Thursday, January 04, 2007

Wild Card Weekend Preview

"And now, here's something we hope you'll really like."

Alright, time to put the predicting hat on again and dive into this weekend's games. First, a few observations:

Nick Saban has officially gone full circle in following the "Steve Spurrier career path." First, have a ton of success at a college program and guide them to a national title, then, parlay that success into the NFL and get a huge contract, and finally, get absolutely pounded in the pros, leading to a return to the college game with a school that in a "rebuilidng process" Well played sir. In the end, here's what it comes down to: When you are a control freak, it rarely works in the NFL, especially with a guy who cannot prove that his methods translate into success in the pros. Apparently, things were real bad in Miami. Saban tried to have autocratic control of the franchise and wanted to have complete control. Unfortunately for him, NFL players do not have to give a guy respect until he starts winning. It's a whole new ballgame in the pros. In fact, other than Mike Holmgren and Bill Parcells, can you think of another situation now-a-days when a guy has total control over everything dealing with the franchise? The bottom line is that, although coaches play an intrical role, it is still very much a "player-driven" league. When the players don't respect you, it's all over but the crying. Saban is a guy who needs the kind of control that only the college game can provide, when you get to pick which players you want to play on your team, and, you are in complete control over everything. I felt all along that this would be a "no-brainer" for Saban, but was there any reason he had to be so deceitful in the way he carried himself in dealing with the whole situation? For the last couple of weeks, he flat out denied any kind of contact with 'Bama. Was this to protect his team? Well, maybe while the season was still going on, but what about the last week? The season's over, so there's no need to protect anyone. Why put up a front about it? Just say "no comment" if you don't want to deal or talk about it, but don't go on with these sheredes, lying about everything. That was in bad taste I thought. Now, here's another twist, the Dolphins are trying to get Bill Cowher from Pittsburgh in a potential trade. Now you may question the logic of trading for a coach, but think about how this has worked in the past. Belichick was traded from the Jets for a first-round pick, he's won three Super Bowls, and Jon Gruden was traded from the Raiders to the Bucs for two ones, two threes, and $9 million. Gruden then led the Bucs in his first year to a Super Bowl. Now although that franchise is going downhill real quick, he still made an instant impact on that team, an impact that, arguably, was bigger than any player they could have traded for. So, if the Dolphins do pull off this move, it will have a two-pronged effect. First, it will likely coerce Jason Taylor back to the team and away from retirement, keeping a very strong defense in tact, and secondly, Cowher will institute a power running attack with Ronnie Brown and his unheralded backup, Sammy Morris. With these two things happening, you're all of a sudden looking at a team that could put up around ten wins a year, which is scary when you're New England and in the AFC East. The Dolphins can be looking at a drastic turnaround if they make this move. Realistically, I don't think it will happen, but it's definitely an interesting rumor that is being circulated.

The Yankees, inexplicably, are about to trade Randy Johnson back to Arizona. How do they continue to get away with this? How did they continue to be able to dump salary and ship out overpaid veterans? And, they get prospects! Here's a guy who is completely ineffective, making way too much money, and the Yanks are about to end up with reliever Luis Vizcaino and two prospects, but more importantly, they get out of having to pay $17 million. That's $30 million they've been able to dump just this offseason! What's next? Are there any potential Carl Pavano suitors? Please. Anyway, New York is now going to point all their guns on Roger Clemens. The Yankees need this kind of splash so it appears like they have gotten better, and getting the Rocket will go a long way in doing that. Ok, enough with the Yanks. I've been physically cleared to only write a few sentences about them. As I'm writing this, I feel my heart start to race and my fists clenched in a rage. But...I'm ok...I'm ok.

Wikipedia is starting to become my favorite website. I think when they were making it, they had guys like me in mind. The borderline obsessive trivia junkie that can barely pass through college. Seriously, think of anything...anything (I had to look up Rocky and Bullwinkle for today's quote...5 pages of information...I kid you not) and it is there, and not only is it there, but there is just massive quantites of mostly useless information, which is right up the kid's alley for sure.

Ok, before I get into the actual games, I want to make a quick couple comments about the teams in the AFC on bye weeks. Here's my opinion: Baltimore is going to be tougher to beat than San Diego. San Diego can be had I think. I just don't see Philip Rivers guiding this team to the Super Bowl. Tomlinson is a tremendous back, and the Chargers have greatly improved their defense in the last few years through the draft, but ultimately, it comes down to how well Rivers plays. Rivers will be tested early and often. Teams will probably be loading up the box in an attempt to stop LT, and, they will spotlight Antonio Gates, who is by far their biggest receiving threat, meaning that Rivers will have to start throwing deep balls, which he has not had to do very often this year. This will be his first trip to the playoffs, so it remains to be seen how he will handle the pressure. The Ravens, on the other hand, have finally found a reliable field general in Steve McNair. All this team needed was a QB who kept the mistakes to a minimum, and not only does McNair do that, he brings leadership to an offense that has been lacking that for most of their franchise's history (was Trent Dilfer a leader...ehhh...). If they establish J-Lew on the ground, watch out. Their defense will look that much better if that offense starts going. If that defense is allowed to recharge their batteries, they are much more effective than when they are forced to go out after all the "three and outs" that the Raven offense kept getting themselves into. Good karma statistics: Only one time in NFL history has the winner of the rushing title also won a Super Bowl (Terrell Davis in 1998) and the last time an MVP won a Super Bowl as well was in 1999 (Kurt Warner). So, hopefully history is our side, because quite frankly (I hate Stephen A. Smith by the way), history is the only thing that is going to slow down Tomlinson.

