Super Bowl LI Preview

Hello World,

It’s Super Bowl week, Atlanta vs New England, Falcons vs Patriots, Quinn vs Belichick and Ryan vs Brady. This is the 7th Super Bowl since 2000 for Belichick and Brady, whereas it is Atlanta’s second ever with their first coming in 1998 where they were dismantled by John Elway and the Broncos. Super Bowl 50 averaged 111.9 million viewers so even more this year, even if Lady Gaga is performing at halftime. Here is my preview for THE game of the year.

The Atlanta Falcons have been an offensive superpower this season. It has been incredible to watch, they have put up over 40 points in 6 different games this season, scoring a mesmeric 540 points tied for the 2000 Rams lead by now Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. Their quarterback, Matt Ryan was 1st team All-Pro and both Offensive Player of the year as well as league MVP. He has been the best quarterback to play every game this season. He has the number one quarterback rating in the league with 83.3, he has the second most touchdowns with 38 and passing yards with 4,944 and the third highest completion percentage with 69.9%. You feel like this type of season has been a long time coming for Ryan who came into the league in 2008 taken with the 3rd overall pick from Boston College. In his first season he lead the Falcons to an 11-5 record winning offensive rookie of the year then in 2012 they got all the way to the NFC Championship game but choked away a 17 point lead against the 49ers, so see him now reach the Super Bowl is reward for not only Atlanta fans but for the neutrals as well.

Ryan has powered the most explosive offensive this season due to the shrewd free agency work of Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli such as Alex Mack at centre (second team All-Pro), Mohammed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel both with 6 touchdowns each this year. As well as the explosion of both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman the best running back duo in the league with a combined 2,482 yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving) this year the best in the league. Now by having all of these players it has given Ryan more time and more option to spread the ball around and take the pressure off Julio Jones one of the best wide receivers in the league. He has been incredible this year with another Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro selection, 1,452 yards and 6 touchdowns. He added another record to his collection with 300 yards receiving in ONE game. That is one game that shows everyone what an extraordinary talent he is.

Atlanta has also benefited hugely from a very successful couple of drafts with rookie players this year such as Deion Jones, Keanu Neil, Austin Hooper and DeVondre Campbell all making significant impacts on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Deion Jones was nominated for Defensive Rookie of the Year with 108 tackles and safety Keanu Neil with 106 tackles as well. Vic Beasley jr seemed like a shadow of his college self in hiss rookie campaign with only 4 sacks but into his second year he has exploded to 15.5 sacks to win the Deacon Jones award and he reached his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection. With Ryan’s astounding offensive season it has given Atlanta very fast and big leads in games which have forced the opposing team to completely scrap their running game and be forced to throw on the Falcons. This has allowed them to play much more deep zone coverage as they don’t have to stack the box to stop the run. This has allowed the defence to get to the ball and force turnovers, something they will need in order to beat the Patriots.

The New England Patriots started this season without their starting quarterback Tom Brady and went 3-1 with a shutout of the Texans put in there for good measure. Since Brady returned from his suspension of the first four games of the season for his part in Deflategate. Brady returned in week 5 and the Patriots have only lost one game since this is down to Brady throwing 28 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions for 3,554 yards and owning an 112.2 passer rating. He has been incredible this season especially with the injury to Tight End Rob Gronkowski in the middle of the season eliminating Brady’s only All-Pro receiver. Brady has been unstoppable this year aged 39, he has much better pocket awareness than he did about 4 years ago and his arm doesn’t seem to be wilting like Peyton Manning’s did last season. Like Manning did last year, Brady is hoping to win the Super Bowl and if he does it will put him in my eyes as the greatest quarterback of all time because he will have 5 super bowl rings compared to Montana and Bradshaw’s 4 rings. We know that this is familiar territory for Brady as this is his 7th Super Bowl so you can expect a calm man stepping out onto that field looking for his chance to become immortal in Super Bowl history.

As I mentioned earlier the Falcons have also built their success around their joy in free agency and trades, so have the Patriots with such players as Chris Hogan, Martellus Bennett and Chris Long all becoming major factors for this New England team. The Patriots have statistically the number one ranked defence in the entire league. With such players as Dont’a Hightower, Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourtey providing Belichick with the backbone of a team, with a difficult task in the Super Bowl to stop the plethora of offensive weapons that Atlanta possesses. Now they did this very well against the Steelers in the AFC Championship game, where they double teamed Antonio Brown for large proportions of the game and forced Ben Roethlisberger to let his other receivers like Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton try to make a play, which they couldn’t. Now obviously the Patriots were helped out by a Le’Veon Bell injury in the game which limited him to 54 yards rushing. I feel like this Falcons team has too many weapons to enforce the same strategy again so it will be interesting to see how Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patrica try to slow down this offensive powerhouse.

In conclusion, I believe that this will be a high-scoring affair in Hoston with each team going over 30 points. But the experience and the combination of Brady and Belichick will find a way to get a win for their 5th super bowl as a duo. Also, bear in mind, the last player to win league MVP and the Super Bowl was Kurt Warner in 1999! As well as that with the Falcons owning the number one scoring offence and the Patriots the number one scoring defence. This has happened 6 times in Super Bowl history and the top-ranked scoring defence has a 5-1 record.

Final Score: Atlanta Falcons 31 – 38 New England Patriots

 

Advertisements

NFL Playoffs: Conference Championship Preview

Hello World,

Last weekend we had the Divisional round, and it certainly didn’t disappoint, with some cracking and unforgettable games. Arizona dispatched Green Bay 26-20 in OT, with Larry Fitzgerald having a game that will long be remembered – 8 catches for 176 yards – sending his Cardinals to the NFC Championship game. Here they will play Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, who defeated the Seahawks 31-24 in a game of two halves, as the Panthers raced out to a 31 zip lead at halftime, with Seattle nearly doing the impossible in scoring 24 unanswered points. But it wasn’t enough, and Carolina advances to their first NFC Championship since 2005.  In the AFC, the Patriots calmly dispatched the Chiefs 27-20,with the game never looking like slipping out of New England’s fingers. In Denver, the Broncos’ defense came up big, forcing a fumble from Steelers’ back up running back Fitzgerald Toussaint with only 5 minutes left, to seal the game, beating the Steelers 23-1. Moving onto the AFC Championship game, they will now play the Patriots in Denver.

Sunday 

AFC Championship Game : Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots 

This might be the longest game, grinding and tumultuous for both Brady and Manning, but somehow we have arrived at the same conclusion – the AFC Championship – with both playing for what seems like ” their last opportunity ” at a Lombardi trophy. This is the 17th meeting between the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks and mostly likely the last one as Manning is 39 years old and his play has rapidly declined this season.

Both teams this season have had their problems, but we will start with New England, who have been – at about every  point of the season, since week 4 –  decimated by injuries,  with key players seeming to go down like flies in Foxborough. This ultimately hasn’t stopped Tom Brady from leading his team to a 12-4 record and a deep playoff run. This season, he has worked wonders with the players that were left on the roster, such as James White and KeShawn Martin, and deserves the majority of the credit if the Patriots are  to reach the Super Bowl.

The Denver Broncos this season have been led by their dominant defense which ranks as the first in the league in total yards, yards per game and top three in points allowed per game. So it was to many people’s surprise that Peyton Manning started off this season so poorly and was benched (with 9 TDs  and 17 INTs) in week 12, in favour for Brock Osweiler. The Broncos defeated the Patriots in week 12, this season 30-24, with their running game clinching the win with over 160 yards. Peyton has recently entered the fray again, after recovering from his injury, to guide his team to the title game and perhaps ultimately the denouement of his esteemed career.

As everyone knows the quarterback position is the most important in the game. So the Patriots should be encouraged by the fact that Brady has played every game this season and is in such good form, just as they get their star players back. In contrast, Peyton has had his worst statistical season since he entered the league and doesn’t look like being back to his superlative best. Brady will win this game for the Patriots, beating Peyton for the 12th time and in turn reaching his 7th Super Bowl.

NFC Championship Game : Arizona Cardinals vs Carolina Panthers 

These are the two teams that have been the the best all season, which is why it’s a shame this game isn’t happening as the Super Bowl. With the Cardinals having won 13 games and the Panthers 15 games, their seasons have been eventful to say the least. They have a combined 17 Pro Bowl players and I think, if it weren’t for the look of bias and other players going  in on reputation, then there should have been more in the Pro Bowl.

The Panthers have been the number one team this season , going 15-1 in the regular season, with Cam Newton “Dabbing” his way to an MVP trophy after his amazing 45 combined ( 35 throwing and 10 rushing ) touchdowns this season, making this the most touchdowns in  a season since 2013. The Cardinals are going to have a tough time stopping this man who’s in the form of his life. The Panthers defense this season, has turned up to play ranked as the  6th best overall and they lead the league in interceptions with 24. They have a strong spine on defense with 4 Pro Bowlers  ( Josh Norman, Thomas Davis, Kawaan Short and Luke Kuechly )  and Cam Newton, who some are putting as the ultimate dual threat quarterback: this should be a tough game for Arizona.

The Cardinals, this season, have been immense on both sides of the ball as their offence, led by Carson Palmer, was ranked 1st in total yards, average yards per game and 2nd in points per game only behind to Carolina. Arizona I believe has the most complete roster in the NFL, with star players at every level on each side of the ball: on offence they have game changers in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, not to mention their quarterback Carson Palmer who finished the season 4th in yards and 2nd in touchdowns. But what might put them ahead is the fiery, competitive and daring nature of their coach Bruce Arians. He has managed to put this Arizona team into another gear this season, especially with the ” Next Man Up” mantra. Rookie David Johnson has replaced Chris Johnson amazingly well and more with over 1000 all purpose yards this season, after CJ2K fractured his tibia in week 12, but has said that if they reach the Super Bowl he will be “ready to go”.

In conclusion, I believe the Cardinals will win a tight game in Carolina, because they have a healthier squad at the moment: Carolina’s star running back Johnathan Stewart has been limited in practice this week. I think he will play because you only get so many opportunities to get to the NFC Championship game. But not being 100% will hinder this run-focused Panthers offence, leaving their defense out on the field for longer, making them more tired and vulnerable to big plays and a lot of points. Also, let’s just see what Josh Norman is made of in this match-up with Larry Fitzgerald. Having been playing out of his mind this season, we will see if Norman can cope with a fired-up Fitzgerald, who’s desperate to make it to his second Super Bowl.

 

NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round

Hello World,

Wow! What a weekend of games we had! Starting off on Saturday with the Kansas City Chiefs dismantling the Houston Texans 30-0 in Houston, I have to say it got embarrassing for Texan fans by the end of the second 3rd quarter. Later on we saw an aggressive game between the Steelers and the Bengals that will unfortunately be remembered for a late meltdown by the Bengals’ defense giving the Steelers an easy field goal to win the game. Then on Sunday we had the 3rd coldest game between Seattle vs Minnesota that ended with a 10-9 win for Seattle after a missed 27 field goal with only 26 seconds left by Minnesota. After that we had a matchup between Green Bay and Washington, where Aaron Rodgers gave his best performance in a while as the Packers won 38-15. This leads us into the divisional round games this weekend and with the two best best teams in each division hosting a game: it should get interesting.

Saturday

Kansas City Chiefs vs New England Patriots

Kansas City last weekend put on a show, starting off with a 106 yard kickoff return for a TD by Knile Davis, giving them the scruff of the neck then they never letting go and forcing 5 turnovers from the Texans on their way to a 30-0 win. Amazingly the Patriots have had six first-round byes in a row, which is the longest streak since 1990 (when it was introduced) for two teams. Another mind blowing stat is that for Tom Brady, this game will tie him for the most playoff games in NFL history (30) with Adam Vinatieri!

However, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows for both teams. The Chiefs, last weekend, lost their dynamic wide receiver Jeremy  Maclin with a knee injury, who this season along with tight end Travis Kelce has been the only passing attack for Alex Smith. So his return to 100% is essential for the Chiefs because without his presence, the Patriots’ secondary will erase Kelce, forcing their other receivers to make a play. Meanwhile for the Patriots, they are waiting on their own star receiver as Rob Gronkowski is questionable for this weekend as he’s received a knee injection, for his bruised MCL in week 12.

I’m going to predict a New England victory over Kansas City. This is due to the fact that if Justin Houston and Tamba Hali don’t play for Kansas City due to injury or aren’t 100% healthy, then Brady will have all day in the pocket to surgically dissect the Chiefs’ defense as he so usually does in the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers vs Arizona Cardinals 

This is a Green Bay team that has blown hot and cold this season, demonstrated by their comprehensive win last weekend over the Redskins and their pummeling loss by the Cardinals in week 16. The key for Green Bay is their core of receivers needs to create some separation: I think that having James Jones and DeVante Adams gives them the slowest group left in the playoffs from both conferences, not a key to winning the Super Bowl.

It is hard to tell with Arizona, because their Head Coach Bruce Arians said that his team will always play hard and won’t rest starters for the sake of doing so. This is why their mauling by the Seahawks in week 17 was so surprising, especially as Arizona possess one of the most complete rosters in the NFL and have stuck to Arians’ mantra all year, having ridden a nine game winning streak before playing Seattle.

I believe that Arizona will win this game comfortably at home, due to the fact that Green Bay doesn’t have the offensive firepower to even distract this Cardinals secondary, with James Jones of all people leading their passing attack. This gives Green Bay effectively no other option than to try and establish the run, which I’m afraid, Green Bay fans, isn’t happening because Arizona is ranked 6th in the league in run defense.

Sunday

Seattle Seahawks vs Carolina Panthers 

It was hard to decipher the Seahawks’ performance last weekend against the Vikings. I think the -25 wind chill affected their offence as they only ran for 97 yards whilst throwing for just 129 yards. Russell Wilson as per usual did enough to win, by leading his team down the field to get the winning score. This time though against the Panthers, it could be difficult for the Seahawks to get their offence up and running. As their offensive line has given up 46 sacks this season which is tied for the 6th most in the league, while the Panthers’ defensive line has 44 sacks, the 6th most in the league.

The Panthers then will need to replicate their performance from week 6 when they beat the Seahawks in Seattle 27-23, to get anywhere near a win. Greg Olsen was their catalyst last time these two teams met as he grabbed the winning touchdown score with only 32 seconds left and he needs to be back to his best for Carolina to have any downfield threat and win the game.

Ultimately I think the Panthers – who are at home for this game where they haven’t lost their last 11 matches dating back to week 15 last season – will win this game in Overtime to reach the NFC Championship. Cam Newton will run in for a touchdown to seal the game and send the home crowd into raptures, as it will be their first championship game in 10 years.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Denver Broncos

The Steelers last week were struck by both sides of the proverbial sword, by winning on the road vs the Bengals, but having their star players injured: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, separated his shoulder in the 3rd Quarter and Wide Receiver Antonio Brown was concussed on a late and dirty hit, by linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Both of them were assessed day by day on whether or not they will play: if they don’t it will seriously hinder Pittsburgh’s offence as both of them have been in the top 5 at their position this season.

