Now that the Hurricanes have emerged from the halfway mark of their season, it’s time for the ProCanes to follow suit. The NFL playoff picture is coming into focus as the league approaches the middle of the regular season, with teams still in it to win their respective divisions and make some noise in the wildcard push. In the case of those who have been struggling, this should be the time they send some scouts to Coral Gables, Florida, to find some help for the future. So with no delay, let’s jump into the preview.
Philadelphia Eagles vs Jacksonville Jaguars 1 PM EDT (At Wembley Stadium)
Who are the Jacksonville Jaguars? Are they still the AFC contenders that we thought they were last season, coming up just short against New England? Or are they the team that has struggled to put up points on offense, scoring just 28 points while allowing 90 points in their past three games. This week will help to cure the identity crisis that the cats of North Florida seem to be ailing from.
Calais Campbell has continued to play well along the defensive line for the Jags. The defensive end’s totals are lower at this point in the season than they were in 2017 with four sacks, 32 tackles and seven TFL compared to 2017’s 10 sacks, 32 tackles and six TFL. As much as personal success means for his bottom line, big No. 93 is likely more concerned with finding a way to slow down the Eagles this week. Philadelphia has struggled to find a running game after RB Jay Ajayi was placed on Injured Reserve a few weeks back. This means that Jacksonville should be able to spend more time focusing on rushing QB Carson Wentz, who is dealing with a sore back — probably from carrying the offense. After the Jaguars have given up an average of 200 passing yards over their last three games, it’s time for Jacksonville to get back on track against the reigning Super Bowl champs.
We have not forgotten about everyone’s favorite ProCane offensive lineman, Brandon Linder. Pro Football Focus grades the center as sixth among all starters at the position, with a grade of 76.3. We’re not sure what the word is on Ereck Flowers winning the competition for the Jaguars at one of the tackle spots, but the former first rounder appears to be content with having changed settings after a tumultuous end with the New York Giants.
New York Jets vs Chicago Bears 1PM EDT
Everyone and their grandma is talking about the rookie class of 2018. However, you’d be surprised to hear about players from the group that aren’t a quarterback or named Saquon Barkley. TE Chris Herndon does not have the same billing as those other names, but the ProCane tight end is gaining favor in the Jets’ offense. After scoring his first touchdown a couple games ago, Herndon is putting up a healthy 145 receiving yards, 11 catches and two touchdowns so far in his rookie year. Fellow rookie Jets’ QB Sam Darnold appears to have built a rapport with Herndon, despite the presence of second-year TE Jordan Leggett. At this point in his career, there are some that view the man from Norcross, Georgia, as the answer to the Jets’ woes at the position.
The task for Herndon and the Jets’ offense will be to get past a disruptive Bears’ defense that ranks 12th in total yardage and has allowed 14 passing TDs this season. This is a game where Herndon will need to employ an effective chip on the defensive end with edge rushers Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd attempting to rattle NYJ’s young QB. Regardless of the task, this is setting up to measuring stick game for a young Jets’ squad.
Cleveland Browns vs Pittsburgh Steelers 1PM EDT
Nothing comes easy in the AFC North. This includes the Browns resurrecting themselves as contenders in the division. This week serves as a separation game for both parties. Pittsburgh is trying to reassert itself as the kings of the division, while Cleveland attempts to serve notice that they’re ready to contend now, as opposed to in the next couple of seasons. This game is set to be another hard-hitting affair — something that has become par for the course in the AFC North.
This season has not been going well for CB Artie Burns. It’s not because Netflix cancelled Iron Fist. The corner has been benched after starting each of the last four games. While the Pittsburgh secondary continues to be problematic, the team scapegoat for those problems has become Burns. With opponents completing 70% of passes in his direction, there may be some merit to the criticism. However, Pittsburgh does not have a lot of depth at corner and even though CB Cameron Sutton appears to be the choice to take over the starting role from Burns, the Steelers are doing all they can to help the third-year player emerge from his pit of despair.
David Njoku is becoming the best thing at TE not named Rob Gronkowski in the NFL. So far this season, the second-year Brown is close to surpassing his rookie totals, and appears to be one of the good finds from the previous coaching regime. With the Steelers often leaving linebackers such as Vince Williams in coverage, Njoku should have a decided advantage in the middle of the field against Pittsburgh. That should buy the offensive line enough time for QB Baker Mayfield to make a play.
Baltimore Ravens vs Carolina Panthers 1PM EDT
TE Greg Olsen has returned to the Panthers’ lineup as if he didn’t miss numerous games because of a foot injury. QB Cam Newton has been finding his comfort blanket underneath coverage to the tune of 53 yards, six receptions and a game-winning TD since his return from a week one injury. Looking as spry as his prime years at the Orange Bowl, Olsen appears to be back in form. It’s a trait that can’t be said about the Panthers in general. With NFC South rivals New Orleans lighting teams up, Carolina is falling behind the the Crescent City Crusaders in the divisional race.
To make things even more difficult, here come the Baltimore Ravens, who have stifled offenses — with the exceptions of Cincinnati and New Orleans for the better part of the season. Baltimore’s offense is nothing to shake a stick at, either, with Alex Collins leading the way on the ground to the tune of 309 rushing yards. Unfortunately, CB Corn Elder has not been active since week two of the season. Unless there’s an injury, it’s unlikely that we’ll see Elder take the field this week.
Green Bay Packers vs Los Angeles Rams 4:25PM EDT
The battle of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers against Los Angeles Rams’ QB Jared Goff should be epic. Two offenses that will try to shoot for the over, for you betting jelly beans at home. The Packers’ offense is averaging 24.7 points-per-game entering the contest, and the Packers appear to be finding their footing after a rocky start out the gates. ProCane TE Jimmy Graham may only have one TD so far this year, but the move to Green Bay has certainly seen an uptick in targets and receptions since the move. Against a Rams’ defense that has been generous to offenses all season, it could be yet another feast for Graham and the Packers.
Rams’ CB Sam Shields is finding his way back to the league. Still splitting time at the right corner spot, Shields is gradually regaining his foothold. The former WR/CB at The U has allowed 13 receiving yards and one catch in his last two outings. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Rams have been susceptible to giving up big plays, yet they’ve been able to get that needed stop to help carve wins this season. When Shields does take the field, he’ll be tasked with covering the young up-and-coming receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling this season. The pair have combined for 501 receiving yards, 16 receptions and one TD this season. It could once again boil down to who has the ball last in this contest.
ProCanes Fantasy Player of the Week
Duke Johnson Jr.
No, Duke was not forgotten in our CLE vs PIT rundown. We just wanted to highlight the running back as a fantasy player this week. Duke will be seeing more plays, considering the Browns are now a couple weeks removed from trading 2018 off-season acquisition Carlos Hyde to Jacksonville for a draft pick. Aside from rookie running back Nick Chubb, Johnson is the most seasoned back on the roster. That said, expect Chubb to get more carries than Johnson against the Steelers. Duke should continue to see snaps as the Browns’ third-down back, but there should be an uptick of overall touches — both carries and receptions, now that the backfield is not as crowded as it once was. Johnson should be a good option as a flex player this week.
Keep in mind that in the seven games that Duke has played Pittsburgh in his career, he’s never had more than six carries against the team in Black and Yellow.
News and Notes
Calais Campbell is dealing with a stinger that forced him out of the game in week seven against Houston. The De did make the trip to London town and is considered questionable for today.
On Monday, the Dallas Cowboys made a move to improve the talent at the top of their receiving depth chart. The former Miami Northwestern receiver was shipped to Dallas in exchange for a 2019 first round pick heading back to Oakland. It’s the second major trade of the season for the Raiders, who parted with DE Khalil Mack before the start of the regular season.
All of this is to say that Allen Hurns is slides into the role of being a number two option in the passing game for the Cowboys. Up until the trade, Hurns had 13 receptions, 158 receiving yards and one touchdown. However, it was Cole Beasley that emerged as the go-to option for QB Dak Prescott. With Cooper in the fold, Hurns could see a further dip in targets moving forward.
After being placed on injured reserve by the New York Giants over a week ago with a concussion, LB Ray Ray Armstrong and the G-men reached a injury settlement and was released shortly after. Armstrong went unclaimed going through the waiver process, before signing with the Cleveland Browns earlier in the week. The former Hurricane safety who accumulated 134 tackles wearing a ‘U’ on his helmet joins fellow Procanes Duke Johnson Jr., Chad Thomas and David Njoku on the Browns.
After scoring on 17-yard reception last week against Buffalo, Indianapolis Colts TE Erik Swoope will miss this week’s game against the Raiders with a knee injury. Swope suffered the injury on the TD reception. The former UM basketball star has scored in three connective games, a single-season high for the ProCane TE.
LB Jermaine Grace, a former Brown and Seattle Seahawk in 2018, signed with the Atlanta Falcons last week. It’s Grace’s second stint with the Falcons, having played five games during the 2017 season for the NFC South dirty birds.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!