Garbine Muguruza

The Positives of On-Court Coaching in Tennis

Since 2009, the WTA Tour has allowed on-court coaching. Players are allowed one coaching visit per set. The coach must wear a microphone for TV audiences. The choice to use on-court coaching is entirely up to the player. It is not allowed on the men’s tour or at any of the four Grand Slams.

The rule has been controversial ever since its institution. An incident at this week’s Miami Open has reignited the debate. Reigning French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza and Coach Sam Sumyk got into a heated exchange where Muguruza told him to “shut the (expletive) up.” Sumyk responded with “Don’t ever tell me to shut the (expletive) up again.” Keep in mind, a national television audience heard the whole thing.

Tennis is a sport that likes to project a squeaky clean image. Thus, this has ruffled some feathers in and around the sport. Many are calling for an end to on-court coaching. This has been the case from the very beginning. There is a sliver of tennis purist inside me that believes that on-court coaching undermines the individuality of the sport as well as the problem-solving skills a player must possess.

That argument is understandable. Even so, the pros of on-court coaching far outweigh the cons and here is why.

Unprecedented Access to the Heat of Battle:

 It is very common for athletes and coaches in almost every other sport to wear microphones. Even so, on-court coaching provides tennis with something very unique. The public did not get to hear what Tom Brady and Bill Belichick said to each other when New England trailed by 25 points in the third quarter of the Super Bowl live. We only got to hear an edited version after the fact.

In the case of Muguruza, we got to hear exactly what was said while she was down a set and a break to American Christina McHale. Then, she went on to win the match in three sets with a little help from a well-timed rain delay. If you stop and think about it, that is pretty cool for a fan watching at home. If the occasional expletive from an athlete competing at the highest level bothers you, get thicker skin.

It Allows Fans to See the Personality of the Players:

This is the one thing I have always liked about the rule. Even for casual fans, on-court coaching tells you a lot about the way players approach matches. Above is a snippet from the SportsMagicianJJ YouTube channel. It features a coaching visit by Sven Groeneveld to his long time pupil Maria Sharapova. It is all about tactics. Sharapova says nothing and just stares off in to the distance. This is one common approach to coaching visits.

 

Another approach is in the video below from the WTA’s YouTube channel. American journeywoman Madison Brengle became an Internet legend after she joked with her coach about how to handle the immense power of Serena Williams at a season-opening event in New Zealand. Brengle would go on to upset Williams.

The approaches in the two videos are vastly different, but both highly effective. Most important, it lets the fans inside the mind of the players. Anything that allows players to be more than people on the court smacking a yellow ball around is good for the sport. The players who do not believe in the rule simply do not take  advantage of it, and that is their prerogative.

The rule does need some tweaking. If the women have the option for on-court coaching, the men should as well. The Grand Slams should continue to not feature the on-court coaching option. Those are what every player plays for. When the time comes, they should sink or swim on those stages all on their own. Overall, on-court coaching just adds another layer to the television viewing experience for the fans. That is never a bad thing.

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Joe Montana

The Montana Three: Three QBs Drafted Before Joe Montana

Once next month’s NFL Draft is firmly in the rear view mirror, there will be plenty of sobering reminders of just how inexact a science NFL player evaluation really is. Thanks to a fantastic ESPN documentary, we all have become familiar with the underwhelming group of six quarterbacks taken before Tom Brady in the 2000 draft.

Despite being drafted three rounds higher, Brady’s stiffest competition for the title of greatest quarterback ever was also passed over numerous times in the 1979 NFL draft. Joe Montana was drafted by the 49ers with the last pick of the third round. We have met “The Brady Six”. Now, let’s meet “The Montana Three.”

Jack Thompson- “The Throwin’ Samoan” was widely viewed as the prize of the 1979 quarterback class. He ended his college career at Washington State as the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yards. He also set conference records for completions and touchdown passes in what was then the Pac-10.

Joe Montana Draft

Photo: cincyjungle.com

The Bengals drafted Thompson with the third overall pick as the heir apparent to veteran signal caller Ken Anderson. However, Anderson played too well to be replaced by the youngster. Thompson started just five games in his Bengals career. He watched from the bench as Anderson led Cincinnati to the Super Bowl following the 1981 regular season.

Ironically, that Super Bowl marked the first of two occasions where Cincinnati would come up just short against their former assistant coach Bill Walsh and his quarterback Joe Montana.

