NFL15 Cherry Picks W9: Wide-Open NFC

6 Nov

Arizona Rising

Wild & woolly, topsy & turvy: Adjectives to describe the National Football Conference this 2015 campaign. The American Conference has been a bit woolly itself (BAL, SD (2-6, ypg #1)), though, not quite as wild as it’s senior partner.

...NFC.wc.NFL.Enterprises.thmIt’s been a strange ride in the NFC these first eight weeks of play, taking fans on turns and down exits on nobody’s road-maps in last summer’s training camps. As things stand at Week 9, most playoff slots are wide open and Halas trophy up for grabs.

I count seven teams that’ve seriously underperformed: NYG, PHI, DAL, DET, CHI, NO & SEA. And of the five teams that’ve carved out what could be called decent records, only two, maybe, three inspire much confidence to get very far in the post-season, if past performance is any indicator.

Arizona Cardinals (6-2)

.....Arians.9.8.14.wc.thmb.FF.SwamiGets the top nod, winning W8 in Forest City against a sometimes spirited Browns team, 34-20, working a killer quarter (3Q 14-0) to break it open. Of their two losses, one was a nail-biter versus intra-rival Rams (22-24) who save their best for the best, the other a roadie in Steel City. Tough schedule ahead but best coach in the biz (Arians) who sweats bullets every time his savvy but knee-banged QB (Palmer) takes to field.

Green Bay Packers (6-1)

Best title for Green Bay Press-Gazette morning edition 11.2.15, that didn’t make press: ‘Clock Cleaned: Pack Falls Back in MT Time.’

Aaron Rodgers having a bad day (11-24, 77y, 0) is kinda’ like a bad Beatles song. Even so, it’s still The Beatles. And it’s still Rodgers, who may be the Best in Show.

The NFC front-runner got spanked by Broncos (29-10) who, even at 6-0, hadn’t made many converts. Sunday GB faces 7-0 Cats who did not want to face a chagrined Green Bay squad. If Pack don’t return from Carolina with a W, Mike best be careful when he “let(s) the dog out (See; Devine).” Serious about their football in Fox Valley, those murderous thugs in ‘74 were an ugly, extreme case of cruelty and stupidity. But let it run free, Mike (if you got a dog): Cam showcase, but Pack wins at Carolina.

Atlanta Falcons (6-2)

Lost in OT to divisional Bucs in W8 (20-23) and arch-rival Saints in the Big Easy (21-31). New guru Quinn has instilled a verve (#11 ypg / 13 ppg D) and Matt Ryan matriculates with the best, including favorite targets Jones and new run guy in 2y Freeman. Remaining slate so-so with next 3 critical stretch (SF-(b)-IND-MIN).

Carolina Panthers (7-0)

Last unbeaten in NFC, their South division is most competitive. No team they’ve beaten currently has winning record, but victims Seattle (27-23) brims with talent and Saints (4-4) gelling (27-22). Late slate a challenge with 4 of 6 on road. Camster-the-Hamster’s key on offense but posts 1-2 PS mark. Gulp.

.....Newton.9.28.14.wc.K.Allison.thmOn the one hand, watching Cam’s presser persona and a return to rabbit under pressure, does not show the emotional fortitude to put him in top class. On the other hand, can’t say he’s had sufficient weapons on offense or a dynamic coaching set, either, both which weigh on the first hand.

The stage is set. It’s all there for Carolina franchise this Sunday. Cats have had bigger games (SB38) but this one could set tone for next 10y. Too bad it’s against a ticked-off GB squad rolling into Charlotte, though, that’s the big test they need. Pack have had trouble in past versus run-QB (See; Kaep (x2)), would be mistake for RR to play on that past. Pack will win but if it’s close, a poised Newton can start step-up in class.

Minnesota Vikings (5-2)

Surprise riser in NFC, the D took a turn upward as expected with Zimmer’s arrival (papg #2 / yapg 7), a DC in Cincy (‘08-13), ATL (‘07) and Big D (‘00-06). It’s offense that’s been [?] in Land of 10,000, ever since departure of Favre (‘10) who made his MIN mark in short order. Soph QB Bridgewater is pocket poised (64.5) but drives too cautiously on the learning curve (6t-5i) while ‘All Day’ keeps churning out yards.

Hit the Ground Running

The SAS’y one on Disney sport network (ESPN) is driving hard to the hoop for Cam Newton to take the coveted MVP prize.

Andy Dalton, who led nifty comeback in Pittsburgh (11.1) and played a blinder against division rival Cleveland on TNF (31-10, 21-27, 3td) is gaining votes, while the almost always terrific Aaron Rodgers took a step back at Mile High.

And still Tom ‘Terrific’ Brady (7-0) looks the MVP favorite at midway.

.....Gurley.wc.11.30.13.Thomson200.thmBut a new, unexpected name has emerged in the race for accolade: 2014 1st-Rd (#10) rookie running back Todd Gurley of the St. Louis (stb, LA) Rams.

The numbers on TG? Suffice to write, they’re big (See; PFR.com).

Even though Gurley’s success has come largely against defenses in the lower tier (yapg: CVD (30), SF (28), GB (23), PIT (20)..AZ (4 (146y))), it’s crystal clear this man can motor in the pros. So impressive it’s hard to keep him out of early MVP muse, even with the opening injury bye in missing games 1 & 2. But maybe that strengthens his case: Impactful.

