Monday, January 05, 2009

NFL Wildcard Weekend

So the games this weekend were pretty easy overall. I got up my picks for the Saturday games, going 1 for 2 and acknowledging that I did not feel good about the Atlanta / Arizona line at the NFC West Champions heading into that one, the only game in retrospect which Vegas got wrong. As I wrote about on Saturday, the Colts were favored over the Chargers because of their 9-game winning streak and MVP quarterback Peyton Manning, but in the end anyone who watched a lot of football this year had to know that the Colts were not winning anything this year in the end. Unlike their superbowl teams of the past, this Colts team has no running game to speak of, and the defense is not as strong as it has been in years past. With all this plus perhaps the most overrated coach in football on any level at the helm in Indy, it's not hard to understand what happened. Both the Colts and the Chargers tried hard to lose that game on Saturday. Phillip Rivers blew more chances than one could even conceive him being given, but in the end the Colts' inability to move the ball in the final quarter did them in, giving the Chargers one final chance to tie it up in regulation, then losing the coin-toss that I'm pretty sure everybody in America knew would go the Chargers' way to start overtime, and then that was all she wrote. I don't think I've seen a team funk up on defense in the playoffs worse than the Colts' complete refusal to put a man on Darren Sproles, which eventually lost the Colts the game and ended their season. You woulda thought that was LaDainian Tomlinson's younger, stronger brother running back there, instead of the 5-foot-6 nobody that he was. But like I said that's what you get when you can't run the ball enough to make space for your MVP passer, and when your coaching is so awful that even after being burned 85 times in the same game by the same Chargers' runningback, the guy is still left wide open an running 20 and 30 yard sprints untouched, even in overtime of the only truly significant game in the Colts' entire season thus far. What can you say? The best team won as far as I'm concerned. It's all moot anyways, because the winner of this game was pretty much slated to get beat down on in Round 2 of the playoffs, and it looks like Pittsburgh is the big winner who gets to show the Chargers next week what a real team and a real defense can do to Norv Turner's brilliant strategies.

In the other game on Tuesday, Arizona ran it up and outlasted Atlanta, putting an end to a fabulous season for rookie quarterback Matt Ryan and the beleaguered Falcons. Playing at home, the Cardinals looked a whole lot like the team that scored 5000 points this year and nothing like the team that never even really got off the plane in snowy New England a week ago, with MVP candidate Kurt Warner lighting it up early and often with his two favorite receivers, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Atlanta got points on the board against a dubious Cardinals defense, but in the end it was just not enough as the Cards won the shootout and advance to a 2nd-round matchup against the Carolina Panthers, who should put up a significantly better defense to counteract the league's most potent passing offense.

And as a parting gift to the Falcons, Atlanta coach Mike Smith won the Coach of the Year award by one vote over Miami's Tony Sparano over the weekend. How the hell you give this award to the 11-5 Falcons coach over the 11-5 and division-winning Dolphins coach, in particular after the Dolphins' dismal 1-15 season in 2007-2008, is just beyond me. And don't get me wrong, I give major props for what Smith did in Atlanta this year -- I wrote within the past week or two that the two men should be co-coaches of the year -- but to choose Smith, who started with a 4-12 team last year, and reject Sparano like that is just mind-boggling to me. I guess doing it all with a rookie quarterback in Atlanta made the difference? That is just a baaad decision right there.

Moving to Sunday's games, I had fully intended to post my picks of Baltimore and Philadelphia, both of which again were pretty easy picks in my view, but by the time midday came around I found myself already with a good buzz on in anticipation of one of my first full days of watching football in a good year or so, and posting in time for the early game seemed like some far-away fantasy. Nonetheless, the Ravens were I think probably the easiest pick of all four playoff games this weekend, in that their matchup with the Dolphins was very favorable for them. The Ravens have their typically weak offense that will probably keep them from advancing much further in the 2008-2009 playoffs, but that defense is as awesome as ever, and as intimidating as ever for opposing quarterbacks as well, even a veteran like Chad Pennington. In the end, Pennington is just not very mobile at all, and in applying constant pressure to him on Sunday the Ravens were able to completely disrupt his game as they have done to so many other quarterbacks old and young, completely changing him from the way his Dolphins team had so much success in 2008. After tying the all-time record for fewest turnovers lost during the 2008-2009 campaign, Miami went on a turnover binge against the Ravens, losing one fumble and with Pennington throwing not one, not two, not three but four picks, two intercepted by standout safety Ed Reed of the Ravens (one for a touchdown). Nobody, and I mean nobody, beats the Ravens after committing five turnovers, and Miami was no different as their miracle season came to an abrupt ending in front of the very appreciative hometown fans in sunny southern Florida.

And last but not least were my Eagles, traveling to Minnesota to take on purple Jesus and his division-winning Vikings. The Vikings were the only team to squeak into the playoffs under simlarly-lucky circumstances to those that conspired to bring the Eagles from the brink of mathematical elimination and into the postseason, and at 10-6 this marks the third straight year of solid improvement for head coach Brad Childress, who was most recently the offensive coordinator under Andy Reid in Philly before departing for the head coaching job in Minny. In the end, this game played out I think more or less just like everyone including myself expected it to go. Purple Jesus had one very impressive touchdown run, and the Vikings were able to move the ball ok on the Eagles for the earlier parts of the game. Meanwhile, with injury hampering the Vikings' strength of stopping the run, the Eagles in fact did rely more on the pass, including Andy Reid's patented West Coast offense handoff-style dink and dump passes, to some effect. And when it came down to crunch time, just as expected, the combination of Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook proved too much for the Vikes to handle, and moreover, the highly attackatory Eagles' defense simply overwhelmed a way over-his-head Tavarius Jackson at quarterback for Minnesota. When it came time to make the key stops in the 4th quarter for the Eagles, they simply were always blitzing, and Jackson was simply unable to make them pay for it in the way that a Peyton Manning or Brett Favre (seven years ago) would have been happy to do. Jackson obviously stinks, and once again the better team prevailed in a touch matchup that ended up being a lot closer than the 12-point final spread would indicate.

So for next week we're looking at Baltimore-Tennessee and Arizona-Carolina on Saturday and Eagles-Giants and Chargers-Steelers on Sunday. Arizona-Carolina should be a solid win for the Panthers, just as the Chargers should be easy pickings for the stifling Steelers' defense. Baltimore-Tennessee might just be the most compelling matchup of the weekend, as the NFL's top team in the regular season in Tennessee ought to be able to dispatch the highly imbalanced defense-heavy Ravens, but you can just never count them out with that huge playmaking defense, especially in combination with Kerry Collins starting for the Titans. And my Eagles will travel back to New York, where we beat the Giants just about a month ago, where our season will likely end although you can't count the Eagles out of it given their resurgence of late combined with Eli Manning's Plax-less offense in New York facing that blitz-happy Eagles front line.

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Blogger Riggstad said...

Eh hem.... Very impressive run for a touchdown?

You could have made that run if you were carrying the ball.

Obviously a blown defensive play from Johnson. They had the house coming in obvious anticipation from the pass.

He took the ball, side stepped one guy on his way off tackle, and ran untouched the rest of the way. He didn't even have to worry about two linebackers who were already through the line, and one who was in pass coverage on the opposite side of the field.

No doubt the guy is a stud, but that one 40 yard touchdown was a gift. As Dawkins pointed out in his press conference. apprently that play irked him more than anything.

I don't know if the Eagles get past the Giants. It will be a duanting task for sure. With the Giants having an extra week of preparation, and some core Eagles being banged up, they have their work cut out for them.

But let's say they do. Will there be enough left in the tank to go on the road three straight weeks and bulldoze their way into a Superbowl?

I for one am happy and satisfied with a first week playoff win. With whats been a very tumoltuous (sp?) year for the Birds, how could anyone have any more expectations than that?

The possibility makes it a very exciting time though!

10:34 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Riggs, I agree 100%. I was telling Hammer Wife just yesterday, if you had offered me make the playoffs and win one game before the Eagles' season started this year, I woulda taken that deal in a heartbeat. Anything after here is all gravy in my book.

Happy New Year bro.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Chad C said...

Mike Smith won coach of the year because he had a much tougher schedule and nearly won the best division in football..... Just bad timing for Sparano really.

4:36 AM  
Blogger Gargamello said...

An especially difficult year to call NFL football. A lot of upsets and coin flips.

I think the Cardinals will upset the Panthers if they play anything like they did on Saturday. An underrated offense there.

12:58 PM  

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