Tag Archives: playoffs

Super Bowl LII Preview: Patriots seek 6th championship, Eagles looking for first Super Bowl title

We’ve made it through the NFL regular season and playoffs, and it’s time to determine the league’s next champion in Super Bowl LII. The top seed in each conference is playing in the game, with the Eagles representing the NFC and the Patriots having made it out of the AFC. It’s the Patriots’ second straight Super Bowl appearance and third in the last four years. For the Eagles, it’s their first appearance in the title game since Super Bowl XXXIX — when they lost to the Patriots, 24-21. The Eagles are looking for their first Super Bowl title in franchise history, while the Patriots are going for their sixth, which would tie them for the most all-time.

The Eagles didn’t have any problem winning the NFC Championship game, blowing out the Vikings by a final score of 38-7 behind a fantastic performance by QB Nick Foles, who had his best game of the season since taking over for injured QB Carson Wentz. He was 26-for-33 for 352 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. Three Eagles receivers had at least five receptions, with TE Zach Ertz leading the team with eight catches for 93 yards. WRs Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith had five receptions apiece, with Jeffery scoring two touchdowns and Smith getting one score. On the ground, RB Jay Ajayi had 73 yards and LeGarrette Blount — who was part of the Patriots’ championship team last season — scoring a touchdown on six carries. As good as the offense was, the defense may have been even better. After allowing a touchdown on the Vikings’ opening drive, the defense held them scoreless the rest of the way while recording two interceptions and recovering a lost fumble.

Things didn’t go as smoothly for the Patriots in the AFC title game. They needed to score 14 fourth-quarter points to help overcome a deficit to beat the Jaguars and continue their quest for back-to-back titles. QB Tom Brady completed 26 of 38 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. He did much of that without his top weapon, TE Rob Gronkowski, who left the game with a concussion after securing just one reception for 21 yards. WRs Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks picked up the slack in Gronkowski’s absence, catching seven and six passes, respectively. Amendola had two touchdowns and a total of 84 yards on his catches, and Cooks went for 100 yards on his six grabs. None of the running backs did much in the running game, but James White had a rushing touchdown and Dion Lewis had seven receptions for 32 yards. Defensively, the Patriots had one forced fumble but no interceptions.

The Patriots are favored by 4.5 points, which is down 1.5 points from the opening line, with an over/under of 48, a point higher than where it opened.

Looking ahead to the game, it’s a battle of the strong Eagles defense against the Tom Brady-led offense of the Patriots, which can seemingly score against any team. Gronkowski has been practicing this week and officially cleared the concussion protocol on Thursday, so he will be in the game, which will of course help the Patriots offense. Foles needs to come close to a repeat performance to what he did in the NFC Championship for the Eagles to have a chance to win the victory. The defense will keep the Eagles in the game and I think it’ll be close, but I don’t think the Eagles offense will be able to match up with the Patriots enough to get the win. I’ll go with the Patriots to win the game, but I’ll take the 4.5 points with the Eagles. I’ll go under the 48 as well. I think Gronk has a big game and takes home the MVP trophy.

(Spread and over/under from Vegas Insider)

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My NFL Picks: Conference Championships — Vikings play a road game hoping for a Super Bowl at home

Before the season started, not many people probably expected the starting quarterbacks in the conference championship games to be Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, Nick Foles and Tom Brady. The latter is probably the only one of the quartet that would have had many votes. But thanks to injuries and an upset in the AFC divisional round, that’s where we stand as we enter the semifinals of the tournament known as the NFL postseason.

The first game of the Sunday doubleheader features Bortles leading the Jaguars — whose defense has carried them to this point — into Foxboro to take on Brady and the Patriots, who are playing in their seventh-straight conference championship game — and 12th overall during the Brady era — as they look to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Then the nightcap features the top two seeds in the NFC, with Foles and the Eagles hosting Keenum and the Vikings, who are one win away from becoming the first team in league history to play in a Super Bowl being held in its home stadium.

I didn’t have a good week with my picks last week. I was 1-3 picking games, 0-3-1 against the spread, and 2-2 on over/unders. For the postseason, I’m 3-5 straight up, 1-6-1 ATS, and 4-4 on over/unders.

No. 3 seed Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 1 seed New England Patriots (-7.5, over/under 45)

The Jaguars were underdogs by a full touchdown against the Steelers last week, but they won a high-scoring affair, 45-42, to make it to their third conference championship game in franchise history. Bortles had one of his typical games last week, completing just over 50% of his passes for 214 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. RB Leonard Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. The defense kept the Jaguars in the game, with two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery, which LB Telvin Smith returned 50 yards for a touchdown.

In the Patriots’ 35-14 thumping of the Titans, Brady was 35-for-53 for 337 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He threw one touchdown each to TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Chris Hogan and RB James White, while WR Danny Amendola had 11 receptions for 112 yards. On the ground, RB Dion Lewis had 15 carries for 62 yards, and RB Brandon Bolden and White each had a rushing touchdown. The Patriots didn’t have any defensive scores or any takeaways, but the defense did sack Marcus Mariota eight times in the game and limited the Titans to one touchdown until late in the game when they added a second when the game was already out of reach.

That brings us to this week. There’s not much of a chance that the Jaguars will score in the 40s again this week, so if the defense gives up 42 points again, the home team will be celebrating another AFC title. Bortles has to make sure he doesn’t  turn the ball over, but Fournette will be key to success for the Jaguars. Not only is he the team’s best offensive player, but the Jags have to run the ball a lot to keep the clock moving and keep Brady off the field. That is essential if the Jags want to make it to the first Super Bowl in franchise history. Also essential, the defensive players being at the top of their game. The Jaguars have one of the best defenses in the league, and good defenses have had success keeping Brady in check this season. The big story for the Patriots is Brady’s throwing hand. He injured it in practice earlier in the week and is questionable for Sunday. It a near-certainty that he’ll play, but if the hand is a real issue, it could prevent him from playing up to the level we’re used to seeing from him. He has a history of performing well in big games, and I think that will continue this week. I don’t think the hand will be much of an issue. I expect the Jaguars to give the Patriots a more competitive game than the Titans did last week, but the Patriots should come out on top. I’ll go with a final score of 30-20, so that’s Patriots (-7.5) and over the 45.

No. 2 seed Minnesota Vikings at No. 1 seed Philadelphia Eagles (+3, over/under 39)

The Vikings needed one of the best finishes in NFL history to beat the Saints last week after giving up a 17-0 halftime lead. Keenum was 25-for-40 passing for 318 yards, one touchdown and one interception. WR Stefon Diggs had six receptions for 137 yards, including the game-winning touchdown on the memorable final play. WR Adam Thielen added six catches of his own for 74 yards. RBs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon each had a rushing touchdown, with Murray running for 50 yards and McKinnon 34 yards. The defense sacked Drew Brees twice to go along with two interceptions.

The Eagles relied largely on their defense to beat the Falcons and get the chance to host the NFC championship game. Foles was 23-for-30 for 246, with neither a passing touchdown nor an interception. The Eagles’ lone touchdown last week came on a run by RB LeGarrette Blount, just one of nine carries in the game for him. RB Jay Ajayi was the most production Eagle on the ground, which isn’t saying much because he only had 54 yards on 15 carries. The leading pass-catcher was WR Alshon Jeffery, who had four receptions for 61 yards. RB Corey Clement caught five balls for 31 yards.

For this week’s game, it’s a battle of backup quarterbacks, with Keenum filling in for Sam Bradford and Foles seeing action because of the injury to Carson Wentz. Of the two quarterbacks, Keenum is probably better but neither is likely going to be the reason his team wins the game.This is going to be  a defensive battle. Both teams have good defenses, but the Vikings have the better unit on that side of the ball. The Vikings also have the better receivers with Thielen and Diggs, but Eagles TE Zach Ertz could be an X-factor for his team. The Eagles have  a slight advantage in the running game, with Ajayi versus the Vikings’ duo. Overall, I give the Vikings the edge in what should be a close, low-scoring affair. I’m going with a Vikings win, 21-17, which means Vikings (-3) and just under the 39.

