NFL Bold Predictions

NFL Bold Predictions

Football is back! The 2018 NFL season kicked off this weekend and in honour of it, I decided to have a look at each Division in the league and try to predict the winner. Obviously it would have been great to get this out before the season started but I only had the inspiration at the last minute and then life got in the way, slowing things down, but I had all the predictions down before the matches started so still felt it was worth putting out.

Now for those who don’t know, I’m a Tennessee Titans fan and as last season was their first playoff appearance since I started cheering for them I’m obviously not the best judge of success, so I decided to get in a few friends to help me:

  • Rob is an old friend from uni, who I got to know through the 3 years. While at uni, he got into American football and began to play for the university’s team, Tarannau. He is (unfortunately) a Jaguars fan
  • Matt is a former work colleague who was actually one of the people who supported me as I initially set up this site. He was the one person at work I could actually have a conversation with about the NFL and not see their eyes glaze over. You can find his blog here. He is an Eagles fan and thinks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles are gods among men
  • Ed is an old friend from school who I recently got back in contact with via social media through a shared love of all things sporty and geeky. He is currently a Patriots fan, but feels dirty to admit it

Now when I set these lads the challenge, I got immediate responses from Rob and Matt but Ed actually took a few days to think about it and came back to me not just with his picks but mini essay’s for each division – in fact it would have probably made a better post than all my rubbish! So as we go through I thought I would throw in some of Ed’s pearls of wisdom too.


NFC North

The Bears will be better with Khalil Mack on defense and Mitch Trubisky entering his second year with an improved receiver corps, however I feel they are maybe 1 year away from competing in this division. The Lions will always be in with a shot as long at Matthew Stafford is throwing big numbers, but again I don’t feel they have the overall quality to make the top 2. The Packers have a great chance to win the division if Aaron Rodgers can stay fit, especially with Jimmy Graham now in Green Bay, however if A-Rod goes down they could easily end up bottom of the standings. For me, the division belongs to the Minnesota Vikings, who will combine one of the best defences in the league with an offense that should go to the next level with Kirk Cousins under center.

Rob’s pick: Vikings           Matt’s pick: Bears            Ed’s pick: Vikings

Ed says: “This is close between the Vikings and the Packers, but the Vikings should be able to build on a good season last year with a top WR corps and Defense now with a solid QB under centre in Kirk Cousins. A fit again packers should push them close in this division and will make the playoffs even without the Rodgers Nelson connection. Excited to see the Bears play this season with Trubisky under pressure to perform and a huge pickup in Khalil Mack – still a side in growth”

NFC East

With OBJ back and Saquon Barkley in the backfield, the Giants should do better than last year, but I do not feel their O-Line will be able to give Eli Manning the time he needs. The Redskins will do well with a strong team, but may be hampered by Alex Smith’s more limited short passing game. The Cowboys’ success depends heavily on Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten gone I can see them struggling in 2018. The clear favourite here is the Philadelphia Eagles, who may go through a sophomore slump but should still have enough to win the division having strengthened a roster that won the Super Bowl last season, they just need to hope Carson Wentz can get back to the same level when he returns from injury.

Rob’s pick: Eagles             Matt’s pick: Eagles           Ed’s pick: Eagles

NFC South

The Bucs have too many questions at quarterback to compete in arguably one of the tightest divisions in the competition. The Panthers need to hope that the good Cam Newton shows up and players like Greg Olsen can stay fit, but will probably be looking at a wildcard spot as opposed to winning the division. The Falcons have the potential, especially offensively, to win the division but do not usually perform to the level they need to for enough of the season. I give this division to the New Orleans Saints, who will always be able to stay in the game with Drew Brees at QB and a running game that includes Alvin Kamara and (once back from suspension) Mark Ingram Jr.

Rob’s pick: Saints             Matt’s pick: Saints           Ed’s pick: Saints

NFC West

The 49ers may have gone undefeated with Jimmy Garoppolo starting last season but I don’t expect that to last long, especially with Jerick McKinnon now out for the season. The Legion of Boom is gone in Seattle and while Russell Wilson will always keep them in the hunt, I think their questionable O-line will cost them even a wildcard spot. The Cardinals need to hope David Johnson and Sam Bradford can both stay healthy if they are to have any chance of making the playoffs. The LA Rams get the nod here as they have strengthened their defense with Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. This is a team in win-now mode and that’s exactly what I expect them to do this season.

Rob’s pick: Rams              Matt’s pick: Rams            Ed’s pick: Rams

Ed says: “A division that has been turned on its head within two years. Big offseason moves by the Rams look like they are heading for a Superbowl or Bust kind of season this year, no disagreement about their strength all over the field and they should easily win this division. Tough call between the 49ers and the Cardinals but if Jimmy G finds the form he left off on, the 49ers should just grasp the final playoff position in a tight, tight race. Without Russell Wilson the Seahawks would be 0-16!”

AFC North

The Browns are the Browns and there was nothing I saw on Hard Knocks that will make me think they can be genuine contenders, I do expect them to get a few wins though. The Bengals need to hope Andy Dalton have one of his rare above-average years but I don’t see them making it to .500. The Ravens are another team that need to see the best from their QB Joe Flacco, but even if they do I don’t think there is enough talent through the roster to get more than a wildcard spot. Clear favourites here are the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their defense may not be the best but can cope in a relatively easy division, while Ben Roethlisberger will love flinging the ball around to Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster while James Conner (and Leveon Bell if/when he comes back) will cause havoc on the ground and out of the backfield.

Rob’s pick: Ravens           Matt’s pick: Steelers       Ed’s pick: Steelers

AFC East

The Bills may regret moving on from Tyrod Taylor as Nathan Peterman and Josh Allen fight for the starting job. The Jets showed promise last year but I think they will be happy with an 8-8 season. The Dolphins need Ryan Tannehill to not just stay healthy but also to have one of his best seasons ever. Of course the only team that I could pick here was the New England Patriots. They may have lost some big names (Malcolm Butler, Danny Amendola & Brandin Cooks) and be without the suspended Julian Edelman for the first few games, but it is impossible to bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick winning the division, especially if Gronk can stay healthy.

Rob’s pick: Patriots          Matt’s pick: Patriots        Ed’s pick: Patriots

AFC South

The Colts are pinning their season on the health of Andrew Luck, who has not played since the 2016 season, and I don’t think even a top form Luck can make up for the deficiencies in this roster. As much as it pains me to say it, I think the Titans will miss out on a wildcard spot this season as they begin life under Mike Vrabel. The Jags defense is immense but I don’t see how thay can have success with Blake Bortles at QB, especially now his top 3 receivers from last year are gone. Providing the majority of their top players can stay healthy, I would expect the Houston Texans to win the division as they also have a strong defense. There may currently be questions over how Deshaun Watson does returning from an ACL injury, but with Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins on the roster he has better targets than Bortles.

Rob’s pick: Jaguars          Matt’s pick: Texans         Ed’s pick: Texans

Ed says: “Very tough to call between the Jags and the Texans but if they can stay healthy in Houston there is a real buzz around this team on offense, with some absolute stars on D with Watt, Clowney and the addition of the Honey Badger, and I think they’ll make the playoffs. The Jags have the outstanding defense in the league without doubt but Blake Bortles just holds them back here…”

AFC West

Denver has the pass rush and the WR corps to win, but they are relying on Case Keenum replicating last year’s Vikings form, which is by no means a guarantee. The Raiders have some quality on offense but their defense has just taken a huge step back with the loss of Khalil Mack. I expect the Chargers to make the playoffs as they have a dangerous offense containing Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and the ageless Antonio Gates, while Joey Bosa will always be looking for a way to get to the opposition QB. However I think the Chargers reach the playoffs via a wildcard spot and the top spot goes to the Kansas City Chiefs. Though they lost Marcus Peters, they will be getting Eric Berry back, while moving on from Alex Smith and trusting Patrick Mahomes could see the offense go to a new level as he opens up the field with Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt.

