So we are finally here. Super Bowl LII is almost upon us. These two weeks of hype always kill me…of course especially when the hometown team New England Patriots are in the actual game. The two weeks did help me for sure in one case however…it allowed Rob Gronkowski enough time to shake the cobwebs (literally) and allow him to suit up in the game. No need to speak about how important that is.
Did I pass my time last Sunday by watching the Pro Bowl? Ummmmm…no. But I suppose I should have watched that mess instead of what was probably the worst Grammy telecast of all time. But that’s a story for a different day.
By the way, did you know that David Carr was in the Pro Bowl? That guy had a putrid season. How the hell…nevermind. Another story for another day.
Time to get to the matter at hand…
Philadelphia “at” New England (-4.5)
Last year, I thought New England was going to hammer Atlanta from the get-go. Although I do think the Pats could win big here, I won’t make that mistake again.
Just once…ONCE…I would like to see a Pats blowout win in the Super Bowl. Win or lose, I am tired of the nerve-wracking endings in the Big Game during the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. I know, cry me a river, right? The Pats have been to 8 Super Bowls with that duo, what the hell am I complaining about? My apologies. But I still want that comfortable blowout. And for those of you that may say, “well, the Falcons were blowing the Pats out late in the third quarter and THEY lost. You really can’t feel comfortable until the clock reads 0:00…”. That may be true in theory, you would be absolutely correct. I am generally a “0:00 guy”…talk to me when the game is officially over…in any sport. But I would also assure you the Pats ain’t blowing that type of lead that late. Sorry. So the chances that I would be comfortable under that scenario would probably be pretty good.
In any event, I don’t think I will ever find that comfort. It appears the formula seems to be set in the Super Bowl for the Patriots: don’t score in the first quarter, continue feeling the game out in the second quarter, make halftime adjustments and show some life in the third quarter, head into the fourth quarter down (just hopefully not to the tune of 28-3 or 28-10 or the like), score late to secure the victory…or give up a miracle catch near the end and lose a heartbreaking one. 3 point game in the end either way. Hard to go against what seems to be habit.
Enough of the preamble. Let’s get down to brass tacks. Although I have not watched a ton of Eagle football this season and sure as hell have not studied any of their game film. But after soaking in all the hype for the past two weeks, here are some thoughts/concerns on the game/matchups/etc., in no particular order:
*The Eagle defensive line scares the bejesus out of me because, well, the Patriot offensive line scares the bejesus out of me. That one is easy. No, Chris Long doesn’t necessarily make me nervous. But Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham kind of do. The good thing is that the Eagles apparently like to rotate these guys to keep them fresh. Why is that good? The Patriots can presumably go no huddle the times that the backups are in the game. Thus obviously keeping the starters on the bench. Unless the Eagles are willing to take penalties and/or use timeouts. Which also would be beneficial to the Pats. Not to mention the fact that running a lot of plays would seem to wear down those fat hogs on the line and perhaps the defense as a whole. See, Falcons, Atlanta, Super Bowl LI.
*Malcolm Jenkins seems to have a reputation of being a very good player. However, the rest of the secondary and linebacking corps don’t necessarily make me fret. Saw a stat recently that showed that Philly’s defense is rather pedestrian on the road, for whatever reason. Minneapolis is not Philadelphia, as you are well aware. Eli Manning also carved them up late in the season, while having virtually zero weapons on offense. This should make Eagle fans a little nervous since, you know, Manning is done.
If Jenkins and say, a linebacker, take Gronk, then that leaves the rest of the secondary to take on the Patriot receivers. Brandin Cooks had a pretty good game against Jacksonville, despite one horrific drop. Danny Amendola is money. But I also have a gut feeling that this is the week that Chris Hogan decides to show up again. I wouldn’t bet serious money on it, but it’s a lingering thought I haven’t been able to dismiss. Would be a nice story, since Hogan has been hurt/invisible for most of the year. We’ll see…
*Doug Pederson is from the “Andy Reid coaching tree”. What that essentially means is if this game is close in the 4th quarter, expect horrible game decisions and inexcusable clock mismanagement. There is no way around that. Pederson is also coaching in his first Super Bowl (with a backup quarterback…more on him next), Belichick his eighth. This fact simply cannot be overstated.
*If Carson Wentz was playing in this game, I may have a different prediction. Maybe not, but the point is moot. Nick Foles is the QB. Foles had a monster season a few years back in his first go-round in Philly. But has done little since. Ergo, that’s why he is a backup QB.
People seem to be overrating Foles at this point, simply because he had that one monster year and…he did play well against a good Viking defense in the NFC Championship. But have those same people seen the rest of the games Foles played this year? Wasn’t pretty. In fact, the Eagles had to go back to some plays that were in Chip Kelly’s playbook to make Foles feel more comfortable. I don’t necessarily think this is a great thing. Kelly is also close pals with Belichick. And likely is still vengeful toward the Eagles after his treatment there. Maybe he deserved it, but still, that doesn’t change his feelings. In any event, I’m guessing there was a conversation between Bill and Chip during the prep time. Of course, Pederson also probably spoke to Reid as well, so maybe it’s a wash.
One thing is for sure though…Nick Foles is not going to single-handedly beat the Patriots.
*I’m praying that Pederson runs the ball 40 plus times with LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi to “keep the ball out of Brady’s hands”. This will not beat the Patriots. Will he be that stupid? I don’t think so, but you can’t underestimate some people. Oh, and if Blount can fumble early in the game like last year, that would help me a great deal. Thank you in advance.
*Speaking of Philly running backs, we all know Blount has hands of stone and judging by the numbers, Ajayi doesn’t do much damage catching the ball either. This is favorable for the Pats. We know their linebackers may be the worst collection of stiffs I have ever seen. I don’t care how many sacks special teamer Marquis Flowers had in the last two regular season games against the Bills and Jets. And if I see Elandon Roberts try to cover ANYONE in the Bowl…
*One big concern for the Patriot defense against the Philly offense is that Philly doesn’t have that ONE dude that Bill usually likes to take out of the game and let the others beat them. They have a bunch of dudes that can do some things. This undoubtedly makes things a little more difficult to prepare for. My guess is that they try to take away tight end Zach Ertz first. But then you have Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and to a lesser extent, Blount and Ajayi and to an even lesser extent, but perhaps on a deep shot or two, Torrey Smith. Corey Clement may actually be someone to fear more than a smidge as well. As poor as the Patriots’ third down defense has been recently, this has to be a big concern for the team. Even with the two weeks to prepare. A lot of options.
*One thing about the Eagle offense that they themselves should be concerned about is that Jason Peters is not at left tackle. Peters is supposed to be awesome, from all the people who actually watch offensive line play. But he is hurt. His backup, some Vaitai character with a real long first name, has apparently struggled. The Pats D-Line is no juggernaut, as we all know. But maybe Trey Flowers makes his presence felt?
*Aside: Philly fans are absolute lunatics. This is absolutely no secret. I’m glad I’m not in Minny, as one of them may try to set me on fire. Better to let them do that to someone else.
*Aside, Part II: Loved Jeffery predicting a win. You be you, brutha! Don’t teams ever learn?
*Aside, Part III: Just for fun, with everyone on the active roster being “healthy” (ie: not injured enough to be listed on the injury report), here’s my take on the inactive list: Mike Gillislee (wasted year), David Harris (why bother even having him this season?), Alan Branch (too bad he apparently packed it in this year. He’s pretty damn good when he’s engaged), Bernard Reedy (who?), Kenny Britt (glad you came for the ride!), Jacob Hollister (sorry, just no room kid) and…Cole Croston (yup…who?). That seemed fairly easy, though don’t rule out Belichick surprising people. Like the year he released Tiquan Underwood the day before the Super Bowl, so he could activate someone from the practice squad (Alex Silvestro and yes, I just had to look that up) to have an extra defensive lineman available.
*Aside, Part IV: I don’t want to hear any more about injuries…Wentz’ specifically. Sure, having him healthy and active would probably put a different spin on this game. But you don’t think the Pats wish they had Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower, among others? EVERY team loses key players EVERY season. Deal with it.
*Aside, Part V: I don’t want to hear about the officials either. The Patriots have historically have had plenty of bogus calls go against them as well. No different from any other team. Those things tend to even out over time. And I would bet that officiating will not be a factor in this years’ Super Bowl either.
*Dion Lewis…PLEASE hang on to the ball. Thank you. I have a hunch you may be catching the ball quite a bit and not running it as much. Hopefully that helps.
*Rex Burkhead WILL make a few plays. Perhaps out of the slot.
*Stephen Gostkowski has had a nice career. But my confidence, and likely Patriot fans’ confidence, in him is not where it was a few years back. Let’s make him a non-factor, ok?
*With “Tom vs. Time” and “The Two Bills” and all that crap going on this week, it would appear Brady and Belichick are putting some unnecessary pressure on themselves to win this game. Like, why did they do these now? Tom certainly and Bill probably had some say in when these would come out. Why add this to the mix before the game if you really don’t need to? It probably doesn’t matter, what do I know? It just doesn’t seem like normal operating procedure for the two of them though.
Ok, that seems like enough. Prediction time…oh, one more thing. I love Seth Wickersham of ESPN picking the Pats to win 38-9. Yeah, the same guy who wrote that piece about New England organizational discord several weeks ago. I’d love to have his back on that prediction and see it come to fruition. But…
New England 27, Philadelphia 24.
Week (against the spread): 1-1
Week (straight up): 2-0
Season (against the spread): 142-124
Season (straight up): 180-86
Not a banner week for the Blowhard in the Divisional Round. Let’s see what we can come up with for the Conference Championship games:
Jacksonville at New England (-7.5)
This one opened up with a spread of 9 or 9.5, depending on who you may pay attention to. Now it’s 7.5. Maybe it goes lower by kickoff. Why? Tom Brady’s hand of course! No one knows how bad the thing is. He missed a couple of practices. He goes around with gloves on. He says “we’ll see” when asked if he will suit up on Sunday. No one on New England is going to give us any insight of course. But you know what I say?
Please. Brady ain’t missing this game, regardless of the condition of his hand. Well, if it was cut off, he may be forced to miss the game. But short of that, he’s playing. Make no mistake about that.
Furthermore, make no mistake that the Pats are still going to win this game handily, even with some sort of injured Brady under center. I’m going to stop short at this time of saying they would still win with backup Brian Hoyer at the helm. But I would still feel pretty confident. And don’t get me going on how the Pats should still have Jimmy Garoppolo…
In any event, I cannot believe how many people think that Jacksonville is some sort of elite team. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Has anyone looked at their schedule? 6 games against powerhouses Tennessee, Indianapolis and Houston. Additional tilts against the Jets, Cardinals, Bengals and Browns. An early season trouncing of the Ravens…when Baltimore was atrocious. I am simply not impressed.
The defense? Sure, they are pretty good. They have some names. They had 4 or 5 Pro Bowlers and/or All-Pros. But they apparently also had half their season’s sacks in 4 games against the Texans and Colts. They also gave up 44 to a certainly rejuvenated San Francisco team with two weeks left in the regular season, but also a Niner team that does not have a ton of weapons. Not to mention the Jags had something to play for still at 10-4 and in the mix for even the top seed at that point. Then they gave up 42 to a certainly talented (offensively) Pittsburgh team last week. But 42 nonetheless.
The Jag offense? 45 points last week. But against a Steeler defense that was horrendous this year, especially down the stretch. Plus, oh yeah, the Steelers didn’t actually prepare for the Jags I don’t think. They did think they were automatically coming to Foxborough this week, after all. Let’s not forget that the Jags scored a mere 10 points, at home, against the vaunted Buffalo Bill defense the week before in the wild card round. I think the Jags offense is closer to the one from the Bills game than the one from the Steelers game.
Going back to the Jags D…the one concern I would have is their defensive line against the Patriots’ offensive line. But the stud corners (A.J. Bouye & Jalen Ramsey)? Not concerned. Why? No Patriot wide receiver, other than perhaps Danny Amendola, will make an impact in this game. It will all be the running backs and tight ends. Gronk, Dion Lewis, James White and I’m guessing Rex Burkhead will be the main focus in this game. Those corners can take away Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan all they want. Who cares?
Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and the Pats will shut down Leonard Fournette and make Blake Bortles beat them. Which has absolutely zero chance of happening. Brady’s bum hand or not.
New England 31, Jacksonville 13.
Minnesota (-3.5) at Philadelphia
This one is a little tougher to predict. I know, Captain Obvious.
When Carson Wentz went down, it appears that most people wrote the Eagles off for the year. Especially after replacement Nick Foles threw in a couple of clunkers down the stretch. Hell, the Blowhard had them losing to Atlanta last week. We absolutely wrote them off.
You know what though? I’m reconsidering my stance.
Especially since Case Keenum is on the other side.
Sure, Keenum has had a pretty good year. Maybe made himself some good money in the upcoming offseason. But the fact remains that the Vikings should be home playing golf this weekend. That prayer at the end of the New Orleans game has kept them in the tournament. But, speaking of prayers, Keenum threw up a couple of ill-advised (to be kind) passes in that game that could have taken the Vikes out of it even earlier. He didn’t exactly look like a “playoff QB” in that tilt. Not to mention that Coach Mike Zimmer seemingly has been looking for a reason to put Sam Bradford back in the mix for quite some time. But he’s been forced to ride Keenum’s hot run out. I don’t blame Zimmer for that. He’s kind of had to. But it seems like he doesn’t have a whole lot of confidence in Case himself.
Yup, Foles is no gimme either. But I think he plays things a little closer to the vest. I think he does anyway. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, being a little conservative should be a benefit in this game.
The defenses should both be stout. The QB’s should both be average. The running games should both be busy and decent. Philly being at home should have some sort of advantage.
This game is probably going to be low scoring and could very well be decided by a simple mistake. Who’s more likely to make that mistake, Keenum or Foles? I think you already know my answer. But don’t hold it against me if somehow Bradford finds his way into the game and changes the Vikings fortunes. I have to assume he won’t be going in.
And for whatever it’s worth…I still don’t think the Vikes will be the first team to play in their home stadium in a Super Bowl. Just a gut feeling there.
Philadelphia 20, Minnesota 17.
Week (against the spread): 1-3
Week (straight up): 2-2
Season (against the spread): 141-123
Season (straight up): 178-86
Diving right in:
Chicago at Detroit (-5.5)
I wanted to take the Bears in this one. I really did. I don’t believe in the Lions at all. But I’m also not going to get fooled by the Bears’ blowout against the Bengals last week. After 5 straight losses. That result shouldn’t fool anyone. Chicago lost at home to Detroit about a month ago and obviously would like to avenge that loss…while at the same time hurting Detroit’s playoff hopes. I can’t do it though, even if the Lions are banged up on the O-Line.
Detroit 24, Chicago 13.
Los Angeles Chargers (-1.5) at Kansas City
Two teams seemingly headed in different directions in recent weeks. But did the Chiefs get back on track with last weeks win against Oakland? This may go against my better judgement, but I am saying yes…for this week anyway. Sure I was speaking highly of the Chargers last week, who again could be something like 9-4 if they had a kicker. But this week I am pumping the brakes a little bit.
Kansas City 30, Los Angeles Chargers 24.
New York Jets at New Orleans (-15.5)
15.5 is a large number. But two words will make you feel better about taking the Saints: Bryce Petty. That, in and of itself, should be enough. But throw in the fact that the Jets Offensive Coordinator very publicly said he gave up in last week’s game, the Muhammad Wilkerson benching, the Saints’ 5-1 record at home, the Saints having ten days to prepare and New Orleans needing to keep winning because of the tight NFC South division they are in and for the playoff race…well, that’s many more reasons to expect a blowout here.
New Orleans 45, New York Jets 10.
Houston at Jacksonville (-11.5)
11.5 is another large number…especially for an unproven “contender” like the Jaguars. Sure, the Jags did beat Seattle last week. And their D is apparently top-notch. But what does that mean now? Not sure. That being said, looks like the Texans are going with T.J. Yates on Sunday. Once again, this alone should make one feel comfortable about laying the points.
Jacksonville 33, Houston 7.
Philadelphia (-7.5) at New York Giants
The G-Men actually were tied with Dallas about midway through the fourth quarter last Sunday…until the ‘Boys finally snapped out of it and blitzed in 3 touchdowns immediately after that. Will there be some sort of hangover for the Eagles, what with them losing Carson Wentz for the year this past week? Possibly. But it will take much less than three and a half quarters for them to shake it off. The Iggles should still win this one pretty handily, even with Nick Foles at the helm.
Philadelphia 34, New York Giants 14.
Miami at Buffalo (-3.5)
Tyrod Taylor is back. Yaaaaay! In all seriousness though, that is good news with Joe Webb being the only alternative. The ‘Phins looked pretty damn good in beating the Pats Monday night. Or did the Pats just look that bad? I am certainly a total homer, but I think it is more the latter. And Miami only won by 7 in the end, sad considering how it looked like they had total control of the game at all times. In any event, I don’t expect Jay Cutler to put together standout performances two weeks in a row. And although the game in Miami Monday had the temperatures in the 50s…of course cold for Miami…in Buffalo what will it be in Sunday, the 20s? That’s not going to help the Dolphins.
Buffalo 21, Miami 17.
Baltimore (-6.5) at Cleveland
Yup, the Ravens did kind of choke away their game against the Steelers last week. But here they are again in the mix to get into the playoffs, with a pretty easy schedule remaining. The Browns have had chances to win a game this season plenty of times. But I don’t think that’s a realistic option this week. Even if Josh Gordon goes off for 300 yards receiving or something.
Baltimore 27, Cleveland 17.
Cincinnati at Minnesota (-10.5)
The Bengals stink and I don’t even want to talk about them.
Minnesota 31, Cincinnati 9.
Arizona at Washington (-4.5)
A couple of teams playing out the string. The Cards still appear to be competing, and I suppose are still technically alive in the playoff chase…even with the immortal Blaine Gabbert under center. On the flip side, the ‘Skins may have already packed it in. Maybe it’s all the injuries, but it’s been an ugly last couple of games for Washington.
Arizona 20, Washington 17.
Green Bay at Carolina (-2.5)
Aaron Rodgers is back. That’s nice. But does it get them a win against the 9-4 Panthers? Well, they may not get behind consistently, as in the “Brett Hundley era”, where they had to come back late the last couple of weeks to beat bad teams to stay in the playoff chase. But I am not sure it gets them a win. Will Rodgers show some rust? Likely. Maybe he will shake it off quickly, but who knows? Taking the safe route here.
Carolina 27, Green Bay 24.
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle (-1.5)
Second tough one in a row for the Rams, after losing a tight one to the Eagles last week. Now they have to go to Seattle to face a team that already beat them in LA earlier this year. If the Seahawks do win, they take over first place and, based on whatever else happens by the end of the weekend, could actually knock the Rams out of the top 6 in the conference. Yes, there are two weeks left after that, but that is still a kind of surprising turn of events. Seattle tried to come back against the Jags last week…as Russell Wilson has been pretty amazing in the 4th quarter all by himself this season…but came up short. The ‘Hawks are hurting all around, but you can’t ever count them out.
Seattle 34, Los Angeles Rams 27.
New England (-2.5) at Pittsburgh
I love it how after a game in which the Patriots and, in particular, Tom Brady, play atrociously, then the sky is falling, the Pats “dynasty” is over and Brady is washed up. Happens at least once a year and then the Pats and Brady then repeatedly prove everyone wrong. Now look, this all will happen someday. The Pats are banged up, Brady included. Pittsburgh is a pretty good team, albeit one that gave up 38 to a poor Raven offense last week. But will it happen this year? No. And not this week. If it does, then it may be time to worry. Let’s also not forget that for whatever reason Brady sucks in Miami. And it was the second time in three weeks playing the Dolphins. And the Pats, though they will never admit it, were likely looking past Miami to this one. In the whole scheme of things, that game meant nothing. This game means everything. I’m expecting a few bodies to come back and for the ship to right itself. If I am wrong we will deal with that next week.
New England 42, Pittsburgh 34.
Tennessee at San Francisco (-1.5)
The Titans are probably the worst 8-5 team in the league. Wait…only Atlanta and Seattle are 8-5 across the league, so that claim was too easy. Anyway, when is this Marcus Mariota kid going to take the next step? I am not impressed. Look at their schedule and results this year. Unimpressive, to be kind. They’ve actually given up 21 more points than they have scored on the season. Though they can pretty much thank two blowout losses to the Texans and Steelers for that. But still. This team does nothing for me and with any luck they will make the playoffs and the AFC Championship and the Pats can blast them easily en route to the Super Bowl. Ok, I’m getting off track…and waaaaaaaaaaaay ahead of myself. In any event, they aren’t that good. The Niners appear to be better now that Jimmy Football is in charge. SF is at home. I’m going 49ers.
San Francisco 17, Tennessee 16.
Dallas (-2.5) at Oakland
Two teams with high expectations coming into the season. Both underachieving, to say the least. No Zeke for Dallas hasn’t helped. I’m not sure what Oakland’s problem has been…other than the fact that Jack del Rio is their coach. And their receivers drop like 20 balls a game. We will have to get through this one in prime time somehow. Not expecting much.
Dallas 31, Oakland 17.
Atlanta (-6.5) at Tampa Bay
Speaking of prime time, we have this on Monday. Tampa has lost 7 of 9, with the two wins against the Jets and Dolphins. The Falcons have been inconsistent this year, but have won 4 of 5, with the loss coming to Minnesota. This one shouldn’t be close. I’m sure Atlanta will make it closer that it has to be however.
Atlanta 30, Tampa Bay 17.
Week (against the spread): 1-0
Week (straight up): 1-0
Season (against the spread): 113-96
Season (straight up): 137-72