Across the pond football

UK based NFL Blog – Opinions and Articles on American Football


Leave a comment

ATPF Preview Superbowl XLVIII

 

So finally Superbowl XLVIII is upon us and for the first time since Superbowl XLIV in 2009 the NFL’s best two teams by regular season record have made their way to the sport’s ultimate showpiece the Superbowl. There would be few who would deny that we have the best two teams in football facing off here. Fans of the 49ers will point to how little there is between them and bitter rivals Seattle, Patriots fans will point to the losses of Vince Wilfork and Rob Gronkowski and there are probably a few other loyal fans around the league who believe their favourite team is as good as either of these two but truthfully and quite unusually we have the two teams who have dominated their conference from the first whistle nearly 5 months ago.

To try and find the winner of what looks to be a very close match on paper we decided to breakdown the matchups of offense versus defense of the two, then we will look at special teams and coaches to see if we can pick out any more edges.

Broncos Offense versus Seahawks Defense

The matchup we have all been waiting for. Peyton Manning and the Broncos record breaking offensive juggernaut facing off against the Seahawks ultra talented, brilliantly coached league’s best defense.

Before a ball was thrown this season the Broncos looked to have one of the most dangerous offenses in the league but as it turned out their offense broke virtually every major record during the regular season. The 606 points they scored was an all time high, as was the 5477 yards gained as was the 76 touchdowns scored. Put simply the Broncos may have the finest offense in football history right now. In Peyton Manning they have the smartest quarterback in all of football. Manning who won Superbowl XLI back in 2007 with the Indianapolis Colts is now 37 years of age and is a certain first ballot hall of famer. Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a serious neck injury requiring multiple surgeries before leaving for Denver in 2012. In 2012 the Broncos lost one of the most riveting games ever seen as eventual Superbowl winners Baltimore downed them in a second quarter of overtime.

Image

Manning had a fine season in 2012 despite the injuries clearly taking some velocity off his throws. In 2013 Peyton’s arm has been much stronger and his throws have been pretty close to what we saw during his glorious career with the Colts. Manning is of course very accurate at all distances but it is his ability to dictate to a defense that is so good. On each play offensive coordinator Adam Gase dials in two plays and Manning chooses his preferred one. Even then Manning regularly checks out of the play or changes his protection depending on what he sees. At times you would think one of the defenders had the play written on their helmet such is his ability to see what is coming. The Seahawks base defense is a relatively simple 4-3 scheme which rotates the pass rush heavily and relies on their corners to cover man to man with Earl Thomas’s closing speed deep field just in case. The Seahawks won’t be pushed around by Manning constantly changing formations and changing plays at the line of scrimmage. They believe in themselves 110% and that isn’t just Richard Sherman. They stay in formation and instead back their guys to be too good for the opposition’s guys and nine plays out of ten they are. Corner’s Byron Maxwell and of course Sherman and nickel corner Walter Thurmond will play press coverage on Denver’s top three receivers and they will then expect their pass rush to get home before Manning can find a receiver who has broken from the shackles. Manning won’t be able to routinely find a receiver just getting open as he has all year against this defense. He will probably have to hold onto the ball a half second longer than usual and will probably have a half second less with the Seahawks pass rush closing in. He might have to take a few chances, back someone one on one, fit a few into tight coverage etc. because this defense covers so well.

Denver’s incredible season has of course been made possible by the supreme yet diverse talents of their receiving corps. In 2012 both Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker had over 1000 yards receiving and double figure touchdowns and both repeated the feat in 2013. Diminutive slot receiver Wes Welker had his fewest season yards in eight years in his first year in Denver but did miss three games, even so he still had ten touchdowns on the year, a career high. Tight end Julius Thomas was the surprise of the bunch. In his first two years in the league he had just one catch, in this his third year he was just shy of 800 yards receiving and was the fourth Denver receiver to have double digit touchdowns, twelve to be precise. Other receivers to note on the Broncos roster are running backs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, fourth receiver Andre Caldwell and backup tight end Jacob Tamme a long time Manning associate. As talented as this group is their opposition on Superbowl Sunday will be just as good.

Seattle’s defense is the best around but it is their secondary that really stands out. Cornerback Richard Sherman makes all the headlines for a variety of reasons but make no mistake; he is the best cornerback in football. Sherman has gained near shutdown status now but loves to goad a quarterback into challenging him. Sherman will face up to Demaryius Thomas here and it will be a fascinating battle. Sherman is aggressive at the line of scrimmage and will get his hands on Thomas to slow him down and then follow him when he looks to go deep. Thomas is both faster and bigger than Sherman but Sherman has faced both deficiencies on a regular basis and won this season. Opposite Sherman is Byron Maxwell who stepped on for suspended Brandon Browner in week 10. Maxwell was briefly looked at as a potential weakness as a little known dime corner moving up two spots on the depth chart to replace a pro bowler but that perception quickly changed. One would expect Maxwell to largely shadow Decker on the Broncos left side but Denver may look to switch their receivers to see if Maxwell can deal with the elite Demaryius Thomas. Walter Thurmond is a reliable slot corner who is one of the best in the game but in Wes Welker he faces one of the finest and most elusive inside receivers in NFL history. Welker is so hard to cover and Manning will be bargaining on him getting open regularly for first downs here. What interests me most here is how the Seahawks cover 6-5 tight end Julius Thomas. It would appear that pro bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor or outside linebacker K.J. Wright will have the role but both would see Thomas favoured. Thomas has the speed and catching ability of an NFL wide receiver so to cover him with a good but not overly athletic linebacker like Wright could be disastrous. Chancellor is faster but he would be giving up a huge size advantage and if the Broncos realise he is covering Thomas they will pull him around the field to open up the run game. To cover all four of Denver’s double digit touchdown receivers is extremely tough; expect the Seahawks to have their share of success here but the Broncos to edge the battle.

Image

The running game of the Broncos has been surprisingly successful with so much attention on their passing game. Knowshon Moreno has been the chief benefactor and the former first round pick has finally stayed healthy to shed his bust tag. Moreno had over 1500 total yards and thirteen touchdowns on the year and his bruising inside running complements Denver’s passing game brilliantly. Rookie second round pick Montee Ball is a similarly big punishing back who will get carries but third rusher Ronnie Hillman has spent too much of Superbowl week in strip clubs to be a factor. Seattle allowed just four rushing touchdowns during the regular season and opposing rushers managed less than four yards per carry so while Moreno will have some success and will be heavily used in short yardage and goal line situations we expect that Seattle contain Denver to well under 100 yards rushing on the day.

Finally in this battle we look at the line of scrimmage. Denver’s offensive line versus Seattle’s defensive line. Peyton Manning is very hard to sack but if you can pressure him and get hits you can force errors, the Saints despite some questionable motives managed it in Superbowl XLIV and it affected Manning, no more so than when he threw the late pick six that all but sealed the New Orleans win. The Broncos offensive line allowed just 20 sacks and 54 quarterback hits during the regular season both league lows. Manning gets rid of the ball so quickly and his receivers are open in a flash so defenders have little chance to get their hands on him and defensive coordinators are all too aware of the consequences of an unsuccessful blitz against this team. Denver’s line paved the way for a sixth best in the league sixteen rushing touchdowns and a healthy 4.1 yards per carry also so they are strong going forward as well as in protection.

The Seahawks got 44 sacks in the regular season, good for eighth in the league and their defensive line got the lion’s share. Former Buccaneer defensive end Michael Bennett’s 8.5 sacks leads the team but Cliff Avril opposite him has eight despite being a pass rush specialist rather than a starter and Chris Clemons has 4.5 despite missing half of the season. Clint McDonald is the top pass rusher inside but again he only comes in on passing downs with Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel the tackles in the Seahawks base 4-3. Mebane, McDaniel and giant run stuffing end Red Bryant form a hugely powerful front which was seventh best in the regular season against the rush and held San Francisco’s runners to a pitiful 31 yards on sixteen carries in the NFC Championship. We think Seattle’s defensive line will win this battle but Manning’s quick read and release may nullify it and as good as the Seahawks are against the run they will likely only see it when their chief run stoppers are on the sidelines which will further halt any sort of dominance upfront.

So to summarise this mouth-watering battle we think in boxing terms it will go to the judges. Denver we believe will shade it due to the firepower at their disposal and Manning’s ability to find matchups he can win but if Seattle can grab a turnover or two they will give their offense a real chance to win this game. We are looking at Denver scoring three touchdowns and three field goals in total to get 30 points on this stingy defense.

Seahawks Offense versus Broncos Defense

The headline acts on the other side of the ball have seen these two units almost forgotten by the media in the run up to the big game.

The Seahawks offense was ample complement to their defense during the regular season as they averaged 339 yards per game, good for 17th in the league but scored 417 points, eighth most in the league. Short fields helped the points total but hurt the yardage, realistically this was probably a unit just outside of the top ten overall but injuries were a major factor. Sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson has been an incredible success story and threw 26 touchdowns to just nine interceptions during the regular season. He has just one touchdown pass in his two postseason games this year but is yet to throw an interception although he did fumble on the opening play in the NFC Championship. Wilson isn’t quite a dual threat quarterback like great rival Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton but he is still very capable of using his legs to make a play. Where Wilson is pretty unique is in his ability to use his speed to create space, buy time and create throwing angles to receivers. The likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo are renowned for their ability to keep plays alive and make improvisatory throws off the back of it and Wilson is joining them in this category. Teams generally try to pack their defense in tight to try and shut any holes for Marshawn Lynch but this allows Wilson to run bootleg plays where he gets to the outside and looks downfield. He is a great passer on the move so the Broncos need to stay in coverage until the whistle; a pass play is never dead with Wilson under center.

The Broncos defense was up and down during the regular season, at times they looked pretty dire at other times they looked ready to come good but ultimately the unit ended the season ranked 19th overall and 22nd in the league in allowing 399 points. In the playoffs they have improved, they held the Patriots to just 16 points and 320 yards in the AFC Championship and the Chargers to just 17 points and 269 yards in the divisional round. Considering both of those were top ten offenses the improvement is obvious but both Tom Brady and Phil Rivers are pocket passers, Wilson will offer an altogether different test with hid mobility. You have to go back to the early weeks of the season to see the last time Denver faced a quarterback of Wilson’s athleticism. They completely suffocated Robert Griffin III as Washington had five turnovers against them and they kept Michael Vick from having a major impact on the ground also going all the way back to week four.

Seattle’s offense is built on the solid foundation of their relentless battering ram running back Marshawn Lynch who rushed for over 1200 yards and double digit touchdowns for the third straight year in Seattle having left the Buffalo Bills. Lynch led the Seahawks to the fifth most rushing yards in the league and the team averaged almost 32 rushes per game in total, the second most in the NFL. Lynch has been just as effective in the postseason; he rushed for 140 yards at 5 yards per carry and had two touchdowns against the Saints in the divisional round and in the NFC Championship he finally broke a 40 yard touchdown having been frustrated for long periods by one of the best defenses in football. The Broncos will likely make Lynch their main focus here to try and make it Wilson versus Manning, a battle Wilson simply can’t win.

Image

Denver were good against the run in the regular season, only six teams allowed less than the 1626 rushing yards they did and they were tied sixth for yards per carry by opposing rushers. In the playoffs they haven’t faced a top running team like Seattle but they held San Diego to 65 yards rushing and New England to 64 and in neither game did a running back find the end zone. In this key battle Lynch will have success, it is basically impossible to shut him down for a full game but he certainly won’t be able to take over the game as he can do at times. Expect Lynch to find the end zone at least once and manage around 100 yards on over 20 carries.

The Seahawks were optimistic about their receiving corps pre-season largely down to the capture of the biggest prize in free agency, Percy Harvin. Harvin, formerly of Minnesota is an explosive athlete and one of the fastest players in the league; he is a threat every time the ball is in his hands. The Vikings lined him up outside, in the slot and even as a running back and he also returned both kicks and punts. But in his first year in Seattle Harvin has been on the field for just 40 snaps, that less than a full game. An injury enforced hip surgery kept him out until week 16 and concussion kept him out of the NFC Championship but make no mistake, Harvin is one of the most feared playmakers in the game and with no clue as to how the Seahawks are likely to use him the Broncos will be terrified of his potential to torch them here. Seattle’s other starter on pre-season depth charts was Sidney Rice who was lost to a torn ACL in midseason and may have played his last game for the Seahawks. With Rice down and Harvin barely seen Golden Tate (898 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Doug Baldwin (778 yards, 5 touchdowns) have been the starters for most of the season. Tate is an underwhelming athlete but has excellent hands, is a fine blocker and displays a nasty demeanour on the field. Baldwin in his third year out of Stanford where he went undrafted into the NFL is another steady rather than spectacular receiver but is having career year. Tight end Zach Miller is a seventh year pro who was productive in his time in Oakland but has never become a major part in the passing game in three years in Seattle. Third or maybe fourth now Harvin is back receiver Jermaine Kearse has been the team’s deep threat as we saw with his ultimately overshadowed game winning 35 yard touchdown in the NFC Championship. Denver’s secondary is headlined by future hall of famer Champ Bailey who finally gets his shot at the Lombardi trophy in the twilight of his career. Opposite him is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a tall, fast, hugely talented corner who has underperformed in his career given his physical gifts but who at his best can be outstanding. Bailey struggles with elite speed now but neither Baldwin nor Tate should have the afterburners to hurt him and against receivers who can’t get behind him his knowledge and technique generally allow him to dominate individual battles. The Seahawks will look to get Tate against Rodgers- Cromartie who is a poor tackler and who lacks the lower body strength to wrap up runners, in space the tough, physical Tate could be too much for his opponent. Overall this one is close; I would say the Broncos secondary despite being a pretty average unit could probably win the battle if it wasn’t for Percy Harvin. We don’t know what to expect from him but I have a suspicion he will have a big influence in this game.

Seattle’s offensive line paved the way for Lynch to again have a big season but they can struggle in pass protection. Russell Wilson was sacked 44 times and hit 94 times in the regular season and has been sacked seven times in two postseason games, more than any other quarterback in the playoffs. Denver’s defense has been inspired by the dominant play of former Jaguar Terrance Knighton. The 335 lbs defensive tackle has become the Broncos star defender in his first year in Colorado with Von Miller spending almost half the season suspended and then going down to a knee injury soon after. Ten year veteran Shaun Phillips, a long time rival with San Diego had ten regular season sacks in his first year with the team and will look to expose Seattle’s pass protection deficiencies. This battle will be pivotal to the game and we think the form of ‘pot roast’ Terrance Knighton can be huge. Knighton’s ability to overwhelm offensive linemen and collapse the pocket could really hurt Marshawn Lynch’s impact on this game and force Wilson from the pocket although that doesn’t necessarily impact his game negatively.

Image

This battle despite its lack of hype by comparison will be close like that on the other side of the ball. Lynch is irrepressible but won’t have it all his own way so Russell Wilson will be tested on the grandest scale of them all. We believe in Wilson and think he can step up but barring Harvin who may not even be 100% would any Seahawk receiver even make the Broncos roster as a backup? Denver’s defense however is far from bombproof and is especially vulnerable to the deep ball. We think the Seahawks manage two touchdowns and two field goals to score twenty points in this game.

Special Teams

It is far from rare to see a big special teams play in the Superbowl. Think of the onside kick by the Saints, Devin Hester’s touchdown to open Superbowl XLI or ‘Mr Clutch’ Adam Vinatieri’s two Superbowl winning field goals.

With Vinatieri in mind we will first compare the two kickers, Denver’s Matt Prater and Seattle’s Steven Hauschka. Prater’s headline moment came when breaking the record for longest ever NFL field goal as he booted a 64 yarder over against the Titan earlier this season. On the season Prater was 25 of 26 for an offense which scores far more touchdowns than field goals. Hauschka was 33 of 35 and also showed a strong leg, converting all three of his attempts of over 50 yards. In the playoffs Hauschka is 6 of 6, Prater 5 of 6. Both have missed two on the season both have big legs, the two can’t be separated.

Of the punters Jon Ryan had a better season and has a bigger leg than Dustin Colquitt. More notable however is punt coverage, Seattle allowed returners just 3.9 yards per return but Denver for all they didn’t punt that often allowed nearly ten yards per return. Seattle’s punt returner is Golden Tate, his longest return of the season was 71 yards and he averaged over eleven yards per return. Expect to see the explosive Percy Harvin get a look in this department also. Diminutive but explosive Trindon Holliday is one of the most feared returners in the game and gives the Broncos yet another scoring threat. Holliday’s average was less than Tate’s at 8.5 per return but he did have an 81 yard touchdown return. With Seattle having the stronger punter, being better in coverage and having a higher return average they get the edge here. Can they get a crucial big return here? Maybe even return one for a touchdown?

On kick returns for Seattle is usually Jermaine Kearse although again Harvin may get a look. Kearse’s longest return of the year was 40 yards and he averages 21.8 yards per return. Holliday averages an excellent 27.7 yards per return for Denver and had a 105 yard touchdown against the Eagles, matching his 105 yard career long against the Bengals a year ago. Holliday is one of the top two or three returners in the league so he is a huge weapon here and against Kearse, a fairly average returner he certainly is the more likely to break one.

We can’t find an obvious edge on special teams. Seattle are the all round better special teams group but Holliday is so explosive that he alone levels the playing field.

Coaches

Veteran head coach John Fox is in his second Super Bowl having led the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVII where they lost to the Patriots. The guarded cautious veteran is the polar opposite to Seattle’s Pete Carroll. Carroll lives every moment, bouncing around on the sidelines, furiously chewing gum, cheering every play. The former college standout has become a first rate head coach in his time in Seattle. John Fox meanwhile has coached football for 34 years with the last dozen in the NFL and is highly respected in the game.

Denver Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, former head coach of the Jaguars is again coveted by teams as a head coach and Seattle’s Dan Quinn, now in his second stint after two years at the University of Florida has continued the excellent work of Gus Bradley who left last year to become head coach of Del Rio’s former team Jacksonville. Offensive coordinators Adam Gase Darrell Bevell are both being linked with head coaching jobs also after stellar seasons.

The old school Fox and modern ‘player’s coach’ Carroll are both excellent and they both have staff ready to step up to the next level too. We can’t fault the coaching of these two excellent teams so can’t give any edge here.

Image

Verdict

The two teams look closely matched and both are outstanding football teams. There must be a winner and a loser though and we think Denver’s experience and irrepressible offense will triumph over a young Seahawks team that looks to be capable of making many more appearances in this game in the next decade. We predict the final score is Denver 30 Seattle 20.

For added interest………

We like to have a few bets for a bit of added interest on Superbowl Sunday and this year we are going with the following-

Peyton Manning Superbowl MVP- best price 11/10

Percy Harvin to score a touchdown- best price 23/10

Marshawn Lynch over 87.5 yards- best price 10/11

Bruno Mars first song- Locked Out Of Heaven- best price 8/13

Across the pond football

Thanks for making our first season great and our popularity swell. Stay tuned during the offseason for a variety of subjects from draft to free agency to the 2014 season.

 

 


Leave a comment

ATPF Preview Conference Championships

 

So here we are, the conference Championships, for every player this is the big one, they are on the cusp of the Superbowl and the game they have dreamed of for so long. Of course this is hardly alien territory to the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Bill Belichick or indeed any member of the 49ers who of course lost the big game itself a year ago.

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos

Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning for the AFC title. It’s a script we’ve all read before but this time Manning is clad in orange not blue. In his second year in Denver Manning has had one of the greatest years in NFL history, breaking virtually every single season passing record along the way. Of course Brady’s historic 16-0 season of 2007 saw play of a similar calibre and the two best quarterbacks of this century will once again do battle here, maybe for the final time.

Image

Brady took a backseat as the Patriots pummelled the Colts on the ground last week. It was a win that will have inspired confidence in New England considering the Colts were one of just three teams to beat the Broncos in the regular season, of course New England were one of the trio too, downing the Broncos in overtime nearly two months ago. LeGarrette Blount led the way as the Patriots scored six rushing touchdowns against the Colts and ran for 234 yards total. The Patriots lack of a superstar receiver minus Rob Gronkowski was easily overcome with Blount in particular’s big day but if the Broncos can tighten up against the run it will be interesting to see how Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman fare against a secondary that gives up too many big plays. The Patriots defense scooped up four interceptions from Andrew Luck last week and the unit tries to mix up coverages and give opposition signal callers a variety of different looks to cause confusion. Manning will enjoy such a battle and his excellence at changing plays at the line of scrimmage could tie the Patriots in knots. The defense of New England has to have some success up front to give them a chance here. If they can attack running back Knowshon Moreno at the line of scrimmage and get some pressures on Manning they should be able to force a few punts but if Manning has time and a viable check down run game to audible to the Broncos dominant offense could be unstoppable.

