Tar Takes 1/21: Who is Tar Heels’ leader? NFL change OT rules? Pats/Rams best teams?

UNC Forward Luke Maye – Photo via Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

On this week’s episode of Tar Takes we break down the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball season to date and discuss what we saw on Sunday in the NFL’s Conference Championship games.

UNC Basketball: Do they have a leader and if so who should UNC’s leader be?

Tar Heels have won six out of seven and are 4-1 in conference play. But how confident are you in the team?

Evaluate how the UNC freshman have done thus far in the year.

Did the outcome of yesterday’s games reflect which teams are actually better?

New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints 

Should the NFL change overtime rules?


Ryan Lipton is the founder of The JR Report. For more news and The JR Report updates follow him on twitter @rytime98.

Why the Buccaneers’ Vegas win totals are wrong

Photo via CBS Sports

In the last couple weeks, both the Westgate and South Point Superbooks have projected win totals for all of the NFL teams.

A couple of teams shine at the top—the New England Patriots are projected at 12.5 wins at Westgate and 11 wins at Southpoint. The Steelers are at 10.5 wins for both books, as well as the Seahawks.

However, there is at least one notable inconsistency in the metric for choosing win totals: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Both books have the Bucs at eight wins to finish out the regular season.

This seems rather harsh, considering both the Bucs’ last season and the prospects for next season.

Last season, the Bucs finished out the season with nine wins, just missing the playoffs because of a couple bungled games. They had wins over the Falcons and the Panthers, as well as narrow losses to the Saints.

The NFC South as it is 

The Falcons are set at 10 wins, while the Panthers are set at nine wins.

After a Super Bowl run, it’s not far-fetched that the Falcons can have another successful season.

With Matt Ryan at quarterback and other impact players like Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Devonta Freeman, the Falcons have a great offense combined with an up and coming defense.

The Panthers, however, are a different story. After a Super Bowl run in 2015, they shocked many by only winning six games in 2016.

Although many are projecting Cam Newton to bounce back, it’s hard to put too much faith in a team that only had six wins last season.

However, it is expected that they will be vastly improved, but should still have a tough battle to make the playoffs.

Both of these teams seem to be the most likely contenders against the Bucs, although the Saints can be anywhere from average to great—they haven’t had less than seven wins in a season since 2005.

So why are the Bucs projected lowest in the Division?

The Bucs didn’t miss the playoffs by much, and there are a couple of reasons why the Bucs are going to have at least a nine-win season.

The obvious: Jameis Winston 

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston hasn’t yet played to his full potential. Last season he led the Bucs to a nine-win season and coming into his third season he needs to cash in on his potential.

In both 2015 and 2016, Winston threw for just over 4,000 yards. He’s got the arm, he just needs to be smarter with it.

Image result for jameis winston bucs
Nobody denies that Jameis has an amazing arm, but can he keep the ball out of the opponents’ hands? Photo via AP photo

Of course, it’s not all about yardage. He’s inconsistent and throws way too many interceptions, but the team has added many more skilled targets to throw at this season.

The offense is one of the most skilled in the NFL and all that holds the Bucs back now is whether Winston can come out and perform as well as we know he can.

New all-star offense 

The Bucs offense is already great, for wide receiver Mike Evans had 1,321 yards receiving on 96 receptions. Just look at this catch above thrown by Winston against Cleveland. 

In addition, Tampa Bay is bringing back tight end Cameron Brate (82.8 PFF player grade), a dependable receiver with 660 yards last season who could be dangerous in combination with extremely talented rookie tight end O.J. Howard

The Bucs also added former Washinton Redskins wide receiver Desean Jackson. His deep threat could be deadly under Winston. Last season for the Redskins, Jackson had 1,005 yards off of just 56 receptions (17.9 yards per reception).

If that isn’t enough for Winston, throw dynamic tight end O.J. Howard into the mix. Howard caught for 595 yards in the 2016 season on 45 receptions for Alabama, and honestly he was criminally underused.

Image result for oj howard bucs
Howard was drafted by the Bucs in 2017 and is expected to be one of the best receivers on the team. Photo via Buccaneers.com

These stats are deceiving. In the 2015 national championship game, he chalked up 208 yards—a third of his yards for the season—and caught two touchdowns to help Alabama beat Clemson.

In 2016, he got 106 yards and a touchdown against Clemson in the national title rematch. Clearly, Howard can catch.

Howard was projected to be a top-10 pick, and although he was picked at No. 19, he is expected to be one of the best rookies this year’s draft class.

Standing at 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, Howard can reach wide receiver-level speeds and catches consistently in the red zone.

