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.

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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.

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Aaron Donald
Source: Getty Image North America

Aaron Donald and the Rams’ defense have dominated the line of scrimmage in their two playoff victories

The Rams are back! While this isn’t exactly “The Greatest Show on Turf,” the Rams are back in the Super Bowl after knocking off the top-seeded Saints 26-23 in overtime in the NFC Championship on Sunday in New Orleans. The win not only marked the franchise’s first conference title since 2001 (back when they were in St. Louis), it also means that for the first time in more than 30 years, the city of Los Angeles will be represented in the Super Bowl.

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Even though there was some questionable officiating on Sunday, credit goes to the Rams who overcame a 13-0 first-quarter deficit to fight back, force overtime, and hand the Saints just their third home loss this season. Next up is a date on Feb. 3 in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face the seemingly unstoppable New England Patriots. Los Angeles has already been installed as the underdog, which should came as no surprise since New England will be making its third straight appearance and fourth in five years.

And most of us remember when these two teams met in the Super Bowl nearly 20 years ago when Bill Belichick/Tom Brady were leading the upstart team against the heavy favorites. Obviously much has changed since then but it seems the roles have been reversed. So can the Rams slay the NFL’s current giant and this time take care of business in Atlanta? Here are five reasons to expect the NFC champion to be the victorious team by the end of Super Sunday.

5 Reasons Why the Los Angeles Rams Will Win Super Bowl LIII

1. The Rams’ emerging pass rush

Even with a stout defensive line led by the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Aaron Donald, Los Angeles finished the regular season in the middle of the pack with 41 sacks (15th). But that has changed during the playoffs where the pass rush has already made an impact.

In their wins over the Cowboys and Saints, the Rams have collected three sacks and nine quarterback hits and also have recorded 12.5 tackles for a loss. On Sunday, Dante Fowler Jr. was the one who was able to put enough pressure on Drew Brees to hit his arm which resulted in the interception that gave the ball to Los Angeles near midfield and resulted in the game-winning field goal by Greg Zuerlein.

In the AFC Championship, Kansas City not only didn’t record a sack of Tom Brady, the Chiefs had just one quarterback hit and were flagged for roughing the passer in a key spot. They did have two interceptions but in the end, Brady still threw for 348 yards in leading his team to victory in overtime. Brady is similar to Brees in that he’s not the most mobile of quarterbacks but he gets rid of the ball quickly and the Patriots’ offensive line has done a good job protecting him. The Rams need to keep bringing the heat with Donald, Fowler, Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers and other rushers so Brady doesn’t pick them apart from the pocket. Consistent pressure also can force Brady to have happy feet and potentially force some throws or make mistakes.

2. Keep it on the ground

Another thing that Los Angeles has done well in January is run the ball, even if Todd Gurley hasn’t been his usual explosive self. The Rams have put up 350 rushing yards and four touchdowns in their two playoff wins, with most of that damage coming against Dallas in the Divisional Round. C.J. Anderson (167 yards, 2 TDs) has come up huge since signing with the team a month ago, and Gurley will get a little more time to let his knee recover from the injury that caused him to miss the last two games of the regular season.

New England was OK against the run in the regular season (112.7 ypg) but has been very good in the playoffs, holding the Chargers and Chiefs to a total of 60 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Game script had a lot to do with this as both teams were playing from behind for most of their games, but Sean McVay knows he can’t simply abandon the run as much as he may want to air it out with Jared Goff. With two solid options to run the ball with, some old-school football could work in Los Angeles’ favor.

3. The Rams can also stop the run

While Wade Phillips’ defense gave up five yards per carry during the regular season, the unit has tightened things up considerably in the playoffs. Dallas and New Orleans managed a total of 98 rushing yards while averaging just 2.3 yards per carry. The longest running play the Rams have surrendered in the postseason is 16 yards.

For New England, rookie Sony Michel was come up huge in the Patriots’ two playoff victories, as he’s piled up 242 yards and five touchdowns on a whopping 53 carries. He averaged a healthy 5.5 yards per attempt against Kansas City and his effectiveness opened up opportunities for fellow running back Rex Burkhead (2 TDs including game-winner vs. Kansas City in overtime) as well as the passing game (Brady completed passes to eight different Patriots in win over Chiefs).

Brady has proven in years past that he can beat teams even without a strong running game but if Los Angeles can make things easier on itself on defense if the Rams can somehow make Michel a non-factor.

4. The offensive line has stood its ground

Not only have the boys up front cleared a path for the rushing attack, they’ve also kept the pocket mostly clean for Goff in recent weeks. He’s been sacked just once in the two playoff victories and the six hits the Saints got on him in the NFC Championship were the most since the Eagles got seven back in Week 15. Goff also has been sharp with his throws and decision-making with just two interceptions over his last five games.

The Patriots’ defense has wreaked havoc this postseason by collecting six sacks and 17 quarterback hits. Even though New England has able to harass Patrick Mahomes on Sunday, it still took overtime to beat a pesky Chiefs team. If the Rams’ offensive line can do its job and give Goff the time he needs to find his receivers downfield, Los Angeles should be able to move the ball against he Patriots.

5. The Rams have made their presence felt in Atlanta through the years

When the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV at the conclusion of the 1999 season, they’re only Super Bowl title thus far, they did so in Atlanta. Since then the Rams have made six trips to Georgia’s biggest city where they’ve won twice and have scored 161 total points. Those games, however, were in the since-demolished Georgia Dome. This will be the Rams’ first appearance in Mercedes-Benz Stadium where they hope to create some more history.

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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.

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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?

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Tom Brady and the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl

In what is seemingly Groundhog’s Day for NFL fans, the New England Patriots are in the Super Bowl once again. Tom Brady somehow managed to throw for almost 300 yards and two touchdowns with an injured hand in a 24-20 victory on Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The defense wasn’t at its best, but it did what it had to and made the stops in the end.

Standing in the Patriots’ way of back-to-back world championships are the Philadelphia Eagles, who come into Super Bowl LII after a thrashing of the Minnesota Vikings. It’s a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX back in 2005, which was won 24-21 by Brady and the Patriots. Don’t forget to reserve your spot for this Sunday FanPicks Super Bowl contest.

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5 Reasons Why the New England Patriots Will Win Super Bowl LII

1. Been there, done that

There is so much involved with the Super Bowl and it’s all old hat for New England. This squad has 10 appearances in the Big Game and while a lot of the players weren’t around for all of them, they know what it takes to win. The Eagles have just a few veterans who have been in this situation, but they are so young that it could be an issue. Halftime is longer and the pregame is run differently. Players in the NFL are creatures of habit and the Patriots have been through it all before.

2. Tom Brady

A stitched-up hand is not going to stop New England’s quarterback. Outside of a few poor throws, Brady looked stellar against the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense, completing 26 of 38 attempts for 290 yards in AFC Championship Game win over Jacksonville. Brady is 27-9 in the postseason, throwing for 68 touchdowns to just 31 interceptions in those games. For the most part, good quarterbacks win Super Bowls and while Nick Foles has been good in his last two starts, he’s no match for the quarterback that already has five Super Bowl rings. If Brady gets time in the pocket, then the Eagles are in trouble.

3. Last hurrahs and haters

It’s no secret that coordinators Josh McDaniels (Indianapolis) and Matt Patricia (Detroit) are leaving for head coaching gigs elsewhere once the season is over. Not that this team needs any more motivation, but I’m sure they’d love to send these guys out with another ring. McDaniels’ offense averages nearly 400 yards per game while Patricia’s defense has some soft spots, but also does what is needed in order to win. The squad also has had to deal with residue from the ESPN article on the dynamic between owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and Brady. America is sick of the Patriots and their winning and you know that also fuels them in what they do. Motivation of this sort is always good especially for a team that enjoys being the heel.

4. No deficit big enough

The Patriots were down 10 points in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game against the Jaguars, but there was no panic and eventually there was a victory. This one came without Rob Gronkowski, who was out due to a concussion and he’s a huge part of the offense. New England’s comeback win over Atlanta in the Super Bowl last year is the biggest in the game’s 51-year history, but not the only such rally this team has pulled off. Teams get mighty conservative against New England in hopes of trying to drain the clock, but it seems like you leave even the slightest crack or time on the clock, Brady and the boys will make you pay. It’s funny because you could almost say they enjoy coming from behind then being front-runners. Every decision you make has to be right in order to slay the Pats.

5. Bill Belichick

The head coach is the best in the sport and is great at taking away what you do well. He’s got two weeks to look over an Eagles squad with a backup quarterback and a secondary that is very vulnerable at times. Belichick (above, right) also has to have the edge over his counterpart, Doug Pederson, who, like his team, is doing this all for the first time. Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette averaged only 3.2 yards per carry on Sunday because Belichick’s preference was to have to Blake Bortles try and beat the Patriots with his arm. Even though Belichick’s personality is dry, his knowledge is endless. He’ll find your weaknesses and exploit them.

Posted in NFL

There is no one the New England Patriots would rather have with the ball in his hands when a game is on the line than Tom Brady, even when his hands are battered and bruised.

Although questionable for the Sunday game against the Jacksonville Jaguars due to a right hand injury, the ageless 40-year-old quarterback proved his mettle again while orchestrating yet another game-winning drive to send New England back to the Super Bowl.

Brady’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola with 2:48 remaining put the Patriots ahead for good in a 24-20 victory against the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium.

New England will meet the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.

All week long, Brady ducked questions from the media about his hand, which required stitches after he was hurt on the practice field Wednesday when he accidentally struck teammate Rex Burkhead’s helmet.

“Well, I said, ‘We’ll see (if I play),'” Brady said while accepting the Lamar Hunt Trophy, awarded to the AFC champion, at midfield after the game. “So how’d it go?”

Following the Patriots’ go-ahead score, Jacksonville faced a fourth-and-15 after driving to the New England 43-yard-line. However, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles’ deep toss down the sideline to Dede Westbrook was broken up by Stephon Gilmore.

“We had a two-minute drive at the end of the game to win the AFC championship, so there’s not a whole lot more you can ask for than that,” a reflective Bortles said.

Amendola finished with seven catches for 84 yards and two scores for the Patriots, who extended their own NFL record with an unprecedented 10th trip to the Super Bowl.

“You cherish these moments and opportunities, and I know we’ve had quite a few of them, which we’ve been very blessed to do,” said Brady, who completed 26 of 38 passes for 290 yards and two TDs. “It’s just been an unbelievable run, and I think everyone should be really proud of what we accomplished.”

Last year, New England erased a 28-3 Super Bowl deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime and claim their fifth championship.

“This is what I dreamt about as a fan in the stands just like all of you, and now we have to go to Minnesota and finish the job,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who purchased the Patriots 24 years ago to the day Sunday, told the crowd during the trophy ceremony.

“It’s just been a great year,” Brady added. “It’d be really great if we take care of business in a couple weeks, so we’ll see.”

Bortles threw for 293 yards (23 of 36) and a touchdown, and Leonard Fournette rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries to lead the Jaguars.

Jacksonville was playing in its third-ever AFC title game and its first since 1999.

“(Our locker) room fully expected to win this game, and I think everybody is shocked, disappointed and upset,” Bortles said.

Josh Lambo’s 54-yard field goal with 10:23 left in the third quarter and another from 43 yards seconds into the fourth bumped Jacksonville’s lead to 20-10.

Brady led New England down the field quickly and hit Amendola for a 9-yard touchdown with 8:44 to go to bring the Pats within three.

Bortles marched the Jaguars down the field 76 yards and found a wide-open Marcedes Lewis for a 4-yard touchdown pass at 14:15 of the second quarter, making it 7-3.

With 7:06 to play in the quarter, Fournette’s 4-yard rushing score capped a 77-yard drive to extend Jacksonville’s lead to 14-3.

“We were able to get the lead. Then we did not make enough plays to keep the lead. We had an opportunity at the end of the game to win it, and we did not do that,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said.

Rob Gronkowski’s 21-yard catch on the second play of ensuing drive moved him past Dallas Clark into first place on the NFL’s all-time postseason receiving yardage list for a tight end.

