I’ll take 3-1. I mean, I don’t really have a choice now do I? Another dull weekend in the playoffs but the Jets/Chargers game made up for an uncompetitive second round. 5-3 so far this postseason with a huge weekend coming up. Not trying to get ahead of myself but I have to. Three games last week ended in teams getting outscored 99-20, so calling the weekend noncompetitive is an understatement. In case you missed anything you didn’t miss much. Just read along and you’ll see what I mean.
Arizona Cardinals vs. New Orleans Saints
What I predicted …
What I said would happened …
“The Saints have had a couple of weeks to go over their gameplan and whip themselves back into shape. How well that preparation will hold up against a scary Cardinals team is a tricky question. New Orleans has proven they can’t stop the run but Arizona doesn’t really run the ball with any conviction. The Cardinals are at their best when Warner is sitting back flinging it. While New Orleans hasn’t won a game in over three weeks, they’ll be fired up over the fact that they’re only two games away from a Super Bowl. After seeing Arizona’s defense shredded to pieces against Green Bay, it’s impossible to pick them with any confidence.”
What actually happened…
The Saints won 45-14. Facing one of the better offenses in the NFL with a full cast of healthy defenders just a week ago, the Arizona Cardinals allowed 45 points in their own backyard to the Green Bay Packers. The Cardinals tried their luck again against the high-powered New Orleans Saints albeit minus two starting members of their secondary. Their absences proved to be costly and the Saints steamrolled the Cardinals 45-14 in front of a raucous Superdome crowd in New Orleans. Arizona QB Kurt Warner was banged up before halftime after taking a serious shot on an interception return but returned to start the second half.
My reactions …
Funny how far things can fall in just a year. Just last season, the Cardinals (11-7) were looked upon as one of the brightest up and coming teams with a roster stacked full of young talent. The talent is still in place but with whispers of Warner’s retirement growing louder and louder and the continuing gripe between the Cardinals’ front office and Anquan Boldin, Arizona could be without two megastars to begin next season. Allowing 90 points in two games is proof enough that defensive help is needed but with Warner’s likely departure and the club’s disbelief in backup Matt Leinhart, a shift in philosophy could occur next year.
And the band will march on for the Saints. Their demolishing of the Cardinals proves New Orleans (14-3) is indeed focused on the bigger picture for this season but it should be noted Arizona was missing several star players. Nevertheless, the Saints took care of business and will take themselves to the NFC Championship game with all the swagger and confidence that they possessed during their magical start to the season when they were just slaying teams.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts
What I predicted …
What I said would happen…
“This won’t be a slam dunk for the Colts and weeks’ worth of rest could have negative ramifications. Baltimore will enter Saturday’s game loose and full of confidence with the pressure resting solely on Manning and his crew. The Colts beat the Ravens 17-15 in a late November clash but ask any Raven fan and they’ll tell you that game was one Baltimore should’ve pocketed. The Ravens have already avenged one painful loss this postseason and could very well make up for another. But I can’t pick against Manning at home, although I want to.”
What actually happened…
The Colts won 20-3. The Ravens (10-8) turned the ball over four times, drew seven penalties and couldn’t convert in the red zone. Even when things went right for Baltimore, they went wrong. Ed Reed’s interception of Peyton Manning midway through the third quarter was returned 38 yards before he was stripped of the ball and Indianapolis (14-2) recovered. Reed would strike again five plays later with another interception but his 54-yard return was nullified after officials called pass interference on Corey Ivy.
The offseason plan is simple for Baltimore: Go get some playmakers. The Ravens (10-8) are solid on both lines but the lack of threats at the wide receiver and cornerback positions leave them vulnerable against some of the more explosive teams. Rumors should continue about the possibilities of landing Denver wideout Brandon Marshall or even the Cardinals Anquan Boldin. Either addition would greatly improve an up and coming offense and if Baltimore can land a solid starting corner, they’ll definitely be back in the playoff hunt next season.
Indianapolis (15-2) didn’t do anything different against Baltimore except what they’ve done for most of the season which is find a way to win. The offense wasn’t overly explosive but the defense put some serious clamps on the Raven offense. This may be the best defense that Manning has ever had during his tenure in Indy and that’s saying a lot considering Bob Sanders and a few other defenders are out for the season. The Colts and the Vikings are the only two teams remaining in the postseason now that can beat you with either offense or defense. What a sight it would be to see those two in the Super Bowl. Stay tuned…
Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings
What I predicted…
What I said would happen…
“These might be the two most complete teams left in the postseason as both Minnesota and Dallas can beat you in a number of ways. Both are strong rushing teams and both can beat you with the aerial assault. If you’re looking for any edge breaker, it’s worth noting that Favre is 0-3 all-time against Dallas in the playoffs but then again, Romo didn’t win his first playoff game until four days ago. If there was a tossup game for the week, then this is definitely it. Both teams are eerily similar with the only advantage being the Vikings opening at home fresh from a week off. Similar feeling like the Colts/Ravens and I’ll take Favre at home, although I probably shouldn’t.”
What actually happened…
The Vikings won 34-3. Smothering defense and big plays in the passing game has been the formula for success for the Vikings this season and they stuck to that plan in sacking Dallas quarterback Tony Romo six times while receiving four touchdown passes from the reinvigorated Brett Favre. Favre hooked up with third-year receiver Sidney Rice for three touchdowns before finding Morgan State alum Visanthe Shiancoe for the final score of the game.
Though the season didn’t end in spectacular fashion, it has to be viewed as a positive for the Dallas Cowboys (12-6). They finished off December strong after seasons of fading and they won their first playoff game since 1996. The Cowboys will need to retool the offensive line and a grab another wideout or two to fortify their offense. Their defense played poorly against the Vikings but their offense didn’t help them out at all. The defense remains strong and will benefit from another year under Wade Phillips’ tutelage. Dallas remains a talented team, just a few patch jobs will do the team wonders.
The Vikings (13-4) flexed the kind of muscle they had demonstrated earlier in the season when they appeared to be unstoppable. Their defeat of the Cowboys was probably the most impressive victory of the weekend considering the strength of their opponent. Dallas came into the game relatively healthy and the Vikings took it to them. Minnesota was sound on both sides of the ball and they’ll definitely be tuned in for the NFC title game and a chance to send Favre to his third and probably last Super Bowl. Stay tuned…
New York Jets vs. San Diego Chargers
What I predicted…
What I said would happen…
“With Sanchez at pilot, the Jets have no chance trying to outscore the high-flying Chargers. Their best bet would be to make Sunday’s game an all-out defensive slugfest but that’ll be hard to do against an offense that averaged 30 points an outing over the course of their 11 game win streak. It’s the ultimate David vs. Goliath matchup but David might be too small in this one. Revis is a fantastic corner but with the Chargers’ ability to spread the ball around and Rivers’ penchant for getting the ball to the best-suited target, New York will have trouble keeping up.”
What actually happened …
The Jets won 17-14. New York limited an explosive Charger offense to just 14 points while forcing two turnovers and benefitting from three critical missed field goals by Chargers All-Pro kicker Nate Kaeding. Kaeding missed from 36, 57 and 40 yards, making him the first kicker to miss all three of his field goal attempts in a playoff game since 1995. New York received a strong performance from rookie running back Shonn Greene for the second consecutive week. Greene’s 23 carries for 128 yards featured a 53-yard run, the longest rush in team playoff history and his five-yard run in the closing minutes set the Jets up for a manageable fourth-and-one that New York converted easily to seal the game.
The Chargers (13-4) have suffered some tough post season losses over the past few years and this may have been the most disappointing of them all. Aside from San Diego’s 14-2 season in ’06 when they loss to the New Patriots, losing to a rookie quarterback and first year head coach has to sting. San Diego was garnering serious consideration as a Super Bowl favorite and with so many key players scheduled for free agency, this may have been their last shot at a Super Bowl with their core group. Rivers is still the franchise quarterback and San Diego will obviously build around him but they’re destined to lose a lot once free agency hits.
With their surprising win, New York just became the official Cinderella of the NFL playoffs. Similar to a team in March Madness, the Jets continue to string together victories with gritty play. Revis and the defense keeps them in every game and the running game and Sanchez make just enough plays to squeak by. While their style isn’t pretty, it’s been enough to keep advancing them through the playoffs. The task of winning an AFC Championship as a rookie quarterback is one that Sanchez’s predecessors have failed at. Both Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger’s clubs were constructed similarly with power running games and stingy defenses but when they were matched up against Super Bowl winning quarterbacks (Flacco vs. Roethlisberger in ’08 and Roethlisberger vs. Brady in ’04), they came up short. Who will Sanchez get in the AFC title game? Just Peyton Manning. Not the easiest matchup but there’s no turning back now. Stay tuned…
Here I stand, a 22-14 prediction record and ready for more. Another couch reclining weekend in the NFL and this is the week (I know you’ve heard it before but seriously, this is it) that I go 10 games over .500. Five-star matchups everywhere you look this week. Sunday afternoon, Sunday night and Monday night are enough to make a NFL fan smile. Hopefully, I’ll be smiling after my predictions come true.
Tennessee Titans (5-6) vs. Indianapolis Colts (11-0)
You know me, usually I don’t preview under .500 teams but alas, like I told you last week, the Titans aren’t your average under .500 squad. The winners of now five-straight, Tennessee is the hottest team in the league behind the Colts and New Orleans Saints. But notice: behind the Colts and Saints.
The Colts have been the hottest team since week nine of last season and stretched their regular season win streak to 20 games last week with a come from behind victory over the wannabe Texans. Regardless of how far down Indy may be in a game, Colts’ conductor Peyton Manning always gives them a chance to win. He’s in the prime of his career and is having a MVP season. Speaking of MVPs, Titans running back Chris Johnson is living in a quarterback’s world. If he wasn’t, he’d be the clear frontrunner to run away with the award.
Johnson has averaged 154 yards in his last six games and is tiptoeing the line of NFL record books if he continues at his torrid pace. Since their week seven bye, the Titans defense has been ensuring that Johnson gets all the chances he needs to enter into NFL-foreverdom. After giving up 33 points per game in their first six contests, Tennessee has surrendered just 18 points per in their last five. They’ll have their hands full against a high wire Colts team with the Super Bowl set in their sights.
The Colts last beat Tennessee 31-9 on Oct. 11 and held Johnson to a season-low 34 yards but things shouldn’t be so easy this time around for the Colts. Titans quarterback Vince Young is coming off a career game and the team’s confidence is soaring right now. Young and Johnson are the most dangerous duo in the league and a depleted Colts defense will have to be at attention all game.
Indianapolis did a wonderful job of keeping the Texans offense in check last week. 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. Colts 30-17
Dallas Cowboys (8-3) vs. New York Giants (6-5)
The Giants’ backs are against the wall. They’ve lost four out of their last five and aren’t doing any of the things that made them a powerhouse just a few seasons ago. The Cowboys are now in the month of December which has been horrible for the club the last few seasons so something has to give.
The ‘Boys have won six out of their last seven and are in good shape sitting atop the NFC East, but buyer beware. The frustration in New York has gone beyond the boiling point and Sunday’s game could be Big Blue’s last stand.
Everything is wrong with the Giants. They can’t run, they can’t stop the run, they can’t stop the pass, they can pass but they can’t pass all that great, everything is just a mess but things can change week-to-week in the NFL and if it’s one team that the Giants can play to turn things around, it’s Dallas.
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. Giants 27-18
Minnesota Vikings (10-1) vs. Arizona Cardinals (7-4)
Even though New Orleans and Indianapolis get all the fan fare because of their undefeated records, the Vikings have been every bit as good and maybe even better throughout this season. When you think about the three key ingredients that it takes to win in the NFL, Minnesota has it down pat: rush the QB, run the football and big plays in the passing game. Nobody is able to say they can do all three equally as well as the Vikings can.
What’s ironic is that Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt has been trying to mold his birds into the exact same creature and it’s worked so far to the tune of a 7-4 record. The Cards have been averaging 140 yards on the ground in their last four contests and their run game has given great balance to a high wire passing attack. But that passing attack was limited last week in the absence of Kurt Warner in the Cards 20-17 loss to the Titans. With Warner expected to play against the Vikes, the show could be back on.
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.
With both teams sitting atop their divisions, the game is definitely more important to Minnesota, who is trailing the Saints in the hunt for home-field advantage. 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. Vikings 31-20
Baltimore Ravens (6-5) vs. Green Bay Packers (7-4)
The Ravens take to the road to play the suddenly streaking Green Bay Packers. The Packers, winners of three straight, are rounding into form just in time for a stretch run that has them in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt. The Ravens are still trying to make their own postseason push, making Monday night’s game a serious headliner.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has been the story of the team for much of the season. Rodgers is having as good of a year at the position as anybody in the league and his lively arm and band of receivers make the Packers offense a tough matchup for the Ravens. Baltimore’s secondary has struggled for most of the season and took another blow when starting cornerback Fabian Washington was loss for the season a few weeks ago.
It’ll be up to the Ravens offense to eek out a win in Lambeau. Signal caller Joe Flacco and running mate Ray Rice have taken their games to another level this year and against Green Bay’s potent offense, the sophomores will have to churn out one of their finer performances if the birds expect to pull off the upset. But that’ll be tough against the league’s best defense.
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. Packers 26-16
Nowadays, being a Madden cover model is like a being a childhood star. It’s all nice and enjoyable at the time but as the years start to fade, your performance starts to falter and your life and career damn near go up in smokes.
Even if you don’t believe in curses, you have to admit it’s something more than a coincidence occurring with the number of guys who have seen their careers flipped upside down once they grace the cover of the John Madden Football videogame.
Almost like a scene out of The Ring, how after you watch the video tape, your phone rings and something extremely bad happens to you in seven days. Well….maybe not that serious, but still, something extremely bad happens to you within several months after you get your picture taken for the cover of Madden.
Brett Favre was the latest victim, seeing his Jets squad fall out the sky from a midseason high mark of 8-3 that not only had them thinking playoffs but dreaming Super Bowl. After Favre’s throwing arm collapsed, the Jets’ season was done, losing four out of their last five games to miss the playoffs and end number four’s Hall of Fame career on a sour note.
2008’s cover featured Vince Young, who is now tip-toeing along the edge of one-hit-wonder status after an inspiring rookie year. Since his ’07 debut, Young has been benched, booed, hinted at retirement and reportedly mentioned suicide all in the same season.
2007’s victim is still on milk cartons nationwide. Shaun Alexander was the first player to appear on both EA Sports football titles – Madden 2007 and NCAA Football 2001 – the result, two injury plagued seasons following his mega ’05 campaign that saw him rush for 1,880 yards and score 28 touchdowns. Now the former MVP is currently out of the league and out of sight, out of mind.
In his heyday, Donovan McNabb was one of the most dangerous scramblers in the game. His ability to jog around the field and make plays from the quarterback position was undoubtedly reminiscent of another former Philadelphia duel-threat.
All that changed for the 2006 cover man on November 19, 2006, when he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee against the Tennessee Titans, zapping the Pro Bowler of his lethal agility and urging him to become more of a pocket passer.
That was only the second part of a two-year haze that McNabb would endure after his ’06 illustration hit the stores in 2005.
The first part featured McNabb ducking and dodging verbal bullets from his teammate at the time, Terrell Owens, who opened vocal fire on seemingly everyone associated with the Eagles organization during his tenure in Philadelphia.
After several controversial statements and publicly questioning McNabb’s performance in a disappointing Super Bowl loss earlier that year, Owens would later be suspended for the rest of the season while McNabb would have his year end early after deactivating himself with a sports hernia injury and sore thumb on his throwing hand.
It wasn’t the ’04-’05 season that tackled 2005 cover boy Ray Lewis. The Madden Curse blindsided Lewis the following year with a nagging thigh injury that would cut the campaign short for the walking Hall of Famer. Lewis still remains a potent run stuffer in the afterlife of a superhuman career, but he hasn’t posted over 100 tackles since the 2004 season, ironically, Lewis’ cover year.
There shouldn’t even be a draw up of what happened to 2004’s Madden Man. Armed with blistering speed and a XXXL arm, Michael Vick exploded onto the scene as America’s secret weapon.
Almost otherworldly, Vick was brought back down to earth when he was brought to the ground in a preseason game against the Ravens.
A fractured right fibula would keep the lefty out until late November of the ’03 season, but even that was minor compared to the fate Vick would later suffer amid federal charges for dog fighting.
Is it a coincidence that all the aforementioned players suffered some type of life-altering, season shifting, career threatening fate? Maybe, maybe not.
With two players posted on the cover for this year, should a similar fate happen to both of the cover men in the future, EA Sports may have to revert back to placing John Madden on the cover by himself.
Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald outline the prototype for their respected positions.
One’s a big-time, highlight reel playmaking safety, the other is a wish-you-could-but-you-can’t stop him wideout who’s on the cusp of greatness. Fitzgerald’s playoff performance trampled a monster regular season and made the former ball boy look like the best wide receiver ever in history.
When Polamalu wasn’t leaping over piles, he was making game-changing interceptions on the Steelers way to their sixth Super Bowl title.
Both are true superstars at their position, both are equipped with the humbleness and work ethic to continue to dominate the sport for the next few seasons.
Unless of course, the curse gets to them first.
The odds of both phenoms bowing out this season to the wrath of the Madden curse is highly unlikely, but then again, claiming the seasons of the last six cover men was a bet I would’ve gladly wagered seven years ago.
Glad I didn’t.