Archive for Seattle Seahawks

Quick Thoughts On The Rest Of The NFL Weekend That Was

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2011 by thelasthonestman

Time is short today, so I’ll give some brief thoughts on the rest of the games we saw in Week 2 of the NFL Playoffs — my take on the Jets win over New England is already posted here.

Jay Cutler has plenty of reason to look happy -- his team is one win away from the Super Bowl

— The biggest news (for me at least) on Sunday was the Bears’ dominant victory over Seattle.  While Pete Carroll’s team certainly quieted some of the outrage over their appearance in the playoffs with their victory over the Saints, they were never a real threat to go any further than they did — and thankfully for the NFL, Chicago sent them home, keeping the league from the embarrassment of seeing a team at .500 playing in the Super Bowl in Dallas.

The tone was set from the outset, first with the tremendous anthem by Jim Cornelison, and then by the wintry weather — making it a perfect football atmosphere for the playoffs.  In his first playoff game, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler made almost no mistakes (his one gaffe that could have turned the game around — a potential pick-six on the Bears second scoring drive — was dropped), and his touchdown pass to Greg Olson on Chicago’s opening drive gave his team a lead it would never relinquish.

The defense was stellar when it mattered as well.  The Bears won the way they have all the second half of the season — with solid defense and a mistake-free offense.  Their upcoming match-up against the Packers will be only the second time the two rivals have ever played in the playoffs, and it should be a classic.

The man carrying the Packers on his shoulders will try to do it again this upcoming weekend

— Speaking of the Packers, they won on Saturday with one of the best playoff performances in recent memory by their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers would misfire on only five passes in his thirty-six attempts, throwing for three touchdowns while the Packers torched the Atlanta defense for a franchise playoff record 48 points.  Atlanta could never get untracked, as their running game was non-existent (the Falcons ran for only 45 yards, 39 coming from Michael Turner), while their quarterback Matt Ryan has a miserable night, throwing two interceptions and fumbling the ball away for a third turnover.

Now one step away from the Super Bowl, the Packers — who looked like they were dead in the water after Rodgers’ injury during the team’s huge loss to the Lions in Week 14 — are favored going into their clash against the Bears.  If Rodgers continues to play at the insanely high level he reached on Saturday night, it’s going top be hard to see any team beating them.

— And finally, the Steelers finished off a remarkable comeback against the Ravens earlier on Saturday, rallying from a two touchdown deficit at the half to beat their bitter rivals yet again in the playoffs.  Early on, it looked like it would be the Ravens’ day, but Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would rally the Steelers back and send them to their 4th AFC Championship appearance in the last six seasons.

Joe Flacco couldn't deliver a win to the Baltimore faithful on Saturday

As I predicted on Friday, neither running game was able to accomplish much (the two teams combined for only 106 yards on the ground, and they averaged a putrid 2.2 yards a carry) — and it would be the performance by the quarterbacks that would be the difference.  While Big Ben would make the big plays when the Steelers needed them, his Ravens counterpart Joe Flacco struggled all day, throwing for only 125 yards and turning the ball over twice.  With the Jets upset over the Patriots, Pittsburgh now will host the AFC Title Game — and will be favored to advance to their 8th Super Bowl (which would tie them with Dallas for the most of any franchise) while looking for a 7th title.

— With my busy schedule, I likely won’t be back until Friday, when I’ll deliver my predictions for the Conference Championship Games.  Until then, have a safe week.

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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.

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.

A Performance So Mind-Awfully Embarrassing — I Couldn’t Wait Until Monday To Comment On It

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , on January 9, 2011 by thelasthonestman

The Saints defense should invest in this look for the trip home from Seattle.

No, I’m not talking about my picking the Saints to win — easily — in Saturday’s early game.  I’m talking about the completely embarrassing, hide-your-face-in-eternal shame performance the New Orleans Saints put up yesterday afternoon in their “defense” of their Super Bowl Championship.

How staggeringly awful were the Saints?  How about 41 points given up to a Seattle team led by a banged-up Matt Hasselbeck and castaways Julius Jones and Mike Williams, easily the most points Pete Carroll’s team had scored all season.  Let’s think about that for a moment — 41 points scored.  By the Seattle Seahawks.  By Matt Hasselbeck, Marshawn Lynch, and Mike Williams.

Considering the level of their competition, this may have represented the worst performance by a defense in NFL playoff history since the Bears hung up 73 on the Redskins way back in 1940.  I’m only partly exaggerating here — this was the 23rd ranked offense on a 7-9 team racking up yards and touchdowns against the Saints like they were the 2007 Patriots instead.  It was a simply ghastly performance by New Orleans (though you can’t blame the offense — you score 36 points, you expect to win the game).

I’ll’ give credit where it’s due, though.  Seattle played as good a game as they were capable of playing, filled with emotion and heart and a sense of urgency — traits that New Orleans seemed to be curiously lacking for much of the game — and honestly, for much of the season.  New Orleans seemed like a team on a mission all of last year, while this year, there were plenty of moments when the team looked like they were in a haze, navigating their schedule on cruise control (their losses to far-inferior Cleveland and Arizona teams were no better examples of that).  The idea of a Super Bowl hangover never seemed more evident than at Qwest Field yesterday.

"Seattle winning the Super Bowl? So you're saying there's a chance ..."

The Seahawks win is also arguably one of the biggest upsets in NFL Playoff history, in many ways as unexpected as the Giants win over the Pats or the Jets win over the Colts (albeit on a much smaller stage).  The message to Seattle fans shouldn’t be to start booking their airplane flights for Dallas, however, but to enjoy this unlikely win while they can.  This blind squirrel isn’t going to find a nut two weeks in a row, and don’t be surprised to see them on the wrong side of the blowout they should have experienced this week to happen next week instead.  If Green Bay beats Philly like I think they will, that could leave my Bears (!) to host them in a rematch of their Week 5 match-up.   Oh, wait — Seattle won that game too.   Maybe,  just maybe …

Nah.

2011 NFL Playoff Predictions, Week 1, Part 1

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2011 by thelasthonestman

I’m back for my 2nd annual NFL Playoff Predictions, hoping that I can improve on last year’s mediocre record and build on some late playoff success.   While it’s true that I finished under .500 overall on my playoff selections, I did manage to finish a strong 3-0, sweeping both championship games and calling the Saints “upset” win in the Super Bowl.  Can I do better in 2011?  There’s only one way to find out — on to the picks!

New Orleans (-10.5) over Seattle

The home field crowd may be Seattle's best chance to win on Saturday

There’s already been a lot said about the Seahawks and the legitimacy of their appearance in this year’s playoffs, but the fact is that Seattle did win the travesty that was the NFC West division race and by virtue of that, the Seahawks have crashed the playoff party.  The question is though: will they be anything other than a one-and-done?

A look back at Seattle’s season tells us that the answer should be a resounding “no”.   After a 4-2 start, head coach Pete Carroll’s team lost seven out of their last ten games to close out the season, hardly the resume of a team that should be taken seriously in January.  And we’re not talking about close losses to Super Bowl-caliber teams, either — Seattle was obliterated by Oakland by 30 points and lost to a 49ers team in disarray by 19 in that stretch.  While Seattle was 5-3 at home — and the home field advantage of Qwest Field is about all Seattle has going for them — only one of those wins came against a team with a winning record, and the two playoff teams they did play there (Atlanta and Kansas City), they lost to handily (not to mention the 34 point loss the Giants delivered them in Week 9).

New Orleans has their issues as well — most notably the lack of a running game that will keep defenses honest now that both Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas have been placed on injured reserve (and no, Reggie Bush and Julius Jones are clearly not the answer).  And after a superhuman performance last season, quarterback and team leader Drew Brees has his share of sub-par moments in 2010, his interception total doubling (from 11 to 22), the second-highest number in the NFL (trailing only Eli Manning).  Perhaps owing to some Super Bowl hangover, the Saints also played flat and uninspired football way too often this past season, and it was inexcusable losses to Arizona and Cleveland (at home!) that cost them their chance at the number one seed throughout the playoffs.

He may have struggled some in 2010, but Drew Brees is still a better quarterback than Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst -- combined.

But while there have been enough issues with head coach Sean Payton’s squad — most notably injury-related — that’s going to be enough to likely keep New Orleans from repeating as Super Bowl champions, the Saints are simply too talented and too good a team not to send Seattle back where they belong — which is sitting at home with the rest of the NFL’s non-playoff teams.  The Seahawks may be looking at another blowout loss tomorrow, and not even the deafening crowd at Qwest Field is going to change that .

Indianapolis (-2.5) over N.Y. Jets

Manning and the Colts are back in the playoffs again

It’s a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game, but the situations for both franchises have changed dramatically since the Colts beat the Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium — or have they changed?  In some ways, that answer is yes — but in other ways, there’s not a whole lot different about this year’s versions of the two teams that last year’s versions.

One year ago around this time, Indy was playing with the huge amount of pressure that goes with being the Super Bowl favorite, not to mention the pressure and second-guessing surrounding the decision by Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell to mail in the end of the regular season and abandon the chance to go unbeaten.  Meanwhile, the Jets were the team that no one expected to be there, backing into the playoffs when the Colts and the Bengals laid down in front of them before they gained confidence with a huge victory over the Chargers in the road before losing to the Colts after leading at the half.

This year, the roles are reversed.  The Jets have been the team dealing with the pressure for most of the season as the self-anointed favorites in the AFC.   Along the way, the Jets dealt with the locker room controversy surrounding their treatment of reporter Ines Sainz, the residual fallout from the Brett Favre/Jenn Sterger debacle, the tripping incident with coach Sal Alosi, and the foot fetish “story” involving head coach Rex Ryan and his wife.   What’s been lost in all of that, however, has been that for most of the season, the Jets simply haven’t been as good as they brashly advertised themselves to be.  While they did win 11 games, three of those wins — by a combined 12 points against non-contenders Detroit, Cleveland, and Houston (and two of those wins in overtime) — could (and should) have very easily been losses, which would have left the Jets a .500 team, much like last season.  Mark Sanchez has still been erratic under center, and the team’s vaunted defense has stumbled too often (most notably in the team’s blowout loss on Monday night in Week 13 against the Pats).

"We're the best team in the NFL because we say so -- that means we don't actually have to produce on the field, right?"

While the Colts stumbled out of the gate, they’ve been playing their best football of the season over the last four weeks.  Quarterback Peyton Manning overcame an un-Manning-like stretch in the middle of the team’s struggles  to lead the Colts to yet another AFC South division title, and more importantly for the team’s playoff success, running back Joseph Addai may finally be healthy again, giving Indy a presence on the ground they sorely missed for much of the season.  Unlike last year when the team voluntary went into shutdown mode going into the playoffs (which resulted in a string of playoff performances in which the Colts never regained their form of the regular season), this year’s team has been playing to survive for the last month and is peaking at the right time.

I don’t think that the Colts make the Super Bowl again — they’re too flawed a team — but unlike the brash Jets, they’ve actually accomplished something worth talking about.  And that’s what the Jets are so far — a whole lot of talk without the results to back it up.  I suspect that by the end of the day tomorrow, they’ll be talking again — this time about the reasons they couldn’t get out of the first week of the playoffs.

Predictions on Sunday’s playoff games are now up here.

My Week 2 predictions for the semi-final round are now up here.

Wrapping Up The First Weekend Of The Year As Fast As I Can

Posted in NFL Football, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2011 by thelasthonestman

The key word for me is: busy.  As in, I’ve had a busy weekend to start 2011, and the next couple of days are going to be equally as hectic.  But enough happened this weekend that I needed to touch on it, so here’s a quick wrap-up before I get to my NFL Playoff picks later in the week.

— A hearty congratulations to TCU for their victory in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, culminating a 13-0 season and a chance to win the national title in their next game against .. oh, that’s right.  There is no tomorrow for this year’s Horned Frogs, thanks to the eternal stupidity of the B(C)S.  Still, it was nice to see one of the non-BCS conference teams yet again prove that they’re as worthy of playing for the title as the teams from the traditional “power’ conferences.

— And speaking of those “power” conferences, I wonder if we’ll hear Ohio State president Gordon Gee spout off again about the strength of the Big Ten and disparage teams like TCU the way he did back in late November when he dismissed the credentials of schools from non-BCS schools as unworthy.  “We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day,” Gee had said at the time — conveniently ignoring the cream-puff part of Ohio State’s schedule that featured Marshall and Eastern Michigan, two schools whose football teams might have had their own trouble beating the Little Sisters of the Poor in 2010.

What Gee should have said then was “We play very fine schools on any given day — and we usually lose royally to them.”  Or at least, that’s what it seemed like the last couple of days, as the Big Ten embarrassed themselves this weekend going 0-5, with Michigan and Michigan State getting outscored 101-21 in their humiliating losses — that’s in addition to Wisconsin’s loss to those “undeserving” Horned Frogs.  The Big Ten has proven itself to be over-matched more often than not in recent years when it comes to the Bowl Season, and this year was just more of the same.

"Let's see if I have this straight -- if there's no 2011 season, I can't lose any more games, right?"

— After my piece on Friday on coaches that I thought should be headed for the unemployment line, reports leaked that two of the head men in question — Gary Kubiak from Houston and Jason Garrett from Dallas — were probably going to be retained for 2011.  If true, there’s drastically different reasons for those decisions — Kubiak’s retention after he signed a two-year extension after last season screams out “There’s a lockout coming and I don’t want to pay two head coaches” from Texans owner Bob McNair, while Garrett earned his retention by going 5-3.

I still think neither is the answer for their teams.  Assuming both come back next year and that there’s actually an NFL season for us to watch (a big assumption at this point, as crazy as that should sound),  Garrett may last longer than a year in his new position, but I think I have a better chance at getting hired as an NFL coach myself than Kubiak surviving yet another season of disappointing results — which is exactly what he’s going to bring to the Texans if he stays.

Not pictured: A team deserving of a trip to the playoffs in 2010

— And finally, the NFL has to be thrilled to see a 7-9 team in the Seattle Seahawks backing into making the playoffs after beating the equally hapless St. Louis Rams on Sunday night in a game that I frankly has trouble sitting through and watching.  Even my fantasy football leagues have a rule that says you have to finish at least .500 to make the playoffs — but the NFL doesn’t?  Mercifully, the Seahawks playoff run should be as brief as it will be painful for Roger Goodell to watch.

Later this week, I’ll be back with my 2nd Annual Crappy Playoff Predictions — be sure not to miss it!