The Doug Martin puzzle 

There’s one piece to this puzzle that can capitulate the Bucs to an amazing season if it fits: Doug Martin’s health.

Martin, one of the best running backs in the league when he’s healthy, has had an inconsistent career. In both 2012 and 2015, Martin ran for over 1,400 yards. In his other three years, he ran for under 500 each season.

Image result for doug martin
When he’s healthy, Martin is the star of the Bucs offense. Photo via Buccaneers.com

His two problems? He’s been plagued with injury and drug addiction. He checked himself into rehab after a suspension that he’ll serve until three games into next season.

He’s back in practice, however, and claims to have gotten so much better. I’m a stronger person individually, mentally and physically,” he said. “You know, better on and off the field.

“It was a journey these past few months. You know, with the statement and I had to get help. It was a journey of self-development. I learned a lot about myself. I’ve had the support of my family, my friends and teammates all around, and I’m happy to be back here,” he said last week.

If his statements can be believed, the Bucs have a dynamic alternative to Winston’s pass attack. To supplement Martin, the Bucs have Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for 560 yards last season, and Charles Sims.

Sims is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league according to Pro Football Focus, but he’s been dealing with injury as well.

After an injured shoulder cut short his 2016 season to seven games, he was cleared for practice recently and looks to return to the Bucs backfield.

Growing defense 

It isn’t just the offense that will shatter the win totals that oddsmakers have been projecting—the defense is growing and adding a dynamic component to the Bucs on the field.

The Bucs already have three stars on defense: Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, and Kwon Alexander.

McCoy has 42.5 career sacks since 2010 and 170 solo tackles. David has 192 solo tackles and ten interceptions since his start in 2012. In just two years, Alexander has 238 combined tackles, three interceptions, six sacks and 16 passes defensed.

Image result for noah spence bucs
Noah Spence got 5.5 sacks last year despite being plagued by injuries. Photo via  Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There’s new talent to supplement the old: defensive end Noah Spence.

Spence has created a buzz for next season after his injury plagued 2016 where he had just 5.5 sacks.

In a game against the Broncos, Spence popped out his shoulder and then fixed the injury himself. He played through the injury all season, and has noticeably improved in the offseason.

After his surgery, teammates and coaches alike have expressed their excitement to have him be part of the team, and his sophomore season will prove that he’s one of the best defensive ends in the entire league.

The Vegas win totals are wrong 

The Bucs will perform much better than they’ve been projected to play. My prediction is an 11-win season, or maybe at the least a 10-win season. With so many good players coming off of injuries, the Bucs are shaping up to have an impressive season that no one in Tampa Bay has seen since coach Jon Gruden.

Projecting Tampa Bay at eight wins is a harsh letdown for Bucs fans who just had their first nine-win season since 2010. They have a young quarterback with endless potential and a team hungry for a playoff run.

NFC Championship Preview: Rodgers Will Look to Defy Logic

Photo via Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

NFC Championship

#4 Green Bay Packers (10-6) at #2 Atlanta Falcons (11-5)

Atlanta Falcons (-5) via Top Bet

Atlanta, Georgia (Georgia Dome)

January 22th, 12:05 PM (PST)

FOX

How each team has got to this point:

Green Bay Packers

  • 10-6 Regular Season (have won the last 8 games including playoffs)
  • Wild Card Birth
  • Defeated the New York Giants (11-5)  38-13 in the Wild Card Round
  • Defeated the Dallas Cowboys (13-3) 34-31 in the Divisional Round

Atlanta Falcons

  • 11-5 Regular Season and NFC South Champions
  • 2nd overall seed in the NFC and first round bye
  • Defeated the Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) 36-20 in the Divisional Round

Prior Meeting

  • Atlanta beat the Packers 33-32 in the Georgia Dome on October 30
  • It was a high scoring and close game. It should be similar to what we will see this Sunday
  • Rodgers threw for 246 yards, 4 TD and ran for 60 yards
  • Matt Ryan threw for 288 yards and 3 TD
  • Here are highlights from their first meeting

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4W7FyuZvKKo

“The Falcons are the favorites that they should be.”

Stats are not going to be able to predict this game. By using stats and basic logic, the Falcons are the favorites that they should be. However, what Aaron Rodgers is doing is not logical and can not be quantified, subsequently, making what should be an easy game to pick, quite tough despite the obvious advantages for the Falcons.

Atlanta has the top offense in the NFL scoring almost 34 points a game during the regular season. They backed it up with 36 points last week against a very good Seattle defense. There are no questions about their offense and they get to go against a much weaker Green Bay defense that ranks 31st in the NFL against the pass and 22nd in total yards against.

Green Bay who gave up close to 270 yards a game through the air has given up over 290 yards passing in both playoff games. I am not saying that there defense is worse, because they are playing better teams in the playoffs, but by no means are they better than they were during the regular season in which they ranked 31st.

In addition, Atlanta and Matt Ryan has not had a good history in the playoffs. It was well documented in my preview of Atlanta’s Divisional Round win over Seattle, in which Matt Ryan proved me and my prediction wrong by showing that he has gotten over his playoff struggles. Therefore, the one weakness that could be pointed to is now gone. The offense and Matt Ryan is going to do what they have the entire year, score at least 30 points.

Unlike the Packers defense, the Falcons defense has gotten better as the season progressed. Atlanta ranked near the bottom of the league with the 26th ranked pass defense giving up 266 yards per game during the regular season. However, in their last 8 games they have improved their pass defense mightily by only giving up 233 yards per game which would have been good enough to rank in the top 10 during the regular season.

“Atlanta will hope to jump on them early, and if they do, they will be well on their way to Houston.”

If Atlanta can get ahead early, then their defense should more closely resemble the defense of the last 8 games of the season. With the home crowd and the ferocious pass rush led by Vic Beasley Jr. (the NFL sack leader with 15.5) it’ll be hard for any offense to move the ball. It could also make Aaron Rodgers feel the need to force the ball into small windows and possibly have a few costly turnovers. Atlanta will hope to jump on them early, and if they do, they will be well on their way to Houston.

“I don’t see [Atlanta] getting back to an NFC championship game in the future.”

In all honesty, I don’t see Atlanta having as good of a chance at a Super Bowl than they do right now because of the following factors:

  • The Cowboys are young and will only get better.
  • The Carolina Panthers had a down year.
  • Jameis Winston is only going to get better.
  • Teddy Bridgewater was out for the whole year.
  • Seattle lost their heart and soul, Earl Thomas.

A lot went right for Atlanta this year and the future is only going to get tougher. They are going to have to take advantage of the opportunity they have right now because I don’t see them getting back to an NFC championship game in the future. It will be a dog fight for them to just make it back to the playoffs next year and teams don’t put up offensive numbers like Atlanta did two years in a row. This is Atlanta’s shot and they must not squander it.

“Aaron Rodger’s recent play has defied logic.”

What I am about to say contradicts everything above. It contradicts logic. Atlanta is the better team, has had the better season, has the better stats, is at home and has an MVP candidate. However, Aaron Rodger’s recent play has defied logic. He is having one of the greatest stretches in sports history and I just don’t think anything will get in his way. Rodgers and the Packers have a feeling of a special season that can’t be explained. Therefore, I expect them to get their 9th straight win and head to Houston.

 

Green Bay 31 Atlanta 30

NFL Divisional Round Preview: Green Bay at Dallas

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Divisional Round

#4 Green Bay Packers (10-6) at #1 Dallas Cowboys (13-3)

Arlington, Texas (AT&T Stadium)

January 15th, 1:40 PM (PST)

FOX

Another must watch game this weekend on FOX, as the red-hot Green Bay Packers, who are winners of 7 straight, head on the road to face arguably the best and most consistent football team of 2016, the Dallas Cowboys. This is a marquee matchup and it will not disappoint.

This game is another tough matchup to pick. Green Bay is red hot and has the better quarterback, but Dallas is coming off a bye at home and has the better overall team and season stats.

Dallas’s Offense

Dallas will look to take advantage of the weak Green Bay defense. The Packers have shown they can be taken advantage of through the air. They gave up an average of 269 passing yards during the regular season and 295 last week to the Giants.

Dallas’s success will revolve around their ability to run the ball, though. Why? The Cowboys have the best offensive line in football along with Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the best back in the NFL. More importantly, though if they establish the running game early, that will force Green Bay to defend heavily against the run, thus opening up the threat of the pass. Dak Prescott is too young to trust to spread out the Packers and throw the ball every play without establishing the run game first.

Lastly, probably the most important reason to run the ball, is to chew up the clock. The more clock they chew up, the less Rodgers will have the ball. Right now it seems having him stand on the sideline is the only way to stop him.

Green Bay’s Offense

Green Bay put on a clinic last week against one of the best defenses in the league, the New York Giants. This week, the Packers face a much weaker Cowboys defense. The Cowboys are an average defense with inflated stats because of their above average possession time. However, Rodgers will be without his top target, Jordy Nelson, which may interrupt the Packers passing game. Rodgers will have to compensate using his three other big targets: Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery, and Davante Adams. The Packers have also been doing a better job of running the ball lately. Their running game isn’t going to win the game, but it is doing just enough to take some of the pressure off Rodgers.

