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Super Bowl LI Pick: Siding with the Good Guys

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Wait a second … which ones are the good guys? Well, I suppose you’ll just have to read on to decipher my extremely subjective clue on who the fellas and I are taking in Super Bowl 51 – and figure out which fan-base may not like us anymore. If you’re new to the site, we have been giving straight-up picks for (almost) every week in the NFL. We have compiled a 5-1 record in the playoffs, thus far, including accurately predicting the Conference Championships.

If you’re new to football, the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons are the two teams vying for the right to hoist the Lombardi Trophy (which you’re awarded when you win this little game called the Super Bowl) this Sunday (Feb. 5, 6:30 PM ET) at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

While there are countless other outcomes of significance that surround the big game (what color Lady Gaga’s hair will be is apparently one of them), we’re gifting you what football fans are most concerned with: the winning team.


Super Bowl LI

By DontSpeakSilent (sketchport.com)
By The Conmunity (Wikimedia Commons)

VS.

If you’re a Star Wars hater, or your significant other is nearby, you can just scroll down to the bottom quick for our pick. But I promise I won’t drag the reference on. On the left you have Bill Belichick having a seat with his main-man Tom Brady at his side. The two have ruled the NFL galaxy for most of their 16 years together, winning four of their six Super Bowl appearances. Beli-Brady may not have always done things by the book, but their fans don’t care. The Dark Side is only concerned with winning and resorts to the new-age adage “hate us cause you ain’t us” when anyone mentions cheating.

On the right, you see the chosen one: Matt Ryan. He is the only player standing in the evil empire’s way. Although inexperienced, Ryan has received training from arguably the wisest offensive mind in the game: Kyle Shanahan. With help from the mighty Julio Jones and their two trustee droids, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, they may be able to save the rest of the NFL from another offseason of listening to Patriots fans gloat. And good news, I don’t think Matt Ryan has ever kissed his sister, Kate.

Alright, I’ll cut the nerdy Star Wars references now. This game features the league’s top scoring offense going against the top scoring defense. This has happened six times before and the defense has come away victorious five times. If you want more trends that suggest the Pats will win, look no further than the jerseys they will be wearing. Atlanta was designated the home team and chose to wear red. The team wearing white has won 11 of the last 12 Super Bowls, and is 38-12 all-time.

I’d prefer to actually break the two teams down to find a winner, though. And to start, I want to focus on the New England defense that has been lauded all season. I’m not here to suggest that Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have not coached-up a good defense; I’m just not ready to consider them alongside the 2015 Broncos, 2000 Ravens, or ’85 Bears. This is for one simple reason: they haven’t faced any potent offenses yet. Nine of the Pats’ regular season games came against offenses that ranked in the bottom-12 for scoring, and five were against the four worst offensive teams in the league. New England only had to face an offense that ranked in the top-half of the league in scoring four times in 2016.

Patriot defenders haven’t even faced a QB who finished in the top-11 in passer rating (min. 100 pass attempts). They padded their numbers by feasting on Ryan Fitzpatrick (69.6 passer rating) twice, Brock Osweiler (72.2 passer rating) twice (including playoffs), and overmatched rookie Jared Goff (63.6 passer rating). If the Pats can find a way to shutdown the lethal Falcon offense, I will be stunned.

Brady and the Pats need to be prepared for a shootout. The four-time Super Bowl champion is no stranger to a slugfest, but he doesn’t have his most dangerous weapon: Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman is a nightmare out of the slot for defenders and Chris Hogan has emerged as a deep-threat, but neither present the matchup issue that Gronk does. And if there’s one unit in this game that is not receiving enough credit, it’s the Falcon defense.

By Jack Newton (Wikimedia Commons)

The numbers don’t suggest Richard Smith’s unit is anything to be wary of (25th in total defense and 27th in scoring) but the Atlanta defense just needed some time to find its stride. They entered the season starting two rookies at linebacker and another at safety. In fact, only four players in Atlanta’s starting 11 have more than two years of experience. Understandably, the unit went through some growing pains early in the year. But following their Week 11 bye, the Falcons held four of their final six opponents to fewer than 20 points. Their most impressive act was their most recent one, when they held a seemingly inhuman Aaron Rodgers scoreless through the first half of the NFC Championship. This is a defense that is beginning to realize its potential and is glowing with confidence as a result.

In my view, Super Bowl 51 will be decided by the pass rushers: the team that can pressure the opposing quarterback without having to send the house will win this game. Unfortunately for New England, no one has been able to compensate for the loss of relentless edge rusher Chandler Jones, whom they sent to Arizona in the offseason. There was hope Rob Ninkovich could fill some of that void, but he has not been overly disruptive, and no Patriot recorded more than seven sacks in the regular season. Led by center Alex Mack, Atlanta’s offensive line has become one of the best in the league. Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder are two premier tackles and should not have any issue against a less-than-stellar Patriot pass-rush.

