Category Archives: Playoffs

NFL 2017: Mid-Season Report

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At the midway point of the 2017 season, a all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl doesn’t seem like a crazy idea.

By: Elias McMillan

 

We have seen some surprises and disappointments so far this 2017 season. Here’s my list. Also, I had to change my original Super Bowl prediction of Falcons-Raiders from last August.

 

Top 5 Surprising Teams

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1) – The Eagles look right now like the class of the NFC. Their young QB, Carson Wentz, is leading an explosive offensive attack that can create big plays on the ground and thru the air. On defense, the Eagles are strong up front against the run and can get after the QB. Time will tell if this Eagles team is for real or not. They’ve had a cakewalk of a schedule so far this season and they still have remaining games against Dallas, Seattle, and much improved Los Angeles.
  2. New Orleans Saints (6-2) – The Saints are the sleeper team in the NFC South that Tampa Bay was suppose to be this year. QB Drew Brees is still getting the job done despite his age and he is receiving great support from his running backs. Defense has been the main issue in New Orleans for years now but we are seeing a much-improved secondary in 2017.
  3. Los Angeles Rams (6-2) – The Rams has had the individual talent on the roster for a while now. But this year, they are finally putting it together to where they might actually be a playoff team. RB Todd Gurley and DT Aaron Donald continue to be great but that young defense is really beginning to thrive under coordinator Wade Phillips and QB Jared Goff is having a bounce back season after a tough rookie campaign.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3) – Jacksonville’s defense has become good enough where it is single handedly winning games for the team. The Jaguars are loaded with talent across the board defensively and they are now witnessing the fruits of their draft labor. If the offense can do just a little more than the minimum, Sacksonville will win the AFC South.
  5. New York Jets (4-5) – The Jets were supposed to win three games this year. At the half waypoint, they have four. You have to give head coach Todd Bowles credit for what he has been able to do with this roster. They are giving maximum effort each week and it shows. The Jets wont make the playoffs this year but I really hope they stick with the coaching brain trust that they currently have.

 

Top 5 Disappointing Teams

  1. Oakland Raiders (4-5) – The Raiders were my Super Bowl pick but they look like a mess right now. The defense has really disappointed and QB Derek Carr isnt getting much from his offensive line. Oakland has enough talent to turn their season around but it doesn’t seem likely.
  2. New York Giants (1-7) – Even before the injuries, the Giants were a mess from Jump Street in 2017. The offense is in crisis mode without Odell Beckham Jr. and it look like they are starting to prepare for life without Eli Manning. I thought New York at least had a promising defense at the beginning of the season but they have also been a massive letdown.
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6) – Tampa was my sleeper in the NFC South. I thought QB Jameis Winston would blossom with all the talent they surrounded him with in the offseason. Instead, Winston and the entire offense have struggled. Tampa also isn’t getting much from their defense either. I wonder who will receive most of the blame at season’s end: the head coach or the QB?
  4. Atlanta Falcons (4-4) – Atlanta is still in the hunt for a playoff berth but they have massively under performed this season. Despite having the talent on both sides of the ball, the offense has yet to find consistency and the defense is not closing out game in the second half. Atlanta will have to start playing with some urgency in the second half of the season.
  5. Arizona Cardinals (4-4) – I had Arizona as a playoff team before the season started. Their struggles can be accounted for different reason. Losing their best player, RB David Johnson, hurt. But to add on to that, they also lose starting QB Carson Palmer. Injuries happen but the real disappointment with this team lies on the defense. OLB Chandler Jones is having a great season as one of the leading pass rushers in the league. But the rest of the defense, especially the secondary, has really let this team down so far this year.

 

Mid Season Awards

MVP: Carson Wentz (QB – Philadelphia) – Wentz has been very impressive so far this year and his team has the best record in football.

Offensive MVP: Tom Brady (QB – New England) – The ageless one continues to lead the league in passing categories. New England remains so confident in him that they traded away his back up.

Defensive MVP: Calais Campbell (DT – Jacksonville) – We have to give someone credit for helping the Jacksonville defense take that next step. Calais Campbell has provided leadership with that group while being on the league leaders in sacks at the halfway point of the season.

My REVISED Pick of Super Bowl 52

In the AFC, I think it is Pittsburgh’s conference to lose. The Steelers have had the best roster in the AFC for some years now but for one reason or another, they haven’t been able to put it together in January. With Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement looming, the Steelers have to get it done this season. New England will meet Pittsburgh again in the playoffs but I think Pittsburgh is able to finally slay their “dragon” this postseason if they are healthy. In the NFC, I see a wide-open field. Everyone loves Philadelphia right now but they have had a cake schedule so far. We will see how good they really are, as we get closer to the postseason. Minnesota could be a sleeper. They have a great defense and Teddy Bridgewater will be returning at QB soon. I’m not sure if I’m ready to take New Orleans seriously yet. In the West, Seattle just dropped two straight at home, which literally never happens. And can’t fully trust the LA Rams with their inconsistent offense. I love the idea of Dallas wrecking stuff as a wildcard in the playoffs but I’m not entirely sure if they will even make the playoffs. Despite their recent struggles and because there was no way I was going to pick the Eagles, I’ll go with Seattle because their defense can still be good when it wants to. REVISED Super Bowl 52 Prediction: Steelers over Seahawks

 

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NFL 2017: Preseason Awards & Playoff Predictions

 

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Oakland Raiders

Here’s a Super Bowl Prediction that is guaranteed not to come true. Maybe.

By: Elias McMillan

 

First, here are my picks for the 2017 post-season awards:

MVP: Tom Brady, QB (New England Patriots) – Despite missing the first four games of the season and not having his number one weapon in the passing game (Rob Gronkowski), Tom Brady still had a dream season in 2016. Going into to this season, Brady has Gronk healthy and an even talented WR core to work with. And he is determined to break the Madden Curse. I think Brady will turn back the clock again this year.

Offensive MVP: David Johnson, RB (Arizona Cardinals) – Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell get most of the headlines when it comes to RB’s in the league but David Johnson can be just as productive. I think Arizona will continue to lean on him this season. Especially, with Arizona’s questions in the passing game.

Defensive MVP: J.J Watt, DE (Houston Texans) – Watt will probably will NFL Man of the Year with the work he has done in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. But Watt will also have the goal of reminding the league this year of how dominant he can be. I think he will have a huge season lining up opposite of Clowney.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Christian McCaffrey, RB (Carolina Panthers) – I criticized this draft pick numerous times since April. But Carolina seems to be highly impressed with what McCaffrey will bring to this offense. He will definitely get the touches in Carolina and his numbers will impress in his first season.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Reuben Foster, LB (San Francisco 49ers) – Its an absolute shame that Foster dropped all the way to the bottom of round one in this past draft. Foster will be playing this first season with a chip on his shoulder and will remind 49er fans of Patrick Willis.

Comeback Player of the Year: Earl Thomas, S (Seattle Seahawks) – Earl Thomas was pondering retirement when he went down with a significant knee injury last season. Now, he will have a chance to be apart of a pretty good Seattle defense once again. He will prove to be the most valuable piece of the Seahawk defense this year.

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick (New England Patriots) – It seems like Belichick has everything. Its been a while since he has won this award. New England is bound to have a killer regular season this year so, why not?

And now, here is my forecast for the playoffs this season. As a reminder, here are the teams I see qualifying in 2017:

AFC

  1. New England Patriots – 15-1 (AFC East)
  2. Oakland Raiders – 12-4 (AFC West)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers – 11-5 (AFC North)
  4. Tennessee Titans – 10-6 (AFC South)
  5. Houston Texans – 9-7 (Wild-card)
  6. Denver Broncos – 9-7 (Wild-card)

NFC

  1. Atlanta Falcons – 13-3 (NFC South)
  2. Seattle Seahawks – 11-5 (NFC West)
  3. New York Giants – 10-6 (NFC East)
  4. Green Bay Packers – 10-6 (NFC North)
  5. Arizona Cardinals – 10-6 (Wild-card)
  6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 9-7 (Wild-card)

Wild-Card Weekend

AFC: (3) Steelers over (6) Broncos, (5) Texans over (4) Titans

NFC: (3) Giants over (6) Buccaneers, (5) Cardinals over (4) Packers

Divisional Round

AFC: (1) Patriots over (5) Texans, (2) Raiders over (3) Steelers

NFC: (1) Falcons over (5) Cardinals, (3) Giants over (2) Seahawks

Conference Championship Sunday

AFC: (2) Raiders over (1) Patriots

NFC: (1) Falcons over (3) Giants

Super Bowl LII from U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Atlanta Falcons over Oakland Raiders

Recap: The Patriots might have been the number seed in the AFC playoffs last season but they were not supremely talented. They traded away many of their better defensive players. They had injury problems on offense. And they still won the Super Bowl last February. This offseason, the Patriots reloaded much like they did in 2010. And much like 2010, I think we will see New England slice through the regular season only to see them fall short in the playoffs. I think Oakland needs this season. That fan base in Oakland is ready to tear the city apart. They need one last shot at glory while in that city. I think David Carr will return this season and play at a high level. Oakland has some things to figure out defensively but behind Khalil Mack and that talented front seven, they’ll get after the QB and they’ll administer some revenge in Foxboro in January. In the NFC, I think we’ll see a two-dog race between Atlanta and Seattle. I have the Giants as a sleeper team because I like their defense and that have so many offensive weapons. But Atlanta’s defense is young and on the rise. Coming off of what happened last year, I believe Atlanta will ride a story of redemption all the way back to the Super Bowl. I know that Atlanta has a long history of folding under pressure. I know picking a team to return to the Super Bowl and win really isn’t bold and it kind of jinxes it. But I had to pick somebody. I think Atlanta can correct the ending from a season ago this upcoming February in Minneapolis. But then again, it is September.

 

 

NFL 2017: NFC Preview (Condensed)

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Dak Prescott has the keys to the castle in Dallas. What will he do with it? And can Matt Ryan get over what happened in the Super Bowl?

By: Elias McMillan

 

NFC East

New York Giants – I think the Giants have the best defense in the NFC East. They are strong up front with two passing rushing vets (JPP & Vernon) and a big run stuffer (Damon Harrison). I think they are weak at the LB position but they are loaded with talent in the secondary. New York should also have a sound passing attack on offense. Eli Manning will have a wide array of weapons to choose from this season with Beckham Jr, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, and rookie TE Evan Engram. The Giants do have question marks with their running game and offensive line. But I think they can outlast the competition in a tight NFC East race. Prediction: 10-6 (NFC East Champs)

Dallas Cowboys –For whatever reason, the Cowboys haven’t been able to string together back-to-back successful seasons too many times since the 90’s. And after blowing a great opportunity the change the narrative last season, they return this season with little or no improvements. I think the offense will be okay. I think Dak Prescott will not fall into a sophomore slump. There are some changes on the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott might miss the start of the season but I think the run game will still be strong. And the Cowboys do return many weapons in the passing game led by Dez Bryant and the leadership of Jason Witten. On defense, all eyes will be on LB Jaylon Smith who missed all of last season due to injury but the Cowboys are expect big things out of. Outside of that, the Cowboys return a defense that cant create pressure and are featuring wholesale changes in the secondary. At this point, I feel bad for Jason Witten. I feel good about Dallas in 2018 though. Prediction: 8-8

Washington – I like what Washington has on defense. If they could just find some consistency on offense they could be a sleeper team in the NFC East. QB Kirk Cousins is a mixed bag but I like his gunslinger mentality. Many are expecting a big year from free agent signee WR Terrelle Pryor. Washington also had a nice big target for Cousins in TE Jordan Reed if he can stay healthy. Much like New York, offensive line and running back are where the question marks lie. Like I said earlier, I like many of the pieces on this Washington defense. They have already suffered some injuries on the defensive line and at LB but they wisely prepared for this in the draft. I’m interested in seeing how rookies DE Jonathan Allen and LB Ryan Anderson develop in their first years. Washington may have some weak spots in the secondary but they at least still have CB Josh Norman. Because of what they have defensively, Washington might surprise a bit this year. Prediction: 7-9

Philadelphia Eagles – Some have Philadelphia as a sleeper team in this division. I just don’t see it. Is Carson Wentz going to turn out to be a baller in his 2nd year? Maybe. He’ll have pretty weapons this year at WR with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. The Eagles are still reeling at the RB position from the LeSean McCoy trade. Do they really expect LeGarrette Blount to be their #1 back? Philly’s defense will be pretty much the same from a season ago: decent front seven, trash secondary. I like DT Fletcher Cox and rookie DE Derek Barnett. In a best-case scenario for this team, I don’t even see them making it past 8 wins. Prediction: 6-10

 

NFC North

Green Bay Packers – I really don’t see how this Packers team got better in the off-season. A lot of familiar faces from the last couple seasons are gone. The Packers are in the transition of getting younger on defense with OLB Clay Matthews the lone veteran holdover. They let Eddie Lacy go in free agency. Ty Montgomery is talented but can he really be an every down back? But as last year proved, because they really weren’t that good either, as long as they have Aaron Rodgers behind center, they’ll be okay. Prediction: 10-6 (NFC North Champs)

Minnesota Vikings – I like this Minnesota team because Mike Zimmer has himself a tough defense on this squad. It was the defense that led them to a hot start to begin 2016. Eventually, they fell apart down the stretch but as long as that same defense returns, they’ll be in a lot of games this year. Obviously, there are plenty of questions on offense especially at the QB position. QB Teddy Bridgewater may not be ready until the middle of the season so they will have to ride it out with Sam Bradford for now. Minnesota will also be dealing with a couple of new starters on the offensive line. But I think they will have a better run offense this season even with the departure of Adrian Peterson. I’m expecting big things from rookie RB Dalvin Cook. Prediction: 8-8

Detroit Lions – I don’t even remember that the Lions made the playoffs last year. They really didn’t make any dramatic changes in the offseason. QB Matthew Stafford will give them a chance to win every week. The Lions are still missing consistency in the run game. Stafford has pretty good targets to go to in the passing game. This has to be the season where TE Eric Ebron proves himself as a legit TE in the league and not just an athlete. Detroit will be solid defensively, at least up front. First round pick LB Jarrad Davis will be counted on early in his career. And you could say the same about second round pick CB Teez Tabor. I think the Lions are a running game away from challenging Green Bay in the division. Prediction: 7-9

Chicago Bears – The Bears are still rebuilding but with a veteran head coach. Weird. I’m wondering if John Fox will be around to see the final product. After spending money on QB Mike Glennon for some reason, the Bears went ahead and traded for QB Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky has shown promise in the pre-season and Chicago might as well stop wasting everyone’s time and insert him into the lineup. RB Jordan Howard is returning after an impressive rookie season. The Bears have question marks at WR. Kevin White is healthy and he will receive plenty of opportunities this year. Chicago’s defense is a mess. They need to build that side of the ball up as soon as possible if they want to climb out of the basement in this division. Prediction: 5-11

 

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons – There’s a lot of talk about the blown lead in the Super Bowl and the hangover from that. I know that Super Bowl losers, especially in this fashion, usually have a hard time getting back but I think Atlanta may have something going. I think this way because I liked what I saw from their defense last season and I like the additions they made in the offseason. Atlanta has a legit pass rush with Vic Beasley and I think rookie Takkarist McKinley could make an impact up front as well. I’m a big fan of the young LB’s they have especially Deion Jones who had a great rookie season. Atlanta will also see reinforcements in the secondary with the return of Desmond Trufant who missed most of last season. Everyone knows about what Atlanta has on offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, etc. But I think the improvements on this young defense will really make this team dangerous in the NFC again this season. Prediction: 13-3 (NFC South Champs)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – For the first time in a while, the Bucs enter a football season with some momentum. This team will be led by QB Jameis Winston who has really taken on a leadership role in that locker room and the team has brought in. Winston will be surrounded by probably the most talented he’s been around in his career. Tampa is loaded at WR with Mike Evans and newcomer DeSean Jackson who can really stretch the field. TE Cameron Brate impressed last season but the team decided to really maximize the TE position with the first round selection of TE O.J. Howard. I’m worried about the suspension of RB Doug Martin but this Tampa offense will be about what Winston can do in the passing game. Tampa returns a solid defense led by DT Gerald McCoy. I really like their LB core. They are missing playmakers in the secondary though. I think Tampa should be good enough to make that jump in the post season in 2017. Prediction: 9-7 (Wild-card)

Carolina Panthers – The Super Bowl hangover was real in Carolina in 2016. I think Carolina is in a position to rebound and maybe return to the playoffs but they need to do two things. First and more importantly, they need to ensure that the defense can stay at the level they were in during 2015. And secondly, they need to get Cam Newton better protection and younger players at the skill positions on offense. They did the latter in this offseason and I’m afraid that wasn’t the direction that this team needed to go. I think Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel will do good things in their rookie seasons but I prioritize the line scrimmage over the flashy skill players. I think Newton will be able to use those young guys effectively but I’m worried about his protection especially that he is coming off off-season surgery. On defense, Carolina is starting to look old. They gave up on Kony Ealy and brought back an ancient Julius Peppers. I really like Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly but they both have injury concerns. Carolina may slightly improve from 2016 but they need to do a better job at protecting their franchise QB and getting younger talent on defense. Prediction: 8-8

New Orleans Saints – There isn’t much buzz surrounding the Saints going into 2017. We know they will pass the ball well with QB Drew Brees. Its too bad that they couldn’t make it work with Brandin Cooks but they did bring in Ted Ginn Jr. to take his role as the speedster at WR. RB Mark Ingram is the established back in this offense so, I don’t understand why they brought in an aging Adrian Peterson. Defense remains the main issues on this team. DE Cameron Jordan can only do so much. The Saints did make an effort on improving their secondary through the draft this offseason. I think the Saints will compete. But they wont be on the same level as the three other teams in this division. Prediction: 6-10

 

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks are still in the mist of a decent run in the NFC as consistent title contenders. But I get the feeling that their window is starting to get smaller. Which is supposed to happen in the NFL. You can’t resign and keep everyone for only so long. But Seattle should be in pretty good shape in 2017. QB Russell Wilson returns and Seattle continued their efforts in the off-season to improve his offensive line. I think the Eddie Lacy signing could improve the run game if he can stay healthy. And that’s a big “if”. WR Doug Baldwin is massively underrated and TE Jimmy Graham can still take over a game when called upon. This team will continue to be led by the defense though. The front seven is tough and can pretty much do it all. Pass rush, run stuff, etc. The Seahawks also still have the three major cogs in the L.O.B., Sherman, Thomas, and Chancellor. Prediction: 11-5 (NFC West Champs)

Arizona Cardinals – Arizona massively under performed last season and they return in 2017 with a supremely talented roster. On offense, RB David Johnson established himself last season as one of the top RB’s in the league. Arizona’s passing game is still dependent on QB Carson Palmer’s health. Head coach Bruce Arians doesn’t think much of the WR’s on the roster but WR Larry Fitzgerald is still as good as they come. Arizona has recognizable names on defense but they need to become an elite unit if Arizona hopes to make the postseason. They will miss Calais Campbell up front but Chandler Jones is still a pretty good pass rusher and first round pick Haason Reddick could develop into a difference maker. I feel that Arizona secondary under performed last season but that should change as long as Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu can stay healthy. I think the Cardinals have too much talent to miss the playoffs for a second straight season. Prediction: 10-6 (Wild-card)

Los Angeles Rams – The Rams hired a 30-year-old coach to lead the team in 2017. Maybe that youth can energize a team that hasn’t done anything note worthy in a while. Can second year QB Jared Goff show that he is worth his top selection in the draft a year ago? Can RB Todd Gurley return to form? Can the Rams finally get some consistency out from their recievers? Will the newly acquired Sammy Watkins keep the number 2 as his jersey number? Has the only player worth a damn on this roster (DT Aaron Donald) ended his holdout yet? Too many questions. Prediction: 5-11

San Francisco 49ers – Nothing quite says “we’re rebuilding” like saying “we’re rolling with Brian Hoyer as our QB this year”. San Francisco should be a complete disaster offensively this season. Its fitting that the offensive coordinator that blew it for Atlanta in the Super Bowl is now the head coach. On the bright side, San Fran is building a defense that might become a problem real soon. They basically have an all-Pac-10 defensive line and I liked the late addition of veteran pass rusher Elvis Dumervil. LB NaVorro Bowman returns and he’ll get a chance to groom rookie Reuben Foster who dropped right into the 49ers lap in the draft this pass April. Foster should have been a top 15 pick. The secondary leaves much to be desired but that front seven might end up being one of the best in the league. But with Brian Hoyer at QB, that tells me that this team must be tanking for one of the top signal callers in college. Prediction: 3-13

 

NFC Playoff Picture Prediction

  1. Atlanta Falcons – 13-3 (NFC South)
  2. Seattle Seahawks – 11-5 (NFC West)
  3. New York Giants – 10-6 (NFC East)
  4. Green Bay Packers – 10-6 (NFC North)
  5. Arizona Cardinals – 10-6 (Wild-card)
  6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 9-7 (Wild-card)

NFL 2017: AFC Preview (Condensed)

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Tom Brady and the Patriots reloaded in the offseason. Does the rest of the AFC stand a chance?

By: Elias McMillan

 

AFC East

New England Patriots – The Patriots won another title last season with a roster that wasn’t supremely talented. During this offseason, New England added significant upgrades on offense at RB and WR and on defense at DE and CB. Also, TE Rob Gronkowski returns after missing much of last year due to injury. It looks like the Brady-Belicheck combo will be the cream of the crop once again in the AFC. Although, it seems when the Patriots reload like this, they find a way to disappoint in the post season. We’ll see if this season will be different. Prediction: 15-1 (AFC East Champs)

Miami Dolphins – Miami made the playoffs somehow last season. But they don’t have much momentum going into 2017. It doesn’t help that they lost Ryan Tannehill to injury in training camp and had to replace him with a Jay Cutler they had to drag out from the announcer’s booth (Why didn’t they sign Kaepernick?). Positives: they found an answer a RB last season (Jay Ajayi) and they are pretty solid at the receiver positions. On defense, they have a tough front four and I like the offseason addition of Lawrence Timmons. Negatives: Miami secondary may be the down fall for this defense, yet again. And you’ll never know which Jay Cutler that you’re going to get. Prediction: 8-8

Buffalo Bills – Buffalo did Rex Ryan wrong and now they seem to be tanking. They traded their best WR and CB for draft picks. The Bills made a smart trade on draft day in April. Buffalo is stockpiling draft picks. It’s good idea but its not going to help them win 2017. I feel bad for LeSean McCoy who is wasting his talents up there. I’m interested in seeing how QB Tyrod Taylor will fair with limited weapons in the passing game. Buffalo has young talent on defense. I really liked Shaq Lawson from the 2016 draft. If he’s healthy, he’ll be impact player. Regardless, I don’t see many wins in Buffalo this year. Prediction: 5-11

New York Jets – The Jets are tanking. I hope it doesn’t cost head coach Todd Bowles who won 10 games in New York just two seasons ago. The Jets literally got rid of every veteran on the team except RB Matt Forte. The QB position is a disaster. What is josh McCown doing to keep finding work in this league? WR core? Garbage. They do have some promising talent on defense. It’s going to be an ugly year for the Jets. Prediction: 2-14

 

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers return with supreme talent on the offense between the QB (Roethlisberger), RB (Bell), and the WR (Brown). That, along with that over achieving offensive line, Pittsburgh should be able to rule the North again. What will stop them in the playoffs? If it isn’t the inability to stay healthy, it will be the lack of big plays from their defense. Losing and not replacing Lawrence Timmons at middle linebacker will prove to be a mistake. Pittsburgh is solid on the defensive line but they lack players in the secondary that can make big plays. But what they are really missing is an impact pass rusher. Can rookie T.J. Watt be that guy? Despite the questions, Pittsburgh should be New England’s main rival for the AFC crown. Prediction: 11-5 (AFC North Champs)

Baltimore Ravens – Baltimore quietly made some improvements this offseason especially on defense. I like the addition of S Tony Jefferson. They have solid veteran leadership in the secondary between him and Eric Weddle. Terrell Suggs returns for what maybe his final season. Look out for rookie Tyus Bowser to become a difference maker off the edge on this defense. Baltimore’s defense will keep the Ravens in a lot of games but they have serious questions on offense. It feels like everyone has been waiting for 2012 Joe Flacco to return and it just hasn’t happened yet. It would help if he could get some consistency from his supporting cast. Maybe WR Jeremy Maclin can help. The success of this season for the Ravens will be up to if the offense can finally figure itself out. Prediction: 8-8

Cincinnati Bengals – Cincinnati again brings a talented roster to the table but their undisciplined nature seems to be their undoing. I like Marvin Lewis but how does he still have a job as he continues to vouch for Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict? On offense, the Bengals need Andy Dalton to stay healthy because he has a great collection of skill players around him, highlighted by WR A.J. Green. The Bengals have a talented defense led by DT Geno Atkins. But I think their immaturity will hold them back. They might push Baltimore for second place in the division. Prediction: 8-8

Cleveland Browns – Same as it ever was for the Browns. QB questions. Young talent on both sides of the ball. Seasoned veterans. Cleveland just can’t seem to put it all together. But this season could set the table for some success down the road. The Browns will see what they have in rookie QB DeShone Kizer right out of the gate. First round pick Myles Garrett will receive tons of playing time as well and he has impressed in the pre-season. I will be interested in seeing how Cleveland does with this current crop of young talent. I’m a believer in Hue Jackson. Prediction: 6-10

 

AFC South

Tennessee Titans – I’m buying into the Titans this season. They impressed a season ago and they may have made the post season if QB Marcus Mariota doesn’t get hurt late in the season. Tennessee has a good mix a RB with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, a great offensive line, and they added weapons in the passing game. Once the defense figures itself out, they could become a contender in the AFC. But for now, I think they’ll be good enough to win the AFC South. Prediction: 10-6 (AFC South Champs)

Houston Texans – Houston has made the playoffs in two straight seasons. I would say this is mainly because of their defense. In 2015, in was all about J.J. Watt. In 2016, while Watt was injured, it was all about Jadeveon Clowney. Who knows what this defense will be capable of with both Watt and Clowney in the line-up. Houston has a legit starter at RB (Lamar Miller) and a legit number one receiver (DeAndre Hopkins). What they don’t have is a legit starting QB. Could it be the returning backup Tom Savage or the rookie who just won a national championship, Deshaun Watson? Either way, I’m expecting more big things from the defense in Houston. Prediction: 9-7 (Wild-card)

Indianapolis Colts – I feel like the majority is expecting nothing from this Colts team, which makes them kind of underrated. But they still have plenty of issues. Issues number one: the health of Andrew Luck. I expect Luck to start out on the PUP list (6 Games) so they are going to have to roll with Scott Tolzien. Good thing for Tolzien, the best player on the team is a WR (T.Y. Hilton). The defense is full of cast offs from another teams. I think a lot of teams will sleep on Indy and for good reason. But I don’t think they’ll completely stink. Prediction: 7-9

Jacksonville Jaguars – Jacksonville should have been the team that brought in Colin Kaepernick. The jig up for Blake Bortles. The Jaguars actually have promising talent on both sides of the ball. It is clear that the QB position is holding them back. It’s too bad, I guess. I really like what they have on defense. But it wont be enough to make up for the shortcomings offensively. Jacksonville will likely be drafting a new QB early in the draft next April. Prediction: 4-12

 

AFC West

Oakland Raiders – The Raiders had a great 2016 season that was derailed by Derek Carr’s injury before the playoffs. Now, Carr returns to a team that is ready to take the next step and win the AFC West. Oakland is set up pretty well offensively. I think Marshawn Lynch’s return to the NFL wont have as much as an impact as some people may want to but at the least, he’ll serve well as a weapon in the red zone. Outside of their front four, I’m still worried about the defense especially in the secondary. Prediction: 12-4 (AFC West Champs)

Denver Broncos – Denver suffered through a Super Bowl hangover last year but I think they can rebound in 2017. I still like what their defense brings to the table. Von Miller is one of the best players in the league. I’m not sure how far this offense will be able to take them under the command of QB Trevor Siemian. But the Broncos have plenty of weapons at the skills positions on offense. They still have a stacked WR group led by Demaryius Thomas. Also, remember this name from out of the backfield: sixth round pick RB DeAngelo Henderson. Prediction: 9-7 (Wild-card)

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid has won 10+ games in Kansas City 3 out of the 4 seasons as head coach. And in the one season he didn’t, the team still finished over .500. I think that impressive streak will come to an end this season. The Chiefs are in the process of pushing out many veterans on the roster and that turnover will affect their chances to compete in the AFC West. Alex Smith will be feeling the heat all season from the first round QB they selected in April, Patrick Mahomes. The offense will feature TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreke Hill but Jamaal Charles and Jeremy Maclin are both gone. They do have a great defense to lean on but that group is starting to age. This will be a down year for the Chiefs. Prediction: 7-9

Los Angeles Chargers – I absolutely hate the Chargers move to LA. It stinks to the high heavens. It stinks for the NFL. As for the team, they could be a sleeper in the AFC West if they can stay healthy. I feel like you could say that every year about this team though. Phillip Rivers returns for yet another season where he will see his WR core suffer through many injuries. At least he still has an aging TE Antonio Gates to go to. It would be nice if RB Melvin Gordon can continue the success he had a season ago. I think the story from this team this year will be the emergence of DE Joey Bosa as he will become a defensive star in this league. Between Melvin Ingram and Bosa, the Chargers could have the best pass-rushing duo in the division. It would be cool to see this team grab some success while they still have Phillip Rivers but I don’t see it happening. Prediction: 6-10

 

AFC Playoff Picture Prediction

  1. New England Patriots – 15-1 (AFC East)
  2. Oakland Raiders – 12-4 (AFC West)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers – 11-5 (AFC North)
  4. Tennessee Titans – 10-6 (AFC South)
  5. Houston Texans – 9-7 (Wild-card)
  6. Denver Broncos – 9-7 (Wild-card)

NFL Playoffs: Super Bowl LI Prediction!

Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl LI Halftime Show Press Conference

“I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk awaaaaaaaaaaaaay….”

 

By: Elias McMillan

Conference Championships: 0-2

Playoffs: 4-6

Super Bowl 51 from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas

New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, or Lady Gaga as you may know her, has had a long road to music super stardom. Early in her life, music was a huge part of who she was and who she eventually wanted to be. She began to play the piano at the young age of four and was playing open mics around NYC by the time she was 14. At 17, she was allowed early admission into the top school for the arts at NYU. Two years later, she dropped out of NYU to focus on finding her sound as a professional musician. After creating a cult like following in the NYC Underground music scene, she was signed and then quickly dropped from Def Jam. The experience was heartbreaking but it encouraged her to begin experimenting further with her sound as a performer and with her overall image. Soon after, she found herself on an imprint of Interscope Records where R&B superstar, Akon, recognized her abilities and featured her vocals on one of his albums. Akon then told Interscope executives that Gaga had the potential to be a “franchise player” and a year later, her debut album began production.

“The Fame” debuted in August of 2008 and included mega dance-pop hits like Just “Dance”, “Poker Face”, “LoveGame”, & “Paparazzi”. The debut was a monster success for Gaga who went on to win multiple awards at the Grammys. “The Fame” was named one of the 100 Greatest Debut Albums by Rolling Stone magazine. A year later, “The Fame” was reissued as “The Fame Monster” and included new hits like “Bad Romance” & “Telephone” featuring Beyoncé.

Gaga’s official second LP was “Born This Way” and it proved to be an excellent follow up to her debut. The electric rock & techno influenced record continued Gaga’s streak of massive hits with songs like the title single “Born This Way”, and “The Edge of Glory”.

Gaga’s third studio album “ArtPop” featured hits “Applause” and “Do What U Want” featuring R. Kelly but was considered lackluster by many music critics. Soon after that release, she left her long time manager and began a new chapter to her career. She collaborated with long time friend and music legend Tony Bennett and released “Cheek to Cheek”. The joint album reintroduced Bennett to a younger audience and was received well by critics, winning at the Grammys that year.

After exploring some ventures in front of the camera as an actress, Gaga returned with a brand new album last October. “Joanne” was released as a much softer version of Gaga’s previous’ works but still featured her incredible vocal ability and her unique sound that creates hit records. Singles “Perfect Illusion” and “Million Reasons” have already shot to the top of the charts and now, Gaga is preparing for her biggest and greatest stage yet, the Super Bowl 51 halftime show.

Prediction: Patriots 34 – Falcons 24

NFL Playoffs: 2017 Conference Championship Sunday Predictions!

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Super Steelers? It does appear that way.

 

By: Elias McMillan

 

Divisional Round: 2-2

Playoffs: 4-4

Conference Championship Sunday

NFC Championship Game

Green Bay @ Atlanta – The Packers and the Falcons will be riding their high-powered offenses into Championship Sunday. I’m not giving either defenses much of a chance at being the difference makers in this contest. Atlanta’s offense is a lot more balanced that Green Bay’s. The Falcons have a great vertical passing attack led by QB Matt Ryan. WR’s Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Taylor Gabriel have done a great job at stretching the field on the outside and in the middle of defenses. But unlike the Packers, Atlanta has two legit RB’s while Green Bay has none. Devonta Freeman is a tough runner between the tackles and Tevin Coleman can do similar things but is also a threat as a receiver. Atlanta’s offense is set up to make a Super Bowl run. But the Falcons will have to come out sharp against this Green Bay defense. Dallas didn’t do that last week and that was one of the reasons they lost. Atlanta has had a stigma for a while now for falling short in big games. The Falcons offense is going to have to be the driving force to make sure that doesn’t happen. Green Bay receives decent play from their outside LB’s Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, and Nick Perry. Those guys can affect the Atlanta pass game by pressuring Ryan but they are also good against the run. But as a unit, Green Bay doesn’t defend the run or the pass very well. Atlanta will have the opportunity to set the tone on offense in this game. For the Packers, their offense will also have a great chance at success on Sunday. QB Aaron Rodgers was very much the best QB of the league last week as he is playing at a very high level. The Packers have multiple threats down the field at WR and TE even without Jordy Nelson. Atlanta’s defense is average at best and I feel confident that Rodgers can have a big day through the air against them. Green Bay may not have much of a run game but Atlanta isn’t exactly a run-stuffing defense. I think Atlanta’s defense, especially the front seven, could be a bit underrated. I think their LB’s do a good job and outside rusher Vic Beasley is a difference maker on passing downs. Green Bay’s offensive line did a good job last week but Beasley will present a greater challenge for them on Sunday. This game will come down to which defense I trust more at making more stops or which offense do I trust more at performing at a high level for 60 minutes. I don’t think Atlanta is ready defensively to stop Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay does not have a great defense but they are experienced and Atlanta has been prone to let downs in the past. It just feels like this is Aaron Rodgers’ time. This Packers team has come a long way from being embarrassed on Monday Night Football by Washington months ago. I have the Packers advancing to the Super Bowl in the first game. Prediction: Packers 36 – Falcons 31

AFC Championship Game

Pittsburgh @ New England – At the beginning of this season, many pegged the Steelers as a Super Bowl favorite. In fact, in my pre season predictions, I had the Steelers making it out of the AFC over the same Patriots team they will be facing on Sunday. The Steelers have had their issues this season. After falling to 4-5 when they lost to Dallas at home, those Super Bowl predictions took a serious hit. Since then, the Steelers have been able to get back on track, their defense has improved, and the offense look impossible to stop with the way Le’Veon Bell is running the ball. I’ve heard many people say this week that for the Steelers to beat New England in Foxboro on Sunday, they will need a vintage big time performance from Ben Roethlisberger. I don’t feel that way at all. Roethlisberger hasn’t exactly been lighting in up in the playoffs but he doesn’t have to. The most important weapon in this ball game on Sunday will be RB Le’Veon Bell. I think New England’s defense can be underrated at times but I don’t see them being able to shutdown Bell for 4 quarters. I think New England’s front seven could present some issues for the Steelers in terms of stuffing the run and pressuring the QB. I’m a big fan of DT Malcolm Brown who is playing great right now. Edge rushers Trey Flowers and veteran Rob Ninkovich are capable of getting after the QB. But the Steelers offensive line has done a great job for most of the season in the run and in pass protection. New England’s secondary isn’t exactly great either. With time, I think Roethlisberger would find success down the field. CB Malcolm Butler will try his best at shadowing WR Antonio Brown but that is a matchup that I would expect seeing Brown to win. Though Le’Veon Bell might be the best player on the field on Sunday, the New England running game might poise a bigger threat than Pittsburgh’s. New England has a great RB duo in LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis. Blount is a tough guy to bring down once he gets going and Lewis is a great receiving threat coming out from the backfield. Lewis is also a difference maker in special teams as a returner. We saw that last week. I think the Steelers defense could potential have their hands full with both of those backs. The Steelers will have to key on pressuring Tom Brady as well. Hopefully, the Patriots have learned their lesson from last year’s AFC Championship Game where they allowed Denver’s ace pass rusher harass Brady for most of the game. New England’s offensive line cannot let James Harrison do what Von Miller did last year. I guess we have to give the Steelers secondary credit for playing great against Matt Moore and Alex Smith but we have to believe that Brady will present a greater challenge for them. But again, that unit for Pittsburgh has done a decent job recently. Can we really expect Julian Edelman to be the big play receiver that the Steelers wont have an answer for? I think Brady could play well in this game but I think this offense will really miss Rob Gronkowski on Sunday. The Patriots are gonna need Martellus Bennett to make some big plays but Steeler LB’s Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons have done a great job recently in pass coverage. I’m said before that I think the Patriots defense is under rated but right now, I think I trust the Pittsburgh defense more. Which is saying a lot because, I still don’t believe that the Steelers defense is that good. But they are kind of on a roll right now and I think I have that continuing this Sunday. This will be good game with a classic ending. I said last week that the winner of Pittsburgh-Kansas City is going to the Super Bowl. Plus, I had Pittsburgh making it this far in the pre season. Can’t turn back now. Prediction: Steelers 28 – Patriots 24

NFL Playoffs: 2017 NFL Divisional Round Predictions!

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Atlanta hasn’t forgot about what happened when they faced Seattle earlier this season. They will be hoping for some revenge at home this weekend in the NFL Playoffs.

By: Elias McMillan

 

Wild-Card Round: 2-2

Playoffs: 2-2

Divisional Round

Seattle @ Atlanta – This first divisional playoff matchup this weekend is a rematch from a closely contested game earlier this season, which saw the Seahawks get the victory in a close one. Atlanta actually impressed many in that game as they were able to hang with Seattle on the road and how they might have won that game if not for a botch PI penalty that wasn’t called late in the 4th quarter. Both teams have changed since then but I think Atlanta will definitely have revenge on their minds this Saturday. Seattle was able to take care of Detroit last weekend but on Saturday they will face a much more talented and balanced offense in Atlanta. The Falcons are powered on offense by their dynamic passing game led by QB Matt Ryan and his lead target WR Julio Jones. But don’t sleep on the way Atlanta can run the ball. RB’s Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are as a dynamic running duo as any other one in the league. We all know about how good this Atlanta offense can be but history dictates that really good offenses usually fall to good defenses in the playoffs. I think Seattle’s defense will put up a great challenge for Atlanta but they are not at full strength with Earl Thomas out of the line up. Even with Thomas in the secondary, the Falcons were still able to put up production in that first meeting earlier this season. Seattle will have to fight hard on both sides of the ball to compete with Atlanta on Saturday. Last weekend, Seattle ran the ball very well behind RB Thomas Rawls and with that running game; they were able to control the tempo for most of the contest. Seattle might have to implement that game plan again on Saturday, as Atlanta is just an average defense at defending the run. They might help QB Russell Wilson in terms of protecting himself from Atlanta’s pass rush. Edge rusher Vic Beasley was the league leader in sack this season and with the state of Seattle’s offensive line, I think he will be in pursuit of Wilson for the majority of this Saturday afternoon. But if Wilson can find time, he will be throwing against a Falcons secondary that ranked near the bottom this season. I think Seattle will have a good shot at winning on the road this weekend but the Seahawks have historically had let down on the road in the regular season and in the playoffs. I think Atlanta will jump out on top early and they’ll be able to hold off a Seahawks comeback late. Much like the last time these teams played in the post season in Atlanta. Prediction: Falcons 28 – Seahawks 24

Houston @ New England – I guess we have to give Houston credit for beating up on an injured Oakland team last week. But on to this week where no one on earth is giving the Texans a chance at going up to Foxboro on Saturday night and leaving with a victory. I don’t know if Houston has a real chance or not but I’ll try my best to sell that to you. First, the Texans have the number one ranked defense in the NFL. DE Jadeveon Clowney was a real difference maker last week and he will be used in a similar way this week against a Patriots offensive line that can struggle against the premier pass rushers in this league. Houston also has a stingy secondary. They will get physical with New England’s smaller receivers and create tough passing windows for QB Tom Brady. And my third point: the Texans coaching staff is made up from Bill Belichick disciples. Bill O’Brien is the head coach and Romeo Crennel is the defensive coordinator. They know Belichick. They know their offense. Could this prove to be an advantage for Houston? I don’t know. Also, I’m not going to bet on it. I think New England will use this game to prove why they are favored by so much in this game. I think New England will be aggressive offensively and they will tire out the Texans up front with their running game. New England’s defense is also unheralded and they will have the opportunity to appear to be really good against Houston’s offense. I think Houston’s defense might be able to keep the Texans in this game but I have no faith in QB Brock Osweiler going toe to toe with Tom Brady in terms of offensive production. The Patriots will dominate in this one. Prediction: Patriots 35 – Texans 17

Green Bay @ Dallas – On Sunday, the marathon of rematches from the regular season will continue. Green Bay won last week at home convincingly against the Giants and they are feeling pretty good going into this matchup in Jerry’s World. They maybe feeling good about there chances but they may not be feeling so good health wise. Green Bay is banged up on both sides of the ball while the Cowboys are rested and are as healthy as they’ve been all season. A lot of people like the Packers right now because of the play of QB Aaron Rodgers and I can’t blame them. Rodgers is having one of those seasons that is proving that he is the best QB in football. Even with the Jordy Nelson injury, the Packers are well equipped at the WR position with players like DeVante Adams, Randall Cobb, and TE Jarred Cook. Adams had a big game against the Cowboys 2 years ago in the playoffs in memory serves me correctly. Green Bay isn’t going to beat anyone in the ground game but Ty Montgomery’s ability as a versatile runner and receiver from out of the backfield will make him into a player that the Cowboys defense will have to account for. Montgomery is a Dallas native and he will have the extra motivation to show out in front of his family. I don’t know how the Packers held the Giants to only 13 points last week. Green Bay has some talented players on defense like Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, and safety HaHa Clinton-Dix. But as a unit, Green Bay isn’t very good defensively. That banged up secondary will mean that the Packers will have to lean on their front 7 to created stops and turnovers. The Cowboys offensive line handled the Packers front 7 quite easily in their matchup earlier this season. I don’t think the Packers will have an answer for rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas run game. In passing situations, I am scared to death of the matchup between Peppers and right tackle Doug Free. But rookie QB Dak Prescott had a decent day passing against the Packers earlier this season and he was able to play well even without WR Dez Bryant. With the current state of the Packers secondary, I fully expect Bryant to be a difference maker down the field in a way that Odell Beckham Jr wasn’t last week. The Cowboys have a highly ranked defense but really, those numbers aren’t as impressive if you’ve watched the Cowboys this season. Rodgers will have a chance at creating some big plays down the field against a defense that struggles to provide pressure or create turnovers. But the Dallas defense this season has been known for bending but not breaking. I think the Cowboys defense could be a weakness but it is a unit that is better than it was in 2014. The Cowboys had an impressive regular season but they are now approaching rare air for them. This is a franchise that hasn’t advanced to Conference Championship Sunday in 21 years. This is a huge game for the entire franchise and I believe that they will not let their inexperience of Aaron Rodgers squander their opportunity. Many of the talking heads like Green Bay on Sunday but I’m thinking that is just more wishful thinking than really believing that Dallas will lose this game. The opportunity will be too big for this team to miss. I like the Cowboys at home. Prediction: Cowboys 33 – Packers 24

Pittsburgh @ Kansas City – I’m glad that this game was pushed back into primetime for the safety of the fans traveling to Kansas City and also I can now sleep in on Sunday without fear of missing any of the NFL Playoff action. This matchup should be a good one in Kansas City in a great atmosphere like Arrowhead Stadium. That place will be packed and rocking. I also want to say this first: I think the winner of this game will end up advancing to the Super Bowl. That being said, it is going to be really hard for me to not pick the Steelers to win this game. Pittsburgh was a pre season favorite going into this season but they kind of lost their way and found themselves with a 4-5 record after 9 games. They may not have had a tough schedule to close out the season but that doesn’t matter really. We have to give them credit for the run they are currently on and they did have to overcome some adversity against division rivals Cincinnati and Baltimore. The reason why the Steelers were pre season Super Bowl favorites was because of the talent they have on the offensive side of the ball. And that talent was on full display last week against Miami. I know that Miami isnt a good team and they kind of backed into the playoffs but WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell looked unstoppable last week. QB Ben Roethlisberger also had an impressive outing. I guess we can talk about the defense starting to play better even though last week they were hardly tested against an one-dimensional offense led by a backup QB. But still, that defense improving will be key if the Steelers want to make it to the Super Bowl. And that unit is improving. But here comes the bad news Pittsburgh fans: Kansas City isn’t Miami. I liked Kansas City all season. I like their defense. I like their ball control offense. I like Andy Reid and his experience. Limiting the combo of Bell, Brown, and Big Ben maybe a huge chore for the Chiefs defense but I think they will at least be up to it. I like Kansas City up front on defense. They have three really good pass rushers in Tamba Hali, Dee Ford, and Justin Houston. I think they will be able to pressure Big Ben in a way that he hasn’t felt in a while. Though on the other hand, the Pittsburgh offensive line has been performing well this season and they do not get enough credit. Protecting Ben will be a huge part of this game especially when you figure in Ben’s ankle injury. The Chiefs suffered a tough injury near the end of the season to LB Derrick Johnson. Since then, the Chiefs have struggled at stopping the run. I think they better figure out a way to slow Bell and the Pittsburgh running attack. If Bell can get loose, he will control the tempo of this game. Antonio Brown is the best WR in the league but KC’s secondary is really good. CB Marcus Peters is a tough player who has the knack at creating big plays. Safety Eric Berry is probably the best at his position in the league and he will be an issue in the box defending the run and covering the deep ball. Many people are saying that they cannot count on QB Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense out scoring the Steelers with their many offensive weapons. Alex Smith has been forever slept on especially in the playoffs and I think he will prove on Sunday night to be better than what most people believe. Even without Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs have a decent run game. Plus, Smith has some pretty good receivers to go to as well. TE Travis Kelce is a difference maker down the field. WR Jeremy Maclin is good on his own right. And rookie WR Tyreek Hill is a speedster who can affect the game as a kick returner. I think the Chiefs offense is more capable than what people believe. It has been a long time since the Chiefs have won a home playoff game and Andy Reid as a coach has a great record when coming off of the bye week. Earlier this season, the Steelers squashed the Chiefs at home. KC then went on the bye week and returned to go on a great run which led them to the AFC West crown. I don’t think the Chiefs have forgot about that Sunday night beat down in Heinz Field. I think that the KC front seven on defense will find a way to bother Roethlisberger and they will come up with more stops than the Steelers defense will produce. It will be close but I’m taking the Chiefs at Arrowhead. Prediction: Chiefs 24 – Steelers 20