Last week was pretty successful; I went 3-1 on picks and 2-2 versus the spread. Try as I might, I can’t be upset with those results. I knew Andy Reid turns into a collossal putz in the playoffs, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe he could lose to a Tennessee team that was so much weaker than Kansas City.
The Saints-Panthers game was a surprise. Part of it, I think, was the result of New Orleans losing LG Andrus Peat early in the second quarter– they had more trouble protecting afterwards. But mostly their defense looked a lot worse. OK, Greg Olsen didn’t play in the first two games– he isn’t worth 14 points of offense. The rookies got out of position a lot– and they kept grabbing receivers.
The big factor in three of these games will be the weather– the temperature, amount of rain/snow/sleet and the wind. All four road teams are from the Southern division; three can be expected to struggle.
As can I. When the weather is crappy, players slip, passes flutter and nobody can hang onto the ball. The best team doesn’t always win– and they might or might not cover. But here goes.
Atlanta (-3) at Philadelphia
(35 degrees, clear, wind 14 MPH)
Atlanta is favored, even though the Eagles are the #1 seed, because QB Carson Wentz tore his ACL in game 13 and will miss the playoffs.
This is, let me note, the reason why it is stupid to give up a ton of picks for any player. The Eagles got Wentz (pick #2) and pick #139 for:
- Pick #8, pick #77 and pick #100 in 2016
- Pick #12 in 2017
- A #2 pick (slot TBD) in this draft
The Eagles finished 2-1 because they were fortunate enough to be playing the Giants (a 34-29 win; New York had just fired their coach and were limping to the end of the season), the Raiders (a 19-10 win; Oakland was getting their coach fired by limping to the end of the season) and the Cowboys (a 6-0 loss; Dallas had already checked out).
In those three games Nick Foles had a 79.4 rating. His Judgement Index (5-2) was great; his yards per pass (5.3) was not. It’s been four years since Foles made the Pro Bowl; he’s looked below-average ever since.
It’s difficult to imagine the receiving corps picking him up much. His WRs are Alshon Jeffery (a Corey Colemanesque 57-120 for 789 yards and 9 TDs) and Nelson Agholor (62-95 for 768 yards and 8 TDs), with TEs Zach Ertz (who made the Pro Bowl for going 74-110 for 824 yards and 8 TDs) and Trey Burton (23-31 for 248 yards– but 5 TDs).
Before you get too impressed by all the TD passes, remember that the running game scored only 9 TDs. It consists of LeGarrette Blount (768 yards; 4.4 per carry), Jay Ajayi (408 yards; 5.8 per carry) and Corey Clement (321 yards; 4.3 per carry). They shouldn’t be difficult to shut down.
The defense will need to carry the Eagles; I don’t believe it can. Only two starters– CB Jalen Mills (23) and DT Timmy Jernigan (25) are under 27. Four starters were holdovers from previous regimes; the rest were brought in from other teams.
Coordinator Jim Schwartz (the former Detroit coach) learned all of his tricks from Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams. They blitz a lot and hope to force errors. It’s been easy to do that with the offense (which averaged 28.6 points a game; second in the NFL) handing them an early lead.
Yes they allowed only 18.4 points (third) and collected 31 turnovers (fourth). DE Brandon Graham had 9.5 sacks; S Malcolm Jenkins and DT Fletcher Cox made the Pro Bowl. Still not impressed much.
Atlanta played sort of a ragged game against Los Angeles. They benefited a great deal from (a) weather good enough to let them kick two 50+ yard field goals and (b) a Rams team that didn’t seem to believe it belonged in the playoffs. But they won– which is more than many people expected, and what a veteran team looking to avenge a Super Bowl loss ought to do.
Playing outdoors isn’t what QB Matty Tank is good at; the backs are a little light in the loafers for a wet field and the receivers drop passes in cold weather. But I’d expect them to win. The Eagles were built around Wentz; he won’t play.
Prediction: Falcons 21, Eagles 15
Tennessee at New England (-13.5)
26 degrees, night game, 11 MPH wind
The other say, when Boston was in the midst of a blizzard, the Patriots held a practice. Coach Bill Belicheat told the players it would be outdoors– and told them that anyone who arrived late would be quartered and drawn.
“Drawn” means cutting the head off; “quartering” means chopping up the body. Belicheat correctly realizes that a beheaded body can’t feel nearly as much pain as one being cut apart while still alive.
The idiots discussing the story on NFL Network behaved as it this were the most irrational notion ever. Why not just practice inside?
The reason, obviously, was that practicing in a blizzard with visibility near zero makes a night game in cold, windy weather seem like a picnic by comparison.
Belicheat isn’t my favorite coach (as you can tell from the nickname– it’s actually how Don Shula refers to him), but pretty much everything he does has a clear purpose. I respect him more than many of the people who cover him– who are constantly looking for stories showing that he is slipping and the Patriots are falling apart.