Thompson was traded to the Buccaneers in 1983. He started 16 games over two seasons. Tampa Bay tallied a team record of just 3-13 in those games. Thompson retired after the 1984 season with 33 touchdowns, 45 interceptions, and just four wins as a starting quarterback. He now works as a mortgage broker and occasional high school and college quarterback coach.

Steve Fuller- Fuller was an All-American at Clemson. The Chiefs used their first round pick on him in hopes of ending the quarterback carousel the franchise had been on ever since the retirement of Super Bowl IV winner Len Dawson.

Joe Montana Draft

Photo: chiefs.com

Fuller ended up being just another guy on that carousel. Due to injuries and poor performance, Fuller never finished a complete 16-game season for the Chiefs. Fuller completed under 60% of his passes in Kansas City, threw ten more interceptions than touchdowns and went just 13-18 as a starter.

Fuller closed out his career as the backup in Chicago earning a Super Bowl ring with the 1985 Bears and retiring a year later. Eventually, the Chiefs did snag Joe Montana by acquiring him in a trade in 1993. “Joe Cool” spearheaded Kansas City to back-to-back playoff appearances before calling it a career.

Phil Simms- Here is where this short list gets saved from its own documentary. Phil Simms was no Joe Montana, but he was pretty darn good. The Giants raised more than a few eyebrows by taking the largely unknown Morehead State product in the top 10. A 14-year career, two Super Bowls and a league MVP later, no one remembers that.

Joe Montana Draft

Photo: sbnation.com

While people in the Chiefs and Bengals organizations still lose sleep over passing on Montana, the Giants came out just fine. Like many things in life, hindsight is 20/20 when it comes to the NFL draft. Both Montana and Brady were not full time starters in college.

Even so, it is hard to imagine what scouts were looking at when they came across two of the all-time greats.

Stories like that of Montana and Brady are shining examples of the fact that some guys cannot be defined by just a sheet of paper with a bunch of numbers on it.

 

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Arizona Cardinals

Despite New Hall of Fame Status, Warner Still Criminally Underrated

When people debate the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history the same names always come up. Brady, Montana, Elway and Peyton Manning. The next series of names is usually led by Favre and Marino. Aaron Rodgers is starting to get thrown in there as well.

There is one name that does not come up nearly as much as it should, newly minted Hall of Famer Kurt Warner.

The mere fact that Hall of Famer now precedes his name means there are plenty of folks out there who think Warner was great. Even so, few people realize how great he was.

Context:

            The beginnings of Warner’s journey are well documented. Undrafted out of Northern Iowa, he went from grocery store stock boy to NFL and Super Bowl MVP in 1999 following a preseason injury to starter Trent Green.

Warner spearheaded a then St. Louis Rams offense that scored 30 points on a dozen separate occasions in 1999. The nickname “Greatest Show on Turf” was shockingly accurate. It is almost impossible to put in to words how good Warner and that offense as a whole were that year. Warner, Marshall Faulk and the rest of the offense took their rightful place as one of the best in NFL history by notching the narrowest of victories in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Kurt Warner

Photo: kurtwarner.org

After a close playoff loss to the Saints in 2000, Warner and the Rams returned to top form in 2001. Warner bagged another league MVP and the Rams returned to the Super Bowl. However, they fell victim to Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri and the rest of the Cinderella Patriots as time expired.

From 1999-2001, Warner threw for over 11,000 yards, 98 touchdowns and 53 interceptions while reaching two Super Bowls. Despite missing five games in 2000 due to injury, Warner tallied a regular season win loss record of 35-8 as a starter over this three year span. That is as good a three year stretch as any quarterback has ever had.

Injuries caused Warner’s career to bottom out from 2002-2004. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns, won just five games as a starter and only appeared in 19. Following a 2004 campaign that saw the Giants bench him for Eli Manning, Warner’s career looked to be done.

The Cardinals took a flyer on Warner signing him to a one year deal in 2005. Warner always seemed to be in competition for the starting job in the land of the sun, but the Cardinals kept bringing him back. By 2008, Warner was healthy and firmly entrenched as the starter.

That season, Warner guided Arizona to a 9-7 record and a playoff spot. To say Warner and the Cards got hot would be a gross understatement. Behind Warner’s 112 passer rating, the Cardinals franchise won its first playoff game since 1947. In Super Bowl XLIII, Arizona lost by the length of Santonio Holmes’ toenail.

Santonio Holmes

Photo: ftiznews.com

Playoff Success and Place Among All Time Greats:

            Warner led two different franchises to the Super Bowl. He is one of just three quarterbacks to do that. Moreover, unless you count the Rams Los Angeles glory days, both franchises have struggled to spell Super Bowl before and after Warner, much less get there.

Warner ranks second all-time in postseason passer rating. At one point, Warner owned the top three performances in Super Bowl history in terms of passing yards.

Warner retired after leading the Cardinals back to the playoffs in 2009. It is reasonable to speculate that being a part of two narrow Super Bowl defeats keeps him from being mentioned with the usual suspects of all-time great quarterbacks. His mid-career nosedive does not help matters either.

Even with those two negatives on his résumé, Warner has far more postseason success than guys like Favre amd Marino. When one considers the franchises he led to the promised land, his career becomes all the more impressive. For all these reasons, Warner belongs in the single digits when it comes to the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

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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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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Hagan’s Haus Super Bowl LI Prediction

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

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Photo: NFL Spin Zone)

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

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

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

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

Championship Sunday: 1-1

Regular Season:148-103-2

Playoffs: 6-4

Overall: 154-107-2

Super Bowl LI Prediction

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Photo: Smiley N. Pool, Staff)

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

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

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

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

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Photo: Daily Mall)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Bowl LI Prediction

(Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

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

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

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

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

 

New England 27 Atlanta 17

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The Best Wide Receiver of All Time

The best fans of any sport know stats don’t tell the whole story. Stats play a huge role in judging which players are good, bad, or legendary. If stats were the only thing to judge a player by then the man who scored the most points in NBA history, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, should be the best right? Most would answer that with a no. Well if stats don’t determine who the best of all time is, maybe it is championships that determine the best of all time. Bill Russell won 11 NBA championships, but you won’t find any basketball fan who thinks he is the best of all time. It is a consensus that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever.

(http://www.thedailybeast.com)

How about in baseball? What do you use to determine the best baseball player of all time? Do you go by home runs or strikeouts? Do you look at how many championships a player has won? Is Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds the best baseball player ever?

How about in football? How do you determine who was the best of all time? Is it how much you ran for, threw for, or how many yards you caught passes for? Or are championships how you determine who the best of all time is?

(Detroit Lions-Associated Press)

There is no way to definitively determine who the best of all time is, it’s subjective. That is why there are sports debates about who the best is. Stats and championships don’t tell the entire story, which is why the eye test is so important when judging sports. Circumstances, such as teammates or coaches, affect who the best ever is as well.

There are issues with the eye too. A 13-year-old can’t possibly have seen how great Barry Sanders was without watching the film. Players from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s don’t have a lot of film on them to show people growing up now how great they were. When you bring stats, championships, circumstances, and the eye test all together, then it is possible to determine who the best really is.

So with all that said, who is the best wide receiver of all time?

 

Who Most Would Say

(Mandatory Credit:) Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport

No matter how old you are or how long you have been a fan of football, if someone were to ask you who the best wide receiver of all time is, who would you answer? Jerry Rice, without hesitation. Nobody even thinks about it because it has been the answer for such a long time. How could it not be Jerry Rice? Rice had one of the greatest careers in NFL history. He played for 20 seasons in the NFL. Rice is a 13-time Pro Bowler, a three-time Super Bowl champion, and a Super Bowl MVP.

Six times Rice led the NFL in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Rice still holds recordings for most receptions all-time (1,549), most receiving yards all-time (22,895), most receiving touchdowns all-time (197), and most all-purpose yards all-time (23,546). Perhaps the best season of Rice’s career came in a shortened 1987 season. In just 12 games, Rice finished with 65 receptions, 1,078 yards, and an astonishing 22 touchdowns. That is impressive to say the least. Rice has the stats, the championships, and the eye test as good as anyone in history. He also was always in the best of circumstances.

(AP Photo/Al Golub)

Rice came into the league with an established two-time Super Bowl Champion quarterback, Joe Montana. He played with Montana from 1985 until 1990. Once Montana was gone, Rice began catching passes from another Hall of Fame quarterback, Steve Young. From his rookie season in 1985 until 1998, Rice was fortunate enough to play with these all-time greats. Towards the end of Rice’s career, he caught passes from both Jeff Garcia and Rich Gannon. These quarterbacks were good as well.

Jeff Garcia was a four-time Pro Bowler and in his two seasons with Rice compiled 6,822 yards, 42 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions. Rich Gannon was also a four-time Pro Bowler and in his three seasons with Rice compiled 9,791 yards, 59 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions. Rice has never had an inadequate quarterback and was blessed to play with two Hall of Famers in his career.

Jerry Rice is one of the greatest players of all time and this is not to take away from his greatness. His stats are remarkable and are a testament to his longevity. There is just one receiver who was a better football player and had he been fortunate enough to have 14 seasons with Hall of Fame quarterbacks, such as Rice, he would be unequivocally considered the greatest receiver of all time.

 

Who is Really the Best WR of All Time?

(http://www.footballsfuture.com)

To describe the best wide receiver of all time, one would say he was, “straight cash homie”. That’s right, Randy Moss was the best receiver to ever set foot on the gridiron. He was so great his name became a verb. Anytime someone out-jumped a defender for a ball, the saying was, “he got mossed.” It takes a special kind of greatness for the world to turn your name into a verb like that.

Moss ranks 15th all-time in receptions (982), third all-time in receiving yards (15,292), and second all-time in receiving touchdowns (156). The stats are pretty remarkable over a 15-year career. He also holds the record for most receiving touchdowns in a single season with 23. Statistically speaking, he has been one of the best of all time. As far as championships go, Randy Moss never won a Super Bowl. It is one of the major accomplishments missing from his career.

The eye test is one of the areas Randy Moss excelled at above all. The man could flat out burn anybody and had some of the best hands in NFL history. This video shows how Moss revolutionized the game and became a defense’s worst nightmare.

Moss has the best eye test of any receiver in the history of football. His explosion, hands, and speed are unmatched. As mentioned before, one of the biggest flaws is the fact that he never won a Super Bowl. Moss was also rarely in a good quarterback situation. In his rookie season, he had both Randall Cunningham and Brad Johnson under center. The following year in 1999, Jeff George took most of the snaps. There was a bit more stability from 2000-2004 with Daunte Culpepper, but once Moss was traded to the Raiders, the instability continued.

(http://www.sacbee.com/sports/article31643531.html)

In Moss’ two seasons with the Raiders, he had three quarterbacks: Kerry Collins, Andrew Walter, and Aaron Brooks. Before ending up with Tom Brady and the Patriots in 2007, Moss had played in the NFL for nine seasons and had seven different quarterbacks.  To compare that with Jerry Rice’s first nine seasons, Rice only had two quarterbacks. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

Moss only spent three seasons with a quarterback of the same caliber as when Rice had Montana and Young. In those three seasons with the Patriots, Moss played in 48 games and amassed an amazing 422 receptions, 3,765 yards, and 47 touchdowns.

 

Better Circumstances

(http://gifsoup.com/view/4485570/randy-moss-td.html)

This makes you wonder, what if Moss had 14 seasons with Brady, a Hall of Fame quarterback like when Rice had with both Montana and Young? Moss didn’t play as long as Rice so it is hard to speculate. How about if Moss just had seven seasons with Brady? What would his all-time numbers look like then? For the sake of argument, let’s assume that after Moss left Minnesota he went straight to New England and finished his career there for seven seasons.

His stats after leaving Minnesota were 574 receptions, 9,142 yards, and 90 touchdowns. Moss averaged 83 receptions, 1,255 yards, and 15.7 touchdowns with Brady. Over 7 seasons, based on what he averaged with Brady for his three years in New England, his career stats would have finished with 1,155 receptions, 17,927 yards, and 200 touchdowns. Those numbers are absolutely ridiculous to think about.

(https://www.pinterest.com/pin/573646071256029480/)

Now for the sake of more argument, let’s say he spent 14 seasons in the NFL with Tom Brady, similar to Rice’s 14 seasons with Montana and Young. Moss’s career stats would be 1,162 receptions, 17,570 yards, and 220 touchdowns. The receptions and yards don’t change significantly, but the touchdowns sure do. 220 is unthinkable and Rice finished with 197. Had Moss spent more time with a Hall of Fame quarterback, more people wouldn’t hesitate to call Moss the best of all time. Longevity also really helped out Rice’s overall numbers as well. 20 seasons is a long time and it is rare for a player to last that long in such a violent sport.

The stats don’t tell the entire story of who is really the best. Super Bowl trophies tell the story of how a team did, not an individual. Looking at the eye test, and given the circumstances Moss had to deal with, it is clear to see that he truly was the best wide receiver of all time.

 

 

 

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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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“From Our Haus to Yours”

 

 

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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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