Sunday, January 22, 2012

Conference Championship Games

Three games left in the NFL season. Hard to believe. It comes down to today to see who will represent their Conference in the Super Bowl. Both games are great match ups of very close teams, and those that have been playing the best over the last few months of the season. When it comes to picking the games - each one seems to get harder to decide the more you think about it; but here goes nothing. Enjoy them both, they should be very entertaining.


Baltimore vs. New England (Sun - 3:00pm)

So now that the Pats proved they can win a playoff game, it's time to do it against a more formidable foe and earn a trip back to the Super Bowl. After last weeks' cakewalk over Denver, a lot of people are hopping back on the Pats bandwagon - but Baltimore ain't no Denver. And no, that has nothing to do with Tebow. The difference is Denver's slightly above average Defense vs. Baltimore's top notch D. Last week we discussed the importance of turnovers and performance in the Red Zone as keys to winning in the playoffs. I think all of the playoff games so far showed us just how important turnovers are, so lets focus on the red zone for this match up. During the regular season, the Pats sported the 2nd highest Offensive Red Zone TD percentage in the NFL, while Baltimore had the 1st ranked Defensive Red Zone TD percentage. So this is a match up of strength vs. strength in the most important stat of the game. The Ravens also ranked 2nd in 3rd down defense. Those are the two key areas to watch in my opinion.

Last week I talked quite a bit about how good Suggs, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Ngata are; and Ed Reed showed he's still the best in the league with that ridiculous pick to end the Houston game. Suggs and Ngata will be key today - can they generate pressure on Brady without needs to bring extra rushers? Both have had success against NE in the past, lets hope they don't today. Another Baltimore defender that will be key to watch is Bernard "ACL Killer" Pollard. He was the one who took out Tom's knee in '08 and was also in coverage on Wes in '09 when Wes tore his ACL. The Pats didn't face Pollard last season, so watch your ACL's today boys. Pollard is a large Strong Safety and figures to be used in coverage against Gronk and Hernandez.

On the other side of the ball, Baltimore starts with Ray Rice. He led their team in both rushing and receiving yards, and limiting him will be priority #1 for the Pats D. The run D looked stout last week against Denver's NFL leading rushing attack, but Baltimore uses a much different style than the Tebow Triple Option. Baltimore loves going big, using extra linemen, unbalanced lines and letting Rice run behind the NFL's best fullback, Vonte Leach. This is a true smashmouth running team, so the Pats big bodies are going to have to step it up today. We saw how explosive Ray Rice can be in the 2009 playoff game, with his 89 yard TD run on the games opening play. Having Spikes and Chung back should help in a major way to stop his running, but what about receiving. Dane Fletcher's first real performance in the NFL came in 2010 when he was effectively used as a spy on Rice coming out of the backfield, so that would be a good place to start. Elsewhere, WR Torrey Smith has had flashes of looking like a fellow AFC North WR, Mike Wallace. Smith is a burner and a true deep threat, someone to keep an eye on today. Lee Evans is a familiar face from his Buffalo days, and has traditionally given the Pats a hard time.

It should be a hard fought battle today, and a close game either way. I think the Pats D will stand tall, and Tom will have enough time to pick about Baltimore.

New England 28 - Baltimore 20


NY Giants vs. San Francisco (Sun - 6:30pm)

Both teams managed to pull the upsets last week and knock off the two teams that most thought were the safest bets to win the Super Bowl. The Giants still continue to have that look that I discussed two weeks ago, and San Fran had one of the more exciting wins in recent playoff memory (barely hanging on for the win despite 5 New Orleans turnovers). I haven't had a chance to watch San Fran much this year, so I don't really know what to expect. In the battle of #1 overall picks from 2004 and 2005, it's the defenses that will decide the outcome. Is San Frans D good enough to stop all of NYG's weapons? Will their offensive line be able to protect Alex Smith? I wasn't quite sure who to pick, but after typing the name Alex Smith in the same section as NFC Championship Game, it seems unfathomable. He's been a great story so far this season, but I see that coming to an end today.

NY Giants 20 - San Francisco 13

Thursday, January 19, 2012

NFL Ramblings

Some random thoughts around the NFL as we warm up for Conference Championship Weekend.

  • Get ready for one of these story lines to be on constant repeat following Sunday's games:
  1. The Rematches: If the Giants win we'll have a Super Bowl rematch either way - one of which we're not allowed to talk about here.
  2. The Brothers: This one was already covered enough Thanksgiving night, but yes, we know, Jim & John Harbaugh are brothers.
  3. The Boyhood Idol: Hopefully the one we get to hear. Tom Brady grew up as a 49ers fan in the Bay Area, idolizing Joe Montana. Now he faces Montana's former team to try and tie his record of 4 Super Bowl rings.
  • When Mikhail Prokhorov bought the New Jersey Nets, Bill Simmons dubbed him "Mutant Russian Mark Cuban", because of how loaded he is and how he loves to toss his money around. After listening to a recent interview with MJD, it seems we may need a nickname for the Jags new owner, Shahid Khan. Jones-Drew put it best - have you seen his boat? I thought I was hot stuff when my dad bought a 22' boat last year; Khan's boat, the Kistmet, jusssst nudges by ours at 223'. So what do we call him? Pakistani NFL Mark Cuban?
  • I didn't get to see the Saints vs. San Fran game last weekend because I was in Foxboro, but from what I hear it was one for the ages - and the 9ers D looked lethal. I'm can't wait to watch it on NFL replay.
  • Gillette has been (fairly) criticized over the years for not being very loud, but Saturday night was about as loud as I've ever heard it. From the moment we walked in you could feel the energy, and it didn't let up until the game was over. The seats were shaking and no one sat for all 4 quarters. Here's hoping Sunday's crowd will bring the same enthusiasm.
  • Of all of the nonsense penalties that exist in the NFL, why isn't there one for all of the injuries that the Broncos were faking as a feeble attempt to slow down the Pats hurry up offense?
  • Mel Kiper usually gets about 4 out of 32 picks correct in his mock drafts, so why must he start putting them out already, before the season is even over?
  • Great to see the Pats will have 4 honorary game captains from the '96 AFC Championship team on Sunday. Troy Brown, Bruschi and Ty Law were all obvious picks, and I was hoping to see Lefty McGinest but you can't argue with the selection of Bledsoe. Should get the crowd rocking (not that we'll need much motivation).
  • Glad to see Philbin got the head coaching job in Miami. Hopefully some welcomed news after a rough few weeks for their family.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Round 2: Fight (Divisional Playoff Preview)

After a relatively un-wild Wildcard Weekend (save for Denver's OT thriller), it's time to move on to the divisional round. If we learned anything from last weeks games, it's the importance of turnovers. Houston moved on thanks to J.J. Watt's fancy pick-6 as well as Cincy dropping a surefire one of their own. 14 point swing. New Orleans "blew-out" the Lions in a game that would have been a whole closer if Detroit had caught any of the 6 interceptions that came their way. And of course the Giants D help the Falcons offense scoreless when Matt Ryan executed two 4th and 1 QB sneaks exactly how you would expect a player from B.C. to, resulting in two pseudo turnovers. Take care of the ball, and get touchdowns in the red zone, not field goals. That is my wisdom for you this weekend.


Denver @ New England (Sat - 8:00pm)

Can the Pats finally get over the hump, or will they lose a 3rd straight home playoff game? Hard to believe there would ever be a possibility of that happening, but that is what's on the line when Tebow and Company come to town. The Pats beat Denver pretty handily in Week 15, but it wasn't as pretty as the final score looked. Denver rushed for 160+ in the FIRST QUARTER until the Pats D stiffed for the rest of the game - but lets not forget that Denver lost Willis McGahee for the remainder of the game at the end of the 1st (although NE was without Chung and Spikes). Denver also gifted the Pats fumbles on two straight possessions, followed by a muffed punt that New England recovered. As much as I would love for that to happen again, I don't see it.

The proven formula for beating the Pats over the past few seasons has been getting pressure on Brady without bringing extra pass rushers and making him uncomfortable in the pocket. Can Denver get to Brady without blitzing? New England handled Dumerville and Von Miller pretty well in the first meeting (save for Elvis's one monster sack of Tom), so here's hoping for the same success. Look for Denver to take some shots down the field against the suspect Pats pass D just like they did against Pitt last week. Will they be able to connect on any of these or draw any pass interference calls? We shall see. It should be a fun one, look for me amongst the frozen fans.

New England 34 - Denver 17

Houston @ Baltimore (Sun - 1:00pm)
At first glance, this one has the look of a blowout. A rookie QB on the road at one of the toughest stadiums to play, going up against a dominating defense. TJ Yates looked serviceable against Cincy last week, but Cincy ain't no B-mo'. Houston relies so much on their dominant run game, which is all well and good except when you're facing Haloti Ngata & Co.. For all the hype that Ray Ray and Suggs get, Ngata is the best player on that defense - and probably the best d-lineman in the NFL. And of course there is Ed Reed.

