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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 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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.