The NFL is down to their “Elite 8” If we learned anything from this season it is this… The NFL is a marathon not a sprint. Teams like Seattle, New England, Baltimore and Green Bay were all out of playoff contention during the year. Do you remember when the media asked Bill Belichick if he thought about benching Tom Brady? Teams coming off a bye week are 70 and 26 in the playoffs. Here is my “Elite 8” NFL, preview and predictions.
Saturday 4:35 PM Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots, NBC– the Ravens are coming off an impressive road win. They defeated the Steelers in the Wild Card Round, 30-17. Joe Flacco was 18-29 for 259 yards, he had two touchdowns and 0 interceptions. In the last 5 playoffs games, Flacco has now thrown 13 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions. Flacco gets better as the competition gets better.
- He is 10-4 in the playoffs, including 2 out of 3 wins against the Patriots in Foxboro
- Since 2010 he is 8-3 in the playoffs with 22 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions.
- He is the only quarterback to start and win a playoff game in each of his first 5 seasons.
- He has the most road playoff wins by any quarterback (7)
Offensively these two teams are very similar. The Patriots averaged 365 yards of total offense per game (257.6 passing yards and 107.9 rushing yards). The Ravens averaged 364.9 yards of total offense per game. (238.7 passing yards and 126.2 rushing yards). The Ravens are led by their running back Justin Forsett. He has had a great year rushing for over 1,200 yards and scored on 8 touchdowns. Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. continues to get the job done. In his 14th season, Smith Sr. caught 79 passes for 1,065 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The Patriots had the best record in the AFC (12-4). Tom Brady continues to play at a high level. He completed 64% of his passes, threw for 4,109 yards, he had 33 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions. It is amazing to me, how Brady keeps putting up Pro-Bowl numbers despite having no running game. Jonas Gray led the Patriots in rushing with 412 yards. TE Rob Gronkowski and Julian Eldelman had 174 combined receptions and 16 touchdowns (Gronkowski 12 TD’s, Eldelman 4 TD’s).
If there is any team that can beat the Patriots in Foxboro it is the Ravens. They have done it two out of the last 3 times they have played in New England. The Ravens don’t fear the Patriots and play smash mouth football against them. They do a great job of putting pressure on Tom Brady up the middle and getting him out of his comfort zone.
With all that said, I still like the Patriots to win this game. Their defense is playing at an elite level. The Patriots were second in the league in takeaways (12) and only let up 19.6 points per game. I look for cornerback Darrelle Revis, to guard Smith Sr. all game. I think this game will be close but the Patriots will pull away in the second half. I like the Patriots to win 27-23.
Saturday 8:15 PM Carolina Panthers @ Seattle Seahawks, FOX- In the best division in football (The NFC West) The Seattle Seahawks finished the season with a record of 12-4. Seattle is the only team in the NFL to allow less than 300 yards per game. (Seattle gave up 267 yards per game, the Detroit Lions, were second, giving up 300.9 yards per game.). The Seahawks have been dominant at home. Over the past three years they are 22-2 at Century Link Field. Quarterback Russell Wilson is having another great year. When Wilson came into the NFL, he was labeled as a game manager. He is not, he is a playmaker. Wilson completed 63% of his passes, had 26 total touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He also rushed for over 849 yards. That is more rushing yards than the Carolina Panthers leading running back Jonathan Stewart. (Stewart rushed for 809 yards on the season). Marshawn Lynch continues to be a bruising running back. Lynch led the Seahawks with 1,306 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
In the worst division in football (The NFC South) the Carolina Panthers finished the season with a 7-8-1 record. Luke Keuchly continues to be an elite NFL defender. He led the league in combined tackles with 153. He runs sideline to sideline and is a great playmaker. Cam Newton had a very average year. He completed 58% of his passes and had 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
On paper and on the field this is a horrible matchup for the Panthers. I don’t see this game being close at all. Seattle will continue its home field dominance and Carolina won’t be able to match the Seahawks physicality. I like Seattle to win big, 31-10.
Sunday 1PM Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers FOX- the Dallas Cowboys will visi Lambeau Field on Sunday, in a battle of two legendary NFL Franchises. Both teams have great quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo are ranked #1 and #2 in the NFL in completions made outside the pocket. Both can extend plays and are very dangerous when a play breaks down. Romo has silenced his critics over the past few years. He is an elite quarterback and has the stats to back it up. 4 times this year Romo has led the Cowboys to a victory after trailing in the game by 10 or more points. Romo has 28 game winning drives in his career. That is tied for 1st all-time with Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Romo had the higest QB rating in the 4th quarter this year as well. The Cowboys have a three headed monster with Romo, WR Dez Bryant, and RB DeMarco Murray. They can beat you with the ground attack or by throwing the ball. Romo completed 69% of his passes, had 3,705 passing yards, 34 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Murray led the league in rushing with 1,845 yards. He has proven to be a “work horse” and has stayed healthy for most of the year. Bryant and Jason Whitten continue to be the “go to guys” for Romo. The two combined for 152 catches, 2,023 yards and 21 touchdowns. The Cowboys defense hasn’t been great all year. They had 30 sacks and gave up 22 points per game. If Dallas wants to win this game they have to control the ball and keep Rodgers off the field.
Rodgers has had one of the all-time great seasons in the history of the NFL. He is playing at an elite level and should win the NFL’s MVP Award. Rodgers completed 65.6 % of his passes, threw for over 4,300 yards, he had 38 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. As great as Rodgers has been, he has been even better in Lambeau. This season, the Packers were 8-0 in Green Bay beating their opponents by an average of 23 points per game. Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception at home is his last 477 passing attempts. Eddy Lacy has proven to be a consistent running back. He had over 1,100 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are one of the best wide receiver combos in the NFL. The two combined for 189 receptions, over 2,700 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns.
The Packers on aren’t great on defense, they were 13th in points allowed (21.8). But, they are good situationally and can put pressure on the quarterback in 3rd and long situations. Clay Mathews and Julius Peppers combined for 18 sacks on the year.
Rodgers didn’t practice on Thursday because of his sore ankle. If Rodgers can’t move around in the pocket, the Packers will have a hard time winning. This game is a toss-up. But, the best player in the league should be able to lead Green Bay to a victory. The Packers have to get ahead early and make Romo throw the ball. I like the Packers to go 9-0 at home and win a close game, 34-31.
Sunday 440 PM Indianapolis Colts @ Denver Broncos, CBS- The Colts are making their 3rd straight playoff appearance. It has really been an amazing running considering they have no elite running back and a below average defense year after year. The Colts led the league in passes dropped this year. Yet, Andrew Luck continues to carry this team and lead them to the playoffs. Luck completed 61.4% of his passes, had 40 touchdowns, 4,761 passing yards and 18 interceptions. Trent Richardson has been a huge disappointment since the Colts acquired him from Cleveland. Richardson led the team in rushing with 519 yards, but only averaged 3.3 yards per carry. T.Y. Hilton had 82 catches for over 1,300 yards and 7 touchdowns. The Colts defense is one of the worst in the league. They were 25th in the league in sacks (25) and gave up 22 points per game. As a group this defense doesn’t scare any team in the league.
The Broncos finished with a 12-4 record despite a number of injuries to their wide receivers and running backs. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hilman got injured early leaving C.J. Anderson to carry the load. Anderson led the team in rushing with 849 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. Peyton Manning threw for over 4700 yards and had 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions on the year. The Broncos have the best “Batman and Robin” wide receiver combo in the league. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders combined for 212 receptions, 3,000 receiving yards, and 20 touchdowns.
The Broncos bolstered up their defense in the off-season. Von Miller and Demarcus Ware have combined for 24 sacks. They are much more physical than last year and finished the season allowing 22 points per game.
This game is simple, it is Andrew Luck vs the entire Denver Broncos team. I don’t see how the Colts can even keep this game close in Denver. Manning has struggled in December, he had 3 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. I think the bye week helped Manning rest and he should bounce back. I look for Anderson to rush for over 125 yards and Denver to score early and often. I like the Broncos to win 38-24.
This is the Sports Whisperer Monte Perez. Follow me on twitter: Montetjwitter11