Below is a link to Rick and Stephen's show last night where they did an interview with Derek Arnold from BmoreBirdsnest.com talking about this week's game. The interview starts about 40 minutes in.
The Patriots opened as 6.5-point favorites as they host the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens.
“I'm sure if we win, I'll have nothing to do with why we won, according to you guys (the media).” – Joe Flacco
Does he have a point? Let’s see. His QB rating in 2011? 80.9, worse than Kevin Kolb, Matt Moore and Matt Hasselbeck. His completion percentage? 57.6, worse than Tarvaris Jackson, Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton, and only slightly better than the gold standard of shitty, inaccurate quarterbacks, Mark Sanchez. Turnovers? Eighteen. Oh, and he also had the lowest yards per attempt in the league, worse than, well, everybody who took a snap this year. And this guy wants to complain about a lack of respect? Here’s an idea Joe. Go do something to actually earn some. And handing off to Ray Rice doesn’t count.
Horrific quarterback play aside, Baltimore still has several quality players on defense, and they had among the league’s best pass defenses in 2011. However, they haven’t faced a team that can attack the middle of the field like the Patriots. A healthy Ed Reed would make a huge difference against New England’s tight end tandem, but he’s currently dealing with enough injuries to kill four Laurence Maroneys. Brady won’t throw five touchdowns in the first half like last week, but the Patriots should be able to move the ball and put up a respectable number of points.
With that said, Ray Rice is a bit of a scary matchup for the Pats. I still have nightmares about him breaking into the open field on the first play of that Wild Card game. This edition of the Patriots defense is a bit more stout against the run, so I wouldn’t expect Rice to end up with 150+ yards and multiple scores again.
I like the Patriots to win, but I think the Ravens will cover the spread.
In the other game this weekend, the 49ers opened as 2.5-point favorites as they prepare to host the Giants. After watching Eli and Co. light up the Packers last week, the betting public is going to be all over New York like a hungry dog on a meat truck. I’m not so quick to jump on that bandwagon. The Giants struggle on offense when they can’t run the ball, and the 49ers have the league’s best run defense. Alex Smith had transformed into an effective game-manager, and I don’t mean that in a negative sense. He turned the ball over 7 times all year (think about that … seven turnovers is what Mark Sanchez calls a great month).
The Giants D has been strong in recent weeks, but they are not great against the run. They also have to fight against complacency after knocking off one of the league’s most dangerous teams. I like the 49ers to win and cover the spread.
2010 ATS 25-17
2011 ATS 43-43-4 (I know, blech)
The Champion brought down the Messiah.
After a week of hearing how Tim Tebow was going to walk into Foxboro and confuse the Patriots defense, it was Tebow who was praying for an answer to the swarming wall of New England defenders.
It seems almost unfair to overlook Tom Brady’s six touchdown passes, including five in the first half, but it was the defense that stood out and stood firm against the unconventional and ineffective Broncos offense.
Less than a month after surrendering 167 rushing yards in the first quarter in their 41-23 win over Denver, New England looked like the Steel Curtain Saturday night, beating Tebow into the turf and holding him to 10 points.
With the 45-10 beatdown, New England will play the winner of the Houston/Baltimore game in the AFC Championship next weekend.
Let’s take a look at this week’s top performers.
1. Tom Brady: Despite an MVP-caliber season, there were many doubters who questioned whether Brady still had the playoff magic that fueled his championship success earlier this decade. By the end of the game, I doubt those doubters existed. Outside of a poorly thrown interception, Brady flawlessly picked apart the Denver defense, completing 26 of 34 passes for 363 yards and six touchdowns. The three-time champ hooked up with Rob Gronkowski 10 times for 145 yards and three first-half scores and made a beautiful deep throw to a streaking Deion Branch along the left sideline for a 61-yard TD. Safe to say the playoff magic is back.
2. Gronk/Hernandez: We’ve never seen two more productive tight ends and may never see so again. If Gronk is 1A than Hernandez has to be 1B. The two complement each other so well and literally can’t be defended at this point. Gronkowski simply outmuscles any safety or linebacker and is a red zone nightmare. Hernandez has become the focal point of the offense, lining up at running back, wide out, h-back, fullback and in the slot. The former Gator had 116 total yards including 61 on the ground. He did suffer a head injury late in the game, but appears to have escaped without anything serious.
3. Linebackers: While the secondary has been much maligned all season, the front seven has actually played pretty well considering the injuries that have plagued the unit. Linebacker Brandon Spikes’ return to the lineup has been invaluable as the second-year pro plays with unparalleled physicality and emotion. Spikes recorded six tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a pass defended. However, the true star of the linebacking corps was sixth-year man Rob Ninkovich. He’s become the new Mike Vrabel of the defense, coming up with timely turnovers while setting the edge in the run game. After a poor performance in the first matchup against Denver, Ninkovich dominated with five tackles (one for loss) and 1.5 sacks while showing great discipline on playing the option.
4. Defensive line: Despite losing Andre Carter and playing with big bodies mostly drafted/signed for the 3-4 defense, this group stepped up big time in a big game. Vince Wilfork tied Ninkovich with 1.5 sacks and veterans Shaun Ellis and Gerard Warren made two momentum-shifting plays. Ellis, who largely underperformed in limited playing time during the regular season, made a huge blindside sack of Tebow and Warren stuffed the fellow Gator for a huge loss before executing the signature Gator chomp. Mark Anderson had another great performance playing in a hybrid role.no comments
The Patriots will begin their run to get back to the Super Bowl on Saturday night when they take on the story that is sweeping the nation. Tebowmania hits Gillette Stadium as the Broncos are coming off their dramatic 29-23 overtime upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wild Card weekend.
This is a re-match of the game that occurred on Week 15 at Sports Authority Field when the Patriots rallied from an early 16-7 deficit to win 41-23. That has been the problem for New England especially in the last four or five weeks. In the first half, their defense digs the offense into some pretty big holes. However, in the 2nd half, everything seems to click again as the D forces a big turnover or two to catapult the offense. By the way, if you follow me on Twitter, you will see when I predict the turnovers. Also, in the first game, the Broncos keyed in on Rob Gronkowski by putting two defenders on him. With New England’s two tight end formations, this allowed Tebow’s college teammate, Aaron Hernandez, to make a huge impact with nine catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Here are my keys to the Saturday Showdown in Foxboro:
A Royal Exit: All the attention in the Broncos’ receiving corps has gone to Demaryius Thomas. Thomas was the receiver who caught the eighty yard touchdown on the first play of overtime to win the game on Sunday. In Week 15, Thomas was Tebow’s leading receiver with seven catches for 116 yards. However, with the injury to Eric Decker, Denver will need another target to help out #15. I would look for Eddie Royal to be the guy Patriots’ fans should watch out for both on offense and special teams.
Royal has battled injuries for most of the season and did not play a huge factor in Week 15. However, on Sunday, he had three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown on the 22 yarder from Tebow in the 2nd quarter. With Decker out, New England will need to pay attention to Royal to make Tebow one dimensional in the passing game. Plus, don’t discount Royal’s punt return ability. After the first matchup, the Broncos cut Quann Cosby for muffing a punt and taking a kick out of the endzone to cost them field position. Royal can change field position and even take one to the house, since he has an 85 yard return for a TD in a 38-24 win against the Raiders on November 6th.
Turnovers For Tebow: We all know by now about Tebow’s journey as he took a 1-4 team and led them as the starting quarterback to this point in the postseason. So, what exactly is Tebow’s kryptonite? You have to make him cough up the football. In the second quarter, the Patriots, in Week 15, were able to accomplish that. It all started with an essential strip of the ball by Mark Anderson to set up the game. Tebow had five interceptions in his last five games which led to his lack of confidence in the Chiefs’ game. New England got 13 points in the 2nd quarter off of Denver turnovers in Week 15. In Foxboro, the Broncos will have to play a turnover-free game to keep up with a high-powered offense, something they have not been able to until last week against a banged up Ben Roethlisberger.
A Balanced Attack: People think that the only way the Patriots are going to win this game is if they throw the ball fifty times with their best asset. While that could be the case, I think they need to create similar balance with both pass and run to what they did in the first matchup. The playcalling in that game by offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was 34 passes and 36 runs. This allows Brady to use the play action pass downfield to his killer tight end weapons in Gronkowski and Hernandez. The key will be rookie Stevan Ridley. Ridley, in the last three games, is averaging 70 yards per game on the ground. With the “Law Firm” not producing like he did in 2010, the third round pick out of LSU needs to pick up the load so New England can avoid third and longs in order to get those quick scores.
PREDICTION: There are so many storylines and so much buzz about this game amongst the national media. It was added to it during the week when the Patriots added former offensive coordinator and ex-Broncos’ head coach Josh McDaniels as their offensive assistant for the playoff run and eventually taking over the OC job from Bill O’Brien.
As to what I think will happen in this game, I think this will be a close game. The one thing I am concerned with for New England is although they have come up with some timely turnovers the last few games; they have to stop digging themselves in ten point holes so early in the game. Denver can run and run a lot as we saw with their 167 rushing yards in the 1st quarter back in the first game. I think the Broncos hang around for three quarters. Usually, that means Tebow Time will bring doom for New England. This week, I think that changes. Tebow turns the ball over late as the Patriots get their first playoff win since 2008.
PATRIOTS 31 BRONCOS 20no comments
The last time the Patriots won a playoff game, Tim Tebow won the Heisman and I was midway through my junior year of high school.
Now, I’m a junior at the same school that Tebow starred at and he’s the man who stands between the Patriots and the AFC Championship.
While my buddy Ricky Keeler will give us his game preview Friday, I’ll be taking a look at some of the individual battles to watch from a scouting perspective.
Here are my top five one-on-one matchups to keep an eye on Saturday night.
1. Matt Light (LT) vs. Elvis Dumervil (RE): Following the 2010 season, Matt Light’s tenure as the Patriots longtime left tackle seemed to be over. When he didn’t generated the interest in free agency and the lockout prevented first-round pick Nate Solder from being game-ready, the Pats made a shrewd move in bringing back the reliable former second-round pick. Despite his age and lack of elite physical skills, Light had one of his best seasons in his career, shutting down the likes of Dwight Freeney, Brian Orakpo and Tamba Hali during a tough stretch. Dumervil
wasn’t able to replicate his 2009 season when he led the league with 17.5 sacks, but has racked up 10.5 sacks in his last 12 games. Because of his lack of size (5-foot-11, 260 pounds), Dumervil plays with leverage and quickness. He had a nasty sack on Brady in the Broncos 41-23 loss and is one of the few threats to stopping the Patriots attack.
2. D.J. Williams (WLB) vs. Rob Gronkowski (TE): Williams tends to get overlooked by many fans, but he’s been a mainstay in Denver since he was selected in the first round in 2004. He has experience playing all three linebacker positions, but has settled in on the weakside now that Von Miller is in the fold. Williams is one of the more athletic linebackers in the league and may be asked to jam and cover Rob Gronkowski all day at the line of scrimmage. The former Hurricane actually did a solid job at this in week 15 (with safety help), but expect Belichick and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien to find ways to get Gronk some free releases. Gronkowski has a sizable advantage over Williams (6-foot-6 vs. 6-foot-1) which will be difficult to stop in the red zone.
3. Mark Anderson (DE) vs. Ryan Clady (LT): Clady has been one of the best left tackles since entering the league in 2008 as the 12th overall selection. He has incredible size (6-foot-7, 330 pounds) which enables him to be an excellent pass blocker. Clady outweighs the quicker Anderson by over 70 pounds, giving him the advantage in the run game. However, Anderson usually only plays on passing downs which keeps him fresh and allows the Patriots to maximize his pass rush skills. If the Broncos want to hit the long ball, they’ll need Clady to give Tebow time in the pocket.
4. Champ Bailey (CB) vs. Wes Welker (WR): This matchup will be a fun one to watch as two of the best in the business try to get the upper hand. Bailey is the wily veteran who’s made more Pro Bowl appearances than any defensive back in NFL history. Welker has revolutionized the slot position and put together one of the finest seasons in team history with 122 catches for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. Bailey will probably be assigned to cover the 5-foot-9 jitterbug while Andre Goodman should draw Deion Branch. Bailey still has great athleticism, but Welker is such a tough cover because of his excellent route running and after-the-catch ability. There has been talk that Bailey might also cover Aaron Hernandez if he’s lined up as a wideout, so keep an eye on that.
5. Kyle Arrington (CB) vs. Demaryius Thomas (WR): When Josh McDaniels took Thomas over Dez Bryant in 2010, fans and draft analysts were left scratching their heads. After all, Bryant was a dominating talent at Oklahoma State who drew comparisons to Michael Irvin and T.O. while Thomas was simply a deep threat in a wacky offense. Flash back to last week – Thomas owned the Steelers secondary while Bryant was watching the playoffs at home. The former Georgia Tech star has an incredible size/speed combo and is getting better as a route runner. He burned the Patriots for 116 yards on seven receptions and caught four for 204, including the game-winner against Pittsburgh last weekend. Lining up on the left side of the formation, Thomas should draw Arrington, who led the NFL in interceptions. Arrington certainly had a solid season, drawing Pro Bowl consideration, but Thomas is both bigger (6-foot-3, 235 pounds vs. 5-foot-10, 196 pounds) and has better long speed.no comments
Things are getting very interersting down the stretch. Stephen managed to maintain a 3 game lead over Jason, but by outpicking everyone in the Wild Card Round, Rick was also able to creep within three games. Stephen made a bold prediction this week by going with the Giants over the Packers. If the G-Men don't come through for him, his lead will dwindle down to two with three games remaining. If both the Giants and the Saints lose, then Rick will have made a late surge and crept within a single game.
It's not over yet...
|NO @ SF
|DEN @ NE
|HOU @ BAL
|NYG @ GB
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.