Saturday, January 23, 2016

Six Reasons Why New England Will Beat Denver

Denver Bronco fans, enjoy Peyton Manning while you can in the AFC Championship game in Denver.. Surely the 39-year-old QB won't be back next season. So this will be his farewell performance. Denver won't be going to the Super Bowl this year. New England will see to that.

Here are six reasons why the Patriots will win:.

Reason No. 1:  Peyton Manning isn't Peyton Manning any more. He's a shell of the great QB he used to be. That gunslinger arm is more like a wet noodle now. He's not accurate beyond 15 yards. He's not a passing TD threat any more. These days, he throws more picks than TD passes. His INT total, 17, was second worst in the NFL during the regular season. In the past three games he hasn't had a completion longer than 34 yards. Defenses crowd the line of scrimmage against Denver because there is no deep threat, making it much easier to stop the Bronco offense. In their win over the Steelers last week, the Bronco receivers made things worse by dropping seven passes. Manning's  famed skill at reading defenses is still intact, but he can no longer execute like he once did. He's just a game manager now, and more of a liability than an asset.

Reason No. 2: The Patriots have their main receivers back. When Denver beat the Patriots 30-24 in OT on Nov 29, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were hurt and Rob Gronkowski went down late in the game, so QB Tom Brady had no weapons in OT. This time Brady is fully armed. No team can adequately cover the best clutch receiving corps in the NFL. Denver won't be able to do it. The Patriots lack a scary running attack because of injuries, but that doesn't matter. That Patriot passing game will be enough.

Reason No. 3: The Patriots have a considerable edge in coaching, with Bill Bilichick towering over Denver's Gary Kubiak. Coaches are responsible for assorted adjustments and strategies during the course of a game. Nobody is better at that than Belichick. 

Reason No. 4: The Bronco defense is overrated--very good but not in a class with the great Ravens' defenses or the Seahawks defenses that carried Seattle to back-to back Super Bowls. Last week, without super receiver Antonio Brown, Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger, limited by a bum throwing arm, torched the Bronco secondary for 339 yards. What do you think a healthy Patriot passing attack will do to that secondary?

Reason No. 5:  To beat the Patriots, Denver will need turnovers--lots of them in key situations. That's not likely to happen. New England led the league with just 14 turnovers. In the last four games, the Patriots have turned the ball only three times. 

Reason No. 6 : The Patriots' superior offensive line, which is among the best at pass-protection, will slow down the Broncos' vaunted pass rush and give Brady time to throw. In the second half of the season, the Denver pass rush, ferocious in the first half, hasn't been nearly as effective. The only way to stop Brady is with a killer pass rush. Downgraded to merely very good, the Denver pass rush won't get the job done against the Pats' offensive line.

In betting terms, the Patriots are favored by three. But the game is essentially a pick 'em.  Denver gets three points for playing at home, which wipes out the Pats' three-point edge, evening things up.

Smart money, though, is on New England.

Monday, January 11, 2016

How Underdog Clemson Can Beat Alabama

Remember how Texas QB Vince Young, an awesome runner and a capable passer, destroyed USC  in the national championship game, a 41-38 thriller, in January, 2006?. Something similar could happen in today's game, with Clemson QB, Deshaun Watson,  going all Vince-Young on Alabama.

Watson, who's just a sophomore, is the reincarnation of Young, The ACC's Watson is the best player in the country, though bullish Bama RB Derrick Henry won the Heisman, thanks to the usual SEC bias. Watson is the best running QB since Young, superior to Heisman winners Manziel, Tebow and Mariota.

This championship game comes down to Watson vs the great Bama front seven, the best in college football. Can they contain him? In the playoff battle on New Year's Eve,  tough, talented Oklahoma couldn't handle Watson and fell pretty easily 37-17. But the Sooners' front seven is no where near as good as Bama's, which is big, fast and particularly skilled at ranging side-to-side and pressuring QBs, having recorded 50 sacks, tops in the country. Watson controlled that game with his scrambling and rushing, piling up145 yards on 24 carries, part of Clemson's whopping 550 total.

Watson will have plenty of help. The Clemson offensive line, which doesn't get nearly enough attention, is among the nation's elite. They can hold their own against the Bama defensive front and give Watson room to work.

Bama's offense, featuring Henry's rushing, is underwhelming, particularly its poor passing game. The Bama QB Jake Coker is, at best, average,  The Tide won't kill you with passing or long drives, ranking a pitiful 96th nationally in 3rd down conversions. Clemson's game plan is obvious--stack the line to stop Henry and dare Coker to beat you with this passing, which he can't.

Coach Dabo Swinney's Clemson has won all its 14 games this season and is on a 17-game win streak, beginning late last season. Nick Saban's Alabama team has lost just once, falling to Ole Miss last September in Tuscaloosa, 43-37, mainly because the Rebels won the turnover battle 5-0.

Bama is a 6.5 favorite over Clemson. Much of that is based on the Tide's 38-0 massacre of Michigan State in the semi-final game. Experts are giving that easy victory way too much weight. MSU, with its lame offense, didn't belong in that final-four game.

Clemson is a much better all-around team, with a monster at QB. If you're betting, take the underdog. You're betting on Watson pulling a Vince-Young.

He just might do it.