Fantasy Football News

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Super Bowl Week: Media Day Tuesday

The Pro Bowl has been played: AFC won the All-Star game 59-41 Sunday evening in Honolulu. Miami wideout Brandon Marshall was named the game's MVP with 6 receptions for 176 yards and a Pro Bowl record 4 TD catches.

Both New England and New York have officially arrived in Indianapolis, IN over the last two days.

And finally, the media have set everything up for a full five days of coverage before Super Bowl XLVI gets underway in Lucas Oil Stadium. You know what Tuesday means, right? Media day.

I'd love to be able to attend, not only the Super Bowl, but the Media Day festivities as well. This year, according to sports writers and television personalities on their Twitter pages, it seems that there are more fans in attendance than media members.

It's true, fans were able to buy tickets for about $25 apiece and attend the day long festivities in Indianapolis. Also, there is apparently plenty of media interviewing media going on in addition to the player and coach interviews.

In other words, Media Day is dedicated to talking about, analyzing, re-analyzing and consuming anything and everything possible. Anything from score predictions to trash-talking can go down on the annual Media Day. Although, considering the conservative Bill Belichick is on one side of things...and the mouthy duo of Michael Strahan and Plaxico Burress are no longer on New York's roster, I doubt any of that will go on this go around.

This day (Tuesday before SB) four years ago Burress guaranteed that the Giants would defeat the undefeated Patriots. New England's Tom Brady simply smiled and laughed when a reporter told him the news, declining to say anything in response. We all know Burress proved right in the end, but that doesn't mean it didn't help stir the pot for New England.

To me Media Day usually seems pretty redundant, and I don't expect anything interesting or "bulletin board material" to come from today, but that doesn't mean we can't all sit back and enjoy a 3 1/2 minute long video of some of the great Media Day memories.

I found this video on Youtube and couldn't resist putting it up for all to enjoy! Obviously, I do not own the video or any of the clips from the video.



I think it's safe to say Denver's Shannon Sharpe wins the crown for Media Day King after his brush up with Atlanta's Ray Buchanan via the Media prior to Super Bowl XXXIII.

One thing everyone wants to know, and still wont know after Media Day is through, is will Rob Gronkowski play Sunday? Good news, however, for Pats fans: he wasn't wearing the walking boot that he was wearing when he walked off the plane upon arriving at Indy.

Gronk is tough, and despite missing yesterday's practice, I have no reason to believe he wont be on that field come Sunday evening.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Daughter of Former NFL Running Back Making Headlines

This weekend the Lingerie Football League (LFL) semifinals takes place as the four best teams from each of the six-team conference–Eastern and Western–fought for a spot in the Lingerie Bowl next weekend in Vegas.

I know what you're thinking, and yes, the LFL really does exist. This was the first time I had ever tried watching it, which aired on MTV2 at 4 P.M. and 5:30 P.M. eastern time. And let me just say, these women are for real. And not so nice on their opponents, as they take this game very serious.

I currently stand at about 5'8'' or 5'9'' and 140 pounds. These women? Well, lets just say that it's likely that over half of them are at least that big, if not bigger, and are all muscle. Scary stuff.

But anyways, the Eastern Conference final featured the Tampa Bay Breeze (3-1) and Philadelphia Passion (4-0), as Philadelphia improved to 5-0 and a trip to Vegas next Sunday with a victory.
The reason I bothered posting a short write-up of the LFL semifinals is actually because one of Tampa Bay's players caught my attention. It was OL/LB Courtney Wilder, the daughter of former NFL running back James Wilder. Wilder (father) was a second round (34th overall) pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1981 NFL draft.

Wilder ran for 6,008 yards and 37 touchdowns in 10 pro seasons with the Bucs, Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins. In his playing days he stood at 6'3'' and 225 pounds. Wilder, the daughter, has been a standout on her Tampa Bay team this season and boasts a muscle-filled frame of 5'9''/160 pounds.

In four games this LFL season, Wilder has run the ball just six times for 80 yards on offense, but scored three of those six times. She's been a huge threat on defense as well, making 14 tackles (4 for losses), two sacks and recovered two fumbles for the one-loss Breeze.

But the most important factor in her game, much like her father, is the fear she strikes in her opponents. I know one thing, I would never want to line up against her and I'm a male who used to play. She is one scary female athlete.

Although today's performance was in a losing effort, 44-32, Wilder was a huge factor in the game and while watching the matchup unfold it was brought to my attention that Wilder had been playing on a torn meniscus in her right leg. Doctors cleared her to play, but she was obviously playing through a lot of pain.
Now if that isn't a clear sign that she was built to be a football player, then I don't know what is. She's built strong, and tough; true footballer in my opinion.

Football clearly runs in the Wilder family, because her brother James Wilder Jr. plays the game as well. He just finished his freshman year as a RB at Florida State University. In high school, Wilder Jr. was very versatile as a RB/DE/OLB and a top recruit following graduation.

Good luck to both Wilder kids in their future, I'm sure James Sr. is proud of them both.

Game No. 2, the Western Conference final, kicks off shortly with Los Angeles Temptation and Las Vegas Sin facing off for a chance to play Philadelphia in the Lingerie Bowl next Sunday. Tune in to MTV2 (5:30 PM ET) if you need some entertainment for an hour and a half.

Note: Former NFL quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien's daughter, Angela, is in the LFL as well. She quarterbacked the Seattle Mist to a 2-2 record this season, going 10/32, 110 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT in four games.

Photo credit
Wilder Sr.: found on rockmnation.com
Courtney Wilder: borrowed from Tampa Bay Breeze's team site

Pro Bowl: Entertainment Solely for the Players

The AFC/NFC Pro Bowl will be played tonight, at 7 P.M. (Eastern Time), in Honolulu, HI. Each year the league struggles to gain viewers for the NFL's version of the all-star game. In fact, this year they are trying something new in an attempt to gain those extra viewers.

They have decided that, since so many players and fans have Twitter pages to entertain themselves and others, they will provide each sideline with a computer set-up with Twitter so that players can tweet while sitting on the sidelines doing nothing.

Personally I think this is a great idea since players aren't allowed to do so during the regular season and playoffs, why not add this dimension to a game that means absolutely nothing. Fans complain about the Pro Bowl being boring each year–and I agree to some extent. But what they don't understand is this game isn't made for the fans.

It's for the players.

Puzzling statement, I know. But I think it's 100% true. While these players have jobs to keep fans and the common people entertained, the 16-game regular season is tough on these multi-millionaires. Five-plus months of non-stop travel, practicing, attending meetings and basically beating the crap out of their bodies in order to bring the very best entertainment each Sunday or Monday.
Ever wonder why the Pro Bowl is in Hawaii? Well, me too. And I have a couple of different theories as to why it's played in Honolulu: 1. Hawaii doesn't experience much NFL action, so this gives them a shot at seeing the all-star players in motion (well, sort of) and 2. It's a perfect vacation spot.

When I say vacation, I mean for the players. Sure, they can take their friends and families on vacation anywhere they want during the off-season, but this is the league's way of rewarding the players that worked so hard over the course of the season. Players have a ball with this Hawaii trip, and often take their entire families and enjoy precious family time.

I think I may be one of the few NFL fans out there that actually sits down and watches the Pro Bowl every single year. And instead of complaining about how boring it may be, or that the players don't even attempt to make an effort to block field goals and extra points, I try to let the players enjoy this one. I mean, just look, these players are enjoying each other's company and on a mini-vacation all at the same time.

I actually don't mind that the Super Bowl teams do not participate, and that many players drop out of the game due to injury. This gives the un-noticed players, and players who were snubbed, get an opportunity to participate and take his family on vacation. There's 43 first-timers in this year's game, giving us plenty of new faces to watch.

Let's just let the players enjoy themselves in Hawaii, please. If you don't like the Pro Bowl, no one is making you watch it, so why complain about it? The Pro Bowl truly has no meaning, and if you think about it, isn't that the fun part about it for the players?

Thank you,

--An annoyed NFL supporter

Photo credit
Tony G. and Roddy White: found on sbnation.com

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Great Debate: Joe Montana vs. Tom Brady

No matter what happens come February 5, 2012, I think it's safe to say that just by suiting up for the Super Bowl future Hall of Famer Tom Brady is further cement his legacy in the National Football League.

Anyone and everyone outside of the New England area seems to be a Tom Brady hater. I hear fans say it's because the league treats him very well, but I think it's simply because they wish they were him. That's usually why people hate another person: jealousy.

