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Posts Tagged ‘San Diego Chargers’

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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AFC West Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 8, 2009

Once again teams listed in predicted order of finish.

9781. San Diego Chargers – Last year’s Chargers season would be a huge disappointment by the standards of most teams.  This sounds like a very strange statement considering they won the division, won a playoff game against Peyton Manning and the Colts, and gave the Super Bowl champion Steelers a very good game in the second round of the playoffs.  However, the Chargers had gone to the AFC title game the year before, came in with a roster virtually unchanged, and were expected to take a monster leap in the standings.  However, the Chargers really stumbled out of the gate, sitting at 4-8 through 12 games.  They did manage to win their last four games to finish 8-8, and were able to back into the division title thanks to an epic collapse by Denver.  The fact that the Chargers hosted the Colts in the playoffs despite finishing 8-8 says more about the current NFL playoff system than anything else.  This year, the Chargers are clear runaway favorites in what perhaps is the worst division in football.  The question is do they have enough to beat the NFL’s elite in the playoffs?

There is no question that there is plenty of offensive talent in San Diego.  How quarterback Philip Rivers didn’t make the Pro Bowl is beyond me.  His 34 touchdown passes were a franchise record and he led the league with a 105.5 quarterback rating.  The main knock on Rivers is that two of his 2004 draft classmates, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, have already won Super Bowls.  It is clear however that Rivers deserves to be mentioned among the elite of the league.  As long as he is around, the Chargers will have a good chance to be successful.  He does have a very good and very underrated group of receivers to throw to, including Vincent Jackson, who produced his first 1,000 yard season a year ago.  He lines up alongside Chris Chambers, who has thrived in the Chargers’ offense since coming over from Miami a few years ago.  The Chargers also have surprising depth in Malcolm Floyd and Legadu Naanee.  Oh, not to mention, Rivers can throw to the best tight end in football in Antonio Gates.  Gates was slowed at the beginning of last year due to a toe injury, but he did rebound toward the end of the season.  Now that he’s fully healthy this year, he should be in for a big season.  The running game is also arguably the most talented in the NFL.  LaDainian Tomlinson had a down year by his standards last year, finishing with 1,100 yards and missing the playoffs to a toe injury.  Tomlinson had his contract restructured during the offseason, so he will enter the season with a chip on his shoulder.  Tomlinson wants to prove that he is still the best back in football.  The Chargers also have Darren Sproles, who is definitely among the fastest backs in all of football.  The pairing of a healthy Tomlinson and Sproles will make the Chargers offense extremely dangerous, couples with the ability of Rivers under center.  The offensive line did have its struggles last season, but the Chargers elected not to make any changes.  This is a veteran group that knows it just needs to play to its ability.

Defensively the Chargers defense will be significantly improved from a year ago for a simple reason: the return of Shawne Merriman.  Merriman sat out most the season last year due to reconstructive knee injury, and his absence in the middle of the defense was definitely noticed in more ways than one.  Merriman is certainly one of the best linebackers in all of football, mainly because his his ability to get to the quarterback.  It does remain to be seen whether he still possesses the speed from before the knee surgery, but his leadership alone will be a tremendous boost in the locker room and on the field.  Shaun Phillips will play in the other outside linebacker spot, and he had 7.5 sacks last year.  The Chargers also used their first round pick on limnebacker Larry English of Northern Illinois.  The defensive line is anchored by veteran tackle Jamal Williams and end Luis Castillo.  Overall it is not a terrific group but it is capable of getting the job done.  The secondary has talent with cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer, and both will need to play a lot better than they did a year ago.  The Chargers’ pass defense ranked 31st a year ago, and that definitely needs to get better.

The Chargers’ special teams definitely has the talent to be the best in football.  Kicker Nate Keading is believe it or not second all-time in kicking accuracy in NFL history with an 86 percent success rate.  Punter Mike Scifers has one of the strongest legs in the NFL and he also has the accuracy to be able to pin teams inside the 20.  The return game is in amazing hands with Sproles, who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

There is no question that San Diego is an overwhelming favorite to win this division.  Talent wise I think they are very capable of making a deep playoff run.  This team returns largely intact from a year ago, and more importantly they are healthy The schedule is tough (they play the AFC North and NFC East) but the Chargers have the talent to play with those teams.  The question is will they play to their talent level?  We will find out.

2. Denver Broncos – I put the Broncos at number two in this division with a couple of asterisks.  One, this is weak division and someone has to finish second, even if their record is going to end up 6-10 or 7-9.  Second, I like new coach Josh McDaniels and I think he has a good system.  I also think the Broncos could surprise some people and win more games than everyone expects.  The Broncos surprised the entire league when they fired Mike Shanahan, and they shocked the NFL even more when they traded quarterback Jay Cutler.  (I have reviewed and analyzed that deal in several previous posts – basically I think it might not end up as bad long term for Denver as everyone thinks.)  They have also had to deal with the Brandon Marshall fiasco.  All this after they blew a three game lead with three games to play last season, and missed the playoffs altogether for the third straight year.

The offense has almost been completely revamped from a year ago.  This despite the fact they finished second in the NFL in yards.  What Coach McDaniels didn’t like is that the Broncos finished 16th in points.  When McDaniels acquired quarterback Kyle Orton in the Cutler trade, he did so because he legitimately feels that Orton is better decision maker than Cutler.  While Cutler put up flashy numbers a year ago, he did throw a number of red zone interceptions.  Orton has a reputation of being a good decision maker and not turning it over.  Broncos fans are nervous after his four preseason picks, but it is preseason.  The biggest question with Orton is the finger he injured in the third preseason game against Chicago, but he says he will be ready for the opener.  The receiving game could well hinge on whether Marshall gets his act together and decides to play.  Marshall has been suspended during the preseason because of his behavior.  Marshall is unhappy because he wants to be traded.  I am convinced however that Marshall will not be traded, so it will be up to him to play or not.  I think if he gets his head on straight and plays, he will be very productive in this offense, maybe enough to get a third straight 100 catch season.  The rest of the receivers are actually very good, led by second year wideout Eddie Royal, who should be productive with or without Marshall.  There is also good veteran depth with Brandon Stokley and new addition Jabar Gaffney, who came over from the Patriots.  Tight end Tony Scheffler is also a good receiving threat.  The other tight ends, Daniel Graham and second round pick Richard Quinn, are good red zone threats and excellent blockers.  The running game should have more stability this season, after the Broncos went through nine backs last year due to injuries.  Hence why the Broncos spent their first round pick on Knowshan Moreno of Georgia.  Moreno has speed to elude tacklers, plus enough bulk to run through them.  He can also catch out the backfield and is a good blocker.  In the Broncos’ run scheme, he might win offensive rookie of the year honors.  The Broncos also added Correll Buckhalter from the Eagles in free agency for depth, and are expecting a big second season from Peyton Hillis, who emerged in the second half of last season.  The offensive line is also excellent, and returns intact from a year ago.  Young tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris should be around for a long time.

The defense was atrocious to put it mildly last season.  One of the emphases of new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is about forcing turnovers, an area in which the Broncos were among the league’s worst last year.  The Broncos did spend a first round pick obtained in the Cutler deal on defensive end Robert Ayers, who will be expected to bolster the pass rush.  He will likely start week one considering the lack of pass rush from the Broncos’ ends last year.  The nose tackle is still a question mark, and it’s a big one considering Denver will play a 3-4 under Nolan.  The linebackers have talent and speed, led by veteran D.J. Williams and pass rushing specialist Elvis Dumervil, who will be transitioning from defensive end.  The secondary has been completely retooled with the exception of shutdown corner Champ Bailey, who had a down year last year by his standards.  The Broncos will need him to return to his 2005 level of 10 picks.  The rest of the secondary will be led by hard hitting safety Brian Dawkins, who came over from the Eagles.  The Broncos also signed cornerback Andre Goodman and safety Renaldo Hill from the Dolphins.

Special teams is a bit of a question mark for the Broncos.  Kicker Matt Prater tailed off toward the end of the season last year, and Broncos fans are longing for the Jason Elam days.  He does have a very strong leg, hence why the new coaches are giving him a second chance.  Punter Brett Kern must also show more consistency from a year ago.  The return game is also really up for grabs.  Eddie Royal is the Broncos’ best returner, but Denver doesn’t want to risk injury to him in the return game.  Draft choice Alphonso Smith is also a distinct possibility.

Denver is a team that could just as easily finish 4-12 as 10-6.  If Moreno is the real deal, if Marshall plays and if the defense is better, this could be a surprise playoff team.  If Orton is a big time bust, Marshall is an attitude problem all year, and the defense continues to struggle, it could be a long first year for Josh McDaniels.  Time will definitely tell on this team.

3. Kansas City Chiefs – It is a major understatement to say that Kansas City needed a complete overhaul after last season’s disastrous 2-14 campaign.  The Chiefs defense was awful, surrendering 30 or more points seven times, including a whopping 54 to an average Bills attack at home.  The offense put up its share of numbers at times, but lacked any real playmakers in the passing game outside of Gonalez.  The Chiefs will have a very different look in 2009.  Gone are head coach Herm Edwards, General Manager Carl Peterson, and a host of veteran players including Gonzalez, whose trade request was accommodated by new management.  In are new coach Todd Haley, new GM Scott Pioli (architect of the New England dynasty), and new direction.  This team is clearly rebuilding, and the question is how competitive will they be?

The new direction starts at quarterback, where the Chiefs acquired what they hope is their signal caller for a long time to come in Matt Cassel.  Cassel was outstanding filling in for the injured Tom Brady in New England last year, and the Chiefs hope that Cassel will be able to translate that same success in a new environment and a new system.  Cassel is 6-4, and does have an above average arm, and the Chiefs are confident he will be good fit.  They are so confident that they rewarded him with a lucrative raise and contract extension before he’s even taken a snap for them.  If nothing else, it is reasonable for the Chiefs to expect more stability than the trio of Tyler Thigpen, Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle gave them a year ago.  One thing Cassel won’t have however is Gonzalez, and that means he won’t have the league’s best tight end to throw to like those three had.  Dwayne Bowe is the most talented of the receivers, and he is coming off an 86-catch season.  Bowe has the talent to be star, and he will be paired with Mark Bradley, who started to emerge toward the end of last year.  The Chiefs also signed veteran Bobby Engram as a free agent for depth.  There will be a noticeable dropoff at tight end with Brad Cottam the primary candidate to fill Gonzalez’ shoes.  The running game will once again be anchored by Larry Johnson, but he hasn’t been the same running the past two years since he suffered a foot injury in 2007.  Johnson was also not really a part of the offense last year, as the Chiefs went to a spread attack.  The spread is now gone, and Johnson is part of the offensive plan again, that is if his attitude doesn’t get in the way.  Jamaal Charles is ready to step in if Johnson continues to be ineffective.  The Chiefs do have a solid guard in Brian Waters, but the rest of the line is very young and very inexperienced, save for new addition Mike Goff from San Diego.

The defense has been revamped, highlighted by a new linebacking core.  Derrick Johnson is lone retainee at the position, but the former first round pick has yet to live up to expectations.  He will be joined by savvy veteran Mike Vrabel, obtained in the Cassel deal, and Monty Beisel from Arizona.  The Chiefs signed veteran Zach Thomas in the offseason, but released him in their last round of preseason cuts.  It seems clear that Thomas will retire, but the Chiefs were hoping to be able to count on his veteran leadership.  The defensive line is clearly a work in process.  The new regime is clearly not enamored with last year’s first round pick, Glenn Dorsey.  Dorsey played nose tackle last year, but the new regime feels like he’s too small for the position, so they’re trying him at right end this year.  The Chiefs also used this year’s first round pick on defensive end Tyson Jackson, a teammate of Dorsey’s at LSU.  Tamba Hali will be also be counted on to be able to rush the passer.  The secondary is also very young after the release of veteran cornerback Patrick Surtain.  Kansas City thinks Brandon Flowers is a shutdown corner, but the numbers from last year don’t back that up.

The Chiefs’ kicking game could be the most unreliable in the NFL.  Seventh round pick Ryan Succop appears to be the guy, but he missed a short field goal in the final preseason game.  Punter Dustin Colquitt is above average, and the return game could be highlighted by sixth round pick Quentin Lawrence of McNeesse State.  It seems like a long time ago that this return unit was feared with Dante Hall back there.

Kansas City is definitely in line for a rebuilding year, but they are starting to put the pieces in place.  This is another team that we don’t really know what to expect from, but I don’t see a playoff run in the cards.  .500 could be a possibility if they get a few breaks.

9514. Oakland Raiders – This organization is the biggest joke in the NFL.  I’m just saying that because I am a Denver guy, but it is very clearly a joke.  The ironic thing is this team actually showed more life after last year’s coaching change from Lane Kiffin to Tom Cable, even winning their final two games against Houston and Tampa Bay.  However, this offseason has been another illustration that this team just doesn’t know what it’s doing.  I think it starts with owner Al Davis, who still has his fingers in everything and for whom the game has long passed him by.  During training camp Cable seems to have actually punched one of his assistants.  Cue the Days of Our Lives music in Oakland.

The Raiders offense will once again be in the hands of JaMarcus Russell at quarterback, who has still yet to show the ability that made him the top pick of the draft in 2007.  Russell has good size and ability, but he has yet to put it together consistently.  His work ethic has really been questioned.  Perhaps that’s one reason why longtime veteran Jeff Garcia was brought in to challenge him.  Then again, Garcia didn’t make the team, so Russell will be on his own when the Raiders open the season against San Diego.  He’ll have a shall we say interesting set of receivers to throw to.  Javon Walker is the top receiver on the depth chart, even though he has battled numerous injuries in the past five years and is another guy whose attitude has not been stellar.  He will be paired with no names such as Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens.  The Raiders also inexplicably spent their first round pick on Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland, even though guys like Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin and Percy Harvin were available.  Heyward-Bey does have speed, always an Al Davis favorite, but was never dominant in Maryland.  In fact, he was barely above average in college.  I think the best receiving threat on the team is actually tight end Zach Miller, who has good hands.  He may be in line for a 75 catch season by default.  The running game actually has talent with last year’s first round pick, Darren McFadden, and the capable Justin Fargas.  So far McFadden has fit right in line with the Raider tradition of flash but no substance.  McFadden must have a better second year for the Raiders to justify their investment in him, and Fargas is actually expected to be the clear starter at the beginnning of the year.  The biggest addition the Raiders made is actually fullback Lorenzo Neal, who is one of the best in the business and for some reason can’t stick with a team.  The offensive line however is a disaster area waiting to happen, with a mix of washed up veterans and busts.

The Raiders defensive line can be symbolized by their expensive pairing of tackles.  Tommie Kelly signed one of the richest deals in NFL history for the position a year ago (even though he was coming off a torn ACL), and did not even come close to justifying the contract in 2008.  His counterpart, Gerard Warren, fits right in line with the Raider ideal of high draft picks who turn out to be busts.  Warren has talent, and has played well at times in Cleveland and Denver, but has largely been ineffective.  End Derrick Burgess is a good pass rusher, but he missed 8 games last year due to injury.  The linebackers are talented, led by Thomas Howard, who is very athletic and can make plays.  He will be the leader of an otherwise young group.  The secondary does feature Nnamdi Asomugha, who in my opinion is the best cornerback in all of football.  His counterpart, Chris Johnson, will be tested early and often, and must play well to avoid rendering Asomugha ineffective.

The special teams is actually an area of strength for the Raiders.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowksi and punter Shane Lechler both have very strong legs and are very accurate.  Justin Miller and Johnnie Lee Higgins, and perhaps even Heyward-Bey, do have the speed to make an impact in the return game.

In the end these will be the same old Raiders.  They do have talent at a number of positions with a lot of potential, but discipline and organization is a huge problem here as long as Al Davis is in charge.  Expect the Raiders to once again be among the league leaders in penalties and turnovers, and that will once again be their undoing.

Coming Next: the final division preview, the NFC West

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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… 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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This CAN’T Be Happening

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 22, 2008

Where do I start with this one?  Seriously?  How did the Broncos lose yet another home game to an inferior opponent?  The Bills had nothing to play for, and yet they showed more urgency and made more plays when it counted than the Broncos did.  The Broncos had every opportunity to bury the Bills early, yet somehow the Bills were able to hang around, and hang around some more, eventually take the lead, and never relinquish it.  Thanks to San Diego’s win at Tampa Bay, the Broncos are now in a position where they must win at San Diego next Sunday night to clinch the AFC West and make the playoffs (more on that game in a moment).  I watched the entire game, and I am still in many ways at a loss to explain just how the Broncos managed to lose this game considering the following:

– The Broncos outgained Buffalo 532-275, nearly a 2 to 1 advantage

– The Broncos held Buffalo to just 87 yards rushing, and a 3.3 yards per carry average

– Eddie Royal raced for a 71-yard run in the first quarter, the second longest run by a non-running back in Broncos history

– Champ Bailey returned and sparked the Broncos defense with 9 tackles and an early sack and forced fumble

– Denver controlled time of possession, winning that battle 33:11 to 26:49

– Brandon Marshall finally stepped up with another big game, hauling in 10 passes for 129 yards

Those things considered, here is how the Broncos managed to lose this game:

– Red zone inefficiency.  Denver went just 2 for 6 in the red zone (two field goals, an interception and a turnover on downs).  This is simply not acceptable.  Denver settled for two field goals early, and even though they had a 13-0 lead, it easily could have been 21-0, and at the very least should have been 17-0.  That would have made a big difference not only in the score but also in terms of momentum.  The interception thrown by Jay Cutler at the Buffalo two with just over five minutes to play was very costly.  On the next drive, Cutler overthrew a wide open Brandon Stokley on third down, and then on fourth down, Stokley had the pass for a moment, only to see it get knocked out of his hands by Terrence McGee.  All told, the Broncos drove to the Bills’ 15 yard line twice in the last five minutes and came up with no points.  This will not win you any games.

– It is a broken record, but the Broncos lost the turnover battle 2-0.  Even though the Bills cashed those turnovers in for just three points, they still proved costly.

– The coaches made a questionable decision with two minutes to go in the first half.  They allowed Matt Prater to try a 54-yard field goal instead of punting and burying the Bills deep.  The wind was not ideal for a long field goal, and Prater missed the kick short even though it was on line.  The Bills got the ball at their own 44, and were able to drive for a momentum changing (and crowd silencing) touchdown right before halftime.  This was a questionable coaching decision to allow Prater to try the kick.

– The Broncos running game took yet another hit with the first quarter injury to P.J. Pope, who ran for 44 yards on just six carries before exiting.  Tatum Bell and Selvin Young only combined for 36 yards on the ground the rest of the way.  

– Special teams.  Granted, Leodis McKelvin is one of the top kick returners in the league.  His mere presence forced the Broncos to take drastic measures to kick away from him.  That being said, too many times Denver allowed Buffalo outstanding field position on kick returns and a short field to work with.  When your defense is struggling as much as the Broncos defense has, you can’t expect them to come up with stops when the opposing team is starting on the wrong side of midfield.

– Give the Bills credit.  Even though they came in with nothing to play for, and could have easily rolled over when they fell behind early, they stayed in the game and ended up winning at the end.  

The bottom line for the Broncos is they are an 8-7 team, and have not looked playoff worthy the last two weeks.  Good teams win easily in December at home against non-contending teams.  The Broncos for the past few years have not been able to do this, hence they keep missing the playoffs.  Denver had every chance to bury the Bills early, but settled for field goals when they needed touchdowns.  They gave Buffalo life at the end of the first half, and found themselves in a dogfight when they should clearly have been the team with more to play for.  Buffalo is a team that had lost  8 of its past 10 games, for all intents and purposes had collapsed.  The Broncos loss to Buffalo does not bode well for their playoff prospects even if they somehow upset the Chargers next week.

Here’s all you need to know about the Broncos’ suddenly very bleak postseason prospects: the early Las Vegas line has the Chargers favored to win by nine points next week.  The game in San Diego is needless to say a tall order for the Broncos.  They will be on the road, on Sunday night to boot (NBC grabbed that game as soon as the Broncos lost).  The Chargers will be out for blood after the Broncos’ crazy 39-38 win win week two.  San Diego feels they got robbed by Ed Hochuli.  I maintain the Chargers still had chances to come up with a stop and didn’t on either the touchdown or two point conversion, but that’s beside the point.  This NFL season has so wild and crazy though, especially for the Broncos.  It’s a season where teams win games they’re not supposed to and choke games away they’re supposed to win easily.  In any case, the Broncos’ first playoff game is on Sunday.  The winner wins the AFC West and the loser is out.  The Broncos quickly need to figure out how to avoid turnovers, how to take advantage of red zone opportunities while now down to their 8th option at running back (the backfield is so depleted that Tony Scheffler was forced to line up at fullback in the second half), and somehow figure out how to stop a suddenly red hot Philip Rivers.  I hope the Broncos can figure out a way to win and make the playoffs, but the realistic side of me doesn’t see the Broncos having much of a shot on the road against a suddenly hot team unless they start playing much better.  Things look bleak for the Broncos indeed.  Then again, this is the NFL, and that means predictions are worthless.  I hope.

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Thursday Night Football Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 4, 2008

We’ve run into a busy week in the Fischer household, so we’ll have a quick pick here on tonight’s game, and the rest of the games will be selected tomorrow, we promise. 

Needless to say this is a big game in the AFC West.  The Broncos will certainly be watching closely because they will all but clinch the division if the Raiders pull the upset tonight, needing only a win Sunday against the hapless Chiefs in that case.  San Diego has got to rank as one of the biggest disappointments in the league at a seemingly unbelievable 4-8 (I still say Jacksonville is a bigger disappointment, but not by much).  The Chargers have won just one game since Oct. 12, and that was a one point win over Kansas City thanks to a Chiefs missed two point conversion at the end of the game.  Strangely enough, the Raiders actually have more wins in that span than the Chargers, having beaten the Jets on Oct. 19 and the Broncos two weeks ago. 

What is most surprising about the Chargers has been the down play of LaDainian Tomlinson, who clearly has not been the best back in football this season.  Granted, the troubles on the O-line have something to do with that, but the Chargers offense has not been near as explosive as in past years.  Likewise, their defense has struggled without Shawne Merriman.  Their loss to Atlanta last week was nowhere near as close as the score indicated.  If not for a defensive TD, the Chargers would have been blown out.  The Falcons dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and had a dominant edge in every stat category.  The Raiders are also coming off a loss to Kansas City in which the score seems close but in which the Raiders didn’t play up to their potential.  JaMarcus Russell has really struggled at the quarterback position, and the running game has also been non existent most games.  The Raiders defense however has actually played very well most games, and they do seem to step up and play to the level of their competition.

Two weeks ago against Denver, the Raiders completely shut down the Broncos passing game and were able to force turnovers.  Two weeks before that, the Raiders held Jake Delhomme to just 7 of 27 and forced him into four picks.  Call me crazy, but I think Philip Rivers is about to have a very long night.  If the Raiders can shut down San Diego’s running game, which is possible with LT not being himself, and if Rivers is forced to win the game for San Diego, he won’t be able to.  The Oakland secondary is very underrated and is actually among the best in the league, especially Nnamdi Asoumgua, who should absolutely be a Pro Bowler.  If the Raiders can force turnovers, their offense might just be able to take advantage of them and put up some points against the Chargers.

Either way, this game will definitely be ugly.  Personally I might just watch more of the Texas-UCLA college basketball showdown as ugly as this game could get.  Something just doesn’t seem right about San Diego.  The Chargers have been in desperation mode for a month and have not figured out how to win.  If it didn’t kick in by now, it probably won’t.  When these teams played in week four, Oakland had a 15-3 fourth quarter lead, and that was before the Al Davis-Lane Kiffin divorce.  I smell something fishy here.  I think the Chargers are done, and Norv Turner should be as well at the end of the season.  San Diego never should have fired Marty Schottenheimer, and their mistake is quickly coming home to roost.

The pick: Oakland pulls the upset.  Raiders 17-13

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Posted by mizzou1028 on September 15, 2008

I still can’t believe that game.  The fact that the Broncos own a 2-0 record and just beat the defending division champs is the tip of the iceberg.  Where to begin?  Is the story the big numbers put up by the offense?  Even at that, is the focus on a career passing day for Jay Cutler, a franchise record for receptions in a game by Brandon Marshall, or the clutch play of Eddie Royal?  Is it the clutch drive at the end of game, culminating in a wild two point conversion to take the lead?  Is the story the officiating crew of Ed Hochuli giving the Broncos a huge break in the game’s final 90 seconds?  The answer is probably some combination of the above, all winding together to result in one of the most exciting finishes in Broncos history. 

Mike Shanahan certainly showed a lot of gusto going for the two point conversion and the win, and on the top of that running the exact same playused to score the touchdown.  It’s extremely rare that a coach will elect to roll the dice with a two point play as opposed to kicking the extra point and playing for overtime.  This is the kind of out of the box thinking that made Shanahan a great coach in the first place.  He is telling his team with that decision that he is going for it this year.  He is telling them that he believes this offense can get the job done.  He has confidence that his team can get three tough yards and convert the two point play with the game on the line.  This could very well end up paying more dividends than just a two point conversion to win a game.  This could have a positive impact on the entire season, giving the offense confidence that they can get the job done, even in adverse circumstances. 

The Broncos’ offense through two games is averaging 40 points a game, which is obviously phenomenal.   Even in the Super Bowl championship years, the offense never consistently lit it up to quite that degree.  This might actually be the first year of the Mike Shanahan era where the running game isn’t the primary focus of the offense.  If the first two games are any indication, the Broncos are really opening it up this year.  Jay Cutler seems extremely confident in his third year, completing 70 percent of his passes through two games for 650 yards, 6 touchdowns and only 1 pick.  Brandon Marshall shattered the team’s single game reception record yesterday with 18 grabs against the Chargers.  Eddie Royal is looking a star through two games in the other wide receiver spot.  Tony Scheffler is evoking memories of Shannon Sharpe at the tight end position.  It is clear that passing seems to be the Broncos’ primary mode of attack this year.  They did get good hard running yesterday from Andre Hall and Selvin Young, and I still think Ryan Torian will be in the picture somewhere when he returns from injury, but this could be the first Mike Shanahan team not to be focused primarily on running the ball.  Regardless, this is one of the best offenses in football in the early going.

The defense and special teams on the other hand has some serious issues.  Darren Sproles alone carved the Broncos up yesterday for a 102 yard kickoff return touchdown and a 66-yard touchdown reception.  Granted, Sproles is a heck of a player, and on both of those plays he had more than enough speed to blow by everyone.  That aside, giving up big plays were the Broncos’ biggest Achilles heel last season, and early on it seems like it could be rearing its ugly head again.  In some ways it’s hard to get a good read on the Broncos performance when you see they held LaDainian Tomlinson to 26 yards on 10 carries.  A closer look though reveals that Tomlinson played with a bum toe, and Sproles rushed for 7.6 yards a carry in addition to his two big scoring plays.  The Broncos also gave up a 48-yard touchdown pass to Chris Chambers and watched their defense give up scores on FIVE consecutive possessions.  If the Broncos want to be an elite team in the league, they need to shore that up in a hurry.  Even next week’s game against the Saints poses a big challenge with threats like Reggie Bush, so the defense will definitely need to get better.

