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PFT’s Championship Game picks

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Last week, MDS and yours truly agreed on every pick.  After Saturday’s games, it looked like we’d be Thelma-and-Louiseing our way to an 0-4 weekend.

But after getting it wrong by relying on the Broncos and Packers, we were perfect on Sunday with the Falcons and Patriots.

So the question now becomes whether we reward the Falcons and the Patriots for making us look a little less like idiots by picking them to go to the Super Bowl.

In one case, yes.  In another case, no.  Either way, we’ve clasped hands and hit the pedal to the metal with the car pointed in the general direction of a canyon.

49ers at Falcons

MDS’s take: People have been picking against the Falcons all year, and the Falcons keep winning. Now the Falcons are hosting the NFC Championship Game, and they’re underdogs at home, so if they want to play the “disrespect” card, they’re free to do so. And I’ll add a little more fuel to that particular fire by saying that not only do I think the 49ers are going to win, but I’m not even sure the Falcons can keep it close. San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick is coming off the greatest rushing performance by a quarterback in NFL history, while the Falcons have struggled against running quarterbacks: Seattle’s Russell Wilson gained 60 yards on the ground in Atlanta last week, Cam Newton had 86 and 116 rushing yards against the Falcons in his two games against the Falcons and Michael Vick had 42 rushing yards against the Falcons in October. I look for Kaepernick to have another big game as the 49ers roll.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 35, Falcons 17.

Florio’s take:  Many are pooh-poohing the ability of quarterback Colin Kaepernick to duplicate his performance from Saturday night when the 49er go to Atlanta, pointing to his struggles on the road in Seattle, where it is loud and hostile and challenging to operate.  But in his first game as the starter at a time when Alex Smith was healthy, Kaepernick faced in the Superdome a Saints team that had clawed its way back to .500.  And it was loud and hostile and challenging to operate.  And Kaepernick got the job done.  Though the Falcons pulled out a stirring win over Seattle, the victory came in the wake of a historic defensive collapse.  It’ll be a lot harder not to collapse earlier when facing Kaepernick, who is a shade better than Russell Wilson — and who has more to work with on both sides of the ball than the Seahawks rookie.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 27, Falcons 17.

Ravens at Patriots

MDS’s take: The Ravens have typically played well against the Patriots, including in a 31-30 Week Three win. In that game, Joe Flacco had 382 passing yards, Torrey Smith had 127 receiving yards and Ray Rice had 101 rushing yards, and I think the Ravens will need that kind of offensive performance if they’re going to have any hope of winning in New England on Sunday. Unfortunately for Baltimore, the Patriots’ defense is playing better now than it was early in the regular season, and that’s going to be the difference this time.  Flacco won’t have the same kind of passing game in the regular season, but Tom Brady will have another big performance against the Ravens’ secondary. The Patriots are headed back to the Super Bowl.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 30, Ravens 20.

Florio’s take:  In September, I picked the Patriots to make it back to the Super Bowl.  So how can I pick against them in the game that would put them there?  Actually, it’s a convenient way to play both sides of the fence, and I’m tempted to pick the Ravens; it just feels like it’s time for them to get back to the Super Bowl, and I’d love to see a Harbaugh-vs.-Harbaugh battle for the NFL title.  But it also feels like it’s time for the Patriots to get back to the Super Bowl and win it.  With the Giants out of the mix, this could be the year to make that happen.  So for no particular reason other than it wouldn’t be right to abandon my AFC Super Bowl pick this close to it coming to fruition, the Pats hold serve and head back to the site of their first Super Bowl win.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 27, Ravens 24.

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Broncos grab Utah tackle Garett Bolles with the 20th overall pick

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A team in serious need of help on the offensive line had their pick of every available offensive line prospect in the draft.

The Denver Broncos selected Utah tackle Garett Bolles with the 20th overall pick.

Bolles addresses an area where the Broncos struggled significantly last season. With Russell Okung leaving in free agency, tackle was that much more of a pressing need for Denver this offseason.

Bolles only played one year of Division I football after playing two years at Snow College in Utah. Nevertheless, he earned an All-Pac 12 conference selection for the Utes in his only season with the team.

Denver decided Bolles was a better fit that Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk or Alabama’s Cam Robinson, who both remain available.

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O.J. Howard falls to 19, Buccaneers pounce

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No one expected Alabama tight end O.J. Howard to be available with the 19th pick in the draft. When he was, the Buccaneers wasted no time to get him.

Tampa Bay took the big, fast, strong tight end with the 19th overall pick, getting a player who was projected to go much higher. The Bucs weren’t on the clock for long, suggesting that they were eager to get Howard when they could.

Looking at more than a dozen mock drafts published this week, we saw none that still had Howard on the board when the Bucs picked. Tampa Bay had to be pleasantly surprised that Howard was still available.

Howard is one of the best athletes in this draft class, and a great new target for Jameis Winston. He just made the Bucs very happy.

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With the 18th pick, the Titans take cornerback Adoree Jackson

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After shaking up the draft by taking Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis with the fifth pick, the Titans found another playmaker with the 18th spot.

Tennessee took Southern Cal cornerback Adoree Jackson with its second first-rounder of the night.

Jackson could provide some boost on special teams in addition to his early responsibilities on defense, as he was a proven return man in college. He scored four return touchdowns last year, and had five interceptions, giving them more big-play ability.

Along with free agent pickup Logan Ryan, the Titans have remade their secondary this offseason.

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Jonathan Allen’s slide ends at No. 17

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It was hard to find too many people predicting Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen would remain available past the halfway point of the first round, but that’s one of many surprising developments in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Allen was projected to be a top-10 pick by most observers heading into the draft, but a run on offensive players helped leave him there for the taking with the 17th overall pick. So that’s just what the Redskins did to end Allen’s longer than expected wait.

If Allen produces the way he did in Tuscaloosa, the way things played out will be a happy memory in Washington. He had 10.5 sacks during his final season with the Crimson Tide and was a disruptive player for several years.

The run on offensive players wasn’t the only reason for his slide, however. Allen also had issues with both shoulders in college, leading to durability questions as he made his way into the professional ranks.

There’s some risk, but the Redskins don’t think they outweigh the potential rewards at this point in the first round.

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Ravens take Marlon Humphrey at No. 16

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The defense in Baltimore isn’t what is used to be. The team is now trying to make it what it once was.

With the sixteenth pick in the draft, the Ravens have selected cornerback Marlon Humphrey. The Alabama cornerback becomes the second cornerback drafted.

It’s hard not to wonder whether the Ravens would have taken cornerback Gareon Conley in this spot, but for the criminal charges pending against him. Of course, if Conley hadn’t found himself in this predicament, he may have been gone before No. 16.

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Colts take Ohio State safety Malik Hooker 15th overall

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The Indianapolis Colts added a defensive playmaker in their secondary with their first selection of the draft.

The Colts selected Ohio State safety Malik Hooker with the 15th overall pick.

Hooker was a first-team All-American last season in leading the Big Ten conference with seven interceptions. He also recorded 74 tackles and had 11 passes defended.

Hooker gives Indianapolis a defensive standout on a team that lacks significant impact pieces on that side of the ball. Hooker will be able to fit in as a deep center field type of safety in the mold of an Earl Thomas or Ed Reed type of player. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano coached Reed during his days in Baltimore. Now he gets a similar player to fit in to his defensive in Indianapolis.

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With the 14th pick, Eagles pick Derek Barnett

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The draft is in Philadelphia, and the Eagles fans had a mixed reaction to their first-round pick.

With the 14th pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Eagles selected Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett.

Barnett broke the Tennessee sack record held by the late great Eagles Hall of Famer Reggie White, but some Eagles fans booed his selection, perhaps hoping for a better-known player like Alabama’s Jonathan Allen.

Barnett is a bit undersized for an NFL defensive end, but he’s an explosive pass rusher who should provide an immediate impact on Philadelphia’s defense. If he does, he’ll hear plenty of cheers.

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Cardinals take Haason Reddick with the 13th pick

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The Cardinals didn’t get the quarterback they wanted.

But they found a guy with the 13th pick who could make an immediate impact on their defense.

The Cardinals watched three passers go before them, and selected Temple linebacker Haason Reddick.

Reddick was a fast-riser late in the draft process, and his ability as a pass-rusher will help a defense which needed reinforcements after losing five starters in free agency, including defensive end Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and linebacker Kevin Minter.

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Texans trade up to take Deshaun Watson 12th overall

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In the days leading up to the draft, there was plenty of speculation about the Browns using the No. 12 pick as part of a package to trade up for a quarterback after taking Myles Garrett with the first overall pick.

The Garrett part of the equation was right, but the rest didn’t play out. The Browns traded out of the spot and the Texans moved in to take Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson is the third quarterback to come off the board and the third to go to a team that traded up to secure his services.

While it may have been a surprise to some that the Browns have again opted not to take a quarterback, it’s no surprise that the Texans took one. They dealt a first-round pick in 2018, which joins the second-rounder next year that they attached to Brock Osweiler in a previous trade with Cleveland, to get a player they hope can solve the biggest weakness on the team throughout Bill O’Brien’s run as the team’s head coach.

It was shaping up to be one again this season with Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden remaining in the wake of the Osweiler trade. Watson’s arrival changes that and it would not be surprising if Watson, who will play with fellow Clemson product DeAndre Hopkins, winds up running the offense by the start of the season.

The Browns now have five picks in the first two rounds next year to go along with No. 25, No. 33 and No. 52 this year. They still don’t have a quarterback, though, and that explains why there are reports of making a run at Kirk Cousins with the Browns again passing on the top signal callers in a draft.

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Saints take Marshon Lattimore with eleventh pick

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The Saints need defensive help. And they’re getting it.

With the eleventh selection in the draft, New Orleans has taken cornerback Marshon Lattimore from Ohio State.

He’s the first corner off the board, and likely the first of many. He could be the first of many taken by the Saints, who are committed to improving one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

The move could slam the door on any effort to trade for Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. The Saints also hold the No. 32 pick in the draft, as a result of the trade that sent receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots.

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Chiefs trade up to 10th pick to select Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes

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The Kansas City Chiefs made a massive move in the first round to grab a quarterback.

The Chiefs traded their first and third round picks this year, along with their 2018 first round pick, to the Buffalo Bills to jump up to the 10th overall pick in the draft.

The Chiefs then used their new selection to select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Alex Smith is currently under contract with Kansas City through the 2018 season, but Mahomes now gives the Chiefs a quarterback to develop before presumably taking over the job as early as next seasons.

Mahomes was a two-year starter at Texas Tech before leaving after his junior season. Mahomes completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 5,052 yards and 41 touchdowns last year for the Red Raiders. He was a second-team All-Big 12 selection.

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Bengals add some speed, draft John Ross at No. 9

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There’s a run on wide receivers in the draft, and the Bengals just chose a receiver who can run.

With the ninth overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Bengals selected John Ross, wide receiver from Washington.

Ross set the NFL Scouting Combine record by running a 4.22-second 40-yard dash, so the Bengals now have the fastest player in the NFL, at least by Combine speed. Ross and A.J. Green will be a tough pair of receivers for opposing secondaries to stop.

There have already been three receivers taken in this year’s draft, with Corey Davis going No. 5 to the Tennessee Titans and Mike Williams going No. 7 to the Los Angeles Chargers.

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Panthers get their running back, Christian McCaffrey with the eighth pick

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The Panthers have the opportunity to “evolve” their offense, and they’ll do it with a different kind of back.

With the eighth overall choice, the Panthers took Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.

The Panthers were clearly in the market for a running back to supplement Jonathan Stewart, and might have preferred Leonard Fournette.

But when the Jaguars took the LSU star fourth overall, it cleared the decks for a non-traditional back there.

McCaffrey brings a different dimension, and is more of a pass-catcher who can work out of the slot and create matchup problems in the passing game. But they also just invested a top-10 pick who won’t necessarily be an every-down player.

That doesn’t seem to be an issue for General Manager Dave Gettleman, whose last two first-rounders were backups as rookies (defensive tackle Vernon Butler and linebacker Shaq Thompson).

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With seventh pick, Chargers select Mike Williams

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The Chargers have made their first draft pick since moving to Los Angeles.

The Chargers selected wide receiver Mike Williams with the seventh pick of the draft. That wasn’t a frequently discussed target for the Chargers leading up to the draft, which gives him something in common with last year’s top pick Joey Bosa.

Williams played with Deshaun Watson at Clemson and had a monster 2016 season with 84 catches for 1,171 yards and 10 touchdowns. His mix of height, weight and speed is everything the team could want in an outside receiver for Philip Rivers and Williams joins Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry, Melvin Gordon, Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams in a good mix of skill position players for new coach Anthony Lynn’s offense.

Williams is the second receiver off the board on Thursday night, following the Titans’ fifth-overall selection Corey White.

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Jets take Jamal Adams at No. 6

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He thought he’s be picked within the two-to-five range. He was close.

With the sixth pick in the draft, the Jets selected safety Jamal Adams.

The former LSU standout instantly becomes one of the best strong safeties in the NFL, and a welcome addition to the last line of defense in New York.

He joins running back Leonard Fournette as two LSU players taken in the top sixth. Which will make many once again wonder why LSU isn’t winning more championships, given the great players they’ve put in the NFL.

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