addition of Donovan Mitchell makes the starting lineup stressful to face. Even if the Cavaliers are the last team to clinch a playoff berth, the east’s number one seeded team will have a tough time winning four games against them.

Play-in losing teams: Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Hornets

2021-22 Eastern conference prediction record: 8-2

NFL Week Six Winners and Losers

Week six was full of eye-opening play and revealed who is closer to being playoff-bound. On the opposite end, some teams are close to preparing for the offseason. Time to break down who or what won or lost the week.

Winners: Marcus Mariota

The former second overall pick in 2015 has a roller coaster career. His former offensive coordinator in Tennessee is the Falcons’ head coach, and Atlanta took a risk naming him starting quarterback after trading franchise icon Matt Ryan. Marcus Mariota is having a good season, but Sunday’s game against San Francisco should make other teams pay attention.

Mariota threw two touchdowns and 129 yards in a lopsided win versus the league’s best defense. He completed all but one pass for a 144.6 quarterback rating and also ran eight times for 50 yards (over 8 yards a carry). While the Falcons offense didn’t need much (due to the 49ers sputtering on offense and losing more players to injuries on defense), it did step up and exceed expectations.

This is the best season he’s played since last starting with the Titans during 2018 and even then he played eight of 16 games. Mariota hasn’t been sacked as much and he’s finding open receivers on better reads. While new head coach Arthur Smith is a factor, the roller coaster effect he brought every weekend is gone. He’s lead Atlanta to a first place tie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unless something drastic happens, the Falcons could stay in the playoff race thanks to their new starting quarterback.

Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts

Everyone who watched that atrocious Thursday night football game on October sixth might have forgotten Indianapolis won a critical second game in their season. The week and a half off worked when the Colts outperformed a division rival that’s embarrassed them two of their last three games.

The Jaguars haven’t looked the same since their five turnover game in Philadelphia, but they ran the ball well against Indianapolis’ defense the first three quarters. Things changed when the Matt Ryan-led offense took advantage of coverage breakdowns. Ryan had his best game of the season throwing for almost 400 yards, three touchdowns and posting a 107.6 quarterback rating. His 32 yard scoring pass to Alec Pierce gave Indianapolis their second lead of the game, and the two point conversion after put more pressure on Jacksonville’s offense to score with 23 seconds left. That wasn’t going to happen against a better adjusted defense.

Head coach Frank Reich is muddling through most of 2022 with an underperforming roster that needs overhauling once the season ends. The pressure to beat a Tennessee Titans team that was on a bye last week will build, but there’s no denying the Colts needed a winning streak to stay in the middle of the AFC playoff race. Reich is showing there’s still time for everyone to find their rhythm.

Tariq Woolen

Seattle has one of the worst defenses in terms of total points and yards allowed this season. A big part is on the defensive line and linebacker core that plays up front. Most of the secondary has shown promise, especially rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen.

Woolen is a rookie drafted in this year’s fifth round. On Sunday, Woolen recovered a Kyler Murray fumble and later intercepted Murray to help Seattle pull off their third win of the season. He’s the first starting cornerback in Seattle to have an interception in four straight games since 2011.

There are comparisons of Woolen to former cornerback Richard Sherman, and they are valid. During Sunday’s home win against the Arizona Cardinals, FOX showed a graphic that compared their Seahawks profiles. Both were drafted in the fifth round, but the separation is one pick (Sherman at 154, Woolen at 153). Most importantly, Woolen and Sherman played wide receiver at one point in college. It explains why the duo worked together in the offseason on form, reading quarterbacks and shutting down star receivers.

Tariq Woolen is one of three rookie cornerbacks to hold a quarterback to a 40 rating or below when there’s a receiver targeted in his direction this season. He’ll be fun to watch as Seattle fights for a playoff spot.

The NFL’s week six scheduling

Commissioner Roger Goodell knew what fans wanted to see before the regular season started and slotted week six’s games perfectly.

The early afternoon games were entertaining but there was nothing that grabbed headlines or stood out. Yes, Joe Burrow’s return to Louisiana, the Ravens versus Giants and a divisional game in the AFC South were fun, but the most anticipated games were in the late afternoon and nighttime.

Buffalo versus Kansas City was a close game and lived up to expectations in what could determine playoff seeding via tiebreakers. Sunday night’s divisional game between Dallas and Philadelphia had a captivating second half before the Eagles pulled away late to stay undefeated and assure audiences Dak Prescott really is the Cowboys’ starting quarterback when he returns.

There’s a lot of complaining about the NFL not flexing games earlier than expected because of disappointments (like next Sunday night’s featured game), but this time everything went right.

Have you ever watched a movie inspired by real events and wonder where the people are now? Or about how much of what was shown really happened? Before the Script is your podcast that has the answers. Check them out wherever you get your podcast fix. New episodes drop on Sunday night, so take a listen to Jazzy’s educational and fun podcasts.

Losers: Green Bay Packers

When star receiver Davante Adams signed a massive deal with the Las Vegas Raiders, a lot of people asked who would quarterback Aaron Rodgers throw to for 17 games. We’re still trying to figure that out after week six.

Rodgers’ top target through six games is Allen Lazard. He’s not a bad receiver but he isn’t a starting number one on another roster. Robert Tonyan is a good number one tightend. After those two, it’s anyone’s guess.

Both Marcedes Lewis and Randall Cobb look their age and can’t stretch a field. More alarming is Rodgers overthrowing his receivers regularly, the latest example being runningback Aaron Jones on what would’ve been a touchdown drive Sunday.

A big part of this is on Packers management for neither drafting nor signing an elite receiver who can make big plays and expose disguised coverages. A lot of teams last offseason signed or traded for big name pass catchers. There were also two recent drafts where quality receivers wanted to join Aaron Rodgers and be a focal point in coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. Green Bay declined them all.

It doesn’t help they extended a 38 year old quarterback who’s offseason workouts consist of psychedelics. This team might be uncomfortable to watch the rest of the season if there’s no move for a receiver at the trade deadline.

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football package

Online shopping site Amazon has been trying to get into the NFL since creator Jeff Bezos said he wanted to buy a team. The digital empire outbid t.v. network FOX to carry Thursday night games. Since entering they’ve spent a lot of money on games, broadcasting crews, streaming and a pre and postgame analysis roster.

Surprisingly, everything Amazon’s done has been money well spent…unless we’re talking about the games they’re stuck with every Thursday night.

The last two games featured two Pro-Bowl quarterbacks who threw four combined interceptions and no touchdowns in five quarters, then two teams who have no idea how a professional offense works in the 21st century. The next two weeks aren’t hopeful either.

The upcoming Thursday night game features a below average New Orleans team and an Arizona squad that can’t protect the football and score. The Thursday after has an average Buccaneers team against a Baltimore Ravens roster that for the first time ever has held double digit leads in every game but doesn’t have a winning record.

I don’t think Amazon had this in mind when they signed an 11 year, $13 billion deal to stream games. For those keeping track, that’s over $78.8 million for each lackluster game aired. Ouch.

Cleveland Browns defense

The main topics from New England’s win in Cleveland consist of Bill Belichick tying league founder George Halas in all-time wins and excitement over third string backup Bailey Zappe, who’s undefeated after two starts. The bigger storyline is how bad the Browns defense is despite the amount of acquired talent.

Cleveland’s defense has given up less than 20 points once this season: a Thursday night win against the Mitchell Trubisky led Pittsburgh Steelers. That took a lot of effort since Pittsburgh continually pushed downfield but blundered drives. Zappe threw over 300 yards and two touchdowns against a secondary consisting of Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II and John Johnson III. Many analysts thought these players would strengthen a unit that’s struggled to defend the pass. It also didn’t help franchise star and defensive game-changer Myles Garrett left with an arm injury. That exposed Cleveland’s vulnerable interior.

The Browns have to play Baltimore and Cincinnati before their bye week and it’s already bleak at 2-4. While much of the talk will be on quarterback play later in the season, it might not matter if the defense keeps giving up 30 or more points a game.

Steve Keim

A team usually fires a general manager when they’ve done illegal drugs such as cocaine instead of their job. The alternative what if said general manager stays instead of losing his job is playing out in Arizona right now.

I’ve pulled no punches when it comes to how bad the Cardinals are this season but what’s worse is how the team has to stick with the roster moves and contract extensions of players and coaches after this year. Coach Kliff Kingsbury has four years left on his deal after the flame-out 2021-2022 season. Offensive captain and starting quarterback Kyler Murray also has four years left on a contract that guarantees $160 million.

Both Murray and Kingsbury cannot adapt and haven’t worried about some aspects of the game nor security because the general manager has assured them everything is fine. When an offense scores three points against the league’s worst defense, changes need to be made. Arizona can’t do much because the people signed and hired are locked in for at least two more years.

2022-23 NHL Western Conference Playoff Picks

What a turn of events compared to last season’s start. No team in the western conference went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2021. This year fans and analysts are wondering if the reigning champion Colorado Avalanche can become the third team to win back-to-back titles in the last ten years. Colorado won’t have it easy in their conference even if they make the playoffs. Minnesota, Vancouver and St. Louis will be their top competition. The Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars should make better pushes for playoff seeding. Outside of those five teams, it’s a race to clinch the bottom two seeds in the conference. A team such as Anaheim could break out and do damage to whoever clinches the first or second seed, possibly throwing the playoffs into doubt. It’s time to break down which four in each division can make the push to the postseason for 2022-23.

Pacific

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton’s signing of goalie Jack Campbell boosts a defense that’s gradually improved the past two seasons.

Despite being swept by the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Oilers kept most of last year’s roster. They finally addressed the goaltender situation by signing free agent Jack Campbell. Campbell’s got a better defense in front of him that’s shown improvement the past two seasons.

Edmonton’s offense should be top five in the league with stars Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Warren Foegele and Zach Hyman and Evander Kane. Injuries would be the only reasonable explanation for the Oilers not clinching a top three seed.

Vancouver Canucks

Bruce, There It Is: Despite an opening season choke in Edmonton, Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau is back and should be the stabilizing presence stars like Elias Pettersson need to return to the playoffs.

If they replaced coaches before the 2021 season, it’s possible Vancouver would’ve made the playoffs. Coach Bruce Boudreau was refreshing for the players and the Canucks played well returning to some of their basics. All three sides of the puck improved and made the team a formidable force after the firing of Travis Green.

Despite some depth leaving in the offseason, Vancouver’s core players return. Thatcher Demko should take the next step in being a star franchise goalie and Elias Pettersson should have a fantastic season. The Canucks are fortunate they won’t have too much competition in a weak Pacific.

Calgary Flames

Regardless of how people think of him, no one can deny Nazem Kadri is a pivotal player for any team vying for a Stanley Cup bid. The Flames signed him at the perfect time.

The losses of two 40 plus goal scorers lowers Calgary’s playoff chances but coaching, defense and some additions should soften the fall. The Flames traded Matthew Tkachuk for Mackenzie Weegar and Jonathan Huberdeau. Both are talented scorers who can make up some of the difference. They’re also veteran starters on offense and defense and should elevate Calgary’s power-play when chemistry improves.

The Flames made a steal signing Stanley Cup Champion Nazem Kadri late in free agency. Kadri is needed center depth and brings an edge especially in divisional games. Last but not least, the goalie tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar anchors a defense that was third in goals against last year. Calgary will be hard to knock out in both the regular and postseason.

Anaheim Ducks

Ducks star Troy Terry netted the overtime winning goal in a thrilling home opener against the Kraken. Regardless of where Anaheim places in the Pacific, their young, core players will be fun to watch.

Like the Metropolitan, the Pacific could have three teams make the postseason. Seattle is still building a team that hopes to compete. San Jose and Las Vegas are declining and want a full re-build. Los Angeles is shaky despite last year’s playoff appearance. It’s possible things don’t progress this year after the sweep against Edmonton. Anaheim however could be the western conference’s version of the Ottawa Senators.

I’d like to be consistent on a pick that many would question. There’s a lot of young talent that’s shown potential to disrupt teams, standings and the playoff picture. The Ducks probably won’t go far in the postseason, but the defense in front of star goalie John Gibson is bolstered with additions of Dmitry Kulikov and John Klingberg. Anaheim retained Frank Vatrano and signed Ryan Strome and Rocco Grimaldi.

The needed scoring depth and physical players can help the Ducks maintain their fast season starts and stay relevant all season.

Have you ever watched a movie inspired by real events and wonder where the people are now? Or about how much of what was shown really happened? Before the Script is your podcast that has the answers. Check them out wherever you get your podcast fix. New episodes drop on Sunday night, so take a listen to Jazzy’s educational and fun podcasts.

Central

Minnesota Wild

That smile when you get traded from a re-building Chicago team to a Stanley Cup caliber roster in Minnesota.

I personally thought the Wild would go through more turbulence after a fantastic first round series versus Las Vegas in 2021. Turns out the team did much better under coach Dean Evason and put the league on notice.

Last year’s Minnesota roster ranked fifth in goals scored and rocketed up to 18th on the power-play. In less than one year, the Wild traded for goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson. They retained most of last year’s roster. Minnesota now has to find ways to beat both St. Louis and Colorado in divisional matchups to gain a higher seed.

Colorado Avalanche

The Stanley Cup champions let starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper leave and brought in Alexandar Georgiev. The tandem of Georgiev and Pavel Francouz will be watched by many as Colorado competes for a second straight title. Fans and analysts know coach Jared Bednar will lead this team to the playoffs.

St. Louis Blues

Coach Craig Berube was one of many angry people in St. Louis after the Avalanche knocked out goaltender Jordan Binnington in the postseason. The injury ignited intense physical play and will spill over into their season matchups.

The Central division has three teams that could go through the western conference and win the championship. St. Louis is the third team. On offense, the top five goal scoring teams in 2021 to 2022 were the Blues at third, Avalanche at fourth, and the Wild fifth. Somehow coach Craig Berube pushed St. Louis’ offense to be better than their division rivals and they excelled.

While the Blues may not be third in goals scored and penalty minutes, second in power-play and fifth in penalty kill this season, it’s more important starting goaltender Jordan Binnington continues his resurgence from late last season in what would’ve been a highlight playoff performance. While his backup Ville Husso went to Detroit and St. Louis signed Thomas Greiss in return, the defense re-signed Nick Leddy and found another way to keep sharp-shooter Vladimir Tarasenko happy.

Expect a grittier, angrier Blues team that will take aim at the defending Stanley Cup champions all season. This will be a fun team to watch.

Dallas Stars

General manager Jim Nill is adamant on the Stars returning to the Stanley Cup. His hiring of coach Peter DeBoer is a gamble.

There’s no way Arizona or Chicago make the postseason with their abysmal rosters. Winnipeg is ready to re-build and could trade their best players before the All-Star break. Nashville had a phenomenal season with just a low playoff seed in the end. The last spot is Dallas’ for the taking.

The Stars showed anyone who watched their playoff series against Calgary that the offense needs a spark, a re-vamp or both. General manager Jim Nill hired a new coach in Peter DeBoer and signed Mason Marchment while extending the contracts of both Jason Robertson and Denis Gurianov.

DeBoer is the right coach for an offensive turnaround. Dallas has a great goalie tandem in Jake Oettinger and Scott Wedgewood. They won’t be as good as the top three teams in the division, but they’ll push boundaries and make them uncomfortable.

2021-22 Western conference picks: 3-5

2022-23 NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Picks

What a fun offseason. The Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions are back after another summer of free agency. While the eastern conference’s two year streak of winning the Stanley Cup snapped, the conference is deeper and more uncertain compared to the last five years. Teams like the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers made trades to bolster their rosters and re-signed important depth players. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes should be more dangerous in the postseason. Like last year, it’s apparent the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals, two teams known for consistency, are fading and closer to a re-build if neither make the second round.

It’s time to break down which four teams in each division can make the push back or surprise a lot of people in making the 2022-23 playoffs.

Atlantic

Florida Panthers

Florida needed a head coach who pushes players to be their best while staying honest. Paul Maurice is the right fit.

The Panthers are one of four teams in the eastern conference both fans and analysts feel will take the next step and make the Stanley Cup finals this season. They traded Jonathan Huberdeau to Calgary for Matthew Tkachuk, a fantastic player who scores a lot and pesters goalies in front of the net. They acquired veterans Eric and Marc Staal and signed Colin White away from Ottawa. The defensive core led by Aaron Ekblad should grow more this season.

Last but not least, the reigning President’s Trophy winners hired a head coach to turn the page on the Joel Quenneville saga. Enter Paul Maurice, the winningest head coach in NHL history who’s yet to win a championship. He knows how to bring the best out of a roster while being honest about long-term improvement. His early resignation last year is a reason he was one of the best candidates available in the offseason. Don’t be surprised if Florida is one of the most complete teams in professional hockey this year.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Ilya Samsonov finally gets to be an undisputed starting goaltender on an NHL team. The Leafs will go as far as he takes them.

The Leafs are lights out in the regular season. Franchise star Auston Matthews should have another 50 plus goal season. The defensive quartet of Morgan Reilly, T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano and Victor Mete solidify the weakest section on the team. The signings of forwards Zach Aston-Reese and Calle Jarnkrok establish a physical fourth line.

The problem come playoffs could be the dropoff of talent in net with Ilya Samsonov as the undisputed starter since Jack Campbell left in free agency. Matt Murray is a good backup choice in case Samsonov becomes a nuisance. Toronto’s regular season should be fine since they have a plethora of goal-scorers to snuff out defensive mistakes.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Despite the injuries the Lightning suffered in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, anyone who’s watched this team knows if coach Jon Cooper is on the bench and Andrei Vasilevskiy is in net, Tampa Bay is a lock to make the playoffs.

Ottawa Senators

While he won’t be a captain in Ottawa, Claude Giroux returns to his home city to play for a rising Senators squad that has the best chance of returning to the playoffs this decade.

The Atlantic might have five teams make the playoffs due to a weaker Metropolitan division. If that happens, Detroit or Boston could clinch one of those spots. Ottawa however is the pick if that doesn’t work.

The key for the Senators is to have a better start than the last two seasons. It’s realistic with the skill players and depth added this offseason. General manager Pierre Dorian traded for forward Alex DeBrincat, goalie Cam Talbot and signed former Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux. Dorian also added Travis Hamonic and extended Mathieu Joseph after his trade to Ottawa last season from Tampa Bay.

This is coach D.J. Smith’s most important season. Ottawa’s never started fast under his tenure and has been lackluster on special teams and defense. 2022 is the year they clean up both if he wants to keep his job.

Smith is the most tenured coach with one team between the Ottawa-Boston-Detroit trio. While Detroit added a lot of players in free agency, the roster and coaching have to work well together in a continuing re-build. Boston has a great coach in Jim Montgomery, but the depth past the second line and lack of quality defensemen makes it hard to pick them as a good fourth team in the Atlantic.

Despite an upper body injury to Talbot pushing his debut to November, Anton Forsberg was a pleasant surprise last year and a reason the Senators played close games. The young core Dorian drafted are complimented with quality veterans, scorers and role players. They just need a faster start to the season.

Have you ever watched a movie inspired by real events and wonder where the people are now? Or about how much of what was shown really happened? Before the Script is your podcast that has the answers. Check them out wherever you get your podcast fix. New episodes drop on Sunday night, so take a listen to Jazzy’s educational and fun podcasts.

Metropolitan

Carolina Hurricanes

Max Pacioretty had a disappointing 2021 due to wrist injuries and surgeries. He should have a better year in Carolina where he’ll have more one-on-one scoring chances.

The Hurricanes bowed out round two of the playoffs without starting goaltender Frederik Anderson. They lost every road game before being knocked out in their only home loss. Every viewer should expect an angrier and more prepared Carolina team to take the ice and dish out payback this season.

The Hurricanes are the favorite to reach and possibly win the championship this season. General manager Don Waddell signed Calvin de Haan, Brent Burns, Paul Stastny, Ondrej Kase and Ryan Dzingel. He also traded for Vegas’ top scorer Max Pacioretty with little lost.

The top seeds in the eastern conference will be a race between Carolina and Florida most of this season unless either have a rash of injuries they can’t overcome. It’ll be hard for either to hit a slump.

New York Rangers

Igor Shesterkin’s Vezina season brought the New York Rangers to the conference finals. It’ll be hard to slow down and score on one of the east’s best teams this year.

New York was two games away from representing the eastern conference in the Stanley Cup finals. They lost to one of the best teams the league’s ever seen despite an impressive postseason. General manager Chris Drury added to the standout roster by signing Jaroslav Halak to backup last year’s Vezina winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin. Then came the signing of former Carolina Hurricane center Vincent Trocheck.

The Rangers have one of the best fourth lines in hockey with Barclay Goodrow, Sammy Blais and Ryan Reeves. It’s possible we see New York have a playoff run similar to last season’s once they punch their postseason ticket.

Pittsburgh Penguins

This is the 17th season the trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang take the ice together. They have a good chance of surpassing the 400 win mark and to make the postseason.

The Penguins bring back their trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang for another season. Pittsburgh will face a lot of pressure not just to return to the playoffs but to win a first round series, something they haven’t done since winning their last championship.

For now, it’s safe to say the first part of their mission should be fine. The Penguins added Brock McGinn and Josh Archibald for forward depth and signed Jeff Petry and Jan Rutta on defense to help Tristan Jarry’s ascent.

Mike Sullivan is still one of the league’s best coaches. Plus the team shouldn’t have as many injuries this season. Like Toronto, this will only be a talking point when the playoffs begin.