Prediction

This should be a high scoring game. Whoever has the ball last will have the best chance to win. The Cowboys are too inexperienced, starting a rookie QB and RB, and I believe it is going to catch up to them at some point. They have gone the entire year without any resemblance of being rookies. They will still play solid football, but I think they could have one or two costly turnovers that the Packers will take advantage of.

It will be a close game, but Rodgers will carve up the Cowboys average defense.

Packers 34 Cowboys 30


This is also a rematch of the famous playoff game from 2 years ago where the Packers beat the Cowboys on the controversial call of an incompletion to Cowboy WR Dez Bryant late in the game. The changing of the call cost the Cowboys the game.

The Packers also played the Cowboys earlier in the year, week 6, but lost 30-16 at home. I don’t think we can look much into this game because it is a completely different Packers team now than it was in week 6.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DL5svfnvWpQ

NFL Divisional Round Preview: Pittsburgh at Kansas City

AP Photo/Jared Wickerham

Divisional Round

#3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) at #2 Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

Kansas City, Missouri (Arrowhead Stadium)

January 15th, 5:20 PM (PST)

NBC

The game was supposed to kick off at 10 am (PT) on Sunday, but had to be moved to Sunday night because of a snow storm. The weather is going to be cold, but not as terrible as it can get in Kansas City. The game should be in the low 30’s with a good chance of rain.

If it is pouring rain for most of the game, and the field becomes sloppy, then there will be a big advantage for the Chiefs. The rain would make the game revolve around running the football and defense, which gives the advantage to the Chiefs. The weather is something to pay attention to, but I don’t believe it will be the deciding factor if it stays in the 30’s and there isn’t an immense amount of rain.

Pittsburgh’s Offense

The Steelers offense is one of the most dynamic in the league. They have the best trio in the NFL with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’veon Bell, and Antonio Brown and will present a ton of challenges for Kansas City. Kansas City has the talent to stop them, but the Steelers have been playing real good football of late and I think there are too many players to worry about on the Steelers for the Chiefs. Therefore, I’d give the slight advantage to Pittsburgh’s offense over the Chief’s defense.

Kansas City’s Offense

Kansas City’s offense relies a lot on Andy Reid’s impeccable play calling. They have been without their star RB Jamaal Charles for almost the entire year, but still have found a good running game with Spencer Ware. The Chiefs are a capable offense but are limited because of Alex Smith. He will play solid and not turn the football over, but he isn’t going to win playoff games by himself.

The only way the Steelers can get gashed is by Tyreek Hill having a huge day. He has created many issues for other defenses, but Tomlin will make sure to have a good game plan in place to stop Hill.

Tyreek-Hill-Denver

Explosive WR Tyreek Hill with a long touchdown play

Photo Credit: David Eulitt 

I believe the Steelers defense, who has really picked up of late, will do a good job slowing down Kansas City. In their last 8 games, they have only given up 16.6 points per game, instead of their season average of 20.4, which is deflated from their strong 7 game finish to the regular season.

Prediction

In the end, the Steelers have too much on offense to worry about and have their defense (which is considered their weak link) playing good football at the right time. Ben Roethlisberger’s injury must be monitored. If it is truly an issue, which I don’t think it will be, then the cold weather and a gritty Chief’s defense could cause a lot of problems. However, I think the boot on Ben’s foot was just precautionary and won’t lead to any issues tonight. If that holds true, then I think the Steelers will win a close and low-scoring game.

Pittsburgh 24 Kansas City 20

Side Notes:

Roethlisberger’s injury could be a factor if it gets cold making it tough for him to move around. If he isn’t mobile, then a lot of issues will surface trying to run away from the Chief’s dominant pass rush.

The Steelers blew out Kansas City early in the year (43-14), but I don’t think it will have any impact on the game today:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbMAeumZT-E

NFL Divisional Round Preview: Houston at New England

Photo Credit: Brett Coomer

Divisional Round

#4 Houston Texans (9-7) at #1 New England Patriots (14-2)

Foxborough, Massachusetts (Gillette Stadium)

January 14th, 5:15 PM (PST)

CBS

New England is going to win this game. The only question is, by how much? The Patriots opened up the week as 16 point favorites, which is the 4th largest spread in NFL playoff history according to Pro Football Reference. Like I mentioned in my Raiders-Texans Preview, the winner of that game would definitely lose the following week (Vegas agrees with me).

New England ranks 3rd in the NFL in points per game (27.6) and boasts the top-ranked defense in the NFL (15.6 ppg).

