I’m going to do something I’ve only attempted a few times on this blog: predict the outcome of a sports event. The last time I did this, I tried to predict the top 10 picks of the 2006 NFL Draft. How brilliant were my predictions? Ummm….what had happened was…I mean…ya never know…umm…flip happens…ya know? My predictions didn’t exactly lather themselves up with the soap of profound accuracy. I only predicted 2 out of the top 10 picks correctly. I had Matt Leinart going to the Tennessee Titans (mostly because of the Norm Chow-USC connection) and I had Jay Cutler being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals (among a slew of other asinine conjectures).
Nevertheless, undeterred by an impotence of intelligence and significant lack of foresight, I set my sights on the the 2011 NFL Divisional Playoffs. At least I ain’t nearly as inept a soothsayer as my friend The Hamster who predicted that the Seattle Seahawks would get anally raped by at least 2 touchdowns last week against the Saints. Now…everyone and their 3rd cousin’s sister were predicting similar outcomes for that game, so I’ll dice that man some slack. However…
I openly warned everyone against discounting the Seahawks. Anytime there’s a consensus no-doubt winner, that signifies trouble for the predicted victor. The disrespect angle can manufacture wonders for an underdog. It just goes to show how unpredictable the NFL playoffs can be. Unlike other professional sports, there isn’t a significant difference between the lowest and highest seeds in the NFL. Would anyone be uber surprised if the Super Bowl this year was Jets-Packers? Not I.
Anyways, on to my infallible analysis. If you want a technical breakdown of cover schemes or an in-depth statistical examination of the divisional matchups, you best be advised to mozy on over to another site. I’m going to keep it simple. I’ll give a few thoughts on each game this weekend and pick a winner.
Bears vs. Seahawks
Will the Seahawks have a letdown this weekend? Let’s be honest folks, the Seahawks played about as perfect a game as any team could last week – and against the defending Super Bowl champions. Again, I reiterate the disrespect angle. No one believed in them last week to pull the upset. Again, this week, no one is picking them against the Bears. Can they duplicate last week’s performance this weekend? In my mind…that’d be a highly doubtful scenario. The determining factor in this game will be the matchup between the Seahawks’ Offense and the Bears Defense. I’m not sold on Chicago’s offensive efficiency and I’m certainly not yet an investor in the stock of Jay Cutler. This Bears offense has lacked consistency throughout the year. Luckily, as always with the Bears in playoff years, the defense has been the staple of this team this year. The defense isn’t nearly as intimidating and ferocious as during their run to the 2006 Super Bowl against the Colts, but the addition of Julius Peppers to their defensive line this year has given them a playmaker that attracts double teams. He hasn’t had as large a tangible effect as some expected (8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 INTs), but the attention that is being paid to him by opposing teams has freed up other defenders on his team. That’s something they’ve lacked the past few years. As for the Seahawks, I’m sorry…but I just can’t allow myself to believe in Matt Brokeback producing consistently for 2 consecutive weeks. I’ve been disappointed far too many times by him in the past (fantasy owners are fist tapping me in agreement). The old man flashed back to his heyday of competent football last week…but…that ain’t happenin’ again. If Leon Washington can break a return or two for big gains, I can see the Seahawks competing in this game and keeping the score close. However, I just got the feeling last week after the Seahawks won that that Wild Card matchup against the Saints was their Super Bowl. Even though Seattle is playing with house money and will be the looser team, I like the Bears in this one, 24-17. Trust me though, I wouldn’t be surprised the least bit if Seattle pulled off the upset. The possibility of Cutler gakking it up repeatedly is entirely probable. However, I trust Chicago’s defense to compensate for any bad decisions made by Jay Cutler.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
This is a toss-up game. Both teams are structured similarly on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. They both have bruising defenses (led by All-Pro safeties Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu) that are nearly impenetrable by the ground game. Both offenses are led by surprisingly mobile quarterbacks with big arms. However, statistically speaking, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the superior defensive team – and it’s not even close. The Steelers have allowed less points, less total yards, less passing yards, and less rushing yards in the 2010 regular season. They’ve allowed 30 less yards rushing per game than the Ravens have (62.4 vs. 93.9). Plus, for as much talking as the Ravens do, they aren’t nearly as superior a defensive team as in the past. This Ravens team is older and has had some games this year where they’ve looked their age. Either way, neither team seems poised for a big offensive day on the ground because both teams pride themselves on stopping the run. That means that the game will come down to the battle between the QBs. I trust the 2-time Super Bowl Champion in this matchup of quarterbacks. Joe “Waka” Flacco has continued to progress in his 3rd year, but I just don’t trust him enough to make enough plays through the air. Plus, the Steelers are extremely tough to beat at home. I won’t lie to you either, I’m looking forward to seeing the Ravens get smacked in the mouth. While I enjoy trash talking to an extent, the Ravens take it to another level. When I was visiting a friend in B-More in early November, I took great joy in getting a firsthand look at the dejection and disappointment of Ravens’ fans when Roddy White love tapped Josh Wilson on the way to the end zone for the winning TD on Thursday Night Football. The Ravens’ fans seem to emulate their team. They talk mad trash. While I enjoy the trash talking to an extent…sometimes…you can’t help but revel in the enjoyment of seeing their yapper being forcibly shut. I like the Steelers to win this 24-21.
New England Patriots vs New York Jets
I have no idea why, but I went from being a Patriots’ fan to being an occasional Patriots’ hater. I was their biggest fan during their 2007 run to near-perfection. I wanted to be able to tell my grandkids that I saw a perfect team in my lifetime. Either you hated or loved the 2007 Patties. They were definitely in asshole mode throughout the year. How could you not respect the way they disrespected teams that year? Here’s two examples from a game against the Redskins that year that shows how eager the Patriots were to flip the proverbial middle finger to opposing teams and their helpless defenses (courtesy of an article written by ESPN’s John Clayton – who, by the way, I am convinced has a ponytail):
• … kept Brady on the field for an 88-yard drive six minutes into the fourth quarter despite already leading 38-0. On that 14-play drive, the Patriots went for a fourth-and-1 at the Redskins’ 7 and ordered a 35-yard bomb to Randy Moss.
• … went for a fourth-and-2 at the Redskins’ 37 on the next possession while leading 45-0. Backup QB Matt Cassel hit Jabar Gaffney with a 21-yard pass. Two plays later, Cassel scrambled for a 15-yard touchdown run to open up a 52-0 lead.
Like I sad, either you hated them or loved them. That year, I loved them. The way they went into asshole mode was unprecedented. I don’t ever recall a team ever keeping their foot on the pedal like they did. Maybe it was football karma that invariably ended their perfect run against the New York Football Giants in the Super Bowl. Anyways, after that year, I started to come across more and more personal friends that were fans of the Patties. Plus, the Celtics started being relevant again and went up against my LA Lakers in consecutive NBA Finals (splitting 1-1). After those experiences, I’ve now developed an angst against Boston sports fans. They are the most obnoxious fans I’ve ever met (or at least deserve to be in a runoff with any fan of any New York team). So, I am no longer a fan of the Patriots. I still root for them occasionally (depending on the opponent), but generally root for the opposing team. I know it seems like a silly reason to cease allegiance, but…greater people have hated for lesser rationale. Plus, whatever happened to humble-pie, 6th round draft pick Tom Brady? From being a wide-eyed nobody to being a Steston man rocking Uggs and marrying a supermodel? I ain’t hatin’…but…it vaguely reminds me of the transformation that Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn took in Major League 2. From a bad boy to a pretty boy. Tommy B used to appear to be the kind of cat you could slum it with in a dive bar and down a few Tall Boys. Now? Homey probably finishes off a plate of overpriced sushi (is there any other kind?) with a vintage bottle of Cabernet. Just saying. He doesn’t exactly fit the blue collar label anymore (not that that’s affected the severity of the man crushes that all Patriots’ fans have for him). If you’re supposed to call the doctor for any erection that lasts for more than 4 hours, what can Patties’ fans do about the constant hard-on they’ve had for Tommy B for the past decade? As for me rooting for the Patriots nowadays, it all depends on who they play.
This weekend, they’re playing Sanchize and the Jets. The two division rivals split the season series, but the only game that fans and the media seem to remember is the 45-3 annihilation of the Jets on Monday Night Football. We’ve all become a reactionary society. Are the Patriots that dominant a team? I don’t believe so. Were the Jets that deficient a football team? Not a chance. The truth is always somewhere in the middle. Plus, that young Patriots’ defense can be had. The Patriots’ explosive offense has masked their average defense the entire year. If the Patriots fail to score a lot of points on offense, they could be in trouble.
As for the Jets, there’s a looseness and arrogance to them that I like. They’re similar in the aspect of trash talking to the Ravens…but…the Jets are simply more charismatic – hence why I actually enjoy their yapping as opposed to the endless Ravens’ jibberish. Here’s what I like about New England going into this game. Bill Belichick is the master of adjustments. If you take away the deep ball, the Patriots will massacre you with the short passing game. Nobody dices up a defense in the short game like Tom Brady. So, the Patriots can play keep away from the Jets corners and still win convincingly. Since Randy Moss’ departure from the team, the Patriots have transformed their passing game from vertical to horizontal. They love running the bubble screens and inside slants. Plus, the 2 tight end formations they’ve used this year (with Gronkowski and Hernandez) have produced great results for them. They’re spreading the field similar to the 2007 season. They’re not nearly as explosive as they were that year, but they’re close. All of this will neutralize the advantage that the Jets have in the secondary against the Patriots’ WRs. I think that the Jets will keep this game close, but I like Tom Brady in a close one, 28-24. However, I warn against those that believe Tom Brady is invincible in the playoffs. In his last 6 playoff games, he is 3-3 and has thrown for 11 TDs and 10 INTs. I’m just saying…he hasn’t been a money-in-the-bank guarantee playoff performer in years. With all that being said, I can’t see Tom Brady losing the Patriots’ home opener of the 2011 playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Green Bay Packers
This game hits home. Literally. I am a diehard, lifelong Falcons’ fan. Let me preface my analysis with that. I’ll try to keep the bias to a minimum. If the Falcons come out with energy and limit their turnovers, I think they will win. I think the Falcons are the better team. I know that everyone is high on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers after their road win in the Illadelph last weekend, but if you look back on the regular season, the Falcons played more consistently. The Falcons haven’t really wowed anyone this year, present company included…but…they’ve handled their business the entire year. They’ve only been blown out once the entire year and have come out prepared for every game. There is nothing flamboyant about this Falcons team. They just win. The can run the ball, play solid defense, and cause turnovers. Those are all recipes for playoff success in the NFL.
If the Packers can run the ball effectively against the Falcons, they will have a legit shot at pulling the upset. However, I’m not a member of the James Starks’ fan club nor a believer in the newfound ability of the Packers to pound the rock. Did they surprise everyone by rushing for 100+ yards last week? Yes they did. However, I see it as more a fluke than anything. To me, you are what you were during the regular season. The Packers couldn’t run the ball at all during the regular season and now we’re supposed to believe that they’ve magically figured that out? I don’t believe that. Plus, the Packers have been up and down the entire year. I think the Falcons will be able to stop the run and will be able to limit the explosive plays from the Packers offense.
The key to this matchup will be Matty Ice’s decision making against the Packers’ defense. Before the season, I called Matty Ice out. He had a disappointing second season last year. I wanted to see if he had what it took to be considered an inarguable franchise quarterback. This regular season, after putting up big-time numbers (3700 yards passing, 28 TDs) and leading the Falcons to clutch drives in big moments of games, I’ve put that argument to rest. Fist tap and kudos to Matty Ice for taking the next step towards being elite this year. Now, the only thing left for him to validate himself among the upper echelon of quarterbacks in this league is to win big games in the playoffs. Exhibit A will take place this weekend. Matt Ryan needs to show me something. He needs to show me that he won’t shrink when his team needs him the most. Matt Ryan, you need to prove yourself yet again in my eyes.
Man oh man, the Dome is gonna be a rockin’ this Saturday. It’s going to be an electric atmosphere. We’ll know early on if the Falcons are ready for the moment. If they can go up early on a TD, that would be huge. The Falcons aren’t the type of team offensively that can overcome a large deficit. I have my own opinions about how I feel about the fact that the Falcons have handcuffed Matt Ryan in the team’s offense, but I’ll leave that argument for another day. For now, if they can get ahead, they can keep feeding Michael Turner the rock to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. Speaking of Aaron Rodgers, there’s a certain F-You smugness to him that I don’t like. I can’t exactly explain it, but it’s just something about him that strikes me as overtly unappealing. There’s something annoying about the way he wears the “disrespected” chip on his shoulder. However, I’m man enough to admit that he is a great quarterback. That man can sling it (no homo) and scrambles surprisingly well. The Falcons better be careful about letting him run out of the pocket. He ran for 51 yards during their regular season matchup. To me, because of the Packers’ defense, I think this game will be a toss up. The Packers’ pass rush is legitimately dangerous and can disrupt any offense (text Michael Vick if you don’t believe me). If they can get to Matt Ryan, they can quickly change the complexion of the game. However, the Dome field advantage has me leaning towards the Falcons in a close one, 31-27. Please believe that I am fully aware of the fact that I’ve probably jinxed the Falcons all the way to an earlier than expected offseason. It’d be great if the Falcons could go up by a couple of TDs early and coast their way to the NFC Championship game…but that’s just wishful thinking. The Falcons have played a lot of close games this year, so I doubt they’ll give my nerves any rest this Saturday.