Washington Capitals

While Alex Ovechkin’s race to pass Wayne Gretzky’s goals record is the big topic, a major concern for the Capitals is the lack of quality defensemen besides John Carlson (red).

It’s hard to decide who in this division makes the playoffs after the top three teams. The signing of Stanley Cup winning goaltender Darcy Kuemper helps Washington. The problem is Kuemper’s never played a full season healthy. Backup Charlie Lindgren might see more action than expected and nobody knows how good the defense will be outside of John Carlson.

That leaves the offense to do most of the work. Alex Ovechkin will probably score 40-50 goals this season and Anthony Mantha, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie are offensive playmakers. Yet there’s a lot of pressure on the centers and forwards to step up.

Regardless of their finish, it’s difficult to believe Columbus, Philadelphia, the New York Islanders and especially New Jersey place better than the Capitals when the regular season ends.

Last year’s eastern conference playoff picks: 8-2

Week Four Winners and Losers

What an exciting week four. A narrow field goal miss in London, another win for Cooper Rush’s Cowboys and an eye-opening performance from the Kansas City Chiefs will be talked about much of the week. The first Sunday of October delivered with a bang much like the first weekend in September. A lot of good and bad stood out in the afternoon games. It’s time to break down who or what won/lost Sunday.

Winners: Austin Ekeler

The injuries at wide receiver for the Los Angeles Chargers’ offense narrows down the number of dependable players to trust any given week. The fragile ribs in quarterback Justin Herbert mean starting runningback Austin Ekeler should be the main playmaker and focus. In typical Chargers fashion, the team led by double-digits until the opposition made a comeback. This time the Chargers won and it’s because Ekeler stepped up and guided the offense.

Ekeler started hot and ran for two touchdowns in the second quarter. That gave Los Angeles a 21 point lead before the Houston Texans could score. When Houston chipped the deficit to three points, he stepped up when needed and caught a second down pass from Herbert at the Texan 14 yard-line, running to and diving in the endzone.

One of the coveted parts of Ekeler’s game is his ability to run well and catch passes. He was the Chargers’ second leading receiver with 49 yards on six catches. His 13 runs for 60 yards (4.2 yards a carry) makes him hard to tackle and creates problems for opposing defenses. The more he’s relied on, the better position Los Angeles has within their division and conference for at least a wild-card spot.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans looked mediocre at best heading into October. After Sunday it appears head coach Mike Vrabel and the team turned 180 degrees after a winless two game start.

Tennessee’s victory against Las Vegas was questioned due to the Raiders’ poor coaching. Beating an Indianapolis Colts team soundly on the road shows progress. On offense star runningback Derrick Henry ran for 114 yards on 22 carries (5.2 yards per carry) and quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw two touchdowns and completed all but four passes.

The defense played well too. Defensive lineman Teair Tart intercepted Colts quarterback Matt Ryan on a tipped pass. While Ryan was sacked three times, starting runningback Jonathan Taylor left the game with a leg injury. That left Indianapolis one dimensional on offense and the Titans defense exposed a lot of weaknesses despite the Colts scoring the lone touchdown in the second half.

This helped Tennessee in their division. Houston is still winless and the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles handed the Jacksonville Jaguars their second loss of the season. While it’s a two-way tie for first place, the Titans are the more experienced team and have beaten the Jaguars all but once since 2017. The AFC South is Tennessee’s for the taking if they continue to play like they did Sunday.

Geno Smith, Rashaad Penny and the Seattle Seahawks offensive line

It’s hilarious how many people expected the Seattle Seahawks to have one of the worst offenses in the 2022 NFL season. It couldn’t be further from the truth after one month.

The Seahawks offense scored 42 points in the most exciting Sunday game. New starting quarterback Geno Smith completed all but seven passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns for a 132.6 rating. He also ran seven times for 49 yards and a touchdown. All three were in the first two quarters and were the reason Seattle led by nine at intermission.

Former first round pick Rashaad Penny had his best game of the season and is picking up where he left off last year. The runningback had 17 carries for 159 yards (just under nine yards a carry) but his two touchdowns in the second half cemented a Seahawk win. The Detroit defense couldn’t stop him when it mattered most and Penny’s runs on third down led to massive gains.

The best performance for Seattle’s offense wasn’t on the scoreboard. For years the fans, analysts and even captains on offense complained the offensive line was one of the top weaknesses on the team. The Lions’ pass rush is pretty good despite how they can’t stop runningbacks. The Seahawks offensive line gave up zero sacks and dominated the line of scrimmage. The interior of Damien Lewis, Austin Blythe and Gabe Jackson are core reasons why they’ve succeeded so far, but the surprising play of rookies Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas at both tackle positions propel Smith and the passing game to another level.

Seattle’s offensive stats after four weeks vaults them to the top half of all teams in passing, running, scoring and total yards despite being bottom five in time of possession. Geno Smith is the only quarterback in the NFL who’s completed 75 percent of his passes and has 1000 yards passing with five touchdowns or more. It’s a bit early to hype up Seattle’s season and their playoff chances, but it’s safe to say neither the offense is the problem on coach Pete Carroll’s team, nor was their trade of franchise quarterback Russell Wilson detrimental as many thought.

J.K. Dobbins

There was disappointment when Dobbins missed all of last season due to injuries. He played his second game of 2022 Sunday and the impact was felt early.

The Baltimore Ravens quickly scored against the Buffalo Bills and led 14-3 by the end of the first quarter. Both touchdowns were from J.K. Dobbins. He caught a one yard pass to give the Ravens their first lead of the game and then scored on a four yard run.

He also had the most carries for any runner in the game. While Dobbins ran for 41 yards, he’s someone quarterback Lamar Jackson can rely on to improvise or score near the goalline. Unfortunately, Dobbins’ touchdowns were in vain because…

Losers: John Harbaugh…again

…his head coach cost the team another home win by gambling with analytics. This is the first time in franchise history Baltimore’s lost five straight homes games. On ESPN’s flagship show Sportscenter with Scott Van Pelt, the eye opening stat was examined deeper. All five losses for the Ravens have been by three points or less. In all five Harbaugh has gambled and gone with the analytical decision to try and score touchdowns on fourth-and-goal decisions against (in recent order) the Bills, Dolphins, Steelers, Rams and Packers.

It didn’t matter whether quarterback Lamar Jackson was intercepted, there was a different quarterback or if receivers dropped passes. All five decisions have one thing in common: coach John Harbaugh is obsessed with the probability chances of scoring six or seven points instead of taking an easy three and giving the opposition a harder time to drive down the field with seconds or a minute remaining in gameplay.

The audience then might question does Harbaugh not trust his defense enough to take a chance. If that’s the case, he needs to fix it and develop better players, especially in the secondary. Lamar Jackson can’t fix everything on the team but the Ravens should be undefeated instead of blowing two double digit leads.

Have you ever watched a movie inspired by real events and wonder where the people are now? Or about how much of what was shown really happened? Before the Script is your podcast that has the answers. Check them out wherever you get your podcast fix. New episodes drop on Sunday night, so take a listen to Jazzy’s educational and fun podcasts.

Chicago Bears

The Bears might be the most unwatchable team in the NFL. Before Sunday there were jokes that yet again Chicago’s offense needs to step into the new century and learn about the forward pass. Sunday’s game against the New York Giants wasn’t just about the offense. The defense gave up two running touchdowns to quarterback Daniel Jones on a play the Giants ran six times minimum.