Gary Kubiak has decided to start Peyton Manning this weekend over Brock Osweiler. Many other people and analysts are saying that this might be Peyton’s swansong as Osweiler has been a step up from Manning throughout the latter half of the regular season. I do think though that with this being Manning’s first full game since week 11, he will be quite rusty and struggle to move the ball early on. I think that it depends on their first 3 drives: if Manning is able to get into a rhythm and Kubiak establishes the run, then he will be able to manage the game from there – perhaps to a Denver victory.

In conclusion, I believe that everything depends on Brown’s and Roethlisberger’s health. If they play at 100% then the Steelers’ offence will power them to victory, but if not then CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman will run all over the Steelers defense for over 120 yards, buffering Manning’s career from riding off into the sunset. But I’m going to back the Steelers for a 10 point win and into the AFC Championship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midseason Award Winners 2015

It’s the end of week 8 and week 9 is about to start, so it’s the perfect time to show which players have stood out above the rest since week 4, and put their teams in a prime position to make it to the playoffs.

MVP – Tom Brady 

He has been playing out of this world this season and has lead the Patriots undefeated so far. He’s on pace to crush his numbers from the historical 2007 season because so far, he’s had a wide open Gronkowski to hit or can just dump it off to Dion Lewis, an emerging star now on the ground. He’s second in passing yards only to Philip Rivers, tied for first in passing TDs with Carson Palmer and first in passer rating. So expect this all to continue for Brady in his quest for another super bowl!

Offensive Player of the Year – Rob Gronkowski 

He is optimising the New England Patriots at the moment with his utter dominance all over the field. Whether he is blocking, running routes or steamrolling defenders, there is nobody on earth that can cover possibly the best tight end of all time. So this season he is on pace for nearly 1,500 yards and 16 TDs showing off how unstoppable he is when he gets going.

Defensive Player of the Year – Charles Woodson 

So far this season he has been on fire; Wodson leads the league in interceptions with 5 at age of 39! His great play has been a stand out on Oakland’s average defense, with his interceptions so far this season moving him up 5th all time in the NFL with 65! Oakland now has a winning record in November for the first time since 2011 giving them some hope to grab a wildcard spot in a crowded AFC. They have a huge thanks to give to Woodson as his leadership and play-making on defense is making them a contender for the first time in years.

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Todd Gurley

Wow! He has blown the league away in the past few weeks! Gurley in 5 games has 575 yards rushing, 3 TDs and is averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Gurley has also set an NFL record with 4 straight games with at least 125 yards rushing! With all of these numbers there are comparisons to Adrian Peterson and Eric Dickerson. I believe that he will continue this streak, and break Dickerson’s rushing record to capture Offensive Rookie of the year and maybe more….

Defensive Rookie of the Year – Leonard Williams 

This man has been a cut above the rest of the other defensive rookies mid-way through the season. He has 24 tackles and 0.5 sacks but it’s his power and ability that means he can’t be left one on one with a guard, so offensive lines are having to now double team him which is leaving the other extremely talented players on that Jets line such as Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and David Harris to get to the quarterback. If he keeps going at this rate, the defense might carry the Jets to the playoffs.

Comeback Player of the Year – Carson Palmer

Now this award could go to many others on the Cardinals roster as well as  Eric Berry or Adrian Peterson but as quarterback is the most important position in sports and Carson Palmer is playing as well as nearly anyone in the league with 2,386 yards, a 20:6 TD to INT ratio and a passer rating over 110.2. He is leading Arizona’s vertical offence to new places this year as it looks like Bruce Arians is just letting him have fun. All of this after he tore his ACL last year and missed the most of the season makes him the leader for this award.

Coach of the Year – Marvin Lewis

He has worked wonders for this team; to go from the perennial laughing stock of the league to undefeated so far this season is amazing. The Bengals so often throughout his tenure have been the ‘almost’ team performing well in the regular season and then for 4 years been hammered in the wildcard round, so now this season it looks like the identity of the team has changed with the most potent offence in the league and a rejuvenated defense. Marvin Lewis has to get an award for such a turnaround!