On the other side, the Falcons possess 2016’s sack-king, Vic Beasley. While Beasley is no Von Miller or Khalil Mack, he’s still the best pass rusher in this game. I fully expect Dan Quinn to use him to exploit Pats’ right tackle Marcus Cannon. In the Divisional Round, Cannon struggled to keep Whitney Mercilus away from his quarterback, allowing two sacks on the night. This is going to be a major issue in the Super Bowl. Atlanta’s talented edge rushers are going to force Brady to get rid of the ball a little quicker than he’d prefer, and the rest of this speedy will be able to take advantage.

By Keith Allison (flickr)

On the other side, New England will need to give Julio Jones too much attention to slow him down, which will leave someone like Eric Rowe in man-coverage with Taylor Gabriel. Matty-Ice is going to spread the ball around and pick apart a defense that isn’t overly talented. The Pats may prevent Atlanta from throwing up 40, but 30 will be enough.

Pick: Falcons

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NFL News

2017 Mock Draft 1.0: Browns Make Huge Gains on Both Sides

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With the Super Bowl still a week away and the spectacle that is the Pro Bowl behind us, what better time to get familiar with the new crop of rookies that teams will be pinning next year’s hopes to?

The 2017 draft looks to fight back against the modern NFL. With passing numbers at an all-time high and quarterback play more important than ever, the crop of 2017 rookies will look to put a little more defense back in the league. With no true blue chip QB coming into the league, the draft should start off with consensus #1 prospect and QB-hunter Myles Garrett. That should set the stage for an entire first round filled with edge rushers and other elite defenders. In reality, there’s little top end offensive talent coming in.

The scouting combine is still to come and free agency will alter some teams’ draft strategies. But let’s take an early look where all the top prospects may fit into the NFL come April.


2017 Mock Draft 1.0

1. Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett, DE (Texas A&M)

Listed at 6’5, 270 lbs, Myles Garrett is a physical freak. He’s expected to wow at the combine, which will only solidify his position as 2017’s best prospect. Cleveland is in dire need of talent on both sides of the ball and selecting the best player available is a good way to start restocking the cupboards. The Browns also have the #12 pick in their back pocket, so they won’t feel forced to take their future signal caller with the 1st overall pick.

2. San Francisco 49ers – Mitch Trubisky, QB (UNC)

It’s not an ideal draft to need a quarterback. That being said, the 49ers are in complete rebuild mode. If, as expected, Kyle Shanahan lands the Niners’ head coaching gig, I expect he and new GM John Lynch to grab their future signal caller with this pick. Although all the 2017 quarterback prospects have their warts, Mitch Trubisky flashes the ability to lead an NFL offense. It may take a couple years to change the franchise’s recent losing ways, but with a little patience, the Trubisky/Shanahan combo could be scary.

3. Chicago Bears – Jonathan Allen, DL (Alabama)

The Bears could go a number of ways. Head coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace may be on thin ice, meaning they’ll want to add a player who can make immediate contributions with this pick. Jonathan Allen is a versatile defender who can plug in anywhere along the line on passing downs and provide some heat on the QB. He and Leonard Floyd, last year’s first-rounder, would give the Bears a formidable pass rush for the foreseeable future.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars – Solomon Thomas, DL (Stanford)

The Jaguar ship is once again being piloted by Tom Coughlin, who was brought on as president. Coughlin and new head coach Doug Marrone will look to take the team in a new direction. Coughlin know from his Giants days how far a disruptive defense can carry you. Look for the Jags to add Solomon Thomas, who some believe will be the best defensive player to come out of the 2017 draft five years down the road. A high-motor, versatile player, Thomas will be a key contributor on an already solid defense.

5. Tennessee Titans (via Rams) – Mike Williams, WR (Clemson)

The Titans need more weapons for Marcus Mariota, including a legitimate #1 receiver. They’ll add one of the few offensive game-changers this draft has to offer. Mike Williams has prototypical WR1 size and plenty of speed. He’ll create mismatches against the majority of corners and can flip a game in one play.

6. New York Jets – Marshon Lattimore, CB (Ohio St.)

As long as Marshon Lattimore’s hammies pass all the tests, teams will be drooling over the ultra-competitive, well-rounded athlete. He has all the tools to be a shutdown corner, making him a perfect fit for the Jets and their questionable secondary.

7. Los Angeles Chargers – Jamal Adams, S (LSU)

The Charger defense gets a hard-hitting natural leader for the secondary. Adding Adams to a defense that already features former first-rounders Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram would give the Chargers leaders at each level.

8. Carolina Panthers – Leonard Fournette, RB (LSU)

Carolina is a popular place for Leonard Fournette to be mocked. His skill set fits the Panthers’ power-run game perfectly. With starting running back Jonathan Stewart about to turn the dreaded 30, the time is now for Carolina to give Cam Newton a workhorse running back he can lean on.

9. Cincinnati Bengals – Malik Hooker, S (Ohio St.)

The Bengals defense lacks playmakers and it showed last year, as the team failed to earn a playoff spot for the first time since 2010. With a very average 20 takeaways in 2016, Cincy will benefit greatly from Malik Hooker’s ball skills. He tied for second in the nation with seven interceptions, and is a sure tackler, to boot.

10. Buffalo Bills – DeShone Kizer, QB (Notre Dame)

For whatever reason, Tyrod Taylor has fallen out of favor in Buffalo, opening the door for new head coach Sean McDermott to put his stamp on the team with his version of what an NFL quarterback should look like. Kizer possesses ideal size, arm strength, and athleticism, and has the upside to at least humor the Bills for a few years. It’s a new era Bills fans. Careful what you wish for.

11. New Orleans Saints – Reuben Foster, ILB (Alabama)

The Saints have had a terrible defense for far too long. They took a step in the right direction last year with first-round DT Sheldon Rankins. Now they need to make it a trend. Reuben Foster, a sideline to sideline playmaker, has what it takes to lead an NFL defense. Do the right thing, New Orleans, and give the aging Drew Brees a defense he can win with.

12. Cleveland Browns (via Eagles) – Deshaun Watson, QB (Clemson)

In two picks, the Cleveland Browns manage to change the outlook of their entire team. After adding the best defensive player in Garrett, the Browns take a(nother) shot on a potential franchise quarterback. Watson has proved he is a winner and is as clutch as they come. Now we will see if he has enough jam to lift a perennial doormat to some level of respectability.

13. Arizona Cardinals – Quincy Wilson, CB (Florida)

The Cardinals continue to add to their talented secondary with Quincy Wilson. Teaming the big, physical Wilson with Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu would make life even tougher on opposing offenses.

14. Philadelphia Eagles (via Vikings) – Corey Davis, WR (Western Michigan)

Carson Wentz looks like the real deal in Philly. But he has no one outside the numbers to throw the ball to. Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews are fine targets in the middle of the field. Now Wentz needs an outside guy to help loosen up the middle and that’s exactly what Davis should provide.

15. Indianapolis Colts – Ryan Ramczyk, OT (Wisconsin)

It’s not likely the best tackle in the draft will fall this far. But as an NFL fan, you should hope he does. If the Colts and their new GM Chris Ballard do one thing this off season, it should be finding better protection for Andrew Luck at all costs. Ryan Ramczyk would go a long way to improving a terrible offensive line situation.

16. Baltimore Ravens – O.J. Howard, TE (Alabama)

Howard dominated Senior Bowl week, giving more life to the rumors that he was under-utilized at Bama. He’d give the Raven passing game a huge boost in myriad ways. He can provide a security blanket, get down field, and stay inline and block. And he can do it all at an exceptional level.

17. Washington – Caleb Brantley, DT (Florida)

Big enough and quick enough to play either defensive tackle position, Brantley provides some much needed talent to Washington’s 28th-ranked defense. With Kirk Cousins leading a high-scoring offense, a little improvement on defense would go a long way in Washington.

18. Tennessee Titans – Marlon Humphrey, CB (Alabama)

The Titans are another team with two first-rounders. After adding an offensive playmaker in Williams with their first pick, they turn to the defensive side of the ball and help out their struggling secondary with the #18 selection. Humphrey doesn’t do any one thing at an elite level, but he is a solid all-around corner with enough size to battle bigger receivers and should be an asset in the secondary from day one.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Dalvin Cook, RB (Florida State)

With Doug Martin seemingly done in Tampa, Dalvin Cook can slide in and provide Jameis Winston with a dynamic do-it-all back. If Cook’s shoulder checks out, he may go even higher. But in this mock, he lands with the Bucs in an offense with all sorts of potential.

20. Denver Broncos – Cam Robinson, OT (Alabama)

I love Robinson’s nastiness. He may be a bit of a reach here, but the Broncos o-line needs reinforcements in a bad way. Denver might need upgrades at both tackle spots, and with such a limit of top-tier tackles in this draft, now is the right time for the reach.

21. Detroit Lions – Jabrill Peppers, S (Michigan)

The Lions defense has some decent pieces in the front-seven when healthy, and Darius Slay has emerged as an elite corner. Now they get their leader on the back end. Peppers is a freak athlete who will be a nightmare around the line of scrimmage. His size makes him a bit of a tweener, but if the Lions give him some freedom, Peppers will be a playmaking machine.

22. Miami Dolphins – Taco Charlton, DE (Michigan)

Continually improving throughout his collegiate career, Taco Charlton registered 9.5 sacks last season. His rare combination of size and athleticism could give the Fins what they thought they were getting when they traded up for Dion Jordan back in 2013.

23. New York Giants – Garett Bolles, T (Utah)

Though Bolles is inexperienced and more of a projection, his athleticism and upside should be enough for the Giants. Ideally, he’d be able to replace Ereck Flowers at left tackle in a year. Flowers shouldn’t be anybody’s left tackle.

24. Oakland Raiders – Teez Tabor, CB (Florida)

The Oakland Raiders secondary wasn’t even competitive at times last year. Their big free-agent acquisition, Sean Smith, didn’t pan out as expected and the Raider defense suffered for it. The addition of the talented and hard-working Teez Tabor should have a ripple effect, including relieving a little pressure off Smith.

25. Houston Texans – Christian McCaffrey, RB (Stanford)

The Texans don’t have many holes to fill this offseason. No doubt, an upgrade at quarterback is needed, but that will have to wait until next year, given that Brock Osweiler is guaranteed $16M in 2017. Houston has talent at the skill positions, but Lamar Miller was overused last year and his health suffered for it. McCaffrey, a potential 2000-all purpose yard player, can do it all. He’d be able to spell Miller and give Osweiler a target out of the backfield.

26. Seattle Seahawks – Malik McDowell, DL (Michigan St.)

Obviously the Seahawks’ biggest needs are on the offensive line. But there are two reasons I see them going defense here: (1) the aforementioned lack of OL talent in this draft, and (2) the hints that they’re focused on developing the lineman that they have. McDowell has all the physical traits to be dominant in the NFL. His potential has yet to be reached and rumors of him being lazy and unmotivated are floating about. Who better than Petey Sunshine to help him reach his ceiling?

27. Kansas City Chiefs – Derek Barnett, DE (Tennessee)

The Chiefs defense was opportunistic last year, however, it was not the most consistent. Adding a player of Barnett’s ability and nasty demeanor should help the entire unit. He has great hands and wins battles, both rushing the passer and setting the edge. He also adds depth to a line that’s suffered from key injuries in recent years.

28. Dallas Cowboys – Takkarist McKinley, OLB (UCLA)

The Dallas defense needs players who can rush the passer and McKinley can do that, as evidenced by his ten-sack senior year. With a great motor and ability to make plays all over the field, the raw McKinley has lots of room to grow.

29. Green Bay Packers – Sidney Jones, CB (Washington)

It’s no secret the Packers need cornerback help. You can blame the secondary’s poor performance to injuries, but you also have to recognize that Sam Shields is aging and his future with the team is foggy at best. The tenacious Sidney Jones would be a welcome addition, with seven picks over his last two seasons.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers – Tim Williams, OLB (Alabama)

If one thing was apparent in the Patriots’ thrashing of the Steelers in the AFC Championship, it was that the Steelers had no hope to stop Tom Brady. Their pass rush is largely dependent on a 38-year-old James Harrison. Williams may never be able to set an edge, but with 19.5 sacks over his final two years, he’s proven he can rush the passer. Good enough.

TBD 31. New England Patriots – David Njoku, TE (Miami)

The Pats are all about exploiting their opponents. David Njoku is a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. Bill Belichick will find creative ways to use the athletic freak, moving his new chess piece all over the board and destroying enemy pawns at will.

TBD 32. Atlanta Falcons – Charles Harris, Edge Rusher (Missouri)

The Falcons are about to play in the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. They will have to face Tom Brady who is going for his fifth Super Bowl ring. If you asked the Falcons if they would like more guys who can rush the passer, I bet they would say yes. Charles Harris provides that. With nine sacks in 2016, Harris has the ability to be a disruptive force in the backfield.

 

 

 

 

 

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NFL News

Five Events Needed in the 2018 Pro Bowl Skills Showdown

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Can someone remind me why the NFL ever got rid of the skills competition at the Pro Bowl? For several years, if you wanted to satisfy your football fix on the off-week between the Conference Championships and Super Bowl, we actually had to watch the game that went on at the Pro Bowl. Personally, I loved the quarterback challenge and even somewhat enjoyed watching Larry Allen make 225 lbs look far too light.

Finally, the NFL did the right thing and brought back the competition in 2017, dubbing it the Skills Showdown. Philip Rivers put on a show in the accuracy contest, while Odell Beckham enraged Giants fans even more by winning the drone-drop challenge, proving he can catch. Of course, the real star of the show was dodgeball.

I think I speak for many when I say hopefully the skills showdown is here to stay. But the NFL shouldn’t just stop here. The 2018 edition would be even better with a few choice additions! Here are the five events I want to see, and my take on who would win.

If you’ve got a different take on who would dominate these events, let me know in the comments. Seriously. I will debate this.


1. Pugil Stick Sparring

Public domain

Remember American Gladiators? Remember when they fought using those sticks with the pads on each end? Ya, well apparently they’re called Pugil Sticks. Moving beyond the name, I want a single-elimination knockout style tournament. Put them on small platforms 20 feet above the ocean and let them go at it.

If you want to get really entertaining, make it a royal rumble and have them all trying to take each others heads off at once. You know what, if the whole day turned into American Gladiators I wouldn’t be upset. Sorry, what was that about player safety?

Who would win: Give me J.J. Watt over Bobby Wagner in the finals.

2. Three-Legged Race Relay

Hang-on one second. I have stipulations. Each pairing has to weigh at least 450 lbs. Try to tell me you wouldn’t be amused watching Ndamukong Suh drag T.Y. Hilton 25 yards.

Who would win: It would have to be two guys who are on the same page. So not Brock Osweiler and DeAndre Hopkins. I’ll go with the Titans’ massive, ball-sharing backfield duo of Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray.

