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.

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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?

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Todd Gurley
Source: Harry How / Getty Image North America

A rematch of heavyweights set to brawl in the Big Easy for a ticket to Super Bowl LIII

The Los Angeles Rams make their second trip to the Crescent City to battle the New Orleans Saints this season as the top two seeds meet in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. The Rams (14-3) and Saints (14-3) find themselves one victory away from a spot in Super Bowl LIII after taking care of business at home last week in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

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Los Angeles trampled Dallas 30-22 out on the West Coast last Saturday. The Rams’ tandem of C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley piled up 238 rushing yards and three touchdowns while averaging more than six yards per carry (on 39 total attempts). Los Angeles controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage, limiting Dallas to just 50 rushing yards, and dominated time of possession (36:13 to 23:47).

New Orleans stumbled through the first quarter of its game this past Sunday against Philadelphia. Drew Brees threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage and the Eagles jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead. But a Marshon Lattimore pick of Nick Foles started to turn the tide, as the Saints’ offense found its footing and the defense shut Philadelphia out the rest of the way. After a shaky start, the Brees-to-Michael Thomas connection got going as New Orleans went on to score the final 20 points of the game.

These two teams met in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome back in Week 9 as the Saints won a high-scoring affair 45-35. The offenses combined for 970 yards with Brees (346 yards, 4 TDs) and Jared Goff (391, 3) both filling up the stat sheet. Thomas (211 yards) also made his presence felt as New Orleans handed the Rams their first loss of the season. That game ended up being the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

NFC Championship: Los Angeles at New Orleans

Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3:05 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Spread: Saints -3.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Michael Thomas vs. Rams’ secondary

Last week against Philadelphia, Thomas hauled in 12 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown. The receptions were his highest since Week 9 when he went for 211 and a score on 12 grabs against the Rams. Will the All-Pro continue to have success against Los Angeles’ defense?

The Rams’ secondary will include a key component who was missing from the teams’ previous matchup. Starting cornerback Aqib Talib will start this Sunday after missing half of the regular season (Weeks 4-12) because of an ankle injury.

How much of a difference will Talib make? In the nine games (including last week’s playoff win) Talib has played this season, Los Angeles is giving up 206.3 passing yards and 17.7 points per game. Without him, those numbers jump to 272.6 and 30.8.

Additionally, no one should forget about the on-going squabble between Rams’ cornerback Marcus Peters and Saints’ head coach Sean Payton. Those two bantered during the first meeting in November. The feisty rhetoric continued this week. Despite what Peters mentioned, it seems unlikely that these two will sit down together to enjoy some gumbo. Will the Saints’ receivers go out and back up their coach’s trash talk?

2. Todd Gurley/C.J. Anderson vs. Saints’ front seven

Gurley’s production dipped toward the end of the regular season as he dealt with a knee injury that caused him to miss the last two games. Before that he failed to gain 50 rushing yards in Weeks 14 or 15, but he did remain a factor in the passing game (combined 13 catches for 106 yards).

But the positive for the Rams was that Gurley’s absence opened up an opportunity for C.J. Anderson, who the team signed following his release by Carolina. The former 1,000-yard rusher showed he was still capable of carrying the load, as he went for nearly 300 yards in the final two games of the regular season and then led the team with 123 in the Divisional Round win over Dallas. Not to be outdone, Gurley showed he was plenty healthy by going for 115 and averaging a robust 7.2 yards per carry against the Cowboys.

The duo will look to keep things going against a New Orleans defense that finished second in the regular season vs. the run (80.2 ypg). In the first meeting, the Rams managed 92 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries with Gurley responsible for most of the damage (68 yards, TD, 5.2 ypc). Anderson wasn’t with Los Angeles then but you can pretty much expect head coach Sean McVay will call on both of his backs on Sunday.

3. Saints’ offensive line vs. Rams’ defensive line

New Orleans has done a superb job of keeping Drew Brees upright. He took all but a small percentage of the snaps from center in 15 games during the regular season with opponents registering a total of 17 sacks. No other quarterback started as many games yet was sacked so few times this season. To put it another way, he was sacked during just 3.4 percent of his pass attempts. That’s the second-lowest rate in the NFL even though Brees attempted nearly 500 passes (489, 16th).

