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Wacky Wild Card Weekend Review

Well, the weekend didn’t go quite like I expected but I’ll take a 2-2 split. Looking back at a few of the games, they were actually terrible. Luckily, the Packers/Cardinals game saved the day as the two teams played possibly the most entertaining game all season. A lot of lopsided games this weekend and you usually don’t get that in rematches. If you missed all the action, you didn’t miss much except for one game and if you didn’t catch that then read on.

New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals

What I predicted…
Jets 23-16

What I said would happen…
“Regardless if Ochocinco plays or not, it’s a lose-lose scenario for the Bengals. If he does play, he’ll have Revis draped all over him. If he doesn’t play, Revis will just be draped all over the Bengals’ next best wideout, reducing Cincy quarterback Carson Palmer’s list of targets even more. The Bengals have lost three of their last four games and are backing their way into the playoffs without anything clicking. The once-stingy defense has allowed 26 points per game over the last four contests and Palmer has only passed for more than 200 yards in three of the last seven full games that he’s played. Things don’t look good for Cincy.”

What actually happened…
The Jets won 24-14. The rookie trio of Sanchez, Ryan and running back Shonn Greene helped extend Cincinnati’s 19-year playoff winless streak with a few big plays on offense and stifling defense. Greene’s 39-yard run at the top of the second quarter tied the game at 7-7 before Sanchez found tight end Dustin Keller for a 45-yard score to put the Jets (10-7) ahead for good.

My reactions…
The Bengals (10-7) will have to pack up and get ready for next year. A weak offensive line and lack of quality playmakers at receiver limited Cincinnati to one-and-done this season. What once used to be one of the top receiver trios in the league has been reduced to the power of one. Cincinnati lost both T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Chris Henry essentially in one year and will need to reload if they want to challenge for a title.

New York (10-7) has arguably the best defense left in the playoffs and it all revolves around lockdown cover corner Darrelle Revis. His ability to blanket receivers gives the Jets a huge advantage on defense while they punish foes on offense with a stout running game. How far they can go with the rookie Sanchez at QB is anybody’s guess. Stay tuned…

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys

What I predicted…

Cowboys 27-17

What I said would happen …
“The Eagles will need to force turnovers from Dallas if they want to pull the upset on the road in Big D but as long as the Cowboys stick to a run-heavy formula, turnovers will be hard to come across for the Eagles. Dallas has been known to force the passing game on certain occasions and could feel compelled to get into a shouting match with Philadelphia if the Eagles score early. It’s hard picking a team to lose its third game in a season to one opponent but if Dallas sticks to the formula, they should handle Philadelphia with ease.”

What actually happened…
The Cowboys won 34-14. The Cowboys exploded for 27 points in the second quarter, capitalizing on a slew of Eagles mistakes. A 40-yard pass interference call on Philadelphia set Dallas up for their first touchdown of the game on an one-yard score before consecutive fumbles by the Eagles late in the second quarter led to a 10-0 Cowboys run to end the half.

My reactions…
For the last few seasons, the Eagles (11-6) have had a reluctance to stick to their running game, electing to try to outshoot their opponents. Against Dallas however, they faced a defense that has every bit as much speed as they do offense. The Cowboys are now the kings of the NFC East and if the Eagles want to challenge then they’ll have to seriously consider the way they do their offensive business next year.

Just last year, the Eagles blasted the Cowboys (11-6) in the season finale 44-6. Ironically, that was the turning point for Dallas. They shed all their haywire clown acts over the summer and refocused things on football. Not only did they end their December woes but they annihilated Philadelphia to break their 13-year playoff drought and extract a little revenge in the process. The Cowboys are officially the hottest team in the NFC and they’ll be a tough out for any team remaining in the playoffs. Stay tuned…

Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

What I predicted…

Patriots 24-21

What I said would happen …
“Road playoffs games aren’t anything new to Flacco, who went 2-1 on the road in last year’s postseason but Patriots coach Bill Belichick loves to turn up the heat on young signal callers in the postseason and he’ll make no exception for Flacco and Co. Both the Patriots and Ravens are evenly matched throughout their teams but the postseason is all about quarterback play. In a game between Flacco and Brady… well …. you can never go wrong with taking a three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback over a three-game postseason signal caller.”

What actually happened…
The Ravens won 33-14. Baltimore wasted no time in punching the Patriots in the mouth on the way to the franchise’s first ever win against the Pats. Baltimore jumped to a 24-0 first quarter lead behind second-year running back Ray Rice’s 83-yard run on the opening play of the game. The Ravens forced three first quarter turnovers that led to consecutive scores for Baltimore.

My reactions….

There has been talk that this might be the last hurrah for the Patriots (10-7). Brady doesn’t have the time to just sit in the pocket anymore, Randy Moss’ play continues to reflect his beard (yuck) and their best offensive player, Wes Welker, just suffered two tears in his knee. The defense is shaky and the once brilliant Bill Belichick has been outcoached several times this season. So if rumors are spreading that this is New England’s last hurrah, well, maybe I believe them.

Baltimore (10-7) continues to pile up impressive playoff victories with sophomore QB Flacco under center. Although Flacco only passed for 34 yards, it was a total team effort that blitzed the Patriots this past Sunday. The Ravens are now the most scariest team in the AFC playoffs and a season of tough losses could help propel them to their second Super Bowl appearance since the 2000 season. Stay tuned…

Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals

What I predicted…

Packers 28-23

What I said would happen…
“If it’s two teams in the NFC that I love, it’s Arizona and Green Bay. While neither team is the ideal picture of healthy right now, it’s hard to go against the grain of a hot Green Bay team. I think if Rodgers has time, he could put up 30 against any defense remaining in the playoffs and with the Cardinals’ best corner ailing, Rodgers will be ready for an encore.”

What actually happened…

The Cardinals won 51-45. Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby returned a fumble 17 yards in overtime to end an offensive slugout. Arizona led 31-10 at the top of the third quarter before Green Bay outscored the Cardinals 35-14 over the next quarter and a half to tie the game 45-45 with just over ten seconds remaining in regulation.

My reactions…

If I’m a member of the Packers, I can’t wait until next season gets started. Green Bay (11-6) will have two key defenders in Aaron Kampman and Al Harris returning, the offensive line should get better and stud QB Aaron Rodgers will have another season and the sting of a tough playoff loss under his belt. With a solid front office and franchise QB in place, the Packers are a team on the rise. Usually a team that finishes as a Wild Card at 11-5 is in store for huge things the following season. Stay tuned…

The Cardinals (11-6) are the defending NFC champion and that makes them a team to be taken serious. Arizona will probably get starting receiver Anquan Boldin back for next week and when Kurt Warner plays at a high level, the Cardinals are one of the best teams in the league. Sunday’s shootout with Green Bay exposed a lot of their problems on defense but their offense proved even without Boldin, it can go toe-to-toe with the best of them. With Boldin scheduled for a return, keep the fireworks on standby. Stay tuned…

January 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wacky Wild Card Weekend set to Begin

I know I’ve been absent for the last couple of weeks but you know how it is around the holidays. Family and friends absolutely don’t believe you work and if they do believe you work, well… they don’t think your job is all that important anyway but regardless, 30-18 on the regular season and I guess you could say I get a clean slate for the postseason.

Well at least I think I should. I returned just in time for the best weekend (in my opinion) of the playoffs. Wild Card weekend always packs a bunch of surprises and spectacular plays. Ironically, this weekend will feature four rematches from the regular season and three rematches from last week alone.

If your favorite team was on the winning side of last weekend’s matches then football follower beware. It’s typically difficult to beat a team in back-to-back weeks and teams can turn faces quick in the playoffs. Regular season powerhouses turn into first round exiters and mediocre teams turn into giants. Should be fun either way. Read along and enjoy the best weekend (in my opinion) of the playoffs.

New York Jets (9-7) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) 4:30 p.m. Sat

Say what you want, but 37-0 isn’t something that just happens. You don’t just get walloped 37-0 and expect to bounce back and beat the same team that smacked you 37-0 the very next week. As tough as it sounds, the Bengals will attempt to recover from a season finale shutout to the hands of quietly solid Jets.

New York has won five out of their last six games and will enter the playoffs on a defensive tear. Aside from finishing the season as the top overall unit, the Jets have allowed just 47 points in their last six games, good for a paltry 7.8 points per contest in the last month and a half of the year. Nobody, I repeat: NOBODY gets open when third-year coverman Darrelle Revis locks horns with them and head coach Rex Ryan has transformed his defensive troops into a lockdown unit.

The Jets have the league’s top running game and everything sets up perfectly to wheel rookie QB Mark Sanchez along slowly. New York will implement the same principles when they square off against the Bengals in the opening postseason game and that could spell trouble for the once-hyped Bengals. While the Jets don’t allow teams to score, the Bengals don’t score much at all anyway. Cincinnati has averaged just 15.7 points per game in their last nine contests and could be without the services of leading receiver Chad Ochocinco, who bruised his knee in warm-ups last week against the Jets.

Regardless if Ochocinco plays or not, it’s a lose-lose scenario for the Bengals. If he does play, he’ll have Revis draped all over him. If he doesn’t play, Revis will just be draped all over the Bengals’ next best wideout, reducing Cincy quarterback Carson Palmer’s list of targets even more. The Bengals have lost three of their last four games and are backing their way into the playoffs without anything clicking. The once-stingy defense has allowed 26 points per game over the last four contests and Palmer has only passed for more than 200 yards in three of the last seven full games that he’s played. Things don’t look good for Cincy. Jets 23-16

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) vs. Dallas Cowboys (11-5) 8 p.m. Sat

Say what you want, but 24-0 isn’t something that just happens. You don’t just get walloped 24-0 and expect to bounce back and beat the same team that smacked you 24-0 the very next week. Although you’ve read it before, last Sunday’s loss against the Cowboys pointed out the obvious for the Eagles: they don’t match up well with the ‘Boys.

Philly built an 11-5 record this season on big plays and an opportunistic defense. The last two meetings that they’ve encountered the ‘Boys, Dallas has used a ball control offense and paid close attention to the Eagles’ aerial attack to take their big-play offense out of the game. The Cowboys have tried to bait Philly into transforming into a running team by focusing heavily on defending their passing attack.

Because of the Eagles’ plethora of playmakers at the receiver position, it’s worked perfectly for Dallas in both games as the Eagles became too bored to stick with a grind-it-out gameplan. Expect Dallas to stick to the same strategy this weekend as they go for the always tough three-game sweep of the Eagles. Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid is never going to be a pound and ground coach as long as he has Donovan McNabb at the quarterback controls and DeSean Jackson at the wing but he’ll need to counter this week.

The Eagles will need to force turnovers from Dallas if they want to pull the upset on the road in Big D but as long as the Cowboys stick to a run-heavy formula, turnovers will be hard to come across for the Eagles. Dallas has been known to force the passing game on certain occasions and could feel compelled to get into a shouting match with Philadelphia if the Eagles score early. It’s hard picking a team to lose its third game in a season to one opponent but if Dallas sticks to the formula, they should handle Philadelphia with ease. Cowboys 27-17

Baltimore Ravens (9-7) vs. New England Patriots (10-6) 1 p.m. Sun

Playoff rematches of regular season matches are always so intriguing, especially when you get two dominant teams like the Patriots and Ravens. New England will have to adjust after they lost the NFL’s leading receiver Wes Welker to a blown knee in their season finale against the Houston Texans.

While the loss of Welker is a definite blow, his replacement, rookie receiver Julian Edelman, has posted 21 catches and 221 yards in the three games that Welker has missed this season, proving that he is more than capable of picking up the slack. The Patriots Tom Brady and Randy Moss will also attempt to pick up the slack in Welker’s absence and that’s never a bad pair of helping hands but Brady may need a helping hand himself after showing up on the injury report in the past few weeks with broken ribs and a finger injury on his throwing hand.

Playing against the Ravens is never an ideal scenario for a banged up QB but Baltimore hasn’t been the same ferocious unit of years’ past. The Ravens ranked 18th in sacks this season and New England’s recent reemphasis on the running game could help nullify Brady’s lingering injuries. Baltimore’s sophomore backfield of Ray Rice and Joe Flacco has been pretty special all season and they’ll be expected to once again lead the Ravens in a tough game.

Road playoffs games aren’t anything new to Flacco, who went 2-1 on the road in last year’s postseason but Patriots coach Bill Belichick loves to turn up the heat on young signal callers in the postseason and he’ll make no exception for Flacco and Co. Both the Patriots and Ravens are evenly matched throughout their teams but the postseason is all about quarterback play. In a game between Flacco and Brady… well …. you can never go wrong with taking a three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback over a three-game postseason signal caller. Patriots 24-21

Green Bay Packers (11-5) vs. Arizona Cardinals (10-6) 4:40 p.m. Sun

Wow! Well… when we last left the Cardinals they were getting blasted to the tune of 33-7 in their season finale to hot Packers BUT that was on a 4-for-6 performance from starting QB Kurt Warner who was pulled from the game early. Nevertheless, the Packers never let up as they went ahead by as much as 33-0 at one point in the game.

The Cardinals may face a consecutive postseason with a hobbled Anquan Boldin, who left the game with an ankle injury. While Boldin’s loss would be huge, the Cardinals were dealt a triple blow when starting corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and starting defensive lineman Calais Campbell were forced out of the game with serious-looking injuries. If all three are forced to miss any time, Arizona’s chances at a repeat Super Bowl appearance would take a significant dent.

The Packers aren’t without their own significant injury concerns as do-it-all- defensive back Charles Woodson suffered a shoulder injury that left him wrapped up on the sidelines during the game’s closing moments. Woodson is expected to play and against Arizona’s remaining healthy receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston, Green Bay can ill-afford for Woodson to miss any time. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is well-equipped to handle the duties of carrying Green Bay regardless of who misses time for the Packers but keep in mind, it’s a team sport.

And nobody knows the team sport better than the Packers’ Rodgers. Rodgers has found nine different receivers in his 30 touchdown mark and his reluctance to key on one receiver forces defenses to account for every member of the Packers offense. The Cardinals have a formidable secondary when Rodgers-Cromartie plays but with DRC’s status in question, Rodgers could be open for a field day.

If it’s two teams in the NFC that I love, it’s Arizona and Green Bay. While neither team is the ideal picture of healthy right now, it’s hard to go against the grain of a hot Green Bay team. I think if Rodgers has time, he could put up 30 against any defense remaining in the playoffs and with the Cardinals’ best corner ailing, Rodgers will be ready for an encore. Packers 28-23

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekend Review

3-1 after this weekend makes it kind of hard to argue with a 30-18 record on the season. This past weekend kind of had it all from the major upset to the major play of the year. You just got to love football. What other sport gives you as much passion and as many highs and lows than the gridiron? You can check if you want to but don’t waste your time. In case you missed anything from this past weekend, spend some time catching up:

Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

What I predicted …

Colts 24-16

What I said would happen …

“The Colts have the league’s second best defense in terms of points allowed so Manning and the offense may not need to do much to dispose of Jacksonville and keep their undefeated season alive. Jacksonville hasn’t beaten many teams with a winning record this season and they won’t on Thursday either.”

What actually happened …

The Colts won 35-31. Indianapolis survived a shootout and Manning threw for 308 yards and four touchdowns as the Colts added another victim to their 23-game win streak. Behind a 140-yard and two touchdown performance from Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville led 31-28 with under seven minutes left before Manning found Reggie Wayne for a 65-yard touchdown strike down the left sideline. The Colts then held off two drives from Jacksonville and picked off David Garrard on the Jaguars’ final possession to secure the victory.

My reactions …

Thursday’s loss dropped Jacksonville to 7-7 and a six-way tie with teams in the AFC playoff hunt. Jacksonville’s divisional record is an even 3-3 but their conference record is 6-4. The Jags may have to win out if they want a realistic shot at the postseason but road games against the Cincinnati Bengals or New England Patriots could be too daunting a task but let’s not look too far ahead. Jones-Drew will keep the Jags in competition the rest of the way but Garrard and the defense will have to raise their levels of play if Jacksonville is going to qualify for anything this year.

If they want to, Indianapolis (14-0) will probably go undefeated to close the year but that’s only if they want to. It would probably be in the club’s best interest however to fight for the unblemished record just to avoid a scenario where Manning and the boys fall out of synch from resting. The Colts have won games each and every way possible this season and have had the type of magical season that players will probably be sitting around the house in their 50’s and 60’s telling stories of. It’s Super Bowl or nothing for Indianapolis and if they fail to bring home the hardware, you can be sure players will still be kicking themselves well into their 50’s and 60’s.

Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints

What I predicted …

Saints 34-24

What I said would happen …

“The perfect game plan against the Saints: ball control and short passes. The motto of the ‘Boys’ offense under Jason Garrett: quick strike and heavy emphasis on throwing. Something’s got to give and if offensive coordinator Jason Garrett wants any chance of solidifying his return for next year then a game against his normal grain would be ideal for Saturday. New Orleans is going to score, that’s a given, how soon Garrett gives up on the run will determine Dallas’ fate. In a game against the top offense in the league, Garrett will probably be inclined to match wits with Saints head coach and former Cowboy coordinator Sean Payton. As has been shown for the last few seasons, Payton’s clearly a step ahead of Garrett.”

What actually happened …

The Cowboys won 24-17. Dallas came through the Superdome and punched New Orleans square in the mouth on their way to opening a 14-0 lead. The ‘Boys led 24-3 at the start of the fourth quarter and held off a late Saints run to preserve a rare December win and hand New Orleans a rare loss. Dallas QB Tony Romo was flawless on the night, completing 22-of-34 passes for 312 yards and a touchdown. Forgotten bruiser back Marion Barber made a surprise reappearance, totaling 73 yards and two touchdowns.

My reactions …

It’s funny how a club can go to written off to a possible Super Bowl favorite all in one game but that’s exactly what happened to the Dallas Cowboys last Saturday night. The Cowboys (9-5) played a flawless game aside from ex-kicker Nick Folk’s chip shot miss from 24 yards. The Dallas defense was dominant and DeMarcus Ware’s surprise appearance after sustaining a serious-looking neck injury was inspirational. Ware caused havoc for the Saints’ protection schemes all night and his strip of Drew Brees with little time remaining on the clock was something ‘Boys fans will be bragging about for years.

One loss doesn’t define a season and of course New Orleans (13-1) has had a dominant year but Saturday’s defeat raised some pressing concerns for New Orleans. The Saints defense hasn’t been spectacular the last few weeks and Dallas took advantage of their weakness against the run and probably would’ve scored more than 30 had Jason Garrett not took the foot off the gas after Dallas got a lead. The Saints offense is still plenty powerful but their defense will be under the microscope as the season wears on. Stay tuned…

Cincinnati Bengals vs. San Diego Chargers

What I predicted …

Chargers 28-13

What I said would happen …

“The Chargers are hot and Cincinnati has been struggling, that’s pretty much the gist of things. The Bengals are going to have to do more than the 94 passing yards they put up against the Minnesota Vikings in last week’s loss but don’t hold your breath. Palmer hasn’t thrown for more than 271 yards in any game this year and has passed for under 200 yards five times this season. The Chargers have scored over 24 points nine times this year and don’t expect things to change on Sunday against the struggling Bengals.”

What actually happened …

The Chargers won 27-24. San Diego and Cincinnati waged a slug fest this past Sunday, battling down to the wire before Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding kicked 52-yard field goal with three seconds left to give San Diego the AFC West crown and a lock on second place in the AFC. The grieving Bengals battled back from a 24-13 deficit at the top of the fourth quarter to tie it up with just under 54 seconds. San Diego QB Philip Rivers then led the Bolts 44 yards in six plays to set Kaeding up for the game winner.

My reactions …

The sudden death of Bengals receiver Chris Henry was a stunning blow for Cincinnati (9-5). The Bengals had already been struggling before his passing and they played one of their finer performances of the year in a loss to the hot Chargers. Cincinnati is going to have a tough road to climb as they try to battle the loss of their teammate and the behemoths of the AFC. Carson Palmer and the passing game are going to have to up their play as more teams stack the box and force Palmer to beat them. A few seasons ago, forcing Palmer to win the game was something teams feared. This year however, it’s been the key to beating the Bengals. Stay Tuned…

Besides Indianapolis, no team is hotter than the Bolts. San Diego (11-3) is the best team in the AFC in my opinion and defenses are going to find it tough in the playoffs to stop Rivers from lobbing the ball up to his tall and talented receivers. The defense is playing well, special teams is clicking, offense is one of the best in the league… the Chargers are just on top of their game right now. There shouldn’t be anything stopping a Bolts/Colts AFC Championship matchup but of course, as always, Stay Tuned…

Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

What I predicted …

Steelers 26-21

What I said would happen …

“The Packers have won five straight and are catching their stride as they wind down their regular season. Rodgers has weapons everywhere on offense and his defense is suffocating. Against a weak Steeler Oline Green Bay should be able to corral Pittsburgh’s offense with no problem. But it’s hard betting against the champs though. The loss to Cleveland was a definite kick in the rear and if pride is all that Pittsburgh has to play for, expect them to show a lot on Sunday in front of their home fans.”

What actually happened …

The Steelers won 37-36. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Mike Wallace with no time left on the clock to snap the Steelers five-game losing streak. Roethlisberger and Wallace connected for a 60-yarder to open the game before Rodgers sliced the Steelers secondary for 383 yards and three touchdowns. The Steelers led 24-14 at the top of the fourth quarter before Rodgers moved Green Bay ahead 36-30 with two minutes left to play. Roethlisberger then led Pittsburgh 86 yards in 12 plays before he connected with Wallace for the game winner.

My reactions …

When Rodgers has time to throw, the Packers (9-5) have one of the best offenses in the NFC. Rodgers has guts galore and his receivers run patterns with fearlessness and authority. The Packers are still a favorite for a wild card spot in the NFC and have the potential to pull off a road upset if any playoff team takes them lightly. With Rodgers at the helm and a steadily improving defense, Green Bay should be a title contender for years to come. Stay Tuned…

It took a memorable game for Pittsburgh (7-7) to break its five-game slide but they got it done. Roethlisberger and the Steelers still have an outside chance at making the playoffs but will need some help. They’ll get their biggest rival (Baltimore Ravens) at home next week in the biggest game of their season. With the Ravens (8-6) looking to steal one of the last few post season slots, the Steelers will be trying everything they can to prevent that from happening. Some changes are destined to come through Pittsburgh after a disappointing season but in the mean time, the Steelers still have something to play for.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Season fading but Week 15 Matchups Bold and Clear

First I would like to pay respect to Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry and his family. The league lost another valuable member to the organization with his death on Thursday and regardless of what things Henry may have done in the past, death is never deserving for anybody. The season is almost over but the league is far from playing games. The playoff picture is becoming clearer and clearer and teams will have a chance to inch closer to home field and playoff spots after the week is done. Two big headliners for this week that could decide a lot. ‘Boys/Saints and Bengals/Bolts will be the biggest games of the week.

Should be another exciting week and expect teams across the league to have a moment of silence for Henry as they take timeout to remember what was a maturing young man. It should be another week to remember as well, let’s get started:

Indianapolis Colts (13-0) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-6) 8:20 p.m.

Kind of strange game right here. The Colts are finished playing for anything serious for the remainder of the regular season. The Jaguars however, are fighting for their playoff lives. The Colts could just buckle up and aim for an undefeated season and quarterback Peyton Manning has already bested long time rival Tom Brady’s regular season win streak with his 22nd consecutive win last week.

Tying Brady’s undefeated 2007 season would further push the debate of who’s been the better signal caller over the past decade. The Colts have been in this position a few times before: at season’s end and nothing to play for. A few seasons ago, Indianapolis rested its players down the stretch after jumping out to a 13-1 record, which only led to an out of synch performance in the club’s opening round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005’s playoffs.

The Colts might not need to do much against a struggling Jaguar team though. The Jaguars have dropped two of their last three and have struggled mightily on offense since breakout receiver Mike Sims-Walker has been nursing calf and knee injuries. Teams have focused on slowing focal point runner Maurice Jones-Drew, who hasn’t recorded an 100 yard game since week 10. Starting quarterback David Garrard has been forced to carry more of a load and things have been sort of rough let’s say the past few weeks.

Sims-Walker’s status will spell key for the Jaguars on Thursday night. Indianapolis’ secondary has been shredded over the past few weeks and they’ll definitely come out with a plan to make Garrard beat them. The Colts have the league’s second best defense in terms of points allowed so Manning and the offense may not need to do much to dispose of Jacksonville and keep their undefeated season alive. Jacksonville hasn’t beaten many teams with a winning record this season and they won’t on Thursday either. Colts 24-16

Dallas Cowboys (8-5) vs. New Orleans Saints (13-0) 8:20 p.m.

The Cowboys are tiptoeing dangerous grounds. After last week’s loss to the San Diego Chargers gave the ‘Boys their third loss in the last five games, a road game against the Saints could determine their playoff fate. But Dallas could be catching the perfect Saints at the perfect time however. New Orleans has been anything but flawless in their last two games, knocking off the lowly Washington Redskins and banged up Atlanta Falcons by field goals in each contest.

The Saints have showed major problems in their secondary, allowing a slew of big plays over the last couple of weeks. Dallas starting quarterback Tony Romo could exploit New Orleans with a few strikes to big play receiver Miles Austin. Maligned wideout Roy Williams has come on in recent weeks and has given the passing game the possession receiver it was lacking in the early parts of the season.

Dallas pass rusher DeMarcus Ware is expected to play on Saturday and his presence would be key in trying to slow down Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints offense. The Cowboys secondary is pretty formidable but Brees is out of this world. New Orleans is never out of game with Brees, who gets the ball to everybody on his offense from the third string running back to the guy in the nose bleed seats. Dallas hasn’t seen an offense like this all season and in the Saints last “major” game of the season, at home, they’ll be more than ready to take it to the Cowboys.

The perfect game plan against the Saints: ball control and short passes. The motto of the ‘Boys’ offense under Jason Garrett: quick strike and heavy emphasis on throwing. Something’s got to give and if offensive coordinator Jason Garrett wants any chance of solidifying his return for next year then a game against his normal grain would be ideal for Saturday. New Orleans is going to score, that’s a given, how soon Garrett gives up on the run will determine Dallas’ fate. In a game against the top offense in the league, Garrett will probably be inclined to match wits with Saints head coach and former Cowboy coordinator Sean Payton. As has been shown for the last few seasons, Payton’s clearly a step ahead of Garrett. Saints 34-24

Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) vs. San Diego Chargers (10-3) 4:15 p.m.

With the recent death of receiver Chris Henry fresh on the minds of the Bengals, Cincinnati will be hard-pressed to go on the road and take on a hot Charger team. San Diego has won eight straight and with second place in the AFC up for grabs, the Bolts won’t take it easy on an emotional Bengals team. San Diego has won every way possible during their current win streak; close, come from behind and blowout style.

The Bengals have been a methodical grind-it-out team all season but clashing against San Diego’s fast break style approach could be recipe for disaster for the men from Ohio. Cincinnati’s emphasis on the run game has been something they’ve stuck to all year but their approach will be tested against a high-scoring San Diego team. The Chargers run defense has been better over the past few weeks but Cincinnati has shown they can run against anybody.

The departure of some of his key wideouts from a few seasons ago have clearly hurt Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer and the passing game and against San Diego’s ballhawking cover corners, Cincinnati running backs Larry Johnson and Cedric Benson will play vital roles in the battle for the AFC’s second seed. The Bengals have dealt with saddening situations already this season when defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s wife passed in early October. Henry’s recent passing could inspire the club or go the opposite way but it will definitely be on the minds of the Bengals when they board the plane to travel out west.

The Chargers are hot and Cincinnati has been struggling, that’s pretty much the gist of things. The Bengals are going to have to do more than the 94 passing yards they put up against the Minnesota Vikings in last week’s loss but don’t hold your breath. Palmer hasn’t thrown for more than 271 yards in any game this year and has passed for under 200 yards five times this season. The Chargers have scored over 24 points nine times this year and don’t expect things to change on Sunday against the struggling Bengals. Chargers 28-13

Green Bay Packers (9-4) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-7) 4:15 p.m.

While the Steelers might be out of the playoff running, they have the chance to play spoiler in the next three weeks against teams in the postseason hunt. When Pittsburgh squares off against the Packers on Sunday, it’ll be a matchup of two of the most storied franchises in NFL history. There was talk that injured Steelers safety Troy Polamalu would return for the matchup against Green Bay but he was scratched earlier in the week and his absence will indeed leave a vulnerable Pittsburgh secondary at the mercy of the Packers’ red hot QB, Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers has had a terrific season but the notorious sloppy conditions at Heinz Field could hamper his receivers’ traction somewhat. Pittsburgh loves to make teams one-dimensional but Rodgers is the type of signal caller that can carry a team by himself if needed. Green Bay’s defense has been the real story of their season and with the Steelers struggling on offense, it could be a low-scoring affair on Sunday.

Pittsburgh has lost five straight games and to make matters worse: Green Bay has the best record of any opponent the Steelers have played during their slide. The Steelers are playing for pride this week and after last Thursday’s embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns, expect Pittsburgh to throw the kitchen sink at the visiting Packers despite missing some valuable members from their team.

Green Bay is only a few steps closer to securing a playoff spot and a win over the Steelers would make life extremely easy over the next few weeks. The Packers have won five straight and are catching their stride as they wind down their regular season. Rodgers has weapons everywhere on offense and his defense is suffocating. Against a weak Steeler Oline Green Bay should be able to corral Pittsburgh’s offense with no problem. But it’s hard betting against the champs though. The loss to Cleveland was a definite kick in the rear and if pride is all that Pittsburgh has to play for, expect them to show a lot on Sunday in front of their home fans. Steelers 26-21

December 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting the Weekend

A 3-1 record over the weekend puts me at an impressive 25-15, good for exactly 10 games over .500 (like I predicted last week). I need to stop shooting myself in the foot and predicting games before the official injury reports are released. If I would’ve known Kurt Warner’s health status before he shredded the Vikings, I would’ve definitely picked Arizona. Nevertheless, I’ll take 3-1 and from now, I’ll start giving myself a cushion should any serious health concerns arise by predicting a score favoring an injury report and one not favoring a report. Great weekend in football though. As the playoffs loom, games get more and more important. In case you missed anything:

Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts

What I predicted …

Colts 30–17

What I said would happen …

“If Indy can slow Johnson and force Young to beat them they should be in good shape. Although Tennessee’s defense has been playing well, Manning is playing on another planet right now. The Colts are on a title mission and when it comes to the regular season, Indy could care less about going undefeated but the job of securing home field advantage isn’t done yet and a win against the Titans will put them one step closer.

What actually happened …

The Colts won 27-17. Indianapolis kept their regular season winning streak alive and tied the mark for most consecutive wins at 21. The Colts kept the electric Chris Johnson in check from breaking any long runs and held Vince Young to a 77.8 passer rating. Indianapolis led 24-10 at the top of the fourth and was never really threatened by the Titans. Colts running back Joseph Addai hasn’t had an outstanding season in terms of yardage but the third-year runner added two touchdowns against Tennessee that pushed his total up to 12 for the year.

My reactions …

What else can you say about the Colts? At 12-0, it would take a major collapse to keep them from securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs and with Peyton Manning taking the snaps, well, that’s probably not going to happen. The defense doesn’t get a lot of recognition (and probably never will as long as 18 is behind the center) but they’re tied for second in the league in points given up at 16.8 per game. Pretty good combination when you have a walking Hall of Famer at the quarterback position and your defense is among the stingiest in the league at not giving up points. Let’s see how far it takes them. Stay tuned…

Well … Sunday’s loss probably ends all chances for the Titans to make this year’s playoffs. A 5-7 record would require the Titans to win out and some other teams to lose a few games which neither scenario is highly likely. Tennessee will undoubtedly benefit from an early draft pick and should return to prominence next season considering they’ve showed with a midseason five-game winning streak that they can play with any team. Johnson has played his way into the discussion for best running back in the league and Young’s play of late has bought him some extra time in a Titan uniform and with some likely mid-round draft picks, Tennessee will probably return to playoff form next season.

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants

What I predicted …

Giants 27-18

What I said would happen …

“The Giants have beaten the ‘Boys in three out of their last four meetings and have done so in confidence crippling fashion. In Dallas in ’07’s playoffs, a 35-14 humiliation in New York in ’08 and a 33-31 triumph early in the year to christen Dallas’ new all-everything stadium. If you went off stats and who’s playing better than Dallas would be the obvious pick but with their backs against the wall, a must win game and in front of their home crowd, if New York doesn’t win this game, it’ll be more of a testament to how bad the Giants have gotten instead of how good the Cowboys are and I don’t think the Giants are as bad as the last few weeks have shown.”

What actually happened …

The Giants won 31-24. New York bounced back in a big way, trumping the division-leading Cowboys and fighting their way back into playoff contention. After getting ran on in their first meeting for 251 yards and allowing a whopping 8.7 yards per carry, the Giants held the Cowboys to a measly 45 yards on the ground, allowing a dismal two yards per carry. The Giants blew the game open after Domenik Hixon’s 79-yard punt return upped the score 31-17 with 5:33 left in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys actually had a chance to get right back into the game on the following possession but Dallas QB Tony Romo overthrew receiver Roy Williams on a for-sure touchdown and Dallas turned the ball over on downs two plays later.

My reactions …

Good game by the Giants (7-5). Their sweep of the Cowboys (8-4) gives them the ultimate trump card should things come down to a tie breaker later in the month. The Giants will get the Philadelphia Eagles at home next week for a chance to further help their playoff cause with a win. The Eagles trounced the G-Men 40-17 in their earlier meeting this season but things shouldn’t be so lopsided this time around. Giants QB Eli Manning looked recovered from his foot injury and running back Brandon Jacobs looked as fresh as he has in weeks. New York really pumped the life back into its season and Sunday’s date with the Eagles could have the G-Men sitting back atop the division if things fall correctly. Stay tuned…

It’s December for the ‘Boys and that usually spells trouble. Usually. Even with their disappointing loss to the Giants, Dallas should have some renewed faith considering how well Romo has been playing in recent weeks. Romo threw for 392 yards and three touchdowns against New York, his highest totals ever in the month of December in both categories. Romo’s play alone has been troubling in the later stages of previous seasons but he seems to have matured into a very reliable quarterback for the ‘Boys this year. If Romo can continue his heady play, Dallas may be able to break their December curse and make a strong push for a top seed as the postseason nears but it won’t be easy. Dallas’ next two opponents are a combined 21-3. Stay tuned…

Minnesota Vikings vs. Arizona Cardinals

What I predicted …

Vikings 31-20

What I said would happen …

“If it’s one way to attack Minnesota, it’s through the air. The Vikes are 19th against the pass but will get a boost in their coverage if top corner Antoine Winfield is able to play this weekend after missing the last five games with a foot injury. Coming back against Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin isn’t exactly a welcomed return but the Vikes are definitely better with Winfield than without. Warner could be a little trigger shy in his first game back from a concussion and playing against the Vikings stout dline could tamper the Cards’ offense. I would feel better about Arizona’s chances if Warner was healthy, but he’s not, so I don’t.”

What actually happened …

The Cardinals won 30-17. Warner was healthy and shredded the Vikings secondary for 285 yards and three touchdowns. In a battle of future Hall of Famers, Warner outdueled Minnesota’s Brett Favre, who finished the night with a 79.4 passer rating. The Cardinals defense really shined against the high-scoring Vikings, limiting Minnesota to 10 points for the majority of the game until a late touchdown strike by Favre with 1:20 remaining in the game upped the Vikings’ point total. Arizona’s defense kept Adrian Peterson in check, allowing the proverbial “best back in the league” to only 19 yards on 13 carries.

My reactions …

Minor setback for the Vikings (10-2) but sometimes, games like these help a contender’s chances later down the road. Sunday’s loss will probably knock Minnesota out of the hunt for home field advantage as the New Orleans Saints continue their undefeated march. Unless something major happens in terms of injury for the Saints, the Vikings should start focusing on locking up the second seed and resting their stars while New Orleans deals with the pressure of going undefeated. Minnesota still has a very strong team and if it means anything for the Vikes, neither of the NFC’s last two top ranked teams made it out the second round of the postseason.

It’s hard to believe that Arizona (8-4) doesn’t get a lot of recognition as one of the league’s better teams, even after last year’s Super Bowl appearance. What’s scary is that with Warner healthy, the Cards are an even better team than last year’s squad. They run the ball better. They play better defense. They have a 5-1 road record (5-0 with Warner starting). The aerial attack might be the best in the league and they just held Adrian Peterson to 19 yards. The Cards are going to win the NFC West with ease and they’ll probably annihilate whoever their visiting first round opponent is. A lot of talk gets thrown around about the Saints, Vikings, Giants and Cowboys but with Sunday’s demolition of Minnesota, the Cards might be the second best team in the NFC.

