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Author Archives | Brian Polking

2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series Preview: Championship Favorites and Contenders

2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series Preview – Championship Favorites and Contenders: NASCAR is revving up for another season, and after a 2016 campaign that featured one of the more thrilling championship battles in recent memory, the XFNITY Series landscape looks a lot different in 2017.

Two of the four drivers who competed for the crown last year, eventual champion Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, will make the jump to the Cup Series. Another top contender, Ty Dillon, will also be Cup racing in 2017. Replacing them are several highly-regarded, albeit unproven, young drivers. In fact, I can’t remember a time when there have been this many new drivers in such quality equipment.

Needless to say, the championship picture is s wide open as ever heading into 2017. To help you sort it out, here is a closer look at the drivers I’ve pegged as the top contenders for the XFINITY Series crown.

2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series Preview: Championship Favorites and Contenders

The Favorites

He was the runner-up in the championship battle last year, and Elliott Sadler has been a title threat ever since returning to the XFINITY Series full time. Last year, he led all drivers 29 top-10s, and his consistency and experience always seem to stand out. There are a bunch of highly-touted newcomers in the series in 2017, but the veteran is probably the safest bet to be battling for the title at Homestead yet again.

While he hasn’t won a bunch of races at the XFINITY level, Justin Allgaier has become one of the steadiest performers in the series. Last year, he ranked second in top-10s and fifth in top-five finishes, and he finished the season third in the championship standings. Allgaier is back with JR Motorsports in 2017, so there is no reason he shouldn’t be back in the title picture.

The Contenders

If resiliency was the only factor for determining the champion, Matt Tifft would already have the title sewed up. His 2016 was derailed by a brain tumor, but he returned at the end of the season and has a full-time ride with Joe Gibbs Racing lined up in 2017. In fact, Tifft will be driving for the No. 19 team that won the title last year with Daniel Suarez. His excellent equipment and natural talent should give him a great shot at competing for a title.

He dazzled in the Truck Series last year, winning seven times, and William Byron was rewarded with a full-time XFINITY Series ride with JR Motorsports. The young driver is obviously talented, and recent history has shown how quickly young drivers can excel when given dominant equipment. There are a ton of newcomers in the series this year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Byron ends up being the best of the bunch.

Stewart-Haas Racing has been one of the top organizations at the Cup level since debuting, and for the first time, SHR will field an XFINITY Series team. Despite being new to the series, SHR has shown they will spare no expense to make sure its cars are competitive. Cole Custer has been tabbed as the driver, and he will have all the resources he needs to make an immediate impact.

It’s hard to tell exactly what a driver has to offer when they are bouncing between teams and driving inferior equipment, but this year Michael Annett gets a chance to show his stuff. He landed a full-time ride for JR Motorsports, and driving for one of the premier teams in the XFINITY Series will let him showcase his full potential. Annett could go from afterthought to contender overnight in 2017.

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2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Preview: Championship Favorites and Contenders

2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Preview: Championship Favorites and Contenders: Speedweeks at Daytona has arrived, and the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is about to begin. Of course, the action never really stopped since the offseason brought another round of significant changes to the championship format.

The playoffs will remain a 10-race, 16-driver affair which will feature eliminations every three races, but NASCAR had changed the way points will be earned. There will be more playoff bonus points available each race, and for the first time, these points can carry over between rounds of the playoffs.

With a new scoring system looming, here is a closer look at the drivers with the best chance of taking home the title in 2017.

2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Preview: Championship Favorites and Contenders

The Favorites

Over the last three years, Joey Logano has won a combined 14 races and has made the championship finale twice. During the same stretch, he is averaging 18.0 top-five finishes and 25.3 top-10s. His ability to consistently contend for wins while rarely finishing outside the top 10 should have him back in the championship hunt in 2017.

There are some question marks surrounding Kevin Harvick after Stewart-Haas Racing’s switch to Ford this offseason, but he has been so good the last three years that it’s tough to bet against him. He won the title in 2014 and was runner-up in 2015. Last year, he led the series in top-five finishes, top-10s and average finish.

He came close to repeating as champ last year, but even though he fell short of back-to-back titles, Kyle Busch left no doubt that he is going to be a perennial title threat. He won four times and tied for the series lead with 17 top-five finishes. He also posted a career-high 25 top-10s. Busch has always been one of the most talented drivers, and now that he is adding consistency to the mix, he is even more dangerous.

The Contenders

 I know he just won his record-tying seventh championship last year, but Jimmie Johnson kind of stole one in 2016 with a couple of well-timed victories. Overall, his 2016 season was his worst since his rookie year, and he is in the middle of the worst three-year stretch of his career in terms of consistency. Clearly, you can never count him out, but Johnson hasn’t been the same driver who reeled off five straight titles at one point.

While he hasn’t had the best luck in the playoffs, Brad Keselowski has established himself as one of the most well-rounded drivers in the series. The 2012 champ has won a combined 11 races over the last three years, posting at least 20 top-10s each year. Keselowski finished second in the series with 16 top-five finishes last year, and his ability to compete for wins on any type of track puts him in rare company.

At first glance, it appears that Matt Kenseth had a bit of down year in 2016. However, bad luck played a big role in his struggles. The fact that he finished fourth in laps led is a much better indicator of how strong he ran all year, and if not for a late caution and wild restart at Phoenix last fall, Kenseth would have been competing for the title at Homestead. Kenseth has been a championship-caliber driver every year since joining Joe Gibbs Racing. That won’t change in 2017.

No driver led more laps last year than Martin Truex Jr., and his breakout season included a career-best four wins. In fact, there were stretches of the year when he was clearly the best driver on the track. Ultimately, bad luck and some mistakes kept him from reaching the championship race for the second year in a row, but there is a good chance that we haven’t seen the best that Truex and his team have to offer.

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2017 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona Odds & Predictions: Favorites, Contenders and Sleepers

2017 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona Odds & Predictions – Favorites, Contenders and Sleepers: The offseason is over, and NASCAR returns this weekend with the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway. Although technically an exhibition event, the 75-lap race marks the beginning of Speedweeks and the unofficial start of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

The race will be divided into two segments, 25 laps and 50 laps, and in addition to the abbreviated format, the Clash also has a limited field. Just 17 drivers will take the green Saturday night, but despite the small field, you can still expect plenty of fireworks. Daytona is one of two restrictor-plate tracks on the schedule, and the drivers will spend the 75 laps jammed into a giant pack.

There is a good chance that half the field won’t be around for the finish, and whoever is still running on the final lap is going to have a shot at the win. With that in mind, here is a closer look at the drivers with the best chance of starting the 2017 season with a bang.

2017 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona Odds & Predictions: Favorites, Contenders and Sleepers

The Favorites

Not only is he the defending winner of the Clash, but Denny Hamlin’s three wins in the event are tied for the most among active drivers. He has actually won the race in two of the last three years, and he has been one of the best overall performers at restrictor-plate tracks over the last few years. Expect Hamlin to be one of the main contenders for the win this weekend.

While he is still looking for his first win in the Clash, Brad Keselowski’s resume at restrictor-plate tracks speaks for itself. He led the most laps of any driver at the plate tracks last year, winning two of the four events to raise his career total to five plate race wins. Keselowski has also been stout in the Clash, logging three top-10s in four starts and finishing fourth or better twice.

He tends to show up on big stages, and Kevin Harvick has stolen the show in the unofficial season opener on multiple occasions. He has won the Clash three times, and all three victories have come in the last eight races. His 9.2 average finish in the event ranks third, so Harvick is one of the safest bets to challenge for the win this weekend.

The Contenders

Although he has yet to win the Clash, Joey Logano already has multiple wins under his belt at restrictor-plate tracks, including a win in the Daytona 500. Plus, he has been pretty impressive in the Clash, finishing sixth or better in each of his last four starts and logging a career-best second-place finish in last year’s race.

He has been an underrated restrictor-plate track option throughout his career, and his resume includes a pair of Daytona 500 victories and a win in the Clash in 2015. In addition to the win, Kenseth has compiled a 7.0 average finish in the Clash in his last four starts.

Consistency hasn’t been his strong suit at the plate tracks, but Jamie McMurray knows how to win at restrictor-plate tracks. He has two wins at Daytona and two wins at Talladega, and he also three finishes of third or better in the Clash. It’s all about picking the winner this weekend, and McMurray has more restrictor-plate wins than a lot of drivers in the field.

The Sleeper

He wasn’t supposed to be in the field this weekend, but after Carl Edwards unexpected retirement, Daniel Suarez finds himself making his Cup Series debut this weekend. He will drive the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and while he has no experience, he is driving for the right organization. JGR has won the Clash in each of the last three years and eight times overall. His teammate Denny Hamlin won the Clash in his first attempt, and Suarez has a puncher’s chance to do the same.

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2017 NFL Mock Draft: Options for the Top Pick

2017 NFL Mock Draft: Options for the Top Pick: Thanks to their continued tradition of awfulness, the Cleveland Browns own the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The franchise isn’t exactly known for hitting it big in the draft, and unfortunately for the Browns, there isn’t an obvious choice for this year’s top pick. On the plus side, they have a laundry list of needs, which basically ensures that they will upgrade their roster to some degree as long as they manage to pick a decent player. The upcoming Scouting Combine and individual workouts and interviews will go a long way to deciding who is the top pick, but in the meantime, here is a closer look at the players who figure to be in the mix.

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M Aggies

In the pass-happy era we live in, finding ways to the pressure the quarterback is a must when building a successful defense. The Browns don’t have anything close to a dynamic pass-rusher on their roster, and Garrett has the tools to be a force of the edge and completely wreck opponent game plans. His production in college was off the charts, and he is an elite athlete. Any franchise with the top pick wants to land a difference-maker, and Garrett has that type of ceiling.

Jonathan Allen, DT/DE, Alabama Crimson Tide 

Despite playing on the interior of Alabama’s defensive front, Allen managed 15 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks last year. He absolutely dominates at the line of scrimmage, clogging up running lanes and putting pressure on quarterbacks. Allen can play outside or inside along the defensive line, and his combination of versatility and production probably make him the safest option among the top prospects. For a team that has whiffed on so many picks, sacrificing a bit of upside could be worth it, especially when Allen still has the ability to transform a defensive front.

Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina Tar Heels

The knock on Trubisky is that he started just a single season at the collegiate level, but he showed a lot of favorable traits in that one year. He displayed accuracy, a quick release and quick decision making, which could make him a perfect fit for Hue Jackson’s run-heavy offense. Granted, he doesn’t have an elite arm, but he has the arm strength to make all the throws. Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL, and until Cleveland finds a reliable signal caller, this team isn’t going to be a serious contender.

DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Kizer’s college career was marred by inconsistency, but when he was on his game, he had scouts drooling. From a physical standpoint, Kizer has the huge arm and the big, athletic body teams look for in a dominant pocket passer. Yes, he is a little raw, but he has a chance to be special if he can put it all together. For a franchise constantly rebuilding, it does make a lot of sense to take a swing on the quarterback with the highest ceiling.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson Tigers

He threw a lot of interceptions the last couple of seasons, which has scouts questioning his accuracy and decision making. On the flip side, he carried Clemson to back-to-back national title game appearances, hoisting the championship trophy is his final collegiate game. Watson can make plays with his arm and his legs, and there is something to be said about leadership and being a winner, especially for a Cleveland franchise that knows nothing but losing. I think Watson is in play for the top pick.

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2017 March Madness Picks and Predictions: Projecting the No. 1 Seeds

2017 March Madness Picks and Predictions: Projecting the No. 1 Seeds: Conference play is in full swing in college basketball, and teams and fans are already turning their attention to March and the NCAA Tournament. While many teams are scratching and clawing just to claim a spot in the field of 68, the top teams in the country have their eyes on a No. 1 seed and a preferred path to the Final Four. With that in mind, here is a closer look at the teams currently in contention for the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

2017 March Madness Picks and Predictions: Projecting the No. 1 Seeds

The Frontrunners

The defending national champion Villanova Wildcats are putting the rest of the college basketball world on notice that a repeat title is a real possibility. They are sitting at 23-2 on the year and are on ranked No. 2 in the RPI. Led by Wooden Award candidate Josh Hart, the Wildcats have proven themselves against tough competition, going 4-1 against opponents in the Top 25 of the RPI and 7-1 against opponents in the Top 50.

With a 24-0 record, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are currently sitting atop the AP poll with a potent offense that goes seven players deep. Granted, their strength of schedule leaves a lot to be desired, but they sit a respectable 12th in the RPI. There measurable might not be as strong as some of the other top teams, but wins against Arizona, Iowa State and Florida provide enough legitimization to a resume that doesn’t have a single blemish on it.

They are perennial contenders for a top seed, and the Kansas Jayhawks are back in the mix this season. They sit third in the AP poll with a 21-3 record, and they also sit third in the RPI with a Top 25 strength of schedule. The Jayhawks already have eight wins over teams in the RPI Top 50, and the continued progression of star freshman Josh Jackson should only help Kansas’ chances of maintaining a spot on the top line.

Based purely on measurables, a strong case can be made that the Baylor Bears are the team that most deserves a No. 1 seed. Despite sitting sixth in the AP poll, they rank first in the RPI and own the fourth best strength of schedule. They also own nine wins over teams ranked in the Top 50 in the RPI, and they don’t have a bad loss on their resume.

In the Mix

They have faced a brutal schedule, but the Louisville Cardinals have soldiered their way to a 19-5 record with excellent ratios. The sit fourth in the AP poll and fifth in the RPI while boasting the seventh-best schedule. Yes, five losses is more than some of the other contenders, but all five have come against teams in the Top 50 of the RPI, including four in the Top 25.

One of the tougher teams to gauge is the North Carolina Tar Heels. They sit fourth in the RPI with a 20-4 record and a schedule that ranks in the Top 25. They are also 8-1 against opponents in the RPI Top 50, and the definitely pass the eye test with all their offensive firepower and ability to dominate the paint. On the flip side, three of their four losses fall into the “bad” category. They can’t afford to keep playing down to their competition.

They sit fifth in the AP poll with a 20-3 record, but the Oregon Ducks are a step behind in some of the other categories, ranking 10th in the RPI and owning just five wins over teams in the RPI Top 50. However, they have big wins over UCLA and Arizona, and they will have more chances to add to their resume. The margin for error is small, but the Ducks have a fighting chance at a top seed.

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2017 NFL Mock Draft: First Look at the Top 10 Picks

2017 NFL Mock Draft – First Look at the Top 10 Picks: Another NFL regular season has wrapped up, and while the playoffs are going on right now, there is a big portion of the league that is already turning its attention to next year. Much of that attention will be focused the 2017 NFL Draft, and landing a couple of key pieces can transform a struggling franchise into a contender, almost immediately. Of course, there is a lot of scouting still to come, but in the meantime, here is an early look at the potential top 10 picks. Also, check out NSAwins.com all playoffs for the best NFL picks and predictions against the spread thru the Super Bowl!

  1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M

Yes, the Browns desperately need a quarterback, but there is no sure-fire franchise QB in this class. Meanwhile, Garrett shows all the makings of an elite pass-rusher, and Cleveland’s defense is also a mess. With the 12th pick in their back pocket, I expect the Browns to take the best prospect available at No. 1 and play quarterback roulette with their other first-round pick.

  1. San Francisco 49ers: DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

Unless the 49ers make a move in free agency, the have to try to land a quality starting quarterback with this pick. Kizer has the big body and big arm that teams covet in an NFL QB, and he has and more than enough athleticism to extend plays in and out of the pocket. He has the best tools and most upside of the QB prospects, and I expect the 49ers to pin their hopes of a turnaround on Kizer.

  1. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Allen, DE/DT Alabama Crimson Tide

Chicago is another QB-needy team, but Allen might be the safest pick in this draft. He has been absolutely dominant for Alabama. He can control the line of scrimmage and make plays in the backfield as both a tackle and defensive end. I think he’s simply too good for the Bears to pass up.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama

Williams may be a slight reach, but Jacksonville’s defense is one dynamic pass-rusher away from being potentially special. Williams is exactly that. He has already shown he is a terror off the edge, and his improving all-around game gives him huge upside.

  1. Tennessee Titans: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

Hooker is drawing comparisons to Ed Reed because of his ability to read quarterbacks and make plays. The arrow is pointing way up for the Titans, and their biggest remaining weakness is the secondary. Hooker is a great first step to fixing the issue.

  1. New York Jets: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

I just can’t believe the Jets are going to throw another early-round pick at a quarterback when everyone seems to agree that there isn’t a guaranteed stud, let alone starter, in this draft. Whoever ends up under center in 2017 will benefit from having a workhorse like Fournette to hand the ball to. 

  1. San Diego Chargers: Jamal Adams, S, LSU 

The Chargers still haven’t replaced Eric Weddle, but Adams has the instincts and athleticism to be a star at the position. Whether it is helping out in the run game or dropping back in coverage, Adams is a do-it-all player in the backend. 

  1. Carolina Panthers: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

Carolina wants to play physical on both sides of the ball, but that’s tough to do with a mediocre offensive line. Robinson is the best O-line prospect in this class, and he is a mauler in the run game. Upgrading the line is the best way to help Cam Newton and the offense return to form in 2017.

  1. Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee 

The Bengals suddenly looked a little old and slow on defense this year, and for the first time in a while, they didn’t make the playoffs. Improving the pass rush is an absolute must, and Barnett showed throughout his productive collegiate career that he can get in the backfield and make plays.

  1. Buffalo Bills: Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

With Tyrod Taylor expected to be gone and EJ Manuel a proven bust, the Bills are in the market for a quarterback. It is a lot easier to reach at this point in the first-round, and Trubisky has caught the eye of scouts thanks this his accuracy and quick decision making.

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2017 NFL Playoff Divisional Round Picks and Predictions: Pittsburgh at Kansas City and Green Bay at Dallas

2017-NFL-Picks-and-Predictions2017 NFL Playoff Divisional Round Picks and Predictions: Pittsburgh at Kansas City and Green Bay at Dallas: The NFL playoffs continue this weekend with the Divisional Round, and after Sunday’s matchups, the conference title matchups will be set. The afternoon starts in the AFC with the third-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the second-seeded Kansas City Chiefs, and it ends with an NFC showdown between the fourth-seeded Green Bay Packers and the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys. Let’s take a closer look at both matchups. Also, check out NSAwins.com all playoffs for the best NFL picks and predictions against the spread thru the Super Bowl!

2017 NFL Playoff Divisional Round Picks and Predictions: Pittsburgh at Kansas City and Green Bay at Dallas

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs

For the second time this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Kansas City Chiefs. The first time around, the Steelers delivered a 43-14 beatdown in Pittsburgh. In that game, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 300 yards and five scores, and Le’Veon Bell ran for 144 yards.

Despite the one-sided affair, there is no guarantee the rematch will yield the same result. For one, there is a lot more at stake this time around. More importantly, Sunday’s game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium. Not only is Arrowhead a tough place for teams to play, but Ben Roethlisberger has been an average quarterback on the road this season. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s defense is loaded with playmakers at all levels.

The Chiefs’ offense shouldn’t be overlooked either. Yes, they rely on the run and the intermediate passing game, but quarterback Alex Smith can extend drives with his legs, and they have found a homerun threat in all-purpose back Tyreek Hill. Whether he is a receiver, running back or returner, Hill is always one touch away from a huge play.

Another potential X-factor is the weather, which could be poor this weekend. Bad weather hurts the Steelers’ big-play passing game more than it hurts Kansas City’s offense, and it makes a close, lower-scoring game even more likely.

Pittsburgh has the best individual players in this matchup, but I think Kansas City has the better overall team. Throw in home-field advantage and Roethlisberger’s struggles on the road, and I like the Chiefs to come out on top.

Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5) Cover the Spread

Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys

A spot in the NFC title game will be on the line when the Green Bay Packers go on the road to face the Dallas Cowboys. As has been the case with the other divisional matchups, this game is a rematch of a regular season contest. The first time around, the Cowboys went into Lambeau Field and left with a 30-16 win.

In the regular season meeting, Dallas road rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott all game long. He carried the ball 28 times for 157 yards, and fellow rookie Dak Prescott tossed three scores. On the flip side, Aaron Rodgers had one touchdown and one interception for the Packers.

Of course, a lot has changed since then. Most importantly, Rodgers is on an absolute tear. He has thrown 22 touchdowns and no picks over the last eight games, and the Packers have won seven straight. Last week, he shredded the highly-ranked secondary of the New York Giants for 362 yards and four scores.

Granted, Dallas has been better defensively than anyone could have expected, but with Rodgers on top of his game, no defense is going to shut him down. Meanwhile, I expect the Packers to sell out to stop Elliott this time around, turning this game into a showdown between Prescott and Rodgers. As good as Prescott has been, I’m taking Rodgers against just about anyone right now.

Dallas is the better overall team, but Rodgers is playing on another level right now. I’ll take one of the best quarterbacks of his generation playing at the top of his game, especially when he is getting a handful of points.

Prediction: Green Bay Packers (+4.5) Cover the Spread

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2017 NFL Playoff Divisional Round Picks and Predictions: Seattle at Atlanta & Houston at New England

2017-NFL-Picks-and-Predictions2017 NFL Playoff Divisional Round Picks and Predictions: Seattle at Atlanta & Houston at New England: The march to the Super Bowl continues this weekend, and the Divisional Round kicks off Saturday with a pair of matchups. In the NFC, the third-seeded Seattle Seahawks will take on the second-seeded Atlanta Falcons, and the AFC will take center stage in the night cap, with the fourth-seeded Houston Texans take on the top-seeded New England Patriots. Let’s take a closer look at both matchups. Also, check out NSAwins.com all playoffs for the best NFL picks and predictions against the spread thru the Super Bowl!

2017 NFL Playoff Divisional Round Picks and Predictions: Seattle at Atlanta & Houston at New England

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons

This game is a rematch of a Week 6 thriller that saw the Atlanta Falcons charge from behind to take the lead, only to watch the Seattle Seahawks grab a 26-24 victory with a field goal in the final minutes. That game was played in Seattle, but the Falcons will have home-field advantage in Saturday’s NFC Divisional matchup.

Although the Seahawks came away with the win earlier this year, they didn’t exactly slow down Atlanta’s powerful offense. Matt Ryan threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns, and Julio Jones torched Seattle’s secondary for 139 yards and a score. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Seattle safety Earl Thomas was healthy for the Week 6 meeting.

Seattle’s secondary hasn’t been elite since Thomas went down, and considering what Ryan and company did when the unit was at full strength, putting points on the board shouldn’t be an issue for the Falcons. Keeping Seattle from scoring points could be a different story for the Falcons. Atlanta’s defense has struggled all year, and the Seahawks looked sharp on offense last week, with Thomas Rawls doing the damage on the ground and Russell Wilson attacking through the air.

In the end, I expect this to be a higher scoring game, but I think a shootout favors the Falcons. Atlanta owns the highest-scoring offense, and the Falcons have already shown they can score on Seattle defense. This time around, the Falcons are at home and Seattle is missing one of its best players in Thomas. I don’t think Wilson and company can keep up.

Prediction: Atlanta Falcons (-5) Cover the Spread

Houston Texans at New England Patriots

It’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to the any professional sport, especially the NFL. That being said, I’m not sure I can envision the scenario where the New England Patriots don’t roll to a comfortable win over the Houston Texans.

