NFL: PLAYOFF RACE MAYHEM/WEEK #17 PICKS

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     I cannot remember an NFL Season that has entered the final week of play with so many questions unanswered and so many open Playoff Spots to be had.  The AFC Playoff Picture is a little more clear than the NFC, but not by much.  In the AFC, the New England Patriots have clinched the AFC East, the Cincinnati Bengals are the AFC North winners, the Colts the South, and Denver Broncos the West.  The only other team that has clinched a playoff birth is the Kansas City Chiefs.  No seeds have been clinched and home field advantage is still there for the taking.  So there will not be many players resting this week, or at least any whose team has a significant opportunity.  The Miami Dolphins, the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, and San Diego Chargers are all vying for the sixth and final playoff spot.

     The NFC picture is even more clouded.  Not one Division has been clinched thus far in the NFC, and only the Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and San Francisco 49ers have clinched playoff births.  The Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, and Arizona Cardinals all go into Week #17 needing a win to lock up the final 3 Playoff Spots.  And here we are, the second week without a Thursday Night Game, making Sunday the Number One Story of the year.  2013 still has a few days left and Sunday will be a significant day in many team’s 2013 Season.  There could not be much more hype going into a final weekend of a regular NFL season.

     There are also many side notes as we enter this final weekend.  Peyton Manning has a chance to add to his league record 51 Touchdown Passes.  The Eagle’s Running Back LeSean McCoy goes into the weekend in search of the rushing crown and is only 50 yards shy of an Eagles Team Rushing Record.  It was announced just today that the Packer’s Aaron Rodgers will make his first start, after missing seven games due to a collarbone injury.  The Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo suffered an injury Sunday that many are saying is season ending, but you and I both know the media drama monster that the Cowboys propose.  This should be one of the most memorable final weekends in NFL History.  So now with out further a due…my picks.

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CAROLINA PANTHERS (11-4, 1st Place NFC South)

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ATLANTA FALCONS (4-11, Last Place NFC South)

This game is a microcosm of how the 2013 NFL Season has transpired.  The Falcons were many experts picks to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.  My, my, my how wrong were they.  The Carolina Panthers lead the Division with one game to play and either need a win or Falcons loss to clinch the Division.  However; if for some reason the Panthers are upset by the last place Falcons and the New Orleans Saints can win, then the Saints take the Division Title.  On paper, this game is a huge mismatch.  Cam Newton has been stellar at Quarterback for the Panthers and has turned an abysmal start of the season into a tremendous run in the past two months.  Newton has lead the resurgent Panthers to the brink of a Division Win and a First Round Bye.  The Falcons would love to play spoiler in this one.  Every time I have picked against the Panthers this season I have been wrong.  So, I am changing my pattern and I am taking the Panthers to win the game and the Division.  They will win in comeback fashion 23-17.

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GREEN BAY PACKERS (7-7-1, 2nd Place NFC North)

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CHICAGO BEARS (8-7, First Place NFC North)

Here is a head to head contest where winner takes all and the loser goes home.  Its hard to believe that the Packers are a 3 Point Favorite in this game on the road.  The only reason that this game means anything is that tie that the Packers had a Month back.  If not for that tie, the Bears would have won the Division by default.  But that is a what if scenario that does not exist in the NFL.  The Bears were completely humiliated on Sunday Night Football last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Packers on the other hand had another comeback win behind back up Quarterback Matt Flynn.  In order for the Bears to win this game, they will have to do a better job with their deep passing game.  Also, the Eagles were the first team to neutralize Running Back Matt Forte.  The Bears have the worst pass defense which does not bode well against a hungry Aaron Rodgers.  I have said numerous times that the Packers are the dark horse sleeper in the NFC if Rodgers could somehow come back.  Although Aaron Rodgers is back, and I do think this will make the game close, I am taking the Bears in an upset at Soldier Field.  The Bears win the game 31-28.

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HOUSTON TEXANS (2-13, LAST PLACE AFC SOUTH)

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TENNESSEE TITANS (6-9, Second Place AFC South)

The first meaningless game on my docket.  Well, it will not be meaningless if the Titans can beat the Texans at home, which would give the Texans the league’s worst record and the first pick of the 2014 Draft.  The Texans are the NFL’s most disappointing team.  Their defense has been ranked #1 almost all year, however, they turn the ball over and give up loads of points.  The Texans are favored by 7 in this game.  I am taking they Titans to win this game outright 17-14.

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CLEVELAND BROWNS (4-11, LAST PLACE AFC NORTH)

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS (7-8, 3RD PLACE AFC NORTH)

The Steelers are favored by 7 in this one at home.  The Steelers have avery slim chance to make the playoffs but many things would have to go their way.  However, despite the ramifications, the Steeler’s coach said this week that they will not lay down.  I expect the Steelers to come out and play Steeler Football as they best the Browns 24-21.

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WASHINGTON REDSKINS (3-12, LAST PLACE NFC EAST)

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NEW YORK GIANTS (6-9, THIRD PLACE NFC EAST)

Ok, so this Division Rivalry comes into Sunday with absolutely no meaning.  There will not even be bragging rights in this one as both teams were eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago.  However, this is still a Division Rivalry and these games always have some type of meaning.  I do not see the Redskins just crawling in a whole and throwing in the towel.  In fact, last week they almost beat Dallas, which would have played the playoff spoiler.  The Giants look like they gave up months ago, which is not like a Tom Coughlin run team.  Nonetheless, the Giants are favored by three at home.  I take the Redskins to beat the Giants, handing them their first ten loss season in ten years.  The Redskins win handily 27-14.

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BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-7, SECOND PLACE AFC NORTH)

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CINCINNATI BENGALS (10-5, FIRST PLACE AFC NORTH)

So here we are, the last week of the season and the Super Bowl Champion Ravens are still in contention.  However, they need a few things to go their way.  The Bengals on the other hand, are looking to lock up a top seed and a first round bye.  If the Bengals can win and the Patriots somehow lose, they would get the second Seed.  This is a huge game for a team that was highly rated coming into the season.  The way that the NFL has been this season is crazy.  So because of that fact, I am taking the Ravens to upset the Bengals who already have a playoff spot locked up.  A win by the Ravens could possibly set up a game the following week in the wildcard round as a rematch.  The Ravens win 20-17.

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (4-11, THIRD PLACE AFC SOUTH)

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INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (10-5, FIRST PLACE AFC SOUTH)

The Colts who are favored by 11.5 Points at home in this game against the hapless Jaguars have been quiet beast in the AFC.  The Colts have beat the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, and Kansas City Chiefs all of who are top Playoff Teams.  The Colts are also in search of a First Round Bye and a win would go pretty far in helping their cause.  I say that Andrew Luck does not need any luck and they beat the Jags 34-20.

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NEW YORK JETS (7-8, THIRD PLACE AFC EAST)

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MIAMI DOLPHINS (8-7, SECOND PLACE AFC EAST)

The Miami Dolphins come into this Divisional Game needing a win to have a shot at the playoffs.  The Dolphins beat the jets in New York last month, but have been extremely inconsistent.  The Dolphins need a win and a few other teams to lose to make the wild card round.  Ryan Tannehill has been superb most of the year but his playing status is in question due to an injury.  The Dolphins are favored by 5.  Although, it would be a nice conclusion for Rex Ryan and the boys to get to .500, the Fish win this game and sneak into the playoffs.  The Dolphins win 23-20.

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DETROIT LIONS (7-8, THIRD PLACE NFC NORTH)

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MINNESOTA VIKINGS (4-10-1, LAST PLACE NFC NORTH)

Wow, a month ago the Lions had a comfortable lead on the NFC North and looked like a playoff lock.  However, this team has totally collapsed.  They have one of the most potent offenses in the league but cannot put teams away.  The game a few weeks in Philly in the snow really seemed to be the turning point.  The Lions were 7-5, beating the Eagles and well on their way to 8-5.  Now, three straight losses coupled with Packers and Bear’s wins has knocked them out of playoff contention.  The Lions are favored by 5 in this one but not much matters.  The biggest story will be if Adrian Peterson can come back from that horrifying injury and finish out the season.  The Vikings win 27-20.

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BUFFALO BILLS (6-9, LAST PLACE AFC EAST)

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11-4, FIRST PLACE AFC EAST)

Once again, another game with huge playoff implications.  The Bills have been a door mat for the most part this season.  The Patriots need a win to lock up home field advantage and a bye in this one so Im sure Bellicheck will have the troops ready.  The loss of Gronkowski has put a weakness in the Patriots armor.  Even though the Bills have had some upsets this season and have a chance to play spoiler, I see the Pats winning this one and locking up a Bye.  The Patriots win 28-20.

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TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (4-11, LAST PLACE NFC SOUTH)

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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (10-5, SECOND PLACE NFC SOUTH)

Wow, the two bottom feeders of the NFC South have a chance to play spoiler against the Saints and Panthers.  Well, I do not see this happening this week.  Drew Brees is on a mission this season.  He is tired of hearing about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.  He wants to show the NFL that he is still a force in the league.  The Saints roll over the dead Bucs 38-21.

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DENVER BRONCOS (12-3, FIRST PLACE AFC WEST)

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OAKLAND RAIDERS ( 4-11, LAST PLACE AFC WEST)

The Broncos go up big in the first half and rest their starters the rest of the way.  A win gives the Broncos Home Field throughout the playoffs and a week 1 Bye.  The Raiders have struggled against good offenses all year and the Broncos are averaging 38 Points per Game.  Peyton adds to his record stats and the Broncos are well inn their way.  Broncos win 35-24, as the game is much closer after Denver decides to rest their starters.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (11-4, SECOND PLACE NFC WEST)

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ARIZONA CARDINALS (10-5, THIRD PLACE NFC WEST)

The Cardinals have to be kicking themselves for playing in the toughest division in football this year.  They have an extremely respectable record at 10-5 and may not make the playoffs.  The 49ers already have a playoff spot locked up and still have a shot at the Division.  If the Niners win and Seattle loses the Niners can win the Division.  The Cardinals can only make the playoffs with a win and Saints Loss.  The Niners take this one and make the Cardinals the best 10-6 Team to not make the playoffs in forever.  The 49ers 21-16.

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-4, Second Place AFC WEST)

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SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (8-7, THIRD PLACE)

The Chiefs have locked up a playoff spot and really cannot move up or down in the standings as they will be the Number 1 Wild Card Team.  However, the Chargers can sneak into the playoffs with a win and thats exactly what I see happening.  The Chargers win 28-24 at home and sneak into the playoffs.

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SAINT LOUIS RAMS (7-8, LAST PLACE NFC WEST)

The Rams have tread water ever since Sam Bradford went down with an injury.  They have a chance to finish with a .500 Record.  The Seahawks have been very dominant and are favored by 11.5.  However, my story has the Rams upsetting the Seahawks at home and giving the 49ers the Division Crown.  With an Eagles win against the Cowboys that would set up a Seattle Philly game in Philly in the Week One Wildcard Round.  Call me a homer, I don’t care, thats what I see happening.  The Rams win 20-17.

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PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (9-6, FIRST PLACE NFC EAST)

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DALLAS COWBOYS (8-7, SECOND PLACE NFC EAST)

In August, if somebody would have told me that the Philadelphia Eagles would be playing on the last Sunday of the Season against the Dallas Cowboys, for a chance at winning the Division I would have said they were nuts.  However, here we are.  The Eagles have completely matured and bought into Chip Kelly’s System in year One.  The Cowboys have been inconsistent as usual. They do have that potent offense but their defense has been weak.  This game will be completely different than the one in Philly where the Cowboys won 17-6.  Since that game, the Eagles have won six games and are rolling behind a confident Nick Foles.  Tony Romo came up lame in the last game and there is a chance he does not play.  In my eyes, it does not matter if he plays.  The Eagles win the NFC East and beat the Cowboys 45-31.  There you have it my picks.  We shall see what happens.  No matter what the outcome, Sunday will matter up until the last buzzer during the Eagles Cowboys game.  Thats what makes the NFL the best.

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PHILADELPHIA FLYERS COOKED

The Flyers lost their third game in a row tonight, virtually eliminating them from the Playoffs. There is a very minuscule chance for the Flyers to sneak into the Playoff Picture, however, they would need help from a bunch of teams that are ahead of them. The Flyers Number 1 Ranked Power Play is now 0-for April. Their penalty kill is ranked third. So, judging this season cannot place blame on the Special Teams.

Ok…well with adversity comes questions and the blame game will begin. Many fans have called for the ousting of Paul Holmgren. Although Holmgren has made many good moves in free agency as well as trades, he has failed to sign the players to get this team over the hump. Nonetheless, Holmgren did try and sign Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and trade for Rick Nash in the offseason. The Flyers brass was unsuccessful with all of these players.

It is no coincidence that ever since star defenseman Chris Pronger went down with post concussion syndrome, this Flyers team has not been the same. And while the Flyers were trying to sign the top free agents and trade for the best talent, they lost some of their own key players. Matt Carle, who came to the Flyers from the Tampa Bay Lightning, had grown into a top tier defenseman and was lost in free agency. The Flyers also lost Jaromir Jagr, who really had a comeback season and made all of the Flyers youth get better.

Lets take a look at why this season has went downhill. First and foremost, the teams major weakness was their Defense and turnovers. As mentioned earlier, the Flyers did try to address their defense in free agency and also at the trade deadline, but were not willing to part with their young talent. However, Holmgren did trade budding young star James Van Reimsdyke in the off season for Toronto Defenseman Luke Schenn. JVR has been superb for the Maple Leafs while Luke has struggled to be one of the Flyers top Defenders.

Another crippling aspect was the loss of Andre Mesaros and Brayden Coburn, probably their two best physical defensemen to injuries. So in retrospect, the Flyers must make some moves this off season this time around. The Flyers need to start addressing their weakness and the major fault is defensive breakdowns. Had the Flyers signed Shea Weber or Ryan Suter, their misfortunes could have been erased. Weber and Suter would bring the same type of physical play and leadership that Pronger gave this team.

Every year the Flyers have fell short in the Goaltending Department. Holmgren tried to address this last season when the Flyers went out and signed Vezina finalist Ilya Bryzgalov. Last year Bryzgalov struggled and was inconsistent. However, this season Bryzgalov has been stellar and he truly has been hung out to dry by a terrible defense. Bryzgalov has played in all but two of the Flyers games. He has all of the team’s wins with 17. His GAA is around 2.85. He has a .900 Save Percentage. Those stats may not be top rate but they would be a lot better if the defense has not let them down.

Of course this week…Bryzgalov went through a ton of turmoil by a Story that was reported that he fell asleep during a team meeting. This is yet another gaffe in the roller coaster of the Philadelphia Media. Then, last week at the trade deadline the Flyers traded for young goalie Steve Mason. This raises questions about who will be in net next season for the Flyers.

The Flyers also lost Daniel Briere…one of their offensive stars and team leaders. Briere may come back this weekend, but this may be his last nine games in a Flyer’s uniform. The Flyers also lost gritty leader Maxime Talbot for the season. Talbot brought tenacity and experience as he won a Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins, actually scoring the Game Winning Goal of that championship. Talbot will be back next year and hopefully healthy.

Let us not forget that the Flyers core players have an average age of 23. This fact cannot be discounted. Courtier just turned 20. The Schenn brothers are 23 and 21 respectively. Claude Giroux is 23. Wayne Simmonds is 24. These five players can be considered the Flyers core players. The leaders have to be Scott Hartnell, Daniel Briere, Max Talbot, re-acquired Simon Gagne, and Mike Knuble.

If I am the ownership of the Flyers, I am making a few moves next year. As good as Holmgren has been…I am moving another direction. I would go after former Goalie Ron Hextall to captain the ship. I’m keeping Laviolette. Peter has received a lot of criticism this season, but he has shown a great work ethic and I am keeping him.

The Flyers should also let Briere go, unless he decides to sign for a bargain price. They should also buy out Bryzgalov’s contract not because he has been horrible, but to have more payroll flexibility. They would save millions of dollars and could go after another top scorer as well as a Top Tier Defenseman. They should look at the goalies that will be available and if they can sign Luongo do it…if not go with Steve Mason who is only 24.

I think this team is still one or two years away from a Championship. Even though Jeff Carter and Mike Richards won a Cup after leaving the team…I still believe this team is more talented than the team that went to the cup a few years ago. The XFactor…Chris Pronger. Pronger was a Born Leader and was the player that made this team go, go, go. Anyways, this has been a disappointing season but there is still a bright future for this very young team.

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NFL WEEK #14 RESULTS/FANTASY FALLOUT

Ok…one more game to go in Week #14. There were a few surprises as usual yesterday as the 49ers beat the Patriots on the road in a game that saw the Pats come back from 27 points but fall short. Even with this latest loss…the Patriots are still my favorite to make the Superbowl. My original pick was the Patriots-49ers, but I am oddly making a change to that now as the Seattle Seahawks look poised to take the Division and get a home game in the first round. The Seahawks Defense has been relentless…and now their offense is firing on all cylinders. Rookie Quarterback sensation Russell Wilson rushed for three touchdowns yesterday, while throwing two. He also accounted for over 400 yards in offense. Marshawn Lynch has been a beast as always and has remained healthy this season which will be scary in the playoffs. Peyton Manning an Adrian Peterson continued their quest for NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Manning and the Denver Broncos are now 11-3 and have the second best record behind the Houston Texans who also rebounded and are 12-2. The Patriots are now 10-4, but do not let last night’s loss deceive you. The 49ers needed this game much more than the Pats as they are battling for a Division Title with the Seahawks. The Patriots showed in the fourth quarter that they are capable of coming back from a huge deficit against one of the league’s best defenses. Speaking of the AFC, the Colts lost some of their luck as the Texans were a team possessed after being embarrassed in National Television last week to the Patriots. Meanwhile, Denver beat Baltimore handily and The Ravens fell to 9-5. The Jets who will not make the playoffs beat the rival Dolphins in a not so offensive game. The Giants, last week putting up 50 points, were shut down by another team out to prove their dominance in the NFC. Nobody sees the Falcons as a force in the playoffs but I don’t think they should be taken lightly with an 11-2 record. The Packers beat the Bears and the Bears continue to slump. The Saints won a meaningless game but Drew Brees had a strong game. Arizona broke their 9 game losing streak by beating the Detroit Lions. The Rams were embarrassed by the Seahawks. So here we are…2 weeks left and the only teams to have clinched home field are Houston and Atlanta. The Giants are so inconsistent. Eli Manning looks to have lost his accuracy and the Giants Defense has struggled the previous two weeks. Two more weeks to go until the playoffs and it should be a strong finish.
Here is my Power Rankings after 14 Weeks in the book:
1) Houston Texans
2) Atlanta Falcons
3) New England Patriots
4) Denver Broncos
5) Seattle Seahawks
6) San Francisco 49ers
7) Green Bay Packers
8) Baltimore Ravens
9) Chicago Bears
10) Indianapolis Colts

Bottom Feeders:
1) Kansas City Chiefs
2) Philadelphia Eagles
3) Oakland Raiders
4) Cleveland Browns
5) Carolina Panthers

****Now some Fantasy Football. In my league two teams were 11-3 and I made the playoffs on the last week of the season with an 8-6 record while winning 4 straight down the stretch. Aaron was the fourth team also posting an 8-6 record. Yesterday in the First Round of the Playoffs Aaron’s team Deuce Droppers was dropped a deuce in by Will McCarthy. In my game, I won easily 140-89. I think that may only be the second week where a team scored less than 100 points on me. So it’s down to me and Bill. Bill led the league with the best record and has the points total. I actually came in second as far as points go. I have not win a fantasy title since the days of Priest Holmes (I have won 2). So may the best team win Bill. If I do win I think it shows that I drafted well as I also made some very good waiver pickups. My Second pick Maurice Jones Drew has been hurt all season. My second running back Steven Jackson was dropped twice by me and now I picked him up and he is paying dividends. My first pick was Charles Johnson and then I also got Brandon Marshall. That has been my strength…Wide Receiver. I also took a chance on Peyton Manning who has put up unbelievable numbers and looks to be leading the Broncos to a first round bye in the AFC Playoffs. Whatever the outcome is next week…I am very satisfied with my season…my first fantasy league in 3 years. Just saying…I had the 8th pick and I am on the Championship…just saying.

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