By: Lucas Kochevar
The Rams Road to Repeating
The Los Angeles Rams are two months removed from winning their first Super Bowl since moving back to LA. The 2021 season treated them well, however, it was quite a road to get there. They started off hot and the trade for Matthew Stafford looked like a home run, but they fell on hard times while losing three straight games. They quickly rebounded and found themselves winning the tough NFC West. In the playoffs, they blew out Arizona, won a thriller in Tampa Bay, and won a close one against San Francisco to advance to the big game. Playing the Super Bowl in their home stadium, the Rams beat the Bengals after a dominant performance from Aaron Donald. Now, the Rams look to do the hard task of repeating, a feat that hasn't been completed since 04'-05' with the early version of the Patriots.
First things first, the Rams don't have a pick in the first round since they 've traded nearly all of them to construct the team they have today. No draft stuff to worry about regarding them. With their off-season, I think they've had more key losses and it'll be hard to replace the production. They did do a solid job of scanning the market for guys to try and replace that production. Below is the notable gains and losses:
-LT Joseph Noteboom
-C Brian Allen
-WR Allen Robinson
-LB Bobby Wagner
-LB Von Miller (Signed with BUF)
-LT Andrew Whitworth (Retirement)
-CB Darious Williams (Signed with JAX)
-OG Austin Corbett (Signed with CAR)
-WR Robert Woods (Traded to TEN)
-P Johnny Hekker (Cut)
There are also some guys that are still floating around in free agency like WR Odell Beckham Jr., who is recovering from a torn ACL in the Super Bowl, and RB Sony Michel. Another big move they did was extend Matthew Stafford for another four years, which likely means he'll end his career with the Rams. They are also looking for new deals with DT Aaron Donald and WR Cooper Kupp. Both players are looking to up their price tag after having fantastic seasons.
I think the signing of Joseph Noteboom will be the most important transaction they did this off-season. The franchise's left tackle position was by far the most consistent ever since future Hall of Famer Andrew Whitworth arrived, but with him retiring as a champ, they will have to bring in this unknown player to match Whit's production. I will be curious to see if he can come in and fit the scheme that Sean McVay runs. They also have to replace OG Austin Corbett as he signed elsewhere. There are bigger names in that 'Lost' list than a couple of linemen, but after watching the Falcons try and replace offensive linemen for the past six years, I understand it's not easy and there aren't a ton of good ones in the league as a whole. It's the most important position group on offense by a large margin, if you don't count the quarterback.
Outside of Noteboom, the biggest signing the Rams made was LB Bobby Wagner. The former Seahawks defender finds himself on the division rival after Seattle cut him. Truthfully, Wagner isn't quite as spry as he once was, however, his production doesn't seem to be much worse than it was in his early prime years. He's been selected to the pro bowl every year since 2014! As I'm writing this and researching how he's been playing, I cannot believe the Seahawks released him. The Rams now have perhaps the best defender in the league at every level of the defense. The D-Line has Aaron Donald, the LB group has Wagner, and the secondary has CB Jalen Ramsey. A truly absurd trio of players to have on one team. The Rams also lost Von Miller to the Bills. Miller was a vital part of their pass rush down the stretch, but they are really banking on Leonard Floyd to improve and fill in for his production
The wide receiver room also sees some movement for the Rams. The biggest loss they'll have will be OBJ in my opinion. As I stated, he hasn't signed anywhere, but he will still likely be out for the year with his injury. The Rams also said bye to long time receiver Robert Woods. He signed with them years ago, but leaves after a disappointing season, where he also tore his ACL. The Titans look to pair him with A.J. Brown and it should form a solid duo. The way that the Rams are making up for these losses is by signing Allen Robinson away from the Bears. Robinson has turned in some really good years here and there, but without a consistent QB and a bad coach, he hasn't lived up to his potential. He also struggled with nagging injuries throughout last season. I think getting him with Stafford and McVay is the best thing to happen for him. Copper Kupp drawing all the attention should also help out Robinson. The offense should keep moving well, as long as the line holds up.
Lastly, the Rams schedule is pretty tough, but they are blessed with playing the NFC South, where the Buccaneers are the only real threat. They also get to play the rebuilding Seahawks twice a year. The rest of the division should still be a challenge. The 49ers have to figure out the Deebo Samuel situation, but they still have a ton of talent and they are extremely well-coached. The Cardinals also have a weird situation with Kyler Murray but, if he's still there, they should be a threat. The Rams do have to play the AFC West with the Chiefs, Chargers, Broncos, and Raiders. This division is loaded now with old foe Russell Wilson in Denver. The Rams out of division random games are big time challenges too as they play the Packers, Bills, and Cowboys. The dates are still TBD, but a lot of these teams can be playoff contenders. My final verdict is the Rams will not be able to repeat. They have a number of tough games and I don't think the team chemistry will be developed enough this year with all the player movement they're seeing. Repeating is one of the hardest things to do in sports so there's no shame in not accomplishing this feat and they should still celebrate their Super Bowl win.
Next LK Volume: NFL Draft Thoughts!
By: Lucas Kochevar
The Wide Receiver Market Reset
The extension of Stefon Diggs couldn't come at a better time because, as I noted last week, I'm talking wide receivers getting paid. The WR1 in Buffalo got paid this week with an extension for four years' worth $104 million, while getting around $70 million in guaranteed money. Diggs wasn't the only guy to get paid this off-season as we saw Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill get traded and extended to the biggest contracts in the league for wide receivers. The contracts look absolutely absurd and, before I let you know what they are annually, I want to highlight why the wide receiver market is absolutely ridiculous.
In the 2018 NFL Draft, you can examine ten guys that I would qualify as successful. In '19, another ten guys were drafted and have been successful, including star WRs Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, and DK Metcalf. In '20, there was nine guys that have contributed to their teams with Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb leading the way for this class. Finally, in '21, there was eight guys that can prove to be solid guys in the league as Ja'Marr Chase was the clear star. This quick detour was to show the talent that has been taken from the draft. It's very clear to see that you can draft starters from rounds one through seven, also if their developed properly. Something that I feel like I've heard from the past couple seasons is that "This WR class is LOADED," and I tended to agree every time. As we approach another draft cycle, it's not the same as before, but it's still overwhelmingly positive towards the first eight to ten guys. Here's the list of guys that I would be happy if my team drafted, in no particular order:
-Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
-Chris Olave, Ohio State
-Drake London, USC
-Treylon Burks, Arkansas
-Jameson Williams, Alabama
-John Metchie II, Alabama
-George Pickens, Georgia
-David Bell, Purdue
-Christian Watson, North Dakota State
-Skyy Moore, Western Michigan
-Wan'Dale Robinson, Kentucky
-Justyn Ross, Clemson
-Tyquan Thornton, Baylor
Seems like a lot of guys, right? It's because every year the NFL welcomes this much talent at wide receiver! Now, I'm not saying all the guys I listed are going to be pro bowlers, but it's a number of guys that show traits of starting potential. There are so many guys being introduced into the NFL throughout the draft and the players get cheaper the later they are drafted.
Back to Tyreek and Davante, they are going to be making annually $30 million and $28.5 million, respectively. It's not a knock on these two guys, they are clearly 1A and 1B in the grand scheme of things. Hill is one of the fastest players the league has seen and Adams has been the best all-around receiver in the league for the past two years. The issue is that they are getting paid out of this world money for a position that can really be replaced in one or two drafts. The Chiefs and Packers saw these two guys as replaceable, otherwise they would have held on to them and waited another year until they had to trade them. The draft is a crapshoot with talent, but these two guys staying completely healthy as they age is also a risk. There is also the point that could be made regarding the salary cap rising. My counter to that is do you really see the cap rising that high in the next couple years? It'll go up, but it won't be enough to justify paying these guys this high.
When looking at other deals that guys around the league got, you can point to high level guys in Chris Godwin, Mike Williams, and D.J. Moore. All three guys got deals that were around the 3-year, $60 million range. This is still a substantial amount for guys that aren't bonafide top five guys, but they all have shown talent and promise to produce. All three guys are also younger. Also, something I would like to point out is Cooper Kupp's contract. It isn't a debate that Kupp had the best season out of any offensive guy last season. He is getting paid $15 million next year and isn't in the top ten of wide receivers getting paid. His contract is a couple of years old, however, at age 29, he is unlikely to get as high a number as a guy like Adams got, at age 30. Even if he does, it'll be on a different team and the immediate reaction would likely see it to be an overpay.
In the end, their talent can't be disputed, but the value to their production can be. If you can draft a guy to produce half their production at $1.5 million, compared to their $30 million price tag, you would do that every time. The wide receiver market for top guys is entirely out of hand and needs to reset to a lower number. This type of situation has already happened to running backs and it's rare to see one drafted in the first round. Perhaps, the Diggs contract extension, with a lower annual salary and higher guaranteed money, will help teams structure the contracts better. I'm all for getting your money, but the market has to correct itself, until that salary cap number can justify these guys getting these numbers.
The Next LK Volume: The Rams Road to Repeating
By: Lucas Kochevar
The QB Market Settles
The off-season last year saw one massive QB trade with Matthew Stafford going to the Rams and it could really be deemed a success. Stafford and the Rams went on to win the Super Bowl and the former Lions QB went on to sign a massive $140 million for the next four years. Something tells me that teams saw this move and decided the Rams were on to something when it comes to trading multiple first round picks for a franchise changing QB. This off-season teams jumped at any opportunity to upgrade the QB position i.e., Broncos, Colts, and Browns.
The Colts got lucky and managed to steal Matt Ryan for a third-round pick, but other than that, the Browns and Broncos mortgaged their futures for guys' that can be considered top ten quarterbacks. Outside of these trades, there was the odd Carson Wentz trade that the Commanders did to replace Taylor Heinicke and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Couple other teams also settled for guys in the free agency pool as the Falcons signed Marcus Mariota and the Steelers signed Mitchell Trubisky so both number two picks find themselves in situations to try and redeem their careers. There was a ton of movement so far and right now, I'm not quite sure what else could happen.
Two relatively major names that are still out there and a couple teams that are still looking for guys. Since the Browns traded for the nasty man, Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield is sitting there in Cleveland waiting to go somewhere else. San Francisco is still holding on to Jimmy Garoppolo, despite looking to move on with sophomore QB Trey Lance as the starter. The Browns are in a super interesting spot as the nasty man is looking at a four to six game suspension and they'll need someone to fill in for that time. The issue is that the relationship seems to be way beyond repair so Baker is just waiting for someone/anyone to trade for him. The former number one overall pick is not getting any interest at all, which I find strange because it seems first round picks will always get at least one more shot. Especially top overall picks. I mentioned two guys earlier that are looking likely to start and they were widely considered busts. In San Francisco, the 49ers seem to be holding out hope that Jimmy G can fetch them a high draft pick. They may be waiting for the market to heat up as the draft nears or the market is waiting on more clarity on Garoppolo's surgery he had this off-season. Either way, they would like to move on from Garoppolo so they don't keep Lance waiting forever and they can see what they drafted from last year.
These are two guys that need to find new homes at some point, but where can they go? To throw out a couple of teams off the top of my head, the Seahawks can't put all their eggs in the Drew Lock basket and the Panthers coach Matt Rhule needs to find a quarterback soon or he's going to be packing his office. The issue for the two guys I've mentioned, they still have to wait for the draft with a whole new crop of guys coming into the league. With Carolina at sixth and Seattle at ninth overall, they can both go after a quarterback in this year's draft. Besides those two teams, I don't know where these guys can start and Jimmy G should definitely be a starter next year. Mayfield is a little different case as he looked like a surefire backup last season, which you could attribute to a shoulder injury that he played through, for rather dumb reasons. If there were a couple teams unsure about their starters, I would say the Giants and Texans could be spots for Mayfield to try and find a shot to overtake the starters in Daniel Jones and Davis Mills. There is also the possibility of someone's starter going out with an injury.
The quarterback position in the NFL is quite easily the most important and most scrutinized position in all of sports. There are at least 64 guys that play at the highest level in the world when you count the starters and backups in the NFL. Jimmy Garoppolo and Baker Mayfield are absolutely in that group of players. I am very curious to see how their situations play out over the following months.
Next LK volume: The Wide Receiver Market Reset
By: Lucas Kochevar
When you look at the players UGA is putting out this year, all you can think is 'My god, these guys are unreal,' and they really are. The Bulldogs won the 2022 National Championship with their defense being the story all year long. They were dominant in virtually every game they played and there was an NFL prospect at nearly every position. Several of these guys are going to get drafted in the first round. The biggest question is who? The face of the defense was freak of nature Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean flies around on film as well, however, one player has improved his stock dractically and will almost certainly be a top ten pick in April. EDGE Travon Walker was likely going to be a first round pick, but his testing during combine and his pro day has rocketed him to near the top.
Walker played in all 13 games last season for UGA and had 33 total tackles and 6 sacks. Those numbers aren't out of this world but the context matters. Walker played ALL over the field and the Bulldogs are notorious for rotating players in and out. This is why the workouts are so important. As you can see with the numbers listed above, he was nearly excellent in all the drills. The screenshot above is simple to understand, essentially his scores are all averaged out and compared relatively to guys that are similar to Walker's build. You can compare Walker to other players and their scores and it shows how he stacks up to these other guys' scores. One player that compares well to Walker is star DE Myles Garrett, who went first overall to the Browns in 2017.
When I watch Walker on film what I see is the versatility. He can play in a number of different positions as long as he's rushing the passer. He would be perfect for a team that runs a 3-4 front where he mainly rushes the passer, but can drop into some coverage. Along with his athleticism, his technique is very pure as well. He is technically sound with his hands and doesn't need absurd power to bull rush guys and he doesn't need to outrun tackles to get around them. He has a great balance in abilities to win his match-ups. Personally, I would love for the Falcons to take him at eight, but I don't think he'll make it there. I think the Giants would be idiots to pass on him with either of their picks in the top ten. Wherever he does land, I expect him to become a strong pass rusher in no time.
By: Lucas Kochevar
The Super Bowl has been over now for a week and its officially the off-season. The game wasn't that fantastic, but it was hard to have a better game than what we saw in the previous two rounds. Nonetheless, it's the off-season it's time to start ramping up for the NFL Draft, which is my favorite part of the year since my team stinks. This isn't an article focused on my team, luckily, but it's focused on the crop of new quarterbacks. The 2022 QB class is something we haven't seen in quite some time. There are six guys that could hypothetically be starters in the league, but all six of them could be out of the league in five years. In most years, the draft has seen a guy rise to the top and become the first overall pick, quite easily. Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, and Kyler Murray all became the consensus first picks throughout the draft process. First off, none of these new guys will be taken first since the Jaguars hold the first pick again. Secondly, these QB's were never as good as the first picks from these previous years. Lastly, all the teams have different opinions on these top six guys.
In the end, one guy will rise to the top and become the first QB taken off the board. Whether it's the raw talent of Malik Willis or the leadership of Desmond Ridder, someone will be taken before the rest. In my eyes, the best guy will become the clear-cut favorite and rise to the top as the best quarterback available: Pittsburgh Panthers' QB Kenny Pickett
The New Jersey native decided to return to school for his senior year and made the absolute most of it. Pickett, as a redshirt senior ended up breaking numerous school records and conference records in his last year. He was the best quarterback the school has seen since the likes of Dan Marino. Pickett led the Panthers to the ACC title, where they defeated Wake Forrest. The Panthers made the Chic-Fil-A Peach Bowl, but since he was NFL bound, the Heisman trophy finalist decided to sit the game out.
Pickett has a good frame at 6'3, 220 lbs, but his hand size has been something that many scouts are worried about. He revealed at the Senior Bowl in Mobile that he actually has a double-jointed thumb and he opted to wait until the NFL combine to have his hands measured. Although people don't believe it will affect him, it's something to consider.
The traits that make Pickett special is his accuracy and poise under pressure. Pickett always manages to put the ball in the breadbasket of the receiver and has great touch when to zip it, lob it, or put a little touch on it. The ball placement on passes outside of the pocket is also very impressive. His improvement in that department really took him to the next level and many guys going into their senior year should take not. Next, his pocket presence can be described as chaotic good. He can tend to get jumpy and over exaggerate his movements in the pocket, but there is certain calmness in his eyes that keep the play alive no matter the pressure in his face. He does a wonderful job in evading some defenders and keeping the play alive for his receivers downfield. This leads me to his mobility because mobility and pocket presence are two separate traits. He has solid mobility, likely on the same level of an Alex Smith in his prime.
The negative trait that stands out to me is that you just don't know if he's hit his ceiling. He's had a wonderful year and has positive traits in everything you ask for a quarterback at the college level, but can he keep this growth going with pros coming his way? It's a question that you can pose for any prospect, but quarterback is a spot that you can't stall out. The pressure ramps up even more for him since he has potential to be the first quarterback taken off the board. I think he has the ability to get better and with commitment he can be a top ten quarterback in the league. It's hard to draw comparisons to guys, but he reminds me of a slightly watered-down Joe Burrow, which is still a damn good quarterback. In conclusion, the balance of his attributes and how he can improve upon them make him the best quarterback in this class. He's a guy that I would stand by if my team drafted him.
By: Lucas Kochevar
The NFL showed why its the super power of all American sports by having the most exciting, dramatic divisional round we've ever seen. The games were full of action from start to finish. It was a thrilling time for certain fans and agonizing for others. With every game, there were highs and lows. I truly don't think we'll see anything like this weekend for football. These games all set up for a highly anticipated conference championship round.
The AFC is in store for a ton of points in its championship game. The Cincinnati Bengals, the most surprising team of the year, keeps winning their playoff games with Joe Burrow carrying the team on his back. The Bengals went into Nashville and stunned the number one seed Titans with a last second victory as K Evan McPherson nailed the game-winning kick. The Chiefs were on the brink of elimination with 13 seconds left, but Patrick Mahomes, once again, performed miracles and lead KC down the field in two plays to kick the game-tying field goal. This was with some help from the Bills playing prevent defense, but this was still an unbelievable feat for a team that has accomplished so much. This game will be Mahomes' 4th straight AFC championship. The Chiefs have made the AFC championship game every year he has started.
These two teams do go into this game with some familiarity of each other. The two teams matched up in week 17 in Cincinnati, where the Bengals won 34-31 in a thrilling game. This game won the AFC North for the Bengals and likely secured Jamarr Chase the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year as he had more receiving yards than Mahomes had passing. It truly was an unbelievable performance and put the Bengals on the map. The Bengals head into this game as a massive underdog as the Chiefs still look unstoppable and the Bengals are still so young, but there is still optimism that the Bengals could make something happen. The only way Cincy can win this game is by keeping points on the board. This team has been an offensive powerhouse all year with flashes of defense. They need that offense to show up again in this game, big time. The Chiefs are gonna have their hands full with all these weapons and they just did a good job trying to stop Buffalo, for majority of the game. The difference now is that Cincy has a game-changing RB in Joe Mixon compared to the Bills running game. Kansas City should keep humming on offense, but the Bengals have an opportunistic defense, so beware. I think this is a high-scoring game with the Chiefs clinching their third straight Super Bowl.
Kansas City Chiefs def. Cincinnati Bengals
The NFC championship is a division match-up between two teams from the NFC West. This game never seemed like a possibility given the path they would have to travel. The 49ers had to go on the road for two games against two of the hottest teams in the league. The Rams had to beat the Cardinals, who dominated the Rams earlier in the year, and the defending champs, Tampa Bay. These teams have gone through the gauntlet all season and now meetup to see who will clinch the Super Bowl berth. The Rams had to survive a Tom Brady comeback attempt and the Niners stumped Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Both teams won on game-winning field goals. These two teams also met up in week 18, where the 49ers stunned the Rams by coming back from double digits. The 49ers had to win the game in order to clinch and they did with Jimmy Garappolo playing his best half of the season in that second half.
This game is hard to get a read on. One thing is for certain, I don't think this game will be close. The Rams got dominated when they travelled to San Francisco on Monday Night football. The Rams were cruising in the first half of the last game and then the 49ers dominated the Rams in order to comeback. We also have been spoiled with insane games this past weekend and we have to realize that playoff football doesn't always have game-winning field goals. I think the Rams present interesting challenges to the 49ers with a great, well-rounded passing attack. The 49ers defense played their best game and will have to deliver another stellar performance to stop Matthew Stafford and this offense. I think the 49ers pass rush will be able to provide issues for the interior offensive line. On the flip side, the 49ers desperately need Jimmy G to play average. If he plays bad, then it can go south really quickly. The 49ers will also have to deal with some injuries as Deebo Samuel and George Kittle both appeared to be limping somewhat in their win against the Packers. The 49ers offense is likely better than what the Buccaneers showed the Rams last Sunday, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to the challenge. I expect Jalen Ramsey to get an interception after he was embarrassed by Mike Evans on a long touchdown. In the end, I think the Rams will live up to their preseason hype and clinch the Super Bowl with a convincing win.
Los Angeles Rams def. San Francisco 49ers
By: Lucas Kochevar
The NFL Playoffs are officially here after an insane finale to the season with the Chargers and Raiders on Sunday Night Football. The 'Win and In' game lived up to the hype as the Chargers attempted a miraculous comeback, where LA converted on multiple fourth downs and scored the game-tying touchdown as time expired. Sadly, an ill-advised timeout by Brandon Staley changed the Raiders mindset and Vegas went on to kick the game-winning field goal. Raiders and Steelers fans jumped with joy as Justin Herbert and co. will watch wild card weekend on the couch. The NFC displayed some dramatics as well with the 49ers and Rams went to overtime, where the 49ers won to eliminate the Saints (Ha Losers!) from playoff contention. Week 18 set the stage for an exciting Super Wild Card weekend.
AFC Playoff Games
Kansas City Chiefs def. Pittsburgh Steelers
Buffalo Bills def. New England Patriots
Cincinnati Bengals def. Las Vegas Raiders
Tennessee Titans on Bye
My picks are officially in and I have all chalk here with the better seed winning each of their games. The AFC was set up to feature some very competitive games, but the Steelers sneaking in makes the picture seem fuzzy. The Steelers have been an inconsistent mess throughout the season with Big Ben playing out his last season. Ben is a legend but I expect the Chiefs to put him out of his misery. The two teams played each other a couple weeks ago and Kansas City embarrassed Pittsburgh. Unless Patrick Mahomes turns into a pumpkin, the Chiefs should outpace the Steelers offense and take the victory.
The Bills and Patriots feature one of two division games this weekend. The teams split the season series and oddly enough, the away team won each match-up. Their games this year are hard to look at because the first one was the odd Monday night game where Mac Jones attempted three passes and the second featured Josh Allen playing his best football on the season. I have been bullish on the Bills all season, partly because they were my preseason favorite for the Super Bowl, but I sincerely believe they are playing great football. The Patriots seem to be the opposite of that as they haven't looked very good outside of demolishing the Jaguars. Mac Jones also seems to be on a leash and for good reason. The early favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year hasn't looked sharp and that could play into the hands of the Bills defense. For that reason, I think the Bills will be able to force a crucial turnover and Josh Allen will keep his recent playoff success going.
The game that I'm really struggling with is the Bengals and Raiders. Both of these teams are hot going into the game and it could really go either way. The reason I'm going with Cincy is the QB position. I have loved Derek Carr this season and he has helped stabilize the Raiders off-season turmoil, but Joe Burrow has the most confidence I have ever seen in a player. He remains calm, cool, and collected at all times and he has the offense humming with the three-headed monster at receiver along with RB Joe Mixon. The Bengals will gain some valuable experience here and get their first playoff win since the 90's. The one person that could throw a wrench into those plans would be Maxx Crosby, who absolutely tortured the Chargers RT. If the Raiders do lose, there is one winner: Interim HC Rich Bisaccia. He deserves the job for turning this team into a playoff contender.
NFC Playoff Games
Tampa Bay Buccaneers def. Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys def. San Francisco 49ers
Los Angeles Rams def. Arizona Cardinals
Green Bay Packers on Bye
The NFC plays out a similar way to the AFC with all chalk, but I see these games all being closely contested. The Tampa Buccaneers have been in shambles the past couple of weeks with multiple injuries to skill players and Antonio Brown being Antonio Brown. The Eagles have been the biggest shock all year and Nick Sirianni clearly deserves some Coach of the Year votes. I was aggressively low on the Eagles and thought the organization had big issues, but they turned out to find certain packages that worked and turned the ship around. If the Eagles went into Tampa Bay, controlled the clock and played good enough defense, I wouldn't be shocked at an upset. I don't think that will be the case as Tom Brady is inevitable and will find a way to beat the inexperienced Eagles.
The Cowboys and 49ers will be the most likely game to have an upset as the 49ers travel to Dallas. The Cowboys looked like a powerhouse all season long both on offense and defense. Despite a tough Arizona loss, the Cowboys bounced back and handled a depleted Eagles team. The 49ers, on the other hand, had a year that was full of ups and downs. They did find out that Deebo Samuel is a top five weapon in the league as he had a monster year for the San Fran offense. The big question for the 49ers is Jimmy Garoppolo. He's gotten them to this point so far and had a great finish to the game on Sunday, however, they were in that mess because of him in the first half. With a very opportunistic corner in Trevon Diggs, I can see the 49ers turning the ball over at least once. Dallas should be able to put up enough points in this one to separate from San Francisco, therefore, give me the Cowboys.
The second division showdown will take place in sunny Los Angeles as the Rams will host the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals were far and away the best team in the NFL through the first half of the season. Suddenly, the team started to fall apart and couldn't string together enough wins to secure the NFC West. The Cardinals are still fortunate to have Kyler Murray on their side because if he can get hot, then who knows what the Cardinals can do. The Rams have been media favorites all year as Matthew Stafford has finally returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The veteran gunslinger has struggled though, throwing multiple picks the last three weeks. Stafford is fortunate to have the Offensive Player of the Year candidate, Cooper Kupp, and Odell Beckham Jr. The two teams split the season series as, once again, the away team won the match-up. The Rams and Cardinals play with a lot of flash, which is what I see happening in this game. The offenses will be humming, but I would bet on the Rams defense to get a stop before the Cardinals. If Arizona manages to force a couple turnovers, they could steal this one on the road. I don't see that happening so give me LA.
By: Lucas Kochevar
The first Super Bowl I ever watched was in 2008 with the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers. It was a special game with twists and turns all the way down to the end. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger led the team down the field and made one of the most impressive throws to set-up one of the most impressive catches in Super Bowl history by Santonio Holmes. This was how I was introduced into the NFL. Big Ben has been a constant fixture on NFL Sundays since his debut in 2004 with the iconic black and yellow. He entered the league with Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers, where he managed to outlast the two legends. Sadly, the times are changing and a new generation of QBs are starting to takeover the NFL. The time has come to wave goodbye to a legend.
This is not a new revelation that shocks many, as it is clear that Big Ben is too far over the hill and could be bottom five QB in the league. The traits that have made Ben such a threat his entire career are completely gone. The touch on the deep ball seems to be a tick off, the mobility is reduced severely, and placement of any pass over the middle feels dangerous. Ben has been a gunslinger for his entire career, yet, he can't consistently bring his A or B game. It's clear that he has to go if the Steelers want to have an offense that won't be on-and-off. The reports started to come out that he's been telling people close to him that this is likely his last year. The thing he doesn't realize is that his play is telling people that this is last year, whether he likes it or not.
Parting ways with a legend is one of the hardest things to do, trust me I understand. The Falcons traded away Julio Jones this past offseason and will likely see my favorite player ever, Matt Ryan, leave soon. The emotions will be riding high and the fans want to remember the good times, instead of this time in his career. Steelers fans should look back at the Ben that was dragging defenders around the field to deliver a bomb to Antonio Brown instead of this Ben that labors his way outside of the pocket. It has to be the time to look at internal options, trade options, or the draft. The best thing Steelers fans can do now is give Ben the proper ovations and send him off. Welcome him back to retire the number seven and in five years, welcome him back to celebrate his hall of fame induction. It's the only way to end an era of Steelers football, as well as NFL football.
By: Lucas Kochevar
Week five brings a number of games where teams will look to keep their season alive. Unfortunately, I can see this week being an ugly one full of blow outs. There are some fun storylines to follow still. Thursday Night Football shows two divisional foes in the NFC West with LA travelling to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. Washington looks to keep up with Dallas as they face the Saints, who are trying to bounce back after losing to the Giants. Justin Fields travels out west to take on the Raiders in a Khalil Mack revenge game. Trey Lance will possibly make his first career start against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. These are some of the best storylines to follow this week, but not the best games. Not a lot of great games to watch, but here are the three I will keep an eye on.
Green Bay Packers vs Cincinnati Bengals
In a shocking turn of events, the Cincinnati Bengals have started the season 3-1 and sit tied for the lead in the AFC North with Baltimore and Cleveland. The Bengals have been fairly solid in the games they've played. The offense has looked really good and really bad. Joe Burrow looks similar to his old self and has shown the connection with rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase. The defense has played better than expected with the defensive line showing promise with Sam Hubbard coming off the edge. On the other side, the Green Bay Packers are coming off of three straight wins after getting destroyed week one. Ever since their week one embarrassment, the offense has comeback to life as they've scored 28 points or more in each of their wins. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams are back to their old tricks. The defense has also looked inspired as rookie Eric Stokes Jr. looks like a keeper.
As I stated earlier, there aren't a ton of games that are super intriguing, but if the Burrow and the Bengals can hang around, I think this can be the best game of the 1 o'clock hour. The Bengals provide a unique passing attack as they have one of the best slot receivers in Tyler Boyd. They have Chase and Tee Higgins on the outside too. The rushing attack will be a storyline to follow for Cincy as Joe Mixon is likely going to miss the game with a sprained ankle. This could greatly hamper the offense and force Joe Burrow to play hero ball. If the opportunistic Packers defense forces a turnover or two, it could get ugly quickly. Aaron Rodgers will pick on this inexperienced defense, especially if Cincy will miss star S Jessie Bates II. I think Aaron Jones could be in line for a huge game as he looks to find some consistency. The Packers are a threat at any moment to go for forty and if they do this, it will be a blowout. I think there is a chance the Bengals win this as a statement game, however, I see Green Bay handling business.
Green Bay Packers 35, Cincinnati Bengals 17
Cleveland Browns vs Los Angeles Chargers
The Cleveland Browns head out west to take on the Chargers. I absolutely love this game because I think these are the two most complete teams in the AFC. The Browns are coming off an ugly win over the Vikings, where Baker Mayfield struggled mightily. Cleveland's rushing attack has been deadly as ever. The defense is flying around with Myles Garrett getting around the edge with ease. The only variable that has been confusing game to game has been Baker Mayfield. Sometimes he looks like the old Baker, who throws the ball everywhere and plays with that edge. Then, there are other times where he looks like he doesn't belong in the league. The Chargers, on the other hand, have found the guy at QB. Justin Herbert has been playing fantastic and could be an early MVP candidate. The defense has been lights out as they have shutdown some monster offenses. LA looks like they found the guy in HC Brandon Staley.
I'm looking forward to this game, primarily, because of the Browns rushing attack versus the Chargers defensive line. Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb are easily the best duo of running backs in the league. Their rushing attack is the primary reason their offense thrives. They set everything up with the play-action. If the Chargers can neutralize this and force Baker into making critical decisions, they could take advantage of any mistakes he makes. The Chargers offense will look to stretch the Browns secondary with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the perimeter. Austin Ekeler will be a big threat too. The best one-on-one battle will be Myles Garrett vs rookie offensive tackle Rashawn Slater. Slater has been lights out as a rookie and still hasn't allowed a sack since October 2018. I think this game will play out as a defensive slugfest. In the end, I like the Chargers pulling away late.
Los Angeles Chargers 24, Cleveland Browns 14
Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs
The Sunday is finished off with this primetime match-up. In this Sunday night showdown, the Bills travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. This game will be an AFC Championship rematch. These teams are slightly different from when they last saw each other. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen still run both of their respective high octane offenses. The Chiefs look vulnerable at this moment as they are 2-2 currently. The plot twist is that are two plays away from being undefeated. The Chiefs managed to handle the Eagles last week to get back on track, though. Mahomes and the offense look as dominate as usual, but the defense is aggressively inconsistent. They have looked absolutely horrible on that side and shows that they have a big Achilles heel. The Bills, somehow, lost to the Steelers week one, but have rattled off three straight wins. Since that loss, the offense has rounded back into form and the defense has looked much improved from last year. In my eyes, I think the Bills are the true best team in the league, even over the undefeated Cardinals.
This will be an amazing game to checkout. The Bills would love to avenge that loss and the Chiefs want to get back on track. I can see the Bills coming out and dominating the Chiefs defense with Stefon Diggs being at the center of it. The most interesting battle will be the Bills defense and the Chiefs offense. The Bills defense has looked super dominate, but they were playing super inferior offenses. The defense could be much better than before, but we won't actually know until they play a team like the Chiefs. The Bills defensive line has been intriguing because of the different usage of so many players. Only one player, Ed Oliver, has played over 50% of the snaps. The Bills linebackers and secondary have been playing well as always. I think keeping Patrick Mahomes in the pocket will be key to minimizing the damage. Overall, I think this will be an absolute shootout and the Bills will be able to edge out the Chiefs because of that swiss cheese defense KC has. Give me Buffalo on the road.
Buffalo Bills 41, Kansas City Chiefs 38
By: Lucas Kochevar
Week three comes and goes with some truths coming out about certain teams. It seems to be three clear-cut contenders in the AFC between the Bills, Chargers, and Browns. The NFC saw a huge clash of its titans between the Rams and Buccaneers, where the Rams pulled ahead and never looked back. A couple teams remain undefeated and four game-winning kicks happened. The most impressive of those four kicks was clearly Justin Tucker, who also set the NFL record, with a game-winning 66 yard field goal. This week we have a handful of interesting games. Starting on Thursday, we get the Bengals and Jaguars, which isn't a great game, but it's the last two number one picks going head-to-head. Mahomes looks to bounce back against Jalen Hurts and the Eagles. There's a pivotal division game happening in the Bay area with the 49ers and Seahawks. The most anticipated game of the week will be Tom Brady's return to Foxborough. All these games will show some promise, however, I think there are far more interesting battles this week.
Carolina Panthers vs Dallas Cowboys
The undefeated Carolina Panthers travel to Dallas to play the surging Cowboys. The Panthers have been a surprise team early on with three relatively easy wins. The Panthers defense has been the story as they have dominated in all three games. They have been fantastic in all facets of the game. The pass rush is getting there with Brian Burns as they have 14 sacks through three games. They've built a wall in the run game too with Derrick Brown at DT. The secondary is incredibly opportunistic, but they lost rookie Jaycee Horn due to a fractured foot. Sam Darnold looks rejuvenated and has been a new QB from his New York Jets days. He found a favorite target in D.J. Moore and, even with a bad offensive line, they have found enough offense to look good. A big challenge will be life without Christian McCaffery, who injured his hamstring Thursday night. The Cowboys have seemingly put it together since dropping their first game against Tampa Bay. Dak Prescott looks up to his old tricks again as he is distributing the ball all around. Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard are one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. Overall, the offense looks as dangerous as ever, especially after their convincing win over the Eagles. The defense does look a lot more cohesive than last year and Trevon Diggs has been awesome at CB.
I expect this game to be a thriller. This will be a battle between two of the leagues best. The Panthers defense will have their hands full with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and co. I think the Panthers will be able to slow down the run game and that will keep them in it. Similar to their week one loss, the Cowboys could fall back into a pass happy attack, which means two of their most dynamic players will have to commit to pass blocking. The Panthers offense will have to find their footing without McCaffery. They have Oklahoma St. rookie Chubba Hubbard, who has played well in limited snaps, but he isn't McCaffery. Losing a player of his caliber is a big chunk of plays gone from the playbook and a safety blanket is gone for Darnold. I could see them struggling at least through one half of football, but finding their footing in the second half. By then, it could easily be too late and they would have to play major catch-up. For that reason, I like the Cowboys in this spot to make somewhat of a statement win at home by beating an undefeated Carolina team.
Dallas Cowboys 31, Carolina Panthers 17
Arizona Cardinals vs Los Angeles Rams
Both teams will enter this game undefeated, but only one can remain. The Los Angeles Rams hold the title for best team in the NFL, in my opinion. They have looked fantastic so far and Matthew Stafford looks right at home. The offense looks explosive with Desean Jackson and Cooper Kupp running wherever they want. The Rams defense is as dominant as ever. Aaron Donald is doing Aaron Donald things and Jalen Ramsey is far and away the best cornerback in the league. Raheem Morris has stepped in for the departed DC Brandon Staley and has led the team right as they were. The Cardinals have started off the year hot, despite looking lost at times. The Cardinals dismantled the Titans, survived the Vikings, and handled business against the Jaguars. Kyler Murray has been a machine throwing and running all over the place. Each week, a new wide receiver will pop up as a 100 yard threat. The Cardinals defense hasn't done a whole lot since their week one domination of the Titans. They look to put pressure on Matt Stafford and the electric Rams air attack.
This game will show us if the Cardinals are a legit team or not. The Rams are another level of competition than anything they have faced and it will be interesting to see how Kyler fares against them. Kyler vs Donald and Hopkins vs Ramsey will be quite the show. I see this game as an absolute shootout if the Cardinals end up pulling it out. Either they go score for score or they hold the ball and make sure the Rams don't get on the field. With how Kliff Kingsbury coaches teams, they will not run the ball consistently. Rookie receiver Rondale Moore will be a key player in this to make sure the Cardinals have the big play threat outside of Hopkins. On the flip side, the Rams need to continue their dominance. Push the issue and make the Cardinals DBs make plays. Something interesting to note will be the Rams running game. Darrell Henderson Jr. was out last week so Sony Michel was the primary guy. Once again, the run game was far behind the passing game. I don't see this being an issue still. I like the Rams here to win comfortably after a close first half.
Los Angeles Rams 34, Arizona Cardinals 26
Las Vegas Raiders vs Los Angeles Chargers
Another divisional game for the week as the Las Vegas Raiders carry their undefeated record into LA to take on the Chargers. The Chargers are coming off an emotional win over the Chiefs as the game went down to the wire. Justin Herbert played near flawless and carried his team to the win. Herbert connected with WR Mike Williams and Keenan Allen plenty of times as center Corey Linsley looks to be a vital piece of the Chargers. The LA defense has been revitalized as Derwin James has rounded back into form from his pre-injury days. Joey Bosa has been playing well and rookie Asante Samuel Jr. already has two interceptions on the year. The Chargers have had tough games for all three weeks and it doesn't get any easier Monday night. The Raiders come into the game undefeated under Derek Carr. As of right now, Carr looks incredible and, very similarly to his 2016 breakout campaign, could be an MVP candidate. Maxx Crosby has been a defensive stonewall on the line. The team is playing together and Jon Gruden looks to have them on track. The Raiders have been a shocking team as many people projected another mediocre year. They could still come crashing down to Earth, but for now, the Raiders are here to stay.
This game last year was featured on a Thursday Night Football and provided a candidate for game of the year. Justin Herbert looked phenomenal and Marcus Mariota shined for Derek Carr, who got hurt early on. This game will be a different atmosphere and should test to see if the Raiders are legit. I think Herbert will be on the attack, as always. Herbert will press the issue and make the Raiders defense make a play, specifically the secondary. The Chargers could really give the Raiders some trouble with the Austin Ekeler as he is dangerous on the checkdown just as much as the run game. On the flip side, the Raiders offense has been strange. TE Darren Waller's involvement has changed week to week, but you can see players like Hunter Renfrow and Henry Ruggs stepping up when Waller has been covered. It'll be interesting to see how HC Brandon Staley will attack Las Vegas. This will be key because the passing attack has been the primary way the Raiders have done anything. The running game has been grossly inconsistent and who knows who will be healthy on Monday. This is by far the biggest game for Vegas and emotions will be running high, but I think the Chargers are a top-3 AFC team and they'll outpace the Raiders on offense.
Los Angeles Chargers 38, Las Vegas Raiders 27