Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans Saints’

Random Stuff

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 12, 2010

What we’ve got here is a series of quick hit thoughts without any order or organization.  Topics include the Super Bowl, the NFL season as a whole, the Broncos and other random stuff.

– Congratulations to the Saints on winning the Super Bowl.  I cannot think of a more deserving city or fan base to celebrate a championship.  the fact alone that the Saints had never made the Super Bowl before makes this a good story.  Throw in Katrina and the devastation of the Superdome five years ago, and you’ve got a terrific story.  Plus, there are a lot of good guys on that team.

– As for the game, I thought the Saints were going to need to be able to pressure Peyton Manning to win.  As it turned out, the Saints only deployed one blitz the entire night, and that came on the clinching pick six.  The Saints were able to confuse Manning by continually changing up the looks of their secondary and defensive alignment.  This  combined with the ability of the Saints’ offense to control the clock and keep Manning watching on the sideline for long stretches proved to be the difference. 

– It wasn’t as if Manning had a bad game (he threw for over 300 yards), but it was shocking to see him throw a fourth quarter interception with the game on the line.  Frankly, if any Colt is at fault for that play it would be more Reggie Wayne than Manning.  Wayne failed to get inside position on the defender, and as a result was in no position to prevent the pick.

– I thought the other difference was that the Saints played to win, whereas the Colts were playing not to lose.  New Orleans went for it on 4th and goal late in the second quarter, and although they didn’t get it, they were still able to force a three and out thanks to a very tentative Colts offense calling three runs up the middle.  The Saints ended up getting a field goal before the half anyway.  Think about it: If the Saints took the chip shot three points at the end of the half, the Colts could well have had time to get a drive going to go up 13-6 or even 17-6 at the half.  As it was, the Saints gave Indy the ball at their own 1 yard line, and the Colts were playing not to make a mistake.  This played right into the Saints’ hands even though they didn’t get the touchdown.  Brilliant coaching by the Saints, and very tentative, poor coaching by the Colts in the final two minutes of the first half.

– Then there was the onside kick to open the second half.  Another very gutsy call by Sean Payton, one that would have backfired miserably if the Saints didn’t recover the kick.  However, it worked, and the Saints capitalized for a quick touchdown.  The Colts were very clearly not expecting the kick, and in fact several Colts players were retreating to try and set up a return, rather than be in position to recover the surprise onside.  Contrast this decision by Payton with the coaching of Jim Caldwell, who called for a 51-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter even though the odds of Stover making the kick were slim to none based on his lack of leg strength.  Granted the Colts were facing a 4th & 11, and at least Caldwell didn’t order a punt, but had the Colts gone for it and missed, the Saints’ field position wouldn’t have been near as good as they got with the missed field goal.  Sean Payton played to win, Jim Caldwell played not to lose, and that was the difference.

– Interesting stat: discounting games in which the Colts waved the white flag and made no attempt to win, Indianapolis has won 23 regular season games in a row while going 2-2 in postseason games.  Such is the legacy of Peyton Manning, who himself is 8-8 in playoff games.

– It is interesting to look back at the Colts’ decision to rest their starters during the final two weeks of the season instead of going for 16-0.  It is hard to say in retrospect whether that had any impact on their Super Bowl loss.  Did the decision put more pressure on the Colts to win the Super Bowl, or would they have had more pressure with an undefeated record?  It is hard to say, but if I was the coach I would have gone for the undefeated record.  That’s probably one reason of many why I’m not a coach.

– We certainly have a lot of interesting offseason storylines to keep track of, but I think the biggest one is the collective bargaining agreement, or lack thereof.  The current deal is set to expire at the end of the 2010 season, and calls for an uncapped year next season.  The only way the uncapped year will be avoided if agreement can be reached on a new deal before March 5, the day free agency opens.  Let’s just say that I have better odds of winning Olympic gold next week in Vancouver for tv watching than we have of seeing an agreement reached by March 5.  The sides are so far apart right now that there is no communication.  If we have an uncapped year, the owners are going to find it nearly impossible to get the players to agree to go back to a salary cap, and we will very likely see a work stoppage in 2011.

– Obviously a work stoppage would be bad on so many levels, not the least of which is you’ve got owners and players bickering over how to split millions of dollars while the rest of us are dealing with a terrible economy and many are unemployed.  Many fans are not renewing season tickets because they can’t afford them.   I think the NFL is rapidly heading down a slippery slope where they’re about to make so many fans irate that they may well be killing the golden goose.  The NFL is without question the most popular sport in America, and frankly it’s not even close, but if owners and players can’t see common sense it may not stay that way if there is no 2011 season due to greedy owners and players.  If there is a work stoppage for any reason, it’s because both sides are selfish and greedy.  If they can’t agree on how to split an $8 billion pie, than there is no way they are anything but selfish and greedy.  That’s not exactly the right message to send to fans in this economy. 

– As for the uncapped year, it may not be as beneficial to players as they think.  Yes, some owners (esp. Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones) could well start throwing all kinds of money around, but I think a larger number or owners would go the other way and try to save money, and not offer big time contracts to free agents.  See, without a cap, there also isn’t a salary floor, and thus teams like the Bengals and Lions and other teams that are struggling financially won’t have to spend money if they don’t want to.  I think an uncapped year would benefit roughly 8-10 players who will cash in with mega contracts, but for most of the players, I think this could actually be a detriment.  In any case, this will be the big story of the 2010 season: will the owners and players be able to avoid a work stoppage in 2011?

– There are of course other storylines to follow: Will Donovan McNabb remain an Eagle?  Will Brett Favre come back for another year?  If he doesn’t will McNabb end up in Minnesota?  Will the Cardinals actually start Matt Leinart in the wake of Kurt Warner’s retirement?  Do the Saints have a shot to repeat?  In light of the Saints winning this year, are any of the four franchises that have never made the Super Bowl (Texans, Jaguars, Lions and Browns) even close?  Will Jay Cutler ever get it figured out in Chicago?   Will the Steelers bounce back to playoff form?  Of course there are many other questions besides these, and others that will come up once we see what the offseason movement will be.

– Of course I have to mention the Broncos.  As we get closer to free agency I’ll offer a detailed review of the season and what I think they need to do.  For now, let’s just say that the sting of falling from 6-0 to 8-8 is still significant, and I think there is a lot of work the Broncos need to do.  I think the top priority is the offensive line, followed closely by the defensive front seven.  They do have a top 10 pick courtesy of Chicago, so it will be interesting to see what direction they go.  I don’t see them being very active in free agency because they don’t really have a lot of cash to throw around, so they’ll probably try to find some bargains and fill some holes that way. 

– I do think the departure of Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator is very significant and could well be very devastating for the Broncos.  The Broncos showed great improvement on that side of the ball from the previous three seasons and it is a little disconcerting that he just couldn’t get on the same page as Josh McDaniels going forward.  Hopefully the Broncos don’t drop off in that area next season.

– I’m not sure the Broncos should get rid of Brandon Marshall.  He is a great talent, but he does need to get his head on straight.  Still, I don’t think he should be given away without getting equal value in return.

– The Broncos drew the short straw and will play in the London game next season against the 49ers.  I’m just glad the Broncos aren’t the one giving up the home game.  I’m on record as saying the London game is a bad idea all the way around, because I think the NFL needs to do a better job of taking care of its fans at home and I think it’s really unfair to the team surrendering the home game.  I also hope it doesn’t prove to be a midseason distraction that causes problems for the team in the second half of the season.

– Last week I got another reminder of why college basketball is roughly 20 times better than the NBA.  I went to the Nuggets-Suns game and observed one sequence two Suns players got tangled up going for a rebound and fell to the floor, which should have allowed a Denver 5 on 3 opportunity.  Thing is, two Nuggets players stood there doing nothing and watched the 3 on 3 action on the other end of the floor.  The Nuggets missed two shots, and eventually Phoenix got the rebound when their two players rejoined the action.  There was no visible show of emotion from George Karl, who presumably didn’t want to rock the boat with his high priced lineup.  This was one example of a game where I saw lots of bad shots, several instances of lazy passing, and very little effort on the defensive end by either team.

– By contrast, the Missouri-Colorado game I attended in Boulder was a display of much better effort and intensity by the two teams on the floor.  Missouri’s J.T. Tiller took an elbow to the face two minutes into the game, had a broken nose to show for it, needed to change his jersey because it was all bloody, and he was back on the court less than five minutes later.  The broken nose didn’t deter him from hustling, defending, diving for loose balls, and being physical when necessary.  The difference between college and the NBA is absolutely staggering when you watch both in person.  I much prefer college for the team play, actual effort on defense, crowd intensity (rowdy student sections versus corporate folks that probably can’t name half the players on the floor and are more concerned with what kind of premium malt they’re drinking) and most of all you can tell the players are very passionate and want to win at any cost.  You just don’t see those things in the NBA. 

– I am somewhat puzzled this is being referred to as a “big sports weekend”.  Granted, the opening ceremonies of the Olympics are tonight, and that is a big deal, but the only event I care to watch in the winter Olympics is hockey, and that doesn’t start until Tuesday.  Even then, I’ll watch college hoops over the Olympics any day.  The other events this weekend are NASCAR, which I refuse to watch and can’t understand the facination of, and the NBA all-star game, which is a big display of every reason why the NBA isn’t as good as the college version.

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Super Bowl Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 5, 2010

Last week: 1-1  Playoffs: 5-5

This year’s Super Bowl is going to have to be one heck of a game to live up to the excitement of the previous two seasons.  Two years ago, we saw what might be the best catch in NFL history by David Tyree, leading the Giants to an upset win over the previously undefeated Patriots.  Last year, we saw a spectacular 100-yard interception return TD by James Harrison to end the first half, and then we saw Ben Roethlisberger lead an amazing winning drive, outdueling Kurt Warner.  This year does shape on paper to be a very entertaining contest, with Peyton Manning matching up against Drew Brees in a QB showdown, not to mention the story of the Saints lifting the city of New Orleans from the never forgotten wreckage of Katrina.  It is for this reason that I would imagine most people without a rooting interest would like to see the Saints win.  If you have no hand at the blackjack table, it is hard to root against that story.  In any case there is no reason this shouldn’t be a competitive and highly entertaining game.   As a side note, I mention every year that at my house the game is the focus.  Not the commercials, not the halftime show, none of that.  I refuse to attend a party where the game is not the sole focus of the evening.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ll have plenty of food, beverage, etc and some of the commercials are usually funny, but this is about football, period. 

I always say the Super Bowl is the toughest game to predict during the whole season because what happened prior to this point is completely irrelevant.  With two weeks to prepare, there are no secrets.  Each team knows exactly what the other has up its sleeve.  This is a one game scenario for both teams, there is no tomorrow, and therefore there is a certain amount of unpredictability that doesn’t exist during the regular season or even in earlier rounds of the playoffs.  This is why we have seen a number of stunning upsets over the years (Giants-Bills 1990, Patriots-Rams 2001 and Giants-Patriots two years ago the chief ones that come to mind).  Granted, a lot of times the favorite ends up coasting, but we have long been trending toward closer and more exciting games in the Super Bowl as opposed to the blowouts we saw in the 80s and early 90s.  This is the ultimate one game situation where it can be decided by a timely turnover, a single big play, one costly penalty, or any number of random things. 

The Colts have rebounded very nicely during the playoffs after they pulled their starters and waved the white flag in the final two games of the regular season.  I have to admit that I thought this was a big mistake that I thought would cost them in the end.  So far it hasn’t, and you can’t really deny that the players have looked fresh in the past two games.  I still think in the end, perhaps years from now, the Colts may regret that they missed a shot at 19-0, but if they win the Super Bowl I guess it’s hard to argue with their way of thinking.  Indianapolis particularly looked like the fresher, crisper, more energized team two weeks ago when they pulled away from the Jets in the second half.  Peyton Manning is playing perhaps the best football of his career, and continues to be able to find open receivers no matter what the situation.  Against the Jets, Reggie Wayne was blanketed by Darrelle Revis and Dallas Clark was having a hard time getting open, so Manning simply looked for Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, who combined to haul in 18 passes for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns.  The amazing thing about Manning, not only in that game, but throughout his entire career, is how infrequently he gets sacked and how quickly he can get rid of the ball with stunning accuracy.  Sure the Jets got hits on him early in the game, but that didn’t last very long.  For his entire career, Manning has eaten defenses alive that have attempted to blitz him.  The Saints have thrived in the playoffs on hitting Kurt Warner and Brett Favre as often as possible (in Favre’s case there should have a couple of roughing the passer/late hit penalties that weren’t assessed, including a big one on Favre’s first interception, the play where he hurt his ankle), but I think hitting Manning will prove to be much harder.  The Colts’ offensive line has been outstanding all year, and against the Jets they did a tremendous job controlling the play, especially in the second half.  I think the Colts have a big edge here between their offensive line and Manning’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly in the event he does experience some pressure.  The Colts have no shortage of weapons that can get open, and while the Saints have a good secondary, I think their inability to get to Manning with any kind of frequency could well be their downfall in this game.  As it was two weeks ago, the Vikings rolled up a staggering number of yards against the Saints.  New Orleans may get to Manning a little bit early in the game, but they won’t be able to do it for 60 minutes.  The Colts running game does rank near the bottom of the league, but so does the Saints’ run defense.  I think this game will be won through the air anyway, but in terms of the Colts offense vs. the Saints defense, I give the Colts a huge edge.

The Saints’ offense has also been playing extremely well during the postseason, and like the Colts, they have bounced back from a regular season finish that saw them stumble to three straight losses, including one to Tampa Bay at home in which they lost despite the starters playing the entire game.  Against Minnesota, the Saints were fortunate to receive a huge gift in the form of six Vikings turnovers.  I think the odds of the Colts turning it over that many times is zero, so for the Saints to have a chance to win this game they are going to need to take advantage of every offensive opportunity they get.  I think the Saints do have a chance to be able to run the ball with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush, as well as utilize Bush to try to get big plays out of the backfield.  The Colts’ defense doesn’t do anything fancy, but they’ve proven to be more than solid enough to get the job done.  The key for the Saints will be to be able to control things offensively and keep Manning on the sideline as much as possible.  Drew Brees is certainly a top 5 quarterback in the league without question, and the Saints will need him to utilize his ability to extend plays in the pocket and find his receivers.  Dwight Freeney is not 100 percent for the Colts’ defense, but he’ll play.  Between him and Robert Mathis, the Saints’ offensive line could have their hands full.  It will be important for New Orleans to stay away from third and long situations where they’re going to have to pass and the Colts’ pass rushers can tee off on Brees.  If the Saints can get success on the ground, it will open up Brees to be able to go down the field and get some big plays.  The biggest thing is the Saints can’t afford to have any three and outs where they hand the ball right back to Manning.  I also think the Saints have a better ability to make things happen on special teams, especially in the return game.  If the Saints can get a return TD at some point during the game, it could be enough to be a difference maker. 

This should be a highly entertaining game with lots of passing and big plays.  I think this has a chance to rank with the memorable Super Bowls of the past two seasons.  In the end though, I think Peyton Manning really wants to win this game at any cost, and I think as well as he’s playing right now he’s not going to be slowed down.  I think Brees and company will be able to stay in it for a majority of the contest, but I can see the Colts pulling away in the fourth quarter. 

The Pick: Indianapolis 34 New Orleans 24

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Conference Championship Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 22, 2010

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

Last week: 2-2  Playoffs: 4-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Divisional Playoff Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 15, 2010

Last week: 2-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NFC South Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 5, 2009

Teams listed in predicted order of finish.

1. Atlanta Falcons – The turnaround that the Falcons made last season ranks right up there with Miami as one of the most stunning in NFL history.  The franchise had hit rock bottom after losing franchise centerpiece Michael Vick to the dogfighting fiasco.  The organization also had a black eye because of that.  Atlanta was bad enough in 2007 to warrant picking third overall in the draft.  Last year, despite a rookie quarterback and rookie head coach, the Falcons finished 11-5 and made the playoffs.  Ev en though they lost in the first round at Arizona, the fact Atlanta made the playoffs after the previous few seasons was nothing short of incredible.  This year, the Falcons appear to have the pieces in place to be even better.

Quarterback Matt Ryan had such an outstanding rookie season that Falcons fans forgot about Vick in a real hurry.  Many people had questioned the selection of Ryan with the third overall pick last year, but the Boston College product showed from the word go that he is more than capable of leading an NFL team.  I mean literally from the word go, because the first pass of Ryan’s career was a 62-yard touchdown.  From there Ryan hit the ground running, making excellent decisions, showing great arm strength, an ability to find multiple receivers and an ability to absorb an NFL offense very quickly.  Ryan also proved to be very durable, and the Falcons are confident that he will be even more improved with the offseason work he has put in.  Ryan’s outstanding season was coupled with one by receiver Roddy White, who had by far the best season of his four year career.  White was rewarded in the offseason with a lucrative contract extension, and he will be paired with longtime Falcon Michael Jenkins.  Atlanta only strengthened the passing game with the addition of arguably the best tight end in NFL history, tabbing Tony Gonzalez from Kansas City.  Gonzalez is certainly up there in age, but his ability as a receiver and a blocker in unparalleled among tight ends in the league.  His presence will cause all kinds of matchup problems for opposing defenses.  Atlanta also has good receiving depth with Harry Douglas and Brian Finneran.  This offense is potent enough with what we’ve talked about so far, but factor in the running game and it might be unstoppable.  Michael Turner finished second to Adrian Peterson last year in rushing, going over 200 yards in a game twice.  Not bad for someone who toiled as LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup in San Diego.  Turner showed without doubt that he is a bona fide starter in the league, a back who is a threat to score at any time.  With Turner leading the running game and the passing game expected to be potent again, Atlanta’s offense will be very good indeed.  Oh yeah, and the offensive line gave up just 17 sacks last year.

The defense is still a work in progress, but the Falcons do have a Pro Bowl pass rusher in John Abraham, who recorded 16.5 sacks last season.  However, he didn’t get much help on the other end from Jamaal Anderson, a 2007 first round pick who has yet to be an impact player.  Atlanta hopes that first round pick Peria Jerry of Ole Miss will help strengthen the defensive line.  The linebackers will have a new look, with longtime veteran Keith Brooking headed to Dallas and Michael Boley gone to the Giants.  The Falcons did sign Mike Peterson from Jacksonville, and the Falcons are confident he will bounce back with a good season this year in new surroundings.  2008 second round pick Curtis Lofton is also expected to make an impact.  The secondary will feature two rookies (safety William Moore of Missouri and cornerback Chris Owens of San Jose State), so it will be definitely be tested, especially early in the season.

The Falcons are set at kicker with Jason Elam, who is entering his 16th NFL season.  Last year Elam made 29 of 31 field goals, including two game winners.  (Denver has to feel very dumb for letting him leave).  Punter Michael Koenen also has a very strong leg, and proved to be an effective weapon for the Falcons in terms of dictating field position.  The return duties are expected to be handled by Jerious Norwood and Harry Douglas, both of whom are solid but not spectacular.

I don’t think there is much question the Falcons have risen to the top of this division.  They will face some stiff competition, but I think the additions they have made will put them over the top.

9072. New Orleans Saints – The Saints have to rank among the disappointments of last season.  New Orleans had everything in place for a massive breakout season, including talent on both sides of the ball.  Instead the Saints stumbled to an 8-8 finish, the very definition of mediocrity.  They battled all kinds of injuries and inconsistency.  They also turned out to be very deficient on defense.  The Saints feel the additions they have made will help.  With everyone healthy this could once again be a dangerous team.  Then again, it remains to be seen how it will all fit together.  Either way, the Saints will certainly be very exciting to watch.

The Saints may have their question marks, just like any other team in the NFL, but quarterback definitely isn’t one of them.  Drew Brees had one of the best seasons in league history last, year, throwing for over 5,000 yards and just barely missing breaking Dan Marino’s record for single-season passing yards set in 1984.  Brees put up these numbers despite missing players around due to injury most of the season.  His ability to throw downfield accurately makes him a talent, but couple that with his ability to extend plays in the pocket, and you’ve got arguably the best quarterback in all of football.  Brees will no doubt be very excited to have his receiving core back and healthy.  Marques Colston and Lance Moore are both outstanding route runners and both have an ability to make big plays down the field.  Colston was severely hampered by a thumb injury last season, although he still managed 64 catches despite missing five games and playing hobbled in several others.  He is now healthy, so defenses will not strictly be able to key on Moore.  The two together will be very dangerous, along with Devrey Henderson.  Tight end Jeremy Shockey was largely a disappointment last season since coming over from the Giants, but he was slowed down by a sports hernia and an ankle injury.  The  Saints hope being more familiar with the offense will help him be more productive this year.  The running game was also hampered by significant injuries last year to Deuce McAllister.  McAllister is now gone, having not been retained by head coach Sean Payton.  New Orleans will now rely on Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas.  Thomas was a surprise last year and emerged as the primary back, and the Saints hope that he’ll be able to handle those duties again this year while they use Bush in a more complimentary role.  Thomas doesn’t possess great speed but he can run between the tackles.  Bush’s ability as every down back is still in question, so this could be a good arrangement for the Saints, particularly if they get more big plays out of Bush when he is fresh.  The offensive line returns intact after allowing an NFC low 13 sacks last year, so that is definitely not a question.

The offense is good, we know that, but the biggest problem in New Orleans last year was the defense.  The Saints made a big effort to address that by signing six free agents on that side of the ball, as well as using their first three draft picks on defensive players.  Defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant return from last year (Mainly because they have big expensive contracts) so the Saints will be needing them to produce.  Paul Spicer was signed as a free agent from Jacksonville, so he could well end up being a starter at one of the ends.  Defensive tackle will continue to be a battle between holdovers Kendrick Clancy and Sedrick Ellis, and newcomer Rod Coleman, signed from the Falcons.  The Saints hope the new blood will combine with improved play from their existing linemen to create more of a pass rush and better ability to stop the run.  The Saints also actually have talent at linebacker with Scott Fujita and Jonathan Vilma.  the group is solid but not spectacular, and should be the same again this season.  The secondary gets a big boost with the selection of Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins in the first round of the draft.  I would be shocked if he’s not an opening day starter, being that the Saints got scorched for lots of big plays a year ago.  The Saints also boosted the secondary by raiding the Vikings for veteran safety Darren Sharper.  Sharper is a good run stuffer, a big hitter, and has a knack for being around the football.  His presence will significantly improve the secondary in New Orleans.

The Saints have tremendous confidence in kicker Garrett Hartley.  Hartley arrived in week 10 last year and made all 13 field goals, and was also perfect in extra points.  Punter Greg Pakulak also arrived in week 10 last year and possesses a very strong leg.  The return game also has few concerns with Reggie Bush a threat to score every time on punts, and the speed of Courtney Roby on kickoff returns.

New Orelans has the look of a team that could really break out.  Then again, they have had that look for several years.  They did make the NFC title game in 2006, but have been a real non-factor since.  The Saints will be in the hunt for the division, but they need to put it all together and stay healthy to end up on top.

3. Carolina Panthers – The Panthers were largely a surprise last year, finishing 12-4 and earning a bye in the first round of the playoffs.  Everything came crashing down in the divisional round though when they got blown out on their home field by Arizona, 33-13.  That defeat really soured an otherwise impressive season by Carolina, and it created a lot of question marks heading into 2009.  The Panthers didn’t make very many offseason changes, and fans are hoping that means a repeat of the 12-4 record, and not  repeat of getting hammered in the playoffs.

Many Carolina fans are scratching their heads about the five year extension signed by quarterback Jake Delhomme in the offseason.  The extension includes about $20 million in guaranteed money.  Not bad for a guy who is 34 years old, but he is coming off the worst performance of his career in the playoff loss.  Delhomme threw five picks in that game and also lost a fumble.  This is not to say that one game defines a season or a career, but he had a really bad game at a really bad time.  The Panthers have confidence in Delhomme despite that game, for they love him as a locker room leader and game manager.  He is 14-6 over his last 20 starts, so Carolina is confident Delhomme will bounce back with a good year.  He does have one of the best receivers in football to throw to in Steve Smith, and that never hurts.  Smith had over 1,400 yards receiving last year despite missing two games, and he will counted on for another big year.  Smith is such a tough matchup that most defenses can’t cover him one on one.  Muhsin Muhammad also returns for another year, and although he is getting up there in age, he still possesses the ability to be a good complimentary receiver.  The tight ends are average in Jeff King and Dante Rosario, so a lot of the onus for big plays in the passing game will be on Smith.  The running game is outstanding with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.  How Williams missed the Pro Bowl with a 1,500 yard season and 20 touchdowns is beyond me (not to mention he averaged five yards a carry).  Stewart also proved to be a nice compliment, so the Panthers have two backs capable of handling a heavy workload.  Fullback Brad Hoover also is great at helping at the offensive line open up holes.  The offensive line is also in good shape, having set a team record for fewest sacks allowed last year.  The running game will certainly be key for the Panthers, and if they can get some plays from Smith mixed in, they could prove to be a difficult attack to stop.

The defensive line will be impacted one way or another by Julius Peppers.  Peppers finished with 14.5 sacks last season, and is clearly the anchor of the entire defense, but he has made it clear he wants out of Carolina.  The Panthers have essentially ignored this request, making for an interesting locker room dynamic.  No one is exactly feeling sorry for Peppers, who will make $16 million this season.  It will be interesting to see how Peppers plays this season if he is continually unhappy about being a Panther.  It will also be interesting to see how his teammates react to his unhappiness.  Perhaps this why Carolina took a defensive end, Everette Brown of Florida State, with their first pick in the draft.  The rest of the defense is solid, anchored by linebacker Jon Beason.  Nai’ll Diggs also provides an ability to make plays at the linebacker position.  Cornerback Chris Gamble had trouble with Arizona’s receivers in the playoff game last year, but he has shutdown ability, and is the leader of the Carolina secondary.  The safeties are very average and that could expose the Panther D to some big plays.

Kicker John Kasay believe it or not is an original Panther, having kicked in Carolina since the franchise’s inception in 1995.  He made 28 of 31 field goals last year so he still has ability.  Punter Jason Baker is also very solid.  The Panthers’ best kickoff returner is actually Steve Smith, but they aren’t about to use him there when he is so sorely needed at receiver.  Ryne Robinson will get the first opportunity to return kicks this year.

The Panthers are no question a talented team, but they are definitely aging.  The question marks on defense, especially the attitude of Peppers, make it difficult to see them back in the playoffs.  They will be in the hunt, but will need some breaks.

4, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – To say that the Buccaneers are a team in transition is a big understatement.  This team appeared to be in great shape last year, starting 8-4 and ready to make a playoff push.  Things derailed quickly however, as Tampa lost its final four games, including a blowout loss at home to San Diego, and a disastrous home loss to the horrible Oakland Raiders in the finale.  The Bucs missed the playoffs, and thus sweeping changes were made.  Coach Jon Gruden was fired, replaced by defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.  Several veteran players were let go, a clear sign that the team is in rebuilding mode.  Oh, and just this week offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski was fired.  Jagodzinski had come over from Boston College, but didn’t even last long enough to coach a real game.  You know things are bad when a coach is fired based on the meaningless preseason.

The fact the offensive coordinator was fired tells you all you need to know abut the state of this offense heading into the season.  Quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese were both let go, meaning Tampa Bay has a lot of mediocrity at the position.  They did spend their first round pick in the draft on Josh Freeman of Kansas State, who has great size at 6-5 and 248 pounds.  Freeman has the ability to make plays with his feet but needs work on learning to throw in the pros, thus the plan is not to play him right away.  That leaves holdover Luke McCown and veteran Byron Leftwich to battle it out for the position (as of this point no starter has been announced for week one).  Leftwich played well in Pittsburgh last year filling in for Ben Roethlisberger, but it will be interesting to see how he fares if he is named the starter, for he didn’t exactly wow anyone in Jacksonville.  The receiving core sustained losses as well as veterans Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard were not retained.  Anotnio Bryant and Michael Clayton are back, and will be depended on heavily to help the quarterback.  Bryant is actually a very underrated receiver and has Pro Bowl talent, but Clayton has largely been a disappointment after a good college career at LSU.  Kellen Winslow is a very talented tight end, but has not been able to stay healthy.  If he can, his presence could be vital for this offense.  The running game will also have a new look.  Many Bucs fans were upset the team released Warrick Dunn, but they did sign Derrick Ward from the Giants.  Ward came out of nowhere last year in New York and had an outstanding season, and he will be paired with Earnest Graham, who started to emerge as capable back last year.  The Bucs also hope Cadillac Williams will return to the field at some point this year.  Williams has battled two devastating patellar tendon injuries the past two years, but if he is his old self he could be dangerous.

Defense has long been a staple in Tampa, but that will have a new look too.  Linebacker Derrick Brooks, who has been the face of the franchise for ten years, was released in a cost cutting move.  Just the fact he is not there alone means this defense will look different.  (As a side note it is equally stunning that Brooks has yet to find a new team).  Veteran linebacker Cato June was also not retained.  The front seven will rely on a lot of youth, including draft picks Roy Miller of Texas and Kyle Moore of USC.  Both are expected to start along the defensive line.  The Bucs will also rely heavily on veteran tackle Chris Hovan and linebacker Barrett Ruud to keep the young players in check.  The secondary is still anchored by cornerback Ronde Barber, who seemed to be the only one to survive the veteran purge.  Barber still tied for the club lead in interceptions last year, and is part of a good cornerback tandem with Aquib Talib.  The safeties however are very mediocre, with Sabby Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson expected to start.

Kicker Matt Bryant actually provided three game winning field goals last year, but he doesn’t have the length strength that other kickers possess.  He was just 2 for 10 from 50 yards or more last year.  Punter Josh Bidwell is solid, which is good because the Buccaneers may need him often this season.  Michael Clayton and Clifton Smith are expected to handle the return duties.

The Buccaneers are a team in disarray.  It is highly unlikely that they will compete for a playoff spot.  Especially considering the division they play in, it might be too much to ask for them to even be near .500.  It does look like it could be a rough year in Tampa Bay.

Coming next: the AFC West

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Thursday Night Football Pick – Week 15

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 11, 2008

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

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

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

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

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Week Two Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 12, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Week: 9-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week One and Season Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 5, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Dallas over Minnesota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIVISIONAL ROUND: Jacksonville over Pittsburgh, New England over Indianapolis

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Jacksonville over New England

SUPER BOWL: Dallas over Jacksonville    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s Never Too Early To Plan Ahead

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 16, 2008

The 2008 NFL schedule is out!  Okay, so most people out there probably don’t really care, but for a football junkie like me this is a big deal.  It turns out that apparently I’m not the only one who waits on pins and needles for the release of the schedule; ESPN and NFL Network had simultaneous TWO HOUR specials yesterday that broke down seemingly every game on the 2008 slate.  If you think it’s insane to be interested in the timing of games that won’t take place until the fall, try booking a hotel in Green Bay on a Packers home game weekend.  Go ahead, try it now, I’ll wait. 

No vacancies?  I thought so.  Packers fans watch for the release of the schedule, and then it’s a mad dash to book hotel rooms on the weekends of home games.  This is how insane us die hard fans can get about the release of the schedule.  We want to make sure that nothing gets in the way of being able to watch our favorite team play.  Personally, I’m ecstatic about the timing of the Broncos’ lone Thursday night game in Cleveland (on Nov. 6) because it means I am free to attend a wedding that weekend without worry that I’ll be missing a Broncos game.  You’d be surprised how many people out there will wait to find out when their team will be playing before booking major events like weddings, and then scramble to book during their team’s bye week.  Seriously, do you want to risk missing the Patriots-Colts showdown because you prematurely scheduled a trip to a remote island with no television?

Planning purposes aside, I want to know what kind of road my team will be facing in the coming season.  Now, I already knew the Broncos’ home and away opponents for 2008 because those are set years in advance, but there is still a sense of anticipation knowing exactly when the games will take place and in what order.  I frankly am disappointed that the Broncos have no prime time home games this season; every regular season home game will be on a Sunday afternoon.  I suppose there are advantages to this (nicer weather, a semblance of routine if you go to all the games) but reading between the lines, this means the league believes the Broncos will not be very good.  The Broncos have three road night games, Monday nighters at Oakland (the season opener) and at New England plus the aforementioned Thursday game in Cleveland.  The Broncos have always been a team that even when they aren’t the best in the league have had their fare share of prime time appearances, in large part because the home environment at Invesco Field at Mile High should be one of the best in the league and worthy of at least one such game on that stage.   That point aside, it’s safe to say the Broncos’ offseason has been less than impressive, so perhaps the powers that be simply feel they are not a team that’s worthy of as many prime time appearances as the elite of the league.    It is interesting to note that it is impossible to tell at this time of year what teams will have a good year and which ones won’t.  This is a challenge the league faces as they try to decide which teams should garner the most appearances on prime time.  The flexible scheduling for the Sunday night games in the second half of the season does help a great deal with this, but it is still a challenge.

As a random side note, the league has selected two teams with lots of star power, the Chargers and Saints, to play a regular season game in London this year.  Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with the league playing games outside the country, but I have an issue with the Saints of all teams being the one to lose a home game.  The Saints already lost a home game in 2005 because of Hurricane Katrina (and in fact couldn’t play any games in the Superdome that year) and now the Saints’ fans in New Orleans lose their one chance in an eight year time frame to see arguably the game’s most talented player in LaDanian Tomlinson.  So the Saints not only lose a home game, but their fans lose one of the Saints’ more attractive matchups that would have taken place in the Superdome.  It seems as though the NFL ought to be more concerned with taking care of its core fans here before trying to broaden the game abroad.  This doesn’t even take into account the disadvantage this puts the Saints in the NFC West race, playing only seven home games while the other teams in the division play eight.  Sure the Chargers have to play in London too, but they still get eight home games at Qualcomm Stadium.  Something about that just doesn’t seem fair. 

I do have to admit I am very excited overall from a football standpoint to see the schedule come out.  Maybe it’s because I’ve always had a larger interest in football than any other sport, even though I very much enjoy several others.  Frankly I’ve been in football withdrawal since the Super Bowl, and the release of the schedule means we’re getting a tad closer to a new season, even if it’s still far away on the radar. 

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