Posted December 19, 2013

Cover-Two: Biggest question marks for Saints, Seahawks and other division leaders

AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, Cover-Two, NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West, NFL Playoffs

Cincinnati Bengals

Burke: Will Andy Dalton ever earn our trust?

Inevitably, when talking about the Bengals’ chances in any given season, the discussion circles back to Dalton. His 2013 numbers almost identically match those from 2012 (27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions both seasons, a 61.5 completion percentage in ’13 compared to 62.3 last year). And ’12 ended with Dalton laying an egg in a playoff loss to Houston. There have been stretches — like a four-game win streak over the Patriots, Bills, Lions and Jets — where Dalton has found a groove. Cincinnati needs him to do so again in Weeks 16 and 17 and on into the playoffs.

Farrar: Can the defense put things back together without Geno Atkins?

It’s often said that great athletes leave their biggest impression in their absence, and that’s certainly true with Atkins, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle who was lost for the season to a torn ACL in early November. Since his injury, the Bengals’ quarterback pressures have decreased and their missed tackles have increased. Atkins dealt with double teams on nearly every play, and now, those freed-up offensive linemen are hitting other targets. Cincinnati’s defense has covered up Andy Dalton’s flaws at times in the past, but a deep playoff run will be on the offense now more than ever.

Indianapolis Colts

Burke: Is the offensive line good enough?

That Andrew Luck has been sacked only 30 times this season is more a tribute to his ability to feel pressure and escape the pocket than it is any indication of great Indianapolis blocking. The line has been shaky at best, with the Colts often fighting to establish a run-pass balance and Luck running for his life when they take to the air.

As things stand right now, the Colts would have to open the postseason against Kansas City’s ferocious pass rush. Such a matchup would be frightening on paper.

Farrar: Can this playoff team start looking like a playoff team?

The Colts have default playoff positioning due to their status as AFC South champions, but backing into a title atop a really bad division is one thing — taking on the best teams in the postseason is entirely another. And right now, Indianapolis doesn’t look like that type of team. The Colts established a positive point differential with last Sunday’s 25-3 thrashing of the Texans, but they’ve been alternating wins and losses since their three-game win streak ended on Oct. 6. The offense sputters most weeks, the running game is a consistent issue and if this team has to play catch-up on the road — which it would probably have to at some point in the playoffs — it’s not clear that it is equipped to do so. At least Andrew Luck is a bastion of stability no matter where he goes — he has a passer rating of 85.2 at home, and 85.3 on the road.

Denver Broncos

Burke: Will Wes Welker return?

The Broncos signed Welker this past offseason because they felt he was a missing piece on offense, and never have they been proven more correct than when he was out of the lineup last week. Without their reliable slot receiver, Denver’s offense sputtered against San Diego, particularly on third downs (2-of-9).

Peyton Manning’s offense may be without Welker (concussion) in Weeks 16 and 17. A loss either week could drop Denver out of the AFC (and AFC West) lead.

Farrar: Will a patchwork defensive line hold up through the postseason?

Denver doesn’t have a specific timeline on the return of Derek Wolfe, and Kevin Vickerson is out for the rest of the season with a hip injury. The Broncos signed end Jeremy Mincey to fill in, as Mincey had done well for Jack Del Rio when Denver’s current defensive coordinator was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coach. Denver will need Mincey to show that he still has something left in the tank. Denver is ranked 19th against the pass in Football Outsiders’ metrics, and outside of Shaun Phillips and Von Miller, there isn’t much consistent pass rush on the roster. That impacts a Denver secondary affected all season by Champ Bailey’s health issues. The underrated Malik Jackson must continue to be a factor up front.


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19 comments
unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

It's always about the offensive line.  The Seahawks have a great D, but their O line play is weak. They might get to the Superbowl, but wont win it without better offensive line play.

RS1022
RS1022

The authors missed and/or underemphasized the biggest issues facing the two AFC favorites, Broncos. And Patriots...

