My record on my picks has been so bad, I should have just been flipping one of these instead
Another weekend gone, another trail of carnage left behind known as my NFL playoff selections.
This week was only slightly better than last; I’m left with another 1-3 mark, with my only silver lining being that I at least picked the winner of the Indy-Baltimore game correctly, though I missed with my call of the Ravens covering the spread.
So what’s this week’s excuse (or lesson learned, as I’d prefer to call it) for my putrid predictions? Simply put, it was putting faith in coaches who, over the season (or seasons), I’ve derided for a number of reasons. If those coaches weren’t worthy of my confidence before, why would I possibly think that they would be now? Answer: they shouldn’t have been, and it showed up this past weekend for a few key moments that set the tone for a least two of my picks going south. Cases in point:
— I’ve been on Ravens head coach John Harbaugh all season for his bizarre willingness to pull his best offensive player in Ray Rice off of the field in so many instances, particularly crucial points in games when the team in inside the opponent’s red zone. His stubbornness in that regard arguably cost Baltimore their first meeting against the Colts in the regular season, and having apparently not learned his lesson then, Harbaugh repeated his mistake early in their playoff rematch, squandering an opportunity for Baltimore to take control of the game and set the tone then — and possibly blowing the team’s chances at springing the upset.
Not that I was that surprised, as on Friday, I said, “Will [Rice] be used to his utmost capability, or will there be a maddening moment Saturday where Willis McGahee is in the game instead and the offense stalls?” That moment came on the Ravens first drive. After the Colts stalled out in their first drive, settling for a field goal, the Ravens drove the field to put themselves 10 yards away from a go-ahead touchdown, which would have gone a long way towards unsettling the crowd and putting some doubt in the Colts’ minds coming off their ill-advised, end-of-the-season shutdown mode. This was a key point in the game — score a TD here, especially after they hadn’t gotten into the end zone at all in their first meeting, and we might have been looking at an entirely different contest. Instead, out of the game went Rice, in time to watch McGahee get stuffed and two incompletions thrown by Flacco result in a field goal instead. One of the incompletions was a little swing pass that went right through the hands of fullback LeRon McClain — if it had been Rice, the team’s leading receiver on the year, on the end of that pass, then it likely would have been touchdown Baltimore, and who knows what might have happened after that. My mistake in going with Baltimore to even cover was ignoring that Harbaugh looks like he’s incapable of learning from prior mistakes.
— And my mistake in picking Dallas to win against Minnesota was, among many things, thinking that a Wade Phillips coaches team was going to put together three straight playoff wins, including two that would have needed to be on the road. Phillips is a nice enough guy, and he’s a great defensive mind — but his time as the head man in Dallas (and Denver and Buffalo) should have been enough to convince anyone that he just doesn’t have it in him to be a leader of a championship team.
The key moment in the Minnesota game was early in the first quarter, when after driving down to the Vikings 30 yard line and facing a 4th and a yard (or less), Phillips sent in recently-acquired kicker Shawn Suisham in to attempt a 48-yard field goal. This, of course, is the same Suisham who was cut earlier in the season by Washington after shanking a chip-shot field goal that cost the Redskins an upset win against New Orleans. My immediate reaction to seeing Suisham coming onto the field was, “Of course, he’s going to miss this.” It didn’t help matters for Dallas when Favre connected with Sidney Rice four plays later on a long TD pass either.
You’re on the road, you’re going to need to get into the end zone to win, and you’ve been moving the ball pretty well — so why not go for it if you’re Phillips? The answer: well, because you’re Wade Phillips. Duh. Unfortunately, I forgot that and put too much stock into Dallas’ back-to-back drubbings of the Eagles.
Why again did I think this guy was going to lead a team to the Super Bowl?
— And finally, there’s the latest flame-out in Southern California as Norv Turner’s Chargers, a trendy Super-Bowl pick with a lot of people (including me), went down to defeat to those pesky, underdog Jets — a loss highlighted by a three missed field-goals by Nate Kaeding, LT looking as washed up as we should have expected him to look, and a terrible decision by the Chargers to onside kick at the end of the game. All told, it was a brutal display by San Diego, and considering that failures like these in the playoffs are what got Marty Schottenheimer’s ticket punched, Turner and company could easily be looking for new jobs following the Super Bowl.
How bad was it for San Diego? Where does one begin? Questionable play-calling, a complete lack of fire or emotion for much of the game from the Chargers, no sense of urgency at any point of the game, the Kaeding meltdown — you can take your pick of lowlights. But I’ll focus on the onside kick decision by Turner as the coup-de-grace.
You’re trailing by a field goal, and you can stop the clock twice (once with a timeout, the other with the two-minute warning). Why not kick away if you’re Turner? Pin the Jets deep, stop them, and you’re getting the ball back with enough time to complete a couple of passes to get yourself back into field goal range (though the way Kaeding was going, there’s no reason to expect that would have been a good thing).
By attempting the onside kick and not recovering, you’re not only going to give your offense a longer field to have to navigate with no timeouts if you get the ball back, but you’re also giving the Jets the option to use all four-downs to close the game out on you. 4th and short and pinned inside of your own 30 and only up by 3? You’re punting the ball every time , even if you only need an inch of two to get the 1st down. But put yourself in San Diego territory, too far away for a field goal but too close to bother with punting, and you’re giving a team with a great offensive line and a power running game the chance to seal the win by gaining a measly yard — which is exactly what happened.
As the Chargers had emerged in the season’s 2nd half as a title favorite, I had trouble reconciling that with my long-held skepticism of Turner’s capabilities as the head coach. One of my favorite Turner stories is this one from ESPN’s Bill Simmons — if I had only remembered things like that tale, I’m probably not picking the Chargers to win on Sunday. But I didn’t, so I did — and as they say, that’s why I’m looking up at another brutal week in picks.
— My only bright side was in watching the Saints dismantle the Cardinals in the first Saturday game. New Orleans is definitely my sentimental rooting favorite at this point, and it was nice to see them get some of the edge back that they’d seemingly lost at the end of the regular season. The “bad” Arizona team showed up on Saturday, and New Orleans took full advantage, scoring at will and harassing Kurt Warner all game long. Cardinal turnovers were key as predicted, starting right off with the fumble by Jerheme Urban on the team’s first play of their second possession. Of course, Urban was only playing because Anquan Boldin was still out with the injury suffered when he was on the field against Green Bay in the season’s finale, even after the other starters had been pulled, so Ken Whisenhunt has no one to blame for that misfortune but himself.
On the other sideline, someone should congratulate Reggie Bush on escaping captivity and replacing the imposter that’s taken his place on the Saints roster until now. The Bush we saw on Saturday was unlike one Saints fans have seen but few times before — a tough, aggressive runner who was a threat to go the distance every time he touched the ball. This Bush should be a huge weapon for the Saints against the Vikings this upcoming weekend.
Despite my terrible mark so far, I’m not giving up on my picks — I’ll be back at the end of the week for my selections to go to Miami. On the bright side, I can’t really do any worse — can I? Then again, maybe I shouldn’t answer that.