Reid Fischer's World of Rants

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Archive for December, 2008

Broncos Fire Shanahan

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 31, 2008

I was going to write a quick post today about my first college bowl game experience in person, having attended the Alamo Bowl last night in San Antonio, won by Missouri (my alma matter) over Northwestern (my sister’s alma matter) in overtime.  I was also going to offer my picks for wild card weekend before heading out of town again for New Years (quickie picks still offered below).  Those thoughts have been very quickly derailed by the news that the Broncos have fired Mike Shanahan after 14 years.  This is a move that I have very mixed feelings about, and probably won’t have a true concrete opinion about it for several more days while I wait for the shock and numbness to settle in, but here are my quick hit thoughts:

– The Broncos would not have won the two Super Bowls they have if not for Shanahan.  He’s the one that brought in Terrell Davis, he’s the one that gave John Elway the tools around him (Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey), he’s the one that brought in the defensive personnel at the time to make that work.  His game day play calling in

those seasons was extraordinary.  The Broncos and their fans know that the team would probably still have zero championships if not for Shanahan’s time here, so let’s not forget that before we start congratulating Bowlen on a good move.

– That being said, the Broncos have won just one playoff game in 10 years since Elway’s retirement.  They have been embarrassed every time they’ve made the playoffs since Elway has departed, getting clobbered in playoff games in Baltimore and Indianapolis, and losing a rough AFC title game at home to Pittsburgh in convincing fashion.  All told, the Broncos have actually missed the playoffs in six of the ten years post-Elway, including the past three.  This is simply not acceptable.  I appreciate the two championships, believe me.  I realize we may never get another one.  I know it is hard to make the playoffs and win that time of year in the NFL, but too many times the Broncos have collapsed late in the year after a hot start.  The Broncos have not been one of the league’s elite for the better part of ten years.  

– On the other hand, the Broncos have only experienced two sub-.500 seasons under Shanahan: 1999 (the first year post-Elway) and 2007.  Shanahan was 138-86 in his 14 years with the Broncos, which is a much higher percentage than a majority of coaches in the league.  I guarantee every team with a coaching vacancy has already called Shanahan’s agent to inquire about his availability.  In fact, your team’s brass may be wondering right now if they need to fire their coach so they can make a run at Shanahan.  I’m also wondering if a college program may target Shanahan, although there aren’t many openings left there.  Don’t think I’m not trembling at the thought of Shanahan on the Browns sideline next season when Cleveland comes to Mile High.

– Frankly Shanahan has run out of people to blame.  He has run off countless defensive coordinators during his tenure, and has had three coordinators since 2005 alone (Larry Coyer, Jim Bates and Bob Slowik).  He also ran off the head of personnel, Ted Sunquist, before this season.  Ultimately, the team’s recent failure has to fall on Shanahan, especially considering the team’s tackling against San Diego was the worst I have seen in my 20 years plus of watching Broncos football since I was a kid.  

– I hope Pat Bowlen knows what he’s doing.  I struggle to name many coaches in the football world right now that would be an improvement over Shanahan.  Bill Cowher would be one of the few, but does he even want to return to coaching?  Is he the name that Bowlen has in mind?  Cowher has turned down the Browns job and is apparently interviewing with the Jets, but Denver would be far away from his family in North Carolina. Is Bowlen going to try to pry Bill Parcells away from Miami?  I would love it, but I can only see Parcells in a GM capacity right now, not as a coach.  Would either one of them even be interested in the Broncos?  I honestly can’t come up with another name that I would like.  Eric Mangini? Romeo Crennel?  Mike Martz?  No, no and hell no.  One name I would go for is Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, but I doubt the Eagles would be dumb enough to let him get away.  Same with Steve Spagnuolo, defensive coordinator of the Giants.  Perhaps there is a young unknown out there that would be a good fit, I don’t know, but whoever they hire will stepping into enormous shoes, so they’d better be up to filling them.  

– Honestly, I’m still not sure how I really feel about this.  I really think I will need more time to see how I really feel about the Broncos dumping their long time coach.  A lot of it may ultimately have to do with who the replacement ends up being.  It comes as a complete shock, mainly because Shanahan has been the coach of the Broncos since I was in high school.  I thought up until two weeks ago that this was one of his best coaching jobs this year keeping the team together in light of too many injuries to count.  Ultimately though, the Broncos collapse from the AFC West lead to the 12th overall pick in the draft is too drastic to not hold someone accountable for it.  The Broncos were an 8-8 team this year, which is not going to cut it.  They are 24-24 over the past three seasons, and that won’t cut it.  It has been ten years since the Broncos won the Super Bowl, and while they have two more titles than many other franchises, ten years is a long time to not experience playoff success.  I just hope this doesn’t become a case of the Broncos not realizing what they had in the coaching department until it’s too late.  If Shanahan turns another franchise around and the Broncos continue to flounder, I will be sick.  If the Broncos do turn it around under someone else, than it will be lauded as a great move, even if Shanahan finds success elsewhere.  Only time will tell.

Wild Card playoff picks:

– Falcons over Cardinals: Neither team expected to be here.  I like Michael Turner and the Falcons running game to outscore the Cards’ high powered passing game.  

– Colts over Chargers: Two of the league’s hottest teams collide. Peyton Manning outduels Philip Rivers.

– Ravens over Dolphins: Baltimore won handily during the season.  Chad Pennington will play better this time, but I like the odds of Baltimore’s defense enjoying success in the playoffs.

– Vikings over Eagles: Minnesota has not won a playoff game in a long time.  The Metrodome will be rocking, and Adrian Peterson will have a big day.

Last Week: 13-3 (.812) Regular Season Final Record: 160-96-1 (.622)

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Week Seventeen Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 27, 2008

Obviously last week was an embarrassing week for yours truly’s football picking ability.  We’ll just skip over that and move on to this week’s picks.  My apologies for the quickie nature of the picks this week. 

Last Week: 6-10 (.375)  Season: 147-93-1 (.609)

– Patriots over Bills:  New England needs the game, Buffalo doesn’t.  The wind wil be howling  so the running game will be key.  The Patriots are red hot and wind is not going to slow them down.  New England needs a win and some help to make the playoffs.  They win the AFC East if they beat Buffalo and the Jets beat Miami.  They need a win and Batlimore loss to Jacksonville to get a wild card, and that means they’re doomed to be the second 11-5 team to miss the playoffs in NFL history (1985 Broncos). 

– Dolphins over Jets:  This is a tough game to figure, but the Jets have been fading fast for a month.  The Jets do not in fact control their own destiny, and even with a win need either a New England loss to Buffalo (not happening) or a Baltimore loss to Jacksonville (not happening).  This means a Jets win would help New England, and somehow I don’t think that’s not going to be sufficient motivation for gang green knowing that their win only helps their rival make the playoffs.  Miami is certainly the league’s biggest surprise, and the number of close games they’ve had this year will help them here.  This would mean a Miami home playoff game one season after going 1-15.  The top five teams in the 2009 draft will have hope. 

– Ravens over Jaguars:  Jacksonville used what remaining energy they had trying to beat the Colts.  They have nothing to play for in this one, and Baltimore rolls easily for a win and clinches a wild card spot.  Look out for the Ravens in the playoffs.  This is the team no one wants to play.

– Bengals over Chiefs:  Ugh.  If you’re stuck with this game in the CBS early slot, you have my sympathy.  Whoever wins this game is so inept they can’t even lose correctly, and will only make their 2009 draft position worse with a victory here.   

– Steelers over Browns:  Pittsburgh is locked into the two seed and will likely rest some guys.  Romeo Crennel will be on the sideline for what is sure to be his final game as Browns coach.  It will be interesting to see if the bye will help the Steelers make a playoff run.   

– Texans over Bears:  Chicago has more to play for, but even with a win they still need a Vikings loss or a bunch of other help.  Houston has been really up and down but I have a feeling they’ll finish strong here.  The Bears are just too inconsitent on offense to keep up with the Texans if their offense is clicking. 

– Titans over Colts: Both teams are locked into their playoff positions (Tennessee the number one seed, Colts the five seed).  Both teams are likely to rest players and that makes this difficult to pick.  Strangely enough, I take Vince Young over Jim Sorgi. 

– Chargers over Broncos:  Winner gets the AFC West title.  Right now the Chargers have the momentum and the Broncos don’t.  Denver missed its best chance when they failed to beat Buffalo last week.  San Diego is out for revenge after Denver’s wild 39-38 win in week two.  I do think the Broncos will come out with intensity, but the Chargers are playing very well on offense and I don’t think Denver will be able to keep up without a running game (seven Denver running backs on IR now).   The one thing the Broncos may have going for them is Norv Turner on the  other sideline, but even his ineptitude will not be enough to cause the Chargers to lose this one.  I hope I’m wrong on this one because I hate to see the Broncos miss the playoffs three straight years, and I also think an 8-8 Chargers team in the playoffs would be a shame while an 11-5 Patriots team could be out. 

– Buccaneers over Raiders: Tampa Bay keeps its hopes alive with a win.  It is hard to imagine the Raiders coming out with any intensity on the road, and the Buccaneers should win this one comfortably.  The Buccaneers will then need an Eagles win over Dallas in the late game to get a wild card spot. 

– Cowboys over Eagles:  Dallas is team turmoil this season, and it seems like we can never know which chemistry mix will be on the field each week.  That being said, the Cowboys know they will miss the playoffs if they don’t win this game, and they also know they are lucky to still be controlling their own destiny after last week’s loss.  I also don’t trust the Eagles after their listless performance last week in Washington.  This will sound odd, but I think the Cowboys can make a serious run if they do manage to make the playoffs. 

– Vikings over Giants: Minnesota wins the NFC North with a win here, but they also get in with a Chicago loss.  The Giants have clinched home field in the playoffs, so at the very least they will sit Brandon Jacobs and probably will rest more guys in the second half.  This game means much, much more to Minnesota and that’s why I like the Vikings to bounce back and win this one at home. 

– 49ers over Redskins: Mike Singletary should have the interim tag removed from his title.  He has done a great job restoring effort in that organization.  Washington bounced back nicely last week against the Eagles, but that is too little too late.   I like the Niners at home in this one where both teams have nothing to play for. 

– Packers over Lions:  The Lions can’t have much realistic hope of getting a road win at Lambeau, even if the Packers have hit the skids themselves down the stretch.  If Detroit has any pride whatsoever, they can find a way to win this game, but if they had pride it would have showed up last week in their last home game against the Saints.  Say hello to 0-16 Lions fans. 

– Falcons over Rams: Atlanta can actually win the NFC South with a win and a Carolina loss.  Either way they’ve clinched a playoff spot, a phenominal achievement considering how awful they were last season.  They’ll roll in this one against the hapless Rams. 

– Panthers over Saints:  Carolina wins the division if they can hold off the Saints.  This is an important game for the Panthers because they could fall to the five seed if they lose, whereas with a win they clinch a first round bye.  New Orelans poses a very tough challenge at home, where the Saints have not had any problem scoring points all season.  I think the Panthers will somehow find a way in this one, knowing the difficult road they face if they fail to win this one. 

– Cardinals over Seahawks: Arizona has clinched the NFC West, but they definitely aren’t playing like they deserve it.  Arizona was a complete embarassment last week in New England, and whoever gets the five seed in the NFC will probably be favored in Phoenix next weekend in the playoffs.  I think the Cardinals need to get their offense back on track and get some confidence in a big way this weekend or they are guaranteed toast next weekend.  The Seahawks got a win last week, but have nothing to play for here, and if Arizona plays to their true capaibility shouldn’t provide much resistance. 

So if my picks are right, here is how the first round of the playoffs would shape up:

AFC:   

BYE: Tennessee, Pittsburgh

(6) Baltimore at (3) Miami

(5) Indianapolis at (4) San Diego

NFC:

BYE: New York Giants, Carolina

(6) Dallas at (3) Minnesota

(5) Atlanta at (4) Arizona

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This CAN’T Be Happening

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 22, 2008

Where do I start with this one?  Seriously?  How did the Broncos lose yet another home game to an inferior opponent?  The Bills had nothing to play for, and yet they showed more urgency and made more plays when it counted than the Broncos did.  The Broncos had every opportunity to bury the Bills early, yet somehow the Bills were able to hang around, and hang around some more, eventually take the lead, and never relinquish it.  Thanks to San Diego’s win at Tampa Bay, the Broncos are now in a position where they must win at San Diego next Sunday night to clinch the AFC West and make the playoffs (more on that game in a moment).  I watched the entire game, and I am still in many ways at a loss to explain just how the Broncos managed to lose this game considering the following:

– The Broncos outgained Buffalo 532-275, nearly a 2 to 1 advantage

– The Broncos held Buffalo to just 87 yards rushing, and a 3.3 yards per carry average

– Eddie Royal raced for a 71-yard run in the first quarter, the second longest run by a non-running back in Broncos history

– Champ Bailey returned and sparked the Broncos defense with 9 tackles and an early sack and forced fumble

– Denver controlled time of possession, winning that battle 33:11 to 26:49

– Brandon Marshall finally stepped up with another big game, hauling in 10 passes for 129 yards

Those things considered, here is how the Broncos managed to lose this game:

– Red zone inefficiency.  Denver went just 2 for 6 in the red zone (two field goals, an interception and a turnover on downs).  This is simply not acceptable.  Denver settled for two field goals early, and even though they had a 13-0 lead, it easily could have been 21-0, and at the very least should have been 17-0.  That would have made a big difference not only in the score but also in terms of momentum.  The interception thrown by Jay Cutler at the Buffalo two with just over five minutes to play was very costly.  On the next drive, Cutler overthrew a wide open Brandon Stokley on third down, and then on fourth down, Stokley had the pass for a moment, only to see it get knocked out of his hands by Terrence McGee.  All told, the Broncos drove to the Bills’ 15 yard line twice in the last five minutes and came up with no points.  This will not win you any games.

– It is a broken record, but the Broncos lost the turnover battle 2-0.  Even though the Bills cashed those turnovers in for just three points, they still proved costly.

– The coaches made a questionable decision with two minutes to go in the first half.  They allowed Matt Prater to try a 54-yard field goal instead of punting and burying the Bills deep.  The wind was not ideal for a long field goal, and Prater missed the kick short even though it was on line.  The Bills got the ball at their own 44, and were able to drive for a momentum changing (and crowd silencing) touchdown right before halftime.  This was a questionable coaching decision to allow Prater to try the kick.

– The Broncos running game took yet another hit with the first quarter injury to P.J. Pope, who ran for 44 yards on just six carries before exiting.  Tatum Bell and Selvin Young only combined for 36 yards on the ground the rest of the way.  

– Special teams.  Granted, Leodis McKelvin is one of the top kick returners in the league.  His mere presence forced the Broncos to take drastic measures to kick away from him.  That being said, too many times Denver allowed Buffalo outstanding field position on kick returns and a short field to work with.  When your defense is struggling as much as the Broncos defense has, you can’t expect them to come up with stops when the opposing team is starting on the wrong side of midfield.

– Give the Bills credit.  Even though they came in with nothing to play for, and could have easily rolled over when they fell behind early, they stayed in the game and ended up winning at the end.  

The bottom line for the Broncos is they are an 8-7 team, and have not looked playoff worthy the last two weeks.  Good teams win easily in December at home against non-contending teams.  The Broncos for the past few years have not been able to do this, hence they keep missing the playoffs.  Denver had every chance to bury the Bills early, but settled for field goals when they needed touchdowns.  They gave Buffalo life at the end of the first half, and found themselves in a dogfight when they should clearly have been the team with more to play for.  Buffalo is a team that had lost  8 of its past 10 games, for all intents and purposes had collapsed.  The Broncos loss to Buffalo does not bode well for their playoff prospects even if they somehow upset the Chargers next week.

Here’s all you need to know about the Broncos’ suddenly very bleak postseason prospects: the early Las Vegas line has the Chargers favored to win by nine points next week.  The game in San Diego is needless to say a tall order for the Broncos.  They will be on the road, on Sunday night to boot (NBC grabbed that game as soon as the Broncos lost).  The Chargers will be out for blood after the Broncos’ crazy 39-38 win win week two.  San Diego feels they got robbed by Ed Hochuli.  I maintain the Chargers still had chances to come up with a stop and didn’t on either the touchdown or two point conversion, but that’s beside the point.  This NFL season has so wild and crazy though, especially for the Broncos.  It’s a season where teams win games they’re not supposed to and choke games away they’re supposed to win easily.  In any case, the Broncos’ first playoff game is on Sunday.  The winner wins the AFC West and the loser is out.  The Broncos quickly need to figure out how to avoid turnovers, how to take advantage of red zone opportunities while now down to their 8th option at running back (the backfield is so depleted that Tony Scheffler was forced to line up at fullback in the second half), and somehow figure out how to stop a suddenly red hot Philip Rivers.  I hope the Broncos can figure out a way to win and make the playoffs, but the realistic side of me doesn’t see the Broncos having much of a shot on the road against a suddenly hot team unless they start playing much better.  Things look bleak for the Broncos indeed.  Then again, this is the NFL, and that means predictions are worthless.  I hope.

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Week Sixteen Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 20, 2008

I was almost right last night.  The Jaguars gave the Colts a much better game than most thought they would.  David Garrard played extremely well for three quarters.  Maurice Jones-Drew ran hard.  The Jaguars played with emotion.  In the end though it wasn’t enough.  Garrard made a dumb decision throwing into triple coverage in the fourth quarter, and it resulting in a game winning pick six for the Colts.  Jacksonville had an impressive drive in the final two minutes, but Garrard missed a wide open Reggie Williams in the back of the end zone, and then suffered a sack on the game’s final play.  Jacks0nville played hard, but in the end the Colts showed why they are a playoff team and Jacksonville is not. 

N0w on to the picks, keeping in mind that there are several games where honestly I have no clue how they are going to go. 

Last Week: 11-5 (.687 )  Season: 141-82-1 (.632 )    Season record includes last night’s incorrect pick

– Ravens over Cowboys:  A rare Saturday night game, and this will be a good one.  In many ways this could be a play-in game for the playoffs.  If Baltimore’s loses they could fall behind New England and Miami.  If Dallas loses they fall behind Tampa Bay and possibly Atlanta.  This will be the final game at Texas Stadium, unless the Cowboys were to somehow host the NFC Championship Game in a series of highly unlikely occurances.  Tony Romo is hurting again for Dallas.  So is Marion Barber.  The Baltimore defense is not a team you want to be playing when you’ve got guys hobbled.  The Ravens offense got stymied last week, so this could be another low scoring game.  Dallas needs Terrell Owens to back up his words and come out with a big game.  If he doesn’t the Ravens will be in complete control.  If he does, the Cowboys have a chance.  The Ravens know they control their own destiny.  So do the Cowboys.  This game really could go either way, and the Cowboys will have the emotion of the last game at Texas Stadium, but Baltimore has frankly been more consistent this year, and I think the Ravens are way too good to miss the playoffs.  Baltimore wins. 

– Broncos over Bills:  Try number two for the Broncos to clinch the AFC West.  They host a Bills team with nothing to play for, so this is will be a much better opportunity than a game in San Diego next week.  Denver can’t afford to dig itself a hole early with turnovers, but if the Broncos come out and play they way they are capable, they should be able to hold off the Bills.  I’ll take Jay Cutler over Trent Edwards or J.P. Losman any day.  Edwards will apparently start, but he wasn’t effective before the injury, let alone now.   You can say what you will about the Broncos’ inconsitencies, but a hunch says they will come out firing and if all goes well they should put the Bills away early.   Odd stat of the matchup: 14 of the past 17 meetings have been in Buffalo.  The Broncos don’t get to host Buffalo very much, and I know that means nothing in regrards to Sunday’s game, but it is just interesting.  At any rate, Denver wins the AFC West. 

– Dolphins over Chiefs:  How the Chiefs managed to lose last week is still beyond me.  For any team to blow a 21-3 fourth quarter lead, and then a 21-10 lead in the final 75 seconds, is inexcusable in the NFL.  This makes it impossible for me to pick Kansas City in any scenerio.  Miami has a lot more to play for.  They must win this game to have any shot at the playoffs, and they know that.  Arrowhead will not be anywhere near full, and that will mitigate any advantage Kansas City would have.  Miami wins. 

– Patriots over Cardinals:  It seems so odd to think that New England can continue to roll in games and not end up in the playoffs, but that is what is likely to happen.  The Patriots will be rooting hard for the Cowboys to win on Saturday, because the Patriots only shot to get in is a Ravens loss.  I think the Patriots will not just win this game, but they will blow Arizona out.  The Cardinals will not have Anquan Boldin, they’ll be playing in the cold, they face the west coast team traveling east for an early kick disadvantage, and they are playing a desperate New England team that knows they have to keep winning.  Arizona has clinched the NFC West and knows they are the four seed, so they really have nothing to play for here.  The Patriots win, and will be rooting for Dallas on Saturday night. 

– Seahawks over Jets: UPSET ALERT.  I know this looks crazy, but consider this: the Jets are 0-3 on the west coast this year.  They got bombed in San Diego and lost two inexcusable games to San Francisco and Oakland.  This will be Mike Holmgren’s final home game as Seahawks coach, and I think the players will play hard for him.  I could really see the Jets being complacent heading into this game.  I know Brett Favre is the type of veteran leader that can prevent that, but I sense something out of the ordinary going on in this game.  It’s a reach, but I think Seattle wins. 

– Bengals over Browns:  Dud game of the year without question.  If you live in Ohio, I suggest you find a sports bar because you’re being shut out of just about every good game on Sunday to watch this garbage.  I don’t know who will win and I’m sure any0ne in Ohio cares either at this point.  I pick the Bengals for no reason other than Cleveland has not scored an offensive touchdown in a month, and I figure the Bengals ought to be able to get one with either T.J. Houshmanzadeh or Chad Johnson. 

– Steelers over Titans: Fantastic game, one I won’t be able to see because CBS only has one game this week, and of course I’ll be watching my Broncos.  The winner of this game will get home field advantage in the AFC, and I think Tennessee is picking a really bad time to go into a funk.  The Titans will be without top defensive linemen Kyle Vanden Bosch and Albert Haynesworth, and that means Pittsburgh will be able to run the football.  The Steelers have sustained a brutal schedule, and they have proven time and again this year they can win on the road.  Tennessee has frankly yet to prove it can score points in truly major games to win.  I think the rest of the AFC is about to get the bad news that the road to the Super Bowl will go through Pittsburgh.  Steelers win a close one, yet again on the road. 

– Texans over Raiders: Houston will be a dangerous team next season.  The Texans appear to have finally found their groove offensively, and they have the talent on defense to do some good things next year. It’s too bad the Texans don’t have five more games to get back in the chase because they might be the hottest team in the AFC besides Pittsburgh.   Andre Johnson is a clear top three wideout in the NFL, and he has benefited from Matt Schaub’s return.  Oakland should be nothing more than a doormat for them in this game.  Houston wins easily. 

