Tag Archives: Steelers

5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Atlanta Falcons

As our previews of all 32 NFL teams continue, we turn our attention to the NFC South, beginning the division with the Atlanta Falcons, who came in third place in the division last season .

A season after playing in Super Bowl LI the Falcons finished in third place in the NFC South, but their 10-6 record was good enough to earn one of the conference’s wild cards. The Falcons still have one of the top quarterback-receiver tandems in the league with QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones, and they added to their offensive depth this offseason by taking WR Calvin Ridley with their first pick in the draft. They also signed TE Logan Paulsen to serve as the No. 2 at the position.

The offense ranked eighth in the NFL last season with 5,837 yards and they were 15th with 353 points. Ryan’s 2017 numbers were down significantly from 2016; he threw for 4,095 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Jones had 88 receptions for 1,444 yards — which was the second most in the league — but just three touchdowns. WR Mohamed Sanu caught 67 balls for 703 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games, and TE Austin Hooper added 49 catches for 526 yards and three touchdowns. RB Devonta Freeman was the team’s top rusher with 196 attempts for 865 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games, adding 36 receptions for another 317 yards and a touchdown. RB Tevin Coleman played in 15 games, including three starts, and ran the ball 156 times for 628 yards and five touchdowns, with another three scores through the air. The Falcons were pretty good defensively, as well, ranking ninth in yards allowed and eighth in points allowed.

The Falcons’ season begins with the season opener as they visit the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles on the first Thursday night of the season. After that they have three straight home games, beginning with divisional rivals the Panthers and Saints, followed by the Bengals in Week 4. They then head to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in Week 5 before hosting the Buccaneers in Week 6. The Falcons host the Giants in Week 7 before their Week 8 bye. Coming out of the off week, they have consecutive road games at the Redskins and Browns. A home date with the Cowboys is on the slate for Week 11, followed by a Week 12 game at the Saints. The Falcons head to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers in Week 14 and host the Cardinals in Week 15. They then end the regular season with back-to-back road games, at the Panthers and Buccaneers.

The NFC South is a tough division, with three of the four teams having made the playoffs a year ago. The Falcons may be the best all-around team in the division, with a strong offense and a defense that was in the top 10 in the league in 2017. If the defense can continue that success into this season, it will help the Falcons stay out of shootouts against teams like the Saints and Falcons. They have a relatively easy schedule on paper, including a game with the Browns. I think the Falcons should be able to get to double-digit wins again this year, with another postseason appearance likely for the team that hopes to return to the Super Bowl after a one-year hiatus.

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

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Jacksonville Jaguars

Moving on with the AFC South in our continuing previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days, today it is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who won the division last season.

Many people predicted a breakout season for the Jaguars last year, and that came true with the Jags not only winning the division and making the playoffs for the first time in a decade, but they made it to the AFC Championship game, losing to the Patriots by just four points. Their defense was what carried them last season, so they focused on adding offense this offseason. Among the signings were TEs Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul — with veteran TE Marcedes Lewis being released as a result — and WR Donte Moncrief, who came over from the division-rival Colts. The team traded for QB Cody Kessler from the Browns to serve as Blake Bortles’ backup.

The offense ranked sixth in the NFL last season with 5,855 yards and fifth with 417 points last season. Bortles continued his downward trend last season, throwing for 3,687 yards and 21 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. WR Marqise Lee was his leading receiver, with 56 catches for 702 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. Rookie WR Keelan Cole started six of his 16 games, totaling 42 receptions for 748 yards and three touchdowns, and WR Allen Hurns had 39 catches for 484 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games, including eight starts. With the Colts, Moncrief had 26 receptions for 391 yards and two scores in 12 games, while Seferian-Jenkins played in 13 games with the Jets, catching 50 balls for 357 yards and three touchdowns. RB Leonard Fournette led the ground game in his rookie season, carrying the ball 268 times for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games; he also had 36 receptions for 302 yards and a touchdown. RB T.J. Yeldon, who is No. 2 on the depth chart following the release of RB Chris Ivory, had 49 rushes in 10 games last season, running for 253 yards and two touchdowns with 30 catches for 224 yards through the air. The defense was second in the league in both yards and points allowed, behind only the Vikings.

The Jaguars open up the defense of their division title with a road game at the Giants in Week 1. Then it’s an early-season AFC Championship rematch when the Patriots come to Jacksonville. The Jaguars remain at home in Weeks 3 and 4, taking on the Titans and Jets, respectively. They hit the road after that, visiting the Chiefs and Cowboys. Their next divisional game comes in Week 7 with a home game against the Texans, followed by another home contest with the Eagles the Week 8 opponent. A bye is on the docket for Week 9, then the Jaguars visit the Colts in Week 10 and host the Steelers in Week 11. They play the Colts again in Week 13, this time at home, and then head to Nashville to take on the Titans. The Jaguars host the Redskins in Week 15 and visit the Dolphins in Week 16 before hosting the Texans in Week 17, which could be an important game for both teams’ postseason hopes.

With CBs A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey leading the way, the Jaguars should have a dominant defense again in 2018, but they still have a subpar quarterback under center. Fournette helped mitigate that last year with a strong rookie season and he’ll have to be the key cog in the offense again this season with Bortles likely remaining a tier below the league’s top quarterbacks. The Jags will probably not have as easy of a road to the division title this season, though, with the Colts and Texans getting back the likes of Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. That should make for a tight race at the top of the AFC South, with the Titans also having a chance to compete. I think it’ll be a two-way race between the Jaguars and Texans, though, with those two teams the most likely in the division to be in the range of nine to 10 wins in 2018.

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

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Pittsburgh Steelers

Our continuing previews of the 32 NFL teams leading up to the start of the 2018 season resume as we conclude with the AFC North. Here, we preview the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are coming off a first-place finish in the division last season.

The Steelers have won at least 10 games in each of the last four seasons, and they have won the division three times during that span. They’re looking to continue that momentum in 2018 and tried to build up their defense this offseason to achieve that goal. They signed LB Jonathan Bostic and longtime Packers S Morgan Burnett in free agency and picked S Terrell Edmunds in the first round of the draft. They also drafted QB Mason Rudolph, potentially looking to the future under center. It’s not all good for the Steelers, though. They were unable to reach an agreement with RB Le’Veon Bell on a new long-term contract and he is currently holding out during training camp.

The Steelers offense racked up the third most yards in the NFL last season and ranked eighth in points scored with 6,047 and 406, respectively. QB Ben Roethlisberger was a big part of that success, of course. He threw for 4,251 and 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 15 games. WR Antonio Brown had 101 receptions for a league-best 1,533 yards with nine touchdowns while playing in just 14 games. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster had 917 yards and seven touchdowns on 58 catches in 14 games, including seven starts, while TE Jesse James caught 43 balls for 372 yards and three scores. Bell played in 15 games last season, carrying the ball an NFL-leading and career-high 321 times for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns. He was also one of the league’s most productive running backs in the passing game, totaling 85 receptions for 655 yards and two touchdowns. Backup RB James Conner had 32 rushing attempts for 144 yards  but didn’t have any receptions, with just a single target, in his 14 games. The defense allowed the fifth-fewest yards and was in the top 10 in points allowed last season.

The Steelers open their campaign on the road against the Browns, then come home to take on the Chiefs in Week 2. After a visit to Tampa to take on the Buccaneers, the Steelers host the Ravens and Falcons in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively. Their bye comes in Week 7, and it’s bookended by a road game at the Bengals in Week 6 and a Week 8 contest against the Browns in Pittsburgh. After hosting the Panthers in Week 10, the Steelers have back-to-back road games against the Jaguars and Broncos. They face a potentially tough stretch late in the season, visiting the Raiders in Week 14, hosting the Patriots in Week 15 and heading to New Orleans to take on the Saints in Week 16. They finish their regular season schedule with a Week 17 home game against the Bengals.

The Steelers are still the class of the division, and it’s not close. Even if Bell’s holdout lasts into the regular season, which is unlikely, the Steelers will be fine. They have a top-tier quarterback and perhaps the best receiver in the league in Brown. In a division without much competition for them, the Steelers should easily get to double-digit wins again this season, possibly finishing as good as 12-4. For the Steelers, it’s not about getting to the playoffs as much as it’s about how deep into the playoffs they’ll go. Expect another division title for the Steelers.

Sources: http://www.steelers.com, http;//www.pro-football-reference.com

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Cleveland Browns

Up next in our continuing preview of all 32 NFL teams over the course of the next 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2018 season is the Cleveland Browns, coming off a last-place finish in the AFC North last season.