Barring the unexpected, it’s Brady’s trophy to win, with Dalton, Rodgers & Newton ready to grab it if Tom loses his grip, but if Todd keeps this up, that ROY trophy just won’t seem big enough

Good Spot

Kansas City Chiefs (3-5)

On brink of pseudo-elimination, KC played a blinder at London’s Wembley in W8 action, crushing the toothless Lions, 45-10, inching closer to respectability in a Conference with still plenty of opportunity for post-season slotting.

Oakland Raiders (4-3)

“Just Win (Enough to build on), Baby!”

....Carr.D.9.27.15.wc.E.Drost.thmPollyanna take: Draft calls finally pay dividends, Derek Carr is maturing (15t-3i) in a pocket that’s coalescing (8sk) and defense is holding most leads.

Pragmatic view: If there was a season to blossom, 2015 is it. When NFL std-bearer New England does well, the “whole world smiles.” Add in perennials like Denver, GB, Cincy (regular) and regional reps in AZ and Carolina and things A-okay. But quick glance at the standings and it’s easy to see, quality of competition in the pro circuit is way down, which opens the door for that franchise on the cusp of turning the corner, who possess a sound game-plan and can avoid the injury bug. That could be the Raiders, and Rams & Vikes, too. Time tells.

Brady Quinn

The former Notre Dame – NFL (‘07-13) quarterback chimed in on the injury bug this season, some feeling it higher rate than normal (not my sense). Quinn believes the illicit use of “HGH (PEDs),” banned under the CBA and subject of rather ineffectual, random blood testing, may be the cause.

Not qualified to address injury-PED relationship myself, what is widely known fact is that the use of performance enhancing drugs is detrimental to human health, that the NFL/PA drug test policy is insufficient, affording ample opportunity for players to skirt rules to cheat the game and that union Executive Director DeMaurice Smith is not best man for the job.

Bad Spot

Jim Caldwell: Pink-slip processing

The house-cleaning in Detroit began in earnest at mid-mark. No surprise there.

With the Lions record standing at 1-7 after going 11-5 in 2014, both GM Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand were dismissed on Thursday.

....Caldwell.wc.9.19.10.Sgt.JL.Small.thmBut half-measures, i.e., ousting Mayhew – Lewand, retaining Caldwell, often fail to turn the tide (See; Breaking Bad). Having written that, with Lions playoff chances nearly nil, even in wide-open NFC15, the remainder is now a rebuilding – salvage project, not so much in player personnel but strategy & psyche, making Caldwell’s retention somewhat prudent, if not very bold. For while Jim compiled a nifty 11-5 in ’14 and a couple dbl-digit runs with Colts (SB44), the fall in Detroit has been so pronounced, it may be too steep a climb back up with him in the lead.

Caldwell will get a couple, maybe three games to get the ship back on course.

Chuck Pagano & Company

Pooh-pooh those who decided to bench Matt Hasselbeck (2-0) when Luck got A-OK from MDs to return from injury. Don’t mess with mojo. It’s a sport thing.

Seattle Seahawks (4-4): Boom to Bump

Hawks escaped Dallas with a razor-thin victory Sunday evening (13-12) but most apparent to this viewer was that Seattle’s defense is…different. Not exactly boom to bust but no longer the formidable force it was the past three seasons.

Had Cowboys not shot themselves in the foot in their opening 2H drive, one that was matriculating with surprising ease and looked set to take the lead (10-6) but stymied by a motion penalty, two batted balls at line of scrimmage and settled for a field-goal, Seattle’s season might be on the brink and Dallas’ salvaged.

Curious Quote

Packers‘ coach, Mike McCarthy: “That’s a humbling loss (@ DEN, 29-10). I haven’t had my ass kicked like that in a long time (NFL Network / 11.2).”

..cherries.Hispalois.Spain.wc.cc.thmb

Cherry Picks Week 9

Pack (6-1) @ CAR (7-0): 11.8 Fox 1:00 (GTW): GB wins
Redskins (3-4) @ New England (7-0): Fox 1:00: Pats win
Dolphins (3-4) @ Buffalo (3-4): CBS 1:00: Miami wins
Rams (4-3) @ MIN (5-2): Fox 1:00 (GTW2): STL wins
Jaguars (2-5) @ New York (4-3): CBS 1:00: Jets win
OAK (4-3) @ Steelers (4-3): CBS 1:00: Pittsburgh wins
Giants (4-3) @ Tampa (3-4): Fox 4:05: Buccaneers win
Falcons (6-2) @ San Francisco (2-6): Fox 4:05: ATL wins
Broncos (7-0) @ Indianapolis (3-5): CBS 4:25: Colts win
Eagles (3-4) @ Dallas (2-5): NBC 8:30: Cowboys win
Chicago (2-5) @ Chargers (2-6): 11.9 ESPN 8:30: SD wins

Record: 37 – 38

...NFL-symbol.wikiproject.6kbSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFC, wc.cca, NFL-Enterprises.LLC; B.Arians, wc, 9.8.14, FF-Swami; C.Newton, wc, 9.28.14, K.Allison; T.Gurley, wc, 11.30.13, Thomson200; D.Carr, wc, 9.27.13, E.Drost; J.Caldwell, 9.19.10, wc, Sgt-JL.Small; cherries, Hispalois, Spain, wc, 7.2.12; NFL-symbol, wikiproject.
Posted: 11.6.15 @ 2:38pm; 2.7.16 edit (pic); Copyright © 2015

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