Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

Welcome to my 1st of several Super Bowl LIII Preview articles.  The match-up is set, the teams are in Atlanta for Opening Night, and today I will be looking at how the Patriots and Rams got here and taking a first look at the match-up.  What can we expect from this year’s big game?  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 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!

How They Got Here

Patriots

The Patriots were off to a rough start this season, going 1-2 in their first three games without WR Julian Edelman.  However, they brought in WR Josh Gordon to add back WR depth they’d lost in the off-season.  Gordon thrived in his first game with the Pats, and when Edelman returned, they made for a dynamic duo that led the offense to dominate.

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Though they started 7-2, they lost their third game in Tennessee before the bye as TE Rob Gronkowski sat out an extra game after an injury.  After the bye, they did win a couple games, playing the Jets and Vikings.  But after that their road struggles continued as they lost in Miami and in Pittsburgh.  After 14 games, the Pats were 9-5, and they were at risk of missing out on a first round bye.  They had the tiebreaker over the Texans, but the Texans were 10-4 at this point.  The Pats needed to win one more game than Houston.

It wasn’t a good sign when WR Josh Gordon was suspended indefinitely once again for marijuana, but the Pats took care of the Bills and Jets easily in New England.  They nearly shut out the Jets in Week 17!  They did grab hold of the first round bye, but the question was, were these blowouts against the league’s worst a fluke, or were the Pats legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

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The fans’ doubts were silenced when the Patriots dominated their Divisional Round match-up, hosting the Chargers.  They would head to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in the AFC title game.  This was bound to be a close one, especially because the Patriots lost the last time they had played on the road.  They were off to a strong start, but they began to fall behind late in the game.

With two minutes to go, it was 28-24 Chiefs.  The Pats had the ball in what was still a one possession game.  They marched down the field and Burkhead scored the TD, but they scored a little too fast.  They left enough time for the Chiefs to add a field goal to tie it up  at 31-31 and force overtime.

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After that the Patriots won the toss, and though it was a nail biter with many close calls and 3rd downs, the Pats made their way down the field for the TD, winning the game 37-31!  This was Brady’s third OT victory in a postseason game, making him the first player to do so.  This was also the first time two playoff games had gone into overtime in one day.

You can read more about the AFC Championship at the link below:

Back to their Roots: Pats Dynasty Continues after OT Thriller

The Patriots are now headed to their 4th Super Bowl in 5 years, as Brady looks to ‘Blitz for Six’ and Gronk looks to potentially end his career with a bang.  The best part is, as intriguing as a Brady vs. Drew Brees match-up would be, they’re playing the Los Angeles Rams, taking the Brady-Belichick dynasty back to their roots.  Back in 2001, Brady led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl victory over the QB Kurt Warner-led St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams.  You could also compare that victory to this year’s AFC Championship when Brady and co. took down QB Patrick Mahomes II and an explosive Chiefs offense after coming in as 3 point underdogs.

Rams

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The last time the Rams won the NFC was back in 2001, when QB Kurt Warner led an offense known as ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ to their second Super Bowl in three years.  They would face QB Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  Though they had won in 1999, they could not get past Brady and Belichick, who won their first championship together and started a legendary dynasty.  17 years later, the Rams will seek revenge.

After Warner left St. Louis, things were ugly for the Rams for much of the 2000s.  But in 2015, they began rebuilding, drafting star RB Todd Gurley in 2015, trading up in 2016 to draft the QB of their future: Jared Goff, firing head coach Jeff Fisher, and hiring the young Sean McVay to replace Fisher.  To top off their rebuild, they moved back to Los Angeles as they seeked a culture change heading in to the second half of the 2010s.

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In 2017, Goff, Gurley, and McVay led the team back to the playoffs with help from a star-studded defense led by DT Aaron Donald.  However, as the #3 seed, they lost on Wild Card Weekend.  The 2017-18 off-season was a busy one for the Rams.  The Rams made it clear they wanted to win now, exchanging WR Sammy Watkins, TE Lance Kendricks, DE Robert Quinn, OLB Alec Ogletree, and CB Trumaine Johnson for WR Brandin Cooks, DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, and CB Sam Shields.  Later in the season, they added RB C.J. Anderson and pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. as well.  They now had one of the best secondaries in the league, Gurley and Anderson made for a dominant RB duo, and WRs Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods broke out, giving Goff a WR trio for most of the season.  Kupp has since torn his ACL and ended his season, but the Rams dominated in all aspects for most of the season.

After starting 8-0, the Rams headed to New Orleans, where they lost their first game in a shootout.  The Rams lost WR Cooper Kupp the next game despite a win.  Without Kupp, they weren’t as dominant, going 4-2.  But they took care of business against the Cowboys, winning 30-22.  They would travel to New Orleans once again for the NFC Championship.

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They were trailing for most of the game as expected, but they came back to tie it up at 20.  The Saints were going for one last drive.  When QB Drew Brees threw it to WR Tommylee Lewis, he was hoping for a first down.  However, the pass was broken up on a hard hit by CB Nickell Robey-Coleman.  I am not alone in my belief that the play by Robey-Coleman was blatant pass interference.  But the refs didn’t call it.  The Saints made the field goal.  But the Rams had time to respond with a field goal of their own.

The game went to overtime, and New Orleans won the toss.  But after S John Johnson picked off QB Drew Brees, the Rams drove down the field, kicked another field goal, and won the game, 26-23.  Saints fans were heartbroken.  But the Rams were ecstatic – they had won the NFC for the first time in 17 years.  This was only their third Super Bowl appearance, the other two coming during the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ era.

Championship weekend and the weeks leading up to it were very exciting.  But moving on to the Super Bowl, the Rams will take on the Patriots in just 6 days.  Who will come out on top?  Keep reading to hear my initial take on the match-up.

First Look: Patriots vs. Rams

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This is definitely going to be close.  The Pats aren’t coming off a great season by Brady-Belichick standards.  They went 11-5 for the first time since 2009, and the first time since their run of seven straight AFC Championships (now eight) began.  But the Pats have dominated offensively in each of their last 4 games, and they have motivation going on as QB Tom Brady looks to win his sixth ring and TE Rob Gronkowski looks to potentially end his career with one more.  Until this year, Gronk had been spoiled year after year with records of 12-4 or higher.  Despite a rough regular season, the Pats will look to make up for it with another Super Bowl victory (which would be Gronk’s third).  To get past a difficult Rams defense, they’ll have to use a large variety of plays to try and fake them out.  If they are as strong offensively as they have been in the last 4 games, they should be capable of winning this.  But the Rams’ D might be the toughest New England has faced since their latest win streak.

Coming off a first round playoff exit and a busy off-season that got fans excited, the Rams went 13-3 and earned the #2 seed in the NFC behind only the New Orleans Saints (who they lost to).  After being ‘overthrown’ by Brady-Belichick dynasty in 2001, they will look to dethrone the Pats in their return to the Super Bowl.  In order to do so, not only will they need QB Jared Goff and the RB duo of Gurley and Anderson to step it up, they’ll need the entire offense around Goff and Gurley to thrive against a mediocre New England defense.

Who will win Super Bowl LIII?  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.

 

Back to their Roots: Pats Dynasty Continues after OT Thriller

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It was 31-31 in overtime.  After winning the toss, the New England Patriots had the ball on 3rd down at the Kansas City 30 yard line.  QB Tom Brady had made two straight third down conversions going to WR Julian Edelman, but this time, he looked in the direction of TE Rob Gronkowski.  Gronk had not been himself for most of the season.  But after stating that he would ‘seriously consider’ retirement with the conclusion of the season, he had stepped it up so far in this game, with 5 receptions for 64 yards.  He was tightly covered by S Eric Berry, but it didn’t matter.  He reached up and caught it, keeping the Patriots’ drive alive with a clean set of downs.  After that, Brady handed it off to RB Rex Burkhead three times, and he finished the job.  Touchdown.  37-31, Patriots win!

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The Patriots are now headed to their 4th Super Bowl in 5 years, as Brady looks to ‘Blitz for Six’ and Gronk looks to potentially end his career with a bang.  The best part is, as intriguing as a Brady vs. Drew Brees match-up would be, they’re playing the Los Angeles Rams, taking the Brady-Belichick dynasty back to their roots.  Back in 2001, Brady led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl victory over the QB Kurt Warner-led St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams.  You could also compare that victory to tonight’s when Brady and co. took down QB Patrick Mahomes II and an explosive Chiefs offense after coming in as 3 point underdogs.

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The Pats set themselves up for success with a strong start to the game where they showcased complimentary football.  The Pats were in no rush in the 1st quarter, so they took their time, running the ball and eating clock on their first scoring drive of the game.  It was important to get into a rhythm early on to keep up with the Kansas City, but keeping the ball for 80% of the first quarter works.  Their opening drive was the longest playoff opening drive in the history of the Brady-Belichick Patriots.  The Pats held Kansas City to under 3 minutes of 1st quarter possession time by sacking Mahomes and shutting down the Chiefs offense quickly.  Preventing the Chiefs from developing a rhythm of their own also works.  In fact, while the Pats had 100+ total yards after one quarter, the Chiefs had negative yardage.

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New England had another drive going that continued into the 2nd quarter, but things went south when Brady threw an end zone pick to LB Reggie Ragland.  The Chiefs had just successfully pressured TB12 and taken control of the turnover battle in one measly play.  Many people say this was a blatant mistake by Brady, but I saw it as a job well done by an underrated, young Chiefs D.  Though the Pats had lost their rhythm after marching down the field, they did shut down the Chiefs easily after the interception, forcing 3 and out.  With just about 7 minutes left in the 1st half, the Pats had 155 total yards, and the Chiefs still had just -2.

It took a bit for the Pats to get back into the swing of things after the pick, but on a deep throw to WR Phillip Dorsett, they scored again two drives later.  Utilized as a receiver, White led them through majority of the drive, but it was the deep throw to  Dorsett that scored the TD for New England.  After their defense’s big showing in the first half, the Pats held a 14-0 lead at halftime.  The defense had held the Chiefs to just 32 total yards in the half, and this was the first time the Chiefs had been shutout in the first half at home in 51 games

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However, the Chiefs figured out New England’s formula in their first drive after halftime, marching down the field in 4 plays for a TD thanks to a huge catch by WR Sammy Watkins and a quality TD by TE Travis Kelce in tight coverage.  Preventing big plays is a definitive weakness of the Pats D.  The Patriots needed to extend their lead so they didn’t have to press the panic button when Mahomes and co. started dominating.  They failed to score another TD in the 3rd quarter, but they did add a field goal to their lead, making it 17-7 Pats.  However, Mahomes and RB Damien Williams led the Chiefs on a huge drive to end the 3rd quarter.  This one did end in a touchdown, narrowing New England’s lead to just 3 points after a somewhat questionable pass interference call.  It had been 14-0 at half, but the Chiefs offense had just taken control of the game, outscoring New England 14-3 in the 3rd quarter.

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The Pats tried again to score a TD at the beginning of the 4th quarter, but they couldn’t convert on 4th down.  They forced the Chiefs to punt on the next drive, but initially, the refs called the punt muffed by Edelman when the Chiefs picked up the ball.  However, the call was overturned after instant replay showed that Edelman never touched it.  Edelman ended up costing the Pats the following drive though, as he bobbled a pass, allowing the Chiefs to intercept it and go on to take the lead with a TD the following drive.

The 4th quarter was a back and forth battle with several lead changes.  The Pats and Chiefs each scored a touchdown on their next drives, making it 28-24 Chiefs.  With two minutes to go, the Pats had the ball in what was still a one possession game.  The Pats marched down the field and Burkhead scored the TD, but they scored a little too fast.  They left enough time for the Chiefs to add a field goal to tie it up and force overtime.  It was 31-31.

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After that the Pats won the toss, and though it was a nail biter with many close calls and 3rd downs, the Pats made their way down the field for the TD, winning the game!  This was Brady’s third OT victory in a postseason game, making him the first player to do so.  This was also the first time two playoff games had gone into overtime in one day.

Despite 2 interceptions, Brady finished 30/46 with 348 passing yards and a TD.  Sony Michel rushed for 113 yards and scored two TDs, and Burkhead had two rush TDs of his own.  Edelman and Gronk each had 75+ receiving yards, and James White nearly had 50.

Mahomes threw 3 TDs and 0 interceptions as the Chiefs won the turnover battle despite losing, but Mahomes only threw for 295 yards, partly because the Pats had the ball for much longer.  Though Watkins had 114 receiving yards, Damien Williams caught 2 TDs as well as rushing in one.

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It’s hard to name one MVP for the Pats in this game, because everyone did their job.  The important thing is, the Pats will travel to Atlanta to take on QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley, and the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.  In Belichick terms, ‘We’re on to the Super Bowl’.  The Red Sox beat the LA Dodgers in the World Series just three months ago.  Can Boston teams not only win two championships in a year, but also beat the city of LA twice?

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 16 Picks & Previews: No(t Many) Surprises Here

Welcome to my Week 16 NFL picks and previews.  Last week, I went 11-5, putting my overall record at 126-97-2 (127-98-2 including Week 16 Saturday games).  For the most part, there are very few upsets in the final few weeks of the season. I don’t think there will be many upsets this week, either.  But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any surprises. There’s bound to be a couple surprise victories. But who will be the team to surprise us this week?  Keep reading to find out what I think, and feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Lock of the Week

Expect Detroit’s offensive struggles to continue against the strong Vikings defense.  The Vikings won’t be at their best offensively either in this game, but they should still score multiple TDs.  The combination of these two factors will help the Vikings win with ease in Detroit.

Upset of the Week (SNF)

I think QB Patrick Mahomes II could have a dominant game against the inexperienced Seahawks defense, tossing 3+ TDs.  But I expect Seattle’s versatile, consistent offense to put together more quality drives and find a way to win at home, especially against one of the worst defenses in the league.  The Chiefs will be without not only RB Kareem Hunt, but also WR Sammy Watkins. I see them just barely coming up short at CenturyLink Field.

The Other Games

Saturday, 4:30 PM EST (Posted to Twitter on Saturday; Actual Score: 25-16 Titans)

Look for QB Marcus Mariota and the young Titans offense to get it done against an unmotivated Redskins defense.  QB Josh Johnson and his offense will not help matters for the Redskins as they fail to score a TD. This will partially be due to Washington’s QB struggles without Alex Smith, but also partially due to a dominant defensive game by Tennessee that secures them a victory.
Saturday, 8:20 PM EST (Posted to Twitter on Saturday; Actual Score: 22-10 Ravens)

Despite an ugly game, expect QB Philip Rivers and the Chargers to prevail here.  RB Melvin Gordon and WR Keenan Allen will boost the Chargers in their return, but the entire offense including Gordon and Allen will be limited by the overwhelming Baltimore defense.  QB Lamar Jackson and his offense will make this close, but they even after the strong defensive performance, the Ravens will fail to keep up with Rivers, Gordon, and Co.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for the Pats to rebound from two straight losses in their return to Gillette.  Even without WR Josh Gordon (who was suspended earlier this week), I think QB Tom Brady will turn it around for 3+ TDs.  Even the Pats defense will improve here as they hold Buffalo to just 1 TD.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect the Dolphins to win here, but it will not be easy.  First of all, I’m expecting a low scoring, ugly game. In addition, I see the Jags forcing overtime as their defense gets back on track here.  However, Jacksonville will fall short as their offense struggles to produce without a quality starting QB.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Green Bay to get by due to a consistent offense led by QB Aaron Rodgers.  Expect New York’s offense to look good at times as the Packers struggle at times to contain the Jets’ receivers.  But the Packers defense will still prevent them from getting into a real rhythm.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Cleveland has struggled in overtime throughout the season.  For all we know, they could be leading the division if it weren’t for their OT struggles.  But in this game, I see the Browns winning in overtime thanks to a clutch performance by QB Baker Mayfield and his young offense.  Cincy will make it close thanks to the emergence of WRs Tyler Boyd and John Ross agains the inexperienced Browns D. But I still expect them to fall just short.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Philly to pull the upset after a strong offensive game supported by QB Nick Foles.  Their case will be helped by Houston’s offensive struggles without RB Lamar Miller. The Texans D will limit Foles and the Eagles, but it will not be enough.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Andrew Luck and his offense to find a way against a weakened Giants D.  The Giants should be alright without WR Odell Beckham Jr. against an inexperienced Colts defense.  But Luck and the Colts will be able to lead Indy to victory regardless.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

Expect QB Dak Prescott to lead the Cowboys to victory in a relatively high scoring game.  QB Jameis Winston will toss 2-3 TDs of his own against a young Dallas defense, but the Bucs D will struggle regressively as usual, allowing the Cowboys to outplay Tampa’s offense and win easily.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

QB Taylor Heinicke will not be able to compete with QB Matt Ryan like QB Cam Newton would.  Look for Ryan and the Falcons offense to dominate against a weak Carolina secondary as Atlanta wins in a blowout.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

Look for the Bears to get by in a defense-first game.  Chicago’s D will hold QB Nick Mullens and the Niners to just 10 points.  Don’t expect a field day for the Chicago offense, but they should put up enough points for a road victory.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

Look for the Rams strong D to shut down the Cardinals’ young offense.  The Rams won’t be great offensively, but they’ll put up enough to get by despite an ugly overall game.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

The Saints won’t be up to full speed offensively, as WR Michael Thomas is the only trustworthy receiver QB Drew Brees has right now.  But the Steelers’ offense won’t be at full capacity either with RB James Conner out. QB Ben Roethlisberger will toss multiple TD, but it won’t be enough as the run game is practically non-existent.  This will allow the Saints to get by at home.
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

Look for the Broncos’ to win in primetime thanks to a strong game by not only RB Phillip Lindsay but the entire Denver run game.  The Raiders’ offense will struggle to produce against a strong Denver defense, even in Oakland.

That’s all for today’s picks.  Stay tuned for more NFL coverage soon.

2018 NFL Week 13 Picks & Previews: Lots of Crucial Divisional Matchups Occur

Welcome to my NFL Week 13 picks and previews.  Last week, I went 11-4, putting my overall record at 96-78-2 (96-79-2 including Week 13 TNF).  I am still ahead of 1 CBS Sports expert. This week, a lot of divisional matchups occur, with many of them having playoff implications.  The Eagles and Redskins play for 2nd place in the NFC East, and the loser may be knocked out of contention. The Colts visit Jacksonville hoping to increase their chances at a wild card spot.  Who will win these divisional games? Keep reading to find out what I think, and feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Lock of the Week

Look for dominance from the Rams defense in the first shutout of the NFL season.  The revamped duo of Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters won’t give up anything to Detroit’s depleted WR corps, and DT Aaron Donald and company will shut down QB Matthew Stafford and the run game.  The Rams will not need more than a couple touchdowns for a Rams clinic victory thanks to the strong defense. Meanwhile, The Lions will begin to miss RB Kerryon Johnson and WRs Golden Tate and Marvin Jones in a shutout loss.  

Upset of the Week

The Panthers are coming off two frustrating last-minute losses, and the Buccaneers are coming off a much-needed victory.  Look for QB Jameis Winston to ride the momentum and put up his best performance yet against Carolina. The Bucs D will still give up plenty to QB Cam Newton and his versatile offensive core.  But a 3 or 4 TD game from Winston should be enough for the Buccaneers to pull the upset.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 13-10 Cowboys)

QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense will be slowed down significantly by the improving New Orleans defense.  Meanwhile, QB Drew Brees and WR Michael Thomas will lead the Saints to victory despite the Dallas defense’s shut down of the Saints RB duo.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for Miami to hold on for a home victory against a young Bills defense that is not great but can be pesky at times.  QB Ryan Tannehill will lead the Dolphins here, even without WR Danny Amendola. QB Josh Allen and his offense will perform better than they usually do, but expect them to just fall short in Miami against a mediocre, but not putrid Dolphins defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for the Atlanta defense to step it up against rookie QB Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, especially with RB Alex Collins on IR.  QB Matt Ryan won’t have an amazing game against this strong Baltimore D, but it will be enough thanks to the improving Falcons defense.  
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Broncos will ride the momentum to a third straight win as the defense dominates against a banged-up Cincinnati pass offense that will miss QB Andy Dalton, especially since WR A.J. Green is not 100%.  The Broncos will be alright offensively without TE Jeff Heuerman, as QB Case Keenum finally begins to rely on his receivers more in the Denver victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect QB Deshaun Watson to put up another strong game against the inexperienced Browns defense.  Meanwhile, the Texans D will do a respectable job in shutting down QB Baker Mayfield and this young Browns offensive core.  The Texans will win triumphantly as they play strong football all around.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Expect the Jaguars to win by a surprisingly large margin as they host the Colts.  They came close in Indy, so I expect a win in Jacksonville. QB Cody Kessler will also help the Jags improve as he outperforms QB Blake Bortles.  QB Andrew Luck and his receivers will struggle to handle the Jags strong D, but they’ll still manage to score a couple TDs.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

QB Eli Manning will have to dig into New York’s WR depth here to even score a TD against this improving Chicago defense.  The Giants’ experienced defense will limit the QB Chase Daniel-led Bears offense, but Daniel will still throw multiple TDs in the victory.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Packers should manage to win at home here, but as they nearly blow it, the “fire Mike McCarthy” campaign will just get louder.  QB Aaron Rodgers will rely on his younger receivers as they just barely get by the Cardinals. QB Josh Rosen will find his receivers more easily against a struggling Green Bay secondary, but it won’t quite be enough.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

QB Josh McCown should struggle regressively as his receivers are out done by a Titans secondary that is no more than average.  This will highlight the Jets’ flaws as the Titans win by multiple TD. A strong all-around offensive game as well as a clutch defensive performance will help Tennessee in the home win.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

The Chiefs won’t be at full strength after the release of RB Kareem Hunt.  But QB Patrick Mahomes II will still lead the Chiefs to victory though, with 3 TD and 0 INT.  The Raiders will come close though as QB Derek Carr relies on his younger receivers (since WR Jordy Nelson is struggling).
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

Neither offense will be up to full speed here as both defenses thrive.  But QB Tom Brady will lead the Pats to get by at home as he uses his WR depth, something New England has at full health.  The Vikings will make this close, led by QB Kirk Cousins and his receivers.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

The Seahawks will be able to get by here, but the 49ers will come close to an upset and play the better all around game, as young QB Nick Mullens throws multiple TD against the young Seattle D.  The Seahawks, however, will find a way to win thanks to veteran QB Russell Wilson.
Sunday, 8:20 PM EST

The Steelers offense will look good here, as QB Ben Roethlisberger tosses multiple TD.  But even without RB Melvin Gordon, QB Philip Rivers and his deep WR corps will be too much for the Pittsburgh D to handle as they outperform the Steelers significantly.  The Chargers will be able to handle Pittsburgh’s offense a little easier, helping their case in a road primetime victory, handing the Steelers their second straight loss.
Sunday, 8:15 PM EST

Expect the Eagles to win in a shootout thanks to the strong game by QB Carson Wentz and his receivers.  QB Colt McCoy will outperform his expectations though, tossing multiple TD and making this close. But the Eagles will still get past McCoy’s Redskins as their run game thrives in addition to the pass offense.

That’s all for today’s picks.  Stay tuned for more posts soon, including Part 3 of my MLB free agent predictions.

 

2018 NFL Midseason Report: Who’s Contending and Who’s Pretending

Welcome to my 2018 NFL Midseason Report.  Today, I will show you my Power Rankings for the first half of the 2018 season and show you my revised season predictions.  Comment below with your midseason Super Bowl prediction and keep reading to find out mine.

Part I: Updated NFL Power Rankings (Posted to Instagram Earlier this Week)

Note: Jaguars should say 3-5, not 5-3; otherwise records are as of 11/7.

Before the season, I was not that confident in the Chiefs, Saints, or Rams.  But all three have lost just one game in the first nine weeks, so I couldn’t disregard that fact.  They all rank Top 4 here, alongside the Patriots, who are riding a 5-game win streak and have dominated offensively week after week since WR Josh Gordon joined the team.  I base these Power Rankings not just on performance so far, but ability to continue to thrive, the Pats clearly have that ability.

The Chargers, Panthers, Texans, and Vikings have also been off to strong starts.  The Texans started the season 0-3, but have been able to overcome the slow start and win six straight.  The Vikings’ record isn’t looking as good as we expected, but their early-season schedule was very difficult.  Things should be smooth sailing from here.  The Vikes really only had one disappointing loss, and that was to the Bills in one crazy game.  The Vikings have not let one embarrassing loss derail them.

In the middle of the pack, you’ll see teams like the Steelers (started slow but have picked up the pace), Bengals, Bears, and Redskins (who surprised early), and teams like the Packers, Eagles, Titans, Falcons, and Jaguars.  They have been off to shaky starts, but I expect them to rebound, especially Philly, who does not have that difficult of a schedule remaining.  The Eagles and Vikings, last year’s NFC Championship opponents, have struggled early thanks to a tough schedule, but should rebound from it.  I could even see them pulling upsets to meet in the NFC Championship again.

The Ravens, Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Broncos are on a down-trend and fall just below this middle group.  The Seahawks, Lions, and Cowboys have rode easy schedules to early success, so don’t expect much more from them.  I see the down-trending teams as far better than this group.  At the bottom, we have the teams that are likely out of contention: the Cardinals, Browns, Colts, Bills, Raiders, Giants, and 49ers.  These teams have really struggled early and it will be hard for them to rebound.  The Colts may be 3-5, but their wins came against the Raiders, Bills, and Redskins.  That’s not a very impressive resume.

Part II: Updated Season Predictions

AFC East

  1. new_england_patriots New England Patriots (13-3, 1st Seed in AFC)
  2. Dolphins-logo Miami Dolphins (8-8)
  3. Jets-Logo New York Jets (5-11)
  4. Buffalo_Bills Buffalo Bills (3-13)

They may have started 1-2, but the Patriots have been dominant since Week 4’s match-up against Miami.  They should keep on rolling and finish with a 13-3 or 12-4 record, only losing 1-2 more games thanks to offensive dominance.  The Dolphins may have started strong, but they should level off now that QB Ryan Tannehill has been hurt for several weeks and their win streak is over.  This offense is good but they cannot compete with the top teams in the AFC.  QB Sam Darnold and the Jets should win a couple more games, but the injuries they’ve sustained will prevent them from making any kind of playoff run.  I don’t see the Bills improving much consdering the QB situation they are in.

AFC North

  1. pittsburgh-steelers Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1, 4th Seed in AFC)
  2. cincinnati-bengals Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
  3. Baltimore_Ravens_Logo Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
  4. cleveland-browns-brown Cleveland Browns (3-12-1)

The Steelers should end up winning the division, but they won’t be the playoff powerhouse they usually are if RB Le’Veon Bell keeps holding out.  They may manage to make it this year, but could this be the beginning of the end of the Steelers?  The Bengals and Ravens have had decent seasons and are knocking on Pittsburgh’s door.  Meanwhile, the Browns are still not very good, but they’ve clearly improved from last season and could be on the rise in years to come.

AFC South

  1. hou-texans Houston Texans (12-4, 2nd Seed in AFC)
  2. jacksonvile-jaguars Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6, 6th Seed in AFC)
  3. tennessee-titans. Tennessee Titans (9-7)
  4. indianapolis-colts Indianapolis Colts (3-13)

The Texans may have started off slow, but they had a very tough early schedule, and the season only gets easier from here.  They should cruise into a Top 3 playoff spot.  The Jaguars struggled without RB Leonard Fournette, but I think Fournette’s return should make a difference as the Jags rebound and snag a Wild Card.  The Titans aren’t quite as good as they were in 2017, but should still compete for a playoff spot.  If I’m wrong about Jacksonville, the Titans may sneak in to the playoffs.  The Colts should not win many more games with one of the worst defenses in the league.  They’ve only beat one team above .500, and QB Andrew Luck may lead them to another victory or two, but no more than that.

AFC West

  1. kansas-city-chiefs-logo Kansas City Chiefs (12-4, 3rd Seed in AFC)
  2. San_Diego_Chargers Los Angeles Chargers (12-4, 5th Seed in AFC)
  3. denver-broncos-logo Denver Broncos (8-8)
  4. oakland-raiders Oakland Raiders (3-13)

The Chiefs have dominated offensively thanks to the breakout of QB Patrick Mahomes II.  Alex Smith left Mahomes with a strong offensive core surrounding him, so the Chiefs should keep rolling.  However, the Chiefs have been known for late season plummets and chokes after strong starts.  Something tells me their inconsistent defense is going to cost them late in the season.  The Chargers may catch up; they’ve only lost to Kansas City and the Rams so far, and it’s hard to beat the same team twice.  Denver has looked alright so far with Case Keenum at QB, and the improved offense and strong defense should lead them to a smooth sailing 2nd half.  However, I’ve lost hope in the Raiders at this point.  Jon Gruden is a good coach.  The Raiders just need some defensive talent and a better QB.  That won’t come before the end of 2018.

NFC East

  1. philadelphia-eagles-logo Philadelphia Eagles (10-6, 4th Seed in NFC)
  2. washingtonredskins2 Washington Redskins (6-10)
  3. dalcowboyslogonew Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
  4. new-york-giants-logo New York Giants (4-12)

Look for QB Carson Wentz and the Eagles to dominate the second half.  The Golden Tate trade was a good move, and that will help them jump right back into contention, especially considering their easier 2nd half schedule.  They may face the Saints and Rams, but don’t have any other tough match-ups.  The Redskins, on the other hand, don’t have it so easy.  They’ll face the Texans, Jaguars, and Titans down the road.  The Cowboys will improve after the Amari Cooper trade, but I don’t see it being enough.  The Giants should win a few more games, as I expect QB Eli Manning to improve slightly in the 2nd half.  But they aren’t going anywhere in the NFC East.

NFC North

  1. min-vikings-logo2 Minnesota Vikings (11-4-1, 3rd Seed in NFC)
  2. gbpackers2 Green Bay Packers (10-5-1, 5th Seed in NFC)
  3. chicago-bears-logo Chicago Bears (7-9)
  4. Related image Detroit Lions (5-11)

The Vikes had a tough schedule early on, but the Patriots are their only remaining opponent with a current record above .500.  Things should be smooth sailing from here, especially with RB Dalvin Cook back.  The Packers should also make the playoffs.  I cannot imagine a healthy Aaron Rodgers missing the playoffs, even with the lack of talent around him.  The Bears still face the Vikings twice and the Packers and Rams once each, so I could see them fall out of the playoff picture.  I don’t see the Lions winning many more games either after giving up WR Golden Tate.  They’re an okay team, but they need defensive help and they play in such a tough division.

NFC South

  1. nosaints New Orleans Saints (13-3, 1st Seed in NFC)
  2. carolina-panthers-logo Carolina Panthers (10-6, 6th Seed in NFC)
  3. tampabaybuccaneers Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)
  4. atlfalcons Atlanta Falcons (8-8)

The Saints have been off to a strong start.  They added Eli Apple on defense, and they may have a lack of offensive depth, but Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and Michael Thomas alone have led them to a strong season.  Carolina should put up a fight for the division as well.  Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey have dominated, and the defense has definitely improved despite giving up 52 points to the Steelers.  The Bucs might be out of contention, but they do look better than before.  They have a deep offense and a young, rising defense that should help them turn it around in the 2nd half.  In this tough division, the Falcons will fall behind.  They are dominant offensively but the defense has been painfully inconsistent.

NFC West

  1. Related image Los Angeles Rams (13-3, 2nd Seed in NFC)
  2. seattle-seahawks Seattle Seahawks (6-10)
  3. az-cards Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
  4. sf-49ers San Francisco 49ers (5-11)

Until their loss in New Orleans, the Rams were undefeated.  So I’ll admit I was wrong about the Rams being overrated.  I was also vastly wrong about the Cardinals.  They clearly have potential, but QB Josh Rosen needs a couple years to develop.  Maybe he’ll have a second-year breakout like Jared Goff did.  The Seahawks have been alright so far, but they should also plummet due to a difficult upcoming schedule.  The Niners are likely also out of it now that QB Jimmy Garoppolo is done for the year.  But QB Nick Mullens should win them a few more games.

Playoff Predictions

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I could see a lot of upsets in these playoffs.  Look for the Eagles and Vikings to make runs despite rough starts.  In the AFC, I think the Pats will see the Chargers in the Championship game.  I think the Chiefs will be upset by Jacksonville in the first round.  I think it will be a Patriots-Vikings Super Bowl, with the Pats winning in the end.

That’s all for my NFL Midseason Report.  Stay tuned for more news soon.

 

2018 NFL Week 10 Picks & Previews: Contenders Arise in Unsurprising Outcomes

Welcome to my Week 10 NFL picks and previews.  Last week I went 8-5, putting my overall record at 76-56-2 (76-57-2 including TNF Week 10).  I’m still ahead of 2 ESPN experts and a CBS Sports expert. Don’t expect too many upsets this week.  I see this as a week where contenders will begin to rise after underwhelming starts.  This week will mark the beginning of the end of the surprise runs by teams like the Lions, Redskins, and Dolphins.  Meanwhile, expected contenders that have been struggling so far like the Eagles, Jaguars, and Packers will begin to rise. There will be a couple upsets, but who will pull them? Comment with your thoughts below, and keep reading to see my upset picks.  

Lock of the Week (SNF)

Look for QB Carson Wentz to start off the 2nd half of the season strong with a 3+ TD game.  The Eagles don’t have that difficult of a schedule remaining, which could provide an opportunity for Wentz to make a run for MVP with a big 2nd half.  Dallas should look alright on offense here, but Philly’s front seven will limit RB Ezekiel Elliott and overwhelm QB Dak Prescott. Philly will come out on top thanks to Wentz’s big game, as he connects with 7+ different receivers.  

Upset of the Week

Look for the TE duo of Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron to help the Colts offensively.  Jacksonville’s D will improve from the last couple of weeks, but I don’t see them holding Indy TD-less.  The Jaguars offensive rebound will make up for it. With RB Leonard Fournette healthy, this run game will thrive.  They suddenly have a lot of depth between Fournette, Carlos Hyde, and T.J. Yeldon. Look for QB Blake Bortles to improve as well.  He should have minimal issues against a rebuilding Colts defense that’s regarded as one of the NFL’s worst.  Indy will give up 30+ points in a loss here.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 52-21 Steelers)

Carolina should struggle to contain QB Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers.  But they will shut down a Le’Veon Bell-less Steelers run game. At this point, Bell will likely miss the whole season.  The Panthers should also be strong on offense again, as QB Cam Newton and his receivers lead Carolina to victory up against a mediocre Steelers defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

With TE Rob Gronkowski out, the Pats offense will not be up to full speed.  But expect a New England win anyway, as the Pats step it up on D against the young Titans offensive core.  QB Marcus Mariota will struggle to find open men as the Patriots defense keeps him and his receivers pressured.  The lack of WR depth will hurt the Titans in a loss.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

The Bills are down to their fourth string QB with Nathan Peterman struggling regressively and Derek Anderson and Josh Allen hurt.  However, the Jets are also without their starter, Sam Darnold.  Look for QB Josh McCown to succeed in filling in for Darnold, leading the Jets to a high scoring victory.  The defense will slip a little against QB Matt Barkley and the Bills, but Buffalo will not be able to put up enough points with Allen and TE Charles Clay injured.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Saints find themselves with a lack of WR depth with Dez Bryant, Cameron Meredith, and Ted Ginn Jr. all on IR now.  That being said, New Orleans will not be at their best offensively.  But the Bengals shouldn’t look much better without WR A.J. Green.  QB Drew Brees and his receivers should edge out a victory despite an underwhelming performance.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Matt Ryan and his receivers to put up another big game in Cleveland.  The Browns will try to keep up, but their young core won’t quite do it. The Falcons D will continue to struggle and give up a good number of points to the Browns, but the offensive dominance will be enough for Atlanta.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

This will not be easy for Kansas City.  QB Josh Rosen, RB David Johnson, and the Arizona offense should have a day against a banged-up Chiefs D.  However, QB Patrick Mahomes II should keep up the good work and this offense should be enough for the Chiefs to keep rolling at home despite defensive struggles that may cost them when it matters.  I’m honestly surprised they didn’t seek defensive help at the deadline.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick should be able to take advantage of his deep core of receivers to lead Tampa to victory here.  Also expect the Bucs D to surprise many with as they get in the way of QB Alex Smith and the Redskins offense.  Smith will struggle to find his receivers with the Bucs pressuring him and WR Paul Richardson sidelined with an injury.  The Buccaneers will play complimentary football and win triumphantly here.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Detroit’s offense will continue to miss WR Golden Tate as they struggle in Chicago.  Look for another big game by the Bears defense here.  QB Mitch Trubisky and the Chicago offense won’t be on their best either, but the shut down defense should be enough for the Bears to hold on for a victory.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

The Chargers D should look better than usual against a deep but struggling Oakland offense.  Meanwhile, QB Philip Rivers and his receivers will put up another big game as Rivers throws multiple TD.  The combination of these two things will cause the Raiders to fall short again at home.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST (OT)

Look for another overtime thriller out of QB Aaron Rodgers and his receivers.  Expect the Packers D to nearly cost them the game as they struggle more than they should against a Brock Osweiler-led Miami offense, but look for Rodgers to come up clutch and save the Packers once again.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

The dominance of the LA defense should continue with DE Dante Fowler Jr. on board.  Expect them to hold Seattle TD-less here.  The Rams offense won’t be at their best here, but QB Jared Goff and his WR trio will help lead the Rams to victory, supplemented by the shut-down D.  The Seahawks will continue to miss WR Brandon Marshall as the Rams keep Seattle’s other receivers well-covered for majority of the game.
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

 

Expect the struggles of QB Eli Manning to continue as he throws just 1 TD and multiple picks.  RB Saquon Barkley will keep this close with a big game despite Manning’s struggles. But the Giants will fall short as the defense limits, but cannot stop QB Nick Mullens and the young 49ers offensive core.  

That’s all for this week.  Stay tuned for my NFL midseason report later today, and stay tuned for my MLB off-season coverage throughout the rest of November.