2017 AFC South Previews & Predictions

The 2017 season has to have the most parody of each NFL division in the NFL. Each team have strengths and weaknesses that are glaring as the season nears. There are some camp battles that won’t be settled for several weeks but we have to get a tentative look at what we expect in the upcoming season. However each team have huge questions that need to be answered.

Murrray is 1/2 of a potent backfield.

With Andrew Luck entering his 6th season and the prime of his career… Is he the great quarterback some pundits tried to label him as or has he regressed?? Does he have enough talent around him??

Will the Houston Texans produce enough offense to offset their #1 defense?? At what point will the team turn to rookie QB DeShaun Watson when Tom Savage under performs?? Yes when…not if…

Only one team comes in on a high note coming into 2017 and no we’re not talking last year’s division winner in Houston.

2017 AFC South Predictions

  1. Tennessee Titans 10-6 *
  2. Houston Texans 8-8
  3.  Jakcsonville Jaguars 6-10
  4. Indianapolis Colts 5-11

One of the Chancellor of Football’s measures going into a new season is how a team finishes the season before. Tennessee finished winners in 4 of their last 5 games in 2016 including a 24-17 over Houston in the finale. Keep in mind QB Marcus Mariota had already been injured and missed that game.

A closer look and the Titans finished triumphant in 5 of their final 7 games highlighted by a 45-27 thrashing of the Green Bay Packers. DeMarco Murray finished as the 3rd leading rusher with 1,287 yards and if he stumbles, former Heisman winner Derrick Henry (490 yds/5 TDs) can pick up the slack. By the time we look at Mariota running when passing plays breakdown, Coach Mularkey’s team was 3rd in football with 2,187 yards. With a 4.6 yard average and returning 2 Pro Bowl Tackles (Jack Conklin & Taylor Lewan) the running game should be there to keep defenses honest.

In Indy, the Colts have a lot on Coach Pagano and Andrew Luck in what could be the head coach’s last season. This team was 1-6 against playoff teams last year and suffered a huge loss with the retirement of DE/LB Robert Mathis. Not only was he a team leader he finished with 2nd on the team with 5 sacks behind Eric Walden (11). The Colts drafted 7 defenders last April yet will that be enough to elevate last year’s 30th ranked defense??

With defenses gearing to stop TY Hilton (91 rec. 1,448 yds 5 TDs), Phillip Dorsett (33 rec. 528 yds 2 TDs) could emerge as a 2nd 1,000 yard receiver. Luck will have to push the football this season and won’t be able to play it safe. His interception totals may go up as pressure mounts to save Pagano’s job.

However rebuilding a defense one year after rebuilding an Offensive Line, the Colts are a year away from improving on the field.

Watson has to finish camp as the starter.

If DeShaun Watson can begin the season as the starter, Houston can make the playoffs. Odds are he wont but circle the calendar on October 8th, a week 5 affair vs Kansas City. A 1-3 start is possible as they host Jacksonville, at Cincinnati, at New England, then return home against the Titans. Coach O’Brien will lean on his defense and hope he has time to develop the prized rookie. Savage will struggle and with the recent success of rookie QBs including Dak Prescott up the road in Dallas, he will be thrust into the action.

The other date to circle is Sept 24 week 3 v. Seattle.  The Titans will look at this early season inter-conference game against the NFL’s elite and with a win comes newfound confidence. A win in week 4 v Houston and the Titans will put everyone in the AFC South on notice that they’re the heavyweight in the division. Mariota improved in yardage (3,426 v 2,818), touchdowns (26 v 18) and threw 1 less interceptions although he attempted 80 more passes. The only improvement to match Mariota’s in the last two years is Oakland’s Derek Carr.

The team he gets a shot at in week 1. This could be the 1st of 2 meetings in 2017. The Tennessee Titans will win the AFC South.

How did Taylor Blitz Times fare with predictions in 2016??

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Legendary Days: The Freezer Bowl- 1981 AFC Championship Game

For all the romanticized hyperbole when The Ice Bowl is brought up, The Freezer Bowl is largely forgotten about. The 1981 AFC Championship between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers was colder from a wind chill factor perspective at -59*.  Do you realize that is 90* below freezing?? This was where Air Coryell unceremoniously crash landed for good and became the ultimate lesson on why achieving home field advantage is so important.

It was a hard earned lesson and we covered this in the championship rings for Cincinnati… so this one is being told from the Chargers’ perspective

Head Coach Forrest Gregg carried off by his Cincinnati Bengals players.

One man happened to be involved in both games.  Hall of Fame Tackle Forrest Gregg started for the Green Bay Packers in the ’67 NFL Championship. Then he went into coaching where he was the Bengals head man when they advanced to the ’81 AFC Championship Game. The winner would make the trek to Super Bowl XVI in frozen Pontiac Michigan, they first had to endure the coldest game in NFL history.

A frozen Dan Fouts.

Coming into 1981 the San Diego Chargers had been the vanguard of the new passing offenses that dominated with the rules of 1978, which liberalized the passing game. Head coach Don Coryell had revived the passing attack with many of Sid Gillman’s principles from the old AFL Chargers and forged a passing game that became the scourge of the league.

Now the head slap was outlawed on the line of scrimmage. Offensive linemen were allowed to extend their arms in pass protection, and receivers weren’t allowed to be hit after 5 yards. Offenses had been liberated from the thunderclap of defense which had dominated both the AFL & NFL since the mid 60’s.

Dan Fouts became the 1st QB to challenge and break Joe Namath’s all time record 4,007 yards passing when he broke it with 4,082 in 1979. Then he pushed it to new heights throwing for 4,715 yds in 1980, and finally 4,802 in 1981. However his Charger teams fell short of greatness by short circuiting in the playoffs. First they stumbled in a mind numbing 17-14 upset loss at home to the Houston Oilers in ’79, then again to the arch rival Oakland Raiders in the 1980 AFC Championship Game.

Also a loss at home in sunny San Diego. In all reality this team was losing it’s prime and not capitalizing on the championship window that was before them.

Armed with 3, 1,000 yard receivers in TE Kellen Winslow, WR Charlie Joiner, and now WR Wes Chandler, it was interesting to watch individual battles. Fouts led the league with 33 TDs, the late Chuck Muncie led the league with 19 rushing TDs to go with his 1,144 yards and James Brooks had nearly 900 yds from scrimmage and 6 more scores. Nevertheless they fell to 10-6 and had to go on the road in the ’81 playoffs.

One reason this game wasn’t remembered with the reverence of The Ice Bowl is it didn’t produce a champion. Another reason is it was buffered against 2 other memorable playoff games in January 1982. One was the Epic In Miami where the Dolphins and the Chargers played in 76* weather for 6 quarters in a 41-38 divisional thriller. The other was The Catch in the NFC Championship between San Francisco and Dallas the following week. Yet earlier on January 10, 1982 San Diego’s 2nd straight road affair took them to Cincinnati for the AFC Championship Game.

If you’re keeping score at home, yes the San Diego Chargers had to play in 140 degree temperature difference in one week’s time.  There were heated buses outside Riverfront Stadium in case fans needed to get warm. A Sports Illustrated article the following week reported 43 fans suffered heart attacks at the game.

Temperature difference withstanding, the divisional game against Miami went into 6 quarters in high humidity, so the Chargers were exhausted.

It was the end of an era for Charger power. Sure they made the playoffs in 1982 but so did everyone else in the strike shortened year where 16 teams were in a single elimination tournament. Proof?? They beat a Pittsburgh team in the 1st round that had been shut out twice by non playoff teams. In one of them they lost to Buffalo 13-0 and finished the day with -2 yards passing. Yes that is with Terry Bradshaw….yet I digress

Age and injuries caught up to the Chargers as well as AFC West opponents to their air attack. John Elway and Marcus Allen came in and the balance of power shifted toward the Broncos and Raiders. In 3 of the next 5 years, Fouts watched those teams play on the Super Bowl stage he so desperately wanted to lead the Chargers to. He retired after the 1987 season and when you look back to the 2 AFC Championship Games lost it was this one that produces the most what ifs.

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2017 Atlanta Falcons Preview

Now as the dust settled you heard QB Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons saying all the right things. “We had a great year and we’ll be back to take another shot next year.” The sting of getting to this point and letting one they should have won get away was a painful elixir. The team was young and intact in most of the key spots so why wouldn’t they be back?? Huh…wait a minute… you thought we were talking Super Bowl LI?? Oh no…these were the sentiments right after Navorro Bowman knocked down their desperation pass at the goal line at the end of the 2012 NFC Championship. Why are we reaching that far back?? Keep reading…

When Alford returned Brady’s interception 82 yards for a 21-0 lead, it seemed the Falcons held an insurmountable lead.

Did you know when Alford broke out with his 82 yard interception return for a TD, it was the first in Super Bowl history returned for a score by a team that lost the game?

The turning point last February was Freeman’s whiff and Donta Hightower’s sack of Ryan.

Well a sense of de ja’ vu fell along with the confetti in Houston last February where there was a seismic shift from near Super Bowl champion to one of fallen prestige. This wasn’t an ordinary loss. It was historic and how this team can pick up the pieces and move forward offers the first questions to what they will do in 2017.

Quick question….how well did “Matty Ice” and the Falcons pick up the pieces after that meltdown in the NFC Championship in 2012?? Now they are supposed to do it after blowing a 28-3 lead in a Super Bowl??

Weren’t the waning moments of the 4th quarter where Matt Ryan made his bones over the last 9 seasons?? He is about to enter his 10th season and well into the latter half of his career. 2016 saw Ryan achieve career highs in completion percentage (69.9%), 4,944 yds, 38 TDs, and interception low of 7 along with a passer rating of 117.1. He will have to adjust to the loss of Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan. They were in a comfortable groove all year and will be tough to replicate with Steve Sarkisian.

The Falcons have had several coaching changes as Defensive Coordinator Richard Smith and DLine coach Bryan Cox were let go. New DC Marquand Manuel will inherit the 26th defense in football and will assume play calling duties. Quinn had stripped Smith of play calling duties as the Falcons foundered early in the year. Former 49er great Bryant Young will take over DLine coaching in Cox’s absence. Although Vic Beasley led the NFL with 15 1/2 sacks, as a unit they only compiled 34 as a team.

Now you see why the defending NFC Champions traded up to select Takkaris McKinley in the 1st round. You can clearly see Dan Quinn wanting to recreate the Cliff Avril / Chris Clemons twin DE pass rush when his Seahawks became champions back in 2013. If he can develop quickly this team is built to play down hill with a lead. Pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.

Can Beasley repeat his 2016 season sack total with offenses geared to stop him in ’17??

However upon further review you can see where the defense needs improvement. The Falcons finished with a ranking of 17th against the run. Not bad until you remember this team had several double digit leads that forced their opponents to take to the air. So going into 2017, opponents will look to run the football and keep Ryan and Julio Jones off the field. Call it good self scouting but the Falcons have to improve on their 25th ranking allowing 4.5 yards per carry as they did last season.

No CB can handle Jones 1 on 1. Patrick Peterson found that out the hard way.

Offensively the Falcons are built to be a juggernaut and the catalyst is All World wideout Julio Jones. A younger quicker version of Terrell Owens & truly the best receiver in football. After averaging 120 rec. for 1,732 yards over the 2014 & 2015, his numbers fell to 83 catches 1,409 yards and 6 scores. The attention he garnered allowed Mohammad Sanu & Taylor Gabriel to combine for 95 rec. 1,232 yds and 10 scores.

The offense blossomed into one of the highest scoring in NFL history with 540 points. Yet when you look at Jones, he is the one the Falcons couldn’t target enough. Just like T.O. in his only Super Bowl appearance,had the Falcons gone to him more in the 2nd half against New England they would have won. His size, speed, hands, and ability to toe tap on his sideline receptions makes him impossible to guard one on one.

If the Falcons are to repeat as NFC Champions and make it to Minneapolis, the team psychologists will be the MVP. Make no mistake the demons from Super Bowl LI are being relived in the minds of all the Falcons. It will be imperative to see how this team reacts to 2nd half momentum swings that go against them. We have to see if the team’s fight or flight mechanism has  been damaged.

From an X’s and O’s standpoint, the Falcons should glide right back to the Super Bowl. The psyche of this team coming back from blowing a 28-3 lead will haunt them in 2017 and they won’t make the playoffs. Go back to all the great upsets and collapses in NFL history and you’ll see the majority of the teams follow with a disappointing season. If you have read my Missing Rings articles you’ll see The Chancellor has chronicled this over the generations.

Deion Jones seen here putting the wood to Cam Newton is a force.

A Falcon fan or sympathizer will say “yeah…but that happened to those teams”…. and those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Remember when Navorro Bowman knocked down Ryan’s 4th down attempt in the 2012 NFC Championship?? What happened?? Well…the 2013 Atlanta Falcons collapsed to 4-12 where they had been 13-3 with homefield throughout the playoffs the season before. No significant injuries and they coaxed TE Tony Gonzalez to not retire and signed RB Steve Jackson.

So here we are headed into the 2017 season… where is the psyche of this football team and what will happen this season??

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Missing Rings: The 1995 Detroit Lions – Curse of Bobby Layne Extended

Okay, before we get started we have to share something with you…

While it’s widely known the Dallas Cowboys were the team of the 90’s, do you know who held a 3-1 record against them during the years 1991-1995??

When we use hyperbole in sports we always talk about a team as a sum greater than its parts. You find this to be true in all championship teams and in the near champions. When you look back its amazing how teams have seasons where all their stars have career years at the same time. Yet something happens to the psyche of a team when they come up short. All the parts are still there, things look the same, however they cant rekindle the feeling nor winning ways of that lost season.   Enter the 1995 Detroit Lions

Have you ever heard of “The Curse of Bobby Layne?” He was the last quarterback to lead the Lions to the NFL championship and he did it 3 times in the Fabulous ’50s. Once he was an aging & injured player, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Steelers. On his way out, the embattled future Hall of Famer quipped “The Lions won’t win for 50 years!” Well that was 1958.

Over the next 4 decades the franchise mired in mediocrity due to the fact they fell short constantly at quarterback. Only once in 1971 did the Lions have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Greg Landry since Layne’s departure. From 1957-1990 Detroit didn’t muster a single playoff win. Their teams toiled in anonymity with very few players of distinction during many of those years.

However with the ’89 NFL draft the Lions drafted Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders. The greatest running back in NFL history. With such a breathtaking runner dominating the marquee, the Lions could hand the ball off and let Sanders break ankles as he routinely rushed for 100 yard games. Great for highlights not so much for winning as Detroit began 2-9 in his rookie season. Then Sanders exploded for 28 car 145 yds and another 45 yds receiving in a 13-10 Thanksgiving Day win over Cleveland. At the time the Browns were a perennial playoff team in the middle of 3 trips to the AFC Championship Game in a 4 year period. Propelled by that performance the Lions finished 7-9 with a 5 game winning streak.

To capitalize on their remarkable runner they needed to improve on journeyman QB Bob Gagliano and improve the quality of the roster. In 1989, Rodney Peete was a rookie QB on the team yet the Lions inexplicably followed his selection by drafting another in Andre Ware the following year. Desperate to develop a quarterback they also brought in Erik Kramer in 1991. Coach Wayne Fontes never settled on a QB and played the hot hand at the time. This retarded the growth of all 3 as the Lions staggered through a 6-10 1990 and began 1991 with a 6-4 record.

Benny Blades, from The [[_]] was a defensive force

The team rallied through tragedy as they played on and dedicated the rest of the season to G Mike Utley who had been paralyzed against the Rams. Offering the same “thumbs up” as Utley gave when he was taken from the field on a gurney, the team rallied winning their last 6 to finish 12-4. Winners of the NFC Central, they hosted the Wildcard Dallas Cowboys and destroyed them 38-6.

They fell in the 1991 NFC Championship 41-10 to the eventual champion Washington Redskins. The reality was they had overachieved on emotion and were short on personnel. Aside from the incomparable Sanders, only T Lomas Brown on the offensive side of the ball, made the Pro Bowl in ’90 and ’91. The defense had 3 Pro Bowlers in SS Bennie Blades (The [[_]]), LB Chris Spielman, and NT Jerry Ball.

Over the next few years management grew increasingly frustrated with Coach Fontes inability to groom a quarterback. Especially with the emergence of Brett Favre with the division rival Packers. With the signing of DE Reggie White at the advent of Free Agency in ’92, they had become the preeminent team in the NFC Central. For good measure Favre started his playoff run as a face of the future with a ’93 wildcard win over Detroit 28-24.

Management blew up the 3 QB rotation of Rodney Peete, Erik Kramer, and Andre Ware by releasing them. They signed Scott Mitchell to a 3 year $11 million contract after he had admirably filled in for an injured Dan Marino in Miami. He was tall (6’6) could see over the line and seemingly make all the throws… matched with emerging wideout Herman Moore and a reliable #2 in Brett Perriman with Sanders in the mix?? They could be something. All were under 30 and hitting their prime. They had some growing pains that first year with Mitchell however veteran backup Dave Krieg had been brought in and 94 saw another wildcard birth.

Detroit showed flashes as they began slowly (again) mustering a 3-6 record precipitating management issuing an ultimatum to Coach Fontes. Anything less than the playoffs was unacceptable. The underlying tone was Fontes would be fired if they didn’t make the posteason. Rather than turn the game to Sanders as they had in years past, they kept honing their new 3 receiver approach… As for Sanders:

The ink was already drying where most sportswriters mentioned Scott Mitchell on the list of biggest free agent busts: Not so fast guys!! In their 0-3 start, Detroit scored a total of 47 points. The team emerged from the ownership ultimatum a focused group that roared back winning their final 7 games. In doing so, the Lions averaged 32 points per game and finished with the league’s #1 offense. Had they kept that scoring rate up for the whole season they could have challenged the NFL record for points. They still made NFL history though.

Herman Moore and Brett Perriman became the first teammates in NFL history to record over 100 receptions in the same season. Moore broke the NFL all time receptions record in a season with 123 for 1,686 yards and 14 TDs. Perriman (the [[_]]) emerged with 108 grabs for 1,488 yards and 9 touchdowns. This was the only time in league history where 2 receivers from the same team went over 1,400 yards receiving in the same season. Even 3rd receiver Johnny Morton got into the act with 44 rec. 590 yards & 8 scores.

The video already let you know Sanders ran for 1,500 yards & 11 touchdowns on just 314 carries. His 4.7 yards per carry was tops in the league. Why the remarkable turn-around?? Scott Mitchell!!

In a career year Mitchell bound all this talent together with a 4,000 yard season & a team record 32 touchdowns and should have made the Pro Bowl. The only reason he didn’t make the Pro Bowl was he was Scott Mitchell and not Troy Aikman (who did in ’95)… all about reputation:

  • Scott Mitchell 346 of 583 4,338 yds 32 TDs 12 ints (2.6 TD to int. ratio)
  • Troy Aikman 280 of 342 3,342 yds 16 TDs 7 ints (2.2 TD to int.ratio)

What argument could be made?? Well Aikman and the Cowboys were a running team. Wait a minute…didn’t Barry run for 1,500?? This team was flying into the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. Mitchell had become the quarterback the franchise had been looking for since Bobby Layne. The curse had been lifted!! They had their eyes on those Dallas Cowboys who they believed they could beat. In 94′ they handed the back to back champion their first loss of the season 20-17 where Sanders blistered the #1 defense for 194 yards in Texas Stadium.

All they had to do was get through Philadelphia on Wildcard Weekend and they would travel to Dallas for the divisional round. There they could prove they were among the league’s elite.

With their eyes fixed on the Cowboys they forgot to close their mouth about the Eagles. In this case T Lomas Brown, who guaranteed a win in the Detroit newspapers which changed the temperament and the tone of the game. Right then “The Curse of Bobby Layne” and the ghosts of Detroit Lions past arose.

A raucous crowd awaited them in Philadelphia as the Lions were booed and taunted from the moment they got off the plane. Once inside the friendly confines of Veteran’s Stadium a fired up Philly defense attacked Scott Mitchell mercilessly. He was hit twice in the first drive and sacked by Mike Mamula. The Eagles taunted him and he disintegrated under the pressure. The cool confidence shown all season vanished as he threw 4 interceptions and was benched midway through the 3rd quarter. By then the score had swelled to 51-7 as a nationwide audience watched in disbelief.

How was this happening with an Eagle team with 1995’s 25th ranked offense?? The 4th ranked Philly defense did swarm Sanders holding him to 40 yards rushing but it was the curse. How else could you explain a team winning 58-37 after it had been outscored (318 for / 330 against) all season?? Remember when they gave up on the 3 quarterbacks and let go of Rodney Peete?? Well he just so happened to be playing for the Eagles…his 3rd team in 3 years.

In ’95 he was a backup and came in after Randall Cunningham had been benched and threw for 8 TDs v 14 interceptions. This is what plagued his Lions career. Well in this game he channeled his inner Bobby Layne and played flawless football. Going 17 of 25 for 270 yards 3 TDs and no picks. In fact with :02 left in the 1st half up 31-7, he completed a Hail Mary 43 yard pass to Rob Carpenter 38-7 at the half…ball game!!

No NFC playoff game from 1970 to this day has seen that many points…58?? Scott Mitchell the free agent savior with the #1 offense fell apart with 6 total interceptions while the QB they got rid of had a career game for the opponent?? The laughter of Bobby Layne’s ghost could be heard off in the distance.

That game was the turning point in Mitchell’s career as he never recovered. A poor ’96 where he threw for 17 TDs to 17 ints led to a 5-11 season as the offense plummeted to 20th and Head Coach Wayne Fontes was fired. Sanders rushed for 1,553 yards in 96 but they couldn’t rekindle the magic of their run the season before. The ’95 season was the statistical best as Mitchell, Herman Moore, and Brett Perriman all had the best year of their careers.

One month later they watched the Dallas Cowboys win their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years. In ’93 and ’94 they lost to Green Bay in the Wild Card just as they did to the Eagles in ’95. Each of those times they would have played Dallas in the playoffs and possibly altered football history. They had a 3-1 record over Dallas during those years and league wide respect beating them again in the playoffs was right there for the taking. However there is this curse lingering over this franchise…

By the way…still don’t believe in curses?? Guess what day present owner William Clay Ford’s bid was approved to buy the franchise?? Try November 22, 1963!! Folks I can’t make this stuff up!!

An aspect of not gaining closure on Sanders is the abandonment of the house he provided thrills in.

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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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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.