The defense did knock out both Jones and backup Tyrod Taylor at one point but the offense mustered 12 points total. Special teams had its moment to shine but then fumbled the return on what would’ve been the the Bears’ last possession. New York mercifully ran out the clock after recovering the ball.

It’s hard to tell if franchise quarterback and former Heisman nominee Justin Fields is any good not even one season of games into his career, but that’s the beginning of concerns. The Bears’ secondary is non-existent and their returners on special teams don’t help. This will be a long season and the fans might be more excited the team moves to Arlington Heights, IL. when it ends.

Mitchell Trubisky

Speaking of former Bears quarterbacks, let’s keep this section going with Fields’ predecessor. While former head coach Matt Nagy didn’t fully hinder the sophomore’s progress last season, he did a number on Mitchell Trubisky.

Trubisky’s struggled not even four full games as the Steelers’ starting quarterback. In the first half against the New York Jets Sunday, he ran for one yard and was seven of 13 with 84 yards and an interception. He was benched in the second half and cameras caught head coach Mike Tomlin telling his replacement Kenny Pickett, “I’m tired of him Mitching it up” in regards to the offense.

In Mitch’s defense, offensive coordinator Matt Canada is dreadful and both former players and fans are calling for and have wanted him to be fired. Many want Pickett to lead the team into the wood-chipper that is the Buffalo Bills this upcoming Sunday but he threw three interceptions against a Jets defense that’s bottom ten in points per game. His rushing touchdowns were nice but he has to do better than goalline runs.

Unfortunately, when you’re a former second overall pick a team traded up to draft, excuses are slim. It’s possible Trubisky played his last game as a starter.

Carolina Panthers

If anyone was in the mood for bad football Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals versus Carolina Panthers game was available. The only thing disappointing were the number of fans who went to the game.

The Panthers offense is on par with the Bears and Denver Broncos. They’re last in time of possession and points scored. Six of their 16 points were scored by the defense. That broke a scoreless tie and Carolina still found a way to lose.

It’s not just the offense. Their best player (who also had the defensive touchdown) in the game was almost kicked out for fighting and unnecessary roughness after a play finished. The fans boo’d new quarterback Baker Mayfield most of the second half due to his inability to read a field and throwing the ball everywhere but to his receivers.

It was leaked earlier in the week number one receiver D.J. Moore would like a trade out of Carolina. You can’t blame him for wanting to go to another team. Coach Matt Rhule’s team is undisciplined, unorganized and terrible to watch. Last but not least week four is almost over. It could get uglier by the start of November if Rhule isn’t fired by then.

Note: NFL’s Winners and Losers will not be published next Monday due to the writer, editor and publisher having the weekend off for personal reasons.

Week Three Winners and Losers

The last Sunday of September featured a number of pivotal games. Each division is slowly showing which teams will stand out as playoff favorites before Halloween. While a lot of wins and plays stood out, some were more eye-opening than others. Here are this weeks winners and losers.

Winners: Khalil Herbert

Chicago Bears runningback Khalil Herbert posted the best numbers for any runner week three. Herbert ran 20 times for 157 yards (just under eight yards a carry). He’s a big play-maker in an anemic Bears offense.

Herbert’s statistics are fabulous, but his two touchdowns gave Chicago seven of their 13 first half points and sparked a comeback in the second half.

In his sophomore year Herbert has surpassed his touchdown total after one month, averaging seven yards a carry and 80 yards per game. While quarterback Justin Fields struggles to find footing and chemistry with wide receivers, Herbert’s a cushion who can take pressure off and extend plays when needed. Chicago has a winning record after September because he’s making the most of his on-field minutes.

Jalen Hurts

Remember in last week’s Winners and Losers when it was mentioned that people ridicule quarterback Jalen Hurts? Those people are more concerned with Fantasy Football than game-tape.

A lot of analysts and fans are giving a lot of praise to the Philadelphia Eagles defense and deservedly so. The Washington Commanders offense will struggle most of this season (more on them later) and the defense feasted on that matchup, but Hurts and the offense made the game one-sided by half-time.

After demolishing the Minnesota Vikings last Monday Hurts threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns, posting a quarterback rating of 123.5. He’s also running the ball less (he ran it nine times for 20 yards). He’s progressing as a passer, reading options better and the offensive line is protecting him longer.

It’s way too early for MVP votes and guesses but don’t be surprised if Jalen Hurts is an MVP candidate for the next few months. He’s the first quarterback in NFL history with more than 900 passing yards and 150 rushing yards in the first three games of a season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Why would anyone have a team that lost 14-12 in the Winners section? Let’s be realistic on yesterday’s loss for Tampa Bay: it doesn’t matter in the long-term because the Buccaneers will do well regardless.

Despite the win, Green Bay is second in the NFC North because of a week one loss to Minnesota. The Packers are figuring out who will be the standout receivers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will rely on the upcoming months. Tampa’s facing different problems on offense. Receiver Mike Evans will return after a one game suspension, runningback Leonard Fournette is a much better player closer to and in the postseason and injured receivers Chris Godwin and Julio Jones will return from injuries.

Then there’s the NFC South as a whole. Outside of one quarter, the New Orleans Saints are a terrible team. Carolina and Atlanta are two of the worst teams in the NFL. No one will challenge the Buccaneers unless it’s an AFC opponent the remainder of the season.

Last but not least Tampa almost tied the game after Russell Gage’s touchdown catch. The game would’ve gone to overtime were it not for a delay of game penalty on a two-point conversion. Don’t be surprised if they play sharper next Sunday night.

Cordarelle Patterson

It’s almost a joke how NFL teams had no idea how to utilize Patterson until he played with the Chicago Bears. The Bears don’t like offensive playmakers so he signed with Atlanta last year. Despite being one of the worst teams in the league, he is the team’s most valuable asset.

Cordarelle Patterson was the second leading rusher on Sunday (behind only Khalil Herbert) averaging eight yards a carry. Whether he tied the game at ten in Seattle or hurdled over defenders, Patterson did everything asked of him and more on offense.

Very few first round picks get better once they’ve been in the NFL for ten years. If there’s any reason to watch an Atlanta Falcons game this season, it’s because he’s either running, catching or throwing on offense.

Before the losers are discussed, I’d like to take the time to plug and promote some quality content.

Have you ever watched a movie inspired by real events and wonder where the people are now? Or about how much of what was shown really happened? Before the Script is your podcast that has the answers. Check them out wherever you get your podcast fix. New episodes drop on Sunday night, so take a listen to Jazzy’s educational and fun podcasts.

Losers: Washington Commanders offensive coordinator Scott Turner

The Eagles offense is red-hot. The Commanders offense might be one of the worst in the NFL.

At one point in the game, a graphic showed how lopsided the passing stats were for both teams. Philadelphia had 323 while Washington posted a -1. This was shown in the third quarter.

It was worse for anyone who watched the game. The Eagles defense had six sacks and two forced fumbles on Commanders starting quarterback Carson Wentz in the first half. Washington had 50 yards heading into half-time. Wentz was sacked a total of nine times and somehow complete 25 passes.