The Texans rank 11th in points against (20.5) and have the 28th ranked offense, managing only 17.4 points per game. Their defense, however, is much better than their 11th ranking suggests. The Texans points against are inflated by Brock Osweiler’s many turnovers. A statistic that’s more representative of their defensive prowess is yards against, in which they rank 1st, allowing 301.3 yards per game. They’re a top defense, and in my opinion, they’re slightly better than New England in this facet of the game.

Houston’s offense deserves their 28th ranking. Brock Osweiler’s regular season (16 INT, 15 TD) showed that he doesn’t move the ball well and is likely to have a multiple turnover game, especially because he’ll be facing a strong Patriots defense on the road.

New England beat Houston 27-0 in week three without Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo when they had to start 3rd string QB Jacoby Brissett. Just imagine what New England will do to Houston with Brady.

Highlights from 27-0 blowout early in the year

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SttrmVggphs

Here are some things New England does better than Houston that will make this game a blowout:

  • New England has the better quarterback
  • Home field advantage
  • Playoff experience
  • 14 regular season wins vs. Nine
  • 3rd ranked offense vs. 28th
  • Better Head Coach
  • Better coaching staff
  • Bye week before game
  • Better skill players
  • New England +12 turnover ratio vs Houston’s -7
  • New England beat them 27-0 in Week 3 with their 3rd string QB

The list goes on, but I’ll stop there.

Prediction

As mentioned above, nothing is in Houston’s favor and I don’t expect the final score line to be close. I think Houston will play inspired football on defense and keep the game close initially, but New England will ultimately dominate and win in a blowout.

New England 31 Houston 10

NFL Divisional Round Preview: Seattle at Atlanta

Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times

Divisional Round

#3 Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) at #2 Atlanta Falcons (11-5)

Atlanta, Georgia (Georgia Dome)

January 14th, 1:35 PM (PST)

FOX

This game is the toughest Divisional Round game to pick. We have the Seahawks, who are coming off a 26-6 win at home against the Lions, and the Falcons, who are coming off a red-hot season led by Matt Ryan and their explosive offense. This game is tough for a few reasons. The Falcons and Matt Ryan are known to falter in big playoff games while the Seahawks have a storied playoff history led by Russell Wilson. The Seahawks are coming off a blowout win, but lost 3 of their last 6 games to finish the regular season and are without their star safety, Earl Thomas. The Falcons have been great this whole season, but have major question marks on defense; however, they should benefit from being at home and coming off a bye.

Atlanta’s Playoff Struggles

Matt Ryan hasn’t had much success in the playoffs. The Falcons haven’t made it since 2012 when Matt Ryan took the team to the playoffs for the 4th time in just his 5th season in the NFL. However, Matt Ryan’s NFL playoff career has been subpar, as you can see below:

2008 Wild Card Round: 30-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals

2010 Divisional Round: 48-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers (had home field and bye)

2011 Wild Card Round: 24-2 loss to the New York Giants

2012 Divisional Round: 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks

2012 NFC Championship: 28-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers

Adding to the fact that he hasn’t been great in the playoffs, Matt Ryan hasn’t had any recent playoff experience. Ryan has to hope that his playoff failure is in the past and that it will act as experience for this year’s playoff run. All those games were a younger Matt Ryan that we probably won’t see this weekend. However, history can not be discounted. I’m hopeful that his struggles won’t continue, but will not pick him until he proves me wrong.

Seattle’s Playoff Success

The Seahawks, since drafting Russell Wilson, have been a perennial Super Bowl contender and have made the playoff in each of his first 5 seasons. They have made it to the playoffs six out of the last seven seasons and have won a playoff game in each of those six seasons. They have also won two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl.

They are the opposite of the Falcons in terms of playoff history. Russell Wilson is 8-3 in the playoffs versus Matt Ryan’s 1-4.

Advantage Seattle.

Atlanta’s Offense vs. Seattle’s Defense

No offense has been better this season than the Atlanta Falcon’s led by MVP candidate Matt Ryan. He’s had an amazing year throwing for just under 5,000 yards (4,944) with 38 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, leading his team to the second most yards per game (415.8) and the most points (33.8) per game. To put that in perspective, no other team averages over 30 points per game. The 2nd closest team in the league is New Orleans, who averaged 29.3 points per game.

Atlanta’s offense is putting up a historic season. They’re tough to stop with all-pro receiver Julio Jones on the outside along with two great running backs, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Not to mention, their offense has been on a tear entering the playoffs. They have scored over 30 points in five out of their last six games (the one game they didn’t, they scored 28 points) and averaged 36.7 points per game in that stretch. Stopping their offenses is a tough task.

Seattle’s defense is great, ranking 3rd in the NFL in points against (18.3), but hasn’t played up to that level since their star safety, Earl Thomas, went down with a broken leg. As I mentioned in my preview of the Lions-Seahawks wild card game, the Seahawks gave up 24.5 points per game in the last 6 games of the regular season, the majority of which was without Earl Thomas. However, the Seahawks seemed to have turned their defense around by holding Matthew Stafford and his Lions to just 6 points last weekend in their wild card win.

Seattle’s Offense vs. Atlanta’s Defense

Atlanta has proven that they are going to score at least 30 points per game. Therefore, Seattle’s offense is going to have to step up if they want a chance at winning. Luckily for Seattle, they get to face the 27th ranked defense in points against (25.4) and the 25th ranked defense in yards allowed (371.2). Atlanta’s pass defense is especially weak, so Seattle’s 10th ranked pass offense will have to take advantage if they want to win. Seattle had a good week last week scoring 26 points but will have to improve on that if they want to win against Atlanta.

Prediction

Atlanta’s offense is explosive and gets the advantage of playing at home, so Seattle will need at least 30 points to win; I think they’ll be able to reach that threshold. This Atlanta team will be tougher to beat than the Atlanta teams that collapsed in the past. However, those past collapses are still going to be in the mind of Matt Ryan and his teammates; until Ryan proves me wrong, he is not a very good playoff QB. Therefore, I think Seattle could get the help of some early turnovers from Atlanta that will help the Seahawks hit the 30 point mark. Without turnovers there is no chance that Seattle can get to the 30 point mark and win this game, even if it is against a terrible Atlanta defense.

Never underestimate experience. On paper, Seattle looks like the underdog, but a team that has had success like they have will always find a way to keep games close.

A few Atlanta turnovers and a solid offensive game from Seattle will result in another NFC championship appearance for the Seahawks.

Seattle 31 Atlanta 28

Here are highlights from Week 6 when Seattle beat Atlanta (26-24) in a close and controversial game:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZwfyvQpIcM

Wild Card Weekend Preview: New York at Green Bay

 

Wild Card Round

#5 New York Giants (11-5) vs. #4 Green Bay Packers(10-6)

Green Bay, Wisconsin (Lambeau Field)

January 8th, 1:40 pm PST

FOX

The most anticipated game of the weekend gets underway Sunday afternoon. This is by far the most even matchup of the Wild Card Round and could really go either way. We have the red-hot Green Bay Packers, who are led by MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers and have won their last 6 games. The Giants have been playing solid football the entire year and have won 11 games. They have shown their potential by beating the Cowboys twice this season. It is going to be an exciting matchup of probably the best QB in the NFC, Aaron Rodgers, against probably the best defense in the NFC, the New York Giants.

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers has been the best player in football during the 2nd half of the season. He has gone from a terrible season (for Aaron Rodgers) to an MVP season in a matter of weeks. In the month of December, Aaron Rodgers threw for over 1000 yards, 9 TD’s and 0 interceptions. He was completing almost 70% of his passes with a QB Rating of 120.7. His play was unrivaled by anyone and he has established himself as the best player heading into the playoffs. They are a prime Super Bowl dark house because of Aaron’s play and will be a tough out for any team.

With the addition of Ty Montgomery, the Packers running game has become much better late in the year. They aren’t going to beat any teams running the football, but it helps take some pressure off Aaron Rodgers so they can open up the playbook and let Rodgers be at his best to fully dominate.

Ty-Montgomery

#88 Ty Montgomery

AP Photo/Mike Roemer

The one weakness for the Packers is their defense. They rank 22nd in yards against (363.9 per game) and rank 21st in points against giving up 24.3 per game. Their defense has been below average the whole year and it doesn’t seem to have improved a ton over the course of the season. This is where the Giants will have to take advantage. The Packers are 8th in the NFL in stopping the run, but are 31st against the pass. Chunk plays and big passing plays will be available for this Giant’s offense and they will have to take advantage.

Side Note: The Packers remind me a ton of the Raiders. They have a below average defense, but an MVP candidate at quarterback who has been on fire and has carried the team the whole year.

New York Giants

As we mentioned before, the Giants are going to have to attack this horrible Packers pass defense. They should try to throw the ball early and often to take advantage. Eli will have to use his multitude of targets of Odell Beckham Jr. (1367 yards, 10 TD), Victor Cruz, and Sterling Shepard (8 TD). Manning has not had the best season of his career, but has still played solid football. He has thrown for over 4,000 yards and 26 TD’s, but has thrown 16 interceptions and has fumbled 7 times. Eli still has the potential to create big plays, but still has a tendency to turn the football over with ease. It is more important for him to limit turnovers than it is to force plays for two reasons. One, Odell Beckham Jr. will make plays, so you do not need to force anything. Secondly, he doesn’t need to score 30 points to win. This Giant’s defense is stout and takes a lot of pressure off Manning.

Really look for Odell Beckham to have a monster day. This terrible pass defense will give plenty of opportunities for Beckham to explode.

Landon-Collins-Giants

#21 Landon Collins, Safety, 5th in the NFL with 5 Interceptions

Getty Images

The biggest surprise of the season may be this New York defense. They went out in the offseason and bought a defense thru free agency. Unlike many other teams, who try to a buy a defense and fail, their acquisitions have worked out beautifully. They have a bend but don’t break attitude by ranking 10th in yards against, but 2nd, only behind New England, in points against (17.8 points per game).

The Packers aren’t known for running and the Giants rank 3rd against the run only giving up a meager 88.6 yards per game. Therefore, the Packers will become one-dimensional and a lot of pressure will be put on Aaron Rodgers. He has been up for the task as of late, but he will need his MVP-caliber play to be successful because the Giants 10th ranked pass defense is no slouch as well and will become quite a task if the Packers become one dimensional.

Prediction

This is easily going to be the best game of wild card weekend. Like I said before, this is a matchup of the best defense and the best quarterback in the NFC. I really want to pick the Giants in this game, and think they will beat the spread, but I don’t know if they will win the game. They have everything that I like, a great defense and a good Quarterback WR combination that will easily take advantage of the Packer’s poor pass defense. However, the Packers win the QB battle. If it was a neutral site, I think it’d be a coin flip, but since it is at Lambeau, I will give the slight edge to Aaron Rodgers. His play as of late is too dominate. He has thrown 15 TD’s in a row without an interception and is looking like he is about to make a run in the playoffs. I love the Giants, but they have gotten Aaron Rodgers at the wrong time. I will say tho, this game is very much a coin flip, but whoever goes on to win will have a great shot at making a Super Bowl run.

The Packers also beat them in the meeting earlier this year, 23-16 in Week 5 at Lambeau.
Packers 27 Giants 26

Highlights of the Week 5 meeting in Lambeau:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y26CxKjUq5k

NFL Wild Card Weekend Review

Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports

NFL Wild Card Weekend Scores:

Houston 27 Oakland 14

Seattle 26 Detroit 6

Pittsburgh 30 Miami 12

Green Bay 38 New York 13

Really no surprises in terms of the results. We all expected Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Houston to win. However, I am very shocked that New York got blown out. They had a lot more talent than Green Bay, but Green Bay has Rodgers right now and he seems unstoppable.

I am also surprised the Detroit game wasn’t close. It isn’t as surprising as New York’s game because Seattle has the better team, quarterback and was at home, but it was a playoff game. I thought Detroit is good enough to keep it competitive knowing their season was on the line, but they couldn’t.

Now we move on to Divisional Round. Every single game should be close and exciting. Here are the game times for next Saturday and Sunday.

Divisional Round Schedule:

Saturday, January 14th

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons, 1:35 PM (PT)

Houston Texans at New England Patriots, 5:15 PM (PT)

Sunday, January 15th

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs, 10:05 AM (PT)

Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys, 1:40 PM (PT)

The schedules are set and a preview for each game will come out by Friday this week. Make sure to come back to The JR Report to read about the upcoming games.

Wild Card Weekend Preview: Raiders vs. Texans

Photo via Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press

Wild Card Round

#5 Oakland (12-4) vs. #4 Houston (9-7)

Houston, Texas (NRG Stadium)

January 7th, 4:35 EST

ESPN/ABC

 

In what has been dubbed one of the least influential playoff games of the year, the Oakland Raiders and the Houston Texans will face off in a game without “playoff implications”. Meaning people believe the winner of this game, who most likely will travel to New England next week, is guaranteed to lose to the Patriots.

The Raiders were having a promising season, and were considered the biggest threat to the Patriots, but that hope faded when Derek Carr broke his leg. Without Carr, the Raiders got demolished by a Denver team without playoff potential and have essentially become irrelevant. The rest of the team seems to have checked out, figuring they don’t have a realistic shot of winning a Super Bowl without their leader Derek Carr.

Houston’s playoff spot is the product of being in a terrible division. They’re a mediocre team with terrible quarterback play and a great defense. The only reason they’re in the playoffs is because they get to play the Colts, Jaguars and Titans for six out of 16 games, out of which they’re 5-1. Now, a playoff team with little reason to even be in this spot has a chance to get a win against the Derek Carr-less Raiders.

Connor-Cook-Raiders

Raiders QB Connor Cook

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Quarterback Turmoil

Playoff games are often made by the quarterback. Sadly, due to injury, neither team has a good quarterback. If the Raiders had Carr, they’d be the easy choice, but since it’s going to be rookie quarterback Connor Cook starting, they’ve become heavy underdogs.

Saturday will be Cook’s first career NFL start. Assuming nothing goes wrong, Cook will be the first quarterback in history to have their first start be in a playoff game. Cook played decently in limited play last week against Denver. He moved the ball well, throwing for 150 yards and a TD, but had three costly turnovers. His play looked promising, but also resembled a rookie quarterback. He may have a future in the league, but the time is not now. I expect him to struggle on Saturday.

Another thing Cook will have to cope with is facing the second ranked pass defense in the league one week after facing the Broncos, the number one team. A tough task for any quarterback, the Texans defense will likely create problems for Cook and the Raiders.

The Houston Texans quarterback situation isn’t much better. In the offseason, they signed Brock Osweiler to an absurd 72 million dollar contract. His terrible play this season led to him losing his job to career backup quarterback Tom Savage. Savage was doing a solid job until his concussion last week. Now, Osweiler is leading the offense again; bad news for the Texans. Osweiler is a turnover machine with more interceptions thrown than touchdowns this season (16 INT, 15 TD).

 

Oakland’s Offense vs. Houston’s Defense

Oakland’s has been horrid since Carr’s injury, totaling six points in their last five quarters played. They didn’t score in the 4th quarter against Indianapolis and could only muster six points against a Denver team that was eliminated the week before. Oakland’s incapable offense was also visible when Carr was out momentarily against Carolina in week 12. The offense completely stalled until Carr came back and it shows that Derek Carr IS Oakland’s offense.

For Oakland, Denver’s a good preview of Houston’s defense. They’re both highly ranked, and with good pass rushers and corners, are hard to pass against. The Raiders struggled mightily against Denver, so there’s no reason to believe it won’t be the same on Saturday. Not to mention, the Raiders will be without their pro bowl LT Donald Penn, which damages their chances of dominating the game through the ground. Then again, they probably wouldn’t be able to run the ball because the Texans could anticipate more runs without Derek Carr at quarterback; Carr put a lot of pressure on defenses so they couldn’t load the box. If the Raiders can’t run the ball effectively, there will be a lot of pressure on rookie Connor Cook to throw the ball, and the outcome will be a lot like last week’s game in Denver. Oakland probably won’t have much success running the ball and Houston’s defense will shut down the Raider offense.

Houston’s Offense vs. Oakland’s Defense

If the Raiders want even the slightest chance of winning, they will have to dominate on defense. Due to the lack of production they’ll get from their offense, they’ll need to force Brock Osweiler to be at his worst. Lots of turnovers and defensive scores could fuel the Raiders to a win.

I like the Raider’s defense more than I trust Houston’s offense. However, I don’t think the Raiders will be able to do enough on defense to win this game. Last week against Denver, they gave up 24 points. That’s not a terrible mark, but it’s more than Connor Cook is going to put on the board. The defense didn’t look great, though, because they were constantly gashed for big runs and didn’t put enough pressure on Siemian. Osweiler is worse than Siemian, but the Texans have a better running game behind Lamar Miller, a scary prospect for Raider fans.

Lamar-Miller-Mexico-City

Lamar Miller Breaks Loose in Mexico City

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The one positive for the Raiders is that their defense is healthy and has been getting better. Rookie Karl Joseph is back in the lineup, he’ll be a huge help. It’s also possible that Khalil Mack could become a game wrecker by sacking Osweiler a few times (or five like he did to Osweiler last year), and forcing a few turnovers. I like the Raider’s defense more than I like Houston’s offense, but that is because of how bad Osweiler is and not how good the Raiders defense is. I think they’ll hold the Texans to 17-20 points.

Prediction

The Texans defense is in a position to completely dominate and I don’t see the Raiders scoring more than 14 points; they won’t be able to run the ball a lot and will lean on Cook to move the ball, which could result in numerous turnovers. The Raiders beat the Texans in Mexico City 26-20, but this time they’ll face them without Derek Carr and Donald Penn, in Houston. No one feels confident in the Raiders, I see Houston coming away with the win.

Houston 20, Oakland 14

Raiders vs. Texans Highlights (Mexico City)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-2jQwhLxdM