Entries from January 2009 ↓

NFL Conference Championships: The Final Four

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times…especially if you are a football fan. There are only three meaningful pro football games left in the 2008-09 season, the NFC and AFC Conference Championships today and Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Florida on February 1.

Four teams remain: the AFC #2 seed, the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4, 1-0); NFC #4 seed, Arizona Cardinals (9-7, 2-0); and two #6 seeds, the wild card Baltimore Ravens (11-5, 2-0) from the AFC North and the NFC East wild card Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1, 2-0).

For those of us who root for the last season Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, that fact is bittersweet. The Gmen played and defeated all of those teams this year and had they gotten past the Eagles last week, would have been favored to repeat. But that’s water under the bridge.

Philadelphia comes off that 23-11 victory with another necessary road trip to the Arizona desert to face a surprising Cardinals team that has advanced further in the playoffs than at any time in the franchise’s 60-year history. Quarterback Donovan McNabb has been this year’s whipping boy for Philly sports fans after a rocky mid-season and a one-game benching. He’s trying to get them back their first Super Bowl since 2005 and this is his fifth trip to the conference championship. He’ll need a running game from banged up Brian Westbrook, whose knee caused him to practice on a limited basis this week. Otherwise he’ll be dependent on an unheralded receiver corps.

Defense has always been the Eagles strong suit and they will need to step up against a Cardinals offense that has suddenly found balance. Running back Edgerrin James has had 130 yards rushing and 1 touchdown in two playoff games, and Quarterback Kurt Warner has receiver Anquan Boldin back to compliment the always dangerous Larry Fitzgerald and provide a double passing threat.

Arizona is at home in front of one of the noisiest crowds in the NFL. My heart is with the Eagles—I’d like to see Donovan silence his detractors, and have an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl—but my head is telling me otherwise.

Since I’ve already tipped my hand about my AFC pick, let me just explain my rationale.

It’s another AFC North battle between two teams that know each other and don’t like each other. The Steelers have taken both meetings this season—23-20 in Week 4, 13-9 in Week 15 on a controversial last minute touchdown call. While it is hard to beat a team three times in one season, it will also be hard to beat the Steelers #1 ranked defense and stop their running back Willie Parker, with injuries to linebacker Terrell Suggs (questionable, with a shoulder injury) and cornerback Samari Rolle (doubtful, thigh). Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco will be playing in his biggest game to date against a team that will show him multiple schemes. His receiver, veteran Derrick Mason, is also questionable with a knee injury.

I went 2-2 in last week’s picks and I’m 4-4 for the entire post season. This weekend’s predictions are in bold:

NFL Conference Championships

Sunday, January 18, 2009

NFC

Philadelphia Eagles vs Arizona Cardinals
3:00 PM ET FOX

AFC

Baltimore Ravens vs Pittsburgh Steelers
6:30 PM ET CBS

NFL Division Playoffs: Divide and Conquer

The NFL playoffs move into their second round this weekend with divisional matchups that pit winners from the Wild Card round against top seeds who enjoyed last week off. For any of those Wild Card winners to get to Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, they’ll have to run the table on the road from here on out. This weekend, that won’t be easy.

Saturday’s first game however, presents possibly the best chance for a road team to get a win. The Baltimore Ravens (11-5, 1-0) travel to Tennessee (13-3, 0-0) to face the AFC’s top seed, who beat them 13-10 in a defensive struggle in Week 5. The Ravens then went 10-2 the rest of the season and bring a dominating defense, led by linebacker Ray Lewis, and ball hawk Ed Reed, who has 10 interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two touchdowns in his last seven games.

Tennessee has balance on offense and defense and can run the ball, although their ground game has been inconsistent in recent weeks and they will be without center Kevin Mawae. Quarterback Kerry Collins is enjoying a phenomenal late career resurgence, but the last time he faced the Ravens in the post season was in Super Bowl XXXV when Baltimore beat the Giants 34-7. He may have a similar outcome.

In the late game, the Arizona Cardinals (9-7, 1-0) travel to Carolina to play the Panthers (12-4, 0-0), looking for just their second playoff game in franchise history. Their defense has been very spotty against the run and will face a solid two-pronged Panthers running game with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and a potent passing game with QB Jake Delhomme and the always dangerous receiver Steve Smith. The Cardinals lost to the Panthers 27-23 in Week 8 and are 0-5 when traveling to teams on the east coast.

Sunday has the battle for bragging rights along the New Jersey Turnpike as two NFC East rivals face off for the third time this season. The Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1, 1-0) visit the NFC’s top seed, the New York Giants (12-4, 0-0). They’ve both won on the other team’s field, Giants winning Week 10, 36-31; the Eagles took Week 14, 20-14. Expected winter storms will not be a factor. Establishing the run will. The Giants will have a healthy Brandon Jacobs back, while Philly runs behind Brian Westbrook.

The last game of the weekend has San Diego (8-8, 1-0) without injured running back LaDainian Tomlinson, traveling to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers (12-4, 0-0). Darren Sproles had to carry the load for the Chargers last week in their overtime win over Indianapolis, but he’ll be facing the NFL’s Number 1 defense. Ben Roethlisberger had last week to recover from a concussion suffered in Week 17. With a clear head and some winter weather, they should have the edge against the team from Southern California.

I went 2-2 in last week’s picks. My predictions are in bold:

NFL Divisional Playoffs

Saturday, January 10, 2009

AFC

Baltimore Ravens vs Tennessee Titans

NFC

Arizona Cardinals vs Carolina Panthers

Sunday, January 11, 2009

NFC

Philadelphia Eagles vs New York Giants

AFC

San Diego Chargers vs Pittsburgh Steelers

The NFL’s Second Season

The National Football League post season gets underway this weekend with the wild card matchups, and the way the regular season played out, it’s anybody’s guess which teams will make it to Super Bowl XLIII.

Much to the delight of this New York Giants fan (that’s defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants), the odds-on preseason favorite Dallas Cowboys didn’t even make the playoffs. They did their usual December nosedive under the erratic arm of Tony Romo and the “me first” undisciplined attitude of just about everyone else, but most notably Terrell Owens.

Despite an 11-5 record, the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots (the same Pats who lost to the Giants to finish 18-1 last year), didn’t make the playoffs either. The always hapless Detroit Lions set new standards for futility, becoming the first NFL team to go 0-16. They fired their coach, as did Cleveland, the Jets, and Denver. Wade Phillips in Dallas and Herman Edwards at Kansas City, also rumored to be on the hot seat, are safe for now, while San Francisco took the interim tag off Mike Singletary’s head coach title. The St. Louis Rams are also looking for their permanent head man.

Which brings us now to this weekend’s games.

A surprising Atlanta Falcons team (11-5) out of the NFC South, with a new coach in Mike Smith and a rookie QB, Matt Ryan, have made people forget all about Michael Vick and his dog fighting controversy. They have a squad that can establish the run and go to the air when needed, and enough of a pass rush to cause trouble for a team that relies on the passing game.

The Arizona Cardinals (9-7), winners of the NFC West have limped into the post season, winning two of their last five games and only going 1-5 against conference opponents. With QB Kurt Warner and receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, they can throw the ball around the field. But can they run?

In Saturday’s late AFC game, 12-4 Indianapolis, from the AFC South, travels to 8-8 San Diego, out of the weak West Division. A breaking news story is that the Chargers star running back LaDainian Tomlinson has a groin tear and his status will be decided just before the game. No matter, they lack the depth on either side of the ball to be much of a problem for the Colts.

Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens (11-5) from the AFC North, always dangerous on defense but now more balanced on offense under rookie head coach John Harbough, travel to Miami to take a resurgent Dolphins team, 11-5 this season after going 1-15 just last season. Dolphins QB Chad Pennington, acquired from the Jets when they signed Brett Favre, was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year last week. His counterpart on the Ravens, rookie Joe Flacco, has demonstrated considerable maturity for a first year player. Neither quarterback is asked to carry the load and has running and passing weapons to draw upon.

Finally, the second game is perhaps the most intriguing. The 9-6-1 Philadelphia Eagles from the NFC East, who knocked off the Cowboys in week 17 to get into the playoffs, travel to NFC North winning Minnesota Vikings (10-6) who kicked a last second field goal against the Giants in their final game to get in. The Eagles are possibly the most dangerous team in the post season. They went 4-1 in their last five games, have an always dangerous defense and seem to be peaking at the right time. The Vikings have an inexperienced quarterback in Tarvaris Jackson who will need to read the complex Eagles defensive schemes to keep off the turf.

Here are my picks in bold:

Wild Card Weekend

Saturday, January 3, 2009

NFC

Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals
4:30 PM ET – NBC

AFC

Indianapolis Colts at San Diego Chargers
8:00 PM ET – NBC

Sunday, January 4, 2009

AFC

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
1:00 PM ET – CBS

NFC

Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings
4:30 PM ET – FOX

New Beginnings

Happy New Year! Did you miss me?

Maintaining this blog is getting harder and harder as my interests shift. I took two weeks off from work for the holidays and never once thought of blogging. Perhaps that’s indicative of something deeper. Of the very long list of other bloggers I follow, I seemed to just skim them when and if I bothered to read at all.

The new year is starting off for me pretty much the way the old one ended. I’m in need of change. I don’t make resolutions but rather a master “To Do List” for the year, with a list of projects to be accomplished, all related to larger life goals I have set for myself. I’ll keep you posted on how things develop.