RSO Staff Picks: Week 6

Updated: October 13th 2018

Week 5 Results

T1. English – 9-6

T1. Papson – 9-6

T1. Wendell 9-6

Overall Standings

1.  English – 45-31-2

2. Papson – 44-32-2

3. Wendell 41-35-2

For the second straight week, everyone goes 9-6 and gets there a bunch of different ways. Chiefs and Rams remain undefeated and the BROWNS get a big home win (in OT of course) to improve to 2-2-1, which ties them for last with the Steelers in the tight AFC North (Bengals lead at 4-1). Tom Brady looks ageless and there is simply no way the Patriots lose the AFC East (although he will have a tough test in Foxboro this weekend as Patrick Mahomes and the undefeated Chiefs come to town). The Titans have hung around and scratched out three wins in the AFC South, but I think the Jaguars are the best team and will be in first come the end of the season. With a big win against the Giants on TNF, the Eagles are back atop the NFC East, where I think they remain by going just 10-6 and taking care of weaker opponents in their division. The Bears are perhaps the biggest surprise so far this year at 3-1 and favored on the road this week against 3-2 Miami. Speaking of ageless, Drew Brees deserves as much praise as Brady, as he has the Saints 4-1 and Mark Engram back from suspension. The Panthers will give them a run for their money, but Saints look like a playoff team for sure. Lots to unfold still with only five weeks plus a game in the books. Here are our picks for Week 6:

NFL Game Picks

Game

Wendell

Papson

English

PHI @ NYG

TB @ ATL

PIT @ CIN

LAC @ CLV

SEA @ OAK

CHI @ MIA

ARI @ MIN

IND @ NYJ

CAR @ WAS

BUF @ HOU

LAR @ DEN

JAX @ DAL

BAL @ TEN

KC @ NE

SF @ GB

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

RSO Staff Picks: Week 5

Updated: October 7th 2018

Week 4 Results

T1. English – 9-6

T1. Papson – 9-6

T1. Wendell 9-6

Overall Standings

1.  English – 36-25-2

2. Papson – 35-26-2

3. Wendell 32-29-2

Lots of different picks from us, but the end record is the same, as we all go 9-6 on the week and the overall standings stay the same. Through the quarter pole of the season, there are only two undefeated teams left in the NFL, the Rams and the Chiefs. The Arizona Cardinals are the only team that does not have a win. Shaping up to be a wild and unpredictable season for sure. Huge AFC game today as the Jags take that great defense to Arrowhead against the current the MVP through four games of the NFL season, Patrick Mahomes. The Steelers (1-2-1) and the Falcons (1-3) are in an absolute playoff like must-win game at Heinz Field today. Here are our picks for the week (we all had the Pats on Thursday night).

NFL Game Picks

Game

Wendell

Papson

English

TEN @ BUF

MIA @ CIN

BAL @ CLV

GB @ DET

JAX @ KC

DEN @ NYJ

ATL @ PIT

NYG @ CAR

OAK @ LAC

MIN @ PHI

ARI @ SF

LAR @ SEA

DAL @ HOU

WAS @ NO

IND @ NE

Everyone enjoy the games in Week 3 and best of luck this week in your leagues!

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

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