January 8, 2014

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Ranking the 2014 NFL Divisional Playoff Games

By: Matt Bowen

The 2014 NFL Divisional Playoff Games are set to make fans out of all of us beginning January 11. Now down to just eight teams, this round of playoffs is something special. Arguably the league’s top eight quarterbacks from 2013 will be on display and this one figures to be a ruckus affair.

If one had to compare it to another sports spectacle, the WWE’s Royal Rumble would be it. While there are not as many participants this late in the NFL season, the personalities left make for must-see TV. All of these games are great matchups, let’s rank the duels and find out who’ll remain when the dust settles. Last man standing wins.

Peyton Manning

Manning and the Broncos will play a rubber match with the Chargers for the right to play in the AFC Championship game.

San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos

There’s an abundance of hype surrounding this one and deservingly so, but that doesn’t mean its king of the mountain this week.

This will be a rematch of AFC West foes as the San Diego Chargers are full of electricity heading into Mile High Stadium to face their nemesis, the Denver Broncos.  The two teams split the season series, each winning on the road. The Chargers recently beat the Broncos in Week 15 to enrich their playoff formula. Being that this is so recent, the Chargers still relish that feeling while the taste of defeat still lingers in the Broncos mouth.

Philip Rivers vs. Peyton Manning is a dream matchup when it comes to quarterbacks. Their personalities may be opposite on the spectrum but their games are explosive. Manning was simply Manning all season as he put up historic numbers on his ascent to the top of the quarterback food chain. Rivers had a bounce-back season and reminded us all that his name deserves to be thrown in the ring when it comes to elite quarterbacks.

Whatever the outcome, this one will be great.

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks

The New Orleans Saints head to the great Northwest for the second time this season to face the Seattle Seahawks. The first time didn’t go well as the Seahawks dismantled the Saints in Week 13, 34-7.

There was much skepticism surround New Orleans being on the road, they just aren’t the same team away from their home. Well, they silenced critics last week when they escaped Philadelphia with a win.

Now Drew Brees leads his men back to Seattle with a score to settle. Filled with confidence, the Saints will be ready.  Don’t think for one second this time around will end in the same lopsided score.

Then again, don’t think Russell Wilson and company won’t be ready for the Saints attack. The Seahawks are home to the 12th Man, which just happens to their crowd which is as loud as a Boeing 747. The 12th Man is a game-changer and given the playoff stipulation, they’ll find a way to crank it up to 11.

Brees vs. Wilson is a superb matchup as they’re simply two of the best the game has to offer. Albeit undersized, both men are extremely athletic and highly intelligent. They keep their respective teams composed throughout.

This is a matchup that we’ll look back on years down the road and simply smile due to its greatness.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Carolina Panthers

Wow—this games screams old-fashioned slobber-knocker.

The San Francisco 49ers are one of hottest teams in the NFL while the Carolina Panthers feel disrespected. After all, they beat the Niners in San Fran in Week 10, 10-9 and aren’t getting much love right now.

The Panthers feature a stout defense and a quarterback in Cam Newton that’s on a mission. The same can be said about the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick. Not wanting to give an inch, this one will be an all-out war.

Both quarterbacks can great runners but it will come down to their arms in this one. The quarterback that makes the big throw with the game on the line will win. Choosing to tuck and run at the wrong time will prove to be futile.

Expect this one to be ugly in the beginning due to neither team wanting back down. In the end, last team with the ball wins.

Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots

The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots is the one that dreams are made of. This may just be the best non-Super Bowl playoff game in the history of the NFL.

Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady is all you need to know. Brady is well on his way to the Hall of Fame and Luck makes his case on a weekly basis.

What’s in a name? Andrew doesn’t need any, that kid is just a phenom. He’s recently been compared to Michael Jordan. While it’s still early in his career, that’s the best comment any athlete could ever get.

This isn’t all about Luck and the Colts, the Patriots are the home team and the great Brady has never done more with less. The Patriots have been picked apart no thanks to injuries this season but still find a way to win, which makes them scary.

Luck and his team has already beaten the Broncos, Seahawks and Niners in 2013. They play up to their competition and being that this is the playoffs, they’ll be ready to go.

This is one you may want to record because when you’re starving for football sometime in May, you’ll wish you could see this one. Every single second of this game must be seen by all. There’s no telling what Luck and Brady are capable of next.

December 27, 2013

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Week 17 in the NFL

By: Joe Williams

With 16 weeks down and just one to go in the NFL season, there are still four playoff spots up for grabs, four division titles to be decided and three teams will secure a bye in the first round. With dozens of possible scenarios waiting to play out, nobody knows what will happen. But here’s what you need to know for week 17.

Just three of the 16 games have no playoff implications. Here’s hoping you don’t get stuck watching Houston at Tennessee, Detroit at Minnesota or Washington at N.Y. Giants.

Carolina at Atlanta
The Panthers win the NFC South with a win. They could be the 1, 2, 5 or 6 seed.

Cam Newton

Cam Newton has the led the Panthers to the playoffs in 2013. Can they capture the #1 seed in the NFC in Week 17?

Baltimore at Cincinnati
The Bengals have already won the AFC North and will be playing for a chance at the 2 seed and a bye. They could finish as the 2, 3 or 4 seed. Baltimore needs a win and some help to get the final wild card spot.

N.Y. Jets at Miami
The Dolphins need a win and some help to get the AFC’s final wild card spot.

Jacksonville at Indianapolis
The Colts have already locked up the AFC South and are headed to the playoffs. However, a win and a Bengals loss would make the Colts the 3 seed instead of the 4.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh
The Steelers need a win and some help to get the AFC’s final wild card spot.

Green Bay at Chicago
The winner takes the NFC North title and will be the 3 or 4 seed.

Denver at Oakland
The Broncos will clinch home-field advantage in the AFC with a win.

Buffalo at New England
The Patriots will get a first round bye with a win. They could be the 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed in the AFC.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans
The Saints could get a first round bye with a win. They will be the 2, 5 or 6 seed in the NFC.

San Francisco at Arizona
The 49ers are already in the playoffs but need a win for a chance at the NFC West title and home-field advantage in the NFC. The Cardinals can get the final wild card spot in the NFC with a win and some help.

Kansas City at San Diego
The Chiefs are locked in as the 5 seed in the AFC. The Chargers can sneak into the final AFC wild card spot with a win if Baltimore and Miami lose earlier in the day.

St. Louis at Seattle
The Seahawks need one more win to clinch home-field advantage in the NFC.

Philadelphia at Dallas
The winner takes the NFC East and will be the 3 or 4 seed.

My prediction:

Denver 13-3
New England 12-4
Indianapolis 11-5
Cincinnati 10-6
Kansas City 11-5
Miami 9-7

Seattle 13-3
Carolina 12-4
Philadelphia 10-6
Chicago 9-7
New Orleans 11-5
San Fransisco 11-5

November 14, 2013

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Must Win Games for NFL Playoff Hopefuls

By: Joe Williams

We’ve past the halfway point of the NFL season and now have a pretty good idea of who is good and who isn’t. But the playoff race is still wide open. Unless you are the Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, St. Louis Rams or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For everyone else, their season could be defined by the outcome of one game. Here’s my take on the games that each team must win to secure its playoff destiny.

Week 11

Baltimore Ravens -  The defending Super Bowl champ Ravens are on the ropes. And when you are on the ropes, you cannot afford to lose to a team playing without its starting quarterback. Even if the game is in Chicago.

Baltimore Ravens

Can the Baltimore Ravens find their way into the 2014 NFL Playoffs?

Cincinnati Bengals – Nobody wants to head into the bye with three straight losses. A loss to Cleveland would take the Bengals out of the hunt for a playoff bye and leave them in a dogfight to win the division that was theirs just a couple weeks ago.

Denver Broncos – They can take control of the AFC with a win over the undefeated Chiefs. A loss and the Broncos could be looking at the No. 5 seed in the AFC. There is a huge difference between No. 1 and No. 5.

