NFL Week 5 Picks, Predictions: Chargers notch first win, Titans rebound

Photo: Jeffrey Beall via Flickr.com


Thursday, Oct. 5

  

The Patriots have stumbled to a 2-2 start to the season thanks to their underachieving defense which ranks last in the league in terms of yards and points allowed. Fortunately for Tom Brady and the offense, the Bucs’ defense has been almost as bad as New England’s. The Patriots badly need a bounce back game and this might be just the matchup they need. Jameis Winston doesn’t have enough weapons to keep up with the reigning Super Bowl champs.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 27-17


Sunday, Oct. 8

  

The Browns haven’t been as bad as their 0-4 record indicates, but they certainly haven’t been good. Rookie DeShone Kizer has thrown a league-high eight interceptions, but is also responsible for keeping Cleveland relevant in three of the four games they’ve played this year. One of New York’s question marks will be Bilal Powell, who rushed for 163 yards last week after failing to reach 40 in the weeks before. Which one shows up in Week 5? It’s hard to tell, but even if he doesn’t play like he did last week, Jermaine Kearse should help lead the Jets to a win.

Q’s Pick: Jets, 24-17


  

This has the makings of an instant classic between two hot teams who are nearly evenly matched and both have a lot to play for even this early in the season. The Panthers offense was clicking while upsetting the Patriots last week and Cam Newton was at the center of it. His play on Sunday will be critical if Carolina wants to win — the Lions defense already has five interceptions this year and allows only 17.5 points per game (4th). If the game was in Carolina, I might give the Panthers the edge but Detroit is a tough team to beat at home.

Q’s Pick: Lions, 27-23


  

Perhaps the biggest difference maker in this game will be something happening off the field — Peyton Manning will be presented with a statue before getting his jersey retired pre-game. That means Lucas Oil Stadium will be rocking and it should re-energize the Colts, who are still playing without Andrew Luck. Both teams come into the contest with defenses that rank in the bottom third of the league in most categories, but Indy has every reason to play just well enough to earn the win.

Q’s Pick: Colts, 26-20


  

The Titans were blown right out of Houston last week, allowing 57 points on the road. It’s hard to believe they were burned so badly on both sides of the ball, but the defense has a good opportunity to bounce back against the league’s worst offense in terms of yards gained per game (249.0). Jay Cutler hasn’t quite been the savior the Dolphins needed, he’s been just good enough. Marcus Mariota, on the other hand, is a star in the making and should prove it again in Week 5.

Q’s Pick: Titans, 23-21


  

Don’t expect too many points out of this matchup. Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense is still struggling while the Bills will be playing without No. 1 receiver Jordan Matthews. The Bills aren’t as good as their 3-1 record indicates but wins are wins so it’s hard to knock Buffalo. Cincinnati will be playing their last game before heading into the bye and getting back-to-back wins before the rest week would be huge for their confidence and that motivation should carry them to a win.

Q’s Pick: Bengals, 20-13


  

The Chargers are bad this year but the Giants are really bad. New York’s offense is rushing for only 59 yards per game and they are scoring 15 points per game, both second-fewest in the league. L.A. on the other hand is fresh off another close loss — three of their four losses this season have been by three or fewer points. Philip Rivers versus Eli Manning is a somewhat intriguing matchup but if you can avoid watching this game, do it. It’s not going to be pretty. In a battle of 0-4 teams, the bright side is that one of these teams will walk away with a win.

Q’s Pick: Chargers, 24-21


  

The Jaguars have had more ups and downs than a roller-coaster so far and I still don’t know what to make of their team. Pittsburgh has been much more consistent and Le’Veon Bell is starting to look more like himself — he torched the Ravens defense for 182 total yards last week. The Steelers will also be back at home after playing three of their first four contests on the road so they will be in their comfort zone against Blake Bortles and company. It would be a big upset of the Jags left with a W.

Q’s Pick: Steelers, 26-16


  

In the battle of the birds, veteran Carson Palmer meets newbie Carson Wentz. Both are at the epicenter of their teams’ offenses but for different reasons. The Cardinals would have loved to rely on David Johnson, but his injury has allowed Palmer to turn his receivers into playmakers which could reap huge benefits against a weak Eagles’ secondary. Philly lacks a run game which is good news for an Arizona defense that has improved since the season started.

Q’s Pick: Cardinals, 30-24


  

The Seahawks have lost three of their last four games against the Rams and things might not get any better this weekend. Jared Goff and Todd Gurley have the L.A. offense clicking like never before and the Rams defense remains one of the league’s best. Seattle has a top-tier defense of their own to counter, but their offense is nowhere near what the Rams have. Russell Wilson has been the team’s MVP to this point but I don’t see how he will save the birds this weekend.

Q’s Pick: Rams, 27-24


  

Derek Carr suffered what the team calls a “transverse process fracture” in his back last week but still has not yet been ruled out against the Ravens. If he doesn’t play, EJ Manuel would likely get the start against a completely average Ravens secondary. It would be a good time to try getting Amari Cooper more involved; Cooper has three catches for 15 yards in his last two games. The Ravens offense hasn’t been very good this year and facing Khalil Mack and the Oakland defense on the West Coast isn’t a good place to kick-start your playmakers.

Q’s Pick: Raiders, 26-19


  

In a rematch of an NFC postseason thriller from last year, Aaron Rodgers and company will travel to the Lone Star state to take on a Cowboys team that gave up 35 points to the Rams last week in an upset loss. Green Bay has had 10 days’ rest to get healthy and prepare for a Dallas defense that ranks in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed and points per game. With Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb both back to healthy, Dallas’ defense has their work cut out for them.

Q’s Pick: Packers, 30-23


  

If the Texans offense plays like it did last week — 57 points, 445 total yards, 33 first downs — they may never lose again. Deshaun Watson looks more and more comfortable as the leader of a young team but he may be facing his biggest test of the season against the Chiefs in a nationally televised game. Kansas City ranks in the top-10 with 19.3 points allowed per game while Kareem Hunt and the offense continues to torch teams.

Q’s Pick: Chiefs, 24-20


Monday, Oct. 9

  

The Vikings will be taking the field for the first time this year without Dalvin Cook, who was one of the league’s leading rushers before tearing his ACL last week. That will be one of a few major question marks surrounding the game. For the Bears, Mitchell Trubisky will be making his NFL debut against a Vikings secondary that has struggled to this point in the season, allowing 246.8 yards per game through the air (24th). However, Minnesota also allows the third-fewest rushing yards per game (71.3) and Jordan Howard has struggled in the Bears backfield so far this year.