Minutes later, Gronkowski left the game with a head injury after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jaguars safety Barry Church at the Jacksonville 40-yard line with 1:23 remaining before halftime.

Although Gronkowski was deemed questionable to return, he never did.

“It’s hard when you lose such a critical part of your team and offense, and hopefully he’s OK,” Brady said of Gronkowski. “It was a tough shot he took, and he’s as tough as they come.”

Church was flagged for unnecessary roughness, helping to set up a 1-yard TD run by James White three plays later to bring the Patriots within four at the break.

New England led 3-0 after one quarter.

Posted in NFL

5 Reasons Why the Atlanta Falcons Will Win Super Bowl LI

The Atlanta Falcons could not have provided a more fitting end to the NFL franchise’s storied 25-year history inside the Georgia Dome. The final chapter being a dominant 44-21 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game to earn a trip to Houston to face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. It marks just the second Super Bowl berth in the Falcons’ 51-year existence. This also provides Atlanta with an opportunity for redemption, almost two decades after losing to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII. It’s their time to win Super Bowl 51.

It won’t be easy as second-year head coach Dan Quinn and the Falcons have a very tall task in front of them. They must face a Patriots team in search of its second Super Bowl win in three years, led by the quintessential head coach of the modern era in Bill Belichick. Fortunately, a poised Atlanta team seems to have everything in place to meet that challenge head on. In fact, the Falcons actually stand a very good chance of hoisting their first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history when all is said and done on February 5 at NRG Stadium in Houston (Enter contest).

1. Scoring Machine

The Atlanta Falcons not only led the NFL in scoring (33.8 ppg) during the regular season, they also set a new franchise record for points (540). That total tied for the eighth most in the history of the league. Atlanta has won six games in a row and has averaged 39 points per game during this span. The Falcons have averaged 40 points in their two playoff victories.

New England allowed the fewest points in the league this season and the Patriots’ offense is certainly no slouch in its own right when it comes to scoring. However, Bill Belichick’s defense has yet to face an offense quite like Atlanta’s. Pittsburgh’s offense wasn’t the same after running back Le’Veon Bell left the AFC Championship Game due to a groin injury. Orchestrated by potential MVP Matt Ryan at quarterback and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons’ attack is a well-oiled scoring machine that can move the football at will and routinely find the end zone against any defense. Just look at the numbers.

2. Matt Ryan is on a Mission

Atlanta’s first-team All-Pro quarterback can take a lot of the credit for the Falcons’ offensive success, and he should. No disrespect to the great Tom Brady, but this has been Ryan’s breakthrough season, which is why he is considered the favorite to win NFL MVP honors. He set new career highs this season for completion percentage (69.9), passing yards (4,944) and touchdown passes (38), while throwing a career-low seven interceptions. Ryan’s 117.1 QB rating was tops in the NFL and 9.26 yards per attempt were far and away the best in the league. He has been even more impressive in the postseason with near-flawless performances in each of Atlanta’s two playoff victories. In those two wins, he has a remarkable 132.5 QB rating and he hasn’t been picked off in a game since early December.

While Brady has been paired against an impressive list of quarterbacks in the Super Bowl over the years, none have entered Super Sunday with as much momentum as Ryan. He has almost effortlessly carved up every defense that has been put in front of him during the Falcons’ current six-game winning streak, accounting for 19 total touchdowns without committing a single turnover. Brady is a Super Bowl legend, but he could meet his match on February 5.

3. Stellar Supporting Cast

Matt Ryan has had plenty of help in getting the Falcons back to the Super Bowl. Julio Jones led the NFL with 100.6 receiving yards per game and even though he’s been dealing with a nagging toe injury, he showed on Sunday why he’s arguably the league’s best pass catcher. He will be a handful for anyone New England lines up against him, including second-team All-Pro cornerback Malcolm Butler. If by chance the Patriots do manage to keep Jones in check, Ryan has proven that he can easily make do with a number of capable targets, including Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. Torching opposing defenses with a wide range of different receivers has been commonplace for Ryan throughout the season.

Despite Atlanta’s affinity for throwing the football, this offense is just as capable and dangerous on the ground. The Falcons finished fifth in the league with 120.5 rushing yards per game thanks to one of the best running back tandems. Devonta Freeman spearheads Atlanta’s running game after posting his second straight 1,000-yard season. Meanwhile, the versatile Tevin Coleman accounted for 11 touchdowns during the regular season and has two more in the playoffs.

Keeping the pocket clean for Ryan and paving the way for the run game is an outstanding group of offensive linemen led by All-Pro center Alex Mack. The Falcons have featured the same starting five up front for every game this season. They are the only team in the NFL to do so, and that continuity should once again pay dividends against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

4. Emergence of a Young Defense

While the Atlanta defense still has its shortcomings, it has come a long way since struggling mightily in the first half of 2016. Growing pains were to be expected for a defense that has featured as many as eight first-or second-year players at times. But this is a group that has matured dramatically over the course of the season, and it is clearly starting to pay off at just the right time. The Falcons’ defense has been particularly impressive during the playoffs, surrendering just 20.5 points per game against two of the NFL’s most dangerous offenses in Seattle and Green Bay. They even managed to hold a red-hot Aaron Rodgers and Packers’ offense scoreless in the first half of the NFC Championship Game.

Rookies Keanu Neal and Deion Jones are quickly evolving into two of the best up-and-coming defenders in the NFL. And while second-year pass-rushing dynamo Vic Beasley Jr. has been relatively quiet so far during the postseason, he is fully capable of wreaking havoc on Super Sunday. His league-leading 15.5 sacks during the regular season should provide all the evidence you need. This is indeed a group that is finally starting to gel and complement the league’s most prolific offense with some outstanding play of its own. If the defense can maintain its recent strong play, this unit is capable of providing Tom Brady and company with a stiff challenge in Super Bowl LI.

5. Mistake-Free Football

Bill Belichick takes a lot of pride in playing mistake-free football. He takes even more pride in exploiting teams that do not take care of the pigskin, capitalizing on every misstep. The Patriots have been particularly opportunistic when it comes to turnovers over the years. It is a big reason for New England’s success, especially in the postseason. The problem is that Atlanta has been solid with its ball security this season, which make things even more difficult on Belichick’s defense.

The Falcons tied the Patriots for the fewest turnovers (11) in the regular season. Atlanta lost just four fumbles, the third-lowest total in NFL history. The Falcons have yet to commit a turnover in the playoffs while the Patriots have coughed it up three times (all vs. Houston) in two games, although they do have five takeaways in those two games. Atlanta has been penalized just six times for 41 yards in the postseason, while New England has been flagged seven times for 60 yards. If the Falcons can continue to play mistake-free football against the Patriots, it only increases their chances of winning by nullifying what has historically been a big advantage for a New England team that is no stranger to Super Bowl success.

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

In Case You Missed It

Cross-Sport Super Bowl Challenge

In case you missed it, FanPicks.com offered up the only Daily Fantasy Sports Cross-Sport Super Bowl Challenge. That’s right! The only Fantasy Football Super Bowl contest on the web! In order to compete in Daily Fantasy Sports, the contest must include at least three events, therefore – toss in a little NBA action and you have yourselves a Super Sunday! What could be more exciting than cheering for Cam Newton to throw a TD and Jeff Teague to drain a three?

As proud parents of this revolutionary Daily Fantasy game, FanPicks.com held their own 30-player contest. As our Sports Insider and DFS Expert I felt the extra pressure to perform. It wasn’t just their Super Bowl…It was mine too! Thankfully I was more like Peyton than Cam even though I chose Newton…and won my game! Let’s take a look at my lineup below to see what approach I took to win a Cross-Sport Contest…(by 10 points)

  • My Roster

crosssportchamplinup

With the Panthers and Broncos both being defensive juggernauts, I knew I had to get my big points from the NBA, and depth players weren’t going to get the job done in the Super Bowl. I had to get big performances from second and third tier players on the court and just keep my head above water on the gridiron.

I was tempted to take Peyton ($5900) at that discount compared to Newton, but I just thought even if stifled, Cam has more plays in his legs than Peyton. If they were both to be shut down at least Newton’s youth and athleticism could allow him to get garbage stats. That’s not usually the case with Manning. That decision paid off at the top of the lineup.

Emmanuel Sanders was the easiest choice for me. Demaryius Thomas has been cold for a while now, and a matchup with Josh Norman and the lack of deep ball ability from Manning meant Thomas would struggle again. Sanders’ short to intermediate ability at finding holes in the defense was tailor-made for Manning at this stage.

Teddy Ginn is the only Panthers WR capable of making a big play, so taking him over the sure-handed Greg Olsen at TE was my investment decision regarding the Panthers receiving core.

The gambles on Funchess and Green were worth their price tag compared to a more expensive say Corey Brown who could’ve easily done nothing just as easily, and doesn’t have a big ceiling either.

On the court…

Kristaps Porzingis was an obvious choice. His multi-category beastliness at $6200 was a must-have in a game where I needed contributions anywhere I could get it.

Amid trade rumours Jeff Teague was due for a big game. He’s been rolling and at only $5700 his big-game ability was right on the money for me.

Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic was my biggest ticket at $7100, but he was in a prime position for major playing time, and again, a multi-category threat.

Checkout my regular game previews and picks for your chance to copy my lineups or just get some advice and win your Daily Fantasy Sports contest!

 

Posted in NBA, NFL

Cross Sport Super Bowl Recap

The tragedy of Daily Fantasy sports is that when the sport season is at its climax, whether it be the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the NBA Championships, Daily Fantasy contests are nowhere to be found. The limitations on DFS require two or more games, where players must be selected from a minimum of 3 different teams. So when the nations focus is all on a single game, Daily Fantasy contests can not be offered.

However, Fanpicks has rectified this issue with their new Cross Sport Daily Fantasy Contests. This involves a contest type where the game slate spans multiple sports so even if there is only 1 NFL game (like on Super Bowl Sunday), a contest can be offered still by adding a couple NBA or NHL games to the slate. In an NFL/NBA cross sport contest you pick a roster of 6 NFL players and 3 NBA players from the game slate while still remaining under the standard $50,000 Fanpicks salary cap.

These groundbreaking contests saw a lot of action this weekend and we are here to tell you what picks made you the first Daily Fantasy Cross Sport Champion.

NFL

There was not a lot of Fantasy Points to go around in this defensive battle at the Super Bowl. The winning Broncos had only 231 yards of total offensive yards. When it comes to such a limited scoring game with only a few viable options at each position, you had to make all the right picks to win your NFL/NBA Cross Sport Tournament.

At Quarterback, you would have been fine with either quarterback you chose (as long as you didn’t take the long shot on Oswieller coming into the game). Newton threw for 265 yards, ran for 45, and threw 1 interception for 10.1 fantasy point. Peyton threw for only 141 yards and threw an interception amounting only 2.64 points. However, since both quarterback performances were so abysmal, you may have benefited by saving the $3000 in salary cap and going for Peyton over Cam, regaining that value as another position.

For running backs, there were 4 viable picks in my mind going in—Anderson, Hillman, Tolbert, and Stewart. Of these picks, Tolbert ended up in the red with -0.2 fantasy points with his pair of fumbles and Hillman had 0 fantasy points. Anderson and Stewart however each scored a touchdown giving them 20 and 9.8 fantasy points respectively. Anderson actually gained such serious value with 4 receptions on top of his 90 rushing yards.

At receiver, there were three receivers who broke the 10 fantasy point barrier, that would have been perfect fills for your 2 receiver slots and utility position in the NFL/NBA Cross Sport roster format. Those three were Corey Brown, Ted Ginn, and Emmanuel Sanders. Each of these three did it with receptions and yards alone as there were no receiving touchdowns in the entire Super Bowl, and the three receivers scored 12.0, 11.4, and 14.3 fantasy points respectively.

The tight end game was very similar to your options at quarterback. You could spend over $7000 for Greg Olsen’s 8.1 fantasy points or you could have spend $3000 in salary for Owen Daniels to score you 2.8 fantasy points and spend the salary elsewhere. I thing you were better off with Daniels but this pick was not a deal-breaker.

NBA

But remember, since it is Cross Sport, your NBA picks determined your fantasy value as well. There was a lot of value to go around in the NBA and it may have been to your benefit to save some salary cap in the NFL and put that towards your premium NBA picks.

Rajon Rondo was the pick of the night leading all NBA players with 36 fantasy points. However, if you were running low on money after your NFL picks, Rondo’s $7500 price may not have appealed to you. Elfrid Payton provided more fantasy value at the guard position with 28 fantasy points but only a price tag of $5500.

At forward there was a lot of fantasy value to be found for cheap prices. Kristaps Porzingis, Will Barton, and Aaron Gordon each earned you over 30 fantasy points with price tags of only $6200, $5900, and $5000 respectively.

Finally, at Center Demarcus Cousins led the list with 33 fantasy points, however with a price tag far beyond the other options at $8900, your other positions may have suffered with the pick of Demarcus Cousins. However, if you picked Jared Sullinger he scored you 24.5 fantasy points while only costing you $5800.

So there is what it took to win the first Exclusive Cross Sport Daily Fantasy offering at Fanpicks. You can learn from these results for future cross sport contests, as there will be plenty of those to come at Fanpicks. Keep an eye out for cross sport when it comes to the NBA Allstar game, the NBA championships, and any other sports championship game.

Posted in NBA, NFL

Thanks to Cam Newton and Von Miller’s dominance, the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will be competing in San Francisco for the title of Super Bowl 50 Champion.

The NFL’s best offensive and the NFL’s most dominant defensive player (save your arguments for JJ Watt) propelled their respective teams to victory a couple of Sundays ago..and that’s an amazing thing.

That may seem obvious, as Cam Newton and Von Miller had historic days…but it’s truly amazing because the of the context of the entire situation. The league’s best players, obviously the best players on their star-studded teams played the best they have maybe ever, in the biggest games of their lives. Everything about the situation is at the pinnacle of sports. And in this day and age…it’s a beautiful thing to witness.

Finances, politics, ownership, coaching, injuries and off-field issues all seem to get in the way of just playing ball at your best, every opportunity you have. So to watch two young, hungry, passionate athletes like Cam Newton and Von Miller ball out…was awesome.

I enjoyed every minute of it and that is why I am looking more forward to this Super Bowl than I have in recent memory.

Posted in NFL

Conference Championship Round Daily Fantasy Football Review

The Conference Championship round tasted bittersweet on multiple levels. As a fan of traditional Fantasy Football, Cam Newton’s 382 total yards and 4 touchdowns put the icing on his 2015 breakout cake, virtually guarantying SuperCam will be over drafted next season. I’ll be waiting on Quarterback once again next year, watching Cam, Russell Wilson and others being taken a round or two early, finding value in the later rounds.

The New England Patriots fan in me couldn’t help but notice the glaring weakness in both the running game and downfield passing game. James White did his best James White impression, looking good enough to contribute as a Daily Fantasy Football value player but requiring a big play or TD in order to help his team win in both an NFL and DFS matchup. White, who finished with a respectable 56 total yards and 5 receptions, allowed several downfield throws from Brady slip through his arms that may have changed the outcome for owners.

The NFL fan side of things couldn’t help but appreciate the drama of this season’s Peyton Manning journey coming to a head with a 2 touchdown, zero interception performance vs. his long time rival. Manning connected with the DFS value play of the day, Owen Daniels on both scores. Daniels presented owners with a cheap option at the TE position, enabling to spend up elsewhere.

As an avid DFS player and fan of sites like Fanpicks.com, Rob Gronkowski certainly returned value for me as the Chuck Norris of the NFL world hauled in 8 passes for 144 yards and a crucial touchdown late in the game. Gronk and Daily Fantasy Football fans have experienced a roller coaster relationship this season but he was without question the top Tight End going into the weekend and didn’t disappoint.

C.J. Anderson broke a 30 yard run in the second half which enabled him to slightly return value with his 90 total yards and 3 receptions. (Remember Ronnie Hillman?) Julian Edelman and Emmanuel Sanders both did just enough to not personally cost you your matchup but neither performed to the level DFS owners have come to expect. Edelman finished with 7 for 53 while Sanders hauled in 5 for 62.

The Greg Olsen and Cam stack has been a smart DFS play all year and this weekend it paid off yet again as Olsen came away with 6 receptions and 113 yards. The DFS tournament play of the week came in the form of, not former Arizona Cardinal Ted Ginn Jr. but of fellow wide out Corey Brown. Brown, aided by an 86 yarder, totaled 113 yards and a touchdown on 4 receptions.

Surprise Performances

Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Palmer was absolutely dreadful on the day, reverting back to the player whom once upon a time was so easy to bet against. Palmer had the best season of his career in 2015 but for Arizona fans and DFS owners who placed faith in the quasi ginger, any positive memories we had disappeared like a fart in the wind as Palmer threw interception after interception, finishing with 4 in total.

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Johnson was widely considered to be a safe play this weekend due to volume but more than delivered on that label, especially in PPR formats. Johnson finished with 9 receptions and a touchdown to go along with his 128 total yards as he finished a clear number one at the RB position this weekend. The Panthers defense was enough of a threat to consider fading Johnson in tournaments but that strategy failed, miserably, just like our next group.

The Arizona Cardinals Wide Receivers

Terrible.

Posted in NFL

Arizona Cardinals vs Carolina Panthers 1/24/16 Preview & Picks

  • At 6:40 pm, the 15-1 Panthers will host the 13-3 Arizona Cardinals in a contest of two true powerhouses.

How can we not be excited? This will be the very first time two Heisman-winning quarterbacks face each other in an NFL playoff game. Cameron Newton, as he likes to be called from time-to-time won it along with a National Championship while at Auburn and the veteran Carson Palmer claimed his trophy while starring at USC over a decade ago.

Both Qbs have been monsters this season and have heavy MVP consideration. Newton may be the favorite as his brash style gets the media all giddy, but Palmer is the better thrower. His aerial distribution has been so impressive, as all four WRs have had moments in the sun.

Larry Fitzgerald leads that group, though he’s been “old and washed-up” for a couple of years now…right. He was an animal on that 75-yard catch and run in OT last week and should get his fair share of chances again today. Josh Norman usually stays on his side and still has Michael Floyd, John Brown and occasionally J.J. Nelson to worry about.

Floyd was a beast himself, scoring a pair of touchdown last week. His size and speed will be VERY hard for guys like Cortland Finnegan or Robert McClain to handle. They are weak nickel backs at this point in their careers, and if Floyd played a full season he would have been among the league leaders at his position.

John Brown gets alot of hype for his flash, but his toughness is so impressive for a smaller receiver and he should eat up his matchup as well.

Rookie sensation RB David Johnson is a little banged up, but he is a tank and should pound out some hard yards against this stout Panthers D. As a former WR, his hands and ability in the open field make him a dangerous weapon, so watch for at least five targets with him coming out of the backfield as they will want to avoid that D-Line,

Tedd Ginn Jr has been fantastic all season for Carolina, but he has been dealing with a knee issue since Week 16 and a matchup with Patrick Peterson may be too much for the smaller Ginn to handle.

Greg Olsen always gets his fair share of targets from Cam Newton. The TE is probably how the Panthers want to attack this All-Star Cardinals D squad as their outside coverage will be tight. Five catches for just under 100 yards and a score is my guess.

Jonathan Stewart (foot, ankle) had himself a day last week against the Seahawks. 19 carries for 106 yards and two TDs versus that defense is no joke, but neither is this Cardinals front-seven. Stewart is pretty consistent and has that big-game ceiling.

AdviceThis will be a hard fought game, but Michael Floyd is in line to be the X-factor with 120 yards and another pair of scores over various Panthers DBs. Larry Fitzgerald is Mr. Playoffs but he could see alot of Josh Norman which may limit his yardage. At RB even as a rookie, David Johnson has been my money man all season.

Posted in NFL