Carson Wentz Week 1 start

Carson Wentz is very confident he will play Week 1

Carson Wentz went down with an ACL and LCL tear on Dec. 10, 2017. After a few days, the news broke that the injury was an ACL tear.

Immediately after the announcement, everyone proclaimed that the Philadelphia Eagles were done for the year. They also said that Wentz was unlikely to be able to start the beginning of next season for the Eagles. Looks like both of those statements just might turn out to be wrong.

The standard recovery time of 9-12 months puts him back on the field Sept. 10 at the earliest and Dec. 10 in the near worst case. This time, expectations may be exceeded. Wentz says that he expects to be back for the season opener on Sept. 6 against the Atlanta Falcons.

Could Wentz really be ready for Week 1?

Carson Wentz Week 1 start

Carson Wentz (Photo by Eric Hartline USA TODAY Sports)

Many times, athletes can be overly optimistic about their recoveries from injury. Just last year, the Indianapolis Colts brass and even Reggie Wayne stated that they believed Andrew Luck would be ready for Week 1. However, as the season drug on for the Colts, Luck did not play one game.

Sometimes, an athlete can be a special circumstance and recover much more quickly or effectively. For example, Adrian Peterson tore his ACL in December of 2011. However, he was able to come back and rush for over 2,000 yards in 2012.

In the end, Peterson fell eight yards short of the single season rushing record with 2,097. It is truly remarkable that he was able to get even close to breaking the record in a season where many thought he would not even be able to start Week 1.

That shows that quick recoveries are possible with dedicated rehab, a smart recovery plan and good genetics. This case is especially impressive at the position of running back as they take the most abuse of any player on the field. Wentz is a quarterback, which should help his odds of making it back.

Will Carson Wentz be one of these success stories? Maybe. We probably will not know until we are closer to the season opener.

It sure sounds like he thinks he will be ready though, and if anyone can do it, Wentz can. Wentz was asked on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football about the possibility of starting Week 1 and said this in response.

“I’m very confident,” he said. “It’s a fluid process, so you never know how it’s going to go, but where we’re at, just trying to do what the doctors say and just take it step by step. There are times when you feel great and want to push it more, but you’ve got to stay the course with what the doctors are saying. I feel really good and really confident for Week 1.”

In addition to his confidence, Ian Rapoport recently tweeted some promising news for Eagles fans.

What if Wentz is not ready for the season opener?

It is very likely that Wentz will be back for Week 1. However, at the same time, it would not be surprising if the Eagles held him out just a little longer to make sure that their franchise quarterback stays healthy.

Luckily for the Eagles, that is a very minimal problem for them. Philadelphia has a strong backup in Nick Foles, who just led the team to a Super Bowl victory. After all, Wentz would likely not have much of a problem with not playing immediately if it was in his best interest. Wentz has been very vocal in saying that he will listen to doctors and not risk his health to rush the recovery process.

Wentz also talked on Good Morning Football about how good of a relationship he has with Foles. He stated that there is no “ruffled feathers” between them and that they are “friends first and foremost before teammates.”

How will Wentz prevent injuries in the future?

Carson Wentz Week 1 start

(Photo by Sports Illustrated)

Much has been said about Wentz struggling with injuries over the last few years. He has suffered broken ribs and now a torn ACL and LCL in his first two seasons in the NFL. Therefore, Wentz was recently asked if he would change his playing style to avoid being injured in the future. Wentz responded by saying that he will always learn from injuries and other lessons he learns while playing. For example, when he watches game tape and realizes that he could have avoided a big hit on a play and only sacrificed a couple yards by sliding.

However, he also stated that he will never change his aggressive mentality because that is just who he is. As uneasy as it can make the fans, his competitive nature is part of what makes him such a great quarterback. He will learn to protect himself more as he gains experience in the NFL.

The full interview of Carson Wentz

Featured image from Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

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Philadelphia Eagles 2018 Draft profile

The 2018 NFL Draft is less than one week away, which means that Draftmas is back. Draftmas will take a look at each NFL team heading into this year’s draft, what their needs are and who they could be targeting. Draftmas continues today with the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles NFL Draft profile.

Summary

Fly Eagles fly! After winning the first Superbowl in franchise history, the Philadelphia Eagles are in great shape heading into 2018. The biggest question mark for this team will be the health of Carson Wentz. Not only will he be ready for opening day, but also, will he be able to duplicate his electric play that allowed the Eagles to finish as a top ten offense? Wentz was the driving force of an offense that finished in the top 10 in yards and points.

2018 Philadelphia Eagles

Photo Courtesy of; NJ.com

What made this unit so unique, was its incredible balance and unpredictability. Meaning, defenses would never know which running back or wide receiver the offense would run through. That forced opposing defenses to defend every inch and player on the field.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles were equally formidable. This unit was led by the incredible talent and depth on their defensive line. Fletcher Cox was the headliner among a star-studded unit including Brandon Graham, Tim Jernigan, Chris Long, and Derek Barnett.

If that wasn’t an embarrassment of riches, the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles added Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata. This has the potential to be an all-time defensive line the likes of the “fearsome foursome” and the “purple people eaters”.

While this team looks great on paper, it’s not without its flaws. The hallmark of last year’s Eagles was depth and should be the mantra once again if they hope to make another run at a championship.

Picks and Needs

The 2018 Philadelphia Eagles have six picks in the upcoming NFL draft. With very few holes on this team, the Eagles have the luxury of adding depth or taking the best player regardless of position.

First round (1): 32

Second round (0):

Third round (0): 

Fourth round (2): 126, 128

Fifth round (1): 160

Sixth round (1): 192

Seventh round (1): 224

Offensive Needs:

Tight End: As stated earlier, the Eagles have the luxury of taking a developmental prospect or a high upside pick. Since the Eagles liked to use multiple tight ends in 2017, they could consider drafting a replacement for Trey Burton if they don’t believe in Brent Celek or the newly acquired Richard Rodgers. If nothing else, they could have a legitimate insurance policy for Zach Ertz.

Tackle: Incredible depth at the tackle position last season was a tremendous contributing factor the success of Nick Foles and the running game. Jason Peters is slated to return; however, it’s almost impossible to know if he’ll be able to fully recover. Drafting another tackle would give the Eagles a viable option if Peters doesn’t return to form and would serve as a swing player behind Lane Johnson and Halapoulvaati Vaitai.

Defensive Needs:

Cornerback: Currently, Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are slated to start at corner. However, if they decide to play Mills in the slot against three wide receiver sets, that would leave Rasul Douglas as a starter on the outside. It’s possible that Daryl Worley assumes that role, but, the Eagles could stand to benefit by adding a talented rookie to the mix.

Targets

First Round

Pick No. 32: Brian O’Neal, Tackle, Pittsburgh

2018 Philadelphia Eagles

Photo Courtesy of; YouTube.com

The Eagles continue to strengthen a strength with this potential selection. Ensuring that Carson Wentz feels comfortable in the pocket upon his return is paramount. All it takes is one preseason setback to a recovering Jason Peters, or another suspension to Lane Johnson to make this an area of need.

Like Jason Peters and Lane Johnson before him, offensive tackle was not O’Neal’s initial collegiate position. He was recruited as a wide receiver and then converted to tight end. That means, just like his predecessors, he possesses incredible athletic ability.

However, athletic ability isn’t everything. His performance at the combine demonstrated that he is not as strong as other prospects at his position. O’Neal would benefit greatly if he had a full season in an NFL strength and conditioning program. Overall, the Eagles would be securing one of the most important positions on the roster and would lock in a top athlete on a rookie contract.

Conclusion

The 2018 Philadelphia Eagles are poised to make another run at a championship. If they can add one impact player in the draft, as well as secure depth across their roster, they may join one an elite group of teams who have won back-to-back championships.

 

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AJ McCarron

Teams should be very wary about AJ McCarron

Earlier this week, A.J. McCarron won his grievance case against the Bengals. The former Alabama standout is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The supply and demand for decent quarterback play in the NFL is as out of whack as it has ever been. Thus, McCarron and several other quarterbacks are about to be grossly overpaid by quarterback needy teams.

In today’s NFL, if you do not have a quarterback, you don’t have anything. So, teams must overpay at that position on occasion. However, here is why turning to McCarron in particular is going to be a grave mistake for some franchise.

He is even less of a proven commodity than other quarterbacks who may be on the move:

Drew Brees has given every indication that he will be back in New Orleans. Assuming that is the case, it would be a stretch to call any of the free agent quarterbacks elite. The same goes for trade candidates. Still, guys like Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles and Case Keenum have all had stretches where they looked like guys who could carry a franchise for a decade.

While any team should think twice about giving big money to a quarterback who has been pedestrian for his entire career and then suddenly catches lighting in a bottle, McCaron has never had a hot stretch like the three names in the last paragraph

The only season where he had relevant playing time was 2015. He played in 7 regular season games including three starts for an injured Dalton. He put up 854 yards, six touchdown passes and two interceptions. Those numbers are okay, but there certainly are not the kind you build your franchise around.

McCarron’s only playoff start was also unremarkable. He barely completed half of his throws while tallying just 212 yards, a touchdown pass and an interception. He did put his team in positon to win, but they didn’t. Now, some might argue that McCarron has not been given an opportunity to be “the guy” and that is why he has never been anything more than average. That fact is actually very telling as to why teams should avoid him like the plague.

McCarron never really pressured Dalton:

With a career passer rating in the 80s, a completion percentage in the low 60s, and a winless playoff record, Andy Dalton is the posterchild for average quarterbacks everywhere.

Andy Dalton

Photo: Getty Images

Yet, there was never a true quarterback controversy in Cincinnati. As a Cincinnati native, I can tell you that the only talk that ever really existed was in the fan base. Whatever a fan base talks about is pretty meaningless, as fun as it may be. Many fans in NFL cities want to change the quarterback and head coach after every loss. Thankfully, the league does not work that way.

The Bengals organization is far from being run well. However, the people who run any NFL franchise are smarter than the vast majority of fans. If that were not true, the fans would be running the team.

In the last two years, the Bengals have posted losing records. If McCarron was anything special, Cincinnati would have thrown him in there to try and turn the last two years around, but that never happened. If he cannot beat out Andy Dalton, the only place he can take a franchise as a starting quarterback is off a cliff.

McCarron has already had the best supporting cast he is going to get:

Scroll up and read McCarron’s numbers from 2015 again. That Bengals roster had seven pro bowlers on it. Those numbers are all McCarron could manage. Wherever he goes, he won’t be surrounded by seven pro bowlers. Instead, he will perhaps be asked to turn guys like the Jets receivers into pro bowlers. The numbers do not lie. He is not capable of that.

McCarron is about to make a whole lot of money for doing very little in the NFL. He is by no means the first nor will he be the last player this will happen for. Good for him. However excluding rookie deals, these situations rarely turn out well for the player or team involved. Brock Osweiler in Houston, Mike Glennon in Chicago, and the list goes on.  McCarron will no doubt continue that trend.

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A tale of the tape: Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles return back to the Super Bowl after their last appearance in 2005. Back then, the team was led by a gritty defense and a showtime offense with Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Hall Of Fame hopeful Terrell Owens.

Despite the amazing stardom surrounding that team 13 years ago, they suffered a heartbreaking loss to the New England Patriots. A 24-21 loss behind an Adam Vinateri’s field goal that cemented the game in the fourth quarter. With a city that starves for a championship, the Eagles seemed like they couldn’t quite get over the hump.

A prior Super Bowl appearance that amounted to the latest, the Eagles have made strides to change the tides of the culture of Philadelphia football. After a spectacular season going 13-3 for the year, the Philadelphia Eagles return to the Super Bowl. This time, the pot is even heavier with the chance of getting back at the New England Patriots. There have been a couple of bumps in the road, but Eagles have been the best team this year by far.

For all the boxing fans out there, it doesn’t matter how many punches you throw if you don’t land any. Also, there has to be power behind those punches to make a difference. The strength of the opposing fighter is how much more damage he can withstand than his opponent. The Eagles looks as if they are In the first round of a title fight, even though it’s the fifteenth.

No team has been able to bounce back like the Eagles. No team looks as fresh and composed this late in the season. Despite, numerous injuries this year, the Eagles have bounced back immensely. With injuries that created holes in the defense and limiting a backfield to only one able running back, the Eagles have sustained more damage than any team.

This damage was especially true for their starting quarterback Carson Wentz. An MVP was in the sights for Wentz after a stellar performance this season. After suffering an LCL tear, questions mounted around the league wondering how the Eagles would replace Wentz.

For some teams that lack camaraderie, effort and confidence, a setback like this would be an end for that team. Not for the Eagles. Actually, despite a couple of adjustments, the team hasn’t missed a step. Fortitude from a great defense, a mid season addition in Jay Ajayi and the subtle, but great play from Nick Foles,  has helped the team transitioned seamlessly.

Another Super Bowl brings another underdog. Unfortunately, this year it maybe hard to decipher. The Patriots are a great team, but they are beatable. A steady attack by Foles and Ajayi with the team’s tuned offense can make things difficult for the top defense. Last week, when the running game was stifled, Blake Bortles threw for almost 300 yards in the Jaguar’s loss to the Patriots. In the loss of Carson Wentz, Nick Foles’ play has been spectacular and historic. The idea of Foles doing the same or more is not so far fetched.

Foles is actually one of the most efficient quarterbacks in history this run. With three touchdowns last week against the Vikings, Foles should be as confident as ever.  He has to and should have a phenomenal performance.

The New England Patriots are titans in this league. Their dominance has been defined over the course of sixteen years. Under the lights of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, it looks to continue . The legacy of this ball club has casted a cloud over the league. Good things it’s always sunny in Philadelphia!

Super Bowl LII preview

Super Bowl LII preview

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

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

Super Bowl XXXIX preview

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

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

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

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

 1. Nick Foles is coming in hot

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Penalties could be the deciding factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Bowl LII preview

Never bet against this man (Photo from Business Insider)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Jimmy G is getting paid

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

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

 

Featured image by Wtok-Tv

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NFL Conference Championship preview

NFL Conference Championship weekend preview and picks

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

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

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

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

Jaguars at Patriots

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

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

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

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

Winner: New England

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

Vikings at Eagles

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

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

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

NFL Conference Championship preview

Photo from espn.com

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

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

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

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

Winner: Minnesota

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

 

Featured image from chatsports.com

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NFL divisional playoffs picks

NFL divisional playoffs preview and picks

We were fortunate enough to get four reasonably competitive games to kick off the NFL playoffs last week. You can check out last week’s picks here.

For this week’s divisional playoffs, games will be picked both straight up and against the spread. Outright upsets have an asterisk. All point spreads are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.

Postseason record- 3-1

Postseason record against the spread- 2-2

Saturday

Falcons at Eagles – For the first time since the NFL adopted its current playoff format, a sixth seed is favorite over a home standing top seed. This is not without merit though. Without Carson Wentz, the Eagles are just another average to below-average football team. In the final two games of the regular season, Philadelphia’s offense accounted for a grand total of 13 points, and the team as a whole was pushed around for long stretches by the non-playoff bound Cowboys and Raiders.

The above paragraph is not a good recipe for taking on the Falcons at the moment. Atlanta needed to win as much as humanly possible late in the regular season to keep its playoff hopes alive. The sudden death nature of the NFL playoffs changed nothing for them last week. They have been in that situation for almost 2 months.

Reigning MVP Matt Ryan and the offense are not quite the juggernaut they were last year, but they are still very good. What has sparked Atlanta’s late-season run as much as anything is defense. The Falcons have not surrendered more than 24 points in a game since Week 11. This includes holding the top-ranked scoring offense to just 13 points last week. If all the offense has to do is score in the high 20s, this team is tough to beat.

Apart from winning a shootout with the lowly Giants, the Eagles offense has not gotten anywhere close to the high 20s with backup quarterbacks since the injury to Wentz. Philadelphia’s defense is pretty good and has stood on its head in recent weeks to keep the Eagles in games. Thus, this will not be a blowout.

However, one of these teams is quarterbacked by Matt Ryan and the other by Nick Foles. Sometimes, it is just that simple.

Winner: Atlanta

Good bet: Falcons (-3) Atl 21 Phi 13

Titans at Patriots – Tennessee did a great job of making a few plays to pull off the big upset in Kansas City last week. However, that result had more to do with Kansas City’s collapse. If New England has a double-digit lead, whoever is playing running back will get the ball a lot more than 11 or 12 times.

NFL divisional playoffs picks

Photo from USA Today

You can’t help but be impressed with the resilience and toughness of Tennessee. That roster is not good enough to get to this point on talent alone. Different guys have stepped up for them all year long. Last week, it was Marcus Mariota playing with his head on a swivel to complete a touchdown pass to himself and Derrick Henry rushing for 156 yards in the absence of backfield mate DeMarco Murray that made the difference.

However, the Titans lack the firepower to really make the Patriots nervous in a playoff game. At this point, nothing more can be said about the greatness of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They are 25-9 in playoff games. Moreover, only three of those nine losses have been at home. Tennessee will keep this close for a while with solid fundamental football, but New England will pull away late.

Winner: New England

Good bet: Patriots (-13) NE 34 Ten 20

Sunday

Jaguars at Steelers – Vegas is showing great restraint by making the Steelers only a seven-point favorite here. With the way the Jacksonville passing offense has looked for the last month, a double-digit spread would have been perfectly reasonable.

However, the Jacksonville defense has shut down some very good offenses this year. The Jaguars went in to Pittsburgh early in the year and intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times in a route.

Also, there is more than one way to look at the performance of Blake Bortles last week. It is easy to say he threw for just 87 yards and therefore was completely awful, or you can commend him for his 88 rushing yards and ability to make enough plays for his team to win, even though he did not play very well.

Not very many people have subscribed to the second school of thought leading up to this game, but I am one of them. With a great supporting cast around him, Bortles is fine. Other than one or two games, Jacksonville has had no problem scoring points this year. Almost every offense is going to get shut down at least once or twice a year, no matter who the quarterback is.

Jacksonville is too good to get blown out. Any team that leads the league in rushing offense, as well as several defensive categories, is capable of going anywhere and beating anyone. However, Roethlisberger getting Antonio Brown back will be the difference in this one. Even if Brown is not fully healthy, his presence alone gives the vaunted Jacksonville defense another thing to worry about on a loaded Steelers offense.

Winner: Pittsburgh

Good Bet: Jaguars (+7) Pit 27 Jac 24

Saints at Vikings – No team was more impressive than New Orleans last week. All year, the Saints had done most of their damage by running the ball with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Carolina held that duo to under 50 combined rushing yards. The Saints still managed to win. Drew Brees showed us all why he is going to the Hall of Fame someday.

NFL divisional playoffs picks

Photo from si.com

Unless there is a truly dominant team, whoever wins the Super Bowl has to find a way to win a game or two where its best stuff is not working. There is no dominant NFL team this year, and that is exactly what the Saints did last week.

This week, the task is a little bit tougher as New Orleans goes on the road to face another very stout defensive unit in Minnesota. The vast majority of Minnesota’s success this year has come from backups, castoffs and other spare parts. Mike Zimmer and his staff have done an incredible job of getting the most out of Case Keenum. Keenum has nearly doubled his career touchdown passes this season. However, much like the other NFC matchup this weekend, it is foolish not to take the established star quarterback over the journeyman in playoff football.

Winner: New Orleans

Good Bet: *Saints (+ 5.5) NO 27 Min 20

 

Featured image from chiefs.com

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Week Nine NFL Picks Against the Spread

It is time for another week of NFL picks against the spread. I was just 5-8 last week, but did call the Bears upset of the Vikings. This week, I whiffed on the Thursday night game again and will start from behind the eight ball. 58-63-4 is my record for the year. My picks are bolded. Outright upsets have an asterisk. Read ‘em and weep.

Cowboys (-7) at Browns- With everyone continuing to sing the praises of Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, the gritty Browns are tempting here, but I just cannot do it. They are bringing a plastic knife to a gun fight each week. I expect Dallas to scrape by, but we could view the quarterback situation very differently come Monday morning. Dal 19 Cle 9

Lions at Vikings (-6) – Toughest pick of the week. After a hot start, the Vikings are slowly revealing their true selves. With zero production in the run game and an offensive line that has struggled to block a barstool the last two weeks, there are many nervous people in Minnesota. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s sudden resignation won’t help things in the short term. However, the defense will carry them to a win here. The Lions had a really bad performance on offense last week in Houston. A trip to Minnesota will not fix those issues. The Vikings are better equipped to win an ugly game. Min 17 Det 15

Jaguars at Chiefs (-7.5) – Jacksonville’s young talent on offense just has not come around, it seems to be time for yet another round of major changes there. Unlike the Raiders, the Chiefs play smart, disciplined, and complete football to win their games. Nick Foles is a more than capable replacement for dinged up quarterback Alex Smith.   This is the week the Chiefs emerge as the only real threat to Denver in the AFC West. KC 26 Jac 14

Jets at Dolphins (-3.5) – When was the last time a single player changed a team’s fortunes the way Jay Ajayi has for the Dolphins? He was not even active for the season opener. All he has done since getting a shot, is post back to back 200 yard rushing games. Most important, he has taken some heat off quarterback Ryan Tannehill who is not good enough to carry an offense. Miami has gone from dead in the water to a team that may get on a real roll. The Jets beat the Browns last week, yay. They still stink. Mia 27 NYJ 17

photo from espn.com

photo from espn.com

 

Eagles at Giants (-2.5) – Both these rivals are unpredictable and they tend to produce nutty games against each other. When in doubt look at the quarterbacks. Eli Manning > Carson Wentz. NYG 28 Phi 24.

Steelers at Ravens (-1) – These division foes always play fantastic games, no matter their records. This will be no different. Despite the Steelers having much better team results in recent years, the Ravens have won four out of the last five head to head matchups. If Ben Roethlisberger does play, how could he possibly be 100% about three weeks removed from knee surgery? The AFC North turns into a mess at the top with a Ravens win. Bal 24 Pit 21

Panthers (-3) at Rams – The Panthers may have finally gotten their mojo back last week. It may be too little too late for the playoffs, but the offensively inept Rams should not be an issue. Car 21 LA 10

Saints (-3.5) at 49ers – A win here gets the Saints back to .500, plenty could enough to be a factor in the NFC wild card race. The defense has gone from God awful to just bad. Despite splitting their last two games they have held opponents to under 30 points. Most times, that is going to be more than enough for Drew Brees and the offense. The 49ers are just dreadful in every phase of the game. The defense is spent by halftime because the offense cannot stay on the field. If I am Chip Kelly, I jump back to the college game as soon as I can. He is a college coach. There is nothing wrong with that. NO 38 SF 17

photo from cbssports.com

photo from cbssports.com

Colts at Packers (-7.5) – Andrew Luck is still forced to do it all on his own for the Colts. Much like last week, he is up against a pretty solid opponent. The offense in Green Bay finally returned to normal last week, and they are not facing the high powered Falcons offense this week. No drama here. GB 31 Ind 21

Titans at Chargers (-4) – The Titans are the worst .500 team I have ever seen. Meanwhile, the Chargers are the best below .500 team I have ever seen. Tennessee has a negative point differential. Conversely, if games were 58 minutes rather than 60, the Chargers would be 7-1. San Diego has closed games better lately. Expect them to roll here. SD 31 Ten 17

*Broncos at Raiders (-2)- My only outright upset pick of the week should surprise no one who knows me or reads my stuff. Even if I thought Oakland was going to win, it is not in me as a human being to pick the Raiders to beat the Broncos. This used to be a great rivalry, it is awesome to have the game be so meaningful again.

In this matchup, Denver will be able to do whatever it wants on offense, just like every other Raiders opponent this year. Oakland is allowing six yards a play on defense. Oakland’s offense has had to put up video game numbers to win games, including 600+ yards to get by in overtime last week against Tampa. If anyone thinks something like that will happen against the Broncos defense, they are sadly mistaken. The Raiders deserve a ton of credit for being where they are, but play time is over. Den 34 Oak 24

MNF: Bills at Seahawks (-7) – The Seahawks offense is just plain bad right now. Only Russell Wilson knows if he is truly healthy. Despite last week’s loss, any doubt about the defense is unfounded. Holding the Saints to 25 points in their building is nothing to sneeze at. Buffalo’s run first style keeps this close, but Seattle finds a way as they so often do. Sea 26 Buf 20