With the conference championship games coming up this weekend and some of the top defenses still in the race, I thought about talking about those two matchups, but since I previewed games the last two weeks, I decided to go a different route. I always like to look back at the rookie class and see what those first-year guys made of their opportunities. Once again, we have had some diamonds in the rough and they deserve to be honored, but so do the players, who have lived up to the hype. Therefore, I put up my starting lineups on offense, defense and special teams, plus some key substitutes. Here they are:
The Saints and Vikings faced each other in the season-opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota never really was in trouble that day and won the game 29-19. Both team have evolved throughout the season and they are set for a rematch on Sunday. After losing their first two games of the year, New Orleans went on to win ten of their next twelve and an NFC South title, to set them up as one of the biggest contenders in the conference. The Vikings won the North with a 13-3 record and earned the number two seed, possibly giving them home-field advantage all the way through the Super Bowl. In week one their starting quarterback still was Sam Bradford and everybody thought this was the same old Saints, who air it out and play no defense. Times have changed and both teams need to be reckoned with. This should be a huge matchup and looking at both squads, I believe the final score could look a lot different this time around. Here’s why:
It was really hard to compile this list, because of all the moving pieces, players being injured and just what these defenses have become as units. So the base I judge them on is the way they are constructed right now. Therefore, I couldn’t quite put the Seahawks and definitely not the Texans on this list, since they have suffered immensely with injuries to top of their three best defensive players. Sometimes the major statistics, like total yards allowed, can be misleading, for example, until a week ago, the Denver Broncos were the number one defense in terms of yardage allowed. Even though they still have an excellent trio of cornerbacks combined with Von Miller to rush the passer and they could easily bounce back big-time next season, that’s absurd, considering since after a hot start to the season at 3-1, they gave up an average of just over 30 points per game during an eight-game losing streak. The numbers I do care about are points allowed, takeaways, third down and red zone percentage allowed. Most importantly though, I want to look at the scheme each unit runs, how well they execute, and what my eyes tell me.
No matter if you like the AFC-NFC format or the Pro Bowl draft better, if the best four or six players at each position make the cut it, the results are just more accurate.
I love the AFC North rivalries and Steelers versus Bengals is always penciled in on my schedule, but Pittsburgh has now won six in a row and nine of the last ten in this matchup. In the seven games they’ve played over the last three seasons, only two were decided by more than one score, but Cincinnati somehow can’t seem to finish against their division rivals, despite objectively putting up a better effort a lot of times. I want to dive into why the Bengals can’t seem to make this an even series.
With the NFL regular season moving into a phase, where all games seem to be of higher magnitude and teams are trying to make a playoff push, I wanted to take a look at the league’s landscape and where I’d rank all 32 squads heading into week 13. All those teams, which are currently part of the playoff picture or in the hunt, have crucial matchups coming up on their schedule and a lot of them still play each other to determine who will be there in the end. I’d like to point out at this point, that standings are secondary and that this list is about how well teams are playing as of right now.
Everybody loves a good one-two-punch. After declaring Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye as the league’s best cornerback-duo in my position rankings a week ago, I thought about who the best tandems at all the other positions are. Obviously, this list only includes pairs players, who are on the field at the same time or alternate heavily. So you won’t find any quarterbacks here. Neither did I mention any combination of tight-ends since very little teams use multiple TE-sets, at least in the passing game, anymore. To make this list, both players have to be active right now. This led to two dynamic duos not making the cut. I also mentioned a couple of challengers for the group after each paragraph. Here’s what I came up with:
The position fans have the hardest time comparing players to each other and ranking them accordingly is cornerback. When people reach outside linebacker nominees in the Pro Bowl voting they look who has the most sacks and with defensive backs the number of interceptions is often the deciding factor. It’s just not that easy. To grade cornerbacks you have to watch the tape and understand their responsibility in the respective schemes. On film you can see if their coverage was that good the opposing quarterback didn’t want to throw their way, what position they were in prior to the pass, how they competed when the ball was in the air and which plays they were responsible for giving up. After watching multiple games of the best corners in the league, I decided to rank the top ten at the position up to this point of the season. This is an evaluation over a span of ten weeks, not who I think are the best in general. So some guys who have proven over time they are worthy of a spot didn’t make the cut, because they haven’t played at the level they are capable of. Here’s my list:
With eight weeks and the trade deadline in the books, there’s plenty of perceptions and realizations around the league. I tried to sum up these developments in twelve observations, I believe to be true. Not everybody will agree with all of them, but I trust what I see with my eyes and I’ll try to make you by what you read here.