Sense of Competition Returns to Pro Bowl

This one stayed close until the end

This one stayed close until the end

The last few years the legitimacy of the Pro Bowl has been diminishing, so much so that a couple years ago NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell threatened to scrap the game entirely.

This year the NFL exercised a new Pro Bowl format that made the game a huge hit with the players and the fans. The new fantasy-style draft for the Pro Bowl allowed alumni captains Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders to draft their teams regardless of the players’ division, or team.

The game was phenomenal in the stand point that all parties took it seriously. The participants mentioned it was fun to beat people you are usually lined up next to, and many also mentioned that they did not want to let their respective alumni captains down with a loss.

The game had amazing defense, fantastic athletic highlights that featured touchdowns, and overall a sense of competitiveness that has been unprecedented in past Pro Bowls.

The defense was the true shining points of the game. Between the elite defensive lines and stifling secondaries there was a total of eight turnovers and nine sacks.  

Potential defensive player of the year JJ Watt could not be contained as he had a sack and two pass deflections. His presence called for a double team allowing Gerald McCoy and Greg Hardy to lay the lumber on the opposing quarterbacks.

The contest was so competitive that the game was decided in the last minute of play with a short pass from Kansas City’s Alex Smith to Dallas’s Demarco Murray, who was able to zip around and through defenders into the end zone.

Now since it is the Pro Bowl, Jerry Rice thought why not go for the two-point conversion for the 22-21 advantage? Carolina Panther Mike Tolbert was able to barrel his way in to score and bring Rice’s squad home with a victory.

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Manning, Brady Set for AFC Championship Clash

Savor this quarterback rivalry while it lasts

Savor this quarterback rivalry while it lasts

Football fans got exactly what they asked for as Peyton Manning and the Broncos take on Tom Brady and the Patriots for a spot in the Super Bowl.

It’s no surprise the Broncos have made it this far with all the weapons they have on offense, but few expected the Patriots to get within a game of the Super Bowl after losing Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker during the off-season.

Most football experts will agree that on paper that Denver should win by at least two touchdowns. Denver is playing at home, the weather is expected to be 50+ degrees, the Broncos had statistically the best offensive season in NFL history and Peyton Manning had the best statistical season for a quarterback in NFL history. The Broncos bring to the table five players who have scored 10 or more touchdowns this season while the  Patriots have no vertical passing game and  have surprisingly morphed into a power running team.

It seems hard to imagine how the Patriots can keep up with the Broncos but Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a history of finding a way to give Peyton Manning and his high power offenses fits and no one will be surprised if the Patriots find a way to win and advance to their sixth Super Bowl appearance in the Brady and Belichick era.

It should be a great AFC championship game, but which team has the edge?

What happened in Week 12 when the Patriots came back from a 24 point deficit to win in overtime doesn’t hold much water when analyzing this game. Both teams had three turnovers, it was extremely windy, and both teams have lost significant players since the Week 12 match-up. There will be no Rob Gronkowski to control the middle of the field and there will be no Von Miller to rush the passer and no Chris Harris to guard the slot receivers.

This game will come down to whether or not the Broncos can convert red zone trips into touchdowns and whether or not the Patriots can run the ball successfully and move the chains on third down. Like most games in the NFL, this game will be won or lost in the trenches.

Let’s take a look at both sides of the ball and break down which team has the advantage in this game.

Broncos Offense against Patriots Defense 

Belichick and the Patriots will do everything in their power to not get beaten through the air and will likely play with only six players in the box and two deep safeties at all times.  The Broncos should be able to run the ball which will shorten the game and play into the Patriots. The Pats will bet the house on their ability to make key stops in the red zone.

The Patriots defense will have a perfect game plan to stop the Broncos offense, but do they have the players to execute this game plan? I think not, advantage Broncos Offense. 

Broncos Defense against Patriots Offense

The Patriots will need to run the ball extremely well to win this game. They have been running the ball very well in recent weeks and should have enough success to keep them in this game. The Pats will try to establish the run early and get their play-action passing game going in “obvious” run situations. The Patriots have had a lot of success completing short passes and turning them into big plays so whether or not the Broncos can make open field tackles will be a big factor in this game.

