Is Myles Garrett the guy for the job of fixing Cleveland’s pass rush?
By: Elias McMillan
The NFL Draft is a crap shoot and unlike last year, teams have not made a trade up into the top 5 for one particular player. That would make predicting the picks easier but instead I feel like I made a few guesses this year that might feel like reaches. I’m sure it can’t be as bad as anyone else’s Mock Draft. Anyway, Cleveland is on the clock…..
1. Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett, OLB/DE, Texas A&M: This should be a no brainer for the Browns. Myles Garrett has been the projected as the number one pick in this draft early in the process. The Browns have had numerous high draft choices in round one in recent years but they’ve never had a chance to draft anyone as talented or anyone who can change their defense like Garrett could. Garrett is an athletic freak who can make plays behind the line of scrimmage. The combination of size and speed that he brings to the table is drawing comparisons to Julius Peppers and Jadeveon Clowney. Garrett out produced both of those guys in college. He will bring big time talent to a Browns defense that only had two players to get double-digit sack totals in a season in the last ten years.
2. San Francisco 49ers – Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: The 49ers could go a lot of different ways with this pick. They need defensive help but they also need a QB. I think the Niners will wait on a QB in later rounds. To get their defense back to where they once were only a short time ago, they need a player who can get to the QB. San Fran has spent recent top draft picks on the defensive line already but they are still missing the pass rush that they lost when Aldon Smith left the team. Solomon Thomas had a tremendous final season at Stanford where he looked unblockable at times. Thomas has a really quick first step and the way he penetrates the line of scrimmage really sets him apart from most pass rushers in this draft. Thomas would be a great fit as a pass rusher in San Fran’s 3-4 defense.
3. Chicago Bears – Jamal Adams, S, LSU: Jamal Adams is the most complete safety in this draft. He is great in the open field as a tackler and he can defend passes down the field. The Bears need plenty of defensive help. Adams would be a bad place to start.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama: The Jaguars have been trying to build up their defensive line for a while now. They’ve brought in multiple free agents to that unit recently. But I think that Jacksonville needs youth in that area. Allen was an absolute force inside at Alabama where he played at a high level for three years. The addition of Allen to what they already have on the defensive line could produce immediate results.
5. Tennessee Titans – Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State: Tennessee recently cut one of their veteran safeties and they can draft a replacement for him in round one. I like Malik Hooker’s game a lot. He isn’t the complete safety that Jamal Adams is but he is a ball hawk who can make plays when the ball is in his area consistently. Hooker needs to work on becoming more of a physical tackler but I don’t see defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau passing on him especially with Adams off the board.
6. New York Jets – Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State: The Jets would get a steal here if the best corner in the draft is still available at pick number six. If you are looking to replace a player like Darrelle Revis, Lattimore would be a great place to start. Lattimore offers great speed and instincts, which make him look like a future all-pro. The Jets are in an interesting place right now because they’ve gotten rid of so many veterans in this offseason. They could really go anywhere with this pick. But getting Lattimore at six would be a steal.
7. Los Angeles Chargers – Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama: I didn’t really know where to go with this one. I’m betting that the Chargers are hoping for one of the top two safeties to drop down to them. If not, they will most likely trade down. If they don’t trade down, I have them drafting for need with a CB. Taking a corner here might be a reach but the Chargers secondary dealt with injuries last season and they need more depth. Humphrey was a great corner on a pretty good Alabama defense and he was able to be pretty durable during his college career. He will help a Chargers secondary that needs to get younger.
8. Carolina Panthers – Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin: In Super Bowl 50, Cam Newton got beat up. Then, during the 2016 regular season, Newton got even more beat up. You got to find a way to protect your franchise QB. Michael Oher is a great success story but he cannot be a starter on this offensive line. Carolina brought in Matt Kalil from Minnesota and they can draft a starting offensive tackle for the immediate future with this pick. Ryan Ramczyk comes from a school that seems to just breed great offensive linemen. Carolina could go with a RB or some defensive help here but I think they need to prioritize protecting their franchise QB.
9. Cincinnati Bengals – Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama: Reuben Foster is an absolute thumper for a LB. He is a big time hitter and was the best player from a talented Alabama defense. The Bengals cut ties with veteran LB Rey Maualuga in the offseason and drafting Foster here would provide their defense with an instant replacement. Foster does has some red flags for some off the field stuff but I think he’s too good to drop out of the top ten.
10. Buffalo Bills – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: This might come as a shocker. Many think that Buffalo will be concerning a QB at pick 10. But I think they need to stick with Tyrod Taylor and draft him some weapons. I do like Clemson’s Mike Williams a lot but the Bills already have a receiver with a similar skill set and he just happens to be from Clemson as well. I think that small school product, Corey Davis, would complement Sammy Watkins better than Mike Williams. Davis is a streaky receiver with superb route running skills. He was very productive as a college player and he should be ready to provide Taylor with another target down the field to take the pressure off Watkins.
11. New Orleans Saints – Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State: The Saints need all the defensive help. Bring in Gareon Conley from a deep and talented Ohio State secondary. New Orleans’ pass defense has ranked near the bottom in the league for a while now.
12. Cleveland Browns – Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina: If the Browns have two picks in round one, you better believe the second one will be a QB. You might expect me to vouch from Mitch Trubisky because he’s a Tarheel but actually, I don’t think he is the best QB in this draft. Trubisky needs a lot of work and he would probably be better off sitting in his rookie season. But Cleveland reportedly likes Trubisky a lot. For Trubisky, it’s all about his potential. Trubisky has a good arm, his athletic, and he played with a talented bunch of WR’s in college. Trubisky also only has one-year experience as a starter. I think Hue Jackson will love the opportunity to mold Trubisky into something but they will need to be patient and resist the temptation of throwing him to the lions in year one. But with Cleveland’s QB situation, Trubisky may have to get ready sooner than later.
13. Arizona Cardinals – Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: Here’s a shocker. Arizona takes a QB for the future, as Carson Palmer’s time is almost up. Mahomes has a great arm that the pro scouts love. Much like Trubisky, Mahomes needs some pro coaching seasoning and Bruce Arians has a good track record with young QB’s.
Dalvin Cook did it all in the backfield at Florida State
14. Philadelphia Eagles – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: I don’t think Dalvin Cook is the best RB in the draft but he fits what the Eagles need at that position. Cook is in the mold of a Jamaal Charles type player and head coach Doug Pederson is very familiar with such a player from his time in Kansas City. Cook is a complete back as he can fill the role as a tradition RB but can also provide the QB with a pretty good target in the passing game. He will remind Eagles fans of a better version of Brian Westbrook.
15. Indianapolis Colts – Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple: With Robert Mathis retiring, the Colts need a talent on defense who can create pressure in the backfield. Haason Reddick has sky rocketed up draft boards after a great Senior Bowl. He was a player at Temple who improved each season and did whatever to help on the defensive side of the ball. He needs to bulk up some but with his small size, along with that comes great speed along the edges, which is key for a OLB in a 3-4 defense.
16. Baltimore Ravens – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: This would be a dream come true for Baltimore. Mike Williams is arguably the best WR in the draft and the Ravens need a big time target for Joe Flacco. Williams isn’t going to blow the top off of defenses in the NFL with his speed but with his size and the way he attacks the football while in the air will make him an attractive prospect as a rookie. Williams is a playmaker when the ball is thrown his way and he could develop into the Ravens new number one target in the passing game sooner than later.
17. Washington – Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Many believe that Leonard Fournette is a lock to be a top 10 pick or at least the first RB selected. I don’t have him in either category. Why? I like Fournette is going to be hurt a bit by the load he had to carry at LSU. He was basically their entire offense and he went through a lot of wear and tear in college. Despite that, I still think he is the best RB in the draft. He is a physical runner, he’s hard to tackle, and he has underrated speed. Washington has been waiting for a RB like him since Clinton Portis left town. Washington would rush to the podium if Fournette some how slips all the way down to pick 17.
