Tag Archives: Super Bowl LI

Super Bowl LII: Foles brings the Eagles their first Super Bowl title, earns MVP honors

Heading into Super Bowl LII, it figured to be a battle of the Eagles defense trying to hold down Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. The Eagles D got the better of the Patriots early on, with QB Nick Foles helping get the Eagles get out to a 15-3 lead, but the Eagles couldn’t feel comfortable with a lead of that size just a year after the Patriots overcame a 28-3 deficit to beat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI.

Both offenses had long opening drives stall to come away with field goals for an early 3-3 score. The Eagles picked up the next two scores, with a passing touchdown from Foles to WR Alshon Jeffery; a missed PAT made it a 9-3 game after the first quarter. A LeGarrette Blount rushing touchdown about halfway through the second quarter made it a 15-3 Eagles lead after a failed two-point conversion attempt.

On the ensuing Patriots drive after the second touchdown, RB Rex Burkhead found a hole for a 46-yard catch-and-run, but the offense couldn’t capitalize on it and had to settle for a 45-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, who had missed a 26-yarder on his previous attempt, to cut the lead to 15-6 midway through the second quarter. After that field goal, the Patriots announced that WR Brandin Cooks was out for the remainder of the game with a head injury after he took a big hit at the hands of S Malcolm Jenkins earlier in the quarter. The loss of Cooks would make a Brady comeback harder to come by.

The game’s first turnover came with 5:01 remaining in the first half when Patriots S Duron Harmon intercepted a pass that was deflected when Jeffery nearly made a one-handed catch that would have put the Eagles in the red zone.

The Patriots took advantage of the takeaway — their first since Week 15 — with a 90-yard drive, helped by a holding penalty against the Eagles, that was capped off by a 26-yard touchdown run by RB James White, who scored the winning touchdown for New England in overtime of Super Bowl LI. Gostkowski missed the extra point, however, to make it a 15-12 game with 2:04 to go in the opening half.

It looked like the Eagles wouldn’t get much offense on the ensuing drive, but a 55-yard pass to RB Corey Clement on a third-down play put the Eagles inside the 10-yard line with under a minute to go before the break. The Eagles couldn’t find the end zone on the first three plays in the red zone. Rather than going for the chip shot field goal, they decided to go for it on fourth down inside the two-yard line. They went deep into their playbook for a trick play, with TE Trey Burton throwing a touchdown pass to Foles. The extra point made it 22-12 with 34 seconds left in the half.

The Patriots couldn’t get into field goal range on their drive following the Burton-to-Foles score and came up empty on their final play of the half. After nearly 700 total yards of offense in the first half, the Eagles had a 22-12 halftime lead. But that is far from an insurmountable deficit for the Patriots to overcome, especially with them receiving the second-half kickoff.

The Patriots came out with a quick scoring drive to start the second half. They went 75 yards in 2:45 with TE Rob Gronkowski making four catches on the drive, including a five-yard touchdown catch to make it 22-19 after Gostkowski tacked on the extra point.

The Eagles responded with a long drive of their own that ended with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Clement in the back of the end zone. It’s not clear that he actually made the case, but the call was upheld on the review to put the Eagles’ lead back up to 10, 29-19, following the successful extra point attempt by K Jake Elliott.

Neither offense let up in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots taking their first lead of the game with 9:22 left in the fourth quarter following another touchdown pass to Gronkowski — this one from four yards out — and the subsequent extra point, which made the score 33-32 in favor of New England. With that, the Patriots officially eliminated a double-digit deficit for the second straight Super Bowl.

The lead wouldn’t hold up, though, as the Eagles responded with another touchdown drive, culminating with a 11-yard touchdown pass to TE Zach Ertz that, like the Clement score, held up when it was reviewed. The Eagles missed the two-point attempt, leaving them with a five-point lead, 38-33.

The Eagles left Brady with 2:21 left on the clock, which could have been enough time for him to lead a game-winning drive for the Patriots. But that drive was cut short when Eagles DE Brandon Graham knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand on a sack and DE Derek Barnett recovered it for the Eagles’ first takeaway of the game to go with their first sack.

