Draft Rumors A Week Ahead of Round 1

I’m baaaaaack. The longest of my papers coming up just got finished a week ahead of its due date so I’m pretty comfortable with returning to the blog on a regular basis. I appreciate all the patience. My family also got the puppy I mentioned a few blogs back, we went with the name Maizie Blue. Izzy and Fred were caught off guard by her presence. Fred seems to like her and Izzy seems to be confused by her. More updates to come. But anyhow, we’re about a week away from the Draft and there are rumors GALORE, most of which concern the Browns, who hold the first and fourth picks in the Draft. So I’m going to go down the list of some of the more interesting rumors I’ve heard and talk about whether I think they’re bullshit or not because this is the time of year when teams try and push fake stories, or smokescreens, to try and trick other teams as to what their plans are. It’s like the NFL’s Game of Thrones. So let’s get to the rumors. I’m going to try and limit them to just rumors that pertain to the first round, otherwise we’ll be here all day.

888466202

Browns GM John Dorsey knows who he wants at #1, isn’t telling anybody (not even Browns owner Jimmy Haslam) until the night before the draft

I’m actually a little surprised we, the public, don’t already know who the pick is going to be. Typically by this time in the process there is a clear favorite for the draft’s top pick. Last year it was Myles Garrett, the year before it was Jared Goff, before that Jameis Winston, before that JaDeveon Clowney. By the time the Draft typically rolls around, there’s very little mystery about who is going first. This year is completely different. There are three guys who are all still being linked to the top pick: USC QB Sam Darnold, Wyoming QB Josh Allen, and Penn State RB Saquon Barkley. I like the move by Dorsey not to tell anyone in the organization who he’s taking. Not only does it make the Draft more intriguing because the risk of that choice getting leaked is minimized significantly, but the Browns have been run so incompetently for so long that you have to imagine if somebody got wind of who their pick was going to be, they’d muck it up. I think Dorsey’s known who he wants for a while now. He’s likely been thinking about this pick since the fall and he’ll have certainly done his due diligence at this point.

Verdict: Probably True

Browns are considering drafting two QB’s at high spots

This isn’t something that’s unheard of. The Redskins did it back in 2012 by taking Baylor QB Robert Griffin III second overall then taking Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins in the fourth round. While Griffin’s career flamed out after a spectacular rookie season, Cousins has gotten better every year and just got a big fat paycheck from the Vikings. Cousins was kind of an insurance policy to RG3 and he ended up paying dividends for the Redskins, even if they refused to recognize it by giving him a long-term deal. However the Redskins’ quarterback situation was a little more dire than Cleveland’s currently is. At the time, the Redskins were fielding Rex Grossman and John Beck as their quarterbacks. The Browns at least have a competent quarterback in Tyrod Taylor to hold things down for a year so their rookie quarterback can have time to develop. Plus, the only quarterback in this class who compares to RG3 is Lamar Jackson and Jackson doesn’t have the injury history RG3 did coming out of college, so I doubt the need for an insurance policy like what the 2012 Redskins went with.

Verdict: Doubtful, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a guy like Toledo’s Logan Woodside in the 5th or 6th round

The Jets are preparing to make Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield the 3rd overall pick

According to an article I read on Bleacher Report, Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com is claiming that Mayfield to the Jets is a “done deal.” I’ve also read that the Jets are also seriously considering Sam Darnold perhaps suggesting they think Darnold will go to the Browns first or the Giants second. I have no doubt in my mind the Jets swapped picks with the Colts in order to take one of the quarterbacks in this class. But I’m not so sure it’s going to be Mayfield. I’ve blogged this several times, but the Jets’ division rival Dolphins are reportedly “enamored” by Mayfield, the Bills are trying to trade into the top 5 for a quarterback, and even the Patriots have been linked to the Heisman Trophy winner. I think the Jets may be throwing this name out there to try and entice their division rivals, all of whom hold picks outside of the top 10, to make a blockbuster trade with the Jets to try and stockpile picks, or get another desperate team to move up with them, perhaps Denver at 5. I would be a little surprised if the pick was Mayfield, as he’s a guy who needs more development than others and the Jets have shown they develop quarterbacks about as well as I develop proper eating habits. Not great. Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold are the more finished products that will require less seasoning and it’s very likely that Rosen is the one that will still be there at #3. But if the Jets aren’t totally sold on him, then I think it would be wise of them to stockpile draft picks.

Verdict: Smokescreen

931574266

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is expected to slide in the draft and may fall to the Patriots

A lot of people have been starting to mock Josh Rosen out of the top-10 in the Draft, let alone out of the top-5. Apparently the concerns about his love for the game are very real in NFL circles. This also, according to reports, has the Patriots’ ears perking up. It’s being reported that the Patriots may try and trade up to take Rosen to be Tom Brady’s successor should he slide in the Draft and considering New England has 2 first rounders and 2 second rounders this year, they seem to have the ammunition to do so. However they will likely have to trade with the Raiders at 10 at the very latest, considering the Dolphins and Bills hold the 11th and 12th picks, respectively, and both teams are going to be salivating watching Rosen fall. However it’s also being reported by NESN’s Mike Kyed that the 49ers may make a deal with the Patriots at 9th overall, saying so much as the 49ers “owe it” to the Patriots for the Jimmy Garoppolo trade despite the Browns making a better offer. As a Patriots fan, I’d rather see them get a left tackle and get a developmental quarterback later on rather than spend all their assets for the latter, even though Rosen is my top-ranked quarterback. But if the Patriots do pull the trigger on Rosen, I won’t complain. Just make sure he and Brady will be able to stay upright.

Verdict: Rosen’s slide seems likely, but he won’t fall within New England’s reach

Broncos looking to trade the 5th overall pick

John Elway has stated that the Broncos are very open to trading the 5th overall pick and given the teams that sound like they’re desperate to move up, it seems like a good chance that they’ll get an offer they like. Buffalo seems to be most desperate and they’ve also got a lot of ammunition (2 first rounders, 2 second rounders) to make a big splash. Denver needs a developmental quarterback, though with the newly-signed Case Keenum, the desperation isn’t as great as it was prior to the signing when the quarterbacks were Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. The Cardinals have also been rumored to be looking to trade up for a quarterback even after signing Sam Bradford to a 3-year deal. The Broncos will have a number of suitors should they make the 5th overall pick available.

Verdict: Very Likely

The Colts are trying to trade down again from 6th overall

The Colts originally held the third overall pick but they made a trade with the Jets to move down to #6 and acquired 3 second rounders in the process. Again, Miami and Buffalo are two teams to keep an eye out for as teams that may try and make a move with the Colts, especially if one or more of the top 4 quarterbacks falls out of the top 5. The Colts have needs pretty much everywhere and they aren’t going to fix all their problems with one pick so it’s very likely that they try and acquire as many picks as they can. However there’s a game-wrecking edge rusher in this class in Bradley Chubb from North Carolina State that I think could really be useful to the Colts and it’s very possible he falls to them at #6 given the quarterback craze that’s expected. The Giants have been linked to him at #2 overall, though and I think they’re the Colts’ biggest threat to getting him. Plus if the Giants do take Chubb, that’s one less QB-needy team that spent their high pick on a quarterback, meaning teams that are trying to trade up will have one more quarterback option to consider, meaning more suitors for the Colts.

Verdict: If Bradley Chubb is gone, I guarantee this happens

Packers are either going to take Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick or Iowa corner Josh Jackson

The secondary in Green Bay is LOADED with holes and you really can’t go wrong with either of these two guys at this spot. However there’s little to no chance that Fitzpatrick falls this far. Fitzpatrick is my #3 overall prospect and top safety and teams like the Browns at #4, the Buccaneers at #7, the 49ers at #9, and the Raiders at #10 are all very possible landing spots for him. However, Jackson isn’t as highly-touted by all teams as Fitzpatrick is and I think it’s very likely that he’ll be around for Green Bay at #14. Jackson’s ball-hawking skills led him to being #1 in the nation in interceptions and he played a similar role with the Hawkeyes as former teammate Desmond King, who had a very successful rookie season with the Chargers. However if Florida State safety Derwin James is still available when the Packers pick at 14, I think they should seriously consider him.

Verdict: Fitzpatrick won’t be there, but Jackson is very likely. Also don’t rule out James

927341446

Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch may go higher than people expect

I’ve been consistently mocking the Boise State linebacker to the Steelers at 28, however something interesting occurred a couple weeks ago. The Titans reportedly cancelled their visit with Vander Esch because they felt he “wouldn’t be there when they picked.” Tennessee holds the 25th overall pick. Vander Esch is an excellent physical specimen who seems like he’s still really learning how to play linebacker even though he’s played it for most, if not all of his career. As mentioned above, I have him as a late first round prospect but the fact the Titans cancelled their workout with him because they didn’t expect him to be there is telling. Among teams that pick ahead of them that need a linebacker include the Raiders, Dolphins, Chargers, Lions, Bills, and Patriots.

Those are just a few of the rumors I’ve been hearing that pertain to the first round of the Draft. Amongst later round rumors are the Chargers wanting to draft Philip Rivers’ successor in the 2nd round, Arizona State linebacker Christian Sam garnering significant interest in the middle rounds, and Ronald Jones II being very high on the Colts’ board. Let me know what you think of these rumors in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

The Wonderlic Test: Football’s Most Puzzling Test of Players

872982892

The Wonderlic Test is something that the NFL has potential Draft prospects take in order to test their intelligence. We often hear about leaked scores and which players performed well and which didn’t. The test is 50 questions and you have 12 minutes to complete it. Well, I took a sample Wonderlic while I was taking a break from writing my papers and guess what?

I’m in the 97th percentile among NFL prospects. Put me in coach!

I got a 38 on the Wonderlic, which actually ranks pretty well. Only one prospect has ever scored a perfect 50 on it, that being former Harvard punter Pat McInally back in the 70’s. McInally was a 5th round pick by the Bengals in the 1975 NFL Draft and went on to be their punter for a decade. The worst was former LSU corner Morris Claiborne and former Iowa State running back Darren Davis, both of whom scored a 4. Davis went undrafted and ended up playing in the CFL while Claiborne was made the 6th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. Claiborne was overall a bust with Dallas but he started showing some signs of being a solid corner upon joining the Jets. Here are some notable players who did really well on the Wonderlic.

Ryan Fitzpatrick-48

Ben Watson-48

Eric Decker-43

Blaine Gabbert-42

Calvin Johnson-41

Carson Wentz-40

Here are some guys who compared with me. Mind you, my score was a 38.

Eli Manning-39

Matthew Stafford-38

Colin Kapernick-38

Andrew Luck-37 (Yes, I scored higher than the supposed “genius” Andrew Luck)

Josh Allen-37

Tony Romo-37

Joey Bosa-37

Jared Goff-37

Drew Bledsoe-36

Sam Bradford-36

Aaron Rodgers-35

Jonathan Ogden-35

Tom Brady-33

And here are some guys who did really poorly.

Morris Claiborne-4

Frank Gore-6

Vince Young-6

Kelvin Benjamin-7

Terrelle Pryor-7

Bobby Wagner-8

AJ Green-10

Darrelle Revis-10

Leonard Fournette-11

Keyshawn Johnson-11

Jamal Adams-11

The best Wonderlic score in this year’s Draft class that has been leaked is Josh Allen’s 37. Another thing for draft pundits to gush over. The worst? Lamar Jackson’s 13. Granted, hardly anybody in the recent classes have been leaked, so it’s probable that there are better and worse scores. But having taken the test myself and seen what others have scored, what do I think of the Wonderlic?

I think it’s a poor method of projecting success in the league. Typically quarterbacks do really well on it but even that can’t project who is going to be particularly good. Ryan Fitzpatrick got a 48 and he’s just a quality backup. Blaine Gabbert scored a 41 and he was awful as a starter. Donovan McNabb scored a 14 and he’s one of the greatest quarterbacks the Eagles have ever had and was one of the best of the 2000’s. Terry Bradshaw scored a 15 and he’s a 4-time Super Bowl champion and a Hall of Famer. Yet there are other quarterbacks who did pretty well at it, like Eli Manning’s 39 and Carson Wentz’s 40 that went on to have successful careers. A lot of the questions are word associations or recognizing patterns in sequences. Hell, I couldn’t even finish mine (my last two answers were not recorded because I ran out of time) because of the 12-minute time limit. There are also plenty of players who did poorly on the Wonderlic and had great careers. Frank Gore had one of the worst Wonderlics of all time (6) and he’s the 49ers all-time leading rusher and a future Hall of Famer. Bobby Wagner is arguably the best linebacker in the game today and he scored an 8. AJ Green is one of the best receivers in the game and he got a 10.

My point is, Draft analysts really shouldn’t take any stock into how a player does on the Wonderlic because it really doesn’t do a good job of projecting who’s going to be good. In fact, I’m not even sure why it’s even administered because none of the questions I answered had anything to do with football.

So I’m going to post two links. The first link is to the Wonderlic Test that I took. Granted it’s a sample but the questions are supposedly very similar to what the players have to take. There also may have been some improper coding done because a couple of questions I answered were repeats. The other link I’m posting is to a list of players and their Wonderlic scores so you can see how you did compared to some notable NFL players.

https://samplewonderlictest.com/

http://wonderlictestsample.com/nfl-wonderlic-scores/

So that’s going to do it for today’s blog. Let me know what you think of the Wonderlic in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10. Also be sure to let me know how you did!

 

Top 10 NFL Free Agents

A quick breather from 30 Clubs in 30 Days, I think we’ve all earned that. Let’s talk football. It’s going to be an interesting offseason as this is one of the more stacked free agent classes in recent memory. As I mentioned in the intro of this morning’s Milwaukee Brewers preview, the deadline for the Franchise Tag has passed and the potential free agents who will not be hitting the open market are Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry (who may get traded), Lions pass rusher Ziggy Ansah, Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, Rams safety LaMarcus Joyner, and Steelers runningback Le’Veon Bell (Bell has stated his displeasure with getting tagged). So now that the guys getting tagged are off the market, let’s take a look at who the 10 best players available are. I’m not going to include Drew Brees on this list because let’s face it, he’s not going anywhere.

10. QB Teddy Bridgewater

591924480

Just a tough go for Teddy Bridgewater. After being the 32nd overall pick in 2014, Bridgewater was looking pretty good and appeared to be the Vikings’ quarterback of the future. However, shortly before the 2016 season, he suffered a gruesome non-contact injury that resulted in a torn ACL, a dislocated knee, and other structural damage that was so bad people feared he may lose the leg. He seems to have made a full recovery, thankfully, though he hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since 2015 NFC Wild Card Round (that game where Blair Walsh missed the chip shot field goal that would’ve sent the Vikings to the Divisional Round and eliminated the Seahawks). He says he wants to start and he’s more than capable of it, but the severity of his injury may scare some teams.

Projected Landing Spot: Miami Dolphins

9. DT Muhammad Wilkerson

868747418

Muhammad Wilkerson’s departure from the Jets has seemingly been a foregone conclusion for years now, as the team has been on the fence between trading him, slapping the franchise tag on him, or giving him an extension. They ultimately released him this offseason and he’ll be hitting the open market. Wilkerson still has plenty left in the tank at 28 years of age though I doubt he’ll be getting much more than a 3-year deal.

Projected Landing Spot: Buffalo Bills

8. QB Sam Bradford

863454470

Sam Bradford’s had kind of a weird career. He was a Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, was the first overall pick by the Rams in 2010, won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year that same season, then injuries happened. It got so bad that Bradford’s fragility is a running joke amongst NFL fans. Though once he joined the Vikings after a year with the Eagles, he seemed to flip a switch. Bradford was excellent in 2016 as he completed 71.6% of his passes, threw for 3877 yards, and tossed 20 TDs vs only 5 picks. He got off to a good start in 2017 as well as he torched the Saints defense in Week 1 before hurting himself once again in practice. Only this time his replacement, Case Keenum, was terrific and Bradford never really got the job back. There’s certainly going to be a market for Bradford because he’s better than a lot of the guys other teams have been trotting out there as starters.

Projected Landing Spot: New York Jets

7. CB Trumaine Johnson

869538920

Trumaine Johnson is one of the more underappreciated corners in the league. He doesn’t make the flashy plays but he always ends up covering the opposing team’s #1 receiver and he does a pretty good job at it, too. However the Rams are a bit strapped for cash and they knew they wouldn’t be able to bring Johnson back so they traded for Marcus Peters and slapped the franchise tag on LaMarcus Joyner. Whomever ends up signing Johnson will be getting a steal.

Projected Landing Spot: New England Patriots

6. QB Case Keenum

908519334

The third former Vikings quarterback on this list, I was very surprised that the Vikings didn’t slap the franchise tag on Keenum after his performance in 2017, leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship game for the first time since the 2009 season, but there’s a reason for that which I’ll get into later because it involves another guy on this list. Keenum had a rough night against the Eagles in that conference title game but he was otherwise excellent for the Vikings and performed well beyond anybody’s expectations for him. There will be concern that it was a fluke and that the Eagles exposed his flaws, however I’m sure somebody will be willing to take a risk on him.

Projected Landing Spot: Arizona Cardinals

5. CB Malcolm Butler

474971690

As a Patriots fan, it’s going to suck to see Malcolm Butler go. It was kind of a messy ending, given the inexplicable benching in Super Bowl LII, but it was such a wonderful beginning, as pictured above, that no matter what happens I’m going to remember him fondly. After recording arguably the greatest interception of all time, Butler became a really good corner, finishing in the top 10 of Pro Football Focus’ cornerback ratings for 2015 and 2016. 2017 wasn’t as great for Butler and he got picked apart in the playoffs. There’s no chance he returns to the Patriots after the way he was handled, though and that’s going to leave a big hole at corner opposite Stephon Gilmore in New England (which I hope gets filled by Trumaine Johnson, but that’s wishful thinking).

Projected Landing Spot: New Orleans Saints

4. WR Allen Robinson

623032236

There’s never a good time to get injured but Allen Robinson may have picked the worst time to tear his ACL. He was an absolute stud in 2015, catching 80 passes for 1400 yards and a whopping 14 TD’s. He was a disappointment in 2016, though, as his yardage total was nearly cut in half and he struggled with drops. Entering a contract year in 2017, Robinson was out to prove that 2015 wasn’t a fluke. Then he tore his ACL in Week 1 against the Texans. So now not only has he not had a great season in 2 years, but he also hasn’t really played since 2016 thanks to his injury. I’m a little surprised the Jaguars didn’t elect to tag him and give him one more shot at a contract year, however they made the AFC Championship game without him and they probably feel comfortable with the guys they have. If Robinson can put forth a healthy 2018, though, he’s one of the most dangerous receivers in the league.

Projected Landing Spot: Chicago Bears

3. WR Sammy Watkins

898082088

Sammy Watkins is one of the most talented receivers in the game but injuries and having to learn a new system on the fly have kept him from reaching his full potential. The fourth overall pick by the Bills in 2014 and the first receiver taken in that already legendary class, Watkins was traded during the 2017 preseason to the Rams and was forced to learn Sean McVay’s playbook at an accelerated pace and as a result, his play faltered. Despite playing 15 out of 16 games, Watkins only had 39 catches for 593 yards (though he did have 8 TD’s to go with that) in offensive guru McVay’s system. However if he can stay healthy and be given a full offseason to learn a new system, Watkins could become the dangerous threat the Bills thought he’d be when they took him in 2014.

Projected Landing Spot: Dallas Cowboys

2. DT Sheldon Richardson

867927732

Sheldon Richardson is one of the best defensive tackles in the game however the only thing keeping him from being a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber player is himself. He’s had his issues off the field, the most appalling for me being that time he got in a high-speed chase with police with his 10-year old nephew in the passenger’s seat. Not good. However when he’s on the field he’s terrific and he was a big boost to the Seahawks’ defense as they were able to get creative with him and move him all over the line. If he gets into the right culture, he could be a huge impact on a team.

Projected Landing Spot: Returns to Seahawks

1. QB Kirk Cousins

902727120

You had to know Kirk Cousins was going to be #1. I’m not going to get too deep into this one because I already did that when the Redskins traded for Alex Smith.¬†However there are reports that the Vikings are ready to offer him a king’s ransom, somewhere along the lines of 3 years and $91M GUARANTEED. It was a weird saga for Cousins with the Redskins and I’m happy for him that he’s been able to leave that toxic situation and, from the looks of things, get seriously paid.

Projected Landing Spot: Minnesota Vikings

That’s going to do it for the top 10 free agents in the NFL. Let me know what you think of this free agent class in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Conference Championship Picks

So it’s come down to this. The final 4 teams left with a shot at Super Bowl LII on the line. The New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, and Minnesota Vikings are the only teams left standing after a grueling NFL season. It’s also possibly the most interesting group of quarterbacks remaining as well, as it’s down to Tom Brady, Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, and Case Keenum. One is the greatest of all time, one is basically a meme at this point in his career, and the other two were backup quarterbacks when the season started. So let’s see who I think will go to the Super Bowl. One quick thing to note if you’re a gambling man. I’m 2-6 in the postseason so far. I’ve gone 1-3 in each round, including being winless in all of my NFC picks (the only ones I’ve hit were Jags-Bills and Pats-Titans). So take what I say with a grain of salt.

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) vs New England Patriots (13-3)

The Jaguars showed up to play in the AFC Divisional Round against the Steelers while Pittsburgh was thinking about New England. In fact, there has been so much dysfunction in that organization that one has to wonder if Mike Tomlin’s job is safe or not. But that’s for another blog entirely. But the Jaguars have had an incredible turnaround after having gone 3-13 last season. Doug Marrone has done a terrific job in his first year at the helm in Jacksonville and the biggest part of that resurgence has been the defense. Despite the fact that they gave up 42 points last week, I still thought the Jaguars defense played well. On all four of Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown throws, he had to squeeze the ball into the tightest of windows or drop a perfect deep ball right into his receiver’s lap. The one rushing touchdown was a weird lateral play to Le’Veon Bell that I think would’ve caught most defenses off guard anyway. Plus, Yannick Ngakoue’s strip sack of Roethlisberger resulting in a Telvin Smith scoop-and-score was the point of no return in my opinion, especially considering Pittsburgh had been gaining some momentum. Meanwhile the Patriots started off slowly against the Titans, trailing 7-0 after the first quarter and their offense looked pretty stagnant. Then Tom Brady remembered that it was the Titans and the offense got their act together and dropped 35 unanswered en route to a 35-14 win. The defense played great, particularly the pass rush, which hasn’t been a strong suit for New England. They registered 8 sacks, bullying Jack Conklin’s injury replacement seemingly the moment he stepped into the game. The Patriots open this game as double-digit favorites, however things aren’t going as smoothly as one might expect. Tom Brady is dealing with a bum right hand after a teammate (which we just found out was Rex Burkhead) ran into it and created a lot of pain for the 5-time champ. The fact that it was Burkhead that caused the injury tells me that perhaps it occurred on a botched handoff in practice rather than some defender not respecting the red jersey. Jacksonville’s defense is a scary one to face when you aren’t 100% but if anybody can do it, it’s Tom Brady. However it does level the playing field a bit, as before it was unthinkable to ask Blake Bortles to defeat Tom Brady, but now that Brady isn’t at his best, it seems to be a more realistic belief for the Jaguars to reach the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl. I’m anticipating a lot of dinks and dunks from New England, particularly to runningbacks such as Burkhead and James White, whom I think will be the X factors in this game. I’ve got New England winning it just simply because I don’t think that Jacksonville will be able to score enough points to top the Patriots, who will be headed to the Super Bowl for the third time in 4 years and 8th time overall under the Brady-Belichick regime.

904641198

Projected Score: Patriots 23 Jaguars 17

Minnesota Vikings (13-3) vs Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

The ending of the NFC Divisional Round between the Vikings and Saints was probably the craziest ending I’ve ever seen in a football game. While I was watching it and saw Case Keenum heave the ball toward the sideline, I immediately figured Stefon Diggs would go for a toe-tapper to stop the clock with about 3 seconds left. He turned upfield and I thought to myself “what the Hell are you doing?!” until I realized there was only green grass ahead of him after Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams whiffed on the hit. Diggs scored the walkoff touchdown as time expired and perhaps the greatest moment in Vikings history (so far) had been cemented. One thing to say before I get to this matchup: lay off of Marcus Williams. That could’ve been anybody. It looked to me like he was trying to balance a lot of things with that tackle attempt. First of all, no, he was not going for the knockout hit like an idiot. Anybody watching could see that. He also had to make sure he didn’t get there too early or else it would be pass interference, the ball would be placed at the spot of the foul, which was well within Vikings kicker Kai Forbath’s range, and the clock would’ve stopped and he’d still be the pariah. Plus, he wanted to make sure that he tackled Diggs in bounds so that the clock would tick down to zero since the Vikings had no timeouts left to stop it. However, all those things racing through his mind appeared to throw him off his game because it amounted to nothing as he missed the tackle and Diggs trotted into the endzone, ending New Orleans’ season. Now onto the matchup itself, the Vikings will look to host the Super Bowl with a victory over the Eagles after a pretty unlikely season. After Sam Bradford torched the Saints in Week 1, it looked like it would be him that would lead the Vikings charge. However he got injured in practice, forcing Case Keenum into the starting lineup. Keenum has pretty much entered journeyman status at this point in the league, getting opportunities in both Houston with the Texans and St. Louis/Los Angeles with the Rams before being forced out of both. He was seemingly on his last legs in Minnesota and likely would’ve been the third string quarterback there had Teddy Bridgewater not still been recovering from a gruesome ACL injury a year prior. But there he was in the starting lineup and he played great, throwing for 3547 yards, 22 TD’s and only 7 INT’s with a quarterback rating of 98.3. There was a brief moment where the Vikings tried to reinsert Bradford into the starting lineup, but Bradford clearly wasn’t ready and Keenum was able to save the game by beating the Bears. They face an Eagles team who is also on their backup quarterback in Nick Foles. Carson Wentz had been fantastic all year for the Eagles heading into their Week 14 matchup with the Los Angeles Rams. He was arguably the frontrunner for NFL MVP and had the Eagles at 10-2. Then he tore his ACL diving for the goalline and Nick Foles had to be inserted into the lineup. It had been a mixed bag for Foles as Eagles starter. He played well in the Eagles’ comeback victory over the Giants in his first start, was unimpressive in their Week 16 win over the Raiders, and downright sucked in Week 17 against the Cowboys before being sat for Nate Sudfeld. Eagles fans were a little tense about how Foles would play in the Divisional Round against the defending NFC champion Falcons and their fears were not consoled very well when he threw a duck on his first pass that got knocked down by the wind. Foles recovered nicely, though, and finished the game with a solid line of 23-30 for 246 yards with no TD’s and no turnovers. The Eagles were able to come away with a 15-10 victory over the Falcons after some poor playcalling by Atlanta doomed them on the final drive. Both the Eagles and Vikings feature very impressive defenses that helped carry the team through their occasional offensive struggles and I expect a low-scoring affair in this one. However I do believe that the Vikings will prevail in this and will take on the Patriots in Super Bowl LII in their home stadium.

905750918

Projected Score: Vikings 20 Eagles 14

That’s going to do it for my Conference Championship picks. I’m predicting it will be Patriots-Vikings for the Lombardi Trophy. Let me know what you think of my picks in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

Divisional Round Picks: Day 2

How about Nick Foles getting the job done against the Falcons? He had a solid game throwing the ball, as he went 23-30 for 246 yards and didn’t turn the ball over once and the NFC Championship will be played in Philadelphia. The Patriots took care of business against the Titans and will be advancing to their 7th straight AFC Championship game. The Titans held their own early but once New England got going, there was nothing Tennessee could do to stop them. There were admittedly a few questionable calls that went against the Titans but overall it was a pretty resounding beatdown by New England. Let’s get to Sunday’s slate of games.

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) vs Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

The Jaguars are coming off an ugly win over the Buffalo Bills, but a win is a win, especially this time of year. The defense played exceptionally well while the offense barely did enough to win. Interesting thing I noticed from that game, Jacksonville’s best three healthy receivers are Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Kelan Cole. Not one of them caught a pass in that game and were only targeted once apiece. But again, it was enough to get the job done. The Steelers had an odd year. There were times where they looked downright abysmal and others where they looked like the cream of the crop in the NFL and are a poor fake spike decision away from having home field advantage throughout the playoffs. But the game everybody is certainly going to circle on their schedule from this year is their home loss to this same Jaguars team. Back in week 5, the Jaguars annihilated the Steelers 30-9 at Heinz Field, which included intercepting Ben Roethlisberger 5 times. In fact, the defense was playing so well in that game that quarterback Blake Bortles threw his last pass of the game with about 8 minutes left in the third quarter. 23 minutes of game time without attempting a single pass and they were still able to win by 21. It also helped that Leonard Fournette was the definition of a bell cow in that game, as he ran for 181 yards on a whopping 28 carries, both career highs for the rookie out of LSU. He also put the nail in the coffin with a 90-yard touchdown run in which he basically went untouched the whole way. But I think things are going to go differently for the Steelers. After that loss, they seemed to figure their shit out and won 10 of their last 11 games, the one loss being to the Patriots on the aforementioned failed fake spike. Antonio Brown was in the MVP discussion for much of the year before injuring his leg in that loss. He missed each of the final two games of the season but he is expected to suit up for this one. But keep an eye on how well he’s able to make his cuts. Jacksonville boasts arguably the two best corners in the NFL right now in Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye and if Brown isn’t his usual elusive self, he’s going to have a hard time getting open. But if he’s fine and can do what he does best, then we’re going to have some really fun receiver/corner matchups to watch. I think the key to this game is going to be the Steelers’ offensive line. They don’t have to give Roethlisberger a load of time to throw the ball, just enough so that he’s unimpeded in his 3-step drops because you can bet pass rushers Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler are going to be coming for him with Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson bumrushing the middle. They’re also going to need to create the lanes Le’Veon Bell needs to rush through while also throwing linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack off his scent because those two fly through gaps like missiles. I think if the Steelers offensive line has a good day, the Steelers will exact revenge on the Jaguars. If not, I think it’s going to be a loooooong day for the Steelers offense and we may get a repeat of Week 5. But I think the Steelers will pull it off and return to the AFC championship game for the second straight year.

896576374

Projected Score: Steelers 27 Jaguars 24

New Orleans Saints (11-5) vs Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

The Saints are coming off a thrilling victory over the Panthers that came down to the final play and will look to ride that momentum into Minnesota and the same building where Super Bowl LII will be held. The Saints were able to beat the Panthers despite Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara not having great games statistically. That’s why Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, though. Even when defenses force the Saints to become one-dimensional, they’re breathing a little easier than most other teams because they have #9 under center. These two teams squared off all the way back in Week 1, which seems like an eternity ago. In that game, Sam Bradford absolutely picked apart the Saints secondary, which has since done a 180 and gone from a weakness to a strength. Bradford’s season also did the same, as an injury suffered in practice forced Case Keenum into the starting role and he played so well that no matter how this season ends, head coach Mike Zimmer is going to have a real decision to make at quarterback in deciding between Keenum, Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater. Offensively, Minnesota was hovering just outside of the top 10 in pretty much every category. They had to deal with some injuries, as promising rookie Dalvin Cook tore his ACL back in Week 4 after getting off to a really impressive start to his career. LaTavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon were able to pick up the slack in the backfield but the biggest thing that propelled this offense was the emergence of receiver Adam Thielen. Thielen was fantastic in 2017, as he caught 91 passes for 1276 yards and 4 TD’s. He emerged as the biggest threat in a suddenly solid receiving group that features the likes of Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Minnesota’s defense was sensational this year, as they finished the season as the NFL’s #1 defense in both points and yards allowed. Everson Griffen is finally starting to get the respect he deserves as a pass rusher while Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith each continue their astronomical growth as players in the secondary. This is a difficult matchup to pick because I think both teams match up so well with one another. But I think the key thing here is going to be quarterback play and it’s really hard to bet against Drew Brees, no matter how well Case Keenum might be playing. I think the Saints are going to win this one and they’re going to hope it’s not the last time they win a game in Minnesota this season.

902315550

Projected Score: Saints 28 Vikings 23

That’s it for my picks in the divisional round. Let me know what you think of them in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.