Many know the Commanders will go as far as the offense carries them. This was the second straight week Washington’s offense played abysmal. While many blame Wentz for both losses the offensive line cratered against defensive fronts, causing Wentz to make erratic decisions. They have one win because the defense forced turnovers and they ran the ball well. It’s been double-digit blowouts after week one.

Scott Turner runs the offense and was criticized by FOX’s color commentator Mark Schlereth, who’s as just as fun to listen to as watching paint dry on a wall. While Carson Wentz can be at the center of conversation as to why the Commanders aren’t good on offense, Schlereth made the point of saying, “Why does this offense make so many adjustments late in games? Usually they’re made after possessions or failed drives.” That’s on the offensive coordinator for not just failing to adjust but having the same garbage gameplan two straight weeks.

The AFC West

Remember when analysts and fans knew without doubt the AFC West was the most competitive division in professional football? September made that the biggest upset to start the season.

As September ends, only one team is winless: the Las Vegas Raiders. After Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans, owner Mark Davis had a closed door meeting with new coach Josh McDaniels. Rumors are flying that the Raiders could fire McDaniels before Halloween. It’s insane to think a team that fired their coach around October last year would do it two straight seasons. The team regressed quickly and we’re not even four weeks into the season.

The Los Angeles Chargers are fighting through injuries. While quarterback and franchise star Justin Herbert is battling rib fractures, linebacker Joey Bosa may be out a few games and left tackle Rashawn Slater tore his pectoral muscle. He’s out the rest of the season. Center Corey Linsley was already on the injury list before Slater went down. Receiver Jalen Guyton joins Keenan Allen on the injured list. That’s another target taken away from Herbert. It also doesn’t help sophomore coach Brandon Staley isn’t adjusting gameplans and the offense is turning the ball over more.

Many people know after Sunday night the Denver Broncos play like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Despite two wins in three games, the offense is bottom three in the league and the fans were again vocal on the team’s underwhelming performance. While injuries to receivers are part of the problem, coaching and terrible communication looms large. This team wasn’t expected to look like the 2010 Tim Tebow-led Broncos.

Last but not least, Kansas City’s offense looks like it misses receiver Tyreek Hill. Even though Mecole Hardman left yesterday’s game in Indianapolis, it wouldn’t have mattered. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and quarterback Patrick Mahomes II got into a heated argument at the end of the first half. The Chiefs scored three points after that exchange. While the special teams had one of the worst performances in Andy Reid’s tenure (and could’ve won the game despite some of the turnovers), the offense is underwhelming especially running the ball. Clyde Edwards-Helaire might be the worst draft pick of the Mahomes era and free agent addition JuJu Smith-Schuster has yet to have a 100 yard game.

While it’s only three weeks into the season, there’s a lot to be concerned with in the AFC West. One has to think there will be improvement in October but all four teams have to fix their problems especially with the number of quality of teams on their schedules.

Kliff Kingsbury

When Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim extended head coach Kliff Kingsbury five years, you’d think the team would show improvement after last season’s implosion. However, Kingsbury is in the losers section so you know how this works out.

Arizona’s first three games of the season are a warning of what’s to come. Franchise quarterback and star Kyler Murray does scramble before throws but he’s not running or becoming the playmaker the team needs when tough situations or games arise. It’s understandable with no De’Andre Hopkins due to suspension, but Murray still has tightend Zach Ertz and receivers Andy Isabella and A.J. Green as solid options.

The Cardinals’ lone win was an overtime comeback against the Las Vegas Raiders. Outside of that second half performance, they’ve been blown out by a Chiefs offense struggling to score and lost a winnable game against the Los Angeles Rams. Keep in mind that the past two seasons Arizona plays their best football the first half of their regular season schedules.

It appears Kingsbury was figured out last season by a lot of teams and he can’t adjust. It’s shown how the team can neither defend well nor utilize assets on offense. Unfortunately, you can’t fire a coach with four years left on his contract. They better improve before more NFC teams step up and get into wildcard positions.

Jimmy Garappolo’s Voluntary Safety on Sunday Night Football

Any casual fans who read the football articles on here might have asked themselves at one point how bad can one play get for any team. Well, here’s a great candidate for worst play of all time. You don’t see a quarterback step into his own endzone by accident, throw what could be an interception returned for a touchdown, and the offensive captain suffer an injury on one play, but anything can happen any given Sunday.

In the video, commentator Cris Collinsworth says the safety might’ve been a good thing (we’ve hit a new bottom), and broadcaster Mike Tirico mentions former quarterback Dan Orlovsky. Orlovsky was overjoyed that he will no longer be the quarterback associated with the voluntary safety play, and tweeted how he has freedom.

At least September ended with a bang.

NFL Week Two Winners and Losers

It’s hard to have a spectacular follow-up week of games after the NFL’s regular season premiere, but week two didn’t disappoint. While there were no ties, there were comebacks and interesting storylines to keep in mind that will play out and progress the following months.

A lot stood out after the second week of the season, so here are week two’s noticeable winners and losers.

Winners: Tua Tagovailoa

Most quarterbacks won’t outperform Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson but Sunday was the exception. Tagovailoa had the best and biggest game of his short career and should silence critics for the rest of the month.

Tagovailoa threw all six Miami Dolphins touchdowns. Those who watched him play since his college days know Tua is an accurate passer. Sunday showed he’s starting to expand his play past accuracy.

Miami’s trade for receiver Tyreek Hill and drafting of Jaylen Waddle is part of the change (they each caught two touchdowns and had over 150 yards receiving on eleven catches), but Tagovailoa’s throwing deeper passes, reading defenses better and having time to find the best options available without forcing throws.

The Dolphins are undefeated two games in due to playing great on all three sides of the football. However the offense is having the biggest improvement with a new head coach who’s understanding how to develop a franchise quarterback.

Doug Pederson and the Jacksonville Jaguars

The amount of talent the Jaguars have should propel the team to at least six wins…in theory. Achieving those victories as most fans and analysts know takes full focus each quarter. Jacksonville played their second best game in the Trevor Lawrence era Sunday.

The Jaguars led by coach Pederson recorded the first shutout of the season blanking the Indianapolis Colts 24-0. They took an early lead and scored all 24 points in the first three quarters (17 of which were in the first half). Jacksonville’s offensive line dominated the Colts defense. Lawrence wasn’t sacked and completed all but five passes. He threw two touchdowns and posted a 121.5 quarterback rating.

On defense the Jaguars manhandled Indianapolis’ offensive line, sacking veteran quarterback Matt Ryan five times while the secondary intercepted him three times. Ryan threw for under 200 yards and posted a 34 quarterback rating in one of his career worst games. Runningback Jonathan Taylor wasn’t comfortable carrying the ball and the Colts offense was out a key receiver in Michael Pittman Jr.

Jacksonville’s hiring of Doug Pederson wasn’t taken seriously this past offseason. Teams might want to re-think that approach. He almost led the team to a comeback win on the road against Washington week one. The Jaguars are the first team in the AFC South to win a game this season and could do a lot more damage if the offense is more consistent and defense plays sharper. Coaching’s finally molding a talented roster the right way and it will show later in the season. Both Indianapolis and Tennessee need some wins before a division both were favored in starts slipping away.

Cooper Rush

When starting quarterback and face of the franchise Dak Prescott injured his throwing hand week one, many wrote the Dallas Cowboys’ season off due to their schedule and how long the signal caller would be out. Cowboys fans can feel some relief even if it’s one week.

