Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore Ravens’

Divisional Playoff Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 15, 2010

Last week: 2-2

Last week we had two blowouts, a game for the ages, and one boring game that could have easily gone the other way if the losing team didn’t sleepwalk through the contest on their home field.  Of the eight teams remaining, I would say more than half of them can make a realistic case for the Super Bowl.  This is often the most exciting round of the playoffs, and this year shouldn’t disappoint.  Games listed in chronological order of when they will take place. 

Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints: This on paper has the makings of a repeat of last week’s aerial show between the Cardinals and Packers, in which Arizona won an overtime thriller 51-45.  Last week Kurt Warner had perhaps his best playoff game ever, and that includes his days with the Rams.  Warner’s performance was no impressive that he threw more touchdown passes (5) than incomplete passes (4).  Think about that for a moment.  He had more touchdown passes than incompletions, which is practically unheard of.  If Warner keeps playing like that, I’m not sure who the Cardinals would end up losing to.  Arizona’s offense also could get a lift this week with the return of Anquan Boldin, although Early Doucet was terrific filling in for Boldin (6 catches 77 yards 2 TDs) and Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston also had good numbers against the Packers.  The Cardinals also got good balance from Beanie Wells, who rushed for 91 yards on just 14 carries.  For those of you who are not math majors, that’s 6.5 yards per carry.  That proves that it’s not just passing that carried the Cardinals offense.  If they keep getting that kind of running game to go with it, they could end up proving to be very tough to beat indeed.  The flip side for the Cardinals is the defensive side of the ball.  Although they got two early turnovers against the Packers’ offense and ended up winning the game with a fumble return TD in overtime, they still surrendered 45 points and managed to blow a 31-10 lead that had been provided to them by the offense.  This does not bode well as they head on the road to face an offense that on the whole is more talented and has more big play potential than the Packers.  If the Cardinals are always going to need to score 40 points to win, eventually they will come up short, that’s just the way it is.

The Saints were arguably the league’s best team during the first half of the season, but they arguably peaked during a Monday night thrashing of the Patriots in late November.  Since then, the Saints needed a furious rally to beat the porous Redskins, struggled to beat a non-playoff team in Atlanta, and then proceeded to lose its final three games (home against red hot Dallas, a stunner against awful Tampa Bay, and a throwaway at Carolina in which the starters didn’t play).  That means it has been a month and a half since the Saints have looked sharp, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  The good news for New Orleans is that everyone should be well rested and fresh, and they will enjoy what I think is the best home field advantage of the four teams that will be hosting this weekend.  The bad news for the Saints is rustiness could be a big problem, especially if they fall behind by a couple of scores early, which is possible given that the Cardinals are confident and not showing any sign of slowing down offensively.  The key for the Saints may be how well they can keep up with Arizona on the scoreboard, and I think that shouldn’t be a problem with Drew Brees at the controls and a set of receivers that may not have the sexiness of Arizona’s but is every bit as productive in Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Robert Meachem.  The Saints also showed during the year they can run the ball with Pierre Thomas, but they may also need improved play from Reggie Bush in order to reach the Super Bowl.  Defensively, the Saints’ struggled mightly against the run especially in the second half of the season.  These struggles weren’t as obvious during the first half of the year when the Saints had huge leads and opponents had to abandon the run altogether, but was evident when the Saints were in closer games late in the year.  Their secondary is outstanding, particularly Darren Sharper, so that could make the difference against the Cardinals passing game.

This should be another high scoring, entertaining affair.  This may not be your game if you like hard hitting and defense, but it will be definitely be the one to tune in to if you like points and fireworks.  I think it is quite the contrast between a team with momentum in its favor versus a team that could be rusty from inactivity but has had plenty of time off to heal injuries and get healthy.  I think a lot of times the team with momentum would have the big edge, but I think the combination of the home crowd and the bye has proven to be a very good track record in the NFL over the years.  In the Saints’ case I think they will get a tremendous boost of energy from their home crowd, and while both offenses should put up lots of points, I like the Saints on a hunch to pull this one out, maybe even by a few more points than people expect.   New Orleans 35 Arizona 24.

Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts: This is a rematch of a game we saw in mid-November, which the Colts won in Baltimore 17-15.  The Ravens are going to need Saturday night’s rematch to unfold in similar fashion if they want to have a chance.  In the first meeting, the Ravens actually forced a pair of Peyton Manning interceptions, but they did allow the Colts’ signal caller to pass for more than 300 yards.  As high powered as the Colts’ offense can be though, holding them to 17 points can give you a great chance to win most of the time.  Offensively the Ravens had great success through the air themselves, and were able to generate over 350 yards of total offense.  What proved to be Baltimore’s downfall in November was they were 0 for 4 in the red zone and settled for five field goals overall.  If you want to beat Indy, you must score touchdowns.  It sounds obvious and simple, but if you can’t put the ball in the end zone, you’re not going to be able to keep up with Peyton Manning, period. 

There is a lot of pressure on the Colts to win this game for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they voluntarily torched their perfect season and shot at history in the interest of keeping players healthy.  While I have delved into this topic in several previous posts, I will again state that NFL history has proven that teams who rest players late in the season for multiple weeks when they’ve already clinched tend to lose in the playoffs, often in the first round.  This means the Colts will be dealing with the pressure of trying to prove that their actions were correct against numbers that say otherwise.  This is particularly true for the Colts, who are 0-3 in the Manning era in the divisional round when they’ve enjoyed a bye (1999, 2005 and 2007).  2005 in particular bears mention because the Colts had a 13-0 start that year just like this one, clinched several weeks early, sat Manning and other starters for the final two games, and lost at home to a physical and hot Pittsburgh team in the playoffs.  In that game the Colts got dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage and basically got punched in the mouth while looking extremely rusty and showing a complete lack of timing until they got it together too late in the second half.  The next year in 2006, the Colts were the three seed and therefore not in a position to rest players, and they were able to generate enough momentum to win the Super Bowl.  Long story short, if the Colts lose on Saturday, they will never hear the end of it from their fans and other naysayers who will say they botched the season by not going all out for the 19-0.  There is also pressure on Manning, who by all accounts could go down as the best quarterback of all-time, but with only one Super Bowl victory is looked as second fiddle to Tom Brady in many circles.  No doubt Manning is eager for another title to further solidify his credentials in NFL history.  This year’s Colts team does have the making of an elite team, for they’ve got great talent at receiver with Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, they can run the ball much of the time and defensively they are able to get a pass rush with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.  It is interesting to note though the Colts didn’t blow many teams out, and most of the time were able to pull out close games in the fourth quarter.  I think though that I do not see how the Colts are a slam dunk Super Bowl pick at all, simply because it has been a month since they have played hard in a meaningful game and also because while they are very good, they don’t seem to be head and shoulders above the other AFC contenders.

For the Ravens, they are coming off a demolition of New England on the road in which they forced three first quarter turnovers and had put 24 points on the board before many viewers had even turned on the television.  This has the look of other wild card teams from the past that have been able to make deep playoff runs: they can run the ball with Ray Rice, they don’t turn it over, and their defense, while not as spectacular as the 2000 team, is still very good and very physical.  Last week they were able to get all kinds of pressure on Tom Brady, so there is no reason to think they can’t pressure Manning.  Baltimore also is not afraid to play on the road.  Even though it’s only the second year of John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco, the Ravens are 3-1 on the road in the playoffs the past two years.  On Saturday, Baltimore is going to need a better game from Flacco than they got last week, but in that game Flacco didn’t have to do much.  It’s hard to imagine the Ravens will completely be able to rely on the ground against Indy, but if they can get balance, then they have a better chance to be effective.  Again it will boil down to red zone execution, and last week the Ravens were able to cash in their chances. 

I have a hunch that this game will be eerily similar to the 2005 Steelers-Colts playoff game.  I a lot of ways I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.  I sense that the Ravens, fired up and with momentum, will dominate the line of scrimmage at the beginning, putting pressure on Manning while he and the Colts’ receivers struggle to find long lost timing.  I also think the Ravens will be able to generate enough offense on the ground to put some points on the board.  Most importantly, I sense the Ravens’ defense will be able to pull a repeat of November and force a turnover or two.  I think this will not necessarily be a high scoring game, and that suits the Ravens just fine.  While I think Manning will be productive as usual, I just think the Colts made a huge mistake of epic proportions three weeks ago and it will bite them, while the Ravens are like a freight train charging through the station.  I know I’m alone on this one, for everyone else in the free world is already handing the Colts the Lombardi trophy, but I’m going with the upset on this one.  Baltimore 20 Indianapolis 17. 

Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings: To me, this game is between the top two teams in the NFC (no offense to New Orleans), and it is a real shame that this isn’t the NFC championship game.  Nevertheless, this should be a fantastic game.   The Cowboys are playing as well as any team in the league right now, and they are playing with a confidence such that they are capable of running the table and winning the entire thing.  Dallas looked like they were in the midst of another late season swoon in early December, but now they have reeled off four wins in a row, including two straight against the division rival Eagles in which the Cowboys demolished them both times.  Their win last week was the first for the franchise in the playoffs since 1996, and it looks like it is more than enough to save Wade Phillips’ job for 2010.  Tony Romo continues to play lights out, and the receiving core, and in fact the entire locker room, is in much better shape since the departure of Terrell Owens in the offseason.  Miles Austin has emerged as one of the best receivers in all of football, and the Cowboys have been able to compliment that with a superb running game.  Last week was particularly impressive because they didn’t have Marion Barber, although they didn’t skip a beat with Felix Jones and Tashard Choice leading the way.  Most of all, they are dominating the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively.  The defense in particular has really caused problems for Donovan McNabb the past two weeks, and it will be interesting to see if DeMarcus Ware and company can keep the pressure going against the Vikings offensive line.  In short the Cowboys are red hot, have a ton of momentum, and don’t show many signs of slowing down.  They are peaking at the right time, which is always half the battle of winning in the playoffs.

The Vikings were my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl, and they looked the part for the first three months of the season before they lost three of four (all on the road)  in December.  I still think they are the most talented team in the NFL if everything is clicking, and in actually they, unlike most of the other teams that enjoyed the bye, are trending up as they head into the playoffs, owing to their blowout win over the Giants in the final game.  It can even be argued that offensively they started to get it together the previous week against Chicago even though they lost the game.  Minnesota still has all the ingredients necessary to win: they can run the ball thanks to Adrian Peterson and a superb offensive line, they can compliment that with the pass thanks to Brett Favre and talented receivers, and their defensive front seven might be the best in football, led by Jared Allen, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams.  The secondary is also very good when everyone is on the same page, and the bye should in particular help Antoine Winfield get healthy.  The biggest issue facing the Vikings during the last month of the season was the drama between Brad Childress and Brett Favre, but that seems to have faded away, and the bye should be a benefit to Minnesota in that regard also.

I have really gone back and forth on this game.  The Cowboys are the league’s hottest team and that alone makes it tough to pick against them, plus they have all the momentum in their favor a team could ever want.  Minnesota is at home in the loud Metrodome and should get a lift from that, plus they’ve enjoyed the bye.  I think it is interesting how many people are picking Dallas simply because it’s not the Vikings are a pushover, and while they didn’t have a great December they did seem to have it together in the final game, albeit against the Giants.  I think Brett Favre’s postseason history also gives people pause, but he doesn’t have to do everything by himself this time.  In the end I decided I picked the Vikings to win it all in the preseason and I’m going to stick with them and not waffle.  As I said it is too bad this isn’t the NFC title game.  Minnesota 28 Dallas 24. 

New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers: This game on paper seems to be the biggest mismatch of the week to me, which generally means that whatever I’m thinking the game is sure to go the other way.  In any case, the Jets have to be one of the luckiest teams in NFL history.  They got two gimmie wins during the end of the regular season against teams who weren’t even attempting to win, and then last week they drew a Bengals team that wasn’t playing to anywhere near its capability in the playoffs.  Even if Shayne Graham had made the two chip shot field goals he missed, Cincinnati would have been in position to tie or take the lead with a drive at the end of the game.  This is not to say the Jets don’t deserve any credit, but let’s face it, this team backed into the playoffs on luck and they are very fortunate to still be alive and kicking.  They have won in spite of subpar numbers from Mark Sanchez at quarterback, although to his credit he has not turned the ball over and is simply taking what the hand he is dealt on running with it.  The Jets have also done an amazing job running the ball with Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene, and their defense has been very stout against the run (although they did allow a couple of long runs to Cedric Benson last week), and they have been able to get pressure on opposing QBs (but really does Curtis Painter even count?).  I realize this sounds very much like sour grapes, but I just think the Jets got in the playoffs largely thanks to other teams tanking games and they have been very fortunate.  That doesn’t mean they don’t have talent to win, but I think now that they are about to face one of the league’s elite teams on the road, they are in for a very rude awakening indeed.

This year the Chargers have played to the capability many of us have expected from them the past few seasons.  Despite a 2-3 start and a three game deficit created a fast start from Denver, the Chargers ran away with the AFC West title thanks to an 11-game winning streak that is active heading into the playoffs.  We talk all the time about the importance of momentum heading into the playoffs, and there is no question the Chargers have it.  During their winning streak the Chargers were able to win road games in Dallas, Denver, Tennessee and against the New York Giants.  The Chargers have gotten elite play at quarterback from Philip Rivers, who have proven to be tough in the pocket and very accurate with his throws, and he has a stable of receivers to throw to, especially Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates (side note: Darrelle Revis, even as good as he is, can’t cover both of them).  They also have the ability to run the ball, even though LaDainian Tomlinson has slipped from previous years.  It is a big help for the Chargers that Darren Sproles has proven capable of taking a few carries and is also a terrific weapon out of the backfield.  In short, the Chargers have a quick strike ability to score at any time, and seem to put 30 points on the board right after they step off the bus.  Defensively, the Chargers have proven able to force turnovers and also hold opposing offenses out of the end zone. 

I think the Chargers are the team to beat in the AFC right now.  They have not had a bad game since October so there is no reason to expect one now.  I think the Jets have lived on luck for three weeks now and they about to run into a buzzsaw that could shred them in the first quarter if they aren’t careful.  Don’t think also that the Chargers don’t have plenty of bulletin board material, especially the part about Rex Ryan having already scheduled the Jets Super Bowl parade.  I think the Chargers roll so emphatically that the Jets finally get exposed as a lucky, overrated team.  San Diego 38 NY Jets 13.

