2017 NFC East Previews & Predictions

Last year was unprecedented in NFL annals. Never before had we witnessed a team with a rookie QB (Dak Prescott) and a rookie RB (Ezekiel Elliot) lead a team to their division title. Elliot became the 1st rookie rushing champion (1,631 yds) since Edgerrin James in 1999. The Cowboys surprised many with a 13-3 record and a 1st round bye. The question is can the Cowboys repeat that performance now they have lost 2 members off The Great Wall II??

Keep in mind last year was the second time this line paved the way for the NFL’s rushing champion in the last 3 years. The last time The Chancellor can remember that happening dates back to the late 80’s with the LA Rams with Eric Dickerson and Charles White. That was so long ago the Rams left Anaheim, spent a generation in St Louis, and now returned to LA. RT Doug Free retired and LG Ron Leary signed with Denver.

With All Pro LT Tyron Smith an immovable object teams may flip their speed rushers against the Cowboys to go against La’el Collins. He’s taking over for Doug Free and is learning on the fly how to be an NFL tackle. Look for combo blitzes to the right probing for weakness in Collins. Also to see if a strong rush in Prescott’s face will cause him to pull the ball down disrupting the rhythm of their passing game.

Unlike any other unit in football, the offensive line has to learn to play together. Hence every unit practices their timing and explosion off the ball blocking on a 7 man sled. This could be a significant blow to Dallas offensive timing.

2017 NFC East Predictions

New York Giants 12-4**

Philadelphia Eagles 10-6

Dallas Cowboys 7-9

Washington Redskins 4-12

Do you realize the Giants are returning with last year’s 10th ranked defense, which held Dallas to 26 combined points, sweeping them in 2016?? Even though the Giants were 29th in offensive time of possession they were the NFL’s #3 defense against the run. Then they nabbed DT Dalvin Tomlinson in the 2nd round out of Alabama. This was a Giants strength not a statistic manipulated by scheme.

Casillas should be even better in his 2nd year in New York.

If they can get a stronger push inside, Olivier Vernon (8.5 sacks) and Jason Pierre Paul (7 sacks) should thrive crashing the pass pocket. This plays hand in hand with the Giants ability to cover with CBs Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. New York could field a lethal defense in 2017.

Did you know the Illadelphia Iggles were in every game last year?? Of their 9 losses, 7 of those were decided by a touchdown or less.. including two 1 point losses. What about their 6-2 home record and 1-7 record on the road?? With so much attention on the Cowboys and Giants last year, this is a team waiting to surprise with a little improvement.

The Eagles gambled in letting go of DE Conner Barwin and selecting Derek Barnett out of Tennessee in the 1st round. They needed to make a move to add pop to the defense instead of just a steady unspectacular roster.What they lose in experience they gain in explosion. In fact the Iggles spent the 1st 3 draft picks to improve a defense that ranked 13th last year. Although they have to hold their breath that both rookie CBs Sidney Jones (2nd / Washington) and Rasul Douglas (3rd / West Virginia) have to fill the void of last year’s starters being let go.

Wentz looks like the real deal and will have a breakout 2017.

If Carson Wentz can develop into the QB this pundit believes he can, he will take a step up here in year 2. The signing of wideout Alshon Jeffrey gives him the big intermediate target to move the chains. Lagarrette Blount was supposed to come in and lend power between the tackles. However he may lose out to Wendell Smallwood as the starting RB and Darren Sproles is still a weapon on 3rd downs. The Eagles are steady and will win very boring grind it out games this season… TBT thinks 10 boring games at the most.

Which brings us back to Dallas where the unfair suspension of Elliott still stands at 6 games. What many Cowboy fans are forgetting is if this suspension stands he cannot be at practice or attend any meetings for over a month and a half. That is a bad combination when you’re missing 40% of last year’s line and your touches are limited in the preseason. He may not get in synch with the OLine until the last few games of the season.

Dallas is still rebuilding a defense which ranked in the middle of the pack at 14th and rookie DE Taco Charlton has flashed brilliantly this preseason. LB Jaylon Smith looks like he has fully healed from his gruesome knee injury. We’ve only seen Smith sparingly but he looks as explosive as he was with the Fighting Irish.

Right now Dallas just needs progress out of a completely revamped secondary. Too many questions to bank on this year. Coupled with the Elliot suspension and the additional pressure on being “the hunted” the Cowboys will lose more than double the games they did last year. It will be interesting to see how Dak Prescott fares now that defensive coordinators have a year of game film on him. What happens if he doesn’t have the NFL’s best running game to lean on this year?? It’s 2018 where this Super Bowl plan will have to manifest itself.

Right now the Washington Redskins are in disarray. How do you have Kirk Cousins complete 68% of his passes for 9,083 yards and 54 touchdowns in the last 2 seasons and let all his receivers go?? Not signing him to a long term deal then allowing 2 – 1,000 yd receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon go. By setting him up to prove himself again after jettisoning off his weapons, you set yourself up to fail and i cant see where Washington is going.

Which brings us back to the Giants from Gotham City. They are easily the most intact and proven defense in the division and Eli Manning is due for a bounce back year. The acquisition of veteran wideout Brandon Marshall, a veteran starving for a title in the twilight of his career, could be the grounding that diva Odell Beckham needs as the playoffs near. With 101 receptions 1367 yards and 10 TDs, Beckham is still the dynamic playmaker for this team, he needs to grow up and make the game the focus come January and not his antics.

Aside from veterans in Beckham’s ear  what is forgotten is Eli Manning is now the grizzled veteran QB in the NFC East. He has weapons and a defense that will keep him in close games all year where Eli can win them in the end. Keep in mind Manning has thrown for the most yards (4,933 yards) and had the lowest ranked defense (27th) when he won his last Super Bowl. This year he might have the NFL’s best defense and if he improves on his 4,027 yards 26Tds and 16 interceptions of a year ago, a Super Bowl trip to Minnesota could be in the making. Now many writers and pundits have come to this blog for years and we have told you several times about Eli. Just remember…The Chancellor kept telling you he would get a 3rd Super Bowl and this looks like the year.

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The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Offensive MVP: Derek Carr

One of the reasons the NFL playoffs lacked any real sizzle was the loss of Derek Carr and the anemic way the Raiders season drew to a close. Arguably the best team in the AFC lost their chance when a Trent Cole sack rendered Carr’s leg broken in the 4th quarter of the 15th game. Did you know the Raiders were averaging 27 points per game before the injury yet could only score 20 in the last 2 games combined?? Not only could the Raiders not gain a 1st down the rest of the Colts game but the ability to convert dropped from 21.4 per game down to 13.

Carr's play was transcendent in 2016.

Carr’s play was transcendent in 2016.

In 2016 Carr channeled his inner George Blanda as he led eight come from behind wins in the 4th quarter or overtime. Eight! They were 6-1 on the road with him as he tossed game winning passes in 4 of the 1st 5 to begin 5-0 away from the Coliseum. The Raiders were in line to achieve home field advantage and had the most daring performer of the season taken from them.

Carr & Murray are poised to race to Super Bowl LII.

Carr & Murray are poised to race to Super Bowl LII.

Carr completed 63.8 % of his passes (357 of 560) for 3,937 yards 28TDs with just 6 interceptions. This was on the heels of achieving Pro Bowl status in 2015 when he had gone 350 of 573 for 3,987 yards 32 TDs yet threw 13 picks.

Here at Taylor Blitz Times we have charted his growth and this is one of the future faces of the NFL. His injury not only cast a pall over the playoffs but was the only reason we heard Aaron Rodgers heroics at the end of the year. Rodgers had a 6 game winning streak of stellar play where Carr dominated all year long. Had Carr avoided that injury odds are they would have won the finale in Denver and finished 7-1 on the road. If the Patriots would have won home-field based off tie breaker scenarios, who would have been better equipped to go into New England than Carr with all his 4th quarter road wins??

The winner of the 2nd Taylor Blitz Times Offensive Player of the Year is David’s younger brother…. Derek Carr.

Honoarable Mention: Dak Prescott & Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys

Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott are the NFC odds on favorite for Super Bowl LII.

How could you not have the 2 super rookies who infused Jerry World with a glimpse of their future?? While it’s true the heart of the Cowboys is The Great Wall II offensive line we first told you about back in 2014, Elliott and Prescott played within themselves and stretched what can be expected of rookies moving forward.

Where most rookie runners hit the rookie wall right before Thanksgiving,”Zeke” never did. He faced tough defenses in New York, Minnesota, Detroit, and Washington who were all playing for their playoff lives. They kept him from breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808 yards. However his 1,631 yards allowed Elliott to become the first rookie to lead the NFL in rushing since Edgerrin James in 1999.

His vision patience and timing have combined with the front wall to give the Cowboys a flashback to the Emmitt Smith and original Great Wall of 1990’s fame. His low center of gravity allow him to plow through most tacklers and fall forward. An effective tactic to keep the chains moving. He helped the Cowboys chew up the clock and keep opposing teams off the field, which protected Dallas’ defense. His future looks bright with several years in front of him.

The truth of the matter is Elliott was able to share the pressure heaped upon he and Prescott. All Dak did was complete 67% of his passes for 3,667 yards 23TDs with only 4 interceptions. Where the running game kept down and distance manageable, he was able to fire upon defenses selling out to stop the run. However he came of age in the 34-31 playoff loss at home to the Packers. He brought the Cowboys back twice in that game when Green Bay was geared to stop the pass. Down 21-3 he calmly fired 2 shots to get them back in the game 21-10… the last pass a 40 yard scoring play to Dez Bryant.

The new Big 3 in Prescott, Dez, and Zeke.

The new Big 3 in Prescott, Dez, and Zeke.

Amid the pressure of being down to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers he brought them back from a 28-13 deficit… scoring 3 times to tie it 31-31. The came Rodgers miracle throw. However when the pressure was on Prescott to perform without the comfort of having the lead and leaning on his running game, he showed the NFL playoffs weren’t too big for him. Pundits and Cowboy haters waited for the cool veneer to wear off and waited for rookie mistakes to emerge. When they didn’t in the playoff loss to Green Bay, Cowboy haters better brace themselves for Elliott & Prescott are poised for a 5-7 year run in Dallas. They truly helped shape the season.

So there you have it… the first recipient of our Offensive MVP was Cam Newton in 2015 followed by Derek Carr in 2016. Along with the 2 headed monster in Dallas…these are the future faces of the NFL.

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2016 NFC Divisional Playoff: Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys

One of the biggest misnomers NFL brass has told the public is the phrase “It’s a quarterback driven league.” To that avail The Chancellor of Football has always countered “the game is won on the line of scrimmage.” Well today those axioms collide when the streaking Packers take a trip to Jerry World for today’s divisional match-up.

mccarthy-rodgersTruth be told one of the best things to happen for Aaron Rodgers in this year’s playoffs is to get away from Lambeau Field and into these temperature controlled domes where his play can flourish.  Close your eyes and think of Rodgers greatest playoff games…they’ve all come in domes.

In 2009 he threw for 423 yards and 4 TDs in a 51-45 overtime loss in the desert of Arizona. He followed that up on the march to Super Bowl XLV when he torched Atlanta in the Georgia Dome 48-21. In that one he was 31 of 36 for 366 yards throwing for 3 scores. Two weeks later he lit up the Steelers for 304 yards and 3 TDs in Jerry World to bring home the Lombardi. Rodgers game is never going to go 3 straight cold weather playoff games to the Super Bowl and he has to get out of Lambeau Field in January to get the Packers there.

Before last week, even all his Hail Mary’s had taken place in domes on the road and make no mistake he is the only way Green Bay wins this football game.

elliottWhen it comes to winning the game on the line of scrimmage, no one has illustrated this better than the Cowboys offensive line. In October 2014 The Chancellor of Football christened this group The Great Wall II as they have now paved the way for a 2nd rushing champion in Ezekiel Elliott. His 1,631 yards were buoyed by a 28 carry 157 yard performance at Lambeau that shapes the heart of this game.

Back in October C Travis Frederick, G Zack Martin, Ronald Leary, T Doug Free & Tyron Smith paved the way for 33 attempts and 191 yards rushing. This was also the game where Dak Prescott (18 of 27 for 247 yds 3TDs & 1 ints) proved he was no fluke out playing Rodgers (31 of 42 294 yds 1 TD & 1 ints) while only being sacked twice. When they line up with 2 backs and especially 2 TEs, Dallas wins on early downs. They wear out the defense and keep Prescott in manageable 2nd and 3rd down situations.

matthewsThis is where the game boils down to is Aaron Rodgers has to start hot and establish an early lead and force Prescott to throw. If they can do this and effectively take the ball out of Elliott’s hands they can control the tempo and make the Cowboys press on offense. Then Dom Capers can unleash Clay Matthews and show the exotic packages that have doomed young quarterbacks at this juncture of the playoffs.

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Not only is Green Bay 20th against the rush but they are 0-2 this season when facing a top 10 rushing attack. Who are those two teams?? Dallas ranked 2nd and Atlanta ranked 5th. In the NFL its hard to repeat an earlier performance however when you can knock your opponent back, that gameplan can travel.

Much like Emmitt Smith and the first Great Wall, we’ll have to go with Ezekiel Elliott and this one in this matchup. Dallas will win 37-24.

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The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times MVP Preview: Derek Carr Leads The Charge

The mid-point of the season is a large enough sample size for us to assess what is taking place. Youth has not only served this season its starred. You’d have to go all the way back to the quarterback class of 1983 and the arrival of Eric Dickerson to find another where young players had this type of league wide impact. As twilight descended on the career of Peyton Manning and soon will for Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the emergence of the next generation of stars is upon us.

Carr & Mack have a lot to celebrate so far in 2016.

Carr & Mack have a lot to celebrate so far in 2016.

Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders: Easily the leading candidate for NFL MVP. No player has put a stamp on the 2016 season as the signal caller out in Oakland. Today he frosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense for a team record 513 yards and 4 touchdowns on 40 of 59 passing. The team is 5-0 on the road where Carr threw a game winning touchdown in every one of them.

Carr is on pace to complete 66% of his passes for 5,305 yards 39TDs and just 7 interceptions.  Last year’s performance (350 of 573  3,987 yds 32 TDs / 13 ints) marked him as an up and coming superstar and he is growing by leaps and bounds every week. He only faces 3 top 10 defenses in his final 8 games and 3 of them are 24th, 30th, and 31st against the pass. Today he overcame his team setting a league record with 23 penalties and kept on firing. This is not a fluke… Carr is growing  and could be Taylor Blitz Times MVP for 2016.

Brady’s suspension has him on a tear to start his 2016.

Tom Brady – New England Patriots: How can one player come back from suspension and instill fear in the rest of the NFL?? Well look no further as the Patriots drew and quartered the Buffalo Bills 41-25 to avenge an earlier loss to their division rival. On a game circled on the schedule after the Bills won 16-0 four weeks ago. With the chance to sweep New England and cast doubt the Patriots are still the leaders of this division….well… Brady led Belichick’s bunch on scoring drives on 5 straight possessions and goodbye.

The team is 7-1 and on a 4 game winning streak and headed into their bye week where Brady can hone his skills even more. In the 4 weeks since his return from suspension Brady has thrown 12 TDs and 0 interceptions. He has already gunned down Pittsburgh and aside from a game against Seattle, they’ll face Denver in week 16 in a game what could decide home field advantage. He is going for history as he wants to tie Bart Starr with the most rings for a starting QB with 5. Only Father Time, who is due to arrive at any moment, looks to be the only defense Brady can’t outrun. Until then… Brady is an MVP candidate.

Dak Prescott & Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas Cowboys: With the Philadelphia Eagles vanquished in primetime 29-23, it propelled the Cowboys into the NFC East lead with a 6-1 record. A sixth straight win and 2 game lead in the division has signaled the end of the Tony Romo era.

Prescott has shown leadership while knocking off a 3rd straight team that figures prominently in the upcoming playoffs. The rookie is currently ranked 7th of all starting quarterbacks with a 99.6 rating. He’s thrown for 1,773 yards 9 TDs with only 2 interceptions.  He broke Tom Brady’s record for most attempts to start a career without an interception extending it to 176.  All while breathing confidence in the offense with the aid of running mate Elliott.

The NFL’s leading rusher with 799 yards is still on pace to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808 yards. His physical style along with The Great Wall 2  offensive line establishes dominance and an attitude that permeates the entire team. The synergy between Elliott & Prescott has allowed each to take the pressure off the other. It’s even picked up the defense which ranks 11th where last year with similar personnel ranked 17th. Now that we’ve made it to the halfway point of the season its time to assess things for what they are regardless of rookie status. Which is why these two have to be considered as Co-MVPs at this point of the season.

These are the men who have made the first half of the 2016 season. Thanks for reading and please share the article.