I don’t see it. As I explained last year in my preview of their first game, Belicheat is a genius at perceiving the realities under which teams play, and devising strategies to address them. A year ago, he realized he needed to do something about a receiving corps consisting of:
- 30-year-old Julian Edelman
- 31-year-old (coming off a major injury) Danny Amendola
- 28-year-old Chris Hogan
- 27-year-old– but oft-injured– TE Rob Gronkowski
- 29-year-old– but contract-expiring– TE Martellus Bennett
Even though New England’s system values receiving (a high catch percentage) more than speed, you don’t want the guys going out for balls to be near 30– much less over it. That’s when they begin to get hurt often.
Pete Carroll would have said “Oh, we can get by. We also have RBs Malcolm Mitchell (23) and James White (24). We’ll draft someone and look for a free agent.”
Which is why Carroll missed the playoffs– and just whacked his offensive coordinator, his offensive line coach and might let his DC go.
Belicheat doesn’t hope everyone will syat healthy and play well (lookin’ at you Chris Antonetti). So when New Orleans wanted his #1 pick last year, Belicheat asked for 24-year-old WR Brandin Cooks (24), instead of a draft pick. He also signed RB Rex Burkhead for depth.
At the end of training camp, Edelman (who went 98-159 for 1,16 yards and 3 TDs in 2016) went down for the season. Mitchell went down for the year as well (he might be activated at some point in the playoffs).
But Gronkowski (who missed 8 games last year) stayed healthy enough to play 14 games. He went 69-105 for 1,084 yards and 8 TDs. Cooks fit in beautifully– 65-114 for 1,082 yards and 7 scores.
Amendola came back strongly enough to make 8 starts and go 61-86 for 659 yards. White (56-72; 429 yards and 3 TDs) and Hogan (34-59; 439 yards and 5 TDs) added depth. Burkhead went 30-36 for 254 yards and 3 TDs.
Things don’t always work out. When Indianapolis wanted to acquire QB Jacoby Brissett early in the season, he demanded 24-year-old Philip Dorsett. He drew only 18 throws. When the Browns cut Kenny Britt, he signed Britt (2-5 for 23 yards).
Belicheat let Green Bay sign Bennett to a three-year, $20.2M deal. When Mike McCarthy realized he didn’t fit their scheme, didn’t address their problems on defense and didn’t get along well, McCarthy cut him. Belicheat nabbed him on waivers. (Bennett got hurt and will miss the playoffs.)
Watching this sort of thing– especially when contrasted with the monkeyshines I see in Berea– makes you marvel. Belichick spends a #2 pick on Jamie Collins, develops him into a Pro Bowl player and wins two Super Bowls with him in the lineup.
Then, correctly guessing that Collins will want too much money– and also be a disruptive force in the locker room– he trades his player to Cleveland, The Browns send back a #3 pick (which Belichick packages to get OT Antonio Garcia). The Browns give Collins a huge contract, watch him get hurt– and bitch (via his agent, Bus Cook, to Mike Florio) about not being the edge rusher.
New England was second in points scored (28. 6 a game) and fifth in points allowed (18.5). They have only two offensive starters (Amendola and 40-year-old QB Tom Deflatey) and two defenders (safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty— both 30) who are old. Their best defensive player last year (LB Dont’a Hightower) missed the year, but his absence was rarely noticeable.
They’ve managed to win two of the last three Super Bowls– granted, in both cases, with considerable assistance from the opposing offense, bu they still won. If, as I expect, Belichick retires at the end of this season, he might do it with ring #6.
The opponents– the Tennessee Titans– have a significant edge in one respect. Other than the coach, the Patriots have only one player (substitute defensive back Jonathan Jones) whose name is alliterative.
Tennessee has the franchise name, their coach (Mike Mularkey) and three starters– quarterback Marcus Mariota, receiver Taywan Taylor and linebacker Wesley Woodard. The also have substitutes Beau Brinkley and Karl Klug,
Other than that, I got nuthin’. Belicheat has been lost some playoff games he’s been favored to win– but always to coaches a lot better than Mularkey.
I almost felt sorry for Mularkey when he was asked (in effect) “So, do you think you’ll still be fired? After all, beating Andy Reid isn’t much of an achievement.” I almost felt sorry for the guy– when he admitted that the front office had said nothing to him in the week prior to the game
Although, honestly, what could they say? “Don’t remodel your home?”
The news that Mularky was disappointed that DeMarco Murray (29, averaged 3.6 yards per carry) would miss this game, forcing Tennessee to struggle along with Derrick Henry (23, got 4.2 yards– and 156 yards on 26 carries against KC) kinda wiped that away. How do you feel sorry for someone who wants to keep alternating a declining veteran with his second-year player?
I don’t know if conditions will permit New England to cover the spread. It’s the only element of the result I’m not certain about.