Reid Fischer's World of Rants

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Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Vikings’

Conference Championship Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 22, 2010

Last week we had three blowouts and one very close game.  It tells you all you need to know about the NFL that the one close game was the one yours truly thought would be a blowout, and to boot it went the other way from my (and most people’s) selection.  I have to admit I thought there was a zero percent chance that the Jets would even stay close against the Chargers.  Maybe it’s time for me to give the Jets some credit, for I have really been slamming them the last two weeks for backing into the playoffs.  I also thought the Chargers were the clear choice for favorite in the AFC.  Maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about, but I think it’s more a reflection of how fantastic the NFL is and why it is the clear king among pro sports leagues.  As for the other games, we saw terrific performances from the three winning teams, and it shapes up for some great action on Sunday.  Now, on to the picks.

Last week: 2-2  Playoffs: 4-4

New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts: I have to admit that perhaps I should be eating some crow regarding both of these teams.  I picked both to lose last week and in the Jets’ case I said they didn’t even deserve to be in the playoffs.  In the Colts’ case I thought they would suffer disastrous consequences from tanking the last two weeks of the season and voluntarily torching their perfect season.  Well, I was wrong in both cases, but it still doesn’t change the fact that one of the big reasons this is the AFC Championship Game matchup is because the Colts laid down in week 16, allowing the Jets to coast to a 29-15 win and thus allowing them to vault ahead of several other AFC contenders for tiebreakers.  If the Colts played to win, it stands to reason that the Jets would not have made the playoffs, and the Texans or Steelers or some other team would have made it instead.  We’ll of course never know how differently things might have unfolded, and thus here we are with a compelling AFC title game in Indy. 

Of course it is hard to read too much into the teams’ previous meeting in week 16, which the Colts treated like an August scrimmage and the Jets played all out to win, but there are some interesting numbers to crunch from that game:

– The Colts led just 9-3 at halftime, with their starters in for the entire half

– The Jets’ Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene combined to rush for 200 yards (granted some of that in the second half came against some Colts backups).  The Colts got just 62 combined yards from Joseph Addai and Donald Brown. 

– Peyton Manning was 11-14 when throwing to someone other than Reggie Wayne.  He completed three passes to Wayne in seven attempts, with Wayne being shielded by Darrelle Revis a majority of the time.

– Mark Sanchez threw for just 106 yards, which is very typical of his numbers throughout the season.

– The Colts’ special teams allowed a 106 yard kickoff return TD to Brad Smith to open the second half. 

– The Colts’ received just 44 passing yards from backup quarterback Cutris Painter in the second half, along with one interception and one fumble lost. 

Now, again all of this is with the asterisk that the Colts were openly making no attempt whatsoever to win this game.  For all we know, the Colts’ offensive game plan may have been vanilla and could resemble nothing of what they plan to do on Sunday.  It is however interesting to note that even when the Colts’ starters were in, it wasn’t as if they were lighting up the scoreboard.  Truth is, that’s been typical of a number of Colts games this season.  Indianapolis hasn’t been put 30 points on the board every time, and in fact has won a number of tight, low scoring games with running and defense, along with precision mistake free passing by Manning.  One thing I think that Colts should be wary of in this game however is the Jets’ ability to run the ball.  That clearly has not been a fluke in the playoffs.  Last week the Jets ran the ball effectively and controlled the clock, keeping Philip Rivers and company on the sideline for much of the game.  No doubt they will try to do the same and keep Manning standing on the sideline Sunday instead of on the field. 

While the quote-unquote sexier matchup in this game will be Colts offense against the Jets defense, I think this game will be decided based on what happens with the Jets offense against the Indy defense.  The Colts’ defense has been extremely underrated all season, and last week they did an unbelieveable job shutting down a Baltimore running game that had absolutely shredded the Patriots the week before.  They put Joe Flacco in a position where he needed to beat them and he couldn’t do it.  The Jets offense is very similar in that they need the running game to be effective because they don’t want to put Mark Sanchez in a position where he has to win the game through the air on the road.  While Sanchez has proved to be an effective game manager and has made timely throws when necessary, the Jets aren’t about to want to rely on a pass heavy attack if they don’t have to.  So I think the key to the game is how well the Colts defense can stop the Jets’ running game.  If the Jets run the ball as effectively as they have for the past month, they will have a great chance to win.  If they can’t, and it becomes Sanchez’ game to win or lose, then I think the Jets are in big trouble.  I’m going to be watching the battles up front with the Jets’ offensive line and Colts’ defensive line.  That is where the game is going to be won or lost for either side.

As for Manning and the Colts passing game, it is foolish to think they aren’t going to be able to move the ball through the air.  We know that Revis is going to be on Wayne most of the time, but Manning is smart enough to know when to pick his spots to go there, and it’s not as if the Colts don’t have other targets to throw to.  Heck, I’m convinced that the Colts could pick a random fan from row 11, plug him in at receiver, and Manning could manage to find him for four or five receptions.  Manning also will be handle the Jets’ exotic blitzes because he is able to get rid of the ball so quickly and accurately.  In fact, Manning seems to thrive when teams try to blitz him. 

