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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Week 21: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis): SUPER BOWL EDITION

SUPER BOWL LI
New England Patriots 16-2 (-3) @ Atlanta Falcons 13-5 (55): Patriots 31-27
Sunday, 6:30 PM, NRG Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)



          The New England Patriots come into Super Bowl LI the most hated team in North American sports since the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Yankees and for good reason. Despite myriad attempts to destroy the Patriots by both the NFL and the public, New England has been to 11 AFC Championship games and seven Super Bowls in the 16-year Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. That's essentially a Super Bowl appearance every other year. By comparison the Atlanta Falcons will playing in their second Super Bowl ever; the last time the Falcons were in the Super Bowl they were called the Dirty Birds and we were still laughing about Left Eye burning Andre Rison's house down. Historically, this seems like David v. Golaith, but statistically, this game could be one for the ages. The Atlanta Falcons are coming off a record-breaking offensive season (33.1ppg), one of the greatest in NFL history; however, the New England Patriots (27.6 ppg) are right there with the Falcons in every offensive category; and also come into Super Bowl LI with the top scoring defense in the NFL, a much better feat then the pundits will lead you to believe. On paper it's the NFL's top offense v. the NFL's top defense, but this game is much more complex then that.


Super Bowl LI takes place at NRG Stadium, formerly Reliant Stadium, the site of the New England Patriots Super Bowl XXXVIII victory 

          The Atlanta Falcons were one of the ten greatest scoring offenses in NFL history, averaging over 33 points per game. The Falcons were a top-5 offense in every major offensive category, except for 3rd down efficiency (11th), penalties (19th) and time of possession (19th). TOP can be explained away by their fast scoring offense and penalties are more a function of discipline, not ability; clearly the penalties didn't hurt them much. The Falcons also don't turn the ball over. They ranked last in fumbles (8) and threw the 5th fewest interceptions (7).

 

 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan leads the record-breaking Atlanta Falcons into Super Bowl LI

           They could have trouble moving the ball against the New England Patriots. Much has been made about the Patriot's supposed weak schedule (confirmed by Pro Football Reference's strength of schedule score of -2.65), but I'm here to argue it wasn't much easier then the Falcons schedule (-0.11 SOS score). According to my research New England played five playoff teams, five teams that just missed the playoffs, and six teams that missed the playoffs; by comparison the Falcons played four playoff teams, five teams that just missed the playoffs and seven teams that didn't make the playoffs. Considering both teams played the entire NFC West in 2016 and play in comparable divisions, I struggle to see how the strength of schedule scores aren't much more similar. What's my point? Don't turn your nose up at this Patriots top scoring defense. In addition to being the top scoring defense, they rank in the top-10 in several significant defensive categories (Yards, rushing yards, 1st downs, 3rd down efficiency, passes defended, time of possession and QBR). This New England defense is really good, and they got much better as the season progressed, a common Bill Belichick trait.

Bill Belichick has made a career out of stopping the best opposing offenses


          The Atlanta Falcons boast a historical offense, yet the New England Patriots either stay with them of best them in every offensive category. Points? Falcons first; Patriots second. QBR? Falcons first; Patriots second. Yards? Falcons second; Patriots fourth. Passing yards? Falcons third; Patriots fourth. The Patriots best the Falcons in 3rd down efficiency and time of possession, two of the most overlooked offensive statistics in football research. The Falcons score at the highest rate per possession of any team in the NFL, but the Patriots are 5th in scoring percentage. In fact, if we take both teams scoring differential and then calculate it against their strength of schedule, as discussed in the previous paragraph (Pro Football Reference's SRS metric), the Patriots rank first in the NFL; guess who ranks second? You guessed it, the Falcons.


The New England Patriots will focus on the Falcons Julio Jones, the NFL's top wide receiver 

          The only thing left to discuss is the reason for my prediction. The Atlanta Falcons statistically have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Hard to believe being coached by the great defensive-minded Dan Quinn, but there's no Michael Bennett on this team. No Richard Sherman. No Earl Thomas. No Kam Chancellor. In fact, there aren't many big names on this defense save Vic Beasely, but there is a guy named Dwight Freeney who used to give Tom Brady fits. Unfortunately that was a decade ago. That job will now belong to Vic Beasely and he'll have his work cut out for him all night as the Patriots allowed the fifth fewest sacks in 2016. 

 
 This will be the 7th Super Bowl in the Hall of Fame Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era


          We have much to be excited about tonight as the high flying Atlanta Falcons and their electric offense take on the disciplined and steady New England Patriots. All the millions of Patriots haters will turn on FOX with high hopes of seeing the cheating, Trump-supporting brass and brains of the New England Patriots get crushed by suffocating high-scoring Atlanta Falcons, but I'm here to burst that bubble. Not only are the cheating allegations against the Patriots pathetic attempts to marginalize their incredible dynasty, the cries against some member's Trump support should align perfectly with  Falcons owner Arthur Blank's Republican contributions over the years. Don't come to me with any of the superfluous nonsense. This game is about the Atlanta Falcons taking the next step with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, but it's more about appreciating the New England Patriots for what they've accomplished. If the Patriots win tonight Tom Brady will have separated himself from Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw (cough) with five rings, Bill Belichick will have coached five Super Bowl victories, and the New England Patriots will have won five of seven Super Bowls in only 16 years. Hate them or love them, that's an unbelievable dynasty that we will never see again in our lifetimes. Instead of hating it, try appreciating it.


SUPER BOWL LI
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 31 - ATLANTA FALCONS 27
MVP: DION LEWIS 
(MVP runner-ups: MALCOLM BUTLER; TOM BRADY)


 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Week 21: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis): SUPER BOWL EDITION



Week 21: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
SUPER BOWL XLIX EDITION


New England Patriots 14-4 (-1) @ Seattle Seahawks 14-4 (48): Patriots 24-21
Sunday, 6:00 PM, Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ (Weather: Clear, low 50s)

Reasons: The Super Bowl most pro football experts around the country predicted before the season began has come to fruition and it would be hard to argue against either of these two teams facing off for the Super Bowl title. What drama, to boot: The Seattle Seahawks are the first team to make it back to the Super Bowl in consecutive season in 10 years, since 2003-2004, when their Super Bowl XLIX opponent New England Patriots not only made consecutive Super Bowls, but won back-to-back titles, the first team to do so since the 1998-1999 Denver Broncos. What no experts could have predicted, however, was the Conference Championship path each team would take. The Seahawks came back from down 19-7 to the Green Bay Packers in the 4th quarter, while nearly losing their two best defensive backs and Marshawn Lynch to injury in the process; the Patriots demolished the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 only to mired in “DeflateGate” ever since. Suffice it to say my feelings on the subject are well documented in the ProFootballMedia.com Championship reviews: Tuesday’sGone: Championship Round Edition.  
    The real story here is that other than a hobbled Brandon LaFell and a sickly Tom Brady, the New England Patriots are 100% in a Super Bowl for the first in their three tries since the Patriots’ last embarrassment, the so-called “SpyGate” scandal. They’re going to need it, because if the Patriots thought the New York Giants defenses of 2007 and 2011 were something, 2014 Seattle is something to be marveled. No defense since the Ravens’ defenses of the early 2000s conjure the fear the Seattle Seahawks do, and they’re no flash in the pan. After taking the 2013 regular season by storm, allowing only 14.4 ppg with 39 takeaways, the Seahawks eventually demolished the record-setting Denver Broncos 43-8, solidifying their place in history. However, after starting the 2014 season 3-3, and with their defense allowing 23.5 ppg, the 2013 championship year seemed liked a distant memory and Seattle seemed destined to become yet another Super Bowl winner to miss the playoffs the following year. Not so fast my friends – the Seahawks went 9-1 to close out the season, and allowed fewer points (136) than they had in the first six games (141), allowing only 13.6 ppg. Sound more like it?
    New England suffered a similar path: after starting the season 2-2 there were whispers of the demise of the great New England Bill Belichick-Tom Brady dynasty; the dynamic Patriots’ offense was only averaging 20 ppg as tight end Rob Gronkowski recovered from injury and slowly got back into the swing of things. Then came the swing of things. With a healthy Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots rattled off seven straight wins, winning won ten of their final twelve games, with one of the two losses coming Week 17 at half strength against the Buffalo Bills. During the Patriots meaningful eleven-game stretch (sans the Bills game), New England averaged 34.5 ppg, and finished the season averaging 29.2. If the Patriots played any starters besides Tom Brady in that final Buffalo game, New England would have led the NFL in scoring. Truth is, the Patriots didn’t lead the NFL in anything of importance other than individual game scoring differential (+9), which they tied with, guess who, the Seahawks. The Seattle Seahawks led the NFL in many things: rushing yards, passing defense, total defense, and scoring defense. They were second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers in defensive TOP by 23 seconds, and were the 3rd-ranked rush defense, held their opponents to 37% on 3rd down, and finished the season ranked 4th in turnover ration (+10). What about the Seahawks offense, the supposed bane of their existence? In addition to being the league’s top-ranked rushing attack, the Seahawks ranked 10th in the NFL with 24.6 ppg, and 11th in 3rd down conversions.
    Before we get caught up in the Seahawks’ glory, let’s consider their opponent, lest we forget about the most recent, and still highly functioning NFL dynasty. The 2014 Patriots were an offensive juggernaut, ranking 4th in scoring offense (29.2ppg), 4th in first downs, 5th in Red Zone offensive TD percentage, 6th in 3rd-down conversions, and 9th in passing offense, while ranking second in the league in turnover ration (+12). Don’t let the offensive numbers fool you, the Patriots’ defense, led by All-Pro Darrell Revis, play great defense, too. Besides ranking 8th in the NFL in scoring defense, the Patriots were the 9th-ranked rush defense, something that will come in handy against Lynch and the bruising Seahawks.
    The numbers suggest a team with a great offense and a good defense is playing a team with a great defense and a good offense. History suggests teams with great defenses, sound running games, and timely special teams win Super Bowls. The Seahawks are the best defense and the best running game, and kicker Steven Hauschka ranked 10th-ranked in scoring while the Seahawks’ punt coverage team ranked 7th in punt return yards allowed. New England has a respectable running game that improved as the season progressed, one of best defenses in the NFL, and some of the best special teams in the league led by kicker Stephen Gostkowski (ranked 4th in the NFL in points), return man Julian Edleman, and special team guru Matthew Slater. In other words, when you set aside the statistical accolades shared by both teams, Super Bowl XLIX boils down to one of the best defenses of this latest NFL generation and an emerging superstar in Russell Wilson led by innovator Pete Carroll against arguably the greatest quarterback and head coach in NFL history, both playing in their 6th Super Bowl in their 14 years together.
    The pressure to repeat combined with the Patriots’ burning desire to eliminate the haunting memory of that nearly perfect 2007 season destroyed on the very field of University of Phoenix Stadium will be too much for the banged-up Seahawks to overcome, despite Brady’s flu and the fear it spreads to Gronkowski. The Seattle Seahawks are one of the best teams we’ve seen in the past few years; the New England Patriots are one of the best teams we’ve seen over the past fourteen years. Brady is far too hungry and the Patriots far too angry over DeflateGate, SpyGate, PlaceWordHereGate, and related nonsense, as well as their past Super Bowl failures to let this one slide.


Check back following Super Bowl XLIX for the Week 21 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) SUPER BOWL EDITION review at ProFootballMedia.com!

2014 Playoff results (through Championship round): 7-3 wins (.700); 7-3 v. spread (.700)



Friday, January 16, 2015

Tuesaday's Gone: Week 20 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND EDITION



Week 20: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND EDITION


Green Bay Packers 13-4 (+7.5) @ Seattle Seahawks 13-4 (46.5): Seahawks 27-24 Seahawks 28-22 (OT)
Sunday, 3:05 PM, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: 50% rain, mid-40s)

Reasons: Aaron Rodgers can’t do it alone. The Packers running game came into its own as the season progressed, including a 100-yard performance from Eddie Lacy against the Cowboys in the Divisional Round, and the defense is vastly improved, including the 10th-ranked run defense, and yet Green Bay is going to need every ounce of it and much more. The Seahawks are simply dominant. The Seahawks are the NFL’s top rushing attack, pass defense, and scoring defense; the Seahawks are also the league’s 3rd-ranked rush defense and 10th-ranked scoring offense. The team’s only weakness is the passing game - ranked 27th. That’s right, Russell Wilson is the statistical weakness on this team. The Carolina Panthers came into CenturyLink field perhaps the hottest team in the league outside of New England and its host, and they had their hearts ripped out in the 4th quarter, specifically by one Kam Chancellor, who ran back an INT for a TD and leapt the line twice in an effort to blocked a late FG; he was actually successful the second time, but it was called back on a penalty. Aaron Rodgers can’t do it alone, and he won’t have to with these improved Packers, but even if the eventual league MVP were healthy the Packers wouldn’t stand much of a chance…and Rodgers isn’t healthy. The Seahawks become the first team since the ’03-’04 Patriots to return to the Super Bowl, and most likely face the Patriots when they get there.

Are you kidding me? The Packers led 16-0 lead at the half, and realistically, it should have been 24-0. Then the Packers held a 19-7 lead after a Mason Crosby FG with 10:53 left in the 4th quarter. That lead lasted through 5:13, when strong safety Morgan Burnett intercepted Russell Wilson, but then inexplicably fell down for a short 4-yard gain, rather than the potential 20+ yard gain that appeared to be attainable. Burnett claimed he didn’t want to fumble, momentarily forgetting he was running against the Seahawks’ offense, not their famed defense. Wilson was hit so hard on a crosscheck block by Clay Matthews on the INT that it was literally a miracle Wilson wasn’t injured. Miracles you say? Funny I should mention it. Following that play all hell broke loose…for the Packers. It would be all heaven breaking loose for the Seahawks, as the Good Lord finally finished his chores and got to the game just in time to help his proud servant Russell pull off the most improbable comeback I’ve seen since the old Houston Oilers lost a 32-point lead to the Buffalo Bills in 1993. Following the Wilson hit the Seahawks circle the wagons and immediately got the ball back. Wilson scampers into the End Zone with 3:52 remaining. It’s now 19-14. The Seahawks, feeling their newfound momentum, decide on an onside kick. The Packers put their hands team on the field and Steven Hauschka kicked the ball right to the Packers’ sure-handed Brandon Bostik’s…facemask. Obviously the Seahawks recovered the onside kick. Seahawks ball. Beast Mode, touchdown. Wilson to Willson, two-point conversion. HaSean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix, the Alabama rookie who had played one of the games of his young career, inexplicably stops defending Willson and literally allows the easy conversion. It’s now 22-19 with 2:09 remaining. The Packers are literally watching this game slip through their fingers after being outscored 22-3 in the second half. The Packers managed only 48 yards on the ensuing drive, but Crosby hit a 48-yard FG with 0:14 remaining. Overtime. Did you really expect the Packers to get the coin toss after all this? The Packers held them to 3rd down, before two straight 35-yard bombs to Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse sealed the game. The Seahawks became the only team since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots to return to the Super Bowl, and will try to become the first team since those Patriots to win back-to-back Super Bowls. What do you know; they’re playing the Patriots.

Indianapolis Colts 13-5 (+6.5) @ New England Patriots 13-4 (54): Patriots 30-21 Patriots 45-7
Sunday, 6:40 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: 90% rain, high 30s)

Reasons: First the Colts beat a Bengals team without AJ Green and then they played a Broncos team without a healthy Peyton Manning. I’m not saying the Colts’ playoff run hasn’t been impressive so much as I’m saying the Colts should still be considered a one-dimensional team that relies far too much on the league’s best young quarterback. Sure, the Colts ran for 114 and 99 yards in their two playoff wins, respectively, but 46 of those yards came from the aforementioned Andrew Luck, and without Luck’s totals the Colts averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. As for the defense, don’t be fooled by the 11.5 ppg Indianapolis allowed over the same stretch – I refer you to line one. Like I said, the Colts are a one-dimensional team. The Patriots are not, and they’re fresh off a battle with their nemesis Baltimore Ravens, false accusations and all, in which New England came from down 14 points twice to get the chance to host the AFC Championship – their fourth straight.. The Patriots appear to be at full strength for the occasion for the first time in those four games, and it couldn’t come at a worse time for the statistically inferior Colts. To compound matters, Mother Nature plans to attend the game with rain, a wintry mix, and near-freezing temperatures. Not only is that terrible news for the dome-dwelling Colts, it’s great news for the weather-tested Patriots. The Patriots will attempt to win their 4th Super Bowl in six tries during the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era (only 14 years), and will most likely face the first team to return to the Super Bowl since they last did it in ’03-’04.

First it was the Tuck Rule, something completely out of the New England Patriots’ hands, which first formed to Anti-Patriots Alliance (APA). The tuck rule was somehow invented on the spot, the APA claims, to benefit a coach who had enjoyed minimal NFL success to that point with the Cleveland Browns, and a second-year quarterback taken with the 199th pick in the draft. Then it was bitter Rams’ players, specifically Marshall Faulk, formerly my favorite all-time running back due to his skill and surname, who came out and accused the New England Patriots of cheating by filming the Rams’ practices and getting a Super Bowl edge. The APA wasn’t as strong in the early years, so this claim took years to gain steam. The Greatest Show On Turf has never accepted being beat by the lowly 2001 Wild Card Patriots. I wonder if the Patriots ever thought of accusing the New York Giants of anything after their (two) improbable Super Bowl win(s)? Then it was SpyGate. The New England Patriots were allegedly filming the New York Jets’ practices and gaining advantages. Guess who blew the whistle? Eric Mangini, former Patriots’ coach, the very man responsible for training the video coordinator accused of filming practices. So Mangini sees his trainee, assumes he’s filming practice, and rats out the team that essentially started his NFL career. “Rat” assumes the Patriots actually filmed anything. The NFL confiscated the tapes. However, people are more willing to think that the NFL was involved in some huge inexplicable cover up with the Patriots rather than assuming there was nothing to see, and with the league knowing Mangini had already embarrassed himself within NFL circles, spared him more embarrassment for blowing a pointless whistle and simply put the matter to rest. Yes, the NFL fined Bill Belichick and the Patriots and took away a draft pick for SpyGate, but the same league said they didn’t know about the Ray Rice tapes, and then hired their friends to investigate them. Do you trust this league? Then it was the Aaron Hernandez situation, where people claimed the Patriots knew of Hernandez’s gang ties, but ignored them to get his services, as if the Patriots abandoned all of their morals so they could have a potentially great tight end. See, this is what people conveniently forget: even if all of these allegations were true, the games still have to be played and players like Hernandez still have to develop. People even grasped at straws with Bill Belichick’s recent new formations, all legal, and tried to claim Belichick cheated his way through the playoffs. Finally we sit in the midst of DeflateGate, the latest Patriots witch hunt, and perhaps the most comical of all. Without even belaboring the issues, suffice it to say these types of things happen all the time in games, including examples from other teams this year, there’s almost no way to prove Belichick had anything to do with deflating balls even if it were true, every expert that has been asked has claimed it’s not an issue, and certainly wouldn’t have affected the Patriots-Colts game, and most importantly, the officials were handling the balls the entire game, yet it’s a media firestorm after the fact. Please. The fact is we’re talking about the New England Patriots, and they don’t play ball too far down the road from Salem, MA. They know all about witch-hunts. No, this game doesn’t even deserve a review, because there was no game. The Patriots, as they have in every other meeting with Andrew Luck, demolished the Colts in every aspect of the game. The only story here is the rest of the country’s pathetic attempts to constantly try and take what the Patriots have accomplished away from them. Guess what? Your team cheats. Every team does. The greatest teams in history did. Your coaches pull every stop and search for loopholes. Your team has a scumbag on it. And your team does whatever it takes to win. Here’s the difference: your team doesn’t, the Patriots do. The New England Patriots have nothing to apologize for. Bill Belichick is the greatest coach in the history of this failing game, and Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback who has ever played in it. Get over it.

Check back Saturday for Week 21 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) SUPER BOWL EDITION at ProFootballMedia.com!

2014 Playoff results (through Championship round): 7-3 wins (.700); 7-3 v. spread (.700)


Friday, January 9, 2015

Tuesday's Gone: Week 19 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) DIVISIONAL ROUND EDITION




This is exactly the site Patriots don't want to see Saturday, as the Ravens have won two of the last three playoff games at Gillette Stadium.



Week 19: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
DIVISIONAL ROUND EDITION

DIVISIONAL ROUND RESULTS: 3-1 wins (.750); 3-1 v. spread (.750)


Baltimore Ravens 11-6 (+7) @ New England Patriots 12-3 (47.5): Patriots 27-24 Patriots 35-31
Saturday, 4:35 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Sunny, low 20s)

Reasons: The one match up the Patriots didn’t want; the Ravens come into Foxborough having won two of the last three playoff games at Gillette Stadium, all since 2009. Not only are the Ravens a historically tough match up, they’re a literal tough match up Saturday. The Patriots and Ravens are relatively evenly matched in most yardage, points, and situational statistics; about the only place the two teams divert is with offensive Red Zone efficiency, offensive 3rd-down conversions, and turnovers. The real difference this year, and the reason for the seven-point spread, that that the Patriots have never had all of their wide receivers and tight ends, specifically Rob Gronkowski, available to them against the Ravens. The Patriots also didn’t have Darrell Revis and Brandon Browner. Those former Ravens teams were playing with much more spirit (Ray Lewis) and this current Patriots team is far too talented.

The Patriots came back from down 14 points twice in this game and picked off Joe Flacco’s last gasp effort in the end zone to seal the win after a wild, evenly matched Divisional game between two evenly matched teams. Flacco looked brilliant in the first half, but two costly INTs did Flacco and the Ravens in. The Patriots pulled brilliant tricks out of their offensive bag, including a 51-yard TD pass from WR Julian Edleman and a legal formation new to professional football, prompting Ravens head coach John Harbaugh to embarrass himself by suggesting the Patriots were calling illegal plays, and then once finding out they were legal, suggesting the Patriots were pulling cheap shot moves. Tom Brady responded by saying Harbaugh should study the playbook more; I say people that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Considering the level of integrity the Ravens’ organization has in the face of all their many horrific domestic violence issues, forcing victims to apologize for their roles, and championing players who both went to prison for drugs, and who were acquitted of homicide but convicted of obstruction of justice, perhaps the last thing the Ravens’ should be doing is accusing model organizations of everything under the Sun in pathetic, desperate attempts to bring them to their level. New England only rushed for seven yards on three carries to Baltimore’s 135 yards on 28 carries (Justin Forsett ran for 129 on 24 carries), but Brady threw for 367 yards and 3 TDs in addition to Edleman’s 51-yard TD. The Patriots committed one fewer turnover – the key to the victory. The Patriots now play in their 4th straight AFC Championship, and 9th in the 14 years of the Belichick-Brady duo.

Carolina Panthers 8-8-1 (+11) @ Seattle Seahawks 12-4 (39.5): Seahawks 24-20 Seahawks 31-17
Saturday, 8:15 PM, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: 20% rain, high 40s)

Reasons: The Carolina Panthers defense has only allowed 14.4 ppg over the last five weeks including the playoffs, and Jonathan Stewart had more rushing yards than any other running back in the league over the last four weeks of the season. The only problem with that is their opponent only allowed 15.9 ppg over the entire season, and their running back Marshawn Lynch is the league’s premier running back and finished fourth among all backs. Despite the ride the Panthers have been on going from disappointment to NFC South title, Carolina might be running into the hottest team in the NFL. The Seahawks have the league’s top-ranked rushing offense, passing defense, scoring defense, and are tied with New England for the largest point differential per game (+9). Considering the game is at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks are 16-2 the last two seasons, including the playoffs, the Panthers stand little chance. The Panthers fought the Seahawks hard Week 8, losing 13-9, but the Panthers hadn’t hit their low mark yet at that point, while the Seahawks were just ascending from their early season funk. The spread may seem ridiculous, but the Sharps don’t ride the emotional rollercoaster like the fans do.

If you didn’t watch this game you would have no any idea how close it was. The Seahawks only led 17-10 with just under 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter, and Seattle closed the game with fewer first downs, fewer offensive yards, fewer rushing yards, a lower rushing average, and more penalties in eight fewer minutes of possession; the defense even had the same number of sacks (2). The problem was, the Seahawks beat the Panthers soundly in the two categories that matter most: turnovers (3 – 2 INTs; 1 fumble) and the final score (31-17). The Seahawks would be the first to admit the Panthers played a smash-mouth style akin to their own, and were probably stunned the Panthers hung around so long on the shoulders of a rookie wide receiver and by their 132 rushing yards (30 carries). Kelvin Benjamin, the clear case ROY if he weren’t part of the greatest rookie wide receiving class in recent memory, gave the Seahawk’s secondary fits at times, gaining 75 yards and 2 TDs on seven receptions (10 targets) –there could have been far more if not for a few near misses. The game belonged to the Seahawks, however, as Russell Wilson outplayed Cam Newton and the defense, specifically Kam Chancellor, outplayed the Panthers. We won’t even get into Chancellor leaping the line to block a FG twice and returning an INT for a TD. The Seahawks are one step closer to becoming the first team since the ’03-’04 New England Patriots to repeat as Champions and face a hobbled Aaron Rodgers at home to get there.

Dallas Cowboys 13-4 (+6) @ Green Bay Packers 12-4 (52.5): Packers 28-27 Packers 26-21
Sunday, 1:05 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Mostly cloudy, high teens)

Reasons: The Cowboys are 8-0 on the road this season, and the Packers are 8-0 at home; this is the first such match up in playoff history. The game comes down to two juggernaut offenses with similar styles and mediocre defense clashing in Lambeau for only the second time in history since the Ice Bowl in 1967. These teams are evenly matched; these teams “win” their games 30-22 (Packers) and 29-22 (Cowboys). The Packers have one of the better passing offenses in the league (8th) and the Cowboys and DeMarco Murray have the league’s second-ranked rushing offense. The same can be said for the defenses – the Cowboys have the 8th-ranked rush defense and the Packers have the league’s 10th-ranked pass defense. Clearly it helps to play against these guys all week in practice. The game really comes down to Aaron Rodgers’ health and the Cowboys nerves. Dallas has gone from the “accident waiting to happen” to the “Super Bowl Champ waiting to happen”, and hopes run high through the Texas plains. If Rodgers is 75% of himself the Cowboys defense could be in for a long day, but if Rodgers can’t be Rodgers, and Tony Romo can avoid living up to his playoff name, then the Cowboys stand a real chance.

It shall be forever known as “The [no] Catch”. In a play that will be debated for years, and could spark a changing of the rule, Dez Bryant was ruled to have not maintained control throughout the entire process of the reception, although to me, and at least 75% of the live and aftermath viewers, not only did Bryant maintain control, he arguably scored a TD on the play considering he officially gained final control in the end zone. Regardless, no game can ever be reduced to one play, and the Cowboys had their chances. DeMarco Murray rushed for 123 yards and a TD on 25 carries, but had a costly fumble; Romo played well, but was sacked four times and was under pressure all day. The Packers missed a two-point conversion, committed 10 penalties for 87 yards and lost a fumble themselves (Aaron Rodgers), but the play of Rodgers (316 passing yards and 3 TDs), Eddie Lacy (100 rushing yards), and rookie Davante Adams (117 receiving yards and 1 TD) overcame the mistakes – and the controversial call – to survive the Divisional round and win a trip to soggy Seattle for the NFC Championship against a freshly sharpened buzzsaw.

Indianapolis Colts 12-5 (+7) @ Denver Broncos 12-4 (54): Broncos 28-24 Colts 24-13
Sunday, 4:40 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Sunny, high 40s)

Reasons: Unfortunately for the Indianapolis Colts they’re only good at one thing, throwing the ball. The Denver Broncos just happen to be led by the guy who wrote the book on passing. Also unfortunate for the Colts is that the Broncos happen to have a respectable defense, and CJ Anderson has been one of the best running backs in the NFL the second half of the season. The Colts don’t give up many yards, but they give up points and turn the ball over, something the Broncos don’t do, but take advantage of. The Colts are also worst in the league defending the Red Zone, which will prove to be trouble on the road against the Broncos, who rank 4th in offensive Red Zone efficiency. Andrew Luck is the future of the NFL, but he’s no Peyton Manning yet, and even Manning could never put the entire team on his shoulders and beat the best teams in the AFC, just ask the Patriots. Manning proves he’s been playing possum lately and springs back to life in time to represent the Broncos in their third AFC Championship in Manning’s three years there.

Peyton Manning looked so bad at times in this game that post game analysts started wondering if he should retire; then it was reported Manning had a torn quadriceps the last four week of the season into the playoffs. I find that hard to believe as we clearly saw him throw off of his plant leg, the leg in question, but Manning is clearly not 100% - no kidding, he’s 38 years old and in his 18th season. Considering he's played in 24 playoff games, he's technically played 19 ½ season. Besides a TD pass on the opening drive, Manning and the Broncos looked abysmal. The running game, the heart of this team the past month of the regular season, was held to 88 rushing yards on only 20 carries, and Manning completed 56% of his passes for only 211 passing yards, 25% of which came in garbage time. Andrew Luck threw two INTs, but they either served as punts or the Broncos weren’t able to do anything with the turnover anyway, so they weren’t costly. Luck also threw two TDs and helped strengthen Jim Irsay’s ego regarding his decision to let Manning go and draft Luck. Talk about luck. Just as the Packers now have to travel to Seattle and face an animal, so now do the Colts, who haven’t played so well in New England. Some people will tell you the Colts defense caught fire against the Broncos and held them to 13 points. I’m here to tell you the Broncos offense was just that bad and that the Colts will have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots in the AFC Championship, Luck’s first.

Check back Wednesday to see how we did in Tuesday’s Gone: Week 19 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) DIVISIONAL ROUND EDITION at ProFootballMedia.com!




Carolina Panthers: Fool me once, shame on you…


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Tuesday's Gone: Week 18 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) WILD CARD EDITION


The Cowboys are back in the playoffs for the first time in years...let's just say Cowboys' fans are hoping for better results this time.

 

Week 18: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
WILD CARD EDITION

WILD CARD ROUND RESULTS: 2-2 wins; 2-2 v. spread

Arizona Cardinals 11-5 (+6.5) @ Carolina Panthers 7-8-1 (38): Panthers 21-17 Panthers 27-16
Saturday, 4:20 PM, B of A Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: 70% rain; high 40s)

Reasons: The cynics will say the Carolina Panthers backed into the playoffs and got lucky landing a reeling Arizona Cardinals team on their third quarterback. Although factually they might be correct, as the Panthers are only the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs, and the Cardinals couldn’t be picking a worse time to lose four of six games, the Panthers are no joke. Statistically the Panthers are the better offensive team over the course of the entire season, and despite the Cardinals winning several games early in the season via multiple turnovers, the Panthers (+3) take the ball away nearly as much as the Cardinals (+8). The Panthers also have the NFL’s 7th-ranked rushing team, mostly a function of the last several weeks. The difference here is defense, where the Cardinals remain one of the league’s elite; I say ‘remain’ because it was only 11 months ago the Panthers were as elite, remember? Unfortunately for the Cardinals these Panthers have found that 2013 form, holding opponents to 11.2 ppg over their last five games since their Week 12 bye. Consider the Cardinals will be playing third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley in the pouring rain and Arizona could be in for a long day. The Cardinals will certainly give the offensive line and Cam Newton trouble, but Newton is finding his own stride since the car accident that left him with two transfer process fractures in his lower back, and he’ll do just enough to win at home.

After taking a 10-0 dominant lead in the first quarter, the Panthers then missed a FG, punted, and threw an INT, allowing the Cardinals to take the 14-10 lead before Gano redeemed himself hitting a 43-yd FG to go into the half down 14-13. Then the Panthers defense went 2013 on the Cardinals, themselves a top-ranked defense in 2014, and suffocated Arizona to point of extinction. Despite several errors, including two fumbles, the Panthers’ defense, specifically linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, were so fired up, and the Cardinals offense so banged up, that the stats became historic. Consider the Cardinals' offense: 78 total yards for a 1.7 ypp average and 8 first downs.

Baltimore Ravens 10-6 (+3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5 (45): Steelers 27-24 Ravens 30-17
Saturday, 8:30 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: 90% freezing rain; low 40s)

Reasons: Stop me when you’ve heard this one before: The Steelers are playing the Ravens. For the fourth time in their 19-year history (Baltimore became an NFL franchise in 1996) and the third time since 2009, these bitter AFC North division rivals will face off again. Normally two of the best defense in the league, these two teams come into the 2014 playoffs tow of the better offensive teams in the NFL; both teams rank next to each other in the top-ten in scoring offense. Don’t be fooled though, the Ravens ball on defense, too (6th-ranked scoring defense). These two teams know each other about as well as any two teams in the NFL could, and they split the season series 1-1. The final combined score? 49-49. As far as yards are concerned, these teams match up perfectly, the one exception being how they gain yards on offense – the Steelers pass the ball while the Ravens dominate the run game. As far as points the only real difference is on defense, where the Ravens bend, but the Steelers break, allowing ~4 ppg more. The real difference here could be the Steelers’ home field advantage, as the Ravens have struggled the past few road outings.

The Ravens have shown they’re a different beast in the playoffs, and this year they don’t even need to be, despite losing the AFC North after seemingly being in control of it. The Steelers went up 3-0 in the first quarter and never regained the lead, although the Steelers had plenty of chances in the 4th to tie or take that lead. The Ravens defense sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and forced two INTs, and Joe Flacco kept his playoff mystique going, giving the Ravens some hope that he may actually earn that post-Super Bowl contract.

Cincinnati Bengals 10-5-1 (+3.5) @ Indianapolis Colts 11-5 (49): Bengals 28-27 Colts 27-10
Sunday, 1:05 PM, Luca Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: This game features the two most unpredictable playoff teams in 2015. The Bengals are 5-3 in the second half of the season, and squandered their chance to win the division (and possibly host a playoff game) when they lost to division rival Pittsburgh in Week 17, and it could be argued that the Colts rely too much on Andrew Luck and lose big games to good opponents. Four of the Colts’ five losses were to playoff teams, the other was to Philadelphia, who could have made the playoffs if not for tiebreakers. It could also be argued the Colts played in the second-worst division in the NFL, the AFC South, which featured Jacksonville and Tennessee (five combined wins), but the fact of the matter is the Colts beat the Bengals in their Week 7 matchup 27-0. The Bengals are the more talented team, but could be without a healthy AJ Green, and the Colts have the prolific offense, but they turn the ball over far too much (-5). The Bengals don’t bode well in big time games under Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton, and the game is in Indianapolis, but something tells me Jeremy Hill is going to open up the passing game and also help keep Andrew Luck off the field. The fact that the Colts have only played three meaningful games in the past seven weeks since their bye, and they lost two of them (NE, DAL), also has something to do with it.

Why did I pick the Bengals on the road in a playoff game? I guess because I had a first-time-for-everything (in a long time) mentality. That was a silly mistake, as the best young quarterback in the NFL far outplayed one Andy Dalton, who is supposed to be one of the best young QBs in the league, yet manages to destroy every chance he gets at solidifying that notion in any fan’s mind. Jeremy Hill, on fire the past few weeks, was held to 47 yards on only 13 carries, and was ineffective to say the least on play action plays. The Colts now travel to Denver for a matchup everyone in the world wants to see almost as much as Peyton v. Eli.

Detroit Lions 11-5 (+6.5) @ Dallas Cowboys 12-4 (48): Cowboys 24-21 Cowboys 24-20
Sunday, 4:40 PM, AT&T Stadium, Dallas, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Lions are the luckiest team in the Wild Card round getting Ndamukong Suh back from an appealed suspension (reduced to $70,000 fine), because now they actually have a small chance. People mock the Carolina Panthers for backing into the playoffs, but sometimes I wonder if this Lions team evens deserves to be there. The Lions “won” their games this season 20-18, and while their defense was one of the best in the NFL, the Lions offense, rife with talent, was disappointing to say the least. Six of the Lions’ eleven wins were by seven or fewer points – all six to teams that missed the playoffs. In several of those games the Lions had come back from being down. In fact, the Lions only had five statement wins, and only one of those wins came against a winning team (GB). In other words, besides an elite defense, the Lions aren’t that good. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are very good. In addition to boasting the league’s second-ranked rushing attack and Tony Romo’s MVP season, the Cowboys’ have the 5th-ranked scoring offense and Dallas’ defense is no longer a crutch. The Cowboys might not be the best home team (4-4), but it’s not as if the Lions are road warriors (4-4). Matt Stafford might be coming home to Texas, where he’s played well in the past, but his only other career playoff game was also on the road and didn’t end well (45-28 loss to NO in 2011). The Cowboys are on a mission and the Lions still don’t belong.

Lions lead 20-7 midway through the 3rd quarter. Tell me you weren’t thinking, “Here the Cowboys go again”. Then, in a move we haven’t seen in decades, the Dallas Cowboys strapped up the boots, clicked the spurs, and got back on the horse and rode…right through the hearts of Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit Lions all the way to a controversial 24-20 win. Ok, the pass interference call hardly had anything to do with the final outcome, and it wasn’t pass interference anyway. That said this game was as much about the Lions losing as it was the Cowboys winning. This was like a game between two spoiled rich brats, and the slightly older more experienced one narrowly escaped with a victory. It’s fitting that one of these teams had to go home after the game, because it’s clear the loser wouldn’t belong. The Cowboys certainly deserve their glory in 2014-2015, but they’ve managed less with even more talent in the very recent past; the Lions could be the most talented mediocre team in the history of the league. What transpired Sunday was an incredible game, but it’s both amazing and sad the Lions can’t mange more offense with the weapons they possess. The prize? A trip to frigid Lambeau Field for the Ice Bowl II. Last temperature reading? 9 degrees.


Check back Wednesday to see how we did in Tuesday’s Gone: Week 18 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) at ProFootballMedia.com!



Sunday, December 28, 2014

Carolina Panthers: Losing season could yield division title




Personal Twitter: @phaulkner

Week 17: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & NO analysis): FINAL WEEK EDITION


 Playoffs??? Yes, for some. Not so much for others. Welcome to Week 17.



Week 17: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 17 results (season): 12-4 wins (170-85-1 .666); 9-7 v. spread (126-129-1 .494)

Week 17 Notes: Perhaps as hard to predict as Week 1, Week 17 comes with so many variables that it makes it nearly impossible to predict games. A majority of teams are going home after today, meaning several will be playing rookies or reserve players to get some idea of the direction they might head in the off season. Many teams have players under exorbitant contracts and will not risk injury in a meaningless game. Don’t let any football player convince you there is no such thing – this is a business first. Several teams are still in the playoff hunt. These teams will pull out all the stops. The teams that are in the playoffs still have decisions to make. Some teams will completely sit their starters, while some teams will play their starters in limited action. Some of these teams are even in position to increase their playoff seed, and their game plan could be dictated as the day – and other games – progress. All of this information can be summed up in one declaration: stay away. Put your wallets back in your back pocket. Unfortunately for me, I’m obligated to predict winners. What’s worse is the position of my ego: If I go 11-5 in both wins and v. the spread in Week 17, I will have officially predicted 67% of wins correctly and I’ll have called exactly 50% against the spread. That’s something to brag about. Too bad it’s Week 17. See you in the playoffs.

Buffalo Bills 8-7 (+5) @ New England Patriots 12-3 (43.5): Patriots 24-21 Bills 17-9
Sunday, 1 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: 80% rain, low 50s)

Carolina Panthers 6-8-1 (+3) @ Atlanta Falcons 6-9 (47.5): Panthers 27-24 Panthers 34-3
Sunday, 1 PM, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors)

Cleveland Browns 7-8 (+13.5) @ Baltimore Ravens 9-6 (39.5): Ravens 27-21 Ravens 20-10
Sunday, 1 PM, M&T Banbk Stadium, Baltimore, MD (Weather: 80% rain, low 50s)

Dallas Cowboys 11-4 (-4) @ Washington Natives 4-11 (49): Natives 24-21 Cowboys 44-17
Sunday, 1 PM, FedEx Field, Landover, MD (Weather: 80% rain, low 50s)

Indianapolis Colts 11-4 (-7) @ Tennessee Titans 2-13 (46.5): Colts 27-24 Colts 27-10
Sunday, 1 PM, LP Stadium, Nashville, TN (Weather: 80% rain, mid 40s)

Jacksonville Jaguars 3-12 (-9.5) @ Houston Texans 8-7 (40.5): Texans 24-20 Texans 23-17
Sunday, 1 PM, Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)

San Diego Chargers 9-6 (+1) @ Kansas City Chiefs 8-7 (40.5): Chargers 24-21 Chiefs 19-7
Sunday, 1 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Sunny, high 30s)

New York Jets 3-12 (+6) @ Miami Dolphins 8-7 (42): Dolphins 24-21 Jets 37-34
Sunday, 1 PM, Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL (Weather: Sunny, high 70s)

Chicago Bears 5-10 (+6) @ Minnesota Vikings 6-9 (42): Vikings 21-20 Vikings 13-9
Sunday, 1 PM, TFC Stadium, Minneapolis, MN (Weather: Sunny, low 20s)

Philadelphia Eagles 9-6 (+2.5) @ New York Giants 6-9 (44.5): Eagles 27-24 Eagles 34-26
Sunday, 1 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: 80% rain, low 50s)

New Orleans Saints 6-9 (-4) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2-13 (52.5): Saints 27-21 Saints 23-20
Sunday, 1 PM, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL (Weather: Sunny, high 70s)

Detroit Lions 11-4 (+7.5) @ Green Bay Packers 11-4 (47.5): Packers 28-20 Packers 30-20
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Sunny, high 20s)

Oakland Raiders 3-12 (+14) @ Denver Broncos 11-4 (48): Broncos 28-24 Broncos 47-14
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Sunny, mid-30s)

Arizona Cardinals 11-4 (+6.5) @ San Francisco 49ers 7-8 (36.5): 49ers 21-17 49ers 20-17
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA (Weather: Sunny, mid-50s)

St. Louis Rams 6-9 (+12.5) @ Seattle Seahawks 11-4 (41): Seahawks 24-17 Seahawks 20-6
Sunday, 4:25 PM, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: 40% rain, mid-40s)

Cincinnati Bengals 10-4-1 (+3.5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers 10-5 (48): Steelers 27-24 Steelers 27-17
Sunday, 8:30 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: Cloudy, high 30s)


Check back Saturday for Week 18: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis): WILD CARD EDITION at ProFootballMedia.com!