Monday, January 31, 2011

Video of the Day (1/31/11): Danny Woodhead "Attempts" to Sell his own Jersey at Modell's

This video is a month or two old, so many of you may have already seen this video. But for those that haven't, it's New England Patriots' running back working at a local Modell's Sporting Goods store sporting a name tag with "Dan" written on it and helping fans with their needs and wants.

Of all the customers he talked to in the New England-area store, only one woman came close to picking Woodhead out as the Pats' sudden star, but he was easily able to convince her otherwise.

Woodhead put it perfectly when he referred to one fan as "putting salt in the wound" after being turned down because Woodhead is "too small" for him.

Ouch, sorry Danny.

Hair (Matthews) vs. Hair (Polamalu): AP Defensive Player of the Year?

The Associated Press' Defensive Player of the Year will be announced tonight at 8 PM ET on the NFL Network.

This raises one obvious question: who will win the award?

At this point it's basically between the two long-haired ball hawks playing for the two Super Bowl teams: Clay Matthews III and Troy Polamalu.

Here are the possible candidates and their regular season stats:

Clay Matthews: 60 combined tackles, 13.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF
Troy Polamalu: 63 combined tackles, 1 sack, 7 INTs, 1 FF
DeMarcus Ware: 66 combined tackles, 15.5 sacks, 0 INTs, 2 FF
James Harrison: 100 combined tackles, 10.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 6 FF
Cameron Wake: 57 combined tackles, 14 sacks, 0 INTs, 3 FF
Ray Lewis: 139 combined tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 FF
Julius Peppers: 54 combined tackles, 8 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 FF
Jerod Mayo: 175 combined tackles, 2 sacks, 0 INTs, 1 FF

Of these candidates, it seems Polamalu and Matthews are the most logical choices. Not only did they put up good numbers on the season, but they were their respective team's playmaker on the defensive side of the ball and was the deciding factor in just about every game they played this season.
Each and every week the opposing quarterback had to keep tabs on Nos. 52 and 43 in order to succeed on that given day. Obviously, more times than not Matthews and Polamalu got the most of their opposition.

When it comes to individual achievement I believe that Matthews is a bit more deserving of the award partly because he is playing a much bigger role in the defense as one of Green Bay's outside linebackers. He must direct traffic on defense, and is both a great pass-rusher (13.5 sacks) and coverage guy (60 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF).

Polamalu's hair is better, but I think that Matthews will take home the award in just his second season in the National Football League.

*Runner-up: Troy Polamalu, Steelers
*Dark horse: James Harrison, Steelers

Photo credit
Clay Matthews: Todd Rosenberg/NFL

Pro Bowl Returns to Honolulu

After taking a year off, the Pro Bowl returned to it's normal site of Honolulu, Hawaii yesterday.

The NFL's Commissioner Roger Goodell decided to hold the league's all-star game in the Super Bowl's host city (Miami, FL) last year. But after players and coaches complained about it not being in Hawaii's Aloha Stadium like every other season, Goodell decided to give Hawaii their game back.
This year also marked the second time it has been played the week in between the Conference Championship weekend and Super Bowl weekend, rather than the week after the Super Bowl is played.

The idea of holding the game the week before takes the game away from the two Super Bowl teams--Pittsburgh and Green Bay--but I'm sure they wont complain about that too much, considering they have a shot at the Vince Lombardi trophy this Sunday.

This year's NFC squad wasted no time in putting points on the scoreboard, putting up 42 points in the first half. The final score of the game 55-41, in favor of the NFC, marked the second-most points scored in the history of the Pro Bowl (between the two teams).
Washington Redskins' cornerback DeAngelo Hall was named the game's MVP with his six tackles, interception and fumble recovery returned for a 34-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

Despite lack of effort in some instances, the Pro Bowl was still the most-watched all-star game of any sport since last year, and the most-watched Pro Bowl since 2000. Perhaps that could be the result of Goodell bringing it back to Honolulu? It's possible.

The players appeared to have plenty of fun too, and when it comes to the Pro Bowl, that's all that matters. Just ask Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack, whom scored on a 67-yard pass play after a couple of laterals with 16 second to play in the game. Of course, there was little effort to make a tackle on the NFC's part, but that's what made it so cool to watch because it allowed the 300-pound lineman to get in to the end zone.
Wacky ending to a wacky game, but that's exactly what the fans love to see happen when it comes to this pointless, second-to-last game of the 2010 season.

Photo credit
Michael Vick: AP Photo/Eugene Tanner
DeAngelo Hall: AP Photo/Marco Garcia
Alex Mack: AP Photo/Marco Garcia

Arrival Day for Super Bowl Teams

Sadly, it's been nearly two weeks since I have posted, but today is a big day for football.

One day after the league's top players competed in the Pro Bowl (NFL's version of the All-Star game) in Honolulu, Hawaii, the two Super Bowl teams have arrived in Dallas and will begin the longest six days of their lives.

For veterans such as Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu this will be their third Super Bowl appearance, so they have had this anxious feeling a couple of times already. As for Green Bay, a majority of Packers are first-timers and had to take it all in--taking pictures and videos with cell phones and cameras as they exited the plane earlier today.
With my two Conference Championship game picks correctly predicted, I improved my playoff record to 7-3 (WC: 3-1, Div: 2-2, Conf: 2-0).

We are poised for a fantastic showdown between two of the most balanced teams in the league. Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu and James Harrison and Green Bay's Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson lead the two top five defenses in to Dallas for the February 6 matchup.

Elite quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers are both highly successful playoff signal callers. Roethlisberger's 10-2 record shows experience, while Rodgers' 3-1 record shows how great his three-game playoff stretch this season has been.
Because of Rodgers, Green Bay has already forgotten about the legendary Brett Favre, who handed the Pack their last Super Bowl championship following the 1996 season. Because of Roethlisberger, it seems as though the city of Pittsburgh has put Ben's past behind them and has given him their full support. After all, winning cures everything.

It's obvious that both teams have the talent and ability to win this game, so it may end up being experience that prevails in this game. This is Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin's second Super Bowl, and Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy's first. Green Bay, in fact, has just two players with Super Bowl experience: Charles Woodson and Ryan Picket. Pittsburgh has 25.

Either way, should be a great game on Sunday. My game prediction will be coming later this week.

Photo credit
Ben Roethlisberger: Matthew Emmons-U.S. Presswire
Aaron Rodgers: Jeff Hanisch-U.S. Presswire

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jets Talk-the-Talk, and Show they can Walk-the-Walk with Playoff Victory over Pats

I have to admit it, Rex Ryan's Jets did it once again.

I was expecting Mr. Playoff himself, Tom Brady, to walk in their and send the Jets home with their tails between their legs. But the defense stepped it up and backed up all their trash talk earlier that week, and made Wes Welker look silly after his 11 foot references, direct towards coach Ryan, in a press conference earlier this week.

As much as I didn't like to see the loud and obnoxious Jets do exactly what they keep saying they were going to do, you gotta tip your hats to them. They showed the NFL world that Brady can, and will be, stopped. Much like the Baltimore Ravens did last year against the Pats.

I can't exactly remember who it was, but I noticed someone that I follow on twitter that the New England Patriots haven't won a big game since they were caught cheating in '07. Interesting piece of information, though I really don't believe that it's that big of a deal.

The Patriots have had a target on their back since the last time they won the Super Bowl, and it seems opposing coaches have done a very nice job coming up with a game plan to stop them over the last couple of seasons.