The Browns haven’t had a winning record since going 10-6 in 2007 and they finally hit rock bottom last season, becoming the second team in NFL to go 0-16, giving them an overall record of 1-31 over the last two seasons. When the situation gets that bad, it means there’s nowhere to go but up. They had two of the first four picks in the draft, and they used those to select QB Baker Mayfield and CB Denzel Ward. They took RB NIck Chubb with their second-round pick, which was just part of their offensive overall. They acquired QB Tyrod Taylor in a trade with the Bills and signed free-agent RB Carlos Hyde. They also traded for WR Jarvis Landry. In terms of losses, the Browns traded QB DeShone Kizer, who started 15 of their games last season, in exchange for DB Damarious Randall at the beginning of what was a busy offseason for player transactions for the team, giving their fans hope that they may actually win a few games in 2018. And just this week they made another trade with the Bills, this time sending WR Corey Coleman to Buffalo for a draft pick.

The Browns ranked in the bottom third of the league in offensive yards last season and were last in points scored, but that was before the overhauled offense. Taylor, who is expected to begin the season as the starting quarterback, threw for 2,799 with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions in 15 games with the Bills last season, which was a better performance than Kizer had for Cleveland. Hyde had 240 carries last season with the 49ers, running for 938 yards and eight touchdowns. He also had 59 receptions for an additional 350 yards. RB Duke Johnson, who is third on the depth chart entering the season, had 348 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 82 carries last season, and was productive through the air with 74 catches for 693 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers made Johnson the Browns’ leading receiver in 2017. Landry had a career-high 112 receptions for Miami last season, totaling 987 yards and nine touchdowns. WR Josh Gordon played in five games after coming back from his suspension, recording 18 catches for 335 yards and a touchdown. The defense was around the middle of the league in yards allowed but was next-to-last with 410 points allowed.

The Browns have a couple of tough matchups to begin the season, hosting the Steelers in Week 1 and then visiting the Saints in Week 2. Things should get easier when the Jets come to Cleveland in Week 3. The Browns play at the Raiders in Week 4. The divisional games pick back up in Week 5 when the Browns host the Ravens. The Browns finish their season series against the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 8. The Browns then have two straight home games — against the Chiefs and Falcons — leading into their Week 11 bye. Coming out of the break, they visit the Bengals and Texans. The Browns host the Panthers in Week 14 and host the Bengals in Week 16 before heading to Baltimore to finish the season against the Ravens.

The Browns certainly improved their team this offseason so they shouldn’t have another one-win or winless season, but how many wins they’ll get in 2018 is the question. They have a pretty tough schedule overall, so I think they’ll probably max out at three or four victories. A big key to that will be Gordon, who missed the start of training camp as he continues to work on his substance abuse issues. If he can stay on the field for the whole season, he could be a big weapon in the passing game. It’ll also be interesting to see if Mayfield takes over as the starting quarterback at any point during the season. The Browns have a promising future with some of the young players they have on the team, but they’re still probably at least a couple of years away from contending and have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.

Sources: http;//www.clevelandbrowns.com, http;//www.pro-football-reference.com

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Cincinnati Bengals

The second preview in our look at all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so), followed by a season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2018 season features the Cincinnati Bengals, who are coming off a third-place finish in the AFC North last season.

The Bengals are coming off a second straight third-place finish in the division, the result of a 7-9 record last season. The team didn’t make any major signings this offseason. Some of the minor acquisitions they made include signing free agent T Chris Baker and trading for T Cordy Glenn. They signed QB Matt Barkley to serve as Andy Dalton’s backup after losing QB A.J. McCarron in free agency. Also leaving as a free agent was RB Jeremy Hill, opening up more playing time for second-year RB Joe Mixon. They drafted C Billy Price in the first round of this year’s draft. Head coach Marvin Lewis could be on the chopping block if the team doesn’t find success this year because he has led the team since 2003 but does not have a single postseason victory in that time.

