2022 NBA Eastern Conference First Round Playoff Predictions

The 2021-22 NBA regular season ended with anticipation for a deep eastern conference playoff race. Philadelphia star Joel Embiid became the first player born outside North America to win the scoring title in a season. Despite discontent, the Miami Heat are the number one seed in the east. While the Chicago Bulls faltered after the All-Star break, Toronto and Boston are two of the hottest teams in the league. Four talented and elite teams will advance to the second round. Time to break down which four have the best chance.

#6 Chicago Bulls v. #3 Milwaukee Bucks

Despite the anger against Milwaukee’s guard Grayson Allen injuring Bulls guard Alex Caruso on a nationally televised game, the talk on a renewed rivalry fell flat as the Bucks blew out Chicago the two meetings after.

The easiest matchup to predict. The Bucks won all three regular season matchups against Chicago, two by over 20 points. It’s possible the Bulls get lucky and win one game because the offense makes all the shots. Keep in mind Milwaukee’s the reigning NBA champions. This series won’t get past a game five with the defensive efforts of Jrue Holliday and Khris Middleton combined with a better offense that’s more physical near the rim.

Prediction: Bucks win series 4-0

#8 Atlanta Hawks v. #1 Miami Heat

Despite Trae Young’s (11, black) stellar play-in performances, Heat players such as Kyle Lowry (7, white) play better defense and will give the Hawk’s star problems.

Atlanta’s clinch of the eighth seed officially gives the eastern conference all divisional first round playoff matchups. The top two teams in three point percentage have to adjust on defense and play better in the paint if they expect to advance to the second round.

The injury to Hawks center Clint Capela opens a new set off issues outside of his free throw shooting in close games. Heat center Bam Adebayo should dominate both on defense and offense, something most fans and analysts weren’t thinking much on before Friday’s play-in game. Forwards P.J. Tucker and Jimmy Butler already outmatch John Collins and De’Andre Hunter.

Miami’s overwhelming advantage at forward and center puts more pressure on Atlanta star Trae Young to create more on offense and to take more shots. That’s not a good strategy against a better coached Heat team.

Prediction: Heat win series 4-1

#5 Toronto Raptors v. #4 Philadelphia 76ers

The Raptors are a thorn in Philadelphia’s side, winning three of the four matchups including a come-from-behind five point win after being down by 15. Playing in Canada won’t help the 76ers in a seven game series.

The first quality series in the east to start play this weekend features the NBA’s only Canadian team against an up-and-down Sixers squad with the league’s scoring leader and MVP candidate, who’s paired with a former MVP. Philadelphia’s predicted to make round two because of their talented roster and veteran coaching staff. Many expect a quick advance for the 76ers, but those analysts and fans overlook Toronto’s advantages.

Nick Nurse again should be a candidate for coach of the year. Many who follow the league didn’t expect Toronto to even get a playoff spot this high, let alone make it past the regular season. Coach Nurse deploys odd lineups at times putting four forwards or three guards on the court against specific opponents. Nurse knows while his roster may not have the star-power Boston or Miami does, they can out-play a lot of teams.

Philadelphia is one of them. The Raptors beat the 76ers in three of their four meetings, the recent one a comeback down by double digits. People also forget that both Toronto and the province of Ontario is still pro-vaccination and social distancing. Defensive stud Matisse Thybulle will not play in Canada because he’s not fully vaccinated. Newcomer James Harden can’t play defense at an elite level and Joel Embiid will be double-teamed in most situations. The Raptors will shock the world again by making the second round.

Upset Prediction of the first round: Raptors win series 4-2

#7 Brooklyn Nets v. #2 Boston Celtics

The Celtics will go as far as Jayson Tatum (green) can take them.

The best matchup in the eastern conference’s first round. Both teams played their best basketball before the regular season ended. Despite Boston beating Brooklyn in all but one game, the Nets didn’t have consistency until New York lifted the vaccine mandate. After it was lifted, Kyrie’s helped establish a rhythm for the team and Kevin Durant’s playing on an elite level.

Coach Ime Udoka has done a great job improving the playing styles of Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. A year ago, everyone said Boston should move on from the three stars. It’s apparent the franchise needed a new voice and for someone to take the team to the next level in order to get back to the finals.

It’s possible for Brooklyn to win a few games versus Boston, but the Celtics are a complete team. Since point-guard Ben Simmons’ playing status could further complicate matters, team defense could sputter against a hungrier unit who’s proven to beat the Nets in a lot of ways.

Prediction: Celtics win 4-1

Original Season Playoff and Play-in Picks Record: 8-2

2022 NBA Western Conference First Round Playoff Predictions

The 2021-22 NBA regular season ended with anticipation for a thrilling western conference playoff race. Denver star Nikola Jokic became the first player in NBA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists. Dallas and Utah were plagued with drama involving who would step up and lead besides their franchise star. No one can underestimate the growth Memphis has undergone while Phoenix has lost under 45 games since COVID-19 disrupted play. Four deeply talented and elite teams will advance to the second round. Time to break down which four have the best chance.

#5 Utah Jazz v. #4 Dallas Mavericks

Injuries have been a problem for both Utah and Dallas, the most recent one determining how much playing time Luka Doncic (blue, 77) will have regarding his calf.

A lot of people will judge this series by who loses. If it’s Dallas, star Luka Doncic will face heat because he can’t lead the Mavericks past the first round. If Utah loses, it’s because there are locker room problems, Quin Snyder is an ok coach, and they choke when it’s a prime moment to move forward. Both teams want to prove critics wrong.

Let’s start with some basics. Dallas’ second leading team scorer and rebounder was traded mid-season. Doncic will be out game one of the series. Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell looked great against a Memphis Grizzlies team without Ja Morant to clinch their playoff spot, but Utah barely won the Northwest despite nine losses in March.

The series is up for grabs and anything can happen. While I personally don’t base stats (because it’s playoffs and anything can happen), the Mavericks have a lot more issues to address if Luka gets shut down by Rudy Gobert or Mitchell one-on-one. Doncic missing game one could determine who wins the series early.

Prediction: Jazz win series 4-1

#6 Denver Nuggets v. #3 Golden State Warriors

Nuggets MVP candidate Nikola Jokic (15, white) will be the deciding factor on how well the Nuggets can counter and push for a second round entry v. the Warriors. Kevon Looney (5, blue) is one of four players to play in all 82 games this season.

It’s been a cruel, one year since Jamal Murray was on the court. The last time he was, Steph Curry broke Wilt Chamberlain’s Warriors scoring record. Monte Morris is the most reliable guard the Nuggets have versus a rising Klay Thompson. The return of Thompson and Draymond Green are important since Curry should be eased back into the starting lineup, returning for game one.

The added return and expanded role of Jordan Poole could make a difference and be another reason Curry gets needed time off while Green, Andrew Wiggins and Otto Porter Jr. hold down the Golden State defense. If the Nuggets’ forward trio of Aaron Gordon and Jeff and JaMychal Green sputter on offense, this series could end before the Splash Brothers find rhythm.

Prediction: Warriors win series 4-1

#8 New Orleans Pelicans v. #1 Phoenix Suns

Both Monty Williams (left) and Willie Green (right) have been two of the league’s top coaches this year. It’s a shame one of them has to exit the playoffs after the first round.

New Orleans is one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Their reward is playing the league’s best Phoenix Suns, who won a franchise record 64 games. While not fair, we know records don’t mean anything in the playoffs.

Despite the nice story of Willie Green, Monty Williams and Chris Paul all being on the New Orleans Hornets at one point, Williams is the superior coach. Paul still exceeds expectations in his late 30s and both Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton are playing their best basketball.

