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
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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

2016 NFL Wild Card Predictions

It’s playoff time, so let’s start crushing bad narratives and picking winners.

Oakland at Houston

Okay, so maybe the playoffs don’t actually start until Saturday evening. We have to spend three hours watching one of these teams line up to be slaughtered in New England next week. Seriously, this is not the caliber of playoff game we have come to expect, and it’s certainly the worst on paper that I can ever recall. Of course, injuries to three different quarterbacks in the last two weeks is how we’ve gotten to Connor Cook (first start!) against Brock Osweiler. I’d like to think we’ll see a lot of DeAndre Hopkins and Amari Cooper bailing out bad throws, but I frankly doubt either quarterback hits 250 passing yards. This needs to be a Lamar Miller game if you’re Houston, and a Khalil Mack game if you’re Oakland. Mack sacked Osweiler five times in Denver last year and had a big strip-sack in the end zone. He needs to create a splash play like that again to get some points for his team in what should be a low-scoring game. Frankly, I thought Houston should have won the matchup in Mexico City, but Bill O’Brien coached a horrible game and the referees didn’t help either. So I already think Houston, one of the worst playoff teams since 1989, had a decent shot in this matchup to begin with, but should be able to get the home win by relying on its defense against a complete unknown in Cook. Oakland’s offensive line and running backs are certainly good enough to carry Cook to a 13-10 win should that be the case, but I just feel like Oakland’s defense is not reliable enough to keep the score that low. Osweiler might also be surprisingly not horrific, and hell, he can’t be any worse than what Brian Hoyer did in this spot a year ago, right? Fuck, why are we always starting the playoffs with the Texans?

This is all Indianapolis’ fault.

Final: Raiders 13, Texans 20

Detroit at Seattle

Most of us have been trained to expect the Lions to lose this game. They already have the longest playoff losing streak in NFL history, and Seattle has clearly been one of the premiere teams in recent seasons, especially at home. However, I give Matthew Stafford a fighting chance after seeing him have a few successful moments against the Legion of Boom, which is just not the same without Earl Thomas. What do I tend to say beats Seattle? Short, quick throws combined with a willingness to make the big play down the field. That about sums up Stafford to a tee in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. Yeah, he’s gone to a more dink-and-dunk attack, and Calvin Johnson is no longer there for the spectacular catch, but Stafford has done well to get more receivers involved and he’ll still make the occasional side-arm throw or risk that most passers won’t take. So he’s the right quarterback against Seattle without Thomas, and Eric Ebron needs to really step up since you figure Golden Tate will against his former team, and Anquan Boldin usually seizes these opportunities well. The white running back may not make much traction, but the Seahawks will respect him, including Michael Bennett.

Meanwhile, it’s really a matter of the Seahawks being able to flip the switch or not. The DVOA dynasty is dead. Seattle finished 9th in DVOA after leading the league four years in a row. Russell Wilson’s early injuries hampered his play, but the offense has still continued to sputter on the ground all year, and the recent loss of Tyler Lockett hurts. The defense has gone without Michael Bennett at times, and now Thomas is done. It’s just not going to be the same team when the superstars are not healthy. That’s just a fact of the game. So while I think Seattle should win at home, an upset wouldn’t shock me one bit. The competitive streak died at 98 games this year. The Packers completely blew this team out already. And yeah, Detroit likes to hang around in the fourth quarter, though the eight comeback wins are a little misleading. Seven of Detroit’s comebacks have been from a 1-4 point deficit, and only one was a 7-point deficit (Rams). If Seattle can get up double digits, it’s likely over, but can you really count on this offense to do that right now? Sure, the Detroit pass defense just allowed the worst completion percentage in NFL history, but you can always get Wilson to go off script and hold onto the ball, opening up the potential for sacks to stall drives. I see a pretty competitive game here, and I know the illegal bat penalty that was missed a year ago is going to be on some Lions’ minds, but I’m still going Seattle.

Final: Lions 16, Seahawks 24

Miami at Pittsburgh

I already put 3700 words down on this game for my FO preview, so please check that out. Basically, I think Pittsburgh has too many weapons for Miami to shut the offense down (unless they injure Roethlisberger again). It does sound like Ladarius Green might not play again, but the point still stands that the Steelers are at home and they’re finally healthy, so the pressure is on them to perform. As for Miami, I wouldn’t count out Matt Moore playing well, but I think Adam Gase needs to show trust in him. If the Dolphins come out trying to establish Ajayi early and often, then I think that plays into the strength of the Pittsburgh defense, and if the offense is doing its part, then the Dolphins could see things snowball quickly on the scoreboard. They have to start well and stay balanced. Pittsburgh just needs to protect the ball better and should get this win, but I sure as hell wouldn’t bet them with the 10-point spread. After all, this is a Mike Tomlin team in a game it’s expected to win comfortably. No thanks.

Final: Dolphins 17, Steelers 24

New York Giants at Green Bay

This is the most interesting game of the weekend. One that can go many different ways, and I honestly believe this could be the most pivotal game of the 2016 postseason. The winner here just might go all the way. Lambeau Field lost its postseason mystique years ago, and the Giants are a big reason for that. You know damn well Eli Manning won’t be bothered by the situation, but we have no idea how someone like Odell Beckham Jr. will handle his first playoff game. Does he go off like a Steve Smith or turtle up like a Marvin Harrison? The matchup is certainly good with Green Bay’s damaged secondary, but all year we have wondered why the Giants aren’t scoring more despite the talent on offense. This team brings the best defense to the playoffs, and the Giants’ DVOA variance is the smallest of any team since 1989. It’s basically always a close, low-scoring game where the defense has to hold on at the end. The Giants are 11-2 in close games this year. If you’re just a football fan, you’d love nothing more than to see Aaron Rodgers with the ball late in a 4-6 point game against this defense. But the Giants have to get to that lead first, and it’s certainly doable with the standouts in the secondary (Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie). These guys can cover Green Bay’s receivers, and they already forced Rodgers into one of his worst games of the season, at home nonetheless. Of course, Rodgers can still buy time and no matter how good your secondary is, receivers will get open. This pass rush is not on the 2007 or 2011 Giants level when they had guys like Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. This is more of a coverage defense, so Eli better bring some points to the table.

My line on Eli has been that he’s only able to make the playoffs when his team is good, and only able to win there when his team is playing great. The Giants are 0-3 in the playoffs when they haven’t gone on their two miracle SB runs. This is also Ben McAdoo rather than Tom Coughlin putting the team in position to go on a run, and I think that’s a negative. Not that Mike McCarthy is great, but you have to give a coaching edge to Green Bay here for experience. But hopefully this is a good game that comes down to the final possession. I really have wanted to pick the Giants, but I just don’t see the points coming in this one.

Final: Giants 16, Packers 20

Full Playoff Predictions

I figured I’ll go through my whole playoff predictions before things get started.

Wild Card:

  • Raiders at Texans
  • Lions at Seahawks
  • Dolphins at Steelers
  • Giants at Packers

Divisional:

  • Texans at Patriots
  • Steelers at Chiefs
  • Seahawks at Falcons
  • Packers at Cowboys

Conference Championship:

  • Chiefs at Patriots
  • Packers at Falcons

Super Bowl 51:

Patriots vs. Falcons

Super Bowl MVP: Matt Ryan

I regret picking almost all home teams, but this is an unusually crappy playoff field this year, and no regrets on this final pick. I think Matt Ryan is having his 2006 Peyton Manning season.

Do I think the Steelers can win in KC and NE? Absolutely, but I sure wouldn’t bet on it. Just like how I think the Giants could rip through all of these top offenses to get back to another SB, but that’s just not going to be my pick. My preseason pick was Seahawks over Patriots, and while it wouldn’t shock me if we ended up there again, I don’t have enough trust in this incarnation of the Seahawks. Finally, after such a shaky regular season, I hope we do see a great postseason filled with exciting finishes and upsets. If so many of these teams are unusually flawed, then it’s safe to say the top teams are flawed too. No one is that much of a juggernaut that they can’t go down in any given week.

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
  • Season: 159-97

NFL Week 17 Predictions: One More Try Edition

Earlier this week I did a deep dive into the MVP race heading into Week 17. The only logical conclusion is for Matt Ryan to run away with the award, but some want to make it a career achievement thing and dismiss Ryan for a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, or a flashy new thing out of Dallas. The absurd part is that should Ryan lose on Sunday in a 38-35 game after some typical Drew Brees masterclass performance against his bad defense, while someone like Brady or Rodgers has a nice week to close the season against an opponent clearly worse than its record suggests, then you can almost guarantee that Ryan will finish with no more than a handful of the 50 votes. That’s crazy, because the race has simply not been that close if you actually value the whole season like you should. It’s almost impossible for a player who was suspended for a quarter of the season to be considered the most valuable player in the league. That’s 25% of the season where he’s given no value, and we know the Patriots are more likely to succeed without Brady than most teams would be without their top quarterback. Or in the case of Aaron Rodgers, why is the 4-6 start and spotty play just getting ignored here when someone like Ryan has carried a worse defense further in the NFC while turning in one of the most consistent QB seasons on record? It’s nuts. We’re going into 2017. Let’s do better, people. Then again, an NFL Network ad that glorified “analysis from guys with rings” is clearly a step in the wrong direction, but we’ll have all of January and the start of February to talk about ring fluff.

The drama in Week 17 really centers on clearing up the AFC West, and whether or not the Patriots will lay another bizarre egg in Miami like they did a year ago. I doubt the latter happens, and I think Matt McGloin is going to struggle in Denver for Oakland. However, the Raiders might just be able to lean on that run offense again, and Denver’s poor offense won’t be able to take advantage in a 8-8 finish for the year. Oakland gets the two seed, though that’s probably the best possible outcome for this AFC playoffs. Let’s see Kansas City at New England early, and then maybe Pittsburgh gets there too.

NFC North Title Match: Green Bay at Detroit

There’s only one other game worth highlighting, and that is the finale in Detroit between the Lions and Packers. My gut says Detroit finds a way to avenge the Hail Mary last year and win this game, though I’m just not sure I trust Matthew Stafford to come through in the biggest game of his career. Yes, he’s started two playoff games, but those were on the road. This is to get a home playoff game for the Lions. That’s huge. He played well in Green Bay in Week 3, but that was before Marvin Jones ended up on milk cartons and a lot of it came after a 28-point lead for the Packers. Rodgers has already shredded this No. 32 defense, and the health of Darius Slay is a big thing to monitor against Jordy Nelson and company. The Lions are allowing a 72.9 completion percentage this season, the worst in NFL history. Oddly enough, the 2011 Colts, also coached by Jim Caldwell, hold the record at 71.2%. Five of the 12 worst rates ever belong to Detroit teams. I don’t expect either running game to take off in a huge way, so it really comes down to the passing games. I just think Rodgers has the experience, superior talent and more weapons to deal with than Stafford here, and we know the Lions have been in a scoring rut lately. I’m going to take Green Bay, which seems to be in one of these seed-determining Week 17 games each year, though a Detroit win wouldn’t shock me. Ideally, you’d want to see this game come down to the final drive given the eight comebacks for the Lions this year and GB’s history in that department under Mike McCarthy. Six of Detroit’s comebacks have been at home, and seven of the eight have been from just a 1-4 point deficit. It’s a myth that this team waits to turn it on until the fourth. It’s a fact that they’re just not a very good team that gets involved in a ton of close games and usually trails each week. This one shouldn’t be any different, but a blowout sure would be disappointing to end this regular season on Sunday night.

Final: Packers 27, Lions 23

2016 Week 17 Predictions

Man, I knew I should have picked San Diego to lose to Cleveland last week.  Here’s one more try at a 16-0 week (yeah right).

Winners in bold:

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

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
  • Season: 148-92

NFL Week 6 Predictions: Opposite Day Edition

My game picks have not gotten off to a good start in 2016, but I’m still doing better than the Panthers and Cardinals. I am feeling a few underdogs in Week 6. This all started on Thursday night when I picked San Diego to beat Denver. As much as the Chargers tried to blow an 18-point fourth-quarter lead, they finally held on in the end. Let’s look at a few big ones this Sunday.

Carolina at New Orleans

It looks like Cam Newton is going to play in this one, but either way I like the Saints at home coming off the bye. Drew Brees should have a big game against this secondary, and remember, the Saints were a drive away from beating Carolina in each game last year. That even included a Luke McCown start where I believe he was 31-of-38 with a couple of drops. This offense had a lot of success against the stingy Panthers of 2015, and there’s no Josh Norman to make the game-saving pass defense this time. Sure, I hate backing the New Orleans defense, but it’s not like Carolina has been an efficient offense this season. As unfathomable as 1-5 sounds for Carolina, the Saints should come through at home and complete the NFC South sweep of the Panthers.

Kansas City at Oakland

Yes, Andy Reid is 15-2 after a regular-season bye, but that really doesn’t factor into my thoughts on this one. I expected Oakland’s offense to get off to a nice start due to the schedule. Now can they get better results against a team like the Chiefs? Kansas City’s defense has had as much variation as any in the league this year. They can be great one week, terrible the next, or even do so in the same game (Week 1’s 21-point comeback vs. San Diego). Jamaal Charles should see a bigger workload, and it’s not like Oakland’s defense has been impressive. On the other side of the ball, I think Marcus Peters is going to have to come up with another interception for the Chiefs, and Derek Carr is not shy about forcing some 50/50 balls that Peters can win. If the rest of the secondary can handle Oakland’s three wideouts, then this should be a winnable game for Alex Smith and the offense.

Atlanta at Seattle

Nice matchup. Basically another No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense type of game, but Seattle has faced the weakest set of offenses yet this season. Atlanta just got a great test in Denver last week, though the Seahawks will be a different challenge. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman should not run wild as they did in Denver. Julio Jones still has another tough matchup with Richard Sherman, who can certainly keep him under 100 yards. I don’t see Atlanta cracking more than 24 points on the road here, but the biggest difference from last week is the fact that Atlanta’s defense will be seriously challenged unlike what they saw from Paxton Lynch in his first start. The bye week should have been great for Russell Wilson to heal more from his leg injuries, but he was playing very well with them in his last two games, both of which saw Jimmy Graham crack 100 receiving yards. Atlanta’s cornerbacks are a strength in its defense, but I think the Seahawks can negate that inside with Graham and Doug Baldwin. Tyler Lockett is also reportedly feeling healthier, and Christine Michael has taken over at running back. I think Seattle will be too much for Atlanta at home, though I am a little surprised about the spread being 6.5. I definitely can see a late Matt Ryan-led GWD in this one, though I’m still taking Seattle.

Dallas at Green Bay

This might be a good example of early-season statistics vs. opponent adjustments. The Packers have been excellent at stopping the run, but they’ve also played four pretty shite rushing attacks. The Cowboys are arguably the best right now with that OL and Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas’ offense is more efficient than Green Bay’s this season, and when he’s not playing the terrible Detroit defense, Aaron Rodgers still looks like the same quarterback from the last 12 games last season, which is bad news for the Packers. I’d be all over Dallas if this game was at home, but alas, you don’t know what you’ll get from young players on the road, and it sounds like Dez Bryant won’t be catching or not catching anything here on Sunday. I could see Dak Prescott’s no-INT streak ending in this one as he tempts history. That still doesn’t mean he can’t have a very nice game, but it really comes down to how well the Cowboys are running it, and if they’re getting pressure on Rodgers. He has been pressured quite a bit this season, and the Packers have struggled with the blitz. Dallas needs to be a little aggressive to pull this one out on the road, and I certainly believe it can.

Indianapolis at Houston

Of course we get some AFC South slop in prime-time. This could even be the game that decides which team leads the division for the rest of the season given the direction the teams are heading. The Colts have been right there at the end of all five games, but only enter at 2-3, relying so much on Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton to perform miracles. The Texans are 3-2, but have played mostly poor football, and were exposed badly by the Vikings and Patriots. There is no J.J. Watt, but Jadeveon Clowney is stepping up nicely. Brock Osweiler was horrific last week and overall pretty bad this season. We also know the Texans don’t get much YAC, which killed the Colts last week against Brian Hoyer and the Bears. However, I think this is a game for Lamar Miller to finally break out and score his first touchdown as a Texan. The Colts are still soft against the run, because what else would you expect from Ryan Grigson building the defense? I really think the Texans are going to seize this opportunity at home in prime time to play their most complete game of the season, but I also kind of expect to see Luck flirt with another 17-21 point comeback in the second half. In other words, a typical Colts-Texans game in the years that Houston is quasi-competitive.

2016 Week 6 Predictions

Like I said, the Chargers came through for a change.

Winners in bold:

  • Browns at Titans
  • Steelers at Dolphins
  • Rams at Lions
  • Ravens at Giants
  • Panthers at Saints
  • Eagles at Redskins
  • Bengals at Patriots
  • 49ers at Bills
  • Jaguars at Bears
  • Chiefs at Raiders
  • Cowboys at Packers
  • Falcons at Seahawks
  • Colts at Texans
  • Jets at Cardinals
  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Season: 40-37

NFL Week 2 Predictions: Embracing Mediocrity

I always like it when the afternoon games I’m most interested in are on my local CBS and FOX affiliates, which is the case this week. Without failure, each season someone is shocked that I don’t have Sunday Ticket, but why would I ever want or need such an expensive service? I prefer to watch a full live game if I can, particularly the Steelers, but I also have the RedZone channel. Then there’s Game Pass and torrents. So I get the league-wide access I need at a favorable cost. If there’s a drive full of 4-yard papercuts to Jarvis Landry that I need to see, I’ll see it in due time. No worries.

