Archive for the ‘Super Bowl’ Category

The formula was simple: go 1 for 14 on 3rd down.
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The 50th edition of a legendary game goes to a legendary player, and that’s pretty cool. (Photo credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Before the game, I felt that no matter who the confetti fell on, it would be a fitting end. It could’ve been Carolina sticking the landing to a near-perfect season, with Cam smiling next to the trophy while the talking heads praise his improved maturity and leadership. Instead, it’s what we saw last night. A game that, through both its quality of play and eventual winner, epitomized an NFL season that should be remembered for its surplus of flawed teams. Even with a record number of undefeated teams through six-plus weeks, we were somehow still left wondering, “Is anyone great?” And of the undefeated teams, “Who have they beaten?” And now, after watching Denver go 1 for 14 on 3rd down while Peyton threw for under 150 yards and no touchdowns, we’re asking similar questions. “Is anyone really great?”

Yes, one is. That Denver defense.

With doubts of Denver’s ability to win this game, I asked how they could possibly pull this off. I settled on the obvious: Denver’s defense must be great. Carolina launched into huge leads in their first two playoff games and it was too much for even the most spirited of comebacks. If the same happened here, it was over. Denver’s offense simply did not possess the firepower. And so, the defense had to be great. And holy crap, were they ever.

If you watched the game, you saw. Denver abused a great offensive line and harassed Cam Newton all night. Carolina faced 15 third downs and converted just three of them. They may have gained 315 yards and 21 first downs, but they lost the ball four times. Defensive games are almost always within reach, but Denver’s defense was suffocating. The frustration boiled over in the 4th quarter as Cam writhed on the ground in pain. The Denver defense didn’t just beat Cam, they broke him.

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Even during his sullen and reserved press conference, Cam Newton offered three words of hope: “We’ll be back.” (Photo credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Perhaps the most telling aspect of Denver’s dominance is the fact that we’ve gone this far without mentioning Peyton Manning’s legacy or retirement. If this is indeed the end for Peyton, it’s a strange one. He’s a legend, one of the best ever, and he went out in the way every player dreams of: walking into the sunset with a Super Bowl win as their last game. Yet, this “walk” into the sunset was more of a ride on the backs of his defense. He didn’t play particularly well this game or all season. There was even a time midway through the season where we wondered if he had played his last game. How will history remember him for this? It’s impossible to say less than 24 hours later, but history does have a knack for leaving out the details. The hard numbers are this: four Super Bowl appearances under four different coaches and two different teams. Two rings with two different teams. That’s something no other QB can say and that’s pretty memorable.

As for Carolina? Pain, for now. Plenty of blame will go around as it always does with losing teams. In this case, I don’t think that’s warranted. Cam didn’t choke. Rivera didn’t gameplan poorly. Denver simply played better, but it still hurts. The future, however, is extremely bright for Carolina. Cam is just now entering his prime and the defense will retain its young, growing stars. As much disbelief as I had throughout this whole run, this was no fluke season for the Panthers. Yesterday’s loss was just their second since November 30, 2014. This is a winning team and I don’t expect that to change.

Overlooked in this game: Denver up 16-7; with 5:44 left in the 3rd quarter, Cam Newton throws an interception to TJ Ward. Ward fumbled the ball at the Denver 14-yard line, which was somehow recovered by Denver’s Danny Trevathan at the 7. If Carolina recovers that fumble and scores, the game is 16-14 with an entire quarter left to play. Instead, Carolina never sees the inside of Denver’s 20-yard line again.

These are the type of plays that define a season. And with it, the Denver Broncos are Super Bowl 50 Champions.

The 2015-16 NFL season is over, but that doesn’t mean we have to be. In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look back on some preseason posts and see what we learned from another yet another weird year.

 

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One of my favorite parts of the Super Bowl is finally here: prop bets. On Thursday, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and Bovada.lv released over 5oo prop bets that gamblers can actually place money on. They range from the mundane (Will Cam Newton score a touchdown?) to the absurd (Will Peyton Manning be seen crying at any point during the broadcast?) to the completely obvious (Will Mike Carey be wrong about a challenge?). I’ve sifted through the wagers and placed my favorite ones on the sheet above. I even added some of my own. I’ve split up the bets and grouped them under Special (not related to football) or Game (related to football). Together, they form Inside NFL’s Prop Bet sheet. Print it out, pass it out, and see who wins.

I used the odds on the betting sites to roughly match the point totals for each option. For instance, Bovada placed the wager for Coldplay first performing Adventure of a Lifetime at +200, Fix You at +350, etc. I’ve made some adjustments to the others but the idea is that each option provides a chance to earn some points. Obviously, the lower the point total, the more likely that option is to occur. If you want to have the most points by the end of the night, it’s time to get ballsy.

Note: There is a second prop sheet included at the end of this post that is designed for people who arrive early. It includes the coin flip and national anthem props, and removes the Panther touchdown ball prop.

Now let’s break these down and see if we can win some money:

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Super Bowl seats and an official game ball? One kid, likely more, will be one of the luckiest fans on the planet. (Photo credit: ESPN.com)

Will the Panthers player who scored the first touchdown give the football to a boy or girl? (Boy: 200 points, Girl: 300 points)

By now, you know the Panthers players–Cam Newton especially, but not exclusively–have a tradition of giving a touchdown ball to a child in the front row. Vegas set the winnings slightly higher on a girl getting the ball because there is almost certainly going to be more males in attendance (I assume this is the reason). That being said, I bet a girl gets the ball after the first touchdown. Kids in general are not afraid of being loud and obnoxious, but little girls especially have a knack for catching the attention of people. This really could go either way, so we might as well take the higher return.

My pick: Girl

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Please don’t open with “Fix You.” (Photo credit: The Sun)

What song will Coldplay perform first? (Adventure of a Lifetime: 200, Fix You: 350, A Sky Full of Stars: 450, Viva la Vida: 500, Clocks: 750, Speed of Sound: 900, Paradise: 1000, Other: 1000)

This is a really tough one, for multiple reasons. First, this bet in itself has eight choices, two of which offer an 1000 point return if correct. That’s already enticing. Second, it’s often hard to predict how a band wants to kick off a concert. At least, for me it is. It seems logical to start off with a “banger,” but Coldplay doesn’t exactly have a lot of those to offer. If they kick off the show with A Sky Full of Stars, they aren’t left with a lot of songs to get a crowd pumped up in the middle or end. Adventure of a Lifetime lends itself to a good leading song. It’s one of their newer songs and it’s “dance-y” enough without being too intense, hence being the favorite. I’m going to play it safe here and stick with the oddsmakers. Adventure will make a good starting song with Sky Full of Stars and, hopefully, Paradise ramping things up later on.

My pick: Adventure of a Lifetime

What color will Beyonce’s footwear be? (White: 200, Black: 250, Gold/Brown: 350, Silver/Grey: 500, Other: 700)

The color bets are always fun because there’s no real logic to picking them…..is what a bad gambler would say. It’s true, we don’t have any real idea what color Beyonce’s shoes will be when she joins Coldplay on stage. White and black are the obvious favorites because they’re the base colors of most shoes. But this isn’t just any show. This is the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Not only that, it’s Super Bowl 50, a.k.a. the “golden” game. Golden logo, golden lettering on the field, and golden Beyonce shoes to go with it.

My pick: Gold/Brown

 

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Southern housewives of America, hide your kids. Super Bowl 50 will feature plenty of dabbing. (Photo credit: Follownews.com)

How many times will Cam Newton dab (over/under 5.5)? (Over: 300, Under: 300)

This is one of the ones I created myself and I’m actually surprised it’s not something we can wager on in Vegas. Besides the Superman, Cam’s dab is his staple celebration, not to mention the dab is the latest dance move everyone loves to do. It just seems logical to count Cam’s dabs. Vegas does have a wager proposing how many times the announcers will mention the word “dab,” so that’s something. Anyways, I set the over/under at 5.5 because I figured Cam dabs almost every time he scores and often when he runs for a first down. On top of that, he could dab on the sideline with teammates (note: the bet ends when the game officially ends). A touchdown here, a couple of first down runs there, some teammate fun on the sideline and Cam is dabbing around 5-6 times a game in my estimation (I could be way off). Cam says he wants to look back on his career and say he had fun playing in the NFL, for better or for worse. It’s the Super Bowl, the ultimate party. Expect Cam to dab it up.

My pick: Over

 

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Chances on the color being blue two years in a row? Not high if you ask me. (Photo credit: Masslive)

What color will the Gatorade dumped on the winning coach be? (Orange: 150, Blue: 250, Clear/Water: 300, Yellow: 300, Red: 450, Green/Purple: 750)

Ah, the ol’ classic. No prop bet sheet is complete without the Gatorade shower. The color is often pretty hard to predict. I’m guessing orange and blue are the favorites because they’re the team colors of Denver and Carolina, respectively. On top of that, the Gatorade dumped on Ron Rivera in the both the NFC Championship and the NFC South clinching victory was orange. I’m going to play it safe again here and follow the research. I doubt Carolina would risk changing up the color in such an important game and even if Denver wins, there’s a chance they use orange (team color) as well! This is a good opportunity to steal some points over the people that will automatically assume blue just because of Carolina’s colors. Although I have to say, two reasonable colors (Green/Purple) sitting at 750 is super tempting. If you’re feeling gutsy, go for it.

My pick: Orange

What will be the result of Cam’s first pass? (Complete: 300, Incomplete: 600)

We’re now onto the football-related prop bets. They’re admittedly not as fun as the “Special” bets, but I still tried to pick some interesting ones. I like spreading out the bets across the entire game; some in the beginning, some at halftime, and some totals at the end. This is one we can look forward to right away. And it’s deceptively tough. My first instinct is to go with complete. Cam Newton is a great passer and I think he’ll start off with an easy throw to get in rhythm. On the other hand, it’s a huge game and even Cam should be nervous. Some early-game jitters could be enough to force his first ball to hit the turf. Add in the amazing Denver defense and I’ve got my pick.

My pick: Incomplete

What will the first score be? (Field goal: 300, Touchdown: 400, Safety: 1500)

This bet offers the highest possible point total. Correctly predict a safety as the first score and that’s 1500 points right there. Before telling me it’s too far-fetched, don’t forget that it happened in Super Bowl XLVI, just four short years ago. Also, Super Bowls 46-48 featured a safety at some point in the game. Something to think about. With two incredibly good defenses, I have to go with the field goal. Touchdown is just not enough points to make it worthwhile. I have a feeling it’ll be tough to get into the endzone early.

My pick: Field goal

Who will commit the first penalty? (Broncos: 200, Panthers: 300)

Broncos are the favorite here because they rank 9th in most penalty yards per game, whereas Carolina ranks 10th least. I could go with the logic, but I have a hunch that the Panthers defense will get called earliest. I only lose out on 200 points if I’m wrong.

My pick: Panthers

Will the game be tied at halftime? (Yes: 600, No: 50)

Only two Super Bowls have been tied at halftime in the past 20 years (XLIX, XXXIX). Not only is it unlikely to happen at all, but it’s extremely unlikely to happen two years in a row. Again, the temptation for the 600 is there. And this time, we take it. Unlike the other enticing bets with lots of options, you only lose 50 if you’re wrong here. If you’re right, it’s 600 points and you look like a genius.

My pick: Yes

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Missed extra points just make the game more exciting. (Photo credit: Charlotte Observer)

Will there be a missed extra point? (Yes: 700, No: 200)

A new rule this season? Gotta include that. We’ve seen the number of missed extra points increase noticeably this season, but will we see one when it matters most? Carolina kicker Graham Gano missed three this season (none in playoffs), but he’s also attempted the most. Denver kicker Brandon McManus missed one all season. We find ourselves in a similar case as the halftime prop. A high ceiling and small loss if we go with Yes. Instead, I’ll take the easy 200 with two decent kickers in the game.

My pick: No

Who will have more rushing yards? (CJ Anderson: 300, Ronnie Hillman: 500)

I find this particular one interesting because these two Denver backs have shared carries all season, making it pretty tough to figure out who will gain more yards on a game-to-game basis. Here’s what makes it even tougher: Hillman gained more on the season than Anderson (863 vs. 720), yet Anderson has led Hillman in both playoff games. It’s not hard to see either back breaking a big one and throwing off the entire bet. However, I have to assume this won’t happen and go with the trend.

My pick: CJ Anderson

How many total sacks in the game (over/under 5.5)? (Over: 200, Under: 200)

Carolina and Denver are #2 and #3 in total sacks this postseason. There’s no doubt these defenses can get to the QB. The real question is, can the offensive lines protect the QB? Cam has only been brought down twice these entire playoffs, Peyton four times. It’s a tough call because these lines haven’t dealt with the caliber of pass rush of the other, but I’m going to go under. Get rid of the ball!

My pick: Under

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Demaryius Thomas’ drops could very well determine many other prop bets. (Photo credit: Tim Rasmussen/The Denver Post)

How many drops will Demaryius Thomas have (over/under 1.5)?  (Over: 300, Under: 300)

This is another one I created myself. Thomas, a great receiver, is building a reputation as a dropper. I predict many will take the over here for the comedic effect (“You should’ve put the over/under at 11.5! Hahaha!”), so I’ll go the other way. I don’t mind putting my faith in Demaryius for one game. Please, DT, don’t drop the ball on this one.

My pick: Under

How many total points will be scored (over/under 44)? (Over: 300, Under: 300)

This is a pretty low over/under. A 24-21 game already hits over. This makes it tough because that’s exactly the score I think this game will hover around. I’ll follow my gut again and take the under. I don’t see Carolina lighting it up like in the last two games.

My pick: Under

Who will win Super Bowl 50? (Broncos: 600, Panthers: 200)

Most of the time, the point of prop bets is to bet on things other than the winner. Not here. Picking the winner is the cherry on top and it’s always more fun with an underdog. Carolina opened as clear favorites and will stay that way, but expect the actual line (at -6 last time I checked) to keep moving. Do you have the guts to go with Denver and steal 600? I hope so, because I sure don’t. A small part of me thinks this game could get ugly. More on that later in the week.

My pick: Panthers

For the early birds:

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How long will the National Anthem be (over/under 2:20)? (Over: 300, Under: 300)

Lady Gaga was finally announced as the singer of the National Anthem for Super Bowl 50. It’s a good choice. She has a great voice and will respect the moment. The bettors set the length at 2:20, which is LONG. The average length of these SB anthems are around 1:55 (last year’s was around 2:04), so they have her enjoying the spotlight. I have to take the under here, 2:20 seems like a lifetime.

My pick: Under

Result of coin flip? (Heads: 200, Tails: 200)

Coin flipping physics says that if a coin is tossed and caught, it will land on the same face it started on 51% of the time. I’m serious. Now, the SB coin will not be caught and will hit the turf, adding randomness. However, I’m willing to bet the weight of the coin won’t let it flip much, if at all, once it slams into the grass. I’m also fairly confident the ref will flip with heads facing up. Using those assumptions, I have to go with heads. If you don’t, you’re just asking for Vegas to take your money.

My pick: Heads

Well this isn’t what I expected. Despite 27 wins between them, 21 of which came without a loss (7-0 and 14-0), the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers were two teams I refused to buy into. Now they play for the Super Bowl.

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Peyton Manning reminded us his window is closing, not closed. (Photo credit: ESPN.com)

Denver rattled off seven straight to begin the 2015 season. Seems like a good barometer for success, but something felt off. Five of those wins were within one score and they came against relatively weak competition. They scraped by against the Ravens (5-11) and Browns (3-13), just two of many games that highlighted their struggles on offense. The defense, however, could not be ignored. They allowed under 20 points in all but one of those first seven games, forcing turnovers and absolutely punishing QBs. The defense really shined in Week 8 in a highly anticipated matchup with the high-flying Packers. In a game most–including me–expected to see Denver’s struggles catch up to them, the Broncos made a statement. They crushed Green Bay 29-10 and gained a lot of respect.

