Super Bowl LII: Destiny versus Dynasty

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, back in another Super Bowl. Ho Hum. Where oh where have we seen this movie before?

Oh, that’s right, last season, and eight different times to be exact.

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No QB has more. Image Credit: NFL IG

It would be easy to throw our hands up and say, “who cares?!” But that’s too easy for us here at The Spread Offensive. Sure. You can tune out. You can switch over to the Puppy Bowl on the Animal Planet…a surefire instant classic this year I hear….or you can put your big girl and boy pants on and find a why. Why this Super Bowl matters.

We’ll begin with the obvious. David versus Goliath. Who doesn’t love an underdog? It doesn’t get much more underdog-ish than a Super Bowl-less Eagles team taking on the five time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. Also, the margin of victory in all Super Bowls not involving the Patriots = double digits. With the Patriots? The margin of victory in Super Bowls featuring the evil empire = less than four points. That’s right, the numbers say there’s a good chance this game is decided by the margin of a field goal.

“But but but…Nick Foles is a back up and Tom Brady…”…Was a backup too, we know. Oh, what’s that? Did the casual observer who only knows Brady from his strange Fifty Shades-ish mattress commercials, his ugly Ugg boot adverts, or his horrendous “Tom vs. Time” Facebook documentary know this? Probably not, but they should. They should also know that in his first Super Bowl, you know, the one where the Pats were such underdogs they were introduced out of the tunnel “as a team”, coming out locked in arms, that Tom Brady threw for only 145 yards and one touchdown besting the heavily favored Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk led Rams.

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Excuse us while we go throw up. Anyone else see that awkward kiss? Image Credit: NBC Sports

That’s right. Brady was the random other guy out of Michigan that replaced Drew Bledsoe and somehow started winning with the Patriots. Years later it’s easy to see how Brady rode the early dynasty of the Patriots defense thanks to the D that Belichick built, but many who only know the TB12 method, Gisele loving, Trump friending Brady of today aren’t as aware of his less illustrious days as a more attractive game managing Alex Smith.

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Come on….seriously?? Nice one Tom. Image Credit: NESN.com

That’s right. We said it. If we are going based on past and pedigree, the Eagles have more than enough reason to hold hope in Foles. Foles at least is known for his height and big arm. Brady came out of Michigan as a part time starter and part time backup that was out of shape, slower than Christmas, and not even worthy of a pick in the top 150. If that guy can do it, why not a guy who was pick #88 and just coming out of college after Brady had already won three Super Bowls…oh…wait…

Yes, it’s true Brady had already shined three rings and polished three Lombardi trophies before Foles ever threw a pass in the NFL, but this is the NFL’s year of Stranger Things in 2017.

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What once was old is new again. Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

And with that, let’s get into it!

Sunday, February 4th

Super Bowl LII

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Destiny versus Dynasty – Image Credit: NFL IG

Philadelphia Eagles @ New England Patriots

Okay, for starters, there is no home team. The Patriots are the AFC team in the NFC stadium (thanks Minnesota – U.S. Bank is going to look real nice raining down white and green or red, white, and blue), and thus they are the “home” team. As home team however the Pats have elected to wear their white away jerseys. The Pats are 5 and 0 wearing their white away jerseys, but haven’t won in their home blues. Superstition is a funny thing.

With the recent leak that Tom Brady is the MVP, the Pats odds actually take a hit given the track record of recent MVPs in the big game. From Ryan to Newton, to Manning and yes even Brady himself, no league MVP has won the Super Bowl since 2000. That’s right. Tom “Terrific” won the MVP in 2007 and 2010 and lost both of his following Super Bowl appearances. Things are looking up already eh Philly fans?!

The bad news. 54. That’s the number of come from behind victories Brady has led. All five of Brady’s Super Bowl wins have been because of deciding points scored with two and half minutes left in the fourth quarter. If history or the numbers tell us anything it’s that we could be in for a nail biter. Then again, “Stanger Things” are upon us in this 2017-2018 NFL season.

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Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t deny it’s damn impressive. Image Credit: Patriots IG

You’re going to here these three words – Run Pass Option – a lot. RPO. The Eagles have taken what the Chiefs do and perfected it. The RPO delivers simple reads for the QB. It shortens the field and keeps the defense honest. The RPO forces the defense to react and requires more discipline. Based on what the QB sees on defense, he can call the run or a quick pass to take advantage of the lineup. But you have to have speed to execute it, and the Eagles have it in spades.

This game will answer a couple of questions.

  1. Does coaching matter more or does scheme matter more?
  2. Does athleticism matter more or taking advantage of mismatches matter more?

The Eagles have better athletes. The Patriots are infamous for taking advantage of mismatches ala Danny Amendola who benefits from the mismatch the scheme creates on the field. And Brady is practiced and experienced at taking advantage of mismatches. Spotting them is second nature. So the athleticism of the Eagles defense will be pitted against a veteran highly skilled at identifying and taking advantage of mismatches.

The Eagles, for their part, have taken what Andy Reid was doing and part of what Chip Kelly left behind and developed a new philosophy that says – Let’s get so good at all the things we do so well and then getter better at them. Double Down. So they did. They were executing the RPO so well that they brought in Jay Ajayi. “But, but, but they already had LeGarrette Blount who leads the NFL in yards after first contact…” Philly said, “Great, let’s get even more dominant.” The Eagles defense is deep and so they made it deeper. They platoon 4 starting defensive linemen and their second four is just as talented. Keeping the defensive front fresh could wreak havoc on Tom “Terrific”.

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Chris Long and LeGarette Blount will be playing against their former team, only this time as underdogs! Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

Expect the Pats to mitigate the aggressiveness and athleticism of the Eagles front seven with a ton of no-huddle. Brady and co. will do everything they can to keep the same Eagles linemen in the game as much as possible in an effort to wear them down. The Patriots depend on running the ball late in the game, but the Eagles depth on their D-Line will make this difficult for the Pats. The X-Factor in this game matchup-wise is Gronkowski. Philadelphia has likely the best matchup of any team this season, if that’s possible when you consider the task of covering the Gronk-monster, with Malcom Jenkins at safety. Jenkins has the size and hard hitting ability of a safety and linebacker, but originally entered the league as a cornerback, meaning he knows how to cover and Gronk won’t be able to simply run away from him. This is the matchup to watch Sunday.

The Eagles have to get to Brady to ensure he does NOT have the time to find the mismatches at the receiver position and across the middle of the field. Not to beat a dead horse, but it bears repeating…if you give TB12 time he will pick you apart and eat you alive. The good news is that the Eagles have the personnel to harass #12 all game. It’s not just being able to rush four, it’s moving Brady off of his spot and away from where the mismatch is being created. Fletcher Cox and Philly’s D-Line has to know where the mismatch will be AND communicate in real time on the field to execute the plan to move Brady off his spot. Now you’ve created a problem for Brady where he has to rely on his athleticism and that is NOT his strength. He’s got a good arm and is football smart. That’s not easy to beat, but he is beatable.

Which Nick Foles will show up this week. The RPO will be at his disposal. The entire thing may well depend on his ability to identify and beat the multiple looks the Patriots D will throw at him. He will also need to make some big throws downfield. Alex Smith did it Week 1. But Blake Bortles couldn’t do it. Matt Ryan couldn’t it. Eli Manning did it in two Super Bowls. Nick Foles and his squad can do it. The question is, when the time comes, will he have the nerves of steel necessary to make the big throw.

Belichick will make adjustments in the second half and so the Eagles need to run up the score in the first half. And if Philly is to have any chance, the Eagles will need to be prepared to STOP the Patriots in the 2nd half and find a way to shift to a different mismatch – one that Belichick has not observed. Belichick is a risk averse guy. He will scheme to put the pressure on one or two players and wait for them to the make the mistake. More often than not, add enough pressure to a guy and he cracks. Belichick, Saban, Parcells, Lombardi and all of the greats know this well.

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Unlike any other. Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

However, Nick Foles may be the scariest guy the Patriots have ever faced. He’s got nothing to lose. He knows he’s not going to be the quarterback next year in Philly. Heck, he may not be a starting quarterback anywhere. No one expects him to win this game and there’s no real consequences for losing it. He’s 29 years old and may never play another snap in the NFL. That makes him, quite possibly, the most dangerous player on the field. No fear. Nothing to lose.

The Eagles are betting that their philosophy & strategy will be the one to beat the Patriots. Double down. Don’t focus on your weaknesses, overwhelm your opponent with your strengths. Stay with the RPO the entire game. Bet on what you do exceptionally well and don’t let your opponent move you off your strength. The Patriots will have to wait and be patient to see what the Eagles are able to accomplish utilizing the RPO and their overwhelming athleticism. If they falter or slip up, Brady and Belichick will be there to take full advantage of a missed opportunity or squandered chance. Head Coach Doug Pederson deserved more than one coach of the year vote, but he’ll have the last laugh if he out coaches the “Evil Genius” Bill Belichick – well, genius except for that one move mid-season 2017 eh Bill?!

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Too soon Pats fans? Everybody loves a winner! Image Credit: SportsCenter IG

This is the best opportunity in quite some time for a team to knock off the Patriots. The Patriots, a dynasty that has never scored in the First Quarter of any Super Bowl they’ve ever played in. What?! Yeah. Picking the Pats is the easy way out and that’s just not how we do things around here. We’re taking David to slay Goliath in what becomes another instant Super Bowl classic.

Brady and co. do what they do and keep it close. Amendola, Cooks, and Gronkowski burn Jalen Mills and the Eagles corners all game. Jeffrey, Agholor, and Smith do the same to the Pats secondary. Draw. The Patriots front seven generates little to no pressure on Foles, affording him plenty of time to read the defense and act according to the matchup. Ajayi, Clement and Blount run all over the undersized and slow front four of New England. Dion Lewis gobbles up yards after first contact, second most in fact, but he’ll pale in comparison to what the Eagles backfield does this Sunday. Eagles get up early and never look back, forcing the Pats into unfamiliar territory. Fly Eagles Fly!

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Fly Eagles Fly! Image Credit: Bleeding Green Nation

We’re taking the Philadelphia Eagles to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history and come out victorious over the dynastic New England Patriots bringing to an end what may be one of the greatest runs in football history. Eagles!

Thank you for taking time out of your day to check us out and read. We love what we do here and find it important to add to the narrative and greater understanding of the game. We look forward to continuing to adapt and provide great coverage and football fun for all to enjoy in the seasons to come. As always please continue to like, love, share and email us (spreadoffensive@gmail.com) and we’ll always do our best to get back to you in a timely manner. 2017-2018…it’s a wrap!

 

 

NFL Conference Championships: “Defense Wins Championships.”

We may not have liked the final outcome, but the results were undeniably entertaining with wire to wire finishes….save for that one team from Boston…

So many incredible, mind boggling endings with ramifications across the board and reverberations throughout the NFL. For those that have chosen to “tune out” of the NFL this year, you missed some once in a lifetime type plays capped with one of the greatest finishes to a playoff game in the history of the NFL.

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This is the catch, missed tackle, and “Minneapolis Miracle” that ended the game and the Saints season! Image Credit: SI.com

Marcus Williams…make the tackle! Good grief Charlie Brown! How in the world do you not at the very least, WRAP UP?!

Look. Great for Minnesota! You guys have been through almost as much heartbreak in recent years than my beloved Falcons, but good lord did you catch a break. It is unbelievable that Williams didn’t at least bring Diggs down and force a long field goal for a potential Vikings win. Not only did Williams’s missed tackle completely whiff Diggs, it also caused him to crash into his teammate, Crawley, erasing any hope of Diggs being brought down from behind before reaching the end zone. Simply incredible.

We predicted the Vikings win, but they weren’t the deserving team. Brees played his rear end off against one of the NFL’s best defenses and could’ve set up a finale with Tom Brady. But fate, destiny, luck, or the football gods had other ideas. Just imagine for a moment though, Brady v. Brees… Brees, potentially the only QB in the history of the NFL to defeat both Manning and Brady in a Super Bowl!?! That was our secret hope here at TSO.

But alas, defense, and apparently an improbable last second catch and run wins championships. Outside of Tom Brady and the Patriots returning to their seventh straight AFC Championship, the other familiar stat is the level of defensive play returning for a chance to win it all. Three of the last four Super Bowl winning teams have had either the number one scoring or total defense. Why is that significant? *This year, all remaining teams rank inside the top five in scoring defense. 

Again we say…

Defense Wins Championships.

But don’t take it from us, just ask Peyton Manning. Arguably one of, if not the greatest offensive and scoring quarterback of all time, Manning was able to win only one Super Bowl using his arm. Manning’s last Super Bowl (50) was captured thanks to a historically impressive performance by Von Miller and the Denver Broncos defense. Manning played for years, lighting up the scoreboard with incredible offensive displays, yet falling more often than not at the hands of the Patriots’s Bill Belichick led defenses in the AFC playoffs. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Blake Bortles finds himself on the brink of repeating a Trent Dilfer-like performance from his days with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. That’s right, a QB who merely stays out of the way, makes one or two plays, and lets his defense swarm the opponent for an imposing and dominant win. You know, what Dilfer and Manning did.

This isn’t unprecedented, and we shouldn’t be surprised that our crop of QBs is down to the likes of Foles, Keenum, and Bortles to go along with the most prolific playoff QB in the history of the NFL. Granted Nick Foles is merely in place due to an unfortunate and untimely injury to Carson Wentz, both Keenum and Bortles are in position for a Super Bowl trip thanks in no small part to their historically dominant defenses. If you believe Keenum was doing anything other than throwing up prayers before his “Minneapolis Miracle” landed in the hands of Stefon Diggs, you are lying to yourself. Keenum was outplayed and outgunned by Drew Brees and the Saints, yet Keenum found what everybody who plays backyard football finds every now and again, an answer to a hail mary.

We went 2 for 2 in the divisional round, but you don’t need a graph for that. The dichotomy between the Patriots and Tom Brady’s experience versus the field has created some astonishing numbers however…

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Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

Never mind those pesky seven Super Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl rings for Brady, the fact remains…

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Just the facts. Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

So without further adieu, let’s get into these conference championship previews!

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots

AFC Championship – CBS

Belichick and Brady against Tom Coughlin yet again, only this time Coughlin is in the front office. Coughlin, the only coach to defeat the Patriots’ dynasty…twice. Now Coughlin has assembled yet another old school, smash mouth group that is built specifically to topple exactly what New England does best. Coughlin’s game is simple. Swarm Brady with shut down corners and a ferocious pass rush that don’t let Brady’s crossing and deep routes develop, frustrating him and forcing him into throws and down and long situations he does not want. Then, pound the rock. Remember earlier in the season when Jaguars head coach Dough Marrone said he wanted to run Leonard Fournette essentially into the ground? Who do you think is going to be toting the rock possibly over thirty times on Sunday? Bring a second pair of cleats #27.

Now, much is being made of TB12’s hand. “How bad is the injury? Will Brady play? What happens if Hoyer has to start or come in?!” Ahhhh?! Phewy. It’s all media fodder meant to distract. Our thinking here…the Pats are hoping this sort of distracting tactic will subvert the Jags defensive attention. Not gonna work, but a nice try by the Evil Genius and Pats dynasty. It signals to us that they are actually scared for the first time in a long time. The Pats know this is the most difficult matchup Brady has played in years, and their offense could look the opposite of prolific on Sunday. They could look like the Jaguars offense! Oops!

In all seriousness though, much is being made about Jalen Ramsey covering Rob Gronkowski, and that may happen, but not as much as fans and viewers are hoping. Even a physical corner like Ramsey is outmatched against a beast the size of Gronkowski. The best way to cover a guy like Gronk is have a linebacker or corner like Telvin Smith, Myles Jack, or Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye cover with help over the top from a safety. Look for the Jags to employ a similar principle and allow their other players to man up across the board. Jacksonville is and should be confident in Calias Campbell and their front four to get to Brady with only a four man rush, and the rest of the defense is talented enough to cover the likes of Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks. Assuming the Jags slow Gronk down, the matchup doesn’t look great Pats fans.

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The 8th player in NFL History with 10 post season touchdowns (#87) could find himself matched up against the Jags most boisterous corner on Sunday (#20) in a matchup some former players and fans would “pay to see”.  Image Credit: NFL Network IG

The Patriots corners, Gillmore and Butler, are impressive in their own right, and should be able to contain Keelan Cole and Allen Hurns. The only problem is that’s not how the Jags even move the ball. Jacksonville will rely on Fournette and Yeldon out of the backfield, Marcedes Lewis over the middle, and rookie Dede Westbrook. Westbrook could end up being an X-factor as the rookie out of Oklahoma is supremely talented and shifty with incredible speed. He’s a matchup nightmare for the Patriots. Assuming Jacksonville keeps it simple for Bortles, they could utilize Westbrook a ton this week, and don’t be surprised if the Pats dedicate someone like Butler to him in the second half if he goes off in the first half.

We’ve rarely been so high on the Jaguars this year, but the numbers don’t lie.

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The Jags D ladies and gentlemen. Image Credit: NFL IG

I mean damn. Those are championship, but the team on your back type of numbers from the Jaguars defense. And did we mention that Jacksonville’s head coach, Doug Marrone, is a damn good dawg?!?!

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Marrone pictured here in 2000 as UGA’s Offensive Line (OL) coach after a 3 year stint with GA-Tech. Image Credit: WeRunThisState IG

You see where this is going. Go Dawgs! Uhhh…we mean Jags! Jacksonville wins in a huge upset and heads to Minnesota with a defense looking to make history. 

Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles

NFC Championship – FOX

Once upon a time, way back in 2015, Jeff Fisher coached the St. Louis Rams led by two young QBs trying to make in the league. Those two gunslingers? Arizona State product Nick Foles and Houston alum Case Keenum. Yep, these guys…

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This happened. Image Credit: ESPN IG

As crazy as this is, their path to this moment and their respective roles on these conference championship teams is even more whack-a-doodle!

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You can’t make this stuff up. Image Credit: CBS Sports IG

Now before we get any deeper into the details of this matchup, we have to discuss the Jeff Fisher effect. Fisher, now known as “Mr. 8-8” for his mediocrity and barely break-even records, isn’t having his case helped with numbers like these:

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Quite the discrepancy. Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

Yowzer. There’s no easy way around this. Jeff Fisher is the Cleveland Browns for quarterbacks. With that settled, there’s still a lot to get to, even if both teams arrived at this point by hook (Miracle TDs with no time remaining) and by crook (nice no PI call refs in Philly! Apparently you can shove a guy back down to the ground in the end zone before the ball gets there?! We’re looking at you Jalen Mills!). Not that we’re still bothered by the outcomes from last week or anything, but come on we had to build the intrigue here, whereas a Brees v. Ryan matchup in the Superdome writes itself! Just sayin’…help a sports writer out NFL!

There’s also another interesting story underlying the game Sunday, and that is that Eric Kendricks and Mychal Kendricks will be playing against one another. Eric and Mychal, brothers, play for the Vikings and Eagles respectively, and have stated that they will not be talking this week and depending on the outcome of the game may not be talking for quite some time after if things get too heated. An understandable cease fire for two competitors.

Both Kendricks’s lead great defenses that will make life difficult for Keenum and Foles. Get ready for another barn burning 17-10 type of barn burner! Jay Ajayi was fortunate to find ground a beautifully drawn up screen play, but this week he’ll have to deal with not just one elite linebacker but two. Kendricks and Anthony Barr won’t let Ajayi or any Eagles running back get away or loose for too much yardage. Xavier Rhodes will shut down Alshon Jeffrey, and Everson Griffin’s pass rush won’t let Nelson Agholor get deep.

The Eagles front seven will befuddle and make Case Keenum play conservative and throw the ball away more than he’d like. However, Minnesota’s speed to the edge eliminates the gimmicky end arounds and double reverse plays that Philly used against Atlanta with some effectiveness. Vikes go on the road and take down the Eagles “SKOL”-clapping their way back home for the first ever team to play for a Super Bowl on their home turf. 

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Keenum leading the SKOL clap after the “Minneapolis Miracle!” Image Credit: Reddit (gfycat.com)

That’s a wrap for your conference championship preview! We hope you’ve enjoyed our playoff breakdowns and look forward to wrapping up this season in a couple of weeks with our Super Bowl preview. It’s been a great season and we’ll continue to make improvements as we go along. Please continue to like, love, share, and send any feedback our way. Spreadoffensive@gmail.com. We love hearing from you and appreciate all of the love and support!

 

 

NFL Playoffs Divisional Round: Tried and True versus New Blood!

Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan have started a combined 75 playoff games.

Nick Foles, Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, and Case Keenum have started a combined 3 playoff games.

75 to 3. That’s what we’re looking at folks, and save for one of the youth v. vet matchups, all of our other contests favor the men with experience. “Old folks” rejoice! The only matchup where one of our vets is the underdog is in the Saints and Vikings finale of the weekend in Minnesota, and that “underdog” status is as much a result of the Vikings impressive defense as it is a slight to Drew Brees.

One more obvious, albeit fun fact: Tom Brady has more Super Bowl wins than all four of the young bloods have playoff appearances combined. *Roethlisberger nearly accomplishes this feat as well with his two rings. Brees has one Lombardi trophy and Matt Ryan obviously came up just short last season. The four quote un quote “inexperienced” QBs haven’t even sniffed a Super Bowl.

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It almost looks more disheartening in visual aid form. Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

The disparity in terms of experience versus upstart or revamped teams has never been more apparent or on display than 2017-2018’s divisional round. In case you missed it, we went a perfect four for four in last week’s wild and wooly wild card weekend and we’re looking to keep that impeccable record in tact as we start this week’s preview!

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Saturday, January 13th, 2018

Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles – NBC

The first one seed to ever play underdog to a visiting six seed??!

You guessed it! The 2017-2018 Philadelphia Eagles. How’d you guys know?! TSO readers are the smartest!

That’s right, with the absence of Carson Wentz the Eagles find themselves in an unusual position. Philly boasts the home record over the past two seasons, and this year they were an impressive 7 and 1, yet they still face an uphill battle against the defending NFC champs. Why you might ask? Short answer, Nick Foles.

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Foles will need to display more poise than he has the past few weeks filling in for Wentz if the Eagles hope to advance. Image Credit: Sporting News

Foles has looked borderline awful since taking over for Wentz. There’s no easy way around it. In just his second season in the league Wentz has vaulted himself into the conversation with some of the game’s best in terms of overall value to his team. A-la Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, so goes Carson Wentz so goes the Philadelphia Eagles. With Wentz out the Eagles corners are being exposed by offenses that are getting to run more plays by virtue of the Eagles’ offense possessing the ball less with Foles under center. In short, Foles does not sustain drives the way Wentz is able to, which puts Philadelphia’s defense on the field more often, exposing them to more opportunity to get burned on deep balls and crossing patterns.

The strength of the Eagles defense is their front seven, and the longer they are on the field the more likely they are to give up a big play. Atlanta has the reigning MVP and a guy by the name of Julio Jones. Did we mention that per Pro Football Focus, during the wild card round Matty Ice had the best passer rating under pressure at 108.9? Yeah. You do the math.

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A deadly combo, Ryan and Jones will look to keep it rolling in Philadelphia for the divisional round. Image Credit: Atlanta Falcons

The Eagles did not play the Falcons this season, but Jay Ajayi did prior to his trade from Miami. Ajayi did well, but Atlanta’s defense has improved drastically against the run from the beginning of the season. Philly will try and establish a run game with their plethora of backs in order to alleviate the inevitable pressure on Foles. The Eagles won’t go down without a fight, and could keep this game within reason in the first half, but in the end Atlanta’s experience, talent, and depth will lead the Falcons to a dominant victory. The last six seed to beat a one seed? The 2010 Green Bay Packers who defeated the Atlanta Falcons and went on to win the Super Bowl. Just saying Falcons fans…just sayin… Dirty Birds return to the NFC Championship to defend their title as kings of the NFC!

Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots – CBS

Forgive me.

MARIOTAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!

AHHHHHHHHHH!!!

That’s right! Marcus Mariota stepped up in a big way in one of if not the toughest place to play in the NFL and lead his team to a one point victory over the heavily favored Chiefs! In case you missed it Mariota made NFL history as the first player to ever throw a touchdown to himself in a playoff game. That’s right, the stat line for the play read:

Marcus Mariota throws left to Marcus Mariota for six yards, TOUCHDOWN TITANS!

Yeah.

In what was initially a blocked pass, Mariota put all of his tools on display in a feat of athleticism that left even the announcers speechless. Mariota rolled to his left, threw, had the pass deflected, caught it and ran it in from six yards out, diving for pylon and Titans touchdown. Unbelievable.

Was it the best pass in the world? No, of course not, but the awareness and athleticism to pull that off and ultimately spark the Titans comeback was nothing short of magnificent. NFL, a new star has been born.

Will Mariota’s heroics be enough to best one of the greatest dynasties of all time? If history tells us anything, maybe. Earlier this season, another mobile QB with a big arm lit New England’s less than impressive defense up for over 30 points. We’re referring to DeShaun Watson of the Houston Texans who came into the league as a rookie and lit the NFL world on fire until his awful ACL tear in practice. Does Mariota have the tools to light up the Pats in similar fashion? Yes. Does he have the weapons and support around him? Sort of.

Tennessee’s rushing attack is one of the best in the NFL, but their wideouts have been unimpressive this season. Eric Decker came up with a huge touchdown catch against the Chiefs, only after dropping two to three critical balls earlier in the game. Corey Davis profiles as a big, fast and physical future number one, but has yet to put his skills on display for all to see. Delanie Walker is the only reliable target for Mariota, and for all of Walker’s immense talent at tight end, he’s only one piece of a much larger puzzle for Tennessee.

De’Marco Murray may return this week, which would be a boost to the Titans run game, but even without Murray, Tennessee is in capable hands. Derrick Henry has averaged the third most yards after contact this season. Two problems. One, Bill Belichick loves to eliminate your best weapon, and Henry has clearly established himself as “that guy” for Tennessee. Two, the top running back for yards after contact is on the other team, Dion Lewis. That’s right, Henry, at 6’3″ and 250 lbs. isn’t all that much of a surprise, but Lewis, at 5’8″ and easily 50 lbs. less than Henry leads the NFL in yards after contact. “Takes a ‘lickin’ and keeps on a tickin’!” Lewis is certainly small but mighty!

I want to believe! I want to see Mariota make sharp passes and squeeze balls into tight windows while extending drives with his legs. I want the Titans receivers to create more than an inch of separation and run for more than two yards after a big catch. Marcus Mariota does have four fourth quarter comebacks and five game winning drives this season, most in the NFL, so there is reason for optimism Titans fans! However, when it comes down to experience, the Pats have that in spades. The Titans corners will struggle to contain Cooks, Hogan, Gronkowski, and Burkhead, setting Brady up for a huge game that Mariota will struggle to match. Tennessee will keep it closer than some think, but New England marches on to an inevitable AFC Championship showdown. 

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Just a reminder that this Brady guy is really, really….REALLY GOOD. Oldest QB to ever lead the league in passing? No biggie, just add it to the overflowing trophy case. Image Credit: NFL Network IG

Sunday, January 14th, 2018 

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers – CBS

The rematch that Big Ben said he wanted and the Jags D is happy to give him. This game gets real simple real quick, but first, let’s add one interesting fact. Ben Roethlisberger only has a losing record at home to two teams. The Patriots, understandably, and the Jaguars. That’s right, Big Ben is 1 and 4, or those teams are 4 and 1 against him at Heinz field. After a 30 point beat down earlier this season, the Jags will attempt to prove their blowout of the Steelers was no fluke.

One glaring problem. Blake “don’t throw that!” – “no, no, no, no!” -Bortling Bortles. Yes, the man who ran for more yards last week than he managed to throw for. Yes, the QB who threw for under 100 yards as his Jags marched to victory on the back of a 90 yard junk time Leonard Fournette TD and defensive turnover for a touchdown. Never mind those pesky facts though, because it’s also a fact that the last time the Steelers allowed a defensive turnover to result in touchdown was in 2013, which signals just how good this Jacksonville defense is.

How good are the Jacksonville Jaguars on the defensive side of the ball? 2000 Baltimore Ravens good. Five interceptions of Big Ben good. Allowing 10 points or less in nine games this season good. The last team to do that? 2000 Ravens. Just sayin’, that’s how good this “Sacksonville” defense has been. Calias Campbell is a monster on the front line, and Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are both legitimate, shut down corners. Mr. prolific, Antonio Brown, will need to bring his A game as he’ll be pushed around and tested by the Jags big, fast, and physical cornerbacks.

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Ramsey and co. were flying high at home in the Wild Card round, but will they be able to reprise their role as upsetter in their return to Pittsburgh this Sunday? Image Credit: Jacksonville.com

Pittsburgh often wins by out “athleticizing” and overpowering their opponents, but that will be difficult to do with this Jacksonville D. LeVeon Bell, Martavis Bryant, and JuJu Smith-Schuster will play critical roles in keeping the chains moving for the Steelers. Assuming Pittsburgh is able to punch in a score or two, the Jags will be unable to keep pace. This may be the game with the most heavy hitting, smack talking intrigue, as they are two prideful, powerful teams squaring off in smash mouth football. Once the Steelers get up, Bortles will be exposed and with Fournette not looking like the same Fournette pre-ankle injury, we like the Steelers to win at home and set up a showdown with the Pats for AFC bragging rights!

New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings – FOX

 

That Saints and Vikings week one rematch! A few things have changed since that week one affair. Most notably, AP was traded, Dalvin Cook who ran for 125 yards was sent to the IR with a torn ACL, and did we mention a guy named Case Keenum since stepped in as the starting quarterback for Sam Bradford? Yeah. A lot has changed.

Speaking of change, the last time these two met in the playoffs was 2009. Remember that Brett Favre last second interception? Funny because AP was on the Vikings back then. Keeping with our theme of experience though, one guy has been there in the 2009 days and in our 2017-2018 matchup. Drew Brees. Brees will certainly be pivotal in this matchup yet again.

We shared the graphic earlier in association with Tom Brady’s game and greatness, but let’s just take a moment to realize just how damned impressive Brees is and has been too. Brees is also fourth on that list, and has thrown for more 5,000 yard seasons than the rest of the guys on that list, combined. Yeah. Dude’s really freakin’ good. Did we mention that he just set the new single season completion record this year too? Why hasn’t Brees won a league MVP? Just seems a bit ridiculous. Drew will need to be firing on all cylinders to topple this Vikings D.

Minnesota’s D is easily 1b to Jacksonville’s 1a. The Vikes have the size and speed to cause even the most elite offenses like New Orleans all kinds of hell. Anthony Barr will chase Kamara down sideline to sideline, and Harrison Smith brings the hammer down for any crossing routes that Brees wants to exploit. The Saints top wideout, Michael Thomas, usually incredible difficult to shut down, will struggle to find any easy targets with Xavier Rhodes undoubtedly shadowing him for the majority of the game.

We still don’t believe in Case Keenum. He has improved from his first few seasons, but he’s still the beneficiary of two receivers at the top of their games. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are two of the top receivers at bringing down contested catches. That’s the definition of helping your QB out and making something out of nothing. Keenum will continue to get bailed out this week as he’ll only need to avoid throwing rookie, Marshon Lattimore’s way. Whoever Lattimore doesn’t cover, Diggs or Thielen, will be on an inevitable mismatch all game. All Keenum has to do is identify the mismatch, throw that way, or hit big Kyle Rudolph over the seam or his running backs on a check down. It’s hard to believe this Vikings train can keep rolling, but it does by exploiting mismatches. Too many mismatches line up in Minnesota’s favor at home. Vikes win a close one, and move one game closer to hosting the Super Bowl. 

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Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is known for getting the most out of his players, and he certainly has gotten more than enough out of backup Case Keenum. Keenum’s mobility will be key to a Vikings victory. Image Credit: SB Nation

That’ll do it for our divisional round games! Thank you for all of the liking, tweeting, sharing, and love. We appreciate you reading and hope it continues to add to your enjoyment of the games. We’ll be back next week with championship previews!

 

 

 

 

NFL Wild Card Weekend! What Do You Believe?!

It’s finally here! Super Bowl hangovers and playoff droughts be damned! By hook or by crook we’ve got more intrigue in this year’s playoff than any in recent memory. One team, the Titans, ended a ten year playoff drought, while another, the Jags, ended a nine year drought. Oh and the love-able losers! The Buffalo Bills ended a playoff drought dating back to 1999. And our beloved Dirty Birds find themselves back in the dance. So much for that hangover eh critics?! The 2017-2018 Wild Card has great matchups across the board and a division rivalry to boot. Did we mention a head coach hosting the team he dropped like a bad habit in 2015 following an ownership change and a 9 and 7 season? So much to get to, so little time!

We’d be remiss if we didn’t take care of a couple of housekeeping items that resulted from the fallout that has become known as “Black Monday” in the NFL. Every year following the last Sunday of the season, teams looking to make moves will fire their head coaches, usually, and sometimes even their front office staff including GMs and the like. There are currently six head coaching positions open, including the one vacated prior to the end of the season, the New York Giants. The one garnering the most attention is the Oakland Raiders.

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Three of the six teams have established quarterbacks, making them ideal targets for coaches hoping for a quick turnaround. Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

Former Raider head coach and California native, Jack Del Rio, was released by the Raiders in a pre-emptive attempt to bring back legendary superstar head coach and ESPN TV personality, Jon “Chucky” Gruden. Many “in the know”, including ESPN’s Adam Schefter, have stated that Del Rio was released because the Raiders already have a deal in place to acquire Jon Gruden as their head coach. Gruden has confirmed his interest and reports relating a potential move back to the sidelines. There’s one major problem with this, and it’s known as the “Rooney Rule”. Legendary Steelers owner and operator, Art Rooney, helped implement an NFL league wide policy that teams must interview minority candidates for jobs before simply brining in another head coach or hiring someone right away.

Given the Raiders situation, how exactly does this work? No, seriously, there’s no good answer. Clearly this policy benefitted the Steelers as they brought in Mike Tomlin who is already getting his jacket sized for the hall of fame given the incredible work he’s done in his first ten years in Pittsburgh, but not every franchise has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to head coaches. The Raiders have to harken back to John Madden to recall any glory days. The next closest thing they have is the run that Gruden helped Oakland put together in the late nineties.

