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Green Bay Packers Offseason Preview

 

No more questions?

Green Bay Packers Offseason Preview

Head Coach: Mike McCarthy

  • Super Bowl winner has been pretty solid. No worries here.

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers

  • Rodgers had a great regular season and stepped up to playing phenomenal during the postseason. Does this get the Favre “monkey” off his back? He’s got at least another year. Backup Matt Flynn showed against New England that he can be ready in a pinch.

Offense:

Skill: The Packers are loaded with high quality pass catchers and will be getting maybe their most dynamic player, JerMichael Finley, back healthy next season. The only change might be reducing Donald Driver’s role a bit as he turns 36 before next season. Only part-time RB Brandon Jackson and WR James Jones are without contracts for next season. The only area that the Packers might take a look at improving would be running back. Ryan Grant missed almost all of the season and the running game struggled all season. 2010 6th round pick James Starks played well against the Eagles and was ordinary the rest of the postseason. If the Packers feel that they need a better runner, they might take a back in the first three rounds.

Line: The O-line was average, at best, during the season. They inserted rookie Bryan Bulaga into the lineup after 4 games when veteran Mark Tauscher went down for the season. The line surrendered a relatively high 38 sacks. While, that number is skewed a little because of all the passing plays run by the Packers, they wouldn’t have been passing as much if the line had been effective enough to develop a consistent running game. Both Tauscher and Chad Clifton have been around awhile as they will be 34 and 35 respectively when next season begins. If the Packers are comfortable with Bulaga at right tackle, they might move on from Tauscher or keep him around as a backup at both tackles. Given the Packers injuries this season, keeping him around as insurance might be the best bet. LG Daryn Colledge is a 5-yr starter, but is a free agent and might be a candidate to get upgraded. C Scott Wells and RG Josh Sitton both have another year left on their contracts and could be candidates to be upgraded as well. Look for at least one of the middle three to be replaced before next season. The Packers might go with an O-lineman in the first round again this season.

Defense:

Front Seven: D-Line: The Packers D-line is solid, but RE Cullen Jenkins is a free agent. NT BJ Raji looks like a potential All-Pro and while LE Ryan Pickett will turn 32 in October, he’s still effective and signed for another three seasons. 2nd round pick Mike Neal will be back after a rotator cuff injury and could compete for Jenkins position if he doesn’t return. There have been rumors of using the “Franchise Tag” for Jenkins and that might make sense as they determine if Neal can handle the position fulltime. Suspended Johnny Jolly will be a free agent as well but it’s unknown when or if he’ll be reinstated.

LBs: That Clay Matthews guy is pretty good. I think he might have a future in the league. AJ Hawk has been solid and both Desmond Bishop and Erik Walden provided solid play as injury replacements. With Nick Barnett, Brad Jones, and Brady Poppinga all return from season ending injuries, the potential competition in training camp should be good. There’s a possibility that they move on from Poppinga because he’ll be 32 in September. Otherwise, this unit should look the same, but healthier next season.

DBs: Charles Woodson still looks like a top 5 corner and the other corner, Tramon Williams, stepped into that top level this season. FS Nick Collins has been steady for years, but strong safety was injury plagued. Rookie Morgan Burnett was a 3rd round pick and considered the future, but was done after four games. Former starting SS Atari Bigby was injured for most of the season and will be a free agent. He shouldn’t be expected back for anything more than the minimum.

K: Mason Crosby is a free agent and should be targeted to return.

Outlook: The Packers are loaded and have almost everybody under contract for next season. Probably the biggest offseason target will be improving the running game by either upgrading the offensive line, getting a better back, or both. The guess here is that they will draft another back after the first three rounds and go with Grant and Starks behind an offensive line with at least one new member at guard or center. The Defense should be the same; except Nick Barnett will be back and we’ll get to see what Mike Neal can do along the line. Especially if they let Cullen Jenkins walk. Expect them to target offensive linemen in the first round and either another O-lineman or pass rusher to team with Matthews in the second round. Considering GM Ted Thompson’s success on draft day, expect the Packers to make solid improvements in these areas and be the preseason favorite in the NFC, if not the NFL.

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Super Bowl Preview

Super Bowl XLV MVP?

Here are the keys for each team heading into the Super, er, Big Game on Sunday:

Packers:

  1. The Packers have difficulty running the ball; the Steelers stop the run at a historically great level. This is easy, the Packers need to spread the field and pass the ball like they did against the Falcons and others this season. The Packers spread passing offense is similar to what the Patriots do. In their last two matchups with a Tom Brady led Patriots team, Brady threw for 399 and 350 yards against the Steelers secondary. Aaron Rodgers has been playing like a more mobile version of Brady. Expect to see 4 wideouts often, as the Steelers will have to go to a nickel/dime package and take some of their really good linebackers off the field. TE Rob Gronkowski caught 3 TD passes in this year’s game for the Pats. Rookie Andrew Quarless could be targeted over the middle if the Steelers linebackers are unable to stay with him.
  2. The Packers can’t get destroyed in time of possession. The Steelers will try to control the clock and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. To keep TOP from getting lopsided, the Packers can’t give up on the run. They need to run out of that shot-gun, spread formation with James Starks. If they can average 4 yards per carry and get 18-20 carries, that should be effective enough to keep the clock moving and keep the TOP close.
  3. The Packers have a very good defense, but they’re susceptible to the run. Their defense is at their best when forcing opponents into obvious passing situations where they can unleash Clay Matthews and send a corner from the blind side. If the Packers can’t win first down defensively, they might not be able to keep the Steelers offense off the field.

Steelers:

  1. Run the ball. The Packers will be playing fast break football offensively, so the way to combat that is to run the ball, control the clock, and sustain long drives. Eventually the Packers defense will wear down and not be able to stop the Steelers. If the Steelers are to win, Rashard Mendenhall will need to run for over 100 yards. Remember, it was Mendenhall’s 121 yards against the Jets that is a huge reason why the Steelers are here.
  2. Limit the turnovers. The Packers have big play cornerbacks that thrive on making that huge play that turns the game. The Packers have forced 8 turnovers in their 3 postseason games, including the interception on Philly’s final drive. The Packers will convert a lot easier in the short field and have the field goal kicker advantage if they don’t get into the end zone.
  3. Dick LeBeau needs his guys to beat up the Packers receivers. Hit them on every play from the time the ball is snapped. This is how the Patriots slowed the “Greatest Show on Turf” nine years ago and the Steelers will need to do this to keep Rodgers from making the quick passes that make him dangerous. By knocking around the receivers, it slows their timing and might allow LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison the split seconds that they will need to get to Rodgers. If they hit him enough, like the Bears did two weeks ago, they can slow down his decision making process and eliminate a huge advantage for the Packers offense.

The Pick: I was on the Packers early, but after going over everything, I’m picking the Steelers. They have the better coach, the more balanced offense that can control the clock, and the biggest X factor on each side of the ball. Big Ben and Polamalu are slightly better than Rodgers and Matthews this year. Maybe not next year. Steelers 34 – Packers 30   MVP: Rashard Mendenhall

NFL Championship Round Preview

Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith brought Cutler to Chicago to beat the Packers and win a Super Bowl

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears:

Notes on the regular season matchups: Bears 20-17 in week 3, Packers 10-3 in week 17

  1. Both games were decided by a field goal. The week 17 game at Lambeau was a game the Packers had to win and they did. The Bears didn’t need it at all and played well. The week 3 game was a Monday nighter early in the season when the Soldier Field turf was grass, not straw on cement.
  2. Despite losing the second game, the Bears running game was more effective, reflecting their late season commitment to running the football. The first game, Matt Forte ran only 11 times for 29 yards. In the second game he ran 15 times for 91 yards. A further indication of Forte’s increased impact would be that he’s run 144 times for 748 yards in their past 9 games. That’s over 83 yards per game and an average of 5.2 per carry.
  3. Penalties (18 for 152 yds), special teams (Devin Hester 62 yd punt return for TD), and plus 1 difference in the turnover battle propelled the Bears in their week 3 win. The turnovers were even, the penalties were close, and Devin Hester was held to 2 punt returns for 37 yards on 8 punts in week 17.

Keys:

  1. As illustrated above, the penalties, special teams, and turnovers are always a quantifiable factor. In fact, if Jay Cutler doesn’t throw the interception to Nick Collins on the Bears final play in week 17, then the Packers might not have made the playoffs. There was still enough time for the Bears to put the ball into the end zone.
  2. The Packers are a pedestrian 5-5, including playoffs, on the road. The Bears are 6-3, including playoffs, at home. How quickly the Packers adjust to the horrible field in Chicago will be a
  3. The Seahawks appeared to need at least a quarter last week to adjust to the Soldier Field turf and by the time they adjusted, the game was out of hand. This isn’t the same surface that the Packers played on in week 3 and the adjustment period plays into the Bears home field advantage. There won’t be a repeat of the “fast track” conditions that enhanced the Packers’ attack last week in Atlanta.

The pick: Look for the home field, the running game disparity, and the special teams led by Devin Hester to provide enough of an advantage over the white hot Aaron Rodgers and send the Bears to Arlington. Bears by less than a touchdown. 

 

Big plays and big hits have defined Polamalu's career

New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers:

Notes on the regular season matchup: Jets won 22-17

  1. The Jets Brad Smith took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and the Jets never trailed. During the week 15 game, neither team turned the ball over, the penalties were similar, and it left the big special teams play to be the difference.
  2. The Jets never trailed which enabled them to dictate how the game was played. They ran the ball really well against the stout Steelers defense by rushing for 106 yards on 27 carries. But that was without Polamalu in the lineup sometime playing the role of a fifth linebacker when he makes it 8 in the box.
  3. The Steelers were in a position to kick a field goal at the end of the game, except they were down 5 because of a safety. The game might have turned out differently if Mewelde Moore wasn’t tackled in the end zone for the safety with about 2 ½ minutes left.

Keys:

  1. Troy Polamalu changes the game. When he doesn’t play, the Steelers are a .500 team. When he does play, they turn into an elite team. He’s expected to start in the AFC Championship game and that’s not good news for the Jets.
  2. The Steelers are historically good stopping the run. Opponents are rushing for less than 63 yards per game. The Jets were able to beat that last time with over 100 yards. The Steelers defense led the league with 48 sacks and 14.5 PPG against. The Jets key in the last game was getting out in front and controlling the ball on the ground. They did that last week in New England as well. If the Jets are trailing, will the Steelers pass rush get to Sanchez more frequently and possibly force him to turn the ball over?
  3. Big Ben’s security blanket tight end Heath Miller missed the Jets game in week 15 with a concussion. Without Miller, Roethlisberger struggled completing barely half of his passes. With Revis Island and Cromartie manning the corners, passes to Miller, slot receivers Antwan Randle El and Emmanuel Sanders, and their running backs will be huge. On the Jets offense, giving Sanchez enough time to allow his receivers to get free from the ordinary Steelers corners might give the Jets the big play or two that sends them to Arlington.

The pick: The Steelers have a much better running game than the Patriots brought last week and nobody can run on them. For the Jets, that means Mark Sanchez has to make plays the entire game. Although he’s been pretty solid, expecting him to shoulder the load for 60 minutes with Troy Polamalu back after missing the last matchup will be too much. This game will be close, but the Steelers seem to find a way to force a killer interception, usually involving Polamalu, that will become the difference. Steelers by a touchdown.

NFL Division Round Recap and Offseason Preview for Weekend Losers

January 18, 2011 1 comment

With a win against the Jets, Big Ben will try to match Brady with 3 Super Bowl wins

Steelers beat Ravens 31-24:

Why did the Steelers win?

  1. Defense: The Ravens compiled 126 total yards of offense and only 35 on the ground. The Steelers also forced 3 turnovers and held the Ravens to 3.0 yards per pass. Ridiculous. The final score doesn’t underscore the job that the Steelers’ D did.
  2. Ben Roethlisberger was really good. Except for that freaky fumble that resulted in the Ravens’ TD, Big Ben completed 19/32 for 226 and 2 TDs. No INTs. He was huge in the face of a defense that limited the Steelers to 71 yards on 31 carries.
  3. James Harrison: He was missing for the most part of the second half of the season, but on Saturday the ultimate intimidator hit Flacco early and often. Three sacks, two QB hits, and frequent pressure helped shutdown the Ravens passing game. He also had 3 tackles for loss and 2 passes defended. When he plays like this, he might be the best defensive player in the league.

Why did the Ravens lose?

  1. Second half: The Ravens lost the second half 24-3. The best chance that the Ravens had was when Anquan Boldin dropped a sure TD after the Lardarius Webb punt return was called back. That would have given the Ravens the lead at 28-24 and put the Steelers in a pressure situation to need a TD with less than 4 minutes remaining. Instead, the Steelers were only tied, not trailing, and took advantage of a fatigued Ravens defense to score the winning touchdown with about 1:30 left. No word on if TJ Houshmandzadeh is blaming Pete Carroll and the Seahawks for his fourth down drop that essentially ended the game.
  2. Joe Flacco and the Ravens Offense: This was supposed to be the game where Flacco stepped up and led the Ravens to a big win over Big Ben and the Steelers. Flacco was bad. He barely completed half of his passes and was sacked five times. While Flacco is part of the problem, his receivers dropped critical passes late in the game and Ray Rice played like he was sick. 16 carries for 36 yards for Rice and McGahee.
  3. Not Terrell Suggs: T-Sizzle was awesome with that sack and forced fumble that was returned for a TD and 3 sacks. He was every bit as good as James Harrison was for the Steelers. And don’t blame the refs either. Yes, that was a bad call on the return, but Anquan Boldin should have caught that pass in the end zone on the following drive. If he catches that, the Ravens might have won.

Offseason Preview

Baltimore Ravens

Head Coach: John Harbaugh

  • Not many coaches debut with three straight playoff appearances and road wins in each season.

Quarterback: Joe Flacco

  • Outside of the games against the Steelers, Flacco has been really good through three seasons.

Other: Those drops by veteran receivers late against the Steelers will most likely lead to some new blood at that position. Derrick Mason is 37 and was a non-factor. TJ Houshmandzadeh dropped the final Flacco pass and wasn’t much better than Mason. With some good receivers in the upcoming draft, the Ravens might target one with the 26th pick in the first round. If they don’t pick a receiver in the first round, maybe they go for a smaller, quicker type in the second round. Todd Heap is solid but turns 31 in March and missed almost four games with a hamstring injury. TE could be a target in the middle rounds. Their two TE rookies combined for 12 catches in 2010. They might look to involve them more in 2011. Center Matt Birk liked the catered food in the Vikings locker room when he played there but he’s going to be 35 and the Ravens might look to get younger there. It will be interesting to see if they bring tackle Jared Gaither back or find a trading partner. He’s got a lot of talent, but the Ravens weren’t interested in paying him big money last offseason and he ended up on injured reserve.

The defense might need some tweaks as some key contributors are getting old. Ed Reed had a horrible family situation last week and has talked about retirement before. Ray Lewis will be 36 in May and they might look for his heir apparent. Rookie Terrence Cody should be given a chance to supplant Kevin Gregg on the line. Overall, the Ravens are pretty good. They need more explosiveness on the offense and I would expect them to target one of the top WR’s in the draft. If they do that, they should be challenging the Steelers for the division again next season.

Packers beat Falcons 48-21:

Why did the Packers win?

  1. Aaron Rodgers and their unstoppable passing game. There isn’t a QB in football playing any better than Rodgers right now. He had only 5 incompletions to go with 3 TDs. Oh, and he ran one in too. Here’s a stat you may never see in a playoff game again: 4 WR’s caught passes for over 75 yards each.
  2. Turnovers and time of possession. The game was over when Tramon Williams had the 70 yard interception return to end the first half to make it 28-14. That was one of four TO’s and the Pack held the ball for 38:19 compared to 21:41 for the Falcons. That’s dominating football.
  3. Clay Matthews and the Packers defense held the Falcons to less than 200 yards of total offense. The Falcons were outgained 442-194. Matthews chipped in with 2 more sacks and was after Matt Ryan all night. His sack at the end of the first half led to the next play where Williams picked Ryan for the TD.

Why did the Falcons lose?

  1. Michael Turner ran 10 times for 39 yards. That’s not bad for a drive or quarter. But for the game? 14 rushes for the night is not the formula to beat an explosive offense like the Packers.
  2. The Falcons had critical penalties and interceptions by Ryan in the 2nd quarter when the game was still winnable.
  3. See everything the juggernaut that is the Packers did well.

Offseason Preview

Atlanta Falcons

Head Coach: Mike Smith

  • Smith has three straight winning seasons after back-to-back had never been done in Atlanta. When does he get a statue?

Quarterback: Matt Ryan

  • Matty Ice thawed out on Saturday, but a dedicated offseason to come back better and he could turn into the next Peyton Manning.

Other: The Falcons might be on their way to the Super Bowl if the Eagles had won last week or the Packers didn’t make the playoffs. The order of business for the offense is Tony Gonzalez and whether he is done. He was still effective, but the Falcons probably need another option at TE even if he returns. Another versatile TE can help their depth and give Ryan another option in the passing game. Notre Dame TE Kyle Rudolph would be a good fit here.

On the defense, John Abraham was playing for a contract and played well. They might want to think about using the “Franchise tag” and dare Abraham to prove that he can do it again. He’s going to be 33 and undersized DE’s don’t usually age well. He’s actually more suited to a situational pass rushing role now. Outside linebacker Mike Peterson is old as well and they need to look at replacing him. Whether Dunta Robinson had a down year or is just not that good, the Falcons should invest in another good corner as Brian Williams will be 32 at the start of the next season and as we saw on Saturday night, you can never have enough good cover corners. Assuming that the Falcons weren’t exposed, they should be able to make another run in the competitive NFC South. A 13 win season is unlikely, but even 11 wins might win the division next season and the Falcons should be there.

Bears beat Seahawks 35-24:

Why the Bears won?

  1. The Bears were overwhelmingly dominant, outgaining the Seahawks 437-276 overall and 176 to 34 on the ground. That dominance resulted in a 37 to 23 minute advantage in time of possession. Take out Golden Tate’s run and the Seahawks ran 11 times for 23 yards.
  2. Jay Cutler tried, but didn’t make a critical mistake. He played a very solid game, throwing for 2 TDs and running for 2. His completion percentage wasn’t great, but it didn’t need to be on Sunday.
  3. The Saints choked last week and the league’s playoff format gifted the Seahawks to frigid Soldier Field. One tweak to the playoff format would have re-seeded the worst team AFTER the Wildcard round to the #1 seed. It would have been interesting to see how the Bears would have done against the torrid Packers offense. Well, I guess we’ll see next Sunday. Can’t wait.

Why did the Seahawks lose?

  1. The Seahawks that Pete Carroll took over after last season had only 5 wins and a lethargy that was on display during a miserable 4 game losing streak to end last season. Nothing says “in the tank” more than losing 4 straight by the score 123-37. The Seahawks were undermanned and only made the playoffs because they were in the worst division in NFL history.
  2. The running game was bad and the run defense was worse. Mike Tice might be the best position coach in the NFL this season after completely remodeling that Bears offensive line during their bye week.
  3. Lawyer Milloy showed his age and the Seahawks didn’t have an answer for the balanced Bears attack. This game was over when Greg Olson slipped behind the secondary and scored the game’s first TD at 12:08 of the first quarter.

Offseason Preview

Seattle Seahawks

Head Coach: Pete Carroll

  • Considering the situation when he took over, Carroll did an admirable job of instilling a spirit in this undermanned team. Year two is when the great coaches get their teams to make their leap. We’ll see if Carroll’s USC experience has launched him into that level.

Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck/Charlie Whitehurst

  • Hasselbeck is a pending free agent and Carroll traded a 3rd round pick for Whitehurst in the offseason. Based on Hasselbeck’s two playoff games and his career in Seattle, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take less money to remain in Seattle. But if a more talented team, like Minnesota or Tennessee come calling, would he consider making another run at a Super Bowl? If he leaves for a contender, that might be the easiest and cleanest break for both sides in a relationship that has included the Seahawks only Super Bowl appearance and 5 straight playoff appearances in addition to this year. His 5 playoff wins is easily the best in club history.

Other: The Seahawks have a lot of work to do. They had a good draft last offseason and need another one. While they have some solid receivers, they don’t have a true #1. If they bring back Hasselbeck, they need more weapons to take advantage of his still potent arm and ability to read the defense. The offensive line could use a few upgrades as well. They can use anything to help an offense that ranked 28th overall and 31st running.

 Age is becoming a problem with Lawyer Milloy and Lofa Tatupu’s size is finally catching up with him as he’s been injured the past few seasons. Tatupu is a small player who plays an incredibly physical position. If they don’t change the scheme, they might look to trade him and get a bigger middle linebacker. Tatupu isn’t suited to playing the head-on, run stuffing role that he’s playing in Seattle. Even Urlacher in Chicago lets the lineman take on the blocks and slides to the ballcarriers. But that’s not the defense for the Seahawks. Overall, the Seahawks should be in a more competitive division next season and will need a winning record or even 10 wins to return to the playoffs. To do that, they need to upgrade their offense with skill players and decide if they want a transition season without Hasselbeck or make another run with him. Bringing him back means 5-9 wins, without him means 3-6 wins. Either way, they probably won’t make the playoffs and a complete tanking of next season might get them into position to select Luck.

Jets beat Patriots 28-21:

Why the Jets won?

  1. They put their best foot forward. Just kidding. They won because of the little things. They forced the only turnover of the game. They stopped the fake punt, or watched the Pats botch a fake punt. The Pats committed 6 penalties to 3 for the Jets. They converted on 4 of 5 possessions in the Red Zone compared to 2 of 4 for the Pats.
  2. Mark Sanchez played really well. The yards weren’t high, but he made the throws when he needed to and had 3 TD’s. He also didn’t commit a turnover, which is better than his counterpart.
  3. David Harris, Darrelle Revis, Shaun Ellis and the rest of the Jets defense were great. Harris made 12 tackles and picked off Brady’s first quarter throw. There’s no telling how the game would have gone if the Pats had taken an early 7-0 lead and then took it to 10-0. Revis was rarely tested and stepped up when he was. Ellis seemed to be in Brady’s face all day with 2 sacks and 2 knockdowns. For the first time in this series, he was more valuable than the man his draft choice was traded for: Bill Belichick. Five sacks overall for the Jets who knocked Brady down at least 7 times. Rex Ryan’s gameplan was brilliant. Brady had no clue what was coming on any play and was never comfortable in the pocket.

Why did the Patriots lose?

  1. They made the mistakes that they usually don’t make. In addition, Wes Welker and Deion Branch seemed to drop every important ball in the second half and don’t forget Crumpler’s drop in the endzone before the first quarter field goal. From the time they left the locker room and Welker was benched for the first series, nothing went smooth for the Pats on Sunday.
  2. Bill Belichick lost his Midas touch and made some coaching miscues. One wonders how the flow of the game would have been different had Welker played from the beginning. The fake punt was undoubtedly designed well, but executed horribly. The receivers couldn’t hold onto the ball and the usually resourceful defense didn’t force any turnovers. Also, the lack of a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter left viewers wondering what was wrong.
  3. The Jets beat the Patriots with a performance that reminds of the Patriots of the early 2000’s. They were outgained and seemingly outmanned going into the game. But the quarterback came through with clutch plays and the defense got stops when they needed them. There were some lucky plays, like the drops; fake punt and passes, and brain cramps by the opposition. You could have switched uniforms and gone back 7 years to watch this one.

Offseason Preview

New England Patriots

Head Coach: Bill Belichick

  • Not one concern. He’ll come back with a vengeance next season. He’s got an extra 3 weeks to prepare for the season now.

Quarterback: Tom Brady

  • Brady spent the Saturday night game between the Colts and Jets on Broadway with Gisele. Imagine if that were Tony Romo? Brady will be 34 and his window is getting narrower. He actually might go into next season tied with Roethlisberger for Super Bowls won by a QB. Expect to see that matchup on the opening Thursday if the Steelers are champs.

Other: Everybody is talking about the Pats needing a fast, big-play receiver. How soon does everybody forget that they won all three of their Super Bowls WITHOUT Moss and lost the one that he played in. Does that mean that they won’t pick one? With 3 of the top 33 picks in the draft, I expect them to fully vet all of the top receivers to see if there might be another Jerry Rice-type. Read: No high maintenance types. The biggest area that they need to address offensively is the running back position. Green-Ellis was serviceable, but despite the numbers, they had problems running when they needed to against the Jets. Their best running back during the Belichick era was Corey Dillon. Perhaps a veteran like Marion Barber would be a good fit to team with Green-Ellis next season. The Lawrence Maroney busted first rounder might make Belichick uneasy about using another high pick on a runner. Also on offense, Matt Light has been very good for a very long time. It might be time to look for an heir apparent for the soon-to-be 33 year old left tackle. Center Dan Koppen will be 32 and his replacement might be available as well. Also expect them to sign Logan Mankins to a big contract as he is still an elite guard.

Defensively, they have needed a dominant lineman to replace Richard Seymour when they traded hi m away before last season. Fittingly, they will most likely utilize the first rounder from Oakland to pick his replacement. Look for the Pats to use their largesse of picks to move into the top 10 or even top 5 to get the lineman they want. Da’Quan Bowers from Clemson, Nick Fairley of Auburn, and Marcell Dareus of Alabama are all possibilities for Belichick. Their young linebackers are fine, but don’t be surprised if they bring in a veteran pass rushing linebacker and somebody with experience to give them depth in the middle. Another cornerback might be picked to help out in the nickel. As for next season, will they win 14 again? Maybe. If they play 16 with a full training camp, the Patriots are as good a bet as any to be playing in Indianapolis next February. This young team now has a bitter playoff experience to drive them next year.

NFL Division Round Preview

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers:

Notes on the regular season matchups:

1. The Ravens are 1-0 against Charlie Batch and 0-1 against Ben Roethlisberger. Guess who’s at QB on Saturday for the Steelers?

2. Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs combined for 4.5 sacks in the 2 matchups

3. Ravens ran 47 times for 113 yards. That’s an average of 2.4 yds per carry.

Keys:

1. The Ravens front seven have to stop the run and force the Steelers to pass. Although the Steelers passing game is not a weakness, keeping the Steelers from controlling the time of possession and giving Ed Reed an opportunity to make a big play or two is their best strategy. The Steelers, likewise, need to stop the run because their pass defense isn’t as good and when they don’t make teams one dimensional, they lose.

2. A big turnover caused by Troy Polamalu caused the forced fumble that led to the game winning TD in Baltimore in their last matchup and he also returned an interception for a TD in their last playoff matchup after the 2008 season. Turnovers are critical in all games, but if either team loses that battle, the assumption here is that they lose.

3. Ben Roethlisberger is 8-2 in the playoffs. In those two losses, Big Ben threw 3 interceptions and fumbled in each. He lost one of those fumbles. Anything close to 3 1/2 turnovers for Big Ben and the Ravens win by double digits.

Pick: Steelers in double overtime. Don’t expect to watch the beginning of the Packers-Falcons game without a second TV.

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons:

Notes on the regular season matchup: 20-17 Falcons

1. Aaron Rodgers fumbled at the goal line in the 2nd quarter and the Falcons drove the length of the field and scored a TD.

2. Besides that crucial fumble, there were no other turnovers during this well-played game. Michael Turner scored and ran for over 100 yards on almost 5 yards per carry for the Falcons. Matt Ryan was almost perfect as he completed short pass after short pass for 197 yards and completed over 80% of his passes. Aaron Rodgers played as well as anybody could expect, except for that critical fumble that turned out to be the difference in the game. An example of how effective each quarterback was, each completed passes to NINE different receivers.

3. The Packers outgained the Falcons by 120 yards in total offense. Why did they lose? That fumble at the goal line, 8 penalties for 66 yds vs. 4/50 and Eric Weems outgained his Packers counterpart in return yardage by 10 yds per kickoff. Turnovers, penalties, and special teams. Those three areas are what separates otherwise even teams.

Keys:

1. Rodgers led the Packers anemic run game with 51 yards. Packers RB’s ran 11 times for 27 yards. Last week in Philly, rookie RB James Starks ran 23 times for 123 yards. That kind of production can tilt the balance in the road team’s favor.

2. The Packers didn’t lose a game by more than 4 points and never trailed by more than 7 points all season. Putting the Packers in a position to have to come back would force the Packers to do something they haven’t done this season.

3. Penalties: Green Bay was the least penalized team in yardage (37.2/gm) and Atlanta was the least by number (3.6/gm). Both teams were well above their averages in their regular season matchup. Look for a critical penalty or turnover to turn this game. Otherwise, we could be headed to overtime and a game ending around midnight in the East.

Pick: Falcons are getting no respect from most. I’ll give it to them. Falcons 27-23

 

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears:

Notes on the regular season matchup: 23-20 Seahawks

1. Matt Forte ran 8 times for 11 yards . Forte and the Bears running game struggled early in the season, but Forte averaged 83 1/2 yards per game in the final 8 games. That’s a 1336 pace for a full season.

2. The Bears were 0-12 on third downs. O-fer twelve! Don’t expect that again. The Bears were only 27th in 3rd downs conversions, but the shutout is extremely unusual.

3. Devin Hester had an 89 yard punt return for a touchdown. The Seahawks had 5 penalties for 83 yds vs. 2/18 for the Bears. The turnovers were even.

Keys:

1. The Bears have to win the ground battle. They won 7 of 9 after the bye week because they rearranged their offensive line to protect Cutler and ignite the running game. The sacks went down and the rushing yards went up and the Bears won. This formula will continue to be a key for the Bears.

2. The Bears are second in the NFL against the run, allowing 90 yards on 3.7 per carry. The Seahawks allowed nearly 120 yards per game and gave up 4.2 per carry. Matt Forte and Chester Taylor must run for at least 130 yards for the Bears to win. Typically cold and windy conditions in Soldier Field will make the running game a priority for both teams.

3. The Bears were +4 and the Seahawks -9 in turnover margin this season. Last week the Seahawks were even in their win. They were plus 8 in their 7 regular season wins, and -17 in their 9 losses. It’s no wonder the Seahawks didn’t lose any games by less than 15. The Bears had unusual numbers in that they were even in three of five losses, but minus 7 in the two others. That makes them plus 11 in their wins. Playoff football is about time of possession, turnovers, and special teams. Whoever wins these three categories will win.

Pick: Bears by less than a touchdown. Julius Peppers will make a turning point play.

New York Jets at New England Patriots:

Notes on the regular season matchups:

1. The home team was +3 in the turnover battle in both games. The home team also had an advantage in penalty yards. The first game: NE 6/79, NY 6/58 second game: NY 4/56, NE 1/10.

2. The Jets outrushed the Pats in both games. Game 1: NY 32/136, NE 20/54 Game 2: NY 31/152, NE 26/101. The Pats improved both in total rushing yards and average in the second game. Passing yards in both games: Game 1: NE 239-NY 200. Game 2: NE 304-NY 149. The Pats are clearly a pass-first team and they double the Jets in the second game in the air. But their running game doubled from the first game and gaining over 100 yards provided a balance that wasn’t evident in the first game.  

3. Tom Brady was 21/29 in their win. He was 20/36 in their loss. That accuracy in game 2 was a factor in the Patriots time of possession advantage despite getting outgained on the ground by 50. Completions keep the clock rolling just like a running play. The team with the TOP advantage won both games.

Keys:

1. Its pretty obvious: Penalties, time of possession, turnovers, and special teams always play a major role before anything. Special teams were neutral during the regular season, but the team that won the 3 other categories won both games.

2. Rex Ryan calls this the most important Jets game since Super Bowl III. Are you kidding? Last year’s AFC championship game wasn’t more important? How about the 1998 AFC championship? 1982 AFC championship? Come on Rex. The talk this week appears to have turned to desperation for the Jets and typically the dogs with the loudest bark don’t have the nastiest bite. Ryan’s made a great defensive adjustment last week in Indy by calling off the blitz most of the night. That might have worked this week as well, but last week’s scheme is now on tape and the Pats have surely dissected it. What does the defensive guru, Rex Ryan, have in store for Brady and the Pats? If he comes up with something original, the Jets have a chance. Barring that, Brady is seeing everything and rarely makes mistakes when he isn’t fooled.

3. There’s doubt in the Jets’ minds. You can see it with the talk. The numbers are self evident from their regular season matchups and that will tell the difference in the game when we look back at it. But the Jets have to start quickly and stay within one score because the Jets are wannabe bullies and bullies don’t usually respond well to adversity and falling behind. That’s what happened in their last meeting.

Pick: Patriots in a thriller. This one should be close and will be won on a Brady drive for a FG or TD, whatever they need to win. Look for some early penalties on both sides to tone down the talk as well.

NFL Wildcard Recap and Offseason Preview for Wildcard Losers

No celebrations for the Saints on Bourbon Street this year.

Seahawks beat Saints 41-36:

Why did Seattle win?

1. Matt Hasselbeck played the best game of his 13-year career. Hasselbeck completed over 60% of his passes for 272 yards and 4 TDs, including this one to Mike Williams in the 2nd half. Although he’s been to 3 Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl, it’s hard to remember a better performance in a game like this for Hasselbeck.

2. Marshawn Lynch might have had the greatest run in recent memory on his game clinching 67 yard run in the 4th quarter. Lynch ran 19 times for 131 yards in helping the Seahawks outgain the Saints on the ground 149-77.

3. One year after surprising the Colts with an onside kick to begin the 2nd half of the Super Bowl, the Saints attempted the worst onside kick I’ve ever seen after scoring the final points of the game.

Why did the Saints lose?

1. Their secondary was unimpressive. While the Seahawks didn’t reach 300 yards passing, numerous coverage breakdowns highlighted the Saints top offseason priority in addressing their pass defense. They fell for the receiver falling down trick and it seemed like the stop-and-go double move was there all game.

2. Julius Jones scored twice, but he fumbled and he only carried 15 times for 59 yards. When going on the road in the playoffs, a good running game and solid defense are usually required. The Saints had neither.

Offseason Preview

New Orleans Saints

Head Coach: Sean Payton

  • He’s fine.

Quarterback: Drew Brees

  • Outside of needing to cut down on his picks, Brees is still almost elite.

Other: The rest of the Saints need some tinkering as losing to the Seahawks was not indicative of a team that just needs one or two changes. Their running game was inconsistent all season thanks to injuries and that played a major role in Brees’ increased interceptions. A solid running game will return this offense to elite status. Look for a first or second round pick to be used on a multi-purpose back with size as they will be looking to move on from Reggie Bush in a year or two. As seen on Saturday, their secondary needs to be better. Look for a replacement for the old Darren Sharper and they could also need an impact outside linebacker or defensive end. Their first two picks should be on RB and pass rusher. If they address these issues, it’s back to the playoffs and another run towards the Super Bowl next season.

Jets beat Colts 17-16:

Rex Ryan hasn't been this excited since his wife's last pedicure

Why did the Jets win?

1. The Jets took a dominating running game on the road with them. They ran 38 times for 169 yards and held the ball for 33:07. If they do that against the Patriots, the Jets might win. Included with that was the 17 play, 87 yard drive that took 9:54 and ended with about 10 minutes left in the game.

2. Defense: The Jets held the recently resurgent Colts running game to only 93 yards on 27 carries. As for Peyton Manning and the passing game; Manning threw for only 225 yards and completed only one pass to Reggie Wayne.

3. Special teams: Punter Steve Weatherford average over 50 yards per punt and Antonio Cromartie returned the final kickoff 47 yards to the Jets’ 46 yard line. Needing only a field goal, that return left the Jets only 20 yards or so from Nick Folk’s range. Folk was able to easily convert the eventual 32 yarder for the win.

Why did the Colts lose?

1. In addition to the final kick return, head coach Jim Caldwell decided to call a timeout with less than 30 seconds left and the Jets presumably ready to kick a 50 yard field goal. With another play, the Jets completed an 18 yard pass to Braylon Edwards to set up that 32 yarder. Does Folk make that 50 yarder? I’ll bet that doesn’t come up in Indy during the offseason…

2. One catch for one yard for Reggie Wayne and Wayne let it known afterwards that he wasn’t happy. Whose fault is it? Manning for not targeting Wayne? Wayne for not getting open on Revis Island? The Offensive Coordinator for not lining Wayne up in different positions to change the matchups? It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Offseason Preview

Indianapolis Colts

Head Coach: Jim Caldwell

  • He’s fine. But another egregious display of game management to end next season will turn up the heat on Caldwell.

Quarterback: Peyton Manning

  • Manning will be 35 when next season begins. Statistically, he’s going to be the best ever. It seems like he’s able to carry the Colts to the playoffs, but that’s when his teammates are exposed for not being good enough. Manning is also a free agent and will be receiving a landmark contract.

Other: The Colts had a rash of injuries to many of their skill position players not named Manning. The Wayne issue in the Jets game is also worth keeping an eye on. With the 22nd pick in the draft, would the Colts shop Wayne and pick one of the top receivers in the draft to replace him? If they can get a 2nd rounder for Wayne, they would have to look into it. Wayne is 32 years old and his best days have to be behind him. As for the rest of the offense, the O-line needs work as their running game was nonexistent for most of the season and some key players, like Jeff Saturday, are getting up there in age. Defensively, has the time to break up Freeney and Mathis come? Neither are particularly good against the run, which is their annual Achilles heel. A pass rusher of their ability would no doubt garner interest close to a first round pick. In fact, their Super Bowl opponent from last season, the Saints, need to improve their pass rush and might swap their first for Mathis and a second rounder. Bob Sanders doesn’t look like he’ll ever play a 16 game season and the time has probably come to move on from him. With that in mind, their secondary could probably use a corner as well as a replacement for Sanders. The Colts are playoff good, and will be a contender as long as Manning suits up. But it’s going to take some creativity and guts to reshape this roster to give Peyton an opportunity to play for Super Bowls in the final years of his career.

Ravens beat Chiefs 30-7:

T-Sizzle has Big Ben in his sights now

Why did the Ravens win?

1. Domination: The Ravens outgained the Chiefs 390-161 and forced 5 turnovers compared to 2 for the Ravens. When Matt Cassel only completes 9 of 18 for 70 yards while losing most of the game, that is the definition of dominance. Time of possession: Ravens 41:44, Chiefs 18:16. Need anything else?

 2. Joe Flacco completed 25 out of 34 for 265 yards and 2 TD’s with 10 completions to TE Todd Heap for 108 yards. Does anybody on the Chiefs want to cover Heap?

3. The defense led by Terrell Suggs. Somebody needs to block this guy as he sacked Cassel twice and knocked him down all day. The Ravens wear purple and black and Cassel has to be purple and black today.

Why did the Chiefs lose?

1. Matt Cassel and the lack of a passing game, despite trailing for the entire second half. Did Dwayne Bowe play? Get this, Bowe and the Colts’ Reggie Wayne combined for 1 catch for 1 yard. Guess where they’re playing next? Hawaii, not Pittsburgh or New England.

2. Less than 100 yards passing, 5 turnovers, and 8 first downs is not the formula for victory in the 21st century NFL.

Offseason Preview

Kansas City Chiefs

Head Coach: Todd Haley

  • Playoff coaches typically don’t get fired, but Haley is going to have to make sure the “voluntary” departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis doesn’t setback the offense. There were reports that Haley stripped Weis of his play calling duties at halftime. I wouldn’t want that second half game plan on my resume if I were Haley.

Quarterback: Matt Cassel

  • This was only the second season that Cassel entered training camp as the starter and played the season since high school. Cassel should be fine, but Weis’ replacement will play a critical role in his continued improvement.

Other: The Chiefs are young and talented with breakout years out of Cassel, RB Jamaal Charles, and WR Dwayne Bowe. Getting an offensive coordinator to continue to guide their improvement is priority #1 in this offseason. As for the players, they could use a pass catching tight end to give Cassel some more weapons in the passing game. Defensively, the Chiefs had trouble against the run at times during the season. With the super running game in Oakland, improving their run defense up the middle needs to be a priority. Jovan Belcher might not be big enough to play inside linebacker in Romeo Crennel’s defense. He needs to add 20 pounds or he could be targeted to be replaced. Nose tackle Ron Edwards will be 32 when training camp opens and they could probably get younger there. Overall, the Chiefs made the playoffs and should contend with their current team next season. If they can improve their offensive consistency and get stouter against the run, they might have a playoff run in them next year.

Packers beat Eagles 21-16:

Why did the Packers win?

1. The Packers defense kept the Eagles from running the football. The Eagles RB’s ran 13 times for 49 yards and Vick only ran for 33. As for their pass rush, Clay Matthews seemed unblockable at times. There’s a reason why Vick was hobbled at the end of the game.

2. Aaron Rodgers was practically flawless. Rodgers completed 18 of 27 for only 180 and 3 TD’s. He would have had another one at the end of the first half if James Jones caught that deep ball. Mistake free football is paramount to winning on the road in January and Rodgers was solid.

3. Rookie RB James Starks caught the team bus to Lincoln Financial on Sunday. Because of that, he was able to run 23 times for 123 yards after running only 29 times for 101 yards in his career. To win on the road, make sure you take your running game and defense with you. The Packers did and won.

Why did the Eagles lose?

1. David Akers missed two field goals, 41 and 34 yards. While the 41 yarder was in a swirling wind, the 34 yarder was inexcusable and forced the Eagles to go for a touchdown at the end. Akers will probably return for his 13th season, but you never know.

2. The Eagles were undisciplined all season and couldn’t develop a traditional running game. Yesterday was no different as the Eagles RB’s couldn’t crack 50 yards rushing and the Eagles were penalized three times as much as the road team Packers. Despite that, they still could have won if Akers had made one of those field goals to set up another one on the final drive.

Offseason Preview

Philadelphia Eagles

Head Coach: Andy Reid

  • Going nowhere after another playoff season. But Reid doesn’t have McNabb to deflect the postseason flameout criticisms anymore.

Can free-agent-to-be Vick stay healthy enough for the Eagles to re-sign him and trade Kolb?

Quarterback:

Michael Vick

  • Vick is a free agent after his comeback season and Kevin Kolb wants to start here or somewhere else. Expect Vick to get the Franchise tag and for Kolb to only get traded if the Eagles can land a very good backup to play behind the always hurt Vick. With that in mind, don’t expect Kolb to be traded since Vick has only played 16 games once in his career and always seems to have some injury.

Other: This was supposed to be a transition year for the Eagles and they came through pretty well. But the QB position wasn’t the only reason this was a transitional year and those issues are still there. They have the Vick/Kolb situation and also a new contract for DeSean Jackson coming. Jackson is like Vick, explosive and oft-injured. The Eagles would be wise to cover themselves with any new contract for him. Right tackle William Justice was abused to the point of being benched yesterday so that should be an area to upgrade. There’s no shortage of high motor pass rushers in the NFC East. As for their defense, CB Ellis Hobbs had his season end early due to a neck injury and says he will retire. They will need to replace him at one corner. The rest of the defense was middle of the pack against both the run and the pass. That can turn into a disaster if they don’t improve at least one aspect of that defense. They could use some improvement along the defensive front and their linebackers are average at best. Outside of Asante Samuel and Quentin Mikell, they could use upgrades in the secondary as well. The Eagles usually draft well, which is why they are always competitive and they should target that right tackle and improvement in their defensive front seven. Pending free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is the type of player that can help improve everybody on the defense and could be targeted to team with Samuel to face the high powered receiving corps in Dallas and New York next season.

Pro Football Week 16 Sunday Recap

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Here are my thoughts on this weekend’s games as I still wonder if Tony Dungy is the best choice to be the next coach of the Cowboys

Cardinals beat Cowboys 27-26: Well, the Cowboys found another way to lose as their kicker blew an extra point in this one. That kind of summed up their year, starting with the end of first half fumble against the Redskins and culminating in this. Next week’s game in Philly should be a three touchdown blowout as this team runs to the offseason and Jason Garrett can put 4-4 as interim head coach on his resume. The good news is that the Cowboys could sneak into the top 5 on draft day. With the top level quality in this draft, the Cowboys might be able to drop down and get an additional 1 or 2.

Patriots beat Bills 34-3: Another ho-hum affair for the team that clinched the best record in the AFC. Brady continues to play “perfect” and Pats defense has given up 7 or less in 3 of their last 4 after not holding opponents under 10 all season. Seven straight victories for the Pats are the most since their undefeated regular season in 2007. The 2001 Pats won 6 straight and 8 of 9 going into the playoffs, the 2003 Pats won 12 straight, and the 2004 Pats won 8 of 9 going into playoffs. This team plays similar and the results are as well.

Bears beat Jets 38-34: Matt Forte ran for over 100 yards for only the third time this season as the Jets lost for the third time in four games. Could all of the distractions finally be catching up to the Jets? A month ago the talk was about a Super Bowl and now the coach is becoming a walking punch line and the defense is having problems stopping anybody. The Bears can clinch the 2 spot and a bye with an Eagles loss or a win next week at Lambeau.  Soldier Field is going to be a tough place to win in January. The Jets host Buffalo needing a Steelers loss and a win to get to the 5 spot.

Ravens beat Browns 20-10: The former Browns continue to haunt Cleveland worse than LeBron. The Ravens are hanging in the shadows as the playoffs approach. The Patriots get a lot of hype and already beat the Ravens earlier this season. But the Ravens dominated them last year as they eliminated the Pats from the playoffs. There seems to be even more animosity between the Pats and Ravens then the Pats and Jets. The Ravens can win the division with a win against Cincinnati and a Steelers loss to the Browns.

Chiefs beat the Titans 34-14: The Chiefs clinched the AFC West for the first time since 2003 with the help of the Bengals. The Chiefs have a stellar defense and their own triplets with Cassel, Charles, and Bowe. The best rushing team in football is going to be a difficult out in the postseason. Including this season’s five; there have been 70 quarterback seasons with 30+ TD passes. Matt Cassel is 3 TD passes away from joining that club. The Chiefs are in the 3rd spot but lose the tiebreaker if they’re tied with the Colts. The Raiders come to town to close out their season on Sunday.  

Rams beat 49ers 25-17: The 49ers lost the game and Mike Singletary lost his job later in the evening. Somebody will give him a chance to redeem himself as a defensive coordinator and not regret it. This situation just highlights how difficult it is to coach in the NFL. This team hasn’t had stability at the QB position since Jeff Garcia. The Rams win in Seattle and get into the playoffs. Sam Bradford has to be the ROY if they win on Sunday.

Lions beat Dolphins 34-27: The Lions win back-to-back road games after losing an NFL record 26 straight. The Dolphins finish at 1-7 at home, including the Browns, Bills, and Lions to finish the season. Their home losses were not bad until that string. Tony Sparano will most likely suffer the consequences and probably should since a 1-7 home record doesn’t get you into the playoffs or, more importantly, help fill the stadium. The Lions are a definite sleeper going into next season if Matthew Stafford is healthy.

Redskins beat Jaguars 20-17: Believe it or not, this game didn’t really mean that much for the Jags. If the Colts lose to the Titans next week, the Jags are in a win and they’re in position in Houston. But for that to happen, MJD will need to be healthier and productive against the Texans on Sunday.

Bengals beat Chargers 34-20: This game was the nail in the proverbial Chargers’ coffin. The Bengals have now won 2 in a row and are reportedly petitioning the league to not count their 0-8 record in October and November. Marvin Lewis is completing his contract, but the team has surprisingly not quit on him and so far it appears like he might return. As for Norv Turner, GM AJ Smith is renowned for his hardheadedness and will probably bring Norv back for what might be their final season in San Diego. He’s not old yet, but Philip Rivers will be 30 when next season ends and the window of opportunity with a great quarterback will close sooner than anticipated for the Chargers. That needs to be in their minds when they decide on their coaching situation for next season.

Broncos beat Texans 24-23: Tim Tebow threw for over 300 yards and a TD and then ran for one as he brought the Broncos back from 17-0 at halftime to win his first game as a starter. Tebow has sort of a Doug Flutie feel to him as the talent evaluators find problems with him, but he finds a way to win. Do the Texans move on from Gary Kubiak and if they do, will the Broncos hire him?

Colts beat Raiders 31-26: The Colts running game showed up again (191 yards) and their defense stuffed the 3rd ranked rushing offense, holding them to only 80 yards. The Colts need to win at home against the Titans or have the Jaguars lose in Houston to make the playoffs. If they win and the Chiefs lose, they get the 3 seed and a probable matchup with the Jets.

Packers beat Giants 45-17: This was a beat down in Lambeau. Aaron Rodgers returned and was well protected as he threw for 404 yards and 4 TDs. That had to be the best non-Brady/Vick performance of the year and top 5 overall. The Giants turned the ball over 6 times and that looks like it might lead to the downfall of Coach Tom Coughlin. Coughlin’s trademark is discipline and holding onto the football.  The turnovers are indicative of a team that isn’t as disciplined as they should be. Both teams are now tied at 9-6 and need to win next week. The Giants play at FedEx against the Redskins and the Packers host the Bears in Lambeau. The Skins are done but the Bears are still playing for a bye. That should work to the Giants advantage.

Buccaneers beat Seahawks 38-15: Josh Freeman is a beast as he threw for a career high 5 TD passes yesterday against the Seahawks in front of a not so capacity crowd of 46,576. Tampa Bay has their best quarterback since Doug Williams and a winning team and still don’t support this team. Ridiculous. How good was Freeman? His 21 completions were to 10 different receivers. Pretty good. He’s still at the top of the list of first and second year quarterbacks that I would want to build my team around. The Bucs need to win at New Orleans next week and hope. Hope for a Saints loss tonight and either a Giants loss or Packers loss. Or they need both the Giants and Packers to lose next week.

Tonight I like the Saints. The winner of this game might be my favorite to win the NFC as the Saints are rolling and the Falcons haven’t lost outside of the Keystone State. This game should be a pre-playoff statement game where the winner can feel like they will have an advantage if they play again and that could happen as soon as the Divisional Playoff round. The Falcons have to feel like they can do their part to eliminate the Saints if they beat them. They need to feel like it will be easily to beat the Saints tonight rather than in three weeks. The Saints had won 6 straight until last week’s loss to the Ravens. The Saints will probably have to win either tonight or next Sunday against the Bucs to make the playoffs. A win would set them up with the hapless winner of the NFC West in the wild card round. That’s almost like getting a bye week and should be enough motivation for the Super Bowl champs to win tonight.

I concur with Governor Ed Rendell about the Eagles and Vikings game.

Post Week 14 MVP ballot (If I had one):

1. Tom Brady QB Patriots: It’s tough to not vote for Brady when he is having, arguably, the best season of his career. Who is going to be the Patriots’ deep guy without Moss? Hah.

2. Michael Vick QB Eagles: As great as Vick has been, if the Eagles don’t win in Chicago, there won’t be any reunions in Atlanta for the NFC championship game. The Eagles have already lost there with Vick and the weather shouldn’t be better in the middle of January.

3(tie). Julius Peppers DE Bears and Clay Matthews LB Packers: These two have dominated on two of the best defenses in the league. Both seem to make key plays that lead to wins on a weekly basis. That play yesterday by Matthews to rundown Brandon Jacobs was indicative of what he’s brought in his two years in the league. Peppers is the most disruptive pass rusher of his era and his freakish athletic ability enables him to defend passes and rundown running backs like a linebacker or safety.

My Super Bowl pick, this week, is the Patriots to beat the winner of tonight’s game (Saints/Falcons).