Our year of football: 2017-2018 season

NFL Predicated  Standings

2017-2018 Season

1. New England Patriots
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Seattle Seahawks
4. Atlanta Falcons
5. Green Bay Packers
6. New York Giants
7. Dallas Cowboys
8. Kansas City Chiefs
9. Arizona Cardinals
10. Oakland Raiders
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
12. Miami Dolphins
13. Tennessee Titans
14. New Orleans Saints
15. Carolina Panthers
16. Houston Texans
17. Cincinnati Bengals
18. Washington Redskins
19. Detroit Lions
20. Baltimore Ravens
21. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Denver Broncos
23. Minnesota Vikings
24. Los Angeles Chargers
25. Los Angeles Rams
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
27. Indianapolis Colts
28. Buffalo Bills
29. San Francisco 49ers
30. Chicago Bears
31. Cleveland Browns
32. New York Jets

The Season

The 2017-2018 NFL season was anything but ordinary. It shifted from stories permeating of the last season. With those stories that molded political arguments and orchestrated the foundation to likes of humanity. This season touched hearts of survivors of this years unprecedented natural disasters and also filled the Twitter mentions of our beloved president. This year was a year to talk about not only for the sport of football but also the moral fiber of our society.

Politics…?

Simply, sports are not just sports. An argument appeared this year during the season. This year like the last, was highlighted by the many protests started by Colin Kaepernick. During a rally in Alabama, President Trump made some indecent remarks pertaining to the protest of players kneeling during the national anthem and flag. These comments created a dissolution among players and the leagues fans.

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Some backed up the president believing that the protest were disrespectful to our armed forces. Others felt that the players were standing up against injustices in this country that the anthem contradicts and are not true for every citizen. And even others took no position on either side but agreed that the protest were well within the rights of the players. In an attempt to preserve the notion of free speech, across the NFL, teams united in a protest by kneeling  or locking arms in unification before games or not attending the national anthem and flag bearing at all.

The Problem

While some saw the protest as an act of defiance, not only to the president of the United States but to our country as a whole, some even saw the protest as illegitimate and did not stand for what Kaepernick originally kneeled for. While Kaepernick was kneeling to bring awareness to police brutality and racial divisions, the players were kneeling for their right to protest and protection of their First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, the craze did lose its originality as the notion of Kaepernick’s arguments have yet to be discussed.

Many were critical of the NFL’s involvement in political fashions and wanted players to just play citing “football is just a sport”. The problem with that is football is not just a sport. Sports are never just seen as a collection of over sized men and women competing in gladiator like feats for a trophy. Sports have been able to bring people together. Football was never just a sport, not in America. Football itself has embodied the very grit and passion of what it is to be an American.

What football means

In the digital age, football has spread to consumers across the globe and in almost every house in our nation. Players now have platforms and are looked as icons, heroes, and even moral leaders. If you don’t believe it, ask JJ Watt. Ask Benjamin Watson. Or ask Greg Olsen about philanthropy.

Sports are part of the platform to give back, uplift individuals and inspire future generations. You want proof?  Remember when New Orleans natives watched their football time emerge from the ruins of their torn city and bring a title to avenge their will after Katrina. Or how an NBA championship can uplift a city after from a fifty year championship drought to embodied the strength of Cleveland. Or even this year, when Hurricane Harvey ravaged, displaced and destroyed lives in Texas, Houston natives were able to see their beloved baseball team bring home a championship and use the achievement as a beacon of hope.

Sports have been politicized since its very birth. The policies and rights bestowed upon each and everyone of us has given us the ability to watch, appreciate, and participate in sports and should never be questioned.

The Winner

There is no discussion that should over shadow the celebration of champions. The Philadelphia Eagles have now joined the list of 52 teams to have been able to label themselves as world champions. For a long time coming, this achievement gave the franchise its first world title and the city of Philadelphia its first championship since the 2008 World Series where the Phillies were crowned victorious.

The ups and downs in this season did not falter the Super Bowl champions even when starting quarterback Carson Wentz went out with an injury. Orchestrated by a swagger unlike any other team in the NFL, the squad welcomed Nick Foles in the starting lineup as he led them to a historic run in the playoffs. During the Super Bowl, with no surprise, the Eagles were seen as underdogs as they faced the defending Super Bowl champions. The New England Patriots, like many others, saw this matchup as a dynasty solidifying opportunity.

The Crowning

Thirteen years ago, the Patriots took the hearts of many Eagles fans as they beat them 24-21. A win that many saw to be spectacular, taking down a squad lead by Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and NFL Hall of Famer Terrell Owens. However, this team was not the 2004-2005 Eagles. This team was heralded by a forgotten star in Torrey Smith, a mid season pick up in Jay Ajayi, and a backup quarterback in Nick Foles. Pitted against a team that mirrored the leagues greatest teams assembled of all time, the Eagles never cowered from its opposition. After beating the the Patriots by a score of 41-33, the Eagles brought home their first championship in franchise history.

A team that no one predicted to even compete for a title this year, hoisted the Lombardi trophy on February 4. To spice up the pot even more, at center stage, a player that had been sidelined under the play of an MVP candidate, Nick Foles, held the Lombardi trophy in one hand and the game’s MVP in the other. Of course the Eagles are winners and truly earned it after an incredible season.

NFL Honors

AP Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

Coach of the Year: Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams

Comeback Player of the Year: Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

Offensive Player of the Year: Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams

Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marshon Lattimore, CB, New Orleans Saints

Assistant Coach of the Year: Pat Shurmur, OC, Minnesota Vikings

Bridgestone Elite Performance Play of the Year: Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs “Minneapolis Miracle,” divisional round, Minnesota Vikings

FedEx Air & Ground Players of the Year: Carson Wentz, QB,

Philadelphia Eagles and Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams

Deacon Jones Award: Chandler Jones, LB, Arizona Cardinals

Courtyard’s Greatness on the Road Award: Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Year: Philadelphia Eagles

Salute To Service Award: Andre Roberts, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers

The Losers

There is no hiding this. For the second year running, to no surprise, the Cleveland Browns are the biggest losers of the year. To be frank, 0-16 is down right deplorable. After a year prior that the team went 1-15, the make up of this season didn’t seem any better. Mid-season reports around the organization had suggested that the franchise was looking forward to upcoming draft and ending the season despite only being five games into the schedule. The Browns have a chance to change a few names and numbers on the jerseys this off season but don’t count on it holding any weight. There is no player that will magically turn the tide for the team. The culture is now stuck in conundrum that leaves their fan base with more questions of doubt than accolades to take pride in.

How the Browns are going down the road in the future, the next generation of Browns fans will be Bengals fans, not like that is any better. Changes have to be made from the top if players are going to rally and motivate themselves. Something is going to have to change in Cleveland if change for the good is to come. For a franchise that has lost so much it has to believe in something first to fight for.

NFL Final Standings

1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. New England
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Atlanta Falcons
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Minnesota Vikings
8. Los Angeles Rams
9. Carolina Panthers
10. Green Bay Packers
11. Los Angeles Chargers
12. Houston Texans
13. Seattle Seahawks
14. San Francisco 49ers
15. Tennessee Titans
16. Kansas City Chiefs
17. Baltimore Ravens
18. Detroit Lions
19. Buffalo Bills
20. Dallas Cowboys
21. Oakland Raiders
22. Washington Redskins
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
24. Chicago Bears
25. Cincinnati Bengals
26. Miami Dolphins
27. New York Giants
28. Arizona Cardinals
29. Denver Broncos
30. New York Jets
31. Indianapolis Colts
32. Cleveland Browns

Class of 2018 Hall of Fame Inductees

Brian Urlacher

NFL

Ray Lewis

Terrell Owens

Randy Moss

Brian Dawkins

Robert Brazile

 

 

This year of football is in the history books. The off-season will guide us to a new year as questions mount for the future. What will come the NFL Draft? Will Colin Kaepernick play on a team next year? Will the NFL and NFLPA come to a solution to keep the league open? Fortunately, 2017 was all the glitz and glamour and also the grit and grime of our world. Despite records showing a drop in viewership for the league, those problems don’t come from the sport specifically. The NFL is a dynamic league that grows each and every year. A few policy changes and rule adjustments should get the NFL back in shape. Above all, for longtime dedicated fans, 2017 was a year to remember but also a foundation for what 2018 has to come.

 

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5 Reasons why Romo had the best rookie year

 

The Patriots Vs. Jaguars AFC Championship game was a great matchup with many great things to offer. There was the greatest QB of all time. A young, exciting, up-and-coming Jacksonville team, an exciting fourth quarter comeback, but as viewers watching from home, all of those things were greatly enhanced by something else- the commentary of Tony Romo.

The AFC championship game marked the end of Romo’s first season in the booth after being the franchise leader for the Dallas Cowboys for many years. After many questioned why CBS would give the number one job to a player with no previous experience in the booth, we now see what those CBS executives saw last summer.

Romo has been a polarizing figure throughout his entire professional career. His tenure with the Dallas Cowboys will not be remembered for having one of the highest career passer ratings of all time. Nor will he be remembered for all the fourth quarter come-backs he created contrary to the “chocker” label he carried throughout his career.

What Romo will be remembered for is for never bringing a Lombardi Trophy to Dallas where the expectations are always Super Bowl or bust, even if they’ve only won two playoff games in the last 20 years.

Regardless of how you feel about Tony Romo as a player though, you have to admit he is one hell of an analyst. Or you don’t. Some people hate his style. They hate the enthusiasm with which he announces the happenings on the field. They hate that he can explain how and why things are about to happen on the field. They hate the fact that he found so much success so early on. Most of these people are the same ones who think that Tony was a sub-par Quarterback in the league.

We call these people “haters”. It doesn’t matter how good Romo is or can become as an analyst, they refuse to relinquish their hate of the superstar QB. Let’s go over some reasons why Romo may already be a top five announcer in the NFL.

 

Reason #1

Romo brings a wealth of knowledge rivaled by very few, but along with that he also brings recent on the field experience. He know’s most of the players, coaches and schemes in the league very well, but even that may not be his greatest asset.

Reason #2

The reason why America has fallen in love with Romo this season is because he brings unrivaled enthusiasm to his play call! He brings the best energy and passion along with professionalism to his broadcast.

Reason #3

Romo is excellent at being able to combine all these things into his commentary like no one else in the sport. Does he tell you what’s going to happen before it happens? Sometimes. Does it rub some people the wrong way? yes.

Overall though, most of us enjoy it because it shows us what to look for and why. He’s also eager to tell us, as his audience about it, his boy-ish spirit comes out with every play and is very refreshing. There’s not many other commentators out there with commentary highlight videos on youtube, especially not rookie commentators.

Reason #4

Romo has already earned the respect of most of the NFL community, including the New England Patriots head coach, one Bill Belichick.

During an interview with Henry McKenna from Patriots Wire, the living legend head coach had this to say: “Very inquisitive guy with a good history of the game,” Belichick said. “He asks a lot of questions about when I was with Giants or the 70s or the 80s or Tom Landry and so forth. He’s pretty knowledgeable for a player that wasn’t in that era. He knows a lot about it. He’s obviously read and studied itHe sees a lot of things, a lot of fine points of defensive scheme or a play that I’d say a lot of guys that I talk to don’t. And (he) asks about those: ‘What was that guy reading on this? And why’d he do that? What was this guy’s job on this play?’ Something that was kind of subtle. He picks up on those things. He asks a lot of detailed, coaching, technical questions that you don’t get from a lot of those meetings. He’s good. I’ve enjoyed working with him.”

Any player or former player would be honored to be spoken so highly of from such a prominent figure in the league.

Reason #5

No matter how you feel about him, Romo is going to get better with time. The longer he spends in the booth, the more he’ll grow accustomed to the job and learn the small things that have made the great commentators so great. So here’s to Romo’s first season as an NFL commentator, may his voice stay high-pitched, his passion strong, his knowledge vast, and may we get a Romo commentated Super Bowl in the near future, because no matter what the haters say, that would be a win for everyone.

 

 

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Super Bowl LII preview

Super Bowl LII preview

After an epic championship weekend, which included a come-from-behind victory from Tom “The GOAT” Brady, as well as a flawless performance from Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, we are set for a Super Bowl XXXIX rematch between New England and Philly.

In that game 13 years ago, the Patriots defeated the Eagles 24-21. With a chance to win the game, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was picked off by Rodney Harrison with less than 20 seconds to play. This was one of three interceptions that McNabb threw. Eagles star wide receiver, Terrell Owens, who was dealing with a severely sprained ankle and fractured fibula, had nine catches for 122 yards.

Super Bowl XXXIX preview

Patriots celebrating during Super Bowl XXXIX (Photo from Patriots Life)

Tom Brady threw for 236 yards with two touchdowns, and no turnovers. Patriots receiver Deion Branch was rewarded Super Bowl XXXIX MVP after an incredible 11-catch, 133-yard performance.

Now, in 2018, Tom Brady remains behind center for New England, and the Eagles are the biggest Super Bowl underdogs since 2009 in Super Bowl XLIII, when the Arizona Cardinals were seven-point underdogs to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Philadelphia opened as a 5.5-point underdog at The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas. Keep in mind that the betting favorite has won 33 of the previous 51 Super Bowls.

This will be New England’s 10th Super Bowl appearance and the Eagles’ third. The Westgate SuperBook claimed that had Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz not gotten injured, the game would be pick ‘em. Anyways, here are eight statements to get you ready for the big game.

 1. Nick Foles is coming in hot

Even though Wentz was playing at an MVP level, let’s not sleep on Nick Foles. In the NFC Championship game against the Vikings, Foles played the best game of his career. The 29 year old from Arizona, who was recruited by Georgetown, Baylor and Texas to play college basketball, threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 141.4. In the second half alone, Foles went 11-for-11 with 159 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect QBR.

On the season, Foles is now 8-1, the one loss coming in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Cowboys. He joined Joe Montana as the only other quarterback to complete 75 percent of their passes in back-to-back playoff games. He is the only quarterback in NFL history with a passer rating of 100 in his first three career playoff games. Let’s see how he stacks up against the other quarterbacks New England has faced in the Super Bowl during the Tom Brady era.

PLAYER YEAR QUARTERBACK RATING DURING PLAYOFF RUN (GOING INTO THE SUPER BOWL)
KURT WARNER 2001 92.5
JAKE DELHOMME 2003 103.5
DONOVAN MCNABB 2004 111.3
ELI MANNING 2007 107.2
ELI MANNING 2011 108.7
RUSSELL WILSON 2014 96.8
MATT RYAN 2016 132.6
NICK FOLES 2017 122.1

2. This is the Patriots second best offensive team during Brady’s eight Super Bowl appearances

It will be hard for any team to match the production of the 2007 Patriots, but this year’s team finished second in points and first in yards. They were also third in red zone scoring percentage (TD), touchdowns per game and points per play, fourth in yards per play and fifth in yards per pass. All this without one of Brady’s top targets, Julian Edelman.

Going into the AFC Championship game, the Jaguars had allowed just 169.9 passing yards per game. Without Rob Gronkowski, Brady had 138 in the fourth quarter. Translation, they can overcome anything.

3. Penalties could be the deciding factor

As seen in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots don’t get too many penalties. Against Jacksonville, New England suffered just one penalty for 10 yards, while the Jags had six for 98 yards. Only one percent of the time is there an 88-yard discrepancy in penalty yards, and of course, it happens for New England in its biggest game.

Also, in the last seven years of the playoffs, only twice has a team been called for one penalty or less. This happened on Sunday, as well as seven years ago, in favor of, you guessed it, the Patriots.

While New England finished with the second fewest penalties per game, the Eagles had the 10th most penalties called against them.

4. If the Patriots are losing in the second half, they will probably come back and win

After being down by 10 with less than nine minutes to play against Jacksonville, Brady proved why he is arguably the most clutch athlete to ever step on Earth. Sunday’s win meant the Patriots are now 3-4 in the last 10 postseasons when they are trailing by 10 or more points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. During that span, the rest of the NFL is 3-70.

5. This is one of the best defenses New England has faced in a Super Bowl during the Brady/Belichick era

Super Bowl LII preview

Never bet against this man (Photo from Business Insider)

The Eagles allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league this year, as well as the fourth fewest total yards. They also caused the fourth most turnovers. Four appears to be the magic number, as they allowed the fourth fewest points in the league.

The only teams the Patriots have faced in the Super Bowl during the Brady-Belichick era that finished higher in points allowed were the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles and the 2014 Seattle Seahawks.

6. The Eagles can run, and the Patriots might struggle defending it

The combination of Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, mixed in with a little Corey Clement, was lethal this season. Philadelphia finished with the third most rushing yards per game at 132.2. They also averaged 4.5 yards per carry, which was tied for third in the league.

New England is tied for 30th in opposing yards per rush and 22nd in opposing rushing first downs per game.

7. Both quarterbacks have yet to tHROW AN INTERCEPTION in the playoffs

All be just two games apiece, both Nick Foles and Tom Brady have done an excellent job of taking care of the football. Since 2014, when Nick Foles does not turn the ball over, he is 13-2. During that same span, Brady is 35-7.

8. Jimmy G is getting paid

We know that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be appearing in their eighth Super Bowl together, which is twice as many as any head coach-quarterback combo. We also know that Brady will be the first 40-year-old QB to start a Super Bowl.

Those facts are cool and all, but what about the fact that Jimmy Garoppolo is getting paid to watch this game? If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, Garappolo will earn $191K. If they lose, he will get $135K. Must be nice.

 

Featured image by Wtok-Tv

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Blake Bortles

The mysterious story of Blake Bortles

There has been many downs in the short career for the four-year quarterback out of UCF. This year was filled with a few ups that have seemingly defined the potential of Bortles going forward.

This Sunday, he steps into the biggest game of his life as his team prepares to play against the defending Super Bowl champions. With no surprise, the odds are heavily against Bortles and the Jaguars.

The presumed MVP, Tom Brady, left the finishing touches of a spectacular season, going 35-for-53 with 337 yards and three touchdowns in a win last weekend against the Tennessee Titans. The defense stepped up too, limiting the Titans to 65 combined rushing yards.

The Patriots look to capitalize on an impressive win, entering the last pit stop towards Brady’s eighth Super Bowl appearance. However, standing in his way is a young and unchallenged, but unfazed team in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars’ last playoff appearance was 10 years ago. They have turned into a team that sports a young, but hungry coach in Doug Marrone. Marrone has orchestrated one of the best defenses in franchise history, a runaway Rookie of the Year candidate in Leonard Fournette and an offense led by the franchise quarterback, Blake Bortles.

Coming off of a 10-6 record and winning their first AFC South Division championship, Jacksonville is as confident as ever rolling up in Foxborough, facing the most storied franchise in the last two decades. But many are doubting them.

Facing the largest odds in these playoffs, most of which lands on Bortles, the strength of the team comes from its backfield. Unfortunately, on Sunday, it faces its toughest challenge yet when it comes up against the Pats.

If the Jaguars look to pull off the upset this Sunday, the pressure lies behind the arm of Blake Bortles. He’s coming off an impressive season, throwing for 3,687 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season. His efforts only amounted to the league’s bottom half of total passing. However, with the combination of a great running game and a poised Bortles under center, the odds could be in Jacksonville’s favor. All fingers point to Bortles to be counted out once again. Fortunately, this is not the first time he been counted out.

Humble beginnings

From his high school career to the pros, Bortles has been seen as the guy who others seem to feel will come in second or the “other guy.” During his playing career as the starting quarterback for the Oviedo High School in Florida, Bortles was one of the starred prospects in the area. Locally, Bortles was praised for leading his high school team to a playoff berth in his senior campaign. He finished his career with a county record of 5,576 passing yards and 53 touchdowns.

However, Bortles’ game was outshined by his cross-city rival Jeff Driskel, who was named ESPN’s No. 1 high school quarterback prospect and 10th overall on ESPN’s 150 top high school prospects in the class of 2011.

Driskel, who was heavily recruited by the nation’s top universities, eventually accepted a scholarship to play at the University of Florida to be the next featured quarterback after the decorated career of Tim Tebow. T

he nation’s eyes were on Driskel as Bortles wasn’t even recruited to play quarterback. Many schools, including Tulane, Purdue, Colorado State and Kansas State were all interested in the prospect, but none of which wanted the recruit at his respected position. Wanting to fulfill his aspirations of playing quarterback at the Division I level, Bortles eventually committed to play at the University of Central Florida, less than five miles from his high school campus.

Bortles’ start at UCF was difficult, again being seen as the second guy, this time to his fellow freshman. He regularly lost time behind starting quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who led the Knights to a 10-3 record in the 2010 football season.

With Godfrey’s play reminiscing the best true freshman performance since Daunte Culpepper, Bortles was seen to be on his way to exiting the program. Reports around the school’s athletic program suspected that UCF head coach, George O’Leary, was contemplating using the 6-foot-5, 210-pound freshman as a tight end going forward. However, these allegations were put to rest at the beginning of the 2011 season with Bortles backing up the starting position.

Photo by Rob Leifheit-US PRESSWIRE

During the season, starting quarterback Godfrey had trouble mixing the chemistry with the younger core group of the team. During this time, Bortles had standout performances in the time he was given against Charleston Southern, BYU and SMU. Despite a 5-7 season for the Knights, Bortles threw for 958 yards and six touchdowns, which solidified his starting position as the quarterback for the upcoming season.

In 2012, Bortles started all 14 games for the Knights, leading them to a 9-4 record and a bowl win in the 2012 Beef O’Bradys Bowl. Bortles won MVP, throwing for 271 yards with three touchdowns on a 76 percent completion rate.

Bortles went on to finish the season with 3,059 yards, 25 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 144.5.

The turnaround

Despite a breakaway season for Bortles, he was not touted as one of the nation’s top players. Before the 2013 season, Bortles had failed to make any top 100 list of prospects for the upcoming draft. Not allowing it to get to him, Bortles led the UCF Knights to an 11-1 season (its best record in school history until this past season) and captured the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship. He threw for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns with a 67.8 percent completion rate for the year.

Bortles concluded the season leading UCF to its first major bowl bid in the BCS era, facing the eighth ranked Baylor Bears in the 2014 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. He went on to throw for 301 yards and four touchdowns. He also added a rushing total of 93 yards in pursuit of UCF upsetting Baylor 52-42. Bortles was named the game’s offensive MVP.

(Photo by Matt Kartozian, USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not being on any NFL Draft prospect lists at the beginning of the season, reports had shown that Bortles had quickly risen up the draft boards, even at one point showing that the junior could be the first pick in the entire draft. Bortles would then forgo his senior season at UCF and went on to become the third pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Jaguars.

Jacksonville

Over the years, the Jaguars have slowly and steadily made additions to its team in efforts to surround a franchise quarterback. The team lacked depth and experience. They also lost the former top pick Justin Blackmon, and its 2011 draft pick, Blaine Gabbert, was struggling.

Jacksonville made a desperate attempt to free up the base. They lost acclaimed running back Maurice Jones-Drew in the offseason and traded away Gabbert to the San Francisco 49ers.

Bortles, whose career reflects those immense changes, struggled as a rookie as the Jaguars limped through a disdainful season, falling to 3-13. Bortles only threw for 2,908 yards and 11 touchdowns with an abysmal 17 interceptions.

The Jaguars kept Bortles as the starting quarterback over Chad Henne, who had started the first three games of that season. The Jaguars looked to fit pieces around its young quarterback after allowing a record 55 sacks, a problem that would continue to plague them in the next season as well.

With minimal changes to the team, Bortles overcame the unfavorable predicament with a strong season, throwing for 4,208 yards and 35 touchdowns, his career best. Despite heroics from Bortles, the Jaguars struggled to find the team’s identity and finished the season 5-11.

Blake Bortles

(Photo from Jaguars.com)

The 2016 season brought on problems, but ultimately a focus for the Jaguars. Allowing the of rest of the team to follow, the franchise led towards fortifying its defense, bringing in newcomers like Malik Jackson and Prince Amukamara. They used draft picks on Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey and UCLA’s Myles Jack, both have shown to be cornerstones of the defense. Jacksonville also added Dante Fowler Jr., who was drafted the season prior, but was lost to a season-ending ACL injury.

Unfortunately, Bortles had a setback for the year and was seen as the root of Jacksonville’s problems. In the beginning of the 2017 season, fans argued that Henne should be restored as starter over Bortles with reports of the franchise in consideration of doing so. However, after a 3-13 season and the firing of Gus Bradley, new head coach Doug Marrone started his tenure with a clean slate and went along with Bortles being the starter for the season.

Armed with an ambitious franchise and a talented offense to complement a tenacious defense, Bortles put up his most efficient season, helping the Jacksonville Jaguars set up its first winning season in 10 years. They captured the AFC South divisional championship and a playoff berth. But as always, the critics returned.

In the Jaguars’ Wild Card matchup with the Buffalo Bills, Bortles threw just 87 yards on 12-for-23 passing. He threw a one-yard pass to Ben Koyack late in the third quarter for the decisive score. Despite pulling out a win, Bortles misfired on many passing attempts, feeding fuel for doubters. Some of which called his performance “awful,” along with both teams’ performances being “unwatchable”.

Questions mounted as Bortles and the Jaguars went up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many believed that the Steelers and the New England Patriots were destined for a showdown in this upcoming AFC Championship game, counting out the Jaguars to put any doubt in that vision.

However, the Jaguars never faltered and never trailed in the game, beating the Steelers by a score of 45-42. Bortles put up 214 passing yards on 14-for-26 passing and delivered a touchdown in the fourth quarter to hold back Pittsburgh to set up a date with the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.

The matchup

With no surprise, the Patriots are favored to win this Sunday against the Jaguars. Despite a slow start to the season, the Patriots have cashed in on everyone’s predisposed notions of its return to the Super Bowl. They garnish a veteran all-time great coach and a quarterback who looks to cement his legacy amongst the greats.

For the Jaguars, well they have, Blake Bortles. The four-year man out of UCF, whose team faces one of the largest underdog odds in these playoffs. Once again, Bortles is the second guy, the “other guy.”

Although he is coming off arguably the greatest season of his young career, he falls in the shadow of someone who outshines him. Lucky for Bortles, he’s been here before, and despite the opposition, he has a crew that looks as determined and as confident as he is.

From a far sight, Bortles looks to come in second just like he did in high school, or at the collegiate level, or even the first steps of his professional career. With that being said, it should be safe to save some chips for the Jaguars as we have seen this team reach pinnacles this season beyond their expectations. Why should this game be any different? And for Bortles, his opposition shares a familiar tune.

Some time ago, Tom Brady was a relative unknown leading a forgotten Patriots team against some of the most star-studded teams of his time, beating the St. Louis Rams heralded as the “The Greatest Show on Turf” on the grandest stage of them all and giving birth to a dynasty for the ages. Perhaps this is Bortles’ time. Though he faces a threat that is far superior than his previous challenges were, Bortles is a far more superior version of his past self. And just like before, as the world looks on for him to be second, Blake Bortles looks to finish first once again.

 

Featured image by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

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NFL Conference Championship preview

NFL Conference Championship weekend preview and picks

We can only hope the NFL’s Conference Championship weekend is half as competitive as last weekend was. Three of the four games were nail biters, which made for some strange results in terms of predictions.

As has been the case throughout the postseason, games will be picked both straight up and against the spread. All point spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing. You can see last week’s picks here.

Last week: 1-3, 3-1 against the spread.

Postseason totals: 4-4, 5-3 against the spread.

Jaguars at Patriots

Three teams have gone into New England and won a playoff game in the Brady-Belichick era, two Ravens teams led by John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco and one of Rex Ryan’s Jets teams. All these teams had one thing in common: They ran the ball and were very good on defense.

With the top ranked rushing offense and a sack happy defense that has dominated all year long, Jacksonville certainly fits that bill. This will not be a simple coronation for the Patriots. Just because the Jaguars approach to winning games is fairly bland does not mean they do not deserve to be here.

That defense will keep this interesting for four quarters. However, there are three pieces of insurmountable bad news for the underdogs. First, Blake Bortles is still their quarterback. Second, Tom Brady is the opposing quarterback. Finally, Bill Belichick is not going to run 15-yard pass plays on 4th and 1 or run an onside kick with two timeouts and more than two minutes left like Pittsburgh did last week.

One of the biggest yet simplest reasons New England has been so good for so long is they never make in game strategy calls that leave even casual fans scratching their heads in the moment. As good as they are, the Jaguars needed a lot of help to outscore the Steelers last week. New England will not be so generous this week.

Winner: New England

Good bet: Patriots (-9) NE 31 Jac 20

Vikings at Eagles

Something has to give here. These two teams have mastered the art of the playoff choke job over the years. Now one of them is going to the Super Bowl.

At this point in this season, these teams are going about winning games the same way. They both rely on their great defenses to make up for limitations at quarterback. Make no mistake, Case Keenum and Nick Foles have limitations.

Foles only threw for 246 yards last week against Atlanta. However, he did not make a big mistake that crippled the team. When you have a defense that is capable of holding what was a hot Falcons offense to just 10 points, that formula is good enough.

NFL Conference Championship preview

Photo from espn.com

Keenum tried to make that crippling mistake with his late third quarter interception that sparked the Saints comeback last week. However, he and the Vikings were bailed out by a miracle finish that was more blind luck than anything else. There is no shame in that. Every Super Bowl champion there has ever been has required some degree of luck.

What this game comes down to is both teams will try to run the ball. It is hard to imagine either having much success against two of the best front sevens in football. So which average quarterback will do a better job of getting the ball to their playmaking pass catchers?

Well, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen each caught over 60 balls in the regular season and accounted for several of Minnesota’s 10 third down conversions last week. Meanwhile, the Eagles pass catchers have virtually disappeared since Carson Wentz went out. Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery had seven catches combined last week. They need to have somewhere around seven catches each should Philadelphia struggle on the ground in this one.

Moreover, if there is a weak spot on either defense, it is the Philadelphia secondary. They got torched by the lowly Giants twice this year.  There is no reason Diggs and Thielen should not carry their team to a home Super Bowl.

Winner: Minnesota

Good bet: Vikings (-3) Min 23 Phi 17

 

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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

 

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NFL Wild Card Weekend

NFL Wild Card weekend preview and picks

The NFL playoffs are here, and the road to Super Bowl LII kicks into overdrive this weekend. For the 12 teams who still have championship dreams, the slate is wiped clean and everyone is 0-0 again. The same goes for people like me who picked games throughout the regular season.

Throughout the playoffs, games will be picked against the spread as well as straight up. Outright upsets have an asterisk. All point spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Saturday

Titans at Chiefs – Even though these are both playoff teams, they are trending in opposite directions. After a bizarre midseason slump, Kansas City finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak to claim their second straight division title. Andy Reid’s team put up at least 26 points in all of those games.

The Chiefs finished the regular season looking like the team that dominated the league in the first month of the season. Alex Smith may have limitations as a quarterback, but this is an offense that has done a great job taking care the football all year long and knows that getting the ball to playmakers like rushing champion Kareem Hunt is the winning formula.

NFL Wild Card Weekend

(Photo from faketeams.com)

The Titans did just enough to squeak into the playoffs despite losing three of their last four games with the offense accounting for 15 points or less in two of those games. Defense does tend to win football games this time of year, and Tennessee has a good one.

But the offense has to be at least average. The Titans offense hasn’t been anywhere near average since November. For that reason, there are reports that head coach Mike Mularkey may still be on the hot seat despite the playoff berth.

Arrowhead Stadium is a very tough place to play. However, Kansas City’s home playoff track record is worrisome. They have not won a home playoff game since the early 90s. In order to continue that trend, the Titans defense will have to play a nearly perfect game. Given the quality of opponent, that is a tall order.

Winner: Kansas City

Good bet: Chiefs (-8.5) KC 28 Ten 17

Falcons at Rams – The scene of a late afternoon/early evening playoff game in Los Angeles will be a beautiful backdrop as two high-powered offenses battle it out. The Rams have been the more consistent team all year long, but this is uncharted territory for this mostly young football team, including coaching sensation Sean McVay.

This team has been in such a good rhythm all year long. Thus, the decision to rest most starters last week is a risky one. A rusty first half this week likely means the end of a magical season for Los Angeles.

Additionally, the kicking unit has struggled a bit since the injury to kicker Greg Zuerlein. Things like that often have a way of rearing their head when it really matters.

Atlanta is one of few teams that can keep up with the Rams top ranked scoring offense. Additionally, the Falcons have been in must win situations for weeks. So, playoff pressure should not change much for them. Most of the Falcons’ main pieces were a part of last year’s playoff run, which was very good, other than the ending. The playoffs are a different animal and experience is invaluable.

Winner: Atlanta

Good bet: *Falcons (+6.5) Atl 34 LAR 31

Sunday

Bills at Jaguars – It has not always been pretty for these two teams, but they both deserve a ton of credit for getting here and breaking long playoff droughts. This is the simplest game of the week to size up.

As much heat as Blake Bortles gets, the Jacksonville offense ranks fifth in scoring. The scoreboard is all that matters. That is one of few offensive stats worth paying attention to. Make no mistake, Jacksonville’s identity is running the ball with Leonard Fournette and playing defense, but the quarterback is not a major liability.

As for Buffalo, they needed a huge assist from the lowly Bengals to reach the playoffs. Their best offensive weapon is running back LeSean McCoy. Even if the six-time Pro Bowler can somehow go from being carted off to playing in a playoff game in the span of a week, it is impossible for him to be 100 percent.

The Buffalo offense ranks 22nd in scoring with a healthy McCoy. How in the world can this team go on the road and compete against a defense that has been the best in football in several categories all year long? The short answer is that they probably can’t.

NFL Wild Card Weekend

(Photo from zambio.com)

Winner: Jacksonville

Good Bet: Jaguars (-8.5) Jac 24 Buf 10

Panthers at Saints – On a rare occasion, division rivals meet for the third time in one season in the playoffs. It is tough to predict a winner. These teams know each other so well, and there is nothing one team can do to surprise the other.

If quarterback play is as important as it is often made out to be, the Saints will reach the Super Bowl. Drew Brees is the best quarterback in the NFC playoffs by far. Brees is the future Hall of Famer. The fact that New Orleans found a legal two-headed monster at running back and a solid defense to pair up with him this year is almost unfair.

Carolina is similar to New Orleans. Cam Newton has been nowhere near his MVP form of two years ago, but he has played good complementary football to go with a versatile group of running backs and a good defense all year long.

It is very hard to beat the same NFL team three times in the same season. The opportunity does not present itself all that often. New Orleans has won both matchups with Carolina this year fairly convincingly. Even so, Carolina is here for a reason and this meeting will be much closer.

There is not much that separates these two teams. The defenses are both easily in the top half of the league in most categories. Also, although they accomplish it differently, both teams rely heavily on the ground game. The one thing that jumps out is that Brees has half the number of interceptions Newton does. Turnovers decide the vast majority of football games from preseason to the playoffs. Moreover, New Orleans has the most basic advantage of all, which is playing at home.

Winner: New Orleans

Good bet: Panthers (+6.5) NO 27 Car 24

 

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NFL Wild Card Weekend

What are the odds of a Wild Card winning the Super Bowl?

NFL postseason action kicks off Saturday with Wild Card weekend. The Tennessee Titans will be taking on the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Atlanta Falcons will face off against the Los Angeles Rams.

On Sunday, fans will get to see two more matchups between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars and the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.

There are plenty of storylines for each game. Will Alex Smith be focused after being benched for Patrick Mahomes last week? Will the Rams’ high-powered offense continue to do damage? How will the Bills perform in their first postseason appearance since 1999? Will the Panthers finally get a win against the Saints this season?

It is definitely going to be an exciting weekend. Maybe the Wild Card teams will pull out a win or two.

A bigger question to ask is what are the odds of one of the Wild Card teams winning the Super Bowl? Or even making it?

The history

Not to disappoint fans of the Wild Cards, but the odds of one of them getting in or even winning it all aren’t great.

Overall, 10 Wild Card teams have played in a Super Bowl since the Wild Card was born in 1970. The first Wild Card team to make a Super Bowl was the Dallas Cowboys in 1975. They ended up losing 21-17 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X.

 

[su_table]

Wild Cards in the Super Bowl

[/su_table]​

TEAM YEAR/SUPER BOWL RESULT
Dallas Cowboys 1975 (Super Bowl X) Lost to Pittsburgh Steelers 21-17
Oakland Raiders 1980 (Super Bowl XV) Defeated Philadelphia Eagles 27-10
New England Patriots 1985 (Super Bowl XX) Lost to Chicago Bears 46-10)
Buffalo Bills 1992 (Super Bowl XXVII) Lost to Dallas Cowboys 52-17
Denver Broncos 1997 (Super Bowl XXXII) Defeated Green Bay Packers 31-24
Tennessee Titans 1999 (Super Bowl XXXIV) Lost to St. Louis Rams 23-16
Baltimore Ravens 2000 (Super Bowl XXXV) Defeated New York Giants 34-7
Pittsburgh Steelers 2005 (Super Bowl XL) Defeated Seattle Seahawks 21-10
New York Giants 2007 (Super Bowl XLII) Defeated New England Patriots 17-14
Green Bay Packers 2010 (Super Bowl XLV) Defeated Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25

It is also noteworthy to include the Kansas City Chiefs in this talk. In 1969, they won the AFL as a Wild Card and then defeated the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.

It is not impossible for a Wild Card to make the Super Bowl, or even win it. However, the chances are slim. There has been a Wild Card in 20.8 percent of Super Bowls since the Wild Card entered the postseason. They have also won just 12.5 percent of Super Bowls. When a Wild Card makes it, they have won 60 percent of the time, including the last four times.

What it takes to win

Is there much correlation between all the Wild Card Super Bowl winners? It is tough to find much.

NFL Wild Card Weekend

Can Cam Newton bring the Panthers back to the Super Bowl? (Photo by Winslow Townson/Associated Press)

One thing all Wild Card Super Bowl teams have in common is that they all won at least 10 games during the regular season. Four of them won 11 games, two of them won 12 games, and one of them even won 13.

Based on that, most of the Wild Cards that make the Super Bowl are pretty dominant teams. There are division winners that win 10 games. Teams are rarely going to be a Wild Card if they have 12 wins.

If fans are confident enough to bet on a Wild Card winning it all, they should look to the NFC. Only the Panthers and Falcons have double-digit wins. Sorry Bills and Titans fans, history is just not on your side.

Defense is something else that almost all the Wild Cards had in common. Seven out of the 10 ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed per game. Seven out of the 10 also ranked in the top 10 in points allowed per game.

Once again, the Panthers and Falcons are the only two Wild Cards that rank in the top 10 in yards allowed per game, and the Falcons are the only one that ranks in the top 10 in points allowed per game.

Will we see a Wild Card this year?

Let’s look at some history again. There was one Wild Card in the Super Bowl in the 1970s, two in the 1980s, three in the 1990s, three in the 2000s and one so far in the 2010s. Does that mean a Wild Card is due to appear soon since there has only been one so far this decade?

NFL Wild Card Weekend

The Falcons are looking for redemption from last year’s epic Super Bowl collapse. (Photo by Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

Actually, any team with a road playoff game is due to win soon. Since 2012, no team that has played a road playoff game has made it to the Super Bowl. The last time it happened was when the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens faced each other, with both winning games on the road.

It is very tough to say. The NFL is always unpredictable. Nobody picked the Jaguars or Rams would make the playoffs this year.

Going on history, it appears the Falcons have the best chance out of all the Wild Cards to make it. However, they just played in the big game last year and making back-to-back Super Bowls is very difficult. Also, each matchup and season is different. Comparing to the past is not always the best way to predict winners, but it does give us an idea of how difficult it is for a Wild Card to win on the big stage.

Either way, get ready. The postseason should be just as exciting as always.

 

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Stack your money Sunday’s: Week 17

Week 16 Review (2-1) OVERALL: 31-15-2

Jacksonville Jaguars (-4) @ San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers 44 Jacksonville Jaguars 33

Against the number one defense in the NFL, Jimmy Jesus and the 49ers came to play. Garoppolo had three total touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 102.4. The Niners, led by Matt Breida and Carlos Hyde, ran for 131 yards on Jacksonville. Amazingly, San Francisco went 10-15 on third down conversions. Their defense held Jacksonville to just 92 total rushing yards. Leonard Fournette managed just 48 yards on 18 carries. San Francisco also picked off Blake Bortles three times. Bortles looks to have finally come back down to Earth after playing really good football for the last few weeks.

(USA Today)

Jimmy Garoppolo has won his first four games in San Francisco and looks like the real deal. Don’t be surprised if San Francisco makes the playoffs next year. This guy already looks like a top-10 quarterback in this league for years to come.

 

 

 

 

Seattle Seahawks (+4.5) @ Dallas Cowboys

Seattle Seahawks 21 Dallas Cowboys 12

The Seahawks were extra motivated because Eric Dickerson, Pro Football Hall of Fame running back, leaked the story of Ezekiel Elliott telling him he was going to run for 200 yards when he plays Seattle. Elliott had a solid game, rushing for 97 yards, but unfortunately, his quarterback continues to regress. Dak Prescott threw for just 181 yards, and a pair of interceptions.

The Seahawks forced three total turnovers, which ended up being the reason for victory. Seattle rushed for just 76 yards and had only 136 total yards, but a win is a win. If they wish to continue their season, Seattle needs to cut down on the penalties, as they had 11, which cost them 142 yards. The Seahawks can clinch a wild-card berth with a win over the Cardinals and a Falcons loss to the Panthers.

 

Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints (-6)

New Orleans Saints 23 Atlanta Falcons 13

New Orleans’ defense proved to be the difference maker in this one. They forced two turnovers and held the Falcons to just 67 rushing yards. Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense went a pitiful 2-13 on third down conversions. On the other side, Drew Brees continued to be insanely efficient, as he completed 75 percent of his throws and had a quarterback rating of 97.2. Alvin Kamara looks to be the run-away candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, as the former Tennessee standout ran for only 32 yards, but caught seven passes for 58 more yards.

Right now, Atlanta is the sixth seed in the NFC. If the season ended today, they would face the Rams in the wild-card round. To qualify for the playoffs, Atlanta needs to beat Carolina. However, even if they lose, the Falcons will move on if the Seahawks fall to the Cardinals.

 

WEEK 17 PICKS

Washington Redskins (-3) @ New York Giants

PICK: REDSKINS TO COVER

Davis Webb will be in uniform so you have to imagine he will get some reps at some point in this meaningless game. If Webb plays, a Redskins win is almost a guarantee. Anyways, the Redskins are up against a Giants team that ranks 31st in points per game, 30th in third down conversion percentage, and 23rd in yards per game. Not much to worry about here.

(CNBC.com)

Washington is pretty average on offense, ranking 14th in points per game, 13th in yards per play, and 15th in yards per game. Luckily, they are up against one of the worst defenses in the league. New York ranks 29th in opposing points per game, 32nd in opposing yards per game, and 26th in opposing third down conversion percentage. The Giants cannot move the chains on offense, and have a hard time getting off the field on defense. This team has already thrown in the towel, so look for Washington to win easy.

 

Kansas City Chiefs (+4) @ Denver Broncos

PICK: CHIEFS TO COVER

Patrick Mahomes will be making his first NFL start, so it is hard to not bet on this kid. Michael Kopech, baseball’s No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com and former high school rival of Mahomes, says, of the Kansas City QB, “He was just a bulldog. To be honest, I think anyone who ever played with or against Patrick would’ve assumed he would’ve been a pro in any sport he played.” If you’re wondering about Mahomes as a baseball player, well, he was scouted by teams as both a pitcher and an outfielder. Mahomes was considered a third or fourth round pick as a pitcher out of high school.

This kid is the ultimate competitor and I fully expect him to light it up on Sunday. He will be up against a Denver defense that ranks 22nd in opposing points per game, and 26th in opposing red zone opportunities ending in a touchdown.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5) @ Tennessee Titans

PICK: JAGUARS TO COVER

If the Titans win, they will secure a wild-card spot. If they happen to lose, they need the Bills and Chargers to lose in order to keep playing. Since the Jaguars played so poorly last week against the 49ers, look for Jacksonville to get some momentum back and stomp all over the Titans.

The Jaguars have rushed for over 135 yards in all but four of their contests. When the Titans allow over 100 yards on the ground, they are 0-5. The Titans also allow the 20th most points per game, and rank 25th in opposing passing yards per game. Look for Blake Bortles to get back on track in this one.

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Davante Adams

Week 17 NFL picks against the spread

My run of solid late season weeks continued with an 8-8 mark against the spread. Headed into the final week of the regular season, my record sits at 104-124-11. With several teams resting starters, lines are strange this week. All games will be played on Sunday afternoon. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Bears at Vikings (-12) – A win is all Minnesota needs to ensure that first-round bye in the playoffs. They will get it, but the Bears have been tough out all year long. This includes playing the Vikings to the gun during Mitchell Trubisky’s starting debut on Monday Night Football.

Chicago has since figured out that Jordan Howard as well as the defense are the best things this team has going for it. While that revelation likely came a little too late to save the employment of John Fox, it has given some good teams like Carolina and Baltimore fits along with the Vikings. Despite this, Minnesota being the team that has something to play for will get him over the line in this one. Min 21 Chi 17

Browns at Steelers (-6) – Both teams have something to play for here. The Browns are trying to avoid joining the 2008 Lions in the 0-16 club. Should New England stumbled against the Jets, Pittsburgh can earn home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, Reports of Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell resting for the playoffs tell you how little faith the Steelers have in that possibility.

Cleveland played a full strength Steelers team to the wire during opening week. With Pittsburgh nowhere near full strength for this one, something similar should be expected here. Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, the only fitting end to their team’s season would be losing yet another close game to make dubious history. Pit 24 Cle 20

Cowboys (-3) at Eagles- Philadelphia has secured home field throughout the NFC playoffs, but they are banged up. After a shaky showing against the Raiders last week, Nick Foles and the offense clearly need work, but what if he gets hurt? How the Eagles approach this one is anyone’s guess. Dallas is playing for pride here, but Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot are a safer bet than anything the Eagles offense has to offer right now. Dal 27 Phi 20

Texans at Colts (-5.5) – This is possibly the worst game of Week 17. Jacoby Brissett has proven to be serviceable at quarterback for the Colts this year despite being thrown in to a bad situation. Chuck Pagano has ran his course in Indy, but the players have pretty much always played hard for him. Expect no different in what is likely his swan song.

The only Houston’s offense had going for it was DeAndre Hopkins who is set to miss his first career game with a calf injury. If the Texans had stayed healthy, what might have been? We will never know. Both defenses are bad here, but the offenses are worse. Brissett has shown flashes of being able to lead an NFL offense. Meanwhile, the Texans have scored 13 points in their last two games combined. They have been forced to go too deep on their quarterback depth chart to truly compete. Ind 20 Hou 10

Jets at Patriots (-15.5)- Do not be fooled by New York’s record, Todd Bowles has gotten more out of this team make anyone expected this year and is very deserving of the contract extension he signed earlier this week.

New England still has to take care of business here to ensure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. So, the Jets have no chance at winning this game. However, they always play New England very tough and the first meeting this year was no exception. To be a good bet here, New York does not even have to keep it all that close. NE 30 Nyj 17

Redskins (-3) at Giants- Both of these team are bad and ready for the offseason. However, at least the Redskins are not calling their teammates “a cancer” and are still playing hard. Expect Kirk Cousins to play well in what could be his last go around as a Redskin. Was 23 Nyg 13

Cardinals at Seahawks (-8.5) – Seattle is the exact opposite of Atlanta. The Seahawks may be loud and dysfunctional at times, but you can always count on Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll to come through when the chips are down. Look no further than last week.

Ever since the Super Bowl collapse, the same leadership is not in Atlanta. Seattle has a much easier opponent this week, but leadership is why Seattle wins here to force Atlanta to have to do the same to reach the playoffs. Sea 31 Ari 14

Bills (-2) at *Dolphins– Buffalo needs a win and some help to end the longest playoff drought in major American pro sports, but there is no reason to trust them here. Miami has been a disappointment this year, but a home game with a chance to bury a division rival should motivate them.

Slumping offense are worrisome this time of year. Buffalo is not the only desperate AFC team with a sagging offense, but the Bills have scored 20+ points just once since late November. That has to catch up with them eventually, this is the last chance for it to do so. Mia 20 Buf 17

*Panthers at Falcons (-4) – The Falcons get in the playoffs with a win here and may still get in with a loss. This line was made as if Carolina has nothing to play for and that is not the case. The Panthers can still get a first round bye and division title depending on other results. Most important, they need to win this one.

The Falcons have struggled all year to find consistency and beat good teams. They lost to Carolina a handful of weeks ago. The Panthers are the better football team and have been really solid for the last month. Meanwhile, the Falcons were manhandled by the Saints last week and had to squeeze by the lowly Bucs the week before. The cream rises to the top. Car 31 Atl 28

Bengals at Ravens (-9.5)- Of the four teams battling for the final two playoff spots in the AFC, Baltimore is the only team you should feel good about. They are not flashy, but they have a quarterback and coach who have been there and done that when it comes to December and January football. They also run the ball well and play defense. Those two things always translate well this time of year.

Joe Flacco

Photo: thebiglead.com

We saw the Bengals last best showing for the apparently soon to be departing head coach Marvin Lewis last week. The Ravens take full advantage of a favorable schedule down the stretch to emphatically punch their ticket to postseason. This is the one team New England should be nervous about in the AFC. Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh have gone in to New England and won twice before in the playoffs. Bal 30 Cin 13

*Packers at Lions (-7)- Neither team is playing for anything here, but the Lions folded against a bad Cincinnati team last week when they still had playoff hopes, it is hard not to expect a carryover even though the Lions have more talent. Combine that with the strange statistical reality that Brett Hundley has been better on the road, and that is good enough for me. GB 21 Det 20      

*Jaguars at Titans (-2.5) – Tennessee is playing for its playoff life and Jacksonville’s playoff position is secure. Even so, the Jaguars have given every indication that they are playing this game at full tilt.

This means the best defense in football will get a crack at Marcus Mariota and the slumping Titans offense. Mariota has averaged just 224 passing yards for last month and has more interceptions than touchdowns on the year. Nothing we have seen from this offense recently is good enough to make the playoffs. Jac 20 Ten 14

Chiefs at Broncos (-3) – Paxton Lynch will get one last chance to effect Denver’s offseason quarterback plans. The playoff bound Chiefs are resting several starters and giving rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes a look see. The Denver defense is a pretty tough first assignment. Despite the team having an awful year, the defense leads the league in yards allowed.

Patrick Mahomes

Photo: Denver Post

Given the quarterback matchup, nobody knows what to expect here, Vegas included. Having the home team favorite by a field goal is the catch all line for NFL games. Denver’s offense is woeful, but it is hard to imagine that throwing a rookie quarterback out there surrounded by several backups against Von Miller and company is going to end well. Den 16 KC 10

Saints (-5) at Bucs- For some reason, the Bucs have reportedly decided to retain Dirk Koetter. Despite a ton of young offensive talent, the losses continue to mount. There no reason to think they can stop the tough, physical, and playoff bound Saints from locking down a division title. NO 31 TB 20

Raiders at Chargers (-7) – The Chargers need a win and help, but a playoff spot is realistic. The Raiders will be pesky as they were last week, so, take the points. In the end, the fiery will of Philip Rivers will be enough. Lac 30 Oak 27  

49ers (-4) at Rams- The Rams are guaranteed to host a playoff game next week no matter what happens here. Thus, Jared Goff, Aaron Donald, and several others will sit this one out. With Jimmy Garoppolo still white hot for the 49ers, backups should not be able to slow him down in the season finale. SF 27 Lar 17  

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