Bookie’s Playbook: Super Bowl XLIX Preview

Super Bowl XLIX between the Patriots and Seahawks is featuring the two best all-around teams from this season. Granted, they are the number one seeds in their respective conferences. Being that both of these teams are so well rounded, game-planning for this match-up will be extra tough on both teams. Though, here are some things to look out for in the big game.

Make Russell be the muscle

One thing the Patriots defense has to focus on is forcing Russell Wilson to have to beat them with his arm. The Seahawks don’t have great receivers on their team, and transversely, the Patriots have a very good secondary. Both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner have the advantage in their match-ups against Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, respectively. That leaves safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chang free to roam around in different zone concepts to take advantage of Wilson the way the Packers did in the NFC Championship game. The Patriots have guys like Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich who each can take up a couple of blockers in order to free up the linebackers to be able to stop Marshawn Lynch. So slowing down the run game and forcing the Seahawks in to third-and-medium or third-and-long situations will put the Patriots in a favourable situation. While making Wilson pass the ball will be integral to winning the game, the Patriots should focus on making him throw passes shorter than 10 yards. Russell Wilson is notorious for making big throws downfield. According to Pro Football Focus, he has been way more impactful throwing 10+-yards deep, scoring good grades in every direction. However, shorter than 10 yards, Wilson has scored bad grades across the board. So if the Patriots play a defensive scheme where Wilson will have have to throw short, he will likely not make big plays.

Blount force

The Patriots are practically unbeatable when they have a 100-yard rusher. Under Bill Belichick, they’re 46-1 when they reach that mark in a game. Running the ball so well will give them limitless options on offense. In the AFC Championship game against the Colts, the Patriots were able to run over them so easily. Looking back at that game, you can see that the Colts’ run defense was extremely sluggish and wasn’t playing hard. However, the Seahawks’ run defense is the polar opposite. They play harder than any other team and they get after the ball-carrier so quickly. That definitely makes it loads harder for Blount to have another huge game, but the Patriots have to establish the run and at least try to win the ground game.

A forecast of rainbow coverage

Tying into what I said about the Patriots having the edge with the defensive back-wide recover matchup, you should see plenty of rainbow coverage from the Patriots. Against the Colts, they blitzed just once but still got pressure on Andrew Luck on half of his dropbacks. The Seahawks don’t have a great offensive line and they’re banged up. Rushing the defensive line alone should again get enough pressure on Russell Wilson. Not blitzing would also drop the linebackers in coverage, which would free them up to make sure Wilson doesn’t scramble and loosen the secondary, which will be very congested with seven or eight players dropping back. The Patriots have plenty of ways to expose the Seahawks offense without leaving their defense vulnerable.

Share the Gronk

The Seahawks have plenty of options for guarding Rob Gronkowski. They can match him up with Kam Chancellor, a linebacker, or even one of their cornerbacks based on the Patriots offensive formation. What’s great about having all of these options is that it expounds what they can do vis-à-vi coverages and disguising their coverages. The Patriots don’t throw the ball downfield very often. Among the 75 most deep-targeted receivers in the league (20+ yards), Brandon LaFell is ranked 50th and Julian Edelman is ranked 75th. Rob Gronkowski is ranked in the mid-tier of tight ends. Since the Seahawks don’t have to worry so much about the deep ball, they can move Earl Thomas, put more players in the box to slow down the run game, and fool the Patriots offense by giving them plenty of different looks. As I said before, the Seahawks defense is the fastest at pursuing the ball-carrier, so all of the shorter passes can work to their advantage.

Pressure Brady

Tom Brady is the most different quarterback under pressure this season than any other in the league. With a clean pocket, Brady’s passer rating is 113.1, and under pressure his passer rating is 53.4. That’s a difference of nearly 60 points! The Seahawks have plenty of pass rushers and should be able to give Brady some fits behind his offensive line which has been reshuffled this season an uncountable amount of times. However, given some time together, this offensive line unit has been playing better in recent weeks. In the Divisional Round game against the Ravens, they held the tandem of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to just a half a sack. So the Seahawks defensive line will have to work a little harder to get the job done. But if the different coverages do their job, the pass rush will have a little extra time to get to Brady.

Take care of the football

The Seahawks offense had a major problem of giving the Packers plenty of extra chances. That can’t happen on Sunday. To win the Super Bowl a team has to be flawless. Last year, the Broncos fell apart right away when they fumbled the opening snap leading to a safety. The Patriots are ranked number two in the league in takeaway points, and Bill Belichick coaches his team to be disciplined and to not make mistakes of their own. So the Seahawks likely won’t get many chances at takeaways, if any. And if they even have a fraction of the giveaways they had against the Packers, then Patriots will run away with the Lombardi Trophy.

This OTI Piece was written by Eli Bookstaber. Eli, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a huge follower of all things NFL and an avid fan of the Redskins. He writes the weekly Power Rankings as well as “Bookie’s Playbook”, where Eli breaks down the X’s and O’s of various plays and things of the sort. He welcomes all feedback on his articles, and you can always talk to him about anything NFL-related. You can follow him on Twitter @Ebookstaber, but be prepared. He never shuts up. 

Bookie’s Playbook: Conference Championships Breakdown

The NFC and AFC Conference Championship games were very different from one another. The NFC game between the Packers and Seahawks featured an enormous amount of turnovers and an unlikely comeback, while the AFC game was a blowout from the get-go.

NFC Championship

The Seahawks were down 16-0 at halftime without much chance of coming back. Russell Wilson was throwing interceptions left and right. Lucky for him, the defense picked up his slack and kept them in the game, forcing a number of turnovers of their own and holding the Packers to a lot of field goals. The Packers had infinite reasons why they should’ve won the game. You can blame it on this missed call by the refs: on the Richard Sherman interception in the first quarter defensive end Michael Bennett clearly jumped into the neutral zone, but no flag was thrown.

A flag would’ve negated the interception which would’ve resulted in a three- or seven-point swing. Either is definitely enough to have kept the Seahawks out of reach from sending the game to overtime. How about Morgan Burnett’s interception late in the game?

If Julius Peppers hadn’t signalled Burnett to go down, he could’ve easily scored a touchdown. The Packers didn’t end up scoring on that drive. There’s another three- or seven-point swing. Finally, the onside kick. If Brandon Bostick had blocked like he was supposed to instead of trying to secure the ball himself, the Packers would’ve sealed the game right then and there. However, all of these things did go wrong, and the game went to overtime. The Seahawks won the game by scoring a touchdown on the opening drive, which was capped off by two consecutive 35-yard passes to Jermaine Kearse — the target of all four Russell Wilson interceptions. On the first of those two plays, the Packers were playing Cover-1 Robber, where the free safety covers a deep zone and the strong safety covers the middle zone. The defensive back covering Kearse was playing with inside leverage facing the outside, which means he expected Kearse to go outside or deep. Kearse did exactly that, but first he took a quick step inside which forced the defensive back to hesitate for a moment.

That little amount of hesitation was enough for Kearse to run behind him and get open for the deep pass.

On the next play, the Packers safeties were both playing very shallow. Russell Wilson noticed and adjusted Kearse’s route accordingly to go deep.

Kearse then did a nice job of getting good inside positioning to be able to haul in the game-winning score.

Russell Wilson and Jermaine Kearse made up for their mishaps in regulation with smart play in overtime, which was no match for the Packers defense.

AFC Championship

The Patriots had the perfect game plan to stop the Colts offense. The Colts were going into the game without a strong rushing attack, so Andrew Luck had to try to carry the entire offense on his shoulders. The Patriots then went out and took away the Colts’ strongest weapon, leaving them with nothing to do on offense. To accomplish that, the Patriots played rainbow coverage the entire game by dropping everyone back.

In fact, the Patriots only blitzed twice of Andrew Lucks 36 dropbacks. With the field so congested, it’s hard to find and open man quick enough. The Patriots also had to get enough pressure with their defensive front for this to work. On this play, they rushed four and got enough pressure to force the ball out of Andrew Luck’s hand. He had a receiver open deep, but instead Luck passed to the tight end below the open receiver.

There were plenty of times when Luck couldn’t see a wide open receiver. This time the Colts tried a play action rollout, but only one defender bit.

Luck was supposed to have an open receiver on the right, but with so many players in coverage he didn’t have one. He didn’t notice T.Y. Hilton wide open on the other side of the field, which would’ve been a tough throw anyway, and ended up throwing the ball away.

The Patriots didn’t have to do much on offense to win. In the beginning of the game they tried their infamous trick formation from last week. There were only four offensive linemen, and all of the players off the line were eligible and the two outside players on the line were eligible.

 The ineligible receiver out right served as a blocker on a screen pass, but the Colts had it covered and the pass wound up incomplete.

Therefore, the Patriots had to beat the Colts the normal way. After already gaining a safe lead in the first half, the Patriots pounded the ball heavily in the second half, and the Colts were not up to the task. The Colts had plenty of players around LeGarrett Blount on this run play, but only one was unblocked and able to make the tackle — which he didn’t.

Here, the Colts defenders were all easily blocked with one-on-ones, leaving plenty of holes for Blount.

Three defenders were all closing in on him, but they didn’t play tough enough to make the tackle.

The Patriots brought in rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming as an extra blocker on 24 of the 34 rushing plays, and was only in during five passing plays, so the Colts knew a run was coming. Blount also only forced seven missed tackles all game, which means that the Colts defenders weren’t around him much to make the tackle and easily got blocked out of the play. It was just too easy for the Patriots to run the ball, and you can’t win in the playoffs if you don’t play tough. I can guarantee that the Seahawks won’t be lackadaisical at all in the run game in the Super Bowl.

This OTI Piece was written by Eli Bookstaber. Eli, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a huge follower of all things NFL and an avid fan of the Redskins. He writes the weekly Power Rankings as well as “Bookie’s Playbook”, where Eli breaks down the X’s and O’s of various plays and things of the sort. He welcomes all feedback on his articles, and you can always talk to him about anything NFL-related. You can follow him on Twitter @Ebookstaber, but be prepared. He never shuts up. 

Bookie’s Playbook: Divisional Round Notes

The Divisional Round was full of surprises and crazy plays. Thus, I have compiled some thoughts and observations on a few things from some of last week’s playoff games.

Dez Bryant’s non-catch vs. Josh Cribbs’ non-fumble

This was probably the most controversial set of officiating in the playoffs. In the Cowboys-Packers game, Dez Bryant technically caught the ball and was down on the 1-yard line, but by rule he didn’t catch the ball. In the Colts-Broncos game, Josh Cribbs fielded a punt and immediately got hit, resulting in the ball being jarred loose on the ground. However, the official eventually overturned the call of a fumble. These two plays are actually very similar, but ended with different results.

Let’s start with the Dez Bryant play. Here he is with possession of the ball after the leap and grab, and he clearly got touched by the defender.

Next we can see that his elbow touched the ground with the ball inside the 1-yard line. The ball also touched the ground, which is key.

After that, while still rolling over, we can clearly see that the ball came out of his hands.

The rule states that a player must maintain possession throughout the process of the catch. Since Bryant didn’t make a “football move” before he lost possession of the ball, everything including the point where he lost the ball is included in the process of the catch. If the ball hadn’t touched the ground at all, then the catch only would’ve counted from when he repossessed the ball in the end zone. However, since the ball did hit the ground, even though he repossessed the ball it’s as if he caught the ball of the ground, which is an incomplete pass. Therefore, the ruling of an incomplete pass after review was correct. After this, the league will have to rethink the rule of the process of a catch, again. Now lets get to the confusing part — Josh Cribbs’ non-fumble.

This is when Cribbs caught the punt and got hit just after that.

This is the point when his knee touched the ground, and it appears that Cribbs still had control of the ball.

Soon after, the ball came loose, but that was when Cribbs was already down by contact, as ruled by the official upon review.

The qualm with this ruling is that Cribbs didn’t make a “football move” and maintain possession throughout the process of the catch, which includes after he was down by contact when he fumbled the ball. Therefore, it should’ve been ruled a muffed punt, which only requires contact with the ball. This is the exact opposite ruling from the Dez Bryant play. Bryant didn’t maintain possession of the ball, so it was an incomplete pass, and Cribbs didn’t maintain possession, so it was equal to an incomplete pass in his situation which is a muffed punt. Why were the rulings different? Obviously one is wrong, which looks to be the Cribbs play.

Peyton Manning misfiring deep

Peyton Manning was way off on his deep ball against the Colts. He attempted eight passes 20 yards in the air or further from the line of scrimmage, but only connected on one of them — his first one on the first drive.

After the game, it was reported that Manning had a couple of quadricep injuries, including a partial tear in one of them. That clearly affected his accuracy as he was getting less and less accurate as the game went along. Also, on one of the deep balls he missed he could’ve run for the first down with 20 yards of open field on front of him. However, likely due to his injury he elected to rather pass the ball.

Belitricks

Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches the NFL has had in recent years, and he showed one reason why he is a genius with some deception on offense against the Ravens. Bill Volin, a Patriots beat writer for the Boston Globe, explained it all really well.

(http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2015/01/12/patriots-receiver-eligibility-tactic-could-catch/eTiRiTUbQaECsPGF4e8APJ/story.html) (Photo credit: Ben Volin/Boston Globe)

Belichick understands all the intricacies of the rules of the game, and he used the rule of ineligible players to his advantage. On any given play on offense, a team has to have seven players lined up on the line of scrimmage and four behind it. Six of the 11 players are eligible receivers and can catch a forward pass, while the other five are ineligible and can only catch a lateral. Of the seven players on the line of scrimmage, only the two lined up on the outside are eligible receivers. Those last two rules are what Belichick manipulates. Here is how the Patriots lined up:

they replaced an offensive lineman with Michael Hoomanawanui, a tight end, and lined him up at the left tackle spot. However, he was still on of the six eligible receivers because he is was of two outside players, along with Julian Edelman, on the line of scrimmage.

Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, and Rob Gronkowski were all eligible receivers because they were off the line, but Shane Vereen was ineligible because he was an inside player on the line. This is what confused the Ravens defense (and John Harbaugh). They didn’t realise that Vereen was an ineligible receiver and that Hoomanawanui was eligible.

You can see that two of the linebackers were staring at Hoomanawanui and had no idea why he was running a route, and another one was covering Vereen. Vereen was behind the line so he could’ve caught a pass there. So in effect the Patriots were utilising an extra receiver. But since no one was covering Hoomanawanui, he easily got a big gain. The Ravens really should’ve known that Vereen was ineligible because the official announced it before the play. Since the Ravens didn’t realise who was eligible and who wasn’t, they had the wrong personnel on the field for those plays. No wonder John Harbaugh threw a temper tantrum and received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. However, a team can’t keep flipping their ineligible and eligible receivers. A player can’t change his eligibility on consecutive plays unless he sits out one play, there’s a timeout, or a penalty.

It seems like the Colts would be stupid to fall for this tricky formation after having a week of studying it, but the Patriots have probably spent loads of more time practising it. In the heat of the game when things are moving quickly, it might still be hard for the defense to recognise which receivers are eligible and which aren’t. Lucky enough for the Colts, the Patriots can’t run plays like this in the no-huddle unless they keep the same ineligible and eligible players, which makes it easier for the defense to recognise.

This OTI Piece was written by Eli Bookstaber. Eli, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a huge follower of all things NFL and an avid fan of the Redskins. He writes the weekly Power Rankings as well as “Bookie’s Playbook”, where Eli breaks down the X’s and O’s of various plays and things of the sort. He welcomes all feedback on his articles, and you can always talk to him about anything NFL-related. You can follow him on Twitter @Ebookstaber, but be prepared. He never shuts up. 

Bookie’s Playbook: The Not-So-Great Wall of Dallas

In the 1990’s the group of Cowboys offensive linemen — Mark Tuinei, Erik Williams, Mark Stepnoski, Nate Newton, John Gesek, Kevin Gogan, and later Larry Allen — has become the most memorable offensive linemen unit in the history of the NFL. The Cowboys’ success in that decade, which included three Lombardi Trophies, can be partially credited to that group. In the last few years, the Cowboys have spent their first round pick in each draft on an offensive lineman: Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. This season, all three of those guys have been voted to the Pro Bowl. Thanks to their great play the Cowboys finally broke their 8-8 streak to win their division and go to the playoffs. However, in last week’s Wild Card Round playoff game against the Lions, the Cowboys offensive line didn’t fare so well agains the Lions top defensive line.

On the first drive of the game they struggled to block their assignments. Here’s DeMarco Murray on a run to the right tackle and the blocking assignments.

Zack Martin, who had plenty of struggles in pass protection and run blocking, was getting pushed backwards by Ndamukong Suh, while Jason Witten, who also struggled in run blocking, allowed his assignment to get inside his block.

By the time Murray got to where the hole was supposed to be, Suh was already there, so he cut back. However, plenty of defenders closed on Murray, giving up no gain.

This running play on the next drive was actually one of the few plays in the first half that the Cowboys’ offensive line blocked fairly well.

Murray saw a defensive lineman starting to close in on the hole, so he saw a cutback lane and went for it.

However, a safety plugged that cutback lane and stopped Murray for a short gain.

That’s one reason why the Lions are the number one ranked run defense. They have their big and strong defensive lineman take up the blockers and often even get by them, while the linebackers and safety are assigned a gap to shoot through. That’s why you’ll notice so many Lions players across the line on this play.

Now we get to the pass protection issues. Here there were six defenders on the line of scrimmage, but there were only five blockers so Romo signalled to the free rusher.

However, two of those defenders backed into coverage. Now with some confusion in protection, Travis Frederick started to help the left guard on his defender but didn’t notice the right end crossing into the inside.

Frederick was too late coming over and Romo quickly got sacked.

That wasn’t the only time the offensive line got confused by the Lions pass rush. Fresh off the bad protection, the five Cowboys pass protectors were up against six defenders on the line.

This time the offensive line screwed up even worse. With only four pass rushers coming in, the right tackle was still in his stance while everyone else was well off the line. Centre Travis Frederick wasn’t even attempting to block anyone. And the right guard and left tackle were both working on one guy. This allowed both edge rushers to have a quick meeting with Tony Romo.

That really was the worst [lack of] blocking I’ve ever seen.

There were plenty of other little things that made things harder on the offense, like linemen one-on-one easily getting bull rushed right into Romo…

…and, as I mentioned before, Jason Witten struggling with run blocking as he blocked the wrong guy on this play.

The linebacker who Witten blocked was far enough from the hole that Murray could’ve outrun him, but Witten ran right across the safety directly in front of the hole to where he was assigned. The Cowboys knew how the Lions played run defense in the game plan, so Witten should’ve known to block the player assigned that gap — the safety.

That ends all of the bad things the offensive line did in the first half, but they really made improvements in the second half. Counting out one 18-yard run, Murray averaged two yards-per-carry in the first half, but then averaged nearly four yards-per-carry in the second half. Also, nearly all of the quarterback pressures came in the first half.

To start off the second half, the Cowboys ran the ball up the middle and the blocking was perfect.

Everyone held their block well, and, most importantly, the linebacker who had that gap was blocked.

There was no confusion between the quarterback and the offensive line in the second half. Romo noticed the safety on a blitz and singled the offensive line, and Frederick relayed the information to the rest of the line to insure everyone was on the same page.

The safety blitz was easily picked up by the left guard, and if you will refer to the previous screenshot, the crazy cross the defensive linemen ran was also picked up well with Frederick and Martin perfectly switching.

This is the way the Cowboys offensive line has blocked all season.

Finally, on the game-winning touchdown, Romo had a big and perfect pocket for three seconds before buying a couple more seconds to make the throw.

If the Cowboys will have any chance at a Super Bowl run, the offensive line will have to play like they have in the regular season and in the second half of the Lions game. The way the play of the offensive line affected the offense was huge — scoring 7 points in the first half compared to 17 in the second. The Cowboys won’t nearly be facing a similar run defense against the Packers, ranked 23rd compared to the top-ranked Lions and their gap-shooting scheme, so that already gives them a leg up.

This OTI Piece was written by Eli Bookstaber. Eli, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a huge follower of all things NFL and an avid fan of the Redskins. He writes the weekly Power Rankings as well as “Bookie’s Playbook”, where Eli breaks down the X’s and O’s of various plays and things of the sort. He welcomes all feedback on his articles, and you can always talk to him about anything NFL-related. You can follow him on Twitter @Ebookstaber, but be prepared. He never shuts up.

