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ATPF Preview Divisional Round

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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.

 

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ATPF Preview Wildcard Round

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What a crazy week to finish the season. The Steelers mustn’t be able to comprehend how the Chargers ‘won’ their game against the Chiefs backups. The Bears must also be hurting, they had their winner takes all game in their grasp, Julius Peppers had Aaron Rodgers in his grasp, Rodgers escaped, Green Bay escaped and piled more misery on their deadly rivals. There was a familiar theme even minus Tony Romo in Dallas as for the third straight year the Cowboys lost a winner takes all NFC East clash; all three teams have beaten them in the three year skid. The coaching carousel is in full swing too, Gary Kubiak’s position was untenable, Mike Shanahan and Greg Schiano had lost their locker rooms and both Leslie Frazier and particularly Jim Schwartz had failed to meet expectations relevant to the talent level on their rosters. I do feel most for one year head coach Rob Chudzinski, fired by the Browns. Chudzinski inherited a woeful roster and organisation which knows only how to lose, admittedly they fell apart once the season was lost but if Michael Lombardi thinks anyone is making this team competitive in one season he is very much mistaken.

Anyway to look back, we went 13-3 in our condensed week 17 preview, our best week of the year. In our first season we went 151-87 on predictions; we have had plenty of fun and a few headaches along the way but turned out reasonable numbers. Onto the playoffs now and the stakes are raised, we are excited about the next month but hope it doesn’t go too quick.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts

A fortnight ago the Colts beat the Chiefs 23-7 in this stadium so will certainly enter this game with confidence. They have been giant killers in an 11-5 AFC South winning season, San Francisco, Denver and indeed Kansas City were all favoured but all beaten by the Colts. The Colts are not without their flaws but they certainly have the winning knack. Their defense ranked 20th in yards allowed but eighth in scoring, allowing just 21 points per game and the 27 turnovers forced by the unit were vital. Offensively the Colts haven’t been ultra dynamic, Trent Richardson has disappointed on the whole but showed a few signs down the stretch and the loss of Reggie Wayne has put a lot on the shoulders of T.Y. Hilton who has had a solid sophomore year. Andrew Luck hasn’t yet reached the pantheons of the likes of Manning, Brees or Rodgers but is smart, accurate and more athletic than many realise.

The success of the Chiefs, 2012’s worst team has been surprising but not completely shocking. They have a lot of talent; we already knew that and in Andy Reid brought in a highly respected, experienced and successful coach. Reid has got the best out of a team that past managements got the least out of. Kansas City have been led by Jamaal Charles, their superstar running back who was deprived of a 2000 yards from scrimmage season by being rested for the final game and had nineteen total touchdowns. Quarterback Alex Smith’s accurate short and intermediate passing has been an ideal fit for Andy Reid’s west coast offense and Smith has had arguably the best year of his career. Kansas’ defense is laden with stars and boasts one of the league’s most feared pass rushes and most talented secondaries. Few teams in fact can boast the talent that K.C. can on defense with playmakers throughout the starting eleven.

In the first meeting Kansas uncharacteristically committed four turnovers, couldn’t complete on third down and lost the time of possession battle by almost seventeen minutes. They are a team built to not turn it over, not get in third and long situations and to control the clock so the game went all wrong. Andy Reid will want to shut down the Colts run game here first and foremost and allow Jamaal Charles to both control the clock and make big plays. The Colts will hope to do a better job on Charles than in the last meeting but he can make plays in so many ways. Kansas defense is entirely reliant on pressure but they couldn’t get at Luck nearly enough last time and when their blitz doesn’t get home they can be vulnerable.

ATPF PredictionThe Colts finished the season strongly including a verdict over the Chiefs. Kansas City are more solid as an all round team but the Colts were able to exploit all of their weaknesses last time out. Reid will want to correct many of these issues but the Colts won comfortably that day so have to get the edge. It will be closer however this time; we predict the Colts win by a score of 27-20.

New Orleans Saints @Philadelphia Eagles

All credit to Chip Kelly who took the Eagles from worst to first in the NFC East behind one of the league’s most feared offenses. The Eagles finished the season 7-1 to power past the Cowboys and will enter the playoffs with great confidence. Their offense went from explosive but self destructive under Michael Vick to just flat out explosive under Nick Foles. LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing and DeSean Jackon came back to his best as the dynamic deep threat that terrified defensive coordinators in his first couple of years in the league and a word must be said about the offensive line which paved the way for McCoy’s great season at a tempo which is hardly comfortable to men weighing around 300 lbs. The Eagles have languished in the bottom five of the defensive rankings all year yet they have allowed over 22 points just once in their last 12 games.

The Saints finished the season with an 11-5 record but lost the NFC South to the shock success story of the Carolina Panthers. The Saints are imperious at home but won just three of their eight road games this season and none of those were convincing. Defeats to the substandard Jets and Rams on the road, a crucial loss to the Panthers and a whipping in Seattle further backup the view that this team needs the comforts of home to be at their best. Their best is however arguably better than the Eagles best so there is hope if they can find their best form. The Saints always prolific offense ranked fourth in the league and Drew Brees’ pass attack was good for second best overall. The biggest difference for New Orleans this year was their fourth ranked defense which was second best in the league against the pass. Rob Ryan’s defense uses many different formations, sub-packages, coverages and blitzes and he will hope to disguise his plays from the relatively inexperienced but usually unflappable Nick Foles; it will be an interesting battle.

Offenses grab the headlines in these two cities but don’t be fooled, the Saints defense is the best we have seen for years and I include their Superbowl year in that and the Eagles are way better than the stats suggest too. The Eagles have great momentum, are at home and will find conditions much more to their liking than their opponents. The Saints are a very experienced postseason team and can go toe to toe with anyone but their away form just doesn’t add up to the same as their home form.

ATPF PredictionThis game won’t be an offensive shootout like some are suggesting but nor will it be dull. The Eagles were brilliant in the snow against Detroit a month ago so minus 6 celsius (21 Fahrenheit) temperatures shouldn’t be an issue. The Eagles have enough in their favour to upset the better side here and we see something like Philadelphia 34 New Orleans 28.

San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals

As we spoke of earlier San Diego winning their decisive week 17 game wasn’t far short of miraculous. I have heard a few cynical whispers but the Chiefs did not want their AFC West rivals in the playoffs so such talk is ridiculous. The Chargers have been behind the eight ball all year as their West rivals Denver and Kansas City blazed such a trail yet beating both in their own backyards gave them hope and their win last week saw them in against the odds. They look the most flawed team in the playoffs but their schedule has been brutal so a 9-7 finish was no mean feat and they have one major thing in their favour here. That is quarterback Philip Rivers who has led them to a top five ranking in total offense and in passing. Defensively the Chargers are in stage one of a major revamp and there are some obvious holes particularly in their secondary.

The Bengals at last won the NFC North from perennial Lombardi trophy contenders Pittsburgh and current holders of the trophy Baltimore. In their third straight year in the playoffs they need to win at least one postseason game and with a home game in the cold against the Southern Californians they will fancy their chances. Few teams are as strong on both sides of the ball as Cincinnati; their defense has been strong for a few years now and despite some big name injuries they ended the season as the third ranked unit in the league. Their offense is full of talent too; superstar receiver A.J. Green is among the league’s elite and Marvin Jones has emerged as a valid number two. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert are both good pass catchers and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard form an effective one-two. The lone issue on this team is quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton enters his third straight postseason needing a win and needing to prove that he is capable at this level. Dalton passed for a seventh best in the league 4296 yards and a third best in the league 33 touchdowns but his 20 interceptions is the most of any quarterback to make the playoffs. If Dalton can hold it together and use his weapons the Bengals will be tough to beat.

The Chargers need Phil Rivers to be at his best as he has been for much of the year here against a very stout defense capable of constant pressure from just their four man rush. The Chargers will also hope that Dalton errs as he has in the last two postseasons.

ATPF PredictionThe Bengals shouldn’t struggle against the Chargers defense and should score plenty of points. San Diego will score points also despite the Bengals defensive strength but we can’t see them matching their rivals on the scoreboard. Our prediction is Cincinnati 34 San Diego 24.

San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers

There is history here and it favours the 49ers but the Packers will be ready for Colin Kaepernick this year but minus Clay Matthews they may still struggle to contain him. The bitter weather of Lambeau Field may have been a problem to 49ers teams of the past but strangely the blue collar 49ers ought to be more suited by it than the dynamic Green Bay Packers. San Francisco are a run first, ground and pound offense and veteran Frank Gore sets the tone. The Niners ended the year with the third ranked ground game in the league but they will need more from their passing attack. Michael Crabtree stepped up on their run to the Superbowl last year and they will need more of the same from him having missed the majority of the year. The 49ers ended the year ranked fifth in total defense and haven’t given up thirty points once this season.

The Packers scored 28 against that stingy defense in week one but it wasn’t enough. Their offense has struggled on the most part this season with Aaron Rodgers missing more than half of the season but we all know how dangerous they can be with him at full speed. He was slow to get going on his return last week but typically made a brilliant game winning throw inside the final minute. Randall Cobb is back also and caught two touchdowns against Chicago, Cobb, speedy James Jones and Rodgers favourite target Jordy Nelson are a formidable trio especially when you consider that the Packers have run the football the best that they have since their Superbowl campaign of three years ago. Their defense is one of the weaker units in the playoffs and injuries to their front seven will certainly give Dom Capers some headaches when you think back to the way Kaepernick consistently got to the edge in the playoffs last year and then picked up huge chunks of yardage en route to a quarterback rushing record.

The Packers are a team everyone will fear now but perhaps less so San Francisco who have such a fine recent record against them. The Packers must pick their poison with San Francisco’s multi faceted offense but the matchups seem to largely favour the 49ers.

ATPF PredictionThe Aaron Rodgers factor will be big here but the 49ers are a more talented all round team so they again hold the edge in this matchup. It was 34-28 last time and a similar score is likely. We are going to say 30-28 this time.

 


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ATPF Preview Week 11

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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.

 


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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


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ATPF Divisional Preview- AFC South

Houston Texans- After winning 11 of their first 12 last year the Texans slumped to lose three of their last four which cost them not only the top seed in the AFC but also a first round bye in the playoffs. For the second straight year they defeated the Bengals in the wildcard but were then comprehensively beaten by the Patriots in the divisional round. The schedule looks a notch tougher in 2013 but the Texans are a deeply talented team and should again expect to be in the race for the first seed in the AFC.

A balanced offense which ranked seventh overall in 2012 should again be a top 10 unit. Quarterback Matt Schaub made his second pro-bowl last year but still needs to do more in the really big games, whether it is scheme or Schaub himself the Texans seem to become more conservative in the clutch, a habit that must end if they are to become real contenders. The Texans added wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the first round to complement Andre Johnson. Johnson a 10 year veteran is still as dominant as ever and he remains one of the league’s most feared receivers, Hopkins should finally offer a legitimate threat opposite and in the future will be expected to move into Johnson’s role. Depth is a worry at receiver after Kevin Walter departed for Tennessee, largely unproven wideouts will be expected to make an impact but tight end Owen Daniels should take some of the burden, he is a crafty, versatile veteran who knows how to get open. All-pro running back Arian Foster should again be in the 1500 yards rushing vicinity, as an all round back he has few peers but the Texans mustn’t over rely on him in the big ones. Pro bowl left tackle Duane Brown is Houston’s best lineman but this is an excellent, underrated unit, the biggest question mark ahead of 2013 is the health of right tackle Derek Newton, the Texans drafted Brennan Williams in the third round as insurance. The health of Johnson, Foster and Schaub is key to the Texans due to a lack of depth but if the trio stay fit the offense is good enough for a deep playoff run.

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Texans quarterback Matt Schaub and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning

When you think of Houston’s defense one man stands out; defensive end J.J. Watt. The reigning defensive MVP is the most dominant offensive lineman in football, his brute strength; incomprehendable speed and nonstop motor make him the most feared defender in the league. Veteran Antonio Smith is solid opposite him whilst nose tackle Earl Mitchell fits what Wade Phillips likes at the position in an undersized effort guy who doesn’t take plays off. The loss of middle linebacker Brian Cushing last October was a body blow, one of the league’s best; Cushing is healthy again and makes a huge difference to this defense. Brooks Reed will move inside alongside Cushing leaving last year’s first round pick Whitney Mercilus to start as chief blind side rusher; the strong side is likely to be occupied by rookie Sam Montgomery. Future hall of fame safety Ed Reed was a huge acquisition for the Texans defense, his unique playmaking ability from the spot should help a unit which struggled at times against the pass last year. Corners Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph are solid cover men who weren’t aided by poor safety play last year, both will be stronger for Reed’s presence behind them. The Texans drafted strong safety D.J. Swearinger in the second round and he will press Danieal Manning for a starting berth. Few defenses can boast an elite lineman, linebacker and defensive back but the Texans trio of Watt, Cushing and Reed gives them three game changers. A unit which ranked seventh last year could easily be stronger if Reed can help their vulnerability to the deep pass.

2013 Predicted wins- 11-12

Playoff Prediction- Few teams are as strong as Houston on both sides of the ball and the Texans ought to make a serious push for the AFC Championship. It’s time to prove the doubters wrong and show that they are genuine contenders.

Indianapolis ColtsOne of the biggest surprises of 2012 was the Colts bounce back year which saw them win 11 games en route to the playoffs. Their schedule offers encouragement that they can contend again but this is still a roster in the middle of a rebuild and lacking talent at a variety of positions.

That the best player on the Colts roster is quarterback Andrew Luck is one of the main reasons for optimism in Indianapolis. The second year standout was advertised as the best prospect in a decade and he didn’t disappoint in his rookie year. Rookie quarterbacks have been more successful than ever before in the last decade but often suffer with the dreaded ‘sophomore slump’ Luck however is a more diverse and complete player so should instead progress again. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne enjoyed a renaissance under Luck’s excellent quarterbacking, the veteran should again have a good season but the Colts need free agent pickup Darrius Heyward-Bey to produce more than he ever did in Oakland, he certainly offers a legitimate deep threat. Third round pick T.Y. Hilton had a fine rookie campaign, leading the Colts in touchdowns and gaining over 800 yards receiving, the undersized sophomore will hope to outperform Heyward-Bey to get the start. Tight end Coby Fleener, a college teammate of Luck struggled with injuries throughout his rookie year and is likely to miss the start of 2013 with another knock. In his absence, fellow rookie Dwayne Allen got the start and impressed, the Colts like two tight end sets but Allen now looks the number one. To continue the theme it was a rookie who led the Colts in rushing in 2012 too, Vick Ballard gaining over 800 yards on the ground. Former first round pick Donald Brown has been a bust so Ballard should again carry the load but the Colts who ranked 22nd in rushing are unlikely to improve on that. Emphasis was placed on improving an offensive line which struggled to protect Luck in 2012 this offseason, a smart move. Tackle Gosder Cherilus and guard Donald Thomas were picked up in free agency and should start while guard Hugh Thornton and center Khaled Holmes were both drafted with an eye on the future. A unit built around Luck is unlikely to again manage a top 10 finish but limiting turnovers can help make up for that, key is getting production opposite Reggie Wayne.

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Colts quarterback Andrew Luck

The Colts acquired four defensive free agents and drafted three more defensive cogs in coordinator Greg Manusky’s wheel. Five departures were headlined by Dwight Freeney the Colts all time sack leader who didn’t fit Manusky’s 3-4 defense. Upfront, Aubrayo Franklin and Brandon McKinney will compete at nose tackle, while Ricky Jean-Francois is a player with upside slated to start at defensive tackle and journeyman Cory Redding at end. The Colts have a mass of veteran defensive linemen so competition should be stiff and rotation heavy. Of the linebackers Robert Mathis managed eight sacks in his new position and was always undersized to play on the line anyway, he will be the prime pass rusher whilst free agent pickup Erik Walden is strong against the run and should start on the strong side. First round draftee Bjoern Werner was a productive pass rusher at Florida State and should spell Walden on passing downs. Inside, solid pros Pat Angerer and Jerrell Freeman start. Greg Toler arrived from Arizona to replace underachiever Jerraud Powers at corner, Vontae Davis starts opposite but the jury is out on the depth players and this unit will be targeted. Newly acquired LaRon Landry is a hard hitting, athletic safety who stayed healthy in 2012; something he had struggled to do latterly in Washington, veteran Antoine Bethea is the second longest standing defender in Indianapolis and remains a solid starter. To summarise, this unit should better fit Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 scheme but lacks the kind of talent he had in Baltimore. They ranked 26th in total defense last year and just couldn’t stop the run. They have invested in a whole raft of players expected to improve that but their secondary and pass rush look average so even if they force teams to pass there’s no guarantee that they can stop them in the air.

2013 Predicted wins8-9

Playoff PredictionNobody saw the Colts making it last year, they again have it to do in ’13 but should be thereabouts with a friendly schedule, they will however have to get a couple of upsets to get in.

Tennessee TitansFour seasons have elapsed since the Titans last made the playoffs although 29 wins in those four years shows that by no means have they been whipping boys. They fell back to 6-10 last year under new starting quarterback Jake Locker and it is a pivotal year for the former first round draft choice and third year head coach Mike Munchak who selected him.

Tennessee’s offense which ranked 26th overall in 2012 simply must be better and GM Ruston Webster certainly placed a high emphasis on it in the offseason. The Titans look ready to be a top 10 team in rushing with Chris Johnson, famous for his 2000 yards rushing in 2009 still an elite running back. Although his numbers haven’t got close to those since that career year he is still one of the most dangerous runners in the league, his explosive speed unmatched at the running back position. New accomplice Shonn Greene had two 1000 yard seasons with the Jets and he should complement Johnson well. Greene, a downhill, north-south power runner offers a very different proposition to Johnson. Upfront at last the Titans look to have the kind of unit to utilise Johnson’s open field skills, adding former Buffalo guard Andy Levitre, one of the top free agents on the market and first round pick Chance Warmack, one of the most polished prospects in the draft should offer a huge upgrade inside. Right tackle David Stewart and left tackle Michael Roos, a former pro bowler are an extremely strong pair of bookends and on paper this now looks a very solid line. Quarterback Jake Locker has the physical gifts to succeed but his passing accuracy is his Achilles heel, a 56.4% completion rate is unacceptable and gave the defense way too much playing time last year. A better offensive line and potent rushing attack could be just the tonic for Locker, a strong armed quarterback who excels in deep passing rather than rhythmic short passing focusing on consecutive completions. His running skills mustn’t be underestimated; he is well capable of a 500 yard season on the ground. Star receiver in Tennessee is Kenny Britt, an elite talent who at times is unplayable but spends much more time injured and in trouble off the field, you sense patience is running low with him. Second year receiver Kendall Wright had a nice rookie year, leading his team in receptions and second round pick Justin Hunter is a big bodied receiver, possibly Britt’s replacement in 2014. Free agent addition Delanie Walker is an upgrade at tight end and as an excellent blocker further enhances the claims that this rushing attack should be hugely improved. With that in mind and Locker likely to benefit from more experience this offense should be a top 16 unit in 2013.

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Titans running back Chris Johnson

Defensively the Titans look a unit low on talent and you sense that like last year they could give up big points and big yards regularly. Upfront first round flop Derrick Morgan and undersized journeyman Kamerion Wimbley are a modest pass rushing duo while defensive tackle Karl Klug is an average starter, third year pro Jurrell Casey is the best lineman on the team and could emerge as a pro bowler in 2013. The linebacking corps are low on experience but high on athleticism, Colin McCarthy is an explosive player and his return will help, Zach Brown had a fine rookie campaign and shows a real eye for the ball, this unit could easily take a major step forward this season. Corners Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty were constantly burned last year yet look likely to start again unless rookie Blidi Wreh-Wilson is more ready than his college tape suggests. Safety Michael Griffin is one of the better defensive players on the roster but faced a thankless task on the backend of this unit last year. Former Raven Bernard Pollard, a big hitting, in the box safety should add physicality to the secondary and provides an upgrade. There is defensive talent on this roster, I like the looks of the young linebacking group and see further potential in Casey upfront but the cornerbacks look amongst the league’s weakest and they won’t get much help from the pass rush. Tennessee ranked 27th in total defense in 2012 and although they could be better against the run it’s hard to envisage this defense being top 20 overall.

2013 Predicted wins6-7 wins

Playoff PredictionThe Titans must beat the Colts twice you feel to have a chance. Any success must be built on the rushing attack but with such a poor defense it will be tough to control the game by rushing alone and Locker will lose more shootouts than he will win.

Jacksonville JaguarsPretty much everything has changed in Jacksonville, pretty much everything had to change in Jacksonville. A 2-14 season saw the Jags with the joint worst record in the NFL, the result is a new regime, GM, head coach, coordinators, schemes, you name it, it’s changed. The good news for new GM Dave Caldwell and head coach Mike Mularkey is they don’t have to do much to improve things.

Offensively quarterback Blaine Gabbert is ready for his second full year as starter but the jury is very much out on him. In any normal year the Jags would surely have drafted his successor but in a draft devoid of quarterback talent they instead took offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, an NFL ready prospect. Joeckel will start at right tackle opposite Eugene Monroe, a dependable blind side protector. The interior of the line was chaos in 2012 and it was a surprise that the Jags neither drafted nor signed anyone to aid this. Guard Will Rackley was sorely missed with injury, he returns but the interior of this line is still cause for concern. Franchise running back Maurice Jones-Drew missed the last 9 games in 2012, a crippling blow to a unit so low on talent. Jones-Drew, who led the NFL in rushing in 2011, is the linchpin of this offense and his return should benefit everyone. At wideout there is talent, Justin Blackmon, the team’s first round pick in 2012 is a big physical receiver capable of winning one on ones and Cecil Shorts is an electric deep threat who led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns a year ago. Blackmon misses the first four games through suspension and he is one more violation away from a year’s ban, his conduct is a real concern. Journeymen Mohammed Massaquoi and Jordan Shipley along with a pair of talented draft projects complete the wide receivers and Marcedes Lewis a one year wonder in 2010 is the starting tight end.  Maurice Jones-Drew’s return is reason for some optimism but there are question marks over all eleven starters and a unit that ranked 29th overall in 2012 is unlikely to be a great deal better in 2013.

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Jaguars Running Back Maurice Jones-Drew

With such little talent on offense you could be forgiven for thinking there must be plenty on defense, you’d be wrong, past regimes left little behind for the new team to work with. They have overhauled the roster but getting real quality in free agency is tough, it’s the start of a massive rebuild in Jacksonville you feel. Former Buccaneer Roy Miller and Tyson Alualu a modest former first round draft choice will start at tackle, Jason Babin who was poor in 2012 for the Eagles and Jaguars and second year vet Andre Branch must improve immensely in a scheme where the defensive ends need to get constant pressure. Linebackers Russell Allen and Paul Posluszny both missed time in 2012, their return helps but the third linebacker spot is to be fought out by players who don’t look NFL calibre starters. At corner, ten year veteran Marcus Trufant is still a solid performer and looks one of the Jags better free agent acquisitions, rookie Dwayne Gratz should beat out journeyman Alan Ball and second year pro Mike Harris to start opposite. Hard hitting rookie Jonathan Cyprien will start at strong safety while reliable pro Dwight Lowery returns at free safety. The Jags welcome back a couple of starters, expect more from a few others, added a few free agents and should start at least two rookies. Plenty of change then but little reason for too much optimism, the bottom line is this unit is devoid of elite talent and is set to start several backup calibre players, this could well be the worst defense in the NFL.

2013 Predicted wins2-3

Playoff Prediction- Inconceivable that they are anywhere near the playoffs.