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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Tuesday's Gone: Week 20 #NFL Game Reviews CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND PLAYOFFS EDITION

2018 NFL SEASON
P R O F O O T B A L L M E D I A
 
  Tuesday's Gone: Week 20 #NFL Game Reviews CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND PLAYOFFS EDITION


2018 NFL Playoffs: 
  5-5 .500 (WINS); 6-3-1 .667 (ATS); 6-4 .600 (O/U)

2018 season totals: 
167-87-2 .652 (WINS); 119-129-8 .480 (ATS); 140-113-3 .553 (O/U) 

Note/Key (when applicable): 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); Against the spread (ATS). Point spreads and over/under figures are taken from the opening lines of games from Vegas Insider



For once Drew Brees can count on his defense as they host the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship.

2 Los Angeles Rams 13-4 (+3) @ 1 New Orleans Saints 13-4 (57): Saints 33-27 Rams 26-23
Sunday, 3:05 PM, Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: The playoffs are all about experience. Anything can happen, of course, but chance favors the prepared mind, and I don’t care how much film you study, if you haven’t experienced the game situations you can’t possibly be prepared. Well, the Rams are led by Sean McVay, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald. Those players and coach have exactly two games worth of playoff experience, and just got their first playoff win as a group last week. By comparison Sean Payton and Drew Brees have 13, including a Super Bowl Championship. The game plan here is pretty simple: The #2 scoring offense (LAR, 32.9 ppg) takes on the #3 scoring offense (NO, 31.5 ppg) and the #2 scoring differential (NO, 9.4 ppg) takes on the #3 scoring differential (LAR, 8.9 ppg). So basically 1.4 ppg separates these two teams offensively while their point differentials are within a half a point. The Saints (3.6 OTD/g) and Rams (3.4 OTD/g) even rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in offensive TDs/game. In other words, we have two evenly-matched offenses. The funny thing is it doesn’t end there: The teams defenses are similarly ranked in scoring and total defense and both are ranked high in a key defensive metrics (LAR ranked 3rd in INT; NO ranked 5th in sacks). One key defensive advantage the Rams have had all season is takeaways, in which they rank 3rd in the league, but it’s not as if the Saints turn the ball over much (7th TO ratio). One key advantage the Saints have is their Red Zone TD efficiency (70%), where they capitalize with TDs in the Red Zone 13% more than the Rams. Speaking of TDs over FGs, the Saints are ranked 4th in FG efficiency, while the Rams are ranked 19th; the Saints are also ranked 3rd in PAT efficiency, compared to 11th with the Rams, meaning the Saints simply kick the ball better, especially when it comes to crucial scoring scenarios, like PATs. Granted those numbers are skewed by the Saints playing in a dome, but they just happen to be playing in one on Sunday as well. This game comes down the Saints defense, which has been playing at an all-time level, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Saints usually stifling offense has become stagnant, and sometimes too reliant on Michael Thomas; in fact, the Saints have only averaged 24.3 ppg since their win against the Philadelphia Eagles Week 11, in which they scored 48 points, and in three of those games the Saints only averaged 12 ppg. New Orleans might’ve thought their problems would be solved by the bye, but then the Saints only managed 20 points against the Eagles in the Divisional Round, and could have just as easily lost the game. Yes, it’s been the defense that has put the Saints on their shoulders down the stretch, allowing only 16.9 ppg to their opponents in the eight games since and including that 48-7 win over Philadelphia in Week 11. The offenses might have gotten both teams to the NFC Championship, but the Saints defense will get them to Super Bowl LIII. 

The Saints were the victims of one of the worst, if not the worst, non-call in the history of the playoffs, if not the entire existence of the NFL. Don't talk to me about the other 59 minutes. Don't talk to me about opportunities, missed or otherwise. It's very simple, despite anything that led up to the moment in question, or should I say, the moment in scrutiny: If the officials, crews specially chosen for these games, had called even just one of two egregious and obvious fouls (Blow to the head/helmet-to-helmet contact/defenseless receiver AND/OR pass interference) the Saints would have secured the first down, had the ball at the spot of the pass interference penalty or at least 15 yards from the line of scrimmage due to unsportsmanlike conduct; the Saints would have knelt until it was time to kick the game-winning chip-shot field goal. Let me guess, the contrarians will question whether or not Lutz would have made the chip shot. There are bad beats and then there are shit shows like the one we witnessed Sunday. I'm not sure who I feel worse for, Saints fans or myself for being robbed of the opportunity to cash in on my New England v. New Orleans futures bets.

 
 It's that time of year when Bill Belichick uses the force and turns his mediocre defense into one good enough to win championships.


2 New England Patriots 12-5 (+3) @ 1 Kansas City Chiefs 13-4 (55): Patriots 28-27 Patriots 37-31

Sunday, 6:40 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Cloudy; low 20s)

Reasons: The New England Patriots are playing in their 8th-straight AFC Championship game. Let that sink in. This Patriots dynasty has lasted nearly two decades and the comparisons are essentially over: The Patriots are the greatest NFL franchise in the history of the sport, and even if you want to point to warranted cheating scandals like SpyGate or ridiculous clown shows like DeflateGate, those are two examples from two seasons. What of the other 11 seasons in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era in which the Patriots have earned a first round bye? Exactly, one’s arguments become flimsy at best as one is faced with the best coach in the history of the game and arguably the best player in the history of the game; and they happen to be a pair. Hence the hate, amirite? Yes, the Patriots have constructed a dynasty that will be talked about for decades to come, especially considering it came in the height of the Parity Era, where the salary cap was designed to keep the playing field level. Spare me the tired cheating references. So, is the dynasty over? The Patriots sure seemed to have backed into a bye this year more than any of their 12 byes in the past 18 years, but are there style points for these achievements? No, and the last time I checked, the Patriots, on two weeks rest, made quick work of a 12-4, albeit tired and thin, Chargers team, essentially having won the game 35-7 at halftime. Will the top-seeded Chiefs, the young darlings of the NFL, supplant The Avocado Boy and takes the reigns? Well, New England already beat these Chiefs 43-40 this year in Foxborough. This game isn’t in Foxborough, though, and that game didn’t feature Justin Houston or Eric Berry. It’s funny what a few All-Pro defensive players can do for a team. In the metrics I commonly use to analyze games (listed in green at the top) the Patriots and Chiefs are among the top-10 in ten of those categories; for reference, the teams playing in the NFC Championship game each have nine. So, if the dynasty is over in New England there aren’t any signs of it; by the same token, if there was ever a team to challenge the Patriots AFC supremacy it would certainly be these Chiefs, even without Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs have both a historically great offense and a historically bad defense, despite the Chiefs Divisional Round heroics against a frozen Andrew Luck. The Patriots, however, have a top-10 offense and defense, the latter catapulted into the top-10 with Belichick-ian style late season defensive push, which included yielding only 11.5 ppg the last three games of the season and first three quarters of their first playoff game against the Chargers. That might sound ridiculous, but those final 14 Chargers points skew the numbers and came in garbage time, and the first game in that four-game stretch includes holding the Steelers to 17 points in Pittsburgh. Kansas City only lost four games all season, all to playoff teams (NE; LAR; LAC; SEA) no less, and were 4-2 post-bye week, including the playoffs; those games included an OT win against the Baltimore Ravens and a one-point and one-possession loss to the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks, respectively. In other words, the Chiefs are battle tested. the Chiefs offensive exploits are well-documented, ad nauseum across all media, so there’s no point in dissecting their All-World offense other than to say the Chiefs might struggle to gain as many ground yards against the Patriots (11th-ranked rush defense) as they did against the Colts (180 rushing yards; 5.5 ypc). The game will likely come down to Brady’s ability to get the short, quick passes out to James White and Julian Edelman, taking the Chiefs top-ranked pass rush away while giving Tom the options necessary to get rid of the ball quickly; on defense the Patriots will likely take Tyreek Hill away and make them beat them on the ground or with Travis Kelce. The crowd certainly favors Kansas City, as Arrowhead is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, but the cold weather could belong to the Patriots. If anyone can sling the ball in cold weather it’s Tom Brady. A three-point spread suggest a close game and I couldn’t agree more, but how it plays out is a different story: The Patriots surprised everyone with an offensive onslaught in the Divisional Round, while the Chiefs defense made their first serious appearance of the season in the same week. Guess what else was out-of-character last week? A colossal Andy Reid coaching blunder. I’m betting on one of those blunders this week against his old nemesis Bill Belichick, and I expect experience to play much more of a role against the Chiefs this week than it did for them last week against Indianapolis. The Patriots dynasty might be coming to an end, but you wouldn’t know by turning on your television February 3rd

