The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Offensive MVP: Derek Carr

One of the reasons the NFL playoffs lacked any real sizzle was the loss of Derek Carr and the anemic way the Raiders season drew to a close. Arguably the best team in the AFC lost their chance when a Trent Cole sack rendered Carr’s leg broken in the 4th quarter of the 15th game. Did you know the Raiders were averaging 27 points per game before the injury yet could only score 20 in the last 2 games combined?? Not only could the Raiders not gain a 1st down the rest of the Colts game but the ability to convert dropped from 21.4 per game down to 13.

Carr's play was transcendent in 2016.

Carr’s play was transcendent in 2016.

In 2016 Carr channeled his inner George Blanda as he led eight come from behind wins in the 4th quarter or overtime. Eight! They were 6-1 on the road with him as he tossed game winning passes in 4 of the 1st 5 to begin 5-0 away from the Coliseum. The Raiders were in line to achieve home field advantage and had the most daring performer of the season taken from them.

Carr & Murray are poised to race to Super Bowl LII.

Carr & Murray are poised to race to Super Bowl LII.

Carr completed 63.8 % of his passes (357 of 560) for 3,937 yards 28TDs with just 6 interceptions. This was on the heels of achieving Pro Bowl status in 2015 when he had gone 350 of 573 for 3,987 yards 32 TDs yet threw 13 picks.

Here at Taylor Blitz Times we have charted his growth and this is one of the future faces of the NFL. His injury not only cast a pall over the playoffs but was the only reason we heard Aaron Rodgers heroics at the end of the year. Rodgers had a 6 game winning streak of stellar play where Carr dominated all year long. Had Carr avoided that injury odds are they would have won the finale in Denver and finished 7-1 on the road. If the Patriots would have won home-field based off tie breaker scenarios, who would have been better equipped to go into New England than Carr with all his 4th quarter road wins??

The winner of the 2nd Taylor Blitz Times Offensive Player of the Year is David’s younger brother…. Derek Carr.

Honoarable Mention: Dak Prescott & Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys

Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott are the NFC odds on favorite for Super Bowl LII.

How could you not have the 2 super rookies who infused Jerry World with a glimpse of their future?? While it’s true the heart of the Cowboys is The Great Wall II offensive line we first told you about back in 2014, Elliott and Prescott played within themselves and stretched what can be expected of rookies moving forward.

Where most rookie runners hit the rookie wall right before Thanksgiving,”Zeke” never did. He faced tough defenses in New York, Minnesota, Detroit, and Washington who were all playing for their playoff lives. They kept him from breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808 yards. However his 1,631 yards allowed Elliott to become the first rookie to lead the NFL in rushing since Edgerrin James in 1999.

His vision patience and timing have combined with the front wall to give the Cowboys a flashback to the Emmitt Smith and original Great Wall of 1990’s fame. His low center of gravity allow him to plow through most tacklers and fall forward. An effective tactic to keep the chains moving. He helped the Cowboys chew up the clock and keep opposing teams off the field, which protected Dallas’ defense. His future looks bright with several years in front of him.

The truth of the matter is Elliott was able to share the pressure heaped upon he and Prescott. All Dak did was complete 67% of his passes for 3,667 yards 23TDs with only 4 interceptions. Where the running game kept down and distance manageable, he was able to fire upon defenses selling out to stop the run. However he came of age in the 34-31 playoff loss at home to the Packers. He brought the Cowboys back twice in that game when Green Bay was geared to stop the pass. Down 21-3 he calmly fired 2 shots to get them back in the game 21-10… the last pass a 40 yard scoring play to Dez Bryant.

The new Big 3 in Prescott, Dez, and Zeke.

The new Big 3 in Prescott, Dez, and Zeke.

Amid the pressure of being down to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers he brought them back from a 28-13 deficit… scoring 3 times to tie it 31-31. The came Rodgers miracle throw. However when the pressure was on Prescott to perform without the comfort of having the lead and leaning on his running game, he showed the NFL playoffs weren’t too big for him. Pundits and Cowboy haters waited for the cool veneer to wear off and waited for rookie mistakes to emerge. When they didn’t in the playoff loss to Green Bay, Cowboy haters better brace themselves for Elliott & Prescott are poised for a 5-7 year run in Dallas. They truly helped shape the season.

So there you have it… the first recipient of our Offensive MVP was Cam Newton in 2015 followed by Derek Carr in 2016. Along with the 2 headed monster in Dallas…these are the future faces of the NFL.

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2016 NFC Championship Preview: Green Bay Packers v. Atlanta Falcons

Well if there are two tickets to paradise, one of them will get punched down in Atlanta today after the Packers take on the Falcons. We will know who will make it to Super Bowl LI from the NFC side of the ledger. Who will win??

This year's George Halas NFC Championship Trophy  just arrived today in Atlanta.

This year’s George Halas NFC Championship Trophy just arrived today in Atlanta.

When it comes to championship football you always start with who will control the line of scrimmage?? Who is coming in with the best defense?? However with the Packers ranked 22nd and the Falcons 26th..what defense??

The Falcons are 28th against the pass and the Packers are 31st… well let the scoring begin.

Julio JonesAaron Rodgers has been the toast of the town since his last second throw to beat the Cowboys last week. Upon further review it’s the Falcons that are coming in with the league’s #2 ranked offense and their 540 points is the 6th highest in NFL history. Did you know when the Falcons and Packers faced each other in 2014, Julio Jones caught 11 passes for 259 yards and 1 score?? Yes that is the most yards by a Falcon receiver in their history.

When the two teams played earlier this season, Jones was held to 3 rec for 29 yards in a 33-32 win. Mohamad Sanu caught 9 for 84 yards and the game winner. Which shows Matt Ryan can score even when Dom Capers takes Jones away schematically. However lost in the euphoria of last week’s win in Dallas is Dez Bryant went off for 9 receptions 132 yards and 2 scores. If Julio goes off today…it could be a long day for Green Bay.

Oct 20, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA;  Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) hands off the ball to wide receiver Ty Montgomery (88) in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent via USA TODAY SportsThe Packers have won 8 in a row and they have scored over 30 in the last 6 straight. Rodgers has covered team deficiencies and led them to victory in more ways than any QB in football. Right here is where a Ty Montgomery and Aaron Ripkowski can help by sustaining a running game and keep the ball out of Ryan’s hands.

Green Bay is 6-2 this season when they can generate 100 yards in the running game. One of those losses was in Atlanta but they forced Matty Ice to win with a TD throw to Sanu with :31 left in the game. If they can sustain the run at the proper time and rob Atlanta of a couple possessions they can steal this game.

However the game will be decided by the OLine and running game that can impose their will on their opponent. In their matchup earlier this season Tevin Coleman (520 yds 8TDs) missed the game and Davonta Freeman (1,079 yds 11TDs) was held to 35 yards. They are both healthy and this team is 8-2 in games they rushed for over 100 yards.

The team that commits to the run will win this game…and that will be the Atlanta Falcons 38-30. One wildcard no one is talking about is the NFL’s sack leader Vic Beasley (15.5 sacks) and Dwight Freeney will be chasing Aaron Rodgers today. The Falcons need to establish the run and lean on it in the middle of the game where Matt Ryan falls into lulls which necessitate he scramble to win it in the end.

Establish the run and the Atlanta Falcons will be going to Houston to play for this trophy.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

2016 NFC Divisional Playoff: Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys

One of the biggest misnomers NFL brass has told the public is the phrase “It’s a quarterback driven league.” To that avail The Chancellor of Football has always countered “the game is won on the line of scrimmage.” Well today those axioms collide when the streaking Packers take a trip to Jerry World for today’s divisional match-up.

mccarthy-rodgersTruth be told one of the best things to happen for Aaron Rodgers in this year’s playoffs is to get away from Lambeau Field and into these temperature controlled domes where his play can flourish.  Close your eyes and think of Rodgers greatest playoff games…they’ve all come in domes.

In 2009 he threw for 423 yards and 4 TDs in a 51-45 overtime loss in the desert of Arizona. He followed that up on the march to Super Bowl XLV when he torched Atlanta in the Georgia Dome 48-21. In that one he was 31 of 36 for 366 yards throwing for 3 scores. Two weeks later he lit up the Steelers for 304 yards and 3 TDs in Jerry World to bring home the Lombardi. Rodgers game is never going to go 3 straight cold weather playoff games to the Super Bowl and he has to get out of Lambeau Field in January to get the Packers there.

Before last week, even all his Hail Mary’s had taken place in domes on the road and make no mistake he is the only way Green Bay wins this football game.

elliottWhen it comes to winning the game on the line of scrimmage, no one has illustrated this better than the Cowboys offensive line. In October 2014 The Chancellor of Football christened this group The Great Wall II as they have now paved the way for a 2nd rushing champion in Ezekiel Elliott. His 1,631 yards were buoyed by a 28 carry 157 yard performance at Lambeau that shapes the heart of this game.

Back in October C Travis Frederick, G Zack Martin, Ronald Leary, T Doug Free & Tyron Smith paved the way for 33 attempts and 191 yards rushing. This was also the game where Dak Prescott (18 of 27 for 247 yds 3TDs & 1 ints) proved he was no fluke out playing Rodgers (31 of 42 294 yds 1 TD & 1 ints) while only being sacked twice. When they line up with 2 backs and especially 2 TEs, Dallas wins on early downs. They wear out the defense and keep Prescott in manageable 2nd and 3rd down situations.

matthewsThis is where the game boils down to is Aaron Rodgers has to start hot and establish an early lead and force Prescott to throw. If they can do this and effectively take the ball out of Elliott’s hands they can control the tempo and make the Cowboys press on offense. Then Dom Capers can unleash Clay Matthews and show the exotic packages that have doomed young quarterbacks at this juncture of the playoffs.

This is where the rubber meets the road.

Not only is Green Bay 20th against the rush but they are 0-2 this season when facing a top 10 rushing attack. Who are those two teams?? Dallas ranked 2nd and Atlanta ranked 5th. In the NFL its hard to repeat an earlier performance however when you can knock your opponent back, that gameplan can travel.

Much like Emmitt Smith and the first Great Wall, we’ll have to go with Ezekiel Elliott and this one in this matchup. Dallas will win 37-24.

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Wildcard Weekend: New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers

It wouldn’t be the NFL playoffs without a playoff game on the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field. Tonight we’re going to dip a couple degrees below zero wind chill. With both of these teams allergic to running the football this game is tricky to pick.

eli-frozenHowever the Packers have committed to running the football in recent weeks with #88 Ty Montgomery in the backfield. How will he hold onto the football with playoff intensity hitting?? He led the team in rushing this year with 457 yards but McCarthy may use #22 Aaron Ripkowski more. He’s more 3 yards and a cloud of dust but he is conditioned to the hitting from close proximity more. Fumbles are critical in cold weather playoff games.

Over the last 6 years of his career, this has been the hardest season to watch him. He just hasn’t looked comfortable all season. His play has been sporadic even though he threw for 4,027 yards 26 TDs and 16 interceptions. Much of this has to do with Odell Beckham’s ability to break big plays for him. He has to keep from turning the ball over on his side of the 50.

Which Eli Manning is going to show up?

Aaron Rodgers has had another great season and many think he should receive MVP consideration. He finished the season with 4,427 yards 40 TDs with just 7 interceptions. He led the Packers to a 5 game winning streak to finish the season as he predicted they would run the table. However none of this happened in below zero weather. For the last 5 years our CEO has questioned if this is the best approach to winning in Lambeau in January. It hasn’t panned out.

Ripkowski could be the unknown factor.

Ripkowski could be the unknown factor.

The penchant for Mike McCarthy to pass, pass, pass could play in the Giants hands as their defense is leading their charge. He has to fight that urge and stay on the ground. Although the Packers have scored over 30 in their last 4 games, the Giants have held 3 of their last 4 opponents to 10 points or less.

New York comes into this game with the NFL’s 10th best defense giving up 339 yards per game. However a closer look and the Giants have only given up 288.5 yards per game in the last 4. That would have the Giants ranked #1 and this is how they are coming into Lambeau Field. Early in the season Green Bay receivers were having a hard time getting open. Now they face CBs Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who have jelled into the best secondary in football. At least from the corner position. They will smother the slow Packers receivers.

Jenkins and the CBs for New York are the key to New York winning this game.

Jenkins and the CBs for New York are the key to New York winning this game.

On the strength of this defensive matchup and the cold, the defense will keep Eli and the offense in it. They will need 1 or 2 explosive plays from Odell Beckham and the Giants will win a close game 23-16. Eli Manning has always risen to the occasion when he needs to make that one play.

 

Wildcard Weekend: Seattle Seahawks vs. Detroit Lions

Up in the Pacific Northwest the playoffs will be underway when the Lions enter Qwest Field as an underdog. After a 5 game winning streak against non playoff teams, Detroit fell to 3 straight teams who are in the postseason. In fact they went 0-4 against teams that made the playoffs so it begs the question… how will they win in Seattle??

Stafford's injured hand in a glove.

Stafford’s injured hand in a glove.

Interestingly Seattle isn’t exactly streaking into this match-up either. Not only did they finish 3-3 over the last 6 games but the vaunted defense gave up more than 30 points in the last two losses. Some may point to the loss of FS Earl Thomas who was lost for the season. Yet reality is setting in how plucked and depleted their defense has become over the last few years due to free agency.

Seattle comes in with the NFL’s 5th ranked defense however LB Bruce Irvin and Super Bowl MVP LB Malcolm Smith are playing in Oakland. CB Brandon Browner is out of football, DE Clemons is in Jacksonville just to name a few are missing from the XLVIII championship unit. Now Thomas injury adds to this mix although several holdovers remain.

Surprisingly 15 of the 37 sacks Detroit has allowed have come on the road. This tells us Matt Stafford will work the short passing game and keep the Seahawk pass rush at bay. The Lions haven’t won a game since Stafford injured the middle finger on his throwing hand and their last game outdoors?? They only scored 6 points in New York. They have to  possess the ball and own time of possession.

russellwilsonRussell Wilson and the Seattle offense has struggled to establish an identity all season. Without his scrambling to aid the offense in getting 1st downs they have run by committee and have yet to be inconsistent. Ever since CJ Prosise injured his shoulder the team has shuttled in a series of backs. In fact the Seahawks leading rusher is Christine Michael (469 yds) who has been cut and plays for the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks are vulnerable but Wilson should make a few plays to bail his team out today. He has a penchant to start scrambling before realizing his injured ankle hampers him and taking big sacks. He can’t do that today. One fumble on his side of the field can give the Lions life.

Seattle should squeak by in this game 23-12. Having lost 3 of their last 6 along with 3 road games where they couldn’t score 10 points, they are vulnerable. They may have a 1 week reprieve with a win this week.

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