The 2007 Draft at ten: Picks 1-8

AP NFL DRAFT FOOTBALL S FBN USA NYWith the 2017 draft just a few months away, it got me thinking how quickly time can fly. Ten years have flown by as I can distinctly remember a then 15 year old me studying up on the 2007 class of prospects. Looking back, not only have I grown as a football fan, but it was also a very interesting group of players. No franchise quarterbacks emerged, but for a period of time you could say that the league’s best running back, wide receiver, left tackle, linebacker and cornerback all came from that draft. To commemorate the ten year anniversary, I will be recapping the 32 first round selections through four installments of eight and see how the players fared at the next level. In hindsight, it should be very interesting to see the results and once again show that the NFL Draft is an inexact science.

1. Oakland Raiders: JaMarcus Russell, QB LSU: There are very few quarterbacks that have entered the NFL with the physical gifts of Russell. His combination of sheer size and arm strength is a package that was too enticing for Al Davis who was never one to shy away from physical specimen to pass over. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. After a holdout that led into his rookie season, he spent the majority of that year on the bench under rookie head coach Lane Kiffin (who could have his own ten year recap in his own right) appearing in four games and starting one.

2008 was Russell’s first and only year as the Raiders full time starter playing in 15 games. He had made some strides that season, but 2009 was where it all fell apart. In that season Russell played in 12 games, started nine and completed less than 50 percent of his passes throwing three touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He also finished that year third on the quarterback depth chart behind Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye. That also ended up being Russell’s last taste of NFL action as he showed up to offseason workouts in 2010 weighing close to 300 pounds, and in May of that year the Raiders eventually released him.

Later in 2010, Russell was arrested for codeine possession without a prescription which put a damper on immediate comeback attempts. While he most notably tried a comeback in 2013, Russell was not given able to catch on with a team although some expressed interest. Some feel that questions regarding work ethic could have played a role. Despite Russell beings selected by the Raiders in a time where it would have been tough for almost any young quarterback to succeed, the culmination of everything led to him going down as one of the bigger draft busts in recent memory.

2. Detroit Lions: Calvin Johnson, WR Georgia Tech: Johnson was the fourth receiver drafted by Matt Millen in the first round within a five year stretch, but his sheer dominance proved that once again a broken clock is in fact right twice a day. Still the gold standard of receiver prospects a decade later, Johnson was a can’t miss player entering the league and somehow exceeded the hype.

At 6’5, 235 pounds with 4.3 speed and a 43 inch vertical, the player who became known as “Megatron” terrorized defenses throughout his nine year career. In that span, Johnson hauled in 731 passes for 11,619 yards (good for 27th all time when he retired) and 83 receiving touchdowns. With the production also came the accolades as Johnson was a six time Pro Bowler and was a first team All-Pro on three occasions. In 2012, he also broke Jerry Rice’s record for most receiving yards in a single season with 1,964 which still stands.

Johnson surprised many by retiring after his age 30 season in 2015 as he still had plenty left in the tank. Due to his size, Johnson was susceptible to hits to his knees, and after a while even for an all time great the physical toll football takes on a body just might not become worth it. Even though the process can drag on for receivers, Johnson certainly is deserving to see his name amongst the all time greats in Canton, Ohio one day.

3. Cleveland Browns: Joe Thomas, T Wisconsin: When analysts say drafting a franchise left tackle can have a team set for a decade, Thomas is exactly what you look for. Despite the constant roster turnover around him in Cleveland, Thomas’ play is one thing the franchise has been able to count on and he hasn’t slowed down. Through ten seasons, he has made ten Pro Bowls and is a six time first team All-Pro. In short, Thomas has been everything you could ask and more from a tackle. While some in the media might cite a lack of team success throughout his career, it would be a travesty if he isn’t a first ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Gaines Adams, DE Clemson: Leading up to the 2007 draft, one of the hottest rumors was regarding a possible swap between the Lions and Buccaneers centered around Calvin Johnson and Adams. A unanimous college All American in 2006, Adams was the consensus top pass rusher available and he showed some of that promise in his first two seasons where he recorded 12.5 sacks.

In the middle of the 2009 season, the Buccaneers traded Adams to the Bears for a 2010 second round pick. That pick oddly enough swapped hands multiple times and was used by the Patriots to select Rob Gronkowski. Unfortunately in January of 2010, Adams passed away due to an enlarged heart which had gone previously undetected at just 26 years old.

5. Arizona Cardinals: Levi Brown, T Penn State: After drafting Matt Leinart in the first round just a year before, the Cardinals wanted to shore up their offensive line. It’s also worth noting there was talk that the team was considering Adrian Peterson here, and the thought of Peterson in the backfield paired with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin out wide just makes me woozy.