Image

Denver’s offense is not just about Manning, the arsenal of offensive weapons at his disposal is what terrifies opponents. Demaryius Thomas is their number one; he is the big bodied dynamic deep threat. Eric Decker runs fantastic routes, catches well and is a danger with the ball in his hands. Wes Welker faces up to his old team here and remains the premier slot receiver in the game, his ability to find a small crease in the center of the field to get open is unparalleled. Julius Thomas has been the surprise of the year; the tight end is a real threat in the red zone and his combination of size and wide receiver speed causes matchup nightmares. Running back Knowshon Moreno is also having a career year, the former first round pick is a tough inside runner who excels near the goal line. The Broncos defense has been up and down throughout the year but seems to have a knack for making big plays just when they need them. They held the Chargers top five offense to just 17 points last week but couldn’t cope with Keenan Allen. Star pass rusher Von Miller’s season ending injury could yet haunt the Broncos and in this game they could really do with him. New England do a great job of keeping Tom Brady upright so minus the superb Miller it will be interesting to see if and how they pressure him.

Both defenses are flawed here so this one will come down to which defense can make a stand every now and then because we suspect the majority of drives will result in points. Expect the Broncos to priorities stopping the Patriots running game after last week and try to turn this into a shootout. If that becomes the case Manning’s superior weapons will be key and for that reason we expect Denver, the AFC’s best team to indeed win the AFC.

ATPF PredictionBroncos 38 Patriots 27

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks

These two NFC West powerhouses hate each other and on the field blood is always spilled when they do battle. The two teams are very similar and that’s what makes their contests so fascinating. They both won their home clash against each other with Seattle beating San Francisco surprisingly easily here early in the season.

Image

The Seahawks only lost once at home this season and their 13-3 record was the best in the NFC. They built their success around the league’s number one ranked defense and the unit gave up just one touchdown in two meetings with the 49ers. The Seahawks are dominant and deep upfront with giant Red Bryant playing over the strong side tackle and speedy pass rushers Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett all rotating in to get after quarterbacks. Cornerback Richard Sherman has gained virtual shutdown status, his physical style and ability to intercept passes strikes fear into opposing quarterbacks. Playmaking strong safety Kam Chancellor and center field hawk Earl Thomas are easily the best duo in the league and round out a fantastic defense. Seattle’s offense isn’t far behind, sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson has climbed to the top of an extraordinary quarterback draft class of 2012 with his brilliant play this season. Wilson is as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm but even when he sets off he keeps his eyes downfield looking to throw rather carry the ball and his accuracy on the move is as good as anyone in the league. As good as Wilson is veteran running back Marshawn Lynch remains the bread and butter of the offense. Lynch is a relentless battering ram who has a knack of making people miss and is as tough to tackle as anyone in the league. Lynch’s inside running opens up lanes for Wilson to scramble to the edge and make plays. The Seahawks look like missing playmaker Percy Harvin again but he has barely been sighted all year and that hasn’t stopped them.

Image

San Francisco are in their third straight NFC Championship under head coach Jim Harbaugh and after making the Superbowl at the second attempt they only have eyes on winning the Lombardi Trophy this time around. Like their rivals defense is the strength of the team and after a slow start they ended up as the fifth best unit in the league. A week ago against the Panthers two interceptions of Cam Newton were vital in a game that was considerably closer than the final score suggested. Linebacker Patrick Willis and safety Donte Whitner were the two interceptors and both are top drawer defenders. Willis’s partnership with Navorro Bowman is the heart of this unit with both undoubtedly in the top five inside linebackers in the league and as a unit the two can take over a game at times. Upfront the relentless power of defensive end Justin Smith sets the tone and defensive end/linebacker Aldon Smith is one of the most physically gifted pass rushers in the league.  Continuing the similarities between the two teams the 49ers offense revolves around their power running game. Veteran Frank Gore has been a fine player for the 49ers for a long time and he sets the tone. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick may be the most explosive runner at his position in the league and his speed off the edge makes him a big play threat every time he tucks it and runs. The 49ers passing offense languished near the bottom of the rankings all year but Kaepernick’s favourite target Michael Crabtree’s return has given them a jolt. Hardnosed veteran Anquan Boldin and lightning fast tight end Vernon Davis combine with Crabtree to give Kaepernick a strong arsenal of weapons.

These two know each other so well and such games tend to come down to turnovers. Who will make the crucial error when it matters, who will make the big play that swings the game in his teams favour? We can’t split the two on paper but they reckon home field advantage is worth three points and at deafening CenturyLink Field it may be worth a little more so we are going to give Seattle the edge.

ATPF PredictionSeahawks 17  49ers 13

 


Leave a comment

ATPF Preview Divisional Round

Image

Wildcard weekend proved to be a thriller. The Colts started the ball rolling with a 28 point comeback against the Chiefs in which they had plenty of luck and plenty from Luck. The Saints then got over their road woes to beat the Eagles. Andy Dalton’s postseason struggles returned and he was pretty abysmal as the Chargers made light of the cold weather to beat the Bengals and the weekend concluded with the 49ers continuing their recent dominance over the Packers in a game that was tense and close throughout.

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks

When these two NFC powerhouses met earlier in the season in the same stadium the Seahawks completely dominated proceedings winning by 27 points. What was most surprising that day was the way Seattle’s defense completely stifled the Saints offense with Drew Brees averaging less than 5 yards per pass attempt. Seattle meanwhile moved the ball with consummate ease with Russell Wilson averaging over 10 yards per attempt as the turnover free Seahawks racked up over 400 yards against Rob Ryan’s defense which has been excellent on the whole this year.

The Saints were only 3-5 on the road in the regular season but did manage to win in Philadelphia last week. They will need two more road wins if they are to be NFC Champions which looks a tall order. The Seahawks were 7-1 at home and there are few louder or more hostile stadiums around than Centurylink field. The Seahawks defense was the best in the NFL during the regular season and the unit is ultra disciplined yet able to make big plays as well. Their offense led by the relentless running of Marshawn Lynch and dual threat of quarterback Wilson can beat you in a variety of ways and they will hope to make big plays when Ryan takes his big gambles. The Saints need their defense to get pressures, hits and sacks on Wilson and to limit Lynch’s effectiveness to have a chance. Their offense is almost certain of a bolder showing and they will hope that Mark Ingram can be productive as he was last week to take a Seahawk out of coverage.

It was a surprise to everyone that the first meeting was so one sided but we expect the Saints to make a game of it here although we still think Seattle will prove too strong.

ATPF PredictionThe Seahawks advance to the NFC Championship with a 27- 24 win.

Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots

The Colts were dead and buried when they fell 28 points behind against the Chiefs last week but Andrew Luck suddenly found his rhythm and led his team to a thrilling comeback. Luck has been a little more reserved than we expected in his sophomore year but he threw for 443 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in a true gun slinging performance. T.Y. Hilton is one of the more underrated receivers in the league and despite the lack of a viable receiver opposite him he had 224 yards receiving and two (including the game winner) touchdowns.

The Patriots have had plenty of problems this year and have been decimated by injuries so to get a first round bye was remarkable and it should have helped heal a few of the stricken. Unfortunately though it won’t heal Rob Gronkowski, their superstar tight end who is one of the most feared weapons in the league and it won’t heal Vince Wilfork their man mountain nose tackle who has been sorely missed since his season ending injury. Tom Brady minus Gronkowki for most of the year and with both Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez gone has not put up nearly the numbers of years past and there is no getting away from the fact that his receiving corps is substandard.

Both teams are pass first teams here and both have average defenses but both groups are capable of making big plays. It should be quite close but Luck seems to be the man with the Midas touch and he and main man Hilton can be crucial. Tom Brady’s legacy was set long ago but he has struggled in the playoffs in the last few years and he looks short of targets here so we favour a road win for Indianapolis.

ATPF PredictionThe Colts take another major scalp as they beat the Patriots 31- 27.

San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers

These two teams met in week ten when the Panthers won 10-9 in San Francisco. There may be a few more points scored here but expect defenses to dominate again. The hosts Carolina led by brilliant young linebacker Luke Kuechly won twelve of their last thirteen games and only once in that stretch allowed over twenty points. San Francisco were just as stingy, allowing over twenty just once in their last thirteen games and they have two superstar linebackers in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman as well as superstar pass rusher Aldon Smith and consistently dominant lineman Justin Smith.

Both teams will look to lean heavily on their run games with San Francisco sure to offer a heavy dose of bruising Frank Gore and plenty of read option looks to try and get the speedy Colin Kaepernick to the edge where he is so dangerous. Carolina aren’t too dissimilar with veterans DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert all effective runners and Cam Newton an even bigger danger on quarterback keepers. The difference maker for this game in our view is San Francisco’s receivers. Michael Crabtree is back and has been lauded by his head coach for his catching ability while Anquan Boldin is as tough as they come and has bucket loads of playoff experience including one winning and one losing Superbowl appearance. Vernon Davis remains one of the fastest tight ends in football and he will be a real threat running the seams between these two receivers. Carolina still have veteran Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen has had a nice season but there is little doubt San Francisco is stronger in this area and we think it will be key in a game where points will be at a premium and touchdowns like gold dust.

ATPF PredictionThe 49ers make a third straight NFC Championship, we think the score will be something like 17-13.

San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos

The Chargers seem to have the football gods smiling on them of late but make no mistake they are playing some good football as well. A whole catalogue of events got them into the playoffs at Pittsburgh’s expense two weeks ago and they rode a catalogue of Andy Dalton errors to victory at Cincinnati’s expense last week. Their next game may on the face of it a daunting one but the Chargers were the lone team to beat Denver in this stadium this year so they won’t be overawed.

The Broncos have been the most entertaining team in the NFL this season with their league best offense scoring over thirty points in thirteen of their sixteen games. Crucially they managed just twenty in that shock defeat to the Chargers which was all the more surprising given the Chargers defense is pretty average and their secondary short on top level talent apart from safety Eric Weddle. Denver’s orchestra of offense has been led sublimely by veteran Peyton Manning who has had a career year. Receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker both had 1000 yards season for the second straight year and both Wes Welker and Julius Thomas would have gotten really close but for injuries. Running back Knowshon Moreno has had a fine year also as an every down back whose rugged style is perfect as a change of pace to the much feared passing game.

The Chargers offense ended the year a top five unit also with Philip Rivers enjoying a remarkable career renaissance under new head coach Mike McCoy, formerly of the Broncos of course. McCoy is an expert in teaching quarterbacks and has again excelled with Rivers. Veteran tight end Antonio Gates, breakout rookie Keenan Allen and journeyman Eddie Royal have been among Rivers favourite targets and talented running back Ryan Mathews has finally stayed healthy. The Chargers defense will have its work cut out; Manning and co won’t fall for the same tricks as in their last meeting so it will be interesting to see the Chargers defensive game plan. When the Broncos won these two teams first clash in San Diego the Chargers too often had to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns. They must find the end zone on drives here because the Broncos defense is significantly weakened by the loss of explosive edge rusher Von Miller.

The Chargers have performed admirably to get this far but we expect a different Broncos team to the slightly complacent one they beat a month ago. It’s hard to see the Chargers secondary coping with all the talent at Manning’s disposal although both offense should have plenty of success.

ATPF PredictionThe Broncos offensive juggernaut leads them into the AFC Championship; our score prediction is 41-31.

 


Leave a comment

ATPF Preview Week 11

Image

Week 10 in the NFL proved to be one of the most surprising in terms of results yet. Who thought the Rams could beat the Colts? And by 30 points? What about the winless Jaguars and Buccaneers both winning? We predicted the latter but both? It was a tough week to predict and ATPF’s first losing week of the season, 6-8 was pretty disappointing. The Bengals, our bogey team were incredibly naive in overtime, leading to their loss having been given a second chance and that loss hurt the most.

Moving on swiftly to week eleven and this may be the most exciting round of fixtures so far. Obviously the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs back after their bye visiting the 8-1 Denver Broncos headlines the fixtures but the 49ers visiting the Superdome and Monday night’s clash of New England and the hugely improved Carolina Panthers are just as big. Crucial games such as Thursday Night’s AFC South clash, the Browns @ Bills game and Redskins @ Eagles will all have major impacts on the shape of the team’s seasons; it’s now or never this season for many.

Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans

Did both teams have one eye on this fixture when they were both upset last week? Hard to think they didn’t because both were pretty unimaginable failures. The Colts were humbled 38-8 at home by the Rams who arrived in Indianapolis at 3-6 and with a backup quarterback starting. Tennessee meanwhile handed the lowly Jaguars their first win and lost oft-injured quarterback Jake Locker for the season too.

Had the Titans been able to win that week 10 game they would have been able to top the division with a win here, instead they are staring down the barrel of 4-6 which would be the end of their season. Tennessee truly shot themselves in the foot by gifting the Jaguars four turnovers. Their ninth ranked defense allowed just 214 total yards but was powerless againt the four turnovers. Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t the man responsible, the backup quarterback threw two touchdown passes and ran one in himself, he isn’t a big drop off from Locker. Chris Johnson returned from a season in the wilderness in week nine but disappeared again last week. Whether he needs a change of scenery or is simply running on empty now remains to be seen but as much as the Titans need him he can’t be relied on any more.

The Colts thirty point humbling may have been the biggest shocker of the season so far. The Colts committed five turnovers and allowed Tavon Austin, a rookie who was already hearing the dreaded word ‘bust’ whispered to take in a long return and two long touchdown passes. It will have been an uncomfortable few days in Indianapolis and nobody will escape blame. Everything went wrong that has been going right really, the Colts have consistently won turnover battles this year but lost by four to St.Louis. Andrew Luck has generally been pretty conservative in games this year but asked to really force it he made mistakes. The Colts defense has allowed yards but always made big plays to make up for it, on Sunday they were exposed by Austin’s blazing speed and ability to run after the catch.

Both teams were pretty poor last week and turnovers were the common theme. Neither has made a habit of losing the turnover battle previously so we can expect a cagey start here with both looking to protect the ball better. If Ryan Fitzpatrick can compete with Andrew Luck his defense may give his side the edge but Luck has been pretty cerebral on the whole this year and we would rather take our chances on him bouncing back than on Fitzpatrick whose inconsistency is the reason he is now a backup rather than a starter.

ATPF PredictionIn a low scoring, tense affair the Colts edge to victory by three or four points.

Baltimore Ravens @ Chicago Bears

Defeat for the Bears last week saw them again slip behind the Lions in the fiercely competitive NFC North while the Ravens survived an overtime forcing hail mary to eventually overcome the Bengals; the win keeps them just about in the playoff hunt.

For Baltimore the season has been as tough as you would expect for them having lost two future hall of fame defenders their starting center and a starting wide receiver. Jim Harbaugh’s team know what it takes to make the playoffs and as reigning Superbowl champions they know how to win in the postseason. The Ravens have struggled to 4-5 and realistically can probably only lose one more game if they want to play on into January. Their offense and particularly its lack of firepower has been the biggest issue, only three teams have less yards and the Ravens average just 20 points per game. Defensively Baltimore still have their share of talent minus Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger. They have given up just one rushing touchdown but the secondary is vulnerable when the rush can’t get home.

Chicago got within a two point conversion of overtime against the Lions but saw Matt Forte stuffed by Nick Fairley. Returning quarterback Jay Cutler put the Bears ahead early but again left the game injured; he continues to frustrate in the windy city. Cutler will miss this game with a high ankle sprain; his backup Josh McCown is a smart veteran but lacks the playmaking skills of Cutler. In Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery McCown has two big productive receivers but with the Ravens so good against the run can he get it into the end zone enough times to beat the Ravens? The Bears defense is ailing, linebacker Lance Briggs and corner Charles Tillman are both out and they are two of the Bears top three defenders so Baltimore shouldn’t find this unit as tough as normal Chicago defenses.

A tough one to call this; the Bears season is in danger of collapsing behind the weight of key injuries they have suffered yet they have been the better of these two teams so far. Baltimore didn’t inspire even in winning last week but they could be ready to finish the season strongly. The Ravens defense needs to make some big plays in the passing game but if they can do so the Ravens can edge this one.

ATPF PredictionThe Ravens superior defense inspires the win; again it’s by just a field goal.

Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals

After their call to Mary was answered the Bengals managed an eleven yard loss on fourth down in overtime to setup Baltimore for the game winning drive. Such plays seem to be too common in Cincinnati and a supremely talented team like they are should be better than 6-4. Cleveland beat the Ravens in week nine and had their bye week to prepare for another AFC North war. At 4-5 the underdog Browns know that back to back wins could see them join Cincinnati atop the division.

Cleveland snapped a losing run just in time when they edged the Ravens in week nine. Their defense has been one of the league’s most impressive units through ten weeks, they rank fifth in yards allowed but could improve by creating more than the eleven turnovers they have so far. Their offense has seen three different quarterbacks start and all have at least one win. Journeyman Jason Campbell, a physically gifted underachiever is now under center and his play in two starts has been the best the Browns have seen at the position this year. Wide receiver Josh Gordon and rookie tight end Jordan Cameron are both having fine seasons and both could have very bright futures in Cleveland but the Browns do need more from their rushing attack which averages a paltry 3.7 yards per carry.

Cincinnati rank in the top ten both offensively and defensively. Losing all-pro tackle Geno Atkins was a blow to the defense yet in their first game without him the Bengals allowed less than 200 yards in four and a half quarters in Baltimore. Offensively Cincinnati will go as far as inconsistent third year quarterback Andy Dalton can take them; Dalton has thrown nine picks in his team’s four losses including six in the last two. In their six wins Dalton has managed to restrict it to just four interceptions and is in pace for a 4000 yards, 30 touchdown season.

The Browns defense saw them take the first battle of Ohio but at home the Bengals and their superiorly talented offense look to hold the aces this time around.

ATPF PredictionCincinnati get back on track, win by ten.

New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills

Inconsistency is the theme to these two AFC East rivals. Defeat for Buffalo in week ten saw them slip to 3-7 but the Jets who beat the high flying Saints in week nine return from their bye ready to make a real push for the playoffs.

Gang Green are enjoying a bounce back season under inspirational coach Rex Ryan and rookie quarterback Geno Smith. With the Tim Tebow sideshow gone and Mark Sanchez’s embarrassing glamour shoots no longer at the forefront the Jets have got back to doing what they do best; playing hard, physical, smart football. Ryan’s defense rank eighth in yards allowed with their defensive line the basis for their success. Geno Smith’s thirteen interceptions have put the defense under pressure but the Jets top ten rushing attack keeps Smith from being asked to do too much too often.

The Bills like their state rivals are a run first team with a rookie quarterback under center. E.J. Manuel returned from injury to start in Pittsburgh but managed just 155 yards passing. Explosive runner C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, the power back are a feared tandem but injuries and lack of a passing threat have hampered them and after getting almost 200 yards between them against the Chiefs they could muster just 78 against the Steelers. Like Pittsburgh the Jets will focus first on stopping the run and take their chances with Manuel. Defensively the Bills have been pretty bad, they have given up 21 touchdown passes and all ten of their rivals so far have scored over twenty against them.

The Jets edged the first game at home, winning by seven. Since then the Bills form has slipped so it’s hard to see a reverse here.

ATPF PredictionLike the first battle the Jets win by seven.

Atlanta Falcons @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay finally got their first win on Monday Night but for their NFC South rivals there was more misery in a beat down by the NFC leaders Seattle. Both would have thought this could be a pivotal game before the season but with both so disappointing it is for little more than divisional pride now.

Morale will be high in Tampa after that first win against their state rivals Miami. The Buccaneers have played better than 1-8, several close games have gone against them and they could easily be around .500. Nevertheless they found a way to win such a close game at last against the Dolphins and should have gained some confidence from it. A crucial interception from big money acquisition Darrelle Revis was the key play in that win and he is starting to come back to something like his best after knee surgery. The Buccaneers defense, a respectable fourteenth in yards allowed has the talent to improve and push for a top ten end of year spot. They have been helped by rookie Mike Glennon who has limited turnovers since being handed the starting job and is starting to find chemistry with star receiver Vincent Jackson.

Atlanta have been so consistent over the last 5 years that a 2-7 season has been a huge shock. As we have continually mentioned injuries have plagued them but a porous defense and now a quarterback who has finally imploded as all those around him have has seen them become in grave danger of being the NFC’s worst team. Since beating the Buccaneers in week seven the Falcons have lost all three games and managed just one touchdown in each. Their offense minus Julio Jones seems to have lost all belief. Defensively Atlanta rank 25th in yards allowed and their inept pass rush has seen their secondary picked apart all too often.

The Falcons have taken three consecutive hammerings; their offense is as poor as their defense. Tampa Bay have a real chance to win this game if they play smart football.

ATPF PredictionBack to back wins for the Bucs who prevail by a touchdown.

San Diego Chargers @ Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are a strange team. With their season spiralling out of control they beat the high flying Bengals in week nine only to lose to the 0-8 Buccaneers ten days later. The Chargers make the long journey East on the back of consecutive defeats since their week eight bye.

Defeat by eight to the Broncos was not the end of the world for San Diego. The Chargers were too conservative in their offensive play calling early on and ended up chasing the game. With the Broncos so hard to slow down it was a bad idea to settle for field goals early on. Now at 4-5 and four behind the top two in the AFC West the playoffs look out of reach to first season head coach Mike McCoy. There is plenty to build on however in San Diego. Philip Rivers has had a bounce back year and can now again be considered an upper tier starter. The Chargers heavily retooled defense has improved dramatically as the season has gone on also.

Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill is still inexperienced and even as a sophomore is making rookie mistakes. His development from year two to three is as critical to the Dolphins as it is to his own career. With big money targets Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller signed things looked promising for Miami but the former hasn’t produced and the latter landed on Injured Reserve before a ball was thrown. The already struggling offensive line has been hit hard by the Incognito- Martin issues so Tannehill could have more of the same having already been sacked 37 times. Defensively the Dolphins are a middle of the pack team who still need more help in the secondary.

Miami’s off field crisis left them ripe for the pickings against Tampa Bay. San Diego are significantly more talented and may be the best team in the league with a losing record.

ATPF PredictionIn a battle of 4-5 teams San Diego cruise past Miami, win by over ten.

Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles

A crucial battle in the NFC East which looks set to be won by the least flawed rather than most talented team; we aren’t sure who is the least flawed at this stage. For Washington defeat would surely end their chance, 3-7 is terminal. Philadelphia have gotten back to back wins and can take the division lead with a win here.

Nick Foles return from concussion coincided with Michael Vick’s latest injury and how crucial it proved to the Eagles. Foles is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league and has thrown ten touchdowns to no interceptions in two games since his return. Ball security was the issue with Vick but it is one of Foles’ strong points along with his deep ball which has terrorised the Raiders and Packers. With Riley Cooper becoming a favourite of Nick Foles and DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy both having bounce back years the Eagles offense suddenly looks pretty scary. Defensively the Eagles are still very weak, only their NFC East rivals Dallas have given up more yards.

Washington couldn’t afford to lose to the toiling Vikings as they did in week ten. They are now on life support at 3-6 and don’t look a team capable of going on a winning run. Once again they dominated the game in Minnesota. They had far more possession, far more yards and won the turnover battle but again just couldn’t turn yards into points. Their defense has barely made a stand all year and again it has been down to their offense to win games. Last year the mercurial RG3 and battering ram Alfred Morris were able to make up for their defensive ineptitude but with team’s more aware of the duo they have struggled to do so in 2013.

Both teams are considerably better offensively than defensively and a shootout could be in store. The Redskins must control the clock with Morris to slow down the Eagles high octane offense if they are to have a chance. The Eagles won in Washington in the first clash so at home they should take some beating and their superior receivers can be the difference.

ATPF PredictionPhiladelphia takes control of the NFC East, wins a shootout by seven.

Arizona Cardinals @ Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags finally got a win in week ten, riding the Titans turnovers to the victory. The Cardinals, a team supposed to be rebuilding are having a great season and in a weaker division than the brutal NFC West they would still be contenders.

The 5-4 Cardinals have had a brutal schedule; they have beaten the Lions and Panthers but fallen to Seattle, San Francisco and New Orleans, that’s five likely NFC playoff teams. Their offense hasn’t been hugely effective but in veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald and rookie running back Andre Ellington they have a couple of playmakers. Defensively the Cards are just outside the top ten but have forced twenty turnovers and in cornerback Patrick Peterson they have arguably the most talented cornerback in football.

Jacksonville are dead last in total offense and just one place better in rushing. Maurice Jones-Drew was a factor in their win but he is a long way off his form when the NFL’s leading rusher in 2010. With Justin Blackmon suspended for the foreseeable future Chad Henne has few targets and the stop gap isn’t likely to improve greatly on his three touchdowns to seven interceptions ratio anytime soon. The Jags defense are allowing almost 400 yards and over three touchdowns per game, way too many for their feeble offense to overcome.

The Jags had their day in the Sun but that one win may be it. Arizona have faced some tough opponents so far so will welcome this easier task.

ATPF Prediction- The Cards success continues, they beat the Jags by two scores.

Detroit Lions @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The Lions defense finally came to the aid of their ultra-productive offense when twice denying the Bears a game tying two-point conversion in the final minute at Soldier Field. Pittsburgh’s 0-4 start put them in a huge hole but they are 3-2 since and beat the Bills comfortably a week ago.

The Steelers are not the sort of 3-6 team that playoff teams like the Lions will fancy playing, especially at Heinz field. Since they regrouped during their bye the Steelers have returned a much better and much harder to beat team. Their defense had an aberration in New England but has otherwise been sound if some way off Steelers teams of the past. Offensively rookie running back Le’Veon Bell has given them some balance and the Steelers are up to fifteenth in offensive yards. Journeyman Jerricho Cotchery is proving a go-to-guy in the red zone for Ben Roethlisberger and Bell has four touchdown runs; no other back on the roster has scored this season.

Detroit can be unstoppable at times; Matthew Stafford is a real gun-slinger but his huge arm and unshakable self confidence teamed with the league’s best receiver Calvin Johnson and playmaker Reggie Bush makes this a unit which can terrorise even the league’s better defenses. The Lions defense has two dominating defensive tackles in bad boy Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley who came up with the potentially season defining play for the Lions last week. The secondary of the Lions can be gotten at but Suh and Fairley will hope to collapse the pocket against a poor Steelers offensive line.

The Steelers are a team lacking talent at a number of positions and playmakers are few and far between. The Lions meanwhile are stacked with playmakers and have better talent in every position offensively. Last time Pittsburgh played a top tier offense they conceded 55, that won’t be repeated but reflects their weakness against the very best.

ATPF Prediction The Lions strong run continues, they win on the road by ten.

Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans

Two teams in woeful form match up here and picking a winner isn’t easy. The Raiders were going along ok until they were torn apart by the Eagles and beaten by the Giants. They are now at 3-6 and easily the worst team in the AFC West. Houston’s record is even worse, they stand at 2-7 and could or maybe should have won all of their last three games, instead they have lost them all.

The Texans have been a big disappointment, last year they narrowly lost out on homefield advantage but still won a playoff game but this season has been a disaster. Head coach Gary Kubiak had a stroke two weeks ago, assistant head coach\defensive coordinator Wade Phillips lost his father the week before that and on the field quarterback Matt Schaub imploded and was benched and star running back Arian Foster is on injured reserve. If it could go wrong in Houston it has done. With three straight home games now Houston desperately needs to regain some pride. To have the league’s stingiest defense and a top ten offense and be 2-7 is unheard of.

The Raiders have enjoyed the play of dual threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Pryor leads the team in passing and rushing and while he has a lot to learn he is a regular on the highlight reels. With oft injured Darren McFadden again out in week ten Pryor struggled and completed less than half of his passes against the Giants. Teams are starting to direct their focus to keeping him in the pocket and from there he isn’t effective. The Raiders inexplicable defensive no-show against Philadelphia has spoilt an otherwise satisfactory season by the heavily retooled unit.

The Texans will be the death of us but again we are on their side. Statistically they are streets ahead of their rivals and at home surely can at last win one.

ATPF PredictionTexans defense strangles the ineffective Raiders and Houston wins by ten.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos

 The game we have been waiting for. The unbeaten Chiefs have had a week to prepare for their visit to Mile High and they are fully aware that a win would not only make them odds-on favourites for home field advantage but would also make a perfect season a real possibility. Denver have just a single blip on their record and have been irresistible at times. This is the best two teams in the AFC squaring off and when you throw in the divisional rivalry you have a game to savour.

The Chiefs turnaround from league’s worst to league’s best has been unbelievable. Andy Reid is a lock for coach of the year for his turnaround of this team after he was sacked in Philadelphia. We knew the Chiefs had talent but Reid and his coaching staff have added to what was already in place and then maximised what the Chiefs have to build a truly formidable team. Defensively Kansas City have as much talent as anyone, they have seven or eight players who have played at a pro-bowl level so far. The 23 turnovers and 33 sacks so far show the big play ability of this defense led by unstoppable pass rush duo Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. The offense is centred around Jamaal Charles, a running back who is still underrated around the league, make no mistake this guy is a genuine contender for Adrian Peterson’s best in the business tag. The Chiefs west coast passing attack which relies on short, accurate passes and receivers gaining yards after the catch has been perfect for quarterback Alex Smith who is having a career year in KC.

The Broncos are a far more open, attacking team. Their league leading offense led by soon to be MVP again Peyton Manning averages over 450 yards per game and Manning has already thrown a staggering 33 touchdown passes; he is set to break all sorts of records. Manning has four genuine playmaking receivers each with different skill sets and a running back as reliable as any in short yardage and goal line situations. The Broncos defense has gotten in its share of shootouts and is vulnerable to the deep pass but with Von Miller back they were far better against the Chargers this past Sunday and the talent on Jack Del Rio’s unit is not of a team in the bottom half of the standings.

The Chiefs wonderful run could come to an end here and if it does there is no discredit in losing to the Broncos on the road. As good as the Chiefs defense is it’s hard to see them stopping Manning and co doing their thing and the Chiefs simply won’t be able to keep pace if their defense can’t force turnovers.

ATPF PredictionThe Broncos end the Chiefs streak at nine, win by ten.

San Francisco 49ers @ New Orleans Saints

Defeat for the 49ers after an abject offensive display against the Panthers has put them two behind the Seahawks and also a game behind the Saints who now hold second position in the NFC. New Orleans bounced back from a shock defeat to the Jets by dismantling the Cowboys.

The Saints offense is always among the league’s best and against the Cowboys they were irresistible, scoring seven touchdowns. Drew Brees is the catalyst behind the league’s second best offense and second best passing offense. Brees already has twenty five touchdowns and over 3000 yards but against the Cowboys the running game showed up also as three different backs rushed for a touchdown. New Orleans defense was the league’s worst a year ago but has been turned around under Rob Ryan and is now seventh in yards allowed. If Ryan’s unit continue at that level the Saints are major contenders for the Superbowl.

San Francisco’s five game win streak was ended when they lost a brutal game 10-9 at home to Carolina on Sunday. The 49ers, the preseason NFC favourites had looked to be coming good after a slow start but couldn’t find a way to breach the Panthers excellent defense a week ago, managing just three field goals and not scoring a point in the second half. Colin Kaepernick couldn’t even muster 100 yards passing and was intercepted as the Panthers defense overwhelmed him. The 49ers were excellent themselves defensively, forcing two turnovers and holding Carolina to just 151 yards. With Aldon Smith back there is little doubt that they are a top five defense.

An intriguing battle between the Saints multi-dimensional offense and the 49ers hugely talented defense. As good as they are the 49ers won’t be able to totally shut Drew Brees down but can Kaepernick and the defense bounce back against another sound unit? Home field advantage is said to be worth around three points but the Superdome is surely worth more. The 49ers are too good to write off but beating New Orleans here is near impossible.

ATPF PredictionA really close game but the Saints can score last, win by a touchdown.

Minnesota Vikings @ Seattle Seahawks

The Vikings season ended long ago but they have improved of late and after just failing in Dallas they beat the Redskins in the Metrodome in week ten. Seattle bounced back after a couple of uninspiring efforts to overwhelm the struggling Falcons and improve to 9-1 and remain the team to beat in the NFC.

Minnesota’s second win of the season and first in North America was inspired by a second half comeback where their defense held Washington to just three points. Quarterback Christian Ponder is back under center and may just about be the best of a bad bunch in Minnesota. Adrian Peterson is hot again now and seems to be better with Ponder at quarterback. The Vikings defense has on the whole been poor, only two teams have given up more yards but after a strong second half showing last week they could be ready to improve down the stretch; plenty of jobs depend on it.

Seattle’s defense conversely is consistently excellent and even more so at CenturyLink Field where the ‘12th man’ plays a big part. They are third in yards allowed and should cause Ponder fits if they can get the lead and force him to pass. The Seahawks offense is still waiting for the energy and playmaking skills of Percy Harvin but behind the relentless Marshawn Lynch they now rank eleventh overall and second in rushing.

Nothing is ever certain in football but the Seahawks on all known form will win this comfortably. Their defense should come up with a few big plays as usual and they will have little problem scoring points against the Vikings 30th ranked defense.

ATPF PredictionSeahawks win by twenty in a one sided game.

Green Bay Packers @ New York Giants

The Giants are really making a go of it after their 0-6 start and won a third straight game on Sunday. Green Bay minus Aaron Rodgers were comfortably beaten at home by the Eagles and without their star quarterback looked a shadow of their usual selves. Rodgers injury looks sure to cost the Packers the NFC North but they may even miss the playoffs altogether.

The Giants undoing early in the season was turnovers. They crept back in against the Raiders and the three they had there will have been a warning to Kevin Gilbride’s unit that ball security has to remain a focus. Eli Manning has weapons, Reuben Randle, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are a talented trio but Manning has to make better decisions when throwing to them. The Giants defense has improved greatly in recent weeks and bailed them out against Oakland. Early in the season they would have lost that game.

The Packers drafted in former backup Matt Flynn who has failed to hold down a starting job since leaving the Packers two years ago this week. Flynn knows the system and will likely start ahead of Scott Tolzien who threw two interceptions against the Eagles. Flynn has plenty of targets and if he isn’t too rusty he should score points here. Running back Eddie Lacy was quiet against the Eagles but if the passing game can have success he could get back to his rookie of the year audition. Green Bay will have to play solid defense if they are going to win without Rodgers, Dom Capers unit gave up over 400 yards to the Eagles and are at best a middle of the road unit. The paltry eight turnovers the unit has forced can be hidden when Rodgers is tearing teams up but when he isn’t around such big plays become really needed.

The Giants have a great chance to win a fourth straight game here, their turnover prone offense faces a decidedly inopportune defense which helps. Their improving defense has a nice matchup also against the Rodgers-less offense.

ATPF PredictionThe Giants make the most of their opportunity, win by ten.

New England Patriots @ Carolina Panthers

The Patriots flexed their offensive muscles two weeks ago by scoring no fewer than 55 points against the Steelers. Their offense was already getting healthy and has now had a bye week to further heal. Carolina meanwhile are red hot, they have won five straight and beat the 49ers in San Francisco last week.

The Panthers defense has a real case for being the league’s best. They haven’t given up two touchdowns in a game since week five and held the 49ers to just three field goals last week. Rookie Star Lotulelei has rounded out a front seven which was already excellent but is now outright dominant. Cam Newton has learned that he can be a star on the team rather than the star on the team and he is doing a nice job of taking what is available rather than trying to always create big plays. Running back DeAngelo Williams had the only touchdown in San Fran and remains a productive player for the Panthers.

The Patriots leant on their defense early in the season with their offense so banged up. Since Vince Wilfork and Aqib Talib went down however the defense has unravelled but at the same time the offense got players back. With the unstoppable Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola both fit and joining Aaron Dobson they looked like the Patriots of old against Pittsburgh. Running back Stevan Ridley has also worked his way back to full health and has been a major factor in the last few games also. Tom Brady once again has an arsenal of weapons to go to war with; he will need them all against this defense.

What a matchup we have between the Patriots offense and Panthers defense. We normally favour a great offense but the Patriots have only been great once, the Panthers defense has been great for weeks now. Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams should both have room to manoeuvre and can guide the Panthers to another huge win here.

ATPF PredictionThe Panthers edge a close one, a field goal is the approximate margin of victory.

 


1 Comment

ATPF Preview Week 2

With the first week out of the way teams have already been anointed with the titles not given out until December and January. Fans have given up on their entire season and or regimes, general manager’s are already looking at head coaches, head coaches are looking at quarterbacks and we already can vote all 32 teams in power rankings and read experts describing why certain teams and players are failures. All of this tells us that the NFL is back!

Across the pond football gave out our pre season opinions and after one week we haven’t jumped off or onto too many bandwagons but we are looking ahead to week two with the information provided to us a week ago still fresh in the memory bank. Below is our prediction for each game

New York Jets @ New England Patriots

In the legendary words of Herm Edwards ‘they are who we thought they were’. The Patriots are indeed who we thought they were. They are still a tough team to beat but they have lost some firepower and struggled to a late victory against the Bills. It was the sort of game where knowing how to win carried the Pats to success against a team who is trying to learn what that requires.

The Jets meanwhile rode rookie Geno Smith’s 300 yard debut and let their stingy defense grind Josh Freeman and the Bucs into submission. Ultimately a Nick Folk field goal with 15 seconds remaining gave the Jets the 1 point win. When the Jets were successful and able to give the Patriots a run for their money under coach Rex Ryan they played hard, physical defense, ran the ball well and won the close ones, running the ball still needs more commitment but otherwise the Jets practised what Rex Ryan preaches in that week one win.

Looking ahead to week two and everyone has the Patriots cruising to success, Vegas gives the Jets a 12 point start. Don’t be fooled however, this will be a close one. The Jets need to run the ball better; they need to give Geno Smith a chance on third down to put points up but this Patriots defense is still susceptible against the pass, particularly the play action pass. Rex Ryan will have his team right up for this and expect the defense to get in Tom Brady’s face.

ATPF Prediction- Patriots win by less than a touchdown

Carolina Panthers @ Buffalo Bills

The Panthers were desperate offensively in their season opener but the Seahawks may have the league’s strongest defense so things should get easier here. The Bills had the Patriots on the ropes but a heartbreaking late field goal saw excitement turn to the usual despair in upstate New York.

Carolina may have only put up seven points but their defense gave reason for hope. CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson are meant to be a dynamic duo out of the backfield but were stifled by the Patriots. The Panthers are excellent in the front seven and will hope to again frustrate the duo. Rookie EJ Manuel will then be pressured to make things happen but the Panthers will take their chances with the developmental prospect. Cam Newton should have some joy against the Bills if his line can protect him and more rushing production should help him and the team further.

ATPF PredictionPanthers win this one by around a score

Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens

The Superbowl Champion Ravens came down to earth with a bump in Denver but a tougher game this season they won’t have. As it turned out all four teams lost in the AFC North, a very rare occurrence but a bonus for the Ravens. The Browns meanwhile hung with Miami for a while until Brandon Weeden self destructed, his days as the starter look numbered.

The Ravens are still well coached, disciplined and above average in talent, the Browns have none of those attributes and a one sided game should occur. The Browns are unlikely to score many more than their 10 points in week one and the Champs should get back on track here,

ATPF PredictionThe Ravens take this one by at least 10

Dallas Cowboys @ Kansas City Chiefs

A pair of teams who got a W to kick off go head to head here. Andy Reid’s debut saw the Chiefs pummel a woeful Jacksonville side while Dallas won on the back of six Giants turnovers.

Key to this one could be Kansas’ excellent pass rushing duo Justin Houston and Tamba Hali teamed with the raucous Arrowhead faithful. Dallas’ offensive line was better than advertised in the opener but a year ago in a similar early season game the Cowboys were overwhelmed by crowd and pass rush in Seattle, a repeat is very much on the cards here. The Cowboys defense will struggle to match such opportunism as their opening win against an Alex Smith led offense which will concentrate on short passing and a heavy dose of electric rusher Jamaal Charles.

ATPF PredictionThe Chiefs get to 2-0 and win this one by between 3 and 7 points.

Miami Dolphins @ Indianapolis Colts

Both of this duo made the most of very friendly starts to the schedule with wins and both will fancy doubling up. The Colts got a bright start but then were under the cosh against the Raiders and had to come back under Andrew Luck in the fourth quarter while Miami only shook off the Browns in the fourth quarter.

Ryan Tannehill will be keen to show he is ascending closer to an excellent group of quarterbacks drafted last year, led by his rival here Andrew Luck. He received virtually nothing from his run game in the opener and if the Colts can stifle the rushing attack they will fully expect Andrew Luck to guide them to victory.

ATPF PredictionColts win this one comfortably

Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears

A pleasant surprise last year, the Vikings lost an important divisional game to the Lions in week one. The Bears got a huge win over the talented Bengals meanwhile. Adrian Peterson still ran wild for the Vikings but he can’t do it alone, with Christian Ponder having a nightmare the Vikings came off the tracks in the second half and without a playmaker like Percy Harvin he could struggle this year.

The Bears are perennially excellent defensively and will be a match for Peterson; he will certainly be their main focus. If the Bears heavily revamped line can keep Jay Cutler upright he should again be able to lean heavily on star man Brandon Marshall and put up plenty of points for the Bears.

ATPF Prediction- Bears build more momentum with a comfortable win

San Diego Chargers @ Philadelphia Eagles

The Chargers blew a huge lead to the Texans in week one while the Eagles got a crucial win against NFC East rivals Washington. Chip Kelly’s high speed offense crucially got more out of running back LeSean McCoy, his best weapon and he will look to him again here. Phillip Rivers had less than 220 yards passing but four touchdowns, crucial to the Chargers inability to put the game away was their lack of success on the ground, a recurring theme since LaDainian Tomlinson’s departure.

The Eagles forced three turnovers from the usually careful RG3 in that opening win and Phil Rivers has a penchant for turning it over so that could be decisive here. With the Chargers secondary heavily rebuilt this offseason they could struggle with the tempo and diversity of the Eagles offense.

ATPF PredictionEagles put up some big numbers en route to victory

St. Louis Rams @ Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons couldn’t punch the ball in on their final drive to beat the Saints in week one but the Rams came from the dead to beat the Cardinals in a thriller. The gulf in class between the two’s respective opponents in those matches however is huge so expect a different story here.

The Falcons lost Roddy White to injury but former Ram Steven Jackson had an impressive debut and will be up for this. Jared Cook had a huge debut for the Rams but the Falcons will be ready for him. Key to this game will be quarterback Matt Ryan who is virtually unbeatable at home and should have success against a defense who impressed last year but struggled against the less talented Cardinals last week.

ATPF PredictionFalcons too strong for the Rams and win by around a touchdown

Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans

The Texans performed a miracle comeback against the Chargers whilst the Titans revamped defense overwhelmed the Steelers offense in a week one win. The Titans know this is a big one for them, losing at home to the superior Texans would already put them behind the 8 ball. Houston meanwhile want to right last year’s wrong and get a bye in the playoffs so winning has to be a habit.

The defenses of these teams will be key but Houston’s more potent offense will put points up and they have a way where somebody always beats you. If it’s not superstar runner Arian Foster or superstar receiver Andre Johnson its quarterback Matt Schaub and tight end Owen Daniels as we saw last week. The Titans and quarterback Jake Locker don’t have such diverse talent and if running back Chris Johnson doesn’t come up big the Texans will fancy their chances, patience could be key in a likely defensive battle.

ATPF PredictionTexans win by around a score on the road here

Washington Redskins@ Green Bay Packers

The Packers were left with little doubt that the 49ers remain the team to beat in the NFC as they again found them too strong in week one. The Redskins meanwhile found the new look Eagles a tougher foe as a rusty RG3 took time to get going.

Green Bay needs to keep pace with the Bears and Lions so a home win here is essential. The Redskins ground teams out with battering ram Alfred Morris last year and used the magic of their quarterback to provide the x-factor. With Morris struggling in week one and RG3 still short of full pace the Pack will fancy limiting the Redskins offense and their potent Aaron Rodgers led passing attack should do the rest against an average defense.

ATPF PredictionThe Redskins can’t keep pace here and lose by at least ten

Detroit Lions @ Arizona Cardinals

The Lions offense came up big in an opening win over Minnesota while the Cardinals blew what could be a rare chance to win in week one.

The high powered Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush trio could wreak havoc on a rebuilding Cardinals defense missing star linebacker Daryl Washington. Carson Palmer showed himself to still be capable against a Rams defense at least as strong as the Lions so points are likely in this match.

ATPF PredictionThe Lions could put up big points here and win by upwards of a touchdown

New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A crushing, narrow defeat for the Bucs and a joyous goal line stand for the Saints sees the two meet in complete opposite moods here. Josh Freeman’s woes against a strong Jets defense and the Saints ability to make a stand on defense under Rob Ryan were the back page headlines but things may be a little different here.

With the Falcons so dominant in the NFC South of late the Saints looked like they had spent an entire nine months preparing for them and with a deafening Superbowl behind them they got the win. The offense is always potent but can they keep the ball rolling defensively in an equally important road game here? Tampa are dominant against the run and if Darrelle Revis can keep one target quiet they can hold the Saints juggernaut to reasonable totals. The Bucs meanwhile will look to star runner Doug Martin to earn them the time of possession battle and will expect Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams to cause the Saints secondary fits.

ATPF PredictionThe Bucs have to win this one and narrowly, they do

Denver Broncos @ New York Giants

The Broncos looked unstoppable in week one, annihilating the superbowl champions Baltimore, the Giants outplayed the Cowboys but six turnovers can’t be overcome. The Manning sons face off here with younger brother Eli needing a home win badly, Peyton meanwhile will look to guide his team to beating both of the last two Superbowl winners in as many weeks.

An offensive cast which looked deadly was all that and more in week one as Peyton Manning threw seven touchdown passes. The juggernaut rolls into the big apple against a defense no longer the force of old and it’s tough to envisage the Giants making many stands. New York’s offense put up huge numbers themselves against the Cowboys with three receivers having 100 yards and Victor Cruz scoring three touchdowns. This promises to be a pass fest between two high powered offenses but Denver’s defense are a solid unit even without Von Miller whereas the Giants have plenty to prove on that side of the ball.

ATPF PredictionDenver win an aerial dogfight by around a touchdown

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Oakland Raiders

Both minnows were beaten in week one but the Raiders showed some life, the Jags however were dire. With an extremely long journey out west things may not get much better for them here.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert was injured for Jacksonville, journeyman Chad Henne steps in, little difference there. Terrelle Pryor has taken the start in Oakland, the dual threat had a nice game in week one and teamed with star rusher Darren McFadden could give the Raiders a dangerous run game. A defense likely to be spurred on by the ever passionate Black Hole can again pour misery on probably the worst offense in football.

ATPF PredictionRaiders win, yes you read correctly, infact they win comfortably

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks

The niners proved their worth with a repeat victory over the Green Bay Packers in week one, Seattle got in a battle with Carolina but they won it. One of the most eagerly anticipated rivalries of the season will be hugely affected by the two head to head clashes.

San Francisco had almost 500 yards of offense and 40 minutes possession in that opener. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is emerging into an absolute superstar, the dual threat quarterback had almost 200 yards rushing against the Pack in the playoffs and 400 yards against them passing in week one, pick your poison with him. Seattle’s defense is amongst the league’s toughest, no way will Kaepernick get close to either of those stats nor will receiver Anquan Boldin match the 200 yard debut he had last week against dominant corners Richard Sherman or Brandon Browner, Sherman v Boldin will be unmissable. The Seahawks offense struggled in week one and without Percy Harvin and possibly Sidney Rice the focal point will again be Marshawn Lynch, he couldn’t get going in the opener and the 49ers will no doubt make stopping him their first priority. The twelfth man of Seattle is always important but the talent of San Francisco’s offense makes them favourite nevertheless.

ATPF PredictionThe 49ers wear down Seattle’s defense en route to a hard fought victory

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals

Both teams lost their openers but Baltimore’s defeat softened the blow. The Steelers were awful offensively against Tennessee, the Bengals lost a topsy turvy battle with the Bears. On that form there is little doubt that Cincinnati, at home, should be favourites here.

Two picks from Andy Dalton in that defeat did little to quieten his detractors and the Steelers at least in Ben Roethlisberger have the better quarterback. The Bengals gave up 24 points to Chicago but their defense is still among the league’s best and considering the way the Steelers struggled against Tennessee, one of the league’s worst defenses a year ago this could again be a long night for Roethlisberger and co.

ATPF PredictionThe Steelers make this a game but the Bengals outlast them


2 Comments

ATPF Divisional Preview- AFC West

Denver Broncos- The Broncos have had the entire offseason to think about just how close they were to playing the AFC Championship at home and had they edged that six quarter thriller with the Ravens they must believe that they would have lifted the Lombardi trophy. The good news however is that providing they have gotten over the defeat they look to have leading claims to make amends, indeed their roster is arguably the NFL’s strongest.

Offensively Peyton Manning returned from his no-show in 2011 and took control of the Broncos instantly. He lacked a bit of zip on his throws and the spirals weren’t always tight but his unmatched preparation and ability to read defenses and adjust at the line made up for that and he transformed an average offense to the 4th best in the league. Manning should be better prepared physically this season and his play could improve on 2012. With the huge acquisition of Wes Welker the Broncos now have arguably the best trio of wide receivers in the league. Demaryius Thomas is the most physically gifted; he hauled in 10 touchdowns and over 1400 yards last year as he finally fulfilled his potential under Manning’s tutelage. Eric Decker also had a career year, 1000 yards and 13 touchdowns his return. Throw in Wes Welker who catches 100 balls a season every season in the slot and Peyton must feel like every Sunday is Christmas. Welker’s unmatched ability to get open and find seams will be as missed in Boston as it is welcomed in Denver. Tight ends Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme both saw plenty of the field last year but with Welker’s arrival rarely will they both be out together and it would be a surprise if either had a big year. Rookie tailback Montee Ball will get the start but injury prone Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman who had a decent rookie year will also expect touches in a crowded backfield. Upfront the Broncos line gave up the fewest sacks of any team in 2012, a great help to Manning’s rehab. Pro-Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady, physically gifted right tackle Orlando Franklin and underrated Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton are joined by free agent acquisition Louis Vasquez, a massive road grader who should help in the run game and could be the missing piece to making this the NFL’s best o-line. A healthy Manning is the key and if he remains upright this unit should again be very near the top of the end of season rankings in all categories bar rushing yards.

Image

Peyton Manning conducting the Broncos offense

The second best defense in football last year will miss all-world pass rusher Von Miller (suspends first six games) early on, especially with Elvis Dumervil gone after a fax debacle forced his release. Former Charger Shaun Phillips should take Dumervil’s place although he is a downgrade while Wesley Woodyard may take Miller’s spot in the first six weeks. Third year pro Nate Irving and oft injured journeyman Stewart Bradley will compete for the inside backer start. Upfront the Broncos have added size, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is reunited with giant Terrance Knighton who he drafted as Jacksonville head coach, Knighton will start alongside draft day faller Sylvester Williams, an excellent pass rushing tackle. Derek Wolfe moves to end where he is oversized rather than undersized as he was at tackle. A bigger stronger line and another strong unit set to be even better in 2013. The secondary sees future hall of fame cornerback Champ Bailey enter his 15th season still near the top at his position. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a talented underachiever can learn from Bailey and should start opposite. Safeties Mike Adams and Rahim Moore, infamous for getting burned by Joe Flacco and Jacoby Jones in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter in the playoffs complete the starters. Defensively the Broncos have been excellent each of the last 2 years but with Miller’s ban and Dumervil’s departure they won’t lead the NFL in sacks as in 2012, this could put pressure on a secondary which looks the potential Achilles heel of the defense, a top 10 unit is by no means a certainty this time around.

2013 Predicted wins13-14

Playoff PredictionHealth permitting a deep run looks certain for the Broncos and we see them winning the AFC and going to the Superbowl.

Kansas City ChiefsThe Chiefs were an awful football team in 2012 but have rung the changes and the sum of their parts should be better than 2-14. Changes upstairs and on the sidelines highlight the moves with former Eagles head coach Andy Reid, a highly respected leader taking over from fired Romeo Crennel, a major upgrade for the Chiefs. Reid is smart enough to know that the Chiefs aren’t in the same stratosphere as their divisional foes Denver so he can concentrate on rebuilding thoroughly and this is year one of a long term project to make the Chiefs competitive again.

New head coaches often mean new quarterbacks and Andy Reid’s man is Alex Smith who controversially lost his job after injury in San Francisco. In his eighth year in San Fran Smith was having his best season until the injury. He has largely been a disappointment and his limitations have long been exposed, as a short to intermediate rhythm passer he is accurate enough but lacks the arm strength to stretch the field. Smith is probably a slight upgrade over Matt Cassel, the departing starter who also lacked arm talent. The running game is the key to Kansas’ offense with Jamaal Charles quietly becoming one of the league’s best running backs. After going down in the 2011 opener he bounced back with a 1500 yard season in 2012, he could be stronger again this year but must be looked after better, thumping rookie Knile Davis can help by taking some of the burden. Pro bowl receiver Dwayne Bowe’s full potential has never quite been realised due to the poor quarterbacks he has suffered in Kansas. Re-signing Bowe was a priority and Reid will hope to get the most from the powerful receiver. A peculiar trade saw A.J. Jenkins, San Francisco’s first round draft choice last year replace Jon Baldwin and he can compete with Donnie Avery, a veteran signed from Indianapolis for the start. Anthony Fasano arrived from Miami and will split time with Tony Moeaki at tight end, both are average players at best and third round draft pick Travis Kelce will hope to win the starting job in 2014. First overall selection Eric Fisher, a hugely talented athlete and Brandon Albert who the Chiefs tried to trade will play tackle. The interior of this line is inexperienced, three former second round picks will be thrown into a sink or swim situation, if a leader emerges the Chiefs could have a promising young line going forward, even if Albert departs. Overall any offense containing Bowe and Charles has potential but with Smith as more of a game manager at quarterback the Chiefs will more be looking to improve on last year’s -24 turnover differential than moving up heavily on their 24th overall in offensive yards.

The Chiefs defense is pretty strong bar the defensive line which has seen a revolving door of high draft picks disappoint. Still there is Tyson Jackson, a former top 10 pick who is just an ok defensive end and he should play opposite free agent signee Mike DeVito who was a forgettable player with the Jets. Giant nose tackle Dontari Poe had his moments in his rookie year, Kansas needs him to become a force to take some of the strain upfront. The Chiefs linebackers are an excellent group, Tamba Hali is one of the league’s best pass rushers but Justin Houston outdid him in his first season in KC as the duo tallied an impressive 19 sacks. Derrick Johnson is a sideline to sideline player inside and a fine player, Akeem Jordan, a man Reid knows well and rookie Nico Johnson will compete for the final linebacker spot. The Chiefs secondary is a good group also; pro bowl safety Eric Berry and near-shutdown corner Brandon Flowers are both elite players. Sean Smith will start opposite Flowers, he was Miami’s best corner last year but the free safety spot is the question mark with rookie Sanders Commings a possible starter. Like the offense the Chiefs defense is diverse in talent, if they can get better play upfront to help stop the run which they couldn’t do last year this unit has the talent to move into the top 16 overall.

Image

Safety Eric Berry and cornerback Brandon Flowers

2013 Predicted wins6-7

Playoff Prediction- A weak division and friendly schedule favours KC but they look to have too many holes to manage a winning record or to make the playoffs.

San Diego ChargersHead coach Norv Turner flattered to deceive in San Diego and finally outstayed his welcome with a seven win season continuing a four year trend of declining win totals. Mike McCoy takes over after impressing as offensive coordinator in Denver but is an unknown as a head coach. With Philip Rivers no longer looking a superbowl calibre quarterback the window has long closed on San Diego and it looks time to rebuild and start again. The race between them and the Chiefs is on as the Broncos window is only as long as 37 year old Peyton Manning lasts, after that divisional dominance could be there for the taking for one of these two rebuilding franchises.

Rivers’ decline has been pretty dramatic in the last couple of years, from best quarterback without a superbowl ring to struggling, turnover prone liability. In fairness to Rivers he has had little help from the rest of the offense during his prolonged slump; the bad news is that things may not be much better in 2013. Starters at wide receiver are Danario Alexander, who was signed off the street but played well in 2012 and Malcolm Floyd, another big bodied receiver who is just an average starter. Free agent signings last year Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal were both huge disappointments, they are both playing for their jobs this year but past form proves both are capable of more. The one receiver Rivers has been able to rely on most of his career is tight end Antonio Gates, a future hall of fame candidate but injuries have taken a heavy toll on Gates in the last couple of years and relying on him now is a roll of the dice. Another future hall of famer whose absence has been huge is now retired running back LaDainian Tomlinson. His replacement, 2010 first round draft pick Ryan Mathews has at times given cause for optimism but injuries have been the recurring theme and he looks another player who simply must be better and indeed healthier this year if he is to have a future here. Danny Woodhead should be a help to Phil Rivers, the versatile back is particularly dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield. The o-line is still missing retired Marcus McNeill, a pro bowl left tackle whose career was cut short by a neck injury. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Max Starks now mans this crucial spot; he is at least an upgrade over released Jared Gaither if not quote in McNeill’s league. Rookie DJ Fluker a huge mauling blocker will play the right side; expect plenty of run plays behind him. Seventh year vet Jeremey Clary and free agent acquisition Rich Ohrnberger will likely start at guard with center Nick Hardwick probably the Chargers best lineman. The offensive line play has to be better than 2012 to give Rivers a chance. The whole offense is reliant on players bouncing back, Rivers from his slump, Mathews and Gates from injury, Meachem and Royal from no shows last year and a line from substandard play. They may get some success here but overall there just isn’t enough to believe that the offense has improved much from a unit that ranked 31st overall in 2012. If Rivers struggles again things could get really ugly.

Image

Tight end Antonio Gates and quarterback Philip Rivers

The strength of the defense is the defensive ends, Corey Liuget a 2011 first round pick and Kendall Reyes a second round pick in 2012 are emerging as stars. Nose tackle Cam Thomas should be the new starter between the talented duo and he is a player the Chargers have always liked. The Chargers were eleventh in the league in sacks last year but their leader in that category, Shaun Phillips left and now Larry English and Jarret Johnson are expected to be the main pass rushers, neither are upper echelon talents but are at least experienced pros. Linebacker Donald Butler had a career year in 2012, he is joined inside by Mant Te’o, a player best known for a mystifying incident which saw him grieve for his dead girlfriend, who turned out to be a fictional character. Te’o will be under the spotlight but for the most part was a pretty good college player and on the field there was never an issue. A completely rebuilt secondary will see third year pro Marcus Gilchrist step up to start at corner, opposite him should be Derek Cox, a victim of the car crash in Jacksonville last season. Depth is slim on the ground but at least in free safety Eric Weddle the Chargers have one of the best around. Second year pro Brandon Taylor a huge hitter will play strong side but has to prove himself in coverage. The front three is the strength of the Chargers but with the overall talent pool lacking, a second consecutive top 10 defense looks unlikely, in any case that was probably a false economy considering they had to play Oakland and Kansas City twice each.

2013 Predicted wins– 4-5

Playoff PredictionThe Chargers look could easily be 0-4 when they go to Oakland in early October, a return to the playoffs from there is virtually impossible.

Oakland Raiders– The Raiders are still trying hard to shed their laughing stock tag, former owner Al Davis death has left Reggie McKenzie in charge and the GM is cleaning house, he needs to. Unfortunately for Raiders fans the mess McKenzie was left with will take a lot more than two years to fix, in the meantime results and performance on the field are unlikely to be positive.

Quarterback Carson Palmer departed for Arizona and in came Matt Flynn who was supposed to be the starter in Seattle last year only to lose out to rookie Russell Wilson in the pre season. Unfortunately lightning may strike twice for Flynn with unproven but athletic Terrelle Pryor gaining momentum in his bid to become starter. Pryor is certainly on-trend as a versatile dual threat quarterback but must prove he has the passing ability to be a success. The most talented Raider by far is running back Darren McFadden but he has missed 23 games in five years in the league. The Raiders nonetheless have built around McFadden, changing their blocking scheme to suit McFadden’s between the tackles style. Rashad Jennings leaves the woeful Jaguars for the equally abysmal Raiders as McFadden’s backup. Center Stefen Wisniewski and tackle Jared Veldheer are the team’s best linemen while guard Mike Brisiel simply must be better than 2012 to earn his hefty paycheck. Denarius Moore is sure to start at wide receiver, beyond him a group of unproven youngsters will compete with Jacoby Ford for playing time. Tight ends Richard Gordon and David Ausberry will both get playing time but a combined 12 career catches are further evidence of the weakness of this Raiders roster. A group with questions over every offensive position leaves little optimism and the 18th ranking of a year ago is hard to see being matched unless Pryor comes straight in and lights it up Colin Kaepernick style.

mcfadden

Raiders running back Darren McFadden

To say the Raiders defense has been revamped would be an understatement, nine new starters and nine new free agent acquisitions in place of eight departures. Free agent signings Vance Walker (Atlanta), Pat Sims (Cincinnati) and Jason Hunter (Denver) will join Lamarr Houston upfront. Three more free agents Kevin Burnett (Miami), Nick Roach (Chicago) and Kaluka Maiava are all likely starters at linebacker and the secondary is also transformed. Former Saint Tracy Porter struggled in Denver and moves on again while Mike Jenkins half hearted attitude saw him out of Dallas, both have ability at least. First round pick D.J. Hayden will compete with the duo for a starting berth and will surely start sooner rather than later regardless. Former Brown Usama Young joins one of two  returnees Tyvon Branch at safety to complete a unit of misfits who need to gel and improve individually and collectively to be competitive, it’s likely McKenzie has some hits and some misses amongst this group but ultimately the Raiders will likely be in the bottom quarter of end of season rankings.

2013 Predicted wins1-2

Playoff PredictionIf the end of season positions were reversed the Raiders would likely have homefield advantage, in the real world they are years away from the playoffs.