NFL Conference Championship Picks Against the Spread

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

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

Photo Courtesy of bloggingdirty.com

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

 

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

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

Photo Courtesy of pittsburghpostgazette.com

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Hagan’s Haus NFL Picks (Championship Sunday)

(USA TODAY Sports/ Matthew Emmons)

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

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

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

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

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

Last Week: 2-2

Regular Season: 148-103-2

Playoffs: 5-3

Overall:153-106-2

 

NFC Championship

(https://www.pinterest.com)

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

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

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

 

 

 

AFC Championship

(AP Images)

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

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

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

 

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NFL Divisional Playoff Picks Against the Spread

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of espn.com

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

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

Photo courtesy of sportdfw.com

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

 

 

 

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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

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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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It’s on the Haus: Steelers Sting Dolphins, Odell Beckham Punches Inanimate Object, Manny Ramirez Wants To Be Relevant

It’s on the Haus is a daily installment of sports and esports news from the past day. Rather than waiting an entire hour to see the big news on a television program, or come to multiple stories on multiple websites to get your sports fix, It’s on the Haus gives you the biggest sports and esports happenings, all in one place. You may feel guilty for reading this concise article that gives you everything you need to know, but don’t worry, It’s on the Haus.

You missed yesterday’s edition? You need one article that contains the NFL Playoffs, Army All-American Bowl, Kyle Korver, and Grayson Allen? You’re in luck. Find it by clicking on any of these words.

Killer B’s Do Their Thing

The Pittsburgh Steelers throttled the Miami Dolphins in the third NFL Wild Card game, 30-12, on Sunday afternoon. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown were on the field together in a playoff game for the first time.

Roethlisberger was 13/18 for 197 yards and two touchdowns, both of which went into the hands of Antonio Brown. Le’Veon Bell(cow) carried the ball 29 times for 167 yards and two scores, and added two catches for seven yards. Antonio Brown had five catches for 124 yards.

The game was a blowout, just as many expected it to be. The Dolphins had no business being in the playoffs with Matt Moore starting at quarterback, but there’s a lot of optimism for the ‘Phins for next season. I’m not sure why though, as the only way Miami makes it back to the playoffs is as a wild card, as long as Bill Belichick continues to work his straight-faced sorcery in Foxborough.

Player Gets Angry, Punches Wall

In the final game of Wild Card Weekend, the Green Bay Packers toppled the New York Giants, 38-13. The game was close for a bit, but Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers’d, and the Packers pulled away in the third quarter.

Steelers Dolphins Odell Beckham Manny Ramirez

Odell Beckham Jr. had just four catches for 28 yards in the Giant’s first round loss to the Packers. (Photo: Getty Images)

The real story came after the ball game finished. Odell Beckham Jr. is accused of punching a wall in the locker room after the loss, and I’m not surprised. Odell already got KO’d by a kicking net earlier this year, and it appears it’s better to be a human than an inanimate object when OBJ rages.

I’ve never been a fan of Beckham Jr., as I don’t trust him due to his on-field rage fits and his hair. It looks like OBJ cooked some ramen noodles and glued them to his head. Sure, he’s a good receiver, but he needs help in what kids call the “swag” department. Just watch this cringeworthy video of him dancing, and you’ll catch my drift.

Manny Ramirez is a Fighting Dog

Snazzy subheading, eh? You read that right, former MLB slugger and possible future Hall of Famer Manny Ramirez is now a Fighting Dog. The DH/OF has signed a contract to play for the Kochi Fighting Dogs of the Shikoku Island League Plus, giving the age 44 year-old his first job playing baseball since 2014.

I’m not here to cast judgement, but this move is down right stupid, all due respect. Look, Manny, I doubt you know Japanese, and you’re not Jamie Moyer, so I don’t know what the point of this is.

If he misses competition, Manny can go be Manny in his Sunday beer league whiffleball association. I know nothing about Japanese culture, but I hear it’s weird over there. I’m not sure how well-received his antics will be, and I don’t think he’ll be able to club 30 dingers with the filth those pitchers throw.

