2015 Divisional Playoff: Panthers v, Seahawks

Now we get the big boy pads on as the 15-1 Carolina Panthers host the 10-6 Seattle Seahawks. Over the last few years these have been the most physical teams and defenses in the NFC. Seattle finished #2 in defense to the Panthers finished just outside the top five ranked 6th. Against the run Seattle finished #1 and Luke Kuechely’s unit is right behind at #4.

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

 

This game will be won on the line of scrimmage in an old fashioned, slobber-knocking physical way. No easing into a street fight as Marshawn Lynch and Jonathan Stewart are powerful backs. We won’t know if Lynch can carry the load coming back for the first time since mid November. Both backs were kept from the average of 4 yards per carry in the October meeting won by Carolina.

This is Newton's chance to shine in the playoffs.

This is Newton’s chance to shine in the playoffs.

However we don’t want to overlook two of the great young quarterbacks in the game. Taylor Blitz Time’s MVP Cam Newton has had a great season passing for 3,837 yards 35tds with just 10 ints. He won it on the basis of his leadership, those passing numbers and adding 636 yards and 10 more touchdowns.

In his last two games against the Seahawks he ran for 30 and 37 yards respectively. The Seahawks are athletic enough to keep him contained and get to him whether in pass rush mode or when Newton takes off. He needs the running game to be more productive then it’s been. They get back Jonathon Stewart but he’s been out the last 3 games.

Russell-Wilson-Seattle-SeahawksNow we get to one of the TBT MVP runner-ups in Russell Wilson. He has had a tremendous season with 4,024 yards 34 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions. This season has seen further maturation as he developed his downfield touch with WR Doug Baldwin and his receiving corps. He has run efficiently this year with 553 yards and his penchant for not turning the ball over is why this team has been in the last two Super Bowls.

Baldwin (78 rec. 1,069 yds 14 tds) lines up everywhere and we have to see if Panther CB Josh Norman is going to shadow him.

Where this game changes is the fact the Panthers are missing CB Charles Tillman (IR) from the beginning of the season and they have plugged in Cortland Finnegan and retreads in the secondary. With Wilson playing lights out from week 9 on…this will be where the difference will be.

The winner of this game will also go on to win the Super Bowl. Seattle will win this game today by the way they have been playing lately and their experience… 29-24.

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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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Is Cam Newton Having an MVP season??

One old adage that comes to mind when I’m watching football is: there comes a time where you have to believe what your eyes are showing you. There is a propensity to stay with preconceived teams and players you predicted would do well. All the while ignoring what is actually happening in front of you on a week to week basis. Enter Cam Newton.

camWhen the news came down wideout Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season, immediately most pundits wrote the Carolina Panthers off for 2015. Newton and the Panthers are 6-0 with the 22nd ranked offense and 9th ranked defense. What the stats won’t tell you is the physical will they are beating out of their opponents.

Newton has matured into Carolina’s undisputed leader  which was on full display last Sunday in Seattle. The confidence emanating from him filled the rest of the football team. Four 80 yard touchdown drives in the 2nd half in Seattle against the league’s most feared defense.

This had been the house of horrors dating back to last year’s 31-17 divisional playoff loss. Or if you’re keeping score at home, Carolina was 0-3 against Seattle in the last two years. So when a confident Cam rifled the winning touchdown to TE Greg Olsen with less than 2 minutes left, it marked a possible changing of the guard in the NFC. The preeminent power rushing defensive minded team that has been to the last two Super Bowls looked helpless as Carolina won a signature game.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2With Steve Smith having been in Baltimore for 2 seasons, DE Greg Hardy gone to Dallas, it’s Cam’s locker room and his team. The team has fed off his confidence and solid play. For the season he’s only completed 55.8% of his passes for 1,275 yards 9 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. However without Benjamin, who has done more with less?? With DeAngelo Williams gone he has pitched in with 245 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. Thanks to wins over Tampa, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Seattle they have head to head tie breakers even if they slip to the wild card round.

However with a 6-0 record, Newton and the Panthers are eyeing a division title and would like to be home for the playoffs. There is a lot of football to be played but with a win tonight over Andrew Luck and the Colts, even Newton’s biggest detractors have to put him in the NFL MVP race.

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2015 NFC South Predictions

When the Carolina Panthers lost wideout Kelvin Benjamin for the season, everything changed for Carolina Panther QB Cam Newton. Instead of coming into a second season with Benjamin and fellow 1,000 yard receiver in Greg Olsen, the offense regresses with Ted Ginn Jr becoming a starter. Ginn doesn’t fight for the football and hears footsteps on in routes. This further stunts Newton’s growth as he will have to run for his life again with a pedestrian receiving corps.

Falcons-590x9002015 NFC South

  1. Atlanta Falcons 10-6 *
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7
  3. Carolina Panthers 7-9
  4. New Orleans Saints 6-10

The heat is on for Jameis Winston especially after that first game performance losing 42-14. He was badly outplayed by Marcus Mariota and his head is definitely out of the clouds now. Yet he can turn and give the ball to the shifty Doug Martin and settle into a balanced offense.

Martin looks set to have a good 2015.

Martin looks set to have a good 2015.

Tampa has weapons in WR Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson also. Two big physical receivers that will collect all of the intermediate passes if Winston is inaccurate. The biggest lesson Tampa should have learned is to not give Winston too much of the playbook yet. Lean on the running game and expand the sophistication of the passing game as the game and season wear on. Doug Martin had a great preseason and needs to be reestablished.

New Falcon Head Coach Dan Quinn will get more out of the defense than former coach Mike Smith. Offensively this team has had the firepower to make a Super Bowl run yet came up short on the other side of the ball. Matt Ryan is in his prime and needs to mature fully as a quarterback. What is keeping him from being great are his 3rd quarter flame outs that necessitate 4th quarter heroics. Great quarterbacks keep the pressure on the opponent to keep scoring with them. The Falcons rarely get up 2 to 3 scores on opponents.  So now its up to Quinn’s defense to make up the difference.

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NFC Divisional Playoff: San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers

This is the one playoff game this weekend that could have been interesting. With Carolina wideout Steve Smith at 60% by his own admission, or at least doubtful, it takes steam out of this match-up. Smith is the conscious and fighting spirit of that football team. Although the league’s #2 defense is intact, this team peaked a few weeks ago.

Cam Newton is going into his first NFL playoff game.

Cam Newton is going into his first NFL playoff game.

Cam Newton can’t play sporadic and expect the defense to keep him in a playoff game until he finds his accuracy. Sure they won 10-9 in Candlestick but that really woke the Niners up for this one. In that previous game Vernon Davis left injured, Michael Crabtree didn’t play, and Aldon Smith was just coming back and rounding into shape. Colin Kaepernick is coming off of a third career playoff win and they haven’t lost since Crabtree has come back.

The best all around linebacker in the NFL. Last year's Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year: Navorro Bowman

The best all around linebacker in the NFL. Last year’s Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year: Navorro Bowman

One element of this game is the threat of the pass from the Tight End position. Vernon Davis has the speed to pull Luke Kuechely deep where he has to play the run honestly. Consequently Greg Olsen doesn’t do the same and Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman will creep up and shut down the run.

So watch for Frank Gore to have a good day and San Francisco to dominate the time of possession. The Niners win 26-13 today.

Even when I think back to Cam Newton’s National Championship performance against Oregon. His play that day wasn’t transcendent. Stars have to come out when the games get big like this. Weaknesses are magnified and without Smith 100%, he has to play above a pedestrian performance. He has to be a star for them to win. Just can’t see that in his first playoff game.

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NFL Week 8: NFC South- Shipyards

Doug Martin exploded onto the NFL scene last Thursday night.

When viewing the vessels of a shipyard, we see units that are being built initially or those that are retooling for an endeavor that requires additional equipment. In some instances like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the ability to navigate choppy waters has become easier with the addition of a new outboard engine in the form of rookie RB Doug Martin. Up until last week’s game against Minnesota, the offense was rudderless depending on a passing game that moved the ball in fits and starts. Bouyed by Doug Martin’ dynamic performance (135 yd rushing / 79 yds rec.) their offense rolled throughout in a dominating 36-17 performance. http://www.nfl.com/voting/players-air-and-ground/2012/REG/8?module=HP11_content_stream_voting_fedex#playerId:0ap2000000085516

In their last two games, Martin has gained 336 yards of total offense and scored 3 touchdowns. Something was discovered 3 weeks ago during the team’s bye week. Head Coach Greg Schiano must have been hit in the head and mistaken his young running back for Ray Rice, whom he coached in college. In that time he has turned to his rookie runner more and the team has averaged 34 points per game ever since as compared to 20.5 over the first four weeks. Undoubtedly the game is slowing for Martin who has adjusted to the speed of the NFL. With back to back games coming against the struggling Raiders and Chargers, who just lost to Cleveland (seriously?), this team could be 5-4 and winners of 3 out of 4 before they take on Carolina and Atlanta in pivotal divisional match-ups. If any of you have been following the feud between the Bucs and Atlanta, you will not want to miss that game.

Before we go there, lets take a look at the standings:

South Division

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

HOME

ROAD

DIV

CONF

STRK

LAST5

Atlanta Falcons Falcons 7 0 0 1.000 201 130 3-0 4-0 1-0 3-0 W7 5-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Buccaneers 3 4 0 .429 184 153 2-2 1-2 1-1 2-4 W1 2-3
New Orleans Saints Saints 2 5 0 .286 190 216 1-2 1-3 1-1 1-3 L1 2-3
Carolina Panthers Panthers 1 6 0 .143 128 167 1-3 0-3 1-2 1-6 L5 0-5

Leaving the shipyard and headed for uncharted waters sail the Atlanta Falcons. What has been interesting over the last two months is how few want to recognize them as the best team in the NFC or the NFL for that matter. The key to becoming a champion in the NFL is winning the close games. Especially those against lesser teams who are hard to get up for, or in last week’s match-up with the Philadelphia Eagles, a wounded dangerous team desperate for a win. Over the last few years, games of the latter category gave the Falcons problems. This time they came out with purpose and were up on the Eagles 24-7 before Andy Reid’s team knew what hit them.

Michael Turner helped the Falcons control the tempo of the game with 24 carries.

Even more remarkable was the fact in 13 seasons, Reid’s team were 13-0 coming off of bye weeks. Although the Falcons have a 3 game lead in the division, they took this road game very serious and set the tone from the outset. Philadelphia’s big name secondary was lit up by Julio Jones who had 5 receptions for 123 yards and scored from 63 yards out. Matt Ryan was 22 for 29 for 263 yards and 3TDs and is having an MVP type season. Do you realize Matt Ryan had a career high 29 touchdown passes last year yet is on pace for 39 this season??

This was a big road win that showed how this team and coaching staff is maturing. Pundits and fans have scoffed at their early playoff exits of the last few years but this team is playing with a gritty resolve not seen in previous seasons. Last week’s game against the Eagles was the type of game the Falcons would inexplicably not show up. Exhibit A: Last year during the second half they could solidify themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, yet lost a game to the Houston Texans and were swept by the New Orleans Saints in a five week stretch. Those could have been confidence building wins yet left the team doubting itself. That doubt showed in the 24-2 ouster in the playoffs by the world champion Giants.

However this year we have Exhibit B: They held off Peyton Manning and the Broncos in a Monday night thriller 27-21. They knocked back a Washington Redskin team which is a mirror image of who they once were 24-17 and now this win. These wins against quality teams are those that have you believing in yourselves by season’s end. Especially when you can step on a team that desperately needs a win and you perform that feat on the road. Naysayers will conclude they haven’t played other top-tier teams but that isn’t the Falcons issue. Just keep winning games and building confidence for the playoffs. Food for thought?? Once upon a time, there was a Miami Dolphin team that went 14-0 in the regular season and won the Super Bowl. They only beat 3 teams that year with a winning record…so don’t listen to the idiot pundits who miss this.

Now we have to talk about Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Looking at their record the quarterback is the first to get the blame when truth be told, Newton has given the team four 4th quarter leads this season. The fact their defense keeps letting the team down is what everyone is missing. Nevermind the frustrated press conferences of Cam Newton. Head Coach Ron Rivera may be sunk if his team gives up any more 4th quarter leads. It may be in the Panthers best interest to pick up a receiver before the trade deadline to help open up the offense. With Steve Smith (35 rec. 589 yards/ ZERO TDs) they have a good mid-range receiver. They need someone to blow the top off the defense to back the safeties back from the running game. Everyone knows the Panther offense can be defensed 20 yards and in. Once they can get a deep receiver this could open up the offense both running and passing. They still have time to right the ship…they just have some work to do.

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