Podcast: Nolan and Jake react to Super Bowl 52, latest Ravens news, and latest Terps loss

Welcome to the latest episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast! On today’s show, Nolan McGraw and Jake McDonnell break down a number of topics, including:

  1. Superbowl 52: Well-deserved for Philadelphia, the empire crumbles, and discussion on the strange McDaniels / Colts saga
  2. Reaction to last Friday’s ‘State of the Ravens’ press conference with Mr. Bisciotti (including the Ozzie Newsome / Eric DeCosta transition), and Ray Lewis’s election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018
  3. The Terps’ tough 74-70 loss to Penn State on Wednesday night

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Super Bowl 52 Preview

On Sunday, Feb. 4, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots will face off in the 52’nd installment of the Super Bowl from Mall of America Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Let’s waste no time and break down the game, featuring insight from Charm City Bird Watch owner Jake McDonnell, along with authors Nolan McGraw, Tyler Feeser, and Vasilios Nikolaou. Each staff writer’s take includes a blurb about the game, followed by their official pick.

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Image Credit: Bleeding Green Nation

Jake: Eagles fans, this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Everyone, including myself, counted you out after Carson Wentz tore his ACL in week 14. After watching Nick Foles struggle during the final two weeks of the regular season, I left the Eagles out for dead. I picked against them in both the divisional round and in the conference championship round, and I ate my words. I am scared to eat my words again, especially since I go to school in central-eastern Pennsylvania.

If I sat down and just looked at the rosters, the Eagles would be the easy pick. Despite losing Wentz, Jason Peters, and others, their roster is loaded with talent at almost every position. Philly’s roster was deep at the start of the season. When they’ve lost key pieces due to injury (Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Peters), they’ve made trades or free agent signings to fill the void (Jay Ajayi, Dannell Ellerbee).

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Eagles also have several former Ravens on their roster – Torrey Smith, Corey Graham, Timmy Jernigan, and Ellerbee (Lawrence Guy is the fifth former Raven in this game, except he’s on the other sideline with the Patriots). This, combined with the hatred shared between the Ravens and Patriots, is causing most Ravens fans to root for the Eagles, along with the rest of America minus the New England / Boston area. I would like to point out that should New England emerge victorious on Sunday, they will tie the Steelers for the most Super Bowl championships with six.

Going back to the matchups, clearly the Eagles are the more talented team. You could make the argument that if Wentz was playing in this game, the Eagles would win easily. I’m hesitant to think that they would, because Wentz aside, the Eagles still have to play the greatest coach and the greatest quarterback of all time. The tandem of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will make their eighth career Super Bowl appearance with the Patriots, winners of five of their seven attempts. This is the third time in four years that the Patriots will compete in the Super Bowl, giving them the clear experience advantage.

There are some other small factors that play into the Patriots’ favor, too. Both teams are used to playing outdoors. The Super Bowl will be played indoors. Keep in mind that Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots, is a turf surface, like Mall of America Stadium. The Eagles play on grass at Lincoln Financial Field. 12 of the last 13 Super Bowl champions won while wearing their white jerseys. The Patriots will wear white on Sunday. Although I do not believe in conspiracy theories, many people will claim that the referees will favor the Patriots in this game too. I know that a lot of what I said in this paragraph could be taken as junk, but minus the point about the officials, it’s all true. Another fact to point out is that Eagles fans will be foaming at the mouth to take over Minnesota, and they will have plenty of fans on-hand at Mall of America Stadium.

As I sit here and type this out, I have no idea who to pick. The easy cop-out would be to pick the Patriots, coached and quarterbacked by the best do ever do it. On the other hand, you have an Eagles team that has dominated all season and has the much better roster. Looking at the most recent results, the Patriots had to come from behind and beat Jacksonville, while the Eagles curb-stomped the Vikings 38-7.

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Image Credit: WCVB-TV

13 years ago in Jacksonville, Adam Vinatieri booted a 22-yard field goal with 8:40 remaining in Super Bowl 39. That kick put the Patriots up 10. Although the Eagles scored a touchdown with just under two minutes left, the Patriots got the ball back and put the game away.

They say what goes around, comes around. That’s what I believe what happens this Sunday. Give me Jake Elliott kicking a field goal with five minutes left to put the Eagles up by 10. New England will threat again, but they will run out of time. The Patriots came out on top on that night in Jacksonville, but the Eagles will win the rematch. They’ve been the better team all season, and I believe they will prove to be just that on Sunday. They’re ready for this.

Pick: Eagles 24, Patriots 21

Nolan: There is no shortage of narratives surrounding this year’s big game. The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles put themselves in the Super Bowl conversation relatively early but their seasons took two completely different paths. On one hand you have a New England team that was pegged to become repeat champions right from the start. The Patriots didn’t have much trouble getting back to the Super Bowl after playing in a weak AFC East division and facing just one of the only two teams in the playoffs that posed a legitimate threat to them.

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Image Credit: Chicago Tribune

The Eagles garnered their own share of attention early in the year and quickly made a name for themselves in a competitive NFC playoff picture. Led by second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, Philadelphia went 11-2 and won nine games in a row while securing a #1 seed. After losing Wentz to a season-ending injury, Philadelphia went from a favorite to a long shot in the eyes of the media. The Eagles were underdogs in both of their playoff matchups and even though that won’t change come Sunday, I don’t think the Eagles fan base would want it any other way at this point.

It’s no secret that I have doubted the Eagles so far in the playoffs. I incorrectly picked them to lose to both the Falcons and Vikings. While I am still skeptical, Philadelphia has shown me that they are truly worthy of being in the Super Bowl. Their game plans against Atlanta and Minnesota were so well-executed that I know the Eagles will not be caught off guard by New England. I also have no doubt that this will be a close contest but the Patriots are probably the most daunting opponent the Eagles have faced all year.

I should have probably learned my lesson by now, but I’m still not picking the Eagles. When a playoff game comes down to crunch time, I will never confidently bet against a Tom Brady-led offense. Between last year’s Super Bowl and this year’s AFC championship game, Brady has shown why he is arguably the greatest of all time. In both of these games, the Patriots put together two great comebacks without their best weapon on the field. Even with a very impressive defense, Philadelphia is going to have their hands full against Rob Gronkowski and Pats offense.

When I pair this with New England’s Super Bowl experience, I have no hesitation picking the Patriots. I’m not saying the Eagles will be intimidated by the big game spotlight, but I know that they cannot be more comfortable than the Patriots who have a roster full of players with at least one Super Bowl under their belt.

Pick: Patriots 34, Eagles 31

Tyler: Philadelphia will once again be playing as the underdog as they try to win their first Super Bowl in team history on Sunday. It is probably a good thing for them as they have been the underdog in each of their previous two postseason games. They love when people doubt them. They don’t lack the confidence that is needed to beat a team like the Patriots. The thing with the Eagles is that they have their confidence under control. They are cocky but know how to control themselves. At the time of me writing this, they haven’t given New England any bulletin board material, which is important.

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Image Credit: Pro Football Rumors

On the field, Philadelphia has the talent, the players, and believe it or not, the coaching to beat New England. But they are going to have to be near perfect (if not perfect) in order to beat them. Two weeks ago the Eagles showed just how dominant they can be on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. They completely dismantled Minnesota’s top-ranked defense. New England doesn’t have near the defensive talent that Minnesota has but New England does have Bill Belichick and two weeks to prepare. Nick Foles will need to play as well as he did against Minnesota if the Eagles want to have a chance. I look for the Eagles coaching staff to continue putting Foles in positions to be successful. The run-pass-options have proven to be effective so far this postseason. I also look for the running game to be established early and often so that Foles isn’t forced to make plays and potentially mistakes.

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Image Credit: Pro Football Rumors

Defensively, the Eagles have the pass rush to get pressure on Tom Brady. I also think they have the front seven to be able to neutralize the running game of the Patriots. The difficult thing for the Eagles will be stopping Rob Gronkowski and the entire Patriots passing game. I don’t know if they have anyone that can match up with Gronkowski and keep him neutralized. The pass rush could get to Brady enough that it helps out the secondary on the outside. Stopping Gronkowski is going to be the key for the Eagles in this game. If they can do that even a little they will be fine. If they can’t stop him, that will be the deciding factor in the game.

Ultimately, I think Foles shuts his doubters up one last time and leads the Eagles to a championship. He will win the Super Bowl MVP award as well. Jake Elliott kicks a game-winning field goal after Foles drives them down the field and into field goal range.

Pick: Eagles 27, Patriots 24

Vasilios: It’s that time of year folks, where companies shell out millions of dollars for a 30-second commercial spot and some people care more about those than the game. But for us sports-inclined folks, we are about to watch a Super Bowl rematch from 13 years ago where the quarterback for the Eagles at that time was Donovan McNabb. Not much has changed for the Patriots, besides switching automatic kickers Adam Vinatieri for Stephen Gostkowski, and a new cast of role players. From Super Bowl 39 until now, arguably the best head coach/quarterback duo in history in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady continues to stand the test of time.

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Image Credit: The Seattle Times

The Eagles are the consummate underdog, as evidenced by the German Shepherd mask donned by several Eagles players after their wins against the Falcons and Vikings. That defense is suffocating, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are absolute monsters off the ball and rookie end Derek Barnett is no slouch either. But the spotlight rests on the biggest enigma on the Eagles roster, Nick Foles. After taking over for Carson Wentz in week 14, he has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in recent history, matched only by Brady in that span.

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Image Credit: New England Patriots

But if I recall correctly, Brady usurped the job from his predecessor, Drew Bledsoe, and went on to win a Super Bowl that same year against The Greatest Show On Turf led by Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. I’m not saying that Foles’ career will follow the same unique path, but damn, Foles has the chance to “Tom Brady” Tom Brady.

Eagles win a tightly contested game and hand Brady and the Pats their third Super Bowl loss to an NFC East team.

Pick: Eagles 21, Patriots 17

Super Bowl LII broadcast information:

Kickoff: 6:30 pm

Channel: NBC

Commentators: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

Head Referee: Gene Steratore

Halftime show: Justin Timberlake

Image Credit: NFL.com

NFL Conference Championship Weekend Breakdown

This weekend, we will find out who is going to compete in Super Bowl 52. After a crazy divisional round with upsets and walk-offs, four teams remain in the quest for a Lombardi Trophy. For this special post on Charm City Bird Watch, we will break down the AFC Championship and the NFC Championship. Our preview for each contest includes a quick blurb and a score prediction from founder Jake McDonnell, along with contributors Nolan McGraw and Tyler Feeser. Both games take place this Sunday, Jan. 21.

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Image Credit: WBUR

AFC Championship – #3 Jacksonville Jaguars @ #1 New England Patriots – 3:05 pm – CBS

Jake: If you picked the Jacksonville Jaguars to compete in the AFC Championship game before the season began, hats off. After shocking the world by defeating the Steelers last week, the Jags look to do the same this Sunday in Foxboro. If they do, they’ll embark on what would be the franchise’s first trip to a Super Bowl.

On the other side, the Patriots look to reach the eighth Super Bowl appearance for quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. Just like usual for the Patriots, there is some drama surrounding the team this week. According to reports, Brady jammed his throwing hand during a team practice held on Wednesday. The injury kept Brady out of practice on Thursday. That’s definitely something to monitor over the next few days.

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I pointed this out on the Ebony Bird podcast this week, and I originally heard it while listening to the Simms and Lefkoe Podcast, but over the summer the Jaguars and the Patriots held a few joint practices together before their preseason game on Aug. 10. We all know the schemer Belichick is. Something tells me that Belichick knew the talent on Jacksonville’s roster was good enough to get them into the playoffs. Belichick probably got what he wanted when the Jags scrimmaged the Patriots. It allowed Belichick to see what Jacksonville does well and what they do not to well on both sides of the football. Imagine what these joint practices, along with 18 games of Jags film to watch, will do for Belichick this week.

Pick: Patriots 27, Jaguars 20

Nolan: I had a gut feeling about Jacksonville victory last week and it came true. The Jaguars improved upon their wildcard game against the Buffalo Bills and did exactly what they were supposed to. Leonard Fournette had a great game and Blake Bortles was smart with the ball. This allowed the defense to play without any hesitation and forced the Steelers to play from behind. Even though the Jaguars defense was successful on Sunday, they still allowed Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 469 yards and five touchdowns. Unlike the Steelers, New England will not be overlooking the Jaguars and I don’t expect them to be in a situation where they are down by three scores.

This one is going to come down to a few key drives late in the game. Jacksonville contained a talented Steelers offense and forced some very timely turnovers but will they have an answer for Rob Gronkowski? On top of this, I’m not entirely convinced that Bortles can have another mistake free game. Even if he has another clean game, does he have what it takes to win if this game turns into a shootout? Jacksonville’s run has been a lot of fun to watch but I really can’t bet against the Patriots in this one.

Pick: Patriots 30, Jaguars 23

Tyler: This is the matchup that everyone outside of New England was hoping for. The Jaguars defense vs Tom Brady and Patriots offense. Is this the defense that can slow Brady down? Is this the defense that can take him down completely and knock the Patriots out of the playoffs? The short answer is no.

The Jaguars defense has been dominant this season. There is no denying that. They are vulnerable though. See the Steelers game last week, the 49ers game, and the Rams game. Don’t think for one second that Brady, McDaniels, and Belichick won’t come in knowing exactly how to exploit this Jaguars defense. I expect the Patriots running backs and Rob Gronkowski to all have big games catching the ball.

Lets not lose sight of the fact that Jacksonville can get pressure on the quarterback. They will get to Brady and we could see 🚨ANGRY BRADY🚨 come out on Sunday. The Jaguars defense is somewhat similar to the Ravens and Giants defenses that historically give Brady fits. Lets also not forget that Tom Coughlin, who seems to have the Patriots number, is now with the Jaguars.

From the Jaguars offense perspective, I think Blake Bortles will continue to make a few plays here and there. His confidence is carrying him right now and that is what the Jags need. Leonard Fournette will be getting the same treatment Derrick Henry got last week. The Patriots defense will be selling out to stop him because he is the best player on the opposing offense. That will force Bortles to make plays if the Jaguars want to win. Can he outperform the future hall of famer? We will find out.

Pick: Patriots 34, Jaguars 24

usa_today_9627739.jpgImage Credit: Behind the Steel Curtain NFC Championship – #2 Minnesota Vikings @ #1 Philadelphia Eagles – 6:40 pm – FOXJake: Like I said about the Jaguars playing in the AFC Championship, if before the season you predicted a Nick Foles/Case Keenum dual in the NFC Championship, let me know so I can buy you a beer sometime soon. I’ll admit, I was in the wrong picking the Falcons last week. Jim Schwartz had his defense playing lights out, forcing Matt Ryan into several bad decisions. They attacked Atlanta’s weaknesses and limited the reigning NFC Champions to 10 points. On the following afternoon, it was Keenum and Stefan Diggs connecting on a walk-off 61-yard touchdown that is now being deemed “The Minneapolis Miracle.” No matter if it’s Vikings fans crying tears of joy after so many heartbreaking playoff losses, or Eagles fans riding the coattails of Foles, there’s a lot of emotion going into this game.

Both teams quickly became Super Bowl favorites early in the season, and the Vikings even have a chance to become the first team in NFL history to compete in a Super Bowl at their home stadium. I believe that we will see that happen, because I’m picking the Vikings this weekend. Foles and company did just enough to get by last week against an above-average, but not great, Falcons defense. The Vikings finished the regular season with the top-ranked defense in yards allowed. Their numbers have slipped lately, but I think they’ll handle whatever the Eagles throw at them.

Just like the Falcons, the Vikings are used to playing in a dome, which scares me. However, I’m going with Minnesota in a nail-biter.

Pick: Vikings 24, Eagles 21

Nolan: I was wrong about Philadelphia’s defense last week. They controlled the game against Atlanta and even when the Falcons were threatening at the very end, Philly stood their ground and got a huge red-zone stop. However, they will have their hands full again this week as the Vikings come to town. Minnesota has prided itself on their defense this year but also showed that they can trade punches with a high-octane offensive team like the Saints. Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu gave the Eagles some trouble last week and I expect Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs to do the same.

I think it will be harder for Nick Foles and the Eagles offense to stay clean against the Vikings defense. Philadelphia fumbled the ball four times against Atlanta but only lost two of them. They overcame these turnovers last week, but the Vikings defense will not be as forgiving as Atlanta’s. While I acknowledge that the Eagles have a good defense, I am still not sold on Foles and his ability to put points on the board. He was smart with the ball last week but only led the offense to one touchdown drive. I don’t care how good the Eagles defense is, Foles has to start scoring if the Eagles are going to make the Super Bowl.

Pick: Vikings 24, Eagles 14

Tyler: One way or another, I feel like this game is being underappreciated. Everyone is underestimating and, to be honest, flat out disrespecting Philadelphia. Many people believe that last week’s game between Minnesota and New Orleans should have been the NFC Championship game. But realistically, the Saints got dominated in the first half and only led that game for about two minutes. The second half was great but the only reason people will remember the game is because of the ending. I’m not trying to trash that game, but lets give Philadelphia some credit for getting here when nobody expected them to.

I am really looking forward to this game. Many people may expect this game to be boring due to both teams boasting great defenses that could potentially take over the game. I for one am looking forward to watching a game like this. I enjoy watching games like the one in Pittsburgh last week, but something about this matchup has me drawn in.

Last week, Philadelphia showed that they love the underdog role, which they will be in again on Sunday. The stadium will be rocking and the defense will feed off the atmosphere. The top-ranked rush defense will shut down the Vikings running game and force Case Keenum to make plays himself. The Eagles secondary will have to have a great game against one of the better receiving corps that they faced all season. If the Eagles’ pass rush can get pressure on Keenum that would help out the secondary tremendously.

Minnesota’s defense, from top to bottom, is even more impressive than Philadelphia’s. I don’t expect the Eagles running game to have much success. The key for the Eagles offense is going to be Foles not turning the ball over. If he can’t do that I don’t think the Eagles will stand much of a chance. If he doesn’t turn the ball over this one will come down to wire and be very low scoring.

Pick: Eagles 13, Vikings 10

NFL Divisional Weekend Breakdown

The Divisional round of the NFL playoffs is often referred to as the best weekend on the pro football calendar. This weekend, eight teams will try to make the Divisional round live up to it’s name with four playoff matchups. In this special post on Charm City Bird Watch, we will break down each matchup. Each game includes a 100-word blurb and a score prediction from founder Jake McDonnell, and contributors Nolan McGraw, Tyler Feeser, and Vasilios Nikolaou.

Saturday, Jan. 13

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Image Credit: Atlanta Falcons 

NFC: #6 Atlanta Falcons @ #1 Philadephia Eagles – 4:35 pm – NBC

Jake: Just a few short weeks ago, the Philadelphia Eagles were the clear-cut favorite in the NFC to reach Super Bowl 52. Without their potential MVP-caliber franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz, the Eagles are left with Nick Foles, and the #6-seeded Falcons are actually favored.

The end of Philadelphia’s regular season left a lot to be desired, whereas the Falcons clinched a playoff berth by beating the Carolina Panthers. Atlanta followed that up with an impressive Wild Card win on the road against the Rams. I originally picked the Rams to win that game, but switched to Atlanta heavily due to the battle-tested experience of Dan Quinn, Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones. I am using that same narrative this week to pick Atlanta. Their experience will outplay, outthink, and outlast the experiences of Doug Pederson, Foles, and company.

Pick: Falcons 27, Eagles 16

Nolan: Despite finishing with one of the best records in the NFL and getting a first round bye, things are looking not so sunny in Philadelphia right now. The Eagles will be three-point underdogs this Saturday when they host Atlanta, mainly due to the loss of Carson Wentz. Since losing their star quarterback, the Eagles have averaged just 17.6 points per game while playing teams with a combined 18-30 record. I don’t see the Eagles defense stepping up and controlling the tempo of the game, which means 17 points will not be enough to beat Atlanta. Matt Ryan and the Falcons are heating up at the right time and should have no trouble taking the Eagles down.

Pick: Falcons 27, Eagles 16

Tyler: Like most people, I underestimated the Falcons this past week. They looked very good while taking down the NFC West Champion Rams. They don’t quite look as dominant as they did during last season’s Super Bowl run but they are hot and that is all that matters.

Now, the Falcons travel to Philadelphia and take on the #1-seeded Eagles. The Eagles are obviously without Carson Wentz, which helps the Falcons tremendously. Since Nick Foles has taken over at QB, he has only played well in one game. That’s not to say he has played terribly either. He has thrown two interceptions in roughly two and a half games compared to five touchdown passes. With the way the Falcons offense is clicking right now, Foles is going to have to be more than just a game manager for the Eagles. He is going to need to put up points. Will he be able to against the defense that just held the league’s highest scoring offense to 13 points? I don’t think he can.

Matt Ryan and the Falcons are proving that their playoff experience and confidence is carrying them right now and I look for them to continue it into conference championship weekend.

Pick: Falcons 20, Eagles 16

Vasilios: Atlanta absolutely stunned the top-scoring offense in the NFL last week in the Rams, and all of a sudden they regained their composure from last year’s playoff run. It seemed the old Falcons were back. Last week was the first road playoff victory of Matt Ryan’s career and he will look to make it two consecutive weeks against the Eagles. The Eagles finished as the #1 seed even after the devastating loss of sophomore phenom Carson Wentz. Nick Foles will be under center and the loaded RB stable will be relied on heavily. Eagles are most likely to be one and done.

Pick: Falcons 24, Eagles 10

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Image Credit: WBUR

AFC: #5 Tennessee Titans @ #1 New England Patriots -8:15 pm – CBS

Jake: Last week the Tennessee Titans shocked the world when they marched into Kansas City, scored 19 unanswered points, and won their first playoff game in 13 years. Marcus Mariota looked like the franchise quarterback that the Titans drafted him to be, throwing touchdowns to himself and leading the Titans back from an 18-point deficit.

The Titans’ playoff party will end on Saturday in New England. Despite what may or may not come out of the Patriots rumors that recently came to light, the Patriots cannot be pleased with this latest distraction. Even if the relationship between Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady is at a stand-still right now, they’ll want to prove that they’re as strong as ever. This game has blowout written all over it.

Pick: Patriots 34, Titans 13

Nolan: For the second year in a row, New England will be facing a pushover team in the divisional round. Last year the Patriots defeated a very weak Houston Texans team and now they look for their seventh straight trip to the AFC championship as the Titans come to town. I doubted Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense coming into the playoffs but they really showed a lot of poise in their comeback against Kansas City. If Tennessee is going to pick up another upset, they have to be perfect. Anything is possible, but you would be a fool to bet against New England here.

Pick: Patriots 30, Titans 17 

Tyler: This game is not appealing. It’s football so it’s better than nothing but for a divisional round matchup it leaves a lot to be desired. I know I trashed the Titans last week and said that they weren’t a traditional playoff team and that they were helped out by a weak AFC conference. That is still all true. If anything, last week’s game against the Chiefs speaks volumes about how weak the AFC is. This week they will are in for a much bigger test.

Don’t let week one convince you that Kansas City is a better team than New England. They were back then, but now New England would embarrass Kansas City. Bill Belichick will always take away the opposing team’s best option on offense, which this week is clearly Derrick Henry. Look for Henry to be bottled up most of the afternoon. The Patriots are going to force Marcus Mariota to beat them and I don’t think he can do that. Even if he can sustain a few drives here and there, I see no way that he can keep pace with Tom Brady and the Patriots offense on the other side.

Pick: Patriots 34 Titans 20

Vasilios: Tennessee had an impressive win last week against the Chiefs that almost no one saw coming. I still hold true to my take that the Titans are the weakest team talent-wise in the playoffs. Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariota made it look easy in last week’s second half, but Tom Brady and the Patriots will surely crush the Titans. The Patriots are the most vulnerable they’ve been in years. The Titans will go step for step in the first quarter, but after that, it’s just a formality.

Pick: Patriots 27, Titans 17

Sunday, Jan. 14

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Image Credit: Steel City Blitz

AFC: #3 Jacksonville Jaguars @ #2 Pittsburgh Steelers – 1:05 pm – CBS

Jake: In October, the Jaguars picked off Ben Roethlisberger five times and handed the Steelers a 30-9 loss. What people forget about that game is how well the Steelers defense played against Jacksonville’s offense. Two of Jacksonville’s four touchdowns were scored on defense, and Leonard Fournette broke free for a 90-yard score in garbage time. If we took away that 90-yared run, Fournette was limited to 91 yards on 27 carries (3.37 yards-per-carry). Blake Bortles threw for just 95 yards on eight completions with an interception.

Jacksonville’s defense won that game for the Jags, plain and simple. Is their defense capable of doing that again? Sure, but that won’t happen in Pittsburgh in January. Yes, Antonio Brown will not be 100% coming back from that calf injury, but against Jalen Ramsey, how effective would he be anyway? Look for a Steelers win off a big day from Le’Veon Bell, as well as some help from JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant.

Pick: Steelers 20, Jaguars 13

Nolan: The Jaguars escaped their Wild Card game against Buffalo with a 10-3 win thanks to a stout performance by their defense. Many are already counting them out against Pittsburgh but that is simply foolish. I am fully aware that Blake Bortles only collected 87 yards on Sunday but when the Jaguars laid the smackdown on the Steelers earlier this year, Bortles had just 95 yards and no touchdowns. An effective defense and heavy rushing attack was good enough to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh 30-9. Bortles is just a few adjustments away from making this team complete in my opinion. I expect the Jags to walk into Pittsburgh on Sunday and play like they have nothing to lose.

Pick: Jaguars 27, Steelers 24

Tyler: Up until Sunday I had this game as a toss up. I was really considering picking the Jaguars. I thought they had the team to potentially knock off the Steelers and the Patriots. After watching the sad excuse for an offense that the Jaguars rolled out on Sunday I don’t think they have what it takes. Their defense is still championship-caliber and they will give the Steelers problems on Sunday.

One thing that the Steelers can learn from the Bills is that running the ball is the way to beat Jacksonville. The Bills were effective with a banged up LeSean McCoy on Sunday. The Steelers should be more effective with a fully healthy and rested Le’Veon Bell. When they do need to pass, Ben Roethlisberger is a much better option than Tyrod Taylor as well. I expect the Steelers defense to sell out, to stopping Leonard Fournette just like the Bills did. This will force Blake Bortles to beat them. I expect more than 13 points to be scored this week but I still expect a relatively low-scoring, defensive game.

Pick: Steelers 23 Jaguars 13

Vasilios: The Jaguars defense was very impressive last week as they held the Bills to a measly three points. Blake Bortles on the other hand, did all of his damage with his legs, as he compiled 88 rushing yards and only 87 passing yards. The Jaguars offense looked inept and the defense should and will be their saving grace in this playoff run. They beat the Steelers earlier this season and Big Ben threw 5 interceptions. I think they replicate that success, especially without Antonio Brown at full strength for Pittsburgh.

Pick: Jaguars 20, Steelers 17

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Image Credit: Minnesota Vikings 

NFC: #4 New Orleans Saints @ #2 Minnesota Vikings – 4:40 pm – FOX

Jake: From a football standpoint, this is clearly the best game on this weekend’s schedule. There are so many exciting young players on both teams that have made their units among the best in football.

Seeing the top-ranked Saints offense battle the #1-rated Vikings defense is going to be a treat. For New Orleans, running backs Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara are the first running back duo in history to record 1,500 yards from scrimmage in a season. Second-year receiver Michael Thomas ranks sixth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,245). For Minnesota, linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Everson Griffen, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes are some of the best in the business and were all named to the Pro Bowl.

Going back to the experience factor, it will be interesting to see how longtime journeyman quarterback Case Keenum fairs in his first career playoff start. Keenum has several receiving weapons in Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, and Adam Thielen that will go up against the likes of stud rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

I know many people, including myself, want to see the Vikings be the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium, but I have to go Saints here. Drew Brees plays particularly well indoors, and I think that him and Sean Payton will find a way to win. I see Keenum making a late-game mistake to seal it for New Orleans.

