2009 NFL Wildcard Weekend Predictions

 

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys

The Eagles laid an egg last week against Dallas despite playing many of their starters. The Eagles had been playing well of late but Dallas has too. Dallas seems to be the hotter team at the moment, and they are playing at home. In fact, Dallas is playing well enough to run the table. Dallas.

New York Jets @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals looked like the Bungles of old against the Jets last week, even though most of their starters played. It was an embarrassing display of professional football. I am sure they will play better this week but how do you flip a switch in a week and come out and beat a team that just embarrassed you? I don’t think they will. I think the Jets win a close one. New York Jets.

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots

The only reason Baltimore beat Oakland last week is Charlie Frye got hurt and JaMarcus Russell handed the Ravens two turnovers, which sealed the game for the Ravens. Everyone is jumping on the Ravens wings this week since the Patriots lost Wes Welker. The Ravens tend to play to the level of their opponent. I think the Patriots will win a close one here. New England.


Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

Like the Eagles and Bungles, the Cardinals didn’t show up for their game last week against Green Bay. Again, momentum counts for something going into the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers has emerged as an elite quarterback and the Packers are playing well and are on a roll. I’m going to with Green Bay in this one.

Great Inside Look at The 1967 Green Bay Packers

9780307486325_9780307486325Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer
Review by C. Douglas Baker

I’m a big professional football fan and love reading about football. Jerry Kramer’s Green Bay Packers diary – which details the 1967 season of the Green Packers, was quite an enjoyable and educational read for me.

For starters, the Green Bay Packers in 1967 were clearly the best team in pro football but were showing signs of aging. This season saw the infamous Ice Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Championship where Jerry Kramer threw a key block to get Bart Starr in for a touchdown, securing a trip to Super Bowl II. And of course this year also saw the Packers win its second straight Super Bowl and the legendary coach Vince Lombari’s retirement from the Green Bay Packers.

Kramer’s diary is pretty much just that – a retelling of what he went through during the 1967 season. Some things are familiar. Don’t let the hyperbole or nostalgia fool you, money WAS a big issue in professional football back then even if the contracts were not that large. Kramer talks a lot about money and business issues in his book.

Kramer also tells us a bit about what it was like to be a player under Coach Lombardi who drove the players relentlessly and made them better than they otherwise would have been both as individuals and a team.

The players clearly had a love-hate, father-son relationship with the coach. Also, some of the stories about the playboys on the team like Max McGee and Paul Hornung are humorous. In today’s NFL it seems the shenanigans of players involve guns and criminality. On this team, it was just booze and chicks, good old boys having fun.

And of course it was interesting to see how Kramer thought of the upcoming opponents – both individuals and teams – as he prepared to face them.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of the book is a bit of introspection on Kramer’s part. He was an older player (31), by football standards, and feeling it. He often wondered why he went through the pain of pro football and it mainly came down to a simple fact – he was a football player. While he didn’t define himself totally by football, in essence that is what he felt he was. Of course the money and the championships made it worth it.

Overall I would definitely recommend this book to professional football fans.

 Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer

NFC and AFC Championships Review

 Arizona Cardinals over Philadelphia Eagles, 32-25

The Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl. Has a weird ring to it doesn’t it? The Arizona Cardinals? Are you sure? The same team that got blown out in the regular season every time they stepped out of the comfortable confines of the Arizona desert? What gives?

What gives is this is not the same Arizona Cardinals team we saw in the regular season. They still have the high flying offense lead by Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin. But they finally found that running the ball, and sticking with it enough to keep defenses honest, makes their offense even better. And the Arizona defense is playing better than it has all season and right in time for the playoffs.

They Cardinals offense is fun to watch. They put some very nice drives together, and throw in a big play or two, and it results in a 24-6 halftime lead.

The Philadelphia Eagles made a valiant comeback in the second half with tight end Brent Celek catching pass after pass, and DeSean Jackson making a great play on a tipped ball for a touchdown to take a 25-24 lead in the fourth quarter. At that point I suspect many people felt the Cardinals would fall apart and lose the game. Their offense had gone three and out a few times in the half and really didn’t have much of an opportunity to do anything. But Kurt Warner calmly lead the team on a 72 yard drive resulting in a game winning touchdown pass to Tim Hightower and a Super Bowl birth.

A few things of note in this game. Larry Fitzgerald continues to raise his game above his already Pro Bowl level. He has had a phenomenal postseason and is simply amazing.

On the other side of the ball, Donovan McNabb was awful. While he put up a great effort, he missed receivers on many occasions and was often inaccurate with this throws.

And the kicking game by both teams was atrocious. I have never seen so many kickoffs go out of bounds, so many lousy punts, and we even had a missed extra point by the Eagles. In fact, it was a game with maybe the poorest special teams play I have seen in quite some time by both teams.

But overall, this was an exciting game to watch.

MVP: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Troy Polamalu Intercepts Joe Flacco (NFL.com)

Troy Polamalu Intercepts Joe Flacco (NFL.com)

Pittsburgh Steelers over Baltimore Ravens, 23-14

Wow, these two defenses are good. Very, very good. This was one of the hardest hitting games I’ve seen in a long time. The key difference in the game was the Steelers defense was able to make more plays and get three interceptions off of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, which lead them to victory.

Pittsburgh basically just outplayed the Ravens by a slim margin. They got a big play on a touchdown to Santonio Holmes in the first half to take a 13-7 lead to the locker room. Then nursing a 16-14 lead in the fourth quarter, Troy Polamalu intercepted a Flacco pass and ran it back for a touchdown and sealed the deal.

This game, as expected, was about defense and hard hitting. It didn’t disappoint.

MVP: Troy Polamalu, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers


PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player:
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Defensive Player: Troy Polamalu, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers
Offensive Lineman: Lyle Sendlein, C, Arizona Cardinals
Special Teams: Jeff Reed, K, Pittsburgh Steelers

2008 NFL Divisional Playoffs Review

Larry Fitzgerald Scores against Carolina (NFL.com)

Larry Fitzgerald Scores against Carolina (NFL.com)

I know it’s 2009 but this is the 2008 NFL Football Season so that is what I am calling the playoffs.

General Observations

If someone told me four weeks ago we would be seeing the Philadelphia Eagles versus the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship I would have them committed to an insane asylum.

Defense and turnovers win championships and that is certainly what happened in this weekends’ playoff matchups. The Ravens, Cardinals, Eagles, and Steelers all played great defense and generated turnovers that ultimately lead to their taking the next step in the playoffs and a right to play for an entry into Super Bowl XLIII.

Now putting my New England Patriots’ hat on for a moment, I am thrilled we won’t be seeing a Manning in the Super Bowl. I don’t really root for any teams in the playoffs when the Patriots don’t make it I just root against the teams I least want to see in the Super Bowl. The Chargers and Eagles get kudos for knocking off the two teams I least wanted to see.

I still find it a bit whacky to see the Eagles and Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. The Eagles looked awful for a long stretch this year and only made the playoffs because the circus act in Dallas imploded. And the Cardinals? They didn’t look like they could win a game on the road or run the ball late in the season. They’ve done both in these playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens over Tennessee Titans, 13-10

This was a game dominated by the defenses. Three turnovers by Titans, two in scoring position, were the difference in this game. I won’t say the Titans outplayed the Ravens because the Ravens earned their turnovers, but if the Titans had scored even field goals instead of giving the ball back to the Ravens, the outcome would likely have been different. After two touchdowns in the first quarter, there wasn’t another score until the fourth quarter.

Both defensive lines played phenomenal games. Unlike their last meeting, Tennessee’s defensive front throttled the Ravens running game. The Ravens did give up a good chunk of running yards in the first half, but two turnovers thwarted Tennessee’s scoring opportunities. Tennessee was badly hampered when their best offensive player, running back Chris Johnson, was injured in the second quarter and never returned to the game. Tennessee also clearly missed Kevin Mawae at center. Haolti Ngata got great penetration most of the game, particularly in the first and fourth quarters.

Probably the most damaging blow to Tennessee, other than injuries, was an interception by Kerry Collins in the second quarter around the Baltimore 32 yard line after having driven from their 1 yard line. That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game.

For Tennessee this was a huge blow after the great season they had and having home field advantage throughout the playoffs. After blowing out the Steelers at home late in the season I really thought we would be seeing them in the Super Bowl. They certainly looked like Super Bowl contenders. But it wasn’t to be.

MVP: Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens


Arizona Cardinals over Carolina Panthers, 33-13

I was stunned by this game. After seeing the Cardinals get blown out by the Jets, Eagles, and Patriots and losing badly at home to Giants, I did not believe they could beat the Panthers in Carolina. Of course six turnovers, 5 interceptions and a fumble by quarterback Jake Delhomme, was the difference in the game.

But the Cardinals offense didn’t rest on their heels. They once again established a running game to ago along with their passing attack and turned those turnovers into points. Larry Fitzgerald had another stellar game with 8 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown. And the defense, like last week, did a great job shutting down the running attack.

The Cardinals have played like a legitimate playoff team and if they continue to perform at this level and do not revert back to their late season swoon, the sky is the limit for this team. It just depends on which team shows up.

MVP: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals


Philadelphia Eagles over New York Giants, 23-11

I don’t know if it was the wind or not but neither Eli Manning nor Donovan McNabb had a particularly good day. Both were mostly inaccurate with their passes and neither team really established much on offense. The Giants were able to run the ball at times but their inability to do much in the passing game really hurt them. The offenses and the quarterbacks looked average not like to teams meeting in the playoffs.

The defenses did play well and this game came down to turnovers and defense. The Eagles’ defense played just a little better than the Giants’ and McNabb played just a little better than Eli and made a few good throws when the Eagles really needed it. To me the key play in the game was Asante Samuels interception of Eli Manning in the first quarter, giving the Eagles the ball near the goal line and an easy touchdown. Even though it was early in the game and only a 7-3 lead, scores were hard to come by and this gave the Eagles a leg up. Also impressive were two fourth down stops by the Eagles in the fourth quarter.

MVP: Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Philadelphia Eagles


Pittsburgh Steelers over San Diego Chargers, 35-24

The Pittsburgh Steelers, leading 14-10 at halftime, controlled the ball nearly the entire third quarter going up 21-10. They just wore out the Chargers defense and the game was all but over after that. The Chargers did a good job of putting up a few scores late in the game but the Steelers were playing loose on defense just chewing up the clock.

This was an extremely impressive effort by the Steelers offensive line. Their defense also played extremely well, holding Darren Sproles, last week’s superstar, to only 15 yards rushing. Most of San Diego’s offensive output came in the fourth quarter when the Steelers were mostly playing prevent defense and the Chargers were scrambling to catch up.

Running back Willie Parker ended up with 146 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, while Big Ben had an efficient, mistake free afternoon at quarterback. He did miss a few deep throws down the field, but he hit a few as well, including one that ended up netting a touchdown after a pass interference call in the end zone.

If the Steelers can continue to play lights out defense, run the ball well, while Ben makes plays with his arm down the field, they will be tough to beat. But they face a nasty defensive team in the Ravens next week, which will be another slugfest.

MVP: Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Offensive Player of the Week: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Defensive Player of the Week: Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens
Offensive Lineman of the Week: Jeff Hartwig, C, Pittsburgh Steelers
Special Teams Player of the Week: Santonio Holmes, KR, Pittsburgh Steelers

2008 NFL Divisional Playoff Predictions

Tennessee Titans over Baltimore Ravens

Everyone seems to have jumped on the Ravens bandwagon since their throttling of the Miami Dolphins last weekend in the Wildcard game. And that is understandable. The Ravens have the toughest, meanest, ball hawkingest defense other than Pittsburgh. They also, finally, have a quarterback that can actually get the offense moving and score some points.

Earlier this year the Ravens lost a close game to the Titans, 13-10. They should have won that game. Here is what I said after that game:

[The Ravens] basically outplayed the Titans for the most part and got robbed on a terrible roughing the passer call on Terrell Suggs near the end of the game that gave Tennessee the opportunity to kick the winning field goal. That awful call and a missed field goal by Matt Stover at the end of the first half basically were the difference in the game. . . The Ravens offensive line also did a good job of not letting the stellar defensive line of the Titans dominate the game. In fact, the Titans defensive ends were mostly a non-factor. Ray Lewis is playing like he did a few years ago. He seems to have found a fountain of youth somewhere. The Ravens defense is tremendous. While this team may be 2-2, I think they will improve over the year. Their biggest weakness is their banged up running backs, no true number one receiver, a banged up Todd Heap, and a rookie quarterback. Their defense will have to make up for their offensive weakness the rest of the year.

So the question is, with the Titans having a banged up defense and center Kevin Mawae possibly out, why in the world am I picking the Titans to win this game? The answer is I don’t really know other than a gut feeling that being at home, with an experienced quarterback, and two solid running backs, should give the Titans a slight edge. The way they dismantled the Pittsburgh Steelers at home late in the season also factors into my thinking. The Titans have some depth at defense themselves and a solid, if bland, offense.

This should be a competitive, closely contested game. The Ravens have an underrated offensive line and their defense could take them to the Super Bowl. If Mawae is out that could be a monster blow the Titans as DT Haloti Ngata is a beast. But I think the Titans will edge the Ravens out at home.

Carolina Panthers over Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals play awful on the road and they face a tougher defense than they did last week. I just don’t see the Cardinals duplicating last week’s effort against the Panthers. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get blown out. But the Cardinals shouldn’t be counted for dead. Even with Anquan Boldin out, if their defense steps up to the plate and they actually try to run the ball a bit, they might cover the spread.

New York Giants over Philadelphia Eagles

New York is not going to lose the Eagles at home. The Eagles barely beat Minnesota last week and they are not nearly as good as the Giants. I see McNabb throwing up a few picks and the Giants winning this one in a blowout.

Pittsburgh Steelers over San Diego Chargers

This is certainly an interesting rematch and it could very well turn into another defensive slugfest like the Steelers 11-10 win earlier in the season. This should be a close competitive game, but if Big Ben doesn’t make the Big Mistakes by holding on to the ball too long and taking sacks, I expect a repeat of the last game with the Steelers scoring a few more points for a close win.