Could Carolina Clinch Its First Super Bowl?

Following the New England Patriots loss against the Denver Broncos, the Carolina Panthers are the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL. The team had a solid season in 2014 with a 12-4 record but this year the Panthers are experiencing their best season in franchise history. With its Thanksgiving stomping of the Dallas Cowboys, the Carolina Panthers have joined the elite club of a dozen teams in the history of the NFL that have started a season with a record of 11-0.

Despite releasing Pro Bowl defender Greg Hardy (for good reason), the Panthers have been unfazed. The team boasts one of the strongest defenses in the NFL this season with quality play coming from the likes of star Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly and cornerback Josh Norman. Now Sports Illustrated reports that the team has signed an additional cornerback in veteran Cortland Finnegan. He is best known for his fiery temper and had been punished multiple times for unnecessary roughness prior to retiring from the Miami Dolphins in March 2015. He will act as a replacement for Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman, who has been sidelined for the last two games as a result of a knee injury and is expected to take several more weeks to return to action.

The surprise success of the Carolina Panthers has also given the team it’s best shot at winning the Super Bowl since its only appearance in the big game back during the 2003 season. Those looking to make sense of this year’s absolutely insane NFL season can find some tips on Betfair Betting concerning the team’s potential for a championship. So far, the site has the team currently listed as the second favourites to win the Super Bowl, hot on the heels of the reigning champs, the New England Patriots. Given the current performance of both teams, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to see a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII this year.

The fact that Carolina is even in the discussion for the Super Bowl and that Cam Newton is being considered an MVP candidate has taken many by surprise. That’s especially true when you consider that despite the team’s unbeaten streak, the Panthers are statistically the worst team to ever achieve an 11-0 record. While the 2014 season wasn’t a bad year for the Panthers by any means, few fans expected the team to perform at the level they have, much less remain undefeated this late into the season.

The team has had a noticeably easy schedule and the only particularly tough games have been against the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. Add in the relatively weak competition coming from the NFC South, and you’ve pretty much got a guaranteed playoff spot for the Panthers. In fact, the only way that Carolina doesn’t win the NFC South outright would be if they proceeded to lose their next five games in a row. Even then, the worst that could happen could be a tie for first with the Atlanta Falcons.

Author bio: This is a guest post by Brian Evans. He’s an online freelance writer who can’t get enough of the NFL this year and hopes to see Carolina vs. New England in the Super Bowl

Bouncing Back: Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars

The Jaguars seem to be in that constant “rebuilding” phase. After seven wins in the past two seasons, it’s about time they used some of the promising building blocks that are in place to assemble some wins. So can they turn things around?

The Draft

Despite many excellent picks, the 2015 Jaguars’ draft class is facing an uphill battle to be considered successful. This is due to the fact that their first round pick Dante Fowler Jr. has already torn his ACL without playing a single down in the NFL. Hopefully he can still live up to the potential he clearly has, but he won’t have much of an influence on the 2015 season. On the other side of the ball, T.J Yeldon is primed to play a large role in the Jaguars’ backfield. The 2nd round selection out of Alabama, is believed to have already been earmarked as the potential workhorse back for this offense. While Denard Robinson could be effective as a change-of-pace back, the former “Offensive Weapon” showed last season that his production won’t hold up to a high number of carries week after week. 3rd round pick AJ Cann could start from day one. The rest of the draft brought them more potential starters, and DT Michael Bennett (6th round pick), was considered a potential 2nd rounder by many analysts. General manager David Caldwell seems to be getting the hang of this NFL Draft thing.

Free Agency

It’s difficult for teams like the Jaguars to be successful in free agency. The top free agents want to go to teams that win. Losing teams need to pay a premium if they want to swing a deal for one of these players. It’s a tax on losing games. This tax was surely a factor in the Jaguars missing out on Demarco Murray, and having to fork out over $20 million in guaranteed money to tie down Julius Thomas. Thomas was a touchdown machine in Denver, but this Jaguars offense is a totally different animal. He’ll be vital in turning around his new team’s dismal red zone numbers, and he’ll also play a big part in the development of Blake Bortles. They need him to be the same Julius Thomas we saw in Denver, but that’s no guarantee. Defensive end Jared Odrick, offensive tackle Jermey Parnell, and center Stefen Wisniewski were also solid additions, but they were forced to overpay.

The Competition

Unfortunately for the Jaguars, they seem to be on the rise at the same time as almost everybody else in the AFC South. Unless Bortles miraculously becomes an elite passer in the next few seasons, it’s unlikely that they will finish above Andrew Luck’s Colts in the foreseeable future. The Texans are another team that will be tough to beat, if they can salvage consistent quarterback play from Brian Hoyer, or Ryan Mallett. The Titans shouldn’t pose much of a threat this season while Marcus Mariota adjusts to the NFL. They face a resurgent AFC East (Although as it stands they’ll be facing Jimmy Garoppolo in September instead of Tom Brady), and an NFC South that was historically bad last season. Most of their wins will still need to come from games against the Titans, and those against weak teams in other divisions.

The Good

  • Blake Bortles showed flashes of franchise quarterback play last season, and his passing mechanics are seemingly better than ever at OTAs after spending last season getting beaten up behind a shaky offensive line.
  • A strong core of young players should set the Jaguars up for a bright future. They have a young stable of pass-catchers, and the last couple of drafts under David Caldwell should give Jaguars fans some hope.
  • The defensive line should remain one of their largest strengths, despite the loss of Dante Fowler Jr.
  • They’re getting back an experienced defensive leader in the form of Paul Posluszny.

The Bad

  • The offensive line was among the worst in the league last season, particularly in pass protection. The new additions to the roster need to make an instant impact if they want Bortles to survive a second season in this league with all his internal organs intact.
  • The Jaguars secondary only had 3 interceptions last season. The additions of Davin House, and Sergio Brown, might help in some way, but the development of the young secondary from last season is the real key to improving these numbers.
  • The youth of this roster is a double-edged sword. The future does indeed look bright, but this roster just isn’t ready to compete at the highest level right now.
  • Their helmets are still two-tone abominations.

The Verdict

Taking these factors into account, it’s easy to see these Jaguars taking a step forward this season. However, the playoffs will almost certainly be out of reach for the eighth season in a row. Getting double their number of wins from last season is a reasonable expectation for this team. Playoff hopes should become more concrete in 2016.

Predicted Record: 6-10

IAFL Week 6 Previews

photo by John Whealan
We were wandering around NFL-Ireland towers this week and we thought to ourselves ‘Don’t we usually have previews done by now’ and then we remember this happened…
11124561_10204517621432772_7889429858869571324_n
This is Scott Morrow and he normally writes our previews and someone broke his leg for him playing football. We wish Scott a speedy recovery and ask you to bear with us as we try to live up to the very fine writing he normally produces here.

Week 6 Shamrock Bowl Conference
North Kildare Reapers @ UL Vikings

UL Sports Grounds 1pm
The first of a Kildare verses Limerick double header this weekend as Reapers North and Soldiers South head to UL to face Vikings 1st and 2nds. North Kildare are coming off a very tough loss to the Trojans but the manner of the loss rather than the method was the tough part. Not a first down all day and 36 points going the other way makes for a mentally punishing day as well as a physically punishing one; as it often is against the Trojans. They won’t find the Vikings in an any more forgiving a mood. UL have 3 wins in the bag and all against division foes. They will likely guarantee themselves a playoff spot with a win in this game and thus having beaten everyone in the division will possess a psychological advantage to boot. UL put the Rhinos to the sword in their last outing and will be attempting to do the same to the Reapers this weekend, taking them into the midseason unbeaten. It will be an uphill battle for the Reapers to get a win out of this game but if they are to stand a chance they will need to rebound from last weeks demolition. Short of confidence is never description applied to the Kilcock crew and they will arrive in Limerick ready for the fight that awaits.

South Dublin Panthers @ Carrickfergus Knights

Carrickfergus RFC 2pm
Carrickfergus have set a strong tone in their sole outing so far this year. Defeating Northern Neighbours, the Cowboys, they were impressive on offence racking up 5 TDs and in a game that was well won only allowing 2. The Panthers inversely have yet to get going on offence failing to score a touchdown so far. Opening their season with both of last years Shamrock Bowl finalists would have been a tough ask for anyone and the Panthers, although going down to 5 scores to the Trojans, brought Trinity to the wire. Relying on your defence will only get you so far though and the offence will need to begin producing drives and scores soon. Carrickfergus will see this as an opportunity to be 2-0 in the division before the sterner tests of the Trojans and Rebels later in the year and will look to take momentum into those games.

Craigavon Cowboys @ Dublin Rebels

Seapoint Rugby Club 2pm
The Rebels Offence has hit the ground running putting up 6 scores in 2 games. Missing Simon Mackey hasn’t slowed them down with Kevin Finnegan picking up the mantle and rushing with it to 3 of those touchdowns. The defence on the other hand has gone uncharacteristically soft giving up a big lead to Trinity and allowing some vital scores against UCD. The Rebels would be the first to tell you this isn’t what they expect of themselves and will look to put a stop to it here and now. The Rebels have one of the toughest schedules out there and will know they can’t throw away another game with the Trojans looking in top form and UL dominating. Craigavon, although giving up a big score to the Knights, will feel they’re better than that result showed. They have some excellent offensive threats and given the recent fragility of the Rebels defence will feel confident they can get some joy out of their offensive weapons. Defensively they will know it needs to be better. The Rebels are flying on offence and if they get going early could be very tough to stop. The Cowboys will have to come out all guns blazing on Defence to slow them down, stay in the game and put the Rebels in another tight game.

IAFL 1
Mullingar Minotuars @ Cork Admirals

Dolphin RFC 2pm
These two teams couldn’t have gotten off to a more different start. Mullingar would have been considered favourites taking on the Mavericks in their first IAFL1 outing. Dundalk impressed and Mullingar floundered with an under strength side. Cork on the other hand were expecting a tough outing away from home against a Wolves side regrouping after relegation from the SBC. Cork excelled, QB Stephen Hayes put on an air show and Nick Coffi proved impossible to cover, yet again. The trip to Cork isn’t an easy one and not to be ignored for Mullingar will be the preparation for the game as much as the game itself. Cork, on their first outing in Dolphin RFC, will take their expanded squad and look to further solidify themselves as the favourites for promotion to the SBC. Mullingar will look to turn their fortunes around by taking the scalp of the team most have marked on their calendars and force themselves back into the conversation following a bad start.

Tyrone Titans @ Dundalk Mavericks

DKIT 2pm
When we did our season preview we predicted that the Mavericks would finish sixth and the Titans fifth. After just one week they’ve shown us what we know. Both took victory over IAFL1 vets and did it by some margin. They renew their rivalry now in pastures new. Following the opening week both will fancy themselves as playoff contenders and as much as this rivalry matters to both the victory will matter that much more. The Titans are 3-0 in this matchup but Dundalk have made strides since the last outing and they’ve become progressively tighter games each time. Dundalk will feel confident at home and the Titans are riding an 8 game win streak; if you’re in the area this will be the one to watch.

IAFL 2
South Kildare Soldiers @ University of Limerick Vikings 2nds

UL Sports Grounds 4pm
The last game of the weekend and the 2nd in the Kildare verses Limerick Double Header. So much of development football is about learning and the Soldiers will have an opportunity to get a great look at one of the very best out there. The 2nds team of UL possess some of their best talent and some of this team will have already played games against Spanish opposition earlier in the year and in the College Championship. The Soldiers are in year 2 and should be ready to be more efficient and better organised both sides of the ball. Recent new startups, Reapers, Wolves, Titans and Mavericks have show how good you can get in a short space of time and the Soldiers should be using this year to prepare themselves to compete in next years IAFL1. They will get a great opportunity this weekend to compete with a team at the highest level.

NFL Wildcard Sunday – Betting Preview

 

The first two games of Wildcard Weekend are in the books, with the Panthers rolling over the Cardinals, while Baltimore went into Pittsburgh and pulled out the upset thanks to another impressive defensive display. Onto the next batch of games, with plenty of opportunities available, and a better showing needed tonight on our part.

CINCINATTI BENGALS @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

First and foremost AJ Green will be a huge miss for the Bengals. The former Georgia man is set to miss out with a concussion, so look for running back Jeremy Hill to feature heavily, as the Marvin Lewis team looks to control the game through their running attack and defence. During the eight weeks where Hill handled 17-plus touches this season, the Bengals went 7-1.

Indianapolis will no doubt have replayed the tape of their 27-0 beat down of this same Bengal squad from earlier this year numerous times this week. Again the Bengals were AJ Green-less then, and it could be even harder for Andy Dalton with it all on the line now. In his three career playoff games, Dalton is 70-of-123 (56.9%) for 718 yards (5.84 YPA) with a 1:6 TD-to-INT ratio, without notching a win.

The Colts two post-season games a year ago saw a combined 154 points, but with some health problems for both units, this might not be as wild as predicted. TY Hilton was hampered down the stretch with a hamstring, while Dwayne Allen and Reggie Wayne also struggled with niggles. With no run game to speak of, it will once again all be on the shoulders of the former #1 pick from Stanford, Andrew Luck.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Main Selection: Cincinnati +4 pts @ 10/11 (Various) – If Jeremy Hill can have success and keep Dalton in manageable third down situations, the Bengals may be able to get a strong foothold in this game. A field goal game either way sees the bet click.

First Touchdown: Jeremy Hill @ 7/1 (BetVictor, Coral, Hills) – The former LSU man has to carry the Bengal squad today and is an obvious choice to cross first, if the coin toss falls our way.

Additional Selections: Jeremy Hill over 19.5 rush attempts @ 10/11 (Lads) – Keeping on the same theme, for Cinci to win Andy Dalton has to hand it off. Hill must see over 20 carries.

DETROIT LIONS @ DALLAS COWBOYS

Arguably the game of Wildcard weekend as Dallas hosts Detroit in a strength v strength encounter. DeMarco Murary led the league in rushing during the regular season, but he meets a stern Detroit front that finished No. 1 in run defense and No. 1 in yards-per-carry allowed (3.17). The Lions have also been boosted by the news that Ndamukong Suh will be available after having his ban overturned.

Don’t expect the Cowboys to deviate from their gameplan too much despite the tough opposition. Murray is very adept at grinding out the ‘dirty yards’ as put by coach Jason Garrett, which helps open things up for Tony Romo who forced himself into MVP contention with a lights out December. In fact Romo led the NFL in 2014 in completion percentage (69.9%), touchdown rate (7.8% of his throws went for a score), yards per attempt (8.5), and quarterback rating (113.2).

For Detroit’s offence it all comes down to Matthew Stafford. While he has put up nice numbers over his career with the help of Calvin Johnson, Stafford is 0-17 against teams that ended with winning records on the road. Will he be able to get it down with all the marbles on the line?

RECOMMENDATIONS

Main Selection: Detroit Lions +6.5 @ 10/11 (Various) – As a Cowboy fan hopefully its straightforward, but from a logical view this game could well turn into another shootout with the offensive weapons on display. In that scenario, it could well be a field goal or two that seals it either way.

First Touchdown: Cole Beasley @ 16/1 (BetVictor) – Beasley has turned into Wes Welker lite this season, working the middle of the field very well and starting a nice rapport with his quarterback.

Additional Selection – Lance Dunbar over 15.5 Rush & Receving Yards @ 10/11 (Lads) – Dunbar gets some work as the third down and passing back. The screen game could be useful to keep the Detroit pass rush at bay and one screen pass to Dunbar could very well see this bet land.