I think this could well be a lower scoring game than many people expect, but that has been the norm for both of these teams during the course of the season.  The Colts have the home field edge, and that over the years has proven to be a big deal late in the playoffs.  I think the Jets will be able to stay in this game, but in the end there is a reason the Colts started 13-0, and last week they emphatically proved they are not rusty.  Indianapolis 20 NY Jets 10

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints: I think this will be the game of the year (at least until we may see a really dynamic Super Bowl matchup).  Both teams looked extremely impressive last week in rolling through their divisional round matchups.  I think the Vikings, as I’ve said all season long, are the most talented team in the NFL when they are clicking on all cylinders, and they showed why last week.  They got four touchdown passes from Brett Favre, they made big plays offensively, they sacked Tony Romo six times, put pressure on him countless other times, and in short they completely dominated both sides of the ball.  In particular, they won the battles up front, which is absolutely necessary to win this time of year.  As for the Saints, they woke up from a December long slumber and looked like the team they were the first three months of the season.  Drew Brees and the passing game were making big plays, Reggie Bush had a flashback to 2005 at USC, the defense smothered Kurt Warner and blanketed the Cardinals’ receivers, and the Saints’ even overcame the 70-yard touchdown they allowed on the first play of the game.  All told they gave a complete effort, and now the city of New Orleans is giddy with excitement, as the Superdome will host the first NFC Championship Game in its existence.  This alone is a big edge for the Saints, being that the Superdome is one of the few remaining actual home field advantages in the NFL (and that’s because it’s not a new stadium with zillions of luxury suites, but that’s another topic). 

I don’t think there is much question that lots of points are going to be put on the scoreboard by both teams.  Drew Brees and Brett Favre combined to throw a staggering 67 touchdown passes this season, and that number doesn’t include the seven they combined to throw for last week in the divisional round.  Both teams feature a dynamic group of receivers that can make plays in space and gain boatloads of yards after the catch.  So be ready for lots of big plays in the passing game thanks to two of the great quarterbacks in the league.  I think on paper it seems like the Vikings would have an edge on the ground with Adrian Peterson, but his numbers have slipped significantly in the second half of the season, and he hasn’t had a 100-yard game on the ground since November.  That said, he still rushed for over 1,300 yards on the season with 18 touchdowns, and he’s still Adrian Peterson, so it’s not as if the Vikings are completely helpless in this area.  The Saints have a quietly effective running game with Pierre Thomas, and if Reggie Bush continues to make big plays out of the backfield, screen passes to him are just as effective as running the ball. 

While the offenses no doubt have the spotlight in this game, the onus will be on the defenses to make things happen, and the game could well hinge on which defense is more effective.  I think the Minnesota front seven is downright scary with Jared Allen leading the way.  The Vikings all year have been a brick wall against opposing running games, and their ability to rush the passer is unmatched by any front seven in the league.  It will be a challenge for them to contain all the weapons in the Saints’ offense, particularly if Bush is making plays and lining up everywhere.  Drew Brees also has a quick release, so it could be hard for the Vikings to actually get to him.  The key for Minnesota is they need to be able to put pressure on Brees and not allow him time to find open receivers in space.  As for the Saints, they have struggled big time against the run in the second half of the season, but it will be interesting to see how that matchup unfolds on Sunday given the Vikings’ struggles to run the ball in the second half.  If Minnesota is able to get Peterson going, that will make it a big challenge for the Saints’ secondary to cover the receivers as well as make it difficult for the pass rush to get to Favre.  If the Saints are successful in shutting down the run, than it could lend to Favre trying to force plays down the field.  Darren Sharper is known for making big plays in big games, so don’t think he won’t be looking to try to pick off an errant Favre pass. 

I think it’s very possible the Vikings could regret that they didn’t get home field advantage and that they won’t get the game at the Metrodome.  Minnesota was undefeated in front of their home fans this season but suffered all four of their defeats on the road, including December road losses to non-playoff teams in Carolina and Chicago.  The Vikings in many ways have looked like two different teams all year: a dominant one at home and a so-so product on the road.  Other than their November win at Green Bay, the Vikings have no significant road wins they can claim this season.  The Saints have obviously been extremely tough in the Superdome, although they did lose to Dallas and Tampa Bay at home in December.  Minnesota also has a rather dubious conference title game history to contend with, specifically a rather embarrassing 41-0 road loss to the Giants in 2000, and a home loss to the Falcons two years earlier in which the Vikings were clear favorites.  The Saints meanwhile lost their only NFC title game appearance in 2006 in Chicago, and should benefit from the emotion of the crowd for their first ever NFC title game at home.

A lot of the numbers do point to New Orleans here, especially the home field edge.  I think in the end this will be a highly entertaining game where lots of points will be scored, but I also suspect we’ll see a big defensive play or two.  I think it will hinge on which defense does a better job getting to the quarterback as well as how well Minnesota can run the ball.  I think it will also be interesting to see which Brett Favre we see: the one who’s had a great year, or will we see a repeat of Favre two years ago, when costly interceptions allowed the Giants to win the NFC title game at Lambeau en route to a stunning Super Bowl victory?  Will the Saints secondary lure him into picks, or will Favre make good decisions and find his open receivers? 

This game almost seems too close to call, and to be honest I’m a little surprised at how most people are picking the Saints without hesitation, many cases in a runaway.  I know the Vikings have struggled on the road, but over the years it’s been proven in the playoffs that regular season history is irrelevant, because this is one game, and what happened previously has no bearing, especially the deeper you go in the playoffs.  I have a sense that Favre is going to show up big, and Brees will too.  I do think in the end the Vikings have a better defense especially up front, and I think Peterson will find holes to run through late in the game.  Minnesota 31 New Orleans 28

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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.