Ok, here's what you've all been waiting for...somewhat insightful knowledge...

Sunday: 1:00 (CBS)- New York Jets (+8.5) over New England. And no, I do not think the Jets will win, but unfortunately, this game is going to be really close, but THE PATS WILL WIN. I repeat: THE PATS WILL WIN. I'll do a little analyzing, but honestly, just know this: No one, and I mean NO ONE beats the Pats twice at Foxboro in the same year. It's just not gonna happen. Now, other reasons that it won't happen: The Pats will have Ty Warren playing his usual defensive end, something that they didn't have in the first matchup at Foxboro. Ok, for those of you who may be sleeping on this guy, keep this in mind: Warren was just named the AFC Defensive Player Of The Month. Not Shawne Merriman, not Jason Taylor, but Ty Warren. If you don't think that him being out of the lineup the first game mattered, you just don't know. That's all I can say: You just don't even have the foggiest idea. Warren is such an impact player, and when you combo him with Seymour and Wilfork (it's not known if he's playing, but definitely keep checking each day on to find out his status), you are looking at arguably the best D-line in all of football. I mean really think about it, because I am right now. I cannot think of a better line than those three guys in the league. Warren will be there to help the run defense, which allowed Kevan Barlow to run for 75 yards and a score. Warren will have a huge impact on this game, especially with the loss of Rodney Harrison who, by the way, also did not play in the first matchup, so if you think the Pats won't be able to get by without him, think again. Although he will be severely missed, the Pats already have played nearly half the season without him, so having Rodney in the lineup must have felt like a luxury for the most part. Again, I just see Brady going bananas in this game, somewhere around 300 yards and a score. However, this game looks like it will be a low scoring contest, which is why I like the Jets to cover this spread...barely.

Patriots 13, Jets 6

Now, on to other games of lesser significance...

Saturday (CBS): 4:30- Kansas City (+7) over Indianapolis. It all comes down to Larry Johnson. He just set the NFL single season record for carries in a season (416, breaking Jamal Anderson's 410 that was set in 1998), so concerns that he could start to tire have arisen. Two reasons this will not happen:

1.) Johnson is 27 years old. He's really only started two years in the pros, being a second fiddle to Priest Holmes for most of his career before Holmes went down halfway through last season. Look, if that guy in San Diego didn't put up 31 TDs this year, LJ would be one of the biggest stories of the year. The only thing is that everyone put insane expectations on Johnson after last year's breakout season (9 starts, 1,750 yards, 21 TDs, you do the math), and, for the most part, he met those expectations (1,789 yards, 19 TDs...ok the TDs were down, but back to back 1700 yard seasons? How many times do you see that?).

2.) Johnson is built just like Jamal Anderson. Both had low centers of gravity and were able to get their yards by going north-south and grinding it out. Also, Anderson did not start showing signs of wear until the Super Bowl against the Broncos, so if history has taught us anything, it's that Larry Johnson will be able to sustain his abilities for this game.

Seriously, what else is there to break down? That's the only matchup that matters. Look, everyone knows about Indy's passing game, and you know they are gonna get theirs. Maybe 30, 35 points for their offense. The game falls squarely on that run defense. If they can hold Johnson to under 150 yards, they will win this game. Personally, I think the Colts will come out hot, but can Manning manage the game so that they chew up clock, keeping Johnson on the sidelines? I say no. I just think the Chiefs have something to prove. True, Manning has plenty left to prove (when's the last time he won in the playoffs?), and he will be looking to get that whole "choke" word removed from him and the rest of his team. However, the defense is that bad. I mean it's basically been the same thing all year long. "The Colts can't stop the run." All year long, that's the big knock, and what happens? Nothing. They never adjusted their defense, because they were able to fall back on their offense for help. Guess what? KC is no slouch on defense. They are not the greatest, but you need to run the ball to beat them, which is something Indy has not been very proficient at doing this year. Ok, Addai ran for 1,081 this year, which I admit is impressive for a rookie, but they don't run the ball nearly enough. The Chiefs will counter with Ty Law and Patrick Surtain on cornerback patrol, and Greg Wesley will be patrolling that backfield. I really think Indy will sleep on the defense, and this will end up being a close game. Unfortunately, the Colts will not get to implement the Vinatieri plan, and will be on the other end of a game winning field goal from Lawrence Tynes. Look, I've been saying for the last month that the Chiefs are "the most dangerous team in football," and I will not back off that in the least bit. If the Chiefs' D shows up, it's all over. There is no way Indy can stop LJ, so they will inevitably fall back on the crutch that is Peyton Manning, and people, let's face it, he's not too good at stopping the run, and I don't think they will be able to put up enough points against the Chiefs in this one.

By the way, go to YouTube and see if you can find the Snickers commercial with Will Shields in it. That's hours of fun for the whole family ("Hey man, looks great...but who are the Chefs?").

Chiefs 30, Colts 28

8:00 (NBC)- Seattle (-3) over Dallas. Huh? Come on, it's ok, you can admit when I'm right, there's nothing wrong with that. The luster is coming off the Tony Romo experiment, and now the Cowboys are a team of "turmoil." Here's the thing: Romo is adequate at best. This guy is not really that good of a quarterback. The reason he was winning so much was that anytime there's a new guy that you don't have a good scouting report on, he will come at you with things you're not expecting, and you will be caught flat-footed against him. What's happened is that the scouting report is starting to get more comprehensive on Romo, and teams are now showing that they can gameplan for this guy. I know, good passer rating for the season (95.1, 3rd in the NFC), but check out the last few games he's played in. The numbers of times he's been sacked has been going up the last five games. His passer rating in the month of November was 124.7, in December, 77.1. The Cowboys are going to need a big time effort from Romo, and I don't see it happening, especially against this defense and those linebackers. Peterson and Tatupu will basically take Jason Witten out of the equation, meaning that Romo will have to depend on T.O. and Terry Glenn a lot. T.O. away from home is dreadful. This guy has had so many drops the last few games, so it will be interesting to see which T.O. shows up; superstud or superdud. I know that was cheesy, but I feel that I've already exhausted the pill-popper jokes. Seattle has won three of its last four, and they will not be slowing down any time soon.

Seahawks 27, Cowboys 17

4:30 (FOX)- Philadelphia (-7) over New York Giants. I realize this could kill me. Here I am, betting on the Giants week after week only to have them betray me time and time again. So now, the one time I'm betting against them, they'll probably pull off some kind of miracle. Well, I'm going with the Eagles for now, and I have to say that it's because of Jeff Garcia for one and Tom Coughlin for another. Garcia has been rocking and rolling the last few weeks, even pulling off a come from behind victory against the Falcons last week in a meaningless game. They already had clinched the division, the only question was if they would be playing the Cowboys or Giants. I gotta say that Tom Coughlin is getting absolutely no play for a guy who is seriously close to being fired. I mean this guy stinks flat out. When you have the talent that the Giants have, and the only way to make the NFC playoffs is backing in to it? This team should have double-digit wins every year. Where is the weakness on this team? They have a solid offense (ok Eli sucks, but when you have Tiki and Brandon Jacobs and the receivers he has, that cancels each other out) and a solid defense, so why is this team not better? I think it has a great deal to do with the coaching. It seems Coughlin has no control over his team. They bad mouth him all the time, and in return, he goes ahead and throws his players under the bus. See, this is a situation where you have to stand on your own two feet and not stoop to their level. Coughlin should be bigger than bad mouthing his own players. I mean the players do it because their prima donnas. It's like blaming the teacher for getting a bad grade and not yourself. Coughlin should have confidence as the "teacher" to say "look, we played hard, but we need to fix some things." That's all. You don't have to go around and call out Tiki Barber or Eli Manning. Just say "we could have played better" and end it. With all this being said, the Giants will actually give the Eagles a pretty good fight here. I'm not extremely confident about the amount of points in this game (7 is pretty high), but still, I think that if the game does get out of hand, which it definitely could, I think the Eagles will be having the upper hand.

Eagles 24, Giants 16

I'm going to be posting more thoughts about the playoffs and these specific games as we near kickoff. Until then, have a very nice weekend. Hopefully all your teams win...and if you're a Raider fan, here's some things I want to express to you personally:

1. Sorry.

2. Hire Ken Whisenhunt (O-Coordinator From Pittsburgh). This guy can set up a power running game that is lacking for the silver and black. That's what made this team great back in the day: power running.

3. DO NOT DRAFT BRADY QUINN! I'm telling you, if the Raiders draft this guy, their franchise will be set back like ten years. This would be the equivalent of the Saints trading all those picks to the Redskins for Ricky Williams. Their franchise has taken six years and a hurricane to get through that mess. If you draft a quarterback #1 overall, go with Brian Brohm or, even better, JaMarcus Russell. See, the Sugar Bowl had Quinn vs. Russell. Now you tell me which one looked better in that game? Or, don't bother drafting a quarterback. Instead, get Calvin Johnson to compliment Randy Moss, then go out and get Matt Schaub. Look, I know that this guy isn't really a proven commodity, but I like what I've seen, and so do a lot of other people, so there's definitely going to be a market for this guy (he is a restricted free agent though, so Atlanta gets first crack, and if you want to sign him before the signing period is reached, you have to dump a whole bunch of draft picks to get that done).

4. Again, sorry.

I don't even know why I just did that. I think that Raider nation has become the butt of all the jokes this year, especially when you hire a guy like Art Shell to coach your team, that's just begging people to poke fun. However, I am in the spirit of consolation, so I felt I should give the Raiders a little love. Next week: The Lions...kidding. Anyway, have a good weekend everyone. Peace.


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