Brown was in the NFL for seven seasons but played in six as torn triceps led him to be placed on injured reserve in 2012. After six seasons with the Cardinals, he was traded to the Steelers in 2013 where he played six games before once again tearing his triceps. That ended up being his final season in the NFL. While he wasn’t a dominant force that a team would expect from a top five pick, it is worth noting that Brown was a plus run blocker, and for the average player a seven year career is nothing to scoff at.

6. Washington Redskins: LaRon Landry, S LSU: A hard hitting physical specimen, the Redskins had big plans when they selected Landry to play strong safety alongside the ascending Sean Taylor. That duo was unfortunately short lived as Taylor was tragically killed in November of 2007. Due to his speed, Landry frequently showed some impressive range in both rush and pass defense. However, his Redskins career had an interesting ending as both his 2010 and 11 seasons were ended due to an Achilles tendon injury that he decided to treat with stem cell treatment rather than surgery.

Landry then signed a one year deal with the Jets in 2012 which was also his first Pro Bowl selection as a pro. He parlayed that into a four year deal with the Colts, but his tenure there is unfortunately best known for the numerous failed tests of the NFL performance enhancing drug policy. Even before the failed tests, there were whispers Landry could have been on something as photos from offseason workouts showed he was a hulking figure even amongst his peers. In November of 2015, Landry was suspended indefinitely by the league for a third failed test. Now 32 years old at the time of this writing, Landry has likely played his final NFL down.

7. Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson, RB Oklahoma: From the time he was a freshman at Oklahoma, it was readily apparent that Peterson had a very bright future at the next level. He wasted no time showing it as he had 1,341 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns on a whopping 5.6 yards a carry making him the clear choice for rookie of the year honors. That season included a 296 yard performance which is the record for most rushing yards in a single game.

In 2008, the Vikings made him their feature back and he responded in a big way recording his first of three rushing titles with 1,760 yards. His best work came in 2012 which happened to come less than a year after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL and MCL. Most backs would never be the same after those injuries, but Peterson responded with 2,097 yards on six yards a carry. That year also led to Peterson being named league MVP. The next four seasons are where it gets interesting for Peterson, as he has had two with his typical greatness, and then two where he played a combined four games.

The first shortened year occurred in 2014 where he was suspended as a result of a child abuse charges against him in what was one of the talking points of that NFL season. In 2015 however, Peterson was back as usual and led the league in rushing yards. This past campaign Peterson played in only three games as a result of a torn meniscus, but even beforehand he was struggling averaging less than two yards a carry. Due to the cap figure, there is a chance 2016 could have been Peterson’s last in a Vikings uniform.

To this point, Peterson’s 11,747 rushing yards rank 16th all time and he is less than 700 away from a spot in the top ten. With six Pro Bowl selections to go along with being named a first team All-Pro four times, Peterson should see himself in Canton eventually as the premier back of his era.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Jamaal Anderson, DE Arkansas: The Falcons acquired this pick after a trade with the Texans in which the teams swapped first rounders, and the Falcons traded their then backup quarterback Matt Schaub. At that point, Schaub had made all of 2 career NFL starts, so teams going all in to acquire quarterbacks off of small sample sizes certainly isn’t a new trend.

As a pass rusher, Anderson didn’t live up to the billing as he registered just 4.5 sacks in four years with the Falcons before they released him. He went on to play for the Colts in 2011 where he recorded three sacks which was a career high, before ultimately playing his final games with the Bengals in 2012.

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Super Bowl 51 Predictions

super-bowl-falcons-patriotsAfter nearly two weeks of buildup, the final game of the 2016 NFL season is finally here. Compared to previous Super Bowls, this one is expected to be a shootout as the Falcons led by Matt Ryan come in with the league’s top scoring offense and will be going against Tom Brady and company who always manage to put up points.With all the prep work leading up to Sunday by both coaching staffs, I wouldn’t be stunned if this failed become the high scoring affair fans at home may be hoping for. Regardless, this should be a tightly contested game that could leave fans talking for quite some time. Here is my x-factor each team along with my game prediction.

Falcons X-Factor: Brian Poole, Cornerback: In a passing friendly league, we’ve seen a trend in recent years where more and more plays consist of three receiver sets. No team has been more effective doing this than the Patriots. Whether it has been Wes Welker in the past, Julian Edelman currently or a chance to find a mismatch, the Patriots have done an incredible job getting production from their pass catchers lined up in the slot. This is where Poole comes into play.

This time last year, Poole was getting ready for the combine after playing his college ball at Florida. Despite not hearing his name called in the 2016 draft, it has been a whirlwind year for Poole as he has been a big contributor for the Falcons this season having played more than 70 percent of their defensive snaps. We saw it last time the Patriots faced a Dan Quinn orchestrated defense in Super Bowl 49: they will attack the nickel corners, and with this being his first season, Poole will be looked at as a vulnerable player to Brady and company. Don’t be surprised if Poole’s level of play ends up being a measuring stick of how well the Patriots are moving the ball through the air.

Patriots X-Factor: Dion Lewis, Running back: As we all know by now, the Patriots don’t lose often. But then there is Lewis who has seen the team go 16-0 in games he has played between 2015 and 2016. It’s understandable to see why as Lewis brings a dimension to the offense they wouldn’t have otherwise. Not only is he a very good pass catcher out of the backfield, but Lewis runs with wiggle and burst that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

While the Falcons defense has shutdown opposing rushing attacks in the absolute ideal scenario this postseason (eliminating it by jumping out to early leads), they struggled against the run in the regular season allowing 4.5 yards a carry. In theory due to the Falcons team speed on defense, it seems like they would be able to prevent some mismatches Lewis would create in the passing game. However, the Falcons have allowed nearly 54 receiving yards a game to opposing running backs which plays right into Lewis’ strengths. While quarterbacks usually receive the glory,  if the Patriots win Lewis could make for a very interesting darkhorse bet for Super Bowl MVP (you know, if you’re into that sort of thing).

Prediction: Looking at the game initially on the surface, it was hard for me to pick a winner. The more I looked into it though, it just became tougher to not go with the Patriots. We all know Belichick and Brady have come through before in these situations, but it was more than just that. The offensive line for the Patriots this year has risen to the occasion and I believe that the game will be close enough where the Falcons aren’t able to sell out to try getting to Brady. While it’s unlikely for the Patriots to completely eliminate Julio Jones, they can limit his supporting cast in a passing offense that is designed to spread the ball around, and create yards after the catch (which the Patriots are one of the top teams in terms of limiting). For those reasons, I am expecting to see Brady and Belichick continue their unprecedented run this Sunday. Falcons 24 Patriots (-3.5) 30

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Championship Sunday Predictions

usatsi_8259859_168382939_lowresPossibly the best Sunday of the football season is finally upon us. That’s because unlike the Super Bowl, we have two games to watch as the best each conference has to offer square off on the same day. Unlike some instances where teams with dominant defenses reach this point, that isn’t the case this year. Instead, this season came down to quarterbacks. While the 2016 season wasn’t Ben Roethlisberger’s best work, he was the clear second best quarterback in the AFC playoff field behind Tom Brady. Due to that, this matchup is actually one many projected in the preseason. For the NFC the matchup is a surprise to many, but how they reached this point isn’t. Aaron Rodgers has been in an otherworldly zone the past month and a half while Matt Ryan is playing at the MVP caliber level he has the entire season. This weekend of football should feature plenty of drama and offense which is all a lot of fans ask for.

Divisional round results:

Straight up: 2-2, Postseason: 6-2

Against the spread: 2-2, Postseason: 4-4

Packers 27 Falcons (-4.5) 24: These two teams played a highly entertaining game earlier in the year, but much has changed since that point. Not only is now Rodgers in a rhythm that few quarterbacks could ever match, but Clay Matthews will be playing this time around to help aide the Packers on the defensive side. While the Falcons secondary is vulnerable, what worries me is that at the time of this writing, there’s a chance Rodgers will be dealing with a very banged up receiving corps.

We all know that Jordy Nelson is unlikely to play, but Davante Adams with a balky ankle isn’t a guarantee to suit up for this one. That would leave Randall Cobb and Jared Cook (neither of whom played in the previous meeting) to absorb most of the targets. We saw how Cobb performed last year as the de facto number one receiver (it wasn’t ideal) and the Falcons have the speed at linebacker to potentially eliminate the areas of the field where Cook can win. In that case, the x-factor for the Packers would be rookie Geronimo Allison who has shown some big play ability in recent weeks.

In the previous matchup, the Packers were well aware they could not stop Julio Jones one on one, so they sold out to limit him. That allowed Ryan to carve up the Packers secondary with his running backs, tight ends and his other receivers. While Jones has been limited due to injury, he still insists he will play, so the Packers will likely once again sell out to limit him. That is great news for Mohamed Sanu who saw ten balls thrown his way in the last matchup against the Packers. In response he recorded nine catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.While Devonta Freeman figures to see plenty of work in both the passing and rushing attack, the real running back who should concern the Packers is Tevin Coleman.

Coleman was forced to miss the week eight matchup with an injury, but he’s a big play waiting to happen. Kyle Shanahan has excelled at creating matchups for Coleman often against inside linebackers that lack the speed to keep up with him. Don’t be surprised if Coleman makes a real name for himself in this game. While what I’ve written would tend to seem that the Falcons could win big, I just don’t feel comfortable betting against Rodgers here.

Despite dealing with a underwhelming and banged up receiving corps, Rodgers has brought his absolute A game at the perfect time. There are only a few quarterbacks a decade that make opposing fans hold their breath whenever they drop back to pass, and Rodgers is certainly one of those guys. He told the media and fans alike to not count the Packers out when they sat at 4-6, and the team hasn’t lost since. Now wouldn’t be a great time to doubt him.

Steelers 21 Patriots (-6.5) 28: For the last 13 seasons, only four quarterbacks have reached the Super Bowl from the AFC. Joe Flacco with one is the outlier, so the conference has basically been represented by Peyton Manning or these two quarterbacks facing off Sunday. These teams also faced off in the regular season, but Landry Jones was starting in place of an injured Roethlisberger. Besides Russell Wilson, you could make the case that any from the group of Carson Palmer, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton was the second best quarterback the Patriots have faced this entire season. While the Patriots are obviously very good, the case could be made this game, their 18th of the season is only their second real test.

Roethlisberger and the Steelers high octane attack certainly are a threat, but for some reason they just don’t put up points the same way they do at home. My guess would be that the Patriots play a “bend but don’t break” defense in this one. Le’Veon Bell is obviously going to get his touches, but it could be tough sledding against a run defense that is looked on favorably by advanced metrics and is one of efficient tackling teams. Antonio Brown is obviously going to see plenty of passes thrown his way and will likely be shadowed by Malcolm Butler who has been fantastic down the stretch. While Brown should still get some of his numbers, it just makes it more important for a player like Eli Rogers or Jesse James to step up in the passing game.

While by now teams might figure how the Patriots will attack them, it’s obviously much harder to deal with than discussing it. Even without Rob Gronkowski for the majority of the year, Brady has been able to successfully throw in all areas of the field. In this game, don’t be surprised if it’s another one where Dion Lewis is a huge factor. The Steelers are one of the more vulnerable teams to opposing backs out of the backfield, and with Lewis and James White, the Patriots can certainly exploit that. While Lewis missed most of the season, he has hit his stride just in time as he has shown to be the true offensive weapon that broke onto the scene in 2015.

The last time they met, the Steelers seemed comfortable leaving linebackers such as Lawrence Timmons in coverage against Julian Edelman. While it didn’t burn them that time around, it’s certainly playing with fire. Edelman should be able to win those matchups, and all it would take is a few missed tackles to create what could be some chunk plays. While other Patriots receivers such as Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell are banged up, don’t be surprised if Brady takes a few deep shots to either them or newly acquired Michael Floyd. Even though Artie Burns has shown promise this season, it wouldn’t be surprising if Brady took his chances against the rookie. With the Steelers having some questions to answer on both sides of the ball entering this one, it’s hard to go against a Patriots team which has proven to be a strong on both sides of the ball.

 

 

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Divisional Round Predictions

steelers-chiefs-football-travis-kelce-arthur-moats_pg_600With wildcard weekend going to all the favorites/home teams, the slate ended up being a little more predictable than we might of hoped. With the four highest seeds in each conference playing, this is obviously where things really start to get interesting. All four of the games this weekend are matchups that already occurred in the regular season. However, there are drastic differences to the teams since those meetings which could have huge impacts in the direct outcome of these contests.

Wild card weekend results:

Straight up: 4-0

Against the spread: 2-2

Seahawks 24 Falcons (-5.5) 28: Unlike wildcard weekend, the divisional round gets to the goods right away. When these teams faced off in the regular season, it was the Seahawks who had the homefield advantage and they won a closely contested game which many think was influenced by a blown defensive pass interference call. The major difference aside from the Seahawks being on the road (where they played under .500 ball) is that they had Earl Thomas in that game who is obviously done for the season.

While the Lions were unable to get things going against the Seahawks, the Falcons (who somehow went under the radar for a historical offensive season) should be helped with their array of weapons and Kyle Shanahan’s ability as a play caller to make adjustments. To many, Matt Ryan is the deserving MVP candidate this year and this would be an opportune time to show why. While many tend to focus on just Julio Jones and who could blame them, the Falcons have had other playmakers step up on the offensive side of the ball when needed. Whether it’s Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman who are both capable receivers out of the backfield, Mohamed Sanu or lesser heralded wideouts like Taylor Gabriel or Aldrick Robinson, as a group those players can win in all areas of the field.

For the Seahawks, a huge aspect in this one will be if Thomas Rawls can build off his fantastic wildcard game performance. Granted, the Lions have their issues on the defensive side of the ball, but the Seahawks had been lacking a running game like that all season. If the Falcons past games are any indication,then Russell Wilson could be throwing early and often.The good news for Wilson is that with Dan Quinn at the helm in Atlanta, some of the defensive schemes thrown at him will be similar to what he has seen in practice. The Falcons will also be without corner Desmond Trufant who kept Doug Baldwin quiet in their earlier meeting. Look for Baldwin to be involved early and often. It’s really hard to pick against a Seahawks team that has shown up frequently for these moments and succeeded the past few years, but the Falcons have what it takes to get the Seahawks out of their intended game script.

Texans 13 Patriots (-16.5) 31: Despite shutting out the Texans when these teams last played, the big difference in this one is that instead of Jacoby Brissett, the Texans will be facing off against Tom Brady. Having gone from a rookie quarterback making his first career start in any NFL game let alone the playoffs in Connor Cook one week to Brady the next, you literally cannot have a bigger difference. The Texans will likely go with an approach many have tried against the Patriots in the playoffs. That’s controlling the clock and eliminating turnovers. Unfortunately for the Texans, Brock Osweiler has had his share of struggles so unless he gets things going, it’s very tough to execute.

The Patriots main goal offensively in this one will be to limit Jadeveon Clowney. While he may not be the pass rushing force everyone expected immediately, Clowney has been fantastic in defending the run and has still been very productive rushing opposing quarterbacks. Bill Belichick and staff seem to love scheming to take away an opponents best player, so don’t be stunned for the montage of Clowney constantly facing double teams along with an ensuing stat line that’s below expectations. A strong indicator of if the Patriots are executing on the offensive end will be how many touches LeGarrette Blount sees. The last two times these teams have played, the Patriots relied on him early and often with the game going as planned for them. While the Texans do have a very good defense, the task of going on the road to beat Brady and company appears to be too daunting.

Steelers 21 Chiefs (-1.5) 26: When these teams met on Sunday night earlier in the year, the Steelers won in a big way. The Chiefs had no answer for Ben Roehlisberger and the passing attack along with Le’Veon Bell who averaged a ridiculous eight yards a carry. In this one though, the biggest difference would be a banged up Roethlisberger along  with the drastic change in his splits between home and road games. In away games this season, Roethlisberger completed less than 60 percent of his passes, with nine touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions. For comparisons sake, he threw five touchdowns in the prior matchup at home against the Chiefs alone.

The good news for Roethlisberger is that along with Antonio Brown to throw to, Bell is still there to carry the load.Allowing 4.4 yards a rush attempt, this could spell trouble for the Chiefs. Bell obviously has shown a patience in his running style that is one of a kind, but factor in his receiving ability and you have a truly special player.

While the Steelers defense has seemed to improve as the season progressed, the same can be said about the Chiefs offense. Even with a more methodical Alex Smith at the helm, the offense has become much more dynamic down the stretch. This is in large part due to the emergence of rookie Tyreek Hill. Whether it’s on the ground, through the air  or returns, Hill’s world class speed gives the Chiefs a player who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

Pair that with Travis Kelce, the most dominant tight end in the non-Gronk category and a now healthy Jeremy Maclin, and the Chiefs have a nice foundation of weapons. That isn’t even factoring in running back Spencer Ware who is returning from injury. While he slowed down late in the season, Ware is a tough runner who can also create big plays in the passing game (averaging 13.5 yards a catch is incredible for running backs) which is just another dimension to worry about. Going against Roethlisberger and his playoff pedigree is awfully difficult, but I’m going with the Chiefs in what should be a very closely contested contest.

Packers 23 Cowboys (-4.5) 26: Here’s the matchup we (and the league) are all waiting for this weekend. Two of the more storied franchises facing off with their season on the line it can’t get much better than that. The big difference between their meeting earlier in the year (which the Cowboys won in Lambeau) is Aaron Rodgers is looking like Aaron Rodgers again. In all sports at the various levels, any athlete can get in a “zone” where things just get slower, the hoop seems larger or the incoming pitch looks like a beach ball. You can make the case that Rodgers in that mindset is the scariest thing  currently in professional sports and he has been in it for a good month and a half now.

Unfortunately for Rodgers, he will be without his top target Jordy Nelson whose absence if it got to that point would likely stretch beyond this week. With that said, the Packers need another big showing from Randall Cobb along with Davante Adams (who on a game by game basis can be drastically inconsistent) to bring his A game. At tight end, Jared Cook is an interesting player to watch as Rodgers does feel comfortable looking his way and the Cowboys have had some struggles against opposing tight ends.

The strategy most teams would take to play the Packers just happens to be what the Cowboys do every week. With a fantastic offensive line and likely rookie of the year Ezekiel Elliott seeing plenty of work, the Cowboys have the ability to not only take the air out of the ball, but do it very efficiently as well. A strong start for Elliott would make things easier for fellow rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. While Prescott has impressed throughout his entire rookie campaign, he isn’t ready for the challenge that very few are of matching Rodgers score for score in the event of a shootout.