The only cause for hesitation is that you could take everything I just wrote above and flip it to Baltimore and have it be (pretty) true. Flacco isn't a rookie, but I have about as much faith as him as I do in Yates. They're also extremely dependent running game and are facing one of the leagues best defenses. Ok, so I guess I trust Flacco a littttle more than Yates, and Houston doesn't have Ngata or Ed Reed, but Wade Phillips has that D playing like they do. At the end of the day, I don't see Yates being able to produce enough in order for Houston to pull the upset.

Baltimore 24 - Houston 17


New Orleans @ San Fran (Sat - 4:30pm)
The most intriguing game of the weekend. The Saints have looked unstoppable over the past 2 months, but have yet to prove they can beat a good opponent outdoors. The 9ers are the surprise team of 2012 - but how do we know they're for real? Alex Smith hasn't eclipsed the 300 yard passing mark this season - will they be able to keep pace with Drew Brees? Will the Saints offense be able to show any balance by running the ball against the NFL's most stout run D? And the 9ers pass D is no pushover either. The one is a battle of old school "defense wins championships" NFL vs. new school "every QB in the league set a franchise passing record this season" NFL. It should be exciting to watch, something I'll be trying to figure out how to do from a freezing parking lot in Foxboro.

New Orleans 27 - San Francisco 13

NY Giants @ Green Bay (Sun - 4:30pm)
Now how the hell do I pick in this one? After what I wrote last week about the Giants, followed by the tragic news out of Green Bay this week, this game has all the making of an upset special. But everyone seems to be hopping on that bandwagon, which usually means it's not going to happen. What to do, what to do? The Packers have been the leagues best team all season, and were one game away from us being in the midst of a barrage of 19-0 talk. The Giants gave them a hell of a test in the regular season, and have been known for knocking off juggernauts in recent seasons. I think the return of Greg Jennings, A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop should be enough to keep the Pack from stumbling.

Green Bay 31 - NY Giants 20

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Welcome Back My Friend To The Show That Never Ends

When word first broke that Patriots Offensive Coordinator Bill O'Brien was the leading candidate for the head coaching vacancy at Sandusky State, I couldn't help but think - here we go again. Ever since the Pats run of Super Bowls from '01-'04, there has been a steady drain of top talent; both on and off the field. I don't need to name all the names, but the Offensive Coordinator position is one worth discussion. Following the 2004 season, Charlie Weis left to being his failed tenure as Head Coach at Notre Dame. That move was bittersweet for me at the time, because as much as I hated to see Charlie leave, I was ecstatic about his prospects with ND. Following the Patriots, my next love in football is the Irish. I grew up watching games with my grandfather, and my uncle even got me a subscription to their newspaper - the Blue & Gold. When they sucked, it made losing Charlie even worse.

The Patriots quickly filled the (rather large) vacancy with an Offensive Assistant that few had heard of before in Josh McDaniels. In 2005, the Patriots offense struggled compared to the success they had seen under Weis. Granted they had just about the single worst WR corps ever assembled, but still. 2006 showed some signs of progress, but with limited talent and further growing pains, McDaniels was still no Charlie. Then along came 2007 and the new year brought some new toys in Randy and Wes - and a whole slew of new NFL records. Charlie who? All was right in the world until the game that shall not be discussed. Expectations were as high as could be to start 2008, for all of 0:08 seconds. Without Tom, McDaniels continued to shine - keeping the Pats offense running in high gear with a QB who hadn't started a game since High School.

The excitement of Brady's return in 2009 was tempered by the departure of his friend and new star of the coaching staff to Denver. Speculation was abound on who would replace McDaniels, and the answer one, technically speaking. Belichick would not name an Offensive Coordinator, but another relatively unknown Offensive Assistant would be calling the plays, this time it was to be Bill O'Brien. The offense regressed as a whole in 2009, which of course can be partially contributed to Brady's recovery - but what I'll remember most about that season is how well their putrid performance against Baltimore in the playoffs summed up the offense. I remember reading several articles after that game in which Baltimore defenders boasted how they knew what plays were coming before the snap for the majority of the game. Were they stealing signs? No, we ruined that for everyone. The Pats offense was the single worst thing an offense can be - predictable. And one dimensional. This O'Brien kid sucks.

In an effort to shorten this article, I'll assume anyone reading this article knows about the past two seasons. The early season trade of Randy in 2010, that O'Brien and the offense overcame to go 14-2; the emergence of the studliest TE combo in all of football; and the continued growth and creativity of O'Briens play calling throughout 2011. Now it was time for him to leave. And so it appeared a disconcerting trend was in full effect when it came to Pats Offensive Coordinators:
a.) Promote from within following departure
b.) Suck Year 1
c.) Make some progress Year 2, but not elite
d.) Be great Year 3
e.) Leave
I, for one was not excited to see who the "Next Man Up" was this time around. I mean Tom only has some many years of being the Greatest Quarterback of All Time left, so I wasn't ready to suck for two years while they broke in a new O.C..

