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NFL 2016: Mid Season Report

NFL: JAN 03 Jaguars at Texans

The Jacksonville Jaguars had so much promise going into this season. They’ve been one of the most disappointing teams in 2016

By: Elias McMillan

 

Every team has played at least half of their schedule. So, it is now time for me to name my top 5 surprises and disappointments at the half way mark in this 2016 NFL Season. I’ll also make a revised Super Bowl pick at the end.

Top 5 Surprising Teams

  1. Dallas Cowboys (7-1) – Without Romo for the first part of the season and seeing how the team performed last season, I had the Cowboys winning just 8 games and not going to the playoffs in my preseason predictions. Now, it looks like things without Romo are going to be okay, the team already has 7 victories, and they are more than likely going to at least win the division and many a first round bye in the playoffs. I definitely didn’t see this coming. The plan to build a monster running game like what we saw in 2014 has worked with the selection of Ezekiel Elliott with the 4th overall pick. But the real surprise has been rookie QB Dak Prescott who has been able to do more than keep this team afloat while Romo recovers. I still think that the defense will be this teams undoing eventually but right now, they look like the class of the NFC.
  2. Oakland Raiders (7-2) – Many people believed that the Raiders would take that leap in 2016. I didn’t really believe that before the season but now I am witnessing it. QB David Carr is commanding a top-notch air attack. WR Amari Cooper is playing great but so is veteran WR Michael Crabtree. On defense, they have a tough front seven that can really get after the QB. They face a tough road ahead for the rest of the season but right now they are in position to maybe win their division.
  3. Denver Broncos (6-3) – After losing to Oakland last week, you might be surprised that I would put Denver on this list. But with their QB situation going into the season, I thought they would fall into a Super Bowl hangover. Instead, their defense is just as good as it was a season ago. Trevor Siemian has the offense getting by. Too bad that they lost starting RB CJ Anderson but their running game was a successful part to this season so far as well. I don’t know how the rest of the way will go but the AFC West race will be interesting.
  4. Atlanta Falcons (6-3) – With the way Carolina has played so far this season, that has opened the door for the Falcons to take control of the NFC South. Atlanta was already going to be amazing offensively with names like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and DeVonta Freeman. But their defense has improved enough where you can sense that this team could close out this division sooner than later.
  5. Miami Dolphins (4-4) – Honestly, I couldn’t figure out a fifth team to put in this slot. But I had Miami winning just 5 games before the season and they are already at 4. Miami is currently in second place in the AFC East and there is a good chance for them to stay there. They have a lot of young talent on the offensive side of the ball and they are getting the most finally out their defensive front four. They might be able to make a surprising run to the wild card.

 

Top 5 Disappointing Teams

  1. Carolina Panthers (3-5) – Things have gotten so bad in Carolina so quickly. A lot of talk about Cam Newton but the bottom line is that the defense is what has under performed greatly this season. Maybe it is from the decision to let Josh Norman go. But Carolina refused to get younger and better at key positions in the offseason and it is showing up currently each week. Carolina may be able to rebound and have a respectable record to end the season but their playoff chances look bleak.
  2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) – Remember how Jacksonville had so much optimism before the season. So much for all of that. It looks like the same old Jags are here to stay for at least another season. With all of that young talent, this team can barely compete in a terrible AFC South division. Maybe QB Blake Bortles isn’t that good. Maybe the head coach and GM need to be fired. Either way, Jacksonville has too much talent to be sucking like have this season. I predict major changes coming in the offseason.
  3. New York Jets (3-6) – This year, the Jets season has been basically derailed because of the QB position. And I completely understand why they had to bring back Ryan Fitzpatrick. They had great success with him last season. This season it has been the opposite. And it has gotten so bad on that side of the ball that not even their defense can save them. This team has some positives like Matt Forte and their defensive line. But the bad QB play, the injuries, and the aging vets can only carry this team so far. I thought at the start of the season that this team could at least win 8 games.
  4. Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1) – Arizona ws my Super Bwl pick at the beginning of the season. They have been a disappointment on both sides of the ball but mainly on defense. Carson Palmer has been shaky at times but Arizona still has a wealth of talent on offense. I thought that this defense would be a monster but they don’t make enough plays and have been a massive disappointment. Because they have a tie, it is still possible for them to rebound and get back into the playoff race.
  5. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4) – The Steelers were my Super Bowl team coming out of the AFC before the season. I think Pittsburgh could still bounce back and win their division but they have still been a disappointment so far in 2016. The losses against lesser opponents. The inconsistencies on offense. A complete no show from the pass rush. And they have also struggled due to injury. But like I said, there is still time for them to bounce back and win a string of games. But I just don’t see them as a Super Bowl contender like I thought they would be at the start of the season.

 

Mid Season Awards

MVP: Julio Jones (WR – Atlanta) – These things always go to the QB. Matt Ryan has been good but lets be real. Julio Jones is what makes the Atlanta Falcons offense go. Jones currently leads the league in receiving and he is going to continue to be a huge part of Atlanta’s success for the rest of the season. I was tempted to give this to Tom Brady but the Patriots went 3-1 without him. That kinda puts huge hole in his bid.

Offensive MVP: Ezekiel Elliott (RB – Dallas) – Ezekiel Elliott is going to continue to put up monster numbers this season behind that offensive line. That Dallas power rushing game is a huge reason for the team’s success in 2016. Elliott will probably go on to be the league’s leading rusher.

Defensive MVP: Cliff Avril (DE – Seattle) – Avril is among the league leaders in sacks and is leading Seattle’s defensive line to be one of the best units in the NFL. Seattle has been inconsistent at times this season but they’ve been able to still lean on that defense. Arvil and that defensive line is a big part of that.

My REVISED Pick for Super Bowl 51

In the AFC, I believe that the Patriots will be there once again. Despite not having a strong defense, they probably have the best shot out of anyone in the conference. I thought that the Patriots would maybe fall short of a Super Bowl berth much like last season but they are much ahead in front of everyone else in the AFC. Pittsburgh doesn’t have the defense to slow Tom Brady and the offense. Denver still has a good defense but they are not going to be able to run the ball like they did a season ago. Maybe Oakland can shock the world and compete with the Patriots. I don’t know. But the Pats area safe pick right now. In the NFC, I can tell you, as a fan of the team how the Cowboys season will end. First off, Tony Romo will be starting going into the post season. Also, Dallas will be bringing with them into the post season that same sorry defense. That defense will let them down in January but everyone will still blame Tony Romo. Same as there ever was. I think Seattle or Atlanta could give Dallas problems in January. Both teams have decent pass rushes. Atlanta has a dynamic offense but we can’t completely write off Russell Wilson either. Ultimately, I still believe that Seattle’s defense will be the most valuable unit in football once the playoffs begin. REVISED Super Bowl 51 Prediction: Seahawks over Patriots

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NFL 2016: NFC West Preview

Chip Kelly

Was Chip Kelly the right choice at head coach for the 49ers? I say, No.

By: Elias McMillan

 

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals – Arizona has had plenty of regular season success in the last couple of years. In 2016, they will hope to turn that into a legit run to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals have proven that their offense could be championship worthy. They had the number one ranked offense in the league a season ago. But I think Arizona will be a contender again this season because of the improvements on defense. Arizona is already decent up front as they were one of the top ranked run defenses in the league. DE Calais Campbell is the stand out up front as tall and athletic pass rusher. I’m really excited to see what first round pick, DE Robert Nkemdiche, can do as a rookie. Nkemdiche, much like Campbell, offers crazy athleticism for a defensive lineman and he’ll be able to be a disruptor in this 3-4 defensive scheme. Arizona also upgraded their pass rush significantly by trading for New England defensive star, Chandler Jones. Jones may have some issues off the field but if he can stay on it, he’ll be an important piece on this defense this season. Star veteran Patrick Peterson will lead Arizona’s secondary again in 2016. But Cardinals fans are really excited for the possibility of having safety Tyrann Mathieu back and healthy for 16 games. Mathieu was having a great 2015 season before he was injured. Now that he’s healthy, he will definitely be an upgrade in the secondary in the postseason that they didn’t have during last year’s playoff run. Having a high scoring offense will continue to be apart of what makes this team successful. QB Carson Palmer is back for another year. Palmer is mistake prone at times but he clearly gives this offense the best chance at being at its best. Having a veteran signal caller like Palmer is important in this offense because the Cardinals are loaded with so much offensive talent. Having a veteran at QB assures that all that talent is being led with someone with experience. At the skill positions, the Cardinals have a mix of younger talent and veteran leadership. I think RB David Johnson could have a break out season after a successful rookie year. In relief of Johnson, Arizona brought back Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. That’s a talented trio of backs that can do it all from out the backfield. At receiver, Larry Fitzgerald is the model of what young receivers aspire to be. Fitzgerald may be older but as you saw in the playoffs last season, he can still break a game open in cutch situations. Malcolm Floyd and Jaron Brown are also explosive receivers in this offense. Arizona has a great balance on offense and they can beat you in so many different ways. I think we will see this season that the improvements on the defensive side of the ball will add up to more success in the post season. Prediction: 12-4 (NFC West Champs)

