Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Archive for January, 2009

Super Bowl Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 29, 2009

Before we get to talking about the Steelers and the Cardinals, it’s interesting to note that this Super Bowl seems to be more under the radar than any that I can recall in my life.  This is especially true when compared to last year’s game, although to be fair just about everyone had a rooting interest one way or the other last season.  Patriots fans wanted to see Brady and company complete a perfect season, while virtually everyone else in the country was rooting for the underdog Giants to pull the upset.  For whatever reason though, this year’s game does not seem to be getting near the attention.  Perhaps it’s because people are still getting over the shock of the Cardinals making it to the big game.  Maybe it’s because this is a matchup that doesn’t have a lot of quote unquote star power (i.e. a Manning or Brady-esque player in the lead).  Perhaps the economy is a factor in that people are more concerned about the goings on in their lives.  Whatever the reason, the hype for this game does not seem to match that of previous seasons, and it seems like this game is really sneaking up on people this year. 

As far as the game itself, I think most people would agree that picking the Super Bowl is not the same as picking a regular game.  As I pointed out last year in my correct prediction of the Giants’ upset of New England, once the game kicks off, everything that happened during the season prior to that point is completely irrelevant.  Last year it didn’t matter that the Patriots were an unstoppable force heading into the game, what mattered was that the Giants figured out a way to slow them down.  The key play of that game, David Tyree’s incredible catch, could not have been predicted based on any amount of statistics and game data from the season or even in the previous playoff games.  The Super Bowl is a one game situation, and as such the unpredictable has the potential to decide the game.   Any team with a perceived advantage coming into the game is not guaranteed to enjoy that advantage during the game, and often times gets beat (see Giants-Bills in ’90, Broncos-Packers in ’97, Patriots-Rams in ’01, Giants-Patriots last year, and so on).  This makes predicting the outcome of the Super Bowl next to impossible in most years, because what happens after kickoff in the Super Bowl is often no reflection of what the numbers say should happen.  The old saying “any given Sunday” really applies to the Super Bowl, because anything can happen in one game. 

I think it is interesting that the Steelers are favored by seven points.  I agree that they are the favorite coming in, but a full touchdown seems like a lot.  I believe that the days of mega blowouts in the Super Bowl are over for several reasons, largely because of the parity of the league.  I think this is a very intriguing matchup because of the contrast in styles, but both teams have shown they can go against the grain of their perceived style.  The Cardinals are known for their passing offense, and it has been dynamic this postseason (especially Larry Fitzgerald), but in the playoffs they have also  shown they can run the ball effectively.  The Steelers are known as a power running team, and they  have run well, but they have also made big plays in the passing game during the playoffs (in large part thanks to Ben Roethlisberger being able to extend plays and avoid sacks with his escape ability). 

I actually think this has the potential to be a high scoring game.  Both teams have outstanding quarterback play, both have shown they can run the ball this postseason, and both have talented receivers.  Both quarterbacks have won a  Super Bowl before, so neither one will get rattled about being in the big game.   Pittsburgh does seem to have the much stronger defense on paper, especially against the run where they have been nothing short of dominant in two playoff games.  The Cardinals though have been very surprising with their defensive play in the playoffs, including the 5-interception effort against Jake Delhomme in the divisional round.  While I highly doubt the Cards will get five picks on Sunday, I think they do have better ability to cause havoc than people seem to realize.  All that being said, I have a feeling both defenses will end up giving up points on Sunday. 

Honestly, we could break this game down until we’re blue in the face, but the reality is this has been an NFL season of unpredictability for sure.  It has long gotten to the point where I am not surprised to see anything, including a Super Bowl appearance by the Arizona Cardinals.  Going with that theme, I think stats and trends,  numbers and even personnel don’t mean much in regard to picking this game.  In the theme of unpredictability, my pick is….

 Arizona 28 Pittsburgh 24.  It would just be too fitting for a season filled with wackiness and craziness not to end with the Cardinals winning their first championship since 1947.  The Steelers may have the history edge (5 Super Bowl wins to none), may have better tradition, and may be more impressive on paper, but favorites have not carried the day in the NFL this season.  Arizona wins the Super Bowl, and thus we have the ultimate symbol for the 2008 season of unpredictability.