Q’s Pick: Vikings, 27-21


*Bye Week: Broncos, Falcons, Redskins, Saints


Last Week’s Record: 10-6

Season Record: 41-22

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NFL Week 4 Picks, Predictions: Bengals turn season around, Jags keep pouncing

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com

Thursday, Sept. 28

  

The Bears are fresh off an impressive upset over the Steelers while the Packers needed overtime to beat a pretty lifeless Bengals squad. Don’t expect either of these division rivals to play like they did last week. These teams have an all-time 94-94-6 record against each other so Thursday Night Football will break the tiebreaker and with a healthy Randall Cobb returning for Aaron Rodgers I like the cheeseheads on the road.

Q’s Pick: Packers, 29-20


Sunday, Oct. 1

  

For the second time in as many weeks, the NFL is heading to London where the religious role models will meet the friendly sea creatures. Drew Brees threw three touchdowns and led an aerial onslaught last week to help the Saints get their first win of the year while the Dolphins were held to only a late touchdown against the Jets in a loss. Jay Ajayi only had 16 rushing yards last week and will need to be the workhorse against a defense allowing the second-most yards in the league (437.7 yards) per game. In what should be a shootout, the Saints have a slightly better offense.

Q’s Pick: Saints, 31-27


  

It’s become increasingly more difficult to pick against the Patriots because they never appear to have any glaring disadvantages against, well, pretty much anybody. Right? Not quite. The Panthers have a chance to win this one if Cam Newton can pick apart the league’s worst defense in terms of yards allowed (461) and points allowed (31) per game. If not for Tom Brady throwing five touchdowns last week the Pats could have easily lost to Houston. But they didn’t, and Brady will make sure that doesn’t happen this week either.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 34-30


  

In case you haven’t noticed, Todd Gurley is really, really good. Through the first three weeks of the season, he’s already ended up in the end zone six times and is on pace for more than 1,200 rushing yards and nearly 750 receiving yards this season. The Cowboys need to stop him to stop the heartbeat of the Rams offense and Dak Prescott gives them a dynamic player of their own to counter. In what could be one of the closest games of the week, I like the Cowboys at home.

Q’s Pick: Cowboys, 24-23


  

Both of these defenses have nearly identical statistics through this point in the season and both will be vital in deciding which of these teams wins. The major difference between the two teams is the Vikings’ offense, which has been sneaky good so far thanks to Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook, and Adam Thielen, each of whom are NFL leaders in various offensive categories. The Lions weren’t able to handle the Falcons offense last week when they provided so many weapons to look after and that might have foreshadowed their struggles this week on the road as well.

Q’s Pick: Vikings, 27-21


  

The Titans played an excellent game at home against the Seahawks last week and they’ll be looking to take that momentum on the road against a Texans team that almost upset the Patriots in Week 3. Tennessee’s offense has been running well behind Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray and Houston’s defense has struggled the last few games so the Texans are going to need a mega-performance from their offense to keep this one close.

Q’s Pick: Titans, 27-20


  

The Jaguars absolutely pummeled the Ravens in Week 3, putting up 44 points in their London showdown, but the Jets defense has tightened up since the start of the year. Blake Bortles is the biggest wild card in this game — when all is said and done he either looks like a franchise quarterback or a career backup and it’s really hard to predict which one you’re going to get. That being said, I think against the Jets he can look like the former after he picked apart a much better Baltimore defense last week.

Q’s Pick: Jaguars, 26-19


  

DeShone Kizer and the Browns let me down last week after I picked them for the first time since… well, maybe ever. I can’t give them too much hate, though, they almost beat the Colts on the road, but now they have to win a division game at home against a Bengals team that’s 0-3 and lost an overtime heartbreaker last weekend in Green Bay. For Andy Dalton and Cincinnati, rock bottom would be losing to their cross-state rivals to keep the losing streak up and I have a feeling they will do anything and everything to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Q’s Pick: Bengals, 30-20


  

Le’Veon Bell admitted this week that he doesn’t feel like his “usual” self and that’s fairly easy to believe. The 25-year-old has one rushing touchdown and 180 yards on the ground this season, numbers he usually puts up per game. The Steelers haven’t needed him though, utilizing Antonio Brown to roll to a 2-1 record that will be on the line against a hard-hitting Baltimore defense. Both teams are coming off of humiliating losses last week but I think Pittsburgh has the (slight) upper hand because of their offense.

Q’s Pick: Steelers, 24-20


  

The Falcons demonstrated last week that while they are among the NFC’s elite, they are vulnerable. Detroit nearly capped an upset on a game-winning touchdown that was eventually overturned. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones may face an even tougher test against Buffalo’s defense, which allows a league-low 12.3 points per game, but they’ve been on the same page all season and Atlanta has a pretty good defense of their own. To cap it off, the game is in Georgia so it’s tough for me to pick against the birds.

Q’s Pick: Falcons, 27-23


  

Jameis Winston and the Bucs have a good opportunity to keep their season on track with a home game against the struggling Giants. New York has looked mediocre on all sides of the football and not even Odell Beckham has been able to save the offense. Tampa’s defense does have an Achilles though — the secondary, which allows 329.5 passing yards per game. Eli Manning just doesn’t have enough weapons to exploit that weakness. Paired with the Giants’ struggling defense, they might have trouble keeping in this game.

Q’s Pick: Buccaneers, 29-23


  

Does anybody else think the Eagles are one of the NFC’s biggest sleeper teams? We knew Carson Wentz was going to be good, but he’s looked really good to this point in the season, with five touchdowns and only a pair of interceptions. The sophomore slump hasn’t been a factor so far. The Chargers, meanwhile, can’t seem to catch a break with three losses to start the season including two decided by fewer than three points. Until L.A. proves they can win close games in crunch time, I’m going to struggle to pick them.

Q’s Pick: Eagles, 27-24


  

On paper, this should be a no-brainer, but here’s the thing. The 49ers just scored 39 points in a loss to the Rams which shows they can put points on the board, and they’ve had 10 days to prepare for this game. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are still struggling without David Johnson and have had difficulty beating San Francisco in the past. But will Arizona lose back-to-back games in the desert? I find that very hard to believe, but don’t expect this to be any sort of blowout. The 49ers might finally have their confidence back.

Q’s Pick: Cardinals, 24-19


  

Derek Carr continues to look great but Amari Cooper has been basically absent through the Raiders first three games. If Cooper wants to pick a game to break out in, this would be the one. The Broncos have been completely unpredictable this year — blowing out the Cowboys just days before losing to the Bills. Trevor Siemian has his work cut out for him but I think his defense will have his back and with the game in Denver, crowd noise will be a definite advantage for the Broncos.