There is good news for the Pelicans. Despite being swept handily by Phoenix, they added C.J. McCollum at the trade deadline and could have Zion Williamson at some point in the first round. The Suns haven’t faced a better prepared and stronger starting roster since the trade deadline. Phoenix will win, but the series won’t be boring.

Prediction: Suns win 4-1

#7 Minnesota Timberwolves v. #2 Memphis Grizzlies

Desmond Bane (22, blue) v. D’Angelo Russell (0, green) will be an underrated and fun series matchup. Whoever wins this one-on-one gives their team an advantage of moving out of the first round.

This will be one of the nastiest first round series in either conference. Memphis establishes a high scoring physical presence many teams struggle against. Minnesota is hot-and-cold with their shot selection and perimeter play. Regardless of disadvantages, both teams play hard and will establish a bully tone early and often.

Shooting guards Desmond Bane and D’Angelo Russell should have career games with the number of points their teams put up (both average 116 a game), while Patrick Beverley and Ja Morant will be physical and competitive at point guard. Steven Adams is the strongest person in the NBA and has to take on the best athletic center in Karl-Anthony Towns. These three matchups should be watched by fans and analysts to see who become the deciding factor/s. Forwards Dillon Brooks and Anthony Edwards should have their share of opportunities to prove how valuable they’ll be in future series.

The Grizzlies have a major advantage over the Timberwolves: playoff experience. Memphis gave Utah everything they could handle last year and almost took the number one seeded Jazz to seven games. The Wolves are inexperienced and need more time to develop with their new head coach. It’s time the young Grizzlies take the next step.

Prediction: Grizzlies win series 4-3

Original Season Playoff and Play-in Picks Record: 6-4

2021-2022 NBA First Half Analysis

What a fun first half of the season. Most stadiums have fans in full attendance back. The incumbent champion Milwaukee Bucks sit in third place in their division behind two teams who haven’t made the playoffs since last decade. While the MVP race is down to three players, coaching and managing is more important than ever. The second half is set up for a fun and intense finish.

Here’s what we’ve learned throughout the first half of this year’s NBA regular season.

The East is Milwaukee or Miami’s to lose

Brooklyn this, Philadelphia that. Let the big boys get their credit. The Bucks got better at the trade deadline acquiring Serge Ibaka from Los Angeles. This is Ibaka’s best chance to win a second championship before retirement. For anyone wondering, the trio of Giannis-Middleton-Holiday are much better this year than last.

The Bucks add size, defense, some offense and a former champion obtaining Serge Ibaka from Los Angeles.

If there’s any team that can take Milwaukee out, the Heat have the best chance. Miami plays most of their second half at home. Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker are great compliments to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Their defense bests all but a handful of teams in the NBA.

Treatment of Nate McMillan came back to bite the Pacers where it hurts

Remember when Indianapolis thought coach Nate McMillan couldn’t win playoff series and fired him after four seasons? Turns out the Pacers were wrong in every department. Since McMillan’s firing, the Pacers are 54-78 with two coaches and no playoff appearances.

It gets better. Indianapolis traded most of their talent because the roster reached its max potential. They unloaded Torrey Craig to Phoenix, Caris LeVert to Cleveland, Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb and Justin Holiday to Sacramento and cut Tristan Thompson (who’s now in Chicago). Earlier this week it was reported Myles Turner could be moved when the season ends.

It’s clear the Pacers don’t have interest in winning. Watch for Myles Turner to be traded or released when the season ends.

The Pacers can drone on about young talent and re-tooling, but it’s obvious this is a re-build. Sabonis was the star but Indianapolis went as far as he could take them. There’s no big name in the Hoosier State that impresses better teams like Chicago or Milwaukee. At least Atlanta’s in a better position with coach McMillan.

While they’re still cubs, Memphis will be big, bad bears in a few years

The Grizzlies hired the right coach in Taylor Jenkins and drafted the right players. The development of not just Ja Morant, but Desmond Bane and Brandon Clarke provide a core that will be tough and nasty on defense while prolific on offense. Memphis is number one in rebounds and tied for first in points scored per game, winning 41 of their 82 games the first half of the season.

Desmond Bane is Memphis’ third leading scorer with 18 points per game. Bane’s played in more games than star point-guard Ja Morant and is the go-to if Morant has a down night.

The Grizzlies need to take the next step and win a playoff series or two to be considered a true contender. While the west will be determined by Phoenix and Golden State, Memphis plays a pivotal part in who advances to the second round and conference finals. No matter what, they’ll be fun to watch.

The Top 30: Time for one view for each team. The view can range from improvement to an easier transition during the second half of the season.

Atlanta: The Hawks came a long way from last season’s All-Star break. While they’re not out of the play-in race, one wonders if they can beat anyone besides Toronto. If Brooklyn ascends back into the top five, the Hawks have a better chance of getting the seventh or eighth seed. They have to improve defensively if that’s to happen.

Boston: Despite a nine game winning streak, Boston’s sixth in the east with Toronto a game and a half back. Brooklyn’s earlier spiral hasn’t stopped Celtics criticism. Brad Stevens should’ve been let go before Ainge left.

Brooklyn: Lost in the Ben Simmons-James Harden trade is the Nets’ acquisition of Seth Curry. Curry can play point-guard much better than Simmons in home games while transitioning into a reliable shooting-guard on the road. Philadelphia may regret that part of the trade, but it won’t mean anything if the Nets crater in the playoffs.

Charlotte: On one hand the Hornets are one of the funnest teams to watch and revitalize interest from casual viewers. On the other, they’re stuck in a play-in situation despite tying with Memphis scoring the most points per game. The Hornets are a young team so they’ll get a pass this season, but keep this in mind if they’re in the same position next year.

Chicago: DeMar DeRozan is in the regular season MVP talk regardless of what fans and analysts think of Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. Look at where the Bulls are in the standings, their schedule and statistics and reason how he couldn’t be.

Cleveland: Last year the Cavaliers had a hot start but faded quick. Management found the right players to add in the offseason signing Lauri Markkanen and acquiring Caris LeVert at the trade deadline. Cleveland’s a top five team in the east because they’re building the right way. That’s something Boston could learn from.

Dallas: The trading of Kristaps Porzingis to Washington highlights an ail: there’s no number two player behind Luka Doncic. Mavericks management is succeeding in self-sabotage.

Denver: Nikola Jokic is having another MVP caliber season but it won’t matter since point guard is again a long-term issue. There’s still time for the Nuggets to make the right moves after the season, but Jokic should have input on who to add.

Detroit: While a lot of talk is on Cade Cunningham’s solid rookie season, Jerami Grant’s positioned himself to be a key player in the Pistons rebuild. You never want to see rookies be alone in a team’s ascent, but you don’t expect a player in his seventh year in the league to be the team’s leading scorer either.

Golden State: If the Warriors don’t end up in the finals or conference finals, it’s because general manager Bob Myers didn’t trade for a center/big man. It’ll be more painful if the Bucks repeat because of their trade for Serge Ibaka, a player who would’ve fit in coach Steve Kerr’s system.

Houston: Coach Steve Silas deserves better and should get another opportunity to coach a talented team when the Rockets move on. They’re the Miami Dolphins of the NBA.

Indiana: The wildest of the Pacers’ moves was firing Nate Bjorkgren in favor of Rick Carlisle, who stepped down in Dallas to re-evaluate where to go next in his career. Indianapolis is tearing down for a full re-build, but why hire a coach who’s won a championship when you can stick with the coach you had before and have a possibly better draft position? Front office doesn’t appear to know what they’re doing.

Los Angeles Clippers: Tyronn Lue’s an upgrade at coach. You read that right. He’s surpassed Doc Rivers’ coaching last decade. No Kawhi Leonard or Paul George and the Clippers got better at the trade deadline at the eighth spot. Lue is coach of the year and the Clippers could be championship bound next season.

