Friday, January 20, 2012

2011-12 Conference Championship Previews

On we go to Championship Sunday, which possibly has the best football of the season. The games this weekend should be pretty close, so we should have a good weekend of entertaining games leading up to Super Bowl XLVI in Indy.

AFC Title Game: 2 Baltimore Ravens @ 1 New England Patriots 3 PM CBS

Do you think Tom Brady was annoyed with the media coverage of Tim Tebow? Based on his performance on Saturday night, I'd guess so. He lit up a bad Denver defense, and he likely won't have near the success level against Baltimore. But that doesn't mean Tom Brady still doesn't want this game really badly. Joe Flacco has had to deal with faux criticism about his game, so can he face the music and get the Ravens over the hump?

Baltimore Offense vs. New England Defense

The Ravens offense last Sunday was... well, pitiful. They never got anything established up front, and couldn't throw the ball down the field. The Texans owned the line of scrimmage on defense, and Bill Belichick was surely paying attention to that. The Ravens have to be able to establish Ray Rice on the ground in order to give themselves a chance to stretch the field vertically at some point. The Patriots got great play from their linebackers on Saturday, and they will need that again in order to take away the Ravens Tight Ends, who can provide some trouble in the teeth of the Pats defense. Rob Ninkovich was especially good, and if he can take away Ray Rice, he'll be able to take away the Ravens major offensive threat early, and limit their chances with the passing game with receivers that really struggle to break away from tight man coverage. That's how New England shut down Tim Tebow, and that's how they'll shut down Joe Flacco. The Ravens offensive line was whipped for 5 sacks against Houston, and if the Patriots can get at least half of the pressure Houston did, the Ravens are in some trouble. This just seems like a matchup New England can win, but if they don't, they are of course vulnerable, because they are the 31st ranked defense in the NFL. But, it can have good moments, and against a not so potent offense, I'd expect some good moments from this unit.

New England Offense vs. Baltimore Defense

"You can't stop them, you can only hope to contain them" is a popular refrain when talking about an amazing offense, and New England has one of them. They provide so many matchup issues because of their receivers and tight ends, and yet they still cut open defenses with surgical accuracy. The Patriots have not faced a defense like they will with the Ravens coming to town since the Giants left town back in early November, however. The matchup issues that the Patriots bring are only exacerbated if you can't stop the Patriots running game, and the Ravens should be able to do that. The one thing Baltimore has to do, is get pressure on Tom Brady. Easier said than done, but in their 3 losses this season, New England's offensive line hasn't held up very well. If the Ravens can get pressure with their front 3, then they will be in very good shape, but down count on that. They'll be getting pressure with blitzing, but that's a double edged sword considering the matchups you give up in the process. New England will score points no matter what, it's just a matter of whether the Ravens can generate pressure and force turnovers to give their offense a chance to keep up.


The Ravens have beaten New England in the postseason in Foxborough before, but the teams were very different back in 2009. The Patriots can dominate at home, and they should be able to here. The weather shouldn't be a problem, and that favors New England. Because the Patriots don't really have any disadvantages to deal with, they have an advantage here.

Player to Watch: Torrey Smith

He was here a week ago, and he will be once again. If he can separate on deep throws and loosen up the Patriots defense... well, it will be a far cry from what happened against the Texans. The Ravens need to stretch the field with a passing attack that isn't intermediate routes to tight ends and flare screens to Ray Rice, and Torrey Smith is the way for the Ravens to get that.

Prediction: Patriots 28 Ravens 13

The Pats will have just too much for the Ravens to deal with on both sides of the ball, so let the talk begin about Joe Flacco's skill, and the Ravens receiving corps in general. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed can only do so much.

NFC Title Game: 4 New York Giants @ 2 San Francisco 49ers 6:30 FOX

I will now eat my crow that I deserve for my Saints and Packers predictions. I underestimated both teams, but I really underestimated the 49ers. My opinion of Alex Smith is changing from a glossy Trent Dilfer, to a glossy Elvis Grbac. Next, he'll graduate to the level of a glossy Joe Flacco. He's really moving up the ladder, isn't he? Eli Manning doesn't really have to deal with that though, because this has been far and away his best season of his career. What wins out in the 8th all time playoff meeting between the two NFC Giants (no pun intended)?

Giants Offense vs. 49ers Defense

The game will be won on this side of the ball. The Giants offense has a passing game which is even 10 times better than the group that won the Super Bowl back in 2007. Eli Manning's ability allows him to stretch the field with a very deep receiving corps, and really lackluster tight ends with no running game to back him up. The 49ers defense has been lights out this season, but don't let the yards the Saints racked up last week fool you, because they forced Drew Brees to throw the ball on every down. Their secondary is still vulnerable, but they forced 5 turnovers against Drew Brees, so they should be able to force 1 or 2 against the Giants, who still have the prospect of watching Eli Manning make a "typical Eli" throw. The Giants can't run the ball, so there's that out. The Giants offensive line has to be able to protect well against the 2 Smith's, Aldon and Justin, and also keep up against the blitzes from the very deep linebacker corps. I would expect a similar result to what happened a week ago, with the 49ers giving up yards through the air but overall having a pretty good game. If the Giants are able to run the ball, then that will add a much needed dimension to an offense that may very well need it.

49ers Offense vs. Giants Defense

Alex Smith (almost) shook the dreaded "Game Manager" label after his impressive performance down the stretch against the Saints. It will be tougher against a Giants defense that has enjoyed an amazing resurgence since their embarrassing loss against the Redskins a month ago. They're getting amazing pressure on the opposing QB, and their battered secondary has played very well. The 49ers offensive line did have some trouble dealing with Gregg Williams' blitzes, and they will surely then have trouble dealing with the Giants fearsome front 4. The Giants only really have to take away Vernon Davis in order to force Alex Smith to try to make something happen with his lackluster receiving corps. They can run the ball with Frank Gore too, and they'll have to, because Alex Smith will likely have troubles throwing the ball. Gore only got 13 carries last week, and he will possibly double that on Sunday. He has to have a big game, which is hard to do against the Giants defense, which has consistently shut down the run all season. The Giants should have some success against the 49ers, but I should never underestimate the anti "Game Manager" Alex Smith anymore.


San Francisco can win at home very easily, but the Giants are proven road warriors, so there's that out. The major X-Factor in this game that doesn't have to do with FOX shamelessly plugging that show will be the weather. There's some big time rain in the forecast, and that favors the more physical team on both sides of the football, and that's San Francisco. They can run the ball better than the Giants can, and that will be a huge key in this game. The receivers for the Giants will have trouble on the bad track, so this could be something interesting to watch.

Player to Watch: Ahmad Bradshaw

Based on what I talked about with the weather, the passing game will be harder to really use in full force. Ahmad Bradshaw and his counterpart Brandon Jacobs will have to be able to run the ball very well in order to take pressure off Eli Manning in the bad weather. They could also be important in the short passing game.

Prediction: 49ers 20 Giants 17

The weather threw me here, so I picked the 49ers for that reason. They are the more physical team, which will really help them here. I know the Giants are red-hot right now, but I still am not totally confident with the Giants. They could always have one of those games like they had against Vince Young, or the two against Washington.

Enjoy Championship Sunday!

Friday, January 13, 2012

2011-12 Divisional Round Previews

Even though I missed last week’s previews, it’s safe to say I didn’t do very well with my picks. I went 1 for 4, with the only help coming from New Orleans. Now the true test comes with these picks, because the big boys have joined the party. Even though I didn't post my full previews last week, I went 1-3 in picks, with my only correct one being the Saints. Oh well. 

3 New Orleans Saints @ 2 San Francisco 49ers 4:30 PM SAT FOX

     The 49ers may have been this season’s biggest surprise, and all things considering, a return to the glory days of the franchise is not something to complain about. The Saints are the NFL’s hottest team right now, winning 9 games in a row dating back to Week 8. What will win out: Amazing offense or stout defense?

49ers offense vs. Saints’ defense:
        It’s the 26th ranked offense in the NFL against the 24th ranked defense during the regular season, and while it doesn’t really sound exciting, it will be. The Saints defense gives up a ton of yards and points, while not forcing the turnovers like we’ve become accustomed to seeing. The ‘9ers run a good ball control offense led by Frank Gore, and he should have a big game against a Saints defense that had problems stopping the run all season. While the 49ers may not score like the Lions or Packers are capable of, they still will score, and they can in bunches. Alex Smith needs to simply be consistent and not make mistakes, and get the ball to Vernon Davis in the gaps in the scheme. The 49ers offensive line should be able to hold up well against the bevy of Saints blitzes that will come, and Alex Smith’s mobility should really help with that, even though they have allowed a ton of sacks this season. In the battle of units that were not focused based on the performances of the other units on the respective teams, the 49ers offense has the advantage, but only slightly.

Saints offense vs. 49ers defense:
       This is the matchup we all want to see. I have to think Drew Brees is a really good player at Tecmo Super Bowl, because he’s putting up those kinds of numbers in every game. They had over 600 yards of total offense last week. But, this is the best defense he’s faced all season by far, and the last truly impressive unit he faced in Houston, he hung 40 on them. The 49ers are aggressive on defense, especially with their amazing linebacker corps. Despite all you hear about the 49ers defense, they were only 16th in the league against the pass, and their secondary does have some holes. They have decent talent there, but they haven’t faced an offense like they will with Drew Brees. Obviously, Jim Harbaugh has worked to fix some of the issues present in the final game of the regular season against St. Louis, but New Orleans has way too many weapons for the 49ers to stop all of them. You have to give the Saints the edge here.

   The 49ers were 7-1 at home this season, and New Orleans had their fair share of road struggles. New Orleans was only 3-2 this season in outdoor games, but the environment shouldn’t pose a problem for the Saints, at least now anyway. The Saints have way more playoff experience than San Francisco does, but the Saints made this trek out west last year and lost to Seattle in the postseason, so that may not hold the value it normally does. On the strength of being at home in this battle, San Francisco gets the nod.

Player to Watch: Alex Smith
  You don’t want to say this game is on him, but he has a lot of pressure on his shoulders. He has to manage the game well, and not give the ball back to the Saints on a short field, because they will score at will, even against a great defense. He has to use his mobility to escape blitzes and pressures, and also attempt to have a vertical passing game to test the New Orleans secondary, which is vulnerable.

Pick: New Orleans 28 San Francisco 16
    Their offense is just too good to be stopped right now, and it’s as simple as that. The 49ers had an amazing season, but their playoff inexperience and the Saints offense will be too much for them.

4 Denver Broncos @ 1 New England Patriots 8 PM SAT CBS

     The Patriots are the number 1 seed, and they have constantly proved to be one of the league’s best teams, despite a horrible defense and only having beaten one playoff team all season. In come the surprising Broncos, led by… you-know-who… who have the chops to possibly pull another huge upset. What will we see on Saturday Night: The Denver team that won 7 of 8, or the one that got housed at home by the same Patriots?

Broncos Offense vs. Patriots Defense
    The Broncos racked up nearly 400 yards of total offense in the first meeting between the two teams, and really made the Patriots defense look silly for most of the game. They rushed for 252 yards, which is still an astounding number, but only passed for 141 yards. The Patriots must be able to keep the Broncos offense in check, starting by doing something the Steelers couldn’t do, which is stopping the option game. The read option burned the Steelers, and the Patriots had some of that happen to them too, but they did an overall better job in containing it. The way to stop the Broncos passing game also involves playing tight man to man coverage and trying to take away the deep ball is a key. Pittsburgh couldn’t do that, so it will be interesting to see how New England attacks those matchups against Demaryius Thomas and others. Even though the Patriots should be effective enough in keeping the Broncos offense at bay, I’d still give them a good chance at putting up big numbers.

Patriots Offense vs. Broncos Defense
     Is there any reason to think that the Patriots won’t have the same kind of success that they did in the first game against Denver? Nope. The Patriots put on a show against Denver the last time these two teams played, and that day it was mainly due to the success of the Tight Ends for the Patriots, which Denver could not cover. Both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski had huge game, and the issue with taking away one of them is bringing out the other one. This had added fuel if the Patriots run the ball with any kind of success, which they can and probably will do. With the emotional leader of the Broncos defense, Brian Dawkins, likely out for the game, the Pats will be able to easily attack a vulnerable Broncos defense.

    The Patriots lost one game at home this season, and while Denver was a better team on the road than they were at home, this is still a tough assignment. It doesn’t help that they are on a short week while the Patriots are rested. The Patriots have lost their last 3 playoff games dating back to the 2007 AFC Title Game, but I doubt they are thinking about that. The effect of Josh McDaniels returning to New England will likely be minimal, but it may still have a slight impact.

Player(s) to Watch: New England Tight Ends
    I already talked about them a bit above, but they will hold the key to the New England offense. With Champ Bailey likely shutting down Wes Welker, the TE’s should, if successful, be able to open up the defense for other players to make plays. Denver couldn’t stop them in Week 15, and I doubt they will be able to in this one.

Prediction: New England 34 Denver 19
  This will be closer than many think, but the Pats have too many weapons on offense for the Broncos to keep up on both sides of the ball. They’ll make it interesting, like they always seem to, but New England will likely pull away late.

3 Houston Texans @ 2 Baltimore Ravens 1 PM SUN CBS
    Houston’s first foray into the postseason ended well, with a 31-10 win over the Bengals. The Baltimore Ravens have finally accomplished their major goal other than winning a Super Bowl, which is a home playoff game. Can T.J Yates pull off a big upset on the road?

Texans Offense vs. Ravens Defense
    T.J Yates has been consistent enough to win games for the Texans, now going 3-3 in his 6 total starts. He didn’t have to do very much to beat Cincy last Saturday, thanks to his defense and mainly Arian Foster running wild. He only had 49 yards in the first meeting between the two teams, and he will have to possibly triple that in order to give Houston a legit shot to win this game and that will be pretty tough against the 2nd ranked rushing defense in NFL. Foster and his complement back Ben Tate will have to wear out the front 7 quickly in order to open up passing lanes for the receivers. The Texans did not have Andre Johnson in the first meeting, and that should help out going up against a weaker Ravens secondary than usual.  The Texans just didn’t play well in the first meeting of the two teams this season, and with T.J Yates under center, it’s hard to find other reasons to see why they’ll do better.

Ravens Offense vs. Texans Defense
   The Ravens offense hasn’t really been a juggernaut this season either, but at home, they seem to crank up the offensive intensity more. This is due to the running of Ray Rice, and when he’s on, he drives the entire Baltimore offensive machine. He had 101 yards in the first game between the two squads, and he’ll need to match that at least to keep their offensive moving. Joe Flacco will also have to try to exploit the matchups that can cause the Texans some issues, mainly with that second corner spot with Kareem Jackson and Jason Allen. Torrey Smith will likely be matched up on that side, and that could be the big matchup to watch in the passing game. The Ravens offensive line will also have to cope with the major pass rush of Houston led by J.J Watt, Connor Barwin, and Antonio Smith. If they can keep Joe Flacco upright, look for the Ravens to have more offensive success. It will be a slugfest with this matchup as well, and it’s sure to be interesting, even though Baltimore should have a slight edge.

   The Ravens haven’t lost a home game to a team not named the Steelers since the 2009 season. They are 20-4 at home over the last 3 seasons, and the Texans have never beaten the Ravens before in franchise history. It’s going to be tough for Houston to head into the raucous environment in Baltimore and maintain the same energy that they did against Cincy. This is worth noting though: When the Ravens have won their division, they promptly lost the ensuing home playoff game, both in 2003 and 2006.

Player to Watch: Torrey Smith
    The Ravens big deep threat will likely have the favorable matchup against the second Houston corner, which is very favorable for him to stretch the field vertically like he does so well. If he can get some big plays early, that may be the death knell for the Houston defense in trying to defend both the deep ball and Ray Rice.

Prediction: Baltimore 20 Houston 7
     There is just too much for Houston to overcome in this matchup here. This is a very tough draw for them on the road in an environment like this against a very physical team. The Ravens home edge and just being more sound at the QB position should propel them to victory.

4 New York Giants @ 1 Green Bay Packers 4:30 PM SUN FOX

   Have we seen shades of 2007 for the Giants? Sure looks like it, especially with the 38-35 loss to a team that was once undefeated, which seemed to re-invigorate the squad. They also beat Green Bay at Lambeau in order to make the Super Bowl, so there’s that too. The Packers are very different though, and will the Giants be able to hold up against a really tough Green Bay team?

Giants’ Offense vs. Packers Defense
    There is a funny stat going around that should be mentioned: The 2008 Detroit Lions have given up fewer passing yards than this year’s Green Bay Packers, and they didn’t win a single game. Obviously, they didn’t have Aaron Rodgers, but that’s beside the point. Eli Manning has had his best season ever numbers wise, and he really backed up his statement that he is an elite QB. He’s done all of this without a running game too, which makes the fact even more impressive. He’s spread the ball around well, and the receiving corps has become one of the best in the NFL. He also hasn’t made the characteristic “Eli” mistake too often this season, which is obviously an improvement. The only thing the Packers defense has done this season well is force turnovers, and they will have to do that in order to win this game. They won’t generate a ridiculous pass rush either, and their corners and safeties will be tested big time against this vertical passing game. Really, the difference in the overall matchup here is the Giants running game, and whether they can generate something. If they can’t, it will put maybe a bit too much pressure on Eli to throw for 400 yards.

Packers Offense vs. Giants Defense
    Aaron Rodgers will likely be the MVP this season, and there is no questioning as to why. His offense has been nothing short of ridiculous, and he lights up defense every time he plays a new one. In the only game where the Packers offense struggled, which was in Kansas City, the Chiefs played close against the Packers receivers and did a good job rushing the passer. These are 2 things the Giants can do very well, despite their massive holes in the secondary. The Packers rushing game almost seems insignificant; especially when you consider that it hasn’t played much of a role all season. If the Giants can get a consistent pass rush on Aaron Rodgers, then he has a chance of being flustered early, but his escape ability will minimize that. The Giants corners and safeties cannot be distracted by his running ability and just play tight coverage against the Packer wideouts, and the linebackers have to be aware of Jermichael Finley across the middle. There is no guarantee the Packers will put up Madden like numbers, but there is also no guarantee they won’t light up the scoreboard anyway.

    The Packers are at home, which helps them out tremendously, but it really won’t play a role in this game, considering the fact that the Giants always seem to be a better home team than they are on the road. Aaron Rodgers’ 3 weeks of rest may cause some rust early, but the Packers offense can easily overcome an early hole.

Player to Watch: Ahmad Bradshaw
   He really has to get his game going, because not only will his rushing open up the passing game, but it will also allow the Giants to dominate time of possession, which is really key in a game that figures to be a shootout. The Giants have not done very well in running the football this season, so this will be something to watch.

Prediction: Packers 42 Giants 38
    This is going to be a shootout, no matter which way you look at it. But, I put a bit more faith in Aaron Rodgers in this situation than I do in Eli manning, despite everything that he has done this season. The Giants need to run the ball and rush the passer in order to have a really good chance to win this game.

Enjoy Divisional Round Weekend!

(Sorry for the Grey text background... blogger is annoying)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

BCS... Busted?

If you had the gall to sit through last night's SEC ego-stroking fest that was the BCS National Championship game, you probably were drowsy, sick, or a combo of the 2 at one point during the night. All of the hype for a rematch of "The Game of the Century", ended up unfounded, like many guessed. Before the ego-stroking began, the leaders of the conferences and the BCS met to decide what course of action to take next. This only happened because of this specific national title game instance. Not the issues from 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, or the rest, it was because of this season. Why? Because for the first time since the system came into place in 1998, the BCS legitimately failed.

During the Bowl Coalition and Bowl Alliance, rematches for the National Title were common, and even worse, the likelihood of a split vote was pretty high. The BCS has only had one instance of a split vote, and even then, it didn't really matter in the end, except for the addition of a 5th game to the series and a change to the formula for the computers. But finally, the system as a whole failed. This was designed to prevent a split vote for the national championship, which it did, but it was also designed to prevent rematches. It was also designed to prevent non-conference champions from getting into the title game, but that was disproven in 2001. An all one conference title game? That has never happened before, but once it did, that was the straw that broke the camels back.

"Every Game Matters" is the BCS mantra. In this season, every game did matter. Except the first time LSU and Alabama played, and the SEC Title Game. Imagine if LSU lost the title game, then we'd have had a serious controversy on our hands. Thankfully, that didn't happen. If in fact there was a rematch of a game that happened during the year in the BCS Title Game, it may have been more forgiven if it wasn't a bloated up SEC on CBS game that wasn't on CBS. Would LSU or Alabama have beaten Oklahoma State? No one will ever find out.

Thanks to the Tide essentially rolling over LSU, the AP vote was decisive. If it had been another 9-6 game, we would have had a split national title, most likely. When you look at the other BCS bowls as well, their attendances were all down and so were the TV ratings, meaning that this season hurt the BCS more than any other. Whether it was automatic qualification, or whether it was teams 6, 7, 8, and 9 in the BCS missing out on BCS bowl games, the big numbers for the games themselves were down, including the numbers for the title game.  The BCS could no longer hide behind the fact that they could get it right "4 out of 5 times", because the 1 time they don't get it right happened way too often.

What comes out of this is uncertain, but a 4 team playoff seems likely. There will still be controversy, as with teams on the bubble in the NCAA tournament, as to who gets in and who doesn't, but at least the teams will sort it out themselves, and not by a computer and pollsters. Finally, all of the controversies and issues collapsed in on the BCS, sparking the talks for change. But this season in particular, and its ending, was finally the cause of the result many wanted to see come. Congress didn't cause this. Fans didn't cause this.

The BCS itself caused this, and they have no one but themselves to blame.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Official 2011-2012 Playoff Predictions

Here they are. I'm waiting for your hate mail.


Wild Card Round:
(6) CIN over (3) HOU
(5) PIT over (4) DEN

Divisional Round:
(1) NE over (6) CIN
(2) BAL over (5) PIT

AFC Title Game:

(2) BAL over (1) NE


Wild Card Round:
(3) NO over (6) DET
(5) ATL over (4) NYG

Divisional Round:
(3) NO over (2) SF
(1) GB over (5) ATL

NFC Title Game:
(3) NO over (1) GB

Super Bowl XLVI: (3) NO over (2) BAL

Monday, January 2, 2012

My 2011 NFL Season Predictions In Review

Time to see how stupid (or smart) I was when I made my predictions for the 2011 NFL season back in September. Was I really smart on my out-of-the-box picks? Or did I over-estimate too many teams? Time to find out.

In both conferences, I got 4 out of the 6 playoff teams right, including 5 out of those 10 with their seeds correct. The playoff teams I missed: Rams, Eagles, Chargers, and Jets. 3 of those 4 are on the NFL's all underachievement stars for 2011, so I don't feel that bad about missing those predictions. I guess I really over-estimated the Rams though. I also got 7 teams' records perfectly right, including my personal favorites with the Giants at 9-7 and Cowboys and 8-8.

Aside from the 4 playoff teams I over-estimated, I also aimed a bit too high on teams like Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Minnesota. I low-balled some notable teams, like Denver, Cincy, and San Francisco. Not many people saw those teams having all the success that they did, and I sure didn't.
My Super Bowl prediction was Saints over Chargers, so I at least can get half of it right.

Onto the awards prediction, where my predictions were on target, but my picks likely won't be the winners at all. Jim Schwartz was my Coach of the Year pick, and while that is a good pick, Jim Harbaugh will run away with that award. I picked Philip Rivers as the MVP, and I'm pretty sure he has no shot at that. For my rookie of the year picks, I chose Julio Jones and Von Miller. Miller may win his award, even though he has stiff competition from San Francisco's Aldon Smith, and Julio Jones will likely lose out to the other major SEC WR prospect from the 2011 NFL Draft, A.J Green.

So, I'm not perfect, and I'll never claim to be. Let's just hope my playoff predictions are slightly better.