The Patriots possessed the ball for more than twice as long as the Chiefs (44 minutes to 21 minutes). The Patriots gained nearly twice as many yards as the Chiefs (524 to 290). The Patriots did gain twice as many first downs as the Chiefs (36 to 18). The Patriots also had the game's only two turnovers (2 Brady INTs). Yet, those same Chiefs, led by probably MVP and the next combination of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, scored 24 points in the 4th quarter and managed to send the game to OT.  Thankfully for the Patriots, and the NFL's questionable OT rules if you're a Patriots fan,  New England won the coin toss and Kansas City never saw the ball again. That was the name of the game: Keep the ball away from Mahomes and the Chiefs. Considering the Chiefs scored 31 points in only 21 minutes of possession, 24 in the 4th quarter alone, it's not surprising why Bill Belichick chose that approach. New England chewed up the clock with 48 carries, 29 via Sony Michel, who was the star in consecutive playoff games, this time gaining 113 rushing yards and scoring two more TDs. Brady (348 passing yards; 1 TD; 2 INTs) threw an INT in the end zone, or perhaps this game doesn't require OT, but he also led the Patriots down the field in another iconic two-minute drill that helped set New England up for the go-ahead TD, and then marched the Patriots down the field in under five minutes of OT to set up the game-winning TD. So Brady basically constructed two consecutive drives to win the game, and, well, win the game again. The Patriots left 39 seconds on the board after Brady's 597th 4th-quarter drive to tie or win a game, which for Mahomes (295 passing yards; 3 TDs) probably seemed like an additional quarter, and the for-all-intents-and-purposes-rookie went right down the field and set up the Chiefs for the game-tying field goal. Unfortunately for Kansas City, Mahomes never touched the ball again and the rest is history. The game belonged to the Patriots defense and Belichick's game plan as much as anything, as the Patriots offense not only chewed up the clock, but left the defense fresh enough for a dominating performance in all but the 4th quarter, sacking Mahomes four times and holding Tyreek Hill to only one catch for 42 yards. There were controversial calls on both sides in this game, too, one of which was game-changing for Kansas City (Chris Jones roughing the passer), while several that went against New England (pass interference/defensive holding) would have prevented the Chiefs from climbing back into the game in the first place. At the end of the day experience won out, which should be expected of a Patriots team playing in their 9th AFC Championship game...in a row. What the hell was Julian Edleman thinking on that punt by the way?

Stay tuned for Week 21: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis): SUPER BOWL LIII EDITION coming the week of Super Bowl LIII!


@ProFootballMedia.com
@ProFootballMed



Friday, January 18, 2019

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


2018 NFL SEASON
P R O F O O T B A L L M E D I A
 
  Week 20: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND PLAYOFFS EDITION


2018 NFL Playoffs: 
  4-4 .500 (WINS); 5-3 .625 (ATS); 5-3 .625 (O/U)

2018 season totals: 
167-87-2 .652 (WINS); 119-129-8 .480 (ATS); 140-113-3 .553 (O/U) 

Note/Key (when applicable): 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); Against the spread (ATS). Point spreads and over/under figures are taken from the opening lines of games from Vegas Insider



For once Drew Brees can count on his defense as they host the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship.


2 Los Angeles Rams 13-4 (+3) @ 1 New Orleans Saints 13-4 (57): Saints 33-27

Sunday, 3:05 PM, Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: The playoffs are all about experience. Anything can happen, of course, but chance favors the prepared mind, and I don’t care how much film you study, if you haven’t experienced the game situations you can’t possibly be prepared. Well, the Rams are led by Sean McVay, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald. Those players and coach have exactly two games worth of playoff experience, and just got their first playoff win as a group last week. By comparison Sean Payton and Drew Brees have 13, including a Super Bowl Championship. The game plan here is pretty simple: The #2 scoring offense (LAR, 32.9 ppg) takes on the #3 scoring offense (NO, 31.5 ppg) and the #2 scoring differential (NO, 9.4 ppg) takes on the #3 scoring differential (LAR, 8.9 ppg). So basically 1.4 ppg separates these two teams offensively while their point differentials are within a half a point. The Saints (3.6 OTD/g) and Rams (3.4 OTD/g) even rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in offensive TDs/game. In other words, we have two evenly-matched offenses. The funny thing is it doesn’t end there: The teams defenses are similarly ranked in scoring and total defense and both are ranked high in a key defensive metrics (LAR ranked 3rd in INT; NO ranked 5th in sacks). One key defensive advantage the Rams have had all season is takeaways, in which they rank 3rd in the league, but it’s not as if the Saints turn the ball over much (7th TO ratio). One key advantage the Saints have is their Red Zone TD efficiency (70%), where they capitalize with TDs in the Red Zone 13% more than the Rams. Speaking of TDs over FGs, the Saints are ranked 4th in FG efficiency, while the Rams are ranked 19th; the Saints are also ranked 3rd in PAT efficiency, compared to 11th with the Rams, meaning the Saints simply kick the ball better, especially when it comes to crucial scoring scenarios, like PATs. Granted those numbers are skewed by the Saints playing in a dome, but they just happen to be playing in one on Sunday as well. This game comes down the Saints defense, which has been playing at an all-time level, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Saints usually stifling offense has become stagnant, and sometimes too reliant on Michael Thomas; in fact, the Saints have only averaged 24.3 ppg since their win against the Philadelphia Eagles Week 11, in which they scored 48 points, and in three of those games the Saints only averaged 12 ppg. New Orleans might’ve thought their problems would be solved by the bye, but then the Saints only managed 20 points against the Eagles in the Divisional Round, and could have just as easily lost the game. Yes, it’s been the defense that has put the Saints on their shoulders down the stretch, allowing only 16.9 ppg to their opponents in the eight games since and including that 48-7 win over Philadelphia in Week 11. The offenses might have gotten both teams to the NFC Championship, but the Saints defense will get them to Super Bowl LIII. 



