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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

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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

NFL 2016: Week 13 Predictions!

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The Oakland Raiders are the hottest team in the AFC going into December.

By: Elias McMillan

 

Last Week: 12-4

Season: 109-66-2

Big Five Games of the Week

Dallas @ Minnesota – The Cowboys are winners of 10 straight going into December. They are still the hottest team in football but they now enter a crucial part in their schedule. Minnesota went through a rough patch and many written them off, me included. But Mike Zimmer’s team is tough and they seem to always compete down til the last second. This will especially be the case when the Vikings are at home tonight in their new stadium in front of a raucous crowd. The big match up in this game will be the Vikings defense vs. the Cowboys offense. Minnesota’s defense is a talented group with young talent and key veterans in all position groups. Minnesota’s defensive line is tough and they have the ability to pressure the QB. I really like the LB’s Minnesota has and their secondary is ranked in the top 5 in the league. I feel like I’ve said this every week but the Cowboys offense has been able to take on all challengers week after week. But I think I can say with confidence that this Minnesota defense at home will be the toughest test yet for rookie QB Dak Prescott. Minnesota doesn’t have a highly ranked run defense but they will key against the run and they might be able to win some battles with the personnel they have. Cowboys fans should be worried about Prescott and if he will be able to move the ball through the air if Minnesota can slow down Ezekiel Elliott. For the Cowboys on defense, they have been such a curious case. In November, the team went undefeated while the defense did not cause a single turnover. This was the first time in league history that a team was able to do so. That’s kind of impressive but really, it isnt a good thing. Minnesota’s offense has been short handed for most of the season but if the Cowboys defense doesn’t find a way to challenge them, Sam Bradford might have one of his best games in weeks. I don’t think that will happen but mainly, the Cowboys defense has to figure something out soon. Why not on Thursday night against an offense that can’t run the ball and has protection issues up front? I think the Vikings will play Dallas tough at home but I’m sticking with the hot team on the road. Jason Garrett’s team is starting to build a rep as a tough visiting team. Prediction: Cowboys 27 – Vikings 24

Kansas City @ Atlanta – The Chiefs scored an impressive road victory last week at Denver but I feel that they aren’t getting enough credit. Everyone is focusing on the bad decision that the Denver coach made in overtime. But I like this Chiefs team a lot. I like their pass rush and I like their ball control offense. Atlanta scored a lot of points last week but they’ll face a greater challenge this week in Kansas City. The Chiefs will present many problems that may slow down Atlanta’s high-powered offense. I think the Chiefs pass rush will be able to get after Matt Ryan. I think Kansas City will be tough to run against. I think Atlanta will be leaning on Julio Jones to provide most of the big plays down the field but a pretty good CB, Marcus Peters, will challenge him. I don’t think Alex Smith will out gun sling Matt Ryan but I do not trust Atlanta defense right now. Yes, that unit has gotten better this season but they are dealing with some injuries right now. I like the Chiefs to score their second straight road victory. Prediction: Chiefs 35 – Falcons 28

Houston @ Green Bay – The Packers won a prime time game as an underdog last week so now everyone is riding high on them. I am not. This is the same Packers team that can’t stop anyone. This is the same inconsistent Packers offense from this season. This is the same Packers team that has already lost some big ones at home this year. Everyone is ready to write off Brock Osweiler and the Houston Texans but I am not. First, they have a decent defense. Houston has one of the top pass defenses in the league and they are getting decent play out of their defensive line. Second, though Osweiler has been inconsistent, Houston can lean on Lamar Miller and the run game. Especially against the Green Bay defense. Lets face it, we all thought that the Packers were going to lose last week in Philly but that win for them wasn’t that impressive. We should have known that the Eagles were capable of laying an egg at home like they did. Houston will not lay an egg on the road this week as they have realistic playoff hopes still. I like the Texans this week. Prediction: Texans 32 – Packers 23

Buffalo @ Oakland – The Raiders are the hottest team in the AFC right now. Last week’s close victory at home against Carolina was a classic and one that the Raiders of old would have lost. These new Raiders will be looking to keep it rolling at home this Sunday against a Buffalo team that is fighting to stay in the playoff race. Buffalo has an overachieving defense under Rob Ryan and I think they’ll figure out a way to slow down David Carr and the Oakland offense. The Bills defense will keep it close and the ball game will come down to who can make the more big plays. Recently, Buffalo’s offense has been proving that they are much more than just LeSean McCoy. Shady is a big part of their success but Tyrod Taylor and the passing game is starting to become a factor as well. The Raiders have a really good defensive front seven and they played last week against the best mobile QB in the league. I think Khalil Mack and company will be prepare for what Taylor tries to throw at them. But Oakland’s weakness on defense is that secondary and Buffalo will have Sammy Watkins back from injury this week. Oakland’s defense did a great job at creating turnovers against Cam Newton and they will have to do the same this week against a different mobile QB. I think Buffalo will keep this one close but it is hard for me to pick against this Raiders team at home. Prediction: Raiders 22 – Bills 16

New York Giants @ Pittsburgh – The Giants quietly have the second best record in the NFC and they have won six straight. But lets be real, who have they beaten in that streak. A bunch of nobody’s. The 2016 Steelers may not be world-beaters but they will bring this Giants team right back down to earth on Sunday at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh seems to always have a big victory at home against a NFC team. It wasn’t going to happen against Dallas this year but I think it has a better chance of happening this week. The New York Giants shouldn’t be able to slow down the Pittsburgh offense. Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and company should be able to have impressive stat sheets once this one is done and over. But Pittsburgh’s defense really isn’t that good, either. So, we will be likely looking at a shootout between Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. Odell Beckham Jr and Antonio Brown will be trying to one up each other on each possession. Both QB’s will throw the long ball with ease. The Steelers do have the edge at running the football but Bell will be facing a tough defensive line that the Giants offer. Jason Pierre Paul was a beast last week but again, that was against Cleveland. I don’t trust either defense in this matchup and the winner will likely be the team with the ball last. Mike Tomlin will make damn sure on Sunday that the Steelers will be that team. Pittsburgh needs this one at home to start out December on the right foot. Prediction: Steelers 39 – Giants 33

The Rest of Week 13

Bears over 49ers – Colin Kaepernick is playing well recently but the San Fran defense is still so bad. They will make the Chicago second string look like Pro Bowlers.

Eagles over Bengals – Philadelphia stinks and it is time to pack it up for their 2016 season. Lucky for them, Cincy appears to be done as well without a couple of key players missing from the offense.

Patriots over Rams – New England won ugly last week and they’ll probably have to do the same this week against a bad but tough LA team.

Lions over Saints – Detroit needs to begin their push towards the postseason on Sunday on the road.

Broncos over Jaguars – Jacksonville should bring out the 1998 team that upset Denver in the playoffs to play in this game. They might stand a better chance than the current team.

Dolphins over Ravens – Pittsburgh fans will rejoice to see this final. Miami has confidence and they are looking to stay in the playoff picture.

Cardinals over Washington – Arizona is bad this year but they have a pretty good secondary and they will challenge the suddenly hot Kirk Cousins. I like the Cards in an upset.

Chargers over Buccaneers – Tampa scored a huge upset at home this week. A long flight to southern California will serve as a wet towel. San Diego will play great at home for once.

Seahawks over Panthers – A Bad road loss followed by an ultra impressive home victory. Same old Seahawks.

Colts over Jets – Indy would have actually stood a chance last Thursday if they had Andrew Luck. That should serve as motivation this week but the Jets will be a tough out at home in primetime.

Week 13 Fantasy Football Picks

QB: Matthew Stafford (Lions) – Stafford should be on his “A” game against the New Orleans secondary.

RB: Jordan Howard (Bears) – The young Chicago runner will find plenty of room against the 49ers defense.

WR: Antonio Brown (Steelers) – Brown will have a good time on Sunday against the trash talking, loud mouthed Janoris Jenkins of the Giants.

TE: Travis Kelce (Chiefs) – Kelce was Alex Smith’s go to receiver down the stretch last week at Denver.

DEF: New England – I kind of feel sorry for rookie Jared Goff this weekend going up against a Bill Belichick coached defense. He will definitely see some things that he didn’t see in college.