Sunday, January 27, 2019

2018-19 NFL playoff predictions (Part 4 – Super Bowl)

Welcome to part four of my 2018-19 NFL playoff predictions. The final match-up is set for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta:

New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Rams

This game is a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Patriots stunned the overwhelmingly favored then-St. Louis Rams, 20-17. The Rams previously won Super Bowl XXXIV over the Tennessee Titans in 2000, while the Patriots finally return to the Super Bowl for the third time in three years.

This is probably the least excited I’ve been for a Super Bowl in years.

How the Patriots reached the Super Bowl
After the Patriots suffered a heartbreaking loss last year in Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Patriots finished this year’s regular season with an 11-5 record, every loss occurring on the road. The Patriots demolished the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 in the Divisional round before resurrecting the Arrowhead Curse in a 37-31 overtime AFC Championship victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots finally snapped their decade-long road playoff game losing streak.

How the Patriots can win the Super Bowl
The Patriots O-line never broke against the Chargers and the Chiefs. A repeat performance against the Rams and Tom Brady won’t even break a sweat. If the Patriots can punch through the Rams’ O-line and neutralize Jared Goff, Tom Brady will secure his sixth ring before the halftime show. No room for costly interceptions and turnovers, however; those mistakes nearly doomed the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. The Patriots need a perfect performance through all sixty minutes to win Super Bowl LIII and give Tom Brady his sixth ring.

How the Rams reached the Super Bowl
The Rams finished second in the NFC with a 13-3 record, first defeating the Dallas Cowboys 30-22 before defeating the New Orleans Saints 26-23 in overtime after the Rams were bailed out by the referees late in the game. Had the referees called that pass interference penalty, we’d be looking at an exciting showdown between the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots, Drew Brees vs. Tom Brady, a clash of the titans. But no, instead we get “team that’s been here a million times before” vs. “team that only got here thanks to an abysmal non-call.”

How the Rams can win the Super Bowl
The Rams defense may hold the key to breaking through the Patriots O-line: Aaron Donald. As seen in Super Bowl LII, the only time Brady was sacked was the moment the Patriots were doomed to defeat. Neutralize Brady and the Patriots run the risk of losing back-to-back Super Bowls, not seen since the quadruple fail train that was the Buffalo Bills in the 1990s. The Rams have the best offense in the NFC, but it’s small comfort when the Patriots already toppled the best offense in the league, the Kansas City Chiefs. Jared Goff will need to deliver a perfect effort and receive help from the ground attack if the Rams are to overcome the Patriots and win Super Bowl LIII.

Final prediction
The Super Bowls over the past several years each have had a defining moment. We’ve had a power outage (XLVII), a safety twelve seconds in that kicked off a lopsided game (XLVIII), a stupefying decision to pass on the one yard line when you have Marshawn Lynch on your team (XLIX), an unstoppable juggernaut crumbling in the big game (50), an overtime battle after it was 28-3 (LI), and a cataclysmic strip sack turnover late in the fourth quarter to seal the game (LII).

Super Bowl LIII will have its own defining moment. Brady and Goff will fight to a 31-31 tie late in the fourth quarter. The Rams will seem poised to seal the game with a late drive.

Until Goff throws a pick six and the Patriots seal the win with a defensive touchdown.

Patriots win, 38-31

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

2018-19 NFL playoff predictions (Part 3 - Championship)

Welcome to part three of my 2018-19 NFL playoff predictions! A solid three for four on the Divisional games, only missing the Chiefs victory over the Colts and the Arrowhead Curse.

Only four teams remain standing, and all want to play in the Super Bowl. But first, the AFC/NFC Championship games. Here are the four potential match-ups for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta:

Kansas City Chiefs vs. New Orleans Saints
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Rams
New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints
New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Rams

But which match-up will it be?

Let's find out.


#1 Kansas City Chiefs vs. #2 New England Patriots
With the Arrowhead Curse neutralized, the Chiefs have nothing to fear and total confidence heading into the AFC Championship game. The Chiefs and Patriots met once in the regular season, the Chiefs being on the losing end of a 43-40 shootout in week 6. That game, however, was at Gillette Stadium. Now Tom Brady and the Patriots must take the fight on the road.

