2013 Regular Season – Week 1 – Predictions

Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens – Thursday, Sep 5, 8:30pm EST [Sep 6, 10:30am EAST]

Winner: Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos, despite perhaps losing some pieces on defense, have added even more weapons on offense in former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Jacob Tamme. On the other side of the matchup, the Baltimore Ravens have lost many key players across the board in Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin and more. This will most likely mean they will not be able to repeat their victory versus the Broncos from the 2012 playoffs.

Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots – Sunday, Sep 8, 1:00pm EST [Sep 9, 3am EAST]

Winner: New England Patriots

The New England Patriots come into this matchup as the strong favourites, per usual. Tom Brady lost wide receiver Wes Welker this off-season to Denver; however, while not fully replacing him, has a new receiving threat in former St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola. The Patriots also lost tight end Aaron Hernandez to off-the-field issues this off-season and at least for now do not have the services of prolific tight end Rob Gronkowski due to injury. Despite all this, Tom Brady and co. usually find a way to come out of division matchups with a ‘W’ in the stat-sheet.

Cleveland Browns vs. Miami Dolphins – Sunday, Sep 8, 1:00pm EST [Sep 9, 3am EAST]

Winner: Miami Dolphins

For the first time in recent memory, the Cleveland Browns are not being completely written off as a failure even before they play a regular season game. That being said, despite their improvements and comparatively (to previous years) stable quarterback situation, they will still need to prove they can beat even middle-of-the-road teams in order to be taken seriously. The Miami Dolphins bring in former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace to assist sophomore quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the aerial attack, among other moves. Miami will likely come out on top in this matchup, but watch for Cleveland to put up a fight while fighting to prove themselves.

New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons – Sunday, Sep 8, 1:00pm EST [Sep 9, 3am EAST]

Winner: Atlanta Falcons

Another intriguing divisional week one matchup. The New Orleans Saints will likely be much improved this season as Super Bowl winning head coach Sean Payton returns after a lengthy suspension, keeping him from interacting with the team during the 2012 season. The Saints defense is showing improvement, which is crucial, having been ranked dead last in total defense during the 2012 season. Meanwhile, the offense is expected to pick up right where they left off, with All-pro quarterback Drew Brees at the helm, and running back Darren Sproles standing beside him.

The Atlanta Falcons have yet again improved their offense this off-season with the addition of former St. Louis Rams veteran running back Steven Jackson. With the Falcons’ already incredibly efficient passing attack, this addition at running back may be what pushes this team over the playoff hump and into the Super Bowl. This team is looking incredibly dangerous to play against, hence the strong possibility of coming out of this divisional matchup with a victory.

New York Jets vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sunday, Sep 8, 1:00pm EST [Sep 9, 3am EAST]

Winner: Temba Bay Buccaneers

The New York Jets have shown once again during the pre-season why it will take a stretch of the imagination to put them anywhere near the playoffs, or a winning record in 2013. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has been injured, and rookie Geno Smith has been forced to start in week one versus the Buccaneers. It is quite likely that Smith is not adequately prepared for the start, and would be much better off sitting behind a veteran for now. The Jets as a whole seem to be fairly unprepared for this upcoming season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will likely come away with a win in this matchup, regardless of their play.

Pittsburgh Stealers vs. Tennessee Titans – Sunday, Sep 8, 1:00pm EST [Sep 9, 3am EAST]

Winner: Pittsburgh Stealers

The Pittsburgh Steelers have sured-up their offensive line this off-season, the biggest improvement coming from the return of tackle David DeCastro from a season long injury during his rookie season. Improvements in the offensive line will in-turn improve the running game and passing game respectively. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being on the field longer will also help in the quest to return to the playoffs. Needless to say, the Steelers win percentage when Big Ben is on the field is significantly better than when he is not, this is why the Steelers often begin the season with a number of wins, but trail off towards the end of the season when Roethlisberger often becomes injured. Along with Roethlisberger simply being on the field, the Steelers aging yet still powerful defense will likely be enough to suppress most of what the Tennessee Titans throw at it. The Titans will need to start the game fast and catch the opposing defense by surprise in order to come away with a victory in this one.

Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings – Sunday, Sep 8, 1:00pm EST [Sep 9, 3am EAST]

Winner: Minnesota Vikings

The Detroit Lions have been a very unstable team of recent, winning one year and losing the next. To repeat the years of success, the Lions defense will need to step up in an attempt to give the offense some kind of support in their endeavours to outscore their opponents, rather than stop them from scoring. The Minnesota Vikings also need to improve in order to repeat their success of last year, which was almost single-handed achieved due to Adrian Peterson’s historic season. The recent off-season addition of former Green Bay Packers veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings will definitely assist in the Vikings’ attempts to return to the playoffs, and will hopefully help improve the quarterback play in Minnesota. The unorganised Lions will most likely contribute to the Vikings’ efforts to come away with a win in this matchup, but this game is none-the-less a toss-up.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Oakland Raiders – Sunday, Sep 8, 1:00pm EST [Sep 9, 3am EAST]

Winner: Indianapolis Colts

Many consider the Oakland Raiders to be the least talented team in the league today. A few pieces along the defensive line may be all the Raiders have in the way of being able to stop opposing offenses such as the Andrew Luck led Indianapolis Colts. The Colts much improved offense and defense from only a couple of years ago will likely come away with an easy win in this week one matchup.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Kansas City Chiefs – Sunday, Sep 8, 1:00pm EST [Sep 9, 3am EAST]

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs

The top two teams from this year’s NFL draft face of in this matchup. This may sound like a “cripple fight”, so to speak, however it most definitely is not. The additions of former Eagles head coach Andy Reid, GM John Dorsey, former 49ers veteran quarterback Alex Smith, mixed with the large pool of talent the Chiefs already possessed, poise the team for a bounce-back season, beginning with a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Look for Jamaal Charles to have a big day while running against the Jaguars defense, as well as the Chiefs defensive playmakers, including Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Eric Berry and more.

St. Louis Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals – Sunday, Sep 8, 4:25pm EST [Sep 9, 6:25am EAST]

Winner: Arizona Cardinals

If the Arizona Cardinals defense can carry on its success from last season, the upgrade made to the quarterback position, in former Bengals veteran Carson Palmer, will be extra effective and may finally be what this team has needed to find prolonged success in the form of wins. The St. Louis Rams will also be fighting hard in this season opener in order to establish a foundation for the season, a season which is widely considered quarterback Sam Bradford’s “make it or break it” season. Here, the Cardinals just edge out the Rams, but there is room for a swing in the Rams’ direction.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers – Sunday, Sep 8, 4:25pm EST [Sep 9, 6:25am EAST]

Winner: San Francisco 49ers

This matchup of two superpowers of the NFC will be a good, long battle. The Aaron Rodgers led packers offense will likely put up more points on the 49ers defense than most teams would manage to do, however, the 49ers’ combination of a dominant defense and prolific offense can be expected to be too much for the Packers, namely, their improved, but slightly lacking defense. The 49ers come away with the victory in this one, but don’t expect this to be the game which decides the Packers’ fate this season.

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants – Sunday, Sep 8, 4:25pm EST [Sep 9, 6:25am EAST]

Winner: Dallas Cowboys

Coming Soon.

Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles – Monday, Sep 9, 6:55pm EST [Sep 10, 8:55am EAST]

Winner: Washington Redskins

Coming Soon.

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Position Battles to Watch During Week 3 of the Pre-Season

Heading into the 3rd week of the 2013 NFL pre-season, many position battles are still underway, even as we inch closer to the regular season. The following are some of the most intriguing and ‘must-watch’ position battles that are still underway.

The Battle for 3rd String Quarterback

As the pre-season moves forward, there still is not a distinct winner of the battle for the 3rd quarterback position, being fought between rookie Tyler Bray and 3rd year player Ricky Stanzi. Despite Bray’s unimpressive last outing, he still has the upper hand at winning the position. This is due to Stanzi having been drafted by the Pioli regime and not the Reid/Dorsey regime. An indicator of Stanzi’s dwindling chances of winning the battle is his absence from the most recent pre-season matchup, against the San Francisco 49ers last weekend. Stanzi’s absence from last week’s game was not due to illness or injury, but just for the reason that the coaches simply did not put him into the game. The game began with a healthy amount of playing time for starter Alex Smith, followed by Chase Daniel in the 3rd quarter and Tyler Bray in the 4th quarter to round out the game. This is the last thing Ricky Stanzi needs is to not be getting any game time, which is vital in proving he deserves the 3rd quarterback spot.

Two games still remain in this year’s pre-season, but time is rapidly running out for Ricky Stanzi. Regardless of the fact that Tyler Bray has not earned the 3rd roster spot as of yet, Stanzi will be required to be prepared to impress in the next two weeks if he is going to have any chance at snatching what is likely to be the last quarterback to survive the final roster cuts.

The Battle for starting Left Inside-Linebacker

The battle for the starting left Inside-Linebacker role is currently underway between former Philadelphia Eagles Linebacker Akeem Jordan and rookie Nico Johnson. Jordon, being the more experienced of the two, is currently listed as the main man at left Inside-Linebacker, however this decision is in no way final. If Johnson can make a showing in the next two weeks of pre-season, the tables could very well turn. At present, neither player has produced at a high enough level to overtake the other in the race for the starting job, which, if this trend were to continue, would indicate Jordan would manage to retain the starter role at least for the beginning of the regular season.

Though not as an exciting point of discussion as the other Linebacker positions, Akeem Jordon, a seasoned veteran and Nico Johnson, an anticipated rookie, make for an interesting situation. (Also keep in mind that Jordan and Johnson are both surrounded by pro-bowlers and established veterans, which will only assist them in becoming better players.)

The Battle for backup Running Back

With Jamaal Charles as the most proven and established player on the entire team as the starter at running back, that role is most definitely not up for grabs and won’t be for quite some time, but the spot just beneath him is. The role of backup running back has been up-in-the-air since Thomas Jones retired after the 2010 NFL season which has meant there has been a fairly frequent rotation of players coming and going from the backup running back position. Rookie Knile Davis and 3rd year player Shaun Draughn are the two most productive candidates fighting it out for the backup role. Draughn was the official backup to Jamaal Charles during the 2012 season, however did not receive much playing time due to Charles’ much improved health. What Draughn did show though, was potential as a reliable backup. Whether this potential carries over into the current season will be determined by Draughn’s performance in the two remaining pre-season matchups before the regular season arrives.

Knile Davis, while an injury risk himself, has shown an impressively fluid transition to the professional level so far. In last week’s matchup versus the San Francisco 49ers, Davis flashed his speed and quickness while averaging over 3.5 yards per carry over 10 attempts for a combined total of 37 yards for the day. Again, this position battle is not settled, but Davis has seemed to be pulling ahead of his competition, and if this trend continues, will likely end up being named the official backup to Jamaal Charles by September.

The Battle for 2nd string Tight End

Former Miami Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano was signed this off-season to come in and make an immediate impact and he has done just that by just about securing the starting job at tight end. One spot down the depth chart, 2nd string, is a competition, where rookie tight Travis Kelce and 4th year player Tony Moeaki are battling for that 2nd string spot. The most disappointing fact in all this is that former starter Tony Moeaki has dropped (unofficially) all the way to 3rd on the depth chart, even by rookie Travis Kelce. Moeaki being a constant injury concern has meant the coaches have slowly lost faith in his ability to stay on the field for an adequate number of games during the regular season. If Moeaki continues to show his capabilities on the field and avoid injury, it would not be at all surprising to see him retake the 2nd string position, especially as Kelce has not had the prolific pre-season one would have hoped for him to have.

Other Noteworthy situations

Right Tackle

Rookie tackle and number one overall draft pick Eric Fisher has been a large topic of discussion as he has not produced at a high level as immediately as was hoped. Having said this, Fisher is playing at a position which he has never played at. Naturally, Fisher is a left tackle, but due to the Chiefs’ situation at left tackle, Fisher has been forced to play on the right side, at least for now. At this stage there is really no need for concern by the fans.

Wide Receiver

With the recent trading of Jon Baldwin, former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donnie Avery has been promoted to a starting role beside established veteran Dwayne Bowe. Avery proved he could produce at a high level while in Indianapolis and now with this perfect opportunity in Kansas City, is primed to show off his blazing speed.

Defensive Line

So far this pre-season, the entire defensive line has really stepped up their game. Tyson Jackson has had success eating up blockers, making way for the faster hard-hitting linebacking core consisting of Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and more. Former New York Jets defensive end Mike DeVito has made an incredible transition to a new defense, showing power and speed off the line. Finally, 2nd year defensive tackle and scouting combine phenomenon Dontari Poe has begun to show why he was drafted so highly in 2012, pushing the opposing guards and centres backwards and, like his teammates, paving the way to the quarterback for the all-pro linebacking core that the Chiefs have.

While most of the starters are set along the defensive line, expect to see a rotation of players going on this season. This defensive line may be turning into what fans have been waiting for, for so long.

Kick/Punt Returner

Wide Receivers Dexter McCluster and Devon Wylie and Safety Quintin Demps are all sharing reps at kick and punt returner this pre-season. Wylie and McCluster have both shown improvement in their return production and are competing for a permanent punt returner role.

Safety Quintin Demps has been the stand-out player in recent weeks, scoring a touchdown from a 49ers kick-off last weekend, among other impressive performances has made Demps a known name among the fans. Demps, Wylie and McCluster all seem to be competing for the permanent job at kick returner, but who will be the main man or whether the kick return formation will feature duel kick returners is uncertain and will most likely remain unknown until September.

Pre-Season Week 2 – Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers – Game Preview

Week one versus the New Orleans Saints gave Chiefs fans a glimpse of what lies ahead. The first team, despite a brief outing, showed much potential, with the regular season now starting in under a month. But what can we expect to see versus the 49ers in game two of the pre-season?

Offense

Over the past week, Head Coach Andy Reid has hinted that the first team offense will be in the game for at least two drives this week, rather than only one like in last week’s outing to New Orleans. This indicates that while Reid has expressed his pleasure with the first team’s performance in week one, he would like to see a repeat of this success against a more challenging opponent, the Super Bowl runner-up San Francisco 49ers.

As well as the offense as a whole, a number of individual players will be looking to impress in order to earn a roster spot or to prove themselves. One of these playing trying to prove themselves is Wide Receiver Jon Baldwin. Even after having a very productive training camp in 2012, Baldwin did not manage to translate that success to the 2012 regular season. As this year’s training camp draws to a close, Baldwin has not been nearly as productive as he was in previous camps. Baldwin also did not participate in game one versus the Saints. Baldwin must begin making a name for himself beginning with this game versus the 49ers if he is going to shake the “bust” label that he has been labelled with over the past two years. The fact that the Chiefs do not have a definitive second wide receiver works in Baldwin’s favour, but this upcoming game is crucial for Baldwin in determining where he lands on the depth chart by week one of the regular season.

The quarterback group battles will also be a must-see versus the 49ers. First of all, Alex Smith, no that he is in any danger of losing his starting role, but seeing whether or not he can duplicate his encouraging performance from week one will be interesting. Just below him, Chase Daniel, the 2nd stinger, will be trying to redeem himself from last week’s disappointing performance. Again, Daniel does not seem to be in any danger of losing his position on the depth chart considering how much the front office paid him, but if he continues to struggle, the two remaining quarterbacks on the roster will begin to enter the conversation for the job of 2nd string quarterback. Further down the depth chart we have 3rd string quarterback and rookie Tyler Bray, and 4th string quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Bray and Stanzi will both be competing for the 3rd string spot at the quarterback position in possibly the most intriguing position battle this week. The winner of this position battle will likely be the last quarterback on the team to make the final cut when the coaches trim the roster to 53 players. This only makes the situation more fascinating.

The other main position battle currently underway is at tight end. 4th Year tight end Tony Moeaki has lost significant ground in the battle for 1st string tight end, mainly due to injuries being almost routine for Moeaki. Former Miami Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano is currently listed as the starting tight end, followed by rookie Travis Kelce. Despite Kelce dropping a potential touchdown pass from rookie Tyler Bray, he still has managed to retain his back-up role to Anthony Fasano, which only further emphasises the coaches’’ concerns over Moeaki’s not being able to stay healthy. By no means is this tight end depth situation set in stone, and could may well turn over by the regular season, but it is most definitely an indicator of that the coaches are thinking.

Obviously, along with these ‘up in the air’ positions, there are also players that are set as the starter at their respective positions, such as Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe. Players like Charles and Bowe, as indicated by Head Coach Andy Reid, will be playing at least two series along with the rest of the first team, but the main objective for these dominant players (among others) is to simply avoid injury.

Defense

The defense is much more set in stone than the offense is. Cornerback Brandon Flowers, linebackers Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston are all established players who will start the regular as the starter at their respective positions. However, like the offense, there are a number of intriguing players to watch during this upcoming pre-season matchup.

Former Miami Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith has reportedly had an incredible training camp, his quick transition from one team to another has the fans and coaches excited as to what Smith will be able to do at the second cornerback role. Like the first teamers on offense in week one, the first team defense was also taken off the field due to their immediate success versus the Saints offense, which in-turn meant that Smith also had a limited showing. Head Coach Andy Reid hinting at more playing time for the offense would also likely mean more playing time for the first team defense as well, which again, means we will likely see an increase in playing time for Smith. Sean Smith has showed significant potential for success since the moment he was acquired by the Chiefs earlier this year, week two versus the 49ers will only increase the sample size the coaches have to go on while determine what role Smith will play during the regular season. Smith’s encouraging play could not have come at a better time, as 4th year cornerback Jalil Brown and former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Vince Agnew have, so far, had fairly disappointing pre-seasons, despite going up against the Saints’ 3rd and 4th string offense. This only increases the importance of Sean Smith following through on his recent success.

At present, this defense may not have the same quantity of position battles going on, but there is one position that has been up for grabs for quite some time now, Free Safety. 4th year safety Kendrick Lewis is currently listed as the starter, however the recent signing of former Minnesota Vikings safety Husain Abdullah has meant that Lewis now has to compete for his job as the starter at free safety.

Though not a significant position battle, the entire defensive line has noticeably improved this off-season with the addition of former New York Jets lineman Mike DeVito and the improved play of 2nd year lineman Dontari Poe. Poe showed significant development in last week’s matchup versus the Saints by displaying an increase in his strength (if that was even possible) when he continuously managed to penetrate the pocket on passing plays and disrupt the quarterback. If Poe can continue to develop the way he has been, where he was taken in the draft may very well become justified.

Despite not having as many starting positions up for grabs as the offense does, the defense will still be fascinating to watch in week two due to the improvements the new front office has made this off-season.

Special Teams

As per usual, kicker Ryan Succop, punter Dustin Colquitt and long snapper Thomas Gafford have all retained their roles as the starters on special teams. The only positions that may have a switch as to whether who will be the first string player, is punt/kick returner. Slot wide receiver Dexter McCluster is currently listed as the main kick and punt returner, however McCluster will likely be splitting playing time with fellow wide receivers Devon Wylie and (former Indianapolis Colts) Donnie Avery.

In contrast to the offense and defense, the special teams are already relatively set in stone and will likely stay identical heading into the regular season.