Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Posts Tagged ‘New England Patriots’

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.

Advertisements

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

Yes, the Broncos really are 5-0

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 14, 2009

Patriots Broncos Football There has certainly been a lot going on the past few days in the Denver sports scene, hence the lateness of this post.  We will give the Rockies their due for a fantastic season in just a moment, but the Broncos are rapidly becoming the talk of the sports world for being the unquestioned biggest surprise in the National Football League.  With a win over the Patriots in overtime, the Broncos have now silenced critics who said their fast start was a result of an easy schedule (actually three of their five wins have come against teams with winning records).  The Broncos were a team that was universally picked to be horrible primarily because everyone seemed to think they made a colossal error in trading Jay Cutler (for example Sports Illustrated picked them to finish 5-11.  Hell, even Denver Post columnist Woody Paige predicted 4-12).  Well, now that they are 5-0, the Broncos’ start has to be among the most surprising in NFL history.  Fans wanted Josh McDaniels fired before he even coached a game and few seemed to think that he was doing a good job in the offseason.  The Broncos are quickly showing that they are for real, and are quickly making people forget Cutler and Mike Shanahan.

There are many places we could start in dissecting this game, but I think it is necessary to start with Kyle Orton, being that he was one of the primary reasons “experts” were predicting such a bad year for the Broncos.  Start with the fact that Orton posted the second 300-yard game of his career, then that he was named offensive player of the week.  Against the Patriots Orton led not one, but TWO 90 yard touchdown drives (the second one was 98, in the fourth quarter no less).  This is the type of clutch drive that only few are capable of leading, and it is a drive that can sometimes define a quarterback.  Orton spread the ball around the field, finding Eddie Royal 10 times (more than in the previous four games combined), Jabar Gaffney eight times and Brandon Marshall six.  In five games he has only thrown one pick (and I’m not sure that should even really count as it was a hail mary at the end of the first half).  Orton continued to make very smart decisions with the football, not doing more than he was asked to do or was capable of.  Orton is now 27-12 as a starter in his career, and is proving that flashy numbers and rocket arms aren’t the only way to win in the NFL.  He is definitely making people in Denver and around the NFL forget about Jay Cutler in a real hurry.

The Broncos defense is of course also to be commended in this game once again.  In the fourth quarter, the Broncos endured a sequence where they committed not one but two fourth down penalties on special teams (a running into the punter and an offsides), extending a Patriots drive and giving Tom Brady extra chances.  Needless to say, any time you give Brady an extra chance to beat you, let alone two chances, you’re going to be cooked most of the time.  The Broncos had twice forced a New England punt attempt to no avail, finding themselves in need of another stop.  The Broncos defense was able to dig in and get yet another stop, getting enough pressure to force Brady into a couple of incompletions.  Overall, the Broncos held the Patriots to 17 points, and while I realize New England has not been lighting up the scoreboard so far this year, this still proves that the Broncos defense is indeed for real.  I realize also that the following is essentially a sentence I could cut and paste every week, but Brian Dawkins’ presence and importance is not to be underestimated.  He is nothing short of the ultimate leader in the locker room, and he is showing he can still play a little on the field too.

Some other thoughts:

– The Broncos missed Correll Buckhalter Sunday, both for his running ability and his pass catching presence.  Knowhson Moreno did have a nice game, but he needs to hang onto the football.

– Brandon Marshall is back.  Two more touchdowns for starters, but it is clear that he is once again playing with effort and is enjoying the game again.  It’s amazing what winning can accomplish.

– I actually liked the Broncos throwback jerseys more than I thought I would.  I’m not saying they should wear them again, but it is nice once in awhile to see a different look, in this case a VERY different look. I also as I said before liked New England’s throwbacks more than their current uniform.

– New England will really miss Fred Taylor.  Somehow, they will need either Laurence Maroney or Sammy Morris to be effective going forward, but right now the lack of running game is holding their offense back.

– 12 targets for Wes Welker, only 3 for Randy Moss, and that’s without Champ Bailey shadowing Moss.  Not sure if that means anything, it’s just interesting.

– I think both teams look like they are playoff quality right now.

– It was interesting to see the chess match between McDaniels and Belichick.  Clearly both knew each other extremely well, and were trying new wrinkles to outsmart each other.  This was most obvious when timeouts were called in confusion.

– The Broncos have a huge game Monday night in San Diego.  In their last three trips west, the Broncos have lost 48-28, 23-3, and last year 52-21.  The Broncos can take yet another step toward elite status and away from the mediocrity of previous years if they can get a victory.  The Chargers have looked vulnerable lately, so I’m not sure this is entirely out of the question.

– I also want to give the Colorado Rockies their due.  The Rockies were 12 games under.500 in May when they fired manager Clint Hurdle, and naturally no one was expecting anything from this group at all.  I’m honestly not sure what Jim Tracy did to turn things around, but whatever he did, it worked wonders and then some.  He got the guys to play with confidence, and just seemed to always know what buttons to push to make things work.  The Rockies nearly caught the Dodgers in the NL West even though that lead was seemingly out of reach, but did clinch the NL wild card.  While the Rockies lost to the Phillies in four games in the division series, let’s not forget what a wild ride this team had just to get in the playoffs.  I know fans are getting on Huston Street right now for getting the loss in game three and game four, but the Rockies would not have even made the playoffs at all if not for his ability to close games on the clutch.  Hopefully ownership will keep the team together and the Rockies will be able to make another run next season.

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

Broncos-Patriots Preview & week 5 picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 9, 2009

CORRECTION Broncos Draft Football Before we get into this matchup, take a good look at the photo.  That is what the Broncos will be wearing on Sunday: 1960 throwback uniforms.  This has to be without question one of the ugliest jerseys in the history of sports, not to mention the vertical striped socks (photo below).  The socks were so hideous at the time that there was a huge ceremony to burn them all (well most of them, a pair does hang in the Pro Football Hall of Fame).  This ensemble, the original uniform of the Broncos, was literally all the Broncos could get at the time.  They were second hand because the owner at the time couldn’t afford anything else.  Needless to say, they were scrapped very quickly for the orange the blue the team has worn for a vast majority of their history.  A large part of me says it will actually be very fun to see the broncos in action wearing these uniforms on Sunday.  Just don’t try to adjust your TV set when you see them.  The Patriots will also be wearing throwback uniforms featuring Pat Patriot circa 1963 (In their case I much prefer the classic uniform to their current one).  Their the same ones (except an away version) that they wore in week one against the Bills.

Now, as for the game, this should be a great one.  It will be even better now that the forecast has greatly improved over the past 24 hours.  Yesterday they were calling for temperatures in the 20s and snow.  Now, the forecast calls for temps in the 50s and sunny skies (but don’t get too excited just yet, this is Colorado, and that means the forecast will likely change again).  At any rate, what we have here is a good matchup that is very compelling because you have student against mentor.  Josh McDaniels had great success as offensive coordinator of the Patriots under Bill Belichick, and now is he the head man of the Broncos.  Many of Belichick’s former assistants have gone on to head coaching positions, although it’s a stretch to say any of them have had real success.  McDaniels has started out his career 4-0 after a tumultuous offseason in which he completely revamped the team on both sides of the ball.  Belichick of course has a very proven track record of success, winning three Super Bowls with New England as well as numerous division titles.  It will be interesting to see if either side has an advantage in terms of knowing the other, because McDaniels and Belichick worked together for eight seasons, with McDaniels serving as an assistant on both sides of the ball at various times during his tenure.  It seems clear that McDaniels has modeled a lot of what he does after Belichick, so many ways the philosophies of the two coaches are similar.  Regardless, the mere fact that these two are coaching against each other will make for great theatre.

imagesThe biggest thing I’m curious to see in this game is how Denver’s defense performs against the New England offense.  the Patriots offense did suffer a disastrous blow this week with news that Fred Taylor will be sidelined due to right ankle surgery.  The good news for New England is they don’t expect it to be season ending, but they will definitely not have him available for this game.  That means they will rely on the trio of Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris.  Morris did torch the Broncos for 138 yards by halftime last year, but that was against a completely different defensive unit.  In any case, Taylor has been the Patriots’ best runner by far in the first four games, and missing him could be bad news against a Denver unit that has been extremely stingy against the run.  The Broncos held Dallas to 78 yards rushing last week after they had gone for 200 in each of the previous two games, so indications are that the Broncos have an advantage against the run in this game with the Patriots beat up.  The key here though could end up being the Patriots pass offense.  Tom Brady is definitely looking more comfortable in the pocket and has shown he can take hits when necessary.  He is also developing more of a chemistry with Randy Moss again and Wes Welker is back to help stretch the field as well.  The Broncos have gotten pressure on opposing QBs so far this year, so the key could be how much pressure they can get on Brady, especially with Elvis Dumervil.  If they can get pressure on Brady, it could play into the hands of Denver’s improved secondary.  If not, then it could be real fun to watch Moss against Champ Bailey, while the rest of the secondary tries to contain Welker and Benjamin Watson.

The Broncos offense hasn’t been at all flashy, but they will need to put up some points to help take some pressure off the defense.  The Patriots defense has been quietly effective the last two weeks against good offenses in Atlanta and Baltimore, so it could be a challenge for the Broncos to get some points on the board.  Correll Buckhalter is out with an ankle injury, so it will be up to rookie Knowshon Moreno to carry the load in the running game.   Buckhalter’s absence will also be felt in the receiving game, as he has been a favorite weapon out of the backfield for Kyle Orton.  A key for Denver offensively for this game as well as the rest of the season will be getting more production in the passing game.  Brandon Marshall stepped up big last week, but the Broncos will also need Eddie Royal and Brandon Stokley, who missed the last two games due to injury, to produce as well.  The Broncos may also need a big game from former Patriot Daniel Graham, who has emerged as a reliable target for Kyle Orton in the early going.

This is another big test for the Broncos, certainly their toughest of the season to this point without question.  The Patriots are 3-1, and when you look at their team it’s easy to wonder why anyone is saying there are problems up there.  It is interesting to note that the Broncos are the only team in the NFL with a winning record against the Patriots since 2001 (5-2).  However the Patriots blasted Denver last year 41-7.  The national folks certainly are expecting a good one Sunday, as CBS is sending its top crew of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms to do the game.    This is a difficult one to pick, because the Patriots seem to be their usual selves, and while the Broncos have played so well so far they have done it against non-elite competition (no disrespect intended to the Cowboys, who I don’t think are a playoff team right now).  The Mile High crowd will be rocking, and the Broncos will have most of their famous alumni present as they are honoring their 50th anniversary team.  The Patriots are always tough on the road, so something has to give.

Who to pick???

thinking…..

thinking….

thinking…..

(after agonizing and hair pulling)…what the hell, I’ll take the Broncos to get it done at home.  I think the Broncos defense will come up with a huge play to swing a tight game in the fourth quarter.  That is provided the Broncos don’t play at a level matching the 1960 team whose jerseys they will be wearing.

The Pick: Broncos 21 Patriots 17

Now to the rest of the picks:

Last week: 11-3 Season: 47-15.  Honestly I should just quit while I am ahead.

– Bills over Browns: Needless to say this is not the game of the week.  I take the Bills mainly because they are at home.  Both teams have been major disappointments.

– Ravens over Bengals: The Ravens are out for blood after a loss last week in New England.  Cincinnati has a talented offense, but I don’t like their odds on the road against the Ravens D.  Baltimore’s offense should also rebound at home in this one.

– Steelers over Lions: Pittsburgh still doesn’t look entirely right, especially on defense, but they have found their running game.  That will be enough against Detroit, although this game will be competitive.  It will be a de facto home game for the Steelers with more terrible towels in the seats than Lions fans.

– Cardinals over Texans: Arizona has had a bye week to regroup, and their offense should have a field day against a Houston defense that has not really stopped anyone yet.  Houston might score enough to keep up and make this entertaining, but in the end the Cards will prevail at home.

– Jaguars over Seahawks.  Jacksonville really showed something last week against the Titans, dominating the action on both sides of the ball.  The way Seattle has underperformed and is once again battling injury, I like the Jags in a road mini upset here.  Matt Hasselbeck may be back and Seattle needs him.  In any case my pick of the Seahawks to win the NFC West is looking really stupid right now.

– Cowboys over Chiefs: I am shocked that national people are picking the upset here (I have seen more than one pick for KC).  I know the Cowboys haven’t been great, but they are better than the Chiefs.  Arrowhead is no help when the home team is this poor.

– Giants over Raiders: This is the blowout of the week.  Even if Eli Manning is hobbling it won’t matter.  The Raiders are such a mess that a trip east is the last thing they need.  The Giants continue to prove that people (including me) underestimate them in preseason every year.

– Eagles over Buccaneers: Another blowout of the week.  McNabb and Westbrook are back for Philly, and the Bucs are still a big mess in absolutely every way.  If the Phillies end up losing to the Rockies in the playoffs, this will be a good way for Philadelphians to feel better.

– Panthers over Redskins: two disappointing teams go head to head.  The Redskins are fortunate to have ugly wins against the Rams and Buccaneers, while Carolina is still looking for a win.  They should be able to get it at home, and maybe save Jake Delhomme’s job for another week.

– Vikings over Rams: Another blowout, this time for the visiting team.  The Rams might just be the worst team in the league, while the Vikings bring Adrian Peterson, a great offensive line, and great defensive front seven, and oh yeah that Favre guy.

– 49ers over Falcons: This should be entertaining.  I should point out I picked the Niners to win the west LAST YEAR, and then naturally underestimated them this season.  I still think Atlanta will be a playoff factor in the NFC, but the Niners have mojo right now and the home field will sway them in this one.

– Colts over Titans: These are two teams going in opposite directions.  The Titans are desperate for a win, and they’ll have a Sunday night crowd behind them, but Peyton Manning is not going to feel sorry for Jeff Fisher and company.  The Colts smell blood in the division, and that’s usually bad news for opponents.

– Jets over Dolphins: Miami is a home in the Monday nighter, and thus I am tempted to say the Wildcat will carry the day, but I think the Jets have something to prove after losing on the road last week.  Braylon Edwards makes his debut after being acquired in trade from Cleveland, and I think he will make an impact in new surroundings.

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

AFC East Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 26, 2009

We’re about halfway through the preaseason, and that means it’s about time for me to make my predictions on the season.  I will point out last year was just flat dismal for yours truly in this regard.   Neither of my two Super Bowl picks even made the playoffs,  and in fact I missed on half of the playoff teams.  Heck, I was 0 for 4 on conference championship game picks.  (If you’re still reading with baited breath to see what I’m picking this year I am stunned).  Nevertheless, I will attempt to do better this year.  On the plus side, I had a roughly 68 percent success rate on individual games last season, and that’s not bad considering how tough it is to pick today’s NFL.  In an effort to do justice to each team before the season, we will look at one division at a time, and wrap things up right before the season with the full unveiling of wild card and Super Bowl picks.  Today we look at the AFC East, with teams listed in predicted order of finish.

1. New England Patriots – Last year the Patriots got flat robbed.  Despite finishing 11-5, winning their final four games in the process (including a 47-7 thrashing of NFC champ Arizona), they missed the playoffs, while 8-8 San Diego got in.  Oh, and they still posted a good record despite losing Tom Brady to injury in week one.  Brady is back, and that alone has the Patriots poised to retake this division and maybe return to the top of the AFC elite.

Brady’s return should mean better numbers for Randy Moss.  While Matt Cassel did an admirable job filling in, his arm isn’t that of Brady’s.  I expect a big bounce back year for Moss, and I once again expect the big play to be an important part of New England’s attack.  Wes Welker should also benefit from Brady’s return, and could well top 100 catches again in the slot.  The Patriots also got a boost in the running game with the signing of Fred Taylor, who while aged is still very capable, and should take some pressure off Laurence Maroney.  The offensive line remains solid as well with few changes from last year’s unit that paved the way for 2,278 rushing yards last year, the most for the Patriots since 1985.  If the Patriots can also get solid tight end production from Benjamin Watson and trade acquisition Alex Smith, the offense could return to the scary good levels of 2007.  New England did lose their play caller from last year, as Josh McDaniels is now the head coach in Denver, but that shouldn’t prove to be much of a problem.  Remember the Patriots replaced Charlie Weis too after he took the Notre Dame head coaching job.

Defensively, the Patriots must stay healthy to be effective.  This is true for any team of course, but in New England’s case they are battling age and a lack of depth in this area.  The 3-4 defense favored by Bill Belichick relies on solid pressure, particularly from the nose tackle.  New England has a solid one there in Vince Wilfork, but ends Ty Warren and Richard Seymour both battled injury last season.  If both are healthy, the Patriots should be able to get the rush they need.  If not, the pressure will be on a linebacking core that lost Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs.  There is no reason to think that Jerrod Mayo shouldn’t duplicate his outstanding rookie season, but he can’t do it all by himself.  New England may need one of their young unknowns to step up.  The Patriots added Shawn Springs in the secondary, but that could still be question mark for a unit that gave up 27 touchdown passes last season, second most in the NFL.

New England’s special teams remains solid with kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punt Chris Hanson.  Kickoff returns could be an issue after the loss of Ellis Hobbs (traded to Philadelphia). New England also has a new long snapper after the departure of Lonie Paxton to Denver.

Overall expect a big year for the Patriots.  It will be a major upset if they don’t make the playoffs, particularly after they missed them last year.  Five of their first eight games are at home, but four of their final six are on the road.  New England also plays in London this year against Tampa Bay.

2. Buffalo Bills – The good people of Buffalo have had a tough decade.  The Bills have missed the playoffs nine years in a row and the fans have had very little to cheer about.  Despite a promising 5-1 start last year, they flamed out and finished 7-9, losing four of their final five games.  In an effort to turn their fortunes around, the Bills had a very active offseason.  I think it will be an improvement, but will it be enough to get them back in the playoffs?

Trent Edwards is a good quarterback when he is healthy.  His record as a starter is just 12-11, but I think he showed improvement in several areas last year, and this year he might finally have the weapons to really help him.  The Bills made perhaps the league’s biggest splash by bringing in Terrell Owens.  While Owens certainly has his problems, he does have a proven track record of being extremely successful his first year in a new place.  Hence, the genius of the Bills to sign him to a one year contract.  With Owens around, defenses can’t key on Lee Evans anymore.  Factor in Josh Reed, and suddenly the Bills have a very dangerous trio of wideouts.  I think Owens’ impact will be staggering, not only for his own numbers but for his impact on the rest of the offense.  Unfortunately for the Bills, running back Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first three games of the season, but I expect a big year from him once he is in the lineup.  Until then, Fred Jackson should help provide some depth, and new acquisition Dominic Rhodes should be good for a handful of carries as well.  Buffalo also will have a completely retooled offensive line, so it remains to be seen if those changes will be good or bad, particularly the loss of Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to the Eagles.

The defense should be improved, if nothing else because most of the players are back and should have a better grasp of the Tampa 2 scheme.  Marcus Stroud is a good a defensive tackle as there is in the league, but the Bills will need to get better pressure on the quarterback.  Last year they accounted for just 46 sacks and takeaways, which ranked near the bottom of the NFL.  The addition of first round draft pick Aaron Maybin of Penn State could provide a big impact in this area.  That is, if he’s not too far behind after a lengthy holdout.  I really like their linebackers, particularly Paul Posluszky, who returns after suffering a broken arm last season.  The secondary has talent, but they will need an improved pass rush in order to see better interception totals.

The special teams is a good as any around.  Returners Leodis McKelvin and Roscoe Parrish can be scary returning punts or kickoffs, Kicker Rian Lindell and punter Brian Moorman are also very solid.

If the Bills don’t get walloped  and get their confidence shattered in a week one Monday nighter at New England, their schedule might just be conducive for a playoff run.  However, their fate may hinge on a tough final three games: home vs. New England, at Atlanta, and home vs. the Colts.

3. Miami Dolphins – There is no doubt that Miami made one of the most staggering turnarounds in NFL history last season, recovering from a 1-15 finish in 2007 to an 11-5 effort last year and a division championship.  However, reality hit when they were waxed by the Ravens at home in the first round of the playoffs.  Miami introduced the Wildcat formation to the league with tremendous success, and it appears that the culture is changed in South Florida for the better.  Now they face the task of doing it again.

Miami had to be pleasantly surprised by the play of Chad Pennington at quarterback last season.  It’s funny that if the Jets didn’t sign Brett Favre before last season, Pennington never would have been available.  While Pennington is successful for now, the shadows of Chad Henne, Miami’s QB of the future, and of Pat White, Miami’s second round pick out of West Virginia, loom large especially if Pennington struggles early.  The running game is very solid with Ronnie Brown and a much more focused Ricky Williams.  Brown’s presence and ability to throw should make the Wildcat effective for Miami again this year should they choose to use it.  There are some questions about the receivers.  Ted Ginn Jr. has shown promise but has not played to anywhere near the potential he showed at Ohio State, and Greg Camarillo, while capable, doesn’t strike fear into opponents the way many other receivers do.  The Dolphins should have a good offensive line if they’re healthy, especially since a solid line is a trademark of teams run by Bill Parcells.

The Dolphins released veteran Vonnie Holliday, but should benefit along the defensive line from the return of Jason Taylor.  Taylor played in Washington last year after falling out of favor with Parcells, but is now back in Miami, and if he’s his old self, Miami should see improved sack totals.  Miami also needs a great year from start linebacker Joey Porter.  Porter was a force last year with 17.5 sacks, and with Taylor’s presence it might even open up him for more sack chances.  The Dolphins secondary is young, but the Dolphins feel they should be upgraded last year with the return of Will Allen and the additions of draft picks Vontae Davis from Illinois and Sean Smith from Utah.

Miami has unknowns at kicker (Dan Carpenter) and punter (Brandon Fields) but both did a very serviceable job last season.  The Dolphins really need more out of the return game, especially from Ginn Jr.  The Dolphins drafted him 10th overall in 2007 in large part because of his return ability.  He needs to start showing that in order for the Dolphins to really justify that pick.

The pressure is on for the Dolphins to return to the playoffs and take the next step.  Their first three games (at Atlanta, home vs. Indy, and at San Diego) will make a good start difficult.  Not to mention their last game against Pittsburgh could prove to be a tough hurdle to overcome for a playoff spot.

4. New York Jets – The Jets were off to the races at the start of last year.  At one point they sat 8-3 after two big roads wins over the Patriots and Titans, and were poised to make a playoff run behind Brett Favre.  Suddenly Favre stumbled, the Jets lost four of their last five, and they missed the playoffs.  Certainly not what they envisioned after surrendering three first round picks to get Favre.  Favre is gone, and so is coach Eric Mangini.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan takes over as head coach, and the Jets hope he can make the defense as nasty as unit in Baltimore has been for years.  One of the first things Ryan did though was address the other side of the ball, trading up to take USC quarterback Mark Sanchez fourth overall in the draft.  The Jets hope that a recipe of a rookie coach and quarterback will mean success, as it did for Atlanta and Baltimore last season.  After what those teams did last year, I’m not going to discount anything.  However, rookie coaches and quarterbacks together generally aren’t a very good combination, and last year for the Falcons and Ravens seems to be the exception, not the rule.  That being said, Sanchez has a rocket arm and he’ll be the starter at some point this year, and he should have it week one based on his preseason performance over Kellen Clemens.  New York does have an excellent running game with the physical Thomas Jones and the speedy Leon Washington, and both of them running behind fullback Tony Richardson, who has several Pro Bowl appearances on his resume.  What has caused me serious head scratching is the Jets’ receiving core.  For some reason they dumped Laveraneus Coles and tight end Chris Baker, and didn’t really replace either.  They still have Jerricho Cotchery, but when David Clowney is listed as a starting wideout on the depth chart, that’s not a good sign.  New starting tight end Dustin Keller can catch, but isn’t near the blocker Baker is.  That means Keller isn’t really a good fit for smashmouth style that Ryan wants to implement.  The good news for the Jets is they have a very good offensive line, led by Alan Faneca and Damien Woody.

Defensively, the Jets could well show their age along the line.  The Jets will play a 3-4 under Ryan, and all three starting defensive linemen are over 30.  Granted, Shaun Ellis and Kris Jenkins can still play, but the Jets’ lack of depth behind them is almost alarming considering their age.  Rex Ryan did raid his old defense in Baltimore for linebacker Bart Scott, who is a tackling machine and should prove to be an excellent leader in Ryan’s new defense.  New York’s other linebackers are underrated and could really benefit from the new scheme, particularly Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas.  Ryan also overhauled the secondary, highlighted by the acquisition of cornerback Lito Shepherd from the Eagles.  Shepherd was in Andy Reid’s doghouse in Philly, but could benefit from a fresh start.

The Jets do have a decent kicker in  Jay Feely, and their return game is among the league’s best with Washington back there, but their biggest question mark is punter.  Right now that position is still unsettled.  It might seem insignificant, but if the Jets fail to move the ball offensively, the lack of a good punter could prove to be a real problem.

I think the Jets are in a rebuilding year.  The running game is good and the defense should be improved, but I just don’t like the idea of a rookie quarterback in New York without reliable targets to throw to.  I think Sanchez could well have an excellent career, but I think the Jets are a year away from contending again.  They tried to win with Favre last year and it backfired, and now they have to pick up the pieces.  A rigorous schedule doesn’t help either.

Coming Next: the NFC East.

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

Jets-Patriots Recap plus Week Eleven Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 14, 2008

Well, for the second straight week I was incorrect on the Thursday night game.  Needless to say, I did not expect the Jets to jump out the way they did on the road.  Leon Washington’s kickoff return was clearly a momentum changer early, and the Jets offense was really clicking in the first half.  Give the Patriots a lot of credit for battling back from a 24-6 deficit and giving themselves a chance to win, even if they were unable to pull it out.  I really thought New England made the right call going for it on 4th down twice at the end of the first half, even though one of them was unsuccessful, because kicking a field goal when you’re down 24-6 does not help you.  The Patriots ended up scoring a critical touchdown before halftime that gave them a much needed boost for the second half.  Had they kicked the field goal to cut it to 24-9, odds are the second half would have turned out to be much easier for the Jets.

The last 20 minutes of the game (including the overtime) was simply a display of terrific football.  After the Patriots tied it at 24, the Jets chewed up more than seven minutes off the clock with a short passing game and a sense of purpose.  Brett Favre made the throws you would expect of a sure fire Hall of Famer, and when Thomas Jones capped it off with a touchdown to put the Jets up 31-24, you got the sense the game was still not over.  Even when the Jets got the ball back with just over two minutes to go, New England knew they could get the ball back with a stop.  Sure enough the Patriots got it back with 1:15 on the clock, and Matt Cassel evoked memories of Tom Brady, chewing up the Jets prevent defense with short passes to Wes Welker, and managing the clock beautifully.  His throw on the run to Randy Moss for the tying touchdown with one second left was phenomenal, and Moss did a great job hauling it in even with Ty Law draped all over him.  New England appeared to have all the momentum heading into overtime, even after the Jets won the coin flip.  

They did until Brett Favre answered Cassel in the overtime, escaping what looked like a sure sack to convert a key 3rd & 14 to keep the drive alive deep in his own territory.  Favre then made precision throw after precision throw, mixed in with hard running by Jones, and the Jets won it on a Jay Feely field goal 34-31.  It is unfortunate that New England never saw the ball in overtime, but their defense was unable to come up with a stop when needed.  I am one that does not think the overtime rule needs to be changed, even though a lot of times the team that wins the toss marches right down for a field goal.  New England had several chances to come up with a stop, and beyond that, Bill Belichick elected to go the safe route and kick the extra point and send the game to OT with one second left, rather than going for two and the win.  Clearly, that is a judgement call that does not necessarily have a right answer, as teams going for two in that situation are one for two this season.  I am one though where I would seriously think about going for two there if there is a chance my offense may not see the ball in OT.  Regardless of that, the Jets were able to pull the road upset in a very entertaining game and take control of first place in the AFC East.  That is exactly why the Jets signed Favre, for that kind of performance.  The Patriots will not go away quietly, but New York is in the driver’s seat for the time being.  If all of these Thursday games are bound to be this exciting, perhaps the Bengals may have hope next week in Pittsburgh?  I still say not likely.  At any rate, on to the picks, keeping in mind I’m already 0-1 this week:

 

Last Week: 10-4 (.714) Season: 89-54 (.622)

– Dolphins over Raiders: This has complete mismatch written all over it.  Miami has very quietly won three in a row, and can actually vault into second place in the AFC East with a win.  Miami is getting a fantastic year out of Joey Porter, and he has really energized the defense.  The Dolphins are also getting great running out of Ronnie Brown and (surprise!) Ricky Williams.  The Raiders are a complete joke in every way, especially when they’ve played on the road this year.  Even in a game where they forced Jake Delhomme into four picks last week, they still managed to score just six points.  Oakland will not be able to move the ball in this game, and Chad Pennington will not get rattled in the pocket.  The Dolphins have enough offense to win their fourth straight, setting up a showdown with New England next week.

– Eagles over Bengals: Philadelphia knows they must win this game to even be in the mix in the NFC East, especially since they have tough games with Baltimore and Arizona coming up after this one.  The Eagles had chances to win last week against the Giants despite getting dominated in time of possession, and have way too much talent to be stuck at 5-4.  Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook are actually healthy, and spells bad news for Cincinnati’s defense in this one.  The Bengals are coming off their first win of the year, and have showed signs of life at times this year, but they will not be able to keep up in this one.  Ryan Fitzpatrick under center against Jim Johnson’s ballhawking Eagles defense is not a good combination.  The lack of interest in ticket sales in Cincinnati also means there will be lots of green in the stands at Paul Brown Stadium.  Philadelphia survives an early punch and then pulls away late.

– Giants over Ravens: This will be a great game.  The Giants keep proving doubters wrong who picked them to falter after winning the Super Bowl last year, having won yet another tough road game last week in Philadelphia.  The Giants have great balance on offense with Brandon Jacobs and Eli Manning is playing at least as good as his older brother.  The defense has also been effective despite losing both defensive ends from last year’s team.  Baltimore continues to surprise at 6-3, having blown out the Texans not only with their usual tough defense, but now the Ravens have an offense to go with it.  Now that Willis McGahee is healthy again, the Ravens offense can cause problems for opponents in addition to the defense.  I expect a tough physical game from both teams that will probably come down to turnovers.  I take the Giants at home, but if the game were in Baltimore I would be really tempted to go the other way.  Still, the Giants are the defending champs and they will prove why by pulling this one out.

– Steelers over Chargers: Both teams are extremely desperate for a win.  The object the Steelers see in their rear view mirror that is the Ravens keeps getting closer and closer, and Pittsburgh wants to get that winning feeling back after losing two of their last three, both at home.  Ben Roethlisberger will start again for the Steelers and they will need him to take care of the ball.  Willie Parker really will be back this time, and that will help the Steelers offense tremendously.  San Diego has way too much talent to be 4-5, but it does seem very clear that they do miss Shawne Merriman more than anticipated on defense.  The Chargers know they can sill win the AFC West with Denver hobbling, and we keep waiting for the light bulb to go on.  Still, the Chargers barely beat Kansas City this week, and we know the track record of west coast teams heading east.  Pittsburgh wins a close one.  

– Colts over Texans: Houston’s best chance of beating the Colts came in September, when the Texans blew a 27-10 lead with under five minutes to play.  After Indianapolis made that comeback, and factoring the trouncing the Texans took against Baltimore last week, and there is no way Houston has any mojo heading into this game.  The Colts meanwhile have been red hot, earning back to back wins against the Patriots and Steelers.  Reggie Wayne has certainly picked up the slack for a struggling Marvin Harrison, and Peyton Manning is finally starting to look like his old self again.  Suddenly, Indianapolis has a very friendly schedule down the stretch, and the Colts look like playoff material.  Factor in that the Texans are still stuck with Sage Rosenfels, he of two fumbles in three minutes against the Colts last meeting, and there is no way the Colts don’t roll in front of the home fans.  

– Jaguars over Titans: I know, I know, I keep picking against Tennessee and they keep winning.  I keep waiting for the thank you card from Jeff Fisher any day now thanking me for continuing to pick against them.  This pick has less to do with Tennessee and more to do with Jacksonville, who finally got the running game going last week.  Okay, so it was against the Lions, but if the Jags can get a repeat performance from Maurice Jones-Drew, they will have more than a fighting chance against the undefeated Titans.  David Garrard having the ability to make plays with his legs will also be a factor in neutralizing the Titans defense.  Tennessee could not get the running game going at all against the Bears, and to their credit they adjusted and Kerry Collins played great, but Jacksonville’s defense is better against the pass than Chicago’s.  This is a fierce division rivalry that is always close, and I have a hunch the Jaguars will save their season and get to .500 by pulling out a tough win in front of the home fans.  

– Falcons over Broncos: I expect a high scoring shootout in this one.  The Broncos offense is back to form now that they have Tony Scheffler back in the lineup to stretch the defense, and Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal will benefit from great matchups against the Atlanta secondary.  One of them will be matched against former Bronco Dominique Foxworth, who routinely got burned in Denver, so as a Broncos fan I am licking my chops at that one.  Thing is, the Broncos are very thin at running back, having just signed old friend Tatum Bell this week.  Bell was selling cell phones in the mall last week, so who knows how good of shape he’ll be in.  Meanwhile, the Broncos defense is so banged up that none of their starting linebackers are available, although Champ Bailey may try to play.  Still, the Falcons are as red hot as anyone in the league right now, and are right in the mix in the NFC South at 6-3.  Matt Ryan is certainly not playing like a rookie, and he has an excellent matchup here against Denver’s 29th ranked pass defense, even if Bailey plays.  Factor in Denver’s complete inability to stop the run, and you also have big plays from Michael Turner and probably Jerious Norwood too.  I like Atlanta to win a close high scoring game in this one.  Side note, how ironic would it be if the Falcons beat Denver on a last second Jason Elam field goal?  My stomach churns as I type the sentence.  

– Chiefs over Saints: UPSET OF THE WEEK.  I may be nuts, but Kansas City has given terrific effort for three straight weeks, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion each time.  They lost to the Jets on a last second drive by Favre, they let a huge lead get away at home against the Bucs, and they lost in San Diego when Herm Edwards rolled the dice to go for two at the end and they didn’t get it (although that would not have been necessary if not for a missed extra point earlier in the game).  Remember the name Mark Bradley.  In fact you might want to grab him in your fantasy league if he is still available.  The rookie is rapidly emerging as a major threat in the Kansas City offense, and he and Dwayne Bowe actually have a very favorable matchup against the Saints’ secondary.  New Orleans has been up and down all year, despite an MVP type year from Drew Brees.  The Saints should get Reggie Bush back, and that will definitely help their offense in more ways than one.  Even though the Saints should score a ton of points in this game, something smells fishy here.  If Arrowhead Stadium is rocking, and the fans who have shown up this year have still been loud, than I think the Chiefs hard effort pays off in the form of an upset win.

– Packers over Bears: One of the league’s best rivalries gets renewed in the NFC North, and both teams are coming off tough losses.  This is the type of game where you have to throw the records out owing to the intense nature of the rivalry.  Chicago’s defense gave a great effort against the Titans, holding them to minus 5 yards in the first half, but their suspect pass defense ended up catching up with them in the end.  Kyle Orton will try to return for the Bears, and if he does it will really help take the pressure off rookie back Matt Forte.  Green Bay lost a bizarre game to the Vikings, where they lost despite getting an interception return for a touchdown and a punt return TD.  They would have won if not for a Mason Crosby missed field goal at the end, but it’s not often a team even has a chance to win after giving up two safeties in one game.  The fact that the Packers are back at Lambeau Field will be the sway factor in this one.  Aaron Rodgers should be able to make enough plays in the passing game to give the Packers a much needed victory, which will create a real logjam in the NFC North.  

– Panthers over Lions: Blowout of the week.  Carolina’s offense will be back to form after an off week against the Raiders in which Jake Delhomme was just 7 of 27.  The Panthers will have no problem moving the ball against the Lions to the point where last week’s offensive struggles will seem like a distant memory.  Steve Smith will have a monster day, and the Carolina running game will have a big day too.  The Lions seem unsure who will start at quarterback, but it won’t matter if it’s Daunte Culpepper or Drew Stanton, either one will have a big problem against Carolina’s attacking defense.  I can’t even come up with a feeble argument for how Detroit can even keep this game close.  They can’t run it, they can’t pass, and they can’t play defense, that about sums it up.  The 0-16 watch is on in Detroit, as the Lions schedule does not ease up after this game in any way.  

– Buccaneers over Vikings: This will be a very entertaining game.  I can’t wait to see the unstoppable force (Adrian Peterson) go against the immovable object (the Bucs defense).  Something has to give here, because Peterson is a threat for a big play every time, while Tampa Bay’s defense makes a habit of making even Pro Bowl offensive players look foolish.  If Peterson is taken away, Gus Frerotte will have a difficult time making plays in the passing game, so it will be important for the Vikings to be able to run the ball.  This game may well be decided on the other side of the ball, where it will be key for the Bucs’ offense to control the clock against the Vikings’ defense.  Most teams have had trouble running against Jared Allen and company, so the onus will be on Jeff Garcia to make plays.  Both divisions are really tight, so this a game that both teams really need.  I go with Tampa Bay because they’re playing at home, largely on the strength of their defense being at least able to contain Peterson.  

– Cardinals over Seahawks: Matt Hasselbeck is back for the Seahawks, although it screams too little too late.  Mike Holmgren’s club is 2-7 and actually trails the Cardinals by four games in the NFC West.  Seattle actually gave a valiant effort last week in Miami, and Hasselbeck’s return and the home crowd should give the Seahawks a lift, but the Cardinals know this is a game they need too.  Arizona has to deal with the Giants and the Eagles in the next two weeks, so there is no way they want to head into that stretch coming off a loss.  The Cardinals struggled at times against San Francisco last week, but Kurt Warner still made the throws he needed to, and the defense came up with big stops at the end.  This is the type of game Arizona would have blown in the past, but not this time.  Even though the Seahawks will be fired up with Hasselbeck returning, Arizona will have enough to win this one, even on the road.  

– 49ers over Rams: The question facing the Rams is have they given up on the season?  St. Louis really looked like they didn’t care last week against the Jets, and that can only mean good news for Rams’ opponents the rest of the year.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see Marc Bulger yanked in favor of Trent Green, and Steven Jackson is once again out of this game due to injury.  The 49ers played with a sense of purpose last week, and it looks like Mike Singletary is well on his way to turning things around.  If not for a crazy sequence at the end of the game, they would have upset the Cardinals, and this is the kind of game where San Francisco will be able to feel good about itself going forward.  Frank Gore should have his best game of the season, and should be able to run at will against the porous Rams’ defense.  There is talent on this Niners team, and they can begin the process of building momentum for next year now, starting with a big win here.  

– Cowboys over Redskins: Tony Romo is back for Dallas in the Sunday night game, and that will energize the Cowboys’ offense.  Dallas is also coming off a bye week, so they have had a chance to regroup.  For all that has gone wrong in Big D, they are still 5-4, and very much in the thick of the playoff race.  It is ironic that they have essentially switched positions with the Giants from last year.  Last year Dallas won the NFC East while the Giants floundered midseason and got it together at the end to win the Super Bowl.  If the Cowboys believe in history repeating itself, then they very much have a chance to make a serious run.  Romo’s return is definitely good news for Terrell Owens and Roy Williams, who has had the bye to get more comfortable with the offense.  The possible return of Felix Jones should also help Dallas get the running game going.  Washington, meanwhile, is also coming off a bye but they also got waxed by Pittsburgh in their last game.  to make matters worse, Clinton Portis is doubtful with an MCL injury.  Even if Portis plays he won’t be near 100 percent, and that will make things very difficult for the Redskins.  Even though Washington is at home, and even though it is a big rivalry, and even though the Redskins will benefit from a rocking crowd, Dallas shows they are back in the mix by collecting a huge road win on a national stage.  

– Bills over Browns: The Monday nighter seems like a big yawner compared to all the other great matchups this week, but it is very important for the Bills, who are already in last place in the AFC East despite a 5-4 record, and will further find themselves entrenched in that spot with another loss.  Buffalo has lost three straight, and their 4-0 start seems like distant history.  Trent Edwards has really struggled in the past month or so, but he has chance to get things together in this game against a Browns defense that gave up 447 yards passing to Jay Cutler last week.  Buffalo needs their defense to step up in this one, as the Browns will be sure to open things up a little more for Brady Quinn than they did in his first game.  Quinn developed great chemistry with Kellen Winslow immediately, so that could be bad news for Buffalo, but I say the Bills’ raucous home Monday night crowd will give them a lift early, and then Edwards should be able to pull something out of the bag in the second half to give the Bills the win.  Something to watch in this game also: both sets of special teams are capable of making big plays, including touchdown returns.  If one of these teams scores a special teams touchdown, it could sway the game.  Still, I like the Bills.

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

Thursday Night Football Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 13, 2008

The NFL Network certainly lucked out with its Thursday night game draw this week, a titanic AFC East showdown between the Jets and Patriots.  Both teams sit 6-3, and both teams have been hot lately.  The Jets have won five of their past six games, including a 47-3 thrashing of the Rams last week in which they had a 40-0 lead at HALFTIME.  Granted, two of the other Jets wins in that stretch have come against the Bengals and Chiefs, but they also hung 56 points on the NFC West leading Cardinals (how strange does that phrase sound?) and they also won a tough division road game in Buffalo.  New England, meanwhile, has managed to win three of its past four, including a win over the Bills themselves last week in which they sealed it with a 19 play, 92 yard drive that took 9:08 off the clock in the fourth quarter.  Basically the Patriots were able to hold the ball for two thirds of the fourth quarter to seal the win, which is needless to say impressive. 

The winner of this game takes over sole possession of first place in the AFC East, so it’s obviously a critical game for both teams.  This is exactly the kind of game the Jets signed Brett Favre for, an intense division game on the road.  Favre has certainly if nothing else provided the Jets a spark, which is an understatement considering the Jets have already surpassed their 2007 win total.  The Jets have run the ball well with Thomas Jones, and that will certainly help them control the tempo of the game, especially in trying to temper the intense crowd of New England fans that will be on hand.   The Jets’ defense has also been playing surprisingly well as of late, so that gives them a chance in this game.  If they can get pressure on Matt Cassel, they will have a chance. 

Speaking of Cassel, the Patriots have gotten very good play from him over the past month or so.  He hasn’t put up spectacular numbers, but he has made the plays he has needed to and has not made bad decisions.  Sounds almost like a carbon copy of the 2001 Tom Brady doesn’t it?  The Patriots haven’t been getting the big plays from Randy Moss that they got last year, but Wes Welker is among the league leaders in catches, and they’ve found ways to score enough points to win games.  New England has run the ball effectively despite being gashed with injury at the running back position, and the defense has done a good job keeping them in games. 

The key to this game will be whether or not the Jets’ defense can get pressure on Cassel.  For all that Cassel has done well, he has been sacked a whopping 29 times this season.  Even in his best game against the Broncos, Cassel was sacked six times.  Even last week against the Bills, there were times where he didn’t necessarily look comfortable in the pocket, although he was able to make the plays he needed to.  If the Jets can rattle Cassel and force him into turnovers, it will change the complexion of the game considerably.   Keep in mind the Patriots won the week two meeting in New York 19-10 primarily because they were able to pressure Favre and make him uncomfortable.  The Jets will need to do the same to Cassel in order to win.

This will certainly be an intense, tight game throughout, but I have to give the Patriots a slight edge in this one.  They are playing a night game at home, they won the first meeting on the road already, and they’ve won 11 of their past 12 games against the Jets.  I think Favre will make enough plays to keep the Jets in it, but it won’t be quite enough.  While the Jets defense might be able to get to Cassel a little bit, the Patriots will somehow find a way to pull this one out at home.  Even with a short week to prepare, it’s hard to bet against Bill Belichick when the game is this close. 

The Pick: Patriots 20, Jets 17

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

Can This Even Be Fixed?

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 21, 2008

I can sit here and look at the standings after week seven and say that the Broncos are 4-3, that they are still in first place in the AFC West, and they would be in easy playoff position if the season ended right now.  That seems impossible right now after the trouncing they got tonight at the hands of the Patriots of all teams.  Did the Broncos really allow Sammy Morris to rush for 100 yards IN THE FIRST QUARTER?  The same Sammy Morris who had ran for a high of 63 yards (and just 169 all season) in a game all year?  The same Sammy Morris who averaged 3.2 yards a carry coming into tonight’s game and saw it balloon to a beyond ghastly 8.6 yards a carry against Denver?  Heck, even BenJarvus Green-Ellis (yes that is a real player), who I had literally never heard of before tonight, rushed for 65 yards on 13 carries, to the tune of five yards a carry. Was this the same Patriots running game that managed just 106 yards as a team the week before against San Diego?  The answer for the Broncos is unfortunately yes (More on the awful Broncos run defense below).  

To watch the Broncos the last month makes you scratch your head and wonder how they’re in first place.  Tonight they committed FIVE turnovers to New England’s zero.  I don’t care if you’re the ’72 Dolphins going against North Dakota Tech, if you turn it over five times on the road, including your first two possessions, your odds of winning are never good.  Say what you will, but the Broncos were moving the ball great on their first possession until Andre Hall fumbled.  If they score on that drive to take a 7-0 lead instead of turning it over, the entire game would have likely unfolded very differently.  But Hall’s fumble sucked the air out of the Broncos’ offense, and if that one didn’t his second one on the next position definitely did.  Of all the stats in sports, and a lot of them are certainly without much value in relation to the final score, the one stat that almost always translates into wins and losses, regardless of sport, is turnovers.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the Broncos have lost the turnover battle handily in each of their three losses this year, and losing it 5-0 to the Patriots explains away much of the blowout loss right there.  

While the turnovers are obviously a huge factor in the Broncos’ recent struggles, the complete lack of a run defense this year is almost more alarming.  This season the Broncos have already allowed:

– 97 yards rushing to the Raiders’ Justin Fargas in week one, easily a season high for the Raiders back that is rapidly losing playing time to Darren McFadden and has seen his yards per carry decline dramatically each week.  Fargas’ 42 yard run against Denver is by far his longest of the season.  

– 53 yards on just seven carries to San Diego’s Darren Sproles in week two (in addition to a 66 yard touchdown on a screen pass that essentially amounted to a run).  Sproles has made at best cameo appearances for the Chargers since then (140 total rushing yards on the season), and in his last game against the Bills had just one yard rushing and five yards receiving.  

– 198 yards (to the tune of 7.1 yards per carry) to the Chiefs’ Larry Johnson in week four (including a 65 yard run on the game’s second play).  Johnson has been noticeably absent in KC since then, rushing for two yards on seven carries at Carolina and then getting himself suspended by the Chiefs for his off the field activity.  

– 125 yards to Maurice Jones-Drew in week six, including a back breaking 46 yard TD run to break the game open.  This came after he was held to just 7 yards the week before against Pittsburgh, and had been held to 32 or less in three other games.  Not to mention that Jones-Drew’s performance against the Broncos came behind a banged up offensive line that featured two backups.  

– The aforementioned monster game (well, half) from Sammy Morris, who finished with 138 yards despite only playing the first half.  Morris’ previous season high was 63 yards for an entire game, which he easily eclipsed against Denver in the first quarter alone.  Morris had been held to 26 yards on 10 carries the week before against San Diego, and he only needed 16 carries to destroy the Broncos.  Morris actually had three games of 27 yards rushing or less coming into the Denver game (including week two at the Jets where he had ZERO yards on 8 carries).

Right now I am absolutely petrified of the remaining backs on Denver’s schedule: Ronnie Brown, Jamal Lewis, Michael Turner, Darren McFadden (as faster and better version of teammate Fargas), Thomas Jones, Larry Johnson again (assuming he isn’t still suspended), the DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart combo in Carolina, Marshawn Lynch, and LaDainian Tomlinson (and probably Sproles) in the final game.  The point here is the Broncos have allowed more rushing yards (1,082) than any team except Kansas City, and they are allowing opponents to average 5.4 yards per carry.  That is simply not acceptable.  In order to even have a chance to be a good defense in the National Football League, you must be able to stop the run.  If you can’t, anything else you might have going for you on that side of the ball is completely irrelevant.  Case in point: the Broncos actually sacked Matt Cassel six times tonight, but did it really do them any good?  It doesn’t matter if you can rush the passer or if you have great corners if you are not able to stop the run.  It is easy to complain for example that the Broncos only have two interceptions for the season, but that number is partially a result of the team’s failure to stop the run.  Why would any offensive coordinator throw in Champ Bailey’s direction when he knows he can chew up yards the easy way on the ground?  Overall, the Broncos are 30th in the league in total yards per game (ahead of only the Chiefs and Lions), allowing close to 400 yards per contest.  Do those look like the numbers of a contending team?  Frankly they look like the numbers of a last place team.  Heck, even the horrible Cincinnati Bengals are better than Denver in both total defense (331 yards per game) and run defense (allowing 4.4 yards per carry – a full yard less than Denver).

If the Broncos want to go back to the playoffs this year, it is imperative that they shore up their porous run defense.  If that doesn’t improve, the Broncos’ second half prospects look very gloomy indeed.  Yes, they currently sit 4-3 and are in the AFC West lead, but there is no way that will last with a run defense this bad.  Even though the offense is not blameless in relation to their turnovers, they can’t be expected to score 40 points every week to win a game even if they hang onto the ball.  Then again, the offense surely has to feel the pressure to carry the team the way the defense has performed this season.  The bye is coming at a good time for the Broncos, and perhaps they can use it to regroup.  Despite all this, as mediocre as the AFC West is this year, I still think they can overtake San Diego for the division title.  This team still has talent and potential, and if the NFL has taught us anything, it’s that things do change week to week.  This can be fixed, even if it won’t be easy, and even if it seems impossible after the embarrassment in Foxboro.  One thing to keep in mind as a final thought: Mike Shanahan has never missed the playoffs three straight seasons in his career, and that is enough to keep me optimistic about the remainder of the season.

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 »

Random Thoughts for March

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 4, 2008

So the calendar has turned into March.  Never mind that it’s hard to fathom that we’re already two months into 2008.  This means one thing and one thing only: this is the best time of year for college basketball.  It is this time of year that reminds me why the college game is considerably better and more entertaining than the pro version.  I’m well aware that I recently wrote that I’m paying more attention to the NBA these days.  That still holds true, especially this season when the Nuggets may end up holding the distinction of the most talented team ever to miss the playoffs.  However, there is one thing the college game has that the NBA will never have, and that’s the passion involved in each game.  Have you ever once seen NBA fans charge the court to celebrate a big win?  No.  Do NBA fans arrive at a game three hours early to secure the best seats? No.  Do NBA games have raucous student sections that turn even the most mundane of matchups into an electric atmosphere? No.  

As much as I despise Kansas basketball, and the hatred is evident if you get to know me for five seconds, I had to give a tip of the cap while watching their game against Texas Tech last night.  It was senior night at Allen Fieldhouse, and as usual the place was packed.  That atmosphere is what makes college basketball so great.  Students at KU camp out for days to make sure they get seats for the next game, and regardless of the score (last night KU walloped Tech by 58 points) no one leaves the game early, ever.  I’ve been to NBA games where the score is tied with three minutes left and people are heading for the exits to beat traffic.  Seriously, how absurd is this?  People don’t leave movies early, so why do they leave games early, even when it’s competitive at the end?  That’s a rant for another time, but the point is you don’t see that kind of casual fan behavior at a college game.  Every college game has an electric atmosphere, virtually anywhere in the country, that is simply not duplicated at the professional level.  Even in a year where my Mizzou Tigers are just hovering over .500 at 15-14, I still pay much closer attention to the college season and in particular the Big 12 this time of year than I do any other sport.  The NCAA tournament is a unique event on the sports calendar partly due to its unpredictability, but it’s the passion of each game that makes the event special.  For me, the final few weeks of the regular season and the week of conference tournaments also provide the same intensity and excitement.  No matter who your team is, no matter how poor a season they’ve had, there’s always that minuscule chance they could win their conference tournament and make the big party.  That small chance alone makes the next few weeks of games worth watching.

…………………………………………………….

Have you seen some of these deals being shelled out in the early period of free agency in the NFL?  I know it’s always a time where teams want to show their fans that they’re doing something to try and improve the team, but some of these deals are insane.  How many of you out there have heard of Tommy Kelly?  He’s a defensive tackle who last year had 30 tackles and one sack for the Raiders, and didn’t play a down after suffering a season ending injury in week 8 against Tennessee.  The Raiders shelled out $50.5 million over five years to re-sign him.  That’s an awful lot of money to shell out for one sack.  Reports had some NFL GM’s saying, “Who is Tommy Kelly?”  How about Justin Smith, defensive end formerly of the Bengals, getting $45 million over six years to sign with San Francisco?  Smith had a whopping two sacks last year, and while talented, doesn’t seem like he’d be considered the so called missing piece to justify that kind of signing.  The Jacksonville Jaguars clearly thought that two interceptions was worth $6 million a year, as that’s what they’re paying former Charger cornerback Drayton Florence.  Seems as though the New England Patriots still have confidence in their more low key formula.  They elected not to re-sign WR Donte Stallworth (who went to Cleveland), CB Asante Samuel (who got a 6 year $57 million contract from Philadelphia, although he at least intercepted six passes last year) and CB Randall Gay (who signed with New Orleans).  These can be added to the list of big name players they have jettisoned in the past (David Givens, Deion Branch, Ty Law, Drew Bledsoe among them), and it’s a philosophy that seems to work for them.  As successful as they’ve been, maybe the answer isn’t to spend every dime you have on free agents every winter.  Then again, maybe the Patriots are just good at bargain hunting.  Their 3 year $27 million re-signing of star receiver Randy Moss seems like the biggest bargain of the winter. 

……………………………………………

Tonight Peter Forsberg returns to the Colorado Avalanche.  I really hope that this isn’t just a public relations move to bring him back.  If he is even 80 percent of the player he was before he left the club, then the Avalanche are about get a huge boost.  Right now they are on the cusp of playoff contention, but if he can contribute, then they might just make a run.  Last year felt weird without the Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but if they make it back this year with Forsberg and Adam Foote having just returned to the team, it will be just like old times. 

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

Why I’m picking the Giants

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 31, 2008

It would be really easy to look at this Super Bowl and say “Why are they even bothering to play the game?  This is a mismatch.”  Indeed, the Patriots have to be acknowledged as heavy favorites.  The fact alone that they’re 18-0 is certainly an accomplishment.  New England’s offense hit the 30 point mark a whopping 12 times in the regular season.  They set league records for points scored in a season as well as point differential.  What perhaps is most impressive about them is how they finish games.  The poise they show in high pressure situations is that of a champion, and they have the type of swagger that we’ve seen from dominant teams in the past.  Not to mention many of the key components are still there from the three previous Super Bowl winners of this decade.  The Patriots certainly deserve their due for putting together an undefeated regular season and handling the pressure that goes with it.  They feature the league MVP in Tom Brady and arguably the game’s most effective wideout combo in Randy Moss and Wes Welker.  On top of that, they’re playing a team in the Giants that they’ve already defeated once this season, on the road no less.  To hear most of the media talk about this matchup, we should not bother to play the game Sunday and should just hand the Patriots the trophy.  Well, I believe that not only will the game be very competitive, and certainly not over by halftime, but I believe the Giants will win the game.  That’s right, I’m picking the Giants to upset the Patriots on Sunday.

Let’s not forget that we’ve seen this type of thing numerous times in the Super Bowl.  A heavy favorite is expected to come in and thoroughly dominate the action, and finds itself on the wrong side of the scoreboard at the end of the game.  Anyone remember Super Bowl 36?  If you’re a Patriots fan you’d better remember that one.  The Patriots were huge underdogs following an 11-5 regular season, and a divisional playoff win over the Raiders they were lucky to get becuase of the obscure tuck rule.  The St. Louis Rams were a machine, coming off a 14-2 regular season, and they featured league MVP Kurt Warner and offensive player of the year Marshall Faulk.  The only question going in was how much the Rams would win by.  The final? Patriots 20-17 thanks to a last second Adam Vinatieri field goal and an outstanding defensive effort shutting down the league’s top offense.  Anyone else see a sense of irony between this Sunday’s game, and that matchup from the 2001 season? 

How about Super Bowl 32? The Broncos were 12 point underdogs to the Packers, and at the time the NFC had won 13 straight Super Bowls.  The Broncos, who had qualified as a wild card, won 31-24 thanks to an outstanding rushing effort from Terrell Davis.  Let’s also not forget Super Bowl 25, when the Giants beat the high powered Bills 20-19.  That game in particular has a lot of similarities to this year’s matchup.  The Bills won the AFC title game that year 51-3 over the Raiders, while the Giants had a rougher road through the NFC bracket to get to the Super Bowl.  The Bills were heavy favorites, and had an ability to score at will that year, much like the Patriots this year.  The Bills had defeated the Giants during the December of that regular season 17-13 at Giants Stadium.  This year’s Patriots also defeated their future Super Bowl opponent the Giants at Giants Stadium in December, 38-35.  The Giants’ Super Bowl win over the Bills is mostly remembered for Scott Norwood’s missed field goal at the end of the game, but make no mistake about it, the Giants’ defense and running game are the reasons they won that game against the heavily favored Bills.  The Giants controlled the clock so much that the Bills offense seemed like it was pressured to score quickly when it did have the ball, causing them to make mistakes they wouldn’t normally make.  This year’s Giants have a similar ability to control things with their running game, which they did against both the Cowboys and the Packers in the playoffs, and they have a defensive front four that can put pressure on Tom Brady, particularly defensive ends Osi Umineyora and Michael Strahan. 

The thing with the Super Bowl that makes it different than picking a regular game is that what happened prior to this point is irrelevant.  All that matters what happens once the game is kicked off on Sunday.  In the cases described above, the underdog team went into the game with nothing to lose, and those games did not go how most people expected them to.  The fact is, a team has to be pretty darn good to reach the Super Bowl, period.  The Giants this season have won 10 straight road games, including playoffs, an NFL record.  Think about that for a minute.  As much of advantage as it is for most teams to play at home, the Giants have found a way to win 10 straight games on the road, including playoff wins at Texas Stadium and Lambeau Field, two places where it is extremely difficult for a visiting team to win at any time, let alone in the playoffs.  The Giants during the regular season only lost to New England by three points, despite the fact that Brady threw for 356 yards and two scores, and did not throw a pick.  The Giants defense only sacked Brady once in the game, and yet still were within striking distance.  The Patriots only won by three despite the fact they had a 13 minute edge in time of possession, and in fact forced the only turnover of the game.  Most media pundits point to these examples from the first game as evidence the Patriots will roll.  I argue that the Patriots struggled to win a game in which they scored 38 points, were only sacked once, didn’t turn the ball over, and dominated time of possession.  Many experts claim the Giants will not be able to get that close again.  I argue that if the Giants can be that close in those circumstances, while gaining only 79 yards on the ground, imagine if they can get to Brady a little bit more.  What if they can do what the Chargers did the AFC title game, and intercept Brady three times?  These circumstances are eeirly similar not only to the aformentioned Giants-Bills rematch in 1990, but also the 2001 Patriots-Rams matchup.  See, the Rams beat New England in the regular season that year 24-17 in Foxboro, and the Rams statistically dominated that game, outgaining the Patriots 482-230 and forcing three New England turnovers.  The Patriots of course were able to win the rematch with a little tweaking in the game plan.  I believe the Giants will win this rematch, partially because they’ve already proved they can hang with the Patriots, partially because they’ve proven they can win away from Giants Stadium, partially because I beleive they will be able to pressure Brady where other teams haven’t been able to consistently, and partially based on a gut feeling.  Let’s also not forget, the Giants will have back center Shaun O’Hara, who played great in the first meeting until leaving due to injury in the third quarter, and linebacker Kawika Mitchell, who did not play in the first meeting due to injury.   

The Pick: Giants 34-31 

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