What the Patriots failed to do is get pressure on Mark Sanchez. The mistakes and turnovers come when he's being hit and rushed, but the Pats' pass rush couldn't get to him and bring him down all game. With no pressure, comes no turnovers for this young signal caller.
It surely was a struggle for both teams early on, as New York couldn't take advantage of Tom Brady's first interception since he threw two in the team's week five showdown with Baltimore. After just three plays following David Harris's 58-yard return of the INT, kicker Nick Folk missed a 30-yard field which went just inches to the left of the upright.

That was Brady's only mistake of the game as he threw for 299 yards and two TDs throughout the game. But after taking an early 3-0 lead, New England allowed the Jets to take its first lead of the day with a 7-yard run from running back Ladainian Tomlinson, who isn't much of a fan of the Pats after his Chargers fell to them in the 2006 AFC Divisional round and he watched the Patriots dance on the No. 1 seed's logo in the middle of the field.

After that game he called them out for having 'no class' in the press conference, and has hated them ever since. I actually tend to believe that that's one of the many reasons he signed with the Jets this offseason. Because of the rivalry with New England.

Mark Sanchez threw his first of a career playoff-high three TDs during the second quarter, just before the half, to wideout Braylon Edwards from 15 yards out. This allowed the Jets to carry the momentum in to the locker room at the half, leading 14-3.

It didn't seem as though anyone doubted that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick wouldn't come right back out with a few adjustments and get back in to this game early in the second half. But, no scoring took place until less than a minute remained in the third quarter, and it was Brady's first TD pass of the game to Alge Crumpler from two yards out. Sammy Morris scored his first points of the season after running the ball in for the successful two-point conversion try, making it a three-point game (14-11) at the end of three quarters.

Once again, Brady is dangerous in the fourth quarter. And once again New York proved to everyone that they can hang with their AFC East counterpart, scoring another Sanchez touchdown. This one was to Mr. Postseason himself, wideout Santonio Holmes, who now has caught four touchdown passes in his six postseason games. Just two minutes in to the final quarter of play and New York was back to a 10-point lead.
New England's 14-play drive after the NY touchdown, which elapsed nearly eight full minutes of action, ended when Deion Branch dropped a pass on fourth & 13. With five minutes to play after the dropped pass, it seemed the Pats chances had slipped away. New York failed to pick up a first down on their drive, though, and was forced to give the ball right back with a 10-point lead still.

New England got a Shayne Graham field goal with a minute and a half to play, but a failed onside kick attempt led to another New York touchdown, this one run in by running back Shonn Greene. Down 28-14, New England did witness another Brady touchdown to Branch, putting them within seven. But the Pats were finally put out of their misery after they failed on a second onside kick.

Rex Ryan was pumped, Bart Scott was pumped as he showed in a post-game interview (though the overrated linebacker only contributed two tackles on defense) and yes, Braylon Edwards was pumped as well, showing his enthusiasm with a cart-wheel followed by a backflip in the middle of the playing field. Some Patriots' players decided not to shake hands in the middle of the field afterwards because they felt as though some of the Jets weren't showing any class.

Deion Branch even called out some of those Jets players in the press room afterwards. It's a bit funny, in my opinion, because isn't that exactly what New England did to the Jets just six weeks ago when they routed New York by 42 points? I believe that's exactly what happened.

So of course New York is going to do this after defeating the favored Pats, in their own house.

If you can't take it, New England, please don't dish it out. You started this, New York's trash talk--and defeat of the Pats--just finished it for you.

(Note: I do not approve of the class-less Jets actions after the game, but at the same time I don't think it's fair for the Patriots to cry about it when that's exactly what they did to New York earlier in the season.)

Should be a great AFC Championship game next week in Pittsburgh! But I will likely be picking against the Jets for the second straight week. I wonder if they will prove me wrong again?

Photo credit
Ladainian Tomlinson: NFL/Kirby Lee
David Harris: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Cutler, Chicago Put Seattle's Super Bowl Dreams to Bed with Big Win at Solider Field

After narrowly defeating division rival St. Louis at home back on January 2 to clinch the NFC West, many fans, and even 'experts' had a fit about the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks hosting a game in the playoffs. Not just any playoff game though, it happened to be a Wild Card matchup with the defending champion New Orleans Saints.

But, after Seattle knocked off the Saints, 41-36, last weekend, everybody and their momma seemed to jump all over Seattle's playoff bandwagon. It was almost as if the 13-3 Chicago Bears, the NFC's second seed, were no longer the favorites, despite being favored by 10 points according to many bookies.

All of the talk ended as soon as Seattle stepped in to the snowy Soldier Field yesterday, though.

The 35-24 final score really doesn't tell the whole story. You kind of had to watch the game in order to fully understand the Chicago dominance in this one. Once again, Matt Hasselbeck's stats were outstanding (26/46, 258 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT), which is what we have come to expect from the veteran, but his offense didn't start clicking until the final quarter of play. Much too late for Pete Carroll's Seahawks.
Quarterback Jay Cutler (15/28, 274 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT) seemed flawless in his postseason debut, but it was the Bears' run game that was the difference in this matchup, overpowering Seattle for 176 yards, including Matt Forte's 80 yards and Cutler's two rushing TDs.

Seattle, on the other hand, couldn't get anything going on the ground, running for just 34 yards as a team. As I told you in my preview and bold predictions post, Da Bears shut down last week's hero--Marshawn Lynch--for just two yards on four carries. Why they didn't use Lynch more often is beyond me, but Chicago did what they could to stop him on his limited carries.

The score read 28-3 at the end of three quarters, seemingly out of reach for Seattle. Not so fast. Hasselbeck finally got things under control and led Seattle on three fourth quarter touchdown drives. If it wasn't for Cutler's 39-yard bomb to Kellen Davis with just under five minutes to play, we probably would've had ourselves a game.

Nevertheless, Chicago forced the Seahawks to be one dimensional, both through defense by shutting their RBs down, and through offense for taking a huge early lead at the half. This forced Seattle to play catchup the entire second half, making it tough to effectively run the football.

With Green Bay's red-hot offense coming in to Soldier Field next weekend, there's a chance we could see a history-making NFC Championship on Sunday.

One could only hope...

Photo credit
Bears offense: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Just a couple of BOLD Predictions for Today's Games

Just about ten minutes until the first game, Seattle vs. Chicago at Soldier Field, kicks off on FOX. So why not take one last sneak peak at the final two games of the Divisional round.

Here are a few predictions of mine which are longshots to happen, but are still certainly possible in today's match-ups:

*After being sacked by Seattle's defense six times in the Seattle/Chicago week six showdown, the Bears make a nice recovery as Seattle's defense, led by D-end Chris Clemons, gets to Cutler just twice. Cutler finishes the game mistake-free as well.
*Eight days after Marshawn Lynch's "greatest run in postseason history," in which he broke eight tackles on a 67-yard game-clinching touchdown run to slay the giant (defending champion Saints), the Seattle running back is shut down by Chicago's top-tier defense.

*Tom Brady scorches trash-talking New York cornerback Antonio Cromartie for three touchdowns in a New England blowout.

*Mark Sanchez is sacked four times, and picked off three more times, in his matchup against New England's defense, whom intercepted the opposition a league-leading 25 times in the regular season.

Enjoy the games, and keep an eye on these four bold predictions of mine.