Los Angeles has a formidable trio that anchors its defensive line. It starts with Aaron Donald, the All-Pro who is the front-runner to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight year after racking up 20.5 sacks, 25 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in the regular season. Ndamukong Suh has done his part clogging things in the middle while Michael Brockers chips in as the other starting defensive end. These three have started all 17 games together and are tasked with making plays behind the line of scrimmage and getting pressure on Brees, even if it doesn’t result in a sack. Their effectiveness will dictate how the linebackers are used by veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

Can the Saints’ offensive line hold up against the Rams’ fearsome threesome? Three Saints’ linemen were flagged for holding versus the Eagles. Andrus Peat struggled in particular, with two holding calls against him. He is expected to play Sunday in spite of his broken hand, which clearly hampered him last week. Considering that Donald leads the NFL in sacks and tackles for a loss, New Orleans cannot let him dominate a the point of attack and take over the game, even if that means double-teaming him.

Final Analysis

The NFC bracket held to form to give us a No. 1 vs. No. 2 championship game. As a result, fans will witness two evenly matched teams that are tied for the best records in the NFL. If the regular-season matchup foreshadows what will happen in this one, another high-scoring contest awaits.

But this game appears headed for a closer finish than what transpired back in November. The Saints had a 21-point lead late in the first half before a field goal made it 35-17. The Rams battled all the way back to tie the game with less than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter only to watch New Orleans score the next 10 points over a three-minute span. Sunday’s matchup figures to stay tight for the duration and may even need overtime to decide the winner.

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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.  

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

NFL Conference Championships Stacks

 

With only a two game slate, it is key to identify and pick the best stack of the weekend to have any chance of placing in a NFL Daily Fantasy Tournament. Its down to the favorites and when everyone has strong defenses, every stack has the potential for boom or bust. For that reason you need to pick based on ownership rather than projection.

 

Lets look at the stacks:

 

Palmer and Fitz:

 

Coming off a hot performance last week, I think this will be one of the highest owned stacks of the weekend. Don’t get me wrong, Larry Fitzgerald is one of the most clutch playoff performers, however and he has great synergy with Palmer right now. But he performed too well last week and I don’t think he will do that again. If he does then the Cardinals will move on to the Super Bowl but the Panthers are just too strong. However, many others people may agree that it is not a great matchup, which can bring the ownership down. My verdict: FADE.

 

Newton and Olsen:

 

The biggest indicator of a players ownership is their performance the previous week. People just love to make their picks on what is the most fresh in their mind, and whats fresh in their mind here is Newton’s disappointment last week— of course I mean fantasy wise… the Panthers had a great game against the Seahawks last week. While the potential MVP will never be lowly owned, I do think he will be lower than normal and the Newton Olsen connection has great upside potential. My verdict: PICK.

 

Brady and Gronk/Edelman:

 

You can go either way with this stack. Edelman will rack up the targets, receptions, and yardage a bit faster but Gronk is the superior red zone threat. They as well as Brady had a great game last weekend. However, they are facing a much stronger defense here. In terms of ownership, I expect them to be highly owned, and rightfully so with more playoff experience than any other team. I’m avoiding it however for a lower owned stack with a higher upside. My verdict: FADE.

 

Manning and Thomas/Sanders:

 

We have seen very little out of Peyton Manning this year. He has had good and bad game play performances but he has had all bad fantasy performances. Their team has adopted a different style of offense which has destroyed his ability to put up big numbers. Thomas and Sanders have had their moments with Oswieller running the offense, but not Manning. I think this will be the lowest owned stack of the week— which makes it the stack with the most potential profit. Usually you only want to stack with one receiver but in a week with such few options, I don’t mind tossing both of them in there to hedge you’re bets a little bit. You shouldn’t expect these players to put up big numbers but when you are picking based on ownership— in the slight chance they do, you may win big. My verdict: PICK.

Posted in NFL

Fanpicks.com NFL Playoff Saturday AFC Wildcard

Fantasy Football Picks

 

On Saturday January 9th the NFL Playoffs kick off with the AFC Wildcard game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston TexansFanpicks.com is proud to announce its RotoPicker free to use tool, which allows you to create winning line ups and dominate your fantasy football competition.  Play the most exciting contest, including the newest $10K Grand Action and Point Spread contests only at Fanpicks.com the premiere daily fantasy football site.

 

The AFC Wildcard game will be broadcast on ESPN TV at 4:35 EST.  In their initial faceoff way back in Week 1 of the NFL Season; the Kansas Chiefs posted a 27-20 victory over the Texans.  The Texans trailed 27-9 through the first three quarters and then came together to dominate the fourth quarter. Despite their valiant effort, the Chiefs Alex Smith connected for 243 passing yards for three touchdowns.  On the other hand Brian Hoyer had 236 yards with a touchdown and an interception.  The chiefs were able to capitalize on a +2 turnover margin.

 

The Chiefs have started their after burners winning ten straight games on the road to this AFC Wildcard game.  Recently, the Chiefs beat Pittsburgh by 10 points and won over Denver by 16 points.  One of the reasons the Chiefs have been on a winning run is due in part to their defence; who has been limiting scoring to under 18 points per game.  The Chief’s offence leaves much to be desired as Alex Smith is a dink and dunk passer who has leveraged the resurgence in the Chiefs running game.

While the Houston Texans showed doubt and struggle out of the gates, they nonetheless took control of the AFC South division by winning three straight and seven of their past nine games. This is another team that has been carried by a very good defense. Houston is third in total defense and third against the pass. The Las Vegas oddsmaker projects this to be a very low scoring game with an over under of 40 points.

The Texans defense has played very well down the stretch. They have allowed a total of 22 points over their past three games. Alex Smith struggled last week in their home win against the Raiders and could have issues with his confidence as he is a quarterback with very little success in the post season.

Play Houston Texan Defense

 

Posted in NFL

Kansas City Chiefs versus Houston Texans Real Money NFL Playoffs Fantasy Picks 1-9-2016

The Wildcard round of the NFL playoffs get underway with the Houston Texans hosting the Kansas City Chiefs. One day fantasy league GM’s can tune to ESPN TV on Saturday January 9th at 4:35PM Eastern Time to track the results of their real money roster picks.

 

These teams have a history during the 2015 campaign as they met in Week 1 with Kansas City earning the 27-20 victory on the road. Houston did outgain the Chiefs and that was due in part to a pick six interception return for the Chiefs. KC built up a 27-9 halftime lead and was held scoreless in the second half. Alex Smith passed for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. Brian Hoyer was benched in this game. He threw for 236 yards hitting on 18 of 34 passes with a touchdown and pick.

 

Kansas City has closed the season strongly winning ten straight games. This came before a five game losing streak as the Chiefs opened the year at 1-5 as their offense sputtered. The Chiefs have the 30th ranked passing attack and are sixth in rushing offense. The defense has carried Kansas City as they rank third in the NFL in scoring defense by allowing 17.9 points per game.

 

Houston was the winner of a weak AFC South division. They closed the year with three straight victories including a clutch 16-10 road win at Indianapolis which put the Texans in control of the division. The Texans rank near the middle in most offensive categories. The defense has been outstanding down the stretch for the Texans that it moved the team to number three in yardage allowed by giving up 310 yards per game.

 

Kansas City Chiefs QB:

 

Alex Smith

 

Known as a dink and dunk passer who is reluctant going deep downfield with passes. The veteran signal caller has completed 65.3% of his throws this year for 3486 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven picks. He threw two picks last week in the win against Oakland. His passing numbers have been futile in recent weeks. Smith has thrown for 191 yards or fewer over his past five games all against losing teams. Alex Smith has not had success in the post season.

 

Kansas City Chiefs RB:

 

Charcandrick West

 

With a season ending injury to Jamaal Charles the Chiefs were scrambling to find a replacement at running back. Second year man Charcandrick West stood out from the backups as he has rushed for 634 yards on 160 carries with four touchdowns. He averaged just 4 yards a carry and contributed in the passing game with 20 catches for 214 yards and a touchdown. He struggled last week with 34 rushing yards on 13 carries.

 

Kansas City Chiefs WR:

 

Jeremy Maclin

 

The veteran wide receiver was a good acquisition for KC in the offseason. He caught 87 passes for 1088 yards with eight touchdowns. Last year Kansas City did not complete a touchdown to a wide receiver. Maclin has a touchdown reception in three straight and five of his past six games.

 

Houston Texans QB:

 

Brian Hoyer

 

The Texans signal caller has completed 60.7% of his passes for 2606 yards with 19 touchdowns and 7 picks. He returned to the lineup last week in the win against Jacksonville as he threw for 249 yards with a touchdown and pick. He missed two games with a concussion. Hoyer has thrown for multiple touchdown throws in seven of his past ten games.

 

Houston Texans RB:

 

Alfred Blue

 

With the season long injury to Arian Foster it was Alfred Blue getting the majority of the carries this year. Blue has rushed for 698 yards on 183 carries and two touchdowns. He rushed for 102 yards on 21 carries on Jacksonville. In their huge win at Indy the running back had 107 rushing yards on 20 carries in Week 15.

 

Houston Texans WR:

 

DeAndre Hopkins

 

The third year pro had his best numbers in 2015 with 111 catches for 1521 yards with 11 touchdowns. He is averaging 13.7 yards per catch. He has caught seven or greater passes in three straight games.

 

NFL Playoff Football Fantasy League Picks

 

 

QB: Brian Hoyer (Texans)

WR: DeAndre Hopkins (Texans)

RB: Charcandrick West (Chiefs)

Posted in NFL