Friday, November 28, 2014

The Showdown of the Favorites

The two favorites to make it to Super Bowl 49, the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots, will meet this Sunday. The 9-2 Patriots are atop the AFC standings, while the Packers are 8-3 and 1 game back from the 9-2 Cardinals for 1st place in the NFC. That's the same Cardinals team that just lost much-maligned-yet-miraculously-rejuvenated starting quarterback Carson Palmer to a season-ending ACL tear, but hey at least they have a good backup quarterback. Their backup and fill-in starter is Drew Stanton, one of 5 quarterbacks to start for the 0-16 Lions team back in 2008. OUCH. The point is, it appears that, at least at the moment, these two teams will likely be standing atop their respective conferences at year's end. Alas, this IS the NFL, and one play can change a team's entire season. So although it's not a given, these teams look like the two best teams in their conferences. Green Bay's road to the NFC's #1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs would be hindered, and possibly destroyed, if they lost to New England this week. The Patriots, meanwhile, are on an 8 game winning streak ever since all the "experts" counted them out, and denounced Tom Brady as in "steady decline." This is not that team. They dismantled their two biggest threats, the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts, in smashing fashion. They beat emerging star Andrew Luck's Colts 42-20 and Peyton Manning and the Broncos 43-21. The Packers are also on a hot streak, having looked shaky in the first couple weeks, they have been simply sensational since superstar quarterback and leading MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers went on the radio and told Packers fans to "Relax." All this game really comes down to is one simple thing: home-field. It seems to me that these teams are equally matched, with the Patriots maybe being slightly better, simply on the merit of much superior coaching. While on a neutral field New England is. at the moment, the better team, this game will be played in Green Bay on the Packers home field in front of a rowdily ecstatic crowd, so I'll take Green Bay and their thousands of cheering supporters in this one. Plus, the Packers simply need it more. As I touched on earlier, the Packers are in a tense race with the Cardinals [and maybe even the Eagles, over whom they would own a potential tiebreaker, thanks to their 53-20 victory in [score]], for 1st place in the NFC and losing this game, assuming the Cardinals win this week against the lowly 4-7 Falcons [who in the putrid NFC south are winning their division] would put them 2 games back from home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and that coveted #1 seed. The Patriots, meanwhile, look as though, barring a total meltdown, they will clinch the #1 seed. The Colts, well, the Colts have simply fallen apart, although it's been subtle. They're 7-4 this year with wins against the Jaguars [twice], Titans, Ravens, Texans, Bengals, and Giants. Two wins against teams over .500, the Ravens and the Bengals, both of whom are fighting for a playoff spot, and could be on the outside looking in when the playoffs start. Their losses? To the Broncos, Eagles, Steelers, and Patriots. Two of those losses were by 17 or more points and they gave up over 30 points in all 4. Simply put, with an reasonable schedule for the rest of the season, when Indianapolis finishes 11-5, it won't be a legitimate 11-5, it'll be a shaky 11-5. The Broncos, meanwhile, are not doing so hot themselves. They lost two weeks ago to the 4-7 Rams 22-7. the lowest output of points for Peyton Manning in his entire career with the Broncos. Last week, they narrowly defeated the frisky-and-underrated-possible-contender-yet-maybe-not-there-yet Miami Dolphins, 39-36, in a game that could of gone either way, and likely would have gone the other way had it been played on a neutral field. Speaking of the Dolphins, since nearly losing his job, third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has become rejuvenated and the Dolphins are officially a legitimate contender. However, I don't believe this is their year, they've been too inconsistent which is to be expected of such a young team. It should be noted, however, that Miami almost beat the scorching Packers earlier this year, in fact, it even came down to the final play. They also beat the stacked Patriots in week 1 33-20; yet another signature showing by an underrated team. At 6-5, the Dolphins are on the playoff bubble. Anyway, back to the Broncos, they go into Sunday's game at 7-4 Kansas City in a dangerous position. Should they lose, they'd be tied with the Chiefs record-wise, holding the tiebreaker because of a better in-division record. Then there's the Chargers, who also stand at 7-4, who with a win this week and a Broncos loss, would be part of a three-way tie for 1st place in the AFC west. After this week's showdown in Kansas City, the Broncos will have to travel to Cincinnati to face the 7-3-1 Bengals, and also travel to San Diego to face the Chargers. They do however, have two gimmes at home against the Bills and Raiders. So let's say that Denver lose this week, then goes 1-1 in their remaining road games and 2-0 in their remaining home games. That leaves them at 11-5 for the season. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are much better than that loss they suffered to the Raiders last week in the ultimate trap game. Here's their remaining schedule and my prediction for each game:   

vs. Denver: Win 

@ Arizona: Loss

vs. Oakland: Win 

@ Pittsburgh: Loss 

vs. San Diego: Win 

That leaves them at 10-6 for the season, which may or may not be enough for a playoff spot with the 7-4 Steelers and Ravens and the 6-5 Dolphins and Bills breathing down their neck. Here's what San 

@ Baltimore: Loss

vs. New England: Win 

vs. Denver: Win 

@ San Francisco: Win 

@ Kansas City: Loss 

That would put them at 10-6 for the season as well, so while I do still see the Broncos winning the AFC west, a little slip-up could change everything. My pick for this week's Green Bay-New England game and all the other games [besides the ones on Thanksgiving] can be found below: 

[Home team in capital letters] 

COLTS 34-23 Redskins 

TEXANS 34-14 Titans 

BILLS 24-17 Browns 

RAVENS 41-31 Chargers 

Giants 37-16 JAGUARS 

BUCCANEERS 20-17 Bengals [In Overtime] 

RAMS 44-7 Raiders 

STEELERS 45-27 Saints 

VIKINGS 14-9 Panthers 

Cardinals 30-17 FALCONS 

PACKERS 37-34 Patriots 

CHIEFS 27-20 Broncos 

Dolphins 31-30 JETS 

Enjoy a great weekend of football everybody!

The Sports Kid