Monday, January 11, 2010

Wildcard Weekend Whoopass

As usual, the NFL delivered in a big way this weekend with its wildcard round of playoff games for the 2009-2010 season, games which I was actually able to watch most of for a change. I went 2-2 overall with my picks, which isn't great obviously but at the same time it is (1) far better than my picks performed over the last four weeks of the regular season, and (2) not as bad as it looks, considering that now I am "forcing" myself to pick each playoff game instead of just getting to choose my favorite lines and only cherry-picking those in connection with each week's games. Even in the two games I lost, I had a general idea of how the games were likely to go, but I just ended up on the wrong side of the bet in the end.

First on Saturday afternoon there was the Jets - Bengals game, which saw the Jets shock the world (but not you if you read my picks on Friday) in pretty much beating down on the Bengals for the second straight week, both games at Cincinnati. I don't know what much there is to say about this game for the Bengals, who I will show some respect to by not calling them the "Bungles" again even though the way this season ended definitely has me thinking they will be back to the Bungles come next season. Suffice it to say that this could be the poster-child for why you do not necessarily come out and give up in Week 17 for the purpose of "hiding the ball" a little bit when you know are are probably facing a team again the very next week in the playoffs. Turns out the Bengals hid the ball so much in Week 17 that they couldn't even find it again when it came to play in the wildcard round, and the Jets stuck it to them. On offense, the Bengals clearly have a problem passing the ball. Ochocinco is not what he used to be, and the loss of Chris Henry and TJ Houshmanzadeh over the past year is really felt by Cincinnati. And my guess is that Carson Palmer's injured thumb plays a much bigger role than he has been letting on, as he looks like a shadow of his former self. And give the Jets a boatload of credit here, as they continued with the game plan of the last few weeks of the regular season which involves not asking rookie qb Mark Sanchez to do much at all in the games. Instead they just pile up the rushing yards, which the Bengals were all too happy to cede for the second straight week at home, and in this game they only asked Sanchise to throw the ball 15 times total, which again is the only winning strategy for this team in my book. Sure, Sanchise only had one touchdown pass on Saturday -- not counting the wide open one dropped by Braylon "Butterfingers" Edwards in the first half -- but he went a very efficient 12 for 15 on the day for 182 yards, and more importantly, he had zero interceptions as well in his first playoff game. This one clearly went to the better team in the Jets, which I don't see how or why anyone would argue after the last two weeks between these two foes.

The second game on Saturday was the one game I did not see coming, but really, being an Eagles fan, I should have. For the second straight week, the Eagles could really get nothing going against the Dallas Cowboys, and doing nothing is not going to keep you in the game for long against this Dallas team, especially in their gorgeous new stadium. Sure in my picks I took the points against a team of proven losers in Romo, Wade Phillips et al on a Cowboys squad that hadn't won a playoff game since 1996, but betting with history was not the best idea in retrospect as compared to betting based on the game I watched the week before where the Cowboys also obliterated the Eagles. Anyways, kudos to Dallas for going out and grabbing this victory from the hated Eagles, but boy did the Eagles make it easy for them, starting, as usual with the head coach. Andy Reid has a stellar record over his career in the regular season as a head coach. As I mentioned previously, this is Andy's 9th trip to the playoffs in the last 11 seasons as head coach of the Eagles, a record that is truly remarkable especially given the parity year in and year out in the NFL of all the professional sports leagues in this country. But, as any longtime Eagles fan knows, Andy Reid's vagina shuts up tighter than a nun's heading into any big game, a pattern that unfortunately for Eagles fans has managed to repeat itself again and again and again over all those years of regular season success with Reid at the helm. For the second straight week, the Eagles came out listless on both sides of the ball, allowing the Cowboys to march down the field on their first few possessions on defense, while McNabb fired his patented bullets into the ground five feet away from open receivers on offense, and all through the game for the second straight week the team made almost no effort whatsoever to throw the ball downfield to big play receiver DeSean Jackson. Combine this with the fact that the Cowboys secondary stuck to Philly's wideouts like glue all night long, and the result was a confused McNabb looking repeatedly from one receiver to the next without anyone to throw too from beginning to end. Dallas will travel to Minnesota next week in a game that I could see being a real shootout, along with the other NFC playoff game which is almost sure to feature some high-powered offense next weekend as well.

The first Sunday game was without a doubt the highlight of the weekend, as the New England Cheatriots came out and shat the bed in a big way, more or less just like I thought they would against the Ravens even though they had not previously lost a game at home all season. After losing Wes Welker early in the game in Week 17, and with Randy Moss playing all lackluster already here late in the season, and no real running game to speak of, and a questionable defense, the Pats came out flat and deflated and ready to call it a season, allowing Ray Rive to scamper for 83 yards and a score on the very first play from scrimmage, and the Ravens simply never let up from there. In the end, Tom Brady threw for just 154 yards on 23 completions for an anemic 6.6 yards per completion, including a fumble and three picks on the day as Brady compiled his worst-ever playoff qb rating of 49.1 on the day, and while the Cheatriots could muster nothing on the ground either, the Ravens plowed ahead, outgaining the Pats on the ground 234 yards to 64 yards in what proved to be the crucial stat of the day. The final score of 33-14 does not even encapsulate just how bad of a blowout this game was, with the Ravens up 14-0 within the first five minutes of the game in New England, and up 24-0 in the first quarter before the Pats could even muster up their first scoring drive of the game. It was so ugly, and the Pats made so little effort to come back in any way, that Baltimore qb Joe Flacco only had to throw the ball 10 times on the day, with his team comfortably in front and able to wear the Pats down with repeated assaults on the ground, even when the Cheatriots knew that was exactly what was coming. It was as bad of a beatdown as you almost ever see in the NFL playoffs these days.

Worth mentioning with respect to the Ravens - Pats game was just how badly the referees tried to help the Cheatriots get back into things in the second half with some of the worst refereeing ineptitude you will ever see in the NFL. First they awarded the ball to the Cheatriots after a punt in the third quarter nicked the shoulder of a Ravens player before being recovered by the Cheatriots, only to see on the replay that clearly the Pats player had not taken possession of the ball before knocking it out of bounds. For some reason the Ravens failed to challenge this play even though it was as clear as the day is long that the call was blown and the referees had no business missing something so clear-cut. But only about 3 minutes of game time later, early in the 4th quarter, came perhaps the worst call of a season mired by utterly atrocious refereeing, when the Ravens scored to go ahead 33-14 and decided to go for the 2-point conversion. Baltimore's player took the ball and pounded ahead towards the goal line, reaching over and causing most of his teammates on the field to raise their arms in the touchdown motion as they thought the ball had in fact "crossed the plane" of the goal line. Apparently though that's not the actual rule, because the refs on the field said he did not score, and they even reviewed the instant replay play in the booth, where -- of fucking course -- the refs opted not to overrule the call on the field that he had not crossed the plane. This, while NBC is showing the replay again and again that shows not just the nose of the ball, and not just an inch of the ball, but fully more than half the ball, not just touching the beginning of the white goal line (which is a touchdown, for those who know the rules of the NFL), and not just nearing the paint of the end zone, but more than half the ball sticking over the other side of the white goal line and over the colored end zone grass. How any self-respecting asshat with eyes could watch that replay and possibly argue anything other than that it was an obvious touchdown is beyond me, and beyond the sensibility of every single other human being watching that game. Thankfully, the Cheatriots had absolutely no heart and no comeback in them whatsoever on this day, and no way that the refs intentionally tried to alter the outcome of this game was going to have any effect. Once again the better team won and the Ravens will now advance to play the Colts in Indy next weekend.

Lastly was the 51-45 all-time NFL postseason shootout between the defending NFC champion Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers. I picked the Packers in a pickem here, and this was one game that the oddsmakers basically nailed, as the game went into overtime at 45-45 after the Packers mounted a ferocious, incredible comeback that saw them score five touchdowns in the second half including the game-tying one with under two minutes to go in the game. Although the notion of defense is obviously completely anathema to either team in this matchup, the offensive prowess in this game was utterly sick, in particular the passing games which saw Green Bay throw for 422 yards and the Cardinals for 379. Kurt Warner has got to be the story in this one though, after finishing his day an incredible 29-33 for 379 yards and 5 picks, the only time I have ever heard of where a quarterback finished a game with more touchdowns (5) than incompletions (4) on the day. Zona's offense crushed so badly that they amazingly only faced five third down plays in the entire game, going 3 for 5 but showing just how well the Cards were pounding the Packers' laughable excuse for a defense on the first three downs of every series. I mean, can you imagine running up 51 points and 531 yards of total offense, while only facing five third downs in the entire game, including overtime? And Kurt Warner's postseason record is becoming flat-out ridiculous, with Kurt now sporting 31 touchdowns to just 13 picks in 24 post-season games against touch competition, inluding incredibly the three best yardage games in superbowl history (414 against the Titans, 377 vs. the Steelers and 365 against the Cheatriots), the most career super bowl passing yardage with 1156, while Warner's 1147 yards and 11 passing touchdowns in last year's postseason also has him the record for most yards passing and most touchdowns in a single post-season. Warner's 66.5% career completion percentage in the post-season is also an NFL record, while his 104.6 career postseason qb rating is second only to Bart Starr himself. And Warner is already only the second quarterback to ever throw for five touchdowns in a playoff game two separate times. And now Warner will ride his Cardinals into New Orleans for a huge matchup next Saturday afternoon with the NFC 1 seed in the Saints, in a game that could easily be a repeat shootout of what we saw last night in Arizona. How I cannot wait for that one.

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Blogger Riggstad said...

I've long been a supporter of Reid for his ability to win. No matter what the circumstances are, injuries or whatever, he has always been able to produce a playoff caliber team.

ahem... HOWEVER,

You hit the nail right on the head with his vaj closing up when the season is on the line and it's obvious that drastic measures are needed.

What gets you there is not always what will get you past. It was painfully obvious that McNabb would not be able to scramble his way out of that mess, evident of all the pressure, sacks and hurries he took during the game (and the last weeks game).

The only chance the Eagles had of winning that game was to give the ball to Vick and let him try to run around or through the pressure. Andy never gets it on that level. There is no tomorrow.

Oh well... here's to another painstakingly sled of a season for next year. Hopefully something drastic happens.

5:29 AM  

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