Friday, January 16, 2009

Championship Weekend Preview

"She don't think straight."

Well, I think I've tried just about everything this year to figure out the NFL, and nothing seems to be working. Game film, betting trends, "expert" opinions...none of it seems to be adding up. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that this week, I'm kind of just winging it. Sure, I'll have something to back up the picks, but instead of looking at what a team does well, I think I'm going to focus more on what teams do not do well, and how they are making attempts to fix it, because seemingly, as I mentioned in the last column, whatever the weakness of a team was in the regular season has almost become a strength. It's a backwards year, a backwards might as well look at things the opposite way (and yes, I did watch "The Opposite" episode of Seinfeld, which is incredibly relatable to real least my life). Both games are on Sunday by the way, in case you did not know. To some, that may be obvious, but when you've had playoff football on Saturday for the last two weeks, you get into a comfort zone right?

NFC Championship: Philadelphia vs. Arizona (3:00, FOX):

Okay, the glaring weakness for the Eagles is there caliber of receivers. Kevin Curtis is their #1...he would be a #3 on most teams. DeSean Jackson has certainly been a factor on offense and special teams. A lot of GMs would certainly love to have a 6'4, 6'5 receiver, but having a guy like Jackson who is shifty and can make moves in the open field is something that's invaluable. On Arizona's side, they have had two weaknesses: stopping the run, and running the ball. However, the Cards have been locking down both of those areas in their first two playoff games. It's somewhat of an anomaly of how the Cards struggled against the run, and yet stopped two of the most dynamic running attacks in two consecutive weeks. The playoffs have also seen the re-emergence of Edgerrin James, something I saw coming in the final game of the season against Seattle. James, who went public with his distaste for the Arizona organization, has been exceptional in the playoffs. So, again, you're looking at two teams who had glaring weaknesses during the regular season, yet are finding ways to not only live with them, but using them to their advantage.

Here's where I think the game changes: Both teams have superior D-backfields that include three outstanding corners (PHI: Brown/Samuel/Sheppard; ARI: Rolle/Cromartie/Hood) and two of the best safeties in the league (Brian Dawkins and Adrian Wilson, two guys I would kill to have on the Pats). Philly has been able to neutralize the first two passing attacks they went up against, but let's break those down for a quick second. Minnesota had three receivers who were banged up and a QB who could not deal with the pressure Philly brought on. The Giants were without their best receiver, and Eli Manning looked like absolute garbage. Can Philly do the same to Kurt Warner? See, I'm not so sure about that. For one, the Arizona O-Line has allowed one sack so far in the postseason. Secondly, Warner not only has postseason experience, but postseason success. I respect the fact that Philly has been to five of the last eight NFC Championship games, but they are 1-3 in their first four. I know that I've bet against the Eagles the first two times, and that didn't go over so well...but I did bet against Arizona twice, and that also did not go over so well.

Arizona (+4)

AFC Championship Game: Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh (6:30, CBS)

I remember saying something to the effect of "I can totally see a Tennessee vs. San Diego championship game," well, I think that's more ammunition for the "stick to the opposite" feeling I have going on right now. Well, let's look at what these two were not supposed to do well. Baltimore was supposed to crumble due to their rookie quarterback. Well, surprise, they're one game away from the Super Bowl. Let's review what happened the first two games Baltimore played against Pittsburgh. In Week 4, Flacco did not throw a pick, but Pittsburgh did force him to cough up the ball once, which ended up being a defensive TD for Pittsburgh. The game went to OT, with the Steelers winning on a Jeff Reed field goal. In the second game, Week 15 in Baltimore, Flacco had perhaps his worst day as a starter, going 11/28 for 115 yards and two picks. The second pick came at the very end of the game when Flacco threw an INT in Pittsburgh territory down four. Okay, so what does that show? Again, I'm nervous about Flacco if they are down late in the game. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy, but still, I think I have a right to be worried.

Everyone was worried about Pittsburgh's ground game...I really didn't get that. It's kind of like the Edge in Arizona. Parker was hurt, and Pittsburgh, to their credit, allowed him to come back at his own pace and was able to get by with Mewelde Moore as the time passed. Parker had 47 yards in the second meeting. Obviously it's going to be tough for both teams to run in this game.

Both of these QBs have been sacked the most times in their careers by these two defenses. The way these two operate, that will definitely have a major significance on the flow of this game. Roethlisberger has been great in the cold (below 40: 22 TDs, 9 INTs in 12 games and nearly a 100 QB rating). Despite those numbers, I'm leaning towards Baltimore. Sure, Flacco is a rookie, but Balitmore uses the same mentality that Pittsburgh employed when Ben was a rookie...don't lose the game. By all means, play well, and do your best, but do not make the mistake that will cost the team the game. Flacco made the mistake the first game with the fumble, then he threw two picks the last game...if we've learned anything, it's that this is the league of adjustments, and that it is hard, hard work to beat a team three times in one year. I believe in John Harbaugh and Rex Ryan...and it's not like I don't believe in Mike Tomlin and Dick LaBeau, but this Super Bowl might be ready for some new blood. Oh, right, numbers...Baltimore is really good when the spread is 6 or less and 'dogged (7-3 SU, 8-2 ATS), and Pittsburgh isn't (5-5 SU, 3-7 ATS).

Baltimore (+6)

Random Observation: You can argue with me about this, but the four best safeties in the NFL are playing this weekend (Wilson, Dawkins, Reed, Polamalu). Coincidence? Hardly.

In the big picture, I also went against the obvious storylines that would exist if a certain combination of these teams win. It's difficult to try and explain that in one sentence, so let me expand. You know how UNC and Duke are usually #1 seeds in the tourney? And that the selection committee puts them on the same side of the bracket so they could eventually meet in the Final Four? Okay, how many times does that ever work out? I'm going to go ahead and say never. So, betting against the storylines is an interesting way to go about things, and again, I'm all for anything different after the last couple of weeks. Something like if
Pittsburgh plays Philadelphia, it would be deemed the "Battle of the Keystone State." If Pittsburgh played Arizona, it would be Ken Whisenhunt (Arizona's head coach) going up against his former team. The one thing that concerns me is that the NFL has had absolutely no luck this year in terms of PR. Brady went down in Week 1, Tomlinson was way off this year, Drew Brees threw for 5,000 yards...and nobody cares, the 0-16 Lions, Green Bay and Dallas were me, it almost seems like the NFL would do everything in its power to get Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl just to make it much easier to market this game. I mean Arizona/Baltimore? There's nothing really there (no offense to those teams, but the appeal of the Cards and the Ravens isn't nearly as widespread as that of the Steelers...not even close). So that kind of has me concerned. The good thing is that no one likes the Cards and the Ravens, so the clear "no one believed in us" stigmata is in effect. I mean...I don't know? Sometimes you look genius, and other times you crap out...and everyone has crapped out more often that not this year.

Rock and roll. See everyone on the other side. Take care. Peace.


No comments: