Tag Archives: playoffs

My NFL Picks Week 11: Patriots play the Raiders South of the Border

Week 11 sees the Raiders play in Mexico City for the second straight season, this time taking on the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. Some other games between playoff contenders on this week’s slate include the Rams visiting the Vikings, the Saints hosting the Redskins and the Falcons battling the Seahawks in the Monday nighter. I went 7-7 last week, giving me an overall record of 80-66 for the season. I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red

Byes: Panthers, Colts, Jets, 49ers

Thursday Night Football

Titans at Steelers (-7.5) – Both of these teams are leading their divisions, but the Steelers seem to be a level above the Titans. Neither quarterback has had a great season thus far, with neither having thrown more than two touchdowns in a game this season. Titans QB Marcus Mariota has just seven scores in eight games. With the quarterbacks struggling, it may come down to the running game and defense to decide a winner, and I give the Steelers the advantage in both of those categories, especially with RB Le’Veon Bell. I think the Steelers win the game but I’ll take the points.

Sunday 1PM games

Lions at Bears (+3.5) – The Bears lost last week to a Packers team led by QB Brett Hundley. They face a much better passer this week in Lions QB Matthew Stafford and I don’t expect this game to be very close with Bears QB Mitch Trubisky having a subpar rookie season. The Lions have better offensive weapons in most areas of the game, as well, so I’ll give the points.

Jaguars at Browns (+7.5) – After the 49ers beat the Giants last week, the Browns are the last winless team remaining in the NFL at 0-9. I think they’ll be 0-10 after this game when they face a tough Jaguars defense that I think will help the Jags cover the 7.5-point spread.

Ravens at Packers (+2.5)With Packers QB Aaron Rodgers on IR, neither of these teams has a good offense so I’m expecting a low-scoring game at Lambeau Field. The Ravens could get RB Danny Woodhead back from IR, which would help them, but that’s still up in the air. I think this game could go either way so since I’m expecting a close game I’ll take the points.

Chiefs at Giants (+10.5)After starting the season 5-0, the Chiefs have dropped three of their last four games, but they’re coming off their bye. The 1-8 Giants, on the other hand, are coming off a loss against the previously winless 49ers. I expect the Chiefs to win this game, but I think the spread is a little too big because the Chiefs generally don’t win big. I’ll take the points.

Rams at Vikings (-2.5) – Both of these teams are 7-2 on the season, but the Rams have looked like one of the best teams in the league this season behind QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley. QB Teddy Bridgewater is expected to come off of IR this week but QB Case Keenum will get the start for the Vikings, who have won their last five games. I think that streak ends here. The Rams could be the best team in the NFC so I’m picking them to win outright. Given that, I’ll take the points.

Redskins at Saints (-7.5) – The Saints are coming off a 47-point outing at the Bills and now return home, where QB Drew Brees generally plays better than on the road, to take on the Redskins. The Saints aren’t likely to put up more than 40 points again this week, but I think they’ll win the game. The Redskins have a better offense than the Bills so they should be able to keep the game closer than last week’s blowout so I’ll take the points with the road team.

Cardinals at Texans (+1.5) – This is a battle of bad fill-in quarterbacks, with Blaine Gabbert getting the start — his first since Week 5 of 2016 — for the Cardinals and Tom Savage going for the Texans. The Cardinals are coming off their bye so they’re well-rested but I think the Texans have the better overall offensive weapons with WR DeAndre Hopkins and RB Lamar Miller so I’ll take the points at home.

Buccaneers at Dolphins (-2.5) – This game was scheduled for Week 1 but was rescheduled for the teams’ common bye week due to Hurricane Irma. The schedule change means veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under center for the Buccaneers in place on injured QB Jameis Winston. With QB Jay Cutler opposing Fitzpatrick, this is another meeting of mediocre quarterbacks. I trust Fitzpatrick more than Cutler, and the Dolphins don’t have much of a running game since trading RB Jay Ajayi so I’ll take the points.

Sunday 4PM games

Bills at Chargers (-4.5)With the news that the Bills are benching QB Tyrod Taylor in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman, I think the Bills offense will take a hit as Taylor, while not great, is a serviceable quarterback. On the other side, Chargers QB Philip Rivers is in the concussion protocol and his availability for Sunday’s game is in question though team officials are indicating they are optimistic about his chances to play. If he can’t go, QB Kellen Clemens will get the start in his place. I think Rivers plays so I’ll give the points. If it’s Clemens, I think I’d take the points.

Bengals at Broncos (-2.5) This is a meeting of two mediocre offenses but I think the Broncos have the advantage on defense, despite the fact that it hasn’t looked as good lately. Regardless, i think Denver’s D will be able to stop the Andy Dalton-led Bengals offense.

Patriots at Raiders (+6.5) The Raiders have an advantage in this one in that they played a game at Estadio Azteca last season, but I don’t think it’ll do them much good. The Patriots offense behind QB Tom Brady and the defense has gotten significantly better over the last month or so. I don’t think this game will be that close. I’ll give the points.

Sunday Night Football

Eagles at Cowboys (+3.5) – QB Carson Wentz is having a breakout season for the Eagles, who look to win their eighth game of the season against a Cowboys team that didn’t look good without RB Ezekiel Elliott last week. Without him, QB Dak Prescott will have to outplay Wentz to give the Cowboys a chance to win. I don’t think that’ll happen so I’ll give the points as I think Philly could win by a touchdown.

Monday Night Football

Falcons at Seahawks (-3.5)The week ends with the Falcons heading across the country to take on the Seahawks, who will be without CB Richard Sherman on defense after he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in last week’s game. QB Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense are playing better than the Falcons behind QB Matt Ryan, and I expect that to continue this week. I’ll give the points in this one.

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Playoff predictions and Super Bowl LII winner

Time to finish up the season preview posts with my projected NFL playoff bracket for the coming season. I’ve determined what records I think every team will end up with this season and the subsequent playoff seedings. Here are my playoff predictions. Continue reading

4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Season predictions

Here are my predictions for how the 2017 NFL season will play out. I went through and picked who I think will win each game and these are the final records, standings and playoff seedings. Thanks to the NFL Playoff Predictor for making it easy to track everything. There were some changes in my thinking from wen I was writing the team previews through the summers based on signings, trades and other news items from recent weeks, as well as general changes in my opinions of some teams.

afc_1

AFC East
Patriots 12-4
Dolphins 7-9
Bills 4-12
Jets 2-14

AFC North
Steelers 12-4
Ravens 6-10
Bengals 5-11
Browns 3-13

AFC South
Titans 10-6
Texans 9-7
Colts 6-10
Jaguars 4-12

AFC West
Raiders 14-2
Chiefs 12-4
Broncos 8-8
Chargers 5-11

AFC Playoff Seeds
1-Raiders
2-Patriots
3-Steelers
4-Titans
5-Chiefs
6-Texans

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NFC East
Cowboys 10-6
Eagles 10-6
Giants 9-7
Redskins 8-8

NFC North
Packers 11-5
Vikings 10-6
Lions 9-7
Bears 4-12

NFC South
Falcons 11-5
Panthers 9-7
Buccaneers 9-7
Saints 8-8

NFC West
Seahawks 12-4
Cardinals 10-6
Rams 4-12
49ers 3-13

NFC Playoff Seeds
1-Seahawks
2-Packers
3-Falcons
4-Cowboys
5-Eagles
6-Vikings

You can check out my game-by-game picks for the regular season here. Coming this weekend, I’ll make my postseason picks, including the Super Bowl and my picks for Week 1’s games.

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Previewing NFL Kickoff 2017: Chiefs at Patriots

It’s been seven months since the Patriots beat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, the first time the game went to overtime. With the championship, the Patriots earn the honor of hosting the first game of the NFL regular season, with the Thursday night Kickoff game before the rest of the teams play on opening weekend. With the Falcons on New England’s home schedule this season, there was a possibility of starting the season with a Super Bowl rematch for the second straight year, but the league chose to save that game for later in the season. Instead, the Chiefs will face the Patriots as they open the season at Gillette Stadium.

Both teams will be without a key member of the offense. For the visitors, RB Spencer Ware suffered a season-ending knee injury in the team’s third preseason game. That was the same week that Patriots WR Julian Edelman tore his ACL, ending his season before it could begin. Rookie RB Kareem Hunt is expected to get the bulk of the work at running back for the Chiefs, while a number of players could see more action on the field for New England to fill in for Edelman, with WR Chris Hogan among the likely possibilities.

QB Alex Smith isn’t the flashiest quarterback in the league, but he is a game manager who doesn’t turn the ball over, averaging fewer than 10 interceptions per season in his career. TE Travis Kelce had more than 1,100 receiving yards last season on 85 yards, but there wasn’t another pass-catcher who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark. WR Tyreek Hill was the closest, with 593 yards. He needs to step up his game this season, and a primetime showcase against the Patriots is a fine time to show that he is able to take the next step in his career in 2017. Having the rookie Hunt as the likely bellcow in the backfield could pose problems for the Chiefs. He’ll have to face a strong Patriots defense in his first career game. Even before Ware’s injury, people thought Hunt would play a role in the offense — but not necessarily in Week 1. It’ll be a tough challenge for him to have a good showing in his debut performance. RBs Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller could also see some time on the field.

The Patriots, of course, have one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL in Tom Brady. While losing Edelman takes away Brady’s top pass-catching option, he still has plenty of other players who he can throw to, led by TE Rob Gronkowski, whose biggest weakness is being able to stay healthy on the field. That won’t be a problem in Week 1, though, barring an in-game injury. Expect a monster game from Gronk. The running game is a bit of a mess for New England, with Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, Dion Lewis and James White all expected to be a part of it. I think Burkhead will have the best stats of the group by the end of the season, but there’s no telling what could happen with the running backs in Week 1.

Both defenses finished in the top 10 of points allowed last season, with the Patriots No. 1 in the category and Kansas City ranking seventh. The Chiefs were in the bottom 10, however, in yards allowed while the Patriots were eighth in the league. The Patriots are clearly the better team on both sides of ball. Both teams have question marks in the run game, but I think the Patriots’ group of veterans can outperform the Chiefs’ rookie. Andy Reid is a good coach but not as good as Bill Belichick. All signs point to the Patriots being the better team in this game.

The over/under is 42.5; I’ll take the over on that number.  The Patriots are 8.5-point favorites, according to ESPN’s Pigskin PIck’em. While I like the Patriots to win, I’ll take the Chiefs to keep it within the spread.

Stay tuned later in the week for my season and playoff predictions, along with the rest of my Week 1 picks.

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: New England Patriots (Updated)

The New England Patriots are up next on our previews of all 32 NFL teams, continuing to make our way through the AFC East which the Patriots won last season en route to winning Super Bowl LI.

Despite QB Tom Brady being suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season, the Patriots ended up winning the division and eventually pulled off an epic comeback to beat the Falcons to win the first Super Bowl to go to overtime. Despite winning yet another championship, the Patriots weren’t content to stick with the roster they had last year. In the offseason, they acquired WR Brandin Cooks and TE Dwayne Allen in trades with the Saints and Colts, respectively. They also made a trade with the Panthers to get DL Kony Ealy. Other additions they’ve made since the season ended include the signings of CB Stephon Gilmore and RBs Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee. They added to both the offense and defense, and both units were already near the top of the league last season. Their main losses on the offense were RB LeGarrette Blount and TE Martellus Bennett

In the 12 games he played last season, Brady completed 67.4% of his passes for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns with just 2 interceptions for an impressive 14:1 TD:INT ratio. WR Julian Edelman had 98 receptions in 13 games for 1,106 yards and 3 touchdowns. With New Orleans, Cooks had 78 receptions for 1,173 yards and 8 touchdowns.  TE Rob Gronkowski was limited to eight games due to injuries. He had 25 catches for 540 yards and 3 touchdowns in the games he played. With the Colts, Allen had 35 receptions for 406 yards and 6 touchdowns in 14 games. Blount was the team’s leading rusher and no other running back had more than 64 carries, but RB James White was a significant part of the passing game, catching 60 balls for 551 yards and 5 touchdowns. The offense scored the third-most points in the league and the defense allowed the fewest points.

If Gronk can stay healthy this year, he will obviously be a much bigger part of the offense and Edelman should have his usual season of being in the range of 100 receptions. Cooks provides an upgrade at receiver over WR Chris Hogan, but he likely won’t get quite the numbers he had in New Orleans last season because he was the main focus of the receiving game for the Saints and the Patriots have more players to whom Brady can pass the ball. Allen should be a good No. 2 at the tight end position and could be a viable No. 1 if Gronk misses significant time again this year. Allen does have a history of injuries himself and hasn’t played a full 16-game season since his rookie year in 2012. White and RB Dion Lewis, who missed nine games last season due to injury, will likely split the bulk of the time at running back, with White getting more reps on passing downs so Lewis will likely have to step up with Blount gone. Burkhead and Gillislee will likely provide depth at the position.

The Patriots’ schedule begins with the traditional Thursday night game prior to the first Sunday of the season, giving the Super Bowl winners a season-opening showcase. This year, the Patriots host the Chiefs in that first game. They visit the Saints in Week 2, and the Texans come to town in Week 3 for a rematch of the AFC Divisional playoff game from January. The Panthers are up next for another home game in Week 4, then the Patriots visit the Buccaneers for a Thursday night contest in Week 5. The first divisional game comes in Week 6 at the Jets, followed by the anticipated Super Bowl LI rematch between the Patriots and Falcons in Week 7. That’s a Sunday night game in Atlanta. The Patriots get their bye in Week 9, then they head to Denver to take on the Broncos in Week 10’s Sunday nighter. The Patriots head south of the border in Week 11 when they take on the Raiders in Mexico City, then return to Foxboro to host the Dolphins in Week 12. The Patriots then have three straight road games, at the Bills in Week 13, a Monday night game at the Dolphins in Week 14 and an AFC Championship rematch at the Steelers in Week 15. The Patriots end the regular season with two home games, against the Bills in Week 16 and the Jets in Week 17. I think the Patriots can win 12 or 13 games this season and should easily win the AFC East for the ninth straight season. The real question for the Patriots is can they become the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since they did it in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX?

Update (8/26): In the Patriots’ third preseason game Friday night, Edelman suffered a torn ACL that will cause him to miss the entire 2017 season. That is a blow to the team’s offense and will require the likes of Hogan and WRs Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola to step up their games as they advance up the receivers depth chart. Hogan had the best stats of that trio last year, with 38 catches for 680 yards and 4 touchdowns. None of those three is likely to match the production the Patriots would have gotten out of Edelman, but they can combine to make up some of the numbers the team is losing. Even with Edelman out for the year, I don’t think that changes the fact that the Patriots are the best team in the division and should still win it. The team also released Ealy, so the Patriots traded for him but he didn’t play in a single regular season game for them.

Source: http://www.patriots.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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Super Bowl LI Preview: Brady, Belichick go for record 5th rings as Patriots battle Falcons

For the first time in four years, the Super Bowl does not consist of the two No. 1 seeds going against each other. It’s the AFC’s top-seeded Patriots — going for the franchise’s fifth title, which would tie the team for second-most all-time behind the Steelers — taking on the Falcons, the No. 2 seed from the NFC, who are playing in just their second Super Bowl and looking for their first title. The Patriots, on the other hand, are playing in their NFL-record ninth championship game. Patriots QB Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick have each been part of the Patriots’ four prior championships and are making their seventh overall Super Bowl appearances, the most in league history for a player or coach.

Neither team struggled to win its conference championship game, both more than doubling their opponent’s score. The Falcons defense stifled QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense and Green Bay’s defense couldn’t stop QB Matt Ryan and the rest of the Atlanta offense as the Falcons won 44-21. Brady and the Patriots put up 36 points on the Steelers defense and limited Pittsburgh’s offense, which played without RB Le’Veon Bell for most of the game when he exited early with a groin injury. New England won the game by a final score of 36-17.

With two of the league’s best offenses playing in Super Bowl LI, it looks to be a high-scoring game, which is reflected in the 59 over/under in Vegas, which is up from the already-high 56.5 where it opened. The Patriots are three-point favorites in the game, which opened as a pick ’em. Heading into the final game of the postseason, I am 9-2 picking games straight up, 6-4 against the spread and 5-5 on over/unders.

The Falcons had the league’s top scoring offense during the regular season and have kept up the offensive attack through their first two playoff games, scoring 36 and 44, respectively. The Patriots can put points on the board, as well, scoring 34 and 36, respectively, in their first two games of this postseason. Both quarterbacks are MVP candidates after putting up big numbers during the season but I’ll give the advantage of the Brady and the Patriots. It’s hard to go against the clutch performances he has put up throughout his career and the four Super Bowls he has one. I say the Falcons have the advantage at the receiver position with WR Julio Jones, who is one of the best in the game, gaining more than 1,400 receiving yards with 6 touchdowns during the season and adding another 4 touchdowns in his two playoff games so far this season. The question is how healthy he is, as he has been limited in practice this week. WR Julian Edelman should have a good game for the Patriots, but a key for them could be WR Chris Hogan repeating the performance he had in the AFC Championship, when he had 9 receptions for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Steelers. Falcons RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 19 rushing touchdowns in the regular season, but Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount ran the ball into the end zone 18 times himself while rushing for more than 1,100 yards. The Patriots rushing attack hasn’t been able to get much going yet in the postseason, which could hurt them against the Falcons if they can’t keep up with the Freeman-Coleman combo. I think the running games are pretty even between the two teams.

The Patriots had the top scoring defense during the regular season and the Falcons defense has improved in recent weeks, having allowed 21 points or fewer in five of their last six games. Other than the Packers last week, though, they didn’t face a team with as strong of an offense as the Patriots have so New England will present a big challenge for the Atlanta defense. For the Patriots defense, CB Malcolm Butler — who made the game-winning interception in Super Bowl XLIX — led the team with 4 interceptions during the regular season. Patriots have the advantage at defense.

There’s no doubt that the Patriots have the advantage at head coach, with Belichick coaching in his record-setting seventh Super Bowl. Although Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is in his first Super Bowl as a head coach, he was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator when they made it to Super Bowls XLVIII and XLIX so he knows what it’s like to be on the sidelines for a Super Bowl. But it’s Belichick who is considered by many to be the best coach in NFL history. He knows how to come up with a game plan that helps to limit the opponent’s best weapon. If he can do that on Sunday, it’ll likely mean Jones has a subpar performance.

This should be a close game, but I think Brady and Belichick will lead the Patriots to the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl title. I’m predicting a final score of 31-27 Patriots so I’ll take them to cover and that’ll be under the 59. Blount is named MVP.

(Spread and over/under from Vegas Insider)

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NFL Conference Championship Preview: Packers-Falcons, Steelers-Patriots playing for spots in Super Bowl LI

We’re down to the final four teams of the NFL season, who need to win just one more game to advance to Super Bowl LI in Houston. Sunday’s action begins in the NFC with QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers heading to Atlanta to take on the Falcons, led by QB Matt Ryan, in what will be the final game at the Georgia Dome before the Falcons’ new stadium opens next season. In the AFC, QB Ben Roethlisberger leads the Steelers to Gillette Stadium to take on QB Tom Brady and the Patriots, who are playing in their sixth straight AFC Championship game. This foursome features three quarterbacks — Rodgers, Ryan and Brady — who are in the conversation for league MVP and three — with Ryan being the exception — who already have Super Bowl titles in their careers, with Brady going for his fifth. With these four teams still alive, my preseason pick of the Packers meeting the Patriots in Super Bowl LI is still alive. I went 3-1 against the spread, straight up and on the over/unders last weekend to bring my totals for the postseason to 5-3 against the spread, 7-1 straight up and 4-4 on over/unders.

No. 4 seed Green Bay Packers at No. 2 seed Atlanta Falcons (-5.5, over/under 60.5)

On Sunday, the Packers played in one of the best playoff games in recent memory, beating the top-seeded Cowboys in a game that saw three 50-plus yard field goals made in the final 93 seconds, two of which — including the game-winner — came off the foot of Packers K Mason Crosby. The Packers struck early in the game, taking a 21-3 lead in the second quarter before the Cowboys came back with a touchdown by WR Dez Bryant and a Dan Bailey field goal to make it 21-13 at halftime. The Cowboys’ big comeback came in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points to tie it and force Crosby to make the final kick from 51 yards out at the end of regulation to win the game without having to go to overtime. Rodgers was 28-for-43 for 356 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Both of his touchdowns were thrown to tight ends, Jared Cook, and Richard Rodgers. Cook was the team’s leading receiver with 6 receptions for 104 yards and the score; he also caught the pass that set up Crosby’s game-winning kick. R. Rodgers only catch was the 34-yard touchdown that put the Packers on the board in the opening quarter. While the Packers didn’t get many rushing yards, RB Ty Montgomery did score a couple of rushing touchdowns among his 11 carries, which went for 47 yards; he also added 34 yards on 6 receptions. S Micah Hyde led the way defensively, with an interception and a sack; LB NIck Perry accounted for the Packers’ other sack of Cowboys QB Dak Prescott en route to the 34-31 win in the nailbiter.

Following the Falcons’ first-round bye, Ryan didn’t miss a step from the numbers he put up during the course of the season. throwing 3 touchdowns without an interception on a 26-for-37, 338-yard performance against a decent Seahawks defense that was suffering through some injuries. WR Julio Jones had 6 receptions for 67 yards with a touchdown before sitting out part of the fourth quarter after aggravating a toe injury that was affecting him late in the regular season. Ryan’s two other touchdowns went to WR Mohamed Sanu and RB Tevin Coleman. RB Devonta Freeman was the team’s top receiver for the game, with 4 receptions for 80 yards, including a 53-yarder. Although he didn’t get a touchdown reception, Freeman did score on the ground, with a one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that highlighted his 14-carry, 45-yard rushing performance. He had the most carries for the Falcons but Coleman totaled the most rushing yards, with 57 yards on 11 attempts. The defense intercepted two of his Seahawks QB Russell Wilson’s 30 passes, with LB Deion Jones and S Ricardo Allen recording them. The team also sacked Wilson three times in the 36-20 victory.

Offense is what both of these teams do best so it should be a high-scoring game, as evidenced by the 60.5 over/under total. Rodgers and Ryan were the top two in the league in passing touchdowns during the regular season, with 40 and 38, respectively. With both quarterbacks able to rack up the passing yards, the running game could be key to victory in this one. That is an area in which the Falcons have the advantage. Even though Freeman didn’t have great numbers against the Seahawks, he ranked in the top 10 in both rushing yards and touchdowns in the regular season, and Coleman is among the best No. 2 running backs in the league who can put up numbers when Freeman needs a breather. The Packers, on the other hand, have struggled in the running game all season, including totaling just 87 yards on the ground on Sunday. The Packers did fine without WR Jordy Nelson last week and it’s not looking good for him to play this week. WR Davante Adams has an ankle injury and has not been practicing this week,but he is expected to play. For the Falcons, Jones should be able to take the field despite his toe injury. I think the Packers be able to win without Nelson, though it would be tougher if Adams is limited. Give me the Packers with the points in a 31-27 game, so under the 60.5.

No. 3 seed Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 1 seed New England Patriots (-6, over/under 50.5)

The Steelers beat the Chiefs, 18-16, despite not scoring a touchdown. K Chris Boswell was a perfect 6-for-6 on field goal attempts, the longest from 45 yards, to account for all of Pittsburgh’s scoring. RB Le’Veon Bell was the team’s best offensive player as he improved upon his Steeler-record 167-yard game in the wild-card round with a 170-yard performance on 30 rushes last week. Roethlisberger was 20-for-31 for 224 and 1 interception in the game. Not surprisingly, WR Antonio Brown was the top receiver, totaling 6 receptions for 108 yards. TE Jesse James had a good game, with 5 catches for 83 yards. The defense did a good job of containing Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill, who I called the X-factor in my preview of the game. In terms of defensive stats, LB Ryan Shazier had an interception of Chiefs QB Alex Smith and LB James Harrison recorded a sack.

The Patriots didn’t look great in the first three quarters but pulled away in the fourth to beat the Texans 34-16 in the divisional round. Brady threw two interceptions, which was as many as he threw in his 12 regular-season games, on the way to finishing 18-for-38 for 287 yards and 2 touchdowns. WR Julian Edelman had 8 receptions for 137 yards, and Brady’s touchdown passes went to RBs Dion Lewis and James White. Lewis also scored on a rushing touchdown and a kick return touchdown, but he did fumble the ball twice, losing it once. The Patriots didn’t get much production on the ground, with fewer than 100 rushing yards. The defense grabbed 3 interceptions against Texans QB Brock Osweiler and sacked him three times, with CB Logan Ryan recording both a sack and interception.

The Patriots seem to be the most-balanced team in this foursome, with a strong offense and defense. Even at 39 years old, Brady is playing at the top of his game and while Roethlisberger is a good quarterback, he hasn’t been playing well lately and can’t match the numbers Brady is putting up. Bell will have to have a third straight game of more than 100 yards if the Steelers want to pull out the upset because I think he is the team’s best offensive weapon. That might be tough,though, facing the Patriots’ stout defense. Field goals won’t cut it this week. If they can’t score when they get into the end zone, it’s not going to go well for the Steelers. It’s a six-point spread and I think the Patriots can cover it. I’ll take them to win 30-21, which will be just over the over/under.

These results would keep my preseason Super Bowl LI pick — Packers versus Patriots — alive. The Packer injuries worry me a little, but it’s hard to go against Rodgers with the way he’s been playing of late, particularly since Ryan doesn’t have a great track record in his postseason career. I’m more confident in my Patriots pick because Roethlisberger hasn’t been playing well of late and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick usually does a good job of stopping the opponent’s best offensive weapon, which in this case is Bell.

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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