North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Falcons

Getting back on the NFL wagon – Week five picks

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Again, I kind of fell off the wagon. I didn’t watch much football last week, only the Denver/Dallas game and a little tiny bit of the Sunday nighter.

I’m kind of a busy guy, one who has to work on Sundays, usually in the afternoon. It sucks, but I’m not going to bitch about it. Especially when I made out pretty good on my picks last week.

Of my marquee picks, the ones I separated and put up top, I nailed one of three. And I was wildly off one, when I said Oakland would upset Houston. I stand by that and feel that if Oakland had any other quarterback in the NFL (including practice roster players) they might have won… but I’ll own up to being off there.

I did correctly call Denver beating Dallas and was right in that to even have a chance, Romo would have to air the ball out (he did, throwing for over 200 yards).  And while I was off on Baltimore, they did test the Patriots: it was a close match where Brady worked some magic.

But as Jerry Brown once said, that was then and this is now. Let’s get to it.

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Written by M.

October 9, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Breaking down how and why the Cardinals are the NFC Champions

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If nothing else, this certainly wasn’t expected.

By beating the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals earned a trip to Super Bowl XLIII, the first time the team has ever been to one

It wasn’t exactly the easiest of routes, for sure.

By winning the tepid NFC East, where no other team finished above .500, the Cards barely made the playoffs; they were seeded fourth but lost more games then Philadelphia, the sixth seed. In the first round, they weren’t given much of a chance against the Atlanta Falcons, a young and surging team led by Matt Ryan.

In a shootout, the Cards held on to win, 24-30. Their suddenly strong defence limited Ryan to under 200 yards and picked him off twice. Kurt Warner looked years younger, throwing for over 270 yards, 100 of them to Larry Fitzgerald. Remember that name.

Next week, the Cards went on the road to face Carolina, a team who won 12 games – and four of their last five. The Panthers, a six point favourite on ESPN, were blown out, 33-13. Why? Again, the mix of a defence that was coming together and an offence that was dynamic. Again, Warner threw for two majors and for over 200 yards. Again, the defence forced turnovers – five interceptions and a fumble. Again, a convincing win.

All of a sudden, these Cards looked like a threat.

But there was a pattern beginning to form. The Cards were a team that liked to throw the ball, early and often. They liked to score as soon as they could, and they usually did. In the first half, they had 14 against Atlanta, 27 points against Carolina. And as the game wound down, they usually did too: they only scored five points combined in both of those games’ fourth quarters.

This was their weakness. If a team kept running the ball early, controlling the clock, and wound down the defence early, there seemed to be a good chance they could stage a comeback late; they just had to keep the score from getting out of hand.

On to the NFC Championship, against Philadelphia, where the same script seemed to unfold. Throughout the first half, the Cards dominated – three touchdowns to Larry Fitzgerald. Two field goals. A 24-6 lead at the half.

But the Eagles kept pounding away. Eagles QB Donovan McNabb capped off a 90-yard drive with a 6-yard pass for a major. Shortly after, he completed four of five passes to move 60 yards, and made it a one-possession game after three.

And right at the beginning of the fourth, the Eagles took the lead on a huge, 62-yard score by McNabb to DeSean Jackson. The two-point failed, but still, the Eagles led 25-24.

This is how it was going to be lost for the Cards, right? This is right about when the wheels were supposed to fall off. When Kurt Warner drops back, forces a throw to Fitzgerald who’s in triple coverage, gets picked off and the game ends. That’s what we expect, isn’t it?

But instead, Warner went short, making quick passes that got the first downs, while using their running backs to keep clock moving. If you get a chance, look at the drive: 14 plays, 72 yards and almost eight minutes eaten off the clock. It wasn’t dynamic, it wasn’t a flashy show of exhibition.

But it was smart. It kept them going, kept the Eagles off the field and make the clock the Eagles enemy. Philly ended up burning their second timeout, just to keep some time left to retaliate.

They tried, too. McNabb threw throughout the next series, and after a couple first downs had a quick three-and-out. That was pretty much it for the Eagles.

Basically, in this win, the Cardinals proved themselves, if that makes sense. Out of all their playoff games, nobody tested them as hard as the Eagles did. The Cards got out early with a great passing game, but nearly lost it all when their defence began to lapse. But intead of sticking to what was working – but would have been the wrong choice – they went back to basics, driving the ball up the middle.

This change threw off the Eagles, who were so keyed in to Warner’s arm that it cost them the game. When they began to adapt to the running game, Warner began to throw quick short passes that kept the drive alive. After testing the secondary with bombs all throughout the first, this seemed to work.

All in all, it was a well deserved win.

Written by M.

January 19, 2009 at 5:43 pm

NFL Wild Card weekend pre-game notes

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It seems like Bizzaro World, or something, for the first week of the NFL Playoffs. Not only are the Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons playing this week – the Falcons are even favoured! It’s quickly becoming cliché, but this is a rare playoff weekend where all four road teams are favoured.
Which is exactly how it should be.

Saturday games

Atlanta Falcons @ Arizona Cardinals

Here’s a fun stat: The Cardinals point differencial (the difference between how many points they’ve allowed and how many they’ve scored) is just one. One single point. That’s gotta be some kind of record low for a team in the playoffs, let alone one with a home game. Still, they’re a team that can put up a ton of numbers.

And the Falcons will be a test. They’re a young team that’s never played a playoff game – and by simply making the playoffs, one could argue their season is already a success. Will they have the drive to win? Perhaps, but it’ll be close, so I’m taking the experience – I like the Cardinals in a shootout.

Indianapolis Colts @ San Diego Chargers

On the heels of a crushing win over the Broncos, the Chargers look to be on an offensive roll – they’ve won their last four games. For the first time this season they look on the field like they do on paper. But a closer look reveals a weak defence that’s especially porous against the throw.

And if the Chargers are hot right now, the Colts are on fire; they’re the winners of their last nine games. I like Manning to have a big day against the Chargers’ defence while the Colts win big, by much more then the -2.5 points Vegas is giving them.

Sunday games

Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins

Much like the Falcons, one could argue the Dolphins season is already a success; on the heels of their famed “Wildcat” offence, they’ve turned from a one-win team to winners of the AFC East, even beating the Patriots twice.
But for all of their offensive prowess lies a pretty average – tepid, even – defence. They’ve allowed a ton of yards against the pass, which is what will cost them here.

In fact, the only major question in my mind here is by how much: in their lone meeting with the Ravens, they were crushed 27-13, with Joe Flacco throwing 17 for 23 in the process. And since the Ravens have only improved since then, I think he’ll have a similar day, winning easily. Take the points on this, a line of just -2.5 for the Ravens just seems too small here.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Minnesota Vikings

Despite only making the playoffs by the barest of margins – they had to beat Dallas and need both Tampa Bay and Chicago to lose – the Eagles are a solid team and one that can easily sneak to the NFC Championship game. Why? They’ve got the best defence in the conference – and maybe in the league.

Yes, that’s right. Better then the Vikings defence. Better then the Giants. And maybe even better then Pittsburgh’s – they allowed only a few more points in a much better conference. I’d expect them to be able to handle Minnesota, which didn’t look all that good last week, when they played for a playoff spot.

Quick recap:
Cards, Colts, Ravens and Eagles.

Attack of the moderately-effective Quarterbacks – Tuesday NFL Notebook

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Jason Elam, the hero, had a day to remember. Five of six, including the game-winner from 48 yards out with no time left.

Shouldn’t have gotten that close, though. The Bears should have had that game wrapped up. The Falcons should have, too. Let me explain.

For all of its offensive heroics, the Falcons and Bears played one of the sloppiest games I’ve seen in some time on Sunday. Elam missed a chip shot that could have sealed it; Orton couldn’t score from the Atlanta 14 and they had to settle for a field goal. Both quarterbacks threw for about 300 yards, but each for only one score.

Plus the squib kick. Oh man, that squib. Worst case it costs you the game. Best case it… well, I guess it runs out the clock, but still gives the other team good field position.

And the Bears most definitely got the worst case scenario. The Falcons got the ball at their own 44, got a quick 26 yard pass in and won the game. All within six seconds.

And again, it’s something that shouldn’t have happened – the Bears shouldn’t have had so much time left on the clock, ideally. Their last drive was all passes, eight of them from the shotgun. I understand, they only had one timeout left. But you can afford to let a little time run off the clock, especially on a 3rd and 10 with under 25 seconds remaining.

Anyway. An ugly win for the Falcons, who are now four and two in a tough NFC South: Tampa Bay and Carolina have the same record, with a better point differential, and New Orleans is right behind them (more on them in a second).

They’re a team that’s succeeding because of a lack of pressure. After what the team has gone through in the past two seasons, simply going .500 would surely be a good thing. But they might yet surprise some people.

Their schedule isn’t terribly tough, with games against Philly, Oakland and St. Louis. Granted, their in-division schedule looks tough (they’ve lost two of those games already, their only losses so far), but even then, a 9-7 record doesn’t look too far out of reach – wins against the Rams, Raiders, and Eagles all seem probable and I’d be surprised if they lose all of their divisional home dates.

But in the NFC South, this might not be enough. Tampa Bay and Carolina are hot and look to complete for the division. New Orleans is good too – each of their losses is by less then a touchdown and Brees is throwing over 300 yards a game. Forget the NFC East, this is the division to watch.

That’s right, forget the NFC East. It’s a slugfest, sure (holy hell, am I going heavy with the metaphors or what). But it’s getting a little clearer. The Cowboys have lost Tony Romo for four weeks with a broken finger (doesn’t pinkie sound too informal for an injury report?) and a tough overtime loss to Arizona, their second in three games. So much for their 3-0 start. Thankfully, it comes at about as good a time as it could for the Cowboys – they face St. Louis next week and should quickly find a rhythm with their new QB in time for Tampa Bay the week after.

So it doesn’t look like they’ll miss Romo all that much. There are whispers out there that paint him as the most overrated member of the team, ahead of even Adam Jones. Is it fair to cite him for two consecutive playoff losses? Perhaps. If Dallas flails here, though, it’s more then fair to blame his absence.

Over in the AFC, the Dolphins are flipping the bird (flipper?) to the haters. they’re 2-3, but that’ll correct itself soon enough; their point differential is better then New England’s and they’ve allowed the points in the division. Forget their loss to the Texans, it was almost a fluke.

Look at the numbers instead: 19 of 25, for 284 yards. Only one turnover. There are some other, uglier numbers. Four penalties; 485 total yards allowed; a five-minute difference in time of possession. To me, this speaks of a good offence, but a bad defence – the Dolphins can score, but they kept the Texans in the game, and it bit them in the ass.

But there are some positives to take from this. Pennington has been improving each game, finding targets all over the field. They have a stable of receivers that aren’t great, but are more then capable. They have a solid running game. Five of their next six are at home. They should be posed to strike and make a run at the AFC East… but not unless they improve their defence.

Against the rush, they’re an okay team, in the top third of the league even. It’s their secondary that’s killing them: on a per-game level, you could make a case they have the worst pass defence in the NFL. Worse then Oakland and Seattle. Not much better then Detroit.

In a pass-happy division (three of the four teams are in the top half for passing yards) this can and will hurt them. Perhaps it’s why they’ve gotten the breaks they have. Still, you have got to give them a puncher’s chance – New England is going to sink in the next couple weeks, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Jets fall below the Dolphins.

Other notes: How about those New York Titans throwbacks? The Jets keep wearing them and they seem to keep winning in them: they’re 3-0 in them. The Titans themselves? They went .500 wearing them in 1960. … I was told it was a thrilling finish in Minnesota. The line score suggests it was exciting – a one point game decided at the end. Looking at the box score and the highlights, though, paint a picture of a dreadfully dull affair that picked up late in the fourth, and even then not really. Can’t the Lions do anything, including drama, right? … The Torry Holt era may be drawing to a close in St. Louis – held to 23 yards, Holt is effective mostly as a decoy now, as he draws at least a double team each game. Too bad that doesn’t count for my fantasy team.

Written by M.

October 14, 2008 at 3:37 am