Backup Cooper Rush wasn’t expected to lead Dallas to many wins, much less a win over the current AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals. Not only did Rush win a critical game, he outperformed Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

Rush found a good receiving option in Noah Brown early and often, throwing his lone touchdown to Brown on Dallas’ first possession. The Cowboys kept the game tied at worst. Cooper Rush’s best possession may have been the last of the game. Dallas’ defense forced a three (plays)-and-out possession for Cincinnati, leaving 57 seconds on the clock before the fourth quarter ended. Starting at their 35 yard line, Rush led a drive with a three yard run from Tony Pollard and completed passes to CeeDee Lamb and Noah Brown. His clock management was almost perfect, using the final team timeout and spiking the ball (intentionally to stop the clock from winding down) to give kicker Brett Maher a good chance at making a 50 yard field goal.

Dallas’ schedule is still bumpy despite the quality win. It’s not just because the Los Angeles Rams or Detroit Lions are on the schedule, it’s also because…

The NFC East divisional race

…the NFC East has looked impressive the first two weeks of the season. Dallas’ win keeps them in a race that could have two undefeated teams after Monday night.

The Cowboys play all three of their division rivals once before November. It’s critical they stay relevant by the time Dak Prescott returns. Their next opponent is an undefeated New York Giants team that’s starting to look competent on offense thanks to new head coach Brian Daboll.

The other two teams are going to give both the league and each other problems. Despite a blowout loss in Detroit, Washington has a solid defense and a mediocre offense led by one of the best head coaches in the league. The Commanders almost completed a comeback before the Lions unleashed runningback D’Andre Swift to seal a win. Then there’s Philadelphia, which is still the favorite by many to win the division due to roster depth and improved coaching.

Many viewers will groan knowing there will be a lot of NFC East games televised nationally but none of the four will be eliminated without a long and determined fight.

Losers: John Harbaugh

Last season I made it a point to highlight why despite the many injuries to the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh’s coaching cost the team a number of games and opportunities to get closer to and clinch a playoff spot. Sunday is another example of Harbaugh’s tenure being too long.

Despite the impressive stats from Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, at half-time the Ravens led 28-7. The game was an afterthought by many viewers. Miami’s offense was expected to start the second half throwing the ball nonstop to try and tie the score. Harbaugh apparently didn’t understand that part of their gameplan.

After both teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, Miami scored a whopping 28 points in the fourth and held their first lead of the game with 14 seconds left. Despite Lamar Jackson’s highlight reel day, Tagovailoa somehow outplayed him in almost every category.

It’s one thing if the Ravens secondary couldn’t make tackles at times. However the coaches had no answer, no adjustments and no reasons why there should’ve been a home loss early in the season where it could affect the playoff picture.

Trey Lance

NFL casual fans and media are absolutely ruthless to quarterbacks. The narrative that Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts are runningbacks, Tua Tagovailoa can’t throw deep passes and Mitchell Trubisky is a bust are some of the dumbest trends and storylines to discuss. Another example is how bad quarterback Trey Lance is that he hasn’t been/wasn’t ready to start for the 49ers.

Lance was named the starter after a bitter preseason and nasty discussions among both fans and media. San Francisco’s loss to Chicago in week one was due to many factors, but you wouldn’t know due to the rabid talk of his performance.

The 49ers’ win at home against Seattle should be the main talking point. Unfortunately Trey Lance suffered a season ending ankle injury early in the first quarter of the game. He looked ok the first two possessions and yes he could’ve made some better decisions (especially on the play where he fractured his right ankle).

There’s valid frustration due to him not starting many games going back to last season. The truth is nobody knows how he’ll progress because we don’t see him start every Sunday. Now that he’s out the rest of the season, we (including Lance) are all left guessing what happens next. Just know he’s not a bust…yet.

Denver Broncos

When the 2022 schedules were released many believed the Broncos would win at least one of their first two games. However, viewers expected Denver to look much better than how they’ve started the season.

The loss week one on Monday night to Seattle isn’t too bad due to new quarterback Russell Wilson’s ties to the Pacific Northwest. The Seahawks wanted to win that game more than Denver and played like it. Almost everyone following the NFL expected the Broncos to easily beat Houston the Sunday after.

Both head coach Nathaniel Hackett and quarterback Russell Wilson’s home debut in Denver was a nightmare. Fans boo’d both early in the second quarter and didn’t let up until the Broncos scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Timeout management was atrocious. At one point in the second half a timeout was called because the special teams coach forgot to send a returner on the field to receive Houston’s punt. Both receiver Jerry Jeudy and cornerback Pat Surtain II left the game with injuries. The most embarrassing part was the offense forgetting the play clock ran and took multiple delay of game or false start penalties, prompting the crowd to do a loud countdown so Wilson would snap the ball.

The Denver Broncos have a lot of pressure not only because of the Russell Wilson trade and hiring a rookie coach but because the team hasn’t made the playoffs since the franchise’s last Super Bowl win. The AFC West is the most difficult and competitive division in the 2022 NFL season. Kansas City looks fine and Los Angeles is close behind. Nathaniel Hackett better find answers and fix things before they get uglier.

The New Orleans Saints’ twelve men fourth-and-one penalty to start the fourth quarter

If you ever want to know how slim a margin of victory in the NFL is, this penalty gives a good idea. Viewers of Sunday’s Tampa Bay-New Orleans game will say Saints quarterback Jameis Winston and the turnovers on offense cost New Orleans a win. It was more than just Jameis’ bad fourth quarter.

Tampa Bay and New Orleans started the quarter tied at three. The Saints forced a critical fourth and one for the Buccaneers. Earlier in the game, Tampa went for a fourth down conversion and failed. They weren’t going to take another chance especially in their own territory. They opted to punt.

New Orleans opted to put too many men on the field (you can only have eleven per side). Tampa’s offensive possession extended a few more minutes. When the Buccaneers did punt, it was deeper in Saints territory. New Orleans never recovered from the gaffe. Winston threw all three of his interceptions (one was returned for a touchdown by Mike Edwards) after Tampa’s elongated possession.

New Orleans’ defense played its best game against the Buccaneers knowing the offense was missing a star player. One penalty didn’t just turn the score around. It led to a massive fight and a breakdown for one team’s offense. There’s a massive what-if for the Saints if they don’t take that bad penalty.

Shaun Alexander to be inducted in Seahawks Ring of Honor — Seahawks Wire

The Seattle Seahawks will be taking time to honor another one of their legendary players during the 2022 season. On Thursday it was announced that running back Shaun Alexander would become the newest member inducted to the Seahawks Ring of Honor. Alexander will officially be honored during Seattle’s home game against the Arizona Cardinals on…

Shaun Alexander to be inducted in Seahawks Ring of Honor — Seahawks Wire

NFL Week One Winners and Losers

Usually the first week of the NFL regular season is mild. It was anything but mild on Sunday. Week one is seen by some as a fluke week, while some see it as prelude on what’s to come when teams settle in. Here are the winners and losers from Sunday’s games.

Winners: The Detroit Lions for trading Matthew Stafford and re-building the offense

It was one rough year for Detroit sports fans in 2021, and the Lions highlighted the struggle. Week one last season against San Francisco, Detroit was down double-digits before a rapid comeback. Sunday they almost beat a superior Philadelphia Eagles team in a back-and-forth scoring game.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff threw for two touchdowns while runningbacks Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift ran for three scores. Swift’s touchdown gave Detroit their first lead of the season and the offense dictated pace in the first quarter.

