Super Bowl XLIX Preview

I have been on the “Seattle will repeat” bandwagon seemingly ever since last year’s Super Bowl ended. I picked the Seahawks to beat Denver in a rematch, but it’s New England instead. That makes some of the storylines similar, but hopefully the game will be much more competitive.

It’s hard to imagine anything else. This is the closest Super Bowl I’ve ever seen heading into the game. The lack of a real spread from Vegas is further proof of how close this thing is. These are the two best teams in the league and they match up pretty well with each other.

I spent a whole week crafting this study on Russell Wilson’s mobility, so please read that if you haven’t.

I’ll save my conspiracy theory for close to the end, but let’s run through many of the matchups and interesting stats from this game.

Key to the Game: Run to Win

I’m not going to cite any carries-to-wins statistics that lack context or understanding of correlation. I hate to even type this next statement, but I think the team that runs the ball better wins this game. Both teams have too much talent in the secondary and not enough at wide receiver. LeGarrette Blount is a poor man’s version of Marshawn Lynch, but they are similar backs capable of many yards after contact. Both teams like to use play-action passing a lot and not a ton of shotgun. This should be an old-school kind of game.

Statistics certainly favor Seattle to run the ball better. This is the best rushing offense in the league and one of the best since 1989. As Aaron Schatz points out, the Seahawks run the ball most effectively in the directions the Patriots defend the run the worst (middle and off right tackle/end). The Seahawks are also great in short-yardage runs while the Patriots are lousy at getting those stops.

However, the Patriots have improved on the ground since the Jonas Gray game against the Colts and since getting Blount back. The run defense has also improved, though the postseason has done nothing to show that. Baltimore, with injuries to both tackles, ran all over the Patriots with Justin Forsett a week after doing nothing on the ground in Pittsburgh. The Colts even had some decent rushing success, but fell too far behind to stick with it.

I always believe that teams committed to running the ball will find a way to get it done. The Chiefs and Cowboys ran all over the Seahawks in wins, but those two offenses were built for and committed to the run this year. The Patriots tend to have an off/on switch with this year’s running game, and it’s always turned way on against the Colts, but they haven’t gashed many other teams on the ground. They shredded the Bengals good, but that was one of the worst rush defenses in the league. The Seahawks are quite solid in this area, holding nine teams to under 65 rushing yards. They’re even better since getting Bobby Wagner back and adjusting to life without Brandon Mebane. Blount’s going to have to create some yardage himself with broken tackles and cuts like he showed against the Colts.

If Tom Brady has to throw 50 passes, the Seahawks might win by double digits. Seattle usually eats up that dink-and-dunk attack. This postseason, Brady is just 7-of-19 on passes thrown more than 10 yards. He’s not stretching the field, so Seattle needs to pounce on that.

You have to use your backs against this defense even if the carries aren’t overly effective (see San Diego game in Week 2). I also think short passes to backs over the middle work well against this defense as run substitutes, though Blount’s not much of a receiver and they tend to use Shane Vereen out wide where I don’t think he has a great matchup this week.

Will Seattle’s Lack of Weapons Come Home to Roost?

Believe it or not, Dallas was the only defense to keep Seattle under 100 rushing yards this year. Russell Wilson had a really bad day, though I remember highlighting how close the receivers were to several big catches. The offense just had an off day, which they can’t afford to have on Sunday of course.

I’m probably grossly overrating the wide receiver position, but I feel if the Seahawks had Golden Tate, they would be favored by at least four points.

Bill Belichick is going to look at this offense and see that it’s Lynch and Wilson running, then it’s just Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and tight end Luke Willson. There really isn’t a No. 3 WR after Paul Richardson went on IR. Baldwin, the Deion Branch of his era, is good and can play in the slot and get away from Revis Island, but he’s not likely to dominate the game. Kearse makes big plays and maybe he can beat a Brandon Browner or Kyle Arrington deep, but he has four career games with 4-5 catches. He’s not going to make a lot of plays. I really like what Willson has done down the stretch, and maybe he can attack a Pats defense that ranks 30th in DVOA against tight ends. Then again, I thought Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener would have success last time out and they did next to nothing. Again, my faith in numbers gets tested greatly this time of year.

Remember, this is a season where offenses led by Geno Smith and Alex Smith had more success against the Patriots than Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck did. That pisses me off for some reason, but I guess it makes sense. You can’t put everything on the quarterback against a great defensive mind and talented secondary, so the run-based offense is key. In Week 1, it was Knowshon Moreno carrying Miami to victory over the Patriots. So why can’t Lynch play well this week? And we know Seattle won’t shy away from who they are.

And even with the limited number of weapons, this Seattle offense tends to produce anyway. When they played in Arizona in Week 16, this offense piled up 596 yards against a defense with a talented secondary and aggressive play-calling. It was one of the best offensive performances of the season.

Pete Carroll considers any pass that gains 16+ yards and any run that gains 12+ yards to be an Explosive Play. The Seattle offense led the league with 135 Explosive Plays and the defense allowed the fewest Explosive Plays (76).

If the running game’s working, then Seattle has a chance to shrink the game and minimize the number of possessions, which means Brady’s offense has to play even more efficiently against a great defense.

Yeah, it’s nice to be strong on both sides of the ball. Let’s not forget Seattle’s offense is 5th in DVOA this year (10th at passing even) and got better after dumping Percy Harvin and his Screens to Nowhere.

The X-Factor: The Gronk

I’m not sure any individual can have a bigger impact on this Super Bowl than Rob Gronkowski. This is moment the Patriots have been waiting for. They have a healthy Gronk in the Super Bowl and he can play like there’s no tomorrow. He only had three targets in Super Bowl XLVI, because he wasn’t 100 percent. I actually think some of his low-production games this year were just a result of the Patriots saving Gronk for this game. I expect a minimum 12 targets in this one as he’s the only receiver that really can threaten this defense. He can also open things up for someone like Julian Edelman.

Gronk is like that recurring boss in a video game with the monster life bar that you just have to chip away at. However, he never makes it to the final battle because something lame takes him out early like a one-shot RPG, or getting hurt on an extra-point attempt. But he’s in the final battle this year and the Seahawks have to find a way for him not to take over this game. You only get one life in a Super Bowl.

I think the so-called weakness of the Seattle defense against tight ends is a bit overblown since it hasn’t been a problem lately, but we’re talking about the best tight end in the league. Guys like Julius Thomas and Jimmy Graham were flat out soft against this defense. The Gronk only knows hard. Yeah, start the next erotica chapter right here.

The Seahawks have the safeties to deal with him, but they’re not at full health right now. Inside the red zone, I’m not sure any defense can stop this guy, and that’s where he really has a chance to score. Most of the touchdowns against Seattle are from inside the 10-yard line and that’s where Brady usually throws his scores anyway.

No tight end has ever won a Super Bowl MVP, though I think Gronkowski is a guy we can look back on one day as the best to ever play the position. Here’s his opportunity for a career highlight.

Pressure vs. Sacks

You have to get after the quarterback, but success for Seattle should be measured in pressures and not sacks. Brady gets rid of the ball very fast and has only taken 15 sacks since October. I wasn’t impressed with Seattle’s rush against Green Bay, but thankfully the coverage is good-to-great. This Seattle defense has to blitz more than last year’s team to get pressure, which could be a problem if they’re not getting to Brady.

Just look at last year’s Super Bowl for a sign of what Seattle needs. Peyton Manning was getting rid of the ball fast, but two quick edge pressures from Cliff Avril on third down basically decided the game. Both led to interceptions, including the pick-six that made it 22-0. That’s two plays to completely turn the game around with pressure. Out of Avril, Michael Bennett, Kevin Williams and Bruce Irvin, they have to get some big pressures.

On the other side, this isn’t a strong New England pass rush and so far it has zero sacks in the playoffs. No team has ever won a Super Bowl with zero sacks in the postseason. I think they have to sack Wilson a couple of times in this game. You can pressure Wilson into bad plays, but taking him down for a sack is a good way to derail a drive for a run-heavy offense.

The Seahawks have allowed a sack in 52 of Wilson’s 55 games. Interestingly enough, he was not sacked in last year’s Super Bowl against Denver.

Unfamiliar Opponent and Playoff Consistency

I don’t really want to draw much of anything from the last meeting between these teams in 2012. I mean, Aaron Hernandez caught a touchdown that day. That’s how far back we’re talking. I also think that New England offense was better, the defense was worse, and the Seahawks weren’t a juggernaut yet and are better on defense.

But then you have this stat: since 2001 the Patriots are 10-0 against new playoff opponents and 10-8 in rematches. So they prepare quite well for a new team, though we know that includes a share of close calls against teams like the 2001 Raiders (Tuck Rule), 2003 Panthers, 2006 Chargers (Choke Fest) and 2011 Ravens (Evans/Cundiff). Also this year’s Ravens.

The Seahawks are 6-1 in the playoffs with Wilson and I still say his best playoff game is the only one he lost. They were down 27-7 in the fourth quarter on the road and still came back to take a late lead. They have come back from 14-0 in Washington, 10-0 against San Francisco and of course the incredible comeback against Green Bay in this year’s NFC Championship Game. This team is hard to kill.

Expect a Competitive Game

Seattle has led or been within one score in the fourth quarter in 69 consecutive games, tying the NFL record.

SEANOBLOW

The Patriots have only had two games in their last 82 games where they trailed by double-digits for the entire second half, though two of those games are recent (2013 AFC Championship and in Kansas City this year).

These are arguably the two most competitive teams in the NFL. They just don’t come out with dud performances, and even if you get them down by 21+ points, they can still make a game of it by the fourth quarter.

Don’t forget: all Russell Wilson games end up close eventually. And apparently every New England Super Bowl this century goes down to the wire. So even if it’s a lopsided start, believe in the close finish.

The Comebacks

Both of these teams are fortunate to be here as this is the first ever Super Bowl between teams that trailed by 14+ points in the postseason. Baltimore led New England 14-0 and 28-14. Green Bay led Seattle 16-0. In fact, Sunday’s winner will have the second-largest playoff comeback ever for a Super Bowl champion.

Big comebacks in the Super Bowl are very uncommon, but I think much like last year I would sooner trust Seattle to make the big comeback than the pocket passing team. Belichick’s defenses have surrendered some of the biggest leads in Super Bowl history.

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Seattle is 46-7 (.868) under Pete Carroll when leading by 7+ points at any time in the game. Dallas erased a 10-0 deficit this season in its win, but the Seahawks are really tough to come back against since that usually requires a lot of passing.

That’s where Seattle is unique. This team will almost never abandon the run regardless of the score. Lynch is still part of the offense and Wilson’s rushing can produce chunk plays. Through 55 games (including playoffs), Wilson has yet to throw more than 37 passes in a game. I’ve looked at that as far as the regular season goes and it’s downright historic.

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Wilson had 45 dropbacks in his career debut in 2012 — just so happens that game was in Arizona, site of Super Bowl XLIX. He’s only had seven games total with at least 45 dropbacks, and none with more than 48. He averages 33.9 dropbacks per game (excluding spikes and kneeldowns).

Seattle should feel confident with a close first half. In the second half, they have the No. 1 ranked offense and No. 1 ranked defense in DVOA. That’s pretty crazy if you think about it.

Home-field vs. Neutral Field

I think the toughest places to win in the NFL are Seattle and New England. Both teams are more vulnerable away from home, but I think the Patriots lose a bit more here. Teams just don’t come back when they fall behind in New England, yet we see it more frequently on the road, including Seattle’s 13-point 4QC in 2012. This is supposed to be a neutral crowd, though Arizona is a rival of Seattle’s and the locals probably won’t give them a warm welcome. Then again, I like to think the other 31 fanbases hate the Patriots, so the crowd might be a little pro-Seattle.

Seattle’s Points Allowed

The Patriots are not likely to score a lot of points on Seattle. At least not without major contributions from defense/special teams (returns and takeaways).

The Seahawks have led the league in scoring defense three years in a row, but there are even more impressive feats than that.

I’m sick and tired of hearing about Wilson’s 10-0 record against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. The part that matters is the defense held those quarterbacks to 13.8 offensive points per game. None scored more than 23 points, though Brady is the high-point man with 23 in that 2012 loss. That’s incredible work to shut down the best in the game (yeah, Eli aside).

In 71 games since 2011, the Seattle defense has only allowed 30 offensive points four times:

  • 10/2/2011 vs. Atlanta: 30 points allowed in 30-28 loss
  • 1/13/2013 at Atlanta: 30 points allowed in 30-28 playoff loss, but Matt Ryan needed a GWD in last 31 seconds to get to 30
  • 9/14/2014 at San Diego: 30 points allowed in 30-21 loss, but San Diego got to 30 with late field goal on drive that started at Seattle 5
  • 10/12/2014 vs. Dallas: 30 points allowed in 30-23 loss, but Dallas got to 30 with late field goal on drive that started at Seattle 23

Seattle’s offense turning the ball over on downs deep in its own end is really the reason San Diego and Dallas hit 30 this year.

The good news for New England is you shouldn’t have to score 30+ to win this game. Wilson is 0-6 when the Seahawks allow more than 24 points. He’s 5-8 when Seattle allows more than 20 points.

Super Bowl Windows

It was nearly 10 years ago to the date when the Patriots became the last repeat champion in the NFL. That makes this the longest stretch ever without a repeat champion in the NFL, including even the pre-Super Bowl days. I’m just saying…

Every decade since the 1950’s had a team emerge as a dynasty. Sometimes we didn’t know for sure who that team was until the end of the decade, but it happened. The Seahawks best fit the traits of the next dynasty, but they have to win this game to stay on course.

We know that multiple titles come in small windows.

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Joe Montana won his titles over the span of nine seasons. Brady is trying to get his fourth over a span of 14 years, which would easily be a record. That sounds hard, though just think of the 49ers winning five titles from 1981-1994, the same 14-year window. The only difference is the 49ers switched over to George Seifert and Steve Young, while Brady and Belichick have been the constants in New England. If you keep building good teams that compete for Super Bowls every year then it’s not that unlikely to stretch out a title window, though history favors Seattle here.

Teams trying to repeat are 8-3 in the Super Bowl. The 1978 Cowboys, 1983 Redskins and 1997 Packers lost.

There’s also the young quarterback vs. old quarterback thing where 14 of the last 15 Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks were age 30 or younger. In this era that matters more because of the salary cap and the flexibility to build a deeper roster.

Wilson is 26, Brady is 37, and again I’m just saying…

Tom Brady’s “GOAT” Legacy Game, Take Three

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I probably could have stopped at the picture, but really, what we’re talking about here is that level of silly.

Is Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of all time if he wins this game?

So his performance in said game doesn’t even matter? Either way, one game should not decide if you think a player is the greatest of all time or not. The body of work should tell you that. How many chances do we give a player to underperform and lose that big game before we stop asking the question? The same question was out there in 2007 when Brady could have capped off 19-0, then “we’re only going to score 17 points?” happened. The same question was out there in 2011 when the Giants again held Brady in check in another Super Bowl.

If Eli Manning doesn’t engineer two great drives, am I supposed to believe Brady is the best QB ever for leading his offense to 13 points against the 2001 Rams, outdueling Jake Delhomme, watching Donovan McNabb puke and then getting two 14-10 and 17-15 wins over the Giants for his rings? Really?

And has anything changed this year with Brady? I don’t see a better quarterback. I’m not sure 2014 would even rank in the top five of Brady seasons (2004, 2007 and 2010-12 say hello in no order but chronological). If he shreds the Seahawks, then you can likely say he had his best playoff game. He will have won his fourth ring. Congrats. Terry Bradshaw and Bart Starr have nine rings between them and I don’t put either in my top 13.

You should already know before Sunday night where Brady ranks for you. A win doesn’t move him anywhere for me. A Craig Morton-caliber performance doesn’t move him out of the top five, which always puts him in that discussion for the best.

The Injuries

It wouldn’t be a Super Bowl preview without some injuries to talk about. Seattle has both of the big ones with Richard Sherman (sprained elbow) and Earl Thomas (dislocated shoulder) not at 100 percent. I think these would be bigger stories, especially Thomas, if there wasn’t so much crap surrounding this build-up with Deflategate and Marshawn Lynch’s media etiquette. We’re talking about arguably the two best defenders on this team playing as one-arm bandits.

Sherman should be fine and likely won’t see much action his way (Brandon LaFell?), but what happens if Thomas lands on that shoulder while trying to tackle an ox like Gronkowski or take down Blount? We might see a play or two go for quite a few more yards than it should have because of these injuries. Throw in a knee injury for Kam Chancellor on the next-to-last play in practice on Friday, and it’s as if the Madden Curse is coming to collect on the Legion of Boom here.

Conspiracy Theory Time

We know the footballs will be at regulation pressure this week, but what about the officiating? All season Seattle has had some interesting penalty splits: most accepted penalties (130) in the league and the beneficiary of the fewest accepted penalties on its opponents (70). Seattle has too many pre-snap penalties on offense, but what gives with the opponents not racking up many calls in their games?

Unfortunately, the NFL has assigned the Super Bowl to Bill Vinovich, one of the worst referees in the league. This guy always has the nervous look of someone that wants to take a shit in a public restroom, but needs a lookout to make sure no one’s coming.

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Just the other day Vinovich was publicly confused about the process of signaling this ineligible/eligible farce from the Patriots. Speaking of which, how hard up to win another Super Bowl was Belichick when he decided to break this stuff out down by 14 points in the playoffs? Tackle-eligible plays are nothing new, but the four-OL sets and playing around with running backs as ineligible receivers is right out of the script from 90’s kid sports movies like Little Giants and Rookie of the Year. It’s cheap and I expect the NFL to take a closer look in the offseason.

So combine a bad ref with these tricks and Seattle might allow a big play or a touchdown that shouldn’t even count. I was confused if tackle Nate Solder’s touchdown was legal or not in the AFC Championship Game. Tony Dungy said it was an illegal formation, then said it was okay. Days later, the NFL Network crew said it was illegal. Finally, the NFL’s VP of Officiating Dean Blandino said it was in fact an illegal substitution and should not have counted.  That was a third-down play with the score 17-7 in the third quarter. Would have been nice to get that one right and maybe keep the Colts in the game for another drive. Now imagine this happens in the Super Bowl in a tighter game. That’s why the NFL has to make this a point of emphasis in the offseason.

I promised a conspiracy theory, so here it goes. Put yourself in the NFL’s shoes right now. You’re investigating a team in the Super Bowl, the most watched event of the year, for possibly deflating the pressure in the footballs to gain an unfair advantage. This team has defiantly come out swinging at you in the media, asking for an apology even. The story has been the lead on the national news and everyone knows about it by now.

Can you really let this controversial season end with that team crowned the champion? The investigation will not conclude until after the Super Bowl, but if the Patriots are the champs, you almost have to clear them completely just so your champion isn’t branded a cheater. That would be another PR nightmare for the league if the investigation found wrongdoing. A big asterisk on this postseason would be good, but not enough for many people.

So I say watch the officiating closely in this game, especially in high-leverage situations like on third down. It’s not always about what gets called, but what doesn’t get called can be even bigger. I know Vinovich won’t have his usual crew around him, but whatever. Officiating failures happen under his watch frequently. Let’s look at two from this year’s Denver-Seattle game in Week 3.

Here is Wes Welker being interfered with on a 3rd-and-2 pass. Marcus Burley was all over the receiver as the ball gets there.

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On the next possession, Denver lined up for a 3rd-and-1 run. The Seahawks clearly jumped offsides and the play was stopped for no gain. A flag was thrown, a long conference took place and Vinovich said the defender did not get into the neutral zone. Are you f’n kidding me? He was lined up beyond the ball. Even CBS’ Mike Carey knew this was a penalty.

seaoffside

Both plays were in the third quarter, both on third down, and each should have been a penalty that extended Denver’s drive. Nothing was called and the Broncos punted twice. Those are big drive-enders, which can be huge against a team like Seattle that can shrink the game with its running attack and make your offense play even more efficiently against that great defense.

By the way, the Seahawks are 5-0 since 2012 when Vinovich is the referee.

Now someone’s going to confuse this for me saying the referees are going to cheat for Seattle. That’s bullshit. I am just throwing out a theory that it would be a bad thing for the NFL for the Patriots to win this game. The Seahawks do not need the referees’ help to win this game. The Seahawks can win this game with their usual officiating disadvantage. I’m just going to keep a close eye on crucial downs and how things are officiated with teams known for their aggressive play.

Special Teams

I saved this for last, because my gut tells me with all the attention on the interesting matchups in this game, special teams are an area that could be big. The Patriots had horrible field position in Super Bowl XLVI (average start: own 16) and that was a contributing factor to the loss and only 17 points. The Patriots have been better this year than Seattle on special teams. I trust Stephen Gostkowski more than Steven Hauschka at kicker. If Edelman’s bottled up at receiver, then maybe punt return is an area where he could break some big ones to give the Patriots an advantage.

The Final Prediction

I promised I wasn’t going to overanalyze another Super Bowl, but I guess I can’t help myself. After all the off-field noise associated with the last two weeks, I just wanted to look at some real football stuff.

So in the game’s simplest terms, I think the offense that achieves balance will win this game. This won’t be an aerial show. This will be an old-school game with running the ball, play-action passing and tight ends contributing big.

I rode the Seahawks all year, and I want to make this very clear: the Seahawks have a great shot of winning this game. Got it?

But I think with two weeks to prepare, Belichick has to find a way to contain Lynch and slow down this limited offensive attack. I don’t think New England’s dink-and-dunk will have a ton of success, but if it does, someone’s going to have to explain to me why it worked while other teams have failed at doing the same.

Remember, it takes some pretty special and unusual plays to beat the Seahawks. Think of the 3rd-and-20 play from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams this year. The crazy punt return touchdown and the fake punt by the Rams. The one-handed catch by Antonio Gates. If we go back to last year, the blocked field goal for a touchdown in Indianapolis and some of those wild T.Y. Hilton catches. The fluky interception kicked up into the air against Arizona.

Gronkowski is the guy that can make those plays. Think about his one-handed catch against Denver this year. He’ll have to play at that level this week and I think the Patriots will give him every opportunity to be that dominant force.

Final prediction: Patriots 24, Seahawks 20

Super Bowl MVP: Rob Gronkowski

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2014 NFL Conference Championship Predictions: Number 12 Looks Just Like You

This is a Championship Sunday where the number 12 should be very decisive.

Three of the quarterbacks wear No. 12 and Russell Wiiiiiiiil-son is cheered on by Seattle’s 12th man.

  • NE: Since last winning a Super Bowl, the Patriots are 4-8 in the playoffs when the game is a rematch from that regular season. 
  • IND: The Colts are 12-0 in rematches (9-0 vs. AFC South, 3-0 in playoffs) in the Andrew Luck/Chuck Pagano era.
  • GB: Since 2012, the Packers are 2-10 in road games against teams with a final winning record (worst record for any team with multiple playoff appearances in that time).
  • SEA: Russell Wilson is 4-8 when Seattle allows more than 20 points (0-6 when allowing more than 24 points).

Do any of these 12-game samples mean a lot for tomorrow? Maybe not, but it beats any of Heath Evans’ “Tommy” flavored audible pollution.

We know Green Bay lost 36-16 in Seattle in Week 1 and Indy lost 42-20 at home to New England in Week 11. Fortunately, the NFL is a complex game capable of producing a wide range of results. Teams change a lot from week to week as well and I think we will see more competitive games this week, even if the winning teams look familiar. But hey, this is why the regular season is so important. Green Bay would be in a much better spot if the game was at Lambeau, which it almost certainly would have been with a win in Week 1 or a win in Buffalo late in the season. The Broncos and Colts had their chances against the Patriots, but both were outclassed and that stretch put the Patriots in the driver’s seat for this No. 1 seed. Yeah, sometimes it’s not bad to lose a game so you can learn from it for a rematch, but the numbers prove your best odds of winning again are playing at home. So win the big head-to-head matchups in the regular season and your path to the Super Bowl should be smoother.

Colts at Patriots

I said all I really could on this one at FO this week. Please read it if you haven’t, or click again out of appreciation. We also have a NFC preview by Aaron Schatz.

I think the Colts put up a good fight, but NE’s balance is too much to overcome again.

Final prediction: Colts 20, Patriots 27

Packers at Seahawks

Man, opening night feels like a long time ago. The Seahawks were like a kid on Christmas playing with their new toy, Percy Harvin, complete with “Jet Sweep Action.” By New Year’s that toy was collecting dust in the corner. But for a weekend, Darrell Bevell was a genius for throwing Dom Capers’ defense off all night. Marshawn Lynch looked incredible. Wilson had some dropped interceptions. Eddie Lacy was a dud. Aaron Rodgers played one of the worst games of his career and submitted to the Richard Sherman matchup. Bryan Bulaga was injured and things really went to hell on the line.  Seattle tackled really well and limited YAC. That second half was not even competitive from the Packers.

Plenty of things have changed since, though I still think the Seahawks are the better team. Harvin is gone and Paul Richardson is on IR, but you get the sense that it doesn’t even matter for this Seattle offense. Wilson will find a way, on 37 attempts or fewer, to make enough plays, either through design or schoolyard scrambles. Doug Baldwin was very quiet in Week 1 too and should play a bigger part. Jermaine Kearse has made more big plays in two postseasons than some HOF-caliber wideouts have in their whole careers. Someone like Ricardo Lockette could even step in and catch a deep ball. I remember him beating Aqib Talib for a touchdown in Week 3. That’s the value of having a really good quarterback. Every receiver is an option. I like what Luke Willson is doing at tight end and of course Lynch is going against the worst defensive unit playing this weekend: Green Bay’s 24th-ranked run defense. Seattle has won its last two playoff games in convincing fashion without Lynch doing much. I think this is a game where he really needs to go over 100 yards to sustain longer drives that keep Rodgers off the field and shrink his margin for error. Seahawks hit big plays last week, but I think this offense works better with the longer drives that shorten games and makes the opposing offense have to play even more efficiently against the best defense in the league. I’m not in love with Seattle’s offense in this matchup, but I think they will play well again.

We have strength (GB O) vs. strength (SEA D) on the other side, and by now I think we know to side with defense in these matchups. How healthy Rodgers (calf) is obviously dominates the conversation here. If he plays like he did in the first half last week, unwilling to move in the pocket and taking bad sacks, then this might be another 20-point blowout. He has to play like he did in the second half, though Seattle covers, pressures and tackles much better than Dallas. Yeah, that’s the long way of saying this is a much better defense. Am I worried that Seattle’s dominant stretch has come against subpar QBs/offenses, and that Carolina actually moved the ball decently with a banged-up Cam Newton? Just a little. This is still Rodgers and the Packers, so a great game on offense is always a possibility. However, in Rodgers’ last two trips to Seattle he has scored a total of 28 points and been sacked 11 times. Even when healthy this year Rodgers was held under 200 yards on the road against SEA/DET/BUF and under 17 points on the scoreboard. The Vikings also contained him in Minnesota and that defense was just average. This GB offense was spectacular at home, but much easier to defend on the road. I also think Seattle’s track record against the best quarterbacks in the league is valid enough to think they won’t be shredded in this game.

Rodgers has to play very well, but Lacy must be a big part of the offense. I think the key to beating Seattle is sticking with the run even when it’s not overly effective. You can’t expect your quarterback to throw 45+ passes and win this game against that defense. Look at how San Diego played Seattle in Week 2. Philip Rivers handed off 26 times for 84 yards and threw 37 passes with 9 catches by running backs. Those 37 passes were the 2nd-most thrown against Seattle in a win since 2012. Only Matthew Stafford had more with 49 in 2012, though that version of Seattle wasn’t as good on defense. Lacy has to hit some chunk plays and break tackles to wear down this speedy defense.

The receivers are very interesting here. We have Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams against Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Tharold Simon. Rodgers shouldn’t aggressively attack Sherman, but he can’t repeat Week 1 and just not throw there. The Packers had Jarrett Boykin in Week 1 with the rookie Adams not adjusted yet. Well, he’s had two huge games in GB’s biggest wins of the year against New England and Dallas. Unfortunately, he did nothing in between those games (four catches for 29 yards) so he’s a real wild card. If Adams plays at a high level than the Packers may have something here with Simon as the weak link. I expect Nelson to play much better this week. He had 14 targets in Week 1, but didn’t make big plays. Cobb’s had a weird season: 10 touchdowns thru Week 10 and only two since. You expect Sherman to win his matchup, but the Packers have enough receivers to move around and make plays. Tight ends can also be of value against this defense, but I don’t really think of Andrew Quarless or Richard Rodgers as weapons. Sure, they can run routes and catch the ball, but they’re mostly productive if Rodgers throws them strikes. This Seattle defense has only allowed four touchdown passes that gained 10+ yards, best in the NFL since the 2009 Jets (3). Rodgers has to be pinpoint in this one, and while he might have his best offensive line yet, he doesn’t have full health and I think that’s going to show up on Sunday.

I still don’t trust Mike McCarthy’s game management, or his team in crunch time. Home field is big here, with a 25-2 record since 2012 (Wilson era). Seahawks have led in 54 consecutive games (NFL record). They’re always at least within a score in the 4th quarter. This is the team to beat right now. The potential for a dynasty has been there and to do that, you have to win a game like this.

Final prediction: Packers 19, Seahawks 27

Yep, I almost went with the same score in both games. I know what I want to see happen this weekend, and it is 100% self-serving.

Hey, why not? Winning the Super Bowl is a young man’s game and the internet is just dying for that Luck/Wilson debate to take things to another level.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Week 10: 10-3
  • Week 11: 8-6
  • Week 12: 12-3
  • Week 13: 9-7
  • Week 14: 11-5
  • Week 15: 14-2
  • Week 16: 10-6
  • Week 17: 11-5
  • Wild Card: 3-1
  • Divisional: 2-2
  • Total: 177-86-1

2014 NFL Divisional Round Predictions: Bunch of Homers

Did you notice a trend on Wild Card weekend? Defenses stepped up again. The four winning teams allowed 10, 16, 17 and 20 points. That includes a couple of safeties from the Saturday games, and it’s not like Ryan Lindley did much to earn those two Arizona touchdowns on short fields. Only Dallas gave up 20 thanks to a slow start, but came through with the late fumble to clinch the win.

It’s not so much about running this time of year, but strong quarterback play and team defense are what drive so many playoff victories.

This week it’s all about elite home teams trying to avoid upsets on the greatest week of the NFL year. This year’s group is especially dominant at home with a combined 30-2 record. Dallas won in Seattle and the Bills beat New England in a meaningless game with plenty of reserves getting playing time. It’s going to be hard to get a road upset this week, but every season since 2005 has had at least one in the Divisional round.

Ravens at Patriots

Since 2001, the Patriots are 9-0 in the playoffs against a new opponent and 9-8 in a rematch from the regular season. Baltimore plays New England so often that it’s not really a “new” opponent, but so be it. I actually think there’s been too much hype about the Ravens’ past success in Foxboro, which includes two playoff wins (2009 and 2012) and that of course should be three without one of the most disastrous endings ever (2011 AFC Championship). But these teams have changed a lot since 2012. Then again, I’m willing to bet these teams changed a lot from 2009 to 2012, and Baltimore still kicked NE’s ass in that second half on its way to the Super Bowl. Still, for a guy like Baltimore cornerback Rashaan Melvin, those past games mean nothing this week.

The Ravens are uniquely built to deal with the Patriots better than any team in the AFC this year. A big part of that is coaching, because John Harbaugh, Dean Pees and company are the only staff in the AFC playoffs you could trust to head into Foxboro and get the job done. Bill Belichick has a massive advantage over the other coaches, especially if you give him a bye week to prepare. Pittsburgh’s elimination has probably helped create a better AFC playoffs.

The defense that steps up is going to win this game. We have trashed Tom Brady’s deep ball so much this week I almost expect him to hit one in this game, though it will probably be on a blown coverage or something of that nature. Still, that’s a possibility with this secondary and the way NE schemes so well to get receivers open. Brandon LaFell checked his verticality at the door when he joined the Patriots this year and we know Julian Edelman isn’t that kind of receiver. In the past Baltimore has done a good job of limiting that slot WR’s production in this offense. He might catch nine passes, but only for 70 yards. Baltimore is actually quite good at defending the short passes this year (ranked 3rd), but those deep throws are where this defense is most vulnerable (ranked 31st). That’s why the front seven, which is led by so many great veterans, must dominate this game with Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata applying pressure on Brady. This isn’t a very consistent OL or running game like the Patriots have had in past years. Look at how the Jets held NE to 17 points recently. They got after Brady despite a poor secondary. The Ravens can do the same through their front seven and general coaching familiarity with the NE offense.

A difference maker this year should be Rob Gronkowski, who is finally healthy for the playoffs. How do you ever match up with that guy? He can take this game over, and he may have to because this isn’t that dominant of an offense unless he’s playing at a high level. Everyone wants to ignore the first month of the season for the Patriots when Gronk was recovering. Okay, let’s do that. That means the worst four games of the season for this offense have been the last four. In the last eight games of the season Brady’s YPA is just 6.81 (below league average). When you try to do everything methodically on offense, those little mistakes like penalties, drops and sacks can easily kill drives.  The Ravens are also the No. 1 defense in the red zone, so they’ll have to hold up there and limit Brady to field goals. Again, uniquely constructed to give the offense a chance in this one.

The Ravens will also be hoping there’s some rust from the NE offense, which had a bye week and rested guys in Week 17. The last time this offense looked really sharp was in the second half against Miami. That was on December 14.

Joe Flacco has to live up to his playoff hype and play a great game against a stingy defense that has allowed 12 points after halftime in its last six games. Yeah, that’s just ridiculous and has only been done three times since 1960 (1976 Steelers and 1989 Redskins) to end a season. Flacco has — gulp — been the most consistent playoff quarterback in the AFC since 2011, but he’s relied largely on avoiding interceptions despite his general inaccuracy and willingness to launch bombs. I think he’s going to find quickly that won’t work well against this secondary with Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Devin McCourty. Flacco has to be more precise or there will be tips and picks. He also has to be very nimble and able to escape pressure and still make plays like he did in Pittsburgh. Gary Kubiak’s offense is known for play action and bootleg action, and used to have plenty of success against Belichick defenses when Kubiak was with Mike Shanahan in Denver. Hell, Jake Plummer went 3-0 against the Pats in 2005-06. Flacco has to hit big plays and limit mistakes, which is far easier said than done in the toughest building to win in the NFL.

The Patriots have allowed one fourth-quarter comeback at home since 2001 (Eli Manning in 2011). ONE.

Left tackle Eugene Monroe is questionable for the game. That worries me, because the rookie James Hurst is a major liability. I also don’t like guard Marshal Yanda at right tackle, because that means he’s farther away from Vince Wilfork in the middle. This might not be another good day for Justin Forsett, who needs to help out. At least the Ravens are unique in their passing game that there’s no obvious No. 1 WR for Revis to try taking away. Flacco will throw to whoever, but both Smiths have to show up big. I also think Owen Daniels deserves some look in this game. The Patriots rank 30th against tight ends.

Should be a good one, but I think New England is a superior team playing at home. The only good team’s Baltimore really been able to beat was Pittsburgh (twice), and that team was very flawed. I felt good about the Ravens in 2011-12 to pull of those upsets. I don’t have that feeling this week, because I think the NE defense is going to rise to the occasion this time.

Panthers at Seahawks

Let’s see. Seattle has allowed 39 points in its last six games, first team to do that since the legendary 1976 Steelers. Yes, that team failed to win the Super Bowl, but go look up their defensive run to see why I called them legendary.

The Panthers have put up 28 points in three games at home the last three years against Seattle (0-3). So where are the points coming from this week? Even if the Carolina defense gets Russell Wilson contained, hit, sacked and turned over at least once, where are the points coming from? Cam Newton isn’t even healthy right now and he played poorly at home when he was healthy against this defense.

Warning: Cam Newton has led Carolina to 19 points on 27 drives against Seattle in his career.

The Seahawks are pursuing a dynasty. Losing this game at home to such an inferior opponent would really destroy that mystique. It would also destroy the dream matchup in the NFC of seeing Seattle against Green Bay/Dallas, not to mention a potential dream Super Bowl of Seattle against any AFC team (okay, maybe except Baltimore). Carolina winning would be like some cretin walking into an extravagant party and taking a giant shit in the middle of the ballroom floor. You just shit all over the playoffs, Ron Rivera. Are you happy now?

Seattle’s offensive shortcomings are the only reason to worry this will be another close game, and the Seahawks definitely don’t want another one of those against Carolina. Some day the ball is going to bounce the other way.

2012 (L 16-12): Newton short-hopped a go-ahead touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.

2013 (L 12-7): After a Wilson bomb put Seattle back on top, DeAngelo Williams fumbled in the red zone and the Seahawks ran out the clock with a long drive.

2014 (L 13-9): Wilson led a great GWD late for the win while Newton ended by bouncing a screen pass off the ground on 4th-and-25.

Don’t let the game get to that point again, but I think we’re in for a lot of punts and a generally uninteresting game.

Then again, the Seahawks are usually better at home and the game is in prime time instead of a 10:00 A.M. start. There are studies that suggest Pacific teams are at their peak in these prime-time games.

Sure enough, Pete Carroll is 15-1 in prime time with Seattle, only losing to another Pacific team (49ers) in 2012 in a low-scoring game back when Wilson still had his training wheels on.

Cowboys at Packers

Alright, a 8-0 road team against a 8-0 home team. About time. This is the best shot of the week for a road upset, because Dallas has the balanced offense to control this game and the clock. Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers have been the best quarterbacks this season playing behind two of the most improved offensive lines. Each team has a great No. 1 wide receiver too, but I think this is a game for Eddie Lacy and DeMarco Murray to take center stage given the weather and the fact that both quarterbacks have some injury concerns. Neither run defense is very good, though the Cowboys also have the worst pass defense (ranked 22nd in DVOA) of the remaining eight teams. That sounds like advantage Green Bay and Rodgers, but will he still be Rodgers with the calf injury? Dallas would be silly not to attack early and test that mobility. Rodgers can still execute from the pocket at a very high level, but it’s not the same offense if he’s stuck in that box and trying to release everything quickly.

It’s always crucial to survive the early part of the game against the Packers, especially at Lambeau. We know how quickly the avalanche of points can come. We also know if you punch this team in the mouth and make them play a 60-minute game, then you have a great shot of pulling out the late win, something Romo and Dallas have done often over the years. Last December the Cowboys blew a 23-point lead at home to Green Bay, but that was with Matt Flynn at quarterback. At least we know if something happens to Rodgers again with the calf, the Packers have one of the more competent backups.

The Packers have trailed for 9 minutes and 15 seconds in the second half at home this year (all in Week 2 vs. Jets).

I don’t fear Dallas getting avalanched in this one, because this is a much better team than most of the ones GB has faced this season. We also saw the Jets perform well in this building, as did the Falcons in the second half after a horrible start.  I don’t think either one of these defenses is good enough to ignite a championship run, but the one that gets the turnovers and big stops on Sunday will earn this win. Rodgers hasn’t thrown a pick at home since 2012, so you really have to rely on a tipped ball or fumble. Dallas has 31 takeaways this season despite a no-name defense. 

So often this year the Cowboys have gone against expectations. I’m not calling them a “team of destiny” or anything like that, but this is a team with a lot of guys playing their best football ever and the results speak for themselves.

Colts at Broncos

Anything I had to analyze about this game is in my massive preview at Football Outsiders, so please go read it there.

I’ll just say this: any Indianapolis fan that’s painting Peyton Manning as a bad playoff quarterback needs to get a clue. He’s only one of the best playoff quarterbacks in NFL history. The Colts failed him as a team far too often and you are going to experience the same damn thing this weekend when Andrew Luck tries to take his one-man show on the road against a superior team*.

*Of course I should not be held responsible for a Jack Del Rio-influenced letdown, but good luck to the Colts trying to find a running game and defense this week. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

FINAL PREDICTIONS

I just couldn’t take all the home teams again.

  • Patriots over Ravens, 23-16
  • Seahawks over Panthers, 20-10
  • Cowboys over Packers, 30-26
  • Broncos over Colts, 28-21

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Week 10: 10-3
  • Week 11: 8-6
  • Week 12: 12-3
  • Week 13: 9-7
  • Week 14: 11-5
  • Week 15: 14-2
  • Week 16: 10-6
  • Week 17: 11-5
  • Wild Card: 3-1
  • Total: 175-84-1

2014 NFL Wild Card Predictions

I was reading my 2013 Wild Card predictions and I really have no memory of coming up with so many of those sentences. I remember the state of mind I was in that night for personal reasons, but thankfully 2015 has gotten off to a better start for my family.

Cardinals at Panthers

The Ghost of Jake Delhomme might be haunting this game, which feels like something Chris Myers and Ronde Barber would call at 1 p.m. on a Sunday. Not a playoff atmosphere. Winner probably goes to Seattle, so it’s just leading the lamb to the slaughter. I would not even hesitate to pick Arizona at home where they should be playing this game, but because of a flawed playoff system, the 11-5 team has to travel to play the 7-8-1 team. The “bad playoff team” usually wins a playoff game too, because they get that home start. “Bad” may be generous for Carolina with six losses by at least 18 points this year.

The problem is third-stringer Ryan Lindley is easily one of the worst quarterbacks to ever start a playoff game. At least he showed some promise in San Francisco last week, albeit three interceptions and another loss. By promise I mean he actually threw the first two touchdowns of his career and showed he could throw for 300 yards on the road against a solid defense, utilizing the talent around him. His expectations on Saturday are built on his horrific rookie year and having to start against a Seattle defense that has been absurd to close the season, and that’s really not fair. Carolina is a lousy defense regardless of what you think you saw in the last month. The good finish could probably be explained by playing three divisional opponents in rematches, so familiarity was there and those NFC South teams of course struggled this year. They also beat Cleveland, who started Johnny Manziel and nearly finished with a Brian Hoyer game-winning touchdown pass. I know Lindley does not bring much more, if anything more to the table than a Josh McCown, but I think Lindley can produce something in this game. Unfortunately he’s going to hold the team back on third down/red zone chances and gives Carolina an edge in the quarterback department.

Cam Newton, what can I say? It’s been four years and I feel like this is another Jay Cutler situation where we are waiting to see him take the next level and it’s just not happening. The results are average at best.

camprog

This season he had to play through some legit injuries, but he’s lucky to even be playing this weekend with a 5-8-1 record as a starter against a soft schedule. Yet someone still had the gall to tell me on Twitter that this year proves he’s “clutch.”

I think the Cardinals are the better coached team and their defense is going to have to step up here. Arizona’s defense is best exposed by a quarterback making good throws to outside receivers capable of exposing those cornerbacks. That’s not what Carolina has going for them, but I think a steady dose of Jonathan Stewart and capitalizing on Lindley’s mistakes will be enough for Carolina to steal this one at home. But if Arizona does have a fourth-quarter lead, keep in mind this defense has held up a one-score lead in all 11 wins this season. No one has cracked them yet and Todd Bowles will aggressively get after Newton.

Ravens at Steelers

I have written nearly 4,000 words on this matchup at FO, so please go there for my thoughts. One thing I left out: Pittsburgh’s offense has scored exactly 20 points in each of its last three games. That sounds underwhelming, but keep in mind they scored those 60 points on 24 drives (2.5 points per drive). That average would rank 3rd in the league this season, so that’s very good. Scoring 20 again would extend Pittsburgh’s record streak to 17 consecutive playoff games.

Bengals at Colts

An odd one here. This game probably has the widest range of potential scoring margins, yet I still feel more confident in the Colts winning than I do any of the other seven teams this weekend. The Bengals are so inconsistent, and what can Andy Dalton really do if A.J. Green can’t play and Jermaine Gresham is so banged up? Chuck Pagano should be fired Sunday afternoon if he gets shredded by an offense featuring dumpoff passes, Brandon Tate and Mohamed Sanu. The Colts have not been that bad against the run this year aside from the night Bill Belichick used a bye week to drop Jonas Gray and 6-OL sets on them. The pass is howyou beat Indy, yet I don’t see Dalton breaking away from his playoff demons on the road against a team that should load up the box and pressure the hell out of him like they did in this year’s 27-0 shutout.

Yes, Jeremy Hill might put up another 100-yard rushing game, but it doesn’t matter if the quarterback matchup is lopsided, like you would expect it to be. Andrew Luck does not have to play great in this one, but he can’t afford a bunch of turnovers against a Cincinnati defense with little-to-no pass rush, but good coverage and ball skills. Luck didn’t even pass the eye test earlier this year — Bengals actually rushed him well that day though and the Colts are down several OL here — and still had over 300 yards and two touchdowns. He can get this win the ugly way, which fits with how the Colts have played down the stretch anyway. Dan Herron also needs to show up on the ground, because stopping the run has been a weakness in most games for Cincinnati this season.

We talk about the Bengals being inconsistent, but the Indy defense is amazingly inconsistent in its own right. The 2014 Colts are the first defense in NFL history to allow a 500-yard passer (Ben Roethlisberger) and a 200-yard rusher (Jonas Gray) in the same season. Two weeks ago, they were absolutely shredded by the Dallas passing game, allowing 250 yards on 22 dropbacks (11.4 yards per play) and five touchdown passes. To close the season in Tennessee in Week 17, the Colts allowed 50 net passing yards on 35 dropbacks (1.4 yards per play). I know we’re mostly talking about Charlie Whitehurst on a 2-14 team, but that’s still incredible defense, which the Colts show in spurts, like the 27-0 shutout over the Bengals that I don’t think will have much impact on this game, but I still don’t see the Bengals scoring much.

Of course, Marvin Lewis is 0-5 in the playoffs and has never scored more than 17 points in any of those games. If he gets embarrassed in Indianapolis, I don’t know how the Bengals can bring him back for a 13th season. Some Colts fans want Pagano gone, but at least he got past the Wild Card round in his second try.

Lions at Cowboys

Some great playmakers in this one and definitely a marquee matchup with Dallas’ offensive line vs. Detroit’s defensive line. Ndamukong Suh is lucky he’s playing this week, because that should give Detroit a better shot. I still have to give the edge to Dallas with the way the offense has been playing. There were three bumps in the road this year (Week 1 vs. SF, the Romo injury vs. Washington, and Thanksgiving), but otherwise this offense has been as balanced and efficient as any in the league this year. They attack you like an elite 90’s team with the one dominant WR (Dez Bryant), workhorse back (DeMarco Murray), loaded OL, a decent No. 2 capable of making big plays (Terrance Williams) and a very good tight end (Jason Witten). The Lions have tried to build their team in a similar fashion over the years, but the OL isn’t up to that level, the rookie TE (Eric Ebron) hasn’t developed yet and the running game isn’t nearly as consistent as what Dallas has enjoyed this season. However, if the Lions can handle Bryant, they give themselves a good shot, but he’s just been playing at such a high level. Dallas is also very efficient at throwing to the backs and Cole Beasley has value as a slot receiver.

We are in for some treat if this game is anywhere close to the past two meetings between these teams. In 2011, Dallas led 27-3 in the third quarter at home before blowing the lead and losing 34-30. Last year, 41 points were scored in the fourth quarter alone with Matthew Stafford’s incredible game-winning drive capped off by a quarterback sneak. The hot takes will scorch the Earth for good if something like that happens on Sunday. Detroit stood tall to those 8-8 Dallas teams and lead the league with 5 4QC/GWD, but this year’s Dallas team has been very good at avoiding blown leads and making their own comebacks/GWDs. Tony Romo had a MVP-caliber season and is playing the best football of his career. The Lions have been stagnant for most of the season offensively, but Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate should be able to do some damage against what is still a subpar Dallas defense. However, one could easily argue the Lions have only played three games against really good offenses all year (GB twice and NE). Dallas is certainly in that class and the game is in Dallas, which doesn’t mean much for the Cowboys (4-4 this year at home), but it matters for a Detroit team that simply does not go out and win games like this.

Since 1992, the Lions are 11-76 (.126) on the road against playoff teams. We know all about the struggles in the Stafford era against quality opponents. No home team is under more pressure to win this week than Dallas, but I have believed in this team since the win in Seattle. They should be able to handle the Lions.

FINAL PREDICTIONS

I really do not like picking all home teams, but so be it, Jedi. This season the home team was 39-23 (.629) in games between teams with winning records.

  • Panthers over Cardinals, 17-13
  • Steelers over Ravens, 23-20
  • Colts over Bengals, 23-13
  • Cowboys over Lions, 34-24

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Week 10: 10-3
  • Week 11: 8-6
  • Week 12: 12-3
  • Week 13: 9-7
  • Week 14: 11-5
  • Week 15: 14-2
  • Week 16: 10-6
  • Week 17: 11-5
  • Total: 172-83-1

I think that’s my best record since I went 178-78 in a 2007 season that was so top-heavy.