Los Angeles Lakers: While the team is unwatchable and underwhelming, it’s horrifying to watch how Anthony Davis has regressed after winning a 2020 bubble championship ring. One has to wonder how much he has left after this season.

Memphis: One of the key trades general manager Zachary Kleiman made was with New Orleans last season, bringing in Steven Adams. Adams is one of, if not the strongest center in the league yet doesn’t lash out at opponents. He’s the right mentor to players such as Morant and Bane.

Miami: Eerily similar to last year’s first half analysis. Both the Heat and Bulls are managed well and are the top two seeds in the east. Despite the schedule being closer to home, they’ll be tested when the second half hits with games against the Knicks, San Antonio, Chicago, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Houston and Phoenix. If they come out of those games with at least five wins, that’ll be a problem for the rest of the east.

Milwaukee: If you ever want to know how slim the margin for success can be in the NBA playoffs, look no further than last year’s analysis of the Bucks. If Kevin Durant’s foot is behind the three-point line in game seven’s second round playoffs, Mike Budenholzer is not coaching in Wisconsin, there’s no championship, and the Bucks aren’t the favorite to repeat. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging under 30 points a game and the defense is much better, all while Brooklyn’s been hit or miss. Sports is a strange world.

Minnesota: Continuing with the strange world of sports, the Timberwolves are in the bottom half of the league in field goal and three point percentage but are top five in points scored. They’re three wins over .500 and find ways to win games. Even if they’re in the play-in round, that’s a sign they can get past two of the other three teams.

New Orleans: How big was the Zion Williamson pick? If his career continues with injury problems, the NBA has to decide if the team needs to be sold or be under league protection. It could be a failure of epic proportions.

New York: Like last year, truly unexpected. There aren’t words to describe their season outside of wild.

Oklahoma City: The Thunder have their guard duo in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey. Now they need to figure out who their forwards and centers will be. With draft picks and money to spend, they’ll be interesting to watch the next few years.

Orlando: Despite a hard schedule in February, the Magic’s first three games after the All-Star break are against the Rockets and a double-header versus Indiana. All three games are at home. This will tell us where in the re-build Orlando is.

Philadelphia: Joel Embiid may be the front-runner for MVP this season but the Sixers need to find other players who can score. James Harden’s debut should help but Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey need to step up.

Phoenix: Despite a historic season, the Suns will be the most relieved if the Golden State Warriors fall out of the playoffs before the conference finals. Back in 1976, the Suns dethroned the top seeded Warriors in seven, but lost in the finals. While it’s been almost fifty years, the Warriors would love to return the favor, especially since they lead the regular season series two games to one.

Portland: Blazers and Seattle Seahawk fans are interested in what Portland does this offseason. C.J. McCollum’s trade to New Orleans was shocking on a lot of levels, and it could be a warning that a re-build is coming. Seahawk fans have dealt with news headaches regarding trades with Russell Wilson, but their coach Pete Carroll said re-tooling the team could take a few years. Management is planning something and no one knows what’s in store.

Sacramento: There are teams that no matter what they do, no matter who they add, no matter the stats or efforts, they’re just awful and hard to watch on a regular basis. The Kings are one of those teams.

San Antonio: It’s clear coach Gregg Popovich wants the all-time wins record. The Spurs have nothing else going and the roster is in worse shape than Oklahoma City’s.

Toronto: Most underrated team all season. Third in the Atlantic division and seventh in the east. Again, Nick Nurse should be in the coach of the year conversation, because how else would a team in the bottom five in shooting percentage be primed for a playoff run?

Utah: Despite blowing a win to the Lakers, the Jazz recovered well in February, losing only that game. Their play in March will show us how legitimate a contender they are.

Washington: The Wizards went from a hot 20 win start to having jokes made about David Duke Jr. dunk on them. That’s the current state of the franchise.

2021-2022 NHL First Half Analysis

What a fun and memorable first half of the season. The divisions and conferences are back to alignment with a 32nd team added to the league. While the Seattle Kraken aren’t having the historic season as the Vegas Golden Knights, there are a lot of memories, records and accomplishments. The second half is set up to have one of the funnest and intense finishes we could witness this decade. Here are the top takes as All-Star weekend closes.

The eastern conference is stacked with Stanley Cup contenders

Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller (79, blue) scores against Florida’s Spencer Knight February first. New York has gone from re-tooling to a true contender in the eastern conference.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are just one of many teams in the east that look poised for a deep playoff run and possible championship appearance. Tampa isn’t even the top team in Florida. The Panthers lead the east and NHL with 69 points, even with coach Joel Quenneville gone. Yet both teams could be vulnerable if more experienced teams get hot in March.

The Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins are in positions where they’ve gone through ups and downs but have veteran rosters to make more of a push when the playoffs near. Boston needs Tuukka Rask to be the stabilizing presence in net while Pittsburgh needs everyone healthy at the right time. Carolina needs to play a consistent brand of hockey on defense in order to keep their division lead in the Metropolitan.

Last but not least, the New York Rangers and New York Islanders are teams no one wants to face after the All Star break. Since 2022 began, the Rangers have lost to only two teams in playoff contention (Vegas Golden Knights and Carolina Hurricanes), while shutting out the Tampa Bay Lightning, winning a high-scoring game against Toronto, and a complete victory over the Florida Panthers. Gerard Gallant’s team is playing their best hockey at a critical time. The Islanders are climbing up in the standings and will be a hard team to knock out if there’s a second half surge. They’re the team no one wants to face in the playoffs.

The move from NBC has been a success for both ESPN and TNT despite drastic changes

(From left to right) Wayne Gretzky, Paul Bissonnette, Liam McHugh, Anson Carter and Rick Tocchet are fun, educational and refreshing when there’s no game action. The set has a range in humor and seriousness.

Many wondered how both ESPN and TNT would handle the transition of hockey coverage after NBC’s last aired game in summer 2021. The plusses outweigh the minuses when it comes to coverage, advertising and educational takes.

ESPN started the season airing a double-header featuring the current champion Tampa Bay Lightning followed by the inaugural game for the Seattle Kraken. Most of the broadcasters need work and are rusty with NHL action. Thankfully commentators such as Kevin Weekes and Brian Boucher help ease the transition. The games have been a boost for ESPN+ and should get better when playoffs arrive.

The winner so far is TNT. Retaining a good number of the NBC commentators and broadcasters gains a quick but familiar audience. The network’s gem is in the studio. TNT found a way to lure The Great One as they wanted the hockey equivalent of Charles Barkley: funny, educational, and not afraid to speak his mind. In their first telecast, Barkley was brought in for a smooth and hilarious welcome. Many have tweeted and posted about looking forward to Wednesday night hockey on the network after the first two broadcasts. Having Liam McHugh as the host sets the tone every pre-game, intermission and post-game. Audiences don’t just laugh, they learn a lot about the game, the stars, teams and coaching philosophies. Plus, having an extra sports night between Tuesday and Thursday night basketball games ensures this program will be on for at least a decade.

The league must do better with social issues

While most of the U.S. venues are still packed with fans, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec have limited and shut down fan attendance. The Maple Leafs, Senators and Canadiens are now playing in near empty arenas.

This is not the season Gary Bettman intended when it came to hot button topics such as COVID-19, racism and sexual assault. The league entered the season excited for fans to be back in stadiums and a 32nd franchise joining play. While refreshing, the negative headlines on serious issues hold back the league’s promising increases.

The Brad Aldrich-Kyle Beach Chicago sexual assault allegations have mired play not just in the Windy City, but Joel Quenneville’s job in Florida. Then Rocky Wirtz made the wrong headlines when he ranted at reporters Wednesday night before the Blackhawks lost to Minnesota.

