Behind the Mic: LI – Which Teams?

Green Bay vs Atlanta; Pittsburgh vs New England:  Which teams will make it to the Super Bowl?  It’s hard to believe they could be more evenly matched, with each team led by some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.  If your fantasy draft was held tomorrow would you take Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, or Matt Ryan?  Would it even matter – they are each that good!  No team would really seem to have the advantage at the quarterback position, but which one is better at crunch time?  Here is how I see the match-ups for this Sunday with the winner making a trip to the Super Bowl.

Green Bay at Atlanta – 3:05pm (Fox)
As I write this the over/under on this game is 60!  That’s right – 60 points.  Someone forgot the adage that “defense wins championships”.  So, obviously, Las Vegas does not believe either defense can stop Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan.

The Packers have won eight straight and Aaron Rodgers is the reason for the streak – 24 TDs and one interception.  And he just finds a way to win the game – the throw to Jared Cook on the sideline to set up the game-winning field goal is the most recent memory of Rodgers’ ability to just make something crucial happen.  And speaking of game –winning field goals, the Packers’ placekicker, Mason Crosby, has made 23 consecutive playoff field goals.  He last missed one in 2010.  At the end of the game, getting in field goal position is Rodgers’ job and winning the game has been Crosby’s job and both are getting their jobs done.

Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons will most likely be the NFL’s MVP and he has a receiving corps led by Julio Jones that is better than the Cowboys.  The Packers have all kinds of trouble stopping both the run AND the pass.  If Atlanta can run enough to keep the Packers concerned about that aspect of the game, Matt Ryan could have quite a day.  Statistically, the Falcons run the ball almost as effectively as the Steelers and the Steelers’ rushing attack is very good.  Dallas was able to exploit the Packers’ secondary.  Most fans, I think, would agree that the Seattle Seahawks’ defense is more formidable than the Packers’ defense.  I am beginning to understand the over/under.

WHO WINS?  – The Falcons are favored; they are at home; but can I bet against Aaron Rodgers?  No!
GREEN BAY – 34     ATLANTA – 31 

Pittsburgh at New England – 6:40pm (CBS)
Is anybody better than Tom Brady in these situations?  Is anyone’s pass rush in the playoffs been better than the Steelers?  The answer to both questions is “No”.  But there are some troubling stats if you are a Steelers’ fan.  The Patriots have lost only once to the Steelers (Brady was injured in that game) in New England in the past 18 years and the Patriots have won nine of the last 12 match-ups between these two teams.

For Pittsburgh to win, and they have won nine in a row, they must be able to run the ball and I believe they will.  Le’Veon Bell was exceptional against Kansas City – 170 yards on 30 carries.  Throw in DeAngelo Williams and the New England rush defense will be severely tested.  Balance that rushing attack with the wisdom of Roethlisberger and his talented receivers, especially Antonio Brown, and life could get miserable for the Patriot defense.  But the Steelers did not score a touchdown against the Chiefs.

“Ho hum” for New England.  Aren’t the Patriots always in this playoff position – in the playoffs and at home?  They are 4-1 in the AFC Championship games and 16-3 all-time at home in the playoffs.  And Tom Brady is Tom Brady!  With the exception of Brady, the Patriots do not have the “name players” that the other playoff teams have, but they do have Bill Belichick.  And those two are the true “killer Bs”.

WHO WINS?  New England is favored; the game is in Foxboro; and Brady and Belichick do not lose.
NEW ENGLAND – 24     PITTSBURGH – 23

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
 

  1. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin made a valid point after the Steelers’ late Sunday win at Kansas City. New England has a day and a half preparation advantage over the Steelers due to the Patriots playing early on Saturday and the Steelers late on Sunday night and having to fly back to Pittsburgh.  Just what the Patriots need – another advantage.
  2. I hate to harp on the officiating, but do you agree that splitting up the NFL officials’ crews was a bad idea. There have been so many incidences where the crew just does not seem to be on the same page.  It makes them look bad and most fans think they are bad anyway.  There sure seems to be many more “booth reviews” than ever before.  Suffice it to say, no team is angrier with the officials than the Kansas City Chiefs – a holding call on the two-point conversion kept them from tying the game and sending it into overtime.
  3. Packers’ kicker Mason Crosby has been unbelievable – he became the first kicker to make two field goals of 50 yards or more in the last two minutes of a playoff game. His 56-yarder was the third longest in post-season history.  He had to make the game-winning 51-yarder twice after the Cowboys called time-out right before he made the first one.  That makes 23 in a row, a record.
  4. New Lafayette football coach John Garrett is certainly not a fan of Crosby’s. His brother, Jason, is the Dallas head coach and he had just put his team in position to go to overtime.
  5. Congratulations to both Allen and Bangor as they continue to stay undefeated in the high school basketball season. Allen is 6A and Bangor is 5A so they will not meet in the playoffs.  That’s a shame.

Gary’s Guesses: NFL Picks – (Last week – 2-2; Overall – 167-94-2 – 64%)
SEE ABOVE
 

 

Behind the Mic: The NFL-NFC

The first weekend of the 2016 NFL season begins Thursday night, September 8, when the Broncos host the Panthers and it ends on Monday night with the 49’ers welcoming the Rams.  The other teams all play on Sunday.  So that can only mean one thing – it is time for my season outlook.  Last week, I looked at the AFC and this week it’s the NFC.  Remember everyone is 0-0 at the moment and the aspirations of the fans are running high.  If I dampen your spirit with my thoughts, just remember I don’t know any more than you do and, quite possibly, even less.

NFC EAST 

  1. Washington RedskinsThey won the division last year so I will go with them again. Their offense can be explosive and the defense might just be good enough.  This division is wide open, but the Tony Romo injury helped everybody but the Cowboys.
  2. New York Giants They had to shore up their defense and they did with money and draft picks. The offense should be problematic for opponents under new head coach Bob McAdoo.  It would be no surprise if they win the East.
  3. Dallas All they needed to be favored in the East was to get their offense healthy again. Well, forget that with the injury to Romo and a defense that does not impress.  They needed to outscore opponents and now that will not happen.  But even with rookie Dak Prescott, they should win more games than the Eagles.
  4. Philadelphia I would have picked them third, with the injury to Romo. Then they went and traded Bradford. Their schedule includes some of the best of the AFC and the NFC North so there are no easy wins.  The offensive line is a real concern.  And now, they start a rookie quarterback.  So, back to last place.

NFC NORTH 

  1. Green Bay Who else could be favored here? Aaron Rodgers has his receivers back and the defense looks strong again.  They have a tough opener at Jacksonville, so don’t panic if they lose that one.
  2. Minnesota – Does this team EVER catch a break? They won the division last year and looked to be really good this season.  Then their starting quarterback goes down with a freak non-contact serious knee injury and is likely out for the year.  But they went out and got Sam Bradford.  Their defense is solid, and the offense if Bradford stays healthy should be pretty good now.
  3. ChicagoIf only their offense was better. The Bears will be as fierce as ever on defense and John Fox’s teams improve with him at the helm.  They may surprise.
  4. Detroit –They played exceptionally well after their horrendous start last year (1-7). Calvin Johnson has retired and that hurts.  With a tough division, they are still picked last.

NFC SOUTH 

  1. Carolina – This could be the NFL’s best offensive team with some added weapons. The defense is certainly good enough to compete for a Super Bowl.
  2. New Orleans – Drew Brees always makes them dangerous and Mark Ingram is back at running back. If defense wins games as they say, the Saints will fall short in that department.
  3. Atlanta – They have a very tough road schedule (Oakland, Denver, and Seattle) which could keep them from the playoffs. If Matt Ryan has an exceptional year, they could be a wild card.
  4. Tampa Bay – How good is Jameis Winston at quarterback after a year under his belt. I don’t think he’s good enough to overcome their other deficiencies.

NFC WEST 

  1. Arizona – This will be one of the very best teams in the NFL – the defense is strong and the offense is ridiculous. Could be a good Super Bowl pick.
  2. Seattle – The best defense and a solid offense. They will make the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year and are always a contender for the title.
  3. Los Angeles – They will probably start #1 draft pick, Jared Goff, at QB; travel to London for a game; and await a new stadium. Lots of distractions, not to mention their HBO Hard Knocks show.
  4. San Francisco – Chip Kelly tries his system in a MUCH tougher division than the NFC East where the Eagles sat. He will struggle this year, but gets to spend four weeks back on the East Coast.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
NFC Playoffs
Championship Game – Cardinals vs Carolina
NFC Champions – Arizona Cardinals
Super Bowl Champions – Arizona Cardinals

Gary's Picks

NFL Picks – Week One
Carolina
Houston
Atlanta
Tennessee
Philadelphia
Cincinnati
Oakland
Kansas City
Baltimore
Green Bay
Seattle
Giants
Indianapolis
Arizona
Pittsburgh
Los Angeles
 

Behind the Mic: The NFL-NFC – Another Spoiler Alert!

Last week, my blog focused on the NFL-AFC as I wanted to let everyone know how each division would finish. This is the sequel to that blog as I now will take you through a journey of the NFC and give you enough information so that you can start to make your playoff plans. Remember, for a true fan there is no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than to tune in to the NFL Red Zone which covers highlights of every game played that day. You can order it by calling 1-800-RING RCN (this IS an unmitigated “plug” for the Red Zone – it makes our marketing people even happier when I do this two weeks in a row).

