Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh Steelers’

Get used to Aaron Rodgers

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 7, 2011

Courtesy Tom Lynn Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

When people think of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, the first names that usually come to mind are Brady, Manning and Brees.  Safe to say after last night and indeed this season, Aaron Rodgers must be included in that group.  Last night the Packers won in large part because Rodgers outplayed his counterpart Ben Roethlisberger, and I would say he did so by a wide margin.  Rodgers’ Super Bowl numbers were certainly very good (24-39 304 yards and three touchdowns with no picks) but they would have been even better if not for at least four dropped balls on perfect passes (one of which had a good chance to go for an 80-yard touchdown).  All told Rodgers threw nine touchdown passes in four postseason games, all on the road, with only two interceptions.  Those mirror the touchdown to interception ratio for his career (87 career touchdown passes to 32 picks).  Considering Rodgers has only been a full time starter for three years and is still on the upswing, well, the Packers might produce more of the same for years to come.

If anybody should feel vindicated about Rodgers’ success it’s Packers GM Ted Thompson.  After Brett Favre announced the first of his many retirements following the 2007 season, Thompson made the decision to move forward with Rodgers, who had been chomping at the bit for his chance to take over for Favre.  When Favre said later that summer that he wanted to come back, the Packers found themselves in a very tough position.  Many teams have had trouble replacing their legend quarterbacks.  Miami has still not found a replacement for Dan Marino more than 10 years after his retirement.  Same goes for the Broncos and John Elway, the Bills and Jim Kelly.  The 49ers had Steve Young step in when Joe Montana retired, but they have yet to find even a semi-capable replacement for Young.  There are other teams still that arguably have never had a franchise QB in their history (the Chicago Bears come to mind as a team still looking for their first as Jay Cutler is clearly not it).  Given this, a lot of people, including me, thought the Packers should have allowed Favre to come back in 2008.  The reasoning was simple, legend quarterbacks just don’t get replaced.  Rodgers has proven that theory wrong, and he has done so in such emphatic fashion that it’s fair to ask whether his career won’t end up better than Favre’s.

Favre of course played three seasons after that, one with the Jets and two with the Vikings.  While Favre led the Vikings to an NFC Championship game appearance last year and continued to play at a high level (until this year), Rodgers showed right away why the Packers were so high on him and why they didn’t want him holding any more clipboards on the sideline.  All Rodgers did in his first full season as a starter was throw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns.  At age 27, he already has many Super Bowl titles as Favre had in his whole career.  He throws the ball with stunning accuracy, and while he’s mostly a pocket passer, he has proven adept at avoiding the rush when he needs to.  He gives you the good qualities of Favre without the off the field drama or the hair pulling interceptions.  Rodgers is every bit as good as Manning, Brady or Brees.  Perhaps the scariest part for NFC opponents is that the Packers won the Super Bowl this year despite losing a staggering 15 players to injured reserve.  The running backs and receivers are young, and so is the defense.

Recent history has shown that Super Bowl champions are highly unlikely to win a playoff game the next year, let alone repeat as champions.  The last Super Bowl champ to win a playoff game the next year was New England, when the repeated as champions in 2003 and 2004.  That said, the Packers have as good a chance as any to repeat next year, and compete for a good long time.  As long as Rodgers is under center he will have the Packers in prime position  .

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Super Bowl Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 4, 2011

Last Week: 2-0 Playoffs: 6-4

To be perfectly honest, I feel like it’s been so long since the conference championship games that I’m struggling to get in football mode for the Super Bowl on Sunday.  In many ways, it feels like traditional football is over, and we’ve now surrendered to the hype machine that makes the Super Bowl feel like it’s a corporate driven party as opposed to a football game.  Of course this is different if your team is playing in the game, and it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Broncos compete for the Lombardi Trophy.  Nevertheless I will be in front of the television like everyone else Sunday (with plenty of junk food), ready to watch what should be a thoroughly entertaining game between the Packers and Steelers.  If the matchup is as good as it appears to be on paper, this has a chance to continue the trend of thrilling games we’ve seen the past five years or so, as opposed to the blowouts of the 80s and 90s.

