UFC 210: Buffalo

By: S. Davis

A few days ago two guys were in line at the grocery store talking (too) loudly about how muddled the UFC Middleweight division is in lieu of the returning Georges St-Pierre. They were passionate, playfully argumentative and definitely had the feel of loyal supporters of mixed martial arts. As my items traveled the conveyor belt behind theirs, one of them accidentally knocked down my chunky blue cheese and apologized. I nodded in response and asked if they were as demonstrative about the chaos that the featherweight and lightweight divisions are engulfed in.

Why are fans – and appallingly, MMA media – outraged at this brief blip on the radar? Why are they griping about what’s fair for deserving contenders? Did I miss the very same outcry when a slew of elite contenders at 145 and 155 had to sit on their hands while others had to feast on each other in the hopes of earning a title shot?

There wasn’t an outcry then – and there shouldn’t be one now.

Neither of them had an answer and agreed with my point of view. Full disclosure: They had two 24 packs of Corona on the checkout counter so that may have played a minor part.

On to UFC 210:

I thought I posted my analysis of the last two televised fight cards for the UFC but I didn’t. I had an incomplete post sitting pretty in my drafts folder and I realized I didn’t publish it. Why? I just didn’t care. The noise and hypocrisy surrounding the sport put me in a comfortable corner where I’ll engage when it calls for it. Daniel Cormier defending his title against Anthony Johnson this Saturday night calls for it.

No matter what your personal preferences happen to be as they pertain to pound-for-pound lists,  Cormier should sit firmly in the top three along with Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones. If those three names aren’t scribbled on your mythical ranking, your list needs to be doused in lighter fluid and barbecued. As someone who admires all three, Cormier gets slighted as one of the best in the sport. It’s not his fault that Jones disqualified himself from their rematch. Furthermore the fact that he’s the light heavyweight champion – despite not taking the title from Bones – is an element far out of his control.

If not for his friendship with Cain Velasquez, he’d be the heavyweight champion of the UFC. He’s a legit two-weight champion – and he was established as one at a time when that actually was something to take notice of. He didn’t make his name by beating smaller fighters; he was the smaller heavyweight putting larger opponents through the wood chipper, so to speak. He moved down because of friendship – and became a champion without a blemish. What’s his crime exactly?

Now I have to admit that Daniel Cormier, the analyst, is grating and I’m doing my best to be kind. He is sharp behind the desk, he seems like a natural and he’ll have a long career as a broadcaster but some of his observations come across as heavy-handed. That’s not unlike many in the profession who get paid to talk as a television personality. Is he disliked, discredited and derided for that? Maybe.

His only career defeat is to a fighter many deem to be the best fighter that’s been created in MMA history – and he damn well might be already.

Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Fans make me cringe, I tell you.

As for the man nicknamed Rumble…

I’m torn on how much I need to (or should) take their first meeting into account here. Rather recently Johnson has been labeled as a seven minute fighter – I know Cormier said something close to that – but he’s gone the distance (in three round contests) in six of his 27 career bouts. He’s not just dangerous in the first round of the fight; he’s a menace once he scribbles his name on the contract to confirm one. I would like to see his pace if the fight goes to the championship rounds as he’s never competed in them.

In a rematch where the skill level is close, the fighter that fell short in the first encounter usually emerges with the victory in chapter two. Any obvious reason? The losing fighter has more tape to diagnose their mistakes. They refine their strategy in detailed fashion; going over each engagement, positioning, foot placement, defense, etc. There are times that it seems like the victorious fighter enters a rematch underestimating the opponent they recently defeated. I think mentally they take inventory of the challenge ahead and think to themselves, “So…they look the same, have the same toolkit of skills so why should the outcome be any different this time around?”

My brain tells me that Cormier will ignore every aspect of their initial meeting yet my heart gives me a slight pause because what if the slightest morsel of complacency takes root? We’re all human, right?

Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi

Let’s jump on this early, ok?

Weidman isn’t a scrub, isn’t washed up and he wasn’t overrated. MMA fans are idiots for the most part, well, sports fans overall are brainless druids and I’ve yet to be convinced otherwise. There is no foundation on which to knock a fighter for facing off against killers at every step along their journey and then spit in their faces the moment they suffer a loss (or two). Especially when it’s conveniently lost on most that he was beating both Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero before the official stopped the action. Watch the tape, it’s clear! He’s an elite middleweight but strange things transpire when the best martial artists in the world are locked in a cage together: A loss is getting stamped on someone. Period.