The offense was last in the NFL last season with 4,488 yards, and the Bengals’ 290 points scored placed them in the bottom 10 in that category. Dalton had one of the worst seasons of his career last year, throwing for 3,320 yards, but he did have 25 touchdowns. He threw 12 interceptions. WR A.J. Green, unsurprisingly, was his favorite target; he had 75 catches for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns. WR Brandon LaFell added 538 yards and three touchdowns on 52 receptions. Mixon was the team’s top rusher in 2017, totaling 626 yards and four touchdowns on 178 carries, adding 287 receiving yards on 30 catches in 14 games, including seven starts. RB Giovani Bernard ran the ball 105 times for 458 yards and two scores; he was more active in the passing game, catching 43 balls for 389 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, the Bengals were around the middle of the pack in both yards and points allowed.

The Bengals open the season on the road, at the Colts in a game that could go either way depending on the status of Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck. They head home in Week 2 to take on the Ravens, then visit the Panthers before another road game against the Falcons. The Bengals’ first of two against the Steelers happens in Week 6 in Cincinnati, then they hit the road to take on the Chiefs in Week 7. The Buccaneers come to town in Week 8, then the Bengals have a Week 9 bye. They host the Saints in Week 10. The Bengals have three consecutive games against AFC West opponents in Weeks 13-15 against the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders, with the second game in that stretch on the road. They finish the season with back-to-back divisional road games, at the Browns and Steelers.

The Bengals struggled on offense last season, but it could see an improvement if TE Tyler Eifert can stay healthy. He played in only two games last season and is injury-prone; he has played in 13 or more games just twice in his five-year career. WR John Ross only played in three games in his rookie season due to injuries, so he can also help boost the offense if he can stay on the field and perform to the level expected of a first-round draft pick. It likely won’t be enough, though, as the Bengals are probably a .500 team at best, and I think another 7-9 season could be on the horizon for them, which would likely finally force Lewis out the door.

Sources: http://www.bengals.comhttp://www.pro-football-reference.com

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5th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Baltimore Ravens

It’s August, which means the NFL season is approaching and it’s time for our annual preview of all 32 NFL teams over the next 32 days (or so), followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2018 season. We begin this year’s previews with the AFC North and the first team in the division, the Baltimore Ravens, who are coming off a second-place finish in the division last season.

The Ravens’ finished last season at 9-7, their first winning season since 2014, which is also when they made their last playoff appearance. This offseason, the team focused on adding wide receivers to help QB Joe Flacco, signing free agent WRs Willie Snead, Michael Crabtree and John Brown. They also added some depth at the quarterback position, selecting QB Lamar Jackson in the first round of the draft and signing QB Robert Griffin III as a free agent. Their running back core includes RBs Alex Collins, Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixon.

Overall, the offense ranked 27th in the league with 4,886 yards and ninth with 395 yards.Flacco only threw for 3,141 yards last season — about 1,200 yards fewer than the year before — and 18 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. Collins led the running game with 973 yards and six touchdowns on 212 attempts. Allen ran the ball 153 times for 591 yards and four touchdowns, adding 250 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns on 46 receptions. The receiving core has been completely overhaul so none of last year’s top receivers are on the team in 2018. Snead played in 11 games, including seven starts, with the Saints and had just eight receptions. Crabtree recorded 58 catches for 618 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games with the Raiders, and Brown had 21 receptions for 299 yards and three touchdowns 10 games — 5 starts — in an injury-shortened season with the Cardinals. On the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens allowed the 12th-fewest yards in the league and ranked sixth with 303 points allowed. The defense led the league with 22 interceptions in 2017.

Looking at the schedule, they begin things with a winnable game at home against the Bills, then visit the Bengals in Week 2. They have a stretch of three straight road games in Weeks 4-6, visiting the Steelers, Browns and Titans in that period. They then face tough games the next three games when they host the Saints, visit the Panthers and have their second game with the Steelers. The Ravens get a late bye in Week 10,  then face the Bengals and Raiders at home. They face tough opponents in the road in Weeks 13 and 14, visiting the Falcons and Chiefs. They get a home game with the Browns in Week 17, which could be beneficial if they need to win that game t secure a playoff spot.

This could be a make-or-break season for Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh. They won a Super Bowl in the 2012 season but have made the playoffs just once since then. If the Ravens aren’t playing in January this season, it could be the end of the Flacco-Harbaugh era in Baltimore. Jackson is likely the heir apparent under center for the team and could see some playing time if Flacco disappoints. They have a pretty tough schedule and I think the best they can hope for is to finish 8-8, or possibly match last year’s 9-7 mark.

Sources: http://www.baltimoreravens.com, http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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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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