Well, here we are. It’s been a long NFL season and we’re officially only a day away from planning Super Bowl parties, calling Vegas and stacking up on tortilla chips. It’s kind of sad to see the season dwindle down but I’ll save that story for another day. 5-3 on my postseason picks so far and although most of the games have been routes, this weekend has to be, better be and needs to be competitive. I’ll make my selections with caution because both games are far from locks.
The Jets will be everyone’s Cinderella for Sunday but they’re well-equipped to topple the Colts. The Vikings have proven over their last two games how strong they are, but they’re weak on the road and New Orleans plays above and beyond at home. Should be (better be) an incredible weekend and if the regular season is proof of a preview, the Vikings/Saints game will be insane. In a good way of course.
New York Jets (11-7) vs. Indianapolis Colts (15-2) 3 p.m.
It may not be the matchup that most viewers wanted but it’s certainly what they’ll get. The New York Jets will travel to Indianapolis to take on the top-seeded Colts in the always marketable battle of David vs. Goliath. The Jets, fresh off their upset victory over the second-seeded San Diego Chargers, defeated the Colts 29-15 in a week 16 meeting during the regular season but Indianapolis rested several of their starters after halftime of that game while New York was fighting for a playoff berth.
New York first year quarterback Mark Sanchez will make the third time in the last five seasons that a rookie quarterback has started in the AFC’s Conference Championship game.
The Baltimore Ravens Joe Flacco made his appearance last year while the Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger started as a rookie in the 2004 title game. Sanchez will be hoping for a better outcome as both Flacco and Roethlisberger lost their championship starts.
Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning will be making his fourth AFC title game appearance but 2009’s MVP will face a difficult task against defensive guru Rex Ryan. The Jets head coach has transformed New York’s defense into an aggressive blitz-heavy group, the kind of defense that Manning has struggled with in past playoff appearances.
The Jets defense is led by third-year cornerback Darrelle Revis, widely regarded as the best cornerback in the league. You absolutely don’t talk Jets without talking Revis and the corner’s play this season has been one of the headliners in the Jets’ success. His ability to handle marquee receivers one-on-one has been widely acknowledged across the league and it’s grown into a foregone conclusion he’ll shut down whoever he’s assigned to.
Revis will likely matchup with Manning’s top target Reggie Wayne and that battle will be critical towards the game’s outcome. Manning and Wayne have made a living of exposing secondaries this season but Revis’ presence could influence Manning to look elsewhere with the football.
While the Colts will be heavily favored, the Jets actually matchup extremely well with Indianapolis. The play of Revis and the Jets secondary could neutralize Manning and the Colts’ explosive passing attack while New York’s league-leading ground game could be problematic for an Indy team that notoriously struggles to stop the run.
On paper, the Colts should probably lose this game but the same could’ve been said last week when New York squared off against San Diego. The games aren’t played on paper and Manning will probably kick himself for the rest of his career if a quarterback of his stature loses to a rookie signal caller, regardless of how strong the opposing defense may be. Colts 20-10
Minnesota Vikings (13-4) vs. New Orleans Saints (14-3) 6:40 p.m.
The Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints have been the two best teams in the NFC all season so it’s only fitting that they meet in conference’s title game to settle things out. The Vikings have been dominant at home but vulnerable on the road, where their only losses of the season have come in embarrassing fashion at times.
The Saints started the year as a dominant home team before a couple of late season losses lightened up their mystique. Their 45-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals last week restored that mystique somewhat but Arizona was missing a slew of key players.
The Vikings will be mostly healthy and will make a strong push on the road to get All-Pro quarterback Brett Favre, 40, one last shot at a Super Bowl. The challenge will be daunting for the Vikings who will be up against a raucous Saints crowd hungry for the club’s first Super Bowl appearance.
Including their 34-3 over the Dallas Cowboys last week, the Vikings have outscored their last two opponents 78-10 and appear to be on the right track after a late season slide. Minnesota has all the ingredients needed to advance including a strong running game, smothering defense and experienced quarterback. The same ingredients the Cowboys used to cook up an upset victory of the Saints at the Superdome earlier in the season.
But when focused, New Orleans has been dominant at times this season and will undoubtedly be tuned in for their biggest game of the season so far. Their three-headed ground attack featuring Reggie Bush, Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas helped churn out a 171-yard performance against a pretty strong Arizona run defense. Controlling the line of scrimmage will be critical against the Vikings dominant pass rush.
Minnesota thrives on getting to the passer with just four rushers and the protection of Brees will be critical in the outcome. The Vikings secondary has been chop suey at times this year and if Brees has time, well, let’s just say that wouldn’t be good for Minnesota. But New Orleans defense isn’t the best and Minnesota can put up some points as well so a shootout could be in the making.
It will be the third meeting between Favre and Saints quarterback Drew Brees with their personal series tied at 1-1. It will also be Favre’s second NFC title game appearance in the last three seasons. The experience and the pressure for one last Super Bowl run before he calls it quits will weigh heavily in Favre’s corner. This is what he came back for and he’s only a game away from the ultimate goal. Regardless of how good the Saints have been this year, Minnesota is stocked full of talent and riding off in the sunset is a motion picture just waiting on Favre to sign off on and he won’t let New Orleans turn off his Swan song. Vikings 30-28
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…
We’re down to the elite eight in the NFL and this week’s round of playoffs promises to be more entertaining than the last. The top two seeds in each conference will be on display but their competition won’t just be any ol’ body. Both conferences’ lower seeds are playing excellent football right now which makes this week’s round of picks another tossup. I went 2-2 in my analysis for last week and another mediocre weekend could be on tap. It’s kind of ironic that aside from San Diego, three of the top four seeds finished a combined 5-7 over the last month of the season. Compare that to the combined 11-5 record of all four Wild Card teams over the last month and things could get interesting this weekend. Here’s what I think:
Arizona Cardinals (11-6) vs. New Orleans Saints (13-3) Sat, 4:30 p.m.
Getting right into it. The number one team in the NFC against last year’s conference champion. Two explosive offenses laced with top flight signal callers and electric playmakers. Both defenses are shaky but who cares right? While defenses win championships, we’re only in the divisional round so give us plenty of offense and hold off on the defensive stands please.
After allowing 35 points in the second half of their 51-45 win over the Packers last week, the last thing the Cardinals probably wanted to see was Drew Brees and his band of high scorers but you can’t make your own schedule in the postseason. Arizona will have to employ a different defensive approach if they want to pull the road upset this week but the possible return of receiver Anquan Boldin will give quarterback Kurt Warner another bullet in the clip if his defense isn’t up for the task.
The Saints haven’t really been up to any task over the last three weeks. Losers of their last two home games and three straight, New Orleans is on the verge of one of the biggest collapses in NFL history after blazing to a 13-0 start. The Saints finished the season as the highest scoring team in the league with an average close to 32 points a game. Over their last three games, the Saints have only scored 44 points for an average of 14.6 per so things could get really interesting if the Cards put some points on the board early.
