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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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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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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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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The Underwhelming Crop of New NFL Head Coaches

With it all but confirmed that Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will be taking over as head coach of the 49ers when Atlanta’s season ends, all six of the NFL’s head-coaching vacancies are now filled. Some are stepping into better situation than others, but I find all but one of the head-coaching hires underwhelming. Quite frankly, that is putting it mildly. Here is a look at each:

Doug Marrone (Jacksonville Jaguars)

Of all the hires, this is the one that has a chance to work long-term. Marrone is an experienced coach at both the college and pro levels. He did a very respectable job for two seasons as the head coach of the Bills in 2013 and 2014 before a mutual parting of ways. In 2014, he guided the Bills to just their second winning season since 1999. EJ Manuel was his quarterback for most of his time in Buffalo. Not many coaches could get nine wins with EJ Manuel as their quarterback. He has barely seen the field since Marrone left. Marrone also turned Syracuse football into a competitive program during his time there ending a bowl game victory drought of nearly a decade

Photo courtesy of Jacksonville.com

The hiring of two-time Super Bowl winning head coach Tom Coughlin as an executive to oversee all aspects of the Jaguars organization is the biggest thing working in Marrone’s favor. Coughlin knows what it takes to win and will bring instant credibility and discipline to Jacksonville. These have been lacking ever since Coughlin left as head coach following the 2002 season. The Jaguars roster is not terrible at the moment and will have chances to improve through the draft and free agency. Whatever they have to work with, Coughlin and Marrone will get the most out of it. They both have done that for their entire careers in football.

 

Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills)

While McDermott’s stints as defensive coordinator in Carolina and Philadelphia were largely positive, his Panthers defense took a major step backward last year. They fell out of the top 20 in almost every statistical category after being one of the most dominant units in the league for the better part of two years. Some will point to the loss of Josh Norman. While it certainly did not help, I do not think it explains the entirety of Carolina defensive decline. No one player should mean that much to defense. If he does, there is something wrong with the system.

 

Combine this with the traditionally dysfunctional Bills front office and fairly new ownership that seems to think the roster is better than it actually is, and I see no way for McDermott to lead this team beyond .500, which is almost exactly the same record Rex Ryan had during his just under two years in Buffalo.

 

Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams)

 

 

Here is your classic case of too much too soon. Unlike most of the new hires, the unit McVay coordinated last year was quite good. The Redskins offense had the fewest three and outs in football last year. Even so, he is the youngest coach in league history. Moreover, he is inheriting a mess. Other than the defensive line, there is almost nothing here to work with. Additionally, this is another franchise struggling to find its relocation groove. That only makes McVay’s job more difficult. There are a lot of 60-year-old coaches who could not handle this job.

Photo Courtesy of nbclosangeles.com

 

While the Rams have done a great job surrounding McVay with quality assistant coaches, unless he can walk on water, it will be an extremely difficult task for him to get this franchise turned around. The one thing working in his favor is that the Rams gave Jeff Fisher plenty of time to get things going in the right direction. It did not work out, but McVay will need that same luxury to build a winner.

 

Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers)

This is the real stunner to me. Lynn spent most of last year as the offensive coordinator in Buffalo. While the Bills were the top rushing team in the league, it is impossible to be a legitimate contender in the modern NFL averaging under 200 yards passing a game like Buffalo did. Regardless of who is playing quarterback, you have to find a way to get more from your passing game than that. It certainly does not merit being hired as head coach.

 

Buffalo wanted to get an early look at Lynn. Thus, he was named interim head coach replacing Rex Ryan for the season finale. Not only were the bills routed by the Jets, but they were on the wrong end of a football folly for the ages. Watch it below thanks to the NFL’s YouTube channel. I have no words just watch.

 

After allowing a play like that to happen on his watch, under no circumstances would I hire Lynn as the head coach anywhere. Much less head coach of are relocating franchise trying (and mostly failing) to ingratiate itself to a new city. For those that will say a career of a coach should not be defined by a single play, fans and media do it with players all the time. Why should coaches not be held to the same standard? There is no way Lynn’s time in LA the lasts long or ends well.

 

 

Vance Joseph (Denver Broncos)

 

Strangely Joseph is the least qualified candidate of the new head coaches. Yet, he landed the best job with one of the NFL’s most consistent franchises over the last half decade or so. Following the sudden resignation of Gary Kubiak, Joseph has been handed the keys to a franchise that won a Super Bowl less than a year ago.

The Broncos roster is loaded with talent and ready to win now. The objective is to win Super Bowls. In theory, this is the objective for all NFL teams every year, but for most teams it simply is not realistic. It certainly is for the Broncos. They missed the playoffs this year for the first time in five years and still managed to post a winning record.

Given that standard of success, I just do not see how hiring a guy who spent one year as an NFL defensive coordinator and oversaw the 29th-ranked defense last year is going to accomplish that goal. I have no clue why multiple teams were interested in this guy as a head coach. He is clearly well thought of around the league. However, there is a difference between that and being a good head coach.

Joseph will likely be the most successful of the new head coaches early on based solely on the strength of his assistant coaches and general roster talent. Eventually, he will likely follow the same path as former Broncos and current Bears head coach Jon Fox who won a lot of games in Denver but was let go for not being able to get over the hump.

 

 

Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers)

 

Of the five hires who will be first-time head coaches, Shanahan was most deserving of a job. The work he has done with Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense this year is amazing. Unfortunately for him, he got the one job that nobody short of Vince Lombardi or Bill Belichick could make work right now. Shanahan will be San Francisco’s fourth coach in as many seasons. There was never any talent on the roster for Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula to begin with. Shanahan is the same boat. Kelly and Tomsula were given just a single season.

How any candidate could trust ownership with a track record like that is beyond me, but there are only 32 head coaching jobs to go around. So, I do not blame Shanahan for taking the gig. Ultimately though, his success or failure hinges on the 49ers finding a general manager who knows what he is doing and Shanahan being given enough time to figure out the quarterback position and the rest of the roster. I do not trust ownership to do either.

Every year when new head coaches are hired, I find myself asking the same question. Are these the best guys the NFL can come up with? Even the less glamorous franchises like the Jaguars are worth over $1 billion according to Forbes. Why a team does not offer someone like Nick Saban enough money to make him the highest-paid coach in the league is baffling to me.

 

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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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Hagan’s Haus NFL Picks (Divisional Round)

(http://thebiglead.com/2017/01/07/video-paul-richardson-made-an-insane-one-handed-td-grab/)

Talk about a major dud! The wildcard round of the playoffs was a major snoozefest. There were some great highlights, such as the Paul Richardson touchdown catch, or the amazing performances by Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. By and large, though it was blowout city. The closest game was decided by 13 points. All home teams won and the average margin of victory was by 19 points. Now there are only eight teams remaining in the playoffs. Every game in the divisional round is a rematch from the regular season. This round should be more exciting than the last and the games should be closer as well. Here are this week’s Hagan’s Haus NFL picks.

Last Week: 3-1

Regular Season: 148-103-2

Playoffs: 3-1

Overall: 151-104-2

AFC

Saturday

(https://uk.pinterest.com/explore/tom-brady-records/)

Houston 10 @ New England 27: This game is most likely to be the least entertaining of the four games. The Patriots beat the Texans 27-0 in September. Brock Osweiler played well last week, but Jadeveon Clowney was the one to spark the team and lead the Texans in the wild-card round. New England has a great offense led by the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Their defense is playing great as well. In the month of December, the Patriots defense only gave up 10.6 points per game. The Texans must hope their defense shuts down Brady, but that won’t happen. The Patriots will be heading to another AFC Championship game.

Sunday

(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh 20 @ Kansas City 19: This was one of the most difficult games to pick. Pittsburgh is on fire right now. Le’Veon Bell is having a career season. Big Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are also playing great football. This offense is a juggernaut. These two teams met early in the season and it was a blowout. The Steelers won that game at home 43-14. This game will be much more competitive at Arrowhead as the Chiefs have improved since that early season matchup. It won’t be enough though and the Steelers will edge by the Chiefs to meet Tom Brady in the AFC Championship.

NFC

Saturday

(http://www.sportingnews.com/nfl/news/seahawks-falcons-picks-predictions-spread-odds-vegas-divisional-playoffs-2017/1tm3kxvdhv0781xfllb4b2nmtd)

Seattle 27 @ Atlanta 24: There is talk that Matt Ryan will end up winning the MVP, but the quarterback has much to prove in the postseason. Seattle has heard so much talk about how great and prolific this offense is. One of the interesting storylines in this game is that Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn was the former defensive coordinator for the Seahawks. He knows this defense and it may help Matt Ryan prepare for it. Atlanta is at home, but they aren’t used to this stage in the same way the Seahawks are. Russell Wilson is going to have a huge game and the Seahawks will find themselves back in the NFC Championship.

Sunday

(https://www.google.com/search?q=cowboys+vs+packers&client=safari&rls=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwip69vmkLvRAhUF_4MKHaf1Ag0Q_AUICigD&biw=1308&bih=611#imgrc=VzPSCzWZBFm1-M%3A)

Green Bay 27 @ Dallas 28: Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are the hottest team in all of football right now. They completely dismantled the Giants last week and have won seven straight games. They look unbeatable and picking against them might be considered crazy. They were originally the team who I thought would win this game, but there is a reason to hesitate. The Cowboys have been the best team in football all season. Why would they stop now? Jordy Nelson may not play in this game, making the Packers less dangerous on offense. Dallas is going to have a lot of pressure, but if they run the ball and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field they will win this game. That is precisely what the Cowboys will do and they will be heading to the NFC Championship.

 

 

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Keys to the NFL Divisional Playoffs

NFL fans and media rarely agree on much. However, I think we can all agree that Wild Card weekend did not produce much excitement or competitive football. While it is a little early in the week to pick the divisional playoff matchups, here is a key to each.

 

Seahawks at Falcons- Are the Falcons ready for the big time?

Seattle should have zero concerns about being ready for a game like this. They have played in dozens of them over the last handful of years. Like always, the defense will limit scoring opportunities and the Seahawks will ask Russell Wilson to make a few key throws to get the win.

Atlanta is a different story. Despite Matt Ryan having an MVP worthy season, the Falcons have flown mostly under the radar and have not been placed in the glamorous national TV windows very often. A scenario where Atlanta’s offense simply scores too much for Seattle to keep up is conceivable. However, a scenario where Atlanta folds under newfound spotlight is just as conceivable. With Earl Thomas out, Seattle’s defense is a tad more vulnerable. Given what the Falcons are capable of on offense and their much improved defense, it is now or never for Atlanta.

Texans at Patriots – Houston needs some kind of early break

The Texans are 15.5 point underdogs for a reason. New England shut them out early in the year with a third-string quarterback. Fast forward a few months and now Tom Brady is back in the fold for New England. As ominous as that may sound for Houston, anything is possible. If that was not the case, games like this would never be played.

There are a few things that work in Houston’s favor. First, the coaching staff has numerous ties to New England. There isn’t much the Patriots can do that would surprise the AFC South champs. Also, much-maligned quarterback Brock Osweiler had the best game of his young career last year in Denver against the Patriots defense.

The Texans are here because of its defense. As atrocious as the quarterback play has been, the top-ranked defense has been that good. It will be up to that unit to force a turnover that leads to easy points early in the game and give the massive underdogs some belief. A big play on special teams would also serve the same purpose. Houston cannot fall in a big hole early if they want any chance at all.

Steelers at Chiefs – Steelers pass protection

No matter how good he is at sandbagging his injuries, there is no way Ben Roethlisberger goes from a walking boot to fully healthy in a week. Thus, those trademark Roethlisberger scrambles under pressure to extend plays are likely off the table. It is up to Pittsburgh’s offensive line to keep Kansas City’s pass rushers away from their franchise quarterback.

Photo Courtesy of steelersdepot.com

This will not be an easy task. The Chiefs have three or four guys that are capable of chasing down any quarterback in this league. Their defense is led by a healthy Justin Houston. Le’Veon Bell will not run wild against the Chiefs like he did against Miami last week, but he will need to run well enough to take some heat off of the offensive line as well. Looking back on it, Pittsburgh’s 43-14 early-season blowout of Kansas City is one of the true oddities of the NFL season. This game will be a lot closer one way or the other.

 

 

Packers at Cowboys – Green Bay’s third-down defense

This may be the toughest game of the weekend to call, but it is the easiest to size up. The only way anyone is going to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers right now is by keeping their offense on the sideline. Dallas has been near the top of the league in time of possession and third-down conversions all year long.

Photo Courtesy of thelandryhat.com

The Packers defense has struggled to get off the field on third down, raking just 22nd in that category. Dallas will dance with what brought them here. They need to stay in manageable down and distance scenarios with a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott. It is up to Clay Matthews and company to ensure that Rodgers gets enough opportunities to work his magic. Here is to hoping at least one of these games is half as good as Monday’s national championship game I fell asleep during.

 

 

 

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Week 17 NFL Picks Against the Spread

How in the world is week 17 already upon us? It is always a tough week to pick games. No one really knows how motivated many teams are. While I understand that, winning is a hell of a lot better than losing. Thus, I firmly believe there is no such thing as a “meaningless” game. After posting a .500 mark against the spread last week, I now sit at 118-125-7 on the year. Not great, but not terrible. All spreads are from rtsports.com, my picks are bolded, and outright upsets have an asterisk. Here is to finishing the regular season strong.

*Ravens at Bengals (-2.5) – The Ravens (my preseason Super Bowl pick) tumbled out of the playoff picture last week. The Bengals were eliminated long ago. Despite calls for sweeping changes, I expect Cincinnati to resist the temptation, and rightly so. However, I struggle to see them doing much on offense. It is not sexy, but Baltimore’s edge in the kicking game will be the difference. Bal 16 Cin 13

Bills (-3.5) at Jets- Both teams are a dysfunctional mess. For reasons that depend on who you ask, EJ Manuel will get the start for Buffalo in the first game of the post Rex Ryan era. Nothing would surprise me in this game, but Buffalo’s ground game should be enough. Buf 21 NYJ 17

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

*Panthers at Bucs (-4) – Last week, the young Bucs fought for their playoff lives against a losing team loaded with talent and it didn’t go so well. This week, the situation is very similar. There is no reason to think it will go any differently. Another year of seasoning and Tampa Bay could be really special. Last week showed they are not quite ready. Car 27 TB 24

*Bears at Vikings (-6) – Many times season finales simply come down to who is playing harder. This matchup could be a classic case of that. The Vikings have more talent, but the Bears have been playing much harder for the last month or so. Chi 19 Min 16

Browns at Steelers (-5.5) – The Browns will not go winless, and they deserve credit for that as well as playing hard all year long. With Pittsburgh locked into playoff position and playing it coy about resting starters, the line is not as big as one might expect. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Steelers backups are better than the Browns starters. After this game, the Browns will officially be on the clock. Pit 30 Cle 21

*Cowboys at Eagles (-4.5) – This line is a stunner. Dallas is making no secret of its plans to limit reps of starters, particularly quarterback Dak Prescott. Even so a 13-2 team getting points against a 6-9 team is eye popping and too good to pass up. Dallas has a surplus of solid running backs and Mark Sanchez and Tony Romo are not nearly as bad as the mainstream media would like you to believe. Dal 24 Phi 20

*Texans at Titans (-3)- Just like we all thought a few weeks ago, this game will feature a Tom Savage vs Matt Cassel quarterback duel and Houston, not Tennessee is locked into the playoffs. No telling what could happen here. When in doubt, go with the best unit. That would be the Texans defense. Hou 20 Ten 13

Jaguars at Colts (-4.5) – Jacksonville did a nice job of playing spoiler last week, but that does not change the fact that both of these teams had high expectations that ended in disaster this year. Something tells me Andrew Luck is too much of a pros pro not to finish the season really strong. Ind 28 Jac 17

Patriots (-9.5) at Dolphins – The Patriots need this game to lock down home field advantage in the playoffs. If last year taught them anything, it should be the importance of having home field. Miami has always been a tough place to play for Brady’s Bunch. The Dolphins will look to get backup quarterback Matt Moore as sharp as possible for the playoffs while Ryan Tannehill races to get healthy. This will not be a blowout. NE 27 Mia 21

Cardinals (-6.5) at Rams- The Rams are plain awful and the Cardinals are merely average. David Johnson is the only reason to watch this game. The coaching search in LA will be fascinating. Ari 27 LA 13

Chiefs (-4.5) at Chargers- Sadly, what is likely the Chargers final game in San Diego will end with a division rival celebrating a straightforward win. It quite possibly could be a division title along with a first round bye. KC 27 SD 13

Saints at Falcons (-7) – These two teams always play wacky games. Atlanta locks up a first round bye with a win. Even with Matt Ryan playing at an MVP level, the team as a whole should not scare anyone. There is something to be said for finding ways to win. Atlanta should continue that trend here, but do not expect Drew Brees and company to roll over and play dead. Atl 31 NO 28

Giants at Redskins (-7.5) – Playoff scenarios make my head hurt. According to everything I have read, the only way Washington wins this game and misses the playoffs is if the night game ends in a tie. Much like the Steelers, no one seems to know how the playoff bound Giants will approach this one. As dangerous as the Redskins could be in the playoffs, it is hard to see the Giants letting them coast. Was 30 NYG 24

Raiders at Broncos (-1.5) – The reigning champs have really struggled down the stretch and will not be going back to the playoffs. However, keeping a fierce rival like Oakland from the division title and the chance to finish with a winning record is plenty of incentive. Denver will take one last good look at both of its young quarterbacks. The Raiders fairytale season took a sad turn last week with the injury to MVP candidate Derek Carr. The Broncos defense is not an ideal one for backup Matt McGloin to face as he tries to rally the troops for a playoff run. Den 24 Oak 19

Seahawks (-9.5) at 49ers- The state of the Seahawks is worrisome. Getting pushed around for the majority of the game by Arizona just should not happen to this team. Thankfully for them, a first round bye could still happen and the 49ers are not much of a threat. Sea 30 SF 13

Packers (-3) at *Lions– The importance of this game may shift a bit depending on earlier results. Regardless, the winner of this Sunday Night showdown will take the division title and the loser may be headed home to watch the playoffs. Both offenses are rolling behind two very hot quarterbacks. There will not be many defensive stops on either side. It is more of a gut feeling than anything else, but Detroit’s defense uses the home crowd to get one more stop in the closing moments. Det 38 GB 34

Photo courtesy of zambio.com

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