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NFC North Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 29, 2009

Teams listed in projected order of finish.  I will say that I think this division is very tough to project as the top three teams could end up all being very close.

1. Minnesota Vikings – I tipped my hand in an earlier post before the season preview that I think the Vikings will be scary good in 2009.  Last year they did manage to win this division, thanks largely to winning five of their final six regular season games, only to get surprised at home by the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs.  There is no question that Minnesota has talent all over the board, and now they might have enough to take the next step and really give people in the Twin Cities something to celebrate.  There is also little doubt the Vikings offseason was very eventful, and according to many very controversial (even perhaps causing some tension in the locker room?), but I think in the end it will prove to make all the difference for the Vikings.

The reason for the controversy surrounding the Vikings is Brett Favre.  I am on record as saying I think he can still play and will end up being a good fit in Minnesota.  I do think his will he or won’t he retire saga did get very old very fast, especially because it seems the whole thing was planned all along for him to miss the arduous training camp.  The fact is that prima donna or not, Favre is still good enough to make a difference for the Vikings.  I don’t think anyone can make a reasonable argument that he isn’t an improvement over Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels.  Jackson’s performance last season was shaky enough that coach Brad Childress felt compelled to trade for Rosenfels back in Februrary.  Even at his age Favre is an improvement over both, and he knows the offense.  Favre will also have the benefit of throwing to veteran wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who will be joined by first round draft pick Percy Harvin of Florida.  Harvin has blazing speed and should be a terrific fit on the Metrodome surface.  Tight end Visanthe Shaincoe also gives Favre a reliable target over the middle, and Bobby Wade is a good option in the slot.  The biggest strength for the Vikings though is the running game, anchored by the NFL’s top running back, Adrian Peterson.  The scary thing for opponents is that Peterson worked very hard in the offseason to improve his pass blocking and his receiving ability.  As it is, Peterson won the league’s rushing title last season with 1,760 yards, and that was without a consistent passing game.  If Favre is even just above average, teams will have to respect the passing attack with those receivers, and that could mean even better numbers for Peterson.  Chester Taylor also gives Minnesota a good option for a few carries per game as well as a third down back so they don’t have to wear down Peterson.  The offensive did lose center Matt Birk in free agency, but they still have an excellent left side of the line in tackle Bryant McKinnie and perennial Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson at guard.  They also drafted Oklahoma’s Phil Loadholt in the second round for depth.

There is also no question the Vikings defensive line is an easy top three unit and probably the league’s best.  Defensive end Jared Allen made a huge splash last year as Minnesota’s big free agent signee with 14.5 sacks, while tackles Kevin and Pat Williams both made the Pro Bowl as well.  The Williams’ could be facing a four game suspension by the league if the courts ultimately rule in the league’s favor that the duo used a banned diuretic last season.  Right now their fate is unknown, but the Vikings are hopeful that they’ll be able to play a full season.  It is worth noting that the Vikings’s first four games are very manageable so a suspension may not cripple the team in any case.  The Vikings’ front seven is also boosted by linebacker E.J. Henderson, who is an excellent tackler.  For years teams have been unable to run against the Vikings, plus they are able to get great pressure on the quarterback.  I see no reason that won’t continue this year.  The secondary did lose safety Darren Sharper to New Orleans, but the coaches also felt his talent was slipping after he intercepted just one pass last year.  The Vikings are confident that Tyrell Johnson can take his place, and the corners are solid, anchored by Antoine Winfield.

The kicking game is in great hands with veteran Ryan Longwell.  Punter Chrs Kluwe took a lot of criticism last year (mainly for not kicking away from Reggie Bush in a Monday night game last year), but he does have a strong leg and the coaches have confidence in him.  Percy Harvin is expected to handle the return duties, and he should be able to make an impact there.

I said before I started this preview that I think the Vikings are headed for the Super Bowl.  They had most of the pieces in place already, and I think Favre will put them over the top.  A decent passing game coupled with the league’s top running game and a very stingy defensive front seven is a tough combination to beat.  In any case they are clearly the class of this division.

2. Green Bay Packers – The Packers as expected had a rough first season post-Favre.  The irony is it wasn’t really Aaron Rodgers’ fault.  Rodgers did a much better job than expected of handling the pressure of replacing the Packer legend, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns.  What doomed the Packers was the defensive side of the ball.  In a six day span in late November, Green Bay surrendered a staggering 86 points in losses to New Orleans and Carolina.  The Packers did finish on a positive note, winning their final game against 0-16 Detroit, but they had lost six straight prior to that, finishing 6-10 overall.  The Packers should be much improved this year, and they are confident that lying in the weeds quietly is a better approach than the big splashes made by their division rivals.

We touched on Rodgers’ season a year ago, and his first full season as a starter certainly exceeded expectations.  Now he needs to put it together when the game is on the line.  The Packers were 0-7 last year in games where the offense got the ball with less than five minutes to go in the game with a chance to tie or win.  Rodgers took that stat personally, and he vows to be better in 2009.  He will have plenty of help from an offense that returns largely intact from a year ago.  Running back Ryan Grant rushed for over 1,200 yards, but his yards per carry dipped from 5.1 in 2007 to 3.9 last year.  To be fair, he played through a hamstring injury last year and is now healthy, so the Packers feel he should be back to his old self.  They also hope to find a complementary back, such as Brandon Jackson, who can spell Grant on occasion and keep him fresh.  The receivers are also strong, with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver both very capable of stretching the field.  The duo combined to catch over 150 balls last year, and if Rodgers improves in his second season as a stater, that number should go up.  Tight end Donald Lee is also an excellent red zone presence as well as a blocker in the running game.  The offensive line is a bunch of unknowns, but it returns intact save for the addition of center Duke Preston from Buffalo and the loss of tackle Mark Tauscher to free agency.  Since the unit is virtually the same from a year ago, the Packers hope the continuity will breed improvement.

Defensively, the Packers got quite possibly the steal of the draft in Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji at number nine overall.  Raji was clearly the best defensive player available in most scouts’ minds, and his presence should be huge for the Packers in the middle of their defense, especially since they will play a 3-4 this season.  The linebacking core is also starting to mature with former Ohio State standout A.J. Hawk and steady veteran Nick Barnett.  The secondary is anchored by cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris, both of whom made the Pro Bowl last year despite the struggles of the defense as a whole.  Both are aging, but are still among the best in the league.  Their play will offset that of the young safeties, Atari Bigby and Nick Collins.  I do expect the defense to be better than last year mainly because of the presence of Raji, and I think that could be enough to make the Packers a contender for a wild card slot.

The Packers are set at kicker for a long time with Mason Crosby, who has a very long leg (he kicked a 60-yard field goal in college at Colorado).  Punter is another story however, as Derrick Frost was so horrible he got the boot after 12 games last year.  Jeremy Kapinos of Penn State will take that over this year.  Will Blackmon returned two punts for scores last season, so the Packers do appear to be in good shape there.

I think the Packers could be in play for a wild card.  I like Rodgers and the offense to be better, and I also think the defense will be tougher with the presence of Raji.  The Packers didn’t make many moves in the offseason, but it’s possible their stability could make the difference as opposed to the big shakeups of their prime rivals.

3. Chicago Bears – The Bears have a very different look from the team that made the Super Bowl in 2006.  For years they have been a run and play defense kind of team, winning lots of low scoring games.  Last year they did finish 9-7, but they let a playoff spot slip away with a bad loss at Houston in the final game of the season.  The Bears still have their running game and defense to rely on, but now they have a quarterback to go with it, as they pulled off the offseason’s biggest trade by acquiring Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler from the Broncos.  All of Chicago is ga-ga over Cutler, who is only 25, has a rocket arm, and may be Chicago’s best quarterback in 30 years.  The Bears feel Cutler is the missing piece for a run at the Super Bowl.  While they have good reason to be excited, I don’t see a Super Bowl in Chicago’s future just yet.

Cutler no doubt has posted good numbers in Denver.  Last year he threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns, but he also threw his share of interceptions, many of them forced into double coverage, and is just 17-20 as a starter.  Cutler also played very poorly in Denver’s final three games last year, resulting in a Broncos’ collapse out of the playoffs.  The Bears do have reason to be very excited about Cutler, for they have gone through a whopping 37 quarterbacks over their last 171 games, a span of nearly 11 seasons.  Given that you can’t blame Chicago for paying a steep price to land a quarterback.  Cutler does have a lot of years ahead of him and is very talented.  Chicago does need to hope that he cleans up his attitude (the Broncos felt many of his interceptions came when he got impatient and frustrated), and Cutler does need to show that he has what it takes to win in the clutch.  The good news for the Bears is they may not need to rely much on their passing game, because Matt Forte is quickly emerging as one of the league’s top running backs.  Forte rushed for over 1,200 yards last year, and he has shown an ability to run inside and outside.  The Bears are counting on the mere presence of Cutler to open up the running game significantly.  They also hope that Cutler’s presence will improve the passing enough to make their offense a threat not seen in Chicago in a long time.  Cutler will have to work magic with a very suspect group of receivers, the best of which is probably Devin Hester, who is still adjusting after transitioning from cornerback.  The Bears do have a good tight end in Greg Olsen, but the rest of the group consists of rookie Juaquin Iglesias of Oklahoma, and a pair of relative no-names in Rashed Davis and Earl Bennett.  The offensive line also took hits with losses of John Tait (retirement) and John St. Clair (to Cleveland).  They did sign veteran Orlando Pace to protect Cutler’s blind side, and Olin Kruetz remains an excellent, albeit aging, center.

Defense has long been a Bears’ staple, and this year shouldn’t be much different.  The defensive line has good talent in Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye and Tommie Harris.  The linebackers are outstanding, led by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.  Despite all this talent in the front seven, the defense wasn’t always its usual self last year, surrendering 41 and 37 points respectively vs. division rivals Minnesota and Green Bay.  One reason is that their secondary can be considered average at best.  Charles Tillman can’t really be considered a shutdown corner, and Nathan Vasher is a liability against the run, and has also battled injuries the last two seasons.  The Bears did add safety Josh Bullocks from New Orleans.  If the secondary is average again, the Bears will have to rely very heavily on their front seven.

The Bears are in great shape at kicker with Robbie Gould, who has hit on 85 percent of field goals in his career despite kicking in windy Soldier Field, as well as punter Brad Maynard, who placed 40 punts inside the 20-yard line last season.  Devin Hester’s reputation as a returner is well documented, but the Bears might want to be careful not to let him get too distracted by trying to play wide receiver that he loses steam as a returner.  Daniel Manning as well as the rookie Iglesias could be capable of stepping in that role as well.

The Bears could well be a playoff team despite playing in a brutal division.  I know many people in Chicago think Cutler is their knight in shining armor, but I think he has some work to do before he becomes an elite player.  The question marks at receiver, offensive line and secondary could prove to be their undoing.  Despite that, it should be a great battle with the Packers and Vikings in this division.

4. Detroit Lions – Last season was obviously one to forget for the Lions, who became the first team in NFL history to go 0-16.  Most of their games weren’t even close, and perhaps the only positive thing for Lions fans was that the team sent general manager Matt Millen packing after years of ineptitude.  Not surprisingly, the head coach also lost his job, and the team used its first overall draft choice on a new quarterback.  Oh, and the logo is new too, because we all know that makes all the difference.  Of course it will take much more than a new logo to generate success in Detroit, but at least they can’t be any worse this year right?

Clearly there will be a lot of pressure on Matthew Stafford, the talented signal caller from Georgia who was the Lions’ choice at number one overall in the draft.  The Lions are hoping for some good karma here.  See, Stafford went to the same high school as the only legend quarterback in Lions’ history, as well as the last one to lead them to a championship.  That would be Bobby Layne, and the year of that championship was 1957.  The Lions hope that Stafford will prove to be a good selection, and he definitely has the tools to be a good player.  He will have competition this year though from Daunte Culpepper, who has bounced around to several teams but lost 30 pounds in the offseason and has actually looked good in the preseason.  Either way, the Lions hope the position will be improved over last year, when Dan Orlovsky memorably symbolized the futility by running out of the back of the end zone untouched for a safety against the Vikings.  Whoever is at the controls will have the luxury of throwing to one of the league’s top receivers in Calvin Johnson.  Despite the awful quarterback play last year, Johnson ranked fifth in the NFL in yards and first in touchdowns.  With improvement under center, Johnson might be able to post scary numbers (Be sure to tab him in fantasy this year if you can). He will be joined by Bryant Johnson, who comes over from San Francisco and Ronald Curry, signed from Oakland.  Not necessarily household names, but they are decent enough to be able to take some pressure off Johnson.  Second round draft pick Brandon Pettigrew of Oklahoma State also adds an intriguing option.  The Lions top running back is Kevin Smith, who nearly hit 1,000 yards last year, and he will be backed up by Maurice Morris, who is looking for a fresh start after leaving Seattle.  The offensive line wasn’t really addressed save for the addition of no name Daniel Loper from Tennessee.  Odds are the line will be a mess, and that means the offense overall will unfortunately still be a work in progress for Detroit.

New coach Jim Schwartz is frantically trying to get his defensive linemen to bulk up. Last year no one on the line weighed over 300 pounds, which put them at a disadvantage against opposing offensive lines virtually every week.  One of the Detroit’s free agent signings was tackle Grady Jackson from Atlanta, who weighs roughly 345 pounds.  They also drafted Sammie Hill, a 329-pound tackle out of little known Stillman University.  The linebackers should be significantly improved with the additions of Larry Foote, a key player on Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl winning teams in ’05 and ’08, as well as Julian Peterson, who comes over from the Seahawks.  The secondary was also addressed in the offseason, a good call considering they unit picked off just one pass last year.  Phillip Buchanon comes over from Tampa Bay, and the Lions also tabbed Anthony Henry from Dallas.  Couple those additions with holdover Keith Smith, who actually has good cover ability, and I’ll go out on a limb and say the Lions’ secondary will pick off more than one pass this year.

Detroit’s longest tenured player is kicker Jason Hanson.  He was vocal in his displeasure last season, and he is back for another year in the Motor City.  Punter Nick Harris has bounced around to multiple teams, but was very consistent last year (Hey, he had plenty of practice!).  Rookie Derrick Williams from Penn State is a candidate for return duty, as is Avion Cason, who was solid but not spectacular in the role last season.

I will make a bold prediction and say the Lions will not stumble to 0-16 two years in a row.  It may not be in the first few weeks, but there are a few winnable games on their schedule.  The defense is completely rebuilt, and the offense has some talent.  It will take a few years, but believe it or not there is a new direction here.

Coming next: the AFC South

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Favre + Vikings = Super Bowl

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 19, 2009

I have to admit I thought the whole Brett Favre saga was done.  I thought he was really retired this time.  I know I know, he’s done this before, and undoubtedly he now holds the NFL record for false retirements.  Wasn’t it three seasons ago he had what essentially was a tearful goodbye right after the season finale, a Sunday night game at Chicago?  Nevertheless, Favre will apparently play for the Vikings this season, which has to be a tough pill to swallow for Packers fans (Imagine John Elway in a Raiders uniform or Dan Marino in a Patriots jersey for comparison).  Green Bay thought they had dodged that bullet when they traded Favre to the Jets last season.  Heck, they even put a clause in the thing that required any team that acquired Favre from the Jets to surrender three first round picks to Green Bay.  Unfortunately for the Packers, they said nothing about the Jets releasing Favre (which the Jets did after they drafted Mark Sanchez).  This now means the Packers will have to contend with Favre head to head twice this year  Favre vs. Rodgers, one of them on a Monday night.  I can’t wait. 

Let’s make no mistake about this: Favre can still play a little.  He led the Jets to a 7-3 start last season before they collapsed.  While Favre was not on top of game in December last year, he was also not the only one responsible.  The Jets defense fell apart and so did their running game.  Favre can still throw the ball with zip for sure.  The biggest thing working against Favre is the same thing that has been his downfall at times his entire career: his tendency to throw interceptions.  The flipside of that is Favre has been able to make throws into traffic that few quarterbacks can make.  

Brett Favre, even at his age, is an upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels, and that automatically makes the Vikings a better football team.  Minnesota was already a Super Bowl contender with their running game and defense, and this move may just put them over the top in the NFC.  In fact, I’m going to go ahead and pick the Vikings to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.  My season picks are still coming in the next few weeks, but I think considering the Vikings were already good, considering the fact that they were set at essentially every position except for QB, I think even a halfway decent Favre will be enough to put the Vikings over the top.  They have the league’s top running game with a physical offensive line and Adrian Peterson, and they also have arguably the league’s top defensive line and an excellent secondary.  Factor in their friendly schedule, and I think this is shaping up to be a big year for the Vikings.  In fact, they could have had this last year if they had been able to swing the deal for Favre then.  

I do feel bad for Jackson and Rosenfels.  They were both competing for what they thought was a starting QB job.  Now both are relegated to backup duty.  I think there is a decent chance one of them will be traded, especially if some team sees their signal caller go down in preseason and get desperate.  I do think Favre should have been up front and honest about his desire to return instead of waffling.  It is obvious that both he and the team knew exactly what was going on being that Favre was already practicing yesterday.  I know this makes me and others tired of Favre’s act.  Despite all that, I see a good year for him and a big year for the Vikings.  Minnesota is going to the Super Bowl.

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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.

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Week One and Season Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 5, 2008

Football is finally back!  I know, they’ve been playing the preseason games for a month but that doesn’t count.  Last night’s win by the Giants over Washington officially kicked off the year.  Count me among those that feels the Giants are really being slighted and are not being given the respect a defending champion should deserve.  Yes, they lost their top two defensive ends (Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora to a season ending injury in preseason) but they still the defending champs, and last night they played like it.  The Redskins looked lost offensively most of the game, in large part because the Giants managed to get pressure on Jason Campbell.  Eli Manning didn’t have a great game, but he made enough plays early to give the Giants the lead, and Plaxico Burress proved he is still the real deal. 

I am genuinely baffled how many people are predicting a bad year for the Giants.  My hometown newspaper, the Denver Post, predicted a 20-19 Redskins win yesterday.  Of the 16 experts on espn.com, only one is predicting the Giants to win the NFC East (to be fair they actually didn’t last year) and seven of those experts believe the Giants will miss the playoffs.  The Sports Guy on espn. com is offering the following: Prediction No. 9: The Giants finish either 7-9, 6-10 or 5-11.   Plleeeasseee.  If you know anything about football, you know that is unlikely for a defending Super Bowl champion, particularly one with a tough defense that has proven over the years it can win on the road.  At least Sports Illustrated is picking the Giants to go 9-7 and win one playoff game.  I’m not saying the Giants will repeat, or even that they’re a lock to win the division (the Cowboys are loaded and dangerous and perhaps the favorite in the NFC).  I’m simply saying the Giants should at least get a little more respect than they’re getting.  Their next two games are at St. Louis and home against Cincinnati.  It’s very possible the G-men will begin the season 3-0, and there are several idiots out there thinking they won’t make the playoffs?  If they were playing in the AFC maybe, but not in the mediocre NFC.

Now, to be fair, I offer my picks for the season, and I have as much chance of being wrong as anyone else (and probably will be).  It is easy to forget that there is numerous turnover in the league every year, and there will always be surprise teams, as I offer a couple of shockers below. 

NFC EAST CHAMP: Dallas (13-3)  The Cowboys blew an opportunity last year with a home playoff loss.  The offense returns loaded as ever, and if everyone on the roster behaves this is the team to beat in the NFC, and maybe in the league.  The addition of Pacman Jones is huge if he stays out of trouble, as he is one of the top kick returners in football and a solid corner.  Zach Thomas also shores up the linebacking core.  Tony Romo and Terrell Owens have a clear chemistry that will allow the offense to light it up again this season. 

NFC NORTH CHAMP: Minnesota (10-6) I still believe the Vikings would have been a real player for the Super Bowl if they had gotten Brett Favre.  Tarvaris Jackson will have pressure on him all season, but with Adrian Peterson back there the Vikings will score a lot of points.  The league’s top run defense got even better with the addition of Jared Allen.  Expect at least 15 sacks out of him. 

NFC SOUTH CHAMP: New Orleans (10-6) The Saints have as much offensive talent as anyone and were a real disappointment last year.  This year they should be able to turn it around and be able to win a division that is up for grabs.  Reggie Bush should explode in his third year with a healthy Deuce McAllister accompanying him at running back.  The key will be how well their defense performs.  Carolina could be a darkhorse here, but they are likely to wear down with so many key players having a history of injury. 

NFC WEST CHAMP: San Francisco (9-7) This is my real surprise pick.  The 49ers have stunk it up in recent years, and start a no name quarterback in J.T. O’Sullivan.  Thing is, Mark Martz has taken over as offensive coordinator and brings receiver Isaac Bruce with him from his old days in St. Louis.  Martz has had success with all kinds of quarterbacks (Kurt Warner in 1999 anyone?) and the Niners will benefit from playing in an awful division.  I actually thought about Arizona here, but the Cardinals will continue their pattern of underachieving in the desert. 

NFC WILD CARDS: New York Giants (11-5) Philadelphia (10-6)  Both teams play in the rugged NFC East, which produced both wild card teams last season.  The Giants, as mentioned above, are much better than the respect they are being shown, and will prove it by returning to the playoffs.  The Eagles prospects could well depend on the health of Donovan McNabb, but they finished last season with a bang and should continue that momentum into the season. 

You may notice the absence of Green Bay.  I stand by my opinion that they made a colossal error rejecting Brett Favre in favor of Aaron Rodgers, and that distraction will carry over.  You don’t simply replace a legend quarterback, it doesn’t happen.   I don’t think the Seahawks will make it because they have benefited for years playing in a weak division, but their lack of running game will kill them, in addition to the fact that they don’t have many stars that jump off the page. 

NFC WILD CARD ROUND: New Orleans over Philadelphia, N.Y. Giants over San Francisco

NFC DIVISIONAL ROUND: Dallas over N.Y. Giants, Minnesota over New Orleans

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Dallas over Minnesota

AFC EAST CHAMP: New England (12-4) The Patriots will be very good once again.  The health of Tom Brady does seem to be a question mark, and a caveat here is that if he goes down they are done.  The Patriots will not challenge for 16-0 again but will be able to win the division without much difficulty thanks to a friendly schedule.  Randy Moss should have another big year. 

AFC NORTH CHAMP: Pittsburgh (11-5) The Steelers have a tough physical defense that will help them win a lot of games, particularly in cold weather late in the year.  Rashard Mendenhall could be a rookie of the year candidate and will help ignite their offense and will complement Willie Parker. 

AFC SOUTH CHAMP: Jacksonville (12-4) One of my other surprise picks.  This has traditionally been an automatic for Indy, but the Jaguars are ready to break out.  Their defense is without question a top five unit, and the offense will benefit from the addition of Jerry Porter at wideout.  The Jaguars nearly upset the Pats in the playoffs on the road last year.  David Garrard is underrated as a passer and it wouldn’t shock me to see him in the Pro Bowl. 

AFC WEST CHAMP: San Diego (11-5) The Chargers biggest question is if they can stay healthy.  LaDainian Tomlinson appears healthy and ready to go, but Antonio Gates does not.  Shawne Merriman declined surgery so he could play this year, and that will be interesting to see if that affects the Chargers.  Still, there is enough talent that they are the division favorites considering the rest of the division. 

AFC WILD CARDS: Indianapolis (10-6) Denver (10-6)  The Colts will still make the playoffs even if they don’t win the division.  Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning and the offense will be good as usual.  Call me crazy, but I think there could be a leftover effect from their stunning playoff loss to San Diego last year.  The Colts in recent years have debunked the theory they can’t win on the road, but something doesn’t seem right about this team entering the season.   As for the Broncos, I realize this looks like a hometown pick, but I expect big breakout years from Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.  The run defense can’t possibly be any worse than last year, yet the Broncos still managed seven wins as bad as it was.  Slight improvement in that area should lead to a few more wins, and the fact they have four games against the Chiefs and Raiders will put them in the playoffs.

I’ve left out several good teams, many of which would make it if they were playing in the NFC.  The Jets will barely miss out of the postseason, and it won’t be Brett Favre’s fault they don’t get there.  The Jets made several improvements in the offseason, but a difficult early schedule will put them behind an eight ball they won’t be able to get in front of.  The Titans are a solid team that made the playoffs a year ago, but this year they will also fall just short.  I believe the Browns, one of the “hot” teams in this year’s media, were a fluke last year.  It would not shock me to see Derek Anderson usurped as the starting QB by Brady Quinn at some point, and that will doom the Browns. 

WILD CARD ROUND: Pittsburgh over Denver, Indianapolis over San Diego

DIVISIONAL ROUND: Jacksonville over Pittsburgh, New England over Indianapolis

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Jacksonville over New England

SUPER BOWL: Dallas over Jacksonville    

The Cowboys have every piece necessary to win it all.  They came very close last season, and I believe they too would have beaten the Patriots in a Super Bowl rematch had they had the chance.  Last year’s playoff loss will serve as motivation all year and this season they will be able to get it done. 

Before we wrap up, I also offer my selections for the rest of week one.  Picks do not take point spread into account:

– Bills over Seahawks: The Bills are an intriguing team, and the Seahawks are banged up. 

– Dolphins over Jets: A mini upset, but the Dolphins will be significantly improved.  Chad Pennington gets revenge.

– Patriots over Chiefs: The question is will Kansas City even get a first down.  This is a complete mismatch.

– Ravens over Bengals: Both teams will be bad this year.  Cincy has a potentially explosive offense, but the Ravens defense will help them pull this one out at home.

– Steelers over Texans: Houston is improving, but a rough assignment for the opener.

– Cowboys over Browns: This will be a good game, but the Cowboys pull it out on the road.

– Colts over Bears: Colts win opener at new stadium, Bears quarterback woes continue

– Jaguars over Titans: Jaguars win tough road opener in a key division game off the bat

– Broncos over Raiders: Even without Brandon Marshall, the Broncos make enough plays to win on the road

– Chargers over Panthers: No Steve Smith, no chance for Carolina.  Chargers roll at home

– Eagles over Rams: Philadelphia rolls at home against a Rams team trying to figure out its identity

– Lions over Falcons: Dud game of the week…Two bad teams square off at the Georgia Dome

– Vikings over Packers: Adrian Peterson begins spectacular season with Monday night show at Lambeau…Packers see how life will be without Favre

– Saints over Buccaneers: Saints win emotional opener at the Superdome against division rival

– 49ers over Cardinals: I’m shocked how many people are picking Arizona to win this game….Niners will be surprise team this season

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Favre or no Favre?

Posted by mizzou1028 on July 9, 2008

I don’t know any more about the nuances of the rumors surrounding a possible return to the NFL by Brett Favre than the man in the moon.  I don’t know if Favre is really feeling the itch to return just months after an emotional retirement press conference, or if this is just being fueled by the media to fill up time when they have nothing else to talk about.  I don’t know what Packers management is thinking on this.  What I do know is that if Favre does want to return, and the Packers say no thanks, than they had better be prepared for it to backfire.  There is not a good track record in NFL history for replacing legend quarterbacks.  In fact, it is about as close to guarantee for failure as there is in the sport.  Nothing against Aaron Rodgers, who played well against Dallas last year when Favre was injured, but if the Packers really think they’re better off with Rodgers than they would be if Favre came back, they are probably in trouble.

The list of quarterbacks that have tried to follow legends in NFL history is a rather dubious one.  By the nature of it, trying to follow a Hall of Famer is not an easy task anyway, particularly when a young signal caller is trying to replace a guy who’s an icon, like Favre is in Green Bay.  Terry Bradshaw won four Super Bowls in the 1970s with Pittsburgh, but it wasn’t until Ben Roethlisberger in 2005 that the Steelers really had any stability at the position after Bradshaw’s retirement.  Bradshaw was followed by among others Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone, David Woodley, Scott Campbell, Bubby Brister, Neil O’Donnell and Kordell Stewart.  The Steelers had a number of good teams between Bradshaw’s retirement and their Super Bowl win in ’05, even making the Super Bowl in 1995 with O’Donnell, but all of those guys had to play in Bradshaw’s shadow.  How about guys who have followed John Elway in Denver?  Try Brian Griese, Gus Frerotte and Jake Plummer.  The Broncos went 6-10 in 1999 the first year without Elway, and this was with a team that won back to back Super Bowls in ’97 and ’98.  There is no doubt that the Broncos would not have been near that bad in ’99 if Elway had returned to play for another season.  As a side note, you could even make the argument (however thin) that Terrell Davis never would have torn his ACL had Elway returned.  See, that happened on a play where Griese threw an interception into double coverage that Elway never would have thrown, and Davis got injured trying to make the tackle.  How about the Miami Dolphins post Marino?  Again you’ll find Brian Griese’s name among the replacements, and actually Frerotte’s as well, in addition to Jay Fiedler, Damon Huard, Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, A.J. Feeley and Sage Rosenfels.  Miami STILL has no stability at QB since Dan Marino retired in 1999.  There is no doubt that Miami fans would have gladly taken one more season with Marino at the helm in 2000, if nothing else for one more shot at a run before the inevitable rebuilding process.

The point of all this is not to say that Aaron Rodgers will fail.  Truth is, we have no idea how he will do.  It is reasonable to say however that being quarterback of the Packers for a full season is quite different than coming in as an injury replacement for one game.  The point is that if the Packers are that fast to say goodbye to Favre, and are ready to take their chances with Rodgers, they should be prepared for the team to struggle.  In fact, history shows they are likely to miss the playoffs with Rodgers at quarterback based on the track record of teams the season following the retirement of a legend quarterback, particularly when that quarterback is the face of the franchise.  If Favre wants to come back and play one more season, the Packers should welcome him back with open arms, period.  Favre had one of his best seasons last year, and there is no reason to think he can’t still play at a high level if he wants to.  Can you imagine Mike Shanahan in 1999 if Elway said he wanted to return a week before camp, even in the wake of his retirement press conference?  Can you imagine Shanahan telling Elway, “no I think we’re set with Brian Griese, thanks”?  Me neither.

Whether Favre actually plays this season or not will be interesting to see.  It will more interesting if he wants to play and the Packers wave him off.  If that were the case, the Packers would have to either release him, allowing him to play for another team, or they would have to trade him, neither of which would be an easy pill to swallow for Green Bay fans.  If the thought of Favre in another uniform makes a Packer fan want to throw up, than imagine Favre playing for arguably the one contending team that is missing a quarterback.  The one team in the league that is set at pretty much every position except for quarterback.  A team that made a big splash in the offseason bringing in Jared Allen (arguably the league’s top defensive lineman) and a good receiver in Bernard Berrian.  A team with one of the NFL’s top rushing attacks and a team that in recent years has been amazingly stingy defensively against the run.  A team who’s current top QB is very young, inexperienced, and could use a year under Favre.  A team that as currently constructed has been picked to win the Super Bowl by Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman.  That would be the Minnesota Vikings, prime division rival of the Packers.  If the Packers are that sure they would rather take their chances with Aaron Rodgers, they should envision this scenario: Week one, Monday night at Lambeau Field, Packers-Vikings, Favre coming out of the tunnel in Vikings purple.  It should be enough to make any Packer fan want to throw up.  That is, until they envision Favre holding the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season in a Vikings hat, after the Packers have suffered through a 6-10 season under Rodgers.

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