When Prescott does throw the ball, he should see some nice matchups against a Packers secondary decimated by injury. While they were creative stopping Odell Beckham last week, the Packers will have more to worry about this week facing options such as Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley and Jason Witten. Picking against Rodgers under any circumstances (especially these) is a very difficult proposition. However, with their balanced attack and my questions regarding how the Packers defense will hold up, I’m going with the Cowboys in this one.

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Wildcard Weekend Predictions

NFL: New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to believe as it feels we just got started, but the NFL postseason begins this weekend. As the only major sport with a “win or go home” playoff, postseason games can be incredibly fun to watch. However, with that scenario it is possible that the “better team” doesn’t always win. With just one game there is no little if any room for error in terms of executing a gameplan and a team could always just matchup very poorly against their opponent. On paper, for casual fans this might not be a very exciting slate to open the postseason, but there will almost certainly be drama as teams compete to keep their seasons alive for one more week.

Last week: 11-5, Season: 159-97

Last week against the spread: 8-8, Season: 127-129

Raiders 13 Texans (-3.5) 17: Nothing quite says “Saturday 4:30 pm start” like a Connor Cook/Brock Osweiler “showdown” in the playoffs of all places. At this point, you just have to feel awful for the Raiders who quickly went from having a season to remember turn into an absolute worst case scenario. Losing an MVP candidate quarterback in Derek Carr to injury is tough enough. But losing backup Matt McGloin in the first half of their very next game is just downright cruel. Now the Raiders turn to rookie Connor Cook, who likely wasn’t even getting reps in practice up until week 17.

The good news for Cook is that he has a strong supporting cast around him, and it’s unlikely he’ll have to put the team on his shoulders. With a fantastic offensive line, look for the Raiders to run the ball early and often with Latavius Murray leading the way. Cook will figure to look for Amari Cooper (who needs to be more involved) and Michael Crabtree when he does drop back to pass, so despite going up against one of the league’s top rated defenses, things could be much worse.

In a sentence I never thought I’d write about a playoff game, the main reason I’m taking the Texans here is I have more faith in Osweiler. While he has obviously been less than stellar in the first year of his big deal, the Texans have shown they can win even without a big performance in the passing game. Lamar Miller figures to return and should see plenty of work running the ball and contributing in the passing game which is a huge boost. If Osweiler was smart, he would also look to get DeAndre Hopkins heavily involved early and often. While the tandem hasn’t been on the same page most of this season, Hopkins is still an upper echelon receiver and it’s hard for him to make an impact without the opportunities.

Lions 21 Seahawks (-8.5) 27: The Seahawks at home, in the playoffs against a team on a short week? On paper this looks like a lock, but don’t count out the Lions. Despite his injured finger on his throwing hand leading to some inconsistency in recent weeks, Matthew Stafford has just finished the best year of his career. While the Seahawks defense is obviously a tough task, they haven’t been the same since losing Earl Thomas for the season. To this point, the Seahawks haven’t found a formula to make up for it. Zach Zenner has given the Lions a nice boost in the running game of late, which is always crucial come playoff time and could help them dictate the tempo. It’s also worth noting that Richard Sherman has more trouble with shorter, shiftier receivers such as Golden Tate than he does bigger wideouts.

On offense, the Seahawks have their question marks as well. With Marshawn Lynch retiring, and injuries at the position they haven’t been able to get a stable rushing attack going this season. Like much of Russell Wilson’s time in the league, the Seahawks offensive line is also a giant question mark. The reason I’m still taking the Seahawks here is I don’t believe the Lions have the personnel defensively to take advantage of those offensive weaknesses. With Ziggy Ansah dealing with nagging injuries most of the year, the Lions haven’t been able to produce much of a pass rush, their secondary has been decimated by injuries, and Wilson has shown he can flourish if he has the time to create. On top of that, the Lions have struggled to cover opposing tight ends all season and they now face one of the top receiving threats at the position in Jimmy Graham.

Dolphins 17 Steelers (-10.5) 28: The sudden emergence of the Dolphins was a nice story line in the 2016 season. However, to this point we still don’t actually know if the team is good. It’s true you can only play the teams on your schedule, but for the Dolphins that proved to be pretty favorable. Their most impressive win was against these very Steelers in a game Ben Roethlisberger left early due to injury. Despite that, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the Dolphins future. They just might of reached the national stage ahead of schedule.

With Ryan Tannehill still out, Matt Moore makes his first career playoff start and has done what’s asked of him to this point. You’re probably not going to win a shootout if he’s at the helm, but Moore should keep the Dolphins in this one if they protect the ball and get Jay Ajayi going. Ajayi as you probably know by now, ran for over 200 yards when these teams last faced off. The Steelers defense is much improved since then, but a big day from Ajayi is huge for the Dolphins chances.

