Posts Tagged ‘nfl’

And thus begins another year’s NFL Playoffs.

Considering the defending champions (Baltimore Ravens) and defending NFC No. 1 seed (Atlanta Falcons) both missed the playoffs, this postseason presents big change opportunities. Saturday’s match-ups feature prime examples of such opportunities.

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts – Saturday Jan. 4 (4:35 PM ET)

Chiefs vs ColtsThe No. 4 vs No. 5 seed match-up may be the closest game to call. It’s no surprise then to discover a litany of parallels between the teams.

Both teams feature a starting QB that was the No. 1 overall draft pick, Alex Smith from the 2005 draft and Andrew Luck from the 2012 draft.

Both the Colts and Chiefs went from last place in the NFL to securing a wildcard spot the following year, the Colts from 2012 to 2013 and the Chiefs from 2013 to this current season.

Thanks, in part, to a disastrous AFC South Division, the Colts seemingly coasted to the division title. Such was the not the case for the Chiefs’ AFC West, which features the No. 1 seed Broncos and both the Wildcard teams (Chiefs and Chargers respectively).

Terrible division aside, the Colts certainly boasted perhaps the most impressive out-of-division record, having beaten the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and the Chiefs themselves. In fact, the Colts held the Chiefs to a season-low seven points.

Arguments may be made that the Chiefs had already locked up a playoff spot by that point and lacked luster. However, I believe the Colts, and more specifically Andrew Luck, have proven themselves true contenders.

Ultimately this game will come down to defense and which team can win the turnover battle.

Prediction: Chiefs win 27-24.chiefs

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles – Saturday Jan. 4th (8:10 PM ET)

Saints vs Eagles

The second Saturday game brings a sense of resurrection.

In the Saints’ case, this comes with the reinstatement of previously suspended Head Coach Sean Payton. Payton’s absence was almost unanimously understood to be the cause of the Saints’ poor season in 2012-13.

The postseason resurrection of the Philadelphia Eagles is two-fold. One, the hiring of the former Oregon Ducks’ Head Coach Chip Kelly and two, the Dallas Cowboys’ narrow throat.

The most interesting aspect of this match-up, in my opinion, is that each team’s offensive strength is the other’s defensive weakness. The Eagles own the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL while the Saints’ rush defense ranks 19th. The Saints are the No. 2 passing team in the NFL while the Eagles rank dead last in pass defense.

I tend to give the edge to the team with the better run game in a cold atmosphere, which Philly will definitely provide. However, Drew Brees and Co. are hungry and I cannot see an NFC “Least” team with a first year starter taking down the Saints.

Prediction: Saints win 31-24 Saints

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Sunday, January 20th, 2013

***(2) San Francisco 49ers at (1) Atlanta Falcons: 3:00 PM ET (FOX)***

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The San Francisco 49ers put on perhaps the most impressive offensive showing against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Round, winning 45-31. Perhaps most impressive about the win, was the fact that the Packers kept it close late, tying the game 24-24 midway through the third quarter, before Colin Kaepernick led three straight touchdown drives, putting the game out of Green Bay’s reach.

The Atlanta Falcons were considered by many analysts to be the most likely home team to lose their Divisional Round matchup – and they nearly did. The Seattle Seahawks, once again, had to come back from a multiple-touchdown deficit. With 30 seconds left in the game, the Seahawks scored to go ahead 28-27. However, Matt Ryan was not about to be denied a playoff win, yet again, and led the Falcons down the field to set up Matt Bryant for the game winning, 49-yard field goal.

Prediction: The Atlanta Falcons are in for a very rude awakening. If they can keep Matt Ryan on his feet, they might only lose by 10. San Francisco wins 42-21.

***(4) Baltimore Ravens at (2) New England Patriots: 6:30 PM ET (CBS)***

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In the more thrilling of the two AFC Divisional Round games, the Baltimore Ravens beat the Denver Broncos in overtime 38-35. The Broncos were a heavy favorite due to in no small part to their 11-game win streak. The last game the Broncos had lost was to the New England Patriots, Baltimore’s upcoming opponent.

The Patriots put a 41-28 beating to the Houston Texans, reminiscent of the 42-14 destruction of Week 14. The Pats are hoping not to have another repeat this week of their matchup during the regular season with the Ravens, when they lost 31-30. Both teams have been through a lot since then and this game looks to be a real block buster.

Prediction: The Ravens lost a heart-breaker in last year’s AFC Conference Championship game to the Patriots after a dropped TD pass and a missed field goal. This year, they get their revenge. Baltimore wins 35-31.

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

***(4) Baltimore Ravens at (1) Denver Broncos: 4:30 PM ET (CBS)***

The Baltimore Ravens handled their business against the Indianapolis Colts at home Sunday afternoon, winning 24-9. With Ray Lewis spotlighted in an emotional return, after tearing his left arm triceps muscle mid-season, the Baltimore defense shined most brightly, allowing zero touchdowns and 3 field goals.
This week the Ravens travel to Denver to play perhaps the one team no one wants to face: the Broncos. Denver is well rested, enjoying a much deserved first round bye. Considering they played the Kansas City Chiefs in their season finale, they really have been off for two weeks.

Prediction: Because the Ravens played such a stellar game against the Colts, they will likely play the Broncos down to the wire. That said, Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning. Denver wins 27-21.

***(3) Green Bay Packers at (2) San Francisco 49ers: 8:00 PM ET (FOX)***

The Green Bay Packers rolled over the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field Saturday, winning 24-10. The score of this game doesn’t explain much about how it went. The Vikings put the first points on the board with an early field goal, but fell behind 17-3 by halftime. Green Bay managed just one more score in the second half, going up 24-3 in the third quarter. Minnesota capped the game with an essentially meaningless touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Standing in the Packers way this week are the San Francisco 49ers, perhaps the remaining NFC team most feared. The 49ers beat the Packers on the road in Week 1, however, both teams are far from where they were. The “Niners” are led by a different quarterback, altogether.

Prediction: 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh is under a major microscope this week, as his decision to swap Alex Smith out for Colin Kaepernick was a hot topic. If Green Bay beats San Francisco when Smith beat the Packers earlier this season…don’t check your email/texts/mailbox Jim. San Francisco wins 35-20.

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

***(5) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Atlanta Falcons: 1:00 PM ET (FOX)***

The Seattle Seahawks are the only wild card team left in the playoffs and are rolling. In Washington D.C., the Redskins went up early 14-0 in the first quarter and looked to be in control when Robert Griffin III suffered another knee injury and wasn’t the same.
The Atlanta Falcons have the NFC’s best record (13-3) but seemingly have yet to earn a consensus respect the #1 team usually commands. With an unmatched passing attack, Atlanta will put up a formidable test for Seattle’s gritty secondary.

Prediction: Seattle needs to make sure they don’t get behind to Matt Ryan or they might not escape again. That said, Seattle wins 28-24.

***(3) Houston Texans at (2) New England Patriots: 4:30 PM ET (CBS)***

In a less than stimulating opening game, the Houston Texans held off the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 at home to slip into the divisional round and must now face the Patriots in Foxborough, MA.
The Patriots have wonderful memories of facing the Texans in Week 14 in their house to the tune of 42-14.

Prediction: Expect a similar outcome to Week 14, as the Patriots will be itching to get back to the Super Bowl. New England wins 38-17.

SAN FRANCISCO – With the “What have you done for me lately?” attitude found everywhere throughout the sports world, there are numerous occasions when single game performances, good and bad, are blown way out of proportion. At the root of such occasions a common theme can be found – expectations. Perhaps no quarterback in the NFL has to fight lower expectations than Alex Smith.

This has never been more evident than after the 49ers beat the Seattle Seahawks 13-6 in the week seven, “Thursday Night Football” game in Candlestick Park on October 18, 2012.

Smith did not play his best game of this season by far. He completed 14 of 23 passes for 140 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Very mediocre numbers by NFL quarterback standards. The reaction to Smith’s performance, however, was not standard for this type of performance.

Rewind to just after week five – Alex Smith and the 49ers were coming off of the most lopsided victory of the 2012 season, beating the Buffalo Bills 45-3. In fact, of all 92 NFL games played this season, the 49ers own two of the three largest margins of victory (34-0 over the New York Jets ranks third).

Going into the highly anticipated week six match-up against the 2012 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, Smith was receiving praise, not for “managing” football games, as was the case during the 2011-’12 season, but as a true leader and veteran capable of leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory in 2013. A poor outing by Smith put an end to that.

Smith threw three interceptions in a 26-3 defeat at the hands of the Giants and once again, murmurings of Smith’s inabilities resurfaced.

Pregame analysis for the Seahawks match-up was littered with doubts of Smith’s capability to get the Niners to the “promised land.” Anything less than a perfect game against Seattle was predestined to attract scorn from the naysayers, chomping at the bit to compare Smith in a bad light to the Aaron Rodgers and Tom Bradys of the league. But is that fair?

Let’s do that comparison using concrete facts. Luckily for us, both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have faced the Seattle Seahawks this season (the Patriots just the week before the 49ers), so it shouldn’t be difficult.

Here are the passing stats:

Alex Smith – (14/23) 140 yards 1 TD 1 INT

Aaron Rodgers – (26/39) 223 yards 0 TD 0 INT

Tom Brady – (36/58) 395 yards 2 TD 2 INT

Looking at the stat lines, all three QBs completed over sixty percent of their passes (Rodgers – 66.7%, Brady – 62.1%, Smith – 60.9%) and each threw an equal number of touchdowns to interceptions. Smith ranks right between the two, throwing for more TDs than Rodgers yet less INTs than Brady.

Smith out-shined both Rodgers and Brady in his touchdown passes per completion percentage (Smith – 7%, Brady – 2.7%, Rodgers – 0%). He also finished between the former MVPs in yards per attempt (Brady – 6.8 yards/att., Smith – 6.1 yards/att., Rodgers – 5.7 yards/att.).

The glaring hypocrisy of the whole mess is that the Patriots and the Packers both lost to the Seahawks, whereas, the 49ers won. The story line after the Packers’ loss was the terrible call that gave Seattle the victory over Green Bay. After the Patriots’ loss it was how great a comeback the Seahawks mounted over the Pats, once again winning on a last second pass play.

Neither Tom Brady nor Aaron Rodgers received even a tenth of the criticism that Smith received, even though Smith compares not only similarly, but in some areas more favorably than both Brady and Rodgers. Why?

Expectations – and it’s about time they changed.

Smith ranks tenth in the NFL in Total QBR (quarterback rating) this season. He ranks ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Phillip Rivers and 14 other starters.

Smith has the highest Total QBR in a single game this season (99.2 on a 100 scale). This game is also the fifth highest rating of any quarterback in any game since 2008.

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08...

Image via Wikipedia

The New England Patriots will face the New York Giants February 5, 2012 in Super Bowl XLVI.

Tom Brady leads the Patriots into their 7th Super Bowl in franchise history (5th in the last decade). Brady was the Patriots starting quarterback in the previous four “big dances” with a dramatic loss to Eli Manning and the New York Giants in 2008 being his most recent.

Eli Manning leads the Giants to their 5th Super Bowl all time and 3rd since 2001. The Giants pulled off what many believe to be possibly the biggest upset in NFL history when they beat the 18-0 New England Patriots just four years earlier in Super Bowl XLII.

It seemed this season the final four teams remaining in the playoffs weren’t there to mess around. Both conference championships were hotly contested to the last blow of the whistle. The “Pats” and “G-men” won their respective Conference Championship games by three points (Patriots 23-20 over the Baltimore Ravens and Giants 20-17 over the San Francisco 49ers).

Interestingly enough, the number three seems to be a very significant number for the Tom Brady.

All four Super Bowl’s Brady has played in have been decided by three points (20-17, 32-29, 24-21, 14-17).

Three is also the number of Super Bowl rings Brady dons. Surely Brady has plans of changing that number to four.

The key to this game is going to be the New England defense. The New York Giants’ defense has been playing lock down defense the last 6 games and the New England offense is as dangerous as any New York has faced, including the Green Bay Packers.

Eli Manning during a 2007 training camp

Image via Wikipedia

However, with the emergence of Victor Cruz the second half of this season, I would argue the Giants’ offense stands just as much chance of breaking a game open as the Patriots. Thus, the New England defense must have all hands on deck February 5th because they are far from the caliber defense the 49ers field.

The Giants are the best team in the NFL at getting pressure on a quarterback with just the front four. Alex Smith found that out in the NFC Championship game, being flushed from the pocket play after play.

Because of how well the Giants have played as a complete team the last 7 games, I like their chances of winning this 2008 rematch.

Prediction: Giants 27 Patriots 24

And then there were four.

The New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers have proven themselves the best four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs and each from very different paths.

AFC Championship – New England vs Baltimore:

New England has been exactly what was expected. High powered offense led by the great Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the helm of it all. The Patriots finished the season #1 in the AFC with a 13-3 record.

After two straight years of playoff let-downs, losing at home in the first round, the Patriots made quick work of the miraculous Broncos and Tim Tebow. They now face the challenge of fending off the Baltimore Ravens.

Baltimore proved at times to be the opposite of the Patriots, winning with stout defense led by veterans Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata and an average offense led by Joe Flaco and Ray Rice.

The Ravens finished the season with a 12-4 record and #2 overall in the AFC. Many analysts favored the Ravens to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl before the season started, mainly due to the punishing defense and offensive capabilities.

Throughout the season, the Ravens seemed to be plagued by shortcomings against teams far less talented. Their 4 losses during the season were to the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, and the San Diego Chargers. The only team of these four with a winning record was the Titans and it was an unimpressive 9-7 in a weak AFC South division.

However, they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals in both home and away meetings, and beat the San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore.

When the Pats and Ravens meet this Sunday, January 22 at 3 PM ET the key matchup will undisputedly be the New England offense against the Baltimore defense.

If the Ravens are able to get to Brady early and often, they may well be able to disrupt the Patriots rhythm and give Flaco a chance to take advantage of a horrid New England defense, which is ranked second to last in opponent yards allowed this season. However, with how uncharacteristically well the Patriots defense played against the Broncos, the Ravens may need more than their defense to win this game.

Prediction: New England 35 – Baltimore 24

NFC Championship – San Francisco 49ers vs New York Giants:

The San Francisco 49ers are coming off of an instant classic that could end up rivaling some of the all-time classic games of Montana and Young. Just how much bigger does this game become should the 49ers go on to win the Super Bowl? And don’t think for a second that isn’t exactly what the goal of every single player in that locker room is.

On top of that, this team has an aura of winning and success around them. They are as confident as any team in the NFL. Some may try to find excuses for his great play when the answer is obvious. Alex Smith plays with poise again for the first time seemingly since Utah.  Smith can play without error and in clutch situations because he knows the coach and the team have his back.

They believe in the guy. And for good reason. Smith did what only 3 other teams have done this season. Beat the Saints.

The New York Giants are coming off of a huge upset over the Green Bay Packers, #1 seed overall and highly favored to repeat as Super Bowl champs this season.

Eli Manning proved why he considers himself an elite quarterback in the NFL with a 21-33, 330 yards and 3 touchdown effort Sunday, January 15, 2012.

One could argue that the Packers gave away opportunity after opportunity that day with wide receivers dropping pass after pass.

There is no doubt that the Giants have one of the NFL’s best pass rushes. The front four for the “G-men” can put pressure on a quarterback that most other teams require 5+ rushers to accomplish.

Led by Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, the New York Giants defense may be the only hope of victory.

The Giants did play the 49ers earlier this season, remember. San Francisco 27 – New York 20

Prediction: San Francisco 49ers 30 – New York Giants 17

Super Bowl: San Francisco vs New England

 

Saturday January 14, 2012 marked the first playoff game for the San Francisco 49ers since 2002.

The 49ers entered the 2012 playoffs as the NFC’s #2 seed, earning a home game against the #3 seeded New Orleans Saints.

The Saints finished the 2011-’12 regular season with a 13-3 record identical to the Niners, but lost the tie breaker for having a worse record against NFC teams. Because of the dominating fashion in which the Saints ended their season, many analysts (including Las Vegas odds makers) favored New Orleans on the road.

Those who did pick the 49ers, sited the stellar defense and kicking game as their reason in most cases, dismissing the offense, specifically quarterback Alex Smith, as a liability that needed overcoming in order to win.

 The defense got the opportunity to prove itself first, as San Francisco deferred the kickoff to the second half, giving New Orleans first possession on offense.

Drew Brees drove down the field almost with ease it seemed, entering the red zone in 8 plays.

On 3rd and 6 at the San Francisco 7 yard line, Brees threw a dump pass to Pierre Thomas, who was drilled by Donte Whitner, causing Thomas to fumble the ball while being knocked out cold. Thomas left the game for good.

Alex Smith led the Niners to a 1st quarter 17-0 lead, throwing 2 touchdowns to Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.

Brees answered with 2 touchdowns of his own, pulling to within 3 points at 17-14.

The two teams then traded field goals to make it 23-17 San Francisco.

New Orleans took its first lead on a 44 yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles and went up 24-23 with 4:02 remaining in the game.

San Francisco drove down the field and Alex Smith ran the ball in for a touchdown from 28 yards out. The Niners then decided to go for the 2-point conversion to make it a 7 point game but failed to get the ball into the end zone on a draw play to Frank Gore, leaving the score 29-24 with 2:11 left.

Summoning the offensive greatness the Saints displayed all season long, Brees threw a perfect pass to Jimmy Graham for 66 yards and a touchdown.

New Orleans also went for two only they were able to convert, putting the Saints up by 3 (32-29).

With 1:32 remaining in the game, San Francisco had their backs to the wall and the pressure was on. With David Akers kicking on your team, much of that pressure is relieved.

The Niners started their drive from their own 15 yard line. On the fourth play of the drive, Smith connected with Vernon Davis for 47 yards to the New Orleans 20 yard line, giving the 49ers the distance desired to at least tie the game on a field goal.

After a 6 yard pass to Frank Gore and a ball spike, Alex Smith called an over the middle cross pattern route to his primary target Davis.

The pass was a thing a beauty. Smith fired the ball through defenders into the waiting arms of Davis, as he fell into the end zone, the crowd erupting in sheer elation.

It was reminiscent of the Niners legends of old. “The Play” Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, “The Catch II” Steve Young to Terrell Owens, and now “The Grab” Alex Smith to Vernon Davis.

The 49ers proved they belong in the upper ranks with the championship contenders. And what’s more, Alex Smith proved himself a Super Bowl worthy quarterback.

Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos have done it again.

Sunday, December 4, 2011 Tebow led Denver into Minnesota to face the Vikings with hopes of not only a victory, but a lead in the AFC West division.

The first half went as usual for the Broncos, little offensive productivity. The Broncos managed just one first down and no points on offense. The defense, however, capitalized on an interception thrown by Christian Ponder to Mario Haggan, which he returned for a TD.

Percy Harvin did his best to keep Minnesota in the lead, catching 8 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns (both in the second half). The second TD for Harvin came in the fourth quarter with 9:53 remaining to put the Vikings up 29-21.

The Broncos quickly responded, scoring on a drive that took only two plays (a 42 yard pass from Tebow to Demaryius Thomas and a 24 yard scamper into the end zone from Willis McGahee). Tebow then did what he does best, found the end zone on his feet for the successful two point conversion, tying the game at 29 apiece.

With the clock winding down, the atmosphere was all too familiar for Bronco fans, game within a score and Tebow at the helm.

In the dramatic fashion that is synonymous with Tim Tebow, the Broncos forced a turnover with just over a minute remaining and the ball on the Minnesota 15 yard line.

Matt Prater punched a chip shot field goal through as time expired, vaulting Denver into first place atop their division with a 7-5 record, holding the tie-break over Oakland.

Tim Tebow is now 6-1 as the starter for Denver this year with victories over Miami, Oakland, Kansas City, New York Jets, San Diego, and now Minnesota.

The Broncos will host Cutler-less Chicago and offensive powerhouse New England over the next two weeks.

If the defense can continue to keep opposing offenses in check, look for “St. Timothy” to continue drawing upon his inner Houdini to rack up more W’s and, who knows, maybe even lead Denver to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Tim Tebow approching the tunnel to the locker ...

Image by Jeffrey Beall via Flickr

When Tim Tebow being unofficially deemed 3rd string quarterback for the Denver Broncos becomes one of the biggest topics in the sports debate world, it’s time the season start already.

It’s no wonder the story has gained so much following, Tebow being one of college football’s most likable and popular stars in recent memory. It can be hard to accept the tale’s hero failing in his quest.

In Tebow’s case, that quest was a role as starting quarterback in the NFL.

Since Tim left the Florida Gators, a two-time national champion (2006 & 2008), talk has been back and forth regarding his future as an NFL quarterback.

It’s no secret that Tebow has an unconventional style of playing the QB position. He is big, strong, and has a run first, throw second mentality. With a slower than average release throwing motion and struggles with accuracy, Tebow doubters had reason for concern. On the other hand, his in-game play was impressive at times and he showed glimpses of magic he displayed in college.

A big contributor to the Tebow situation is the split between the fans. There are some who don’t believe Tebow is the answer, future-wise, but some who believe he should be given a chance to prove himself before pulling the plug.

Because Tebow jersey sales set records for an NFL quarterback draftee, clearly, there are many at least curious as to how Tebow will fare.

The Broncos have not openly shared a lack of confidence in Tebow, but allowing Brady Quinn the majority of the back-up snaps, they sure aren’t showing any confidence through actions.

Team reps have confirmed the Broncos will continue to develop Tebow as a quarterback, further extending the life of this Tebow saga.

A minority of analysts believe the best thing for Tebow would be to try a new position, such as fullback or tight end.

I’m of the opinion that Tebow’s best chance is in a system that values a mobile quarterback. Those teams are few and far between.

Miami comes to mind and maybe even Cincinnati.

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The NFL owners and the players have been in discussions regarding the collective bargaining agreement. Many fans have been preparing for a lockout and an NFL-less 2011 season.

Meanwhile, the NCAA is licking their chops.

Just picture how much more popular college football will become if there is a lockout. Every die-hard NFL fan will now focus all their football attention to NCAA football. Andrew Luck is now Tom Brady, LaMichael James is Chris Johnson, etc.

You thought the sports agents’ meddling was bad before?

The up side? This will unite the country. Name a state that doesnt have a college football team. Alaska. Yeah ok, but they’re always left out. Who else? Yeah, no one. Everyone can get behind one team or two. Almost everyone has some sort of tie to one University of another.

Look for NFL analysts to take over some of the duties that NCAA football analysts once held. Look, also, for more off the field issues with kids not used to the fame and exposure.