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Who Should the Patriots Keep? Part II

Our article series continues with who the New England Patriots should keep and let go for next season.

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Alan Branch – Branch has become an important piece in the Patriots front four during his time in New England. To me, his ability to rush and take on double teams is essential and I don’t think there’s another DT on the team who can do it. Hopefully he isn’t offered a lot of money elsewhere, but as a veteran tackle at a role player position I highly doubt it. Belichick likes him enough to pay him fairly. Stays.

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Chris Long – Chris Long was fun to have this season, providing depth with an adequate pass rush attack. Still, Long isn’t important or memorable enough to keep, especially with a budding Trey Flowers waiting to take on the pass-rush role full-time. If I were New England, I’d thank Long for his time and work and kindly show him the door. Leaves.

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Logan Ryan – Like him or hate him, Logan Ryan proved himself as a solid #2 cornerback in the NFL this season. He’s come a long way, but he finally has an opportunity to make some serious dough in the NFL. If I were him I’d look for the money, so I can’t blame him for leaving, but I really hope he stays. I believe the Patriots also think of Ryan as important for the defense, but it’s likely based on free agency climate that this Super Bowl Champion #2 corner gets offered a large amount of money. Leaves.

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James Develin – A literal cornerstone for the Patriots. In a league that has completely dismissed the Fullback position, Bill Belichick has found a way to make the position crucial for his offense to function. Now, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, because we DO function without him, but notice how much smoother things flow with Develin healthy. There’s literally no way he plays on another team next year. He’s too valuable and the position is so underutilized that signing Develin to a luxurious fullback deal is still a steal. Stays.

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Jabaal Sheard – See: Chris Long. Sheard didn’t step up to the plate this season like expected, as he was given a chance to take over the D-line and instead was used situationally. With a young stud on one side of the line and Rob Ninkovich on the other, I doubt Sheard is spoken to by New England for negotiations. Leaves.

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Michael Floyd – It’s a no-brainer for Floyd to stay on the Patriots, but honestly, I’m not even sure we will want him. Floyd was inactive in the playoffs, which proves he was really only brought in for depth during the playoffs. This doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t return with a bigger role after learning the basics of the system and playing with Tom Brady. His value must be low after his DUI, so this one is a true toss-up if you ask me. Leaves.

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Duron Harmon – This guy is the true underrated player of the Patriots. Harmon’s always making big plays in big moments, and he’s always the next man up when we use three safeties. He’s great in coverage, and could easily be a starter somewhere and begin to make a name for himself. I really hope he stays, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a team that needs safety depth gives him money. Leaves.

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Breaking Down Patriots Free Agents

Now that the Super Bowl has been decided, it’s time for free agency. The time of the year where every team is looking to build up their rosters, and the current Super Bowl winner is just looking to hold onto what they have.

As for the Patriots this year, it’s a big free agency year. The Patriots traded away Chandler Jones and Jaime Collins, two players that are sure to reel in a lot of cash. Although the Patriots have around 60 million dollars of cap room, it’s going to be tough to re-sign everyone they would like to keep. Let’s look at some players and my predictions.

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Malcolm Butler – Malcolm Butler is a restricted free agent, which means that the Patriots can counter any offer that is made for him. In these situations, restricted free agents are likely to stay with the team. I doubt this one goes any different. Mac loves New England, and New England loves him. Belichick has proven that he can succeed without a top-dollar cornerback, but I don’t see this being a factor here. Malcolm will be playing in New England next year. Stays.

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Martellus Bennett – Martellus Bennett, in his one year with the Patriots, helped bring back the dual TE threat, became a more important player when Gronkowski went down for the season, and has embraced the Patriot way like few other first-year players have. I have little doubt Bennett loves the Patriots, and I have little doubt that the Patriots would love to have him back. Sadly, things aren’t this simple. Put plainly, Martellus is going to get offered a fat wad of cash, and this is likely his last big paycheck in the NFL. He’s already stated that there’s more to his life than just football, as he has a budding children’s book company. Expect a team with a lot of money and few weapons to shell out until they reel him in. Gone.

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LeGarrette Blount – The scenario here is the same as Martellus Bennett’s. This dude loves the Patriots, and the Patriots love him. He was crucial to the success of the Super Bowl season, and there’s little doubt in my mind that another team is going to offer him a lot of money. Still, I see this one going the other way. Blount knows what it’s like leaving the Patriots, I doubt he wants to play in another jersey for the rest of his career. Stays.

