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Super Bowl Preview – Pats vs Birds

Philadelphia Analysis

Even without starter Jordan Hicks, even without Pro-Bowler Darren Sproles, even without All-Pro Jason Peters, and even without MVP candidate Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles put forth one of their best efforts of the year by demolishing the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field. When MVP favorite Carson Wentz came off the field in Los Angeles with a torn ACL in week 14, the football world counted out the Birds. However fast forward one month, a 38-7 thrashing over Minnesota are now sending the Eagles to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2005. Outside of the opening drive for the Vikings, which resulted in a touchdown from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph, everything went right for the Eagles. The following Vikings’ drive resulted in a pick-6 from Patrick Robinson and the rout ensued. In the Super Bowl, the Eagles will be facing a similar foe: Brady and Belichick, the duo that defeated them in 2005, 24-21. Instead of the combination of Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and Terrell Owens, this Eagles team will be led by backup quarterback Nick Foles and one of the stingiest defense in the league.

Even though Foles is a backup, he played anything like that against the Vikings. Against the Vikings defense, which was cited as one of the most daunting in the league, Foles had a stellar game by throwing for 352 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 turnovers. Foles will be surrounded by one of the most underrated receiving units, Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffrey, and Nelson Agholor. Ertz has established himself as one of the three best tight ends in the league as he recorded 74 catches, 824 yards, and 8 touchdowns in only 13 games. Ertz has been especially effective because of his ability to excel in the red zone. Along with Ertz, Agholor has become one of the most improved players in the league. During Agholor’s first two seasons in the league, he was one of the fans least favorites players because he was the team’s first round pick in 2015 yet had one of the worst set of hands in the league. This season we have seen a totally different player. Coach Doug Pederson has been able to utilize the USC’s product impressive speed in order to line him up in different sets. At the end of the year, Agholor posted impressive stats, 62 receptions, 768 yards, and 8 touchdowns. The last main option for Foles is Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles signed Jeffery away from the Bears this offseason and he has been everything that the franchise hoped he would bring to the team. Jeffery’s large body allows him to become a terror against opposing defensive backs, especially on the outside. Like Ertz, Jeffery has become a safety valve for Foles and previously Wentz.

The Eagles will have a great opportunity to excel against the Patriots’ offense because they do not have one singular main option. Belichick has been a master at defending teams because he is extremely effective at removing a team’s best option from the game. However, with this Philadelphia team, it is impossible to deny all of their options, which makes them a scary matchup. In addition, the combination of Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, and Corey Clement allows for the team to not become one dimensional.

The Eagles’ offense may be impressive, but the defense is the best aspect of the team. The team ranked top five in yards allowed per game and points allowed per game. Over the past four games, including two postseason games, the defense has allowed on average 8 points per game. The Birds have talent throughout the defense. The front four of the Eagles is incredible because they can rush the passer effectively and rank as the best rushing defense in the league. In the secondary, the Eagles like to refer to themselves as the “No Fly Zone”. During the regular season, they ranked fourth in the league in interceptions. Although the group has talent, they have the tendency to have break downs in coverage and allow big plays. It will be imperative that they keep big play receiver, Brandin Cooks, in front of them and do not score.

New England Analysis

While the Eagles contest was never in doubt after the first ten minutes, the Patriots needed a classic Tom Brady comeback to overcome the Jacksonville Jaguars and their ferocious defense. Although ESPN statcast had the Jaguars chances of winning the game at over 80% when they were up 10 points with under 9 minutes to go and the Patriots did not have Gronkowski, nearly every football fan watching knew that Brady was somehow going to pull a rabbit out of his hat and escape with another AFC Championship.The Patriots are a 6.5 point favorite in the game and history will dictate that they will win a close contest. The defending champions are in the middle of one of the greatest stretches in NFL history. Since 2001, the team has won 5 Super Bowl Champions, claimed 8 Conference Championships, and been to every postseason but two.

The biggest question of the game will be the health of Rob Gronkowski. During the second quarter, Gronk was forced to exit after a head to head collision with Barry Church. Gronkowski is not even the most dominant player in the NFL today, but he is likely the most physically impaling and best tight end in NFL history. His combination of talent and size makes him impossible to defend. Currently, the Patriots believe that Gronk will be able to recover from his concussion due to the extra week in between contests. Although the Patriots won the title last season without Gronkowski, the Eagles have a much better defense than the Falcons and this team does not have Julian Edelman. Without Gronk and Edelman in the lineup, Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks stepped up and became the go to targets for Brady down the field. In addition, like the Jacksonville game, the Patriots will need to rely on the passing game because their rushing attack will likely be negated by the Eagles stout front four. Outside of Dion Lewis’s big first down run to ice the game, the Pats rushed the ball 18 times for 28 yards. Due to the aggressive nature of the Eagles’ secondary, expect the Patriots to run a lot of double moves and move the ball deep down the field.

While the Patriots have put forth a constant offensive attack throughout the season, the defense has been the story of New England’s season. Through the first quarter of the season, the Patriots had serious concerns as the defense allowed 32 points per game. Outside of Houston, although this was with Watson before he went down with a torn ACL, each of these teams made the playoffs. However, as the season extended, the defense began to develop and new stars arose. The front four, which could not create a pass rush during the first half of the season, now has capability to put frequent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Trey Flowers has grown into a stud pass rusher, while the addition of former Steeler James Harrison has given the Patriots an extra third down edge rusher. Although the front four does not have many known stars, the secondary has the talent to play at a Super Bowl level. Malcom Butler, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, and Stephon Gilmore are all high profile players that have impressive resumes and have each played in big games. Gilmore made the play of the game against Jacksonville when he somehow came out of nowhere to deflect Bortles deep pass on 4th and 10.

Prediction

Of the seven previous Super Bowls that Tom Brady competed, each of the contests were decided by 4 points or less. Due to the fact that neither team is significantly better than the other and past history, it is likely that this game will be very close. The Eagles seem like a team of destiny with a chip on their shoulder. In a close back and forth game, I predict the Eagles to come on top and win their first Super Bowl in team history.

Eagles over Patriots 21-17

Yankees + Stanton = Murder’s Row 2.0

During the early hours on Saturday, the New York Yankees completed a trade with the Miami Marlins that will send 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to New York. In return for the reigning MVP, the Yankees will trade All-Star second baseman, Starlin Castro, and two prospects, Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers. Guzman has potential as he is young and the ninth rated prospect in the Yankees deep organization, while Devers does not even rank in the top 30. However, the biggest reason the Marlins decided to make the trade was due to the fact that the Yankees agreed to pay $265 of Stanton’s $295 million deal. Former Yankee shortstop and legend, Derek Jeter, was part of the group that recently bought the Marlins and decided that the team could not be profitable with Stanton’s ginormous contract on the books. Due to the size of the his contract, very few teams could meet the team’s needs and pay a majority of his contract. In addition, Stanton had a full no-trade clause and stated that he would not accept a trade to either the Cardinals or Giants, two of his main suitors. This gave the Yankees so much more power and leverage, which enabled them to give up so much less in terms of prospects.

The addition of Stanton gives the team another bat to a lineup, which was already one of the best in the league. Stanton is coming off of a year, in which, he had one of the best power seasons by a non-steroid user. Stanton blasted 59 home runs, 132 RBI, and 123 runs with posting a slash of .281/.376/.631. Stanton will be combined with Aaron Judge, Didi Gregarious, Gary Sanchez, Brett Gardner, and Greg Bird. Judge is the best power hitter in the American League as he led the league with 52 home runs. Now the Yankees have by far the two best home run hitters in MLB. If Judge and Stanton played together last year, there 111 home runs would have second most among teammates in MLB history. The only duo that had more than this combo was Maris and Mantle in 1961 for the Yankees when they combined for 115. Along with Judge, Sanchez has established himself as one of the best hitters in the league. After starting the year slowly, Sanchez heated up during the stretch run and collected 33 home runs and drove in 90 RBIs. The middle of the order of Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez is going to strike fear into every team as they should hit over 130 homers in home run friendly Yankees Stadium and account for over 300 RBIs.

The supplementary pieces of Gregarious, Gardner, and Bird will lengthen the lineup to the point where at least seven to eight of there hitters will be either above average or elite. The one wild card in the group will be super prospect, Gleybar Torres. Torres is considered by many the best prospect in all of baseball and should be able to play either second or third. Due to the recent success of Yankees’ callups, there is no reason to believe that Torres cannot provide an immediate impact for the team and thrive toward the bottom of the order. However, this offense still has their flaws. Many of their stars are right handed, which can be neutralized by right handed pitching. In addition, although the power is immense, they do repeatedly strike out, especially against elite starting pitching. In the playoffs, the team can get overwhelmed by quality pitching due to their inability to hit for average. Even though these are realistic concerns, the team should boast the best offense in the league and may be able to break some of major league baseball records relating to home runs.

The interesting part about this deal for Stanton is that there are still many questions and moves that the team can make in the future. The most immediate concern is to see if the team can reach their goal of having a payroll under the luxury tax threshold of $197 million. Due to losing Castro’s cap number, the team will have a chance to reach their goal. Currently, people estimate that the Yankees should have about $18 million to spend on free agents. A majority of this total will have to go toward signing a pitcher, whether it be CC Sabathia, Lance Lynn, or Alex Cobb. The remaining salary should either be saved in hope that during the season, the Yanks can acquire a front of the rotation starter at the deadline like this year. Due to the amount of prospects they have at their disposal, such as Clint Frazier, Estevan Florial, Chance Adams, the Yankees can go after any pitcher. Personally, the pitcher that the Yankees should be targeting at the deadline is superstar pitcher Madison Bumgarner. MadBum has already demonstrated that he may be the best postseason pitcher in the history of baseball and there is a chance that the Giants would trade their ace for the right package. If the Giants are underwhelming again and the Yankees offer a strong enough package, the Giants would have to think long a hard about the offer. However, the most interesting question is what will happen next offseason when many stars become free agents. The current belief around baseball is that the team would not sign Harper after trading for Stanton because Harper, Stanton, and Judge all play the same position. Theoretically, the team could use Harper in left field, but this seems extraordinarily unlikely. The most likely scenario for the team if they decide to spend aggressively during free agency would be to sign third baseman Manny Machado. Machado would be a perfect fit for the team because he can play third base and replace Chase Headley. Machado has experience playing in the AL East, is an incredible hitter, star defender, and does not have a huge ego, unlike Harper. The addition of Machado would make the Yankees lineup borderline unfair. The Yankees would be spending an absurd amount of money, but that lineup would be incredible:

  1. Gardner (LF)
  2. Judge (RF)
  3. Bird (1B)
  4. Stanton (DH)
  5. Gregarious (SS)
  6. Machado (3B)
  7. Sanchez (C)
  8. Torres (2B)
  9. Hicks (CF)

NFL Playoff Picture Heading toward the Final Quarter of Year

AFC: 

The AFC Playoff Picture is unquestionably interesting and intriguing because of the different races that are occurring. The first of the three races is between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers for the number one overall seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. If the Steelers are able to win on Monday Night against the 5-6 Bengals, they will move to 10-2 and put themselves into a tie with the Patriots for the number one overall seed. The Steelers would be given the number one seed in this situation because they have a better winning percentage in common games. This is due to the fact that the Steelers were able to beat the two teams that the New England Patriots suffered defeats to early in the season, Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers. Although both teams will definitely end up with playoff positions and first round byes, this race is incredibly important because of the home field advantage at stake. Over the past several years, the Steelers have had solid teams with impressive offensive talent, but they have not been able to overcome Tom Brady in Foxborough. Although it is possible that Roethlisberger and the Steelers can win in New England, in reality there only chance at reaching the Super Bowl and defeating the reining world champions is if they play them at Heinz Field. Fortunate for fans, the owner of the best record in the AFC will be decided in two weeks, when the red hot Patriots, winners of eight straight games, head into Pittsburgh to face the high flying Steelers. This is set to be an intriguing matchup, but I believe the Steelers will win due to their home field crowd.

The second race in the AFC playoff picture is the AFC West Division. After the first half of the season, it looked like the Chiefs were not only going to win the division, but also were the favorites to win the Super Bowl. However, since the midway point, the Chiefs have looked like one of the worst teams in football and are now tied with the Raiders and Chargers for the AFC West Crown. Although none of these three teams are particularly impressive or dominant, the Chargers are the most likely to win the division and claim the fourth playoff spot and a home game in the Wild Card round. Not only do they have an elite quarterback, who has led his team to the playoffs multiple times, they have the easiest of the three schedules and are the hottest of the teams. It is likely that 9-7 or maybe 8-8 will win the divisional crown, but the Chargers should win at least 2-3 of the remaining four games to clinch a playoff spot.

The final race in the AFC is for the final Wild Card position. At both 8-4, the Jaguars and Titans will make the playoffs as either the AFC South Champion or other Wild Card position. However, the 6th position is still up for grabs. The Ravens are currently the owner of the spot and it is likely that they remain in the playoffs. Although the Ravens should make the playoffs, it is more due to the strength of their remaining schedule or I should say lack of strength than their actual talent. Outside of a tough game at Pittsburgh, the team is playing at the Browns and then at home against the Colts and Bengals to finish the season. Although the team is volatile and goes through stretches in which they have trouble scoring or playing well in tight games, they will finish the season at 10-6 and play serious January football.

NFC:

While the AFC has a clear difference in power between the top teams and teams that are struggling to make the playoffs, the NFC is stacked with quality teams. This race became even more interesting after the Philadelphia Eagles were defeated by the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday Night Football. The loss moved the Eagles in a tie for the first overall seed with the Minnesota Vikings. However, due to tie breakers they are the second seed. Over the past several weeks, the best team in the NFC and maybe the league is the Minnesota Vikings. The combination of great defense and impressive quarterback play from surprise starter Case Keenum enabled the team to defeat the Rams in Minnesota and Falcons on the road. The Vikes still have tough games verses the Packers and Panthers, but they are definitely going to make the playoffs and should keep at least a first round bye. The Eagles are in a similar situation because they will win the NFC East and should be able to claim a first round bye, especially if they can beat the Rams next week.

The next four playoff seeds will be fought between five different teams, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons. The final four weeks should be incredibly exciting and high quality football because they will be competing against each other to claim their division title and playoff or Wild Card position. Ultimately, it is most likely that the Seahawks will win the NFC West over the Rams and the Saints over the Falcons and Panthers. The Seahawks have the fortunate opportunity to play the Rams at home, which should be the difference because they rarely lose at home. The Saints should claim the NFC South because they are the most complete team. Brees is the best quarterback of the bunch, even though Matt Ryan and Cam Newton are no slouches, and the defense, which has been notoriously terrible for years, is now above average. In addition, the Saints’ schedule is conducive for the championship because they do not have any difficult matchups besides for the Falcons. The last four weeks of the season should be interesting and exciting football as the playoffs come fast.