Buy or Sell: November

October is history. It’s time to review how we did and then buy or sell some new teams for November.
Philip Rivers is on pace to throw for one million yards. Will the wins finally follow in November? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Philip Rivers is on pace to throw for one million yards. Will the wins finally follow in November? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Last month I started a new segment where I advise you guys on which teams to get behind and which teams to abandon for the upcoming month. We do this so we look smart before anyone else. Before we get into who I love for November, let’s see how you did if you took my advice last month:

BUY: Atlanta Falcons (3-0) → (6-1) = 3-1 in October — Great Success

BUY: Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) → (3-4) = 2-2 in October — Mild Success

BUY: Tampa Bay Bucs (1-2) → (2-4) = 1-2 in October — Mild Failure

SELL: St. Louis Rams (1-2) → (3-3) = 2-1 in October — Standard Failure

SELL: Detroit Lions (0-3) → (1-6) = 1-3 in October — Great Success

Not the best start in the world, but I’d say we still managed alright. The Bucs were a risky buy and it was just a play or two away from paying off with a win over the Redskins. But taking risks is what this game is all about. For the month of November, I’ve added four new teams–including three losing teams–to my portfolio and highlighted a couple to stay far away from:

San Diego Chargers (2-5): BUY

The Chargers have dropped three straight and their only two wins are against the Lions and Browns. Everyone is bailing on San Diego and that’s when you know it’s the perfect time to go all in. Deep down, we all know the Chargers are better than 2-5. Philip Rivers has the most passing yards of any QB and is tied for 3rd in passing touchdowns (15). Sooner or later those yards and scores are going to translate into wins. Why wait until they win one when you can jump on the bandwagon now and look like a genius for it? Check out the November schedule for this team: at Ravens (can’t seem to win a game to save their lives), home vs Bears (night game where a mediocre team has to travel west), home vs Chiefs (cover the 5-yard checkdown from Alex Smith and you’re good), and then at Jaguars (a rebuilding team with a lot of problems). These are all very winnable games and if they run the table like I think they could, they can be heading into December with a winning record. Even conservative estimates have them going 3-1 in those four games, putting themselves in much better shape than they are now. Don’t wait around for the Chargers to look good. They’re poised for a great November so the time to buy is now.

Indianapolis Colts (3-4): SELL

Speaking of teams we know are better than their record states, the Indianapolis Colts are bound to go on a run at some point. Since drafting Andrew Luck, they seem to be inching closer and closer to the Super Bowl each year. Many thought this would be the year they finally busted open that door. We have to figure a team with such strong talent and high expectations is going to figure it out and string together some wins, but November will not be that time. Their next three games are brutal. They face the undefeated Panthers on the road, the undefeated Broncos at home, and the 1-loss Falcons on the road. They round out November with a home game against the Bucs, but those first three games are where they can get pummelled if they’re not careful. I was admittedly skeptical of the Panthers until they beat the Seahawks in their own stadium. This Carolina team can straight-up play and their talent on defense will be chomping at the bit to shut down Andrew Luck. Luck and his offense won’t get a rest as they have to face the best defense in the NFL six days later. I feel a little bit better about their prospects in the following game with Atlanta, but based on how they’re playing right now (26th in rushing yards, 21st in scoring, 20th in points allowed), that will be a tough road game to steal. Put all this together and you’re looking at a Colts team that could realistically go 2-2 or even 1-3. For a team that we considered to be among the AFC elite, a 5-6 record after a couple months is falling dangerously below expectations. Fortunately for them, that’s probably still a good enough record to lead the pitiful AFC South. You may be eager to get behind this team before they get hot (because they likely will), but resist the temptation for now.

 

The sky must be falling because the Jets are good again. Photo credit: ESPN.com

The sky must be falling because the Jets are good again. Photo credit: ESPN.com

New York Jets (4-2): BUY

Call me a sucker, but I really like this Jets team. Their loss to the Pats told me more about them than did any of their five prior games. Even in a loss, they outgained New England in total yardage and held them to just 16 total rushing yards. They sit in the top 10 in scoring offense and in the top five for points allowed. Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t have to be a hero to help this team get wins. Their defensive talent is staggering (Revis, Cromartie, Harris, etc.) and I love Chris Ivory’s punishing running style that has helped him become one of the NFL’s best rushers. The next five games for the Jets consist of the Raiders, Jaguars, Bills, Texans, and Dolphins (combined record 13-21). The Jets will likely be favored in all five of those games and I wouldn’t be shocked if they won all of them. However, knowing the NFL, they will more realistically go 4-1 or even 3-2 over that stretch. No matter how you look at it, the Jets are set up for a huge November. Let’s look even further down the road here. If they do manage to go 4-1, they’ll be sitting at 8-3 with only five games remaining. Just two wins in those final five will put them at 10-6 on the year, a great spot to be in for the AFC wildcard race. The Jets have been the punching bag of the league for years now. This November is their chance to turn a corner. With manageable opponents coming up, I’m betting on the Jets to deliver.

Seattle Seahawks (3-4): BUY

I wish I could buy the Seahawks for the rest of the year. The toughest part of their schedule (by far) is behind them and they are still a top five team in rushing yards and points allowed. Their offensive line is still a weak point, but they still have that winning formula they’ve had for the past couple years. They’ll keep pounding the ball through the running game, allow Russell Wilson to make frustratingly smart decisions, and then suffocate you with their defense. I know they’ve come out on the losing end in four games, but they outplayed every one of those opponents–including the unbeaten Packers, Panthers, and Bengals–until the fourth quarter. Against some easier competition in November, those fourth quarters won’t be a problem. Seattle gets the Tony Romo-less Cowboys, the Cardinals (at home), the 2-win 49ers, and the Steelers (at home). I see four games Seattle should win. Buying the Seahawks is less about their schedule, however, and more about how good we know they can be. I still consider them a top 3 team in the NFC, so they could be playing just about anybody and I’d still buy them. Don’t sleep on the 3-4 Seahawks like we did last year when they were 3-3. Seattle is coming.

 

Can Washington survive a brutal November schedule? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Can Washington survive a brutal November schedule? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Washington Redskins (3-4): SELL

We’ve said it before, the NFC East can likely be won with eight wins. There’s a good handful of people who like what they’ve seen from the Redskins in some games and think they may be able to make a run in a weak division. I’m here to tell you to avoid joining this group at all costs and if you are already in, get out now. While I believe the Skins have some good pieces and have showed promise, their upcoming schedule might very well ruin them. They come off the bye to face the Patriots in Foxborough, where New England has lost just four out of their last 52. It gets slightly easier as they get the Saints at home–still a tough game–but then they face the unbeaten Panthers in Carolina. They round out November at home against the Giants, a team that roughed them up earlier this year. That’s a pretty rough schedule. If I’m optimistic, I say they can get out of this month with a 2-2 record. More realistically, they’ll lose some combination of three of these games. The game that really matters is that second matchup with the Giants. If they can pick up a division win, even if it’s their only win this month, it may be enough to stay afloat in the NFC East. Washington needs to be careful. Even in this weak division, there are still three other teams that could leave them in the dust if they stumble hard in November.

New Orleans Saints (3-4): BUY

This is a really tough buy for me. Just a few weeks ago, I announced that I was done with the Saints. Since then, they’ve gone 3-2. Is the real Saints team I was waiting for finally coming? I’m still skeptical. However, if I just look at their prospects in November, I have to like their chances. Saints play the Giants and Titans at home, then the Redskins and Texans on the road. The only two games that worry me at all here are the Giants (the only opponent with a winning record) and the Redskins. The Giants’ secondary and pass rush leave a lot to be desired (second-worst passing offense in the NFL), so Drew Brees could potentially have a big game. This will still be a tough game, but even if they lose, they have a great chance of going 3-1. Washington has lost to teams with good QBs (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Matt Ryan) and could have similar problems against Drew Brees. What may be the deciding factor between going 3-1 or 4-0 is the Saints’ defense. They’ve allowed less than 22 points in three of their past four games, but in the one that they didn’t, they allowed 39 to Philly in a horrible loss. If New Orleans can keep those bad defensive games at bay, they have a great shot at making a run in November. Consider this my risky buy of the month.

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Six new teams that will result from relocation

Pretty soon, the Chargers will begin to "light up" Los Angeles.

Pretty soon, the Chargers will begin to “light up” Los Angeles.

The San Diego Chargers filed for relocation earlier this week, a huge step in the effort to place an NFL franchise in Los Angeles. While this is sad news for San Diego diehards, I have to say that the “Charger” name would fit well for a place that uses so much electricity. We don’t see such a good match that often (have you ever seen a Jaguar roaming around the streets of Jacksonville?). In the dire scenario that any other franchise is forced to relocate, it’s probably a good idea to be prepared with some fitting locations. Here’s a few ideas:

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Alaska Bears: I’m not sure why the Bears would be forced to relocate (too windy?), but if they ever are, they need to move to a place that actually has bears. Alaska would be the easy choice here as black bears are more populous in the Last Frontier than in any other state. There’s no better way to strike fear into an opponent than providing the possibility of a bear actually walking onto the field. Don’t think that’s realistic? There’s about one black bear for every three citizens in Alaska, so you’d have to think at least a couple would sneak in among a crowd of thousands. Besides, isn’t it time we put an NFL franchise in some state other than the lower 48? Alaska is the perfect place to battle the elements on the gridiron, including sub-15 degree temperatures and the potential for blizzards. After just three years, the Alaska Bears will be the toughest team in the NFL.

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Illinois Cardinals: Let’s face it: an innocent cardinal in hot, dry, desert-ridden Arizona? The very thought is absurd. Cardinals live in open woodlands and feed on insects, grain, and fruit. Where can they find that? A whole bunch of places not named Arizona. The midwest is the natural home for cardinals (you nailed it St. Louis) and is appropriately the state bird of seven states, including Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. However, the Cardinals can only belong to one home and that new home should be Illinois, the first state to hop on the redbird bandwagon and name the Northern Cardinal the official state bird in 1929. Hopefully the Bears will have relocated to Alaska just in time for Illinois to replace them with this proud and sensible franchise.

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Utah Lions: If the Lions are ever looking for a new home, they are in luck. Mountain lions live in a whole bunch of places out in the west so they could have their pick of any state from New Mexico to Washington. I think the best place for the Lions to start their new era is in Utah, home of Bryce Canyon National Park. Mountain lions are very prevalent in Bryce Canyon and using one of the most beautiful parts of your state to represent your team is a no-brainer. Utah is also home to quite the football crowd. Between the Utah Utes and BYU Cougars, over 100,000 fans flock to see college players on Saturday. Just think how many people would rush to see a professional football team! Good thing we can offer the next best thing: the Detroit Lions.

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Mississippi Dolphins: It’s only a matter of time before the Dolphins and their opponents are required to wear scuba gear to play in Miami. The sea level is rapidly rising and they need a great new place to play that’s above water, nearby, doesn’t sacrifice tradition, and still appropriately fits the “Dolphin” brand. Believe it or not, Mississippi hits all four of those points right on the bottlenose. Most of Mississippi is still centuries away from worrying about slipping into the Gulf of Mexico, so fans could rest easy knowing their team has found a permanent home. Current Miami residents and fans could even move to Mississippi with relative ease, seeing as they are only two states and a quick 11-hour drive away. And no need to worry about making any major changes to the logo or uniform; in fact, Miami traditionalists could get what they’ve always wanted and see the return of the helmet-wearing Dolphin logo. That logo has represented the team’s greatness from 1966-2012 and will start a new 46-year run in Mississippi. The “M” on the helmet doesn’t even need to be changed. It’s a match made in heaven. What turns this already good plan into a great plan is the fact that the bottlenose dolphin is the official state marine mammal of Mississippi! Dolphins fans could take pride in knowing that their new location already knows what it means to be a Dolphin. As if this is not already a perfect idea, check out this new chant they could start, “M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I Dolphins!” This is such a good fit, Miami should just make the move already before Jacksonville tries to move to Jackson, Mississippi.

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Baton Rouge Giants: Between the good matches that already exist (Houston Texans, New England Patriots) and the new ones above, it’s getting pretty tough to find good homes for new teams. Fortunately we’re not afraid to think outside the box and the Baton Rouge Giants are the epitome of that. I could think of no better place where the Giants could go on another Super Bowl run than in the city that’s home to the country’s most obese population. Baton Rouge’s obesity rate sits at 35.9% and a great football team could turn this stat of shame into a point of pride. Round up to 36% and use it as a benchmark for NFL success. It could be the opposing QB’s completion rate, the opposing offenses’ 3rd down conversion rate, or opposing kickers’ field goal percentage. The fans supporting this defensive success would be aptly-named the “13th man.” When you’re in a city where every fan is the size of two regular people, “12th man” just doesn’t seem to work. In just a matter of years, the Giants will own the entire state of Louisiana by scaring, or more realistically grossing out, the interstate rival New Orleans Saints.Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 10.56.48 PM

Alabama Bills: One of the toughest teams to relocate might be the Buffalo Bills. Their mascot has more to do with their city name than the team name. It could be really easy to just ignore them altogether and make it someone else’s problem. But that’s not right. These franchises need me and I’m up for the challenge. As for the Bills, such a tough task requires a complete organizational overhaul. Throw out the city, the logo, the colors, and everything else besides “Bills,” which we can work with. After extensive research and evaluation of many candidates, Alabama emerged as the best place for the Bills to move. Alabama residents named their babies William (Bill) more than any other name in 2014 and will therefore be raising a generation of fans that will feel directly connected to their team. More importantly, however, this state is dying for an NFL team to root for. High school and college football is so huge there, how can they not have a professional team? They’re the second most populous state without a football team besides Virginia and I don’t even count Virginia because of how close the Redskins are. Alabamians would no longer have to decide between the Titans, Saints, and Panthers to root for. They could start rooting for the Bills, a team that is named after the residents themselves instead of the other way around. Multiple fans could even identify with the team mascot, Bill. He’s a down-to-earth, southern, hard-working, football fan that counts down the days until Saturday. With the Alabama Bills in town, he can now begin counting down to Sunday.

Pumping the brakes on the Dolphins

Should we buy what Miami is selling?

Should we buy what Miami is selling?

Last week I broke down the AFC playoff picture and didn’t give Miami much of a chance to make the playoffs. They didn’t have quality wins (save for New England in week 1) and faced a tough second-half schedule (and still do). But last week they ripped the San Diego Chargers 37-0 for their third straight win, catching the attention of many. Miami = playoff bound? Those are the murmurs I’m hearing this week.

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Where were those headlines before the Chargers game? There’s a reason we didn’t see them and one big win won’t convince me so easily.

Before I say anything else, I have to give the Dolphins credit. In a game I picked as my lock, Miami made me look like a fool for going with the Chargers. I did not see such domination coming. Perhaps they’ll prove me wrong again. But for now, let’s look at things realistically for Miami.

I have to believe at least two teams from the AFC North will make the playoffs, leaving one wildcard spot for seven teams. Even after a big win over one of those teams, they aren’t leading the race. They share the same record as Kansas City, Cleveland, and Buffalo, but are trailing each team due to tiebreaker rules. And you better believe tiebreakers will come into play in such a tight AFC. They’ve already fallen to KC and Buffalo earlier this season.

What is encouraging from the Dolphins is their conference record (4-2) and the fact that they haven’t had any bad losses. A loss is loss of course, but when Miami has had to take care of business–against Jacksonville and Oakland–they have. This makes me pretty confident they can pick up three wins against the Jets (twice) and Vikings.

Miami's remaining schedule.

Miami’s remaining schedule.

The rest of their schedule is full of good teams and brutal road games. They have to go to Detroit this Sunday, Denver in week 12, and New England in week 15. I seriously cannot see them beating the Pats or Broncos on their home turf. Detroit gets Calvin Johnson back, who should only add to the surprising success the Lions are having thus far. If Miami can keep it going and win in Detroit, they could be poised for a run. I don’t see it happening. Luckily for Miami, they don’t necessarily need this game.

They host Buffalo on Thursday night in week 11, an absolute must-win game. They already lost to Buffalo badly in week 2 and cannot afford to drop a home win against a potential wildcard team, not to mention a division rival. Another toss-up comes at home in week 14 against Baltimore, yet another wildcard team they are competing with. If they can pick up these two wins, along with those three “take care of business” games, they’ll find themselves at 10-6, certainly a record good enough to make the playoffs. However, which 10-6 record will be rewarded? The Bills, Chiefs, Chargers, Ravens, Browns, Steelers, or Bengals could all realistically go 10-6 (or Bengals 10-5-1). They all have tough schedules too, but I have to believe we’ll see at least a couple of those teams reach the double-digit mark. If it happens to be the wrong teams, Miami could find itself on the wrong end of the playoff bubble.

Ryan Tannehill has played some of his best football in the past month. Can he keep it up against a fantastic Detroit defense this Sunday?

Ryan Tannehill has played some of his best football in the past month. Can he keep it up against a fantastic Detroit defense this Sunday?

It’s certainly doable. Miami showed us they are fully capable of competing with any team in the NFL with their rout of San Diego. But where was that when they got shellacked by Kansas City (29-10) and Buffalo (34-15)? Are they just now starting to find their groove? We’ll get a good indication against Detroit this weekend.

And what about Ryan Tannehill? After week 3, we were hearing rumors about him getting benched. Now after a few good games against bad defenses, he’s suddenly our new favorite rising star? In Miami’s last four wins, Tannehill has faced the pass defenses of Oakland, Chicago, Jacksonville, and San Diego. All four rank in the bottom third of the NFL in opponent passer rating. Detroit ranks third in that category. Let’s see how he does then.

All I’m saying is, let’s slow down with the Dolphins. Don’t get tricked by one big win. They will not win the AFC East and still face a tough road to a wildcard spot. They still have had troubles playing to their potential, including last season. I’m not buying into Miami just yet, but they have plenty of opportunities ahead to prove me wrong.

Halfway through, first look at AFC playoff picture

Even after a mid-season QB change, the Bills find themselves in a good spot in the AFC wildcard race.

Even after a mid-season QB change, the Bills find themselves in a good spot in the AFC wildcard race.

The second half of the NFL is the best half of the NFL. We think we know who these teams are by now (for the most part) and now the race begins. We’ll take a quick look at the AFC playoff picture as it starts to take form for the first time. Trust me, I am just as interested in the NFC but it is simply too early take a look over there. Spoiler alert: it’s wide open. Not to say the AFC isn’t wide open, which it is, but we can at least take out a few teams to clear up the early picture.

Before the season started, we looked at the AFC and saw three divisions where there was an overwhelming favorite. We couldn’t quite mark them down yet because we at least had to see them play. Well, eight weeks have past and those teams are who we thought they were. The Patriots, Colts, and Broncos are all division winners. Mark it down. In pen. Yes I see you sitting there a game behind, Bills and Chargers. It’s not gonna happen. Have fun fighting for the remaining two wildcard spots. You have company.

On the opposite side of things, there are four teams we can absolutely declare dead. And again, we could have before the season started but, to be “fair” I guess, we gave them a shot. No surprises are to be had here. Take out the Jets, Jaguars, Titans, and Raiders. They’re done.

Before we get into the huge pack fighting for those two wildcard spots, we should talk about the division complicating everything: AFC North. Obviously this remains the last division spot to be filled and could also send a wildcard team, maybe even two. The problem? Without the entire division being tied, the AFC North teams are virtually as tight as they could possibly be. They are so close, in fact, that the division leader Bengals (4-2-1) have less wins than the two teams trailing them (Ravens and Steelers 5-3)! To make matters worse, the team in last (Browns) has a winning record at 4-3. All four teams have a legitimate shot at winning that division. This means, of course, that all four teams also have a legitimate shot at finishing last. I mean, someone has to place last. Moving forward with this playoff picture, we’ll have to keep all four of these teams in the back of our mind as possible division winners, wildcard teams, or last place teams. As more division games take place (Ravens at Steelers this weekend, Browns at Bengals next week), things will start to clear up. For now, we deal with a bit of a complicated, and crowded, pack of wildcard contenders.

All of a sudden, the AFC North is the most exciting division in football.

All of a sudden, the AFC North is the most exciting division in football.

Considering the teams we’ve already knocked out or talked about, there are only five squads remaining in contention for those elusive two wildcard spots: Chargers (5-3), Bills (5-3), Chiefs (4-3), Dolphins (4-3), and Texans (4-4). But again, we are forced to consider those four from the AFC North, making it nine teams in the race. To make the picture a little easier to manage, I break these teams up into three groups. First, we have four teams–Chargers, Bills, Ravens, Steelers–in the lead pack at 5-3, along with Cincy at 4-2-1. These are the teams in the best position as it currently stands. If the season were to end today, the Chargers and Bills would be your two wildcard teams. These teams are in a good spot, but not by much. Right behind them is the “step behind” group, with the 4-3 Chiefs, Dolphins, and Browns. If you want a concise group of teams to watch in the AFC, keep your eye on these three for the next couple weeks or so. Every win one of these teams picks up from here on out will make the AFC that much more competitive. Finally, we have a group with a single member, the 4-4 Texans, who are on the outside looking in. Yes, they only have one more loss than the preceding group, but when they finally hit their bye in week 10, all the other AFC teams will have a chance to gain ground. Remember, with only two teams filling the wildcard, the Texans will need a lot to go their way when they don’t win.

So that’s the picture. Three groups with a bunch of good teams. But what really lies ahead for the AFC? Right off the bat, I have to say that things do not look good for the Dolphins. They face a brutal stretch where six of their next seven games are against teams with at least five wins. This includes games in Detroit, Denver, and New England. Their week 1 win over the Patriots is the sole quality win to this point. Their other wins have come against abysmal Oakland, inept New York Jets, and underachieving Chicago. If the first half of the season has been any indication of who the Dolphins are, then I can’t see any way they make it to the playoffs with what lies ahead.

Success against four manageable teams will put the Browns ahead of the playoff race.

Success against four manageable teams will put the Browns ahead of the playoff race.

The Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals are as much of a toss-up as you can get. Baltimore has looked great but was just swept by the sliding Bengals, and the Steelers are as inconsistent as can be. Good luck figuring them out any time soon. But what about the Browns? We are so used to seeing the big three fight it out year after year that we may overlook the team that we’ve heard for years now is “going to contend soon.” So does Cleveland actually have a shot to take the division? They absolutely do, but would have a much better shot in any other division. They have a crucial four-game stretch where they face teams with four wins or less (aka beatable teams). If they go 2-2 or less in these next four, the wildcard spot becomes their only hope. These are games they need to win. Meetings with the Colts and Ravens still lie ahead. Losing such critical ground in a rabid division such as the AFC North be nearly impossible to recover from. Even a wildcard spot will become difficult to achieve with teams like the Chargers and Bills gunning just as hard.

The eye-test has me loving San Diego more than Buffalo or Kansas City, even though KC just beat the Chargers in week 7. Their running game is eviscerated with injuries, yet Philip Rivers continues to carry the team to win after win. But like Miami, a brutal stretch awaits that has the potential to derail their playoffs hopes. They face Baltimore, New England, Denver, and San Francisco from weeks 13-16. They’ll need to get out of there with at least a couple of wins to secure a wildcard spot. The Chiefs and Bills are a couple teams I’ve been low on for most of the season, but have impressed me with recent wins. They face each other in week 10 in what could be a season-defining game. The winner will own the head-to-head tiebreaker in the case that these two finish with the same record.

So that’s where we stand halfway through the season. Enough drama for you? Just wait, every passing week will yield better and better games. It should have been readily clear that I have no idea how the AFC play out. I guess my gut feeling says we’ll see one AFC North team (pick one) and the Chargers steal those two wildcard spots.

If you thought the first half of the NFL season was good, buckle up.