The Patriots have struggled badly on the road this season, losing five of their eight road games. They haven't won a road playoff game on the road since January 2007. The dismal road record plus the imminent battle against an energized Chiefs squad leaves the Patriots in dire straits.

The Patriots need a perfect effort to defeat the Chiefs, and pray the Arrowhead Curse will return just in time. True, the Patriots shredded the Chargers on the scoreboard in the Divisional game, but the Patriots' performance in the second half of that game is concerning going into the AFC Championship; only six points in the second half? The Patriots need to repeat the first half of that game instead for the complete sixty minutes.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, will be eager to end Tom Brady's season and send him home disappointed.

Prediction: Chiefs win, 35-28.

Result: Patriots win, 37-31 (OT).

Comments after the game:

The Arrowhead Curse is already back. Sheesh.

A chaotic fourth quarter sent this game to overtime, but Tom Brady and the Patriots won first possession. The inevitable Tom Brady game-winning drive followed.

And so the Patriots and the Rams will face off in Super Bowl LIII.


#1 New Orleans Saints vs. #2 Los Angeles Rams

The Saints dethroned the reigning Super Bowl champion Eagles, despite trailing 14-0 after the first quarter. The Rams, meanwhile, stampeded through the Cowboys defense after a sluggish start.

The top two teams in the NFC know how to score, regularly posting thirty-plus, forty-plus, and even fifty-plus points on the board. The Saints and the Rams met once in the regular season, the Saints winning 45-35 over the Rams in week 9.

The Saints didn't post many points in their victory over the Eagles, but they won by silencing Nick Foles and the Eagles offense for three quarters. Drew Brees struggled in the first quarter, but roared to life for the rest of the game to lead the Saints to score twenty unanswered points. The Saints' greatest strength is their balance; they are a dangerous team on all fronts, willing to execute brilliant plays and shift the game's momentum in an instant.

The Rams certainly have the firepower to score, but the biggest question is whether they can overcome a strong Saints defense. If not, Drew Brees is heading back to the Super Bowl.

Prediction: Saints win, 41-31.

Result: Rams win, 26-23 (OT).

Comments after the game:
Rams win thanks to the late effort by the referees.

Monday, January 7, 2019

2018-19 NFL playoff predictions (Part 2 - Divisional)

Welcome to part two of my 2018-19 NFL playoff predictions! A dismal one for four on the Wild Card games; the Colts-Texans game was the only correct prediction. Let's hope for better outcomes in the Divisional games!

Let's go.


#1 Kansas City Chiefs vs. #6 Indianapolis Colts
The odds are stacked against the Chiefs. They were first overall in the AFC, have the top-ranked offense in the league, have six Pro Bowlers on the squad, and have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Wait, what? How could any of that possibly count against the Chiefs?


The Arrowhead Curse.

The Chiefs haven't won a home playoff game in twenty-five years. And lest we forget, the Chiefs were up 21-3 before they collapsed and lost to the Tennessee Titans 22-21 in last year's playoffs.

Andrew Luck and the Colts stand to unleash another upset, but don't expect the Chiefs to simply give up, Arrowhead Curse or not.

Prediction: Colts win, 21-20.

Result: Chiefs win, 31-13.

Comments after the game:


Yes, the Chiefs finally won a playoff game at home. It took twenty-five years, but the Arrowhead Curse is now history.


#2 New England Patriots vs. #5 Los Angeles Chargers
Tom Brady and the Patriots are fortunate they're not playing on the road. The team was 3-5 in road games this season, but a perfect 8-0 at home. The Chargers, however, will be eager to deliver a shocking upset against the Patriots. The closest upset in shock value was the Broncos win over the Patriots in the 2015-16 AFC championship game.

How can the Patriots defeat the Chargers? Simple.

Don't play like the Baltimore Butterfingers.

Prediction: Patriots win, 31-24.

Result: Patriots win, 41-28.

Comments after the game:
We turn now to incredible highlights of the Chargers:

The Chargers came alive in the second half, scoring twenty-one points and holding Tom Brady and the Patriots to six points - a pair of field goals. The Chargers insist they have no knowledge of the five touchdowns and thirty-five points they surrendered in the game's first half.


#1 New Orleans Saints vs. #6 Philadelphia Eagles
Against all odds, the Eagles smashed through the brick wall at Soldier Field. Unfortunately, destroying one wall revealed a much stronger wall beyond, one made of solid steel and barbed wire around Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Eagles cannot rely on another last-second miracle to save them this time. Drew Brees and the Saints have regularly posted thirty-plus, forty-plus, and one time even fifty-plus points on the board. The Eagles have no room for error; one mistake and the Saints will extinguish the Eagles. Lest we forget the Eagles were on the losing end of a 48-7 demolition inflicted by the Saints back in November.

Nick Foles will make a valiant effort, but he will not be able to break through the New Orleans wall.

Prediction: Saints win, 41-21.

Result: Saints win, 20-14.

Comments after the game:
There will be a new Super Bowl champion.

The Eagles exploded out of the gate, intercepting Drew Brees' first pass of the game and going on to score fourteen points in the first quarter. The Eagles weren't in the mood to repeat last week's last-second heroics, they wanted to build a huge lead and crush the Saints.

For the first quarter, the strategy worked.

Then the Eagles disintegrated.

Drew Brees and the Saints roared back from a fourteen-to-nothing deficit, extinguishing Nick Foles and punching through the Eagles defense. Foles surrendered two costly interceptions, the latter of which effectively sealed the Eagles' fate.

The Saints shake off the demons from last year's devastating last-second defeat against the Minnesota Vikings, and advance to the NFC Championship game against the Rams.


#2 Los Angeles Rams vs. #4 Dallas Cowboys
The Rams boast one of the deadliest offenses in the league, on par with the high-scoring Saints. Small comfort, however, when memories of last season return: the Rams were the deadliest offense last year and it didn't help when they crashed and burned against the Atlanta Falcons. They will not have such problems this time around.

The Cowboys were fortunate that the Seahawks wasted time in the Wild Card game on a hopeless running game. The Cowboys will not enjoy that luxury again.

Prediction: Rams win, 35-20.

Result: Rams win, 30-22.

Comments after the game:
The Cowboys were prepared to stop the Seahawks running game last week, but they were completely unprepared for the Rams running game this week. C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley II both ran for over 100 yards and combined for three touchdowns, decimating the Cowboys.

The Cowboys continue to suffer from the reverse Arrowhead curse; they have not won a playoff game on the road since 1993. The Cowboys started the game strong by scoring the first touchdown, but they just couldn't stop the Rams, especially in the second quarter.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018-19 NFL playoff predictions (Part 1 - Wild Card)

Happy New Year! As we begin 2019, it’s time to make the first of many NFL playoff predictions. This post will focus on the Wild Card games; future posts will predict the outcome of the Divisional and Championship games, and eventually the Super Bowl.

Let’s go.


#6 Indianapolis Colts at #3 Houston Texans
Is your team suffering from a 1-5 record? Wish you could somehow make the playoffs and make a run for the Super Bowl? Introducing Andrew Luck, the fast and easy way to take your team from 1-5 to 10-6, guaranteed! But wait! Order right now, and we’ll throw in a playoff spot! Just pay separate shipping and handling.

The Indianapolis Colts are the reverse Carolina Panthers: start slow, then catch fire and surge into the playoffs all guns blazing. The Houston Texans also started slowly with a 0-3, but quickly soared with a nine-game winning streak that curiously started with a victory over the Colts and ended with a loss to the Colts.

A competitive battle will be fought, but the Colts will use their momentum to win the day.

Prediction: Colts win, 28-21.

Result: Colts win, 21-7.

Comments after the game:
Houston, we have a problem: The Texans are allergic to playoff success.

A competitive game, this was not. The Colts dominated the first half, inflicting enough damage to prevent the Texans from mounting any comeback in the much slower second half. The Texans offense was reported missing for the first three quarters of the game.

The Colts move on to face the top-ranked Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium!


#5 Los Angeles Chargers at #4 Baltimore Ravens
The Los Angeles Chargers have spent the season in the shadow of their AFC West rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs. Still, that hasn’t stopped the Chargers from surging to 12-4 on the season, quietly posting win after win while most attention was focused elsewhere. The Baltimore Ravens, meanwhile, struggled all through the season until their bye week, finally reversing their misfortunes by winning six of their last seven games and winning the AFC North.

The Chargers and the Ravens have met once this season, just recently on December 22 when the Ravens won 22-10. The Chargers have had a problem this season: when they lose, they either lose by one point, or by ten or more points. The latter happened three times, once each against the Rams, the Chiefs, and the Ravens.

Unless the Chargers can crack the fierce Ravens defense that allowed only 287 points this season, there is little hope of the Chargers being anything more than one and done.

Prediction: Ravens win, 24-14.

Result: Chargers win, 23-17.

Comments after the game:
We have stunning highlights of the Baltimore Ravens:

Someone forgot to inform the Ravens that they're supposed to fight for the right to play in the Super Bowl, not the Fumble Bowl.


#6 Philadelphia Eagles at #3 Chicago Bears
Through much of the seasons, there was a real fear that the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles would fail to even make the playoffs. The Eagles were an inconsistent trainwreck throughout their first ten games, losing six of their first ten games and culminating in a humiliating 48-7 defeat inflicted by the New Orleans Saints.

The rout seemed to have invigorated the Eagles into high gear as they suddenly started winning again, taking five of their last six games. The Eagles’ wishes for a playoff berth were granted as the Minnesota Vikings lost their last game against the Chicago Bears and allowed the Eagles to seize the final playoff spot.

Now the Eagles must thank the Bears by fighting them at Soldier Field. No easy task, as the Bears have transformed from a trainwreck in previous seasons to a defensive powerhouse this season. Indeed, the Bears allowed the fewest points in the league this season at 283.

The Eagles may have Nick Foles, but the Bears have a brick wall.

Prediction: Bears win, 27-10.

Result: Eagles win, 16-15.

Comments after the game:

Are you kidding me?!

After a back-and-forth low-scoring affair, the Bears were poised to emerge victorious with a last-second field goal. Fate had other plans, however, as Cody Parkey's field goal attempt bounced off the upright, bounced again off the crossbar, and out.

Was Blair Walsh anywhere near Soldier Field today?


#5 Seattle Seahawks at #4 Dallas Cowboys
If this was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the Seattle Seahawks, they must have missed the memo. The Seahawks have returned to the playoffs with a 10-6 record after missing the postseason last year. The Seahawks have been mostly consistent throughout the season; when the Seahawks lose, the scores are always close, never a blowout. When the Seahawks are at full strength, however, they are damn near unstoppable. If there are any problems, it’s almost always Seattle’s offensive line.

The Dallas Cowboys, on the other hand, started the season sluggishly before surging late season by winning seven of their last eight games. Of concern was one of those last eight games, when the Cowboys were shut out 23-0 by the Colts. Still, the Cowboys have the tools to win, it’s just a matter of whether they run into a full-strength Seahawks squad.

Prediction: Seahawks win, 24-17.

Result: Cowboys win, 24-22.

Comments after the game:

Here's a novel concept: when the running game clearly isn't working, pass the damn ball. But no, apparently this is too complex a concept for the Seahawks' playcallers. Run-run-pass before three-and-out happened too damn often tonight.

Next season, the Seahawks desperately need to let Russell Wilson take control rather than have him be crippled by predictable playcalls. Also, today's performance by the Seahawks kicking game continues to beg the question: why did the Seahawks let Steven Hauschka go?
The Seahawks exceeded expectations when they reached the playoffs this year, but moral victories count for nothing on the road to the Super Bowl.