Super Bowl LI Preview

Before the playoffs started, I picked Atlanta to beat New England in Super Bowl LI. I’m 9-1 this postseason, and have found the games to not be very enjoyable for the most part. This is the first time since 2002 Raiders-Buccaneers when both teams entered the Super Bowl after winning each of their playoff games by 16+ points. Yeah, that 2002 postseason was a bit of a bore too outside of wild-card Sunday, and the Super Bowl was a joke.

Super Bowl LI should be a competitive game, because I see two great offenses that are never out of a game, and two vulnerable defenses. In fact, this is probably the most offensive-oriented in Super Bowl history, so the record-setting O/U makes sense. I don’t think the score will be really high, but we could see long drives and a high points per drive average in this game. The Patriots deserve to be 3-point favorites, but don’t play that “Atlanta has no shot” noise. This game is a pretty strong step up in competition for both teams, and both teams belong in this year’s Super Bowl.

Supplemental reading:

Film Room: Receiving Backs in Super Bowl LI – a look at every pass thrown to a RB in games with NE and ATL this year

Sneaky stats that could swing SB LI – ESPN Insider article that basically serves as a mini-preview from me on things like the scoring defenses, blitzing the QBs, YAC and comeback ability/holding leads.

Super Bowl LI Preview – Aaron Schatz’s game preview at FO

Super Bowl LI in a Nutshell

The wrong framing for this game is to call it the No. 1 offense (ATL) vs. the No. 1 defense (NE). We had that in Super Bowl XLVIII, and Dan Quinn’s defense (Seattle) prevailed in a big way over Denver. We had the same thing last year, but I thought Carolina’s offense was a fraudulent No. 1 scoring offense, and Denver’s defense was very legit. I see the same thing this year, but flipped around. The Falcons are a strong No. 1 offense, but the Patriots might be the biggest frauds to ever claim a scoring defense title. That matchup is likely going to determine who wins this game, which is really a meeting of the top two offenses. However, while the Patriots may not be a great D, they are clearly better than the Falcons on that side of the ball, and that is why you should trust the Patriots more to win this game. Well, that and the better head coach. While both offenses can be great, there’s just an easier path (of less resistance) to success for the Patriots, who can get big games from a variety of players depending on how they choose to attack a young defense. With the Falcons, guys like Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu and Tevin Coleman are going to have to deliver, because I don’t think it can just be a big Julio Jones and/or Devonta Freeman evening. When both teams should score a good amount, it’s a game that comes down to turnovers (both very good here), red zone (advantage: NE) and third down (advantage: NE).

It will be very difficult for Atlanta to win this game without a stellar offensive performance, and while the offense has been so good this year, we have seen so many top offenses crash and burn on this exact stage through decades of NFL history. I don’t think that will happen, but I think you’ll be hearing at the end of the night how “defense wins championships” even if there was no such thing as a truly great D in this postseason. It’s just going to come down to being the best on Sunday night, and that should be New England again.

That’s really my summary of the game, but continue on reading if you want to see the statistical support and research, as well as some ranting about legacies, weapons and such bullshit. If not, then scroll down to the bottom to see my final score.

New England’s Misleading Defense

The Patriots allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season. Fewest per drive too, though this was nowhere close to the caliber of your usual No. 1 scoring D. The Patriots only ranked 16th in DVOA, which is a far cry from where No. 1 scoring Ds have ranked in the previous 19 seasons.

neno1

Since 1997, a total of 60 teams have ranked in the top 3 in Points per Drive allowed. Only the 2007 Patriots (11th) and 2016 Patriots (16th) ranked out of the top 10 in DVOA. This is Bill Belichick’s bend-but-don’t-break shining through. Fundamentally, it’s a flawed, if not illogical style of playing defense, but the Patriots tend to make it work. It’s even easier to pull off when you play the easiest schedule of offenses in the league, and then you draw the worst offense in the playoffs (Houston), and then you get a team that’s been leaning heavily on Le’Veon Bell, only to see him go down after six carries in the first quarter. The Patriots also lucked out in the postseason when Brock Osweiler finally threw a great pass, only to see Will Fuller drop a touchdown in the end zone. Ben Roethlisberger’s best throws down the field in the AFC-CG were also not caught by Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton. If the Falcons can get their skill guys to make the big plays that Matt Ryan should find down the field, then the offense is going to continue scoring as it has all season.

Credit to Denmark NFL writer Soren Hygum Hansen for sharing with me weeks ago that the Patriots are the first team since the 1970 merger to make the Super Bowl without playing a QB that finished the season ranked in the top 10 in passer rating. They’ll get the best QB in 2016 in Ryan, so if they want to make their mark defensively, they’re certainly going to get a shot with the Falcons coming in hot. The Falcons do have some banged up players in Julio Jones and Alex Mack, but neither injury appears to be a serious one in the vein of what Dwight Freeney (2009), Rob Gronkowski (2011), or the whole Legion of Boom (2014) went into past Super Bowls with, limiting their effectiveness. All of those teams lost by the way, because an injured star isn’t much help.

Matt Ryan’s 2016 vs. “Curse” of MVP/500-Pt Club

Matt Ryan has been playing the best football of his career, and you could see it from an early point in the season.

Well, three months later, here we are. Ryan has been phenomenal and consistent. His YPA has been at least 7.91 in all 18 games — the previous benchmark for every game in a season was 6.87 by Kurt Warner in 2001. It’s that consistency that makes Ryan’s season one of the best in NFL history by a quarterback. Yes, it’s been that good. He does have the benefit of using the most play-action passing in the league, but he has been great in almost every situation this season, and has done so against a schedule that ranked as the second toughest in the league defensively. In the playoffs, the Seahawks were missing Earl Thomas and the Packers were really banged up in the secondary too, but again, Atlanta has been more battle tested than NE this season. The game is a step up in competition for both sides though.

Ryan is trying to become the first MVP winner since Kurt Warner in 1999 to win the Super Bowl in the same season. The Falcons are also trying to become the highest-scoring team to ever win a Super Bowl with 540 points. Only four of the NFL’s 500-point club has won a Super Bowl. The losers averaged 16.7 PPG in their playoff loss. “We’re only going to score 17 points?” indeed. Big-time offenses tend to fall apart in the playoffs.

500club

Now these MVPs and high-scoring teams aren’t cursed. It’s actually a simple explanation for why they keep losing in the playoffs. The team is not balanced enough, and too much reliance is put on the quarterback to play great. In the playoffs, you usually can never get a quarterback and offense that play at a high level in each game. There’s usually that one off game, and these teams tend to not have the defense or running game or special teams to save their bacon when those off-days occur.

Atlanta is a perfect example of imbalance. The 11 wins were the most ever for a team that allowed 400 points in a season. The six wins in games where the Falcons allowed at least 28 points are another single-season record. These reflect well on the offense Ryan was able to lead this season, but it’s not a good sign for him to pull out a high-scoring win over the Patriots, a defense that rarely ever allows a 30-point game, especially without return scores involved. In fact, just look at the MVP race this year where Brady was the runner-up. NE did allow the fewest points and still went 3-1 without Brady. Do you see Atlanta going 3-1 without Ryan? Of course not. The Patriots could still beat Houston by 18 points with a subpar Brady performance, but if Ryan has a game where he throws two picks and completes fewer than 50 percent of his passes, then you can bet the Falcons are getting their ass kicked. OK, maybe it wouldn’t happen against Houston, but if Ryan is just “alright” on Sunday night, the Falcons will not win this game. He has to be great; one of the best games of his career.

Yet, in keeping with my 2006 Peyton Manning = 2016 Matt Ryan comparison, I think Ryan is going to have to probably lead a high-scoring comeback win to knock off these Patriots, much like Manning did in the 2006 AFC-CG and the 2009 “4th-and-2” game. In fact, in his last game against NE in 2013, Ryan nearly led a Manning-like 17-point comeback in the final 6:18. He trimmed a 30-13 deficit to a 30-23 game, and the Falcons reached the 10-yard line in the final minute. Belichick had his defense double team Tony Gonzalez, basically holding him out of the play, and the Falcons failed in the red zone again (shades of 2012 NFC-CG loss vs. 49ers). That game is ultimately meaningless to Sunday night, but I just think Ryan is going to have to throw for at least 350 yards in this game and be on point.

New England’s defense ranked 28th in DVOA in Late & Close situations, so if he can get the opportunity, then we know he’s good at delivering in these moments. We also know the Patriots are the best at preventing comebacks, though not quite as good at it away from home.

The Falcons had more than one turnover in just one game this season (at Seattle), though technically Ryan did throw two picks to Eric Berry, including a pick-two that provided the winning score for Kansas City, the last time the Falcons lost. Still, I always get nervous with these low-turnover teams imploding in the playoffs. 11 giveaways in 18 games is crazy low. The Falcons will have to win the turnover battle here to win this game. The Patriots probably capitalize on mistakes better than any team.

Atlanta’s Defense

Simply put, the Falcons are in the conversation for the worst defense to reach a Super Bowl.

Before the season, I did a three-part study on building a Super Bowl winner, looking at balance since 1989.

The conclusion was that balance is a little overrated, and it doesn’t hurt to have one really dominant unit (offense or defense). Well, the Falcons would be the most imbalanced SB winner yet with the No. 1 offense and No. 27 defense. Yes, that’s DVOA, but the Atlanta defense also ranked 27th in points per drive allowed. They were dead last in red zone TD%, and 29th in red zone DVOA. They were 27th on third down, while the NE O was No. 1. This is a huge problem.

Even without Rob Gronkowski, the NE offense is still scoring at a high level. They can beat the Falcons in a variety of ways. Brady has eaten up the blitz this season, but I don’t think Quinn will blitz him much at all. Seattle didn’t, and was able to get decent pressure in the only win over the Pats with Brady this season. Quinn likely studied the heck out of that tape, and the only issue is that his D just isn’t as good as Seattle’s. Vic Beasley had a lot of sacks, but overall it’s not that strong of a pass rush. The Falcons will have to tackle well, which has not been a strength for them, and mix things up against Brady.

In a game like this, it’s about getting timely pressure. We can reasonably predict that the Pats will hold up pretty well against Atlanta’s rush, but it’s going to come down to when the Falcons can get pressure. They got Aaron Rodgers on some key third downs last time out, but that was also their most aggressive (read: blitz happiest) game of the season. They can’t afford to do that against Brady, but they have to pick some spots. Atlanta was 7-1 when getting a pass pressure rate of at least 30 percent.

Let’s say the Atlanta defense registers five pressures all game. Not a good number by any means, but what if one produces a takeaway, one produces a drive-killing sack, one forces a field goal attempt, one brings out the punting unit on fourth down, and one makes it third-and-10? That’s all extremely helpful to a defense that will need a lot of help in this game. So it’s about timely pressure.

Also, the Atlanta defense has improved in the second half of the season. In starting four rookies, gains in experience should matter. After allowing 26+ points in eight of the first nine games, the D has only done so in one of the last nine games, and that needed a late Drew Brees TD drive to happen in Week 17. Kansas City scored 29 points, but that was 9 points by Eric Berry on pick returns. Now you can choose to look at the whole season as being more telling, but the Atlanta defense has gotten better.

#QBWeaponz Rant

I’ve tried to avoid a lot of the pre-game coverage for the last two weeks. Namely, I don’t leave NFL Network on as much as I usually do, because I’m sick of hearing about the underdog Falcons against the planned coronation ceremony for the Patriots. Yes, we get it, the Patriots have a lot more experience at this sort of thing than Atlanta.

But I still had the TV on enough to hear Deion Sanders talk about how Ryan has the Julio’s and “the Gabriel’s” while Brady has the “Edelman’s, the Hogan’s, the Amendola’s.” Yes, Deion is the kind of guy who wants you to think Brady still doesn’t know who Hogan is, while at the same time praising Brady’s leadership and work ethic. Well, if he was that hard of a worker, wouldn’t he be getting on the same page with his new teammates in the offseason? It’s a contradiction, as well as a lazy narrative that “Brady makes his receivers better.” As if he’s the only QB capable of doing this.

Meanwhile, apparently the Falcons signed two mega stars this offseason known as Tyler Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu. The state of Ohio wasn’t interested in keeping them around, and while neither has ever cracked an 800-yard receiving season, apparently they give Ryan a cast better than when he had Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White.

Huh? Since when is Taylor f’n Gabriel a gem to have?

Oh, but what this really is is nothing more than the way quarterbacks get perceived differently based on playoff success. If you win a ring early as a starter, like Brady did, you get a pass for failures and extra credit for your team’s success. If you take too long to win a ring, like Ryan in his ninth season and first Super Bowl, then you have years of blame being placed on your shoulders for not getting that done. Without question, Ryan’s career season is fueling this offense more than the supporting cast, which I wouldn’t rank that high at all among QB MVP seasons.

Sure, Julio is great, but he also was the target of more than half of Ryan’s picks this year, including some pretty big drops in key moments.

This is really old hat. Star receivers are put on this pedestal, and it’s as if they can do no wrong, and people refuse to credit the QB when playing with one of these guys. Meanwhile, Ryan had better stats when throwing to players not named Quintorris in 2016. He had two awesome games, albeit against weak competition, when Julio was out entirely. Sure, then it turns to “oh, but Kyle Shanahan!” but we can save that for another day. Yes, Shanahan has done a great job for his career this season, but Ryan is the one driving this offense at a historic level. He has a lot of good guys along for the ride this time, but he is still the driver.

We know if Gabriel was in NE, Brady would get all the credit for his season. Same with Sanu. It’s basically the David Givens and Deion Branch thing there, yet Ryan won’t dare get that kind of credit just because his team hasn’t won a Super Bowl yet. It’s nonsense, and we need to stop acting like one great receiver dictates everything in this game. Matthew Stafford, as I predicted, just had arguably his best season without Calvin Johnson. There’s an advantage to playing with several good receivers that the defense can’t key on versus that mega-star who runs the deeper routes down the field, draws the toughest assignments and faces the most complex coverages to beat. Try forcing that guy the ball when you need to versus throwing to a guy that’s so wide open just because the defense doesn’t understand he should be respected.

And the Patriots make a killing out of those types (the Edelman’s, the Hogan’s, the Amendola’s). They take talented players inferior franchises discard, and use them properly to maximize their talent. You can add LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis to that list too. Hogan had Julio-esque stats in the game against Pittsburgh, because it looked as if the Steelers had no clue how to defend the guy. He was wide open all night, and it was all about scheme and defensive breakdowns more than the talent of the passer and the receiver himself. Without Gronkowksi, the Patriots don’t have great weapons right now, but they have a lot of very good ones who can do a variety of things.

Sunday night is an opportunity for the non-Julio players on Atlanta to step up and prove that they can be as good as advertised. I’m not of the belief that Belichick will be able to take Jones away. The Patriots were just 20th in DVOA against No. 1 WRs this year. Jones can do a lot of things from different spots on the field to have an impact. Still, even if he is contained, the Falcons were 4-0 this season when Jones was held to 35 yards or fewer (6-0 counting the games he missed entirely). In fact, domination by Jones might be a bad thing for Atlanta if it means his teammates aren’t stepping up. Atlanta was 2-4 in Jones’ top six receiving games this season.

X-Factor: The Running Backs

The running backs could be huge in this game for both teams, and that’s why I spent time doing a Film Room study of them in the passing game in particular. With the Patriots, it could be LeGarrette Blount on the ground AND Dion Lewis/James White through the air. You never know with NE, but the Falcons need to tackle much better than they have this season. Still, Atlanta is 8-2 when allowing 100+ rushing yards this season, which is a very good record in that situation. Obviously they have the firepower on the other side to counter.

If Tevin Coleman, who led all NFL backs with 3 catches of 40+ yards, doesn’t go deep against these linebackers at least once, then I don’t know what Kyle Shanahan was watching the last two weeks. 49ers lowlights? The LBs are a weakness in this defense, and I would be using Freeman and Coleman together (only played 5 pass snaps together in 2016) to exploit that. I really do like that matchup more than one of the non-Julio wideouts against an Eric Rowe or Logan Ryan. Freeman could be good on the ground too, but I really think this game is about Ryan and the passing game, and I would be making sure the backs are a huge part of that.

The Forgotten Tight Ends

Without Rob Gronkowski, this position is a bit of a dead zone in this matchup. The Falcons’ best tight end is whichever one is open, and there’s not much attention drawn to Levine Toilolo or rookie Austin Hooper. Now Hooper might turn into a good player down the road, but he’s not really established yet. I feel like Kyle Shanahan does a really good job of scheming these guys open more than their own skills, but they have to get them involved at some point here. I still think it’s asinine that the Seahawks did not throw a single pass to a TE in SB XLIX even though the NE D was 32nd in DVOA against tight ends. Can’t ignore the position even if most of American can’t even guess a name of a TE on Atlanta. No, Jacob Tamme is on IR.

As for Martellus Bennett, he’s only surpassed 35 receiving yards once in his last nine games since Gronk got hurt. That’s surprising, though it seems like he has to scrape himself off the field once a week, so health is an issue. Is this the game where he explodes for 100 yards? Doubtful, and the Falcons were a solid 11th in DVOA against TE, but you never know with the Patriots.

Protection, Blitzing and YAC

Talked about NE O/ATL D earlier on this, but the Patriots might want to consider blitzing Ryan, who had the third-highest pressure rate when blitzed this season. Of course, he still killed it with 9.5 YPA, but he took 15 sacks vs. blitz compared to two for Brady. Performance under pressure is a tricky thing. We know guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson are usually good each season in a messy pocket, but a lot of performance under pressure is inconsistent. After all, pass pressure leads to chaos on the field with QBs scrambling, receivers making new routes on the fly, improv plays, backyard football.

Ryan has been great this year when pressured, and it’s the highest pressure rate of his career. Yes, the OL is quite good for Atlanta, but that’s moreso in the run blocking department. Ryan has seen his share of pressure even though the Falcons still have him get rid of the ball quickly as he always has. So if the Patriots can get some timely pressures of their own, they might get a game-changing turnover out of it. Sometimes, it just takes one of those to decide a game. So it’s a fascinating chess match with how these defensive coaches will approach these varied offenses, but aggression is going to have to come into play at some point. You can’t just sit back the whole game, though the Patriots were far and away the leaders in 3-man rushes this season. It just so happens that Ryan was below league-average against such rushes, so maybe that’s the strategy again to maximize the defenders in coverage against these receivers. You know Belichick likes to have his defenders get grabby with great passing offenses, and I’d expect that again on Sunday.

Ryan and Brady led all QBs in YAC per completion, though Ryan did throw deeper passes. Both offenses have a lot of skill with the ball in their hands, so tackling is crucial. This is just another area where I see an advantage for the Patriots. Including the playoffs, Atlanta was 10-0 when allowing less than 4.2 YAC per completion, but only 3-5 when quarterbacks surpassed that mark. Brady has surpassed that YAC mark in 12 of his 14 games this season, and in 83.0 percent of his games since 2011.

Brady Legacy Rant

My thoughts on this are really the same exact thing they were two years ago. There’s really nothing that Brady could do on Sunday evening to change my opinion on his place in history. He can’t go up or down with this one game. Why should he, or any player be judged so strongly by one game’s outcome? You already should have known going into Sunday night where you had Brady ranked all time, and I still think I’d have to put him fifth all time behind Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and Peyton Manning. I can definitely see myself putting him ahead of Marino after some offseason reflection, but I doubt I’d go any higher than that unless he really does continue playing at a high level into his mid-40’s. That would be a first.

Now there are definitely degrees of how impressive a win here could be. I don’t think 5 SBs free of context proves anything. After all, Bart Starr won 5 championships as a starter, yet we don’t hear about that just because three weren’t called Super Bowl. It was still the same decade though. But obviously playing a huge game and winning a high-scoring game will reflect better on Brady than slumping to a 21-14 win just because the D’s were unexpectedly great, and Brady’s D was again the best on the field. Maybe he does get the Montana treatment here. Montana twice played against MVP QBs on the No.1  offense in the league, but Marino’s 84 Dolphins and Boomer Esiason’s 1988 Bengals failed to crack 17 points in the Super Bowl. Montana, dropped pick in the red zone aside, was great, but didn’t even need to score many points to get those wins. If the Patriots shut down Ryan and this prolific offense, then I think that’s a much stronger statement for Belichick more than anyone here.

After all, Belichick is constant that has been there for every game during this run for the Patriots, not Brady. If anyone should be cemented with GOAT status from one game, it could be him on Sunday night. Of course, you should already have strong feelings about this either way and one game against Atlanta shouldn’t be your last needed piece of evidence.

Special Teams

Both units are pretty solid here, and not spectacular on returns. I trust both kickers, though I like Matt Bryant a tad more with the game on the line. He is 35-of-40 on clutch field goals in his career. He just has to hope that Belichick doesn’t have a voodoo doll prepared for him to add to the collection with Scott Norwood and Billy Cundiff.

Comeback?

Atlanta has scored an opening-drive touchdown in eight straight games, which is a very impressive streak. If the Falcons can do it again to get an early lead, it would be New England’s first deficit since Week 12 against the Jets, the longest span in the NFL without trailing by a team since the 2005 Colts. Of course, the Patriots haven’t been challenged much in that stretch, but it’s an impressive streak since even a 3-0 deficit would count for ending it. The Falcons need a good start here, and New England has historically had very slow starts in Super Bowls under Brady and Belichick. Of course, even a 10-0 start by Atlanta would be far from game over like it technically was for Carolina against Denver last season.

I post this table in every SB preview, because no team has won a Super Bowl after trailing by more than 10 points.

sbcbw

This could be the matchup for it to happen, and you can see several New England games already on this list. Twelve of the last 13 Super Bowls have had a 4QC opportunity. The Falcons have also blown four 4Q leads this season, so keep that in mind.Brady has the best active 4QC/GWD record at 50-37 (.575), but Ryan is fourth at 34-37 (.479), and Ryan has the most one-minute drills (5) to win a game in NFL history. This is the kind of game where you definitely want the ball last.

And you want to run the f’n ball from the 1-yard line, four times in a row if you have to. Hopefully Dan Quinn has learned that the hard way.

FINAL SCORE

I see another precarious New England lead hanging in the balance in the final minute, and while no Malcolm Butler interception this time, a stop in the red zone happens again. Because you know who willed it to happen.

Final: Patriots 28, Falcons 24

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2016 NFL Conference Championship Predictions

An offensive-driven team is going to win the Super Bowl this year, but the defense that plays the best over the next two games is still going to be the one holding the trophy. I would expect a game-changing turnover to highlight this weekend.

Green Bay at Atlanta

Both games are rematches, but I think this one is more likely to resemble the first matchup, a 33-32 shootout won by the Falcons in Week 8. I think both offenses and quarterbacks are going to be very good, but I do have some concerns with the health of Green Bay’s receivers; Jordy Nelson in particular. I also think in a game with two bad defenses, Atlanta should be able to run the ball better with the duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman compared to Green Bay with Ty Montgomery. This isn’t going to be a game where one defense surprises everyone with a dominant performance. Both offenses are going to move the ball and score frequently. It’s just a matter of situational stops, like on third down, forcing a field goal attempt or coming up with an unexpected fumble recovery. If the Packers get the hot start they so need like in Dallas last week, Matt Ryan can’t afford to press and throw a terrible pick like he did to Tramon Williams before halftime in his last playoff meeting with the Packers. But that was a long time ago, and Ryan is playing the best ball of his career. He’s been the MVP this season. Aaron Rodgers has been on an incredible hot streak, but this is the time of year where I start looking at how teams have done against good teams. With Green Bay, you’re talking about a team that’s 9-18 on the road against teams with a winning record since 2011. There was a 2-15 stretch going there before these last two wins in Detroit (31-24 in Week 17) and Dallas last week (34-31). Last week was the first time Rodgers won a game in his career as an underdog when Green Bay allowed more than 26 points. He was 0-17 before that. The Falcons are favored at home and have scored at least 24 in every single home game this year. Similar research also led me to this crazy stat.

Packers are 0-35 with Aaron Rodgers at QB when trailing by more than one point in the fourth quarter against a team with a winning record.

ar035

We knew Rodgers had the 10-34 record at 4QC opportunities, but I was reminded this week that only two of the 10 wins came against teams with a winning record (2014 Cowboys in Dez Caught It game, 2015 Seahawks), and both of those were 1-point deficits erased early in the quarter. Throw out a 2008 Minnesota game where he only trailed by 1 late (28-27 loss after long FG missed by Mason Crosby) and a 2008 loss in OT to the Bears in which he only had the ball in a tied game, and that’s how you end up with 0-35. Matt Flynn led GB’s only win in this situation against the Lions in 2011 (his 6 TD game).

It’s very important for Atlanta to start hot. You might recall Ryan had the Falcons up 17-0 in his last NFC Championship Game (2012 against the 49ers), but that lead was blown and the Falcons came up 10 yards short of the Super Bowl, or maybe Harry Douglas keeping his feet away from the big game. This time is the last game in the Georgia Dome. I think the crowd will understand the magnitude of this one and help the home team to victory in another high-scoring game.

Final: Packers 28, Falcons 34

Pittsburgh at New England

I already cranked out over 4200 words on this one at FO, so please read that. I rarely read my own articles, but I read this one on Friday evening and thought it came together very well. If you know me well, you know that I am sometimes not truthful in my game predictions in big games involving the Patriots. I always pick them anyway, but it’s hard to tell when I honestly believe them to win or I’m just conjuring up a reverse jinx. I think the first paragraph in my outlook for this game subtly hints at my real feelings about this one on Sunday night. But as I wrote back in Week 7, Tomlin vs. Belichick is like checkers vs. chess. If Tomlin wants to win this game as an underdog, he’s going to have to make some ballsy calls, whether it’s a fourth-down attempt at midfield or a two-point conversion try to win the game. And when Antonio Brown drops the game-winning 2PC in the final 20 seconds, maybe I start looking for work in a different field on Monday. But I think Brown will play well, Bell will play well, and Roethlisberger usually plays well against the Patriots, but not good enough to overcome the defense. Still, the loss of Gronk should be felt in this one, and I still believe the Patriots defense is vastly overrated and can be exposed by a top quarterback. We just need to see top QB play from Pittsburgh again, and it’s rarely been there even during this winning streak.

Go figure, I like the home teams, both of which I picked to get to the Super Bowl a few weeks ago.

Final: Steelers 21, Patriots 28

Season recap

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 7-6
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 7-7
  • Week 11: 12-2
  • Week 12: 12-4
  • Week 13: 10-5
  • Week 14: 9-7
  • Week 15: 12-4
  • Week 16: 9-7
  • Week 17: 11-5
  • Wild Card: 4-0
  • Divisional: 3-1
  • Season: 166-98

2016 NFL Divisional Round Predictions

I always say the divisional round is my favorite weekend of the NFL year. My past reasoning was that we get four playoff games matching the (typically) best teams of the season against four teams coming off a playoff win. However, it is a round where home-field advantage is the strongest, with the home team winning over 71 percent of the time compared to 63 percent in the Wild Card and 66 percent in the Conference Championship Game.

This week I figured out the real reason I think I love this weekend: the despair. While 2017 has gotten off to a pretty incredible start for me personally, I am a pessimistic person. So the cynic in me just loves to focus on the games where the home team choked in the divisional round. The dream seasons that died in an instant. While the other rounds have so many notable classic playoff moments, the divisional round is probably best known for epic home chokejobs. Think of Red-Right 88, 1996 Jaguars-Broncos, 2005 Steelers-Colts, 2007 Giants-Cowboys, 2010 Jets shocking New England, Rahim Moore on Jacoby Jones, etc. You remember the moments when the home team did not come through.

You can pretty much count on one home team to lose this weekend, but I think we have three fantastic games that could go either way, and one piece of shit to endure.

Seattle at Atlanta

Maybe he’s not dominating the headlines just because he is Matt Ryan, but I don’t think any other player is under more pressure to perform well this week. Ryan’s 1-4 in the playoffs, and the lone win was a home game against the Seahawks in 2012. That came on a late game-winning drive after Atlanta blew a 27-7 4Q lead. The Seahawks are tough, and #AllRussellWilsonGamesEndUpCloseEventually. Of course, you don’t know which Seattle team will show up anymore, and the offense has really struggled on the road. I still think Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin, combined with Wilson’s scrambling and playmaking are enough to give this Atlanta D some fits. I also think C.J. Prosise could be a big boost if he makes his return from injury, because receiving backs have been very productive against the Falcons’ young defense this season. But this game is really about Ryan continuing his MVP season — at least 7.91 YPA in every game — against a defense that dearly misses Earl Thomas. It’s also a scheme that Dan Quinn knows well, and it’s a defense that Ryan has had some of the best success against over the last six years.

I really wanted a rematch of this one after the Week 6 game ended, a game where I think DPI was clearly missed on Seattle that could have led to a Matt Bryant game-winning field goal. The fact that Atlanta hit big plays and got Julio Jones heavily involved in Seattle with Earl Thomas active is a good sign that the Falcons can have success again on offense. They’ll have to I think, because I see Wilson putting up at least 24 on this D in what could be the highest-scoring game this weekend. The Seahawks will be thankful for the start time not being 10:00 A.M. PST, but I think Atlanta gets off to a good start and puts the pressure on Seattle to play from behind, which can help Vic Beasley and the pass rush get through Seattle’s known weakness: the OL.

Final: Seahawks 24, Falcons 30

Houston at New England

Usually when you watch a playoff game, you can at least think of a feasible way for the underdog to win. In this one, I can’t think of any way Houston wins this game that wouldn’t involve a total fluke or some massive chokejob by the Patriots. Bill Belichick is not going to have his team put up a no-show performance either. This isn’t so much about New England’s greatness, because I don’t think this team is better than the 2014 and 2015 versions, especially without Rob Gronkowski available, but this is about how bad Houston is.

9-7? DOESN’T MATTER, BRIAN. YOU PLAYED IN THE AFC SOUTH

PLAYOFF WIN? DOESN’T MATTER BRIAN, YOU GOT THE OVERRATED RAIDERS WITH CONNOR COOK PISSING HIS PANTS

But you can see how this would satisfy the requirements to be the biggest NFL upset since the 1970 merger if Houston did win.

HOW DO YOU LOSE TO A TEAM THAT JACOBY BRISSETT BEAT 27-0 IN HIS FIRST START?

Oh, it would be hilarious to see Brock Osweiler move to 2-0 against Tom Brady, knocking him out at home before he turns 40 in what looks like a cakewalk Super Bowl year for this team. But how the hell does it happen? Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus would have to completely dominate this game and get multiple turnovers from Brady much the way the Ravens did in the 2009 AFC Wild Card game. I doubt that happens. I also don’t see how Houston scores more than 14 points, and that might be kind. They were already shutout in this building once this year.

I expect the Patriots to lead by 17+ points at some point in this game, but I’m not sure they cover. Garbage-time scores count too, folks.

Final: Texans 16, Patriots 31

Green Bay at Dallas

Reminder: the Dallas Cowboys, America’s Team, has not been to the NFC Championship Game since the 1995 season.

I don’t think that changes this year either. I’ve been picking nothing but home teams this postseason, but this is where I go with the road team. Out of all the matchups, this is the one where I worry most about momentum vs. rust. Some might view it as early mediocrity vs. rest, and Dallas already beat GB convincingly on the road this season. But the Packers have been in playoff mode since starting 4-6, and Aaron Rodgers is back to playing high-caliber football that few QBs could ever match. The Cowboys haven’t tried to win a game since the day after Christmas, and this is the first playoff start for rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. I don’t think the situation will be too big for them, but you never know how a player will respond to that pressure. Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t fare too well a week ago in a matchup he should have been able to dominate against Green Bay’s battered secondary.

The loss of Jordy Nelson is significant, but you should know I don’t put too much credit on star wideouts. The Cowboys were able to score 30 in Green Bay without Dez Bryant, and I would have said Bryant was more valuable to Dallas than Nelson was to GB due to the presence of Randall Cobb (great last week) and Davante Adams (Cowboys fans remember him well from two years ago). This is also a good matchup for Jared Cook, and someone like Geronimo Allison can be the Jeff Janis this year for the PAckers and step up in Nelson’s absence. The Packers still have weapons, and they still have an OL that can allow Rodgers to move around forever before finding an open receiver. The Cowboys are healthy on D, but simply have not been a SB-caliber unit at any time this season. They give up too many completions and don’t get enough pressure or takeaways. I was surprised at just how many bad plays Rodgers made in Week 6 in watching the game again Friday afternoon, but he has been playing much better since that point. I also noticed some DB’s falling for Green Bay on Dallas completions. It was a sloppy game.

I think the game will be lower scoring than expected, and I do see some struggles coming for Prescott in his playoff debut. Leaning on Elliott will be crucial, and I’m sure Bryant would love some revenge for the catch call two years ago, but I like Green Bay here.

Final: Packers 27, Cowboys 21

Pittsburgh at Kansas City

I wrote about 4300 words on this game at FO, so please check that out. Basically, if the Le’Veon Bell has a big game and Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t turn the ball over, Pittsburgh should be in good shape to win. However, I just think the Chiefs are going to get those takeaways to win a close one, and that Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are way more involved with the offense than they were in that Week 4 disaster at Pittsburgh. The change of venue will matter, and I think moving the start time to night because of weather will rile up the crowd even more under the lights, putting more pressure on Pittsburgh to communicate effectively in the no-huddle offense. This should be a great game.

Final: Steelers 17, Chiefs 20

Season recap

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 7-6
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 7-7
  • Week 11: 12-2
  • Week 12: 12-4
  • Week 13: 10-5
  • Week 14: 9-7
  • Week 15: 12-4
  • Week 16: 9-7
  • Week 17: 11-5
  • Wild Card: 4-0
  • Season: 163-97

NFL Week 10 Predictions: Make the NFL Great Again Edition

“It’s the heart of nuclear winter and I’m scared as hell.” – Glassjaw

Before we get into the preview, I’d like to get personal in what has been a trying week. Some events are too important to just remain silent. So skip down if you must, or if you need a sports-only rant, I ripped Tom Brady’s top games pretty good here.

This week, I’ve had the livelihood of my career threatened due to some behind-the-scenes issues with the rights of NFL data that you guys don’t need to know the details of (we’re working through it). I’ve felt a lack of safety in my own home this week after the threat of a gas leak that has thankfully been fixed on my street. On Friday, my community faced the threat of a crazy man who stabbed six people in a nearby mental facility (SWAT team took him down). That actually used to be a hospital years ago, and I remember going there one time as a kid after a late-night accident that required stitches and has left a little scar on my chin.

Yet I don’t think anything that happened this week is a bigger threat to scar this nation than the absurd election of Donald Trump as president. What more can be said about this scumbag that hasn’t already been said? Well, apparently we needed more, since we just elected him despite his long history of hatred, racism, misogyny, allegations of sexual assault (including child rape), that he has a total lack of experience, thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax, wants to build a wall (that Mexico won’t pay for), and the fact that he only cares about himself. “Make America Great Again” is nothing more than code for “I want wealthy white men to rule this country, and believe me, they will all know that I am the greatest supreme ruler, daddy-o.”

Charlie Chaplin made one of his finest films, The Great Dictator, back in 1940 as a satire on Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. His speech at the end of that film is one of the finest ever written, and it still resonates as much today as it did during World War II. Please take a few minutes of your time to watch this if you have never had the pleasure before.

People uniting to help each other — what a novel concept. That’s why I never cared about the Republican vs. Democrat aspect of this election. It never should have been about that as long as Trump was involved.

This was supposed to be an election for the lesser of two evils, but evil won.

What does it say when the KKK is so openly happy about Trump’s win? It’s one thing for a hillbilly in a white coat to be brazen in their racism, but Trump has empowered hatred throughout this country. Now as a straight white male, I’m not a target of the Trump movement, but what about the black community that I live in? What about my best friend who is half-black, half-Spanish, or my Jewish boss, or my Mexican relatives? How much more bullshit will they have to put up with now? You’ve already seen the stories from state after state this week of what Trump supporters are doing to innocent people. I’ve never seen the phrase “Go Back to Africa!” as much as I have this week. These feelings of hatred are deeply rooted, but it’s downright scary that the election of Trump has given so many a reason to act out, and it will likely only get worse. I thought we were going to hit a racial boiling point after the police shootings in Dallas this summer, but I really do fear what’s to come. As I said, as a white male, I’m not going to be personally affected too much by a Trump presidency, though the fear of nuclear war certainly endangers us all. But from a more realistic standpoint of what Trump will be allowed to do, I have real concerns with health care. If it wasn’t for Obamacare, I might not be here right now. After I lost my health insurance after college, I was denied coverage for a pre-exiting condition: hemorrhoids. Yes, a minor case of hemorrhoids over nine years ago denied me health care coverage. My doctor apologized before laughing about that, because he had never heard that one before. Now that I have had some serious health problems (a pulmonary embolism and sleep apnea this year), I worry about losing coverage again. While Obamacare has its issues — and those price hikes likely led to some Trump votes — it at least has helped people get covered.

Was this election the litmus test for drawing a line between stupidity and common sense? I already kind of figured that I generally don’t like many (most?) human beings, but I just want to thank the 60,265,858 Trump voters for helping me to put a number on it. I would love to know what percentage of that number actually voted for Trump because they support him as a person vs. how many were just voting for the Republican party. The two-party system is a joke in this day and age. It’s like a fan who roots for his team no matter what player is wearing the jersey. Sometimes, you need to read the name on the back too, and think about what kind of person you are supporting. If Trump ran as an independent without the backing of a major party, would he have ever gotten this far? Highly doubtful.

Did I vote this week? No, I’ve voted one time in my life, and that was 2004 (Kerry over Bush) when I turned 18. Hillary won my county, but perhaps she would have won Pennsylvania if people like me weren’t so apathetic towards this particular election. And I’m sorry, but if you voted for Gary Johnson, or anyone not named Clinton or Trump, then you wasted your vote. Voting for someone who you know has ZERO chance of winning is a fvcking waste of time.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Hillary was a terrible choice for the Democrats. I just thought it was painfully obvious that she’d make a better president than Trump, as would the dildo thrown on the field in Buffalo, but the votes still went the other way. I listened to a relative slam Trump over and over on Friday afternoon, and yet she still voted for him. Figure that shit out. She voted for Obama in 2012 too, and usually votes Democrat. We underestimated the amount of people who took a “they both suck, but I don’t want another Obama in there for four years” vote. And while change can certainly be a good thing, just remember that you are voting for a Giant Douche.

I look for a good week of NFL action (read: not Browns-Ravens) to take my mind off of the problems ahead, but as long as Trump is going to be president, there will be constant reminders of just how divided we are as a nation. And you can’t even really root for Trump to fail miserably, because a failed POTUS is bad for all of us. It might be funny to joke that he’s a puppet for Putin, but that is actually a terrifying thought. So thanks to Trump, we can’t even get schadenfreude out of this. I don’t think Trump will make it to 2020, one way or another, but I just hope the rest of us do.

Sometimes I like to end on a quote, so here’s that ending to the Chaplin speech from The Great Dictator.

“You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power.

Let us all unite.

Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise. They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people!

Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance!

Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!”

We can still learn more from The Tramp than we ever will with Trump.

NFL Week 10

We are now just past the halfway point of the 2016 NFL season. Week 10 has some really interesting games, but I already wrote a full preview of Seahawks-Patriots at FO, so be sure to check that out.

Broncos at Saints

At what point does a unit sustain too many injuries to be considered a different unit from the team’s norm? I’m not saying the absence of Aqib Talib and Derek Wolfe makes it impossible for the Broncos to play well in New Orleans, but it certainly makes things a little easier on Drew Brees and the offense. This is not the usual Denver defense at its best. If the Saints were without Drew Brees, we wouldn’t consider that the usual Saints offense, while we probably would if Brees was playing without his LT and a starting wide receiver. That’s just the importance of the quarterback position. For a defense, no one player has that type of impact, as even the Houston defense is still functioning about as expected without J.J. Watt. Again, this is more of a philosophical point than something specific to this particular game, but I am interested to see how the Broncos fare on the road against a team capable of scoring. Trevor Siemian will have to be much sharper, and while the Saints defense has the reputation it does, it hasn’t been scorched earth like last year. I feel iffy about picking New Orleans here, especially when I can see a good rushing performance coming from Denver, but I think I like Brees at home here against that depleted Denver D. He has rarely been pressured this season, and that’s how Denver thrives with Von Miller & Co.

Falcons at Eagles

Yes, we have the Eagles still first in DVOA, even though they’re the worst team to ever be No. 1 at this point of the season. Realistically, the Eagles are about a 5-3 team trapped in a 4-4 team’s record, with some really dominant wins and a few close losses. If it’s a close game, give me Matt Ryan any day over Carson Wentz, who has yet to prove he can win a game late or win a high-scoring affair (sound familiar?). However, I think the Eagles rebound in this one at home and play very well on defense to get the win. Ryan has historically seen a big dip in his production on the road, and I think the Eagles can contain the run and Julio Jones enough to keep the score down. Also, every team but Denver has scored at least 26 points on Atlanta’s defense, which could be susceptible to all the short passes in a YAC-based passing game like the Eagles have. Maybe I’m banking on DVOA too much here, but I just think the Eagles have a good game in them this week, and that the Atlanta D is still a major hurdle for the Falcons to do damage in the playoffs.

Cowboys at Steelers

I don’t know what kind of odds I could get on that, but I’d probably drop $50 on it happening without any concern. I just think this is a bounce-back week for the Steelers at home. The Dallas defense has been kind of smoke and mirrors, not allowing more than 23 points in any game this season, but I expect a 34-27 type of game where Pittsburgh exposes them with its talented offense. Remember, Morris Claiborne and Barry Church are out, so that’s two big injuries in the secondary. Don’t forget about Sammie Coates and his weekly 40-yard reception when he was healthy. The good news from last week’s game was that Ben Roethlisberger looked fine physically by the end of it. The struggles were more about rust/lack of practice time, a bad game plan, and too much familiarity against a good Baltimore defense. The Cowboys are an unfamiliar opponent, and for whatever reason, the Steelers home/road splits are massive in recent years. You saw how they destroyed the Chiefs on SNF a few weeks ago. I don’t think they can do that again just because of how efficient the Dallas offense is, but I see a shootout here with Ben having one of those special games. Think 2009 Packers or 2013 Lions or 2006 Saints. Yes, I ended up picking all NFC home games there. Roethlisberger is 18-4 at home against NFC opponents. The Cowboys are about due for a defensive letdown, and what better offense on the schedule to do that to them than Pittsburgh?

Besides, this will just set things up perfectly for the Steelers to take this huge win into Cleveland next week and lose to the 0-10 Browns.

2016 Week 10 Predictions

I had the Ravens on TNF, and I fell asleep on the game, but apparently they did win big.

Winners in bold:

  • Chiefs at Panthers
  • Bears at Buccaneers
  • Vikings at Redskins
  • Falcons at Eagles
  • Rams at Jets
  • Texans at Jaguars
  • Packers at Titans
  • Broncos at Saints
  • Dolphins at Chargers
  • Cowboys at Steelers
  • 49ers at Cardinals
  • Seahawks at Patriots
  • Bengals at Giants

Alright, no ties last week. That’s good.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 7-6
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Season: 77-56

NFL Week 5 Predictions: Low Ratings Edition

So ratings are down 11 percent in the NFL. I could have predicted this given the indisputable facts that Peyton Manning retired, Tom Brady was suspended, and 11 percent of all NFL interest still comes back to arguing about them.

Okay, but on a more serious note, this league has had the No-Name Chicago Bears and Blaine Gabbert on in prime time twice each before Columbus Day. What did you expect? Week 5 seriously got started with Drew Stanton completing less than 50 percent of his passes and Phil Simms praising Gabbert for missing important throws. It’s not going to get any better with the farcical Presidential debate going on tomorrow night during Giants-Packers, and no Cam Newton against the Buccaneers on Monday night. The prime-time games have just been bad, and I’ve taken a few naps during the middle portions of them. It is hard to watch an island game that’s just bad football with countless commercial breaks for three hours.

Is the national anthem controversy sparked by Colin Kaepernick part of the decline? It could be. I’ve seen some weird people (Trump supporters, go figure) on Twitter saying how they’ve stopped watching for this reason, but overall I think it’s just been about the quality of the product. Chiefs-Steelers seemed like a nice game on paper, but the casual fan could have turned over to HBO for Westworld at 9 p.m. last week. It was a first-quarter knockout, and that was one of the good games on the prime-time schedule. Do  you really want to watch Jets-Cardinals next Monday night? That was a bad idea in April.

We’ll see if the ratings return to normal once the election is over, The Walking Dead goes on winter break, and the stakes get higher with each passing week of the regular season. But right now, the NFL is pushing crap games and it shouldn’t be shocked if people aren’t willing to put in the time. Life is too short to see if Ryan Tannehill has a breakout year in him. (In fact, that’s good advice for the Miami Dolphins too.)

Falcons at Broncos

We at least have one standout matchup this week: the red-hot Atlanta offense going into Denver against the most-respected defense in the NFL right now. Yes, defense usually beats offense in such meetings, but not always, and definitely not always in a Week 5 regular-season game. In fact, I can recall the 2006 season when Peyton Manning led the Colts into Denver in Week 8. The Broncos were 5-1, and had only allowed 3-7 points in each of their last five games (26 points total). It wasn’t that scary of a defense by personnel, but it did have Champ Bailey, John Lynch, Al Wilson and a rookie pass-rusher named Elvis Dumervil. Manning and Reggie Wayne had one of the best games of their careers in the 34-31 shootout win. The Colts of course won the Super Bowl that year, and I believe that team is being honored this weekend in its matchup against the Bears for a 10th-year anniversary.

Anyway, I’ve always viewed Matt Ryan as the poor man’s Manning, but he’s off to probably his best four-game start ever this season. Unfortunately, he’s seen nothing even close to a defense like this yet this season. Carolina did not have anyone capable of keeping up with Julio Jones last week in the 500/300 game for this combo. Denver has a couple of corners capable of containing Jones. That’s the biggest difference, because this Atlanta offense is not very deep at receiver. The other guys are more pedestrian at best. This isn’t like 2012 when Roddy White was still a stud. Contain Julio, and the passing game, which has historically not gone as well for Ryan on the road, should not be as efficient this week. If there’s somewhere for Atlanta to attack, it may be with its running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Broncos have not been as stout there this year, and I could see Freeman popping a big one.

But these offenses do share some similarities in that it’s the Shanahan/Kubiak style of WCO, utilizing zone-blocking scheme and play-action/bootlegs. The Falcons had a great touchdown bomb to a wide-open TE last week with a bootleg play. Ryan is definitely thriving in Year Two of Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but this is something Kubiak and Phillips should be very familiar with. I know Denver has a quarterback concern with Trevor Siemian as questionable, but I’m not even that worried about Paxton Lynch if the rookie has to make his first start. He was airing it out like crazy last week against Tampa Bay, so the Broncos will not hold back with him. I also think the Falcons are a pretty poor defense despite having the outside corners to contend with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. This might be a bounce-back game for C.J. Anderson and the running game.

As I tweeted after last week’s game, Atlanta’s first four games have been historically high scoring.

The Falcons can stake their claim as the No. 1 team in everyone’s meaningless power rankings with impressive showings the next two weeks on the road in Denver and Seattle. However, I think they’ll fall completely on their face in at least one of these matchups, and this is the one where I think they’ll come back to earth offensively. I don’t expect a blowout, because Denver almost never does that to anyone (three times in 23 games under Kubiak), but I don’t see the offensive production continuing for Atlanta here.

Best of the Rest

What else am I looking at in Week 5? It’s not a very good week…

Jets at Steelers – I’ve been a Darrelle Revis fan since he was at Pitt, but it’s been tough to see him play this year. He’s allowing 16 yards per target, by far the worst in the league. It doesn’t sound like he’ll play in this big matchup with Antonio Brown, but that might actually be a good thing for the Jets at this point. I worry that the Steelers might rest on their laurels after the huge win against KC, but this should be a game they take care of well at home. There’s a huge mismatch in play-action passing here. However, I still think Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall are going to play well. Fitzpatrick has to know his job is hanging on the line with nine interceptions in two games. Another pick parade, and I can’t see how Todd Bowles can keep putting him out there at 1-4.

Eagles at Lions – Well, here we go again, Eagles fans. The Lions are 32nd in defensive DVOA, and 31st against short passes. They’re also 28th against deep passes, so it’s really been a shitshow start for this unit. The Lions have been a huge disappointment since blowing a 12-point lead in the 4Q to the Titans in Week 2. Now they need a win against a 3-0 team that’s coming off the bye and has played very well, balanced football. It doesn’t look good for the Lions, and I think Carson Wentz should have another good game. It’s just a matter of how much credit does he really deserve when it’s feasting on another bad opponent? I’m all for opponent adjustments in stats. It’s absolutely not the same when you play the worst defense in the league compared to one of the best, like Matt Ryan will be doing in Denver. However, I’m not sure if we’re going about opponent adjustments the best way we can, because when you think about it, the concept of a team’s defense is constantly changing due to injuries and players being benched. Detroit is likely to play without its best pass rusher (Ezekiel Ansah) and linebacker (DeAndre Levy) again this week. So far, Andrew Luck in Week 1 was the only QB to face the 2016 Lions with Ansash (2 GS) and Levy (1 GS) on the field. It definitely should make a difference in playing Detroit without Ansah and Levy vs. playing Detroit with them, but how do we account for that statistically in a way that’s not so arbitrary? You can almost say a team’s defense (or any unit) has 16 one-game seasons rather than one singular unit playing a 16-game season. I wish I had some good answers for how to account for this better, but I haven’t put in the work to do so. I just know it’s an unfortunate issue with opponent adjustments.

Patriots at Browns – Let’s dial back on the “Angry Brady” narrative. Truth be told, he’s probably played just about every game since Spygate with a sandy va-well that’s not very presidential of me to say. But I really find it a tiresome narrative. Quarterbacks should always be motivated, and the Patriots should be extra motivated after a 16-0 shutout loss to Buffalo last week. Do I expect Cleveland to lose? Absolutely; this is the only winless team in the league, but it’s not a historically bad team. It’s just a lousy Cleveland team. Do I expect a total domination by the Patriots? Not necessarily, because the Browns are at home and have played competitively the last few weeks. And it’s not like the Patriots with Brady dominated this team in 2010 (lost 34-14) or 2013 (won 27-26 after needing a late onside kick for a comeback). Much like that 2010 game fueled by Peyton Hillis, the Browns need to run the ball well and control the clock with Isaiah Crowell, who is off to a great start in Hue Jackson’s offense. I don’t expect much from this game, but I certainly don’t expect a Brady masterpiece because he’s “angry.”

2016 Week 5 Predictions

I had the Cardinals by double digits on TNF, and that surprisingly worked out after it looked like neither team would score if you gave them 75 minutes of game time. Turnovers are a bitch.

Winners in bold:

  • Redskins at Ravens
  • Bears at Colts
  • Texans at Vikings
  • Patriots at Browns
  • Eagles at Lions
  • Titans at Dolphins
  • Jets at Steelers
  • Falcons at Broncos
  • Bengals at Cowboys
  • Bills at Rams
  • Chargers at Raiders
  • Giants at Packers
  • Buccaneers at Panthers

Man, all Derek Anderson does in Carolina is excel in garbage time and starting against Tampa Bay. I also wish the debate was on Monday instead, because Giants-Packers could be decent. If Odell Beckham Jr. has a dominant, great game, it will sadly get less attention than one of his tantrum games gets. But don’t take my Beckham prediction to the bank. Even though I plan to use him heavily in DFS this week, my overall game predictions have started about as poorly as any season I can remember.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Season: 33-30