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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tuesday's Gone: Week 19 #NFL Game Reviews


2017 NFL SEASON

T U E S D A Y ’ S   G O N E :
D I V I S I O N A L   R O U N D


Week 19: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Wild Card Round: 2-2 wins; 3-1 v. spread
Divisional Round: 2-2 wins; 2-1-1 v. spread

Note/Key: Statistical analysis based on the following metrics (abbreviations): Points scored (PF); points against (PA); Point differential (PD) Yards gained (YG); Yards allowed (YA); Red Zone TD efficiency (RZ); 3rd-down efficiency (3rd); Turnover ratio (TO); Time of possession (TOP); Yards per play (YPP); Sacks (S); Interceptions (INT); Penalty yards (PEN).


Atlanta Falcons #6 (-3) @ Philadelphia Eagles #1 (41): Falcons 21-20 Eagles 15-10
Saturday, 4:35 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: Clearing; high 30s)

Reasons: The Falcons seem like the hottest team in the NFL right now, and the case could be made; Atlanta is 4-1 over their last five games and has only allowed an average of 16.8 ppg over that span. Conversely, the Eagles went from the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl with MVP-candidate quarterback Carson Wentz at the helm to losing Wentz for the season and going 3-2 over their last five games of the regular season with an average point differential of 0.2 ppg over that span, compared to having the best point differential in the NFL during the regular season (10.1 ppg). Neither team gets after the quarterback consistently, although the Falcons seemed to have found a new gear over their last several games, but the Eagles league-leading run defense should put the game squarely on Matt Ryan’s shoulders. That could go either way because although Ryan is inconsistent at best, the Eagles pass defense is mediocre at best and Mohammed Sanu has become a serious threat opposite Julio Jones. The Falcons have a slight advantage in the kicking game, but equalizing atmospheric pressure will create just enough wind to make kicking a challenge, so the game could come down to two extremely important but often overlooked stats: time of possession and turnovers. If the Falcons (18th) can secure the ball as well as the Eagles did all year (4th) and keep the Eagles from hoarding the ball (1st in time of possession) this game could come down to something as silly as a missed extra point. Having said that, the suddenly hot Falcons could realistically come in and destroy the rested-in-a-negative-way Eagles, lest we forget, no top seed has ever been an underdog in their opening playoff game.

Damn, Falcons fans must be sick of this stuff happening. The Eagles turned the ball over twice - the only turnovers of the game - missed an extra point and gave the Falcons four chances to score the go-ahead touchdown with 80 seconds left in the game from within the 9-yard line and THE FALCONS STILL LOST. Matt Ryan (22-36 passing for 210 yards; 1TD) threw three passes to arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL in Julio Jones (9 receptions; 101 receiving yards) from within the 9-yard line and the Falcons came up empty. Jones came close on one of those passes, but this ain’t horseshoes and it ain’t hand grenades so the Eagles essentially won the game on two unanswered field goals off the foot of the same guy (Jake Elliot) who missed an extra point in the second quarter. The Falcons certainly lost the game more than the Eagles won it, but such is the NFL and the NFC Championship is a new game and another home game for the Eagles. The Falcons, meanwhile, get to ponder another horrific playoff loss the entire off-season. Hey, at least they weren’t up 28-3 in the Super Bowl.

Tennessee Titans #5 (+13.5) @ New England Patriots #1 (48): Patriots 27-20 Patriots 35-14
Saturday, 8:15 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: 70% rain; high 40s)

Reasons: The Patriots come into the game banged up with a patchwork offensive line and key skill position guys either missing or questionable (O: Chris Hogan, Rex Burkhead, James White; D: Alan Branch, Marquis Flowers) and the Patriots are still going to manhandle the Titans. I could on analytically for paragraphs why the Patriots match up well with Tennessee and will overwhelm the Titans in every aspect of the game Saturday, save perhaps the Titans 4th-ranked run defense, which would only put more of the onus on Tom Brady to step up, which has never been a problem in the first place, but, especially not when a young cocky defensive player from the opposition (Free safety Kevin Byard) opens his mouth during the week and provides bulletin material. Truth be told, the media provided all the bulletin material the Patriots needed to galvanize the team with the bombshell story that the Patriots had cracked from within and that ownership, Brady and Bill Belichick were at serious odds. Even if true, which it could very well be, to think the Patriots won’t use this excuse to circle the wagons would mean you haven’t been paying attention to New England since Bill Belichick took over. The Patriots only statistical weakness is on yardage allowed, including the worst pass defense in the NFL despite a defensive backfield that boast Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Patrick Chung, but much of that can be explained away by garbage yardage statistics perpetuated by teams desperately trying to come back on a team that beat teams by an average of 10 ppg this season, best in the NFL. The Titans only chance of winning in Foxborough Saturday is if their 5th-ranked pass rush (43 sacks) gets to Brady early and often and Derrick Henry carries the ball 40 times and burns 38 or more minutes of the clock. Neither is out of the realm of possibilities.

The Titans led 7-0 heading into the second quarter, but that’s where Tennessee’s season ended. The Patriots, declared dismantled from within due to a week of internal turmoil between team owner Bob Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, also know in New England as the Holy Trinity, subsequently rolled off 35 unanswered points and put any claims the Patriots might be in trouble to rest. Consider those supposed distractions added to the fact both coordinators were being coveted throughout the week, with defensive coordinator Matt Patricia taking the head-coaching job in Detroit, and what we have is the most disciplined team in NFL history; or the most sensationalizing media. I suppose in the era of fake news the latter is just as possible, but I digress. The Titans 5th-ranked pass rush didn’t sack Brady (35-53 passing for 337 yards; 3 TDs) once, yet the supposedly horrible Patriots defense broke their own playoff record with eight sacks. The Patriots supposedly horrible run defense also held Derrick Henry to 28 yards on 12 carries; in fact, Marcus Mariota led the Titans in rushing (37 yards). The Patriots not only looked primed against the Titans, but their envied discipline was on full display while they kept one of the best pass rushing units in the NFL from sacking Brady and only touching him four times. Looks like “Sacksonville” might have their work cut out for them as they travel to New England to face the Patriots in the AFC Championship, New England’s record-extending seventh straight.

Jacksonville Jaguars #3 (+7) @ Pittsburgh Steelers #1 (41): Jaguars 24-23 Jaguars 45-42
Sunday, 1:05 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: 20% snow; low 20s)

Reasons: Star running back Le’Veon Bell was out of this game until the late hours of Friday night, meaning that even if he plays he’s not going to be 100%. Spare me the “No one is 100% at this point in the season” talk because no one is randomly listed as “OUT” if the have a few scratches. Guess who else is questionable? Antonio Brown. That’s just the Steelers two best skill position player. Center Maurice Pouncey was listed as OUT Friday night as well, meaning the Steelers would have their work cut out for them against the Cleveland Browns, let along the best defense in the NFL. The Jaguars come into Pittsburgh, a team they beat 30-9 while intercepting Ben Roethlisberger five times Week 5, ranked 2nd in points allowed, yards allowed sacks, interceptions while boasting the league’s top pass defense. Offensively the Jaguars rank 6th in yards gained (366 ypg), 5th in points scored (26.1), 3rd in point differential (9.2), and 2nd in red zone efficiency. Using statistical analysis and taking the Steelers attrition at key positions into account, not to mention the shell of the former defense the Steelers have been without Ryan Shazier, and I can’t come up a single reason why the Steelers would be giving seven points to the Jaguars. Even the argument that the Steelers match up with or surpass the Jaguars in by the same metrics and are playing at home doesn’t explain seven points, especially when Pouncey, Bell and Brown could be less than 100% or even absent. Las Vegas is really leaning on Pittsburgh’s top-ranked pass rush and 5th-ranked pass defense to beat up on poor old Blake Bortles. Even if true, I wouldn’t hang my hat on that against this Jaguars defense.

It’s amazing when I predict a close score for a game with a large spread and I end up being right, but with a score twice what I predicted. This game went down to the wire, but got there in a fashion I don’t think anyone besides Calais Campbell imagined (Campbell predicted the exact score earlier in the week when asked about a potential defensive battle). The Jaguars went up 21-0 on three rushing touchdowns (Fournette twice; Yeldon) within 19 minutes on Pittsburgh’s 10th-ranked run defense. After Ben Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown (7 receptions for 132 receiving yards; 2 TDs) to make it 21-7 the Jaguars stripped Roethlisberger and ran the fumble into the end zone making it a 28-7 game as the two-minute warning approached. Roethlisberger (37-58 passing for 469 yards; 5 TDs; 1 INT) connected with Martavis Bryant as the half closed and then connected with Le’Veon Bell (16 carries for 67 rushing yards; 1 TD) for the only score of the 3rd quarter and suddenly it was a 28-21 game as the 4th quarter began. That’s when the shit show started. Two of the best defenses in the NFL combined to give up 38 4th-quarter points, trading scores twice before Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo’s 45-yard field goal made it a 10-point game with 1:45 remaining in the 4th quarter. The Steelers still had nearly two minutes to figure something out, but this Steelers coaching staff has proven over the years they’re not very good at those things and really just rely on the “Killer B’s”. It ultimately failed, and instead of kicking a field goal and then attempting an onside kick for a chance at a game-tying touchdown, the Steelers ended up padding Roethlisberger’s stats with a 5th, yet meaningless, touchdown with one second left on the clock. Despite the Jaguars blowing the game wide open early the game came down to two Pittsburgh turnovers, one of which ultimately decided the game, and Jacksonville’s historic defense gave up 42 points and 567 yards while “Sacksonville” only managed two sacks. The Patriots offense they face next week in the AFC Championship doesn’t get any easier, so let’s hope for the Jaguars sake the young team can maintain focus against a New England team playing in their record-extending seventh-straight AFC title game.

New Orleans Saints #4 (+5) @ Minnesota Vikings #2 (46.5): Saints 24-21 Vikings 29-24
Sunday, 4:40 PM, US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN (Weather: Indoors)


Reasons: How lucky are the New Orleans Saints? Not only do they get the 4:40 Sunday afternoon slot again this week, but also their away game is in the comfy confines of a domed stadium, just like home. And before we go on and on about how great the Vikings defense is, and it most certainly is (allowing 11.4 ppg over their last five games), let’s not forget two things: The Minnesota Vikings are basically noobs at this playoff thing as of late, while the Sean Payton-Drew Brees combo is most certainly not new to this playoff thing, and Drew Brees might be the greatest statistical quarterback we’ve ever seen. Much of Brees’ career has been plagued by the presence of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but the truth is Brees holds the highest completion percentage of any quarterback in NFL history and is slowly creeping up on the greats in many other passing metrics, which isn’t surprising considering Brees has thrown for over 5,000 yards five times; no other quarterback comes close. Any time you have a transcendent player like Brees anything is possible, and this Saints defense is quietly becoming as interesting as the vaunted Vikings defense. Consider: The Vikings are ranked 2nd in both total defense (276 ypg) and scoring defense (15.8 ppg), but aren’t really ball hawks and don’t really get after the quarterback; the Saints give up far more yards, but rank 10th in points allowed (20.4 ppg) and are the top-seven in both sacks (42) and interceptions (20; 5th). While we’re at it, though, we might as well praise a Vikings offense that surprisingly keeps pace with the Saints, much in the same way the Saints defense keeps pace with the Vikings defense. The Vikings are no barnburners, but they rank 11th in yards (357 ypg), 10th in points scored (23.9 ppg), 9th in red zone efficiency (44%), 3rd in third-down efficiency and were 15 seconds from being the league leader in time of possession. So while the Saints defense stacks up against the defense the media has raved about all season, the same could be said about the Vikings offense relative to the high-flying Saints. Expect an amazing game where the experience of Sean Payton and Drew Brees play out right on that beautiful dry turf grass.

This game featured the first ever “walk-off” touchdown in NFL playoff history. A game that resembled the AFC Divisional game earlier in the day, the Vikings went up big on the Saints early and went into the half leading 17-0; Drew Brees had thrown both of interception in the first half and things were looking bleak. Then New Orleans went Who Dat on the Vikings and three minutes into the 4th quarter Drew Brees (25-40 passing for 294 yards; 3 TDs; 2 INTs) hit Michael Thomas (7 reception for 85 receiving yards; 2 TDs) with a 3-yard TD to make it a 17-14 game. The Saints and Vikings traded scores before Wil Lutz kicked a 43-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining to put New Orleans up 24-23 (Note: Pay no attention to how close I came to predicting the score of the game. Just kidding, hire me because of it). Then the Miracle at Minneapolis occurred. A play that even the casual fan has heard about by now, the Vikings, simply trying to get enough field position to kick a potential miracle field goal, instead got a miracle botched defensive play from an inexperienced Michael Williams, who dove towards Stephon Diggs, who had just hauled in a Case Keenum pass, and missed badly on the attempted tackle. Diggs was able to keep his balance, stay in bounds and score the first walk-off touchdown in NFL playoff history sending the Vikings to the NFC Championship game. A hilarious side note to the game was the importance of the PAT or two-point conversion. Because dejected Saints players walked off the field with the game technically unfinished, the Mike Zimmer-led respectful Vikings elected to kneel rather than kick or attempt two points. That means the Saints (+5) lost by five and Las Vegas got the push. About the only thing more miraculous than the ending to this game is how Las Vegas continues to do this on a weekly basis.




Stay tuned for Week 20: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND EDITION coming Sunday.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

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


2017 NFL SEASON

D I V I S I O N A L   R O U N D


Week 19: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Wild Card Round: 2-2 wins; 3-1 v. spread

Note/Key: Statistical analysis based on the following metrics (abbreviations): Points scored (PF); points against (PA); Point differential (PD) Yards gained (YG); Yards allowed (YA); Red Zone TD efficiency (RZ); 3rd-down efficiency (3rd); Turnover ratio (TO); Time of possession (TOP); Yards per play (YPP); Sacks (S); Interceptions (INT); Penalty yards (PEN).


 That's right, Matt Ryan, you're the first road favorite against a top conference seed in NFL history, which means the NFL flavor-of-the-month could see a few flying batteries.


Atlanta Falcons #6 (-3) @ Philadelphia Eagles #1 (41): Falcons 21-20
Saturday, 4:35 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: Clearing; high 30s)

Reasons: The Falcons seem like the hottest team in the NFL right now, and the case could be made; Atlanta is 4-1 over their last five games and has only allowed an average of 16.8 ppg over that span. Conversely, the Eagles went from the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl with MVP-candidate quarterback Carson Wentz at the helm to losing Wentz for the season and going 3-2 over their last five games of the regular season with an average point differential of 0.2 ppg over that span, compared to having the best point differential in the NFL during the regular season (10.1 ppg). Neither team gets after the quarterback consistently, although the Falcons seemed to have found a new gear over their last several games, but the Eagles league-leading run defense should put the game squarely on Matt Ryan’s shoulders. That could go either way because although Ryan is inconsistent at best, the Eagles pass defense is mediocre at best and Mohammed Sanu has become a serious threat opposite Julio Jones. The Falcons have a slight advantage in the kicking game, but equalizing atmospheric pressure will create just enough wind to make kicking a challenge, so the game could come down to two extremely important, but often overlooked stats: time of possession and turnovers. If the Falcons (18th) can secure the ball as well as the Eagles did all year (4th) and keep the Eagles from hoarding the ball (1st in time of possession) this game could come down to something as silly as a missed extra point. Having said that, the suddenly hot Falcons could realistically come in and destroy the rested-in-a-negative-way Eagles, lest we forget, no top seed has ever been an underdog in their opening playoff game.