Then, things started to fall off the rails. A struggling Peyton Manning got injured, setting the scene for what would be a rocky second half of the season. Brock Osweiler filled in nicely for Peyton, going 5-3 in his eight starts, including impressive wins over the Pats and Bengals. Still, it was the defense that shined in the wins. When the defense stumbled and allowed 27 to Indy, 29 to KC, and 34 to Pitt, Denver didn’t have an answer. The offense couldn’t generate enough points to make up for any major lapses on the other side of the ball. A team that one-dimensional was hard to believe in. To their credit, the defense has shown up in the postseason and a healthy Peyton has backed them up with two decent performances. It’s strange; Denver’s problems haven’t gone away, they’ve just been able to overcome them enough to make it further than I ever would’ve thought.

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Before the season, I would’ve said a Super Bowl run for Carolina would require an MVP performance. With limited offensive weapons, Cam Newton has delivered just that. (Photo credit: ESPN.com)

My reluctance to accept Carolina into my life began well before the season started. How could I believe in a team that went 7-8-1 last season, especially after losing their star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin? Gotta admit, I had no hope for this team. I had them going 6-10 and placing last in their division. Seven consecutive wins later, I still wasn’t convinced. Much like Denver’s hot streak, the wins were hardly dominant. One score wins over the Saints, Texans, and Colts had to be indicative of a future letdown. Seven games and seven wins later, the letdown finally came. A 20-13 loss to the Falcons finally showed the world the real Panthers.

If only.

By that time, it was clear. Carolina was a great team. A fantastic team. But a Super Bowl caliber team? My mind still couldn’t accept it. I had a red-hot Seahawks team finally exposing them in the second round of the playoffs. Instead, it was more of the same from Carolina. A vicious beatdown of both the Seahawks and Cardinals will surely have the Panthers opening as Super Bowl favorites. At 17-1 and all smiles, the Panthers cannot be ignored. It’s strange to say considering my preseason expectations, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see this Panthers team complete a near-perfect season with a Super Bowl victory.

I was wrong about these teams. All that remains to be seen is who I was more wrong about.

Time for the Super Bowl matchup we’ve all been waiting for? Or will somebody new finally make it click?

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The Super Bowl XLIX Champion New England Patriots kickoff the season tonight at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With that game quickly approaching, I figured now would be as good a time as any to finally release my predictions for the 2015-16 season.

I believe accountability is important, so we’ll take a quick look at how I did last year. I correctly tabbed five division winners, two of the final four playoff teams, and one of the two Super Bowl contenders. My big risk of predicting the 2-win Texans to rebound and make the playoffs fell just short (needed just one more win). Not terrible considering how difficult the NFL is to figure out. Having said that, the below predictions are 100% correct. Calling them predictions is actually inaccurate and borderline offensive. This is prophecy.

-First, by division (*playoff team):

NFC East: 1. Eagles* (10-6) 2. Cowboys* (10-6) 3. Giants (7-9) 4. Redskins (5-11)

NFC North: 1. Packers* (13-3) 2. Lions (8-8) 3. Vikings (6-10) 4. Bears (4-12)

NFC South: 1. Saints* (10-6) 2. Bucs* (9-7) 3. Falcons (8-8) 4. Panthers (6-10)

NFC West: 1. Seahawks* (12-4) 2. 49ers (7-9) 3. Cardinals (6-10) 4. Rams (6-10)

AFC East: 1. Patriots* (13-3) 2. Dolphins* (10-6) 3. Jets (6-10) 4. Bills (5-11)

AFC North: 1. Ravens* (11-5) 2. Steelers* (10-6) 3. Bengals (7-9) 4. Browns (6-10)

AFC South: 1. Colts* (11-5) 2. Texans (8-8) 3. Jaguars (3-13) 4. Titans (3-13)

AFC West: 1. Broncos* (12-4) 2. Chargers (8-8) 3. Chiefs (6-10) 4. Raiders (3-13)

Playoffs:

NFC Wildcard: (5) Cowboys over (4) Saints, (3) Eagles over (6) Bucs

AFC Wildcard: (4) Colts over (5) Dolphins, (3) Ravens over (6) Steelers

NFC Divisional: (1) Packers over (5) Cowboys, (2) Seahawks over (3) Eagles

AFC Divisional: (1) Patriots over (4) Colts, (2) Broncos over (3) Ravens

NFC Conference: (1) Packers over (2) Patriots

AFC Conference: (1) Patriots over (2) Broncos

Super Bowl 50: (1) Packers over (1) Patriots

Packers

 

 

 

 

An easier guide:

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Notes:

-It’s finally time for the Packers-Patriots matchup we’ve all been looking for for the past five or so years. They both have consistently been on top, appeared in and won Super Bowls, and have the tools to get back there for Super Bowl 50. New England lost some key defensive talent in Vince Wilfork and Darrelle Revis, but they should still be able to beat the AFC playoff teams that have bigger issues. Green Bay suffered a devastating loss with Jordy Nelson going down for the year with an ACL tear, but still have a strong enough WR corp that 2014 MVP Aaron Rodgers will do plenty with. He’ll still have Eddie Lacy behind him, who’s expected to be one of the best backs of the year. The defense Green Bay had last year was decent enough to bring them inches away from the Super Bowl. So close. So close they were basically in  the Super Bowl. Even without Nelson, Green Bay can snag the best record in the NFC, grab home field advantage throughout the postseason, and avoid playing in godforsaken Seattle. It will be enough to down the Seahawks (who still look fantastic) and deny the Patriots a chance at repeating. Doesn’t it feel like Rodgers will win one again anyways?

-I try to take a big risk every year (usually involving a major turnaround of some sort) and this year that risk is Tampa Bay. I covered the uncanny ability of a cellar-dweller to be able to turn it around and make to the playoffs the next season, and the Bucs have the makings of a team that can do it. Don’t get me wrong, a lot has to go right. Ultimately determining their success will be rookie Jameis Winston. I believe Winston is a QB who feeds off confidence. If the Bucs can string some wins together–even against bad teams–his ceiling will grow exponentially. He can take this team to the playoffs, but the success needs to come early. Tampa has Tennessee, New Orleans, Houston, Carolina, and Jacksonville as its first five games. They can realistically win three or four of those. If they do happen get off to a 4-1 start, watch out. They’ve got fantastic young talent in Gerald McCoy and Mike Evans that could really help Winston ride that confidence train. If they struggle early, however, I could just as easily see this team crash and burn to a 4-12 record.

-There’s a few teams that could really break out, but I just have a hard time buying in. Minnesota has been slowly developing a quality team for a while now and hope Teddy Bridgewater can shake off rookie struggles and find sophomore success. The Rams traded QBs to get Nick Foles and could have one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Texans, Bills, and Jets are all expected to have fantastic defenses as well, but I just can’t shake their QB issues. One of these teams will very likely make me look like a fool by season’s end, but I just don’t feel confident pulling the trigger on any of them right now.

-I believe this will be Tom Coughlin’s final year as the Giants’ head coach. While New York’s offense should be solid (“should” has been a trouble spot for them recently), the defense just looks pitiful. Another losing record might be in the cards for the Giants and if it is, expect Coughlin to “resign” and allow New York to move in a new direction. Prove me wrong, Giants (please).

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The New England Patriots are the best team in football. Yet somehow, calling Seattle the second best team seems unfair to them. It’s really that close.

 

Fans, experts, or whoever else will talk all they want about how Seattle “shouldn’t even be here,” but I really don’t want to hear it. I don’t care how close Green Bay came to catching an onside kick. I don’t care how 99 times out of 100, the prayer of a pass from Russell Wilson wouldn’t have been caught for a two-point conversion. And I don’t care how the flip of a coin never gave Aaron Rodgers a chance in overtime. I really don’t care because the harsh reality of the NFL is that most games are close. It’s so useless to argue what “could have been” when we have plenty of reality to deal with.

All that matters is that Seattle is here. Whatever they had to do to get here, they did it. We can argue all day about who was the “better team,” but history doesn’t care about the better team. History only knows winners. And it’ll know the winner of Super Bowl XLIX, whether that turns out to be the better team or not.

So who wins?

After watching Seattle dominate the Super Bowl last year, proving me and many others embarrassingly wrong, and seeing them come back from the dead in the NFC Championship, they seem like the team that just can’t lose. I have a hard time even picturing them losing in my head. I was ready to witness it with my own eyes two weeks ago. Finally! But instead I watched every last piece required for them to stay alive fall into place. As it happened, I convinced myself that this team won’t lose. I’ve settled down since then but still, does this team die?

They didn’t always look so unbeatable. We may forget that their playoff hopes were in doubt at 6-4, following a 24-20 loss to Kansas City. Since then, however, they’ve won every game and have only allowed over 20 points one time: last game against Green Bay, the best offense in the NFL, to whom they allowed 22. It should be ok to assume that Seattle’s defense will play a decent game at the very least, though nothing is certain in the Super Bowl.

That’s how Seattle wins. They create turnovers and great field position for the offense and let Russell Wilson’s offense walk away with a win after scoring just 21-24 points. So all they need to do is keep Tom Brady at bay, force them to kick field goals, and they should win, right? It’s exactly how they did it against Green Bay. Five made field goals may be a great individual stat for a kicker, but it exposes the offense as failures in their one job: get the ball in the endzone, not just the redzone.

One makes $14 million a year, the other hasn't reached a seventh digit. The differences hardly end there between Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

One makes $14 million a year, the other hasn’t reached a seventh digit. The differences hardly end there between Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

Luckily for New England, they aren’t the Packers. Not only do they lead the NFL in getting to the redzone, but they also lead in TDs scored once they get there, something Green Bay couldn’t seem to do. The only problem is that Seattle leads the league in opponent redzone attempts. To make it simple, Seattle doesn’t let teams into the redzone, but if they do, it’s New England that has an edge.

That will be the matchup everyone is watching, Tom Brady vs. Seattle’s defense. With weapons like Gronk, Julian Edelman, and Brandon LaFell, Tom Brady should be able to get there at least a couple times. It might be ugly, but he’ll get there. If they can limit the field goals to less than two and make one of those a touchdown, that might just be enough to win. When their opponents score 23 points or less, Seattle is 13-0. But when teams can break that 24-point barrier, they’re 1-4.

That makes the other matchup that much more intriguing: Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch vs. New England’s defense. How many points will they need? People love to focus so much on the dominant Seattle defense that they overlook a grossly underrated Pats defense. When you think about the Seahawks D, you think about big hits causing fumbles and amazing plays in the secondary to get interceptions. Reality is, however, that both are pretty average in generating turnovers, in fact New England had more in the regular season (25) than Seattle (23). Don’t let the blemishes in NE’s schedule distract you from the fact that they allow just 2.1 touchdowns per game and are top 10 in stopping the run. Marshawn Lynch won’t be completely shut down, but he’ll have a hard time being able to get any 20+ yard runs. They’ve only allowed two all year.

So who will it be? The team that doesn’t die or the team that wins in so many different ways? Before the playoffs kicked off, I had these two teams playing in Super Bowl XLIX, with New England winning. I’ve been correct up to this point, so I’d be a fool to change now, right? There’s a reason I chose New England to beat Seattle a month ago. Outside of Seattle, the Seahawks aren’t the same team. They are still great, but not quite the same. In such a close matchup, this may be the difference.

It really is as close as it gets for me with this game. It reminds me of last year when I felt exactly the same way. I was positive we were about to watch one of the best Super Bowls ever. Unpredictability isn’t always a good thing. Either way, this year offers us a second chance. And I have to believe this year will be different, in more ways than one.

The better team doesn’t always win, but when the dust settles in Super Bowl XLIX, the winner will also happen to be the better team.

 Patriots 24,
Seahawks 21

Fans will use any weapon at their disposal, such as DeflateGate, to take down the NFL's evil empire.

Fans will use any weapon at their disposal, such as DeflateGate, to take down the NFL’s evil empire.

There’s likely nothing I could say about DeflateGate that hasn’t already been said by ESPN, Anderson Cooper, or The View. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, or rather confirmed, from this story, it’s that people love to hate the New England Patriots. They’ve been dominant for over a decade now, they continuously beat teams psychologically, their coach appears stoic and unbreakable, and their historically elite and competitive QB also sells Ugg boots. It’s not hard to see why the possibility of committing an NFL misdemeanor has grown into the cancer of a story that has consumed our sports lives for over five days now. They crushed the Colts 45-7 and not even the most delusional of Indianapolis fans would argue that a deflated ball made a difference in that game. Can you imagine the magnitude of this story if the game was actually close?

Only with New England does this story become an uncontrollable avalanche of nonsense. Sure, it would have made ESPN headlines with other teams in a high-stake game, but not like this. Not at all. Some of it isn’t their fault. They’ve been a great team for a long time now and fans hate consistently great teams. It gets irritating after a while seeing the same team and the same faces over and over again rising to the top. It’s natural.

But the Patriots also aren’t totally innocent in this. They helped build this hatred as a result of SpyGate. America hates cheaters. And when cheaters get caught, we love to rip them apart. Now DeflateGate, whether or not you believe the deflation actually made a difference, gives America, especially the media, yet another hatred nugget to sink their teeth into.

In most Super Bowls, most of America would be rooting against the Patriots, especially given the recent circumstances. The only reason the Patriots could conceivably be the favorable choice for many fans is because they’re playing a team America seems to hate just as much. But in a very different way.

The Seattle Seahawks aren’t dealing with a controversy. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to see their shocking and borderline unjust win over the Packers not end in a referee controversy. Crazy as it sounds, some may actually think Seattle is more deserving of being in the Super Bowl than New England is. Seattle made it fair and square, whether luck had to play a role or not. New England certainly didn’t need luck to make the Super Bowl. They were the better team. The best team in the AFC. Yet it appears they may have bent the rules to make it easier, which is enough for some people to fault. To be clear, I wouldn’t argue that Seattle is more or less deserving than New England. In my mind, both deserve to be in as much as the other. I picked them to make it before the playoffs started because they were the best teams in the NFL and nothing has changed. The point is that the narrative follows the Patriots and not the Seahawks.

Winning the Super Bowl once is enough to take with as loud a team as Seattle, nevermind twice.

One Super Bowl win is enough to endure with a team as loud as Seattle, nevermind two.

The hatred for Seattle is much more simple. They’re obnoxious. They have loud, obnoxious fans who wave a flag with a 12 on it, designating them as part of the team somehow. They have obnoxious players like Richard Sherman who freely talks trash before, during, and after the game on Twitter, to opposing receivers, and to Erin Andrews. They have a break-the-mold coach who’s as rowdy on the sideline as an insane Seattle fan is in their seat. They have a huge, punishing running back who likes to touch himself when he scores. They haven’t had the sustained success the Patriots have in the past decade, but they dominated Super Bowl XLVIII over America’s golden boy Peyton Manning. And now they’re back. We have to deal with them again, as if one time wasn’t plenty. They make it easy to hate them, but I have a feeling they welcome it.

Most of America would gladly root against the Seahawks if it wasn’t for their opponent, leaving all of us neutral fans in a tough spot. Do we take the longtime elite, supposed “cheaters?” Or the insufferable brutes who can’t wait to chant “repeat?” It seems like the best solution in this case would be to not watch. But of course we’ll watch. It’s the Super Bowl. But more importantly, we don’t just hate these teams, we love to hate them. We want to see them crash and burn, face justice. We’ll sit back and watch them beat each other up, because we know by the end, we’re guaranteed one will feel the pain. For many, that’ll be enough of a reason to watch. We’ll revel in the suffering of the loser while simultaneously forcing the success of the other out of our minds.

In the end, if there’s one real reason to watch the game, it’s because it’s football. Football between two of the best teams that play it. And even though the result is virtually guaranteed to be a love-hate dilemma for many of us, we just can’t get enough of great football.

Slide1

After a crazy NFL season with plenty of surprises, the familiar teams are still the ones to beat.

As the defending champion Seahawks dropped to 6-4 after losing to the Chiefs, it looked as if this year was a little different. Seattle wasn’t the same dominant team. From our view, Seattle’s eyes ought to be locked on one of the two NFC wildcard spots because the 9-1 Arizona Cardinals were running away with the division. Something similar was happening to Green Bay, who had come accustomed to undeniable success in the past few years. They had owned their division since 2011 but now the Lions, of all teams, were on track to their first ever NFC North championship. Furthermore, Detroit was owning the entire NFC, occupying the #1 seed for the majority of the season.