Brady has what every man in the United States is dying to have: good looks, hot wife, perfect life as the league's best quarterback, money. What more could you want? Now he is one win away from surpassing Joe Montana as the most decorated postseason quarterback in NFL history.

This will be his fifth appearance in the Super Bowl, which ties Denver's John Elway with most by a quarterback in the history of the league. With his 23-20 win over Baltimore on Sunday, despite his two almost-costly interceptions, Brady tied the legendary Montana with most-ever postseason victories at 16. Only difference between Brady and Elway, and Brady and Montana? Brady has more rings than Elway and Brady has a better winning percentage (regular season and postseason) than Montana.
I'm not a Patriots fan or a Brady lover, but you have to respect what he's done over the last 12 seasons. Elway played 16 years and captured two rings in his final two years in the league, and Montana played 15 years, won four Super Bowls and three SB MVPs spread throughout his career. In just 12 seasons in the league, Brady has won three Super Bowls and earned two Super Bowl MVP awards.

And you have to take in to consideration that he has only played nine complete seasons (didn't start in his rookie season, 14 starts in first SB season in 2001 and suffered season-ending injury in Week 1 game of 2008 season). His list of accomplishments seems endless:

  • Two-time AP NFL MVP ('07, '10)
  • Seven-time Pro Bowler
  • Two-time First team All Pro, one-time Second team All Pro
  • Three-time Super Bowl champion
  • Two-time Super Bowl MVP
  • Five-time AFC Champion
  • SI Sportsman of the Year (2005)
  • NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2009)
Some of his records include most passing touchdowns in a single-season (50), most consecutive passing attempts without an interception (358), most consecutive postseason wins (10), most TDs in one half in a postseason game (5) and fewest starts to achieve 100 career wins (131 starts).

He also became the only quarterback in history to win three Super Bowls before the age of 28. Of course he received help from his supporting cast, because there's no way one guy has the ability to make that much of an impact in a team sport such as football. But the idea that Brady managed to help keep the Pats as contenders each and every year since his second season is quite a feat in itself.
Now, it's time for the Brady/Montana comparisons (career in regular season):

Montana (164 starts in 15 seasons): 117-47 record, 63.2%, 40,551 yards, 273 TDs, 139 INT, 92.3 QBR, 26 fourth quarter comebacks, 28 game-winning drives

Brady (159 starts in 12 seasons): 124-35 record, 63.8%, 39,979 yards, 300 TDs, 115 INT, 96.4 QBR, 24 fourth quarter comebacks, 34 game-winning drives

If Brady's superior record, TD total and overall rating weren't enough to prove that Brady has accomplished more with less, then perhaps his postseason numbers will suffice:

Montana (23 starts): 16-7 record, 62.7%, 5,772 yards, 45 TDs, 21 INT, 95.6 QBR

Brady (21 starts): 16-5 record, 62.8%, 5,009 yards, 36 TDs, 19 INT, 87.6 QBR

The only number that truly matters, I believe, when comparing the two is number of rings. Montana currently sits atop with Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw with four Super Bowls.

However, if Brady is able to knock off Eli Manning and the Giants I think it's safe to say we have a new King of the Postseason. And he doesn't go by the name of Joe Montana.

Photo credit
Montana: found on makefive.com
Brady: found on nflpassers.com

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tackling the Peyton Manning Issue Once and for All

I was planning on spending my wonderful afternoon taking on The Great Debate between legendary Joe Montana and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. But, it looks like that will have to wait at least another day. Instead I decided to spend my time taking down the huge question surrounding another future Hall of Fame quarterback: Peyton Manning.

In the next couple of weeks we will be hearing plenty of quarterback talk, but today it was a different quarterback. Not Brady, not New York's Eli Manning. No, Eli's older brother Peyton. Of course everyone is well aware by now that Manning missed the entire 2011 regular season and his Indianapolis Colts suffered dearly, finishing 2-14 after making the playoffs 11 times in the past 12 seasons.

Indianapolis' embarrassing season ended in clinching the first overall pick in the draft this April. There have been rumors spreading like wildfire in the social media world about a possibility of Indianapolis taking the coveted No. 1 ranked quarterback in this year's draft class–Andrew Luck out of Stanford.

There's that, a huge distraction in the back of Manning's mind as he continues his rehab over the offseason, and there's also the fact that team owner Jim Irsay cleaned out the house in the past couple weeks or so.

Irsay let go of head coach Jim Caldwell, Tony Dungy's successor, last Wednesday. The very next day he relieved eight more coaches of their duties, including Coaching Assistant Devin Fitzsimmons, Offensive Line Coach Pete Metzelaars, Special Assistant to the Defense Rod Perry, WR Coach Frank Reich, Defensive Assistant Bill Teerlinck, Strength and Conditioning Coach Jon Torine and QB coach Ron Turner.
President Bill Polian had already been fired before all of this went down, might I add in. And Defensive Coordinator Mike Murphy announced his retirement as well.

The magnitude of the changes in the staff were brought to the attention of the general public earlier today when Peyton revealed his feelings on the issue in a lengthy interview with Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star. I will not discuss every little thing that was talked about, but here's a shortened quote of his on the atmosphere of the Indianapolis facilities:

"I'm not in a very good place for healing, let's say that. It's not a real good environment down there right now, to say the least. Everybody's walking around on eggshells. I don't recognize our building right now. There's such complete and total change."
 He wasn't angry, according to Kravitz in his article, but Bob did say Peyton was sad and disappointed that Caldwell and numerous other coaches had been released of their jobs. But Peyton didn't stop there, he also said "it was tough" and "very emotional" seeing the guys he had been working with cleaning out their offices.

"I just want to pay tribute to all those guys. It's unfortunate because so many of them have been such a big part of so many big wins here, and this is so...sudden. Their keys didn't work the next day. There's no other way to do it? I don't know. That's hard to see, all these people leaving.
And I may be behind them. Who knows?"
He added in that he would like to play in the same place his whole career, he loves the fans and the city, as well as the stadium. But at the same time, it's obvious that owner Jim Irsay is fully entering a rebuilding mode at this franchise's current position, and does the 35-year old Peyton really want to be in Indy for all that?

He's not ready to retire yet either, despite what actor Rob Lowe may have attempted to say on his Twitter page (supposedly he announced Manning was planning to retire).
So, what exactly does that mean for Manning? Well, I would just like to say that I would love to make this my final Peyton Manning article this offseason. I do not want to spend the entire offseason talking about whether Peyton will stay or go, so I'm going to do you all a favor and end this talk immediately:

Peyton will not be in Indy in 2012.

Come March, Peyton will hit the old age of 36, and if Indianapolis is starting over new why would they want a 36-year old leading a team of 24-year olds? It just wont work. And I understand Peyton loves it in Indy and would like to stay loyal to the team that took a chance on him in 1998. But he also understands the NFL is a business, and if Indianapolis is ready to move on without him and draft the young Luck in April, then that is their choice and I'm sure Peyton will accept that.

Someone will take a chance on the recovering Peyton in 2012, and it will not be Indianapolis. Mark my words.

Thank goodness, we can get over this whole Manning situation and stop watching his every move now that I have gotten my point across. Sorry, Colts fans, but I think it's time to move on for the better of both participating parties.

Photo credit
Peyton: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Andrew Luck: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ranking the Season's 10 Postseason Games

Now that we have figured out the two representatives for Super Bowl 46 and I have given my recap of the Conference Championship games, we must wait two weeks to see the action unfold and crown a winner.

So, to pass the time why not give a brief recap of each of the 10 postseason games by ranking them, No. 10 being the least exciting to watch, and No. 1 being the most exciting. Here's how I have ranked them, feel free to add your opinion in the comments section:

10. AFC Divisional Round: Patriots 45, Broncos 10

Anyone and everyone outside of the New England area had become a Broncos/Tebow fan for the day as the Broncos went in to Foxboro, MA looking to stun Patriot nation. After Tebow had torn up the No. 1 pass defense in Pittsburgh the week before, it looked as if Timmy would have another solid day against one of the league's worst pass defenses. Instead, Tom Brady and his Patriot offense blew Denver out of the water before they even had a chance.

What did it make for? A record-setting day for Brady (5 first-half TD passes) and a boring second half. Although Tebow did play his heart out and it was later found out that he had been playing a majority of the second half with a bruised lung. Either way, a 35-point blowout doesn't exactly make for an exciting playoff game.

9. NFC Divisional Round: Giants 24, Falcons 2

Coming in to the game, Atlanta's signal caller Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan had been one of the league's hottest quarterbacks. But he was forced to travel to New York and take on one of the league's hottest front 7 units led by the returning Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. The end result is a lone safety being Atlanta's only points as the offense was held scoreless.