Building up a fighter, step by step, is a luxury that happens only for a select few in the UFC. I’m sure the former middleweight champion wanted the challenge of stepping into the cage against another deadly competitor, in a deadly division, but the matchmaking seems questionable. Wouldn’t Weidman be far better served taking on someone ranked in the bottom half of the division? Why court disaster when you don’t have to? Couldn’t someone have thought about finding an opponent to help one of the few marketable athletes on the roster regain his confidence? Interesting.

Well, in their defense the UFC did feed Ronda Rousey to Amanda Nunes for no logical reason so maybe I’m wrong here.

Mousasi is fantastic in most aspects of the sport and his wrestling defense has improved enough that it’s no longer his most glaring weakness – as it once was. I’m intrigued by his prowess on the feet and how he’ll attack Weidman as the former champion is extremely flat-footed for such a seasoned veteran.

Picks: Cormier, Mousasi, Calvillo, Alves and Brooks.

After everyone competes they should all rush to Just Pizza for the best three-cheese steak pizza in the world. New York, New Yoooooooooooooooooork!

Advertisements

UFC 209: Oh No!

By: S. Davis

209

I woke up this morning to put the finishing touches on this piece…and then I got on the internet. Should I delete this? No, I’ll post it incomplete as I was excited to dive into the subject.

The two best lightweight fighters in the world step into a cage…for the toy that’s at the bottom of the cereal box. (Do breakfast cereal companies even include toys in their products anymore?) Sorry. I’m torn on how I should feel about the clash this weekend to be honest. On one hand, sign me up! A pure contrast of styles; the exact foundation on which the entire sport of mixed martial arts was created decades ago. I’m giddy, excited, smiling from ear to ear, but then the two words appear that truly have me considering dropping the sport from the dwindling precious hours of leisure time I have: Interim Championship.

I’d rather someone farted on my sandwich right before I bit into it before another division has to deal with ego, muck and disdain from a champion who isn’t injured (and is actively chasing another fight…in a different sport). I have fully convinced myself that Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson are competing for the UFC Lightweight Championship on Saturday night. Period. It just works better for me that way.

UFC Interim Lightweight Championship: Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson

Nurmagomedov wins if he can glue himself to his opponent and stifle the creativity that allows Ferguson to systematically tear his opposition to pieces (while also taking some dangerous gambles). We all know the blueprint for the Eagle: close the striking range and then chain his brutal and stellar Combat Sambo and wrestling hybrid into the most effective grappling attack in the entire sport…unless your name is Demian Maia.

At that point he can launch an endless array of trips, double-legs, wizards, leg sweeps, knee taps, single legs, traditional throws, suplexes, etc. He blends grappling techniques that don’t necessarily bleed into one another traditionally: setting up a judo throw while closing distance to catch wrestle while mixing in freestyle wrestling and jiu-jitsu which then culminates in lethal ground and pound.

Insert deeper analysis here…

Ferguson wins if he finds a way to curb his instinctual urge to be wild, just enough to avoid finding himself eating punches and elbows while he’s fighting off his back because he was sloppy one too many times and served Nurmagomedov an effortless takedown. For a long time, Jon Jones chose to be labeled as a freestyle fighter during introductions and it’s applicable to Ferguson as well. He studies his opponent during battle and sifts through all the ways he can inflict damage while making it seem like he’s fighting on a completely different level of existence. His talent and plethora of weapons are undeniable.

You want to make the fight a striking showcase? He excels there. Do you want to engage in dirty boxing with some clinch work? He’ll adjust accordingly and carve your flesh with sharp, precise, elbows and knees. You want to test the limits of his ground game? Be careful with any movement because he will snatch your neck with one of the quickest and most technical D’Arce chokes in the world. Another skill worth mentioning: Wrestling is his base; don’t forget that.

El Cucuy has the greatest chance of becoming champion the longer he manages to keep the fight on striking terms. The Eagle isn’t a novice there but his chances of capturing gold favor him the more times he can clasp his hands together around his opponent. Mixed martial arts are about using what you do well to tip the scales in your favor. A slightly measured and committed Ferguson could win the battle on points if he’s composed.

A huge key will be takedown defense. He should take a look at the footage from the Gleison Tibau bout versus Nurmagomedov. Tibau was diligent in using his left arm as a lever whenever the talented grappler tried to secure a double-leg. Nurmagomedov tried, in vain, to shift his own weight forward onto the left side of Tibau to secure the takedown but the arm placement, strength and dedication to keeping this left arm close to his ribs allowed him to use the limb as a counter to make sure he wouldn’t spend the night under a man who wrestles bears as an escape from training.

I’m hesitant to say that Ferguson will stick to a formulated strategy for the duration of the championship contest (however long it should last) but I do feel confident that he won’t be afraid to hit the mat a few times. Personally I do think he has the talent to battle back to his feet but there are so many times one should opt to play around with lighter fluid, right?

Both fighters have been orbiting the throne of the sport and are hours away from making a dream into a reality (one symbolized in gold).

Again, the fight has been cancelled as Nurmagomedov had to visit a hospital as a direct result of his weight cut but he has since been released and is recuperating. Get well and rest up. 

I felt that both men earned the right to fight for the true championship but I gave a slight preference to Ferguson since he’s been active and healthy. He should be slated to challenge the lightweight title holder if said title holder ever gets around to making a defense.

UFC Welterweight Championship: Tyron Woodley (C) vs. Stephen Thompson

I went with Woodley at UFC 205 to retain, and while I was technically correct, I couldn’t forecast a draw. It’s common knowledge in combat sports to favor the fighter who lost the first meeting when a rematch is announced. For whatever reason that fighter enters the rematch having made key adjustments to their skill set while sharpening their flaws – and maybe the determination to even the score aids them the second time around.

There wasn’t a winner in November so which fighter will make the adjustments necessary to walk out of the cage the victor? I can see Woodley going all out if he staggers Thompson to chase the finish. Additionally, I do think he will use his wrestling more than he did in their first chapter. Wonderboy needs to shore up his defense and be diligent about keeping his left hand close to his head. I wonder if he’s been using knee attacks this training camp. If Woodley chooses to grapple more actively, an opening may present itself for a crushing knee that could change the fight.

Mark Hunt vs. Alistair Overeem

With the litigation, presently, transpiring between Hunt and the UFC one has to wonder if he’s sharp, mentally, this weekend. We all know how important it is for a fighter – maybe above other athletes – to be of sound mind. It puzzles me how everyone kicks dirt on the heavy guys for having glass chins – and the disrespect that hovers the entire division at-large. Has anyone stopped to think that humans that strong aren’t meant to punch one another with small gloves?

I can see Overeem winning a point-fighting contest. On volume alone he could secure a victory by staying in kicking range and copying the patient strategy that he ridiculously abandoned when he almost captured UFC gold against Stipe Miocic. The fact that this fight is three rounds leans heavily in his favor but Hunt only needs one shot to connect so the length of the fight may not matter ultimately.

A brief thought about Georges St-Pierre:

So I heard that he’s cutting past every deserving middleweight and will compete for the 185 title? The nerve! I HATTTTE everything! I’m joking, naturally. How is this fight a cause for so much anger? Really, this is Pandora’s Box?

The hypocrisy of MMA fans is hilarious. Do I like the fight? Not really, to be honest but at least GSP has a track record of being a dominant fighter – with title defenses – that bolster his case to bypass the queue. He’s one of the greatest fighters – the best ever, along with Jones, in my opinion – with a resume that speaks for itself. Like him or not, I like Michael Bisping as UFC Middleweight Champion; is it his fault that Luke Rockhold treated him like an unworthy competitor and served his chin nice and high on a platter?

For all the crying about Dan Henderson not “deserving” a championship opportunity: Was that meeting a wipeout? Most of the viewing public was split on whether Hendo should be wearing the belt right now.

“Deserving” as it pertains to MMA is absolutely devoid of all merit and/or logic.

It’s odd how fans crying over this news happen to be the same ones that had no problem with the current lightweight champion jumping the line, talking his way into title fights, while simultaneously avoiding the top contenders in two divisions. This here, though, is wrong?

Maybe GSP missed the adrenaline or the spotlight – although he never seemed to be thirsty for fame – but I would feel infinitely better about this if he was 32 years old and not 36, which he will be at the time he and Bisping meet in the cage.

Picks: Thompson, Hunt, Lando Vannata and Rashad Evans.

UFC 208: Holly Holm’s Spotlight

By: S. Davis
208poster

How will Holly Holm be viewed on Sunday?

Will her UFC 193 victory end up to be a curse after all? A shining moment against an opponent designed, perfectly, for her counter-attacking repertoire. A night that she, ultimately, couldn’t replicate once more? Will she be draped in gold or heckled with scorn?

She’s occupying an odd space within mixed martial arts. Holm could turn in a spirited performance against a tough opponent in Germaine de Randamie, have Dana White wrap her in the shiny new belt showcasing her as the new UFC Featherweight Champion and immediately she’d be labeled a fraud. (Although the same insults will be hurled upon her opposition provided she wins the heavy gold belt, in my opinion, but to a lesser degree when you view Holm’s peaks and valleys in the UFC.)

Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos is the cloud hanging over the entire division being that White created a title in a division, headlining a Brooklyn card this weekend, that doesn’t have a true featherweight on the roster besides her. (Personally, I think Cyborg is the best female fighter to ever compete in mixed martial arts – and that’s no slight to Gina Carano, Ronda Rousey or Joanna Jedrzejczyk.) Holm will sit at the dais and field inquires about Cyborg, losing three straight, not waiting to rematch Rousey or holding a championship that MMA-media are having a hard time trying to quantify. That awaits her…and it’s not entirely fair.

Was it smart business for the UFC to put Rousey in with Amanda Nunes? The UFC might have just killed a star by putting her in competition far too soon…in a title fight, no less. As a pivot, I fully believe someone had an idea to create another nauseating strap out of thin air in the hopes they can manufacture another supernova after this weekend. Imagine if Holm sat on the sidelines – and was the one to beat the version of Rousey that shouldn’t have competed against anyone at UFC 207. I feel a victory there would’ve been discredited in some fashion. I’m going on a tangent here…..

Holm is backed into a career crossroads after losing to Miesha Tate in a desperate scramble that cost her the bantamweight title and being stunningly flummoxed against Valentina Schevchenko – whose style could just turn out to be an unfavorable matchup for her no matter when they share the cage. She’s on a losing streak, yes, but she was controlling the majority of her title defense against Tate. Additionally, her struggles against Schevchenko were on live broadcast for the world to see but she wasn’t dominated.

It’s the fight game and everyone stepping into a cage will be beaten at some point but does the world have to step in to attempt to defeat the woman as well? How many fights does an athlete have to take on? Had she been devastating in the two wins that preceded her title triumph there would be detractors there as well. If the UFC is the pinnacle of the entire sport, shouldn’t any victory in the Octagon be enough on its own? Are style points the added criteria to having one’s hand raised at the end of battle?

I honestly don’t have a favorite in this fight; I think both women are worthy of championship shine. I just hate the narratives that will form around Holm if she should fail to win. They’ve already begun, unfortunately.

Scream hard, Brooklyn!

Picks: Holm, Silva, Jacare, Teixeira, and Poirier.

NFL: The Game That Matters

By: S. Davis

sb-51

Is there a football game this weekend? All I know is I have a tray of honey barbecue wings, guacamole, salsa, macaroni and cheese, fruit salad and a night full of flatulence in my very near future. The paint-by-numbers analysis can be found elsewhere so I’m going to focus on a few key areas that I find important.

The confetti has to fall onto someone, right? Here goes:

1. New England’s Defense (and Special Teams) vs. Atlanta’s Offense: Throughout the season the Patriots’ defense has been overlooked – and I think that’s directly attributed to the fact that they don’t have that one, splashy, star name as the leader of the unit. Looking deeper though, the Patriots hold up splendidly by allowing just 15.6 points per game which sits at the top of the league; numero uno. They are the best defense in the league; I rate surrendered points over yards as MY measure for defensive ranking.

Most of the talking heads are out of breath trying to gush over the possibility of a shootout; I’m not sure the game materializes in that fashion over 60 minutes. Matt Ryan has led his offense by spreading the ball around to all of his options. Julio Jones will be a target of the defensive strategy but did you know that when he’s been held to under 60 yards receiving the Falcons are 5-0? (When held under the century mark for the day the Falcons boast a fantastic 7-1.) That’s a massive little nugget that could short-circuit the best plans of the Patriots. Ryan will hit Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu, Tevin Coleman, Justin Hardy, Devonta Freeman, Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper if his top target is covered by the Patriots’ cheerleaders and fan section.

One facet I like tremendously about the favorite here is their kicking unit. They aid their underrated defense by ensuring the opponent has to drive 85-90 yards on every offensive possession. As the number of plays that have to be run to get into scoring range increase so do the opportunities for the defense to directly hone in on tendencies. Additionally, longer drives produce more chances of a bad snap, a tipped pass, a fumble, an interception, etc. You get the idea. Starting field position isn’t a glossy statistic, term or topic worthy of much fanfare but I admire the way in which the Patriots use it as an integral element in their defensive approach.

The Patriots can be taken advantage of in the secondary and I fully believe that a competent quarterback taking snaps for the Houston Texans would’ve sent the Patriots home a few weeks ago. There isn’t a defense that can take away every weapon taking the field so where will the Patriots focus their defensive energy and where will Ryan look to attack in response?

2. Coleman and Freeman vs. Patriots’ Linebackers and Safeties: When Freeman is in open space – or any space to be honest – the advantage arrow will point to him. There’s no debating that. His ability to read on the run while remaining elusive and slippery has to be an area of concern for a Patriots unit that isn’t built with a tremendous athlete on the second and third levels. As a runner, Coleman is more punishing of the two but Freeman invites contact as well. Coleman runs with a burst and for some strange reason he’s viewed as a bruiser when his game is a mix of both styles.

Bill Belichick is going to take something off the menu for the Falcons, a novice should be able to see that but there’s no defense that can limit everything. The Patriots are going to have to take proper angles and use group tacking techniques in the hopes they can cause a few fumbles. Coach Hoodie can possibly take both backs away in the rushing game but both are adept receivers, either out of the backfield or in the slot as traditional receivers. Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler can’t cover both backs while also worrying about the Falcons’ corps of pass catchers. An offensive strategy that floods Patrick Chung’s perimeter with routes could yield dividends for the birds.

3. Patriots’ Offensive Line vs. Falcons’ Defensive Line: To have a high level of success against any quarterback, you have to decide how to produce pressure. Do you manufacture a passing threat from the edges? What about up the middle; directly through the A and B gaps? Do you collapse the pocket with the front four and drop all the linebackers into coverage surrendering precious real estate for eager receivers? Do you mix in the zone blitz where the point is to hide your rusher until the last possible moment?

What to do?

Decades of footage prove that cooking up pressure with the defensive line – and only the defensive line is the best way to upset any quarterback and stall his offense. The Patriots can teach a master class about that after their two losses to the New York Giants – and their endless line of fast, elite and powerful linemen. Can the Falcons copy/paste that performance on Sunday?

Unless they have one of those unexpected Super Bowl flash-type games, they’re not constructed in that fashion upfront. What works in their favor is that the protectors of Tom Brady have had bouts of inconsistency all season. They’ve been great over the last half of the regular season but if the Falcons can stay in their faces and rotate athletes to dominate line-play, they can make it interesting for Brady in the pocket.

If the Falcons’ playbook is full of five and six-man blitzes, just mail the trophy to Robert Kraft’s hotel suite on Saturday evening.

I don’t like the Patriots. I don’t and I won’t hide that. I do respect the team and their accomplishments. Their fans are insufferable and seem to have forgotten how much of a diarrhea sandwich the franchise used to be. The Patriots are probably going to win this game and definitely turn me off to the NFL until Brady retires and Belichick becomes the 45th man to govern in the White House. Whatever…

Pick: Falcons over Patriots, 29-23.  

Conference Title Week: 1-1
Playoffs: 7-3
Regular Season: 169-87

NFL: Super Bowl Appetizers, Please!

By: S. Davis
stpats

Green Bay @ Atlanta

He who possesses the ball last shall bathe in the jubilant euphoria of victory!

There are a number of ways to analyze the routes this game can take – and that’s obvious. It’s a football game, a playoff one at that, and so I’ll throw out the recycled football talk. Last week I predicted the Packers would lose; I even picked the Giants to knock them off two weekends back. For as great as Aaron Rodgers happens to be I do believe there is too much of his team’s fate that he controls. To put it simply, of the four quarterbacks starting this weekend Rodgers is the ONE that can’t afford to play anything less than an A-minus game for his team to book their tickets to Houston in two weeks.

As I’ve felt all year, the defensive side of the ball doesn’t make enough plays. The move to have Clay Matthews play inside for the past three years, in my personal opinion, was ill-fated, never made much sense and I think it has stunted his progression (and secretly I think he’s regressing now that he’s back, primarily, as their primary pass rusher). In open space once again he seems much slower and he doesn’t look to be as dynamic as he used to be. From there, the secondary – which at one point was a factory of stellar players – is struggling in coverage, tackling and taking the right angles against opposing pass catchers. Julius Peppers, Matthews and the front four have a large task ahead of them this weekend which brings us to….

Has there been an offense so prolific that’s been so overlooked at the very same time? Matt Ryan has been spreading the ball across every target in the same jersey colors. Of course most the of the attention centers around Julio Jones but Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Gabriel are just as involved within the scheme – and rate second and third respectively in terms of catches. As a unit they spark the scoreboard to the tune of 33.8 ppg, they’re third in passing yards at 295.5 and they rush the ball to the tune of 120.5. Are you wowed by any of the flashy statistics? You should be and it should send fire alarms to Dom Capers as he tries to limit Ryan inside the Georgia Dome. I don’t like it.

The Packers’ receivers are also limping into the game and I doubt Jordy Nelson dresses with broken ribs. Rodgers is spectacular but Ryan can match his play – while having more support if he isn’t his best.

Pick: Falcons over Packers, 38-34.

Pittsburgh @ New England

Let me get this out of the clear early: I picked the Steelers to win it all!

Done?

So am I blinded by that? No. Thinking about last week, the Texans would’ve beaten the Patriots if Brock Osweiler played slightly better. I don’t mean “game of his life” either. Had he produced a B-level performance he’s playing this weekend – and the Patriots would be packing for their vacations. Tom Brady looked human in the second half of that game and I point that out because there are times I watch his team and they aren’t this majestic world-beater; they can be defeated. All that aside, I came away impressed with how Dion Lewis scored his touchdowns and how versatile a weapon he is.

With the flu taking on clusters of Steelers at once earlier in the week, will they be sapped of energy in the second half of what looks to be a tight contest? Expect LaGarrette Blount to test their limits as the game winds down. Lewis will line up in a myriad of positions, according to the formation and I fully expect him to exploit the Steelers’ secondary in open space. Where will James Harrison make an impact? Defensive pressure through the middle is the best way to rattle a quarterback that isn’t fleet of foot and if the Steelers can attack Brady without sending a fifth (or sixth) defender…there’s a path that can get them to Houston.

New England’s defense isn’t great but they are better than they look on television; the main reason for that is the special teams unit. Bill Belichick ensures the opposition has to drive 80+ yards on every position just to sniff the end zone. The kicking game pins teams deep in their territory and puts the pressure on the offense to be perfect every single time they possess the ball.

What do we make of Ben Roethlisberger? If he had a different name, this season, he’d get very little credit for his play. It’s been odd how he’s been good at home and bad on the road; average play at best. That hasn’t been his brand of football since his first two seasons in the league. It’s like a game of Jekyll and Hyde with Big Ben; which version makes a difference on Sunday?

Can the defensive scheme of Belichick keep Le’Veon Bell from making an impact? Will Antonio Brown find himself smothered in the secondary? Can Roethlisberger play up to his usual standard? Does Brady lead the Patriots to another Super Bowl?

Pick: Steelers over Patriots, 30-24.  

Last Week: 3-1
Playoffs: 6-2
Regular Season: 169-87

NFL: Wild Card Week 2

By: S. Davis

kelce

The NFL “Divisional Playoff” has always sounded stupid so I’m over calling it that. Moving on…

Saturday

Seattle @ Atlanta

Will the Seahawks be able to score enough if the Falcons get up 10-14 points out of the starting gate? They can. Their defense is good enough to hold the fort and hand Russell Wilson a few extra possessions to close the gap just based on will. Yet I feel the Falcons will move the ball along the sidelines and exploit the middle of the field. Why? Earl Thomas is a weapon that won’t be able to play – and he’s great at limiting open seams and space in all areas of the playing field.

The Falcons have been the league’s top offense because of underrated line play, Matt Ryan spreading the ball to all targets and that guy named Julio Jones. Along with Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson (when healthy), I like Jones against ANY defensive back; I don’t care what name is on the back of their jersey. Period. His speed, strength, route running and hands are among the best at this position. Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are among the elite defenders on the planet and they aren’t enough to limit Jones (and his other receivers) without Thomas.

The Seahawks have been the best team in the NFC for the last three years but they fall this weekend.

Pick: Falcons over Seahawks, 30-21.

Houston @ New England

Unless Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus have the game of their lives – and Tom Brady somehow throws 37 straight interceptions this contest will end in an avalanche of points for the Patriots. Brock Osweiler needs to get his team to, at least, 28 points to keep the game from being over after the opening kickoff.

Dion Lewis is going to blow them up on a wheel route – or four.

Pick: Patriots over Texans, 36-19.  

Sunday

Green Bay @ Dallas

The Cowboys’ kiddie corps are up against their biggest test to date. Dallas is the most complete team of the two; they are better on offense, defense and special teams but the Packers have Aaron Rodgers. You may have heard of the guy, no?

All season I’ve aired my concerns about the Packers’ defense – and how they fail to support the offense. I still feel that way and it was the main reason I went with the Giants last weekend. I don’t apologize for the pick at all. Rodgers can carry the team on his own but how much is too much? Julius Peppers is going to have to cause chaos in order to make up for the shortcomings of the rest of the defensive unit.

If the Cowboys play how they have all season, they take the Packers down.

Pick: Cowboys over Packers, 23-20. 

Pittsburgh @ Kansas City

All year, the offensive line of the Steelers has been stellar. They allow the extra time for Ben Roethlisberger to do Big Ben things and destroy teams covering his receivers for four seconds too long. I’m going to be on the look out for the short yardage situations when the Steelers hold the ball. Le’Veon Bell is set to have another masterpiece of a game but can the Chiefs’ defensive line make him wait too long for openings to develop in the run game?

If the Chiefs can execute long drives that end in touchdowns instead of field goals, they can put the pressure on the Steelers to force plays. Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the league but his play this season has been uneven and he can be goaded into putting the ball in terrible spots.

Pick: It’s going to be a clooooose one but I’ll take the Steelers over the Chiefs, 24-20. 

Last Week: 3-1
Playoffs: 3-1
Regular Season: 169-87

NFL: Wild Card Weekend 2017

By: S. Davis

trophyl

Saturday

Oakland @ Houston

The game that doesn’t make me hate the idea that I have to work. It’s hard to analyze a game where the Raiders are without their quarterback – and legitimate MVP candidate – Derek Carr. The Raiders don’t look remotely close to a good team without him, which goes without saying, but still. On the other sideline the Texans have reluctantly given the ball back to their prized free-agent possession of last year, Brock Osweiler. At the end of the day Osweiler has big game experience and his team does defend.

Pick: Seriously? I feel awful that Carr – and NFL fans – have to watch this game. Texans over Raiders, 20-12.

Detroit @ Seattle

The Seahawks have been such a weird team this season. They hung 31 on the Patriots (in Foxborough) while scoring an impressive five against the Buccaneers. How will they come out against a team that limped into the playoffs? I think they get a jolt to their system; I don’t think this game is as big a slam dunk as everyone else. The Lions will hang around. I guess you’re starting to think I’m typing this with a concussion, right?

Matthew Stafford – one year post Calvin Johnson – has been at his best spreading the ball around to all his weapons. When the ball is moved all over the field instead of being forced to Megatron it forces the defense to account for every single skill player that Stafford has to choose from. The remnants of the Legion of Boom can’t shade coverage to one receiver or scheme for one key player (aside from Stafford).

The Seahawks’ offense has performed fantastic…and then sputtered. Good thing is the Lions have run out of gas…at the wrong time of the year.

Pick: Seahawks over Lions, 24-20.

Sunday

Miami @ Pittsburgh

Field position, a consistent rushing attack and timely conversions by Matt Moore can lead the Dolphins to a playoff win; it’s possible. If they can limit their exposure to the Steelers’ offense they can coax Ben Roethlisberger into too many throws into tight windows when he’s on the field.

Taking all that into account…

I picked the Steelers to win it all this year, so…

Pick: Steelers over Dolphins, 24-13.

NY Giants @ Green Bay

The secondary of the Packers is horrible while the Giants’ strength, offensively, is their receiving corps. See an issue there? That alone could the derail the play of Aaron Rodgers. For about three seasons, the Packers’ defense has stifled the team’s potential. Rodgers can generate points just by slipping on his game jersey but since his defense is prolific in allowing teams to stick around, how much of a burden is too much to carry?

Big Blue can defend on all three levels and with Eli Manning’s playoff history I do like the Giants in this one. It’s going to be typical, January, weather in Wisconsin and one facet of football that proves to travel is defense. Will Rodgers pass all game long or will the Packers attempt to mix in a carry…or 22 to keep the G-Men honest?

Pick: This will be decided by a late third down conversion and I’ll take the G-Men over the Packers, 19-16.

Last Week: 16-0
Regular Season: 169-87