Predicting the playoffs

by Matt Luppino
What are we talking about?!?!? Somewhere, Jim Mora is displeased, but I’m going to do it anyways. As a reminder, here are my playoff teams from each league based off of my predictions posted yesterday.

AFC

  • Denver
  • Indianapolis
  • New England
  • Pittsburgh
  • Kansas City
  • Buffalo

NFC

  • Green Bay
  • Seattle
  • New York
  • Atlanta
  • Arizona
  • Philadelphia

Wild Card
(3) New England over (6) Buffalo
(5) Kansas City over (4) Pittsburgh
(6) Philly over (3) NYG
(5) Arizona over (4) Atlanta

Rex Ryan will bring a tough defense to Foxborough, but pissed off Tom Brady should be able to easily dispatch of them. I like the potency of Kansas City’s offense against a weaker and less experienced Steelers defense, especially Jamaal Charles in the cold weather of Pittsburgh. If the Giants struggle to get a pass rush on Sam Bradford, I could see him picking apart that secondary with ease while being more successful in covering the Giants. The Cardinals defense will be tough on Matt Ryan, and if Carson can avoid mistakes, he should punish Atlanta, even at home.

Divisional
(1) Denver over (5) Kansas City
(2) Indianapolis over (3) New England
(1) Green Bay over (6) Philadelphia
(2) Seattle over (5) Arizona

I don’t like picking all of the bye week teams, but I feel good on most of these picks.  Once again assuming Peyton is still Peyton, I can see him performing well against the Chiefs at altitude to grind out a tough win.  In a rematch of the famous Deflategate game, we might see an even more pissed off Colts team than just simply pissed off Tom Brady, and I see Andrew Luck finally besting him to move on; should be a good game though.  Sam Bradford has little playoff experience, and most of that Packers team, especially Aaron Rodgers, has plenty; I see Green Bay, at Lambeau, outclassing the Eagles.  As for the NFC West matchup, it is also a toss-up, but I see the Seahawks defense as more dangerous against Carson Palmer than Atlanta, allowing them to move on at a raucous CenturyLink Field.

Andrew LuckConference
(2) Indianapolis over (1) Denver
(2) Seattle over (1) Green Bay

After Peyton bested Luck in Indianapolis during the regular season, I see Luck repaying the favor in Denver. The new experience on the Colts team will pay off, and (bonus prediction) Peyton Manning will retire without the elusive second ring he went to Denver for. In the NFC, this is a tight matchup in a rematch of last year’s NFC championship. In another close game, I see Seattle’s rushing attack being more explosive than Green Bay’s in a likely showdown on Lambeau’s frozen tundra, sending the Hawks to their third straight Super Bowl.

Colts logoSuper Bowl
Indianapolis over Seattle

My initial takeaways from this game being in San Francisco: 1) it should be warmer, which is better for passing than colder temperatures; 2) it is very close to Stanford, making a large pocket of the fans pro-Luck; and 3) San Francisco HATES Seattle with passion. So in a pro-Indy environment, where Luck has the ability to pass effectively, I see him besting the dreaded Legion of Boom, scoring enough to keep Russell Wilson and Beast Mode at bay, and winning his first Super Bowl ring, 31-23.

And with that, let’s welcome back football.  In the highly unlikely event that all of these predictions are right, I told you so. Check out Chris’ picks here, and have a great season everyone. Go Tampa!

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NFL proving to be ungracious guest

The NFL has proven that it is not the easiest organization to get along with over the years but a particularly interesting dynamic has arisen over the past couple of seasons. The Super Bowl is one of the league’s busiest times of year. Coordinating between the stadium, the host city, the teams and others can get overwhelming as the preparations are being made. However, through all of this, the league has little sympathy for the host city. The NFL expects full cooperation with very little granted to the city in return. Thankfully, some of the mayors involved have started speaking out.

This year’s host was the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. This was actually the second Super Bowl hosted by this stadium, the other coming back in 2008. In both situations, the NFL has tried playing hard ball with the politicians. In 2008, then Glendale mayor Elaine Scruggs reported that she had been offered Super Bowl tickets from the league. The issue was that they were at face value for $700 per ticket. Scruggs admitted she could not afford it and was planning to miss the game until a local Super Bowl planning committee came up with two free tickets for her. This year saw current Glendale mayor James Weiers forgotten completely. The league did not even offer Weisers a chance to buy a ticket to the game. He instead attend with Mitchell Modell, owner of the sport goods chain Modell’s. It seems a little cruel to put the mayors of the host city through that sort of ordeal. After all of the organization in the scheduling of the game, the league gives the mayor no compensation. That does not seem right to me.

Glendale is not the only one with these concerns either. The mayor of East Rutherford, New Jersey, James Casella had his own criticism for the league. East Rutherford is the home of MetLife Stadium and the site of last year’s Super Bowl. In addition to never being offered a ticket, Casella was infuriated by the NFL’s advertising of the game. I interviewed the East Rutherford mayor last year around the time of the game. He felt that the league was overlooking his city. He said, “Even Terry Bradshaw [Fox broadcaster] has called it the New York Super Bowl. The NFL has acted that our gift was hosting the Super Bowl and that was enough. It appears the NFL doesn’t want anyone else to make money from their game.” Casella had every right to be angry. While it is difficult to calculate, it is likely that New York got the bigger cut of the revenue generated by the Super Bowl.
While the NFL seems to be largely conceited, the cities that host the game do tend to pull in a lot of money from tourists. Rockport Analytics published research conducted on the 2012 game held in Indianapolis. The group found that Indy received $264 million from visitors and game attendees. The city of New Orleans, which hosted the 2013 edition of the Super Bowl, reported that the big game had brought in a similar amount of money from direct spending, $262.8 million. However, I have also seen conflicting numbers that are much closer to $200 million. This underlines the major problem of how difficult it is to track how much of an economic impact these games bring to a specific city. On average though, the host city is estimated to generate roughly $200 million in direct spending, according to Pricewaterhousecoopers LLP.

The debate is still open for how beneficial it is for a city to host the big game though. The reality is that the game does bring in a lot of extra income but it also leads to plenty of other costs and offsetting detractors that make it a neutral effect on the economy. I have read in just about every article about the Super Bowl’s economic impact that economists view the projections as overblown and the net gain is for the most part minimal. To that end, I haven’t exact seen huge increasing trends in economies that had the Super Bowl, nor have I seen any major drop offs. I think it is fair to reason that the overall impact of the big game is negligible at best.

If we are assuming that, the economic impact is relatively neutral then the NFL really has to start offering these mayors free Super Bowl tickets. That seems to be the only really compensation these politicians could be in line for after all of the work they put in organizing the hosting efforts. If this continues to be a trend though where the league not only provides minimal returns on the city’s investment and less than generous accommodations, we could start to see the pool of Super Bowl host cities begin to shrink. Until then though, I doubt the NFL will change it’s ways.

Reflecting on Super Bowl XLIX

Two days removed now from what was probably the best game all season long in the NFL, it is time to look back on all that went on during the Super Bowl. Tom Brady walked away with his fourth ring and third MVP title. Bill Belichick etched his name in history as only the second four-time Super Bowl champion coach. His counterpart Pete Carroll is likely the most hated man in Seattle right now, potentially only behind his offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. There is a lot to discuss from the big game so let’s get rolling.

First, let’s talk about the MVP award for a minute. Tom Brady played well during Sunday’s big game but he was not the player deserving of that accolade. Brady had a great game with over 300 yards and 4 touchdowns but he had two drive-killing interceptions. One was at the goal line costing New England a touchdown and the other set up the Seahawks for an easy field goal. Brady caused a 10-point swing by trying to force the ball into tight windows. Brady also missed on a couple of throws where he had open receivers. The MVP of that game for the Patriots was Julian Edelman. He had 9 receptions on 12 targets for 109 yards. The Pats’ wide receiver was a nightmare in open space for Seattle’s secondary. He also scored what ended up being the game-deciding touchdown. He even had a carry for 7 yards. Edelman was likely the most versatile player on the field and definitely the best one for New England.

Time to get to what everyone is talking about though. Only seconds remaining in the Super Bowl and the clock still winding, the Seahawks have the ball at the goal line on second down. Everyone in the stadium, including the defense, was expecting a running play. Instead, Russell Wilson dropped back and threw a slant to Ricardo Lockette. Malcom Butler flashed in to blow up the play and snagged the football in the process. Everyone was shocked. The Seahawks, with Marshawn Lynch, the best short-yardage runner in the NFL, decide not to run the football. Looking at it from a coach’s standpoint, the passing play made sense. Seattle had two timeouts left and wanted to use as much clock as possible. Carroll says the plan was to run it with Lynch on third and fourth down. Running it every time was not possible with the way the clock was moving. I understand Carroll’s rationale. However, I would have run the ball. You are at the goal line with a big back only needing three feet to earn another Super Bowl championship. I think that the Seahawks would have been wiser to run on second down. I think Lynch would have scored based on how he had been running on that drive. Even if he doesn’t, that is when you call a timeout and huddle up to discuss your options about how to proceed. I know Carroll was trying to plan ahead but I think he overthought the situation and got too cute with his play calling.

What ensued after that sequence was understandable as well. The Seahawk’s defense was floored by the play call. Richard Sherman couldn’t believe it. The defense was very emotional walking on to the field. That still does not excuse what Bruce Irvin did on the ensuing play. There was a bit of a scuffle and Irvin came flying in throwing punches. I know where the guy was coming from but taking a swing at the opposing team with 25 seconds left in the game does not fly. Irvin was ejected and will probably see a fine coming his way. I think the league should go as far as to suspend him for next year’s season opener. His reaction was classless and unwarranted. I know why he did it, but that does not justify his actions.

All in all, that was one of the best games in football I have seen in a long time. I ranked it as the second most thrilling Super Bowl of all time just yesterday. While there are no more games to be played until August (and none that people will watch until September), the NFL will still be busy for the next few months. The league will be on Peyton-watch; the combine starts two weeks from today; free agency begins in early March; early April means pro days for athletes entering the draft and then, of course, the draft is the first weekend in May. Plenty of football related action still going on so we don’t need to get too depressed yet. It’s after the draft when we will have no idea to do with ourselves. What a season in the NFL. Here’s hoping the next one comes as fast as possible.

Super Bowl XLIX preview

It all ends here. Tonight the Seattle Seahawks will take on the New England Patriots in the biggest game of the NFL season to decide who will be crowned champion. The Seahawks are looking to become the first team to win back to back Super Bowls since the 2003-2004 Patriots. The current Patriots enter the game looking to win their first Lombardi trophy since they won 11 years ago. This should be another great matchup tonight with the best defense in the league squaring off with the best offense. We saw this script before, in last year’s big game, but this one should be very different.

Last year’s blowout saw a team get absolutely dominated in every aspect of the game. I don’t think we will see that tonight. I actually expect Russell Wilson to struggle again, much like he did in the NFC Championship game against Green Bay. The Packers’ defense is good, but New England’s is better. Their front seven is an above average group, capable of getting to the quarterback. The Pats finished tied for thirteenth in sacks this season. The strength of this unit though is the secondary. They finished the year with three more interceptions than Seattle’s vaunted group. This defense in total ended up with 25 takeaways this season. They also had the best turnover margin this season behind only Green Bay. Bill Belichick is a defensive mastermind. If Wilson had four interceptions against the Packers, it could be scary how many he might end up with when he is throwing at Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

The other thing that makes New England intimidating is their versatility on offense. Everyone knows that Tom Brady and his receivers can light it up. Danny Amendola has started to look like he has found his footing this postseason and Julien Edelman continues to be the Pats’ jack-of-all-trades. Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright make this team scary from the two tight end set. Brady might be up against a very talented defense, but he will have his opportunity to pick out his matchups. But what really sets this Patriots team apart from last year’s Broncos is when the Seahawks want to drop into coverage, Brady can hand the ball off to a one man wrecking crew by the name of LeGarrette Blount. He shredded the Colts defense last week to the tune of 148 yards and three touchdowns. He is a powerful runner that has a knack for getting stronger as the game goes on. It almost reminds you of another bruising running back who plays in the Pacific Northwest.

For as good as Blount can be, Marshawn Lynch is even better. Lynch has been the model of consistency for Seattle this season, racking up yards whenever they need him to. Playing against the Packers two weeks ago, Lynch rattled off 157 yards on only 25 carries. That is over six yards per attempt. New England’s rush defense was pretty solid this season. Playing against the Colts though, Daniel Herron ripped off over 50 yards on only 10 carries. Lynch is a more talented runner than Herron and that could spell trouble for New England. The Seahawks struggled two weeks ago when Wilson tried to make too many plays with his arm. When Seattle reverted to feeding Lynch the ball, the momentum completely switched and Pete Carroll’s team began dominating the game. If Seattle finds some early ground success with Lynch or even Wilson, it will keep Brady on the sideline and protect the Seahawks from needing to attack the most dangerous part of the Patriots defense.

Even when Brady does take the field though, he is going to have to note the location of a couple different players on every down. Richard Sherman is not someone you want to test very often. Newly crowned MVP Aaron Rodgers found that out the hard way. Brady’s security blanket is usually Gronk but he will be matched up with the best safety in the league in Kam Chancellor. Brady also has to keep in mind that when he drops back he will have Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett working to collapse the pocket. He also cannot get to comfortable hanging the ball in the air because the ball-hawking, speed demon named Earl Thomas will go and get it. That isn’t even including K.J. Wright or Bobby Wagner either. The Seahawks’ defense was the best in the NFL for a reason. They only allowed 186 passing yards per game this season and 82 yards rushing. Those both rank in the top three in the NFL. New England could end up winning the turnover battle, but they will have a very tough time moving the ball.

This is going to come down to who can control the clock more. Both teams can capably run the ball, but Seattle’s rushing attack offensively and rushing defense are elite while New England’s are simply above average. Brady might be one of the best Super Bowl quarterback’s the league has ever seen. He has a 93.8 rating total and has thrown 9 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions in his previous 5 appearances. I just do not think the Patriots will be able to bottle up the Seahawks’ running game. That means Brady will be forced to pass and that will definitely give Seattle the edge. The Seattle defense is hard to beat and while offense wins games, defense wins championships. The Seahawks will be back to back champions, winning 28-21.

Top five most devestating Super Bowl losses

Last night’s game was exciting and captivating until the very end. If you sat through it all you were even treated to an on field brawl with some punches thrown. The Seahawks had every right to be emotional though. They came one yard from clinching their second consecutive Super Bowl title when Russell Wilson had his pass intercepted by cornerback Malcom Butler. It was one of the most gut wrenching ends to a game ever. Here are the top five most devastating Super Bowl losses of all time.

#5 Super Bowl XXIII 49ers 20 Bengals 16
This is one of the most famous Super Bowls of all time. Joe Montana was a class act throughout his career but this game solidified his nickname “Joe Cool”. With just over three minutes left in the game, down by three. Montana led his team 92 yards, picking apart the Bengals defense on the final drive. He hit wide receiver John Taylor in the endzone with just 34 seconds remaining on the clock. The Bengals could not believe that they came that close. This last minute decision left Cincinnati quarterback to famous say, “I guess I’m not going to Disney.” The folks from Disney, who were waiting for the game to end to film their annual commercial, left Esiason immediately in pursuit of Montana following the game. The Bengals saw their first Lombardi trophy stolen from then as Montana walked away with his third ring.

#4 Super Bowl XXV Giants 20 Bills 19
This game was a thriller until the very end. New York played this game with its back up quarterback due to Phill Simms’ season ending injury at the end of the regular season. The Giants had the odds stacked against them. The Bills led early in the game 12-3 and looked in control. The Giants eventually look a 17-12 lead before a Thurman Thomas run gave Buffalo stole it back for Buffalo. The Giants ate up the majority of the clock in the fourth quarter, driving 74 yards on 14 plays. New York came up three yards short though and had to settle for a field goal making the score 20-19. The Bills drove 61 yards in the closing seconds to set up a 47-yard field goal. Scott Norwood famously missed the game-winning try wide right and the Giants won their second Super Bowl in franchise history

#3 Super Bowl XLII Giants 17 Patriots 14

What makes this game so heartbreaking is what was on the line for the Patriots. New England entered the game undefeated looking to become the first team in history to finish the season 19-0. The Patriots were also 12-point favorites in the game. No one gave the Giants a prayer of winning this one. And in the end, it took a prayer for New York to win the game. Eli Manning and David Tyree made the most improbable and famous play in Super Bowl history when Tyree pinned the football to his helmet to secure a huge catch with the game on the line. This set up Manning to find Plaxico Burress in the endzone with only 35 second on the clock. The Giants pulled off the greatest upset in Super Bowl history in spectacular fashion.

#2 Super Bowl XLIX Patriots 28 Seahawks 24
This might have been crazy but this is not number one. The Patriots looked all but beaten last night. Seattle had the ball on the one-yard line with less than 30 seconds to play. Rather than hand the ball off, Seattle called a slant to wide receiver Ricardo Lockette. Malcom Butler made probably the best defensive play in recent Super Bowl memory picking off Russell Wilson at the goal line. The Patriots ended up completing the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. It is easy to say what if at the end of the big game but this one will have question marks surrounding it forever. The Seahawks were one yard away from a second Super Bowl victory in as many years. They weren’t the first team to end up that way.

#1 Super Bowl XXXIV Rams 23 Titans 16
This game wins simply because of how the last play actually happened. The Titans trailed in this game to the “Greatest Show on Turf” 16-0 in the third quarter. They roared back to tie it at 16 all. Rams’ quarterback Kurt Warner hit Isacc Bruce on a long touchdown to regain the lead. Tennessee got the ball back at their own 12-yard line with only 1:48 remaining in the game. Titans’ quarterback Steve McNair drove his team all the way down to the 10-yard line with only six seconds remaining and no timeouts left. He dropped back and hit Kevin Dyson in stride at around the four. Rams’ linebacker Mike Jones hit Dyson and hung on to his leg. Dyson spun and extended the football but was only able to reach the one-yard line. The Titans came only a yard short of forcing overtime and forever will be remembered for being those three feet short of a chance to win the Super Bowl.