 It's that time of year when Bill Belichick uses the force and turns his mediocre defense into one good enough to win championships.


2 New England Patriots 12-5 (+3) @ 1 Kansas City Chiefs 13-4 (55): Patriots 28-27

Sunday, 6:40 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Cloudy; low 20s)


Reasons: The New England Patriots are playing in their 8th-straight AFC Championship game. Let that sink in. This Patriots dynasty has lasted nearly two decades and the comparisons are essentially over: The Patriots are the greatest NFL franchise in the history of the sport, and even if you want to point to warranted cheating scandals like SpyGate or ridiculous clown shows like DeflateGate, those are two examples from two seasons. What of the other 11 seasons in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era in which the Patriots have earned a first round bye? Exactly, one’s arguments become flimsy at best as one is faced with the best coach in the history of the game and arguably the best player in the history of the game; and they happen to be a pair. Hence the hate, amirite? Yes, the Patriots have constructed a dynasty that will be talked about for decades to come, especially considering it came in the height of the Parity Era, where the salary cap was designed to keep the playing field level. Spare me the tired cheating references. So, is the dynasty over? The Patriots sure seemed to have backed into a bye this year more than any of their 12 byes in the past 18 years, but are there style points for these achievements? No, and the last time I checked, the Patriots, on two weeks rest, made quick work of a 12-4, albeit tired and thin, Chargers team, essentially having won the game 35-7 at halftime. Will the top-seeded Chiefs, the young darlings of the NFL, supplant The Avocado Boy and takes the reigns? Well, New England already beat these Chiefs 43-40 this year in Foxborough. This game isn’t in Foxborough, though, and that game didn’t feature Justin Houston or Eric Berry. It’s funny what a few All-Pro defensive players can do for a team. In the metrics I commonly use to analyze games (listed in green at the top) the Patriots and Chiefs are among the top-10 in ten of those categories; for reference, the teams playing in the NFC Championship game each have nine. So, if the dynasty is over in New England there aren’t any signs of it; by the same token, if there was ever a team to challenge the Patriots AFC supremacy it would certainly be these Chiefs, even without Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs have both a historically great offense and a historically bad defense, despite the Chiefs Divisional Round heroics against a frozen Andrew Luck. The Patriots, however, have a top-10 offense and defense, the latter catapulted into the top-10 with Belichick-ian style late season defensive push, which included yielding only 11.5 ppg the last three games of the season and first three quarters of their first playoff game against the Chargers. That might sound ridiculous, but those final 14 Chargers points skew the numbers and came in garbage time, and the first game in that four-game stretch includes holding the Steelers to 17 points in Pittsburgh. Kansas City only lost four games all season, all to playoff teams (NE; LAR; LAC; SEA) no less, and were 4-2 post-bye week, including the playoffs; those games included an OT win against the Baltimore Ravens and a one-point and one-possession loss to the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks, respectively. In other words, the Chiefs are battle tested. the Chiefs offensive exploits are well-documented, ad nauseum across all media, so there’s no point in dissecting their All-World offense other than to say the Chiefs might struggle to gain as many ground yards against the Patriots (11th-ranked rush defense) as they did against the Colts (180 rushing yards; 5.5 ypc). The game will likely come down to Brady’s ability to get the short, quick passes out to James White and Julian Edelman, taking the Chiefs top-ranked pass rush away while giving Tom the options necessary to get rid of the ball quickly; on defense the Patriots will likely take Tyreek Hill away and make them beat them on the ground or with Travis Kelce. The crowd certainly favors Kansas City, as Arrowhead is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, but the cold weather could belong to the Patriots. If anyone can sling the ball in cold weather it’s Tom Brady. A three-point spread suggest a close game and I couldn’t agree more, but how it plays out is a different story: The Patriots surprised everyone with an offensive onslaught in the Divisional Round, while the Chiefs defense made their first serious appearance of the season in the same week. Guess what else was out-of-character last week? A colossal Andy Reid coaching blunder. I’m betting on one of those blunders this week against his old nemesis Bill Belichick, and I expect experience to play much more of a role against the Chiefs this week than it did for them last week against Indianapolis. The Patriots dynasty might be coming to an end, but you wouldn’t know by turning on your television February 3rd



Stay tuned for Tuesday's Gone: Week 20 #NFL Game Reviews CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND EDITION coming Tuesday!


@ProFootballMedia.com
@ProFootballMed




Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tuesday's Gone: Week 19 #NFL Game Reviews DIVISIONAL ROUND PLAYOFFS EDITION

2018 NFL SEASON
P R O F O O T B A L L M E D I A
 
  Tuesday's Gone: Week 19 #NFL Game Reviews DIVISIONAL ROUND PLAYOFFS EDITION



2018 NFL Playoffs: 
  4-4 .500 (WINS); 5-3 .625 (ATS); 5-3 .625 (O/U)
2018 season totals: 
167-87-2 .652 (WINS); 119-129-8 .480 (ATS); 140-113-3 .553 (O/U) 
Note/Key (when applicable): 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); Against the spread (ATS). Point spreads and over/under figures are taken from the opening lines of games from Vegas Insider
Will he screw it up? No.

 
Indianapolis Colts 11-6 (+5.5) @ Kansas City Chiefs 12-4 (57): Colts 30-28 Chiefs 31-13
Saturday, 4:35 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Cloudy; high 30s)

Reasons: The man who’s largely responsible for the Eagles success last year faces the man who’s known for not quite getting the Eagles where they should’ve been all those McNabb years. The reason for the latter is well documented, specifically Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s innate ability to crush the regular season just to mismanage the clock right down to an early exit from the playoffs despite having a top seed and the bye. The last time these two teams played with any semblance of their current structure was in 2013 when Andrew Luck led the Colts to a 45-44 barn-burning win, in which the Chiefs led 31-10 at halftime only to see Luck open up for 35 second-half points to steal the victory. Luck threw the game-winning TD to TY Hilton with just over four minutes remaining in the game and the rest is history. That could be a familiar sight come Saturday, but the unfamiliar sight will be plausible MVP Patrick Mahomes (5,097 passing yards; 52 Total TDs; 12 INTs) at the helm rather than Alex Smith, RIP. Mahomes has all the hype, but it’s Luck (39 passing TDs) who should probably be winning the MVP award in 2018, and it’s the Colts who have the hottest team in the NFL with the head coach largely responsible for Philadelphia’s mercurial rise last season. The Chiefs have been home resting, a recipe for disaster for teams built on finesse, timing and getting off to fast starts. The Chiefs crush everyone on offense and then sit back and let the clock expire as the opposing team scrambles to catch up. The Colts are a complete team, top-10 in total offense, points scored and allowed, 3rd-down efficiency, INTs and takeaways, while being 11th in total defense. Although the Chiefs rank 1st in sacks and 9th in INTs, they rank as one of the worst defenses of all time, not just this year. Both teams are banged up on offense and the weather should be fine if not a little cold, so neither should affect the game much. What the game will come down to is a rookie quarterback with a ton of pressure to advance, who has been doing nothing but thinking about it for two weeks, with a coach that makes historically poor playoff coaching decisions against the hottest team in the playoffs with an experienced hungry quarterback with a coach who just went through all of this just last year. I usually don’t trust these high-flying one-dimensional barn burner type teams, especially without a defense, on a bye, after destroying the competition all season. I definitely don’t trust those type teams against a team like the Colts, and these aren’t your older brother’s dome Colts (5-4 on the road in 2018 including the playoffs with two dome games against the Houston Texans). 

Dome teams on the road in playoff games in inclement weather have lost something like 67% of their games since domes began popping up in the NFL, and one of the betting mantras is to never bet on such a team. Yet, here I was, making the case for that very scenario. I research and write my previews early in the week, and although I might change the weather forecast, I can't alter my predicted score once I've published it, despite any weather changes; it's just not how it goes, just as one couldn't adjust their ticket once a bet is made on a particular spread. So when I wrote this preview, as noted in the "Weather" section above, the forecast called for clouds and cold. You can imagine my horror when the chance of snow turned to 4" and then 6-9" through the game. I knew it was over when Chris Simms, son of Phil, because apparently the world can't get enough of that dry Simms analytical wit, said that Patrick Mahomes looked "far more comfortable" then Andrew Luck, predicting Mahomes' game would transition nicely in the snow, while Luck's well, might not. Add this to the weather affecting Luck's recently repaired shoulder (stiffness, etc.) in the cold and basically what we have is me missing fundamental ques, like the dome team/bad weather scenario, a player coming back from injury and playing in bad conditions for literally the first time all season and analyzing a young defense on a mercurial rise against an offense that had time to rest and recuperate. I realized late Friday night, with the help of Payne Insider of Bet The Board Podcast, that the last time the Colts had played a top-10 efficiency offense it was the New England Patriots, who put up 38 points on them; the next best offense the Colts faced all year was the New York Giants, ranked 13th in offensive efficiency at the time; we all know how the Giants season played out. Most of the headiest bettors from the sands to the podcast-o-sphere had the Colts at +5, but it didn't happen. In fact, the Chiefs put up 31 points on a defense that had been trending up for nearly three months without the help of a single TD pass from Mahomes. Think about that. Once you put that in perspective you understand Mr. Andy "I Refuse To Run The Ball No Matter What" Reid ran the ball up and down the field (33 caries; 180 yards; 5.5 ypc; 4 TDs) on the legs of 3rd string running back Damien Williams (25 carries; 129 yards; 3 TDs) on a Colts defense that ranked 8th against the run in the regular season. So yeah, many of us had no clue that was coming. Blame it on the snow. 

Much of the Los Angeles Rams regular season success was a function of Todd Gurley and the playoffs will be no different. 

Dallas Cowboys 11-6 (+7) @ Los Angeles Rams 12-4 (49.5): Cowboys 28-27 Rams 30-22
 
Saturday, 8:15 PM, Los Angeles Memorial Stadium, Los Angeles, CA (Weather: Chance rain; low 60s)

Reasons: Speaking of not trusting teams with first round byes that beat up on the competition all year, these Rams might be the least trust worthy of any of the home teams this weekend. The final month of the season, a pretty intuitive indicator of momentum heading into the playoffs, was disastrous for the Rams as they lost two games in Weeks 14-15 to two playoff-bound teams in which their offense was stalled almost completely before closing the season with two wins against two of the five worst teams in the NFL, arguably the worst two (ARZ; SF). Compound that with the questionable status of Todd Gurley, the gear that drives this Rams offense, and no Cooper Kupp, and you might have some trouble against a Cowboys team that either blows up or disintegrates upon feeling themselves. The Cowboys are officially feeling themselves after taking advantage of Sebastian Janikowski’s pathetic hamstring. You could argue as I did last week about the way Dallas ended their season with several one-possession games disguised as a winning streak, but I would counter with points about momentum, which the Cowboys have in spades, while the Rams are left thinking about what happened to them the last time they were in a similar position: They lost 26-13 to the Atlanta Falcons after going 11-5 and hosting a playoff game. Call the Rams a young team back then and I’ll remind you only a year has passed, and after selling the farm to put together a Super Bowl champion now, the pressure is on this relatively young team to not repeat last year. That’s a tough task against one of the league’s best defenses (6th PA; 7th total defense) and the league’s leading rusher (Ezekiel Elliot: 1434 rushing yards; 4.7 ypc; 6 TDs), but if any team can do it, it should be the team that finished the regular season the 2nd-ranked overall offense (Points scored & total offense). The Rams take the ball away (3rd) and usually via interception (3rd), so Dak Prescott beware, but this game ultimately comes down to the classic top-ranked offense versus top-ranked defense, and you know what they say. This time the top-ranked defense also has some sizzle on offense. Did you see Jerry Jones yacht??? 

As if the Colts uncharacteristic play wasn't bad enough, the Cowboys defense also decided to no show the game at the Coliseum, and the Rams ran all over the Cowboys 5th-ranked run defense for a whooping 273 yards on a ridiculous 43 caries (5.7 ypc) and three TDs and had the game won by the ten-minute mark of the 3rd quarter. Having said that, the Cowboys scored on a Dak Prescott 1-yard TD run with 2:11 left in the 4th quarter to make it a one possession game, but it was not to be for Dallas or the bettors who took the Cowboys to cover at +8. The Rams literally ran all over the Cowboys, gaining 456 total yards, with the Dallas defense on their heels and exhausted for much of the game having been on the field for 36:13 (60%) of it. A strong second quarter by Los Angeles (17 unanswered points) and a domination of the run game by Todd Gurley (16 carries; 115 yards; 1 TD) and the game's leading rusher and mid-season pick-up of the year CJ Anderson (23 carries; 123 yards; 2 TDs), of all people, was the name of the game, and despite the one-possession final score, it seemed like much more of a blowout. 



 If you live outside of New England you hate this man.

Los Angeles Chargers 13-4 (+4.5) @ New England Patriots 11-5 (46): Patriots 24-23 Patriots 41-28
Sunday, 1:05PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Chance snow; high 20s)

Reasons: Ahh, everyone outside of New England’s worst nightmare: The one season no one in the football world trusts the Patriots to make any noise, even within New England, and they land the 2nd seed, a first round bye, face a team that has never beaten them in the playoffs with their current QB situation (Philip Rivers v. Tom Brady) and the forecast calls for snow. What could go wrong for the team from Southern California traveling across the country to the Atlantic Ocean for the second week in a row that has never beaten this Tom Brady-led Patriots team in the playoffs? Don’t look now, but this Patriots team, the one that is supposedly one of the worst in the 18-year Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, and likely is, is top-10 in pretty much everything that matters besides total defense (21st and debatable context), 3rd-down efficiency on either side of the ball and sacking the opposing QB (30th). Although glaring, those three aforementioned metrics pale in comparison to being top-seven in the NFL in points scored, total offense, offensive penalty yards, points allowed, TO ratio, takeaways and interceptions while entering the Divisional Round healthy and on the winning side of history. Speaking of history, the Chargers aforementioned woes against the Patriots with Philip Rivers at starting QB are well documented, to the tune of going 2-7 overall and 0-2 in the playoffs (2007 H & 2008 A) since Rivers first played the Patriots (2005); in fact, Rivers won the first game he ever played against Tom Brady and Brady was injured the second time a Rivers-led Chargers team beat the Patriots, so to Dad it probably seems like he’s never beaten the Golden Boy. Think it weighs on Rivers mind? Probably more than remembering how many kids he has. Maybe it should be noted that Brady lost his first game against the Chargers in 2001, then of San Diego, but probably not since all that makes the series in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era is 3-8 overall. The last time the Chargers came to Foxborough in January it was 2008 and the Patriots escaped 21-12; I see much of the same happening here. The Chargers are one of the most talented and statistically-sound teams on both sides of the ball in the NFL, but so are the Patriots, statistically anyway, and the travel, having no home, Philip Rivers’ legacy and these two team’s histories are all staring down Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers. I’m a regression-to-the-mean guy, and this four-game regular season and two-game playoff win streak won’t last forever, but the Patriots have a habit of breaking hearts outside of Baltimore and Denver in these home playoff situations. Patriots win, but the Chargers cover.

Never bet against Tom Brady. Having grown up in New England you'd think I'd know that by now, but even I've bought into the "How long can this last?" and "The Patriots look like trash this season" hype. Realistically, the Patriots might look like trash, but they're the furthest thing from it, and Bill Belichick and Brady proved it again Sunday, with an offensive onslaught for the ages (498 total yards to compliment 41 points) against one of the best defenses in the NFL, specifically with two of the best edge rushers in the NFL in Melvin Ingram (2 tackles; 1 PD; 1 QBH) and Joey Bosa (1tackle). Belichick took Ingram and Bosa completely out of the game, as he often does with the opposing teams best players, and Brady ((343 yards on 77% passing; 1 TD)) had a Brady-like HOF playoff performance. The game really belonged to Sony Michel, who ran wild (24 carries; 129 yards; 3 TDs), and Philip Rivers mental state. The Patriots got to Rivers often (2 sacks; 7 QBH), and on a few early series hit Rivers arguable low and high; when the officials continually ignored Rivers pleas, which were certainly warranted to some degree, but became ridiculous, Rivers basically lost it and couldn't regain his composure. The MVP candidate's stat line looks great (331 passing yards; 3 TDs), but Rivers only completed 50% of his passes and two of his three TDs came in garbage time after the Patriots had long secured the win (NE led 41-14 until 7:38 in the 4th quarter). Rivers also threw an INT and Desmond King fumbled a punt return, which the Patriots quickly turned around and capitalized on with one of those aforementioned Michel TDs. The bottom line is the Patriots dominated the Chargers, who gained 234 of their 335 total yards in the second had after being down 35-7 already, because, as usual, Belichick has his defense prepared for December and January rather than September-November. Never bet against Tom Brady, especially in January in Gillette Stadium, even with a teaser that put the Chargers at +10. You'll most likely lose, as Brady now has more playoff wins (28) than all but five entire NFL franchises (PIT; DAL; NE; GB; SF). The AFC Championship will be a rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs, where the Patriots won a 43-40 shootout in Gillette Stadium, but because of the Miami Dolphins, this game won't be at Gillette Stadium. 


 I'm not sure even the Nice Guy Gods can help Drew Brees against Big Dick Nick.

Philadelphia Eagles 10-7 (+8) @ New Orleans Saints 12-4 (51): Saints 28-24 Saints 20-14
Sunday, 4:40 PM, Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: On paper it’s easy to say the Eagles have no chance. Not only are the Saints offense world beaters once again, they finally have a defense to match. Ok, maybe not match, but the Saints defense is 5th in sacks, 7th in defensive penalty yards and 14th in PA, total defense and takeaways, which may seem mediocre, but is literally 100% better (last to mid-range) than the Saints defense has been in years past when Drew Brees was an MVP candidate and the Super Bowl seemed attainable, but the defense was giving up 35+ ppg. Brees might win the MVP this year, and came within eight yards of another 4,000 yard passing season, but he sat the last game. The book is out on the Saints offense: They score a ton of points (31.5 ppg, 3rd), block well, have dynamic talent in Alvin Kamara (14 TDs) and Michael Thomas (1,405 receiving yards; 9 TDs), have veteran bangers like Mark Ingram and the pedigree to not be phased by the moment. Speaking of moments, what the hell is going on with Nick Foles and these Philadelphia Eagles? As I said in my Los Angeles Chargers vs. New England Patriots analysis, sometimes the mystic aspect of football overwhelms the logical and tangible aspects and a team rides momentum through the playoffs. Ask the 2011 New York Giants. Statistically the Eagles are good at one thing: Sacking the QB (8th). Now things are really getting freaky, because that’s all those 2011 Giants were good at, too. Well, they did have a dynamic receiver in Victor Cruz (Alshon Jeffery) and a quarterback that people didn’t think twice about, but managed to become the Super Bowl hero in Eli Manning (Nick Foles). The two teams even suffered similar adversity throughout their respective seasons. Wow, this is getting creepy, but these Eagles aren’t the 2011 Giants, in part because the Giants weren’t defending Super Bowl champions, and, in part, because Eli ain’t Big Dick Nick. At the end of the day the Saints are the only team I would assume wouldn’t lay an egg after enjoying the first round bye, but these Eagles are riding on some seriously wide wings right now, which means they’re covering for sure. 

Poor Alshon Jeffery. Or poor me, depending on how you look at things, because I became so confident in the Eagles at +325 that I took them outright to win in addition to the +8 point spread. The ball went through some of the best hands in the NFL, right into Marshon Lattimore's hands, his second INT of the game, and with it went the Eagles hopes of taking a 21-20 lead and likely securing an improbable trip to their second NFC Championship game in a row. The Saints offense didn't play particularly well, aside from a record-breaking performance from Michael Thomas (12 receptions; 171 yards; 1 TD), and I suppose the guy throwing to him (301 passing yards; 2 TDs; 1 INT), although Brees' first pass of the game was intercepted, but it was the Saints defense that continued to impress, specifically after the Eagles quickly went up 14-0 with over four minutes remaining in the 1st quarter. The Saints only allowed 90 total yards after those first two Philadelphia scoring drives, completely shutting down Nick Foles (201 passing yards; 1 TD; 2 INTs) and the Eagles (250 total yards). Despite all this domination, the game literally came down to that Jeffery dropped pass, because everyone in the world knows if Jeffery makes that catch the Eagles go on to score and win the game because it's Nick Foles and the Saints have a knack for dramatic home playoff losses. Alas, the man with the self-proclaimed best hands in the NFL let the ball, and the game, slip between them. In times like these we should mention the seemingly myriad injuries to the Eagles defenses throughout the game that allowed the Saints to convert third down after third down, but I didn't have any prop bets on Fletcher Cox or Michael Bennett, so...


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


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