Q’s Pick: Broncos, 28-23


  

Seattle. Should. Win. This. Game. It’s not just because the Colts still don’t have Andrew Luck, it’s that the Seahawks are so good at playing at home in prime time. Since 2010, the Seahawks are 19-3-1 in prime-time games and 12-1 at home. Plus, right as I thought Russell Wilson was struggling, he threw four touchdown passes last week behind a below average offensive line. Combine that with the Legion of Boom coming in re-motivated and hungry after allowing 33 points last week, Indy could be in for a long night.

Q’s Pick: Seahawks, 31-20


Monday, Oct. 2

  

I’ve said it before and I will say it again — Kareem Hunt is the real deal. Four hundred and one rushing yards, six total touchdowns, one superstar in the making. Tyreek Hill used to be “the guy” in K.C. but that honor now belongs to Hunt and the Chiefs will be riding him as long as he’s hot. The Redskins and Kirk Cousins have looked pretty good this season, but their defense has struggled at times which gives Hunt and Alex Smith a good opportunity to keep their undefeated season alive.

Q’s Pick: Chiefs, 30-23


Last Week’s Record: 8-8

Season Record: 31-16

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NFL Week 3 Picks, Predictions: Packers bounce back, Titans tally upset

Photo: Mike Morbeck via Flickr.com

Thursday, Sept. 21

  

A lot of people have been poking fun at this matchup, but with Todd Gurley and Sammy Watkins leading the Rams’ offense, there are lots of points to be scored. Keep in mind that’s being combined with Jared Goff looking much more comfortable as a pocket passer and the 49ers defense struggling as of late. The biggest question here is if San Francisco’s offense can keep it from being a blowout.

Q’s Pick: Rams, 31-23


Sunday, Sept. 24

  

These teams will be playing the first of four NFL games in London this season so the “home” team doesn’t really matter. What might matter is experience — the Jaguars have played a league-leading four games overseas since the International Series began (and have won two games in the past two years) while the Ravens will be making the franchise’s debut in Great Britain. On the other hand, Joe Flacco and company are the better team.

Q’s Pick: Ravens, 28-24


  

The Broncos defense absolutely smothered the Cowboys offense last week and they will face a similar scheme in Week 3 when they take on Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy. Buffalo has looked solid early in the season but they also haven’t had to face a defense quite like Denver’s. Don’t expect another blowout courtesy of the Broncos but they should fly back from the East coast with a win.

Q’s Pick: Broncos, 30-20


  

The Panthers weren’t able to score a touchdown in their win against the Bills last week, but the offense still looked sharp. Cam Newton is his usual self and Kelvin Benjamin is back as the team’s clear No. 1 receiver after hauling in 77 yards on just six catches last week. The Saints will bring their 0-2 record into this divisional matchup but don’t blame Drew Brees for the team’s poor play — he is third in the league with 647 passing yards and has not thrown a pick yet.

Q’s Pick: Panthers, 23-17


  

The Bears were terrible against the Bucs last week, falling behind 26-0 before halftime started. That falls partially on the defense but the offensive woes lead me to wonder when Mitchell Trubisky will get the call to save Chicago’s season. Too bad nobody on that team will be able to save them against the Steelers. Pittsburgh is rolling and has too many weapons for Chicago to counter.

Q’s Pick: Steelers, 31-20


  

After the Lions improved to 2-0 last week, speculation began to brew — are the Lions for real? Well, they beat the Cardinals in Week 1 so that’s a big win, but last week against the Giants didn’t prove much. Beating Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the defending NFC champions? Now that would prove something. I give Atlanta the advantage in this game, though, because they have played in big games like this recently and Detroit hasn’t.

Q’s Pick: Falcons, 27-21


  

For the first time in nearly three years, the Browns are favored to win a game on the road. Let me repeat that for effect — the Browns are favored to win a game on the road. Sure, it’s against an Andrew Luck-less Colts team but does this tell us how well the Browns could play this week or how bad the Colts will play this week? You know what? I’ll take the Browns in an upset in what may be the only time I pick them to win a game this season.

Q’s Pick: Browns, 24-17


  

A few years ago, this matchup would not have been a must-watch game but trust me when I tell you it will be on Sunday. The Bucs have a real shot at winning the NFC South and the Vikings have the weapons to make a run of their own up north. Jameis Winston and Mike Evans against Harrison Smith and Minnesota’s defense? Yes, please.

Q’s Pick: Buccaneers, 27-24


  

Just as most people thought, the Patriots dismantled the Saints last week to further prove that losing back-to-back games is not in their DNA. Deshaun Watson looked solid for the Texans last week and Houston has had 10 days to prepare for the defending Super Bowl champs, but it won’t be enough. The Patriots have too many weapons on both sides of the ball for the team from Texas to pull the upset.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 31-21


  

I’m not sure the Jets are as bad as they looked in Week 2 when the Raiders scored 45 points against them, but they certainly aren’t a good team. Miami could have easily lost last week against the Chargers, but Jay Cutler looked pretty good coming out of retirement in his Dolphins debut and Jay Ajayi rushed for 122 yards behind a much-improved offensive line.

Q’s Pick: Dolphins, 26-19


  

The Giants looked lost last week against the Lions and seemed outmatched on both sides of the ball. On the bright side, Odell Beckham Jr. is inching closer to being 100 percent healthy every week and New York is a much better team with him in the lineup. On the flip side, the Giants secondary has a lot of holes to plug already and they’ll face a big challenge on the road against up-and-coming star Carson Wentz.

Q’s Pick: Eagles, 31-20


  

Marcus Mariota gets his first major test of the season against Seattle’s Legion of Boom in this Week 3 matchup. That will certainly be one of the focal points of this game but I’m also curious to see how the Seahawks offensive line performs after struggling through the first two weeks of the season. Seattle seems surprised that the O-line — which they spent zero time repairing this offseason — is still struggling against the rest of the league. If they can’t handle the load this week, Russell Wilson will be in for a long day.

Q’s Pick: Titans, 20-14


  

The Bengals are the first team since 1939 to start a season by playing two-straight games at home without scoring a touchdown, per ESPN.com‘s Adam Schefter. Andy Dalton has been a big reason why and if he struggles for much longer, A.J. McCarron might have a chance to take over the team. The Packers struggled last week but, like Tom Brady and the Patriots, don’t expect Aaron Rodgers to come home just to lost back-to-back games.