Rob’s pick: Chiefs             Matt’s pick: Chargers     Ed’s pick: Chargers

Ed says: “I just cannot see the Raiders mounting a serious challenge in this division without Khalil Mack. The Broncos could do something if we see last years Case but for me this division is between the Chiefs and Chargers, and that very much hangs on how prolific Mahomes is going to be. The chargers are best set up here with a strong Defense and talent at skill positions”

So there you have it, our selections for every divisional winner. I was surprise just how all of our picks lined up considering we all picked separately, with only 1 pick even having a 50/50 split and many being unanimous. When I first started asking the lads for picks, Rob was the first to come back to me and also threw a little extra prediction in there that I loved, so I decided to get this from everyone else too:

Super Bowl LIII will be…

  • Me – Vikings v Patriots
  • Rob – Jaguars v Saints
  • Matt – Eagles v Texans
  • Ed – Chargers v Packers

Interestingly, though we were all very similar in our picks for who tops the division, we all have different franchises having success in the postseason, with Ed being brave enough to pick the Packers as NFC Champions after making their way in through a wildcard spot!

What do you think of our selections? Do you think we’re close or completely wrong? Let me know in the comments below. It will be fun to see how close we got come the end of the season!

Super Bowl LII: Moments that made the Eagles Fly

Super Bowl LII: Moments that made the Eagles Fly

The 52nd Super Bowl was a fantastic show of offensive ability with a record 1151 yards made from scrimmage over the 60 minutes. After a thrilling encounter, the Eagles came away with a 41-33 victory to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy for the first time in the franchise’s history.

Well it was a fantastic game, the amount of sport from this weekend that I already planned to write about and my inability to stay awake throughout meant that I was not going to write about the game, until my cousin decided to be helpful on twitter and promote an article that I wasn’t doing…

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Thanks Lucy!

Luckily though, I had the match recorded and the tweet had given me some inspiration so I watched the game back and the rest, as they say, is history!

In some sporting events, there is clearly one moment that decides the result of a game. A missed kick, a costly penalty, a Hail Mary. This game went so back and forth, the Pats were able to stay in it right to the last and were not far from taking the game to overtime. So with this in mind, I wanted to look at some of the moments that won Philadelphia their first ever Super Bowl. By this I do not necessarily mean the touchdowns and successful kicks – though some of these will certainly feature – but rather events that will have had an impact on who had the momentum and the way the game panned out.

Pre-game – Malcolm Butler was the hero of Super Bowl XLIX with his late interception of Russell Wilson and has developed into a dependable cornerback who has started all but 1 regular season game for the Patriots this season. Yet a decision was made at the eleventh hour to hold him out of the defense and only play him on special teams. It is not currently clear the exact reasons for his drop, but there have been mentions of poor practices following an illness early in the week and also a violation of team rules. To drop a starting defensive back at the last moment against a receiving corps that includes Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz is a dangerous move and will have surely put the Patriots at a disadvantage.

1st Quarter, 4:25 remaining, 3rd & 4 – With the Eagles settling for a field goal on the opening drive, Tom Brady drives the Pats the length of the field but his 3rd down pass to Rob Gronkowski in the end zone is deflected away by Jalen Mills and the Patriots are forced to kick a field goal to level the game at 3-3. Though it was well defended by Mills, Gronk should be a matchup nightmare but the pass made it too easy for the cornerback. This was systematic of the Brady-Gronkowski link in the first half as they only combined for a single 9-yard catch.

1st Quarter, 2:41 remaining, 1st & 10 – Following a 36-yard rush from former Patriot LeGarrette Blount, Nick Foles connects with Alshon Jeffery for a 34-yard touchdown. The field goal was missed, leaving the Eagles with a 9-3 lead. The coverage from the Patriots was not poor, but Jeffery is a large receiver that specialises in this kind of play. Whether it was caused by the late withdrawal of Butler, but it is odd that the Pats did not line up Stephon Gilmore against him considering he is usually the man to match up against the big-bodied receivers. When the Pats defense later adjusted to have Gilmore follow Jeffery, his effectiveness in the Philly passing game was reduced.

2nd Quarter, 15:00 remaining, 3rd & 2 – The Patriots again got in the Philly red zone but failed to convert the chance into a touchdown. A sweep play to Brandin Cooks was well blocked on the right, leaving the receiver with a 1v1 against safety Rodney McLeod to earn 1st & Goal. Rather than trying to step around McLeod, Cooks saw him begin to duck into the tackle so attempted a hurdle, but McLeod reacted quick enough to stop him making the necessary yards in what ended up being a bizarre looking play. New England were forced to attempt a field goal but a fumbled hold put Stephen Gostkowski off and he kicked wide, leaving the Eagles with a 9-3 lead.

2nd Quarter, 13:11 remaining, 1st & 10 – Tom Brady connects with Brandin Cooks for a first down, however he is blindsided by Malcolm Jenkins while trying to gain extra yards and left the game with a head injury. He did not return to the pitch. The hit was completely legal, but unfortunately there was a helmet-to-helmet clash in the collision that Cooks – who had been looking the other way when hit – came off worst from. This was a big loss for New England as Cooks was their downfield playmaker, so the offensive capability was reduced for the rest of the game.

2nd Quarter, 12:04 remaining, 3rd & 5 – The Patriots decided to go for a trick play on 3rd down and it so nearly worked! Brady handed off to James White and looked to get out of the way of the defense, but when White reversed the play to Danny Amendola, Brady was in space on the right and ready to make the first down. Unfortunately for the Pats, Brady may be an elite quarterback but he is not an elite wide receiver and he was unable to make the catch over his shoulder on the run. While a trick play was a great idea, Brady is still recovering from a hand injury that almost ended his season early and is not the most athletic of quarterbacks, so the decision to use him as a receiver here was an odd one. The Pats then decided to go for it on 4th down but were unable to convert and turned the ball over on the Eagles 35 yard line still 9-3 down.

2nd Quarter, 0:38 remaining, 4th & Goal – With Eagles 15-12 up and less than 2 yards away from the end zone, they decided to take a risk and make a trick play of their own. With Foles up at the line of scrimmage pretending to call an audible, the ball was snapped direct to Corey Clement who ran left and reversed to Trey Burton, who threw a pass to none other than Nick Foles, who had a simple catch for a touchdown! As well as an incredibly ballsy play, the fact the Eagles scored with a receiving touchdown for their quarterback must have been incredibly satisfying following Brady’s early drop. The successful conversion gave the Eagles a 22-12 lead going into halftime, and the morale boost may have proved vital considering the Pats came out swinging in the 3rd quarter.

3rd Quarter, 7:24 remaining, 3rd & 6 – Nick Foles scores with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Corey Clement, which is then converted for a 29-19 lead. In my mind, this is the most contentious play of the game as watching the replays I feel that Clement did not have enough control to have been classed as completing the catch before stepping out the back of the end zone. The officials had so many looks at this, but I feel that the decision on Sunday flies against other similar plays during the regular season. Considering the Pats end up needing a touchdown and 2-point conversion on their final drive, the decision to award the touchdown here rather than call an incomplete pass as leave Philly settling for a field goal has a huge impact on the remainder of the game. One thing for sure, the catch rule needs looking at before next season!

4th Quarter, 5:38 remaining, 4th & 1 – Nick Foles completes a 2-yard pass to Zach Ertz to keep the chains moving. While the Pats offense failed to convert many of their big plays, their defense allowed too many vital plays from the Eagles and could not get off the field. At this point in the game, the Pats led 32-33 and their offense was performing much better. Had they turned the ball over on downs here, I am sure they would have put at least 3 points on the board while using up as much time as possible, leaving Philly with a hard task to pull off the win.

4th Quarter, 2:25 remaining, 3rd & 7 – Foles connects with Ertz again on another vital play for an 11-yard touchdown. The play is reviewed a number of times due to the ball coming out as Ertz dives for the line and hits the ground, but in my view he was clearly a runner by that point so just had to cross the plane of the line. This put the Eagles back ahead 38-33 following a failed 2-point conversion, a lead that they would not relinquish.

4th Quarter, 2:16 remaining, 2nd & 2 – With the Patriots needing a touchdown to win, Tom Brady is sacked by Brandon Graham and fumbles. Eagles defensive lineman Derek Barnett recovers. This is the only sack of the entire game! The Eagles score a field gone from the ensuing drive and leave the Patriots with about a minute to go the length of the field, score a touchdown and a 2-point conversion.

The final play – The Patriots manage to drive into range to legitimately attempt a Hail Mary to the end zone. Rob Gronkowski goes up in coverage but is unable to collect the ball, which bobbles around a bit but hits the ground before any Patriots player can collect it. The game ends with the Philadelphia Eagles victorious.

America’s Game: Previewing Super Bowl LII

America’s Game: Previewing Super Bowl LII

For a sports nut like me, this is a busy week: Transfer deadline day in the football, the start of the 6 Nations and – most importantly for this piece – the Super Bowl. The 2018 Super Bowl will be the 52nd Super Bowl (for those of you who can’t read Roman Numerals) and will be a match-up between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots, the Eagles’ first appearance in the big game since they lost to the same team in 2005.

The Super Bowl is one of the biggest events in the sporting calendar and draws attention from around the globe, hence the big money spent on commercials during the game and the halftime show – this year we have Justin Timberlake making his return following 2004’s Nipplegate controversy!

But enough about wardrobe malfunctions and the inevitable trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story, if you’re reading this then it is for the sports talk! So without further ado, let’s have a look at the storylines going into Super Bowl LII.

A place in the history books

dynBy defeating the Jags in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots became the first franchise to make it to 10 Super Bowls, while the next best franchises (the Steelers, Cowboys and Broncos each have 8 appearances). If they win on Sunday, they will join the Steelers on the top of the NFL pile with 6 victories.

While this record in itself is great, it is even better when you realise that the Pats’ first Super Bowl victory came at the end of the 2001 season, whereas the Steelers won their first Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 1974 season. After last year’s 5th Super Bowl victory, I wrote about how Bill Belichick’s Patriots are probably the greatest dynasty in modern sports, and to make it back to the Super Bowl despite star receiver Julian Edelman missing the season through injury shows just how impressive this franchise is.

I don’t think anyone will be too surprised if Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels and Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia are both in Head Coaching roles elsewhere next season, yet it is hard to imagine the franchise not pushing for a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

The GOAT

Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, it is almost impossible to argue against this. He already has 5 Super Bowl Rings but looks well on his way to a 6th, which would mean no franchise has more rings than him as an individual.

He certainly benefits from a system that made even Matt Cassel look good, but he continues to perform regardless of the players around him. His experience in the big games and the big moments is next to none and was perfectly highlighted by the way he cut the Jaguars apart in the 4th quarter of the AFC Championship game. It is not just blind luck that has seen him named Super Bowl MVP 5 times!

He has struggled sometimes in the past against teams that are getting pressure on him – see the Pat’s 2 losses to the Giants – but I think even the Eagles’ highly rated defence will struggle to deal with him for the whole game, though they may be helped if a certain tight end is unavailable…

Gronkwatch

When fit, Rob Gronkowski is one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL. His combination of pace, size and strength is a nightmare for defenders to match up against, while the quality of Tom Brady and the Pats’ receiving corps means that he can’t be double covered as regularly as a defense would want.

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Even with Edelman (and possibly Gronkowski) missing, Brady still has some great options to throw to

Gronk was forced off just before halftime in the AFC Championship game after failing a concussion test following a hit from Barry Church. While the reports coming out suggest he is on track to play, concussions are notoriously difficult to put a time frame on and he is still going through the concussion protocols at the moment.

It will not be the end of the world for the Patriots if he is missing – he has had his injury issues over the years so they are used to playing without him – but having a player of his ability on the field certainly helps to open up the defense.

 

 

As a Titans fan I come into this game as a neutral, but will be leaning my support towards the Patriots as I am continually impressed by Brady and this football dynasty. I would love to see this crop of players continue to break records!

I certainly think the Eagles have a chance, especially if Gronk is unable to play, but after last year’s comeback victory over the Falcons, I really can’t look beyond the Pats for the victory and Super Bowl MVP number 5 for Brady. How do you see the game going?