NFL Q&A with Allen and The Ace is a weekly column featured on TJRsports.com. Allen and The Ace are big time NFL junkies and are Falcon and Packer fans, respectively. Each week the guys will ask questions and discuss the previous week’s games along with picking the Top 5 Games of the Week!
Ace: The playoffs are in the air and my squad claimed its third straight NFC North Divisional title. In what was a back and forth game for Aaron Rodgers and company, the ending of the game could not have been scripted. If it weren’t for John Kuhn getting a slight tap on Julius Peppers the game would have been over and the Bears would be Division Champs, but it bought Rodgers enough time to roll out and connect to a wide open Randall Cobb. Just by having Rodgers and Cobb back in the lineup made a world of difference. The offense was run with much more ease and I didn’t feel the inability to comeback after a Chicago score. I’ll be the first to admit the Packers defense isn’t the greatest, but all you need is a good stop and let Rodgers and Eddie Lacy run the clock on offense. I feel that they could be one of the scarier teams in the playoffs. Both Rodgers and Cobb are fresh; I think that might be the difference.
Allen: Similar to last year, the NFC is far more appealing than the AFC. San Diego narrowly escaped a second-string Kansas City team does nothing to attract any confidence in them. Cincinnati is a great home team, but we’ve seen how they crumble on the road on countless occasions. Kansas City has been exposed in recent weeks, while Indianapolis has too many flaws to make a serious run. In the NFC, it will be absolute madness. Wild card weekend has been a dud in recent years and this year won’t be any different. As long as there is one close game, I’m not going to complain.
AFC Wild Card, Saturday 1/4
#4 Indianapolis Colts (-2.5) vs. #5 Kansas City Chiefs
Allen: The reason why I’ve been critical about Kansas City and how they’ve been exposed is because they are so limited offensively. There passing game doesn’t have any legitimate threats to be concerned with. Jamaal Charles might as well be their most dangerous receiver, when you watch them play. Dwayne Bowe will make a few catches, but he’s scared to run routes across the middle and drops too many passes. Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster are role players at best.
Indianapolis’ secondary has struggled over the past two months, but they will have the benefit of playing at home and won’t have to worry about being tested deep very often. As long as Andrew Luck doesn’t turn the ball over, they should win this game. Luck is a tremendous quarterback with great upside. The issue with him is that he sometimes threads the needle too often, when he should have taken the sack. As long as he isn’t careless, then Indianapolis should put up enough points to win on Saturday.
If he has to use a lot of three step drops to get the ball out, then he should still have success moving the ball downfield. One of the biggest myths in the NFL has to be about Kansas City having one of the best defenses in football. Have you seen Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith cover this year? Smith has been a flop, while Flowers has been getting torched on a weekly basis. I’m expecting at least one 40-yard play featuring TY Hilton. Kansas City’s offense isn’t built to come back from behind and it’ll be proven here once again.
Allen’s Prediction: Indianapolis 24, Kansas City 13
Ace: There was a stretch for a few weeks where the Colts alternated wins and losses. The losses that they were apart of were blowout losses to the Rams, Cardinals and Bengals. Since their loss to the Bengals the Colts have won and given themselves some much needed momentum into the playoffs. Sure, two of those wins have come against the Texans and Jaguars but they also knocked off their playoff opponent, the Chiefs. Sometimes that’s all a team needs to do is to win to gain confidence and momentum especially when you’re heading into the playoffs.
The keys to this game for the Chiefs are to rattle Andrew Luck. Last season Luck played on the road at Baltimore who was hot and Luck failed to connect on a touchdown pass. His favorite receiver was Reggie Wayne (9 rec. 114 yards), who he is without this postseason. Also, the Chiefs need Jamaal Charles to have a huge day. The Colts rank 26th in rushing and I feel that Charles will have a field day.
For the Colts, they just need to play like they did at Arrowhead Stadium a few weeks ago and take advantage of mistakes made by the Chiefs. Four turnovers is what did the Chiefs in, but the Colts defense played very well and if they can play that way on Saturday, they should knock off the once 9-0 Chiefs.
Ace's Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Kansas City 20
NFC Wild Card, Saturday 1/4
#3 Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5) vs. #6 New Orleans Saints
Ace: In what should be the highest scoring game of the weekend, the Eagles face the Saints. The Saints have struggled on the road in 2013 going 3-5. They won their first two games on the road this season before going 1-4 down the stretch, with that one victory being at Atlanta. The positive that comes out of that is that the 2nd ranked Saints passing offense faces the worst pass defense in the league, that being the Eagles.
The Eagles have been red hot down the stretch. They started the season 3-5 with mixed reviews but they finished strong winning seven of their last eight games. While the Eagles defense may be suspect, their offense is not. LeSean McCoy leads the first ranked rushing attack in the NFL and Nick Foles leads the ninth ranked passing offense. If McCoy is given the ball in the backfield 20 or so times and can catch between 5 and 10 passes, he should amass 250 total yards.
This will definitely be the highest scoring game of the weekend. It will come down to a battle of the quarterbacks, since there won’t be much defense played. Nick Foles has looked like a veteran at times and has not made many mistakes. His 27 to 2 touchdown to interception ratio says it all. Drew Brees on the other hand missed the playoffs last season and wants to add one more ring to his soon to be Hall of Fame hand. My only concern is that the Saints are a completely different team on the road. The Saints average 16 points on the road and have scored 20 or more points twice (20 in a loss to the Jets and 27 in a loss to the Patriots). The more I look at that glaring stat and see that it's being played outside, the more I think they will score more than 27, but not win this game.
Ace’s Prediction: Philadelphia 34, New Orleans 28
Allen: This is the only difficult game to pick this weekend. You have one factor, where the Saints have struggled so much on the road this year. Then the other factor is that Philadelphia isn’t really that good and greatly benefited from playing in the NFC East. Those are the main two counter arguments that I’ve realized going back and forth in trying to make a prediction.
As explosive as Philadelphia’s offense is, they still miss Jeremy Maclin greatly. LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson are game breakers, but defenses can key on them. They are missing that third weapon that doesn’t get much attention and can make defenses pay on a consistent basis. Riley Cooper isn’t that player; neither are Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. Chip Kelly has done a tremendous job with the talent he’s had to work with this year. On most occasions, the lack of talent trumps play calling against top-level teams.
Despite their struggles on the road, New Orleans is still always a threat. The defense has greatly improved this year, while Drew Brees is still playing at an elite level. What concerns me about them is that they can’t stop the run and the offensive line has been shaky this season. Trent Cole has had a bounce back year, who will give rookie left tackle Terron Armstead fits. The counter for Philadelphia’s pass rush will be implementing the screen game, which nobody does better than New Orleans. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles will run wild on those screens, which will sustain long drives for New Orleans. Another advantage for New Orleans will be how much Philadelphia struggles in covering tight ends. Jimmy Graham should have a field day, similar to what Jason Witten did last Sunday night. It will be a shoot out, but New Orleans will do just enough to prevail. Look for Cameron Jordan to disrupt Nick Foles all night long. He would have my vote for most improved player of the year, if that award existed in the NFL.
Allen’s Prediction: New Orleans 31, Philadelphia 27
NFL Story of the Week
As of writing this article we’ve seen six head coaches, counting Gary Kubiak in Houston, get fired. Sunday night Rob Chudzinski was let go as head coach of the Browns in a surprising move after only one season. ‘Black Monday’ saw some coaches we expected to get relieved of their duties that included Mike Shanahan in Washington, Jim Schwartz in Detroit, Leslie Frazier in Minnesota and Greg Schiano in Tampa Bay. We thought Schiano might have saved his job after the Bucs played tough following a rough start. Who do we think will land in these organizations and will anyone else be let go?
Allen: I’m not going to predict who will exactly end up in which organization. I don’t know much about the specific coordinators, not to mention there always at least two to three hirings that make you scratch your head. I’ll explain what firings were justifiable or not. Mike Shanahan and Leslie Frazier couldn’t have been more obvious. Even though Frazier was considered to be a player’s coach, you can’t blow that many leads and expect to remain as head coach (unless your team is ran by a crazy old billionaire). Minnesota should have beaten Cleveland, Chicago, Green Bay, and Baltimore yet they blew those games in the end.
There is no coach that deserves to be fired more than Jim Schwartz. His team has been undisciplined for years, while his demeanor was never good as a head coach. The decision in benching Reggie Bush in certain games when healthy was mind-boggling. Doesn’t he realize that he has one of the top playmakers in the NFL? You don’t bench someone as explosive as Bush because of one fumble, especially when your offense only has one other explosive player in Calvin Johnson. Greg Schiano wasn’t going to recover from the brutal start to Tampa Bay’s season. He wore out his welcome from the Josh Freeman situation.
Rob Chudzinski’s firing was the only wrong decision out of the firings. How do you fire a coach after one year, when your team is clearly in rebuilding mode? No coach can succeed with Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden as their quarterback. It gives Cleveland a bad perception now for any coordinator or former coach that comes in for an interview. On a positive note, it was great to see Rex Ryan keep his job. The celebration in the locker room was heart warming and it’s great to see him be rewarded. How they managed to win eight games with that offense showed that Ryan could get the best out of minimal talent.
Ace: Seeing Shanahan, Schwartz, Schiano and Frazier be let go were not much of a surprise for me. I was surprised to see Chudzinski let go in Cleveland. The Browns did finish 4-12 and I did predict them to finish around .500. That was a failure of a pick, but the Browns stayed pretty competitive throughout the season. Five games were lost this season by one possession and we saw the emergence of two future stars in Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. The downfall for the Browns this season was their running game. They were 27th in rushing and Willis McGahee led the team with 377 yards and 2 TD’s.
We all saw the writing on the wall with Mike Shanahan in Washington when he benched RG3 at the end of the season. Same goes to Jim Schwartz after the Lions lost the NFC North with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler being out for the Packers and Bears and losing six of their last seven, when two wins would of gotten them in the playoffs. Leslie Frazier was 21-32-1 in his three seasons as head coach. Schiano rubbed people the wrong way in Tampa Bay and after a rough start, he got back on track. Ultimately with the talent he has in Tampa Bay, they definitely want to go in a direction of a veteran head coach.
Here are my picks and reasons for who will be coaching these teams next season:
(Note: These were predicted on Tuesday, December 31st when The Ace wrote this.)
Houston Texans: Bill O’Brien, Penn State Head Coach. He’s an offensive mind who took over a tough job in Penn State after the Joe Paterno situation. He was 15-9 in two seasons with the Nittany Lions and would be a great fit with a new quarterback (Possibly Teddy Bridgewater), Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins.
Cleveland Browns: Ray Horton, Defensive Coordinator Cleveland Browns. I feel that they will stay in house for their selection. The Browns defense ranks 8th against the pass and 18th against the run. Bringing in a few more free agents and through the draft will definitely help this team out. They also need a franchise quarterback, but they will make moves and this would be a brilliant coaching hire.
Minnesota Vikings: Jay Gruden, Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Coordinator. We’ve seen what Andy Dalton has done in Cincinnati with AJ Green. Depending on who is the quarterback for the Vikings next season, Gruden might be the guy that can help develop a rookie with the likes of Cordarralle Patterson, who has the tools to be one of the best receivers in the league.
Washington Redskins: Darrell Bevell, Seattle Seahawks Offensive Coordinator. Bevell was the offensive coordinator for Russell Wilson in his first two seasons and would be an excellent mentor to Robert Griffin III and young running back Alfred Morris. In his two seasons in Seattle, Bevell’s team ranked 4th in 2013 in rushing at 136.8/YPG and Russell Wilson has had a QB Rating of 103.7 in his first two NFL seasons.
Detroit Lions: Ken Whisenhunt, San Diego Chargers Offensive Coordinator. Whisenhunt led Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers to a Super Bowl in 2005, which led him to coaching the Cardinals and resurrecting Kurt Warner’s career by bringing them to the Super Bowl against his former club. He completely turned Philip Rivers around this season in San Diego and would be the perfect fit to work with the talented offense in Detroit.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lovie Smith, Currently Unemployed (Former Bears Head Coach). He’s a former assistant in Tampa Bay and would be an ideal fit. Tampa Bay was a strong defensive team when they won the Super Bowl in 2002. He would be the right man to work with a defense that has a solid core of players such as Gerald McCoy, Mark Barron and Darrelle Revis.
AFC Wild Card, Sunday 1/5
#3 Cincinnati Bengals (-7) vs. #6 San Diego Chargers
Allen: This will be the most one-sided game of the weekend. Even with their lackluster performance on Sunday, San Diego has too many holes to beat the top teams in the AFC. Some will say if have so many holes, how did they beat Denver? Every team is allowed an off day, not every team can always be perfect. How about using actual stats or knowledge about San Diego, if you want to pick them this weekend without just bringing up the victory over Denver?
Cincinnati can be inconsistent, but they have quietly gone undefeated at home this year. Andy Dalton has been solid at home as usual, with the offense has been more explosive this year. The emergence of Marvin Jones and Giovanni Bernard has really helped the offense score more points. They’ve relied on AJ Green far too often in the past. Now the offense is more balanced and has proven to be more potent.
San Diego doesn’t have enough playmakers on both sides of the ball to pull off the upset. The secondary has allowed big plays on a consistent basis, while the run defense has been shaky. Cincinnati’s defense has proven to be stingy, so I’m not expecting Ryan Matthews’ revival to continue. As good as Phillip Rivers has played, he’ll be forced to throwing the ball too many times. He’ll take some big hits because of that, which will likely turn into multiple turnovers. Unless Dalton throws a few interceptions and turns into “Bad Andy”, I’m expecting Cincinnati to win this game handily.
Allen’s Prediction: Cincinnati 31, San Diego 20
Ace: These are two teams I really like in the playoffs this season. The Bengals have been winners of five of their last six games and averaged 34.4 points per game at home this season, including scoring 34, 42, 42, 41 and 49 points in their last 5 home games. The Chargers are also winners of five of their last six games including 4 straight. They’ve knocked off Kansas City twice and Denver at Mile High. Philip Rivers is having one of the best seasons of his career notching career highs in completion percentage and quarterback rating.
The Bengals have a top five pass and rush defense and should be able to contain Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. The wild card will be Rivers to rookie Keenan Allen. If those two have a big day, then Cincinnati might be one and done for the third straight year. Cincinnati needs to continue to get Giovanni Bernard the football. If he can have a big day, that should open up AJ Green as well. Andy Dalton has not had the best postseason numbers, which should change, as they won’t be traveling to Houston this year.
This might sound ludicrous but I think both of these teams have a legitimate shot to go to the Super Bowl. The last three seasons the team with the hot hand going into the playoffs has steam rolled through to make it to the Super Bowl. If San Diego can defeat Cincinnati, they’ll have a date with Denver, a team they already defeated at home this season. I believe that Cincinnati at home might be too much and they’ll be able to try to knock off New England for a second time this season.
Ace’s Prediction: Cincinnati 31, San Diego 24
NFC Wild Card, Sunday 1/5
#4 Green Bay Packers vs. #5 San Francisco 49ers (-3)
Ace: I’m still riding high after the Packers victory over the Bears. There are so many similarities between this Packers team and the team that won the Super Bowl three years ago it’s uncanny. Both are depleted with injuries, both saw Aaron Rodgers knocked out of a game and miss a start (He missed 8 more games this year), and both saw the Packers beat the Bears Week 17. In games not started by Aaron Rodgers this season the Packers are 2-4-1. Who can forget the season opening loss at San Francisco where neither team played much defense? Yes, the Packers are missing Jermichael Finley, Clay Matthews, and Johnny Jolly, but this team is rejuvenated with the return of Rodgers and Cobb. If you don’t believe that then you didn’t watch that game on Sunday.
Since these two teams have last met, Eddie Lacy has ran for almost 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns, James Starks found new legs, Jordy Nelson and James Jones have continued to be the go to guys with a young guy by the name of Jarrett Boykin helping out.
On the 49ers side, they’ve managed to get ahead in games and then have settled down and allowed their opponents to get back in the game. They can’t afford to do that with the Packers this weekend. The last four weeks the 49ers have held their opponents to under 90 yards rushing, which will prove to be a tough test for Eddie Lacy and James Starks but their offense has given up 399 yards to Carson Palmer in the air and 341 to Matt Ryan. Rodgers at home should be able to put up similar numbers.
This game will be won and lost on turnovers. When the 49ers turn the ball over they lose the game. Plain and simple. Their defense has forced a turnover in all but 1 game. The Packers will need to be safe with the football and their receivers can’t allow tipped balls to turn into interceptions. If the Packers defense can have a few stops and not let Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore run wild, they should win this game. If the 49ers get the run game going, mixed with a big passing game from Kaepernick, the 49ers should have the same success as last postseason.
Ace’s Prediction: Green Bay 30, San Francisco 27
Allen: This is another predictable choice. San Francisco is one of the hottest teams in football, while Green Bay narrowly made the playoffs. It seems impossible for a team to beat the same opponent four times in two years, but that is what will happen on Sunday. San Francisco has all their weapons back offensive, while the defense is still playing at a high level.
My only concern would have to be about Colin Kaepernick, due to how inaccurate he can be at times. Similar to Cam Newton, he tends to overthrow his receivers far too often and the weather could affect those throws. I’m expecting to see more of a conservative game plan for him to rely on short passes and giving Frank Gore the ball as much as possible. Green Bay’s front seven is soft and Jim Harbaugh knows that his offensive line can manhandle them up front. As irritating as he may be due to his constant wining the refs, Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the NFL.
You never want to count out Green Bay because of Aaron Rodgers. He looked good for the most part last week, even though he should thank Chris Conte for the gift that he was given to get into the playoffs. The issue for Rodgers is that his offensive line is still below average and the running game won’t be flowing like it usually is. As good as Eddie Lacy is, San Francisco’s front seven is right behind Carolina as the best unit in the league. They won’t allow Lacy to break loose. Rodgers will keep it competitive, but will ultimately fail due to the defense and being forced to go one-dimensional.
Allen’s Prediction: San Francisco 34, Green Bay 24
Ace: Just to update our ‘Elite NFL Mind Challenge’. Allen went 5-0 last week and caught up with me after I went 4-1. We end the regular season with an identical 53-30 records. The playoffs are a little over 48 hours away and while you’re busy studying up on who the Falcons should be drafting at the #6 Spot, I’ll be busy getting my hopes up on the Packers playing Seattle or Carolina but probably getting my hopes destroyed by Colin Kaepernick…again. C-Mac and I will preview the playoffs this weekend on tonight’s Macho Men Radio so be sure to check us out! I hope everyone had a great New Year and lets enjoy the NFL’s New Year…also known as the playoffs! Go Pack Go!
Allen: I’m going to leave my Super Bowl prediction here to close the article out with something to remember. I’m going to pick Denver to play San Francisco in Metlife. Seattle will be a tough out, but the return of Michael Crabtree will push San Francisco into returning to the Super Bowl once again. Another part that plays into not picking Seattle is the health of Percy Harvin. Sure he’s practicing and feeling better, but how effective will he be against a physical secondary? San Francisco seems prime to make another big push towards finally winning a Super Bowl once again. As for Denver, well that couldn’t be more obvious. I’m not going to pick the winner yet, for now I’ll leave it at that.
You can hear The Ace on Macho Men Radio with C-Mac every Tuesday night on BlogTalkRadio at blogtalkradio.com/machomenradio