Fantasy Football Doctors Podcast: NFL Division Playoff Weekend Edition

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Your hosts: Dr. Vasu Vaddiparty & Dr. Charlie O

Who is the best of the remaining 8 QB’s?

Which RB will bring the most bang for your buck?

What receiving corps will be the most productive?

Is there a kicker you can trust?

Which defense can get the job done?

Answers to these questions and more with the Fantasy Football Doctors!

 

The Fantasy Football Doctors Podcast Gets Real: Who will win the Championship games on Sunday?

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Rams vs. Saints in the early game Photo: @NFL

Your hosts: Dr. Vasu Vaddiparty & Dr. Charlie O

  • Is it unusual to have teams that met in the regular season face each other in the Conference Championship games?
  • How will those previous meetings affect the games on Sunday?
  • New England will not have home field advantage on Sunday — How will that play into that outcome of their game?
  • What effect will the “Full Blood Wolf Moon” have on the games?
  • How much influence will Special Teams have in these games?
  • What effect will the weather in Kansas City have in that game?
  • Will offense or defense win the games?
  • Vegas is being very conservative with these games – do you agree?
  • We go on the record picking who we think is going to the Super Bowl!

Come on and join the fun … Push play now!

The Fantasy Football Doctors: NFL Wild Card Weekend Podcast

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Your hosts: Dr. Vasu Vaddiparty & Dr. Charlie O

  • Elo says a Wild Card team could win the Super Bowl this year

  • Vegas sees 3 of the 4 games as very close contests

  • The Ravens and Chargers played each other just two weeks ago

  • This will be the third meeting of the year between the Colts & Texans

  • We have advice for Fantasy Playoff games

  • We even have some suggestions for DFS players

  • Let’s celebrate – it’s the playoffs!

Sports Headlines with Tony Renteria: New England and Philadelphia odds favorites for Super Bowl LII

Photo credit: @NFL

On the Sports Headlines Podcast with Tony:

Takes a review and a look at the following NFL Playoff games:

NFC Sat Jan 13

Philadelphia 15

Atlanta 10

NFC Sun Jan 14

New Orleans 24

Minnesota 29

AFC Sat Jan 13

Tennessee 14

New England 35

AFC Sun Jan 14

Jacksonville 45

Pittsburgh 42

Upcoming NFL Championship games

AFC Sun Jan 21

Jacksonville @ New England

NFC Sun Jan 21

Minnesota @ Philadelphia

Tony does the Sports Headline Podcasts each Thursday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

 

NFL Playoff Podcast with David Zizmor: NFC/AFC Championship Games for all the marbles

Photo credit: @NFL

On the NFL Playoff Podcast with David:

Takes a review and a look at the following NFL Playoff games:

NFC Sat Jan 13

Philadelphia 15

Atlanta 10

NFC Sun Jan 14

New Orleans 24

Minnesota 29

AFC Sat Jan 13

Tennessee 14

New England 35

AFC Sun Jan 14

Jacksonville 45

Pittsburgh 42

Upcoming NFL Championship games

AFC Sun Jan 21

Jacksonville @ New England

NFC Sun Jan 21

Minnesota @ Philadelphia

David does the NFL Podcasts each Tuesday at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

 

 

Sports Monday: The NFL Playoffs never lacks excitement

Photo credit: @NFL

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
SRS Contributor

Like most football fans, I was glued to my couch for most of the weekend watching the NFL’s best weekend of the year: the divisional round of the playoffs.

The divisional round usually features the best competitive games of the year as the eight remaining teams fight for their right to play in the conference championship games the very next week; with the winners heading to the Super Bowl.

With the Falcons losing to the Eagles, 15-10, in Philadelphia to kickoff the divisional round Saturday, their will be a new NFC Champion heading to Minneapolis on Feb. 4 for Super Bowl 52.

Sixth-seeded Atlanta (11-7) was trying to make a return trip to the NFC Championship Game and eventually back to the Super Bowl after last year’s painful loss in the Big Game to the New England Patriots after dropping a 28-3 lead, but Matt Ryan and Co. couldn’t get pass an Eagles team that were heavy underdogs coming into the game even as the NFC’s top seed with a 13-3 regular season and home field advantage.

And oh yeah, Philadelphia was playing without MVP front-runner and franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, who was lost for the season with a torn anterior crucial ligament in his left knee he suffered against the Rams in Los Angeles in Week 14.

Backup quarterback Nick Foles made every Eagles fan hold their collective breaths whenever he took a snap, played efficient football throwing for 246 yards on 23-of-30 passing with no touchdowns, but more importantly, zero interceptions. Foles kept Atlanta’s defense off guard for most of the afternoon as Philadelphia controlled the football for 32 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for the Falcons. Philadelphia converted 6-of-13 on third downs, while the Falcons were just 4-of-13 on third down conversions.

But the Falcons still had a chance to win a game, but Ryan and superstar wide receiver Julio Jones couldn’t connect on fourth-and-two from the Eagles’ own two-yard line with 1:05 left in the game. Jones, who finished with nine catches for 101 yards, slipped in the end zone and saw the pass slip right through his hands. Even if Jones makes the catch, his feet would’ve been out of bounds when you look at the replay.

Jones felt that he should’ve came up with the catch and made no excuses after the game.

“It was a sprintout, a rollout to me,” said Jones after the game per ESPN’s Vaughn McClure following the game. “Trying to take advantage of one-on-one [coverage] down there.

“I don’t know, but at the end of the day, I can make those plays. I ended up on the ground when I came out of my route. And that’s a tough call [for the official] to make during that situation in the game. That was it.”

Ryan finished the game throwing for 210 yards on 22-of-36 passing. Atlanta’s franchise quarterback did throw a six-yard touchdown to running back Devonta Freeman to give the Falcons a 10-6 lead in the second half, but Atlanta’s red zone woes that haunted them in the regular season (23rd in the NFL in red zone efficiency at 49.1-percent per ESPN Stats and Info), reared its ugly head.

“Just keep on disrespecting and we’re going to keep proving people wrong,” said Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey after the game to David Murphy of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Philadelphia (14-3) will host the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field for the NFC Championship at 6:40 p.m. ET, which should be a great matchup given what the Vikings had to do to setup a date with the Eagles with a chance to play the Super Bowl in their own building, which would be the first time a team would play in the stadium where the Super Bowl is being held in NFL history.

Minnesota (14-3) had to rely on a 61-yard touchdown thrown from quarterback Case Keenum to wide receiver Stefon Diggs with 10 seconds remaining down the sideline to pull out an improbable 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the other NFC divisional playoff game Sunday. The play was reminiscent of a walk-off home run in baseball for the home team.

Diggs’ heart-pounding score sent a raucous sold out crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium into a frenzy as the stadium reached 118 decibels per reports. Diggs finished with six catches for 137 yards and the game-winning touchdown that cemented the Vikings’ first trip to the conference championship game in eight years.

“It’s a storybook ending — and it never ends that way,” Diggs said after the game to Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Usually, it’s reality. It’s real life. Things go, you walk home and worry about tomorrow. But today had other plans. I give it all to God, because things like this just don’t happen.”

After falling behind 17-0 to the Vikings at halftime, the fourth-seeded Saints stormed back with 14 unanswered points behind two touchdown passes from quarterback Drew Brees to wide receiver Michael Thomas that trimmed Minnesota’s lead to 17-14. Thomas’ two touchdowns came within a span of 3:09 that spanned into the fourth quarter.

Following a 49-yard field goal from kicker Kai Forbath that gave Minnesota a 20-14 lead early in the fourth quarter and an interception thrown by Keenum to rookie safety Marcus Williams that set up the Saints at the Vikings’ 40-yard line, Brees threw his third touchdown in the second half when he connected with rookie running back Alvin Kamara from 14-yards out that gave the Saints a brief 21-20 lead.

Brees finished the game throwing for 294 yards on 25-of-40 passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions, both coming in the first half.

“We’re still a bit shell-shocked after what happened there at the end,” said Brees after the game per the Associated Press.

But it was the big play by Diggs, who avoided a would-be hit by Williams and never looked back as he raced for the end zone for arguably the biggest touchdown in Minnesota’s history, a perfect delivered pass from the NCAA’s all-time passing leader in Keenum, who threw for 318 yards and matched Brees’ 25-of-40 passing.

On the AFC side, the top-seeded Patriots (14-3) made short work of the visiting Tennessee Titans (10-8), winning 35-14 on Saturday night advancing to their seventh straight AFC Championship Game next Sunday in Foxborough with a dominating performance over the sixth-seeded Titans in the chilly New England weather where game time temperature were in the 20s.

After taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, Tennessee saw New England roll off 35 unanswered points that led to the Patriots’ dismantling of the Titans. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for 337 yards on 35-of-53 passing and three touchdowns, his 10th career postseason game in which he’s thrown three touchdowns moving past Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana for most in the NFL per the Elias Sports Bureau.

“To be in the playoffs, to play well and to advance, that’s just really great for this team,” Brady said to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. “We’ve got to do it again next week.”

Wide receiver Danny Amendola, one of Brady’s most dependable pass catchers, finished with a team-high 11 catches for 112 yards. Tight end Rob Gronkowski hauled in six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown over Titans safety Kevin Byard, who predicted that Tennessee would make the future NFL Hall of Famer look like Blake Bortles.

More on Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who stand in the way of Brady from making his eighth Super Bowl appearance in his 18-year career that includes five wins in seven appearances, in a bit.

After the game, Brady was business as usual after leading New England pass by an overmatched Titans team that were doomed from the start. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota played through a strained quadriceps muscle that he suffered on run in the first quarter that limited the Mariota’s mobility and Tennessee’s playcalling for the remainder of the game.

Mariota completed 22-of-37 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, but was under siege from Patriots’ pass rush that sacked Mariota eight times on Saturday night, a franchise record for one postseason game.

“Embarrassed,” said Mariota, standing at the podium after the game per the Associated Press.

“You play to win the whole thing. Yeah, it’s nice to be in the playoffs, but again, you don’t play to get in, especially coming into the divisional playoff losing the way we did.”

Raise your hands if you had the Jacksonville Jaguars heading to their first AFC Championship Game since 1999 at the start of the 2017.

Anybody?

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t because you aren’t alone, especially with the aforementioned Bortles leading the way. For most of his four seasons in Jacksonville, Bortles was the favorite punching bag for Jaguars fans (and the media) to hit for the team’s lackluster play even with a vastly improving defense with to lean on.

But the perception of Bortles is rapidly changing, especially after help leading the third-seeded Jaguars (12-6) to 45-42 victory over the second-seeded Steelers (13-4) at Heinz Field to close out the divisional round weekend. Bortles didn’t have earth-shattering numbers, completing just 14-of-26 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown, but didn’t throw an interception nor was he sacked in Jacksonville’s second win in Pittsburgh this year. Pittsburgh set a franchise record with 55 sacks this season, leading the NFL this season.

Jacksonville dispatched Pittsburgh 30-9 in Week 5 behind a punishing defense that forced five interceptions, returning two of those interceptions for touchdowns.

In that regular season game, Bortles was a non factor as he threw for just 95 yards on 8-of-14 passing and an interception, but the offense was carried by ground game as rookie running back Leonard Fournette rushed for a career-high 181 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns, one of which went for 90 yards, the longest scoring run by a rookie against the Steelers per the Elias Sports Bureau.

This time around, Bortles appeared more confident and comfortable against Pittsburgh.

Jacksonville’s 45 points are the most points scored by an opponent against the Steelers in franchise history. Fournette scored two first half touchdowns, while backup running back T.J. Yeldon added another score that gave Jacksonville a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter before the Steelers answered with a touchdown of their own from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to wide receiver Antonio Brown that cut Jacksonville’s lead to 21-7.

Fournette, who left the game briefly with an ankle injury, rushed for a 109 yards on 25 carries and scored three touchdowns.

Shortly before the two minute warning and with Pittsburgh on the Jacksonville 47-yard line, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue sacked Roethislisberger forcing a fumble which was returned by middle linebacker Telvin Smith that gave Jacksonville a 28-7 lead. It was Smith’s second defensive touchdown against the Steelers this season, also finished with a team-high 14 tackles.

Roethlisberger would throw a 36-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Martavis Bryant before the end of the first half, then a 19-yard touchdown pass to running back Le’Veon Bell pulling the Steelers closer, 28-21, in the third quarter.

But Bortles made the biggest play of the game in my book, throwing a 45-yard bomb down the middle of the field in double coverage with 11:55 left in the fourth quarter that was hauled in by rookie wide receiver Keelan Cole that set up the Jaguars at the Pittsburgh 3-yard line before Fournette plowed into the end zone for his third rushing touchdown that re-opened a two-touchdown lead for Jacksonville making the score, 35-21.

“These guys played with confidence all day,” Bortles said after the game per the Florida Times-Union.

Jacksonville would add 10 more points in the fourth quarter, while the Steelers played catch up (pun intended) for the majority of the day despite big performances by Pittsburgh’s “Killer Bs” of Roethlisberger, Bell and Le’Veon Brown.

Roethlisberger threw for 469 yards on 37-of-58 passes, with five touchdowns and one interception. Brown, who appeared healthy following a torn left calf muscle he suffered in Week 15 against the Patriots that caused him to miss the Steelers’ final two games of the year, finished with seven catches for 132 yards and a pair of spectacular touchdowns.

Bell finished with 155 total yards from scrimmage (67 rushing and 88 receiving) and two touchdowns (one rushing and one receiving).

“Its disheartening” said Brown per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I thought we had the right group of guys.”

The conference championship games between Minnesota-Philadelphia in the NFC and Jacksonville-New England in the AFC weren’t what people imagined when the 2017 season started, even though most fully believed that the reigning Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots had the strongest chance at making another Super Bowl run.

Minnesota and Philadelphia did enter the season with postseason expectations, and should be a fierce matchup led by unwanted quarterbacks in Keenum and Foles along with strong defenses, and fan bases thirsty for a major championship.

Jacksonville wasn’t suppose to crash the postseason party, but here are the Jaguars who now must travel to New England and try to dethrone Brady and the Patriots to earn the franchise’s first trip to the Super Bowl.

“I’m sure there will still be tons of people that are going to disapprove and talk negative or hate or do whatever they want,” Bortles said before the Jaguars left Pittsburgh. “But we get to keep playing and we get an opportunity to play in Foxborough next week  for another week. Just honored to be able to do this especially with this group of guys.”

“Its been an awesome year. Just want to keep it going.”

NFL Playoffs Podcast with David Zizmor: A look at eight teams that’s battling it out for the Super Bowl

Photo credit: @NFL

NFL Playoff Podcast with David Zizmor:

Sunday’s game AFC: Jacksonville 10 Buffalo 3

AFC Divisional Round

Saturday: Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots

Sunday: Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday’s game NFC: New Orleans 31 vs. Carolina 26

NFC: Divisional Round

Saturday: Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles

Sunday: New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings

David goes through the NFL Playoff schedule for this weekend at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

 

 

NFL Playoffs: Raiders have tough road ahead in Houston

Oakland Raiders tackle Donald Penn lies on the turf with an injury in the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

HOUSTON, TX — Already having to deal with the loss of starting quarterback Derek Carr after the signal-caller broke his fibula in Week 16 at home against the visiting Indianapolis Colts, the Silver and Black were dealt a major blow as starting left tackle Donald Penn was ruled out for Saturday’s AFC Wild-Card playoff game against the Houston Texas at NRG Stadium.

Penn was hurt in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 24-6 loss at Denver in the regular season finale. Even though Penn returned to the game, he didn’t look the same and struggled to move on the snap.

With the loss of the Penn, starting right tackle Menelik Watson will move to left tackle, while durable lineman Austin Howard is expected to slide into Watson’s spot at right tackle.

Penn will miss his first game after starting 155 consecutive games in his career.

Penn, along with left guard Keleche Osemele and center Rodney Hudson were named to the AFC Pro Bowl team as the nucleus of a Raiders’ offensive line that allowed a league-low 18 sacks during the regular season.

Any quarterback would relish at the opportunity to play behind that type of protection, especially rookie Connor Cook, who will become the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to make his first career start in the playoffs.

But Penn is the one offensive lineman that Oakland could ill-afford to lose because of his great play in both the running and passing games. Oakland just mustered 57 yards rushing against the Broncos.

Oakland faces a Houston defense that finished No. 1 in the league in total defense and according to Pro Football Focus, ranks int he top-five in the league in both the blitz and pressures per cbssports.com.

Playing the majority of the season without wrecking ball defensive end J.J. Watt, still Houston’s linebackers Whitney Mercilus (7.5) and Benardrick McKinney (5.0), along with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (6.0) combine for 18.5 of Houston’s 31 sacks during the regular season.

McKinney leads Houston with 129 tackles, while Clowney was named to his first AFC Pro Bowl team.

Cook will  have the tough task of leading a Raiders team that finished 12-4, earning the franchise their first playoff berth since 2002 where Oakland made a trip to the Super Bowl, but don’t expect Cook to be rattled.

Cook did admit that he was “nervous” when he replaced backup quarterback Matt McGloin during Oakland’s loss at Denver, as he completed 14-of-21 passes for 150 yards, a touchdown and an interception in relief. McGloin hurt his shoulder in the second quarter and remained on the sideline for the remainder of the game.

Oakland did sign former practice squad quarterback Garrett Gilbert during the week to the team and is expected to serve as Cook’s backup Saturday.

If Cook can get the time to showcase his strong arm behind a reshuffled, but still stout offensive line, he’ll have two 1,000-yard receivers to throw to who can make plays in second-year standout Amari Cooper (83 catches, 1,153 yards, and 5 TDs) and Michael Crabtree (89 catches, 1,003 yards, and 8 TDs).

The last time that the Silver and Black won a road playoff game in the Wild-Card round: Dec. 28, 1980 when Jim Plunkett tossed two touchdowns to lead Oakland past former Raider great and Hall of Famer Ken Stabler’s Houston Oilers 27-7 at the now closed Houston Astrodome.

In addition to Houston finishing with the league’s top defense, Houston finished behind Denver in passing yards allowed, surrendering just 201.6 yards per game during the regular season.

Houston’s starting strong safety Quintin Demps finished second in the NFL with six interceptions combined that with 55 tackles is the anchor of the secondary.

There is no question that Houston’s defense led by defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel who is one of the greats calling defenses in history, will come to play at 3:35 p.m. CT (1:35 p.m. PT for us West Coasters), but Houston’s quarterback situation is just as suspect as Oakland’s.

Quarterback Brock Osweiler is back in the starting lineup for the Texans after quarterback Tom Savage suffered a concussion in Houston’s 24-17 loss at Tennessee to close out the regular season.

Houston (9-7) already wrapped up the AFC South and the No. 4-seed.

Savage didn’t pass the NFL’s concussion protocol, meaning journeyman quarterback Brandon Weeden will serve as Osweiler’s backup.

During a Week 15 matchup at home against Jacksonville, Osweiler threw two first half interceptions that led to a 20-8 lead for the Jaguars and the boo-birds started to cascade down  from the home crowd before Savage replaced and ineffective Osweiler (6-of-11 for 48 yards), to the delight of the Texan crowd.

Savage completed 23-of-36 passes for 260 yards helping Houston come from behind with a 21-20 victory, prompting head coach Bill O’Brien to name Savage the starter for the remainder of the season, benching Osweiler.

The Texans were embarrassed last season in the playoffs, getting thumped 30-0 at home thanks to quarterback Brian Hoyer’s five turnovers. Hoyer’s performance (15-of-34/136 yards/4 INTs) was the cyanide pill that Houston swallowed ending their season.

After signing a four-year $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) contract in the offseason with Houston after four years in Denver as the so-called heir apparent to future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, Osweiler was an average quarterback throwing for 2,957 yard, 15 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions with a 72.2 passer rating.

It’ll be interesting to see how Osweiler, who threw for 253 yards on 21-of-40 passes and a touchdown against the Titans after Savage left the game with the concussion, performs in his first start since his benching.

Houston will look to get super talented wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins more involved in the passing game. Hopkins led Houston with 78 catches for 954 yards and was tied with tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz for the team lead in touchdown catches with four.

Running back Lamar Miller will see a lot of action against the Raiders, after missing Houston’s final two games of the regular season with a nagging ankle injury. The Texans didn’t list the 1,000-yard rusher on their injury report.

In the first matchup against the two teams (a 27-20 Raiders’ victory in Mexico City), Oakland had trouble stopping  Miller, who rushed for 104 yards on 24 carries, including a 1-yard score.

Oakland’s defense, led by defensive end Khalil Mack, will have to get in the face of Osweiler on dropbacks and stop Miller from turning 2-yard runs into 5-to-7-yard runs to have a realistic shot at advancing to the Divisional Round and a trip to either New England or Kansas City next weekend.

Mack, who is the unquestioned engine that powers the Raiders’ defense, is key and must perform for the Silver and Black. Mack was named to the Associated Press’ All-Pro First Team for his 73 tackles, 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, and one interception (a pick-6 no less).

With all that being said: with no Carr, no Penn, a third-string rookie quarterback making NFL history with his first career start coming in a playoff game, and a reshuffled offensive line, the Raiders have the deck stacked high against them to pull out a victory.

Prediction?

Raiders over Houston, 23-21, behind a Sebastian Janikowski game-winning field goal with time expiring. Cook will drive Oakland into field goal range.

Call me crazy, but that’s why the first weekend of the NFL Playoffs are “wild” for a reason because someone who people least expect make a name for themselves on this stage.

Cook could be that player for Oakland.

 

Oakland and Houston both dealing with QB issues ahead of Saturday’s AFC Wild Card playoff game

Oakland Raiders quarterback Connor Cook passes against the Denver Broncos in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

OAKLAND, Calif — Now that the 2016 season is in the rear view mirror, the real fun begins: the playoffs.

No matter how you got there as a team, if you happen to be one of the 12 teams that have a shot at playing in Houston on Sunday Feb. 5 in Super Bowl LI for the Vince Lombardi trophy you earned your way to the Dance.

Needing just a win in Denver in Week 17 to clinch the AFC West title, the No. 2 seed, and a first-round bye, the Raiders squandered all of it by looking lethargic and disinterested in a 24-6 loss to the Broncos Sunday knocking the Silver and Black to the No. 5 seed.

No home playoff game or week off. All gone.

By virtue of their 37-27 win in San Diego Sunday, Kansas City (12-4), captured the AFC West crown and locked up the No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it.

In the process of the loss, Oakland (12-4) lost another quarterback when backup-turned-starter Matt McGloin left the game late in the second quarter with a shoulder injury.McGloin completed 6-of-11 passes for 21 yards and was ineffective in his first start since 2013 in place of franchise quarterback, Derek Carr.

Carr was having an MVP-type of season passing for 3,937 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions before breaking his fibula against Indianapolis in a 33-25 Oakland victory on Christmas Eve.

Carr headlined a league-high seven Raiders that were selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team this season.

McGloin finished the game on the sideline as he watched rookie quarterback Connor Cook taking his first snap as a pro.

Oakland had more penalty yards (90) than on offense (50) in the first half as Denver racked up 254 yards of total offense.

Cook, who may find himself starting for the Silver and Black’s first playoff game since 2002 on Saturday when the 5-seeded Raiders travel to Houston for an AFC Wild Card game, completed 14-of-21 passes for 150 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in relief.

Kickoff is at 1:35 p.m. PT  at NRG Stadium.

Oakland is hoping that this won’t be the last time they travel to Houston for a big game this season, but all hands are definitely on deck.

According to a report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Oakland is planning to sign journeyman quarterback Garrett Gilbert to the practice squad and could be active for the Wild Card game.

Gilbert, a former sixth round draft pick by in 2014 by the then-St. Louis Rams, spent all of last season on Oakland’s practice squad. Gilbert actually spent his rookie season with the New England Patriots and won a Super Bowl ring after being cut by the Rams.

The Raiders do have two dangerous pass-catchers in wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Crabtree led Oakland with five catches for 47 yards, while Cooper hauled in four catches for 39 yards including a 32-yard catch for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Crabtree (89 catches/1,003 yards/8 TDs) and Cooper (83 catches/1,153 yards/5 TDs) became the first Raider duo with 1,000 yards in a season since Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (83 catches/1,139 yards/9 TDs) and Tim Brown (91 catches/1,165 yards/9 TDs) did it in 2001.

Latavius Murray powers an Oakland running attack that will need to bounce back after rushing for 57 yards against a Broncos’ defense that has had trouble stopping the run this season.

Murray, who led Oakland with 788 yards rushing this season on 195 carries, tied former Raiders running back Marcus Allen’s franchise record with 12 rushing touchdowns. The Hall of Famer scored 12 rushing touchdowns for the Raiders in 1990 when the Silver and Black called Los Angeles home.

When you share company with a player like Allen, who was one of the most prolific offensive players in league history, that’s saying something for Murray.

Oakland’s defense, which has been hot and cold this season, let Broncos running backs run freely for huge yardage. The backfield of Justin Forsett (22 carries for 90 yards) and Devontae Booker (14 carries, 57 yards, TD) gave Oakland fits all day, especially Booker.

Booker capped off an 8-play, 84-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to give Denver a 7-0 lead on the Broncos’ opening drive. Forsett’s 64-yard run (the longest run by a Broncos running back this season) on Denver’s third drive would set up a 22-yard field goal from kicker Brandon McManus that gave Denver a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Following a Raiders’ punt, Booker helped Denver stake a 17-0 lead shortly before halftime after taking a short pass from quarterback Trevor Siemian 43 yards for a touchdown.

But when you think hard about the chances for a Raiders’ victory, the more and more you got to believe that defensive end Khalil Mack and the defense will have to show up against a Houston team that has questions at quarterback of their own ahead of Saturday’s showdown in H-Town.

It’s only right since Mack is Oakland’s closer on defense, making game-changing plays in the fourth quarter when the Silver and Black have needed them.

Mack’s 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, and pick-6 has the third-year pro from Buffalo one of the favorites for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The No. 4-seeded Texans (9-7) don’t know who will play quarterback for them Saturday. According to reports, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien is expected to name a starter Tuesday.

Newly minted started Tom Savage (5-of-8 for 25 yards) left Sunday’s game at Tennessee with a concussion and was replaced by former starter Brock Osweiler for the remainder of the game.

Savage did clear the league concussion protocol during the game, but was held out for Osweiler, who finished 21-of-40 for 253 yards and a touchdown in Houston’s 24-17 loss in Music City.

Osweiler, who signed to a four-year, $72 million contract ($37 million guaranteed) to be the Houston’s franchise quarterback after four seasons backing up future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver, had Houston in first place in the AFC South the entire year but has been inconsistent this season.

In 14 starts this season, Osweiler has thrown for 2,957 yards with 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Houston is 29th in the league in scoring at 17.4 points per game this season, and do have some play-makers of their own.

Running back Lamar Miller eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing plateau in his first year in Houston following four years in Miami. Miller had 268 carries for 1,073 yards and five touchdowns, but missed the last two games dealing with an ankle injury.

Miller is expected to play Saturday which is critical to Houston’s offense.

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is the Texans leading receiver with 78 catches for 954 yards, and is tied with tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz for the team lead with four touchdown catches.

Houston’s defense was expected to suffer without superstar defensive end J.J. Watt, who only played in three games this season due to back surgery, but the unit hasn’t taken a step back in Watt’s absence as it finished ranked No. 1 in total defense yielding just 301.3 yards per game to opposing offenses.

The Silver and Black finished the season ranked seventh in total offense, averaging 26 points and 373.2 yards per game, albeit with Carr in the lineup.

Linebackers Whitney Mercilus (7.5) and Benardrick McKinney (5.0), along with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (6.0) combine for 18.5 of Houston’s 31 sacks this season.

McKinney leads Houston with 129 tackles, while Clowney was named to his first AFC Pro Bowl team.

This will be the second time that these two teams meet up this season.

Oakland scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to squeak past  Houston 27-20 in Week 11 in Mexico City. Houston held Oakland to just 120 yards offensively through the first three quarters.

The Raiders defense must do a better job on containing Miller this time around after allowing 24 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown to Houston’s starting running back in the last meeting.

 

 

 

NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview: Patriots, Cards, Panthers, and Broncos move on

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon

After a 4-0 record last weekend in the wild card round, I can pat myself on the back for accurately picking that Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Green Bay would win, but the divisional round is a whole different animal.

Oh yeah, it was the first time in NFL history that all four road teams won in the wild card round.

With three of the four games rematches from the regular season, there is a chance that all four games are going to come down to the wire. The teams that can execute in crunch time, limit the bone-head mistakes, and penalties will have the greatest chances of playing in next week’s conference championship games.

In the divisional round this weekend, it will be the home teams that will protect their turf with impressive victories and move one step closer to Santa Clara and Super Bowl 50.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5); 5th seed at New England (12-4); 2nd seed –  Saturday 4:35 p.m. ET/1:35 p.m. PT – CBS

The divisional round is kicked off with Kansas City again, but this time the Chiefs are flying to Foxborough to take on a Patriots team fresh off a bye week.

Kansas City has been the hottest team in football, winners of 11 straight after destroying the Texans 30-0 in Houston last Saturday’s AFC wild card game. It was Kansas City’s first playoff victory in 22 years.

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was a difficult cover for the Texans, finishing the game with eight catches for 128 and provided quarterback Alex Smith with a reliable receiver.

Smith’s top playmaker, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, is dealing with a high-ankle sprain and is a game time decision. Should Maclin play, he will draw the attention of Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, who was voted to his first Pro Bowl team this season.

Kansas City does have a solid running game with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, who racked up 67 rushing yards. Those two will be heavily involved in the game plan as the weather in Foxborough calls for rain, which makes Kansas City’s running game that much vital if they have a chance to knockoff New England. Ware is dealing with an ankle injury as well, but should be ready to go.

The last time Kansas City played New England, the Chiefs thumped the Patriots 41-14 at Arrowhead last season, prompting talks that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was old and it was time for him to retire.

Brady, who finished the regular season with 36 touchdowns and a 102.2 passer rating (his best numbers in four seasons), should have his full compliment of targets in tight end Rob Gronkowski, and wide receivers Danny Amendola, and Julian Edelman at his disposal.

All three players missed time during the regular season, but New England continued to find ways to win games, but are entering the playoffs with a 2-4 record, the worst six-game record under head coach Bill Belichick to end the season.

Brady was sacked 38 times in the regular season, third-worst in his career. Kansas City has one of the best pass rushes in the league, finishing with 47 sacks, which was two behind New England’s defensive unit.

Kansas will have to provide pressure on Brady and force him to be uncomfortable in the pocket. If you allow Brady to have time to survey the field, he will find the open man and will hurt you.

“Any time you can get to the quarterback and put pressure on him, or make him uncomfortable in the pocket, you can create turnovers,” said Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston this week. “Every week that’s our plan, that’s our goal: Dominate every snap.”

Kansas City forced 29 turnovers this season after just mustering 13 last season. Rookie cornerback Marcus Peters finished tied in the NFL with Bengals safety Reggie Nelson with eight interceptions.

The player to watch for New England is defensive end Chandler Jones, who was hospitalized last Sunday for a “medical emergency.” Jones did apologize to his teammates and coaches Thursday for what he termed as a “stupid mistake” on his part.

Jones recorded 12.5 sacks this season, which was fifth in the league.

The Chiefs look to snap a five-game losing streak in New England, but it’s really tough to pick against Belichick and the Patriots when they’ve had two weeks to prepare.

Chiefs 21 – Patriots 30

Green Bay (10-6); 5th seed at Arizona Cardinals (13-3); 2nd seed –  Saturday 8:15 p.m. ET/5:15 p.m. PT – NBC

In Week 16, Arizona hammered Green Bay 38-8, in which the Cardinals registered nine sacks. The game got out of hand very quickly as the Cardinals held the Packers to just 178 yards of total offense, which was their second-worst offensive output this season.

In addition to the nine sacks, Arizona’s defense scored two touchdowns as Green Bay’s offensive line had no chance at protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Green Bay found themselves down 11-0 in a NFC wild card game last week to Washington, before waking up and pulling away from the Redskins 35-18.

One player who really wanted to get another shot at the Cardinals is Rodgers, who was sacked eight times on Dec. 27.

“We kind of felt like this was a possibility to be able to go back after that loss,” said Rodgers per the Packers’ official website. “We’re coming off, obviously, a big win, and in (the Cardinals’) last game they got beat by a lot. So it’s going to be a more competitive game, I bet.”

Arizona got ran out of its own building by NFC West rival Seattle 36-6 in Week 17 to close out the regular season.

Carson Palmer, Arizona’s 36-year-old signal-caller, will attempt to win his first career playoff game for the third time. Palmer set franchise records for a quarterback in passing yards (4,671) and touchdown passes (35). The 13-year veteran leads a Cardinals’ offense that finished first in the league in total yards per game (408.3) and second in points per game (30.6).

In the Dec. 27 meeting, Palmer finished 18 of 27 for 265 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and was sacked twice.

Green Bay’s defense harassed Washington’s quarterback Kirk Cousins, sacking him six times.

Cousins is definitely not Palmer, but Green Bay’s defensive coordinator Dom Capers will need to neutralize Palmer and prevent him from getting the ball to wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald (109 catches, 1,215 yards, 9 TDs), John Brown (65 catches, 1,003 yards, 7 TDs), and Michael Floyd (52 catches, 849 yards, 6 TDs).

Rookie running back David Johnson, who has stepped in nicely for injured starting running back Chris Johnson (no relation), combined for 127 yards receiving and rushing and a touchdown against the Packers this season. Johnson finished the season with 13 total touchdowns and could prove to be the difference maker for Arizona.

The game will be closer than it was in Week 16, but the Cardinals are tough at the University of Phoenix Stadium this season (7-1) in what could be a Saturday night spectacular.

In their previous playoff meeting in 2009, Rodgers threw for 423 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception, but it was the forced fumble and recovery by then-Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby for the game winning score that prove to be the difference in Arizona’s 51-45 overtime victory.

That was Rodgers’ first playoff start.

Packers 27 – Cardinals 33

Seattle (10-6); 6th seed at Carolina Panthers (15-1); 1st seed –  Sunday 1:05 p.m. ET/10:05 a.m. PT – FOX

This is the marquee game of the weekend in my eyes. Two teams that are so evenly matched with two outstanding quarterbacks and defenses that will hit you in the mouth.

In all honesty, Seattle has no business even playing this weekend.

The Seahawks’ season were brought back from the dead after Minnesota’s kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal that would’ve won the game, but held on to a 10-9 victory on the road in Minnesota in last Sunday’s NFC wild card game. Seattle is looking to advance to the NFC Championship game for the third straight year, but will need to put up a herculean effort if they are going to get passed Carolina.

Let’s not forget it was Carolina who went to Seattle last year in the divisional round and lost to the Seahawks 31-17, en route to Seattle’s second straight Super Bowl appearance.

This season, Carolina enacted a bit of revenge when they traveled to Seattle again in Week 6 and beat the Seahawks in a gritty, 27-23, come-from-behind victory. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw two first-half interceptions before leading Carolina back from a 13-point deficit in the second half, and hitting his favorite target in tight end Greg Olsen for a 26-yard touchdown catch down the middle of the field with 32 seconds remaining in the game.

Newton, who is one of the favorites to win the league’s MVP award, especially with being the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30 touchdowns and rushing for 10 touchdowns, completed 20 of 36 passes for 269 yards. Newton also racked up 30 yards rushing and a touchdown.

After the game, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said that game was “one of the bigger victories we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Panthers safety Roman Harper recently said that Carolina is “the better team.” “We need to go out and show confidence in who we are and the things we have done all year – and don’t shy away from the pressure.”

“After we played them, (in Week 6), we said “We’ll see you again in the playoffs,” Josh Norman, the Panthers’ Pro Bowl cornerback told Carolina’s official website.

Boy, I can’t wait for this game!

Carolina would make a huge statement in knocking off Seattle. Carolina hasn’t been to the NFC Championship game since 2005, where they lost at Seattle 34-14.  Many believe Seattle are peaking at the right time.

Dealing in the frigid conditions of Minnesota where the temperature was below-zero, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson completed 13 of 26 passes for 142, one touchdown and one interception.

Wide receiver Doug Baldwin caught five passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. Baldwin had a breakout season, finishing with 78 catches for 1,069 yards and 14 touchdowns. Seattle’s top receiver should see a lot of Norman, who can get under a wide receiver’s skin with his trash talking and suffocating-like cover skills.

Running back Marshawn Lynch is expected to play this week after not making the trip to Minnesota last week. Lynch should provide Seattle with a much needed running game to take a little of the pressure off of Wilson.

Seattle’s top-ranked run defense (81.5 yards per game)was on full display last week, holding NFL rushing champion Adrian Peterson to 45 yards on 23 carries.

One thing is for certain, there will be a streak that will come to an end Sunday, either Carolina’s 11 game home winning streak, or Seattle’s franchise record six game road playoff win streak – which includes last week’s victory in Minnesota.

Its a toss up, but Carolina looks like the time is now for them to take the next step.

Seahawks 17 – Panthers 20

Pittsburgh (10-6); 6th seed at Denver (12-4); 1st seed –  Sunday 4:40 p.m. ET/1:40 p.m. PT – CBS

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hampered by a shoulder injury and will be limited Sunday and wide receiver Antonio Brown out with a concussion, there is no way that Pittsburgh is going to travel to Denver and take out the Broncos Sunday to close out the divisional round.

Denver’s secondary is much healthier now than it was on Dec. 20 where Roethlisberger completed 40 of 55 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns, and Brown caught 16 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, all season-highs for any opponent against Denver’s tough defense.

Denver did record two interceptions and three sacks off of Roethlisberger in the Week 15 encounter.

Roethlisberger is the only quarterback to throw over 300 yards against Denver this season.

“We got lucky the first time,” said Roethlisberger via the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “We made plays, they had guys injured, we were at home. It’s not going to be that easy (again).”

Pittsburgh slipped by AFC North rival Cincinnati 18-16 last Saturday in an AFC wild card match up. The Steelers were aided by back-to-back Cincinnati penalties in the fourth quarter that setup kicker Chris Boswell’s 35-yard game winning field goal in the closing seconds of the game.

Denver will start quarterback Peyton Manning in Sunday’s contest. Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler completed 21 of 44 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns, but this will be Manning’s show.

Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders combined for 15 catches, 242 yards and three touchdowns on Dec. 20, gives Manning the necessary targets to exploit a Steelers’ defense that ranks 30th in the NFL in passing defense yielding 271.9 yards per game this season.

Denver has won eight of their last 11 meetings against Pittsburgh at Mile High, including a 29-23 overtime thriller in a AFC wild card game on Jan 8, 2012 behind a Tim Tebow 80-yard touchdown pass to Thomas.

Steelers 21 – Broncos 35

Stats provided by Elias Sports Bureau, NFL.com,  and STATS LLC.