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Falcons destroy the Buccaneers; questions for Sunday’s games

9-19

Don’t let the final score fool you. A 56-14 win by Atlanta over Tampa Bay isn’t indicative of how lop-sided last night’s game was. In fact, it was worse. If the Falcons continue to play at full strength, they definitely break the NFL record for biggest shutout and most points scored by a winning team (73-0) in an NFL game. After scoring 56 unanswered points from the start of the game, the Falcons pulled some of their starters and the Buccaneers scored a couple of touchdowns to save some of their dignity and avoid being shutout. Like I said, it was as bad as the score shows or worse. The first drive showed it all. The Falcons started the game at their own 30-yard line and marched down the field with little to no resistance, taking less than three minutes to score their first touchdown of the game. From there, it was a snowball effect against the Buccaneers. Atlanta started the game with two passing TDs by Matt Ryan but after that it was more of a “pick your poison” style of scoring for Atlanta. Fumble recoveries, interceptions, sacks, punt returns etc. Anything and everything was working for the Falcons and it was the most lopsided NFL game that I’ve seen in a while. Atlanta’s Devin Hester gets most of the headlines, breaking the NFL’s record for return TDs and now holds the top spot by himself with 20 scored. Normally i’m against celebrating before you get into the end zone, but its not every single day you get to break a record set by Deion Sanders so i’ll let it slide. So what’s next for these teams? Atlanta can hold the top spot of the division, depending on what happens with the Panthers so they’re looking alright with a somewhat favorable schedule coming up. And for Tampa Bay, things can only go up from here.

Now that last night’s game is over, we’re going to get better games on Sunday, right? It appears so. Just like in week 1, we’re getting a massive early slate of games. Only a couple of those ten games immediately jump off the page but all-in-all, there are plenty of games that should be very interesting. Can’t wait to see the Chargers in Buffalo, a good test for both of these teams that should reveal how good they are. What about all these early division games? Can Kirk Cousins continue good play when they’re in Philadelphia? Ravens in Cleveland should be fun. Is the Browns defense, specifically the front part, one of the best in the league? With the Packers at the Lions in a dome, how high can the score be? Over/under is 53 points for that game and I love the over. Also, people are underestimating the Jaguars and with the Colts in town, what’s stopping them from having an exciting game? There are only three late afternoon games but two are very good and the other one probably won’t be as great. I’ll have the 49ers in Arizona on a side screen but of course everyone will be tuning into the Broncos in Seattle. Super Bowl re-match…blah blah blah. We know the headlines and all the possible talking points. Just watch the game. The Steelers are in Carolina to finish things off and a part of me wants to pick Pittsburgh but I have to stop doubting the Panthers and their stellar defense.

My two picks were terrible last weekend. I’m going with the big spreads this weekend. The Patriots (+14) against the Raiders and the Saints (+10) against the Vikings. Betting against the Raiders and betting the Saints at home seem like the logical way to go. Enjoy the games everyone.

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Saints down the Falcons; preparing for the rest of week 12 in the NFL

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints

Coming into this season, both the Falcons and the Saints were thought of as contenders for not only the conference but the Super Bowl as well. New Orleans was getting their head coach back, one of the best in the league. The Falcons added a few pieces to an already potent offense. No one could have predicted that going up against each other in week 12, the teams would be on the exact opposite ends of the spectrum. The Saints are trying to keep pace with Seattle for the best record in the NFC while the Falcons’ first round draft pick gets higher and higher as the weeks go bye. So because of that, one would assume that last night’s game would be an easy one for Drew Brees and co. Leading a Saints offense that has looked nearly unbeatable inside of a dome but didn’t have as much firepower as we’re used to seeing last night. When indoors, anything is possible for the Saints. But last night proved how erratic the season has been, nearly impossible to predict. Thursday night games have a knack for being extra weird because the players are on a minimal amount of rest. Yes, the Saints won the game and a win is always a win, but nothing was overly impressive. Brees was effective but only showed a couple of flashes of brilliance. Jimmy Graham had his inevitable big plays and the run game did just enough. At the same time, the Falcons had enough of opportunities to make the game interesting but failed to so because frankly, they’re just a bad team. Atlanta is now guaranteed a losing season and only have a couple more legitimate shots at getting another win. The Saints on the other hand have their toughest stretch of the season, beginning next week in Seattle. Could very well decide the top seed in the conference. But there are still games to play before that.

The slate of this week’s games aren’t stealing the spotlight like they did last week but they’re just as important. Only four teams on bye (Seahawks, Bills, Eagles, Bengals) so lots of early games. The Panthers in Miami is the most important on paper. Miami is in the middle of the dogfight that is the second wild card spot in the AFC while the Panthers are trying to keep the pressure on New Orleans for the division and at the same time, stay in prime position the first wild card spot in the NFC. The Chargers can still salvage their season but they’re going into Kansas City against a pretty pissed off Chiefs team; could be ugly for Phil Rivers. Will the Jets continue to be the “Jekyll and Hyde” team of the season? Is there any reason to watch Jaguars-Texans? I’m wondering why more attention isn’t being paid to Colts-Cardinals. I’m excited to see how Andrew Luck does on the road against a really good Cardinals defense. The Cowboys at the Giants always gets interesting but for this game, I just want the Cowboys to get back on track while stopping the Giants’ win streak. Just goes to show how bad the NFC East is when the previously 0-6 Giants are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. The day finishes with a bang. Denver at New England features two of the better teams in the AFC and the NFL. Will we see another classic Manning vs Brady game?

I was tempted to take the Dolphins because they keep it close at home but the Panthers are just too good. Or how about the Bucs (+9) in Detroit? Revis Island somewhat containing Megatron? Mike Glennon being a little better than most expected? The Lions have not had a blowout win since they were in Cleveland. Can’t see Tampa Bay actually winning but why not, they keep it close.

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Most surprising moments and best performances in 3rd Sunday of the NFL season

9-23

Did everyone underestimate the AFC almost completely? Or are the NFC teams just not that good? I’ll be the first to admit that I thought the AFC would be a cakewalk for the Broncos, their only real competition being the Texans and maybe the Patriots depending on their health. As of yesterday, you can include the Colts and Bengals as contenders, with the Dolphins looming and somehow still being a dark horse candidate. For myself, the best performance award doesn’t go to a specific player, it clearly goes to the entire Indianapolis Colts team. Andrew Luck led the way on offense but it was the all around team performance that made their win in San Francisco so impressive. Before the game began I was wondering if Andrew Luck was going to be able to deal with the pressure (mental and physical) but it turns out the tables were turned. Kaepernick and the 49ers offense were the ones struggling to get things going on offense, sputtering along for most the game. While Miami’s win over the Falcons wasn’t as impressive overall (home game) as the Colts, it was still a statement win. Who would’ve thought that heading into week 4 the Dolphins and Saints would both be undefeated? So where does that leave the Falcons and the Niners among the rest of the NFC? Remember, these were the final teams standing last season and were supposed to be favorites to get back there this year. Right now it’s the Saints and Bears as the teams that will seriously battle Seattle for the shot at the big game. And dare I say my Dallas Cowboys? Too early for that but they did look very impressive against the Rams, who on the other hand were abysmal for most of the game.

Speaking of abysmal performances, how about those New York Giants? Before the game began I thought Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera was the clear favorite to be the first coach fired this season but as the afternoon went on, the Panthers just kept scoring and scoring and scoring. The Giants couldn’t stop Cam Newton (4 TDs) and their offense could not get anything going, only managing 150 yards of total offense. So aside from the Colts win, the Giants not even managing to score 1 point really surprised me the most. Did I like it? Yes, anytime all the other NFC East team lose and the Cowboys win is a good football weekend for me. Another impressive win was the Bengals over the Packers, in a wild and crazy game with many ups and down. Packers fans were disappointed and Bengals fans were proud but I think neutral fans around the league enjoyed every minute of that game. It was probably the most exciting game to watch all season. Not so exciting games to watch? The Seahawks freebie at home against the Jaguars, the Patriots victory over the disappearing Bucs and the Saints dismantling of the Cardinals. Wait, how did I forget Cleveland’s crazy win over the Vikings in Minnesota? That certainly came out of nowhere. Too early to say that Brandon Hoyer might actually be decent? Browns fans take a step back for a second, the Bengals are in town next Sunday. Overall a great weekend of football. Probably not as exciting as the first two weeks but it looks like the rust has been shaken off entirely and we’re going to see some quality football as the weather turns cooler. The fall NFL season is upon us.

Tonight it’s the Raiders in Denver to take on Manning and co. The Broncos look like the favorite in the AFC and the Raiders look mediocre at best so I don’t expect any surprises tonight. Broncos roll over Raiders.

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49ers and Ravens both have comeback victories to reach Super Bowl

AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots

Both games were a tale of two halves. Behind great plays on defense and great quarterback play, the 49ers and Ravens were both able to come from behind on the road to secure their spots in Super Bowl 47. Both the 49ers (favorites) and the Ravens (significant underdog) came into the title games in different situations but it was the perseverance to make changes at halftime and absorb blows that was the difference. Even if they weren’t brothers, the Harbaugh coaches both have to be recognized for excellent coaching adjustments throughout the game. Combine that with excellent play from the players and it’s a recipe for success. Players of the game go to Frank Gore (21 car, 90 yds, 2 TDs) in the NFC and in the AFC to Joe Flacco (21-36, 240 yds, 3 TDs) who definitely looked elite yesterday.

The 49ers were very impressive in the second half, shutting out Atlanta’s potent offense and recovering from an early deficit to finally take the lead in the 4th quarter. Kaepernick wasn’t as dominating as last weekend’s game against the Packers but he was effective enough, particularly late in the game to put drives together that put the Niners in scoring position. For the Falcons it simply wasn’t enough and this time around, the lead was just too great to overcome. Statistically Matt Ryan had a great game overall but the problem was that his turnovers (fumble and interception) came at critical moments. Right when the Falcons were going to score either keep the lead or take it back, there was a mistake and the Niners defense was there to take advantage. Also, I was pretty impressed by how loud the Georgia dome got.

Out east, the Ravens were able to play in a similar fashion. The biggest difference was that the Ravens were a pretty significant underdog and note, for the second week in a row they were able to win. Baltimore shutout New England in the second half and also scored 21 points to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since their title in 2000. 21 unanswered points and they made Tom Brady look pretty average; not bad for a defense that was supposed to be old and worn out for most of the season. Ray Lewis will get headlines as usual but it was a collective group effort from start to finish, even after the slow start. The Patriots were already injured and they suffered a couple of key injuries in this game but it’s very surprising that the offense only managed to score 13 points at home.

So we have a Super Bowl dubbed as the “Harbowl” and it looks to be a good one. Tons of headlines to go over in the next couple of weeks.

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Previewing the conference championships in the NFL

AFC Championship Patriots Ravens Football

In the middle of trying to figure out this weekend’s conference title games it dawned on me, there are only three games of professional football left for this season. Yes, i’m discounting the Pro Bowl next weekend because none of the players try and it’s a terrible game that I only glance at occasionally. While it’s a little discouraging that there’s such little football left, at least it’s known that championship weekend can provide plenty of fireworks. Last weekend was an excellent weekend of football and I expect Sunday’s games to keep the momentum. Let’s take a look at how things will down:

Biggest factors and match ups: Last week the Patriots were able to cruise past Houston because of the Texans’ inability to make big plays and keep up with the offensive firepower of the Patriots. That won’t be a problem for the Ravens, who have plenty of big play making ability on offense and defense. It’ll be interesting to see how Joe Flacco performs because despite all the “elite” jokes that are thrown his way, he does have the ability to make big plays and take big risks. The Ravens defense and special teams will have to play a big part in helping take the blows from the Patriots offense. How much will the Gronkowski injury affect the Patriots on offense? No doubt he’s a major part but chances are that Brady (watch him go to Welker early and often) will find a way to make it work.

It’s incredible to think that the Falcons are a 4 point underdog at home, as the top seed in the conference. That’s what happens when teams do what the 49ers did last weekend, where they looked like clear favorites. The Falcons finally have the playoff monkey off their back but how will they respond as the stage gets bigger and the pressure mounts? Matt Ryan will have to make big plays to his big time receivers because I don’t see the Falcons running game being that effective against a Niners defense that doesn’t really allow big plays on the ground. Can the Falcons get enough pressure on Kaepernick? At least to keep him from getting outside and running wild. The 49ers offensive line is among the best in the league and versatile QBs have given Atlanta fits throughout the season.

Prediction: The Ravens aren’t a team that’s going to back down when the pressure is great. In fact, the Ravens welcome the pressure and have played the Patriots very well in recent years. It’s going to take some big plays and late game magic from the Ravens to beat the Patriots in Foxborough. Do I think the Ravens can slow down the Patriots offense enough? No, but I think the game will be closer than most people expect. The Patriots edge out the Ravens at home. In the NFC the Falcons are being disrespected a bit but it’s not surprising when they’re up against Kaepernick, who looked looked like the greatest football player of all time last week. I expect Kaepernick to regress a bit but I still expect him to give Atlanta’s defense plenty of problems all game. I just don’t see the Falcons thriving on offense against a 49ers defense that’s too fast, too big and too tough. Falcons keep it close but the Niners make a play on defense late in the game to seal the deal. Patriots-49ers will be Super Bowl bound after Sunday’s games are over.

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Recapping an exciting playoff weekend in the NFL

1-14

The first weekend of this year’s playoffs was mediocre but this past weekend the NFL gave fans some of the greatest football I’ve seen in a 48 hour span. The divisional round is thought of by most as the best weekend of the entire season and this weekend’s games certainly backed up that statement. Where do I even begin? We’ll start in chronological order.

Bal-Den: What was Manning thinking with that throw across his body late in the first overtime? I was the back up QB in middle school and even I know not to throw across your body into the middle of the field. But hey, he’s the future hall of fame NFL player so i’ll defer to him. After that interception, the Ravens were able to gain enough yardage to set up the game winning field goal in the second overtime period. Second overtime! How many times do we see “2OT” on the scoreboard in the NFL? It was actually kind of odd. I know Joe Flacco had that great (elite?) pass late in the game to seal the comeback but I gotta give some props to their RB Ray Rice. Rice secretly tore up the Denver defense, rushing for 131 yards and a TD on 30 carries. Incredible game with an incredible finish.

SF-GB: I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit skeptical about how Colin Kaepernick would perform in his first playoff start but boy did he prove me wrong. Kaepernick bounced back from an early pick-6 in record breaking fashion to lead the 49ers in an impressive victory over the Packers. Kaepernick’s stat line (pass: 263 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT; rush: 181 yds, 2 TDs) doesn’t even do him justice as he out dueled Aaron Rodgers, a proven SB winner and one of the best QBs in the league. Credit to the 49ers defense who never let Rodgers get in sync, even after the Packers took an early lead from a play made on defense. I also have to give credit to the rest of the Niners rushing attack (Gore and co) who had the Packer defense confused the entire game. Damn, the Niners are a scary team.

Atl-Sea: Another wild finish that I did not see coming. Seattle certainly had a chance to win the game after an incredible comeback but Atlanta’s big plays late in the game were the deciding factor. The Falcons finally broke their streak of recent playoff losses and even though I had the Seahawks winning the game, I actually felt good for the Falcons players. Particularly TE Tony Gonzalez, who broke down in tears after the clock expired. I have to ask about the 4th quarter: was it more Falcons meltdown or a Seahawks comeback? It was incredible to watch Russell Wilson lead the Seahawks to 21 unanswered points in the final period but it still wasn’t enough. Seems like there’s a bright future for Seattle but this season it’s the Falcons that are moving on.

NE-Hou: This game didn’t exactly live to the rest of the weekend’s games in terms of excitement but it was still impressive to see how much the Patriots dominated the Texans. Tom Brady broke the record for career playoff wins as he led the Patriots offense in a dominating victory over the Texans. Houston simply could not keep up with the Patriots offense, particularly in the second half. The Texans kept the game close through the first half but after the Patriots dominated the 3rd quarter it began to shape into a easy W for New England. Despite losing Gronkowski (for the season) during the first quarter, the Patriots offense continued to dominate but it’ll be interesting to see how the injury affects them going forward.

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Trying to figure out the NFC divisional round

1-11

This side of the tournament was much more difficult to figure out. I could honestly see both games coming down to the final possession, whether it be a last second field goal or whatever, these games are going to be close. The Packers and 49ers played in the very first week of the season at Lambeau with the Niners dominating but both of these teams are clearly different squads. 49ers have a new starting QB and the Packers are led by a red-hot Aaron Rodgers. Down in Atlanta the momentum heavy Seahawks are looking to once again upset an opponent as the try and play spoiler to Atlanta’s party. Can Atlanta finally shed their playoff demons? There are lots of NFL fans around the country that believe Atlanta isn’t as good as it’s 13-3 record and don’t deserve the #1 seed. I can’t wait for these games to start.

Keys to each game: For the Packers, as usual, it’s going to be about how much Rodgers can carry the team on offense. Everyone knows that the Niners have an excellent defense so watch how Rodgers responds to pressure throughout the game. The Niners defense isn’t at full health so I want to see just how much pressure they actually get on Rodgers, anything to disrupt the Packers pass offense. How will Colin Kaepernick perform in the first playoff start of his career? Kaepernick’s mobility could be problem for the Packers but look for the Niners QB to find his favorite target, Crabtree, early and often. Also, both of these teams are facing issues with their kickers so watch out for that as well.

The Seahawks will have to use all of their momentum, especially on defense to stop the array of weapons that the Falcons can put on the field. Seattle is dealing with injuries at key positions on defense so it will have to be seen how much that affects the amount of pressure that is put on Matt Ryan. The biggest factor for the Falcons on offense will be how much seperation their elite receivers (Jones and White) can get against the Seahawks’ great corners. Things might get pretty intense on the sidelines with balls thrown deep. Both defenses are among the best in league in takeaways so a turnover is most likely going to result in a big play for the other team.

Prediction: I flipped back and forth between these two games, not knowing which teams to pick because I feel every single one of teams deserves to be in the NFC title game. Can Atlanta finally prove they can perform when it matters most? I’m taking Seattle and their momentum. Along with Wilson’s ability to win games from out of nowhere. Until I see Atlanta come through when it matters most, i’m hesitant to take them. Prove me wrong Falcons. As for the Packers-49ers game, everyone else’s guess is as good as mine. I think these teams are extremely close and either could take the victory. If I have to put my money on something, it’s going to be the better QB and that’s Rodgers. Packers win a very close game. Maybe we’re just destined to see a rematch of the “fail mary” to settle the score once and for all.

Enjoy the games everyone.

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Falcons take down the Saints and what to look for in week 13

11-29After being in so many close games the Atlanta Falcons were finally able to come out and take an early lead against the New Orleans Saints last night. After taking an early 17-0 lead, the Falcons took advantage of 5 interceptions thrown by Drew Brees en route to a 23-13 victory. Are the Falcons the least respected 11-1 team of all time? Even before the teams played last night, the Saints were only a 3.5 point underdog on the road! There are a few angles to this. The first being that the Falcons have been squeaking out wins against teams that they should be beating by two scores or more. Another reason the Falcons are looked over is because they don’t seem to have this same type of success in the postseason, when it really matters. I’m hesitant to trust the Falcon completely but edging out wins is still winning and that has to count for something.

Here are a few things that i’m looking at this weekend: The best game of this weekend will be the Buccaneers visiting the Broncos on Sunday afternoon. Normally Ravens-Steelers takes that title when they’re playing each other but after Big Ben was ruled out of the game, it can’t live up to expectations. The Bucs offense has been so great and Manning is the leading MVP candidate, so expect tons of fireworks in that game. New twist, my worst game of the week (stay away at all times) is the Browns visiting the Raiders. Why is the Cowboys-Eagles game on during prime time? I’ve been a Cowboys fan since I was a child and a part of me doesn’t want to watch this game. Upset pick is the Jaguars keeping it close at Buffalo (-6).

Side note on the NBA: I’m completely against David Stern taking action against the Spurs for what Popovich did. The Spurs coach was looking out for his team, putting their health first. Stern’s job is to run the league, not a team’s locker room.

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