– Buccaneers over Chargers: Both teams must win to stay alive, so we can look at this as another play-in game of sorts.  Tampa Bay has lost two straight, but knows they have two very winnable home games to finish up.  San Diego must win and needs Denver to lose to force a big game next week.  The Chargers have played much better of late, but they needed some serious Kansas City ineptitude to win last week.  The Buccaneers get Jeff Garcia back under center, and I think they will get a big lift from the home crowd.  Philip Rivers will keep San Diego in the game, but I think the Bucs’ defense is ready for a shutdown effort after getting run over in the running game the past two weeks.  Tampa Bay let one get away last week, and they know they won’t have another chance if they lose this one.  Tampa Bay wins. 

– Eagles over Redskins: This is an interesting game.  The Eagles are another team that is red hot, but even if they win out they may not get in the playoffs.  Brian Westbrook is healthy once again and that means bad news for Eagles opponents down the stretch.  Washington has faded so quickly that Jim Zorn’s job is apparently now in jeopardy, even though three weeks ago he was being hailed as the right guy  in Washington.  The Clinton Portis-Jim Zorn fight seems like it’s adversely affected the Redskins, and it showed in their loss to Cincinnati last week.  Philadelphia wins to keep their hopes alive. 

– Lions over Saints: UPSET ALERT.  I pick for no other reason than there has never been an 0-16 team in NFL history.  I don’t see any reason why that should happen this year.  The Saints lost Reggie Bush for the year, and that hurts their offense.  Detroit is highly motivated, they will win this game at home. 

– Vikings over Falcons: Another good game.  Minnesota has all but clinched the NFC North, and the Falcons need to win to stay alive.  While this game may mean more on paper to Atlanta, I think Minnesota wins this one at home.  Tarvaris Jackson gets another start, and if he plays as well as last week, the Vikings offense could be in for a big day.  Atlanta could play well again in this one, and is a great story this year, but this will be a tough road game for them to win, and I can’t see them pulling this one out. 

– 49ers over Rams: Meaningless game.  Niners are playing hard for Mike Singletary, and the Rams are not for Jim Haslett.  San Francisco wins this one, and it could be by a lot.  Let’s move on to a more meaningful game. 

– Panthers over Giants: Monster game, good move by NBC to move this to Sunday night.  The winner of this game will clinch home field in the NFC playoffs.  I think this game is actually very simple.  The Panthers are the best team in the league right now, and the Giants have lost two straight since the Plaxico Burress fiasco.  Carolina will be able to run the ball no problem.  The Giants may not be able to if Brandon Jacobs doesn’t play.  I also sense another big game from Steve Smith.  Carolina wins. 

– Bears over Packers: The Monday nighter has lost a lot of its luster with the Packers eliminated and the Bears on life support.  If the Vikings win, the Bears are essentially out.  This could be entertaining because of the rivalry factor, but will likely mean nothing.  Green Bay has really fallen off the wagon last few games.  Chicago wins.

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Thursday Night Football Pick – Week 16

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 18, 2008

It’s quickly getting into crunch time.  As we start the second to last week of the season, we find a very intriguing matchup on Thursday night.  The Colts are the hottest team in football, having not lost since late October.  Peyton Manning has been playing much better over the past month or so, the passing game is clicking, the running game is going even with Joseph Addai hobbled, and the defense has been much improved with Bob Sanders back from injury at safety (sound familar?  His return sparked the Colts to their Super Bowl win two years ago).   They figure on paper to be a heavy favorite over the hapless Jaguars, even on the road.  Jacksonville has to qualify as the unquestioned biggest disappointment in the league this season.  After their 12-4 finish last year, playoff win at Pittsburgh, and great effort the next week at New England, I thought they were going to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.  This easily qualifies as the most embarrassing preseason pick I have ever made.  Little did I know their offensive line would be a mess, the running game wouldn’t be anywhere near the same, and their dominant defense would suddenly show characteristics resembling an instruction manual on how not to tackle.  

Before you conclude that the Colts will win by four touchdowns, decide this game is not worth watching, and let your wife or girlfriend watch a rerun of Grey’s Anatomy instead, let’s consider a few things here.  The Colts are somewhat injury riddled heading into this game.  Joseph Addai claims he will play, but reports seem to vary on this.  We know Addai participated in practice on Wednesday, but will he be able to go?  Will he be full speed?  We don’t know.  Dominic Rhodes filled in nicely last week, but that was against the Lions.  Even Jacksonville is not that bad.  We also learned today that Marvin Harrison will sit out due to a hamstring injury.  Granted, Harrison has been invisible most of the season, but he’s still Marvin Harrison.  If he’s not in there, it will allow the Jags to focus more on Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark.  The effect of these two injuries together is significant.  If the Colts can’t run the ball with Rhodes, it will play to Jacksonville’s advantage.  Harrison also not being in there means there aren’t as many receivers for Jacksonville to worry about covering.  Oh, and Bob Sanders is also questionable.  When he’s not in there, that’s bad news for Indy.  Which leads me to……

The previous meeting in week three.  Bob Sanders did not play.  This is one of the few games in which Jacksonville ran the ball well (and very well I might add) to the tune of 236 yards.  Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew each went over 100 yards, and Jones-Drew also added 59 yards receiving on four catches.  Sanders is one of the league’s best run stuffing safeties, and his presence makes all the difference in the Colts’ run defense.  Even if he’s in there but not 100 percent, his presence is a big plus for Indianapolis.  Jacksonville’s defense also had great success against Manning in the first meeting, intercepting him two times, including a 61-yard pick six by Rasheen Mathis.  

This is a division game.  The seemingly left for dead Jaguars rose up and stunned the Packers last week, and Jones-Drew ran well.  The Colts survived a much closer than hoped for win over the winless Lions.  Momentum means a lot in football, and it seems like the Colts are battling several injuries on a short week, not wanting to push guys if it means their playoff availability could be in question.  The Colts have a one game lead over every other wild card contender, so they know they are in good shape.  Even if they haven’t officially clinched yet, they are right on the cusp.  Jacksonville is playing for pride.  This is not a factor to be underestimated.  Many teams over the years, teams with nothing to play for can get highly motivated by bumping off a division rival late in the year and messing with their playoff hopes.  

Indianapolis is clearly the better team overall.  Everyone knows this.  Yet there is a reason why they play the games.  Last week I split my two biggest upset reaches (getting Houston over Tennessee and missing Kansas City over San Diego, but it was close).  I thought Dallas over the Giants was an upset pick at the time, but at best that can be only called a minor upset.  At any rate, this is a game that is not easy to pick, and that makes it worth watching.  I am convinced it will not be a blowout in any way, now the question is, who wins?  Do I dare go for another upset reach?

Thinking….

Thinking….

Why not, UPSET ALERT.  Call me crazy, call it a hunch.  Jacksonville 30 Indianapolis 27.  The Titans may still be leading the division, but something tells me the Jags will be highly motivated for a chance to sweep the Colts.  

Either that or I will have to write another embarrassing retraction on Friday morning.

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Not Division Champs Yet

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 15, 2008

Bad day for the Broncos.  As they took the field today against the Carolina Panthers, they did so with the knowledge that they were likely about to win the division, and sit tonight knowing they still have work to do.  See, Kansas City led San Diego 21-10 with less than 90 seconds to play when John Kasay kicked off to Eddie Royal to begin the Broncos game.  Little did the Broncos know that the Chargers would score, recover an onside kick and quickly score again to take the lead, and that the Chargers would end up winning when the Chiefs missed a 50-yard field goal on the last play.  The Broncos thought they had already clinched the division, not thinking there would be any way even Kansas City could blow THAT lead.  To boot, the Broncos themselves got run over by the Panthers, and thus can’t quite start printing playoff tickets just yet.  

To be perfectly honest, I can’t say I’m at all surprised by what transpired in Charlotte today, as the Broncos got beat by a much better team in the Panthers.  I was hopeful for an upset yes, especially after the Broncos had pulled off surprises in their previous two road games against the Falcons and Jets.  But being hopeful and being realistic are two completely different things, and I just knew the Broncos had their work cut out for them against a Panthers that in my opinion has usurped the Giants as the top team in the NFC and may just be the best team in the NFL right now.  We’ll find out for sure when the Panthers face the Giants next week, but at any rate Carolina is quickly proving that they are at the very least a bona fide Super Bowl contender.  

The Broncos employed the only defensive strategy they could in this game, and while it achieved the stated goal (stopping the run) it simply didn’t work overall.  With Champ Bailey out once again (more on that in a moment), the Broncos were severely shorthanded in the secondary against a great receiver duo in Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammad.   Despite this, Denver knew that their only chance to even have a shot was to try and slow down Carolina’s running game, which tore apart the Buccaneers for a franchise record 299 last week.  To do this, the Broncos had to bring an extra defender in the box.  The Broncos had the benefit of getting top linebacker and leading tackler D.J. Williams back at linebacker today after he had missed the last month due to injury (he had three tackles today).   Knowing this the Broncos took the unusual measure of starting Wesley Woodyard, who had been filling in for Williams, at strong safety.  In this instance the Broncos were actually quite clever in how they did this, because they had the benefit of an extra linebacker as the run stuffing safety.  For most the game the Broncos actually did an excellent job against the run.  The final stats may not indicate it, DeAngelo Williams finished with 88 yards on just 12 carries (a 7.3 average) while Jonathan Stewart added 52 yards on 16 carries (a 3.3 average).  All told the Panthers rushed for 147 yards and averaged 4.9 yards a carry, which isn’t good generally speaking.  A further look though reveals that 56 of Williams’ 88 yards came on one play, a sensational touchdown run in which Williams was completely bottled up by three Broncos and made a sharp cutback move reminiscent of Terrell Davis in his heyday.  Once Williams was off to the races there was nothing the Bronco defenders could do.  Taking that one run out of the equation, Williams had just 32 yards on his other 11 carries, for just a 2.9 average.  Overall, the Broncos allowed just 3.1 yards a carry when not factoring the touchdown run.  I realize it of course foolish to not include it, but I’m merely illustrating the Broncos overall actually did an excellent job stopping the run in this game, considering the Panthers’ offensive line dominance this season and the caliber of backs they were facing. 

So while the Broncos did well against the run, the downside of their strategy was they were forced to single up Steve Smith, without question one of the top five receivers in football, with so many defenders committed to the run.  The results of this were not pretty, as the Panthers immediately caught on to the fact that Smith was isolated.  Smith caught three passes on the Panthers’ first drive of the game alone for 64 of Carolina’s 77 total yards on the march, including the touchdown that tied the game on a bubble screen pass.   Smith was often open down the field, and finished with 9 catches for 165 yards and a score.  The Broncos resorted to double teaming Smith a few times, and he was able to gain separation anyway, and when he didn’t the Panthers could move the ball with the run.  Smith’s receiving mate Mushin Muhammad, who was also single covered most of the day, added four receptions for 70 yards.  

So while the Broncos did what they had to do to the stop run, the only strategy that even gave them a chance to do it, Smith was able to burn them all day long.  I am convinced that if a healthy Bailey were able to check Smith, the strategy would have had a much better chance to succeed.  Smith is way too good to be shut down by anyone,  but Bailey would have at least had a chance to contain him enough to where Jake Delhomme wouldn’t have been near as confident to throw Smith’s way.  With all respects to Dre’ Bly, he is not near the corner Bailey is, and frankly he never had a chance in his matchup against Smith.  It is worth noting that Bailey has now sat out seven consecutive games since the bye week, and he has been rumored to be returning for five of them, all the way back to the Atlanta game.  If Bailey wasn’t healthy enough to go when the Broncos needed him against Smith, it seems clear that his injury is much more serious than has been let on.  This is not to put any blame on Bailey by any means, but it is an illustration of the defensive troubles the Broncos have experienced this season.

The thing that doomed the Broncos above all else though, was what else, turnovers and lack of execution offensively.  The Broncos were brilliant on their first two drives, which resulted in a touchdown pass to P.J. Pope and a long field goal.  After that, it was all downhill from there.  Here is what happened the rest of the game, in order:

– Drive 3: Cutler throws an interception on the first play after the Bronco defense forced a punt, a poor decision throwing into double coverage, and the pass was picked after a deflection.  Resulted in a Carolina field goal to tie it at 10-10.  

– Drive 4: Punt, after the Broncos unsuccessfully hand off to Selvin Young on 3rd & 16

– Drive 5: Punt, after a drive stalls around midfield.  The Panthers take the ensuing drive 75 yards for a touchdown.

– Drive 6: Young fumbles at his own 25 with 10 seconds remaining in the first half, a turnover that results in a Carolina field goal (Two problems here: of course the fumble is inexcusable, but why didn’t the Broncos just take a knee and enter halftime with a seven point deficit.  Ridiculous play call, but that still doesn’t excuse Young).

– Drive 7: (After the Williams TD run put Carolina up 27-10) Three and out.  Punt.

– Drive 8: Three and out.  Punt

– Drive 9: (After a Bronco interception)  Missed field goal by Matt Prater.

– Drive 10: Three and out.  Punt

– Drive 11: Broncos gain 70 meaningless yards, end of game.

The Broncos once again lost the turnover battle, which is obviously costly.  These two turnovers were particularly bad timing however.  The first came when the Broncos were ahead 10-7 and had a chance to add onto the lead with a good drive, and the second came right before the half and essentially handed Carolina three points to give them a 20-10 lead when it otherwise would have been a one score game at halftime.  Had it not been for the fumble, it is reasonable to argue that the second half could have unfolded differently.  The Broncos made mistakes that simply can’t afford to be made on the road against an excellent team, and Carolina was able to take advantage and put the game away early in the second half.  

If I had a chance to offer a revised Super Bowl pick, right now, I would take the Panthers.  They are easily able to keep teams off balance with their two-headed monster running game and the presence of Smith.  Even a great defense will have trouble stopping them if the Panthers are clicking.  The X factors for Carolina are Delhomme, who is not always consistent and has a tendency to sometimes make bad decisions if he faces pressure, and the defense, which at times has been prone to big plays.  If the Panthers beat the Giants next week, they clinch home field throughout the playoffs, and being that they’re unbeaten at home this year, I think that would be case closed for the NFC if that happens.  The Broncos should not be ashamed of losing to Carolina on the road, but they do need to play better next week against the Bills, a team that has nothing to play for.  Beat Buffalo and the Broncos are in as division champs, but the Broncos must approach it as if it’s a playoff game, because let’s be honest.  At this point it is a playoff game, one that could define the Broncos’ season.  Or they could root for Tampa Bay against San Diego, but they’d better not count on the Bucs.  Next week the Broncos are much better off simply taking care of their own business.

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Week Fifteen Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 12, 2008

What a great game last night.  Who would have thought that the Bears would get an opening kickoff return touchdown and it wouldn’t be Devin Hester?  Or that the Bears would blow a sizable first half lead and watch the Saints take the lead with three minutes to go (naturally thanks to a Marques Colston sighting AFTER my fantasy team has been bounced from the playoffs)?  Who would have thought that Robbie Gould would make not only a clutch field goal to send the game into overtime, but also win it with another in OT?  The Bears defense did a very admirable job at least slowing down the Saints offense, including forcing Drew Brees into two picks.  Offensively, they did not get a great game from Matt Forte, but Kyle Orton did just enough to lead clutch drives at the end of regulation and OT.  Yes, the Bears benefited from a pass interference penalty on a deep ball, but the Bears took full advantage of the opportunity that gave them.  Make no mistake about it, the NFC North is not decided yet.  The Vikings may own the tiebreaker over the Bears, but Chicago still very much has a pulse.  For all of their faults, the Bears will not go away quietly.  As for the Saints, they are done.  How a team with so much talent can only be 7-7 is absolutely beyond me, but for starters they are going to have to figure out how to win at least an occasional game away from the Superdome next season.  Now, on to the picks: 

Last Week: 12-4 (.750)  Season: 132-75-1 (.634)  Season record includes last night’s correct pick

– Jets over Bills: The Jets have lost two in a row yes, but this is a must win game for them, at home in the division.  New York knows it’s in the midst of a three way tie for the division and can’t afford to slip up in this one at home in case it comes down to division record as a tiebreaker.  Buffalo is beyond fading, and probably will be forced into starting J.P. Losman again.  Even as much as Favre and company have struggled, they should win this one easily.  The Jets won pretty comfortably in the first meeting in Buffalo, so I see no reason why they would slip up here.  Watch for Leon Washington in this game, a hunch says he could be the X factor that makes the difference with the Bills loading up to stop Thomas Jones.  

– Dolphins over 49ers: This is definitely an intriguing game.  Miami is on the cusp of going from 1-15 to division champ if things break right over the next three weeks.  This is Miami’s final home game of the year, so they know they will need to take care of business.  Strangely enough, the Dolphins have had several close calls at home this year, surviving narrow wins at Dolphin Stadium against the Seahawks and Raiders in November.  San Francisco is definitely showing the promise that was expected of them early in the year, and with Shaun Hill at quarterback they are definitely dangerous for contending teams down the stretch.  The Niners have to be wondering if they wouldn’t be in the race had they gone with Hill the entire time the way he’s played the last two weeks.  While an upset is not out of the realm of possibility here, I think Miami will win a very close game.  The Dolphins will be able to run the ball, and Chad Pennington has proven he’s not normally liable for dumb mistakes to put Miami in a hole.  Miami’s defense has been superb and that will be the difference.  

– Patriots over Raiders: New England knows it is on the wrong end of tiebreakers right now for both the division race and the wild card.  All they can do is win their games and hope for some help over the next three weeks.  The Patriots do have the advantage of a friendly schedule down the stretch, so that will be working in their favor even if the tiebreakers aren’t.  Oakland has been a hard team to figure this year, for you never know when they will decide to care about a game or when they’ll just mail it in.  If the Raiders decide they’re going to play hard in this one, the Patriots offense could have trouble getting big plays.  If the Raiders decide to mail this one in, New England will have a field day.  Randy Moss makes his first appearance against the Raiders since leaving two years ago, so he will definitely be highly motivated for a big day.  I think the difference in this game will be that New England should have no trouble running the ball (start Sammy Morris if you’re still in the playoffs this week – trust me).  The Raiders are also not likely to get quarterback play no matter who is in there, and that will help the Patriots too.  It may not be pretty, but New England wins to keep their hopes alive.  

– Redskins over Bengals: Were it not for the Lions, Cincinnati would be the official joke of the league.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a Bengals fan.  No playoff wins since 1990 with complete ineptitude most of the time since then, and just when it looks like they get an explosive offense and a dangerous team, it implodes with embarrassing off the field behavior and a complete failure to take advantage of their talent.  Cincinnati really appears to have mailed this season in completely, and I still can’t believe Marvin Lewis could still have his job next season.  The listless Bengals are the only reason I’m picking Washington to win here.  I think the Redskins have faded also to the point where they aren’t considered a realistic contender anymore.  The Jim Zorn-Clinton Portis fight in the media can’t be a good thing either.  While I can’t blame Portis for being upset given that he was playing through all kinds of pain, Zorn is the head coach and therefore deserves Portis’ respect.  Despite all that, Washington is less of a mess than Cincinnati, and the Redskins will win an ugly game that I can’t imagine anyone in Cincinnati would actually pay money to see.  

– Ravens over Steelers: The unquestioned game of the week, and I won’t be able to see it because it is at the same time as the Broncos.  (Thanks a lot NBC for once again assuming anyone only cares about the NFC East).  I think there will not be many points scored in this one, think 13-10 or something along those lines, but it will be the most physical game of the year by far.  Pittsburgh is mad because the Ravens defense knocked out talented rookie Rashard Mendenhall for the year in the first meeting, while the Ravens for years have complained about Hines Ward’s blocking.  Needless to say these two teams don’t like each other, and if the first meeting is any indication (a Pittsburgh win in OT), this one should absolutely live up to the billing.  The Steelers were lucky last week against Dallas, getting a gift from a very poor decision by Tony Romo in the last two minutes, while the Ravens are really looking Super Bowl quality.  They completely shut down the Redskins last week, and they have an offense to go with their defense.  I don’t think they’ll explode in this one, but I do think Joe Flacco will outplay Ben Roethlisberger and that will be the difference.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Flacco is playing much better right now frankly.  If Baltimore wins, the AFC North is tied with two games to play.  Baltimore has been waiting for this game too long not to come out with a top effort,  and they will win at home.  

– Texas over Titans: UPSET ALERT.  Some of these have worked for me this year, others have not.  I do feel in this one that the Titans are looking very vulnerable.  They won against Cleveland last week but clearly didn’t look like they had their A game.  If they play like that against the Texans and their suddenly explosive offense, they will get beat.  Tennessee does have a very good defense, and their offensive line is among the best in the league, but something tells me that Matt Schaub is about to have his second big day in a row.  With Schaub back under center, the Texans are capable of putting up tons of points on anyone.  I really think Houston picked up a huge confidence boosting win in Green Bay last week, and I think that momentum will carry over.  The Houston crowd is always fired up for a home game against the Titans (remember they used to be the Houston Oilers, and Houston fans still haven’t forgotten).  I think that both teams will put up points, but in a shootout, and it sounds strange to say this, I would take the Texans’ offense over Tennessee’s.  This will simply not be the ground it out, control the clock game that Jeff Fisher loves.  Houston wins in a high scoring affair, and thus prevents the Titans from clinching playoff home field just yet.  

– Colts over Lions: Indianapolis by at least 30.  The red hot Colts at home against the 0-13 Lions.  Peyton Manning vs. a washed up Daunte Culpepper.  Detroit has no hope here even if the Colts have their entire starting offense AND defense forced out due to injury.  The Colts are the league’s hottest team and the Lions are making a run at the wrong kind of history.  Let’s just move on.  

– Packers over Jaguars: Two struggling teams in what was thought to be a good game at the start of the season.  I think Jacksonville is beyond hope frankly, and I really don’t think the Jaguars will win again this year.  It seems very foolish that I thought they would represent the AFC in the Super Bowl at the start of the year, but this is just not the same team we saw last year.  Jacksonville has been completely unable to run the ball, and their defense has not been near as good as in years past.  The Packers have struggled too (and it’s not because of Aaron Rodgers.  The Packers would not be leading the division with Brett Favre.  Unless he’s figured out how to play defensive line and stop the run).  Both teams are out of it, but I think Green Bay will find a way to get this one.  I think the Jaguars have given up on Jack Del Rio, and there is no way they will be motivated to play any game the rest of the year.  Even if Green Bay struggles defensively in this one, it won’t matter.  Packers win.

– Panthers over Broncos: I think this is Denver’s most difficult test to date.  The Panthers set a franchise record with 299 rushing yards last week in their win against Tampa Bay, as both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart topped 115 yards, each averaged over 7.0 yards a carry, and each scored two touchdowns.  The Panthers did that against one of the best run defenses in the NFL, and given Denver’s trouble stopping the run this season, even though it has improved lately, that does not bode well.  For the Broncos to have any shot in this one, Champ Bailey must play.  The Broncos can’t afford to have just seven in the box and hope to stop Carolina’s running game.  They must employ eight in the box to even have a hope of containing Williams and Stewart, which means they will have no choice but to single up Steve Smith.  If Bailey’s not in there, Dre’ Bly can’t be counted on to do that.  Carolina’s offensive line has been blowing people off the ball, so it will be interesting to see how the Broncos defense decides to play this one.  Denver does have the offensive weapons to keep up, but they are down to their sixth option at running back after the Peyton Hillis injury.  I think the Broncos will stay in it for awhile, but I just don’t see them winning.  Carolina wins to keep hope alive for the top spot in the NFC.  

– Chiefs over Chargers: UPSET ALERT.  I’ll be honest, I have no idea who is going to win this game.  San Diego finally looked the way they were supposed to against the Raiders, and they are still mathematically alive, even if it isn’t likely that they’ll win out while Denver loses out.  If the Chargers play the way they did last week, they should win easily.  Thing is, they have been woefully inconsistent all season.  We’ve been waiting for the Chargers to show some consistency this year, and they just haven’t done it.  The Chiefs have played very hard most of the year even if their record doesn’t show it, and they very nearly won the first meeting in San Diego if not for a failed two point conversion attempt at the end of the game.  Kansas City has good young talent, and if they can force the Chargers into mistakes, they will be very much in this game in the fourth quarter.  I do think Kansas City will win at least one more before the year is out, and I think the Arrowhead factor (even if it isn’t full) will be enough to sway the upset.  

– Cardinals over Vikings: This will be a very entertaining game.  Adrian Peterson vs. the Cardinals areal circus.  This will be an interesting contrast between Arizona’s high powered offense and Minnesota’s tough run defense.  Thing is, Arizona doesn’t run the ball much, so Minnesota won’t be able to play to its strength defensively.  Jared Allen will be able to pressure Kurt Warner, but since when has pressure ever bothered Warner?  The Cardinals receivers are guaranteed to put up big numbers at home no matter who the opponent is, so we know the Cardinals will put up lots of points.  The onus is on the Vikings to match them, and even with Peterson, I don’t think they have the horses to keep up in this kind of shootout game.  Minnesota is going to have do something to address its quarterback play in the offseason, because it really seems as though they have everything else they need.  It will be the lack of quarterback play that will doom them here.  Arizona wins, putting them in position for the three seed in the NFC, while the Vikings would still be in the North lead due to tiebreakers with a loss.  

– Falcons over Buccaneers: Another entertaining game in the south.  This could well end up being a play-in game of sorts for a playoff spot in the NFC.  It’s also very possible that both of these teams will get in.  Either way, both teams know this is a huge game.  Tampa Bay dominated the first meeting in Tampa in week two, but that was before Matt Ryan was very comfortable in the league.  This will be at the Georgia Dome, and Michael Turner has to be licking his chops after watching the Bucs’ defense get completely run over Monday night in Charlotte.  Is the Buccaneers’ run defense suddenly vulnerable?  You know they’ve worked on that all week, but even if they completely corral Turner, they still have Ryan and the passing game to contend with.  I think Atlanta will enough success in the passing game to put up points, and I really think the Tampa Bay offense is hard pressed to win high scoring games.  Antonio Bryant had the game of his life last week and it still wasn’t near enough.  Atlanta wins a very close game to put themselves in playoff position with two games to play.

– Seahawks over Rams: Seattle will win this one easily.  The Rams appear to be another team that has given up on the season, even with Steven Jackson back in the lineup.  The Seahawks will again start Seneca Wallace, but he actually played very well last week against the Patriots, and even he should be able to light it up against one of the worst pass defenses in the league.  Mike Holmgren has to be wishing he retired a year earlier, but he will have a rare win to enjoy here down the stretch of the season.  The Rams have had attendance trouble for years, and this will officially be a non-sellout and television blackout in St. Louis.  If you are one of the few in the country stuck with this game, I suggest finding a sports bar or using the time to catch up on yard work.  

– Cowboys over Giants: UPSET ALERT.  This will be a much better game than the first meeting, which the Giants won quite handily.  Dallas is in absolute must win mode to make the playoffs, and they will have no trouble getting up for a Sunday night game against one of their biggest rivals.  The Cowboys are coming off a frustrating loss in Pittsburgh, but they outplayed the Steelers for most of the game.  There are reports of friction between Tony Romo and Terrell Owens (is anyone surprised?) but Owens always gets up for big games, especially at home, and I really smell a monster game from him.  If he does come through, look out.  The Giants looked very exposed last week against the Eagles, and that showed the rest of the league that they can be beaten and aren’t invincible.  The Plaxico Burress mess seems to be affecting them more than first thought, and they still won’t have Brandon Jacobs in this one.  I still think the Giants have the inside track to the Super Bowl in the NFC, but it can’t be considered a foregone conclusion after their loss last week.   The Giants have all but clinched the division even with a loss here, so the Cowboys have much more on the line.  Dallas wins.  

– Eagles over Browns: Yawn.  ESPN must really regret that they are stuck with yet another Browns game.  How many is that now, 10?  I know it only seems like that many, but it seems like they get a night game every week.  How did anyone think Cleveland was a contender at the start of the year?  Yes, they did beat the Giants, but that was only one game.  This matchup should be case for extending flex scheduling to Monday nights, because really everyone knows how this game is going to go.  Ken Dorsey will look lost and confused, Brian Westbrook will run wild, and the Eagles will win by at least three touchdowns.  Philadelphia is dangerous, and they just might sneak into the playoffs.  That tie in Cincinnati and McNabb’s benching in Baltimore really seems to have woken them up and lit a fire under them.  The Eagles are not a team I’d want to see down the stretch, especially on the road.

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Thursday Night Football Pick – Week 15

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 11, 2008

This game between the Bears and Saints and Soldier Field is definitely intriguing.  In many ways it is a de-facto playoff game, since the winner will be able to keep their faint hopes alive while the loser is essentially eliminated for all intents and purposes.  The Saints have a solid record, but they are in last place in the brutal NFC South and probably need to win out to secure a playoff spot and even at that need some help.  The Bears are within spitting distance of the lead in the NFC North, particularly with the Vikings still facing the prospect of suspensions for the two Williams on the defensive line.  Both teams are coming off nice wins last week.  New Orleans was able to get enough offense (as they usually do at home) to overtake a hot Falcons team, while the Bears defense easily put the clamps on struggling Jacksonville.  

To me the Saints have way more talent than the Bears, especially on offense.  Drew Brees is having an MVP type season and he has plenty of weapons at his disposal, especially now that Reggie Bush is back.  His presence especially in the passing game has opened up opportunities for Marques Colston and Lance Moore to make plays,  Thing is, while the Saints have been awesome in the Superdome, they have been awful on the road on more than one occasion.  The game will be in the cold, wind and possible snow at Soldier Field.   This will be an interesting matchup in any case for the Saints offense because while Chicago has given up big plays on defense, they have proven very adept at stopping the run and forcing turnovers.  I think this matchup favors the Bears in that regard considering the elements.  For all of their fireworks, the road has not been kind to Brees and company, and you add an aggressive defense to the mix, it doesn’t bode well for New Orleans.  If the Bears defense is successful in forcing turnovers (especially early), they will be able to control the tempo with Matt Forte and not have to put Kyle Orton in a position to have to make plays.  The Bears know the Saints’ quick strike capabilities, so definitely expect a run oriented game plan from Lovie Smith.  

It is interesting to note that the Saints can never seem to catch a break.  This will be their third straight meeting in this series in Soldier Field (including the 2006 NFC Championship).  The Bears have in fact not played in the Superdome since 2003, owing to a Saints “home” game played in Baton Rouge in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina.  All told, this will be seventh meeting out of nine games in this series that will be played at Soldier Field since 1997.  The Saints have actually fared well in Chicago during that time, winning four of those meetings, but I just don’t see it this time.  The Saints are a track meet type team playing on the road in the elements against a team that is still alive in its division and will certainly be fired up by the home crowd in a night game.  The Saints have just been too up and down to rely on in a road game.  

The pick: Chicago 24 New Orleans 20.  Rest of the picks coming before the weekend.

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Peyton Hillis on Injured Reserve

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 8, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: The Broncos lost yet another running back today with the announcement that Peyton Hillis has been placed on injured reserve.  Coach Mike Shanahan says it will be an 8 week recovery time but that Hillis should be healthy next season.

This obviously a huge blow to the Broncos running game, which has already lost Michael Pittman, Andre Hall and Ryan Torain to season ending injuries.  Selvin Young has also essentially not seen any significant action since week five due to injury.  Hillis was Denver’s fifth option at running back, and was performing spectacularly, becoming the only back in the league to top 100 yards against the Jets last week.  He was averaging a crisp 7.3 yards per carry yesterday against the Chiefs before going down while making an awesome catch in the air of all things.  This makes Tatum Bell the starter for now, and he was selling cell phones at a mall a month ago.  Young should return before the season is over, hopefully this week at Carolina, and that would help too. 

The Broncos have not been able to catch a break in the backfield this season.  How many other teams do you know that are down to their sixth running back?  Can you name the sixth running back option on any team?  I sure can’t.  Would there be any team in this predicament that would actually be leading its division and still be a threat on offense?  I would say an emphatic no on both accounts, yet here are the Broncos on the cusp of a division title, and their offense still has the potential to put up big numbers.  For those of you out there that aren’t fans of Mike Shanahan and are disappointed about some of the losses this season, ask yourself how this team has managed to win eight games when they are this hard pressed to even find a healthy body to play running back, let alone considering their injuries on defense?  I argue that this is the best coaching job of Shanahan’s career, better than his two Super Bowl winning seasons.   If Tatum Bell goes for 100 yards at Carolina Sunday, then I rest my case with that argument.  One thing is for sure, this team will keep fighting, no matter how many more players go down.

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One Step Closer

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 8, 2008

The Broncos are going to the playoffs!  Well, more than likely they are.  It would take a complete collapse in every way for them not to.  The Broncos merely need to win one of their final three games to clinch the AFC West title.  Or they can get it if the Chargers lose any of their remaining three contests, two of which are on the road.  Either way, the Broncos FINALLY were able to take care of business at home, although it wasn’t easy against the rival Chiefs.  Denver fell behind 10-0, then 17-7, yet rallied in the end.  These days in the NFL, I don’t care how pretty it is, or many style points are involved in a win.  Anytime you get a victory in the NFL, especially against a division rival, it is a positive.

I’ll admit there was a fair amount of screaming after Maurice Leggett picked off Jay Cutler and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown to give the Chiefs an early 10-0 lead.  After all, it was turnovers that doomed the Broncos in the first meeting.  In fact, it is rare to admit that the Broncos won despite losing the turnover battle, which is surprising but also shows that the Broncos didn’t let the early error rattle them.  I really thought the Broncos showed a lot of poise by not panicking early, even after it was later 17-7.  Jay Cutler made good decisions, and the receivers all stepped up to make big catches, especially Brandon Marshall.  Marshall had his first big game in awhile, catching 11 passes, including two scores.  Overall Cutler ended up completing 32 of 40 passes, and all told eight different players caught a pass in this game for the Broncos.   

Unfortunately, Peyton Hillis suffered a hamstring pull while leaping to make a spectacular catch in the second quarter and didn’t return.  Even after this happened, the Broncos still found a running game with Tatum Bell, a phenomenal achievement considering he is their sixth option now at running back this season.  This could have been a huge blow considering Hillis had rushed for 58 yards on just 8 carries at that point in the game, including two runs where he absolutely bowled over Chiefs defenders.  Bell stepped up and added 52 yards on 11 carries, preventing the Denver attack from becoming completely one dimensional.  The defense has also really continued to pick up the pieces without Champ Bailey, D.J. Williams and Nate Webster, coming up with a critical goal line stand with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.  

I also think Kansas City deserves a lot of credit for playing hard in this game.  I have really knocked Herm Edwards this season, but I’m starting to think maybe he should have a chance to see the rebuilding project through next season.  The Chiefs have good young talent at a variety of positions, including receiver Dwayne Bowe and rookie cornerback Brandon Flowers, who had a spectacular game.  They sure didn’t look like a 2-10 team to me, and it’s not out of the question that they might win another one before the year is over.  I think in the end the Broncos ended up matching Kansas City’s intensity, but the Chiefs are not an easy out for teams these days despite their poor record.

A few more quick hit thoughts from the game:

– The Denver special teams does need serious work.  Too many times they allowed good returns by the Chiefs, while not getting good starting field position themselves.  Also, Matt Prater missed a makeable 33-yard field goal.  This cannot happen in the playoffs against a tough opponent.

– On the other hand, the Broncos made the best of their field position disadvantage.  The Broncos had three touchdown drives of 80 yards or longer, including a 95 yard march that gave them the lead for good on Marshall’s 6-yard TD grab from Cutler.  The four Denver scoring drives were all 11 plays or longer.  This reflects good decision making and good clock management. 

– It was great to see that our fans actually remember how to make some noise.  Granted, I have not been able to attend any games at Invesco Field at Mile High this season owing to my duties running the radio broadcast at the station, but all of the players said it was by far the loudest crowd of the season, and that they got a tremendous lift from that.  I really think our fans are quickly realizing that Mike Shanahan and his staff really deserve to be commended for coaxing eight wins out of this group considering all the injuries.

– Tyler Thigpen might actually have a future in this league.  He has a good arm, and if he’s surrounded by good talent, the Chiefs could certainly do a lot worse.  

– The Broncos run defense is much improved from before the bye week in October.  Today Larry Johnson rushed for just 36 yards on 11 carries for just a 3.3 average, after he torched the Broncos for 198 in the first meeting.  

– I swear Tony Gonzalez complains about a no-call every time a defensive back breathes on him.  Nonetheless, he is one of the great tight ends in NFL history, and deserves to be on a contending team next season if that’s what he wants.  It will be interesting to see what Kansas City does with him in the offseason.

– I think the Broncos could really use Bailey and Williams next week at Carolina.  Yes, the young kids are playing extremely well, but the Broncos will simply not have a chance of slowing down Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammad without Bailey in there.

– Any win is a good win, but a division win is especially key.

The race down the stretch will be interesting to watch.  The Broncos could end up as the 3 or 4 seed in the AFC, as they are now tied with AFC East co-leaders Miami, New England and the Jets.  If the Jets win the division, Denver owns a head-to-head tiebreaker (as the Dolphins and Patriots do on the Broncos).  The Broncos hold out slim hope for a bye, although that is a real longshot with a two game deficit and three to play.  Denver looks to be hosting a playoff game in the first round as a division champ, so there is a chance that could springboard them for a run.  If they are to do that though, they’d better hope Hillis isn’t done for the year, and they will eventually need their injured players back on defense.  Anything is possible in this wild and wacky NFL, after all both New York teams suffered stunning losses today and we came thisclose to seeing Detroit and Seattle pull out surprise wins.

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