The Patriots run defense is awful and will be a bigger threat to them than losing Gronk.

Denver's run defense (the only part of their defense that has been solid) is showing cracks lately. If this continues, teams will easily be able to play keep away from Peyton, like how San Diego did last week.

vman73
vman73

LETS ALL FACE IT!!!! SEATTLE SEAHAWKS  HAS EVERYTHING IN THE RIGHT PLACE TO WIN IT ALL!!!!

I CANT SEE ANYONE, AND I MEAN ANYONE BEATING THESE GUYS DOWN THE STRETCH!!! NOT EVEN PEYTON MANNING!!!! THE BRONCOS HAVENT FACE A DEFENSE LIKE THE SEAHAWKS YET,THE SECONDARY IS HANDS DOWN THE BEST THIS LEAGUE HAS SEEN IN A LONGTIME!!!! DREW BREES GOT HELD TO SEVEN POINTS!! IT WOULD HAVE BEEN ZERO IF IT WASNT FOR THE TWO BIG PENALTIES THAT GAVE THE SAINTS 30YARDS ON THEIR ONLY SCORING DRIVE!!!  RICHARD SHERMAN TAKES AWAY HALF THE FIELD AND MAKES IT EASIER FOR THE OTHER DBS TO CONCENTRATE ON THE MIDDLE AND THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FIELD!!! GOOD LUCK TO WHOEVER PLAYS THE SEAHAWKS IN THE SB....

1) #1 defense

2) very balanced offense

3) great special teams

4) a big play qb

5) and to top it all of: HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE...GOOD LUCK TO ALL!!!! 

jim1096
jim1096

Lance Briggs comes back this week and hopefully he anchors the LB's. If the defense is even slightly better, the Bears can score with any team in the league. 

T5
T5

I like it. . .continue to overlook the Panthers!

Funkmaster23
Funkmaster23

No worries, the Seahawks will choke like they always do. Some organizations are just cursed! 

AndrewLynch
AndrewLynch

There was no confusion in the run game during the Vikings Eagles game.  The run game wasn't even worth mentioning if it were not for the three TDs the Vikings got.  The Vikings could not run the ball at all!  It was a lack of pressure on Cassel that allowed long passing plays that exploited Philadelphia's terrible SAFETIES.  That's it.  The three rushing TDs were from one, one and four yards.  Two were the result of being on the one yard line due to pass interference penalties and the third (four yards) the Eagles had pretty much given up by that time.  Please watch the games before making articles.

nortran11
nortran11

True, Seattle's secondary is missing Brandon Browner. BUT...what you forget is BB was clearly not the player he was the years previous. He got benched against Tennessee. The best thing to happen to the Seahawks secondary was Browner getting suspended and opening the door for Maxwell/Lane. Those guys are absolute studs who deserve to be in the starting line up. Maxwell has 3 INTs in the last two games. And yeah....the O-line has given up 36 sacks....however, for most of the season the line was missing 3 of 5 starters.

tehbobb
tehbobb

Give it a week, the Pack will be division leader of the NFC North. A week later they'll clinch the division.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

Look, I was hoping Kelly would lead the Eagles to 6 wins this year (a 50% improvement), so everything from here on out is gravy as far as I'm concerned.  Will I be disappointed if they don't win the NFC East?  Yeah, a little but not really and if they do... they won't get too far in the playoffs anyway.  But, things are definitely trending up for the future. :)

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@vman73 Hawks offensive line is too weak for them to win a high scoring game. Like they might have to win in the Superbowl against the Broncos.

donald5
donald5

@T5  do you understand the concept of "division leaders"

Terry
Terry

@T5 

Do the Panther's lead their division?

Scramble
Scramble

@Funkmaster23They didn't choke in the super bowl, the officials did the choking for them.

SandHills
SandHills

@nortran11 


Nothing wrong with Seahawks o-line that Wilson or Lynch can't overcome.  Now if SanFran or the Saints o-line slips a bit on the Legend of Boom, well it's all over but the crying.