Miami Dolphins – The Dolphins have lost five of six. They need a win badly to get past the bullying controversy. And beating the Chargers would keep them in the wild card race.

New York Giants – Three straight wins have kept the Giants on life support. If they are going to stay in the hunt, they’ve got to take advantage of catching the Packers without Aaron Rodgers.

Philadelphia Eagles – New coach Chip Kelly has his team tied for the lead in the NFC East despite starting the season with four straight losses at home. A win in Philly over the Redskins would put the Eagles in first place and eliminate a division rival from contention.

Tennessee Titans – Losing to Jacksonville could be costly. The Titans need to redeem themselves against the Colts and that will be easier to do at home.

Washington Redskins – A win would really tighten up the NFC East race. A loss would put the Redskins at 3-7 and needing six straight wins plus help. Better win in Philly.

Week 12

Cleveland Browns – The Browns have two games left against the Steelers. If the Browns don’t win this one, the week 17 rematch won’t have any playoff implications.

Green Bay Packers – The Packers need to pick up at least one more win before Aaron Rodgers returns for the final month. Playing at home against a bad Vikings team looks like the one they cannot afford to lose.

New England Patriots – The Patriots will be in the playoffs but if they are going to have a chance at home-field advantage, this is a must win game on Sunday night against the Broncos.

San Diego Chargers – The Chargers have two games coming up against the Chiefs and for the one in week 17 to matter, they need to win this one.

Week 13

Chicago Bears – If Jay Cutler can’t stay on the field, the Bears are in trouble. Either way, they’ll need this game against the Vikings to improve their conference and division record because if they are going to get in the playoffs, I expect tiebreakers to be involved.

Detroit Lions – The Lions are in first place in the NFC North and have a sweep over the Bears. They could win the division and make a run at a first-round bye. But for that to happen, they’ll need to give their fans something to be thankful for with a win over Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day.

Kansas City Chiefs – Despite the 9-0 record, the Chiefs haven’t shown they belong with the big boys by beating any of the other top teams in the league. They’ll have to beat Denver at least once to win the AFC West and home-field advantage in the AFC and this will be their best shot.

New Orleans Saints – The Saints should have no trouble making the playoffs. But they could catch Seattle and steal home-field advantage in the NFC with a Monday night win in Seattle.

Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks should have no trouble making the playoffs. But they could just about lockup home-field advantage in the NFC with a Monday night win over the Saints.

Week 14

Indianapolis Colts – Nobody has better wins than the Colts. Another big one against the Bengals would give the Colts the edge for the No. 3 seed and keep them alive for the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers shouldn’t have trouble picking up a few more wins to reach the playoffs. But if they are going to have a shot at winning the division or make a Super Bowl run, they’ve got to redeem themselves against Seattle after getting creamed earlier this season.

Week 15

Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals will need at least nine wins to get a wild card spot. They could get number nine in Tennessee and with Seattle and San Fransisco coming up, it could be their last win as well.

Week 16

Carolina Panthers – They have two games to play against the Saints. Losing both would really hurt and I like Carolina’s chances to win at home much better.

Week 17

Dallas Cowboys – The NFC East looks like it will come down to the final game of the season as usual. Luckily for the Cowboys, they’ll be at home to face the Eagles.

New York Jets – The AFC wild card race looks like its headed for a wild finish with at least six teams still in play. A week 17 win is a must for the Jets to grab the final spot.

September 10, 2013

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Little Drama In MLB Playoff Races

By: Joe Williams

With just about 20 games left in the regular season, most of the MLB playoff races are essentially over. It’s pretty safe to say that we already know who four division winners will be and where two of the wild card teams are going to come from.

The Boston Red Sox have left the Yankees, Orioles and Rays in the dust and turned a 4-team race into a 7.5 game lead in the AL East. They have a shot at 100 wins and should be the top seed in the American League.