Seattle Seahawks – Since Seattle’s emergence as a power in the NFC, they have gone through offseason’s that saw them lose starters on both sides of the ball. Despite that, this team will be deep enough again with talent to compete for a division title. Seattle took a step back last season and they probably should have lost that wildcard round playoff game in Minnesota. Seattle also had some key players leave in free agency and thru retirement. RB Marshawn Lynch retired but Seattle seemed prepared for that move. RB Thomas Rawls showed promise last season and he’ll be set to be the starter in the backfield in 2016. Seattle also drafted a couple of RB’s so they will be prepared if Rawls get injured like he did a season ago. The running game will be important in Seattle’s offense this season but as always, QB Russell Wilson will be the player that will make this offense successful or not. Wilson had a great 2015 but the perception still exists that he isn’t a great passer. Wilson may never put up Aaron Rodgers numbers but he still has the ability to come up with big play after big play in key moments in a ball game. One thing that would help Wilson in 2016 would be a better offensive line. Seattle must have realized this because Wilson will have a number of new starters up front that came over in the draft or free agency. Better play upfront will allow Wilson to display his talents inside the pocket as a passer. Seattle’s receivers still don’t get enough credit but that’s ok as long as they keep making plays for Wilson. WR Doug Baldwin is coming off his most successful season yet and is probably one of the best possession receivers in the league. WR’s Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett fit the mold of what Seattle wants out of their receivers. They have an overachieving group at WR and that is just how they like it. TE Jimmy Graham could add a legit dynamic aspect to this passing game if he ever gets healthy. Seattle’s defense lost Bruce Irvin in free agency but they will still have the players upfront to be a dominant defense this season. DE’s Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark are a great group at providing pressure in the backfield. Seattle not only has a great pass rush but they ranked number one in the league last season at stopping the run. Without Irvin, Seattle’s LB core doesn’t have a lot of depth with Bobby Wagner as the lone stand out. The Seahawks secondary will be great again in 2016. The Legion of Boom will return three of its main core in CB Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. With the talent Seattle has upfront on defense and in the secondary, I think they’ll be good enough on that side of the ball compensate for the short coming of an offense that might not be as good without Marshawn Lynch. I don’t think Seattle’s offense will be a weakness but I do think that the team’s success will be more about what they get done on the defensive side of the ball. Seattle will be that team that no one will want to play in the post season. Prediction: 10-6 (Wildcard)

Los Angeles Rams – The Rams are back in Los Angeles and honestly, it isn’t as exciting as it sounds. It is a little different seeing “Los Angeles” associated with the NFL again. But they can try to put this team on reality shows all they want. The bottom line is that this team is as average and boring of a team that you will ever see. I mean, they do have two legit stars on both sides of the ball but nothing else really outside of that. I don’t know if this was a marketing move of a football move but the Rams traded to the top spot of this past year’s draft to take QB Jared Goff. Goff was a accomplished QB at Cal but after the preseason, head coach Jeff Fisher proclaimed him to be the “third-stringer”. No matter the case, the Rams really need someone to work successfully at the QB position in 2016. Rather it is Goff or starter Case Keenum. Even if the Rams had legit quarterbacking, the receiving core is extremely average. WR Tavon Austin is game breaker but more so on special teams. Austin just hasn’t been consistent enough as a receiver in this league yet. WR Kenny Britt is an underrated possession receiver and nothing much else. Maybe rookie WR Pharoh Cooper can be a consistent performer. I don’t know. I do know that RB Todd Gurley is the only star on this side of the ball for this team. Gurley is a great, tough runner and he is primed for another big year after a successful rookie campaign that saw him win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The Rams will have the ability to be in a lot of games because of their tough defense. I don’t know if this defense is as good as its reputation but it is still pretty decent. Everyone is going to talk about DT Aaron Donald who is probably the best defensive lineman in the game not named J.J. Watt. Donald will continue to be a terror this season along with DE Robert Quinn. At linebacker, Alec Ogletree is an amazing athlete who plays as physical as anyone at his position. I think it is interesting to see that the Rams moved Mark Barron from safety to linebacker. That might help them to be above average at covering tight ends. Barron may have flamed out as a safety but his physicality will help him at this new position. The Rams lost CB Janoris Jenkins in free agency but I didn’t think he was that good in the first place. The Rams choose to keep CB Trumaine Johnson who is just as average of a player as Jenkins but at a cheaper price. Jenkins and Johnson gamble a lot in the secondary. So, they may rack up interceptions but they also get beat a lot. This Rams secondary will get beat a lot in 2016. They are really thin at the safety position and I don’t think much of corners Johnson or Coty Sensabaugh. “They” wanted a NFL team in Los Angeles and “they” got it. The average Rams are the team that LA deserves. The ownership is clearly too busy counting new revenue to care if this team actually competes or not. They might even give Jeff Fisher another contract extension. Outside of Gurley and Donald, the entire situation with this football organization is a huge joke. But hey, it will be Lakers season soon and the Dodgers might make the playoffs. Prediction: 7-9

San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers have gone through a lot of changes since their most recent Super Bowl appearance. That team’s roster has been pretty much gutted and replaced with not much. San Francisco was just dealt a bad card where many players just left via free agency or through retirement. The 49ers organization is starting the climb back but I’m starting to believe that it will take awhile before they get back there. I understand that Jim Tomsula (the mic rula) wasn’t going to work out as head coach for this team. I believed that this team needed a NFL vet that would command respect while attracting free agents to this history-laced organization. Instead, they hired Chip Kelly who will do neither. QB Colin Kaepernick has been dragged through the media recently and not because of his protest of the national anthem. People will say that Kaepernick is washed up and not the same player he was when he was winning playoff games in Lambeau Field while leading his 49ers to the Super Bowl. Amazing. It’s amazing that many in the media are ignoring that his roster has been completely gutted since then and very few QB’s would see success in that situation. I’m not saying that makes up for Kaepernick’s failures but it definitely means something. Kaepernick is also coming off shoulder surgery, has recently changed up his diet and is looking a bit skinny. Coach Kelly actually alluded to this recently. This is the only way I could excuse starting Blaine Gabbert over him. Once Kaepernick is 100%, he should start immediately. Even if he does or doesn’t, he is in a no win situation with Chip Kelly in San Francisco. Kelly is not going to attract free agents to San Fran and I don’t trust him with building a team with “his guys”. I don’t know what held up the proposed trade in the offseason involving Kaepernick but he needs to find a way out of there. Denver would have been the perfect landing spot. But I digress. The passing game this season will not mean much for the 49ers as their WR core is extremely thin on talent. WR Torrey Smith is the clear-cut best option from a group of no names. RB Carlos Hyde was supposed to be a break out player last season but he kind of disappointed. I think Hyde is talented enough to bounce back in 2016 and this team will really need him to do so. I feel a lot better about the 49er defense than I do the offense. It will be interesting to see this Oregon led defensive line with 2nd year guy, Arik Armstead and rookie DeForest Buckner. The real standouts on this defense will be at the linebacker position. LB Ahmad Brooks is a dynamic pass rusher and LB NaVorro Bowman is still a run stopping missile. This defense has a pretty good mix at safety with Eric Reid and veteran Antoine Bethea. The Niners are really thin at corner where safety turned corner Jimmie Ward might be a full season starter this year. It is going to be a long climb back for this franchise but I don’t think Chip Kelly or Colin Kaepernick will be there long enough to see it. Prediction: 4-12