 "I don't really give a shit, Tom, I can't have Guerrero telling my players that hydration cures sunburns. And your jealousy over Jimmy G screwed me."


Tennessee Titans #5 (+13.5) @ New England Patriots #1 (48): Patriots 27-20
Saturday, 8:15 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: 70% rain; high 40s)

Reasons: The Patriots come into the game banged up with a patchwork offensive line and key skill position guys either missing or questionable (O: Chris Hogan, Rex Burkhead, James White; D: Alan Branch, Marquis Flowers) and the Patriots are still going to manhandle the Titans. I could go on analytically for paragraphs why the Patriots match up well with Tennessee and will overwhelm the Titans in every aspect of the game Saturday, save perhaps the Titans 4th-ranked run defense, which would only put more of the onus on Tom Brady to step up, which has never been a problem in the first place, but especially not when a young cocky defensive player from the opposition (Free safety Kevin Byard) opens his mouth during the week and provides bulletin material. Truth be told, the media provided all the bulletin material the Patriots needed to galvanize the team with the bombshell story that the Patriots had cracked from within and that ownership, Brady and Bill Belichick were at serious odds. Even if true, which it very well could be, to think the Patriots won’t use this excuse to circle the wagons would mean you haven’t been paying attention to New England since Bill Belichick took over. The Patriots only statistical weakness is yardage allowed, including the worst pass defense in the NFL despite a defensive backfield that boasts Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Patrick Chung; much of that can be explained away by garbage yardage statistics perpetuated by teams desperately trying to come back on a team that beat their opponenets by an average of 10 ppg this season, best in the NFL. The Titans only chance of winning in Foxborough Saturday is if their 5th-ranked pass rush (43 sacks) gets to Brady early and often and Derrick Henry carries the ball 40 times and burns 38 or more minutes of the clock. Neither is out of the realm of possibilities.


 The Pittsburgh Steelers are inexplicably favored by a touchdown against the best defense in the NFL, which means we could be seeing a lot of this Sunday.


Jacksonville Jaguars #3 (+7) @ Pittsburgh Steelers #1 (41): Jaguars 24-23
Sunday, 1:05 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: 20% snow; low 20s)

Reasons: Star running back Le’Veon Bell was out of this game until the late hours of Friday night, meaning that even if he plays he’s not going to be 100%. Spare me the “No one is 100% at this point in the season” talk because no one is randomly listed as “OUT” if they only have a few scratches. Guess who else is questionable? Antonio Brown. That’s only the Steelers two best skill position players. Center Maurice Pouncey was listed as OUT Friday night as well, meaning the Steelers would have their work cut out for them against the Cleveland Browns, let alone the best defense in the NFL. The Jaguars come into Pittsburgh, a team they beat 30-9 while intercepting Ben Roethlisberger five times Week 5, ranked 2nd in points allowed, yards allowed sacks, and interceptions, respectively, while boasting the league’s top pass defense. Offensively the Jaguars rank 6th in yards gained (366 ypg), 5th in points scored (26.1), 3rd in point differential (9.2), and 2nd in red zone efficiency. Using statistical analysis and taking the Steelers attrition at key positions into account, not to mention the shell of the former defense the Steelers ave been without Ryan Shazier, and I can’t come up a single reason why the Steelers would be giving seven points to the Jaguars. Even the argument that the Steelers match up with or surpass the Jaguars by the same metrics, and are playing at home, doesn’t explain seven points, especially when Pouncey, Bell and Brown could be less than 100% or even absent. Las Vegas is really leaning on Pittsburgh’s top-ranked pass rush and 5th-ranked pass defense to beat up on poor old Blake Bortles. Even if true, I wouldn’t hang my hat on that against this Jaguars defense, and certainly not for seven or more points.


 Drew Brees has become arguably the greatest statistical quarterback in NFL history, which is what it'll take to beat one of the greatest single-season defenses in NFL history.


New Orleans Saints #4 (+5) @ Minnesota Vikings #2 (46.5): Saints 24-21
Sunday, 4:40 PM, US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN (Weather: Indoors)


Reasons: How lucky are the New Orleans Saints? Not only do they get the 4:40 Sunday afternoon slot again this week, but also get an away game in the comfy confines of a domed stadium, just like home. And before we go on and on about how great the Vikings defense is, and it most certainly is (allowing 11.4 ppg over their last five games), let’s not forget two things: The Minnesota Vikings are basically noobs at this playoff thing as of late, while the Sean Payton-Drew Brees combo is most certainly not new to this playoff thing, while Drew Brees is becoming the greatest statistical quarterback we’ve ever seen. Much of Brees’ career has been plagued by the presence of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but the truth is Brees holds the highest completion percentage of any quarterback in NFL history and is slowly creeping up on the greats in many other passing metrics, which isn’t surprising considering Brees has thrown for over 5,000 yards five times; no other quarterback comes close. Any time you have a transcendent player like Brees anything is possible, and this Saints defense is quietly becoming as interesting as the vaunted Vikings defense. Consider: The Vikings are ranked 2nd in both total defense (276 ypg) and scoring defense (15.8 ppg), but aren’t really ball hawks and don’t really get after the quarterback; the Saints give up far more yards, but rank 10th in points allowed (20.4 ppg) and are top-seven in the NFL in both sacks (42) and interceptions (20; 5th). While we’re at it, though, we might as well praise a Vikings offense that surprisingly keeps pace with the Saints, much in the same way the Saints defense keeps pace with the Vikings defense. The Vikings are no barn burners, but they rank 11th in yards (357 ypg), 10th in points scored (23.9 ppg), 9th in red zone efficiency (44%), 3rd in third-down efficiency and were 15 seconds of ball possession per game from being the league leader. So while the Saints defense stacks up against the defense the media has raved about all season, the same could be said about the Vikings offense relative to the high-flying Saints. Expect an amazing game where the experience of Sean Payton and Drew Brees play out right on that beautiful domed dry turf grass.




Stay tuned for Tuesday’s Gone: Week 19 #NFL Reviews DIVISIONAL ROUND EDITION coming Wednesday.



Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tuesday's Gone: Week 18 #NFL Game Predictions WILD CARD ROUND


2017 NFL SEASON

Tuesday's Gone: WILD CARD ROUND


Week 18: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Wild Card Round: 2-2 wins; 3-1 v. spread

2017 regular season final wins record: 146-76 (.655): 66%
2017 regular season final spread record: 98-120-5 (.439): 44%


Note/Key: Statistical analysis based on the following metrics (abbreviations): Points scored (PF); points against (PA); Point differential (PD) Yards gained (YG); Yards allowed (YA); Red Zone TD efficiency (RZ); 3rd-down efficiency (3rd); Turnover ratio (TO); Time of possession (TOP); Yards per play (YPP); Sacks (S); Interceptions (INT); Penalty yards (PEN).


Tennessee Titans #5 (+8.5) @ Kansas City Chiefs #4 (44.5): Chiefs 28-21 Titans 22-21
Saturday, 4:20 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, KS (Weather: Sunny; high 20s)

Reasons: Using the statistics referred to in the note above the Titans come into the Wild Card Round of the playoffs the weakest team of the eight. That’s not a hot take considering the Titans are the 5th seed, but even the 6th-seeded Buffalo Bills finished in the top-ten in twice as many of the aforementioned statistics. Of those two metrics the only meaningful one may be the Titans ability to get after the quarterback, where they ranked 5th with 43 sacks. Tucked away in Tennessee’s 13th-ranked total defense is a great run defense (4th), which will come in handy against a rookie running back who should not only win Offensive Rookie of the Year, but could arguably be the league MVP in Kareem Hunt (1327 rushing yards; 8 TDs). Tennessee will need that pass rush against a Chiefs offense that ranks in the top-ten in point differential (10th), time of possession (9th), points scored (6th), yards gained (5th), time of possession (2nd) and yards per play (2nd), not to mention a 4,000-yard passer in Alex Smith (26 TDs; 5 INTs) and that Hunt guy we were talking about. Tennessee will also need a big day from their own running back Derrick Henry considering DeMarco Murray is out for the game, which could be easy considering Kansas City is 25th against the run. The Titans had an inconsistent season to say the least, and the same could be said about the Chiefs, but Kansas City is home at Arrowhead with more talent than the Titans, despite various injuries, and the Chiefs season was bookended by 5- and 4-game winning streaks, the latter of course being current.

Kansas City led 21-3 at the half. What’s worse is the Chiefs had a 91.2% win probability at the beginning of the 4th quarter when the Chiefs still led 21-10. 52 seconds into the 4th quarter the Titans made it a five-point game and suddenly the Wild Card Round of the playoffs for the Chiefs was beginning to look like a microcosm of their season. The Titans scored 19-unanswered points in the final 24 minutes of the game to erase an 18-point Chiefs lead, the third largest blown lead in Chiefs playoff history. The second largest lead ever blown in Chiefs playoff history, 21 points to the Indianapolis Colts, also came under Andy Reid, and suddenly the Chiefs find themselves in the same position the Philadelphia Eagles annually found themselves in: Always the bride’s maid, never the bride. Adding insult to injury was Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, coming off his worst season as a pro, catching his own pass to score the game-winning touchdown. Only the second such occurrence in NFL history (Brad Johnson, Minnesota Vikings, 1997), Mariota threw a pass intended for the end zone, but the pass was batted down by the corpse of Darrell Revis right into the hands of a clearly shocked Mariota, who very smartly dove for the pylon and scored the go-ahead touchdown. Give the Titans all their due credit, and blame some of this game on the officiating (an official actually retired after this game), but this game was Kansas City’s season wrapped up in one disappointing playoff game. Once again it’s wait until next year, but next year might be without Alex Smith, and maybe even Andy Reid.

Atlanta Falcons #6 (+6) @ Los Angeles Rams #3 (48.5): Rams 27-23 Falcons 26-13
Saturday, 8:15 PM, LA Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA (Weather: Cloudy; high 60s)

Reasons: The reigning NFC champs barely made it to the playoffs, which is actually quite a feat considering the amount of teams that historically miss the playoffs the year following a Super Bowl appearance. The Falcons did in part to a 6-2 second-half record and in part by becoming one of the better defenses in the NFL, ranking in the top-ten in points against (8th) and yards allowed (9th), both much better than a Rams defense that gets far more media coverage, while sacking the quarterback 39 times (13th). That’s not really surprising as the Falcons are coached by Dan Quinn, and actually may even raise questions of “Why not sooner?” considering Quinn was the mastermind behind many of those great recent Seattle Seahawks defenses. The Falcons offense is a shell of it’s record-breaking 2016 self, but still remains one of the most explosive offenses in the league (3rd yards per play; 8th yards gained) as well as one of the league’s most efficient (1st 3rd-down efficiency). The Rams are simply one of the best teams in the NFL, period. Los Angeles dominates both sides of the ball, anchored by players like MVP-candidate Todd Gurley (1305 rushing yards; 13 TDs) on offense and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Aaron Donald (11 sacks; 5 forced fumbles; 1 TD) on defense. Combine a Rams team that is close to or surpasses the Falcons in nearly every meaningful metric to the fact the Rams owned Dan Quinn when he was a Seahawks coach and about the only thing left is the Falcons playoff experience over the young Rams team that has exactly none. The Falcons will get after Jared Goff, but that pass rush will likely only set up Gurley, and the Rams are just too talented on both sides of the ball.

The lights were too bright for the young Rams, MVP-candidate Todd Gurley didn’t reach that magical 20 touches needed for a Rams win, and the suddenly stout Falcons defense continues to morph into the speedy Seahawks defense Dan Quinn used to coach. Those were three keys to a game in which all three young Rams stars – Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley and Jared Goff – played well, while the Falcons stars were mediocre, save the typical All-Pro performance from Julio Jones (9 receptions for 94 receiving yard; 1 TD). The biggest key to the game, however, was time of possession, where the Falcons held a 15+ minute advantage. Generally unheard of in the NFL, teams that hold the ball for 15 or more minutes than their opponents are 19-1 this season. The reason is obvious enough, as a Rams team that led the NFL with 30 ppg managed to score only 13 points. The Rams still managed 64 plays, however, only eight fewer plays than Atlanta, which again points to a suddenly stout Falcons defense, responsible for forcing the only two turnovers of the game, both Falcons fumbles. No one wants to play the Atlanta Falcons right now except for maybe their division rival Saints. How the hell did the NFC South send three good teams to the playoffs?

Buffalo Bills #6 (+8.5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars #3 (39.5): Jaguars 27-17 Jaguars 10-3
Sunday, 1:00 PM, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL (Weather: Windy; mid-50s)

Reasons: The Buffalo Bills do the “little” things right. They don’t commit a lot of penalties (9th), they hold on to the ball (7th in turnover ratio) and they are very efficient on 3rd down (6th). The Bills also ball hawk, ranking 6th in the league in INTs (18). Buffalo also backed into the playoffs in the most miraculous fashion imaginable, which, after a 17-year playoff drought, might seem like the kind of miracle that has destiny written all over it. I’m not so sure Destiny picked this route. The Jacksonville Jaguars, for years the laughingstock of the AFC, and perhaps the entire NFL, are suddenly ranked in the top-ten (top-six, technically) in ten of the 13 statistics mentioned in the opening note in addition to ranking 11th in the league yards per play (0.1 ypp separates 11th from 9th). The Jaguars are one clearly one of the best teams in the NFL, but the defense really separates them from the rest of the league. In addition to being the No. 2 defense in total defense and points allowed, the Jaguars rank 2nd in both sacks (55) and INTs (21). In other words, they’ll smother Tyrod Taylor and put all the pressure on LeSean McCoy, which probably won’t go so well. Interestingly the Jaguars rank 4th in the NFL in sacks allowed, which should allow Blake Bortles (3,687 passing yards; 21 Ts; 13 INTs), largely considered to the Jaguars Achilles Heal until this season, to operate freely while the Jaguars defense dominates an overwhelmed Bills offense.

Holy shit this game was boring, but it did tell us two things: One, the end of the Bills 17-year playoff drought really did just come in the form of a placeholder for the AFC’s 6th seed, and second, that Nathan Peterman really is terrible. The game told us absolutely nothing about the Jaguars because A) Blake Bortles ran for more yards than he threw for, meaning we’re still confused about Bortles as a quarterback, and B) the Bills put up absolutely no fight on offense, gaining only 263 total yards in over 32 minutes. The Jaguars could be an all-time great defense, but it’s hard to measure them against history when their competition was the AFC South or the Bills in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs; even the Jaguars two interception weren’t impressive considering one came against Nate Peterman in the final minutes of the game. Now the Jaguars head into Pittsburgh to face the Steelers in the Divisional Round; last time Jacksonville played the Steelers this season they picked off Ben Roethlisberger a career-high five times.

Carolina Panthers #5 (+7) @ New Orleans Saints #4 (48): Saints 27-24 Saints 31-26
Sunday, 4:40 PM, Superdome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Conventional wisdom says the Panthers won’t lose to their division rival three times in one season, but the simple fact is the Saints are at home, making that task a little non-conventional for Carolina. The Saints also won those two regular season games 34-13 (Week 3) and 31-21 (Week 13), by an average margin of 15.5 points, and during bookend parts of the season in which both teams were well established. In other words, it’s hard to point to many, if any, significant reasons why the Saints would have dominated both games besides the fact they’re the better team. If you want to point to Cam Newton still recovering from his off-season surgery when the Saints beat Carolina Week 3 one could counter that the Saints were 0-2 when they decidedly beat the Panthers that week. Most people familiar with these two teams will immediately assume a classic defense v. offense football game, in which the Drew Brees-led Saints try to air it out against the vicious front seven of the vaunted Carolina defense. That still rings true to some degree, but most fans would be shocked to see the Saints defense tied the Panthers in points allowed (20.4 ppg; 11th). The Saints also get after the quarterback, ranking 7th in the NFL with 42 sacks; by comparison the Panthers rank 3rd in the NFL with 50 sacks, but Carolina doesn’t protect against the against the pass rush as well as the Saints do, who ranked 2nd in the league in sacks allowed (20), which means Drew Brees could be upright most of the day. Cam Newton might not be upright all day, but he’ll come into New Orleans fired up, where he is 3-4 all-time in the Superdome with out any playoff games. I imagine the Saints will be a lot more fired up, and let’s be honest; the Saints are a much better team at home (7-1 in 2017), and probably in general. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen three teams from the NFC South make the playoffs, especially considering the NFC South is usually trash, so it’ll be tough to have to watch one of these teams go home after the Wild Card Round, because both are capable of making their own long playoff runs.

The third time turned out to not be a charm as the Panthers dropped a rare three games to the Saints this season, twice via regular season divisional matchup and one via cruel playoff scheduling fate. The Panthers held probable Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara to only 23 yards on 10 carries and Cam Newton (349 passing yards; 2 TDs) had one of those games where he outshined Drew Brees (376 passing yards; 2 TDs; 1 INT), arguably the greatest thrower of the football in NFL history, yet it wasn’t enough for the Panthers to overcome the Saints, who went from a team no one even considered at the start of the season into a bona fide Super Bowl contender, if not for that devastating injury to left guard Andrus Peat. The Saints offense could suffer without Peat, especially the ground game, which had been one of the best in the NFL, but Peat’s absence won’t effect the Saints defense much, which sacked Cam Newton four times and defended seven of his passes. Although New Orleans gave up 413 total yards, they only allowed 4.1 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt. Cam Newton showed tremendous growth both on the field late in the game and after the game, although he did throw his teammates under the bus by claiming they were satisfied with merely being in the playoffs. You know what, nothing is ever going to change in Carolina, especially if P Diddy buys the team.



Stay tuned for Week 19 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) DIVISIONAL ROUND EDITION coming Saturday morning.




Saturday, January 6, 2018

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


2017 NFL SEASON

W I L D   C A R D   R O U N D


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

2017 regular season final wins record: 146-76 (.655): 66%
2017 regular season final spread record: 98-120-5 (.439): 44%


Note/Key: Statistical analysis based on the following metrics (abbreviations): Points scored (PF); points against (PA); Point differential (PD) Yards gained (YG); Yards allowed (YA); Red Zone TD efficiency (RZ); 3rd-down efficiency (3rd); Turnover ratio (TO); Time of possession (TOP); Yards per play (YPP); Sacks (S); Interceptions (INT); Penalty yards (PEN).


The Kool Aide Man could have a one-way ticket to New England, where they’ve been waiting for 18 weeks to exact revenge. The Titans should be no problem, right?


Tennessee Titans #5 (+8.5) @ Kansas City Chiefs #4 (44.5): Chiefs 28-21
Saturday, 4:20 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, KS (Weather: Sunny; high 20s)

Reasons: Using the statistics referred to in the note above the Titans come into the Wild Card Round of the playoffs the weakest team of the eight. That’s not a hot take considering the Titans are the 5th seed, but even the 6th-seeded Buffalo Bills finished in the top-ten in twice as many of the aforementioned statistics. Of those two metrics the only meaningful one may be the Titans ability to get after the quarterback, where they ranked 5th with 43 sacks. Tucked away in Tennessee’s 13th-ranked total defense is a great run defense (4th), which will come in handy against a rookie running back who should not only win Offensive Rookie of the Year, but could arguably be the league MVP in Kareem Hunt (1327 rushing yards; 8 TDs). Tennessee will need that pass rush against a Chiefs offense that ranks in the top-ten in point differential (10th), time of possession (9th), points scored (6th), yards gained (5th), time of possession (2nd) and yards per play (2nd), not to mention a 4,000-yard passer in Alex Smith (26 TDs; 5 INTs) and that Hunt guy we were talking about. Tennessee will also need a big day from their own running back Derrick Henry considering DeMarco Murray is out for the game, which could be easy considering Kansas City is 25th against the run. The Titans had an inconsistent season to say the least, and the same could be said about the Chiefs, but Kansas City is home at Arrowhead with more talent than the Titans, despite various injuries, and the Chiefs season was bookended by 5- and 4-game winning streaks, the latter of course being current.


 The potential NFL MVP Todd Gurley and the Rams offense could have his work cut out for him against an Atlanta Falcons defense that is almost as quick as he is.


Atlanta Falcons #6 (+6) @ Los Angeles Rams #3 (48.5): Rams 27-23
Saturday, 8:15 PM, LA Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA (Weather: Cloudy; high 60s)

Reasons: The reigning NFC champs barely made it to the playoffs, which is actually quite a feat considering the amount of teams that historically miss the playoffs the year following a Super Bowl appearance. The Falcons did in part to a 6-2 second-half record and in part by becoming one of the better defenses in the NFL, ranking in the top-ten in points against (8th) and yards allowed (9th), both much better than a Rams defense that gets far more media coverage, while sacking the quarterback 39 times (13th). That’s not really surprising as the Falcons are coached by Dan Quinn, and actually may even raise questions of “Why not sooner?” considering Quinn was the mastermind behind many of those great recent Seattle Seahawks defenses. The Falcons offense is a shell of it’s record-breaking 2016 self, but still remains one of the most explosive offenses in the league (3rd yards per play; 8th yards gained) as well as one of the league’s most efficient (1st 3rd-down efficiency). The Rams are simply one of the best teams in the NFL, period. Los Angeles dominates both sides of the ball, anchored by players like MVP-candidate Todd Gurley (1305 rushing yards; 13 TDs) on offense and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Aaron Donald (11 sacks; 5 forced fumbles; 1 TD) on defense. Combine a Rams team that is close to or surpasses the Falcons in nearly every meaningful metric to the fact the Rams owned Dan Quinn when he was a Seahawks coach and about the only thing left is the Falcons playoff experience over the young Rams team that has exactly none. The Falcons will get after Jared Goff, but that pass rush will likely only set up Gurley, and the Rams are just too talented on both sides of the ball. 


 The Buffalo Bills need a healthy LeSean McCoy if they stand a chance against the Jacksonville Jaguars and their vaunted defense and McCoy is questionable.


Buffalo Bills #6 (+8.5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars #3 (39.5): Jaguars 27-17
Sunday, 1:00 PM, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL (Weather: Windy; mid-50s)

Reasons: The Buffalo Bills do the “little” things right. They don’t commit a lot of penalties (9th), they hold on to the ball (7th in turnover ratio) and they are very efficient on 3rd down (6th). The Bills also ball hawk, ranking 6th in the league in INTs (18). Buffalo also backed into the playoffs in the most miraculous fashion imaginable, which, after a 17-year playoff drought, might seem like the kind of miracle that has destiny written all over it. I’m not so sure Destiny picked this route. The Jacksonville Jaguars, for years the laughingstock of the AFC, and perhaps the entire NFL, are suddenly ranked in the top-ten (top-six, technically) in ten of the 13 statistics mentioned in the opening note in addition to ranking 11th in the league yards per play (0.1 ypp separates 11th from 9th). The Jaguars are one clearly one of the best teams in the NFL, but the defense really separates them from the rest of the league. In addition to being the No. 2 defense in total defense and points allowed, the Jaguars rank 2nd in both sacks (55) and INTs (21). In other words, they’ll smother Tyrod Taylor and put all the pressure on LeSean McCoy, which probably won’t go so well. Interestingly the Jaguars rank 4th in the NFL in sacks allowed, which should allow Blake Bortles (3,687 passing yards; 21 Ts; 13 INTs), largely considered to the Jaguars Achilles Heal until this season, to operate freely while the Jaguars defense dominates an overwhelmed Bills offense. 


 Cam Newton has carried the Carolina Panthers for much of his career on the offensive side of the ball and it'll take another Herculean effort from Newton to beat the Saints on the road Sunday.


Carolina Panthers #5 (+7) @ New Orleans Saints #4 (48): Saints 27-24
Sunday, 4:40 PM, Superdome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Conventional wisdom says the Panthers won’t lose to their division rival three times in one season, but the simple fact is the Saints are at home, making that task a little non-conventional for Carolina. The Saints also won those two regular season games 34-13 (Week 3) and 31-21 (Week 13), by an average margin of 15.5 points, and during bookend parts of the season in which both teams were well established. In other words, it’s hard to point to many, if any, significant reasons why the Saints would have dominated both games besides the fact they’re the better team. If you want to point to Cam Newton still recovering from his off-season surgery when the Saints beat Carolina Week 3 one could counter that the Saints were 0-2 when they decidedly beat the Panthers that week. Most people familiar with these two teams will immediately assume a classic defense v. offense football game, in which the Drew Brees-led Saints try to air it out against the vicious front seven of the vaunted Carolina defense. That still rings true to some degree, but most fans would be shocked to see the Saints defense tied the Panthers in points allowed (20.4 ppg; 11th). The Saints also get after the quarterback, ranking 7th in the NFL with 42 sacks; by comparison the Panthers rank 3rd in the NFL with 50 sacks, but Carolina doesn’t protect against the against the pass rush as well as the Saints do, who ranked 2nd in the league in sacks allowed (20), which means Drew Brees could be upright most of the day. Cam Newton might not be upright all day, but he’ll come into New Orleans fired up, where he is 3-4 all-time in the Superdome with out any playoff games. I imagine the Saints will be a lot more fired up, and let’s be honest; the Saints are a much better team at home (7-1 in 2017), and probably in general. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen three teams from the NFC South make the playoffs, especially considering the NFC South is usually trash, so it’ll be tough to have to watch one of these teams go home after the Wild Card Round, because both are capable of making their own long playoff runs.



Stay tuned for Tuesday’s Gone: Week 18 #NFL Reviews WILD CARD ROUND EDITION coming Wednesday.