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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: Week 10 Predictions!

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The Ezekiel Elliott express will be rolling into Pittsburgh this Sunday.

By: Elias McMillan

 

Last Week: 10-3

Season: 80-51-2

Big Five Games of the Week

Green Bay @ Tennessee – Green Bay’s loss last week at home to the Colts was eye opening. The Packers could be in a position to take control of the NFC North because of the sliding Vikings but they failed last week. Maybe this Packers team just isn’t that good. I’ve believed for a while now that Tennessee could emerge as a front-runner in the AFC South but they have failed in big spots this season. I think Sunday will be one of those other times for the Titans where they will squander a big opportunity. Green Bay struggled defensively last week and Tennessee has the weapons to give them more problems this week. QB Marcus Maroita is playing well. DeMarco Murray has the run game going. And Tennessee’s defense is under rated. But against better competition, the Titans just seem to fold under pressure. Aaron Rodgers will put on the pressure early in this one and the Titans will offer little resistance. It will be up to Tennessee offense if they want to secure the upset. Prediction: Packers 32 – Titans 26

Kansas City @ Carolina – The Panthers feel like they can really make a run and get back into the playoff discussion. They will have a tough time this week against a Chiefs team that is rolling again much like last year. Kansas City is able to get it done on both sides of the ball and they are getting stronger. The offense without Jamaal Charles is carrying on just fine. They even lost Alex Smith for a while but that didn’t stop them from winning either. Smith returns this week, by the way. Kansas City remains to be very good defensively and they are about to be even better in that area. DE Dee Ford is among the league leaders in sacks this season. They already have a great veteran in Tamba Hali. And they are getting back Justin Houston this week. With this defense at full strength, the Chiefs will be a tough one for the Panthers. I think Carolina is going to have problems protecting Cam Newton this week and the Chiefs offense will take advantage of a Carolina defense that has under performed all season. I’m taking the Chiefs on the road. Prediction: Chiefs 27 – Panthers 20

Dallas @ Pittsburgh – It’s that time again. My own personal Super Bowl that comes around every four years. And of course, I’m not talking about the election. The Steelers enter Sunday’s game against Dallas reeling. But despite that, they are still favored by 2.5 in Vegas. How? Well, Pittsburgh has a reputation in this sort of situation. The Steelers are 4-4 at the half way point of the season but they’ve been in this situation before and in the past they have responded strongly. Everyone knows how tough the Steelers can be during the second half of the season especially with all the talent they have. Everyone knows that the Steelers have a good record at home against NFC opponents. Despite those two points, in this game we’ll be looking at one team that has under performed and the other team that has over achieved. And the over achieving team has put forth a consistent effort each week. Dallas is having a great season but they do have weaknesses that serve as an advantage to Pittsburgh. Dallas can pressure the QB and Ben Roethlisberger loves to throw deep when he has time. Dallas hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season but on Sunday they’ll face Le’Veon Bell. Bell will probably be the best RB that Dallas will face all season. Dallas also has a banged up secondary while Pittsburgh has a wealth of talent at the WR position. Well, let me retract that statement because outside of Antonio Brown, that group has struggled recently. Despite that, I think Pittsburgh could be in a situation where they could score a lot of points. Ben Roethlisberger played like crap last week. He has to be back to his old self if hopes to lead this Steelers team to a win this week. Dallas has been so steady and consistent and that will serve them while this week. This Dallas team is very similar to the team we saw in 2014 and in 2014 that team was excellent on the road. The Cowboys rushing attack has taken on all challenges so far this season. I think Pittsburgh will try to key on the run but I think Ezekiel Elliott will still be successful. The QB isn’t an issue in Dallas and they’ll be facing a poor Steelers secondary. I’ve had a feeling that Tony Romo will start this week but even if he doesn’t, Dak Prescott should be able to continue to be the guy the make the smart decisions in passing situations. What is also going to help Prescott (Or Romo) is that Pittsburgh doesn’t have a great pass rush like they’ve had in the past. With time in the pocket, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, or Cole Beasley will have a significant impact in this game. I’m very worried about the Cowboys defense in terms of stopping the Steelers but also I’m not sure if the Steelers are ready or if Roethlisberger is fully healthy and ready to get this offense to finally live up to its potential. These games are always close and gut wrenching. The Steelers seem confident that they can bounce back from that embarrassing display last week in Baltimore. But I think this is the same team that played last week and played poorly against Philly and Miami. Slow and steady wins the race and that is Dallas right now. I’m taking my Boys. Prediction: Cowboys 28 – Steelers 27