It’s a shame the Cards were forced to play without Warner against the Titans because they probably would’ve won the game had he been available. A win against the Titans would’ve put Arizona in a serious race for the second seed in the NFC and hope is not lost but regardless of wherever the Cards finish, no team is going to be raising their hands to play them in the postseason.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Green Bay Packers

What I predicted …

Packers 26-16

What I said would happen …

“The Packers D has been flying around all season and even with the losses of Aaron Kampman and Al Harris, the unit has enough talent to continue to play at a high level. It’s hard to go wrong when you have the league’s best defense and Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback. The Ravens defense may limit Rodgers and the Packers offense but Green Bay still scores enough points in an off game that opposing squads have to come with a 23-plus effort and the Packers defense won’t allow that at Lambeau Field.”

What actually happened …

The Packers won 27-14. Rodgers and Co. picked apart the Ravens depleted secondary, drawing several pass interference penalties and totaling 263 passing yards and three touchdowns. Green Bay’s defense was even more impressive, holding the Ravens to 185 total yards. Ray Rice, Baltimore’s sophomore sensation at running back, was held to 71 total yards, 54 rushing. The Packers intercepted Baltimore QB Joe Flacco three times, once in the end zone. Trailing 24-14 in the fourth, Baltimore had first-and-goal at the Packers’ one-yard line but cornerback Charles Woodson dropped the Ravens’ Willis McGahee for a two-yard loss on first down and Flacco’s pass across mid-end zone on the following play was picked off by Tramon Williams that gave the Packers the defensive stand of the game.

My reactions …

Green Bay (8-4) didn’t play one of their better offensive games but that was expected against a strong Baltimore defense. There’s little hope for the Packers to win the NFC North but their wildcard chances are alive and well. Wins over the Cowboys give Green Bay a valuable trump card should they tie with Dallas down the stretch. But their remaining schedule is stuffed with tough matchups and it will take some work (and maybe luck) for the Packers to make it in. Stay tuned…

Even with the loss, Baltimore (6-6) remains alive in their playoff hunt. As of this week, the Ravens don’t play a single team over .500 the rest of the year and it’s not out of the question for the Ravens to win out. Another date with Pittsburgh looms in a few weeks but the Steelers have lost four-straight games and clearly aren’t the same team they were last year. The Ravens will need some help to make the playoffs but they have to win first and Sunday’s date with the Detroit Lions should be the perfect opportunity to get back on track. Stay tuned…

December 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What a Week! Week 10 NFL Preview

15-9 on the season I am. Somewhat satisfied I am. Going undefeated this week I will. Another NFL weekend doozy coming up. Although the season is already dwindling, the matchups continue to heat up. It’s a shame football can’t be played all year long but while it’s here, we got to enjoy every drop of it. And the flavor couldn’t be better for this week with four huge games on the menu.

Typically, I’m pretty sure about my picks but I could easily see me going winless this week.All four major matchups this week contain teams that can easily beat one another but even though I’m not completely sure, something had to be done:

Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)

There’s no better matchup than a slate between two good division teams. It also helps when both teams absolutely hate each other and Bengals’ QB Carson Palmer has already gone on record in recent years saying he hates the Steelers. After clobbering two pretty good teams last week both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will enter Sunday with the division on the line.

A Bengals win would give them a stranglehold over the division with a 5-0 divisional record. Pittsburgh sits at 1-1 in the AFC North with that one loss coming in their second half meltdown in Cincinnati earlier this year. The Steelers had a firm grip on that game before a dropped touchdown pass and a pick-six led to their 23-20 loss. But things are a little different this time around for both squads.

Sophomore running back Rashard Mendenhall gets his crack at the Bengals after being benched for disciplinary reasons in the first meeting. The Steelers have gone 5-0 with Mendenhall in the lineup and the youngster is averaging 5.7 yards a carry. He has singlehandedly restored the Pittsburgh running game and the Steelers offense is benefiting from it. Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu will also get his first start against Cincinnati this season after missing the first meeting with a knee injury. Polamalu is the center piece to the Steelers’ puzzling defense and has two interceptions in three games since his return.

The outlook isn’t so bright for the Bengals. Although they’ve been playing extremely well, the personnel losses have been starting to mount for Cincinnati. They lost wide receiver and notorious “Steeler-Killer” Chris Henry last week to a broken arm but that was before leading sack man Antawn Odom went down with a ruptured Achilles.

Cincinnati is the most balanced team in the AFC but the Steelers are known to wipe balance away from opposing teams. The Bengals have fed off running back Cedric Benson and their running game all season but Pittsburgh leads the league in run defense, giving up just 70.4 yards a game. Pittsburgh had Cincinnati on the ropes in their first contest but couldn’t finish them off because of a lackluster running game. Mendenhall has beefed up that phase of the Steeler attack and expect Pittsburgh to be the more balanced of the two teams this weekend. Whichever teams fails to establish the run will lose and all signs point to Cincy struggling in that category. Steelers 27-17

Dallas Cowboys (6-2) vs. Green Bay Packers (4-4)

I want to like the Packers because they’re a historic team with a top tier QB but they have too many problems. They don’t run the ball consistently well and they don’t protect their quarterback at all. They’re defense can only shut down inferior teams and their secondary (which is supposed to be the strength of their defense) gets shredded too often. Nevertheless they’re a difficult team to beat at home and will be ready to play after an embarrassing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is putting up outstanding numbers this year and would be a MVP candidate if the Packers had a better record. He has a live arm, strong confidence and is deceptively mobile. He has some pretty nice weapons to work with on his side of the ball and the Green Bay offense means that they’re always in the game.

The Cowboys however, have been on top of their game in recent weeks and are currently riding a four-game win streak. Rodgers, Drew Brees and Brett Favre are probably the only few QBs in the NFC playing better ball than the Cowboys’ Tony Romo right now, who has responded with a successful season so far after a disastrous ’08. Romo’s finding his receivers, protecting the ball and leading his team the way upper echelon signal callers are supposed to. Dallas has been getting strong play out of both their offense and defense and even the ‘Boys’ special teams have scored in two of the last three weeks.

At 4-4, Green Bay’s back is slightly against the wall. They’ve lost two straight, haven’t beaten a team with a winning record all season and just lost to the last remaining winless team. Another loss this week and Packer fans could be ready to storm the field. Green Bay desperately wants to prove it can win without Favre but until they can play consistent defense and protect Rodgers, that won’t happen. The ‘Boys excel at pressing the passer and their offense has been pretty hot for the past few weeks. If the ‘Boys aren’t too full over their big win against the Eagles, they’ll handle the Packers on Sunday. Cowboys 34-26

Philadelphia Eagles (5-3) vs. San Diego Chargers (5-3)

The last time Philadelphia flew across country to play a California team, they loss an embarrassing game to the dismal Oakland Raiders. It’s safe to say the San Diego Chargers are a better team than the Raiders so Philly will want to pay extra attention in the film room this week. San Diego has renewed confidence after winning three-straight and seeing the division-leading Denver Broncos drop two in a row.

This will be the Eagles toughest road test to date and things could get scary if top corner Asante Samuels is slowed by a neck injury he sustained last week against Dallas. The Chargers love to launch the ball downfield and have all kinds of weapons to make that happen. Star receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Antonio Gates are huge targets and Chargers’ QB Phillip Rivers just tosses the ball up for them to grab.

By taking away the deep ball, the Cowboys laid out the blueprint on how to beat the Eagles last week and San Diego has the personnel to get the job done. Philadelphia specializes in the long ball but San Diego may have the best pair of corners in the AFC. Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer are well equipped to limit Donovan McNabb’s looks downfield and Cromartie has the length and speed to stay near speedy Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson.

It’s not known whether Eagles running back Brian Westbrook will play and his status would be a big boost or big loss for Philadelphia. San Diego is somewhat iffy in their ability to stop the run but fortunately for them, the Eagles don’t run the ball well. If Westbrook is unable to play, the Chargers could just run away with this game. Philadelphia is going to bring their exotic blitzes against the Chargers but Rivers is experienced enough to handle that with ease. Once the Eagles do sell out with their blitz schemes, Rivers will be allowed to take advantage of Philly’s smallish cornerbacks and launch the ball downfield to the biggest set of receivers in the league. Chargers 30-23

New England Patriots (6-2) vs. Indianapolis Colts (8-0)

After struggling with average teams the past couple of weeks, the Colts get their first major test of the season when they host the Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend. If this is the game that will decide home field advantage in the AFC then Indy is probably wishing they could’ve played the Pats earlier in the year. The Colts will be without three starters in their secondary against New England and for Tom Brady and Randy Moss, that equals big trouble.

New England’s offense has been clicking after struggling earlier in the year with consistency. Brady has 12 touchdown strikes in the last four weeks and Moss has benefitted from Brady’s hot streak with four TDs in three weeks. While the Patriot offense is catching fire, Peyton Manning and the Indy attack has been tapering off. Manning has just one touchdown pass in the last two weeks. The Patriots haven’t seen a QB quite like Manning all season however, and could be on their heels if Manning gets hot.

Manning will have to be at his best on Sunday to compensate for the Colts’ depleted secondary. If he tries to force anything, New England’s defense has been opportunistic over the last few weeks and could make Manning pay.

Indianapolis will be at home which will give them a huge boost on Sunday but that will probably be their only advantage against a stronger Patriot team. Indy is too banged up to run with the Patriots’ band of receivers and unless Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer comes up with a fantastic scheme between Monday and Saturday, New England could put up a lot of points. It’s no coincidence that New England’s two losses so far this year have come against teams featuring outstanding cover men. The Jets’ Darrelle Revis limited Moss to four catches for 24 yards and Denver’s Champ Bailey allowed Moss only one catch in an October clash. With their fourth and fifth string corners playing, Indy may be in a world of trouble. This would be the ideal game for the Colts to kill the clock with a punishing run game but Indianapolis is only averaging 85 rushing yards per game as a team. Patriots 31-20

November 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NFL Week 8 Preview

OK I have to admit something: my math was a little bit off when I falsely claimed I had a 10-7 prediction record. After further review my record stands at 10-5, qualifying me as a bad mathematician but a respectable NFL predictor. If you need proof, check for yourself. I’ve been predicting for the last three…er four weeks and I’ve cumulated records of 3-1, 3-1, 4-0 and 0-3. Add ’em up and you get 10-5.

So yes, I am a genius but I’m approaching dangerous waters this week though. Four five-star matchups on the table and I’m only certain about one of them. The rest are toss ups but for a genius like me, I’m sure I’ll come away with another flawless record. And even if I don’t, I’ll just lie to you all and say I got them all right since none of you checked me on my bad math before. Read and enjoy:

Denver Broncos (6-0) vs. Baltimore Ravens (3-3)

I really need to stop picking against the Broncos. I’ve picked against Denver the last three times they’ve been on this board and I’m 0-3 in doing so. They’re fresh off a bye and have their minds set on home field advantage in the playoffs. The Ravens have lost three straight and are falling further behind the curve as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals continue to win.

Although Baltimore QB Joe Flacco has played well throughout the year, the Ravens desperately need to get back to the running game and reestablish their identity. It’s not that Flacco can’t lead the team but their secondary has been allowing opponents to abuse them for the last several weeks. Keeping opponents off the field is probably Baltimore’s best defense nowadays. The days of the Ravens being comfortable to send out a ferocious defensive unit is over and time of possession will now be the deciding factor if Baltimore wants to go far this year.

The Broncos showed two weeks ago that they’re capable of beating a team through all three phases: offense, defense or special teams. Return man Eddie Royal killed the San Diego Chargers with two big return touchdowns that solidified a crucial division win on Monday night. If Royal can provide his team with good field position on Sunday, it would go a long way in the Broncos winning. Everything is flowing for Denver right now. The defense is stout and the offense might not be New Orleansesque, but they don’t make mistakes.

Baltimore starting left tackle Jared Gaither announced through his Twitter page that he would be playing this week and that would be a definite boost to the Ravens. Broncos’ outside linebacker Elvis Dumerville leads the NFL in sacks and held his unofficial coming out party against the Chargers in prime time television. Rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher could probably handle Dumerville on his own but the Broncos move him around so much, he could line up on either side on any given play. Gaither’s return would give Baltimore two solid pass protectors on both sides to counter Dumerville’s movements.

The Broncos front seven demolished the likes of the Cowboys, Patriots and Chargers’ offensive lines but they haven’t faced a protection unit as stout as the one they’ll see when they face the Ravens. Baltimore’s defense is no longer elite but given two weeks to scheme around what isn’t working, they should be up for the challenge against a non-imposing offense in Denver’s. The Broncos have had two weeks to prepare also which makes this game a toss up. A fourth straight loss would be devastating for the Ravens while a loss for Denver would still equal first place in the AFC West. Expect Baltimore to play their best game of the season. Ravens 24-21.

NY Giants (5-2) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (4-2)

Reality set in for the Giants over the last couple of weeks as they were beaten by some pretty solid clubs, ruining a 5-0 start. New York recognizes a loss to the Eagles would not only propel Philly into the driver seat of the NFC East but also mark their third straight defeat. After a brain lapse against the Oakland Raiders a couple of weeks ago, Philadelphia bounced back with their destruction of a reeling Washington Redskin team but paid the price for it.

Starting running back Brian Westbrook left the game and didn’t return after sustaining a concussion in the first half. It’s not known whether Westbrook will play against the Giants but after laying motionless on the ground against the Redskins for a few minutes, it’s probably wise the Eagles keep him out of this contest. Philadelphia will have to rely on a few backups along their offensive line and rookie runner LeSean McCoy if they want to get past an upset Giants team on Sunday. The Eagles knocked New York out of the playoffs last season with a stunning victory in the Giants’ own backyard. New York has had to wait all summer to play the Eagles again and could be catching Philly at the right time.

Philadelphia is really banged up. Even though they beat Washington 27-17, their offensive front was taken to school all night by the Redskins front seven. The Giants may not have a defensive lineman as dominant as the Skins’ Albert Haynesworth, but their defensive front is definitely deeper and more imposing than Washington’s. The Giants defense could probably win this game singlehandedly as long as Eli Manning doesn’t turn the ball over and keeps the offense flowing. Philadelphia gets the game at home which will give them a boost but after watching their offensive line get destroyed by the Raiders and Redskins, it’s hard to pick them against what they’ll see against New York. Giants 26-17

Minnesota Vikings (6-1) vs. Green Bay Packers (4-2)

Game of the week right here. The Packers have bounced back nicely with two straight wins after dropping an emotional contest to Minnesota just a few weeks ago. Green Bay has outscored opponents 57-3 in the last two weeks and will be ready to extend that margin against the Vikings. Minnesota will have one eye on their bye week when they visit Green Bay on Sunday but they’ll have to be extremely careful. Lambeau Field will be insane as former Packer legend Brett Favre returns for the first time and the Pack will be playing with heavy hearts.

Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers threw for 384 yards the last time he saw the Vikings secondary and that was with Minnesota standout corner Antoine Winfield in the lineup. Wearing his home jersey with the Green Bay fans fully behind him, Rodgers could go off Sunday against the Vikings and expose their depleted secondary. But then again he might not.

Minnesota played pretty well against last week’s NFL passing yards leader in Ben Roethlisberger, limiting him to 175 yards. But Roethlisberger doesn’t let it fly down the field consistently like Rodgers does and the Vikes’ secondary will have to be on their P’s and Q’s without Winfield. I couldn’t go another line without mentioning Minnesota’s explosive offense and it is just that.

Although they only accounted for 10 points last week against the Steelers, the Vikings offensive unit remains a problem. You can be sure the Vikings will put up more than two scores this week against a Packer defense that has feasted on some of the more ineffective units in the league the past couple of games. Third-year wideout Sidney Rice is a bonafide playmaker and couple him with Adrian Peterson and Favre pulling the trigger and you have a dangerous combination.

Sunday’s game could be a shootout and believe that Rodgers or Favre would love nothing better than to go toe-to-toe with one another. Green Bay’s offensive line was terrorized by the Vikes’ front seven the last time the two teams met, sacking Rodgers eight times. Green Bay’s left tackle Chad Clifton could return after sitting out the past few games but his status remains unclear. Regardless if he returns or not, Green Bay should have a better system in place to protect Rodgers after the disaster against Minnesota a few weeks ago. If the Packers can keep Rodgers upright, Minnesota will be in trouble. Packers 28-24

 

Atlanta Falcons (4-2) vs. New Orleans Saints (5-0)
After a thriller last week against the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans will return to what should be an ecstatic Superdome for a Monday night game against a divisional opponent. The Saints came back from a 24-3 deficit on the road to beat the Dolphins 46-34. What was even more impressive about the Saints comeback is that they probably played their worse game of the season and still scored 46 points on the road.

New Orleans can’t be stopped right now and the Falcons will be fresh off a loss and 311 yards put up against them by Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys. The Falcons allowed little known receiver Miles Austin to explode for 171 yards and two touchdowns so Marques Colston and Drew Brees have to be licking their chops just thinking about this game.

Atlanta can score with the best of teams but their secondary is their biggest Achilles heel. For a team as talented through the air as the Saints are, that could spell disaster for the Falcons and their chances to pull off the upset. The Saints defense got blitzed last week when the Dolphins showed them just how effective the Wildcat offense could be but they tightened up in the second half and limited Miami to only 10 points. If Atlanta wants to win this game, they’ll have to put the ball into running back Michael Turner’s hands and keep the Saints off the field. Anything less than 25 carries from Turner and Falcons’ defense will get exposed for a second straight week. Saints 40-24

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

NFL Northern Divisional Outlook

NFC North-Minnesota Vikings

The NFC North might possibly break in three new starting quarterbacks this year depending upon the situation in Detroit. The Detroit Lions need to get the Matthew Stafford era under way quickly if they want to wash any of last year’s 0-16 taste out their mouths. It would only make sense to get Stafford in as soon as possible so the trio of him, running back Kevin Smith and miracle wideout Calvin Johnson can grow together. But the ineptitude of Detroit’s pass protection and defense stamps them with the rebuild label for ’09.

The Chicago Bears will break in Jay Cutler as the quarterback they’ve been waiting on for years but the Bears defense isn’t the stifling unit it used to be and the lack of a threat at wideout permits them from being taken seriously. But nevertheless, Chicago is still a competent team capable of contending. How much so will depend on the heroics of Cutler and the effectiveness of the defense.

You got to love the Green Bay Packers offense. Aaron Rodgers threw for over 4000 yards last year as a first-year starter and the Packers have gamebreaking talent at the wideout and running back positions. The convergence to a 3-4 defense is what gives them a question mark. Converting to the 3-4 is never an easy transition and in a league where strong defense is a must, Green Bay may be a season or two away from seriously challenging. With Rodgers at the helm, this is a team on the rise and will contend for many years.

That leaves us with the Minnesota Vikings, a ball club that won the division last year without the aide of the legendary Brett Favre. I’m not as high on Favre’s return as others but the name alone will prevent defenses from loading up the box for Adrian Peterson. Peterson has shown he can carry the team to respectability by himself and the defense remains tops in the division. The addition of Favre was just icing on the cake.

Forget Favre, Adrian Peterson is the real reason why everybody's on Minny's bandwagon. (John Biever/SI)

Forget Favre, Adrian Peterson is the real reason why everybody's on Minny's bandwagon. (John Biever/SI)

Homefield advantage in the playoffs is going to be critical to Minnesota’s Super Bowl aspirations because Favre’s arm may not allow him to carry the team in cold conditions on the road in January. If the Vikes can secure at least a first round bye and one home playoff game then a single game on the road shouldn’t be too much to ask.

 

 

AFC North-Pittsburgh Steelers

Right off the bat you can write off the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns. Cincinnati is improving but no one is going to respect their running game with a so-so offensive line and Cedric Benson as the starter which will allow defenses to tee off on the already fragile Carson Palmer. The Bengals defense will be much improved and it’s not out the realm to think Cincinatti will contend but they just don’t stack up against their bigger brothers. The Browns have a long way to go on the road back to respectability and at the time of this posting, they were still undecided on their starting quarterback.

This division is all about the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. The two juggernauts have taken turns winning the division seven times since the 2000 season. You have to say right now that the Ravens and Steelers are the two best teams in the AFC. Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl last year and Baltimore finished as the runner-up, losing to the eventual champs in the AFC Championship game.  

Both clubs place an emphasis on the run game and field strong defensive units finishing first and second last season respectively. Both teams are fairly similar but the quarterback and wide receiver position is what separates them. The Steelers trout out a two-time Super Bowl champion at their quarterback position and two Super Bowl MVPs in the receiving corps.

Joe Flacco is a man on the rise but he’s not in Ben Roethlisberger’s class just yet. Baltimore knows they need to upgrade their wide receiver position and the expectations from senior receiver Derrick Mason will be heavy.

The NFL isn’t all about the run game and defense any more. Although both are essential for title contenders, defenses have to respect a team’s quarterback and receivers. While Flacco deserves some extra game preparation from opposing clubs, the team’s so-so wideouts won’t force many defensive coordinators into sleepless nights.

Pittsburgh isn’t known for their offense but Roethlisberger and company showed in last season’s playoff run that they deserve to be respected. Games against the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals showcased Roethlisberger’s arm strength and playmaking ability. If their offensive line can take another step forward and running backs Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall remain healthy, the Steelers offense could be potent.

 

As long as Big Ben is in Pittsburgh, the Steelers will be a force. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

As long as Big Ben is in Pittsburgh, the Steelers will be a force. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh will welcome the return of strong-footed punter Daniel Sepulveda—who was injured last season—and open arms to fresh-faced return man Stefan Logan, who was a preseason sensation. Both men will inject a significant boost to the Steelers special teams which came under fire last year. And a couple of new starters on defense have the potential to make last year’s unit even more lethal.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh grade out similarly but it’s the presence of Roethlisberger and his receivers that gives the Steelers the edge to win the division for a third straight season.

September 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment