NFL divisional playoffs picks

NFL divisional playoffs preview and picks

We were fortunate enough to get four reasonably competitive games to kick off the NFL playoffs last week. You can check out last week’s picks here.

For this week’s divisional playoffs, games will be picked both straight up and against the spread. Outright upsets have an asterisk. All point spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Postseason record- 3-1

Postseason record against the spread- 2-2

Saturday

Falcons at Eagles – For the first time since the NFL adopted its current playoff format, a sixth seed is favorite over a home standing top seed. This is not without merit though. Without Carson Wentz, the Eagles are just another average to below-average football team. In the final two games of the regular season, Philadelphia’s offense accounted for a grand total of 13 points, and the team as a whole was pushed around for long stretches by the non-playoff bound Cowboys and Raiders.

The above paragraph is not a good recipe for taking on the Falcons at the moment. Atlanta needed to win as much as humanly possible late in the regular season to keep its playoff hopes alive. The sudden death nature of the NFL playoffs changed nothing for them last week. They have been in that situation for almost 2 months.

Reigning MVP Matt Ryan and the offense are not quite the juggernaut they were last year, but they are still very good. What has sparked Atlanta’s late-season run as much as anything is defense. The Falcons have not surrendered more than 24 points in a game since Week 11. This includes holding the top-ranked scoring offense to just 13 points last week. If all the offense has to do is score in the high 20s, this team is tough to beat.

Apart from winning a shootout with the lowly Giants, the Eagles offense has not gotten anywhere close to the high 20s with backup quarterbacks since the injury to Wentz. Philadelphia’s defense is pretty good and has stood on its head in recent weeks to keep the Eagles in games. Thus, this will not be a blowout.

However, one of these teams is quarterbacked by Matt Ryan and the other by Nick Foles. Sometimes, it is just that simple.

Winner: Atlanta

Good bet: Falcons (-3) Atl 21 Phi 13

Titans at Patriots – Tennessee did a great job of making a few plays to pull off the big upset in Kansas City last week. However, that result had more to do with Kansas City’s collapse. If New England has a double-digit lead, whoever is playing running back will get the ball a lot more than 11 or 12 times.

NFL divisional playoffs picks

Photo from USA Today

You can’t help but be impressed with the resilience and toughness of Tennessee. That roster is not good enough to get to this point on talent alone. Different guys have stepped up for them all year long. Last week, it was Marcus Mariota playing with his head on a swivel to complete a touchdown pass to himself and Derrick Henry rushing for 156 yards in the absence of backfield mate DeMarco Murray that made the difference.

However, the Titans lack the firepower to really make the Patriots nervous in a playoff game. At this point, nothing more can be said about the greatness of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They are 25-9 in playoff games. Moreover, only three of those nine losses have been at home. Tennessee will keep this close for a while with solid fundamental football, but New England will pull away late.

Winner: New England

Good bet: Patriots (-13) NE 34 Ten 20

Sunday

Jaguars at Steelers – Vegas is showing great restraint by making the Steelers only a seven-point favorite here. With the way the Jacksonville passing offense has looked for the last month, a double-digit spread would have been perfectly reasonable.

However, the Jacksonville defense has shut down some very good offenses this year. The Jaguars went in to Pittsburgh early in the year and intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times in a route.

Also, there is more than one way to look at the performance of Blake Bortles last week. It is easy to say he threw for just 87 yards and therefore was completely awful, or you can commend him for his 88 rushing yards and ability to make enough plays for his team to win, even though he did not play very well.

Not very many people have subscribed to the second school of thought leading up to this game, but I am one of them. With a great supporting cast around him, Bortles is fine. Other than one or two games, Jacksonville has had no problem scoring points this year. Almost every offense is going to get shut down at least once or twice a year, no matter who the quarterback is.

Jacksonville is too good to get blown out. Any team that leads the league in rushing offense, as well as several defensive categories, is capable of going anywhere and beating anyone. However, Roethlisberger getting Antonio Brown back will be the difference in this one. Even if Brown is not fully healthy, his presence alone gives the vaunted Jacksonville defense another thing to worry about on a loaded Steelers offense.

Winner: Pittsburgh

Good Bet: Jaguars (+7) Pit 27 Jac 24

Saints at Vikings – No team was more impressive than New Orleans last week. All year, the Saints had done most of their damage by running the ball with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Carolina held that duo to under 50 combined rushing yards. The Saints still managed to win. Drew Brees showed us all why he is going to the Hall of Fame someday.

NFL divisional playoffs picks

Photo from si.com

Unless there is a truly dominant team, whoever wins the Super Bowl has to find a way to win a game or two where its best stuff is not working. There is no dominant NFL team this year, and that is exactly what the Saints did last week.

This week, the task is a little bit tougher as New Orleans goes on the road to face another very stout defensive unit in Minnesota. The vast majority of Minnesota’s success this year has come from backups, castoffs and other spare parts. Mike Zimmer and his staff have done an incredible job of getting the most out of Case Keenum. Keenum has nearly doubled his career touchdown passes this season. However, much like the other NFC matchup this weekend, it is foolish not to take the established star quarterback over the journeyman in playoff football.

Winner: New Orleans

Good Bet: *Saints (+ 5.5) NO 27 Min 20

 

Featured image from chiefs.com

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Fantasy football awards

2017 fantasy football awards

With the fantasy football playoffs underway, it’s time to recognize some of the best players in fantasy this season. Here are the awards for the players who thrived and to some who were disappointments.

Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Alvin Kamara

The first award for Rookie of the Year is New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.

Fantasy football awards

Alvin Kamara (Photo from usatoday.com)

It looked as if it could’ve been down to Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. But since Week 6, Kamara has been the No. 1 running back as well as the highest scoring back. In 13 weeks of football, Kamara has over 1,200 yards of total offense and 11 touchdowns. The overall stats for Kamara are 606 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, as well as 614 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

He currently ranks second in fantasy points at the position and 15th among overall players.

Biggest busts: Amari Cooper & Terrelle Pryor

In fantasy, there are always players who should do well, but just struggle. These players just don’t meet expectations. This year we have two recipients, and they go to wide receivers Amari Cooper and Terrelle Pryor.

For Cooper, he was a consistent second-round pick, and through 13 weeks, he is currently ranked the 37th wide receiver with 80.3 fantasy points. He only has 42 receptions, 499 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games. He only has four games where he scored 10 points or more. In 2016, he finished as the 12th best receiver.

As for Pryor, he was picked right around where Cooper was and went from fantasy potential to fantasy disappointment. In nine games, he only has a total of 30 fantasy points and averaged just 3.3 points per game. This comes after a year when Pryor logged a 1,000-yard campaign with the Browns and finished in the top 20 at the position in fantasy. He is now out for the season and finished WR90 after a bust 2017 season.

Fantasy Comeback Player of the Year: Todd Gurley

Not every player has a great season, but great players can rebound after a disappointing year. In 2017, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley bounced back in one of the leagues’ top scoring offenses.

Fantasy football awards

Todd Gurley (Photo from latimes.com)

Gurley finished the regular fantasy season as the No. 1 running back and seventh overall player. He has averaged 20 points per game this season with 939 rushing yards, 563 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns.

Last year, he finished as the 20th running back with 885 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Gurley clearly improved with the new offense under Sean McVay.

Sympathy Award: Aaron Rodgers

In fantasy, there’s that one good player that is the soul of your team. For most, it was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He went down with a broken collarbone in Week 6 against the Minnesota Vikings. For the fantasy owners of Rodgers, we give you this award to ease the pain.

Through five weeks, Rodgers had 1,367 passing yards and 13 touchdowns with three interceptions. He was on pace for another solid fantasy season where he was the No. 1 overall player in fantasy points. At the time before Week 6, he was the sixth overall player in fantasy and fifth among quarterbacks.

There have been reports he was off the injured reserve and could come back in Week 15. But for some, it’s too late. If you survived without him after his injury, then kudos to you. For most, it was heartbreaking, and we hope next year Rodgers can bounce back again.

Best Kicker: Greg Zuerlein

For some thinking why I included this award, it’s because kickers are players too. Every once in a while, a kicker wins for you when your down by five or less and need that one kick. This year, there was no one as dominant as Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein.

Fantasy football awards

Greg Zuerlein (Photo from turfshowtimes.com)

Zuerlein has accumulated 167 fantasy points. That’s 32 more points than the next kicker Stephen Gotskowski. As an overall player, he is the 25th best player. That’s better than players like Julio Jones, LeSean McCoy, A.J. Green and Rob Gronkowski. He’s even currently outscoring players like DeAndre Hopkins, who is averaging 13.5 points per game to Zuerlein’s 13.9. Thats unheard of. He’s even outscoring running backs ranked fourth and lower, and that includes Mark Ingram, Melvin Gordon and Kareem Hunt. That’s incredible coming from a kicker.

It should be noted he is part of a top scoring offense, but he is capitalizing no matter where he has to kick from. He truly should be recognized as a fantasy beast in 2017.

Fantasy MVP: Russell Wilson

Finally, the fantasy MVP award goes to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Through the 13 weeks of football, Wilson has scored 279.4 fantasy points. This season, he has thrown for 3,256 yards, rushed for 432 yards and has 29 total touchdowns. He has contributed 29 of the 30 touchdowns on offense for the Seahawks this season. If that doesn’t convince you, another big component to his success is consistency, averaging 23.3 points per game.

Wilson has finished in the top-12 fantasy quarterbacks in eight of 11 games played. Not only is he a prototype player, he is basically the Seattle offense. It’s not just throwing touchdowns that makes him MVP, it’s his ability outside the pocket to create plays.

Other awards

Some other considerations this season include the following.

The best wavier wire player award goes to Robby Anderson of the New York Jets. He went from undrafted in most of leagues to now a top 10 receiver in fantasy. Since Week 6, he has been the third best receiver, averaging 13.8 fantasy points per game.

The next award for a good start to downhill is Kareem Hunt. Hunt exploded for 45.6 points in the Chiefs’ season opener. He followed that up with 25.9, 25.3, 16.1, 14.6, 16.0, and 15.7-point performances in PPR leagues in the following six weeks, making him the No. 2 back through Week 7. Since then, he’s dropped to 38th and hasn’t cracked 11 points in a game since mid-October.

The most memorable week in fantasy this year goes to Julio Jones. He has been a disappointment all year, but in Week 12 against the Buccaneers, he went on a tear with 50 points in PPR. That matchup accounted for more than a quarter of his total points this season.

Finally, the most improved player this year is Adam Thielen. The Minnesota Vikings receiver went from the 29th wide receiver in 2016 to top 10 in 2017. He is on pace to surpass his total points from last year and become the first Viking since Sidney Rice back in 2009 to have 1,000 yards receiving. He doesn’t have a lot of touchdowns, but he’s averaging 88 yards a game, which is fourth among receivers as well as the fourth best receiving yards.

 

Featured image from seattletimes.com

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Stack your money Sunday’s: Week 13

Week 12 Review (3-0) OVERALL: 24-10-2

Tennessee Titans (-3.5) @ Indianapolis Colts

Tennessee Titans 20 Indianapolis Colts 16

Late in the third quarter, it looked as if the Colts were going to continue their dominance against the Titans at home. Down 16-6, Marcus Mariota found Delanie Walker for a 2-yard touchdown to cut the lead to three. A Demarco Murray touchdown with under six minutes to play made it a four-point game. Luckily, Tennessee’s defense stepped up and prevented Indianapolis from getting anything going on offense.

It was an ugly win, but nonetheless, a cover is a cover. Mariota threw two interceptions and continued to look shaky, as his interception total is up to 12 on the year. They ran for 92 yards, including 79 from Derrick Henry, who looks like he deserves to be the lead back. Tennessee played solid red-zone defense, but that is expected against the Colts.

The Titans sit at 7-4, yet are getting outscored by 27 points for the season, including two blowout losses by 23+ points. Most of their wins are one possession games, and inconsistent play from Mariota makes it hard to buy into this team.

Chicago Bears @ Philadelphia Eagles (-13)

Philadelphia Eagles 31 Chicago Bears 3

Blount rushed for 97 yards in the win against Chicago. (SBNation)

At first, I was a tad skeptical of a spread this large, but then again, the Eagles are the most complete football team in the NFL. This game was over from the jump, as Carson Wentz threw three touchdowns in the first half. Philadelphia continued to excel in the run game, as they rushed for 176 yards on 33 carries, including 97 yards from LeGarrette Blount.

Speaking of the run, the Bears ran for a grand total of six yards on 14 carries. Mitch Trubisky continued to look like a rookie, throwing two interceptions and completed only 51.5 percent of his passes. His 38.3 quarterback rating was his worst of the season.

The Bears had the ball for less than 23 total minutes, and were 3-13 on third down conversion attempts. The Eagles had three times more first downs than Chicago. Simply put, Chicago was overmatched and looked the part.

Seattle Seahawks (-5.5) @ San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks 24 San Francisco 49ers 13

As banged up as they are, Seattle still has Russell Wilson, which means they will always have a shot. Wilson had a solid game, throwing for two touchdowns, while also picking up his third rushing touchdown of the season. He is carrying this team, and arguably the most valuable player in the sport. Without him, the Seahawks would be a disaster.

Although it is unfortunate C.J. Beathard was injured in the game, the 49ers fan got a glimpse of what the future could look like. Jimmy Garappolo went in late in the fourth quarter and threw 10-yard touchdown to Louis Murphy. Garappolo will start this week against Chicago, in hopes of picking up his first win as a Niner, and giving the fan base something to cheer about.

WEEK 13 PICKS

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Green Bay Packers (-2.5)

PICK: PACKERS TO COVER

Brett Hundley had a career game last week against the Steelers. The 24-year-old from UCLA threw three touchdowns, no interceptions, and had a quarterback rating of 134.3. While it hasn’t been all that pretty for Hundley and the Packers, who are 1-4 in their last five, this week should be a breeze.

Jameis Winston has returned to practice and will be playing on Sunday. Last year, Winston’s average kickoff temperature was right around 75 degrees. On Sunday, the temperature will be in the 40s, which is new to Jameis. Counting both his collegiate and professional careers, Winston has never played in anything under 45 degrees. The Bucs are also without starting center Ali Marpet, and right tackle Demar Dotson. Running back Doug Martin is still in the concussion protocol.

The Bucs are 23rd in both points and third down conversion percentage. Their run game has been a disaster all year, and they also have had incontinent kicking. Look for Hundley to have a solid game against a Tampa Bay defense that gives up 395.5 yards per game, and 6.1 yards per play, which both rank dead last in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints (-4.5)

PICK: SAINTS TO COVER

Although they lost last week to the Rams, the Saints remain one of the best football teams in the NFL. Both teams sit at 8-3, so this will be a battle for first place in the NFC South. It will be interesting to see if the stellar Panthers defense will have an answer for Alvin Kamara. Kamara, who looks to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year, is averaging 7.1 yards per carry, which is first in the NFL. He also has 55 receptions including at least five in six of the last eight games.