With that said, I am now ready to tell you (some say predict) how the regular season will turn out in terms of the NFC Division winners. So, much like last week, – SPOILER ALERT! – Do not read this if you want to enjoy the NFC regular season. The following is how the NFC will end up (This year’s record is in parentheses):

NFC SOUTH
1. New Orleans Saints (11-5) – They lost to Super Bowl champion, Seattle, in the playoffs. Their defense is better (Champ Bailey, for instance). AND, they are in a rather weak division.
2. Atlanta Falcons (9-7) – What the heck happened last year (4-12)? One word – injuries. They should be healthier (have to be) and begin to look like the team that was outstanding in 2012.
3. Carolina Panthers (8-8) – Here the question will be, “What the heck happened this year?” The Panthers were 12-4 last year, but they lost their wide receiver collection from last year. Even though their offense is questionable, their defense will win some games for them.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9) – They have the potential to be one of the most improved teams (4-12 last year), but their improvement in the standings could take awhile.

NFC NORTH
1. Green Bay Packers (12-4) – IF Aaron Rodgers stays healthy and Eddie Lacy runs wild, the Packers will win the North. Their defense is a bit of a question mark.
2. Chicago Bears (11-5) – As QB Jay Cutler goes, so go the Bears. They have faith in him (he is signed through 2020). This is a tough division and “survival of the fittest” usually wins out. The Bears could be one of the “fittest”.
3. Detroit Lions (9-7) – Why don’t the Lions get better? They appear solid everywhere, but in the secondary. Potentially, they could have a very good season, but don’t we say that every year?
4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10) – They will not get better. Only dog in the division.

NFC WEST
1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3) – Obviously, the Super Bowl champs were great last year (13-3) and with their youth and talent, there is every reason to believe they will be great again. Pete Carroll seems to have the perfect disposition to avoid the typical Super Bowl letdown. This is the toughest division in the NFL and Seattle is the best team in that division.
2. San Francisco 49ers (12-4) – The 49ers lost to Seattle in the NFC championship game and they continue to possess great talent and great coaching. It has been 20 years from their last championship and that may give them enough incentive to get it done.
3. Arizona Cardinals (11-5) – They won 10 regular season games last year and missed the playoffs. Winning 11 should get them in. They proved they could beat Seattle when the Seahawks are at home and that says something about their pedigree. Carson Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald is a lethal combination.
4. St. Louis Rams (8-8) – The Rams need to find another division. They are not a bad team, just not better than the other three in the NFC West. And no quarterback of note at the moment.

NFC EAST
1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) – They were about the only team that looked better throughout the “NFC Least” last year. There just doesn’t seem to be much negativity around Chip Kelly. Nick Foles has to be the real deal and Darren Sproles should add even more excitement to the up-tempo style.
2. New York Giants (9-7) – Eli Manning cannot be as bad as he was last year; the defense is pretty good; the offensive line is better. The Giants will, also, be better.
3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8) – Another ho-hum year for America’s team (still?). DeMarcus Ware is gone so the defense can’t be better. There were no great offensive additions. A long-shot to make the playoffs.
4. Washington Redskins (7-9) – New coach usually warrants a new attitude. RG III is healed, but not playing well. Name has not been changed. Four more wins than last year, but not enough to make the playoffs.

There you have it. It all starts September 4. Enjoy the season!!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. Joe Torre’s #6 was retired Saturday and that leaves only #2 left as a single-digit Yankees uniform not retired. That distinction will end when Derek Jeter has #2 retired. The Yankees were the first team to put numbers on uniforms back in 1929. The numbers originally coincided with the player’s spot in the batting order. In case you do not remember the single-digit retired numbers: #1-Billy Martin; #2-Derek Jeter; #3- Babe Ruth; #4- Lou Gerhrig; #5- Joe Dimaggio; #6- Joe Torre; #7- Mickey Mantle; #8- Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra; #9-Roger Maris.

2. The Eagles looked very good last Thursday against the Steelers. Even the back-ups played well. The Steelers looked very disinterested.

3. The Rams lost their quarterback, Sam Bradford, for the season (ACL) and are now desperate for a starting quarterback. The obvious choice is Mark Sanchez of the Eagles, who ran offensive coordinator Marty Schottenheimer’s offense in New York. This would create a very interesting decision for all concerned.

4. Have you noticed how awful RG III has been for Washington so far? He threw for 20 yards – 20 yards! – on Saturday night. Joe Theismann has come out and suggested Jay Gruden yank his star for Kirk Cousins. That won’t happen.

5. Speaking of Grudens, father Jon Gruden was at Lafayette this past Wednesday to watch his son, Deuce, scrimmage. Ross Scheurman, Lafayette’s All-League running back was kept out of the scrimmage. Deuce is second on the depth chart and saw quite a bit of action.