2016 AFC Predictions

As the 2016 NFL season is about to kickoff we need to gaze into the crystal ball and see who will make it to Super Bowl LI. The very first impulse is to look in on the defending champions. However when you’re replacing a retired legend at quarterback there has to be a void in the leadership and make-up of the Denver Broncos. Its one of the reasons Taylor Blitz picked the Oakland Raiders to win the AFC West.

For the 1st time in more than a decade true optimism has hit the AFC East with Tom Brady’s 4 game suspension. Will he come back rested or rusty as he can’t practice with the team either?? The league will get a brief view of what life will be like without Brady as Jimmy Garoppolo heads under center. He has a Sunday Night opening date on the road in Arizona, then 3 home games as Belichick will dial back the game plan to keep his reads manageable.

Brady should return to guide the Patriots to an AFC East championship with a 10-6 record. The last division title for the Bill Belichick / Tom Brady era.

NFL: Preseason-Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh SteelersAFC North Champs: Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5**

AFC South Champs: Houston Texans 10-6

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots 10-6

AFC West Champs: Oakland Raiders 10-6

Wildcards – Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars

The team to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI in Houston Texas?? The Pittsburgh Steelers

Head Coach Mike Tomlin has the most explosive player at WR in Antonio Brown and RB with LeVeon Bell. Ben Roethlisberger will make his 4th trip to the Super Bowl this February and his grit will see Pittsburgh through the first 3 games while Bell serves a suspension.

One of the hallmarks of the Steelers will have to return to make the trip to Houston, and that’s defense. They don’t have to be Blitzburgh or The Steel Curtain II. If they can rise from the NFL’s 22nd ranked unit to a top 15 defense that can come up with timely stops, they will be in Houston.

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

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

Who do you have in the AFC??

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2016 AFC North Previews & Predictions

Burfict returns however S Reggie Nelson has moved on.

Burfict returns however S Reggie Nelson has moved on.

The last time we looked in on the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers were embroiled in an epic playoff battle with the Cincinnati Bengals when the unexpected happened… Vontaze Burfict sealed what looked like the first playoff win of the Marvin Lewis era. Then a Jeremy Hill fumble while trying to run out the clock opened the door, and a few senseless defensive penalties allowed the Steelers to steal an 18-16 win.

These two antagonists renew acquaintances in week 2 in Pittsburgh and a few questions arise. Will the Steelers be able to move the ball on the ground with LeVeon Bell serving a 3 game suspension?? Can QB Andy Dalton get that signature win vs. a top AFC contender??  Have the Bengals learned from last year’s meltdown in January??

2016 AFC North Predctions

steelerimage1. Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5 **

2. Cincinnati Bengals 11-5 *

3. Baltimore Ravens 6-10

4. Cleveland Browns 4-12

Cincinnati has a tough beginning to their season with 4 of 6 on the road which includes trips to Pittsburgh in week 2, and to New England in week 6. How New England fares during Brady’s 4 game suspension dictates how desperate the Patriots could be for a win. Typically these are the games Andy Dalton always seems to lose. Will 2016 be different?

bell2Speaking of suspensions, the Steelers will be without LeVeon Bell for the first 3 weeks of the season. The only AFC team they play in that stretch will be against the Bengals. So they have time to catch Cincinnati with a slow start. They’ll have to run the ball with DeAngelo Williams and rely on Ben Roethlisberger (319 of 469 for 3,938 yds 21 TDs/ 16 ints) and Antonio Brown.

Last year Brown came in 2nd to Cam Newton for the Taylor Blitz Times MVP for 2016. With 136 receptions for 1,834 yds and 10 TDs, he was within reach of both NFL records for receptions and yards. He’s quick in and out of his cuts and has the speed to get deep. Barring injury he’ll have a similar season with the added attention in Bell’s early season absence

With age catching up to Adrian Peterson, Bell is arguably the best back in the NFL when he’s healthy and will be rounding into shape as the Steelers make their playoff push.

The Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns will definitely be on the outside looking in. The Ravens will have Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith to lead them into battle on both sides of the ball. However the Ravens struggle to run the football and Joe Flacco will be coming off of major knee surgery himself. Before his injury he was playing like the east coast version of Alex Smith and checking the ball down too much. Now with him possibly being gun-shy expect more of the same.

One intriguing story to watch is the resurrection of Robert Griffin III and Terrelle Pryor in Cleveland. Head coach Hue Jackson has mentored a series of NFL quarterbacks to successful seasons. This could be a perfect storm of coaches and players all having something to prove and the ability to get it done. If Josh Gordon stays with the team, this could be fun to watch. It will come to fruition in 2017 not this year. However they will be a competitive team to watch offensively.

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AFC Wildcard: Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers

When you talk about the Bengals when the season began, everyone would scoff “wait til’ the playoffs.” That held true for the team and certainly Andy Dalton. Now here we are again and Dalton has his thumb in a cast. The Bengals have to place their hope on back-up AJ McCarron.

giovanniAlmost 10 years to the day that Kimo Von Oelhoffen knocked Carson Palmer out of the 2006 wildcard, again they get to face a back-up in the playoffs.  Ironically Pittsburgh knocked out Dalton late in the regular season.  Now they are missing DeAngelo Williams who injured his ankle in the season finale.

Can AJ McCarron throw caution to the wind and look long for AJ Green (86 rec. 1,297 yds 10 TDs). Pittsburgh’s defense is 21st overall and 30th against the pass. In previous playoff games Dalton played way too cautious. They need to run solid between the 20s with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill and take their shots for touchdowns when they get in close. No Dalton playoff checkdowns. McCarron needs to be daring.

One of the NFL's most electrifying players.

One of the NFL’s most electrifying players.

The shifting point is the loss of DeAngelo Williams. He had more than adequately replaced LeVeon Bell with 997 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. The full dimension Steeler offense that streaked down the stretch now has questions. Can RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (who?) keep the Bengal defense honest? Cincinnati’s defense is 7th against the run and 20th against the pass.

In this game Ben Roethlisberger is going to be the difference. He challenged Martavis Bryant (50 rec. 765 yds and 6 TDs) and we’ll see how he responds. With 2 Super Bowl rings and a 3rd appearance, Roethlisberger’s mettle is what you can hang your hat on. Bryant needs to come up big because the Bengals will be paying most of their attention on MVP candidate Antonio Brown. With 136 rec. 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns, he has to be the focal point of the Bengals coverage schemes.

In the end… you have to go with Big Ben and that passing game in a 27-24 game. It will be close but the Steelers will win.

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The 2015 MVP Candidates Not Named Brady

As the NFL season winds down, talk invariably turns to awarding the top players for peak performance. The national pundits have clamored all year how Tom Brady will be NFL MVP as though it’s been decreed on high. Completely overlooking deserving candidates turning in career seasons.

Carson-PalmerCarson Palmer: Do you realize Palmer is 19-3 as the Cardinals starting QB dating back to the beginning of 2014?? Of course the MVP is for this year’s performance, yet show The Chancellor who has outplayed him. The Cardinals have the NFL’s #1 offense and the #4 passing attack. With today’s performance, Palmer leads the NFL with 29 TDs to just 9 interceptions and 3,693 yards of real estate gobbled up this season.

The Chancellor has always said it isn’t just about the numbers.. it’s about leadership, performance vs expectations, and how would his team fare without him? For Palmer we saw last year when Arizona collapsed after a 9-1 start when he went down. Before he did, he spearheaded a win on the road in Seattle. The signature win of this season came in the 39-32 win in Seattle on Sunday night a few weeks back. They knocked down the NFC West bully when the world was watching. Then followed up with a 34-31 win over a Cincinnati team vying for home field advantage in the AFC.

With the Cardinals fighting tooth and nail with Carolina for home field in the NFC, you can start the MVP conversation with Palmer.

One of the NFL's most electrifying players.

One of the NFL’s most electrifying players.

Antonio Brown: Absolutely the best receiver in football. Unlike Julio Jones, he has had to perform with 3 different quarterbacks and has amassed 85 receptions for 1,192 yards and 5TDs. Keep in mind we’re talking about 5 complete games with Landry Jones and Michael Vick under center. Those stats and there are still 5 games for Brown to play!! He’s on pace to catch 123 receptions for 1,723 yards as the Steelers make a late season playoff push. He’s currently 2nd in receiving yards. Keep your eye on him making big plays down the stretch.

Adrian Peterson: Although he is leading the NFL in rushing, today’s 8 carries for 18 yards in a 38-7 home blowout loss to Seattle hurts his MVP cause. This was a big game against a good defense in a game with wild card playoff implications. These are the games an MVP has to show up in. Just two weeks ago in a battle for 1st place in the NFC North, he disappeared with a 13 carry 45 yard day. The defenses cascaded in and killed a young Teddy Bridgewater without a running threat. These two losses are the difference between leading the NFC North and being embroiled in a fight for a wildcard. Peterson is still leading the league with 1,182 yards rushing.

From?? Boise St!

From?? Boise St!

Doug Martin: With Peterson coming back to the pack, light has been shed on the league’s #2 rusher with 1,133 yards and has protected his young QB. Martin exploded back into a nation’s consciousness when he destroyed the Eagles with a 230 yard performance a few weeks ago. It was the best single game rushing performance since…well Doug Martin‘s 264 yard masterpiece in 2012.

Jameis Winston is growing during this rookie season and one of the players he has to thank is Martin. Doug is only one of two running backs averaging over 5 yards per carry at 5.0. The other isn’t Adrian Peterson by the way. As a team the Buccaneers rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing , just 39 yards behind Seattle. He’s on pace to have a career 1,500 yard season as the 6-6 Bucs make a wild card push. Five of their six wins are against NFC teams and their last 4 are all within conference.

Cam Newton: Now you would think the starting quarterback for a 12-0 football team would be an automatic. In Cam Newton’s rise many pundits have been reluctant to admit his candidacy on the level of other elite QBs, just as they don’t believe in the Carolina Panthers ability to keep winning. When the Panthers lost WR Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason, no one thought the Panthers would even equal last 7-8-1 division championship last year. Newton has emerged as a true leader who now has 25 TDs passing to just 9 interceptions for 2,797 yards. By the time you add his 476 yards rushing and 7 more touchdowns this is the MVP of the league.

camThe fact that most of his touchdown passes have come in the 4th quarter can’t be underscored. It was his 4th qtr go ahead TD that slayed Seattle 27-23 on the road. This was a big game and the Seahawks 1st loss with Kam Chancellor back avenging their playoff loss in ’14. Cam killed them from the pocket. Today he out-dueled the NFC South’s preeminent quarterback in Drew Brees in a 41-38 shootout. He was almost knocked out of the game, yet stayed and threw for 5TDs where the lead changed hands 4 times in the 4th quarter alone. It felt like a changing of the guard as Brees couldn’t hold off the young lion.

When Taylor Blitz Times offers our first NFL MVP… we have to include Tom Brady in the mix but our front runner leads the Carolina Panthers.

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Super Bowl XLV Preview (Part I)

The crowning of an NFL Champion…love it!  It’s time we begin to breakdown this edition of Super Sunday and see if we can have some foresight into who will win the game.  Each team has marched a long desolate road to get here and each is deserving of becoming a world champion.  The question is who will rise to the occasion and who will just miss on their attempt at becoming a world champion.  Today let’s take a look at offensive backfields…

Packers RB: Aaron Rodgers has had some assistance lately with the emergence of James Starks.  Along with Brandon Jackson these two were effective in the first half of the NFC Championship against Chicago. Starks is a bruising back who slashes into the hole yet runs upright which makes me uneasy against a top flight defense.  I’m smelling forced fumbles.   He usually carries the ball in one hand away from his body.  Brandon Jackson may really prove affective on screens in this game to slow down the pass rush.

During these playoffs they have averaged 3.8 yards per carry as a group with Stark’s 70 carries for 263 yards for 3.8yds per carry supplemented by Jackson’s 6 carries for 28 yards respectively. However a closer examination shows that nearly 47 % of Stark’s yards came in the wildcard against the Eagles.  Hmmm, so that means on his last 47 playoff carries he’s rushed for 140 yards or a meager 2.9 yard average.  That’s supposed to get it done against a defense giving up an average of 60 yards per game?  Can they run effectively on James Farrior, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Troy Palamalu (defenisive player of the year), and company?

Steelers RB: Is it me or does Rashard Mendenhall epitomize Pittsburgh football with his running style?  He fits in a way that “Fast” Willie Parker did not in replacing Jerome Bettis.  His pad level is extremely low and he runs with power. Mendenhall is a violent runner who has fleet feet and can make yards on his own if there isn’t a hole.  He’s adept at catching a flare or screen pass and can possibly break a big gain against a nervous tackler early in this game.

Now we do have a greater body of work to go off of with Mendenhall.  A season in which he rushed for 1,279 yards on 324 carries while averaging 3.9 yards per carry. We watched this kid rip off an 80 yard touchdown in a Rose Bowl when his Illinois team was behind and the lights were brightest.  What is often not talked about is his ability to block which is paramount going against Clay Matthews coming off the edge or catching an A.J. Hawk coming up through the middle.

Advantage:  Steelers…big advantage and key to the game.  Don’t forget that Dom Capers, the Packers defensive coordinator spent several years in Blitzburgh drawing up zone blitz schemes.  He knows of the injuries to the Steeler offensive tackles and possibly missing Pouncey at center.  He will come after Big Ben. Rashard Mendenhall may have his coming out party where he’s welcomed into the realm of the best backs in the league period. His running and blitz pickup are vital to the outcome of this game.  The New York Jets were unable to come after Ben Roethlisberger when Mendenhall was running well.

The other half of that equation is; how will the Packers run on a Steelers defense that is allowing about 60 yards a game?  That’s one of the best in league history. Does Green Bay turn the trick? I don’t think so.  They are coming at a defense without speed to get to the corner. They run north and south and that’s right into the teeth of the Steelers D.  Not good…

Packers QB:  Aaron Rodgers has had a field day though much of this year’s playoffs. He had a rough go of it in the second half of the NFC Championship Game, but that was due to the Bears defense playing up to their potential.  His electrifying performance against Atlanta, 31 of 36 for 360 yards with 3TDs will be the signature game of his career.  Well, at least until he wins a Super Bowl game.  His accurate passing from the pocket and on the run is the best seen in the NFL for a long time.  If they would have allowed 4 more defenders on the field for the Falcons I still don’t think they would have slowed him.  Showed he is in the upper echelon of today’s quarterbacks with 3 straight 4,000 yard seasons. Ok, we’re giving him 85 yards….yet I digress.  Here he goes again back indoors for this Super Bowl game where he has produced 42 and 45 points in playoff games for the Packers respectively.

Steelers QB:  Two Super Bowl wins and counting for Ben Roethlisberger one in which he threw the most dramatic touchdown in Super Bowl history.  Big Ben is creeping into the realm of the all time greats in terms of winning playoff games with a 10-2 record.  He plays a different brand of football where it’s from his gut more than X’s and O’s.  I am one reluctant to give way to that sandlot style of play because you can’t base your game on the broken play. Yet there is no substitution for guts when the game is on the line or when you’re alert enough to throw the right pass at the right time.  See the last two passes to close out the Jets two weeks ago or that heave against the Ravens to rookie Antonio Brown for 59 yards on 3rd and 19.  It was a thing of beauty.  He comes alive when defenses start getting nervous near the end of games.  He knows he can take some chances with the Steelers defense behind him.  He did throw for 503 yards and score 37 points on the Packers at the end of the 2009 regular season.  I know that was at Heinz Field yet can he do that again?

Advantage: Packers slightly.  Rodgers is coming in as the hotter quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is still the sly like a fox, do what must be done to get the first down type player he’s been for years.  Rodgers will have to have a game similar to the Falcons game for his Green Bay Packers to pull this off.  He’s indoors and is playing the best football of his career.  What better time than now?

As for Big Ben the game has to get away from the Steelers or the Packers defense will get nervous when the score is 23-20 and he takes the field late in the game.  Aaron Rodgers will have to gun down the Steelers to make the clock tick down because the Packers won’t be able to just run the ball to run time off if they are ahead.  So analyzing the quarterbacks…Rodgers gets a slight advantage.