Championship Weekend Projections

Updated: January 20th 2018

It is Championship Sunday! What an amazing slate of games last weekend. The Eagles hung on at home in a thrilling victory that stunned a bunch of critics. New England unsurprisingly throttled Tennessee despite the Titans striking first with a score. And then Sunday, in what many thought would be a defensive battle, the Jaguars and the Steelers combined for 87 points with the Jags edging the Steelers by 3 points, sending the Steelers and their fans depressed into the offseason. And then for the finale, Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs in walk-off fashion at home to beat the Saints on what is being called the Minnesota Miracle. Below is a recap of how we have all performed over the past two weeks:

  1. Stephen Wendell: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS
  3. Bob Cowper: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS
  4. Matt Goodwin: Wildcard Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 4-0 ATS
  5. Nick Andrews: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 0-4 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS
  6. Bernard Faller: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS  / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS
  7. Dave Sanders: Wildcard Weekend: No Picks / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 2-2 ATS

The table is set for an incredible Championship Sunday, and here are our writers’ projections for this weekend:

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots (Line NE -7.5): ML – 2 JAX & 4 NE// ATS – 5 JAX & 1 NE
  2. Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles (Line MIN -3.5): ML – 4 MIN & 2 PHI // ATS – 3 MIN & 3 PHI

#3 Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) @ #1 New England Patriots (13-3) [Line: NE -7.5]

Stephen Wendell: Well I certainly underestimated Jacksonville last week. I have to tip my cap to them as they came into Pittsburgh and played without fear and handed the Steelers a crushing defeat. Even though Tom’s hand may not be 100%, I don’t think the Jag’s miracle run continues, as the Patriots (even if led by Hoyer) find a way to get it done at home where they have won so many games before in January.  Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Jaguars 13.

Matt Papson: At 6-2 ATS, Papson is letting his score predictions speak for themselves this week. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Jaguars 21.

Robert Cowper: Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships. Defense travels. These may be cliches, but cliches become cliche for a reason. I can’t believe I’ve convinced myself of this but I’m taking the Jags and their defense to overcome the Patriots offense. It’s part contrarian pick but it’s also based on stats. The Patriots are the second best offense when it comes to turnovers; just 6.5% of their drives end in a turnover. The Jags on the other hand are prolific at creating turnovers; they rank third, creating turnovers on 15.8% of drives. Something’s gotta give and I think it’ll be New England losing the turnover margin battle. One area where the Patriots offense is not elite is when it comes to protecting Tom Brady – they rank 15th in sacks allowed and 12th in sacks allowed per pass attempt (which helps control for the fact that they pass more frequently than many teams). Not surprisingly, if you’ve watched any of their games, the Jags are second in both categories on defense. Another reason I think the Jags will have the better turnover margin is that Blake Bortles is being utilized differently in the playoffs. Through the regular season he averaged over 32 attempts per game; so far in the playoffs he has attempted 23 and 26 passes. His attempts are down and so are his interceptions (13 on the season but none in the playoffs). One reason his attempts are down is because he’s running more often: 28% of his 2017 rushing yards came in the two playoff games. Throughout all of December (5 games) Bortles had just 67 yards and so far in January (2 games) he has 123. The Jags need to keep the game plan the same and they will win a close one led by their defense and kicker Josh Lambo. Projected Score: Jaguars 19 – Patriots 11

Matt Goodwin: I’m sure I’m in the extreme minority here, but there’s something about this Jaguars team that seems 2013 Ravens-like and potentially even like the 2014 Seahawks. Both of those teams had to climb their respective conferences after coming just short in season’s past. This Jaguars team, buoyed by key free agent additions on the defensive side like Calais Campbell and the instant success of #4 overall draft pick Leonard Fournette have turned it around in one season. While nobody seems to ever be able to completely neutralize the Patriots offense, this one feels like the Jags have the talent to do just that and their offense has been efficient and confident enough to win different types of games. If the Jags had a weapon like Allen Robinson in this game, I’d be more confident in the pick, but I’m rolling with them nonetheless as I think Telvin Smith can contain Gronk and Jalen Ramsey will do his thing, while receivers like Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook do enough to compliment Fournette’s running and Yeldon catching passes out of the backfield. Give me the Jags in a “shock the world” upset.  Projected Score: Jaguars 23 – Patriots 20.

Nick AndrewsThis is the matchup everyone expected for the AFC Championship, Pittsburgh Steelers Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots. Jokes aside, this actually might be a better game than if Pittsburgh had made the trip to Foxborough. There are only two things that have prevented Tom Brady and Bill Belichick from having another handful of Super Bowl rings: 4-man defensive pressure and Tom Coughlin. The Jaguars have both of these which is why I think they have a better shot to make it to the Super Bowl than the Steelers ever did. Belichick and Josh McDaniels will certainly use a different game plan to try and counter the pressure but it definitely will make things interesting. What will be more interesting is which Blake Bortles shows up to play? The Patriots are unlikely to give up as many opportunities as they Steelers afforded him last week so can Bortles make three or four drives that result in touchdowns over field goals? I think that will be the difference in Sunday’s results. Projected Score: Patriots 23 – Jaguars 16.

Bernard Faller: Rookie Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars run game pounded Pittsburg last week. The formula remains the same this week relying on a stout defense and limiting the Patriots offensive touches with the run game. The challenge will be scoring against a New England defense which closed the year strong giving up only 14 points per game in the last 13 contests after a brutal first four weeks of the season. This could be closer than some think but I will bet against New England when Tom Brady retires. Maybe. Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Jaguars 16

#2 Minnesota Vikings (13-3) @ #1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) [Line: PHI -3.5]

Stephen Wendell: I was more optimistic than most last week, picking the Eagles to win outright, and I feel the same way this week. Foles showed he can play under immense pressure, and ultimately, I think the home crowd and playing outdoors proves to be the difference this week. The Eagles win on a late 4th quarter touchdown and head to Super 52 for a rematch against their last Super Bowl foe, the Patriots. Projected Score: Eagles 21 – Vikings 17.

Matt Papson: At 6-2 ATS, Papson is letting his score predictions speak for themselves this week. Projected Score: Eagles 19 – Vikings 17. 

Robert Cowper: Meh. That’s how I’m feeling about the Vikings and Eagles matchup. There are some interesting storylines, my favorite being “how did Jeff Fisher manage to be 4-12 with three playoff QBs on the Rams’ roster last year,” but I’m just not into it. We all agree that losing Carson Wentz takes some of the sizzle out of this game. Nick Foles is steady and reliable enough to not be a liability but I don’t see him winning this game for the Eagles because the Vikings defense is first in so many categories that I lost count. I think the game will come down to Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon. He only got 8 carries to Latavius Murray’s 19 last week but with Murray running headlong into Fletcher Cox I think it’s inevitable that they’ll change strategy. I think we’ll see a game similar to the one McKinnon had against the Bengals when he caught 7 balls for 114 yards. Let’s not forget that Minnesota has the added incentive of playing a Super Bowl at home. (did I mention that I’m a Cowboys fan?) Projected Score: Vikings 23 – Eagles 16

Matt Goodwin: I’m really excited about this game and how could anyone not be after Stefon Diggs’ walk-off touchdown last week? One game away from hosting the Super Bowl, the Vikings take on the underdog Eagles in a likely grind-it-out matchup. Since teams can’t really run on the Vikings, it will be imperative that Nick Foles and the Eagles get creative on offense and try to attack the Vikings secondary. Good luck with that as I don’t think Alshon Jeffery gets separation on average DBs, let alone Xavier Rhodes. Beyond Zach Ertz, I think guys like Nelson Agholor, Corey Clement and Trey Burton will have to get going in the passing game for the Eagles to be able to do much on offense. In order to win this game, the Eagles defense will have to make life terrible for Case Keenum with constant pressure. In the end, causing turnovers is the Eagles best shot at getting back to the Super Bowl without Carson Wentz. I think the Eagles’ time will come sooner than later and I’m not just saying this for Matt and Stephen’s benefit (maybe even next season), but I’m taking the Vikings this weekend as they just seem to be a “team of destiny”. Projected Score: Vikings 19 – Eagles 16

Nick AndrewsWow. Wow. Wow! No offense to the Eagles but I think that Saints vs. Vikings might have been the real NFC Championship game. Drew Brees did everything he could to vanquish the best defense in the NFL and the Saints still fell just short. The Eagles also boast a strong defense which should make this a low(er) scoring game. However, I don’t think Nick Foles can rise up to the level that Drew Brees needed to take down this Vikings squad. The Eagles best shot is for their defense to create short fields with turnovers and 3-play drives increasing their scoring opportunities. I don’t see them sustaining many 60+ yard drives. If the Vikings gain a two score lead at any point, this one is over. Projected Score: Vikings 24 – Eagles 10.

Bernard Faller: The Jeff Fisher nightmare continues as two quarterbacks who struggled under Fisher for the Rams over the previous two seasons are playing for the chance to go to the Super Bowl. I can not wait to see two of the best defenses in the league face off. Minnesota gets the slight nod with a slightly more reliable offense in a low scoring contest on the way to a home Super Bowl. Projected Score:  Vikings 17 – Eagles 13.

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

RSO Staff Picks: Week 14

Updated: December 10th 2017

Week 13 Results

1. Wendell – 12-4

2. English – 11-5

3.  Papson – 9-7

Overall Standings

1. Wendell – 127-65

2. English – 125-67

3. Papson – 123-69

Decent week last week from all three of us with Wendell leading the way, increasing his lead over Kyle and Matt. Wendell leads the way at 127-65 but is only four games ahead of 3rd place Matt with Kyle in the middle two games behind. All three missed the Saints on Thursday night so each will start Sunday 0-1. Some great games with huge playoff indications on the slate today. Congrats to all GMs in the playoffs this week! Enjoy the games and good luck. Week 14 picks are below:

NFL Game Picks

Game

Wendell

English

Papson

NO @ ATL

IND @ BUF

MIN @ CAR

CHI @ CIN

GB @ CLV

SF @ HOU

OAK @ KC

DET @ TB

DAL @ NYG

TEN @ ARI

NYJ @ DEN

WAS @ LAC

SEA @ JAX

PHI @ LAR

BAL @ PIT

NE @ MIA

 

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

Super Bowl Predictions

Updated: July 16th 2017

Well, those two Conference Championship games were complete duds. The Falcons and Patriots dominated from the start in each game, controlling both sides of the ball, and winning with ease. While Brady and Ryan have both appeared dominant this season, the similarities stop there with respect to this Super Bowl. Matt Ryan will be playing in his first Super Bowl game, having failed to reach the big game during his previous four trips to the playoffs. While Ryan has made five playoff appearances (certainly nothing to sneeze at for the 9th year veteran), Brady will be searching for his 5th Super Bowl victory in his 7th trip to the big game, an astonishing achievement. Irrespective of what happens in this game, there is no doubt in my mind that he is the GOAT, but if Brady is able to persevere in what will have to be a solid performance given the potency of the Falcons’ offense, he will leave no doubt. What do our writers think? Each dissects the game and gives you his prediction below. In case you are tracking at home and/or relying on a particular writer for betting purposes today, here are the writers’ records throughout the playoffs (in order of ML picking performance).

  1. Bernard Faller: Last Week 2-0 ML & 1-0-1 ATS; Playoffs 9-1 ML & 5-3-2 ATS
  2. Matt Goodwin: Last Week 1-1 ML & 1-1 ATS; Playoffs 8-2 ML & 6-3-1
  3. Luke O’Connell: Last Week 1-1 ML & 1-1 ATS; Playoffs 8-2 ML & 6-4 ATS
  4. Stephen Wendell: Last Week 1-1 ML & 1-1 ATS; Playoffs 7-3 ML & 7-3 ATS
  5. Nick Andrews: Last Week 2-0 ML & 1-1 ATS; Playoffs 7-3 ML & 6-4 ATS
  6. Kyle English: Last Week 1-1 ML & 0-2 ATS; Playoffs 7-3 ML & 4-6 ATS
  7. Dave Sanders: Last Week 1-1 ML & 1-0-1 ATS; Playoffs 6-4 ML & 6-3-1 ATS
  8. Matt Papson: Last Week 1-1 ML & 0-2 ATS; Playoffs 6-4 ML & 5-5 ATS
  9. Robert Cowper: Last Week 0-2 ML & 0-2 ATS; Playoffs 5-5 ML & 4-6 ATS

Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots [Line: Patriots -3]

Stephen Wendell: I don’t have much to add than what I alluded to in the introduction above. Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense have been incredible, and I don’t think they choke in this Super Bowl. Rather, I think Belichick figures a way to slow them down, the Pats get an opportune turnover as they usually do, and Brady plays flawless football en route to a Patriots victory and Brady’s 5th Super Bowl Championship. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Falcons 21.

Matt Papson: The greatest coach ever vs. a great coach. The greatest quarterback ever vs. a great quarterback. The greatest offensive coordinator ever vs. a great offensive coordinator. Kyle Shanahan has gotten the most of some average & slightly above average NFL quarterbacks. Brian Griese, Chris Simms, Matt Schaub, RG3, Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer (there was an aging Donovan McNabb in there too). Matt Ryan was the first great quarterback he got to work with, and they’ve been great together. While there’s no doubt Shanahan is thoroughly prepared for this game and wants desperately to win, he’s also the current head coach of another NFL football team (the 49ers). That’s kind of a weird dynamic to balance while preparing for and calling the biggest game of his life. Plus, the opponent isn’t exactly a pushover. Bill & Tom are unanimously considered among the best ever — here and there somebody will have one or the other second or third on their “list”, but nobody with an opinion worth listening to has them outside the top 3. The appearance in this game should cement them at the top, but a win would leave no doubt. Everybody cites the 4 rings, but what’s crazy is just how good Brady has been after his first 3 Super Bowl victories. If you only took his career since 2005 (most of which coincides with Josh McDaniels as OC), Brady would STILL be in the discussion for greatest ever, and maybe even considered it. Since 2005 (not including ’08; injured), he’s won 134 of 172 games, completed 64.5% of his passes, and averaged 33 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He’s made 11 playoff appearances (every season), appeared in 8 conference championships, 4 Super Bowls, and he’s won at least one Super Bowl, maybe two. That is an absolutely insane career in an of itself. I can’t root against greatness, and I certainly won’t bet against it. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Falcons 23.

Kyle English: I believe the Falcons can put up points against the Pats with their offense so I think this game comes down to how well the Falcons defense plays.  They’ll need to generate a pass rush on Tom Brady without sending the house and they’ll need to win (or at least tie) the turnover battle.  I would love to see Matt Ryan win the big one and will be cheering hard for the Falcons, but I don’t believe their defense will do enough for him. Pats win yet another one… Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Falcons 28.

Robert Cowper: The Patriots of recent memory certainly know how to win Super Bowls – more importantly they know how to keep those games close.  In the six Super Bowls the Pats have played in since 2002, the scoring margin was a combined 20 points.  If the game turns into a shootout I don’t believe Brady & Co can keep up with the stable of playmakers the Falcons have on offense so I think we are going to see Patriot game planning at its best.  We’ll see a heavy dose of Blount and I would take him as my MVP pick at +2000 odds and hope for one of his signature three 1-yard TD games.  I think it will be a typical Patriots Super Bowl, about 40 total points and comes down to a Gostkowski field goal.  Given how well my predictions have gone so far this playoff season, we’ll probably see a 45-38 scoreline but I’m going with my gut again.  Projected Score: Patriots 22 – Falcons 20. 

Matt Goodwin: I’ve had one big miss in a red-hot playoffs and that was in thinking Aaron Rodgers scorching run would continue in Atlanta, who demonstrated to me they have what it takes to be Super Bowl Champions. To me this game is about an opportunistic defense and an offense that RSO player and numberFire Editor Brandon Gdula wrote about this week as historic. In my mind, that all starts with the free-agent signing of center Alex Mack from the Cleveland Browns. Mack, who was Pro Football Focus’ top run blocker at the position, also anchors a line that gives MVP candidate Matt Ryan all sorts of time to make big plays to many different receiving options, including both playmaking running backs (Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman). While it is hard to go against Tom Brady in his quest for a fifth ring, I just don’t think he has the same support on offense that the Falcons do, especially in a run game that frankly disappointed in its two playoff games. Aside from Dion Lewis’ three touchdowns against the Texans which is really only fantasy relevant, the Patriots yards per carry was atrocious. Without a good ground game, the underrated and opportunistic Atlanta defense (remember head coach Dan Quinn anchored a Super Bowl blowout for Seattle) and Vic Beasley can get pressure on Brady. So while all the intangibles swing towards New England and Brady, in a game to me that feels like a virtual heat, I’ll take Julio Jones to be the difference maker and Matt Ryan to get MVP honors in a Falcons win. Projected Score: Falcons 30 – Patriots 27. 

Nick Andrews: The Big Game. The Show. Whatever you call it this matchup was surprisingly not the one that people realized they wanted until it happened. If you are a Patriots fan you want to see Brady get his 5th title to confirm his G.O.A.T. status. For everyone else sick of them you are hitching your wagon to “anybody else” which is played by a young, exciting Atlanta team. While most people have this game being a high scoring, back and forth affair (O/U at 59) Super Bowls generally are not. Looking back at the last two #1 scoring offenses to play in the Super Bowl the 2013 Denver Broncos scored eight points and the 2007 Patriots scored seventeen. Good games just don’t feature score after score, blowouts do. These two defensive-minded head coaches are too good to not have a game plan that revolves around feeling out what the other is doing in the first half and adjusting for the second half. Similar to their meeting two years ago when Quinn was a coordinator for the Seahawks. That game finished 28-24 which should be the template for predicting this game. Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Falcons 20. **Bonus MVP Prediction** Julian Edelman 120 yards, 2 TDs. 

Dave Sanders: Could this be one of the highest scoring Super Bowl’s ever?  Vegas thinks so with an over/under of 59 (as of Thursday), which will be the highest Vegas has ever projected in Super Bowl history if it stays over 57.  We all know that the big game features two of the league’s top offenses, but Tony Khan (@tonyrkhan on Instagram) shared several stats that truly quantify what we’re seeing: 1) Both teams rank among the top three teams in offensive line stability (% of snaps taken by the same players). This speaks to the importance of continuity among the offensive line and that both lines are fairly healthy. 2) The teams also rank 1st and 2nd in QBR, Passer Rating, TD/INT, and YAC/Completion, which makes sense with Ryan and Brady playing possibly the best football of their careers. It’s never smart to bet against Brady in the postseason. Projected Score: Patriots 37 – Falcons 27.  

Bernard Faller: This should be a fun one.  There is no dominating defense in the Super Bowl for the first time in years.  Instead we have what many would consider the top two offenses in the NFL.  The key to this game is if the young Atlanta secondary will avoid the big mistakes that leave receivers wide open for Tom Brady to take advantage of.  The Patriot defense largely avoided these types of blunders this year.  They won’t stop the vaunted Falcons offense but do just enough to make them work for their points. Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Falcons 31.

Luke O’Connell: Dante drops one of the most famous lines in all of literature at the start of arguably the greatest epic poem ever written: “Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark,/For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”  (Inferno, Canto I, 1-3).  The straightforward path is precisely my point of concern after attempting to analyze the Falcons’ chances against the Patriots.  If the Falcons lose, it will be largely because of the interior line play of the New England Patriots.    After PFF sorted them near the bottom of the league last season (25th) they have ascended from the inferno with Dante Scarnecchia, their offensive line coach.  The bright lights will shine on the usual names, but if you don’t hear the names Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaquille Mason then you can be sure the Falcons have not beaten the Patriot’s guards and center with interior pressure.  No straight path to Brady means Atlanta will find all is lost. RSO Angle:  Who will be the more expensive contract/trade commodity between Dion Lewis and Tevin Coleman?  Both men will not be able to hide talent or usage on the biggest stage. Projected Score: Patriots 30 – Falcons 27. 

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

AFC/NFC Championship Predictions

Updated: July 16th 2017

Overall, a great weekend of games last week. As many analysts and writers have commented, the cream of the QB crop rose to the top last weekend with Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger all advancing.  The Dallas/Green Bay playoff game was as entertaining a playoff football game as you can imagine, and I have no doubt that this week’s game will be equally as thrilling. Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan were 1-2 in QB fantasy scoring this season, so it may come down to the defense that is able to cause a couple turnovers or for more red zone field goals this week. As for the Steelers and the Patriots, this is certainly not new territory for either team, as it will mark the Steelers 15th trip to this game since it started in 1970, the Patriots 12th trip overall and 11th in the Brady era (6 in a row), and it will be the third time that Big Ben and Brady have squared off with the Super Bowl on the line (Brady has won both previous meetings). As with the prior two weeks, the RSO Writers have dissected both games, and in case you are tracking at home, here are the results of each writer’s picks from last week and through the playoffs:

  1. Stephen Wendell: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 6-2 ML & 6-2 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: Last Week 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 5-3 ATS
  3. Kyle English: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 6-2 ML & 4-4 ATS
  4. Robert Cowper: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 4-4 ATS
  5. Matt Goodwin: Last Week 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS; Playoffs 7-1 ML & 5-2-1
  6. Nick Andrews: Last Week 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 5-3 ATS
  7. Dave Sanders: Last Week 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS; Playoffs 5-3 ML & 5-3 ATS
  8. Bernard Faller: Last Week 4-0 ML & 1-2-1 ATS; Playoffs 7-1 ML & 4-3-1 ATS
  9. Luke O’Connell: Last Week 4-0 ML & 2-2 ATS; Playoffs 7-1 ML & 5-3 ATS

And a quick summary of the picks for this week in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis:

  1. Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons (Line ATL -5.5): ML – 6 GB & 3 ATL // ATS – 7 GB & 2 ATL
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots (Line NE -5.5): ML – 2 PIT & 7 NE // ATS – 4 PIT & 3 NE & 2 PUSH

Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons [Line: Atlanta -5]

Stephen Wendell: I have been on Rodgers and the Packers since I witnessed their beatdown of the Eagles on MNF which started the streak. I said last week Packers-Patriots in the Super Bowl, so I will stick with that prediction this week. The Packers in a shootout. Projected Score: Packers 34 – Falcons 31.

Matt Papson: Aaron Rodgers. Projected Score: Packers 34 – Falcons 27.

Kyle English: Packers come in as probably the hottest team in the NFL and meet the Falcons who have rather quietly won 5 in a row.  The Packers are dealing with all sorts of injuries to their WR corps but with Rodgers at the helm they can still put up plenty of points.  The Packers though are vulnerable against the pass as Prescott showed last week posting over 300 yards (which he only did twice all season) and 3 TDs.  Matt Ryan and the Falcons excel through the air so I expect a lot of offense in this one.  Think the Falcons win a close one. Projected Score: Falcons 34 – Packers 31.

Robert Cowper: I’m having trouble getting into this game if I’m being honest.  It should prove to be a high scoring affair, which will be exciting, but the Falcons just don’t do it for me.  I picked against them last week because I don’t trust Matt Ryan and I will do so again this week.  It’s a shame for Aaron Rodgers that the MVP award voting is held before the playoffs begin because I bet if voting were held today that he would win in a landslide.  His streak without throwing an interception has now ended (after 8 games) but the numbers are still astounding.  In two playoff games against the Giants and Cowboys, Rodgers has 717 yards, 6 TDs and 1 INT.  I will continue to pick Rodgers and the Packers until they prove me otherwise. Projected Score: Packers 41 – Falcons 24. 

Matt Goodwin: By reading my articles, you know that I love hip-hop. This game is a lot like one of my favorites-“Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest. The first scenario is a red-hot Aaron Rodgers carrying his team in a shootout to the Super Bowl in spite of a lackluster Packers defense and receivers who aren’t 100%. This scenario includes at least one of Davante Adams or Jordy Nelson playing in the game and Ty Montgomery having success against the Falcons who give up lots of receptions to running backs. I do expect Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Taylor Gabriel to have big games and the big-play ability of Tevin Coleman could come into play in this game too. The Packers are a few years from Julio Jones torching them for over 200 yards, but Jones is clearly not 100%, so I’m not expecting a go-off game to that magnitude. The second scenario (let’s call it the remix) involves a game similar to last season’s loss at the Arizona Cardinals where Jeff Janis pulled a Hail Mary down to send the game to overtime, but Rodgers’ incredible effort fell just short because Matt Ryan is equally hot and at home. Projected Score: Packers 38 – Falcons 33 (if Adams and/or Nelson play) & Falcons 33 – Packers 24 (without Adams and Nelson).

Nick Andrews: Two weeks in a row I bet against Aaron Rodgers; two weeks in a row I have been wrong. But like any good gambler knows you should never chase the results. Where people saw brilliance by Rodgers I saw a glaring weakness from the Packers’ defense. At 21-3 and 28-13 they should have been able to salt the game away. Instead, their defense allowed scoring drive after scoring drive to bring Dallas back, twice! Atlanta put a clinic on Seattle right from the start and they did not take their foot off the gas. Forget third down conversions this game will likely come down to scoring drive conversions. In the end though I see Atlanta’s OC Kyle Shannahan being aggressive and sticking to their game plan which is where Scott Linehan failed. Projected Score: Falcons 44 – Packers 34.

Dave Sanders: Another week – another remarkable performance by Aaron Rodgers.  Though I don’t have a rooting interest in any of the four remaining teams, I hope that GB runs the table so that the “Jared Cook Catch” becomes a part of history.   Moments like that, and much of the fourth quarter for that matter, remind us of how great football is at its very best.  Atlanta also did not disappoint last week, beating Seattle 36-20 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score might indicate.  Matt Ryan continued his impressive play, even without Julio Jones for much of the game.  Julio’s expected to play this weekend and should have plenty of success if he’s anywhere near 100%.  There’s less certainty with Packers WR Jordy Nelson, who called his broken ribs the worst pain he’s ever felt.  Nelson is hopeful to play, but it will likely come down to a game-time decision.  Unaffected by wintry weather conditions in the dome, expect this game to be a shootout. Projected Score: Packers 37 – Falcons 34.  

Bernard Faller: Who needs defense? You will not see many scoreless drives in this game. The Packers have not scored less than 30 points in a game since the beginning of December. The biggest unit mis-match of the entire playoffs occurs in this contest with the vaunted Falcon passing attack, averaging an NFL-best 9.2 Yards Per Attempt, taking on a decimated Green Bay secondary giving up an NFL-worst 8.1 YPA. With most Packer receivers on the injury report, Green Bay is just too beat up to compete with Atlanta this week. Projected Score: Atlanta 38 – Green Bay 28.

Luke O’Connell: Why have the gods of the gridiron opened an absurdly large salt shaker into the wounds of Vikings fanatics?   Aaron Rodgers seemingly won’t be denied in this playoff run.   No father, no brother, no mercy, it is like the opening of cheese-laden post-apocalyptic Western.  Jordy is stepping into the breach with brittle ribs, and joins the Green Bay gang of Montgomery, Adams (who must feel the white-hot glare of the pressure of rising expectations), Cobb, Cook, and a man named Geronimo.  As much as it pains me to admit, the Packers just seem to get the gravitas of the moment, and have the hardened constitution of a Midwesterners who know how to endure.  Matty Ice and Devonta strike this analyst as players who have reached the heights that their talent and temperament can take them.    Julio Jones may be the final Falcon wild card, the game’s truly transcendent talent beyond Aaron Rodgers, but when gambling on QB vs. WR, the smart money follows the man with the ball.   RSO Angle:  Freeman might lay to rest the 1 vs 1a talk in the Falcon backfield, and all the receivers in the game not named Julio are prone to massive differences in valuation, making them key offseason pieces in trades. Projected Score: Packers 20 – Falcons 17. 

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots [Line: New England -6]

Stephen Wendell: This is super tough for me. I have been on the Steelers since the start of the playoffs, but too much is working against them this week (shorter week, AB video, many players are stick, Foxborough, Belichick, Brady). I think they are able to keep it close, but the Patriots score a late TD to ice it and win by 10. Projected Score: Patriots 31 – Steelers 21.

Matt Papson: Tom Brady. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 24. 

Kyle English: The Steelers were able to pull out the road upset against the Chiefs last week while the Pats needed some 4th quarter scores to pull away from the Texans.  The Steelers kept their home regular season matchup against the Pats close despite not having Big Ben on the field.  The Pats showed that they have some holes in their win last week and I think the Steelers have the talent to pull off the upset.  Projected Score: Steelers 27 – Patriots 24.

Robert Cowper: I had a buddy in Vegas last weekend and about an hour before kickoff I asked him to place a parlay on the Pats against the spread with the over.  Both hit but sadly he didn’t stumble to the sportsbook in time.  I would not place the same bet this week.  There’s been a lot of talk this week about the Antonio Brown Facebook Live drama and not too much about the game itself which I think is a mistake because this could be an all-time great game.  We know the offenses are good but let’s look at the defenses.  Even though the Pats were #1 in scoring defense, I don’t buy that they have an elite defense; the Steelers were #10 in scoring.  By total yards they were #8 and #12 respectively.  The Pats rushing defense is #4 but I think that is more a factor of opponents playing from behind than a stout front seven, Bell should have success.  Keep an eye on Steelers LB Ryan Shazier, one of my favorite players, who has a string of four consecutive games with an INT.  He had 3.5 sacks and 87 tackles in just 13 games during the regular season.  With the Pats passing attack focused on dink-and-dunk to the RBs and Julian Edelman, I expect Shazier to be involved a lot and to be a difference maker.  Steelers win it with a late FG after a key defensive stop.  Projected Score: Steelers 23 – Patriots 21.

Matt Goodwin:While it wouldn’t surprise me to see a Steelers win, the Patriots have not allowed 90 yards rushing to an opposing running back for 24 straight games. With Le’Veon Bell likely neutralized on the ground to some degree and Ben Roethlisberger’s road splits being well documented, the Steelers will have to come up with a lock-down defensive performance to win at Gillette Stadium. I think the Patriots ground game with Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount will be heavy utilized here and that Tom Brady and Julian Edelman will connect several times. The Patriots way is to take away your biggest strength and I see that as the Steelers ground game. For those reasons in a game where field goal kicking may come in big with two phenomenal kickers and based on the Patriots track record in home AFC Championship games, give me the Patriots. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 20.

Nick Andrews: Sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than good. The Patriots easily played their worst game of the season last week and still managed to win their divisional round game. A game that they won by 18 points felt like a lost to many of the players. Bill Belichick likely is none too pleased with how his players and staff performed so don’t expect a second egg to be laid this week. The Steelers showed that they can be contained in last week’s game scoring all 18 points on field goals and provided some easy bulletin board material for the Patriots from AB’s NSFW locker room video. Le’veon Bell says this is a statement game to avenge their early season loss but I think this is a bigger statement game for the Patriots to prove that last week was a fluke. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 23.

Dave Sanders: Had the Texans had better quarterback play, they may have had a real shot to beat the Patriots last weekend.  Brock Osweiler was dreadful again, throwing 3 interceptions and passing for less than 200 yards on 40 attempts.  The Patriots survived a game in which Brady threw as many INTs (2) as he did for the entire regular season.  Brady will need play better this weekend as the Steelers travel to Foxboro and I expect he will.  This feels like the right spot for the weekly reminder of Ben’s home/road splits.  There are too many stats to list here, but simply put: he’s elite at home and well below-average on the road.  Credit to JJ Zachariason @LateRoundQB on Twitter for the following stat: Bell has averaged 146.5 rushing yards per game in his last 8 games vs. 72 per game in his first 6 games of the season.  The Steelers will continue to ride Bell, but I don’t think it will be enough.  Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Steelers 21.

Bernard Faller: Pittsburgh owns all the tools to win with Roethlisberger, Brown, Bell, one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, and an improving defense.  None of that matters.  The only relevant point is the Steelers facing Brady and Belichick in Foxboro.  No need to over think this one.  Projected Score:  New England 30 – Pittsburgh 24.

Luke O’Connell: Fun fact apropros of…something.   Boston is not the sole city that can claim to a history-making anti-tax tantrum.   While Bostonians were up in arms about tea, Pittsburghers, or rather villagers and farmers over Fort Pitt threw down over some Federal overreach in possibly the best named fight short of Star Wars-the Whiskey rebellion.   This prediction need not be overly complicated.  When sifting through potential matchups, and tension between offensive predictors vs. the Steelers defensive base sets, it grew increasingly evident that the question in this contest has more to do with an age old adage about the size of dogs and fights.  Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell are formidable, but Belichick is going to take one of those two men away from the love triangle, leaving Big Ben and one buddy to fend off Brady and his island of misfit toys.  This one seems historic, and so we turn to history.  Bostonians eventually won their rebellion, at least Pittsburghers still have their whiskey. RSO angle: Who will get a bigger per-season contract next year: Dion Lewis or LeGarrette Blount? Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Steelers 17.

 

ENJOY THE GAMES EVERYONE!

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

Wildcard Weekend Predictions

Updated: July 16th 2017

Yes, your fantasy season is over, but the NFL playoffs have begun! Whether your team is still alive or failed to make the exclusive 12-team field, the action this weekend should be very entertaining as there as some marquee matchups (Giants traveling to Green Bay) and some head scratchers that should still be entertaining (Oakland at 12-4 traveling to Houston with their 3rd string rookie QB). The RSO Writers have made their predictions for and given a little of each game, which can be found below. Enjoy the games!

A quick summary of the picks in case you don’t want to read each writer’s analysis…but you should because there are some great nuggets of information down there:

  1. Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans (Line HOU -3.5): ML – 4 OAK & 5 HOU // ATS – 5 OAK & 4 HOU
  2. Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks (Line SEA -8): ML – 9 SEA & 0 DET // ATS – 5 SEA & 4 DET
  3. Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Line PIT -10): ML – 8 PIT & 1 MIA // ATS – 5 PIT, 2 MIA & 2 PUSH
  4. New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers (Line GB -4.5): ML – GB 6 & NYG 3 // ATS – 3 GB & 6 NYG

#5 Oakland Raiders (12-4) @ #4 Houston Texans (9-7) [Line: Houston -3.5]

Stephen Wendell: Well, ready for the pillow fight of all pillow fights? Not sure how to dissect the a mentally damaged Brock Osweiler vs. Connor Cook matchup we are about to witness, but Cook will look to feed off his incredible Bowl Game performances (2014 Rose Bowl and 2015 Cotton Bowl) and use the Raider’s great offensive weapons while Osweiler will look to bounce back from being benched at the end of the season when it mattered most and pull out a playoff win and make a run to justify all the money he is making. I have loved the Raiders all year, and something tells me Connor Cook will do enough for the Raiders to win in what looks to be a very similar game to the first round game in 2012 where a rookie QB T.J Yates led the Texans to a playoff win over another rookie QB, Andy Dalton, who is still searching for that first elusive playoff victory. Projected Score: Raiders 21 – Texans 14.

Matt Papson: I’m probably one of the few people outside of Houston or Oakland looking forward to this matchup. I wish it were Tom Savage squaring off against Connor Cook instead of Brock Osweiler, but I’m excited to see Cook get a chance to play. He’s the first guy in the Super Bowl era to start his first NFL game during the playoffs. I’m rooting for him to succeed, but the Texans have been strong at home. I picked the Raiders to win the AFC before the year started, so it’ll be disappointing to see them get bounced in the wildcard round after such a stellar year for the struggling franchise. Projected Score: Texans 24 – Raiders 20.

Kyle English: This game is going to be dreadful to watch.  As a Hopkins owner in multiple leagues this year, I know Osweiler has been just horrendous in his short time with the Texans.  Meanwhile on the other side, we have Connor Cook making his first career start…in the playoffs…on the road…yikes.  However, Cook has played in big games in his time with MSU so I believe he’ll handle this situation fine.  Should be a low scoring game with struggling offenses and plenty of work for the kickers.  I like Oakland to pull it out and give Cook a 1-0 start to his career. Projected Score: Raiders 16 – Texans 13.

Robert Cowper: A lot of the conversation surrounding this game will be about the quarterback woes.  Specifically, many are talking about how the Raiders are in trouble after losing star QB Derek Carr and possibly losing backup Matt McGloin.  One thing that I believe has gone under the radar is how well the Raiders have managed their backfield trio of Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.  All three had at least 100+ touches during the regular season and essentially alternated throughout the season depending who had the hot hand minus a few missed games (for comparison the only other playoff team to have that depth are the Lions who were forced to due to multiple multi-week injuries).  When Murray isn’t working between the tackles, Washington and Richard can provide a change of pace (averaging 5.4 and 5.9 yards per carry respectively); both Murray and Richard are more than capable receivers, combining for 62 receptions.  Washington had 10+ touches four times while Richard did three times and only one time did one of them do it in consecutive weeks (Washington in Weeks 5-6 while Murray was hurt), illustrating the hot-hand approach.  What I’m trying to say is, as long as Connor Cook can hand the ball off and complete some screen passes, the Raiders will be just fine.  The Texans defense is fine, about middle of the pack in most rushing stats, but it won’t be enough to steal a win.  Projected Score: Raiders 22 – Texans 13.

Matt Goodwin: After watching Brian Hoyer in a home playoff defeat to the Chiefs in the wild card round last year for the Texans, I vowed never to pick the Texans again in a playoff game until they got a serviceable quarterback. Well, Houston spent big in the free agent market on Brock Osweiler, thinking he’d be serviceable and unfortunately, early returns are that they swung and missed and the only reason their big-dollar quarterback is playing right now is because Tom Savage (who frankly wasn’t much better) has a concussion. That said, I don’t like the Raiders situation any more than I like Houston’s. While Connor Cook showed accuracy and the ability to win at Michigan State, he shriveled up like a frightened turtle in some big games. If Derek Carr was healthy, I’d be picking the Raiders and it wouldn’t be close. In the end, even with it being his first game back from an ankle injury, give me Lamar Miller’s rushing, the Texans tough defense against a rookie quarterback, and their 7-1 home record this season in a boring game to watch. Projected Score: Texans 17 – Raiders 13.

Nick Andrews: Before week 16 I would have said that the Raiders were the only question mark still left in the AFC in terms of “Who could upset the Patriots”. Fast forward two weeks and they will be starting a third-string rookie quarterback, on the road, in his first career start. While this by no means is a nod of excellence to the Texans and their lackluster options at quarterback it simply comes down to who I think will play less bad (that is a proper term to use for this matchup). Give me Osweiler and a strong Texans defense. Projected Score: Texans 18 – Raiders 12.

Dave Sanders: Nothing says the start of the postseason quite like Connor Cook vs. Brock Osweiler.  As the 3rd string QB for much of the year, Cook hasn’t seen the reps of a usual backup quarterback.  He even admitted this week that plays were called last week that he never even practiced.  Expect Oakland to call a very conservative game and lean heavily on their running game, even if Houston loads the box.  On the Houston side, I expect Brock Osweiler’s season-long struggles to continue.  He’ll likely find C.J. Fiedorowicz over the middle of the field about a half-a-dozen times, but will make too many mistakes and kill too many drives.  In what feels like a preseason game, I will take the Raiders. And just think – the winner likely gets to travel to New England next week…Projected Score: Raiders 23 – Texans 10.  

Bernard Faller: This matchup features arguably the worst starting quarterback of 2016 in Houston’s Brock Osweiler and Oakland rookie Connor Cook making his first professional start.  Both teams will rely heavily on the run game and limit quarterback touches offensively.  Houston holds the one big advantage in this game with one of the better defensive units in the NFL, particularly against the pass where the Texans allow only 6.6 YPA (tied for 2nd in the NFL).  Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus make trouble for Cook all day long and the Houston defense forces two big turnovers.  Osweiller finds redemption from a miserable season on the way to a Texan playoff victory.  Projected Score: Texans 21 – Raiders 13.

Luke O’Connell: The Brock Osweiler redemption begins (and ends) here.   He should be able to do just enough against one of the measurably worst quarterback prospects in a while.   Brock has done nothing to assure us he can lead an NFL franchise, but Cook couldn’t even get voted team captain for his Spartans.   Pro Football Reference presents this tail of per game averages for two quarterbacks:

Screen Shot 2017-01-05 at 11.43.22 AM

The helmsmen of these two playoff teams are remarkably similar.   If you guessed that player 1 is Cook, albeit over a markedly smaller sample size, good on you.   The difference is that Houston has a slightly stronger weighted defense according to the smart folks at Football Outsiders.   Injuries can be too much for a team to overcome, and are all witnesses to losing a great young QB like Carr too soon.   Look for the Houston Defense to rally as they have done all year.  RSO angle: Watch the RB rotation for Oakland (Jalen Richard is available in most leagues for a long term contract) and WR/TE targets for Houston. Projected Score: Texans 17 – Raiders 14.

#6 Detroit Lions (9-7) @ #3 Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) [Line: Seattle -8]

Stephen Wendell: It is just too hard to bet against the Seahawks at home ever and especially in January. This team is too experienced and used to the pressure, and while I think Matt Stafford will give everything he has (perhaps even a broken limb), he is going to fall just short in this one. The Seattle defense will be its normal self, but Detroit’s lackluster secondary, especially against tight ends, will be the difference…look for Jimmy Graham to have a big game. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 20.

Matt Papson: This will be an interesting game, though I like the Seahawks to win the NFC at this point. I’m not sure I see a path to victory for the Lions, even though I expect Matt Stafford to play his heart out. Projected Score: Seahawks 38 – Lions 24. 

Kyle English: I think this one is going to be closer than most people think.  The Seahawks have a banged up secondary and the Lions are going to toss the ball all over the field.  Having said that, the Seahawks have the 12th man behind them and the Lions have lost 3 straight coming into the playoffs and have 8 straight playoffs losses dating back to 1991.  I don’t think the Lions reverse those trends.  Projected Score: Seahawks 27 – Lions 23.

Robert Cowper: Unlike for the Raiders, the Lions regular season backfield depth won’t mean much against the Seahawks, especially since Theo Riddick is now on IR.  It’s no surprise that the Seahawks defense is stout: #3 in points against and #1 in yards per rushing attempt.  However, they are more vulnerable in the passing game where Earl Thomas is out and they are #15 in yards per passing attempt.  Luckily, for Detroit they have Matt Stafford who doesn’t mind slinging the ball.  Stafford has only thrown for 300+ twice since their Week 10 bye but has still managed to average more than 39 attempts per game in that span.  Wilson hasn’t been as prolific over the same span but has, on average, attempted more passes over the last seven games than the first nine and far more this season than years past.  The Lions defense, per Yahoo Fantasy, allowed on average 1.3 TD from WRs during 2016 which is tied for the second worst in the league; not surprisingly then, they also gave up the second most fantasy points to opposing QBs.  The Las Vegas wisdom has this pegged as a pretty low scoring affair with an over/under set at about 42.5 depending on where you look; my gut tells me this is going to be a shootout, defenses be damned.  Projected Score: Seahawks 33 – Lions 29.

Matt Goodwin: The Lions find themselves limping into the playoffs with three straight losses (albeit to three NFC playoff teams). Going into a place like Seattle and getting a win in those circumstances is tough sledding. Seattle is showing plenty of cracks as well, but should be fired up in a home playoff game with a healthier than any point since the season opener Russell Wilson. While the Seahawks would like to establish their running identity against a suspect Lions defense, they ranked 25th in the league in rushing yards this season, which is a far cry from their Marshawn Lynch led teams. Perhaps the Seahawks were playing possum a bit with a division that was wrapped up fairly early and plan to use Wilson and Thomas Rawls on the read option more, which they were unable to do at all during the season due to injuries to both. If this ends up to be a battle of kickers, Seattle’s Stephen Hauschka has been very shaky on extra points and getting kicks blocked this season. Projected Score: Seahawks 23 – Lions 13.

Nick Andrews: Stick a fork in the NFC North; the Lions have this one in the bag. That’s what many people were saying while sticking their fork in some turkey on Thanksgiving. Well after three straight losses to end the season Fold Field will be empty this January and the Lions will have to go the dreary Pacific Northwest instead. The Seahawks have been up and down this season with questionable performances as of late but with no running game behind Matthew Stafford and Seattle’s defense being rich with playoff experience Russell Wilson just needs to avoid turnovers and they should be able to control this game. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 13.

Dave Sanders: Detroit’s surprising season likely comes to an end Saturday.  Losers of three straight, the Lions hopes may hinge on the injured finger of Matthew Stafford as they’ll need him at his best to pull off the upset in Seattle.  From the Seahawks’ perspective, they’ll likely go as far as Russell Wilson can take them.  Their running game has been a disaster all year, with much of the blame falling on their horrid run blocking.  Expect Baldwin and Graham to do just enough to hold off the reeling Lions…Projected Score: Seahawks 27 – Lions 17.

Bernard Faller: Detroit limps into this contest the loser of three straight to finish the year.  Contrary to the Oakland-Houston game, this duel sets up as a pass heavy contest with Russell Wilson and Matt Stafford.  The Seattle offensive line has struggled all season and the Lions have not enjoyed any consistent usage in the run game.  The Seahawks defense will be the difference in this game.  While not the same unit without play making safety Earl Thomas, the defense still contains difference-makers at all levels including Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, and Cam Chancellor.  Detroit went to the playoffs by winning close games but not this one as Seattle wins at home.  Projected Score:  Seahawks 23 – Lions 20.

Luke O’Connell: That coach, that stadium, that defense.  It is hard to conceive of a scenario in which a Zach Zenner/Eric Ebron led offense can marshal a victory against the ‘Hawks.  Stafford’s saving grace is that no one expected him to rally for the victories the Lions did have this year.  This one should be light on drama. RSO angle: frustrated Lockett owners may be willing to sell for pennies and if Tate lays a Golden egg he could be had at a reasonable price. Projected Score: Seahawks 24 – Lions 10.

#6 Miami Dolphins (10-6) @ #3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) [Line: Pittsburgh -10]

Stephen Wendell: Nobody is quite sure how Miami ended up 10-6, but here they are with a chance to win and advance to a game against their divisional foe New England, a game in which they would probably be close to 14 point underdogs. Matt Moore is certainly one of the better backup QBs in the league, and I think he won’t completely embarrass himself, but the Steelers simply have too much offensive firepower with the killer Bs. Look for the game to perhaps be close in the first half but for the Steelers to pull away in the second half behind big performances by Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell. Projected Score: Steelers 35 – Dolphins 20. 

Matt Papson: I think this is going to be a lot closer than people think. And I think the Dolphins are better off with Matt Moore. The Dolphins aren’t particularly good, but I’m not certain on the Steelers either. Ultimately Ben, Antonio, and Leveon will find a way to advance. Projected Score Steelers 24 – Dolphins 21.

Kyle English: Since coming back from a suspension, Bell has racked up 1268 yards on the ground (good for 5th best for the season) and another 616 receiving yards in all of 12 games.  He’s been an absolute monster and, when combining him with Big Ben and Brown, they are almost impossible to stop.  Add in the fact that if the Dolphins get behind at all, they’ll probably be relying on Matt Moore to throw them back into the game and this one could easily turn into a blowout.  Projected Score: Steelers 38 – Dolphins 17. 

Robert Cowper: Despite beating them already in 2016, the Dolphins are a heavy underdog against the Steelers.  Everybody knows Le’veon Bell’s great, along with Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, so we won’t spend any time on them but instead let’s look at Jay Ajayi vs the Steelers rush defense.  Ajayi was a surprise this season after being left at home for the Dolphins season opener.  Ultimately he earned 1,272 yards and 8 TDs, despite not getting more than 7 carries until Week 5.  In their early season game against the Steelers, Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and 2 TDs.  Most casual fans would assume the Steelers have a great defense but that is based solely on past reputation.  Aside from points against (#10), you’ll find the Steelers ranked between #12-18 in most defensive statistical categories.  I believe the Dolphins will be able to move the ball again this time and their prospects will rest heavily on how far Ajayi can carry them which should be far enough to keep it close.  I can’t believe I have convinced myself of this but my bold prediction is that this game will come down to a special teams touchdown from the Dolphins (it’s also how they beat the Jets in Week 9).  They are ranked #5 in kick off return average and have two return TDs (one kickoff, one punt).  Meanwhile, the Steelers have struggled on kickoff coverage, ranking #29 in kick off return average and #25 on punts.  Projected Score: Dolphins 18 – Steelers 11.

Matt Goodwin: In spite of Ben Roethlisberger’s success as a two-time Super Bowl winner, he’s never thrown for three touchdowns in a playoff game, and has only eclipsed 300 yards passing in three playoff games, which coincidentally are all losses. With the 18 degree weather in Pittsburgh and the Miami Dolphins 30th ranked run defense according to Pro Football Focus, look for Pittsburgh to run the ball early and often with Le’Veon Bell. Given his success a few weeks ago in the snow in Buffalo and his patience as both a runner and his skills as an elite pass catcher, Bell figures to be the bellcow that propels the Steelers to victory with a little bit of Antonio Brown sprinkled in. Matt Moore has been more than adequate as Ryan Tannehill’s fill-in and Jay Ajayi torched the Steelers for 204 yards and two touchdowns in a week 6 victory (30-15) in a game that the Dolphins dominated time of possession. I see the opposite happening in this game, with Bell running rampant and the Steelers controlling clock. Projected Score: Steelers 20 – Dolphins 10.

Nick Andrews: Unless Pittsburgh uses the same starters as they did against Browns last week it will be hard for the Dolphins defense to keep up with a lethal Steelers offense. The Dolphins defense looked to have come together against the Jets only to be brought back to earth when put up against the ageless Tom Brady. Faced with another elite quarterback, Big Ben should be able to pick his spots with this defense. While they have a solid running game with Jay Ajayi that can open up a big Kenny Stills touchdown at any point but unless they connect on two or three of those big plays Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will be the only guys on Monday morning’s highlight reel. Projected Score: Steelers 31 – Dolphins 16.

Dave Sanders: Although the Dolphins beat the Steelers 30-15 in Week 6, I don’t give Miami much of a chance of advancing past Sunday’s game.  Without Ryan Tannehill, I’d expect the Dolphins to lean heavily on Jay Ajayi in an effort to control the clock and keep Ben and company on the sidelines.  It’s impossible to ignore Big Ben’s home/road splits at this point.  It’s truly jarring and has reached a point where I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him as the only QB on my fantasy roster next season.  In likely Pittsburgh’s lone home game of the post-season season, I’d expect the Steelers’ offense to put this game out of reach by the 3rd quarter.  In DFS, LeVeon Bell’s price can’t be set high enough for me to fade him this week.  Projected Score: Steelers 34 – Dolphins 20.

Bernard Faller: Pittsburgh storms into the playoffs the winners of seven straight to end the regular season.  The Steelers offense focuses on the trinity of Ben Roethlisburger, Antonio Brown, and LeVeon Bell.  Miami also finished the season strong going 8-2 in the final 10 games.    This game also spotlights another backup quarterback in the playoffs, Miami’s Matt Moore.  Miami will attempt to run the ball all game long with sophomore sensation Jay Ajayi against an underrated Pittsburgh defense.  It will not work as Miami won’t keep pace with the Steelers offense.  Pittsburgh is just too talented across the board and triumphs handily.  Projected Score:  Steelers 27 – Dolphins 17.

Luke O’Connell: If this game was in Miami…OBJ and Cruz would be watching.   Also, the very real Ben Roethlisberger splits would make it a fun call to wager on Adam Gase’s sea mammals. However, all the indicators look great for Pittsburgh here.   Antonio Brown and Bell are transcendent players, and the home crowd in a great sports city might be enough to rattle even Matt Moore. RSO angle: Chances are the big names are not moving. Brown, Bell, Ajayi are set pieces.   Devante Parker and Jarvis Landry should be watched.   For GM’s willing to commit, this game might help open up some trade wallets. Projected Score: Steelers Big.

#5 New York Giants (11-5) @ #4 Green Bay Packers (10-6) [Line: Green Bay -4.5]

Stephen Wendell: Certainly the most intriguing playoff game of the weekend. Everyone knows that both of Eli’s Super Bowl titles included trips to Lambeau Field where the Giants took down the Packers as underdogs in both occasions (2007 NFC Title Game and 2011 Divisional Playoff Game). That experience and those good memories in Lambeau will be important, but I don’t think the Giants will do it a third time. Perhaps it is because I was in the stands in Philly and witnessed the start of Rodgers and the Packers six game-winning streak, but I just think that Rodgers is too focused and playing too well to be denied. This is the year Green Bay makes it back to the Super Bowl. Projected Score: Packers 28 – Giants 17.

Matt Papson: Choosing the Giants visiting Lambeau seems crazy as I type it. The packers are hot at the right time. The Giants are a better football team. Projected Score: Giants 27 – Packers 21.

Kyle English: Far and away the toughest game for me to call.  Rodgers completed his “run the table” prophecy and has played remarkable down the stretch.  They’ve even found something that looks at times like a run game to go with it while averaging over 30 PPG in their last 6.  Meanwhile, the Giants have relied quite a bit on their defense and allowed the second lowest PPG this season.  Eli has won a few in Lambeau before, but I think the aerial attack of the Packers gets it done in a close one.  Packers squeak out the W. Projected Score: Packers 24 – Giants 20. 

Robert Cowper: The Packers are a buzz saw.  As a Cowboys fan, I recently had somebody ask me which playoff team I would least like to see in Dallas’s Divisional Round matchup and I did not hesitate: Green Bay.  I’m not sold on Ty Montgomery as an every day RB but he’s good enough that it doesn’t matter.  Not surprisingly it all comes down to A-A-Ron.  Rodgers’ numbers are crazy.  The last INT he threw was on November 13th.  Over the last two weeks against Minnesota and Detroit, he has 647 yards and 8 TDs.  He’s also contributing on the ground to help pick up the slack from the lackluster running backs, rushing for 369 yards (a career high) and 4 TDs this season.  I don’t believe there is any way for the Giants to stop, or even slow, Rodgers even with their Top 10 passing defense.  If the Giants are missing CB Janoris Jenkins and/or DE Jason Pierre-Paul their chances are diminished even further.  Luckily for Eli Manning,  Odell Beckham Jr. et al, the Packers have a Bottom 3 defense in passing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, etc.  That will allow them to keep the final score closer than the play on the field will feel.  Projected Score: Packers 29 – Giants 20.

Matt Goodwin: I’m giving the Giants the best chance of the road teams to win this weekend, but with a huge contingency. Eli Manning has to be virtually flawless against a banged-up Green Bay secondary and the Giants questionable run game has to keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands. If Eli can establish chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. and hit some big plays, the Giants could come out victorious. That said, Rodgers is playing in another stratosphere right now and his chemistry with Jordy Nelson (especially in the red zone) is untouchable. Until he blinks, give me Rodgers at home.Projected Score: Packers 24 – Giants 21.

Nick Andrews: Appropriately the best wildcard game is saved till last. No team has been hotter than the Packers over the last six weeks and they benefit from the Lions late season collapse to earn an extra home game. Eli hasn’t had much to worry about in his playoff experiences at Lambeau, he’s won twice there in their last two Super Bowl runs, but he has been a serious hamper to his offense’s effectiveness this season. The team has a tremendous defense but they will need to score more than 20 points to defeat Aaron Rodgers. I still see them getting it done but only if Manning plays better than he did in December. Projected Score: Giants 26 – Packers 24.

Dave Sanders: There’s not much better than watching one of the best quarterbacks ever perform at the top of his game.  Understated throughout his epic run is the way Aaron Rodgers has protected the football, with zero interceptions since November 13th.  Converted running back Ty Montgomery has provided an added dimension that the Packers have lacked since Eddie Lacy’s remarkable 2014 season.  Count me out on the Giants’ bandwagon as I do not believe Eli will be able to put together a 3rd improbable playoff run, especially this late in his career.  Quietly having a very poor year, Eli ranked as ProFootballFocus’ 24th ranked QB as of 12/21.  Though he’s only had 16 interceptions this season, he’s had far more “turnover worthy” plays than most quarterbacks.  In what may be the first of many January wins for this Packers team, I’ll take Green Bay. Projected Score: Packers 31 – Giants 24.

Bernard Faller: This game also showcases two teams playing well going into the postseason.  Green Bay won the last six games on the strength of an offense which scored 30 or more points in each of the last four contests.  New York, on the other, finished 9-2 on the strength of a top-notch defense which has not given up 20 points in any game for seven weeks.  Something must give in this one.  The difference between MVP-candidate Aaron Rodgers and a perpetually mediocre Eli Manning will determine the outcome.  The Giants defense will keep things close but New York has no run game to lean on.  The erratic Manning will make at least one huge mistake which dooms New York.  Projected Score:  Packers 24 – Giants 20.

Luke O’Connell: Despite my aforementioned fandom for the Vikings, this is the game that we must see.  Aaron Rodgers continues his superlative run, Eli carries a playoff legacy into Lambeau with the game’s most exciting player as his wingman.   Winter may weigh heavily on these teams, as the projected temps are in the teens.   Eli suffers in the conditions he will face on several levels.   His game splits in grass/turf, cold/warm, and Lambeau specifically show a quarterback that plays at levels double-digit percentage points below his best, both in his career and this season. Rodgers is more ambiguous statistically in the cold, but the general trend of games this cold has driven scores a few points down and closer together. Look for the game to go under its projected Vegas line.   The narratives this week should encompass all the lines above, but the heart of the story here is how much Eli Manning can still play.   If his past playoff performance resides in that arm, then the Beckham, Cruz, Shepard trinity should be too much for the Packers to contain. RSO angle:   Every single receiver should be on the table for the right price.   Break the bank for Beckham? gamble on an aging Jordy? Devante Adams? Ty Montgomery (WRish)? Projected Score: Giants 24 – Packers 21.

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

Preseason Predictions Revisited

Updated: May 28th 2017

During training camp five of the RSO writers took on the challenge of looking ahead to the 2016 season and planted our flags on who we expected to take home end of season awards. We also made one BOLD prediction on something happening this season that others were skeptical about. With the fantasy season now behind us let’s revisit these predictions and see how we did.

Comeback Fantasy Player of the Year

Goodwin: Victor Cruz – Cruz was on a role the first month of the season scoring double-digit fantasy points in his first four games. Unfortunately, the fairy tale ends there as he only reached those numbers twice in the final eleven games. All the while rookie Sterling Shepard began to find traction and looks like him and Odell Beckham Jr. could be forming a nice 1-2 combination for Big Blue in 2017. We may have seen the last of the salsa dance.

Luke: Tony Romo – Poor Tony. The butt end of every football joke couldn’t even make it to regular season healthy. An injury to his back in the third preseason game led to a rookie QB from Mississippi State named Dak Prescott having to start the first half of the season. He, along with fellow rookie of the year candidate Ezekiel Elliot, revitalized the Cowboys and now is the new face of what Dallas fans hope will be a Super Bowl Champion. As for Romo barring an injury to Prescott in the playoffs, 2016 will be his final season in Big D.

Bernard: Eddie Lacy – The Packers took a little while to get the steam train rolling but after a guaranteed turnaround from front man Aaron Rodgers they are one win away from being the NFC North Champs. But while everyone else in green and gold is having a comeback season Lacy remains the same as 2015 Eddie Lacy. He started off the year slow, with only one double-digit performance before injuring his ankle in week 6. In his contract year and having two stinker years on his resume it’s likely a change would be good for both the Packers and Lacy.

Jordy NelsonDave: Jordy Nelson – People wondered if Nelson was the glue that held the Packers together and sure enough they were right. He had over 15 points in 12 of his 15 games and averaged 26 points in the playoffs. He is the PPR WR2 and looks to be back to full health. Anyone who was able to grab him or Rodgers for a discount was mighty pleased with Nelson’s return.

Nick: Dez Bryant – As expected there were a lot more “Xs” being thrown up in Dallas this season but it might not have as much as what Bryant owners were expecting. Bryant missed games due to injury from weeks 4 through 7 which might have put owners in a big hole going into the second half of the season. He was able to manage over 15 points/game in his 12 games played but anyone who made the playoffs with him was likely bounced early with a 2 point stinker against the Giants in week 14.

Overvalued Player of the Year

Goodwin: Thomas Rawls – Coming into the season everyone was giving their two cents on which 2015 breakout running backs were good and which were a mirage. Turns out that Goody got this one right as Rawls couldn’t shake the injury bug that ended his 2015 season and missed a significant amount of time in 2016 due to various other injuries. His lone 2 touchdown game against Carolina in week 13 was the only week he eclipsed more than 12 fantasy points but that was likely too little too late for owners. It will be interesting to see whether C.J. Prosise has passed Rawls on the depth chart when training camp opens in 2017 and what sort of role Rawls will have moving forward.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo BillsLuke: Le’veon Bell – Those who stuck with Bell through both the suspension and the injury concerns were likely treated to a fantasy championship this season based on his performance and consistency. Once returning from his three-game ban Bell scored 18+ points in 12 of 13 games including a 50 burger in week 14. There is still concern over the long term contract situation in Pittsburgh but owning Bell in 2016 was like printing money.

Bernard: Donte Moncrief – Touchdowns are a hard thing to predict year over year but Moncrief was one of the most consistent players in 2016. He scoring one touchdown in 7 of his 8 games played and average 12.8 points/game played. The emphasis though is “games played” as he missed 7 games throughout the season. Meanwhile, T.Y. Hilton played in all 15 games for the Colts, averaged 17.2 points/game and had four games where he scored over 26 points. If he can stay healthy Moncrief could be a sneaky buy-low for 2017.

Dave: Jordan Matthews – Depending on your expectations of Matthews he was either an incredible asset to have or the bane of your fantasy lineups. Those who saw Matthews as their high-upside WR2 with WR1 potential would have been disappointed with his inconsistent production. But using him as a Flex or WR3 was a nice safe blanket to have averaging 12.2 points/game. Where he likely hurt you though was the last two weeks where he only offered 11.9 points total for weeks 15 & 16. Still, in leagues with more than two starting wide receivers or large flex options Matthews was a low-cost option to fill out an open slot.

Nick: David Johnson – This is simply egg all over my face. Not only did David Johnson not bust the way I had predicted he became the most consistent player for 2016 while also becoming the first player since L.T. to go over 400 fantasy points in a season. Johnson never scored less than 16 PPR points in any game and had 10 games with over 25 points. Both he and Ezekiel Elliot will be considered 1 and 1A in terms of dynasty rankings heading into 2017.

2016 BOLD Predictions

Goodwin: Charles Sims will outscore Doug MartinDavid Johnson

Sadly, both Martin and Sims were a huge disappoint despite the Bucs taking steps forward this season to being playoff ready. Both had injuries reduce their playing time to the point that Jacquizz Rodgers was the Bucs leading rusher with only 485 yards. For this prediction though Sims (69.9) failed to outscore Martin (87.5).

Luke: David Johnson will be the RB1

Luke clearly saw something that I did not and accurately predicted Johnson to be the RB1 for 2016. Johnson did one better by being the highest scoring fantasy player with 406 points.

Bernard: Ryan Mathews will be a top 10 RB

Mathews was plagued with injuries and inconsistency throughout 2016. His first month offered a promising return for those who took a chance on him in free agency however Darren Sproles ended up being the highest scoring running back in Philly. Mathews failed to be even an RB2 for the season.

Dave: Adrian Peterson will NOT be a top 10 RB

Whether Dave was expecting Peterson to succumb to a season-long injury or not he nailed Peterson failing to make the top 10 running backs. It was another tough year for Peterson owners who were trying to milk one more good season before the end of a stellar career. While he is not going to be retiring this season his days in Minnesota are likely over due to salary and performance not lining up. This was also probably Peterson’s last chance to be an every-down back in the NFL.

Nick: Giovanni Bernard will have the most receptions and scrimmage yards for an RB

This was looking to be a good prediction before his injury midway through the season. No, he wasn’t going to be leapfrogging David Johnson in what is a stellar year for him but Gio was doing well catching almost 40 passes out of the backfield and adding another 330 yards in the air. He received a four-year contract extension before training camp which should prevent him from rushing his rehab and risking further injury. If he can return in a similar capacity to Jordy Nelson this year, Gio could be an excellent buy-low candidate during drafts.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews