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Conference Championships…

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?

Hand, schmand!!

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

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Week Fifteen…

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

Foaming at the mouth…

So the last couple of weeks have been dominated by the Boston “winter” sports teams in this space.  There’s been plenty of other stuff going on, so I’m dumping it all here, like it or not.  Ready?  Again, in no particular order…

*One last Celtics note to start though:  About 30 seconds after posting my last piece I found out Isaiah Thomas wasn’t getting suspended for popping Dennis Schroder in Game 3.  So I guess you can disregard an entire paragraph wasted on worrying about his potential suspension.  Timing…always been a strong suit of mine…either way though, the C’s dodged a bullet there.

*If Steven Wright is still pitching this well when all the Red Sox’ injured starters come back, he better stay in the rotation.  David Price will obviously keep his spot.  Can’t see Rick Porcello and his contract go to the bullpen.  Never been a bullpen guy.  Same for Clay Buchholz.  Eduardo Rodriguez is a starter and you want that youth and potential ace material in the rotation.  But if they try to stick Joe Kelly back in the rotation at Wright’s expense…ugh.  Of course, Wright could suck by then.  And there is the strong likelihood that Bucky will get hurt anyway.  So the solution will probably sort itself out.  Surely with no help from John Farrell though.

*Speaking of Price, I am not worried about him at this point.  But I can say it was pretty disturbing to cough up a 5-1 first inning lead against a team whose lineup is absolutely putrid.  Especially since I witnessed it live.

*Along the same lines as Wright getting yanked around all the time despite pitching well, may I present you…Heath Hembree?  Same deal.  These two guys always seem to get outs when given the chance, only to be the first guys discarded because they have options or whatever other reason.  I know, I know, it’s not like they have had a long run of success in the majors.  And maybe they don’t always pitch in high leverage situations, especially Hembree out of the ‘pen.  But have you seen enough of guys like Noe Ramirez?  Seems like that dude has pitched in every game this year…and not exactly that well.  Matt Barnes?  Tommy Layne?  Why don’t teams always just go with guys that actually, you know, get outs?  I get it…contracts, options, whatever…but isn’t the goal to win?

*Another thing likely no one cares about:  Edwin Escobar got designated for assignment this week by the Sox.  Who is Edwin Escobar, you ask?  Well, he and Hembree were the return in the trade of Jake Peavy in 2014.  Escobar was thought of as having some decent potential at the time.  He just turned 24 and is LEFT-HANDED.  That’s kind of the key here.  I have absolutely no idea if he can pitch at the major league level.  But was it really necessary to DFA him in favor of William Cuevas?  Who is Cuevas, you ask?  A right-handed pitcher that is older for one.  But seems to be just another guy from what I can see.

I’d rather keep the lefty around to see if he’s anything.  Plus, there wasn’t another 40-man roster move available if you wanted Cuevas up so bad?  60 day DL for someone (Panda perhaps, since they don’t want him around anyway)?  DFA Bryce Brentz (outfielder that hasn’t developed and is now playing in AA as a 27-year-old)?  Or just call up Roenis Elias in the first place, since he was on the 40-man roster already?  Ok, that’s probably a lot of words for something only I care about.  But still…

*Dominique Easley was surprisingly released by the Patriots about 10 days ago.  No one saw this coming…or would admit to it anyway.  You see, these beat writers know a lot more than they can actually tell us.  If they spilled the real story, they’d likely lose their sources of information.  And then eventually, quite possibly their jobs, since they couldn’t provide anything at all to their readers.  Trust me, I get it.  But it’s frustrating nonetheless.

So in the meantime, we are told a bunch of things:  “He has the knees of a 40-year old.”  “There is a pending lawsuit against him for his dog biting someone.”  “The team didn’t like that he couldn’t practice immediately as a rookie, due to dog-related injuries.”  “He was a locker room cancer.”  “There is no one reason he got released.”  “The team and the player had a difference of opinion on how to rehab his injuries.”  Etc.

Maybe it was a combination of all of these and the “cancer” thing was the icing on the cake.  I’m betting there is even more to the story.  Easley will count more against the salary cap this year now than if he was still on the team.  Hard to believe they would dump him if it was just a concern about rehabbing injuries.  And if his knees were that bad, they could again stash him on injured reserve at a lesser cost.

Easley looked like he could play a bit when he was on the field.  He is still young overall, despite the knees.  Then he went unclaimed on waivers.  Yup, definitely more to that story.

*Couple of big trades in the NFL with the draft coming up.  The Tennessee Titans traded the number one pick overall, and a couple of other picks, to the Los Angeles Rams for Vince Ferragamo…er, oops, I mean a slew of high draft picks.  Great deal for the Titans.  The Rams?  Maybe they should have kept their pick a few years back and taken Robert Griffin III?

The Cleveland Browns traded the number two overall pick (and one other pick) to the Philadelphia Eagles for another slew of picks.  Although the Browns can’t possibly be sold on the aforementioned RG III as their QB of the future, they need help all over the field, so it’s probably a good deal for them.  The Eagles?  Mystifying.

Philly already locked up Sam Bradford for huge dough…albeit for only 2 years.  And claimed they are not trading him and he will be the starter this year.  They also signed Chase Daniel to a pretty pricey backup deal…and he isn’t even any good.  Now they are going to take either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz as well?

Furthermore, when did Goff and Wentz become even Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota?  I’m no college football expert.  Looking at the numbers, Goff looks like he had a decent career.  But Wentz played at North Dakota State and seemingly came out of nowhere.  Not a whole hell of a lot accomplished in college either it seems.  Kind of a gamble dealing several picks for the chance to take him, no?  QB’s are always a gamble.  But they’d better hope this isn’t like 2011, where Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder went 8, 1o & 12 (yikes!) because QB-needy teams panicked and took them all waaaaaay too early.

It’s interesting also to look back at the times QB’s were drafted 1 and 2, one of them usually had a long career and the other?  Not so much.  (1971-Jim Plunkett/Archie Manning, 1993-Drew Bledsoe/Rick Mirer, 1998-Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf, 1999-Tim Couch/Donovan McNabb…and maybe still too early to tell on 2012-Andrew Luck/RG III and 2015-Winston/Mariota).  Every pick in any draft is a gamble of course.  Just seemed like a lot to give up for the Rams and specifically, the Eagles.

That’s enough for now…but nope…I am far from done…

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