They had the ball with 2:16 left and came away with a 46-yard field goal to make it 41-33, leaving Brady and the Patriots about a minute to go 90 yards for a touchdown and convert the two-point try to tie the game and force overtime. Brady was able to attempt a hail mary in the end zone to Gronkowski, but the tight end couldn’t catch the ball. And that was the ballgame. Led by Foles, the Eagles won their first Super Bowl title in franchise history.

The game certainly wasn’t lacking for offense, with Brady breaking his own record for passing yards in a Super Bowl with 505 yards through the air. Foles threw for 373 yards, and the teams combined for a Super Bowl-record 1,151 yards with nine total touchdowns. There was only one punt in the game, which fell one point short of the all-time record for most points scored in a Super Bowl. Although it was close essentially the whole game and the Patriots had a brief fourth-quarter lead, the team that played better tonight ended up hoisting the Lombardi trophy — the first time the Eagles have been able to do that as the best team in the NFL. Not surprisingly, Foles was named the MVP following his tremendous performance in the biggest game of his life.

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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 7: Super Bowl rematch, Packers start life without Aaron Rodgers

In Week 5, a couple NFL superstars suffered season-ending injuries, with Texans DE J.J. Watt and Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr.¬†out for the season. In Week 6, it was one of the league’s best quarterbacks that probably suffered that same fate when Packers QB Aaron Rodgers left the game against the Vikings with a collarbone injury that will likely cause him to miss the rest of the season. The Packers are at home this week for their first post-Rodgers game, taking on the Saints in what is expected to be a shootout. The game of the week is the Sunday nighter, featuring a Super Bowl LI rematch when the Falcons visit the Patriots. I went 6-8¬†last week, giving me an overall record of 50-41 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: Lions, Texans

Thursday Night Football

Chiefs at Raiders (+2.5) – Coming off their first loss of the season, the Chiefs look to get back to their winning ways on a short week when they visit the Raiders, who are a disappointing 2-4 on the season. Raiders QB Derek Carr returned from his injury last week, but that didn’t help the offense like people thought it might. Facing the Chiefs defense won’t help the Raiders put points on the board. Give me the Chiefs.

Sunday 1PM games

Buccaneers at Bills (-2.5) –¬†The Buccaneers may be heading to Buffalo with veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter with QB Jameis Winston day-to-day with a shoulder injury. The Bills are coming off their bye, giving them plenty of rest for this game at home. I’ll take the Bills.

Panthers¬†at Bears (+3.5) –¬†The Bears needed overtime to beat the Ravens on Sunday, and they now face a more potent offense in the Panthers. QB Mitch Trubisky has helped improve the Bears offense since being named the starter, but I don’t think the Bears have enough weapons to compete with QB Cam Newton and the Panthers. I’ll give the points.

Titans at Browns (+5.5) –¬†The Browns are still winless on the season, and I think that will continue after this game. QB Marcus Mariota came back in Week 6 after missing the previous game and played well despite his hamstring injury limiting his production on the ground. I fully expect the Titans to win the game, it’s just a question of whether they cover the spread. The Browns offense is so bad I think they will. Give me the Titans.

Saints at Packers (+5.5) – This was expected to be a matchup of two of the game’s best veteran quarterbacks with Drew Brees leading the Saints and Aaron Rodgers the Packers. With Rodgers sidelined with his injured collarbone, though, it’ll be QB Brett Hundley leading the Packers against an offense that put up 52 points last week. While they probably won’t score that much again, I don’t think Hundley will be able to keep up with the Saints offensively. Saints win and cover.

Jaguars at Colts (+2.5)¬†–¬†The Colts don’t have many weapons on offense, and Jaguars QB Blake Bortles isn’t very good. The Jags do have the best offensive player in the game with RB Leonard Fournette and a much better defense, so I give them the edge in this one. I’ll give the points.

Cardinals at Rams (-3.5) – RB Adrian Peterson played better in his first game with the Cardinals last week than he did all season with the Saints before being traded to Arizona. It seemed to invigorate a Cardinals offense that had been struggling of late¬† with QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald putting up good numbers. I expect this to be a close game that I expect the Rams to win, but I think the Cardinals to keep it close enough that I’ll take the points.

Jets at Dolphins (-2.5) –¬†The Jets only scored 17 against a bad Patriots defense last week while the Dolphins overcame a deficit to beat the defending NFC champion Falcons. Neither Jets QB Josh McCown nor Dolphins QB Jay Cutler — both former Bears — is great at this point in their careers, so I’ll go with the team with the best running back, which would be Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi, who I think will lead his team to the win. Dolphins cover.

Ravens at Vikings (-5.5) –¬†The Ravens’ offensive struggles continued last week, losing to the Bears. The Vikings, on the other hand, has continued to perform decently with QB Case Keenum filling in for injured QB Sam Bradford. I expect the Vikings to win the game, helped in part by RB Jerick McKInnon, but I don’t think they cover so I’ll take the Ravens with the points.


Sunday 4PM games

Cowboys at 49ers (+6.5) There was some uncertainty early in the week over whether Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott would be able to play this week or if he’d begin serving his six-game suspension. He will play, which helps the Cowboys offense coming off the bye. They’ll win the game, and I think they cover the spread.

Bengals at Steelers (-5.5) The Steelers are coming off an impressive win against the Chiefs that came a week after QB Ben Roethlisberger had a five-interception game. RB Le’Veon Bell had his best game of the season for Pittsburgh last week, and I think the offensive momentum continues on Sunday at home against the division-rival Bengals. Give me the Steelers.

Broncos at Chargers (-1.5) – The Chargers are looking to rebound from a surprising loss to the Giants on Sunday night in which they only scored 10 points. I expect the offense to play better this week, but the Broncos will still rely on the defense to keep them in the game this week. I think the defense will be able to do that against the Chargers, I’ll give the minimum points.

Seahawks at Giants (-5.5) – The Giants are looking to start a winning streak after picking up their first win of the season on Sunday night. It’ll be tough to do against a strong Seahawks defense and with the Giants offense still not at full strength. WR Sterling Shepard may be back this week, but QB Eli Manning still doesn’t have many other weapons in the passing game to throw to. The Seahawks should win the game, and I think it’ll be close as to whether they cover. I think they’ll barely cover, so I’ll take Seattle.

Sunday Night Football

Falcons at Patriots (-3.5) – The Falcons seek revenge against the Patriots, who overcame a 25-point deficit to beat them in Super Bowl LI in February. This year’s Falcons team isn’t the same team that came within minutes of winning the Super Bowl, as the offense has struggled this season. The good news for them¬†is the Patriots defense isn’t as good as what last season. That’ll give QB Matt Ryan a chance to shine, but I don’t think he’ll be able to outplay Patriots QB Tom Brady, which he’ll likely have to do if he wants to lead his team to victory. I’ll give the points.

Monday Night Football

Redskins at Eagles (-4.5)¬†– The Eagles may be the best team in the NFC with Rodgers likely out for the year in Green Bay. QB Carson Wentz has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league this season. It’s never easy to beat a division rival, but it’s a home game for the Eagles, and I think they’ll be able to continue the success they’ve had this season. I think they’ll win to improve to 6-1 on the year, and I’ll give the points again.

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My NFL Picks Week 1: Seahawks-Packers — NFC Championship preview?

The first of the 256 games that will be played in the NFL this season resulted in the Chiefs pulling the upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. Though I didn’t pick the Chiefs to win the game, I did take them to cover the spread so I’m off to a 1-0 record against the spread to start the season. There are 14 more games left to play this weekend — the BuccaneersDolphins game was postponed to Week 11 due to Hurricane Irma — with some big games on the schedule, including a potential NFC Championship preview in Green Bay between the Seahawks and Packers. Also on the Week 1 slate, the Giants visiting the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football and RB Adrian Peterson, now with the Saints, returning to Minnesota to take on his former team the Vikings in the first game of the Monday Night Football doubleheader.¬†I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight-up, non-ATS) is in red.

Sunday 1PM games
Falcons at Bears (+7.5) – This is the first meaningful game the Falcons are playing since blowing the 28-3 lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI back in February. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Falcons will win the game behind the offensive output of QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones. The question is if they’ll cover the spread of more than a touchdown. The Bears are led by QB Mike Glennon and don’t have a proven No. 1 wide receiver after WR Cameron Meredith suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. I think the Falcons are able to cover.