The Falcons made history by becoming the first team in NFL history to score just two points in a playoff game. Not exactly the history they were looking to make, and Ryan has fallen to 0-3 in the playoffs with just three TDs and four interceptions.
8. AFC Wild Card Round: Texans 31, Bengals 10

This was one of the matchups I was most looking forward to in the Wild Card round, I believe. It was the first time in playoff history that two rookie quarterbacks were squaring off against each other. One of the said rookie quarterbacks (Houston's T.J. Yates) had a great day, throwing for 159 yards and a TD, while the other (Cincinnati's Andy Dalton) threw three interceptions and was sacked four times.

Houston's top five defense took the game over, basically ending the game at the end of the first half with a 29-yard INT returned for a TD by rookie J.J. Watt. They held Cincinnati scoreless in the second half on their way to a 21-point, blowout win in the franchise's first-ever playoff appearance. Cincinnati is now 1-4 in the playoffs since 1990.

7. AFC Divisional Round: Ravens 20, Texans 13

Unfortunately Yates' good fortune only lasted a week, as his inexperience in big games caught up to him against the Baltimore Ravens' top-tier defense in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Yates managed to lead the Texans' on three first half scoring drives, putting up 13 points, but they were held scoreless in the second half.

Houston's Arian Foster became the first running back to gain 100 yards on Baltimore's defense in a playoff game, but his 132 yards and one TD didn't make up for Yates' three interceptions and Jacoby Jones' fumble on a punt return. Houston's turnovers gave easy scoring chances to Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense, making it an easy win for the Ravens despite just a seven-point victory.

6. NFC Conference Championship: Giants 20, 49ers 17 (OT)

Miscues littered this game as well, but mainly on San Francisco's part. Like I said in the previous post, WR and return man Kyle Williams, in just his second season, would love to forget this game. However, his two miscues on punt returns isn't the only thing San Fran messed up on. Eli Manning did fumble once, and they Niners were unable to take advantage and recover the ball, and they also dropped two easy INTs because of collisions between defensive backs.

Eli Manning played a tough game, but the Niners' failure to capitalize when they needed to most is probably the big storyline in this one. But the fact that Manning was able to overcome six sacks and drive the team down the field to take the lead halfway through the fourth quarter shows me his guts. Coughlin put the ball in his hands and gave him a career-high 58 attempts, and he did what he had to do to win: capitalize on turnovers and SF misfortunes.
5. NFC Wild Card Round: Saints 45, Lions 28

This is what fans love to see (not sure why, I love seeing smashmouth running games and hard-hitting defenses): shootouts between gun-slinging quarterbacks such as Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford. Passing yards were galore in this Wild Card game, and the final score of this one doesn't tell the whole story. There was plenty of controversy between the fumble that Detroit's defense had picked up and run back for a touchdown. But because the officials blew the play dead they were unable to return it. They retained possession, but had to start from where they recovered. They didn't score.

It had the potential to be a 7- or 14-point swing, but either way Detroit wasn't able to capitalize on that turnover and Brees took the game over. New Orleans' running game had actually taken over the final quarter, scoring two of NO's three fourth quarter TDs and putting the Saints ahead for good. Lots of scoring in this one, despite Detroit's tough defense. Fans love seeing 30, 40-plus games and the Lions put up a good fight with the young Matt Stafford at the helm.

4. AFC Conference Championship: Patriots 23, Ravens 20

Again, Baltimore had two shots at the end but were unable to pull ahead (Evans' dropped pass in the end zone) or tie it and send the game to overtime (Cundiff's missed 32-yard FG with 11 seconds left). Baltimore's defense made Tom Brady uncomfortable for quite a bit of the game, forcing two errant passes that turned in to turnovers. Flacco out-passed Brady, strangely enough, for 306 yards and a couple of TD passes, and put his team in position to win at the end of the game.

We can't be disappointed with the way the passing game for Baltimore went, he did look better than the previous week against Houston. But what does disappoint me was that Ray Rice was a non-factor. He was given his fair share of carries, with 21, but he ran for just 67 yards (3.2 YPC avg.) and made no impact in the passing game with one catch for 11 yards. Had he been more of a factor there's no doubt Baltimore would have had an easier time winning this one.
3. AFC Wild Card Round: Broncos 29, Steelers 23 (OT)

Denver owned the second quarter of this game, putting Pittsburgh's aging and banged up defense to shame with 20 points on their way to a 20-6 halftime lead. Pittsburgh, dealing with in-game injuries to D-lineman Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel, safety Ryan Clark missed the game as well, failed to get any pressure on Tim Tebow. The result? A career-high 316 passing yards and the game-winning touchdown toss to WR Demaryius Thomas from 80 yards out on the first play in overtime.

But this game is ranked so high up because of the gutsy play from Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He fell to 10-4 in the playoffs, but injured ankle-and all Roethlisberger went up against the odds of a miraculous comeback and led the Steelers' offense to three second-half scoring drives (17 points) as they came back and tied the game up at 23 to send it to overtime. The stunning first-play score in overtime just adds to the greatness and the ups and downs of this remarkably played game by both quarterbacks.

2. NFC Divisional Round: Giants 37, Packers 20

A 17-point victory makes top two? I know, I know, seems kinda strange. But the fact that Manning once again was able to knock off the heavily-favored 15-1 Green Bay Packers on the road in the blissful Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field against Aaron Rodgers is quite fascinating. I, of course, called this upset happening, unlike most fans and Green Bay "bandwagoners" (trust me, I know plenty of them).

I feel as though I've mentioned how much Eli has impressed me far too often on this blog, but it's true that I feel he has proved himself to be a better postseason quarterback than his older brother. The Giants put up a great effort against the Packers in this one with 17 fourth quarter points and limiting Green Bay's offense to 20 points.
1. NFC Divisional Round: 49ers 36, Saints 32

There's no question which game has been the best of the postseason. I don't think another game comes close to San Francisco's shocker over Drew Brees, who finds himself sitting at 1-2 in the playoffs since his Super Bowl victory in February of 2010. In head coach Jim Harbaugh's first year as a professional football head coach, he turned the lowly Niners in to Super Bowl contenders with a nasty defense and a draft bust-turned gun-slinger.

It was Alex Smith's first career playoff game in six seasons and he managed to out-play the four-time All Pro and Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees. In the final four minutes of play there were four lead changes. Smith rallied his troops to re-take the lead with two minutes left with a 28-yard TD run, but less than a minute left Brees threw a 66-yard TD bomb to TE Jimmy Graham and successfully converted a two-point conversion. What does Smith do? He simply orchestrates a seven-play, 85 yard TD drive in a minute and a half which is capped with a 14-yard strike to his TE Vernon Davis.

This one had it all. Lots of points, lots of yards, big plays and excitement. I was literally jumping up and down at the end when Smith hit Davis in the end zone with :09 to play, and I'm not even a fan of either team. An emotional Davis/coach Harbaugh interaction on the sideline after the play was the icing on the cake.

Photo credit
Matt Ryan: Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Darren Sproles: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Von Miller: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Vernon Davis: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Giants/Patriots: Super Bowl XLII Rematch

The National Football League's championship game has been set, and it will feature a heavyweight rematch between Bill Belichick/Tom Brady and Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning for the second time in the last five Super Bowls.

The two will face off in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on February 5, just four years after Manning led his underdog Giants to a 17-14 victory over the then-undefeated Brady-led New England Patriots.

Brady is looking to join legends Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls throughout their respective careers. Brady already tied Montana by winning his 16th career postseason game, and he now has a better postseason record than Montana did (16-5).

Eli, on the other hand, is vying for his second Super Bowl title, which would allow him to surpass his older brother Peyton when it comes to rings. I would already crown Eli with the title of better postseason quarterback, to be honest. Throughout Peyton's playoff career he has put up a 9-10 overall record, winning one Super Bowl and going one-and-done on seven different occasions.

Eli's G-men have been road warriors, going 2-0 on the road in the postseason this year (1-0 at home) and going 5-1 on the road under the Coughlin/Manning duo–overall postseason record for Manning is 7-3. He looks to have finally gotten over his inconsistencies on his way to a grand postseason performance this season–76/123, 62%, 307.6 passing yards/game, 8 TDs, 1 INT.
I ran across some interesting facts on Trey Wingo's twitter page about the postseason history that was made in yesterday's pair of championship games:

*The Giants are 5-0 in NFC Championship games.
*First time since NFL/AFL merger that both games were decided by three points or less.
*In the Brady era NE only has three game losing streaks to two teams, the Colts and Broncos. But the Giants, if they win in two weeks, would have won three straight against New England as well.
*Yesterday was only the third time in the last 17 years that two teams with at least 12 wins both lost in the Championship.
(Special thanks to the NFL Live host for providing me with some interesting content for today's article/recap).

AFC Championship: Patriots 23, Ravens 20

Baltimore's quarterback Joe Flacco (5-4 in postseason in four pro seasons), after being called out by teammate and free safety Ed Reed for inconsistent play against the Texans last weekend, stepped up his game and out-passed future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Miraculously, enough.

And though Baltimore's highly-touted defense got little to no pressure on Tom Brady, sacking him just once, they were still able to force two Brady INT's. But miscues in a couple of different dimensions led to Baltimore's eventual downfall. They were given a couple of chances to stay in the game with a couple of forced turnovers on defense and a late three-and-out from NE's offense.

The final drive, however, featured a dropped pass in the end zone by veteran Lee Evans, which would have given Baltimore the lead with under a minute to play, and then a missed 32-yard field goal by the league's highest-paid kicker Billy Cundiff. The kick would have tied the game and likely sent it in to overtime, but instead he shanked it to the left and gave the ball back to Brady & Co.
Cundiff, one of the two scapegoats in the AFC Championship game, wasn't the only player who had a bad day (there's a guy in San Francisco who feels similarly). I, personally, feel really badly for him and Evans both. Both are solid players who happened to make mistakes on one of the biggest stages in football. The only thing that would have been worse is to have that happen in the Super Bowl.

The 23-20 New England victory was the second consecutive 23-20 victory over Baltimore, as they defeated them by that score (in overtime) in their Week 6 matchup last season on Sunday October 17, 2010. Belichick and Brady will be going to their fifth Super Bowl together as a team and hope to join Montana and Bradshaw atop the Super Bowl victory category by the end of the night.

NFC Championship: Giants 20, 49ers 17 (OT)

I got this pick wrong, dropping me to 1-1 on the round and 7-3 in the postseason. I thought to myself that I'd love to see Manning win yet another game on the road, but didn't think the Giants could stay hot for another game. I was wrong.

Both teams struggled early in the game on the offensive side of the ball, having trouble moving down the field. But New York was able to control the clock for nearly 40 minutes despite just 85 rushing yards on 26 carries (3.3 YPC avg.). Manning attempted a career-high 58 passes, completed over half of those attempts for 316 yards and two touchdowns. He had a couple of errant, inaccurate passes but played one of the best games of his postseason career in the wet conditions of Candlestick Park.

Those rainy conditions, of course, were supposed to dampen the passing games of both teams, but that did not stop head coach Tom Coughlin from putting the ball in Manning's hands and letting him do what he's done all season, on his way to his second career Pro Bowl selection. He wont play in the game, of course, because he'll be too busy preparing himself for the Patriots. But it's still nice to see him get the recognition he deserves.

The young Victor Cruz, who I saw play two preseasons ago and knew he would eventually break out in to a receiver to be reckoned with, had the game of his life despite his zero touchdown catches. He caught 10 passes for 142 yards and was Eli's go-to guy on third downs, coming up with big catch after big catch to keep New York alive.

Though it was San Francisco's second-year wideout Kyle Williams who was the cause of two San Francisco miscues–allowing a punt to hit him on the knee and bounce in to NY's hands, and then fumbling a punt deep inside SF territory to give New York the ball back in overtime–the Niners didn't have a game they would like to remember.
Quarterback Alex Smith threw for nearly 200 yards, two TDs and ran for 42 yards while Gore added 74 on the ground, but the offense went just 1 for 13 on third downs. That's not acceptable for a team that expects to contend for the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately the young Williams received a couple of death threats via twitter, but there's no way he should shoulder the blame for the San Francisco loss. If people, or "fans," are sending death threats to, not only players, but the players' families then they should not consider themselves fans. It's ridiculous what some fans do when their team loses a game, and it's making everyone else look terrible.

I sympathize with Williams, Cundiff and Evans and wish them the best in the rest of their professional careers.

But for now, it's on to the Super Bowl! In my preseason predictions I had the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl (against the Eagles, so I only got part of my prediction correct so far). I feel pretty knowledgable in calling that, but with Manning going up against Brady again, anything can happen. Manning, by the way, is 2-1 in his career against the Patriots. He beat them earlier this season, in SBXLII, and the one loss came on December 29, 2007 (38-35) during the Patriots' 16-0 regular season.

Photo credit
Brady/Manning: Associated Press
Cundiff vs. Pats: Elsa/Getty Images
Kyle Williams: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Thursday, January 19, 2012

And Then there were Four: Conference Championship Weekend

Because I will be out of town for a couple of days, I have opted to post my AFC/NFC Championship preview and prediction article a little earlier than scheduled. After my 4-0 run this past weekend I have improved to 6-2 this postseason–I will add up each regular season week after the Super Bowl is complete and post my results.

With two very evenly matched games this week, anything goes. Meaning it's going to be a tough weekend to predict. No matter which two of the four remaining teams win I really don't think there are any "upsets" per se. All four teams, despite what the seedings say, are pretty even at this point.

New York: has the hottest front 7 out of the four teams right now, sacked GB's Rodgers four times and held Green Bay to 20 points. Eli Manning is also playing some of the best football of his career this postseason, too.

San Francisco: after watching this Niner defense the past several weeks, it's clear to me that they are one of the few defensive units who knows how to tackle. It doesn't hurt that the veteran Alex Smith just outgunned the passing yard king Drew Brees with 36 points last week.

Baltimore: though the defense played an inexperienced rookie quarterback in T.J. Yates, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are hungry and are leading the way for a defense that has a knack for forcing multiple TO's a game. If Flacco steps it up like Reed hopes, then NE's weak pass defense could be in for a long day.

New England: the defense did nothing but pressure Denver's Tim Tebow last Saturday (five sacks, eight QB hits) and Tom Brady showed why he still shouldn't be left off the MVP ballot with a record-tying six touchdown passes (five in the first 2 quarters set a first half record) and 363 yards on his way to a 45-10 blowout.

Now, on to my in-depth look at both games..

AFC Championship: Baltimore at New England--Sunday January 22, 2012; 3 PM ET

What Baltimore must do to win: Ed Reed somewhat called out signal caller Joe Flacco on his poor performance Sunday afternoon against Houston, as he basically stated on SiriusXM's NFL Radio that Flacco needs to step his game up. And I completely agree.

While Flacco did manage to protect the ball and put together a couple of scoring drives, he was also rather inconsistent (14/27, 176 yards, 2 TDs) and his two TD passes were the result of his defense forcing a turnover and giving him a short field to work with. Baltimore's 20 points came in part of Baltimore's stellar defense. Ray Rice was ineffective in the run game (60 yards on 21 carries; 2.9 YPC).

Obviously Baltimore will have to play stellar defense, once again, to defeat the Patriots. But more importantly Flacco needs to step up and be a leader, rally his teammates and drive the ball down the field. This also means Rice must be effective. One simple way to beat Tom Brady is to keep him off the field, and eating away at the clock with long, successful scoring drives is the perfect way to do this.

BAL wins if: Flacco completes more than 50% of his pass attempts...Ray Rice gets 20-25 carries and his EFFECTIVE with the ball, meaning 100+ yards and a TD...B-More's defense produces at least three NE turnovers.
What New England must do to win: How did the New England Patriots fluster Tim Tebow so much without even breaking a sweat? Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. Tebow and Flacco are different types of quarterbacks, but that doesn't mean this wont bring the same pressure. Tebow is typically a run-oriented quarterback and enjoys throwing on the run, but New England was fast enough on its feet to flush him out of the pocket and either get him down before he can get the ball out, or force a throw-away.

As for Flacco, he is more of a pocket-passer and isn't the most mobile quarterback. You get enough pressure on Flacco and he will start forcing throws. I think this is what analysts have been most critical on Flacco with his inconsistency. He tends to throw errant passes while under too much pressure. Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich need another top-notch performance in this one if the Patriots' defense expects big things.

Obviously the passing is going to be there on Brady's part, especially after watching his performance last week, but if they can establish a run game early and use it effectively, it would add a much-needed dimension to Brady's pass-happy offense.

NE wins if: Pats offense stays mistake-free and can move the ball up the field quickly..If I was in NE's position I would try and get ahead early and force BAL to rely on Flacco's arm, when under pressure I think New England's D can do what they've done best this year: force mistakes and capitalize.

My Prediction: Patriots 28, Ravens 17

As much as I'd like to see a "HarBowl," (Ravens/Niners) or a Super Bowl XXXV rematch (Ravens/Giants) this year, I just don't see it happening. I don't think Flacco has what it takes to keep up with Tom & Co. and let's be honest, there's no way Baltimore can manhandle New England's offense like they did to the young Texans on Saturday. Change of heart has forced me to take the safe pick in this one and go NE.

Whatifsports.com's Prediction: Ravens 23, Patriots 7

The simulation I ran clearly thinks differently about this one, and has the Ravens pulling off quite a convincing victory on the road in Foxboro. Should be a good one!

NFC Championship: New York at San Francisco--Sunday January 22, 2012; 6:30 PM ET

What New York must do to win: Eli has been putting up great stat-lines and upsetting teams left and right, rather reminiscent of his 2007 run to a Super Bowl championship and SB MVP award in which he sleighed the "giant" favorites in the undefeated New England Patriots. With a 300-yard, 3 TD game against the mighty 15-1 Green Bay Packers, it may seem that the sky is the limit for Eli at this point. And I kind of agree.

While the San Francisco 49ers' defense is tops in the league right now, and they love to fly around and hit guys, and force turnovers. You know, the same thing any great defense loves to do (*cough* *cough* Baltimore *cough* *cough*). Which puts a huge "if" on Eli's shoulders. He must protect the ball. That's No. 1 priority for New York. I'm sure coach Coughlin will have him slinging the pigskin down the field and spread the offense out, but careless mistakes is one thing he can't afford, and I don't think he will be making any of them.

For New York's defense, they will be bringing the pressure, no doubt about that. But if they can't get to Alex Smith on every play they need to at least key in on Vernon Davis, maybe stick two guys on him. It'll be tough, because most linebackers are too slow to keep up with Davis and most safeties are too small, Davis will simply run right through them. But if they can effectively keep Davis covered I think they can minimize SF's passing attack and make them one-dimensional.

NY wins if: Like I just said, eliminate Davis from the offensive production and the Niners' receiving corps is much weaker...Eli will be slinging the ball, but NY's run game will play a huge effect in balancing the offense...split carries between Bradshaw/Jacobs to keep them fresh and NY can control the clock on their way to a victory.
What San Fran must do to win: New York has a lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball with Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham creating a triple threat in the passing game and Brandon Jacobs/Ahmad Bradshaw making a double-duo in the running game. Eli has been playing great, like I've been saying, but Green Bay didn't effectively pass rush him (sacking him just once, one INT). San Fran has thrived off creating short fields with turnovers, that's exactly how they took an early 17-0 lead over the Saints last Saturday.

Put pressure on Eli early and often and take chances on cutting off routes and going for the big play on defense. Considering the Niners' are the best run defense in the league, by far, I really don't think they are too concerned with the two-headed monster in Bradshaw and Jacobs.

I would expect 30-40 pass attempts from Manning in this one, and I'd love to see coach Harbaugh take the shot at having Smith compete with Manning through the air. I said earlier that I think if New York can keep Vernon Davis quiet they have a chance at shutting down the passing game, but we could also see Michael Crabtree step it up to a new level and Frank Gore is always a threat in the passing game as well. If San Fran goes pass-for-pass with the Giants' Eli, I think they actually may have a shot considering they aren't facing their own tough-as-nails defense in this one.

SF wins if: Smith out-passes Eli and is able to protect him up front...Frank Gore was an impact player last game with 89 yards but he only got 13 carries, can you imagine the damage he would have done had he gotten 20-25 carries? I can't...Get Gore involved and NY may be in for a rough day.

My Prediction: 49ers 31, Giants 28

I've been pulling for New York to repeat its 2007 campaign all postseason, and I really do believe Eli has what it takes to capture ring No. 2, so it wouldn't surprise me. But after watching Alex Smith shred the Saints for 36, and Frank Gore only get 13 touches, I can't imagine what they could do against these Giants with a more involved Gore...not to mention SF's stout defense. It's close, but Niners pull it out in the end.

Whatifsports.com's Prediction: 49ers 20, Giants 6

This time we agreed on the outcome, however, once again the simulator predicted a rather lop-sided score. Interesting. I don't particularly agree with the deficits they have given me, but when it comes to the NFL playoffs, anything is possible I suppose.

_____

Super Bowl in Indy will be, according to my calculations, the 49ers and the Patriots. I had the Patriots winning the Super Bowl in my preseason predictions, but their opponent was supposed to be the "dream team" (according to Vince Young, at least) in the Philadelphia Eagles. It appears as though that half of my prediction went down the drain long ago.

Photo credit
Brady-Welker-BJGE-Edelman: Elsa/Getty Images
Gore: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Eli Manning Among the Elite Now?

For years Peyton Manning's little brother Eli has been battling doubters and critics alike. Is he an elite quarterback? Can he lead his team to a Super Bowl victory? Does he have the intangibles to consistently put up Peyton-like numbers year-in and year-out?

Those were the questions being asked, even after he won three consecutive road playoff games and upset the undefeated New England Patriots for a Super Bowl title in the 2007-08 season.

Instead of holding him to his own standard, NFL fans, followers and experts have held Eli to his older brother's standards. If he does not throw 4,000 yards, 40 TDs and lead the Giants to a 13-3 regular season we call him a failure and keep him out of the "elite" status.

Before this season started he was asked whether or not he should be seen as among the elite quarterbacks such as his brother, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. He initially declined and said he does not belong on that list.

But he later told ESPN 1050's Michael Kay "..I consider myself in that class and Tom Brady is a great quarterback, he's a great player and what you've seen with him is he's gotten better every year and he started off winning championships and I think he's a better player than what he was, in all honesty, when he was winning those championships.


"It's funny, you say well he won championships, but the team won them. But I think now he's grown up and gotten better every year and that's what I'm trying to do. I kind of hope these next seven years of my quarterback days are my best."

Fast forward to this past weekend I think it's safe to say Eli is well on his way to joining those quarterbacks after de-throning the defending Super Bowl champions, who were 15-1 in the regular season, and doing so on the road at the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

This was, of course, not the only time he has sent the Pack home packing in the NFC playoffs at Lambeau. The same event occurred in the 2007 playoffs when he battled below-0 wind chill and knocked off the Brett Favre-led Packers in the NFC Championship game. In the previous matchup Eli got additional help from New York's defense and the right leg of kicker Lawrence Tynes in overtime.
This time around? Eli seemingly put the team on his back and carried the G-Men to a 37-point romp of the MVP favorite Rodgers.

Linebacker Michael Boley and defensive end Osi Umenyiora did provide some insurance with a total of four sacks of Green Bay's Rodgers, but in the end it was Eli who took over the show by out-passing fellow Super Bowl MVP by 66 yards. Manning threw for three touchdowns and sacked just once.

With the run game averaging just 3.5 yards/carry on 27 attempts, Manning was forced to take the game over with his arm and he did not disappoint head coach Tom Coughlin, who is now 10-7 in the postseason as head coach.

Eli put up one of his best regular seasons, in terms of numbers, this past season on his way to his second career Pro Bowl selection. Although he has led the league in interceptions twice in his eight-year career, there's no doubt his play has elevated once he hits the postseason. In fact, he has thrown just eight INTs with 14 TDs in nine career postseason starts, and three of those interceptions came in his playoff debut as a second-year pro in 2004 (NYG lost 23-0 to Carolina).

On the road in the playoffs, Eli has put up a 5-1 record with his lone loss coming against Philadelphia in 2006 with a 23-20 defeat at the hands of Jeff Garcia and Brian Westbrook. This postseason Eli has been near-perfect, throwing for 607 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT (44 for 65) and outscoring opponents 61-22.

Depending on how the rest of this postseason plays out, Eli could further distance himself with the average NFL quarterbacks and elevate into successful playoff quarterback status, and possibly even get himself a second Super Bowl MVP award at the young age of 31.

Photo credit
Manning: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Quote credit
Published on profootballtalk.com

Monday, January 16, 2012

AFC Championship is Anyone's Game at this Point

The AFC North division champion Baltimore Ravens are heading to Foxboro, Mass. this Sunday to face the No. 1 seeded New England Patriots for a chance to play in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis in February.

Baltimore's stingy defense helped them overcome the Houston Texans' hard-hitting defense and its five sacks of quarterback Joe Flacco, who was also hit on six additional plays and had seven passes defensed against Houston's fourth-ranked overall defense.

Flacco has been a bit of a disappointment this season, as he has been very inconsistent throughout the season, sometimes not even bringing his A game against teams with losing records such as Jacksonville and Seattle. A pair of rookie Texans–DE J.J. Watt and LB Brooks Reed–each recorded 2.5 sacks and combined for 15 solo tackles, including four TFLs (tackles for a loss) against Baltimore's passing attack.

Like I had said in my Preview for this game, the Ravens would win but they would need Ray Rice to get plenty of touches in order for them to do so. Well, he did. He carried the ball 21 times for 60 yards and caught four passes for 20 yards. Clearly he received his fair share of touches, but he wasn't very effective with the ball in his hands (2.9 Y/A, 5.0 Y/R).
I ended up only being half right about the outcome of the game: I picked the winner, but Baltimore's 20-13 victory came because of a dominating defensive effort against rookie signal caller T.J. Yates.

Overall Yates looked closer to a veteran quarterback than a rookie at times. His three interceptions were devastating and led to either BAL points or, as his last one sailed into veteran safety Ed Reed's hands, sealed the victory. Baltimore dropped numerous other possible INT's, which were simple rookie mistakes on Yates' part. But T.J. made a couple of throws that only a handful of QBs are normally able to execute.

This brings me to my next point. If you watched the first AFC matchup of the weekend then I'm sure you noticed how on point Tom Brady was with all of his throws. He was on fire, going 26/34 for 363 yards and 6 TDs with one interception. His five first half TD passes set the postseason record for most in a single half, and his six total tied the postseason record for a single game.

Denver's pass rush struggled to even lay a hand on him (two QB hits, two PDs, 0 sacks) and Brady had no trouble finding tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on three different occasions.

Baltimore's pass rush is far more dangerous than that of Denver, but that doesn't mean Brady is going to turn the ball over. Flacco got his chances at putting the ball in the end zone thanks to the four turnovers his defense forced on Houston. New England, however, doesn't turn the ball over. In fact, they did that just 17 times this entire season (third-least in the league).
Say what you want about New England's porous pass defense, but they have thrived all season on forcing turnovers, much like Baltimore's D, and Flacco's offense is far more vulnerable than New England when it comes to losing the football.

Here's how you know your team is in trouble: Ed Reed made an appearance on The Blitz on SiriusXM's NFL Radio and he made it clear that the Ravens needed to step up as a team this Sunday against the Patriots. He hinted towards the idea that Joe Flacco looked a little rattled by Houston's defense, and that the offense needed to make improvements if they expected to win against New England.


Before this weekend's slate of games I had New England over Denver, Baltimore over Houston, and then Baltimore defeating the Patriots in the Championship game for a trip to the Super Bowl. But after watching New England destroy the Broncos defense with 45 points Saturday night, I may have to re-think my pick.

That's why I will be waiting until the very end of the week to make my two picks. Not only is the AFC game tough to call, but both the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers lit up the scoreboards against their respective Divisional round opponents. With my 6-2 postseason record on the line, I will be taking every second I have to re-evaluate these two match-ups.

Who do you have representing each Conference in Super Bowl XLVI?

Photo credit
Joe Flacco: Rob Carr/Getty Images
Brandon Spikes: Al Bello/Getty Images

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Divisional Round Preview: Sunday's Games

We're halfway there as two more teams were eliminated Saturday night. San Francisco lived on after knocking off the third-seeded Saints with a late game-winning touchdown from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis while the Pats blew out the Tim Tebow-led Broncos.

A full recap and review of Saturday's Divisional round games will be coming soon, but for now I will bring you my preview of Sunday afternoon's games as we find out who the other two teams will be playing next Sunday.

I went 2-0 in today's games, let's see if I can go 2-0 on Sunday and improve my playoff record to 6-2.

#3 Houston at #2 Baltimore--Sunday January 15, 2012 1 PM ET

Both of these two teams are so similar in style of play: hard-nose, smashmouth defense who can put up points on the board and be the difference in a game and an explosive running game. With a third-string rookie quarterback under center for Houston, I can imagine that Houston will run the ball early and often.

If I'm Baltimore's John Harbaugh, I'm not so sure if I can fully trust Joe Flacco with the ball in his hands considering how streaky and inconsistent he has been this season. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron needs to find as many ways as possible to get the ball to running back Ray Rice.

Flacco plays better when he isn't put under pressure and giving Rice his carries gives Baltimore a much better chance at moving the ball efficiently and getting points on the board. Fun for for you: in Baltimore's four losses this season Rice averaged just 9.0 carries per game without any rushing TDs (had one through the air). Why it has taken this long for Harbaugh/Cameron to realize this? I have no clue, but I'm sure they've picked up on it by now.
Arian Foster and Ben Tate, who is making his homecoming back to MD (grew up in Salisbury, MD), combined for the second-best rushing attack this season and will be game-changers in this matchup. Both defenses can stop the run, however, and rookies J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, and Brian Cushing and Jonathan Joseph for Houston are sure to have big days against Flacco if Baltimore can't protect him adequately.

Bottom line: Houston has a great shot at upsetting the No. 2 seed on the road (Baltimore won meeting earlier this season, 29-14, at M&T Bank Stadium on Oct. 16), but I think Ray Rice will be too much, and Terrell Suggs will have a big day against the young T.J. Yates.

My Prediction: Ravens 28, Texans 17
Whatifsports.com's Prediction: Ravens 23, Texans 19

#4 New York at #1 Green Bay--Sunday January 15, 2012 4:30 PM ET

I called the San Francisco game, which may count as an upset for some people, but this will be the bigger upset and I can sense it happening tomorrow.

New York Giants' Eli Manning is coming off a league-leading 25 interception season last year, but has thrown for a career-high 4,933 yards with 29 TDs. He's played well all season on his way to his second career Pro Bowl selection in eight years. He, along with breakout wideout Victor Cruz, is the reason New York's offense has been so efficient this season.

Between the fact that I have discovered the formula to beating Aaron Rodgers and the Packers and the level that New York's defense (particularly the front 7) have been playing as of late, I think we have a game.
New York was one of the worst running games in the league this season, but in the previous six games the Giants have surpasses 100 yards on the ground and have controlled ball games with a perfect balance between pounding the ball with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw and airing it out with Manning, Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. They really opened up the middle of the field last week against Atlanta, and they certainly have the ability to do so against Green Bay's 32nd-ranked pass defense tomorrow.

All Manning needs to do is protect the football, meaning no turnovers, and the NY defense needs to put as much pressure on Rodgers (the MVP favorite) as possible. How exactly did the Chiefs beat the Pack? Control the tempo and keep Rodgers off the field. Kansas City ran the ball 39 times for 139 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay, possessing the ball for 36 of the 60 minutes of play.

Now that's how you keep Rodgers off the field, and that's how you beat Green Bay. Tamba Hali pressured Rodgers all day long (3 sacks on the day), and I expect NY's Tuck, Umenyoria and Pierre-Paul have a field day against Rodgers. Don't forget: NY nearly upended the Pack in Week 13, losing just 38-35.

My Prediction: Giants 35, Packers 31
Whatifsports.com's Prediction: Packers 28, Giants 23

Photo credit
Ray Rice: Rob Carr/Getty Images
Justin Tuck: Al Bello/Getty Images

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Divisional Round Preview: Saturday's Games

Last weekend I went 2-0 in my picks on Saturday (Houston and New Orleans), but 0-2 on Sunday (Atlanta and Pittsburgh) to break even at 2-2 for the Wild Card round. I didn't pick any huge upsets and thought I was picking the safe teams. Boy was I wrong.

In the opening round all four home teams captured victories, but this weekend I expect things to be a bit different. Here's a preview of Saturday afternoon and evening's two match-ups according to my football knowledge.

#3 Saints at #2 49ers--Saturday January 14, 2012 4:30 PM ET

The New Orleans Saints defeated Detroit with 45 points thanks to a flawless passing attack (Brees: 466 yards, 3 second half TDs) and an equal rushing attack (167 yards, 3 TDs) to surpass a 49-year old playoff record for most total yards in a game, with 626.

On defense, they allowed 5,000 yard passer Matthew Stafford and Pro Bowl wideout Calvin "Megatron" Johnson to throw all day long, totaling 380 yards and 3 TDs through the air (211 yards/2 TD to Johnson), but Detroit ran the ball for just 32 yards on 10 attempts (3.2 YPC).

This week will be much different in several different areas, however. New Orleans' second-ranked offense will be matched up against San Francisco's second-ranked defense. A match set in heaven, if you will. Brees had no difficulty against Detroit's 22nd-ranked pass defense, a unit that managed to surrender 24.2 points/game in the regular season, but will have to go up against the swarming SF defense. In the regular season the Niners 14.3 points/game (second in league) and ranked first–along with Green Bay–in turnovers with 38.
The No. 1 rank in defending the run belongs to San Francisco, as well, giving up just 1,236 yards and 3 TDs throughout the season. This will make Brees' offense one-dimensional and put even more emphasis on the passing game. Brees hasn't had much problem with that this season, but if the Niners force a couple of turnovers at the hands of Brees then the Niners have a real shot at knocking off New Orleans.

Now, Alex Smith is no Matt Stafford and the 49ers don't have targets equal to Detroit's Johnson, but they do have a top tier rushing attack with Frank Gore and were 10-0 this season when running for 100 or more yards, and 6-2 when Gore gets in to the end zone. What, then, must the Niners do on offense to win this game? Run early and often. The Saints allowed 1,738 yards and 5.0 YPC this season, and Gore is back in Pro Bowl shape.

My Prediction: Niners 28, Saints 24
Whatifsports.com's Prediction: Niners 17, Saints 16

#6 Broncos at #1 Patriots--Saturday January 14, 2012 8:00 PM ET

Many are still in shock that Tim Tebow was able to pull off the impossible yet again, and in such dramatic fashion coming off a three-game losing streak to end the regular season. Tebow

Denver's passing attack was 31st in the league this season, yet Tebow set a career-high with 316 yards passing against Pittsburgh's No. 1 passing defense–it was Tebow's second career 300-yard game. Pittsburgh's pass rush struggled mightily against Denver's strong offensive line, as well. This makes me worry for New England, who ranks 14th in turnovers and second-to-last in yards.

But what scares me with New England's offense, is that Tom Brady and Co. doesn't seem to be affected when they turn the ball over. On just three occasions have the Pats turned the ball over multiple times, and they actually managed to win one of those games, despite four turnovers.
Even with a flawless game from Tebow against Pittsburgh, Denver managed just 29 points. Yes, that's quite a few points, but playing against New England's offense (32.1 points per game in regular season, third-most in league) puts up quite the challenge for Denver.

Luckily for Denver, they do have one thing going for them: New England had a rather weak schedule this season as they played just two teams with winning records (New York Giants and Steelers) and lost both games. That and, not to mention, the fact that Tebow always seems to get everything together towards the end of games (five 4th-quarter comebackers and six game-winning drives this season).

As much as fans and experts have jumped on the Tebow bandwagon this season, I may have to jump off it this week. New England's offense is much more potent than that of Pittsburgh's, and I don't expect the Pats to start off quite as slowly as the Roethlisberger-led Steelers last Sunday.

My Prediction: Patriots 38, Broncos 28
Whatifsports.com's Prediction: Broncos 31, Patriots 24

Photo credit
Niners D: Jay Drowns/Getty Images
Tom Brady: Elsa/Getty Images

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One-on-One with Hall of Fame Finalist Dermontti Dawson

Recently I was able to speak with former Pittsburgh Steelers' center Dermontti Dawson, who played in the league for 13 seasons.

Dawson, one of the 17 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH for 2012, played his entire career in Pittsburgh and was named to seven Pro Bowls and six All Pro teams and was one of the most reliable pieces in Pitt's offensive line–started all 16 games in 10 consecutive seasons from 1989-98.

Below are the questions I asked him, and his answers, from our phone conversation...


All-Out Blitz: I'll start by talking about the site, Schoolofthelegends.com. It's a great way for fans and players (past and present) to keep in touch with one another. What has been the biggest upside in joining the site, and where do you see it going in the future? Do you have any ideas of how they can improve the site and add to the experience?
Dermontti Dawson: The School of the Legends website is a great tool for current and former players to connect with one another and also interact with the fans.  The upside of the site is staying in touch with former players and helping the fans connect with there favorite player's.  The fans are who make the NFL what it is today. I see the SOTL website growing just like Facebook in the near future. I'm not sure how they can improve the site at this time.


AB: You were the anchor of Pittsburgh's offensive line throughout the '90s, starting every game for 10 straight seasons. What was your secret for staying healthy and consistent at such a high level of play for so long?
DD: I think the secret to a long and productive career is attitude.  No matter what you accomplish each year, whether it be a team goal or a personal goal, you still have to have that internal drive to get better each and every year.  That also means taking care of your body and making sure you keep it in prime condition through out the entire season and off-season.


AB: You were a Hall of Fame semi-finalist in 2008 and 2009, a finalist this year, and are expected to eventually get a call from the hall. Do you think your playing career would be complete if you were inducted, even though you weren't able to get a ring?
DD: My career has been more than fulfilling without winning a ring.  I have accomplished more than I could ever imagined. Being selected into the HOF would be the ultimate accomplishment because it immortalizes you as one of the greatest players to play in the NFL.  My career is validation to me and those who know the game of football.
AB: You were selected to seven Pro Bowls throughout your career...did the trip to Hawaii get better and better each time, or did they all feel the same?

DD: The trips to the Pro-Bowl in Hawaii got better and better each year.  The NFL tried to have different events and excursions each year to keep it fresh for the players and there families.  Hawaii and the Pro-Bowl never got old!

AB: What was the hardest thing, for you personally, in adjusting from college ball (at Kentucky) to the pro level?

DD: The biggest adjustment I had to make form college to the pros, was the mental part of the game.  The physical part is the easy part, but knowing that it was a privilege to play and you don't take it for granted. Knowing that you were evaluated each and everyday and if you were not playing well you could lose your job. Mental toughness was key to my success and longevity in the NFL.


AB: Do you have any favorite teams or players in the league today?

DD: The Steelers are always going to be my favorite team!  I'm Black and Gold for life.  I really don't follow a certain player on any team.


AB: Who do you have in the Super Bowl?
DD: Before Sunday's loss I had Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. But I can see the Packers in the Super Bowl!

AB: Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Dawson.

Photo found on Google, no copyright infringement intended

*Note: This was the fourth player/coach interview I've been fortunate enough to conduct via phone or email. The others–Todd Washington, Steve Atwater and Larry Allen–can be found in the blog archives. There will likely be more coming in the future, so keep on the lookout. Thanks.

NYG/GB: Why We Could see Similar Results to '07 NFC Championship game on Sunday

Quarterback Eli Manning, on his way to a Super Bowl championship in 2007-08 postseason, knocked off legendary Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers in overtime with a little help from Lawrence Tynes' game-winner from 47 yards out.

The game that day, Sunday January 20, 2008, was played at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin at -7 degree weather with high winds and a wind chill factor of -27.

Manning managed to play through that weather and defeat Green Bay on the road thanks to a stout running attack led by Brandon Jacobs (67 yards, 1 TD) and Ahmad Bradshaw (63 yards, 1 TD) and with the high/low of this Sunday being 30/22, we could see Manning making a greater impact in the passing game.

These two squads met earlier in the year as well, with the then-undefeated Packers coming away with a slim 38-35 victory to improve to 12-0. New York played well overall, with Manning (347 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) playing one of his better games of the season and running for 100 yards and a TD as a team. But what they failed to do is put pressure on Aaron Rodgers, who did make one mistake with an INT but still managed 369 yards and 4 TDs.
After watching the KC Chiefs hand Green Bay its only loss of the season, I think I have discovered what it takes to defeat this Pack team: run, run, run.

Green Bay has allowed 100 or more yards on the ground on 10 different occasions this season, but it was Kansas City that pounded the ball the most against the Pack (39 times for 139 yards, 1 TD), which gradually wore down the front 7. Not only that, but it also keeps Rodgers and the offense off the field. A combination of Thomas Jones (15 carries), Jackie Battle (10 carries), Dexter McCluster (5 carries) and Le'Ron McClain (4 carries) was enough to possess the ball for 36 out of the 60 minutes of play.

How to beat Rodgers? Keep him off the field. As simple as that.

Throughout the regular season, New York accumulated just 1,427 rushing yards (last in league) with 17 TDs (sixth in league), and have run the ball for 100 or more yards eight times–never for more than 119 yards. But, during its three-game win streak (including Sunday's Wild Card victory), they have cracked 100 all three games and controlled the time of possession over the last two weeks 68-52.

Lets face it, the Giants are red-hot and have managed to control recent games because of its normally weak rushing attack. If there's one thing I know, it's that Green Bay's running game (1,558 yards, 12 TDs, 3.9 Y/C, 27th in league) isn't much better than that of New York, and a reliable running game is vital when it comes to the NFL postseason.
The saying "offense sells tickets, defense wins championships" will factor in to this matchup as well, with a relentless front 7 in New York. Green Bay's defense, while ranked at the very bottom in pass defense and 14th in run defense, forced a lot of turnovers (38, t-1st in league) and has thrived off that all season.

