This week, Rick and Stephen got together for another podcast. As part of the show, they interviewed Kim Constantinesco from Predominantlyorange.com about Tebow and the Broncos. Click the link below to listen to the show!no comments
The Patriots opened as 13-point favorites as they prepare to host the Denver Tebows in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs.
OK, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Broncos, fresh off a heavy dose of Tebow magic, are expected to knock off the Patriots. You can’t turn on a TV without seeing Tebow highlights where he looks as graceful throwing the ball as a Real Housewife trying to toss a live salmon. This is the guy who is going to take down Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? I didn’t buy it in Week 15, and I don’t buy it now.
While the media is reacting as if the Broncos beat the Yankees in a homerun derby, the reality is that Denver’s win over Pittsburgh was not at all surprising. The Steelers were missing about a third of their team’s starters, and the quarterback who has been their biggest asset was hobbled to the point that he probably shouldn’t have been on the field. This wasn’t a case of Denver mounting a plucky challenge to a strong defending conference champion; it was simply a painfully average team taking down an opponent who had been decimated by injuries and hadn’t played up to its potential for the last two months of the season.
I broke down this match-up a few weeks ago, and very little has changed. The Patriots won that game by three scores and haven’t lost since. The Broncos finished the regular season by scoring 17 total points against two of the league’s most generous defenses. Denver had no answer for New England’s tandem of tight ends. The best weapon the Broncos showcased in their victory over Pittsburgh was the big play down the field, and the New England defense has done a great job of keeping everything in front of them all season. The defense won’t need to do much different this time around.
With all that said, the Broncos lost by three scores in Week 15 largely due to a -3 turnover differential. I don’t expect them to be that careless with the football in this contest. They’ll hang around, but the Patriots aren’t the kind of team that takes the pedal off the metal when they have a team on the ropes. I’ll pick the Patriots to win and the Broncos to just barely cover the spread. Barely.
Ravens (-7.5) vs. Texans
I worry about Baltimore coming out flat in this game after the bye, but I think they’ll have some emotion on their side now that they finally get to host a playoff game. The Ravens had a -2 turnover differential when these two teams met earlier this year and still won by 15 while outgaining the Texans by more than 100 yards. That was before Torrey Smith emerged as a viable threat in the passing game. Don’t be surprised if Smith emerges as a difference-maker in this game as well. Ravens should roll.
Giants (+8.5) @ Packers
If not for an early pick-six, the Giants might have beaten the Packers when these two teams met in Week 13. The Packers defense has been non-existent this year, and the New York running game finally appears to be on track. Eli torched the Green Bay secondary for 300+ yards and three scores just a few weeks ago. If the Giants defense can get pressure on Rodgers, they could pull the upset. I’d settle for another close loss, if only for the sheer enjoyment of seeing Agony of Defeat close-ups of Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin.
Saints (-3.5) @ 49ers
Don’t look now, but the Saints have won nine straight and have positioned themselves as the biggest threat to Green Bay in the NFC. The 49ers were adequate against the pass this year, but their stats are buoyed by the fact that they didn’t face Brady, Brees or Rodgers and enjoyed 12 of 16 matchups against quarterbacks that didn’t rate among the top half of the league in QB rating (and one of those games was against a hobbled Rothlisberger who couldn’t hit corn in Iowa). I love what the 49ers have done this year, but I’m not ready to pick them to beat the hottest team in the league.no comments
Has the man in the hoodie lost his mojo?
The “Defensive Genius” has done little to earn that title the past few years, but 2011 may have been the worst yet.
It’s hard to believe that a decade ago the Patriots defense was ripe with talent. Guys like Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi led some ferociously tough and productive units to three Super Bowl titles.
Today, Sterling Moore, Mark Anderson and Dane Fletcher brought the Patriots to the top seed despite surrendering the second most yards per game.
While New England fielded a horrid pass defense, it managed to finish 15th in points allowed (21.4).
Considering the injuries and overall lack of talent, the defense tends to take too much flak but certainly doesn’t inspire confidence when it comes to a Super Bowl run.
Let’s take a look at the positional grades for this season.
Defensive tackles: B
Despite the switch to a 4-3 defense, Vince Wilfork maintained his excellent level of play, earning his third consecutive Pro Bowl selection. Big Vince played 88 percent of the defensive snaps – the highest mark of his career – and came up with some spectacular plays including two incredible interceptions. The team’s first round pick in ’04 registered career highs in sacks (3.5) and assisted tackles (23) while forcing a fumble and recovering two.
Writing more than a sentence about Albert Haynesworth would suggest he actually made contributions to the team. The former $100-million man failed to do much of anything in New England besides miss practice and get blocked. His replacement, Kyle Love, took over full time and finished with 33 tackles and three sacks. His effort and ability to play with leverage made him a solid complement next to Wilfork.
The Pats lost two key guys early on when Myron Pryor and Mike Wright were placed on IR. They would have thrived as interior pass rushers in the new scheme, but were unable to stay healthy.
Defensive ends: B+
It’s a shame Andre Carter went down with a season-ending injury so close to the playoffs. The man simply carried the defense on his back for most of the year. The 11-year veteran received a ton of credit for his 10 sacks, but he was equally dominant at setting the edge in the run game. The Pats managed to win out despite his loss, but in the playoffs he will be sorely missed.
Despite being a situational player, former Defensive Rookie of the Year Mark Anderson revived his career in New England, tying Carter for the team lead in sacks. Anderson isn’t nearly the run defender that Carter was, but uses his quickness and speed to beat offensive tackles around the edge. He and Carter didn’t receive a lot of hype when they were signed, but proved to be invaluable to establishing the pass rush.
Disappointingly, the Patriots received nothing from 2010 second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham. The former Gator had a decent rookie season at outside linebacker, but barely saw the field before being placed on IR. Fellow sophomore Brandon Deadrick however played well after coming off the PUP list and has earned a starting spot now that Carter is gone.
Health was a big issue for this group. Starters Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes both missed time with MCL injuries, and Dane Fletcher took a while to recover from a thumb injury. However, all three enter the playoffs healthy and will be counted on for their individual roles.
Mayo failed to register 100 tackles for the first time in his career, but finally made the big plays that evaded him during his first three years. The 2010 All-Pro finished with a team-leading 95 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, two picks and four tackles for loss and earned a big contract extension.
Before injuring his knee, Spikes was on his way to a big season as one of the better run defenders in the league. The former collegiate All-American registered 44 tackles in the first seven games but missed most of November and all of Decemeber before returning against Buffalo. Between his suspension and injury, Spikes has been limited to 20 of 32 games in his career, but should be an asset going forward as a two-down linebacker.
In my mind, one of the season’s unsung heroes is Rob Ninkovich. He doesn’t always make it look pretty, but the former sixth-round pick makes plays. Ninkovich has a little Mike Vrabel to his game and finished the season with an impressive 74 tackles, 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. His versatility is his best asset and Belichick knows how to use it.
This is by far the most disappointing group on the team. If not for Kyle Arrington’s seven picks, they might earn a failing grade. The season was a far cry from what people expected when the Pats preseason depth chart featured Devin McCourty and Leigh Bodden as the starters with Arrington and second-rounder Ras-I Dowling as the backups. Sixteen games later, only Arrington plays corner. Bodden was released due to injury and performance, Dowling landed on IR and McCourty played so poorly at corner that he was moved to safety in the season finale. Throughout the year, the Pats have thrown guys like Antwaun Molden, Nate Jones, Sterling Moore and Julian Edelman at corner. While Edelman and Moore have performed admirably, it speaks volumes that an undrafted free agent and a backup receiver have to play significant snaps on a playoff team. Belichick has failed to replace Asante Samuel since his departure in 2008, wasting high picks on Terrence Wheatley and Darius Butler, but this year was truly embarrassing.
The corners take a lot of the blame, but in my opinion the safety play was actually worse. Pat Chung played in only eight games, but was very good when healthy. The team’s top pick in 2009 averaged almost eight tackles a game, but didn’t come up with impact plays.
Beyond Chung, the rest of the safeties were terrible. James Ihedigbo showed why the Jets felt he wasn’t needed. Despite finishing with 69 tackles, he registered a big fat zero in the big play categories and took poor angles in coverage. Sergio Brown also showed why he should strictly play special teams with terrible coverage and tackling technique reminiscent of Brandon Meriweather. The Pats desperately need stability next to Chung, but that will probably have to come through the draft.no comments
The sportsbooks have spoken: New England is favored to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, offering odds between +350 and +400 for a Super Bowl victory and even-money odds to make it to the big game. The Packers are the favorite to repeat as Super Bowl champs with odds ranging from +160 to +180.
So is a futures bet of +400 on the Patriots to win the Super Bowl a sound wager? That’s a tricky question.
For that bet to pay off, the Pats would have to have at least a 25% chance of winning the Super Bowl. They should be favored by around six points in the Divisional Round and three or four points in the Conference Championship. That equates to moneylines around -350 and -150 for those games, meaning bookmakers give the Pats about a 73% chance to win their first game and a 60% chance to win in the AFC Title Game. That leaves the Pats with about a 45% shot of representing the AFC in Indianapolis, very close to the even-money odds that Vegas is offering.
However, it is unlikely that the Patriots will be even money or favored in the Super Bowl. It’s more likely that they end up a 3- or 4-point underdog to their most likely Super Bowl opponent (Green Bay) and wouldn’t be much better than even money against any of the other NFC playoff teams unless an unlikely team like the Lions or 49ers knock off the Saints and/or Packers. Given the most likely scenarios, the Patriots odds to win the Super Bowl right now are probably around 18-20%. That would make the +350 line a bad wager and the +400 line firmly in the questionable category.
If you are going to make that bet, you are actually better off betting the New England moneyline in each game and letting your winnings ride until the Super Bowl. In the most likely scenario, your payoff on a $100 wager at -350 in the first round would be around $128, and wagering that amount on an AFC title game moneyline wager at -150 would leave you with around $237. If the Patriots are favored by three or fewer in the Super Bowl, you’d still net close to $400 for a Super Bowl win. If the Pats go into the Super Bowl as a 3-point underdog, your wager would pay out nearly $600. That offers you a payout that is much closer value of the very real possibility of New England hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February.
And for what it’s worth, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put a futures bet on the Packers. Their chances of making the Super Bowl are very good, and that wager offers you an effective hedge against a New England loss in the Divisional Round or Conference Championships. For the purposes of score-keeping for my Opening Lines piece, I would add a two-unit bet on Green Bay to win the Super Bowl and double all my bets on all of New England’s games in the playoffs.
Since the Patriots are off this week after clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, we decided to do things a little differently here at Foxboro Blog this week. For this preview, instead of breaking one game down extensively, we are going to breakdown all four games before New England takes the field next Saturday night (8:00 EST, CBS)
Here are my keys and picks to the four games:
(6)Bengals at (3)Texans (4:30, NBC) – This is an intriguing game because of the fact that two rookie quarterbacks will be starting in their first playoff game on both sides. You have “The Red Rifle” 2nd round pick Andy Dalton going up against the 5th round pick T.J Yates. Both teams are looking to make a statement because neither team is coming in to the playoffs with any momentum. The Bengals only had one win against a team with a winning record and although Houston won the AFC South, getting their first trip to the playoffs in franchise history, they come into the postseason on a three game losing streak.
Both teams have solid defenses, so I am looking for whose running game will be the best this weekend? Houston impressed me all year with their tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Houston needs the running game to be effective, which is why they sat Foster during their final game against the Titans. Cincy shut them down in Houston’s 20-19 win back in Week 14 holding Foster to 41 yards on 15 carries. The Bengals have a nice duo with Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott, but they only average 3.9 yards per carry.
PREDICTION: I think this game is going to be a low-scoring game and expect mistakes from both quarterbacks. It will be which quarterback can handle the atmosphere of their first playoff game? I like Andy Dalton more than Yates because even though Andre Johnson is back, his hamstring injuries have prevented him from playing at his potential. Wade Phillips, the Texans’ DC, has been the best assistant this year in the entire NFL, but I expect a big play late from Dalton to his rookie wide receiver A.J Green. Look for this matchup to maybe be played later in the playoffs in future years.
BENGALS 20 TEXANS 17
(6) Lions at (3) Saints (8:00, NBC) – The second game of re-match Saturday is a game that was played in the Louisiana Superdome and was surprisingly close for most of the game. The Saints played the Lions back in Week 13 and won 31-17. Detroit is back in the playoffs for the first time since 1999 after a 0-16 season just two years ago. As for the Saints, they are the hottest team in the NFC with wins in their last eight games and they have the quarterback that shattered Dan Marino’s record for most passing yards in a single season.
For the Lions to have any chance in the loud environment known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, they have to control the clock. That is going to be an issue for them considering they are the 29th best rushing team in the league. So, they will need Matthew Stafford to use that short intermediate passing game to not only Megatron, but to his tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. They get Ndamakong Suh back for this game after his suspension, but the Saints have one of the top offensive lines in the league with Carl Evans, Jermon Bushrod, and Jahri Evans, who are all in the Pro Bowl.
The Saints need that offense to continue their points scoring ways. They rely on Drew Brees and Brees alone due to the lack of a balanced run game. Sean Payton was not happy to hear that problem might continue when he had to put rookie running back Mark Ingram on injured reserve with a foot injury. In the first meeting, Ingram was the Saints’ leading rusher with 16 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown. It will be interesting whether we see New Orleans go to Darren Sproles or Pierre Thomas for the bulk of the carries. However, I expect Jimmy Graham and company to be explosive again as the Lions give up 24 points per game.
PREDICTION: I think the Lions can hang around this game if Matthew Stafford can continue putting up touchdowns and the Lions’ defensive line can get some pressure on Brees. However, the one thing you can rely on with the Lions is that when they get on the national scene, they always play with a lack of discipline. In the first meeting, they committed 11 penalties, which included offensive pass interferences, personal fouls, and throwing footballs at officials. The Saints continue their passing ways with great success.
SAINTS 34 LIONS 21
(5) Falcons at (4) Giants (1:00, FOX)
Three weeks ago, the rest of the NFL wondered if Tom Coughlin was going to have a job. The Giants were coming off of a terrible loss to the Washington Redskins. Now, New York has people around the tri-state area thinking they can repeat their Super Bowl run from 2007. This week, they take on the Atlanta Falcons who finished 10-6 this season. Matt Ryan had his best season as a quarterback with some great targets in Roddy White and Julio Jones. However, Ryan and head coach Mike Smith are still searching for that elusive first playoff win. This is also the first playoff game that will be played at the new MetLife Stadium.
To me, this game will come down to the battle of the trenches. It all stems from the trash talk that was said this week by Giants’ defensive end Justin Tuck when he called the Falcons’ offensive line “dirt bags”. Atlanta running back Michael Turner finished third in the league with rushing as the team averaged 114.6 rushing yards per game. Plus, if the Falcons are going to have any success passing downfield, their O-Line has to control a Giants’ pass rush that is famous for showing up in big games. The player to watch is second year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul who has 16.5 sacks this season. The unit as a whole has eleven sacks in its last two games.
PREDICTION: I think the Giants are able to bottle up Turner in the backfield this week, since Turner only has 81 yards in two total playoff games. I am taking the quarterback who yes has played like an elite quarterback this year. Eli Manning has also thrown 29 touchdowns this year, but it is his 15 4th quarter touchdowns that are a single season record. His favorite target has been Victor Cruz who has a Giant record of 1,536 yards for nine touchdowns this year.
GIANTS 28 FALCONS 17
(5) Steelers at (4) Broncos (4:30, CBS):
This is the game that everyone is talking about, but mainly the game that everyone would pick in their playoff lockout pool. Nobody is giving the Denver Broncos (a.k.a the fighting Tim Tebows) a shot to win in this game. They come into the playoffs losers of three straight games while the Steelers come in with the Steel Curtain defense that has given up ten points or less in five of its last six games. However, they come in with some injury problems as well. Their running back, Rashard Mendenhall, is out for the playoffs with a torn ACL and their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger tweaked his ankle in practice on Wednesday.
If the Broncos are going to have any shot at winning this game, they have to keep the game close with their defense. When Tebow was winning seven games in an eight game stretch, the defense and the running game were the main facets. John Elway did come out this week and told Tebow to “pull the trigger”. I would like to see the Broncos try to throw earlier in the drive, but the odds are they are going to continue using Willis McGahee and run the football. Plus, their pass rush with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil has to make sure Big Ben is down before he can doing his usual extending the play routine.
With the Steelers, I am interested in seeing if they can play a great offensive game for sixty minutes. In four of Pittsburgh’s last seven games, they have scored 14 points or less. People tell me that Isaiah Redman is going to step in and fill that balanced role, but the Broncos have the ability to make Redman lose the ball, like he did twice against the Cleveland Browns.
PREDICTION: I am going to be the one that stands on Tebow Island this week and say the Broncos can stay in this game. With Elway’s vote of confidence, I think Tim can do enough to hang in the game for four quarters. The altitude is going to play a huge part in this game for the road team, but in the end, I like the Steelers to squeak a victory out here. To those who say Denver has no shot, I remind you to think back to last year when you said the Seahawks at home had no chance to beat the Saints.
STEELERS 20 BRONCOS 16no comments
It's too little too late, but I'm on quite the hot streak to end the season. Once again, I finished with the best record last week. Too bad momentum isn't as valuable in the pick 'em game as it is in the playoffs.
Focusing on the people with an actual chance to win this game, Jason managed to creep back within 3 games of Stephen. With only nine games left to pick, it's going to be a tough deficit to overcome. Wins by Houston and Atlanta would go a long way in his effort to pull off the Season 2 win.
|CIN @ HOU
|DET @ NO
|ATL @ NYG
|PIT @ DEN
Preseason predictions pegged the Patriots as second behind the Packers in most power rankings.
Sixteen games later, New England earned a first-round bye after going 13-3 with a historically bad defense.
While many people will point to the failed trades for Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco and the struggles of the secondary, the under-the-radar signings of Andre Carter, Brian Waters and Mark Anderson cannot be overlooked. Those veterans were cast off by their former teams, yet played integral roles for this team. Credit Belichick on that one.
The offense regressed in the run game, but managed to increase its dominance in the passing game. Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez left defenses scratching their heads, missing tackles and surrendering touchdowns.
Overall, this team earns an A- grade for me based on the offense and the team’s ability to win despite a poor defense. Let’s take a look at the positional grades for the 2011 season.
If not for astronomically productive seasons from Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, Tom Brady would be the runaway MVP. Tom Terrific was nothing short of that in a season where he had to score every time the ball was in his hands. Brady engineered the league’s third-best scoring offense without a consistent running game and injuries along the offensive line. His final stat line of 5,235 yards and 39:13 touchdown/interception ratio is MVP worthy.
Running backs: C+
Despite devoting two top-100 picks on running backs, the Patriots were a below-average team on the ground. New England finished 17th in rushing attempts, 20th in yards and 24th in yards per carry. The reason this group earned an above average grade? 18 rushing touchdowns. That mark was the third-highest in the league and proved the Patriots could finish drives in the red zone. BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the team with 11 rushing TDs, but averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. Danny Woodhead predictably didn’t meet his 2010 stats and third-round rookie Stevan Ridley largely outplayed both backs. Second-rounder Shane Vereen had a disappointing first year considering his draft status and was limited to 15 carries because of a nagging hamstring injury.
Wide Receivers: B-
If not for Wes Welker, this group would have earned no better than a C. That’s what 122 catches, 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns will do for you. Welker’s best season as a pro earned him a fourth-consecutive Pro Bowl nod. Take that Miami! Deion Branch was his usual reliable, but unspectacular self at split end. While Branch doesn’t have the athleticism that made him a borderline No. 1 receiver during his first stint in New England, he managed to catch 51 passes for 702 yards and five scores. He had a tough time staying healthy at the end of the season, but his chemistry with Brady still makes him a threat in the playoffs. Outside of Welker/Branch, the other receivers were beyond disappointing. Ochocinco was a complete bust, finishing with 15 forgettable catches and a single TD. Taylor Price never got a shot and was cut, and Tiquan Underwood was only targeted six times in limited action.
Tight Ends: A+
Never in the history of the NFL has there been a better pair of tight ends. Gronk/Hernandez were legendary this season, combining for 2,237 receiving yards and 25 total touchdowns. Interestingly, the two sophomores ranked second and third in targets and became the focal points of the offense. Gronkowski put together a magical season, setting tight end single-season records for receiving yards (1,327) and touchdowns (17). His incredible combination of size, power and hands made him impossible to defend. Hernandez, a first-round talent who slipped in the draft because of off-field issues, improved on a solid rookie year with a Pro Bowl-worthy sophomore campaign. He finished just 90 yards shy of 1,000 receiving yards despite missing time with a knee injury and basically functioned as the No. 2 receiver by the end of the year. The former Florida Gator has rare after-the-catch abilities and speed for a tight end.
