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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tuesday's Gone: Week 20 #NFL Predictions Review - CHAMPIONSHIP EDITION

Playoff results through THE CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND: 5-5 wins; 4-6 v. spread

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

New England Patriots #2 (+5.5) @ Denver Bronco #1 (55.5): Patriots 37-34 Broncos 26-16
Sunday, 3:00 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Clear, mild, mid-50s)

Reasons: This is truly a battle of the titans, the 15th time future first-ballot HOF QBs Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have faced each other in their careers in the regular season and playoffs, the 4th time for the AFC Championship. Tom Brady leads those head-to-head match ups 10-4 and 2-1, respectively (Brady also leads in all-time playoff wins -18-7 compared to Manning's 10-11). Some would argue that Manning is the better QB of this generation, and statistically they might be right, as Manning continued his HOF career in 2013 by breaking Brady's 2007 record for TDs (55) and Drew Brees' 2011 record for total passing yards (5,477), but greatness is measured in championships and Brady leads that category 3-1. One could easily argue that Brady could have five Super Bowl rings; I am one of those people. If it didn't look pathetic I might talk about Peyton Manning's 2006 Colts, who turned up the heat on us, costing us our sixth title, but that would look pathetic. So these two players have a long history, but so do these teams - the Broncos bounced Brady, Belichick and the Patriots from the playoffs in 2005, ending their dreams of a three-peat, and the Patriots returned the favor in 2011, John Fox's first year with the Broncos. Statistically the Patriots are a top-10 team in terms of scoring (2nd - offense; 7th - defense), and they're one of the best in the league in gaining yards (7th), but they also give up a lot of yards (26th). Despite losing most of their offensive weapons throughout the season, Brady and Julian Edleman have managed to make the Patriots 10th-ranked passing attack, and the stable of running backs (LaGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen & Steven Ridley) have vaulted the Patriots to the league's 9th-ranked run game. And despite losing as many key players on defense, the Patriots have stayed afloat defensively, even excelling at times, as seen last week, holding the Colts to 22 points and 69 yards rushing. The Broncos have taken over that 2007 Brady-led Patriots team, once considered the greatest offensive team in NFL history, to become the new offensive bar to which teams will be measured, scoring a mind-blowing 606 points (38 ppg) while averaging more than 457 ypg. That has most to do with Peyton Manning and his gang of ProBowl WRs, the league's top-ranked passing attack, but also has something to do with the run game (ranked 15th), which saw Knowshon Moreno reach 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. The Broncos defense, although statistically better than the Patriots (22nd-ranked scoring defense; 19th total yards), is nothing to be scared of, but they are ranked 8th v. the run. Their porous pass defense suffered a huge blow last week when they lost Chris Harris for the rest of the playoffs with a torn ACL, the main reason for the Chargers comeback led by Philip Rivers. So although the Patriots don't have any serious weapons besides Edleman at WR, the fact that Vereen catches the ball out of the backfield so well, and the Broncos secondary could be non-existent, the Patriots still have the slight advantage. The one advantage the Broncos seem to have on defense is minimized greatly by the resurgence of the Patriots running team, something the offensive line and three RBs have gotten behind. So this game might not come down to Manning v. Brady, but we know it will. Manning will try and go up early on the Patriots, who average 3 fewer points on the road, and Brady and Belichick will relish in the spotlight that is the road underdog, the first time the Patriots have been playoff underdogs since 2007 (1/14/07, -5 v. SD, Divisional Round - NE won 24-21). In fact, the Patriots are 3-0 as playoff underdogs under Bill Belichick, and just like 2001, not many people expect them to win. That's exactly why I am. Not only has this been arguably Bill Belichick's best coaching job, Tom Brady has made a legitimate case for MVP despite his Sunday opponent's 2013 feats. This Patriots team has mounded lots of experience with players no one knows, and the locker room claims it's the toughest Patriots teams any of these veterans have ever been around. The Broncos might be the darlings of the 2013 NFL, but those are just the teams the Patriots come in and crumble. It'll be an offensive battle to the end (take the over), but this time it won't take a miraculous 34-point, second half comeback like it did with the Patriots victory over the Broncos in New England Week 12. A last second FG might win this one...

The Broncos led this game 23-3 after record-holder Matt Prater kicked a 19-yard FG three minutes into the 4th quarter, so you can imagine how badly the Broncos dominated this game. Well, Peyton Manning dominated this game. After Tom Brady missed Julian Edleman by a yard or two on a wide open post pattern, and the chance to take the 7-3 lead, the Broncos seemed to take over, dominating the time of possession (35:44 to 26:16), scoring on two of their longest drives of the season, each over seven minutes long. The Patriots running game was stifled by the league's 8th-ranked run defense, and as Tom Brady astutely pointed out post-game, the defense that ranked towards the bottom of the league when Brady and the Patriots beat the Broncos earlier in the season had a much different look to them, including a pass rush that had Brady making poor decisions and even poorer throws. The Broncos running game didn't fair too well, either, but who needs a run game when your opponent's best cover CB goes down with an injury (one that Bill Belichick claimed was intentional, via a low hit from former Patriot Wes Welker) and you can throw for 400 yards to an array of Pro-Bowl WRs. Some people have pointed to reasons why Wes Welker could have deliberately taken out Aqib Talib, such as Talib's ability to erase D. Thomas from the previous game, but it's hard to imagine Wes Welker was trying to do anything but hit Talib as hard as a guy his size could in one of the rare opportunities he'd get all game. Besides, Welker is still good friends with several Patriots, including Brady, so that would make things awfully awkward. It worked, whatever the intention. In fact, reports have surfaced that Pete Carroll has asked the officials to look into the Broncos illegal "picking", a move that has certainly aided in Manning's record-breaking season, and watch for it in the Super Bowl.  Regardless, the Patriots gave up 507 yards, the most ever in the Bill Belichick era, so the team has no one to blame but themselves, especially the coaches, who seemed unprepared for the Manning assault, as Belichick also pointed out. The simple fact is it's just the Broncos year, at least in the AFC, and everyone expected this band of merry Pro-Bowlers to be exactly where they are. It's just unfortunate the Patriots didn't make a better game of it. After going up 23-3 in the 4th quarter the Broncos surely let up on the defensive throttle, allowing the Patriots to score two quick TDs, giving us Patriots fans hope that Brady could pull off another miracle...but then we remembered it was post-2004 so that wasn't possible. As a Broncos hater and Manning Royal Football Family loather I say this with as much honesty as I can: I can't wait until the Seattle Seahawks DESTROY the Denver Broncos next Sunday in cold, miserable East Rutherford, NJ. I don't mean the score, necessarily, I mean the Broncos bodies. Their minds. Their psyches. The Seahawks are flying high and will feast on Manning's slower release and floating ducks. The three INT prediction offered by the Seahawks defense could be the O/U.

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

San Francisco 49ers #5 (+3.5) @ Seattle Seahawks (39.5): 49ers 27-24 Seahawks 23-17
Sunday, 6:30 PM, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: Chance of rain, mid-40s)

Reasons: The Seahawks home crowd, the self-titled "12th Man", is such a huge advantage that Vegas gave the Seahawks an extra half point because of it. The 3.5 point spread is because the Seahawks are are home and they have an insane crowd - and that's about it, because being home is about their only advantage. The NFC Championship could not be played between two more evenly-matched teams. They split the season series 1-1 (although SEA outscored them 48-20), are led on the sidelines by two young(er) college-turned-pro rah-rah coaches, and are led on the field by the two hottest young QBs in the NFL, and that's the tip of the iceberg.  Offensively the 49ers rank 11th in scoring and 24th in total yards; the Seahawks rank 8th and 17th, respectively. The 49ers rank towards the bottom of the league (30th) in passing; the Seahawks rank 26th. The 49ers have one of the best running games in the league (ranked 3rd); the Seahawks rank 4th. Defensively there's even less room between the two teams. The Seahawks are the top-ranked scoring defense in the league and allow the fewest yards, but the 49ers rank 3rd and 5th in those categories, respectively. Against the pass the Seahawks are the top ranked defense and should make Colin Kaepernick's day tough, but it won't be much easier for Russell Wilson v. the 49ers 7th-ranked pass defense. The run game is where the battles will be won, both at RB and at QB, but it'll be tough sledding against the 4th (SF) and 7th (SEA) ranked run defenses in the league. It does seem boring to pour over so many numbers, but when you break it down it's amazing how evenly-matched these two teams are. Another slight advantage the 49ers might have is that they've won eight straight games (including the playoffs), two of their last three games have come v. top-5 defenses, and they've won five of those eight games on the road. The 49ers have about as much swag as a team can have. On the other hand the Seahawks are 3-2 in their last five games (after going 10-1), including a loss at home for the first time in two years, and Percy Harvin just can't stay healthy for the Seahawks. The 49ers WRs may be soft, except of course for Boldin, but at least they have multiple weapons, and all the national televised "soft" talk had surely reached Vernon Davis' ears. The Seahawks secondary is as bad as they come, but most of these games are won in the trenches, and the 49ers trench is the scariest place in the NFL. And if you manage to rise from that trench the baddest core of LBs this Century is waiting there to end your life, which takes the Seahawks Beast out of the equation. I like both road teams this week. One because I'm a homer and think Brady's had enough of the nonsense. They seemed destined. The other is because the 49ers are the most talented and experienced squad left in these playoffs and they just beat up the toughest team in the NFL not named the Seahawks or themselves bad at their own house. Unless these Seahawks trash talk Kaepernick right out of the game, I think the 49ers have an edge in one the most anticipated NFC Championship games in years.

This game was as rough as advertised, and basically as evenly matched as advertised, with both teams matching drives (11) and total yards (308), and nearly matching first downs (SF 16:14), total plays (SEA 58:54), rushing attempts (SEA 29:28), penalties (SEA 8:7) and time of possession (SEA 31:28::28:32). The biggest difference was also exactly as advertised: turnovers, which experts claimed would be the key to the game. Not only were turnovers the biggest difference in the game, the 49ers , leading 17-13 going into the 4th quarter, turned the ball over on all three of their 4th quarter possessions, all by Colin Kaepernick (one fumble, two INTs). This was a defensive battle, and although the teams averaged 5.5 ypp (2013 average: 5.4 ypg), they were held to 616 total yards (compared to the 700 ypg 2013 season average and the 827 gained in the AFC game), 12 of the 40 combined points came on FGs, and both teams each managed only two TDs. The 10 unanswered point scored off of the two 49er turnovers (a sack-fumble caused by Cliff Avril and recovered by Michael Bennett and an INT by Kam Chancellor) made the mountain a tall one to climb for San Francisco, but a tipped Michael Crabtree target by Richard Sherman in the corner of the end zone to a waiting Malcolm Smith spelled doom for the 49ers. It also spelled media sensation for Sherman, the self-proclaimed and league-wide agreed upon best CB in the NFL, who went on a brief, but epic rant at the expense of the most annoying sideline idiot in sports, Erin Andrews, and became a household name overnight. Sherman, as he has many times in his brief, but esteemed career, pointed out that Crabtree was sorry and had no business being on the other end of the match up, a point he clearly proved by shutting Crabtree down throughout the game and during the most crucial part of the game. And if Sherman's trash talk bothers you, then you're surely not a fan of the trash-talking 49ers, the Seahawks equal for trash talk in a league filled with it, even fueled by it. Just watch an episode of Sound FX on the NFL Network; better yet, watch Richard Sherman's. You'll see his rant is par for the course, and he backs up his trash talk on nearly every opportunity afforded to him. And for all of the people offended by the rant, you've obviously never experienced an emotional moment like the one Sherman was caught up in, nor do you understand the value of branding. Ever heard of the expression 'any publicity is good publicity'? This guy is about to go into the biggest media quote factory in sports over the next two weeks, and these factories have been known to foster media legends and turn words into big bucks. Don't worry about Sherman, his Stanford degree hasn't failed him, nor has his aggressive manner on the field, which should give Manning fits in the cold weather. Sherman is a role model for all young people, but especially young black men, and that's all I'll say about his "rant", which was just truth. Crabtree couldn't have been a more worthy victim of that verbal assault. One last note about this game, the tragic loss of Navarro Bowman towards the end of the game with a devastating knee injury - obviously all the best goes out to one of the best LBs in the game. Seattle looks poised and ready to take on the high-flying Broncos; hopefully their '12th Man' shows up this time, as they certainly didn't in 2006 in Detroit, and this Super Bowl will be 600 miles further away. One interesting note about the Super Bowl: The Seahawks opened as 2.5 point favorites, but the country is so obsessed with the Buick-driving, white-bread Manning and his band of Pro-Bowl WRs that the public betting has flipped the line to the Broncos giving three points. Don't think the Seahawks haven't noticed the 5.5 point swing in three days. Richard Sherman's words have had an effect...and the hungry, aggressive, angry Seahawks defense has most definitley taken notice.

Stay tuned for my Second Annual Super Bowl Preview now titled "Week 21 #NFL Predictions (w/ scores & analysis): SUPER BOWL EDITION" coming out next Friday.

PHAULKNER

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Week 20 #NFL Predictions (w/ scores & analysis): CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

New England Patriots #2 (+5.5) @ Denver Bronco #1 (55.5): Patriots 37-34
Sunday, 3:00 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Clear, mild, mid-50s)

Reasons: This is truly a battle of the titans, the 15th time future first-ballot HOF QBs Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have faced each other in their careers in the regular season and playoffs, the 4th time for the AFC Championship. Tom Brady leads those head-to-head match ups 10-4 and 2-1, respectively (Brady also leads in all-time playoff wins -18-7 compared to Manning's 10-11). Some would argue that Manning is the better QB of this generation, and statistically they might be right, as Manning continued his HOF career in 2013 by breaking Brady's 2007 record for TDs (55) and Drew Brees' 2011 record for total passing yards (5,477), but greatness is measured in championships and Brady leads that category 3-1. One could easily argue that Brady could have five Super Bowl rings; I am one of those people. If it didn't look pathetic I might talk about Peyton Manning's 2006 Colts, who turned up the heat on us, costing us our sixth title, but that would look pathetic. So these two players have a long history, but so do these teams - the Broncos bounced Brady, Belichick and the Patriots from the playoffs in 2005, ending their dreams of a three-peat, and the Patriots returned the favor in 2011, John Fox's first year with the Broncos. Statistically the Patriots are a top-10 team in terms of scoring (2nd - offense; 7th - defense), and they're one of the best in the league in gaining yards (7th), but they also give up a lot of yards (26th). Despite losing most of their offensive weapons throughout the season, Brady and Julian Edleman have managed to make the Patriots 10th-ranked passing attack, and the stable of running backs (LaGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen & Steven Ridley) have vaulted the Patriots to the league's 9th-ranked run game. And despite losing as many key players on defense, the Patriots have stayed afloat defensively, even excelling at times, as seen last week, holding the Colts to 22 points and 69 yards rushing. The Broncos have taken over that 2007 Brady-led Patriots team, once considered the greatest offensive team in NFL history, to become the new offensive bar to which teams will be measured, scoring a mind-blowing 606 points (38 ppg) while averaging more than 457 ypg. That has most to do with Peyton Manning and his gang of ProBowl WRs, the league's top-ranked passing attack, but also has something to do with the run game (ranked 15th), which saw Knowshon Moreno reach 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. The Broncos defense, although statistically better than the Patriots (22nd-ranked scoring defense; 19th total yards), is nothing to be scared of, but they are ranked 8th v. the run. Their porous pass defense suffered a huge blow last week when they lost Chris Harris for the rest of the playoffs with a torn ACL, the main reason for the Chargers comeback led by Philip Rivers. So although the Patriots don't have any serious weapons besides Edleman at WR, the fact that Vereen catches the ball out of the backfield so well, and the Broncos secondary could be non-existent, the Patriots still have the slight advantage. The one advantage the Broncos seem to have on defense is minimized greatly by the resurgence of the Patriots running team, something the offensive line and three RBs have gotten behind. So this game might not come down to Manning v. Brady, but we know it will. Manning will try and go up early on the Patriots, who average 3 fewer points on the road, and Brady and Belichick will relish in the spotlight that is the road underdog, the first time the Patriots have been playoff underdogs since 2007 (1/14/07, -5 v. SD, Divisional Round - NE won 24-21). In fact, the Patriots are 3-0 as playoff underdogs under Bill Belichick, and just like 2001, not many people expect them to win. That's exactly why I am. Not only has this been arguably Bill Belichick's best coaching job, Tom Brady has made a legitimate case for MVP despite his Sunday opponent's 2013 feats. This Patriots team has mounded lots of experience with players no one knows, and the locker room claims it's the toughest Patriots teams any of these veterans have ever been around. The Broncos might be the darlings of the 2013 NFL, but those are just the teams the Patriots come in and crumble. It'll be an offensive battle to the end (take the over), but this time it won't take a miraculous 34-point, second half comeback like it did with the Patriots victory over the Broncos in New England Week 12. A last second FG might win this one...

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

San Francisco 49ers #5 (+3.5) @ Seattle Seahawks (39.5): 49ers 27-24
Sunday, 6:30 PM, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: Chance of rain, mid-40s)
Reasons: The Seahawks home crowd, the self-titled "12th Man", is such a huge advantage that Vegas gave the Seahawks an extra half point because of it. The 3.5 point spread is because the Seahawks are are home and they have an insane crowd - and that's about it, because being home is about their only advantage. The NFC Championship could not be played between two more evenly-matched teams. They split the season series 1-1 (although SEA outscored them 48-20), are led on the sidelines by two young(er) college-turned-pro rah-rah coaches, and are led on the field by the two hottest young QBs in the NFL, and that's the tip of the iceberg.  Offensively the 49ers rank 11th in scoring and 24th in total yards; the Seahawks rank 8th and 17th, respectively. The 49ers rank towards the bottom of the league (30th) in passing; the Seahawks rank 26th. The 49ers have one of the best running games in the league (ranked 3rd); the Seahawks rank 4th. Defensively there's even less room between the two teams. The Seahawks are the top-ranked scoring defense in the league and allow the fewest yards, but the 49ers rank 3rd and 5th in those categories, respectively. Against the pass the Seahawks are the top ranked defense and should make Colin Kaepernick's day tough, but it won't be much easier for Russell Wilson v. the 49ers 7th-ranked pass defense. The run game is where the battles will be won, both at RB and at QB, but it'll be tough sledding against the 4th (SF) and 7th (SEA) ranked run defenses in the league. It does seem boring to pour over so many numbers, but when you break it down it's amazing how evenly-matched these two teams are. Another slight advantage the 49ers might have is that they've won eight straight games (including the playoffs), two of their last three games have come v. top-5 defenses, and they've won five of those eight games on the road. The 49ers have about as much swag as a team can have. On the other hand the Seahawks are 3-2 in their last five games (after going 10-1), including a loss at home for the first time in two years, and Percy Harvin just can't stay healthy for the Seahawks. The 49ers WRs may be soft, except of course for Boldin, but at least they have multiple weapons, and all the national televised "soft" talk had surely reached Vernon Davis' ears. The Seahawks secondary is as bad as they come, but most of these games are won in the trenches, and the 49ers trench is the scariest place in the NFL. And if you manage to rise from that trench the baddest core of LBs this Century is waiting there to end your life, which takes the Seahawks Beast out of the equation. I like both road teams this week. One because I'm a homer and think Brady's had enough of the nonsense. They seemed destined. The other is because the 49ers are the most talented and experienced squad left in these playoffs and they just beat up the toughest team in the NFL not named the Seahawks or themselves bad at their own house. Unless these Seahawks trash talk Kaepernick right out of the game, I think the 49ers have an edge in one the most anticipated NFC Championship games in years.

Stay tuned next week for "Tuesday's Gone: Week 20 #NFL Predictions Review: CHAMPIOSHIP ROUND"...

PHAULKNER




Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tuesday's Gone: Week 19 #NFL Predictions Review: DIVISIONAL EDITION

Playoff results through the DIVISIONAL ROUND: 5-3 wins; 4-4 v. spread

New Orleans Saints #5 (-8) @ Seattle Seahawks #1 (46.5): Seahawks 28-20 Seahawks 23-15
Saturday, 4:35 PM, Century Link Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: 100% rain, low 50s)

Reasons: The Divisional games get off to rainy starts Saturday with both games slated for heavy rain. A few weeks ago I would have had the Seahawks winning this game 49-7, but a lot has happened in a short few weeks, namely the Seahawks first home loss in two years, and the Saints winning a road playoff game in the driving rain last week v. the most dynamic offense in the league, whose defense had been improving by the week. The exploits of these two teams are well documented, both statistically and record-wise. The Seahawks were 7-1 at home this season, only losing a close battle to an Arizona team that should be making noise in these playoffs, while the Saints were 4-5 on the road, including last week's wild card win in Philadelphia. Both teams are ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense (SEA - T8th; NO - 10th), and NO ranks 4th in total yards, but both do it differently: NO has the 2nd-ranked passing game, while Seattle has the 4th-ranked run game. Defensively the Seahawks are the top defense in the NFL (ranked #1 in total yards and scoring), but the Saints are a surprising 4th in both categories as well. The Saints aren't scared - they've played in Seattle already this season and they've just come from a hostile road playoff environment in bad weather, but can they really pull it off again in far worse conditions v. a much better defense? I don't think so. <Thinks quietly about all the Seahawks PED issues...>

The Saints brought their best game and were still manhandled through the first three quarters in Seattle. Despite throwing for 300 yards and rushing for 100 yards, two bench marks for an offense trying to wins games, the Saints were shut out through the first 45 minutes, and only managed the 15 points late when the Seahawks were in prevent mode. In fact, the 4th is where Brees picked up nearly 240 of his 309 yards; in other words, the Saints were completely dominated. However, it was more like the Saints offense was dominated, because the defense played stellar. The 4th-ranked Saints held the Seahawks to minimal gains and no big plays, and the score was 16-8 nearly two minutes into 4th with Russell Wilson managing fewer than 70 passing yards (Wilson ended with 103). The game mostly belong to The Beast, who rushed for 140 yards and two TDs on 28 carries and continually gained tough first downs, although the Seahawks were only 5-14 on 3rd down. The Saints came out tough early, making physical statements and knocking Percy Harvin out of the game (twice), even sacking Wilson three times, but it was the Seahawks defense that made the biggest statement, thwarting the Saints and Pro-Bowler Jimmy Graham through most of the game. Newly acquired K Shane Graham missed two FGs, one week after being the darling, while Steven Hauschka kicked the three FGs that ended up making the difference in the game. The Seahawks don't have anything to worry about going into the NFC Championship, but they've certainly got their match in physical toughness, defensive prowess, and trash talk equals. The Trash Talk Bowl should be great.

Indianapolis Colts #4 (+7.5) @ New England Patriots #2 (52.5): Patriots 30-21 Patriots 43-22
Saturday, 8:15 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: 90% rain, soaked field, mid-50s)

Reasons: The Colts have to be the sexiest team in the playoffs right now. Coming off that improbable 28-point comeback, the second largest in NFL playoff history, the Colts are also led by the cold-blooded future king of the league, the comeback kid himself, Andrew Luck. The Colts are also coming into Foxborough 7.5-point underdogs, with seemingly nothing to lose. So that might suggest a tough match up for New England, if it weren't for a few key points. First, the Patriots beat Indianapolis late last season (11/18/12) 59-24 in the only match up between any semblance of these two current teams (most importantly starting QBs). The pundits see that as an opportunity for the Patriots to look past the Colts; I see it as another opportunity for Bill Belichick to prepare for the game (or at least Luck). Secondly, the weather will be a huge factor. The dome life can be an easy life and New England is one of the toughest places to play in the winter, snow or not. The heaviest rain may be gone, but it'll still be raining hard, although unseasonably warm. Thirdly, Bill Belichick (BB) is 10-5 coming off byes since joining the Patriots in 2000 (0-1 playoffs, losing in 2010 to the Jets 28-21 in the Div. Round), which includes a controversial loss at Carolina this season. In other words, when BB has time to prepare for you it doesn't usually go well (although if I were a Colts fan I'd point to the 0-1 playoff bye record). Most importantly may be that last week's incredible comeback, despite being historical and incredibly entertaining, was clearly a function of the absurd amount of game-ending injuries to key players by the second half of the game (six - well documented in my last Tuesday's Gone article), making the Colts comeback much more understandable. The Patriots were 8-0 at home this season, averaging 29 ppg (+1 season average), but the Colts were no road dogs (5-3, averaging 24 ppg, -0.5 season average); the Colts defense is statistically identical to New England's (ranked 9th & 10th scoring defense, 20th & 26th total defense, respectively), but the Colts gave up 44 point to a Chiefs team on the road, who immediately lost their best offensive player (Jamal Charles). The Patriots offense is much better (2nd scoring; 7th total yards), with a proven veteran WR (as opposed to a sophomore sensation), a stable of gifted, diverse RBs (as opposed to Donald Brown and half a Trent Richardson), and a HOF QB (as opposed to a guy who could be a HOF QB). At first glance I thought the spread was too high, but then I convinced myself with the aforementioned points.

Tom Brady dominated this game by handing the ball off 45 times, which resulted in 234 yards and all six of the Patriots TDs. It was the kind of run game domination we haven't seen since, well, ever, save for maybe the Corey Dillon years of recent memory. Brady also threw for 198 yards on a mere 13-26 passing, but managed a 75 QBR rating in addition to a 78 QB Rating, a feat rarely achieved. The small difference between the two rankings, in which QBR is far more critical of actual QB play, points to the efficient game Tom Brady "managed", which is partly evidenced from the Patriot's 3rd down conversion rate (11-18), many times a function of Brady's throws (7-10). The Patriots supposedly porous run defense held the Colts to 69 rushing yards on 21 carries, and although Andrew Luck threw for 331 yards, he was sacked three times and intercepted four times, including on Luck's second throw of the game, which set up the Patriots first TD at the 2-yard line 1:15 into the game. Luck has not had much of it in New England, losing his first two games there by a total score of 102-46. The game was not as lopsided as the score suggested through the first half, and after a botched snap resulted in a safety (and an injury to our punter), the Colts were receiving a free kick with 2:18 left in the first half, and had a chance to make it a 21-19 game going into the half. But Andrew Luck was intercepted by Dont'a Hightower, as in "Dont-a-throw-it-over-here"...sorry, and that ended any momentum, and thus, the Colts chances. The Patriots head to Denver next week for the AFC Championship game everyone's been expecting  for over four months.

San Francisco 49ers #4 (-1) @ Carolina Panthers #2 (42): 49ers 28-27 49ers 23-10
Sunday, 1:05 PM, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: Sunny, mid-50s)

Reasons:   This is one of the most evenly matched games one could imagine. Let me count the ways. CAR is ranked 2nd in scoring defense (15.1 ppg); SF is ranked 3rd (17.0). CAR is ranked 2nd in total defense (301.2 ypg); SF is ranked 5th (316.9 ypg). Both teams rank in the top-7 in individual passing/rushing defense. SF is the 24th-ranked total offense (323.8 ypg); CAR is ranked 26th (316.8). It's interesting to note that the Panthers only gain 317 ypg, which is exactly what the top-5 49ers give up - so if SF has a normal day they should hold the Panthers to their meager season average. The same can basically be said about the opposite match up, so I wouldn't expect many yards in this game. It doesn't end there. CAR was 7-1 at home this year; SF was 7-2 on the road (including the playoffs). The weather will be a Bay Area-like 50 degrees and sunny. Both team are even led by QBs of similar age, style, and experience. One major differences could be in scoring offense (SF ranked 11th w/ 25.4 ppg; CAR ranked 18th w/ 22.9 ppg), but those numbers are different with CAR home and SF away (CAR - 26; SF -24). Another major difference, the one of most consequence, is playoff experience, in which the 49ers have far more, nearly winning the Super Bowl last season. The additional home scoring will pale in comparison to the playoff experience and drive these ultra-talented 49ers bring to the table. This will be one epic battle won by the 49ers. Apparently Vegas and I see it the same way, as SF gives one to CAR on the road.

The Panthers were a little too excited on defense, a little too soft on offense, and the zebras were a little too eager to help the 49ers get back to the NFC Championship to win this game. The Panthers only average 10.6 ppg v. top-5 defenses, and they actually managed to score fewer than that, even at home with a raucous crowd. Cam Newton compiled over 320 total yards, but seemed fazed by the trash talk, big hits, a failed QB sneak for a TD from the 1-yard line, and Colin Kaepernick's mocking. This was a close game through the first half (13-10), and Cam seemed poised in his first playoff start, but the 49ers looked far more poised, and experienced, including Kaepernick, who seemed to relish in the spotlight besting the QB taken #1 overall in his draft (although to be fair, many were drafted before Kaepernick in 2011). Kaepernick may have gained fewer yards, but managed one more TD and two fewer turnovers (his fumble was recovered), essentially sealing the game midway through the 3rd quarter with a 4-yard TD run. The 49ers defense again balled picking off Newton twice and sacking him five times, while Phil Dawson continued his epic season going 3-3 (38-42 on the season). Did I mention how badly this game was called in favor of the 49ers? It was bad. And the 49ers become less and less of a team to root for by the week, whether it's the trash talking, Boldin's play- by-play celebrations and tantrums, Kaepernick's squeaky but hip-hoppy voice, or the punkish moves pulled by Harbaugh on a continued basis, like a fake punt after dominating a team you've already beaten. I look forward to all of those things being pulled v. the Seahawks next week.


San Diego Chargers #6 (+9.5) @ Denver Broncos #1 (54.5): Broncos 31-24 Broncos 24-17
Sunday, 4:40 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Windy, mild, high 40s)

Reasons: All anyone can seem to talk about is that Denver lost to SD 27-20 Week 15 in one of Manning's worst performances of the season (61.5 QBR). That game had Manning running for his life for one of the only times this season, and Ryan Matthews took over, rushing for 127 yards on 29 carries, much like he did last week grinding down the Bengals top-ranked defense. The Chargers also controlled the ball 2:1, not giving the Broncos much of a chance to score. The return of Melvin Ingram and the probability of Eric Weddle playing bolsters an already 11th-ranked defense that gives up fewer than 22 ppg, and the Chargers are going to need it. The once banged up Broncos are well rested and come in as the not only the top offense in the league, but in league history. Defensively the Broncos aren't that impressive, but they give up as many points (24.9 ppg) as the 12th-ranked Chargers score (24.8 ppg). Two of the three Broncos losses this season came at home, one obviously against these Chargers, who are 5-4 on the road this season, including the playoffs. The Chargers are definitely the hot team and the sexy pick, but even a red-hot Rivers (who only threw 16 passes last week by the way) won't be enough to stop a hungry Peyton Manning, who I can't imagine will lose twice at home to the same team in one season, let alone in one month. As I type that I remember Manning's unimpressive playoff record (9-11), which is even worse outdoors (2-6), including a loss at home last year, but I suppose you never bet against Manning at home. Ryan Matthews may again exploit a Von Miller-less front seven, but they won't have time to run against this high-powered offense.

The Broncos took a page out of the Patriots Saturday playbook, rushing for 133 yards and a TD on 34 carries, while holding the ball for 11 more minutes than the Chargers. In fact, at times it seemed as though the Chargers weren't even going to possess the ball. It...was...boring. Philip Rivers threw for one yard in the first half.  ONE YARD. That doesn't even seem possible, but it happened, with the Chargers putting themselves in 3-and-longs throughout much of the first half. However, the Broncos only led 17-0 going into the 4th quarter, and Rivers actually nearly got the Chargers back in the game himself, throwing for nearly 200 yards and two TDs in the 4th quarter, due entirely to the absence of Chris Harris, who was injured in the game and didn't come back. Peyton Manning's game seemed more 'game manger' on paper, but live he made some of his best throws of the season, and overcame several key drops by Welker, J. Thomas, and Eric Decker to get back to the AFC Championship game for the second time in his two seasons with the Broncos. The decision not to practice may have killed the Chargers, who came out flat through the first three quarters, only coming back when the situation was dire and with key injuries to the Broncos defense. So much for the team that never should have been there in the first place. The Broncos prepare to host the Patriots in another classic Brady v. Manning Bowl. ESPN prepares to annoy the living shit out of every single football fan, even those from the New England and Denver.

Stay tuned Saturday for 'Week 20 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis): CHAMPIONSHIP EDITION'

PHAULKNER


Friday, January 10, 2014

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

New Orleans Saints #5 (-8) @ Seattle Seahawks #1 (46.5): Seahawks 28-20
Saturday, 4:35 PM, Century Link Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: 100% rain, low 50s)

Reasons: The Divisional games get off to rainy starts Saturday with both games slated for heavy rain. A few weeks ago I would have had the Seahawks winning this game 49-7, but a lot has happened in a short few weeks, namely the Seahawks first home loss in two years, and the Saints winning a road playoff game in the driving rain last week v. the most dynamic offense in the league, whose defense had been improving by the week. The exploits of these two teams are well documented, both statistically and record-wise. The Seahawks were 7-1 at home this season, only losing a close battle to an Arizona team that should be making noise in these playoffs, while the Saints were 4-5 on the road, including last week's wild card win in Philadelphia. Both teams are ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense (SEA - T8th; NO - 10th), and NO ranks 4th in total yards, but both do it differently: NO has the 2nd-ranked passing game, while Seattle has the 4th-ranked run game. Defensively the Seahawks are the top defense in the NFL (ranked #1 in total yards and scoring), but the Saints are a surprising 4th in both categories as well. The Saints aren't scared - they've played in Seattle already this season and they've just come from a hostile road playoff environment in bad weather, but can they really pull it off again in far worse conditions v. a much better defense? I don't think so. <Thinks quietly about all the Seahawks PED issues...>


Indianapolis Colts #4 (+7.5) @ New England Patriots #2 (52.5): Patriots 30-21
Saturday, 8:15 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: 90% rain, soaked field, mid-50s)

Reasons: The Colts have to be the sexiest team in the playoffs right now. Coming off that improbable 28-point comeback, the second largest in NFL playoff history, the Colts are also led by the cold-blooded future king of the league, the comeback kid himself, Andrew Luck. The Colts are also coming into Foxborough 7.5-point underdogs, with seemingly nothing to lose. So that might suggest a tough match up for New England, if it weren't for a few key points. First, the Patriots beat Indianapolis late last season (11/18/12) 59-24 in the only match up between any semblance of these two current teams (most importantly starting QBs). The pundits see that as an opportunity for the Patriots to look past the Colts; I see it as another opportunity for Bill Belichick to prepare for the game (or at least Luck). Secondly, the weather will be a huge factor. The dome life can be an easy life and New England is one of the toughest places to play in the winter, snow or not. The heaviest rain may be gone, but it'll still be raining hard, although unseasonably warm. Thirdly, Bill Belichick (BB) is 10-5 coming off byes since joining the Patriots in 2000 (0-1 playoffs, losing in 2010 to the Jets 28-21 in the Div. Round), which includes a controversial loss at Carolina this season. In other words, when BB has time to prepare for you it doesn't usually go well (although if I were a Colts fan I'd point to the 0-1 playoff bye record). Most importantly may be that last week's incredible comeback, despite being historical and incredibly entertaining, was clearly a function of the absurd amount of game-ending injuries to key players by the second half of the game (six - well documented in my last Tuesday's Gone article), making the Colts comeback much more understandable. The Patriots were 8-0 at home this season, averaging 29 ppg (+1 season average), but the Colts were no road dogs (5-3, averaging 24 ppg, -0.5 season average); the Colts defense is statistically identical to New England's (ranked 9th & 10th scoring defense, 20th & 26th total defense, respectively), but the Colts gave up 44 point to a Chiefs team on the road, who immediately lost their best offensive player (Jamal Charles). The Patriots offense is much better (2nd scoring; 7th total yards), with a proven veteran WR (as opposed to a sophomore sensation), a stable of gifted, diverse RBs (as opposed to Donald Brown and half a Trent Richardson), and a HOF QB (as opposed to a guy who could be a HOF QB). At first glance I thought the spread was too high, but then I convinced myself with the aforementioned points. 

San Francisco 49ers #4 (-1) @ Carolina Panthers #2 (42): 49ers 28-27
Sunday, 1:05 PM, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: Sunny, mid-50s)

Reasons:   This is one of the most evenly matched games one could imagine. Let me count the ways. CAR is ranked 2nd in scoring defense (15.1 ppg); SF is ranked 3rd (17.0). CAR is ranked 2nd in total defense (301.2 ypg); SF is ranked 5th (316.9 ypg). Both teams rank in the top-7 in individual passing/rushing defense. SF is the 24th-ranked total offense (323.8 ypg); CAR is ranked 26th (316.8). It's interesting to note that the Panthers only gain 317 ypg, which is exactly what the top-5 49ers give up - so if SF has a normal day they should hold the Panthers to their meager season average. The same can basically be said about the opposite match up, so I wouldn't expect many yards in this game. It doesn't end there. CAR was 7-1 at home this year; SF was 7-2 on the road (including the playoffs). The weather will be a Bay Area-like 50 degrees and sunny. Both team are even led by QBs of similar age, style, and experience. One major differences could be in scoring offense (SF ranked 11th w/ 25.4 ppg; CAR ranked 18th w/ 22.9 ppg), but those numbers are different with CAR home and SF away (CAR - 26; SF -24). Another major difference, the one of most consequence, is playoff experience, in which the 49ers have far more, nearly winning the Super Bowl last season. The additional home scoring will pale in comparison to the playoff experience and drive these ultra-talented 49ers bring to the table. This will be one epic battle won by the 49ers. Apparently Vegas and I see it the same way, as SF gives one to CAR on the road.

San Diego Chargers #6 (+9.5) @ Denver Broncos #1 (54.5): Broncos 31-24
Sunday, 4:40 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Windy, mild, high 40s)

Reasons: All anyone can seem to talk about is that Denver lost to SD 27-20 Week 15 in one of Manning's worst performances of the season (61.5 QBR). That game had Manning running for his life for one of the only times this season, and Ryan Matthews took over, rushing for 127 yards on 29 carries, much like he did last week grinding down the Bengals top-ranked defense. The Chargers also controlled the ball 2:1, not giving the Broncos much of a chance to score. The return of Melvin Ingram and the probability of Eric Weddle playing bolsters an already 11th-ranked defense that gives up fewer than 22 ppg, and the Chargers are going to need it. The once banged up Broncos are well rested and come in as the not only the top offense in the league, but in league history. Defensively the Broncos aren't that impressive, but they give up as many points (24.9 ppg) as the 12th-ranked Chargers score (24.8 ppg). Two of the three Broncos losses this season came at home, one obviously against these Chargers, who are 5-4 on the road this season, including the playoffs. The Chargers are definitely the hot team and the sexy pick, but even a red-hot Rivers (who only threw 16 passes last week by the way) won't be enough to stop a hungry Peyton Manning, who I can't imagine will lose twice at home to the same team in one season, let alone in one month. As I type that I remember Manning's unimpressive playoff record (9-11), which is even worse outdoors (2-6), including a loss at home last year, but I suppose you never bet against Manning at home. Ryan Matthews may again exploit a Von Miller-less front seven, but they won't have time to run against this high-powered offense.

Stay tuned next week for Tuesday's Gone: Week 19 #NFL Predictions Review: DIVISIONAL ROUND.

PHAULKNER


Monday, January 6, 2014

Tuesday's Gone: Week 18 #NFL Predictions Review: WILDCARD ROUND

Kansas City Chiefs  #5 (+2) @ Indianapolis Colts #4 (46.5): Chiefs 28-27 Colts 45-44
Saturday, 4:35 PM, Lucas Oil Field, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Chiefs lost to the Colts 23-7 two weeks ago at home, so you can imagine they're not too confident going into Indianapolis to kick off the 2014 NFL playoffs. Vegas apparently doesn't think much of that game, giving the Colts just two points at home; you might chalk that up to playoff experience, or the simple fact that KC is a better team on paper. The Chiefs boast a top-10 rush defense and are the 5th-ranked scoring offense and 6th-ranked scoring defense. Don't believe the hype (numbers) quite yet though, because the Chiefs are team of two halves. Before the bye week (Week 10) KC was 9-0 beating their opponents by an average score of 24-12; but after the bye week KC was 2-5 (losing twice to #1 seed Denver) and the average score had soared to 31-28, thanks to the resurgence of Jamal Charles (offense) and key injuries (defense). Averaging another TD on offense is significant; letting up more than two TDs on defense is alarming. The Colts on the other hand seem to be clicking at the right time, winning their last three games to end the season, including a win v. these Chiefs, although the other two came v.  HOU and JAX, the two worst teams in the NFL. The Colts are nothing to marvel at statistically (14th-ranked scoring offense; 24th-ranked scoring defense), but the Chiefs only average 2.5 ppg more and are ranked 6th, so we can't look too deeply into the numbers - these teams are pretty evenly matched. Both teams played games v. six playoff teams during the regular season, and both teams even played the last two teams out of the playoffs (KC - DAL; IND - ARZ). The only thing separating these two teams might be playoff experience, in which KC might have a slight advantage (don't think teams, think current players and coaches). The game should be much closer than the Week 16 meeting.

The Colts have pulled off arguably the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history. The Bills came back from 32 points to beat the Houston Oilers in 1993, but that was an OT game. These Colts came back from 28 points in regulation in one of the most incredible football games played in the last few years, let alone a playoff game. Andrew Luck was a different QB in the second half, going from a turnover machine into a TD machine, throwing four TDs in the second half after throwing an INT to close the first half and another to open the second half; Luck even recovered a Donald Brown fumble at the 5 yard line and somehow managed to plunge into the end zone for the 4th of his 5 second-half TDs. Talk about Luck. The Colts had a 0.9% chance of winning the game when the Chiefs led 38-10. Talk about the 1%. But before we get too excited about the Colts, let's remember one major thing: The Chiefs lost SIX OF THEIR KEY PLAYERS IN THIS GAME. You read that correctly. Jamal Charles was lost immediately - he was the hottest player in the NFL. Back-up Knile Davis was injured during critical clock-eating time, forcing Cyrus Gray to pick up the slack. Never heard of him? Nobody has. Donny Avery was lost after dusting the Colts secondary for a 79-yard bomb. Both of the Chiefs starting CBs were lost for the second half (Flowers and Robinson), which just so happened to be the half Luck went off. Justin Houston, who wreaked havoc on Luck in the first half, was lost in the second half. To use injury excuses throughout the course of a season isn't becoming, but it makes some sense when it occurs to half of your key starters. Imagine it all happening in one half of one game? That's the only reasonable explanation one can muster for this ridiculous comeback. Then again maybe you could say it could only happen to a guy named Luck with a horseshoe on his helmet.

New Orleans Saints #6 (+2.5) @ Philadelphia Eagles #3 (54): Eagles 28-24 Saints 26-24
Saturday, 8:10 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: 80% rain, low-40s)

Reasons: This game has the makings of an instant playoff classic. The Eagles have the 9th-ranked pass offense, the top-ranked running game, the 10th-ranked rush defense, and the #4 scoring offense in the league. The only thing they're bad at is defending the pass (ranked last), which happens to what New Orleans excels at (ranked 2nd). The Saints also have the 2nd-ranked pass defense, and boast the leagues #10 scoring offense and #4 scoring defense. Unfortunately for the Saints the game is on the road, where they're 3-5 this season and average a ridiculous 16 fewer ppg than at home. Even worse is the weather will be awful - cold and rainy. The only real chance the Saints have v. the surging Eagles is that somehow the 2013 Eagles were worse at home (4-4) than on the road (6-2), and apparently that was enough to give the Saints one more point than otherwise usually afforded.

The Saints had the ball for nearly ten more minutes in this game, none more critical than the last two, and out rushed the fabled Eagles running game by over 100 yards (185 to 80), averaging 1.5 yards more per carry. So even though Drew Brees continued to stink up the joint on the road in bad/cold weather (250 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs), the Saints didn't really need him as they controlled the clock, controlled the run game, got first downs when it mattered (7 for 13 on 3rd down) and let their 4th-ranked overall defense stifle the Eagles offensive attack when it mattered (Eagles were 3 for 12 on 3rd downs, although interestingly they were 2-2 on 4th down). LeSean McCoy managed only 77 yards on 21 carries and although Nick Foles continued his highly efficient season (105 passer rating, no turnovers) he wasn't exactly lighting it up. Poor clock management and inefficient use of TOs (again) seemed to doom the Eagles, because this game basically belonged to late-season pickup Shane Graham, who replaced Garrett Hartley during the season, and ended up kicking four FGs, including the game winner as time expired. Remember when I claimed this game had the makings of an instant classic? I meant the Colts-Chiefs game.

 
San Diego Chargers #6 (+7) @ Cincinnati Bengals #3 (47): Bengals 31-24 Chargers 27-10
Sunday, 1:05 PM, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: Sunny, cold, mid-30s)

Reasons: Let's be honest, the Chargers backed into the playoffs in one of those SUVs that does it automatically. They had won four straight games, but the Chiefs held a Week 17 24-14 lead at halftime, then missed a 41-yard FG that would have won the game and sent the much less talented Steelers to Cincinnati. Actually, that might have made the Steelers' AFC North little brothers nervous. But the Chargers inexplicably won and backed into the 6th seed, where they face the most underrated team in the AFC, maybe the NFL. The Bengals have the 8th-ranked passing game and 6th-ranked scoring offense to go along with one of the five top overall defenses in the NFL. And don't let the 18th-ranked run game fool you, Law Firm and back up rookie sensation Giovani Benard get after it. In addition to being one of the best teams in the league on paper, they're unbeatable at home, going 8-0 in 2013. The Chargers are essentially the same team on the road (4-4), perhaps even slightly better offensively, but the Bengals are lights out at home, averaging 34.4 ppg - I don't see that changing.

This game was 10-7 Bengals at the half and Andy Dalton had a TD and no turnovers. Things seemed slow, but OK for the Bengals. However, Giovani Benard fumbled at the 4-yard line with 1:47 left in the half, and instead of leading 14-7 they were scrambling to get the ball back so they wouldn't be down at the half. The stellar defense managed a three-and-out stop, the offense got the ball back, and kicked a 46-yard FG as the first half expired. The damage was done though. Somehow the Bengals never recovered from that Benard fumble, and the Bengals were outscored 20-0 in the second half, while Dalton threw two INTs and lost a fumble. If I told you that Philip Rivers threw for only 128 yards on 16 attempts (completing 12 of them) v. this Bengals defense you'd assume they lost, but clearly that wasn't the case. The Chargers run game stole the show in the second half, ending the game with 196 total yards on 40 uncharacteristic carries (SD ranked 30th in the NFL with only 23.5 carries per game). I still believe in Andy Dalton as a legit threat at QB, but these Bengals need some help, possibly starting with a change of scenery at head coach. The Chargers head to Denver to try and beat them for the second time this season. (Note: the three remaining AFC playoffs teams were the only teams to beat Denver this season)

San Francisco 49ers #5 (-3) @ Green Bay Packers #4 (46.5): 49ers 30-27 49ers 23-20
Sunday, 4:40 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Frigid, 0 degrees)

Reasons: Imagine being the 49ers: You win 12 games, win your last seven straight games, beat division rival Seattle at the most critical time of the season, go 6-2 on the road, and end the season ranked in the top 10 in nearly every important statistical category (3rd-ranked rush offense, 11th scoring offense; 7th-ranked pass defense, 4th-ranked rush defense, 3rd-ranked scoring defense) and have to travel to Lambeau Field in January to win a playoff game, just as Aaron Rodgers begins to get back into the groove. It's a horrible scenario for the 49ers, who literally drew the shortest stick in the first round of these playoffs (think 2010: 7-9 Seahawks v. 11-5 Saints). The game time temperatures could be below freezing, and it almost never reaches that temperature at 4 AM in SF, let alone any given game time. So the 8-7-1 Packers that not one person on Earth outside of Green Bay, WI gave a chance to even make the playoffs now has a chance to win the round one game they incredibly get to host. Who said parody was dead in the NFL? I don't like the weather predictions, but then again the Packers defense is horrendous (24th overall) and SF can't throw the ball anyway (ranked 30th), so the 49ers will rely on their 3rd-ranked run game to carry the frozen rock to victory, as they're a slightly better offense on the road anyway (8 ppg above season scoring average). If you're a Green bay fan (or a few experts with valid opinions) you have to like your chances on the Frozen Tundra with ARod back. If you're anyone else in the world you like the angry 49ers to show the world that the last place they should be is Green Bay, WI.

This game was not as cold as advertised and Aaron Rodgers wasn't as deadly as I expected him to be. Rodgers managed only 177 passing yards and one TD on 26 attempts, but was sacked four times. The 49ers are obviously a far better team, especially on defense, besting the Packers in total yards, efficiency (7/13 on 3rd/4th down), and yards per play. This game was all about Colin Kaepernick, who had 336 total yards and a TD, and Phil Dawson, who kicked four FGs, including the game winner as time expired. Dawson finally accepted that it's better in SF than Cleveland. Things turn up next week as two nearly identical teams take the field in Charlotte for the NFC Divisional Round.

Stay tuned Friday for the Week 19 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis): DIVISIONAL ROUND.
PHAULKNER

Friday, January 3, 2014

Week 18 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis): Playoffs Round 1

Kansas City Chiefs  #5 (+2) @ Indianapolis Colts #4 (46.5): Chiefs 28-27
Saturday, 4:35 PM, Lucas Oil Field, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Chiefs lost to the Colts 23-7 two weeks ago at home, so you can imagine they're not too confident going into Indianapolis to kick off the 2014 NFL playoffs. Vegas apparently doesn't think much of that game, giving the Colts just two points at home; you might chalk that up to playoff experience, or the simple fact that KC is a better team on paper. The Chiefs boast a top-10 rush defense and are the 5th-ranked scoring offense and 6th-ranked scoring defense. Don't believe the hype (numbers) quite yet though, because the Chiefs are team of two halves. Before the bye week (Week 10) KC was 9-0 beating their opponents by an average score of 24-12; but after the bye week KC was 2-5 (losing twice to #1 seed Denver) and the average score had soared to 31-28, thanks to the resurgence of Jamal Charles (offense) and key injuries (defense). Averaging another TD on offense is significant; letting up more than two TDs on defense is alarming. The Colts on the other hand seem to be clicking at the right time, winning their last three games to end the season, including a win v. these Chiefs, although the other two came v.  HOU and JAX, the two worst teams in the NFL. The Colts are nothing to marvel at statistically (14th-ranked scoring offense; 24th-ranked scoring defense), but the Chiefs only average 2.5 ppg more and are ranked 6th, so we can't look too deeply into the numbers - these teams are pretty evenly matched. Both teams played games v. six playoff teams during the regular season, and both teams even played the last two teams out of the playoffs (KC - DAL; IND - ARZ). The only thing separating these two teams might be playoff experience, in which KC might have a slight advantage (don't think teams, think current players and coaches). The game should be much closer than the Week 16 meeting.

New Orleans Saints #6 (+2.5) @ Philadelphia Eagles #3 (54): Eagles 28-24
Saturday, 8:10 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: 80% rain, low-40s)

Reasons: This game has the makings of an instant playoff classic. The Eagles have the 9th-ranked pass offense, the top-ranked running game, the 10th-ranked rush defense, and the #4 scoring offense in the league. The only thing they're bad at is defending the pass (ranked last), which happens to what New Orleans excels at (ranked 2nd). The Saints also have the 2nd-ranked pass defense, and boast the leagues #10 scoring offense and #4 scoring defense. Unfortunately for the Saints the game is on the road, where they're 3-5 this season and average a ridiculous 16 fewer ppg than at home. Even worse is the weather will be awful - cold and rainy. The only real chance the Saints have v. the surging Eagles is that somehow the 2013 Eagles were worse at home (4-4) than on the road (6-2), and apparently that was enough to give the Saints one more point than otherwise usually afforded.

San Diego Chargers #6 (+7) @ Cincinnati Bengals #3 (47): Bengals 31-24
Sunday, 1:05 PM, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: Sunny, cold, mid-30s)
Reasons: Let's be honest, the Chargers backed into the playoffs in one of those SUVs that does it automatically. They had won four straight games, but the Chiefs held a Week 17 24-14 lead at halftime, then missed a 41-yard FG that would have won the game and sent the much less talented Steelers to Cincinnati. Actually, that might have made the Steelers' AFC North little brothers nervous. But the Chargers inexplicably won and backed into the 6th seed, where they face the most underrated team in the AFC, maybe the NFL. The Bengals have the 8th-ranked passing game and 6th-ranked scoring offense to go along with one of the five top overall defenses in the NFL. And don't let the 18th-ranked run game fool you, Law Firm and back up rookie sensation Giovani Benard get after it. In addition to being one of the best teams in the league on paper, they're unbeatable at home, going 8-0 in 2013. The Chargers are essentially the same team on the road (4-4), perhaps even slightly better offensively, but the Bengals are lights out at home, averaging 34.4 ppg - I don't see that changing.

San Francisco 49ers #5 (-3) @ Green Bay Packers #4 (46.5): 49ers 30-27
Sunday, 4:40 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Frigid, 0 degrees)

Reasons: Imagine being the 49ers: You win 12 games, win your last seven straight games, beat division rival Seattle at the most critical time of the season, go 6-2 on the road, and end the season ranked in the top 10 in nearly every important statistical category (3rd-ranked rush offense, 11th scoring offense; 7th-ranked pass defense, 4th-ranked rush defense, 3rd-ranked scoring defense) and have to travel to Lambeau Field in January to win a playoff game, just as Aaron Rodgers begins to get back into the groove. It's a horrible scenario for the 49ers, who literally drew the shortest stick in the first round of these playoffs (think 2010: 7-9 Seahawks v. 11-5 Saints). The game time temperatures could be below freezing, and it almost never reaches that temperature at 4 AM in SF, let alone any given game time. So the 8-7-1 Packers that not one person on Earth outside of Green Bay, WI gave a chance to even make the playoffs now has a chance to win the round one game they incredibly get to host. Who said parody was dead in the NFL? I don't like the weather predictions, but then again the Packers defense is horrendous (24th overall) and SF can't throw the ball anyway (ranked 30th), so the 49ers will rely on their 3rd-ranked run game to carry the frozen rock to victory, as they're a slightly better offense on the road anyway (8 ppg above season scoring average). If you're a Green bay fan (or a few experts with valid opinions) you have to like your chances on the Frozen Tundra with ARod back. If you're anyone else in the world you like the angry 49ers to show the world that the last place they should be is Green Bay, WI.

Stay tuned for Tuesday's Gone: #NFL Predictions Review: Round One Playoffs Edition coming next week...

PHAULKNER
 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Tuesday's Gone: #NFL Week 17 Predictions Review: FINAL REGULAR SEASON EDITION

Week 17 results: 13-3 wins (106-55 .658); 8-8 v. spread (60-101 .373)

Note: Results based on Weeks 7-17. Average week: ~10-5 wins; ~6-9 v. spread. (Games do not = 16 due to bye weeks)

Carolina Panthers 11-4 (-6) @ Atlanta Falcons 4-11 (46): Panthers 27-21 Panthers 21-20
1:00 PM, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors)
 
Reasons: The Falcons are one of the worst teams in the NFL, ranking in the bottom 10 in rushing (last), pass defense (25th), rush defense (31st), and scoring defense. They rank 21st in scoring offense, putting them just out of the bottom 10, and that's only due to their 6th-ranked passing offense, which benefits from the likes of Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, and Stephen Jackson, when healthy. Obviously they haven't been too much together. The Panthers on the other side have a chance to slide from the #1 seed to the #6 seed, a situation facing many teams today as a matter of fact, and come into the game in the complete opposite standing as their opponents - not only are they fighting for a #1 seed, Carolina has the 2nd-ranked run defense, the 7th-ranked pass defense, the top-ranked scoring defense, and fall just out of the top 10 in rushing (11th). All signs point to a Panthers win, as the Falcons are only 3-4 at home, but if there was ever a QB that could f*ck this up it would be Cam Newton. So much for Ron Rivera's hot seat. He went straight to hot.

It figures the Falcons would wait until Week 17 to put in a defensive effort, but Carolina's defense is the one that wreaked havoc, sacking Matt Ryan nine times and returning a pick-six, holding off a last minute surge by the Falcons. Both teams only combined for 36 first downs and 590 yards total offense in the dome. The Panthers had better get their offensive act together if they're going to go anywhere in the playoffs, as they'll either be facing a high-scoring offense or a stout defense at home next week.

Baltimore Ravens 8-7 (+6.5) @ Cincinnati Bengals 10-5 (44.5): Bengals 27-20 Bengals 34-17
1:00 PM, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: 70% rain, mid-40s)

Reasons: One of the better games of the weekend the Ravens are either winning and hoping for a 6th seed or going home, while the Bengals could have a bye round one, or could be hosting a round one game at the 3/4 spot. The game should be a defensive battle (both teams rank in the top-10 in all three major defensive categories), especially considering the weather, although the Bengals have one of the best offense in the NFL as well (10th-ranked passing game; 6th-ranked scoring offense). This game is primed for CIN to squander their higher seed chances letting the underachieving Ravens back into the playoffs and make a serious run, but it's not going to happen. If only Ray Rice wasn't 38...

I'm really glad the Ravens missed the playoffs a year after winning the Super Bowl, because not only should they have lost the AFC Championship to Denver and shouldn't have even been there in the first place, and not only because Baltimore foolishly let several of their key players go, including Flacco security blanket Anquan Boldin, and not because the Ravens even more foolishly payed an average to slightly above average QB $120M, and not because as a New England fan I hate the Ravens, but because I predicted they would. When the experts said the Ravens would repeat as AFC Champions and play in the Super Bowl again 2014 I laughed. On the other side the Bengals balled, looking poised to make a serious run in the playoffs as arguably the most talented overall team in the AFC...then bad Dalton showed up and threw four INTs. You won't win 34-17 in the playoffs that way.

Houston Texans 2-13 (+7.5) @ Tennessee Titans 6-9 (44): Titans 24-20 Titans 16-10
1:00 PM, LP Field, Nashville, TN (Weather: 50% rain, mid-50s)

Reasons: Yawn. Seems like our boy Billy O'Brien could be at the helm of this Texans team next season. That would instantly make them better, but that isn't coming tomorrow, so I expect the Titans to end the season on a positive note at home by beating the lowly Texans. It's a game of pass defenses (HOU - 3rd; TEN - 10th), but it doesn't matter because neither of these teams can pass. This will be one of the games with the least attention.

The only interesting thing that came out of this game was former New England coach and Penn State savior Billy O'Brien just accepted the job at Houston to beg the brass not to draft Teddy Bridgewater a or Johnny Manziel.  
 
Jacksonville Jaguars 4-11 (+10.5) @ Indianapolis Colts 10-5 (45.5): Colts 28-20 Colts 30-10
1:00 PM, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The suddenly dangerous Colts have a chance to launch into the 2nd seed if NE and CIN lose, a few weeks after most everyone had them an easy round one opponent. Statistically this game isn't anything to get excited about, but the Colts will be looking to win at any cost as they actually now have a chance to sit home and relax round one, and all they have to do on their end is beat the last ranked team in the NFL.

A few weeks ago the pundits were wondering if the Colts were going to go anywhere in the playoffs coming from such a weak division with so little talent surrounding Andrew Luck. Now these same experts are saying the Colts could be the AFC playoff sleeper. I don't quite see it that way, but they certainly carved up the league's doormat to ensure a first round home game. The Jaguars scored a TD with 16 seconds left, otherwise the game would have been 30-3, all this with the two teams matching plays (70) and nearly matching total yardage (350-379 Colts). They're that bad. The Colts look good, and it's truly anyone's race in the AFC, but lets see if they can stop the suddenly high-flying Chiefs.

New York Jets 7-8 (+5.5) @ Miami Dolphins 8-7 (41.5): Dolphins 21-17 Jets 20-7
1:00 PM, Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL (Weather: 40% rain, low 80s)

Reasons: Last week the Dolphins were being talked about as the most dangerous low seed in the AFC; one week later those same people are wondering if they'll even get in after being shut out at Buffalo 19-0 last week. The Jets will pound the ball (ranked 6th) and stop the Dolphins from running it (ranked 3rd), but you'd have to imagine the Dolphins realize what's at stake and all they have to do is win. I wish this was the end of Rex Ryan, but horrifically it sounds like they might retain him. If you hate the Jets like I do, that might seem like good news, because they're a joke, but seeing him twice a year on the sidelines and hearing him all season is much worse.

So long Miami, what a year. You lost control, regained control, fooled a few people into thinking you balled, and lost your last two divisional games just when you "controlled" your destiny (redundant). It's amazing what the Patriots do to other teams. Thought you beat us? Wanted to celebrate a little? Whoops. I dare you to look at your team's record after a rare win against our Patriots. You won't like the results. They put in so much energy to beat NE that they overlooked a Bills defense capable of beating their offense on the cold, rainy road, and then followed up that sad shut out with another offensive debacle in New York, sealing their fate.  Now on to the good stuff - lawsuits.

Detroit Lions 7-8 (+2.5) @ Minnesota Vikings 4-10-1 (51.5): Lions 27-24 Vikings 14-13
1:00 PM, Mall of America Field, Minneapolis, MN (Weather: Indoors) 
 
Reasons: When the NFL scheduled this game they thought "Wow, Stafford & Megatron v. Peterson & Jennings for the division crown and a seeding battle". Not so much. The pathetic Lions lost to the hapless Giants in OT last week 23-20 to destroy any chance of making the playoffs, despite having one of the most talented teams in the NFL. The Vikings front office is clueless as they just realized Matt Cassell should have been starting all season. So much for Josh Freeman and so much for Greg Schiano being a psycho. This game literally does not deserve to be watched. Oh yeah, AP is out.

Jim Schwartz was fired. A year too late.
 
Washington Natives 3-12 (+3.5) @ New York Giants 6-9 (45.5): Giants 21-20 Natives 20-6
1:00 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: 100% rain, mid-40s)
Reasons: Ugh. I'm actually not going to review this game. The Giants are awful. The Natives are awful. Reviewing this game gives these teams all they've ever played for: attention. Not from me.

Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin were both fir...oh, they weren't? Hmm...

Cleveland Browns 4-11 (+7) @ Pittsburgh Steelers 7-8 (44): Steelers 27-20 Steelers 20-7
1:00 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: 100% rain, mid-40s)

Reasons: The Steelers have miraculously landed in a position for the 6th playoff seed, and they have to beat bitter their division rival, and in my opinion 2013 equal, Cleveland Browns to do it. That won't be an easy task, but as I said last week, I've learned to never pick the Browns on the road, as they have lost every game v. the spread this season on the road with the exception of @MIN, where they won 31-27 on a TD pass with 51 seconds left in the game. Both of these teams can throw (PIT - 11th; CLE - 12th), but both stop the throw (PIT - 8th; CLE - 9th), quite possibly putting the game in the hands of rookie LaVeon Bell, who needs 73 yards to break Franco Harris' rookie rushing record.

Apparently the Steelers got screwed out of the playoffs. I was so sad upon hearing this I didn't even investigate to see if it was true. The Browns fired Chud, and I bet you're shocked. Well the Browns were, claiming no one in the locker room had any clue the axe was coming. great team chemistry. The Browns wasted no time courting Patriots coach Josh McDaniels in the annual league-wide purge of NE coaches. Hopefully he realizes he's not a head coach yet and stays put, although he seems to forget we have a running game. Both teams had such high hopes in 2013...

Green Bay Packers 7-7-1 (-3) @ Chicago Bears 8-7 (53): Bears 27-24 Packers 33-28
4:25 PM, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: 70% snow, high 20s)

Reasons: I heard an expert say this morning that the Bears would win this game by 10 points. I have no clue what that supposed expert saw in this game, one that sees two teams fighting for 4 seeds or bust with their star QBs back together in the same game since last season (Cutler was already hurt Week 9 and Rodgers was hurt in the first series of the game). These two teams have two of the worst defense in the league this season, but have two of the best offenses, and if it weren't for the weather, of which both teams are used to, this might be a shoot out. In one of the toughest games to call this week, one has to go with the Bears at home, especially with the rust ARod will have, something Cutler's already shaken off. GB is not -3 points better than CHI on the road, sorry.

I take back that last line. Although I will never agree that a QB who sat for nearly two months didn't have any rust due to practice (are you kidding me?), but that rust certainly dissolved by games end when The Real ARod threw a dart to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds left. Rodgers to Cobb...haven't heard in, well, two months. The Bears had every chance in the world to win this game at home, but gave up two unanswered TDs late in the 4th quarter to give the game to the Packers. You have to imagine if the Bears get a defense again they'll be deadly. But that's next year. This year now we all  have to worry about the Packers & Rodgers in the tournament.

Denver Broncos 12-3 (-11) @ Oakland Raiders 4-11 (53.5): Broncos 34-21 Broncos 34-14
4:25 PM, Oakland Co. Stadium, Oakland, CA (Weather: Sunny, mid-60s)

Reasons: The Broncos are pretty banged up; they lost Miller last week, Manning is slightly hobbled, and the DEN WRs are not the healthiest. Having said that the Raiders are the Raiders and they've lost seven of their last eight games. The only thing the Raiders do well (8th-ranked run game) the Broncos stop (8th-ranked run defense) and the Raiders have the 5th-worst passing defense. Yikes. If I were DEN I'd be looking ahead and worrying about the health of my old stars as the playoffs near. The Raiders could cover if the Broncos sit starters in the second half, but I still doubt it.

One lousy late TD from the Raiders would have been my second perfect call of the day. That's important in the world of the highly competitive two-man Irish Mob Pick 'Em League. What is the point of this game? The Broncos beat up on a D-1A college team and go home to wait to be beat by one of the hungrier, healthier teams in the AFC. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-11 (+12) @ New Orleans Saints 10-5 (47.5): Saints 30-20 Saints 42-17
4:25 PM, Superdome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Can you imagine NO losing this game and missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, especially after claiming it was only because your lord and savior Sean Peyton was suspended for leading a chaotic team that broke serious rules. Never has a team looked so different at home relative to the road, and lucky for them the Saints have chance to lock up home field advantage, but that would require a lot of losing from some other teams that probably won't. A more likely scenario is NO gets 5/6 seed and travels round one, most likely ending their season. The Buccaneers are much better than their 4-11 record, just like the Saints are worse then their 10-5 record, but they're at home, so...

The Saints are in serious trouble. They are absolutely awful on the road and here they go to play one of the most dynamic offenses in the past few years, and that's saying something; to boot the Eagles have improved defensively every week, making NO's task even tougher. This is starting to sound like the NO-PHI playoff preview. That's not fair to TB. Greg Schiano was fired, too.

San Francisco 49ers 11-4 (-1) @ Arizona Cardinals 10-5 (42): 49ers 26-24 49ers 23-20
4:25 PM, Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix, AZ (Weather: Sunny, high 60s)

Reasons: It's crazy to think that the NFC West was the laughing stock of the NFL as soon as last year and here they are with a chance to send three teams to the playoffs and have every team at .500 or better. This might be the best game of the day for those not obsessed with the pathetic NFC East, as the Cardinals could go 10-6 and miss the playoffs, while SF will be looking to lock up the #1 seed. Despite the chance to go 11-5 ARZ can only gain the 6th seed, yet SF could go 11-5 and end up as high as the #5. Both teams have top-10 overall defenses, and although SF cracks the top-10 in offense as well, ARZ only averages 1.5 ppg less. One of the closest battles of the season at a pivotal time should produce one hell of a game.

Very few teams have been as talented and tough as the Arizona Cardinals and miss the playoffs, but that's the case for the 2013 Cardinals, most experts sexy pre-season sleeper pick to make noise. At 10-6 in a tough division they certainly did that, but faced a hungry 49ers team desperate to stay at home in the first round. They won, but still have to travel, because not only did Seattle and Carolina win as well, but so did the 7-7-1 Packers, forcing a meeting between the two teams in Green Bay. They could lose there, too. Who said life is fair? Hey, they could have missed the playoffs like their 2013 Super Bowl opponent. 

Kansas City Chiefs 11-4 (+10) @ San Diego Chargers 8-7 (45): Chargers 27-24 Chargers 27-24
4:25 PM, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA (Weather: Sunny, low 70s)

Reasons: Just like the NFC West, the AFC West was also once a laughing stock, yet here they are with a chance to also put three teams in the playoffs, although they will not sport a completely .500 division as they house the Raiders. In all seriousness, the Chargers have a chance here as KC will rest key starters in preparation for the playoffs. Big mistake. In a game like these statistics sort of go out the window because KC will not be at full strength and SD will be playing lights out in front of their home crowd in an effort to make the playoffs, assuming it matters. SD could slip into the 6th spot or be eliminated before the game even begins. So we could have a barn burner or a game that literally doesn't matter, because KC values presumed health over guaranteed seeding.

I knew the score and the winner before the game was even played, but I can't pretend to know how badly the Chargers would've back into that win. 13 unanswered points and a missed 41-yard FG helped seal the Chiefs fate, who had this Chargers team beat. Always be weary of these teams that back into/squeak into the playoffs, they tend to be dangerous (e.g., a 7-9 Seattle team winning in round one, or either of those ridiculous Giants teams). The Chiefs need to get healthy on defense fast, or they will not survive long in these up-in-the-air playoffs.

St. Louis Rams 7-8 (+11.5) @ Seattle Seahawks 12-3 (43): Seahawks 30-20 Seahawks 27-9
4:25 PM, Century Link Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: Fog, low 40s)

Reasons: How can the Seahawks lose this game?

They couldn't. These two teams combined for 427 total yards, 158 of them coming from the offensive juggernaut Rams. Granted the Seahawks defense is stout, but 158 yards? I'm pretty sure that was the lowest game total of any team this season, but I suppose it's not that surprising. The Seahawks looked pretty bad offensively themselves, but the Rams have a good defense, something to build upon next season. Both teams combined for 19 penalties, seven called on Seattle, something the Seahawks will have plenty of time to work on with the first round bye they secured with the win.

Buffalo Bills 6-9 (+7.5) @ New England Patriots 11-4 (46.5): Patriots 28-20 Patriots 34-20
4:25 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: 100% rain, mid-40s)

Reasons: The Bills do two things the Patriots are awful at: They run the ball well (ranked 2nd) while the Patriots can't stop the run (ranked 29th), and they get to the QB (the Patriots struggles v. top defensive lines are well documented), but two things are paramount in this game. One, the Patriots are at home, and two, the Patriots understand the ramifications of the game in terms of seeding. If the Patriots stay home throughout the playoffs they have a serious chance of making it to the Super Bowl; if they don't they have a great chance of losing in the second round. The Bills will play the role of spoiler again (this ain't the early 90s, that's for sure) as they trot out Thad Lewis again in an attempt to ruin the Patriots' party, handing the ball off time and time again as a monsoon rolls through Foxborough.

If told you Tom Brady would go 14-24 for 122 yards and a TD would you have thought they destroyed their opponent? I didn't think so, but LeGarrett Blount picked up the slack rushing for 189 yards and two TDs, with Steven Ridley adding 74 more, as the Patriots manhandled the Bills in the regular season finale. A one-sided affair through the beginning of the 4th quarter the Bills made it a game late before an onside kick gave the Patriots a short field, allowing for Blount to gallop to the win on a 35-yard TD run. The Patriots needed a win bad v. the depleted Bills to secure a first round bye, their only real shot at making noise in the playoffs, and they took care of business. 

Philadelphia Eagles 9-6 (-6.5) @ Dallas Cowboys 8-7 (52.5): Eagles 30-21 Eagles 24-22
8:25 PM, Cowboy Stadium, Dallas, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Somehow, no matter how bad these teams can be at points throughout the season, these two teams are in it at the end, fighting each other for a playoff spot and a division crown in Week 17. It seems Dallas has to do this to their fans every season. Both teams are either 3 seed or out and/or 3/4 seed or out. PHI lost to DAL Week 7 (17-3, everyone was clowning PHI's offense...whoops) so if they lose again DAL would win the NFC East title and send the 9-7 Eagles packing. The Eagles have become the top offense in the league besides Manning's Merry band of Pro-Bowlers, while Dallas is quite literally the worst defense in the NFL (Note: Dallas is, however, ranked 3rd in scoring offense, right below PHI, 27.8 to 27.9). Dallas is 5-2 at home, but the Eagles are 5-2 on the road, and this game had Cowboy letdown written all over it. Oh yeah, Romo is out for the season with back surgery. So yeah, Dallas is done.

Kyle Orton did his best Tony Romo impression late in the game as the Eagles got all they could handle v. a Cowboys team aiming for the same game-end prize. The Eagles won the second meeting, the one that ultimately counted most, and squeaked in the NFC East crown, the weakest of any crown in the land. Dallas actually played an incredibly efficient game: Orton threw for 358 yards, the Cowboys had 417 total yards, committed only one penalty, and gave up no sacks. But they committed three turnovers, which ultimately did them in. So in the end it wasn't that efficient. How does Garrett keep his job, honestly? It's not like Dallas can fire the owner. In other news, Philadelphia could be pretty dangerous in the playoffs, especially considering they're 6-2 on the road this season; hopefully they start off by beating the Saints.


Stay tuned for the first edition of Week 18 #NFL Predictions: Playoffs Round One (w/ spreads & analysis) coming Saturday.

PHAULKNER