 

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Picks Against the Spread

The playoffs are here. 12 teams still have dreams of a trip to Houston for Super Bowl LI. Now the phrase “win or go home” becomes real. I will continue picking games against the spread throughout the playoffs. I simply find it more fun and challenging than picking games straight up. As usual, my picks are bolded with an asterisk denoting an outright upset. I finished the regular season with a less than stellar 124-135-7 record. However, my record starts all over again at 0-0 for the playoffs as well. Here it goes.

Saturday:

Raiders at Texans (-3.5) – Somehow, the record will show that Brock Osweiler started a playoff game in Houston this year, while the Broncos did not qualify. While I have great respect for Connor Cook’s college track record and his ability to win a lot of games at Michigan State, this is not college. Houston’s defense is one of the best in the playoffs and Oakland is also banged up on the offensive line. What a tall task for Cook in his first career start. It is truly a shame that we will never know what this year’s Raiders could have achieved with a healthy Derek Carr. Houston has its own issues on offense, but will do enough to win an eyesore of a football game. Hou 17 Oak 6

Lions at Seahawks (-8) – The Lions have played in really close games almost every week this season. That is all this pick is based on. Many of Matthew Stafford’s passes have been sailing high on him since he injured his finger. He had been playing at an MVP level. Without Earl Thomas, the Seahawks defense is not the buzzsaw we are used to seeing. The offense continues to be consistently inconsistent. Despite all this, the Seahawks have been here before and know how to win games like this. Expect them to find a way to win. There is still time for Seattle to put it all together as well. Sea 27 Det 21

Sunday:

Dolphins at Steelers (-10) – Swallowing ten points in a playoff game is foolish, but I am going to do it. The Steelers finally have their entire “big three” healthy for a playoff game. Meanwhile, Miami is on the road, in the cold, and starting a backup quarterback with a beat up offensive line. Also, the Steelers defense has really stepped it up since Jay Ajayi and the Dolphins ran wild on them in October. Adam Gase gets my surprise vote for Coach of the Year for getting a Miami team with middle of the road talent this far. However, this is the wrong matchup at the wrong time. Pit 34 Mia 17

Photo courtesy of upi.com

*Giants at Packers (-4.5)- This Sunday afternoon tilt is no doubt the crown jewel of the weekend on paper. I have gone back and forth about four times this week. The Packers have played as well as anyone since most folks (including me) buried them. It has been a long time since any quarterback has been as hot as Aaron Rodgers is right now. However, I generally believe the better defense wins cold weather playoff games. That belongs to New York by a long ways. Combine that with Eli Manning’s tendency to get hot on the road in the playoffs and the Giants will do just enough for the upset. NYG 24 GB 21

Photo courtesy of newsday.com

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NBA Player Comparisons for NFL Playoff Teams

As the NFL regular season draws to a close and the NBA season starts to hit its stride, here are some NBA player comparisons for all of the NFL playoff teams.

AFC

1. New England Patriots- Lebron James: This one is obvious. Year after year Tom Brady and the Patriots are contending for the Super Bowl. Likewise, year after year, Lebron James is contending for the NBA Championship. For the past decade, they both have been consistent powerhouses in their leagues. For the two most dominant forces in their sports, look no further than Lebron and the Pats.

2. Kansas City Chiefs- Kawhi Leonard: The Chiefs and Kawhi Leonard are an unlikely pair, as the two silent killers of their leagues. They both fly under the radar. They don’t always receive the respect and recognition they might deserve. Make no mistake, they are deadly. Are you someone that loves high powered offenses? You may be in the wrong place. Like it or not, these guys are going to get the job done. Don’t sleep on the Chiefs and Kawhi.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers- Russell Westbrook: Russell Westbrook is an offensive force. He is one of the best scorers in the league and he’s seemingly afraid of nothing when he’s got the ball in his hands. This Steelers’ offense, is similarly one of the best in the league. When Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown have the ball, opposing teams had better watch out. Defense, however, is a different story. On their best days, Westbrook and the Steelers can play great defense. On their worst days, they are a liability to their team.

4. Houston Texans- Rajon Rondo: During the offseason, the Houston Texans PAID Brock Osweiler. Over the summer, the Chicago Bulls PAID Rajon Rondo. Expectations were high for the Texans and Rondo heading into the season. The results were a disaster. The Texans are the worst team in the playoffs this year, and perhaps even a historically bad playoff team. Rajon Rondo has been benched, and probably will be traded in the coming weeks. Sure, they’ve dealt with some injuries over the course of the season, but they both will surely be ending their seasons with disappointment.

5. Oakland Raiders- Anthony Davis: Injuries, injuries injuries. The Raiders and Anthony Davis are young and have a lot of firepower, but injuries have derailed them both. Anthony Davis and the Raiders have bright futures, but this season will almost certainly be a disappointment. Either way, it’s not bad to be a fan of the Raiders or Davis right now.

6. Miami Dolphins- Dwight Howard: The Miami Dolphins shouldn’t be good. They’ve been average for the past few years. They don’t have an amazing quarterback. They rank in the bottom half of the league in points and yards. This year they’re somehow getting it done. Thus, the wacky Dwight Howard comparison is born. Dwight Howard is having a throwback year for the Hawks, who look to be playoff bound. For the guys who defy expectations, Dwight and the Dolphins are a perfect match.

NFC

1. Dallas Cowboys- Kevin Durant: Outside of Dallas, nobody likes the Cowboys. Fittingly, newly anointed NBA super villain Kevin Durant is the perfect comparison for the soaring ‘Boys. Both have amazing offenses, questionable defenses, and are at the top of their respective leagues this year. The Warriors seem almost unbeatable with their group of NBA superstars, and the Cowboys seem unbeatable with their offensive superstars. Undoubtedly, it is a match made in sports villain heaven.

2. Atlanta Falcons- James Harden: The Falcons and Harden both have great offenses. That might be underselling it a bit. It’s more like, the Falcons and Harden both have historic offenses. They’re both breaking records left and right as they climb to the top of their leagues. Harden is a MVP favorite. The Falcons are one of the Super Bowl favorites. But both have a glaring weakness and it happens to be the same thing: defense. Will their offensive firepower make up for their lack of defensive prowess? Only time will tell.

3. Seattle Seahawks- DeMarcus Cousins: On his best day, DeMarcus Cousins is one of the best players in basketball. On their best day, the Seahawks are one of the best teams in football. The problem is the “Jekyll and Hyde” act that they both seem to embrace during any given game. Will we see Boogie put up 30 points and 15 rebounds or will we see him get ejected in the first quarter? Will we see the Seahawks manhandle an opponent like the Patriots or get manhandled by the Buccaneers? It’s anybody’s guess. That unpredictability makes the Seahawks the Boogie Cousins of the NFL.

4. Green Bay Packers- Steph Curry: Everyone knows that Steph Curry and the Packers are in the elite when it comes to their sports. After a rough start to their seasons, they’ve started to get their mojo back. The Packers ripped off six straight wins to end their season and make the playoffs. Curry is starting to heat up and find his role in the new offense. When it comes down to it, nobody can dispute that they are one of the best in the business. They can hang with anyone.

5. New York Giants- Avery Bradley: The Giants are the 3-and-D player of the NFL. Defensively, they are maybe the best in the league. However, offensively they are far from perfect. They are capable of making a big splash at any time thanks to the presence of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Making big plays on offense and a strong defense are the keys to the Giants success this season, making them a threat to compete with any team in the league.

6. Detroit Lions- Damian Lillard: Clutch in the fourth quarter. King of the comebacks. End of story.

 

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Hagan Haus NFL Picks (Wildcard Weekend)

The regular season has come to an end and the 12 playoff teams are officially set and seeded. Playoff football is the most exciting time of the year. If you’re a fan of one of the teams in the playoffs, good luck because everyone has a shot. If your favorite team did not get in, I am sorry. I share in your misery.

Picking in the regular season can sometimes be challenging due to injuries and major upsets. Now that the playoffs are here, it is time to up my picks as well. It is time for Hagan’s Haus NFL Picks, Wildcard edition.