Advertisements

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Wild Card Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 8, 2010

I do plan to break down the disaster that was the Broncos’ season soon.  Frankly it is still hard to fathom falling from 6-0 to 8-8, a collapse that is more painful in many ways than those of 2006 and 2008.  Thus I need a little more time to compose my thoughts on the season and the mess that it became, but I should be ready to post sometime next week.  In the meantime, I will never miss the NFL playoffs regardless of whether the Broncos are in it or not, and this weekend we have what I think are four very intriguing games, and I think you can make a good case for either team in all four contests.  This is further compounded by the fact that three of the four games are rematches of games we saw in week 17, which is just crazy.  I know it’s happened before where teams have met in the first round of the playoffs after squaring off in the season’s final game, but I never remember more than one meeting at a time, let alone three rematches in the same weekend.   Now on to our wild card selections. 

Last week: 12-4   Final regular season record: 169-85 (.665)   Hey, roughly two out of three games correct, not bad!

– New York Jets @ Cincinnati Bengals: Last week the Jets demolished the Bengals 37-0.  I have read countless accounts from those who believe Saturday’s game will be more of the same.  I am going to come right and say that I disagree vehemently with those accounts.  Let’s be clear about something: Cincinnati made no attempt whatsoever to win that game.  Yes, they did play Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco during the first half, but the game plan was obviously very vanilla because the Bengals knew they would be playing the Jets again in a much more meaningful contest the next week and didn’t want to reveal anything that they were planning to do offensively.  The Jets knew they had to win in order to make the playoffs, so of course they came out guns blazing and went all out to win, even knowing they would see the Bengals again in the playoffs.  The Jets defense was outstanding, holding Cincinnati to an astounding seven yards of total offense in the first half, but again we can’t read anything into that because we know the Bengals weren’t trying. 

We also know that the Jets have not played against a team actually trying to win for two weeks now, because they got the benefit of the Colts waving the white flag in the third quarter the week before.  The week before the Colts game, the Jets looked listless in a 10-7 home loss to Atlanta, a team that will be watching the playoffs on television this year.  The two weeks prior to that the Jets beat Buffalo and Tampa Bay, two of the league’s dreads.  So really it has been awhile since the Jets have been presented with quality competition.  The Bengals meanwhile have dealt with the tragic death of receiver Chris Henry, but nearly stunned red hot San Diego on the road toward the end of the season.  The Jets are  clearly coming into the game with more momentum, and I am on record saying that does count for a lot, and the Bengals are coming in with none being that they tanked last week’s game, so from that standpoint the Jets do have an advantage there.  However I do think in this case the Bengals didn’t show all their cards and they will have something ready for the Saturday that the Jets may not be ready for.

Cincinnati has not won a playoff game since 1990, so the Bengals fans have been waiting for something to celebrate for a long time.  Paul Brown Stadium will be rocking, and that should give the home team a tremendous lift and boost of confidence.  This should not be underestimated as an important X fact0r in this game.  I know home field advantage doesn’t mean as much as it used to, but in this case I have a feeling the Bengals will benefit from the support of their crowd that is dying to enjoy playoff success.  As for the matchup, we have a rookie quarterback on the road in Mark Sanchez, and while the Jets have won five of six heading into the postseason, Sanchez’ numbers have not been that terrific (he only threw for 63 yards last week), while the Bengals have Carson Palmer, who is eager for a playoff performance that will make everyone forget his only other playoff appearance, in which he got hurt on the first series and the Bengals lost to Pittsburgh in 2005.  I also think the Bengals have considerably more talent at receiver, and while Mr. Ochocino could very well have a tough time with Derrelle Revis (the best corner in the NFL), I think Palmer will have no qualms about spreading the ball around to other targets.  Then, I have a feeling we’ll see a huge play from Ochocinco late in the game.  I know he has a tough matchup with Revis, but I don’t see any way Chad doesn’t show up in front of the home crowd on football’s biggest stage.  I think both teams are capable of running the ball well with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, but I give the Bengals an overall edge offensively because of the passing game. 

The bottom line on this game is frankly it wouldn’t be a shock if it went either way.  The Jets have the momentum, while the Bengals have the home field and the advantage of not revealing their game plan last week.  I think from a defensive standpoint, the Bengals will be much better prepared than last week having seen what the Jets will throw at them, and in particular Cincinnati will have a chance to come up with ways to contain Brad Smith.  Benson didn’t play last week, so he should be fresh and ready to go, allowing the Bengals a chance to control the clock with the running game.  I think both teams will put some points on the board, but I just think the Jets are way too cocky and overconfident.  (When your coach says you should be the Super Bowl favorite and you’re the five seed, that’s being way too overconfident).  I think the Jets are about to get punched in the mouth being that they are playing a real team trying to win for the first time in two weeks.  I also think the Bengals will be motivated to show up and will win a close one.  Cincinnati 27 NY Jets 24

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys: Last week the Cowboys shut the Eagles out 24-0 in a game where both teams were playing hard and trying to win, because the winner got the NFC East title and the right to have this game at home.  In the Eagles case, they blew a shot at a first round bye, so they are limping in, while the Cowboys are red hot, having won three in a row, including shutouts in each of their past two games.  Dallas in fact swept the regular season series against the Eagles, so a lot of cards are falling in Dallas’ direction heading into this one.  The Eagles have also been flashy at times this season but every once in awhile have been plagued by inconsistency.  Believe it or not the Cowboys have not won a playoff game since 1996, so patience could be wearing very thin in Big D if the Cowboys don’t win this one, leading to speculation that Wade Phillips might not be retained if they lose.  On the flip side the Eagles have experienced big time playoff success in the early rounds under Andy Reid, so winning a road game in the first round is old hat for them.

There is an adage that it tough to beat a team three times during the regular season, so that might be the biggest thing working against the Cowboys here.  I would be really surprised if we saw a repeat of what transpired in week 17 simply because the Eagles coaches are sure to make corrections and adjustments, and while the Cowboys do have the momentum coming in, it seems in this case that Dallas might be the team with more pressure on themselves here.  Before the week 17 game I expected offensive fireworks on both sides and that a fourth quarter turnover could well decide the game.  In spite of the blowout last week, I’m still expecting Saturday night’s game to be high scoring on both sides and a very entertaining affair.  We have good quarterback play on both sides with McNabb and Romo (who is playing the best football of his career), good receivers on both sides led by DeSean Jackson and Miles Austin, and a good running game from teams thanks to Marion Barber and the duo of Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy. 

I think the difference in this game will be which defense is more up to the task of slowing down the other team’s offense.  That being the case I give the edge to the Cowboys because in the past they have succeeded in slowing down San Diego (holding them to 20 points, even though the didn’t win the game), the Saints and the Eagles.  The play of the front seven, led by DaMarcus Ware, has been particularly outstanding.  Philadelphia surrendered 24 points to a Denver team that struggled offensively much of the season, so it seems like they are a little more vulnerable there heading in.  I think the Eagles will show up better than last week, and they will make some big plays and put some points on the board, but in the end I think the Cowboys will be able to put up a few more points, and they will be lifted by a raucous crowd in the first playoff game at their new stadium.  Dallas 30 Philadelphia 24. 

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots: This is the only game of the weekend that is not a rematch of a week 17 contest, but they did square off in week four, with New England winning 27-21 in Foxboro.  This was a terrific game in which both teams had over 300 yards of total offense, and it ended with the Ravens driving in the final seconds and Joe Flacco missing a wide open Mark Clayton on fourth down.  The Patriots come into this game having suffered a devastating injury with the loss of Wes Welker last week.  The loss of Welker is huge for the Patriots because he is the league’s best slot receiver and creates lots of matchup problems for opposing defenses.  The encouraging thing for New England is that replacement Julian Edleman had over 100 yards receiving against Houston after Welker went down, so in typical fashion the Patriots may not skip much of a beat if Edleman continues to play well.  Reports also indicate that Tom Brady is playing through injured ribs, but Brady has played through pain before and played very well, so that injury is not near as much of a factor.  As for the Ravens, they still have an outstanding defense, although there have been games this year in which they have surrendered points against high scoring offenses (especially Minnesota and Green Bay).  Baltimore beat up on weak opponents in December (Detroit, Chicago and Oakland) so it will be interesting to see how they play against a step up in competition on Sunday.

The key for the Ravens if they want a chance to win this game is they will need to run the ball to be effective, and I think they will be able to do that.  Ray Rice had 103 yards on just 11 carries in the week four meeting, so it is pretty obvious that Rice will be a big part of the Ravens’ game plan.  Baltimore also has to be encouraged by improved play of late from Willis McGahee over the past few weeks, so if they can get a balanced running game going with both backs, that could prove to be a devastating combo for opponents in the playoffs.  If the running game is working, it will take a lot of pressure off Joe Flacco and not put him in positions where he needs to be flashy and big up big numbers for the Ravens to win.  If the running game is stalled, the pressure may too much for Flacco to overcome.  Defensively, the Ravens are still very good, and as long as they still have Ray Lewis in the middle, I’m not going to say for sure that any team is guaranteed to light them up in the playoffs. 

New England is a good position for the simple reason that they have Brady, who has had more playoff success than anyone else in the NFL.  Even if he is playing hurt, Brady is still someone I would not want to see on the other sideline if I was a defensive coordinator.  Even without Welker, he still has plenty of weapons to throw to, including Randy Moss.  Moss took some heat last month for some bad games, but I think he will show up in the playoffs, especially since he knows the Patriots really need him without Welker.  The Patriots have defined playoff success for much of the decade, and during the playoffs have been virtually unbeatable at home.  For this reason alone it makes it very difficult to pick against Belichick and company, injuries or no injuries.  New England may have had their woes on the road this season, but they still proved to be very tough at Gillette Stadium, so it is clear that it is one of the more formidable home field advantages in the NFL.

I think this will be a game very similar to what transpired in week four, a back and forth affair with the lead changing hands several times.  I think the Ravens will have success on the ground and the Patriots will be able to move the ball through the air.  Any number of little things could end up deciding this game: a dropped ball, perhaps a fumble, maybe a decision on whether or not to go for it on 4th and 1.  This is a wild card game that has the feel of a later round matchup.  The stat that really surprised me is that the Ravens have never beaten New England, ever.  Baltimore is 0-5 against the Patriots.  I know the Patriots at home in the playoffs is about as safe a bet as there has been in the NFL playoffs, but something I can’t put a finger on doesn’t seem right about this year’s group.  I pick Baltimore in the upset not because of the Welker injury, but because I think the Ravens are a sleeping giant capable of bucking the trend of playoff road teams in Foxboro.  The Ravens won two playoff road games last year, so there is no reason they can’t do it again.  Baltimore 24 New England 20. 

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals: Another rematch of a blowout from week 17, with the Packers rolling 33-7.  The game last week was meaningless for both teams, but the Packers elected to play hard and try to win, while the Cardinals tanked the game, electing to rest their starters and hold back their game plan for the playoff rematch.  The game ended up being costly for Arizona in more ways than one, as the Cardinals lost receiver Anquan Boldin and star corner Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie with injuries.  Neither has been declared out for the playoff rematch on Sunday, but it’s safe to say that neither will be at 100 percent if they do play.  It will be interesting to see how Sunday’s game unfolds, because Green Bay looked like a very dangerous team last week, and the Packers have indeed been playing well throughout December, with their only loss coming on the last play in Pittsburgh.  The Cardinals have really been up and down all year, so for them it could depend on which team ends up showing up.  It’s hard to get a read on them last week considering Matt Leinart was in most of the game at quarterback.  In a way, the Cardinals are limping into the playoffs exactly the same way as last year, and we know they caught fire, so it’s possible that could happen again.

This has the potential to be a high scoring game considering the quick strike offensive ability of both teams.  As long as Kurt Warner is throwing to Larry Fitzgerald (and the Cardinals hope Boldin), the Cardinals have the opportunity for the big play at any time.  Aaron Rodgers has also had a tremendous season, and has done the unthinkable, which is make Packers fans forget about Brett Favre.  Rodgers has managed to buck the trend of replacing a legend quarterback, and for him to have experienced the success he has so far under those circumstances is nothing short of incredible.  While Greg Jennings and Donald Driver may not have the pizzazz of Fitzgerald and Boldin, they have been every bit as productive.  I think Green Bay does have a pretty big edge in terms of being able to run the football for the Cardinals have really struggled with Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, although Wells started to come on in the second half of the season.  Defensively, neither team jumps off the page, but whichever one can win the turnover battle will go a long way toward deciding this contest.

I think like the other week 17 rematches, we should definitely see a much more competitve game than we did last week.  I think the Cardinals have an advantage in terms of not having tipped their hand as far as strategy, but the Packers clearly have more momentum heading into the game and are definitely healthier.  I think Aaron Rodgers still feels like he has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, and while the Cardinals have much of the same group that made their Super Bowl run last season, they are going to need a dramatic kick in the rear to get jump started again this playoff year.  Also, it’s not the Cardinals have much of a home field advantage.  Phoenix is a city made up of people from other locations, especially in the winter, and legions of opposing fans are very common at University of Phoenix Stadium.  Factor in that the Cards have actually been a much better road team this year than at home, and that the Packers could well be the best non division winner still in the running in either conference, and I’ll take the Packers to win on the road in what feels like the biggest slam dunk of the weekend (My apologies to Mike McCarthy in advance for the jinx).   Green Bay 34 Arizona 21.

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Week 8 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 30, 2009

Broncos Chargers FootballLittle did I know how much producing a major college football radio broadcast every Saturday would add to my weekly workload.  Let’s just say there is a lot more to it than game day (but I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even though the CU Buffs have struggled to win games this season).  At any rate, the Denver Broncos have now had the bye week to rest and relax after their stunning 6-0 start, and they will continue with their rugged stretch of games that everyone thought would be their downfall.  I still think the next two games (at Baltimore and home against Pittsburgh) are two of the hardest games on the whole slate, so in some ways the Broncos still have a lot to prove.  However, I also think the Broncos have finally gotten the respect nationally that they deserve.  They are in the top five of virtually every power ranking out there, and people are acknowledging that last year’s embarrassing collapse is unlikely to repeat itself with this coaching staff and this group of players.  Think about this, if Denver goes just .500 the rest of the way, they would finish with an 11-5 record, which would virtually guarantee them the AFC West title unless San Diego were to win out or close to it.  The Broncos have their sights set on home games in January, and that certainly wouldn’t be a picnic for anyone that would have to come in and play them.  We’ve talked about many of the numbers that have made this team successful so far this year, but more than that I think it is a good blend of veteran leadership (Brian Dawkins in particular), great coaching, and a confidence that the team is never out of the game.  I think an overlooked factor also is the team’s outstanding conditioning level.  The Broncos have completely owned every team they have played in the second half on both sides of the ball.  That is a very good trend for the Broncos going forward.

Sunday’s game in Baltimore is needless to say a difficult proposition for the Broncos.  Denver has never won a game in Baltimore since the Browns became the Ravens in 1996.  Never, not one.  The last trip there was a complete disaster as the Broncos scored just six points and watched linebacker John Mobley suffer a career ending neck injury.  The time before was a Monday night embarrassment as Chris McAlister returned a missed field goal 100 yards for a touchdown.  The time before that the Broncos mustered just three points in a playoff loss.  You get the idea, Baltimore has been a house of horrors for the Broncos’ teams of the past.  The Ravens nasty defense has always been a trouble spot for the Broncos, but perhaps Denver can take comfort in the fact that this year’s Ravens defense is not the same as in past years.  Baltimore gave up 33 points to the Vikings last game and it really has been the offense that has carried the way for the Ravens so far this year.  Joe Flacco has already hit 300 yards passing in three of the six games so far, and last week he lit the Vikings up for a career high 385 yards.  Ray Rice has been a real threat receiving out of the backfield, catching 10 passes last game.

Something will have to give in this game.  The Broncos have allowed just 10 second half points in their six games so far, but the Ravens’ offense has really come alive in the second half of their games.  In fact, Baltimore ranks second in the NFL in second half points and leads the NFL with 13 second half touchdowns.  That is unheard of for a team that has long been defined by defense.  This will be a really fun matchup to watch in that regard, the old unstoppable force versus the immovable object.  It might be a game where it is important for Kyle Orton and the offense to get some points on the board so as not to put all the pressure on the defense to slow down Flacco and company.

This is a difficult game to pick and should be really close.  Baltimore has lost three in a row so they are desperate, plus they have had the bye to regroup.  Denver has had the bye too, but that could prove to be more of a detriment since they were playing so well.  I really want to pick this game with my heart but……

I just can’t.  Baltimore is clearly the more desperate team here and they will have the home crowd behind them.  Baltimore wins 23-17.

I hope I am wrong.  Now to the rest of the picks.

Last week: 9-4 Season: 73-29

– Texans over Bills: I have given up trying to figure out Buffalo.  When I pick them to win, they lose.  When I pick them to lose, they win.  Last week they showed great character winning on the road at Carolina, and now they return home for what should be a winnable game.  Houston however has an actual winning streak going, and if they can establish the run with Steve Slaton, they have a good chance to control the tempo here.  Houston’s defense needs more consistency, but a hunch says they’ll have enough here.  Houston wins a close one.

– Jets over Dolphins: This was a great game in the first meeting, with Miami winning 33-30 on a Monday night.  Now the Jets will want revenge and are coming off an easy win in Oakland.  The Dolphins are still trying to figure out how they let a 24-3 lead get away against New Orleans.  Miami’s Wildcat just hasn’t had the same success on the road this year, hence why I like the Jets in this one.

– Bears over Browns: Jay Cutler has to be pleased to return to Soldier Field, where he has fared a lot better than on the road.  He also has to be thrilled to see the hapless Browns are the opponent.  Chicago gets back on track with a relatively easy win.

– Colts over 49ers: It almost doesn’t seem fair that the Colts have one of the league’s best teams and their schedule seems to be very friendly just about every week.  Peyton Manning and company shouldn’t have much trouble here against a defense that has been shredded several times this year.  It will be interesting to see also how Alex Smith fares in his return to the starting role for the Niners.  In any case, a home game an automatic W for the Colts these days.

– Titans over Jaguars: Mini upset alert.  Tennessee has had they bye to regroup, and while I am very hesitant to pick any team starting Vince Young under center, the Titans have too much pride not to win a game at some point.  Their last outing in New England was a complete embarrassment, so you have to think that Jeff Fisher and company will have a little pride on Sunday.  I still think Jacksonville is a very mediocre team, and on the road this may not bode well for them.  I like the Titans to get their first win.

– Chargers over Raiders: This is the blowout of the week.  Oakland is awful in every way (still trying to figure out how they beat the Eagles).  San Diego showed its offensive talent last week and it will be on display again this week.  The question is how much San Diego wins this game by and how many snaps the Raiders allow JaMarcus Russell to take.

– Cowboys over Seahawks: Dallas played its best game of the season last week against Atlanta, and I like them to keep it going at home against the injury riddled Seahawks.  Seattle hasn’t yet been able to find any real identity, and that’s not a good sign heading out on the road.  If Tony Romo plays like he did last week, the Cowboys may be a playoff contender yet.

– Giants over Eagles: I know the game is in Philadelphia, but the Eagles didn’t exactly dominate last week in their win against Washington.  I know they won by double digits, but that should have been a real blowout and they missed chances to really put the Redskins away.  Brian Westbrook is hobbling again (so what else is new) and that is more bad news for Philly.  Besides, the thought of the G-men losing three games in a row is ridiculous.  I like Eli and company to bounce back here.

– Lions over Rams: This is another dud game, but it is an excellent opportunity for Detroit to get another win.  They have shown improvement over last season despite having only one win, while the Rams continue to make a compelling case for being the worst team in the NFL.  I think Detroit gets the win at home here to give their fans some faint hope.

– Packers over Vikings: Did I hear something about Brett Favre returning to Lambeau Field?  Whether you’re sick of hearing about him or not, it will be very compelling theatre to see how Favre is treated by his old fans.  As for the game, I expect it to be a typical Green Bay-Minnesota game, close, high scoring and down to the wire.  In the end I like Aaron Rodgers to carry the Packers’ offense through the air, and I think the emotion of the home crowd will lift Green Bay to victory.

– Cardinals over Panthers: This should not be close.  Arizona made a major statement last week winning in the Meadowlands on a Sunday night, while the Panthers continue to flounder and look nothing like last year’s playoff team.  I like Kurt Warner to hit his receivers early and often and for Arizona to pull away in this one early.

– Saints over Falcons: This will be a very good Monday night game.  Atlanta really got punched in the mouth last week in Dallas, so I’m sure the last thing they want to see is a trip to undefeated New Orleans.  I think the Falcons will make it a very close game and will stay in it, but if they can’t get Michael Turner going they won’t have a shot to win.  Drew Brees is too scary at home if the Falcons can’t keep up.

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

AFC North Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 28, 2009

Once again, teams listed in predicted order of finish:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers have certainly been the standard for NFL franchises over a large part of their history.  They have won two of the past four Super Bowls (a league high six total) and seem built for big time success again this year.  Pittsburgh returns largely intact from last season’s championship club, which is fitting for a franchise that seems to symbolize stability in the NFL.  The Steelers also remember 2006, when they missed the playoffs they year after winning the Super Bowl.  They vow to not let that happen again.

The Steelers’ offense returns virtually identical to last year, and that’s bad news for NFL defenses.  The Steelers attack can really be defined by their game winning drive in the Super Bowl last year against Arizona.  Ben Roethlisberger showed everything you would want in a quarterback.  He showed ability to make plays with his feet out of the pocket and avoid critical sacks.  He showed he is willing and able to take a pounding, which not only allows him to be durable and not miss time due to injury, but also allows him to extend plays many quarterbacks won’t.  Even when he scrambles out of the pocket, Roethlisberger is willing to wait that split second longer for a receiver to get open even if it means taking an extra hit at the end of the play.  Roethlisberger has won Super Bowls in his first four years in the league, and the scary part is he can still get even better with experience.  He also has good targets to throw to in veteran Hines Ward and the speedy Santonio Holmes, along with his favorite red zone target, tight end Heath Miller.  Shaun McDonald was also signed from Detroit to provide depth.  The running game might also be even better than last year with the return of Rashard Mendenhall.  The first round pick of ’08 was shelved for the season in week four last year with a broken shoulder.  Mendenhall will join the very capable Willie Parker and should improve a running game that believe it or not ranked just 23rd in the NFL last season.  The fact the Steelers won it all with that stat is incredible, and they should benefit from a better running game this year.  The Steelers offensive line isn’t regarded as a top unit in the league and certainly isn’t flashy, but the entire line returns intact and continuity is never a bad thing.  Besides, they obviously got the job done well enough for the team to win the Super Bowl.

The defense did sustain two losses in linebacker Larry Foote (now with Detroit) and cornerback Bryant McFadden (gone to Arizona).  The Steelers do however still boast a sure top five defensive player in linebacker James Harrison, who turned the Super Bowl in Pittsburgh’s favor with a 100-yard interception return TD.  The defensive front seven also boasts other good talent in nose tackle Casey Hampton, defensive end Aaron Smith and linebacker James Farrior.  The Steelers also added more depth in the draft, selecting defensive end Ziggy Hood from Missouri in the first round.  His 6-3, 300 frame should fit right in with the Steelers’s smashmouth philosophy.  The secondary is also still very solid, anchored by Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu.  Cornerbacks William Gay and Deshea Townsend will need to step up to offset the loss of McFadden.

It is also surprising to realize that the Steelers really played musical chairs at punter last season (not that they needed one too often), but Daniel Sepulveda is back to take that job again after undergoing ACL surgery last season.  Kicker Jeff Reed is among the best in the business and has learned how to handle to tricky kicking conditions at Heinz Field, especially in the open end of the stadium.  The Steelers do hope that third round draft choice Mike Wallace of Ole Miss can emerge as a capable kick returner, but Mewelde Moore can handle those duties as well.

I say the Steelers are as close to a lock as you can get to returning to the playoffs.  They have shown over the years they can stand up to tough competition, they can win on the road, and they know how to win.   Factor in that they are still motivated, and the Steelers should repeat as division champs.

2. Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens bounced back last year to make the AFC title game, even though the had a rookie coach and a rookie quarterback.  The fact that both of those positions had changed tells you that things weren’t so good the year before.  The Ravens have a solid veteran presence in other areas, which helped them overcome a 2-3 start.  At one point Baltimore had won seven out of eight games, and they won playoff road games at Miami and Tennessee.  However, the Ravens were 0-3 against the Steelers, including the AFC title game loss.  Baltimore knows that in order to take the next step, they need to learn how to beat Pittsburgh.

The Ravens have always been known as a defensive team, and that’s still the identity and strength, but the offense also proved they could score points last year.  Quarterback Joe Flacco shocked almost everyone in his rookie season, Flacco showed good ability to read defenses, has a strong arm, and an ability to make plays with his feet.  He is the only signal caller to win two road playoff games as a rookie, and also posted a solid 90.2 quarterback rating, which is among the best ever for a rookie.  With another year of experience, Flacco could be even better this season.  He is also pleased to have veteran receiver Derrick Mason back for another season.  Mason retired during the offseason, but it wasn’t long before he changed his mind and said he got the itch to play one more season.  He’ll be paired with the talented Mark Clayton, who along with tight end Todd Heap gives the Ravens an underrated group of receivers for Flacco to find.  The running game should also be a strength of the team, for Willis McGahee is showing a renewed attitude after a disappointing season last year in which he rushed for under 700 yards.  Ray Rice showed lots of flash as a rookie last season, and could prove to be a good compliment to McGahee.  The odd man out could be Le’Ron McClain, who was actually Baltimore’s leading rusher last year, but he has been getting more work at fullback and could be limited to goal line duty.    The offensive line did a great job last season, and the Ravens feel they have fortified it with the addition of first round pick Michael Oher of Ole Miss, and the signing of center Matt Birk from Minnesota.

The Ravens’ defense has consistently been a top three unit for virtually the entire decade, and there isn’t much reason to think it won’t be terrific again.  Linebacker Ray Lewis could be a future Hall of Famer, and his enthusiasm and intensity trickles down to the entire defense.  Terrell Suggs is a terrific pass rusher, and the Ravens also have good push on the edge with Trevor Pryce and Haloti Ngata.  The front seven will feel the loss of Bart Scott to the Jets, but they hope that some of that void can be filled by second round pick Paul Kruger of Utah.  The secondary is still very good with ballhawking safety Ed Reed leading the way.  The Ravens also have veteran corners in Samari Rolle and Fabian Washington, and they hope new addition Dominique Foxworth will add depth as well. The Ravens defense should be stingy again, but age could be a concern for this veteran group.

The Ravens lost veteran kicker Matt Stover to free agency, so they will go with an unknown in Steve Hauschka.  Punter Sam Koch is solid, the Ravens hope the return game will be solidified with the addition of the speedy Chris Carr from Tennessee.

Baltimore certainly has the talent to return to the playoffs.  The defense will keep them in every game and the veteran leadership is always a plus.  They do will face stiff competition in the AFC, and age and injuries could catch up with them.  The key coud well be the play of Flacco in his second season at quarterback.

3. Cincinnati Bengals – It has been 19 years since Cincinnati has won a playoff game.  The Bengals have long been a symbol for league futility, except for their division title in 2005.  Even then, they stubbed their toe in a home playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.  Since then, the Bengals have not come close to achieving their potential, especially with all the talent they have had on offense.  Fans are getting restless, games may not sell out this year, and last year’s 0-8 start only made things worse.  The good news for Bengal nation is they did win their final three games last year, and hope may be coming.

For starters, Carson Palmer is back under center.  Palmer missed most of last season with an elbow injury.  Palmer managed to avoid offseason surgery, and the Bengals hope he will be back to his old self.  Palmer is quite possibly the most accurate deep passer in the league, and he is outstanding in the pocket.  There is no question in my mind that Palmer is a no brainer top 5 QB when healthy, and his presence should spark something in the Bengals’ offense.  The Bengals did lose start wideout T.J. Houshmanzadeh to Seattle, but they still have Chad Ochocinco (I really want to type “Johnson” but the dude actually changed his name legally).  I believe that Ochocinco has a renewed attitude this year and something to prove.  He wants to prove he is not a me guy and that he can really help the team win.  The Bengals also replaced Houshmanzadeh by raiding the Jets for Laveranues Coles.  Coles is still very capable, and paired with third wideout Chris Henry, the passing game has the potential to be very dangerous as it was in ’05.  The Bengals also found a very pleasant surprise in their running game last year in Cedric Benson.  The former top five pick from the Bears has found new life in the Queen City, and could be in line for another good year if defenses are concerned with stopping the passing attack.  The Bengals do have issues along the offensive line, losing Stacy Andrews and Levi Jones in free agency, and as of yet have not signed their first round draft pick, tackle Andre Smith from Alabama.  The selection of Smith with the sixth overall pick was a curious one indeed being that he missed most of the scouting combine and showed very questionable attitude during the pre-draft period.  Oh, and he was woefully out of shape too.  Now he is embroiled in a lengthy holdout.  It is imperative that the Bengals get good play from the line so they can keep Palmer healthy.  Right now, that is a question mark.

The Bengals did make an effort to beef up their defense in the offseason.  They signed defensive tackle Tank Johnson away from Dallas, and while he has had character issues in the past, the Bengals hope he will benefit from the fresh start.  They are desperate after getting just 11 sacks from their down linemen last season.  The Bengals also addressed linebacker in the draft for the second straight year, tabbing USC linebacker Ray Maualuga in the second round.  I thought Maualuga was clear first round talent, so the Bengals appear to have gotten great value there.  Paired with last year’s first round pick Keith Rivers, The Bengals’ linebackers appear to be on the way up.  The Cincinnati secondary also benefited from the Cowboys’ overhaul, as safety Roy Williams also signed with the Bengals.  Cincinnati does have decent corners in Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph, so Williams’ presence should help .  Overall, the Bengal D should be at least somewhat improved this season.

Kicker Shayne Graham is one of the best in the league.  The Bengals think so much of him they used their franchise tag on him.  Fifth round draft pick Kevin Huber is projected to be the starting punter, so that area could end up being an adventure for the Bengals.  Unknowns Andre Caldwell and Antonio Chatman will handle the return duties.

Cincinnati is trying to rebuild.  They seem to have added some good pieces and with Palmer healthy there should be some improvement.  This is not a playoff team yet, but they might be moving back in the right direction.

4. Cleveland Browns – The Browns fell back to Earth last year after a surprise run in 2007 that almost had them in the playoffs.  Last year the team took several steps back thanks to a quarterback controversy that still lingers and a six game losing streak to close the season in which they didn’t score a single offensive touchdown and got shut out in their final two contests.  Not surprisingly, this cost Romeo Crennel his job as head coach.  He was replaced ironically by fellow former Patriots assistant Eric Mangini.

The Browns still do not know who will be under center week one against the Vikings.  Last year Derek Anderson had the job at the start of the season only to lose it to Brady Quinn in November.  Neither one performed well, and now the competition is still open through the preseason.  It had seemed to be Quinn’s job for good when he got it last year, being that he was Cleveland’s first round pick in 2007, but he performed so poorly that it opened the door back up for Anderson.  Neither player has done enough to gain an edge yet in preseason, so this could be shaping up to be another year of musical chairs at the position for the Browns, and that is never a good thing.  The Browns do have a very talented wideout in Braylon Edwards, but he can’t do it all by himself.  Second round picks Brian Robiskie of Ohio State and Mohamed Massoquoi of Georgia will be counted on heavily to contribute, as will journeyman wideout David Patton and tight end Steve Heiden.  The running game could also be a question mark, even though Jamal Lewis still has the talent to be an outstanding tailback.  Lewis still rushed for over 1,000 last year, but he didn’t have a single 100-yard game.  It wouldn’t come as a surprise if Jerome Harrison got more carries as the year went on.  The offensive line is a mixed bag, for left tackle Joe Thomas has made two Pro Bowls, and Eric Steinbach is solid alongside him at guard, but the line will be anchored by rookie center Alex Mack of California.  Mack was the team’s first round draft pick, and will need to learn under fire quickly.

The defense will definitely have a new look.  Mangini brought along a staggering six players from his old defense with the Jets to Cleveland (Eric Barton, David Bowens, Kenyon Coleman, Abram Elam, C.J. Mosley and Hank Poteat).  For those keeping score at home, that’s that’s two defensive ends, two linebackers, one cornerback and one safety.  None of those players is exactly a household name among football fanatics, and it’s not like the Jets defense was that great at stopping people last year. Mangini obviously sees something he likes to bring them all over, or perhaps he just doesn’t want to deal with the unfamilar.   The new additions will join defensive tackle Shaun Rodgers, who was Cleveland’s big ticket free agent signing before last season.  The linebackers took a big hit with the retirement of Willie McGinest and the departure of Andra Davis to Denver in free agency.  Needless to say, the entire Browns defense still looks like a need area.

The special teams might be the one strength of the team.  Kicker Phil Dawson and punter Dave Zastudil are both very reliable, and Josh Cribbs might well be the most excting kick returner in the NFL.  Cribbs is so dangerous that he’ll be counted on to set the offense up in good enough field position that they won’t have to do much to score.

A rebuilding year is definitely in the cards for the Browns.  There are just too many need areas to expect a good year.  At some point they need to get the quarterback situation figured out, and that is the first step.  This team is very young.  If they can show improvement throughout the year, they might be able to at least have something to look forward to in 2010.

Coming next: the NFC North

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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…..you 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

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Week Two Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 12, 2008

This NFL season is certainly shaping up to be very intriguing on a number of fronts.  Could we possibly have a playoffs that doesn’t include New England OR Indianapolis?  It could be possible if Matt Cassel proves to be no Tom Brady and the Colts take too long to get it together after their disastrous week one effort.  Are the Jets the new favorite in the AFC East, or is Buffalo for real?  Are the Steelers ever going to get their due for being consistently good?  Is the Bears defense back to the level of two years ago?  Who is going to win the awful NFC West?  It’s only one week into the season, and a number of my season picks are threatening to blow up in my face already.  I keep telling myself it’s still early, but it is possible that my AFC Super Bowl pick may not be all its cracked up to be. I still think Jacksonville’s defense will not allow them to be a disappointment.  Was I nuts to pick the 49ers to win the NFC West?  I still maintain they’ll be a surprise by the end of the year.  Was I drinking the Kool-Aid on the Minnesota hype?  I still think they have a team that is scary talented.  Am I underestimating Aaron Rodgers? I have to admit he looked very good in week one.  We’ll see if he can maintain it over the long haul.  Are the Chargers in trouble without Shawne Merriman?  Or is that wishful thinking on my part?.  It did seem like someone forgot to tell them the season started for three quarters against Carolina.  Speaking of the Panthers, are they once again a contender in the NFC? That offense could really come alive when Steve Smith returns from suspension in week three.  How praytell did the Falcons win a game, let alone dominate? I reserve judgement until I see them against someone other than Detroit.  

At least I got a few things right in week one.  The Cowboys dominated on the road.  The Browns looked lost and confused.  The Giants looked dominant like you would expect a defending champ to be.  The Bengals REALLY stink, or did you see Joe Flacco score on a 38-yard touchdown run while jogging through the Bengals defense? The Seahawks looked horrible on the road.  Brett Favre can still play a little.  Donovan McNabb looks poised for a big season.  The Raiders are a mess akin to Days of Our Lives as usual.  The Broncos offense could be scary good.  Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.  Perhaps that was more the Raiders are awful.  

One thing I know, this could be a season unlike any other.  Or maybe it will be just like any other.  For 11 consecutive seasons, there have been at least five teams in the playoffs who did not qualify the previous year.  With the exception of the 2006 Seahawks, the Super Bowl loser has missed the playoffs every year since 2000.  Even at that the Seahawks only made it past the first round the next year thanks to Tony Romo’s butterfingers.  Here are the numbers:

2000 New York Giants – Lost Super Bowl XXXV
2001 New York Giants – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2001 St. Louis Rams – Lost Super Bowl XXXVI
2002 St. Louis Rams – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2002 Oakland Raiders – Lost Super Bowl XXXVII
2003 Oakland Raiders – 4-12 record, no playoffs

2003 Carolina Panthers – Lost Super Bowl XXXVIII
2004 Carolina Panthers – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2004 Philadelphia Eagles – Lost Super Bowl XXXIX
2005 Philadelphia Eagles – 6-10 record, no playoffs

2005 Seattle Seahawks – Lost Super Bowl XL
2006 Seattle Seahawks – 9-7 record (made playoffs, 2nd round exit)

2006 Chicago Bears – Lost Super Bowl XLI
2007 Chicago Bears – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2007 New England Patriots – Lost Super Bowl XLII
2008 New England Patriots – ??????

This does not bode well for the Patriots in light of Tom Brady’s injury.  I know, I picked the Patriots to return to the AFC title game, but I also said they were done if Brady went down.  It will be interesting to see if the Patriots continue the trend of Super Bowl losers struggling the next year.  On one hand, it is hard a fathom a team threatening history one year and missing the playoffs the next year.  On the other hand, the Patriots missing the playoffs this year would be right in line with what the NFL is about much of the time. I still shudder when I think of the Broncos going 6-10 in 1999 after winning back to back Super Bowls and being favored to compete for a third.  After all there is the old cliche “On any given Sunday……”   Now on to the picks.

Last Week: 9-7

– Jaguars over Bills: I have to admit I really struggled with this one.  The Bills dominated Seattle last week, and the Jaguars look like they could be in trouble.  Still, I can’t picture the Jaguars 0-2, especially with Jack Del Rio having a week to drill discipline into his team before the home opener.

– Cardinals over Dolphins: Surprise stat of the week: the Cardinals actually went 6-2 at University of Phoenix Stadium last season.  The Cardinals at 2-0 would rank among the season’s early surprises, but it would be an even bigger surprise if Chad Pennington had a big day against what is becoming one of the league’s most underrated secondaries.

– Jets over Patriots: Brett Favre’s home debut in New York puts an extra charge into this one, plus the Jets would just love to stick it to the Patriots in the wake of Spygate last year.  I have a feeling Matt Cassel will find the road to be much more daunting than Gillette Stadium.  Oh, and he doesn’t have the luxury of facing the Chiefs.

– Titans over Bengals: No Vince Young for Tennessee, but it won’t matter.  There are high school teams that tackle better than Cincinnati’s defense.  The Bengals offense looked a little confused too last week.  Carson Palmer under 100 yards passing?  The Marvin Lewis watch begins in Cincinnati.  I say 75 percent he’s axed before the year is over.

– Steelers over Browns: Pittsburgh will run away with the AFC North.  The Browns proved last week that they are a ways from the elite against Dallas.  This one will be competitive due to the rivalry factor, plus an emotional under the lights home crowd in Cleveland, but the Steelers are the class of the division and they will prove it.

– Vikings over Colts: Chalk this one up as the most intriguing game of the week for me.  Is this an elimination game of sorts already?  The Colts cannot be confident heading into the loud Metrodome after getting shelled at home in their opener.  Minnesota needs Tarvaris Jackson to show that potential we keep hearing about, but the Vikings defense will follow the Bears blueprint and harass Peyton Manning.  Peyton, meet Jared Allen.  Good luck.  The Colts at 0-2? It seems beyond crazy, but it might just happen.

– Broncos over Chargers: Denver’s confidence is sky high after destroying the Raiders on the road, plus Brandon Marshall is back.  If D’Angelo Hall couldn’t cover Eddie Royal one on one, how are the San Diego corners going to handle him and Marshall?  The Chargers pass rush will really miss Merriman, plus Antonio Gates is hobbled.  The Broncos might allow a high rushing day for LT, but their offense will be enough to win a shootout and enjoy a large lead in the AFC West.  San Diego at 0-2? Seems really crazy, but it just might happen.

– Chiefs over Raiders: Dud game of the week.  The rivalry is nasty enough that the game could actually be fun to watch, but these are two of the worst teams in the league.  The Chiefs are reportedly having trouble selling out Arrowhead for this game, which tells all you need to know about the state of football these days in Kansas City.  Still, the Raiders are a mess in every way, and Larry Johnson will run for enough to get KC a rare W.  

– Giants over Rams: The G-men’s biggest challenge will be overcoming a 10-day layoff after opening the season with their Thursday night win over Washington.  St. Louis was maybe the worst team in week one, so there is nowhere to go but up.  This seems like it could be a trap game for New York if the Rams’ offense wakes up (Torry Holt 1 catch for 9 yards last week – are you kidding me?).  Still, the Giants should be able to rely on their championship experience and pull out a win.

– Saints over Redskins: New Orleans will really miss Marques Colston, who is out 4-6 weeks.  Still, Drew Brees has enough targets for the team to score offensively.  The Redskins looked like they didn’t know which end was up offensively last week.  If that continues, New Orleans will win a low scoring affair.

– Bears over Panthers: This should be a great game.  Both teams pulled shockers in week one, so it’s hard to say which of these teams is better right now.  The Panthers are without Steve Smith for another week, so that gives an edge to the Bears defense.  Chicago won on the road during their Super Bowl run two years ago, and the hunch is they’ll find a way to pull out this one.  This one really could go either way though.

– Packers over Lions: Aaron Rodgers played well last week in the spotlight, and the Packers look like they have a statement to make.  Detroit? The Lions should be embarrassed losing to Atlanta.  Home field advantage won’t help the Lions if they keep playing like that.  This won’t exactly be a difficult road environment for Green Bay’s young signal caller.

– Buccaneers over Falcons: Brian Griese gets the start for Tampa so that gives slight pause.  Still, the Falcons aren’t playing Detroit anymore.  Matt Ryan could be in for a rude awakening this week against Monte Kiffin’s defense.  Tampa Bay almost stole one last week and could be just good enough to make things interesting in the NFC South.  On a side note, I am kicking myself that I didn’t rank Michael Turner higher in fantasy this year.  He could have some big games this year even though he’s playing for the Falcons.

– Seahawks over 49ers: Seattle is still really banged up, and I really want to pick the upset.  Thing is, Seattle has a tremendous home field advantage, and there is no reason to back San Francisco on the road right now after the way they played last week.  Besides, Matt Hasselbeck has got to play better this week doesn’t he? This could be a really sloppy game.

– Texans over Ravens: This game has been moved to Monday night due to Hurricane Ike, which makes it the first Monday night game in Texans history.  Even though it won’t be nationally televised,that’s enough for me in this toss-up matchup.  Baltimore’s defense is still good, but I still want to see Joe Flacco on the road.  Houston is a much better team than what they showed last week.

– Cowboys over Eagles: This too will be a fantastic game.  In a way it’s a shame one of these teams will have to start the year 1-1.  I like the Cowboys in what should be a raucous atmosphere for their home opener, on a Monday night no less.  Still, the Eagles pose a big challenge.  The sway factor will be a monster game from Terrell Owens, eager as always to show Andy Reid and company they did him wrong.

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »