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.

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.

Wild-Card Eagles vs. Saints Preview

Saints must prove that they can win on the road in bad weather

Saints must prove that they can win on the road in bad weather

After experiencing a year of setbacks in 2012 – mostly due to the penalties as a result of the bounty scandal – the New Orleans Saints started the 2013 NFL campaign strong. Even after a stunning last-second loss to New England in Week 6 and a perplexing defeat at the hands of the Jets in Week 9, the Saints were still in-line for at least a first round bye heading to Seattle in Week 13.

However, after getting drubbed by the Seahawks and experiencing the reality of the 12th man, the wheels came off a little. Late losses within the division to St. Louis and Carolina ceded the division to the Panthers and has forced Drew Brees and company to pave their way to the Super Bowl exclusively on the road.

They will begin that journey on Saturday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly has come in and changed a football culture that seemed to have grown stale after so many years of Andy Reid. Nick Foles somehow looks like a potential franchise quarterback, Shady McCoy is the best running back playing in the playoffs (with all due respect to Jamaal Charles), and their defense is opportunistic, if not stout.

Many have been quick to point out how healthy they are heading into the playoffs – perhaps as a result of Kelly’s new nutrition and practice program he brought from college.

So who has the edge?

If this game was being played in the Superdome, I would imagine the Saints would be favored by double digits. On paper, they have an advantage in almost every key area. For example, although the Eagles offense ranked slightly higher than the Saints during the regular season (2nd and 4th, respectively), the edge on that side of the ball has to go to Drew Brees and Sean Payton over Foles and Kelly. They have more experience in both the regular season and the playoffs, and the weapons at Brees’ disposal are just as explosive as McCoy and DeSean Jackson. The Eagles are sure to have fits with Jimmy Graham alone.

Defensively, the Saints had a complete 180 from last year. They finished 4th in total defense under newly hired Rob Ryan after having a historically bad unit in 2012. And while the Eagles had moments of resiliency, they finished 29th in total defense and are prone to giving up big plays.

Coaching-wise, Kelly has been a revelation. However, Payton has won a Super Bowl, and as last year proved, he might be as important to his team as anyone not named Bill Belichick. It appears as though Kelly will be around for a while, and he has had a great start; but coaching in January with grown men is different than with teenagers.

The catch with all of this is that the game isn’t being played in the Superdome. It’s being played in Philadelphia, where the weather will be cold (the forecast calls for clear skies but temperatures in the low 20’s) and the fans will be aggressive.

Can the Saints do what they couldn’t in Seattle? What they couldn’t in New England, New York, St. Louis, or Carolina?

While I think this will be a competitive game because it’s a home game for the Eagles, the edge has to go the Saints. If their defense is able to slow down Foles, McCoy, and Jackson, Brees should be able to put enough points on the board to come out of Philadelphia with a victory.

Hawks Percy Harvin Hopeful for Playoffs

Harvin hopeful for the playoffs

Harvin hopeful for the playoffs

It was just about a week ago that Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said that the Seahawks might have to make a roster move sending Percy Harvin to season-ending injured reserve. Harvin returned from hip surgery on November 17th to play his only game of the season against his former Minnesota Vikings. The next few weeks weren’t so good for the 5th year receiver, and after missing the next four games, it looked like it was time to pull the plug on Percy.

However, with 2014 (and a playoff run) closing in, things might be taking a turn for the Seattle Seahawks and their essentially unused weapon. Harvin has been practicing this week as his team prepares for their first playoff game on January 11th, after a first round bye. Still dealing with a lingering hip problem, Harvin has been giving it a go in practice in hopes for a return. Pete Carroll said the young and dynamic receiver would do anything to play and is finally at a place where he has a chance.

Taking things a step further yet, Harvin apparently had an “amazing” workout with quarterback, Russell Wilson, on Monday. This was the deciding factor not to put Harvin on I.R. and to keep options open for the playoffs. After his throwing session, Harvin went on to tweet “go time once again.”

If it does prove to be “go time” for Harvin, the NFC had better look out. The Seahawks have proven themselves extremely dangerous on both sides of the ball, even without a multi-faceted threat like Harvin. The 25 year old out of Florida has proven himself both as a receiver and return man in four seasons with the Vikings.

He never went a season without 60 catches (until his 1 game 2013 season) and averaged over 10 yards per catch in each season as well. We’ll have to wait and see what happens over Week 18, but it would surely be perfect timing for the Seahawks if Harvin is able to suit up. The ‘Hawks will play the lowest winning seed out of the NFC Wild Card round on January 11th (between the Packers, 49ers, Eagles and Saints). In case you need a reminder, it is clearly PLAYOFF TIME IN THE NFL!

Rodgers’ Return Fuels Pack Past Bears

packers-bears-football

Rodgers’ last minute heroics propel Packers into the playoffs

With their MVP quarterback returning from a two month injury hiatus, the Packers playoff hopes came down to Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears. Playing in a winner take all matchup for the NFC North title, Aaron Rodgers put the Pack into the postseason once again with a 48 yard touchdown strike to Randall Cobb in the game’s final minute, giving the Packers a 33-28 win.

Labeled as one of the premier matchups of the weekend, the game lived up to its billing as the two teams traded blows for much of the game. Rodgers looked rusty early as he was picked off on the Packers first two possessions, but the Packers took a 13-7 lead into half time thanks to one of the strangest plays of the year. Wide receiver, Jarrett Boykin, picked up an Aaron Rodgers fumble and walked into the end zone as Bears players stood and watched, thinking the play was whistled dead, allowing for the easy touchdown.

Trading touchdowns for most of the second half, the Bears looked primed for the win as Jay Cutler hooked up with Brandon Marshall to start the fourth quarter, giving the Bears a 28-20 lead. The Packers answered right back, though, as Eddie Lacy punched in an impressive touchdown run to cap a 6 play, 77 yard drive which cut the Bears lead down to one.

Down one, Rodgers showed why the Packers are once again Super Bowl contenders with him in the lineup. Facing fourth down on three separate occasions on the game-winning drive, Rodgers and the Packers found a way each time to save their season. None was more impressive than Rodgers’ 48 yard bomb to Randall Cobb on 4th and 8 which saw Rodgers elude pressure to hit the receiver in stride. Given less than a minute to stage a comeback, Jay Cutler and the Bears fell short as Sam Shields intercepted Cutler on the game’s final play.

With all their weapons finally back from injury, the Packers seem ready for yet another deep playoff run. Rodgers was a god-send for the receiving corps which saw a healthy Randall Cobb score 2 touchdowns and Jordy Nelson record 10 receptions for 161 yards. Eddie Lacy was also effective even on a bum ankle and will provide yet another dimension for a Packers offense which looks dangerous once again with Rodgers at the helm. Sunday was proof that as long as No. 12 is under center for the Packers, anything can happen.

NFL Week 17 Running Back Sleeper Report

Blount could put up some impressive numbers against the Bills

Blount could put up some impressive numbers against the Bills

Hopefully, as you read this, you are preparing for the last leg of your fantasy championship. However, even if you aren’t, and you have some sort of consolation bracket, you’ll want a few tips in this last week of the regular season. Bragging rights are real, and the person on the other side of the matchup doesn’t want to lose either.

Here are a couple running backs that could come through in week 17.

LeGarrette Blount (NE)

Blount has been hit or miss for most of the season, mixing great efforts (such as last week against Baltimore – 76 yards, 2 TD’s) with subpar outings (like week 1 against Buffalo – 7 carries, 15 yards). I bring up Buffalo because that is who the Patriots are facing this Sunday. The Bills defense has been stingy against opposing running backs for most of the year, and Blount will be sharing carries with Stevan Ridley.

However, New England needs this game to secure a first round bye and perhaps gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs if Denver loses. And they have been quick to rely on their running game since Gronk went down. Blount should get a chance to help push the Patriots to victory.

James Starks (GB)

The Green Bay Packers received the best holiday present they could have ever asked for when Aaron Rodgers was cleared to play on Thursday. Amazingly, they stayed afloat in the NFC North while he was out, and now they find themselves in a play-in game against Chicago.

Seeing the Bears defense can only mean good things for those on Green Bay’s offense. The Bears have been nothing short of horrendous on defense, especially later in the season. Starks is second-fiddle to the workhorse that is Eddie Lacy. But Lacy re-injured an ankle last Sunday, so there may be extra carries out there for Starks. If he gets even 10 touches, he will be a productive fantasy back on Sunday.

Week 17 Tight End-Wide Receiver Sleeper Report

Boykin could be in for a big game with Aaron Rodgers back in action

Boykin could be in for a big game with Aaron Rodgers back in action

Week 17 is here and it’s championship week for anyone still playing. Luckily there aren’t many teams that will be treating Week 17 as a bye week with all the playoff and seeding implications in almost every game, it should be a great week for fantasy owners.

Aaron Rodgers has been named the starter for Week 17 making several Green Bay wide receivers relevant again and with Romo out, owners should not be starting anyone besides Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Calvin Johnson is going to be a game time decision and did not practice all week so Megatron owners might need a backup plan for him as well.

Jarrett Boykin, Nate Washington and Joseph Fauria lead the crop of Week 17 WR and TE sleepers.

There are

Jarrett Boykin (WR – GB)

Jarrett Boykin has been up and down with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien at quarterback and couldn’t really be trusted on a weekly basis without Rodgers in the lineup. With Rodgers back in the lineup this week, Boykin is a solid WR3 and Flex play in PPR leagues.