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There Are Things More Important Than Football

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 27, 2009

On a personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to remember Milo Salomonis.  I’ll let this website explain it, because the circumstances are too painful for me to type here:  I urge everyone to visit the site and remember that there are things that are infinitely more important than football.   We shouldn’t need tragedies like this to remind us of that, but football is just a game.  Granted, it’s a game many of us are very passionate about and we may care about it a great deal, but sports is not life.  We all need to remember that.

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The Shanahan to KC (Just Kidding!) Saga

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 27, 2009

Last week was crazy for me for so many reasons, but I do have to recap some of my work week last week though.  It was hilariously entertaining (thanks to some REALLY boneheaded reporting by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen in particular). 

It started Wednesday night, when the NBC affiliate in Kansas City reported that the Chiefs were negoitating with Mike Shanahan and that he could be named Chiefs coach “within 48 hours”.  I was immediately skeptical about this when I was researching it that night and Thursday night because no other media outlet anywhere was reporting it.  Not ESPN, SI, or any of the other KC media outlets or Denver media.  Being that the Kansas City Star and Denver Post both completely ignored the story in their Thursday morning editions, I was 100 percent not worried. 

I get to work on Thursday morning, and I receive the following google chat message from one of my best friends who is a die hard Chiefs fan: “One Bronco fan on the Chief board said he bumped into Shanahan’s son at a mall in Denver, and his son said he would be coaching in KC.”  My immediate reaction to this is that if the source is a fan message board, it’s automatically garbage.  Mind you also, at this point Herm Edwards wasn’t fired yet, so the whole thing seemed very sketchy at best.  Nevertheless I figure it can’t hurt to check it out, and I quickly find that there is no truth to that rumor.  It seems as though Mike’s son Kyle, who is offensive coordinator of the Texans, is not even in Denver these days, so there is no chance anyone could run into him in a Denver mall.  Further, the NFL Network’s Adam Schefter informs me in an e-mail that there has been no contact whatsoever between Shanahan and the Chiefs.  Later that afternoon we put him on our show (he is a regular contributor for us during the season) and he makes it clear that there has been no contact and that Shanahan will not coach the Chiefs in 2009.  At this point I’m very convinced that this story is done and doesn’t have any legs, even though the NBC affiliate in KC stands by its report that night that Shanahan will be the coach. 

Last Friday is when things started to get really interesting.  Right before we go on the air for our show, we see that the Chiefs fire Edwards.  We thought nothing of it because it seemed to be a matter of time.  Roughly half an hour later, my email starts to blow up with notes from Kansas City:

“The ESPN ticker is saying that Shanahan is the new KC head coach!”

“KC radio stations are reporting it too!”

“Shanahan to KC likely.  It’s showing up on the ticker!  They got the KC media guy on saying that he knows this has been in the works!”

“It’s being reported by Chris Mortensen, wow!  He really knows his stuff this is freaking happening!”

Now, I don’t get ESPN news at work, so I’m puzzled by these reports I’m getting, being that there is no mention whatsoever on actual ESPN.  Sure enough though, the phones start to ring on the call in line: “Is there any truth to the report? Is Shanahan going to the Chiefs?”  It starts get crazy, so I email our trustworthy insider Schefter.  He emails me back one word, “FALSE!!!!”.  He offers to come on the air and explain.  He starts his comments with “ESPN is wrong”.  He clarifies for us that he had just talked to Shanahan’s agent, and that even at this point there has been zero contact between the two parties.  He once again makes it very clear that Shanahan will not coach the Chiefs in 2009.  At this point we have a full blown NFL Network vs. ESPN battle, because ESPN is now blowing up Mortensen’s report, saying that Shanahan and the Chiefs are “close to a deal.” 

We were very pleased to see very quickly that Schefter owned Mortensen on this story from the word go, because it wasn’t long before Mort had to embarrassingly backtrack on air.  The language in the ESPN story changed from “close to a deal” to “the Chiefs are targeting Shanahan.”  That is a HUGE difference.  To say the Chiefs are “targeting” Shanahan only means they are interested, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the interest is working both ways.  The story even backtracked more later on from “targeting” to “eyeing”.  Mortensen even later admitted on air that his original source eventually told him there had been no contact.  So how could the sides had even been close to a deal? 

Needless to say it was very entertaining to see Mortensen stumble over himself while trying to recover from the embarrassment of being so blatantly wrong on the story.  It was very comical to see big bad ESPN be so wrong, and to see them try to cover up their mistake with creative language for the rest of the night.  On the flip side, I really have to give kudos to Schefter, who was spot on in his reporting the entire time and has been tremendous in that regard his entire career.  Schefter told us from the beginning that the Chiefs and Shanahan were never in contact, in spite of rumors to that effect for at least a week, and he was absolutely correct.  Needless we are extremely pleased to have Schefter as a regular contributor on our radio program, and I would like to take his opportunity to thank him for his wonderful and accurate reporting.  I also don’t mean to completely bag on Mortensen, who has given years of good reporting to ESPN, but he really messed this story up.  Schefter did not.  I’m still extremely perplexed at who may have given Mortensen his information that was so clearly wrong. 

For me personally, the idea of Shanahan coaching the Chiefs would been gut wrenching.  While I am optimistic about Josh McDaniels, I’m frankly still not sure if the Broncos made the right move in getting rid of Shanahan.  The idea of Shanahan enjoying great success in Kansas City would be very difficult to process, so I am glad that Arrowhead is not where he is going.  I want to root for Shanahan at his next coaching stop, for I will always appreciate the two Super Bowl wins  he helped lead the Broncos to, but that would not have been possible for me if he went to the rival Chiefs. 

My Super Bowl pick is coming later this week.  I’m honestly not sure who is going to win yet, and I need to think about it a little bit more.

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Conference Championship Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 15, 2009

3-1 last week, which I’ll take any day in the playoffs.  I never thought in my wildest scenario I could dream up that the Arizona Cardinals would find a way to win in Carolina, let alone dominate every aspect of the game.  It just goes to show how unpredictable the NFL is.  At this point nothing would surprise me.  I just hope we don’t have any more games decided by a bad call or in overtime with a team not touching the ball.  Both of these games are such crapshoots at this point that I frankly don’t have any more idea who is going to win than the man in the moon, but like anyone else I can give it my best guess:

NFC Championship: Philadelphia at Arizona: Who would have thought when these teams met on Thanksgiving night, in a game most people couldn’t see because they don’t get NFL Network, that there would be a rematch in the NFC title game, and that the Cardinals would be the host?  The Eagles rolled from the word go in that game at Lincoln Financial Field, racing to a 21-0 lead before the Cards could even blink, and hit the finish line with a 48-20 victory.  Brian Westbrook had a monster game (which I remember too well because I was going against him in fantasy that week), scoring four touchdowns.  Turnovers doomed the Cardinals in that game, as Kurt Warner threw costly picks on each of Arizona’s first two drives (three picks altogether in the game), and because of that the Cardinals never had a chance.  The Arizona running game was also worthless, gaining just 25 yards on the night.  That game was also the first after Donovan McNabb’s benching in Baltimore, and was the jump start of Philly’s late run, as they have now won six of their past seven games.  All that being said, I think that game means nothing when taking a look at this one for several reasons.  

First, Arizona was at a significant disadvantage in that first meeting because they were forced to travel three time zones east for a Thursday game on a short week, while coming off a physical game against the Giants the previous Sunday.  The Eagles had the luxury of not having to travel anywhere, and that had to at least make some difference.  Second, the Cardinals are a much different team now.  That game was played in the middle of Arizona’s late season slump after they essentially had the division wrapped up.  Their running game is much more effective with the Edgerrin James resurgence (he didn’t even play in the first meeting) and their defense is much sharper now than they were in that game.  Third, we learned today that Brian Westbrook tweaked his left knee injury last week against the Giants.  If he’s not 100 percent, odds are he won’t repeat his monster performance from the first meeting.  Fourth, the game is in Phoenix, where the Cardinals went 6-2 this season and will have the benefit of a frenzied crowd on Sunday.

Both teams have really come out of nowhere to be in this game after essentially being left for dead during the season.  The Eagles hit rock bottom with their embarrassing tie in Cincinnati and then McNabb’s benching and subsequent blowout in Baltimore.  The Cardinals had become a complete embarrassment on the road, having gotten shelled in every way imaginable in the snow in New England in week 16.  Both teams enter the game hot, and a case can really be made for either team here.  The Eagles are experienced in NFC title games, appearing in their 5th in 10 years, while the Cardinals have a quarterback who has won a Super Bowl and will be playing at home where the crowd will be rocking.  It is a guarantee that this game will be closer than 48-20, regardless of who wins it.  I have to pick someone so…..

The Pick: Cardinals 28 Eagles 24.  Strange as it is since I thought Arizona would get shellacked last week, I like Warner to outduel McNabb indoors in the desert.

AFC Championship: Baltimore at Pittsburgh: This game will be so physical, you may just feel the pain in your living room if you’re watching on HD.  The Steelers won each of the first two meetings in extremely close fashion.  The first one was a Monday nighter at Heinz Field in week four, won by Pittsburgh 23-20 in overtime.  The Ravens actually led 13-3 at halftime, but Santonio Holmes turned the game with a 38-yard touchdown catch.  Both teams actually saw the ball in OT, but the Ravens punted before the Steelers got the winning field goal.  The yardage couldn’t have been any closer (243-237 for Baltimore) and each team turned it over once.  The second meeting in week 15 was also won by the Steelers in Baltimore 13-9 in controversial fashion, as we’re still not sure if Holmes had really broken the plane of the goal line on his winning touchdown catch with 43 seconds left.  The Steelers dominated the yardage this time (311-202), especially on their final drive of the game.  The Steelers started at their own 8 yard line with 3:36 left, and drove 92 yards in 12 plays for the winning score.  Each team committed two turnovers in this game, including an interception thrown by Joe Flacco with eight seconds left that sealed the win for Pittsburgh.

The Steelers swept the regular season series, but the two meetings combined were decided by just seven points.  I am frankly astounded that the line for this game is Pittsburgh by six at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.  Since it is reasonable to assume that this will be an extremely low scoring game that will be decided by defense and turnovers, I find it hard to believe that the margin of victory either way is a lock to be by more than three points.  I think the Steelers have an advantage in that they should be more rested than the Ravens.  Pittsburgh had the bye, and then their defense stood on the sideline the entire third quarter (except for one play) against San Diego while the offense controlled the clock.  Baltimore had to give everything physically in their win against Tennessee, so it will be interesting to see what they have left in the tank.  

It is interesting to note that the Steelers recently have not fared well in home conference championship games.  They did win at home in 1995 against Indianapolis, but have home losses in AFC title games to San Diego (1994), Denver (1997), and New England (2001 and 2004).  In fact, the Steelers only recent AFC title game win came on the road in Denver in 2005 (one of my darkest memories as a Broncos fan – I still have nightmares about all the terrible towels that invaded our stadium that day).  Perhaps considering that history the Steelers should petition the league to play this game in Baltimore instead of at Heinz Field.  Baltimore is in particular not afraid of playing on the road, so the Ravens are not likely to be flapped.  The X factor in this game is Joe Flacco.  If he doesn’t make mistakes, the Ravens defense will keep them in the game and might have a chance to make plays themselves.  If the Steelers defense forces him into a couple of picks, than Baltimore will really face an uphill battle.  Pittsburgh on the other hand needs to be able to run the ball effectively and convert third downs, which would allow them to wear Baltimore’s defense down in the fourth quarter.  Both teams are banged up, and both defenses are outstanding against the run.  This game may be the biggest toss up of the year.  You’ve got a third meeting of two teams that always keep it close and are both playing well.  Oh, and they hate each other, so there would be no shortage of motivation even if this was a July scrimmage, let alone the AFC title game. Again, a point spread of six is completely absurd in this game, especially since my pick is…..

The Pick: Ravens 13 Steelers 10.  Something tells me the Ravens defense has enough in the tank to continue their high play.  It frankly wouldn’t shock me if this game was 6-3.

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A New Era in Broncoland

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 13, 2009

So the Broncos haven’t taken very long to move on from the Mike Shanahan era.  In less than two weeks, the Broncos have found his replacement: Josh McDaniels, previously offensive coordinator for the Patriots.  McDaniels had to be impressive in his interview considering the Broncos talked to seven guys, most of them with background on the defensive side of the ball.  I was of the thought that a defensive guy would probably make the most sense to replace Shanahan, considering that was the area where the Broncos have clearly fallen to the bottom of the league and needs the most attention.  Considering that Jay Cutler had specifically requested to keep the offensive assistants, specifically play caller Jeremy Bates, I thought for sure owner Pat Bowlen would get Steve Spagnuolo, defensive coordinator of the Giants, or one of the other defensive assistants he interviewed.  I was particularly excited about what I was hearing in regards to Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Buccanneers defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.  In the end though it is McDaniels.  I have to admit I am more encouraged about the hire after seeing the introductory press conference today.  McDaniels clearly handles himself well, and exudes a confidence that you expect out a head coach.  

McDaniels is only 32, which makes him easily the youngest coach in the NFL, so that alone gives some pause.  It is however interesting to note that Don Shula was only 32 when he was hired to coach the Baltimore Colts, and he’s one of the best coaches in NFL history, so it is not unprecedented for a young coach to take over a team.  John Madden was also head coach of the Raiders when he was 32 years old.  In fact, McDaniels started as an assistant on the Patriots when he was just 24, and quickly ascended the ranks on Bill Belichick’s staff.  Belichick wouldn’t allow just anyone to rise through the ranks on his staff that quickly without merit, so it is clear that McDaniels is bringing something to the table.  McDaniels also does have experience on both sides of the ball, for he was actually a defensive assistant with the Patriots during his initial time there.  That is very encouraging considering the Broncos will need help everywhere.  The word is also that McDaniels will bring in former 49ers coach Mike Nolan to be his defensive coordinator and may also bring along Dom Capers in some capacity.  Nolan and Capers are both really good defensive coaches and I will be very pleased if they end up in Denver on McDaniels’ staff.  

Perhaps the biggest plus McDaniels will bring to the table is his ability to work with quarterbacks, and that could provide a tremendous boost in the development and maturity of Jay Cutler.  It will be interesting to see how Cutler responds to McDaniels considering the young quarterback wanted the previous offensive staff retained, but once any initial tension is gone, I expect Cutler to really benefit from the relationship.  McDaniels of course worked with Tom Brady in New England, and also helped Matt Cassel lead the Patriots to an 11-5 record this season, even though Cassel hadn’t started a game since high school.  Cutler clearly needs some help in a lot of areas, for he is talented, and has a great arm, but has yet to take the next step in his game to become a great leader.  Cutler still tends to force the ball a lot, especially when things aren’t going well, and sometimes his attitude does not reflect what you would want from a team leader.  It remains to be seen whether McDaniels will accommodate Cutler’s request of keeping Bates and whether the new coach and Cutler’s favorite play caller could even coexist, but either way Cutler should benefit.  McDaniels has clearly shown an ability to work with quarterbacks, and perhaps the biggest reason he was hired to help Cutler hone his game and become the team leader he needs to be.  It is interesting to note that offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who himself was a finalist for the head coach position, interviewed today with San Francisco to replace Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator, so it is definitely not a given that Cutler will get his wish about McDaniels keeping his favorite assistants.  

Obviously the success or failure of this hire cannot be judged immediately.  I believe it will take a minimum of three seasons before we see the true impact of this move on the organization.  I’m still not convinced that firing Shanahan was the right move, but McDaniels is in charge now.  I think a lot of times a change of scenery can be a positive, and hopefully that will be the case here for the Broncos.  Regardless of who the coach is, you cannot win in the NFL without good players, and it is clear Denver is lacking in defensive talent.  It is imperative that the Broncos have a good draft in April, and that they acquire defensive talent.  Offensively, the Broncos must build on a unit that finished second in yards but only in the 20s in points scored.  Having healthy running backs will help, and McDaniels’ track record indicates that he has a good chance to help straighten out the team’s red zone inefficiency and inopportune turnovers.  The hope is that McDaniels follows in the wake of John Harbaugh, Tony Sparano and Mike Smith, all first year coaches whose teams made the playoffs this year.

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Divisional Playoff Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 9, 2009

We won’t discuss last week where I went a mighty 1-3.  I have no doubt that Ken Wisenhunt, Norv Turner and Andy Reid are hoping that I pick against their teams again this weekend.  Regardless, there are great games on tap this weekend so let’s get right to it.

Baltimore at Tennessee: The Titans won 13-10 in Baltimore in week five, thanks to a Kerry Collins TD pass to Alge Crumpler in the final two minutes.  I expect the rematch to be very much the same kind of game, low scoring, physical and dominated by defense.  The Ravens come into the rematch red hot, having completely destroyed the Dolphins last weekend.  The Ravens defense is playing well enough to evoke memories of 2000, when they won the Super Bowl.  In that playoff year, the Ravens won their divisional playoff game on the road against… guessed it, Tennessee.  The Titans were the number one seed that year too, and the Ravens were a wild card just like they are this year.  Over the years the Ravens have proven they are not afraid of playing on the road, so home field advantage won’t be much of a factor in this one.  Baltimore actually has more offense this year than they did when they won the Super Bowl, despite the presence of a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco.  The Titans meanwhile are well deserving of the number one seed, proving their worth for that spot with an impressive win over Pittsburgh in week 16.  Tennessee will also get the boost of getting Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch back along the defensive line, although center Kevin Mawae will not play, which will hurt the offensive line and the running game. 

In the first meeting, the Ravens were much more effective on the ground than the Titans, outgaining them 132-47.  This does not bode well for the Titans in the rematch in light of Mawae’s absence.  I don’t think the Titans will have much success if any on the ground as well as the Ravens’ defense is playing.  The running game will be extremely important in this kind of low scoring game that could be decided by turnovers.  Each defense forced two turnovers in the first meeting, so expect lots of them on Saturday.  I do have slight pause of picking a rookie quarterback on the road against the experienced Kerry Collins, not to mention I give Jeff Fisher a big edge in the coaching matchup over John Harbaugh, but I think the Ravens are just playing too well right now to be denied.  The Titans have the look of a flawed top seed, and the Ravens look like they might even be the AFC’s best team at the time of year where it matters most.

The Pick: Baltimore 20 Tennessee 10

Arizona at Carolina: This is a rematch of one of the more interesting games of the season, a 27-23 Panthers win in Charlotte in week 8.  Arizona actually had a 10-0 lead in the game, and even had the lead through most of the third quarter, before Steve Smith turned the game with a 65-yard touchdown catch along the sideline on the last play of the quarter.  It is interesting to note that the Cardinals outgained the Panthers thanks to a 381 yard day by Kurt Warner, but that the Cardinals were doomed by a lack of a running game and also seven penalties, not to mention an untimely Warner interception in the red zone in the fourth quarter.  DeAngelo Williams had a huge game for Carolina, gaining 108 yards on just 17 carries, and that was a big factor for the Panthers. 

What doesn’t bode well for Arizona heading into this game is that the Cardinals were 0-5 on the east coast during the regular season.  The other thing that doesn’t bode well for the Cardinals is the Saturday night weather forecast in Charlotte.  All things considered, the temperature won’t be that bad for the Cardinals (temps are expected to be in the 40s), but it is the 50 percent chance of rain that will seriously hamper Arizona’s passing attack.  The Cardinals may not have Anquan Boldin, who pulled his hamstring on his 71-yard touchdown catch last week against the Falcons.  In any case, the Cardinals will need a huge game on the ground from Edgerrin James to even have a chance, and I don’t see that happening against Carolina’s strong defensive front seven.  The Panthers have one of the league’s best running attacks with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and that alone gives them an edge in the playoffs.  Steve Smith is also the kind of playmaker that can turn close games in his team’s favor, as he did in the first meeting between these teams.  I think the Panthers roll in this one, in large part because I can’t see Arizona playing well on the road when it matters and also in part because I think Carolina is a focused team on a mission. 

The Pick: Panthers 31 Cardinals 17

Philadelphia at NY Giants: These teams split their regular season meetings, with each team winning the away game.  The Giants won in Philadelphia 36-31 in week 10, while the Eagles won at Giants Stadium 20-14 in week 14.  The Giants ran for an astounding 219 yards in the first meeting, including 126 from Brandon Jacobs, while they held Brian Westbrook to just 26 yards rushing on 13 carries.  In the second meeting, Westbrook ran wild for 131 yards and added 72 receiving with 2 touchdowns, while Jacobs was held to 52 yards, and the Giants mustered just 88 rushing yards total.  It is interesting to note that the second meeting was the Giants’ first game since the Plaxico Burress fiasco, and that the G-men stumbled to a 1-3 finish in their final four games, while the Eagles went 3-1 over their final four regular season games, and then won on the road in Minnesota last week.

Generally speaking, anything goes when teams are meeting for the third time in a season.  Neither team has any secrets from the other, so coaching influence is minimal.  I think the key will be which team will be better able to establish the run, because judging from the first two meetings this game should be within a touchdown either way.  Call me crazy, but I think the Eagles are in much better position to run the ball effectively in this game.  Brian Westbrook is healthy and red hot, while Brandon Jacobs was anything but healthy for the final four games of the regular season.  Even though he has had the bye to regroup, something tells me that Jacobs will still have a hard time in this game.  The Giants did get a huge game from Derrick Ward against Carolina in week 16, so if Jacobs isn’t 100 percent, Ward will need to step up.  I also actually like Donovan McNabb better than Eli Manning in this game based on the way each QB has been playing recently down the stretch.  Manning actually has a difficult matchup against one of the league’s top secondaries with Asante Samuel and Brian Dawkins, especially with the receivers still in flux (Memo to Dominek Hixon: stop dropping passes).  The Giants may have home field and may be the defending champs, but I think the Eagles have more momentum and are actually in better shape to win this game.

The Pick: Eagles 24 Giants 17

San Diego at Pittsburgh: This is a rematch of one of the most bizarre games of 2008, an 11-10 Steelers win in week 11 at Heinz Field that really should have been 18-10, thanks to an incorrect ruling by the official on the game’s final play that wiped out Troy Polamalu’s return of a lateral for a TD.  In any case, Pittsburgh won this game without scoring a touchdown, thanks to three Jeff Reed field goals and a safety.  The Chargers’ one touchdown came courtesy of LaDainian Tomlinson, who is highly doubtful for Sunday’s rematch with a groin injury.  Ben Roethlisberger actually threw for 308 yards in the first meeting, although he got carted off the field in the regular season finale against Cleveland.  He says he will play Sunday, but how effective will he be?  The Steelers did get a 115 yard effort from Willie Parker in the first meeting, and they will need that again on Sunday.  One thing that doomed the Chargers in November was that Philip Rivers had one of his worst games of the season, throwing for just 164 yards and two picks.  If they want to have a chance Sunday, Rivers can’t have that kind of repeat performance.  One thing is for sure, Darren Sproles is guaranteed to have a much more productive game than the first meeting, when he had just one carry for zero yards and caught just one pass for nine. 

It is really crazy to think that if San Diego and Baltimore both win, the Chargers would host the AFC Championship Game in a season in which they were at one point 4-8.  I’m not sure if that’s good news or bad news for the league, but that scenario could put the Chargers in position to complete the highly improbable run from 4-8 to Super Bowl champion.  That’s the thing about the playoffs: once you’re in, what happened in the regular season doesn’t matter.  This is game is a challenging one to pick because of Roethlisberger’s health, and also considering the Chargers are a red hot team playing on the road against a team that earned a bye despite playing the most rigorous schedule in the NFL.  Over the years the Steelers have actually fared much better in road playoff games than they have at home, so that makes it highly tempting to pick San Diego.  On the other hand, no team has made the conference championship game with fewer than 10 wins since Jacksonville did it in 1996.  I think the Steelers will be out to prove something after their home flameout against Jacksonville last season, and I think the Steelers defense will find a way to slow down Rivers and Sproles enough.  Either way, this should be the best of the four games this weekend.

The Pick: Steelers 24 Chargers 21

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Shanahan Follow Up

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 5, 2009

I have now had a week to digest the idea that Mike Shanahan is no longer the Broncos head coach.  I have to admit I am still torn on whether or not this is the right move for the Broncos in the long run.  In many ways, it seems hard to justify dismissing a coach who is in the top 15 all-time in wins and who has won two Super Bowls.  On the other hand, Shanahan has not come close in the past decade to duplicating his early success with the Broncos.  I think ultimately the change of scenery should end up benefiting both the team and Shanahan.  It is a guarantee that Shanahan will coach again, if not this coming season than definitely in 2010, and it is inevitable that new surroundings will motivate Shanahan to prove he can still coach at a high level.  It also stands to reason that new blood in the Broncos coaching staff should provide an energy boost heading into next season as well.

So far I am actually mostly pleased with the Broncos’ list of candidates that they have come up with.  I am somewhat disappointed that Bill Cowher wants to stay with CBS, but realistically he wasn’t going to coach that far away from his family in North Carolina anyway.  I like the idea of a defensive coach, mainly because that side of the ball has continued to slip drastically for three years.  I think Steve Spagnuolo is my clear cut first choice right now.  He would certainly bring an aggressive defensive philosophy with a proven track record for success, having brilliantly come up with a scheme to slow down the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl.  He has the type of personality and philosophy that would represent the kind of change Broncos owner Pat Bowlen seems to be hoping for.  Not surprisingly, Spagnuolo is being targeted by seemingly every team with a head coaching opening, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he elected to stay closer to the east coast. 

One reason why I think a defensive coach makes a lot more sense for the Broncos is that Jay Cutler has openly expressed a desire to keep the offensive side of the Broncos current coaching staff, including play caller Jeremy Bates.  An offensive coach would naturally want to take over that side of the ball, and I think the transition would be smoother if Bates was allowed to be retained.  That being said, Cutler does not run the team, and it certainly seems as though he could sometimes use an attitude adjustment when things aren’t going his way.  I think if Spagnuolo ends up staying closer to New York, I am very intrigued by the idea of today’s interviewee, Raheem Morris, recently promoted to Buccaneers defensive coordinator.  Other options I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to include Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who has reportedly said he expects to be a head coach somewhere in 2009, or Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.  All of the defensive  names mentioned have strong personailities and I think that is what the Broncos could use right now.  The Broncos wouldn’t be allowed to interview Ryan until Baltimore’s season is over, and that could end up being after the Super Bowl, so something tells me the Broncos will have a decision by then.  If they don’t, I would love to see Ryan on the radar screen.

As for Cutler and the offense, that area could use some tweaking too.  The Broncos finished second in the league in yards but more in the middle of the pack in points.  The Broncos’ red zone failure has been a big problem in recent years, so perhaps an offensive mind could be the answer to help those offensive shortcomings.   It has been long rumored that Bowlen would like have John Elway involved in the organization in some capacity, either in the front office or on the coaching staff.  While I certainly wouldn’t advocate Elway for the head coaching position (the track record throughout sports of superstars as coaches is not good),  I do think his presence in some capacity as a mentor/tutor for Cutler could be huge plus.  While Cutler had a great year statistically, he frankly did not make the leaps in terms of leadership and clutch play that was expected from him in his third season.  Cutler definitely has the tools be a great quarterback, and who better than Elway to help show him the way?

All told, I still think a defensive minded head coach would be better for the team as a whole.  The offense if nothing else will have the stable of running backs healthy again next season, and that will help a lot.  Plus, everyone will have another year of experience.  If a defensive coach is hired and the current offensive staff is retained, it could actually help preserve some continuity on the offensive side of the ball while working to fix the defensive shortcomings.  I really hope it’s Spagnuolo, but I’m not optimistic about that if the Broncos end up in a bidding war with the Jets for his services.  Regardless, I hope the new coach will bring energy and will work to turn the team around.

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