This is a big contrast from how the Los Angeles Rams started last Thursday night. Former Lion quarterback Matthew Stafford is battling a hand injury and the Rams scored ten points in a game Buffalo dominated. It’s valid to say anyone behind Los Angeles’ offensive line would’ve put up similar numbers. If Stafford somehow plays this season hurt, then Detroit traded their hot-and-cold quarterback at the right time. Draft picks such as Amon-Ra St. Brown (who had eight catches for 64 yards and a touchdown) have been worth it.

O.J. Howard

Howard has been under scrutiny since his tenure in Tampa Bay. His injuries and struggle to not just catch passes but remain as a top two tight-end option made an easy removal off the Buccaneers roster. Houston signed him in the offseason and both may benefit moving forward.

Despite tying a superior Indianapolis Colts team at home, O.J. Howard scored both touchdowns for the Texans. His second from 22 yards gave Houston a 17 point lead, their largest of the afternoon.

There aren’t too many fans or analysts that could name a receiver on the Texans roster outside of Howard. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a bigger part of the offense the next few weeks and quarterback Davis Mills’ favorite target.

Kansas City Chiefs

There was a lot of talk and debate on how good the Chiefs would be in a loaded AFC West. While week one can have fluke teams tricking people early, Kansas City played a complete game against a shaky Arizona Cardinals team.

Patrick Mahomes II and the Chiefs offense overwhelmed Arizona early, scoring 14 points in the first quarter. When the fourth quarter started, Kansas City led by 30 and Mahomes had thrown five touchdowns. Tight-end Travis Kelce caught eight passes for 121 yards and a score. Even rookie seventh round draft pick Isiah Pacheco ran for over five yards a carry and scored.

The Chiefs defense did a good job too. 14 of Arizona’s 21 points came when the game was out of reach. Greg Dortch was the Cardinals’ leading receiver and the running game was all but irrelevant due to Kansas City’s offense scoring at will.

Plus, the win helps the Chiefs stay at .500 in case they lose Thursday night against Los Angeles, a team they’ve struggled against the past two seasons.

Week one action

One usually doesn’t put a whole week into the win or loss column, but this is an exception. Week one was wildly fun and had everything a fan and analyst could want.

Here’s a fun breakdown of what happened: the two teams in last year’s super bowl lost. One was a blowout, the other in a dramatic overtime performance where kickers couldn’t make field goals. The first tie of the season occurred. Cleveland won their first opening day game since 2004 (with a new kicker too). Comeback wins, a high-scoring back-and-forth game in Detroit, four rookie head coaches won their debuts and the league MVP had his worst performance since last season’s week one.

Last but not least, week one ends with the highly anticipated Denver versus Seattle matchup featuring the return of Russell Wilson in the Pacific Northwest. It will be one of the most talked about weekends throughout the whole season.

Losers: San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco had many things in their favor Sunday. The Chicago Bears’ stadium was again a cesspool of mistakes and the 49ers were favored to win by 95% of people who picked the game (via ESPN). Coach Kyle Shanahan’s team played well for three quarters, leading by seven when the fourth started.

As you might guess, the lead didn’t last long.

Chicago stormed back and scored 12 of their 19 points in the first seven minutes of the quarter. Sophomore quarterback Justin Fields played better than 49ers starter Trey Lance. Fields has less to work with than Lance, and he looked better on finding his receivers and scoring.

Offense wasn’t the deciding factor in the loss. The defense committed 12 penalties for 99 yards, equivalent to a whole football field. Usually teams giving up that many yards lose the game.

There’s also criticism on coach Shanahan for running the same predictable plays he used in both the conference championship game last year and the 2021 regular season. Many teams expect 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel to run the ball on trick plays. The Bears knew it when the second half started, and little changed to help new starter Trey Lance make the most in a winnable game.

It also doesn’t help San Francisco might be without their starting runningback Elijah Mitchell for a few weeks. Week two against Seattle will say a lot about what the 49ers can do for this season.

General manager and head coach Bill Belichick

If Belichick was just a GM and not a coach, he would’ve been fired after two years. His drafting and building of the Patriots since 2020 might be the downfall of the franchise.

You’d think with how the Miami Dolphins made easy work of New England on Sunday that the rookie head coach would be on the losing team and not the winning one. The Patriots were one of two teams in the early afternoon games to be shutout at half-time (the other being the Chicago Bears). Unlike the Bears, New England didn’t win their game.

The Patriots acquired a lot of skill players to help sophomore quarterback Mac Jones not do everything himself. Kendrick Bourne was missing in action after a 41 yard catch. Five players ran for a total of 78 yards in a 13 point loss, and two of those players ran for zero yards or worse. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry are paid millions of dollars to average two receptions for 25 yards. Then there’s Nelson Agholor who’s doing…I don’t know what.

It doesn’t help when the play-calling goes pass option first. Jones shouldn’t attempt 30 passes in a game where the score is close. After the loss it was announced Jones suffered a back injury. While it’s only week one of the regular season, it’s hard to see how New England wins their next four games without adjusting to better offensive planning and schemes.

Tennessee Titans and their offensive coordinator Todd Downing

The Tennessee Titans were in a great position to have an early first place grab in the AFC South after the Indianapolis Colts tied in Houston. The New York Giants were horrendous last season and rookie head coach Brian Daboll was aggressive early in situations that didn’t call for it. Yet the Titans found ways to lose.

Derrick Henry, who’s the most valuable player on the team and the best runningback in the league, ran 21 times for 82 yards. Tennessee misses receiver A.J. Brown already because the best pass catcher of the late afternoon was Kyle Philips. Philips had six catches for 66 yards, and Dontrell Hilliard had 61 yards on three catches and both Titans touchdowns.

Tennessee has to involve receivers like Austin Hooper and Robert Woods more while easing Treylon Burks into the starting role. It would also help if the offensive line learned to block better and not play like they want quarterback Ryan Tannehill dead every other possession.

If the Titans are going to be a playoff team, they have to fix the simple things early and use their offense the right way. It could take a while.

Cornerback CJ Henderson

The Cleveland Browns won their first opening day game in almost 20 years when rookie kicker Cade York kicked the game winning field goal. Cleveland won a game by two points they shouldn’t have. Earlier in the game there was a play that set up quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s one yard touchdown pass to Kareem Hunt.

One of the worst mistakes a defensive player can make is committing a terrible penalty during a turnover changing play. It can negate the turnover and not just give the offense the ball back, but additional yardage.

Cleveland’s second possession of the game started in the second quarter and on a third and three at the Carolina 35, Brissett took a risk and threw deep to Amari Cooper in Carolina’s endzone. The pass was under-thrown and Panthers cornerback Xavier Woods intercepted the pass.

Unfortunately for Woods and the Panthers defense, cornerback C.J. Henderson wrapped Cooper up in his arms and threw him onto the ground before the pass landed in Wood’s hands. Color commentator Jay Feely said, “there’s no reason to throw a player down when the pass would have been intercepted anyway”.

While a 58 yard field goal is a bad way to lose a game, it’s better than throwing a defenseless receiver onto the ground and giving up seven points after.