NFC South Preview: Off-season Recap and Predictions

NFC South Preview

The NFC South saw a lot of changes this off-season with stars leaving and joining like crazy. Tom Brady faked a retirement and now the NFC South will continue to run through Tampa. Will there be a team to knock off the GOAT? Here’s a look at the offseason moves and a preview of predictions for the NFC South.

NFC South Preview

4. Atlanta Falcons

Key losses – RB Mike Davis, DE Steven Means, TE Hayden Hurst, OLB Dante Fowler Jr., CB Fabian Moreau, LB Foyesade Oluokun, LS Josh Harris, SS Duron Harmon, WR Russell Gage, P Thomas Morstead. QB Matt Ryan

Key additions – QB Marcus Mariota, CB Casey Hayward, OLB Lorenzo Carter, LB Rashaan Evans, RB Damien Williams, WR Bryan Edwards, WR Drake London, DE Arnold Ebiketie, LB Troy Anderson, QB Desmond Ridder, RB Tyler Allgeier

Re-signed – RB Cordarrelle Patterson (2-years), CB Isaiah Oliver (1-year), S Erik Harris (1-year)

Extensions – OT Jake Matthews (3-years, $52 million), DT Grady Jarrett (3-years, $50 million)

In head coach Arthur Smith’s first season in Atlanta, the Falcons went 7-10, finishing 3rd in the NFC South. This would be quarterback Matt Ryan’as last season in red, as he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. The rebuild is underway for the Falcons and they need to find their franchise QB.

The offense last season finished 29th in the NFL in total offense. They were horrible running the ball, finishing in the bottom three of the league in both yards per carry and yards, and it doesn’t look like it’ll get better this season.

The offensive line is one of the worst in the league, with only two quality starters: tackle Jake Matthews and guard Chris Lindstrom. This doesn’t seem to bode well for Cordarrelle Patterson, who is looking to prove last year’s breakout wasn’t a fluke.

Tight end Kyle Pitts looked good in his rookie season, but is hoping to breakout in a big way this season. The receiving weapons are weak, so Pitts needs to step up. The next most important wideout is rookie Drake London. Two young players could be the focal point this season, and possibly a third if quarterback Desmond Ridder ends up playing. It’ll be another long season for this Falcons offense, as they look to find their identity without Matt Ryan.

It wasn’t pretty on the defensive side last season for the Falcons, either. They finished 26th in total defense, as they were one of the worst teams against the run. The defensive line is better, but still one of the worst in the league. Lorenzo Carter was their biggest upgrade this offseason, so they won’t have to worry about defensive tackles Grady Jarrett getting all the attention.

The linebacker corps isn’t any better than the defensive line. Deion Jones was once thought to be the next great linebacker, but that is proving to be wrong. Rookie Troy Anderson will be the one to watch this year, as he looks to be the spark in the group.

The secondary is the lone bright spot of this defense. A.J. Terrell is one of the best corners in the NFL, with Casey Hayward and Isaiah Oliver creating a solid trio at that position. Erik Harris and Jaylinn Hawkins still have a lot to prove as the safety tandem, but are above average. This defense looks to struggle again this season, hoping to find their long-term solutions at several positions.

Prediction

The Falcons continue to try to find a way back to the playoffs, and I don’t see that happening this year. They’ll be one of the worst teams in football, finishing 4-13 and will go 1-5 against the NFC South this season.

3. Carolina Panthers

Key losses – DT DaQuan Jones, OLB Hasson Reddick, CB Stephon Gilmore, ILB Jermain Carter. RB Ameer Abdullah, C Matt Paradis

Key additions – OG Austin Corbett, S Xavier Woods, P Johnny Hekker, LB Damien Wilson, DE Matthew Ioannidis, C Bradley Bozeman, QB Baker Mayfield, OT Ikem Ekwonu, QB Matt Coral

Re-signed – CB Donte Jackson (3-years), CB Rashaan Melvin (1-year), TE Ian Thomas (3-years)

Extensions – K Zane Gonzalez (2-years, $4.5 million), D.J. Moore (3-years, $61 million)

The Panthers finished dead last in the NFC South last season after going 5-12. However, they traded for quarterback Baker Mayfield to take over. They now have two of the top three picks, both quarterbacks, from the 2018 NFL draft. We’ll have to see if Baker can turn it around in Carolina.

Last year’s offense was ranked 30th in the NFL, and that’s part of the reason they brought in Mayfield. He is hoping to help improve from being the 29th ranked passing attack from last season. Wideouts D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson provide solid weapons for Baker to throw to. Moore specifically was given an extension and is looking to prove the money was worth it.

The offensive line is below average, as a lot depends on how rookie tackle Ikem Ekwonu will translate to the NFL. They have potential to become an average line this season, if Ekwonu can breakout. The line will look better if running back Christian McCaffery can stay healthy. He is the most electric back in the league when healthy, as he is elite in both the run and pass game. This offense’s success will ultimately come down to Baker Mayfield and if he can turn it around from last season.

The defense was a different story last season. They finished second in total defense after being lockdown against the pass. They lost some pieces to that defense, so I expect a dip in production. The line is young, with veteran defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis now leading the way. I have this group as borderline top 20 in the league.

The linebacker corps is the best part of the defense, with Shaq Thompson looking like a star. They have Frankie Luvu next to him to provide a solid duo in the group. Even after losing Stephon Gilmore, the cornerbacks are still solid. Jaycee Horn looks to come back as strong as he was before the injury, and Donte Jackson is a consistent corner next to him. The safety duo of Xavier Woods and Jeremy Chinn is solid, as they both thrive in different areas of the game.

Prediction

Going from Sam Darnold to Baker Mayfield is an upgrade, but won’t be enough for the Panthers this season. I believe they will finish 6-11, going 2-4 in the NFC South. This will be the year to see if Mayfield can be a starter down the road.

2. New Orleans Saints

Key losses – FS Marcus Williams, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Terron Armstead, WR Ty Montgomery, ILB Kwon Alexander, S C.J. Gardner-Johnson

Key additions – HC Dennis Allen, FS Tyrann Mathieu, FS Marcus Maye, QB Andy Dalton, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Chris Olave, OL Trevor Penning, CB Alontae Taylor

Re-signed – QB Jameis Winston (2-years), WR Tre’quan Smith (2-years), CB P.J. Williams (1-year)

Extensions – LB Demario Davis (1-year, $12 million), CB Bradley Roby (1-year)

In Sean Payton’s last season as the Saints head coach, they went 9-8, just missing the playoffs. New head coach Dennis Allen will look to do better this season and challenge the Buccaneers for the division title. A solid offseason will give them a chance in a weak NFC.

The offense in 2021 finished 28th in the NFL, and was easily the weak point in this team. They have Jameis Winston at quarterback, who is fully capable of leading the passing attack. He gets some weapons this year, with wideouts Michael Thomas coming back from injury, and Jarvis Landry coming over from Cleveland. Add rookie Chris Olave to the mix, and they should jump up from their 32nd ranked passing attack last season.

The run game is still elite, with Alvin Kamara leading the way. He is a key part to this team’s success, and could be heavily leaned on. The offensive line will be key, as they have rookie Trevor Penning eyeing to show he is the future at left tackle. Besides Penning, they need to get more from their offensive line, as it’s a top 20 group at-best.

The strong point of this team was the defense. They finished seventh in total defense and will be looking to continue their greatness. They have a top ten defensive line that includes edge rusher Cameron Jordan bringing the pressure. The linebacker corps is one of the best in the league, headlined by Demario Davis, who is back on a one-year deal.

The defense is backed by a strong secondary. Marshon Lattimore is one of the league’s best corners, and Paulson Adebo is looking to improve going into his sophomore season across from him. They have Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu deep as the safety tandem, and that should be a top duo.

Prediction

The Saints are still looking for their identity on offense since Brees retired, and I believe Jameis Winston can be the guy to help find it. I have the Saints finishing 10-7 and going 4-2 in the NFC South.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Key losses – P Bradley Pinion, OG Alex Cappa, RB Ronald Jones II, S Jordan Whitehead, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Ndamukong Suh, TE Rob Gronkowski, OG Ali Marpet

Key additions – WR Russell Gage, DE Akiem Hicks, WR Julio Jones, TE Kyle Rudolph, SS Keanu Neal, CB Logan Ryan, DL Logan Hall, OL Luke Geodeke, RB Rachaad White

Re-signed – RB Leonard Fournette (3-years), DE William Gholston (1-year), LS Zach Triner (2-years), QB Blaine Gabbert (1-year), CB Carlton Davis III (3-years, $44 million), C Ryan Jensen (3-years),

Extensions – WR Chris Godwin (3-years, $60 million), DT Vita Vea (4-years, $73 million)

The 2021 Buccaneers would finish last season losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams. It was still a successful season as they went 13-4, running away with the NFC South. With Tom Brady back at quarterback, they should have another successful season.

The offense ranked secnod in the NFL last season, with the top passing game in the league. They should still be ranked in the top five in passing this season. Brady has weapons to throw to with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin still there, and tight end Cameron Brate looking to make a huge impact.

The offensive line is still elite, even with the losses they’ve endured. Shaq Mason and Tristan Wirfs lock down the right side of the line as an elite duo. This should open up lanes for running back Leonard Fournette, who is looking to help Tampa rise from the 26th ranked rushing attack last season. With the GOAT at quarterback, the Bucs should scare any defense.

Defensively, the Buccaneers finished 13th in the NFL last season. They didn’t lose anyone who would change that either. With Vita Vea and Shaquil Barrett, they will be bringing pressure from all over. On top of that, a top ten linebacker trio doesn’t hurt either. Lavonte David has been elite for years now, and Devin White is looking to get back on track next to him this season.

The scariest part of the defense is the secondary. Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, and Sean Murphy-Bunting create a top-tier trio that can be lockdown every week. Add in elite safety in Antoine Winfield Jr. next to a high-quality starter in Logan Ryan as the safety tandem, and it becomes a top five secondary in the league, easily. This defense could be the strongest part of this team this year, and will look to lead them to a playoff run.

Prediction

They ran away with the NFC South last season, and I expect the same this year. I have Tampa Bay going 13-4 after going 5-1 against the rest of the NFC South. Tom Brady is still there — and won’t be missing the playoffs any time soon.

Ranking All 13 NFL Alternate Helmets

This season, the NFL has allowed teams to have more than one colored helmet to wear. The rule change saw 13 NFL franchises introduce new helmets for their alternate uniforms.

Before I begin, I want to clarify what I ranked these helmets based on. There were three factors that went into my ranking: 1. Does the helmet itself look good? 2. Does the helmet fit with the rest of the uniform? 3. Could the team have done more with the helmet? With that in mind, here is my ranking for these new helmets.

The New NFL Alternate Helmets: 13-6

Chicago Bears alternate helmet for the 2022 NFL season
Photo Credit: Jacob Funk/Chicago Bears

13. Chicago Bears

I attend a school that wears orange helmets with its orange uniforms. It doesn’t work too well. Same thing goes for the Bears. The traditional navy helmet works so much better with any of Chicago’s jerseys, especially its orange one. This alternate helmet is a miss for one of the NFL’s most iconic teams.

12. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals messed up big time with their new helmets. Arizona plans to wear these with its color rush uniforms. The red pops out with the black real well with those, so why not do the same with the helmets? If these had a red face mask, this could’ve been one of the better helmets. But instead, they go with a bland, black design.

11. Washington Commanders

I’m glad that Washington didn’t leave the “numbers on the helmet” look behind when it rebranded. However, the execution this time around feels poor. The “W” in the front doesn’t sit well. Maybe a stripe, like the Commanders’ primary helmets, would’ve been better. This helmet isn’t bad by any means, but ten other teams did a better job than Washington.

10. Carolina Panthers

This one might have to grow on me a bit. I like the all black concept the Panthers created, but this helmet feels almost too dark. From the photos, it’s difficult to see the Panthers logo. The colors mesh well together, but nothing pops out to the eye.

9. Houston Texans

The helmet itself is one of the best that have been introduced. What’s upsetting is the Texans plan to wear these with their red uniforms, according to gridiron-uniforms.com. These would look significantly better with their blue-with-red-lettering color rush jerseys. The all-red look Houston plans to wear doesn’t sit with me well.

8. New Orleans Saints

The Saints introduced a new look this offseason, and it’s not bad. The fleur-de-lis down the middle helps this helmet represents New Orleans well, and black and gold go together like bread and butter. However, nothing about this helmet stands out; it’s a bit bland. Maybe a gold face mask would help?

7. New York Jets

Now we’re getting to the helmets I really like. The Jets’ nailed this one. New York’s black uniforms look even better with this helmet. The green on the logo and face mask (take note, Cardinals) pop out and give the uniform more vibrance.

6. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles kept their helmet change simple, and I’m all for it. They switched from an already-fresh midnight green and black look to a more fitting all black uniform. A slight change for the better.

NFL Alternate Helmets: The Top 5

Dallas Cowboys bring back the alternate uniforms and helmets for 2022
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

5. Dallas Cowboys

The Thanksgiving uniforms worn in the late 2000s and early 2010s are iconic. Dallas finally gets the chance to bring them back this year. The simplicity of the helmet gives the Cowboys an old school look, something that somewhat resembles a cowboy. The white pops out with the rest of the uniform, and I love it.

4. New York Giants

The Giants’ white throwback uniform has been a staple amongst fans for a few years now. It’s about time they brought the blue back. The darker shade of blue on the helmet gives the uniform a more classic look. On top of that, the “GIANTS” along the side is significantly better than the block “NY”. A perfect helmet for a classic uniform.

3. New England Patriots

The Pat Patriot look is back! The red, white, and blue look has long been one of the best looks in football. The white stands out with the red jersey really well, giving New England a patriotic look. As someone who watched many Patriots games growing up, I’m so happy to see these back in action.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

Finally. Ever since the Bengals introduced their all-white uniforms, fans have been screaming for the Bengals to wear while helmets. Everyone’s wish came true, and this looks so clean. The new helmets put these uniforms in the conversation for the best in the NFL.

1. Atlanta Falcons

When the Falcons got new uniforms in 2020, I was disappointed they went with black helmets instead of red. Now you see why. The red and black look with a sliver of gold bring back ’80s nostalgia, a more authentic throwback, and one of the cleanest looks in the NFL. It’s about time Atlanta brought these back. These are, without a doubt, the best of the NFL alternate helmets

Saints, Eagles Strike Trade for Draft Picks

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Just 24 days before night one of the 2022 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles have agreed to a trade that involves three first-round picks this year and an additional first next year, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

This NFL Draft trade features the Eagles, who held three first-round picks entering the day, giving up the 16th overall pick, the 19th overall pick, and a 6th rounder (pick 194 overall) to the Saints in exchange for the 18th overall pick, a third-round pick (pick 101 overall), a seventh-round pick (pick 237 overall), a 2023 first-rounder, and a 2024 second.

Philadelphia holds 10 total picks in this month’s draft, five of which will be in the first three rounds, while New Orleans will have seven selections, four of which coming in the draft’s first two days.

What This Means for the Eagles

In the immediate aftermath of this NFL Draft trade, Schefter reported that this likely ensures Jalen Hurts will start for the second consecutive season in Philadelphia. With the Eagles’ three first-round picks, some had speculated that the team could move up and select a quarterback in this year’s draft.

2023 is a much better class at the quarterback position, featuring Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Philadelphia is now well-positioned to move up, should Jalen Hurts turn in an underwhelming season and neither of their first-round picks put them in position to select their preferred choice. 

The Eagles continue to put themselves in flexible positions in future drafts with plenty of ammunition to either add cheap, young talent or move the picks for other assets. They’re also still in good shape to address two of their big holes, linebacker and wide receiver, with picks 15 and 18 putting them in prime position to add some of the top players in the class, such as Utah’s Devin Lloyd and USC’s Drake London.

What This Means for the Saints

Before bringing back Jameis Winston, the New Orleans Saints were one of the final two teams in the Deshaun Watson saga (along with the Atlanta Falcons) before Watson changed course and decided on Cleveland. By acquiring an additional first-round pick in 2022, the Saints now have the pieces needed to move up again; they recently had Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, a projected top-10 pick, in for a visit.

An interesting element to this deal is Winston’s contract; it’s a two-year deal worth $28 million and $21 million in guarantees, but features a $14 million signing bonus. It’s primarily a front-loaded contract guarantee-wise, meaning New Orleans wouldn’t suffer having Winston ride the bench in 2023.

Further, now left without a first-rounder in 2023, the Saints don’t have next year as a fallback option; unless they’re all-in on Winston, they’re likely to pursue a quarterback this year.

Should they choose to stick with Winston, New Orleans has a Terron Armstead-sized hole at left tackle. Mississippi State’s Charles Cross is the ideal option for New Orleans, but he’s a likely top-10 pick.

The Saints are also in desperate need of a wide receiver. Michael Thomas hasn’t been able to stay on the field the past two seasons, and the room around him is rather lackluster. Ohio State’s Chris Olave is one name to monitor at the position.

Regardless, with the picks they gave up, the Saints appear to believe they can contend in the NFC this year. That philosophy lends itself favorably to addressing OT and WR, but another trade-up seems likely nonetheless.

Who Won the Trade?

Ultimately, nobody can truly win until all of these picks are made and they’re given time to produce. However, on paper, the Philadelphia Eagles got the better deal.

ESPN’s Seth Walder reported that the Eagles “gained the equivalent of a late-first rounder in value through the trade IF — and this is a big if — we treat 2022 and 2023 picks as equals in terms of value.”

Teams often tend to under-value future draft picks, but if this deal gets the Saints two immediate starters and a playoff berth, it’s ultimately a win for them. However, should the Saints fail to hit on their picks and trend towards a rebuild, this deal could be heavily detrimental in the long run.

That’s the fun part of this specific NFL Draft trade and others like it — very easy to analyze, but very hard to accurately project long-term effects, as value changes once the players’ careers play out.

Miami Dolphins Playoff Chances

The Dolphins have won their last five games. What remains to be seen will be a hope for a playoff push. @rishidesa1 show how they can get there.

miami dolphin playoff chances
Credit: PhinPhanatic

If you told me in August that the Miami Dolphins would start the season 1-7, I would’ve told you that you’re crazy. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. At 1-7, if you told me the Dolphins would win five straight, get to 6-7, and have a chance to win-out and make the playoffs, I would’ve called you a lot more things than just “crazy.”

However, that is exactly the point we have reached. The Dolphins have won five games in a row, the defense looks elite, and Tua and the offense are slowly finding a rhythm. Can the once 1-7 Miami Dolphins make the playoffs and what are the Miami Dolphins playoff chances?

Dolphins Remaining Schedule

After their Week 14 bye, the Dolphins will have four games remaining. They host the Jets, visit the Saints, visit the Titans and former QB Ryan Tannehill, and lastly host OROY favorite Mac Jones and the Patriots in Week 18. Clearly, every game is very likely a must win game. 

New York Jets

The Dolphins have won four of their last five games versus the Jets, and most people expect them to make it five of six. Miami easily beat New York less than a month ago at MetLife Stadium and shouldn’t struggle too much with the 3-9 squad in a humid Hard Rock Stadium. 

Of course Miami’s bye week is seen as a chance to get healthy and have extra time to prepare for the Jets. However, it is also coming at a point in which Miami has won five straight games and a bye week could put a dagger in Miami’s momentum.

If the defense continues to perform at an elite level, beating a Jets team lead by rookie QB Zach Wilson shouldn’t be a problem.

New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints have lost five straight games. They have uncertainty in their QB room as Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill are both playing below average football, the wide receiver(WR) room is depleted, and overall seem to be struggling in the post Drew Brees era. 

The Saints will be a far tougher challenge than the Jets though. Compared to the Jets bottom tier defense, the Saints are a top-15 defense in the NFL. Miami’s offense, although performing a little better as of late, has been inconsistent. 

Even though Miami upset Baltimore in their last primetime game, the narrative that they do not perform well in primetime is still overshadowing the team. Going into a packed Caesars Superdome on primetime will be a tough challenge for Brian Flores’ young squad, but there’s no reason to believe they can’t win this game.

Tennessee Titans

The schedule gets harder by the week for Miami. In Week 17, Miami will travel to Tennessee to take on their former franchise QB, Ryan Tannehill. This game looks a lot less challenging now that RB Derrick Henry is dealing with a foot injury he suffered earlier in the year. 

The Titans started out 8-2 but have dropped two straight games in embarrassing fashion. They lost to the two-win Texans and were blown out by the Patriots. 

Regardless, they are still the No. 2 seed in the AFC, and a Mike Vrabel lead team can always pose a great challenge. 

Fortunately for Miami, the Titans offense has struggled, and the defense is once again having issues. 

The Titans have averaged just 16.3 points over their last three games, while Miami’s defense has returned to its elite form from 2020.

On the other side of the ball, the Titans defense has also struggled. Tennessee has allowed over 280 passing yards in two of their last three games to teams who haven’t had the most aggressive passing attacks in New England and New Orleans. In their last three games, they’ve allowed over 26 points per game. 

A struggling Tennessee defense will help Miami immensely as the offense needs all the assistance they can get. 

The weather will likely play a role in this game. For a team like Miami who is used to playing under the scorching sun year round, a game in Tennessee in the winter will not be easy. 

If things continue the way they have for both teams, the Dolphins should have a good chance of winning and keeping their playoff hopes alive.

New England Patriots

If all things go according to plan, this game will be the final factor in deciding Miami’s fate. 

The Patriots started 2-4 and are the only team hotter than the Dolphins right now. They’ve won seven straight games, lead the AFC East, and currently hold the first seed in the AFC.

The defense has turned it on and they look like a championship defense.

Offensively, they’ve looked very efficient and rookie Mac Jones has done what he’s been asked. The Patriots scored 36, 25, and 45 points in the three games before their Week 13 snow matchup versus Buffalo.

Miami will have a slight advantage as they always seem to have an edge versus the Patriots when playing at home. Miami is 6-2 in their last eight matchups versus New England in South Florida. 

Expect this to be a heavily defensive matchup with two head coaches who are known for torturing young quarterbacks. 

If Miami can methodically pick apart the New England defense one play at a time(as they did to the Panthers and Giants), and the defense continues their elite run, Miami should have a good chance to win this game.

Is there a chance Miami can lose a game and still make the postseason? Yes. However, that is very unlikely. Miami needs to win-out and hope for some help from other teams.

Teams Ahead Of Miami

If Miami wins out, it’s not guaranteed they make the postseason; but the odds are in their favor.

  • Chargers, 7-5: The Chargers have been inconsistent this season but hold the 5th seed. They have five games remaining and three of them are against potential playoff teams. 
  • Cincinnati, 7-5: The Bengals currently hold the 6th seed. Their remaining five games are all against teams who currently hold a playoff spot or are firmly in the hunt. They were just dominated by the Chargers and have a tough slate of games to finish the season. 
  • Buffalo, 7-5: Buffalo holds the last spot in the AFC playoff picture for now. Just a year removed from an AFC Championship game appearance, they find themselves facing slight uncertainty. Of their remaining five games, two are against current playoff teams(Tampa and New England). Two other teams are in the hunt.
  • Pittsburgh, 6-6-1: The Steelers were dominated last night versus the Vikings and it doesn’t get easier. They have arguably the hardest closing stretch of the teams in the hunt. They close the season against three division leaders and Cleveland.
  • Indianapolis, 7-6: The Colts have their bye week this week. After that, they have four games remaining. Two of those are against division leaders. Another is against Las Vegas who is still squarely in the hunt. It is important to note that the Colts own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami.
  • Las Vegas, 7-6: Like the Colts, the Raiders also own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami. Vegas ends their season with three divisional games, and every team they play is firmly in the hunt or currently holding a spot in the playoffs. They have a difficult schedule for a team that has been very inconsistent as of late.
  • Cleveland, 6-6: The Browns defense has been excellent this season, but their offense has held them back. The Browns finish their season with five straight potential playoff teams, similar to other teams in the hunt. If their offense continues to struggle, they may very well find themselves in a bad spot by Week 16.
  • Denver, 6-6: Denver hosts the one-win Lions in Week 14. Denver then faces three teams who are currently in the playoffs and Las Vegas, who is already ahead of them.

It seems very clear Miami has one of the more favorable closing schedules out of any team in the hunt. Most teams finish with four or five straight potential playoff teams. In Miami’s case, their schedule gets slightly harder each week, and they could be controlling their own destiny in Week 17.

Miami isn’t playing this week, but can make up serious ground on some of the teams above.

Tiebreakers

  • If Miami finishes with the same record as Buffalo, Buffalo will finish ahead of Miami as Buffalo owns the head-to-head tiebreaker this season 2-0.
  • Miami will also the head-to-head tiebreaker to Las Vegas due to their early season loss to the Raiders when Tua Tagovailoa was injured.
  • The Colts, currently one game ahead of Miami, also hold the head-to-head tiebreaker due to their win in Miami over Jacoby Brissett.
  • Miami does own the head-to-head breaker over Baltimore, but that won’t matter if the Ravens win the AFC North.
  • Miami will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over New England assuming the Dolphins win out. However, like the Ravens, it won’t matter if New England wins the AFC East. 

The Dolphins currently have a 4-5 record in the AFC. Winning out will give them a 7-5 record in the AFC and may play a role in tiebreakers in Week 18.

Will This Matter?

There’s a chance none of this will matter by 4:00 PM on December 19th. If they lose to New York, the Miami Dolphins playoffs chances will take a serious hit. 

Miami has to take care of their business, go one week at a time, and win out. If they can do this, there’s a great chance they will be the first team to start 1-7 and make the postseason.

Follow Rishi Desai on Twitter.

Patriots, Saints, Jekyll & Hyde, Unicorns and Show Ponies

Analysis and Prediction of the Patriots match up with the New Orleans Saints.

FOXBORO, MA – OCTOBER 13: Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins #85 of the New England Patriots catches the game winning touchdown in front of cornerback Jabari Greer #33 of the New Orleans Saints in the closing seconds of the Patriots 30-27 win at Gillette Stadium on October 13, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

This weekend will feature a battle of 1-1 teams in Foxborough as both look to gain some direction for the rest o their season. The Patriots had a one-point loss at home to the Dolphins in the opener before making Zach Wilson see ghosts in Metlife in week 2. The Saints absolutely dismantled the Packers in Jacksonville week 1 before putting up a flat performance against the Panthers in week 2. Everybody in New England remembers the last time the Pats hosted Saints and the culmination of the evening with Big Papi sending Torii Hunter head over heels into the Sox bullpen and the birth of a local hero- Bull Pen Cop Steve Horgan.

With the Sox hot before falling flat against the Yanks last night, maybe the Pats can start some magic Sunday afternoon before another absolute night capper by our Boston counterparts.

In a twist, the Pats are facing opponents on back-to-back weeks coming off games against the Panthers (the Panthers played the Jets week 1 and the Saints week 2). While the Panthers operate a different offensive and defensive system than the Patriots, the consistency in film will allow the Patriots to see what works and doesn’t work and incorporate similar philosophies into their game plan.

The Saints faced adversity before the season even started, having to move their football operations to Arlington, Texas in the wake of Hurricane Ida. The move and subsequent neutral site home opener seemed to have no ill effects on the Saints team as they blew the doors off the “visiting” Packers 38-3. Famous Jameis had 5 touchdowns on 14 completions and the Saints never looked back. All-World Runningback Alvin Kamara had 83 yards on the ground and added another 8 and a touchdown receiving. The Saints defense got involved as well, sacking Rodgers twice and picking him off twice.
The Saints weren’t done facing adversity as during week 2, seven coaches missed practice time and three were unavailable during the game. Still practicing in Arlington, the Saints traveled to Carolina for a divisional matchup. All the goodwill bought in week 1 was quickly lost as they lost 26-7. Quarterback Jameis Winston showed he’s not done bringing his team on a rollercoaster experience as he threw 2 interceptions and was sacked 4 times. In classic Winston fashion, after being sharp in one week, he made some absolute head-scratching decisions the week following.

Kamara was largely bottled up against the Panthers, rushing for 5 yards and adding another 25 receiving. Whatever the Panthers were doing against Kamara, the Patriots will hope to replicate Sunday. The return of OLB Kyle Van Noy will be an added boost to a front seven that was susceptible to the run game last week. Despite being listed on the injury report all week OLB Matt Judon will be good to go Sunday. The Patriots could be without do-it-all safety Adrian Phillips as he missed the final two practices of the week due to a personal matter. Phillips’ status bears watching Sunday morning. OLB Josh Uche is listed as questionable with a back injury, his absence would lead to a loss of pep in pass-rushing situations as he leads the team in sacks with 3.

There has been much opining about the Patriots’ offense and lack of red zone success and explosive plays in the passing game. A week after seeing just how quickly a rookie QB can torpedo your team’s chances of winning, the New England fan base took to the radio waves and social media in force to complain about the conservative approach the offense has been taking in the passing game. The offensive game plan, while boring for fantasy football and Madden savants, follows the old Belichick (and quote from Art of War) adage that “You can’t win until you keep from losing.” While it’s not splashy and sexy, it is effective. The team was undone by its turnovers in week 1 and despite a 19-point victory in week 2, fans are clamoring for more risks in the passing game. The return of RT Trent Brown should give Mac more time in the pocket on Sunday but expect him to continue to be safe with the ball, especially when throwing in the direction of Pro-Bowl Cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

The Patriots again should be paced by their rushing attack. After being listed all week on the injury report with a finger injury, Damien Harris was removed Friday and will be a full-go for the game. The Pats will look to continue running the ball and set up play-action for their downfield shots in the passing game.

This Saints team reminds me a lot of the 2018 Tennessee Titans; a team that is absolutely talented but struggled to put it together week to week. Those teams are hard to play against as they are a different flavor of football team every Sunday. The week 1 opener showed us a talented team capable of paying incredible complimentary football, while week 2 showed us a team that seemed rudderless against a familiar opponent. Regardless of what version of the Saints shows up on Sunday, the game will be won or lost on third down. The Saints are a mere 7-21 on third down in the season while allowing a similar conversion rate defensively (9-25)> Forcing the Saints to consistently convert on third down will go a long way in deciding the Patriots’ success while avoiding those situations offensively themselves. Bottling up Kamara on the early downs and forcing Jameis to win the game would be the prudent defensive game plan. Offensively, avoiding DE Cam Jordan and staying the course will be successful. While everyone wants the big passing play, avoiding the turnover and staying on schedule is more important for the team at this juncture of the season.

Prediction

These are the hardest games to decide as the Saints have been such a mixed bag of results in a young season. Sean Payton is a great coach who should never be underestimated in his ability to prepare a team after a showing such as the Saints had last week. Old friend Chris Hogan and his Saints team keep it close in the first half before a couple Jameis turnovers turn the tide in the second. Patriots win 26-16 as their red-zone woes lead to multiple Nick Folk field goals continue for another week.