By the end of the night Sunday, we’ll know which teams will be playing in Super Bowl LII in Minnesota. In the NFC, it’ll definitely be a quarterback playing in his first Super Bowl. In the AFC, it’ll be either another first-timer or a quarterback with a lot of Super Bowl experience.

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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My NFL Picks: Divisional Round — Can the Titans, Jags pull off upsets

After a couple of surprising results in the Wild Card round, we’re now at the NFL Divisional playoffs. After their bye weeks, the Patriots, Steelers, Eagles and Vikings are back in action and hosting games this weekend. The Vikings are just two wins away from becoming the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium, while the Patriots are looking to repeat as back-to-back Super Bowl champions. The Eagles are hoping they’ll be able to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history, but that’ll be tough with Nick Foles starting at quarterback.

In last week’s games, I went 2-2 straight up, 1-3 against the spread and 2-2 on over/unders for a mediocre start to the postseason with my picks.

Saturday

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No. 6 seed Atlanta Falcons at No. 1 seed Philadelphia Eagles (13-3, NFC East champions) (+3, over/under 41)

The Falcons are coming off somewhat of an upset, beating the Rams on the road last week, and they now face the top team in the conference in the Eagles. The Eagles aren’t at full strength, though, with Foles continuing to start with Carson Wentz injured. The Eagles have played so poorly since Wentz went down that they’re the underdogs in this game despite being the top seed in the conference and playing at home.

In the seven games he’s played this season, including three starts, Foles has completed 56.4% of his passes for 537 yards and five touchdowns, with two interceptions. He won two of his three starts, but  those games were against the Giants and Raiders; the Falcons will present a much bigger challenge. The Eagles don’t have much of a running game, with RB LeGarrette Blount the most productive back this season with 766 yards but just two touchdowns a season after scoring 18 touchdowns with the Patriots. In the passing game, TE Zach Ertz was the team’s leading receiver this season with 74 catches for 824 yards and eight touchdowns, but WR Nelson Agholor wasn’t far behind him with 768 yards and eight touchdowns — but most of that production was with Wentz throwing them the ball. Defensively, the team gave up the fourth-fewest points in the league this season and had the fourth-most takeaways.

The Eagles will likely have to rely on the defense to stop the Falcons, led by QB Matt Ryan, RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and WR Julio Jones. With the way Foles has played since Wentz went down, I think the Falcons are the better team. I’ll give the points and go with the Falcons (-3), 27-20, and over 41.

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No. 5 seed Tennessee Titans at No. 1 seed New England Patriots (13-3, AFC East champions) (-13.5, over/under 48)

This seems like the biggest mismatch of the weekend, with the Titans nearly two-touchdown underdogs in Foxboro. They fell behind the Chiefs early in last week’s game but came back to win by a point. They ultimately scored 22 points, which likely won’t be enough to beat the Patriots on Saturday. 

Patriots QB Tom Brady had one of his typically strong seasons, throwing for 4,577 yards and 32 touchdowns with eight interceptions. For much of the season, the team didn’t have what would be considered a lead running back, but RB Dion Lewis came on strong late in the season to take on that role. He ended the year with 896 yards and six touchdowns on 180 carries.  Despite playing in 14 games, TE Rob Gronkowski still surpassed 1,000 yards for the season, with eight touchdowns on 69 receptions. WR Brandin Cooks was right behind him, with 65 catches for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. The defense gave up the fifth-fewest points in the league during the regular season but was in the bottom 10 with just 18 takeaways.

The Titans offense is clearly worse than the Patriots’, especially with RB DeMarco Murray already ruled out, leaving RB Derrick Henry as the team’s lead back. For the Patriots, RB Rex Burkhead, who played a pretty big role in the passing game this season, missed the last couple games of the regular season with a sprained knee, but he is listed as probable to return to action this weekend. Like Burkhead, WR Chris Hogan is probable to return to the field this week after missing some time due to injury. I’m not expecting a competitive game here. Titans QB Marcus Mariota isn’t in the same league as Brady. I’m picking the Patriots, 34-21, so the Titans (+13.5)  barely cover. And over 48.

Sunday

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No. 3 seed Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 2 seed Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3, AFC North champions) (-7, over/under 41)

The Jaguars may have beaten the Steelers when they played during the regular season, but they needed Ben Roethlisberger to throw five interceptions in order to do it. The Jaguars offense looked terrible last week and only won because the Bills were worse. QB Blake Bortles isn’t good, and the defense will have to make sure this is a low-scoring game for the Jaguars to have any kind of chance to pull off the upset.

Roethlisberger played in 15 games this season, throwing for 4,251 yards and 28 touchdowns with 14 interceptions — more than a third of which came in the Jaguars game. RB Le’Veon Bell ran for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games, adding 85 receptions in the passing game for an additional 655 yards and two touchdowns. Those 85 catches were the second-most on the team, behind WR Antonio Brown, who caught 101 passes in 14 games. He totaled 1,533 yards and nine touchdowns on the year. Rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster came on strong late in the season — taking advantage of Brown missing the last two games with an injury — and ended the season with 58 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. WR Martavis Bryant had 50 receptions for 603 yards and three scores. Defensively, the Steelers gave up the seventh-fewest points in the league and was near the middle of the pack with 22 takeaways.

Brown hasn’t played since leaving the Steelers’ Week 15 game against the Patriots early with a partially torn calf, but he has been practicing this week and is expected to return to action. That doesn’t bode well for the Jaguars, whose best receiver, WR Marqise Lee had just 56 receptions during the season. The Jags’ best offensive player is rookie RB Leonard Fournette, but he’s only surpassed 100 rushing yards twice since Week 11. Steelers (-7) win easily, 27-14, and that’s a push of the 41.

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No. 4 seed New Orleans Saints at No. 2 seed Minnesota Vikings (13-3, NFC North champions) (-5, over/under 46.5)

For the second straight week, the Saints are playing in what appears to be the most competitive game of the four. Last week, QB Drew Brees threw for 376 yards and two touchdowns on the way to beating the Panthers, but star running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram combined for just 45 rushing yards.

An early-season injury to Vikings QB Sam Bradford led to QB Case Keenum becoming the team’s starter. In his 15 games, including 14 starts, during the regular season he threw for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns with seven interceptions. RB Latavius Murray led the team on the ground, running for 842 yards and eight touchdowns and his backfield mate Jerick McKinnon ran for 570 yards and three touchdowns. McKinnon also had 51 receptions for 421 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings had two strong receivers with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Thielen caught 91 balls for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns, and Diggs caught 64 passes for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games. TE Kyle Rudolph also had eight touchdown catches, on 57 receptions. While the offense was good, it was the defense where the Vikings shined all season, allowing the fewest points in the NFL, but the Vikings finished in the bottom third of the league with 19 takeaways.

This is the classic matchup of a strong offense against a strong defense. People say defense wins championships, but in this case I think the better offense will come out on top. The Saints are strong both in the passing game with Brees and WRs Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn and on the ground, with Kamara and Ingram. The running backs will have to do better than they did last week, though, if the team is going to be successful on the road against the Vikings. I expect it to be a close game, so I’m going to take the points with the Saints (+5) winning 28-24, with the score going over.

After this weekend’s games we’ll have the final four set, and they will each be one step away from making it to Super Bowl LII.

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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My NFL Picks: Wild Card and Playoff Predictions — Can the Bills win their first playoff game in 18 years?

With the 2017 NFL regular season complete, it’s time to move on to the playoffs. This year’s postseason features a number of teams who didn’t make it past the regular season last year, as well as a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs in 18 years as the Bills make it to the postseason for the first time since the 1999 season, ending the longest active drought in the four major pro sports leagues in the U.S. The Bills aren’t the only new blood in this season’s playoffs; they join the Rams, Titans, Jaguars, Panthers, Saints, Eagles and Vikings as teams in this year’s field that weren’t there a year ago, which means 75% of this year’s playoff field is new, with the Steelers, Patriots, Chiefs and Falcons the holdovers. The Patriots and Steelers hold the AFC’s byes as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, and in the NFC the top two seeds are the Eagles and Vikings, who will wait until the divisional round to play as they vie for their spot in Super Bowl LII.

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As I start picking the playoff games, I wrapped up the regular season with a record of 132-124 against the spread and 166-90 straight up.

Saturday

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No. 5 seed Tennessee Titans (9-7, Wild Card) at No. 4 seed Kansas City Chiefs (10-6, AFC West champions) (-8, over/under 44)

It was basically a tale of three seasons for the Chiefs in 2017. After starting 5-0 and being the last undefeated team in the league, they went 1-6 in their next seven games before finishing the campaign on a four-game winning streak. They’ll look to continue that momentum Saturday afternoon when they host the Titans, who are playing in their first playoff game since the 2008 season. Somewhat surprisingly, the Chiefs have the advantage at quarterback, based on how they played this season. Chiefs QB Alex Smith had a career year, throwing for 4,042 yards and 26 touchdowns in 15 games while throwing five interceptions, just one off from his career-best in that category. Titans QB Marcus Mariota, on the other hand, regressed from his 2016 production. He also played in 15 games, throwing for 3,232 yards, which was just a couple hundred behind last year. His 13 passing touchdowns, however, were half of the 26 he threw in 2016, and his interceptions increased from nine to 15.

The Titans could have an issue in the running game if RB DeMarco Murray can’t play. He missed the team’s Week 17 game with a knee injury, which could put his status for this weekend in question. Like Mariota, Murray’s production went down this season, running for just 659 yards and six touchdowns in his 15 games this season. He also had 39 catches for 266 yards and 1 touchdown. If he can’t go, the Titans have one of the league’s best backup running backs in Derrick Henry, who only had eight fewer rushes than Murray and totaled 744 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. The Chiefs have the best running back in the game with rookie RB Kareem Hunt, who ran for 1,327 yards and eight touchdowns, along with 53 receptions for an additional 455 yards and three touchdowns. The Titans don’t have great options in the receiving game. TE Delanie Walker‘s 74 receptions led the team; he had 807 yards and three touchdowns. WRs Eric Decker and Rishard Matthews had 54 and 53 catches, respectively; Decker’s catches went for 563 yards and 1 touchdown while Matthews had 795 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Chiefs had two pass-catchers who surpassed 1,000 receiving yards. TE Travis Kelce had a team-best 83 catches for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns, and WR Tyreek Hill caught 75 balls for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns. 

Both teams were middle-of-the-pack in scoring defense, but the Chiefs were ahead of the Titans with 26 takeaways, compared to 21 for Tennessee. S Kevin Byard led the Titans defense with eight interceptions, and CB Marcus Peters five interceptions were the most on the Chiefs. Titans K Ryan Succop made about 83% of his field goal attempts this season and converted 31 of 33 PATs while Chiefs rookie K Harrison Butker was successful on 90.5% of his attempted field goals, and he made all 28 of his PATs in the 13 games he played.

The Chiefs have the clear advantage offensively in this game, while the defenses are pretty evenly matched. I’m not sold on Smith being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but I think the combination of Hunt, Hill and Kelce will be too much for the Titans to be able to keep up with them. I think the Chiefs win the game fairly easily. I’ll go with a 27-17 final score, which means I’m taking the Chiefs (-8) and barely over the 44 points, even though my projected score would be a push.

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No. 6 seed Atlanta Falcons (10-6, Wild Card) at No. 3 seed Los Angeles Rams (11-5, NFC West champions) (-6.5, over/under 48.5)

After failing to hold onto a 28-3 lead, the Falcons ultimately lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI in February, and now they’re looking to get back to the Big Game for another shot at winning it. Playing in a second straight Super Bowl won’t be easy for the Falcons, though, as their offense this season isn’t nearly as good as it was a year ago. A big part of that is because of QB Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP who took a big step back this season. He threw for 4,095 yards and 20 touchdowns, which were his worst numbers since 2010 and 2008, respectively. He also threw 12 interceptions, five more than in 2016. In his second season in the league, Rams QB Jared Goff showed a vast improvement over his rookie campaign. He sat out the regular season finale so played in 15 games, throwing for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns with seven interceptions, matching the number of picks he threw in seven games in 2016.

RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman split the bulk of the Falcons’ carries, with Freeman leading the way with 865 yards and seven touchdowns on 196 rushes; Coleman ran for 628 yards with five touchdowns in 156 attempts. If you combine their stats, they pretty much match the production of Rams RB Todd Gurley, an MVP candidate. He carried the ball 279 times for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns, a nice bounceback performance from subpar numbers he put up in 2016. Gurley was also highly involved in the passing game, catching 64 balls for 788 yards and six touchdowns. Those numbers were better than pretty much all of the Falcons pass-catchers other than WR Julio Jones, who had 88 receptions for 1,444 yards but just three touchdowns. WR Mohamed Sanu‘s five receiving touchdowns led the Falcons; he had 703 yards on 67 catches. For the Rams, rookie WR Cooper Kupp had 62 receptions for a team-best 869 yards and five touchdowns. WR Robert Woods matched that touchdown total, and WR Sammy Watkins led the team with eight receiving touchdowns.

The Falcons had a better defense during the season in terms of points allowed — 315 vs. 329 — but the Rams’ 28 takeaways were the fifth-most in the league and significantly more than the Falcons’ 16, which placed them in the bottom five of the NFL. If the game comes down to kicking, the Falcons have a clear advantage with veteran K Matt Bryant, who was successful on 34-of-39 field goal attempts and converted all 35 of his PATs. With Rams K Greg Zuerlein going on IR after Week 16, they’re relying on rookie K Sam Ficken, who made two of his three field goals and went missed one of his five attempted PATs in Week 17.

I don’t think the Falcons have much of a chance to win this game, unless Ryan happens to return to his 2016 form rather than the way he played in 2017. Even then, Goff and Gurley may be too much for the Falcons to be able to keep up with them. To me, it’s not a question about which team wins the game, but rather what the Rams’ margin of victory will be. I think the Rams win by better than a touchdown, so I’ll go with the Rams (-6.5), 31-20, and over 48.5.

Sunday

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No. 6 seed Buffalo Bills (9-7, Wild Card) at No. 3 seed Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6, AFC South champions) (-9, over/under 39.5)

The Bills are the most surprising of the playoff teams to me, as I predicted them to win four games in my season preview. Even though they ended up going 9-7, I don’t think they’re as good as that record would indicate, and they’ll face an even tougher challenge in the game if they’re without their best offensive player, RB LeSean McCoy, who left Sunday’s game with a leg injury and whose status for this game is in question. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor played in 15 games this season, 14 starts, and threw for 2,799 yards and 14 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Jaguars QB Blake Bortles had a stretch of playing well during the season, ultimately throwing for 3,687 yards and 21 touchdowns on the year with 13 interceptions.

McCoy ran the ball 287 times this season, gaining 1,138 yards with six touchdowns. But if he can’t go, RB Mike Tolbert will likely get the start, and he had limited opportunities during the season. He played in 12 games but had just 66 rushes for 247 yards and one touchdown, and he was outgained on the ground by Taylor. If the Bills are without McCoy on Sunday, the Jaguars will have a significant advantage at running back with rookie RB Leonard Fournette, who ran for 1,040  yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games. McCoy also led the Bills with 59 receptions, going for 448 yards and two touchdowns. TE Charles Clay, who dealt with injury issues during the season, had 49 catches for 558 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games, and WR Kelvin Benjamin played six games with the Bills after being traded by the Panthers, nabbing 16 receptions for 217 yards and 1 touchdown. WR Marqise Lee led the Jaguars with 56 catches in 14 games, totaling 702 yards and three touchdowns, but he is questionable for Sunday’s game as he recovers from an ankle injury. WR Dede Westbrook came on late in the season, finishing the year with 27 receptions for 339 yards and one touchdown in seven games.

The Jaguars had one of the best defenses in the NFL this year, allowing the second-fewest points in the league at 268, while the Bills allowed opponents to score 359 points. The Jags’ 33 takeaways also ranked second in the league, and the Bills were tied for ninth with 25. Bills K Steven Hauschka was 29-for-33 on field goals and converted all 29 of his PAT attempts. Jaguars K Josh Lambo played in the team’s last 10 games  of the season, missing just one of his 20 field goal attempts and going 22-for-24 with his PATs.

Neither team has a great offense, but the Jags have the best offensive player in Fournette, especially if McCoy misses the game or is limited. Taylor and the Bills should have an especially difficult time moving the ball down the field against the tough Jaguars defense. This is the Bills’ first playoff appearance in a long time, but I don’t think it will last long. I’ll expecting the Jaguars to win a low-scoring game, 20-14, so I’m taking the Bills (+9) and under 39.5.

No. 5 seed Carolina Panthers (11-5, Wild Card) at No. 4 seed New Orleans Saints (11-5, NFC South champions) (-6.5, over/under 48.5)

The Panthers and Saints both went 11-5 this season, but I don’t think they’re as evenly matched as that would indicate. Panthers QB Cam Newton had one of the worst seasons of his career, throwing for 3,302 yards and 22 touchdowns with 16 interceptions, one off of the most he’s had in any  season of his career. Saints QB Drew Brees also had a down year but performed better than Newton. He had 4,334 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, which almost matched his career-best of seven.

Newton led the Panthers with 754 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with RB Jonathan Stewart adding 680 yards and six touchdowns. Rookie RB Christian McCaffrey ran for 435 yards and two touchdowns, but his bigger contribution came in the passing game; he had a team-best 80 receptions for 651 yards and five touchdowns. The Saints had the best running-back duo in the league, with RB Mark Ingram leading the way with 1,124 yards and 12 yards. Rookie RB Alvin Kamara had 728 yards and eight scores on 120 carries. Both were effective in the passing game, as well, with Kamara grabbing 81 receptions for 826 yards and five touchdowns, and Ingram catching 58 balls for 416 yards. Panthers WR Devin Funchess had 63 receptions and led the team with 840 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. TE Greg Olsen missed much of the season, playing in just seven games and totaling 17 catches for 191 yards and one touchdown. For the Saints, WR Michael Thomas led the way with 104 catches for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns. 

The Saints’ defense was improved over recent seasons, ranking 10th in the league in points allowed at 326, but the Panthers were right behind them at 327. The Saints had 25 takeaways, compared to the Panthers’ 21. Panthers K Graham Gano made all but one of his 30 field goal tries and missed three of 37 PATs. Saints K Will Lutz went 31-for-36 on field goals and 47-for-50 on his attempted PATs.

Of the four games this weekend, this one should feature the two best offenses. For the Panthers, Newton needs to avoid turning the ball over and Olsen, who returned from his injury a couple weeks ago, needs to be close to 100% and have a good game if they want to be able to beat the Saints on the road. I think the Saints are the better team overall and I trust Brees more than Newton with the way they played this season. I think Saints win 34-27, so I’ll go Saints (-6.5) and well over 48.5.

Based on the above picks, here is how I see the rest of the postseason playing out:

Divisional Round

Saints beat the Eagles
Patriots  beat the Chiefs
Steelers beat the Jaguars
Rams beat the Vikings

Conference Championships

Steelers beat the Patriots
Saints beat the Rams

Super Bowl LII

Saints beat the Steelers

(Spreads and over/unders from Vegas Insider)

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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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