1. QB Geno Smith 20/25 for 358 yards, 3 TDs, Fmb, 158.3 QBR vs. MIA
2. WR Eric Decker 10 receptions for 221 yards, TD vs. MIA
3. RB Lamar Miller 19 carries for 178 yards, TD vs. NYJ
4. WR Michael Floyd 8 receptions for 153 yards, 2 TDs vs. SF
5. RB Frank Gore 25 carries for 144 yards vs. ARI
Worst of the Worst
1. Peyton Manning caused a lot of people to lose in the fantasy playoffs, including me. His last few games have been truly dreadful, so dreadful that I would not be surprised if the Broncos are upset in the playoffs. Here are some stats to think about:
In Dec: 77/121 for 990 yards, 63.6% completion, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 76.8 QBR.
In losses: 127/204 for 1,441 yards, 62.3% completion, 7 TDs, 9 INTs, 76.4 QBR.
There is a strong correlation between those two stat lines. Just something to think about if you decide to bet on the Broncos.
2. Bucs drop 20-7 halftime lead vs. NO, grab number one pick in draft
3. QB Drew Brees 24/38 for 281 yards, TD, 3 INTs, 61.4 QBR vs. TB
4. QB Philip Rivers 20/34 for 291 yards, 2 INTs, 7 sacks, Fmb, 62.3 QBR
5. Eagles block Giants punt, Giants return for 73-yard TD, called back for holding
To conclude the NFL regular season, here’s the top five performers from each of the main stat categories.
1. Drew Brees, NO: 4,952
1. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT: 4,952
3. Andrew Luck, IND: 4,761
4. Peyton Manning, DEN: 4,727
5. Matt Ryan, ATL: 4,694
1. DeMarco Murray, DAL: 1,845
2. Le’Veon Bell, PIT: 1,361
3. LeSean McCoy, PHI: 1,319
4. Marshawn Lynch, SEA: 1,306
5. Justin Forsett, BAL: 1,266
1. Antonio Brown, PIT: 1,698
2. Demaryius Thomas, DEN: 1,619
3. Julio Jones, ATL: 1,593
4. Jordy Nelson, GB: 1,519
5. Emmanuel Sanders, DEN: 1,404
1. Luke Kuechly, CAR: 153
2. DeAndre Levy, DET: 151
3. Lavonte David, TB: 146
4. Curtis Lofton, NO: 145
5. Paul Worrilow, ATL: 143
1. Justin Houston, KC: 22.0
2. J.J. Watt, HOU: 20.5
3. Elvis Dumervil, BAL: 17.0
4. Connor Barwin, PHI: 14.5
4. Mario Williams, BUF: 14.5
1. Glover Quin, DET: 7
2. Tashaun Gipson, CLE: 6
3. Harrison Smith, MIN: 5
3. Brent Grimes, MIA: 5
3. Bruce Carter, DAL: 5
Next, how my division previews matched up with this season’s results. Some were on point (Broncos 12-4, Dolphins 8-8, Colts 11-5, Rams 6-10) and some, I don’t know what I was thinking (Titans 6-10, Bears 10-6, Redskins 8-8, Buccaneers 9-7).
AFC North AFC West AFC East AFC South
4 Bengals 10-6 1 Broncos 12-4 3 Patriots 10-6 2 Colts 11-5
6 Steelers 8-8 Chiefs 8-8 5 Dolphins 8-8 Titans 6-10
Ravens 8-8 Chargers 8-8 Jets 6-10 Texans 5-11
Browns 5-1 Raiders 5-11 Bills 5-11 Jaguars 4-12
NFC North NFC West NFC East NFC South
3 Packers 11-5 1 Seahawks 13-3 4 Eagles 8-8 2 Saints 11-5
5 Bears 10-6 6 49ers 10-6 Redskins 8-8 Buccaneers 9-7
Lions 6-10 Cardinals 7-9 Cowboys 5-11 Falcons 7-9
Vikings 4-12 Rams 6-10 Giants 3-13 Panthers 6-10
Here’s what they were:
AFC North AFC West AFC East AFC South
3 Steelers 11-5 2 Broncos 12-4 1 Patriots 12-4 4 Colts 11-5
5 Bengals 10-5-1 Chiefs 9-7 Bills 9-7 Texans 9-7
6 Ravens 10-6 Chargers 9-7 Dolphins 8-8 Jaguars 3-13
Browns 7-9 Raiders 3-13 Jets 4-12 Titans 2-14
NFC North NFC West NFC East NFC South
2 Packers 12-4 1 Seahawks 12-4 3 Cowboys 12-4 4 Panthers 7-8-1
6 Lions 11-5 5 Cardinals 11-5 Eagles 10-6 Saints 7-9
Vikings 7-9 49ers 8-8 Giants 6-10 Falcons 6-10
Redskins 4-12 Rams 6-10 Redskins 4-12 Bucs 2-14
Finally, my predictions for the wild-card round.
5 Cardinals (11-5) @ 4 (7-8-1) Panthers
The Arizona Cardinals, despite their injury-riddled quarterback position, managed a 11-5 record. Since Palmer’s season-ending injury in week 10, the team went 3-4, including 0-2 under third-stringer Ryan Lindley. The Cardinals have not scored 20 points since losing Palmer and their rushing attack has dwindled after losing running back Andre Ellington. Their secondary, which highlights Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson, has been awful, allowing 260 yards in the air (29th).
On the other side, Ron Rivera saved his job. After losing six consecutive games and dropping to 3-8-1, the Panthers won their final four games to clinch the NFC South title. Cam Newton’s inconsistency as well the Panthers lack of depth at receiver plagued the team about as much as I thought it would and it’s important to note the last four wins came against struggling teams.
Despite the Cardinals lackluster aerial coverage, the Panthers weak receiving core that relies far too heavily on rookie Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen most likely won’t be able to take advantage. It’s the Panthers 7th-best rushing attack versus the Cardinals 13th-ranked defensive front. I’m simply not willing to put my faith in Cam Newton and I think Arians will coach his team to victory.
6 Ravens (10-6) @ 3 Steelers (11-5)
The Ravens have not been themselves as of late and nearly missed the wild-card spot. The Steelers, on the other hand, truly dazzled. Ben Roethlisberger had the best statistcal year of his career, Antonio Brown led the league in receptions and total receiving yards and Le’Veon Bell turned the Steelers rushing attack into a real threat after being towards the bottom last year. However, Le’Veon Bell injured his knee in the team’s season finale and will miss today’s game. Despite that, Flacco’s poor play in December and Justin Forsett’s apparent disappearance make me believe the Steelers will pull out the win.
5 Bengals (10-5-1) @ 4 Colts (11-5)
If I’ve learned anything from this NFL season, it is that coordinators, not coaches, are more responsible for on-field performance.
Last year, Cincinnati was third in total yards allowed, behind only Seattle and Carolina and fifth against the pass (209.0), the run (96.5) and points allowed per game (19.1).
This year, the Bengals were 22nd in yards allowed, 20th against the pass (243.0) and the rush (116.3) and 12th in points allowed (21.5).
Keep in mind that the Bengals added a lot of depth this past offseason and it leaves you scratching your head. What happened?
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer left, that’s what happened. Zimmer was the key to the Bengals defense and with him gone, they struggled mightily. Guess who was ahead of the Bengals in nearly every defensive stat category? Zimmer’s Vikings, who struggled against the run (25th) but outpaced the Bengals against the pass (7th) and in total yards (14th) and points (11th). The Bengals just aren’t the same team and if it wasn’t for the emergence of LSU rookie Jeremy Hill, the Bengals would not have made the playoffs, even with an easy schedule.
The Colts, my preseason Super Bowl pick, had the record I predicted but struggled in December, including a disastrous defeat against the Cowboys. The running game is still ineffective and I don’t think it’s because of the personnel. The Colts are just not a running team and never have been. Edgerrin James was the last overachieving running back they had, a decade ago. Getting Trent Richardson for a first-rounder was a bargain, but you have to put him in a system where he has a chance to succeed.
Andrew Luck hasn’t been himself of late, but the entire Bengals team hasn’t been themselves all year. Also considering A.J. Green’s doubtful status for Sunday’s contest and that the Bengals have never won a road playoff game, I’m feeling Luck-y.
6 Lions (11-5) @ 3 Cowboys (12-4)
I hate the Dallas Cowboys. With that said, bravo guys.
Easily the biggest surprise of the season, at least for me, the Dallas Cowboys went from having one of the worst defenses in NFL history ever to a middle-of-the-road group that was 15th in points allowed (22.0). Plagued by injuries up to this year, not only did DeMarco Murray play the full season, he set some records. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark 12 times and scored at least once in 11 games! A truly incredible year, especially considering he faced the NFC West, rushing for triple digits in three of the four contests. A dominant running back is exactly what the Cowboys needed because Romo can’t shoulder the offense every game and that showed this year. Aikman had Emmitt and Romo needed someone. Too bad it took forever for Jerry Jones to find one.
The Lions under Jim Caldwell, a former coordinator, became a new team this year as their defensive line of first-round picks finally played to expectation and became the best rushing defense in the league. Their mediocre secondary is sustainable due to the constant pressure on the quarterback. Their rushing game is falling apart as the Lions are seeing Reggie Bush become a non-factor in the NFL. Bush had 76 carries this year. Stafford had more than half that (43). Joique Bell has taken over the starting role and has shown promise but a better offensive line is required if this team is to be balanced. The Lions’ December play was also questionable. After throttling the Buccaneers, the Lions squeaked past the Vikings with a two-point win and beat the Bears by 6. The defense allowed only 14 points in both match-ups and yet they still barely won. The offense has to show up now because the defense can’t play much better than it’s playing now.
This is the game to watch this week and as much as I hate the Cowboys, they’re the more balanced team. I’ll be rooting for them to choke in crunch time though.