North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Posts Tagged ‘NFL

Sick Picks – NFL Week 7

leave a comment »

I’ve been sick most of this week, so I didn’t get to write serious in-depth profiles for the games, so here’s an abbreviated version of my picks for week seven.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

October 25, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Getting back on the NFL wagon – Week five picks

leave a comment »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

October 9, 2009 at 8:38 pm

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 »

Why Michael Vick will still work in the NFL

leave a comment »

The reinstatement of Michael Vick couldn’t come at a better for him. Late July, with training camp set to open not too far from now and the only conditions on his play is that he will miss a few games.

Which is really a blessing in disguise for Vick; that suspension will give him time to practice himself back into form. After all, he hasn’t thrown a pass in a game since 2006. Likely, it will take some time before Vick is anything close to what he was then.

But it’s a low-risk, high-reward signing for whichever team picks him up. Surely Vick can be had fairly cheaply, meaning that if he doesn’t work out, then it’s not a huge loss – and if he does, he can be a huge asset to the offence.

Remember, in his prime Vick was a genuine two-sided threat, a QB that could throw the ball or run with it. He wasn’t overwhelming, but he still managed to throw for over 2,300 yards in each of his full seasons while rushing for about seven yards a carry.

In 2006, his last season in the NFL, Vick gave signs of entering his prime. He threw for almost 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns (and 13 interceptions) while rushing for over 1000 yards (an average of 8.4 a carry) and two majors, nearly matching the numbers put up by Warrick Dunn.

However, the lingering question is if Vick still has anything left in his tank. Picking up where he left off is unlikely and playing in a similar role is questionable. Other rushing QB’s – Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, etc – either have a short shelf life or transition their game towards passing, something that has never been Vick’s strong suit.

But in the right setting, Vick could still pose a threat.

With the emergence of the Wildcat/Single Wing offence used by Miami last season, teams looking to install a similar scheme could use a player with Vick’s skill set. He’s got the speed to run around the outside on a sweep yet also has enough skill throwing the ball that he could play regular snaps too.

And while Vick is a pubic relations nightmare, there will surely be teams looking his way for that reason:

–       Oakland: They tried the Wildcat last season (with limited success) and have a history of signing people with troubled history. Plus, as one of the worst teams in the NFL last season, what do they have to lose?

–       Pittsburgh: Would the Steelers take a flyer on Vick? BetUS seems to think so, giving the team 4-1 odds of signing him. Vick could work on the Steelers and help to take some of the spotlight off of Ben Roethlisberger’s recent legal trouble.

– New England: BetUS also gives the Patriots 4-1 odds to bring in Vick. The Patriots have had some success recently with troubled players (Randy Moss, for example). Here Vick would only play a small role in the offense, but I wouldn’t put it past Belichick to get the most out of him.

Written by M.

July 28, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Dissecting the dangerous effects of hype

leave a comment »

I’ve been trying to get a Super Bowl column out for a few days now, but it just wasn’t coming. Perhaps this is because I’m tired of hearing the storylines, so tired I stopped reading anything coming out of Tampa the day after both conference championships. Perhaps because it doesn’t really matter to me how and why Kurtis met Brenda; that Larry Fitzgerald has a sportswriter dad; that the Cardinals are the underrated team of the year or whatever.

I just honestly haven’t been paying attention. So, with that, here’s my super bowl piece.

Going In
Without really looking at any number or stats or any real prep work, I like the Steelers. I think their defence should be able to handle anything Arizona can throw at them – or to Fitzgerald – and while I don’t know how well Roethlisberger will play, I kind of think it’s secondary.

If I was going to make a paraell of this one to another, I’d say it’s like the XXV, between the Giants and the Bills. Not in the sense that they’re closely matched, or in a storyline way or anything. But in a great defence against a great offense and not much else. That was a game won the Giants not because of a missed FG, but because the Giants offense was able to keep the Bills offense were only on the field for eight minutes in the second half.

I can see that happening again. So much has been said of the Steelers defence and almost as much has been said of the Cardinals offense. But really, I think those two might cancel each other out. This could be a game won because of much time the Steelers offence can burn up.

A Cursory Glance at the Numbers
My favourite stat – by a mile – is the point differential; the number of points scored by a team minus the points they allow. My reasoning for looking at it is that I think the bigger it is, the better the team is. This season it was +124 for the Steelers; +1 for the Cards.

That’s exceptionally low for a playoff team, let alone one in the Super Bowl. I think it kind of explains why the Cards were just a 9-7 team this season. But that’s just the season, not the playoffs.

For just these playoffs, it’s suddenly the opposite: +20 for the Steelers, +33 for the Cardinals. The Cards are starting to look a lot better. Keep in mind though, that the lion’s share of that difference is from their demolishing of the Panthers in the Divisional round; combined, the other games were won by just 13. I still think these two teams match up better then either of those suggest.

Let’s move to something a little more tangible: Kurt Warner vs the Steelers defence. If the Cards are going to win this game, it will be thanks to Warner’s arm. In all three of their playoff games, their running game has been effective, but not dominating. But Warner has had three great games in a row. Larry Fitzgerald has exploded in the recent past, including a three major day against the Eagles. And it’s interesting that Warner’s worst game (220 yards, 2 TD on 21 of 32 passing) was during their biggest win.

But Carolina was middle of the road against the pass; 16th in the NFL. The Eagles were third overall, allowing just over 180 passing yards a game; Warner picked them apart with a 279 yard, 4 TD on 21 of 28 day. He knows how to pick his spots.

At the same time though, Warner picked up the bulk of those in the first half of the game, when the Cards took a 24-6 lead to the locker room. In the second half, Warner was 8 of 12 for 76 yards. I think it’s worth noting more then a few of those were short passes that led to big YAC numbers, but I don’t have specific information handy.

Other side of the ball. Pittsburgh is the number one-ranked defence against the pass. They’re allowing about 157 passing yards a game; the number two defence allowed nearly 180. They’re allowing about 14 points per game, again the best in the league. They could pose trouble.

A look at the effects of hype
Every year, it seems to happen: one team gets an inordinate amount of hype. The Rams used to get it – they were the Greatest Show on Turf (pity they only scored 23 points in their Super Bowl win). For a while the Patriots got it. I vaguely remember the Steelers getting a lot, but Drive for Five or One for the Thumb kind of roll of the tongue, so it’s kind of justified.

But this year, nobody wants to be surprised. I think so many people were taken aback by the Giants upsetting the Patriots, they want to call it again. I know I’d like to; I picked the Patriots to win that game and I’d do it again. It’s an impressive thing, being able to call an upset before it happens. It’s trendy. It’s like telling your friends that Slumdog Millionare is going to get a best picture nomination before any of them had heard of it.

I think that’s whats happening this year. So many people are picking the Cardinals to win; maybe because it’s a trendy pick. Maybe people are choosing it because other people are. Because they want to be right if an upset happens.

A quick look at who’s taking who’s taking the Cardinals:
King Kaufman, Salon.com
Gregg Esterbrook, ESPN
Michael Silver, Yahoo.com
Will Litech
Dan Shanoff

Who’s taking the Steelers
John Clayton, ESPN
Tony Kornheiser (I think)
Peter King, Sports Illustrated
Most of the writers at SI, ESPN, CBS Sports, and most of what I’d call the sports writing establishment

So what does this mean? Ultimately nothing; people known for their outside the box take on sports are tending to fly towards the Cardinals while people who are established are taking the favourite. I don’t mean to sound like I’m hating on anybody here, but it seems this bowl might be hinging on the gap between the two groups; that bloggers are willing to take a bigger risk and pick the Cards almost as if they can’t agree with the establishment.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the establishment doesn’t want to go out on a limb; they’re reactionary as opposed to proactive. I don’t know.

Wherein Chuck D has never let me down
The Cardinals are a good story. Kurt Warner is a good story. So it the one about Fitzgerald’s dad. They’re fun, they’re the underdog and I get why so many people like them.

But they are hyped. They may be the buzzsaw, to use Litech’s term, but that doesn’t make the Steelers a piece of pine. I don’t like hype. Whenever I have bought into the hype and gone against my gut, it never seemed to end well – when I bought into Reggie Bush and took USC over Texas; when I decided that the Rockies were a team of destiny a couple years ago. So I’ll go with my gut.

Why? My problem with the Cards is their defence. They are allowing more and more yards each game. 250 against the Falcons, 269 against the Panthers and over 450 against the Eagles. If I were a Cardinals fan, this would worry me.

Pittsburgh isn’t a offensively dominant team in any way, really, but they’re about as capable as any of those teams. If they can put up 23 points against the Ravens, they can put up at least that many against the Cards, I’m sure.

So, I don’t care that the cool kids are choosing the Cardinals. It’s cool that a dad gets to cover his son in the Super Bowl, but it doesn’t mean he’ll play any better; his dad has been writing about him for a long while, apparently. I’m going to take Chuck D’s advice here and not believe the hype.

I’m taking the Steelers.

Written by M.

January 31, 2009 at 7:46 pm

Breaking down how and why the Cardinals are the NFC Champions

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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.