Photo credit
Marshawn Lynch: NFL/Kirby Lee

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Favored Atlanta embarrassed by Green Bay on Home Turf

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan--was coined the nickname "Matty Cool" because of his cool and collectiveness while under pressure--was roughed up against Green Bay's defense in a 48-21 defeat.

Green Bay's linebacker Clay Matthews III led the surge for the Pack's defense, recording two of the team's five sacks of Ryan. Ryan was also responsible for three of Atlanta's four turnovers (two INTs, one fumble lost) on the offensive side of the ball.

Despite the struggles Atlanta put up 21 points throughout the sixty minutes of play, but with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers nearly unstoppable at this point, the Falcons virtually had no chance at winning this from the start of the game. Rodgers was near-perfect, completing 31 of his 36 pass attempts for 366 yards and three touchdowns.
The lone bright spot of the game for Atlanta fans? Watching return man Eric Weems, a Pro Bowler this season, set a postseason record with his 102-yard kick return touchdown early in the second quarter. But it was all down hill from there as Green Bay scored five unanswered touchdowns, including a 70-yard interceptions touchdown return for cornerback Tramon Williams as time expired in the first half. The interception seemed to be the turning point in the game, deflating any confidence Matt Ryan had in him and giving Green Bay a two-touchdown lead (28-14) at the break.

Atlanta never recovered. Rodgers' offense put the game away with 20 second half points, and showed the world that the Atlanta Falcons are not Super Bowl favorites. Rather, I believe it's the Packers who are the favorites coming out of the NFC.

Since I had picked Atlanta to win, this game drops my postseason game pick record to 4-2 entering the second day of Divisional round play. Let's hope the excitement of tomorrow's two games are the equivalent of today's first game (BAL/PIT), not the second (GB/ATL).

Photo credit
Jordy Nelson: AP Photo/John Bazemore

Steelers' 24-point Second Half Enough to Edge Ravens for a Trip to AFC Championship Game

Day one of the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs is officially in the books, and it sure has been a wild and wacky one.

In the first game, between two arch nemesis out of the AFC North, defense proved to be the key to victory, as expected from the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Both of which have been in the top five in overall defense in the league for nearly the entire decade.

Playing in Pittsburgh, Joe Flacco and the 13-4 Ravens, coming off a 30-7 shellacking of the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs last weekend, got off to a great start in the first half. Pittsburgh drew first blood with a 1-yard touchdown from running back Rashard Mendenhall to cap a six minute opening drive. But Baltimore quickly came back and scored 14 unanswered points on consecutive drives. The second of the two came after a controversial Ben Roethlisberger fumble.

Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs turned the corner on the Steelers' battered offensive line and hit Roethlisberger from behind, forcing him to get rid of the ball. After the ball appeared to bounce off a defender and hit the ground after leaving his hand, all 21 of the 22 players on the field seemed to believe the play was over with an incomplete pass. The one player whom realized there hadn't been a whistle blow yet--Corey Redding, Baltimore's veteran defensive tackle out of Texas--picked the ball up and ran it back 13 yards for the score. The play was challenge, but the touchdown was upheld, leaving coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of Heinz Field in shock.
The score at the end of one was 14-7, but Baltimore's first half scoring didn't stop there.

After exchanging punts, the Steelers got the ball back deep inside its own territory looking for a fresh start. A couple plays later Mendenhall fumbled the football and gave Baltimore yet another scoring chance. Flacco took advantage, of course, and six plays later threw a four-yard touchdown to Todd Heap. Baltimore went ahead by two scores.

Pittsburgh tried to regroup and get a drive together just before the half, but Roethlisberger's offense sputtered and kicker Shaun Suisham ended up missing a 43-yard field goal after successfully converting his first 14 attempts as Pittsburgh's kicker.

Tomlin's squad did not play Pittsburgh football in the first half of play, giving Baltimore far too many chances to score and digging themselves a huge hole. But, this is why he is a pro football head coach. He was able to get his guys together at the half, regroup, and come out and hit gold in the second half.

Pittsburgh dominated every facet of the game in the second half, outscoring the Ravens 14-0 in the third quarter, and 24-3 in the second half altogether. The key? The exact same 'key' that Baltimore had in the first half of play: turnovers. Pittsburgh forced two fumbles and a Flacco turnover in the third and fourth quarter of play and were able to take advantage of them.

At the end of the third quarter, Baltimore had just 94 total yards, as they finished the game with just 126 total net yards as compared to Pittsburgh's 263. Pittsburgh beat Baltimore in the time of possession category by nearly 10 minutes as well. Despite playing rather sloppily in the penalty category (9-93 yards), the Steelers defense controlled Ray Rice (12 attempts, 32 yards, 1 TD) and grounded Joe Flacco, who threw for just 125 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and was sacked five times (three recorded by James Harrison).

To overcome such a deficit through ferocious defense, Pittsburgh has proved they can hang in there with a poised Roethlisberger and an aggressive play-calling approach by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Looking forward to next week's matchup whether they play New York or New England.

Photo credit
James Farrior: NFL/Joe Robbins

Today in NFL History: Major Events and Birthdays

Today the Ravens and Steelers will kick off the Divisional weekend's slate of game's at approximately 4:30 P.M. eastern time, but before we get around to taking one last look at the matchup, here is what has happened on this day in years past.

Major Events:

*1939--First (NFL) Pro Bowl. The NY Giants beat the All Stars 13-10 at Wrigley Field...clearly the whole Pro Bowl deal was a little different back then.

*1967--Super Bowl I took place in Los Angeles, California. Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers defeated Hank Stram's Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. Quarterback Bart Starr was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

*1978--Super Bowl XII, the only other Super Bowl to be held on January 15 in league history, was held in New Orleans. The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Denver Broncos 27-10. Defensive end Harvey Martin and defensive tackle Randy White were named the game's co-MVP's for the Cowboys.
*1995--The two Conference Championship games were held as the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers both earned Super Bowl appearances by defeating their opponents. San Diego knocked off the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-13, while san Francisco handled the hated Dallas Cowboys with a 38-28 defeat. Of course we all know that the Niners went on to crush San Diego, 49-26, in the Super Bowl two weeks later. Steve Young won the MVP award.


*Fred Davis, Washington Redskins' TE, turns 25 today

*Drew Brees, last year's Super Bowl MVP, turns 32 today

*Corey Chavous, former Arizona Cardinal, Minnesota Viking and St. Louis Rams' strong safety, turns 35 today

*Mike Minter, former Carolina Panthers' free safety, turns 37 today


Photo credit
Steve Young: 1995-Mickey Pfleger

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Weekend Preview: Who will earn a spot in the Conference Championship?

I have been slacking with the posts as of late and never really did an official recap of this past weekend's Wild Card match-ups. Therefore, I will be combining my (late) recap with a preview of the Divisional round. My picks for last week's slate of games was 3-1, by the way, with my only bad pick being the Saints/Seahawks game.

Also I have added, in addition to my game pick, a simulation of all four games by both and Madden 2011. I let the computer play all four Divisional games and have added the final score for your entertainment. I was looking to earn a little extra credit, so I finished the rest of the playoffs and Super Bowl simulations via WIS and Madden for additional entertainment. The final scores of the Conference Championships and Super Bowl were added to the end of my article. Enjoy:

Saturday January 15, 2011

(5) Baltimore Ravens at (2) Pittsburgh Steelers (4:30 PM ET on CBS)

How Baltimore won on Sunday: The first half of the first round game between the Baltimore Ravens and the AFC West winning Kansas City Chiefs was very sloppy on both sides of the ball as Kansas City's Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles took over the spotlight at Arrowhead with his 41 yard touchdown run following a Joe Flacco fumble. Baltimore dominated the first half time of possession, holding on to the ball for 20 of the 30 minutes, but three sacks of Flacco, and the Flacco fumble limited Baltimore's offense to just 10 first half points as they went in to the break with a 10-7 lead.

Kansas City's head coach Todd Haley failed to make the needed adjustments at the half as the Ravens came out and scored 13 third quarter points. Simply enough, Baltimore's defense stepped it up and forced two turnovers during the quarter (one fumble, one INT) and put points on the board as a result. Before the final quarter even began, the Chiefs' hearts were out of it. Baltimore's defense, led by the intimidating Terrell Suggs and future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, took the final two quarters over and forced three second half turnovers, leading to a 20-point outburst.

What will need to be done to win this Saturday: When these two teams meet, it's always a bloodbath. And points are always hard to come by considering these are two the toughest defenses in the game. Turnovers are a given. So that's why I think the team with the most effective offense will come out winners in this game. Both teams are tough against the run, so if Ray Rice and Rashard Mendenhall are able to make an impact on the game it will go a long way for their respective team.

Who will win: I'm going to have to lean towards Pittsburgh in this one, likely because Ben Roethlisberger edges Joe Flacco in the postseason, and knows how to have success against the Ravens (7-3 against BAL in the regular season; 1-0 in postseason). I haven't even mentioned the fact that Baltimore will be playing on Pittsburgh's home turf with 50,000-plus Terrible Towels. Pittsburgh wins 14-10.

WIS' prediction: Steelers 16-13
Madden's prediction: Steelers 17-10
(6) Green Bay Packers at (1) Atlanta Falcons (8 PM ET on FOX)

How Green Bay won on Sunday: Aaron Rodgers and his sixth seeded Packers were technically underdogs to the Eagles, but this doesn't necessarily surprise me that they were able to go in to the Linc in Philly and defeat Vick's Eagles. Green Bay's record could have easily ended up much better than it was at the end of the regular season had Rodgers not suffered from a concussion late in the season against Detroit. Rodgers is back to full speed and led his Packers to a 14-3 halftime lead as the defense limited Vick early on. The difference between the two games is that Green Bay played solid all sixty minutes and were able to control the clock throughout, as well as limit the mental mistakes (just two penalties all game).

Philadelphia was able to force two Green Bay turnovers, but was only able to convert one of them for points. Two missed David Akers field goal attempts and a failed two point conversion could blamed for the loss, but the fact of the matter is that Vick got greedy towards the end of the game and went for it all. He rushed a throw in to the corner of the end zone to rookie receiver Riley Cooper and the Pack took advantage of the under-thrown pass as Tramon Williams picked off the pass to seal the five-point victory.

What will need to be done to win this Saturday: For the Packers, another huge key in to their victory in the first round was the running game. After Ryan Grant suffered a season-ending injury ankle injury (against Philly) during the first game of the season, Green Bay's run game came in to question. Brandon Jackson--Grant's replacement--ran for career-highs 703 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season, but was a non-factor this past weekend (3 attempts for 10 yards). Luckily for head coach Mike McCarthy, first-year running back James Starks (29 attempts, 101 yards during regular season) ran for 123 yards in his first career postseason game. If Green Bay wants to defeat Atlanta, they will need to make them one dimensional by taking away the run. If Michael Turner is a non-factor, and the Packers secondary can control Roddy White, Matt Ryan may find himself in some trouble against Green Bay's front seven.

Who will win: The above paragraph is much easier said than done. Stopping Atlanta's fifth-highest scoring offense is quite the task, and after allowing 352 total yards last week, I can't see Green Bay succeeding against Matty Ice, Turner and White. The run game of the Packers scares me, as well. How do we know that Starks' Wild Card performance isn't a fluke? Atlanta wins 28-14.

WIS' prediction: Packers 20-3
Madden's prediction: Falcons 22-19 (OT)
Sunday January 16, 2011

(4) Seattle Seahawks at (2) Chicago Bears (1 PM on FOX)

How Seattle won on Saturday: Perhaps one of the biggest upsets in NFL postseason history, I am still in shock that Seattle's offense put up 41 on the defending champions. It's obvious that Drew Brees had a spectacular game and did all he could to lead his Saints back to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately his 404 yards and two touchdowns (and 36 points scored) weren't enough for the Saints to squeeze out a victory as the defense allowed four passing touchdowns.

The greatest run in postseason history was basically the knock-out blow with just over three minutes to play. Former Buffalo Bills' running back Marshawn Lynch, who at one point was one small mistake from being out of the league for good, broke eight tackles on a 67-yard touchdown run that put the 'Hawks up by 11. Brees came back and threw for one last touchdown pass to Devery Henderson, of course, but the five offensive touchdowns for Seattle was just too much to overcome.

What will need to be done to win this Sunday: Once again Seattle will be overmatched against Chicago, but that doesn't mean they don't have a shot. But Seattle will need to break 150 yards on the ground again against Chicago, and on the defensive side of the ball they cannot allow Jay Cutler to have a big day. They were able to get away with a huge day from Brees because of the amount of success the offense had against New Orleans. This week they will be on the road against a much tougher defense, though, and will need to match Chicago's explosiveness on both sides of the ball. In Seattle's week six victory over Chicago they played great defense by sacking Cutler six times and shutting down Matt Forte (8 attempts, 11 yards, 1 TD).

Who will win: As much as it is nice to see the underdog prevail, I just don't see these Seahawks doing it twice in a row. I doubted them last week and they proved me wrong, but it looks like they will have to do it again this Sunday. Hasselbeck could have a huge day in the passing game, but if they can't get anything going on the ground against Chicago's second-best run defense, they wont be able to keep up with Chicago's tempo. Chicago wins 24-10.

WIS' prediction: Seahawks 17-14
Madden's prediction: Seahawks 20-17
(6) New York Jets at (1) New England Patriots (4:15 PM on CBS)

How New York won on Saturday: Head coach Rex Ryan finally got the best of his mortal enemy Peyton Manning, limiting him to just 225 yards passing and one offensive touchdown. But it wasn't as convincing a victory as Jets' fans were hoping for as kicker Nick Folk squeezed a 32-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired. If it wasn't for New York's powerful run game (led by L.T.'s 82 yards and two touchdowns), New York wouldn't have had a chance against Indy's 20th-ranked overall defense. Second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez looked jittery and threw a key red zone interception just before the half. Ryan's defense kept the team in it despite zero turnovers and just four Indy punts. Ball control was key in this game as New York held on to the ball for 33 of the game's 60 minutes.

What will need to be done this Sunday: With the amount of trash-talking coming from coach Ryan and cornerback Antonio Cromartie have been doing this week, New York's defense will certainly need to step up. New England has the league's hottest offense, scoring at least 30 points in each of its final eight games this season, including 45 in a week 13 matchup with this same Jets team. Throughout the season, New York was the sixth-best scoring defense and was third-best in the league in total defense.

But, Tom Brady's Pats are the highest-scoring offense and are arguably the most balanced offense out there. On the defensive side of the ball New England's young defense is highly underrated, and picked off the opposition 25 times this season (most in the league). Sanchez will need to be 100% mistake-free and New York will need to get pressure on Brady nearly every play.

Who will win: This will be the one game that I don't think will be close. At all. Rex Ryan's defense really doesn't stand a chance against Brady and Belichick's pass-oriented offense, and Mark Sanchez is in for a long day against New England's quick defense. The game will be over at halftime. New England wins 31-10.

WIS' prediction: Jets 27-6
Madden's prediction: Patriots 34-17
The rest of the postseason, according to Whatifsports...

Conference Championships:

AFC...Steelers 21, Jets 7

NFC...Packers 31, Seahawks 20

Seattle gets the privilege of hosting a second playoff game despite their 7-9 regular season record, but Rodgers earns his first Super Bowl appearance with an 11-point victory over Hasselbeck's squad.

Pittsburgh lucked out with Sanchez's shellacking of the Pats in the second round, and didn't have much trouble handing the Jets its second consecutive AFC Championship loss in a 14-point victory.

Super Bowl:

Steelers 44, Packers 24

MVP: Ben Roethlisberger (17/24, 243 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs)

Ben gets his third Super Bowl ring with his MVP performance against the Pack as his offense puts up 44 points.

The rest of the postseason according to Madden...

Conference Championships:

AFC...Steelers 31, Patriots 20

NFC...Falcons 24, Seahawks 19

Super Bowl:

Steelers 29, Falcons 17

MVP: Rashard Mendenhall (22 rush attempts, 132 yards, 2 TDs)

I swear to you I had nothing to do with the outcome of these simulations. Pittsburgh has prevailed, capturing the team's seventh Lombardi trophy according to both and Madden 2011.

**The Baltimore/Pittsburgh Divisional matchup seems to be the only one in which one team has been favored by myself, Whatifsports and Madden's simulation. Interestingly enough, all three have seen a mixed result in predictions. I wish I could say that I think there will be an upset this weekend, but I just don't think it will happen and I have justified my reasoning in the above article. That's why the National Football League is so great, though, anything can happen on any given Sunday.

Who knows what this weekend holds for us. We could witness history.

Photo credit
Flacco and Roethlisberger: AP Photo/Nick Wass
Tony Gonzalez: AP Photo/Rich Addicks
Jay Cutler: AP Photo/John Smierciak
Deion Branch: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rex, Cromartie Continue to Blast Brady and the Pats; When Will They Learn?

When are these Jets ever going to learn? I respect Rex Ryan and all for what he has done with these Jets despite an inconsistent and inexperienced Mark Sanchez at the helm of the offense. But when is this never-ending trash talk with the Pats going to end?

Antonio Cromartie, New York's cornerback, was the latest to sound off and "bash" Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. What I find rather funny in this particular situation is that Cromartie has played in seven career postseason games (3-4 record) and two of his four losses came against Brady and Belichick's Pats while he was playing in San Diego.

Anyways, of all teams, the Jets are in no position to trash Brady and the Patriots. This decade alone the Patriots have defeated the Jets 15 out of 23 games, including once in the playoffs (the score of that game was 37-16).
Now obviously we have entered a new era with head coach Rex Ryan coming in to the picture last season, and since he has taken over, the Jets and Patriots have each won two head-to-head games--a season series split last year and this year.

The most recent memory between New York and New England, though, was an embarrassing 45-3 beat down at Foxboro. New York's sixth overall defense couldn't force a single turnover then (at NE) and against the Colts this past week, so how do they expect to force any this week against the near-perfect Tom Brady, who threw just five interceptions this season (least amount in the league).

New England's second half offense put up 30 points or more in eight straight games, and over that stretch they played defenses such as Pittsburgh, Chicago and Green Bay. All three of those teams are in the top four in scoring defense.

Rex and his shenanigans started out just a fun little way of him having a good time and relieving some stress that builds up as an NFL head coach, but as of late he has crossed the line far too many times.

For the New York Jets to walk in to Foxboro Sunday afternoon and soundly defeat the New England Patriots on their home turf, a place where they are 11-2 all-time in the postseason, the entire squad will need to be 100% mistake-free. And, yes, I am pointing at you, Mark Sanchez!
Until this happens, I suggest you (Rex Ryan and Antonio Cromartie) to keep your mouths shut. Thank you very much.

Interesting Fact: Five teams in NFL history (including this year's Jets) have been beaten by a team by 37 or more points in the regular season and then played them again later that year in the postseason. Of the previous four teams (2009 Bengals vs. Jets, 1991 Lions vs. Redskins, 1991 Falcons vs. Redskins, 1969 Browns vs. Vikings) none of those teams have managed to redeem themselves and pull off a victory.

Personally, I can't wait until the two teams hit the field and Tom Brady shows the Jets how to play football...without all the unneeded trash-talking which the Jets like to do so much. Some people enjoy it, but it has gotten way too out-of-hand and this is why I respect Brady and Belichick so much. They don't let Rex get to them and they just go out every week and show the nation how it's done. Gotta respect that.

Rex later said he and the Jets' organization "respect Tom Brady and the Patriots," and the way he's talked about them in the past there's no way that's true. Sorry, Rex, but I may have to call BS on your comment.

And once again, after watching Sammy Morris, Alge Crumpler and Deion Branch answer questions in a press conference, they didn't take any shots against the Jets. But instead, they simply said they were gonna do all they can to protect Brady.

Photo credit
Mark Sanchez: AP Photo/Charles Krupa
BenJarvus Green Ellis: AP Photo/StephanSavola

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Must Be the Genes: Top 10 NFL Families

After watching Oregon's linebacker Casey Matthews running from sideline-to-sideline in last night's National Championship game, it got me thinking, what other families out there have produced great football players, considering Matthews is likely on his way to the NFL just like every other man in his long list of family members. Oregon may have lost the game, but to me the play of the game was when Matthews stripped Auburn's Heisman winner Cam Newton of the ball late in the fourth to give the Ducks another shot. It wasn't his fault the offense couldn't produce.

So here it is, my top 10 list of NFL families (including both players and coaches)...

10. Payton's: Walter, Jarrett

Walter "Sweetness" Payton passed his family genes on to his son, Jarrett, after his death at the age of 45 in 1999. Walter, as we all are well aware of, is a Hall of Fame running back for the Chicago Bears whom retired from the game in 1987 as the league's all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards and 110 TDs in 13 seasons. The nine-time Pro Bowler won the Super Bowl under Mike Ditka in 1985 and was inducted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. His No. 34 jersey has been retired by the Chicago Bears. Jarrett, on the other hand, didn't come close to matching his father's accomplishments. After just one season in 2005 with the Tennessee Titans (33 attempts, 105 yards, 2 TDs), Jarrett was out of the league. Walter's genes may not have been passed on successfully, but the Payton's still squeeze on to this list because of what Walter accomplished in the league.

9. Shula's: Don, Dave, Mike

Hall of Fame head coach Don Shula is the league's all-time leader in victories (347) and led his Miami Dolphins to a perfect, undefeated 14-0 season in 1972. He won a second consecutive Super Bowl the following season. He has coached teams to seven conference championships and has fallen just short of four more Super Bowls. His two sons, David and Mike, obviously weren't quite as successful, but his elder son Dave (51) was head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals from 1992-1996, though his stint was very unsuccessful (compiled a record of 19-53). Mike is the current quarterbacks coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and was head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide from 2003-06.
8. Hasselbeck's: Don, Matt, Tim

Don, the father, played tight end for 10 seasons with four different teams in the late '70s to early-to-mid '80s. His best season was in 1981 with the Patriots in which he caught 46 balls for 808 yards and six touchdowns. Fortunately, his eldest son Matt made the Hasselbeck name a little more well-known. The three-time Pro Bowler was a backup to the legendary Brett Favre for a short time in Green Bay before getting his chance to shine in Seattle in 2001. With a 63-54 career record in Seattle, Hasselbeck has led the Seahawks to six postseason appearances (including this season) and a Super Bowl appearance. He didn't get the ring like he was hoping to in 2005, but just getting Seattle there for the first time in the franchise's history is quite an accomplishment. Tim, Matt's younger brother, didn't share the same kind of success as Matt, sadly, as he put up a 1-4 career record in four seasons with four different teams. He has, however, made a name for himself in the media world as an ESPN NFL analyst.

7. Ronnie Lott/Ryan Nece

Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott (San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and New York Jets) posted solid numbers for 14 seasons, being selected to ten Pro Bowls, six first-team All Pros and picking off nine interceptions in seven postseason games (not including Super Bowls) and captured four Super Bowl rings. Lott's son, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Ryan Nece, is currently a free agent and hasn't played a game since 2008, but he put up decent numbers in seven seasons with the Buccaneers and Lions (204 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 INTs, 10 PDs in 45 starts).

6. Simms': Phil, Chris

Phil Simms is a two-time Super Bowl champion and a one-time Super Bowl MVP winner as the quarterback of the New York Giants from 1979-93. Simms has made a name for himself as a broadcaster for CBS over the years, pairing up with Jim Nantz in the booth. Simms finished his 14-year pro career with a 95-64 record as New York's starter and a 6-4 playoff record. His son Chris didn't get as much attention in his five-year career with three different teams. He is currently the backup quarterback in Tennessee and has posted a career 69.1 QB rating in 16 NFL starts. His life-threatening spleen injury at the beginning of the 2006 season while in Tampa Bay may be what he has gotten the most publicity for.
5. Long's: Howie, Chris

Howie Long, Oakland Raiders' defensive end, played 13 seasons and was selected to 8 Pro Bowls and two first-team All Pros. In five career postseason games, Long recorded four sacks despite his Raiders going just 2-3 in those games. Long was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000. Howie is another former player who has made a living in the media as well as on the field, he is currently an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. His son, Chris Long (also a defensive end), was drafted second overall by the St. Louis Rams in 2008 NFL draft after playing his college ball at Virginia. In his first three NFL seasons, Chris has played in all 48 games and put up solid numbers: 92 tackles, 17.5 sacks, 5 FF.

4. Winslow's: Kellen Sr., Kellen Jr.

Both Winslow's were drafted in the first round of their respected draft classes, and played/play tight end in the National Football League. Only difference between the two? Kellen Sr. was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after catching 541 passes and being selected to five Pro Bowls in nine seasons for the San Diego Chargers. In his first six seasons in the league, Kellen II has been a one-time Pro Bowler, but has finally humbled himself after making a huge mistake early on in his career (violated his contract by riding a motorcycle; crashed it and missed a full season as a result of the crash in 2005).
3. Ryan's: Buddy, Rex, Rob

This family tree has produced three well-known NFL head coaches. As head coach, the father, Buddy Ryan, put up a record of just 55-55-1 in his seven seasons at the helm in Philly and Arizona (three winning seasons, all with Eagles). But it was as the New York Jets' linebackers coach (1968-75) and the Chicago Bears' defensive coordinator (1978-85) in which he gained all his fame, and his two Super Bowl rings--'69 Jets, '85 Bears. Buddy was known for creating the 46 defense while in Chicago, and by 1982 he had perfected the 46 defense.

Buddy ended up having twin sons, both of whom also made a name for themselves in the coaching realm. Rex won a ring while in the Baltimore Ravens organization from 1999-08 before leaving Baltimore to take the New York Jets' head coaching vacancy. It was there where he became known as the smack-talker, always making headlines for things he says about opposing teams and, in general, having some pretty funny press conferences. Rob, a much more quiet guy than Rex, has never taken a job as head coach, but he was New England's linebackers coach from 2000-03 where he won two rings. He has been a defensive coordinator in the league since 2004, and is currently interviewing for possible head coaching jobs. By far the best family for NFL coaches.

2. Manning's: Archie, Peyton, Eli

Archie was elected to two Pro Bowls and had a healthy 15-year career with three different teams (Saints, Oilers, Vikings), but his numbers were no where near getting him to the Hall, and he never even participated in a playoff game throughout his prolonged career. Career record? 35-101-3. His rating on the day he retired from the game? 67.1. He threw for 125 touchdowns, but also 173 career interceptions. He was the "face of the franchise" of New Orleans back when they were referred to as the 'Aints.

Luckily for Archie, two of his three sons went on to win Super Bowl championships, and Super Bowl MVP awards, in back-to-back seasons. The elder of the two, Peyton, is known as one of the smartest quarterbacks in the game today, and was the first to win a championship when he led his Colts over the Bears in 2006. The following year, Eli, whom also attended Ole Miss as a quarterback, just like Archie, led his Giants to one of the greatest upsets in league history by defeating the undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Even Cooper, Archie's eldest son, was a solid football player. He played receiver at Ole Miss.
1. Matthews': Clay Sr., Clay Jr., Bruce, Clay III, Kevin, Casey (LB at Oregon)

Forget the Manning's, the Matthews have by far the best football genes out there. Clay Matthews Sr. was the first to reach the National Football League, playing four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers on both the offensive and defensive line. From 1950-55 Matthews Sr. played in 45 games for the Niners. A year after his retirement, his son Clay Jr. was born. Clay Jr., a four-time Pro Bowler for the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons for 19 years, retired from the game in 1996 with 1,561 career tackles and 16 interceptions. Clay Jr.'s little brother, Bruce, born five years after Clay, played 19 seasons as well. Bruce, an offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans was elected to 14 Pro Bowls and a seven-time first team All Pro in 292 starts at guard, tackles and center. As one of the most dominant offensive lineman in league history, Bruce was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, just six years after his retirement from the game.

The family lineage does not end here, though. Both Bruce and Clay Jr. each have a son who is currently in the league. Bruce has a 23-year old son, Kevin, who is a center for the Titans after signing with them as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M. His other son, Casey, is a linebacker for the Oregon Ducks, who just fell to the Auburn Tigers in last night's national championship. Clay's son, Clay III, is a pretty well known linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. In his second pro season, Matthews was elected to his second Pro Bowl this season.

People seem to want to call the Manning's the best family in football, but I beg to differ. (Note: Unfortunately, the photo above only shows Clay Jr., Bruce and Clay III).

Honorable Mentions:

--Tatupu's: Mosi, Lofa
--Griese's: Bob, Brian
--Phillips: Bum and Wade
--Moss's: Santana, Sinorice
--Bailey's: Champ, Boss
--Metcalf's: Terry, Eric

Photo Credit
All photos in article belong to the AP, and can be found on

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Last-second Preview: Things to Consider While Watching Saints/Seahawks Game

Just a couple of hours separate us from the kick-off to the 2010-2011 NFL playoffs. The first matchup between the 11-5 Saints, the fifth seed, and the 7-9 Seahawks, the fourth seed in the NFC playoff bracket would appear to be a cakewalk for the defending champions.

*Keys for the Seahawks:

1. Run, run, run.

2. Pressure Drew Brees

3. Protect the ball! Hasselbeck tied a career-high this season with 17 interceptions, even while missing two games due to injury. He missed last week's game against the Rams and may start the game off a bit rusty. He wont be throwing the ball any more than 30 times today, and will need to play mistake-free football to give Seattle a chance.

*Why you can't rule the Seahawks out of this one:

-New Orleans' top two running backs--Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory--are both inactive for today's game. In fact, they have both been placed on the injured reserve and will not be available at all this postseason. Not only does that affect the Saint hugely this week, but they will likely be one dimensional all postseason.

-In addition to the Thomas and Ivory injuries, the Saints have four other players who have been ruled out for the game today. Three of those four players are on the defensive side of the ball, including starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins. Veteran five-time Pro Bowler Darren Sharper is expected to start in his place though he has been limited to just eight games this season as he been battling numerous injuries. We'll see if head coach Pete Carroll decides to pick on the vulnerable Sharper in the passing game today.
-New Orleans' pass defense: 193.9 yards/game (4th), run defense: 112.3 yards/game (16th)...Seattle's run attack is 31st in the league, but don't be surprised if you see a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett early on anyway. Seattle has had the game's top rusher only five times this season, but they put up a 5-0 record during those games, and scored 30-plus points in two of those games.

--No matter which way you look at it, Seattle's best chance at winning this game is to run the ball affectively and limit turnovers.

*History is on Seattle's side:

These two teams have met just 11 times, all in the regular season. So, yes, this is the first postseason meeting between New Orleans and Seattle. But, the Seahawks have won three out of the last four meetings (New Orleans holds series lead, 6-5, after defeating Seattle at home earlier this season), and have outscored the Saints 256-234 in the series.

Also, defending champions always have a hard time. In the past eight years, only one team (2004 Patriots) have made it out of the second round. And, only two teams (2004 Patriots and 2005 Patriots) even managed to come away with a playoff victory the following season.
Oh and did I mention the fact that the Saints have to go in to Qwest Field, a very tough place to play for opposing teams considering the noise level (leads to quite a few false start penalties) and the crappy Washington (state) weather?

Having said all this, I am still picking the Saints to pull away with a victory. But wouldn't this be quite a game if Seattle is able to keep up with Brees and his cannon of a right arm?

My pick: New Orleans 31-17's pick: Seattle 29-24

Interesting to see the simulation pulling for the upset. We'll see how all of this plays out in approximately two hours. Check back later for updates, I may do a live blog of the game if I'm up for it. Enjoy.

(Note: This is my 100th blog post here on All-Out Blitz. I haven't exactly gotten many readers at all but I'm working on that.)

Photo Credit
Drew Brees: Aaron M. Sprecher/NFL
Leon Washington: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wild Card X-Factors

When playoff times rolls around, usually just a couple of key players end up making the largest impact on the game's outcome. Each of the eight teams competing for a spot in the second round of the playoffs have guys who I think will be the deciding "X-Factor" for his respective team.

New Orleans at Seattle, Saturday 4:30 PM ET

Saints X Factor: Drew Brees

With the loss of New Orleans' top two running backs in 2010, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, both of whom will miss Saturday's game due to injury, even more pressure will be put on defending Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees. If he can't get off to a quick start I don't see him having any trouble carving up Seattle's defense with quick, intermediate passes on the perimeter of the field. A couple of deep balls to Marques Colston could be a lethal weapon in the match-up with the league's 27th-ranked passing defense. On the road this season Brees has 16 TDs/10 INTs (6-2 record).
Seahawks X Factor: Lofa Tatupu

Without an active Ivory and Thomas available this Saturday, and Reggie Bush (150 rushing yards in eight games this season) making the start at running back, Seattle's defense has their work cut out for them. They know Brees will be throwing the football freely and that if they can force a couple of Brees turnovers they would give their offense a shot at putting points on the board. That's why its up to Seattle's defensive captain--and leader--Tatupu to keep his 'Hawks in the game and make sure they are focused on stopping the pass. Tatupu (58 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT this season) doesn't specialize is rushing the passer, but is a great coverage 'backer and is the backbone of Seattle's defense.

New York at Indianapolis, Saturday 8 PM ET

Jets X Factor: Brad Smith

The former quarterback out of Mizzou has had success against Indy before, in fact in last year's AFC Championship game he made a couple of big plays albeit in a losing effort. The Jets' defense as a whole will be a pretty big factor against the Hall of Fame-bound Peyton Manning, but the real x-factor I believe will be the elusive receiver/return man. He can be used with trick plays and formations such as the wildcat and pistol formation. Out of those two formations he has shown he can make an impact both running the ball and throwing it deep. Not only that, but he also has three career kick return touchdowns, two of which he ran back this season. Head coach Rex Ryan has several ways of using Smith, and he will most definitely incorporate him in to his game plan against Indy.
Colts X Factor: Dwight Freeney

We all know the Colts struggle stopping the run, and that the Jets will likely take advantage of that. It's so bad that the Colts may even just allow the Jets to run the ball and completely shut down Mark Sanchez's passing offense. Last year, when Indy knocked New York out of the playoffs in the Conference Championship game, then-rookie Mark Sanchez threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns (1 INT), yet the offense still only managed 17 points against Indy. With Freeney's nine sacks in 11 career playoff games, I don't expect him to lay off of Sanchez this week. Expect a couple of Freeney sacks, and a couple of New York turnovers at the expense of Sanchez, who still has a lot of maturing to do.

Baltimore at Kansas City, Sunday 1 PM ET

Ravens X Factor: Ed Reed

This past Sunday against the Bengals, Baltimore's free safety Ed Reed posted his 11th career two interception game. What's even more miraculous about this feat is that the Ravens are 11-0 when the seven-time Pro Bowler has at least two interceptions in a game. On the defensive side of the ball, it isn't nose tackle Haloti Ngata, veteran Terrell Suggs or even the seven-time first team All Pro linebacker Ray Lewis that KC's quarterback Matt Cassel needs to look out for. It's the roaming ball-hawk Ed Reed that needs to be contained.
Chiefs X Factor: Jamaal Charles

After reading what I wrote about Reed above, it's obvious that if Kansas City wants to win this game they will need to have success on the ground. With the league's top rushing attack, Charles' career-high 1,467 yards on the ground will surely be tested against Baltimore's fifth-best run defense, which allowed just 1,503 yards rushing all year. Despite topping the league in rushing yards, Kansas City struggled to get the ball in the end zone while running the ball. Kansas City will need to get the ball to Charles 25-30 times in order to have a shot at controlling the clock--and the game.

Green Bay at Philadelphia, Sunday 4:30 PM ET

Packers X Factor: Clay Matthews III

On defense, there's no doubt Matthews is the nucleus. After a solid rookie performance in '09 (36 tackles, 10 sacks, 7 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR TD), Matthews one-uped himself with an even better 2010 season, quickly making a name for himself. His 54 tackles, 13.5 sacks and interception landed him a second straight Pro Bowl selection. Not only have his numbers been solid, but he has also imposed fear in his opposition. Quarterbacks now need to know where No. 52 is at all times when they step on to the field. He's not all that large (6'3'', 246 pounds) in comparison to other linebackers, but his speed and strength is baffling. He is the Packers' key to containing Vick and keeping him inside the numbers. Once Vick bounces to the outside it is tough to stop him. Look for Matthews to be running sideline-to-sideline on Sunday.
Eagles X Factor: Michael Vick

Vick says he has recovered from his thigh injury and is "100 percent" ready to go on Sunday. But we should all still keep an eye on Vick's thigh. If Green Bay's defense is all over Vick he could re-injure his thigh at any moment. If he is ready to go like he says he is, though, Green Bay could be in for a long day. That's why, of course, Matthews is my X-Factor for Green Bay. The result of this game will vary depending on who shows up and is ready to play. If Vick can break out for a couple of big plays against Matthews' defense, Philly could take this one at home.

Photo Credit
Lofa Tatupu and Jordan Babineaux: AP Photo/John Smierciak
Brad Smith: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
Jamaal Charles: AP Photo/Ed Zurga
Clay Matthews: AP Photo/Morry Gash

Mr. Heck's Regular Season Awards

With a crazy 2010 regular season finally in the books, it's time for my annual "Regular Season Awards." I know what you're saying, and yes my title for these awards isn't very creative, but it will have to do until I can come up with a fancier name, sorry.

Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady

Everyone seems to wanna give this award to Michael Vick. But, the truth is Brady was far more consistent throughout the season than Vick. While Vick went his first seven games without an interception, he threw six in the last five games of the season. Brady through four all season and ended up playing the final 11 games without an interception. Twelve of Brady's 16 games he threw for multiple touchdowns and had a quarterback rating of 100 or better in 12 games. Vick was an all-around solid player this season, but Brady put up numbers reminiscent of New England's undefeated regular season in 2007.

Runner ups: Michael Vick, Phillip Rivers

Rookies of the Year: LeGarrette Blount (offense) and Ndamukong Suh (defense)

For Blount, the road to the NFL was a rocky one after his punching incident in week one of the college football season last year after his Oregon Ducks fell to the Boise State Broncos. He was suspended indefinitely and his chances at going pro were put in jeopardy. Tampa Bay, looking for a consistent runner who could play on first and second downs, claimed Blount off waivers (from the Titans) on September 6. It wasn't until week four against the Cardinals that Blount broke out and raised some eye brows with a 120 yard, two TD performance. He went on to break 1,000 yards rushing with four 100-yard games and a couple of highlight reel plays (jumped completely over two defenders on two separate occasions this season). Blount's Bucs just barely missed out on the playoffs this season, unfortunately.
Suh, a Heisman trophy finalist in 2009, made an immediate impact in the NFL this season. The 6'4'', 307 pounder was first among defensive tackles with 10 sacks as he started all 16 games this season. Suh's 66 total tackles was seventh-best among defensive lineman. The former Nebraska Cornhusker forced fear in to his opposition with a big hit he put on Cleveland Browns' quarterback Jake Delhomme in the preseason. Suh was fined $7,500 by commissioner Roger Goodell for the hit in which he slammed Delhomme down to the turf. Suh, unlike my offensive rookie of the year Blount, was awarded a Pro Bowl selection this season. This is the first of what should be many in the years to come for Ndamukong.

Runner ups: Sam Bradford (offense) and Eric Berry (defense)

Breakout Player: Arian Foster

Houston seemed to be lost for words as soon as they learned that their rookie running back Ben Tate would miss the rest of the season after suffering a leg injury in the very first preseason game. A couple weeks later they would discover a guy who would carry the workload for a majority of the season. Foster, who ran the ball just 54 times for 257 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season last year, ran all over the Indianapolis Colts in week one (a franchise-record 331 to be exact). Foster put up seven 100-yard games and five multi-TD performances throughout the season, and ended the 16-game schedule with a league-high 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. Foster is on the radar in 100 percent of fantasy leagues after this season.

Runner ups: Peyton Hillis, Cameron Wake, Brandon Lloyd
Comeback Player of the Year: Michael Vick

He didn't get my MVP vote, but the fact that he went from not playing in the league at all in 2007 and 2008, to just 13 pass attempts and 24 rush attempts in 2009, to a Pro Bowl selection and an MVP-type performance in 2010 warrants this award. Vick's career-high 3,018 yards and 21 touchdown passes showed the NFL world that Vick can--and will--throw the ball. His 676 rushing yards and nine TDs sure did help too. I look forward to seeing what he and the Eagles do in the playoffs.

Runner ups: Brian Urlacher, Braylon Edwards

Biggest Disappointment: Brett Favre

What can I say? After last season's career year, we probably should have been expecting a letdown in 2010, but yet we're still all disappointed that it had to end this way. His consecutive games played streak was ended and the last image we may have of Favre is of him being slammed in to the turf by a rookie defensive lineman, causing a concussion on a rock solid Soldier Field surface in a 40-14 loss. Favre's 19 interceptions and Minnesota's 6-10 record sure didn't help matters. There's still a chance he could come back in 2011, but I really do not expect it to happen. I think he has finally discovered that his body can't take the beating any longer.

Runner ups: Donovan McNabb
Coach of the Year: Lovie Smith (Chicago)

Green Bay and Minnesota made all the headlines and front pages this off-season, but it was in Chicago where all the hard work finally paid off during the 2010 season. Quarterback Jay Cutler put up over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes for the fourth straight season and was able to protect the ball a little better than last year, going from 26 int's from '09 to 16 this season. He had to adjust to yet another offense as Mike Martz was brought in as the coordinator. But it was really Lovie's defense that was able to get the Bears' its first division title since the year they played Indy in the Super Bowl back in 2006. Good luck to Lovie and his Bears in the playoffs.

Runner ups: Todd Haley

If you have any other awards you would like to "hand out" feel free to inform me of them in the comment section.

Photo Credit
LeGarrette Blount: AP Photo/Bill Haber
Arian Foster: AP Photo/Dave Einsel
Brett Favre: AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Monday, January 3, 2011

NFL playoff system "broken" but can't be fixed

The NFC West division has been a weak link for years when it comes to the National Football League's playoff seeding procedure, but it hit a new low this season.

After defeating a hapless St. Louis Rams offense last night, led by rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, the Seattle Seahawks became the first team to win a division with a sub-.500 record (7-9). Recently several NFL employees have brought to attention the weak spot in the procedure for figuring out each conference's playoff seeds.

Because of the format (No. 1 thru No. 4 division winners, No. 5 and No. 6 the two Wild Card teams), the Seahawks get to host the 11-5 New Orleans Saints, since they are in a stronger division and didn't win the NFC South. Depending on how the sixth seeded Green Bay Packers do in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Seattle has a slight chance at hosting not just the first week, but the conference championship game as well if they make it that far.
Another thing that was brought to my attention is the fact that two 10-6 NFC teams (New York and Tampa Bay) are both sitting at home watching the playoffs while the Seahawks are not. Funny thing is that both the Giants and Bucs crushed Seattle earlier this season--New York won 41-7 during week nine and Tampa won 38-15 just last week. In the history of the league this is the first year that two 10-6 teams in the same conference missed the postseason.

It's clear that Seattle, who didn't even get to start Matt Hasselbeck in last night's game yet still managed to pull out a victory, doesn't deserve a playoff spot after finishing with a point differential of -97 and going 2-6 on the road.

But lets not get ahead of ourselves. This isn't a fixable system like the NCAA's.

Employees have brought up the idea of changing the format to just picking the top six teams in each conference (record-wise). But what exactly does that fix? I mean yes it does allow the top six teams to make it in to the postseason, but it also completely takes away the whole point of having divisions.

If this change happens sometime in the near future, I am not going to be a happy camper. There would be no reason to have division match-ups and it would take away from the rivalries which have been created through having four divisions in each conference.

If they want to fix the system, you might as well fix the entire format of the league. And that just seems like far too much trouble to go through.

I hope you hear me, Roger Goodell. Do not fix the playoff system. That may temporarily fix the problem, but it will only lead to new problems.

Photo credit: AP Photo/John Froschauer