Jets¬†at Bills (-6.5) – These teams should be two of the worst offenses in the league this year. I think the Bills win the game but I don’t think they’ll win by a touchdown so I’ll take the points with the Jets.

Ravens at Bengals (-2.5) Ravens QB Joe Flacco was dealing with an injury in training camp and preseason which didn’t allow him to get in much practice time. That concerns me in Week 1 as it’ll probably take him a couple games to rid of the rust so even though I’m not big on QB Andy Dalton and the Bengals, I’ll take them to win the game and cover.

Steelers¬†at Browns¬†(+9.5) –¬†My thinking on this game is similar to the Falcons-Bears. It’s not a question of if the Steelers will win but rather how much they’ll win by. QB Ben Roethlisberger has one of the best running backs and wide receivers — Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, respectively — in the league while the Browns will be starting rookie QB DeShone Kizer, who likely won’t have much success against a good Steelers defense. I think Pittsburgh can win by double digits so I’ll give the points.

Cardinals¬†at¬†Lions¬†(-2.5) – Both teams have a good offense but I think the Cardinals’ defense is slightly better. I’m expecting a big season from QB Carson Palmer and the rest of the Arizona offense. They have a good running back in David Johnson and I’m skeptical about how much success the Lions’ backs will have in the game. That gives the Cardinals enough of an advantage that I’m picking them to win the game outright, so I’ll definitely take the points.

Raiders¬†at¬†Titans (+0.5)The line indicates that this game is a toss-up and I had a hard time picking it. Raiders QB Derek Carr and Titans QB Marcus Mariota are both ascending in their careers. I think the Titans have a slightly better team overall, though, particularly on defense. I’ll take the home team to win so I’ll take the half-point.

Eagles¬†at Redskins (-2.5) – In the first of two NFC East battles on Sunday, I’m not confident that the Redskins offense will be at the top of its game. WR Jamison Crowder is questionable to play, leaving newly signed WR Terrelle Pryor Sr.¬†as QB Kirk Cousins‘ top target behind TE Jordan Reed. They may not have good chemistry together in their first regular-season game as teammates. I’ll take the points with the visitors.

Jaguars¬†at Texans (-4.5)I’m not expecting much from the Jaguars offense this season behind QB Blake Bortles, who almost lost the starting spot to journeyman QB Chad Henne. The Texans’ offense likely isn’t great, either, with QB Tom Savage beating out QB Deshaun Watson as the starter. Houston’s offense should be better than Jacksonville’s, and I think the Texans’ also have the defensive advantage behind DE J.J. Watt and LB Jadeveon Clowney. The Jaguars’ defense should be improved this season after signing free-agent CB A.J. Bouye away from the Texans, but I don’t think it’ll be enough this week. I’ll take the points.

Sunday 4PM games
Colts¬†at Rams (+3.5)With Andrew Luck ruled out for at least Week 1, Scott Tolzien will begin the season as the Colts’ starting quarterback. Given that, I’m surprised the Colts are favored in this game. I think the Rams win the game outright so I’ll take the points.

Seahawks¬†at Packers (-2.5)This was my projected NFC Championship game when I made my playoff predictions yesterday and the teams are starting the season against each other as well. These are two of the best offenses in the league behind QBs Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. The Seahawks’ running game could be an issue without a true No. 1 running back. I think the Packers have the advantage there with WR-turned-RB Ty Montgomery, who performed well after being converted to the position in the second half of last season. I think that could be the difference in the game. Give me the home team.

Panthers¬†at¬†49ers (+5.5)I’m going against the grain with this pick, but I think QB Cam Newton and the Panthers will struggle a bit on the road in Week 1 unless RB Christian McCaffrey has a big game in his NFL debut. The Panthers will win the game, but I think 49ers QB Brian Hoyer could keep it close so I’ll take the points with the 49ers.

Sunday Night Football
Giants at Cowboys (-4.5)For much of the preseason, it was thought that Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott would start serving his six-game suspension in Week 1 and miss this game. Now, though, not only will he play in the team’s opener but he could play for the whole season as his appeal works its way through the legal system. I’m worried about the Cowboys’ defense, but I think the Elliott and QB Dak Prescott can put enough points on the board to overcome any deficiencies on the other side of the ball. The Cowboys lost both games against their divisional rivals in 2016 and I don’t see the Giants winning three in a row. I’ll take the Cowboys and give the points.

