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BST&N’S 2013 NFL Predictions From The Playoffs To Individual Awards

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It’s almost here, but if you weren’t excited enough about the NFL returning in a couple weeks, here are a few more reasons. It’s time to make some predictions that will inevitably have clear cut outomes and boggle the minds of some while sparking some pretty intense debates. I think I have them all right, though. Here are my picks for all eight division winners, the four Wild Card teams, each conference’s championship matchup, the Super Bowl, league leaders and major award recipients.

AFC East (2): Patriots – Nine straight division titles when the team has been quarterbacked by Tom Brady? Yeah, make it 10 for New England. While they undoubtedly will be transitioning on the field this season, they are still fairly high above the other three teams in the division. Plus, their quarterback never runs into butts.

AFC North (4): Bengals – Get used to hearing “Dalton to Green” and get used to seeing the Bengals in the postseason (even if it is just for one game) for the third straight year. Cleveland will probably finish fourth.

AFC South (3): Colts – The Colts made an unbelievable turnaround in 2012 and it seems to me they are not done improving. Eleven wins last season was good, but I see them hitting at least 12 this year, including making a push to overtake the Texans late in the year with a huge win over them in Week 15.

AFC West (1): Broncos – Obviously. This one will probably be the biggest division win by any team this season. I say 14-2 for Denver with San Diego the closest to them at 7-9. Welker…and Decker…and Thomas might play a role in their success as well.

Peyton Manning wil lead the Broncos to another division title.

Peyton Manning wil lead the Broncos to another division title.

AFC Wild Card (5): Texans – Houston has three of the best players in the league in Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt. The supporting cast is not bad either and Matt Schaub obviously has what it takes to lead a team to the postseason. I just think the Colts will steal the division from them sooner or later and Houston will wind up in the five-spot.

AFC Wild Card (6): Ravens – Though their defense is gong to look quite different, the Ravens should be able to get enough out of Joe Flacco to back in to the playoffs as the conference’s No.6 seed. From there, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were bounced immediately as I’m a little wary that Flacco might have nothing left to motivate him.

NFC East (3): Redskins – As long as RG’s knee can hold up for 16 games, the Redskins are poised to repeat as NFC East champs. He will be an x-factor for them this season, leading them to big wins over the Packers, Falcons and Giants and clinching this division before the final night of the season.

NFC North (4): VikingsAdrian Peterson will carry them to the division title in 2013. That’s really the only way I see that happening for the Vikes, who will have to contend with the Packers and maybe even the Lions or Bears. Green Bay finishes a very close second, but will be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

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A Few Points About The Patriots-Texans Divisional Playoff Game

The last time the Patriots played the Texans, it was pretty easy. This time, however, it likely won't be.

The last time the Patriots played the Texans, it was pretty easy. This time, however, it likely won’t be.

It’s almost here. The rematch of the biggest game in Texans history. Thus, the new biggest game in Texans history. As kickoff between the defending AFC Champion Patriots and the revenge-minded Texans approaches, here are some things to keep in mind.

While many of the core of the Patriots players have been there early (and often) in their careers, it is the first playoff game for eight key members of the team. They include Brandon Bolden, Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Shane Vereen, Michael HoomanawanuiDont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones and, perhaps most notably, Brandon Lloyd.

Lloyd has played the most regular season games without getting to play one in the postseason with 128 in his career.

In his 23rd career postseason game, Tom Brady could become the first quarterback to ever amass 17 playoff wins. His idol, Joe Montana had 16 in his 16-year career. Brady’s playoff record currently sits at 16-6. So, we got that going for us.

Also, we have the support of self-proclaimed nerd and eerily accurate predictor, Nate Silver, who has an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what will happen before it happens. Silver, who appeared on ESPN’s First Take earlier this week, explained why it will be the Patriots and Seahawks facing off in Super Bowl XLVII three weeks from now.

Silver correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states in the 2008 presidential election and was also right on the money in all 35 of the Senate races that year. Needless to say, he’s caught the ear of a few people. It can’t hurt to have him on our side.

Just to make things seem a little more comfortable, 11 of 12 ESPN experts have picked the Pats to win the rematch against the team they dominated a little over a month ago. Tedy Bruschi, Mike Reiss and Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com all picked the home team to win as well and were joined by simulations run by Madden ’13 and AccuScore.

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Patriots 2012 Regular Season By The Numbers

On the surface, it is easy for any fan to see just how good or bad of a season their team has had. Whether it be wins and losses or total points put up, some stats tell the story, god or bad, of the year of their favorite team.

What most fans fail to sometimes realize, however, is all the stats that go into making an NFL team successful. Here are a bunch you would never even think to remotely consider about the 2012 season of the New England Patriots.

You name it. If it can be statistically tracked in the NFL, it’s probably in this post.

0 – The number of wins the team had when their leading rusher was under 40 yards for the game (0-2).

0 – The Patriots had no two-point conversions on the year. Just kind of odd.

0.5 – Brandon Bolden averaged half a yard more per carry than Stevan Ridley did.

1 – The number of franchises to score 500 points four different times. New England accomplished that this year after 500-point seasons in 2007, 2010 and 2011 as well.

1 – The New England offense ranked first in the NFL in total yards, yards per game, points and points per game in 2012.

1 – Of the four members of the team who finished the year as the starting secondary, only one (Devin McCourty) was on the team last year. Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Steve Gregory were the other three.

1 – Vince Wilfork‘s four forced fumbles were tied for first in the NFL.

1 – The number of full games that tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski were both on the field for the whole contest – the season finale against the Dolphins.

1 – The number of NFL quarterbacks to throw at least one touchdown pass in all 16 regular season games for three straight seasons – Tom Brady in 2010-12.

2 – The number of teams to ever win 10-plus games in 10 consecutive seasons – the Patriots became the second to accomplish that this year.

2 – Their two-game losing streak in Weeks 2 and 3 was tied for their longest losing streak since they lost four straight in the 2002 season.

2 – This season was the second time they have gone undefeated against the AFC East, joining the 2007 team.

2 – The number of teams to ever record 400 first downs in a season – the 2012 Pats and the 2011 Saints.

2 – The number of points that Stephen Gostkowski needed to tie the all-time single-season Patriots scoring record set by Gino Cappelletti in 1964.

3 – Pass plays in the NFL this season longer than Shane Vereen‘s 83-yard reception in Week 12.

3 – It had been three years since the Patriots lost four or more games in a season (10-6 in 2009).

3 – The Pats have scored 500-plus points in three consecutive seasons.

The Patriots' offense has been unstoppable in the three years since drafting this duo.

The Patriots’ offense has been nearly unstoppable in the three years since drafting this duo.

4 – New England had four different players lead the team in receiving in their 16 games – Brandon Lloyd (3), Wes Welker (9), Gronkowski (3) and Vereen (1).

4 – It was Brady’s fourth career season of throwing 30 or more touchdown passes, good for a tie for the fourth-most all-time.

4 – Welker finished four receptions behind league-leader Calvin Johnson, who had 122 on the year.

4 – The Patriots have made the playoffs in each of the last four seasons.

4 – The team had four different players lead them in rushing in their 16 games – Ridley (13), Bolden (1), Julian Edelman (1) and Danny Woodhead (1).

5 – There have only been five Patriots running backs to rush for 1,200 yards in the team’s history. Ridley became the fifth this year.

5 – Wilfork was elected to the fifth Pro Bowl of his career and will start on the defensive line for the AFC.

5 – The team has held its opponents to 20 points or less in five of six games since Nov. 18 (5-1).

6 – In 16 games, the Patriots only lost six fumbles.

6 – The Pats finished six spots higher in total defense this year compared to last season when they finished 31st in the league.

6 – New England has been a top-10 offense in the NFL for six straight seasons.

7 – The amount of consecutive games that Brady needs to throw a touchdown pass in to break the all-time record of 54.

7 – New England’s longest winning streak of the year from Week 7 through Week 14.

7 – The number of points that Brady’s total QBR trailed Peyton Manning‘s for tops in the league.

7 – McCourty was one of seven NFL players to return a kickoff more than 100 yards on the year.

7 – The team sent seven members to the Pro Bowl in 2012.

New England's seven Pro Bowlers in 2012 are the third-most in the league.

New England’s seven Pro Bowlers in 2012 are the third-most in the league.

7 – Last year’s NFL leader in interceptions, Kyle Arrington, had seven fewer interceptions in 2012 than a year ago. He had seven in 2011.

8 – The number of years it had been since the team had a 1,200-yard rusher before this year. Corey Dillon rushed for 1,635 yards in 2004.

8 – Rob Ninkovich led the team with eight sacks on the year.

8 – The Pats had eight return TD’s on the season.

9 – The number of games in which the starting offensive line of Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Logan Mankins were all on the field together.

9 – Brady now ranks ninth on the NFL’s all-time passing list with 44,806 yards. He needs 1,427 yards to pass Vinny Testaverde.

9 – Ridley finished the season as one of just nine non-kickers in the top-40 in the league in scoring.

9 – The team has a nine-game division win streak heading into next season.

10 – The number of consecutive 10-win seasons for the Patriots – the second longest such streak ever (16).

10 – The team scored 30-plus points 10 times in their 16 games in 2012 (8-2).

10 – The number of players who had a rushing attempt for the Pats in 2012 led by Ridley’s 290 carries.

10 – New England had 10 more sacks than it allowed in 2012.

11 – They also had 11 more interceptions than their opponents did.

11 – The combined number of points New England fell by in its four losses against the Cardinals (2), Ravens (1), Seahawks (1) and 49ers (7).

11 – The number of current and former Pro Bowl running backs that Ridley out-rushed in 2012.

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Early Struggles Doom Patriots As 2nd Half Surge Not Enough

Down and (eventually) out: Tom Brady couldn't quite lead his team to a comeback for the ages as the mistakes mounted up in Foxboro.

Down and (eventually) out: Tom Brady couldn’t quite lead his team to a comeback for the ages as the mistakes mounted up in Foxboro.

Usually, 34 points is enough to win you a game.

Although, professional football games usually aren’t this ugly.

And the old adage lives on: good defense usually beats good offense.

That was not the case Sunday night, however, as this game was anything but usual. The league’s best offense met the league’s best defense in a primetime matchup at the stadium where the first-place Patriots have been unbeatable during the last three winters. The 9-3-1 San Francisco 49ers made the cross-country trip to the home of the 10-3 New England Patriots and, though they undoubtedly got nervous in the 2nd half, escaped with a 41-34 win over the three-time champs.

“Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a team is to spend all week having everyone tell you you’re going to win the Super Bowl.”  It seems, at least right now, that this sentiment offered by Al Michaels during the broadcast last night, is right on the money.

In the nastiest of weather conditions (35 degrees and raining), which undoubtedly affected both teams, the 49ers came out flying and looked to definitely have the edge in the first 10 minutes of the game. As the president addressed the nation, the 49ers offense went to work.

The home team got the ball first as the rain poured down and got right into their no-huddle offense. After a 1st down completion to Brandon Lloyd, Stevan Ridley put the ball on the ground, but luckily for the Pats, Ridley’s backside was ruled down by the officials. On the next play, however, Ridley was sent backwards and less than a minute into the game, the stingy 49ers defense had forced a three-and-out on the league’s best offense and provided a sign of things to come.

Colin Kaepernick wasted no time after the three-and-out as he came out firing and picked up first downs on three consecutive throws. On the sixth play of the drive, Kaepernick hit former Patriot Randy Moss with a 24-yard pass for the touchdown as the crowd in Foxboro sat in shock at the start. San Fran marched 63 yards in 2:40 for the touchdown on 3rd & 7. It was Moss’ 156th career touchdown – second all-time.

Aldon Smith then showed why he has a chance to set the single-season sacks record as he got to Tom Brady twice on the next drive, though he was unable to bring him down either time. The San Francisco defense forced a second straight punt to open the night. The weather then helped the home team out as Kaepernick couldn’t handle the snap on 3rd & 1, but did cover it up and the team was able to punt it away.

A holding call on Mike Rivera on the return gave New England the ball at their own 20 and Brady threw up what may have been an ill-advised attempt that was picked off by Carlos Rogers, who returned it 53 yards to the 5-yard line of the Patriots. Thankfully, Delanie Walker returned the favor by fumbling at the New England three and after review, the fumble stood. Steve Gregory forced the fumble and Aqib Talib got the recovery. Brady made the touchdown-saving tackle (which ended up being huge) on Rogers to keep him on the right side of the goal line following his first interception in 230 pass attempts at home. Another three-and-out resulted, however, and Zoltan Mesko, who was very busy in the 1st half, entered the game for the third time.

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Patriots Super Bowl Chances Looking Better And Better

It's been a while since we've seen this as Tom Brady, surprisingly, hasn't raised the Lombardi Trophy in eight years.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen this as Tom Brady, surprisingly, hasn’t raised the Lombardi Trophy in eight years, but his chances this February look good.

Before Monday night’s demolition of the league’s best team, the Houston Texans, the Patriots were thought to be in pretty good position in their pursuit for their fourth Super Bowl Title. Since their 42-14 win, however, the Pats have gone from Super Bowl contenders to Super Bowl favorites with oddsmakers placing them at 3-1 to win Super Bowl XLVII.

If they can destroy the then 11-1 Texans by 28 points, then the feeling is that they should be able to beat anybody in any round of the playoffs. After all, the team’s three losses this season have been by a total of four points if we remember and two out of three came against playoff caliber teams in the Ravens and the Seahawks.

The 11 other teams currently in position to make the playoffs are averaging 25.4 points per game this year. The Patriots are averaging 36.3 points per game this season – 7.5 points per game more than the second-highest scoring team, the Broncos. In fact, their offense is on pace to perhaps break the record for the most points scored in a season, which is held by the 2007 team (589) as they have scored 472 points through 13 games.

Those 11 teams are also allowing an average of 19.6 points per game, something else that New England would seem to not have a problem dealing with. They have scored less than 19 points only once this season (18 in Week 2).

The Patriots’ last six games have resulted in these point totals: 45, 37, 59, 49, 23, 42. Would anybody really be able to slow them down enough at a time in his career when Tom Brady is playing on a whole other level?

Though they have three losses, many of their wins have come against playoff teams, including big ones against Houston and the Colts, as well as a 10-point victory over the Broncos. Their schedule was not as tough last year when they went 14-2 and won the AFC Championship.

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Brady’s Success No Secret

Maybe whenever Tom Brady does this he's letting the defense know that he's smarter than them.

Maybe whenever Tom Brady does this he’s letting the defense know that he’s smarter than them.

Few athletes have the patience and desire to prepare themselves for battle after battle on the same level as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Every week presents a new challenge whether it’s playing in the frigid cold of Green Bay, the intense heat of Miami, the incredibly loud environment of Seattle or against the freakish ability of the Houston Texans’ front seven to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage.

No matter the situation, make no mistake about it, the two-time Super Bowl MVP will be prepared to combat the unfavorable conditions that are thrown his way on a weekly basis.

Bill Belichick has been known to prepare his teams extremely well for games, especially in the second half of the season, which his team has coasted through during the last three years, compiling a 21-0 record after the midway point. Perhaps Brady has learned from his coach of 13 years that not only does practice make perfect, but so does preparation.

Brady has been known to start watching film on opponent’s defensive alignments, their blitz tendencies or anything else he can think of right after the previous game has ended. A long flight back to Boston from Miami last week may have been spent studying and analyzing the Houston defense and how to exploit them. The 3 a.m. bedtime that night was probably for the same reason. Safe to say it probably paid off.

What perhaps made things even more exciting for Brady was the extra day of preparation he was awarded due to the primetime Monday night game. If you give a genius more than enough time to prepare for the biggest test of the year, he will ace it. And that’s just what Brady did in front of the sellout crowd in Foxboro.

A week full of meetings and then the additional required team film sessions follow Brady’s own preparation. It’s like doing homework so he can succeed at his job, but unlike most kids, he loves to spend the extra time on the problems and work out a real solution.

Earlier Wednesday, Brady even informed the media in his weekly press conference that he began preparing for this week’s game against the NFC West-leading 49ers in the “couple” days after the Thanksgiving Night win over the Jets. You just don’t see that very often. I mean, most quarterbacks wouldn’t even think to do something like that, but then again, most quarterbacks haven’t won three Super Bowl rings.

Some people just wake up, brush their teeth, grab a coffee and head off for another boring day of work. Not this guy, though. Brady has gotten into a real routine during his time in the NFL and I don’t think that anybody is going to disagree with it. It’s worked out pretty well for him.

The uncanny preparation that he goes through was perhaps reflected no better than it was this week against the vaunted Texans pass rush. While he did have his full starting offensive line around him for what seemed like the first time in years, and that certainly helped, Brady was extra careful during the game to execute what he had worked on all week long: not getting passes batted down at the line.

Houston came into the game with 25 pass deflections on the year, by far the most in the NFL. How many did they have Monday night? Zero.

It’s not like they weren’t getting pressure or not getting their hands up. Maybe they just weren’t getting their hands up in time. Brady releases the ball faster than any other QB in the NFL and in this situation, that really worked to his advantage. With the defensive linemen trying first to get position on the O-line before pursuing the quarterback, Brady had probably already let the ball go by that time.

Even when the line did get their hands up, Brady coolly got the ball around them and still managed to fit it in perfectly to his receivers most of the time. There were a couple of misses, but Brady didn’t get lucky. He worked on that. He worked on it all week in practice with tennis rackets representing the hands of the Texan defenders he would have to deliver the ball over on the field.

Once again, the tireless preparation paid off.

Sometimes, in the heat of the game, players can forget what they worked on all week, but no, not him. Brady knew to look for the outstretched hands of defenders when dropping back to pass. And he knew how to avoid them.

Ever wonder why Brady sometimes seems to drop back and just stand almost motionless in the pocket waiting for something to develop and you think, “man, how is he that composed with all that chaos going on within his reach?” He has the confidence in his line, his receivers and mostly in his preparation to know how long he has to get rid of the ball and when his receivers will be able to break away from the coverage. It’s intangibles like those that make him one of the best ever to do what he does.

It’s not just raw talent and hard physical work that have gotten TB12 to where he is. It’s his unrelenting need, desire and ability to prepare for just 60 minutes of game time on a weekly basis.

It’s no accident that he did not allow any batted passes on Monday night.

Happy Tom Brady day.

 

Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.

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