Can the Warriors break the NBA single-season wins record?

By Sam Cowan

Entering a Wednesday night showdown against the Dallas Mavericks on ESPN, the Golden State Warriors are on pace for an unprecedented number of wins.

The Warriors enter the game with a 41-4 record which puts them on pace for a 74-win season. The NBA record for most wins in a season was set at 72 by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls during the 1995-1996 season.

Those Bulls actually also entered their 46th game of the season with a record of 41-4 which only intensifies the comparisons between the two teams.

It shouldn’t be a surprise the Warriors are on a record-setting pace considering their record-breaking start to the season. The Warriors won their first 24 games to start the season which set a new NBA record by a wide margin.

In comparison, the Bulls started a somewhat modest 10-2 before winning 31 out of 32 games to put themselves at the top of the league.

Both teams are also led by star players with Stephen Curry dominating the current NBA and Michael Jordan being arguably the greatest player of all-time playing at his physical peak. Jordan’s 30 points, six rebounds and four assists per game through the first 45 games of the season is virtually identical to Curry’s 30 points, five rebounds and six assists per game.

The difference between styles of play is evident when looking at the possessions per 48 minutes for each team. The Bulls averaged 91 possessions per 48 minutes which was good for 20th in the NBA during the season while the Warriors are second in the NBA this season with 99 possessions per 48 minutes.

However, despite these differences in possession numbers, the teams are nearly identical in terms of points scored and points allowed per possession. The Bulls have the advantage in points scored and the Warriors have the edge in points allowed per possession, but these are differences by less than one point each.

No matter how you look at it, the Warriors of this season and the Bulls of 1996 are on equal ground in nearly every statistical category.

Perhaps the biggest point of concern for Warriors fans should be the big games still to come. Through 45 games, the Warriors have played just 20 games against teams at or above .500. For comparison, the Bulls played 25 games against above .500 teams in the same stretch.

Big games in the remainder of the season for the Warriors include three against the Oklahoma City Thunder and two more against the San Antonio Spurs, who still trail the Warriors by three games in the Western Conference.

The game Wednesday against the Mavericks is also important because it could put the Warriors one-up on the Bulls. The Bulls lost their 46th game of the 1995-1996 season.

The last time the Warriors and Mavericks met, the Mavericks won by 23 in a game Curry missed due to injury. This time, Curry will play and the Warriors will have a chance to get revenge and continue their record-breaking pace.

Whether the Warriors will catch or surpass the Bulls of 1996 has yet to be seen, but the game on Wednesday could be a good indication of their chances.

Predicting the conference championship round of the NFL playoffs

We’re down to the final four teams in the NFL playoffs as the conference championship games slowly approach.

On the AFC side, two team and two quarterbacks who know each other very well will meet with both franchises being very familiar with Super Bowl appearances.

On the NFC side, both teams playing have only been to one Super Bowl apiece, but will look to make it two with one more win.

After my 2-2 weekend, I still sit two games below .500 for the playoffs, but winning out this weekend will put me right back in the middle.

Without further ado, let’s get into the picks for this week.

Patriots over Broncos

This will be the 17th meeting between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady across the regular season and the playoffs. Brady leads the all-time series 11-5, but they are actually tied in terms of playoff records against each other at 2-2.

Interestingly, Manning has more touchdown passes in their rivalry, but has also thrown more interceptions. This says a lot about how each team has used their quarterback in meetings between the two.

I think this game will be close, but the Patriots just finished tearing apart a potent Chiefs defense and I could see them doing something similar to Denver.

I also think Manning is still shaky enough where he will throw a pick or two and have difficulty sustaining long drives against an underrated Patriots defense.

Overall, this is the Patriots game to lose given the factors going for them.

Cardinals over Panthers

Neither of these franchises has won a Super Bowl and the winner will be going to the second Super Bowl in franchise history.

This game should be a defensive battle and I have a feeling it will be another close game to wrap up a playoff season full of close calls.

I think the Cardinals defense is a little better and as good as Cam Newton has been, Larry Fitzgerald will be the biggest playmaker on the field Sunday and should have a major impact on the result of the game.

The Panthers have had an incredible year, but I think it comes to an end as the Cardinals hand them their second loss of the season.

The only thing that I could see swinging the game in favor of the Panthers is a possible Carson Palmer injury, but even that has been seemingly put off for now.

Barring the unforeseen, I’m going to go with the Cardinals here.

The winners of these games will meet in Super Bowl 50, which is less than three weeks away now. We could see a first-time champion, a three-time champion or a five-time champion emerge from these four contenders.

No matter what happens, come back next week for analysis of what happened in the conference championships and what is to come in the Super Bowl here at the Cowan Corner.

Predicting the divisional round of the NFL playoffs

By Sam Cowan

The debut week for playoff picks on this site did not go very well as I posted a 1-3 record for last week. In my defense, I did not expect road teams to go 4-0 in a playoff week for the first time in NFL history.

Now I have to get back on the horse with another four games on the docket as the one and two seeds enter the fray and the wild-card teams look to continue their unlikely runs in the playoffs.

Without further ado, let’s get to the picks for the divisional round.

Chiefs over Patriots

I struggled with this pick for a long time. The Chiefs absolutely obliterated the Texans Saturday and the game was pretty much over 10 seconds in to the games.

Tom Brady is obviously much better at quarterback than Brian Hoyer, but the Chiefs defense has been playing fantastically over the second-half of the season and will likely be able to force a few turnovers.

The Patriots started off the year 10-0, but struggled down the stretch, losing four of their last six games.

This will be a close game, but I think the Chiefs do just enough to get the win and send the struggling Patriots home.

Cardinals over Packers

When these two teams met in the regular season, it was an ugly 38-8 win for the Cardinals, who were all over Aaron Rodgers during the game.

In this rematch, I see something similar happening including another Cardinals win. The Cardinals might have the best overall team in the NFL and their defense will smother the horrific offensive line of the Packers once again.

The only thing that might derail the Cardinals playoff run is the inevitable Carson Palmer injury. However, that injury hasn’t happened yet which is why I will go with the Cardinals here.

Seahawks over Panthers

The Panthers had a realistic chance at a perfect regular season before a shocking Week 16 loss to the rival Falcons. The Panthers were still able to finish with the best record in the NFL this season which may make it seem odd that I have them losing their first playoff game.

This game was incredibly close in the regular season with the Panthers winning 27-23 in Seattle on a Cam Newton touchdown pass in the final minute. I expect a similarly close result, but I think the Seahawks come out on top this time.

I think the Seahawks offense will continue to play hot and get some touchdowns on the board to get the team out to an early lead.

From there, the Seahawks defense will take over and I think Cam Newton’s offensive luck will finally run out. There is only so much one can do with Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn Jr. as your primary targets.

Broncos over Steelers

This pick mainly comes down to one factor: health.

If the Steelers follow proper concussion protocol, Antonio Brown will not be playing in this game. This means Ben Roethlisberger will be facing the No. 1 defense in the NFL with torn shoulder ligaments in his throwing shoulder and his best receiving target out of action.I don’t think that is a very good recipe for success.

I’m still not sure if benching Brock Osweiler for a still shaky looking Peyton Manning was a good idea, but I don’t think that issue will rear its head this weekend.

With that, we wrap up another week of playoff picks. Next week, the field will be narrowed to four as the conference championships are played to determine who will represent their conference in the Super Bowl.

Come back next week for coverage of the conference championship and any other news from the weekend here at the Cowan Corner.

Playoffs: 1-3

Regular Season: 156-100

Predicting the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs

By Sam Cowan

On Saturday, the road to Super Bowl 50 enters its final stretch as the field will be narrowed to eight teams by Monday morning.

The opening round of the playoffs features three home underdogs, an intense division rivalry and three rematches from the regular season.

As usual, I will be making my picks for each game while also providing a look at how each team got here in the first place.

Texans over Chiefs

These two teams both overcame poor starts to claim a postseason spot. The Chiefs started off the year 1-5 before ripping off a remarkable 10 straight wins to make it in. The Texans got off to a similarly poor 2-5 start before winning 7 of their last 9 to clinch the third division title in team history.

These two teams also met in the opening week of the regular season where the Chiefs won 27-20. The Texans are the underdog here, but I am going with them because I do not believe in the Chiefs.

Over the course of their 10-game winning streak, the Chiefs’ best wins came against a Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger and a win in which Peyton Manning melted down and threw five picks.

The Texans can at least hang their hat on a big win in Cincinnati during their hot streak. Due to the Texans being a motivated team playing at home, JJ Watt going back to his dominant, healthy self and Andy Reid’s poor playoff record I will go with the Texans.

Bengals over Steelers

I’ve got back-to-back underdogs to start my column this week. Listen, this is a division rivalry game which means just about anything can happen. These two teams split their regular season series with the road team winning each game.

Now they meet in the playoffs for the second time ever. I thought long and hard about this pick because I view it as a true 50-50 game. If Andy Dalton was healthy, I fully believe the Bengals would be the favorite here. If Deangelo Williams ends up playing for the Steelers, the odds would swing in their favor.

I am making this pick under the assumption that both players will miss the game. When the Steelers beat the Bengals earlier this season, the Bengals were missing cornerback Adam Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert.

I think both of those players will make a major impact for the home team in a close divisional game.

Seahawks over Vikings

The Seahawks started off by losing four of their first six before roaring back with a final record of 10-6 and claiming a wild-card spot.

The Vikings wrapped up their first division title since 2009 by winning three straight games to close out the regular season including a win at Green Bay in the regular season finale.

This game was not pretty for Minnesota fans last time they met as the Vikings got trounced 38-7 at home. I expect this game to be a little closer but with the same team coming out on top.

Russell Wilson has played out of his mind the last two months and the Seahawks’ defense is just a little bit better than the Vikings’.

Redskins over Packers

This is a game between a team everybody thought would be a top contender this season and a team almost nobody thought would be good.

The Packers started off the season with six straight wins and were hailed as the best team in the NFC before dropping six of their last 10 to end the year and not even being able to win their division. The Redskins were written off by virtually everybody after benching Robert Griffin III and going with Kirk Cousins, but Cousins rallied the team to a 9-7 record and an NFC East title.

Since Week 8, Cousins has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the NFL with 20 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers has struggled connecting with receivers and the Packers run game has often been shut down for entire games.

I never would have guessed this at the start of this season, but I am taking the Redskins to beat the Packers and I predict Cousins will have a better game than Aaron Rodgers.

Anything can happen in the postseason so come back next week to see what I got right and what I missed on. Next week we will also continue postseason coverage as we move on to the divisional round as we draw ever closer to Super Bowl 50 here at the Cowan Corner.