The only concern with Boykin is that Randall Cobb may play this week which would make Cobb the third best option on the team. Keep an eye out for Cobb’s status on Sunday because with Cobb in the lineup, it decreases Boykin’s value quite a bit. If Cobb does get the start, he wouldn’t be a bad option as well and is available in a lot of leagues.

Nate Washington (WR – TEN)

Ryan Fitzpatrick has really helped the likes of Nate Washington, Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker this season. There has been a lot of buzz around Wright and Walker in recent weeks, but Nate Washington has actually been keeping pace with both the last two weeks.

Washington has totaled 13 catches for 209 yards and a touchdown the past two weeks.  He’s getting lots of targets and is benefiting from Fitzpatrick’s gun-slinger mentality.  The Titans and Texans don’t have much to play for in Week 17 but Ryan Fitzpatrick wants to prove that he belongs in the NFL and will be taking this game very seriously.

Washington is a bit of a reach for a championship game, but Washington would be a good spot start if Calvin Johnson doesn’t end up playing.

Joseph Fauria (TE – DET)

For owners that made it to the championship game without  one of the top 3 0r 4 tight ends, it might not be a bad idea to give Joseph Fauria a start this week. Fauria is a touchdown machine and has the tight end position to himself with Brandon Pettigrew on the IR.

Fauria only managed three catches for 43 yards and a two point conversion in Week 16 but he did have six targets may have more if Calvin Johnson doesn’t end up playing.  Fauria is a great red zone and goal line target at 6’7″ and 255 pounds.  

Considering Fauria’s size and Detroit’s match-up against the Vikings (3rd most points to tight ends this season), owners could do a lot worse than Fauria with the lack of production at the tight end position this year.

 

Aaron is Back, Roger That!

Rodgers needs to be sharp to vault Green Bay back into the playoffs

Rodgers needs to be sharp to vault Green Bay back into the playoffs

The Green Bay Packers announced that all-star quarterback Aaron Rogers is back.

This is great news for the Green Bay Packers as they will not have to see the likes of their sub-par backup quarterbacks anymore. A win this week against the Bears and the Packers will clinch a spot in the playoffs. This is also a big week for fantasy owners who have a week 17 championship game.

There is no doubt that Rogers is going to be a “must-start” because he is Aaron Rogers. The Bears have been a little stingy against the pass this year as only Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for more than 300 yards against them. Never the less, if you have Rogers on your team, you have to play him.

Some more good news for Rogers owners is that Randal Cobb is also slated to play on Sunday. Cobb is the Green Bay Packers most valuable weapon and Rogers will look to get the ball into his playmakers hands. The duo will look to get back at the defense who knocked out Rogers in week 9 which is the last time Rogers played.

This game is for all the marbles, its a championship week for many fantasy owners and a make or break game for the Packers.

Week 16 Running Back Sit and Start Report

Ryan Mathews is a great play against a WORTHLESS Raiders defense

Ryan Mathews is a great play against a WORTHLESS Raiders defense

Week 16 is here, and with that comes fantasy football championships. All of your hard work and maybe some luck have brought you to this point and it all comes down to one more Sunday of football. If you still have some questions at the running back position, this will be your guide to bringing home the title.

Start:

Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers: After being the butt of fantasy football jokes for most of his career, Mathews has put together a solid 2013 season which has seen him catch fire in recent weeks. He has scored a combined 60 fantasy points in his last 4 weeks and is seeing a huge workload. Mathews has had 29 carries in each of his last two games which has resulted in two straight 100 yard rushing games. With a matchup against an Oakland Raiders defense which surrendered 5 TDs to Jamaal Charles last week, Mathews should be a great play this week.

DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys: On the start list for the second straight week, Murray has been ridiculously good in recent weeks. He gauged the Packers for 134 yards and a score last week and is now averaging 6.3 yards per carry since his return from injury in Week 9. This week the Cowboys take on the Washington Redskins who are horrendous against the run. With the Redskins surrendering the most rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs, it’s a good bet we’ll see Murray in the end zone sometime on Sunday.

Sit:

Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints: With a division title on the line in the Saints matchup against the Carolina Panthers this week, don’t expect much from the Saints primary back. Thomas has cooled off from his hot streak earlier in the season and is only averaging 4.4 fantasy points in his last three games. Travelling to Carolina, Thomas will not have any running room in what will be one of the best games of the week.

Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots: Overcoming his fumbling woes, Ridley has come back in the past two weeks to get back most of his carries. However, even with 8 carries in each of the last two weeks, Ridley has been non-productive, averaging only 35 yards per game. His hot stretch in November is long gone, and a matchup with a solid Baltimore Ravens defense doesn’t bode well for the back. Ridley is still unreliable at this point.