As the temperatures dip around the rest of the country, postseason contention has ratcheted up over the past few weeks. Division races, playoff positioning and the fight to win a wildcard spot have become the topics du jour. However, for some, the 2019 NFL Draft cannot come soon enough. We continue to highlight the University of Miami alumni who should make a difference today, as they used to on Saturdays with the ‘U’ on their helmets.
New York Jets vs Buffalo Bills 1PM EDT
Of course we start our previews with the game that has zero impact on the playoffs. That said, these two AFC East rivals will factor heavily into next year’s draft. The Bills and Jets will be two of the biggest players in next spring’s draft as they attempt to build around their young core.
The Jets managed to dig up a gem in the 2018 draft in the form of TE Chris Herndon. Herndon is currently ranked first among rookie tight ends in the NFL, with 28 receptions, and is second among the group with 384 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Losing fellow rookie starting QB Sam Darnold to a foot injury has not staggered the Norcross, Georgia, native’s production in any manner. In his first meeting with the Bills in week 10, Herndon caught three passes for 34 receiving yards. Against a Bills’ defense that is brilliant one moment and pedestrian the next, this game will serve as a measuring stick for what the future of the Gang Green offense will be. Buffalo currently ranks first in pass defense, allowing an average of 187.2 passing yards per game. So even if QB Sam Darnold does return this week, the Jets will be in tough to pick up their fourth win of the season.
The Bills came up just short last week against the Dolphins, with QB Josh Allen just missing TE Charles Clay for a game-winning TD reception. Despite the loss, Allen has been cruising since his return from injury. While his ability to launch a ball 60+ yards flat footed were what attracted team’s to Josh Allen, it’s been his legs that have helped the young QB sustain drives at times this season. In the past two games, the former Wyoming QB has rushed for 234, passing for 392 passing yards, 3 TDs with two interceptions. For a Jets defense that has struggled to the contain the run this season, ranking 26th in the league allowing 128.3 yards per game, they’ll need to worry about containing not only RB LeSean McCoy but Allen as well.
Carolina Panthers vs Cleveland Browns 1PM EDT
One team is fighting to stay in the wildcard picture and the other team is the Browns. To be fair, this is the best version of the franchise anyone has witnessed in quite some time. Cleveland’s offense currently ranks 16th in passing offense, with a 239.8 yards-per-pass average. Credit will obviously go to QB Baker Mayfield, but interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has injected energy into an offensive group that was anemic under previous OC Todd Haley.
ProCane RB Duke Johnson Jr. and TE David Njoku have been beneficiaries of the rejuvenated offense. The pair have taken turns contributing to Cleveland’s passing game that averages 7.1 yards-per-play. Currently, Johnson is averaging a respectable 9.6 yards-per-reception each game. On the downside, Johnson carries have plummeted to 2.3 attempts per game, and will assuredly be career-lows in each category. However, given the success — yes, winning over four games should be considered a minor breakthrough in the Browns’ case — we’re sure that the promise of improvement makes coming to work much easier for Duke.
It also helps that Duke shares a locker room with one of the more dynamic tight ends in the league in David Njoku. The second year TE has already surpassed his receiving yard total as a rookie last season. The athletic tight has been able to play through a knee injury along with refining his in-line blocking at the position. With two TDs, the New Jersey product can set a new career high, exceeding his four TDs in the ‘17 season. For their part, the Panthers have allowed 27 passing TDs all season. Here’s hoping that Njoku receives another generous push into the endzone should he decide to leap from the five yard line.
Atlanta Falcons vs Green Bay Packers 1PM EDT
The expectation of competing for Super Bowls is always a reality for the Packers, especially with Aaron Rodgers lined up at QB. Today, making the postseason is merely a fantasy. The future of the Packers’ roster is in jeopardy since with the team fired head coach Mike McCarthy after last weekend’s loss to Arizona. Green Bay has come up short one too many times, and appears to be closer to dismantling than returning to contention. TE Jimmy Graham is playing through the pain of a broken thumb and a nagging knee injury, but his ailments are only part of the dilemma that has been the 2018 season.
For the most part, Graham has been unable to find consistent production on what should be a productive offense. His 536 receiving yards, 44 receptions and two TDs this season are not close to the numbers you’d expect for a player of his experience and caliber. Graham will account for slightly over $12 million for Green Bay in 2019.
Baltimore Ravens vs Kansas City Chiefs 1PM EDT
One of the league’s stingiest defenses goes up against one of its most potent offensive attacks. The Ravens travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on a Chiefs’ team trying to secure their spot atop the AFC playoff standings. We’re keen to see how KC’s defense holds up against Baltimore’s new-look offense.
ProCane DE Allen Bailey continues to be a positive for a Chief defense that has bent, but not broken so far this year. The DE is ranked 82nd by PFF with a grade of 64. His six sacks in 2018 are single-season highs. Combine that stat with his nine QB hits this season, and Bailey has composed himself as a dangerous pass rusher to go along with his run-stuffing qualities. KC is going to need Bailey’s entire repertoire today if the Ravens go with QB Lamar Jackson. The Pompano Beach, Florida, native has lit up the league with his legs, gaining 404 rushing yards in his rookie campaign. Since Jackson was named the starter, the Ravens have rattled off three straight wins and command of the top wildcard spot. It’ll be a game to see which team can continue their winning momentum.
New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins 1PM EDT
Let’s be honest, the Dolphins were fortunate to get leave Hard Rock Stadium last week with a win over the Bills. It wasn’t pretty, but the Phins remain in the race to gain a wildcard spot. RB Frank Gore was unable to get into rhythm last weekend, rushing for only 21 yards on eight carries. In the his last meeting with the Patriots, Gore didn’t do much better, gaining just 41 yards and rushing on 11 carries in a 38-7 beatdown by New England. The silver lining this time is that the Phins once again have home field advantage.
As usual, expect Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick to take away as much of Miami’s running game as possible. New England currently ranks 13th in the NFL in run defense. The Pats will crowd the line of scrimmage, forcing Dolphins’ QB Ryan Tannehill to beat them with his arm down the field.
Indianapolis Colts vs Houston Texans 1PM EDT
The Colts didn’t allow a touchdown in week 13, yet they still came away with a loss. Indy will attempt to replicate that stinginess for a consecutive week against AFC South rivals, the Houston Texans. DE Al-Quadin Muhammad have improved their efficiency in stopping the run, with the Colts allowing 104.1 rushing yards per game. That average is going to face a stiff test against a Texan running game that has found its stride.
Erik Swoope returned from injury for the first time since week seven. The TE caught a single pass for four yards as the Colts were blanked by the Jags last weekend. Eric Ebron remains the target monster at TE, accounting for 11 TDs this season. That said, there should be room for Swoope to get some underneath route work with WR TY Hilton and Ebron taking most of the attention on any given play.
Led by RB Lamar Miller, Houston is averaging 79.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks fourth in the NFL. With QB DeShaun Watson’s ability to push the ball downfield to wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas, Houston has been able to create just enough room for Miller to break off into some big runs. The 2018 Colts’ defense has transformed itself into a formidable group, no longer being the the sieve against the ground game that it once was. In week 14, the Texans will attempt to return Indy to past misery by establishing their running game against their AFC South rivals.
ProCanes Fantasy Player of the Week
It’s fantasy playoff time, meaning the time to take chances is gone. Now’s the time to lean on some of the steadier options on your roster. It doesn’t get more consistent than Lamar Miller, who has rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back games, surpassing the century mark in four games this season. You should feel confident starting Miller this week in the fantasy playoffs.
News and Notes
Greg Olsen Out for the Remainder of the Season
One of the toughest players in the NFL saw his season end in week 13. Panthers’ TE Greg Olsen suffered a ruptured plantar on his right foot. Olsen was placed on Injured Reserve this past week. The 11-year pro will have a serious decision to make this offseason, with the possibility of transitioning into the media a real consideration with the foot injuries piling up.
Thurston Armbrister Active in Arizona
After spending time with the Giants this preseason, LB Thurston Armbrister was waived by the team and is now a free agent. The Hollywood Hills High School grad spent time with the Jaguars and Lions in his first two seasons in the NFL.
Dee Delaney Back in the 305
After being waived by the Jaguars last week, CB Dee Delaney was claimed by the Miami Dolphins on waivers this past week.
Bush Doubtful for Today
The Chicago Bears will be without the services of their lone ProCane, safety Deon Bush, who was listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury.
Gore Keeps Pushing his way Into History
“Now 35, Gore continues to set records as the Dolphins’ lead running back. In September, he passed Curtis Martin to become the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher. Two weeks ago, Gore passed Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith for the most consecutive seasons (14) with 500-plus rushing yards. Gore has done it in every year of his career, and he has nine seasons of at least 1,000 rushing yards.”
”The moments come in practice. They come in training camp. He has ‘The U’ magic from back in the day. That competitive grit, that toughness, that mindset he has. He has an old-school football mentality.”
Miami Dolphins Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains
Gerald Willis A First Round Pick?
You don’t need to tell Canes fans how incredible the 2018 season has been for senior DT Gerald Willis III. As the Louisiana native and the rest of the Hurricanes prepare for the Pinstripe Bowl later this month, Willis’ draft stock appears to be on the rise? Here’s what draft analyst Matt Miller had to say about the DT’s prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft.
“An early favorite to watch at the Senior Bowl: Miami (Florida) defensive tackle Gerald Willis. The former Florida Gator has some off-field issues (he took a leave of absence from Florida and transferred to Miami) but has been amazing this season as a breakout player. A good week in Mobile could put him into the first round.”
Nothing is etched in stone when it comes to a prospect being a sure fire first round selection, because similar to recruiting, the situation is fluid. However, if Miller is in fact correct and Willis is able to illustrate the dominance at the Senior Bowl that he’s put on film this past season, we could see the Hurricanes first round drought end in 2019.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!