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
Slacking in this space lately, but at least we are still pushing out the picks!
Tennessee at Kansas City (-8.5)
The Chiefs seemed to have regained their early season mojo down the stretch. The Titans stink and shouldn’t even be here. Seems like an easy one.
Kansas City 34, Tennessee 17.
Atlanta at Los Angeles Rams (-5.5)
All the home teams are favored by pretty healthy amounts this weekend, as they should be. This tilt features the smallest spread. And I think also the greatest potential for an upset. The Rams have been a great story this year, no doubt about it. But did the success come too fast?
Listen, I am no Falcon fan. But after their collapse in the Super Bowl last year, they did in fact make it back to the playoffs this season. Many thought that wouldn’t happen. They have the experience. The Rams do not. The Rams rested their key guys last week…hard to say if that is a good thing or not. It works for some teams, but not necessarily for others. (Avoiding injuries is of course a good thing, but you know what I mean…did their rhythm get stunted? Etc.).
Did you know that LA is only 4-4 at home? Atlanta is 5-3 on the road. The Falcons were also in arguably the toughest division this year, with three teams making the playoffs out of the NFC South.
Now I am not saying Atlanta will return to the Super Bowl, but…
Atlanta 27, Los Angeles Rams 24.
Buffalo at Jacksonville (-8.5)
The Bills return to the playoffs after 18 years. Yay. These guys stink too. Nice choke job by the Ravens to get the Bills in there. The Jags played their starters last week when they didn’t even have to and put in a clunker against the Titans. A week after giving up 44 to the 49ers. Yeah, I know, Jimmy G, blah, blah, blah. But people have been jumping on Jacksonville’s bandwagon all year long…great defense and all that. Has anyone looked at their division? Woeful. And their schedule overall? Weak. Nice win at Pittsburgh in Week 5, but other than that? Not much.
Sssssssoooo…the Jags aren’t really any good either. And…Blake Bortles. ‘Nuff said. Should be enough for this week, since it’s Buffalo. And if Buffalo doesn’t have LeSean McCoy then it could get pretty ugly out there. Then moving forward I expect the Steelers to return the favor to the Jags next week in the Divisional Round. We will cross that bridge if we get there however.
Jacksonville 27, Buffalo 13.
Carolina at New Orleans (-6.5)
This one has the makings to be a good one, even though the Saints handled the Panthers pretty well in both matchups this season. But you know how the saying goes…”tough to beat a team 3 times in one season”. Both teams played poorly last week with the division on the line, so that really doesn’t inspire much confidence. Maybe I just have high hopes for this one as it’s the final game of the weekend. I will say that this Alvin Kamara kid is exciting to watch. That’s all.
New Orleans 30, Carolina 24.
Week (against the spread): 10-6
Week (straight up): 10-6
Season (against the spread): 138-118
Season (straight up): 173-83
Another (somewhat) abridged (but not so last-minute) holiday edition. Tough sledding here, as plenty of teams will be resting guys for the playoffs, shutting guys down period, playing some young kids to see if they are worth hanging on to for next year and any other scenario in-between. We will see what happens. If we go 1-15, we finish the year over .500 still. So that’s good enough for me anyway. Happy New Year!!
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-13.5)
Cleveland is shooting for 0-16. I think they can do it, even though the Steelers are apparently not playing any of their key guys…well, Big Ben and Le’Veon Bell anyway…with Antonio Brown still out too. Landry Jones and Stevan Ridley anyone? Sure. They could (and should) probably still beat the Brownies.
Pittsburgh 17, Cleveland 13.
Green Bay at Detroit (-7.5)
The Lions actually should win this one going away…but of course they won’t.
Detroit 20, Green Bay 17.
Chicago at Minnesota (-12.5)
I believe Minnesota still has to play its way into the second seed and the bye over in the NFC. Therefore…
Minnesota 30, Chicago 10.
Dallas (-2.5) at Philadelphia
Philly is apparently going to play their starters for a bit. Which Nick Foles will show up? Who cares?
Dallas 27, Philadelphia 17.
Houston at Indianapolis (-3.5)
Speaking of “Who cares?”, 7-23 between these two squads. The only intrigue will be after the game to see if either of the two coaches keep their jobs. They both honestly probably should, based on their respective teams’ injury concerns this season. But I’d keep O’Brien and fire Pagano. Then again, Billy O’B and the Houston GM apparently despise each other. Kind of thinking both are going, right or wrong. Oh, I have to make a pick?
Houston 13, Indianapolis 10.
New York Jets at New England (-15.5)
It’s apparently going to be 50 below in Foxborough Sunday. The Jets are likely ready to hit the offseason, despite their competitiveness this season. Because the Pats still need to win (or have the Steelers lose) to sew up the #1 seed, I’d say that they will probably just try to do enough to get the W and get the hell outta there unscathed. But they may only have Dion Lewis and Brandon Bolden at running back…and I’d prefer not to give Lewis 30 carries on the eve of the playoffs. Maybe Pro Bowler (?!) James Develin gets some carries too. I’m starting to think the Patriots come out throwing and take a little bit of a lead and then ride Bolden to victory in the second half!
New England 27, New York Jets 16.
Washington (-3.5) at New York Giants
The brand new Giants GM said he is leaning towards keeping Eli as the starting QB next year. Yeah, until he finds someone better this offseason…likely with the #2 overall draft pick. The Giants owner also seemingly wants to bring cornerback Eli Apple back too, because you “don’t give up on talent…” or some nonsense like that. That should go over well in the locker room. Not to mention the Giants interim coach is playing Eli Sunday “start to finish”. Why? He says they already know what they have in third rounder Davis Webb…despite Webb getting zero game experience this year. All of the above is kind of irrelevant for Sunday…even Eli playing the whole game…but it does make me laugh.
Washington 14, New York Giants 13.
Cincinnati at Baltimore (-9.5)
The Bengals winning on Marvin Lewis’ way out? Nah. The Ravens need this one. Though the spread is probably too high. I’m still doing it.
Baltimore 27, Cincinnati 17.
Carolina at Atlanta (-3.5)
This may be the one game worth watching. The Falcons need this one more. That of course makes me nervous…but I’m still gonna do it here too.
Atlanta 27, Carolina 20.
New Orleans (-7.5) at Tampa Bay
The Bucs are bringing back Dirk Koetter next year? Yaaaay! Wait, what happened to all those Jon Gruden rumors? Anyway, the Saints should roll here either way.
New Orleans 37, Tampa Bay 23.
Kansas City at Denver (-3.5)
The Chiefs are resting everyone and the Broncos are starting Paxton Lynch (I think). I should be taking the Broncos defense here, but I’m not.
Kansas City 17, Denver 13.
Jacksonville at Tennessee (-3.5)
This may be the second best game of the week…if the Jags play their regulars…which their coach said they were going to. But we will see, since the game doesn’t mean anything to Jacksonville. Other than to get revenge on a Week Two beating the Titans handed to them. Since that point was mentioned specifically by Dougie Marrone, I’ll take my chances with the Jags this week. The Titans have continuously underwhelmed and I really don’t expect anything different here…even with a playoff berth staring them in the face.
Jacksonville 31, Tennessee 20.
Arizona at Seattle (-8.5)
The Cards are 7-8? Hard to believe. The Seahawks have been inconsistent, but still have a chance. Based on their inconsistency, laying 8.5 seems aggressive, but the feeling here is that they come out ready to go.
Seattle 34, Arizona 23.
Buffalo (-2.5) at Miami
Two times in three weeks for this marquee matchup, with the Bills winning by eight in the first one in Buffalo. The Bills are still remarkably in the playoff mix and therefore need it more. Despite the Bills not actually being very good. Throw in the fact that Miami isn’t good either, I am not expecting the ‘Phins to go all out to knock the Bills from the playoff chase. I don’t know…
Buffalo 27, Miami 17.
Oakland at Los Angeles Chargers (-7.5)
The Raiders actually gave the Eagles a game last Monday. Both teams were kind of inept though. Chargers have a chance. Raiders do not. That’s all I can say really.
Los Angeles Chargers 24, Oakland 13.
San Francisco at Los Angeles Rams (-2.5)
The oddsmakers apparently have not been watching the Jimmy G show. Of course the Rams are the better team, but when your coach has already said your best players aren’t playing and the rest of the starters aren’t playing much, one wonders how the Rams could still be favored in this game.
San Francisco 27, Los Angeles Rams 16.
Week (against the spread): 6-10
Week (straight up): 13-3
Season (against the spread): 128-112
Season (straight up): 163-77