2017 NFL SEASON
T U E S D A Y ’ S G O N E:
C H A M P I O N S H I P
R O U N D
Week 20: #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
Championship Round 2-0 wins; 2-0 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).
Jacksonville Jaguars #3 (+7.5) @ New England Patriots #1 (48): Patriots 24-20 Patriots 24-20
Sunday, 3:05 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Sunny; high 40s)
Reasons: On paper there might not a better team in the NFL that matches up better with the Patriots, or more specifically, provide the ultimate kryptonite to Tom Brady. The Jaguars finished the season ranked 2nd with 55 sacks and easily get to the quarterback with their four down linemen; that’s not good for a 40-year old quarterback in his 18th game of the season with a shaky offensive line. Jacksonville also boasts the league’s top running game in terms of rushing yards per game (JAX also ranked 10th at 4.3 ypc) and ranks 2nd in the NFL in time of possession. Then there’s the small matter of Tom Brady having a mysterious and potentially serious hand/thumb injury, which no one outside of the Foxborough Pentagon knows anything about. So basically if the Jaguars run the ball well, chew up the clock and then get to an injured Tom Brady early and often in less of time of possession the Patriots could not only lose, but get destroyed. That would be monumental task, however, because the Patriots not only possess the 5th-ranked scoring defense, but have been playing much better as the season has progressed, Bill Belichick is famous for taking away his opponent’s best weapon, regardless of which side of the ball said weapon plays on; that player will most likely be a hobbled Leonard Fournette, who New England could completely nullify, leaving the running game burden to a much smaller and slightly less skilled TJ Yeldon. The Jaguars one weakness on defense is their run defense (20th) and the Patriots run the ball well (10th rushing yards; 11th ypc), which means the Patriots could be chewing up a lot of the their own clock, keeping the Jaguars offense off the field and keeping an opportunistic Jacksonville defensive backfield at bay. Speaking of the Jaguars defensive backfield - certainly one the best in the NFL - Jalen Ramsey’s comments showcase the biggest advantage New England has, and possibly the Patriots only real advantage: experience. While the All-Pro cornerback was speaking of looking past the Patriots and winning the Super Bowl, Tom Brady’s rebuttal amidst a bunch of thinly veiled praises was, “I’ve watched a lot of film on Jalen.” In other words, Brady is saying, “Keep talking trash young buck, this is my 7th straight AFC Championship game, which broke my own record from last season.” Add the overall experience to the fact the Patriots and Jaguars just happened to scrimmage each other for three weeks in the preseason, including the first preseason game, which Tom Brady happened to not play in, and I can already hear the conspiracy theorists screaming. Brady and Belichick will likely take advantage of the Jaguars dominant front four with a hurry up offense that features dinking-and-dunking like only Tom Brady can do, sending out quick slants to receivers and screens to running backs until the Jaguars are exhausted and the game clock has expired. The Patriots can’t beat this Jaguars team by more than seven points, especially with Brady’s injured throwing hand, but the Patriots will get to back-to-back Super Bowls for the second time in 15 years. Don’t hate it; just appreciate it.
Tom Brady, Danny Amendola and the New England Patriots overcame a 20-10 4th-quarter deficit, scoring 14 unanswered points to steal the hearts and souls of Jaguars players and fans alike, evidenced by Jalen Ramsey tears, the loudest on the eastern seaboard, from the top of Florida to the suburbs of greater Boston. Tom Brady (26 of 38 passing for 290 yards; 2 TDs), once again, at age 40, orchestrated a monumental comeback against the best defense in the NFL, and arguably one of the best defenses we’ve seen in a decade. Sound familiar? Danny Amendola (7 receptions; 84 yards) scored touchdowns of 9- and 4-yards on drives of eight plays for 85 yards (3:19) and five plays for 30 yards (2:10), respectively, to take the lead after Josh Rambo kicked a 49-yard field goal to put the Jaguars up by ten points. Sacksonville sacked Brady three times, forced a crucial Dion Lewis fumble and only allowed 24 points, 14 of which came in the final nine minutes of the game, but the vaunted Jaguars rushing attack only managed 101 rushing yards on 32 carries (3.2 ypc) against a Patriots defense that was ranked 20th in the NFL during the regular season. One could also argue, although futilely due to metrics such as QBR (64.5:69.0) and quarterback rating (98.5:108.4), that Blake Bortles (23 of 36 passing for 293 yards; 1 TD) outplayed Brady, but that one person would be from Florida and they’d be wrong. My snarky point is that Bortles played well, very well in fact, meaning that the loss wasn’t on Bortles at all; so if you’re looking for blame you might point to the Jaguars running game, right? Maybe, but it’s much more accurate to respect Bill Belichick’s ability to make halftime adjustments, certainly defensively, and marvel at Brady’s ability to make these types of special things happen with miniature wide receivers (Wes Welker; Julian Edleman; Danny Amendola). I’ve said time and time again that although I completely understand fan’s animosity towards Brady, Belichick and the New England Patriots, this is the greatest dynasty we’ve witnessed in NFL history, and arguably American sports in general, and the Patriots proved it again Sunday. We don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone, and we’ll never see something like this again. Oh yeah, and I called this game perfectly. Someone pay me, please
Minnesota Vikings #2 (-3) @ Philadelphia Eagles #1 (38.5): Eagles 21-17 Eagles 38-7
Sunday, 6:40 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: Partly sunny; high 40s)
Reasons: Wow, the disrespect. The Eagles became the first top conference seed in NFL playoff history to be underdogs (+5 v. Atlanta) in the Divisional Round, which should go without saying, was an Eagles home game. Now the Eagles are underdogs again, although this time by only three points, but it’s no less disrespectful to Philadelphia. Clearly Las Vegas has no respect for Nick Foles, but I’m not sure why they have so much respect for Case Keenum. Nick Foles threw for 215.3 yards per game in the three games he started (including the playoffs) and threw five TDs to only 2 INTs, a 2.5:1 TD:INT ratio, which is only slightly worse than Tom Brady’s career ratio (3:1). Granted it’s a tiny sample size, and certainly not worthy of a “Golden Boy” comparison, but Foles is also the guy who threw 27 TDs to 2 INTs once upon a time and won many a fantasy football fan their fantasy league championship. Regardless, Case Keenum only averaged 21 more passing yards than Foles per game, all things being equal, and had the benefit of Adam Thielen (91 receptions, 8th; 1,276 yards, 4th; 14.0 avg.), Stephon Diggs (849 receiving yards, 25th; 8 TDs, t-8th; 13.3 avg.) and Kyle Rudolph (57 receptions, 10th among tight ends; 532 receiving yards; 8 TDs, t-8th and 2nd among tight ends) all year as opposed to Foles, who had Zack Ertz (74 receptions, 3rd among tight ends; 824 receiving yards, 3rd among tight ends; 8 TDs, t-8th and 2nd among tight ends), but whose wide receivers, Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery, combined for 119 receptions and 1,557 receiving yards, which was slightly more production that Thielen alone. Jeffery and Agholor did score 9 and 8 TDs, respectively, good for 4th and t-8th in the league. The point is Las Vegas and fans alike are disrespecting a guy that keeps pace with Keenum statistically with less help, but probably for good reason. The same reasons Foles should be praised for doing similar things with less talent around him are some the same reasons Las Vegas favors Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith shutting the Eagles receivers down. This game could come down to the air, too, because the field conditions are terrible. Still, the Vikings are a dome team, which doesn’t bode well for a team used to ideal conditions, sans their annual trip to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers. Add the field conditions to the fact the Vikings have the top scoring defense in the NFL and 11th-ranked total defense, while the Eagles are the 4th-ranked scoring defense and the 7th-ranked total defense, and even Philadelphia’s 3rd-ranked running game (total yards and yards per carry) might struggle to gain ground against Minnesota’s 2nd-ranked run defense and we’ll be left with a defensive game that falls well below the 38.5 over/under. Most fans and analysts alike believe the Miracle in Minneapolis is the stuff destiny is made of and feel the Vikings can ride that wave through to a Super Bowl victory. I don’t believe in destiny or miracles, but I believed in Jeff Hostetler. ‘Member him? We all know Eagles fans do.
Philadelphia Eagles fan rejoice in your first Super Bowl appearance in 15 years. Minnesota Vikings fans take pride in the unbelievable season you just experienced and don’t let how close you came being the first team ever to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium bring you to the brink. For the rest of us football fan rejoice in the fact that this game is over and we’ll never have to see it again. After an AFC Championship that provided enough drama that Tony Romo’s added Oscar-worthy performances weren’t even necessary, the NFC Championship was a complete dud for anyone outside of Philadelphia or a cult of FOX Media haters. The Eagles possessed the ball for nine more minutes than the Vikings, outgained Minnesota by 123 total yards and forced three turnovers, all committed by Case Keenum (2 INTs; 1 fumble), who no doubt saw his stock drop from “top paid off season free agent quarterback” to “competing with Teddy Bridgewater for a spot on the Vikings” in one half. This game belonged to the Eagles from the start – well, after that opening touchdown drive by the Vikings – especially Nick Foles (26 of 33 passing for 352 yards; 3 TDs), Alshon Jeffrey (5 receptions for 85 yards; 2 TDs) and the Eagles defense, which not only forced three Keenum turnovers, but returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown (Patrick Robinson). Philadelphia seems to be embracing this underdog role quite well.
Stay tuned for Week 21: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) SUPER BOWL LII EDITION coming February 3rd.