A quick thought on the Jay Cutler fumble that was ruled incomplete in the waning moments: yes, it did look a fumble to me.  That being said, Ed Hochuli did the only thing he could do given the rules.  Since the whistle had blown, he couldn’t give the ball to San Diego.  The Chargers probably should be upset about the ruling, but they still had an opportunity to stop the Broncos on fourth down, and on the two point conversion.  Even after that, they still had time for a quick drive to get in field goal range.  The Broncos should not apologize for winning this game, and if the Chargers believe they were wronged, they should have sucked it up and made a stop.  Since they didn’t do that, the Broncos have nothing to apologize about.

The bottom line is the Broncos are 2-0, and are in sole possession of first place in the AFC West.  Thing is, they were in the exact same position a year ago, so nothing is assured yet by any means.  The Giants started 0-2 last year and won the Super Bowl, so everything should be taken with a grain of salt.  I do think this year definitely has a more positive vibe overall for the Broncos than last year, and it certainly looks like they will definitely be playing into January this season if their current play keeps up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Dallas over Minnesota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIVISIONAL ROUND: Jacksonville over Pittsburgh, New England over Indianapolis

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Jacksonville over New England

SUPER BOWL: Dallas over Jacksonville    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s Never Too Early To Plan Ahead

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 16, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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Schottenheimer anyone?

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 21, 2008

I never thought I would utter the following phrase as a die hard Broncos fan, but I am livid that the San Diego Chargers didn’t win today (which says how much I can’t stand the Patriots but that’s another matter).   They literally handed the AFC Championship Game to New England on a silver platter.  For starters, they ended up with field goals on three seperate trips inside the 10 yard line, which is unacceptable in any game let alone on the road against the best team in the league.  On the last of those drives they wasted a valuable second half timeout to come up with a draw play on 3rd & 1.  It seemed as though the Chargers suddenly went tentative once they got inside the red zone.  That’s 12 points they left on the board right there.  Conversely, the Patriots coverted three of their four red zone opportunities for touchdowns, rather than having to settle for field goals.  Then, their kickoffs and punts were terrible all game long.  What is the one thing you don’t want to give Tom Brady especially on the road?  That would be excellent starting field position.  Routinely, the Patriots fielded kickoffs that didn’t even reach the 20 yard line, resulting in terrific field position.  Conversely, the Patriots kickoffs were much better, and didn’t give San Diego great field position to begin drives.  In spite of all that, the Chargers still were within striking distance, down 21-12 with just under 10 minutes to go.  Facing a 4th & 10 at the New England 35, they could have chosen to try a long field goal or even go for it to try and stay in the game.  No, instead the coaching “genius” Norv Turner (insert your own sarcasm comment here) elects to punt the ball, and the game, away.  The Chargers only “gained” roughly 20 yards on the punt, and they never saw the ball again, as the Patriots enegineered an impressive drive to put the game away.  What would the Chargers have lost really by going for it instead of punting?  At worst New England would have had the ball at the 35, but did Turner really believe his defense had much a shot to come up with a quick stop?  I realize they had intercepted Brady three times already in the game, but how many lives did they expect against New England? 

That’s not to say the Patriots don’t deserve credit for winning the game.  The final drive was certainly impressive, as was the Patriots defense for holding the Chargers down once they got inside the red zone.  New England also is to be commended for their offensive execution the red zone, particularly the play of Wes Welker.  That being said, how would the Patriots have fared against the Colts today?  Better yet, how would they have fared against a more intelligent coach, one who’s play calling would have been more savvy in the red zone and who would have shown more guts when it counted in the fourth quarter?  I certainly find it ironic that the Chargers playoff collapse of a year ago was blamed strictly on Marty Schottenheimer (for the record I too was among the blamers).  Now, it is clear that Turner at the very least contributed to this year’s defeat.  The bottom line is the Chargers played hard especially on defense, actually intercepting Brady three times, and also did a good job moving the ball offensively.  It was little things that cost them the game, and that can only be blamed on coaching. 

The bright side, getting back to me being a Broncos fan, is that Turner figures to be in control of a prime division rival for years to come.  I can’t wait until the Broncos win a close game against the Chargers becuase of dumb coaching by Turner.  The Chargers are scary on paper because they have tremendous young talent at every position, but as long as Turner is in charge, it will give the rest of the division a fighting chance. 

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