Lawrence Elliott Jr. Responds To Mini-Camp Opportunity With Cardinals

BLOOMSBURG, PA. – Recently, Bloomsburg University running back Lawrence Elliott Jr. was invited to Arizona Cardinals’ rookie mini-camp, which takes place May 12-14.

Charm City Bird Watch founder Jake McDonnell, who works as a student assistant in BU’s sports information office, got the chance to sit down with the star running back and get his reaction to the opportunity. Best of luck to Elliott Jr. in mini-camp!

Check out the story on BUHuskies.com.

Podcast: The Husky Behind The Uniform – Danny Dugan

On this special edition of the Charm City Bird Watch podcast, Jake McDonnell interviews Danny Dugan from Bloomsburg University Cross Country and Track & Field.

Dugan is from Ramsey, New Jersey, and is in his senior year of running. He is also a Ravens & Orioles fan! Dugan, one of the top runners on his teams, has been through it all. His athletic career was interrupted by a serious injury that caused him to redshirt. Dugan takes us through the process of overcoming his injury, as well as describing what his preparation is like for a race.

Be sure to subscribe on iTunes and Soundcloud, and leave a review. Thank you!

Note: This podcast is an assignment for Jake’s Feature Writing Class.

Patriots Overcome Improbable Deficit to Defeat Falcons in Super Bowl 51

Original post found on BUnow.

For the fifth time in the past 16 years, the New England Patriots are Super Bowl Champions.

Despite being down 21 and 25 points at different parts of the game, the Patriots scored 31 unanswered points to mount the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime 34-28.

This was the first time that a Super Bowl has gone into overtime.

Even though this was a high-scoring affair, no points were scored in the first quarter. However, it was all Atlanta in the second quarter. The Patriots had the ball to begin the second period on their own 38-yard line, but running back LeGarrette Blount fumbled the ball and Falcons corner-back Robert Alford recovered it. From there, the Falcons ran five plays and got on the scoreboard first with a five-yard run by Devonta Freeman.

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Falcons corner-back Robert Alford runs back an interception 82 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Credit: Newsday

Following a New England punt, the Falcons scored again in five plays, this time with a 19-yard catch by tight end Austin Hooper from quarterback Matt Ryan. Just a few minutes later, Atlanta would extend their lead even further when Alford intercepted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at the Falcons’ 18-yard line. Alford ran the ball all the way back for a pick-six, giving the Falcons a 21-point lead. The Patriots would kick a field goal to make the score 21-3 at halftime, but had lots of work to do in the second half to make it a competitive game.

Following a series of punts to open up the second half, the Falcons got things going again. Ryan found receiver Taylor Gabriel for gains of 17 and 35 yards, setting up Atlanta in New England territory. The Falcons were facing a 3rd-and-four play at the Patriots’ nine-yard line, and picked up a first down off of a pass interference call on Patriots corner-back Malcolm Butler. That gave the Falcons a first down at the Patriots’ six-yard line, and running back Tevin Coleman scored on a six-yard reception from Ryan.

Now being down 28-3, the Patriots had even more of a hole to dig themselves out of. They did answer the call on a 13 play, 75-yard drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to running back James White. Despite the boost in confidence with the touchdown, kicker Stephen Gostowski missed the extra point. With 2:05 remaining in the third quarter, the Falcons seemed to be firmly in control with a 28-9 lead.

To put it nicely, the fourth quarter and beyond featured the Atlanta Falcons getting spanked by the greatest coach & quarterback of all time – Bill Belichick and Brady. The Patriots scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, and held the Falcons to absolutely nothing to tie the game. Those 19 points came via field goal, and two touchdowns that were both followed up with a successful two-point conversion.

On the Falcons’ drive before the Patriots tied the game, the Falcons arguably could have put the game away if they had scored even a field goal. With 4:40 left to play, the Falcons had a 1st-and-10 on the Patriots’ 22-yard line. From there, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss, and a 10-yard holding penalty pushed the ball all the way back to the New England 45-yard line. Atlanta ended up punting, squandering their chance to take an 11-point lead with three and a half minutes to play.

The Patriots tied the game with 57 seconds to go, and Atlanta had to timeouts to work with. Following the New England kickoff, the Falcons got the ball at their own 11-yard line. They ended up punting with just a few ticks left, and the game was sent into overtime. New England won the coin toss, and went right down the field to score the winning touchdown.

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Patriots running back James White scores the winning touchdown in overtime. Credit: Newsday

On the winning drive, Brady completed passes of 14, 18, and 15 yards before the Patriots had a 1st-and-goal on Atlanta’s two-yard line. White scored the winning touchdown on a two-yard run, and the confetti immediately dropped.

The win gives Belichick and Brady their fifth Super Bowl win together. They are 5-2 overall in Super Bowl appearances. Brady won his fourth career Super Bowl MVP, and the Lombardi Trophy was handed to the Patriots by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Of course, Goodell suspended Brady for the first four-games of the season for his involvement with “deflategate,” making the exchange a bit awkward.

Just to put into perspective how dominant Brady was in the game, look at his final line. Brady finished the game with 466 passing yards – 246 of those came after the third quarter. He threw a touchdown pass and converted a two-point conversion through the air during the big comeback, and led the team down the field in each scoring drive. Anyone who says that he is not the greatest quarterback ever is wrong. What’s perhaps the most impressive thing about Brady is that he continues to pull this off at 39-years old. And it does not look like he will be done anytime soon.

Before Super Bowl 51, no team had ever come back from a deficit above 10 points. The Patriots shattered that record, making this both the greatest comeback of all time by the Patriots and the greatest choke in NFL history by the Falcons. Some are already dubbing this as the greatest Super Bowl of all time, but one thing is for sure – the New England Patriots are quickly becoming the greatest NFL dynasty ever.

Super Bowl 51 Preview and Predictions

Super Bowl week is here. What do we think will happen, and who do we think will walk out of Houston with the Lombardi Trophy? Here are our game previews and picks:

dsc_0322-2Jake: It’s what the entire 2016-17 season all comes down to – Super Bowl 51.

On the AFC side stand the New England Patriots, who enter their seventh Super Bowl appearance under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Perhaps the greatest head coach / quarterback duo in history, Brady and Belichick sport a 4-2 record in their Super Bowl appearances, and look to claim an unprecedented fifth ring.

On the NFC side stand the Atlanta Falcons, who are making their first Super Bowl appearance since 1999 and look to win the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy. Head coach Dan Quinn is coaching in his third Super Bowl in four seasons, as he was the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator when Seattle defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48 and lost to New England the year after. The Falcons offense made history this season, scoring the eighth most points of all time.

Here are the keys to what I believe each unit will need in order to be successful on Sunday.

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Tom Brady will be making his seventh start in the Super Bowl this weekend. Credit: USA Today.

Patriots Offense: I think the key for the Patriots is to stop Vic Beasley. After a disappointing rookie season, Beasley was the 2016 sack leader with 15.5 at the end of the regular season. However, Beasley has yet to sack the quarterback in Atlanta’s two playoff games. Tom Brady is not a mobile quarterback, so keeping him in the pocket will be big for New England. I think the Patriots will be able to do this, as Atlanta’s defense is nothing to write home about.

Falcons Offense: Balance & Spread. This season the Falcons combined for the fifth-best rushing attack and the third-ranked passing attack. 13 different receivers scored touchdowns for the Falcons, and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman rushed for just under 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. If Matt Ryan can keep spreading the ball around, that will open up the running game. Also keep in mind that the “nerve” factor will likely be higher for the Falcons than it will be for the Patriots. Playing mistake-free football will be a more daunting task for Ryan than it will be for Brady, making this another crucial point of emphasis for the Falcons offense.

Patriots Defense: I would say that the key for the Patriots defense would be to stop Julio Jones, but the Falcons just simply have too many other weapons for New England to worry about. Limiting Jones is still crucial, and I believe that Belichick will try to do that. With Jones not being 100%, the Patriots will still be able to limit him. Along with containing Jones, New England should stack the box to try to prevent Freeman and Coleman from busting out a big gain. Ryan will still have other weapons like Muhamad Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and Austin Hooper to throw the ball to, but if you take away the biggest weapons Atlanta has, that puts more pressure on the players that have made smaller contributions to step up. Unlike a lot of experts out there, I don’t think the Patriots need to double team Jones; I think Malcolm Butler is more than capable of limiting Jones on his own. Simply put, the Patriots will not be able to completely stop this Atlanta offense, but they can limit them by limiting their best play-makers.

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Second-year man Vic Beasley Jr. leads the NFL with 15.5 sacks in the regular season. Credit: Athlon Sports.

Falcons Defense: Put pressure on Brady, plain and simple. There really is no gameplan that can completely prevent what the Patriots throw at their opponents every week. If Atlanta takes away the middle of the field, then Brady will find ways to throw deep passes to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. If you limit the Patriots’ deep passing attack, Brady will burn you in the middle of the field with Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan (Hogan caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the AFC Championship against Pittsburgh). Brady and Belichick are the best in the business at picking apart a defense, and they will have success again against this Atlanta defense that ranked 25th in the NFL in terms of yardage given up during the regular season. Atlanta was able to limit Green Bay’s offense in the NFC Championship, but they did so by sacking Aaron Rodgers twice and hitting him eight times. Simply put, the Falcons HAVE to hit Brady and hit him often. Atlanta has several players capable of doing this – Beasley, Dwight Freeney, Courtney Upshaw, De’Vondre Campbell, and others. Nobody thought that Rodgers could be stopped, and the Falcons proved them wrong. Can they do it again this Sunday?

I think we are in for a good game on Sunday. The playoffs have been pretty mediocre because of how many lopsided games we have seen, but I think this game will be close. It will be a high-scoring affair, and just like we predicted to weeks ago, the winner will be the team that has the most stops on defense. With that being said, I believe that the Patriots will have more stops than the Falcons. Not only do the Patriots have the better defense, but I think Tom Brady will make less mistakes than Matt Ryan. Being at their seventh Super Bowl, I think Brady will outplay Ryan and Belichick will out-coach Quinn.

Prediction: Patriots 31, Falcons 27 pats.png

nolanNolan: Super Bowl Sunday is finally approaching and there a handful of storylines surrounding this year’s big game. No matter what happens on Sunday, I’m just hoping for a close game. So far the playoffs have been far from exciting with many games ending in blowouts. Hopefully the final game of the 2016-17 season is a good one because it’s going to be a long wait before we see real NFL football again.

The big story-line for me is going to be the Falcons offense vs the Patriots defense.  I have doubted the New England defense in the past, specifically in the AFC championship game, but they have since impressed me. They are not flashy but they have been getting the job done so far in the postseason. Analysts are commending them for their ability to take the opponent’s best player out of the equation. This week they will face their toughest challenge yet.

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Matt Ryan went from being ranked #20 in QBR in 2015 to #1 in ’16. Credit: Zimbio.

Atlanta probably has the most high powered offense in the league. With the ability to eat up the clock on long drives or score in a matter of seconds, they are incredibly hard to game plan for.  Perhaps the Patriots defense will be able to contain a player like Devonta Freeman or even Julio Jones, but there are just too many other play-makers for Atlanta to stop the entire machine.  I will be very surprised if Matt Ryan and company don’t reach the end-zone at least four times on Sunday.

If the Atlanta offense continues to dominate, the game will come down to the shoulders of Tom Brady. When it comes to the Super Bowl, Brady is probably the most relaxed man on the field.  He has been here time and time again. With the game on the line I would be a fool to doubt him. My only question is, can he keep up with Ryan in a shootout? This is the difference maker for me.

I like Falcons in the big game. Their offense is just too powerful for me to pick against them.  Brady has the experience but there is only so much he can do, especially if he is playing from behind.  The Patriots defense is going to have to step up big time if they want to compete come Sunday and I don’t know if any defense can contain Atlanta this year.

Prediction: Falcons 31, Patriots 26 Atlanta_Falcons_logo..png

careerfileTyler: I am going to take a slightly different approach with my write-up this week. Instead of focusing on my keys to the game, I will focus on some of the key stats that are swaying my prediction. About halfway through this list of stats, if not earlier, you will know whom I am picking.

  1. 11 out of the last 12 Super Bowl winners have worn white
  2. In the previous five Super Bowls that featured the number one offense vs the number one defense, the defense won four out of five
  3. Matt Ryan is 0/2 against Bill Belichick and the Patriots in his career
  4. The Patriots are 7-2 in games officiated by Carl Cheffers in the past 10 seasons
  5. This will be Dan Quinn’s first career game as a head coach against Bill Belichick. Head coaches are 3-22 in their first career game against Belichick since 2010.
  6. Tom Brady has more Super Bowl experience than the entire Falcons roster (6 to 5) (Credit: CBS Sports)

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Bill Belichick did not seem impressed with being named the AFC Champion for the seventh time in his tenure with New England. Credit: USA Today.

As you have probably figured out I am picking the Patriots. The biggest factor is the major advantage that the Patriots have in Super Bowl experience. Yes, Dan Quinn will be coaching in his third Super Bowl in four years but coaching experience will only get the falcons so far. The lack of player experience on the Falcons sideline could be an issue. Do not be confused though. The Falcons are an extremely talented team that is more than capable of winning a championship. It wouldn’t shock me at all. But in a game like this I like to stick with history repeating itself and the Patriots have proven they are tough to beat in the Super Bowl. At the time of writing this article the Falcons have NOT traded for Eli Manning so the Patriots should be happy about that.

Prediction: Patriots 26, Falcons 21 pats

NFL Conference Championship Previews & Predictions

The final stop on the road to Super Bowl 51 takes place this Sunday with the conference championship round. With four teams left, who do Jake, Nolan, and Tyler think will punch in their ticket to Houston?

NFC Championship: #4 Green Bay Packers @ #2 Atlanta Falcons – 3:05 pm – FOX

Jake: In week 8 these teams squared off in the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons picked up a 33-32 victory. The Falcons rallied from behind in the fourth quarter on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard Mohamed Sanu touchdown with 31 seconds to go in the game. Sanu was the team’s leading receiver that day with nine catches. Matt Ryan threw for more yards than Aaron Rodgers, but Rodgers threw four touchdown passes, whereas Ryan had only three.

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Aaron Rodgers continues to make jaw-dropping throws throughout the postseason. Credit: OBSEV.

This time around, the situation is completely different and the circumstances are much more drastic. The Packers are looking to reach their second Super Bowl in the Aaron Rodgers era, while the Falcons are looking to reach just their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

Since going 4-6 earlier this season, the Packers have won eight straight games, capped off with their 34-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys last weekend. Rodgers once again made our jaws hit the floor with his 35-yard completion to tight end Jared Cook before the Packers kicked the game-winning field goal. Rodgers is playing out of his mind, throwing six touchdowns in two postseason games. The Packers offense will once again most likely be without their top receiving threat in Jordy Nelson, who suffered a rib injury in the Wild Card Round.

Going up against the Packers is Matt Ryan, who is at the helm of the eighth-best offense in NFL history in terms of scoring. Ryan had a great game against the Seahawks, throwing for over 330 yards and three touchdowns. The Falcons have Julio Jones and a dynamic two-running back attack with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Falcons are on a five-game win streak of their own, and will be fired up for the last game to be played in the Georgia Dome.

This game has shoot-out written all over it. You have two offenses that are among the best in football going up against the #22 and #25 ranked defenses, respectively. Both teams were able to score more than 30 points against each other in week 8, and they will most likely accomplish that again on Sunday.

Yes, the Falcons have the home field advantage. But this game comes down to one thing: Aaron Rodgers vs. Matt Ryan. Right now, I do not see how anyone can pick against Rodgers. All of the so-called “experts” picked against Rodgers last week, and look what happened. Rodgers is unstoppable right now. It is that simple.
Pick: Packers 35, Falcons 34

Nolan: While I have been impressed by how the Packers played against the Giants and Cowboys, it is important to keep in mind that the competition only gets harder this week. The Falcons are certainly the Packers’ most daunting opponent so far in the playoffs and I am expecting a highly unpredictable matchup with a lot of scoring.

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The Falcons have a dynamic one-two punch in the backfield with running backs Davonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Credit: Sports Illustrated.

Rodgers delivered an amazing drive in the final minutes of last week’s game but probably never would have been in that situation if he had not failed to score during the entirety of the third quarter. This can not happen again if Green Bay wants to win. There is far less room for error against a Falcons team that we have seen score very quickly. I do believe that the Packers can fix this issue but the Falcons are not going to have to dig themselves out of a hole like the Cowboys.

The defensive play of these teams does not jump out at you but there have been some highlights for each side in recent games. The Packers defense handled their business against the Giants while the Falcons stifled the Seahawks early and never let up. I don’t expect either of these defenses to stop the opposing QB but if it does happen, it will be the key to victory.

This one is a true toss up for me. I could make the case for either team as they both have high-powered offenses and the ability to produce with the game on the line. Since I have to pick one, I will go with the Packers. This is my least confident pick of the postseason but I can see Green Bay edging this one out in the final seconds.

Pick: Packers 41, Falcons 38

Tyler: My goodness we are in for a treat with this one. Be prepared for a game just as exciting to watch as the Green Bay/Dallas game last week. Two high-powered offenses will square off in a game where defense may be optional. I fully expect both teams to put up at least thirty points in this one. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have by far the most high-powered offense of the four teams left in my opinion. Green Bay may not be at full strength once again as Jordy Nelson has been announced as a long shot to play and Davante Adams experiencing an ankle injury in last weeks game. Neither defense is terrible but neither compares to the two defenses left in the AFC. I expect that the team with the defense that can make one or two key stops comes out victorious in this one. I know everyone is saying that you can’t pick against Rodgers. I know everyone is saying that Matt Ryan is a choke artist. But I think Ryan’s weapons, Rodger’s injuries around him, and Atlanta’s home field advantage will lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl. Also remember that this will be the last game to ever be played in the Georgia Dome. I guarantee that the organization and the fans will want to blow the roof off of the place and go out with a bang.

Pick: Falcons 38, Packers 34

AFC Championship: #3 Pittsburgh Steelers @ #1 New England Patriots – 6:40 pm – CBS

Jake: As soon as the Steelers defeated the Chiefs 18-16 on Sunday, and it was announced that Pittsburgh would be facing the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, a collective groan was heard across Baltimore and the surrounding area. This game will be tough on all Baltimore Sports fans to watch, but the fact is these two teams proved that they are the best of the best in the AFC.

Earlier this season, the Patriots beat the Steelers 27-16 in week 7. However, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed that game after undergoing a knee surgery a few days prior.

The Steelers have now won nine straight games, and defeated the Chiefs last week without scoring a touchdown. The Steelers defense is ranked #1 overall this postseason, giving up an average of 266 yards in the two games played against Miami and Kansas City. Pittsburgh also has the top rushing attack in the NFL this postseason, with Le’Veon Bell putting up outrageous numbers. Last week Bell rushed for 170 yards on 30 carries. That is an average of 5.7 yards-per-carry for those of you who are not good at math. If the Patriots can’t stop Bell, it will be a long night.

However, Big Ben has proven to not be the same quarterback on the road this season. His completion percentage is 59.4%, and he has thrown nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Ben cannot afford to make a few dumb mistakes in this game, because Tom Brady and the Patriots will capitalize on them.

The Patriots defeated the Texans 34-16 in the divisional round, but the game did not break out until the second half. The Patriots allowed the Texans to hang around because Houston was able to get after Brady, who was hit eight times and sacked twice. Brady will probably have to do a decent amount of throwing on Sunday, as the Steelers have limited their opponents to just 108 combined rushing yards this postseason.

The Patriots defense should not be taken lightly either, as they finished the regular season first in the NFL in points allowed. However, the Patriots have not faced many good quarterbacks this season. As mentioned, they did not face Big Ben in week 7. They did face Russell Wilson, and the Patriots lost that game to Seattle at home. Aside from Ben and Wilson, the top QB’s New England faced included Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Andy Dalton, and Joe Flacco. Facing Brock Osweiler last week did not break that trend, so facing a quarterback like Roethlisberger will be a big test for the Patriots.

This is a tough call. Pittsburgh has won nine straight, but New England has won eight straight. The Steelers have the 3 B’s – Ben, Bell and Brown, but the Patriots have Brady and Belichick. Both teams have outstanding defenses. With everything considered, this is probably the toughest pick I have made all season.

Pick: Steelers 27, Patriots 24  

Nolan: I may not know who to root for but I have a good feeling about who will win this one. I understand that Brady and Belichick are probably the hardest to beat at home, especially in the playoffs. I also know that Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers have not played well against the Patriots, but I don’t care about any of that.

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Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live video might have given the Patriots some unneeded ammunition. Credit: Bleacher Report.

Why? Because the Steelers are the better overall team, plain and simple. On offense the Steelers’ playmakers are impossible to contain and I don’t see the Patriot defense keeping them out of the endzone like Kansas City did last week.

On defense the Steelers have an advantage as well. Tom Brady is certainly better than the quarterbacks that Pittsburgh has faced so far in the playoffs but I don’t think that matters too much.  Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, and James Harrison can bring the pressure against any QB and Brady is no exception.

Last week we saw what happens when you threaten Brady with a quality defense. He can turn the ball over like any other QB. These turnovers and overall poor offensive play gave Houston a chance in the fourth quarter. Brock Osweiler couldn’t take advantage of this but you better believe that Big Ben and company will fare better than the abysmal Houston offense.

Pick: Steelers 27, Patriots 20

Tyler: Ravens fans don’t worry. Listen to Nolan because he said it best earlier this week. Don’t be disappointed that one of your two most hated teams will be in the Super Bowl. Instead be happy that one of your two most hated teams will be absolutely crushed by just missing out on a Super Bowl appearance.

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The Patriots will be playing in their sixth-straight AFC Championship game, led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Credit: The Boston Globe.

History says that the Patriots should win this game. They have been in the big game more than any other team over the last ten years or so. Vegas will most likely be picking New England too. Bill Belichick is very good at taking away a team’s best weapon. This week that is Le’Veon Bell. Bell has been extremely hot lately and he seems almost unstoppable. Another thing playing into the Patriots favor is the fact that Ben Roethlisberger has not played extremely well on the road this season. I believe I mentioned this last week as well. Ben didn’t play extremely well in Kansas City but he and the offense played well enough to get the win. That is all that matters in the playoffs. The third thing that plays into the Patriots hand is the fact that they have a shutdown corner in Malcolm Butler. Antonio Brown has struggled at times against elite, shutdown corners which obviously helps the Patriots.

With all of that being said I’m picking Pittsburgh. When you’re hot, you’re hot. And Pittsburgh is extremely hot right now. They are healthy and just seem like a team that can win it all. Plus, with the way their defense is playing recently I think they can give Brady fits.

Pick: Steelers 31, Patriots 27

NFL Divisional Weekend Breakdown

Editor’s Note: This article was also written by Jake McDonnell and Tyler Feeser.

The wild card round has passed but to many fans disappointment, the games did not live up to the hype.  This week should be more exciting though, as the contenders have been separated from the pretenders.

To break down this weeks games, all of our experts here at Charm City Bird Watch will provide an analysis of each game, followed by a prediction. Let’s see how much we agree, or disagree.

Saturday, January 14

NFC: Seattle (10-5-1) @ Atlanta (11-5) – 4:35 pm – Fox

JakeThese two teams squared off in week 6 in Seattle, where the Seahawks won in controversial fashion, 26-24.

