Super Bowl LI: Patriots vs Falcons

The road teams came, they saw and they got their butts kicked!  This has been the least exciting NFL playoffs I can ever remember.  Blowout after blowout all the way up to the Conference Championship games where the Patriots dominated the Steelers at Foxboro and Atlanta simply ripped apart the Packers to close out the Georgia Dome.

There really wasn't much Green Bay could do to stop the leagues top scoring offense.  However if it weren't for a couple of early mistakes then we may have had a much closer game.  The Packers missed an easy field goal in the 1st quarter.  With Atlanta up 10 - 0 and the Packers driving down the field again, Ripkowski busted up the gut for what could have been first and goal, but fumbled the ball at the 1 yard line as the Falcons recover the ball in the end zone.

Next thing you know the Falcons are flying down the field early in the 2nd quarter to take a 17 point lead.  The score should have been tied in the 2nd quarter, instead Atlanta took a 17 point lead in the blink of an eye and never looked back.

You can say that the Steelers suffered a similar fate.  Pittsburgh had a good chance at making this a close game at halftime but every inch counts in the NFL.  Ben Roethlisberger hit tight end Jesse James on a quick pass and great run after the catch.  Unfortunately he fell centimeters short of the goal line but picked up the first down.  However the Steelers couldn't get in the end zone as the Patriots defense had a great goal line stand forcing Pitt to settle for a field goal.

With Le'Veon Bell on the sideline with a groin injury, Bill Belichick was able to focus more on taking Antonio Brown out of the game.  Brown ended up with 7 catches for 77 yards.  Not bad for a receiver, but for Brown who is elite, it's an awful game based upon the circumstances.  Pittsburgh just couldn't move the ball consistently.

They were even worse on defense.  The Steelers played their normal zone defense and as usual Tom Brady carved them up for 384 yards and 3 touchdowns.  I don't know why Pittsburgh didn't adjust their game plan because they only had one sack and rarely pressured Brady who made Chris Hogan look like Julio Jones.

Speaking of Julio Jones, I believe he may be the difference between a Super Bowl victory or defeat.  Why you ask?!  I'll explain more in my preview but the simplest answer to that is something I pointed out a few paragraphs ago.  Belichick will take out your best player.  Can he do that to Jones who in my opinion is the best wide receiver in football?  Then again, even if he actually limits Julio's production, the Falcons have plenty of other weapons who can hurt you.

The Patriots have a bunch of players who can get you as well and you never know who it's going to be!  That's why Belichick is such a master.  He game plans better than any coach I've ever witnessed.  He also is the best in game manager and adjusts quicker than any other coach in the league.  That's why New England is so dominant in the 2nd half.

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn will certainly have his hands full but he does have some experience against Brady and the Pats.  Quinn was the defensive coordinator in Seattle when the Seahawks came 1 yard shy of beating New England in Super Bowl 49.  I can see a sweet chess match between these two head coaches and a load of talented players for both teams on both sides of the ball.  I can't wait to break this game down and give my preview and prediction by next week.
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NFL Championship Sunday

It's a bitter sweet day as the 4 remaining teams take center stage for the right to play in Super Bowl LI.  That means we only have two Sunday's left of NFL football before we crown a new champion.  As usual the New England Patriots are in the AFC championship and as history has it, they'll play a familiar foe in the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The winner of this game will move on to a record 9th Super Bowl appearance.

To kickoff Championship Sunday we have a high flying thriller to close out the Georgia Dome as the Packers come into town to take on those soaring Falcons.  The last time the Pack played the Falcons during the playoffs in this dome was en route to Rodgers leading Green Bay to a title run back in 2010.  Atlanta got some revenge this season when they squared off in week 8.  This time the Dirty Birds won in a shootout 33 - 32.

The Patriots and Steelers is a rematch as well from week 7.  Then again, not so much.  Ben Roethlisberger didn't play in the game and his backup QB Landry Jones wasn't up to the task of taking on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  The Pats won easily 27 -16 as LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns.

We all know that Bill Belichick will attempt and usually succeed in taking away a teams best offensive player.  But I'm not sure he can against this team!  In this week 7 contest, although the Pats won the game, Le'Veon Bell still had 150 yards from scrimmage and Antonio Brown had 106 receiving yards.  Neither reached the end zone so perhaps Belichick accomplished his goal.

But Big Ben wasn't in that game and as one of the best QB's in the NFL you can bet he'll make a tremendous difference on how well the offense moves.

The Patriots backfield is as good as it gets.  A big bruising back like Blount mixed with guys like Dion Lewis and James White who can run and catch the ball makes for a very dangerous combination.  Especially when Brady is at the controls!

The Steelers defense has improved over the past two months as James Harrison found the Fountain of Youth and the youngster Ryan Shazier has begun to take over the defense.  This D can play ball and can get to the quarterback.  Putting pressure on a QB of any stature is a killer.  We saw the Houston Texans pressure Brady all night last week in the Divisional Round and the game was very close at one point.  It was the Patriots defense that stepped up!

New England quietly gave up the least amount of points in the league this season.  The Patriots can play ball defensively and will take the rock away from you and turn a marginal victory into a blowout.  Ben can mistakes and if he makes too many then the Patriots will move on to their 9th Super Bowl.  However, I don't believe that will happen and Le'Veon Bell will lead the Steelers to victory with about 200 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Prediction:  Steelers 32 - Patriots 30

Let's get into the keys to victory in the NFC title game.  We're dealing with two high powered offenses.  The difference between the two teams is that the Falcons have an excellent running game and the Packers simply don't.  Ty Montgomery has done a very good job playing running back for the Pack but his assistance has been more out of the passing game rather than running the ball for 100 yards.  Atlanta has 2 RB's that can do that with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.  Advantage Falcons.

Both Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan are MVP candidates for the 2016 season.  They've been fantastic and lead their teams to division titles this year.  I believe Ryan has the advantage in this game for several reasons even though Rodgers has out-dueled Ryan in the Georgia Dome.  It's not just the home field advantage, or the favorable running game, or a better offensive line.  A major factor is the health and skill at wide receiver on both sides.

Atlanta has one of the best in the game with Julio Jones.  He may flat out be the best of a bunch of great wide outs.  The Packers Jordy Nelson is also a top receiver but he is severely banged up from a rib injury suffered against the Giants in the Wild Card round.  He didn't play last week vs Dallas and may not even play Sunday at Atlanta.  Rodgers does have other weapons like Davante Adams who's suffering from an ankle injury and rookie sensation Geronimo Allison dealing with a hamstring.  This means Randall Cobb, Jared Cook and Ty Montgomery need to play the game of their lives!

Matt Ryan doesn't need to worry as much since he has relatively healthy WR's.  Yes Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel have toe and foot issues respectively but we are assured that they and the rest of the crew are ready to roll.  That will be a problem for the Packers defense who play man to man defense and with an already weak secondary will have to cover flying Falcons all over the field.  Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan has a way of getting these guys open for Matty Ice.  That's why he threw for almost 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns this season.  The Packers will need to pressure Ryan and break the ice but if they blitz then he'll tear that defense apart.  I'm not sure Falcons punter Matt Bosher will ever see the field!

Despite the Packers injuries, it's no easy task slowing down Aaron Rodgers no matter who's playing wide receiver.  In my opinion and that of many others, Rodgers is the best quarterback in the world.  He's a combination of Steve Young, John Elway and ironically Brett Favre.  The best way to keep Rodgers in check is to attack him with outside blitzers and force him to get rid of the football.  It seems the longer Rodgers holds the ball the more yards the Packers pick up.

The Falcons have a very fast defense and can get a great pass rush on the outside with Vic Beasley, Dion Jones, Dwight Freeny and others.  They can also opt to spy Rodgers which they did with some success in their meeting earlier this season.  Green Bay's game plan on offense should be to attack the Falcons defense with quick throws and draw plays up the middle to keep Atlanta in check.

When it's all said and done, I believe the Falcons will give their fans one last chance to cheer their team on to victory as the Georgia Dome closes its NFL doorway forever.

 Prediction:  Falcons 39 - Packers 32
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NFL: Sunday Divisional Round Predictions

The Sports Prophet is off to a great start in the 2016 post season.  So far the only game I missed was when Aaron Rodgers put on an MVP performance against the Giants stifling defense in Green Bay last week.  Saturday the Patriots and Falcons both covered the spread in convincing victories to move on to their perspective Conference Championships.  Sunday's games are a bit tougher to pick.

First up are the old school classic franchises of the Green Bay Packers traveling to Dallas to take on the top ranked Cowboys.  The Boys beat up the Pack in Wisconsin earlier this season lead by rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.  Can Dallas do it again, this time at home behind the best offensive line in football.  Tough to beat Aaron Rodgers twice in the same season.

Like I mentioned in yesterday's article, Earl Thomas absence would be the difference in the Falcons victory.  Matt Ryan had a stellar performance throwing the ball for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns, mostly over the middle where Thomas makes his living.  Will Aaron Rodgers favorite target Jordy Nelson be the Earl Thomas of the Packers offense?

The evidence is clear when Nelson is on the field the Packers offense and Rodgers in particular stats and score go up.  The Pack will need Adams, Cobb and Montgomery to step up in Nelson's absence as they did in the Wild Card round.

The Cowboys simply need to keep doing what they've been doing all season.  Pound the ball and feed Zeek the Beast.  Let the offensive line set the tone and play mistake free football.  Turnovers as always are the key to victory or defeat so if Dallas is going to win this game they will have to play efficiently and keep Rodgers on the sideline.  Ball control is so important and limiting the Packers opportunities on offense will be vital.  Dallas is favored by 5.5 points.  A bit too much for me going against the two time MVP of the league.  Still, I'm taking the Cowboys to win, but not to cover the spread.

Prediction:  Cowboys 26 - Packers 24

The late game, which was supposed to be the early game was moved from 1:00 to 8:20 pm EST due to extreme cold and icy weather in Kansas City.  The idea was to allow Chiefs fans more time to get to the stadium because of icy road conditions.  Bravo NFL!  However, I don't see the cold temperatures bothering the home team or the visiting Steelers who play their home games in frigid Pittsburgh.

This is a classic NFL match up.  A rematch from week 4 when the Steelers destroyed the Chiefs in Pittsburgh 43 - 13.  But that was a lifetime ago and in my opinion you can toss that game out of the window.  Both teams have got much better since October 2nd of 2016.  The Steelers and Chiefs are two of the most well rounded teams in all 3 phases of the game (Offense, Defense & Special Teams).  Pittsburgh has the killer B's with Ben, Bell and Brown and in their first playoff game together they were able to smash the Dolphins in Wild Card Week.  The Steelers defense has gotten much better since week 10 where they rank tops in the league lead by the ageless wonder James Harrison and youngster Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers can score in a blink of an eye as demonstrated by Antonio Brown against Miami.  Or they can just keep giving the ball to Bell until he hits pay dirt.  Defensively the Steelers are getting to the quarterback on sacks, hurries and knock downs.  But Alex Smith likes to get the ball out of his hands ASAP so getting pressure on him may be tough.

Ya know what else is tough?!  Playing against Andy Reid who has a 19 - 3 record after a bye of any kind.  If history holds up then Pittsburgh could be in for a tough day and when you factor in the crowd noise at Arrowhead Stadium we're looking at a tall task to take down a really good football team.

The Chiefs play sound solid football with an emphasis on the ground game and smash mouth defense.  It seems no matter who gets the hand-offs in K.C. is bound to succeed.  Spencer Ware has filled in beautifully for star back Jamaal Charles and if the Chiefs want to win this game then Ware will have to wear out that Steeler D.

Another player to watch on Kansas City's offense is Travis Kelce who has become one of the best Tight Ends in the NFL.  The guy plays like a Wide Receiver and it's a good thing because that's an area where the Chiefs have struggled to get production.  Jeremy Maclin is a fantastic receiver but the offense doesn't revolve around him since Alex Smith lacks the arm strength to help Maclin's game.  Perhaps that's why Tyreek Hill has become the Chiefs most dangerous weapon.

Smith can just toss a WR screen to Hill or hand it to him on an End-Around for example.  But Hill's biggest contribution to the Chiefs success comes on Special Teams where he has 2 punt returns and 1 kickoff return for touchdowns.  Add that to his 6 receiving TD's and 3 rushing TD's and we're talking about a guy who weighs 170 pounds soaking wet, taking over football games against 6'5, 300+ pound huge men.

As we all know turnovers are a huge issue in any NFL game.  Big Ben isn't exactly prone to turnovers but we've all seen him try to extend plays to create an opportunity.  He does this as well as any other quarterback.  But it can also backfire on him especially when guys like Marcus Peters and Eric Berry are lurking in the secondary.

It wouldn't shock me at all if Pittsburgh wins this game.  I mean who can contain Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown with a Hall of Fame quarterback under center?!  Not an easy thing to do!  I don't think the Chiefs can put up a ton of points offensively against Pitt.  This means that Kansas City will have to play one of their best defensive games to date.  Get ready for a great game.  We've seen nothing but blow outs in this years tournament.  I personally guarantee this game will not be won by double digits unless a fluke occurs in the final few minutes.

Prediction:  Chiefs 22 - Steelers 19
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NFL: Saturday Divisional Round Playoff Predictions

Let's just get it out of the way.  Unless hell freezes over or an asteroid hits Boston Saturday night, the New England Patriots should easily beat up on the visiting Houston Texans.  We've had some very large spreads in Vegas during post season history.

My personal favorite was when the 49ers covered a 19 point spread in the Super Bowl against the Chargers 49 - 26 back in the 1994 season.  Perhaps the most famous upset in playoff history was when Joe Namath guaranteed the underdog (+18) New York Jets would defeat NFL royalty in Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts.  The Jets won the game 16 - 7 in the first so called "Super Bowl" putting the AFL on the official NFL map.

The Patriots are favored by 16 points in the divisional round against the Texans top ranked defense.  Most people expect the Pats will win easily and likely cover the spread.  That's a lot of points to give up but the game is at Gillette Stadium where New England has been dominant for nearly two decades.  My prediction is that Brock Osweiler will probably have the worst game of his career given the pressure of facing Brady and Belichick in outdoor below freezing temperatures.

Coach Belichick is well known for taking away his opponents best weapon.  The problem is that the Texans don't have anyone who scares you on offense except DeAndre Hopkins.  I don't know how worried New England's defense is about Hopkins since he and Osweiler haven't been on the same page all year.  Coach will most likely make Hopkins a non factor in the game unless he turns his attention to Lamar Miller and the running game.

We'll see on Saturday but it would take a miracle for Texans head coach Bill O'Brien to go back to where he coached Tom Brady and beat him.  Then again coach O'Brien can use his knowledge of Brady and the offense and have his awesome defense coached up and well prepared for what his former quarterback can and will do!

Pick: Patriots 35 - Texans 7

The early Saturday game are the Seattle Seahawks heading into Atlanta to face those high flying Falcons.  Atlanta had one of the best offensive seasons in NFL history behind the arm of MVP candidate Matt Ryan who himself had one of the all time great seasons for a quarterback.  While the Falcons are best known for their offense, the Seahawks defensive players have become household names.

One of those names won't be on the field and that's Earl Thomas, the All-Pro Safety who has left a huge void in that defense with his absence.  Thomas is a great player and numbers aside, if you just watch Seattle's defense with and without him you see a tremendous difference.  Especially on long passes down the field where Matt Ryan and Julio Jones make their money.

These two teams met way back in week 6 where the visiting Falcons took a 7 point lead into the 4th quarter but went scoreless as the Seahawks came back to win 26 - 24.  Atlanta gave the game away when a perfect pass was bobbled by All-Pro Julio Jones and picked off by the aforementioned Earl Thomas.

Seattle then took the lead and up by 2 points at home had to defend their turf and stop the Falcons from getting into field goal range.  Seattle accomplished that mission and as usual there was controversy.  Falcons and football fans in general went nuts when Ryan tossed a bomb to Jones down the field when Richard Sherman clearly pulled on Jones' arm and interfered with the catch.  If officiated properly then Atlanta would have been well within kicker Matt Bryant's range.  However no flag was thrown and the Seahawks escaped sure defeat with a little help from the refs.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Seattle won't even be wearing a uniform!  Dan Quinn, the Falcons head coach is the former defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks.  Quinn knows the Hawks players very well and showed that back in week 6.  Quinn gets another crack at his old team on Saturday and you can bet that his time with Seattle will be a major factor in film study and beyond.

The Falcons get the Seahawks in their home dome this time around where Atlanta holds a distinct advantage.  This time the crowd noise will favor Atlanta and try to drown out the cadence of Russell Wilson.  The Dirty Birds defense has improved under Dan Quinn and they had the top rated offense in the league this season.  That's why they had a bye and the 2nd seed in the NFC.

Seattle may have found their running game again after Thomas Rawls ran wild against Detroit last week.  That's the key for the Hawks.  They need to run the ball successfully and keep Matt Ryan's offense off the field.  The Seahawks probably won't beat the Falcons in a shootout so in congruence with running the ball Seattle will have to play great defense without their star Safety.  You can't hold Atlanta's offense down for too long so Seattle will have to score at least 21 points to win.  But that might not even be enough because the Falcons can score 40 if needed.  Atlanta is a 5 point favorite at home in this game that has potential for an instant classic.

Pick: Falcons 31 - Seahawks 24
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Is Eli Manning a Hall of Fame Quarterback?

If you're a quarterback with two Super Bowl rings along with the MVP award in both championships then you're automatically in the Hall of Fame.  In just about any case this statement is true.  I don't believe so in this situation however.

When Eli Manning plays in the post season he's usually very good, borderline great.  In 2007 and 2011 he was the quarterback that helped the New York Giants win 2 titles as wild card teams.  It seemed the road was where the heart was as they took out the Packers twice in Green Bay en route to both of their championships.  Even in this years wild card game, again in Green Bay, Eli played well and if not for his receivers dropping passes in critical situations, the Giants may be on the road to another Super Bowl.

Here's the problem with Eli Manning.  He's been playing in the NFL since 2004 so he's been around the league for 13 years.  Since he was drafted #1 overall by the San Diego Chargers who ultimately traded Eli to NY, the G-Men have been to the playoffs 6 times but bumped out in their first game 4 times.  As I mentioned the other 2 post season berths ended with Super Bowl titles.

I go by the eye test over statistics any day, but you cannot ignore them.  I've seen Eli get in the zone and drive his offense up and down the field.  But I've seen that with any quarterback who's played 13 seasons!  He's been clutch late in the 4th quarter, especially in the post season when it counts even more.  But more often than not Eli will throw a terrible interception as opposed to a pin point pass on 3rd and 9 for a crucial first down.

I've been watching the NFL for over 30 years and I know that just because Peyton Manning and Brett Favre own almost every QB record known to man, doesn't mean they are numbers 1 and 2 on the all time QB list.  I'm just using them as an example.  They are both 2 of the greatest QB's to ever play professional football.  My point is if you watch Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Joe Montana you'll see what makes them special and above most QB's by the way they control the offense and play near flawless football.  Like I said, stats aren't everything and I go by the eye test before anything.  But here are a couple of key statistics to support my case:

*Interceptions - Eli has lead the league in INT's 3 times.  27 picks in 2013 alone!
*Completion Percentage - 59.7 % is not good at all.

In an era where every quarterback is throwing for 40 touchdowns per season, the most TD passes Eli has ever thrown in one year was 35 last year.  But he also threw 14 picks and fumbled the ball 11 times.  He simply has a major issue turning the ball over.  Whether it's a pick or a sack fumble, turnovers have hurt Eli and his team so many times over these past 13 seasons.  For a team that passes the ball so often you'd expect some interceptions but you'd also expect to see more touchdowns!

Eli has had the luxury of playing with some great defenses including this season and surely both title runs in 2007 and 2011.  He's also been blessed with some great weapons.  Right now he has a top 5 play maker in the NFL with Odell Beckham Jr. along with some other good looking WR's and TE's.  Years ago Victor Cruz busted on the scene doing the Salsa dance as he took over the NFL media and highlight reel.  Hakeem Nicks was a huge target for Eli and played great together when Nicks wasn't nicked up.  Speaking of targets and getting nicked up, Plaxico Burress was perhaps Eli's favorite receiver in their time together.  Then Burress had an unfortunate accident by shooting himself in the leg at a night club in NYC.

I can go on and on.  My point is that without these special skilled position players and great defenses, I doubt Eli would have even one ring.  Then what would we say about Eli Manning?  Well, he did win 2 MVP's in 2 Super Bowls so you can't take that away from him.  I've watched Eli's entire pro career and can easily say he's never been a top 5 QB in 13 seasons.  Anyone who ever seriously thought Eli was better than his brother Peyton helps prove my opinion.  Peyton is an all time great quarterback so the comparison isn't fair but it goes to show you how caught up people get in the moment.

I'm not saying Eli is a bad quarterback at all.  He's above average but not far enough to be in the Hall of Fame.  Now his career isn't over and still has time to make good on his numbers and playoff stats.  Then again maybe not too much time as he just turned 36 years of age and if his best days are behind him then he can put HOF thoughts behind him as well.
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NFL Wild Card Weekend Playoff Predictions

Wild Card week in the NFL playoffs is always wild!  We've seen amazing things happen in the first round of the playoffs.  A few come to mind like when the Bills overcame a 32 point deficit going into the 3rd quarter against the then known Houston Oilers, to come out on top in an incredible overtime victory 41 - 38.

Just a couple of years ago we saw the Chiefs completely dominate the Colts taking a 28 point lead with less than a half to play.  Well, Andrew Luck helped the home team to the second greatest comeback in playoff history winning 45 - 44 astonishing football fans around the world.

We know the old cliche "any given Sunday" and that truly applies to Wild Card Weekend.  This year we have wild and crazy things happening before the games are even played.  In particular the quarterback situation that is haunting 3 AFC teams playing on Saturday and Sunday.

Rookie quarterback and 3rd stringer out of Michigan State, Connor Cook will make his first NFL start for the Raiders on the road in Houston against one of the best defenses in the league.  Conversely, the Texans have their own QB issues as the highly overpaid Brock Osweiler will start after being benched for Tom Savage who's dealing with a shoulder injury.

If I were making the odds in Las Vegas, I'd probably set the over/under on this game at 12.  I'd also bet that more points will be scored by the defenses than the offense.  I can actually see this game ending 10 -7 with one team intercepting a pass for a touchdown.  That may be the difference in this game and the sad thing is that one of these teams will advance to the Divisional Round of the post season!  Get well soon Derek Carr.

The other quarterback in question may not be as big a question as the aforementioned players.  Matt Moore is a veteran and lifelong backup NFL quarterback.  He can play ball and to be honest it's not as if Ryan Tannehill is a super star.  Some argue the Dolphins offense moves down the field better with Moore under center.  I'm not so sure about that.

Regardless of who is taking the snaps for Miami, it's the Steelers who have the clear cut edge at quarterback.  We all know how great of a player Big Ben is and along with guys like Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, it will be the Dolphins defense that determines the outcome of this game.  These teams played against each other earlier this season and the Phins beat up on Pittsburgh as Jay Ajayi ran wild for 204 yards.  I'd be surprised to see that again!

The first round NFC playoff teams all have security at the quarterback position and have been the teams starter for at least 5 years like Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson.  Eli Manning has been under center for the Giants since his rookie year in 2004 and has 2 rings to show for it.  Aaron Rodgers sat behind the legendary Brett Favre for a few years before becoming a Super Bowl MVP himself.  And the Lions Matthew Stafford who was the 1st overall pick by Detroit in 2009, has been running the offense ever since and is just 1 of 4 quarterbacks to throw for 5,000 yards in a single season in the history of the league.

These big time QB's are expected to show up big time on game day.  The question is, how well will their teammates play and how prepared is the coaching staff?!

Here are my picks (with spread) for Wild Card Weekend:

Texans -3.5 vs Raiders - Houston 13 - Oakland 6

Seahawks -8 vs Lions - Seattle 24 - Detroit 21

Steelers -10 vs Dolphins - Pittsburgh 29 - Miami  16

Packers -4.5 vs Giants - New York 23 - Green Bay 17

And just so it is on record before the tournament begins, below is my Super Bowl pick for the 2016 season.  Enjoy the games everyone!

My Super Bowl Pick:  Chiefs 27 - Cowboys 24
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NFL 2016 MVP

Usually we have a clear cut MVP in the National Football League.  Not this year!  There's plenty of names in the mix, even those who aren't playing anymore this season due to injury or not making the playoffs.  Guys like Derek Carr and David Johnson particularly come to mind.  Also a couple of other players who missed 3 or more games deserve consideration like Tom Brady and Le'Veon Bell.  As we know the MVP is not the best player in the league but the most valuable player to his team.

Matt Ryan has made a great case for MVP as he put the Atlanta Falcons in a great post season position by grabbing a 1st round bye, the #2 seed and at least one home playoff game.  Ryan had his best season in his 9 year career by throwing less than 60 yards shy of 5,000 for the season along with 38 TD's and only 7 INT's.  Then again he has guys like Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and a solid roster to help Ryan put up these magnificent numbers.  But you can't take away from what Ryan has accomplished during the 2016 regular season which makes him a viable candidate for league MVP.

People talk about the dynamic duo in Dallas with rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot.  As fantastic as they've been there's a fantastic five who many argue are the reason for the Dallas Cowboys success.  The Cowboys offensive line is reminiscent of the great O-Lines back in the 90's when they won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years.  Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin all benefited from that great offensive line.  Yet as individual players they made their own mark by becoming Hall of Fame players.  Dak, Zeek and Dez are all excellent individual players but you can't help to ask yourself what they'd be with an offensive line like Minnesota for example?!

Like I said, a lot of players deserve consideration for the NFL MVP in 2016.  This is one of the closest seasons we've had in a while as to who the MVP should be.  It's hard to disagree with Tom Brady who threw 28 TD's and just 2 INT's after serving his 4 game suspension.  Ezekiel Elliott had perhaps the greatest rookie season for a running back in league history.  Matt Ryan had one of the best season's a quarterback has ever had.  Le'Veon Bell may be the best player in the NFL and in only 12 games this season, Bell was still a top 5 rusher.

I haven't mentioned one individual so far who I believe is the league MVP.  It seemed as if his team was out of the playoffs in week 11 sitting at (4-6).  He told us that his team would run the table and win the division.  Last season he told us to "Relax" when his team had another rough start to the season.  Of course they went on to the post season as they've done every year since 2010 when they won the Super Bowl.  By now I'm sure you figured out that I'm talking about two time MVP Aaron Rodgers who won the award in 2011 and 2014.  I believe he will win his 3rd MVP title in 2016.

You simply cannot deny that Rodgers carries the Green Bay Packers and without him that team would be at the bottom of the NFC North as opposed to the division winner.  Aaron Rodgers works with no running game, a group of wide receivers that are a carousel of injuries, an average offensive line and a defense that forces Rodgers to make miraculous plays and pull out late victories using his legs and powerful right arm.

Numbers aren't everything but let's take a quick look at them.  Many experts have stated that Rodgers maybe has taken a step back as he ages.  They also say this hasn't been a good season for him relative to what he has done in the past.  That says it all right there when you throw for 4,428 yards, 40 TD passes and a puny 7 interceptions.  Any quarterback in the league including Tom Brady would be thrilled with season ending numbers like that.  Brady as we know was suspended for the first 4 games of the season and ended up with 28 TD's and an amazingly only threw 2 picks.  However in his absence the Patriots were (3-1) before the living legend made his return to the field.

Perhaps the main reason I believe Aaron Rodgers should be the 2016 NFL MVP is because they were (4-6) and went on to run the table as he predicted.  During that 6 game win streak en route to another division title, Rodgers threw 15 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.  Let me repeat that...Zero INT's and near flawless quarterback play down the stretch where even one more loss could knock them out of playoff contention.  Rodgers made a promise and he delivered.

I still find it hysterical how some "experts" say that Rodgers didn't have a great year.  Wow!  He's amazed us in the past like in his 2011 MVP season where he threw for 45 TD's and 6 INT's.  Is that why people are saying this has been a down year from the former Super Bowl champion?!  If that's the basis of your argument against Rodgers for MVP then you are simply a statistician.  Anybody who watches Aaron Rodgers run an offense knows that he's not only a top tier quarterback but also a top tier football player.  Bottom line is that when it counted most Rodgers put the Packers on his back and carried them to yet another division title and playoff berth.

Honorable Mentions:

- Tom Brady
- Matt Ryan
- Ezekiel Elliott
- Le'Veon Bell
- David Johnson
- Derek Carr
- Cowboys O-Line*
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