Before I say anything else – Congratulations to the New England Patriots organization for reaching the Super Bowl for the third time in four years and eight time in 17 years. Nobody in the league has been able to even come close to the consistent excellence they have displayed. With that being said, I can’t help but see a theme that has followed the team throughout the 2017/18 season – they have had a lot of crucial calls go their way. I’m not suggesting to any degree, that they haven’t earned a spot in this title game, but rather I want to point out a few incidences I have noticed over the course of their campaign. Let me elaborate:
With the conference championship games coming up this weekend and some of the top defenses still in the race, I thought about talking about those two matchups, but since I previewed games the last two weeks, I decided to go a different route. I always like to look back at the rookie class and see what those first-year guys made of their opportunities. Once again, we have had some diamonds in the rough and they deserve to be honored, but so do the players, who have lived up to the hype. Therefore, I put up my starting lineups on offense, defense and special teams, plus some key substitutes. Here they are:
The Saints and Vikings faced each other in the season-opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota never really was in trouble that day and won the game 29-19. Both team have evolved throughout the season and they are set for a rematch on Sunday. After losing their first two games of the year, New Orleans went on to win ten of their next twelve and an NFC South title, to set them up as one of the biggest contenders in the conference. The Vikings won the North with a 13-3 record and earned the number two seed, possibly giving them home-field advantage all the way through the Super Bowl. In week one their starting quarterback still was Sam Bradford and everybody thought this was the same old Saints, who air it out and play no defense. Times have changed and both teams need to be reckoned with. This should be a huge matchup and looking at both squads, I believe the final score could look a lot different this time around. Here’s why:
After having two different conferences represented in the title game for the last six years, this is the first time since 2012 the two contenders are coming from the SEC. While Georgia won the conference title, Alabama didn’t even get the chance to play in the championship game. With Kirby Smart facing off against his former head coach Nick Saban and two teams that are built similar, there’s lots to talk about. Over the next couple of paragraphs, I want to analyze the paths of both these programs heading into the matchup, how they will approach it, under-the-radar contributors and the outcome of the game. Alabama has been crowned national champions four times since 2009, while Georgia is looking to do so for the first time since 1980. It’s dynasty versus contender, teacher versus student, the Tide versus the Bulldogs.
It was really hard to compile this list, because of all the moving pieces, players being injured and just what these defenses have become as units. So the base I judge them on is the way they are constructed right now. Therefore, I couldn’t quite put the Seahawks and definitely not the Texans on this list, since they have suffered immensely with injuries to top of their three best defensive players. Sometimes the major statistics, like total yards allowed, can be misleading, for example, until a week ago, the Denver Broncos were the number one defense in terms of yardage allowed. Even though they still have an excellent trio of cornerbacks combined with Von Miller to rush the passer and they could easily bounce back big-time next season, that’s absurd, considering since after a hot start to the season at 3-1, they gave up an average of just over 30 points per game during an eight-game losing streak. The numbers I do care about are points allowed, takeaways, third down and red zone percentage allowed. Most importantly though, I want to look at the scheme each unit runs, how well they execute, and what my eyes tell me.
No matter if you like the AFC-NFC format or the Pro Bowl draft better, if the best four or six players at each position make the cut it, the results are just more accurate. Regardless of that, I won’t take any respect away from the guys, who were selected, but instead I want to make a case for why the members of this list should have. For the most part, I thought fans got it right, but the NFL ballot makes it pretty hard to really put the best players on the respective conference’s roster. Most importantly they should start differentiating between positions they way scouts and I do – interior defensive linemen, edge rushers and stand-up linebackers. You just can’t compare guys like Von Miller and Anthony Barr. Their job description is just completely different and if you consider the Pro Bowl teams play with four down-linemen and no blitzes for the most part, what sense does it make having an edge-setting and rushing linebacker in the line-up playing off the ball when you already have two defensive ends? This is my take on the voting process. The fact I personally favorized the Pro Bowl draft is a different topic. Now here’s who I thought deserved to go to Orlando:
I love the AFC North rivalries and Steelers versus Bengals is always penciled in on my schedule, but Pittsburgh has now won six in a row and nine of the last ten in this matchup. In the seven games they’ve played over the last three seasons, only two were decided by more than one score, but Cincinnati somehow can’t seem to finish against their division rivals, despite objectively putting up a better effort a lot of times. I want to dive into why the Bengals can’t seem to make this an even series.