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. Saints 35-24
Baltimore Ravens (10-7) vs. Indianapolis Colts (14-2) Sat, 8: 15 p.m.
The Ravens already exorcized one demon when they beat the Patriots last week for the franchise’s first-ever win against New England. Against Indianapolis, they’ll try to notch the franchise’s first road win against the Colts. But it won’t be easy. Indianapolis jumped to a 14-0 start behind this year’s MVP, Peyton Manning, and an ability to adapt to any style of game. Whether they had to outscore a team, outdefend a team or outperform a team, Indianapolis simply outdid every team they went up against until they decided to take it easy the last few weeks of the season.
Manning and Co. will be game for a rematch with the scary Ravens but they’ll have to be prepared for any and everything against a sneaky coach in Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh’s tutelage of the young Ravens has made them into a team that’s exceptionally strong in all three phases. Their offense is now equipped to score. Their special teams are one of the best groups in the league and the defense is still a formidable bunch. A 3-1 postseason road record over the last two seasons proves that they can win in hostile environments. Baltimore slayed last year’s top AFC team, the Tennessee Titans, and wiped out the New England Patriots on their own home turf just last week. The Colts better be ready against the Ravens or they could find themselves at home quick.
But Indianapolis doesn’t play to sit at home in January. The presence of Manning ensures that they’ll be in every game and although the Colts tend to struggle with pressure defenses in the post season, their own defense is formidable enough to keep them in games until the offense comes around. People have tended to overlook the Colts this year because they’re not as talented as some of their past squads. Bob Sanders is injured (again), the offensive line isn’t a strong run blocking unit and Indianapolis has been devoid of a complimentary outside receiver ever since Marvin Harrison was injured last season. And even with all of that, they still finished as the best team in the league this season.
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 soley 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. Colts 21-20
Dallas Cowboys (12-5) vs. Minnesota Vikings (12-4) Sun, 1 p.m.
Hmmmm. That’s the sound of a writer extremely unsure of how this game will play out. Sure Minnesota has Brett Favre, a living legend. Sure they have Adrian Peterson, one of the best players in the league. And sure they have a menacing defense and probably the best defensive line in the league. But the Cowboys have confidence and a winning streak on their side.
Those are a few things you haven’t been able to say about Dallas over the last 13 seasons. After flushing their December woes and clipping a 13-year playoff drought, the ‘Boys are ready for more and would love nothing better than to march their way to the Super Bowl by knocking off the top two NFC seeds in the same season. They already snuck one in against the Saints and beating the Vikes on the road would have the world singing “How ‘Bout ‘Dem Cowboys?” Quarterback Tony Romo is playing extremely well and his defense is playing even better. The ‘Boys will need both to bring it this week if Dallas is to pull off the upset.
At one point in the season, I was ready to crown the Vikings as the best team in the league but losses against Chicago, Carolina and Arizona were not only concerning but embarrassing. The Vikings were blown out against the Panthers and Cards and trailed the Bears at one point 23-6 before mounting a comeback. Although Minnesota tripped up down the stretch, they’re still plenty talented. Their 44-7 dismantling of the New York Giants in the season finale was much needed to restore some confidence around Twin Lakes and a week of rest was certainly needed for old man Favre and his workhouse Peterson.
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. Vikings 24-23
New York Jets (10-7) vs. San Diego Chargers (13-3) Sun, 4:40 p.m.
One of my Super Bowl favorites (Green Bay) is already at home this week so it’s nice to know that my other (San Diego) will be taking the field with the chance to help redeem me this weekend. The Chargers enter the post season as the hottest team in the league, winners of 11 straight. The Jets will enter this weekend with the best defense remaining in the postseason and the only team with a rookie signal caller (yikes).
Not trying to bad mouth Mark Sanchez but a rookie’s a rookie. But Sanchez hasn’t had to be the Sanchise (as he was called earlier in the year) lately. New York has ran for 630 yards in its last three games while holding teams to a laughable 9.6 points per game. Head coach Rex Ryan has become America’s most quotable coach and cover corner Darrelle Revis (you can’t talk Jets unless you talk Revis) has become America’s best cornerback. The trio of Revis, Ryan and Sanchez has made for an underrated but dangerous ball club that will punch you in the mouth if you’re not looking.
The Chargers have their eyes square on the prize after their last three trips to the postseason have left unsatisfying tastes in their mouths. San Diego should have learned a thing or two after being upstaged by the AFC’s last two Super Bowl representatives. The Chargers are finally healthy in the postseason (something that has eluded them in their last three playoff appearances) and fully expect more than another postseason exit this time around. San Diego will counter the Jets’ Revis with a smorgasbord of towering offensive treats and a quarterback in Philip Rivers who has etched himself into one of the league’s elite at the position.
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. Chargers 24-13
After a winding season, the NFL playoffs are set to begin this Saturday. While the top two seeds in both the AFC and NFC will be home resting this week, teams ready to begin Wild Card play enter the postseason hotter than some of the league’s higher seeds.
The Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints earned first round byes after both teams combined to go 25-9 on the season but both squads ended the regular season on sour notes. The Vikings lost three out of their last five games and the Saints lost three straight to close their campaign. While the Vikings showed signs of life with a 44-7 demolition of the reeling New York Giants in their season finale, a power struggle between head coach Brad Childress and quarterback Brett Favre casted a dark cloud over the last quarter of the season for Minnesota. With Favre, 40, tiptoeing the line of retirement, it’s officially Super Bowl or bust for the Vikings this year.
The Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals will hit the ground running. For the Cowboys and Packers, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Winners of three straight, the Cowboys will be gunning for their first playoff win since 1996. A road win against the once undefeated Saints and back to back shutouts have the Cowboys flying high while they attempt to reverse their recent trend of late season woes.
The Packers have won seven of their last eight games and will open their playoff run against a Cardinal team they just annihilated 33-7 in Arizona’s home finale. Green Bay ranks second in overall defense and their do-it-all cover corner Charles Woodson is a defensive MVP finalist. Second year signal caller Aaron Rodgers is at the top of the quarterback list in most sporting circles.
The Cardinals and Eagles couldn’t have ended their seasons on poorer notes. With the NFC East crown on the line, the Eagles’ 24-0 loss to the Cowboys was definitely a setback but their prior six-game winning streak is evidence they can turn things around.
Turning things around isn’t something the AFC’s second seed needs to worry about. Winners of eleven straight, the San Diego Chargers have become most sporting pundits “sexy” pick to reach the Super Bowl. Quarterback Philip Rivers earned his third trip to the Pro Bowl and he leads a remarkable cast of athletes on a talented Chargers team.
San Diego will be one of the favorites to advance out of the AFC especially since they’ve had the top ranked Indianapolis Colts number for quite some time. The Colts blazed to a 14-0 start this year but losers of consecutive games could be cause for some concern. Their bigger concern could be a Charger team they’re 1-3 against in the last two seasons including two postseason exits courtesy of Rivers and company.
While the Chargers have had the Colts number, the New England Patriots have had theirs, going 3-1 against San Diego since the 2006 season and knocking the Chargers out of postseason play twice over that span. The Patriots will be down a man however after leading receiver Wes Welker tore both his MCL and ACL in the season finale against Houston.
Welker isn’t the only leading receiver to suffer an injury in the season finale as the Cincinnati Bengals Chad Ochocinco bruised his knee in warm-ups prior to the Bengals finale against the New York Jets. Ironically, both teams will open the playoffs against each other as the first game on Saturday. The Bengals will be seeking revenge after getting blanked by the Jets 37-0.
The fifth seed Baltimore Ravens round out the AFC’s playoff pool. The Ravens won three of their remaining four games to earn consecutive trips to the playoffs and will try to make amends after falling one game short last season of making the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance.
This year’s playoff pool of participants is deep and talented and all offer something different to the table. Teams like New Orleans, San Diego and Green Bay offer explosive offenses while squads like Baltimore and New York bring stingy defenses with them. The Packers and Dallas Cowboys may be the most well-rounded teams in this year’s tournament while the Minnesota Vikings and Chargers are probably the most talented.
I expect the Chargers and Packers to end up facing off in the Super Bowl with the Bolts edging the Pack narrowly in a close thriller. It’s the Chargers’ year after back-to-back playoff exits to the eventual AFC Super Bowl representative. The Bolts are the hottest team in football and you’re not going to find a pair of 6-5 and over cover corners to match up with their shooting guard-sized receivers. Rivers has quietly put together an MVP season and he’ll join classmates Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning to form the most prestigious quarterback draft class ever after he captures his first Super Bowl and solidifies the QB class of ’04.
Sigh… 2-2 on the weekend but it’s OK. I kind of figured I would struggle with last two picks and I did. The Eagles/Giants and Chargers/Cowboys were tossups that a lot of so called “sports writers” got wrong this weekend. Pretty good weekend however. Hope you didn’t miss anything but in case you did:
Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“Manning struggles with pressure 3-4 defenses such as the one Denver plays. If the Broncos can bring the heat on Manning, they’ll give themselves a fighting chance on the road and their defensive pressure has been relentless in their last two games. This game could very well turn out to be a low scoring affair with both defenses playing pretty well right now. Typically in a game when you have two stout defenses, the tossup is determined by the quarterbacks and in a comparison between Manning and Orton, Manning wins every time.”
What actually happened …
The Colts won 28-16. Indianapolis not only set a regular season record with 22-straight wins but they also locked up home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Manning threw four touchdown strikes, three to tightend Dallas Clark. Indianapolis jumped out to a 21-0 lead but the Broncos battled back behind Orton and receiver Brandon Marshall, who caught a NFL record 21 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
My reactions …
Well, the Colts’ regular season is officially done in so many words. With the AFC locked up, the only thing Indianapolis has to play for is an undefeated recorded and they’ve made it clear that a flawless record is not their M.O. Manning’s MVP status could take a dent if Manning takes it easy the next couple of games but the Colts (13-0) know what the real goal is at this point. Super Bowl or nothing.
Denver (8-5) fell two games behind the San Diego Chargers with their loss and appear to be out the running for the AFC West crown. The best the Chargers could probably hope for now is a wild-card slot and with six other AFC teams over .500, it’s going to be a battle to make the postseason. With remaining games against the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, the Broncos have a chance to add on some extra wins and up their divisional record, two things that will come in handy as the season nears a close.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Minnesota Vikings
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“The Bengals don’t usually start as fast as the Vikings do so it will be important for Cincy to handle the Vikes’ early wave. Cincinnati has been methodical in its take downs of big name opponents this year and will probably have to pull off a similar trick if it plans to earn the upset. One thing that gets lost in the Bengals nine wins this year is that they haven’t exactly played their best ball in their last three games. The offense hasn’t scored over 18 points since week seven and speaking of the Bengals last three games: the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. If the Bengals can’t score points against those teams, I don’t see how they’ll score enough points to topple Minnesota on the road.”
What actually happened …
The Vikings won 30-10. Minnesota’s defense dominated the Bengals offense, holding the AFC North leaders to 91 passing yards and 210 total yards. The Vikings’ Adrian Peterson rushed for two touchdowns and added 137 total yards. Favre wasn’t as dynamic, passing for only 192 yards on 17-of-30 passing for a 73.2 passer rating. Minnesota’s top corner Antoine Winfield, totaled nine tackles in his first home game in over two months.
My reactions …
Minnesota (11-2) put another stamp on their bid for the second seed in the NFC with Sunday’s beat down of the Bengals. Favre appears to be slowing down as the season wears on but Peterson showed with a strong performance against a pretty formidable defense that he can carry the load if needed. While Favre has been the story of the Vikings’ impressive season, it will be important for Minnesota to remember who their real star is in the upcoming weeks.
After a strong start to the season, Cincinnati appears to be fading down the stretch. Their commitment to the run game appears to have caused them to forget how to pass effectively. 94 passing yards on 15-of-25 attempts from Carson Palmer won’t get it done in the postseason and it’s baffling how far the Bengals’ aerial game has fallen from just a few seasons ago. The defense is still pretty solid but they’re going to need more explosive plays from the passing game. Without longtime wideouts T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry, Palmer and Chad Ochocinco could be in over their heads. Stay tuned…
San Diego Chargers vs. Dallas Cowboys
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“You could draw straws on this game as both offenses and defenses are very similar. The difference is that Dallas is at home and needs this game way more than San Diego does. I could see the Cowboys playing tight and the Chargers’ carefree vertical game dropping bombs all over Cowboys stadium but I think Dallas is a mature enough group to recognize what’s at stake and hold serve at home.”
What actually happed …
The Chargers won 20-17. San Diego played a carefree game as the Cowboys crumpled under pressure with missed field goals and failed goal line opportunities. Dallas came out trying to establish the run after Romo passed for a career-high 55 times against the New York Giants the week before. Trying to establish the run led to four consecutive runs by running back Marion Barber at the Chargers’ one-yard line in the first half. Each run was stuffed before maligned kicker Nick Folk missed a 42-yard field on the next drive, wiping out a possible 10 points in a close loss.
My reactions …
San Diego (10-3) won their 16th consecutive December game and can put a stranglehold over the AFC’s second spot with a home win over Cincinnati next weekend. The defense is playing extremely well and this could finally be the year San Diego pushes through to the Super Bowl. Next week’s game with the Bengals will be huge and a possible week off in the playoffs would be excellent for some of San Diego’s aging stars. Stay tuned…
I was kind of skeptical at first but maybe Dallas (8-5) can’t win in December after all. This loss against the Chargers could be bigger than anyone realizes (especially considering the ‘Boys loss all-everything pass rusher DeMarcus Ware to a neck injury). Next week’s game against the Saints won’t be a cake walk by any means considering New Orleans is still in the hunt for home field advantage and appear to be set on gunning for the undefeated mark. Knowing Dallas left a possible 6-10 points off the board has to be sickening but they’ll need all the points they can get if they want to upset New Orleans next week. Stay tuned…
Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“The Giants showed a lot of heart last week after being down 10-0 to the Cowboys. A mini tussle between Giants pass rusher Justin Tuck andDallas offensive tackle Flozell Adams sparked the fight in New York and put the toughness back into their team. When it comes to toughness, there isn’t a more physical team in the NFC East besides New York and that should go a long way as the G-Men make their bid to reclaim the NFC East.”
What actually happened …
The Eagles won 45-38. Philadelphia jumped to a 14-3 lead before holding off a late Giants charge. Sophomore wideout DeSean Jackson terrorized New York’s secondary and special teams, accounting for 178 receiving yards, 83 punt return yards and two touchdowns in both areas. His 74-yard punt return broke the first half open with the Eagles leading 24-10. After New York took their first lead 31-30 in the third quarter, Jackson scored on the very next play of the Eagles’ following drive on a 60-yard reception.
My reactions …
The Eagles (9-4) took a huge step towards locking up the NFC East with Sunday night’s win. After sweeping the Giants and the Washington Redskins, a season finale on the road at Dallas could decide the division or even a possible first-round bye. With the Cowboys and Giants both trailing, Philadelphia will have two games against San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos with a chance to pad their win total.
Even though New York (7-6) remains in the playoff hunt, even if they get to the playoffs, the odds would be against them. Teams have averaged over 32 points against the Giants defense in the last two months and considering the teams that New York would possibly see in the postseason i.e. New Orleans, Minnesota, Arizona, Green Bay, Dallas or Philadelphia, the Giants could be one-and-done before the end of the first half in any playoff game. New York can still turn things around but judging off their play of the last few months, it’s not likely. Stay tuned…
It’s kind of hard to be dissatisfied when you’re sitting at a 25-15 prediction record but hey, what can I say? I’m striving for excellence over here. I’ll get a chance to up my prediction record this week with some pretty serious matchups. Lucky for me I don’t have to worry about any serious injuries this week which should only lead to a clear head and forecast. Five-star matchups everywhere on this list of contenders and the games should live up to their billing. The first two you’ll read were pretty clear for me but as usual, things got a little murky after that. Should be a great weekend nevertheless, enjoy:
Denver Broncos (8-4) vs. Indianapolis Colts (12-0) 1 p.m.
The Colts have to lose at some point right? Right? Well … who knows? The Broncos know the feeling of being undefeated after a 6-0 start earlier in the season had folks mentioning home field advantage and Denver in the same sentence. Denver has rebounded nicely from a four-game losing slide of a few weeks ago and appears to be making a final run for their bid to win the AFC West Division. Standing in their way on Sunday, just the Colts, winners of their last 21-straight regular season games.
No matter what you do to Indianapolis; hold them below 20, carve up their secondary, run the ball all over them, the Colts just don’t lose. Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the league and his defense is tied for second in the least amount of points given up per game. The Colts aren’t as loaded as years past, but obviously, they’re still a top team and they have more than enough weapons to duke it out with Denver on Sunday.
Ironically, the team Indy is tied with in points allowed is none other than the Broncos and their defense has done a good job of corralling some of the league’s more explosive offenses this season. Denver prefers to play ball control and methodically work itself down the field while their defense comes up with stop after stop but playing against Manning could require Denver to take more shots down the field than usual. With Brandon Marshall lining up out wide for the Broncos, going deep shouldn’t be too much of a problem but incumbent QB Kyle Orton isn’t exactly the QB that’s going to beat you deep.
But Manning is. Luckily for the Broncos, Manning struggles with pressure 3-4 defenses such as the one Denver plays. If the Broncos can bring the heat on Manning, they’ll give themselves a fighting chance on the road and their defensive pressure has been relentless in their last two games. This game could very well turn out to be a low scoring affair with both defenses playing pretty well right now. Typically in a game when you have two stout defenses, the tossup is determined by the quarterbacks and in a comparison between Manning and Orton, Manning wins every time. Colts 21-13
Cincinnati Bengals (9-3) vs. Minnesota Vikings (10-2) 1 p.m.
Bengals wideout Chad Ocho Cinco was fined $30,000 last week for donning a sombrero and poncho after he scored on a 36-yard pass reception against the Detroit Lions. Ocho Cinco has already promised to blow on the Vikings fight horn if he scores again on Sunday and against a defense that ranks 21st against the pass, Chad could be ready to open his wallet yet again.
Cincinnati has remained committed to the run for much of this year and one of the biggest reasons that the Vikes are ranked so low against the pass is because they rank third against the run, giving up only 84.2 yards a weekend. The Bengals will find it tough sledding on the road against Minnesota where the men in purple usually play outstanding defense. Cincinnati’s best chance to win will rest solely on the arm of Carson Palmer and his ability to pick apart a suspect Viking secondary.
Maybe I shouldn’t say solely. Palmer will be backed by his own stingy defense, a unit that is only giving up 81.8 yards on the ground, a number that should come in handy when the Bengals square off against Adrian Peterson on Sunday. Peterson is having another solid season and while Cincy’s initial goal will be to slow him, Peterson’s running mate, Brett Favre, has been the real story for the Vikings this year. Favre is having one of his best seasons ever and ironically, the Vikings’ best chance may rest solely on his arm and his own clamp down defense.
Both running backs could be nullified by opposing defenses and we may get to see a Farve/Palmer shootout. The Bengals don’t usually start as fast as the Vikings do so it will be important for Cincy to handle the Vikes’ early wave. Cincinnati has been methodical in its take downs of big name opponents this year and will probably have to pull off a similar trick if it plans to earn the upset. One thing that gets lost in the Bengals nine wins this year is that they haven’t exactly played their best ball in their last three games. The offense hasn’t scored over 18 points since week seven and speaking of the Bengals last three games: the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. If the Bengals can’t score points against those teams, I don’t see how they’ll score enough points to topple Minnesota on the road. Vikings 28-16
San Diego Chargers (9-3) vs. Dallas Cowboys (8-4) 4:15 p.m.
If you had to pick one game to watch all weekend, this would probably be it. Phillip Rivers against Tony Romo. DeMarcus Ware and Shawn Merriman. Surprise receivers Miles Austin and Vincent Jackson. This game will have it all. The backdrops are everywhere in this one. Current Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips was San Diego’s former defensive coordinator and helped make Merriman into a star before coming to Dallas. Merriman, who outperformed Ware in his first three years as a rush linebacker (thanks to Phillips), was drafted one spot behind Ware in the ’05 draft. Even current ‘Boys defensive end Igor Olshansky is a former Charger but enough about the story plot.
With their divisional brothers chomping at their heels, this is a game that neither club can afford to lose. A Cowboy loss will result in a fall from atop the NFC East and a Charger loss would erase the half game lead they have over the Broncos should Denver win against the Colts. San Diego is on a seven-game win streak and is beginning to look like a serious Super Bowl contender. The defense is playing light years ahead of the dismal displays they were putting on in the early part of the season and Rivers has catapulted himself into the second best quarterback in the AFC.
It’s a known fact that the Cowboys struggle in December but with an upcoming showdown with the New Orleans Saints creeping, Dallas should be looking at this game as a must win. Dallas was scheduled to be a dominant running team prior to the start of the season but it’s clear the ‘Boys have resorted back to their aerial assaulting ways. Ironically, San Diego thrives against the pass and with solid cover corners Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer roaming deep, the Cowboys would be best served to attack on the ground.
But the Cowboys haven’t shown a commitment to attack on the ground and after seeing Romo air it out a career-high 55 times last week against the Giants, they probably won’t recommit this week either. Dallas’ defense is going to have to get some severe pressure against San Diego because Rivers loves to loft it out for his shooting guard-sized receivers to make plays on the ball. Dallas’ secondary isn’t too shabby but compared to the Chargers wideouts, it could be easy picking for San Diego’s group.
You could draw straws on this game as both offenses and defenses are very similar. The difference is that Dallas is at home and needs this game way more than San Diego does. I could see the Cowboys playing tight and the Chargers’ carefree vertical game dropping bombs all over Cowboys stadium but I think Dallas is a mature enough group to recognize what’s at stake and hold serve at home. Cowboys 27-24
Philadelphia Eagles (8-4) vs. New York Giants (7-5) 8:20 p.m.
40-17. That was the score the last time the Eagles met up with the Giants. Think the G-Men forgot about that? Think again. Remarkably, New York is at a good spot this late in the season after dropping four-straight games. After sweeping the Cowboys last week, the Giants have the chance to take back the division with a win against the Eagles and that aspect coupled with their last meeting should be enough motivation to have the Giants fired up on Sunday night.
But the Eagles won’t flinch in the face of a bully. This same Philadelphia team went on the road in last year’s playoffs and dropped the top ranked Giants in front of their home fans in a 23-11 Eagles win. Philadelphia has won three straight and will welcome back explosive wideout DeSean Jackson after the sophomore missed last week’s game with a concussion. New York’s weakness has been their pass defense all season and Philly QB Donovan McNabb and head coach Andy Reid just love to air it out.
New York’s forgotten pass rush will have to be on their P’s and Q’s for this one. The Giants secondary is obviously struggling right now and after allowing 392 yards and three scores to Tony Romo last week, New York can ill-afford to let McNabb sit back and wing it on them. Given time, McNabb will dismantle any secondary and for a depleted one such as New York’s, the Eagles could have a field day.
Ball control will be critical for the Giants, who received some big plays from burly runner Brandon Jacobs last week. New York isn’t the same pounding team they used to be and their reluctance to grind it out could spell trouble for the G-Men. Signal caller Eli Manning has emerged into a dangerous QB but he doesn’t have the weapons or confidence to match McNabb throw for throw. Against the Eagles’ ball-hawks and due to his own inconsistent defense, Manning could be put into a position to try to accomplish more than he’s built for.
Even with that being said, the Giants showed a lot of heart last week after being down 10-0 to the Cowboys. A mini tussle between Giants pass rusher Justin Tuck andDallas offensive tackle Flozell Adams sparked the fight in New York and put the toughness back into their team. When it comes to toughness, there isn’t a more physical team in the NFC East besides New York and that should go a long way as the G-Men make their bid to reclaim the NFC East. Giants 24-20
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
2-2 mark over the weekend, not great but not bad. The New England Patriots were my last chance at a winning record but jeez … the Saints really took it to them on Monday night and killed that aspiration. Another exciting weekend in the books; last second scores, heroic efforts and comeback performances. This weekend had it all, just in case you missed anything:
New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“Brees won’t let things get out of hand on his own field. Brees is threatening Peyton Manning for the MVP award and trumping Brady would give him the same card that Manning holds already. It’s hard picking against Belichick and Brady but the Saints have made fools out of anybody that’s picked against them this year. The Saints haven’t played the toughest of schedules this year but beating New England would give them the last bit of respect that they feel they’re not getting. But that’s easier said than done. Brady’s killer instinct and Belichick’s “who cares” attitude will cut down the Saints bid for an undefeated record.”
What actually happened …
The Saints demolished New England 38-17. Demolish is a light word considering what actually took place inside the Superdome on Monday night. Brees passed for five touchdowns and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. New Orleans jumped the Patriots in the second quarter, outscoring New England 21-3 in the period. Probably more impressive than Brees’ performance, the Saints held Brady without a touchdown pass and picked him off twice on their way to a rout. Brees found five different receivers on each of his scoring strikes and New England had no answer for New Orleans’ explosive offense.
My Reactions …
Wow. New Orleans (11-0) ran circles around one of the best teams in the AFC and looked fabulous doing so. New Orleans isn’t strong at stopping the run, which teams try to exploit, but because the Saints can score in a matter of seconds, it makes it nearly impossible for teams to commit to the ground game. New England came out running the ball with some success in the game’s early moments. After the Saints ripped apart New England’s secondary in the second quarter, the Patriots had to abandon the run game and play catch up. Even with flaws on defense, New Orleans manages to cover them up with a potent offense. They’re obviously the best team in the league right now and seemed destined for a NFC title game appearance.
New England (7-4) looked really really really old last Monday night. Their defense couldn’t stop anything and even their offense looked slow. The Patriots aren’t giving Brady the same time he was afforded in 2007 and maybe it’s the beard but Randy Moss looks like a washed up wideout who can only run deep. New England running back Laurence Maroney is only 24 but runs like he’s 34. This might be the ultimate testament to how good the Saints are though. New England is one of the best teams in the league but the Saints made them look like a .500 team on its last leg. Not sure where New England is headed but Brady is going to have to mask a lot of New England’s deficiencies. With Brady fresh off a ripped up knee, I’m not really sure how much Brady can hide. Stay tuned…
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“Baltimore is still smarting after a 0-3 mark against the Steelers last year and with another game with Pittsburgh on the horizon the week before the season ends, the Ravens know they have to strike now while the iron is hot. No Troy Polamalu and a woozy Roethlisberger is blood in the water for the thirsty Ravens and they’ll be ready to drink on Sunday.”
What actually happened …
The Ravens beat the Steelers 20-17 in overtime. It was a valiant effort by third string quarterback Dennis Dixon and the rest of the Steelers but Baltimore came away with more plays in the fourth quarter and knocked off their hated rival. Sophomore runner Ray Rice totaled 155 yards against the Steelers and his 44-yard reception in the fourth quarter led Baltimore to the tying field goal after the Ravens trailed 17-14 in the fourth quarter. Rookie pass rusher Paul Kruger then intercepted Dixon’s third down pass in overtime and raced 26 yards to set Baltimore up for the game winning field goal.
My reactions …
It wasn’t pretty, but the Ravens (6-5) got it done against a shorthanded Steeler team. It was a must win for Baltimore who will travel next week to Green Bay to take on the sizzling Packers. The Ravens are in good hands with Rice and sophomore signal caller Joe Flacco. Both are light years ahead of average second year men and with their defense rounding back into form, Baltimore could make a late season push for a playoff spot with three of their final four games coming against below .500 teams.
Things got a little bit testy over quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s early Saturday scratch. The Steelers (6-5) went the majority of the week under the belief that their star quarterback would be ready to roll and his late week decision to sit out caused some stir in the locker room. Pittsburgh has now lost three straight games and adding a possible locker room rift won’t help things in western Pennsylvania. The Steelers will catch a bit of a break when they host the Oakland Raiders next week but after a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs a few weeks ago, that might not be such a sure thing. Stay tuned…
Arizona Cardinals vs. Tennessee Titans
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“Warner was dinged up last week after he took a blow to the head and didn’t return for the second half of the Cards’ win against the St. Louis Rams. His status is vital if Arizona wants to reach a 6-0 road mark on Sunday. Regardless of their impressive collection of skill players, without Warner, this offense just doesn’t click. The Titans defense has been playing well during their win streak and would probably be able to handle Warner’s backup Matt Leinhart. Reports suggest Warner will be able to go but if he’s slowed, the Titans could pull the upset but I won’t pick against that group of skill guys if Warner is there to stir the drink.”
What actually happened …
The Titans narrowly dodged Arizona 20-17. Trailing 17-13 with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter, Vince Young marched the Titans 99 yards in 18 plays and capped it off with a last second strike to rookie wideout Kenny Britt with no time remaining on the clock. It was Tennessee’s fifth-straight win and the Cardinals first road loss of the season. Kurt Warner was forced to sit out with a concussion and Matt Leinhart took over but couldn’t will Arizona to a victory. In the matchup of 2005’s Rose Bowl starting QBs, Leinhart failed to throw a touchdown pass and Young passed for a career-high 387 yards, trumping Leinhart once again after Young one upped him in a memorable college game.
My reactions …
Tennessee is on fire. The Titans (5-6) have won five straight and Chris Johnson and Young have been killing teams with their two-man tag team. The defense has been revitalized after their week seven bye. After a 0-6 start, it’s become a real possibility that the Titans could push for a playoff spot but a road trip against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts looms. But the Titans will be game for a chance to get even at .500. If Tennessee can get past the Colts, home games against the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins could have the Titans where they want to be but there’s a team they still have to take care of first. Stay tuned…
Arizona (7-4) is a strong team and shouldn’t be devastated by their last second collapse. Leinhart didn’t know he would play until the later stages of last week and a full week or preparation would go a long way should Warner be forced to miss anymore time. The Cardinals will get the Minnesota Vikings (10-1) at home on Sunday night but Leinhart will probably have to play the best game of his career if the Cards are to cut down the Vikings. Stay tuned…
Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“Peyton Manning has the Colts under a 19-game regular season winning streak right now and he would love nothing better than to tie Brady’s 20-game regular season winning streak of a few seasons ago. He has the Colts on schedule for home-field advantage but with Houston in the middle of the playoff hunt and ready to extract some payback, Indy will be in for another tough game. But tough games don’t scare Indy. Houston would normally be the trendy pick but until they can win a big time game, you won’t find me picking them.”
What actually happened …
The Colts beat the Texans 35-27. Similar to last year’s game, the Texans were leading 20-7 before Indy started another comeback. The Colts outscored Houston 28-7 in the second half and Manning threw for three touchdowns. Indy ran off 28 consecutive points before Houston’s Matt Schaub threw a late touchdown pass with 18 seconds left in the game. Indianapolis ran their win streak to 20 games and Manning will have the opportunity to break Tom Brady’s 20-game regular season win streak with a victory next week.
My reactions …
The Colts (11-0) just keep chugging along and you have to be impressed. This might be the weakest Colts team in the last six or seven years but Manning has them at the top of the AFC and tied for the best record in the league. It’s not all Manning’s doing as the Colts are getting solid efforts out of their banged up defense but Manning is still the driving force. He just doesn’t lose and even when the Colts got down 14-0 early in the game, no one sitting in Reliant Stadium in Houston thought the game was getting away from Indy. The Colts will get a stiff test next week against the resurgent Titans but there’s no doubt Manning will be up for the task.
Houston (5-6) continues to show their not ready to take that next step into the league’s elite teams. The Texans had Indy down 20-7 at the half and then got shutout for most of the second half until Schaub’s late strike. It’s obvious Houston can compete with some of the league’s better teams but there’s still something missing. Until they figure out what’s lacking, the Texans will be stuck in neutral until they can start matching opposing teams’ intensity level.
16-12 on the year but I feel good about this week though. This weeked isn’t as appetizing as the recent weeks have been but nevertheless; it’s still a good one. It’s rivalry week around the league with some old friends reacquainting themselves with one another. Rivalry games is what football is made out of and teams get to flex their muscle this week. Rivalry games are usually close so viewers should be treated to some competitive games. But of course, anything can happen but when it comes to what I think… here goes nothing.
Washington Redskins (3-6) vs. Dallas Cowboys (6-3)
Normally I don’t highlight games featuring a below .500 team but the Redskins/Cowboys rivalry is a game where you wipe the records off the plate. The Redskins have struggled all season but showed some signs of life last week in their 27-17 win over the Denver Broncos. Dallas was hot before last Sunday’s 17-7 loss at Green Bay but both teams will be refocused when they resume their long time rivalry this week.
Washington will enter the game with Ladell Betts starting over the injured Clinton Portis at running back. Betts led the team with 114 rushing yards last week and added a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. He gives the Redskins some fresh legs and returns the spunk the Washington running game. Betts’ performance will be critical against Dallas because Washington still hasn’t found a consistent passing attack. If Betts gets going, maligned quarterback Jason Campbell won’t be forced to carry the load which is a recipe for disaster for the Redskins.
Establishing Betts will be hard to do against the Cowboys however. Dallas hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season and will undoubtedly stack the line and dare Campbell to beat them. The Dallas defense has been playing extremely well over the last few weeks and will pose a major problem for Washington with their speed and quickness. Washington already doesn’t pass protect well and that’s exciting news for guys like DeMarcus Ware and Bradie James.
Tony Romo and the Dallas offense will try to bounce back from last week’s one touchdown performance and Washington could be the perfect opponent. In their last three games, Washington has allowed scores of 40, 75, 30, 58, 67 and 57 yards. For big-play specialists like Felix Jones and Miles Austin, a rebound could definitely be in the cards. Dallas is a team known for two things: big plays and pressuring the passer. In the last few weeks, Washington has been known for several things but mostly: allowing big plays and failing to protect the passer. Washington will be up for the game but with so many gaps in their play the last few weeks, Dallas will bounce back and chop down the Skins. Cowboys 27-17
Atlanta Falcons (5-4) vs. New York Giants (5-4)
The Giants’ backs are against the wall. They’ve lost four straight and Minnesota and New Orleans continue to pile up victories, making winning the NFC East or at least finishing strong a must if they want to get into the playoffs. Their bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. They had a week off to clear their heads and refocus on how they want to attack their remaining seven games.
They could start with the run game. New York has gotten away from their bread and butter this year and has let QB Eli Manning air it out. With Manning nursing a foot injury and a group of inconsistent wideouts, getting back to the ground would probably be best for all parties involved. The collapse of the once feared Giant defense has been the most troubling throughout their skid but they’ll get an Atlanta team coming to town that’s been struggling offensively as of late.
While the Falcons have been running the ball with some serious authority in the last few weeks, QB Matt Ryan has slumped considerably. Ryan has thrown three touchdowns and six interceptions in his last three games as Atlanta has dropped to 1-3 in its last four. While his running mate Michael Turner has been on a tear recently, he’ll miss Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle, putting even more pressure on the sophomore signal caller.
Atlanta will need to attack New York’s secondary if they want to win. New York has allowed eleven touchdown passes over the course of their four game losing streak. Without Turner though, Atlanta loses the threat of play-action and the Giants will be allowed to tee off on Ryan. Atlanta isn’t the strongest defense but they aren’t the worse. Against New York however, the Falcons will have to be prepared to stop the run because the Giants will be sure to reinforce the run coming off four consecutive losses and a bye. This is a game New York has to win and a team in desperation mode coming off a bye week shouldn’t be picked against. Giants 34-16
Indianapolis Colts (9-0) vs. Baltimore Ravens (5-4)
Bill Belichik personally let the Colts off the hook last week by going for it on fourth-and-2 within his own 30. New England was inches away from handing Indy their first loss of the season but Baltimore will try to be the first opponent to break the Colts’ 18-game regular season winning streak. Peyton Manning is having another MVP-type season and is carrying an offense with no running game. The Colts’ defense has been losing bodies but packaged together a nice game plan late in the game to overtake the Patriots last week.
Baltimore is entering a rough patch in their schedule. Over the next three weeks the Ravens will see Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Beating Indy would be a huge confidence booster for a team that’s somewhat unsure of themselves at this point. Baltimore’s 5-4 record has several around the league questioning if Baltimore is a serious contender this year but upending Manning would restore a lot of confidence.
The Ravens will have to turn the heat up on Manning to get him out of his comfort zone but that’s easier said than done. Baltimore loss premier pass rusher Terrell Suggs last Monday to an errant block from Cleveland QB Brady Quinn. With Haloti Ngata nursing an ankle injury and his status questionable, the Ravens could be without two key members from their front seven.
Baltimore’s best chance to win may come down to a shootout between Manning and sophomore QB Joe Flacco. The Ravens’ offense has been struggling recently, averaging 11.5 points per game in the last two weeks. The Colts’ secondary is depleted however, and behind the backing of a raucous crowd that despises everything associated with Indianapolis, the Baltimore offense could undergo a revival. But even if they do get into a shootout, Manning has the moxie and weapons to win that battle. Regardless of how depleted Indianapolis’ secondary is, Manning is going to keep them in the game and just like he’s shown all season, if you keep him around enough, he’ll get you in the end. Colts 28-24
San Diego Charges (6-3) vs. Denver Broncos (6-3)
San Diego has to be going into this game ready to punch Denver square in the mouth. The Broncos handed San Diego an embarrassing Monday night loss a few weeks ago when Eddie Royal returned two kicks in a 34-23 win that left the Chargers reeling at 2-3. San Diego has won four straight since then while the Broncos have lost three straight.
With both teams 6-3 the division is on the line. Denver’s QB Kyle Orton sustained an ankle injury last week against the Redskins and his status is up in the air for this week’s game. If Orton is unable to play, it would be a huge blow for Denver. His backup, Chris Simms, has proven that he’s no more than an adequate player in the league and he’ll struggle to match Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers throw for throw.
This game will be on the Broncos defense to win and if the last three weeks has been any indication, they’ll struggle to contain San Diego’s high-profile passing attack. Teams have averaged 28.3 points per game against Denver’s vaunted defense over the last few weeks and San Diego scores four touchdowns in a game on a bad day. Regardless if Orton plays or not, Denver’s offense is going to be hampered with either a healthy Simms or a hobbled Orton. The Broncos will have to hold San Diego below 20 points if they expect to win.
The winners of four straight, San Diego is on the up and up. Motivation from an earlier loss will be extra motivation for the Chargers, knowing the game is on the line. San Diego is catching the Broncos at the perfect time with Orton’s status questionable and their defense second guessing what they’re doing. Trying to contain the Chargers’ offense is close to impossible right now, especially with LaDainian Tomlinson starting to come on. Rivers and a running game is the recipe for the victory and San Diego will be ready to take advantage of now suspect Bronco team. Chargers 28-16
Big Games, big games and more big games. If you were looking for the ultimate do-all-your-work-on-Saturday-so-you-won’t-be-bothered-on-Sunday-weekend then here it is. The NFL will have several five-star matchups on tap for the weekend that should even have teams on their bye week kicking back to catch. Last weekend I went O-for-three in my pickings but I plan to bounce back in a big way this week though. You’re only as smart as the last weekend that you picked so here’s my shot at intellectual redemption.
Baltimore Ravens (3-2) vs. Minnesota Vikings (5-0)
Talk about your heavyweight matchup. The Ravens will stroll to town, losers of two-straight, to try to get back on track against the undefeated Vikings. Not the ideal place or team to try to break your losing streak against, but if you’re going to reclaim some respect, you might as well knock out one of the biggest teams out there. The Vikings can’t be stopped right now and they’ve handled their last couple of opponents with relative ease.
The Ravens have cooled a bit since their blazing hot 3-0 start and need to get back to Raven football and start running the ball. Backup running back Willis McGahee is the team’s leading scorer but only received one carry in last week’s loss to Cincinnati. It’s good that Baltimore believes strongly in sophomore hero Joe Flacco but let’s not get carried away here. A balanced attack is what made Baltimore so mean-looking in the opening weeks and with 78 passing attempts in the last two weeks for the Ravens, maybe it’s time to rediscover that balance.
Viking defensive end Jared Allen is the scariest pass rusher in the league right now and Baltimore will probably be without left tackle Jared Gaither for a second straight game. Gaither was still having trouble turning his head when he was evaluated in Wednesday’s practice and starting him in the Metrodome against Allen could have disastrous results. Expect for rookie tackle Michael Oher to continue to man Gaither’s spot until he returns and if the rookie doesn’t get help on Allen, it could be a long day for Flacco. Baltimore is one of the better teams at protecting their quarterback so expect head coach John Harbaugh to make keeping Flacco upright a priority.
The Ravens aren’t the same hardnosed stout defense that they used to be and teams have been having success against them through the air. Ironically, Minnesota is slowly shifting the focus from a strong running team to a very balanced attack that can beat you through land or air. Brett Favre has looked young again in the last three wins for Minnesota and expect for Baltimore to force Favre to beat them.
Baltimore gave up 120 yards to Cedric Benson last week and will have to maintain their gap control when they face Adrian Peterson on Sunday. Baltimore really needs to get back to running the ball but Minnesota is one of the best run defenses in the league. Flacco has struggled in consecutive weeks and there might be too many things going against the Ravens for them to pull off the upset this week. On the road, no starting left tackle and playing one of the stronger teams in football could be too much for a young QB to handle. Vikings 30-20
New York Giants (5-0) vs. New Orleans Saints (4-0)
The Giants are coming off a beat down that they dealt to the Oakland Raiders. The injured Eli Manning didn’t have to play in the second half but he’ll definitely have to play in this one. The Saints will be fresh off their bye and ready to roll and viewers can expect to see the Superdome to be at its loudest that’s it been all season. The Saints are restoring the pride in New Orleans and the city is rallying around their team and showing major support.
And why wouldn’t they? Quarterback Drew Brees is one of the top signal callers in the game. The offense is the best unit in the league and the defense has been stingy and fierce. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans’ top running back, is back in the lineup and things couldn’t be better right now. New York will come to the Big Easy on Sunday with Manning hobbling and may be forced to lean on the ground game to ensure Manning doesn’t try to do too much. The Giants haven’t exactly played top competition this season with their marquee win coming against Dallas on a Sunday night in which quarterback Tony Romo turned the ball over left and right.
New Orleans has gone on the road and blasted a Donovan McNabless Philly team and scored two defensive touchdowns against the at-the-time undefeated New York Jets in a 24-10 win. The Saints are clicking right now and may come out even fresher from their bye. New York usually doesn’t flinch in the eye of big-time matchups like these but the health of Manning is a serious concern.
The Raiders were no threat to Manning and the Giants cruised. The Saints have been harassing passers all year and have had two weeks to scheme for what will undoubtedly be the biggest game of the year so far. If Manning was healthy, the Giants would be a logical and safe pick but Manning’s status could be an issue. Saints 28-25
Chicago Bears (3-1) vs. Atlanta Falcons (3-1)
The Bears have won three straight and the Falcons just smacked the 3-1 Niners in their home 45-10. Both squads have upper echelon QBs in Chicago’s Jay Cutler and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Both teams have top shelf running back between the Bears’ Matt Forte and the Falcons’ Michael Turner. With the game being held at the Georgia Dome, there won’t be any weather restraints to hold either quarterback from letting it fly.
We were treated to a wash out in last week’s Sunday night game between an undefeated team and a winless squad but this Sunday’s night game should be the best all season. Last year’s Bear/Falcon game was a classic that saw two field goals kicked in the span of 11 seconds in the fourth quarter in a game which the Falcons won 22-20. Cutler’s team last year, the Denver Broncos, faced off with Ryan last season in a matchup at the Georgia Dome in another highly competitive game that saw Cutler one up Ryan in a 24-20 contest. With Cutler at the controls for Chicago this season, this might be the most entertaining game of the weekend.
The Falcons dropped 45 in their last contest and the Bears put up 48 the last time they took the field. It could be a high scoring game and with both teams relatively healthy and serious implications on the line, the game should come down to the wire. Both the Falcons and Bears are in second place and behind undefeated teams in their respected divisions. Chicago’s behind the 5-0 Vikings and the Falcons are runner up to the 4-0 Saints. Both Minnesota and New Orleans will host some serious competition this Sunday and should either lose, the winner of Sunday night’s contest could be right back in the division driver seat.
Cutler won’t be fazed by the raucous Atlanta crowd and his poise will definitely inject the fight into his Chicago teammates. Atlanta is ranked 24th in run defense so Forte should be able to run late in the game against the Falcons if the game is still close, but that’s a big if. I have no doubt the final score should be close but that doesn’t mean Atlanta won’t jump out to a big lead. They certainly have the offensive talent and the crowd will be fired up to see their first home game in over three weeks. The Falcons offense will definitely feed off the crowd’s energy so expect Atlanta to run sharper routes, hold longer blocks and run faster than they have in close to a month. If Chicago can hold off the wave that they will undoubtedly encounter then they should be fine. If they flinch just the slightest bit then the Falcons will cruise to the finish. Falcons 34-24
Denver Broncos (5-0) vs. San Diego Chargers (2-2)
The Broncos will finally leave the comfort of their home field to play a big game on the road. Monday night in San Diego against the struggling Chargers couldn’t be any bigger. San Diego has been an enigma for the past few seasons. They’re definitely talented but they continue to be snake bitten with key injuries. Shawne Merriman’s hobbled, LaDainian Tomlinson’s limping and the Chargers have some serious injuries in the middle of both lines. If San Diego could ever stay healthy, they would have a great chance at a Super Bowl but for now, they’ll just have to play with what they have and that’s still plenty more than what other teams possess.
Denver went down to the wire against the Patriots and Cowboys in back-to-back classics and could be somewhat exhausted from two emotional games. The Chargers took it to Denver last year with the division and a playoff birth on the line in a 52-21 slaughter so San Diego will be plenty confident going into this game. San Diego is coming off a strange game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in which they got down 28-0 but made a furious comeback only to fall short 35-28. They’ve had a bye week to get their things together and should know the importance of this game.
This will be Denver’s first big time game on the road and it will be interesting to see how they respond. Although the Broncos have a stout defense San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers knows he can shred any secondary put in front of him. This will be San Diego’s biggest game all season and if there was any time for the Chargers to play their best ball, it would be Monday night at home against the division leader. The Chargers really can’t afford to leave Monday night 2-3 with Denver 6-0. They won’t and Rivers will make enough big throws to give them the edge. Chargers 24-17