Tag Archives: Atlanta Falcons

Red’s 2018 NFL Predictions – NFC South

Today we move on to the NFC South – division which has produced two NFL Champions and a few runners-up.  This is the division of the nouveau teams as there is not a single member that predates the 1960’s.   But last year it was the “NFL Division of Excellence” with three teams advancing to the playoffs.

Atlanta Falcons –  This team was still smarting from the 28-3 letdown against the Patriots in 2016.  Still they had a 10 win season and made it to the divisional round losing in a low-scoring slug fest to the Eagles.  Pretty good for a team that finished in third place in their division.   There are no real surprises for this season.  There will be some changes on the defensive line and some help coming for the secondary.  On offense, new guard Brian Fusco shores up an already very solid line.  Freeman and Coleman are as solid a running back duo as there is in the league.  Jones and Sanu are about the same at wide-out.  Then there is Matty Ice.  Perhaps more than any other team, the Falcons fate rests in the hands of the ball handler. If Ryan returns to 2016 form (or even a close facsimile thereof), the Falcons will be flying high.  The schedule is reasonable favorable with the possible pathetic AFC North and the mediocre NFC East coming up. Atlanta wins this division with an 11-5 record.

New Orleans Saints – First a tip of the gold and black hat to long-time Saints owner and all round bon vivant Tom Benson who died in March at the age of 90.  He tried to buck the image of the No Fun League with his antics – but likely also bears some responsibility for the targeting and injury payola scandal that cost his coach a full season.  Benson also managed to create one of the most loyal fan bases in the entire league.  Red and family were in New Orleans for the OTNA’s home game last season and just about everyone in the city was wearing black and gold in some form or fashion. And just between him and you, Red has no problems with a gold lame miniskirt on the right person.   Red was watching at a local pizza parlor and when the OTNAs went ahead by 15 with just over 3 minutes left, it seemed to be an ugly Sunday night in NO.  But Brees led an incredible comeback to tie the game and the Saints won on a 51 yard FG with about a minute left in OT.  So Red is hesitant to say this is the last hurrah for 39 year-old Drew Brees as he keeps performing at a high level.  And with Ingram and Kamara in the backfield, Brees doesn’t have to do as much.  At this point, only Brady is better at reading defenses and getting his team in the right set.  And then there is this fact which may have slipped your notice  – Michael Thomas’ 196 receptions are the most by anyone in the first two years of an NFL career. Ever.  The Saints’ defense has been retooled over the past two seasons and this season will show whether the pieces are finally fitting together.  As for the schedule, it poses some interesting possibilities. The Saints start with a two consecutive home games against the weaker sisters (Bucs and Browns) and finish with two home games (Stealers and Panthers). That means they are on the road for 8 of 12 weeks in the middle of the season.  The three game road stretch beginning on Nov. 29 may determine the Saints’ playoff fate.  Red thinks the Saints are is still a Wildcard team at 10-6.

Carolina Panthers – Red once believed, but no more.  The 2017 season was tumultuous at best with owner Jerry Richardson firing GM Dave Gettleman weeks before the start of the regular season, followed by his decision to sell the team after facing multiple workplace allegations, including sexual harassment and racial allegations.   The team seemed remarkably unfazed and had a chance to win the division before falling to the Falcons in Week 17.  Still they made the playoffs but cratered lost a high-scoring battle with the Saints and went home.  The offense is probably there, but Red just doesn’t see this defense keeping the Panthers in enough games to keep pace with the Saints or Falcons in 2018.  It comes down to the last three games against the Saints, Falcons and Saints.   Carolina can’t close the deal and goes 9-7 and goes home.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Does Red really have to comment on this team.  Jameis Winston did nothing to show that he is the mythical “franchise quarterback” every team looks for.  So maybe it is a good thing he is suspended for the first three games of the season.   Note to JW:  Hell hath no fury like a female Uber driver groped.  The Bucs pathetic excuse for a defense (last in the NFL in total defense, sacks and third-down percentage) can only be better with the addition of former Eagles tackle Beau Allen and end Vinny Curry.  Whether tired old Jason Pierre-Paul had anything left in the tank is another story.  Running back is a question mark and only Mike Evans is the only true offensive superstar on this squad.  They will improve from last year’s sad 5-11 mark – but not enough.  Tampa Bay is 7-9 material at best.

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Red’s NFL Picks – NFC South

Surprisingly, the NFC South (unlike almost every other division) is actually comprised of teams entirely from the South.  More fun facts to follow.

Falcons. You know how many times Red has picked the Falcons before giving up on them last season. That’s right – a whole shitload. And how did that work out?  And then last season Red finally wakes up picks the Panthers – who decide to suck while the Falcons finally wake up – at least until the second half of the Superb Owl. Take heart Falcons fans, Red can failure pain.  And despite their pathetic performance in Houston, Red is biting on the Falcons. It may be a collapse of judgment to pick this team to win the NFC South, but this fall apart from some questions about a Superb Owl hangover, the Falcons look solid. Choking the list of positives, they have Matty Ice and the same basic offensive crew around him.  Expect lots of bombs and dive plays.  There may be a few questions – suck gas what happens without offensive wiz Kyle Shanahan? And is crack-up quarterback Matt Schaub capable of tanking over if needed? What will their record be?  10-6 or 11-5? Just flop a coin and don’t sink about it too much.   Really, Falcons fans you should stop gripping, just say “Tanks” for a memorable season last year and hope for the bust in 2017.  Atlanta strolls to an 11-5 record.

Buccaneers. The Buccaneers have a decent shot at a Wild Card spot. Their 5 game win streak to close the season almost almost landed them in the playoffs where nobody wanted to face them. They look to have two elite talents in Jameis Winston and Mike Evans. Doug Martin remains a question mark – he is either great or injured with little room in between. Jaquizz Rodgers needs to take over as the Number 1 back. Adding DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard makes this a formidable offensive unit.  On defense, Kwon Alexander put up Defensive ROY numbers in 2015 and improved last season and the rest of the defense looks good enough to win a lot of games.  The Bucs have had trouble finishing off close ones.  Dumping erratic kicker Roberto Aguayo and bringing in Nick Folk may help in that area.  Look for the Tampa Bay to go 10-6 and make it to Wildcard Weekend.

Panthers.  Panthers are a sexy pick to with the NFC South despite their first to worst performance in 2016. Losing six games by 3 points or less will get a bad record. Red thinks the Panthers are sadly headed in the wrong direction as evidenced by the firing of GM Dave Gettleman in July.  Rivera’s job is on the line this season and his best work is not done under pressure.  They do have an easy loser’s schedule and will not be playing with a makeshift O line as in 2016. But lack of a real running game will limit Cam’s options.  CN does improve his woeful 52% completion rate last season, but it would be hard not to.  On the other side the additions of Julius Peppers and Captain Munnerlyn (perhaps Red’s favorite name in all of the NFL) will bolster a defense that distinctly underperformed last year.  Still it is a difficult climb back to the excellence of 2015.  The Panthers make it back a ways, but not a long ways.  Carolina fans can expect an 8-8 record at best.

Saints.  The Saints’ window of opportunity has closed. Not that it was all that wide open anyway with three consecutive 7-9 seasons.  Adding boy-beater Adrian Peterson might help, but probably doesn’t offset losing rising star wideout Brandin Cooks.  Last year Drew Brees refused to look tired and old. The ageless wonder completed  a league-leading 471 of his league-leading 673 attempts for 70% completion rate (who in God’s name completed more than 70% of their passes last season?) for a  league-leading 5208 yards (are you getting the drift here?) and 37 touchdowns!  Imagine what that could have done for a team like say – the hapless Texans.  Even though DB should be tired and old in his by-God 17th NFL season, he again refuses to follow the script and that alone will carry this team a long ways – just not long enough.  Saints cannot score enough points to make up for sadly sagging defense.  New Orleans slumps to 6-10.

Answer:  Sam Bradford completed 71.4% and Matt Ryan completed 70.1% of their attempts to edge out Brees.

 

Red’s NFL Picks – Superb Owl

NFL Picks 2016 – Superb Owl

It’s very hard to imagine how big a deal the Superb Owl is until it comes to your town. Red happened to be in downtown Houston last Thursday night and walked over to Discovery Green.  DG is a wonderful little urban park on the east side of downtown across from the massive George R. Brown Convention Center.  For the Superb Owl, DG, the GRB and the surrounding area have been turned in ground zero for all things NFL and SB in particular.  At 9:30 on a Thursday night more than a week before the game, there were probably 75 workers hard at it.  Fox has built what appears to be a 10,000 sq. ft. temporary studio on the main lawn. There is a massive temporary café/bar, a full concert stage, a huge NASA display, light show in the pond and other attractions.  That doesn’t include the other four square blocks all tented up for music, food, conviviality and possibly lots of drinking.  Or the entire “NFL Experience” set up inside GRB.  There are also massive projections on nearby buildings and of course the mandatory barriers, metal detectors and road closings that accompany any such event nowadays.  Red estimates that somewhere between $15-25 million has been spent in this one area of downtown alone and maybe much more than that.  Who knows what is going on at NRG park – maybe just a game.

Red was a dismal 0-2 in the Conference Championship games. He was hoping against hope that the Stealers would show up and not terribly surprised when they did not. So, we have the Patriots in the SB again. Can we hear a vigorous “Ho Hum” from everybody?  Red thought so.

Red was taken aback, however, by the Packers pathetic performance. We knew the Falcons offense was fearsome, but what has made them a true contender for the Lombardi Trophy is the turnaround from the front 7 on defense.  That should have ultimately been expected with Dan Quinn in charge, but the arrival of a top caliber defense is ahead of schedule.

With apologies to Ray Magliozzi, Red has to say “Well, it’s happened again, you’ve wasted another perfectly good NFL season, reading Red’s bad NFL weekly picks.” Why stop now?

Your Last Pick of the Week – Falcons over Patriots

They used to say that defense and rushing wins championships.   They used to say that cheaters never win, too. Bill Bellicheat and Tom Brady put an end to such nonsense. Don’t misunderstand, the Pats have had respectable defenses and managed to turn stiffs like LaGarrette Blount (aka the Fat Pig), Antowain Smith and Stevan Ridley into reasonable facsimiles of real NFL running backs for brief periods of time.  Inter-column quiz:  Who is the Patriots all-time leading rusher?  Had to think didn’t you?  It’s Sam “Bam” Cunningham for Christ sakes – who was with the team for 9 seasons and gained all of 5453 yards.  He also had more career fumbles than touchdowns.  There is not a single running back in Patriots history headed for the Hall of Fame or even the Hall of Very Good.  The Hall of Mediocrity might accept one or two, but that’s it.  This season is no different.  BB has figured out that you really don’t need a superstar back if your offensive scheme is good enough.  Just plug in a horse that you use to exploit defensive weakness and go on about your business.

The Pats defense is another story. It was the best defense in the only category that matters – scoring.  The Pats allowed fewer points than any other team in the league and that kept them in a few games when the offense was not clicking – a very few.

But let’s look at who the Pats beat this season. They beat 3 playoff teams (if you include the Texans as a playoff team – a questionable proposition).  They beat the Stealers, Dolphins (twice) and the Texans.  Their two losses were to the Bills (sans Brady) and the Seahawks.  They also had very few close games – posting only four (4) one-score victories. Two of those were in the first two weeks of the season when they beat the Cards and Dolphins in close contests. The later beat the Jets and Ravens by one touchdown each.  Other than that, they either lost or pretty much blew out their opponents.  Defense was the key to cruising to victory most weeks.  Only the Cards, Dolphins, Bills, Seahawks and Ravens could score more than 20 points and only the Seahawks scored more than 30.

Meanwhile in Georgia, the Falcons offense was keyed by a successful running tandem all season. Freeman and Coleman were the best backfield all season.  Good for two guys who were mid round picks in 2014 and 2015.  That is not to say that the Falcons’ incredible passing attack should be overlooked.  It is simply incredible how Julio Jones and his posse can tear up opposing secondaries.  But the respect for the running game that opposing defenses must show, makes the passing attack all that much more fearsome.  How fearsome?  The Falcons failed to score at least 23 points only once all season in an inexplicable loss to the Eagles after a 10-day layoff.  They scored more than 30 points 11 times and more than 40 points 5 times.  They lost 3 games by a total of 13 points with only the bizarre loss to the Eagles coming by more than one score.  The analyst could say, the Falcons will find a way to lose a close game.  The analyst should shut up.

The Falcons defense is not on par with the Pats. But it has steadily improved all season and clearly was in full stride against the Packers.  That performance must have built a new level of confidence.  They will need it against the Pats.

The Pats are favored by 3 and the over/under is around 58. Red really likes the Falcons and 3 points.  If they lose, it will be close.  If you can get 3.5 points, take it and run.  Red wonders a bit about the O/U.  SB’s can be notoriously slow starting on the offensive front.  Ah, screw it.  Go with the over and hope for an exciting game that doesn’t last 4 hours.  See you next season. Atlanta 33 New England 28.