NFL

Seahawks and the NFC Chase

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Seahawks and the NFC Chase

Written by Julian Rogers 

“The sky isn’t falling.” “We’re not panicking.” “It’s a long season.” — said every 0–2 team ever.

Dealer’s choice for which bromide you want to cling to for your winless-thus-far team, fans of the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears.

If you start a season 0–2, you have a nine percent chance of getting into the playoffs, said every pre-game show in existence last Sunday.

Things are not looking good for these eight bands of bumblers. Pop quiz: What do the first six of these eight have in common? Answer: They were either playoff teams or had a winning record a season ago.

Is the annual NFL re-sorting being revealed already as we head into week three?

Dysfunction junction, what’s your unction?

In the National Football Conference, the Seahawks, champions of 2014 and 2013, are already getting out their rain slickers as a 2015 hard rain falls upon them. It’s not just that the blue birds of the Pacific Northwest are winless, but the character of their losses so far are especially soggy. Consider:

  • They are 0–2 in the NFC.
  • They are 0–1 in the NFC West division (and they lost to the worst NFCW team, apart from themselves).
  • They lost any possible tiebreaker advantage to the conference’s presumed heavyweight, the Green Bay Packers.
  • The conference’s worst two teams from a season ago (Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) have better records than the 2015 Seahawks.

These characteristics cannot be denied. What is also emerging as the Seahawks turn up the heat on themselves is that behind the scenes, things are also not so easy-peasy. Consider:

  • Positive Pete Carroll continues to uncharacteristically criticize the officiating of the Seahawks’ latest loss.
  • New offensive toy Jimmy Graham is rehearsing his “I’m being misused” song.
  • Linebacker Bobby Wagner’s prescient, “You can’t pay everybody” warning continues to haunt the 12s as Kam Chancellor’s destructive holdout enters its second month.

If you’re keeping score of the Seattle choir boys, they managed to fly home from Green Bay with the first player disqualified from a game this season (K.J. Wright) and also with the first player to publicly threaten a child (Marshawn Lynch). But at least the 12s are conducting themselves with class and dignity. Except for those that launched and/or supported the GoFundMe site trying to get Ciara to dump Russell Wilson. Ahem.

It gets better

So the Seahawks may not be all that fun to be around these days. The good news is this is about to change. Through the quirks of the NFL schedule, the Seahawks, who took their lumps on the road through the first two weeks of the season, now look forward to feasting at home against two (also) winless NFC teams over the next two weeks: The Bears and the Lions. There could hardly be a better “get right” scenario for the “not panicking” current conference champions.

Rise of the red birds

Don’t look now, but the almost No. 1 seed in the 2014 NFC campaign is back atop the conference again through the first one-eighth of this season. The talking heads of the NFL Network certainly noticed, having bandied the thought that they may very well be the team to beat in the NFC at this early stage. They have a point:

  • The Arizona Cardinals have scored the most points of any NFL team (79).
  • All-but-forgotten quarterback Carson Palmer nearly tops the NFL with 4 passer rating (You cannot stop Brandon Weedon — you can only hope to contain him).
  • Cardinals quarterbacks have zero broken knees so far — a stark contrast to last season.
  • The Cardinals have already won on the road and next host two division competitors at home.

This is shaping up to be a special season for the red birds. Just like last season. Maybe you should forget I said that.

Unstoppable force

This whole season may be academic at this point. Now that we have learned from the NFL’s reigning god that God is rooting for the Packers this year, it seems a tad unfair to make the other 31 teams endure this exercise in futility.

In the off chance that Aaron Rodgers’ comment was more about snark than reportage, I guess we should still play this thing out. The way it looks right now, the Packers week 16 game at Arizona is shaping up to be the game of the year.

Worth watching: The Packers’ unfortunate run of early season injuries, which has seen key players shelved for multiple games that include gone-for-the-season sashes for Jordy NelsonSam Barrington and Josh Boyd. Other key starters, tackle Bryan Bulaga, running back Eddie Lacy and wide receiver Davante Adams, are either certain or likely candidates to miss the next several games.

The clean south

Two teams that experienced their fair share of self-induced harm last season currently sport spotless records: The Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers.

To the uninitiated, the Falcons’ resurgence may look as simple as “Keep calm and Julio on.” This is one of those times when the shallow masses may have a point. It’s hard to argue against Julio Jones as the top receiver in NFL. Jones currently leads the NFL in receptions (22) and is second in receiving yards (276 to Antonio Brown’s 328). He easily leads all receivers in degree of difficulty.

Adding to the black birds of the south’s fifth-ranked offense is … not much else. Their run game remains largely punchless, currently toiling as the NFL’s 22nd-ranked outfit, and the oft-maligned Falcon defense is staying on-brand as the 27th-ranked unit. (Rankings viaNFL.com)

Last year’s NFC South “champions” (we have to call them that), the Carolina Panthers, have punched their way to two victories over the unknown quantity that is the Jacksonville Jaguars and the unseen quality that is the Houston Texans. If the Panthers could line up the rest of their schedule against teams that also have no answer at quarterback, they’d get my vote to go 16–0. They can’t, so I won’t.

Look away

The 0–2 teams have a strong case for claiming status as the saddest of sacks in the NFC. For my money, I’d say it is the division-leading, yet snake-bitten Dallas Cowboys. Never has a team sacrificed so much (Dez BryantTony Romo, Randy Gregory, Orlando Scandrick) to cobble together a one-game lead over the NFC East train wreck.

The good news for the Cowboys is two-fold: Their closest competitors are the Washington Redskins (!) and they can fairly well expect to get both Bryant and Romo back for the stretch run. As the NFL has taught us repeatedly, the teams playing their best football in December are the ones that go on to the playoffs. In the NFC East, all the Cowboys need to do is remotely hang around the top half of their division standings through November. This should not be especially difficult since the division (apart from the Cowboys) has won only one game thus far.

So there it is. Two weeks in, we really know nothing. This NFC chase is still anyone’s ball game. That’s good news for the O-fers. The dirty secret of the NFL is now out in the open. Just like the NBA, whose critics claim that you only have to watch the fourth quarter of any game to see who’s gonna win, the NFL is all about who’s healthy and rolling come December. So cheer up, NFC winless and woeful. If you’re still alive and breathing after Thanksgiving, your misdeeds were merely character-building opportunities. Unless, of course, God is not on your side.

NFL News and Rumors: If you could ask Tony Romo one question about your future...

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NFL News and Rumors: If you could ask Tony Romo one question about your future...

Perhaps you are still recovering emotionally from the NFL weekend. Both road teams winning, controversial calls or rather controversial no-calls, and only two teams remain as the Super Bowl 53 stage is set. 

But there was a certain someone not named Tom Brady that stole the show late Sunday evening, and his name is Tony Romo. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and now CBS broadcaster was an abolsute gem to listen to throughout the game solely by the fact that he called the play, actually several, before it even happened…

Whether it’s a high football I.Q. or a complete guess, fans, professional athletes, and other commentators are taking notice. Some are even reaching out to Romo for information regarding their futures:

And with CBS airing the Super Bowl, one can expect Romo to be on the call.

Would you be surprised if the New England Patriots win in Kansas City on Sunday?

Would you be surprised if the New England Patriots win in Kansas City on Sunday?

Who do you take: rookie, MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes or arguably the G.O.A.T of the NFL, Tom Brady? Will the New England Patriots reign of terror on the AFC finally come to an end this Sunday in the AFC Championship game? Get your popcorn ready and claim your spot on the couch soon, because this will be a good one between the visiting Patriots at the Chiefs.

Only time will tell… Rob Parker of Fox Sports 1 joins the Brian Noe Show to discuss the upcoming AFC Championship matchup between the Patriots and the Chiefs. 

“I would be very surprised because the Patriots have lost their last three AFC Championship games on the road,” says Parker. “They do not perform when they have go on the road and get it done…”

Kickoff time set for 3:40 PM (PT) at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri. 

Carolina Panthers running back Kenjon Barner lit up by a punter Matt Bosher

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Carolina Panthers running back Kenjon Barner lit up by a punter Matt Bosher

Rule No. 1 during a kick return: do not let the kicker tackle you. 

Destroyed, lit up, leveled, you name it. Atlanta Falcons kick-off specialist/punter Matt Bosher absolutely crushed Carolina Panthers running back and special teams player Kenjon Barner on a kick-off. 

Very rare, but when it happens, it is all too sweet. At least for the kicker. For the returner, it is embarrassing. Just read for yourself:

In his fifth year of his NFL career, Barner (former Oregon Ducks running back) finds himself back with the team that originally drafted him in Carolina. On Sunday, despite getting brutally tackled by Bosher, he had a nice game recording four punts for 109 yards and his longest of 37 yards. Unfortunately for Barner, that doesn't matter to the internet.

The Panthers (6-9) continue their downfall with their seventh loss in a row, this time to the Atlanta Falcons (6-9), 24-10 in Carolina. 

 

San Francisco 49ers' DEs DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead bright spots in disappointing season

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San Francisco 49ers' DEs DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead bright spots in disappointing season

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The San Francisco 49ers' disappointing season, upended by the knee injury to budding star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, certainly has revealed areas of need that must be addressed in order for this team to ever contend in the NFC West division. 

Defensive end is not on that list because of the presence of two former Oregon Ducks. The previous regime in charge before John Lynch became the franchise's general manager in 2017 drafted well in that area when it selected Arik Armstead with the 17th-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and followed up the next year by taking DeForest Buckner with the seventh pick of the first round. 

Their careers have contrasted since they helped lead the Ducks to the national championship game during the 2014 season. Buckner has blossomed quicker in the NFL while Armstead, held back by injuries, is just now starting to realize his potential. 

During their growth as professional players and transitioning from college kids to professional adults, they have always been able to lean on each other. Both arrived at Oregon in 2012 and since have not been teammates only once, in 2015. Their hope now is that they can continue to grow together and help lead the 49ers (4-10) back to respectability and achieve similar success to what they accomplished at Oregon where together they experienced only five losses in three seasons. 

“We’ve been playing together for seven years," Armstead said. "It’s been great. It’s a unique situation to be playing with somebody for so long and kind of grow together and always be there through the ups and downs. It’s been a pretty cool experience.”

--- Buckner emerges 

The 49ers' locker room at Levi's Stadium following Sunday's 26-23 overtime win over Seattle - just two weeks after losing 43-16 at CenturyLink Field - didn't feel like that of a losing team. In part, that was because everyone in that locker room knew how much that win meant to former Seahawks' superstar cornerback Richard Sherman. Also, the win snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Seahawks dating back to 2013. 

“We took it personally," Buckner said. "They flat-out embarrassed us two weeks ago."

Buckner, from Hawaii, had 11 tackles and two sacks in the game to reach 11 sacks for the season. Armstead, from Sacramento, Calif., added five tackles. He has three sacks on the year. For sure, Buckner is putting up the sexier numbers and was rewarded by being named as a Pro Bowl alternate. But Armstead's contributions can't be discounted. He is a strong run stuffer opposite Buckner and according to San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan is starting to emerge as a pass rusher. 

"He does have that type of ability, so I think that's what people hope for," Shanahan told reporters last week. "But, that's not just something that you do. That takes a while, and it takes guys some time playing in this league, playing different positions, to really find their groove. I do see that chance for Arik."

First, Armstead must continue to remain healthy. He has been hindered by injuries off and on since landing at Oregon. After appearing in all 16 games as a rookie, Armstead missed eight his second year and 10 last season. This year has had played in all 14 games. 

"I don't want to jinx myself," Armstead said. "We have two more games. I'm just blessed to be healthy out there."

--- Adjusting to change

Last season San Francisco switched from the 3-4 defense, which the franchise ran when it selected Buckner and Armstead, to the 4-3 defense when Shanahan took over and hired defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The change didn't impact Armstead and Buckner much given that each is well equipped to play either defense given their considerable athleticism especially given their size.

Both are the prototypical, large, two-gap, 3-4 defensive ends at 6-7, 300 pounds for Buckner and 6-7, 292 for Armstead. However, each is more athletic than your average man of that size. While most 4-3 defensive ends are smaller, it cannot be forgotten that hall of famer Reggie White racked up 198 sacks at 6-5, 291 and Carolina's Julius Peppers will likely make the hall of fame with 158 career sacks at 6-7, 295. Comparing Buckner and Armstead to the likes of the late White and Peppers is, of course, premature. However, both Buckner and Armstead certainly fit into the same breed of defensive end. Large. Strong. Athletic. 

Buckner has certainly shown flashes of being a potential future All-Pro with 20 sacks in three seasons thanks to 11 this year. 

“Getting to double digits, I knew I was capable of it and to see my hard work get paid off, it’s definitely gratifying," he said. "I knew I could do it and I worked my tail off in the offseason to get there."

Saleh said Buckner last year had many pressures and QB knockdowns that could have been sacks with fine-tuning of his technique when disengaging from blockers and closing on quarterbacks. 

"We talked about him needing to find that extra half of step," Saleh told reporters this week. "He's really taken it to heart and he's found that step."

Sometimes, Saleh said, it takes a while for young defensive linemen to find their way. Armstead is no different. 

"Arik is probably having his best year," Saleh said. "It just takes time."

--- Remaining 49ers

The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on Armstead's rookie contract and Shanahan said they hope to resign him long-term. That's also the plan with Buckner. Armstead said he certainly wants to remain with the 49ers. 

"I love it here," he said. "I've been here my whole career. They drafted me and gave me an opportunity. I want to be here and help win games."

Armstead entered the NFL at age 21 and said he has grown a lot in four years. 

"Most, probably as a person," he said. "I'm 25. Getting kind of old. But maturing as a person. I'm out on my own now. I'm a professional. I've had a good experience."

Armstead has been very active doing charity work in his hometown of Sacramento, which he said is very important to him. 

"I feel like I've been blessed in my life with so many things and it's my responsibility to give back in any way that I came," he said. "A lot of my efforts are directed to people in Sacramento where I'm from and trying to impact my city in a positive way."

The Oregon duo of Buckner and Armstead is respected by teammates. Defensive tackle D.J. Jones said the two are often inseparable.

"You see one you see the other," he said. "They are the twin towers." 

Jones said teammates don't give the former Ducks too much grief for being bosom Ducks. 

"Both are phenomenal people off the field," Jones said. "On the field, they are just the same. I've learned so much from them."

Their NFL careers are in full swing and their futures appear to be strong. How long they remain teammates will be played out on the business end of the NFL pool. One thing for sure is that both have benefited from entering this world together as former Ducks tied at the hip and supporting each other. 

“It’s encouragement and helping each other," Armstead said. "Teaching each other things we’ve learned and passing it along. Having good communication out there from playing together so long. Definitely encouraging each other is the main thing.”

The AFC/NFC playoffs: who's in, who's in the hunt, who's spiraling

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The AFC/NFC playoffs: who's in, who's in the hunt, who's spiraling

First, let’s start with the AFC

Who is in:

There are only two teams that have clinched a playoff berth: the Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) and the San Diego Chargers (11-3). The two teams had an epic battle under the Thursday Night Football lights that ended with a winning two-point conversion by the Chargers to win 29-28 over the Chiefs. Interestingly enough, these two teams are both in the AFC West division, have split the series between the two, but the Chiefs are the division leader while the Chargers lead the Wildcard race.

Division Leaders:

- AFC South: Houston Texas (10-4)

- AFC East: New England Patriots (9-5)

- AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1)

Notable games:

- New England loses on the road to Pittsburgh 17-10.

- Houston defeats the New York Jets, but clinching the division is still on hold with another Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans victory.

In the hunt:

- Don’t count out the Baltimore Ravens just yet. After taking it to the Chiefs last week, the Ravens (8-6) bounced back today with a 20-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Ravens lie one game behind the Steelers, who beat the Patriots today.

- The Indianapolis Colts (8-6) are 7-1 in the last eight games. After shutting out the visiting Dallas Cowboys today 23-0, next up for the Colts are the Giants and then at Tennessee.   

- The Tennessee Titans (8-6), also in the same division as the Colts, shut out the Giants 17-0 and are battling in a tight race for second and a potential Wildcard spot with the Colts. The two face up in the last week of the regular season.

- Miami (7-7) coming off a loss to the Vikings and Cleveland (6-7-1) are also still in the hunt.

 

Now, for the NFC

Who is in:

Three teams have clinched a spot in the NFC playoffs: the New Orleans Saints, the Los Angeles Rams, and the Chicago Bears. 

Division Leaders:

- NFC South: New Orleans Saints (11-2)

- NFC West: Los Angeles Rams (11-3)

- NFC North: Chicago Bears (10-4)

- The only remaining division yet to be clinched is the NFC East, which the Dallas Cowboys (8-6) currently lead but were shut out by the Colts today. Riding their coattails are the Eagles (7-7), coming off a big win Sunday night, and the Washington Redskins (7-7) who won on a game-winning field goal 16-13 over the Jacksonville Jaguars. This division will come down to the wire. 

Notable games:

- The Seattle Seahawks (8-6) dropped to the San Francisco 49ers (4-10) in the Bay Area in what “should have” been a win to clinch a playoff spot is now on hold with Kansas City coming into Seattle next Sunday. 

- The Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) picked up a big win over the Miami Dolphins to remain in the Wildcard race.

- The Eagles (7-7) defeated the Los Angeles Rams on the road.

In the hunt:

- Washington got its prayers answered with a win over Jacksonville to remain in playoff contention at 7-7, also with a Dallas Cowboys loss. The NFC East is anyone’s division at this point.

- The Carolina Panthers (6-7) need to get back on track but face the Saints next on Monday Night Football.

 

 

Dallas Cowboys ran out of Luck in shutout loss

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Dallas Cowboys ran out of Luck in shutout loss

The Dallas COwboys ran out of, or rather into, Luck. Andrew Luck that is. 

When all was going in the right direction for "America's Team", today was a turn of the tides. The Cowboys (now 8-6) were riding a five-game win streak and in a good spot on top of the NFC East after beating division rival Philadelphia last Sunday now hit the road into Colts territory. But it did not look like the same Dallas team, on both sides of the ball, got off the plane. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot was limited to 87 yards on 18 carries, an average of 4.8 yards per carry. While counterpart quarterback Dak Prescott did throw for 206 yards, but had one interception and zero touchdowns on the day.

For the first time since 2003, the Cowboys were shutout in a 23-0 loss to the Colts (8-6).

Perhaps this recap should be more about Andrew Luck and the Colts offense because not only has this Cowboys defense been stellar the past two weeks, but Andrew Luck or rather this Colts offensive line got it done today making way for the ground game to put up 178 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Next up the Colts look to keep their playoff hopes alive hosting the New York Giants (5-9) on Sunday.

Marcus Mariota making a case for linebacker

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Marcus Mariota making a case for linebacker

It it not a scret that Marcus Mariota is a team player. It is a quality in his human nature, and it showed yet again this morning.

On a brisk day in New York against the Giants, the Tennessee Titans quarterback lined up as wide receiver in a wildcat formation, in perfect position for what was heading his way. As running back Derrick Henry made his run to Mariota's side, Mariota lead Henry with a monster block, sacrificing his own body for Henry to spring free. What his coaches may call ill-advised since Mariota has been dealing with some injuries, fans and teammates loved the effort.

Also just for reference, Mariota is 6' 4", 222 pounds. Alec Ogletree is 6' 2", 235 pounds.

The Titans are sitting in third of the AFC South at 7-6 and need this win over the New York Giants (5-8) to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Did someone put ice on the Oakland field?

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Did someone put ice on the Oakland field?

Was there a patch of ice on the Oakland Raiders field Sunday afternoon precisely at 4:48 PM (PT) on the 40-yard-line? We're only kidding, it was a sunny 57 degree day in Oakland, however, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell slipped on what would have been a game-tying field goal. Whoops.

The Oakland Raiders get their third win of the season with a 24-21 win over Pittsburgh. The Steelers drop their third game in a row and have a tough schedule coming up: host New England and at New Orleans before hosting the Cincinnati Bengals to finish the regular season. Other than a tough schedule ahead, Ben "Big Ben" Roethlisberger left this game early after taking a big hit but checked back into the game in the fourth quarter. 

Keep an eye out for this AFC North division featuring the Steelers at 7-5-1, Baltimore (7-6) who barely lost today at Kansas City, and the surging Cleveland Browns (it's been awhile since I've said that) at 5-7-1 who defeated Carolina today.

 

Kansas City Chiefs no-looking their way into the playoffs

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Kansas City Chiefs no-looking their way into the playoffs

When you think of a chess match in terms of NFL teams, Kansas City vs. Baltimore did not disappoint. Rookie quarterback vs. rookie quarterback.

Patrick Mahomes is breaking all the rules. Throwing late back across the field, holding the ball to losely in his hands while he is scrambling, no-look passes, but still proving he is scrapy and can build drives late in the fourth quarter when his team needs him most. 

Late in the fourth quarter, Mahomes and the Chiefs had a 4th & 9, down 24-17. Trying to build as much time as possible, Mahomes scrambled right and blades of grass before hitting the sideline white chalk, heaves a huge throw down the middle of the field right on target to speedy (and very much injured) Tyreek Hill, who battled through a leg injury late in this game. This set up a game-tying 24-24 touchdown with under a minute to go. 

Despite the Chiefs' defensive line coming up HUGE with a strip sack on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to set up a game-wining field goal that was missed right, overtime was more of Mahomes Time. 

Mahomes lead a 75-yard opening field-goal drive to go up 27-24 in overtime. In the end, it was more of the defense that stepped up for Mahomes and the Chiefs hanging onto the lead and clinching a playoff berth.

Next up the Chiefs (11-2) host the Los Angeles Chargers (9-3) on Thursday Night Football.