Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore Ravens’

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Last weekend saw three of four road teams come out and win, with the only home team to hold serve being the improbable Seattle Seahawks.  What does that mean for this weekend, if anything?  Well, home field advantage clearly isn’t what it used to be, and the lower seeded division winners in both conferences are somewhat inferior to the higher seeded wild cards.  This weekend, however, the home teams are the top two teams in each conference and that makes winning at home a more likely thing, right?

The first game of the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs is going to be a battle as the Pittsburgh Steelers host divisional blood rival, the Baltimore Ravens.  Pittsburgh enters the playoffs after a bye week coming off of two easy wins over Carolina and Cleveland by a combined score of 68-12.  Baltimore comes in fresh off of a total shellacking of the Chiefs in Kansas City last week, 30-7.  The Ravens have won five in a row and seven out of eight.  Their only loss?  To these Steelers back in Week 13.

Which of these two dominant teams will be the first to earn a spot in the Conference Championships next week? (more…)

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The Baltimore Ravens don’t get enough respect around the league.  This team went 12-4 this season, and were it not for a close loss at home to division rival Pittsburgh in Week 13, they would be sitting home with a bye.  They lost four games this season by a combined 16 points, and the only bad loss was in Week 2 in Cincinnati, who, at that time, looked like a playoff contender and not the trainwreck they later became.  Baltimore’s other losses?  By 3 points in overtime in New England, by 5 points in Atlanta, and by 3 points against the Steelers.  Baltimore in eminently capable of beating any of those teams on the road and winning the Superbowl, when all is said and done.

The Kansas City Chiefs, on the other hand, have been in first place in the AFC West from Week 1.  They held off another late-season push from San Diego to reach a surprising 10 wins and a division title.  KC has the best rushing attack in the league, and they play much better at home (7-1) than on the road (3-5).  Quarterback Matt Cassell has been up and down all year, but mostly up lately.  Defensively, they have been solid, but it always helps a defense look better than it really is when your offense can run the ball and control the clock as well as they have.

So, do the Chiefs have a chance of doing what Seattle did yesterday and upsetting a genuine contender or will the Raven roll into Pittsburgh next week? (more…)

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With five games left in the regular season, the playoff lineup is taking shape of a sorts. The conference boasts four really good teams that each could make it to the Superbowl, and about eight others fighting for the last two playoff spots. Well, seven, really, when you consider unlucky Miami who, at 6-5, is in the same division with the 9-2 Jets and Pats, and effectively three games behind the 8-3 Steelers with their head-to-head loss for the final wild card spot. They may have the same record as someone from the South or West Divisions that makes the playoffs, but they themselves have almost zero shot. Ah, the unfairness of the four division system.

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In this section last week, I actually ended up pretty close on what to expect from my five players.  Brandon Marshall did, in fact, have a breakout game, but the Dolphins defense collapsed, preventing the predicted win.  Jahvid Best and Josh Freeman both flopped against top line defenses.  Ray Rice had a very good game going before getting banged up or he might have hit the century mark.  And Tony Romo, contrary to my call, stayed away from the turnovers and pulled the upset.  Oh, well, you can’t get everything right.  Here are the five players I’ll be watching in this weekend’s games.

5.  Austin Collie, Indianapolis Colts

This is your current league leader in both receptions and receiving yards.  Not Larry Fitzgerald, not Andre Johnson, not Brandon Marshall, not Randy Moss.  Yes, it’s Austin Collie.  The Colts offense is humming right now, and Collie has taken Reggie Wayne’s place as Peyton Manning’s favorite target.  This week, they are on the road in Jacksonville.  The Jags have been torched in successive weeks by Phillip Rivers and Michael Vick.  Do you think Peyton’s mouth is watering at the thought of throwing into Jacksonville’s 29th ranked pass defense?  Collie’s nursing a heel injury, but I don’t expect that to keep him off the field.  Look for the young guy to have another big day and pad his league leading numbers.

4.  Arian Foster, Houston Texans

Just as surprising as Collie leading all receivers is this guy.  Foster, who no one had ever heard of before week one, is leading the league in rushing with 406 yards in three games.  He’s coming fresh off of his second hundred-yard game in the loss to Dallas last week when he averaged 6.2 yards per carry.  Houston needs a win to keep pace with the top teams in the deep AFC, and with Matt Schaub struggling a bit, a big dose of Foster may just be the answer.  The Texans will visit Oakland this week and a Raiders team sporting the 24th ranked run defense in the league, allowing about 133 yards per game on the ground.  Look for the Texans to control this game from start to finish and another triple digit day from Foster.

3.  Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals

The former All Pro Palmer has been nothing short of below-average so far this year.  Actually, he’s been like that for a couple of years now, but for some reason, Bengals fans aren’t calling for his head just yet.  A few more games like last week, though, and the minor rumblings could turn into a major problem, particularly with such a volatile roster.  So far this year, Palmer is throwing at a chilly 71.3 passer rating with a 1/1 touchdown to interception ratio.  Their big gun receivers, Ochocinco and Owens have a combined one touchdown.  And what was supposed to be a Superbowl contender is eeking out ugly wins over horrid teams like the Panthers.  At least they’re not losing them.  Yet.  This week, Palmer and Cincy visit cross state rival Cleveland.  The Browns have been competitive thus far, and they have a respectable 12th ranked pass defense, but haven’t broken through for a win.  Well, now’s their chance.  Look for at least two bad picks, and probably a lost fumble from Palmer and for the Bengals to fall to the Browns.  And in case you’re wondering, Cincinnati’s back up quarterback is Jordan Palmer, Carson’s little brother.  Yikes!

2.  Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Speaking of struggling quarterbacks, here’s the Ravens’ signal caller.  Flacco was expected to take that step into elite territory this season with all the weapons he’s surrounded with in Baltimore.  Instead, he’s a few bad losses from a possible Marc Bulger sighting and a seat on the bench.  He’s thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, and has a lousy 66.3 passer rating.  And if it wasn’t for Anquan Boldin, things could be a lot worse.  This week, the Ravens visit Pittsburgh, just the place you want to take a struggling young quarterback to get healthy.  The undefeated Steelers, who also have the 3rd rated run defense, have been chewing up quartetbacks this year, leaving a trail of pieces of Matt Ryan, Vince Young and Josh Freeman behind them as they go.  So this looks like a bad game for Flacco and a Steeler win, right?  Not necessarily.  Don’t be fooled by the 38 points they scored last week, that was against the Bucs.  Baltimore’s defense is an entirely different animal. He may not have an eye-popping great game, but expect Flacco to stay away from the big mistakes, and make just enough big plays to eek out a win similar to their 10-9 season opener against the Jets.

1.  Donovan McNabb, Washington Redskins

Which brings me to the guy I most want to watch this weekend, Donovan McNabb.  Coming off a very disappointing loss to the Rams, Washington needs a win to keep this season from spiraling out of control.  And who do you expect they’re playing to try and earn that win?  It’s the Philadelphia Eagles and Andy Reid’s new quarterback crush, Michael Vick.  Philly fans’ heads are about to explode, I think.  Vick, for his part, has been playing fantastic, and he’ll get the benefit of facing Washington’s dead last in the league defense.  The question here is can McNabb keep up?   Philly’s D is a respectable 12th in the league, and you know they are going to be pumped playing their former QB.  Look for McNabb to have a big game, but come up just short at the end.  He might even throw a game-ending pick, which would send those Eagles fans into flashbacks of how many of their playoffs games with Donovan ended.

AFC Rankings

NFC Rankings

Week three in the NFL is in the books and there was more than a little upheaval in the rankings.  We have a new number one and only two teams are in the same spot as last week.  Kansas City, New England, Tennessee and the Jets were the big winners this week, all moving up two places, and Miami dropped the most, losing four spots.  Here are the complete rankings for the AFC this week.

16.  Jacksonville Jaguars (last week: 14, down two spots, season high 11, season low 16)-  Getting crushed on all sides of the ball two weeks in a row will get you to unseat Buffalo as the worst team in the conference.  How these guys even won the first game is beyond me.

15.  Buffalo Bills (last week: 16, up one spot, season high 15, season low 16)-  Trent Edwards not only lost his starting role, but his entire job as Buffalo cut him this week in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick.  So far, so good as the Bills put up 30 on New England.  They still lost, though.

14.  Cleveland Browns (last week: 15, up one spot, season high 14, season low 16)-  The Browns were surprisingly competitive against Baltimore, but they still couldn’t quite get the job done.  Mistakes and a poorly coached offensive unit cost them another close game.

13.  Oakland Raiders (last week: 13, even, season high 13, season low 13)-  The Raiders snatched defeat from victory in handing a win to Arizona last week.  One thing the bottom teams in the AFC have in common is bad coaching.  For the Raiders, that’s a problem that never seems to go away.

12.  Denver Broncos (last week: 12, even, season high 12, season low 14)-  In the AFC, there seems to be a line between 11 and 12.  The top 11 all have legit playoff hopes.  The bottom five, starting with Denver, have no chance.  The Broncos were doubled up at home by Indianapolis last week.  With all the talk about quarterbacks in Denver this year, maybe someone should have worried about defense, or receivers, or a running game.  Just a thought.

11.  San Diego Chargers (last week: 10, down one spot, season high 10, season low 11)-  The Chargers totally handed the game to Leon Washington and Seattle last week.  This is getting to be a tired refrain, San Diego starts slow, wins 10 in a row to close out, then loses in the playoffs.  They may be the most talented team in either western division, but they’re already two games behind KC with a head to head loss.

10.  Cincinnati Bengals (last week: 9, down one spot, season high 9, season low 10)- So what do you get when you win ugly on the road against Carolina, who might be the worst team in football?  You drop in the rankings.  Has anyone seen former elite QB Carson Palmer lately, because that guy standing under center in Cincinnati certainly isn’t him?   Hard to believe his skills have fallen off this much.  If he doesn’t get it together, this will be a wasted year for the Bengals.

9.  Kansas City Chiefs (last week: 11, up two spots, season high 9, season low 12)-  Okay, I’m getting closer to believing in Kansas City, but before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s not forget Denver’s 6-0 start last year.  They looked for real, too, but are 3-10 since.  Matt Cassell played a good game for a change, and the Chiefs blew out San Fran at Arrowhead.  If the 49ers didn’t have all the earmarks of a team in total collapse, it would be more impressive.

8.  Baltimore Ravens (last week: 6, down two spots, season high 3, season low 8)-  This team has way too much talent to be struggling at home to the likes of Cleveland.  All that Superbowl talk looks like smoke right now as these guys barely look playoff caliber.  The one exception in Anquan Boldin, who has looked other-worldly so far.  Do you think Arizona misses him?

7.  Miami Dolphins (last week: 3, down four spots, season high 3, season low 7)-  Welcome to Miami, Brandon Marshall. The receiver had a huge game against the Jets, but it wasn’t enough.  The defense totally fell apart against New York, and that is troubling going forward.  And where is the running game?  If Miami needs Chad Henne to throw for 400 yards and put up 30 points each week, it could be a long season.

6.  Tennessee Titans (last week: 8, up two spots, season high 4, season low 8)-  It looks like the Pittsburgh debacle was the aberration so far this season.  Vince Young played a solid, albeit limited game and didn’t get benched as Tennessee walked into the Meadowlands and whipped the Giants.  Chris Johnson is worth every penny. 

5.  New York Jets (last week: 7, up two spots, season high 5, season low 8)-  Sanchez and the boys looked very good for the second week in a row against key division rivals.  You can’t write a better bounce back after that horrid opening game.  Still, the pass defense is concerning.  Another receiver put up a big game against them with Brandon Marshall’s 10 catches for 166 yards making that three weeks in a row.  The Jets have to fix that fast, because if the AFC is anything, it’s filled with good quarterbacks.

4.  Indianapolis Colts (last week: 5, up one spot, season high 4, season low 7)-  The defense gave up some yards but few points in a relatively easy win in Denver.  Should we just rename the MVP the Peyton Manning Award at this point?  The loss to Houston looks a lot less earth shattering after two impressive wins.

3.  Houston Texans (last week: 1, down two spots, season high 1, season low 3)-  Bad loss at home, but to be fair, it wasn’t exactly a road game for Dallas in Texas, and the Cowboys were desperate.  They gave up another big day to another quarterback, still don’t have an interception, Matt Schaub looked average again, and Andre Johnson’s hurt.  On the plus side, Arian Foster ran for over 100 yards and 6 yards per carry.  Maybe they should take a lesson from week one and just pound the ball.

2.  New England Patriots (last week: 4, up two spots, season high 2, season low 4)-  Brady and the Pats put up 38 against Buffalo coming off that bad Jets loss.  These guys can score.  The defense is troubling, however.  Buffalo was in it all game long and put up 30 themselves.  To put that in perspective, the Bills scored 17 in the first two games combined.  The Pats have allowed 24, 28 and 30 points this season.  That trend is moving the wrong way.

1.  Pittsburgh Steelers (last week: 2, up one spot, season high 1, season low 5)-  With the Houston loss and their big win over Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh takes over the top spot.  Their defense is just killing people right now.  If they can stay healthy on that side of the ball, they might stay a while on top.  Do you think Big Ben’s worried about his long-term job security if the Steelers can trot out any old retread at QB and still win games?

NFC Rankings

Five Players to Watch

The NFL season is kicking into gear, already in week three.  The landscape of the league is starting to appear, with the pretenders being exposed and the contenders getting their legs under them.  Here are five players I’ll be watching this weekend.

5.  Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

All the talk in Baltimore is about Joe Flacco and the disappointing passing game.  But the Ravens, at heart, are a pound the ball running team.  If their offense is truly going to get back on track, Rice has to be the guy to get going.  He had a solid game on the ground in the loss to Cincinnati last week, but has been no factor as a receiver, and has yet to reach the end zone this season.  Baltimore hosts Cleveland in week three, and look for Rice to hit paydirt at least twice.  The Browns are giving up almost 130 yards rushing per game, and send an anemic offense out against a typically strong Baltimore defense.  Rice should get plenty of opportunities and could crack the century mark for the first time in 2010.

4.  Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Freeman has been very good for the Bucs so far, leading them to two wins, completing 56% of his passes and four touchdowns against only one interception.  However, things are about to get a whole lot tougher for the young QB as the vaunted Steeper defense comes to town in week three.  Pittsburgh has harassed and embarassed both Matt Ryan and Vince Young this year, even leading to Young’s benching.  They’ve only allowed one touchdown pass, and that was to Kerry Collins in relief of Young, and have four interceptions.  Look for a long day for Freeman, and the Steelers to add another quarterback’s head on their mantle.

3.  Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys’ season is in serious trouble.  Two bad, mistake filled losses and a huge game in Houston against the Texans.  Romo hasn’t been horrible, although he did throw two picks against the Bears last week.  The real problem is protection as the o-line has been a sieve.  If Romo is to have a big game, Houston is the team to do it against.  The Texans are giving up an average of 411 passing yards per game right now.  Let that sink in for a second.  Peyton Manning threw for 433 yards in week one and Donovan McNabb tossed for 426 last week.  They also have yet to get an interception.  Somehow, they managed to win both games, but defense that bad will catch up with them eventually.  Look for Romo to put up big yards but turn the ball over as Dallas falls to 0-3.

2.  Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions

The early rookie of the year favorite, Best had a breakout game last week against the Eagles.  In two games, he has almost 270 total yards and five touchdowns.  Five!  This week, however, the Lions visit an extremely desparate Minnesota team.  The Vikings held the Saints running game largely in check in week one, but Miami had some success on the ground last week.  Best’s big game last week might have been his coming out party, but Minnesota is not the Eagles.  I look for Best to struggle to find space, the Vikings to jump out to a lead, and a game more like week one against the Bears where he had about 40 total yards.

1.  Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are a slightly surprising 2-0 this season, even more so because key off season acquisition Marshall hasn’t yet erupted.  He has only 124 yards and no touchdowns in the first two games.  If it wasn’t for the one long catch early in the Viking game, those numbers would be even worse.  The Jets, who the Fins are playing this weekend, have issues of their own.  Darrelle Revis is out, and their pass defense wasn’t exactly clicking anyway.  They’ve given up two hundred yard receiving games to Anquan Boldin and Aaron Hernandez.  Antonio Cromartie will have to keep Marshall in check, which he can do, but it will be tough.  I look for a breakout game for Marshall as Miami takes control of the AFC East.

Week two of the NFL season brought a few surprises and some notable rearrangements to the rankings.  Obviously, because of the small sample size, upheaval will be common over the first few weeks.  This week in the AFC, Pittsburgh and Miami climbed the most, each moving up three places, and Tennessee was the big loser, dropping four slots.  Here’s the complete AFC rankings after week two.

16.  Buffalo Bills (last week: 15, fell one spot, season high 15, season low 16)-  The Bills were totally thrashed on the road by Green Bay.  Unlike week one, where they were at least competitive, last week’s game was a blow out from the get go.  That’s good enough for last place.

15.  Cleveland Browns (last week: 16, up one spot, season high 15, season low 16)-  Despite losing at home, the Browns still moved up in the list.  They’ve lost two games to currently undefeated teams by a total of five points.  Unlike Buffalo, they haven’t been run off the field.

14.  Jacksonville Jaguars (last week: 11, fell three spots, season high 11, season low 14)-  After getting handily thrashed in San Diego last week, Jacksonville takes a plunge down the rankings.  They looked pretty good beating Denver in week one, but the Chargers exposed them as a mediocre team. 

13.  Oakland Raiders (last week: 13, even, season high 13, season low 13)-  So Jason Campbell has already lost his starting job to Bruce Gradkowski, and Darren McFadden is showing signs of being a top flight back.  The Raiders won a close game over the lowly Rams last week, but more results are needed before they can move up.

12.  Denver Broncos (last week: 14, up two spots, season high 12, season low 14)-  The Broncos brought Seattle back to Earth last week with a big home win, which earns them a trip up the list.  Kyle Orton is playing very well, keeping the Tim Tebow supporters at bay for the moment.  Denver may not be a good team, but for now, they’ve earned this spot in the rankings.

11.  Kansas City Chiefs (last week: 12, up one spot, season high 11, season low 12)-  If Matt Cassell wasn’t such a lousy quarterback, the surprisingly undefeated Chiefs would be higher on this list.  The running game is fantastic and the defense is playing well.  Still, without a better passing game, these guys are going nowhere fast.

10.  San Diego Chargers (last week: 10, even, season high 10, season low 10)-  They looked great against Jacksonville, but when all is said and done, that might not mean much.  The joke that is the Vincent Jackson negotiations is just making them look vindictive, which will ultimately affect how other players perform.  They are clearly the best team in either western division, but 9-7 may take that honor, or possibly worse.

9.  Cincinnati Bengals (last week: 9, even, season high 9, season low 9)-  The Bengals won a close one over the Ravens, who are once again having offensive troubles.  They may yet move much higher up this list, but I’m not convinced that they can consistently beat the best teams.  Carson Palmer hasn’t been the same QB since the knee injury of a few years ago, the receivers are old and the running backs are still retreads.

8.  Tennessee Titans (last week: 4, fell four spots, season high 4, season low 8)-  The Titans looked so good after week one and so bad after getting beat up by Pittsburgh last week.  Vince Young getting benched by Jeff Fisher may not bode well for the rest of the season.  Even so, the Steelers defense is playing out of their minds, so we’ll see how Tennessee does this week.

7.  New York Jets (last week: 8, up one spot, season high 7, season low 8)-  Impressive win over New England last week makes up a bit for the putrid offensive performance the previous week against Baltimore.  Mark Sanchez looked like a real quarterback again, and the Jets got back in the East race.  A win over Miami this week would have them in first with wins over their top two divisional foes.  Can they pull it off on the road?  Maybe.

6.  Baltimore Ravens (last week: 3, fell three spots, season high 3, season low 6)-  Losing a division game to Cincinnati hurts, but not as much as the continued poor play of Joe Flacco.  This was supposed to be the year that the offense caught up with the defense in Baltimore.  Hasn’t worked out that way so far, but there’s still a lot of talent and time to turn it around.

5.  Indianapolis Colts (last week: 7, up two spots, season high 5, season low 7)-  Peyton Manning is in mid-season form and looks like he might make yet another MVP run.  He’ll have to keep that up to make up for the defensive struggles and lack of a running game, but if any QB in the league can pull it off, it’s the elder Manning.  Handing a beating to little brother Eli takes some of the sting away from the loss to Houston.

4.  New England Patriots (last week: 2, fell two spots, season high 2, season low 4)-  The Pats looked average against the Jets last week, and in the second half against Cincinnati in week one.  So, are they the world-beaters of the first half of week one or the mediocre team ever since?  It’s likely somewhere in between.  This team still has issues that need to be resolved before I can comfortably say that New England is back.

3.  Miami Dolphins (last week: 6, up three spots, season high 3, season low 6)-  Sure, the offense hasn’t clicked yet, but winning in Minnesota helps.  There are signs that the Dolphins might be on the way to putting up more points, but the next three weeks may tell the tale of the season with games against the Jets, Patriots and Ravens.  If they manage to win at least two of those three, there should be little doubt that Miami is a legitimate threat for the Superbowl.

2.  Pittsburgh Steelers (last week: 5, up three spots, season high 2, season low 5)-  Even without Big Ben, Pittsburgh has looked good so far, especially on defense.  They’ve embarassed Matt Ryan and Vince Young in consecutive weeks, and are developing a reputation as quarterback killers.  In a few weeks, Ben will be back from suspension, and if the offense matches the defense, watch out!

1.  Houston Texans (last week: 1, even, season high 1, season low 1)-  For a while last week, it looked as though Houston was going to lose both the game and the top spot on this list.  But a furious late rally against Washington changed all that.  Those are the kinds of early season wins that teams build championship runs behind.  Even still, the Texans have to get their pass defense in order.  They can’t keep giving up 400 yards a game, because however good their offense is, eventually, that will catch up to them.  But for now, they’re still number one.