3. Bubble Soccer

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here. To be honest, I don’t really care to keep score or even have a soccer ball for that matter, just let me watch the collision between Gerald McCoy and Taylor Lewan over and over again.

Who would win: The Dallas offensive line.

4. Full-Equipment Capture the Flag

Need I say anymore? Just imagine Johnny Hekker sneaking behind enemy lines to steal the flag – because no one took the punter seriously – only for Brian Orakpo to come out of nowhere and light him up to return the flag to the AFC base.

Who would win: Tyreek Hill, because geezus, you try catching that guy. 

5. Watch Your Step

Apparently that’s the “technical” name of what I’m trying to describe. But I’d rather use the Mario Kart Balloon Battle to describe it. Each player – again in full equipment – gets three balloons tied around his waste. The last man standing wins it for his respective conference. Different ways to pop the balloons include: a forceful tackle, your cleat, footballs that will be spread around the course, and just about any other way you can think of.

Who would win: The evasive and accurate Russell Wilson.

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NFL News

Conference Championship Pawns and Black Swans

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In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s the Divisional Round, if you missed it.) “What are pawns and a black swans?” you ask.

A pawn is a piece in chess that is often sacrificed to set up a bigger move. In this segment, it’s not the player who scored the touchdown, but the one who made the key block to spring the play, or the receiver who ran a brilliant route to pull coverage away from his teammates. 

Literally speaking, a black swan is a bird from the Cygnus family that’s colored black; metaphorically speaking, it’s something that causes an unwanted event with extreme consequences. In this segment, it’s a player whose unexpected blunder(s) cost his team.

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NFL News

Conference Championship Picks: Home Sweet Home

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And then there were four. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, and Atlanta Falcons remain. Come Monday, two will prepare to be bombarded with every question imaginable during the Super Bowl media week, while certain players from the other two will decide if they want to be bombarded with rubber balls in Orlando.

Last week, the guys at FY (me included!) went 3-1 picking winners for the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. This week, we’re going undefeated, just like the ’72 Dolphins. (I’d say 2-0 is just as impressive as 17-0.) So don’t keep reading unless you want to know what happens on Sunday.

If you don’t mind a spoiler, here are the aforementioned winners.


Game 1: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons

Public Domain
By Mick Garrett

VS.

On one side, you have a wall that is completely torn down: the Packer defense. On the other, you have a wall that may still be in one piece, but is ready to crumble with any bit of impact: the Falcon defense.

Only one team allowed more net passing yards than the Packers during the regular season (269.2 per game), and their secondary has been even worse in the playoffs, surrendering 293 net yards through the air. Ladarius Gunter could not cover Dez Bryant last week, and it’s not going to get any easier for him this week, drawing Julio Jones. The Packers are going to have to provide Gunter with a ton of help; they will end up exposing themselves in all other areas.

Aaron Rodgers will likely turn this game into a shootout, but with Jordy Nelson out and Davante Adams hobbled, that cracked wall may be able to hold for a while. Atlanta will punch its ticket to the Super Bowl.

Pick: Falcons

Game 2: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

By Anonimski (Wikimedia Commons)
Pasko Tomic (flickr)

VS.

This one isn’t as easy to put together as the last. On the left you have an individual who must capture every detail of her life to share with all her friends and followers on social media. Yes, I’m referring to Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On the right, you have two 20k gold coins from the Scandinavian Monetary Union. “Uhhh … Ty, what the hell do Scandinavian coins have to do with the New England Patriots?” Well, that monetary union was based on the gold standard, which is a phrase that’s been applied to the Patriots so many times this week.

The Patriots third-ranked rush defense has stumbled a little of late, allowing 100 yards on the ground in two of their last three. The Steelers may be their toughest test yet. This week, Belichick will be tasked with the seemingly impossible: slowing down Le’Veon Bell. Pittsburgh’s versatile back has averaged 146.5 rushing yards per game over his last eight, and totaled 149 yards from scrimmage when these two met in Week 7.

Belichick will sellout to stop Bell, forcing Big Ben to beat the Patriots’ defense through the air. Antonio Brown will see coverages shifted towards him, and it will be up to Eli Rogers and Jesse James to make New England pay.

Tom Brady tied his season total for interceptions last week against the Texans, and the offense did not look like its dominant self. Dion Lewis may not have the same success against the speedy Steeler linebackers, but Pittsburgh won’t have an answer for Julian Edelman out of the slot. Tom Terrific will show up this week and put himself one step closer to becoming the first quarterback to win five Super Bowl rings.

Pick: Patriots

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NFL News

Divisional Round Pawns and Black Swans

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In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s Wild Card Weekend, if you missed it.) “What are pawns and a black swans?” you ask.

A pawn is a piece in chess that is often sacrificed to set up a bigger move. In this segment, it’s not the player who scored the touchdown, but the one who made the key block to spring the play, or the receiver who ran a brilliant route to pull coverage away from his teammates. 

Literally speaking, a black swan is a bird from the Cygnus family that’s colored black; metaphorically speaking, it’s something that causes an unwanted event with extreme consequences. In this segment, it’s a player whose unexpected blunder(s) cost his team.

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NFL News

The Battle of L.A.: Which Team is Sitting Prettier?

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At this point, it’s old news that Los Angeles is getting its second football team. San Diego wasn’t happy about the news, but more shockingly, neither was Los Angeles. The city seems pretty apathetic towards the move, perhaps knowing they only have room in their cold, showbiz hearts for one team. But just because the Chargers will arrive one year later than the Rams, it doesn’t mean they’re that far behind in popularity. The Rams return season could best be described as “meh.”

The Bolts still have a chance to capture L.A.’s heart and become its one true team. But how do they stack up against the cross-town rival heading into their first season. Let’s look at the tale of the tape.

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NFL News

Divisional Round Picks: Down with (most of) the Dogs

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In the past, we have always had a really good and completely factual reason for not having a video. The same can’t be said about this week. The best I can give you is that none of us have camera-ready bodies after the holiday season. (Whether we did beforehand is highly debatable.) You didn’t come here for some epic story on why there’s no video, though, you came for the picks … Right?

We posted a 21-13-1 record in the regular season, but aren’t ready to put our football genius to rest just yet. Home teams/favorites swept Wild Card Weekend. Have the tables been turned on them in the Divisional Round?


Game 1: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons

Katorisi (Wikimedia Commons)
Hunter McGinnis (flickr)

VS.

Go ahead and call me Lucy because I clearly have some “splainin to do.” The picture on the left represents agoraphobia, which is often linked to the fear of leaving home. This man clearly is not comfortable with venturing out of his house, and neither are the Seahawks. Russell Wilson is 22-17-1 on the road in the regular season, and 3-3 away from C-Link in the playoffs; by comparison, he’s a career 39-6 at home, including 5-0 during the playoffs.

On the right, you have the king of sacks, also known as Vic Beasley of the Atlanta Falcons, who accrued an NFL-high 15.5 in 2016. This could be quite problematic for the homesick Seahawks, who allowed 42 sacks this season (sixth-most), and let Ziggy Ansah to match his season total (2) in the Wild Card Round.

The Week 6 matchup between these two teams in Seattle was the only time Atlanta committed multiple turnovers in a game all season. It also featured a missed pass interference call on Julio Jones late in the game, and Seattle still barely won. Atlanta will jump out to an early lead and force Seattle to abandon the run. In what will likely turn into a shootout, we’ll side with the league’s highest scoring offense.

Pick: Falcons

Game 2: Houston Texans at New England Patriots

Hubert Yu (flickr)
Public Domain

VS.

Ten dollars … That’s about how much of his $72 million contract Brock Osweiler has earned thus far. Don’t get carried away with the 90.1 passer rating he recorded in his first career playoff start. He was playing a Raiders defense that has been awful all season, and a newly horrible, Derek Carr-less Oakland offense. Houston’s defense won that game, but they aren’t going to be able to carry him through the Divisional Round.

How does surf-and-turf represent the Patriots? Well, the premier dish contains the best of both worlds, just like the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick’s squad allowed the fewest points in the league and scored the third-most. Had Tom Brady not been absent for the first four games, the offensive stats would be even better.

When these two squared off in Week 3, rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett made his first career start on a short week. The Pats still hammered the Texans 27-0; Osweiler’s passer rating in that game was 60.6. We don’t expect much to change for Houston, but with Tom Brady under center, who is 15-3 at home in the playoffs, the Pats will put a few more points on the board.

Pick: Patriots

Game 3: Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs

Dwight McCann (Wikimedia Commons)
Alex Proimos (Wikimedia Commons)

VS.

Yep, that’s a boy in a bubble. How does it apply to the Steelers? Just insert any of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, or Antonio Brown for the boy in the bubble, and Mike Tomlin as the individual with the leash in hand. Last week was the first time all three of the Killer Bs took the field for a playoff game, and it was close to being the last time, for this season at least. Not because Pittsburgh was in danger of losing, but due to Big Ben re-aggravating his ankle injury late in the game. While the Steelers field general will be able to suit-up this week, you can bet Tomlin is considering the whole bubble idea for the offseason.

You know that hit song “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang? It’s likely what Kansas City blasted in the locker room after winning the AFC West for the first time since 2010. The Chiefs, who played second fiddle to the Broncos for the last three years in spite of winning a combined 31 games in that time, now get the big advantage of playing at Arrowhead, one of the loudest stadiums in the league. Perhaps more importantly, they avoid facing Big Ben in Pittsburgh, where he’s much more effective. Trust me, there’s a party goin’ on right here.

When these two met in Week 4 in Steeltown, the Steelers laid a 43-14 beating on the Chiefs. Le’Veon Bell totaled 178 yards from scrimmage in his first game back from suspension, and things weren’t looking great for the 2-2 Chiefs. Not much has changed from Bell, who is averaging 180.7 yards from scrimmage over his last seven games, but Kansas City used its Week 5 bye to turn the season around.

Wait, did I just mention bye weeks and an Andy Reid team? Reid is now 19-2 when coming off the bye week, which includes a 3-0 record after a Wild Card Weekend spent on his couch, likely eating thousands of calories. Given the extra time, Reid will devise a way to slow Bell, and a slightly-hobbled Ben won’t be able to shoulder the load.

Pick: Chiefs

Game 4: Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys

OEVB (flickr)
Public Domain

VS.

I’m sure you’re wondering what that thing is on the left. After extensive research, I can now tell you it is a white dwarf star at the heart of the Red Spider Nebula … and it burns at some really high temperature with a K at the end instead of an F. (Science!) It’s apparently the hottest thing in the universe, so I’m using it to represent Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown 22 touchdowns without an interception in his last eight games, posting a 120.7 passer rating in that time.

On the right, you have the Rugrats (a.k.a. the Cowboys), who will look to cool off that fiery star with some young stars of their own. Rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have wowed the league with their performances this year, and helped lead Dallas to an NFC-best 13-3 record. Unfortunately, rookie quarterbacks haven’t fared well in the playoffs, posting an 11-20 record.

In the first installment between these two, back in Week 6, Dallas rushed for 191 on Green Bay’s then-top-ranked rush defense and came away with a 30-16 win. But that wasn’t the same white dwarf … I mean Aaron Rodgers. Number 12 is going to turn this into a shootout, and we don’t believe the kids are ready to face the bright lights of the playoffs just yet. Take the Packers in our upset of the week.

Pick: Packers

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NFL News

Wild Card Pawns and Black Swans

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In this weekly segment on FY, Ty will identify the pawns and black swans from the previous week’s action. (Here’s Week 17, if you missed it.) “What are pawns and a black swans?” you ask.

A pawn is a piece in chess that is often sacrificed to set up a bigger move. In this segment, it’s not the player who scored the touchdown, but the one who made the key block to spring the play, or the receiver who ran a brilliant route to pull coverage away from his teammates. 

Literally speaking, a black swan is a bird from the Cygnus family that’s colored black; metaphorically speaking, it’s something that causes an unwanted event with extreme consequences. In this segment, it’s a player whose unexpected blunder(s) cost his team.

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NFL News

NFL Playoffs Finally Start This Weekend

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Are you finally ready for some playoff football? After the NFL’s experimental trial of having a bye-week for all teams between the end of the season and the start of the postseason, we’re finally ready to get back to playoff action this week! And what a stacked slate of games it is: Seattle at Atlanta, Pittsburgh at Kansas City, Green Bay at Dallas, a fourth game I’m forgetting but I’m sure is on-par with the others. It’s hard to believe this is how the run to the Super Bowl starts. It’s only going to get better once…

Oh wait. There was “football” this weekend, wasn’t there? I thought I managed to mentally block such a terrible experience, just like I managed to forget the time I peed my pants in third grade and tried to dry it off with the class hamster. Actually, I guess I’m not that good at this forgetting thing after all.

Ironically, this weekend’s games were so forgettable that they’ll be remembered for just that. In all, home teams won every game by an average margin of 19 points. Yet, even though this weekend was full of sit-so-far-back-in-your-seat-you-find-the-lost-remote action, we can still glean a few lessons from the games to apply to the future. Let’s look back at Wild Card Weekend.

Wild Card Weekend Recap

Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans

1.) Surprisingly, this duel of “backup” QBs only gave us one terrible passing performance to mock. It seems ridiculous to give kudos to Brock Osweiler for having a completely average day under center, but him not being a total tool was the X-factor in this game. With Houston leading by six and receiving the ball with just over two minutes left in the first half, it seemed like the Texans would just play it safe like they had for 28 minutes. But Bill O’Brien actually allowed Osweiler to sling it, and he responded with three professional grade throws to lead Houston to a touchdown. The insurmountable 13-point lead allowed them to take zero risks in the second half, and let Connor Cook sink his own team.

Karen, via Flickr

2.) Speaking of Cook, the rookie was not good in his debut start, save for the brief moments when he was in the no-huddle offense. Working with a smaller playbook, Cook was able to lead the Raiders on a pair of touchdown drives when the offense was up-tempo. I get that Bill Musgrave had a game-plan he wanted to stick with, but once it was obvious that little else was going to work against a vaunted Houston D, the Raiders should’ve turned the game over to Cook.

3.) If you’re a completely unrealistic Texans fan, even you’d be hard-pressed to find any signs that this team can do anything but lose to New England by 40 points. Against a backup left tackle and a dumb ol’ rookie QB who holds the ball too long, Houston still had trouble getting consistent pressure, finishing with just three hits on Cook in 48 drop backs. Against the Patriots back in September, they only registered one sack of Jacoby Brissett, and Tom Brady has a much faster trigger than a rookie making his first start. If they can’t pressure Brady, they’d better hope Jadeveon Clowney can keep up his J.J. Watt impression and bat down/pick off more balls at the line of scrimmage.

Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks

1.) You feel that? That wind pulling you in from the Northwest? That’s the Seahawks trying to suck us all into their trap once again. Seattle reverted back to its old Super Bowl-winning formula of dominating in the ground game, having completely random receivers make potential catches of the year, and benefiting from spotty refereeing.

Don’t let their dominant win over Detroit be the siren song that crashes your boat though. (Ugh, given how much yacht talk is coming this week, I probably should’ve used a different metaphor.) Seattle owned a bad Lions team at home, where they’re always good. Playing in Atlanta will be a vastly different story, especially against a Falcons team that feels like it got robbed in its tight Week 6 loss in Seattle.

2.) Ultimately, the book on the 2016 Lions should be filed away under fiction. This was a bad team that needed straight-up sorcery to win and stumbled once its grand wizard broke his spell-casting finger. But it’s not the Lions fault they crashed the playoff party; ample NFC teams had a chance to take their spot, including Tampa Bay and Washington. So if you hated this game like I did, blame Kirk Cousins.

3.) Cris Collinsworth is a divisive character, as all color commentators usually are, but nights like Saturday are why I’m in his corner. He’s able to avoid painting entire offensive lines with the same brush, highlighting why George Fant sucks one play, before pointing out the strengths of Mark Glowinski on the next. He also just flat out said where there was a missed call, rather than do the typical announcer thing where they “don’t know about that one.” Finally, when a game is way out of hand, talking about who you chose for MVP is far more interesting than addressing who Mychal Rivera’s sister is.

Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers

1.) Like Oakland-Houston, the door for this game to be competitive was slammed shut right before halftime. Trailing by 14, Miami had the ball in the Steelers’ red zone with 27 seconds to go. Pittsburgh lined up to rush four, before James Harrison moved out wide, covering the slot receiver. Rather than account for one of the best pass rushers of our generation, the left side of the Dolphins o-line focused entirely on blocking Leterrius Walton. Harrison blitzed and got the strip sack to confirm what we already kind of knew, Miami wasn’t winning this game.

2.) Finally, Pittsburgh had a full team come playoff time, and it was every bit as scary as we thought it could be. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown both had a pair of TDs in the first postseason game to feature all three Killer Bs. Sunday’s Steelers had the look of a team that could give the Chiefs a walloping once again, but (as is now a yearly tradition) only if Big Ben is healthy. Roethlisberger apparently re-aggravated an old foot injury late in the Miami game and could be hobbled for the Divisional Round.

It’s bad news that Roethlisberger will be less than 100-percent, considering he wasn’t playing all that great beforehand. Brown’s catch-and-run touchdowns accounted for more than half his passing yards on Sunday. He also had a pair of interceptions and completed just two passes in the second half. Against a fierce Chiefs D looking for revenge, he’ll have to be better.

3.) Miami was clearly an inferior team, yet even they are allowed an excuse.

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

Mike Morbeck, via Flickr

1.) YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE! Of all the deplorable games last weekend, this one actually looked outstanding on paper. And for a half, it was. Then, Aaron Rodgers did his usual thing of making incredible plays that for him just seem average. That included exacting revenge for the Giants 2011 Hail Mary with a pre-half bomb of his own. Rodgers finished with an astounding 362 yards and a 125.2 passer rating, neither of which were playoff highs for him. He did, however, tie his playoff high with four touchdown passes. Oh, he also did that without his top receiver against arguably the league’s best defense.

The rest of this Packers team is hardly Super Bowl worthy; they can’t run, or defend the pass, and their offensive line isn’t great. But none of that matters because, when you wear no. 12, you’d better be able to lift your team to a Super Bowl. And Rodgers is showing once again that he can.

2.) The party yacht narrative was already crafted no matter how the Giants lost this game. But it definitely lost most of its punch when New York got – excuse the pun – boat raced by 25 points, the biggest margin of defeat this weekend. (Did I mention I thought this game would be good?)

For the boat crew, Odell Beckham led the charge with a career-high three drops (one of which came on a terrible Eli overthrow that no one would’ve blamed him for if his reputation as a Spiderman didn’t precede him). Yet, this Giants offense had been terrible for weeks before this game, so scoring under 20 for the sixth-straight week shouldn’t have come as a shock. The only hope for that unit was that Manning might be able turn it on like he has for playoff runs of years past, and that never really happened.

Also not on the yacht: any members of the defense, which allowed over 30 points for the first time all season; a running back too unaware to secure a live fumble; Ereck Flowers; Bobby Rainey. This was a whole team loss, but throw in Beckham’s apparent outrage after the loss, and he’s the media’s easy target. (Meaning, if Eli was part of the media, he’d overthrow him.)

3.) What was Damarious Randall thinking trying to run back an interception with the game sealed? Your secondary is already banged up and a bad karma play like that is just inviting an injury. Kneel on it, dummy!

4.) Legitimate question: is there only one spot you’re supposed to Lambeau Leap? It seemed like Aaron Ripkowski went on quite an adventure before he chose his spot.

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