In the AL Central, the Tigers maintain a 4.5 game lead over the pesky Indians. It’s not out of the question for Cleveland to make it a race…until you check the schedule. Not only do the Tigers not face Cleveland again, but all but three of their remaining games will be against the White Sox, Mariners, Twins and Marlins. That is as cake as it gets.

Will the Tigers hold off the Cleveland Indians for the AL Central crown?

At least we have the AL West race. But maybe not for long. Oakland leads Texas by just two games right now and the teams meet for the final time in a three-game series beginning Friday. It’s a must-win series (at least two out of three) for the Rangers who still play Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay while Oakland doesn’t have any other playoff hopefuls left on its schedule.

And then there is the AL Wild Card. This one could truly be wild down to the final game. The Oakland/Texas runner up will have to deal with Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Baltimore, Kansas City and the Yankees for the two spots in the wild card one-game playoff.

In the NL East, the Braves have been on cruise control for about a month already and still lead by 12 games. The only question here is whether they can hold off the hard-charging Dodgers for the top seed in the NL.

Speaking of the Dodgers…they too hold a 12-game lead in their division and are now playing for home-field advantage in the NL.

The NL Central/Wild Card race is the one to watch in the NL. St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are all going to the playoffs. One will win the Central and the other two will get the wild card spots (Washington trails by seven games for the last wild card spot). The Cardinals have a one-game lead in the division and a schedule that makes it theirs to lose. They play Milwaukee, Seattle, Colorado, Washington and the Cubs who all are making plans for 2014. Meanwhile, the Pirates and Reds will play each other six more times. If one team can win four or five of those games, they may be able to give the Cardinals a run. Otherwise, they’ll be playing for the right to host the wild card game.

August 20, 2013

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NFC Preview

By: Joe Williams

Last year, I correctly picked Green Bay, Atlanta and San Francisco to win their divisions but was off the mark in the NFC East and with both wild card teams. The NFC is much tougher to read than the AFC. The NFC has been the definition of parity. In the last nine seasons, the NFC Championship Game has been played in eight different cities (only Chicago hosted twice), won by eight different teams (only New York won twice), and 11 of the 16 teams have played for the right to go to the Super Bowl (Washington, Dallas, Detroit, Tampa Bay and St. Louis haven’t been there in a while).

With Sean Payton returning to the sideline, can the Saints take back the NFC South?

NFC East

Once again, it’s the Redskins that are the most talked about team in the offseason. But this time its injury related. When will RGIII be back? Will he be 100 percent? Will he be able to stay on the field when he does come back? The Redskins come in as the champs, but won’t end the year that way. It should be safe to say that a team that finished 4-12 and has a rookie head coach won’t win either. So it comes down to the Cowboys and Giants and it won’t be decided until the final game of the season when Washington at New York gets moved to Sunday night.

Division winner: Dallas

NFC North

Three teams won 10 games last season and two went to the playoffs. The Packers will be very good again and it seems that we never know what to expect from the Vikings, Bears and Lions. The Lions will be better and the Vikings will be worse. So assuming that Jay Cutler can stay healthy this year, the Bears will be the team to challenge Green Bay. They play in Chicago in week 17 and the division title could be on the line…but it won’t. The Bears will be playing for a wild card spot and Green Bay will be looking to send their rivals home.

Division winner: Green Bay

NFC South

Atlanta won the South by six games and should have gone to the Super Bowl last season. Now that Sean Payton and Drew Brees are back together, it may have been the Falcons best shot. Tampa Bay and Carolina should both be better as well. But not everyone can be over .500. Either the Bucs or Panthers will fall out of the race before Thanksgiving but the other three will all be in the playoff chase until the bitter end.

Division winner: Atlanta

NFC West

This one is a two team race. The 49ers and Seahawks are clearly better than the Rams and Cardinals. If the 49ers and Seahawks were scheduled to play in week 17, I’d say the division title and probably a bye would be at stake. Both teams should be headed to the playoffs in January so the real question is which one gets the break that allows them to win West and host at least one playoff game.

Division winner: Seattle

Wild Card winners: San Francisco, Chicago

NFC champion: Atlanta

(To read our AFC Preview, click here.)