North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘Dallas Cowboys

The NFL Playoffs are interesting, if not exciting – NFL Divisional Picks

leave a comment »

These NFL playoffs haven’t really been all that exciting.

I say that fully including the barn burner between the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals last Sunday. That game aside, there wasn’t a single one that really kept me glued to the screen, rapturously paying attention.

But that isn’t to say that these playoffs haven’t been interesting – a key difference.

Every game thus far has been interesting. There’s plots, subplots, storylines  tracing back years. It may not be catchy, but there’s a lot of substance.

Take the Philadelphia/Dallas game. It wasn’t tightly contested, the outcome wasn’t in doubt after the second quarter. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth watching. After all it had:

  1. Michael Vick making some key plays when Donovan McNabb couldn’t – was he boosting his own profile? Sowing seeds to raise his own profile on the Eagles? Or was it a last gasp by a fading star?
  2. Another game where McNabb was pretty good in defeat – if he wasn’t so mobile, doesn’t he get sacked more? Or does his mobility give the Eagles offensive line a false sense of security?
  3. Tony Romo making a convincing case for the “Can’t win in December/playoffs” line being sent to the scrapyard
  4. A dynamic explosion by the Cowboys in the second that was – admit it – fun to watch. Even if the rest of the game wasn’t.

Perhaps it’s just me who likes these little things (I also like guessing what the storylines coming out of the game will be), but it’s foolish to just write the games off. That extends to this week – and I’ve thought up four interesting storylines that I’ll be interested in watching unfold.

Anyway, here’s my picks for the Divisional Round. Home team in CAPS.

NFC

NEW ORLEANS over Arizona

The main thing I really took away from the Cards/Packers game wasn’t anything about either quarterback or either defence. It was that the Cards were lucky, very lucky. They almost got burned on a long pass in OT, they won the game on a blitz where nobody covered Michael Adams on Rodger’s blind side. Luck wasn’t exactly on their side the entire game, but it was there in overtime.

That’s well and all, but it leaves me feeling shaky. They had a hard time defending against Rodger’s passing and choked away a 21-point lead in the second half (at home, no less). They can score and they ran all over Green Bay’s defence – but at the same time, the Packers had the best defence in the NFC (statistically speaking – the Packers were 3rd in points allowed per game, first in rushing, total yards per game).

Still, I can’t shake a feeling that the Cards are sizzle and no steak – they allow a lot of points because they can outscore a lot of teams. I can’t shake how Warner is practically ancient. I can’t shake how well they’re doing sans Anquan Boldin, either. They’re a team that I feel is ready for a drop.

Enter the New Orleans Saints.

You want to talk dynamic offenses? The Saints have scored more, moved the ball more, gotten more first downs then any other team in the playoffs. Sure, they can’t defend, but that almost doesn’t matter against a team like the Cards – this game will come down to who has the ball last; it’s last weekend redux. I like the Saints solely because they’ve been far more explosive this season.

What’s interesting about this match?

  1. It has the makings of a QB duel – two high-powered offenses throwing against teams that don’t defend the pass well. If any game has potential to outdo last week’s Green Bay/Arizona game, this is the one.
  2. The Cards are a streaky team; they tend to score in bunches. If they can’t get it going early, will it be too late?
  3. Will this be Kurt Warner’s final game? Will that be something the team keeps in mind – ie, Steelers winning one for Bettis a few years ago.
  4. The Superdome. How will Saints fans react if the Saints are anything less then stellar? Or, for that matter, how will they react if they are stellar?

Dallas over MINNESOTA

Call it momentum. The Cowboys are on a roll and really looking good. Especially Romo, who has thrown as many touchdowns since the start of December as he’s thrown interceptions all season.

They blew away Philly on the back of a 27-point second quarter. They shut out two of their last three opponents. They’re a team that I just have a feel for; in a tough NFC East they played their way into the playoffs, won the last game of the season to secure a home game and then beat the Eagles again to advance. I have a good feeling about them; they’re not a team that lucked into the second round.

I can’t say I feel the same about the Vikings. I should. but I can’t. I don’t trust their eight and 0 record at home this season. I don’t know if I trust Adrian Peterson. Or Farve.

See, the Dallas is not good against the pass. They’re in the lowest third of the league, with a little over 218 allowed a game. I feel like Farve will have a good game against them: he just  had two 300+ yard games in a row.

But the Cowboys are good against the run, ranking behind Green Bay, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. If they can limit Peterson’s damage, I have a feeling that Farve will throw himself out, so to speak. He’s 40 years old, I don’t think he has another huge game left in him.

What’s interesting about this match?

  1. Adrian Peterson. Dallas can defend against the run, but can they stop the best running back in the playoffs? In an October game against Baltimore – The Ravens rank just behind the Cowboys in rushing defence – Peterson ran for 143 yards on 22 runs. Will that happen again?
  2. Can Dallas keep up the momentum? I’m not the only person who’s been getting a 2007 NY Giants vibe from the Cowboys this year. This game will be their biggest test – if they can beat the Vikings at home, they have to become a favourite to make the Super Bowl.
  3. Was Dallas’ win a fluke? If you discount their 27-point quarter against the Eagles, they only scored seven points and moved 257 yards; Philadelphia was almost as effective, with one touchdown and 238 yards. Is it fair to wonder that if the Cowboys didn’t explode in the second, they might have lost the game?
  4. The ‘Brett Farve’s Final Game’ clause is in full effect here. The last time I remember it being this strong? His overtime loss to the ’07 Giants. Keep that in mind.

AFC

INDIANAPOLIS over Baltimore

I wouldn’t count the Ravens out, really, but this would be a tough game for them to win. They’re on the road, playing a very tough offense… but you already knew that, didn’t you.

As much fun as watching that side of the game – Manning throwing to Wayne against Ed Reed/Ray Lewis – will be, it’s the other side that matters more.

Look at the one game between the Ravens and Colts this season, a 17-15 win by the Colts. The key to take away from that game: how throughly the Colts defence shut down the Ravens. In that game, the Ravens kicked five field goals and missed one more. They were in Baltimore’s red zone five times and couldn’t score a touchdown – even from the one-yard line. Why? The Colts defence came up big when it mattered: with the Colts leading 14-12 in the fourth and the Ravens with a first and goal from the one-yard line, they shut down the Ravens – an incomplete pass and two rushes that went nowhere.

That’s the advantage for the Colts in this game. They’ve shown that they don’t bend under pressure and can stop the Ravens when they need to. The Ravens, on the other hand, haven’t shown they can pound the ball past the Colts.

This even goes to last week, when they won the game on turnovers and with their defence. Yes, that big run right at the start of the game was a shot across the Patriot’s bow, but it was how they limited the Patriots to six yards total and caused three turnovers on the Patriots first four that did New England in.

Back to the Ravens defence for a second. In their last two meetings, they allowed 48 points, 709 yards and six touchdowns to the Colts. Manning has completed almost 70 per cent of his passes against them. He’s shown that he can easily pick apart the Ravens’ secondary when he wants to. For a team that prides itself on a tough defence (ranked third overall in the NFL and eighth against the pass), Manning is something outside of their control. They have shown time and time again that they cannot limit him.

That’s why if the Ravens want to steal this game, they’re going to have to crack the Colts defence. And they’re not going to do that.

What’s interesting about this match?

  1. Will Joe Flacco finally lead the Ravens into the end zone? In both of his games against the Colts, Flacco has never thrown a touchdown against the Colts; the Ravens haven’t scored a touchdown, either.
  2. Will Manning be rusty? He hasn’t played major minutes in a game since December 17th, almost a month ago. Or will the extended rest pay off for Manning and the rest of the Colts offense?
  3. How will Pierre Garcon play? With some of his family involved in the horrific earthquake in Haiti, will he play the game of his life?
  4. How many times will the announcers bring up Marvin Harrison? And how many times will they compare his situation to that of Ray Lewis? (My guess: once, which is one time too many)

SAN DIEGO over NY Jets

I want to call the Jets lucky to be where they are. And while there’s always a little luck in the playoffs, it’s grossly unfair to say that any team lucks into the second round of the playoffs.

The Jets have slugged their way here. They are not a great team, but they’re one of the harder teams to get past: just look at their defence, one of the best in the playoffs. Look at the stats their defence puts up: just under 154 passing yards allowed per game (first in the NFL). About 252 total yards allowed per game (first in the NFL).

Going into a game against a pass-happy team like the San Diego Chargers, one would imagine that they’ve got a nice shot at stealing a win.

But for all the stops the Jets can make (and they make more then a few), look at how many turnovers their defence creates. They’re right near the bottom of the league with 11 forced fumbles. They’re right in the middle of the league with just 17 interceptions. Their defence isn’t quite as intimidating when it can’t create turnovers.

Look at their schedule. The Jets have lost to pedestrian teams all season: there’s a 22-24 loss to Jacksonville in week 10. A 30-25 loss to Miami in week eight. A 7-10 loss to Atlanta in week 15. All of those teams were .500 or other at the time of those losses.

What about their wins? Most of their late-season wins to get to the playoffs have been against weak teams (Buffalo, Carolina, Tampa Bay) or teams that had already clinched a playoff spot (Indianapolis, Cincinnati). They had an easy schedule, with 10 games against teams at .500 or under. They barely made it into the playoffs, thanks to late-season collapses by Denver and Pittsburgh. They only clinched in the last game of the season; it could have just as easily been Houston playing last week.

On the other hand, the Chargers are one of the best teams in football right now. They overcame a slow start, losing three of their first five games, then ripped off 11 straight wins. That streak includes wins over Philadelphia, Dallas, Cincinnati and a 32-3 crushing of Denver that likely spelled the end of the Broncos season.

They are more then a match for the Jets. Phillip Rivers has thrown for more then 4200 yards, for 28 majors and completing more then 65 per cent of his passes. All on a team without a wideout that grabs your attention: Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd are all big parts of their pass attack.

And this is on a team that was seemingly built around LaDainian Tomlinson, one of the best running backs of the decade. Although LDT has statistically taken a step back this season (his yardage and number of carries are continuing a downward trend), he’s still scored 12 majors.

What that all means is that the Chargers are balanced. Better balanced then any other team right now. Balanced like the suspension on (noted Chargers fan) Jimmie Johnson’s #48 Impala. They have more then enough to overcome anything the Jets can try and stop them with.

On the other side, rookie Jets QB Mark Sanchez is playing in what should be a good venue for him. San Diego is warm and sunny, conditions that he’s surely used to playing in (thanks to his USC days). Add that to the Jets very good running game (ranked first overall in the NFL with 172 yards a game and 21 rushing touchdowns) and it’s not like New York will be stranded.

San Diego’s defence is, at best, pedestrian. They can’t defend the run (20th overall with 11 yards per game). Does that mean the Jets will spend the day pounding the ball up the Chargers gut? Or, if they go down early, will they be forced to start making passes and fall right into the Chargers trap?

What’s interesting about this matchup?

  1. How will Rex Ryan use Sanchez? He’s playing in a familiar climate and should be in good position to pass – but the Chargers can guard the pass. Will the Jets be forced to chip away at a lead with a steady running game?
  2. How will Chargers tight end Antonio Gates play? In his las four games, he’s scored a touchdown in each – but is averaging just above 40 yards receiving. If the Jets can shut down Jackson, can Gates become Rivers bailout guy?
  3. This game will answer two nagging questions: one, does LDT still have his fastball, or has the years caught up to him? And second, just how good is the Jets defence, anyway? Granted, the Bengals were shut down, but that win was almost as much on Carson Palmer’s terrible day as it was anything the Jets did.
  4. Can the Jets kill the clock? With a great running game, one would imagine that the Jets gameplan is geared more to keeping the Chargers offence sitting on the sidelines then it is to putting up big numbers. And while that has worked in the past, it can also be disastrous, like when the Colts took apart Miami earlier this season. It will be interesting to see if the Jets can limit the potential damage – and if the Chargers will quickly move around.

Last week: 3 of 4

Overall (playoffs): 3/4

    These NFL WIld Card Weekend Picks are Superbad

    leave a comment »

    I had a discussion the other day with a friend on the best movies of the decade. We threw around a lot of titles but didn’t really come to any conclusions: was it No Country for Old Men? Almost Famous? Inglorious Basterds?

    Anyway, a couple nights later, I caught Superbad on Showcase. I hadn’t seen that movie since it came out a few years ago and frankly didn’t want to; I got really tired of people making McLovin jokes.

    But as I watched it, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Two years later, it still felt fresh. It felt fresh the next day when I watched it again. And it felt fresh yesterday when I shelled out five bucks for a used copy.

    Is it the best movie of the decade? Maybe. But without a doubt, it’s the most quotable. And with a nod to Bill Simmons, it inspired me and my buddy Bernard to hand out quotes for my NFL Playoff picks.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Maybe I’m crazy but… NFL Week Four Picks

    leave a comment »

    To paraphrase the great Rakim, it’s been a long time and I shouldn’t have left you without strong picks to look to.

    It has been a while since I made any NFL picks or watched a complete game even. Life kind of gets in the way and etc and so forth, so I’ll skip the details and just confess that it’s already week four and I still haven’t watched a full NFL game on Sunday yet.

    And so, I didn’t make any picks. I felt that jumping in with reckless abandon was an awful idea (I’m pretty sure it was covered in a Worst Case Scenario book). But things have changed.

    I’ve done some homework, I’ve looked at some stats and I even read an entire Gregg Easterbrook column. I’m ready to make more fearless picks – after the jump.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Wherein the AFC East gets a clearer, but only by a little – NFL Notebook

    leave a comment »

    With their backs against the wall, the Patriots played dynamite, sharp and looked as good as ever – but it could all be for naught.

    The AFC East is crowded and good, maybe the best division of the decade, and 11 wins could not even be enough now. Three of it’s four teams played for their seasons today, all three tied with identical records – and the fourth had a chance to play spoiler, facing a team with the same record; the AFC West leading Denver Broncos.

    At home, the Patriots took on the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals. On paper, a good match for New England – the Cards were good, but not that good. They clinched their division with games to spare – but their division looked like this:

    Arizona: 8 wins, 6 losses
    San Fransisco: 5 wins, 9 losses
    Seattle: 3 wins, 11 losses
    St. Louis: 2 wins, 12 losses


    The Patriots have a better, a more dynamic offence. A better defence, too: they allowed a little over 300 points so far this season, nearly 100 less then the Cardinals. They played better, too, putting on a clinic for the Cards.

    In poor weather, Don DeLillo once wrote, always take the underdog. Poor weather neutralizes advantages. But during a snowstorm, the kind of weather that has always been an asset for them, the Patriots demolished the Cardinals. I can’t stress this enough – it looked like a junior varsity team taking on a state champion at times. Not just big plays, either (although there was their share), but little ones, things that added up.

    Item. Last drive of the first half. Less then two minutes left, the Patriots get the ball on their own 29 and lead 28 to nothing. Cassel passes quickly out to his left, a 14 yarder to Gaffney. Three plays later, another one up the left to Gaffney for 16. Both times, Gaffney was in single coverage and ran a quick route – a medium hook, with him turning around to meet the ball – and a step out of bounds. Simple, fast, smart football. Two after that, 20 yards to Welker, same idea on the right side. In about a minute, the Patriots have moved from their 29 to the Cardinals 20 – without using a timeout. They kick a field goal and go ahead 31-0 as the clock expires.

    That was a perfect two minute drill, ran against a division champion. And the Patriots made it look easy, like it was an inter-squad game. It didn’t even mean anything, really. The outcome wasn’t in doubt by this point. It was practice for the playoffs. By a team that could miss them, against a team bound for them.

    But getting there isn’t just in their hands. If the Patriots are to sneak in, they’ll need some help. All throughout this blowout, the ticker keeps flashing updates from the Kansas City/Miami game, which by all indications, appears to be a shootout. Tied as they go into the fourth at 31, this game is a surprise: have the Dolphins fallen back to Earth? They were six-point favourites over the Chiefs, a two-win team. And they’re tied? At 31? The Dolphins would score a major about halfway through, though, and held on to win, keeping the deadlock on top of the AFC East alive.

    So, as the Jets took the field in a snow-blown Seattle, they dropped to third, just a half-game back; the Dolphins surged to first, as they held the tiebreaker over the Patriots.

    And it couldn’t have looked good for the Jets. A cold, windy day is not ideal by any means, but for a quarterback like Brett Farve, it’s even worse: inaccurate at the best of times, these conditions have to be be hell for the aging QB. Still, a win over a two-win Seattle would set up one final game for the season, played between the Jets and the Dolphins, a game that would almost be a title game in all but name, with the winner going into the playoffs.

    But as the game – a mostly dull, defencive affair, dominated by the weather – winds down, I have only one question: does he have it in him? Does Brett Farve, who all but defined clutch quarterbacking in his career, have another comeback left in him?

    Down by a major and at their own 12, the Jets get the ball back. They need a win, just to keep pace, just to keep their season alive. Herein follows the drive:

    – Farve sacked. The pocket collapses up the middle.
    – A quick reception up the middle to Coles, in a pass from the Jets own end zone
    – Farve drops back in the shotgun, pumps, waits, moves, pumps again, has all kinds of time but can’t get anything going and throws an incomplete pass
    – 4th and four, on their own 20, the Jets go for it. Farve drops back, waits, dodges a hit, pump fakes, throws downfield, a long bomb into double coverage, Gus Johnson yells and… the pass hits Coles in the numbers, a perfectly thrown pass, but he can’t hang on and it falls to the ground, incomplete

    There goes the game, right? This is where it falls apart, isn’t it?

    Or was it earlier? When the Jets kicked a 45 yard FG that was called back on a false start, and instead of going for the kick, five yards longer but with a kicker who just nailed a kick up the middle, punts it away. Was it there, when the Jets could have made the game 10-6 but didn’t, that the game ended? Perhaps not officially… but in an abstract sense? Well…

    Maybe it was just a typical trap game. Holmgrin’s last home game as a head coach. Held in a stadium where the Seahawks are said to have an advantage (the crowd’s noise). With the weather in the Seahawks favor.

    Remember DeLillo’s advice on games held in poor weather.

    Other notes: The season can sometimes be cyclical – the Chargers host the Broncos next week, a rematch of the week two game that the Broncos just barely won on a blown whistle… The Cowboys are in complete free fall after a loss to the Ravens on Saturday night – a game they should have won. They can still sneak in (a win over Philly is all they need) but at this point, can they do it? If I had to bet, they get in and lose in the Wild Card game… Atlanta soundly wins a pivotal one against Minnesota. They’ve clinched a spot – and if Chicago loses on Monday, so do the Vikings.