2017 Atlanta Falcons NFL Draft Profile

For day 29 of draftmas, the Atlanta Falcons take center stage.

Summary:

Atlanta had a terrific season last year, finishing with a regular season mark of 11-5. Unfortunately, all that will be remembered is the Falcons blowing a 25 point third quarter lead in the Super Bowl.

Matt Ryan (Photo courtesy: twitter.com)

There are not many weaknesses on this football team. The Matt Ryan led offense remains loaded. A lineup that features Julio Jones, Tevin Coleman, Mohamed Sanu and Devonta Freeman makes for an embarrassment of riches. Throw in an offensive line that was galvanized by free agent signing Alex Mack, and this offense went from talented to lethal last year. They were held under 20 points in just a single game

The defense was statistically below average, but the emergence of 2016 sack champion Vic Beasley and rookie safety Keanu Neal provides reason for optimism in 2017.

Pushing the right button on draft day makes a chance a Super Bowl redemption even more realistic than it already is. Here is a look at where the Falcons stand.

Picks and needs:

First round: (1) No. 31

Second round: (1) No. 63

Third round: (1) No. 95

Fourth round: (1) No. 136

Fifth round: (1) No. 174

Sixth round: (0)

Seventh round: (1) No. 249

These needs are in no particular order.

Defensive Needs:

Defensive Line- Vic Beasley needs someone else to get after the quarterback, while they could use some depth on the interior as well.

Linebacker- Deon Jones is great, but they don’t have much outside of him.

Offensive Needs:

Guard- Chris Chester retired and Ben Garland is the projected starter at right guard. They need to get that fixed before the start of the season.

Tight End- Austin Hooper is solid, but they don’t really have a big pass-catching threat at tight end.

 

Possible Targets:

These players could realistically be drafted by the Falcons where they are selecting. There will be no trades.

First Round:

Pick #31: Charles Harris, DE/OLB, Missouri

Charles Harris (Photo courtesy: stltoday.com)

Harris is a good pass rusher, who is also solid against the run. He doesn’t have great length for a edge rusher, but does have good strength. The Falcons had Vic Beasley last season, but need to get more pass rushers around him to have a better defense.

Second Round:

Pick #63: Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

McMillan needs to work on pass coverage, but can help stop the run. He will likely be a two down linebacker in the NFL to start. Atlanta doesn’t have many good linebackers outside of Deon Jones, so they can get another one with good value at this selection.

Third Round: 

Pick #95: Ethan Pocic, OG/C, LSU

Pocic has a lot of experience playing on the interior of the offensive line at LSU. He needs to work on his pass blocking, but is good at run blocking. He can start at guard from day one with a good training camp and preseason showing.

 

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Houston Texans

How The Houston Texans Can Win The Super Bowl

The AFC South has been one of the worst divisions in football for two years now. The Houston Texans have won the AFC South both seasons with back-to-back 9-7 records.

The biggest problem for the Texans is the lack of consistent quarterback play. The Texans started four different quarterbacks in 2015: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden. They started two more quarterbacks last season: Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage.

Starting six quarterbacks in two years is not the formula to winning the Super Bowl, but they are really close.

Super Bowl Defense

Houston Texans

(Photo Credit: Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle )

Offense wins games, but defense wins championships. The Seahawks’ defense was so dominant four years ago that it led them to a 43-8 Super Bowl victory. The Patriots came up with a goal-line interception three years ago to the win the Super Bowl. The Denver Broncos had one of the best defenses in the NFL two seasons ago and shut down the top scoring offense to beat the Panthers in the Super Bowl. The Patriots came back down from 28-3 this past February to win the Super Bowl. That could not have happened if their defense didn’t shut down the high-flying Falcons offense.

The Texans have a defense capable of playing to the level of all these other defenses. Houston allowed the fewest yards in the NFL last season at 301 per game. They also allowed the second-fewest passing yards.

Houston also has the best defensive player in the NFL in J.J. Watt. He only played in three games last season, which makes what Houston’s defense did more impressive.

Watt is a four-time Pro Bowler and a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, which is tied for most all-time with Lawerence Taylor. Adding him back to the mix makes them an elite defense.

The Texans also finally saw the emergence of former number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who had six sacks last season. Clowney’s amazing play doesn’t show up in the stats. He constantly received double teams without Watt in the lineup, but still made plays. In the Wild Card game against the Raiders, he made an incredible interception that took over the game.

These two great defenders will make one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. The Texans also have one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL, headlined by Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus. If the secondary can make up for the loss of A.J. Bouye, they could contend for the best defense in the NFL.

What Is Missing?

It is no secret that the Texans need to improve offensively. Houston’s offensive line ranked 18th in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. They must improve both guard positions if they want to improve the overall line play.

Running back is not an issue of concern. Lamar Miller finished 10th in the NFL with 1,073 yards in just 14 games. Alfred Blue is also a solid backup to Miller.

The receiving corp is solid with Jaelen Strong, Will Fuller, and Braxton Miller, but headlined by DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has 189 receptions, 2,475 yards and 15 touchdowns in the last two seasons. Those stats are impressive with six different quarterbacks over two years.

It all comes back to quarterback play. The Texans are a quarterback away from being the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC. There is one quarterback perfect for the Texans that they need to get.

The Missing Piece

Houston Texans

(Photo Credit: http://boltbeat.com)

Houston threw millions at an unproven Brock Osweiler and it failed miserably. Osweiler has since been traded to the Browns and the only quarterbacks on the Texans’ roster are Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden. These quarterbacks won’t even win the division, let alone a Super Bowl. So what should the Texans do?

The Texans could find a quarterback in the draft, but most analysts feel there are no NFL-ready quarterbacks in this draft. Free agency is always an option and Houston was hoping to get Tony Romo, but he retired. Jay Cutler is available, but that option could be just as bad or worse than what they already have.

That leaves only one option, a trade. The Houston Texans should go all in for a trade with the Los Angeles Chargers for Philip Rivers. The Chargers are nowhere close to contending for a championship and Rivers is 35 years old.

Rivers has accomplished a lot in his time in the NFL. His career record is 97-79. Rivers has 314 touchdowns, 156 interceptions and 45,833 yards.

By most comparisons, he is the AFC’s Tony Romo. Everything he has done of significance has come in the regular season. His playoff record is 4-5 and couldn’t get to the Super Bowl with Hall-of-Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and future Hall-of-Fame tight end Antonio Gates.

This narrative could change with a trade to Houston. His career would be revitalized and he would have a three to four years to win the Super Bowl. He would have the necessary weapons to succeed; such as a running game and a top 10 receiver in the NFL. The Texans would have a top five defense and an offense capable of keeping pace on the scoreboard with any team in the NFL.

Houston, if you want to win the Lombardi Trophy, trade for Phillip Rivers.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

We Just Witnessed the Greatest Sports Year Ever

Sports are cool, and they’re even cooler when a season ends with fireworks. Thankfully, in the last cycle of season championships, we were able to witness the greatest sports year ever.

From the 2016 college basketball National Championship, to the latest Super Bowl, none of the championships have disappointed. Each of them saw incredible comebacks or last-second scores. As fans, we are blessed to be able to watch all of these games unfold.

That said, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and reminisce in the previous year’s amazing culminations.

*Of the four major sports in the United States, and the two major college sports, only one doesn’t make the list. Sorry, NHL fans, the 2016 Stanley Cup was good, but not great enough to be mentioned on the list.*

Super Bowl LI

It seemed as though the states to the most northeast in the U.S. were rooting for New England, and the rest of the population became Falcons fans for one day.

Maybe it’s because Atlanta was foreign to the big stage. It seemed so weird seeing a team like Atlanta playing in the Super Bowl since we had become accustomed to seeing either Seattle, Green Bay, or New York represent the NFC for more than half of the Super Bowls played since 2006.

Greatest Sports Year

In Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does- win Super Bowls. (Photo: Getty Images)

Maybe Atlanta became America’s team for one day simply because of the hatred spewed towards New England. The Patriots have made seven Super Bowls since 2001, and won five. New England has also been to the AFC Conference Championship game 11 times since 2001. Picking New England to make it to the Super Bowl has become routine for many NFL pundits because that’s just what they do.

Nevertheless, this Super Bowl just felt different. New England was the heavyweight that everyone had seen win before. Atlanta was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and the popular vote was in favor of the newbies.

No one saw Atlanta jumping out to a 21-3 lead at the half and a 28-3 lead as the third quarter waned. At this point, many fans just wanted to see a close game.

We should be careful what we wish for.

The Patriots scored a touchdown late in the third, and continued to mount a comeback in the fourth.

The final quarter was the equivalent to slowly watching a bottle of soda being shaken. The game continued to feel closer and closer, and before long, New England put so much pressure back into the game that the contest exploded to help make the greatest sports year we’ve seen.

In overtime, it was inevitable. Not only did the Patriots have momentum, but they also had history. It felt impossible for New England to lose the game. Coming back from a 25-point deficit and pushing the game into the Super Bowl’s first ever overtime? That’s just not a game New England loses.

Because of the incredible comeback by those darn Patriots, Super Bowl LI capped what was the greatest sports year of all time.

2017 College Football National Championship

In a narrative much the same as the Super Bowl, Alabama took on Clemson to be called college football’s undisputed champion. In this game’s case, there was no insurmountable lead that ended up being toppled. The game was tight the whole way, and was never separated by more than two possessions.

Clemson found itself down by two possessions twice, and each time it seemed like Bama was gonna keep Bama-ing. At one point, ESPN’s Football Power Index gave Alabama over a 90 percent chance to win the game.

But this is the greatest sports year we’ve ever seen, so hopefully you’re sensing a theme.

Clemson came back, led by crisp drives from Deshaun Watson. Watson may not have won the Heisman, but at least he got himself a ring. Watson completed a two-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second left in the game to clinch a victory for the Tigers.

2016 World Series

Where do we start in this event? So many storylines developed by the time the series was all finished. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Finals after being down 3-1. Once the Cleveland Indians went up 3-1 on the Cubs, there was no way that would be blown, right?

Maybe Cleveland fans got what they deserved for making fun of the Warriors. #WellActually when a city has to root for the Browns, it deserves no other bad omens. The Indians didn’t catch that vibe.

Greatest Sports Year

Rajai Davis hit the most memorable home run in recent years. (Photo: FX Tribune)

Sure, our very own Matt Hagan knew the Cubs would win it all. However, since no one else did, the 3-1 series lead all but wrapped up the World Series.

The Cubs almost lost it. They had a 6-3 lead with less than two innings left to play. With the lead cut to two, Rajai Davis sent the world into hysteria with the craziest turn of events the World Series had ever seen.

Chicago had it all but won, yet in two seconds Cleveland was right back in it. A ball traveled faster than offseason Rob Gronkowski on the way to the club into the left field seats, while it seemed like it was in slow motion, even as slow as Tom Brady running the 40-yard dash in fashionable yet exotic khaki shorts.

Every baseball kid dreams of coming to bat in the tenth inning of the World Series game seven, and the Cubs had that chance. Chicago scored two, and took an 8-6 lead to end the top half of the inning.

Rajai Davis came back up in the tenth, and even delivered an RBI. The Indians didn’t have enough in them, as they fell short, 8-7. However, it still was one of the greatest World Series of all time.

2016 NBA Finals

The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead, and that remains a joke on social media to this day. When you think of Steph Curry, you think of triples galore, an outspoken wife and the fact that he was the MVP on a team that for the first time ever blew a 3-1 lead.

LeBron James put on the greatest performance of all time in a Finals series in the most historically-charged Finals series of all time. Kyrie Irving hit the most clutch shot of his life to clinch the win for Cleveland- in Golden State.

The 2016 NBA Finals will be a landmark for the NBA’s modern era. With super teams becoming more and more evident, this series will forever be known as the time the NBA’s Goliath was taken out.

2016 College Basketball National Championship

Marcus Paige was supposed to be the hero. He hit one of the greatest three-pointers you will ever see. Double-clutch layups are hard enough, but a double-clutch three is just stupid good.

With Paige’s shot, North Carolina tied Villanova, 74-74, with 4.7 seconds left. At that point, viewers of the game had to pick their jaws up from the floor. The shot was incredible.

But what Kris Jenkins did carried more water. A deep triple as time expired sent Villanova into absolute elation.

The Greatest Sports Year

Who knew that game would turn into the precursor to what was to come? With all the great games that happened in the past year, college basketball’s National Championship was my favorite. Everyone has their own favorite, and the games are probably split pretty evenly across the board.

This was a year that we will tell our children and grandchildren about. It was a year that probably will never be topped. We should all feel fortunate that we were alive to take it all in.

If anyone can make a DVD of all these games in it’s entirety, I will throw my money at you. So someone please do that.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Green Bay Packers and Pittsburg Steelers: What Went Wrong?

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

Today is Super Bowl Sunday and there has been plenty of talk about the Falcons and the Patriots. They have fought hard to get to this magnificent day. The game will be entertaining and a champion will be crowned. Since there has been so much talk about the Super Bowl, it is permitting to look at the two teams who came up just a game short and ask, what went wrong?

 

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the Packers organization. Because of that, he causes the most problems for the Packers. Rodgers is both a blessing and a curse. Before diving into the player personnel for the Packers, let’s look at the front office.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(MARK HOFFMAN)

Ted Thompson has been the general manager for the Packers since 2005 and has done an outstanding job. His philosophy of building through the draft, rather than through free agency, has created a team capable of contending every year. Thompson has provided plenty of consistency and longevity, both of which are required to be considered one of the best franchises.

Thanks to Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy has also been able to maintain longevity. Thompson hired McCarthy in 2006 and has remained comfortable in his position as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. In his 11 seasons as the Packers head coach, he has gone 114-61-1 with nine playoff appearances.

McCarthy’s career playoff record is 10-8. He has led the Packers to four NFC Championship games and won Super Bowl XLV. There are few coaches who have had the amount of success McCarthy has had with the Packers.

When one looks at the Packers’ roster, the problems can be found. Pro Football Focus ranked the Packers offensive line as the fifth best in the NFL. They have few holes along the line and don’t need to improve there.

They have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but the Packers need playmakers. In the backfield, the Packers had to settle for moving former wide receiver Ty Montgomery to running back. The Packers must find a running back in the draft or in free agency if they want to take another step.

Aside from Jordy Nelson, the Packers are inconsistent in their receiving corp. A solid and consistent number two receiver could take this offense to new heights. On offense, the answer to improving the team is to add more playmakers.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(http://deadspin.com/tag/nfl-playoffs)

Defensively is where the biggest problems lie. As a unit, the Packers ranked near the bottom of all major defensive categories. They were 21st in points allowed (24.2 ppg) and 22nd in yards given up (363.9 ypg). The Packers could use players at every level on their defense, but their secondary needs the most work. If the Packers can improve their secondary, they will become a much better defense.

To simplify, the Packers need to develop a running game to take pressure off of Aaron Rodgers. Defensively, they need to beef up every level of their defense. If the Packers can fix those issues, they could be heading to a Super Bowl berth as soon as next season.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

The list of problems the Steelers face is much smaller than the Packers’. They have done a great job in the front office with the draft and head coach Mike Tomlin has also been outstanding.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(http://nesn.com/2013/11/steelers-coach-mike-tomlin-nearly-collides-with-ravens-jacoby-jones-during-73-yard-kickoff-return-gif/)

Mike Tomlin has been the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers for 10 seasons. In those 10 seasons, Tomlin has a 103-57 record. Tomlin has made the playoffs seven times in those 10 seasons.

He also has a playoff record of 8-6, made it to the AFC Conference Championship three times, and won Super Bowl XLIII. Just as McCarthy has been one of the best coaches in the NFL, so has Tomlin. Coaching is not an issue that needs to be addressed.

Offensively the Steelers are absolutely loaded. Their offensive line was ranked third by pro football focus. There were no weaknesses on the line. With guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, the Steelers will continue to have one of the best offensive lines in the game.

Continuing on offense, Le’Veon Bell is the best running back in the NFL. He is not just a great runner, he is a great receiver as well. In the past, the league has seen similar running backs like Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson. That is the path Bell is on and will be an all-time great barring injury.

The Steelers receiving corp is extremely versatile and full of playmakers. Antonio Brown is virtually unguardable and has put up gaudy numbers throughout his career. There is no indication that will stop anytime soon.

Along with Antonio Brown, Sammie Coats, and Eli Rogers provide big play ability. Rogers showed flashes of greatness this season and if he develops further he could become a dangerous weapon. Don’t forget that Martavis Bryant, who is one of the best number two options in the NFL, should be coming back. If he can stay out of trouble off the field, the Steelers will have one of the best sets of receivers in the NFL.

That leaves one position to talk about on offense: the quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is contemplating retirement. Few believe he will actually retire and why would he? Big Ben threw for 3,819 yards while completing 64.4 percent of his passes. He added 29 touchdowns and threw just 13 interceptions. He is still playing at a high level and the Steelers shouldn’t be majorly concerned at the quarterback position.

One thing the Steelers must do this offseason, and moving forward into next season, is find the replacement for Big Ben. If he is thinking about retirement now, he will be thinking about it next season as well and the franchise must be prepared for that.

Big Ben also has had plenty of injuries in his career. If he goes down, Landry Jones is not the answer. Age is also an issue for Big Ben and his play may start to diminish. For all these reasons, the Steelers need to use a third or fourth-round pick on a future franchise quarterback.

Defensively is where the Steelers could use the most help. In the game against the Patriots, the Steelers weakness showed upfront. They did a good job in the regular season getting sacks, but in the postseason they didn’t have that guy who could get a sack. Tom Brady sat in the pocket and picked apart the young secondary. If the Steelers want to take that next step, they need a dominant pass rusher.

Packers and Steelers: What Went Wrong?

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Pittsburgh’s linebacking corp is extremely solid. Ryan Shazier can flat out fly all across the field. Bud Dupree is also a stud. He has a lot of speed to make plays all over the field, similar to Shazier.

The secondary is probably Pittsburgh’s weakest area on the entire team. The secondary had a total of six interceptions. Part of the problem is they are young and inexperienced. Signing a free agent corner or drafting one is the biggest priority for the Steelers’ offseason. If they get a pass rusher and beef up the secondary, the Steelers will make the Super Bowl next season.

 

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

What Will (and Won’t) Decide Super Bowl LI

Much of the hype leading into Super Bowl LI has centered around the two quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady. It is understandable considering that Brady and Ryan threw for over 60 touchdowns and fewer than 10 interceptions combined in the regular season. However, Super Bowl LI will not be won or lost by either quarterback.

Both quarterbacks and the offenses they pilot have scored with such ease this season that it is difficult to imagine either offense being shut down completely. In many matchups like this, the two great quarterbacks cancel each other out. Ryan is just a one-year kind of great for now and Brady is a best-of-all-time kind of great. They have both exhibited greatness all year long though. Each quarterback will “get theirs” so to speak.

So, it is wise to look beyond the quarterback position when trying to determine which team will snatch glory on Sunday. The same can be said of receivers and tight ends. They are tied directly to the quarterbacks. As good as guys like Julio Jones and Julian Edelman are, they will not decide the game.

As unsexy as it is, this game will be decided along the offensive line. That unit for each team has a tough task of it. However, the improvement up front is the single biggest reason why these teams are where they are.

Super Bowl LI

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

The Patriots fell one game short of the Super Bowl last year because Tom Brady wore Von Miller, Malik Jackson and others as accessories in the AFC Championship Game. He was sacked four times and hit several others.

After the season-ending loss, longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was lured out of retirement and back to New England.

You cannot put offensive linemen on your fantasy football team. Scarnecchia’s impact has gone largely unnoticed, but has been massive. Despite very little change in terms of personnel, New England’s offensive line ranks top five in fewest sacks allowed this year.

Better offensive line play has also allowed the Patriots’ plethora of running backs to be more consistent as both rushers and receivers. Containing NFL sack leader Vic Beasley will be top priority for this unheralded but very solid group.

For the Falcons, signing long-time Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack was the origin of their fairy tale season. The whole offensive line gelled around the four-time Pro Bowler. Even though they are middle-of-the-road in terms of sacks allowed, the Falcons offensive line has given Matt Ryan enough time to author an MVP-caliber season.

Super Bowl LI

Photo Courtesy of 4thandgoal.com

More importantly, the Falcons are the most balanced offense in football. They are top five in both rushing and passing. Many of the skill positions on Atlanta’s offense are the same as last year. Their sudden emergence as a Super Bowl contender can be traced to the offensive line improvement.

Super Bowl LI Prediction

The only way to slow down either of these offenses is to pressure their respective quarterbacks. As already outlined, this is easier said than done. The Falcons defense has more name value in terms of pass rushers with Beasley and Dwight Freeney.

There is something about New England’s defensive unit as a whole. They give up their fair share of yards, but are the league leaders in the only category that really matters. New England gives up under 16 points per game. Based on that, as well as experience, the Pats will find a way to get ring number five for Brady, Bill Belichick, and the entire franchise.

NE 30, ATL 24

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Hagan’s Haus Super Bowl LI Prediction

Two weeks have passed since the conference championship games. The biggest surprise wasn’t that Atlanta won, but how they won. Atlanta blew out Green Bay 44-21 in the final game ever at the Georgia Dome. Few could have predicted this annihilation, but I’ll do my best to give a good Super Bowl LI prediction.

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Photo: NFL Spin Zone)

On the other side of the NFL, the Patriots did the same to the Steelers. The game wasn’t close and Tom Brady punched a ticket to his seventh Super Bowl with a 36-17 win.

For the most part, the playoffs this season have been extremely dull. There haven’t been many close games leaving fans on the edge of their seat.

The playoffs are supposed to provide epic battles and last-second wins. The Super Bowl is the last chance to live up to the hype of the playoffs. It has been a great season in terms of predicting how the games will turn out.

Just as the NFL is hoping the Super Bowl ends the season on the right note, predicting the game needs to end this year’s picks on the right note. For the final time this season, here is Hagan’s Haus predictions.

Championship Sunday: 1-1

Regular Season:148-103-2

Playoffs: 6-4

Overall: 154-107-2

Super Bowl LI Prediction

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Photo: Smiley N. Pool, Staff)

Hoston plays host to the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons this Sunday for Super Bowl LI. This is one of the most intriguing Super Bowls in recent memory for a couple of reasons.

First, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Patriots are a 55.6 percent favorite in this game. Many of the polls on twitter have been close to 50/50 as well.

The betting world also has the Patriots as three-point favorites. In summary, this game is 50/50 and everyone seems to be split on who is going to win.

Secondly, this match-up pits the number one scoring offense (Atlanta with 33.8 ppg) versus the number one scoring defense (New England with 15.6 ppg).

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Photo: Daily Mall)

Atlanta has actually been scoring more in the playoffs averaging 40 points per game. New England is still first in the playoffs giving up 16.5 points per game. In the past five occasions in which the number one offense has gone up against the number one defense, four times the number one defense has won the game.

Another reason Super Bowl LI is intriguing is that Tom Brady is going for his fifth Super Bowl ring, which would be the most in NFL history by a quarterback.

Many people believe Tom Brady is already the greatest player of all time but a win here would cement it in most minds. There will be many people rooting for or against this achievement providing plenty of entertainment.

Lastly, many people are looking forward to seeing what happens if the Patriots win and Roger Goodell is forced to hand the Lombardi Trophy to Tom Brady after suspending him for four games for deflate-gate.

Goodell is one of the most hated commissioners among the fans in all of sports and there will be a lot of fans who would love to see Goodell forced to give Brady the trophy.

With all that said, it is time to predict a winner and why they’ll win.

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all-time and his Super Bowl experience gives the Patriots a huge advantage. He won’t make the mistakes Atlanta will need to win this game.

Also, do not be surprised if the Patriots come out and pound the rock on Atlanta. The Falcons are a middle of the road run defense and LeGarrette Blount could be the x-factor.

The saying will forever hold true that defense wins championships. Atlanta has a high powered offense, but its defense is not a championship defense yet.

The Patriots have proven to have the best defense this season. They bend, but do not break. Matt Ryan is going to struggle in this game and be forced into two or three turnovers. New England will capitalize and win the Super Bowl yet again.

 

New England 27 Atlanta 17

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2017 NFL Players Set to Breakout Under the Age of 25

The rookie class last season had some great players explode onto the NFL scene. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Jack Conklin, Keanu Neal, and Michael Thomas are some of the rookies who had great first seasons. There were also a few second-year players who are emerging as stars as well.

There is a lot of great young talent in the NFL. It is always interesting to see who the next cream of the crop is going to be. The league is only as good as its top players and brightest stars. Listed here are 10 players, under the age of 25, poised to become stars or superstars next season who haven’t been in the spotlight and do not have more than one Pro Bowl appearance.

Players that are not listed are already considered stars such as the rookies already mentioned above. These players listed will all become Pro Bowlers or have a chance to be a top-five player at their position in the next few years.

Jordan Hicks: Philadelphia Eagles-LB

(http://insidetheiggles.com/2017/01/04/philadelphia-eagles-rising-young-star/)

Jordan Hicks is one of the best young linebackers in the NFL. Hicks was a third-round pick out of Texas in the 2015 NFL Draft. In his rookie season, he played in eight games and had 50 tackles, one sack, two interceptions, and a touchdown. He followed up his rookie season starting 16 games for the Eagles and recorded 85 tackles, one sack, and a stunning five interceptions.

Hicks’ teammate, Nigel Bradham, had this to say of Hicks.

“The things he can do on the field,” Bradham said. “His instincts. His power. His speed. He’s everything you want in a linebacker. I know him and I feel like honestly, he can work himself into getting into a gold jacket.”

That is high praise from a fellow linebacker. The ceiling for Hicks is high and if he can continue to make strides forward, he will be one of the best players in the NFL.

 

Cameron Meredith: Chicago Bears- Wr

(http://www.sportingnews.com/fantasy/football/news/fantasy-football-waiver-wire-pickups-week-6-cameron-meredith-jacquizz-rodgers-injury-update-doug-martin/15dzf3a2t2ld11mebkbpnnknqy)

Cameron Meredith was a huge surprise in the Windy City this season. The Bears already had a Pro Bowl receiver in Alshon Jeffery but they were expecting Kevin White to emerge as a solid second option alongside Jeffery. That has been unable to happen due to injuries. Instead, Meredith stepped up and played big for the Bears in his second NFL season.

Meredith went undrafted in 2015 out of Illinois State. He caught only 11 passes in his rookie season. This season he played in 14 games and started 10 of them. He had 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns. He also had four games with over 100 yards receiving. If the Bears can figure out their quarterback situation, Meredith has a chance to become a star in Chicago.

 

Christian Kirksey: Cleveland Browns-LB

(credit: ESPN)

Browns fans will sure be happy to see a young player on this list that can help change the culture in Cleveland. Like Jordan Hicks, Kirksey was also a third-round draft pick. In his first two seasons in the NFL, he started a total of 13 games.

This past season he started all 16 games for the Browns and was the team’s leading tackler with 148, which was also third best in the NFL. He also added 2.5 sacks. Kirksey should continue to build off the improvement in his third season and the Browns may have a defensive quarterback for the future.

 

 

Jordan Howard: Chicago Bears-RB

(http://chicago.suntimes.com/sports/film-study-jordan-howard-fits-identity-that-bears-offense-wants/)

One of the quietest, yet most successful rookie campaigns came from Jordan Howard. Few would call Jordan Howard a star, but he made the Pro Bowl and finished second in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,313 yards. What was probably the most impressive is that he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Howard has a chance to become a receiving threat in due time as well as had 29 catches this season and that number will go up in the next couple of years.

Howard is in a big market in Chicago and his star will continue to grow. As the franchise looks for a quarterback, Howard can be that piece that keeps the Bears competitive while they look for that quarterback.

 

 

Melvin Gordon: Los Angeles Chargers-RB

(http://cleatgeeks.com/blog/2016/02/25/on-the-clock-san-diego-chargers-2016-offseason-preview/)

Melvin Gordon had a forgettable rookie year to say the least. Gordon was going into his second season with much to prove. Doubts about how Gordon would fair in the NFL arose because of how well Todd Gurley performed in his rookie season.

Gordon shattered all doubt this season by rushing for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 11 starts. He also became a threat in the passing game, catching 41 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns. Now that the Chargers are moving to Los Angeles, Gordon will challenge Gurley as the best back in L.A.

 

 

 

 

Hunter Henry: Los Angeles Chargers-TE

(Credit: AP Photo)

Hunter Henry is listed at 6′ 5″ and 250 pounds. He looks like a stud waiting to explode on the football field. Henry was drafted in the second round out of Arkansas. In his rookie season, he had to share time at tight end with Antonio Gates, which kept him out of the lineup consistently.

What was impressive about his rookie season was that every 4.5 catches he made were for a touchdown. He finished the season with 36 receptions, 478 yards, and eight touchdowns. It is just a matter of time before Henry becomes a top five tight end in the NFL.

 

 

Marcus Mariota: Tennessee Titans-QB

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Marcus Mariota is on the verge of stardom. Not many people talk about him and he took a step back when he broke his leg. Mariota was quietly leading the Titans to a possible playoff berth.

In his rookie season, Mariota started 12 games and had 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Before breaking his leg, Mariota had started 15 games and had 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. With three more games, he had seven more touchdowns and one less interception. The most important stat was wins though. The Titans were in a position to win the division. As Mariota continues to grow, the Titans will become a legit contender and Mariota will become one of the faces of the league.

 

 

Danielle Hunter: Minnesota Vikings-DE

(USA Today Sports)

Danielle Hunter has a chance to become a Hall of Famer one day. Hunter was drafted in the third round out of LSU in 2015. He was the youngest player in the NFL in his rookie season. In very limited action he had six sacks. He showed quickness and athleticism that had Vikings coaches raving.

This season he played just 58 percent of the Vikings defensive snaps and ended up tied for third in the NFL in sacks with 12.5. This kind of production in such a limited amount of reps is unheard of. Once Hunter is inserted into the starting lineup, he will become a sack king and eventually have a 20-sack season.

 

 

Landon Collins: New York Giants- S

(http://nyg.247sports.com/Bolt/Giants-Landon-Collins-excited-about-new-role-46797532)

Some would say Landon Collins already had a breakout year this season. It is hard to argue against that as he made the Pro Bowl and was named first team all-pro. Collins had a great season with 125 tackles, four sacks, and five interceptions, and he put offenses on notice. He will be in the running for defensive player of the year and offenses around the NFL will fear him for the next decade.

 

 

 

Vic Beasley: Atlanta Falcons-DE

(http://www.espn.com/nfl/player/_/id/2512400/vic-beasley-jr)

Vic Beasley is in the same boat as Landon Collins, as some would say he has already had a breakout season. Similar to Collins, Beasley was selected to the Pro Bowl and named first team all-pro. He was the NFL sack king this season with 15.5 sacks, which was way up from the four sacks he had last season.

Beasley has been a big reason the Flacons defense has improved over the second half of the year. Beasley’s production has helped Atlanta reach the Super Bowl. If Beasley has a monster game, he will become a superstar, but no matter how he performs in the Super Bowl, he is on his way to stardom.

 

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NFL Conference Championship Picks Against the Spread

The NFL’s version of the Final Four is here. We have two solid matchups featuring incredibly hot and gifted quarterbacks. This will be my last week of picks against the spread. Expect something different for the Super Bowl. I was 2-2 straight up last week and just 1-3 against the spread. Given the year I have had, fans should be begging me not to pick their team, but here it goes anyway.

Atlanta (-5) at Green Bay- Aaron Rodgers is incredible. Up until his current hot streak, I always thought he was a lot closer to Joe Flacco than Joe Montana. Him carrying a below average defense and an offense with injuries everywhere except for the offensive line to this point is the football equivalent of what LeBron did with some of his Cavs teams.

Photo Courtesy of bloggingdirty.com

Regardless of what wide receivers Rodgers ends up having to throw to, he will keep his team in the game. The dilemma for Rodgers is a familiar one. Matt Ryan and the opposing offense will have no problem scoring on the Packers defense. At the end of the day, Atlanta is just a more complete football team. Their late-season defensive emergence is what made them a legitimate Super Bowl contender. NFL sack leader Vic Beasley has slowly developed into a monster and even seldom used elder statesman Dwight Freeney was making plays last week. As good as Rodgers and his offensive line are, I trust Atlanta’s defense to get a late stop more than Green Bay’s.

 

The Packers cover, but the Falcons send the Georgia Dome out in style with a trip to the Super Bowl. Atl 34 GB 31

Pittsburgh at New England (-6) – Let’s review a few of the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt not give Bill Belichick and the Patriots bulletin-board material the week before a big game. No matter his intentions, that is exactly what Antonio Brown did. Anyone who thinks New England is not using Brown’s Facebook live gaffe as a little extra motivational fuel is kidding themselves.

Photo Courtesy of pittsburghpostgazette.com

As talented as the Steelers are on offense, Belichick and his staff will make Pittsburgh beat them without Le’Veon Bell running wild. Also, do not be fooled by the Steelers success. Mike Tomlin is a few steps behind coaches like Belichick when it comes to X’s and O’s. He is mostly successful because he handles the emotional and motivational aspects of the game so well. Never forget that Tim Tebow lit up a Tomlin coached team in the playoffs. Even at 39 and coming off a clunker, I will take my chances with Tom Brady.

The Steelers were probably going to lose this game no matter what, but the Brown situation ensures a bloodbath. NE 34 Pit 20.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hagan’s Haus NFL Picks (Championship Sunday)

(USA TODAY Sports/ Matthew Emmons)

Championship Sunday is finally upon us. The Saturday divisional round games had the playoffs looking rather boring through six games.

The Falcons and Patriots both won easily and excitement had been missing from the playoffs.

Sunday told a different story. Dallas and Green Bay played an instant classic. Heading into the fourth quarter Dallas trailed 28-13, but scored 15 straight points to tie the game at 28. Eventually, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers held on for a 34-31 victory thanks to a 51-yard field goal by Mason Crosby as time expired.

In the AFC, the Chiefs scored a touchdown with 2:43 remaining and missed the two-point conversion to tie the game at 18. In the end, the Steelers won the game 18-16 and the difference was the two-point conversion that failed.

That leaves four teams remaining in the chase for the Lombardi Trophy: Green Bay, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and New England. The championship games should provide plenty of excitement in determining who will eventually be the Super Bowl Champions. It is time for Hagan’s Haus NFL Picks.

Last Week: 2-2

Regular Season: 148-103-2

Playoffs: 5-3

Overall:153-106-2

 

NFC Championship

(https://www.pinterest.com)

Green Bay 38 @ Atlanta 34: Not many people had predicted that the Falcons would be hosting the NFC Championship this season, but here it is in January and the NFC Championship game will be in Atlanta. The Falcons have the best scoring offense in the NFL this season (33.8 points per game) and Matt Ryan is on a tear. Atlanta is on a five-game win streak and went 5-3 at home. The Falcons are hot, but their opponent is even hotter. Green Bay has won eight straight games and is averaging 33.6 points per game over their last five.

This game is going to be a shootout, but who will win? Aaron Rodgers is clearly the best player in the game today. The hot streak he is on can’t be ignored. In the eight-game win streak, Rodgers has thrown 21 touchdowns and just one interception. The lack of turnovers by Rodgers is resulting in wins for Green Bay.

A game of this magnitude favors the players who have been in this situation before. The Packers have been here before and the Falcons have not. For that reason, the Packers will edge out the Falcons and play in Super Bowl LI.

 

 

 

AFC Championship

(AP Images)

Pittsburgh 27 @ New England 30: The amount of success these two teams have had in the 21st century is unbelievable. Since 2000, the two franchises have combined for 25 playoff appearances, 17 conference championship appearances, nine conference championship wins, and six Super Bowl wins. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The Steelers have faced a much tougher road than the Patriots have in the playoffs. These two teams match up well with one another. The Steelers monster offense was held out of the end zone against the Chiefs. It took six field goals to win and that will not be good enough against Tom Brady. Without Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, New England has still found ways to score.

This game could go either way, but with the game taking place in Foxborough and having the great Tom Brady, the edge has to go to the Patriots. New England makes just one more play in this one to set up a Brady versus Rodgers Super Bowl.

 

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NFL Divisional Playoff Picks Against the Spread

Wild Card Weekend rung in the NFL playoffs with a whimper rather than a bang. However, the divisional round has arrived and the general consensus is at least three of the four games should be highly contested. I was 2-2 against the spread last week and 3-1 straight up. My system remains the same with my picks being in bold and outright upsets having an asterisk. Hut hut, hike!

*Seahawks at Falcons (-5) – This is your classic defense versus offense matchup. Games like this are a yearly occurrence for the Seahawks. The same cannot be said for the Falcons. Thus, I just trust Seattle more here. Playing Detroit last week was a good way to prepare for Atlanta. The Seahawks defense finally seemed to figure out how to play without Earl Thomas. If Thomas Rawls can run the ball anywhere close to the way he did last week, Seattle becomes even more difficult to deal with.

The Falcons have had a fantastic season. However, I am just not sure how they will handle this occasion. They are about as anonymous a playoff team as you will ever come across. Their only primetime appearances this year were a Thursday night game and a Monday night game that went opposite a presidential debate. Even though the Falcons defense has vastly improved from a year ago, Matt Ryan and company are still having to put up 28-30 points to feel comfortable. Seattle will not allow that to happen. Sea 24 Atl 20

Texans at Patriots (-15) – 15 points in a playoff game? No one disputes that New England is a much better team, but I will take 15 points every day of the week and twice on Sundays. It becomes all the more enticing when one considers that the Texans have the NFL’s top defense. The Patriots could very easily go out and win this game by a ridiculous margin. However, Houston’s defense and coaching staff are good enough to make anyone sweat. Jadeveon Clowney is finally staying healthy and being the game wrecker everyone knew he was capable of being. Brady and Belichick will find a way like they always seem to do this time of year, but it will not be the bloodbath that most people are anticipating. NE 27 Hou 17

Photo courtesy of espn.com

Steelers at Chiefs (-1.5) – I genuinely believe Kansas City is the more balanced and complete football team. The early-season 43-14 Steelers blowout in this matchup is hard to ignore though. Teams do change a lot throughout the season. The emergence of Tyreek Hill, Kansas City’s now healthy pass rushers, and a dinged up Ben Roethlisberger are enough to nudge me toward the home team in my least favorite pick of the week. KC 23 Pit 20

*Packers at Cowboys (-4.5) – I would have picked the Giants had they reached this spot as well. Dallas has not played a truly meaningful game in roughly a month. That worries me. As good as Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have been, this is still uncharted territory for them as well as most of the Cowboys roster.

Photo courtesy of sportdfw.com

On the other side, the universe is running out of words to describe how hot Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense are. I am not sure if the health of Jordy Nelson even matters in terms of who wins this game. Rodgers is playing well enough to carry whoever is out there with him to win right now. Also, the Packers have been in “do or die” situations since about week 11. Let another offseason full of drama begin in Dallas. GB 34 Dal 30

 

 

 

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