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Posts Tagged ‘New York Jets’

Conference Championship Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 21, 2011

Last week: 2-2  Playoffs: 4-4

In many ways, this playoff year is a microcosm of the regular season.  We’ve seen both number one seeds lose in rather emphatic fashion on their home field, while both six seeds are alive and well. I knew all along that my goal of a perfect 11-0 record in the playoffs was a longshot, but I didn’t expect it blow up in the first game with a win by the 7-9 Seahawks.  No one picked that game correctly, and I don’t know of anyone who actually picked the Patriots to lose at home with a straight face.  The fact that the Pats had beat the Jets 45-3 in the regular season only to lose to them a month later and look very bad doing it, well that has to rank up there with one of the biggest playoff upsets in history.  What will we see this weekend?  I wish I could tell I know for sure, but here is my best guess:

AFC Championship: Steelers over Jets – In many ways I feel like the Jets keep winning just to spite me.  All season long I’ve felt they are the most overrated team in the league.  I think if they played in say, St. Louis and not New York, they wouldn’t get near the coverage that they do and wouldn’t be the media’s darlings.  I think the Jets were lucky in at least four of their wins during the year.  They only won in Denver thanks to a horrible pass interference call on fourth down.  They needed overtime to win in Cleveland. They only won at Detroit thanks to a bizarre Ndamokong Suh missed extra point and poor clock management by the Lions.  They only won against Houston because of a poor use of prevent defense by the Texans.  You get the idea, the Jets have several wins based strictly on luck and luck alone.  I will admit they have a lot of talent on their team, and they carry themselves with such confidence that they feel they can beat anyone.  In their two playoff games, they managed to shut down offenses led by two of the best of all-time, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.  The Jets also managed to shut down Ben Roethlisberger in their regular season meeting, one of the Jets’ legit wins, at Heinz Field no less.

So why do I think the Jets won’t win at Heinz Field again?  Well, I just don’t trust them ultimately.  I think the Jets will play with confidence, I think the defense will be effective, and I think Santonio Holmes will have a good game against his former club.  I also however think the Steelers are not quite getting the credit they deserve.  They managed to overcome a 14-point halftime deficit against Baltimore last week.  No one does that.  I think the Steelers defense will force at least two turnovers against Mark Sanchez.  I also think the Jets running game has very little chance to be effective against one of the best run defenses in the league.  I also think the Steelers know how to win.  Most of the roster was around for at least one if not both of their recent Super Bowl victories.  I think this will be a low scoring competitive game, but I think Roethlisberger will be better than Sanchez and that will be the difference.  Pittsburgh 20 Jets 17.

NFC Championship Game: Packers over Bears – It should tell you all you need to know that the Packers are favored even though they’re on the road.  Green Bay has the look of a team that is playing so well at the right time that no one in their right mind should want to get in their way.  Aaron Rodgers is playing perfect football, making every perfect decision while making tough throws.  The Packers’ defense has been nothing short of dominant against Michael Vick and Matt Ryan.  The Packers also are a team that is not afraid to play on the road, and has proven an ability to win in any kind of weather.  As for the Bears, they have had a fine season, winning the division.  In their win against the Seahawks, they showed their defense is among the best in the league and they also showed they can run the ball with effectiveness.  Jay Cutler even lost his head and played a very good game, actually making smart decisions while not turning the ball over.  This shapes up for an epic conference title matchup on paper.

In actuality, I think this will be a mismatch.  I think the Bears were nothing short of lucky to get to beat up on the under .500 Seahawks last week, and I think their victory is more a reflection of how bad Seattle is than how good Chicago might be.  When that game was 7-0, Cutler threw a pass to a wide open Jordan Babineaux of Seattle, who promptly dropped the sure interception.  Had he picked Cutler off, he would have had a sure touchdown for there was nothing in front of him.  Had Babineaux taken that to the house, the game might have turned out very differently.  Green Bay played a complete game in destroying the top seed Falcons in the Georgia Dome.  I think even though this is at Solder Field, the home field edge will be negligible because the Packers are obviously used to cold weather.  I think Aaron Rodgers is playing so well that he will be good for at least three touchdown passes.  I also think the Bears offense could be in for a long day, particularly if Green Bay jumps to an early lead.  The bottom line is I trust Rodgers way more than I do Cutler.  I think the Bears are here because of their defense and running game, but as well as the Packers are playing on both sides of the ball, I don’t think it will matter much what Chicago does.  I really don’t think this is going to be close.  Green Bay 31 Chicago 17.

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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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Wild Card Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 8, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AFC East Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 26, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Next: the NFC East.

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What a Puzzling Team

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 1, 2008

Here’s all you need to know about the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the 2008 Denver Broncos: my record predicting their games this season is 4-8, and I have misfired on seven in a row.  When it looks like the Broncos should win, they lose.  When it looks like they have no hope, they figure out a way to win.  Such is the nature of the NFL these days, where every game is unpredictable.  How can anyone try to predict games in a league where home teams went just 2-10 today?  Think about that for a second.  Home field advantage is clearly not as important as it used to be (for starters these newer stadiums are not near as intimidating for opposing teams), but that’s only part of it.  The league is getting more and more unpredictable because there are fewer dominant teams and more parity.  

This Broncos team in particular is just downright baffling.  Fresh off a 31-10 home loss to one of the worst teams in the league, the Broncos went on the road to Giants Stadium in the rain, to a place where they have never played well against either the Jets or Giants, and beat maybe the hottest team in the AFC 34-17.  The Jets had won five in a row and were coming off road victories against the Patriots and Titans.  

For all of the injuries the Broncos have sustained this season, 7-5 is a heck of an achievement.  The Broncos are down to their fifth running back, yet Peyton Hillis ran for 129 yards against a Jets defense that completely shut down the Titans vaunted running game last week.  You’ve got Eddie Royal, who was doubtful with a toe injury that has been nagging him for six weeks, making a terrific first quarter catch and turning it into a 59-yard touchdown while tiptoeing down the sideline and managing to stay in bounds.  He finished with five catches for 84 yards.  You’ve got linebackers dropping like flies, but here is Mario Haggan, signed off the practice squad just two weeks ago, contributing a key sack of Brett Favre in the third quarter to force a Jets field goal attempt in the red zone when New York was threatening to climb back in it.  Or how many guys nationally have heard of Vernon Fox, who had all of three tackles this season coming into today.  Fox jump started the Broncos’ momentum in the first quarter by alertly scooping up a Jets fumble and returning it 23 yards for a touchdown.  (Side note: why were the Jets trying trick plays, in this case a reverse, when it is pouring rain and the ball is slick?)

Some other thoughts from today’s game:

– It seems as though how Jay Cutler goes, so go the Broncos.  Last week against the Raiders Cutler completed just 43 percent of his throws and finished with an awful 49.8 quarterback rating in a blowout loss.  Today, Cutler completed 63 percent of his passes, throwing for 357 yards and finishing a rating of 94.8.  Sure, the quarterback’s fate dictates the outcome of games for most teams, but it seems particularly true for Cutler

– The Broncos were able to win the turnover battle again today (2-1).  This is not rocket science: the Broncos are now 6-0 when they win the turnover battle and 1-7 when the lose it.  This is not shocking, and is a reflection that the Broncos won today in part because they took care of the ball and didn’t make dumb mistakes

– I remember now why I can’t stand New York teams.  Jets fans actually had the audacity to boo when the Broncos defense suffered injuries on three straight plays in the third quarter (Spencer Larsen, Ebenezer Ekuban and Dre’ Bly).  Ironically, all three plays were catches and runs by Leon Washington, and that drive culminated in a Jets field goal after they stalled in the red zone.  Jets fans apparently thought the Broncos were faking injuries to stop Favre’s momentum on that drive.  Ridiculous.  Does any Jets fan out there want to answer me how arrogant a fan base must be to actually believe a team would fake injury in any case? Seriously I want to hear from a Jets fan why booing an injury was thought to be appropriate here.  The Broncos have been pulling guys off the street to play a variety of positions for the past six weeks.  The entire starting linebacking core was already out coming into this game. They were so banged up two weeks ago against Atlanta they needed Larsen to play both ways.  Mike Shanahan was wondering if he had anyone left to play defense in the fourth quarter.  You really think the Broncos actually wanted to lose key defenders while the Jets were going in for a score?  Especially when they already came into the game missing several key guys?  Please, grow up Jets fans.  At least Broncos fans aren’t dumb enough or immature enough to boo opposing team injuries.  For the record, Larsen didn’t return after his injury.  

– I am more and more convinced that Tony Scheffler’s presence is vital to the success of Denver’s passing game.  His ability to stretch defenses was sorely missed during his three game absence due to a groin injury, all losses.  The Broncos have won three of four since his return, and there are more opportunities for Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal.  The Broncos haven’t had a tight end to stretch the defense like this since Shannon Sharpe.  

– Kudos to the offensive line, and that’s not just for today but all season.  I really believe Ryan Clady should get consideration for rookie of the year.  He has not allowed a sack and has only been called for one penalty all season, absolutely incredible for any left tackle, not just a rookie.  The Broncos’ other tackle, Ryan Harris, is also in his first year after missing his rookie season last year due to injury.  The line as a whole has allowed just seven sacks and has been vital to holding the running game together in the wake of all the injuries at running back.   

This might just be the best coaching job of Mike Shanahan’s career.  He has an extremely young team, which partially explains the up and down nature of their season, yet he has the Broncos in the division lead by three games with just four to play.  Next week the Broncos get Champ Bailey and D.J. Williams back on defense, and Selvin Young should also return to help the running game, although Hillis has done great in Young’s absence.  The good news is the Broncos’ win today just about guarantees the AFC West champion will not be 7-9.   The Broncos and Chargers both have a game remaining against hapless Kansas City, plus they still have to play each other.  The Broncos are home to the Chiefs next week, and Denver’s humiliating week four loss at Arrowhead ought to be enough motivation for the Broncos to roll.  Then again, based on the unpredictable nature of their season, another letdown might not be out of the question.

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Jets-Patriots Recap plus Week Eleven Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 14, 2008

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday Night Football Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 13, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

The Pick: Patriots 20, Jets 17

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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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