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2014 Super Bowl XLVIII Free Pick

Super Bowl XLVIII: Broncos vs. Seahawks, 6:30PMET
Whether it’s because of the overreaction to Richard Sherman’s outburst following the NFC title game or the fact that Peyton Manning can see the light at the end of his career, the Broncos have become “Joe Public’s” team for Super Bowl XLVIII.

It’s hard to blame the betting public for wagering on the Broncos at a near 70-percent clip. Teams have a difficult enough time beating Manning when he has six days to prepare for them, let alone two weeks. Denver also is a matchup nightmare for any defense thanks to Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, and John Fox and Jack Del Rio has the defense playing as well right now as any point in the season.

Do you feel a “but” coming on?

I like the Seahawks. I’d shop around until I found the line at 3 or bet it up to a field goal, but it wouldn’t shock me if Seattle won outright. The team with the No. 1 defense in the regular season has often fared well in the Super Bowl, going 12-4 straight up over the history of the game. Not only did Seattle have the best defense in the league this year, the referees often “let ‘em play” in the Super Bowl, which benefits the physical nature of the Hawks’ back seven.

It’s not easy, but the way to beat Manning is to disrupt his timing with his receivers, just like the Colts did to Denver in Week 7. Indianapolis won that game in large part because its defense forced three turnovers and Andrew Luck played mistake-free football, but the Colts’ cornerbacks also got their hands on the Broncos’ receivers at the line of scrimmage and often re-routed them off the ball. That flustered Manning and while he still threw for nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns, it was a enough to send Denver to its first loss.

The Seahawks play “Cover 3″ better than any team in the league thanks to Pete Carroll. Outside of Week 2 when he shadowed Anquan Boldin (and subsequently shut him down), Sherman doesn’t “travel” a lot but he and his fellow cornerbacks know Carroll’s system perfectly. The Hawks like to funnel everything inside to where all-everything safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor can make plays between the hashes. K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin can also be a handful to deal with in coverage from their linebacker positions.

Carroll is also multiple with his fronts, meaning that half of his defensive line will play one-gap while the other half or at least some personnel will play two-gap. That can also cause confusion for an offensive line, especially one like Denver that uses a zone blocking scheme. It doesn’t happen often, but if you can confuse Manning and/or his offensive mates, that’s another way to beat the Broncos.

Speaking of Carroll, he’s likely to do something in this game to steal a possession or take a shot down field in order to come up with the big play. Fox, for as solid as he is, often plays things conservatively and I think in the end that could cost him. We saw what happened the last time Manning was in the Super Bowl and Sean Payton rolled the dice with an onsides kick. In the battle of Carroll versus Fox, I’m siding with the coach that’s going to roll the dice.

On the other side of the ball, there’s no question that Seattle’s offense is a concern. They haven’t been right in over a month. But hopefully Darrell Bevell has discovered something over the last two weeks and realizes that he has neutered Russell Wilson to the point of diminishing returns. When the handcuffs were off Wilson in the second half of the NFC title game, he delivered. While the offense still runs through Marshawn Lynch, Bevell needs to allow his young quarterback to make plays. And while Wilson is a Super Bowl virgin, he’s also one of the more poised young signal-callers in the league. Having Percy Harvin back should also help, if nothing else than to make Denver be aware of him.

In the end this is one of the best Super Bowl matchups we’ve seen in quite a while. Nothing would necessarily surprise me although the only true value in this game is taking the points with a Seattle team that should thrive in the underdog role.

SUPER BOWL XLVIII FREE PICK: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS +3

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Ten Observations from Week 17 in the NFL

1. Adrian Peterson is this year’s MVP.
It wouldn’t be a travesty if Peyton Manning were to claim this year’s MVP award. It wouldn’t be a crime, an injustice, or a mockery for the NFL. Having said that, Adrian Peterson is so clearly this year’s most valuable player that it’s almost not even worth discussing. The Vikings went 3-13 last year and owned the third overall pick in the draft (later traded to Cleveland for the fourth overall selection, which was used on outstanding left tackle Matt Kalil). Nobody expected them to finish third in a competitive NFC North, nevertheless winning 10 games and clinching a playoff spot. And with all due respect to Minnesota’s offensive line and underrated defense, without Peterson accomplishing what he did this season, the Vikings may not have won half of the games they did. Opponents put together game plans solely to stop Peterson and often dared second-year quarterback Christian Ponder to beat them, which he rarely did. Yet Peterson did the extraordinary by amassing 1,598 yards over the final 10 games, a number still good enough to lead the league in rushing this season. He finished with a 6.03 yards per carry average, totaled over 100 yards rushing in nine of his final 10 games, and rushed for over 200 yards on two separate occasions. Had there been one more minute left in Sunday’s contest versus the Packers, there is a good chance Peterson would have broke Eric Dickerson’s single-game rushing record as well. All this despite suffering an injury at the end of last season that usually takes players two full seasons to recover from. Consider this as well: Peterson rushed a career-high 34 times in the Vikings’ 37-34 win over the Packers, who oh-by-the-way needed a win to clinch a first-round bye next week. Most running backs wear down throughout an entire season – “All Day” seemingly got stronger. He’s a remarkable player who just put the finishing touches on one of the most remarkable seasons in NFL history. If that doesn’t net him the most prestigious individual award in football, what will?

