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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The 12% rule: Seahawks, Ravens, and Giants headline a diverse 0-2 field

We all know how tough it can be to bounce back after an 0-2 start, so which teams have a chance to pull off the improbable?
Although Seattle may be wondering what went wrong, an 0-2 start shouldn't worry the Super Bowl runner-ups.

Although Seattle may be wondering what went wrong, an 0-2 start shouldn’t worry the Super Bowl runner-ups. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Throughout the current week, everyone from ESPN to your fun-fact-tweeting friend will remind you of the sobering correlation between 0-2 teams and the playoffs. On the off-chance that you’ve dodged the oft-repeated stat in all your time watching football, let me be the first to clue you in: historically, around only 12% of teams that start 0-2 make it to the playoffs. The reason this trend is so attractive to repeat on television and in casual conversation is because losing the first two games is so easy. It can happen to any team, really. Whether it’s last year’s Super Bowl runner-ups or a team with an injured QB, letting those two games slip by–no matter how slim the margin–drastically reduces that team’s chances of reaching the postseason. Historically, that is.

Unfortunately for the 0-2 hopefuls, we’ve seen this trend hold true over and over. Last year, only one slow-starter (Colts) out of seven clinched the playoffs. The year prior, again only one (Panthers) out of the eight clinched. In 2012, not one of the six could reach the postseason. If we’re keeping count, that’s two 0-2 teams out of 21 (9.5%) that managed to extend their season. Chances are only one of the nine teams below will do the same, if the trend holds.

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The trend makes sense. Most teams that start 0-2 lost those games because they aren’t good teams. But, as noted before, it can strike great teams as well. The Seahawks are perhaps the most notable of these supposedly “great” teams that have dropped their first two. Seattle is considered one of the NFC elite, having won the last two NFC championships and having been a yard away from winning a second straight Super Bowl. Hopes were high again this season for Seattle (I predicted a third-straight NFCN appearance), but the first two weeks have brought two losses.

My gut says they’ll be fine, as most of their wins will come at home. They’ve lost to some pretty tough competition, having to deal with a vicious Rams defense and then Aaron Rodgers, both on the road. Although there are definitely some areas to improve (offensive line, running game), I haven’t seen much that tells me this Seattle team is significantly worse than last year’s. In all likelihood, the Seahawks are the one team–or one of–out of the nine that will make the playoffs.

If there is only one team to make it, that should worry Ravens fans. Baltimore had sky-high expectations coming into this year, hoping an elite defense and great offensive line would propel them to the Super Bowl. The offense had major difficulty moving the ball against Denver in their opening loss, scoring only 13 points on 173 total yards. And yes, I know how good Denver’s defense is but I’m sorry, those are the type of defenses they’ll have to face in a playoff run. They did not look prepared to handle that task at all. The offense looked much better against the Raiders, nearly eclipsing 500 total yards. This time it was the defense that let them down, allowing Derek Carr to pass for over 350 yards and 3 TDs in a 37-33 loss. The bright side in all this is that, like Seattle, both these games were on the road and hopefully not indicative of how this team can perform overall. It wouldn’t surprise me if Baltimore still clinched a playoff spot, but they will have to do so in what looks to be a very competitive AFC North.

The Giants have put themselves in positions to win in two straight games. One of these days they might actually close the deal. Photo credit: ESPN.com

The Giants have put themselves in positions to win in two straight games. One of these days they might actually close the deal. Photo credit: ESPN.com

The polar opposite of a division like that would be the NFC East, where all four teams look to have dire issues of all kinds. This is good news for the Giants and Eagles who’ve both caught the 0-2 bug in their own special ways. If you follow the Giants this week, you’re bound to hear the phrase, “they should be 2-0.” No, they shouldn’t. They’re not 0-2 because of some freak misfortune that caused the ball to bounce one way and not the other. They’re 0-2 because of poor clock management decisions and porous 4th quarter defense. In other words, they lost because they were the New York Giants. Did they have a chance to win both games? Definitely. But to say they should be 2-0 is just plain inaccurate.

What New York can hope for is that they manage these flaws well enough to win some games. Luckily, they’re in a division where every team has problems. If they can just find a way to be the least problematic of those four, their 0-2 start doesn’t have to be a death sentence. They face the Redskins on Thursday night in a game that just became a lot more important after Week 2.

The Eagles are in the same boat division-wise, but they look to be much worse off than the Giants. In two games, they’ve managed to gather a whopping 70 rushing yards. That is disgraceful. I can’t even come up with a comparison that will do justice to how pitiful that number is. And this is the team that nabbed last year’s top running back in the offseason in DeMarco Murray. Their total of 34 points over two games actually seems high after having watched them. Like the Giants, they are blessed to be in a division that may forgive these shortcomings if remedied soon.

Speaking of underperforming offenses, how about the Indianapolis Colts? A popular Super Bowl pick that boasted the 6th-highest scoring offense last season, the Colts rank dead last in scoring after two weeks. How does that happen? Indy added veteran receiver Andre Johnson to complement T.Y. Hilton and also nabbed Frank Gore to improve the running game. Somehow, they only muster up 21 points in their first two games. Although Indy still sits in one of the weakest divisions in the NFL, I feel a lot more confident about the Seahawks’ or Ravens’ chances to rebound in the coming weeks. I have to believe the Colts will figure it out eventually, but they’ve looked downright dysfunctional to start the season.

New Orleans is another team that could benefit from a poor division, but I am honestly just about done with them. I keep holding out hope that a great QB-coach combo can carry the half-decent remains, but I’m let down every time. Last year I took a major chance and penciled them into the Super Bowl only to see them stumble to a 7-9 record. This year I tabbed them as the NFC South division winners, thinking this had to be the year they got back. Even this week I picked them to snap their despicable 5-game home losing streak against a Bucs team that looked abysmal in Week 1. Every time, let down. When will I stop falling for it?

With more than a few surprising 0-2 teams out there this season, our playoff outlook may need some adjusting. Only time will tell which of these teams can buck the trend and which ones drown in the pressure of a bad start.

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Other notes from Week 2:

–What’s going on with the top running backs from last year? I already mentioned the woes of Murray and he’s hardly the only one. LeSean McCoy is averaging around 65 yards per game, 17 less than last year. Marshawn Lynch’s average is down 24 yards and Jeremy Hill’s is down 19 yards. Lamar Miller, a back who gained over 1000 yards last year, is barely getting the ball (23 attempts) and has gained a measly 67 yards in two games. Eddie Lacy, even before getting injured on Sunday night, has been struggling as well. Justin Forsett, along with McCoy, Lynch, and Miller, has yet to reach the end zone. I realize it’s only been two weeks and I expect things to balance out, but it sure is a weird start for the NFL’s elite rushers.

–The Patriots and Packers look to be easily the two best teams in the NFL so far. New England’s offense is getting everything it can out of Gronk and Brady looks to be aging backwards. Rodgers continues to amaze without key players like Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy. And I’m definitely not just saying this because I picked these teams to meet in the Super Bowl………..definitely not.

–A cool catch from this week:

–My pick for this Thursday: Giants over Redskins. Despite the 4th quarter issues, New York has been playing decently well and will hopefully not need late-game smarts to win this one.

A Tale of Two Divisions

Baltimore hosts Cleveland in Week 17 in a potentially season-deciding game. Baltimore won the first matchup on a last second field goal.

Baltimore hosts Cleveland in Week 17 in a potentially season-deciding game. Baltimore won the first matchup on a last second field goal.

In the 2014-15 season of the NFL, we are seeing something pretty unbelievable. Two divisions are polar opposites and could leave us with a playoff mess.

The AFC North and NFC South–almost comically opposite by name–aren’t your ordinary divisions. Unlike your average division with a front-runner or two-team battle, these two divisions still have all four teams in contention. The quality of the contest is where you see the difference. The AFC North is a battle of the best. The Ravens, Steelers, and Browns all sit at 7-4 behind the 7-3-1 Bengals. Cleveland’s 7-4 record is potentially good enough for second in six other divisions, but if the season were to end today, not only would the Browns miss out on the playoffs, but they would finish last in the AFC North.

The NFC South presents a much different kind of race. One more along the lines of “Who wants to win this division least?” It was widely predicted that the Saints would take the division, perhaps with ease. But their season hasn’t gone the way anybody has planned and they now find themselves with an abysmal record of 4-7. Again, most divisions would sit the Saints third or even fourth with a record like that but in the NFC South, they are in second and share the same record as the division leading Falcons. At 4-7, the Saints are in second via a tiebreaker. What’s even more mind-boggling is that last place Tampa Bay, at 2-9, is not only in contention for the first overall draft pick, but can also win the division! Carolina is third at 3-7-1.

Could one of the 4-7 disappointments actually be a division champ? It's either that or someone worse.

Could one of the 4-7 disappointments actually be a division champ? It’s either that or someone worse.

With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, you can see what’s coming. The division winner for the NFC South is bound to have a record within the 6-8 win range. The extreme possibility remains that the division winner could enter the playoffs with a 5-11 record. Five wins. That’s insane. In case you forgot, the entire AFC North has already past that mark and all four teams are still battling for an AFC wildcard spot. In case you’re wondering when the last time all four teams were three games above .500, try never. It’s the first time in NFL history that has happened. And surprise, surprise, they are 10-1-1 against their NFC inverse.

The AFC North is on a collision course of the likes we’ve never seen before. Unlike the NFCS, with all four teams competing for one spot against only each other, the AFCN teams have the three inside the division as well as five others competing for a wildcard spot. It’s going to get messy and you can almost guarantee that a tiebreaker or two will come into play.

A five-win division winner is still very unlikely, but keep an eye on these two anomalies of the NFL. With these two divisions going rogue, we could witness some incredible playoff scenarios. When we do, prepare for at least a one AFC North team to feel slighted. Big time.

Sunday Divisional Playoff Quick Picks (2013-2014)

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NFC Divisional: San Francisco 49ers (12-4) at Carolina Panthers (12-4)

January 12, 2013 FOX 1:05pm

Pick: 49ers

You won’t have to wait long on Sunday to see the best matchup of the weekend. At home, with the 2-seed, and a victory over San Francisco already under their belt, Carolina is the underdog by 1 point. Two of the best defenses in football are putting the over/under at 41.5, the lowest of the four divisional games. As the home dog, you better believe Carolina will play with a chip on their shoulder. They boast quality wins over New Orleans, San Francisco, and New England, not to mention the countless other teams they have crushed. So why do I like the Niners? Jim Harbaugh has his troops locked in. The defense has only allowed an average of 16.2 points a game in their past seven games (all wins) and Colin Kaepernick has only thrown two picks (one of them against Seattle’s defense). In Kap’s first nine games this season, he had four 0 passing TD games. He’s thrown a TD pass, and often more than one, in every game since. In five of the seven games he finished with a passer rating over 100. Get the picture? Kaepernick is on a roll and even when he doesn’t have a great game, like last week at Green Bay, the Niners can win. It’ll be a battle for the ages, but watch Kaepernick have a solid game against a defense that harassed him earlier in the season.

chargers logoDenver-Broncos-Logo

AFC Divisional: San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Denver Broncos (13-3)

January 12, 2013 CBS 4:40pm

Pick: Broncos

San Diego is the biggest underdog of all four games this weekend, but don’t count them out. They’ve already proved they can handle the Broncos at home after a 27-20 victory in Week 15. Just five weeks before, however, Denver topped San Diego on the road 28-20. In both games, San Diego held the ball for over 38 minutes, forced one turnover, and passed for under 200 yards. So what gave San Diego the edge in Week 15? It may have had something to do with the Chargers’ success in the running game on both sides of the ball. In their victory, San Diego held Denver to just 18 rushing yards the entire game, compared to 84 in their defeat. Likewise, San Diego torched Denver on the ground for 177 yards in Week 15 and 131 in Week 10. While Peyton Manning will grab the headlines before and after the game, it will likely be the success of these two ground attacks that determines our winner. As you can see, Denver doesn’t have to out-run San Diego to win, but they do have to put the ball on the ground enough to take some of the pressure off Manning. If San Diego can keep Denver’s running backs at bay while applying pressure to Manning, they can pull off a shocker. I still have to go with the Broncos. Denver has so many offensive weapons that it will be too hard for San Diego to keep up. In one game Eric Decker caught four TD passes, in another Demaryius Thomas caught three, and both Wes Welker and Julius Thomas have had multiple 1+ TD games. Beating Denver once is something, but beating them twice in a row is something else entirely. Peyton Manning won’t let it happen.

Saturday Divisional Playoff Quick Picks (2013-2014)

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NFC Divisional: New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Seattle Seahawks (13-3)

January 11, 2013 FOX 4:35pm

Pick: Seahawks

It’s tough not to think back to Week 13 when Seattle rolled New Orleans 34-7. Seattle looked like the much better team then and they are still the better team now. If the Saints want to advance, it will have to come from the arm of Drew Brees (as always). Brees was held to a season-low 147 yards in that Week 13 matchup, though he managed to avoid throwing any picks. Even if Brees plays a great game, he’ll need an average run defense to contain the best running game in the NFL (allowed 127 rushing yards against Seattle). Even then, they still need to contain the mobile QB Russell Wilson, who threw for 310 yards against the Saints. Can the Saints win? Of course they can, Seattle is vulnerable like everybody else. Having said that, I have to go with the team that owns the best defense (leads NFL in takeaways), the best running game, and the best home field advantage in the league. It may not be the blowout we saw in Week 13, but Seattle has more than enough talent to advance to the NFC Championship.

Colts-NFL-Logo-psd35492new-england-patriots-logo

AFC Divisional: Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at New England Patriots (12-4)

January 11, 2013 CBS 8:15pm

Pick: Patriots

Picking against the Colts makes me feel uneasy, especially after watching them storm back against KC. Indianapolis is on a mission. Luckily for New England, they own the best coach in the NFL, Bill Belichick, and one of the best QBs, Tom Brady. These two guys are the main reason why I’m picking New England. They’ve been here before and they know how to handle the big time. Crippled by injuries from the very start, namely the WR corp, New England still found a way to win 12 games and only needs one more to advance to the conference championship. Even when New England lost, it was only by an average of 4.5 points. The bottomline is that New England is really tough to beat. Even without Gronk, Brady will do what he does best to win, spreading the ball around to keep the defense on their toes. I’m taking New England in a late 4th-quarter victory.

Saturday Wildcard Playoff Quick Picks (2013-2014)

It doesn’t get much better than the NFL playoffs. It’s one the most selective systems in sports, allowing the very best 12 teams a chance to extend their season. Even those who deserve to make it can miss out, isn’t that right Arizona? After one weekend, eight remain. One bad game, one injury, or one missed kick can decide the fate of the entire playoffs. There’s no predicting what can happen. Yet we’ll all try.

I usually like to dive in to the postseason with heavy analysis before the games and break down every possible angle but with how busy–and, admittedly, a little bit lazy–I have been, I’m going to make these picks short and sweet. First, the two Saturday games. Sunday to follow sometime soon.

KC%20ChiefsIndianapolisColtsLogo

AFC Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5)

January 4, 2013 NBC 4:35pm

Pick: Colts

I’m very wary of teams going into the playoffs cold. Kansas City has lost their last two and five of their last seven. To be fair, they sat their starters in a Week 17 loss. However, in Week 16, they did not sit their starters and lost at home. To add insult to injury, they lost against Indy, the very team they have to beat to play another game. At home, and having won four of their last five, I like Indy to sneak by the 5-seed Chiefs. Kansas City can absolutely win this game with the proper adjustments, but Indy knows how to take care of the ball (least turnovers in the AFC) and with a just 1-2 TD passes from Andrew Luck, they should be able to neutralize KC’s scary defense.

 

New-Orleans-Saints-LogoPhiladelphia_Eagles_logo

NFC Wild Card: New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

January 4, 2013 NBC 8:10pm

Pick: Eagles

Boy, do I feel terrible picking against Drew Brees. It feels like I am just asking to get this pick wrong, but I cannot ignore the telling facts: New Orleans has lost their last three road games and when they have won on the road, it has been against non-playoff teams. The short way of putting it: New Orleans is simply not the same team away from the Superdome. Will the fact that this is a playoff game change all that? I guess it could, but football is football. Philly is still going to have a tough time stopping Brees but they will play a little better knowing they have a high-scoring offense and the top rushing game in the league to back them up. It’s hard to imagine Brees losing so soon, but Philly has plenty of weapons too. Expect Nick Foles to rise to the occasion.