Another hot button issue is the league’s handling of racism on and off ice. The NHL has to address diversity issues in the pros and below. One solution is to ostracize those using racial taunts combined with harsher punishments. Black, Indigenous and Asian players are crucial to the league’s developed style of play. There needs to be more than a commemoration of the first black NHL player with genuine efforts on long-term reform.

Last but not least, the COVID issue hasn’t been handled well. The NHL ruled asymptomatic players can not be tested and is easing other parts of their protocols. Despite good intentions, Canada’s still under quarantine, meaning a certain number of fans can’t go to games. While it’s frustrating, the virus is mutating faster with worrying side effects after two years. Easing pressure is going to make players sicker especially near the playoffs.

32 Takes for 32 Teams

Time for one view for each team. The view can range from improvement to an easier transition during the second half of the season.

Anaheim: Turns out my playoff prediction on the Ducks was a year too soon. They’re fun to watch but also play well when needed. The goalie duo of John Gibson and Anthony Stolarz can be enough for a playoff run. They need to pass the second half test in order to clinch a spot. Either way, the re-build is working.

Arizona: While the Brian Flores story pertains to the National Football League, the Coyotes should keep an eye on that situation. Many believe they’re hockey’s version of the Cleveland Browns, boldly stating this offseason they’ll trade with teams in salary cap trouble during a long rebuild. The Arizona Cardinals though could be in this lawsuit Flores is filing and if that happens, the Coyotes have to go about their plan in subtler, simpler ways that don’t spell trouble for the NHL.

Boston: Linus Ullmark isn’t the answer the Bruins thought they solved in net. What happened to Jeremy Swayman splitting starts with Ullmark? While the return of Tuukka Rask helps (I think?), Boston can’t lose ground to a Metropolitan team needing a second half surge (looking at you Long Island).

Buffalo: Thankfully this team’s been better since Don Granato was named head coach. Despite no Owen Power (still at Michigan) and Jack Eichel (traded), Peyton Krebs, Kyle Okposo and Tage Thompson are developing into reliable, solid players. Whatever strange rebuilding/tooling Buffalo chose could work, but chances of things finally clicking together in a deep Atlantic division run slim.

Calgary: If the Flames were in the Central, they’d be in fifth place behind St. Louis. They’re fourth in the pacific despite some hot streaks. Darryl Sutter’s getting the most out of this team but a serious fan can see it’s a matter of time before a re-build’s coming.

Carolina: Finally a team that has an actual chance at the championship. Last year’s analysis was about the goaltending. Frederik Anderson is playing at a Vezina-type level this year, and the Hurricanes are still scoring in bunches. Carolina has to win the Metropolitan for a top seed and finish their first round matchup fast for a real shot at the Stanley Cup.

Chicago: No other team has been as embarrassing as the Blackhawks this season. There’s a good case to start over from scratch when the season ends. No one would blame the incoming general manager if that’s the plan.

Colorado: Tis the season where everyone’s enthralled with Connor McDavid, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the championship beliefs of the Colorado Avalanche. Focusing on the latter, there’s a true concern in net for the Avs. Darcy Kuemper hasn’t played to expectations general manager Joe Sakic had when he executed the trade with the Coyotes. Kuemper has a better defensive unit up front but Colorado’s still playing high scoring games. This could be another second round exit.

Columbus: 41 points at the midway point is a lot for a team many expected to be at the bottom of the Metropolitan. What management has to decide is whether to be competitive every game or a true contender moving forward.

Dallas: The Stars are a disappointment with this much star talent. In net, Jake Oettinger is ok while Braden Holtby looks close to retirement. The offense is hit or miss outside of Joe Pavelski. A coaching change would be the right move to wake this team up.

Detroit: While most knew the Red Wings’ hot start wouldn’t last, they’ve hung around the playoff conversation most of the season despite a mostly young, inexperienced roster. General manager Steve Yzerman may be ahead of schedule with this rebuild. It’s also impressive and understated that despite Tyler Bertuzzi playing eight less games than the other starters, he’s second in team goals with 22.

Edmonton: General manager Ken Holland threw Zach Hyman and Evander Kane onto this mess and said they can contend for the Stanley Cup. Despite their offense, the Oilers are plus one in goal differential. Even if Dave Tippett’s team makes the playoffs, they’ll be a quick out. No easy solutions here.

Florida: The Panthers’ two weak spots are playing on the road and defense. In order to be a favorite past the second round of the playoffs, they have to be a consistent and gritty winner on the road. They’re already close to surpassing Tampa.

Los Angeles: Imagine how good the Kings would be if they weren’t third to last on the penalty kill. Somehow they’re two points behind a lackluster Vegas team. Here’s hoping Todd McLellan doesn’t preside over another second half collapse.

Minnesota: If you asked me today who the top team in the west is, it’s the Wild. From the hiring of Dean Evason to careful building of the roster around Kirill Kaprizov with Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Hartman, to the trust and development in Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen, there’s no weak spot on this team.

Montreal: No team will be happier once the regular season ends than the Canadiens. Here are the players that have played few/no games this season: starting and backup goaltenders Carey Price and Jake Allen, captain Shea Weber, Joel Armia, Jonathan Drouin, Christian Dvorak and free agent acquisition Mathieu Perreault. Firing general manager Marc Bergevin mid-season was reactionary. At this point, use players in the minor leagues.

Nashville: Maybe John Hynes was a good hire to replace Peter Laviolette. The Predators have two 20 goal scorers, a starting goalie with a .927 save percentage, top 15 in goals scored and a top ten power-play unit. They’re also the most aggressive team, leading in penalty minutes with 564. They have a great shot at the final four in the west and maybe a conference championship if these numbers stay.

New Jersey: The Devils have an interesting way of tanking while trying to stay competitive. Their goalie situation is the main reason for a sunken season. The Devils won’t win many games if MacKenzie Blackwood or Jonathan Bernier aren’t in net.

New York Islanders: It’s not often something like this is true, but the Islanders are lower than expected because of one whole month of playing on the road…and that was the first month of the season. Despite being one of the three teams to score less than 100 goals by the All-Star break, they’re second in goals against. Barry Trotz is the reason this team isn’t top three worst in the league. Expect a much better second half.

New York Rangers: Hilarious that after all the years of goaltending being the staple of the Rangers playoffs chances, it’s goaltending that will determine how far New York goes in the playoffs. It’s almost as if…owner James Dolan was in the right to fire John Davidson and Jeff Gorton.

Ottawa: Regardless of up-and-down play, D.J. Smith is developing the roster carefully. Drake Batherson is the Senators’ best player. Brady Tkachuk is a true captain and fighter, and Tim Stuetzle is a super-star in the making. This team will be a problem when the core players hit their mid-20s.

Philadelphia: It’s wild that when defenseman Ryan Ellis got injured, the defense and then the team fell in disarray. When Brian Lawton discussed how close teams are to the playoffs each year (minus a few), he meant this type of situation. If Ellis played until this past week, we’re having different conversations about general manager Chuck Fletcher, former head coach Alain Vigneault, Claude Giroux’s offseason and the roster moving forward.

Pittsburgh: The Penguins would be the fifth seed if the playoffs started today and that’s without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They’ll be a headache for any of the top teams in the east that won’t clinch a top three seed.

San Jose: Same situation as Philadelphia. The Sharks would be higher in the standings if Erik Karlsson and Kevin Labanc stay healthy. It’s safe to say the Ottawa Senators won the Karlsson trade. Then the decision to release Evander Kane is a factor when the Sharks can’t score more than two goals a night.

Seattle: General manager Ron Francis bungled every bit of Seattle’s expansion draft outside of the goaltending and defensemen picks. We all understand the need to build gradually but he lowballed the draft so bad they’re the worst team in the worst division. The cherry on top is Carolina doing phenomenal since Francis left.

St. Louis: A Blues-Wild conference finals would be a thrilling watch and is possible since they’re the most consistent and deepest teams in the west. Even if Ville Husso cools and Binnington returns in net, the Blues are still top ten in defense and offense. Here’s hoping we get that matchup.

Tampa Bay: Despite the target on their back, the Lightning will be the favorites for a three-peat until someone knocks them out of the playoffs. No one else is on their level.

Toronto: Until the Maple Leafs find a way to win a first round playoff series, don’t waste energy or thoughts regarding where this team is. We’ll find out when the regular season ends.

Vancouver: The Canucks are bottom five in scoring and have the worst penalty kill in the league (69%), yet they’re just outside the playoff bubble. The hiring of interim Bruce Boudreau makes sure the players go back to playing the game in a simple way without doing too much. At the end of the day, wins mean more than stats to any team trying to make the playoffs.

Vegas: A very underwhelming first place team. Best summarized with this stat-line: top five in scoring but five players have scored 10+ goals, one of which was a low risk free agent signing. Perhaps the Jack Eichel debut will reinvigorate and bring a new layer to a team we’ve seen play better.

Washington: The Capitals are in a lose-lose situation. Alex Ovechkin got the contract wanted but the defense and goal-tending won’t get Washington far in the playoffs. There’s talk Washington could land a goalie such as Marc-Andre Fleury; but Fleury would either want quality years to end his career or Chicago foolishly believes they can still compete with their current roster for a deep playoff run. The Capitals may not have the trade pieces available.

Winnipeg: Deep down we knew when Paul Maurice stepped down, the Jets would crumble. They miss depth players Mathieu Perreault and Mason Appleton on offense. They’re sixth in a loaded central division with long-term issues on defense to address. The run was nice, but it’s time to break the roster up.

2022 NFC Divisional Round Playoff Picks

Wildcard weekend was rarely competitive in the NFC. Tampa Bay and Los Angeles easily won their games. San Francisco provided audiences with the best and closest game capped with a dramatic finish. The remaining four (the Green Bay Packers had a week off) teams have a great shot at getting to both the conference championship and the Super Bowl. Even with a battered 49ers team in the picture, no team is an easy out. It’s time to analyze which two teams have the best shot at making the next round.

#6 San Francisco 49ers v. #1 Green Bay Packers

Despite another MVP season from Aaron Rodgers, the Packers clinched the one seed because defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s made the defense much better, rounding out Green Bay to playing as a complete team.

Another fun playoff rivalry involving the 49ers. They’ve manhandled Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers three times since last decade. However a lot’s different since the 2020 conference championship in Santa Clara.

The Packers are a more complete team with defensive coordinator Joe Barry calling plays. Under Barry’s defense, Green Bay surrenders under 22 points per game. They’ve been good at stopping the run and getting after opposing quarterbacks. This presents a unique problem to San Francisco; running the ball 30 times knowing Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers could turn the game against them early or trusting an inexperienced Trey Lance or injured Jimmy Garappolo behind center.

Those aren’t good options for a four quarter playoff game. Rodgers is getting receiver Randall Cobb back this Saturday and left tackle David Bakhtiari is 100%. San Francisco’s best pass rusher Nick Bosa is still recovering from the concussion he suffered Sunday. At their best the 49ers can keep the game close and at worst Green Bay can run away with the score by halftime.

Prediction: Packers win 30-20

#4 Los Angeles Rams v. #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If the Rams have a chance at advancing to the NFC conference championship, the defensive pairing of Leonard Floyd and Von Miller will be a reason why. Both are red hot by stopping the run and terrorizing quarterbacks.

Another rematch from earlier this season features two teams on the cusp of history. The Rams have a chance of being the first football team to win a championship based in Los Angeles and the second straight team to host a super bowl while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to be the first team to repeat title wins since the Patriots in the mid-2000s.

For Tampa to win Sunday, they have to run the football consistently. Offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen will play hurt and that means making room for runningbacks is the best option to keep both in the game without additional flare-ups. The combination of Le’Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard, Ronald Jones II and Ke’Shawn Vaughn is enough to keep the Rams front seven off-balance. The Bucs have to stick to the gameplan and not deviate, otherwise it’ll be open season on quarterback Tom Brady.

The Los Angeles offense may be in a tricky situation. Runningback Cam Akers is back and it creates more balance and less pressure on quarterback Matthew Stafford. Tampa’s defense isn’t good to run against. The Buccaneers have most of their secondary in Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead back. Outside of four big play receivers, the Rams don’t have enough depth to take on a Tampa secondary at full health. Combined with Stafford’s ability to throw an interception returned for a touchdown every other week, it’s hard to see how this offense can be consistent in a stadium many teams struggled in this season.

Prediction: Buccaneers win 20-16

Last weeks record: 3-0

Overall season record: 169-109

2022 AFC Divisional Round Playoff Picks

Wildcard weekend wasn’t competitive in the AFC. Kansas City, Buffalo and Cincinnati controlled their games and won with few scares. The remaining four (the Tennessee Titans had a week off) teams have a great shot at getting to both the conference championship and the Super Bowl. Even with an inexperienced Bengals team in the picture, no team is an easy out. It’s time to analyze which two teams have the best shot of making the next round.

#4 Cincinnati Bengals v. #1 Tennessee Titans

Combined with Mike Vrabel’s coaching, the receiving duo of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, exceptional play from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the return of the best runningback in the NFL Derrick Henry (22, white), the Titans are the team to beat in the AFC.

Cincinnati again plays the opener of the playoff round, this time on the road in Nashville. Thankfully their defensive front stays intact as Josh Tupou and Trey Hendrickson return from last Saturday’s injuries. Tennessee gets their top offensive player Derrick Henry back after a foot injury ended his regular season on Halloween.

These teams mirror each other. Both have excellent receivers, a solid running game, shaky offensive lines, but better defenses that have stepped up when needed. Eli Apple has been a good number one cornerback for Cincinnati while Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker are a good safety tandem on Tennessee.

This game comes down to who wins up front on the defensive and offensive lines. The Bengals may play the line of scrimmage more with two hurting defensive linemen starting. That means Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill can set Henry up to create more options. The passing game opens and Cincinnati’s offense could get baited into making mistakes. The Bengals and coach Zac Taylor have a lot to be proud and thankful for this year, but a more experienced playoff team ends their season playing a more complete game.

Prediction: Titans win 27-23

#3 Buffalo Bills v. #2 Kansas City Chiefs

The Bills defensive line made life miserable for quarterback Patrick Mahomes (red, center) in their regular season matchup. That might not change Sunday night.

When the Bills last saw Kansas City, the Chiefs offense was anemic and dependent on big plays to score. Those days seem over as Kansas City has adapted and extended possessions. There are still issues on defense and an up and down running game, but quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight-end Travis Kelce still find ways to score.

The Buffalo offense has been up and down since their Sunday night regular season matchup. There were struggles running the ball without quarterback Josh Allen, becoming one dimensional. The winter season has brought a shift, with the Bills winning every important game from clinching a division title to a home-field thrashing of the rival Patriots last Saturday night.

The biggest factors are how physical both defenses can play and Tyreek Hill’s health. Referee John Hussey calls fair games and penalties when needed. Therefore, the Bills defense can play bully ball like they did in the regular season, giving time for Jerry Hughes, Greg Rousseau and the remaining front seven more time to get to Mahomes. If Hill isn’t feeling 100% with his ankle, it could be a while before the Chiefs offense finds rhythm.

Prediction: Bills win 35-27

Last weeks record: 3-0

Overall season record: 169-109

2022 NFC Wild Card Weekend Playoff Picks

The 2021-2022 NFL regular season is over. 14 teams in two conferences (seven in each) have a shot at winning the Vince Lombardi championship trophy. The new playoff format features an extra team, one bye week for the top seeded team in each conference, and a Monday night playoff game. Everyone wants to know which three teams in the NFC advance to the divisional round, so here are the best bets come Sunday.

#7 Philadelphia Eagles v. #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The first conference playoff game on Sunday, this matchup shouldn’t be overlooked. Philadelphia started the season at 2-5, but won seven of their last ten. The incumbent champion Buccaneers have been injury and drama plagued all season.

Tampa’s list of injuries helps the Eagles keep this game close. No Lavonte David ensures Philadelphia will run the ball until the Buccaneers stop it or trail late. No Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown or Leonard Fournette might be a problem if the score is close. Regardless, Tom Brady excels in the playoffs…even if his weakness is playing another NFC East opponent.

Prediction: Buccaneers win 30-28

#6 San Francisco 49ers v. #3 Dallas Cowboys

One of if not the best playoff rivalry returns Sunday afternoon. Both teams have great defenses, strong running games and better offensive lines. San Francisco Dallas could be the best game of wildcard weekend, highlighted by coaches who have turned their teams around.

One of the quiet success stories this season has been San Francisco’s offensive line play. Despite playing multiple games with backups at both guard positions, the 49ers have shut down blitzes from some of the best teams in the NFL, including their division rival Rams twice.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been the right hire. He’s fixed an atrocious secondary and brought the best out of Dallas’ young linebacking core. Micah Parsons is in the defensive rookie and defensive player of the year conversations. DeMarcus Lawrence has improved on the right end and Trevon Diggs is a turnover machine. Despite the success, Dallas hasn’t played up to their competition at times and faces a head coach in Kyle Shanahan who’s gone through lows and turned things around.

One of the best gems pointed out this week by 49er fan Nick Gamulo was Dallas’ defense under Dan Quinn playing more of a cover three. San Francisco starting quarterback Jimmy Garappolo succeeds when playing against this type of defense, completing 73% of his passes. Dallas’ front seven is ranked 24th against the run, while 49er runningback Elijah Mitchell averages almost five yards a carry. Watch for both of these to play a pivotal role.

San Francisco’s use of receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk factor into how the Cowboys defense defends at the line of scrimmage. Expect Shanahan to take advantage of weaknesses Diggs has in one on one coverage and run up the middle versus a weaker defensive front.

Upset prediction of the week: 49ers win 30-20

#5 Arizona Cardinals v. #4 Los Angeles Rams

The first Monday night playoff game to be played this century, part three of Cardinals Rams should end wildcard weekend with style. Both franchises split in the regular season, winning their games on the road. Both teams are in different directions; Arizona faltering after 10-1 start, and Los Angeles rising at the best time despite a loss Sunday to San Francisco.

Matthew Stafford’s favorite target, Cooper Kupp was shy of Calvin Johnson’s all-time receiving record by less than 20 yards. He’ll be a focus of defenses this postseason.

Both teams get critical players back. J.J. Watt returns for Arizona’s front seven. The Cardinal pass rush hasn’t been the same since Watt was injured, gradually becoming a non-factor. The Rams get runningback Cam Akers back at full health. This helps take pressure off quarterback Matthew Stafford and not having an unbalanced passing attack every time coach Sean McVay’s offense goes on the field.

The deciding factor is Sean McVay’s record v. Arizona and head coach Kliff Kingsbury overall. McVay lost his first game to the Cardinals this season, beating them every time before and since. Arizona can improve in the offseason knowing they’re a better team that just needed the playoff experience.

Prediction: Rams win 27-17

Week 18 Picks: 9-7

Season record: 163-109

2022 AFC Wild Card Weekend Playoff Picks

The 2021-2022 NFL regular season is over. 14 teams in two conferences (seven in each) have a shot at winning the Vince Lombardi championship trophy. The new playoff format features an extra team, one bye week for the top seeded team in each conference, and a Monday night playoff game. Everyone wants to know which three teams in the AFC advance to the divisional round, so here are the best bets come Saturday.

#5 Las Vegas Raiders v. #4 Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Burrow (right) has Cincinnati poised to win their first playoff game of the 21st century.

The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. To put that in perspective, the first cellphone came out in 1992, and no one has texted about Cincinnati winning a playoff game in real time. This year could be different. Sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow is playing some of the best football regarding accuracy, impressive numbers and determination. Coach Zac Taylor pushed all the right buttons in the regular season. Despite a young roster, the Bengals approach every week like a veteran team.

Las Vegas won a meaningless overtime game and has to start the playoffs on a Saturday afternoon with an interim head coach who may or may not keep his job. If the Raiders played for a tie or somehow still won with backups versus Los Angeles, they would have the edge. It doesn’t help this is quarterback Derek Carr’s debut and it comes against a top tier defense.

Prediction: Bengals win 27-17

#6 New England Patriots v. #3 Buffalo Bills

The second of the Saturday and AFC playoff games, part three of the Patriots-Bills rivalry will again feature winter weather conditions. Hopefully it won’t be similar to the terrible conditions in Buffalo the first time where rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw three total passes and Josh Allen looked like his rookie self.

Coach Sean McDermott is on the verge of getting his team back to the championship game. However he has to defeat the best coach to grace the football field in order to return.

Both teams are on a different trajectory. Since that first game in Buffalo, Jones and the Patriots offense don’t look threatening. In fact, the rookie had the worst game of his career last Sunday in what was Brian Flores’ last win as Dolphins head coach. Defense keeps New England in the game, but the passing game has to be better against a top tier Bills defense.

Quarterback Josh Allen has played better, but Buffalo isn’t wow-ing anyone like most expected. Still, Allen has more experience in the playoffs over rookie Mac Jones, and coach Sean McDermott not just counters the best coach in the NFL, but has home field advantage to get the results.

Prediction: Bills win 16-6

#7 Pittsburgh Steelers v. #2 Kansas City Chiefs

One of the most lopsided playoff games on paper, Steelers Chiefs part two may not have a different result. The retirement party for Ben Roethlisberger could be this Sunday with a Chiefs offense facing a a Steeler defense they picked apart in December.

Unless Najee Harris performs like a vintage Adrian Peterson, Pittsburgh’s offense will have a problem stretching the passing game and countering a rejuvenated Kansas City pass rush. On the other end, Mahomes and company will have a lot of looks and plays called against the Steeler secondary.

Prediction: Chiefs win 37-17

Week 18 picks record: 9-7

Season picks record: 163-109

NFL Week 15 Winners and Losers

For the first time this season, teams are clinching playoff berths. Those teams secured their divisions and have chances at top seeding. Even more exciting are the teams that had chances to clinch and couldn’t, setting historical marks falling short. Time to see who or what else stood out after week 15 ended.

Winners: Amon-Ra St. Brown

The rookie mid-round pick could wind up being a star receiver in Detroit’s offensive rebuild. St. Brown gained fame in the sports world for his game winning touchdown catch a few weeks ago in a home win against the Minnesota Vikings. St. Brown was the best receiver in Ford Field on Sunday catching eight passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. Whenever quarterback Jared Goff needed a completion or a third down conversion, the rookie came through catching all but three passes thrown his way.

Lions general manager Brad Holmes has a lot to fix on offense and while he won’t have the number one pick heading into the 2022 draft, there’s relief knowing he made the right trades, coaching hires and picks in his first draft in Detroit. Amon-Ra St. Brown works well with his feet near the out of bounds markers and can break away from defenders. He may not have the career former Lion wide receiver Calvin Johnson did but he’ll be a key player for whoever’s quarterback going forward.

Duke Johnson

Credit to the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh for going through an awful year in his first season as head coach. Jets Dolphins was one of the few entertaining early games, and second overall pick Zach Wilson at times looked like Russell Wilson in some first half plays. The best player on the field was veteran runningback Duke Johnson, who took over in the second quarter and is a factor in Miami’s rebound to .500.

During the broadcast it was said Johnson’s playing on the team he wanted to win with as a child and he’s showing it in a resurgent season. His two touchdowns got Miami three points within a tie, and then a tied score in the third quarter. His 22 runs for 107 yards was a reason the Dolphins dominated time of possession in the second half. Coach Brian Flores realized his team started slow and made the right adjustments, giving the best players available more time to take control.

In order for Miami to clinch a playoff spot, the running game has to gain traction for more than just one half. It’s perfect timing since most playoff bound teams start balancing their running and passing games before January.

Dennis Allen and the New Orleans Saints

Dennis Allen’s first stint as head coach with the Oakland Raiders from 2012 to not even mid 2014 was Lane Kiffin-level bad. The 2013 Raiders defense was one of the worst the NFL’s seen this century. After the firing, Allen went to New Orleans to re-tool and learn how to overcome those failures. Sunday night’s shutout over the current Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will give Allen another chance to be a head coach somewhere after the season.

ESPN reported Sunday night was the first time an opponent shut out a Tom Brady offense without scoring a touchdown. It’s also the first time Brady’s been shutout at home, snapping a 175 game streak. The last time the 44 year old quarterback didn’t score was against the Nick Saban led Dolphins in 2006. What’s more impressive is the Saints did it without head coach Sean Payton on the sideline (Payton’s battling a second bout of COVID-19).

That promoted assistant and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to head coach for one game. Allen’s defense intercepted Brady once, injured his top three receivers/play makers, and forced and recovered a fumble after Brady ran for a first down try. They made the headline MVP candidate look like a backup.

It’s possible this is what current Raiders owner Mark Davis saw in Allen when he hired him in 2012. Some of the most successful coaches in NFL history succeeded with one team but were horrendous with others. Allen might have a better tenure the second time if a team hires him this offseason.

Losers: Todd Downing and the hapless Tennessee Titans offensive line

The second half collapse from the Titans’ offense will be blamed on turnovers and poor play from quarterback Ryan Tannehill (because that’s how people think if/when quarterbacks play poorly). The causes of the turnovers and inept play starts with Tennessee’s offensive line, which is terrible in many ways.

There is some leniency with no Derrick Henry or A.J. Brown starting but it doesn’t excuse why the five men up front play like sieves. Tannehill was sacked four times and intercepted once due to poor pass protection and constant pressure seconds after starting plays. His lost fumble after a run happened because of the offensive line caving in earlier than expected.

What’s worse was the second half gameplan offensive coordinator Todd Downing drew up. Runningback D’Onta Foreman almost averaged five yards a carry on 22 runs. He had a 100 yard game and could’ve been one of the highlighted players of the week. Foreman didn’t turn the ball over or face pressures. He did help the offensive line gain confidence in moving the defense backwards and taking pressure off Tannehill on long drives. Downing wanted a pass heavy second half, steering away from what worked to how the Titans could have an aerial advantage.

Tennessee is one game up on the Indianapolis Colts for first place but any chance at the number one seed and a bye week is done. They also keep Pittsburgh in the AFC North race. The Steelers aren’t in the playoff talks if D’Onta Foreman closes out the second half rather than turnovers three straight possessions.

The career of Mike Glennon

Some quarterbacks are bad because they aren’t given time or talent to succeed. A good number are and become backups for good reasons. Yet some are just bad and shouldn’t be on a field no matter the condition.

Glennon is a good example. Giants starter Daniel Jones could miss the rest of the season and that means someone has to start in New York. Unfortunately, Dallas’ defense is one of the league’s best and Glennon had no idea who was in open coverage or who his receivers were. He threw for 99 yards and three interceptions in three and a half quarters of play.

His career started by tanking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the first pick of the 2014 draft and has gotten worse. Every team Mike Glennon played for moved on quickly, including the 2017 Chicago Bears. In four games with the Giants he’s thrown three touchdowns, seven interceptions and just over 50% of his passes.

Sunday’s performance was so bad that coach Joe Judge has named Jake Fromm, an openly racist quarterback the Buffalo Bills cut just after the 2020 draft, to start the remaining games of the season. It’s been stated how bad the New York Giants have been for the last five years, but this is a new low after another failed season.

John Harbaugh’s addiction for two point conversions

Harbaugh is one of the league’s most respected and tenured coaches. It’s why Baltimore’s three game losing streak is shouldered on him for the inability to make smart decisions. Sunday was the second of those three losses to fall on a failed two point conversion.

Two point conversions after touchdowns are risky when a team is trailing especially late in a game. While backup Tyler Huntley wasn’t the preferred starter, the Ravens turned the tide in the fourth quarter. They stifled Green Bay’s offense and scored at will. It’s why the decision to go for a two point conversion with 47 seconds left baffled many.

Keep in mind Baltimore’s kicker Justin Tucker broke the field goal record this year. Not using a kicker to tie a game could demoralize that asset over time. Plus there’s no guarantee Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could win the game anyway. Poor decision making has Baltimore in third place and it falls on a coach who put faith in analytics and not smart football.

Note: The writer, editor and publisher will be extended break after this is published. Winners and Losers will return for the NFL’s regular season finale January 10th. There will be an additional publishing before New Years in either professional basketball, ice hockey or the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

NFL Week 14 Winners and Losers

The fourteenth week of the regular season eliminated teams from playoff contention and solidified division leaders. The playoffs are a month away and most teams are getting ready for free agency/offseason, or vying for home-field advantage. Time to break down who’s closer to the Super Bowl and who’s ready for a top five position in the draft.

Winners: Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Derrick Gore

Kansas City’s offense hasn’t been the unstoppable force many expected or wanted not just because of quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ play, but also an anemic running game. Sunday showed how great the offense can be if the starting runningbacks have good games.

Starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s faced valid criticism on his play. He’s a late first round pick both Mahomes and general manager Brett Veach thought could add flexibility to the offense. While he’s struggled in the starting role this season, Sunday was a step in the right direction.

Edwards-Helaire ran for two of the three touchdowns Kansas City scored in the second quarter of a home rout of the Las Vegas Raiders. The Chiefs had the biggest blowout against the Raiders in their franchise’s historic rivalry.

Backup Derrick Gore deserves credit too. The undrafted rookie had the longest run of his season for 51 yards and his second career touchdown. The game was out of reach but he needs to see the field more in order to improve his vision and efficiency.

If the running game improves the last four weeks of the season, it’s possible Kansas City winds up as the top team to beat in the playoffs. In an up-and-down AFC, the Chiefs have the leverage until someone beats them.

The Cleveland Browns after the bye

Cleveland was fortunate to play the same opponent back-to-back with an off week in between. Regardless of an injury to Baltimore Ravens franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Browns were the better all-around team.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield looked better after a week off. While he threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns, Mayfield made it known this was the best he felt all season. Cleveland’s offensive line has been hit or miss, but they played well and protected Mayfield when the play-calling went pass heavy.

The defense continues improvement from last season especially in the secondary. Part of that is due to another year of chemistry on the front seven and the increased pressures on opposing offenses. The Browns defense forced and recovered two fumbles while sacking Jackson and backup Tyler Huntley four times.

The AFC North race is tight but Cleveland can come out on top if the offense steps up and gets hot at the right time. Runningbacks Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb can add potency in their returns from injury.

Javonte Williams and the Denver Broncos

Denver’s been a hard team to figure out. They look good some weeks and awful in others. One positive is runningback Javonte Williams, who’s giving the offense ways to win and extend drives.

It’s known the Detroit Lions keep most of their games close, and they did the first half in the Mile High City. The Broncos dominated in the second half thanks to Williams’ touchdown catch and Melvin Gordon III running for a score.

Javonte Williams has the potential to be a dual purpose runningback, and Denver’s starting to realize that. His rushing stats are higher because of increased usage the past three weeks but he’s also a good receiver averaging almost nine yards a catch, three touchdowns and almost 300 yards. If he can keep the fumbles to a minimum, there’s no reason he can’t be a top five runningback in the league.

Also, applause to Tim Patrick, Cortland Sutton, the fans and the Broncos organization for honoring and memorializing Demaryius Thomas, who passed away last week. What Denver, Detroit and referee John Hussey did in the opening makes all of them winners.

The race for the number one seed in the NFC

Since the NFL expanded to a seven team playoff format, many wondered when competition for the top seed’s lone bye would make playoff caliber teams perform better and stay closer with their winning records. It’s happened in year two of the format.

Arizona (pending the Monday night result) is best in the NFL with two losses, but Green Bay and Tampa Bay are close behind with three. The Dallas Cowboys have four. Dallas and Arizona play week 17 and the result of that game could rearrange the top four order in the conference.

Outside of that matchup, each team has at least one difficult game. Tampa Bay hasn’t beaten New Orleans in the regular season since Tom Brady’s arrival. Green Bay lost to Minnesota earlier in the year and could struggle with Baltimore and Cleveland. Arizona plays both Indianapolis and Seattle, teams playing desperate football despite injuries. You couldn’t ask for a more exciting finish in a more competitive NFC.

Losers: Urban Meyer’s First Season in Jacksonville

The Urban Meyer experiment peaked at the hiring and has been downhill since. Before Sunday, news sources ranging from Yahoo Sports to USA Today reported brutal treatment to coaches and staff and how ruling with impunity caused franchise stars such as number one pick Trevor Lawrence to openly say certain players need to play more instead of being benched. Then came Sunday.

Lawrence was sacked three times and knocked down at least double. He threw four interceptions on 40 passing attempts. The Jaguars were shutout against a Tennessee Titans squad who’s best player outside of quarterback Ryan Tannehill is replacement runningback D’Onta Foreman.

The press conference sunk them lower. On a question regarding assistant coaches speaking out against Urban Meyer’s stubbornness and terrible running of the team, the head coach said anyone who leaked information from within to the press would be fired. No head coach can either say this publicly or make the move without the general manager’s approval.

The worst part is Jacksonville owner Shad Khan may not be able to fire Meyer because of the contract in place. Five years remain under the current contract broken down in this published article by Charles Robinson earlier today.

The Jaguars have issues with crowd attendance since re-building and while this is the most pivotal point in the franchise, it’s led by a coach who has no business in the NFL. Meyer’s capable of ruining the team top to bottom, again opening the idea of the Jaguars moving to another market. It’s not that far off with how bad the team’s been since 2008.

Cincinnati Bengals

There wasn’t a worse loss for a playoff caliber team than Cincinnati’s on Sunday. Despite turnovers, penalties and a slow start, the Bengals led by three and lost in overtime because no one could cover a tight-end.

From fumbles on offense by rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase to fumbles on punt returns, Cincinnati couldn’t hold onto the ball in the first half against the 49ers. Despite the blunders, San Francisco lead 20-6 after the third quarter.

The Bengals played their one good quarter of football in the fourth. The game went to overtime after a Robbie Gould missed field goal, and the Bengals responded by making theirs. It was their only lead. The defense had no answer for George Kittle who had his second 150 yard game in two weeks on 13 catches. The touchdown from Jimmy Garappolo to Brandon Aiyuk gave San Francisco the win.

The worst part is Cincinnati’s playoff positioning. Baltimore lost in the early afternoon, so the Bengals had an opportunity to jump to first place and further knock the Ravens off the playoff standings (especially after Lamar Jackson’s injuries and terrible play). Pittsburgh would also have little chance of winning the division since they lost both divisional games decisively. The Bengals drop to third place in the AFC North and are in ninth place, two spots outside the final playoff berth.

Buffalo Bills

Ever since the Sunday night dominance over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bills have played like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Their wins after that Sunday night are against what was the one win Dolphins, the New York Jets and the Trevor Siemian-led New Orleans Saints. That’s a poor list considering this team made the conference championship last year and were touted as one of the league’s best teams.

On offense, quarterback Josh Allen looks more like what people say Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson is: a thrower who either forces passes to his top three targets or a runner who is the main runningback on the team. The offensive line has regressed and none of the runningbacks are trusted for critical yardage gains.

On defense, a unit that many said was the best in the league was again picked apart by nemesis Tom Brady. What was accidentally funny and shocking was a Brady pass on 3rd on 3 in overtime where CBS commentator Tony Romo said something along the lines of, “This is it. This is the play of the game. If Buffalo wants to win, they have to get the offense off the field or in a position to punt.” 15 seconds later, Brady threw his 700th career touchdown to a receiver who hadn’t caught a pass all game.

While Buffalo finishes with a softer schedule compared to teams like Indianapolis and Cleveland, they aren’t a team who can go far in the playoffs or even win a game. This is after playing like the best team in their conference up to week seven. It doesn’t more disappointing than that.

The NFL and NBC’s terrible decision of making audiences watch Bears-Packers

Journalists are supposed to be objective in criticism and I think this particular criticism in flexing games is valid especially when commissioner Roger Goodell flexed two games to be played this upcoming Saturday and not on their Sunday dates. The last Sunday night games have been terrible for audiences wanting to watch good football.

Last week was how you don’t flex a divisional matchup that is entertaining and can pull an audience from a specific area of the country. The logic the NFL and NBC used to flex week 13’s Seattle-San Francisco matchup wasn’t there in a skewed Chicago-Green Bay game. Green Bay has “owned” the Chicago Bears since 1992, and while the Bears put up a good fight for one half, the coverage was awful. Here’s a list of terrible and disrespectful things on the Sunday night show.

  • When making picks for Sunday night’s game, the SNF poll reported 95% of the audience expected Green Bay to win. Instead of everyone saying who they had winning the game, show host Mike Tirico said, “there’s no need, you all know who we have winning tonight.” Everyone picked the home team Packers.
  • Cris Collinsworth wouldn’t shut up about how Aaron Rodgers is, “a great guy. He doesn’t care. Have you seen a guy, and in particular this year, be more honest about everything. You may not agree with everything he says, but we have heard from the beginning of this entire season exactly what he thinks about everything.” This from the quarterback who said he was immunized, believed in Joe Rogan’s “science-filled” podcasts and took Ivermectin. Sure Cris.
  • Jokes, roasting, blatant disrespect and ignoring the Chicago Bears outside of Matt Nagy praise in the first half (for who knows what). The last ten minutes of the game both Al Michaels and Collinsworth made it known they wanted to talk about Rodgers and doing one-liners when the Bears were the focus. What’s important is how they’re not the only broadcasting crew on a network airing football to do this. Fans, including those in Chicago would like for the Bears not to be watched on national television because of how bad they are.
  • Must we be reminded of how terrible the Bears are since their one Super Bowl win? Again?
  • When the Bears are on offense but bearded doppelgänger of Aaron Rodgers is more important.

The worst was on ESPN’s Sportscenter when Scott Van Pelt said the best thing he saw Sunday was the thrilling win by the 2021 Canadian Football League champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their Grey Cup overtime win. Most of that game was aired during the Bears-Packers game.

If the NFL wanted to flex a divisional matchup, Dallas and Washington would’ve been a great game in terms of audience, revenue and a close finish. Tom Brady facing the Buffalo Bills has a lot to work with and spin. Even Baltimore and Cleveland part two would’ve been a more fun watch. The NFL has to choose which games deserve flexing and be consistent on why.