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
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
Falcons at Ravens: On paper this matchup looks horrifying for Atlanta. The Falcons come in reeling, having lost 3 in a row, they’re offensive line looks porous and in particular the play of tackles Mathews and Carimi, who must be pooping their pants at the thought of blocking T-Sizzle and Dumervil. Atlanta has struggled to run the ball vs. soft units and the Ravens are 7thbest in the NFL against the rush. Defensively Atlanta is atrocious, allowing explosive plays via the run or the pass. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has dramatically improved the Baltimore offense, the Ravens have 9 runs of 20 yards or more, best in the league. Atlanta can’t put any pressure on opposing QBs, they are currently 28thin the league in sacks per play, plus Baltimore’s improved o-line hasn’t allowed a sack in 4 of the 6 games this year. Last week Joe Flacco threw for 5 touchdowns faster than any QB since the merger in 1970, that record could be in jeopardy this weekend! Baltimore’s record at home vs. NFC teams since 2003 is 21-2, they’re 8-1 vs. dome teams at M&T Bank Stadium since John Harbaugh became the coach, meanwhile Atlanta has been awful on the road 0-3, and Matt Ryan has 6 interceptions in those losses. Nightmare matchup for the Falcons? If evaluating this game on paper, the Ravens should win 51-3, but funny things happen on NFL Sundays, I have a feeling the Falcons keep this close.
Carolina at Green Bay: Last week Cam Newton ran the ball 17 times, gashing the Bengals defense for over 100 yards. The Packers have historically had great difficulty stopping the read option, remember the 49ers running for what seemed like a million yards in that playoff game? Jonathan Stewart’s return should help vs. a Green Bay defense that is DEAD LAST in the NFL against the rush, yielding 154 yards per game. The problem is that Aaron Rodgers plays for the Packers and must be salivating at the thought of opposing a Panthers defense that has given up 30 plus points in 4 straight contests. Carolina’s secondary is a dumpster fire, and without Greg Hardy, they have no pass rush, which is an explosive combination versus Rodgers. Panthers still in the midst of schedule death march, after this likely loss, they have Seattle, New Orleans and Philadelphia. Good Luck with that.
Saints at Lions: 2 offenses that have under- performed and both having to deal with the loss of key cogs. Megatron is still out for Detroit, and Jimmy Graham is missing for the Saints. Don’t look now but the Lions might have the best defense in the league, their front four has been terrorizing opposing qbs, and the New Orleans O-line has really disappointed this year. The Saints defense is allowing opposing QB’s to accumulate a 103 rating! Stafford , who has struggled this year, should have a good day at the office
Chicago at Atlanta: Best thing that Atlanta has going for it is Jay Cutler, who has thrown hideous picks the last 2 weeks to doom his team. I wonder if Arthur Blank is going to have the Atlanta Fire dept. on the sidelines to hose down Robert Alford, who was burnt to a crisp last weekend, and now must face Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. Bears have no defense, and their talented offense is grossly underachieving, scoring a total of 3 points in the 2ndhalf the last 2 weeks. If the modestly talented Panthers offense can put up 31 points vs. this toothless Bear defense, Matt Ryan at home should light them up!. Falcons win a high scoring affair.