Over in the AFC, New England was cruising. Even so, they couldn’t get rid of the murmurs of a potential run from Miami after seeing them win three straight. Denver was not short of division challengers either, as both the Chargers (tied for first) and Chiefs (2nd) refused to go away early.

It was finally time to see some “different” teams thrust into the spotlight.

*Sigh* Maybe next year.

When the dust settled, we were left with the same big boys we started with. New England and Denver shook off pesky division foes to clinch division titles and with it, the top two seeds in the AFC. The Chiefs, Chargers, and Dolphins all failed to even make the playoffs.

After holding on to the #1 seed for nearly the entire year, dreaming of finally having a meaningful influence in the postseason, Detroit failed to turn that dream into a reality. They once again fell to the big bully Packers, who took the NFC North for the fourth straight season and the #2 seed. As for that #1 seed, the 11-3 Cardinals were ready to pounce. A game away. But somehow, some way, through too many Cardinal QB injuries and Russell Wilson running wild, it was once again the Seahawks who not only stole the NFC West, but the #1 seed for the second straight year. Forget a wildcard spot, they had their eyes on the top seed the entire time.

And so here we are, left with Seattle, Green Bay, Denver, and New England atop the NFL, heading into the postseason. And that is where many of those fallen teams regain hope, as they should. Unlike the regular season, which has a way of balancing itself out over the course of 17 weeks, the postseason is much less forgiving. You’ve heard the stories about the 10-6 Giants and Ravens ending hot streaks with the trophy. As long as you can win and survive, as ugly as it can look, you can win the Super Bowl.

Having said that, I lack faith in a cinderella-esque run this year. I see the four big boys meeting in their respective conference championships, where the final result becomes a crap shoot.

Slide3

Seattle is the hottest team in the NFL heading into these playoffs. They’ve come a long way since being 6-4, not allowing over 14 points to any team since mid-November. Their top ranked rushing attack pounds the ball down your throat with Marshawn Lynch and converts crucial 3rd downs with Russell Wilson scrambles. Oh and they have home field advantage throughout the playoffs, where they haven’t lost since Week 6. Although the first Green Bay-Seattle matchup didn’t go well, a rematch in the NFC championship would be a dream, where I could see either team winning. The edge goes to Seattle there in their home field. Were it in Lambeau, I’d go the other way.

In the AFC, dethroning the Patriots is a tall order. Their only home loss came last week, when New England sat some of their starters to play it safe. It won’t necessarily be an easy road for the Pats, likely having to meet Indy, Denver, and/or Pittsburgh on the way, but I have no reason to believe they should lose to those teams.

In the Super Bowl, both teams lose their edge from being at home. There, it comes down to who can win one game. It’s tough as heck to pick against Seattle, who has looked nearly unbeatable lately, but I’m going with the consistent winning formula of the New England Patriots. Since Week 4 after getting crushed by KC 41-14, the Pats have bounced back to be one of the most consistently dominant teams in the NFL. Seattle or Green Bay winning wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Given the road New England faces and their ability for a number of different players to step up, I like their chances.


Ah, the helpless feeling of trying to figure out the NFL season is here once again. It’s one of my favorite times of the NFL, no matter how bad these predictions will look by Week 6. Last year I had mild success, guessing seven out of 12 playoff teams correct and two of the “final four” correct. I’m giving it another shot this year, hopefully with better luck. Records for all 32 teams and playoff games below:

-First, by division (*playoff team):

NFC East: 1. Eagles* (11-5) 2. Giants (9-7) 3. Redskins (6-10) 4. Cowboys (5-11)

NFC North: 1. Packers* (12-4) 2. Bears* (10-6) 3. Lions (6-10) 4. Vikings (4-12)

NFC South: 1. Saints* (13-3) 2. Panthers (9-7) 3. Falcons (9-7) 4. Bucs (5-11)

NFC West: 1. Seahawks* (11-5) 2. 49ers* (10-6) 3. Cardinals (8-8) 4. Rams (5-11)

AFC East: 1. Patriots* (12-4) 2. Dolphins* (9-7) 3. Jets (6-10) 4. Bills (4-12)

AFC North: 1. Bengals* (10-6) 2. Ravens (8-8) 3. Steelers (7-9) 4. Browns (5-11)

AFC South: 1. Colts* (11-5) 2. Texans* (9-7) 3. Titans (4-12) 4. Jaguars (3-13)

AFC West: 1. Broncos* (12-4) 2. Chargers (9-7) 3. Chiefs (6-10) 4. Raiders (3-13)

Playoffs:

NFC Wildcard: (3) Seahwaks over (6) Bears, (5) 49ers over (4) Eagles

AFC Wildcard: (3) Colts over (6) Texans, (4) Bengals over (5) Dolphins

NFC Divisional: (1) Saints over (5) 49ers, (2) Packers over (3) Seahawks

AFC Divisional: (1) Patriots over (4) Bengals, (2) Broncos over (3) Colts

NFC Conference: (1) Saints over (2) Packers

AFC Conference: (1) Patriots over (2) Broncos

Super Bowl: (1) Saints over (1) Patriots

New-Orleans-Saints-Logo

 

 

 

 

Notes:

-We all know how tough it is to repeat in the NFL. The Seahawks don’t appear to have lost much, but they have a tremendous target on their back and will drop some games to teams that have figured them out. It’s also tough (tougher, possibly) for Super Bowl runner-ups to make it back to the big game, though I have Denver coming close. This leaves the New Orleans Saints, who have one of the best QBs in the NFL and an elite coach, to win the Super Bowl over the consistent Patriots.

