Archive for New England Patriots

The Worst Part Of This NFL Playoff Weekend Is That We’ll Have To Listen To The Jets Talk About How Great They Are For Another Seven Days

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , on January 16, 2011 by thelasthonestman

I don’t have any idea what happened to New England today against the Jets.  It’s pretty obvious that the Patriots and Bill Belichick had no idea either.

Oh, no ... not another week of this

I’ve picked against the Jets two weeks in a row, not because I have any distaste for the franchise or anything — as a Bears fan, I save my venom for the hated Packers, though I won’t let that cloud my judgment when it comes to picking the upcoming NFC Title Game — but only because I think they’ve been overrated all season, and that they’re more bluster than actual results on the field.  That said, I have to begrudgingly give them credit for their victory against New England in their 2nd round playoff game — unlike last week, the Jets were the better team on the field for all four quarters at Gillette Stadium.  Now as to how that happened, it’s not quite that simple.

The MVP of the game for New York was their quarterback Mark Sanchez, who grew up in a hurry with a huge performance against the Pats.  Sanchez threw for 194 yards and three touchdowns — but most importantly, he avoided turning the ball over.  That’s something that can’t be said for the Patriots, who after being the undisputed leader in the NFL this season in holding onto the ball, turned it over on a crucial pick in Jets territory in the first quarter, the first interception thrown by quarterback Tom Brady since October.  And there was arguably the turning point of the entire game, a botched fake punt at the close of the first half (that might as well have been a turnover) that set the Jets up for their second touchdown of the game, a score that put them up 14-3 at the half.

New York’s defensive effort was spectacular as well, holding the Patriots in check for most of the day and keeping New England’s vaunted offense from even advancing past midfield for nearly two quarters.  Brady was under pressure all game, and nothing ever seemed to be available for him — by the time the Pats finally started to move the ball with some consistency late in the 3rd quarter, finally scoring to cut the New York lead to four points, it was too little, too late — especially since the Jets were able to immediately answer with a touchdown of their own, the Sanchez TD pass to Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone reminiscent of the wide receiver’s game-winner in the Super Bowl against the Arizona Cardinals (though the replay looked like he was out-of-bounds — his elbow hitting on the white after only one knee had hit in-bounds, but the play wasn’t reviewed).   Shonn Greene’s journey into the end zone in the final two minutes to put the final score at 28-21 was simply icing on the Jets cake (the score was closer than it should have been thanks to a last-second touchdown by New England).

New York teams have been bad news in the playoffs for New England of late

As the game progressed, I thought for a minute that I was watching a repeat of a Pats performance against another New York team that they should have beaten but didn’t — their loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl that ended their unbeaten season.  That was another game in which they looked flat and out-of-tune, and just like that season, their otherwise tremendous 2010 season ends in a mammoth disappointment.  The Jets will march on to Heinz Field and a rematch against the Steelers, who they beat in Week 15.  My only hope is that we’re spared another week of the histrionics the Jets have often engaged in — which isn’t a futile wish, since I doubt we’ll see the level of hostility that the Jets and Pats have for one another to draw out all of the trash-talking.

All in all, though, even with the Pats flame-out it wasn’t a bad week for my picks:  I ended up 3-1 overall picking winners (2-2 against the spread) — and I didn’t jinx the Bears chances by picking them to win against Seattle.  I’ll take that and move up happily to the biggest week of football for this Chicago fan since the Colts beat the Bears back in Super Bowl XLI.  And yes — I’ll be picking against the Jets again.  There’s no way they beat two better teams in the Pats and the Steelers back-to-back on the road — though frankly, they’ve already advanced further than I would have expected them to.  So in a postseason where under .500 teams are beating Super Bowl champions and both number one seeds lose at home, I’d say nothing should be expected.

I’ll be back late tomorrow with my thoughts on the other three playoff games from the weekend.

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2011 NFL Playoff Predictions, Round 2, Part 2

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2011 by thelasthonestman

If you’re looking for my picks for the games on Saturday, click here.  And now, on to Sunday’s action!

New England (-8.5) over N. Y. Jets

Like their AFC counterparts in Saturday’s game, the Patriots and the Jets will be meeting for the 3rd time on the season this week.  And much like the Steelers and the Ravens, familiarity has bred nothing but contempt for the two AFC East rivals.

The loudest coach in the NFL -- along with the best coach in the NFL -- meet for the 3rd time this season on Sunday

New England split their meetings with New York this season, and the two games were polar opposites; in their initial meeting, the Jets put on an impressive offensive show, rushing for over 130 yards while quarterback Mark Sanchez threw three touchdowns as New York erased a 14-10 halftime deficit to win 28-14.  Their second meeting, however, was a debacle for the New Yorkers, as the Patriots scored early and often in a 45-3 trouncing of the Jets on Monday Night Football.  The results seemed to be a microcosm of the direction both teams were taking as the season wore on.  While the Jets started out great at 9-2, they struggled down the stretch, while the Patriots took off following the trade of malcontent Randy Moss from the roster, going 11-1.

The Patriots were truly remarkable in 2010, defying the experts who predicted offensive collapse following the departure of Moss by finishing with the top-ranked offense in the NFL.  While there’s no one left who can argue with a straight face against the greatness of Tom Brady and his head coach Bill Belichick, what may surprise people is that New England finished with the 9th-ranked rushing attack in terms of yards gained (while averaging 4.3 yards per carry on the ground), a better performance than their record-setting offense managed in 2007 when they went 16-0.  A huge part of that was the emergence of “The Law Firm”, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who rushed for 100o+ yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010, becoming the first New England rusher to attain that yardage mark since Corey Dillon did the trick in 2004.

The best quarterback in the NFL just keeps getting better

But make no mistake, the Pats are still Tom Brady’s team, and the future Hall-of-Famer put up one of the best seasons, not only of his career, but of any quarterback in recent memory.  Brady posted a ridiculous 36 touchdowns against only 4 interceptions, breaking his own NFL record for TD-to-INT ratio (his last interception was way back in October when he threw two picks against the Ravens, while his other two picks came in the first loss against the Jets) — and he did it all while throwing to a cast of seemingly thousands (eight different receivers caught touchdown passes for the Pats in 2010, and four receivers had more than 40 receptions and 500 yards).

The Patriots fatal flaw could be their young defense — but they did rank 8th in the NFL for fewest points allowed.  New England doesn’t need to completely shut their opponents down to win — not with their potent offense racking up points — they only need to contain their opponent.  What could help then to do that against the Jets is the potentially mistake-prone nature of their starting quarterback.  The second-year starter Sanchez threw only one touchdown and seven interceptions over the team’s five losses this season, and if the Jets’ quarterback can’t avoid mistakes on Sunday, then the Jets could get blown off of the field the way they did at the start of December.

For a team that barely escaped from Indianapolis last week, the Jets have continued to talk, talk — and talk, some more.  They’ve talked about the Patriots, Antonio Cromartie has whined about Tom Brady (when Reggie Jackson of all people tells you to “shut up and play ball”, you know you’ve acted the fool), and even normally mild-mannered Wes Welker got into the act, using foot references numerous times in his media session on Thursday in a subtle jab at the foot-fetish controversy surrounding Jet coach Rex Ryan and his wife (I could have spiced this piece up with my own foot references, but I never could have topped Welker’s act, so I didn’t even bother to try).

But like I pointed out last week, the Jets might talk the talk, but they’ve yet to show they can walk the walk when it counts.  And all of the colorful personalities and entertaining quotes don’t count for anything on the scoreboard — and it’s there where I believe the Patriots will be on the winning end come Sunday and possibly headed for another trip to the Super Bowl and their 4th NFL Championship in the Brady-Belichick era.

Seattle (+10) over Chicago

And finally, we get to the game I’m absolutely dreading.  It’s my Chicago Bears, a team I ripped into during the off-season for hiring Mike Martz, with a quarterback I’ve ripped into on numerous occasions for being a crybaby and a guy who I thought just wasn’t a winner, facing off against the now 8-9 Seattle Seahawks, a team that has absolutely no business being in the playoffs and who wouldn’t have advanced this far if they hadn’t faced a New Orleans team (particularly a defense) that looked like it had early off-season plans lined up already when they took the field in Seattle.  The Bears are a prohibitive favorite, and well they should be — so why am I so worried?

Where can I start?  First off, the Bears already played these Seahawks once at Soldier Field (way back in Week 6) — and they lost by a field goal, in a miserable performance in which quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked six times (though he didn’t turn the ball over).  It was a game where, much like New Orleans last week, the Bears managed to make a quarterback who’s seen his better days look serviceable again, as the current toast of the Emerald City, Matt Hasselbeck, threw capably and the ground attack of Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch proved effective.

Will the good Jay Cutler -- or the bad Jay Cutler -- show up for the Bears on Sunday?

And then there’s Jay Cutler, making his first playoff start of his career this Sunday.  I have been unmerciful at times in my criticism of the Bears QB — and there have been many moments when he’s deserved every bit of it — but the Cutler who’s taken the field from Week 9 to now has seemed to be a changed man under center (at least, most of the time).  Over that period, Cutler threw for 16 touchdowns against only 9 interceptions — a huge change for the man who had been a turnover machine for most of his first year-and-a-half in the Windy City.  The hidden downside there is, though, against arguably the two best teams he faced in that span — the Patriots and the Pack — Cutler threw four of those picks with zero touchdowns, while completing less than 50% of his passes.  If it’s that Cutler that shows up on Sunday, then the Bears chances of winning are toast.

And what to make of the Seahawks?  Head coach Pete Carroll obviously deserves a ton of credit for getting his troops up for their epic win against the defending Super Bowl champions last week, but they’re an entirely different team away from the comfy surroundings of Qwest Field (going 2-6 on the road).  And it’s not likely that they’ll be facing a team giving them the benefit of a mail-it-in performance two weeks in a row.  Still, Hasselbeck and company can’t be counted out — not after last week’s shocker — even if everything suggests that Seattle should get blown out in this game.  But, while fueling yourself with emotion and desire when your squad is outmatched can win a game against the right opponent, it’s not a consistent formula for winning in the NFL Playoffs.

Ever since the Bears committed themselves to running the ball, good things have followed for them

The difference for the Bears this time around may be the re-emphasis that Lovie Smith and Mike Martz have given to the running game, a key I’ve always believed had to take place if this Bears team was going to avoid catastrophe.  Prior to the team’s bye week, the Bears had rushed for over 100 yards as a team only twice in seven games (one of those totals barely made the mark at 101 yards), and the run-to-pass ratio was tilted way too heavily in favor of an air attack.  Since then, Chicago has rushed for over 100 yards in all but one of their games (the blowout loss to the Pats), and their number of runs-to-passes has been almost identical (an amazing reversal of form for Martz, and something he should be given due credit for).

Assuming that the Bears don’t change up what’s been working for them for some bizarre reason, then this result should be a different one than the one we saw back in October.  I expect the Bears to win (which, if my other picks hold to form, would see them hosting the Packers for the NFC Title in a game for the ages next week), but ten points are a lot to cover in a game of this magnitude.  I expect Seattle to play them close for a while — that pesky “emotion” thing and all — but I can’t picture the Seahawks playing for a trip to the Super Bowl, no matter how badly they all want it.  The Bears fan in me certainly hopes that, if I’m right about nothing else this weekend, I’ll be right about this.

2011 NFL Playoff Predictions, Round 2, Part 1

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2011 by thelasthonestman

We’re ready for Week 2 NFL playoff action, and there’s a number if intriguing match-ups on the slate for this week.  Unfortunately, due to a heavy work schedule, the only way I’ll likely be seeing any of these games will be courtesy of my DVR after they’re already over.  Considering that my team, the Chicago Bears, are playing in one of these games as a heavy, double-digit point favorite — that may not be such a bad thing.

But let’s not dwell on my concerns about the chances of Chicago possibly blowing what looks like a gift invitation to the NFC Title game in the form of their opponents, the (somewhat less this week than last) hapless Seattle Seahawks, and instead move right into my 2nd round selections, shall we?

Pittsburgh (-3) over Baltimore

Expect a hard-hitting contest in the latest clash of the war that is the Ravens-Steelers rivalry

In case you somehow missed it, the Steelers and the Ravens don’t like one another.  They really don’t like one another.  And that’s made for some tremendous games between the two bitter division rivals over the years — this week’s contest should certainly join the list as another memorable match-up — and much like took place the last time these two hooked up in the playoffs at Heinz Field, the 2008 AFC Championship Game, I expect the Steelers to come out on top again.

There’s no doubt that the Ravens looked awfully good last week — but that was against the paper tiger Chiefs, and not a legitimate Super Bowl contender like they’ll face in Pittsburgh this week.  Baltimore is pretty much the same team we’ve seen for much of the decade — they’re led by an outstanding, turnover-inducing defense, a running game headed by the still-underrated Ray Rice and the John Harbaugh-overrated Willis McGahee, and a still-wet-behind-the-ears QB in Joe Flacco.  What has changed, however, is the threat that Anquan Boldin brings to the team.  I mentioned last week that I thought he would be a major factor if the Ravens made a Super Bowl run, and he paid dividends against the Chiefs with 5 catches and a touchdown — along with Todd Heap (who added 10 catches for 108 yards).

Will the Ravens be able to move the ball as successfully against Pittsburgh?  Not very likely.  The Steelers gave up fewer points in the regular season than any other team, and they were particularly stingy against the running game, allowing only 3.0 yards a carry on the ground (best in the NFL) and only 5 rushing touchdowns all season (tied for the best in the league with, ironically, the Ravens).  Only two other teams since 2000 have given up fewer yards rushing than Pittsburgh did this year (the 2006 Vikings and the 2000 Ravens), so if Baltimore is going to put up points in this game, they’ll likely have to rely on Flacco and his receivers to move the ball.

One quarterback starting on Saturday has proven he can lead a team in the playoffs -- and it isn't Joe Flacco (at least not yet)

Pittsburgh is in a similar predicament — they’re not likely going to be running the ball effectively either, with the Ravens defense also giving up fewer then 4.0 yards a carry.  But Ben Roethlisberger inspires far more confidence in me than Flacco does — two Super Bowl wins and an 8-2 playoff record will do that for you — while the Ravens QB has yet to put his stamp on a signature win in January worth mentioning (in four of his postseason starts, Flacco has failed to throw a touchdown pass, and he was picked off three times in that 2008 title game in Pittsburgh).

In this game, with two opportunistic defenses that will be ready to pounce on any miscue, the outcome may well be decided by the offensive player who makes a mistake a crucial time and turns the ball over.  It’s my guess that said player will end up being Joe Flacco — and it will be the Steelers advancing to the AFC Title Game for the 4th time in the past six years.

Green Bay (+2.5) over Atlanta

Atlanta coach Mike Smith can't be happy at all to see Green Bay as Atlanta's opening playoff opponent

This is a tough, tough game to call — by far the hardest of the four games for me to come up with a feel for.  The only thing I’m 100% certain of is that Atlanta is being handled a major injustice by getting stuck with the Packers as their playoff opponent instead of the Seahawks, despite having the best record in the NFC and being the number one seed (in yet another example of “Every break that could go the Chicago Bears way in 2010-2011 continues”).  If there wasn’t a reason why a team’s record should be the determining factor for seeding once the playoff teams are decided, there is now (I’m not an advocate of going with the top-12 records regardless of conference like some people have advocated, but there’s no way a 7-9 team had any business getting a #4 seed and a home game over Green Bay and New Orleans, and there’s no way Atlanta should be stuck facing arguably the most dangerous team in the NFC in the semi-final round).

If you’ve forgotten, Green Bay and Atlanta met once already this season — back in Week 12 — a game won by Atlanta on a Matt Bryant field goal with nine seconds remaining in the game.  The Packers had rallied to tie the contest with under a minute to play on a Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson (who made a beautiful catch).  But a long kickoff return and a face mask penalty gave the Falcons the ball to start past midfield and it took little for Atlanta to get in range of the game-winner.

So what’s changed since then?  Not a lot, really.  Rodgers and his Atlanta counterpart Matt Ryan are still two of the best young quarterbacks in football, and both teams feature outstanding defenses; neither should be a surprise — after all, that’s why these two teams are where they are.  Both Atlanta and Green Bay feature big-time receiving threats on offense as well in Roddy White and Greg Jennings, respectively.  And with Atlanta playing at home (like in their first meeting), there shouldn’t be any reason to expect that this time will be any different, right?

Except — I’m underwhelmed with Atlanta’s last month of the season, in which they lost a big test at home against the playoff-departed New Orleans Saints (a game in which the Saints defense — yes, that maligned defense — shut Ryan and particularly Michael Turner down entirely), beat the Seahawks, and won two games against the worst team in football, the Carolina Panthers.  I never got the feeling watching them — the feeling I get when I watch the Patriots or the Steelers, for example — that I was watching a team that could make and win a Super Bowl.  To be honest, I’ve feel more that way about Green Bay at this point.

This Packer is the key to his team's chances of victory in Atlanta

The Packers’ year turned around dramatically after they lost to Detroit and Rodgers was injured back on December 12 — a low point when it looked like the team’s chances were gone and their season over.  Their effort in losing to the Pats on the following Sunday on national television was a statement game for the rest of the team that proved that Rodgers isn’t the only important part of the roster, and with their leader back in tow, they rebounded to destroy the Giants, beat the Bears in a war, and held off the Eagles.

That last game may be the key to what’s different about the Pack this time around against the Falcons.  In their first meeting, Green Bay had no rushing game at all (Rodgers led the team with 51 yards rushing).  Suddenly, the emergence of James Starks may have finally filled the void that was left when Ryan Grant went down — and any effectiveness the Pack gets out of the running game will make Rodgers and company all that more dangerous — and may be the difference in the rematch.   I think it will be, setting up Green Bay to face … who?  You’ll have to check Part 2 of my selections for Sunday’s games by clicking here to find the answer.

Le Boo Coaching … Errr … Stupid Playoff Picks Revisited

Posted in Le Boo Coaching Awards, NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2010 by thelasthonestman

Yep -- that's about the way I felt after almost all of my weekend picks went down in flames

Whoops.

And to think, it started so well Saturday afternoon, with the Jets running over the Bengals the way I thought they would.   Alas, it would not last.

So I posted a pretty ugly 1-3 mark on my Wild Card playoff predictions this weekend, and rather than give out a Le Boo coaching award, I figured I deserved the Le Boo for some pretty bad selections.  Where did it all go wrong?

— At least I was right about the Jets and Bengals.  I heard several times going into the match-up that the two teams were “mirror images” of one another.  Well, if you ignore the fact that the Jets have a better overall rushing attack and a better overall defense — yeah, I guess they were.  The Jets did everything they needed to do to win, and Mark Sanchez played impressively, putting up solid numbers (which would have been even better if iron-hands Braylon Edwards hadn’t dropped an easy TD pass) and not turning the ball over.  I said the Bengals just weren’t all that good, and they proved it pretty convincingly.

— My fatal mistake in picking Philadelphia to at least cover against Dallas was simple.  I talked beforehand about how inconsistent both the Cowboys and the Eagles had been in 2009, but what I ignored was what should have been common sense: when two inconsistent teams play each other, and one of them has at least been consistent in beating the tar out of the other, then it’s probably a pretty easy bet that you’re going to see a repeat performance.   Dallas had destroyed the Eagles the week before — why did I possibly think this rematch would be any different?  Ugh … especially since …

— … I predicted Green Bay to bring the whuppin’ stick back out against Arizona.  So what happened here?  The one thing that changed from my Friday picks and the game Sunday afternoon was the breaking news that Cards quarterback Kurt Warner was contemplating hanging up the cleats after this year’s playoffs end.  I’ve accused Arizona of playing with no heart at times this year — what better form of motivation for them than trying to bring home another title for Warner, as well-liked as any player in the NFL?  Whether you want to credit that — or the fact that the Green Bay secondary seemed completely incapable of covering anyone — for Arizona’s win in what was one of the most entertaining playoff games in recent memory to watch, the Cardinals still deserve credit for a tremendous effort in the win.

— And finally, there was the Ravens beatdown of the Pats in the early game Sunday.  I’ll admit it — I was fooled by the Pats “mystique” and conveniently ignored the evidence that had been in plain view all season that New England just wasn’t the same team that we remembered as having dominated the NFL for much of the decade.  The end of the Patriots dominance was Plaxico Burress catching that TD in the end zone two years ago — even if we didn’t realize it then.  Baltimore ran over the Pats all day, needing only four completions by Joe Flacco to advance to the next round.

So for going 1-3 this weekend, I’ll give myself the Le Boo — and hope I can right the ship in the semifinals this weekend.  In the meantime, the other big sports news of the day — Mark McGwire’s **shocking** revelation that he used steroids — has left me with a lot to say … but that’s have to keep until tomorrow.  I’ve got to finish with my humble pie first before I tackle that.

NFL Playoffs Week 1 Predictions

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2010 by thelasthonestman

And a hearty welcome to 2010 for everyone here — postings have been few and far between since the New Year rang in, but that will hopefully change in the upcoming week or so.  I have thoughts on the Baseball Hall of Fame balloting to share, just for starters — but everything will have to wait, as the NFL begins its postseason play this weekend.

We're ALL excited about the start of the playoffs

It’s an unusual week as three of the four match-ups in the 1st round are rematches of slaughters games we watched last weekend.  How much should we take those beatdowns into account?  Let’s find out together, shall we?

N.Y. Jets (+2.5) over Cincinnati

You’re going to hear all about how last week’s game for the Bengals didn’t mean anything to them, and that it meant everything to the Jets.  Fine.  But what needs to be remembered is that the Bengals had Carson Palmer and most of the starters in the game into the 2nd half, and frankly, the game resembled a mugging in Central Park more than a competitive football contest.

And frankly, the Bengals have looked like a paper tiger for most of the year anyway, haven’t they?  After their November 15 victory against the Steelers that put them in command of their division at 7-2, Cincinnati went 3-4 the rest of the way, including a narrow victories against Cleveland and Kansas City at home, an unimpressive victory against a 2-win Lions squad, the crushing road loss to the Raiders, and an absolute beating handed them by the Vikings (in addition to a closer-than-expected loss to the Chargers).

Don’t confuse the Jets with serious playoff contenders, but their defense is outstanding and they can run the ball, which they did to great effect against the Bengals last Sunday night.  If Mark Sanchez can avoid making mistakes (granted, that’s a big if), the Jets will keep the game close and cause headaches for the opposing team every time.  The Bengals offense is just not very good; Carson Palmer isn’t who he used to be, and I’m a believer that Cedric Benson is still hurt worse than he or the organization has let on.

It won’t be 37-0, but the Jets will win this game and possibly set themselves up for an intriguing rematch against the Colts next week.

Philadelphia  (+4) over Dallas

The toughest of the four match-ups this week to call.  Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb, and the Eagles should patent the “Look fantastic one week, look like the Rams the next” approach, while the Cowboys are still not a team I trust at this time of the year.

However, Dallas deserves credit for turning their season around in the season’s final few weeks, convincingly beating the Saints in New Orleans and the Eagles at home to clinch the NFC East.  Philadelphia, on the other hand, deserves to be questioned for playing so poorly last weekend in a game that meant to much (a 1st round bye waiting for the taking) to their team’s playoff chances.  How can you take a team seriously as a threat to win it all if they can’t come up any bigger than the Eagles did last week?

Answer: you can’t.  But that doesn’t mean that the Eagles aren’t a threat to at least win this week.  While Dallas has seemingly had their number this year, and while Tony Romo has been playing like a completely different quarterback than the one we’ve seem stumble and fumble his way through Decembers past, I’m not convinced that every rematch this week is going to follow Week 17’s script — and this is the one I think has the best chance to deviate, if for no other reason than the inconsistency both Philly and Dallas is more than capable of showing.  One thing’s for certain, with Wade Phillips and Andy Reid on the sidelines, the potential exists to have a boneheaded coaching move be the difference in what should be a closer game than last week’s blowout.

Dallas is still a threat to go all the way, but this week will be scary for them.  Philly covers, even if they don’t win.

New England (-3) over Baltimore

Did this injury doom the Patriots chances of making a run?

Another tough match-up to call, as the Patriots enter the playoffs reeling from the devastating injury to receiver Wes Welker.  Before that happened, I thought New England was starting to finally round itself into playoff form and loomed as a dangerous X-factor on the AFC side of the playoff brackets (of course, that line of thinking would have required believing that the Pats would somehow remember how to actually win a game on the road.  Now, with Welker out, they’re finished, right?

Maybe, maybe not.  Julian Edelman is now the man in the spotlight for New England and in the impossible position of replacing one of the NFL’s best possession receivers; at least for Week 17, he didn’t look too bad in the role, but New England still takes a huge hit here.  However, Brady and Moss are still as dangerous as ever, the running game has been resurgent, and the defense has played better of late.  And this week’s game is, at least, at home.

And I haven’t been a fan of the Ravens all season.  Baltimore shoots itself in the foot far too often to be taken as a serious playoff contender, whether it’s committing penalties (and complaining so loudly about them, which isn’t doing anything but adding to the likelihood ticky-tack infractions will be called — while that’s not fair, that’s still the way it is) or John Harbaugh’s somewhat befuddling play-calling at times (a guarantee here that, at some crucial point in the game, the Ravens best weapon, the multi-talented Ray Rice, will be standing on the sidelines with his helmet off — and not because of any injury).

Baltimore is one of those tantalizing teams — they should be better than they are, with their 9-7 record — but they’re just not.  And I don’t think they will be on Sunday either.  The Pats advance.

Green Bay (pick ’em) over Arizona

I’ve already expressed my disdain for the Cardinals efforts earlier this season, and last Sunday’s effort at home against the Packers only confirmed my belief that this postseason will not be a repeat of the team’s magical run last year.  Again, you can forget about the whole “game didn’t mean anything” explanations — the Cardinals have had a nasty habit over the last two years of simply not showing up to play in plenty of games, including ones that do mean something.  The Arizona starters didn’t play for very long last week, but even when they were on the field, the Pack was whipping up on them like the bully that took you lunch money back in grade school.

It doesn’t help matter for the Cardinals that they suffered two crucial injuries in the “meaningless” game against Green Bay — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (who will reportedly be fine for Sunday’s tilt) and Anquan Boldin (who may not be on the field due to his ankle injury).  In yet another boneheaded coaching move (alongside Jim Caldwell’s decision to play his starters in the first half of the game against Buffalo), Arizona all but waved the white flag before the game’s opening kickoff, yet kept certain starters in well into the game.  While oft-injured quarterback Kurt Warner sat, Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald were still unbelievably on the field, even as the game was turning into a joke — and Boldin (who’s battled his own injury problems in 2009) was hurt as a result.   Either treat the game as a joke exhibition and keep your key players on the sidelines the whole way, or play the game normally and try to win — don’t attempt to do both.  Staying in the middle of the road usually leads to exactly what happened with Boldin, and it’s inexcusable idiocy from the Cardinals coaching staff.

Even if Boldin were at 100%, though, I’d still like the Pack here.  Warner hasn’t look right all season, Arizona still has trouble running the ball at times, and Green Bay is simply rolling into the playoffs.  The Packers offense is starting to hit on all cylinders (largely due to a healthier offensive line, a resurgent Greg Jennings, and ridiculous production out of quarterback Aaron Rodgers), and their defense has the playmakers to keep the team in games.  This postseason may well be the coming-out party for Rodgers; while his fantasy football owners knew how good he was already last season, a lengthy playoff run for the Pack may let the rest of the nation in on the secret.

Green Bay wins this one, and I don’t think it’s even going to be all that close.

Enjoy the playoff action this weekend, and we’ll be back here on Monday for the Le Boo Playoff Coaching Move for Wild Card Weekend.