This week on Tar Takes we discuss the North Carolina Tar Heels’ football win over the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday, if they have any shot to upset the Miami Hurricanes on Thursday and if Carolina basketball should be a top 10 team in the country.
In the NFL, we discuss the state of the Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons.
And we look at the Jimmy Butler trade request from the Minnesota Timerbwolves and tell you if that was the right decision for Butler.
That afternoon and night, more of the same continued with the Cincinnati Bengals almost winning, the Tennessee Titans beating the Legion of Boom, and the Oakland Raiders getting manhandled by the Washington Redskins.
With the wild weekend in the rearview mirror, here are the main takeaways from Sunday’s action.
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Seattle’s O-Line too much to overcome
The Seattle Seahawks began the season with a 1-1 start and needed to grab a win. As such, the Legion of Boom would have been expected to come out fierce and will the Seahawks to a tough victory.
Instead, quarterback Russell Wilson was left to carry the team on his own as the running game was nonexistent and the defense gave up 33 points to the Titans, an offense that mustered just 16 in Week 1 against the Raiders.
Seattle possesses an elite quarterback entering his prime but doesn’t have an offensive line to protect him, along with zero weapons on offense, and an aging defense whose window is closing.
The addition of defensive end Sheldon Richardson should have reignited the defense, however, the front seven aside from linebacker Bobby Wagner has been subpar, shown by the Titans’ 195 yards on the ground.
The Seahawks need to overhaul their offense and build an offensive line around Wilson. Until they do, Seattle will be wasting Wilson’s best years and be out of Super Bowl contention.
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The Chiefs are doing the hunting
Some thought the Kansas City Chiefs’ time was running out. It seemed like quarterback Alex Smith was on his way out since they drafted quarterback Patrick Mahomes and that 2017 could be a slight down year.
Instead, Smith is having one of the best seasons of his career, throwing seven touchdowns without an interception through the first three weeks.
Coach Andy Reid is also showing us why he is a future first-ballot Hall of Fame head coach after victories over the Patriots, Chargers and Eagles, three teams many thought would make a playoff push before the season started.
The Chiefs also have an unstoppable weapon out of the backfield in running back Kareem Hunt, which could create a dangerous duo for the next half-decade of him and Smith. Hunt, in just three games, has 538 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill has continued improving after his impressive 2016 rookie campaign tallying 277 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns already.
Kansas City has it all. An elite head coach, good quarterback, stout defense and a plethora of offensive weapons. They might be the best and most complete team in the NFL.
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Cam isn’t Super Cam
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s start to the 2017 NFL regular season has not been pretty. The one-time MVP has thrown for 566 yards with just two touchdowns to four interceptions. Not great numbers for a franchise quarterback.
Losing top target and tight end Greg Olsen along with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin often being injured, Newton does not have much room for error. He has never been the most accurate quarterback, shown by his career completion percentage of 58.5%, and will be without elite pass catchers who can help catch a few errantly thrown balls here and there.
As such, it doesn’t look like it will get much better for the Panthers and Newton. They will need to go back to using a strong power running game, playing tough defense, and using Newton’s big arm to stretch the field when the opportunity presents itself.
Newton is a good quarterback, who can make incredible plays, but he isn’t good enough to win his team games each and every Sunday.
The next three games will be telling for Newton as they have New England (away), Detroit (away) and Philadelphia coming up.
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Brady back to being the GOAT
Midway through Week 3, the Patriots were staring a 1-2 start in the face. Was it the beginning of the end for New England if they lost to the Houston Texans and Chiefs at home?
No, it was quite the opposite. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led an amazing eight play, 75-yard drive to take the lead with just 23 seconds left in the game.
The drive might have been lucky as there were a dropped interception and a fumble recovery, yet Brady still drove down the field in incredible fashion, throwing strikes while getting blasted.
The defense might be a little weaker in 2017, but Brady, despite the Week 1 outlier, is as good as ever at 40-years of age.
Remember, Brady didn’t have tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Brandin Cooks in 2016. Consequently, the former Wolverine will only look better as the season progresses.
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Falcons are Super Bowl Contenders
Admittedly, I was a major skeptic of the Atlanta Falcons coming into this season. They had an incredible 2016 season with an improving defense and one of the best offenses in NFL history.
However, I expected that the loss of coach Kyle Shanahan would hurt quarterback Matt Ryan’s performance. They would still be very good, but not historic. Moreover, I thought Ryan’s year was an arbitration.
So far in 2017, Ryan has thrown for just under 900 yards and has led this team to an impressive 29 points per game. The offensive numbers are not as astounding as last season, but their defense has improved, surrendering just 22 points per game so far, making them as good if not better than last season.
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The AFC North is not good
The AFC North has two winless teams in the Bengals and Cleveland Browns. The two teams with winning records, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, couldn’t look worse.
Baltimore lost to a Blake Bortles led Jacksonville Jaguars team by 37 points. Quarterback Joe Flacco and this offense are nowhere near playoff caliber.
After playing three poor teams, who have a combined two wins, the Ravens have mustered just 17 points per game. In addition, Flacco is only averaging 122 yards per game through the air.
The big Flacco payday is finally catching up with the team in a debilitating fashion.
Despite having a winning record, the Steelers have looked quite bad to this point on the road. Their home victory against the Minnesota Vikings was nice, but then again quarterback Sam Bradford didn’t play.
On the road, Pittsburgh has lost to the Chicago Bears, a flat-out bad team, and played the winless Browns close.
The Steelers are still a good team and will easily win the division, but need to fix their woes on the road and get running back LeVeon Bell and the running game in gear if they want to seriously contend for a Lombardi Trophy in February.
This Super Bowl is one of the most exciting matchups in recent memory. There are a number of intriguing storylines: New England’s dynasty versus the up and coming Falcons, the Falcons’ number one offense against the Patriots’ number one defense, the controversy surrounding Deflategate and Roger Goodell, and two MVP candidates, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, dueling it out.
In yesterday’s article, Each Team’s Keys to Victory, I mentioned that Bill Belichick will look to shut down Julio Jones. Belichick’s known for successfully eliminating players from games based on his game plan. Despite this, I think Jones is poised to have a big day. New England’s defense is overrated. Their talent doesn’t back up their season statistics; they had an easy schedule and Belichick is their coach, which probably created this discrepancy. Furthermore, Julio Jones should physically dominate New England’s defensive backs. He isn’t going to win the game single-handedly, but his effectiveness will open up opportunities for other players.
Atlanta’s offense this year is the best we’ve seen since Peyton Manning threw for over 50 touchdowns in 2013, a season which culminated in a blowout loss to Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII. I think this year’s Atlanta team may actually be better than that Broncos offense because of their two-headed monster, Freeman and Coleman, who, in tandem, have close to 2500 scrimmage yards and 24 touchdowns. They can gash teams through the ground or through the air, and have a nose for the end zone once the Falcons get near the goal line. In terms of competition, New England’s defense doesn’t pose as significant a threat as Seattle’s did in 2013. I expect Atlanta to play a much stronger game than Denver did against Seattle.
Atlanta seems to have the momentum and talent, but New England has the experience. Brady and Belichick have been to six straight AFC title games and this will be their 7th Super Bowl. Experience is something that can’t be overlooked, making New England a reasonable (and popular) pick.
However, there has to be a first for everything. I am going to pick the Falcons to win this Sunday. Their offense has been magical during the playoffs and is on a historic run. Even though Brady may have a great day, I think Atlanta’s offense has too much firepower and will overwhelm the Patriots with a historic Super Bowl performance. A Falcons win just feels right. They’re peaking at the right time, they have incredible chemistry, and it seems like this is their year. Matt Ryan might never get back to a Super Bowl, but this year, he’ll be heading home with the Lombardi trophy.
Atlanta has proven me wrong every playoff game this year. Hopefully, I am not too late to jump on the bandwagon.
New England’s defense, the top-ranked defense during the regular season, will be the deciding factor in this game. During the regular season, opposing teams only managed 15.6 points per game against them. Their defense has been formidable for the entire season, but I don’t believe it’s as strong as their points against suggests. They rank 9th in the NFL in yards against, which is still good, but it shows that teams can move the ball against their defense.
According to Pro Football Focus’ Player Grades, New England’s right side of their defense is quite weak, which opposing offenses could take advantage of. For example, Ninkovich (DL), Chung (S), Valentine (DT), Rowe (CB), and Robert (LB) all have either poor or average grades for this season. In addition, there are no players considered “elite” on the Patriots defense. McCourty and Butler are close to being elite, but still aren’t there. In comparison to Atlanta’s offense, who the Patriots defense has to face, Atlanta has one player who is considered poor, while New England has three.
The player grades point to one thing. New England’s talent doesn’t represent how their defense has played this season. Just think about it, the defense has no elite players and other major holes. How did they only surrender 15 points per game? I think a lot of it has to do with Bill Belichick’s game plans, which are more innovative than any other coach in NFL history. Players win games, though, and Bill Belichick gives his players the best opportunity to succeed. On Sunday, the Patriots defense will face an elite offense, so a lack of talent may be exposed, unless Bill Belichick’s magic touch is legit.
Belichick and the Patriots need to stop Julio Jones. According to FiveThirtyEight and Pro Football Focus’ player ratings, Julio Jones is the best WR in the league – by far. Jones had a grade this season of 95.4, which is more than six points better than Antonio Brown, who many consider to be the best in the league. It makes sense, as he is a physical specimen. At 6-3 220 LB, Jones is massive, but also extremely fast, running a 4.3 at the NFL scouting combine in 2011. He’s also agile, performing near the top of all athletes at the combine in the 60 yard shuttle. He is one of the rarest forms of size, strength, and speed. To go with that physical package, his skills are also elite. According to the same FiveThirtyEight article, Jones is the only player to rank in the top 40 of each of the following statistics: targets per route, air yards per target, catch rate, yards after catch, and run-blocking grade. His combination of size and athleticism makes him one of the most talented receivers of all-time.
Belichick is going to look to shut down Jones. Belichick seems to always find a way, through the game plan, to take out the opposing team’s best player. Jones has the talent to take over the game and there’s no one even close to the talent of Jones on their defense. Therefore, a big key for New England will be finding a way to stop Julio Jones. If they can, then they’ll go on to win the game. If they can’t, advantage Atlanta.
In regards to New England’s offense, they’ll be fine. This is Tom Brady’s 7th Super Bowl appearance. He has had one of the best seasons ever by an NFL quarterback and they face an average defense in Atlanta. The Patriot’s offense is going to play great no matter what.
Highlights from Julio Jones Massive Day in the NFC Championship Against Green Bay
Atlanta’s offense should have no issues. However, they’ll need an all-time great performance to beat New England. Luckily, they’ve been playing at an all-time great level (on offense) for most of the season and throughout the playoffs.
New England is going to look to stop Julio Jones, so no matter how well Jones is playing, his game will be limited by Belichick. Atlanta needs Jones to win the Super Bowl. He’s going to have to beat double coverage consistently, and when he does, he needs to make big plays while he has the ball (yards after catch). An early emergence of Jones should open up the game for his teammates. It will be necessary for Ryan to spread the ball around, and he should be able to if Belichick has double coverage on Jones. If Ryan can do that, it’ll force the Patriots to make a decision. Let everyone else dominate, while containing Jones, or take the help off Jones to play a more traditional defense, which Jones will likely take advantage of.
Mohamed Sanu should be a big beneficiary of the Patriots presumed game plan. Look for him to have a big day with many targets early to try and force the Patriots to take the double coverage off Julio Jones.
Defensively, there are not high expectations. They are an improving defense that was horrible at the beginning of the year. The defense just can’t fall apart and can’t give up big plays. They need to make sure that players like Hogan and Edelman don’t get behind them for long gains and touchdowns. In addition, the Patriots are 16-0 with Dion Lewis. I don’t believe that Lewis is the only reason behind those wins, but there’s definitely some correlation. Therefore, Atlanta must contain Lewis.
Atlanta needs to contain New England’s offense. As long as that happens, the game will be close and in the hands of Atlanta’s offense.
Look out for Vic Beasley Jr. and Atlanta’s pass rush. They are going to need constant pressure to help the average Atlanta defense. I don’t see them being able to disrupt Brady, so that’s why stopping him isn’t a major key, but maybe they can get lucky by forcing a fumble or two on Brady. I don’t expect New England to turn the football over, but as always, every turnover will go a long way to Atlanta winning.