Look for the Patriots to use their short passing game to open up the run early. The Broncos do have the seventh ranked rushing defense but they haven’t been tested on the ground much this season since their opponents have been playing from behind most of the year. The Patriots should have success on the ground and Shane Vereen should be able to move the chains catching passes out of the backfield on third downs.

Does a Tom Brady powered offense have an advantage over Denver’s 19th ranked defense? I think so, advantage Patriots Offense.

Many look at this game as Manning against Brady, but I believe this game will be won by which team is more physical upfront. The more physical team will likely create the most pressure on the opposing quarterback which will likely lead to a game-changing turnover. The quarterback that will have the best game will be the one with the least amount pressuring from the opposing pass rush.

I see this being a great game with multiple lead changes but I don’t see the Patriots having enough firepower on offense to keep up with a Broncos squad that is playing at home and on a mission to get to a Super Bowl after their disappointing early exit in the playoffs last season. Brady is 2 – 1 against Manning in the playoffs but the home team has won each time in those meetings.

I see the Broncos winning at home in a four point game and kneeling on the ball to run out the clock. The Broncos expected to be at this point before the season started and the Patriots are just happy to have gotten this far given what they have had to overcome to get here.

 

 

Seahawks, 49ers Ready to Rumble in Seattle

There is no lost love between these division rivals

There is no lost love between these division rivals

There is NO love lost between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawaks as these two heated division rivals prepare for battle in this weekend’s NFC Championship Game. Sure, Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh used to be the gold standard for vitriol and pure hatred in the NFL, but you’d be kidding yourself if you didn’t think the Seahawks and 49ers is the best (and ugliest) rivalry in the NFL. These two teams are so similar in style and quality, that whomever makes it out alive, will have unquestionably earned their ticket to the Super Bowl.

Who has the edge?

Although Seattle has only played one playoff game to San Francisco’s two, it’s still clear that the 49ers have been the stronger team for the last month or so. They finished the regular season with six consecutive victories and then impressed on the road in the first two rounds of the playoffs on the road against Green Bay and Carolina. While Seattle earned the right to have a first-round bye and two home games in the postseason, there’s no denying they’ve been skittish of late. They lost to Arizona in Week 16 at home, even though Carson Palmer through 4 INT’s. And last week against New Orleans, the Seahawks defense shut down Drew Brees and company for most of the game, only for the Saints to have a chance to tie late in the 4th quarter.

Given that fact, we still know the narrative surrounding Russell Wilson’s bunch at Century Link Field – they’re tough to beat. It’s loud, hostile, and apart from that dud against the Cardinals, Seattle is lights out when they play at home. Furthermore, they have owned the 49ers the past few seasons when they play with the help of the 12th man. Earlier this season in Seattle (Week 2), the Seahawks annihilated Colin Kaepernick’s bunch 29-3, despite Wilson only completing 8 passes. Much of that had to do with Kaepernick’s 3 INT’s, but it was equally due to Seattle establishing their dominant run game and defense early and often.

And it will be Marshawn Lynch and the best secondary in the NFL that the Seahawks will have to rely upon to beat the monster the 49ers have become. A lot has been made of Wilson’s inability to put the team on his back recently, relegated to the dreaded “game manager.” While there is credence to Wilson’s struggles, that isn’t to say he won’t come out and play like one of the best QB’s in the league and vault the Seahawks into the Super Bowl. He may have to, given how equally matched the two defenses are.

This matchup may come down to which quarterback makes more plays in the end. If the defenses and running games essentially cancel each other out, will it be Wilson or Kaepernick that steps up in the big moment? It could be argued that Wilson’s job will be slightly tougher; his weapons aren’t as explosive as Kaepernick’s. And Percy Harvin has officially been ruled out with a concussion after finally making it back last week against New Orleans.

Can Wilson do what he did in last year’s divisional round playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons? Seattle looked down and out for most of the game, but Wilson led the Seahawks as they stormed back to take the lead with under two minutes, only to have Matt Ryan and his offense squeak out a late field goal to advance. If Wilson elevates his play above game manager-level, Seattle will be tough to beat.

However, we don’t really know if he’s capable of that right now. His confidence looks shaken, and the 49ers bring a rugged attitude and the best linebackers in the game to Seattle.

This game is going to be an absolute war. These two teams genuinely hate each other, and they had a knock-down, drag-out cage match in Week 14 at Candlestick that ended in a 19-17 victory for the 49ers. I give the slight edge to San Francisco. They are playing with a great confidence about them, and they might be one of the only teams that can still play their own game in front of Seattle’s crowd. Look for Kaepernick to make a play with his legs late in the 4th quarter that will propel his team to its second straight Super Bowl.

Percy Harvin Ruled Out Against Niners

Injury woes persist for Percy Harvin

Injury woes persist for Percy Harvin

Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin has been ruled out of this weekend’s NFL Championship Game against the 49ers. Due to a lingering hip injury, Harvin hasn’t been much of a factor for the Seahawks offense this season and after sustaining a concussion last weekend, he will not suit up against the Niners.

Harvin played in Seattle’s divisional playoff victory last weekend against the New Orleans Saints and took two substantial hits that caused the receiver to sustain a concussion.

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll says Harvin was never close to returning to the practice field. The Seahawks passing offense has been stagnant lately and Harvin’s presence would have provided a spark for Russell Wilson, but they will have to press on without him.

Denver Looking for Payback Against Bolts

Oh how familiar this scenario must look for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. It’s almost as if there is some type of deja vu going on here. The Broncos found themselves in this same exact spot last this time last year. They were 13-3 in the regular season and start off the playoffs in the divisional round because of a first round bye.

The pressure has got to be on the Broncos right?

Just think if the great Peyton Manning goes down two years in a row with an unbelievable team to a wild card team in the San Diego Chargers. This is not just an ordinary Chargers team though, no not so fast. San Diego is the only team to beat the Denver Broncos in that vaunted climate in Mile High Stadium.

Still with all this said the edge still goes to the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning is not going to take the Charges lightly. The Broncos passing game is just too overwhelming for the Chargers secondary. The Broncos will get back Manning’s favorite target in Wes Welker. This should provide an ample boost that Denver needs to outscore the Chargers.

This game could very well come down to a shootout between the two high powered offenses. If it comes down to this you have to trust in the guru Peyton Manning. Denver gets the slight edge in this game but they cannot overlook this Chargers team who has all the momentum in the world right now.

Seahawks vs. Saints Preview

The Saints must slow down the "Beast" to best the Seahawks

The Saints must slow down the “Beast” to best the Seahawks

Last week, New Orleans put the notion that they couldn’t win on the road to rest. That isn’t to say we should crown them as Super Bowl champs, but the Saints delivered a gritty performance that relied heavily on their running game and a late field goal by recently signed Shayne Graham.

However, even diehard Saints fans would admit that the Seattle Seahawks are an entirely different beast than the Eagles. The Seahawks defense is nasty; it ranked 1st in both total yards and points allowed during the regular season. And while Nick Foles had a great run in his first season under Chip Kelly, Russell Wilson has valuable playoff experience and is more dangerous with his legs. Plus, the Saints must deal with the power of the 12th man.

So who has the edge?

Offensively, the Seahawks do have weapons. Marshawn Lynch is a monster who happens to be trapped inside a human body when he runs the ball. Wilson’s ability to improvise outside of the pocket can cause defenses fits, especially if that defense is missing stud rookie Kenny Vaccaro (Vaccaro is out of for the season after breaking his ankle late in the year). And Percy Harvin says he is at full strength, which means he may also return kicks.

But Wilson also has Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Golden Tate. Tate is a very serviceable NFL receiver but he’s not really a number one guy. The Seattle offense is capable of putting up big numbers, as evidenced by their 26.1 points per game during the regular season, but they also might put up a dud – like their 10 point debacle in a week 16 loss to Arizona.

The Saints are a much more well-oiled machine. A poised Drew Brees is worth something; last week he didn’t throw for a crazy amount of yards (a comparatively pedestrian 250), but he was in control the whole time. When New Orleans got the ball back with under 5 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, down by 1, the Eagles knew they were resigned to the fate of losing the game on a field goal.

Additionally, last week showed that the Saints are willing to adjust how they play when the pace and tone of the game demands as such. They ran for 185 yards, and somehow the much maligned Mark Ingram played a huge role. And Brees still has the likes of Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Darren Sproles at his disposal.

The caveat with this is that although the Saints ranked 4th on defense during the regular season, they don’t come close to the power of Seattle on that side of the ball. The Saints may have the better offense overall, but Brees will have much more trouble moving the ball against the Seahawks than Wilson will against New Orleans.

Both Pete Carroll and Sean Payton are coaches that do a good job of not pulling anything Andy Reid-like. This is to say that neither coach is likely to ruin the effort of their players by doing something dumb with clock management or play-calling late in halves. Carroll is a great motivator; Payton a great commanding general and offensive mind. They might negate each other’s impact, but that means it will come down to the men in uniform – which is how it should be.

The Seahawks 34-7 drubbing of the Saints in week 13 has to be on the minds of both teams. New Orleans certainly doesn’t want a repeat of that night, and Seattle will not want to assume it can repeat that performance. However, while this game will be more competitive, Brees and Payton will have to pull something out of their hats that they may not be capable of. Once the Denver defense was exposed around halfway through the year, Seattle established themselves as the best and most dominant team in the league. To have their season end in the divisional round of the playoffs would be a great disappointment. And it is something that won’t happen on Saturday.

Patriots vs Colts Preview

Luck needs to have his best game of the season to beat the Pats

Luck needs to play his best game of the season to beat the Pats

The Patriots and Colts showdown this week comes as a pleasant surprise as many football fans feared the days of the Pats and Colts playoff battles were over after Peyton Manning departed for Denver two seasons ago. In steps Andrew Luck, and the rivalry may still be alive. A great game this week could renew the classic Colts and Patriots  rivalry for years to come.

Andrew Luck has been working wonders with a very pedestrian team all year and Tom Brady has willed his injury-plagued team to an impressive 12-4 season.  Neither team has elite offensive or defensive weapons so this game could very well come down to which all-star quarterback has a better game or which kicker has ice in his veins.

Obviously Luck and Brady are not playing directly against each other and how well both teams run the ball and get pressure on the opposing quarterback will play a big role in this game. Let’s take a look at both teams game plans and see who has the best chance to win this game

Patriots Game Plan

On offense, the Patriots will try to establish a run game and have Tom Brady dink and dunk his way down the field with what’s left of his receiving core. They will feature LeGarrette Blount in the run game and a combination of Shane Vereen, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in the passing game. If they can in fact run the ball well, the Pats shouldn’t have any problems putting up enough points to win.

On defense, the Patriots will try to eliminate the big plays from T.Y. Hilton and shut down Coby Fleener at tight end. If they can do this, the Colts will have a real hard time keeping up with Brady and company and Luck might have a few turnovers which would likely prove detrimental to his team.

Colts Game Plan

On offense, the Colts will likely try to take advantage of all the Patriots injuries to their front seven and run more than normal. If they can have some success in the run game, Luck should be able to move the chains and make enough plays with his arm and his feet to keep the Colts in the game.

On defense, the Colts will try to stop the run and put Brady in long third down situations so they can let Robert Mathis pin his ears back and get after the Brady. Look for the Pats to chip Mathis with an extra tight end or running back on passing plays.

At the end of the day, a game plan is only as good as the coaches who put it together and the players executing the plan on the field. Given the fact that the Patriots are playing at home and have arguably one of the best coaches and quarterbacks of all time, it’s hard to argue that the Colts have any sort of edge coming into this game. The Colts barely squeaked by a Chiefs team that lost key players at almost every position during the Wild Card game and gave up 44 points to what was left of the Chiefs offense.

The Colts time will come soon enough but all signs point towards the Patriots winning this one at home and setting up another classic rivalry Manning – Brady duel in Denver against the Broncos…… assuming Denver can beat the Chargers on Sunday night.

 

 

Breaking Down Panthers vs. 49ers Matchup

Can the Panthers shut down the 49ers offense again?

Can the Panthers shut down the 49ers offense again?

On Sunday the (12-4) San Francisco 49ers will travel to Carolina to take on the (12-4) Panthers. With the two teams having very strong defenses, a lot will ride on which quarterback, Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick, can consistently get their offense rolling.

One of the biggest concerns for the Panthers fans is the status of star wide receiver Steve Smith. The thirteen-year veteran is currently battling a knee injury that has limited his participation in practice this week. It is believed that Smith will play regardless of the severity of his injury, likely as the primary decoy for the Carolina offense.

The San Francisco 49ers are having much better luck at receiver than their Sunday opponents. After missing a majority of the season, Michael Crabtree has returned from his Achilles injury and has shown what the 49ers have been missing in his absence. The receiver hauled in 8 receptions for 125 yards in last weeks 23-20 Wild Card victory over the Green Bay Packers.

With both defenses among the top in the league, the matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers will come down to which team’s offense can limit turnovers. With Panthers receiver Steve Smith likely to be a non-factor, and the 49ers Michael Crabtree coming back into form, the edge must go to the underdog San Francisco 49ers.

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel Still “Undecided”

ESPN says Manziel is ready to declare and hire an agent

ESPN says Manziel is ready to declare and hire an agent

With Auburn and Florida State closing out the college football season in style Monday night, many of college football’s stars now have a huge decision to make: whether or not to declare for the NFL Draft in April or continue playing for their respective universities. The spotlight is on many talented juniors across the country, but no one’s decision is being more awaited than that of Texas A&M quarterback, Johnny Manziel.

Since winning the Heisman Trophy as a freshman last season, the player dubbed “Johnny Football” has been one of college football’s most polarizing figures. Love him or hate him, though, Manziel is a talented QB with a knack for making the impossible plays look easy and will have a future in the NFL. ESPN’s Todd McShay has Manziel going fourth overall so it’s easy to see what kind of talent he has. Now, the only decision left for Manziel is whether or not he wants to forego his junior and senior seasons or continue playing for the Aggies.

As of Monday night’s championship game, Manziel is still undecided about his future. Talking with ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, Manziel will be talking with his family in the coming days to help make a decision. “I want to make the right decision that’s best for me and my family,” Manziel said.

Coming off one of his best performances yet in this year’s Chick-fil-A bowl, signs may, however, be pointing towards Manziel looking to play football on Sundays next season. Manziel has already selected an agency to represent him – another step towards his declaration for the NFL. Even teammates doubt his return as Texas A&M receiver, Ricky Seals-Jones, told reporters last Friday night that “Johnny’s gone”.

No matter what decision Manziel makes, one thing is for certain: Johnny Manziel will still be “Johnny Football”. He may just have to add a “pro” to go along with his new professional status.

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel Still “Undecided”

ESPN says Manziel is ready to declare and hire an agent

ESPN says Manziel is ready to declare and hire an agent

With Auburn and Florida State closing out the college football season in style Monday night, many of college football’s stars now have a huge decision to make: whether or not to declare for the NFL Draft in April or continue playing for their respective universities. The spotlight is on many talented juniors across the country, but no one’s decision is being more awaited than that of Texas A&M quarterback, Johnny Manziel.

Since winning the Heisman Trophy as a freshman last season, the player dubbed “Johnny Football” has been one of college football’s most polarizing figures. Love him or hate him, though, Manziel is a talented QB with a knack for making the impossible plays look easy and will have a future in the NFL. ESPN’s Todd McShay has Manziel going fourth overall so it’s easy to see what kind of talent he has. Now, the only decision left for Manziel is whether or not he wants to forego his junior and senior seasons or continue playing for the Aggies.

As of Monday night’s championship game, Manziel is still undecided about his future. Talking with ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, Manziel will be talking with his family in the coming days to help make a decision. “I want to make the right decision that’s best for me and my family,” Manziel said.

Coming off one of his best performances yet in this year’s Chick-fil-A bowl, signs may, however, be pointing towards Manziel looking to play football on Sundays next season. Manziel has already selected an agency to represent him – another step towards his declaration for the NFL. Even teammates doubt his return as Texas A&M receiver, Ricky Seals-Jones, told reporters last Friday night that “Johnny’s gone”.

No matter what decision Manziel makes, one thing is for certain: Johnny Manziel will still be “Johnny Football”. He may just have to add a “pro” to go along with his new professional status.