The Case for the Rams: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Welcome to my 3rd of several Super Bowl LIII Preview posts.  Yesterday, I went over what the Patriots need to do in order to win the game.  Today, I will do the same for the Rams.  What does LA need to do to win their first Super Bowl in almost 20 years?  What could derail them along the way?  Keep reading to find out what I think.  You can also check out my entire Super Bowl LIII preview schedule below.  I will be posting preview articles throughout the week as festivities in Atlanta take place.

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Super Bowl LIII: Official Boston Sports Mania Preview Schedule

January 27 or 28: Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

January 28 or 29: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 29 or 30: The Case for the Rams: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 30 or 31: Super Bowl LIII ‘Football Fast Facts’ and Their Significance

January 31 or February 1: Super Bowl LIII: Final Prediction, Projected Stats & MVP

February 1 or 2: Super Bowl LIII Video Preview

February 2 or 3: The Final Countdown: Final Injury Report, Outlook Before the Game (Including iMovie Trailer)

February 3: Enjoy the game and stay tuned for my recap after the game!

The Case for the Rams

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Most of the 2000s and 2010s were pretty dull for the Rams.  But in 2018, they arguably put up their best season since the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ Era after hiring Sean McVay, drafting Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, and making some bold moves in the off-season that made it clear the Rams wanted to win now.  But in order to win the Super Bowl, they’ll have to beat the Patriots, who they lost to back in 2001.  The only difference is: now the Rams are the team on the rise, and the Pats have the experienced dynasty.  The question is: how can the Rams do to the Pats what the Pats did to the Rams back in 2001 by pulling a shocking upset?

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First of all, QB Jared Goff will need to find open receivers.  Gurley and RB C.J. Anderson have combined to make this run game dominant, and they should have no problems running the ball against a New England defense that struggles against big name running backs.  But without WR Cooper Kupp, Goff has been throwing less often, partially due to the fact that he has less reliable receivers.  His most reliable receivers, WR Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, will likely be limited by a solid Patriots secondary.  All of Goff’s receivers will need to step up their game and do their job in order for the Rams to win.

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In addition, the front seven will need to put pressure on QB Tom Brady.  Led by DT Aaron Donald, the front seven has done alright this season, with 41 sacks during the regular season.  But Brady has been sacked just 21 times this season.  The Rams defensive front will have to step up its game, get past a strong New England o-line, and pressure him.  Who knows, if they’re putting enough pressure on him, maybe Donald or another Rams pass rusher will sack Brady for just the 22nd time this year.

Lastly, Goff will need to avoid interceptions.  If Goff isn’t careful, an interception could blow the Rams the game, similar to how QB Drew Brees blew the NFC Championship by throwing an interception after winning the toss in overtime.

If Goff can find open men and throw more touchdowns than interceptions and the defense can effectively pressure and possibly even sack Brady, the Rams will be in good shape.  But this game should come down to the wire, and for both teams, this will not be easy by any means.  Tomorrow, I will be looking at what previous Super Bowl and 2018 stats could be telling about the result of the game, and stay tuned for Friday when I post my official Super Bowl prediction with projected stats.

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2018-19 NFL Playoff Predictions: Pats Win it All Thanks to Favorable Schedule

Welcome to my 2018-19 NFL Playoff Predictions.  Today, I will show you my playoff bracket alongside score predictions and analysis for each game.  Next week, I will update you with Divisional Round predictions unless all of this week’s games are predicted correctly.  Below is my official playoff bracket:
I have the Patriots winning it all, though I don’t see them as the most talented team here.  I think a favorable schedule, including home field advantage in the AFC Championship after Kansas City’s elimination will help them to a Super Bowl victory.  The Super Bowl itself will be an epic battle of two aging superstar QBs, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.  It will be close, but I have the Patriots coming out on top.  Check out my score predictions and in-depth analysis for all 11 games below.

Wild Card Weekend

Offensively, these two teams are pretty evenly matched.  The Colts have given the Texans a hard time in the past.  But on Wild Card Weekend, I expect Houston’s defense to step it up and secure the Texans a victory.  While Indy struggles to get into the red zone against a strong Texans D, Houston will score on an inexperienced Colts defense with ease as WR DeAndre Hopkins puts up another huge game.
This will be a high scoring game, and it could potentially end up being a complete shootout.  Both these defenses lack the experience to thrive in the playoffs.  This will allow QB Dak Prescott to find his receivers and lead the Cowboys to victory.  However, QB Russell Wilson and his versatile offense will make it close and come within one possession of the victory.
With TE Hunter Henry back, this Chargers offense will only get better from here.  I think they’ll be able to handle the rising Ravens D this time around.  You know what they say: it’s hard to beat the same team twice.  This time around, the Chargers D will figure out how to shut down QB Lamar Jackson, RB Gus Edwards, and a talented Ravens offense.  It won’t be easy, but I see the Chargers as the only road team to win on Wild Card Weekend.
This will be closer than most people expect. QB Nick Foles has unlocked the full potential of the Eagles offense, and it will not be easy for even a dominant Bears D to contain them.  But I see QB Mitch Trubisky and his receivers stepping it up and leading a late comeback effort.  They will take advantage of the banged-up Eagles secondary and eventually secure the victory in overtime.

Divisional Round

This will not be an exciting one to watch.  The banged-up Houston offense will struggle to put up points, even against a mediocre New England D.  Don’t expect Brady the Pats to score much either against Houston’s strong defense.  But I see the Pats getting by, as Brady and his receivers take advantage of Houston’s defensive weakness: their secondary.  On the other hand, the Patriots’ well-rounded defense will stand strong.
No matter who wins in this divisional rubber match, it will be a complete shootout.  The Chiefs have next to no defense, which will not serve them well against any playoff team.  But will QB Patrick Mahomes II and company put up enough points to get by anyway?  In the playoffs?  I don’t think so.  Mahomes will put up a multi-TD effort.  But the Chargers’ revamped offense will dominate a weak Kansas City defense and outplay Mahomes and his squad.  Even with Mahomes replacing QB Alex Smith, the Chiefs will choke in the playoffs, again, as the Chargers move on to face New England in the AFC Championship.
This will be another close one.  But I don’t see this being as high-Scoring as Chicago’s Wild Card Weekend match-up with the Eagles.  The Rams have one of the most star-studded defenses in the league.  They will severely limit the abilities of a young Bears offense.  But Chicago’s D is up there with LA’s.  QB Jared Goff has had a good season in general, but he has put up a few duds here and there.  After putting up a dud the last time these two teams played, I could see him doing it again.  RB Todd Gurley is not at full health and WR Cooper Kupp is done for the year.  Goff will find himself short of weapons and will fall short in OT, going one and done for the second year in a row.
Dallas will be able to get by in the first round, but wait till they see an elite contender.  The Saints should be able to top the Cowboys with ease, even after their defeat in Dallas.  This game will take place in New Orleans, and it will be easier on the Saints now that they have an idea of what they’re up against.   Brees and his receivers will put up a decent game, but it’s the Saints defense that I could see stepping it up here against Prescott and his young offense.

Conference Championships

AFC Championship
In order for TB12 and the Patriots to take down this dominant Chargers offense, they’ll need to get their own act together offensively.  But at Gillette Stadium, I have confidence in them.  As long as the Chargers or somebody else dethrones the Chiefs before New England has to play them, the Pats will get the opportunity to play the AFC Championship at home, where they are undefeated on the season.  Against a decent Chargers D, Brady will have to use a variety of receivers, and the Pats will have to run the ball occasionally.  But I have confidence that they are capable, especially on home turf, though this will not be easy.  If this was played anywhere but Gillette, the Patriots would likely fall short to LA’s overpowered offense.
NFC Championship
Against a tough Bears D, you cannot expect a huge game out of Brees and company.  But the Saints have made defensive improvements of their own throughout the season, and I could see them holding the Bears to just 1 TD of their own.  The Saints will get by in the end, making the Super Bowl for the first time since 2009.
Fun fact: In 2009, the Saints went 13-3, losing to the same opponents as they did this year.  They went on to win the Super Bowl that year.

Super Bowl LIII

In a battle of two star QBs in Brady and Brees, I have the Pats winning it all. But it won’t be Brady who drives the victory.  The Saints have succeeded in stopping the run for most of the season, but the at times dominant Pats RB trio might overwhelm them.  Meanwhile, Brees will have a strong game here, but I think the Pats’ star-studded secondary will stand strong, holding Brees and his receivers to just 2 TDs.  These two things along with a vintage game by TE Rob Gronkowski will lead New England to a 6th Super Bowl victory.  I think RBs James White and Sony Michel will shine in this game, and I see the future of this team depending on their success.
That’s all for today’s predictions.  Stay tuned for more NFL Playoffs coverage and updates soon.

2018 NFL Week 5 Pick’Em & Previews: Upsets Await in Week Full of Intriguing Match-Ups

Welcome to my Week 5 NFL picks and previews.  Last week I went 10-5, placing my overall record at 37-24-2 (38-24-2 including Week 5 TNF).  I’m ahead of 9 of ESPN’s 10 experts and 3 of CBS Sports’ 8 experts.

There are a lot of intriguing match-ups this week.  The Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals, two of the league’s biggest surprises thus far take each other on.  The Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles meet in an NFC Championship rematch. The Kansas City Chiefs’ powerful offense may have met their match in the Jags defense.  Who will win in these close match-ups?  Whoever wins, I would expect a lot of surprises.  Keep reading to find out who I have winning this week.

Lock of the Week (TNF: Posted to Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 38-24 Patriots)

The Colts will be without RB Marlon Mack, TE Jack Doyle, and most importantly, star WR T.Y. Hilton.  With the offense banged-up, expect QB Andrew Luck to struggle in finding open receivers.  Don’t expect a big game from the Colts running backs either.  Meanwhile, I think the Colts defense (which is also banged-up) will fail to contain QB Tom Brady and his receivers.  I could see the Pats blowing out and possibly even shutting out the injury-riddled Colts.

Upset of the Week

Coming out of the bye, the Panthers will still be without their top receiving target in TE Greg Olsen.  I think they will start to miss him this week as the Giants secondary keeps Carolina’s remaining receivers well covered.  Meanwhile, I don’t expect a huge game out of RB Christian McCaffrey against an above average Giants defensive front. The Giants will pull the upset thanks to a strong passing game and improved defense.

The Other Games

Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

These teams might be the two biggest pleasant surprises of the season so far. This week, we’ll likely see which is here to contend, and which is pretending.  I think the Bengals will look like legitimate contenders in this game.  The defense will see improvement with LB Vontaze Burfict back from his suspension.  Meanwhile, QB Andy Dalton will find plenty of open men, even without TE Tyler Eifert.  However, Miami will make it close as WR Kenny Stills and rookie TE Mike Gesicki step it up.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Josh Allen to lead Buffalo’s offense to a close game against an inconsistent Titans D.  Allen has done well in these last couple games.  However, I think the Titans will run away with the victory as the offense finds a way, led by the duo of QB Marcus Mariota and WR Corey Davis.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Broncos defense has been among the NFL’s best for a long time, and the Jets young defense is emerging as well.  Look for both defenses to thrive in a low scoring game.  The Denver secondary will do an especially good job at containing QB Sam Darnold and his receivers.  I don’t expect the Broncos to look amazing on offense, but they should edge out a victory in New York.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I think Pittsburgh will look alright on offense despite missing RB Le’Veon Bell.  But the Falcons WR trio will be too much for the Steelers secondary.  The Steelers have never been more than mediocre on defense, and it will cost them here.  Expect Atlanta’s RB duo to thrive with RB Devonta Freeman back and QB Matt Ryan to find open receivers for TDs.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Cleveland’s defense to step it up, leading Cleveland to a home victory.  QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns offense shouldn’t do especially well against a strong Ravens secondary.  But, look for the Browns’ underrated, young defense to cause QB Joe Flacco and the Ravens receivers to struggle.  That will be enough for the Browns to pull out a win.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

I understand the Chiefs are undefeated and their offense looks unstoppable.  But they haven’t seen a defense like Jacksonville’s.  I also think the Jaguars will take advantage of the all offense, no defense Chiefs and put together a strong offensive game of their own.  The Chiefs have a very tough schedule ahead, and this could be the start of a stretch that bring the Chiefs from unbeatable to a borderline playoff contender. The Jags seem like the team to finally put an end to Kansas City’s offensive dominance and undefeated season.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

A lot of people see this as a lock in Green Bay’s favor, but this will not be easy.  We’ve seen what Detroit’s offense is capable of at its best, and Green Bay will be without WRs Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison.  QB Aaron Rodgers is not at full health either.  Look for the Lions offense to get out to an early lead. But I think QB Aaron Rodgers will have another clutch game, and Rodgers alonMelg with the rising young talent surrounding him will lead the team to a comeback victory.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

Look for RBs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler to make an impact against the Mack-less Raiders run defense.  I also expect QB Philip Rivers and his receivers to have a successful game.  I think this Chargers offense can be all-around dominant against Oakland’s subpar defense.  QB Derek Carr will make this close when he tosses 3 TD of his own, but it won’t be enough in this offensive shootout.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

These teams have two of the best defenses in the NFC, so don’t expect too much scoring.  The Vikings passing game will be somewhat successful in Philly, but you can’t count on the run game with RB Dalvin Cook battling a hamstring injury.  I think QB Carson Wentz will manage to find a way at home, even going up against the lights out Vikes defense.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

QB Josh Rosen led the Cardinals to their closest game thus far last week, and I truly think they can win this one over the Jimmy Garoppolo-less 49ers.  But I’m not calling a blowout for an 0-4 team.  I think the 49ers versatile offense will find a way to keep this close.  However, led by RB David Johnson, look for Arizona to edge out a victory.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Expect QB Jared Goff and his offense to dominate in Seattle.  I think they can easily handle this rebuilding Seahawks defense.  Meanwhile, Seattle’s offense will struggle against a Rams D that has emerged as one of the NFC’s best.  I think QB Russell WIlson and the Seahawks run game will be especially overwhelmed by the Rams powerful front seven, and the shut down defense will secure an LA victory.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

I think QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense will continue to struggle here, especially since they are facing one of the league’s top defenses.  Even star RB Ezekiel Elliott could struggle going up against J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and the dominant Texans defensive front. Houston will secure the victory after a decent offensive performance.  
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

I think the Saints will get it done in primetime, boosted by the return of RB Mark Ingram from his four game suspension.  Look for the Redskins to make it close against a mediocre Saints D, but I don’t think Washington will be able to finish the job in New Orleans.

That’s all for today’s picks and previews.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts on any of the games.  

Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

The match-up is set.  The Patriots and Eagles will face off in Super Bowl LII.  Today I will address how they got there, and give you your first look at the match-up.

But first here is the official schedule for my Super Bowl LII Preview. This will be part of each Preview article and will include links to the articles that are finished.

Super Bowl LII – Patriots vs. Eagles: Boston Sports Mania Preview

Monday, Jan. 29: Championship Weekend Recap and Super Bowl LII First Look

Tuesday, Jan. 30: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Wednesday, Jan. 31: The Case for the Eagles: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

Thursday, Feb. 1: Super Bowl Fast Facts and Their Significance

Friday, Feb. 2: Super Bowl LII: The Final Pick and Projected Stats

Saturday, Feb. 3: Super Bowl LII Video Preview and iMovie Trailer

Sunday, Feb. 4: Watch the big game and stay tuned for my Recap!

How They Got There

Patriots

 

The Pats won in comeback fashion again, this time against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-20.  Early on, Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette, Corey Grant, and the rest of the Jaguars offense dominated, taking a 14-3 lead and challenging the Pats for their chance at making it to their 10th Super Bowl, and their 8th with Tom Brady.  The Pats were unable to stop this powerful Jags offense for most of the 1st half, although they did narrow Jacksonville’s lead with a TD before the half, making it 14-10.  The Jaguars’ powerful pass rush also got on Tom Brady’s nerves in this half.

By halftime, Pats fans were getting worried, and some (but not me) gave up hope.  But the 2nd half brought a turn-around for the Patriots.  In the 3rd quarter, we began to see a better defensive performance by New England, as they held Jacksonville to just a measly 3 points in that quarter.  Lawrence Guy was able to sack Bortles as he led the Pats defense to begin to get pressure on him.  The Jags scored another field goal to begin the 4th and led 20-10.

But better defense set the Pats offense up to come back in the 4th quarter.  Despite TE Rob Gronkowski being ruled out with a concussion, the Pats came back, led by Brady, Danny Amendola (who scored both 4th quarter TDs) and Brandin Cooks.  The Pats came out of nowhere after being down by 10, scoring 14 unanswered points to win the game and advance to the Super Bowl.  But how will they fare against the Eagles, who obliterated the Vikings?

Eagles

 

The Vikings got off to a fast start as Case Keenum connected with TE Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown.  But after that, Nick Foles broke out, leading the Eagles offense to blow away an otherwise unstoppable Vikings defense.  He somehow tossed 3 TDs and 352 yards against the typically dominant Vikings D.  I also don’t know how this defense gave up 38 points.

Not only did Foles do well, but his top four receivers (Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor) all had over 50 yards receiving, combining for 306 of Philly’s receiving yards and all 3 receiving TDs.  The combination of end zone back LeGarrette Blount and lead running back Jay Ajayi also had a big game compared to recent performances.

After that win, the Eagles truly do deserve to fight for that Lombardi Trophy in Minneapolis, although it would have been cool to see Minnesota win it at home, or be stopped by the Patriots dynasty.  But will the Eagles put up the same numbers against New England, who has far more experience in the Super Bowl?  Many of New England’s players don’t even know what it is like not making the AFC Championship game.

A First Look at the Big Game

With TE Rob Gronkowski on the practice field as of Saturday the 27th, it’s a good sign that Gronk will be able to clear the concussion protocol and play by Sunday’s big game. Gronk’s status will help determine New England’s offensive schemes against an Eagles defense that can be tricky at times.

Either way, especially with T Marcus Cannon injured, DT Fletcher Cox and the Eagles’ defensive line could pressure QB Tom Brady and hit him a few times. But I do think Brady should be able to find his receivers against the younger, but still powerful Eagles secondary. With or without him, Gronk will have to get past Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins among others as they will likely keep the star tight end double covered.

Brady will have to mix it up a little, not only passing to Gronk, and dependable passing backs James White and Rex Burkhead, but also to his wide receivers who helped him win with Gronk and Burkhead out late into last week’s game. Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and/or Chris Hogan could have a big game here. But will we see the Eagles look like their inconsistent selves again, or will we see QB Nick Foles and the Eagles offense pick up where they left off?

If they can, they will significantly challenge the Patriots, whose pass rush has struggled to pressure the QB at times this season.  However, it has gotten better since LB James Harrison joined the Patriots.  Not only has he himself made an impact, but he’s also made an impact on other players’ performances, serving as a veteran influence.  The Pats sacked Jags QB Blake Bortles twice last week.  One was by Harrison, and the other by DT Lawrence Guy.  However, the Eagles give Foles better protection than Bortles gets with their strong offensive line.

This also helps running backs, who the Pats have struggled even more against.  In their Week 7 win against Atlanta, their big flaw was giving up big plays to Devonta Freeman.  It cost them in Week 1 against Kareem Hunt.  Can RB Jay Ajayi be next?  Will end zone threat Blount Force Trauma get revenge on his former team?  Or will it be younger RBs like Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood who thrive?

The good news is, despite their front seven woes, they have maintained a strong secondary all season long, and don’t be surprised if they annoy Foles’ receivers and pick Foles off a couple times. I do think Foles will continue to thrive though, finding his receivers for most of the game, but making brutal mistakes against this strong secondary that cause the Eagles offense to trail a little behind the “Brady Bunch.”

Who will win Super Bowl LII?  What is the game plan for each team?  What Super Bowl and season-long stats will burden, encourage and/or influence each team?  Find out this week as I release more articles each day.