Tag Archives: Jonathan Stewart

NFL Playoffs: 2018 Wild-Card Weekend Predictions!

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The Bills will be looking for their first post season win since 1995 in Jacksonville on Sunday.

By: Elias McMillan

 

Last Week: 9-7

2017 Regular Season: 151-103

NFL Playoffs: Wild-Card Weekend

Tennessee @ Kansas City – The Chiefs bounced back nicely near the end of the regular season to win their second straight AFC West title. They may not be as strong as they were a season ago, especially on the defensive side, but they are playing well going into the post season. I can’t say that about the Titans. I was waiting for Tennessee’s playoff chances to just die out but luckily they seem to just have Jacksonville’s number. Up until last Sunday, the Titans were trending downwards but they were able to take advantage of poor QB play to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Tennessee’s defense has been inconsistent from most of 2017 and I think Kansas City has the weapons to expose that unit on Saturday. RB Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing this season and he was key in December in helping end Kansas City’s mid season slide. QB Alex Smith has been proven to play well against poor secondaries and Tennessee’s ranks near the bottom in the league. I think WR Tyreke Hill and TE Travis Kelce will have their opportunities in this game. Kansas City usually has a strong front seven on defense but injuries have hurt them this year. Justin Houston is still one of the best pass rushers in the game and in the secondary, you can count CB Marcus Peters to make a play or shut down a side of the field. For Tennessee, QB Marcus Mariota has had a problem with accuracy this season. With TE Delanie Walker as one of the few reliable targets in the passing game, Mariota has had to lean on the run game this year, which really hasn’t been a bad thing. RB DeMarco Murray is a capable back but he will be out this week. That may not be that big of a blow as RB Derrick Henry is having a break out season splitting carries with Murray and leading the team in rushing. Henry is a nice change of pace from Murray but he will have to be a every down back in this game. Tennessee’s front seven on defense is under rated but offense’s with capable QB play should be able to handle them. With Arrowhead rocking, this should be a slam-dunk for the home team. Prediction: Chiefs 38 – Titans 21

Atlanta @ Los Angeles – This is an old school NFC West matchup if you remember how the divisions were formatted in the early 90’s. I wish the NFL would allow the Falcons to wear their throwback red jerseys and the Rams can wear their throwback royal blues with yellow. Anyways, this matchup will have the NFC Champion from a season ago against a Rams team that finally broke thru this year. Atlanta is a team that is definitely capable of making a run back to the Super Bowl with the talent they have on both sides of the ball. But for whatever reason, they have under performed and have been inconsistent this year. It almost cost them a chance to get back into the playoffs. QB Matt Ryan must have a strong game on Saturday night. He will be facing a Rams defense that struggles against the run but is among the league leaders in sacks. The Falcons must do anything in their power to account for DT Aaron Donald who is as good of a defender than anyone in the league. Despite having that strength in the middle of the defense, the Rams are vulnerable against the run. RB Devonta Freeman might have a chance to help Atlanta run a balanced attack on offense. WR Julio Jones is still one of the best in the league but Ryan must find a way to increase his scoring chances. Atlanta’s defense has quietly delivered this season but they’ll face a tall task in slowing down RB Todd Gurley. Gurley has established himself as a legit MVP candidate and he has been a driving force behind the turn around of his QB, Jared Goff. LA’s balanced and steady attack on offense has served them well this season. Keeping the pressure off Goff will be key in this game as Atlanta offers a decent pass rush. Between Gurley and Donald, the Rams have the two best players in this game and I think they’ll be able to ride them both to a home victory on Saturday night. Atlanta has the potential to make this a close one though. Prediction: Rams 24 – Falcons 20

Buffalo @ Jacksonville – Thanks to Cincinnati, Buffalo is everyone’s lovable underdog in this post season. The Bills will be making their first playoff trip in 17 years and they’ll be looking for their first playoff victory since 1995. Jacksonville was riding high about a month ago. There were even whispers that they could have jumped up to the second seed in the AFC. The last two weeks, The Jaguars have trended downward since clinching the AFC South, losing two straight include last week’s embarrassing loss at Tennessee. We all know how strong Jacksonville’s defense has been all season. They have the second ranked unit in the league and the top pass defense in football. Everyone has serious doubts about their situation at QB. Blake Bortles was starting to play better at the beginning of December but has regressed to his regular self recently, just in time for the playoffs. Jacksonville’s passing game has also struggled with all the injuries they had to deal with at the WR position. It seems to me that they might have to lean on rookie RB Leonard Fournette. That may not be a bad thing as the Jags have the league’s leading rushing attack. The Jaguars have a tremendous pass rush and secondary but they struggle against the run and that is where Buffalo can take advantage. RB LeSean McCoy is having another strong season. He suffered an injury last week but he appears to be ready to return for Sunday. Buffalo is going to need a big day on the ground if they hope QB Tyrod Taylor will be able to get anything in the passing game. Buffalo’s air attack has been feast or famine this season and things will definitely be tough for them against this secondary. I think Jacksonville’s defense will continue to be the strength for their team on Sunday but I think their offense will continue to struggle. Buffalo will be able to take advantage of some mistakes on the road and they will avoid an emotional letdown after what happened last week. I’m taking the Bills in an upset and they’ll advance to face division rival, New England next week. Prediction: Bills 21 – Jaguars 20

Carolina @ New Orleans – The Saints almost blew their chance at the division crowd last week. Luckily for them, Carolina fell on the road against Atlanta. I’m not going to take much away from the loss last week in Tampa. I still think the Saints are a strong contender in the NFC. Carolina has had their struggles this year but also look like a team that could go on a run. I think the winner of this game will probably go to the NFC Championship game. The Saints beat the Panthers twice already this year and it seems that they just have their number. Carolina’s defense will play tough but they have a lot to contend with. The Saints offer a balanced running attack with Mark Ingram and rookie sensation Alvin Kamara and down field threats in the passing game like WR Michael Thomas. Carolina has a good defense but this isnt the same unit from two seasons ago. New Orleans’ improved defense should be able to limit the damage that Cam Newton is capable of. Newton will have his backfield at full strength on Sunday as Jonathan Stewart will return from injury to be paired with another rookie sensation, Christian McCaffrey. Despite trading away Kevlin Benjamin to Buffalo, Carolina has been able to create big plays in the passing game. But their WR core may be short handed in this one due to injuries and they’ll be up against a much-improved Saints secondary. Not to mention, the crowd in the Super Dome will really make it tough for the Panthers offense to operate. I like the home team to advance. Prediction: Saints 34 – Panthers 24

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NFL 2016: NFC South Preview

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Can Cam Newton and the Panthers rebound after falling short in the biggest game last season?

By: Elias McMillan

 

NFC South

Carolina Panthers – The Panthers seemly care out of out where last season and had a year that one could predict. The talk surrounding this team a season was that they had a great defense and Cam Newton but really nothing much else. But then, we learned that Cam Newton was good enough to overcome what many saw as the shortcoming on this team. This is why Newton won MVP and why the Panthers was the last undefeated team in the league last season. This upcoming season, Carolina is going to try to do even better because they did end up losing the ultimate prize in the Super Bowl. Carolina did get better in the offseason but not by that much. I think they missed some opportunities in the draft and free agency. Maybe they are counting on Cam Newton to have another monster season with his passing and running ability. If that is so, that isn’t much of a stretch. Newton will receive a boost in the passing game this season as his number one receiver, Kelvin Benjamin returns after missing last season entirely. Benjamin will bring legitimacy to this receiving core that over achieved a season ago. Ted Ginn, Corey Brown and Devin Funchess have plenty of ability and that group from last season must have a lot of confidence coming off the season they just had. Two areas that the Panthers failed at getting better at in the offseason was at RB and at the offensive line. RB Jonathan Stewart returns for another season but he is starting to get up there in age and is already coming off from an injury. Carolina’s offensive line really let Newton down in the Super Bowl but that same group returns again in 2016. I feel that Carolina could have done more on offense to lighten Newton’s load in the offseason but they didn’t. Carolina’s defense will continue to be beastly in 2016 though. Carolina’s has a great collection of defensive lineman and they added to that group with the first round selection of DT Vernon Butler. Butler would be smart to follow the lead of disruptors Kawaan Short and Star Lotulelei. DE Charles Johnson is a veteran leader on this defensive line but he kind of ran out of gas near the end of the season last year. On the other side of him, DE Kony Ealy, seems to be a raising star in this defense. At LB, Shaq Thompson, Thomas Davis, and Luke Kuechly. I mean, you wont find a better starting group at LB in the NFL. Carolina surprisingly let go star CB Josh Norman but his loss wont be that great because Carolina’s front seven on defense is that good. Either way, young rookies James Bradberry and Zack Sanchez better grow up quickly. Carolina’s defense so good last season, safeties Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston ended up making big plays from time to time. I like Carolina to win this division again but I don’t know if this team can get back to the Super Bowl. I wish they would have gotten younger at RB and improved the offensive line. Either way, Cam Newton will be spectacular again. Prediction: 12-4 (NFC South Champs)

Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons started last season so hot but then they quickly ran out of gas. The strange thing was that, the losing streak they went on fell upon the offense that couldn’t score enough. Atlanta’s latest rep as team is one that has the ability to score a lot of points but they will struggle stopping the other team from scoring. I think Atlanta’s defense did improve a bit last season but then the offense was inconsistent. In 2016, head coach Dan Quinn will be hoping for more consistency from both sides of the ball. You could argue that QB Matt Ryan had one of his worst seasons statistically in 2015. You could point the finger at his offense line or at injuries in the WR core but the bottom line is that Ryan needs to play better. Atlanta actually improved the WR core in the offseason. Star WR Julio Jones is back again and Atlanta brought in Mohamed Sanu to replace the aging Roddy White. I feel that Ryan is still missing a big target at the TE position but look for rookie Austin Hooper to fill that role soon. The big addition to this offensive attack last season was the emergence of RB Devonta Freeman. Freeman was among the top in the league in rushing for most of last season before getting slowed by injuries. If RB Tevin Coleman can do a good job at spelling Freeman this season, he will be able to last and lead this running attack for all 16 games. Everyone knows about Atlanta’s lack of a pass rush up front on defense. But to Atlanta’s credit, they are trying different ways to improve in that area. They have a mix of younger guys like Vic Beasley and Ra’Shade Hageman and veterans like Adrian Clayborn and Dwight Freeney. I also like the offseason signing of Courtney Upshaw who can be a situation pass rusher in this defense. There are definitely a lot of new faces in this defensive front seven so maybe that will turn into different results. Atlanta’s secondary is a “middle of the road” unit. CB Desmond Trufant is a standout and they also recently brought over safety Dashon Goldson who racked up a bunch of tackles with Washington last season. I think Atlanta will use last season as a history lesson and maybe they wont fall apart during the second part of the season. Atlanta isn’t close to competing with Carolina yet. They’ll be good but not good enough to get back to the playoffs. Prediction: 8-8

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – As much as I hate this team’s current uniforms, I really hated that this front office felt that they had to fire head coach Lovie Smith. I understand they did it in order to keep their offensive coordinator who did a great job with future franchise QB Jameis Winston. But now, I feel like this team doesn’t have any leadership from a coaching standpoint. Either way, you still have to play the game and I think Tampa will be a tough team in 2016. Jameis Winston learned a lot in his rookie season. He carries himself as the leader on this team and that confidence he has is infectious. Winston will still make some mistakes from time to time but I feel that he is determined to become the future for this franchise. Winston also has a pretty good supporting cast again this season. Tampa is really strong at the WR position. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson can do similar things on the football field. They are both big receivers that can stretch the field. I also like WR Adam Humphries in the slot. Winston needs a reliable target at TE and this season we’ll find out if Austin Seferian-Jenkins can be that guy. A big part of Tampa Bay’s offense last season was the running game that ranked in the top 5 in the NFL. RB Doug Martin proved his worth to the Bucs in 2015 and they decided to retain him in the offseason. Martin is a beastly runner who is hard to tackle but Tampa also has decent backs behind him on the depth chart in Charles Sims and Mike James. Tampa quietly had a decent defense in 2015 and they could get even better this season. Upfront, Gerald McCoy is the leader of the defensive line and is a handful to deal with at defensive tackle. Tampa’s starters at DE are starting to age so look out for second round pick Noah Spence to eventually earn a starting position. Tampa will have a solid LB group starting in 2016. Kwon Alexander had an outstanding rookie season and he’ll be looking for even more success this season. Surrounding Alexander will be two seasoned vets in Lavonte David and Daryl Smith. The Bucs will also be deep this season at the CB position. They brought over CB Brent Grimes from Miami to pair him with another talented veteran, Alterraun Verner. Starting in the slot, first round pick CB Vernon Hargreaves might have been the best corner in this past draft. Tampa will be seriously lacking talent at the safety position this season. But I feel like the Bucs could be a sleeper team in 2016. If Winston continues his progress and the defense gets a little bit better, Tampa will push hard for a possible playoff berth. Prediction: 7-9

New Orleans Saints – I feel like the Saints are a team on the verge of completely rebuilding. But that wont happen as long as Sean Payton is the head coach and Drew Brees is the QB. Payton is one of the top coaches in football and Brees is one of the top QB in the game but both are not good enough to overcome the lack of talent on this roster. Drew Brees is 37 years old but he feels like he can still be one of the league’s best passers. I think he can to but I wonder if that arm can survive the grind of another season at a high level. Brees played at a high level in 2015 but his team still couldn’t make the post season. When I look at the RB’s on this team, I see a group that should be better than what they are. Starter Mark Ingram is one of the league’s toughest runners but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for 16 games. RB C.J. Spiller was brought over a season ago and he had little impact on this offense. Spiller is a great runner in the open field and the Saints need to find out a better way to utilize him in the offense. Brees can usually make any receiver into a great one but I feel like his group of WR’s this year is a little underwhelming. WR Brandin Cooks is the top guy and WR Willie Snead proved to be a valuable target a season ago. I think the Saints are missing that big possession receiver in their offense and rookie Michael Thomas could end up being that guy. The Saints may have acted like they didn’t miss Jimmy Graham at TE last season but they need someone better than average at that position. New Orleans brought in Coby Fleener from the Colts and he’ll have the opportunity to be the big play target at TE that Brees didn’t have a season ago. On defense, the Saints need to do better but they are already behind the 8 ball going into this season. First round draft pick, DT Sheldon Rankins, is already lost for the season and that defensive line could have seriously used him. DE Cameron Jordan is the lone stand out up front as a dynamic pass rusher. DT Nick Fairley was brought in during free agency but I wonder what he can offer at this point in his career. DE Paul Kruger was a surprise cut from Cleveland and he might be able to improve the Saints pass rush. New Orleans’ has a decent starting group at LB this season. Stephone Anthony had a tremendous rookie season where he led all rookies in tackles. He’ll be surrounded this season by proven vets James Laurinaitis and Dannell Ellerbe. New Orleans did not improve their weakest position in the offseason: the secondary. The corner situation is an absolute mess and they managed to get CB Cortland Finnegan to join rather than retire. Safety Jairus Byrd has been a massive bust since coming over from Buffalo. The other safety, Kenny Vaccaro, was actually solid a season ago while racking up a bunch of tackles. Vaccaro is great in run support but no one in this secondary can cover anybody. Drew Brees will be awesome to watch again this season but this team isn’t close to competing again. Prediction: 6-10

Super Bowl 50 Prediction!

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Will Peyton Manning get the story book ending to his career or will the Panthers defense dropkick him into retirement?

By: Elias McMillan

 

Conference Championship: 1-1

Playoffs: 7-3

Super Bowl 50 from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California

Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos

I’m starting to think that the two-week break from Conference Championship Sunday and the Super Bowl is too long. Because now there are a lot of different angles that we could take when talking about this year’s big game because there was so much time for the media to create pointless plotlines. I choose to just focus on the actual game because it probably will be a pretty good one. With the issues Denver had this season at offense, I didn’t see their run to the Super Bowl coming. But you have to give them a lot of credit for taking home field advantage and making the most of it in playoffs. In the NFC, Carolina has been the dominant team all season. They are the favorites on Sunday and for good reason.

I think the most entertaining matchup in this game will be between the Carolina offense and the Denver defense. If you have watched the Broncos this season, you know that they are playing in this game because of their defense. They’ve had the number one ranked defense for most of the season and that unit looked really strong last week against Tom Brady and the Patriots. They are led on defense by two of the best pass rushers in the game today, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Miller, Ware, and the younger inside rusher Derek Wolfe will give the Panthers a hard time on passing downs. Denver is tough to run on as well. Denver’s secondary has been banged up recently and they have some holes. They don’t cover the deep ball well but they are as physical of a group as one Carolina has faced all season. Denver’s defense is great but they’ll also have their hands full with the league MVP, QB Cam Newton. Newton has been in a zone all season and if he continues to play comfortable and loose, good things will continue to happen for this Panthers offense. RB Jonathan Stewart has been sort of an unsung hero for the Panthers this season. Carolina has seen a lot of success in the running game this year and Stewart will hope to continue that on Sunday. If Stewart gets the normal amount of touches, he could produce some of the games biggest plays on Sunday. The critics have been harping on the Panthers receivers all season. They might not have any future Hall of Famers but that group has stepped up in a huge way this season. WR’s Ted Ginn Jr. and Corey Brown have game breaking speed and Ginn offers something to watch for in the special teams area as well. In terms of catching the football this season from Newton, the real star has been TE Greg Olsen. Olsen is a big play target in any situation. Cam will continue to call his number in order to get down the field or in the red zone.

I do think the matchup between the Denver offense and the Carolina defense will determine this game though. I think QB Peyton Manning has benefitted from opponents not expecting much from him in recent games. Manning clearly isn’t his old self and he could be playing in his last game on Sunday, but as you saw two weeks ago, Manning still has some ability left when it comes to driving the ball down the field. I think Carolina’s defense is good enough to defend Manning as if he was his old self but they can’t forget about Denver’s running game. Denver has quietly ran the ball at a decent pace this season. RB’s C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are tough runners between the tackles and they can turn on the jets in the open field. Manning also has a great group at the WR position. WR Demaryius Thomas is the prototypical big outside target that is hard to defend and WR Emmanuel Sanders is a quick game breaker with the ball in his hands. But I think the Carolina defense will be able to dictate how successful Peyton Manning will be in this game. Carolina has the ability to pressure Manning from all angles at the line of scrimmage. They don’t have a dynamic outside pass rusher from the past like Greg Hardy or Julius Peppers but they have tough grinders who can take up blockers and shoot the gaps into the backfield. DE Charles Johnson is a name you might hear on Sunday as well as veteran Jared Allen who has an outstanding rep as a pass rusher. I love Carolina’s interior defensive lineman as well. Kawaan Short and Star Lotulelei are both as good at stuffing the run as they are at making plays in the backfield. Carolina also has an outstanding group at linebacker led by defensive POY candidate Luke Kuechly. LB Thomas Davis might be playing with a broken arm but he is one of the fastest LB’s in football so if his speed and quickness is still at 100%, he’ll be able to make an impact in this game. Carolina’s secondary has really overachieved this season I think and they’ll continue to play great as long as the front seven does its job. CB Josh Norman has been playing lights out this season. Norman is the mouthpiece of the defense and he may not be as good as Richard Sherman but this year, he has been as effective. I think Carolina’s defense will be able to control the pace of the Denver offense and the game as a whole.

If Carolina can stop the run like they can, they will force Peyton Manning to go beyond his means. I think Denver has the tools to be successful in the passing game on Sunday but this Carolina defense doesn’t give many chances for offenses to have success. I think Carolina will force some mistakes from the Denver offense and in return, there’s offense will take care of business with the short field. I don’t think that this game will be a blow out. I think this Denver team is good enough to be in striking distance at least in the 4th quarter. I think Carolina will start out hot and gain a double-digit lead. Denver will slowly crawl back into the game in the second half but Cam Newton and Carolina’s ball control offense will deliver the game deciding blow.

It should be a good enough game that will definitely overshadow the hype, the commercials and the halftime show. Here’s some advice: watch as many of the new commercials online before Sunday. The Super Bowl commercials are usually corny or just flat out suck. And as for halftime: who gives a crap about Coldplay? I don’t care if they bring out Beyoncé or Bruno Mars. The NFL really dropped the ball this year by not letting Migos headline the halftime show. But anyway, my point is that this game will be a great one with Carolina coming out on top. I hope this win will catapult Cam Newton as the new face of the NFL for years to come. Prediction: Panthers 34 – Broncos 24