18. Tennessee Titans – John Ross, WR, Washington: I’m not a big fan of John Ross but after going with defense with their first selection in round one, the Titans will be looking for a new target for their franchise QB. I’m not a big fan of Ross because of his durability issues. He is the fastest WR in the draft but I’m worried about his ability to stay healthy. Either way, Tennessee would be drafting a player with future number one receiver potential if he is able to stay healthy.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan: No prospect in this draft has been picked apart like Jabrill Peppers. Is he a player without a position? Is he too small to play safety? There are a lot of questions about Peppers. I like him as a prospect and I think he versatility in college was more about sacrifice and giving Michigan all he had to offer. As a safety, I think Peppers could develop into a Troy Polumalu type of player in the league. Despite his size, he is a pretty sure tackler. He is a playmaker as a “in the box” safety. And he can do special things with the ball in his hands, especially as a kick returner. Tampa could use a guy like Peppers on defense and special teams. It’s not like the Bucs have a sure starter at safety away. They will give Pepper a chance to silence his critics.
20. Denver Broncos – O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Many have the top TE prospect, O.J. Howard, going in the top 10. Howard is one of the most talented TE to come out of college in a while now but I don’t think the TE position is that valuable to take a guy that high in the draft. However, Howard would be a great fit for a Denver offense that needs to help whoever ends up as their QB. Howard was a game changer at Alabama and he played at his best in the biggest moments. He could play immediately in Denver.
21. Detroit Lions – Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: Ziggy Ansah is the star DE on the Lions but he is coming off a majorly disappointing 2016 season. I think the Lions know that Ziggy can regain his form going forward but he would probably benefit from another talent lining up opposite of him on that defensive line. Derek Barnett was a big time player at Tennessee where he broke the school’s sack record previously held by Reggie White. Barnett didn’t blow scouts away at the combine but his game film speaks for himself. The guy is relentless at getting after the QB and he could help improve Detroit’s sack total, which was 30th in the league last season.
22. Miami Dolphins – Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA: The Dolphins need to get younger at defensive end. Cameron Wake is still there but they need a replacement for Mario Williams who was let go in the offseason. I like Takk McKinley’s game a lot. The way he attacks offensive tackles with his explosiveness off the ball really stands out. There is a bit of an injury concern with him but I think he is good enough for Miami to take a chance with him at 22.
23. New York Giants – David Njoku, TE, Miami (Fla): I feel like I mock a TE to the Giants almost every year I do this. The Giants seem to get by just fine without a dynamic TE on offense. I think in this part of the draft, NY will be looking for the best player available and that could be the TE out of Miami, Florida. Njoku is a crazy good athlete with great speed for his size. He will provide Eli Manning with a big fast target down the field.
24. Oakland Raiders – Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: This selection just screams “Oakland Raiders”. How about this scenario: the Raiders convince Marshawn Lynch to come out of retirement and then they pair his thunder with the lightning of Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey was an electrifying player in college as a shifty RB that could do it all. The Raiders ran the ball well last season but their starter left for Minnesota. The combination of McCaffrey and maybe Lynch would mean that the Raiders would still have a running game to support QB David Carr but they would also have a more dynamic backfield with the rookie from Stanford.
DeShaun Watson is a winner and Houston needs a new signal caller.
25. Houston Texans – Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson: I think Deshaun Watson is the best QB in this draft. But why do I have him as the third QB selected then? I know that many think that Watson doesn’t have the intangibles to make a quick transition into a NFL QB. But I choose to judge Watson as a QB by looking at his body of work while at Clemson. He won a lot of big games against some of the best defenses in the country. Many are concerned about Watson being a system QB or that he doesn’t have a big time arm or that he can’t pass in the pocket. But he was able to make all the throws and the plays while at Clemson and that has to count for something. He was definitely a better QB in college than Trubisky or Mahomes. He would be welcomed with open arms at QB-needy Houston.
26. Seattle Seahawks – Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama: Seattle went with offensive line in round one last year but that shouldn’t stop them from doing the same this year. That offensive line still ranked near the bottom in the league in allowed sacks. I think Cam Robinson can be plugged in as a future starting tackle for QB Russell Wilson.
27. Kansas City Chiefs – Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt: When the Chiefs lost starting LB Derrick Johnson to injury late in the season, it hurt their run defense tremendously. Johnson is getting up there in age and the Chiefs need an insurance policy. Cunningham is one of the top LB prospects in the draft and he specifies at stopping the run. He would be a great fit in the middle of Kansas City’s already talented defense.
28. Dallas Cowboys – Kevin King, CB, Washington: Every year during draft season, I yell and scream about the Cowboys needing a pass rush. That remains a problem area for yet another offseason but I think the Cowboys have to account for losing 3 starters in their secondary. I would be okay if they went with a pass rusher that they really liked and that fit their system but it hard to find a true difference maker as a pass rusher when you are picking at the bottom of each round. Luckily for Dallas, this year’s draft is rich with talent in the secondary. For example, Washington’s Kevin King would provide a great combination of size and speed that would serve him well as a pro. King might of benefitted from the injury of teammate Sidney Jones who would have been a top 20 pick if he didn’t go down to an injury during the draft process. Regardless, King is talented on his own right and Dallas would be thrilled to take him at 28.
29. Green Bay Packers – Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky: I like I said for Carolina’s selection: You have to protect your franchise QB’s. The Packers lost their starting guard in free agency. Here, they can draft a replacement to play right away in Green Bay’s offense.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers – Charles Harris, DE/OLB, Missouri: Once again, the Steelers are asking themselves if they can really count on James Harrison to be an effective starter at his age. Pittsburgh has stuck out recently with draft picks aiming to push Harrison out of the starting lineup but with Charles Harris, they might actually find success this time. Harris is a tremendous pass rusher off the edge and comes from a program that has produced some nice NFL products on the defensive side of the ball. Harris’ size and speed make him ideal for a 3-4 defense. He could be a nice fit for the future of Pittsburgh’s defense.
31. Atlanta Falcons – Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida: Atlanta hit the jackpot last season with their late selections at the LB position. They could really solidify that position with the selection of Davis. Jarrad Davis has a great motor and he hits like a truck. Run defense was a weakness for Atlanta and Davis could really help them immediately.
32. New Orleans Saints – Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State: New Orleans’ defense is really bad. That need all the help they can get. I think I said the same thing at pick 11. Malik McDowell would be a nice addition to their defensive line. McDowell is a tall, athletic defensive lineman that could play multiple positions in New Orleans’ scheme.
- Cleveland Browns – Adoree Jackson, CB, USC
- San Francisco 49ers – DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
- Jacksonville Jaguars – Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
- Chicago Bears – Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
- Los Angeles Rams – Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
- Los Angeles Chargers – Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston
- New York Jets – Evan Engram, TE, Virginia Tech
- Carolina Panthers – Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
- Cincinnati Bengals – Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
- New Orleans Saints – TreDavious White, CB, LSU
- Philadelphia Eagles – Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado
- Buffalo Bills – Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut
- Arizona Cardinals – Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
- Indianapolis Colts – Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
- Baltimore Ravens – T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
- Minnesota Vikings – Duke Riley, LB, LSU
- Washington – Budda Baker, S, Washington
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
- Denver Broncos – Larry Ogunjobi, DT, Charlotte
- Cleveland Browns – Juju Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
- Detroit Lions – Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
- Miami Dolphins – Desmond King, S/CB, Iowa
- New York Giants – Montravius Adams, DT, Auburn
- Oakland Raiders – Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
- Houston Texans – Dalvin Tomlinson, DT, Alabama
- Seattle Seahawks – Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
- Kansas City Chiefs – Jordan Willis, DE/OLB, Kansas State
- Dallas Cowboys – Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio
- Green Bay Packers – Ryan Anderson, OLB, Alabama
- Pittsburgh Steelers – Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
- Atlanta Falcons – Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA
64. Carolina Panthers – Curtis Samuel, WR/RB, Ohio State
“I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk awaaaaaaaaaaaaay….”
By: Elias McMillan
Conference Championships: 0-2
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
Super Steelers? It does appear that way.
By: Elias McMillan
Divisional Round: 2-2
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
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
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
Miami’s run to the playoffs started in Week 6 against the Steelers. On Sunday, the Dolphins will meet them again in Pittsburgh.
By: Elias McMillan
Last Week: 14-2
Final 2016 Regular Season Record: 163-91-2
NFL Playoffs: Wildcard Weekend
Oakland @ Houston – For the second straight year, ESPN gets stuck with coverage of a playoff game in Houston that no one really wanted to see. Oakland was such a great story this season until about 2 weeks ago. Within that time, they have lost their starter and backup QB in rout to already being clinched for a post-season berth in the playoffs. Where Oakland goes from here is anyone’s guess. Houston has had its QB troubles recently too. Houston’s 72 million dollar man, QB Brock Osweiler, was bench about 3 weeks ago but because of a concussion suffered by his replacement, backup Tom Savage, Osweiler will be back in the starting position this Saturday. We have to imagine that Osweiler isn’t feeling too confident about his standing as the leader of the offense or as a competent QB in this league. The fact is that Osweiler hasn’t lived up to expectations this season. I’m not sure if Houston is going to need Osweiler to be great to win this playoff game. Houston has other weapons on the team that will make them a tough out for the Raiders. RB Lamar Miller had a good first season with the Texans. He was held out from the last two games of the regular season and he should be fresh and ready to go this weekend. Oakland will have to find a way to account for Miller as they ranked 23rd in the league in run defense. Houston is going to have to run the ball effectively in this game in order to control the clock and to keep Osweiler from making a mistake. Oakland doesn’t have a strong run defense but their defense can affect the game in other ways. Edge rushers, Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, have made a living this season at creating chaos in the opponents back field. Oakland allows quite a few yards through the air but I like the way safety Reggie Nelson has been playing lately. Oakland doesn’t have the best defense in the playoffs but they have the ability to create turnovers that can change the game. After being down two QB’s, the Raiders will have to start QB Connor Cook on Saturday who is making his career debut as a pro. Cook is a real wildcard in this matchup because no one knows what to expect from him. Oakland’s offensive line has a huge task ahead of them as they will have to protect their young QB against a pretty good Houston defense. DE Jadeveon Clowney has finally emerged as a difference maker on the field with the absence of J.J. Watt. Oakland has had a serviceable running game this season so with Cook starting, we may see a steady dose of RB Latavius Murray. Houston has one of the top pass defenses in the league so it will be interesting seeing how Cook want to attack them with Amari Cooper or Michael Crabtree. In their matchup earlier this season, Houston outplayed Oakland really but they were on the wrong end of a couple of bad calls. I bet Oakland thinks that can play better than what they did in the last matchup but Houston probably has the bigger revenge chip on their shoulder. Oakland won 12 games this season and I think their playmakers on defense will be the difference. I’m taking the Raiders in a low scoring affair. Prediction: Raiders 18 – Texans 14
Detroit @ Seattle – In the second game on Saturday, we’ll see two teams that don’t look like they are ready to make a run towards the Super Bowl. Detroit squandered their lead in the NFC North to the Packers in a matter of 3 weeks. Seattle wrapped up the NFC West earlier but since the injury to Earl Thomas, they haven’t looked the same. Detroit still has its work cut out for them if they hope to upset Seattle who is usually a monster at home. But with the way Seattle has been playing lately, they are definitely vulnerable right now, even with the home field advantage. If Detroit can keep Seattle from controlling the clock on offense, they’ll have a shot at winning this game. Detroit has been inconsistent at stopping the run on defense but Seattle’s run game has been inconsistent as well. I don’t know how well Russell Wilson will play but Detroit will have to find a way to pressure him in order to keep him from making big plays. Last year in the playoffs, Wilson struggled in that first game at Minnesota but was still able to make the big play late to help Seattle get the victory. With the state of the Seahawks offensive line, I believe the Lions will be able to get after Wilson. Seattle is still pretty good defensively even without Earl Thomas. The Seahawks have a good pass rush and one of the top run defenses in the league. Detroit should have a hard time getting the run game going which will open the door for QB Matt Stafford to try to win the game with his arm. The Legion of Boom isn’t quite that without Thomas in the lineup so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stafford find the matchups that will help him get his team down the field. TE Eric Ebron has emerged recently and WR’s Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin are more than familiar with the Seattle secondary. I think this game will be closer than what many people think. Detroit hasn’t won in a month and I don’t think I have faith in their defense to totally shut down Seattle offensively. A wildcard in this game will be TE Jimmy Graham who can destroy a defense’s game plan at any moment. I’m going with the home team. Prediction: Seahawks 26 – Lions 21
Miami @ Pittsburgh – Miami starting the season with a 1-4 record going into their Week 6 matchup at home against the Steelers. Who would have known that game was the start of a 9-2 run in the post season? Miami has had a remarkable and unlikely run to the playoffs this season and it is fitting that they’ll be in Pittsburgh on Sunday for this Wildcard matchup. People see the city name “Miami” and think, “Oh. There’s no way a team from Miami can win in Pittsburgh in January!” That thinking is common but couldn’t be more false. Miami is a ten-point underdog this weekend but I think they could stand a chance in Pittsburgh. Miami was able to beat Pittsburgh in their first matchup this season because of RB Jay Ajayi and the Miami run game. A great coach once said that a good run game is one thing that is guaranteed to travel with teams no matter which stadium they’re playing at. If Miami brings their running attack and is able to control the clock, they’ll be able to limit Pittsburgh’s scoring chances on offense. QB Matt Moore will be starting for the Dolphins and I don’t see him coming out with the goal to just air it out against the Steelers secondary. Pittsburgh’s defense as a whole has gotten a lot better since Week 6 so Moore will have to be careful and be selective about the shots to take down field. Miami does have more than capable WR’s in Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills. This game will feature two defenses that can allow both offenses to put up a lot of numbers but again; I see where Pittsburgh’s defense has improved. Not so much with Miami. I don’t have much confidence in Miami limiting Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, or Antonio Brown on Sunday. For Miami to stand a chance on defense, they will need to bring the pressure towards Roethlisberger for all 4 quarters. The Steelers have a decent offensive line but they’ll have a huge chore ahead of them on Sunday in the shape of DE Cameron Wake and DT Ndamukong Suh. I think too many things would have to go right for Miami for them to upset Pittsburgh on Sunday. Miami could slow the game down with Ajayi or harass Roethlisberger behind the line of scrimmage. But the Steelers just have too many weapons for Miami to account for. They wont be able to stop Bell on the ground and with time, Roethlisberger should be able to find big plays down the field against the Dolphins secondary. Miami could make it interesting but I like the Steelers at home. Prediction: Steelers 36 – Dolphins 28
New York Giants @ Green Bay – The second matchup on Sunday features two of the hottest teams in the NFC. Green Bay rode their hot streak into winning the NFC North last week. The Giants have looked impressive down the stretch and many believe that they could be gearing up for another championship run. I have to give Green Bay credit for catching up with Detroit and winning the division but on Sunday, they might match up poorly against the Giants. The Giants have done a tremendous job defensively recently and they might present some issues to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense. New York may not have the same pass rushing abilities they had when Jason Pierre-Paul was healthy but they playing well against the run and the secondary is also playing out of its mind right now. If the Giants can’t get after Rodgers, he will have time in the pocket but many QB’s have found it tough recently against the Giants secondary. Green Bay is going to have to figure out a creative way to get receivers open down the field. Another thing I don’t like about this matchup for the Packers is that their defense really isn’t good. They have had their issues this season at stopping the run and they are recently faced with multiple injuries in the secondary. The Giants don’t have a strong rushing offense but they do have some talented backs that might be able to find some space against the Packers front seven. And with a hurting secondary, the Giants and their talented trio of receivers should be able to make big plays down the field. Rodgers is the hot QB right now and he has powered the entire Green Bay squad during their run into the playoffs. Green Bay has been an overachiever in recent weeks so; I think they’ll be able to put up a good fight especially at home. But with the way that the Giants defense has been playing recently and with the state of the Packers secondary, I can see the Giants winning this one by the skin of their teeth. Prediction: Giants 24 – Packers 21
Despite a setback last week at home, Seattle still has a slim chance of earning the second seed in the NFC.
By: Elias McMillan
Last Week: 10-6
Baltimore @ Cincinnati – We wont be seeing the Ravens in the post season so this will be the last game in the career of Steve Smith. Baltimore will be aiming to end his career on a positive note. My Pick: Ravens
Houston @ Tennessee – The Texans will be resting multiple starters in preparation for the playoffs but I have a hard time believing that the Titans will win with Matt Cassell starting. My Pick: Texans
Jacksonville @ Indianapolis – The Jaguars got their only home victory of the season last week. Just in time for them to lay an egg on the road to close out the season. Colts DE Robert Mathis will be playing in his final game. My Pick: Colts
New England @ Miami – The Pats still need to wrap up home field in the AFC. Miami needs to start to prepare for Pittsburgh next weekend. They will rest many of their starters, I think. My Pick: Patriots
Chicago @ Minnesota – A tough second half of the season for Mike Zimmer and the Vikings. They need something positive to take with them to the offseason. My Pick: Vikings
Buffalo @ New York Jets – The Bills organization is a mess and the players are starting to take wind of this. Many people dislike Rex Ryan because of how loud he can be. But the bottom line is that Rex is actually a good coach and he definitely deserved more than two years to help Buffalo turn it around. On top of that firing, Buffalo will start EJ Manuel on Sunday. I know that the Jets have been worst this season but Buffalo is imploding. My Pick: Jets
Dallas @ Philadelphia – The Cowboys will be resting their starters and the Eagles will be looking for anything positive to take with them into the offseason. I hope Tony Romo doesn’t play. He deserved a send off last week at home and not one in Philly where he will definitely get booed. My Pick: Eagles
Cleveland @ Pittsburgh – I’m glad that Cleveland got their one win last week. Pittsburgh will be resting many of their starters. But it won’t matter. My Pick: Steelers
Carolina @ Tampa Bay – The Buccaneers have a laundry list of a playoff scenario to pull off if they hope to make it. Step one: beat Carolina. Step two: Pray. My Pick: Buccaneers
New Orleans @ Atlanta – The Falcons have a good shot at gaining the number 2 seed in the NFC and a first week playoff bye. That’s too big of an opportunity to lose especially at home. My Pick: Falcons
Oakland @ Denver – The injury to David Carr really stinks. Oakland was looking to possibly have the number 2 seed in the AFC. Now, they will have to feed their back up QB to an angry Denver defense on the road. The Raiders will be getting ready for Houston after this one. My Pick: Broncos
Arizona @ Los Angeles – Could this be Larry Fitzgerald’s last game as a Cardinal? My Pick: Cardinals
Kansas City @ San Diego – There is nowhere to go but up after you lose to Cleveland. But Kansas City will be looking to make the jump from wild-card team to AFC West Champions. The Chiefs will be ready to take care of business in this one. My Pick: Chiefs
Seattle @ San Francisco – The Seahawks suffered a major let down last week at home. Now, they will probably have to play next weekend instead of having a bye week in the playoffs. My Pick: Seahawks
New York Giants @ Washington – The Giants really don’t have anything to play for but they don’t want to take their foot off the pedal going into next weekend. Why not knock your rivals out of playoff contention? My Pick: Giants
Green Bay @ Detroit – This is the scenario that everyone saw coming weeks ago. Despite leading in the division for weeks, the Lions have allowed the Packers to catch up and they will now play a winner takes all on Sunday night for the NFC North title. Despite the run that Green Bay is currently on, I don’t see them as a threat in the NFC but that doesn’t mean that they wont be able to finish the job on the road in Detroit. The Lions are basically powered by Matt Stafford and their ability to stage comebacks late in games. I don’t have a reason why Detroit will be able to stop the Packers on offense. At the same time, I could say the same about Green Bay and their defense. This game will be about the QBs: Stafford and Rodgers. I bet the Lions will start out hot at home and Rodgers will start to limp around, causing the commentators to assume the worst about his health. But then in the second half, Rodgers will start playing out of his mind and Stafford will not have an answer. I also predict a happy ending for both teams, as we will see them both next week. My Pick: Packers
Happy New Year!