2. Peyton Manning is deserving of Comeback Player of the Year.
Without Adrian Peterson having a season for the ages, the Vikings would have likely missed the playoffs. Without Peyton Manning, the Broncos may have still been good enough to beat the toilet water in the AFC West thanks to their stout defense. Granted, Denver wouldn’t have clinched the No. 1 seed without Manning but you get the point. Those are just a few reasons why Peterson should be considered the most valuable player in the NFL this season. (The other reasons are detailed above.) But at this time last year, people wondered whether or not Manning would, or better yet, should retire after not taking a single snap in 2011. And all he’s done this year is put together one of the finest seasons of his illustrious career. He finished the regular season with 4,659 yards passing, 37 touchdowns, a 68.6 completion percentage and a 105.8 QB rating, which were all Denver Broncos records. His three-touchdown performance against Kansas City on Sunday was also the 73rd of Manning’s career and gave him yet another NFL record. As mentioned in “Observation No. 1,” it wouldn’t be a farce if Manning were named MVP. But considering his road back to the gridiron was paved with multiple neck/back surgeries, an entire season spent on the sidelines, and a change of cities, Manning’s “comeback” was more impressive than Peterson’s. Either way, both players should be properly recognized for their impressive feats this season.

3. The Texans’ collapse is nearly complete.
On December 2 the Texans were 11-1 having just beaten the Titans to earn their sixth-straight victory. At that moment it seamed unimaginable that Houston wouldn’t have home field advantage throughout the postseason. But the Texans, losers of three of their last four games following their 28-16 defeat in Indianapolis on Sunday, have completely collapsed. Injuries on defense have turned a once top-5 unit into one susceptible of big plays. (See Andrew Luck’s 70-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton as proof.) But there are no excuses as to why Houston’s offense has become punchless over the past month. At the root of the issue is quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw two ugly interceptions to Indy cornerback Vontae Davis on Sunday. Despite completing a high-percentage of throws, Schaub was ineffective for the second straight week and for the third time in his last four games. Remember, Schaub doesn’t have a postseason start under his belt. It would have been nice for the Texans if their playoff-inexperienced quarterback could have built a little momentum heading into next week. Instead, the Texans enter the postseason as one of the coldest teams in the field of 12. And while the Bengals are the least imposing team in this year’s playoffs, their underrated defense is certainly good enough to hold Houston’s struggling offense in check. The Texans now have less than a week to figure out how they’ve gone from Super Bowl favorites to title pretenders.

4. RGIII, AP and the Hawks – the bottom of the NFC is dangerous.
Try as they did, the Cowboys didn’t have much of an answer for Robert Griffin III on Sunday night. As he’s done to opponents all season, RGIII forced Dallas’ defense to play back on its heels, which in turn made Alfred Morris more effective. The Packers also had a hell of a time trying to corral Adrian Peterson, whom they’ll see again in less than a week. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have won five straight games and are arguably the hottest team in the NFC…as the fifth seed. Granted, the media always tries to over hype the lower seeds in the playoffs. That’s probably because we spend an entire season pointing out flaws in the higher-ranked seeds (it’s human nature). But in the case of the Skins, Vikes and Hawks, there’s no downplaying how dangerous they are on any given Sunday. Granted, either the Redskins or Seahawks will be finished next weekend because they play each other in the first round, but would anyone be surprised if any one of these teams wind up in the NFC title game? Thanks to all six teams winning at least 10 games this season, the NFC playoff field is highly intriguing this year.

5. Romo once again saves his worst performance for last.
Heading into Sunday night’s NFC East title tilt between the Redskins and Cowboys, no quarterback in the league was hotter than Tony Romo. In his previous eight games he had thrown 17 touchdown passes to just three interceptions and thanks to plenty of help from Dez Bryant, was practically willing Dallas to a division crown and a playoff berth. But in typical Romo fashion, he saved his worst performance for the biggest moment of the season. He did toss two touchdown passes, which included a crucial 10-yard completion to Kevin Ogletree midway through the fourth quarter to cut the Redskins’ lead down to three with a 2-point conversion. But he also threw three brutal interceptions, the final one coming late in the fourth quarter after the Dallas defense gave its offense a chance to at least tie the game following a punt. Romo wanted to dump the ball off to his running back in the flats and was instead intercepted by linebacker Rob Jackson, who read the play perfectly. It was one of those all-too-familiar moments for Romo, who never saw Jackson retreat to the flats as he lobbed the pass to the sidelines. And thanks to a brutal roughing the passer penalty on Washington’s next drive, the Skins were able to put the game away with a touchdown under two minutes to play. The 32-year-old Romo has once again left Jerry Jones in an unenviable situation. He once again posted great numbers while throwing for over 4,600 yards but the Cowboys will once again be at home for the playoffs. The question is, does Jones still believe he can win a Super Bowl with Romo under center? When his team absolutely had to have a win, Romo didn’t deliver. Again.

6. The Bears have nobody to blame but themselves.
Chicago fans will undoubtedly blame Green Bay’s inability to beat Minnesota as the reason why their beloved Bears missed the playoffs despite finishing with a 10-6 record this season. And technically, they’re right. With Chicago’s season hanging in the balance, the Packers never led in Minnesota and turned in their worst defensive performance in over a month. But from Weeks 11 through 16, Chicago only won one game over a six-game stretch. They also lost three in a row to start the month of December and couldn’t produce against playoff qualifiers Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minnesota and Green Bay. It’s a shame that a 10-win team missed the postseason but the Bears did themselves in by leaving their fate in another team’s hands (specifically their most hated rivals.)

7. Falcons’ Smith still can’t gauge risk vs. reward.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith is conservative by nature. He’s been criticized for playing not-to-lose, especially in the postseason where he’s 0-3 over the past four seasons. And yet, when he does decide to gamble, it comes at the most inopportune times. Take Week 13 of last year for example. His decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 in overtime cost his team a potential victory versus the Saints. He also went for it on fourth down on multiple occasions during the Falcons’ embarrassing 24-2 loss to the Giants in the wild card round, none of which were successful. Fast forward to Sunday when, in a meaningless game, he played his starters in a lackluster loss to the Bucs. The decision could prove to be costly too, as Dunta Robinson (concussion) and John Abraham (ankle) left the game with injuries. Abraham is the bigger concern, as he had to be helped off the field by trainers. Why, with nothing to gain, would Smith risk injury to one of his starters? What was he and the Falcons hoping to prove by going through the motions versus a Tampa Bay team looking to end the season on a high note? If anything, it planted the seed of doubt in a team that had built up some momentum the past two weeks. If Abraham’s injury proves to be serious, then Smith should be questioned for why he can’t manage simple risk versus reward.

8. Vick’s football career reaches a new low.
Michael Vick has been adamant that he’s still a starter but he’ll be fortunate that some team even views him as a capable backup heading into 2013. All you need to know about Vick’s performance on Sunday versus the Giants was that he was pulled in favor of Trent Edwards for the final drive of the game. Over the past two seasons he’s gone 10-13 as a starter while throwing 33 interceptions to go with his 32 touchdowns. He also hasn’t played a full season since 2006 and his threat to run has been neutralized by his inability to take a hit. He may still fancy himself as a starter but even quarterback-hungry teams like the Cardinals, Chiefs and Jaguars will be weary of handing the reigns to a 33-year-old quarterback who is turnover prone, has never been an accurate passer and who can’t stay healthy. Considering many believed he would revolutionize the quarterback position when he came into the league in 2001, Vick may go down as one of the most overrated players in NFL history.

9. Fisher’s first season in St. Louis can only be described as a success.
Success can be defined in different ways. Some people probably read the title of this observation and scoffed. Some believe that because the Colts and Vikings surprised by making the postseason, the Rams should have pulled off the same feat. If only life were that black and white. What could posses someone to have such lofty expectations following a 2-14 season and a complete turnover of the roster is beyond me. It wasn’t logical that they would make the postseason this year. Hell, it wasn’t logical that they could win 8 games, at least not to those outside of St. Louis that weren’t mentally and/or monetarily invested in the team. But thanks in large part to Jeff Fisher, 2012 was a success. Free agency was a success. The draft was a success. Winning 80-percent of their games against a tough division was a mark of success, as was learning how to win on the road. Having said that, does Sam Bradford need to make longer strides in his development? That’s not even an argument – of course he does. But he also deserves an opportunity to compete in a stable environment. Quarterbacks that are forced to learn three different offenses under shoddy tutelage is a recipe for failure. There are some people that have already convinced themselves that he’s nothing more than a marginal quarterback capable of only being a Brad Johnson-type game manager. And that’s fine – we all don’t need to agree. But here are the facts: He threw for a career-high 3,702 yards and 21 touchdowns while managing to start every game of the season (a feat he couldn’t accomplish in 2011). Those are signs of improvement. It might not be the improvement that many had hoped, but the bottom line is that he’s a better quarterback now than he was in 2010. More importantly, the Rams are a better team than they were two years ago when they walked out of CenturyLink Field. Only this time nobody should have false hope about the direction the franchise is headed in.

10. Quick-Hits…
The pass that Andrew Luck made when he looked off the safety and hit T.Y. Hilton perfectly in stride for a 70-yard touchdown was one of the prettiest throws by any quarterback this season. He’s a special player and NFL fans are more enriched by the fact that he and the Colts are in the playoffs…Speaking of which, would anyone be surprised if Indianapolis beat Baltimore next week? The Ravens aren’t exactly sprinting into the postseason…Peyton Manning continued to make his case for NFL MVP by throwing another three touchdown passes on Sunday, but did you see the catches that Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker made? The catch by Thomas was one of the best of the year…Don’t be surprised if the Panthers make the postseason next year. They finished 2012 as one of the hottest teams in the leageu and scored at least 30 points in three of their final four games…2012 turned out to be a lost season for the Saints but it doesn’t take away what Drew Brees accomplished. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards in back-to-back seasons and with Sean Payton back in the fold next year, the Saints will remain explosive…It’s funny, the NFC South was viewed as one of the best divisions in football at the start of the year. By midseason it was viewed as a joke but all four of the division’s inhabitants could be playoff contenders next year…If I’m Jets owner Woody Johnson I’m keeping Rex Ryan in place for his defense and finding both a new quarterback and a new GM for 2013…Credit the Lions for playing with pride. That’s more than anyone can say about the Eagles…The Steelers’ season turned out to be a major disappointment but for the 12th time in 13 years they avoided having a losing season. That’s sustained success right there…Congratulations to the Chiefs for notching the No. 1 overall pick in next April’s draft. It was well earned…Terrelle Pryor is hardly the answer at quarterback for the Oakland Raiders but if nothing else, he gave them something to think about with his two-touchdown performance on Sunday…One of the broadcasters made a good point following the Seahawks’ hard-fought 20-13 win over the Rams on Sunday. After steamrolling opponents the past couple of months, it’ll serve Seattle well to have fought through a little adversity…If Michael Crabtree plays as well as in the playoffs as he did on Sunday then the Niners aren’t going to miss Mario Manningham…RGIII vs. Russell Wilson? Can’t wait.

2010 NFL Draft Third Round Recap: Head-Scratchers, Values & More

Biggest Head-Scratcher: Armanti Edwards, WR, Panthers
I’m fully convinced that Carolina GM Marty Hurney wants to get fired. There’s just know other logical explanation as to why he would trade a first rounder last year for Everette Brown and a second rounder in 2011 for Armanti Edwards. I could only imagine how that phone call went between Hurney and Bill Belichick: “Oh hey, Bill? Yeah, this is Marty Hurney from the Panthers. Hey listen Bill, I’m dying to get out of this place and I’m looking to make a really bad decision in hopes of getting canned. I traded our first round pick this year for Everette Brown last year…yeah, Everette Brown…I know, right? Hahaha. Anyway, it didn’t work and now I have to try something drastic again. What do you think about giving us your third for our second in 2011? Awesome. Hey, you watching your TV? Watch this, I’m about to take Armanti Edwards with your pick. Yeah, seriously…I know, right? Haha…” Look, I watched from the stands as Armanti Edwards almost single-handedly burned down the Michigan football program a couple years ago. I know what kind of player he is and thought he would have been a good pick in the later rounds. But Carolina is set to make him a receiver when he’s never played the position before and they gave up a second round pick in the process. It was a major reach and a major risk seeing as how quarterbacks tend to struggle making the transition to receiver. What another lousy draft day decision by Hurney.

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Pryor rebounds as Ohio State beats Minnesota

After his dismal effort last week in a loss at Purdue, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor rebounded as the Buckeyes trounced Minnesota 38-7 on Saturday.

Outside of his 62-yard touchdown pass to DeVier Posey early in the second quarter, Pryor looked as bad in the first half as he did against Purdue. He underthrew open receivers, forced passes into coverage and threw an interception right before half that killed a potential scoring drive for the Buckeyes.

But in the second half, Pryor used his legs to move the chains and his decision-making was much better. On one play in particular, he escaped a potential sack and once he scrambled towards the sideline, he threw the ball away instead of forcing it to a covered receiver. He finished 13-of-25 for 239 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception, while also rushing for 104 yards on 15 carries.

This performance certainly doesn’t erase how bad Pryor has looked at times this season, but maybe the game will give him confidence going forward. Maybe he did learn something from the loss to Purdue last week.

Minnesota gave Ohio State so many opportunities in this game. They turned the ball over four times, which included fumbling the opening kickoff of the second half. Without receiver Eric Decker, the Golden Gophers are absolutely hapless offensively.

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