When rumors started swirling about a possible McDaniels return, I tried to treat it the same way I do every time the Pats have two first round picks - be excited, but keep your expectations low. Very low. Then this. Then this:

So yes, I just took about 2,000 words to explain how I feel about Josh McDaniels' return and give you a history lesson you already knew, when McLovin did it in all of 6 seconds. You're the sucker who read it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wildcard Weekend

Ahh the most bittersweet time of year. The hoopla of the holidays has past, and all that stands between us and a long winter are 11 games of the most entertaining sport being played at the highest level. All due respect to March Madness, the NFL Playoffs are the single greatest event in all of sports from this perspective. You will see records, bones and hearts broken; unimaginable plays of every variety and one team crowned as world champs. It all starts this weekend, so sit back and enjoy.


Cincy @ Houston (Sat - 4:30pm)
These two teams met back in Week 14 in Cincy, culminating in a T.J. Yates to Kevin Walter TD with 0:02 left for the 20-19 win. The crowd at Paul Brown stadium that day was the second smallest in the history of the stadium. The crowd was even smaller than one of the University of Cincinnati's home games - yes, the University of Cincinnati - so I'm picking Houston just based on principle.

But seriously, this is the toughest pick for Wildcard Weekend in my opinion. Both teams have top notch defenses; rookie QB's and plenty of question marks. Houston boasts the best running back tandem in the NFL (Arian Foster and Ben Tate), along with one of the best offensive lines in the league. It is the first ever playoff game in the franchise history, so the atmosphere at Reliant Stadium should be Seattle-esque. I would love a Cincy win so the Pats could avoid playing Pittsburgh next weekend; but with a healthy Andre Johnson, the home crowd, and their aggressive D Houston is the pick.

Houston 17 - Cincy 16

Pittsburgh @ Denver (Sun 4:30pm)
Jesus Jr. vs. Roethelisberger. Denver's fairy tale season has sputtered of late, losing the last 3 games, as teams seem to have figured out the Tebow offense and the defense hasn't been as opportunistic. However, Pittsburgh lost Rashard Mendenhall for the season (not that he did much this year anyway), Roethelisberger has a high ankle sprain and All-Pro center Pouncey is hobbled. All that said, Pitt is a far better team and I don't see the sputtering Denver offense putting up enough points to pull this one out. Although, if the game is close in the 4th out.

Pittsburgh 20 - Denver 10


Detroit @ N'awlins (Sat - 8:00pm)
If you like points, the most entertaining match up of Round 1. Mr. Brees is playing on another level and Stafford has stepped his game up of late (not to mention he has the biggest freak in the NFL as his #1 target). The undisciplined Lions cost themselves over 200 yards in penalties in their last visit to New Orleans. If I didn't hate their putz of a coach so much I might say that they'll clean it up this time around, but I don't like Jim Schwartz so no. Not to mention the Saints are in the dome:

P.S. - watch Jonathan Vilma because he is a beast.

New Orleans 41 - Detroit 27

Atlanta @ NYG (Sun - 1:00pm)
Whether you believe in destiny or not, there is no denying that some seasons there are teams that get "lucky" and catch all the breaks on the way to the Super Bowl. The '05 Steelers survived vs. the Colts because Bob Sanders' wife decided to stab him in the leg the morning of the game, leaving him a step slow and allowing Roethelisberger to trip him up and save a surfire fumble return TD and win the game (followed by the least entertaining Super Bowl of all time). The "Tuck Rule" in '01, and countless other examples. As much as it pains me to say this, the Giants have that feel this year. Now I'm not saying they're going to win the Super Bowl (God do I hope not), but they certainly have enough luck rolling to make it past Round 1.

The D-line is undeniably one of the best in the league at rushing the passer, and Jason Pierre-Paul has emerged as one of the elite overall players at his position. My fingers won't allow me to type about Eli in a positive light, but lets just say he doesn't look like himself this year. All that coupled with the fact that Matt Ryan is running the show for Atlanta adds up to a Giants win. Shit.

NYG 23 - Atlanta 17

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


In need of a good laugh after a few long days of work to welcome you back from the holidays? Me too.

Rex on Feb. 24th, 2011

Rex on Jan. 2nd, 2012

Surreal scene as Jets clean lockers, changes loom.

You could read the whole article, or just the one part you need to know:

"He was crying"

Way to go 8-8 after guaranteeing a Super Bowl asshat.