Jesse: BEST WORST PICK OF LAST WEEK:“The Panthers haven’t done enough to save Ron Rivera and I don’t think care about winning this game. The Saints still feel they have something to prove, and they’re in the dome.” – Tom (Panthers 44, Saints 38)
A new year rings in the NFL’s second season as the playoffs begin this weekend. Teams like the Seahawks and Broncos enter the playoffs on fire, improving every week and playing their best football at the right time of the year. Then you have the Houston Texans. It seems that teams have figured out the Texans’ vaunted defense, and the shrugs that used to greet Matt Schaub’s name have returned as he’s plummeted back to Earth. In hindsight, the injury of Brian Cushing took a larger toll on the Texans’ D than originally anticipated, and without his nonstop (some would say roid-fueled) motor, it was a matter of time before a great defense deteriorated into a merely good one. Once considered the class of the AFC, I’ll be surprised if the Texans make it past their wild card game against the Bengals.
- Ray Lewis to retire after the playoffs. Best LB ever, period. (Pro Football Talk)
- Bears GM Phil Emery discusses the Bears’ offensive line issues in surprising depth. (Chicago Sun-Times)
- Rex Ryan leaves town without talking to the media. Sure, NOW he doesn’t want attention. (Yahoo)
- Browns would like to get Oregon’s Chip Kelly as their next coach. I’d like a pony, a jetpack and a full head of hair. Sometimes we don’t get what we want. (SI)
- A look at the seven new head coaching vacancies, and where their searches stand. (Yahoo)
Saturday January 5th, 2012
Cincinnati Bengals(6) vs. Houston Texans(3)
Clint: There couldn’t be a more diverse trajectory matchup than the first game of the wildcard round. The Bengals have won their last few against some seemingly tough division rivals only to warrant the question as to their ability to be a real contender. Their second year ginger QB has had quite a few ups and downs this year while attempting to discover more weapons on his team than A.J. Green. The law firm started the season like a Len Wiseman film, but wound up with a useful when needed. As with any other AFC North team, their defense is formidable and reliable.
Matt “I Want to be Elite” Schaub has done everything to establish his name as Evander Holyfield the second. He had half his ear torn off and continued to play. The only sad part about that is the rest of his team is not nearly as immortal. With enough injuries to key positions, the Texans are looking as expendable as the cast of Sons of Anarchy.
While the Bengals have often been considered one of the weakest of the playoff teams and regarded as a first round washout, the tide drastically changed when the once conference leading Texans fell prey to some bad “Luck” that ousted them from a much needed first seed. Injury plagued, the Texans are claiming to be victims of mutilation and unexplained deterioration much like the cattle in the 1982 film Endangered Species. Something else is attempting to prevent them from being a contender. I can’t believe I am going to pick the always seemingly bad Bengals to not “Bungle” it up.
The Texans bungle themselves right out of the playoffs. (Bengals)
Tom: Agreed, the Bengals are trending up while the Texans are trying to figure out what the hell is happening to them. These two teams met twice last season–once at the end of the season and in the playoffs where Houston won both games. But that was then, this is now (you can decide if I’m invoking the movie or the song reference). If the Texans can’t play their ball-control offense, they get into trouble.
If they get into a situation where they have to play a lot of catch-up (not Heinz), they just don’t have the quick-strike QB/WR combo to do it. Andre Johnson is still a good WR, but Schaub is looking more Delhomme than Manning (either one). The lack of a consistent quality WR on the other side of Johnson is hurting the Texans, plus as Clint mentioned, losing Cushing definitely affected the defense more than anyone thought. Andy Dalton is no Manning, but he’s been consistent and hasn’t made many mistakes. Once again, a (relatively) new QB vs. the wily veteran guy, although they both pretty much have the same playoff experience. Although this is in Houston, if the Texans fall behind early, I think they may cave in, and the Bengals defense is more than good enough to contain Arian Foster and Schaub has been showing that he’s having trouble with good secondaries. I’d love for the Texans to win, as I kind of have a soft spot for them for some reason…but I think after starting out so hot, their train stops here.
Minnesota Vikings (6) vs. Green Bay Packers(3)
Clint: I can admit it. I don’t care for either of these teams much, but I sure as hell was rooting for Robo-Peterson last week, and felt let down when the coach did the most ignorant thing he could have done and secured the team’s place in the playoffs. How dare the team come before Peterson last week when he was hailed as the best cyborg running back of all time. Screw the team. Go Peterson. I will be rooting for him again this weekend as the only thing I truly root for (but I will always root against the Ravens).
I don’t see it being the same game as last week though. I know the Packers really needed a bye week as they are fighting a lot of injuries, and I don’t completely buy them as a true contender as such, but the Vikings barely came away with a home victory against them in a dome. They are going to the tundra in one of the most hostile stadiums in the league.
The Packers send the Vikings packing. (Packers)
Tom: The Vikings beat the Packers last week to make it into the playoffs. Christian Ponder joins the ranks of the young guns in the playoffs this year, with the veteran Aaron Rodgers helming the Packers. The game last week only mattered to the Bears and the Vikings…and if you’re the Pack, would you have rather played the Bears or the Vikings this week? Peterson may be a cyborg, but that’s about it from their offense. The Bears at least have Cutler, Forte, and Marshall. Plus the game is in Green Bay, meaning it’s outside, which it’s good to note that Minnesota is WINLESS this season outside. Let me repeat that–the Vikings have not won a game outside this season playing a sport that originated being played outdoors. And Green Bay, where they are not so unbeatable any more at home, definitely will have the advantage being outside in January. Peterson may not be a mudder, but they will still run him like crazy (400+ yards in 2 games vs. the Packers so far) to avoid putting the game into Ponder’s hands.
Although since Ponder got married, his game has improved (perish forbid his sportscaster wife should have to comment on his bad play).
The playoff experience lies solely with the Pack, they’re at home, and hey, Aaron Rodgers. The interesting thing here will be the aftermath of this game–if the Vikings somehow pull this out, they come to Atlanta…and play in a dome.
Sunday January 6th, 2012
Indianapolis Colts (5) vs. Baltimore Ravens(4)
Tom: Here is a playoff game where you can say, perhaps for the first time in a long time, the rookie QB is better than the veteran. Joe Flacco proudly proclaimed at the start of 2012 that he was an “elite” QB. Baltimore started out hot, with Flacco having several good games. And then he remembered he was Joe Flacco and proceeded to stink up the joint enough to get his OC fired. The Ravens are the definition of limping into the playoffs, even though they won their division (barely). The defense is nowhere near what it used to be, although the impending announcement of Ray Lewis’ retirement may give them a little juice this weekend. Andrew Luck and the Colts don’t have a great defense, and hell, maybe don’t even have a great offense. But they, much like Notre Dame football this year, just seem to keep winning despite the stats. That momentum means a lot more than stats and records when entering the playoffs. HC Pagano returned to the sidelines last week, and now returns to the place from whence he came. I think his insight to the Baltimore organization plus his presence and the roll that the Colts are one will be enough to give Indy the win and keep the dream alive. And yeah, former Colts coach Jim Caldwell is now the OC for Baltimore, but does anyone really think he paid attention to anything in Indy they time he spent there? He’s still trying to remember where he left his keys (at least that’s the expression on his face). Plus, Joe Flacco will probably find some way to screw this up. If the Ravens were smart, they would run Ray Rice into the ground. But they’ve had 16 games to do that and haven’t yet…so why should they start now? The ghost of the Colts return to haunt Baltimore. QUOTH THE RAVEN!
Clint: Tom, I have never wanted you to be more right on an outright courageous pick, but it’s hard to pick youth over experience, unless your team is really old.
Flacco is a bum. Elite my ass, they brought him some of the best possession receivers in the game last year, and even though they were older they still couldn’t help him step up to the next level. This year he has whined more than ever about not getting respect. You want respect, earn it.
Ray Lewis is retiring, but plans to play. He may be old but I definitely wouldn’t count out the impact this guy has on his team from just suiting up. His knowledge of murderers….. ooops…….. the game can have a huge impact when he is able to share it on the field. He’s seen it all (and even turned state evidence) and done it all so there is no doubt he knows how to handle rookie QBs. If he can manage his defense well enough, it may enable to Flacco to suck as much as he usually does while getting a victory.
After saying all that, I do believe the momentum, and the desire to win that the colts have shown over the season makes it hard to side against them. Add to that the return of their cancer stricken coach and I refer you to Walter White and Breaking Bad. When someone thinks they beat cancer, they get a second grip on life and change that into a new found power (I know about that second grip as I have been there, but not with cancer). That grasp is hard to release and hopefully lasts a long time for Pagano. Let’s hope that strength passes to the team and they come out on top.
Baltimore’s old team (Colts) beats Cleveland’s old team. (Colts)
Seattle Seahawks(5) vs. Washington Redskins(4)
Tom: The intriguing thing about these playoffs is, we have a whole bunch of rookie or 2nd year starters for QBs, and this is one (of most likely a couple) of the matchups where those young QBs get to face each other. RGIII, maybe the OROY vs. Russell Wilson, who tied a record for TD passes thrown by a rookie QB, set by Peyton Manning in his rookie year with the Colts.
The Seattle Seahawks have really come on strong the latter quarter of the season. They dominated NFC West winner San Francisco, but then struggled to beat the Rams at home. Is it because the game really didn’t mean anything? But looking back, most of the teams that Seattle has dominated have not had much of a defense (save for San Francisco). Now Seattle has to travel across country to Washington and play an away game, where they’re 3-5 vs. 8-0 at home. RGIII is overcoming a leg injury, which will limit his mobility a bit, but Alfred Morris (yet another rookie) has no problem being the shoulder to lean on for the Redskins. The rich get richer for the Seattle defense with the return of CB Brandon Browner from suspension. The Redskins are riding a 7 game win streak (just behind Denver’s 11 game streak), and “believe”. Seattle has the great defense and a great rookie QB and a good running back of their own. I think Washington’s defense (decent but not great) will give up some yards and scores to Seattle, but I think the combo of RGIII, Morris, and Shanahan’s experience in the playoffs, plus not only being an away game for Seattle, but away all the way across the country, will be enough for the Redskins to slip by, although not by much.
Clint: You have been calling “defense wins championships” all year, and the first real matchup dealing with a dominant defense and you go the other way? What’s up with that? Let’s be realistic, both these teams are riding rookie QBs into the post season, and neither one will probably go all too far, it’s just the way it goes. That said, I will take your favorite phrase and put it to use. Seattle still hasn’t beaten anyone great on the road, but the Redskins aren’t great. They are good enough but that won’t cut it. This team made minced meat out of the highly regarded Green Bay offensive line and embarrassed them. RGIII can run, but he’s banged up, and he won’t be attempting offensive yards as much as trying to stay alive. Once he is neutralized, Morris isn’t going to be the workhorse he has been all year. Tempt RGIII to throw the whole day under pressure and we are sure to see a rookie who will show more greatness next season, but will be glad to escape with his own scalp.
The Redskins get skinned and butchered, and then fed to the Hawks (Seahawks)