Seattle @ New England – Here is a possible Super Bowl preview. This is also a Super Bowl rematch and some of the feelings from that game two years ago are still raw. I also think that this Seattle team isn’t nearly as good as it was two years ago. Seattle got a much-needed win last week at home but Buffalo still took them to their limits. The main thing that the Seahawks can take away from last week is that they need to include TE Jimmy Graham more often in the passing game. Without Jimmy Graham, Buffalo might have won last week. Seattle’s defense is also still very good. But Seattle has the same issue that it always had; they are a poor road team. I don’t think that the Patriots are world-beaters but they could appear that way playing at home. Tom Brady has had success picking at the weaknesses in the Seattle secondary. New England’s ground game will be a good test for Seattle’s front four. New England’s defense is still a mystery to me because they keep losing pieces but are still surviving and not losing games for the offense. I think this game will come down to the QB’s and I’ll take Tom Brady in that contest every time. The chippiness in this one will make it very entertaining to watch. I’m taking Gronk and the bros at home. Prediction: Patriots 33 – Seahawks 21

Cincinnati @ New York Giants – The Giants received a key victory last week against the Eagles but they were none too impressive. The Bengals are coming off of a long lay off and are sitting at 3-4-1. I’m sure they believe in that locker room that they are not ready to pack it up and call it a season. I think Cincinnati will be looking to prove themselves on the road on Monday night. I know the stories about “primetime Andy Dalton” but I think the Bengals will be able to find success against this Giants defense. The key will be if the Bengals defense can slow down Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr and the Giants passing attack. Watching Beckham Jr and AJ Green try to one up each other each possession should be entertaining and worth the price of admission. The Giants are coming off a victory, which I think will lead to a classic letdown on national TV. I’m taking the Bengals in an upset. Prediction: Bengals 35 – Giants 30

The Rest of Week 10

Browns over Ravens – Cleveland’s gotta win one. Why not tonight?

Broncos over Saints – Can Drew Brees carry the Saints again against Denver’s defense? I don’t think so.

Jets over Rams – Rams games are the toughest to prediction. You never know which Jeff Fisher team you will get.

Falcons over Eagles – Atlanta can score a lot of points. Philly can not.

Buccaneers over Bears – Lovie Smith revenge game? Maybe if he was coaching Chicago. Tampa has more talent.

Washington over Vikings – The Minnesota slide continues? Even against Washington? It should be close.

Texans over Jaguars – Will Gus Bradley get fired after losing this one at home? Maybe.

Chargers over Dolphins – The loser has to go back home to their awesome weather.

Cardinals over 49ers – Arizona needs to start their playoff push right now.

Week 10 Fantasy Football Picks

QB: Trevor Siemian (Broncos) – The Saints allow the most yards through the air. So, why not for Trevor?

RB: Melvin Gordon (Chargers) – Gordon is having a amazing season and on Sunday, he’ll face the third worst run defense in the league.

WR: Dez Bryant (Cowboys) – Bryant has been patient while allowing opportunities for his teammates. On Sunday, he’ll make a big play when called upon.

TE: Zach Miller (Bears) – Chicago will be facing Tampa defense which doesn’t defend the pass well.

DEF: Arizona – The Cardinals defense will be looking to make big plays against Colin Kaepernick.

NFL 2016: Week 1 Predictions!

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You may not know Broncos starting QB Trevor Siemian but the Panthers defense will get real comfortable with him on opening night.

By: Elias McMillan

First, here’s a look at how I’ve done picking regular season games in recent years:

2009 Regular Season Record: 169-87

2010 Regular Season Record: 157-99

2011 Regular Season Record: 162-94

2012 Regular Season Record: 163-92-1

2013 Regular Season Record: 158-97-1

2014 Regular Season Record: 158-97-1

2015 Regular Season Record: 163-93

Now, here’s my forecast for Week 1 of the 2016 Season.

Big Five Games of the Week

Carolina @ Denver – This Super Bowl rematch won’t have the same sizzle as the game in February did obviously. First, the stakes aren’t nearly as high and second, Denver is a different team since then. The most glaring difference will be that Denver did not return its starting QB or backup QB for 2016. Instead, Trevor Siemian will take his first snaps ever in the NFL game on opening night against the Carolina Panthers. Many are not expecting much from Siemian but I think that speaks more about how good Carolina’s defense is and less about how good of a QB Siemian is. Lets face it, no one knows how good or bad Siemian is as a QB. But I do know that the Panthers defense will work to get him to look bad on Thursday night. Denver could try to hide Siemian by slowing down the game by running the ball. But Carolina defends the run pretty well too. For Carolina, Cam Newton maybe taking the humble approach but he is definitely thinking of proving him self against this Denver defense that completely humiliated him in last season’s Super Bowl. I think Denver’s defense will still be a tough nut for Newton to crack in this game but Denver will be missing a few key pieces from that championship game that left in free agency. Both defenses will be good in this game but Carolina will be able to use their offensive weapons effectively because of the advantage at the QB position. I don’t think Newton will have a big game but he will do enough to make a big difference for the Panthers. Prediction: Panthers 21 – Broncos 13

Cincinnati @ New York Jets – Cincinnati had a very good team in the regular season in 2015. I think they can be the same in 2016 but they might have to deal through some things before they see consistent success. The Bengals will be missing a few key defenders because of suspension and injuries. But I realize that you could say the same about the Jets defense in this game. The Jets and Bengals offer big play offenses and defenses that are usually tough. I think that I like the home team’s chances in this game because the Jets are a bit tougher upfront defensively. I think it will be a long day for Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard. I also think Andy Dalton will be under a lot of pressure in this game. I don’t trust Cincy’s secondary very much and if Ryan Fitzpatrick stays on his feet, he’ll take advantage down the field by throwing to big targets, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. It will be close but I like the Jets in a slight upset. Prediction: Jets 26 – Bengals 23

New York Giants @ Dallas – Tony Romo or no Tony Romo, the Giants matchup very well with the Cowboys in this opening game. Once again, these teams meet to open up the season in what is almost always an ultra competitive game. The Giants enter this game looking to show off its shiny new defense that they spent a lot of money on in the offseason. The addition of DE Olivier Vernon will make this Giants defensive line a force in 2016 and they’ll face a great test on Sunday in the Cowboys offensive line. This game will basically be about those two units. The Giants also brought in new members in the secondary but I still think they’ll have problems containing the Cowboys receivers led by WR Dez Bryant. The Cowboys will be starting a rookie at QB and RB on Sunday. Dak Prescott will be in for the injured Tony Romo and Ezekiel Elliott will be starting a much hype rookie campaign. I think Dallas will be successful running the ball against a Giants defense that struggled at stopping the run last season but I don’t know how well Prescott will do as a passer in this first game. But this game will really be about the shortcomings of the Dallas defense. Eli Manning plays his best football when the defense cannot pressure him. With no heat on Eli, I fully expect him to out play Dak Prescott. Not to mention, the Giants also have a great receiving core led by WR Odell Beckham Jr. These games always manage to be gut wrenchingly close up until the end but I’m giving the advantage to the road team. Prediction: Giants 32 – Dallas 27

New England @ Arizona – Arizona will be fired up on Sunday to play against a team that has dominated the league for a while now. New England comes into this season shorthanded on both sides of the football. Everyone knows about the Tom Brady suspension but on defense, their top pass rusher, Rob Ninkovich is suspend and their other best pass rusher, Chandler Jones, is now a Cardinal. New England’s defense has been known for years as an overachieving group but I expect this Arizona offense to really take it to them in this contest. We will see plenty of RB David Johnson, which will allow a balanced passing attack led by QB Carson Palmer. We shouldn’t write off QB Jimmy Garoppolo as he will have a couple of recent weapons to go to as well. It is going to interesting to see how this Arizona defense decides to attack TE Rob Gronkowski and try to limit his impact on this game. But New England will be too shorthanded to give Arizona the proper challenge in this game. Prediction: Cardinals 31 – Patriots 20

Pittsburgh @ Washington – There is a lot of Super Bowl hype surrounding the Steelers entering this season. But first, they’ll have to beat a pretty good Washington team that is coming off a playoff berth. QB Kirk Cousins will be looking to prove that last season was no fluke against Pittsburgh’s defense. Cousins is going to have to be the driving force for Washington in this game. I feel that Washington’s offensive line will give Cousins the opportunities to go down field and make an impact in this game against a banged up and aging Steelers pass rush. Washington doesn’t have a great ground game and Pittsburgh usually plays the run well defensively. So, it will be all about Cousins for the Washington offense. Thinking of offense, the Steelers have a pretty good one. QB Ben Roethlisberger is primed to have a big season with the many weapons at his disposal. WR Antonio Brown is a player that was made for Monday Night Football. He will be the big play guy in this contest though Washington CB Josh Norman will give him quite the challenge. Washington’s defense is a lot better than advertised and they’ll be tested by the Steelers upfront and by their running game led by DeAngelo Williams. Washington has plenty of big play guys like DeSean Jackson and TE Jordan Reed but I think the Steelers playmakers will make more of an impact. This game will be closer than what the experts will think but I’m still taking the road team. Prediction: Steelers 33 – Washington 28

The Rest of Week 1

Falcons over Buccaneers – Atlanta is a tough out during their home opener. Though I like Tampa’s defense a little more than Atlanta’s. Can Matt Ryan make more big plays than Jameis Winston? Well, one of them has Julio Jones to throw to. The other does not.

Vikings over Titans – This one is another toss up. Minnesota’s QB situation has thrown their entire season into doubt already but I trust Mike Zimmer to have his team ready. Tennessee is improved but Minnesota’s defense is tough and will slow down Mariota and the new Titans running attack.

Chiefs over Chargers – Kansas City’s home field advantage is like none other. Even without Jamaal Charles, the San Diego defense wont slow down the Chiefs’ attack.

Saints over Raiders – I struggled picking this one too. I really like the Raiders this season but the Saints are a tough out in the Super Dome. If Oakland wins, I’ll kick myself.

Browns over Eagles – Cleveland hasn’t won a season opener since 2004. That streak ends on Sunday. I don’t know if Carson Wentz will be booed at the Linc but I do know that RG3 will outplay him.

Packers over Jaguars – Everyone is hyping the Jaguars. That hype machine would get even louder if they beat a team like the Packers at home on Sunday. Sounds too good to be true. I’m betting on Aaron Rodgers.

Ravens over Bills – Buffalo is dealing with too many things off the field. Baltimore will be looking to show their fans that this year will be different than last.

Texans over Bears – Chicago doesn’t have the defense to slow down this new Houston offense. Houston won’t even need J.J. Watt in this one.

Seahawks over Dolphins – Nightmare matchup for Miami. That inconsistent offense against that powerful defense on the road? Bad news for Ryan Tannehill. The L.O.B.’s will eat. The 12th man will be loud.

Lions over Colts – I think Indy’s slump from last season will continue into this one. Detroit’s defense is underrated and they’ll get after Andrew Luck. The Colts don’t have the defense to slow down Matt Stafford.

Rams over 49ers – This game is an absolute stinker. The team in LA has Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald. The end.

Week 1 Fantasy Football Picks

QB: Eli Manning (Giants) – With no pressure from the Dallas defense, the “not retired” Manning brother will put up big numbers in Jerry’s World.

RB: Lamar Miller (Texans) – Houston will be looking to show off its newest acquisition against a really bad Chicago run defense.

WR: Julio Jones (Falcons) – Jones will be the best player on the field in this game. So, why not?

TE: Jordan Reed (Washington) – Pittsburgh doesn’t have a great secondary so expect Cousins to find Reed plenty of times on Monday night.

DEF: Seattle – It’s simple really. Miami’s offense will be greatly outmatched on the road in Seattle. Expect multiple defensive touchdowns from the L.O.B.

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

NFL 2016: Conference Championship Sunday Predictions!

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Carolina’s impressive season will mean nothing if they can’t advance to the Super Bowl on Sunday.

By: Elias McMillan

 

Divisional Round: 3-1

Playoffs: 6-2

AFC Championship Game

New England @ Denver – Last weekend, both of these teams didn’t really impress me as much I thought they would have. New England clearly outclassed Kansas City and we saw how deadly the Pats offense can be when healthy. In the other divisional game, it was hard for me to say that Denver clearly deserved to beat Pittsburgh. Denver under performed in a big way and it almost cost them. I was expecting the Denver defense to look better than they did and I was disappointed. I’m not going to say that they were lucky to beat a shorthanded Pittsburgh team but they cannot come out the same way this week at home against the Patriots or else they’ll be facing a blow out. On paper, Denver has the ability to slow down the Patriots on offense. Denver has the pass rushers to get after Brady. They are decent against the run though New England doesn’t have much of a run game anyways. And Denver’s secondary is usually tough. But I didn’t really see that last week against Pittsburgh. Maybe Wade Phillips can get his group to refocus this week because if not, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense could steamroll over them. WR Julian Edelman and TE Rob Gronkowski seem to be healthy and ready for another Super Bowl run. On offense, Denver has had a hard time getting it together all season and last week, you really could not put it all on the QB. Peyton Manning is clearly not the guy he used to be but he was hitting open receivers last week. They just weren’t catching them. In their previous meeting this season, Denver was able to be very successful in the run game. With the current state of the passing game, I would expect a heavy dosage of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman on Sunday. The real sad thing about the state of the Broncos passing attack is that New England’s secondary isn’t really all that great. Peyton Manning and his receivers are really going to have to figure it out on Sunday if they hope to stand a chance. Maybe Denver’s defense will perform better than they did last week but I expect Brady and the Patriots to be able to move the ball for most of the game. Sadly, Brady-Manning XVII will be more about Brady advancing to another Super Bowl and less about a NFL legend that might be on the way to retirement. Prediction: Patriots 31 – Broncos 21

NFC Championship Game

Arizona @ Carolina – This years NFC Championship game features no underdog. Carolina and Arizona has both been consistent contenders this season. Last weekend, Carolina started hot against Seattle and it was enough to keep the Seahawks at bay despite a last effort at a comeback in the second half. Carolina was largely impressive in that victory but every one in that locker room knows that they should have finished the game a lot better than they did. Arizona had a thrilling victory in overtime against the Packers. It was good obviously that they were able to pull that one out but Arizona wasn’t really as impressive as I thought they would be. Arizona’s high-powered offense did not make an appearance and the defense let the Packers back into the game late. If anyone for the Cardinals took a hit last weekend, it was QB Carson Palmer who didn’t play like a MVP candidate. He will have to find a way to rebound from that performance, as he will face a much better Carolina defense on Sunday. Arizona’s offensive line didn’t play well last week and that plays right into the hands of the Panthers who are really good upfront defensively. Palmer is going to need better protection if he hopes to attack the Panthers secondary. Arizona does have a tough defense and they’ll have their hands full with Cam Newton on Sunday. Arizona can still play the run tough but their secondary also under performed last weekend. When Newton has time, he will be able to go down the field with little resistance. Arizona’s defense can get creative when it comes to creating pressure and Newton will have to beware of that on Sunday. I think the matchup between Newton and the Cardinals defense will be a true chess match. Carolina has so much momentum going into this home game and it will be tough for Arizona to waver their confidence. I think this game might be closer contested than what people think but I don’t think we’ll see an upset. Carolina’s great season will roll on to the Super Bowl. Prediction: Panthers 35 – Cardinals 27

NFL 2016: Divisional Playoff Round Predictions!

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Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will have to be better than lucky to escape Carolina on Sunday.

By: Elias McMillan

 

Wild-Card Round: 3-1

Playoffs: 3-1

Divisional Round

Kansas City @ New England – Last week, Houston suffered through horrible QB play and even worst play calling. But still, it is impressive that the Chiefs were able to shut them out at home in a playoff situation. Kansas City will take its win streak to New England this Saturday to take on the Patriots. New England has had an extra week of rest but they are not coming into this game with much momentum. First off, they ended the regular season on a bad note. Because of all the injuries on the offensive side of the ball, the offense really ran out of gas in those last two weeks and it cost them the top seed in the AFC. Tom Brady is dealing with an ankle injury but he is expected to be his regular old self this weekend. WR’s Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola also have been fighting injuries but those two are also expected to be ready to perform at a high level this weekend. Brady’s main target in the passing game, TE Rob Gronkowski, is also dealing with an injury going into the playoffs. New England also doesn’t have the best offensive line or running game. Kansas City’s defense is really good. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali will be able to lead that pass rush to get after Brady. Kansas City is tough to run against and they have a stingy secondary led by safety Eric Berry. I don’t see New England scoring a bunch against these guys. But Kansas City’s offense is going to have to amount something this week against New England’s defense. QB Alex Smith, who probably never gets enough credit, has been playing well but he might without his top receiver on Saturday. WR Jeremy Maclin is dealing with an ankle injury so his status is in the air. New England’s defense has been underrated for most of this season but they can give up some yards from time to time. The Patriots have a top ten rushing defense but I don’t think much of their secondary. I don’t Alex Smith will be able to have a huge game against them but I think Andy Reid’s knowledge and a balanced attack will help the Chiefs offense find success on Sunday. But maybe, Brady will go on a warpath like he has been on for the most part of this season. But I think that the Chiefs defense will seriously limit this limping Patriots offense. I’m going out on a limb but I’m taking the road team in a playoff upset. Prediction: Chiefs 24 – Patriots 20

Green Bay @ Arizona – Green Bay’s offense finally got its house in order last week in Washington but I don’t think that performance changed how good I think this team is. On Saturday, they’ll face a really good Arizona team in the desert. Arizona’s defense will pretty much control the tempo of this game of Sunday. Green Bay’s offensive line and lack of playmakers in the passing game will serve to Arizona’s strengths on defense. Arizona is tough up front against the run and in their last meeting against the Packers offensive line, the Cardinals pretty much lived in the Green Bay backfield. I don’t know what Green Bay can do offensively to avoid a similar fate this weekend. Green Bay’s defense didn’t look all too impressive last week either and they’ll face an Arizona offense that usually scores in bunches. I think this will be the easiest game to pick this weekend. Arizona has been fairly consistent this season and with the extra week off they will keep that momentum going into championship weekend. Prediction: Cardinals 36 – Packers 24

Seattle @ Carolina – Seattle didn’t play great last week in Minnesota and they got extremely lucky when they were able to leave with a victory. Good news for Seattle, even though they played like crap, they will visit Carolina on Sunday and they can play them tough. I think Seattle will be able to be in this game on Sunday because of their defense. I think Seattle will be able to play tough at the line of scrimmage against Carolina’s running attack and the Legion of Boom will be able to limit the Panthers receivers. QB Cam Newton had a heroic moment in Carolina’s last meeting against Seattle. That moment had to happen the way it happened because the Seattle defense made things tough for him for most of that game. I believe that will be the case this week. I think Newton will be able to be effective but the opportunities to do so will not be as often as he will like. Seattle’s offense was really underwhelming last week in Minnesota. Most people will want to blame this on the extreme cold temperatures but really that had nothing to do with it. QB Russell Wilson was not effective for most of that game last week and it told a lot for him to find a way to make the big play that ultimately changed the game. That wont be enough against this Carolina defense. I think the Panthers defense will be able to keep Wilson in the pocket and play tough against their running attack. RB Marshawn Lynch might play this week but I don’t see him having that big of a role or impact on this game. Carolina also does a great job at defending the pass in the secondary and with their linebackers. I don’t see Wilson being able to have the time to find his receivers open in many situations this weekend. I think this game will be close throughout but Cam Newton and the Panther will find a way at the end to pull away. Prediction: Panthers 28 – Seahawks 20

Pittsburgh @ Denver – The Steelers survived a bar fight last week with the Bengals. Or better yet, they won the battle but lost the war. Despite all of the extra stuff involved with that game last week, Pittsburgh didn’t really prove anything that we already didn’t know. It doesn’t matter the circumstances or situation, the Bengals just don’t have the mind set to beat Pittsburgh in a big game. Because of last week, the Steelers will be shortchanged in more ways than just one this Sunday against the Broncos. Denver will not be interested in being in a bar fight with Pittsburgh. Denver’s post-season run last year had such a disappointing ending and I don’t think they have forgot about that. Denver will be extra motivated this Sunday and they’ll be looking to leave no doubt against a hobbled Steelers team. Pittsburgh will be seriously limited on offense obviously. Ben Roethlisberger suffered a shoulder injury last week and he hasn’t thrown the ball around a lot all week at practice. Roethlisberger just isn’t a deep ball QB and he can still run a dink and dunk passing offense. Roethlisberger has found success with the short passing game usually because of WR Antonio Brown and what he can do with the football after the catch. Unfortunately, Brown will be out this week because of a concussion so the other talented receivers on the roster will have to step up. Pittsburgh’s backups at RB will have to step up again this week, as DeAngelo Williams will also not play. Honestly, I find all of the injury talk to be pointless because Denver has a really good defense. Even if Ben, Antonio, and Le’Veon Bell were all healthy, the Steeler offense would still have a tough time against this Broncos defense. Denver has a great pass rush, they are tough against the run, they have great athletes at LB, and their secondary will fully healthy for the first time in a while. I think Denver’s defense will be able to set the tone for this game early and often. Denver’s big question for most of this season has been their offense. Peyton Manning is now healthy and he’ll get the start on Sunday. I think this is a good thing because even though Manning has thrown a lot of interceptions this season, his experience and knowledge of the offense will better serve Denver during this playoff run. It’s hard to gauge how well the Pittsburgh defense is playing going into this game because they were playing against an awful QB last week. I think Denver’s offense will be fired up and they’ll be able to execute big plays through out the day. I think Denver’s receivers will be able to overwhelm Pittsburgh weak secondary. Manning will be able to pick out the correct matchups and the offense will go from there. If Pittsburgh offense were fully healthy, maybe this game would be a thriller to the end. But because of the situation and because of Denver’s motivation factor, I think the Broncos will be able to take care of business at home on Sunday. Prediction: Broncos 32 – Steelers 20