NFL Mock Draft (Round 1)

  1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett: DE Texas A&M: Garrett’s scary combination of strength, speed, and size is too good for the Browns to pass up here.
  2. San Francisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas DE Stanford: The 49ers have not made any progress with the Redskins and Kirk Cousins. Rebuilds tend to take a long time and there is no reason to force it by choosing a quarterback. Thomas is a strong defensive tackle that moves well for his size. He and Deforest Buckner could team up to form an intimidating defensive line for the 49ers in the future.
  3. Chicago Bears: Marshon Lattimore CB Ohio State: After the Bears signed Mike Glennon to an expensive contract, the Bears have secured their quarterback of the future. Now, they need to polish their defense and it starts with their secondary. Adding the physical ball-hawking corner Lattimore would be a good start. When thinking of Lattimore, Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes comes to mind.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette RB LSU: Boy the Jaguars could go in a lot of directions here. Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon proved that they could not handle a big workload and struggled against weak competition last year. Fournette is the definition of a workhorse. His powerful running style along with good speed for the position will allow him to dominate for years to come.
  5. Tennessee Titans: Jamal Adams S LSU: After their first winning season since 2011, the Titans look ready to make another playoff push next season. In order to do so, they will have to improve upon what was one of the worst secondary units in the league. Jamal Adams, a well-built safety, with good cover skills, will help the Titans secondary.
  6. New York Jets: Jonathan Allen DT Alabama: Many experts expect the Jets to nab a quarterback with their sixth pick, but I decided to choose a different route. The Jets only sacked the quarterback 27 times last season (29th in the NFL). Assuming the Jets select Allen, they will get a strong interior lineman who has a knack for getting to the quarterback.
  7. Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker S Ohio State: A rangy, ball-hawking safety, Hooker ranked in the top ten in the nation with seven interceptions. His explosive style of play could help the Chargers fill the void of Eric Weddle who signed with the Ravens last season.
  8. Carolina Panthers: Mike Williams WR Clemson: Mike Williams, a long, fluid wideout produced impressive numbers returning from a neck injury. His above average body control, size, and speed should give quarterback Cam Newton yet another target.
  9. Cincinnati Bengals: Reuben Foster ILB Alabama: The explosive, physical linebacker Foster has been under fire in recent weeks due to off the field issues. His style of play would complement Vontaze Burfict and give the Bengals a feared linebacker duo.
  10. Buffalo Bills: Corey Davis WR Western Michigan: Last season, the Bills leading receiver, Robert Woods only accumulated mere 613 yards. Woods has now signed with the Los Angeles Rams, leaving a major void to be filled. Davis a tall, slender receiver will help fill a major need for Buffalo. Think a young Brandon Marshall when thinking about Davis.
  11. New Orleans Saints: Derek Barnett DE Tennessee: The Saints sacked opposing quarterbacks only 30 times last season. In 39 career games in college, Barnett recorded 33 sacks. Do the math.
  12. Cleveland Browns: Mitch Trubisky QB North Carolina: This is where the Browns will finally find their franchise quarterback. Despite only having 13 career starts under his belt, Trubisky underrated arm strength and athleticism in addition to his pinpoint accuracy has propelled him to the top of many mock drafts. He doesn’t have ideal size, but his smart decision-making skills and leadership could make him into a consistent starting quarterback.
  13. Arizona Cardinals: OJ Howard TE Alabama: The last tight end to record 500 yards or more in a single season for the Cardinals was Freddie Jones back in 2003. Howard, a multi-faceted tight end is a formidable blocker his athletic enough to challenge cornerbacks and safeties. His size and strength put him amongst some of the best tight end prospects in recent history.
  14. Philadelphia Eagles: Christian McCaffrey RB Stanford: McCaffrey, a dominant running back during his years at Stanford would be the perfect pick for a rebuilding Eagles squad. His speed and agility would fit nicely into Doug Pederson’s offense and give young quarterback Carson Wentz another target out of the backfield. The Eagles have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since they traded LeSean McCoy in 2014.
  15. Indianapolis Colts: Charles Harris OLB Missouri: I like this pick for the Colts. It has been several years since the Colts had a consistent pass rush. Harris, a former basketball star could give Indy the stability and talent they need to pressure opposing quarterbacks.
  16. Baltimore Ravens: Ryan Ramczyk OT Wisconsin: The Ravens offensive line has struggled to create holes for their running backs in recent years. Ramczyk, a strong offensive tackle helped Wisconsin rush for over 200 yards per game last season.
  17. Washington Redskins: Haason Reddick ILB Temple: This pick is more of the best player available situation. Reddick, a versatile player should be able to provide immediate help to the Ravens secondary and front seven. He is light enough to cover running backs out of the backfield, while powerful enough to challenge ball carriers at the point of attack.
  18. Tennessee Titans: John Ross WR Washington: Ross recorded the best official 40-yard dash in NFL combine history. The Titans add another speedy threat to help them stretch the field.
  19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marlon Humphrey CB Alabama: Yet another Nick Saban product. I could make a case for Dalvin Cook to be picked here, but let’s remember Doug Martin is only two years removed from a 1,400 rushing yard season. The Buccaneers allowed opposing quarterbacks 7.7 yards per attempt (fourth-worst in the NFL). Humphrey a strong cover corner should give the Bucs even more depth in their secondary.
  20. Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles OT Utah: Arguably the most athletic offensive lineman in the draft, Bolles could help give the Broncos stability in their offensive line. Since Peyton Manning’s record season in 2013, Denver has employed several different running backs, all of whom have struggled. The offensive line needs some help and Bolles should be able to fill a major void.
  21. Detroit Lions: Takkarist McKinley DE UCLA: Similar to Ezekiel Ansah, McKinley an explosive athlete should be able to provide help in the Lions weak front seven. Since Detroit lost Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, both top pick in their respective drafts, their pass rush plummeted. McKinley should help restore what was a strong pass rush.
  22. Miami Dolphins: Jarrad Davis ILB Florida: Last season the Dolphins allowed teams to average 140 rushing yards per game. Granted, star safety Reshad Jones was injured, but the Dolphins lacked an athletic playmaker in their linebacking core. Davis should be able to provide a spark for a talented defense.
  23. New York Giants: Cam Robinson OT Alabama: Since becoming a highly recruited player in 2014, Robinson has earned even more praise for a successful career at Alabama. His size immediately makes him an interesting target, but his improved footwork and understanding of the game put him atop most offensive linemen.
  24. Oakland Raiders: Kevin King CB Washington: Despite making several signings to help improve their defense, the Raiders remained one of the worst defensive units last season. King dominated the Pac-12 during his tenure at Washington and his style of play should translate well to the pros.
  25. Houston Texans: Patrick Mahomes QB Texas Tech: The Texans are not a bad enough team to rebuild, but their not nearly good enough to compete for a title either. With several pieces in place, this is the pick where the Texans find their identity for the future. Mahomes natural ability reminds me of a young Robert Griffin and his strong work ethic will allow him to gel with coach Bill O Brien. The main question is whether his small frame will allow him to endure the physicality of the NFL. That remains to be seen,
  26. Seattle Seahawks: Forrest Lamp OG Western Kentucky: Poor Russell Wilson. Had it not been for poor protection the entire season, he might have made yet another Super Bowl run. The Seahawks offensive line allowed Wilson to be pressured on 36 percent of his drop backs. Lamp, a tough offensive lineman with a knack for the game should provide protection for the athletic Wilson on day one.
  27. Kansas City Chiefs: Evan Engram TE Ole Miss: I know, the Chiefs have Travis Kelce, but Engram is more of a receiver than a tight end anyways. His relatively big stature and fantastic speed will make him a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses.
  28. Dallas Cowboys: Jabrill Peppers S Michigan: This is another pick that is the best player available situation. Peppers might be the most versatile and athletic player in the draft, having the ability to play: running back, linebacker, safety, and cornerback all while contributing on special teams.
  29. Green Bay Packers: Adoree Jackson CB USC: Yet another extremely athletic player. Jackson was amongst one of the most explosive return men in the country last season in addition to his ball-hawking skills as a corner. He is still relatively raw at the cornerback spot, but his natural athleticism and size can take him a long way.
  30. Pittsburgh Steelers: David Njoku TE Miami: Njoku, an extremely athletic tight end should give the Steelers yet another good target. His freakish athleticism and built frame will allow him to challenge anyone who covers him.
  31. Atlanta Falcons: Taco Charlton DE Michigan: Six foot six inch defensive ends are hard to come by. They’re even harder to come by when they have the athleticism and quick first step as Charlton. The Falcons already have one dominant edge rusher in Vic Beasley, why not add another?
  32. New Orleans Saints: Zay Jones WR East Carolina: Drew Brees prefers wideouts who are good route runners who have reliable hands. That is exactly Zay Jones. A polished and productive receiver out of East Carolina, Jones would perfectly fit into the Saints heavy passing offense.
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NCAA March Madness Preview

The Contenders (Seeds 1-4)

North Carolina: North Carolina brings a scary combination of size and speed to the tournament. Their ability to pound the ball inside and run the court is difficult to stop and their tremendous experience will help the compete for another national championship.

Kansas: The Jayhawks have one of the most dynamic offenses in the nation. Frank Mason, Josh Jackson, and Devonte Graham all averaged more than 13 points and Kansas as a team shot an incredible 48.7 percent from the field. The real challenge will be whether Kansas will cope with their lack of depth in their frontcourt.

Gonzaga: Discipline. That’s what Gonzaga is. A disciplined basketball team that avoids turnovers (16th in Ast/TO) and rebound better than most teams. Fifth year Senior Przemek Karnowski is a physical big man who dominates in the post and Nigel Williams-Goss is a smooth scorer. Ranked as a one seed, their physical style of play will allow the Zags to go deep in March.

Villanova: The Wildcats are another team that doesn’t beat themselves up with turnovers. Guard Josh Hart is a Wooden award candidate and sophomore Jalen Brunson is an extremely skilled point guard. Despite being underrated, Villanova has the talent to consecutive championships.

Duke: The Blue Devils have a scary combination of skill, length, and experience. Junior Grayson Allen is a scrappy scorer (14.1 PPG) and Freshman Jayson Tatum is expected to be a top-5 pick in the NBA Draft. In addition to Allen and Tatum, Duke still have former top recruits Marques Bolden, Javin Delaurier, and Harry Giles manning the bench.

Kentucky: Although very sloppy, Kentucky still has one of the more talented teams in the nation. Freshman Malik Monk can score the ball at will and center Bam Adebayo is one of the most dominant post players in college basketball. If Kentucky can work together as a team, they can make a run at a final four.

Arizona: After a season that fell under most fans radar, Arizona has climbed into the tournament with their best record with their best record since 2014. Their tough defense and solid offense will make them a tough team to stop in the tournament

Louisville: The Cardinals relentless pressure has made them a powerhouse in college basketball. With the help of sophomore Donovan Mitchell, Louisville has a reliable scorer who can slash and score in the paint and stretch defenses with his three point shot.

Florida State: Athleticsm. That’s what the Seminoles pride themselves on. Arguably one of the most athletic teams in the nation, Florida State find themselves in the tournament for the first time since 2012. With their tremendous size and athleticsm, the Seminoles should outmatch and intimidate most teams.

UCLA: With Freshman phenom Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf at the helm, the Bruins are the most feared offense in college basketball. Ball has developed into one of the best point guards in college basketball. UCLA has a scary combination of shooting ability (40.5 percent) and size (39.2 rebounds).

Oregon: Forward Dillon Brooks is one of the more underrated players in the tournament. With his big frame and smooth shot, he has developed into an elite scorer. After a shaky start to the season, the Ducks have won 27 of their last 30 and have scored more than 80 in half of those games. Always a tough team, the Ducks should be a difficult out for even the top teams.

Baylor: The Bears physical defense has allowed them to win 25 of their 32 games despite an extremely weak offense (186th in the nation). They have good size, but lack a true dominant scorer in order to advance deep in the tournament.

Florida: I like what Florida has. They are one of the rare teams who have several guys who can score. They move the ball around nicely and force opponents to take lots of contested shots. Look out for Sophomore Ke’Vaughn Allen (13.9 PPG) and athletic big man Devin Robinson (6.1 RPG).

West Virginia: West Virginia is a wild card because of their press. If teams break the press easily, the Mountaineers struggle to get back defensively and do not get easy baskets. Look out for Junior guard Jevon Carter who seems to be the floor general for an aggressive Mountainers offense.

Purdue: The Boilermakers offense runs on sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan. A powerful force who can stretch the floor, Swanigan has had one of the greatest seasons in Purdue basketball history (18.5 PPG, 12.6 RPG). Look for Purdue to be a tough out in the tournament due to their three point shooting, tough defense, and ball movement.

Butler: I feel like Butler has been contending for a national championship for the last five seasons. Every year they have a solid team that prides themselves on solid defense, hustle, and a talented offense that can shoot from beyond the arc and slash to the rim for tough shots. This year is no different and coach Chris Holtmann has this Bulldogs team in great shape for the tourney.

Troublemakers

Notre Dame (5 seed): Not many teams move the ball like the Irish. If guard VJ Beachem finds his stroke during the tournament, Notre Dame will be a tough team to knock out.

SMU (6 seed): A very good defensive team ed by Semi Ojeleye (18.9 PPG), a transfer from Duke, the Mustangs have quietly entered the tournament with one of the best record in college basketball, 30-4.

My Pick

Final Four: Kansas, UCLA, Duke, and Gonzaga

Finals: Duke over Kansas 83-76

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The Ultimate Super Bowl Preview

That’s right, it’s Super Bowl Sunday! On paper, these two teams are extremely even, but this preview should be your guide for the big game.

The Quarterbacks

What is really scary about these two guys, is their ability to spread the ball around to anyone. Matt Ryan threw touchdowns to thirteen different guys in the regular season and Brady threw to nine, respectively. Both of these guys are tall pocket passers with good arms and pinpoint accuracy, so finding a weakness in either of these guys games is difficult. Tom Brady (24-9) has much more playoff experience than Ryan (3-4). With that being said, Matt Ryan has not thrown an interception in six consecutive games and Tom Brady has struggled under pressure this postseason. In the game against the Texans, Brady threw a season-high two interceptions along with missing on a few routine throws. The Falcons blitz and create pressure more than the Patriots, so expect Brady to be under duress early and often. Edge: Matt Ryan

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Coming into the Super Bowl after two impeccable post season games, the expectations are high for the veteran to bring Atlanta their first Super Bowl. 

 

The Running Backs

With all the talk surrounding Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, let’s not forget about the duo of LeGarette Blount and Dion Lewis. What people do not realize, is the consistency that Blount brings to the table week in and week out. He and LeSean McCoy are the only two running backs to have both 1,000 yard rushing seasons in 2010 and in 2016. With running backs “shelf life” getting shorter and shorter, that is an impressive feat. That’s not something that comes to mind when you think of the two-hundred-fifty pound running back. Dion Lewis, the Patriots shifty, smaller back, set an NFL record a few weeks ago, with a receiving, rushing, and returning touchdown in a postseason game. Now, the Falcons running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman aren’t shabby either. Coleman is a superb route-runner out of the backfield and is extremely comfortable lining up on the outside, in the slot, or obviously in the backfield. Freeman isn’t quite as good of a receiver as Coleman, but he is perfectly fine with catching the ball out of the backfield and picking up yards after the catch. Edge: Patriots (Blount & Lewis).

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A shifty running back, Dion lewis alludes tackles from Steelers players Jarvis Jones and William Gay

 

The Wideouts

Obviously, Julio Jones is the receiver that New England is going to devote the most attention to, but the Falcons are so diverse offensively, it’s hard to simply focus on one wideout. Sure, Jones is a tall, tough, athletic receiver who can take over a game, but when he is getting doubled, Matt Ryan is looking for his secondary options who beat one on one coverage routinely. The Falcons invested a lot of money in Mohammad Sanu in the offseason and he has done exactly what they signed him to do. Let’s remember that Sanu was a high school quarterback and has a perfect passer rating over 5 throws in the NFL. Don’t be surprised to see him line up in the wildcat or throw one down the field. I have talked about him before, but Falcons slot receiver Taylor Gabriel is one of the fastest guys in the NFL. I don’t know how he slipped through the cracks of most NFL teams, but on tape, he is up there with Tyreek Hill and Antonio Brown. Watch out for screen passes thrown his way. He can turn two-yard slant routes into 75-yard touchdowns. The Patriots do not have a star wideout like Jones, but they have solid depth. It looked like Malcolm Mitchell had emerged as New England’s star up and comer, but he has done nothing so far in the postseason. Mitchell won’t beat most teams with his size or speed, but he is a good route runner with reliable hands. That’s all you need to be a successful receiver in the Patriots organization. Tight end Martellus Bennett is a pain to cover because he is absolutely enormous, but he isn’t quite at the level of Rob Gronkowski who is out with an injury. The Patriots have reasonable depth to cover for their lack of a dominant receiver, but Atlanta’s wideouts are far more talented than what New England has. Edge: Falcons.

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A true physical specimen, Jones takes over a game with his combination of speed and size. Since 2013, Jones has averaged more than 100 yards per game in each season. 

 

The Offensive Lines

This is a tough one because both teams have tall, pocket passers who aren’t sacked very often. Statistically, the Falcons run the ball better than New England, but Brady has only been sacked 15 times on 447 dropbacks compared to Ryan’s ration of 37 to 571. Look, both offensive lines are very good, so this one is basically a wash, but I will give a slight advantage to the Patriots. Edge: Patriots.

The Front Seven’s

For those who do not know, a front seven is a term used to describe a defenses typical formation (3 defensive linemen, 4 linebackers, or 4 defensive lineman, 3 linebackers). From a sheer pass rush standpoint, it’s basically a wash. Both teams sacked the quarterback 34 times in the regular season, but it’s the depth that the Patriots have on their defensive line is what’s impressive. Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich is a pass rush specialist who prides himself on solid technique rather dominant power or speed. I always feel like he’s the Patriots guy that they turn to when they need a big play late in games. The Falcons are much more dependent on speed pass rusher Vic Beasley, but really what’s wrong with that? Sure Beasley will be seeing double teams all night, but he has seen double teams thrown at him all season. He registered the fastest 40 yard dash time at the 2015 NFL combine at 4.53. It doesn’t surprise me that it was that fast, he is so quick, that he virtually runs right around offensive lineman to hit the quarterback. He is such a gifted athlete. Linebacker Deion Lewis led the Falcons in tackles and is kind of a hybrid between a safety and linebacker, and I love those speed linebackers. It’s starting to become a trend now in the NFL, these quick linebackers who hit hard. Luckily, the Falcons picked up on it real quick. Edge: Falcons.

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Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks this season with 15.5. After a dissappointing rookie season, beasley has developed into the freaky pass rusher that the Falcons thought he would be when he was drafted. 

 

The Secondary’s

The Falcons ranked in the bottom half in the regular season in terms of passing yards allowed but held both Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers under their regular season passer rating average. So while that isn’t an enormous feat, the Falcons are still moving in the right direction. Falcons cornerback Robert Alford might not have ideal size to cover elite NFL receivers, but his physicality at the line of scrimmage has helped him develop into a solid cover corner. He and Keanu Neal are the two major playmakers that the Falcons have in the secondary, but not matter what defenses show Brady, he is going to expose a secondaries greatest weakness. The Patriots ranked 12th in the NFL in pass defense, but have to deal with a red-hot Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Since 2000, the Patriots have played well against AP (Associated Press) all-pro wide receivers. They have held the receivers below their averages half of the time, but have only held the wideouts to a mere seven touchdowns in 14 games. The receivers averaged 10.1 touchdowns over the same period of time. This leads me to next my point: the Patriots bend, but never break. This is a common phrase among most football fanatics, but it is used most often when referring to the New England Patriots. The Patriots allowed about 21 yards per point in the regular season which led the league. The Falcons allow about 14.6 yards per point, “breaking more easily than New England.” Edge: Patriots.

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Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan covering Texans star receiver De’Andre Hopkins. Ryan led the Patriots in tackles and is big time playmaker in the secondary, recording thirteen interceptions in the last four seasons.

 

Key Matchup: Julio Jones vs Malcolm Butler

When it comes down to it, there is no big name matchup between two players in this game like this one. Julio, a big bodied receiver who Pro Football Focus ranked as the best receiver in the NFL faces off against Butler, a physical corner who ranked sixth of all cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus. Butler’s toughness and competitiveness are evident on the football field in addition to his fantastic technique and thick frame. Butler needs to be prepared for the Falcons to attack the middle of the field, an optimal plan against zone coverage. This one really comes down to how healthy Jones is. He has had a lingering toe injury, and while he says he is healthy, there are games where Julio simply doesn’t look like himself. He had three games under thirty yards in the regular season, one of them coming against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL (New Orleans Saints). If the Julio who everyone loves and admires shows up, I am confident that Butler will have his hands full against a guy who is coming off of a one hundred eighty yard performance. Edge: Jones.

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Butler’s game sealing interception against the Seahawks during the Patriots last Super Bowl victory.

 

Special Teams

This one is really tough. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski is one of the most reliable kickers in NFL history, but he has had his fair share of struggles this season. I think it is more mental than physical, but it is still something to look out for. Falcons kicker Matt Bryant, a fifteen-year veteran has been extraordinarily consistent, converting on over 90 percent of his field goals and all but one of his extra points. I do like Gostkowski’s smooth stroke, but his struggles this season are worth noting, and in a category that can decide a game, there is no doubt that Matt Bryant is more reliable at the moment. Edge: Matt Bryant.

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Bryant hit the fourth most field goals in the NFL behind Nick Novak, Caleb Sturgis, and Justin Tucker. 

 

Overall

Now, this is the big decision. Honestly, I could see both teams winning by as little as 1 and as much as 20. The Falcons are clearly the hottest team in football, but still, have their fair share of weaknesses on the defensive end. Also, from a pure experience standpoint, the Patriots have the clear edge in that category. Remember, Tom Brady has been to six Super Bowls and sometimes in these big games, no matter how hot the quarterback is coming in, the nerves kick in. Last season Cam Newton, the league MVP, finished the big game with a quarterback rating of 55 despite having ratings over 100 in the two playoff games before. In the Super Bowl, it’s the little things that add up which determines the outcome. And with that, I have the New England Patriots winning this one. Yes, I gave the edge to the Falcons in more categories, but the Falcons overall advantage over the Patriots in those categories was marginal. New England overall has a better defense than the Falcons and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 0-2 vs the Patriots. Granted, that is two games, but it’s the little things. The Patriots are 16-0 when running back Dion Lewis plays, and they have not allowed more than two touchdowns in nine consecutive games. Sure, these may be small factoids to prove my points, but in a game that is virtually a coin toss, I have to go with my gut and my gut is pointing to a four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback. Prediction: Patriots 31-27.

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NFC Championship Preview

Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons: I don’t know how much to value all of the injuries in the Packers receiving corps because Aaron Rodgers can make any wideout look good. Jordy Nelson is a solid route runner with good hands and fundamentals, but from a pure athletic standpoint, he doesn’t jump off the charts. The reason he puts up the numbers he does is because Rodgers is the type of guy who relies on good route runners and timing. So, when I see a guy like Davante Adams having tremendous success in the NFL, I think to myself whether it is Rodgers or him. Don’t get me wrong, Davante Adams is a talented wideout, but several drops and mediocre straight line speed would have him buried in most NFL teams depth charts. I keep watching the throw that Aaron Rodgers made last week against the Cowboys to move the Packers into field goal position, and that play defines Aaron Rodgers. The patience, arm strength, athleticism, and accuracy are main traits that make Rodgers great. He put them all on display on that throw. It is just mind boggling in my mind that Aaron made a throw 35 yards down the field, rolling to his weak side, and putting it in the perfect spot; it’s just unbelievable. The Packers defense will have their hands full today against a diverse Falcons offense. I think the Packers secret weapon is going to be cornerback Damarious Randall. A converted free safety, Randall’s hard hitting style and ball hawking skills will play a factor against the NFL’s best pass offense. I remember watching the Giants vs Packers wild card game and I noticed on a few throws that Giants quarterback Eli Manning made Randall was there, to knock them down. Randall recorded three passes defensed and an interception which was nearly returned for a touchdown. Even though he is thirty-seven-years-old, Julius Peppers is still extremely productive. Sure, he has gotten a step slower, but I do not know of many offensive line-man who can stop a six foot seven, 287-pound linebacker from sacking their quarterback. In addition to those physical attributes, his pass rushing moves are as polished as it gets.
I was so impressed with the Falcons last week. Yes, I did think the Falcons would win, but I did not see a blowout in store. When Seahawks first round rookie Germain Ifedi went down early, the Falcons knew and attacked Ifedi’s backup. They ran right by rookie Rees Odhiambo. For how good Aaron Rodgers has been down the stretch, Matt Ryan has been as good if not better. Obviously, the Hail Mary throws and game-winning plays will always intrigue fans, but from a statistical perspective, Ryan has been remarkably consistent the entire season. In his last game against the Packers Ryan completed 80 percent of his passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Now, the Packers defense has improved, but by how much? They still allowed a rookie led Dallas team to score 31 points against them and had Eli Manning’s receivers not dropped several passes, that wild card game might have had a different result. Not trying to speculate too much, but it’s just something to look out for. Apparently, Julio Jones is good to go today, which doesn’t surprise me, he is such a competitor. Julio is six foot three, 220 pounds. I don’t think I have ever seen someone his size fall to the ground and get up so quick (he was untouched). I don’t know how wide receiver Taylor Gabriel slipped through the cracks of 32 teams when he went undrafted back in 2014. Everyone talks about Tyreek Hill and his speed, but Taylor Gabriel has to be one of the quickest guys I have ever seen on tape. I would put him up there with Antonio Brown and Hill. The Falcons need to remember that the Packers have a one-dimensional offense. The Packers throw the ball about 65 percent of the time, mainly due to the fact that they do not have a true running back. The Falcons are gonna have to take advantage of that. Aaron Rodgers can only do so much.
I have the Falcons taking this one mainly because of their dynamic offense and the Packers one-dimensional offense. Sure, the Packers have gotten this far throwing the ball twice as many times as they have ran it, but I don’t see them keeping up with a Falcons defense that has been fantastic in the last eight weeks. 9.26. That’s Matt Ryan’s yards per attempt this season, first in the NFL. Since 2010 only one quarterback has a yards per attempt higher than 9.2: Aaron Rodgers in 2011. That season Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl victory.

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Pittsburgh Steelers vs Kansas City Chiefs

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs: I’m not trying to make a big deal of this, but Ben Roethlisberger went 2/7 for nine yards and two interceptions after starting eleven for eleven last week. It’s not that it’s such a big deal as much as it is the mojo that Roethlisberger is coming into this game with. He’s an experienced quarterback who had tremendous success against a Chiefs secondary that only allowed a 79.8 passer rating in the regular season. In the Chiefs, Steelers week 5 matchup Roethlisberger dominated, throwing five touchdowns for a fantastic 152.5 passer rating. Plenty can be said about running back Le’Veon Bell and his patience in the backfield and his ability to make crazy cut backs, but he is a very valuable receiver. He is a very good route runner and when you get him in the open field, watch out. Even outside of Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers still have a plethora of talented wideouts. Deep threat Sammie Coates has excellent straight line speed and despite a poor hamstring, is expected to go tonight. Watch out for Coates, he could be the difference against a tough Chiefs secondary. The Steelers have spent the last couple of years drafting defensive players who have a specific strength. Finally, it has started to come together. Ryan Shazier, a converted safety is a talented athlete who is strong in coverage and has improved technique shreading blocks. Second year linebacker Bud Dupree is an absolute freak of nature. A former high school tight end, Dupree is another first rounder that has started to blossom into a dominant edge rusher. Last week he was a nightmare for Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore.

Everyone calls Alex Smith only a game manager, but what’s wrong with that. The guy is as consistent as it gets, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and is accurate when he has good protection. There isn’t anything wrong with that. I would bet that half of the teams in the league wish they could have a quarterback as dependable as Smith. Tyreek Hill is a quick slot guy that happened to have a couple of big returns. Does he have game-changing speed? Absolutely, but the Chiefs cannot rely on Hill to make big plays on a consistent basis. If that is the Chiefs game-plan tonight, I wouldn’t like their chances. It’s a shame that Jamaal Charles is on IR because he was as electric and explosive of a running back as I have seen in years. After his second torn ACL since 2011, I cannot say that Charles will return back to football. I mentioned how good the Chiefs defense is above, but it is not just one specific part of their defense. With Justin Houston returning, already pairing with second year man Dee Ford, be ready to see Ben Roethlisberger under a lot of duress tonight. A lot of people thought Marcus Peters first season was beginners luck, but let me tell you, Peters is a feisty ball-hawking corner. Obviously, his ball skills are as good as it gets, but his ability to keep up with receivers after playing press coverage is rare. He helps complete this Chiefs defense.

This is a tough game to call because earlier the Steelers torched Kansas City. I do have the Chiefs winning this game because they are at home and Ben Roethlisberger has struggled on the road this season. Despite the impressive numbers that big Ben has put up this season, he has been wildly inconsistent on the road. I would expect the ball hawking Chiefs to take advantage of Roethlisberger’s errant throws (20th worst interception rate).

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Green Bay Packers vs Dallas Cowboys

Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys: No matter what the Cowboys say otherwise, there is an elephant in the room. That elephant is none other than former starter Tony Romo. You can say what you want about Romo, but there is no way that he would have the same positive effect that Dak Prescott has had on Dallas this season. A dual-threat quarterback, Prescott has led Dallas to a 13-3 record and their first playoff berth since 2014. Prescott’s athleticism has opened up new doors in a Dallas offense that ranked 31st in total points last season under the leadership of Romo. Now it’s the Prescott’s turn, looking to become the first rookie quarterback to start in a Super Bowl. Prescott has had plenty of help along the way, a dominant offensive line comprised of three pro bowlers, a rookie running back who is as explosive of a runner as anyone in the league, and a receiving core that has the lowest drop percentage in the league. The dynamic duo of Jason Witten and Cole Beasley, two skill players who are often viewed as safety nets play an integral part in Dallas’s success. Witten is a superb blocker and Beasley is a quick slot receiver who had the second highest catch rate of any receiver in the league. The Cowboys offensive line has been absolutely dominant. Led by powerful tackle Tyron Smith, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has hit the jackpot in recent drafts, selecting a majority of his offensive line in the first four rounds. The only exception is La’El Collins, an undrafted rookie who slid due to character concerns. The Cowboys defense has been built on experience with only one starter having played less than three seasons. Dallas still hasn’t been able to develop troubled defensive end Randy Gregory into the top tier pass rusher he was touted to be, but the Cowboys are starting to earn a bend, don’t break reputation. This strategy has served them well, as they have allowed less than twenty-five points in all their games except two.

The Green Bay Packers are a pretty special franchise. It seems pretty difficult to think that the Packers didn’t start Aaron Rodgers until his fourth season in the NFL, giving him the opportunity to learn under legend Brett Favre. This has served Rodgers especially well, considering his tremendous success in football. I do think Rodgers is the best quarterback in football. There, I said it. His ability to scan the field and move around in the pocket is impeccable, his patience and demeanor is immaculate, and his arm strength and accuracy is absolutely spectacular. His combination of physical traits and mental stability has allowed him to lead a 4-6 Packers team on a six game win streak into the playoffs. Once Rodgers got into the playoffs, he was all business, leading his Packers to an impressive win against the Giants. The Packers offensive line doesn’t get enough credit sometimes. They have struggled over the years, but last week they dominated the Giants defensive line. Tackle Bryan Bulaga is as good of a tackle as it gets and he put it on full display last week. Linebacker Clay Matthews is a freak of nature. He is such a tenacious and relentless player, he is the heart and soul of the Packers defense. Last week he made a spectacular play on Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Using his array of pass rushing moves, Matthews quickly got to Manning, stripped the ball out of his hands, and picked it up while other players were unsure whether it was a fumble. It would turn out to be a fumble and would virtually seal the game for the Packers. It’s that relentless pursuit of the football that has always impressed me about Matthews.

“I think we can run the table.” That was what Aaron Rodgers said after an embarrassing loss against the Washington Redskins. Since then the Packers are 7-0 (including playoffs) and Rodgers has not committed a turnover. This stretch of dominance has me convinced that a Rodgers-led offense is too dominant to stop. Look, would it surprise me if Dallas won? No, it wouldn’t. Dallas has the most balanced offense in the NFL and have a defense that is stingy in the red zone. With all that said, I think that the Packers will run the table yet again.

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Seattle Seahawks vs Atlanta Falcons

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons: I think it is important to stress how crucial Free Safety Earl Thomas is to the Seahawks. We aren’t just talking about a dynamic play-maker or a hard hitter, we are talking about the leader of the NFL’s most feared defense. Since the hard-hitting defender went down, the Seahawks have allowed a 105.06 passer rating in five complete games. Improving upon that number will not get any easier, as they face Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and an explosive pass attack that averaged 294 passing yards per game (including sacks). With Thomas out, extra pressure will be put on Steven Terrell, a fourth year safety out of Texas A & M. Russell Wilson has been spectacular this season. His statistics don’t do him justice, but he has gone through several ankle and lower body injuries this season and has yet to miss a game. The Seahawks realize that him playing at 75% is almost always better than most teams quarterbacks playing at 100%. His energetic style has led the Seahawks to wins in the postseason every single year since he became a starter. For most Seahawks fans, it probably feels like there has been an endless carousel of starting running backs this season. With Thomas Rawls brutal ankle injury last season, the Seahawks have bounced around with Christine Michael, CJ Prosise, and Alex Collins, all while Rawls was rehabbing from his injury. With Michael now on the Packers, Collins struggling, and Prosise injured, Rawls has returned as the lead man for Seattle. It was somewhat questioned leading up to last week, but after a stellar performance that left even Seahawks players surprised, Rawls has returned to being the shifty back he was last season.
The Atlanta Falcons made it clear in the off season that their gonna build on a defense that sacked the quarterback a mere 19 times. They did just that improving from 19 to 34, the biggest increase of any team. The emergence of quick edge rusher Vic Beasley and rookies Deion Jones and Keanu Neal, the Falcons transformed from a mediocre defense to a respectable one. Neal has quickly developed into the exciting play-maker the Falcons expected him to be after picking him seventeenth overall in the draft. For how much can be said about the improvement of the Falcons defense, twice as much can be said about their fantastic offense that ranked second in the NFL in yards. Their ability to run the football opens up room for them to spread the field with Julio Jones who is second in the NFL with twenty seven 20 plus yard catches despite missing a couple of games. The Falcons running game, spearheaded by Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, both smaller shifty backs have helped the Falcons attain over 120 rushing yards per game (5th in the league). For all of the close calls that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has had in his career, it is about time for him to win. He has gone through offensive coordinator after offensive coordinator, limited production from his running backs, and offensive lines that have struggled. Finally, this season he has found the perfect mix setting career highs in: passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per attempt, quarterback rating, completion percentage, QBR, and interceptions (least amount). Ryan has always been known as a big bodied quarterback with good pocket presence and a cannon arm, but has never really been known for being much of an athlete. This season I have been impressed with his mobility and even when he is not moving out of the pocket, his movement in the pocket is very impressive. He bounces around in the pocket waiting for one of his receivers to get open.
I have Atlanta in this one. Seattle is coming off of a dominant week offensively, but I still don’t like their chances on the road against a well rested Atlanta Falcons. It is important to note that not only did Seattle go a sub par 3-4-1 on the road, but quarterback Russell Wilson’s stats decreased in almost every single category. If (and this is a big if) the Seahawks can somehow shut down wide receiver Julio Jones and force the Falcons to become dependent on their secondary options I think Seattle would win. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, Jones torched them with 139 yards in their meeting before Earl Thomas’s injury.

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