Bengals at Steelers

This is easily the game of the week. That may not mean it will play out as the best, but it is the most important game — the next chapter in a heated rivalry. It also brings up one of the more fascinating stats in the NFL: Marvin Lewis is 6-7 in Pittsburgh, but 2-13 at home against the Steelers (including two crushing playoff losses). The road team just happens to play better in this series, and Cincinnati’s 6-7 record in Pittsburgh trails only Jacksonville (3-1) and New England (3-2) since 2003 among teams with at least 3 trips to Heinz Field. Part of this weird split is that Ben Roethlisberger’s stats are better in Cincinnati than at home where he has had some of the worst games of his career in low-scoring struggles, including last season’s 16-10, three-pick defeat. At least this won’t be a game where Roethlisberger is just returning from injury as was the case last year.

In his career, Roethlisberger is 54-4 at home when the Steelers allow fewer than 21 points, but three of those losses were to the Bengals. Lewis’ defense has a good feel for defending this offense, including pressuring Ben and containing Antonio Brown as a receiver (he does have 3 punt return touchdowns against the Bengals). In Brown’s last 48 games with Roethlisberger at quarterback, he’s had at least 5 catches in all 48, and at least 70 yards in 40 of them. Only the Ravens (4), Bengals (3) and Seahawks (1) have held this duo under 70 yards. I think the Bengals can limit his damage again this week, and A.J. Green is going to have the bigger game. He almost has to with both offenses experiencing many departures, putting the onus on their star receivers to dominate. Heath Miller retired, Ladarius Green and Tyler Eifert are injured, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are gone, Martavis Bryant is suspended and Markus Wheaton appears to still be injured. This means newcomers have to contribute, including Eli Rogers, Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd. While a game of HORSE between Brown and Green would be interesting, the offense that gets more secondary receiver contributions is likely to win this game. I do not think either running game is going to go off, though I’d give the Steelers the edge there with DeAngelo Williams still looking really good at an advanced age behind this offensive line. I’m still not sure what to think of Jeremy Hill after a disappointing 2015, and he’ll especially be happy if Ryan Shazier isn’t at full strength after Shazier’s dominant playoff game helped eliminate the Bengals. The Steelers ought to be happy that Vontaze Burfict is still suspended for this one after Burfcit injured Le’Veon Bell, Ben and Brown on hits last season.

Defensively, I would be concerned that the Steelers did not get much rush on Washington and gave up their share of plays, but got enough big stops to limit the points to 16. That is always key, but a similar offense in Cincinnati should get rid of the ball quickly and there really is no one capable of matching up with Green in this secondary. Andy Dalton is usually one of the best-protected quarterbacks in the NFL, but he took seven sacks on the road last week. The Steelers are going to have to get their front seven to deliver more this week. I would expect a few sacks from the Bengals of Roethlisberger, but he’ll be glad to see no Reggie Nelson in the secondary. The offense had few problems in the last three quarters against Washington, but must build off that performance. You saw the ugly first quarter and how a few turnovers could really change the game around. The Bengals have the better defense in this matchup.

So home field has been established as pretty irrelevant in this particular series, but I do give the Steelers a slight edge going into this one. They’ll be happy to be home given six of their last seven games were on the road thanks to being a 6th seed in the playoffs last year and opening this year on the road. Monday night’s performance was impressive enough for me to think this offense is clicking well enough early despite the personnel losses that they can pull out a close one here.

Bengals 21, Steelers 24

Colts at Broncos

I hope I’m not relying too much on “fighting narratives” to make game picks this season, especially after a bad Week 1. But this was a game where I picked the Broncos to win when I went through all 256 games before opening night. Yes, it is true that Andrew Luck has had great success against the Broncos (3-1), including the most efficient and effective game any QB had against them last year while he lacerated his kidney. Maybe he took those matchups with Peyton Manning personally, really wanting to impress the Indy fans. He doesn’t need any extra motivation to avoid going 0-2 this week, but he hasn’t seen this Wade Phillips’ called defense on the road yet. The Broncos are still very much led by that defense, which feeds on the crowd energy to play even better at home. Trevor Siemian threw one pass over 15 yards in Week 1 and it was intercepted. He may get a boost this week with the Colts’ beat-up defensive unit struggling to get pressure and cover receivers. The Demaryius Thomas injury is a little concerning given Denver is basically two deep at that position, but I like Emmanuel Sanders this week. Right now, Siemian looks like Alex Smith without the draft pedigree, but the Broncos can win with that as long as C.J. Anderson is making great cuts behind an improved run-blocking line. Luck looked great last week, but I fear his line on the road this week against a much tougher unit. I absolutely think the Colts can win this one since you really don’t need to score many points to beat Denver, but I just don’t see it working out this time. The Colts need more of a big defensive effort than a big game from Luck (smart will do).

Colts 17, Broncos 20

Seahawks at Rams

I always like to say I get a lot of predictions wrong throughout the season, but I still get more right. It never fails to amaze me when I mention a long streak and it gets broken in the next game or two. All throughout the summer I feared a Russell Wilson injury this year due to his unusually good durability despite a frantic playing style behind a porous offensive line. Was this the year that would catch up to Seattle? Then he hurts his ankle in Week 1 and just barely limps to a late win over Miami. Unless the Seahawks are covering it up, Wilson seems to have avoided the dreaded high-ankle sprain and will start on Sunday. We don’t know anything about what Injured Russell Wilson looks like since he’s always been healthy. However, if his mobility is limited, then that’s a huge problem against a Rams defense that always gives him fits even when he’s on his game. Who saw the Rams going into Seattle in Week 16 and pulling out that win? Jeff Fisher can’t sniff a real Super Bowl again, so he treats these Seattle games as his team’s Super Bowl, and the success has been pretty good given Seattle’s overall dominance since 2012.

After the game on Sunday, I was determined to pick the Rams to win this game in their home Los Angeles opener given the Wilson injury. And then Monday night happened — an embarrassing 28-0 shutout to Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers, projected to be a bottom-two team this year. They drafted Jared Goff No. 1 to be inactive for this shit? Forget 7-9 bullshit, this looked like the start of 2-14 c*cksucker blues. And they want to give Fisher an extension? It’s madness.

And yet, as much as that game cooled me off the Rams’ upset, I still think they’re going to give Seattle a game here. I just don’t think it’s going to be enough because of that horrific offense against this great Seattle defense. Wilson may not need to throw for 100 yards. Just don’t turn the ball over.

Rams 6, Seahawks 16

Packers at Vikings

Opening a new stadium should be a joyous occasion, but in Minnesota, the throng of yawns in the air have already given the new place a stale smell of boredom and disinterest. Nothing can suck the life out of a fan base more than having to start Sam Bradford at quarterback after trading a first-round pick for him. Vikings fans, get ready to embrace mediocrity.

Mediocrity would actually be an improvement over most of Bradford’s career, but it’s really the best-case scenario this year. He plays at a league-average level, but does just enough in the right moments to get this team enough wins. Adrian Peterson is going to have to play much better than last week, though the Titans were built to stop the run and stink at the pass. Green Bay is a solid, but not great defense, and Sam Shields being out should help. I wouldn’t expect much from Bradford, but honestly, why would you ever expect much from Sam Bradford?

The other side of the ball is what interests me most about this one, because what the hell has happened to this Green Bay passing game? It went from years of being one of the most efficient attacks ever to a broken mess. Where are the timing plays and the chemistry on the back-shoulder throws? Anymore this offense works best by producing broken plays and taking advantage of offside penalties. It’s not sustainable, and it hasn’t been effective even though the Week 11 game in Minnesota is one of two times the offense has scored 30 offensive points in the last 13 games.

Aaron Rodgers has five seasons with at least 8.2 YPA.  He still ranks 5th all time in YPA (7.99). So it’s incredible when one of the most efficient passers ever has been held under 6.0 YPA in five of his last six games. That’s something Rodgers has only done in 12 other starts in his career. He’s been held under 7.0 YPA in 11 of his last 13 games (including playoffs). One of those two was the Hail Mary in Detroit to boost him up. Even though Jordy Nelson returned last week, he wasn’t the same receiver as he didn’t make the big plays. In fact, his 6 catches for 32 yards (5.33 YPC) is the lowest YPC he’s ever had in a game with more than 1 catch.

The effect this stretch of play is having on Rodgers’ career stats is interesting. He was at 8.22 YPA thru 116 regular-season games. Now after going a Joey Harrington-esque 5.96 YPA in his last 11 games, he’s down to 7.99. He still manages his TD-to-INT ratio well, but it’s hard to call this depressed passing game effective. Keep in mind the Packers are 6-7 since a 6-0 start last year. Rodgers has tore up the Vikings many times in his career, but not last year against Mike Zimmer’s defense. I think that defense rises to the occasion in this one, but the offense lets them down as Green Bay does just enough to sneak away with the win in the new stadium.

Packers 19, Vikings 16

2016 Week 2 Predictions

Well I was some 7-9 bullshit in a bad opening week. At least I changed my mind on the Jets starting 0-6 to give them the Thursday win over a growing mess in Buffalo. See, Ryan Fitzpatrick sucks against Rex Ryan defenses, but that Rob Ryan D is another story.

Winners in bold

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

Week 1: 7-9

NFL Week 1 Predictions: Upsets & Awards

I almost refuse to work on Saturdays during the offseason, but I don’t mind it during the season when it comes to making predictions here or doing that last-minute research for Sunday.

I even got a rare Saturday article at FO, the first of its kind for me. I interviewed a former NFL player, picking Jamal Anderson’s brain over what was different for the 1998 Falcons, one of the biggest surprise Super Bowl teams and quick turnarounds ever. And you know I had to ask about the Dirty Bird and Curse of 370. So that was something cool and different for me to do.

Now back to the stuff I’m used to doing. The full season predictions posted below were an epic-length post even by my standards, so I left the award predictions for today.

Award Predictions

  • MVP: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
  • OPOY: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
  • DPOY: Aaron Donald, Rams (think J.J. Watt’s health fails him)
  • Coach: Mike Tomlin, Steelers (really couldn’t think of a good answer for this one based on my playoff seeds)
  • OROY: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys (would be cool if it’s Tajae Sharpe)
  • DROY: Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars
  • Comeback: Andrew Luck, Colts (the “because he sucked the year before” variety)

In the last two years I picked the MVP from my top-seeded team, and both picks were disasters with the 2014 Saints (Drew Brees) and 2015 Colts (Luck). Hopefully I didn’t put the jinx on Roethlisberger and the Steelers, though you can read in my predictions why I’m already cautious about their success this year.

The reason I pick Roethlisberger is that I think he’s playing as well as he ever has in the last couple of seasons. I think QB should pretty much always win MVP, so when you look at his competition this year, it’s not very deep and there are some real question marks, including how Luck will play. But with Peyton Manning retired, Tom Brady suspended, Aaron Rodgers coming off his worst year, Drew Brees on a bad team, and Tony Romo hurt, the field has really shrunk. Yes, Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson are right there, and I think it comes down to these guys staying healthy and they should all be high up there again by the end of the season. Yes, I see some people picking Cam Newton for back-to-back MVPs, but I never thought he deserved it last year and he’s off to the wrong start this season. In fact, I put together a chart of every first-team All-Pro QB season since 1989 and Newton’s season stands out in a bad way.

dyarap

Newton is the only season with fewer than 1,100 DYAR. In the last two seasons, Roethlisberger has had passing DYAR of 1,114 (missed four games) and 1,572 (1st in 2014). In addition to his play, shouldn’t he have a preset argument with all the skill guys that have been injured or suspended around him? Le’Veon Bell suspended for three games, Martavis Bryant gone for the year, Heath Miller retired and they put Ladarius Green on PUP for at least six weeks. Now that gives me some concern about how good this offense will be, but I think as long as Ben and Antonio Brown stay healthy, they’ll have enough to be successful. And therein lies the rub. Instead of debating Roethlisberger for MVP, I see Antonio Brown for MVP, which would be the first wide receiver to ever win the AP’s MVP award. That’s some 7-9 bullshit thinking right there. They call it a passing league, not a catching league. What has Brown accomplished without QB1 in the lineup? Not much, and for a wide receiver to truly win MVP, I think he’d have to have a mediocre QB at best and make some unbelievable plays that tip the balance of several high-profile games for a team that makes the playoffs. You would need a passing offense with stats where the QB was significantly more efficient and productive when throwing to this wideout than the rest of the receivers. Calvin Johnson may have been able to do this in past years, yet he never even came close to being MVP in Detroit.

But it’s really just typical mainstream NFL media giving Roethlisberger the Rodney Dangerfield “No Respect” treatment. I wrote about this during the 2014 season, and not much has changed. I know he doesn’t help himself by missing games most years, but few quarterbacks play at his level on a yearly basis. As long as the health is there, he has to be a top MVP candidate.

Week 1 Upsets

I have a few games I wanted to share some thoughts on in particular this week.

Pittsburgh at Washington

Well, this might not help the Roethlisberger MVP campaign. My thinking on Monday night’s opener is that Washington is going to pounce on a weakened Pittsburgh roster. While the pre-game narrative is going to be “Washington didn’t beat a good team last year and is Kirk Cousins legit?”, I think the Redskins and Cousins will put on a show in this one. Or at least for 3.5 quarters before maybe a PIT comeback, but it’s a tough matchup when you lose Bud Dupree, don’t have much in the secondary, and will be without RB1 (Bell), WR2 (Markus Wheaton) and TE1 (Green). Washington may not be able to run much, but I think the receiving corps is very deep and will give the Steelers trouble as long as Cousins is getting rid of the ball quickly. I’ve just seen too many instances of the Steelers laying an egg, especially offensively, on road games in prime time. I think the offense will need to step up in this one (24-point minimum), and while I don’t have any real fear of Josh Norman shutting down Antonio Brown, it is a limited PIT offense this week and Brown shouldn’t go off all night. I’d play Sammie Coates a lot because I think he’s the closest thing to Martavis on the roster, but the coaches seem to be emphatically in favor of Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey. And then Jesse James is the best TE at this point. Ho-hum.

I still have Pittsburgh going 12-4 and Washington 7-9, but at least for one night, I think it’s Hail to the Redskins.

Pittsburgh 16, Washington 24

Green Bay at Jacksonville

So much great, young defensive talent in Jacksonville after the last two draft hauls and bringing Malik Jackson over from Denver. The problem is this unit has never played together in a meaningful game, and Dante Fowler, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey have yet to play a regular-season game period. They’ll get a great test right away with the Packers, especially if Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy are playing at a high level. But I think with the recent offensive line shuffle and the Jaguars being at home, the Packers are going to face some good pressure and struggle to run the ball. When healthy, I think Jordy Nelson is one of the best in the game, but I’m a little skeptical of him this week. No reason to think too highly of Davante Adams or new tight end Jared Cook either. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have plenty of options in their skill players, but Blake Bortles needs to avoid the mistakes that plagued him last year. He can make a lot of good plays, but just hasn’t been consistent enough in his first two seasons.

Much like with Pittsburgh, I still think Green Bay has a great season and the Jaguars lose double-digit games, but for one week, it’s about the home team.

Green Bay 20, Jacksonville 24

New England at Arizona

If you know me well, then you know I basically always pick New England to win its game. This would have been a good one to test myself as I think it’s a loss even if Tom Brady was the quarterback. Arizona is a very talented, tough road opponent. This is  rough spot for Jimmy Garoppolo to make his first start, and when you take Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder out of the game too, that’s just asking for trouble. Bill Belichick would be pulling off a major upset with a win here, which I think can only happen if Carson Palmer really has turned into 2009 Jake Delhomme and implodes again with turnovers. Maybe a Jamie Collins pick-six, because I do think the defense for New England will keep this at least competitive.

The Gronkowski injury news coming late in the week intrigues me as potential out-of-the-box thinking from the Pats again. Keep an eye on his status next week to see how quickly he heals. I honestly believe Belichick is the only coach who would not go all in on a Week 1 non-conference game that he doesn’t think his team has a realistic shot to win. If you expect to lose, why play one of your most important players at less than 100% health? I doubt Gronk will miss a division game coming up.

New England 19, Arizona 27

2015 Week 1 Predictions

I took an L to start the year with Carolina losing a 10-point lead in Denver and Graham Gano missing a 50-yard field goal at the end. Real “game of inches” stuff to start the season.

Winners in bold

  • Packers at Jaguars
  • Bengals at Jets
  • Chargers at Chiefs
  • Raiders at Saints
  • Vikings at Titans
  • Bills at Ravens
  • Bears at Texans
  • Browns at Eagles
  • Buccaneers at Falcons
  • Dolphins at Seahawks
  • Giants at Cowboys
  • Lions at Colts
  • Patriots at Cardinals
  • Steelers at Redskins
  • Rams at 49ers

Oh fudge, that’s 13 home winners including Denver. You know that’s not right, but this is part of what makes Week 1 so fun. And it is very important too. That Bills at Ravens game was my deciding factor in which team I picked for the AFC’s second wild-card team.