As for New York, they do that well too (31, t-4th), but they also happen to be one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league (48 sacks, t-3rd) and have numerous playmaking and difference-makers in the front 7: Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka. All of which are relentless in their attack, not to mention hungry.

Overall, the passing game and receivers' edge are given to the Packers, as well as the offensive line, in this one. But as far as running attack and defense, the edge certainly belongs to the New York Giants.
Other key stats:

*Though the Packers lead the head-to-head postseason matchup 4-2, the Giants were also considered huge underdogs to the 13-3 NFC East champion Packers back in '07, going up against Favre at home in the frigid weather. Yet, somehow, Manning found himself winner in the end.

*While GB was 8-0 at home this season, the Giants put up a respectable 5-3 road record on its way to a 9-7 season.

*Green Bay has been off for two weeks. That can sometimes work to an advantage–more time to prepare–but it can also sometimes work against a team in terms of restlessness and could make for a slow start in the game.

Just some things to think about while watching the game that I believe could very well end in an upset. After watching the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks upset Drew Brees' Saints in last year's Wild Card round, I believe anything is possible once playoff time rolls around.

My Prediction: Eli, NYG's rushing attack upsets Rodgers and moves on to the NFC Championship game.

Photo credit
Eli Manning: greenbaypostgazette.com
Jordy Nelson: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Osi Umenyiora: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bengals/Texans: Battle of the Rookie QBs

In just under an hour the 2011-12 NFL playoffs will kick-off with a very noteworthy match-up in Houston between the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans.

In 10 seasons, this is the Houston Texans' first-ever playoff appearance and the Bengals are seeking its first postseason win since 1990. Something's gotta give, right? The last time a playoff game was played in Houston Joe Montana was in a Kansas City Chief uniform as he defeated the Houston Oilers 28-20 on January 16, 1994.

This match-up also features a showdown between two rookie signal callers for the first time in playoff history, pretty impressive huh?
Both Houston's T.J. Yates and Cincy's Andy Dalton have turned heads with their leadership as rookies, and according to teammates neither have shown weaknesses in allowing the atmosphere of the playoff get to them. This week during practice, anyways. Come game time could be a whole different story.

The play of the quarterbacks, in my opinion, will not be the deciding factor in this game however. Rather, it will be the running game (and defense) that makes the difference. Houston has the league's second-best rushing attack, in terms of yardage at least, and Arian Foster is certain to get a huge workload today against Cincy's 10th-ranked run defense.

Houston is top five in overall (4th), pass (3rd) and run (4th) defense and will make for a rough day for Cedric Benson (1,067 yards, 6 TDs, 3.9 Y/A in regular season) and the Bengals' 19th-ranked running game. Without an efficient running attack there will be a lot of pressure on Dalton, and I think Houston's linebacking corps, led by Brian Cushing, will be too much for the young guy.

Houston, in its first playoff game in franchise history, will get the W today and live to play another week.

Photo credit
Cushing: Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Regular Season Award Winners

The Associated Press and National Football League have not released its award winners for the 2011 regular season just yet, but that doesn't mean I, here at All-Out Blitz, can't hand out my seasonal awards.

FYI: These are not predictions, these are simply my award winners. I could care less who the league awards the MVP, ROY, Coach of Year, etc. to...what secret do the voters know that I don't? Exactly. Comments are always welcome in the comment section, of course.

League MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers QB

Stat line: 4,643 yards, 45 TDs, 6 INT, 68.3%, 122.5 QBR

There has been come debate as to whether or not Rodgers and NO's Drew Brees should be given the co-MVP award this season. And I say, no. Not because Brees is less-deserving, but simply because I don't like the idea of giving the award to two different players to share. I'm sure Brees would much rather not win the award than to have to share it with someone else. Rodgers and his 15-1 Packers are a tad more deserving.

People seem to have forgotten that Rodgers' broke Peyton Manning's single-season Quarterback rating record (122.5) in his 15 games, and Rodgers attempted far less passes than Brees throughout the season (502 to 657) which is exactly why he threw for less yards and TDs. Rodgers is more efficient on less pass attempts (68.3%; 9.25 Y/A), and I believe he deserves the award because of that, and because he threw just six INTs.

Runner-ups: Drew Brees, Tom Brady, LeSean McCoy

Offensive Player of the Year: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints QB

Stat line: 5,476 yards, 46 TDs, 14 INT, 71.2%, 110.6 QBR

In most cases, this award would go to Rodgers. Simply because he was league MVP he would most likely be awarded top offensive player as well. But I hate that idea and since the MVP race was so close, I decided to spread the wealth and switch things up. This is what I would view as a second-place award this season. Brees couldn't edge out Rodgers in the MVP, but to show how deserving I think he was, I'll hand him the OPOY award as consolation.

There's no doubt he's the reason New Orleans went through the NFC South (13-3) as easily as they did, and minus two off-days against much less opponents (St. Louis, Tampa Bay) and another loss to the league's top team (Green Bay) the Saints could have been flirting with an undefeated season.

Runner-ups: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, LeSean McCoy, Calvin Johnson
Defensive Player of the Year: Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens LB

Stat line: 70 comb. tackles, 14 sacks, 2 INT, 7 FF

This award isn't always about stats, although they do play a huge role in it because it shows productivity. In Suggs case though, I believe it is more about his approach and intimidation level against his opponents. Suggs stepped up and became one of the bigger leaders on Baltimore's defensive squad, maybe surpassing the legendary Ray Lewis in that aspect. His 14 sacks and career/league-high 7 forced fumbles made a huge impact on the field. Completely deserving on Suggs' part.

Runner-ups: DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers QB

Stat line: 4,051 yards, 21 TDs, 17 INT, 60.0%, 84.5 QBR

Newton wasted no time making a great first impression, throwing for 400+ yards in his first two starts. He turned heads from the start, and broke a few records while he was at it: passing yards by a rookie, rushing TDs by a quarterback (14). At age 22, Newton is well on his way to stardom in Carolina, all he needs is a little help from his supporting cast. Hopefully in 2012 the Panthers' defense will be a bit more healthier than in 2011.

Runner-ups: Andy Dalton, A.J. Green
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers DE

Stat line: 37 comb. tackles, 14 sacks, 2 FF

As of a couple of weeks ago, I really didn't have Smith on my radar for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Denver's Von Miller and Arizona's Patrick Peterson had received much of my attention instead. But Aldon has been a huge part of this feisty San Francisco defense, and without him a key piece is missing. Smith has shown off his pass-rushing ability with his 14 sacks, and has made plenty of big plays for the Niners this season. His future is bright alongside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman as the core of SF's defense.

Runner-ups: Von Miller, Patrick Peterson

Comebacker Player of the Year: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions QB

Stat line: 5,038, 41 TDs, 16 INT, 63.5%, 97.2 QBR

I'm disgusted with how many quarterbacks are being handed my awards, but 2011 truly was the Year of the Quarterbacks (as cliche' as ESPN has made that statement). Stafford became the fourth different quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a season and threw for a career-high 41 TDs as his 10-6 Lions made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. He hurt his shoulder and played just three games last season, in his second year as a professional. Successful third year, I'd say, Mr. Stafford.

Runner-ups: Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Frank Gore, Reggie Bush
Breakout Player of the Year: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots TE


Stat line: 90 Rec., 1,327, 17 TDs, 14.7 YPR

Gronkowski, in his second professional season, has put together the best season by a tight end in NFL history, hands down. Gronk set records for both yards and touchdowns by a tight end in a single-season. He not only led tight ends in touchdowns, but he led the entire league with 17 touchdowns, topping Detroit's Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, and averaged more yards per catch than fellow tight end Jimmy Graham, who was the No. 2 guy among Gronk's position. He may have Tom Brady throwing him the ball, but either way this award was a no-brainer in my eyes, and belongs to Gronk.

Runner-ups: Victor Cruz, Jason Pierre-Paul, NaVorro Bowman

Coach of the Year: Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers

In just one season, his first as a professional football coach, Harbaugh (Baltimore's HC John Harbaugh's brother, as we are all well aware of by now) has turned the cellar-dwelling Niners in to Super Bowl contenders. His defense is one of the most fierce as of right now, and there's no telling if Green Bay and New Orleans will have as much success against Willis, Bowman and the Smiths as they expect. Harbaugh's intensity and will to win may be the most intriguing part about his approach to the game.

Runner-ups: Mike McCarthy, Gary Kubiak

Photo credit:
Rodgers: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Suggs: Larry French/Getty Images
Gronkowski: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images