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Ten Thoughts on the NFL: Conference Championship predictions, schedule and more

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Check out my latest slew of Thoughts on the National Football League.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Guess who's 8-0 in making picks for the NFL playoff games?

1) Sunday 3:05 pm ET (CBS) New England Patriots at Denver Broncos - With 6 Super Bowl appearances since 2001, it's really hard picking against Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots in an AFC Championship game. I know they're on the road, and Denver is a tough place to play, but the Pats are just playing too good right now to go against them.

The Patriots will be seeking revenge after losing to Denver back in November, and the Patriots are a much healthier team this time around. I don't think having Peyton Manning back will be enough to get Denver into SB50. Patriots 23 - Broncos 16

2) Sunday 6:40 pm ET (FOX) Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers - Both these teams got lucky last week. The Panthers rolled out to a 31-0 lead, then seemed to tighten up in the second half, allowing the Seahawks to put up 24 unanswered points. Carolina looked like a team that didn't know how to close out a big game. The Cardinals needed Larry Fitzgerald to take over to knock off a very game Packers team that used a Hail Mary to tie it up at the end of regulation.

I think the Panthers will take their lesson in almost choking away a game and come out hungrier than ever. I expect their defense to harass Arizona QB Carson Palmer into a few mistakes and I expect Carolina QB Cam Newton to show why he's the likely MVP. Cardinals 17 - Panthers 24

3) The Broncos are already crying about Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski pushing off. I think we talked about this earlier this season in a previous edition of Ten Thoughts, but I'll share my thoughts on it here as well.

Gronk is bigger and stronger than everyone that tries to cover him, so if the 6'6", 265 pounder makes inadvertent contact with a defender, that defender is probably going to bounce off him. Denver's Brandon Marshall says that Gronk pushes off "about 98% of the time," but I doubt he's doing it that much. Gronk is probably pushing off no more than any other player in the NFL, but since he's just bigger, it looks like he's doing it.

I liken it to defenders trying to guard Shaquille O'Neal back in the day in the NBA. Shaq would perform a simple drop step in the post and smaller defenders would just go flying. Everyone creates contact to make a little space, but bigger players look like they're doing something wrong. NBA refs had a hard time officiating Shaq, and NFL refs have a similar issue when it comes to Gronk.

4) So should this have been ruled a sack?

I'm torn, because Manning didn't slide feet first to signify he was giving himself up, but we've seen him fall to the ground and eat a sack in the past. I think ultimately the refs made the right decision, but if he does it again, and a defender pounces on him, the Broncos better not start crying.

5) Remember Jim Schwartz?

The ex-Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator that was accused of teaching dirty play? The ex-Detroit Lions head coach that was known for being kind of a jackass? The ex-Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator that asked to be carried off the field by his defense after beating the Lions in 2014?

Well, he's back in the league. This time as defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles on new head coach Doug Pederson's staff, and I think it's a great hire.

Schwartz may come across like an ass, and he may teach his players to ride the fine line between hard and dirty, but he's a heck of a defensive coach. Also his experience will be a plus for 1st time head coach Pederson.

6) I really like the Chip Kelly hire by the San Francisco 49ers. He may have flamed out as the head coach in change of player personnel last year with the Eagles, but his 1st two years in Philly he won 20 games. His offensive philosophy will give that franchise a shot in the arm and as long as he can get along with GM Trent Baalke, I think he has the Niners back in playoff contention relatively quick.

7) You ready to hear the most Browns thing ever?

New Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson is starting to interview potential coaches to fill out his coaching staff. Earlier today Jackson interviewed Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton for the same position with the Browns, but here's the twist. Horton is currently collecting a paycheck from Cleveland from a previous contract with the Browns. Horton was Cleveland's defensive coordinator in 2013 under head coach Rob Chudzinski, but was let go when the Browns cleaned house after that season.

I wonder if Horton is hired, would he honor his old contract or would the Browns be obligated to pay him under his old deal and sign him to a new deal, essentially being paid two times for the same job.

8) I think the hardest thing for a football coach to master is clock management. Even the greats are criticized from time to time.

9) You may have spied this tweet in our Fanshot section, but I wanted to touch on it here just in case you missed it.

Some of the Packer players were pissed that they didn't get a chance in overtime against the Cardinals, but oh well...

9a) Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy came right out and said that running back Eddie Lacy was too heavy this season.

"Eddie has a lot of work to do," McCarthy said. "I'm stating the obvious. His offseason last year was not what it should be and he never recovered from it. I talked to Eddie today and that was pretty much the majority of the conversation. He cannot play at the weight he did this year."

Sometimes it's not as easy as just putting down the fork. Lacy will need to commit to a lifestyle change, but if he can get in shape, he is exactly what that offense needs to get back on track.

10) Chicago Bears fans, you might want to pay extra attention to the Senior Bowl, which kicks off practice next week. Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, who is expected to be a 1st round pick in April's draft, has accepted his invitation to play in the game. The Bears have an obvious need at ILB, but some view 11 as too high to take Ragland. A great week of practice could change that perception.

Here's the full list pf players that are expected to play in the Srenior Bowl.

10a) We brought you a mock draft earlier today that had the Bears taking a wide out, but here's one that has Chicago going defense at 11.

Vernon Hargraves, CB, Florida
The Bears need to address several holes on defense, and Hargreaves has the ability to play outside and in the nickel.

From a technical standpoint, Hargraves (5'11, 199 pounds) is close to the total package. He can play off, he can press, he has good ball skills, he's aggressive and a willing tackler, but (and you knew there'd be a but) he can get overaggressive and his tackling skills get a little sloppy at times. But (there's that word again) he's a legit 1st round talent.

What are some of your NFL thoughts this week?