Forecast 5: Five Divisional Round Predictions

Wildcard Weekend went out with a bang on Sunday night following a heavy weight clash between the Lions and the Cowboys. The triumphant Cowboys take the field in Green Bay this week hoping to progress to an unlikely NFC Championship game against either the equally surprising Carolina Panthers or the current World Champions, the Seattle Seahawks. On the other side of the fence, a battle of old versus new takes the lead in Denver as Manning faces off against his worthy successor Luck, after the Patriots host a team who account for 67% of their home post season losses in the Brady-Belichick era. So what on earth will happen this weekend?

Ravens @ Patriots

This season’s Divisional Round opener stars 2 teams who have enjoyed over a decade of sustained success, triumphed in multiple Super Bowl championships and have built something of a post-season rivalry over the past few years. The question on everyone’s lips is, will history repeat itself on Saturday or will Brady and Bill be able to iron out one of the few wrinkles in their glossy, record filled careers? The keys to the game are 3 fold. Firstly, the penetrating defensive line and blitzes from the Ravens have caused havoc historically with New England. And if the latter half of the season and Wildcard weekend is anything to go by, this dominance up front will continue this week against an offensive line who, after mighty mid season performances have faltered lately. If Baltimore find success early with pressure on the golden boy through defensive stars Suggs and Dumervil, the Ravens will stand in pole position to make it 3 wins out of 4 in Gillette Stadium in January. Secondly, New England have dabbled well in free agency and drafted smartly in recent years, vastly improving their defensive unit as a whole. This opportunistic, ruthless bunch will pose a much greater test to Flacco and the rest of the Ravens offence than in seasons past. And finally…GRONK. Rob Gronkowski is an unstoppable force. If the Ravens decide to double team everyone’s favourite meat head, single coverage will free up the rest of Brady’s targets and Gronk will probably end up with 80 yds and a TD anyway. However, the Ravens have proven in the past they are one of the few teams who can really rattle New England, really take away their staple offence and really challenge them at home in the cold and icy winds of Foxboro.

Prediction: BAL 17 – 27 NE, the story of the day will be the Patriots defence with at least 2 turnovers. Although the Ravens will rattle Brady and the offence, it will not be enough to deny the Patriots an impressive 4th straight AFC Championship Game appearance.

Panthers @ Seahawks

The current World Champion Seattle Seahawks have had an up and down season to say the least, with a dominant opening night victory followed by early season losses and the departure of incredible playmaker but coach’s worst nightmare Percy Harvin. However, Seattle have found form at the right time. They come into the playoffs as a surprise no. 1 seed, given the first 8 games, ensuring the NFC Champion must go through the perilous CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Interestingly, the Panthers have endured a similar season. After a baffling 6 game losing streak, they ended the season flying and stormed past the Cardinals in the wildcard round. With both teams in form, we have to look elsewhere in this matchup to forecast a winner. Defence? Both defences are astute, aggressive and imposing units. Again, nothing to split the two. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they have to travel to Seattle. A devastating road trip only overcame by Romo and the perfect-on-the-road Dallas Cowboys in recent years. This combined with the typical clutch play of superstar Russell Wilson tips the scales heavily in favour of the Seahawks. Cam’s mobility and the run-stuffing defence of Carolina will keep Lynch at bay and the game close, but with few aerial threats and the 12th man of Seattle, Carolina will struggle immensely to walk away with a ticket to the NFC Championship game.

Prediction: CAR 14 – 17 SEA, a tighter game than many are expecting will be decided by a game-winning drive from Russell Wilson.

Cowboys @ Packers

Similar to the Patriots and Seahawks (2 predicted winners so far), the Packers were reborn from an early season slump to end the season strongly and secure a first round playoff bye. This was a result of outrageous form from NFL superstar and odds on favourite for MVP, Aaron Rodgers. In particular, the Rodgers-Nelson connection provided a great final 10 games and ensured total dominance over every opponent they faced at home. The Cowboys however, enter Lambeau Field with real belief after a symbolic win over Detroit last week. Romo and the Cowboys defence have silenced the critics this season and found their way to the final 8. If anything is going to upset the Packers at home, it will be the Cowboys dominance in the line of scrimmage. Yes, Dallas are a warm weather team and conditions will be treacherous on Sunday (although not as cold as the -44 degree weather in the famous Ice Bowl of 1967, it will still be a nipple-hardening -20 degrees Celsius on Sunday) but their excellent offensive line, particularly talented in the run game, have an opportunity to establish the run and allow Murray to control the clock and control the game. With dominance on the ground and maybe a few 3 and outs, can the Cowboys continue their surprising success this season and set up an unlikely trip to the NFC Championship game?

Prediction: DAL 17 – 21 GB, sadly not. The Cowboys will indeed be strong on the ground and win the time of possession. But Rodgers is too good, even with an injured calf he’ll still triumph over the over-achieving Dallas D.

Colts @ Broncos

The NFL has a knack for throwing up great story lines, and the old guard in Manning facing off against his successor in the Divisional Round finale on Sunday is yet another saga ready to unfold. The final few games of the season were not kind to Peyton Manning, he was not in form and for the first time in very long while, HE was relying on THE TEAM to carry him to victory. This looks set to continue in the post season. With sub-zero temperatures set for Denver on Sunday, the offensive line will have to rekindle their form from their Super Bowl run last season, giving Peyton all the time in the world and allow the resurgent running back committee to control this game. One major factor standing in the way of a comfortable Denver victory is the record-breaking offence led by new Indianapolis favourite Andrew Luck. Luck has already broken some of Manning’s passing records this season and has the opportunity to rub salt, vinegar and lemon juice into the wound with a win on Sunday. Can the much-improved Denver defence, with pressure up front from Miller and elite coverage down the field from Talib, do just enough to stop one of the most explosive offences in the league and deny Andrew Luck taking that next step to the AFC Championship game?

Prediction: IND 31 – 30 DEN, this will be a classic, a game to remember and an epic way to conclude an action-packed Divisional Round playoff weekend. In a battle through the air, Luck will prevail, as both teams abandon the run early and resort to a pass heavy offense. Sadly, Manning’s plight and poor playoff record in the cold January months will resurface again.

Prediction number 5

Player spotlight – Eddie Lacy. His strong, powerful, downhill running will be a major factor in the battle at Lambeau Field. This brutal running style will see 2nd year back Lacy reap in the plaudits with all 3 touchdowns for the Packers. A great way to stamp your claim as the league’s most brutal, punishing and powerful back.

This article was written by Martin Thomson. Martin is from Newcastle, England. In addition to being a huge Newcastle United fan, he experiences much more joy as a diehard fan of the New England Patriots. His articles “Forecast 5” will focus on certainties and surprises to look out for in the week ahead. He hopes to one day meet Tom Brady and give him that High-5 he so desperately wants. Follow him on Twitter @martin12tina

Forecast 5 – Wildcard Weekend Winners

They’re here, they’re finally here. Playoff football has arrived and with it, history will be made. It all kicks off on Saturday night with an NFC clash and it cannot come quick enough. Who will step up to the mark? Who will flounder in the dizzying lights of primetime playoff football? Who will grit their teeth, stamp their feet into the ground and pound the ball into the endzone? All will be revealed in this week’s Forecast 5…

Cardinals @ Panthers

Two contrasting teams with two contrasting seasons take the field in North Carolina on Saturday night battling for a Divisional Round road game next week and desperately trying to inch one step close to a date with destiny in the University of Phoenix Stadium on the 1st February. The Carolina Panthers struggled early with poor form and injuries but finished strong following a 6 game losing streak to unceremoniously sneak into the playoffs through the back door of the NFC South’s hobo shack. The Cards, on the other hand, started as the league’s strongest outfit sitting atop many power rankings with an astounding 10-1 record before an array of QB injuries contributed to them limping into the playoffs as the 5th seed. It is this late season form that will see the Panthers victorious on Saturday night, combined with their elite defensive performances late in the season. The huge question marks at the QB position are irrelevant, even if Carson Palmers with a bionic knee was under centre this week, the Cardinals would still struggle to put up more than 14 points on this stout defensive unit. With the defence restricting the Cards, all Cam will need to do is stumble into the endzone a couple of times and lead his Panthers to victory – assuming he stays well clear of any dangerous drivers between now and Saturday.

 

Prediction: ARI 10 – 24 CAR, the Panthers defence will rightfully steal the headlines with at least 2 turnovers in an elementary Wildcard Weekend victory.

Ravens @ Steelers

What better way to spend a Saturday night than watching another chapter of one of the NFL’s best rivalries unfold on a cold, crisp Pittsburgh evening. Literally nothing separates the 2 franchises after their 2 divisional bouts earlier in the season after they finished with an aggregate score of 49-49. Form lies with the Pittsburgh Steelers who finished the season with a four game winning streak. Unfortunately, much of the Steelers’ success was at the hand of explosive rookie running back LeVeon Bell. With Bell’s health an issue heading into the matchup, more pressure will lie on the broad shoulders of Big Ben and favourite target Antonio Brown, pressure I’m sure they can handle soundly. The Steelers very very rarely lose a primetime bout, that won’t change this weekend. Big plays to Antonio Brown will neutralise the effective Ravens pass rush helping them to edge a close one in Heinz Field. With big plays on the other side from Flacco to the Smiths, the score will be high and close, but Pittssburgh will show just enough fight, just enough big play ability and just enough composure to topple the Ravens in their bid for the Super Bowl.

Prediction: BAL 28 – 31 PIT, a healthy Bell would put this game out of sight, but even without their star RB at 100% the Steelers will soar into the Divisional Round next week

Bengals @ Colts

Andy Dalton’s history with NFL Playoffs and prime time games in general does not make for pleasant reading, additionally the Colts finished a solid season strongly with 4 wins out of the last 5 and Andrew Luck breaking the “irreplaceable” Manning’s passing yards record. This would suggest Sunday’s matchup is a formality and the Colts should coast into the next round. However, a statement win over the Broncos ON PRIMETIME in week 16 saw Dalton get over a figurative hump. Yes they followed that up with a crucial loss to the Steelers in week 17 but at least Dalton proved he can (on occasion) perform when it matters under the national spotlight. This will be Andy Dalton’s biggest game to date in a relatively impressive career thus far…will he crumble yet again? No, is the answer. 2014 was a new start for Dalton and the Bengals and I think they will show the NFL universe they deserve to be in the playoffs with a victory on Sunday. The Colts’ offensive and defensive lines have a tendency to be dominated (flashbacks to the Jonas Gray coming out party in week 11). This will allow Hill to establish the game on the ground, freeing up play action and the big plays to AJ Green. Similar to the AFC North battle on Saturday night, a high scoring shootout will be decided by field goal. The Colts spent over a decade relying entirely on a QB, time and time again this failed them in the post season…it appears the Colts’ philosophy hasn’t changed one bit forcing history to repeat itself yet again.

Prediction: CIN 34 – 31 IND, Jeremy Hill will be the star on show Sunday with 150+ total yards and a pair of TDs.

Lions @ Cowboys

Wildcard weekend concludes with two of the more pleasantly surprising teams in the NFL this season, the Lions and the Cowboys. The brilliant Lions defence will standoff with the explosive Cowboys offence boasting one of the best QB-WR combos in the league and a powerful, workhorse running back in Demarco Murray. This game will be won on the line of scrimmage, plain and simple. With stars like rookie Zack Martin, who would have a shot at Offensive Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for Superman in disguise Odell Beckham, the Cowboys offensive line can dominate just about any defensive unit, and if they can continue their dominance, the Cowboys will roll over the Lions on the back of Demarco Murray. However, by somehow selling his soul to the devil, Ndamukong Suh had his ban rescinded and will be in the heart of that line, penetrating, sacking and probably stamping on a few rogue limbs, accidentally of course. This will be game changer. The added strength and ferocity Suh brings to that line will be crucial in Dallas, it will be enough to control the line of scrimmage and it will be enough to get Romo scampering for his life and stop Murray dead in his tracks. Defence wins championships, defence wins in the post season, and defence will win the Wildcard climax on Sunday.

Prediction: DET 20 – 13 DAL, Romo will return to his usual post-season form and struggle to connect with favourite target Dez, throwing more picks than TDs

Big Prediction Number 5…

With only 4 games this weekend, the Forecast 5 article has to accommodate a miscellaneous 5th prediction. Given the sickly amount of Christmas cheer, New Years wishes and general good will flooding every morsel of the Internet lately, the final prediction has a far more morbid focus. Injuries. Wildcard weekend holds heartbreak and elation. One team will suffer a cocktail of the two, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Icy, January nights in Pittsburgh are a haven for injuries, especially injuries that are already niggling star players. A victory on Saturday will come at a cost, that cost will be LeVeon Bell. The star will be rushed back, sacrificed for the win and face the remainder of the post season on the sidelines leaving a hint of melancholy amidst the joyous Steelers fanbase.

This article was written by Martin Thomson. Martin is from Newcastle, England. In addition to being a huge Newcastle United fan, he experiences much more joy as a diehard fan of the New England Patriots. His articles “Forecast 5” will focus on certainties and surprises to look out for in the week ahead. He hopes to one day meet Tom Brady and give him that High-5 he so desperately wants. Find him on Twitter @martin12tina

Power Rankings Week 17

Numbers in parentheses refer to last week’s rankings; numbers in brackets denote Week 1 rankings.

32 (32) [25] – Tennessee Titans

The Titans had a very bad season. Ken Whisenhunt has a lot of work to do in his first full off-season as the Titans head coach.

31 (31) [24] – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs had a big lead over the Saints, but then they lost it to show why they’re getting the first overall pick in the Draft.

30 (30) [32] – Oakland Raiders

The Raiders season started off really bad, but they played better toward the end. Now they can finally start their head coaching search since they likely aren’t landing Jim Harbaugh.

29 (29) [30] – Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are headed for another high pick in the Draft. This time, though, they already have a quarterback. It’s time to start building this team.

28 (27) [20] – Washington Redskins

The Redskins players had one last game to prove themselves to Jay Gruden, but looked miserable once again. There’s not much, if anything, that the Redskins improved on this season.

27 (28) [15] – New York Jets

The Jets played their hearts out for Rex Ryan in what should be his last game as the Jets head coach. What’s really good about this game is that the offense put up 37 points and Geno Smith had a very good game and didn’t make any mistakes.

26 (26) [11] – Chicago Bears

Fittingly, the Bears’ season ended on a low note, letting a bunch of the staff go out quietly. It’ll be an interesting off-season in Chicago.

25 (24) [29] – Cleveland Browns

The Browns season drifted terribly after a good start. Now they have to figure out their quarterback situation and the immaturity of their young players.

24 (25) [31] – Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings had a pretty good season under first-year head coach Mike Zimmer and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Now their real test is to get better and become a playoff-calibre team.

23 (21) [26] – New York Giants

Although the season didn’t turn out so well for the Giants, they saw some encouraging things from their offense and young players. They can get a lot better from this season to the next.

22 (23) [7] – San Francisco 49ers

Jim Harbaugh is out. The next coach will have an interesting 8-8 Niners team to deal with.

21 (22) [5] – New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees had another multiple-interception performance. It’s time to just move on from this season.

20 (20) [27] – St. Louis Rams

This has been their problem all season, but now the Rams finally get to deal with their quarterback situation which could potentially make them a much better team.

19 (19) [18] – Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons had a chance to get into the playoffs despite a miserable season, but they showed us one more time why they didn’t deserve it. Big changes should be coming.

18 (16) [23] – Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins’ season ended on a bad note. Joe Philbin will be sticking with the team, so we’ll see how he can fix this team after having a couple of off-seasons.

17 (17) [28] – Buffalo Bills

The Bills were facing a Patriots team missing a lot of key players, so getting the win was a lot easier than usual. Now we’ll get to see what they do with EJ Manuel.

16 (18) [13] – Carolina Panthers

The Panthers came in to Atlanta and annihilated the Falcons to be the first team in the NFC South to win the division in back-to-back seasons. This game, along with their four-game win streak, is a great way to go into the playoffs.

15 (11) [12] – San Diego Chargers

All the Chargers needed to do was win and they’d get into the playoffs. However, they had a very bad game against the Chiefs and couldn’t pull it off. It’s a shame the way their season ended after a very strong start.

14 (15) [21] – Houston Texans

The Texans almost made it into the playoffs; they just needed the Ravens to lose as well. However, that did not happen, so Bill O’Brien and company are headed into an off-season where they have to tweak their offense and find a long-term quarterback.

13 (14) [8] – Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs needed more help than anyone else to make the playoffs. They did their part but were still a couple results away from making it in.

12 (13) [17] – Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles couldn’t make the playoffs, but they ended the season in a strong fashion. It’s hard to tell what Chip Kelly will do in the off-season to make the necessary adjustments.

11 (12) [19] – Baltimore Ravens

All the Ravens needed to to was win and hope the Chargers would lose in order to get into the playoffs. They did that by rallying against the Browns to be the third AFC North team in the playoffs this season.

10 (9) [6] – Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals didn’t win they division, but they still made the playoffs. Now they get to face the Colts on the road instead of the Ravens at home. You know what they say: fifth (?) time is the charm.

9 (8) [10] – Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals fell all the way to the sixth seed thanks to their injuries on offense. Bruce Arians better hope Drew Stanton will be healthy enough to play next week for them to have a chance.

8 (10) [16] – Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers claimed their division with a win over the Bengals in the final game of 2014. They face a familiar foe in the first round of the playoffs.

7 (5) [14] – Detroit Lions

The Lions needed to win to win the division, but they couldn’t handle a one-legged Aaron Rodgers. They’ll need their defense to play well again to go anywhere in the  playoffs.

6 (7) [9] – Indianapolis Colts

The Colts only played their starters for a little bit to secure the win over the Titans. Let’s see of they can get anywhere in the playoffs this time around.

5 (6) [1] – Denver Broncos

The Broncos got another first-round bye. Can they do better than last year in the playoffs?

4 (4) [22] – Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys played their starters the entire game despite already having won the division. They had a long shot at getting a first-round bye, but ended up the third seed. We’ll see if this surprising season wasn’t all for nothing.

3 (2) [4] – Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers showed why the Packers are one of the best teams in the NFC. He could use this extra week to heal his calf.

2 (3) [2] – Seattle Seahawks

The road to the Super Bowl will have to go through Seattle once again, and they look just as dangerous as they did last year.

1 (1) [3] – New England Patriots

The Patriots sat any of their star players who had some type of small injury. Now, with a first-round bye, they have another week of rest.

This OTI Piece was written by Eli Bookstaber. Eli, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a huge follower of all things NFL and an avid fan of the Redskins. He writes the weekly Power Rankings as well as “Bookie’s Playbook”, where Eli breaks down the X’s and O’s of various plays and things of the sort. He welcomes all feedback on his articles, and you can always talk to him about anything NFL-related. You can follow him on Twitter @Ebookstaber, but be prepared. He never shuts up.

Bookie’s Playbook: With Which QB Would You Rather Start a Franchise — Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III?

Last week, the OTI guys — Colm and DJ Kelly — asked on Twitter: “With which quarterback would you rather start a franchise — Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III?” Anyone who replied was quick with answer, including one of the choices and a short reasoning. However, I couldn’t settle on one of the two so easily. After thinking about it in depth, I have come up with an answer, although, unlike the usual entrees to “Bookie’s Playbook”, this doesn’t involve game film.

When I first saw this question I tried to trust my quick judgement based on the success and skill set of both quarterbacks. However, they are too similar, so I had to dig deeper. The main thing that sticks out to me about Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III, which is a big reason why the question is so difficult to answer, is that they’re both struggling. For a franchise quarterback, such struggle signals the start of doubt about his future. So, since the options are limited to these two quarterbacks the first thing to do is to figure out how to fix them.

The question that must be asked is: why are these two quarterbacks struggling? Or, what’s the cause of the trouble? Both teams have a solid run game, so they’re not being asked to do too much. They both have plenty of playmakers on offense, so they’re teammates aren’t holding them back. Maybe it’s the offensive system, but a young quarterback who’s hasn’t had to switch systems in his career should be able to show improvements by now. Does that just leave the option that they’re broken? I don’t think so. There’s a common denominator between some of the best quarterbacks in the league and the ones who have played very well at times or aren’t realising they’re potential: competition (this obviously excludes the quarterbacks who are great from the get-go (I’ll explain more about them later), and the quarterbacks who just simply aren’t good).

Take a look back at Tom Brady. He was picked in the sixth-round of the draft, but he wasn’t thrown into the fire right away. No, he had to earn his job. When Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury, after Brady had plenty of time to sit back and learn and compete, Brady played well enough to earn the starting job. And right now he is arguably the most competitive player in the league.

How did Aaron Rodgers, also arguably the best quarterback in the league, start his career? He had to sit on the bench and wait for the great Brett Favre to finish out his career. Nobody on the Packers jumped to give him the job prematurely. Rodgers had to compete and deserve the starting job.

I’m not saying that a rookie quarterback needs to be redshirted.
Drew Brees had to prove himself in a different way. After getting injured then going to the Saints, he had to assure them of his ability. So his mindset was always on the necessity of playing his best.

Even Russell Wilson earned the starting job. He, as a third-round pick, beat out Matt Flynn, who signed as a free agent with the thought of coming in as the definite starter. Look where that brought Wilson — to a Super Bowl Championship in his second season. Granted, he had a great defense.

But Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III didn’t earn their way. Even worse, Kaepernick was drafted by Jim Harbaugh with the thought of eventually making the move to him, and in his second season, right when a window opened with Alex Smith’s injury, he was handed the job. The Super Bowl appearance that year could be credited to their very good defense. Even the season after, Kaepernick started struggling. The case of Griffin was a huge craze. Mike Shanahan mortgaged three years of the Redskins’ future to get him, and Griffin was practically heralded as the saviour of Washington, D.C., and handed the keys to the car.

Regarding those quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck who have strived immediately, albeit having some struggles in their rookie season, they have always had the mindset that they need to fight to be a great quarterback and put in the necessary work in order to achieve that feat.

That’s what differentiates the quarterbacks who keep their team afloat, and the ones who are winners and make everyone around them great. Some people say that Jay Gruden was hired to fix Robert Griffin III, and that he should be fired or isn’t doing his job by Griffin’s benching. Maybe that’s exactly what he needed to do. Maybe some competition and being put in the right mindset is the way to fix a struggling quarterback who has the potential to be good.

To answer the original question of with which quarterback I’d start a franchise, it’s still too hard to tell. But what they do need is competition. That brings up one cardinal rule for drafting a quarterback; he needs to know that he still needs to earn the starting job and put in all of the work that is required to be a top quarterback in this league.

This OTI Piece was written by Eli Bookstaber. Eli, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a huge follower of all things NFL and an avid fan of the Redskins. He writes the weekly Power Rankings as well as “Bookie’s Playbook”, where Eli breaks down the X’s and O’s of various plays and things of the sort. He welcomes all feedback on his articles, and you can always talk to him about anything NFL-related. You can follow him on Twitter @Ebookstaber, but be prepared. He never shuts up.

Power Rankings: Week 16

32 (30) – Tennessee Titans

When the Titans can’t beat one of the worst teams in the league, they really don’t have much upside. At least the loss brings them up to the first overall pick spot.

31 (29) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Even though the Bucs lost, the Titans jumped them into the slot for the first overall pick due to strength of schedule. Nothing is going their way this season.

30 (32) – Oakland Raiders

The Raiders have mustered three wins under Tony Sparano. He’s making a case for the head coaching job while the Raiders will still have a high pick.

29 (31) – Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars avoided finishing last in the AFC South with a Thursday night win over the Titans. One more game then on to the off-season progression for this young team.

28 (27) – New York Jets

If things keep going this way, Rex Ryan will be cursing and blowing his head off on his way out of New York.

27 (28) – Washington Redskins

RG3 showed improvement to lead the Redskins to his first win in over a year. We’ll see if they can end the season on a strong note next week versus the Cowboys, whom the Redskins already beat earlier in the season.

26 (26) – Chicago Bears

Jimmy Clausen didn’t do all that bad stepping in for Jay Cutler, but did Marc Trestman really prove anything?

25 (25) – Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings deafens is usually pretty good, but the fourth quarter of Sunday’s matchup with the Dolphins was all about offense, and the blocked punt that lost the game for them.

24 (19) – Cleveland Browns

The Browns haven’t gotten much out of Johnny Manziel in his first two starts. It’s tough to say that the’ll be confident enough to roll with him next season.

23 (21) – San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers run offense was as stout as ever, but surprisingly their defense let them down in this disappointing season.

22 (20) – New Orleans Saints

The Saints had to win to stay alive, but couldn’t keep up with the Falcons on both sides of the ball. Once again, the Saints are in need of big improvements in the off-season.

21 (23) – New York Giants

The Giants had an incredible game offensively against a tough Rams defense. This is how well they can do when the offense is run correctly.

20 (18) – St. Louis Rams

The Rams stood no chance against Odell Beckham and the Giants offense, which made the Rams defense look like it was compiled of high school players.

19 (24) – Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons defense was vastly better against the Saints, getting a bunch of sacks and forcing plenty of turnovers. If they can keep it up they should be in good shape for next week’s NFC South showdown against the Panthers

18 (22) – Carolina Panthers

With the Saints losing, the Panthers didn’t have to win on Sunday. At least for now they sit in first place with a winner takes all matchup with the Falcons next week.

17 (15) – Buffalo Bills

The Bills are now officially out of playoff contention. They had a decent season despite their quarterback situation, but now they have to address it in the off-season.

16 (16) – Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are out of playoff contention, but hopefully they could build off of their big offensive showing agains the Vikings.

15 (17) – Houston Texans

With the Texans’ big defensive outing agains the Ravens, they still have a shot at making the playoffs. It should be so hard for them to do their part by beating the Titans, but they need help.

14 (14) – Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs’ loss to the Steelers was bad; they couldn’t generate any offense. The Chiefs can still make the playoffs, but they need to beat the Chargers next week plus plenty of help.

13 (10) – Philadelphia Eagles

Riding behind Mark Sanchez, the Eagles lost to the Redskins and got eliminated from the playoffs.

12 (9) – Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco had a terrible game against the Texans which failed to put the Ravens in a position of control next week.

11 (13) – San Diego Chargers

Philip Rivers and the Chargers relentlessly fought back at the 49ers to stay in the sixth playoff spot. All they need is a win next week against the Chiefs and they’re in.

10 (12) – Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers punched their ticket to the playoff with their win over the Chiefs. Their next goal is to beat the Bengals next week to secure at least one home playoff game.

9 (11) – Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals had an outstanding game against the Broncos to make the post-season once again. It’s all on the line next week to decide whether they get a home playoff game or go on the road.

8 (7) – Arizona Cardinals

We saw how bad the Cardinals can be with now that they have little talent on offense. And when their defense plays badly they really don’t stand a chance. Now they’ve fallen down to the sixth seed, and it looks like they’ll quickly fall out of the playoffs too. But if any coach can rally his team, it’s Bruce Arians.

7 (4) – Indianapolis Colts

The Colts got smothered all around by the Cowboys. If they struggle this much against one of the better teams in the league, they won’t stand a chance in the playoffs.

6 (3) – Denver Broncos

It’s very disappointing the way Peyton Manning has been playing lately. Could this be an early start to his playoff struggles?

5 (8) – Detroit Lions

The Lions barely picked up the win over the Jimmy Clausen-led Bears, but they did enough to hold on to first place. Next week they head to the Frozen Tundra for the fight for the division title.

4 (6) – Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are looking good right now, and after destroying the Colts they look like some tough competition in the playoffs.

3 (5) – Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are really playing like a Super Bowl team again. And now that they’re lined up to get the first seed, the road to the Arizona with likely go through Seattle.

2 (2) – Green Bay Packers

The Packers had an easy, dominant win over the Buccaneers and were practically perfect on offense. They just need to carry that over to next week’s showdown with the Lions at home, where the Packers seem to be unbeatable.

1 (1) – New England Patriots

The Patriots barely escaped the Jets to clinch a first round bye. And thanks to the Broncos they also secured home-field advantage. Time to rest the starters.

This OTI Piece was written by Eli Bookstaber. Eli, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a huge follower of all things NFL and an avid fan of the Redskins. He writes the weekly Power Rankings as well as “Bookie’s Playbook”, where Eli breaks down the X’s and O’s of various plays and things of the sort. He welcomes all feedback on his articles, and you can always talk to him about anything NFL-related. You can follow him on Twitter @Ebookstaber, but be prepared. He never shuts up.

Power Rankings: Week 15

32 (32) – Oakland Raiders

The Raiders didn’t bring it this time around against the Chiefs. At least that still gives them a good shot at the number-one pick.

31 (31) – Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars had their fair share of chances to tie the game, not surprisingly they couldn’t succeed. At least it’s good to see them in that position.

30 (30) – Tennessee Titans

Jake Locker got one last shot to prove himself, but getting injured (again) proved that he can’t stay up for very long.

29 (29) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs had a chance to get their third win of the season facing a Panthers team with Derek Anderson starting, but they still feel short. There isn’t much left to see from this team through the rest of the season.

28 (28) – Washington Redskins

RG3 keeps finding his way back onto the field. This time he was better, though still not completely back in his good ways. As if Jay Gruden needed to make another big quarterback decision next week.

27 (27) – New York Jets

The Jets finally got another win, which dropped them a few spots in the draft for now, but it’s encouraging that Geno Smith had two straight decent games.

26 (24) – Chicago Bears

The Bears’ season has crumbled as much as possible. There’s a lot to fix next season.

25 (23) – Minnesota Vikings

Overall, this has been a decent first season for Mike Zimmer’s Vikings, but one thing he really has to improve on is the team’s divisional record — right now 0-5.

24 (21) – Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons keep coming close to winning but they just can’t get the W to get a comfortable lead in the division. Still, the Falcons have the proverbial control of their destiny by winning out.

23 (25) – New York Giants

The Giants have locked up third place in the NFC East. That doesn’t mean much except that they’ve played well sparingly. It’s good to see their upside, however.

22 (26) – Carolina Panthers

The Panthers got a huge win this week over the Buccaneers but sit in second place due to a Saints Monday nigh win. All they need to do now is win out to make the playoffs, hopefully with a healthy Cam Newton.

21 (20) – San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers haven’t been able to scrape up much recently. What a drop down it’s been from the last few seasons to this one. Hopefully next year, with healthy players, they can climb back up the ranks.

20 (22) – New Orleans Saints

The Saints finally had a completely impressive game. All they had to do was face a struggling team. They’ll have to do it again next week gains the Falcons in their biggest game of the season.

19 (17) – Cleveland Browns

Johnny Manziel didn’t play better than Brian Hoyer would’ve. That pretty much torched the Browns’ playoff hopes.

18 (19) – St. Louis Rams

The Rams were in another tight game with a good team, but scoring more in a low-opportunity game is not the Rams’ forte.

17 (16) – Houston Texans

Despite the loss, the Texans still have a shot at the playoffs, but they’ll have to do it with either Case Keenum or Thad Lewis. Too bad they couldn’t really see what they have in Tom Savage.

16 (12) – Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins can’t fool the Patriots twice, so it’s not yet their time to win this division. The loss also puts them in a very tough position to make the playoffs.

15 (18) – Buffalo Bills

The Bills kept their slim playoff chances alive with a big win over the Packers, which didn’t include an offensive touchdown. It’s hard to see exactly where the Bills stand, but after they pick up what should be a win next week over the Raiders, we’ll get a clear picture.

14 (15) – Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs needed the win over the Raiders this time to have a shot at the playoffs. Right now they’re sitting one spot behind the last Wild Card, but they have a say in what happens with meetings against the Steelers and Chargers.

13 (11) – San Diego Chargers

After losing to the Broncos, the Chargers will now need some help in order to make the playoffs. They’ve really dropped a level ever since Philip Rivers got nicked up.

12 (13) – Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are still playing strong, and if they continue this good run they’ll claim their division by winning out.

11 (14) – Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals were fortunate to have an easy game against Johnny Manziel, but their road to lock up a playoff spot through the Broncos and Steelers is still very tough.

10 (6) – Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles may have dropped back out of first place, but they have an easy road ahead of them for a chance at the division title or at least a Wild Card with remaining games against the Redskins and Giants.

9 (9) – Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens came away with a narrow win against the Jaguars, but with an extremely favourable schedule: the Texans and their third-string quarterback then Johnny Manziel and the Browns, making the playoffs practically looks like a given.

8 (10) – Detroit Lions

With a scrappy win over the Vikings, the Lions are now in first place of the NFC North. All they have to do now is beat the Packers in Week 17 to make it in.

7 (7) – Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals locked up a playoff spot on Thursday night. The bad news is that they’ll have to do it all with their third-string quarterback.

6 (8) – Dallas Cowboys

This time, the Cowboys were able to dominate the Eagles instead of vice versa. However, they still have one more tough roadblock when they face the Colts next week.

5 (5) – Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks keep winning, but everything is on the line next week agains the Cardinals and Ryan Lindley.

4 (4) – Indianapolis Colts

The Colts locked up the division with a win over the Texans. Now comes the quest for Andrew Luck to get his first first-round bye.

3 (3) – Denver Broncos

The Broncos had a scare with Peyton Manning going down with an injury while blocking, which would’ve been a huge setback for their playoff run, but Manning came back and led the Broncos to another win.

2 (1) – Green Bay Packers

The Packers always struggle in Buffalo. Thanks to that bad karma, they now dropped to the 6th seed spot. We’ll have to see if that bad game offensively was only a one-time thing.

1 (2) – New England Patriots

The Patriots yet again won the AFC East. Now all the Patriots have to do to lock up home field advantage is to win two more divisional games, which is pretty simple for them.

This OTI Piece was written by Eli Bookstaber. Eli, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a huge follower of all things NFL and an avid fan of the Redskins. He writes the weekly Power Rankings as well as “Bookie’s Playbook”, where Eli breaks down the X’s and O’s of various plays and things of the sort. He welcomes all feedback on his articles, and you can always talk to him about anything NFL-related. You can follow him on Twitter @Ebookstaber, but be prepared. He never shuts up.