Last Week: 9-6

Regular Season: 148-103-2

Playoffs: 0-0

 

AFC

Saturday

(http://www.westword.com/news/top-20-tweets-dropping-f-bombs-and-more-on-brock-osweiler-for-houston-move-7688345)

Oakland 14 @ Houston 20: Raider fans have some bad luck. They have waited a long time for their team to make the playoffs. Just as the Raiders become a legitimate Super Bowl threat, their franchise quarterback breaks his leg. In the final week of the regular season, the Raiders lost to the Broncos. They also lost the top spot in the AFC West and dropped to a wild card team. The Raiders have yet to announce a starter for the game, but against the Texans defense, who finished the season first in total defense, their chances look unfavorable.

Houston has decided to start their 72 million dollar man, Brock Osweiler, at quarterback for their playoff matchup. Osweiler finished the season with more interceptions than touchdowns (16 interceptions, 15 touchdowns). If it wasn’t for Derek Carr getting hurt, this would be an easy win for the Raiders. It is unfortunate injuries will effect this outcome, but Houston’s defense will lead them to a playoff victory.

Sunday

(Dec 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) celebrates a first down against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports)

Miami 28 @ Pittsburgh 34: Not many people are giving the Dolphins a chance to win this game. The odds makers say that the Steelers are 10 point favorites. It should be much closer than that, but the Steelers should win. Le’Veon Bell is having an MVP-caliber season while only appearing in 12 games this season. Big Ben Roethlisberger is still as dangerous as ever under center and Antonio Brown is a handful.

The only way the Dolphins can win this game is by running the ball and controlling time of possession. Miami had the ninth-best rushing attack in all of football with 114 yards per game. Ryan Tannehill may make his return in this game. If he can’t go, Matt Moore is a veteran back-up capable of leading this team to a win. Usually, the difference in winning and losing is quarterback play and Ben Roethlisberger has been in these moments and performed at a high level. The Dolphins quarterbacks just haven’t and that will be the difference in this ball game.

NFC

Saturday

(Seattle Seahawks St. Louis Rams in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Detroit 20 @ Seattle 24: All year the Detroit Lions have been a fantastic story. Nobody gave them a chance to make the playoffs and they snuck in as a wildcard team. This team also has the most fourth quarter comebacks in a single season in NFL history. However, this Cinderella story is about to come to an end.

Playoff football and the Seattle Seahawks have become synonymous over the past couple of years. The Dallas Cowboys have had two amazing rookies and the Green Bay Packers have run the table since starting 4-6 to take away all the headlines from the Seahawks. This is exactly where Seattle wants to be: an afterthought. Seattle has a great shot at making their third Super Bowl appearance in four years and nobody is talking about them. Pete Carroll is unbeatable at home in the playoffs. Since Carroll was hired as the head coach in 2010, the Seahawks are 5-0 at home in the playoffs. The Seahawks will not lose at home and the rest of the NFC better look out because they are coming for another Lombardi Trophy.

 Sunday

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

New York (G) 37 @ Green Bay 31: Aaron Rodgers and the Packers may be the hottest team in the league right now, but history favors the Giants. When the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007, they went into Lambeau and won the NFC Championship game 23-20. When the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2011, they went into Lambeau again for the divisional round of the NFC playoffs and won 37-20.

The Giants are extremely talented on offense, but they win their games behind their defense. Both offenses have the capability to put up points in bunches, but which defense can make the big stop in the fourth quarter? The Packers ranked 31st in pass defense, which is what will end up being the difference in this one. The Giants have been the Packers kryptonite in the past, and history will repeat itself once more.

 

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Keeping Marvin Lewis is not as Crazy as it Sounds

The Cincinnati Bengals are in the midst of their first truly disappointing season in many years. They will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010. It is no surprise that many fans and analysts are calling for head coach Marvin Lewis to be removed. However, it was all but confirmed Tuesday that Lewis will be back for his 15th season next year.

There is certainly a case to be made that it is time for a change, but it is a case that has been made a thousand times over. While nothing will be certain until after Sunday’s season finale, it certainly does not look like a change is coming. That is not a bad thing for the Bengals organization, and here is why.

Perspective

Bengals fans and media outlets are so quick to forget how bad things were before Lewis arrived in Cincinnati back in 2003. From 1991-2002, the franchise was the epitome of a laughingstock. The Bengals record in that span was an astonishing 55-137. Everything was wrong with the franchise. Bad coaching hires, horrible drafts, and the cheap ownership of Mike Brown were all problems.

The last of those deficiencies have not changed. As a native of Cincinnati, going to games back then was still fun, but mostly sad. To this day, mikebrownsucks.com is still running. Games were just a sobering reminder of how far behind Cincinnati was from the rest of the NFL.

Worst of all, the Bengals lost a significant chunk of fans in the younger generation. Many kids (including myself) became lifelong fans of other teams. It is impossible to overstate the amount of work Lewis had to do when he took the job.

Photo courtesy of mikebrownsucks.com

Photo courtesy of mikebrownsucks.com

Mike Brown is infamous for having a Jerry Jones level of control over the franchise, but Jones has been very successful despite down years. There are many stories as to just how little power Bengals head coaches had before Lewis.

In 1998, the Saints offered their entire draft to the Bengals in order to trade up to take running back Ricky Williams. Brown overruled his coaching staff and held firm to select quarterback Akili Smith. Smith played in just 22 NFL games.

Somehow, Lewis immediately seemed to have more power than his predecessors. Starting with Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, the Bengals drafts immediately improved. Thus, the on-field product was not far behind. Cincinnati went from 2-14 to the playoffs in just three years.

Given what he walked into, Lewis took the Bengals to the playoffs seven times during his tenure. That is nothing short of remarkable, regardless of what his team does when it reaches the playoffs.

The Playoff Failures Are Mostly Not His Fault

Speaking of the playoffs, the big knock on Lewis is his 0-7 playoff record. No denying that is bad, but here is my question- Of his seven playoff games, which ones was Lewis supposed to win? I came up with one, maybe two.

I was unable to find the betting lines for those seven games, but I did look at the rosters at the time those games were played. I challenge anyone reading this to do the same. In almost every case, the Bengals have the weaker roster. The loss to San Diego following the 2013 season is the only real shocker. Even that one does not bother me much. No team is immune to having a bad day at the worst possible time.

The Bengals may have won the 2005 wild-card game against Pittsburgh had Carson Palmer not gotten injured, but that is debatable. It takes a special coach to win playoff games with the less talented roster. A coach deserves no blame whatsoever for losing to better players. Make no mistake, while Brown values the input of Lewis, Brown still has the final say over player personnel decisions.

You Cannot Coach Common Sense

Photo courtesy of si.mmqb.com

Photo courtesy of si.mmqb.com

Cincinnati’s most recent playoff loss deserves its own section. Anyone reading this remembers the shocking fumble and ensuing drive that was aided by 30 yards of penalties on a single play. This allowed Pittsburgh to kick a chip shot field goal to extend Cincinnati’s playoff heartbreak.

To blame Lewis for this particular meltdown has always been amusing to me. Lewis is a football coach, not a babysitter. There is not a coach in this league that should have to tell their players not to head hunt or make contact with the opposing coaching staff in the final minute of a one possession playoff game. No coach makes a point of saying that, the assumption is that it is obvious. Unfortunately for Lewis, some players are just dumb.

Lack of suitable replacements

Unlike most NFL job openings, if Cincinnati were to become open, the pantry is not bare. Meaning, the Bengals are just a few tweaks away from winning in a big way. I simply don’t believe that a young first-time head coach like Matt Patricia or somebody else is more qualified for this situation than Marvin Lewis.

Photo courtesy of nesn.com

Photo courtesy of nesn.com

Several teams have made coaching changes in hopes of going from good to great. While transitions like Jon Fox to Gary Kubiak do happen, they are more of the exception. Situations like Rex Ryan to Todd Bowles are far more common. If Cincinnati could lure in a proven winner like Jon Gruden, that is a whole different ballgame, but that is about as likely as me becoming the next pope.

Additionally, the Bengals have hired names like Bruce Coslet and Dave Shula in the past. Considering all roads still lead back to Mike Brown, can this franchise be trusted not to botch another head-coaching search? I am not so sure.

While the frustration regarding Lewis is understandable, the risk in removing him far outweighs the reward. He has been able to win on a relativity consistent basis with the Bengals. Not many coaches can say that.

If he keeps putting his team in the mix most years, the Bengals will eventually get over the hump. Replace him with the wrong guy, and they could fall off a cliff… Again.

 

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