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Divisional Recap

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 …

Saints 35-24

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 …

Colts 21-20

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.

My reactions…

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…

Vikings 24-23

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.

My reactions…

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…

Chargers 24-13

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.

My reactions…

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…

January 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Final Eight set for Intriguing Divisional Weekend

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

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

Wacky Wild Card Weekend Review

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

New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals

What I predicted…
Jets 23-16

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys

What I predicted…

Cowboys 27-17

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

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

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

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

Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

What I predicted…

Patriots 24-21

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

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

My reactions….

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

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

Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals

What I predicted…

Packers 28-23

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

What actually happened…

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

My reactions…

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

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

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

NFL Postseason Preview

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.

Expect happier times for Rivers and Co. this postseason (Photo courtesy of NFL.com)

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.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wacky Wild Card Weekend set to Begin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting the Weekend

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

Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts

What I predicted …

Colts 30–17

What I said would happen …

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

What actually happened …

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

My reactions …

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

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

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants

What I predicted …

Giants 27-18

What I said would happen …

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

What actually happened …

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

My reactions …

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

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

Minnesota Vikings vs. Arizona Cardinals

What I predicted …

Vikings 31-20

What I said would happen …

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

What actually happened …

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

My reactions …

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

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

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

Baltimore Ravens vs. Green Bay Packers

What I predicted …

Packers 26-16

What I said would happen …

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

What actually happened …

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

My reactions …

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

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

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

NFL’s Week 13 Nothing Short of Another Huge Weekend

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

 

December 3, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting the Weekend

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 …

Patriots 37-30

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 …

Ravens 20-14

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 …

Cardinals 28-24

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 …

Colts 27-17

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.

December 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Downs from Ravens/Panthers: Bmore Edition

The Ravens just keep on rolling. In beating the Carolina Panthers 17-13 Saturday night, Baltimore faced a squad who finished as the second overall seed last year in the NFC. Although Carolina was nursing several key injuries, Baltimore still went into Carolina’s house and continued to show that last year’s AFC Championship game appearance was no fluke.

It ‘s also important to note the quality of opponent and the location of the game. Considering Saturday’s game marked the third preseason game for both teams, a contest in which teams usually gauge with extreme importance, the win signaled that the Ravens are indeed ready for the season to start.

The times they are a-changing up in Baltimore. The defense hasn’t fallen off but the offense continues to flash the look of a potent and consistent unit. Here are three things I took from Saturday’s clash.

 

First Down

Baltimore’s biggest knock right now is the lack of an elite wideout. Sure they don’t have the big name you would like to see lining up out wide, but the caliber of their quarterback makes the wide receivers look better than what people give them credit for. Joe Flacco continues to impress, and with his big arm and excellent decision making, his receivers are receiving opportunity to capitalize. Derrick Mason finished with six grabs for 71 yards. Kelly Washington chipped in three catches for 66 yards with a long of 42 yards. Even Ray Rice added eight receptions for 67 yards.

Flacco spread the ball around nicely and starting receiver Mark Clayton should return soon to give the offense even more firepower. The receivers in Baltimore might not be great, but they’re not terrible either. A premier receiver would really put this team over the top but even with their current set, Baltimore is an elite team.

 

Second Down

If you want to start your own 3-4 defense then it’s important you have an impact lineman. The Ravens might have the best 3-4 lineman in the business in Haloti Ngata. The 6-4, 350-pounder returned a pick 25 yards last week against the Jets for the team’s first score. Saturday night, Ngata added sack to round out a solid preseason in only two halfs and one series played this summer for the 25-year-old.

Ngata can play anywhere on a three-man line. He can crash the pocket from the nose tackle spot. He can rush the passer from the right side defensive end and he can shut the run down from the left side. But his effort and pursuit is what makes him a real standout and that was never more evident than in Saturday’s game against Carolina.

At the 4:06 mark in the second quarter, Ngata started out rushing the passer on a quick screen play to Panthers receiver Steve Smith. Ngata read the play then released from his battle with a guard to begin the chase down of Smith. After Smith eluded the boundary cornerback, he squared up with Baltimore standout safety Ed  Reed. Reed was fortunate to have the angle on Smith, who was prancing along the left sideline. Reed cornered Smith along the sideline, forcing Smith to hit a spin move that normally would’ve left Reed grasping for air but Reed managed to hold on long enough for Ngata to flatten Smith along the sidelines 26 yards later.

The announcers gave Reed the credit for the takedown but it was the pursuit of Ngata that allowed Reed to trap Smith along the sidelines. A one-on-one battle between Smith and anybody would usually equal a win for Smith but the closing of Ngata was unexpected and the two Ravens teamed up to shut down what could’ve been a potential long touchdown.

Baltimore better get a handle on their run defense soon, otherwise expect to see alot more of Lewis & co in the background. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

Baltimore better get a handle on their run defense soon, otherwise expect to see alot more of Lewis & co in the background. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

 

Third Down

I didn’t see all peaches and cream Saturday night. For the second straight week, Baltimore was terrorized by a quick running back. The Ravens had all kinds of problems with the Jets’ Leon Washington last Monday night. Saturday night, it was Carolina third-string back Mike Goodson who gashed Baltimore for some nifty gains. For a unit that traditionally doesn’t let up on anything ground-related, the past couple of weeks have been eye opening.

I expect the run defense to be somewhere between good-great once again this season but they better get it together quick. The Ravens are scheduled to face LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Ryan Grant, Kevin Smith and Darren McFadden this season.

Washington and Goodson aren’t anywhere near the big names of the aforementioned and if Baltimore is having trouble containing the little names of the league, then problems could be on the horizon.

August 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment