By: S. Davis
There are three games remaining in the NFL season. Three. I don’t have much to extrapolate in my open this week because my focus is on the Super Bowl and not the ambient noise of who will be playing in two weeks. We had all home teams win last week after road teams swept in the opening round of the postseason (which explains my 8-0 start).
New England @ Denver
We all know the headline for this game so I’m going to breeze right past that. Now that New England has their full complement of receivers at Tom Brady’s disposal how compromised will the Denver Broncos’ pass defense be considering Chris Harris, Jr. is taking the field in less than top form?
This is where I have the hardest time predicting the outcome. The Broncos are great at creating pressure with their strong defensive linemen and athletic linebackers without having to send a defender from the secondary on an exotic blitz. That’s a credit to the coverage on the back-end or a testament to the quality up front; it’s symbiotic that way and can switch vice-versa.
All year-long I’ve been blowing the horn on the reckoning that will confront the team at Mile High. There’s going to be a game, I feel, that the defense won’t play amazing – they’ll be good or above average – and they may surrender 24-31 points and lose because the offensive side of the ball has been inconsistent all season; partly because Gary Kubiak wants to utilize his system while both of his quarterbacks have been limited because of a shaky rushing attack.
The Patriots’ pass defense is going to be as solid as it’s been all year. I’m looking at their defenders on the first two levels because the only way for the Broncos to stay close on the scoreboard is for their offensive linemen to take on a bully mentality. Can they?
I’m bummed that this is likely to be Peyton Manning’s last game. (It’s almost a certainty that it’s his last time putting on that nauseating orange jersey.) Listen, I’ve made no secret that he’s been my favorite quarterback for most of his career – except for when my man Kurt Warner was lighting it up – and the chance that the Patriots could come into his building and close the door on his career almost carries a sense of dread for me as the kickoff approaches. I respect the Patriots as an organization – mostly – but I find Boston sports fans to be jerks. (Not all of them but all of the ones I encounter in SoCal.) I liked them better when the Yankees tormented them by lavishing their titles in their faces; special shout to Eli Manning for beating the Pats twice for his two titles.
Back to things that matter, sorry about that; will Manning be able to connect on two deep strikes? Yes. Will too much be put on him to take over and decide the game because the running backs will struggle? Yes.
Pick: Patriots over Broncos, 27-16. I sports-hate the Patriots but they’re in this title game for good reason. I’m going to be sad after this but I’m glad I have the NFC game to look forward to before I see Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny return to their most beloved roles.
Arizona @ Carolina
Carson Palmer put quite a scare into those home fans last week, right? He’ll play better this Sunday, I’m sure. It’s obvious that the Panthers will try to storm out of the gates to build a massive lead…only to pray for the clock to bleed away.
If we’re treated to the same sort of lethargy from the Panthers, the Cardinals will be going to Super Bowl 50. Period. They aren’t the unit that you want to shift into cruise control with after a lead because they have it in them to hang 40 points swiftly. Will Cam Newton be forced to go to any pass-catcher without the name “Olsen” stitched on his back? Taking away or limiting Greg Olsen can handcuff the Panthers’ into trusting the shaky hands of Ted Ginn, Jr. His hands are just as scary as his speed on go patterns.
It’s going to come down to the run game here. If the Cardinals’ defense stops the Panthers from hammering the ball at them, this could get ugly. It won’t. My interest lies in the defensive flexibility of the Cardinals considering their jack-of-all-trades defender Tyrann Mathieu is out.
The Panthers’ defense can’t focus all their effort on containing Larry Fitzgerald because Palmer moves the ball to the open target so Josh Norman’s impact could be nullified immediately. Will the Panthers’ run threat be halted? Does Newton reach another level?
Pick: Cardinals over Panthers, 26-23.
Regular Season: 154-101