Julian Edelman Suspended 4 Games for PED’s

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Well shit. This caught me by surprise because quite frankly, Edelman seems like one of those guys who is more than willing to put in the hard work needed in order to get better. However until a statement is released, I am under the belief that he did so in an attempt to recover more quickly from injury, which is something that some performance enhancers can do. As you may remember, Edelman tore his ACL in Week 3 of the preseason against the Lions and missed the entire season. While I still believe that he should serve the suspension, it is more forgivable to use them to try and get healthy rather than gain an unfair physical advantage over the competition. I mean, Hell, I forgave Andy Pettitte when he was named on the Mitchell Report for using HGH twice to try and recover from an injury and he spent almost all of his career as a Yankee. I get the sense that perhaps Edelman’s recovery wasn’t moving along as quickly as he’d hoped and may have used PED’s in order to speed up the process to try and get back on the field to help his team.

But as a Patriots fan, I’m not fretting over the loss of Edelman. The team didn’t have Edelman for an entire season and still reached the Super Bowl in 2017. They can survive another four games. There have been plenty of losses on the offensive side of the ball for New England this offseason, such as Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis. But there have also been some additions that are more than capable of carrying the load in Edelman’s absence.

Here’s a list of guys the Patriots will have at wide receiver for training camp, which is of course subject to change depending on how cuts go.

Chris Hogan

Jordan Matthews

Malcolm Mitchell

Kenny Britt

Cordarrelle Patterson

Braxton Berrios

Phillip Dorsett

Cody Hollister

Riley McCarron

Matthew Slater

There are also running backs such as James White, Rex Burkhead, and Sony Michel who can pick up some of the slack as receiving threats for the Patriots as well as tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. While there aren’t a ton of superstars in this group of receivers, there are a bunch of quality guys who are more than capable of being good contributors in Edelman’s absence. Hell, that’s why they drafted Braxton Berrios in the 6th round out of Miami (FL), isn’t it? He’s basically a carbon copy of Edelman. My point is that the Patriots are going to be fine without #11 for a few more games. To accentuate my point, here’s the first four games of the Patriots’ schedule:

Week 1: Home against the Houston Texans

Week 2: Away against the Jacksonville Jaguars

Week 3: Away against the Detroit Lions

Week 4: Home against the Miami Dolphins

Edelman will be eligible to return in Week 5 at home against the Indianapolis Colts in their Thursday night tilt. But in those four games that Edelman will be out for, only Jacksonville’s corners give me cause for concern for the Patriots’ offense. And the Patriots faced them in the AFC Title Game, again without Edelman, and still won. The Lions have a very good corner in Darius Slay but other than him, they don’t have a whole lot that keeps you up at night.

While yes, losing Edelman for four games does suck, it’s not the end of the world for the Patriots, far from it. They showed last year that they’re more than capable of winning without him. It just makes life easier to have him though.

Let me know what you think of Edelman’s suspension in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NFL Rookies Best (and Worst) Set up for Early Success

So every year guys get drafted by teams that just put them in the perfect situation, whether that be the scheme fit or having the right supporting cast around them. A lot of times success and failure in the NFL is based on just being in the best situation. So with that, let’s take a look at some rookies that are in the best and worst position to succeed.

Best: Sony Michel-RB-New England Patriots

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This one’s not quite so obvious, but hear me out. Yes, Michel is in a VERY crowded backfield in New England and he’s going to be in an offense that prefers to throw the ball (who could blame them with the GOAT slinging it). However it’s a very similar situation to what he had at Georgia and look how that turned out. Michel shared a backfield first with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, then with Chubb and D’Andre Swift. Nowadays he’s going to be sharing with James White (pass catcher), Rex Burkhead (wildcard), and either Jeremy Hill or Mike Gillislee (power back) and replacing Dion Lewis as the de facto all-around guy. One of Michel’s main issues coming out of college was stamina and when you’re splitting carries, it allows you to remain fresh throughout the game. Michel will basically be doing the exact same thing in New England that he was at Georgia only this time the roles are more defined and there will likely be a specific gameplan geared towards his skills. I think that bodes well for his future NFL success. He may never reach 1000 rushing yards in a season, but his yards per carry is probably going to be nuts.

Worst: Sam Darnold-QB-New York Jets

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Darnold is probably the safest quarterback in this year’s class. There’s very little that he does poorly, or at least there are far fewer red flags than what you get from the other quarterbacks. However there was one major flaw at USC that had me a little concerned about team fits and that was the fact that his play dropped significantly when the talent around him wasn’t as good. He was awesome his redshirt freshman season when he was throwing to guys like Juju Smith-Schuster, however when Juju was drafted by the Steelers and Darnold’s entire offensive line went pro as well, he struggled mightily. While from a talent standpoint, the Jets are obviously better than USC, they are one of the least talented offenses on paper. Robbie Anderson is the #1 receiver and while he had a pretty solid season last year, that was more out of necessity than anything. The offensive line of the Jets isn’t great either and unless the front office somehow manages to swing a deal for some talent before Darnold gets the starting job (whether that be this year or next), he could be in for a world of hurt, no matter how good he is.

Best: Saquon Barkley-RB-New York Giants

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Barkley doesn’t really need help to be great but he’s going to get it anyway. Not only is he the most talented runningback to come out of college maybe ever, but he’s going into a situation that will be really beneficial for him. Now yes, the Giants sucked last season, but injuries and offensive line woes played a big part of that. Well ODell Beckham Jr is coming back healthy and the Giants signed Nate Solder at left tackle and drafted Will Hernandez out of UTEP to play guard. Plus, if they should decide to move Ereck Flowers to guard, that could wind up being beneficial for his career. So having Beckham back to take pressure off of him and an improved offensive line should set up Barkley nicely for early career success.

Worst: Denzel Ward-CB-Cleveland Browns

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Ward is a really good corner but given the Browns’ lack of options at the position, he may draw #1 receiver duties from Day 1. Now granted, it worked for Marshon Lattimore with the Saints last year, but I felt like Lattimore was a more complete player than Ward was. Ward struggled with the bigger receivers and there are plenty of them in the AFC North like AJ Green, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Michael Crabtree. Plus there’s also the smaller but even more dangerous Antonio Brown to contend with. Lattimore didn’t have an ideal group of guys to cover either like Julio Jones and Mike Evans, but again, he was more polished than Ward is and Lattimore also didn’t have to draw #1 receiver duties out of the gate. And even if he did, he had better safeties available to bail him out should he need them. I’m not saying Ward isn’t up to the challenge because if any cornerback in this year’s rookie class is it’s him, but his situation isn’t ideal by any stretch.

Best: Rashaan Evans-LB-Tennessee Titans

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Evans was a leader on Alabama’s National Championship-winning defense and it looks like he’s going to be thrust into the limelight in Tennessee as well, as he immediately becomes the best member of the Titans’ needle-thin linebacking corp. The offensive lines he’ll be going up against in the AFC South are mediocre and the only really potentially deadly runningback he’ll have to face at this point is Leonard Fournette. He’s also got an excellent coach of linebackers in Mike Vrabel as his head coach so he’s going to get even further mentoring. He’s in prime position for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Worst: Rashaad Penny-RB-Seattle Seahawks

<> on December 23, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Penny was a reach by Seattle, however given that he was likely going to be gone the next time they picked (late 3rd round), I can understand why they went that route if they were so high on him. Penny’s a good back, don’t get me wrong, and he fits the bruising style of running back the Seahawks like to employ. However the Seahawks have once again hardly touched that god-awful offensive line this offseason so they’re just setting Penny up for failure. Duane Brown at left tackle is the only competent guy on that offensive line and he’s going to be 33 when the season starts. He’s basically going to be running for his life out there. Plus aside from Doug Baldwin, there aren’t any receivers of note to take the pressure off the running game. Again, Penny does have the power to bulldoze over guys, but he’s going to get stuffed behind the line more often than not and I’ve got a feeling his yards per carry numbers are going to be pretty ugly.

So those are just a few guys that have some interesting situations brought about with them. I stuck with just first rounders given that the expectations for them are so much higher than the others. Let me know what you think of these conundrums in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

2018 NFL Draft: Full Recap

This is the last I’ll post of the 2018 NFL Draft, which is one of my favorite sporting events of the year and it never ceases to disappoint. With all 256 picks made, I’ve gotten a chance to scour them all and decide what I think of each team’s class, which players got screwed, which players god overdrafted, etc., etc. So let’s get to the recap.

Best Draft Class: Green Bay Packers

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The Packers had the most picks (12) going into this Draft and they made very good use of them. This class is getting bonus points for the wheeling and dealing they did. First, they acquired the Saints’ 2019 first round pick to move down, then they gave up one of their third rounders to move back up and get a cornerback in Louisville’s Jaire Alexander. Then they doubled down on corner in round 2 and got a first round talent Iowa’s Josh Jackson, who led the nation in picks last season. The secondary was such a huge need for the Packers that I don’t mind that they hit the same position multiple times, especially considering both players they got were first round-caliber prospects. Aside from Haha Clinton-Dix, that unit is garbage. I would have liked to have seen them get another safety, but if I’m a Packers fan, I’m more than happy with the corners they got. The Packers also got great value for their wide receivers in an effort to find a replacement for Jordy Nelson as they landed Missouri’s J’Mon Moore in the 4th and Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown in the 6th. Here’s every pick the Packers made.

18. Jaire Alexander-CB-Louisville

45. Josh Jackson-CB-Iowa

88. Oren Burks-LB-Vanderbilt

133. J’Mon Moore-WR-Missouri

138. Cole Madison-OG-Washington State

172. JK Scott-P-Alabama

174. Marques Valdes-Scantling-WR-South Florida

207. Equanimeous St. Brown-WR-Notre Dame

232. James Looney-EDGE-California

239. Hunter Bradley-LS-Mississippi State

248. Kendall Donnerson-EDGE-Southeast Missouri State

Honorable Mentions: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Washington Redskins

Worst Draft Class: Oakland Raiders

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Jon Gruden’s first Draft in 10 years didn’t go great in my opinion. First, he traded down to take Kolton Miller. I liked the trade down and I like Miller, but there were far more pressing needs for the Raiders than offensive line and there were some damn good players available. There were a ton of needs on the defensive side of the ball, pretty much every position could have used a pick dedicated to it. When the Raiders took Miller, the following defenders were available: Tremaine Edmunds, Derwin James, Jaire Alexander, Leighton Vander Esch, and Rashaan Evans, all of whom would have started immediately on that defense. Then in the second round they took a defensive tackle named PJ Hall. At first I thought it was a typo and they meant NC State’s BJ Hill and I thought to myself “it’s good they addressed DT, and I like Hill, though I think this is a little rich for him.” Turns out it wasn’t a typo and they drafted some guy named PJ Hall from Sam Houston State, a player I had never heard of. They traded up for another tackle in the third, this time North Carolina A&T’s Brandon Parker, a guy I think I heard of in passing but never paid much attention to. I don’t know why they needed to trade up for a tackle from NC A&T of all places, but what do I know, I’m a blogger who lives in his parents’ basement. They took Arden Key in the third round, which I thought was a good value, but he’s a guy that has struggled with drug abuse and has failed to maximize his potential and I’m not so sure the Raiders would be the best place for him, especially with the eventual move to Las Vegas. They get bonus points for landing Maurice Hurst in the 5th round, though, so that keeps this Draft from being an utter shit show. There’s talent in this class, don’t get me wrong, and I think some of the guys taken later in this class could wind up being steals, but I thought the value of a lot of these picks, especially given who else at their positions were available, was pretty poor. I can’t in good faith give this class a good grade out of the gates. Here’s the rest of the class.

15. Kolton Miller-OT-UCLA

57. PJ Hall-DL-Sam Houston State

65. Brandon Parker-OT-North Carolina A&T

87. Arden Key-EDGE-LSU

110. Nick Nelson-CB-Wisconsin

140. Maurice Hurst-DL-Michigan

173. Johnny Townsend-P-Florida

216. Azeem Victor-LB-Washington

228. Marcell Ateman-WR-Oklahoma State

Honorable Mention: San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, New York Jets

Best Bargain: Maurice Hurst-DL-Michigan-Oakland Raiders (140th Overall)

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If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times during this draft process, but Hurst fell in this draft due to being diagnosed with a heart condition at the Combine. I expected him to fall out of the first round, but I didn’t expect him to fall all the way to the 5th. Oakland got a tremendous value with this pick. I at one point had Hurst as the 12th best player on my Big Board. His reaction to the snap is basically perfect. As soon as the center even flinches his wrist, Hurst is off. The only knocks against Hurst for me was that he was a bit undersized (which didn’t bother me so much because Aaron Donald is considered undersized) and I felt that he would often be so consumed with the guy who is trying to block him that he’s not looking in the backfield to see where the play is going. But that’s something that’s easily coachable. The Raiders got a goddamn steal with this kid, which significantly helps what was otherwise a weak class.

Honorable Mentions: Bo Scarbrough-RB-Alabama-Dallas Cowboys (236th Overall), Shaquem Griffin-LB-Central Florida-Seattle Seahawks (141st Overall), Deshon Elliott-S-Texas-Baltimore Ravens (190th Overall), Josh Sweat-EDGE-Florida State-Philadelphia Eagles (130th Overall), Tyrell Crosby-OT-Oregon-Detroit Lions (153rd Overall)

Biggest Reach: Terrell Edmunds-S-Virginia Tech-Pittsburgh Steelers (28th Overall)

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I had 8 safeties rated ahead of Terrell Edmunds, including one that went undrafted (Quin Blanding). Yet the Steelers still made him their first round pick, 28th overall. In fact, Edmunds was so surprised he was taken by the Steelers, he was in the bathroom when they called him. He had been sitting in the green room with his brother Tremaine, who was taken 12 picks earlier by the Bills and despite not technically having been invited to the green room, he still got to hold his jersey with the commissioner and Ryan Shazier because they had the Edmunds Steelers jersey lying around for his brother. It made for a nice story, but the Steelers could’ve gotten this guy in the third, maybe even the fourth round.

Honorable Mention: PJ Hall-DL-Sam Houston State-Oakland Raiders (57th Overall), Brandon Parker-OT-North Carolina A&T-Oakland Raiders (65th Overall), Joseph Noteboom-OT-TCU-Los Angeles Rams (89th Overall)

Notable Undrafted Free Agents and Where They’ve Signed

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Every year there are extremely talented players that get overlooked. Here are just a few.

Simmie Cobbs Jr-WR-Indiana-Washington Redskins

JT Barrett-QB-Ohio State-Indianapolis Colts

Josh Adams-RB-Notre Dame-Philadelphia Eagles

Tegray Scales-LB-Indiana-Los Angeles Rams

Akrum Wadley-RB-Iowa-Tennessee Titans

Allen Lazard-WR-Iowa State-Jacksonville Jaguars

Chase Litton-QB-Marshall-Kansas City Chiefs

Nic Shimonek-QB-Texas Tech-Los Angeles Chargers

Kurt Benkert-QB-Virginia-Atlanta Falcons

Kyle Allen-QB-Houston-Carolina Panthers

Kevin Toliver-CB-LSU-Chicago Bears

Jeff Holland-LB-Auburn-Denver Broncos

Davin Bellamy-EDGE-Georgia-Houston Texans

Riley Ferguson-QB-Memphis-Miami Dolphins

Hercules Mata’afa-DL-Washington State-Minnesota Vikings

Tarvarus McFadden-CB-Florida State-San Francisco 49ers

Holton Hill-CB-Texas-Minnesota Vikings

And those are just the big names that didn’t hear their name called. There were hundreds of others. But as I said in yesterday’s blog, just because you weren’t drafted doesn’t mean your NFL dream is dead. Not by a long shot.

The Quarterbacks That Were Taken

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Football’s most important position is definitely quarterback and there was no shortage of signal callers in this year’s class. Here’s every QB that was selected.

1. Baker Mayfield-Oklahoma-Cleveland Browns

3. Sam Darnold-USC-New York Jets

7. Josh Allen-Wyoming-Buffalo Bills

10. Josh Rosen-UCLA-Arizona Cardinals

32. Lamar Jackson-Louisville-Baltimore Ravens

76. Mason Rudolph-Oklahoma State-Pittsburgh Steelers

108. Kyle Lauletta-Richmond-New York Giants

171. Mike White-Western Kentucky-Dallas Cowboys

199. Luke Falk-Washington State-Tennessee Titans

203. Tanner Lee-Nebraska-Jacksonville Jaguars

219. Danny Etling-LSU-New England Patriots

220. Alex McGough-FIU-Seattle Seahawks

249. Logan Woodside-Toledo-Cincinnati Bengals

Of the 13 quarterbacks, all 10 from my rankings ended up getting drafted, a first for me (last year I had 9 out of 10, UPenn’s Alek Torgersen being the lone undrafted quarterback). Of the 3 that weren’t ranked, Lee, Etling, and McGough, none of them probably would’ve cracked my “first 5 out.” Lee is the most talented of the three but his play at Nebraska was far below his talent. I’ve seen Alex McGough (pronounced “Mah-GOO”) play a couple times, since Indiana and FIU have a home-and-home series and I’ve gotta say, I don’t know what Seattle sees in him. He just looked lost every time I watched him play (which, to be fair, was only against IU, which has a pretty solid defense). The Patriots and Saints were two teams I figured would be going after a quarterback in the middle rounds as hard as anybody, but the Saints didn’t take any and the Patriots took a guy that had defenders stacking the box to stop the run because they knew he wasn’t a threat. Perhaps both teams weren’t high on this year’s class and elected to try and find their Hall of Fame quarterbacks’ successors in next year’s Draft.

Most Confusing Draft Day Decision

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The Draft Day decision that confused me more than any other was the Cowboys not electing to take a wide receiver until the third round, and even then they took a pretty raw Michael Gallup out of Colorado State. They did trade a 6th rounder to the Rams for Tavon Austin, but Austin hasn’t lived up to his 8th Overall pick billing and has been a guy that you just get creative with rather than a real threat to the defense. They also didn’t address pass rusher until the 4th round with another raw player in Kansas’ Dorance Armstrong Jr. I know they took Taco Charlton in the first round last year but pass rusher is still a big need, especially if they can’t sign DeMarcus Lawrence long-term. Overall I thought the talent the Cowboys got in the Draft was good, I just think they had their positional priorities out of whack a bit.

Secretly Genius Draft Day Decision

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A move that didn’t make sense to me at first but has really grown on me is Bill Belichick’s decision to take Georgia runningback Sony Michel with the 31st pick. I was a little taken aback by the decision at first since the Patriots had a very crowded runningback room, but then I thought some more about it. Only one of Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee is going to remain on the roster as the goalline power back. James White is just the pass catcher who never gets carries. Rex Burkhead is a wildcard who is only back on a 2-year deal. The Patriots were at their best last season when Dion Lewis was torching defenses in the second half with his all-around style of play. Michel is a very similar style of player and he was the most explosive player on Georgia’s offense that was a quarter away from a National Championship. There are people who are going to complain that the Patriots should’ve addressed the defense that got torched in the Super Bowl to which I say this: they kind of already did. The Patriots’ defense was riddled with injuries last year, particularly to Dont’a Hightower and 2017’s top Draft choice Derek Rivers (who was having a nice training camp before tearing his ACL). They’ll be getting those guys back and healthy They also signed Adrian Clayborn and traded for Jason McCourty to fill the holes for the meantime while also stockpiling on picks for next year’s Draft. The defense looks to be fine and in a win-now mode while the plethora of picks for next year’s class will likely be used to re-stock as this group gets older. So no surprise, but to me, the most genius Draft Day decision comes from the mind of Bill Belichick.

Some Prospects to Keep an Eye Out For in 2019

For scouting departments, when Mr. Irrelevant is announced, they get to work on next year’s class. Here are some guys that I think will go high next year.

Ed Oliver-DL-Houston

Nick Bosa-EDGE-Ohio State

Rashan Gary-DL-Michigan

Drew Lock-QB-Missouri

Justin Herbert-QB-Oregon

AJ Brown-WR-Ole Miss

Dexter Lawrence-DL-Clemson

Christian Wilkins-DL-Clemson

Clellin Ferrell-EDGE-Clemson

Austin Bryant-EDGE-Clemson

Just a few guys to look out for next college football season (you’ll notice a lot of defensive linemen. Next year’s class might be the best ever class for that position group).

And that’s a wrap on the 2018 NFL Draft. Let me know what you thought of it in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

 

Super Bowl LII Preview

So it’s all come down to this. Super Bowl Sunday. The Eagles and Patriots took very different routes to get to this point. The Eagles were running roughshod over the league before losing their potential MVP quarterback in Carson Wentz to an ACL tear. He gets replaced by Nick Foles, who had been inconsistent up until the NFC Championship game, where he absolutely lit up the NFL’s #1 defense in the Vikings. Meanwhile the Patriots got off to a rough start and everybody wondered if this was the beginning of the end of their dynasty. Then they remembered they were the Patriots and proceeded to collect win after win en route to another AFC Championship game appearance, where they had to overcome a 10-point 4th quarter deficit to defeat the upstart Jaguars. So lets do what I always do with championship games and go position-by-position to see which team has the advantage.

Quarterback

Patriots: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

Eagles: Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld

Advantage: Patriots

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Was there really ever any doubt? Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time whether he has protective bandages over his throwing hand or not. While Nick Foles played extremely well in the NFC Championship game, he’s too inconsistent for me to really give him a chance here. And as much as I love Nate Sudfeld, him being the previous Indiana quarterback, he can’t hold a candle to Brian Hoyer. Hoyer was the 49ers starting quarterback to start the season and how many guys can say they have a winning record as a starter for the reborn Browns? Just Hoyer. So this was a pretty easy choice here.

Runningback

Patriots: Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden

Eagles: Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, Kenjon Barner

Advantage: Patriots

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While I do think that the Eagles runningbacks are better rushers, the Patriots runningbacks are far more dynamic and versatile. Ajayi and Blount are good running the football, but they have bricks for hands out of the backfield. They usually have Clement receiving the passes. Lewis, White, and Burkhead are all not only good rushers, but they’re good receiving out of the backfield as well, which is why they’re getting the nod over the Eagles backs.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Patriots: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister

Eagles: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Torrey Smith, Mack Hollins, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton

Advantage: Patriots

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A healthy Julian Edelman would’ve made this an easy choice, but alas, we take what we get. This is probably one of the most balanced receiving groups the Patriots have had since the Moss-Welker days as they have a speedster who can take the top off (Cooks), possession receivers that can move the chains (Hogan and Amendola) and a huge red zone threat (Gronkowski). The Eagles have a similar group of guys (Agholor moving the chains, Smith the speedster, Jeffery the huge red zone threat), but I think the Patriots have utilized them most effectively this season.

Offensive Line

Patriots: Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, La’Adrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming

Eagles: Hal Vatai, Stefen Wisniewski, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson

Advantage: Eagles

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Finally, the Eagles are on the board here and it’s thanks in large part to probably the best right side of an offensive line I think I’ve ever seen. You can make an argument for all three of Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson being the best at their respective spots on the offensive line in the entire NFL. While the Patriots’ O-line is solid, they don’t have nearly enough talent to contend with the Eagles. And imagine if Jason Peters were healthy on the left side. Vatai is the weakest link on either of these offensive lines, but his teammates are so good they make up for his shortcomings.

Defensive Line

Patriots: Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, Alan Branch, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Ricky Jean Francois, Eric Lee

Eagles: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Beau Allen, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Vinny Curry

Advantage: Eagles

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There’s just too much talent on this Eagles defensive front. In fact, I think Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan, the starting DT’s, are going to be the most critical pieces if the Eagles hope to beat the Patriots. Brady does pretty well when there’s pressure coming from the tackles but he’s like a deer in the headlights when there’s pressure coming up the middle. Cox and Jernigan are one of the best DT duos in the NFL and they’re going to need to get lots of pressure to stifle Brady. For the Patriots, their defensive line is a patch-up job as they lost a lot of their guys to either free agency in the offseason or to injury and it’s resulted in them being possibly the weakest unit on this team.

Linebacker

Patriots: Kyle Van Noy, James Harrison, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, David Harris

Eagles: Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Najee Goode, Dannell Ellerbe, Kamu Grugier-Hill

Advantage: Eagles

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This was probably the closest one to choose from and I debated calling this a tie. But I hate ties so I decided to go with the pure talent aspect and that’s where the Eagles won out. Both teams lost their star middle linebackers midway through the seasons (Dont’a Hightower for the Patriots, Jordan Hicks for the Eagles) and they’ve both been trying to get by with the pieces they have. While Van Noy is having a career year, the talent around him in Elandon Roberts and a 39 year-old James Harrison doesn’t quite stack up to what the Eagles have in Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham.

Secondary

Patriots: Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Johnson Bademosi, Brandon King, Jordan Richards

Eagles: Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas, Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham, Rodney McLeod

Advantage: Patriots

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It was a tale of two halves of the season for the Patriots’ secondary and no better was it personified than in the play of Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore looked lost in Matt Patricia’s system his first few weeks, as he would blow coverage after coverage while the Patriots would get lit up by quarterbacks that probably shouldn’t be doing so. He suffered a concussion midway through the year and after he returned, he’s been his old Pro Bowl-caliber self, locking down any receiver that he’s matched up on. Eric Rowe has also been a bright spot in this secondary as well and it’s interesting to note that the Patriots acquired him from the Eagles in a trade a couple years ago after a poor showing to start his career in Philly. For the Eagles, their secondary is considered their weak spot as their cornerbacks in particular have been very inconsistent this season.

Specialists

Patriots: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden

Eagles: Jake Elliott, Donnie Jones, Nelson Agholor, Rick Lovato, Kenjon Barner

Advantage: Eagles

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I’d probably give this a tie to the kickers and punters, as both units for both teams have been very solid this season. The thing that puts the Eagles over the top is Kenjon Barner as their return man. While he isn’t Devin Hester by any means, Barner would definitely be an upgrade over Lewis and Amendola as returners.

Coaching

Patriots: Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia

Eagles: Doug Pederson, Frank Reich, Jim Schwartz

Advantage: Patriots

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Got to go with the Patriots here for obvious reasons. While it can’t be overstated the job that Pederson and company have done with this Eagles team, it’s Bill Belichick for Christ’s sake. Plus, he’s got two head coaches serving as his coordinators in McDaniels and Patricia, who will be taking over the Colts and Lions respectively after this game ends.

Scoreboard: Patriots 5, Eagles 4

No need to even watch the game now, congratulations to the Patriots on their sixth Super Bowl victory. As a Pats fan, I pray I don’t regret that sentence. This will be my third championship prediction segment, first time around I picked the Dodgers to win the World Series (I was wrong) then I picked Alabama to win the CFP National Championship (I was right). So really there isn’t anything to suggest how this is going to go based on my picks. Let me know who you think is going to win the Super Bowl 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.

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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.

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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.