Yes, the Texans have a rock solid defense, but the Patriots have one of the most prolific and balanced offenses in the league. Keep in mind that New England stomped Houston 27-0 in Foxboro back in Week 3 and did so with Jacoby Brissett playing quarterback. With Tom Brady back under center, Saturday’s rematch could be even uglier.

The problem the Texans have is that Brock Osweiler simply can’t stretch the field. When he isn’t turning the ball over, Osweiler is dinking and dumping to his tight ends and running backs. Defensive guru Bill Belichick exploited Osweiler’s limitations the first time these teams met, and he is going to do so again this weekend.

Brady and company are going to put points on the board on any defense, and Houston’s anemic offense is going to put even more pressure on the defense. This game is going to get out of hand, probably sooner rather than later, and the Patriots are going to be able to cover a historically large point spread.

Prediction: New England Patriots (-15.5) Cover the Spread

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Posted in NFLComments Off on 2017 NFL Playoff Divisional Round Picks and Predictions: Seattle at Atlanta & Houston at New England

2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game Picks & Predictions: Clemson Tigers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

2016-Free-College-Football-Bowl-Picks2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game Picks & Predictions: Clemson Tigers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide: For the second year in a row, the Alabama Crimson Tide will take on the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Last year, the Crimson Tide won a classic, outlasting the Tigers 45-40. This time around, the Crimson Tide are 6.5-point favorites in the championship rematch.

The Tigers survived somewhat of a shaky regular season to reach the College Football Playoff, but they looked sharp in a 31-0 rout of Ohio State in the semifinals. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is the headliner for this team, and when he is dialed in, he is as good as any player in the country. Receiver Mike Williams is a big-play, go-to target, and Wayne Gallman is a solid counterpunch in the backfield. Defensively, Clemson relies on a speedy unit that ranked second in the country in sacks.

Alabama’s paths to another title game included a perfect regular season and a dominant 24-7 win over Washington in the semifinals. The Crimson Tide defense has been historically great, and Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster and Tim Williams are just a few of stars leading the unit. Offensively, quarterback Jalen Hurts has held his own as a freshman starter, and his scrambling ability has made up for his inconsistencies as a passer. The power ground game is still this team’s bread and butter, and Alabama ran over the Huskies on its way to the rematch with Clemson.

The Tigers Win If:

If Clemson is going to win this game, they have to slow down Alabama’s rushing attack on early downs. If the Crimson Tide are able to line up and run the ball every down, the Tigers have no chance. On the flip side, Hurts has looked shaky at times, and Clemson’s pass rush could cause the freshman major issues, especially if he is forced into obvious passing situations. Offensively, Watson needs to repeat his incredible performance from last year’s game. He is the most talented offensive player on the field, and he needs to play like. It will also help if Clemson’s receivers can consistently to win one-on-one matchups on the outside. If this game comes down to which quarterback can make the most plays, Watson and company should be able to come out on top.

The Crimson Tide Win If:

Since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s recipe for success has been winning the battle in the trenches. The formula for success is no different in this game. If Alabama is able to establish its power running game, it is going to allow them to control the clock, wear down Clemson’s defense and put Hurts in position to make comfortable throws. On the defensive side of the ball, the Crimson Tide need to pressure the pocket consistently, forcing the sometimes mistake-prone Watson into a turnover or two. Equally as important, Alabama needs to limit the big plays Watson is able to generate with his legs. If Alabama is able to lean on its running game and can keep Watson uncomfortable, they should methodically power to another national title.

The Bottom Line:

As good as Alabama has been this season, the win over Washington was a reminder of this team’s offensive limitations. Hurts is still only a freshman, and in big games against good defenses, the Crimson Tide have gone conservative, just look at their 10-0 win over LSU. I expect a run-heavy strategy from the Crimson Tide Monday night, especially after an early-than-expected departure from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Meanwhile, Watson showed last year than he can out up points against Alabama, and while I think this year’s defense is even better, Watson is still going to make some plays. Saban is going to try to win this game with his defense and power running game, and although it might certainly work, I’ll take Watson and company with nearly a touchdown’s worth of points. I expect the rematch to go down to the wire.

Prediction: Clemson Tigers (+6.5) Cover the Spread

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Posted in NCAAFComments Off on 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game Picks & Predictions: Clemson Tigers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

2017 NFL Playoff Power Rankings: How the NFC Stacks Up

2017-NFL-Picks-and-Predictions2017 NFL Playoff Power Rankings: How the NFC Stacks Up: The NFL playoffs are about to begin, but power they get underway, it is time to take a look at how the playoff-bound teams stack. The NFC field is particularly stacked, and three of the four teams playing on wild-card weekend will be led by Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Let’s take a closer look at all six NFC playoff teams.

2017 NFL Playoff Power Rankings: How the NFC Stacks Up

  1. Dallas Cowboys

It remains to be seen how rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott will handle the bright lights of the postseason, but the Cowboys still seem like the smart pick as the frontrunner in the NFC. Their dominant offensive line isn’t going away, and as long as Dallas is punishing opponents in the trenches, Elliott is going to have room to run, and Prescott is going to have time to throw. The Cowboys are also underrated on the defensive side of the ball, and they quietly allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL. Running the ball and stopping the run has always been a recipe for success, and Dallas has done both better than any team in the league this year.

  1. Atlanta Falcons

Led by MVP contender Matt Ryan, the Falcons own the best offense in the NFL this season. While Ryan and receiver Julio Jones get a lot of the love, Atlanta’s two-headed running back monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman makes this offense even tougher to defend. Granted, Atlanta’s defense has given up a lot of points, but they are dangerous when spotted a lead. Vic Beasley Jr. led the NFL in sacks, and the Falcons can turn him loose when opponents are forced to throw to try to keep pace with Ryan and company. The Falcons are going to be in trouble if their offense has a lackluster showing, but slowing down Atlanta’s multi-faceted attack will be easier said than done.

  1. Green Bay Packers

Is there anyone playing better entering the playoffs than Aaron Rodgers? The Packers have reeled off six straight wins, and Rodgers has thrown 15 touchdowns and no interceptions in that span, finishing with an NFL-high 40 passing touchdowns. Jordy Nelson looks fully recovered from a knee injury, and the improved play of Davante Adams has Green Bay’s offense firing on all cylinders. The only problem for the Packers is that Rodgers has to continue to play out of his mind to compensate for an inconsistent running game and a secondary that has been decimated by injuries. Green Bay is not a complete team by any means, but a red hot Rodgers can cover up a lot of other flaws.

  1. New York Giants

Let’s face it. Whenever you see the Giants in the playoffs, you can’ help but think of the two improbable Super Bowl runs engineered by Eli Manning. There is no denying he has been able to flip a switch come playoff time, but at best, the Giants have a puncher’s chance. Offensively, they have no running game, and the Giants haven’t scored more than 28 points in a game all year. Odell Beckham Jr. is a playmaker, but there is no counterpunch. The defense has actually been the strength of this team, and two wins over Dallas are impressive. Still, I just don’t see the Giants scoring enough to make a deep run.

  1. Seattle Seahawks

It’s easy to fall in love with the Seahawks, but the truth is that this just isn’t the same team that has been a Super Bowl contender the last several years. The normally vaunted defense isn’t the same without Earl Thomas patrolling the secondary. Meanwhile, the offense is missing the power ground game that has been Seattle’s bread and butter. The offensive line in particular is a huge issue. It is one of the youngest in the NFL, and several players are converted from other positions. Heck, their left tackle was a basketball player in college. Russell Wilson can be special, but even at his best, he can only carry a team so far.

  1. Detroit Lions

Things couldn’t get much worse for Detroit. The Lions limp into the playoffs after losing three straight games, forcing them to open the postseason with a trip to Seattle. To make matters worse, Matthew Stafford has really struggled since injuring his finger, and the Lions don’t have any type of running game to fall back on. Detroit will be fortunate to escape Wild Card weekend.

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