Monday Night Football
Saints¬†at Vikings¬†(-3.5)Longtime Vikings running back Peterson goes against his old team in his first game with his new team. I don’t think it’ll be a good homecoming for him, though, as I expect the Vikings to win the game. The Saints ave one of the worst defenses in the league so QB Sam Bradford won’t have trouble moving the ball down the field and scoring. Vikings cover the spread.

Chargers at Broncos (-3.5)I think the Broncos’ defense will be able to keep the Chargers’ defense in check in the final game of Week 1. Their offense worries be, but Chargers QB Philip Rivers isn’t exactly the best quarterback in the league either so I’m banking on Denver’s defense controlling the game. I’ll take the home favorites.

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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: Kansas City Chiefs

The AFC West previews continue as we are nearing the end of our looks at all 32 NFL teams, continuing with the Kansas City Chiefs, who won the division last season.

The Chiefs’ main offensive additions this offseason came through the draft, selecting Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes II with the 10th overall pick and taking Toledo RB Kareem Hunt in the third round. That latter pick, in particular, could prove to be helpful to the team after RB Spencer Ware, who was expected to be the starter, tore his PCL in the team’s third preseason game and will require season-ending surgery, leaving the rookie Hunt as the likely starter to begin the regular season. Mahomes, on the other hand, will sit behind QB Alex Smith on the depth chart. The team signed NT Bennie Logan to join the likes of LBs Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston on the defense. One player the team will be without is WR Jeremy Maclin, who signed with the Ravens.

Smith played in 15 games last season, putting up his usual serviceable but not impressive numbers. He completed 67.1% of his passes for 3,502 yards and 15 touchdowns, with 8 interceptions. TE Travis Kelce was the team’s leading receiver, with 85 receptions for 1,125 yards and 4 touchdowns. WR Tyreek Hill caught 61 passes for 593 yards and 6 touchdowns. WR Chris Conley had 44 catches for 530 yards. Ware carried the ball 214 times in 14 games last season, running for 921 yards and 3 touchdowns, to go along with 33 receptions for 447 yards and 2 touchdowns. Backup RB Charcandrick West ran the ball 88 times for 293 yards and 1 touchdown. The offense scored the 13th-most points in the league last season, and the defense was seventh-best in the NFL in terms of points allowed and was tied for the lead with 18 interceptions.

With Ware out for the year, Hunt is likely to see the majority of the action at the running back position, with West also getting in some work. Depending on how Hunt performs, he could keep the starting gig for the entire season. With Hunt being a rookie, though, you never know how he’ll perform with a heavy workload and West could usurp him during the year. Veteran RB C.J. Spiller is also on the team and should get into the mix in the running game. Mahomes probably won’t see much action under center in his rookie season, but he doesn’t have one of the league’s top quarterbacks ahead of him, so if the Chiefs fall out of the playoff race they may turn to Mahomes late in the year to see find out what they have in him. Hill and Kelce are strong receiving options for Smith, but losing Maclin hurts the passing game. Conley, who is expected to be the starter opposite Hill, and WR Albert Wilson will have to take their games to the next level to make up for the production lost with Maclin’s departure. On the defense, Houston is coming off an injury that caused him to miss all but five games last season, so if he plays the full season that’ll give the defense a boost.

The Chiefs open their season on a big stage, taking on the Super Bowl LI champion Patriots in the season-opening game next Thursday. Ten days later, the schedule gives them their first home game when they take on the Eagles. They face the Chargers on the road in Week 3, then head home to take on the Redskins in the Monday night game in Week 4. A Sunday nighter follows in Week 5 when they visit the Texans. The Steelers come to Kansas City in Week 6, then the Chiefs head to Oakland to take on the Raiders, who are probably their biggest competition to win the division, on Thursday night. The Chiefs get extra time to prepare before their Week 8 game against the Broncos, which is a Monday night contest at home. They visit the Cowboys in Week 9, then get their bye before visiting the Giants in Week 11. After a home game with the Bills, the Chiefs take on the Jets on the road in Week 13. The Chiefs’ final three home games are up next, as they take on the Raiders, Chargers and Dolphins in Weeks 14, 15 and 16, respectively. They finish the regular season on the road, taking on the Broncos. I think the Chiefs regress from last year’s 12-win season and are probably in the range of nine or 10 wins in 2017.

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

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4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Denver Broncos

The AFC West is the next division up in our preview of all 32 NFL teams, beginning with the Denver Broncos, who finished in third place in the division last season.

The Broncos are learning that it’s not easy to replace a Hall of Fame quarterback like Peyton Manning. When the Broncos drafted QB Paxton Lynch in the first round of last year’s draft, they probably expected him to have taken over the starting job by now, but he wasn’t impressive in the three games he played last year, including two starts, and there was a quarterback competition in the preseason, with 2015 seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian winning it to be named the team’s starter for Week 1. The team has a new coaching staff, with Vance Joseph taking over head-coaching duties from Gary Kubiak, Mike McCoy replacing Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator, and new defensive coordinator Joe Woods taking over for Wade Phillips. While the coaches are different, the majority of the players are the same without any major changes to the offense this offseason other than the signing of veteran RB Jamaal Charles, who has been limited to playing in a total of eight games over the last two seasons due to knee injuries.

Siemian made 14 starts last season, completing just 59.5% of his passes for 3,401 yards and 18 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. Lynch, by comparison, completed 59% of his throws for 497 yards and 2 touchdowns, with 1 interception. WR Demaryius Thomas caught 90 of their passes fr 1,083 yards and 5 touchdowns, and WR Emmanuel Sanders had 79 receptions for 1,032 yards and 5 touchdowns. There was a big drop-off after them, with RB Devontae Booker claiming the team’s third-best receiving numbers, with 31 catches for 265 yards and 1 touchdown. TE Virgil Green 22 catches for 237 yards and 1 touchdown in 12 games. Booker led the running game with 174 rushes for 612 yards and 4 touchdowns. That was partially because RB C.J. Anderson missed time with injury, playing in only seven games. When he was on the field, Anderson had 110 carries for 437 yards and 4 touchdowns. Overall, the offense was ranked 22nd in the NFL in points scored, but the defense did better in giving up the fourth-fewest points in the league.

Siemian will get the first chance at starting games over center, but neither he nor Lynch showed many promising signs last season so Lynch could get a chance to take over the job if Siemian doesn’t impress and the team gets off to a slow start in terms of wins and losses. The team could also use better production in the receiving game from guys other than Thomas and Sanders. When healthy, Anderson is the team’s No. 1 running back and Booker is dealing with injury issues that could cause him to miss the first couple weeks of the regular season. Charles is someone to look out for to take over the No. 2 role behind Anderson. He has played well in the preseason and with Booker not expected to be ready for the regular season, Charles could overtake him on the depth chart with good performances in the first couple weeks of the season. Before his injuries the last two seasons, Charles had three straight seasons in which he rushed for more than 1,000 yards — including a 1,500-yard season in 2012. If the defense continues to shine as it did last year, the team will be able to stay in games, but the offense needs to do better to improve upon the Broncos’ 9-7 record from last season, which caused them to miss the playoffs just a season after winning Super Bowl 50.

They’ll begin their season in the last game of Week 1, hosting the Chargers in the second game of the Monday night doubleheader. They stay at home in Week 2, with the Cowboys in Denver. The schedule then puts the Broncos on the road for Week 3 when they take on the Bills. Week 4 is a tough battle with the Raiders at home. The Broncos’ bye week follows in Week 5, then they return to action with a Sunday night game against the Giants at home. They have three straight road games after that, starting with the Chargers in Week 7, then a Monday night game at the defending division champion Chiefs in Week 8 and a visit to Philadelphia in Week 9 to do battle with the Eagles. Week 10 gives us a battle of the last two Super Bowl winners when the Broncos host the Super Bowl LI champion Patriots in the Sunday nighter. The Broncos visit the Raiders in Week 12, then head to Miami to play the Dolphins in Week 13. After a home game with the Jets, the Broncos visit the Colts in Week 15’s Thursday night contest, followed by a Week 16 visit to the Redskins. The Broncos finish their regular season at home against the Chiefs. The Broncos won nine games last year and I think they’ll be around that number again this season, likely missing the playoffs again.

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

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