Archive for the ‘AFC East’ Category

The AFC has its best two divisions on display this weekend. The AFC North and East are the only two remaining division in the AFC Championship race, and really it is no surprise. The Patriots, Steelers, and Ravens have been three of the more consistent teams in the entire NFL this past decade, and coming into this one they are all still hot. All three teams have sprinkled young talent here and there to keep their prolonged winning ways intact. The Jets have had a very up and down decade, but Rex Ryan has begun to lift them up to high standards the past two years. We will see both divisions battle it out for the proverbial rubber game in the Jets at the Patriots and the Ravens at the Steelers. The NFC is a far less interesting show. In one corner we have, unfortunately, the Seattle Seahawks going on the road to Soldier field in Chicago and in the other there stands the bout between the #1 seeded Atlanta Falcons hosting the hot Green Bay Packers. Lets get too it.

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
The first game of the week is by far the most intriguing in my opinion. The rubber match against arguably the two toughest teams in the league from the two toughest cities in the States. I’ve always loved the war analogy as it pertains to football, and apply it to two teams like this just gets me pumped. James Harrison, poster boy for the ludicrous anti-“hard hitting” platform, against Ray Lewis, the guy who will walk up to and tell you he is going to dominate you to your face… and then do it. Then we have Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, the two best safeties in the NFL today (and theres no debate about it). These men are both complete stand up guys who dont speak up all that often, but my lord is their play loud. Both missed time this season due to injuries, and yet both players not only made the Pro Bowl roster, they start on it. These are but the most prominent defensive presences in this game, but lets not forget the warriors of Haloti Ngata, Casey Hampton, Dwan Landry, Ike Taylor, Terrell Suggs, James Farrior. The Steelers linebacking core, I mean lets be serious, all four of them could start for the Pro Bowl and you would hear little complaint. If these players don’t scream out war, I don’t know what does. These men are truly out to knock the other team flat on its back. These defenses came to battle for a third time, and this time its more important than ever. It is so exciting because these two teams epitomize the old school football persona. Their defenses hit hard and they are built from the trenches out. Both teams have great guys at the nose in Ngata and Hampton. Both teams have young and up incoming stars on the offensive line in Pouncey and Oher. Honestly, these teams are so similar its hard to say which has the better anything. Joe Flacco vs Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall vs Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin vs Mike Wallace, Todd Heap vs Heath Miller. I honestly don’t know who I would pick and choose from that lot. There are but three things that could give either team the edge in this game and determine the winner. The first is turnovers, who can win that battle? The answer is both, it just comes down to who capitalizes on them and gets them at opportune times. Let’s not forget Reed led the league in interceptions despite playing in only ten games (Polamalu is second by one with 14 games played). Next is the weaknesses of both teams. The Steelers have a leaky offensive line, and a battered one at that. The Ravens have a suspect cornerback corp. Which team is better suited to take advantage of the other’s weakness? Honestly? Both. The Ravens have Suggs, one of the best sack artists, and Ngata, one of the best penetrating nose tackles, to throw at that Steelers offensive line. Yes, Big Ben is known for his mobility and avoiding sacks… but how long can he last against these men? Then the Steelers have deep threat burner Mike Wallace to force the issue with the Ravens secondary that features Josh Wilson and Chris Carr. Let us delve deeper though. While both teams have ways to attack each other’s weakness, it is the Ravens that have the advantage. Yes, the Steeler’s Mike Wallace is a dangerous player against the likes of Josh Wilson, but lets take into account the Steelers O-line getting pushed around by the pass rush of the Ravens. Making Big Ben think on his feet will limit how often he can test the Ravens’ corners and could even be forced into a mistake in the form of the ever opportunistic Ed Reed. So the edge is to the Ravens, right? Yes and no. Logic says the Ravens should be victors Saturday, but lets not forget what happened in the last meeting of the North. Polamalu came up with the huge strip sack late in the game to help the Steelers to a 13-10 win. Troy is a wildcard, and quite frankly he defies logic. I still don’t know how he timed that snap so 100% to just leap over both lines to sack Kerry Collins on a QB sneak. If Troy can come up with the right play at the right time once again, the Steelers will head to the AFC championship bout, otherwise, this is the Ravens game to win. Watch out Joe Flacco.
Prediction: Ravens 17 – Steelers 14

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Is this really the Falcons year? Is Matt Ryan (I hate the nickname Matty Ice by the way) ready to lead this team to a Super Bowl? I can’t imagine he even knows, as much as he might think he can. Thats why eventually, Ryan will have a ring on that throwing hand of his. When is the real issue. The Falcons hit the ground running this year… figuratively. Michael Turner isn’t the big time back he was during Matt Ryan’s rookie campaign. The man is a bruiser, and I will always love backs like that. There is an obvious downside to being the guy that lowers his shoulder. The body wears down, quickly. Turner has been nicked up a lot over the years, and honestly, I think his play has diminished to a degree. He is still an above average back, but not quite the back he once was coming out of Tomlinson’s shadow. That okay though, because Matt Ryan and Roddy White have stepped up, in a big way. Those two put on a show this season, showing amazing chemistry. Atlanta is here now because of the performance of those two men. How will Ryan hold up against Clay Matthews when not even Mike Vick could escape him? How will White do against one of the better secondaries in the league that was able to contain the explosive DeSean Jackson? I’d say about as well as they did last time when Ryan threw for under 200 yards and White accounted for only 49 of them. The Falcons still won that game 20-17, proving they can win in other ways. It was the ineptness of the Packer running game that allowed the Falcons to come away with the win. If James Starks can show just a margin of what he did last week against the Eagles, the Packers will avenge their week 12 loss and remain hot.
Prediction: Packers 24 – Falcons 13

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears
Well, didnt the Seahawks make the world look stupid last week. Can they do it again? Absolutely not. The Bears defense are monsters again and its time for Pete Carroll to go home. Mike Martz will scheme the hell out of anything Carroll will cook up on defense and Cutler will have one of his good days. Hassellbeck will suddenly realize that he is old and still very bald as he fails to get anything going against a motivated Brian Urlacher who realizes that his career needs that Super Bowl win, soon.
Prediction: Bears 27 – Seahawks 3

New York Jets at New England Patriots
Well my lord are the Patriots not the hottest team in all of sports right now? They have beaten every playoff team left save the Seahawks (7-9…). They demolished the Jets 45-3 in their last meeting. Plus they are at home, in the cold, after a bye, with a bulletin board chalk full of Rex motivating them? How could they lose? Well… how did they lose the first time? It is actually quite simple, Rex Ryan built his defense to play against New England’s offense… at the time. Rex knew how to defeat the Patriots offense with Randy Moss. He saw the 2007 Super Bowl, as Strahan, Tuck, and Umenyori used there talents to rattle Brady. So he went out and assembled his pass rushers. He saw Randy Moss go deep, beating his man. So he made Revis into an island and brought over Cromartie from San Diego. This Jets defense is built to beat the Patriots offense… the old one. I honestly believe, though I have no proof, that Bill Belichick traded Randy Moss for this reason. It wasn’t because he was declining, although I am positive that was a factor. The Patriots traded Moss to revolutionize their offense after their defeat to the Jets. Belichick transformed his offense into one that the Jets just arnt built for. The passing game is all about short, efficient passes in AR (After Randy). This eliminates the effectiveness of the patented Rex Ryan blitz. The plethora of receiving options makes Revis taking out just one man (doesnt matter who) irrelevant. Finally, they Jets have no one that can cover the tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Oh, and did I mention the Patriots have their first 1000 yard rusher since Corey Dillion? This offense is tailor made to beat the Jets defense. Bill Belichick turned the tables on Rex Ryan this season, and the pure domination in the last bout showed by just how much. Ryan can run his mouth all he wants this week, but his team is in over their head.
Prediction: Patriots 31 – Jets 24

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We all know the story. We have all heard the sound bite. “I’m taking my talents to South Beach”. Now, most of you are thinking, “here is just another article bashing LeBron’s “Decision”. Wrong, I could careless. In fact, kudos to LeBron James for making the right decision. The Heat are rolling of late as the older teams are getting beat up (Celtics; Rondo (ankle, foot) and KG (calf), Lakers; Kobe commenting on a his knee, Spurs are slowing down, Mavericks; Dirk Nowitzki’s knee). If it wasn’t for the blockbuster trade revamping the Orlando Magic, Miami would be the clear cut best team in the NBA at this point. That could change next week as teams get healthier, but the Heat are here and look impressive. LeBron and Dwayne Wade are putting up numbers like they were still on their own and Bosh has settled into a consistent role. This truly was his best chance at a title, since it never seemed like the Cavs were willing to go out and do what Miami did to keep Wade. No one ever talks about that, but Wade couldve left Miami for greener pastures too. Wade couldve teamed up with LeBron and Amare in New York. He didnt because Pat Riley went to him and said, “Listen Wade, we need you… but what do you need?” Too bad the pompous Dan Gilbert didn’t think of that.

Honestly, people’s biggest gripe is with the TV special dubbed “The Decision”. The media could only bash LeBron for doing what Shaq did for so long. Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kobe, Pierce; they all got their help. Shaq came to LA for Kobe and KG and Ray Allen came to Boston for Pierce, the two most recent examples. So LeBron did it for Wade in that same respect. However, this special, well, it was genius. LeBron James has described himself as an entrepreneur off the court, and what do such men do? They make money! How many of you didn’t watch that special? The thing is, he did what he wanted to, he got your attention and you all chomped on the bit. “Based on the overnight ratings in 56 cities, the James telecast was the highest-rated program of the night on both cable and broadcast TV, according to ESPN,” said USA Today. Also written in USA Today; “[The Decisions TV special] exceeded the audience for ESPN’s interview with Tiger Woods in March, which posted a 0.4 rating. It also trumped ESPN’s interview with Alex Rodriguez in 2009.” Was it a tasteless move as so many claim? Absolutely not! I am pretty sure I just saw the Boston Red Sox host two press conferences for acquiring Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. They made a spectacle of those players to raise excitement for the fan base. The only difference is that LeBron hosted his conference to disclose his new team to the world rather than the other way around. Also, never mentioned, LeBron raised 2 million for the Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Connecticut. Selfish indeed.

Again, my ire is not with LeBron, and as much as it is present for the reception he has gotten, thats not the point here. The point is the Heat are flashy. LeBron and Wade make the highlight real more than anyone in the NBA save the LA Clippers and Blake Griffin. They have one of, if not the, most dynamic offense in the NBA. This is great for basketball, a sport founded on fancy play that make fans oo and aw. LeBron brought that to South Florida, but according to Miami Dolphins majority owner Stephen Ross, South Florida needs more. Stephen Ross has informed the coaching staff that he wants a flashy, pass-oriented offense that “will hark back to the days of Dan Marino” in Miami. “I want an aggressive, creative (offense), not playing just to keep it close,” Ross said to Ben Volin of The Palm Beach Post. “A little bit more unpredictable, and opening it up. That’s what I think South Florida wants, and that’s what this climate demands.” The climate that LeBron and the Heat have set? Shame on Mr. Ross for saying such a thing. First of all, this is football. This sport isnt watched for the oo’s and aw’s, its watched for the hits and the toughness exuded on the field. However, as the league becomes more and more pass heavy and we get closer and closer to pinning flags on players’ belts, this could be a moot point. Pretty has started to come to the NFL, as much as I might hate it the idea of leaving behind the blood pumping hits of football. Pretty, though, should not come to South Beach football. Ross began this off-season in a foolish manner as it was, going after Jim Harbaugh with Tony Sparano still in the position only to lose out on Harbaugh and turn back to Sparano with a sorry for turning my back on you and hanging you out to dry, heres more money contract extension. Now though, with his “request” for a Dan Marino-esk offense, he destroys what the Dolphins have been building since Parcells came in as footbal czar. Parcells was building a defense in Miami to go with the two headed running game. Think about their early draft picks in recent years. They drafted the likes of cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. They went out and got Karlos Dansby last off-season to solidify the center of that defense next to Channing Crowder. He plucked Cameron Wake from the Canadian Football League and drafted Kao Misi to replace a rapidly declining Joey Porter at outside linebacker. He built up the trenches like the old school mind he is by drafting left tackle Jake Long and defensive end Jared Odrick. He hired a coach in Tony Sparano, a coach who made his name coaching offensive lineman in the trenches. The Big Tuna built an old school team and had great success. Now that Parcells is gone, Ross has stepped in and decided to go the complete opposite direction. What a smart man. Because, you know, its easy for a run first minded coach to change his run first team into a pass first team and then coach it successfully. Its really easy for a team who already has a problem at quarterback to all of a sudden have a Hall of Famer Dan Marino-esk offense, the greatest QB in Dolphins history. Where are you going to find this quarterback I wonder? I suppose Sparano could just stockpile sixth round picks and hope to pull a Tom Brady out. It would fit, I mean thats why Ross went after Harbaugh… he is a Michigan man like Tom Brady. Chad Henne shares that alma mater too, but apparently that actually isn’t good enough for Ross. Stephen Ross, heres a word of advice; do not become Dan Snyder, it does not work. Let Sparano build his team instead of trying to make his team something that it is not. Do not go out and get all the flashy players. Ask around, that doesn’t work. Look at Dallas and all their flashy names and their 6-10 record. Building a team is about assembling the right players together, not always the best players. After the public pursuit of Jim Harbaugh with Tony Sparano still under contract only to fail to land him, a despicable business move, Stephen Ross should’ve hid his head in shame. Instead, he comes out and proves he has no idea what he is doing. Ross, go back to your owner’s box, stay there, and let the football minds handle to football and you just stay back and count your money.

Seattle Seahawks upset defending champion New Orleans Saints

Wow, that about raps it up right there. Honestly, how much more can be said? That team we saw in Seattle was not the Seahawks, that was some other team that is, well, good! They had the most points they had scored in the regular season. Marshawn Lynch made plays for the first time in years. Hasslebeck thought it was 2006 during his Super Bowl run (2005 regular season). As much credit I give the Seahawks for their out-of-no-where resolve and ability, we have to look at one aspect that gave them a boost. Drew Brees, during the regular season, struggled at times. Some people attributed this to a rogue knee injury, the existence of which was shot down by Brees himself. You know why he really struggled? No consistent running game. When Brees didnt have the running game of Pierre Thomas, well, take a look at the Browns game. Then Chris Ivory began to step up and Brees too played much better. Yesterday, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory were on the injured reserve list. Guess what! Drew Brees struggled. Not as much as he did against the Browns, but they have playmakers. The Seahawks are still… the Seahawks… at least a little bit. Drew Brees against any other NFC playoff team would’ve looked like Jake Delhomme with the running by the Saints yesterday. Just shows three things; Pierre Thomas was the real MVP of the Saints Super Bowl run and win last year, Drew Brees is indeed not on the same level as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and Reggie Bush will always be a compliment back and nothing more. Kudos Seattle, but dont expect another win until next season.

New York Jets over the Indianapolis Colts

I have little to say about this game, it went just about how I expected… except the Jets defense did a little better than I expected them too and put the Jets in position to win it. Peyton had his chance, but couldnt get that touchdown late in the game to seal it. If he had, the Colts would’ve won. However, he got the field goal instead. Sanchez struggled, all game, as expected. He can get that field goal attempt though, and Nick Folk hit it from 32 out as time expired to give the Jets a win. They move on to face a rested New England Patriots team who looked dominant as the season wound down… especially in their 45-3 victory over the Jets. Mark Sanchez needs to play MUCH better in order to beat the Patriots. LaDanian might not give him that support again this week.

Baltimore Ravens over Kansas City Chiefs

Well, this isn’t what I predicted, but it is not a surprise. The Ravens have been road warriors in the post-season in recent history. However, I do not believe that is the story here. The story is the Chiefs… or better yet… the young Chiefs. Matt Cassel did not look ready for a post-season bout. He was flustered and he let Ray Lewis’ defense get under his skin. Young star wide out Dwayne Bowe didn’t help his struggling QB. Bowe just couldn’t get open to save his life, and with Baltimore’s somewhat suspect cornerbacks, I have to assume Bowe just dropped the ball on this one (not a pun, he didn’t see a ball all game). Then we have rookie Devin McCluster and his timely fumble. The Chiefs were still in the game at this point, but when Ray Lewis punched the ball out of McCluster’s hands to give the Ravens offense a very short field, the Chiefs couldn’t recover. Don’t fret Chiefs fans, this wasn’t your year anyways. It was still a highly successful season in Kansas City, and they are young and built to compete. We will see Kansas City again next post-season. As for the Ravens, Joe Flacco cant struggle to start the game again next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Green Bay Packers win over Philadelphia Eagles

Well, this is the one I got right. The two BIG factors attributed to this Packer win is David Akers’ two missed field goals and James Starks’ day on the ground (23 carries, 123 yards, 5.3 ypc). Dom Capers’ defense really did the job I expected holding down a Vick lead offense to just 16 points. Vick was blitzed 13 times and sacked thrice while rushing for 33 yards on 8 attempts (4.1 ypc). Clay Matthews consistently got to Vick forcing him to get rid of the ball quickly, limiting the Eagles big play opportunities. Matthews was so effective, the Eagles felt compelled to bench starting tackle Winston Justice for King Dunlap. Side note: If you talk to an Eagles fan, they will tell you that Dunlap is the better tackle to begin with, to which I agree. The Eagles had a very slow start on offense, going three and out on their first two possessions. However, Green Bay started quickly, scoring 14 points in the first half to the Eagles 3. It could’ve been 21-3 if not for a horrendous drop on a perfect pass to James Jones who had beat Asante Samuel and the rest of the Eagles secondary. The second half was a completely different story, almost like a flip flop. Aaron Rodgers began the 3rd quarter with a fumble that let the Eagles back into this contest. Vick took advantage with the turnover for a touchdown pass to Jason Avant, making the score 14-10. Aaron Rodgers didn’t look like a QB who just coughed up the ball on the next drive, methodically moving his offense down the field for a touchdown screen play to Brandon Jackson. That would end Green Bay’s day scoring mid way through the 3rd quarter. Vick was able to start the makings of a comeback victory and he looked like a warrior. Despite all the hits throughout the game Vick was standing tall and delivering strikes all day. His clutch rushing TD from inches away on 4th down is what kept the Eagles fighting for the win. Andy Reid immediately decided to go for the 2pt conversion to make it a 3 point game instead of a 4 point game. Absolutely the right call, since even with a 5 point deficit if the attempt failed they would still need a touchdown on their next possession. Vick, the warrior he was, had Celek on a perfect pass to complete the 2pt conversion. Unfortunately, he stepped out of bounds at the back of the endzone and came back in to be the first to touch the ball, a penalty in the NFL. Vick had his team on the precipice, but Celek’s mistake was costly. Less costly that it seemed, as the ref indicated that it was a loss of a try. Then Fox went to commercial, and Eagles fans at home were left to face-palm and sit dismayed on their couches. The fans at the Stadium though saw a glimmer of hope as the refs began to huddle. Turns out, since Celek reestablished his position on the field, it was not a loss of down play (or in this case loss of try). Merely, it was a 10 yard penalty, retry the 2pt conversion. Eagles fans had hope again, but was the second chance their death sentence? They try again with Vick in shotgun. Dom Capers brought the blitz and Vick couldn’t get a semblance of a pass off before get hit, hard. So hard, he limped profoundly off the field as the try failed. The Packers got the ball back, and went into time killing mode. Starks was able to break off a 12 yard run, but the Packers offense failed to do anything else with Rodgers taking a sack to end the drive and force a punt. The Eagles had held and they were back in the game. Desean Jackson trotted out onto the field and the atmosphere suddenly changed. People around the nation had flashbacks to week 15 at the Meadowlands when Jackson took back a Matt Dodge punt for a game winning TD. It felt like he could do it again, and it looked good as he reversed the field too. Yellow flags flew quickly though, as Jackson went down. Holding penalty on the Eagles, and it started looking bad. Then out trotted Vick, and hope was again restored. Reports were that the Eagles coaches tried taking Vick’s helmet away, preventing him from coming back into the game. He wouldn’t have that, and came back onto the field; a warrior. However, the warrior he had been all game was not the one on that last Philly possession. Vick looked off, throwing incompletions that could’ve been completed. Bar one big play to Desean Jackson for 28 yards, he overthrew Celek a great deal leading him into a big hit, and he overthrew LeSean McCoy on an easy dump off pass. To ice the game, Vick went to what worked for the Eagles all year, the big play. He went for the deep pass to the edge of the endzone, but he didnt throw it to the sideline, which is quarterbacking 101. Instead, he threw it inside, allowing Tramon Williams (pro bowl snub with 6 regular season picks) to clinch the victory for the Packers with an interception. With one Aaron Rodgers kneel, the Packers stamped their tickets to Atlanta to face the first seeded Falcons while the Vick redemption season ends on the worst note possible short of a serious injury. It looked good Eagles fans, it really did. The Eagles were the sexy pick going into the game. I’m not one that fancies the sexy pick’s though. I believe the old school view holds true, football starts with the trenches. The Packers won that battle with 3 sacks on Vick (hobbling him) and protecting Rodgers well on the other side of the ball. Next step for the Eagles, resign Michael Vick because he is their future, trade Kolb for a 2nd round pick, and draft defense. The Packers need to watch the game tape from this week and figure out why Starks was able to run for over 5 yards a carry. They need to bring that run game to Atlanta because it makes them so much more dangerous.

Green Bay Packers(6) at Philadelphia Eagles(3):

This is probably the best game this weekend, the one that is the biggest push. Can Green Bay handle Vick for a full 60 minutes? Will they blitz the defensive backs, which seems to be causing Vick problems. Will Clay Matthews contain and set the edge? Will Asante Samuel guess right against Aaron Rodgers? Will Green Bay overcome their running woes against a poor Eagles rush defense? Honestly, who knows? There are a lot of ifs in this game, things that could go either way. To me, the talent is all their for both teams to win this one. This game will come down to two people; Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid and Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers. Its up to these guys. Andy Reid needs to get his offense ready for what Dom Capers is surely to throw at him. I have faith in Capers gameplanning the Packers defense to victory, forcing Vick to continue his streak of iffy play with Matthews setting that edge and Woodson blitzing.
Prediction: 34-24 Green Bay Packers

New York Jets(6) at Indianapolis Colts(3)

This one is incredibly simple to me. Yes, the Colts have had an uncharacteristic up and very down season. Yes, for the first time in years they had to play in week 17 to get into the dance. However, I have two word for you, Peyton Manning. The only way the Jets win games is if the defense makes plays for their average offense. Peyton Manning wont do that, Mark Sanchez is going to have to dual with Manning, and guess who is going to win?
Prediction: 30-17 Indianapolis Colts

New Orleans Saints(5) at Seattle Seahawks(4)
The first team with a losing record to ever make the playoff. I find it despicable, a travesty. Much better teams sat at home. I am not calling for a change other than a possible change of the divisions to make them more competitive. Now, how will this team do against the defending Super Bowl Champions? The only thing the 12th man will be doing is booing and beating the traffic home.
Prediction: 38-10 New Orleans Saints

Baltimore Ravens(5) at Kansas City Chiefs(4)
This is another push game in my opinion. Ed Reed is going to get a pick, Ray Lewis is going to limit Chief’s tight end Moeki; you know, the usual. However Dwayne Bowe is going to abuse a weak cornerback crop and Jamaal Charles will run like he did all season, shockingly well. The Ravens offense will give up on running Ray Rice as usual when they meet the brunt of Chief’s defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and turn one dimensional and struggle. Look for Kansas City to pull this one out at home at Arrowhead despite how good Baltimore has been on the road in the playoffs in recent years.
Prediction: 21-17 Kansas City Chiefs