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Dont’a Hightower – If there’s a world where the Patriots absolutely nose dive next season and become the laughing stock of the league, Donta Hightower is still playing linebacker for the Patriots. That’s how crucial he is to this team’s success. There’s no way he isn’t on the roster next season. Belichick will pay this man, he values linebackers highly. Stays.

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Sebastian Vollmer – This one’s a no brainer. The starting tackle lost his spot while injured all season to the emergence of Marcus Cannon, who was re-signed during the season. There’s not a lot of purpose in re-signing this veteran while the Tackle position is one that needs no improvement for the Patriots. Gone.

Stay tuned next week for Part II!

The Juice on Jimmy

After a sweet Super Bowl victory against the Atlanta Falcons, the dust is beginning to settle for the cast of Super Bowl 51 Champion New England Patriots.

On the roster there’s a lot of questions and a lot of people to retain. Defensive studs like Donta Hightower, Jabaal Sheard, and Malcolm Butler are all free agents. Safety-blanket tight end Martellus Bennett is likely gone via the highest bidder as well. Yet, the most talked about story lies within the fate of New England’s backup quarterback Jimmy Garapollo.

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Garapollo started 2 games at the beginning of the season during Tom Brady’s suspension; narrowly escaping with a win against the always-dangerous Arizona Cardinals to start the season and later smoked out the Miami Dolphins before getting injured for the remainder of Brady’s suspension. Jimmy G looked like an absolute stud on the field even though every fan had their doubts before his first start. It became clear Jimmy was the future QB of the Patriots if and when Brady decides to retire.

But then the Patriots announced they were shopping him around. In fact, they’re looking for a first round draft pick for the young quarterback. There’s a lot of opinions here as to what the Patriots actually should do, and every option has a case as to why it’d be good and why it would be a bad decision. Let’s begin.

First, let’s look at if Garapollo was to actually be traded. I’m working with the assumption New England gets a first round pick like they have vocalized, but it’s just as likely they could receive a package of lesser-round picks instead and be just as happy.

Jimmy’s Likely Trade Destinations:

Cleveland Browns – Let’s be real, Cleveland owes us one. Trading away star linebacker Jaime Collins for a mere third round pick was a steal. They should be willing to be a little thankful if a trade is pursued. Cleveland has two first round picks in this years draft, including the first overall and the number 12 pick. It’ll be hard to part with the first, so the 12th overall pick for Jimmy Garapollo seems to be the kind of reward the Patriots would love to walk away with. It’s kind of a win-win-win scenario, right? The Patriots get another first round pick, the Browns KEEP their first overall pick AND get a very young and NFL proven quarterback in a very QB-weak draft.

Lastly, Garapollo gets to be the starter on a team with a lot of young talent and a locker room with energy that could lead to the next Oakland Raiders situation (quote me on that – playoff team soon!). As Michael Scott once said, everyone loves a win-win-win.

San Fransisco 49ers – I truthfully don’t believe this trade will actually happen. Coach Kyle Shanahan is looking for some sort of rebound after a devastating Super Bowl loss, so maybe he will call the people that just embarrassed him and try to snag their backup QB? For this to work, the 49ers will have to part with their 2nd overall draft pick, which just seems absurd. A Top 5 pick is precious, it’ll be tough to sell this trade in the 49ers office. For the Patriots, a 2nd overall pick would be fantastic, but it just doesn’t seem realistic.

Lastly, this is the worst option for ol’ Jimmy G. The 49ers offense has nothing. Zip. Nada. Instead, look for Clemson QB Deshaun Watson to get drafted here, even if I think they should go with a less-attractive pick like defensive lineman Jonathan Allen.

Chicago Bears – The Chicago option is very interesting. Because I don’t personally believe a team with a top-5 first round pick is actually willing to part with said pick, I doubt this will happen (see above). The Patriots could receive a package of later round picks, and I think the Bears would probably pull the trigger on that seeing as they are notorious for not having a franchise quarterback.

Personally, Jimmy to the Chicago Bears is my favorite option of the three because it is likely the best option for Jimmy Garapollo to succeed. The Bears have a top wideout with Alshon Jeffrey (if they retain him), a breakout running-back in Jordan Howard, and a surprisingly stellar offensive line. They could easily spread the field and be able to attack with an already solid running game and an actual threat as a passer. It’s an exciting option to fantasize about.

If the Patriots stick to needing a first-round pick option, then knock it off the table. The Bears simply can’t give up the #3 overall pick for a QB who’s only played a handful of games.

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Jimmy Garapollo Stays With the Patriots

It’s possible the Patriots don’t receive the trade offer they’re looking for and instead hold Jimmy for the final year of his contract. This option is attractive for Jimmy because he gets to stay on a winning franchise and learn from the greats, and it’s attractive for the Patriots because they get to keep a starting-caliber quarterback as a backup option. In case Brady goes down or somehow declines (although he seems to get better with age like a fine wine), they have Jimmy G waiting to take over the game.

Once the season is over, they need to figure out if they want to let him walk, franchise tag him, or sign him. Weighing those three options seems like something to discuss in another article a year from now if they pursue this course.

The dominoes will begin to fall very soon for every team in the NFL. This deal is likely one of the bigger roster moves of the offseason, so the final decision is impactful on where every other free agent and trade ends up. Perhaps next Tuesday we will have an answer.

The Choke’s on You, Atlanta

Super Bowl LI was one for the record books, thanks to the greatest comeback in NFL history. Or was it the biggest choke job the World has ever seen? After trailing 28-3 in the third quarter, Tom Brady led the Patriots down the field time and time again, ultimately leading them to a 34-28 overtime victory. Brady easily solidified himself as the greatest quarterback to ever walk the planet, but was it solely because of his performance or are the Falcons to blame as well?

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Brady played out of his mind, throwing for a Super Bowl record 466 yards and two touchdowns. Accompanying Brady in the backfield was Patriots running back, James White, who caught 14 balls tallying 110 yards and 3 total touchdowns.

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On the other side of the ball, Dont’a Hightower made one of the biggest plays of the night, as he strip sacked Matt Ryan, leading to a 25 yard touchdown drive. When it came to crunch time each and every player on the Patriots roster made the plays they were supposed to make. The same could not be said for the Falcons.

With a 28-12 lead in the third quarter, the Falcons essentially had the game in the bag. With the game in hand the Falcons continued to drop back and pass, ignoring the fact that they had been averaging 6.8 yards per carry. With 9 minutes left in the third, the Falcons faced a 3rd and 1 from their own 36 yard line. Idiotically the Falcons decided to pass, leading to the Dont’a Hightower strip sack. This moment seemed to change the whole momentum of the game. Brady then drove down the field and capitalized on the opportunity, pulling the game to just one possession.

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The dumb play calls did not stop there. On the ensuing drive, Julio Jones made a circus catch to bring the Falcons within field goal range at the New England 22 yard line with about 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter. A field goal would have essentially sealed the deal. The Pats stopped Atlanta on first down, tackling Devonta Freeman behind the line of scrimmage. This led to a 2nd and 11 situation. Again the Falcons decided to pass the ball and as Ryan stepped back to pass, Trey Flowers bodied his way through the line to sack the quarterback for a 12 yard loss, pushing the Falcons back to the 35 yard line and almost out of field goal range. Freeman had been averaging 6.8 yards per carry and a run during that situation would have made the most sense. The Falcons then faced a 3rd and 23 in a clear passing down and again the Falcons choked, committing a holding penalty that pushed the Falcons back even further. The Falcons were then forced to punt the ball away and the rest was history.

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The New England Patriots were outmatched and outplayed for the first three quarters but when it came down to it, their experience and championship pedigree propelled them to become Super Bowl Champions once more. The Patriots performed when it meant the most but the Falcons crumbled under the bright lights. There is no doubt that the Patriots deserved this victory but it is evident that the Atlanta Falcons let this game slip through their hands.

Another One

The New England Patriots will be entering their 9th Super Bowl. The opponent is the often-overlooked and underrated Atlanta Falcons. ATL Quarterback Matt Ryan may be the favorite for the league’s MVP award, but when it comes to winning, nobody is better than Brady.

Both Super Bowl-bound teams put on a display in their respective Conference Championship Games. The Falcons destroyed the Green Bay Packers by a score of 21 to 44 that was really a far greater blowout than the score would lead you to believe and the Patriots had the Steelers beaten from the get-go with a final score of 36-17.

Seriously, both teams were dominant in every aspect of their game. These victories are certainly huge confidence-boosters for both teams, especially going into the biggest game of the year.

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For Tom Brady and the Patriots it’s hard to ignore the storyline. They may never address it, but everyone knows what this game means for the Patriots. Its the redemption of Tom Brady, it’s his one moment to silent the critics for good. “Deflategate” would be erased, it’d be eliminated for good.

As many New Englanders know, opposing fanbases still wave around “Spygate” wisecracks every now and again. Tom Brady was hung out to dry, turned on, and labeled a villain by the NFL. He’s had to endure media and nation-wide criticism and hate since, and February 5th is his chance to erase the detrimental “Deflategate” demons forever. It will no longer be a headline, but a mere footnote. Make no mistake, Tom knows this is the case.

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I’m not saying that the storyline is greater than that of Super Bowl 49. Both that Patriots roster and that Seahawks roster will be remembered as historic, I’m not sure about the Falcons. This could be the start of a great team for years, but it’s far more likely the NFC South continues to cycle through their top teams as they have the past 15 years. But for the Patriots, this game is everything. It’s a defining moment. It’s the period at the end of a statement that has been 16 years and 4 Super Bowl victories.

It’s the punch to remind you how legendary this dynasty has been. This Super Bowl puts the Belichick-Brady era over any other in the NFL, if that wasn’t already the case.

6 Times A Charm

For the 6th time in as many years, the New England Patriots will be in the AFC Championship Game.

This year they will face the troubled but always dangerous Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that is also no stranger to success in the playoffs.

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The Patriots took care of business last Saturday night against the Houston Texas, but with a solid victory their were also many issues facing the team. The Patriots played downright sloppy in many instances, especially on offense. With that being said, the team still managed to put up 30 points, and the Houston Texans defense is a squad worth applauding to as they’ve shown before they are no easy match.

Dion Lewis has 3 touchdowns: one rushing, one receiving, and one kickoff return. The shifty running back was responsible for 18 of our 30 points (excluding field goals), and running back James White has a touchdown as well. Although Blount didn’t make it into the end-zone, the running back corps managed to carry us in for some scores.

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The defense had a good game, managing 3 interceptions. It’s not too hard when the Houston offense is so predictable, as Brock Osweiler is really only capable of handing the ball off to Lamar Miller and throwing to a tight-end. If Houston can figure out their quarterback situation, which really to me only means upgrading slightly over Brock Osweiler in the off-season, they will be in the playoffs yet again. They really are a great team once they have a quarterback who can, you know, make passes. Even just some of the time…

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Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be a much greater threat in the passing game, and from here on out there is no easy game in the Super Bowl race. Big Ben, potential MVP Matt Ryan, and the somewhat god-like Aaron Rodgers will all be tough to face, but the Patriots defense has improved drastically since their midseason woes after trading Jaime Collins. Although the opposing quarterback may get tougher, the opposing defense will only get easier. The Houston defense is by far the greatest in comparison to the remaining opponents. Although Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta are all good and decent, Houston has playmakers in every grouping on the field, where these teams make it easier to find mismatches and weaknesses in the defense.

Here’s a few simple keys to the game this weekend:

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1. Limit the running game. This one has to be most important. LeVeon Bell is an absolute machine and may be the most well-rounded running back in the NFL. Against a solid Kansas City defense he managed 170 yards on 30 carries. He will be getting the rock, and he will be dangerous.

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2. Making plays in the running game. Blount and the boys need to run the rock. The Steelers secondary has improved drastically this season, and although they’re no Legion of Boom they are certainly a strength for the Burgh. Not that I think Brady can’t handle it, but I think it would be much easier for New England if Pittsburgh needs to start watching out for the run first and foremost, opening up the passing game a bit easier later in the game. Plus, Blount has reason to be fired up (if he isn’t already for playing in the AFC Championship). This is the team he walked out on for not getting enough playing time, might as well use that as motivation.

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3. Special Teams. Just don’t make mistakes! It doesn’t matter if we can’t force them to make errors on special teams.. just don’t mess up! This has been a strange season for our special teams. Although there was a return for a touchdown last week, there was also a fumble for Houston. That can’t happen against an offense that WILL find ways to put up points.

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4. Make Boswell put up points! On Sunday night, all 18 points came from kicker Chris Boswell. Kansas City allowed 0 TDs. The Patriots offense is much better than KC’s, I don’t care how many points Boswell puts up: if he’s the only one scoring we have a great chance of walking away with a win.

The Divisional playoff round is a bad time to start making mistakes. Let’s hope that was a testament to facing a great defense and not a sign of struggles to come. Go Pats!

Divisional Round Playoff Preview

Saturday 4:35 PM

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Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons

In this weekends first student v. mentor match up, former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will take on his former boss Pete Carroll in what should be a very interesting game. Matt Ryan and the high octane Falcons offense will look to attack the “Legion of Boom” head on without star free safety Earl Thomas. Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and the two headed monster at running back, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, will lead the charge in unlocking the elite secondary and front seven of the Seahawks D. On defense, NFL sack leader Vic Beasley will be the key to containing Russell Wilson from breaking out of the pocket and making the big play.

The Seahawks will look to channel some of the offensive outburst they had last week against Detroit. Wilson will look to target number one receiver Doug Baldwin and newcomer Paul Richardson to keep the ball moving. This paired up with a strong performance from Thomas Rawls and the Seahawks could be looking at an upset. Defensively, Seattle just needs to keep doing what they have done all season, get to the quarterback, make him uncomfortable and let the talented secondary make plays.

Matt Ryan is 1-4 in his career in the playoffs, but that changes today.

Atlanta Falcons 27- Seattle Seahawks 24

Saturday 8:15 PM

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Houston Texans @ New England Patriots

With what started as a 14.5 point margin, has now risen to 16 points in some Vegas spreads. With that being said, the Patriots are heavy favorites in this game. Student Bill O’Brien will be taking on his former mentor Bill Belichick in our second student v. teacher match up of the Divisional round. Belichick will take his league leading scoring defense into this playoff run with high hopes to get another Lombardi trophy. The Patriots offense featuring Tom Brady’s 28 TD’s- 2 INT’s ratio will make it tough on the Texans defense combined with an explosive running game with Legarette Blount.

The Texans come into this game with nothing to lose and a lot of knowledge of how the Patriots operate. Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel, Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, and Special teams Coordinator Larry Izzo were members of the Patriots organization for many years. This knowledge could give Brock Osweiler some much needed knowledge after a disappointing performance earlier in the year in New England. For the Texans to have a chance, they need to unleash Deandre Hopkins on some deep routs and get to Brady early and often on defense and maybe, just maybe, they will have a shot.

It has happened before, but I don’t think this 14-2 New England team will lose in the Divisional round.

New England Patriots 34- Houston Texans 14

Sunday 4:40 PM

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Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys

No quarterback in the NFL has played better than Aaron Rodgers these past few weeks. He has had time to sit in the pocket and diagnose everything about the defense. And when things break down, they go to their “backyard offense”. However, Rodgers will be missing his favorite target Jordy Nelson in Jerry’s World on Sunday. But Davante Adams and Randall Cobb should be enough to keep the Packers offense rolling. On the Defensive side, they need to find a way to get through Dallas’ excellent offensive line to slow down Ezekiel Elliott and force Dak Prescott to make some throws.

Dallas is coming into this game off of their best season in almost a decade, with two rookies at the helm. This is the only thing that would give me pause to say Dallas is a surefire winner in this football game. Their defense is much better than people give them credit for and you will see that this Sunday. If Dak can calm his nerves early, make a few throws here and there, and let Elliott do his thing, they can keep Rodgers off the field and come away with a long awaited playoff W for Jerry Jones and Co.

Elliott channels his Ohio State v. Alabama days and has himself a day leading the Boys to victory over the Pack.

Dallas Cowboys 24- Green Bay Packers 20

Sunday 8:20PM

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Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs

Arrowhead Stadium is one of the loudest places to play in the NFL, which has given many teams problems communicating on offense. With this weather that delayed the game from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. (for the first time in NFL History for a playoff game) it could hurt the attendance. On top of that, the first round bye has been more of a curse for the Chiefs who are 0-3 in first round byes since the current format has been in place. However, Alex Smith along with Travis Kelce and Tyreke Hill should light up Arrowhead for a couple spectacular plays on Sunday. The Chiefs D has to capitalize on the Big Ben’s inability to hold onto the football and turn it into some points.

The Steelers need to keep doing what they’re doing on offense with the triple threat of Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. If they can hold onto the ball on offense, they should have no trouble. Defensively, they need to contain Alex Smith because he is a sneaky good runner. Along with that, they need to keep Tyreke Hill and Travis Kelce from making big plays. They cannot play like they did last week and expect to win, they will need to step up big on D.

KC fans will brave the elements and Andy Reid, who’s teams are 16-2 coming off the bye, will find a way to semi contain Bell and AB, and sneak away to Foxboro for the AFC championship game.

Kansas City Chiefs 31- Pittsburgh Steelers 27