Front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Alvin Kamara (SI.com)

Following a loss, Drew Brees is 52-32-2 ATS. Brees is having another impressive season, with 16 touchdowns to just five interceptions, and currently leads the league with a completion percentage of 71.3. The Saints have just one loss at home this year, which came all the way back in Week Two against New England. New Orleans has been excellent in the red zone, sitting fifth in the league in percentage of red zone opportunities ending with a touchdown.

Cam Newton continues to be one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks in the league. When the Panthers beat New England and Detroit, Newton threw for three touchdowns and over 300 yards in both contests. Last week against the New York Jets, Newton completed 39.3 percent of his passes, with no touchdowns and just 168 passing yards. Carolina’s offense currently ranks 20th in yards per play.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-4.5) @ Cincinnati Bengals

PICK: STEELERS TO COVER

The Steelers looked bad on National TV last week against the Packers, which means a big performance is looming in the air. According to SportsInsights.com, “Pittsburgh’s offense and defense both rank second in Adjusted Sack Rate. Cincy’s offense and defense both rank 26th in Adjusted Sack Rate.”

Le’Veon Bell should carve up this Bengals defense, who allow 126.6 rushing yards per game. In the last 16 games in which Pittsburgh has rushed for at least 100 yards, the Steelers are 15-1. During their Week Six matchup, Bell rushed for 134 yards. In the six games he has played against Cincinnati, the Steelers are 5-1. Over the course of Ben Roethlisberger’s career against the Bengals, he is 20-7.

Andy Dalton looks really bad this year, and has his Bengals sitting at 32nd in yards per game. Cincinnati only scores about 18 points per game, and are 29th in third down conversion percentage. Although last week they had a solid running game against the Browns, Cincinnati is still 31st in yards per rush. They can’t pass, or run, and their rush defense is among the worst in the league. Look for Pittsburgh to continue to dominate this inner-division rivalry.

 

Featured image by Bleacher Report

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Fantasy Football Week 9 winners

Top five fantasy stars of Week 9

Week 9 of the NFL season has come and gone. As we have passed the halfway point of the season, we had some big fantasy performances this week. If you had these players (or if you got lucky) you feel pretty good about your team this week. Here are the top five fantasy stars of Week 9.

Carson Wentz, Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles

Wentz had a day against the Denver Broncos, throwing four touchdowns in a 51-23 blowout.

Fantasy Football Week 9 winners

Carson Wentz (Photo from grandforksherald.com)

The Broncos defense hasn’t allowed 18 or more fantasy points to any quarterback in their first seven games of the season. However, Wentz steamrolled one of the top defenses in the league.

For Wentz, it’s all about consistency, and we have seen that in his last five games. He has tossed 17 touchdowns and just three picks in the last five.

In seven of the nine games he has played, he has been a top eight quarterback. His elusiveness as a passer and a runner has made him a high-end QB1 with his consistent play.

Wentz now has a league-leading 23 touchdown passes and is continuing to have what looks like an MVP season. After a bye in Week 10, he will face the Dallas Cowboys the following week.

I expect him to have another good day with Dallas’ defense being in the lower tier against the quarterback this season.

T.Y. Hilton, Wide Receiver, Indianapolis Colts

Many of us had given up hope on Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, but he finally broke through. It looks as if there is some chemistry developing between him and his quarterback Jacoby Brissett as well.

Fantasy Football Week 9 winners

T.Y. Hilton (Photo from tvasports.ca)

Hilton has been struggling all season, with some of it being due to not having his quarterback Andrew Luck. For the first eight weeks, he only averaged 66 yards and had only one touchdown.

But he was a beast on Sunday with 175 yards and two touchdowns, with one being 45 yards and the other was a 80-yard score. His 34 points in PPR and 29 in non-PPR gives some life to fantasy owners as there seems to have been a jumpstart in the Colts offense at least throwing the ball. Hilton has a trio of long touchdowns, but other than that, he has been kept out of the end zone.

It’s encouraging to see Hilton finally have a good game, but he will continue to be a boom or bust player for the rest of the season.

Quarterback Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

The first two quarterbacks picked last season had stellar performances. Jared Goff had a similar day to Wentz as he torched the New York Giants defense.

Goff had a career day, throwing for 311 yards and four touchdowns while completing 14 of his 22 passes in a 51-17 blowout. The highest scoring offense has continued its dominance, and part of it is Goff playing well.

This is a guy that started his career with an 0-7 record as starter heading into 2017 with a 63.6 passer rating. Now he looks like the first overall pick the Rams were hoping for.

He has now scored at least 16 points five times in the last eight games, including 28 on Sunday. Goff averaged an outstanding 14.1 yards per attempt thanks to a pair of long touchdown passes, one a 52-yard strike to Robert Woods on a third and 33 and then a 67-yard deep ball to Sammy Watkins just over two minutes later. It’s just one of those feel-good stories when it comes to Goff.

Goff has gained some attention across fantasy as he was the 13th most started quarterback according to ESPN. He will continue his good play against a struggling Houston Texans defense.

Running back Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

What a season rookie Alvin Kamara is having, both as a runner and a pass catcher. Even though this is his eighth game, he had a career day in fantasy with 25 points and 31 points in PPR.

Fantasy Football Week 9 winners

Alvin Kamara (Photo from buffalonews.com)

The Saints back contributed 152 total yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kamara rushed 10 times for 68 yards and a touchdown and hauled in six of seven targets for 84 yards and another score.

The versatile rookie made his presence felt again, leading the Saints in receiving yardage while posting his best reception total since Week 4. He also posted his second straight week scoring a rushing touchdown for the first time in his career. Kamara also for the first time scored a receiving and a rushing score in the same game. The Saints seem to have found their pairing with Kamara and Mark Ingram.

He continues to be one the best pass catching backs in the league as he and rookie Christian McCaffrey are the only backs with at least three receptions in every game this season. They play the Bills next week and could have a solid day as a pass catcher.

TIght End Evan Engram, New York Giants

While the Giants struggled, Evan Engram had a solid day against the Rams. Engram had four catches for 70 yards and a score.

This may not seem like a star to most, but Engram has been lights out the last three games, scoring over 15 in three straight. He has established himself as the first target in a struggling Giant offense. He led the team in targets and tied for the most yards. Engram found the end zone in the fourth on a 10-yard pass from Eli Manning. He has posted at least 60 receiving yards in four of his last five games while reaching the end zone in each of his last three.

Engram has had a solid season even with the Giants woes on offense and should be considered a viable TE1 option. Expect Engram to have another solid outing next week against the winless San Francisco 49ers.

 

Featured image from si.com.

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2017 NFC South division preview

2017 NFC South division preview

The NFL regular season is fast approaching. In the blink of an eye, Sep. 7 will arrive and the Chiefs and Patriots will be kicking off the 2017-2018 NFL season. In the meantime, Hagan’s Haus will be bringing you the divisional previews and predictions of how teams will finish in their respective divisions. Without further ado, here is the 2017 NFC South division preview.

4: New Orleans Saints

Last season: 7-9

Strength of schedule:15

Oh when the Saints go marching in, they bring with them no defense. The Saints are hoping the additions of A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o will improve a defense that gave up 28.4 points per game last season. They also drafted defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams to improve one of the league’s worst secondaries.

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo credit: Matthew Hinton)

Although New Orleans has made an effort to improve their defense, it won’t become great overnight. Despite ranking 11th in fewest plays per game, the Saints ranked 14th in rushing and 31st in passing. Until this unit shows on-field improvement, there is no way the Saints can win the division or earn a wild card berth.

Offensively, the Saints are absolutely loaded. They have future Hall of Famer Drew Brees under center. New Orleans has committed to Michael Thomas as the go-to guy on the outside in just his second season. Coby Fleener is more than a reliable tight end to compliment Thomas in the middle of the field and in the red zone.

The Saints are also blessed in the backfield with Mark Ingram, future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara. This trio of running backs will give defensive coordinators nightmares.

New Orleans has a pretty easy schedule this season and the offensive side of the ball is going to be straight fireworks. As is the story every season with Saints, can the defense be good enough to help them win games? The answer is no. Every game will be a shootout and opposing defenses are going to make more game winning plays. The Saints will be competitive because of their offense, but the defense will be their downfall yet again.

Prediction: 8-8 (3-3), miss the playoffs

3: Atlanta Falcons

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit:http://www.sportingnews.com)

Last season: 11-5

Strength of schedule: 13

I am a firm believer in Super Bowl hangovers. Just look at how the Panthers’ season went last year after losing Super Bowl 50.

The Falcons’ players are saying all the right things about moving on and using the humiliating let down as motivation for this season but when push comes to shove that loss will be in the back of their mind. The first team to start coming back on them will bring out those painful memories.

Atlanta is also the defending NFC champions and they will get every team’s best shot. Their division is one of the toughest in the NFL and the Buccaneers and Panthers did a lot to improve.

Besides the hangover and their schedule, Atlanta has to prove they can play great defense for an entire season. The first half of last season was abysmal defensively. The Falcons finished the season ranked 27th in points, giving up 25.3 per game. Atlanta saw such a high volume of points scored in the fourth quarter. They ranked 31st in fourth quarter scoring giving up 9.9 points per fourth quarter. If that trend continues they will struggle to win games.

Offensively, the Falcons are loaded. Matt Ryan had a career year that led to him being named league MVP. It is unlikely that he has a second consecutive MVP caliber season as very few players have ever won back to back MVPs. Only four players have done so: Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

Ryan will have a slight drop off in production but not enough to warrant concern. The offense will put up plenty of points and still be electrifying but as mentioned earlier, they will be given the best shot from every team and it will cause them to come up short a few more times than most can expect.

Atlanta’s defense must improve and play to the ability they did in the second half of the season in order to get back to the postseason. Due to a massive Super Bowl hangover, an improved division all-around and a defense that will likely be mediocre, the Falcons come up short and miss the playoffs.

Prediction: 9-7 (3-3), miss the playoffs

2: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last season: 9-7

Strength of schedule: 14

Tampa Bay had a solid season last year but missed the playoffs. This season they should take the next step and make the playoffs behind a very solid offense that has improved. The upgrades on offense include the additions of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard. Both of which will turn this offense from good to great.

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The Buccaneers were led by their passing game, averaging 245.4 yards per game. Mike Evans is one of the top receivers in the league and the combination of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard will cause defensive coordinators to adjust their game plans leaving Mike Evans with more one on one looks.

The running game only averaged 101 yards per game but Doug Martin only played eight games last season. Martin will start out the season suspended but is eligible to play in week four.

Once Martin returns the running game will start to get rolling, making it even easier for Jameis Winston to air it out. Everything will finally come together for the Bucs offense this season. Don’t be surprised if the 2017 Buccaneers finish with a top 10 offense.

Tampa Bay must become a better defensive team to truly take the step and make the playoffs. The Bucs ranked 22nd in both rush and pass defense giving up a total of 367.9 yards per game. Gerald McCoy will have a Chris Baker next to him to improve the rush defense but it will take more than just one new defensive tackle.

The Bucs should have a better pass defense because the defensive line will get tons of pressure from the trio of Robert Ayers, William Gholston and Noah Spence. Spence had 5.5 sacks in his rookie campaign. With an entire year in the Bucs system, Spence could improve and show the ability he displayed at Ohio State.

In total, this defense gave up 25.3 points per game. If the Bucs can improve that but just four points the offense should easily score more than 21 points per game with all the talent they have.

Tampa Bay will have a balanced offense capable of big play ability. Their defense will also be improved and with an easy schedule, the Bucs should have a solid shot at a playoff berth.

Prediction: 10-6 (3-3), wildcard candidate

1: Carolina Panthers

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit: http://www.panthers.com)

Last season: 6-10

Strength of schedule: 16

Carolina had a Super Bowl hangover but this year they are locked and loaded. Cam Newton is determined to correct last seasons mistake and retake his MVP form. The front office also made quality moves to get this team back to the big game.

The Panthers added key playmakers in the draft to help Cam. Christian McCaffery has already put Panther defenders on skates based off of leaked practice videos. That includes Panthers defenders such as all-world linebacker Luke Kuechly. Curtis Samuel, out of Ohio State, was also a key piece the Panthers picked up in the draft but has yet to practice due to a nagging hamstring injury.

Even without Samuel, Cam has Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin back. With all these weapons and an upgraded offensive line, the Panthers can become one of the premier offenses in the NFL.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers are still as dangerous as ever. The front four have some studs at defensive tackle in Star Lotuelei and Kawann Short. Off the edge, the Panthers bring back Mario Addison and Charles Johnson. This front four is fierce and to beef it up, even more, Panthers legend Julius Peppers has returned to finish his career in Carolina.

The linebacking corp is arguably the best in all of football with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. This front seven is going to cause major havoc to opposing offenses.

The Panthers secondary is where their defense struggled last season. To improve this unit, the Panthers signed Mike Adams, a safety, who had 12 interceptions in his three seasons with the Colts. Carolina also brought back Captain Munnerlyn, who is one of the best nickel corners in the league. These additions to the secondary, paired with an elite front seven means the Panthers will have a top 10 defense and the Lombardi Trophy is a realistic goal this season.

These additions to the secondary, paired with an elite front seven means the Panthers will have a top 10 defense and the Lombardi Trophy is a realistic goal this season.

Prediction: 12-4 (4-2), division champion

 

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Philadelphia Eagles 2017 NFL Draft Profile

Draftmas doesn’t stop at twelve days, but goes on. The 13th day of Draftmas is for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Summary

Carson Wentz (Photo courtesy: phillymag.com)

The Eagles had a better than expected year last season, when they went 7-9 with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz at the helm. They played great at home, but only won one game on the road last season, which should improve this season.

Offensively, Philadelphia was average, scoring 22.6 points per game, which was impressive given the amount of weapons that Wentz had to utilize. With a young quarterback, it is good for the Eagles that they have a very good line capable of protecting him. In free agency the Eagles added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, which will help Wentz improve even more and make the offense a lot better.

Running back is a position that needs to be targeted in this draft class with Darren Sproles aging and not being an every down back and Ryan Matthews getting injured often. Matthews has only played a full 16 games once in his career. In a class loaded with good running backs, it would be wise to take a play-maker at the position at some point.

The defense looked a lot better last season than it did under Chip Kelly, which likely has something to do with not having the defense on the field for what feels like 99% of the game. They only allowed 20.7 points per game and have some good players coming back.

Jordan Hicks is a great young linebacker and is flanked by Nigel Bradham, who is coming off of a good year, and Mychal Kendricks. Rodney Mcleod and Malcolm Jenkins are both solid starters at safety. The defensive line got a boost when they traded for Timmy Jernigan from the Ravens. He will go nicely next to Fletcher Cox one of the best defensive tackles in the game. Brandon Graham is their best defensive end, but Vinny Curry had a decent season last year and Chris Long was signed to provide some depth.

That leaves corners, which is a desperate need for Philadelphia. They might need to take two corners in this draft because they are so desperate.

Picks and Needs

Philadelphia has eight picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, which will be hosted in their own city. The five picks they own in the first four rounds will be crucial to help them get over the hump in the NFC East and get a playoff spot.

First round: (1) No. 14

Second round: (1) No. 43

Third round: (1) No. 99

Fourth round: (2) No. 118, No. 139

Fifth round: (1) No. 155

Sixth round: (1) No. 194

Seventh round: (1) No. 230

These needs are in no particular order.

Offensive Needs:

Running Back- With Ryan Matthews being injured and Darren Sproles aging, the Eagles need to find a good running back in this draft.

Offensive Line- Their offensive line is good, but they might want to take one anyways if one is available with good value. Peters has ten years of service in the NFL and Lane Johnson has had problems with the NFL’s substance abuse policies. Jason Kelce’s play has declined, so the Eagles may elect to take an offensive linemen in the later rounds to learn for a year or two. This is not a major need though.
Wide Receiver- Jeffery is only on a one year deal, so they may want to take a receiver late in case he leaves after the season.
Defensive Needs:Defensive Tackle- They traded for Timmy Jernigan which helps, but could always take one to add depth.Cornerback- The most dire need for the Eagles to become a contender is cornerback.

Defensive End- With 34 sacks last year, their pass rush was average. Signing Chris Long will help, but they should take another pass rusher to provide depth and to groom for their long term plans.

Targets and Thoughts

The picks here are who the Eagles could realistically get where they are drafting. There will be no trades and I will be looking at just the first three rounds.

First Round:

Pick #14: Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Marlon Humphrey (Photo courtesy: youtube.com)

Marshon Lattimore is most likely going to be off of the board, but Humphrey could still be available. Humphrey is a good man to man corner, who can get confused while playing zone. The defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likes to play more man to man coverage than zone, so Humphrey will be a good fit for their defense.

Second Round: 

Pick #43: Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

Kamara might be off the board, but if he isn’t can be a great value pick in the second round for the Eagles. He will help in more ways than one. He will be a fast running back that can be a change of pace from Ryan Matthews. Wentz will also have another weapon to throw to, as Kamara is a great receiver out of the backfield.

Third Round:

Pick #99: Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee

The Eagles have to double up on corners in this draft class. Sutton has a lot of talent, but only played in three games last season due to injury. He is a physical corner, who doesn’t have the greatest speed, but will be able to compete to get on the field early in his career.

Conclusion

For the Eagles, their needs are  very apparent. With running back and cornerback as major needs, this draft should be good for Philadelphia because the draft class is loaded with those two positions. They should be able to be competitive in a tough NFC East with Carson Wentz progressing and a good draft.

Thank you for joining us on our 13th day of TGH Draftmas! Check back tomorrow where we will be bringing you the Draft Profile of the Indianapolis Colts!

You can read all of the previous days of Draftmas below!

Draftmas Day 12: Arizona Cardinals

Draftmas Day 11: New Orleans Saints

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New Orleans Saints 2017 NFL Draft Profile

The 11th day of Draftmas brings us to the New Orleans Saints.

Summary

New Orleans finished the season at 7-9, missing the playoffs for the third straight season. The offense will always be good with Drew Brees and Sean Payton, but the defense has to improve to help this team get back to the playoffs.

The Saints scored 29.3 points per game which ranked second in the league, but led the league in total yardage and passing yards. The running game was average with 108.9 yards per game, but that isn’t a huge concern with the passing offense doing so well.

Drew Brees will be without one of his top targets, Brandin Cooks, who was traded to the New England Patriots with a fourth round pick for a first and third round pick in this year’s draft. Tedd Ginn was signed leading up to the trade to help fill in on the receiving corps. Larry Warford was also signed by the Saints to play guard and protect Brees. They won’t need to spend too many of their draft picks on offense, but may want to take a running back or wide receiver after addressing the defense.

The defense gave up 28.4 points per game, which ranked 31st in the NFL. A lot of positions will need upgrades, but safety and defensive tackle will most likely not be addressed, unless it is specifically to add depth. Vonn Bell and Kenny Vaccaro are two good young safeties and Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins will man the defensive tackle positions. Rankins didn’t have a great rookie year, but will likely be given time to get things on track. With so many needs on defense, outside of these positions, the Saints will likely use a lot of picks on defense in this draft.

 

Picks and Needs

New Orleans has seven picks in this year’s draft, with five of them coming in the first three rounds. They will need to get some impact players on the defensive side of the ball with these picks to make a playoff push.

First round: (2) No. 11, No. 32

Second round: (1) No. 42

Third round: (2) No. 76, No. 103

Fourth round: (0)

Fifth round: (0)

Sixth round: (1) No. 196

Seventh round: (1) No. 229

 

Offensive Needs:

Long-Term Quarterback

Wide Receiver

Defensive Needs:

Linebacker

Cornerback

Defensive End

Targets and Thoughts

The picks here are who the Saints could realistically get where they are drafting. There will be no trades and I will be looking at just the first three rounds.

First Round:

Pick #11: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan

Cameron Jordan can’t be the only pass rusher that the Saints have. Charlton is one of the most disputed prospects in this draft, as some predict him going in the top ten, while others say he will fall to late in the first round. He has great size at 6’6″ and 273 pounds, with ten sacks last year. If New Orleans doesn’t think that he is the pick, they could go after one of the many good corners or Reuben Foster if he is still available.

Pick #32: Kevin King, CB, Washington

Kevin King (Photo courtesy: thebiglead.com)

New Orleans needs more corners to shut down some of the receivers in their division. King has the size at 6’3″ to match up with the likes of Mike Evans, but also has some good speed. He or another corner will need to be taken early on in this draft.

Second Round:

Pick #42: Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

With already addressing some of the defensive needs, the Saints can get a weapon for Drew Brees to utilize out of the backfield. Kamara is a good running back, but an even better receiver out of the backfield. Brees can use a guy like Kamara to create big plays when the receivers downfield are covered.

Third Round:

Pick #76: Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

The Saints get another defensive player to help slow down opposing offenses. McMillan is good against the run, but needs to improve his coverage skills.

Pick #103: Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU

Dupre comes in from nearby LSU and can be a long term target to go alongside Michael Thomas. With a good size and speed combination, Brees will be able to find him often through the air.

Conclusion

A long term quarterback solution will still be needed if the Saints make these selections, but with their current roster and these picks they can make a run at the playoffs. The defense will be improved and the offense will have some new weapons after losing Cooks. Look for the Saints to be competitive and fighting for a playoff spot in the upcoming season with a successful draft.

Thank you for joining us on our eleventh day of TGH Draftmas! Check back tomorrow where we will be bringing you the Draft Profile of the Arizona Cardinals!

You can read all of the previous days of Draftmas below!

Draftmas Day 10: Buffalo Bills

Draftmas Day 9: Cincinnati Bengals

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2016 Music City Bowl Preview

Two of the historical powers in college football will face off in the 2016 Music City Bowl, with Nebraska playing Tennessee.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

The Cornhuskers had a pretty easy schedule, but finished at 9-3 for a good bounce back season. Their only losses came to bowl eligible teams. They beat several bowl eligible teams though, like: Wyoming, Northwestern, Indiana, Minnesota and Maryland.

Music City Bowl

Tommy Armstrong (Photo couresy: heavy.com)

Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has continued to battle throughout the year. He has 2,180 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Those stats aren’t eye-popping, but it has gotten the job done for Nebraska. He adds the ability to run with 512 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

Armstrong will be without favorite receiver Jordan Westerkamp, who is out with an injury. He led the team in receiving yards, touchdowns and catches. Stanley Morgan Jr. will be expected to step up in his absence. He only has two touchdowns on the season and 425 receiving yards.

Terrell Newby is the leading rusher for the Cornhuskers with 864 yards and seven touchdowns. He and Armstrong combine to provide a pretty solid rushing offense for Nebraska.

Nebraska’s run defense is solid, allowing just 141 yards per game. With the pass defense only giving up 209 yards per game, the defense is good overall.

The Cornhuskers are great at forcing turnovers and two of their defensive backs are the reason. Nate Gerry has four interceptions, while Kieron Williams has five.

Tennessee Volunteers

The Volunteers were supposed to have a great season, but stumbled and finished at 8-4. They only lost to bowl eligible teams this season. Six of their eight wins came over bowl eligible teams, showing how tough their schedule was.

Music City Bowl

Josh Dobbs (Photo courtesy: isportsnews.com)

Josh Dobbs will be playing in his last college football game in the Music City Bowl. He has had a pretty good season, throwing for 2,655 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He is also the teams leading rusher with 713 yards and nine rushing touchdowns.

His favorite target is Josh Malone who has 852 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Jajuan Jennings is his big play guy, who always seems to make a play when it is needed.

Jalen Hurd decided to transfer, but Alvin Kamara was the best running back on the team anyways. Kamara 565 rushing yards on 5.9 yards per carry. He added nine rushing touchdowns, but also helps in the passing game. His 33 catches for 346 yards and four touchdowns are all third on the team.

Tennessee’s rush defense is abysmal allowing 232 yards per game. Their pass defense is average and gives up 229 yards per game, making their total defense bad.

Derek Barnett has been a great player for Tennessee his whole career with 12 sacks on the season. He also has 18 tackles for loss, an interception and two forced fumbles.

Prediction

Armstrong and the offense won’t be able to take advantage of Tennessee’s bad defense, especially without Westerkamp. Kamara and Dobbs will help Tennessee run to victory.

 

Tennessee Volunteers 32 Nebraska Cornhuskers 23

 

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