Along with the improved defense, Roethlisberger (who has ridiculous home game splits) paired with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown is awfully difficult to stop. While Brown struggled when these teams last faced off, that was against Byron Maxwell, who has missed the last two weeks with a high ankle sprain. Even if he does return, chances are Brown will win the rematch against a corner who would be battling through a very tough lower leg injury. Bell has been simply fantastic this season and when factoring that the Dolphins have allowed over 5.2 yards per attempt rushing the past six weeks, he could be in for a big day. Another player to watch in this one if he does play is Steelers tight end Ladarius Green. With both of the Dolphins starting safeties on injured reserve, Green should find some seams in the middle of the field, and has the ability to capitalize in a big way.

Giants 21 Packers (-4.5) 24: In what figures to be the game of the weekend, we have two teams the rest of the NFC doesn’t want any part of. The Giants have shown they can win with their current formula before, but they’ll need Eli Manning who has struggled most of the year to get hot at the right time yet again. The good news for Manning is that the Packers secondary is vulnerable and he has one of the game’s biggest weapons in Odell Beckham at his disposal. Beckham will likely see double coverage or face help over the top but if left alone one one one, he should feast. Don’t be surprised if rookie running back Paul Perkins ends up playing a big role in this one. He has impressed down the stretch, offers ability as a receiver out of the backfield and has gotten more involved in recent weeks.

To nobody’s surprise, Aaron Rodgers found his groove this season and at a perfect time. The Giants defense however is a much more difficult task than they were when these teams met earlier in the season. With the Giants ability to stop the run and the Packers lacking a back they can truly count on, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Packers offense got rather one dimensional. However maximizing the amount of times someone of Rodgers’ caliber gets the ball is never a bad thing. An interesting matchup to watch will be Jordy Nelson against Janoris Jenkins. Nelson wasn’t fully up to speed returning from his ACL surgery earlier in the year, and he struggled when these teams first met. Jenkins played very well in that meeting, and has kept it up throughout the season. In what figures to be a close contest, the winner of that individual battle could end up being a key factor in eventually determining the outcome.

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Week 17 Predictions

sad-lions-fan2It seems like we just started, but the 2016 regular season comes to a close this Sunday. This one as a whole has been very interesting as not only fans more than in recent years have been talking about the “product on the field”. That discussion is taking place at a bad time for the NFL as not only does every contender this year have it’s flaws, but the NBA could be entering another golden era in terms of sheer talent dispersed around their league. While divisional matchups on week 17 can usually lead to high drama, that won’t be much of the case this year.

With ten teams locked into the playoffs, most of their games this week are for seeding purposes. Then in the NFC, there are three teams competing for two spots in the Redskins, Lions and Packers. If the Redskins take care of business Sunday afternoon, then they would get in if the Lions lost to the Packers. In that scenario, the Lions would have the same number of wins as the Redskins to go along with a head to head tiebreaker and still miss the playoffs. The reason for that would be thanks to the game in London where the Redskins tied the Bengals and made you regret wasting three hours of your Sunday morning. With that, here are my predictions (which on week 17 with so many teams having nothing to play for are difficult to project) for our last full slate of games of the regular season and to all those reading, here’s to a happy and healthy new year.

Last week: 9-7, Season: 148-92

Last week against the spread: 8-8, Season: 119-121

Game of the weak: Bills vs Jets: For these two AFC East teams, this weekend ends a season that began with high expectations and ends in disappointment. I was fully prepared for Rex Ryan to become our Jeff Fisher replacement in terms of job security getting by on a few good seasons earlier in their careers. But that was wiped out from under us earlier in the week. Ryan’s personality could have been a big factor in that he talked a big game in terms of change, making new additions to a playoff starved fanbase only to be jumped by the Dolphins this season. Without the promises, he’d probably be looking at another year of job security. Instead, the well respected Anthony Lynn who has been coaching in the league for more than a decade and a half gets a one game look as an interim candidate while being forced by the front office to start EJ Manuel.

On the Jets side of things, has any quarterback been benched and gotten more chances to get his gig back in a single year than Ryan Fitzpatrick? First, Geno Smith replaced him and got hurt in the first start leading for Fitzpatrick to take back the position. Then after a dreadful home showing on Monday Night Football to the Colts, the job became Bryce Petty’s. However after getting pummeled (including a hit where he’s sandwiched by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake that on loop could serve as a PSA for why your child shouldn’t play football), he’s forced to miss the remainder of the year. So in a season that began with the Jets being held hostage in contract negotiations with Fitzpatrick, we have gone full circle to wrap up another year of Jets football. Bills 20 Jets (+3.5) 14

Game of the week: Packers vs Lions: In the event they do miss the playoffs in either of the two scenarios provided (a tie game tiebreaker or losing a three game division lead with three weeks left), both options are extremely on brand for the “same old Lions” talk. I’ve noted on numerous occasions that my family thanks to their Michigan ties roots for the Lions and you could see this coming a mile away.  Once the extremely pessimistic local media even started some “are the Lions actually good?” pieces fate was all but set.

By now you know the deal. The Packers started off 4-6, and people were writing them off but I’ve seen this movie too many times. Aaron Rodgers has found a groove, his receivers are actually catching the ball, Jordy Nelson has shaken off the rust and the Packers go on to win five in a row. The Lions meanwhile sat 9-4 and as those who root or know Lions fans could probably tell you, it wasn’t going to end well especially with those three games being the Lions toughest tests all year.  So now it all comes down to Sunday Night, in Ford Field which should be a ridiculous atmosphere for the NFC North title.

Matthew Stafford and company should put up points on the Packers defense, but as you saw this past Monday night, the Lions secondary is completely decimated with injuries. So with their secondary in it’s current standing, that only leaves one thing for Rodgers’ play to say to Lions fans which it has since he became the starter in 2008: BOHICA (bend over, here it comes again). Packers 30 Lions (+3.5) 21

Ravens 23 Bengals (-2.5) 17

Texans 21 Titans (-3.5) 14

Panthers 23 Buccaneers (-6.5) 26

Jaguars 21 Colts (-4.5) 24

Patriots 28 Dolphins (+9.5) 20

Bears 17 Vikings (-5.5) 21

Cowboys 24 Eagles (-4.5) 20

Browns 20 Steelers (-6.5) 23

Saints 24 Falcons (-6.5) 31

Giants 17 Redskins (-7.5) 23

Cardinals 26 Rams (+6.5) 17

Raiders 16 Broncos (-1.5) 20

Chiefs 27 Chargers (+5.5) 21

Seahawks 30 49ers (+9.5) 17

 

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Week 16 Fantasy Surprises

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

For my fantasy surprises in week 15, it was one I would like to forget. Nobody really stood out, so hopefully this week I’m able to bounce back. For the majority of players, this is championship weekend in fantasy leagues. It’s hard to believe the fantasy season has flown by like this, but here we are. If you have reached the final in your league, congrats on getting to this point. As usual, my advice for this week is stick with the players who got you to this point. In the case of a lot of teams, that could be due to a standout running back or receiver, but it goes for all over the roster. Don’t try and be cute just stick with players you know are reliable. Obviously with so much of fantasy being luck based there could be hindsight, but going with players who have come through week after week even in defeat, would make a loss easier to get over.

QB: Blake Bortles vs Titans: This pick applies more to daily fantasy players, as if you made your league’s title game I’d hope you’d have a better quarterback option. While Bortles has obviously regressed this season, the ability to thrive in garbage time is still there. The Titans might be able to put this out of reach early enough where there is a nice value to be had. Expect around 240 total yards and two touchdowns.

RB: Frank Gore vs Raiders: Even behind a struggling offensive line, Gore continues to find ways to get it done. While he can have touchdowns vultured from him at the goalline, he is still a nice bet to get 20 to 25 touches in what should be a close contest. Also, it’s worth noting the Raiders have allowed nearly 1,500 yards rushing to opposing backs this season. Expect around 90 total yards and a touchdown.

WR: Kenny Britt vs 49ers: While Jared Goff’s struggles have been documented, someone obviously has to fill in as his leading receiver and that guy has been Britt. On his way to 1,000 yards for the season, Britt has been one of the few offensive highlights for the Rams and could benefit from the nice matchup this weekend. Expect around 70 yards and a touchdown.

TE: Eric Ebron vs Cowboys: While Matthew Stafford is known to spread the ball around in their current offense, Ebron is worth a look this week. The Cowboys have had some struggles against opposing tight ends, and while he hasn’t been lived up to the draft billing, Ebron represents a difficult matchup. The Lions recent redzone struggles could hurt his value, but don’t be surprised if Ebron has a nice performance. Expect around 60 yards and a touchdown.

K: Roberto Aguayo vs Saints: Due to his high selection in the draft by kicker standards, Aguayo has gotten more attention than most would when he misses. In recent weeks, that talk has started to fade away. It seems I’ve had him in this space a lot, but this is yet another favorable matchup for Aguayo so if you stream kickers, he would be a nice place to start. Expect around two field goals and three extra points.

DEF: Packers vs Vikings: This choice could backfire on me, but the Vikings struggled offensively to the point against the Colts where this seemed like a good spot. Not only is a win huge for the Packers, but it’s at home and the Vikings don’t have a ton to play for. Plus, with their struggling offensive line we just know Dom Capers is going to dial up plenty of blitzes for the Packers to get to Sam Bradford. Expect around four sacks and an interception.

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