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NFL Conference Picks

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Whatever happens on Sunday, at least one thing will be sure: the Super Bowl will be a good game.

Some matchups are obviously more desirable then others, but even the worst matchup (New York v. Minnesota) is still a great game. On paper, anyway. And on all the talk shows that kick into high gear this season.

After all, this is the time of year where not much else happens in football. Nothing usually happens, although this year the Super Bowl has been wisely scheduled to follow the Pro Bowl – no more bye week that means absolutely nothing.

That, I suppose, is the best thing of all to look forward to. Breakdowns and picks after the jump, home team in CAPS. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by M.

January 24, 2010 at 2:59 am

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

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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

    NFL Week 15 Picks

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    With their home loss to the Dallas Cowboys last night, the New Orleans Saints are no longer undefeated.

    And they may be the better for it.

    The pressure to go perfect in the regular season, something which only happened twice in the past 40 seasons, is something that can derail a team late in the year. Do you keep going for the 16-0 and keep your starters in for the meaningless games after you’ve clinched home-field? Is it worth the risk of injury, the fatigue factor, the chance your team could be spent in the playoffs?

    It’s not that losing is a good thing, but sometimes it has a silver lining. The pressure’s off the Saints now – and the team can focus on the postseason, not the record book.

    Week 15 Picks follow: Read the rest of this entry »

    Written by M.

    December 20, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Of Saints and Giants – NFL Picks, week six

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    We’re getting pretty deep into the season and already some truths are making themselves evident:

    • Buffalo is mess
    • Tennessee and Tampa Bay are disasters
    • St. Louis and Oakland are interchangeable with a squad of goons from The Road Warrior

    Personally, I’m starting to think this is one of those seasons where the winners and losers are separating early, with a wide gap. The kind of year where by week 13 everybody will have a good idea of the playoff picture.

    Last week, I went in-depth on two games, and I was right on both of them. Atlanta made Swiss cheese out of the Niners secondary and Cincinnati pulled another late win out over Baltimore. I had a pretty good week, actually – Denver and Cleveland both won in close games.

    But it was also an easy week to make picks – a lot of good teams played a lot of bad teams.

    Whatever, I’ll take it. Here’s my week six picks.

    Cincinnati Bengals over Houston Texans

    This game intrigues me. Houston is, as always, a floundering team that’s disappointing. They give up a lot of yards and they pick up a bunch too. They’re third in the AFC in points scored, but only four other AFC teams have allowed more points. If Houston, especially early in the season, makes me think of anything, it’s of a team that’s going to get scored on a lot, if going to score a lot and is, more often then not, a lot of fun to watch.

    And that’s why I think they’ll match up so well against Cincinnati.

    The Bengals are a team that’s winning a lot of games they shouldn’t, getting a lot of last-minute scores. They’re also a lot of fun to watch, and will be especially be a lot of fun on Sunday.

    Why? Because of how they match up against the Texans, both offensively and defensively.

    This game is basically a meeting between a team that can run but has problems against the pass meeting a team that can pass but has trouble defending the run. I like the odds of this game being a shootout. And with the Bengals are home, I’m taking them to win.

    New Orleans Saints over New York Giants

    Don’t look now, but the Saints are undefeated. They’re scoring 36 points a game, highest in the NFL, and have scored more points in four games then most teams have scored in five. Saints QB Drew Brees is having a great season and his 108.4 QB rating is fourth in the league.

    And not lost in this shuffle is their defence, which is quietly putting up great numbers: fourth in the NFL against the pass,  second against the rush and seventh in points allowed. Surely, some of this comes from an easy schedule: they’ve played both Buffalo and Detroit this season. But they’ve also beaten Philadelphia and the Jets, too, neither of which is an easy win.

    But as they take on the Giants at home this weekend, they’re facing a pretty large test to stay undefeated.

    The Giants are pretty much the class of the NFC. They’re 5-0 and rolling. QB Eli Manning is having a great year, ranking just higher then Brees in almost every stat. And losing Plaxico hasn’t even slowed down the Giants, either. Steve Smith has had a great season while Mario Manningham isn’t far behind, either.

    But can their offence stand up to the Saints’ D? Their toughest test so far might have been Washington in week one, a 23-17 win where Manning threw for 256 yards against an underrated secondary. But there, they also were able to rush the ball, too.

    It’ll be interesting to see how they handle the Saints and I suspect they’ll have a hard time with it. After all, this is a game that means a lot more to New Orleans then it does New York.

    A win for the Saints here would cement them as a contender in the NFC and push them solidly on top of the NFC South. A Giants win only reinforces what everybody already assumes about them – they’re a great team and good pick to go deep in the playoffs.

    With that in mind, I’m going to take New Orleans.  I think it’s their game to lose.

    Other games:

    • Green Bay over Detroit – No way Detroit come even close here
    • Baltimore over Minnesota – I like Baltimore on the road, in a dome
    • Jacksonville over St. Louis – The Rams are really awful. Jacksonville is just kind of bad.
    • Pittsburgh over Cleveland – The Browns looked awful against Buffalo and if they can’t do it there, they won’t get it done in Pittsburgh
    • Tampa Bay over Carolina – Call it a gut feeling, but I think the 0-5 Bucs might pull one out against the 1-3 Panthers.
    • Washington over Kansas City – Neither team is really as bad as they look. The Chiefs don’t beat themselves and can air the ball out. And if there’s one thing the Skins can do, it’s defend the pass.
    • Philadelphia over Oakland – in a blowout, too.
    • Seattle over Arizona – Seattle’s looked good in their last couple games and I like them here.
    • New England over Tennessee – of course. The Titans are reeling like a loose cannon on a clipper ship.
    • NY Jets over Buffalo – I can’t get behind the Bills at all. They just can’t compete.
    • Atlanta over Chicago – The Falcons are decent and need a win to keep pace against the Saints. The Bears are good, too, but I’m going with a gut feeling.
    • San Deigo over Denver – Again, a gut feeling. I just feel like the Chargers need this win more then the Broncos, plus they’re at home.

    Last week: 12-2

    Overall: 20-9

    Written by M.

    October 16, 2009 at 4:07 pm