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-AFC

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 Redskins welcoming the Steelers.  The other teams all play on Sunday.  So that can only mean one thing – it is time for my season outlook.  This week, I will analyze the AFC and do the NFC next week.  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.

AFC EAST 

  1. New EnglandTom Brady will miss four games and Jimmy Garoppolo will take over. It probably will not matter.  Brady comes back stronger and fresher than ever; Garoppolo makes his case to get a big contract and start somewhere else; and, surprise, surprise the Patriots win the division.
  2. Buffalo They had a great draft; will get New England without Brady in one game; and have a good shot at making the playoffs.
  3. Jets Ryan Fitzpatrick has settled his differences and the back-up situation seems muddled at best with three other QB The schedule is murderous at the beginning and they get Brady for both games.
  4. Miami Adam Gase is the new head coach and the Dolphins have had a good preseason. The Dolphins just seem to underachieve.  If Gase can change that mindset, perhaps they can move ahead of the Jets.

AFC NORTH 

  1. Pittsburgh Their offense is virtually unstoppable as long as they stay healthy and avoid any more suspension problems (Le’Veon Bell). They need to improve in the secondary, but if the defense gets even a little better, the Steelers will not only win the division, but could have a shot at another Super Bowl ring.
  2. BaltimoreThey were really banged up last season placing 20 players on the injured reserve list. Since they finish the season with the Patriots, and the Steelers, their final game with the Bengals could be for the playoff spot.
  3. Cincinnati –They are better than the Ravens and they have reached the playoffs for five consecutive years, but something always seems to go wrong here. Their final game with the Ravens could move them up to #2.
  4. Cleveland – It’s Cleveland!

AFC SOUTH 

  1. Jacksonville – This team is solid – QB Blake Bortles is really good. If they can beat out the Texans, they could do well in the playoffs.
  2. Houston – This team could be VERY good. Only playing with a new QB and a new RB could cause some early problems as well as the absence of JJ Watt until his back heals.
  3. Indianapolis Andrew Luck makes them competitive; their defense does not.
  4. Tennessee – A tough schedule and an overall improved division keeps them at the bottom.

AFC WEST 

  1. Kansas City Jamaal Charles is back and he may be just enough to push them over the top. Andy Reid has a winner here.
  2. Denver – Plenty of lost personnel here starting with Peyton Manning, but my gut says they will not miss an offensive beat; defense was hurt more by free agency and the division got tougher.
  3. Oakland – The Raiders have an easier schedule than most, especially at the start. If they get confidence and momentum, they could crack the playoffs.
  4. San Diego – If you can run the ball and stop the run, you can win. The Chargers can’t do either; ergo, they won’t win.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
AFC Playoffs
Championship Game – Steelers vs Patriots
AFC Champions – The Pittsburgh Steelers

My Week One NFL predictions are coming next week.

Behind the Mic: The NFL – AFC Spoiler Alert!

I really do not want to ruin the NFL season for you. The regular season begins on Thursday, September 4, when Green Bay visits Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champion. The final regular season games will be played on Sunday, December 28. And I do think you should watch as many games as you possibly can. AND, if you have no favorite team playing on a given Sunday, then by all means, tune in to the NFL Red Zone and you can pretty much follow EVERY game. You can order it at 1-800-RING RCN (I thought I would put a commercial in here – it makes our marketing people happy when I do that).

With that said, I am going to tell you (some say predict) how the regular season will turn out in terms of AFC Division winners. I would go further – you know, playoffs and AFC champion plus the Super Bowl winner, but I do not wish to spoil all your fun. That will come later, anyway. So – SPOILER ALERT! – Do not read this if you want to enjoy the AFC regular season. The following is how the AFC will end up (this year’s projected record is in parentheses):

AFC SOUTH
1. Indianapolis Colts (10-6) – They beat Kansas City in the playoffs last year and lost to New England. They are not really better this year, but will win their division.
2. Houston Texans (7-9) – The Texans were 2-14 last year, so I obviously think they will be closer to the team that won their division in 2012. Quarterback is a problem.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10) – They, too, are better than last year, just not “better” enough (did I used to teach English?)
4. Tennessee Titans (4-12) – They were 7-9 last year; lost some key players; are just a mediocre team.

AFC EAST
1. New England Patriots (13-3) – They are in a weak division so their record will improve, primarily because their defense has improved.
2. Miami Dolphins (7-9) – They will not match last year’s record, so they will miss the playoffs again.
3. Buffalo Bills (6-10) – Did very little in the off-season to make a fan believe they will be better than their 6-10 record last year. Recent Hall of Fame inductee, Andre Reed, will be their hero, but he no longer plays.
4. New York Jets (6-10) – No media circus this year (remember the Tebow year and the Sanchez year?). But there is no offense either.

AFC NORTH
1. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) – The Bengals finished 11-5 last year and lost in the first round of playoffs. Head Coach Marvin Lewis got a one-year extension on his contract. He has never won a playoff game. The Bengals should make the playoffs. Lewis needs to win a playoff game or he will go. They are capable of saving his job.
2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) – Their season looks like it needs some kind of boost – WR Steve Smith may be the boost; defense looks solid; Ray Rice should add even more spark upon his return.
3. Cleveland Browns (8-8) – The Browns have a new coach (again), new management (again), and a new QB (again) which has created new excitement for the fans (again). It has been seven years since they last won more than 5 games. This could be the year.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) – Even I can’t believe I am picking the Steelers last in their division and worse than the Browns. They’re getting old and, for now, the glory days are over.

AFC WEST
1. Denver Broncos (13-3) – Seattle embarrassed them in the Super Bowl. Denver only improved in the off-season and they will play better competition this year in the regular season. This could be a special year for Mile High.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) – 9-0 start for Andy Reid’s team certainly opened many eyes. But they finished the year 2-5 and lost to the Colts in the Wild Card round of playoffs. If they can diversify their offense, they could be better.
3. San Diego Chargers (9-7) – They have a great offense (thanks to Philip Rivers), but no defense. If defense wins championships (right, Seattle?). The Chargers’ defense is awful. Ergo – no championship (I learned this way of proving things in Philosophy class).
4. Oakland Raiders (6-10) – They were very busy in the off-season spending lots of money. The Raiders will be better (they almost have to be – 4-12 last year).

The NFC season standings will come your way next week. Remember, these thoughts are for amusement only and do not represent the opinion of management (most of them are Redskin and Eagles fans, anyway).

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. The PGA Championship last week produced the highest golf TV ratings in five years. It was the “perfect storm” for CBS – great golf, four big-name players tied or in the lead on the back nine, a rain delay that threw the finish well into prime time (60 Minutes viewers may have tuned in by accident), and darkness falling to add to the suspense. A network’s dream.

2. Speaking of golf, I am glad Tom Watson did not have to decide if he should pick Tiger Woods for the Ryder Cup team. Had he picked him or not picked him and the US lost, he would have been criticized. I respect Tiger Woods for taking that decision away from Watson.

3. I am wrapped up in the Little League World Series when the Taney Dragons are playing. Their comeback win on Sunday was great TV and with Mo’Ne Davis pitching to get to the championship final this week, the drama only increases. Go, Dragons!

4. Congratulations to the Northampton Giants of the Blue Mountain League for winning their first championship since 1994. Manager Ed Wandler has been with the BML since 1977 (37 years), and the team gave him all the credit for the championship run. It was a great season!

5. All of us associated with Lehigh Valley sports were shocked when we heard that former Allen and current Moravian Academy coach John Donmoyer died on Saturday morning at St. Luke’s Hospital. I last saw John at the VIA Hall of Fame ceremony (he was a member) and had a very nice conversation with him. I was unaware, as I think most people were, that he was ill. John coached 1,047 varsity games winning 624 of them, both Lehigh Valley records. Last December, Allen named their basketball floor for Coach Donmoyer. He took his teams to the PIAA state championship finals in 1979 and 1980. I never heard a harsh word said about John by anyone and, amazingly, that included fans. His players always stressed the life lessons that John espoused while winning games and titles year after year. He was a giant in Lehigh Valley sports. May he rest in peace.