So the opportunity to acquire a hall of fame caliber coach has presented itself to Oakland and can anyone fault the Raiders for pursuing Gruden as a legitimate option? Did we mention that Oakland is easily the best bet to be turned around in just one season? Oh, and that Gruden has familiarity with the city and the ownership having worked directly with Mark Davis’s father, Al? It’s an important, open minded and fair policy when talking about the Rooney Rule, but in this specific situation, would anyone blame Oakland for scooping Jon up ASAP? Put it this way. Would anyone blame Indianapolis or Tampa Bay if they were able to bring Tony Dungy out of retirement to be their head coach without even considering anyone else? Elite coaches who have the ability to mold and grow men, build a team first mentality, and lead are rare. They don’t grow on trees, so when you have the ability to snag one, you take it.

Is there a different head coach who might do an even better or as good of job as Gruden could? Possibly. But in this specific scenario with so much history and a known commodity, we don’t think the Raiders are completely in the wrong. Now should minority coaches receiving phone calls from Raiders brass for head coaching interviews be skeptical and even turn Oakland down? Possibly yeah. But it will be difficult for many potential head coaches to beat out a former coach who has won a Super Bowl anyway. We’ll leave the discussion there for now and see how the situation plays out, but either way it will be fun to see “Chucky” back on the sidelines on Sundays in 2018!

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Gruden last patrolled the sidelines in Oakland in the late 90’s, and is reported to be agreeing to terms for a record 10 year $100 million deal to return to “The Black Hole”. Image Credit: USA Today

*Note – TSO is a huge Jack Del Rio fan, and abhor the fact that he continues to get an unfair shake as a head coach, while he continues to do more with dysfunction than most coaches are ever asked to come in and clean up.

We wrapped up the season on a high note, and we’ll look to build on that momentum as we turn the page into 2018!

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Saturday, January 6th, 2018

Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs – ESPN & ABC

Our first matchup has the young Titans squad heading into Arrowhead to take on the suddenly hot again Kansas City Chiefs. Tennessee took care of business against the Jaguars, defeating them for the second time this season to secure their spot in the playoffs. Kansas City beat the Broncos in what was a throw away, yet impressive performance from their rookie QB, Patrick Mahomes. The writing is all but on the wall for Alex Smith. Mahomes, the heir apparent, is waiting in the wings and ready to take over for KC next season. With that knowledge and draft pick, Smith has played 2017 like a man possessed. Smith has thrown it deep more than ever in his career, in part to showcase his skills and in part to prove his doubters wrong yet again.

Yes, Alex Smith is the underdog yet again. Not with the Chiefs, but within his own team and in NFL coaches and players minds. That’s right, the top pick in the 2005 NFL draft, is considered an underdog. Hard to believe, but thus has been the career of the top pick. Maybe it’s because he was picked over Aaron Rodgers and we all know how that guy has done, or maybe it’s because Smith has been the conservative game managing type of QB for the majority of his career. That said, of QBs with over 150 passing touchdowns, Smith holds the best TD-INT ratio of signal callers playing this wild card weekend. Smith has a 12-2 TD-INT ratio.

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Smith will need to fire on all cylinders to propel the Chiefs further into the playoffs. Image Credit: The Sporting News

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum we have Marcus Mariota, who while still young and explosive, struggled this season. Mariota posted 13 TDs to 15 INTs. Yes, Marcus Mariota threw more interceptions than he did touchdowns. Granted that stat can be misleading as it disproportionately weighs the terrible 4 INT game without accounting for the additional 5 rushing TDs Mariota also accounted for. Mariota never threw more than 2 INTs the rest of the season, but he did put up a stinker against the Steelers on that awful Thursday night performance. You know, that performance where he hit Rishard Matthews for a beautiful 75 yard touchdown? Yeah. Same game. Thus is the story of Mariota, flashes of brilliance sprinkled with moments of head slapping decision making.

Mariota won’t be doing this alone however. For all of the hype around Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt, the Titans have a stud rookie at the receiver position, Corey Davis, and a second year running back in Derrick Henry who will have something to say about who the playmakers are. Did we mention Rishard Matthews flew under the radar yet again with another great season? Derrick Henry said he played and felt “soft” against the Jaguars last week and that he is making sure that doesn’t happen again. Henry, mind you, is 6’3″ and 250 lbs. Not exactly a “soft” man rumbling downhill at one of the ten worst defenses at stopping the run. The Titans for comparison? Tennessee is one of the five best at stopping the run, meaning it could be a big day for Henry and tough one for the rookie, Kareem Hunt.

The Titans have been doubted all season, but they bring the better defense to the table with playmakers to match Kansas City’s. Granted a lot of this hinges on Mariota playing well, but what team’s performance doesn’t hinge on their starting quarterback playing well? Even without De’Marco Murray, the Titans run all over Kansas City and put them behind the eight ball, forcing Alex Smith out of his comfort zone. The Titans cornerbacks are two of the best in the NFL, Logan Ryan playing great ball and rookie Adoree Jackson having the speed to matchup with Tyreek Hill will cause Chiefs pass catchers all kinds of problems. Did we mention that Kevin Byard is tied of the lead in the NFL with interceptions by a safety? Too much stacked up against a Kansas City offense that will be made one dimensional. Titans win in and upset over the Chiefs. 

Atlanta Falcons @ Los Angeles Rams – NBC

Here we go! The upstart Los Angeles Rams host the defending champion Atlanta Falcons. TSO’s Dirty Birds! That’s right people, ATL didn’t have a bad enough hangover to not make it do the dance, and now that the Dirty Birds are there, expect the boys from the Dirty South to make some noise!

The Falcons biggest test will come against the potential 2017 MVP, Todd Gurley. Gurley has been nothing short of phenomenal the past few weeks. The NFL’s player of the month for December will test his mettle against the Falcons defense that has turned things completely around since the start of the season. Potential MVP versus last season’s MVP…this is gonna be good!

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Gurley certainly made his case for most valuable player to close out 2017. Image Credit: “tg4hunnid” – Todd Gurley IG

That Damn Good Dawg (DGD) has made Dawg Nation proud, but will he continue his ridiculous run into 2018 like his alma mater? Gurley goes up against a Falcons run defense that has yielded a paltry 3.45 yard average on the ground, raking in the top ten over the past month. Sure, Atlanta started slow and sloppy defensively, but they have turned it around and Rams coach Todd McVey will look to find creative ways to get #30 the ball in open space.

Atlanta’s defensive game plan will be simple, load the box and clamp down using their size and speed to contain Todd Gurley and force Jared Goff to beat you over the top. Goff has some weapons on the outside between Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp, but will Goff be able to connect? Jared has turned things around from his abysmal rookie season, but the question is, what do you believe? Do you believe Goff has arrived and is ready to set the NFL world on fire? Or do you believe Goff is the beneficiary of a bounce back from a Jeff Fisher led offense to a Todd Gurley centered offense where he isn’t asked to do too much? The answer tends to lie in the middle.

Having seen Goff in person, it’s difficult to truly believe in his arm strength and decision making just yet. Expect Goff to make a couple of costly mistakes and the Falcons linebackers to frustrate and contain Gurley, while the Rams corners will be unable to contain Atlanta’s talented receiving corps. Dirty Birds head into LA and upset the Rams post-season party. 

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars – CBS

Okay, in case you missed their reaction check this out.

To add context we must start here:

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Just wow. Image Credit: Sportscenter IG

You can’t help but root for these underdogs out of Buffalo. It has to be quite the vindication for Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy, players once traded from their playoff level teams. Unfortunately for the Bills they may not even have the services of “Shady” McCoy after he sustained an ankle injury in their week 17 win. Odds are Shady will give it a go, but if he isn’t 100% he won’t necessarily help Buffalo or add a ton of value to the Bills offense. Taylor will then need to live up to his “T-Mobile” nickname to avoid “Sacksonville’s” pressure. The Bills will likely target their tight ends, Charles Clay and Nick O’Leary, against the Jags linebackers.

There’s no real weakness to the Jaguars defense, and “defense wins championships”. Granted, the Jags don’t have the most explosive offense, especially since Fournette sustained a couple of injuries during the season and hasn’t returned to 100%. The real question mark is quarterback, Blake Bortles. Already called “trash”, by Houston Texans defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, Bortles’s most recent opponent said this about the Jacksonville signal caller:

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Harsh words from another peer. Image Credit: Sportscenter IG

So again, what do you believe? Do you believe Bortles is the guy who was lighting it up for three straight weeks near the end of the season, or do you believe his peers on the field? It’s difficult to see Bortles lighting it up this post season, but it’s also difficult to see the Bills finding any kind of offense against the Jaguars historically dominant defense. Especially with McCoy possibly limited, and the rapport between KB and Tyrod not yet developed, it’s too much of a stretch to see Buffalo generating enough offense to topple the Jags at home. Jacksonville wins by luck of the draw more than anything, getting their first playoff win in nearly a decade. 

Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints – FOX

Saving the best for last this wild card weekend! Will the Saints be able to sweep Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, beating them for a third time this season?

The Panthers bring a tried and tested defensive unit into New Orleans to attempt to slow down a new look Saints offense more reliant on the running game, yet still fueled by the arm of Drew Brees. For all of the talk of the historically dominant duo of Kamara and Ingram, all Brees did was set a new completion percentage record, besting Sam Bradford’s 70% from last year by completing over 71% of his passes. Granted, part of Brees’s new record, as if he needed another one, is due mostly to him not being asked to do as much by forcing passes since his backfield has been running over, through, and around their opponents. Simply put, the Saints offense is nasty.

Will Luke Kuechly rise to the occasion and beat Kamara to the point? That’s the only way Kuechly wins that battle, he has to beat Kamara to the point in open space where Sean Payton will scheme to get him the ball. If Kuechly is slow or gets chipped, Kamara is too good in open space to be brought down by many defenders, even all pros like Luke. Christian McCafferey may get jealous watching Brees and Kamara work as he was drafted by Carolina to be that very guy. McCafferey has had over 80 catches and 5 receiving touchdowns, so he’s held his own, but it’s been Kamara who has been the revelation and rookie to watch in the NFC.

So goes Cam, so goes Carolina. Which Cam will we get Sunday? The Cam who threw three picks against Atlanta to close out the season, or the Cam who went into Foxboro and outpaced and outscored the explosive New England Patriots? Panthers fans certainly hope it’s the latter and not the former. We tend to believe Cam will land somewhere in the middle this week. Newton tends to rise to the occasion and make life difficult for opposing defenses in big games. Cam can take the top off of a defense and extend plays for his guys to get open, so New Orleans will need to remain disciplined and not let their young defense get impatient. In a close division rivalry for all the marbles we’ll take Brees and Saints to defend their turf in the Superdome. Saints win a battle down by the Bayou. 

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Not only is the rookie explosive, he’s also pretty savvy with a few jokes to spare. Image Credit: ESPN NFL IG

That wraps up our Wild Card preview, but we’ll be back for more next week in the divisional round. For now, we ask, what do you believe about this Wild Card weekend and these Wild Card teams? Thank you for reading, liking, loving and sharing. We appreciate all of you and look forward to seeing how this wild, Wild Card weekend shakes out!

NFL Week 17 Preview: Win and Get In or Lose and Go Home

This is where the rubber meets the proverbial road in the NFL. Approximately seven games hold playoff implications, give or take based on how some of the matchups fall. In the AFC the Chargers and Bills are in the hunt with the Ravens and Titans controlling their own destiny. In the NFC, our beloved Dirty Birds are the only team that hasn’t clinched a playoff birth as they must win to ensure they get in over the Seahawks who remain in the hunt. In other words, the Hawks, Chargers, and Bills need to win and hope the other wild card teams, Falcons, Ravens, and Titans lose. There’s still a lot left to determine beyond who is even in the dance.

Home field advantage is still in play between the Pats and Steelers, even after the “catch, no-catch” play between the two teams two weeks ago. Then there’s playoff seeding at stake for the Rams and Vikings who are battling for home field advantage. Both teams have relatively easy matchups, meaning they should win out and standings would remain pat. That said, the Rams have the more difficult matchup given the impressive play of Jimmy G. Garoppolo still has yet to lose a game as a starter in the NFL, and is making GM John Lynch look like a genius in the eyes of many. Jimmy will need to bring his A game yet again to take down the more complete Rams squad, but as we know, anything can happen on any given Sunday.

Speaking of bringing your A game. We went 9 and 7 last week, due to a few tough upset picks gone wrong. How the Kelvin Benjamin toe drag was ruled a no catch upon review is beyond us and only solidifies why it’s so difficult to pull for the Patriots. They got a lucky break through no good work of their own, and yet again it impacted their fate and possibly season for the better. As if they needed any more help. Also, for those keeping score at home that makes three potential game changing touchdowns overturned in the Patriots favor upon review. Three.

We’ll hope to make some solid picks to close out our season and get some lucky breaks along the way too.

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Sunday, December 31st, 2017 – New Year’s Eve!

Washington Redskins @ New York Giants

So for the sake of time we are going to keep these previews fairly short between the teams already eliminated from contention and baring no playoff implications. The Giants did just hire Dave Gettleman as their new GM and we think that’s a strong move on their part to right the ship. That said this is lost season with little redeemable qualities for the G-Men.

Meanwhile the Redskins are evaluating whether they will negotiate a long-term contract for Kirk Cousins or release him before paying what would be a third franchise tag of an estimated $34 million. Neither team is positioned to end the season on a strong note, but the Redskins have the better team. 

New York Jets @ New England Patriots

This one is simple. Pats win and they clinch home field advantage through the playoffs, which means all roads to the Super Bowl go through Foxboro. A big advantage for a team with tons of them already. Somehow blow an easy matchup and the Pats could find themselves headed into Heinz field facing an uphill battle to defend their crown.

Much has been made of James Harrison’s being cut by Pittsburgh and picked up by the Pats, but that’s mostly media hype and doesn’t have much impact on the Pats defense. That is, unless you think a 39 year old defensive end who has lost a step will significantly change a playoff game. Just ask the Falcons how much Dwight Freeney slowed down Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI.

Either way this game is a cake walk and reinforces the reason for many to question just how legitimately dominant the Pats would have been were they in a more competitive division during Belichick’s and Brady’s time there. Just imagine if they played the Ravens, Steelers, or Chiefs twice a season. Think they win 10 and 12 plus games a season for over a decade against that sort of schedule? But, you play the teams in your division, and this week, the Pats wrap up another route of the far inferior Jets team. 

Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings

What could be an NFC battle between two heavy weight defenses will end up being a destruction of a young and hopeful squad by a more seasoned and talented one. The Vikings need to win to secure the #2 seed in the playoffs, but they don’t need to win so bad as to injure any of their key players. A large reason for the newfound success this season of QB Case Keenum has been the contested catch rate of wideouts Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Both receivers rank in the top 10, with Diggs holding down the top spot.

Want to make a QB look better than advertised? Try hauling in passes that should be picks nearly half of the time. Watch for Keenum to run into problems against tougher defenses, but until then, the Vikings continue cruising. Vikes roll past the Bears.

Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions

Other than bragging rights and posterity, this game does not matter. Green Bay has already sent Aaron Rodgers back to the IR, and the Lions are eliminated from playoff contention even if they tied Atlanta due to the tiebreaker rules and their loss to the Falcons earlier in the year. The Lions will be playing for pride. Get it? Lions. Pride?!

Look for Green Bay to pull out all of the stops and throw some different guys in to see what they have in their young players, while the Lions attempt to close out the season strong. Detroit wins as the home team with more talent in a ho-hum affair. 

Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts

And another one. Another game that only matters to the individual fan bases and specific teams involved. What could be an interesting matchup next year and in years to come between DeShaun Watson and Andrew Luck, will now be a who cares throw away game between Tom Savage and Jacoby Brissett. Both starting QBs in 2017 that will be more likely to be holding clipboards than taking snaps under center in the coming seasons.

We’ll take the Colts to win, but it won’t be pretty. Houston still has a decent defense, but Indianapolis has more overall talent on offense and defense and it’s just hard to see Houston putting anything together for four meaningful quarters. Colts win a tight, ugly one. 

Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers

When these two teams met week one of this year the Browns nearly upset the Steelers, falling just short 21-18. We don’t think this matchup comes nearly as close. The Browns have nice pieces, and we hoped they would upset and defeat the Packers in Green Bay, but as Cleveland has want to do, they goofed it up and gave it away in the end. We feel for you Browns fans, we truly do. As lifelong Falcons fans, believe us when we say that.

That being said, you’ll likely join the Lions as only the second team in modern era NFL history to go 0 for 16 over the course of an entire regular season. For the love of all that is good and enjoyable about watching a dumpster fire, please draft Baker Mayfield in 2018 and pick back up Johnny Manziel. Oh, and then re-sign RGIII! You’d have three Heisman winners! Triple the pleasure, triple the embarrassing and entertaining fun!

Seriously though. This goes without saying. Steelers dominate in this game. Even without AB, Big Ben connects with JuJu and Martavis while Bell runs all over Cleveland’s porous D. Pittsburgh wins and locks up the #2 seed. 

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C’mon Cleveland, you know you want to. Image Credit: New York Post

Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles

A game that usually has major implications in the football world brings little to the table to close out 2017. Thanks a lot Dallas. The Cowboys put on a dreadful performance against a beatable Seahawks team, eliminating them from playoff contention and making this game in Philly meaningless. Even without Carson Wentz the Eagles have locked up the top seed and home field throughout the playoffs. The Eagles will likely play their starters for a half, but don’t bet on either team to put any stars out there if they suspect even a hint of a serious injury.

Who’s ready for the backup and third string affair about to go down in Philly?! We sure aren’t. Cowboys win for pride, but who really cares. 

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Big questions remain in Big D, like will Dak bounce back from a sophomore slump and will Elliott being available all season be the difference maker? Only time will tell for the ‘Boys. Image Credit: ESPN – The Undefeated

Afternoon Games

San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams

Allow Todd Gurley III to reintroduce himself. Over the past three weeks, against the Eagles, Seahawks, and Titans, three playoff caliber teams, Gurley has done the following:

  1. Eagles: 96 yards rushing with 2 rushing touchdowns and 3 catches for 39 yards
  2. Seahawks: 152 yards rushing with 3 rushing touchdowns and 3 catches for 28 yards and 1 receiving touchdown
  3. Titans: 118 rushing yards, 10 catches – yes, TEN! – for 158 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns

No, those aren’t numbers from a Madden video game. Yes, those are the opponents who Gurley made mince meat of, proceeding to fly by and run over defenders attempting to slow his crazy train down.

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Gurley ran by, over, around and through Tennessee in week 16. Image Credit: Turf Showtimes – via Vox

After yet another outstanding performance, Gurley has placed his name on the short list of players in consideration for the MVP of the national football league. It’s hard to argue with the difference he has made for the Rams this season. Goff has improved gradually, but not the extent that Gurley has bounced back and exceeded expectations from his breakout rookie season. The MVP has become a bit of an NFL QB award, but if they want to give it more credence again they’d be wise to consider both Gurley and AB for this year’s honor.

There’s another guy in this matchup that is red hot though, and we mentioned him early on. Jimmy Garoppolo is off to a scorching start to his time as a Forty-Niner. In a game that could give the Rams home field and a first round bye, Garoppolo will do his damndest to spoil LA’s chances of post season success. As much as we’d love to see the Niners play spoiler it’s not realistic and LA is too balanced. Rams will put up more points than the Niners can match Sunday, and the Rams will head into the post season as arguably the hottest team in the NFL. 

Oakland Raiders @ Los Angeles Chargers

The Raiders will attempt to ruin any post season hopes the Chargers have by heading into LA and knocking off their division rival. Oakland is out of contention, but still would love to eliminate the Chargers. LA finds themselves on the outside looking in, needing a win and a Ravens or Titans loss to get into the playoffs. Yet again Philip Rivers and the Chargers can’t seem to get enough done to make noise in their division and in the post season. The seemingly always talented Chargers squad continues to hype up their fan base only to disappoint in the end.

Will this be the year the Chargers begin to turn that narrative? Beating the Raiders will be a good start Sunday, but they’ll be scoreboard watching as much as any team this Sunday. Chargers run over the Raiders with solid performances from Rivers, Allen, and Gordon, and then play the waiting game. 

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Rivers and Gordon will do their best to keep the Chargers’ playoff hopes alive. Image Credit: Bolt Beat

Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos

The Chiefs have nothing to play for and the Broncos season is lost. Denver’s D could present problems for KC, but there’s little reason for the Chiefs to expose their star players to many big hits. Don’t expect KC to let their starters stay in the game much past the first quarter or two. After a bit of action to remain in rhythm Andy Reid will pull his starters and we’ll likely get our first look at Patrick Mahomes. The first year rookie out of Texas Tech was drafted for his big arm and upside and it will be fun to see what he can do against a good defense.

Chiefs lose, but keep the game closer than you may think as Mahomes impresses in his first turn as a starter in a Chiefs uniform. Denver will do enough on the back of their solid defense and decent offense to ground and pound KC into submission with the Chiefs resting their starters and preparing for the post season. 

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With their #4 seed secure, Smith #11 will take a backseat to the rookie Mahomes (pictured right), who will get his first chance as a pro to showcase his skills. Image Credit: The Topeka Capital-Journal

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Tennessee Titans

An AFC South battle that shapes up to be one of the best of the weekend. Tennessee needs to win to secure their spot as there are numerous scenarios that knock them out of the playoffs with a loss. The last time these two teams met early in the season the Titans ran over the Jags, exposing a weaknesses in their defensive armor. In their attempt to repeat that effort, the Titans will be short handed as DeMarco Murray will miss this week due to a lingering injury. That means the Titans will roll with the combo of Derrick Henry, Mariota, and rookie CB/slasher Adoree Jackson.

This will be Mariota’s toughest test of the season, but one bit of good news is that Corey Davis appears to finally getting in sync with the Titans QB. If Davis steps up that could free up Delanie Walker in some underneath patterns enough to move the chains. Another factor in the Titans favor is that the Jags are likely to sit, rest, and not over extend their players as their #3 seed is already secured. The Jags aren’t able to attain a higher seed, which means they’ll play a series or two and likely begin to sit those that have any issues or minor nicks and bruises. Titans win a crucial matchup by virtue of scheduling and favorable timing. 

New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Saints locked up a playoff birth, but are attempting to win the NFC South as well. If New Orleans and Carolina win it will come down to a tie breaker, but it may not make it that far based on the outcome of the Panthers and Falcons game. The Saints should handle the Bucs in due course, but if the Panthers fall behind early New Orleans may sit their starters should the Falcons game get out of hand.

We don’t see blowouts likely in any of these, so we’ll take the Saints to secure their division title. Saints win, but the South will come down to the wire. 

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Brees has plenty of reasons to smile after securing another playoff birth for his beloved Saints. Image Credit: The Sporting News

 

Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins

This AFC East battle has major implications as the Bills could land the final playoff spot if the chips fall in their favor on Sunday. The Dolphins would love to spoil the Bills’ hopefuls chances, and will try their hardest to end 2017 on a high note. Buffalo was robbed of momentum and a crucial call at the end of the half against the Pats in week 16, but their competition is far less in week 17. Tyrod appears to be capable of stepping up as he did against New England and Miami has little motivation remaining for 2017.

Kenyan Drake and Jay Cutler are playing for larger roles in 2018, but that won’t match the effort put forth by a playoff hopeful Bills team. Expect Tyrod, KB, and Shady to be clicking on all cylinders. Bills win and wait. 

Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks

Oy vey. Another important matchup with a team that is basically gifting a win to a needy opponent. Much like the Titans and Jags, the Seahawks face an opponent with little to play for, and setting up to be a mismatch with backups facing off against starters. The Seahawks need a win and a Falcons loss to get into the playoffs, so there’s still some luck they need to get in, but their matchup is conducive for at least a chance of a birth.

Seattle showed their D is still good enough to clamp down on inferior and unprepared opponents, and Arizona, outside of the great Larry Fitzgerald is just that. Russell Wilson won’t exactly light up the Cardinals sound defense, but he brings enough mobility and play extending ability to put points up. Seahawks survive a slight scare early to win and wait to see what happens with the Dirty Birds down south. 

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Wilson has been nothing short of spectacular this season, but will it be enough to will his team to a playoff birth? Image Credit: The Seattle Times

Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta lost to Carolina early in the season, due in large part to this…

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Gif Image Credit: AntsMarching.org

Yes, an uncharacteristic drop by all-pro wideout Julio Jones ended up being the difference in a game that ended 20-17. This time around Atlanta has home field advantage, and Julio will certainly look to redeem himself.

The Panthers do have a major problem with #11 on Atlanta. Historically Jones has had the Panthers number for years. He burns them with incredible catches over defenders and blowing by them on the ground. Remember his 300 yard game from 2016? Yeah, that came against the Panthers. Remember the one loss the 2015 Panthers had prior to losing in the Super Bowl? That was thanks to a huge game from Julio, keyed off by a big catch over the back of Luke Kuechly. Jones has an unmatched size and speed that Carolina’s corners simply cannot contain.

Atlanta’s goal will be to limit Christian McCafferey out of the backfield similar to how they contained Alvin Kamara of the Saints. The Falcons defense has been the bright spot of late, and we expect them to continue their strong play. Deion Jones has improved even more from 2016 and with Vic Beasley finally flashing some of his game changing speed and ability to rush the QB, Atlanta’s front will cause Newton all kinds of problems. We’ve been on the Falcons bandwagon all season, but we acknowledge the problems Matt Ryan has presented. Ryan has to limit the mistakes and capitalize fully on momentum of the moment. Assuming Matt takes full advantage of scoring opportunities the Falcons will win this game surprisingly handedly. Dirty Birds win and get in, causing all sorts of nerves to be rustled as they seek to defend their NFC title. 

Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens close out our matchups with another win and get in situation. Baltimore is easily one of the most dangerous teams in the AFC. After keeping pace with the explosive Steelers offense, and finding new life with Alex Collins and Danny Woodhead in the backfield, the Ravens and their dominant defense will present real problems for opponents in the playoffs. Baltimore’s defense, led by Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle, have playmakers all over the field and can shut down even the best offenses. The Ravens biggest weakness is stopping the run, but that won’t be a problem with the Bengals.

If Joe Flacco continues heating up as he has want to do, the Ravens could shock a lot of teams and analysts in the football world. For this week though Baltimore has more than enough firepower to take down the Bengals. Ravens dominate and lock up their playoff spot.  

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Flacco will look to add to his legacy with another playoff run. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

That’s a wrap for the regular season and 2017! We appreciate all of the love and support. Please continue, liking, loving, sharing and generally being awesome! Happy New Year and we’ll see you with playoff predictions in 2018!

NFL Week 16 Preview Christmas Edition! – What’s in a Catch, The Curious Case of Jerry Richardson, and the Playoff Push

Football fans! How goes it?! We’ve got a great couple of weeks in store so buckle up, get comfy, and let’s get started!

First off…

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Is this a catch?

Another season, another year of playoff implications hinging on what many consider to be a blown call. The above image is of Steelers tight end Jesse James catching, yes catching, a pass from Ben Roethlisberger and extending the football towards the endzone in an effort to win the football game. Now, understand the context to this game. The Pats, down all game, had come back with just under two minutes to go. A win by Pittsburgh all but secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs, a huge advantage when potentially facing a rematch with these same Patriots in a month.

The Steelers, without their top weapon, AB (more on his status in a moment), drive the length of the field getting into field goal position for the tie and looking to secure a go ahead touchdown for the win. With under 30 seconds, Roethlisberger finds James over the middle, James catches, stretches, and the ball is dislodged by the ground as James crosses the goal line. If it is ruled that James had secured the ball, then proceeded to make a move toward the end zone, a-la a running back, then the above would have been a go ahead touchdown all but securing the Steelers a crucial victory. Instead, the officials ruled that James did not fully possess the ball through the catch. Not that he caught the ball, and then made a football move….you know, what he clearly did. If he didn’t catch the ball then how did it end up in his hands stretching across the goal line? Asking for a friend.

This debacle led us to remember the now infamous Dez Bryant “catch/no-catch” in Green Bay. In an eerily similar series of events, Bryant made a big time catch, and stretched toward the end zone in an effort to score a go ahead touchdown for Dallas against the Packers at Lambeau field in the divisional round of the 2014-2015 playoffs.

*Note – this is the same season Tony Romo outplayed Rodgers, by the numbers, in the regular season at Lambeau, and in this playoff game, but was gipped by the powers that be and saw Rodgers win MVP for a second time.

For those that don’t quite recall the reference:

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If James and Bryant aren’t in possession of the football prior to their reaching for the end zone then I don’t know what “possession” is. The league needs to address this ruling now, not in the off season. The idea that they will risk a playoff game or Super Bowl be determined by the letter of the law for a mis-written and ill conceived rule is ludicrous. The NFL will wait until the off season, but they’d be wise to take this issue up before January. When asked his thoughts on the James “catch/no-catch”, Bryant may have put it best….

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It’s always a “sucks for them” situation until it happens to your team. Image Credit: ESPN IG

Okay, now that we’ve got that off of our chest, let’s move to the even bigger issue at hand. I recently had a friend ask me about the state of the NFL as America’s sports leader. He pointed to issues with kneeling and fans turning away. I acknowledged his points, but noted the larger issues lie in the league’s hypocrisy. Simply put, if you don’t appreciate the kneeling, odds are you stopped watching or haven’t been THAT big of a fan for quite some time. The die hard fans, in our anecdotal experience, are most frustrated with inconsistency, hypocrisy, and duplicity. By that we mean, referees not calling games evenly for both teams, missing egregious calls for one team, but not the other. A league claiming to “care” about its players and “their safety”, while only suspending one of the faces of its league one game for blatantly violating another player’s safety by lowering an elbow to the back of his skull. Meanwhile, players exonerated of wrong doing in a civil matter off the field are suspended six games by the league, yet an owner is outed for engaging in harassing sexual behavior for years and the NFL has yet to do anything about it.

It’s this sort of hypocrisy that could ultimately cripple the NFL and its standing as America’s top sport. The player safety issue must continue to be addressed or there won’t be any future NFL stars to play and entertain on Sundays anyway. That said, let’s address this Jerry Richardson business. Turns out, the Carolina Panthers owner has been creeping out staffers for the Panthers organization for years. Years?! YEARS. How this hasn’t taken up more of the sports media news cycle is beyond us at TSO. Could it be that the league is attempting to sweep what would be a black eye for itself under the table? Again, asking for a friend.

How an owner of one of the more popular franchises in the NFL was able to get away with requesting female staffers to “wear certain jeans,” settle for large sums for four ex- employees, and even resolve a claim about a racial slur for years is unfathomable. Unfathomable were it not so sadly transparent in our “woke” culture of 2017 and the #metoo movement. Kudos to those involved with SI and the staffers willing to speak out about this.

The NFL and all industries that seek to promote a culture of equality and fairness must stamp out this behavior as quickly as possible. That is to say nothing of the blatant hypocrisy facing a league that sought to make an example of a star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, for something he didn’t do, yet looked the other way for years while a league owner was violating league and workplace conduct policies left and right in his very own, a NFL sanctioned, organization. If there is one saving grace to all of this, it is that Richardson has decided to sell the team, being that he is likely to removed were he not to, and in doing so a woman, Tina Becker becomes the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Panthers effective immediately. That’s right. Tina Becker, will now hold arguably the most prominent, influential and powerful position of any woman in the history of the NFL. And the beautiful irony that she is taking over for an owner forced to sell and relinquish his post due to his misogynist behavior makes this transition that much sweeter. Did we mention that she’ll be responsible for day to day operations of a team headed by a quarterback that earlier this season laughed at a the notion of a female reporter asking him about “route trees”? Chuckle chuckle. Cam…looks like the joke’s on you and the Panthers. Miss Becker will see you in her office now.

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Go get ’em Tina! Image Credit: CBS Sports

Panthers brass and staffers certainly “got some ‘splaining to do” and being that Richardson’s sell of the Panthers is not yet official, the NFL needs to formally investigate this. In the interim, here’s to hoping Tina finds success in her new role and hopefully rights the ship for what was once thought of as a model organization in the NFL.

The Panthers, like many teams, are in the playoff hunt. Changing gears, this is the part of the season that makes football so very exciting and yes, still America’s top sport. We have eight teams that were not in the playoffs this year in the hunt as we head into the final two weeks of the regular season, and we may have nine by week’s end depending on how things shake out. That hasn’t happened since 2003! I mean come on, you can’t not love that! Even with all of the turmoil and turnover, TSO managed to post a respectable 10 and 6 last week as we continue to seek to predict the unpredictable.

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Saturday, December 23rd, 2017

Early Game

Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens

Oh boy. Who decided it was a good idea to put the Colts on back to back primetime slots? Seriously. Who? Ugh. Okay, the Ravens have one of the best defenses in the NFL and over the past eight weeks the Ravens also boast one of the top scoring offenses in the league. Fact. Baltimore nearly outscored the explosive Steelers, putting up 38. Alex Collins has been a revelation at the running back position and Mike Wallace is turning back the clock ever so slightly as a number one wide receiver. The last guy you want to get hot heading into January is Joe Flacco. If there is one guy that can cause all kinds of hell for teams like the Steelers and Pats its the Baltimore Ravens.

Baltimore will have an easy time making mince meat of Jacoby Brissett, Frank Gore, T.Y. Hilton and the Colts offense. This won’t be much of a contest and as such we won’t spend much time on it. Ravens dominate covering the ridiculous spread (-12.5).

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The Delaware State product is heating up in December and that could spell trouble for other AFC contenders. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

Saturday Night Football

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers

Whoosh! You hear that? It’s the wind going out of the NFL’s sails after the Vikings clinched the NFC North and the Packers were eliminated from playoff contention last week. Yep. What almost shaped up as a huge division matchup between teams fighting to get in and secure playoff seeding turns out to be nothing more than a formality with the tables turned. Minnesota, winning the North for the first time since 2009, is in the driver’s seat and seeking to secure home field advantage in the divisional round. Green Bay, once eliminated, opted to play it safe with Aaron Rodgers after falling to Carolina and designated Aaron to the IR.

There is some exciting news in this game though. Teddy Bridgewater took the field for the first time since 2016 last week with the game in hand, and odds are good he may see some time against the Packers should this turn into the inevitable blowout it is expected to be. Here’s to hoping. Vikings roll (no line).

Sunday, December 24th, 2017 – Christmas Eve!

Early Games

Detroit Lions @ Cincinnati Bengals

Battle of the big cats! The Lions head into Cincy to take on the Bengals. It has been reported that Marvin Lewis will not be returning for a 16th season as the Bengals head coach. Lewis, in his 15th season as head coach, is the longest tenured head coach in Bengals franchise history. He has been instrumental in instilling a winning culture, but could never seem to get over that final hump of besting his division foes, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lewis has yet to confirm the reports of his pending departure, but it appears to be all but a formality at this point.

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell heaped praise on Lewis and the work he’s done in Cincinnati. Caldwell, however, is still very much in the playoff hunt yet again with the Lions and won’t be as kind on the field as he was with the media. Under Caldwell the Lions continue to do more with less than their counterparts in the uber talented NFC North. We think the Lions continue getting more from less in week 16, keeping themselves one NFC South slip away from a wild card spot (Detroit covers -3). 

Miami Dolphins @ Kansas City Chiefs

And here come the Chiefs. After appearing to disappear and lose their identity during the middle part of the season, Kansas City has put together back to back impressive performances against division foes. Tales of their demise were, in fact, greatly exaggerated. That’s bad news for the all but done Miami Dolphins. Miami heads into KC having the wind taken out of their sails, after pulling off a big upset against the Patriots in week 14 only to fall to the Bills in week 15. The Dolphins week 15 loss all but eliminate them from playoff contention.

The Chiefs on the other hand are in the driver’s seat for their division holding every tie breaker with division opponents and very much in control of their own destiny. There’s no exact “secret sauce” to Kansas City’s success this season, unless you count raw speed. Of the players with scoring plays where their top speed exceeded 20 mph, only one has more than two such plays. That player? Tyreek “Cheetah” Hill. That’s right, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Sterling Shepherd all only account for two such plays each, while Hill has had six plays where his top speed exceeded 20 mph on a resulting touchdown. That’s damn impressive and a big part of the reason for the Chiefs “knack” for big plays this season. That and players like Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt don’t hurt either.

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Known for throwing up the “peace” sign after blowing past defenders, Hill may have plenty of chances to throw up deuces against the Dolphins. Image Credit: Sporting News

Miami does have a player with wheels of his own in Kenyan Drake, but Drake’s speed alone may not be enough in enemy territory. The Chiefs hold the best home field advantage at Arrowhead, and Jay Cutler is primed for a stinker of a game on the road in KC. As much as we love the talent on Miami, this matchup shapes up to be a dominant performance by the Chiefs in all phases of the game. Chiefs win and cover easily (-10). 

Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots

Remember that one game suspension hypocrisy we mentioned? Know what a four game suspension would’ve done? Possibly cost New England the top seed in the AFC given the huge part Gronkowski played in the Patriots win in Pittsburgh in week 15. More importantly though, a four game suspension would have kept Gronk out of what is sure to be a heated exchange and ugly contest between the larger than life tight end and Buffalo’s secondary. Buffalo heads into New England in a must win situation looking to exact revenge for what was a dirty play and cheap shot from the Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski. Justifiably upset about the play by Gronkowski, Bills players have vowed to head hunt for the big New England tight end in what will only end ugly for the teams and the league on Sunday.

It would be nice to pick the Bills here. They have the talent to pull off an upset, and the perennially underrated Tyrod Taylor can certainly hang with and beat Tom Brady. Yes, beat. Taylor has improved every year since he became the starter in Buffalo nearly four years ago, and while many are quick to throw shade his way, he has done nothing but climb Pro Football Focus’s rankings each season. Taylor grades out at 83.4, currently landing him at #12, but may find himself in the top ten by season’s end. That may not be impressive, but consider the supporting cast. Outside of LeSean McCoy, who has Taylor had to work with? Injury plagued Sammy Watkins and Charles Clay? Kelvin Benjamin who has been banged up this season? Robert Woods was an after thought until he upped his game in a big way following his trade from Buffalo to LA? It’s not exactly like Taylor has been throwing to elite talent.

On the Patriots’ side of the ball they will be without Rex Burkhead and Chris Hogan, which isn’t ideal, but so long as Brady has Gronk, New England is deadly. The Bills won’t have an answer for Gronk in man coverage so look for them to shadow his way with a safety. That’s going to put a ton of pressure on the cornerback drawing man coverage on speedster Brandin Cooks. The Bills will need to get pressure on Brady and force him off of his spot to have a chance at disrupting the rhythmic passing game of the Pats. New England is supposed to win this game.

New England holds all of the cards. But they are facing Shady McCoy, who last week became the 30th player in NFL history with over 10,000 rushing yards. They’re also facing Swiss Army Knife Charles Clay, and his counterpart, the Golden Bear’s grandson, Nick O’Leary. And that’s why we’re taking the long shot that the Bills do the unthinkable and upset the Pats at home in Foxboro. (Buffalo wins and we’ll take the points +10.5)

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Shady and T-Mobile could present real matchup problems for a struggling Pats D. Image Credit: Philly.com

Cleveland Browns @ Chicago Bears

Another one we’re going to keep very short. Both of these teams are young, rebuilding, and have nothing to play for in 2017 other than evaluating talent. That being said, we’d love to see the Browns win, because no one wants to see a club go 0 and 16. It’s just brutal to watch. Unfortunately the matchup doesn’t generate a lot of hope for the Browns. Our past prediction of a Browns win against the Packers was based on the element of surprise. This week that isn’t the case.

The Bears are very much aware of what the Browns do well and what they don’t and they are also wanting to win and evaluate what they do and don’t have before 2018. The Bears D is ready for Flash Gordon and co. and get after Kizer early. Myles Garrett will harass Trubisky, but the Bears rookie signal caller is more mobile and has proven to be a better decision maker early on. Bears win a close one and leave the Browns with one last chance to get off the snide. (Bears win, but Browns with points +7)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers

A trap game if there ever was one for the Panthers. After an impressive win against the Packers, Carolina hosts division foe, Tampa Bay, in a game with all sorts of playoff implications for the Panthers and no repercussions for the Bucs. In other words, Tampa has nothing to lose, but everything to gain by playing spoiler. Will the Bucs be a match for a red hot Panthers team?

Consider that Tampa Bay will have to find an answer for Christian McCaffrey. You know, the first rookie running back in NFL History with 70 receptions and 5 receiving touchdowns. Or the evolution that has been Cam Newton this season. In case you missed it last week, Green Bay’s Clay Matthews attempted to diagnose a play the Panthers were going to run pre-snap, declaring to his teammates:

“It’s a wheel route. It’s that wheel route! I study too.”

To which Newton pointed at Matthews and cooly stated:

“You’ve been watching film huh? Watch this.”

And Newton proceeded to throw a touchdown pass to McCaffrey on a slant, instead of a wheel route. The video of Newton calling out Matthews has since gone viral, and in case you missed it, you owe it to yourself to check out the 15 second clip.

With Newton emerging as not just the most athletic and physical man on the football field, but also a smart and savvy player to boot, the Panthers are going to be tough to beat in December and January barring injury. The way Cam plays does cause pause because you never quite know when one of his game changing runs could result in him being sidelined, but until that happens the Panthers have one of the deadliest weapons in the league under center. Jameis Winston played better in week 15, but he’d be wise to watch and learn in week 16. Panthers win easily setting up a potential NFC South winner take all showdown in week 17 against the Falcons (-9.5). 

Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints

Now we’re talking! Huge division rivalry with playoff implications galore. The winner of this rematch will control its own destiny, while the looser will likely be relegated to a wild card spot or worse. ESPN’s FPI gives the advantage to the Saints in second installment of this rivalry in 2017, but it also gave NOLA the advantage in the first matchup as well. True New Orleans lost Alvin Kamara early due to a concussion, and it’s unlikely that happens again, but is that all there is to this matchup?

Let’s not forget the Falcons played without the services of DeVonta Freeman, who just proved his game changing ability last Monday night. So both squads will be closer to full strength than the first time they met a couple of weeks ago. Julio Jones is the only major question mark and he claims that his ankle is feeling good and he’s ready to go. That being said, Atlanta’s bigger question mark will be the play of Matt Ryan. Ryan threw three interceptions in their matchup with the Saints in week 14 and he’ll have to cut down on the crucial INTs, especially in the red zone, if the Falcons are to have a shot at knocking off the Saints at home.

Drew Brees oddly threw the most costly interception of the four total thrown in Atlanta in week 14, but the Dirty Birds can’t count on that to win this contest. Look for the Saints to come out and attempt to stretch the field early, forcing Atlanta on its heels. If the Falcons can take the brunt of what New Orleans throws at them in the first half and remain in striking distance or even have a small lead, then Atlanta will hold the upper hand in the second half. However, if the Saints exert their will on three or four straight drives to open the game the Falcons may find themselves too far behind the eight ball to catch up. The Falcons defense will need to have Trufant cover Michael Thomas, allowing them to dedicate a cornerback to account for Kamara’s game breaking speed.

On Atlanta’s side of the ball they’ll want to use Freeman, but he key may be Tevin Coleman. Coleman often draws a linebacker when he splits out wide, and that always ends up as a mismatch to the Falcons advantage. Coleman matches Kamara’s ability to take a big catch or open lane to the house, but he doesn’t get the attention because when do Falcons ever get the credit they deserve? It took an other worldly season from Matty Ice to win MVP, and that was still a battle against much less qualified competition.

We must give credit where it is due though, and acknowledge what the one-two punch of Ingram and Kamara have accomplished this season.

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Quite the accomplishment by the Saints backfield duo. Image Credit: NFL Network IG

Due credit aside, the other Saints rookie, Marshon Lattimore, will be the key factor in this matchup. If he can contain Julio Jones that will free up the Saints defense to matchup much more evenly with Atlanta across the board; however, if Lattimore fails at containing the monster that is Julio Jones, the Saints D could be in for a long Sunday.

The Falcons still hold one of the highest third down conversion rates, and are one of, if not the most talented teams in the NFL. With both offenses ranking neck and neck, and the Falcons holding the advantage on defense and special teams, we’ll take our Dirty Birds to pull another “upset” out and move one game closer to defending their title as NFC South champions. Falcons win and set up a fantastic showdown with the Panthers next Sunday (+5). 

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Ryan will need to be clutch for Atlanta to upset the Saints in the Superdome. Image Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Denver Broncos @ Washington Redskins

Oy vey! Who cares?! No, seriously, who? I doubt even Broncos and Redskins fans care about this game at this point. The only interesting development we can see is this: is this a tryout of sorts by Cousins for the Denver Broncos? Cousins made it clear that the franchise tag this year was his choice, which means he isn’t afraid to say no to Washington. We can’t blame him and could you imagine what he could do with a defense like Denver’s having his back? It’s not hard to imagine Cousins outplaying Manning’s last season in Denver, which would more than makeup for any slight defensive decline by the Broncos in recent years.

Beyond the Kirk Cousins free agent intrigue, there isn’t much here to get excited about. Both teams will have a moment or two of brilliance, coupled with ineptitude and lack of consistent above average play. That being the case we’ll take the Broncos D to shut down a Redskins offense that is at half strength to put it nicely. Someway, somehow, Brock Osweiler will get to start yet again in the NFL after putting on a not terrible performance last Thursday night. Broncos win and we’ll take the points (+4.5).

Los Angeles Rams @ Tennessee Titans

So much to cover in this game, so little time. The revival of the Super Bowl XXXIV matchup is sure to be a good one. An explosive Rams offense, headed by an elite running back, will attempt to outscore a Titans team with a mobile QB who plays his best against top competition. Where have we seen this before?

Yes, this rendition of the Rams and Titans has different names, but much of the teams respective identities have not changed. Funny how that which was once old is new again. The Titans need to win keep their playoff hopes alive, while the Rams are jockeying for the top seed. Two different motives, but motivation on both sidelines non-the-less.

Consider this…

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Image Credit: CBS Sports IG

The difference a year makes.

The Titans have won five straight at home in Tennessee, but they have looked shaky of late. Todd Gurley leads the NFL in touchdowns after his four score performance last week (not counting QBs) put him at 17 on the season. That damn good dawg has to be in the running for MVP after that showing. Will Gurley find the same running room against the NFL’s third best rushing defense? The Titans are allowing under 90 ypg on the ground, which means it will be good on good Sunday.

The Rams and Titans are the 10th and 11th ranked defenses in terms of total yards, respectively. This game could come down to a war of attrition as both teams matchup well with one another and could beat up on each other quite a bit through four quarters. The numbers say go with the Rams in this one, and our brain is telling us to, but we can’t. The Titans have more on the line, and they seem to rise to the occasion in these matchups, beating teams like the Jags and Seahawks earlier this year. We’ve been beating the Mariota drum all season and maybe this is his time to shine. With the Titans running a read-option Mariota has a huge day picking apart a soft Rams D. Tennessee wins and we’ll gladly take the points (+6.5). 

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Gurley came up big in week 15, but will the Titans stack the box and force Goff to beat them through the air in Tennessee? Image Credit: The Ringer

Los Angeles Chargers @ New York Jets

Just when you start to believe in the Chargers and Philip Rivers they go out against their division rivals and play like garbage in primetime on Saturday night. Keeping this in the Christmas spirit…

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Good Grief Philip Rivers!

I mean for Pete’s sake! All you had to do was the same thing you had been doing for the past four weeks. Play sound, fundamental football, and take care of business defensively. Instead, you let the moment get too big for you and then get away from you early. By the time you looked back you were already too far behind in the fourth quarter to do a whole lot of anything about it but sit and wait. Yet again the Chargers fate lies in others’ hands.

For the sake of this game it is fairly straight forward and simple. The Jets D is good, and will do their best to wreck Rivers from rolling into the playoffs, but it won’t be enough. New York has little to no offense to move the ball against LA’s ferocious pass rush. Bosa and Ingram will have a field day and Casey Hayward could have one or two picks against Bryce Petty. Chargers win handedly and keep their playoff hopes, however bleak, alive (-7.5). 

Afternoon Games

Jacksonville Jaguars @ San Francisco 49ers

Oh yeah! An unexpectedly exciting afternoon matchup! The two hottest quarterbacks in the NFL. Yes. The two HOTTEST QBs in the league! Blake Bortles, he of the 128 highest passer rating in the league since week 13, and Jimmy G, who has done this…

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Image Credit: NFL Network IG

Did we mention that Garoppolo has thrown for over 1,000 yards in his first three starts as a Niner? Why is that significant you might ask? Well, considering neither Steve Young nor Joe Montana can claim that accomplishment, we’d say Jimmy G is off to a very strong start to his career in the Bay. There’s a reason Belichick let his closest confidants know he felt that he could win a Super Bowl with Garoppolo. Just sayin’.

For all of the excitement that Jimmy G has brought to the Niners, he’ll face his toughest test yet against the league’s best passing defense. The Jags allow a measly 168 ypg passing and lead the NFL with 51 sacks. “Sacksonville” is the type of defense that can carry a team to the Super Bowl, which is great news considering…

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Image Credit: CBS Sports

That’s right, the Jags are in the playoffs for the first time since Fred Taylor and David Garrard wore teal and gold. So for as exciting as Garoppolo has been for San Francisco, the Niners come back to earth in this matchup as the Jags D imposes its will on the Niners. Expect a long day at the office for young Jimmy G. Jags dominate (-5.5).

Seattle Seahawks @ Dallas Cowboys

Seattle and Dallas are on the outside of the playoffs looking in, and both need help to get into the dance. Whereas Seattle’s help will need to come from outside the organization, Dallas’s comes in the form of the return of this guy…

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Reports are that ‘Zeke put himself through a strict conditioning regime during his time away. Image Credit: Dallas 5 – Dallas Fort-Worth

That’s right, ‘Zeke is back! Cowboys fans rejoice! While the Cowboys still need help to get back into the playoffs, the return of Ezekiel Elliott could not come at a better time. With Seahawks Bobby Wagner battling a hamstring and letting Todd Gurley run all over him, ‘Zeke will look to pick up where Gurley left off. Yep, part of Gurley’s big day was because of an ailing Bobby Wagner unable to close gaps and chase Todd to the edge due to a gimpy hamstring. Wagner may claim to be healthier this week, but his task won’t get any easier in attempting to contain the elusive and dynamic Elliott.

Russell Wilson finally looked mortal as many QBs have against the Jags imposing defense. Look for Russell to bounce back with a stronger effort against Dallas’s mediocre secondary. Wilson’s biggest problem is that he will be the only playmaker on the team, whereas teams like Dallas are much more balanced. For all of his work, the Hawks fall in a heartbreaker and potential playoff elimination game for Seattle. ‘Boys win and cover (-3).

New York Giants @ Arizona Cardinals

Eli Manning threw for 435 passing yards in week 15, the second highest total of his career. And that’s the good news for this game. No, really. That’s all we have.

Again, we have another stinker on our hands when the Giants head to Arizona to face the Cardinals. The Giants are the better team, but who the heck knows with the game or these players? The Cardinals have the better defense but worse offense, and the Giants have…well…Eli? We’re not going to take any more time with this….Giants fall to the Cardinals in Arizona (Cards cover -5). 

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Will this be the last season we see Manning in Giants blue? Image Credit: NY Daily News

Monday, December 25th, 2017 – Christmas Day!

Early Game

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Houston Texans

The Steelers head to Houston to take on a Texans team with nothing to lose. Always a dangerous proposition, but Pittsburgh is sure to come out fighting mad after feeling robbed of a win last week against the Pats. The Steelers did suffer a slight setback as they lost their top wideout and dark horse favorite for MVP, Antonio Brown, until the playoffs. Here’s some context for just what AB means to that team, and what he’s accomplished during his time in Pittsburgh…

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“Business is Boomin'” for AB in Black and Yellow. Image Credit: ESPN NFL

Yes, Brown is out, but Martavis Bryant and rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster are more than capable of filling his shoes during his absense. Did we mention that Houston has one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL? Fact.

Le’Veon Bell will continue to roll and Houston will be left with a beating and to wonder “what if” they had just found a free agent with similar skills to DeShaun Watson. You know, the type of free agent with Super Bowl experience and wheels to match? Hmmm…shame. Steelers dominate and cover the large spread as De’Andre Hopkins remains, yet again, the only notable talent left standing in Houston (-10). 

Monday Night Football

Oakland Raiders @ Philadelphia Eagles

The Raiders are all but eliminate from playoff contention, but they could spoil the Eagles plans to capture the top seed in the NFC. Oakland was on the verge of a last second victory were it not for this…

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Derek don’t let it go! Image Credit: Dez Bryant IG

After all of the similar plays that have lead to crucial turnovers in the red zone, Carr extended near the goal line, attempting to score before losing control of the ball through the side of the end zone. Unthinkable from an MVP caliber candidate just a season ago. Philly won against the Giants last week, but they’ll face a tougher challenge against the Raiders. While it was nice for Foles to get into a rhythm against the Giants, he’ll need to up his play to keep up with the higher powered Raiders offense. Backed by a strong performance from Carr and Lynch, Oakland wins the Christmas finale in a shootout and we’ll take the points (-8). 

That’s a wrap for our week 16 preview! Only one regular season week to go so be sure and kick back and enjoy these next two weeks of fun filled NFL excitement. That is, enjoy it between wrapping and unwrapping gifts, sipping egg nog, and enjoying much needed family time with friends and loved ones. As always thank you for reading, liking, loving, sharing, tweeting, and supporting all that we do at TSO. We’ll leave you with some holiday cheer with the two best things we saw leading up to Christmas.

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The Packers wide receiving corps got Christmas PJs to kick off the holiday season. ‘Tis the Season! Image Credit: Randall Cobb IG
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After calling Jacksonville’s QB, Blake Bortles, “trash”, Jaguars fans immediately stood up for Blake and sent dozens of trash cans to the Texans facility addressed to who else, Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney responded as seen above. Image Credit: Jadeveon Clowney’s Official Twitter Page

Merry Christmas!

NFL Week 15 Preview: The Return of Rodgers, Carson’s Collapse & Pats v. Pitt

Week 15 is here and now is when the games get interesting. First, we’ve got a few key items to cover before diving into the matchups. We’ll start with the bad news first…

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It was on this dive that Wentz propelled his team to the best record in football, a win over the Rams, and likely an early exit in the playoffs. Image Credit: AOL.com

Yes, the unthinkable happened. One of the NFL’s biggest and brightest stars became a victim of his own athletic success and ability. Wentz, a very mobile and athletic quarterback was able to scamper into the end zone against a good Rams defense, but in doing so forced himself between two approaching defenders, squeezing the lower half of his body into a tough hit at the goal line. Wentz scored the go ahead touchdown, placing the Eagles at the top of the NFL, and simultaneously dooming them to finish out their season without their star play caller. After tearing his ACL on the play pictured above, Philly will be forced to place their playoff hopes in the large, but bumbling hands of Nick Foles.

On the other side of the equation is a team like Green Bay, who after squeaking out two close wins against Tampa Bay and Cleveland in overtime, celebrate the return of the all pro all world QB, Aaron Rodgers.

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He’s Baaaaaaaaccckk! Image Credit: Business Insider

That’s right. #12 is back under center for the Pack and the timing couldn’t be better playoff hopeful Green Bay. The Packers have a tough stretch to end the season, with a less than 1% to make the playoffs, but you have to like their long shot odds a bit better with two time MVP, Aaron Rodgers back. Green Bay will head into Carolina to take on the Panthers, in what is sure to be must see TV between Rodgers and Cam Newton.

And if the fall and return of two star QBs isn’t enough, we’ve got a matchup for the top of the AFC between two QBs who have won multiple super bowls and thrown for over 50,000 yards each – the first time in the history of the NFL such a matchup has occurred in the regular season. That’s right, New England heads into Pittsburgh in what is sure to be a heavyweight slugfest for the ages. Beyond the astounding numbers these two teams boast and titles they hold, this game carries implications for the 2017-2018 playoffs as well. The winner likely holding home field advantage through the playoffs and the loser potentially heading on the road for a potential AFC Championship rematch in January.

We went 8 and 8 last week or 8 for 16 depending on your counting preference, but we’re off to a better start already after Thursday and Saturday and looking to build on that strong start Sunday.

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Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Early Games

Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars

This would be a very exciting game were it not for the absence of Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt from the Houston defense. We’d be talking about the two best defenses in the NFL today going head to head in what would be certain to be a defensive battle for the ages. Instead we have a dominant Jaguars D hosting a sputtering Houston offense destined for yet another season of pathetic mediocrity.

Jacksonville boasts one the NFL’s best defenses, second best in terms of total yards allowed per game (291), and they’ll be facing an offensive once explosive with DeShaun Watson, now all but out of gas with Tom Savage under center. Watson’s play was such an “X” factor for Houston, and his work so impressive that even as pitiful as Savage has been, the Texans still rank 13th in terms of total yards on offense. Be clear, that ranking was higher and is still as high as it is because of the phenomenal, light the football world on fire play of DeShaun Watson. Savage has done nothing but tank that nearly elite level offense from the first half of the season. That makes this pick easy. Calias Campbell, Telvin Smith, Jalen Ramsey, and the entire Jags D feasts on the Texans offense and makes life easy for their offense. Jags dominate and cover (-11).

Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns

Oh good lord! Seriously?! Both of you! Baltimore, you first….Cleveland, we’ll come back to you in a minute. Joe freakin’ Flacco! What in the good Lord’s name are you doing?! And the entire Ravens defense. You had one job! You can’t stop the Steelers for one freaking game winning drive?! You deserved to lose that game for that very reason. You simply can’t do that. The game is 60 minutes fellas, not 59. Finish. The. Drill.

Cleveland. Every week I think you can’t possibly get more “Cleveland” than you did the week prior, and then you go and do something like you did in week 14….”AND TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF!” Only you didn’t, you just continue to put performances like you did last week on tape for the entire world to wonder why we even bother with you. TSO picked you! We believed! We bought into the hype!

Josh Gordon was back, Crowell was running well, Kizer even looked halfway decent, and you get up and get a lead! It’s finally happening!!! Only you let Green Bay tie it and push it to overtime….and then fell apart as only the Browns can do and somehow gave up a blown coverage on DeVante Adams, the Packers most talented receiver. It would be mind boggling were it any other franchise. But it’s the Browns.

So in a matchup between the franchise formerly known as the Browns and the present day Cleveland Browns, we’ll take the team with the best defense. That’s the Ravens in this case, even if they did collapse in epic fashion last Monday night. Baltimore wins, but the Browns keep it close with the points as they continue to put the building blocks together for a return to prominence (+7).

Green Bay Packers @ Carolina Panthers

Yes! Your matchup of the week comes with the return of Aaron Rodgers. Will Cam Newton return to MVP form or will Rodgers best yet another foe on his march to yet another improbably playoff bid? Can the Pack come back or Carolina inch one win closer to solidifying their place in the 2017-2018 playoffs, all but eliminating Green Bay? So many storylines so little time!

Green Bay pulled off two improbable wins behind a shaky Brett Hundley. Fortunately for the Pack their schedule afforded them two of the more favorable matchups, and the timing of Aaron’s return could not be better. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Rodgers does return, and even though they just pulled off an impressive win against the Vikings, Green Bay presents a much more difficult matchup offensively. Cam has been good but not great this season, but he’ll need to display some of his 2015 MVP form to keep pace with the Packers offense. Expect Christian McCafferey to struggle with Clay Matthews bottling him up, which means Greg Olsen and Devin Funchess will need step up for Cam.

The Packers will be putting the ball back in the air more, after leaning heavily on the run in the past few weeks. With a newfound run game behind rookie Jamaal Williams, and Jordy Nelson and DeVante Adams very much back in play as threats down field, the Panthers D will be tested. Carolina was fortunate to escape with a win when the Falcons came to town thanks to a rare Julio Jones drop. We don’t see the Panthers getting that lucky again. Rodgers is a game changer and shifts this to the Pack’s favor. Green Bay win and we’ll take the points (+2.5).

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We know one guy that is happy to see #12 back and he’ll be all systems go on Sunday. Image Credit: USA Today – For The Win

Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills

A win or go home game for these two AFC East teams. In what may appears to be a bleh game, there are numerous playoff implications. With a win the Dolphins very much vault themselves right back into playoff consideration, and the Bills create an uphill battle. With a Bills win they could find themselves in the lead position for the last wild card spot. An unthinkable scenario considering how poorly they’ve played of late, but true just the same.

Miami pulled off the upset that TSO predicted last Monday night, and quite frankly they looked even better than we anticipated. Kenyan Drake is a beast and get used to hearing about him a lot from us here at TSO. Jay Cutler looked good, but we’ve been down that decepticon road before. Jay may have another good game in store though as the Bills secondary that looked impressive to begin the season has come crashing back to earth. The Bills and Dolphins both rank in the bottom ten in terms of total defense, which means points should be scored.

The offenses are a different story though. Miami is just better than average in the NFL, while Buffalo unsurprisingly finds themselves in the lower half of the league in terms of total offense. Tyrod Taylor will start which gives the Bills the best chance to win, and assuming Kelvin Benjamin plays we may get our first real taste of what this offense was meant to look like after week 8 and the trade deadline. That said, the Dolphins D has looked better of late and Dolphins have not only the momentum, but the talent to win this road battle. Miami wins and we’ll take the points (+3.5).

Cincinnati Bengals @ Minnesota Vikings

Ugh. For the sake of time we’ll keep this short. The Bengals did what they do best last week and bungled an easy win at home against the Bears. With that loss Cincy essentially eliminated themselves from playoff contention. Minnesota on the other hand lost a tough contest on the road against a good Panthers team. The Vikings return home after a road stretch looking to defend their turf and solidify their spot as division leaders. Case Keenum did show his weaknesses and short comings as a quarterback. If the Minnesota doesn’t turn to Tedy Bridgewater they won’t stand of chance of making any noise in the post season. Even so, they get a depleted and beleaguered Bengals squad this week.

We can’t begin to tell you what is up with the Bengals other than leadership. Marvin Lewis returned the Bengals to prominence, but it may be time to turn the page to a new regime to take that next championship step. The pieces are there and credit to Lewis for coaching them up and helping assemble a formidable squad, but something is missing. The Vikings win against a beaten up Bengals squad, and Minnesota’s D makes the going tough for Cincy’s offense. Vikes cover (-10.5).

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How much longer until Bridgewater takes the ball cap off and puts the helmet on? Image Credit: TwinCities.com

Arizona Cardinals @ Washington Redskins

There’s always one. The “who cares” game this week goes to the Cards @ Redskins. Because seriously, who cares? Neither team has a shot at the playoffs and neither team is going anywhere fast. Sure Washington was a nice dark horse to surprise some people and make a run in the NFC, but that has all but fallen flat. We believe Kirk Cousins should be paid, but as he continues to post mediocre records as Washington’s lead play caller we can’t help but realize maybe he is just average.

We love Kirk Cousins the man and it takes a strong individual to go through what he went through with RGIII and Snyder, but still. “You are what your record says you are.” Cousins’s numbers are there, but the record isn’t quite matching up, at least not yet. It’d be nice to say remain patient, but Cousins isn’t getting any younger and the window for drastic improvement is quickly closing. All of that being said about Cousins, he is still miles ahead of half of the quarterbacks in the NFL and top end QBs don’t grow on trees. The Cardinals have a good defense, and may present problems for the Redskins. The truth is we don’t know what we don’t know. We’re taking the home team in this one because they look like the better team and don’t seem to be quite the mess that Arizona is at the moment. Redskins win and cover (-4.5).

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Cousins is expected to be a big free agent in 2018 and the biggest question is will he stay or will he go? Image Credit: USA Today – For The Win

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants

The distraught Eagles head into New York to take on a Giants team with nothing to play for, but nothing to lose! Philly has lost its star quarterback and is going to have to go back to an old, but familiar signal caller in Nick Foles. Lucky for Foles he draws the defeated Giants squad that has all but given up on 2017. This is the perfect game for Philadelphia. Win or lose they have booked their ticket to the dance, now they have time to test their new QB out and see what, if any, weaknesses rear their ugly heads before the games truly matter again.

The Giants are in a non-enviable position. Beaten, injured, and exhausted, they have to attempt to spoil a top team’s season with no real incentive. Win, and all they have done is upset a team that just lost its starting QB and is finding its legs. Lose, and they lose to a team that just lost its star, starting quarterback. Basically the Giants can’t win. What makes it worse is that they aren’t even close to good enough to knock the Eagles off. This could get ugly, and fast. Between Ajayi, Blount, Jeffrey, and Agholor, the Eagles have talent all over the field, and the Giants have injured defenders and replacements that have little time and experience to combat such a cohesive unit. Eagles win and somehow cover on the back of the much more talented team (-7.5).

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Foles has big shoes to fill in Wentz’s absence, but he should find early success against a division foe in week 15. Image Credit: Philadelphia Eagles

New York Jets @ New Orleans Saints

Hah! How short can we keep this? We nailed the call of the Saints losing the Falcons on Thursday night, but we can nail this one as well. Alvin Kamara did sustain a concussion, which may have changed the outcome of their TNF game, but they should have him back. The Saints are still looking to seal a trip to the playoffs and a possible division title. The Jets are playing for nothing but pride, and in enemy territory no less.

The Saints D proved its mettle against Atlanta, and will prove more than formidable against a weak Jets offense. Robby Anderson may get deep for one nice catch or two, but that’s about the extend of New York’s offensive attack. The Jets may even give Brees and co. a tough time in the early going, but the Saints experience and superior talent all over the field will prove too much for a poor Jets unit. Saints dominate, but not cover the ridiculous spread so we’ll take the Jets with the points (+15.5).

Afternoon Games

Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks

An NFC West battle for the top of the division kicks off our afternoon games. Headlined by two teams that lost heartbreakers in week 14, only one of these division foes will find any retribution. The Rams were out dueled by Carson Wentz, while the Hawks were shut down by Jacksonville’s D. In this matchup however, the Hawks boast the better defense, ranking just outside the top ten, while the Rams find themselves in the middle of the pack.

This matchup will be interesting. The Rams actually boast the better passing defense, statistically and especially without Richard Sherman for Seattle. The Hawks have a tough run stopping D headlined by Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, and Sheldon Richardson. Todd Gurley will find the going tough Sunday. Jared Goff should have an easier time and look for Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins to have big days in Seattle. Russell Wilson may do most of the running as passing as he has accounted for nearly all of Seattle’s offense both through the air and on the ground. As Wilson’s MVP caliber season continues Seattle will need yet another other worldly performance from him to get a crucial win at home.

Mike Davis has emerged as Seattle’s best back, and combined with Wilson’s ability to fool a defense with the run-pass option, should find holes in the gaps against Los Angeles. With at least a semblance of a run game, it will be tough for the Rams to keep up. Goff is emerging as a competent quarterback, but he still has a ways to go before being considered elite, or even able to keep up with the likes of Wentz and Wilson. Hawks win behind the support of a raucous 12th man (Seattle covers -2.5).

Tennessee Titans @ San Francisco 49ers

The once AFC South leading Tennessee Titans put on a monstrosity of a performance against a poor Cardinals team in week 14. That leaves us shaking our heads heading into the home stretch. The Titans merely need to win out to get in, with one of their last three games coming against what should be a very beatable 49ers team. The Niners have certainly gotten signs of life with the injection of Jimmy Garoppolo. Marquise Goodwin will present matchup problems for the Titans, who will likely need to use their speedster Adoree Jackson to attempt to tame Goodwin’s Olympic level wheels.

Marcus Mariota. What the heck?! What is going on?! We have no clue. Something isn’t quite right. Mariota still has the skills, smarts, and ability to be elite in this league, but something is off this year. A game against the Niners may be just what the doctor ordered. Where Tennessee finds themselves in the top ten in terms of total defense, the Niners find themselves in the bottom ten. That’s a recipe for a difficult game for Garoppolo and a bounce back for Mariota. Even on the road we are sticking with our guns when it comes to this Titans teams and Mariota. Sometimes you don’t have the answers, but have to trust the process. Look for Mariota to continue to build a rapport with rookie Corey Davis. The Titans will pound the rock with the best one two punch in the NFL once they get ahead. Titans get a crucial road win and we’ll take the points (+1.5).

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Murray and Henry give Tennessee a fighter’s chance in most every game. Image Credit: Tennessee Titans

New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The game we’ve all been waiting for! We stated this before, but it’s worth repeating: This game features two quarterbacks who have thrown for over 50,000 yards and won multiple Super Bowls each. Tom Brady heads into Big Ben’s stomping grounds to attempt to knock off the seemingly unstoppable Steelers. Pittsburgh seems to steal victory from the jaws of the defeat week after week. They’ll need to get up early in this one though as giving Brady any semblance of hope usually spells disaster.

What’s the recipe for success? The Steelers are arguably the most elite team in every facet of the game on offense. With Ben throwing much better of late, and the weapons at his disposal, you truly have to pick your poison and hope someone makes a mental mistake or rare blunder. Double AB? Okay, enjoy Le’Veon on a linebacker or under sized corner. Remember those guys JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant? They are matchup problems all their own. The offensive advantage lies with Pittsburgh in this one.

What does New England have going for it? Mainly the absence of all-pro linebacker Ryan Shazier. Without Shazier Pittsburgh has a huge hole in the middle of its defense. Look for Brady and Belichick to utilize Rex Burkhead and James White to exploit that. Not sure Dion Lewis will find much room to run against Pittsburgh’s front, but the other backs should find some wiggle room. Brandin Cooks will need to showcase his wheels as he’s going to draw Joe Haden as Haden is expected to return to action for Pittsburgh. Haden’s return is timely indeed as Cooks would’ve likely burned any other Steelers corner. The Patriots still have major problems on D with absence of Dont’a Hightower, and Stephon Gillmore will have his hands full with AB. The Steelers simply have too many advantages in this matchup. Pittsburgh wins and we’ll gladly take the points – which seems absurd (+3).

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Haden’s return will be a welcome one to Steeler nation. Image Credit: Behind The Steel Curtain

Sunday Night Football

Dallas Cowboys @ Oakland Raiders

America’s team versus America’s bad boys! A battle in the Bay with tons of playoff implications. The Cowboys head to Oakland to keep their hopes alive for a wild card spot, and the Raiders fight to remain in the hunt in the AFC West. Dallas, once reeling, now rolling again, will look to dominate the line of scrimmage and move the Raiders off the ball early. Oakland, a team who did much the same last season will hope to find some offense in a must win.

Dallas has seemingly found its form and is opening large holes in opposing defenses again. With only one week remaining in Ezekiel Elliott’s absence, the ‘Boys will add to the excitement if they hold on and win a third straight game. Dallas has the offense to light up Oakland’s poor secondary. Look for Dez Bryant to have a big game and the ‘Boys to will their way to a hard fought win against a good Raiders squad (‘Boys cover -3).

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Monday Night Football

Atlanta Falcons @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Another division battle for the Dirty Birds takes center stage. Being the defending NFC champ is both a blessing and a curse. Atlanta gets to showcasr yet again their superior speed and talent, but they also face their opponent’s best effort as top dawgs from 2016. Jameis Winston would love to be a damper on ATL’s post season hopes. He’ll target Mike Evans early and often to do so.

The Falcon’s chances lie with how well Matt Ryan performs. Three interceptions won’t get the job done. Last time these two met Julio Jones went off. He should find continued success against the Bucs below average secondary. If Atlanta’s D builds on their good work in New Orleans, it will be another long day for Tampa, but if the Falcons come out flat and play down to their opponent the Bucs will keep it interesting. As much fun as a close game is to watch, another must win for the Dirty Birds dictates the Falcons getting up early and running the beaten Bucs D into the ground. Falcons win and cover, setting the stage for an epic rematch with the Saints in week 16 (-6).

Thank you for reading, liking, loving, sharing and all of that other goodness! We hope you’ve enjoyed it and keep an eye out for our week 16 Christmas preview next week!

Thursday and Saturday, Yes Saturday Night Football!

That’s right ladies and gentlemen! We’ve come upon the part of the season where the NFL begins to flex it’s television muscle and consumes the majority of the weekend viewing schedule. It’s the time when the league has arguably the most intrigue with numerous games affecting one another and no pesky college football to compete for any meaningful ratings until January. So we’ll kick off our trifecta of pre-Sunday matchups with another Thursday night football affair, albeit one with the least intrigue yet or even of the three games in the buildup to Sunday.

We promised when we started TSO to provide complete coverage, like it or not, which means sometimes we might not always enjoy the matchup as much as others, but the games will be played and we will cover them.

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Thursday Night Football

Denver Broncos @ Indianapolis Colts

The 4 and 9 Denver Broncos head to Lucas Oil to take on the 3 and 10 Indianapolis Colts. I repeat. The 4 win and 9 loss Denver Broncos head to Lucas Oil Stadium to face the 3 win and 10 loss Indianapolis Colts. In primetime. I repeat. In primetime.

Ugh.

That is all.

Oh, that’s right, we still have to struggle to preview and pick this game. Denver’s defense is still solid, as they displayed last Sunday. There. That’s all the nice stuff I can put in here and it’s the holidays so I don’t wanna curse about how awful this game is going to be. The Trevor Siemian led Broncos will attempt to out-duel, nay, not out-stink the Jacoby Brissett led Colts. The rushing attacks don’t get much better as both teams insist on featuring the inferior athletes as the number ones. Yeah, that’s right. We said it! C.J. Anderson and Frank Gore don’t deserve to be their respective teams number one running backs. DeVontae Booker and Marlon Mack are both far superior talents at this point in their budding careers. Just add it to the plethora of reasons this game is going to lead to more head slapping than hand clapping.

We have one last reason if you can bear it. The receivers in this game are some of the best in the league. Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, T.Y. Hilton, and Donte Moncrief have all had stretches of top numbers in the game at the wide receiver position. The problem Thursday, however, is that those aforementioned “top numbers” were done with much better signal callers under center. Those four have to hope to catch passes in their vicinity thrown from Siemian and Brissett as opposed to Manning and Luck. Colts have home field advantage, but not much else going for them. In a game of who cares and evaluate what you have to rebuild for 2018 we’ll take the Broncos to win and cover (-2.5). 

Saturday, December 16th, 2017

Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions

NFC North division rivalry with playoff implications. Now we’re talking! The Lions must win to remain in the hunt for a final wild card spot, and the Bears would love nothing more to build on their win last week and play spoiler to their division foe. Stafford is another week removed from his injured finger, which should help his ability to swing it around the yard. The Bears stepped up in a big way defeating the Bengals and Mitchell Trubisky showed some of the mobility and smart decision making that made him the top pick in the 2017 draft.

The Bears will need more of that good play from their rookie to QB to hang close in this one. Stafford will undoubtedly connect with Marvin Lewis, Golden Tate, and possibly his rookie, Kenny Golladay. The Bears will need to run effectively with Jordan Howard and utilize Tarik Cohen out of the backfield as a pass catcher. Even with Chicago’s good defense, they won’t have enough in the tank to take down the playoff hungry Lions at home. Lions win but we’ll take the Bears with the points (+5.5).

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Tate will be crucial to a late season push by the Lions. Image Credit: Detroit Sports Nation

Los Angeles Chargers @ Kansas City Chiefs

The most intriguing game of the weekend may be Saturday night. The division leading Kansas City Chiefs host the red hot and streaking Los Angeles Chargers. The Chiefs just rebounded from a recent skid with a big division win against the Oakland Raiders. Now Kansas City will have to bring their A game to slow down the red hot Chargers. Kansas City looked much more like the Chiefs from the first half of the season against Oakland, and their ability to finally get Kareem Hunt going again was impressive. They’ll need more of Hunt and Tyreek Hill in this one.

The Chargers, well, what do you tell a team that hasn’t lost in over four weeks? Their last loss? An overtime loss to the Jaguars. Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen are on a roll unlike any other this season and if that continues any team will be hard pressed to keep pace. In week 13 Allen became the first wide receiver in the history of the NFL to record three consecutive games of 10 or more catches and 100 or more yards receiving. Rivers and Allen have developed a chemistry unmatched in the NFL. Did we mention that LA has Melvin Gordon, Hunter Henry, and rookie speedster Austin Ekeler? Oh, and some guy named Gates…

The offense has been great for the Chargers, but they’ve been winning on the back of their dominant defense. Joey Bosa is making a late season push for defensive player of the year, and Melvin Ingram is still a game wrecker in the middle of the field. Not to mention Casey Hayward, who will undoubtedly draw coverage on Tyreek Hill. The real key for LA will be if they choose to sit Ingram back and smother Travis Kelce, or trail Hunt out of the backfield. We think following Hunt would be a mistake and create a mismatch for KC to exploit all day long. Here’s to hoping Anthony Lynn is smarter than that.

This is going to come as a bit of a shock. Or maybe not if you check the Vegas line, but still…knocking off the Chiefs at home, in Arrowhead, the greatest home field advantage in the NFL, is impressive none-the-less. And that is how far the Chargers have come from losing their first four games to open the season. Los Angeles is the better team and they’ll prove it for the first time in a long time Saturday night in primetime. For all of the flack and grief Philip Rivers gets, he’s remained steady and righted this ship after what was shaping up to be a disaster of a second straight season. Kudos to the wily old vet for doing his damndest to keep his team in the hunt and give them a fighter’s chance down the stretch. Chargers win and cover, upsetting the AFC West apple cart and turning the division standings on its head from the beginning of the season (-1).

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Dynamic Duo. Allen and Rivers have been unstoppable of late and show no signs of slowing down in week 15.  Image Credit: Pro Football Spot

Thank you for reading! We appreciate all of the support and taking time out of your holiday season to like, love, and share the TSO goodness! Please check back for our full preview in a couple of days!

NFL Week 14: The Hits Keep Coming

No sense in burying the lead here. We’ll start with this:

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Image Credit: Deadspin

Spare me the, “Gronkowski’s not a dirty guy!” argument.

This hit is inexcusable in a league that is attempting to curb the effects of CTE caused by head trauma. A league, mind you, that claims to care deeply about its players well being. Interesting then that Gronkowski only received a one game suspension from the league office.

Let’s keep our narratives straight here as we dive deeper. So far we have an exonerated Ezekiel Elliott suspended six games for something he has never been convicted of or been proven to have done, but we have a 6’7″ 250 plus pound tight end throwing his elbow into the back of an opponent’s helmet only receive a one game suspension. Seems just and fair, right? And there’s the Monday night game between the Steelers and the Bengals…

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After leading with his helmet, Shazier dropped instantly following a tackle in the first quarter. Image Credit: Total Pro Sports

All pro and budding star linebacker, Ryan Shazier, of the Steelers made a hit over the middle on Bengals wide receiver, Josh Malone, and immediately fell to the ground in agony. Shazier led with his helmet, and unfortunately this isn’t the first time Shazier has done this.

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2016 NFL Playoffs – Shazier hits Bernard in what is know deemed an illegal fashion, leading with his helmet. Image Credit: The National

In 2016 Shazier broke Giovanna Bernard’s jaw leading with the crown of his helmet as he made a tackle on the Bengals running back in a playoff game. The cruel irony in all of this is that it was this hit that led to the NFL legislating against leading with the crown of one’s helmet in order to protect offensive players from injury; however, on Monday night it was Shazier who needed protection from himself. 

Football is a violent and physical game, but no one wants to see what happened to Shazier. Yes, the men who step out on the field every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday understand the risk, or at least that there is some, but possible paralyzation or worse are never in the cards. You can’t compete that way and if you attempted to you’d be paralyzed. The nature of competition in football is to put the fear of God in the other man so that maybe, just maybe, he flinches first. Then you’ve won. Or so they say. Because injuries like Shazier’s make us all take a step back and question what it is that is asked of these modern day gladiators.

Are we willing to continue watching to the point of death? Are we truly harkening back to the Gladiator days? “Are we not entertained?!” Seriously, we must all wrestle with the better sides of our demons as football fans. If we want better then we have to begin demanding better. We must demand that hits like Gronkowski’s or even JuJu Smith-Schuster’s….

Image Credit: ESPN MNF – choiz.me & CBS Boston – CBS Local

Yeah, you know, the hit from JuJu on Vontaze Burfict where, in a game where one man was already carted off of the field, the rookie Schuster-Smith decided the prudent thing to do was to stand over a man he had just leveled and likely concussed. Classy move rook.

It’s moments like these that make you question the sincerity of a league that preaches player safety, yet only suspends a budding star and standing superstar a mere one game. A man who was convicted of nothing, but involved in a topic that the league whiffed on years ago? Nearly half a season suspension! Men who literally act in defiance, contrary to written rules of play endangering and even celebrating injuring another player? One game….say what now?! You’ve got to be kidding me. The NFL has some skeletons in its closet and they are being brought to bear. Slowly but surely the NFL must address this stain on its legacy, or else “defending the shield” won’t be worth the overpriced dri-fit Tees it’s printed on.

Now that we’ve moved on from that fun bit, let’s get to the games!

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Nine and seven last week or 9 for 16 as we like to put it. One game off from our ten win mark in week twelve, so let’s see if we can’t get it back on track and even surpass our efforts from two weeks ago!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Early Games

Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills

We’re a bit crunched for time so we’ll keep this short. Both teams are out of playoff contention for all intents and purposes. Solidifying that fact for the Bills is that they will be trotting out Nathan Peterman for another round of pick six! Tyrod Taylor is still battling a leg injury and will miss week 14. Bills fans, for your sake let’s hope Peterman looks more competent than he did a few weeks ago. He may have his big target, Kelvin Benjamin back, “so we’re saying there’s a chance!”

Indy hasn’t been much better this season, but their D has improved all season. Typically they’ve played better at home than on the road, but we may see the Colts flex their muscle this week. Jacoby Brissett, T.Y. Hilton, and Frank Gore should all have big days. Also, we love “Shady” McCoy, so for the love of all that is good please Buffalo, trade him! It is a shame to watch talents like LeSean waste away out of the lights of primetime and robbing us fans of his unique skillset on full display. Colts win straight up. 

Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants

Well that was quick! One Geno Smith start and Eli Manning benching and one head coach firing. What’s that? The GM was fired too? Hah! Nice one Jerry Reese! Enjoy that early vacay! Everyone knew benching Eli wasn’t just a terrible call, it was a disloyal, dishonest, and cowardly move by a poor excuse for a GM and head coach. You drafted and traded for this mess of a team, you either take responsibility for the fall out and clean it up or see your yourself out. Good riddance. The Giants and Eli deserve better.

Down to the brass tax of this game. Sorry Giants fans, that’s about as nice as we’re going to get. You’re still a mess of a team, and unfortunately for you the Cowboys started to get some of their groove back this past week dominating at the line of scrimmage. Alfred Morris ran all over his old team and every facet of the ‘Boys game looked improve for their previous three game skid. That means bad news for the home team. Cowboys will get up early thanks to Dak and their offense and then ground and pound the game away, inching closer to that final playoff spot. (‘Boys cover -3.5)

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Morris celebrating a touchdown with his patented “home run” swing, may be hitting a couple of dingers in a great matchup against the Giants D this Sunday. Image Credit: 5pointsblue.com

Detroit Lions @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The 6 and 6 Lions head to Tampa where they’ll fight to keep their playoff hopes alive. It’s win or go home for the Lions. Fortunately for Detroit they’ll take on the abysmal 4 and 8 Bucs. Tampa Bay does have Jameis Winston back for another week, which does improve their chances of keeping this close. The Bucs also get back running back Doug Martin who is expected to play. For the first time since early on in the season the Bucs should have their full compliment of skill players on offense.

Will the talent on Tampa’s side be enough to knock off the better coached and more experienced Detroit squad? This sets up as the type of game that Tampa will surprise people with and win. We’ve held strong to our mantra at TSO however and believe defense and dominance up front matters. With that in mind, and Tampa ranked as the second worst defense in total yards allowed, we like the Lions to win straight up. 

Oakland Raiders @ Kansas Chiefs

Possibly the game of the week takes place at Arrowhead as the stumbling Chiefs look to right the ship against division foe Oakland. The Raiders come into town after two impressive performances by Marshawn Lynch, looking more and more like the Beast Mode of old as the season wears on. Lynch posted his first 100 yard game of the season against the reeling Giants. Giants yes, but still, it was an impressive effort from Lynch. Marshawn will be integral if the Raiders hope to make a run at the division or wild card in the AFC.

The Chiefs, once the cinderella darlings of the NFL, have fallen out of favor with fans and analysts alike during their skid. Losers of their last four, Kansas City is looking to find some rhythm heading into the post season, if they are to make it at all. Alex Smith did everything except play defense in New York last week, keeping alive the slimmest of MVP hopes for the crafty vet. For the Chiefs to get on track though they’ll need Kareem Hunt to start running like the breakout star he looked like through the first half of the season, and not the bust from the second half. It will also help if the Chiefs D can step up and stop allowing offenses to air it out all over the field on them. A task much more difficult with Marcus Peters’s absence.

Peters is serving an Andy Reid imposed one game suspension for his ridiculous antics in the team’s loss to the Jets, where Marcus threw a referee’s flag into the stands after disagreeing with a call. Kudos to Reid and the Chiefs for doing the right thing, imposing a just suspension even when the league did not. It’s nice to see some organizations do things the right way. Sometimes moves like this can cause a team to come together and gel as a unit. We think Reid galvanizes the troops and KC starts to resemble the team that terrified the league at home in Arrowhead. (Chiefs cover -4)

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Smith will need to avoid Mack and his disruptive ability in order to keep KC on track in week 14. Image Credit: ESPN.com

San Francisco 49ers @ Houston Texans

The Niners, winners of two of their last three, will look to build momentum in Houston against a decimated Texans squad. The Jimmy Garoppolo era has officially begun in San Francisco and he kicked off his first start in impressive fashion. The Niners most definitely are wanting for playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, but for now Garoppolo will have to do his best with Carlos Hyde and Marquise Goodwin. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan certainly have big plans for San Fran moving forward, but we’ll find a lot out about them as a team this week.

The Texans, for all of their faults, and there are many, still manage to impress on defense from time to time. Jimmy G and co. won’t find the going easy against a still solidly build Texans D. Even though it doesn’t make sense to keep starting Tom Savage when a player like Colin Kaepernick is available, Bill O’Brien be damned they keep doing it. Savage does find ways to get the ball in the area of DeAndre Hopkins who can bring down just about anything sharing the same zip code. Outside of that though the Texans struggle to find any offense. The Niners find another win, making it back to back, and their first road win of the season. (+3)

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Fist pump for the win, Jimmy G will look to build on his good work in week 14. Image Credit: Bleacher Report

Green Bay Packers @ Cleveland Browns

The Packers are hanging tough while they await Aaron Rodgers pending return. The Pack is holding out hope that Rodgers can return in time to send the Pack to the playoffs on the strength of yet another stretch run through December. To keep hope alive Green Bay will have to go through Cleveland. That may not sound all that difficult, but the return of Josh Gordon, coupled with the good play of Corey Coleman have made the Browns a formidable opponent.

In his first game back Gordon caught four passes for 85 yards. Impressive for a player who last took the field in 2014. The question for the Browns will be whether DeShone Kizer can continue to improve his play and decision making. Isiah Crowell should have a big day, and Gordon will feast on a below average secondary in Green Bay. Brett Hundley will need play more like the QB from Sunday night two weeks ago and less like the questionable decision maker from last week. Browns get their first win of the season off of a monster game from Josh “Flash” Gordon and Green Bay nears elimination from playoff contention. (+3)

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Gordon proved he hasn’t missed a step in his three years off the field. Image Credit: USA Today

Chicago Bears @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Chicago Bears take on the Cincinnati Bengals in the “only fantasy football players care about this game,” game. Yeah, we said it. As a football fan there is some intrigue in seeing what the young Bears squad will do against a good but not great Bengals team, but that’s about it. With their tough loss on Monday night to the Steelers, the Bengals all but lost their shot at a spot in the playoffs. Cincy played well on Monday night, and Andy Dalton specifically looked impressive in the driving rain.

The Bengals simply weren’t good enough in all phases this season. They are good, but they weren’t consistent, which is part and parcel of being “good enough”. In years past Marvin Lewis has been very adept at getting the Bengals the wins they need and contending when others though they wouldn’t. This season, even with a rookie running back who many thought would improve their running game, the Bengals bungled their way to irrelevance. The Bengals win for pride more than anything else, but the question will be whether Lewis’s coaching seat heats up. (Bengals win but don’t cover -6)

Minnesota Vikings @ Carolina Panthers

The game of the week is in Charlotte where an eight win Panthers team hosts the NFC leading Minnesota Vikings. We’ll keep saying this until it changes. The Vikings team lead by CASE-freaking-KEENUM! How?! We still aren’t sure. Keenum found another win in a close with Atlanta last week, but he’ll be tested yet again in week 14. It doesn’t seem to matter though as his superior athletic teammates continue making game changing plays, be it long tackle breaking runs or incredible catches. The Vikings continue to find a way to limit Keenum’s mistakes and capitalize on their field position afforded by their dominant defense.

The Panthers don’t have a talent even close to that of Julio Jones or dare we even say Mohamed Sanu, which means Rhodes will smother Devin Funchess. Newton will have to make plays with Christian McCafferey and tight end Greg Olsen (assuming Olsen’s able to go). Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith can run with McCafferey and contain him, meaning the X-factor will be Newton. Ron Rivera and Cam himself wouldn’t have it any other way. This will be difficult for Cam, but will tell us a lot about his development. If Newton can throw the ball away before the Vikings get to him, living to fight another day, Carolina has the D that can push back against Minnesota and pull out a win. If Cam does too much, it will be a long day for a Panthers fan base with high hopes. We’re banking on Keenum and the Vikings D disrupting the Panthers, even though we’re ready for this Minnesota mirage to wear off. (Vikes cover -2.5)

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Some way, some how, Keenum keeps finding improbable wins with the Vikings. Image Credit: Pioneer Press – twincities.com

Afternoon Games

Sometimes life gets in the way of football. Here’s the take on the afternoon games. Better late than never!

New York Jets @ Denver Broncos

Let’s talk about the Denver Broncos. There was a point in time a couple of years ago when TSO was admiring the skills of John Elway and his business savvy running the Denver Broncos. And while the Denver Defense is not bad there is not much else good to say about this team. Trevor Siemian has regressed. John Elway appears not to be able to make a decision that’s good for the team.

On the other side of this matchup there are the New York Football Jets. And while Josh McCown looks good and is playing well, the Jets simply should not win this football game. But they will. The Jets win and cover (-1).

Tennessee Titans @ Arizona Cardinals

The #2 receivers on opposing teams have big games against the Arizona Cardinals. Why? Because Patrick Peterson is the best thing the Cardinals have going and he will be covering Titan Rishard Matthews. This means that TSO expects Corey Davis and Delanie Walker to have good days. A really good day for Davis teeing up to have a breakout game. We’ll keep this one short because Tennessee will dominate and cover (-3).

Washington Redskins @ Los Angeles Chargers

You know how to spell mediocrity? R-E-D-S-K-I-N-S.

To believe in the Washington Redskins you have to believe in Samaje Perine and Jamison Crowder. And that’s not easy. And as of late it is becoming clear why the hesitation to pay Kirk Cousins the big bucks.

And these guys are playing the Chargers. Rivers has his good days, Melvin Gordon is solid and Keenan Allen is playing EXTREMELY well. (Did we say EXTREMELY well?)

The Chargers do struggle to put it together as a complete team but they are better than Washington. Chargers to win and cover (-6).

Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Rams

This may be the toughest call of the week.

But first – a confession. Carson Wentz reminds TSO of Brett Favre. We are fans and so TSO’s heart goes to the Eagles in this game. But unfortunately for Philly, that’s where it ends. Interesting Fact: The Philadelphia Eagles have only beaten ONE (1) Team with a winning record this season. Just ONE. (Eagles defeated the Carolina Panthers on October 12.)

And as for the Rams, well, they’re just a much better team. They are balanced. They can run and pass (short or down the field). They have a strong defense and are very well coached by Sean McVay even if he the youngest coach in the NFL. McVay came into the Rams organization and instead of imposing a system he assessed the talent and the team and is bringing the best out of Goff and Gurley (DGD) and the defense.

The Eagles got punched in the mouth last week by Seattle and TSO expects them to take another one this week at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams. Rams win and cover (-1).

Seattle Seahawks @ Jacksonville Jaguars

We’ll hit the highlights of this one for each team. Blake Bortles and the Jax Offense is just not good but the Jacksonville Jaguars defense is no joke. In fact, they are very good. TSO expects that D to pressure Russell Wilson and they may even get to him once or twice during the game.

But c’mon. Russell Wilson is playing at the top of his game. He is big and has a cannon for an arm. He escapes tackles and makes plays. He is involved in and responsible for almost ALL of the Seattle Touchdowns this year. Russell Wilson will be the one to frustrate the good defense of Jacksonville and not the other way around. Seattle wins and we will absolutely take the points (+3).

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

If this game were in Baltimore we’d lean heavily on the Ravens as they are tough to beat at home in December. The Ravens D is rocking and rolling. Also rocking? The Killer B’s in black and yellow. Ben, Bell, and Brown are on a roll, and Martavis Bryant has been stepping up too. Will Flacco be able to keep pace?

This should be a big game for Danny Woodhead as we expect the Ravens to play catch up. Since losing Joe Haden the Steelers secondary has been exposed, but will one of the worst passing offenses in football be able to take advantage of it? Flacco has looked awful at times, and Maclin nor Wallace have stepped up to fill the void left since Steve Smith Sr. retired. Paging Perriman, Breshard? The former first rounder has been quiet as well. The Steelers won’t have Ryan Shazier as we’ve noted, but will it help Baltimore?

Alex Collins has been on a tear of late, but he will hit a wall against the Steel Curtain. Flacco is going to have to air it out, and the Ravens will need to keep an eye on the clock as the last time the Steelers played them they gave Lev Bell over 30 touches. Bell will gladly do the same thing with a Steelers lead and game in hand. Too much offense for Pitt. (Steelers cover -4.5).

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Ringing their bell. Le’Veon ran all over Baltimore in their first matchup and we expect more of the same in this one. Image Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Monday Night Football

New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins

We know New England is going to win this game, but what fun is that? In the next few minutes we’ll endeavor to convince you otherwise. We’ll seek to convince that these Fins can in fact swim! We know, we know, Jay Cutler….woof….but hear us out…

With Gronkowski out, the Dolphins win the receiving corps and tight end matchup. The Dolphins have superior talent with Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and tight end Julius Thomas. The Pats may get Chris Hogan back, which will be a huge boost to a Pats squad that is down to Brandin Cooks. Granted, Brady uses Burkhead as an H-do-it-all style back, but still, the advantage in terms of talent certainly lies with the Dolphins. Will Smokin’ Jay Cutty be able to get it to his weapons? We think there’s reason for optimism.

Expect New England’s secondary led by Stephon Gilmore and Malcom Butler to attempt to do some ball hawking and bait Cutler into ill advised throws as Jay has want to do. To counter this Adam Gase will utilize Landry in the slot to excess, as well as Thomas and Kenyan Drake out of the backfield. Drake being the key here. We know what Landry and Thomas are capable of, but what drives Bill Belichick crazy is the unknown. The Evil Genius has little to no tape on Drake outside of his days at ‘Bama and their one matchup when Drake was still splitting snaps. Drake is unleashed as the lead back and he is a beast.

Drake has the size, 6’1″ 200+ lbs., and speed, clocking a 4.45 forty time at his combine, and if you’ve watched him run you’ve seen his elusiveness. Head coaches don’t just let running backs like Jay Ajayi go if there isn’t a. an irreparable issue in the locker room and/or b. an even more talented player waiting in the wings. In the Ajayi and Drake case it looks like both ingredients were present. Without Dont’a Hightower the Pats will struggle to contain Drake. His ability to blow past defenders and work well in space will help the Dolphins win the field position game, which drives Brady and Belichick mad.

Once you flip the field a couple of times and come away with points you can make Brady press. If Brady presses, he should find Cooks doubled with safety help over the top, meaning he’ll look to Burkhead or Hogan (assuming Chris gives it a go). Now it will be up to the big boys up front, Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh, to earn those big paychecks. If Wake and Suh can move Brady off his spot and get a sack or two, the Dolphins have a recipe for success against their division foes. Odds are high the Pats attempt to speed the game up early before ground and pounding with Burkhead and Lewis, but for kicks we think it doesn’t work! Dolphins win in a shocking upset and we’ll gladly take the points (+11). 

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Break-away speed. Drake will be key for a Dolphins upset. Image Credit: AL.com

Thank you so much for keeping up with us and continuing to like, love, share, follow, and all that good social media stuff! The support is greatly appreciated and doesn’t go unnoticed. We’ll work to be a bit more diligent at getting these updates out as we close out 2017. Again thank you and happy watching!

NFL Week 14 TNF: New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons – Battle in the Dirty South

The best TNF game yet! Okay, we may be biased as anyone who has read TSO probably knows we are big homers for our Dirty Birds! All the same though, we’ve got two offensive juggernauts, never mind last week’s 9 point stinker by the Falcons, facing off in the new Mercedes Benz Dome. Before we get to the excitement, we must touch on what we’ll have to dig into deeper in our full preview out later this week.

The NFL has a big problem on its hands. With our newfound awareness of the problems that contact football can lead to, specifically head trauma caused by repeated and big blows to the head and neck areas, week 13 highlighted the lack of progress that has been made. The Monday Night Football game alone was enough to show that players aren’t taking this seriously enough, and based on the meek suspensions and fines handed down thus far, neither is the league office. One of the NFL’s biggest stars, Rob Gronkowski laid his elbow to the back of a defenseless Tre-Davious White following an interception. We’ll spare you the difficulty of the image here *note – it is likely to be included in the full preview – but it is the epitome of what the NFL claims to have been legislating against for the past five to ten years since the CTE awakening.

*Confession – Since CTE became so prevalent, it’s been more difficult for us to remain as avid fans of a sport that has such grave consequences. Granted, many men and women have used the good fame and fortune the sport generates to help others. Developing discipline, teamwork, and fortitude are all useful skills that can be learned from organized football; however, there is a dark side to the physicality and violence of the game and week 13 did no favors to a league that wishes to continually grow and expand its fan and consumer base.

Okay, back to the game for now, more on the former topic later.

Thursday Night Football

New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons

So many storylines and so little time! The matchup between the Saints and the Falcons has intrigue across the board. Atlanta is favored, but we expect they’d have been more highly favored were it not for their 9 point offensive stinker last week against the Vikings. As a Falcons fan I share in the frustration. I witnessed Julio Jones do this same thing last season. One week Julio blows up, the next he’s smothered by opposing defenses and nowhere to be found. This inconsistency has characterized his and the Falcons past few seasons offensively. One week the Dirty Birds look like they are going to light the NFL world on fire and the next they go quiet.

The Saints on the other hand are the yin to Atlanta’s yang. New Orleans is nothing if not consistently dominant offensively. It’s rare to see the Saints not put up 20 points or more, but what’s so unique about this season is that they are doing it with more balance. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have combined to rush for over 2,000 yards and more than 711 more yards than the next closest running back duo. Quite the slap in the face to my Birds who boasted one of the most dominant backfield duos in Coleman and Freeman in 2016. Ingram is a little banged up, but he is expected to play so it will be interesting to see which backfield creates the biggest highlight on Thursday night.

This game, like most in football, will come down to the play of the quarterback and defense. New Orleans D had quite a run during the middle of the season where they looked dominant. That dominance has since waned *as TSO predicted it inevitably would – and the Saints have settled back to the middle of the road D the underlying numbers suggest they are. Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore returns this week for the Saints and not to be outdone, Atlanta’s all-pro cornerback Desmond Truuuuuuuu-fant will take the field as well for the Falcons. Look for Lattimore to attempt to cover Julio on the outside while Trufant spends the majority of his time on Michael Thomas.

The big names on these teams are in the backfield, under center, and on the outside, but this game will be won on the front lines and in the trenches. If the Saints up their defensive efforts and keep the Falcons off the field and out of sustained drives, they will expand their opportunity to make plays in the running game and find holes in the secondary. Let’s not forget that Drew Brees is a bad man. Give him time and chances and he’ll light up any defense in the league, even a fast and swarming Dan Quinn coached one. We think this goes slightly different than many expect. The Falcons are looking to build their strength in the secondary, but at the moment it’s with the dogs, linebackers and linemen up front. With the speed of players like Deion Jones, Takkarist McKinley, and Vic Beasley, the Falcons D swarms Brees and the Saints and forces them into uncomfortable third and longs and three and outs.

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Brees (left) and Ryan (right) will renew their rivalry Thursday night. Two of the best doing battle will be must see TV. Image Credit: Daily Mail

Similar to their fellow coached brethren in Seattle, the Falcons are one of the best in the NFL at breaking up short screen passes and misdirection throw back plays. While NOLA will look to get the ball to Kamara on such plays we think the Birds break those up before they get going, preventing the big Kamara gainer that has lead to so many game changing plays out of the Saints backfield. Limiting Kamara is half the battle as Atlanta will need to generate pressure on Brees with their pass rush. Bringing an extra man isn’t a good idea as Brees is one of the best in the business at diagnosing the blitz and taking advantage of the mismatches created by it. Instead, Atlanta will rely on Claiborne, McKinley, and Beasley to get to Brees on their own. New Orleans wasn’t as bad last season as their record indicated, but they also aren’t as good this season as their record indicates. Saints are brought back down to earth by the Falcons. Dirty Birds win a close one and keep the NFC South as tight as any division in the NFL as the playoff hunt and wild card chase heats up! (Falcons cover -1)

PS – These Color Rush uniforms are gonna be fire! (Image Credit: Atlanta Falcons & NFL)

Thank you for reading and please look out for our full preview later this week. As always please continue liking, loving, sharing and supporting. Your support and feedback is greatly appreciated! Go Dirty Birds!