Matthews: BOB’s 2019 NFC Preview: Eagles, Vikings, Saints, Rams

BOB’s 2019 NFC PREVIEW: EAGLES, VIKINGS, SAINTS, RAMS ARE THE PICKS

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys (12-4) – I flip-flopped the Cowpokes and Eagles on Wednesday when RB Ezekiel Elliott decided to play...Owner /GM Jerry Jones appears to finally have the powerhouse roster he’s been seeking since the mid-1990s...Jones seems sold on coach Jason Garrett and I don’t know why. Do you?...I think QB Dak Prescott is only slightly above average but on this team, that could be good enough go all the way...Top-shelf OL...Terrific LB duo in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) – The Eagles are banking on QB Carson Wentz starting all 16 games for the first time in three seasons. He has excellent targets in WRs DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor and TE Zach Ertz...Counting on ex-Bear Jordan Howard and rookie Miles Sanders to upgrade the rushing attack...Age in a concern on the experienced OL...Coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense includes tackle Fletcher Cox, end Derek Bennett and CB Sidney Jones.

Washington Redskins (5-11) – Among the bright spots is a promising young defensive line, featuring Alabama products Da’Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen, and rookie Montez Sweat...Rookie Dwayne Haskins is the QB hope but he’ll be working behind a poor injury-plagued OL and an offense short on quality WRs...Can TE Jordan Reed stay heathy?...Derrius Guice and future Pro Football Hall of Fame RB Adrian Peterson are an interesting 1-2 RB punch.

New York Giants (4-12) – When will management see the light and replace veteran QB Eli Manning with rookie Daniel Jones? For now, Eli gets to work with a sub-par group of WRs and a weak OL...RB Saquon Barkley is pretty much a one-man offense...Rush defense should be decent. Expected to blitz more and hope the secondary can hold up.

NFC NORTH

Minnesota Vikings (11-5) – Can a new passing scheme help QB Kick Cousins bounce back from a disappointing season and get the most out of star WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs and TEs Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr.?...RB Darwin Cook is a 1,000-yard rusher waiting to happen...The defensive unit is showing some age but still very good...Chicago at Minnesota Week 17 could be huge.

Chicago Bears (10-6) – 2018 NFL Coach of the Year Chuck Nagy’s offense plays fast and is loaded will explosive players. Continued improvement from QB Mitchell Trubisky would be a big help...The defense will miss departed coordinator Vic Fangio, now head coach in Denver...New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano likes to blitz and the suspect secondary will be exposed.

Green Bay Packers (9-7) – It’s sad that a team’s big question mark is can the new head coach – Matt LaFleur – have a winning relationship with the star quarterback – Aaron Rodgers...My hunch is that Rodgers wasted the best years of his career bickering with former coach Mike McCarthy and that the Packers are overrated. We’ll see.

Detroit Lions (5-11) –The Lions have yet to play in a Super Bowl -- 53 years and counting...QB Matt Stafford is a chronic underachiever...Rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson is a terrific blocker and could spark the team’s long-suffering running game...Additions of run stuffer Snacks Harrison and DE Trey Flowers give the defense a boost.

NFC SOUTH

New Orleans Saints (12-4) – QB Drew Brees has lost some zip on his arm but still is effective behind arguably the league’s best OL...Impressive weapons in RB Alvin Kamara, WR Michael Thomas and veteran free-agent TD Jared Cook...The defense is very good and special teams are excellent...Botched non-call probably cost them a trip to Super Bowl 53 so they should be angry...Won the division by six games last season. Atlanta will be closer this season.

Atlanta Falcons (11-5) – The Falcons were an embarrassing 7-9 last season and figure to significantly improve. QB Matt Ryan to WR Julio Jones are top shelf...Ryan was sacked 42 times last season and two OL were selected in the first round of the draft...The defense is decent but can’t afford any key injuries.

Carolina Panthers (6-10) – QB Cam Newton’s health will be an issue all season. He’s coming off a second shoulder surgery and he takes a beating with his aggressive running style...Departures of LB Thomas Davis and DE Julius Peppers will hurt the defense...Versatile RB Christian McCaffrey could lead the league in yards from scrimmage in his third NFL season...Started 6-2 last season and then lost seven games in a row.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12) – Can new head coach Bruce Arians turn QB Jameis Winston’s career around? I don’t think so. Maybe I’m wrong...WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are solid. Hobart’s Ali Marpet is the best player on a weak OL...No proven pass rushers.

NFC WEST

Los Angeles Rams (11-5) – The Rams have all the ingredients to rebound from their embarrassing 13-3 loss to New England in Super Bowl 53...If RB Todd Gurley’s arthritic left knee holds up or rookie Darrell Henderson comes through, the play-action pass offense will be nearly impossible to stop, with offensive-genius head coach Sean McVay drawing up plays for QB Jared Goff, WRs Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp...The stars of the defense are coordinator Wade Phillips and two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year tackle Aaron Donald. Throw in veteran additions LB Clay Matthews and FC Eric Weddle.

Seattle Seahawks (9-7) – They’ll be a threat to make the playoffs for as long as QB Russell Wilson is doing his thing. He’s resourceful, durable and a great leader...The defensive unit no longer is dominant, but the trade for Jadeveon Clowney beings a much-needed pass rusher, the rush defense is solid and Bobby Wagner remains an excellent LB.

San Francisco 49ers (8-8) – One of the NFL’s toughest teams to gauge. So much depends on QB Jimmy Garoppolo. How good is he? Coach Kyle Shanahan’s passing scheme is tough to stop, with sure-handed TE George Kittle the intermediate target...The defense should be better withy newcomers rookie Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. ..Had only seven takeaways last season, including two INTS.

Arizona Cardinals (3-13) – Rookie QB Kyler Murray will make the Cardinals fun to watch, WR Larry Fitzgerald is a classy future Hall of Famer and David Johnson is a quality tailback. The huge problems are a new head coach with a dubious resume’ – Kliff Kingsbury was 35-40 at Texas Tech – and on defense, particularly the secondary. Star CB Patrick Peterson starts the season with a six-game PED suspension and CB Robert Alford has a broken leg.

Friday: Bob’s AFC Forecast.

BOB’s THURSDAY NIGHT NFL “BEST BET”

CHICAGO (-3) 24, Green Bay 17 – The NFL’s two oldest teams kick off the league’s 100th season. In the first three meetings, Chicago won 20-0 in 1921, 3-0 in 1923 and 3-0 in 1924. There is an excellent chance that there will be more scoring in this meeting.

TANKING DOLPHINS BOOST BUFFALO’S PLAYOFF HOPES

“Tanking” is a dirty word in the NFL, so let’s just say the Miami Dolphins are aggressively rebuilding.

The Marlins recently dumped three more productive players – star offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, receiver Kenny Stills and popular linebacker Kiko Alonso. Earlier victims of the purge include QB Ryan Tanneyhill and WRs Danny Amendola and Jarvis Landry. The Dolphins traded for second-year QB Josh Rosen and have given the starting job to retread Ryan Fitzpatrick. What’s going on here?

There are no excuses now for the Buffalo Bills not to sweep the Dolphins. A 4-2 or even a 5-1 record versus AFC East rivals now seems very possible.

SOME ENCOURAGING WORDS FOR THE BILLS FROM ESPN

ESPN seldom is high on the Buffalo Bills – not a bad idea for most of the past 20 years--but this week’s final 2019 Season Preview for each of the 32 teams included some positive tidbits on western New York’s favorite team:

Odds to win Super Bowl 54: have dropped from 100-to-1 to 80-to-1

Over/under (was 6.5) – Now 7 and projected to go over

Odds to make playoffs: Yes bet $100 to win $350...No bet $440 to win $100

Chances to make the playoffs: 20.3 percent

Super Bowl chances: 0.9 percent

Overall rankings: 26th...offense 30th...defense 6th

Strength of Schedule: 30th

Under-25 talent rank: 6th (NOTE: That’s the game plan).

Most interesting player prop: Over/under 3.5 sacks by defensive tackle rookie Ed Oliver.

Bold prediction: 100-catch season for Cole Beasley.

Some interesting – and I believe reasonable – comments on the Bills:

“The big question: The Bills want QB Josh Allen to opt for his check-downs and intermediate options over pushing the ball downfield this season. His ability to do so and take care of the ball is paramount to offensive success in 2019.”

“Buffalo has the easiest schedule in the league for the first two months, then a tougher-than-average schedule in the second half of the season.”

“Breakout fantasy stat: RB Devin Singletary. “He’s on the small side, but he’s extremely quick, ranking among the top backs in this year’s class in broken tackles and evaded tackle rates in 2018. His career might start slow but it’s possible he’ll be Buffalo’s lead back at some point during the 2019 season.”

WE MISSED AN INSTANT-CLASSIC BASEBALL GAME TUESDAY NIGHT

Only 2,422 loyal and hardy baseball fans showed up Tuesday night in Moosic, Pa., to watch a one-game tie-breaker between the visiting Syracuse Mets and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders for the International League North pennant and a trip to the four-team Governors’ Cup playoffs.

The fans were rewarded with a game they’ll never forget.

The box score tells a lot:

SyracuseMets501 000 160 -- 13

S/Wilkes-Barre000 100 58x—14

The Mets led 6-0 and 13-6.

S/WB catcher Klye Higashioka likely delayed his latest promotion to the New York Yankees by hitting two home runs.

The RailRiders play the host Durham Bulls Wednesday in Game 1 of the best-of-five-five semifinals.

...Syracuse’s collapse set the stage for a similar disaster hours later for the parent New York Mets.

The Mets scored five runs in the top of the ninth inning to take a 10-4 lead at Washington. The Nationals scored seven runs in the bottom of the ninth to win the game 11-10 and plunge a dagger into New York’s hopes for a wild-card playoff berth.

MLB POWERAMA REPORT FEATURING THE MINNESOTA TWINS

Here’s the update on MLB’s top power-hitting teams:

Minnesota Twins 271 HRs with 24 games to go (on pace for 318 HRs)...The former single-season MLB record was 267 by the 2018 New York Yankees...Former Rochester Red Wings hit a combined 163 of those 269 HRs (61 percent): Max Kepler 36...Eddie Rosario 27...Mitch Garver 26...Miguel Sano 26...Jorge Polanco 20...Byron Buxton 10...Jake Cave 7...Ehire Adrianza 5...Luis Arreaz 3...Willians Astudillo 3.

New York Yankees 261 HRs (on pace for 302 HRs)

Loa Angeles Dodgers 248 HRs (including 10 HRs the last two games)

Houston Astros 234 HRs

Atlanta Braves 218 HRs

Boston Red Sox 218 HRs.

SHORT SHOTS

The Hockey News 2019-20 Yearbook projects the Buffalo Sabres to finish sixth in the NHL Eastern Conference to extend their league-longest playoff drought to nine seasons.

The pick to win the Stanley Cup is the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games over the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Hockey News “Top 50 Players in the NHL” include No. 1 Connor McDavid (Edmonton), No. 2 Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), No. 3 Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh), No. 4 Nathan McKinnon (Colorado), No. 6 Alex Ovechkin (Washington), No. 9 Auston Matthews (Toronto), No. 10 Ryan O’Reilly (St. Louis) and No. 41 Jack Eichel (the only Buffalo player on the list).

Xxxx Potential great news for the Rochester Amerks: Buffalo’s probable “franchise goalie” Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen reportedly is slightly ahead of schedule in his recovery from hip surgery and could be playing for Rochester or Cincinnati by Christmas.

Xxxx WWE Live returns to Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial Sunday, October 20, 7 p.m. It will be a non-televised event on the WWE Live Tour. Tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m.

Xxxx Syracuse is a 2 ½-point favorite at Maryland Saturday noon on NewsRadio WHAMK 1180 and ESPN. I guess the oddsmakers figure bettors weren’t impressed by Maryland’s 79-0 home romp over Howard last week.

Xxxx Two former Rochester Red Wings sluggers were 1-2 in home runs in the Triple-A Mexican League: Chris Cater 49 HRs and 119 RBI in 120 games and Danny Ortiz 42 HRs and 114 RBI in 120 games.

HAPPY SPORTS BIRTHDAY TO...

Wednesday, September 4

Andrelton Simmons 30...Nigel Bradham 30...Adam Duvall 31...J.J. Hickson 31...Demetrius Nichols 35...Pat Neshek 39...Maxim Afinogenov 40...John Thierry 48...Mike Piazza 51...Tomas Sandstrom 55...John Vanbiesbrouck 56...Jim Schoenfeld 67...Frank White 69...Doyle Alexander 69...Tom Watson 70...Ron Ward 75...Ray Floyd 77...Ken Harrelson 78. Beyonce 38, Wes Bentley 41 and Damon Wayans 59 are invited to the birthday party.

Thursday, September 5

T.J. Warren 26...Lance Stephenson 29...Colt McCoy 33..Chris Young 36....Nazr Muhammad 42...Jimmy Haynes 47...Tom Carter 47...Carlester Crumpler 48...Brad Hopkins 49...Dennis Scott 51...Tony Martin54...Mark Ferner 54...David Brabham 54...Ken Norman 55...Tim McKyer 56...Willie Gault 59...Stan Jonathan 64...Bill Mazeroski 83. Michael Keaton 68, Raquel Welch 79 and Bob Newhart 90 are invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

September 4

1906 (113 years ago), the New York Highlanders won their fifth straight doubleheader, 7-0 and 1-0 over the Boston Pilgrims.

1920 (99 years ago), Man o’War won the 1-5/8th mile Lawrence Realization Stakes at Belmont Park in a world record 2:40.8.

1922 (97 years ago), Finnish star Paavo Nermi ran a 2000m world record 5:26.3 in Tampere, Finland.

1941 (78 years ago), the New York Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox 6-3 to clinch the earliest league pennant in MLB history.

1972 (47 years ago), U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz became the first athlete to win seven Olympic gold medals in a single games.

1988 (31 years ago), Mike Tyson crashed his silver BMW into a tree near Catskill, N.Y.

1992 (27 years ago), Jimmy Connors was beaten 3-2, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0 by Ivan Lendl in his record 115th and final U.S. Open singles match.

1993 (26 years ago), John Sacca threw four TD passes for Penn State as the Nittany Lions won its first Big 10 football game 38-20 over Minnesota...Yankees pitcher no-hit the Cleveland Indians 4-0 at Yankee Stadium.

2005 (14 years ago), 20-year-old Kyle Busch became the youngest driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race, the Sony HD 500 at California Speedway.

2006 (13 years ago), Tiger Woods fired 63 in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship for his fifth straight PGA Tour victory.

September 5

1923 (96 years ago)(, flyweight boxers Gene La Rue and Kid Pancho KOd each other simultaneously.

1925 (94 years ago), Bobby Jones won the 29th U.S. Golf Amateur Championship.

1951 (68 years ago), Maureen Connolly won the U.S. national women’s championship, her first of nine Grand Slam singles titles.

1955 (54 years ago0, Brooklyn pitcher Don Newcombe hit his seventh HR of the season.

1960 (59 years ago), Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) won the light-heavyweight boxing gold medal at the Rome Olympics.

1972 (47 years ago), 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and later killed by Palestinian Black September members at the Munich Olympics.

1989 (30 years ago), Chris Evert lost her final U.S. Open tennis match, 7-6, 6-2, to Zina Garrison in the quarterfinals.

1994 (25 years ago), Jerry Rice scored three touchdowns to boost his career total to 127 TDs to top Jim Brown’s record.

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