Q’s Pick: Packers, 30-20


  

If the Chargers could finish games, I’d consider picking them to win this one. They always seem to be in the mix through the first three quarters but never seem to leave with the W. For that reason, I’m out. Wait, this isn’t Shark Tank but I’ll buy Kansas City and their quick start because Alex Smith has been re-born and Kareem Hunt is the real deal.

Q’s Pick: Chiefs, 29-22


  

Washington held the Rams offense in check last week and snuck away with a big road win but now they’ll face another explosive offense when the Raiders come to town. Derek Carr has been on fire and his trio of touchdowns to Michael Crabtree last week proved that Amari Cooper isn’t all they need to win games. Kirk Cousins could make this an offensive shootout but the Raiders play those games often and want to keep their record unblemished.

Q’s Pick: Raiders, 31-27


Monday, Sept. 25

  

So the big question is, will Ezekiel Elliott put forth any effort in the desert? Oops, too soon? Well, the Cardinals don’t have David Johnson so that’s one less thing Dallas has to worry about but Dak Prescott needs to rally his troops after they got embarrassed by the Broncos last week. Arizona would love to add to that misery but after barely beating the Colts last week I’m having trouble trusting them.

Q’s Pick: Cowboys, 27-23


Last Week’s Record: 12-4

Season Record: 23-8

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NFL Week 2 Picks, Predictions: Chiefs are for real, Cardinals will miss David Johnson

Photo: Mike Morbeck via Flickr.com

Thursday, Sept. 14

  

A short week with little rest is a tough way for these teams to start the season but it may be even tougher for we, the fans, to watch. Deshaun Watson will be making his NFL debut behind an offensive line that allowed 10 sacks in the season opener and the Bengals are coming off a week in which their team was shutout, 20-0, and Andy Dalton threw four interceptions. So which team will play worse than the other I guess is the question?

Q’s Pick: Texans, 19-13


Sunday, Sept. 17

  

I would like to start by pointing out the fact the Browns did a damn good job holding their own against a tough Steelers squad last weekend and DeShone Kizer was close to pulling the team within striking distance of an upset. But the Ravens defense is better than Pittsburgh’s and are coming off a dominant performance on both sides of the football against the Bengals. Cleveland should keep this a game but I don’t see them winning.

Q’s Pick: Ravens, 27-17


  

Both teams had a solid Week 1 but Carolina’s new-and-improved defense looked like it could be a legitimate force to be reckoned with as the Panthers try to pound their way back into the discussion of top NFC teams. They’ll be tasked with stopping Tyrod Taylor, who threw for a pair of touchdowns last week, and LeSean McCoy who ran for 110 yards. Still, if defense wins games, I’m more comfortable trusting Carolina’s.

Q’s Pick: Panthers, 24-20


  

The biggest gossip in the desert right now is stud David Johnson‘s dislocated wrist and the subsequent surgery that will keep him out for the next two to three months. That’s a major blow to the Cardinals offense but they will fortunately start the no-Johnson-stretch against either Scott Tolzien or Jacoby Brissett, neither of whom played well last week in the 46-9 rout at the hands of the Rams.

Q’s Pick: Cardinals, 28-19


    

For as well as the Jaguars played in upsetting the Texans last week, I’d be surprised to see them do it again against a squad as talented as Tennessee’s. The Titans hung around against the heavily-favored Raiders and have a much better offense that will test how good “Sacksonville’s” defense really is. If the Jags can pressure Marcus Mariota and make DeMarco Murray uncomfortable in the backfield, they have a chance to win at home, but I don’t see the Titans’ offensive line allowing either of those to happen.

Q’s Pick: Titans, 26-21


  

If you picked the Chiefs to beat the Patriots in last week’s season opener, I’d sorta believe you. If you predicted them to put up a 42-spot on them, I’d sorta not. Kansas City’s offense showed brilliance against the defending world champions and now we’ll get to see rookie Kareem Hunt go against Philly’s tenth-ranked run defense (64.0 ypg). Was Hunt’s brilliant trio-touchdown debut a fluke or is he the real deal? Believing the latter has me leaning towards K.C. in this one.

Q’s Pick: Chiefs, 30-24


  

The Patriots don’t like to lose and getting embarrassed on national television last week will surely set the tone of how they come to play against the Saints in Week 2. Since Tom Brady became New England’s starting quarterback in 2001, the Pats have won fewer than 10 games in a season only once (2002, 9-7 record) and a big reason for that is the team’s incredible ability to bounce back the week following losses. Expect them to do just that against a Saints defense that looked shaky at best against the Vikings last weekend.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 31-20


  

Sam Bradford and Stefon Diggs were the most exciting thing to watch last week that you didn’t know you should be watching. The Steelers defense will need to take that into consideration while their offense works to tweak a few things against a solid Vikings defense. Playmakers will be in attendance on both sides but the more valuable ones will be Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell in the black and yellow.

Q’s Pick: Steelers, 27-22


  

Fresh off an unexpected bye week, Jameis Winston and the Bucs will be all systems go against da Bears. With Mike Evans leading the way on offense, Tampa Bay looks in good position to contend for the NFC South title while the Bears will likely struggle to hover around .500 this season. Yes, Chicago nearly upset the Falcons last weekend but that was because of solid run defense, something they won’t need to worry about as much against Tampa — a team that likes to win through the air.

Q’s Pick: Buccaneers, 24-17


  

The Chargers found a way to lose another close game last week, but in this case they looked like the better team in the final frame — they were just unlucky in how the game ended. That being said, holding your own against the Broncos in Denver should be a confidence boost enough to head back to the StubHub Center for the team’s debut in Los Angeles.

Q’s Pick: Chargers, 26-23


  

Derek Carr looked like his usual self last week, Amari Cooper looked healthy, and even Marshawn Lynch looked like he’s already back in the groove of this whole football thing. The Jets aren’t necessarily a bad team, they just don’t have the talent to keep up with Oakland on either side of the ball.

Q’s Pick: Raiders, 31-20


  

Ezekiel Elliott‘s suspension has been temporarily lifted which will allow him to play at least the first half of the season unscathed. No one is happier about that than the Cowboys, who enjoy making him the epicenter of the offense. Last week, he ran the ball 24 times for 104 yards but he’ll get a challenge against the Broncos this week. Still, I think the Stars have a more well-rounded team and I’d trust Dak Prescott over Trevor Siemian any day.

Q’s Pick: Cowboys, 24-20


  

The Rams looked incredible last week, posting 46 points against the Colts, thanks in large part to rookie head coach Sean McVay’s offensive genius that helped Jared Goff throw for more than 300 yards against a decent Rams secondary. In the other uniform will be Kirk Cousins who, formerly under McVay, has had a couple of career years in Washington. McVay knows Washington and he knows how to score. Pair that with the strength of L.A.’s defense and the Rams appear in good shape.

Q’s Pick: Rams, 30-20


  

The Seahawks were on the wrong end of multiple poorly called penalties at Lambeau Field last week but that doesn’t excuse the loss. That can be blamed at least partially on terrible offensive line play that forced Russell Wilson out of the pocket for most of the game. The 49ers pass rush isn’t very lethal and while Seattle should have no problem winning this game they have a lot of work to do on the offensive end as the season progresses.

Q’s Pick: Seahawks, 24-13


  

It took the Packers offense about a half of football to shake off their offseason rust, but once they did, Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb looked like their usual selves and should be in full form against the Falcons in this 2016-17 NFC title game rematch. That’s not to say Matt Ryan and Julio Jones won’t be, but the Falcons defense looked shaky last week while Green Bay’s looked impressive.

Q’s Pick: Packers, 28-24


Monday, Sept. 18

    

Every time the Giants take the field without Odell Beckham Jr., it looks like they can’t win without Odell Beckham Jr. Held to only three points last week, the offense struggled without their star playmaker who is listed as “questionable” for Week 2. If he plays, the Giants have a chance, but I still liked how Detroit looked against the Cardinals last week as their defense has improved drastically from last season.

Q’s Pick: Lions, 27-23


Last Week’s Record: 11-4

Season Record: 11-4

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NFL Week 1 Picks, Predictions: Patriots collect rings, Falcons collect win

Photo: Andrew Campbell via Flickr.com

Football is back and so is Q! After finishing last season’s picks with a 165-89-2 record, Mitch correctly predicted 10 of the 11 postseason games and the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. He’s back this year with weekly insight on the NFL and its players. How will your team fare this week? Find out below!


Thursday, Sept. 7

  

The biggest news this offseason surrounding the defending Super Bowl champs was that they lost Julian Edelman for the year with a knee injury. Fortunately, they had already added Brandin Cooks which should help fill that void. They also have a healthy Rob Gronkowski now and some guy named Tom Brady to help New England open the season against a Chiefs defense that was in the bottom half of the league in passing yards allowed last year.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 30-20


Sunday, Sept. 10

  

The Jets best offensive playmaker is newly acquired Jermaine Kearse, but with Josh McCown as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, even Kearse may be in for a tough year. The Bills will start the Sammy Watkins-less era but have LeSean McCoy to rack up yards in the backfield and this will turn into a battle of teams trying to finish in third place in the AFC East.

Q’s Pick: Bills, 24-17


  

Atlanta is back and ready to prove that they are still the best team in the NFC. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will be up against a decent Chicago defense but there shouldn’t be any major challenges on the other side of the ball. The Falcons should easily pull away with a win if they don’t stop playing three quarters of the way through. Too soon?

Q’s Pick: Falcons, 31-23


  

Washington’s offense was underrated last season but the addition of Terrelle Pryor should make Kirk Cousins‘ offense one to watch. The Eagles defense was fairly average last year and didn’t make any major additions this offseason so Carson Wentz is going to have to turn this game into an offensive shootout.

Q’s Pick: Redskins, 30-26


  

Blake Bortles looked lost in the preseason, which is not what you want to see from your franchise quarterback. Poor decision making and misguided throws are also not what you want to bring into a matchup against Houston’s defense, especially with J.J. Watt leading the squad in their first game since Hurricane Harvey. The Texans will be playing with a lot of energy and emotion and Jacksonville will have trouble matching it.

Q’s Pick: Texans, 23-17


   

Sports Illustrated may have said it best on their NFL Preview Edition from last week: “31 Teams, 1 Goal: Stop David Johnson.” It’s so much easier said than done — last year, Johnson led the league in touches (373), all-purpose yards, (2,118), and rushing/receiving touchdowns (20). The Lions don’t have much in terms of defense to counter, but if they can stop him, Matthew Stafford might be able to give Detroit’s offense enough for the win. I just don’t see it happening that way.

Q’s Pick: Cardinals, 28-21


 

Derek Carr, Marshawn Lynch, Amari Cooper, Marcus Mariota, and DeMarco Murray all on the same field? Yes, please. Even if you’re not a fan of either team, this will be a fun one to watch. I like what the Titans have done this offseason and they should be in line to finish with a solid record, but the Raiders are a hungry team who feel they’ve added the pieces to be serious contenders this year.

Q’s Pick: Raiders, 31-28


  

*game re-scheduled to Nov. 19*


  

Cleveland should be excited about DeShone Kizer and his future with the orange helmets but any time you are facing Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, you’re going to have a hard time. The Browns released former Pro Bowler and veteran corner Joe Haden this offseason which will make it that much harder for their defense to control Ben Roethlisberger. Oh, and Haden wears the black and yellow now, so there’s that.

Q’s Pick: Steelers, 29-19


  

Every season, the Bengals look like a potential postseason team, and every season they struggle to play consistently enough to look like a legitimate threat. Any team with A.J. Green on the offense is fun to watch and Cincinnati controversially added Joe Mixon who, despite his off-field issues, is a talented running back that will be paired with Jeremy Hill. They will be tested early against Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley who led one of the best defenses in the league in 2016.

Q’s Pick: Ravens, 27-24


  

The Colts are out of luck this week, both literally and metaphorically. Star quarterback Andrew Luck has already been ruled out of this contest so Scott Tolzien will lead the Colts against one of the league’s premiere defenses on the road. The Rams helped Jared Goff this offseason by adding Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods to an offense that already had Tavon Austin and Todd Gurley. There’s no reason the Rams can’t win this one.

Q’s Pick: Rams, 26-19


  

Some have already pegged this game as an NFC Championship game preview which is entirely possible but also not something either team will be worrying about right now. Eddie Lacy will be making his return to Lambeau Field against his former team and last year’s No. 8-ranked run defense but the matchup to watch is Aaron Rodgers against Seattle’s defense. The Seahawks added Sheldon Richardson and have a healthy Earl Thomas to wreak havoc on Green Bay’s passing game. But Rodgers just always seems to win these close games, doesn’t he?

Q’s Pick: Packers, 24-23


  

The 49ers won only two games last season and things aren’t exactly looking up this year. Brian Hoyer is the starting QB with Pierre Garcon the only legitimate playmaker on offense. The Panthers have playmakers — Cam Newton, Kelvin Benjamin, and rookie Christian McCaffrey who has looked ready to roll and will have a chance to against San Francisco’s mediocre defense.

Q’s Pick: Panthers, 27-22


 

Cowboys fans will get to see Ezekiel Elliott in action this week but then the offense will be turned over to Dak Prescott until Elliott’s suspension is lifted prior to Week 8. Dak and Zeke offer plenty of star-power for Dallas, but the Landon Collins-led New York secondary is another unit that’s vastly underrated. The biggest question mark for the Giants is whether Odell Beckham Jr. will be healthy enough to play as his presence could be a difference maker.

Q’s Pick: Cowboys, 28-24


Monday, Sept. 11

  

Much of the conversation surrounding Minnesota this offseason was the transition to making Sam Bradford “the guy” at quarterback after the team tried for years with Teddy Bridgewater. Truly, the conversation should be about how incredibly underrated the Vikings defense is. Ranked in the upper half of the league in most categories, some experts feel the defense will carry the team to a division title. Their first test is against Drew Brees who will be adjusting to life after Brandin Cooks — which is just more good news for Minnesota.

Q’s Pick: Vikings, 30-20


   

The San Diego  Los Angeles Chargers may have a new name but their mediocrity as a team is much the same. Philip Rivers threw 21 interceptions last season — a league-high — and he’s easily the best player on the team’s offense. Not that the Broncos have anything to be proud of on the offensive end — Trevor Siemian is at the helm and C.J. Anderson leads a rush attack that ranked 27th last year. The Broncos have a better defense than L.A. does by far and that should decide the game.

Q’s Pick: Broncos, 23-17


Last Week’s Record: N/A

Season Record: 0-0

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Chris Paul traded to Houston Rockets, but how is it going to work?

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com

The Houston Rockets sent shock waves through the NBA on Wednesday when it was reported they had traded multiple players and a draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for All-NBA point guard Chris Paul.

The trade was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski, who wrote:

The Rockets will send the Clippers guards Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams, forwards Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell, the non-guaranteed deals of DeAndre Liggins, Tim Quarterman and Ryan Kelly, and a 2018 first-round pick (protected Nos. 1-3) for Paul, league sources told The Vertical.

That’s a lot for one player, but the argument could easily be made that Paul is worth it.

Included in Paul’s accolades are nine All-Star teams, nine All-Defense teams, and eight All-NBA teams.

Widely regarded as one of the best point guards in the league and a future Hall of Famer, Paul will be teaming up with James Harden in Houston in an attempt to help the Rockets dethrone the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference.

But how exactly is it going to work?

At the start of last season, the Rockets announced that Harden would be the team’s point guard and he returned the favor with the best season of his career.

Harden averaged career-highs in points (29.1), assists (11.2), and rebounds (8.1), numbers that would have been MVP-worthy had Russell Westbrook not finished the regular season averaging a triple-double.

Since the experiment worked, it was believed Harden would be the point guard of the future while Houston searched for a big man to team up with him.

Instead, the Rockets are hoping Paul’s presence creates a dynamic duo that is now in the conversation of the best backcourts in the league.

And Harden seems to be onboard.

While the Rockets had been “Harden’s team” since he arrived at the start of the 2012-13 season, various reports have indicated that he wouldn’t mind shifting back to the shooting guard position or sharing the point guard role to allow Paul to play in his natural position.

Harden also reportedly met with Paul to discuss what their roles would be in H-Town:

Earlier in the offseason, the most likely destinations for Paul seemed to be Los Angeles or San Antonio, as the Spurs and the 32-year-old had “serious” mutual interest, but “the chance to play off ball and share point guard duties with James Harden was more attractive,” according to ESPN’s Marc Stein.

Since his rookie season, Paul has been the best player on his team, so he will be entering uncharted territory by having to potentially play sidekick to Harden.

At the same time, Harden hasn’t had a player of Paul’s caliber to team up with since he arrived in Houston.

The two seem to have one thing in common, though — eyes on a ring.

Paul left more than $10 million on the table in allowing himself to be traded to what he believes will be a contender and Harden is willing to sacrifice being the star on his team for a shot at a championship.

Will Harden’s slash and get-to-the-rim offense compliment Paul’s patient mid-range and pass-first mentality? Or will they struggle to find a rhythm on the court?

They have some time to work on it, but one thing seems certain — if Paul and Harden get this figured out, the Rockets may have the fuel to propel into the Western Conference’s elite.

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Oregon’s Jordan Bell takes blame for Final Four loss: ‘This will hurt forever’

Screenshot via Pac-12 Network interview

Athletes endure highs and lows during their careers, but Oregon’s Jordan Bell felt the lowest of the latter on Saturday night when he took the blame for his team’s 77-76 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA Final Four.

The Ducks had two chances to grab boards with fewer than six seconds left and their team failed on both opportunities to secure the rebound.

Bell was pointed out as the biggest reason for the miscue when replays showed he struggled to box out his man both times.

After the game, an emotional Bell apologized for the errors and put the blame solely on himself.

“If I would have just boxed out, I had two opportunities to do it,” Bell said through tears. “I missed both of them. We lost the game because of it.”

It seems unfair to point the finger completely at Bell, especially given the outstanding performance he displayed earlier in the game.

He had a game-high 16 rebounds to go with 13 points and four blocks and was a huge part of the reason Oregon was in the game in the first place.

And Bell was far from the only Duck who had trouble boxing out.

The Tar Heels finished with 43 boards, matching their 43.4 boards per game season average which was the most in the country. Seventeen of those rebounds were on the offensive end.

Oregon, which started the tournament as a three-seed and hadn’t been to the Final Four in 78 years, made a huge run late to make things competitive against the favored Tar Heels.

Down six points with fewer than 45 seconds left in regulation, the Ducks’ bracket run seemed all but over, but consecutive buckets pulled Oregon within one point with 5.8 seconds left.

An intentional foul sent the Tar Heels’ Kennedy Meeks to the line with a chance to extend North Carolina’s lead but he missed both free throws. Oregon’s hustled for the rebound but the ball was kicked out to the top of the key where Joel Berry II was standing.

The Ducks were forced to foul again sending Berry and his 80.8 season free throw percentage to the line.

Uncharacteristically, Berry also missed both of his free throws but Meeks’ rebound secured a berth in the National Championship game for North Carolina:

In a team game, it’s often difficult to point fingers at a single player for a team’s loss.

It should be noted that the Ducks would have never been in the Final Four if not for Bell, rather than that they lost because of him.

Bell finished with a double-double in four of the five games Oregon played in the tournament this year.

“You play your a** off all season, but in the game that matters and in the moment that matters, I didn’t do my job,” Bell said. “This is going to hurt forever.”

North Carolina will now play Gonzaga for the national title on Monday night.

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LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas making MVP conversation a little more interesting

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com

There’s no formal definition in regards to a Most Valuable Player.

The word “valuable” has several definitions, meanings, and synonyms, meaning there are several ways it can be interpreted.

That rings especially true in conversations like the one setting the NBA on fire this season regarding who will be bestowed with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy at the end of the year.

But to get to the end, let’s start at the beginning.

The debate truly began when most people thought there wouldn’t be one — before this season started, when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City. Most NBA aficionados agreed this would be Russell Westbrook‘s year to shine in ways he hasn’t before.

And he’s delivered.

Through 62 games this season, he’s averaging a career-high (and NBA-high) 31.7 points along with 10.7 boards and 10.1 assists, still on pace to become the first player since the early 1960s to finish a season averaging a triple-double.

How does a man with those kind of numbers not earn an MVP award, right?

But just as many fans were ready to hand the Trophy over to Westbrook, James Harden and the Rockets caught fire.

Not that anyone expected Harden to have a bad year, but who would have predicted he would challenge Westbrook in total triple-doubles for the year? The Beard quietly has 15 such performances, five of which he has scored at least 40 points.

Harden has played in the same number of games Westbrook has and is only two rebounds per game shy of averaging a triple-double himself.

And then the conversation became just that — a conversation.

Gone were the days when Westbrook was the clear favorite, especially because it’s fair to include the success of a player’s team when defining the word “valuable”.

What value do you truly bring to your team if you can post incredible individual statistics but can’t lead your team to wins?

The argument hindered Westbrook but glorified Harden, who now has the Rockets sitting in the 3-seed in the Western Conference with a 43-19 record.

But Westbrook, undeterred, helped turn the Thunder from a one-man wrecking crew into a legitimate playoff team. After starting the year 8-8, Oklahoma City now sits in the 7-seed with a 35-27 record.

And now the argument is that Westbrook has slightly better stats with a slightly worse win-loss record while Harden is just the opposite.

Voters will have to decide which they value more in a race that is clearly between the two unless somebody comes around and…

Image result for lebron staredown gif

Alright LeBron, fair enough. We see you and you do make an interesting point.

It’s almost hard to believe The King hasn’t captured an MVP award since the 2012-13 season, but his string of success in the past month has catapulted him back into the conversation, right behind Westbrook and Harden.

It would be a near miracle if James came away from this season with the award, but his relevancy to his team simply can’t be ignored.

The 32-year-old is having his best season statistically since re-joining the Cavs in the latter part of his career, with 25.9 points, 8.9 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game.

But where he stands out above most players is his “value” to the team when comparing games that he’s on the floor and games that he’s not.

When James is on the court, the Cavaliers are +10 in points scored per 100 possessions, as opposed to being -4.7 per 100 when he’s on the bench. Now add in the fact that the Cavs are winless (0-4) in games James did not play this year and 42-14 when he did.

The Cavaliers have not slipped from first place in the East since the season began and while Kyrie Irving can certainly take some of the credit, James is the centerpiece of the reason Cleveland is expected to go to the NBA Finals again this year.

So now voters must take into account that definition of “valuable” when looking to award their MVP.

But then if we are looking through that lens, it would be unfair to overlook and leave out Boston’s Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas, the NBA’s biggest little man at 5-foot-9, broke out this season and is averaging a career-high 29.4 points per game.

His importance to Boston was clearly underappreciated and undervalued until the second trimester of the NBA season.

During that 28-game span, Thomas scored 13.1 points per game in the fourth quarter alone, leading the Celtics to a 21-7 record and into the 2-seed in the East.

Dubbed “Mr. Fourth Quarter”, Thomas’ reliability makes him by far the most valuable player on Boston’s roster and would probably make him the most valuable in the East if not for James.

Thomas also seems to play his best basketball when he’s needed the most.

While many players struggle to play consistently well during back-to-backs on the NBA schedule, Thomas actually plays better with no days rest.

In 14 such games, he’s averaged 32.7 points and 5.7 assists on Day 2 of a back-to-back, averaging 35.4 minutes in those games as well.

Maybe we should call him Mr. Endurance, too.

In the two games that Boston has kept him on the floor for more than 40 minutes, he’s averaged 39.0 points and 7.0 assists.

If that’s not valuable, I don’t know what is. Then again, who really knows what valuable means.

At the end of the day there seems to be four major players in the race for the MVP title. Two favorites, two dark horses, two from each conference.

Each brings something a little different to the table, it will all just depend on the preference on the voters.

So what makes a player most valuable? I guess we will just have to wait and find out.

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Super Bowl LI Pick, Predictions: Can high-flying Falcons offense help capture first ring?

Photo: Georgia National Guard via Flickr.com

Photo: Georgia National Guard via Flickr.com

Sunday, Feb. 5

New England Patriots (16-2) vs Atlanta Falcons (13-5)

The Patriots and Falcons will square off on Sunday in a battle that pairs expectation against destiny.

New England is playing in its seventh Super Bowl in 16 years and are in position to win their third title in six seasons.

The Falcons are making just their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

The Patriots had 6/1 odds to win the Super Bowl as early as Sept. 5, by far the league favorites.

Longshot Atlanta’s odds were down to 150/1 just two weeks after that.

Experts pegged New England to win at least 12 games this year, even with Tom Brady‘s four-game suspension.

The Falcons were expected to finish between 5-11 and 7-9.

One team followed a familiar script. The other didn’t.

Sunday will feature David versus Goliath, although David is a well-oiled machine that can certainly give Goliath a run for his money.

Atlanta is led, as they have been all season, by one of the best offenses in the history of the NFL.

Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman combined to help the Falcons average a league-high 33.8 points per game this season, excluding their 80 combined points in two postseason games.

What makes the Falcons even more dangerous is their exquisite use of role players who play certain spots better than most on any other teams in the league.

Wideout Mohamed Sanu has had at least four catches and a touchdown in three straight games. Halfback Tevin Coleman hauled in nearly 1,000 combined total yards of rushing and receiving to go with his 11 touchdowns this season — as the team’s backup running back.

And 5-foot-8 slot receiver Taylor Gabriel has had at least six catches and 60 yards in three of his last five games.

Atlanta’s offense has little in terms of weakness, but what awaits them on Sunday is a challenge unlike one they have faced this year.

The Patriots quietly possess the league’s top-ranked defense, hidden in Brady’s shadow. While most of the focus when facing the Patriots is on the team’s offense, the defense has played better than anyone expected.

Equipped with playmakers like Dont’a Hightower, Logan Ryan, and Devin McCourty, New England’s defense allows a league-low 15.6 points per game.

The unit allows only 88.6 rush yards per game (3rd) and has the third-best turnover ratio in the NFL (+12).

But there are cracks in the foundation; cracks that Matt Ryan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will want to expose early and often.

The Patriots’ secondary allows 237.9 yards per game through the air, an average number that ranks 12th in the league.

Their top corners, Ryan and Malcolm Butler, are both under six-feet tall, giving a significant advantage to Julio Jones’ 6-foot-3 frame.

Jones exploded for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the NFC title game against a Packers’ secondary that featured similarly-sized corners.

But that doesn’t mean Ryan and Butler aren’t up for the challenge.

They’ve gotten the best of Antonio Brown, Jarvis Landry, and others this year, although Jones may be their biggest test of all.

Still, Matt Ryan has become an expert at picking apart defenses and will likely find ways to spread the ball if the Patriots figure out how to suffocate Jones.

On that note, if there’s anyone in the league that is better than Ryan at dissecting defenses, it’s his counterpart, Tom Brady.

Brady will be playing in his seventh Super Bowl game, an event that has seen him combine for 1,605 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions — and four wins.

The veteran has been playing this season with four weeks’ fewer preparation than anyone else in the league, without Rob Gronkowski, and without a true No. 1 receiver.

But it didn’t stop him from leading New England to their 12th AFC East title in 13 years or their sixth-straight AFC title game. Love him or hate him, Brady is a specialist at finding players to fill the void when defenses aren’t paying attention which often leads to wins.

Just ask Chris Hogan and his 275 receiving yards and two touchdowns in two playoff games this year.

Brady’s experience will do him well in this game and it doesn’t hurt that Atlanta sports one of the worst pass defenses in the league (266.7 ypg, 28th), which is where Atlanta has the most to worry about.

We know their offense will score, but can their defense stop Brady or LeGarrette Blount?

Of course the more exciting matchup will be the reverse — can the Patriots defense stop Ryan’s offense?

Super Bowl LI will mark the sixth time in Super Bowl history that the league’s top-ranked offense and top-ranked defenses square off.

The team with the No. 1 defense won four of the first five times.

Another stat to keep an eye on is that of Brady’s six Super Bowl appearances, none have been decided by more than four points.

New England rarely dominates big games, but they certainly tend to win them.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 31-27


Last Week’s Record: 2-0

Postseason Record: 9-1

Regular Season Record: 165-89-2

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NFL Conference Title Game Picks, Predictions: Which team’s defense blinks first?

Photo: NFL News Desk Admin via Flickr.com

Photo: NFL News Desk Admin via Flickr.com

Sunday, Jan. 22

Green Bay Packers (12-6) at Atlanta Falcons (12-5)

The Packers were never supposed to be here, the Falcons were expected to be.

And so begins the storyline of a Cinderella team visiting a heavy favorite — except that this Cinderella team is hardly a big underdog.

The Packers have rolled into this matchup on an eight-game win streak including a dramatic win over the NFC’s No. 1 seed Dallas Cowboys.

Aaron Rodgers continues to mystify defenses, even without Jordy Nelson, and Green Bay’s own depleted and injury-ridden defense has found ways to come up with stops that play into the “next man up” mentality.

Standing in their way is a Falcons team that has MVP candidate Matt Ryan at the helm of an offense that has scored at least 32 points in each of their last five games, including last week’s postseason win over a solid Seattle Seahawks defense.

And it’s Atlanta’s offense that poses the biggest threat to the Packers in their quest to reach their first Super Bowl since 2011.

Green Bay shut down a rusty Cowboys offense in the first half of last weekend’s game but showed their true colors as the game progressed.

When all was said and done, the Packers had allowed 429 yards of total offense, including 6.7 yards per play, and gave up 18 points in the fourth quarter, indicating that had Rodgers not spotted them so many points in the first half, they may have been on their couches this weekend.

The Packers defense looked tired in the second half of last week’s game, worn down by Ezekiel Elliott‘s power run game, and now they have to deal with Atlanta’s dynamic duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

The Cowboys didn’t use a secondary running back so when Elliott was off the field, the run defense was able to focus elsewhere. They can’t do that against Freeman and Coleman, who rotate consistently and are both explosive, quick runners who have hands as well and often pick up big yards on screen plays.

Freeman actually had more receiving yards than Julio Jones in last week’s game against Seattle, picking up 80 yards on just four receptions.

The Packers defense also gave up 302 passing yards to Dak Prescott and now have a much more accurate, more experienced Ryan to face.

Ryan has been on fire as of late, throwing 14 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last five games.

Not to be outdone, Rodgers has thrown 24 touchdowns and only one interception since Nov. 20, compiling six 300-plus yard games in that span.

The end result should be a shootout between these teams and whichever defense blinks first will be on the wrong end of the final score.

The oddsmakers have set the over-under for this contest at 61 points, which, if it stands, is a new postseason record.

Q’s Pick: Falcons, 34-30


Pittsburgh Steelers (13-5) at New England Patriots (15-2)

This is the Patriots’ sixth-straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game, though they have only reached the Super Bowl twice in that span.

If their defense shows up against Pittsburgh’s high-flying offense, it will be time to celebrate in Boston.

One of the biggest difference makers of this game could very well be where it’s played.

The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell have led their team to a variety of exciting wins this season — but most of those have come at home as opposed to on the road.

If you look at Roethlisberger’s splits, you’ll find that he’s thrown 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions at Heinz Field, but has a nine touchdown to nine interception ratio on the road. His QB Rating is a whopping 116.7 at home and only 78.4 on the road.

That’s good news for a Patriots defense that struggled a bit with Brock Osweiler last week.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Tom Brady is looking to continue what has been a solid season even after he missed the first four games of the year.

The Patriots like to win when Brady plays — they have only lost once since he took over in early October, he has an 8-1 record in the postseason at home since 2011, and he has a 4-0 career record against the Steelers at Gillette Stadium.

New England also has an underrated run defense that might be able to contain Bell — though I use “might” loosely.

On one end, the Patriots allow only 88.6 yards per game on the ground, a number that was the third-fewest in the league this year.

On the other end, Bell, unlike Roethlisberger, plays better on the road than he does at home, rushing for more than 113 yards per game as opposed to only 98 at home.

These teams met earlier this season and when they did, the Patriots held Bell to only 81 yards on 21 carries, and they will need a similar gameplan if they want to keep him quiet again.

This game could go either way, but the Patriots are hard to beat at home and that makes them hard to pick against.

Q’s Pick: Patriots, 30-28


Last Week’s Record: 3-1

Postseason Record: 7-1

Regular Season Record: 165-89-2

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