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By Alex Kuhn
Sports Editor 

Hear me out...The most courageous 2018 NFL Divisional predictions

 

January 13, 2018

The most courageous 2018 NFL Divisional predictions

By ALEX KUHN

Sports Editor

Andy Reid didn't go crazy, Andy Reid went Andy Reid!

I changed up Chris Rock's joke from his "Never Scared" album but it couldn't be truer.

Hindsight being 20/20, I should have known Reid was going to go bonkers in the playoffs. How do you only give Kareem Hunt, the NFL's leading rusher, five more touches after the first quarter? I play Madden '18 online and the 9-year-old who is kicking my teeth in knows you run the ball with a 21-3 lead at home.

Reid is a great coach and a first-ballot Hall of Famer but the games he's blown because of his Achilles heel of clock management adds a bit of stank to his impressive resumé.

While we're on the topic of coaches, since the Jon Gruden to Oakland deal is final I have a few thoughts.

For the players, the NFL is mostly built on a meritocracy, as it should be. At the highest level of football you only want the best of the best. But in the coaching ranks that is far from the case.

I have never understood the obsession with Gruden, he's a mediocre coach who was terrible in the announcer's booth. Sure, he had his fun sound bites, colloquialisms and he could get excited with the best of them but during his time in the Monday Night Football booth he didn't say one interesting thing. Watch one quarter with Mark Schlereth or Tony Romo as the color analyst and you will have learned more about the game of football than all of Gruden's 10 years on MNF.

Now, let’s look at Gruden’s coaching resumé. As a warning, be prepared to be underwhelmed.

Gruden is 95-81 during his 11 years as a head coach. During those 11 years, he’s only had four 10-plus win seasons, three of which came during a three-year stretch from 2000-2002, two with the Raiders and one with the Bucs. He’s had a top-five offense in yards once (fifth OAK 1999) and scoring twice (third OAK 2000, fourth OAK 2001).

Gruden’s defenders will point to his 2002 Super Bowl victory with the Bucs, but that team was essentially the same roster from the previous season under Tony Dungy. Gruden was brought in to fix the offense which ranked 15th in the league with Dungy, under Gruden they finished 18th. That team’s strength was having an all-time great defense that forced 13 turnovers during a three-game stretch in the playoffs. 13 turnovers in three-games!

I’m not saying Gruden doesn’t deserve to coach, Hue Jackson has a job and he’s 9-39 in his career, but paying him $10 million a year, for two good seasons, is absurd.

Now on to some picks, and I am not going to lie I’m still a little rattled by the Chiefs loss.

TENNESSEE TITANS AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-13.5)

After the bombshell report by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham that detailed internal strife among owner Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, there’s been the thought that the Pats will use this as fuel for the playoffs, much like they did with the Spygate and Deflategate stories. I disagree. This is different than those stories. Deflategate and Spygate were stories that were generated outside to attack the team, Wickersham’s story came within the Pats building.

For a franchise that has been air-tight over the years to all the sudden have leaks, is shocking. I don’t believe the entire story is correct, the part with Kraft forcing Belichick to trade Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t fit, but there are certain truths to the story. Like Brady being worried that Garoppolo was nipping at his heels.

Most Belichick teams ignore outside distractions but it has to be sitting in the back of their minds there are multiple snitches in that building. Who knows, the Patriots facility might turn into Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” with everyone trying to find the rat(s).

As for the game, the Pats will struggle with the Titans at first, but they’re going to unleash Gronk for the first time this season, let Deion Lewis continue his hot-streak and that will give them the edge.

Pick: Patriots 31, Titans 17

ATLANTA FALCONS (-3) AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

It’s fair to say injuries really put a damper on the 2017-18 season. If the Eagles had QB Carson Wentz this would be a highly entertaining game. Instead, we’re stuck with Nick Foles, condolences to Philly fans.

For the few that believe in Philly, there’s been a lot of talk about their defense and how it can grind out a win against Matt Ryan and Co. It is true the Eagles D is very good and that Ryan is 1-3 vs. them in Philly, but to me, this is what the game comes down to.

At his worst, Ryan can still get points on the board for his team. At Foles worst, he’s going to put points on the board for the other team.

The Falcons won’t trash the Eagles, however, they’ll do just enough to get out of Philly with a win and advanced to their second-straight NFC Championship game.

Pick: Falcons 17, Eagles 7

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-7.5)

I like, most of you, watched Blake Bortles run for more yards (88) than he passed (87) for against the Bill last week. (Just so you know, it’s more and more depressing each time I say that.) For the first half, I was terrified he was going to cost them the game. Bad Bortles was in the flesh last week and was two dropped picks from transforming into Terrible Bortles.

That being said...

I am, still, all in on Bortles. (I know it’s dumb but I have to keep the faith)

I think being on the road this week will help Bortles. Pars of last week’s issues were his nerves that were made worse by the home crowd. It’s one thing to be nervous yourself but when you feel the anxiety and nervousness that emanates from the 70,000-plus fans, it’s going to add to that.

At least going into Pittsburgh Bortles knows no one in the stands is expecting him to do a damn thing. Oddly enough, this will help because if the Jags are going to win it will be due to his play.

Jags offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has to open things up for Bortles. The Steelers are going to stack the box to stop the run. For the first handful of series Hackett needs to come out aggressive and have Bortles throw. That way he boosts the confidence of his QB and forces the Steelers to take a few steps back. If they’re able to execute that, then they can begin pounding the rock and controlling the clock because hopefully by then they will have the lead.

The Steelers defense isn’t scary, they can rush the passer but other than that they’re quite average. And ever since Ryan Shazier went out with that scary injury, they’ve given up plenty of points.

Mobile QBs have been a thorn in the Jags side all season long. Thankfully, Big Ben isn’t a mobile QB. The Jags D thrives with pocket passer QBs, I don’t believe they’re going to pick Roethlisberger off five times again like they did in Week 5, but they’re going to force bad throws and get at least one fumble on a strip sack.

As a Jags fan two things worry me the most about this game, yes even more than Bortles, our linebackers have turned into a MASH-unit and Steeler RB Le’Veon Bell. If the Steelers lean on Bell the Jags might be toast.

But I predict that the Jags jump out to a 10-0 lead which causes the Steelers to panic a bit and their head coach Mike Tomlin to do some wacky things. Pitt will make a fierce comeback but it will be too little too late.

Pick: Jaguars 19, Steelers 14

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (-4.5)

Of the playoff teams, the Vikings are the best. They have an awesome defense that forces turnovers and the best offensive line that allows them to put games away with their running back duo of Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray. And their two WRs Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are big plays waiting to happen.

The game against the Saints is a rematch of Week 1 but that might as well have happened last season because both teams are completely different. The Saints have figured out their defense and have a strong running game. While the Vikings have not only battled through injuries to QB Sam Bradford and RB Devlin Cook but they’ve gotten better as Case Keenum has turned into a legit QB.

My guess for this game is the Vikings will focus on stopping the run and take their chances on letting Drew Brees beat them. I know, I know the Panthers tried this last week and lost, but the Vikings have better personnel to execute that. Harrison Smith is crazy underrated and is this generation’s Troy Polamalu.

The one scary thing with the Vikings is if they fall behind by 10 points or more I don’t think they can win.

Every year there’s one top-seeded team that stinks in the divisional round. And the Vikings haven’t played many good teams down the stretch. And of the teams left, the Vikings have the most tortured history in the playoffs. And, oh God, am I really rolling with Case Keenum over Drew Brees??

You know what I have to stop before I talk myself out of the Vikings.

Pick: Vikings 23, Saints 20

Last week

Straight-up: 3-1

Against the spread: 1-4

 
 

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