The Dr of the NFL’s Fearless Forecast
AFC Championship Game-New England @ Denver
Is there some sort of immutable law that states that if, in the pre-season, you pick a team to go to the Super Bowl, that you are not allowed to pick against them in the championship game? If so, I’m in a difficult spot. Before the year began, my prognostication was a Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl, more on Seattle shortly, but I’m leaning against Brady and company today. Here’s why. Too much is being made about last week when New England ran over Indianapolis. As we pointed out, Indy couldn’t stop the run all year, so let’s make LeGarrett Blount out to be Jim Brown just yet. The Broncos run defense has been stout all year [ranked 7th in NFL] and they will provide much more resistance than the Colts did. Look for Brady to come out throwing in this game vs. a porous Broncos secondary that just lost its’ best corner in Chris Harris and is without their best pass rusher in Von Miller. I fully expect the Pats to consistently move the ball and Brady to amass at least 350 yards passing.
Bill Bellichick has a conundrum in this match up vs. Peyton, if he stacks his chips to stop Denver’s running game, Manning will devour his secondary, and if he stays in a cover 2 to prevent the big play, Peyton will audible into a run and Knowshon Moreno and company will run up and down the field on a terrible Patriot run defense [ranked 30th in NFL]. People forget that because the Colts couldn’t take advantage of it because they were a poor running team, Denver will.
In what promises to be a high scoring shootout, TD’s over FG’s will be the difference. Which team will convert in the Red Zone? Peyton completed 72% of his Red Zone passes and threw 37 red zone TD’s with zero INT’s during the regular season, look for that trend to continue. In addition, New England will be playing a road playoff game for the first time in 7 years. The Patriots are 1-5 vs. the spread in their last 6 road contests, and are 0-5 vs the number in their last 5 games played on glass. Broncos advance to the Super Bowl.
Denver 37 New England 30.
NFC Championship Game-San Francisco @ Seattle
I’ve been going back and forth on this one all week. Seattle’s been the best team all year but the 49ers are red hot and playing better right now. Home field is huge in this one but the 49ers front 7 vs. Seattle’s erratic O-line can quiet things down. Russell Wilson concerns me, he’s not played well the last 4 or 5 games and he’ll be without Percy Harvin. But Colin Kaepernick has been awful in both games he’s played in this building.
As good as Seattle’s defense is, you can run it occasionally on them. The 49ers ran for 163 yards in week 14 win against Seattle, can Gore and company repeat this on the road? This is the key to the game, if Gore is producing, the 49ers can sneak out with a win, if not, Seattle will pressure Kaepernick, contain his rushing lanes, and force him into mistakes. Much has been made of the 49ers resurgence on offense since the return of Michael Crabtree, but Richard Sherman will effectively eliminate him and Vernon Davis will have his hands full with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas who are the best Safety tandem in the league.
I think San Francisco must get off to a healthy start to take the crowd out of it, otherwise things could snowball. Kaepernick completes just 54% of his passes when he’s trailing. Their offense is built for long drives, not short ones. This is why Gore is the key to the game, by establishing the run and sending a physical message, it could set the 49ers up for the upset. We all know that Seattle is near invincible at home but San Francisco is better equipped than any other team to pull this off.
So who wins? In a game that promises to be a tight, low scoring affair, I think it’s Seattle’s year. I trust Russell Wilson more in this spot not to make a critical error than I do Kaepernick. If both teams struggle to run it, which I expect, it gets to which QB will avoid the big mistake. No defense is better than Seattle’s at stopping the opposing QB, with the combination of pass rush and coverage ability. Look for Seattle’s secondary to get the best of Kaepernick and with the homefield to back them, Seattle returns to the Super Bowl.
Seattle 19 San Francisco 13
Arizona at Falcons: People keep asking, ‘Why is the Falcons offense struggling?” Well when you’re on your third starting center and right tackle that could have something to do with it. Don’t like this game for Atlanta which features their porous o-line that consists of a rookie LT, a rookie C and an undrafted free agent at RT vs. one of the best front 7’s in all of football. Last week the Cardinals limited the Seahawks to just 293 total yards, sacked Russell Wilson 7 times, and held Marshawn Lynch to a paltry 39 yards. If they got to a mobile Wilson 7TIMES, how many sacks will Ryan suffer? The Falcons brass may want to have paramedics stationed on the sideline to treat their soon to be punch drunk QB. Arizona is the 2ndworst rushing team in the NFL, Ellington has dealt with hip and foot injuries, but Atlanta’s defense couldn’t even stop the weakling Browns last week, Cleveland punted just once, and Isiah Crowell gashed them for 7 yards per carry.
Saints at Steelers: As bad as the Falcons are, could it be possible that the Saints are worse? New Orleans has lost 3 in a row at home, and now the dome team travels outside to friendly Pittsburgh. Sean Payton’s decision to be more run reliant has backfired, and losing Brandin Cooks, who was their only vertical threat wide receiver, really hurts. The Steelers are fresh off a bye, and are getting healthier, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Ryan Shazier are expected back on defense. The real culprit for the Saints has been the horrendous play of their defense, which won’t be helped the loss of nose tackle Broderick Bunkley, expect Leveon Bell to have a big day.
New England at Green Bay: Biggest most anticipated game of the entire week! Possible Super Bowl preview? Pats have won 7 straight and at 9-2 have the best record in the AFC. Brady threw it 53 times vs the Lions stout defense and wasn’t sacked last week, can the Packers put pressure Tom Terrific? Look for Bellichick to play a lot of cover-2 on defense, so as not to give up big plays to Aaron Rogers, who is the best player in the NFL right now. The key to a Packer victory could be Eddie Lacy, the Patriots big weakness on defense is that they can be exploited by running the ball, Miami ran it for 191 yards in their win over the Pats, the Chiefs gashed them for over 200 yards, and even the meager Jets had over 200
Cleveland at Atlanta: Falcons get the third consecutive opponent that they should handle. They beat up the Bucs and Panthers, now can they actually defeat a team from outside the NFC South? I said earlier in the week that it would be a fitting ending if the Falcons win the division with a final record of 6-10, going 6-0 in the wretched NFC South, and 0-10 versus the rest of the league! The Browns come in banged up defensively, Karlos Dansby and Jabaal Sheard just went down, and the unit was already missing Run stopper Phil Taylor, they have yielded 142 rushing yards per game, 3rdworst in the NFL. Hello Stephen Jackson??? The worry here is that Cleveland gets back one of the most explosive talents in the league, Josh Gordon. Last year after missing 2 games, he had over 1,600 receiving! He’s been able to practice with the team, so his impact will be immediate, and his presence makes guys like Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin much better. Last year after missing 2 games due to suspension, Hoyer threw to him 19 TIMES!! Falcons need to double him on every play.
Detroit at New England: Pats fresh off their demolitions of the Broncos and Colts, are the best team in the AFC, but it’s only November, much can still happen. This is a measuring stick game for the Lions, who failed last week in their loss to Arizona. Detroit’s offense continues to flounder with struggling Mathew Stafford, who is 26th in passer rating, Calvin Johnson is still limping around and they have no running game. Look for New England to spread out the Lions defense and exploit their secondary, since running against Detroit’s stout run defense isn’t really an option. Pats have won 14 straight at home under Brady, unless the Lion’s running game wakes up, New England wins their 7th in a row
Falcons at Panthers: Once again the Falcons are blessed by playing an opponent that is worse than they are. Carolina has not won a football game since the beginning of October, and they have been blown out 3 of the last 4 weeks. This should be no different. The Panthers will be without Greg Hardy, who terrorized Matt Ryan last year with 4 sacks and 8 quarterback hits, and Star Lotulelei. If Ryan is protected, he will scorch Carolina’s porous secondary. You have to worry however, if the game is close in the 4thquarter, where Atlanta has been outscored 91-24 this year.
Bengals at Saints: Both teams need this game and both are coming off losses. Cincinnati’s seems more concerning to me, because they were destroyed at home by a modestly talented Browns team and Andy Dalton turned in one of the most abysmal performances you’ll ever see, finishing with a quarterback rating of 2! The Saints should have a better record than 4-5, they have been ahead in 4 of their 5 losses in the 4thquarter with 2 minutes left. Mark Ingram has begun to pick it up, and the Bengals are the 2ndworst rush defense in the league. New Orleans should be victorious as long as Drew Brees doesn’t continue to turn the ball over at an alarming rate. Do you really think the Saints will lose 2 weeks in a row at home?
Seattle at Kansas City: Both teams are hot, Seattle’s won 3 in a row and the Chiefs have won 4 in a row. This should be tight low scoring affair since both will struggle to pass the ball. Last week Alex Smith was running for his life, KC’s o-line was overwhelmed by Buffalo, and they have no wide receivers. And while the Seahawks have won their last 3, they were all against losing teams, and Russell Wilson is struggling , he has 1 TD and 3 interceptions during this streak. Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse aren’t exactly a lethal WR tandem. Jamaal Charles could have big day vs. a Seahawk defense that just lost their run stopping nose tackle Brandon Mebane for the year.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay: They should use the tape of this game to interrogate the prisoners at Guantanamo. Perhaps the least anticipated game of the NFL season, 2 teams reeling as their seasons crater, this again, a game for viewers with a high degree of self loathing. Falcons are 5-1 off bye weeks in the Mike Smith regime. The 1-7 Sucs are truly horrific, they benched Mike Glennon, and deservedly so, he threw 2 passes last week that I had to keep re-running to try to figure out who he was throwing to. Tampa’s defense is grossly underachieving ranking 31stin total defense and dead last in points allowed, and their special teams are worse than the other 2 units. The Bucs players appear to have checked out on the season so the Falcons may snap their 5 game losing streak. If Atlanta wins and the 49ers beat the Saints, the Falcons will incredibly find themselves just a game out of first place! Such is the laughing stock that is the NFC South.
Steelers at Jets: Jet fans spent the week erecting billboards and flying planes, demanding the firing of their gm, you have to admire their persistence. It doesn’t look like it will be getting better any time soon. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has 12 td passes in his last 2 games, the Jets have 12 td passes in their last 15 games. This game appears to be the perfect storm. New York has dropped 8 straight games and the Steelers have won their last 3 games in dominating fashion, averaging 41 pts per game. Ben’s performance the last 2 weeks has been historic, and the Jets have allowed 24 touchdown passes thru 9 weeks while intercepting just one. They are on a pace to break the record for td passes allowed in a season. The potential snafu, is Mike Tomlin’s annoying habit of his team playing down to the level of the opponent, Pittsburgh is 8-9 in their last 17 games against losing teams.
San Francisco at New Orleans: Both teams are 4-4, but for the Saints in the disgraceful NFC South it means first place. The 49ers, on the other hand, are facing a must win, they trail Arizona by 3 games in the NFC West. They face a daunting challenge, New Orleans has won 2 straight and is coming off the bye. The Saints have also won 20 straight home games with Sean Peyton on the sideline. If the 49ers are to pull off the upset, they must do a better job of protecting Kaepernick, who has been sacked 14 times in the last 2 weeks.
Arizona at Dallas: This is a possible NFC Championship game preview. The Cardinals have the best record in the NFC at 6-1, their only loss came at Denver without their starting QB. They own a 2 game lead in the best division in the conference. Carson Palmer’s shoulder is finally sound, and in the 4 games he’s started the team is unbeaten. Dallas is coming off a short week and a loss to the Skins. They lost one of their best defenders Justin Durant for the season, and Romo’s back is barking. The Cowboys demonstrated an inability to deal with the blitz on Monday nite, and the Cardinals blitz more than any team the last 2 years. Dallas better tighten up or their QB could be taken out on a gurney.
Chargers at Dolphins: If Miami is to be taken seriously, they have to get better at 2 things, first, win at home. They are 5-6 in their last 11 home games. Secondly, beat a good team, they have won 3 of their last 4 games, but the wins have come against the Jaguars, Raiders and Bears. This year they are 1-3 vs. teams with winning records. Key to this game could be on 3rddown. The Chargers are 4thin the NFL in third down conversion, Miami is 30thallowing teams to convert over 47 percent of their third downs. Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, one of the best pass rushing tandems in the NFL, must force Phillip Rivers to get rid of the ball sooner than he wants to.
Jets at Chiefs: 2 teams headed in completely different directions. Kansas City just routed the Rams 34-7 and the week before went into San Diego and played their asses off, beating the Chargers. The Jets, on the other hand, are a dumpster fire. Michael Vick gets the start, which should have happened weeks ago, and in effect, is being fed to the lions. He’ll likely be spending the day running for his life from Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. The Jets pass defense is horrendous, they can’t cover or tackle, they give up big plays, can’t get off the field on 3rddown, and can’t take the ball away, in other words, their like the Falcons.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh: Should be an electric atmosphere Sunday night at Heinz, where the Steelers will be retiring their first jersey in 50 years. The number 75 jersey adorned by Mean Joe Greene, one of the 3 or 4 best defensive players I’ve ever seen. Will Todd Haley, Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator LEARN from last week, just spread the field and let Big Ben throw the ball! The Ravens will be without one their best corners Jimmy Smith, which could be problematic vs. Antonio Brown. Joe Flacco has struggled on the road this year, but the Steelers must be aggressive with the blitz like last week.
Denver at New England: This should be an easy pick. Denver is clearly the better more talented team, both offensively and defensively. The Patriots, since their resurgence, have beaten up on struggling teams, whereas Denver has defeated 5 quality opponents in Indianapolis, Kansas City, Arizona, San Francisco and San Diego. Denver’s only loss was in overtime, on the road in Seattle. If Denver wins this game they would have the tie breaker edge for home field advantage. So why am I worried about picking the Broncos? Perhaps it’s Peyton’s record in big spots on the road, like last year’s choke job at Gillette Stadium.
Falcons –Lions from London: Technically this a home game for Atlanta, but unfortunately, due to the unending greed of the NFL, the Falcons will be playing in a different venue and outside to boot. Atlanta’s chances at the playoffs appear to be bleak, since the 12 team format was instituted in 1990, a team with a below .500 record after week 7 has only an 8% chance of making the postseason. Undrafted rookie free agent James Stone has been having nightmares all week at the prospect of having Nick Fairly and Ndamukong Suh whip his ass beet red. Matt Ryan will likely continue his impersonation of a human piñata. Atlanta has lost 6 straight games away from the Georgia Dome, that number will likely rise to 7.
Indianapolis at Pittsburgh: The number 1 job of a quarterback is to win, if Ben Roethlisberger beats the Colts, he will become just the 4thQB in history to win 100 games in 150 starts or fewer. The only other players to accomplish that feat are Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Nice club. Unfortunately in order to achieve this, the Steelers will need to score touchdowns, which is a foreign concept to brain dead offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The Colts come in red hot, having won 5 in a row, and Andrew Luck leads the NFL with 333 yards per game passing. Pittsburgh’s pass rushing challenged defense has benefited thus far by playing against a series of woefully inept quarterbacks and lousy offenses, this week however, they get the # 2 offense in the league. Look for Pittsburgh’s weak and pansy assed secondary to be F.U.B.A.R.ed and Lawrence Timmons to be puking all over the field again as he watches helplessly as Luck and company light up the scoreboard like an X-Box game.
Ravens at Bengals: Must win for Cincinnati, who has not won a game in a month. Ravens lost to the Bengals in the season opener and will look to seize control of the AFC North with a win. The Bengals offense last week was non -existent with 10 three-and-outs in 14 possessions. If AJ Green plays will he be effective? Their offensive line has really struggled to protect Andy Dalton and Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have been relentless. Paul Brown stadium has been terrible for the Ravens and especially Joe Flacco and the Bengals are undefeated in 12 straight home games.
Seattle at Carolina : Both teams defenses have really regressed, especially The Panthers, who have given up at least 37 points in 4 games this year. Right now they are on a pace to give up about 450 points, last year they yielded 241.
Green Bay at New Orleans : Since telling Packers’ fans to relax, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Not bad. Must win for the Saints, when you consider they’re 2-4 have a short turnaround next Thursday at Carolina, then get the 49ers, Bengals, and Ravens. Saints have won 13 straight prime time games in the Superdome by an average of about 20 points per game