Offensive Line: B
Despite losing longtime center Dan Koppen for the season and getting only five starts from right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, the Patriots offensive line managed to put together another solid season. Left tackle Matt Light proved to be another key offseason re-signing, playing some of the best football of his career. Right guard Brian Waters was let go by the Chiefs yet earned a much deserved sixth Pro Bowl selection. Waters’ play on the field was matched by his great presence in the locker room. The unit got a big boost from rookies Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon who look like building blocks for the future. Selected with the 17th pick, Solder was deemed a project, yet made 13 starts and didn’t embarrass himself. He’s already a good run blocker, but must get stronger in his lower half and continue to refine his pass protection. Cannon made an admirable comeback from non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is a key late-season contributor at guard and right tackle. Logan Mankins had a disappointing season by his standards, but is still one of the most respected players at his position in the league.no comments
Since the Patriots will be spending this week getting healthy and sipping margaritas (except for Edelman, since he can’t handle his liquor without allegedly groping somebody), I thought it’d be a good time to reflect on how I’ve done this season picking against the spread in New England games.
Week 1 PICK: Patriots -7 RESULT: WIN
Week 2 PICK: Chargers +7 RESULT: LOSS
Week 3 PICK: Patriots -9.5 RESULT: LOSS
Week 4 PICK: Patriots -4.5 RESULT: WIN
Week 5 PICK: Jets +9.5 RESULT: WIN
Week 6 PICK: Cowboys +7.5 RESULT: WIN
Week 7 BYE
Week 8 PICK: Patriots -2.5 RESULT: LOSS
Week 9 PICK: Giants +9 RESULT: WIN
Week 10 PICK: Patriots -1 RESULT: WIN
Week 11 PICK: Patriots -12.5 RESULT: WIN
Week 12 PICK: Eagles +4.5 RESULT: LOSS
Week 13 PICK Patriots -20.5 RESULT: LOSS
Week 14 PICK Patriots -7.5 RESULT: LOSS
Week 15 PICK Patriots -6 RESULT: WIN
Week 16 PICK Dolphins +9 RESULT: WIN
Week 17 PICK Patriots -12 RESULT: WIN
The takeaway? First, a 10-6 record against the spread is solid. Of course, I would have gone 9-7 if I had just blindly picked the Patriots every week, so it’s not mind-blowingly good. But still, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who did much better picking New England games against the spread this season. I’ll take it. Second, I really sucked on the other lines I picked this year. I made things a little bit harder on myself this year by adding an extra game to my picks each week, and that forced me to pick a lot of marginal games. That’s a good sign that I need to dial it back a bit next year and not spread myself too thin. Still, a few good weeks in the playoffs could bring the winning percentage above the magical .525 to achieve profitability, so there is still hope. Third, much like the Patriots, I pretty much owned games within the division. It’s an impossibly small sample size, but going 5-1 in those games will at least serve as a source of personal pride. When you’re barely above .500 overall, you have to savor the small victories.
On to this week’s picks:
Texans (-3) vs. Bengals
The Bengals have some very nice building blocks in place, but they still aren't a very good team. They're in the playoffs primarily because they played against the NFC West and AFC South this year. They were 0-7 against playoff teams and 1-6 against teams with a winning record. When these two teams met in Cincy a few weeks ago, the Bengals had a +2 turnover differential and still lost. You want to take them on the road in an electric playoff atmosphere for Houston's first home playoff game? No thanks.
Lions (+10.5) @ SaintsThe Lions defense will face a stiff challenge against Drew Brees and the Saints offense, but the Detroit offense is no slouch either. The Saints defense is not an elite unit. They remind me of the decidedly average girl at the club who only looks passable when she's surrounded by her hotter friends in trampy outfits. I have trouble backing that sort of defense when they face a double-digit spread against a good offense. (following this same analogy, the New England and Green Bay defenses would be the sloppy drunk chicks sporting the muffin tops and flashing their naughty parts to everyone in the vicinity of the dance floor)
Falcons (+3) vs. GiantsNew York was barely the best team that played home games in New Jersey this year, and you could argue that they were the third-best team in their own division. It’s tough to stop the Atlanta offense when they get the running game on track, and the Giants have struggled mightily to stop opposing running backs all year. Since Week 3, Atlanta's only losses have come against division winners (Green Bay, Houston and New Orleans twice). The Falcons probably win this game outright, so I have no problem taking the points.
Broncos (+8) vs. SteelersDenver is probably going to lose this game, but the Steelers have been awful against the number in games they are supposed to win comfortably. Pittsburgh is also dealing with injuries at quarterback, running back, offensive line and probably towel boy, water boy and cheerleader (which is odd considering the fact they don't even have cheerleaders, presumably because city residents do not appreciate enthusiastic and attractive women). Also, they won’t have the services of safety Ryan Clark due to his weird altitude sickness thingy that could kill him if he looks at the Rocky Mountains the wrong way. An undermanned Steelers squad could still eek out a win here since they match up well against Denver’s Leather Helmet Offense, but a complete blowout is unlikely.
2011 Record ATS 43-41-42010 Record ATS 25-17
For the first 15 minutes, the Patriots played like a team with nothing to play for.
Luckily there was another 45 minutes to make up for their atrocious start.
With a porous pass defense rearing its ugly head and Tom Brady and the offense struggling to establish a rhythm, the Pats found themselves in an ironic 21-0 hole against the Bills.
In week three, the Patriots jumped out to a 21-0 lead of their own before the defense collapsed and surrendered 34 points in a three-point loss.
On Sunday, it was New England who would stage the comeback.
Thanks in part to a horrendous second half by Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and a record-setting day by Rob Gronkowski and his counterpart Aaron Hernandez, the Pats scored an unprecedented 49 unanswered points to secure the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Let’s take a look at this week’s risers and fallers.
1. Rob Gronkowski: As a rookie, Gronk grabbed 10 touchdowns but didn’t earn a Pro Bowl nod. This year, he put up arguably the most dominant season by a tight end in history. The 2011 Pro Bowl starter edged out fellow Pro Bowler and second-year man Jimmy Graham with an NFL-record 1,327 receiving yards and scored twice to establish a new single-season record for tight ends with 17 receiving TDs. Lost in the mix is Gronkowski’s dominance as a blocker which separates him from guys like Graham and Antonio Gates who are essentially bulked up receivers.
2. Aaron Hernandez: If Gronkowski is Batman, then Hernandez is Robin. The speedier hybrid receiver/tight end put on a performance that proved why he should have been named a Pro Bowler over Gates. Last year’s fourth-rounder ate the Bills alive with eight catches for 138 yards and a score. The former Gator displays rare after-the-catch abilities and is too athletic for linebackers to cover in the open field. The former Gator finished the year with a 79/910/7 line despite playing on an offense with Gronk and Wes Welker.
3. Stevan Ridley: The changing of the guard is here. The third-rounder from LSU has established himself as the go-to guy, drawing the start and leading the running backs in snaps, attempts and yards. Despite being pegged as a fullback when he ran a 4.66 at the combine, Ridley has proven to play much faster than his timed speed. The slasher led the team with 81 yards on 15 carries and finished the year with 441 on just 87 carries (5.1 average). Because of his size and ability to gain yards after contact, Ridley should play a significant role in the playoffs.
4. Ball skills: The much maligned pass defense surrendered 296 passing yards to the mediocre Fitzpatrick, but there were some plays to hang your hat on. After a horrific first quarter, the Pats buckled down for the most part and did something that they had struggled with all season – make plays on the ball. Rookie Sterling Moore snagged two interceptions and returned one for a score, and Devin McCourty and Antwaun Molden also picked off Fitzpatrick. Jerod Mayo also made an impressive play in man coverage, batting a ball away near the sidelines as he ran downfield to cover a running back.
1. Kyle Arrington: The team’s leader in interceptions would do best to forget yesterday’s performance. He surrendered an 18-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson and was beaten for a 29-yard gain by Derek Hagan. He was replaced and outplayed in the second half by Moore.
2. Whoever played in the first quarter: It was a total embarrassment. Against average or below-average teams like the Dolphins and Bills, the Pats can afford to get off to a slow start. In two weeks, that won’t be the case. The playoffs are a totally different ballgame and if the Ravens game in ’09 taught us anything, a fast start can be the key to putting the game away. New England needs to play good football for 60 minutes, not 45, if they hope to make a title run.no comments
On New Year’s Day, the New England Patriots (12-3) will play their final game of the 2011 regular season against the Buffalo Bills (6-9). With all the news around Tom Brady’s shoulder this week, this game has some meaning to it for the Pats. Not only would the Patriots end the year on a eight game winning streak, but a win would seal home-field advantage for the team throughout the AFC playoffs. After coming from 17-0 down last week, Bill Belichick has to be telling his guys to play sixty minutes of their best football both on offense and defense to get some momentum going forward.
The Buffalo Bills were the surprise team in the AFC for the 1st part of the season. They stunned the Patriots up at Ralph Wilson Stadium by scoring 17 points in the 4th quarter. They finally conquered the team that dominated them for 15 straight meetings, but they have lost seven of their last eight. Injuries and turnovers have ruined the team’s progression, particularly to their pass rush (Kyle Williams) and their running game (Fred Jackson). However, don’t discount a division rival with momentum. On Christmas Eve, Buffalo was back to their old turnover forcing ways with their 40-14 beat down of Tim Tebow and the Broncos. If the Bills can pull another upset in Foxboro, they could go into the offseason on a positive note.
Here are my keys to the game for Sunday:
- Do you Dare-Us To Pass: With the injury to Kyle Williams back in November, the Bills were looking to someone on that defensive line to get pressure. Although the team ranks as one of the worst teams in sacking the quarterback, they have a first round pick who is showing some great progress. His name is Marcell Dareus. The third pick out of Alabama is playing some of his best football the last month of the year. He has two sacks in the last three games. I was watching him mic’d up against the Broncos and it seems like he is also taking a vocal leadership role on the defensive line. He leads the team as well with 5.5 sacks on the year. The Patriots’ offensive line that is without Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer this week has to make sure that Brady’s shoulder does not hit the ground too many times. For that to not take place, New England has to focus on #99.
- Don’t Let Him Spill Over: New England’s defense has had a problem stopping the run in the last three games. Even though they are 17th against the run, guys like Roy Helu Jr., Reggie Bush, and Lance Ball have torched the front seven. It has to be a relief for Bill Belichick that Fred Jackson is not active for this game because he is a guy who can extend the play and get those tough yards. The guy I am watching for on Buffalo’s side is C.J Spiller. Spiller has at least eighty yards and a touchdown in three of his last four games. However, his main strength is catching out of the backfield, including nine catches against the Dolphins two weeks ago. Plus, the Pats know about his kick return abilities all too much from last season.
- Turn Over the Finale: If the Patriots want to turn the final game into a win, they have to win the turnover battle. It seems simple enough, but Tom Brady probably wants to avenge his four interception performance in the loss to the Bills earlier this season. The Patriots now have become the team that forces turnovers, particularly in the last two games. They now lead the AFC with a +14 turnover rmargin. Even though Ryan Fitzpatrick has the ability to torch this defense, he has five interceptions in the last five games. Against the Broncos last week, he did not throw one. So, if the Patriots want to win this game, they need to avoid those mental mistakes and force Buffalo into turnovers via maybe some Kyle Arrington interceptions to change field position. Remember, Arrington had two interceptions against Fitzpatrick back in Week 3!
PREDICTION: I know that a lot of people who read these predictions each week notice a pattern in my picks. Whenever I pick the Patriots to blowout an opponent, the game usually ends up close. So, for you Patriots’ fans to breathe easy on your New Year’s Day, I am going to pick a close game again. Seriously though, Ryan Fitzpatrick will be able to put up some yards against the defense, but the Patriots are going to force a late turnover to change the game around similar to what they have done the last two weeks. Hopefully, the Pats get linebacker Brandon Spikes and safety Patrick Chung back this time. Tom Brady will pass for over 5,000 yards for the season and I think he puts up 300 yards again against the Bills. Look for Welker and Gronkowski to have big days in this divisional shootout.
PATRIOTS 31 BILLS 24
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODYno comments