Pick: Saints 24, Vikings 21

Nolan: I had high hopes for the Vikings coming into the playoffs but the Saints are probably the last team they want to face in their first divisional game since 2009. These two teams opened up the season against each other and Minnesota came out on top 29-19. This rematch should be just as exciting since the Saints have a highly explosive offense and the Vikings have one of the best defenses in the league. If there is one team that can keep Drew Brees and New Orleans in check, it’s probably the Vikings. None the less, this game is hard to predict but I am rolling with Minnesota and their 7-1 home record.

Pick: Vikings 24, Saints 23

Tyler: On Sunday Minnesota will try to become the first Super Bowl-hosting team to make it to a conference championship game. The Saints looked good last week even with the inability to run the ball. Like I stated last week, Drew Brees still has it. If defenses key on the run game, Brees will just beat them through the air. This week will be a little different as Minnesota boasts a better defense than Carolina does and the Saints will be on the Road.

These two teams met all the way back in week one in Minnesota with the Vikings winning 29-19. They are much different than they were roughly 19 weeks ago. I think this game could be surprisingly high scoring even with the two stout defenses. The key to this game is going to be Case Keenum. If he can continue to play the way he has and not turn the ball over, the Vikings will be in good shape. If Keenum doesn’t protect the ball it’s game over and season over for the Vikings.

Pick: Saints 28 Vikings 24

Vasilios: These teams faced each other in week 1 and things couldn’t have looked more different back then. The Saints had a narrow victory against the Panthers last week in which the offense exploded. Defensively, rookie sensation Marshon Lattimore had his best game as a pro. This will be a tougher test. Vikings are at home, they have the best defense in the NFC this year and Case Keenum is playing lights-out football. Everyone is on the edge of their seat to wait and see if Keenum will revert back to the quarterback that bounced around to several different teams early in his career. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs will be huge factors in this game. They are the best receiving tandem Atlanta will face in the playoffs.

Pick: Vikings 28, Saints 21

Podcast: Vasilios and Jake dive into the NFL Divisional Playoffs, Martindale promotion, and latest Terps buzz

On the latest episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast, reporter Vasilios Nikolaou joins owner Jake McDonnell for a half-hour of sports talk.

A few days before the NFL Divisional round, the guys break down the key things to watch for during “the best football weekend” on the NFL calendar.

On Monday, we heard Nolan‘s take on the recent rumors surrounding the brass of the New England Patriots. How does Vasilios feel about this story that is sure to linger into the offseason?

On Tuesday, the Ravens promoted linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale to defensive coordinator. Is this a yay or nay move?

Last up on the podcast is some college hoops talk. Despite departures and injuries to several key players, the Terps look impressive as conference play gets underway. What can we expect to see from this 2017-18 Terps squad? Vasilios and Jake have you covered.

Subscribe to the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud. Check out Vasilios on the LegacyMaker Sports Network as well. Thanks for listening!

Podcast: Nolan and Jake go over the latest on the NFL Playoffs, New England Patriots, and Terps hoops

Welcome to the latest episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast! On today’s show, insider Nolan McGraw joins site founder Jake McDonnell for a half-hour of sports talk.

In the middle of the NFL playoffs, the guys recapped Wild Card weekend and looked ahead to the Divisional round. Nolan and Jake also discussed at length the ESPN story that questioned the relationship between New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick, and quarterback Tom Brady.

Nolan has been all over our Maryland Terps Basketball coverage so far this season. With conference play now underway, how does Nolan feel about the 2017-18 Terps squad?

Subscribe to the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud. Thanks for listening!

Podcast: The McDonnell brothers dissect the NFL playoff picture, week 17 matchups

Welcome to this special Christmas episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast! On this episode, Joey McDonnell, brother of Charm City Bird Watch founder Jake McDonnell, joined the show to break down the NFL playoff picture following week 17.

Subscribe to the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud. Leave a 5-star review on iTunes, we may read it on a future episode! happy Holidays!