With 1:39 to go in that game, the Falcons faced a 4th and 10 play and could not convert when Matt Ryan threw a deep pass to Julio Jones. On the play, Richard Sherman should have been flagged for pass interference, but there was nothing called and Seattle escaped with the win.

This time around, the two teams face off in what could be the last game at the Georgia Dome. The Seahawks will be without safety Earl Thomas, who made a crucial interception in that week six game. Seattle will also be without receiver Tyler Lockett, who broke his leg on Christmas Eve. The Falcons are healthier, and have a solid two-running back attack with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, but we all know Ryan’s track record in the playoffs; 1-4 with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions dating back to 2008.

This will be a different game than we saw in October. On the road this season, Seattle is 3-4-1 and scoring an average of just 16 points-per-game. The Falcons have the best offense in football, scoring 540 points, which is tied for the seventh-most of all time. I believe that will be the difference in this game, and Atlanta will advance to the NFC Championship.

Prediction: Atlanta 27, Seattle 21

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Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman are just two pieces of the explosive Flacons offense that averages over 33 points per game.  Source: Matthew Emmons – USA Today

NolanThe Seahawks took care of business last week against the Lions, proving once again that they are legitimate contenders for the super bowl.  However, their opponent this week will be much tougher.  Defeating the Falcons is a tall order on its own but Seattle will have to do it on the road, where they have not played their best football.  Even though the Falcons had a fantastic season, the core of their team has yet to prove themselves in the playoff atmosphere.  Quarterback Matt Ryan is a MVP candidate but his playoff resume is lacking.  Like I said before in their matchup against Detroit, the Seahawks are a proven playoff team and that’s why I’m picking them over Atlanta.

Prediction: Seattle 28, Atlanta 20

TylerOn paper this looks like a very intriguing matchup. I fully expect it to be. But if I had to pick a surprise game of the week this would be it. I would not be surprised at all if this ended up like the game in Green Bay did last week. Seattle has not been as good on the road and has not played well recently compared to early in the season. Atlanta on the other hand has been playing very well all season long. Some are considering the 2016 Atlanta offense to be one of the best units ever. They have a great balance of run and pass with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman. Seattle’s defense is going to have their hands full trying to contain everyone. Atlanta’s defense is exploitable but Vic Beasley led the league in sacks this season (15.5). Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense will need to play one of their better games of the season to win this one. This is another game where a coach will be facing a former team. Dan Quinn, Falcon’s head coach, was the Seahawks defensive coordinator from 2013-2014. Expect Atlanta to come out healthy and firing on all cylinders.

Prediction: Atlanta 38, Seattle 30

AFC: Houston (9-7) @ New England (14-2) – 8:15 pm – CBS

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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a record of 22-9 in the playoffs.  Source: Steven Senne – Associated Press

JakeLike the rest of the match-ups in divisional weekend, the teams involved in this contest squared off earlier this season. In a week 3 Thursday Night Football game, the Tom Brady-less Patriots shut-out the Texans 27-0 in New England.

I think that naming the Texans as 17-point underdogs may be a little generous.

That’s right folks; be sure to make plans on Saturday night, because there is no way that you want to sit down and watch this game. If the Patriots were able to defeat the Texans 27-0 with a third string quarterback, I can only imagine what Tom Brady is going to do to them.

Yes, Houston may have the #1 defense in the NFL in terms of yards given up per game. Yes, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien was on New England’s coaching staff from 2007-2011 and knows Brady & Belichick well. But guess what, it does not matter.

The Patriots have Brady, the best quarterback in NFL History. Brock Osweiler stands no chance against the minds of Brady and Belichick. Let me make myself clear when I say that the Texans have no chance of winning this game. If you think they do, you’re lying to yourself.

Prediction: New England 31, Houston 13

Nolan: This one is being laughed off by everyone.  They say there is no way that Brady and Belichick lose to Houston at home. That’s fine, but why are we ignoring the fact that the Texans have the best defense in the league? I have confidence that Houston’s defense can force Brady into some mistakes.  The question is, can Osweiler and the offense capitalize on these mistakes? This is where my confidence runs out. Brock Osweiler is going to hold Houston back on Saturday. At the end of the day I’m picking the Pats for obvious reasons but don’t ignore the Texans strengths.

Prediction: New England 29, Houston 14

Tyler: This is definitely the easiest game to pick this week, as the other three should be great games. These two teams met earlier this season with New England winning without Tom Brady. Most people will expect a blowout but don’t be so certain. Bill O’Brien used to coach under Bill Belichick and worked directly with Tom Brady for years. I guarantee that the Houston players will want to win this one to not only shut everyone up, but to help themselves in their quest for the first championship in franchise history, and to get O’Brien a huge win over his former employer. That being said, trying to win in New England in the playoffs is one of the toughest things to do in sports. Especially when Belichick is given two weeks to heal his team up and prepare. Look for the Patriots to look as good as they have all season.

Prediction: New England 38, Houston 17

Sunday January 15

AFC: Pittsburgh (11-5) @ Kansas City (12-4) – 1:05 pm – NBC

UPDATE: Game moved to 8:20 pm due to weather. 

JakeIn week 4 the Steelers blew past the Chiefs 43-14 on Sunday Night Football in Pittsburgh. This time around the black & yellow will travel to perhaps the toughest place to play in the NFL – Arrowhead Stadium against a Chiefs team that has gone 22-4 since week 7 of the 2015 season.

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Source: Robert Deutsch – USA Today

Here is another interesting statistic for you – in his years coaching the Eagles and Chiefs, head coach Andy Reid has gone 16-2 after a bye week, and 3-0 in playoff games where Reid’s team had an extra week to get ready. However, before last year, the last time that the Chiefs won a playoff game was 1993. Reid’s first playoff appearance with Kansas City was a loss; an away game in Indianapolis.

The Steelers are red-hot after blowing out the Dolphins 30-12 in Wild Card weekend; their eighth straight win. Antonio Brown scored two touchdowns and Le’Veon Bell ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns. The trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown is perhaps the best in football, and they are catching fire at the right time.

This game is very tough to predict. I think it will come down to who makes the most plays on the offensive side of the ball. With that being said, I trust the Steelers to be able to do that. But, I would not be shocked if the Chiefs won in their home stadium on bye week rest.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Kansas City 24

NolanThe Steelers are playing their best football of the year at the perfect time.  Their three B’s to success (Ben, Brown, and Bell) continue to be the difference makers week after week.  This Sunday they will be traveling into a hostile environment as they take on the Kansas City Chiefs. Earlier this year, the two teams played in Pittsburgh where the Steelers dominated for a 43-14 victory. If Alex smith can put together some long drives and keep the Steelers on the sideline they can win this one. The only problem is that the Steelers have shown they only need 50 – 60 seconds to put together a touchdown drive, thus making the time of possession somewhat irrelevant.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Kansas City 20

TylerIf you like defensive battles this is the game for you. I believe this will be the lowest scoring game of the weekend. Kansas City has a very strong defense and an intimidating home field advantage. Pittsburgh WILL NOT back down though. I promise you that. Pittsburgh’s defense looked very strong last week in their win against Miami while their offense picked up where they left off in the regular season. I think it is very possible we see another long touchdown from Antonio Brown this week as well as a strong day from Le’Veon Bell. The ultimate downfall for Pittsburgh will be Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles on the road. Ben has not been very good this year away from Heinz Field and Kansas City’s defense is top notch. They WILL take advantage of any mistakes Ben may and will make. The slow and methodical nature of Kansas City’s offense will also keep Ben’s opportunities to a minimum.

Prediction: Kansas City 20, Pittsburgh 13

NFC: Green Bay (10-6) @ Dallas (13-3) – 4:40 pm – Fox

JakeBack in week 6 at Lambeau Field the Cowboys defeated the Packers 30-16 during their 11-game winning streak. This time around, Aaron Rodgers returns to Jerry World, the same place where he won Super Bowl 45. On the other sideline, two Dallas Rookies will be making their first playoff appearances – quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Rodgers is playing out of his mind. In the Wild Card game last weekend against the Giants Rodgers threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns, including a ridiculous hail mary at the end of the first half. Most of this was done without star receiver Jordy Nelson, who left the game early with a rib injury and spent the night in a local hospital. Nelson is likely to miss this game, but it should be noted that Dallas’s secondary is nothing to write home about.

When the Packers were 4-6, the national & local media was blasting Rodgers. That appears to be a long-forgotten memory, as Rodgers is again showing why he is the best thrower of the football that the NFL has ever seen.

I am intrigued to see how the two big rookies on the Cowboys play in their first playoff game. Prescott and Elliott have put together MVP-caliber seasons, but we will see how good they play in crunch time against a Packers team that has Rodgers at the helm.

I picked against Rodgers last week, and I learned my lesson. The Cowboys are a much better team than the Giants, but I cannot pick against Rodgers again.

Prediction: Green Bay 34, Dallas 28

NolanMuch like the Steelers, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers in particular are red hot right now. I’m viewing this game in the same light as the Seahawks and Falcons game. I praised Seattle for being a battle tested team and I can certainly say the same about Green Bay.  The Cowboys had an amazing season and are by no means an underdog but I have trouble putting a lot of confidence in rookies like Prescott and Elliot when it comes to the playoffs. My only issue with Green Bay was their lackluster defense but they handled the Giants very well and are looking more like a complete team capable of a Super bowl run.

Prediction: Green Bay 35, Dallas 24

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Rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot are being relied on to get Dallas to the NFC championship for the first time in 20 years.  Source: CBS Sports

TylerIn my opinion this is probably the toughest game to pick this weekend. Dallas has looked extremely good all season when playing their starters against any team not named the Giants. The Packers are on an extreme tear right now after completely dismantling the Giants last week in Green Bay. The Packers will most likely be playing without Jordy Nelson this week after he broke his ribs last week. The key for Dallas will definitely be establishing Zeke Elliott early. If they can control the clock and sustain long drives to keep Rodgers off the field they have a very good chance of winning. Green Bay has been very good against the run this year but I believe this stat to be misleading. I think they are at the top of league in this category because most teams don’t even try to run on them due to their subpar pass defense. Their pass defense has been much better as of late and I think it will be able to confuse the rookie Dak Prescott. They did a great job of this last week to Eli Manning. Rodgers will have another great game but I think the Packers defense will win them the game this week.

Prediction: Green Bay 34, Dallas 30

Richard Sherman needs to get over himself

SEATTLE, WA – As the Seahawks prepare for their Wild Card game against the Detroit Lions on Saturday night, local Seattle media will be at the team’s facilities looking to report the latest buzz surrounding the team. NFL players all around the league typically speak to the media on a regularly-scheduled day during the week, but this week Seattle corner-back Richard Sherman is declining to talk to local reporters.

According to an article written by Seattle Times reporter Bob Condotta, Sherman declined a request to talk to local reporters before the team’s Wednesday practice. Sherman said that he would instead only talk to ESPN reporter Ed Werder, a well-known personality from the WorldWide Leader in Sports. Sherman said that he would talk to Werder and do the rest of his talking through social media.

“[Me and Ed] have a good rapport,” Sherman said.

The only exception to this was that Sherman said that he would talk to Liz Mathews of ESPN 710 Seattle through text, but only because she was the only local reporter who had not made Sherman mad recently. Apparently last week Sherman had said in his press conference that reporters would “miss him when he’s gone,” in reference to how the media has upset him recently.

Two weeks ago, Sherman told Jim Moore of ESPN 710 Seattle that he would “ruin his career” by having his credential revoked.

Sherman is one of the more outspoken players in the NFL, and he has not been afraid to let his voice be heard. On several occasions he has criticized both the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell. Sherman’s negative comments about Thursday Night Football are well known, and he is a regular writer for The Player’s Tribune.

Although I have agreed with a lot of what Sherman has said and done in the past, I have a problem with him now.

First off, who the hell does he think he is? As someone who is aspiring to become a sports reporter, interviewing players is a dream of mine. Breaking into this industry is very challenging, and you have to be good at what you do. You have to earn it if you want to be in this business.

Speaking to the media is a part of any professional athlete’s job. When players talk to reporters, they have to approach it a certain way. When a player is asked to speak to the media, that player is representing themselves, the team and the organization. Not just any player gets to talk to the media on a regular basis; only those who play regularly that the coach trusts.

I get it, talking to the media is annoying for athletes. I’m sure that players and coaches would rather be doing a number of things before talking to us pesky reporters. However, just as there is in any entertainment or political event, there will be reporters there to get a message out to those who are interested in that particular topic. We are there to get information out, and we need people within that event to help tell the story.

With that point, players and coaches on sports teams often get annoyed at the media for how we frame questions. Oftentimes there are pieces of information that a coach or player does not want to get leaked out and the media will ask about it. Other times there are bad things that happen within a team, and players & coaches do not want to talk about it. Listen – we know that 95% of the information players and coaches know will never get leaked to the media. I cannot tell you how many press conferences I have watched where a player talks for five minutes without actually saying anything noteworthy. It does not change the fact that the questions we ask still need to be asked because the team’s fans & followers want to know the details.

We are the voice for the fans. We are there to get the information out. It’s our job.

If I am a member of the Seattle media that Sherman is refusing to talk to, I have a problem with Sherman. If I am a Seahawks player continuing to talk to the media while Sherman sits on Twitter instead of talking to reporters, I have a problem with him. If I’m Pete Carroll – I tell Sherman to get over himself and talk to the damn reporters for five minutes. Sherman gets paid millions of dollars to do his job (and he does a very good job of doing it), and part of that job is to be the voice of the team.

To Richard Sherman, I say that if a reporter asks you a stupid question, smile and say that you do not want to answer that question. It’s not that hard. If other players and coaches in every sport do it, why can’t you?

I have the answer to that question – your ego is spiraling out of control.

If Sherman wants to stare at a screen to answer the questions people on Twitter have, great. More power to him. However, this is a bad look and is a slap in the face to not only the Seattle media, but to Seahawks fans as well. Sherman has now crossed a line with the local Seattle media, and I doubt that any member of that group will ever respect him again.