-I have no idea how the AFC North will shake out. Who are the Ravens and Steelers this year? Either one of those teams could steal the division from Cincy. Same goes for the NFC South. Is Carolina still the great team we saw in 2013? How big of a turnaround will Atlanta have? Tampa Bay has supposedly improved but I’m not buying it. Either way, all three teams have a case to surprise in 2014.

-In the past nine seasons, at least one team with four wins or less made it to the playoffs the next year. Last year, both Philly and Kansas City made it after four and two-win seasons, respectively. This year I have Houston (2-14) making the turnaround and squeezing into the AFC playoffs at 9-7. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Atlanta (4-12) make it either, though the NFC is swimming with potential playoff teams.

 

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Seattle was ruthless in their 43-8 Super Bowl beatdown.

Everything pointed to a close game. Everybody expected a close game. The top offense against the top defense. This had the potential to be one of the best Super Bowls ever. Spectators of what would become the highest-viewed US event in history got their drinks ready, placed down the chips and dip, found their seat in the room, settled in and……..Seattle was up 2-0. From literally the first play of the game from scrimmage to the last, Super Bowl XLVIII was all about one team: Seattle. Seattle. Seattle. As the clock ticked down to 0:00, viewers everywhere–assuming they watched the second half–all wondered the same thing.

What the heck just happened?

A choke job by Peyton? Eh, I wouldn’t go that far. He wasn’t the same locked-in Manning we saw against San Diego, New England, or the entire season. He seemed rattled and made some ill-advised throws. However, he still put up some impressive numbers (34/49, 280 yards, TD, 2 INTs) and even set a Super Bowl completion record. One of those picks was one of those ill-advised throws I mentioned, but the other was a result of immense pressure on Manning’s arm, causing the ball the pop up in the air. So a choke job? That seems a little extreme for a guy who was hitting his receivers most of the game.

Malcolm Smith's interception return was the epitome of Seattle's dominance.

Malcolm Smith’s interception return was the epitome of Seattle’s dominance.

From what I saw, Denver actually played their familiar game: mixing runs and short passes in space to wear down the defense. This worked great just a couple weeks before against New England, specifically on a 15-play, 94 yard drive that ate up seven minutes of play. Moreno for 11 yards, again for one yard, Welker for 14, Green for six, Ball for 12, etc. Denver looked to be implementing this plan again early and as hard as it is to believe in hindsight, it was working for a couple drives. Down 15 and needing to score, the Broncos gained 0-7 yards on eight straight plays and started to gain their first momentum of the one-sided first half. A couple more throws, one for nine yards and then another for 16, put the Broncos in Seattle territory. The Broncos top ranked offense was finding small holes in Seattle’s stingy D. What makes Seattle so good, however, is their ability to feed off of positive momentum as was evident at all their home games this season and as the game went on. A penalty set Denver back 10 yards, Seattle made a couple of stops, and all of a sudden Denver was facing a 3rd and 13. Seattle was hungry and they were ready. They knew Peyton needed to be stopped now more than ever and here was their chance. Four guys were enough to pressure Manning, hit his arm on the throw, and allow Malcolm Smith the run back the easiest interception of his life. At that moment the game turned around for good. Instead of 15-7 it was 22-0 and Seattle had every last drop of momentum on their side.

While that was a defining play of the big game, it was all too clear that the Seahawks were zeroed in from the very start. They swarmed to the ball at every opportunity and made brutal, effective tackles. I can’t count how many times I winced at Seattle defenders punishing countless Denver ballcarriers. Out of the four giveaways that Denver had, the Seahawks were primarily responsible for three of them. Even with less than five minutes left, Seattle was attacking the ball and caused the fourth turnover of the night.

Percy Harvin returned from injury just in time, putting on a show in New Jersey.

Percy Harvin returned from injury just in time, putting on a show in New Jersey.

Seattle’s offense was the same way. They were playing fast, fun, and loose. Percy Harvin ran like he hadn’t had a chance to run the entire season, which he hadn’t! The speedster you saw in the #11 jersey was out for nearly every play of the season and reminded everyone that he is a lethal part of Seattle’s offensive arsenal, in case you forgot. He ended up leading both teams in rushing yards on just two runs! Russell Wilson was just being Russell Wilson, distributing the ball to Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin (each for 60+ yards) and protecting the ball like he had all season (nine INTs all season). Even Marshawn Lynch, with just 39 yards, pounded the ball in the end zone when they needed him to.

In a rematch, would we see such dominance again? My gut says no, though I was dead wrong on that part just a couple of days ago. The point is, on the night of February 2nd, at MetLife Stadium, when the lights went on, it was all Seattle start to finish. Some will point to Denver shrinking under the pressure but I simply don’t see it that way. I saw Seattle get bigger. They owned the moment and outplayed their opponent in every phase of the game.

As a football fan, I hated to see it go down this way. Like everyone else, I was pumped up for a show and was let down. Nobody said the unpredictability of the NFL is always a good thing. Nevertheless, it was a great season full of excitement from the very beginning. I’ll try to cover that excitement in some future posts where I review the 2013-14 NFL season. For now, congratulations to Seattle on a fantastic season and dominant Super Bowl win that nobody saw coming.

Denver's hopes of capping off an incredible season were crushed by a better team.

Denver’s hopes of capping off an incredible season were crushed by a better team.