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The NFL Wild Card Weekend In Review

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2011 by thelasthonestman

The first round of the NFL Playoffs are over, and after a sluggish start on Saturday, I rebounded on Sunday to go 2-2 over the weekend.  Some quick thoughts on the four Wild Card Weekend games:

— I think I already said all that needed to be said about the debacle that was the New Orleans loss against Seattle.  The defensive performance by the Saints was one of the worst I’ve seen in playoff history (considering the caliber of the opposition), and their upset loss ranks alongside some of the biggest in NFL playoff history.  It’s an extremely disappointing end for last year’s champions, and the possibility — as unlikely as it is — that Seattle might somehow force their way further into the playoffs has to be a major concern for the NFL at this point.  Can you imagine the league trying to sell a nine-loss Seattle team in the Super Bowl?  I thought not.

— In Saturday’s other game, the Jets escaped — again — to fight again another week.  They were all but dead when Adam Vinatieri nailed a clutch 50-yard field goal with only fifty-three seconds remaining in the game, but a special teams failure on Indy’s part led to a 47 yard return on the ensuing kickoff by Antonio Cromartie that would leave the Jets in perfect position for their own game-winning field goal.  When Nick Folk booted home the 32-yard field goal as the clock expired, the Colts were sent home with their 7th opening game exit in 11 trips to the playoffs during the Peyton Manning’s era.  It had to be a bitterly disappointing loss for Indy — I thought they were the better team on Saturday night.

— My Sunday picks got off to a far better start as the Ravens did exactly what I thought they were going to do, namely dominate the Chiefs.  The staggering stat of the game was the overwhelming edge on time of possession that Baltimore had over Kansas City — 41:44 to 18:16.  The game was never really a contest, as the Ravens forced five turnovers in the easy win.  While I think the Ravens’ playoff run will come to a sudden end in Pittsburgh next week (if there’s not a sequence against the Steelers, like on the first drive of this game, where Ray Rice is inexplicably on the sidelines while “Whatcha’ Talkin’ About Willis” is getting stuffed at the goal line, I’ll be stunned), for this week at least, the Ravens looked like a team that could beat anyone in the playoffs.

— Finally, the Packers beat the Eagles and Michael Vick, sending them back to Atlanta for a rematch of their narrow Week 12 loss to the Falcons.  Philadelphia could have won the game if David Akers had made either of his two missed field goals (one from 41 yards out, the other from 34), but then again, the game might have been a bigger Green Bay win if James Jones had caught the easy touchdown pass right before the end of the first half or if Rodgers hadn’t fumbled on the Packers’ first series of the second half.   Green Bay’s defense contained Vick for most of the game, forcing him into a terrible pass on the final Eagles final series that resulted in a game-clinching interception, and not surprisingly, the Eagles made no real attention to run the ball — both factors which I thought would lead to the Packers winning this game on the road.  What I didn’t foresee was the emergence of James Starks (who ran for a Green Bay rookie playoff record 123 yards) and a running game — if they can duplicate that next week against Atlanta, Rodgers and company might be looking at a return trip to Chicago and a rubber match for the NFC Title.

My 2nd round predictions will be coming later in the week.  What bodes well for fans is that, with the exception of the Baltimore-Kansas City blowout, the games were all tightly-contested and exciting.  Next week will hopefully feature more of the same.

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2011 NFL Playoff Predictions, Week 1, Part 2

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2011 by thelasthonestman

If you missed my predictions for today’s games, you can find them here.  Now, for a look at tomorrow’s games:

Baltimore (-3) over Kansas City

Most of the Chiefs' opponents in 2010 seemed less intimidating on the field than in year's past.

Out of all the playoff teams, there isn’t one that had an easier path to the playoffs than the Chiefs.  The AFC West was up for grabs in 2010 due to yet another sluggish start from preseason favorite San Diego, and Kansas City staked their claim by handing the Chargers a loss on the opening weekend of the season.  After that, the Chiefs schedule featured an astounding run of teams that ranged from mediocre to downright awful.  It’s hard to believe, but after that opening week win over the eventual 9-7 Chargers, Kansas City would play only two more games against teams that finished above .500 — a rematch against San Diego (in which KC was crushed 31-0) and a loss against the Indianapolis Colts (a ten point loss in Week 5).

I’m not dismissing what Todd Haley, his staff, and his players accomplished in 2010 by winning six more games from the year before and winning the franchise’s first division title since 2003 — but it’s simply the facts that the Chiefs were a decent team with a creampuff schedule, and other than the Seahawks, they’re the team least-likely to find themselves playing in Cowboys stadium in February.

The Chiefs do feature one of the league’s strongest running games, which only got better in the season’s final weeks as Haley finally took the restraints off of Jamaal Charles, who ran for an astounding 6.4 yards a carry, easily leading all running backs.  And quarterback Matt Cassell quietly had a remarkably efficient season, throwing only 7 interceptions (and 27 touchdown passes), while receiver Dwayne Bowe emerged as one of the biggest deep threats in the NFL.

But this isn’t the league-worst Denver defense they’re going to be facing on Sunday, but rather the feared Baltimore Ravens squad, which yet again ranked near the top of the league’s overall defenses.  They gave up the 5th-fewest yards rushing in 2010 — and if they can stop Kansas City’s ground game, then it could be a long day for the faithful at Arrowhead Stadium.

If the Ravens win the Super Bowl in 2010, this was the moment that started their run.

My pick here is more about the Chiefs than it is about head coach John Harbaugh’s Ravens team.  Frankly, I don’t know how I feel about their chances in the playoffs — they’re the team I’m finding it harder to get a grasp on than any other as we start the march to the Super Bowl.  I love Ray Rice and think he’s the team’s best weapon — yet I think he’s misused at times, particularly when he’s sometimes not on the field in the Red Zone.  I like Joe Flacco and the weapons he has — the addition of Anquan Boldin was arguably the best move made by an team in the past off-season — yet I think Harbaugh at time relies too much on the passing game instead of pounding at the run.  And as great as the defense has been, they’ve still given up some crucial backbreaking plays at the worst times (remember the touchdown drive that cost them the game against Atlanta back in Week 10?).

Still, only New England, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh won more games than the Ravens’ total of 12 — and that wasn’t an accident, nor was it as fluky as the Chiefs win total (the Ravens went 4-3 against teams better than .500).  When you factor in the x-factor of potential distractions in Kansas City involving the departing Charlie Weis (no matter what is said, there’s no way Weis’ mind could have been 100% on the Chiefs preparing for this game while preparing to take another job at Florida), then it’s easy for me to take the Ravens to advance to the next round.

Green Bay (+2.5) over Philadelphia

The Eagles will go as far as this man takes them.

There’s not a team in the NFL I’ve gone back and forth on more than the Eagles this past season.  As crazy as it might sound now, I was a huge skeptic when Andy Reid made the decision to name Michael Vick his rest-of-the-season starter back after only one start (a win against the Detroit Lions) — and frankly, even now I think Reid handled his entire quarterback situation from training camp up until that moment incredibly poorly (the huge $12.25 million extension given to Kevin Kolb before the season was a mammoth mistake if Reid had so little confidence in the young quarterback as to bury him after one bad quarter-and-a-half against one of the better defenses in the NFL, and Reid’s sudden faith in Vick as his starter makes me wonder why the Eagles didn’t commit to him from the beginning).

But there’s no doubting the tremendous impact that Vick has made on the Eagles since he entered the starting lineup, and he cemented himself as the league’s comeback player of the year with his play (as well as a putting himself in the conversation as a legitimate MVP candidate).    The Eagles have an explosive offense that’s going to be hard for any defense to contain, and Vick present a near-impossible match-up — so why am I picking the Packers, you might ask?

Well, Philadelphia has had a tendency in the Andy Reid era to pull some mystifying no-shows in games and lose to teams they have no business losing to.  Look no further than Week 16 of this year’s season, when with everything to play for (in the form of a first-round bye), the Eagles crapped the bed in an embarrassing home loss to the Minnesota Vikings.  It was a game where their hapless opponents managed to limit Vick’s effectiveness and beat him up to the point of nearly knocking him out of the game, while their defense was neither able to stop rookie QB Joe Webb nor Adrian Peterson and the running game.  It was an ugly loss, one that made me believe as I originally thought earlier in the season, that the Eagles are not a Super Bowl contender, Vick or not.

Brett who?

And the problem for them this week is that it’s not the Vikings they’re facing — it’s a Packers team that was considered by many to be a sleeper Super Bowl contender themselves coming into the season.  While that dream may not be in the cards for the Pack due to some untimely injuries (none of which has hurt Green Bay more than the loss of running back Ryan Grant way back in Week 1), the Packers are an extremely dangerous team, having one of the best quarterbacks in the league themselves under center in Aaron Rodgers, a dangerous corps of receivers led by deep threat Greg Jennings, and what’s most important, a shut-down defense.

The Packers gave up only 240 points in 2010, the second-lowest in the league (behind only the Steelers).  If they’re week on that side of the ball, it’s in stopping the run (they didn’t give up a ton of yards, but they did give up an alarming 4.7 yards a carry) — but in their favor, the Eagles don’t ever really attempt to establish the running game (a maddening Andy Reid trait as well over the years), but rely heavily on their pass-first approach.  If Philly does the same thing on Sunday — and nothing in Reid’s history suggests they won’t — then the Packers should be able to contain them enough to allow Rodgers to gain his first playoff win.

That’s enough from me about what I think is going to happen — last year’s first weekend was carnage for my picks (I went 1-3), so I’m hoping things are better this time around.  I’ll be back at the start of the week with some thoughts on the weekend’s action — in the meantime, enjoy the playoff action!

Picks for Week 2 of the playoffs are now up here.

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.