Le’Veon Bell

Since the 2001 season, the New England Patriots have been dominating the AFC East. Will it be more of the same in 2019? What are the other teams looking like as we get set for a new season? Let’s take a look and find out.

Buffalo Bills

2018 Record: 6-10

A year after a surprising playoff berth, the Bills took a step back in 2018. The team would enter the offseason with a clear idea of where improvement was needed. Buffalo managed to check off all the boxes.

Josh Allen has new weapons and better protection. The club has found a potential anchor on defense via the draft in Ed Oliver. Things are looking up for the Bills, but oddsmakers still aren’t expecting all that much in the way of improvement.

Key Departures
John Miller (G), Charles Clay (TE)

Key Additions
Ed Oliver (DL), Cole Beasley (WR), John Brown (WR), Mitch Morse (C)

Prediction: 9-7
The Bills looked awful in the first-half of 2018, but it was a different story down the stretch. The tweaks the team has made should lead to improvement. We’ll gladly take the Over on regular season wins and keep our eyes peeled for value in September game lines.

Fantasy Radar: Cole Beasley
Allen now has some much needed weapons in the passing attack. Beasley steps into the safety blanket role for the second-year pro, and he should see plenty of targets. He’s an intriguing player to keep in mind for the mid to late rounds.

Miami Dolphins

2018 Record: 7-9

A rebuild is on the menu in Miami. The Adam Gase era is over, and Brian Flores will be tasked with putting the franchise back together again. Based on the offseason moves, the club is taking a build from the inside out approach.

That could work in the long run, but there will be growing pains along the way. It’s unclear if Josh Allen will be the long-term answer at QB, but it looks this club is going to be in line for an early pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Key Departures
Ja’Wuan James (RT), Cameron Wake (DE)

Key Additions
Christian Wilkins (DL), Josh Allen (QB) Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB)

Prediction: 3-13
The Dolphins have done all but waive the white flag heading into 2019. That doesn’t bolster enthusiasm for much more than a 3-win campaign. We’re not expecting to see them favored often, if at all.

Fantasy Radar: DeVante Parker
Miami should be behind often in the coming year. That means Allen or Ryan Fitzpatrick should be slinging the rock a lot. Parker has disappointed thus far. There’s simply no excuse if he doesn’t rack up some serious yardage this year.

New England Patriots

2018 Record: 11-5

The defending Super Bowl champions weren’t being taken seriously by a number of observers heading into the playoffs. That proved to be a bad call. Another trophy is now in the case, and the club enters 2019 as a favorite to do it again.

There’s always turnover for the Patriots to deal with, and it’s the same this year. There will likely be a bad loss somewhere along the way in 2019. We’ll patiently await the warnings that the sky is falling in on New England afterwards and check back in for the postseason.

Key Departures
Trey Flowers (DE), Rob Gronkowski (TE), Trent Brown (RT)

Key Additions
N’Keal Harry (WR), Mike Pennel (DE), Jamie Collins (LB)

Prediction: 12-4
Barring something catastrophic, the Patriots will contend for another ring in 2019. We can’t promise that everything will go swimmingly along the way, but we also don’t feel the need to try and call a shot on an end to a dynasty which has no intention of going away.

Fantasy Radar: Sony Michel
The backfield in New England is traditionally frustrating for fantasy owners. Michel showed a lot in his rookie campaign and earned the trust of coaches. That’s enough to rely on him as a reliable fantasy asset for the new season.

New York Jets

2018 Record: 4-12

Gase proved to be the wrong guy in Miami, but Jets brass thinks he’ll do just fine. The club was quite active in the offseason, and there is a chance that the moves will bear fruit. Le’Veon Bell changes the offense, while Quinnen Williams and C.J. Mosley can help bolster a defense which already had solid pieces in place.

On the down side, dysfunction reared its head in New York once again when GM Mike Maccagnan was shown the door. This happened after he was entrusted with spending a boatload of cash. We can’t guarantee that will impact the product on the field, but it certainly doesn’t help.

Key Departures
James Carpenter (G), Buster Skrine (CB

Key Additions
C.J. Mosley (LB), Le’Veon Bell (RB), Ryan Kalil (OC), Quinnen Williams (DT)

Prediction: 6-10
We’re optimistic that the Jets will improve on both sides of the ball this year. However, that’s tempered by the behind the scenes drama and a seemingly lackluster hire at head coach. New DC Gregg Williams will make the defense better, but we’ll see what Gase can do with Sam Darnold and company.

Fantasy Radar: Robby Anderson
While most of the attention will go to Bell in fantasy circles, the Jets passing game should also improve as a result of his addition. Anderson has wheels and can do some damage. He should find even more room to get open this season to boot.

Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Tom Brady (left) & Jared Goff (right)
Source: Zuma Press

Breaking down Sunday’s big game.

Back in 2002, the Los Angeles Rams lived in St. Louis, seeking their second Super Bowl title in three years against an upstart New England Patriots team. It was a group of no-name players from the AFC seemingly sent to be sacrificed against one of the best NFC teams fielded this century.

The Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick, was a prodigy who’d failed to deliver in six previous NFL seasons. He had as many playoff victories, one, that equaled what he was really known for: days as head coach of the New York Jets before quitting the job. His quarterback, Tom Brady, was a sixth-round draft pick who had thrown a total of three career NFL passes entering the year; he was pressed into service when longtime starter Drew Bledsoe got hurt.

That left the AFC champs as heavy underdogs against the “Greatest Show On Turf,” a Rams group who had cruised to a 14-2 record and the NFC’s top seed. The offensive juggernaut was favored by 14 points; Kurt Warner and Rams head coach Mike Martz were the ones fit to be football kings.

But something happened on the way to their coronation; the Patriots refused to cede the crown. A late drive by Brady led to a game-winning field goal, producing a 20-17 upset that snuffed out the Rams’ dynasty and started his. Seven more Super Bowls would follow, producing four more wins and turning the Patriots into arguably the greatest NFL team of all time.

So here we are, 17 years later, with the script flipped on Brady and Belichick. It’s a group of young upstarts in the Rams who aren’t supposed to be here yet, led by the league’s youngest head coach, 33-year-old Sean McVay. The quarterback is 24-year-old Jared Goff; he was in second grade when Brady won his first Super Bowl. The Rams come in as the second seed, like the Patriots in 2002, peaking at the right time while persevering through a few lucky breaks. A timely interception preserved a victory against the Eagles, the league’s defending Super Bowl champs. One week later, a no-call on pass interference boosted the Rams in an upset of the NFC’s top seed, the New Orleans Saints.

To play this game at FanPicks…click here

Now back in Los Angeles, the Rams have a chance to bring the city their first Super Bowl victory since 1984. The Patriots and Brady, meanwhile, are looking to cement their legendary status. A 6-3 record in Super Bowls looks a whole lot better than 5-4; a win also would tie Brady with Michael Jordan’s six NBA titles and break one with Charles Haley for the most rings ever won by an NFL player.

Historically, it would also put a bow on a Brady career most believed would never still be active at age 41. He is the only player remaining from that game on the Patriots, outlasting everyone who stepped foot on the field in Super Bowl XXXVI except kicker Adam Vinatieri. It’s a quarterback that gutted it out on that fateful night, willed his team to the win and hasn’t looked back… for 17 years.

Will Brady refuse to give up, yet again? Or can the Rams usher in a new generation through their collection of young talent?

Super Bowl 53: New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Rams

Kickoff: Sunday, Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Atlanta)

TV: CBS

Spread: Patriots -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Brady’s big game experience vs. Goff’s biggest moment

There’s not much to say about Tom Brady that hasn’t already been said. His postseason experience includes more playoff wins (29) than Jared Goff’s actual age (24). He enters his ninth Super Bowl with the highest playoff completion percentage of his NFL career (71.1) through two games and a healthy 7.7 yards per attempt. And his three straight third-down conversions on a touchdown-winning overtime drive against the Chiefs? Yet another chapter in a book growing too large for your shelf at home. If you’re looking for Brady to slip Sunday, don’t; it’s a man who’s as battle-tested as they come.

Instead, this Super Bowl becomes all about Goff and his ability to carry the Rams. The first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft took a major step toward stardom this season. His 8.4 yards per attempt ranked fourth in the NFL; a 101.1 QB rating ranked eighth, four notches higher than Brady. And only Patrick Mahomes, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Ryan threw for more yards than Goff (4,688).

For much of the year, Goff lurked in the shadows behind young Mahomes, who set the league on fire with 5,097 passing yards and 50 touchdowns. But Goff has had success of his own, in particular in big games. He outdueled Mahomes in a 54-51 win for the Rams in the regular season, throwing for 413 yards, four touchdowns and no picks. He also calmly led the Rams on both the game-tying and game-winning drives last week in the NFC Championship, succeeding in one of the sport’s most hostile road environments: the Superdome.

Through it all, Goff maintained a calm, even-keeled demeanor that’s drawn comparisons to his Super Bowl rival. The question is whether he can continue that in the biggest game of his NFL career. He’s shown inconsistency late in the year, in particular after the loss of slot receiver Cooper Kupp to a torn ACL. He’s failed to throw a touchdown in three of the last five games and had a career-worst four interceptions against the Bears last month.

You shouldn’t expect that many turnovers against the Patriots. But all it takes is one fumble or a pick-six and suddenly momentum turns against you. Goff can’t make that type of mistake against this opponent.

2. Is Todd Gurley healthy? If not, who becomes the star of the Rams’ offense?

Gurley remains the biggest x-factor in a running game that’s been carried most of the postseason by C.J. Anderson. Anderson isn’t a full-time back for a reason; he averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in the NFC Championship against the Saints.

But despite Anderson’s ineffectiveness and claims that Gurley was healthy, the Pro Bowl running back rarely spent time in the backfield. Just four carries for 10 yards have everyone scratching their head as to how much time Gurley will play on Super Bowl Sunday.

He was on the field for less than half the snaps, touching the ball just five times for his lowest output of the season. Even worse, the first pass targeted his way bounced right through his hands and into the arms of a Saints defender for an interception. That’s not the way you’d expect a guy who has a league-leading 3,924 yards from scrimmage the last two seasons to perform in your biggest game.

So is a knee injury suffered back in December hobbling Gurley?

“C’mon man,” he said to reporters Friday, adamantly denying it. “If there was an issue with my knee, it would be on the injury report. I’m at practice. I’m playing.”

“You just have to feed off what we are doing, and C.J. was running the ball well,” added Goff to FOX’s Chris Myers after the NFC Championship. “I expect Todd to have a hell of a game in the Super Bowl.”

But will he play well? The Patriots have allowed just 30 rushing yards per game in the postseason, redeeming themselves after an inconsistent regular season. It’s difficult to see Gurley breaking through if he’s less than 100 percent, putting even more pressure on both Anderson and Goff. Gurley’s reduced presence could also hurt in the passing game; he had 59 receptions for 580 yards during the regular season, good for third on the team.

Compare Gurley’s ailment to Sony Michel’s accomplishments over the past two weeks. He’s posted 242 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in the postseason, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and allowing the Patriots to spread the field and open up passing windows for Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald must take charge here and stop Michel or Rex Burkhead from establishing a rhythm.

3. Trench warfare

The Patriots’ offensive line has been the unsung heroes of these playoffs. With a 41-year-old quarterback who’s not as mobile they’ve given up a grand total of zero sacks. The offensive line of the Rams is close behind; just one sack in two games.

So what now? Both teams have used defensive penetration to their advantage; they’ve racked up nine sacks between the two of them. Something’s got to give, somewhere and you have to figure the Patriots have the edge despite the Rams’ Donald. Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers have formed an effective 1-2 punch with two sacks apiece. Dont’a Hightower, despite just four tackles in the postseason, has proved generally disruptive.

The key for the Rams is simply to get Donald going. He has just four tackles during the postseason and no major plays of note, at least on paper. Can those three postseason quarterback hits turn into sacks? Contact is more likely to hobble Brady based on his age and current mobility. Getting to Brady is key to getting the Lombardi trophy.

X-Factor: A tale of two coaches

Bill Belichick has done it all. Sean McVay? He’s just getting started. But both coaches benefit from unconventional styles and a penchant for doing things their own way.

The two men met at the NFL Scouting Combine and have texted since, with Belichick taking his time to congratulate McVay after games. The normally tight-lipped Patriots head coach was even willing to compliment the prodigy half his age during Super Bowl media festivities.

“I have a ton of respect for Sean,” he said. “He’s done a great job in the two years he’s been with the Rams. His teams have performed at an extremely high level. They’re very consistent. They’re well-coached. The players execute on a consistent basis on a very high level.”

But for all the confidence Belichick shows in McVay, he also has the experience earned from Super Bowl victories. The Patriots are also coming off a Super Bowl in which the aggressive, youngish coaching style of Doug Pederson kept them off guard. He pushed down on the accelerator and never relented, taking high-risk approaches and offensive gambles that paid off.

One thing about great coaches, they don’t get fooled by the same method twice. Expect Belichick to have learned from that experience and for McVay to be the innocent victim of last year’s frustration.

Final Analysis

This year’s Super Bowl line opened with the Rams favored by one. But as game time inches closer, the Patriots have edged back on top and seem to be regaining respect. They’re presenting themselves as a healthy, loose team in position to avenge their narrow loss to the Eagles a season ago.

The Rams, meanwhile, have seen some clouds roll in. The news stories surrounding the pass interference call won’t die; a local New Orleans car dealership has bought billboards all over Atlanta claiming the Saints got robbed. Calls have come from their owner, other NFL players and even Congress itself to change the rules going forward. (Had the penalty been called, the Saints would have run down the clock and attempted a chip shot field goal for the win.)

It leaves the Rams, well, a bit off balance while the Patriots enter the Super Bowl playing at their peak. A motivated Brady is on a mission; one year after losing a step from his MVP status at age 40, he’s out to reinforce his top-tier status at age 41. Add in another week of rest for Gronkowski, the emergence of a rushing star in Michel and it makes the Patriots’ offense seemingly impossible to beat.

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Tom Brady
Source: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Image North America

Will the ninth time be the charm for an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl ring for Belichick and Brady?

Love them or hate them, the New England Patriots have established an NFL dynasty that may never be matched in the salary cap era. Defeating the Kansas City Chiefs on the road Sunday earned them a fourth Super Bowl bid in the past five seasons and the team’s ninth with Bill Belichick as head coach. Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady will now go for their sixth Super Bowl ring 17 years to the day after they earned their first, coming against the same team they’ll face a second time down in Atlanta.

To play this game at FanPicks…click here

Of course, the Rams are hardly the same in terms of personnel since that fateful Super Bowl in 2002; they don’t even play in the same city anymore. Not a single player that played for the franchise then remains on the Rams; head coach Sean McVay was in high school when that game happened. Rams quarterback Jared Goff? He was in second grade.

That type of longevity is what makes these Patriots, Belichick and Brady one of the game’s all-time greats. It’s also experience that leaves them well-positioned to win the Super Bowl, yet again, in a game where they’ve opened as 1.5-point favorites.

5 Reasons Why The New England Patriots Will Win Super Bowl LIII

1. A resurgent running game

Saquon Barkley may be getting all the buzz as the best new running back this season but Sony Michel made a case of his own during these playoffs. Michel just trampled over the Chiefs in the first half of the AFC Championship, finishing with 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns despite inexplicably sitting unused for much of the fourth quarter and overtime. (It was Rex Burkhead, not Michel, who scored the game-winning touchdown and had a number of key runs in the Patriots’ final two offensive drives.)

But the fact the Patriots could switch out Burkhead and get the same effectiveness shows you the state of their run game. Michel has now put together back-to-back 100-yard performances against two AFC playoff teams; he has three 100-yard games in his last four. (That puts him one behind Barkley’s 2018 benchmark of four straight.)

While the Rams have buckled down in the playoffs this is still the same defense that ranked just 23rd overall during the regular season. On offense, their own rushing attack is questionable with the health of Todd Gurley II a major concern after he was used sparingly in the NFC Championship.

2. An unheralded offensive line

The Patriots’ line paved the way for a 41-year-old Tom Brady to make magic in the late stages of their comeback win against the Chiefs. During two postseason games, Brady has yet to be sacked. That’s right; zero sacks from a Chiefs defense that tied for the league lead with 52 during the regular season.

Not one of these linemen were selected to the Pro Bowl but rising from virtual anonymity is how the Patriots have done it all these years. The group of David Andrews, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason and Trent Brown have an average of just 4.6 years of experience between them. But this quintet is growing up at the right time and provided Brady some extra comfort to make key throws down the stretch, especially on third downs.

3. Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman

Speaking of third downs, both Gronkowski and Edelman were money when it mattered, although the latter dodged one potential, game-changing mistake. Two key throws to Edelman kept alive the overtime drive before Gronkowski stepped in to set up the Patriots near the goal line. That duo appears to be all the Patriots need, although Chris Hogan had a key third-down catch himself in the fourth quarter.

Edelman was stopped just short of 100 yards in the AFC Championship one week after going for nine catches and 151 yards in the convincing win over the Chargers. He’s Brady’s most reliable target and has had a chip on his shoulder after his four-game suspension reminiscent of his quarterback’s time away a few years ago. Edelman did get a mulligan when an apparent fumble on a muffed punt return about midway through the fourth quarter was overturned on replay. Brady threw an interception two plays later on a ball that, ironically, bounced off of Edelman’s fingertips.

But otherwise as a receiver Edelman came through, hauling in seven of his 10 targets. And when No. 11 was covered? Gronk lined up on the outside and delivered after a season that increasingly appears to be his last. But a creaky, hobbled tight end from years of injuries pulled one out of the hat in the AFC Championship. Seemingly every one of his six catches was a game-changer but it was his blocking that was the real secret weapon, opening up even more running lanes for Michel, Burkhead and James White.

Once again, a Rams defense that allowed 23 points to the Saints’ many talented offensive pieces will struggle to stop a “healthier” Gronk. And if it’s the tight end’s last game ever? He won’t hold back.

4. A defense that pressures the quarterback

The Rams’ offensive line has been almost as good as the Patriots’; Jared Goff has been sacked just once during the postseason. But it’s hard to see that number staying low with the Pats’ numbers against the speedy NFL MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes. Their four sacks of the young quarterback included one that pushed them out of field goal range late in the first half, a score that would have potentially made the difference.

Weirdly enough, the Rams and Patriots have the same turnover margin during the postseason, coming out even. But who do you trust heading to Atlanta? The 24-year-old Goff, playing in his first Super Bowl without two major weapons at 100 percent? (Gurley and deep threat Cooper Kupp, out for the season with a torn ACL?) Or do you trust the guy in Brady that’s been there more times (nine) than Goff’s age (seven) when Brady won his first ring?

That leads us to…

5. Belichick-Brady

This duo got beat at their own game last year, Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles using the underdog mantra and dog masks to waltz their way to an epic Super Bowl victory. It’s the first time Belichick-Brady has been beaten in the big game by a team other than Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

Since then, it’s felt like the Patriots have had the odds stacked against them. A bizarre, game-ending miracle play against the Miami Dolphins robbed them of home-field advantage. Eleven wins were their fewest since 2009; inconsistent play dogged both sides of the ball. It all added up to the Patriots being labeled an underdog on the road in the AFC Championship for the first time in what felt like forever.

But that’s when the mastery of Brady and Belichick turned on. The underdog mantra became a rallying cry in the locker room, most famously by Edelman and his Hashtag BetAgainstUs shirts. Then, both quarterback and coach came to play. Belichick and his coaches had perhaps their most inspiring performance during the postseason in years Sunday; the variety and gustiness of play-calling kept the Chiefs’ defense off guard all night. Remember, the staff was so aggressive they tried to win the game through a flea-flicker with time ticking down in the fourth quarter! Who does that?

Through it all, there was the steady hand of Brady. Sure, he’s had his rough moments this year; an interception in the end zone was the type of mistake he typically doesn’t make (and might have put the game away in the first half). But when it mattered, with the game on the line Brady brought that team down three straight times and scored. His stat line on those drives (taking away the one kneel down to force overtime): 5-for-6 on third down, no sacks taken, 21 points scored. That’s all that matters.

And it’s the type of gritty performance that offers a storybook ending to the 41-year-old 17 years after his first ring. Perhaps the real question is, if the Patriots win again, will Brady choose to retire with the storybook seemingly as complete as it can possibly be?

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Source: 2019 NFL Super Bowl 53 logo. (AP)

The New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams will meet in Super Bowl LIII (aka Super Bowl 53, or 2019 Super Bowl) on Sunday, Feb. 3 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This will be the seventh time the Super Bowl features a rematch. These two teams met in Super Bowl XXXVI back in 2002 as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won their first Lombardi Trophy by knocking off the heavily favored Rams (then in St. Louis) and the “Greatest Show on Turf” 20-17 in the Superdome in New Orleans.

Much has changed since then, as Belichick and Brady are now making their ninth Super Bowl appearance and the 11th in Patriots’ franchise history. A win would tie New England with Pittsburgh for the most Lombardi Trophies (six).

For the Rams, it’s their fourth Super Bowl appearance, but the first for a team from Los Angeles since the Raiders beat the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII way back in 1984. A victory for the Rams would even their Super Bowl record at 2-2 while exacting a bit of revenge for what happened 17 years ago.

While the teams and many other details have yet to be determined, it’s never too early to start making your Super Sunday plans. Draft your fantasy team for Super Bowl 53 NOW at FanPicks.com. Check out links to the contests below

WHEN, WHERE AND HOW TO WATCH

Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)

Date: Feb. 3, 2019

Time: 6:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS (20th Super Bowl, breaks tie with NBC for the most); ESPN Deportes (Spanish language)

Broadcast Team: Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (color commentary), Tracy Wolfson and Evan Washburn (sideline reporters)

Radio Network: Westwood One

Halftime Performance: Maroon 5, Travis Scott, Big Boi

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Tom Brady
Source: Maddie Meyer / Getty Image North America

The top two seeds come together for a rematch of their 43-40 thriller earlier this season

It’s hard to look at this year’s AFC Championship between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs as anything other than a potential changing of the guard. Tom Brady, 41, will be eyeing an unprecedented ninth Super Bowl appearance; to do it, he’ll need to rise to the challenge of 23-year-old emerging superstar Patrick Mahomes. Perhaps the greatest ever to play the sport at his position will be pitted against the man who may define it for the next generation.

To play this game at FanPicks…click here

But the rivalry runs far deeper than just those two men. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is looking to erase his record of playoff futility by finally beating the game’s best on the other sideline in Bill Belichick. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce hopes to displace an aging, injury-prone Rob Gronkowski as the AFC’s best at the position. And despite the Patriots’ undefeated home record this season (9-0) it’s the Chiefs’ fans at Arrowhead who have one last opportunity to prove what home-field advantage in the postseason is all about.

Their last matchup, a 43-40 Patriots victory in Foxborough, was easily one of the best in the NFL this season. Expect Sunday’s game to bring the same amount of offensive firepower and late-game drama with a berth in Super Bowl LIII on the line.

AFC Championship: New England at Kansas City

Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 20 at 6:40 p.m. ET

TV: CBS

Spread: Chiefs -3

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Mahomes keep from making mistakes?

In this type of game, it’s fairly clear what you’ll get from the Patriots’ Tom Brady. A roller-coaster regular season was put to rest last week against the Chargers; 343 passing yards and no turnovers meant the outcome was never in doubt. The Chiefs can’t expect to capitalize on his mistakes although Brady did have a lost fumble in their matchup earlier this season.

The real focus is on whether Patrick Mahomes can keep it together. On paper, he had one of the best statistical seasons in history with 50 touchdowns and nearly 5,100 passing yards. He did nothing to cost his team in a cruise control-type performance against the Colts in Arrowhead last week.

But the Patriots in the playoffs are a different story altogether. The Chiefs were mortally wounded in their regular-season matchup through multiple mistakes by Mahomes early on. Two interceptions led to seven Patriots points and cost the Chiefs seven more at the end of the first half. It’s enough to make the difference in a game where we’ll count the number of punts on one hand.

“We didn’t feel good,” Mahomes said this week about the Patriots’ loss earlier this year. “We didn’t play our best, especially early in the game. And when you play teams of this caliber, with this much history of knowing how to win and capitalizing on people’s mistakes, you can’t come back and win games like that.”

“For us, we have to learn from that, know we can’t make those mistakes. It’s going to be a dogfight for the entire game.”

Can he outduel the Patriots’ secondary this time? Philip Rivers never looked comfortable last week and New England’s defensive unit heads in with momentum. The Patriots know how to create takeaways in the playoffs. It’s imperative Mahomes puts those demons behind them by striking early and often in the first half.

2. Can Sony Michel outduel Damien Williams?

You might be surprised to know all four of the Chiefs’ touchdowns last week came on the ground. After releasing Kareem Hunt last month, many felt their rushing game would struggle but Williams has proven up to the task. The fifth-year player has stepped in admirably, posting a higher yards per carry average than Hunt (5.1 to 4.6) and two 100-yard rushing efforts. (That included 129 yards against the Colts last week). Hunt, by comparison, had just one 100-yard rushing game this year despite his speed and explosiveness.

Is that more because of the Chiefs’ offensive line or is it Williams himself? The answer is a little bit of both. But the Patriots’ defense will offer a stiffer test than the Colts’ front line. New England held Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon to just 15 rushing yards and the Chargers to 19 total. Ranked 11th against the run, allowing 112.3 rushing yards per game over the course of a full season that number drops to 65.0 when you include just the last three weeks.

Kansas City, meanwhile, has a rushing defense that ranked 27th in the NFL. It provides a make-or-break opportunity for rookie Sony Michel to put up some big numbers once again after a masterful 129-yard, three-touchdown performance last week. Michel, who lost part of his season due to injury, has been left in the shadows while other rookies like Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley have taken center stage. But they’re not playing this late into January. Michel might be the most important person on the field for a Patriots offense that finally appeared to loosen up with the chains constantly moving on the ground.

3. All Tyreek, all the time

Tyreek Hill was unhinged the last time these teams played. Seven catches, 142 yards and three touchdowns almost singlehandedly kept the Chiefs in the game. Last week’s postseason contest was a bit more pedestrian (eight catches, 72 yards) but a bounce-back performance should be expected.

Travis Kelce may be the Chiefs’ most reliable receiver but Hill is the one who can score at any given moment. The fastest player on the field can get more yards after the catch than anyone else in this game when given space and he’s already proved he can outrun the Patriots’ secondary.

This 75-yard touchdown play from the first matchup truly highlights the explosiveness of the Chiefs’ offense when both he and Mahomes are on the same page. It’s why the Patriots can’t fall behind in this game but the Chiefs will never feel like they’re out of it.

X-Factor: Kicking Game

Stephen Gostkowski is one of the game’s most reliable kickers. But a 27-for-32 season obscured the fact he was just six-for-11 on kicks over 40 yards in length.

During a year where long field goals have become the norm, not the exception, that may give the edge to another changing-of-the-guard figure: 23-year-old Harrison Butker. Butker was eight-for-11 on kicks 40 yards and longer while nailing a 54-yarder just a few weeks ago against Seattle. He also has the advantage of kicking within his own stadium during a night where the wind will make a difference (forecast to be 10-15 mph).

One miss from either kicker could be all that’s needed to determine the outcome.

Final Analysis

Conventional wisdom says the Chiefs should come out on top in this one. It’s a youthful team playing at home and hungry for revenge after their national stub-a-toe moment against the Patriots earlier this year. Andy Reid, 1-4 in championship games is too good a head coach to get shut out of the Super Bowl with this team.

And yet. The Patriots, labeled as rare underdogs have embraced that mentality with a bear hug. Julian Edelman’s Twitter posted a hype video followed by T-Shirts fans could order with the hashtag BETAGAINSTUS. It’s the type of us against the world mentality that plays well within a Bill Belichick locker room and the same type of emotional boost the Eagles used against them in Super Bowl LII (with great success, I might add).

Add in Tom Brady, who seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder amid criticism his play has slipped at 41 and it’s hard to count the Patriots out. They need everything to break right for them to pull this out but we’ve seen that type before from them in the postseason, haven’t we?

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

The Saints are slight favorites to take the Vince Lombardi Trophy

The cream has risen to the top. This weekend’s conference championship games feature perhaps the most loaded final four in NFL history. The quarterbacks alone provide a truckload of storylines: Tom Brady attempts to put a stranglehold on the GOAT label by making his ninth Super Bowl; MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes tries to extend his historic season for one more game; Drew Brees seeks to put an exclamation point on his Hall of Fame career as a newly minted 40-year-old; and Jared Goff seeks to take the next step into superstardom.

Here’s a look at the latest Vegas odds heading into the weekend, as the NFL’s final four eye Super Bowl LIII. 

Super Bowl Odds

New Orleans Saints 7/4

The Saints remain the slight Vegas favorites. But before we give them the nod over the Rams thanks to their Dome-field advantage, let’s remember that two of their three losses this season came at home. 

Kansas City Chiefs 13/5

KC has painted a masterpiece this season thanks to the wizardry of Mahomes and his array of weapons, including the electrifying Tyreek Hill. Andy Reid could exorcise a career’s worth of postseason demons with two more wins.

New England Patriots 7/2

Of the four teams left standing, the Patriots have the most losses, with five. But does anyone have the courage to bet against Old Man Brady after his flawless performance against the Chargers?  

Los Angeles Rams 7/2

It’s strange to call a dominant three-loss team an underdog, but that’s where we are with the Rams, who feature the NFC’s top offense as well as the Defensive Player of the Year in the unblockable Aaron Donald.  

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Patriots at Bills

Letdown, anyone? That could be the biggest obstacle for the resurgent New England Patriots as they head to western New York on Monday night to play the reeling Buffalo Bills. The Patriots have dominated the rivalry against the Bills, who have scored the fewest points in football, are down to their third quarterback and could be without their best offensive player.

To play this game at FanPicks…click here

The Patriots have rebounded from a slow start to rip off four consecutive victories, moving to their accustomed spot at the top of the AFC East after winning slugfests over Kansas City and Chicago the past two weeks. “It’s always tough with them up there,” New England coach Bill Belichick said of playing in Buffalo. “We know that. I mean, we know it’s going to be tough. We talked about it but talking about it is the easy part. It’ll be dealing with it Monday night that will be the hard part.” The Bills must find a way to solve future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who owns a staggering 28-3 mark against the Bills — the most by any quarterback against another opponent. Buffalo has been limited to 13 points or fewer in five of its seven games and could be without starting running back LeSean McCoy, who remained in the league’s concussion protocol on Friday.

TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Patriots -14. O/U: 44

ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (5-2): Brady rebounded from a 133-yard effort in a loss at Detroit in Week 3 to guide New England to four wins in a row, posting a passer rating of 102-plus in each of the past three victories. Brady likely will be without rookie running back Sony Michel, who rushed for 316 yards and four touchdowns in a three-game span before suffering a knee injury in last week’s 38-31 victory at Chicago. The return of Julian Edelman from suspension and addition of Josh Gordon has bolstered a passing game that hopes to have tight end Rob Gronkowski back after he sat out a week ago. New England ranks 25th overall in total defense (389.9 yards) and against the pass (275.9).

ABOUT THE BILLS (2-5): Rookie quarterback Josh Allen is injured and Nathan Peterman has been benched, so Derek Anderson will hope for improvement against New England after a shaky season debut in which he threw for 175 yards and was intercepted three times. “They’ve got a good defense,” said Anderson. “They’ve got a good scheme to try and take away guys and who they think are going to be our biggest threats and take away the things that we do well.” Not only is McCoy’s status up in the air, but backup running back Chris Ivory was limited in practice Thursday and Friday after hurting his hamstring on Wednesday. Buffalo’s defense has exelled against the pass, allowing 210.1 yards per game.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Brady has 16 touchdowns and two interceptions in his last six games at Buffalo.

2. McCoy has at least 100 yards from scrimmage in five straight games against New England.

3. Gronkowski has 12 touchdowns in 13 games versus the Bills.

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Pats look to bounce back against familiar foe

For teams that face each other only once every four years, the Patriots and Lions actually know each other pretty well entering Sunday night’s game. After all, Detroit head coach Matt Patricia learned from New England head coach Bill Belichick as his defensive coordinator for the last six seasons.

That experience perhaps gives Patricia a leg up on other coaches facing New England; but it certainly means that Belichick and Tom Brady have a pretty good idea what to expect from Patricia. And no one tailors their game plan to their opponent better than the Patriots.

The Patriots have won seven of the 11 all-time meetings with the Lions, and have won the last four in the series, all since Brady took over as New England’s quarterback. In fact, the Lions’ last win, on Nov. 23, 2000, actually marked Brady’s NFL debut. He went 1-for-3 for 6 yards mopping up in a 34–9 loss.

New England at Detroit

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 23 at 8:20 p.m. ET

TV: NBC

Spread: Patriots -7

Three Things to Watch

1. How the Pats attack Patricia’s defense

When in New England, Patricia’s defenses generally gave up yards but not points. In a small sample of two games in Detroit, it’s been the opposite, as the Lions rank 31st in points allowed but 17th in yards allowed. They’ve also been gashed by opponents on the ground to the tune of 179.5 yards per game, worst in the NFL. Can the Patriots, who prefer to have Brady throwing the ball and average just 3.5 yards per rush, take advantage of that? Or will they stick to what they do best and possibly put Brady in harm’s way against a pass rush that has eight sacks, third in the NFL through two games? We’ll see, but it won’t help the Lions if cornerback Darius Slay can’t play after leaving last week’s game with a concussion.

2. Which Matthew Stafford will we get?

After throwing four interceptions against the Jets in the season opener, the Detroit quarterback bounced back with a big game at San Francisco (34-of-53, 347 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). Stafford has cut down on the interceptions over the last two seasons, so odds are the opener was just a rough night and not a sign of things to come. But he has little experience facing Belichick’s defenses, having played only one game against New England in his career. It wasn’t pretty, either: 18-of-46 for 264 yards and one interception in a 34–9 loss in 2014.

3. Josh Gordon’s New England debut

Belichick and the Pats have a long history of trying to turn other teams’ trash into treasure. Sometimes it works (Randy Moss, Corey Dillon)… sometimes it doesn’t (Kellen Winslow, Chad Johnson). Can the legendary (mythical?) Patriot Way get Gordon back on track? Since leading the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards (in just 14 games) in 2013, Gordon has played in just 11 games due to substance abuse problems. When he showed up late for work last week complaining of a hamstring injury, the Browns had had enough and traded him to New England for a fifth-round pick. Now he’s supposedly healthy and ready to go. He could be a big weapon for Brady, but he’s five years removed from being a reliable target. Time will tell.

Final Analysis

There’s more pressure here on the Lions to avoid an 0–3 start than there is on the Patriots; even stumbling out of the gate 1–2 would hardly hurt their playoff chances in the weak AFC East. But always hard to bet on New England to lose two in a row, especially if Detroit’s secondary is shorthanded without Darius Slay.

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Complete AFC East Preview

Here is a look at what you can expect from the Pats, Bills, Dolphins and Jets this season…

New England Patriots

This offseason seemed to have the most drama, off-the-field madness and media — social, print, television, blog, whatever — frenzy of any before it. Or was if the Deflategate one? Or the Spygate one? Or the “Patriots are going to go 19-0” one? Really, the amount of off-the-field friction — perceived, real, all of the above — is basically this organization’s normal by now. So for as much panic as resides in New England over the Super Bowl loss and the breakdown in chemistry, the Patriots still suffered just a one-score loss to the Eagles because the defense simply couldn’t make a stop.

If any of the deficiencies on that side of the ball can be cleaned up, this should again be one of the best teams in the AFC and a Super Bowl contender. The division appears to have an emerging threat in Buffalo, which made the playoffs last year, but so did the Dolphins the prior year before fizzling out. There isn’t a real challenger until someone else wins the division, and that hasn’t happened in nearly a decade.

So we should see another strong season from the Patriots, provided Brady stays healthy. Between the lines, coach Bill Belichick and his staff still have enough talent on hand to continue their dynasty and earn the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl championship.

Most of the contenders seem to be emanating from the South, as the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans all have good young cores with the type of talent to make things interesting. The Steelers, Chiefs and Chargers should also be threats, and if Baltimore can solve its issues on offense, they’re in that mix, too.

So, of course, the Patriots aren’t a slam dunk to make it back to the AFC Championship Game, but do you really want to put your money down that they won’t? Didn’t think so.

Buffalo Bills

While making the playoffs for the first time since 1999 was cause for dancing in the streets in Western New York, Bills fans are bracing for a step back. Even though former Bills QB Tyrod Taylor had his limitations, he was experienced, and he had a track record (22-20) of moderate success. If AJ McCarron can lend some stability at the quarterback position until Josh Allen is ready, and if Buffalo’s defense can improve at stopping the run, the Bills could make a push for a return to the postseason. But they still play in the AFC East where the Patriots reign, and their schedule (five of the first seven games are on the road) won’t make a fast start very easy.

Miami Dolphins

Coach Adam Gase has spent two years clearing out players he didn’t feel fit with his program. Stephen Ross might start thinking about some housecleaning himself if his team remains perennially stuck in the NFL’s middle class (or worse) for the 11th straight year under his ownership. Gase, though, has gotten what he wanted — a collection of “his guys” on the roster and coaching staff, captained by a quarterback he trusts and the expectation that RB Frank Gore, G Josh Sitton and WR Danny Amendola will provide leadership that was sorely needed.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to really add a lot of veteran players, and it was probably the right time for us because we’ve got those guys that are in their second and third year,” Gase says. “Having some guys that can make a positive impact and show the right way to do things, that’s really what we needed.” So is recapturing the magic of Gase’s first Dolphins season with another playoff appearance.

New York Jets

What would represent adequate progress for this Jets team as the rebuilding process continues? Would six wins be enough for coach Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan to stick around? That is debatable. More important than wins, however, could be the development of Sam Darnold at quarterback. He doesn’t have to be the Week 1 starter. But he has to demonstrate some growth in whatever action he gets. And maybe he doesn’t get the starting job until just after midseason, like Jared Goff with the Rams in 2016. There would be nothing wrong with that, as long as he looks like he belongs by the end of the season. And if he belongs, then it’s safe to say that his coach will be back for a fifth season.

Download the FanPicks Fantasy App. Click on the links below.

Posted in NFL

NFL Season Preview:

 2016 AFC East Fantasy Football Season Preview

While the start of the season is quickly approaching, we’ll be providing insights and predictions on each NFL divisions in the league. We’ll begin by the AFC East first, a Patriot’s total domination for the past decade. FanPicks will be providing  you this 2016 AFC East Fantasy Football Season Preview, exclusive from FanPicks, home of the cross sports fantasy contest.

The patriots have been AFC East champions for 7 years in a row now and have occupied the 1st spot for 12 of the last 13 years. But will this domination remain this year with their superstar QB Tom Brady being suspected for the first four games of the

For the past seven seasons — and 12 of the last 13 — the Patriots have finished in first place. But will they be able to keep up despite their superstar QB Tom Brady  missing the first four games of the season?

 

New England Patriots

Brady will only be back in Week 5 due to the four games suspension he will serve for the Deflatgate at the start of the season. The Pats will remain favourites and could easily go 3-1 or worst 2-2 during that period. We’ve seen what an angry Tom Brady can do and he could definitely come back and dominate like he did last year.

Definitely expect the Pats to make another Super Bowl push and get their revenge on a “Manning-less’’ Denver Broncos team.

New York Jets

The Jets were the only winning record team in the NFL that did not make playoffs last year. Their talent can definitely shake things up in the division and expect them to win close to 10 games once more. They were already one of the most improved team last year. We can say that there’s reason to believe in the Jets. The future is pretty bright for this team.

 

Buffalo Bills

With not much of a change expected in the standing’s order, it may be another year for the Bills to add to the longest active playoff drought by any team in major professional sports. Let’s face it, they’re far from the Patriots, not as good as the Jets but much better than the Dolphins.  Expect Buffalo to finish with a 7-9 or 8-8 record.

 

Miami Dolphins

Unfortunately the Dolphins, they haven’t made the playoffs in 7 years. They’ve only finished 2nd 4 times during the 14-year span period. They have a pretty big uphill battle in front of them and the the drought may be continuing until they get busy with Free Agency and Trade deadlines.

Posted in NFL

NFL Fantasy News

Tom Brady’s Suspension

With so much happening already this week in the National Football League with the NFL Draft, the football world was stunned when a 3 judge panel overturned Tom Brady’s NFL appeal of his 4 game suspension. This was certainly a huge victory for Roger Goodell, the most powerful man in professional football. Tom Brady’s suspension in the so-called Deflategate case not only captivated the nation this week but also sent a message to other top players and all organizations. This recap of the most recent events surrounding the controversy is brought to you by FanPicks.com.

Tom Brady's Suspension

Over the years, the top sports leagues battled against some of their elite players in different aspects surrounding the integrity of their sport. Look at the MLB’s issues with Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez that were extremely publicized. However, a showdown between questionably the most decorated quarterback of all time and the NFL around the manipulation of the air pressure ever happened.

This controversy even drew analysis from physicists that believed Goodell’s judgment was inadequate and raised a lot of questions about the fairness of the game.

It did not only impact Tom Brady’s career but also the Patriots’ organization as well as their owner, Robert Kraft who used to be great friends with the commissioner. The Patriots not only were penalized with a $1 million fine but also lost draft picks.

Lawyers even challenged the decision at the highest judicial level and argued that Brady was definitely unfairly suspended. With the league allowing him to finish the entire 2015 season including the playoffs, the NFL ruled that they were actually not severe enough with the Brady case.

The two Patriots employees that deflated the balls below the legal limit were not penalized at all unlike what the public opinion is suggesting.

This incident, stemming back from January 2015, will surely have bookmakers reassessing their odds for the start of their season and perhaps, the results of the next campaign since the Patriots’ 15 year domination may come to an halt this fall.

 

Posted in NFL

Fantasy Football NFL Draft

With the upcoming NFL Draft, it’s this time of the year where we take a look at the needs for every team this off-season to improve in the next few year. FanPick will be providing a special mock draft contest on April 28th 2016.  Let’s take a look at what requirements need to be addressed for the AFC East division teams in the fantasy football NFL Draft.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills were having issues with their offense this time last year. The upgraded offense is now the best part of the the team, while  their powerful defense took a dive this past season. Ooooh things have changed in Buffalo! Coach Rex Ryan needs to fix his defensive squad front seven. With Mario Williams gone, a defensive end is not a bad option. The Bills were also unable to re-sign Nigel Bradham. Is spot as linebacker will need to be fixed during the draft as well.

Top 2 round picks: 19th and 49th selections.

Miami Dolphins

Miami as a clear idea of his needs for the draft. First, they have to replace the hole left by running back Lamar Miller during the off-season. They also have two openings at corneback, one as a starter and the other one to play nickel. Another option would be at the guard position, but it should fall behind the previous two positions.

Top 2 round picks: 13th and 42nd selections.

New England Patriots

The Patriots have a short-term answer at the running back spot, which mean a young talent to refresh it is not out of the question. Coach Bill Belichick can never have enough cornerbacks on his squad. With 2014 first-round pick Dominique Easley released, a penetrating 3-technique could help on the inside of the defensive line. New England will unfortunately forfeit his first-round pick due to the deflate-gate debacle.

Top 2 round picks: 60th and 61st selections.

New York Jets

The Jets are likely to draft at least two starters for next year. An edge rusher who can develop into an every-down, 3-4 outside linebacker would be a possibility. The right side of the O-Line would need help as well, with right tackle Breno Giacomini and right guard Brian Winter not doing the job. They could also pursue a quarterback, especially if Ryan Fitzpatrick stay unsigned until then.

Top 2 round picks: 20th and 51st selections.

 

Posted in NFL

Chandler Jones Trade Review

On March 15 2016, the New England Patriots traded defensive end Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals for Jonathan Cooper and the Cardinals’ second-round pick (61).

Jones, who led the Patriots with 30 sacks over the past three years was assumed to be a big piece of the puzzle moving forward in New England. While Cooper, who has been a major bust at guard since being drafted 7th overall in 2013 was slated to move to center for 2016 in hopes of saving his NFL career.

When the trade first broke, everyone freaked out and said “Wow, Chandler Jones to the Cardinals!? Did the Pats get duped in a deal for once!?” That quickly turned into, “well Jones has off-field issues and they lost a top pick due to deflate gate so it’s actually a smart move by the Pats”.

A typical reaction when the subject is a organization with such a tremendous track record of success. It’s hard to ever fault the Pats for any moves they make because even when they don’t look good at first, they often end up turning out quite well. I think we’ve all learned to shut our mouths on that front.

But I must speak up on this trade. I will not be another “yes-man”, one of the fellow “another solid move for the Pats” guys. We subliminally wear rose coloured glasses at anything Belichick or the Pats do, but I had a moment of clarity and managed to shed them for a second and immediately realized…Cards fans must be ecstatic about this move.

Think of the Cardinals defense swarming all around in a sea of red. All they were missing was a pass rush. That’s pretty much all anyone has talked about this off-season regarding the Cardinals. Tyrann Mathieu’s health, and getting a pass-rush. They didn’t land any rushers in free agency, so the draft was all that was left. But, how much could a rookie pass-rusher really help them? Four to eight sacks is a successful year for a rookie. Jones had 12.5 last season, including 4 forced fumbles.

Arizona got as far as they did this season with the late addition of Dwight Freeney as their sack specialist. He did well with 8 sacks of his own in just 11 games, but he is now another year older (36) and cannot anchor a team like he once did. Freeney still remains a free agent.

The Pats signed Chris Long in hopes of replacing some of Jones’ production, and will surely address the position in the draft. The Cardinals signed Evan Mathis. At this point in their careers Long is hoping he can still play in the NFL, while Mathis graded out 2015 as one of the best run-blockers in the league and won a Super Bowl starting for the Denver Broncos.

Arizona wins again.

Posted in NFL