While I am seeing many predicting this to be a low scoring, defensive type game, I think we might be in for a shootout.  When these teams met during the 2009 regular season, the teams combined for 73 points, 94 pass attempts and 886 passing yards in a game won by Pittsburgh 37-36.  While I don’t think we’ll see that kind of offensive explosion, I think we’ll see some points put up on the scoreboard.  Let’s not forget this game will be played indoors, and the Packers’ offense in particular has put up terrific numbers in dome games.  While the Packers offense struggled at times during the NFC title game in Chicago, the environment at Cowboys Stadium will be much more conducive to them passing the ball more.  I expect Aaron Rodgers to pass the ball 40 times or so, and I think the Packers’ receivers have the ability to spread the Steelers out and neutralize the physicality of their secondary.  As for the Steelers, people think of them as a power running team, and while they run the ball well, they do have deceptively talented receivers, and as much as I dislike Ben Roethlisberger it’s hard to deny his ability to make plays out of the pocket and extend the play when things break down.  Both teams have outstanding defenses, two of the top ranked units in the league, but I think this is a matchup that will lead to a higher scoring contest.

Before the season started I picked the Packers as my NFC representative in the Super Bowl largely because I thought Rodgers was due for a breakout year.  However, I picked the Steelers to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs partially because I thought they would struggle during Roethlisberger’s suspension at the start of the year (as it turns out they went 3-1 without him), and partially because I thought they had a look of an aging team.  Turns out I was wrong on both counts.  I also had their division rival Baltimore as my Super Bowl pick in the AFC, and as it turns out the Steelers erased a 14-point halftime deficit and rallied for a playoff win against them.  I bring all of this up to emphasize that early season predictions are unreliable and almost never right, but also to point out that as unpredictable as those predictions are, picking the Super Bowl winner can be even harder.  See, the Super Bowl is only one game, and what happened prior to this point in the season is completely irrelevant. 

I think both quarterbacks will have success passing the ball.  I think both sets of receivers have an edge against the other secondary.  I think Pittsburgh has a slight edge running the football only because the Packers are down to roughly their 15th running back due to many injuries.  Pittsburgh also has an edge in experience, having won two of the past five Super Bowls, while this is Green Bay’s first appearance since 1997.  Those two facts alone tells me I should pick Pittsburgh to win, but something tells me that the Packers special teams could be a major factor in this game.  When the Packers played at New England in week 15 (without Aaron Rodgers) they opened the game with a surprise onside kick.  Not saying they’ll do that on Sunday, but we saw one of those from the Saints last year.  I think this will be a close, high scoring game, and my pick, despite the fact I think this might be against my better judgement is:

Packers 27 Steelers 24

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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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AFC North Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 28, 2009

Once again, teams listed in predicted order of finish:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming next: the NFC North

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Come on Harrison!

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 19, 2009

So apparently James Harrison will not be accompanying his Steelers’ teammates to the White House.  For those unfamiliar, it has long been tradition for championship teams in all the major sports to receive an invitation to be honored by the president.  I think it goes without saying that this should be a big honor.  I don’t care if you like the president or not, the opportunity to simply be on the grounds of the White House, let al0ne get to shake hands with the president, is not something that the average person gets to experience.  I think for any player to turnthis chance down is needless to say a dumb decision.  For the record, my favorite player of all-time is John Elway, and I still call him out on his skipping out on the White House visits after the Broncos’ championships in the late 90s.  I think this is a very selfish and confusing decision by Harrison, but maybe that’s just me. 

In the case of Harrison, it is most perplexing for him to say that Arizona would have been invited had the Cardinals defeated the Steelers.  OF COURSE THEY WOULD HAVE!  THAT’S THE ENTIRE POINT!!!   The president invites the champion, regardless of who that team is.  What, did Harrison expect President Obama to single out the Steelers no matter what?  It seems that Mr. Harrison is insulted that the Steelers are only being invited because they are the Super Bowl champions.  The whole thing is very perplexing to say the least.

I want to know what you guys think on this one.  Is Harrison justified in turning down the invite to the White House?  Is he insulting his teammates by not joining them there?  Is he insulting the president?   Or, is this really not that big a deal?

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Super Bowl Thoughts

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 2, 2009

At the risk of bouncing all over the place with no clear order to my comments from the Super Bowl, I offer my thoughts on the game in a quick hit format:

– What a fantastic game.  For the second straight season, the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl was scored with 35 seconds remaining.  As a fan you can’t ask for much more than that. 

– What a phenomenal job by Ben Roethlisberger on the final drive.  I lost count of how many guys he escaped from during the game, and on the final drive especially he kept plays alive with his feet and made perfect throw after perfect throw.  His pass to Santonio Holmes for the winning touchdown was threaded perfectly through three Cardinals defenders.

– It’s almost hard to realize that Roethlisberger has already won two Super Bowls in his first four years as a quarterback.  The way he can scramble and keep plays alive actually reminds me of my favorite player of all-time John Elway.  There is a certain irony that Roethlisberger wears Elway’s number seven.  While I have certain bitterness toward Roethlisberger and the Steelers because of their AFC title game win over the Broncos three years ago (and my anger over how many Steelers fans elbowed their way into Invesco Field that day), it’s impossible not to applaud his athleticism and the way he gets the job done in crunch time.  I think he should have the MVP, but Holmes is deserving as well. 

– Speaking of which, that was an awesome catch by Holmes for the winning score, and a great job to touch both feet in bounds, but I think David Tyree’s catch in last year’s Super Bowl was much more impressive.  Still, Holmes really stepped up with big catches on the final drive. 

– I don’t think Arizona’s scheme defensively was the problem on Pittsburgh’s final drive.  Roethlisberger and Holmes made a series of terrific plays that any defense would have been hard pressed to stop.  I actually thought Arizona’s defense really stepped things up in the red zone throughout the game, holding the Steelers to two field goals inside the five yard line. 

– Great job by the Cardinals to battle back, overcoming an early 10-0 deficit to get back in the game in the second quarter, and again overcoming a 20-7 deficit to take the lead.  Pittsburgh doesn’t usually lose when they have a double digit lead, and while moral victories don’t count for anything in the NFL, Arizona deserves to be commended for nearly pulling it off.

– James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return at the end of the first half was the play of the game.  Had the Cardinals scored a touchdown, they would have had a 14-10 halftime lead, plus the ball to begin the second half.  The interception and ensuing return caused a monster momentum swing had a big effect on the game.  To be honest I thought the Cardinals were almost done and buried when they didn’t do anything on their first possession of the second half, so they deserve a lot of credit for battling back. 

– On that play, it appeared to me that Kurt Warner misread the coverage by the Steelers defense.  It seemed like he thought the Steelers were going to blitz, and that Anquan Boldin was going to be wide open on the slant pattern.  Instead, Harrison sat back, and saw where Warner was going with the football.  It was clear watching the replay that Boldin was nowhere near open and that throw should not have been made, so it seems to me that Warner may have been expecting something different from the Steelers defense. 

– Give Harrison credit for the job he did on the play.  He read Warner perfectly, and then made a phenomenal run for the touchdown.  His touchdown carried a lot of importance given that time expired during the play, which means that had he been bumped out of bounds at the 2 yard line, the half would have been over and Pittsburgh wouldn’t have been able to add to the 10-7 lead. 

– Larry Fitzgerald deserved a ton of credit during the play too.  If you missed his effort on the play, try to watch him during one of the 50,000 replays you’ll see today on ESPN.  He started chasing Harrison from four yards deep in the end zone (and to boot Fitzgerald was on the opposite side of the field on the play, so he was chasing Harrison at a diagonal from the opposite corner), and kept hustling despite getting blocked by a Steeler defensive linemen.  At one point Fitzgerald even bumped into a teammate at the 30 yard line along the sideline, shoved him out of the way, and very nearly caught Harrison before he scored.  Even though Fitzgerald didn’t prevent the touchdown, his hustle on the play and refusal to give up is something we don’t see often enough from players. 

– I love the way Fitzgerald plays the game, he’s the anti-TO, unselfish, humble and willing to go all-out on every play.  He doesn’t whine when he doesn’t get the ball.  I wish he was on my team.

– The game was terrific, but in theme with the 2008 season, the officiating was, ahem, questionable at best.  Check that, Terry McAulay and his crew were awful.  Consider:

– How is it that the final play of the game (not counting the kneel down) was not reviewed??????  I’m talking about the strip and fumble recovery by the Steelers defense with five seconds left.  It seemed to me that Warner’s arm may have indeed been going forward, and that should have been an incomplete pass.  I am befuddled as to why there is not a bigger stink being made about this.  I’m not sure if the replay was conclusive, but my opinion is the arm was going forward and it should have been ruled an incomplete pass, not a fumble.  At the very least, the play should been reviewed by the booth upstairs.  Even if the call stood, at least everyone would know that it was reviewed.  Why do we even bother to have replay if the biggest play of the entire season is not subject to a review?  It is absolutely inexcusable that a Super Bowl crew wouldn’t look at that play.  Factor in there was a 15-yard penalty assessed on the Steelers following the play, and a reversal would have allowed the Cardinals one shot for a hail mary from the 30 yard line.  Terry McAulay and his crew should be ashamed they allowed this to happen.  Really, I am astounded that this is not a much bigger topic in the media today. 

– Consider also the number of calls that were missed in the game.  For starters, how was Holmes not assessed a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty following his winning touchdown?  The rule says you’re not allowed to use the ball as a prop in a celebration, yet he clearly did.  How about a roughing the passer penalty against the Cardinals for a hit on Roethlisberger, yet a much later after the play and more brutal hit against Warner wasn’t called?  How about the roughing the holder penalty against the Cardinals’ Adrian Wilson?  Seemed to me that was not an intentional blow by Wilson.  What about Roethlisberger getting away with at least two very blatant intentional groundings that weren’t called (one where the refs claimed he was out of the pocket and clearly was not)?  Consider also that the Cardinals were correct on two challenges during the game.  This means that the calls were originally missed by the officials.  All told, there were a lot of flags thrown during the game, but perhaps it’s the ones that weren’t thrown and should have been that made as much of a difference.

– Don’t get me wrong, Pittsburgh deserved to win the game.  They made the plays when they had to especially on the final drive, but you can’t deny that McAulay and his crew had an adverse impact on the game.  I’ll say it again, I am STUNNED that there isn’t more of a fuss being made about the lack of a review on the final play.  The league is very fortunate that the officials’ poor performance is overshadowed by the terrific finish and the great game.  It is ironic though that each of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl wins in the past four years is marred by poor officiating. 

– All that being said, this is not to take away from the Steelers’ victory.  Roethlisberger and Holmes were amazing on the final drive, and James Harrison had a big impact on defense.  I am confident that future Super Bowls will be along the lines of the previous two years: close games with exciting finishes.  It was a terrific game, one that is hard to top in excitement from a fan’s perspective.

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Super Bowl Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 29, 2009

Before we get to talking about the Steelers and the Cardinals, it’s interesting to note that this Super Bowl seems to be more under the radar than any that I can recall in my life.  This is especially true when compared to last year’s game, although to be fair just about everyone had a rooting interest one way or the other last season.  Patriots fans wanted to see Brady and company complete a perfect season, while virtually everyone else in the country was rooting for the underdog Giants to pull the upset.  For whatever reason though, this year’s game does not seem to be getting near the attention.  Perhaps it’s because people are still getting over the shock of the Cardinals making it to the big game.  Maybe it’s because this is a matchup that doesn’t have a lot of quote unquote star power (i.e. a Manning or Brady-esque player in the lead).  Perhaps the economy is a factor in that people are more concerned about the goings on in their lives.  Whatever the reason, the hype for this game does not seem to match that of previous seasons, and it seems like this game is really sneaking up on people this year. 

As far as the game itself, I think most people would agree that picking the Super Bowl is not the same as picking a regular game.  As I pointed out last year in my correct prediction of the Giants’ upset of New England, once the game kicks off, everything that happened during the season prior to that point is completely irrelevant.  Last year it didn’t matter that the Patriots were an unstoppable force heading into the game, what mattered was that the Giants figured out a way to slow them down.  The key play of that game, David Tyree’s incredible catch, could not have been predicted based on any amount of statistics and game data from the season or even in the previous playoff games.  The Super Bowl is a one game situation, and as such the unpredictable has the potential to decide the game.   Any team with a perceived advantage coming into the game is not guaranteed to enjoy that advantage during the game, and often times gets beat (see Giants-Bills in ’90, Broncos-Packers in ’97, Patriots-Rams in ’01, Giants-Patriots last year, and so on).  This makes predicting the outcome of the Super Bowl next to impossible in most years, because what happens after kickoff in the Super Bowl is often no reflection of what the numbers say should happen.  The old saying “any given Sunday” really applies to the Super Bowl, because anything can happen in one game. 

I think it is interesting that the Steelers are favored by seven points.  I agree that they are the favorite coming in, but a full touchdown seems like a lot.  I believe that the days of mega blowouts in the Super Bowl are over for several reasons, largely because of the parity of the league.  I think this is a very intriguing matchup because of the contrast in styles, but both teams have shown they can go against the grain of their perceived style.  The Cardinals are known for their passing offense, and it has been dynamic this postseason (especially Larry Fitzgerald), but in the playoffs they have also  shown they can run the ball effectively.  The Steelers are known as a power running team, and they  have run well, but they have also made big plays in the passing game during the playoffs (in large part thanks to Ben Roethlisberger being able to extend plays and avoid sacks with his escape ability). 

I actually think this has the potential to be a high scoring game.  Both teams have outstanding quarterback play, both have shown they can run the ball this postseason, and both have talented receivers.  Both quarterbacks have won a  Super Bowl before, so neither one will get rattled about being in the big game.   Pittsburgh does seem to have the much stronger defense on paper, especially against the run where they have been nothing short of dominant in two playoff games.  The Cardinals though have been very surprising with their defensive play in the playoffs, including the 5-interception effort against Jake Delhomme in the divisional round.  While I highly doubt the Cards will get five picks on Sunday, I think they do have better ability to cause havoc than people seem to realize.  All that being said, I have a feeling both defenses will end up giving up points on Sunday. 

Honestly, we could break this game down until we’re blue in the face, but the reality is this has been an NFL season of unpredictability for sure.  It has long gotten to the point where I am not surprised to see anything, including a Super Bowl appearance by the Arizona Cardinals.  Going with that theme, I think stats and trends,  numbers and even personnel don’t mean much in regard to picking this game.  In the theme of unpredictability, my pick is….

 Arizona 28 Pittsburgh 24.  It would just be too fitting for a season filled with wackiness and craziness not to end with the Cardinals winning their first championship since 1947.  The Steelers may have the history edge (5 Super Bowl wins to none), may have better tradition, and may be more impressive on paper, but favorites have not carried the day in the NFL this season.  Arizona wins the Super Bowl, and thus we have the ultimate symbol for the 2008 season of unpredictability.

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Divisional Playoff Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 9, 2009

We won’t discuss last week where I went a mighty 1-3.  I have no doubt that Ken Wisenhunt, Norv Turner and Andy Reid are hoping that I pick against their teams again this weekend.  Regardless, there are great games on tap this weekend so let’s get right to it.

Baltimore at Tennessee: The Titans won 13-10 in Baltimore in week five, thanks to a Kerry Collins TD pass to Alge Crumpler in the final two minutes.  I expect the rematch to be very much the same kind of game, low scoring, physical and dominated by defense.  The Ravens come into the rematch red hot, having completely destroyed the Dolphins last weekend.  The Ravens defense is playing well enough to evoke memories of 2000, when they won the Super Bowl.  In that playoff year, the Ravens won their divisional playoff game on the road against…..you guessed it, Tennessee.  The Titans were the number one seed that year too, and the Ravens were a wild card just like they are this year.  Over the years the Ravens have proven they are not afraid of playing on the road, so home field advantage won’t be much of a factor in this one.  Baltimore actually has more offense this year than they did when they won the Super Bowl, despite the presence of a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco.  The Titans meanwhile are well deserving of the number one seed, proving their worth for that spot with an impressive win over Pittsburgh in week 16.  Tennessee will also get the boost of getting Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch back along the defensive line, although center Kevin Mawae will not play, which will hurt the offensive line and the running game. 

In the first meeting, the Ravens were much more effective on the ground than the Titans, outgaining them 132-47.  This does not bode well for the Titans in the rematch in light of Mawae’s absence.  I don’t think the Titans will have much success if any on the ground as well as the Ravens’ defense is playing.  The running game will be extremely important in this kind of low scoring game that could be decided by turnovers.  Each defense forced two turnovers in the first meeting, so expect lots of them on Saturday.  I do have slight pause of picking a rookie quarterback on the road against the experienced Kerry Collins, not to mention I give Jeff Fisher a big edge in the coaching matchup over John Harbaugh, but I think the Ravens are just playing too well right now to be denied.  The Titans have the look of a flawed top seed, and the Ravens look like they might even be the AFC’s best team at the time of year where it matters most.

The Pick: Baltimore 20 Tennessee 10

Arizona at Carolina: This is a rematch of one of the more interesting games of the season, a 27-23 Panthers win in Charlotte in week 8.  Arizona actually had a 10-0 lead in the game, and even had the lead through most of the third quarter, before Steve Smith turned the game with a 65-yard touchdown catch along the sideline on the last play of the quarter.  It is interesting to note that the Cardinals outgained the Panthers thanks to a 381 yard day by Kurt Warner, but that the Cardinals were doomed by a lack of a running game and also seven penalties, not to mention an untimely Warner interception in the red zone in the fourth quarter.  DeAngelo Williams had a huge game for Carolina, gaining 108 yards on just 17 carries, and that was a big factor for the Panthers. 

What doesn’t bode well for Arizona heading into this game is that the Cardinals were 0-5 on the east coast during the regular season.  The other thing that doesn’t bode well for the Cardinals is the Saturday night weather forecast in Charlotte.  All things considered, the temperature won’t be that bad for the Cardinals (temps are expected to be in the 40s), but it is the 50 percent chance of rain that will seriously hamper Arizona’s passing attack.  The Cardinals may not have Anquan Boldin, who pulled his hamstring on his 71-yard touchdown catch last week against the Falcons.  In any case, the Cardinals will need a huge game on the ground from Edgerrin James to even have a chance, and I don’t see that happening against Carolina’s strong defensive front seven.  The Panthers have one of the league’s best running attacks with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and that alone gives them an edge in the playoffs.  Steve Smith is also the kind of playmaker that can turn close games in his team’s favor, as he did in the first meeting between these teams.  I think the Panthers roll in this one, in large part because I can’t see Arizona playing well on the road when it matters and also in part because I think Carolina is a focused team on a mission. 

The Pick: Panthers 31 Cardinals 17

Philadelphia at NY Giants: These teams split their regular season meetings, with each team winning the away game.  The Giants won in Philadelphia 36-31 in week 10, while the Eagles won at Giants Stadium 20-14 in week 14.  The Giants ran for an astounding 219 yards in the first meeting, including 126 from Brandon Jacobs, while they held Brian Westbrook to just 26 yards rushing on 13 carries.  In the second meeting, Westbrook ran wild for 131 yards and added 72 receiving with 2 touchdowns, while Jacobs was held to 52 yards, and the Giants mustered just 88 rushing yards total.  It is interesting to note that the second meeting was the Giants’ first game since the Plaxico Burress fiasco, and that the G-men stumbled to a 1-3 finish in their final four games, while the Eagles went 3-1 over their final four regular season games, and then won on the road in Minnesota last week.

Generally speaking, anything goes when teams are meeting for the third time in a season.  Neither team has any secrets from the other, so coaching influence is minimal.  I think the key will be which team will be better able to establish the run, because judging from the first two meetings this game should be within a touchdown either way.  Call me crazy, but I think the Eagles are in much better position to run the ball effectively in this game.  Brian Westbrook is healthy and red hot, while Brandon Jacobs was anything but healthy for the final four games of the regular season.  Even though he has had the bye to regroup, something tells me that Jacobs will still have a hard time in this game.  The Giants did get a huge game from Derrick Ward against Carolina in week 16, so if Jacobs isn’t 100 percent, Ward will need to step up.  I also actually like Donovan McNabb better than Eli Manning in this game based on the way each QB has been playing recently down the stretch.  Manning actually has a difficult matchup against one of the league’s top secondaries with Asante Samuel and Brian Dawkins, especially with the receivers still in flux (Memo to Dominek Hixon: stop dropping passes).  The Giants may have home field and may be the defending champs, but I think the Eagles have more momentum and are actually in better shape to win this game.

The Pick: Eagles 24 Giants 17

San Diego at Pittsburgh: This is a rematch of one of the most bizarre games of 2008, an 11-10 Steelers win in week 11 at Heinz Field that really should have been 18-10, thanks to an incorrect ruling by the official on the game’s final play that wiped out Troy Polamalu’s return of a lateral for a TD.  In any case, Pittsburgh won this game without scoring a touchdown, thanks to three Jeff Reed field goals and a safety.  The Chargers’ one touchdown came courtesy of LaDainian Tomlinson, who is highly doubtful for Sunday’s rematch with a groin injury.  Ben Roethlisberger actually threw for 308 yards in the first meeting, although he got carted off the field in the regular season finale against Cleveland.  He says he will play Sunday, but how effective will he be?  The Steelers did get a 115 yard effort from Willie Parker in the first meeting, and they will need that again on Sunday.  One thing that doomed the Chargers in November was that Philip Rivers had one of his worst games of the season, throwing for just 164 yards and two picks.  If they want to have a chance Sunday, Rivers can’t have that kind of repeat performance.  One thing is for sure, Darren Sproles is guaranteed to have a much more productive game than the first meeting, when he had just one carry for zero yards and caught just one pass for nine. 

It is really crazy to think that if San Diego and Baltimore both win, the Chargers would host the AFC Championship Game in a season in which they were at one point 4-8.  I’m not sure if that’s good news or bad news for the league, but that scenario could put the Chargers in position to complete the highly improbable run from 4-8 to Super Bowl champion.  That’s the thing about the playoffs: once you’re in, what happened in the regular season doesn’t matter.  This is game is a challenging one to pick because of Roethlisberger’s health, and also considering the Chargers are a red hot team playing on the road against a team that earned a bye despite playing the most rigorous schedule in the NFL.  Over the years the Steelers have actually fared much better in road playoff games than they have at home, so that makes it highly tempting to pick San Diego.  On the other hand, no team has made the conference championship game with fewer than 10 wins since Jacksonville did it in 1996.  I think the Steelers will be out to prove something after their home flameout against Jacksonville last season, and I think the Steelers defense will find a way to slow down Rivers and Sproles enough.  Either way, this should be the best of the four games this weekend.

The Pick: Steelers 24 Chargers 21

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Thursday Night Football Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 20, 2008

This week’s Thursday NFL game definitely isn’t the most compelling matchup on the schedule in week 12.  In fact, it is in question what will be on the most amount of time in my house tomorrow night.  It’s not as if Steelers-Bengals is the only option I have to choose from.  I could choose to watch a very compelling college basketball doubleheader instead (Duke-Southern Illinois followed by UCLA-Michigan in the 2K Sports Classic).  Nevertheless, Steelers-Bengals is football, and thus I will at the very least be looking in on the game.  Let’s be frank though, it’s not as if this game requires much brainpower to make a selection.  The only questions here are margin of victory for the Steelers and will the game still be interesting enough to watch in the third quarter?

Cincinnati strangely enough actually does not have a loss in November, owing to their surprise win over Jacksonville, the bye, and their stellar non-loss to Philadelphia.  It seems fitting that the Bengals were involved in the NFL’s first tie in six years, being that they have grossly underachieved all season.  The Bengals were a mess from the get-go in large part thanks to Chad Johnson’s antics over the summer.  His open desire for a trade and unwillingness to report to camp had to be a distraction, plus his theatrics over legally changing his last name to Ocho Cinco had to take away from his focus on the field.  Carson Palmer’s injury and the flameout of Rudi Johnson (now in Detroit) didn’t help the offense either.  Cincinnati has shown effort in recent games, and they do have one bright spot in T.J. Houshmanzadeh (who is among the league leaders in receptions), but they have really bottomed out after their playoff appearance three years ago.  The fact that the Bengals (like the Eagles as well), ended up involved in a tie and couldn’t figure out a way to win that game speaks volumes about how much they’ve struggled this season.  

Pittsburgh on the other hand is coming off a big win over San Diego, one in which they had to fight to the end.  Despite two recent losses at home, the Steelers still sit at 7-3, and in 2nd place in the AFC.  The Steelers defense will not allow the Bengals to get anything going on the ground (especially after a less than stellar 47 yard effort from Cedric Benson last week), and they will harass Ryan Fitzpatrick all night.  Pittsburgh’s offense has not lit up the scoreboard, but they should be able to move the ball in this game with Willie Parker, and Hines Ward always steps up big against the Bengals.  The Bengals certainly remember his wicked block in the first meeting, and while they may say they’re motivated, it would really surprising if they try to be physical with Ward in the rematch, because that is a battle they will not win if they try.  Ben Roethlisberger has been toughing it out with a bum shoulder, and he will have to play through the pain again on a short week.  If Willie Parker runs effectively though, Roethlisberger will not be asked to do a lot to have to win this game.

Did I mention the game is at Heinz Field?  At night?  With a loud crowd?  Pittsburgh has a one game in the division now, and they want to keep it that way.  The Steelers schedule really beefs up down the stretch, including road games at New England and Tennessee, plus a home tilt with Dallas, so Pittsburgh knows they can’t afford to give this one away.  A win keeps the Steelers in bye position.  Cincinnati is playing for pride.  The Steelers blasted Cincinnati 38-10 on the road in the first meeting and they will do it again.  

The Pick: Steelers 31 Bengals 13.  It will not be compelling by the middle of the third quarter

*One caveat: the first two Thursday night games were upsets by the away team in wildly entertaining fashion.  There could be some Thursday night voodoo I’m unaware of that is causing this.  If Cincinnati wins, book the away team for every Thursday game the rest of the way.

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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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