Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Note to Commissioner Goodell: Keep the Pro Bowl

We're two days past the 2013 Pro Bowl, and the Super Bowl hoopla has taken full effect in New Orleans and all over every major sports network. But I still feel the need to address this past season's Pro Bowl. Then, and only then, can we get on to the last couple of days leading up to the big dance.

First off, I know the Pro Bowl is a seemingly pointless game in terms of effort and competitiveness. Players often only give half an effort in attempting tackles, blocking kicks, running routes, etc. out of fear of suffering a major injury that could effect the respective player's offseason and heading into the following year.

Fans constantly complain about the lack of effort in this NFL all-star game, and commissioner Roger Goodell has threatened to do away with the game earlier this year. I, however, am here to tell you that doing away with the Pro Bowl would be a mistake.

Sure, the NFC once again dominated in Hawaii on Sunday evening, defeating the AFC all-stars by a score of 62-35. And sure, a tight end (Minnesota Vikings Kyle Rudolph) won the game's Most Valuable Player award for catching 5 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.

The fact that the Pro Bowl is now in between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl was a good move, although it does take away the players from competition. Taking Baltimore and San Francisco players out of the mix, and adding to that the players that back out due to injury, and the Pro Bowl pool is watered down.

All this being said, there's no way the commish can cancel the Pro Bowl.

That's right, I said it.

Lop-sided scoring, lackluster tackling, watered-down all-stars to choose from, yet I still believe we should keep the game around?

The players and their families get a week-long vacation together after a long five months apart, plus don't fans enjoy high-scoring fiascos?

Pro Bowl selections have been used to gauge a player's career successes, it's tough to take that away after all these years. This game isn't about the fans, in my opinion. It's all about the players, and I think it's a selfish move to take this event away from the guys, and the state of Hawaii––they don't have an NFL team and this is the one time of year they get to watch a game in person.

The players have so much fun with the game, so who cares that they don't give it all 100%. The league has done a couple of things to make it more enjoyable for fans such as putting mics on players and allowing players to tweet on the sidelines throughout the game. But this past year's Pro Bowl was incredibly memorable in a couple of different aspects.

Here are some of my personal favorites:

Second-year Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt lined up wide against the Chicago Bears cornerback for the AFC offensive squad and ran a quick slant in the end zone. Watt nearly caught a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning on the play. He gave offense another go later in the game as well. Unfortunately I had trouble finding a video of the play(s), but I guess next time you'll just have to tune in yourselves.
Watt bloodies finger, requires stitches

Shortly after lining up at wideout, Watt was seen on the sidelines with a bloody finger (photo shown below). It's unclear whether he injured the finger on offense or defense, but either way there's no doubt he was giving it his all. In a sideline interview during the game, Watt said to reporter Michele Tafoya: "Hey commish, we're playing hard."

Jeff Saturday snaps ball to Peyton Manning

Old teammates in Indianapolis, center Jeff Saturday snapped the ball to future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning for a majority of his 13-year career in Indy. Now playing for the Green Bay Packers, Saturday was the starting center for the NFC, while Peyton was the starting quarterback for the AFC, representing the Denver Broncos.

With Saturday announcing his retirement from the NFL, the 14-year veteran snapped the ball to Manning one last time early in the game. After the play Manning gave Saturday a hug and handed him the game ball. Things like this is what the Pro Bowl should be all about.
Referee Ed Hochuli has some fun with PI call

There were very little penalties throughout the game, surprisingly enough. In fact, the first one was pass interference called on Denver cornerback Champ Bailey in the end zone and didn't even come until late in the first half.

Hochuli, the famed buff-armed referee and attorney from Milwaukee, WI, had a little fun with the call, stating "yes, there are penalties in the Pro Bowl" before announcing the infraction to the crowd over his microphone. Video evidence below (sorry, it's not the best quality):
Watching Larry Fitzgerald play with a real quarterback

Sorry, Arizona. But I had to throw this one in here at the end. Fitz, playing with the Cards and all, has played with quarterbacks such as Josh McCown, John Skelton, Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, Max Hall, Kurt Warner and Kevin Kolb throughout his nine-year professional career. Warner is a borderline Hall of Fame signal caller, but the rest are downright scrubs. This means that the Pro Bowl is the one day of the year that the All-Pro wideout gets to catch passes from a legitimate quarterback.

Being a 7-time Pro Bowler, Fitz has gotten to play with some great quarterbacks, but in games that don't mean a thing. Fitzgerald caught six passes for 59 yards and a touchdown on Sunday evening.

- - - - -

With all the above moments in the seemingly pointless all-star game held in Hawaii each season, does this change your mind about the Pro Bowl?

Note to Commish: Keep the Pro Bowl!

Note: We do not own the photos/videos above. No copyright infringement intended.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Detroit Lions: What does the Jahvid Best Concussion Issue Mean for Schwartz's Offense?

It's been brought to the attention in Detroit that running back Jahvid Best may have already played his final down in the National Football League.

After suffering his fourth concussion since his senior year at Cal earlier in the season, Best, 23, has yet to find a doctor that would clear him to return to football, according to a Chris Wesseling article on NFL.com.

Taken in the first round of the 2010 April draft, Best has some memorable moments on the field in Detroit, but his production has been hampered by the multiple concussions he's suffered. Last season Best suffered two concussions and was limited to just 84 rushing attempts over his six starts. This season Best didn't play a single down in both the preseason and regular season, being placed on the season-ending IR on November 3 due to sprouting post-concussion issues.

In his three professional seasons, Best––selected by head coach Jim Schwartz to be the Lions' primary shifty back––has combined for just 945 rushing yards and 6 TDs (774 receiving yards, 3 TDs) over his 15 starts. Not exactly the sort of production you'd like to see from your 30th overall draft pick.
Led by quarterback Matt Stafford and face-of-the-franchise Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, Detroit has a high-powered passing attack and made it back to the postseason for the first time since 1999 last season. But the lack of a viable option coming out of the backfield may have hampered any further damage the offense could have done. I believe if the offense wasn't one-dimensional and had the ability to run the ball on a regular basis, this Detroit squad could have done some major damage.

Instead, Detroit went 10-6, snagging a wild card spot but faltering in the opening round of the postseason last season thanks to a 29th-best rushing attack. Best was Detroit's leading rusher with his 390 yards and 2 TDs, but as a team the Lions managed 100+ yards on the ground in just six different times. Their 32 rushing yards in the wild card loss to New Orleans limited what the Lions could do offensively, and the Saints slipped away with a 45-28 win thanks to a grand total of 167 yards and 3 TDs on the ground.

Heading into this season the Lions had high hopes for adding on to recent success and topping its 10 wins from the season before. But once again Best faced symptoms from his past concussions and the Lions were forced into giving its 2011 second round draft selection Mikel Leshoure a shot at running back. A standout at Eastern Illinois, running for 1,607 yards and 17 TDs as a senior, Leshoure looked promising.

But a training camp injury to his achilles tendon as a rookie in 2011 following a collision with teammate Cliff Avril, Leshoure missed all of his 2011 season. Leshoure was then suspended by the league for the first two games of the 2012 season after two off-season marijuana arrests.
It appeared to be running back-by-committee once again for Detroit in 2012, using veteran Kevin Smith and Joique Bell in the first two games of the season in the absence of Best and Leshoure. With a 1-1 start to the season, Detroit's pass-to-run ratio sat at 80-44. Not too much of a surprise, but it's tough to win that way when your quarterback is throwing three picks a game like Stafford did in the first two games.

Leshoure finally hit the field for his pro debut the following week against Tennessee, and coach Schwartz proved that he wants to give his opponents a heavy dose of the running game. Leshoure carried the ball 26 times for 100 yards and his first career touchdown in a 44-41 overtime loss.

That game was one of just two instances all season that Leshoure carried the ball 20+ times, but he still managed to finish the season with 9 rushing TDs. Leshoure is a power back at 6-foot, 227 lbs, but I'm not so positive that he can be the primary No. 1 running back for Detroit for a full 16-games. Short yardage, perhaps even a viable third down back, but a back who can run for 250-300 times a season? No way.

Schwartz took Best in 2010 because he loves his speed and shiftiness. He was a threat in three facets of the game: run, pass, and kick return. Leshoure managed to catch just 34 passes in his 14 games, while Best caught 85 over his 15 starts. Best's speed coming out of the backfield is exactly what Schwartz loved about him, and his ability in the open-field. Leshoure is a great second option as a power guy, but it would be a smart move if Detroit went out and got a No. 1 back this offseason.

The draft this spring isn't looking like the strongest draft class in terms of running backs. Early rankings have guys such as Alabama's Eddie Lacy, Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Clemson's Andre Ellington as some of the top available options at the position, but none of the aforementioned would likely be taken off the board in the first round.
The free agency period could get interesting for Detroit, however, with shifty backs Reggie Bush (Dolphins), Shonn Greene (Jets) and Rashard Mendenhall (Steelers) all becoming free agents. Going after Mendenhall is risky, and it's tough to tell what Greene's true ability is as he's gotten limited reps in New York. But Bush still shows he can use his speed and ability to catch passes out of the backfield and break free from defenders. He revitalized his career in Miami, but I wouldn't expect him to stay there. If I was Schwartz, I would lobby to make Bush my guy in Detroit. Wouldn't that be interesting?

A consistent running back is all Detroit needs on offense at this moment in time to take it to a new level. So why not sign Bush to a contract and then free up your draft for focusing on improving the offensive line and reeling in a top pass rusher or adding depth to the secondary.

What do you think should be Detroit's main focus this offseason? Because even if by some miracle chance Best does return in 2013, there's still a good chance he could continue struggling with concussions.

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Championship Sunday Preview: All-Out Blitz's Picks

It's here, the second-most important day of the NFL season: Conference Championship Sunday. We're now about a half an hour away from kick-off in Atlanta, with the second game kicking off in Foxboro 3.5 hours after that.

So far this postseason we've put up a 5-3 record when it comes to picking games. Starting out strong with a 4-0 Wild Card record, but then hitting a free fall after a 1-3 Divisional round record last week.

There are 3 major games left in the 2012-13 NFL season, with two of them coming today. Here's our Conference Championship preview and game picks.

San Francisco @ Atlanta
3pm (eastern time), Georgia Dome

Ah, yes. Two teams that I highly underestimated in last week's Divisional round. Unfortunately I will be forced to pick against one of these two teams for a second consecutive week. And it's going to be very tough to go against these Niners after dismantling Green Bay's defense both on the ground and in the air.

Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick set records against the Pack, running for the most yards in a single game by a quarterback (181) with 2 TDs in addition to passing for 263 yards and 2 more TDs. Atlanta's Matt Ryan had an elite first half of play against Seattle's top-ranked defense, putting the Falcons ahead 20-0. But the second half was a different story.

Atlanta's defense allowed rookie Russell Wilson to lead the 'Hawks to 28 second-half points, including 21 unanswered in the fourth quarter. While the 'Hawks mounted a comeback, Ryan threw two picks for the Dirty Birds.

Luckily, Ryan's final drive ended in a game-winning 49-yard field goal from Matt Bryant with :08 to play. But there's no doubt the Falcons backed into the win and didn't play a full four quarters of elite football. Against San Francisco, they will absolutely need to play flawless football, because Kaepernick and the Niners' offense proved that they can score quickly and rather easily. San Fran's 21 fourth quarter points, led by 323 total rushing yards throughout the game, is a scary feat that will keep Atlanta's 21st-ranked rushing defense on its toes.

Unfortunately for Matt Ryan, who has proved to be an elite regular season quarterback in his five-year career, the Falcons aren't likely to reproduce its 167 yard rushing performance. In 17 games this season, Atlanta has broken the 100-yard mark just seven times. The Falcons have clearly been forced to rely on Matty Ice's right arm and top-tier receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, but San Francisco's hard-nosed defense has also limited opposing offenses to under 200 yards passing on eight different occasions this season.

San Francisco's No. 2 overall defense has recorded 38 sacks, forced 25 turnovers and limited opposing rushers to just 1,507 yards (4th in league) this season, with quarterbacks posting just a 78.0 QB rating. There's no doubt that they'll put the pressure on Ryan and force some errant throws. The question is, did the Falcons figure out the correct formula for stopping Kaepernick? Because the Packers surely couldn't find an answer for him last week both in the passing and run game.

Prediction: I'm not going against these Niners, I'll take them in a close one over Matt Ryan's Falcons. San Fran wins on the road, 38-31.
Baltimore @ New England
6:30pm (eastern time), Gillette Stadium

It's rather disappointing that the current temperature in Foxboro is an unseasonably 53 degrees. Between one game in a dome, and the other approaching 60 degrees outside, we wont witness any cold games such as last week's BAL/DEN or HOU/NE games. But this is the matchup to watch, nonetheless.

It's Ray Lewis' final showdown with New England's head coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as he and his Baltimore defense will fight for one final game two weeks from today.

All-time the Patriots lead the series between these two teams by a count of 7-2, including the postseason (1-1 in the postseason). But, as of lately, the head-to-head matchup has been somewhat of a stalemate. Week 2 of this season Baltimore got the best of Tom Brady & Co. thanks in part to a game-winning field goal from rookie kicker Justin Tucker.

In the postseason, this game last season the Ravens traveled to Foxboro and were knocked off a game shy of the Super Bowl after then-Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff missed a potential game-tying 31-yard field. New England won 23-20 and went on to fall to Eli Manning's Giants in the Super Bowl.

Eight days after upsetting the No. 1 seed Denver Broncos, 38-35 in double overtime, the Ravens get set to knock off the No. 2 seed in New England as 9-9.5 point underdogs yet again. In that game the Ravens overcame vital special teams mistakes (allowing two Trindon Holliday return TDs) and quarterback Joe Flacco proved all of his critics that he can take the reins and lead the team to a postseason victory.

It was, by far, Flacco's finest postseason performance, throwing for 331 yards and 3 TDs in the victory. But, most importantly, he limited his mistakes and showed confidence. Ray Rice's 131 yards was key late in the game and the offense managed to take advantage of Denver's mistakes and hold on for the victory.

However, this week may be a little different. Yet another elite postseason quarterback will square off with Flacco as Brady and his high-powered offense take the field against Ray Lewis. But, lately the Ravens have been able to get pressure on quarterbacks and I'd expect pass-rusher Paul Kruger to have another big day against Brady. Houston failed to force any turnovers, and that cost them big time, surrendering 40+ points to the Pats in the 41-28 loss.

Baltimore allowed 35 points last week, but that didn't matter as Flacco and his offense managed to keep up with Peyton and force a couple of turnovers. If Baltimore's defense can force some Brady mistakes, which I believe will end up happening with the pressure that will be put on him all game, then they have a good shot at knocking off another top AFC team today.

I picked against Baltimore last week, but I don't think I can do that again this week and they'll hold on for a second consecutive road postseason win. I mean, I had the Ravens in the Super Bowl (losing to the Packers) back in August, so I might as well just stick with my preseason pick.

Prediction: Another high-scoring game in this evening's AFC Championship. Baltimore prevails, 31-28.
According to our predictions, we'll be seeing an all-Harbaugh Super Bowl in New Orleans two weeks from today. It'd be a very interesting storyline, don't get me wrong. I just hope that (if it happens) the topic isn't worn out. Two weeks is a very long time between games, and there's always something that the media chooses to talk about for the full two weeks.

It's highly possible that we could either see the final games from two legends: Ray Lewis and ATL's Tony Gonzalez, who is also likely to retire at the end of the season. Both will end up being first ballot Hall of Famers and are in consideration for the best all-time at their respective positions. Wouldn't it be an interesting storyline if they ended up in a Super Bowl showdown? If anyone deserves a Super Bowl ring, it's Tony G. Sorry I can't pick Atlanta, Tony!

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Monday, January 14, 2013

"What Just Happened?": Recapping a Wild Weekend of Football

The Divisional round slate of games trumped last weekend's wild card games by a long shot. But I guess that's to be expected when you have the top four teams in the postseason squaring off against four teams who just picked up some extra self-confidence a week prior.

Plenty of shocking outcomes and high-scoring games to talk about today. Here's what we learned after this weekend:

Ravens upset No. 1 seeded Broncos at Mile High

This was an instant classic. On one hand we have arguably the best team in the postseason and an MVP candidate/Hall of Fame-bound quarterback looking to further cement his legacy. On the other, we have a motivated and rejuvenated Baltimore defense whose legendary linebacker was facing possibly his last game ever. What did we get? A shocking upset that went into double overtime.

We, along with all 18 NFL Network analysts, picked the 13-3 Broncos to manhandle the Ray Lewis-led Ravens. Instead, we got a match-up for the ages and finally saw quarterback Joe Flacco step up and prove he can keep up with the big boys of the league.

Running back Ray Rice got his touches and went for 131 on the ground while adding a touchdown, but what impressed me the most was the fact that Flacco stuck in there and was able to out-pass Peyton Manning (Flacco: 18/34, 331 yards, 3 TDs, 116.2 rating; Manning: 28/43, 290 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 88.3 rating). Denver failed to put any pressure on Flacco as they sacked him just one time all game, and he was able to hit WR Torrey Smith on a couple of clutch touchdowns.

I mentioned that it would take a flawless game from Flacco for Baltimore to pull this one out (which even then I wasn't so sure they'd manage to do so), and that's exactly what he did. Shocking, right? That's not the only shocking feat we saw on either side. Denver stayed in the game because of great special teams play from former Houston returner Trindon Holliday. The 5'5" Holliday returned a punt 90 yards for a TD and a kickoff 104 yards for a TD in the game, accounting for close to half of the points.
The game was back-and-forth from the start, as each team traded touchdowns all the way through. This game, which didn't end until Justin Tucker nailed a 47-yard field goal with 13:18 to play in the second overtime period, saw five different ties and never saw a team leading by anymore than seven points. Down 35-28 with under a minute to play in the game, Flacco hit Jacoby Jones (another former Texans return man) on a 70-yard TD bomb to tie the game with :31 to play.

The play saw a blown coverage on Denver's defense and could have easily been avoided had he not taken a bad angle. Either way, Baltimore was back in it and finally came away with the victory thanks to Tucker.

Key mistakes was the difference in this game. A Manning interception returned for a TD (there was a questionable pass interference non-call on the play that may have overturned the play) early in the game cost the Broncos seven points. Two interceptions and 10 penalties for 87 yards made all the difference in the world as Flacco and his Baltimore offense managed to take advantage of those opportunities and make the most of them.

Key Stats:
*This was the first double overtime game since the Panthers defeated the Rams 29-23 in two overtimes on January 10, 2004.
*Flacco improves to 7-4 in postseason, recording his second career 300-yard passing game in the playoffs. His 3 TDs are a career-high in postseason play.
*Ray Lewis made 17 combined tackles
*In Peyton's 20th career postseason start he falls to 9-11 and it was the eighth different time that he's been one-and-done in the postseason.

Kaerpernick, Niners Pull Away from Packers in 2nd Half

The Saturday night cap was poised to be yet another great match-up, and that's exactly how it started out. Much like the previous game in Denver, this one saw multiple tie games and lead changes, as the two teams swapped touchdowns and field goals on its way to four ties, three of which came in the opening half.

Green Bay got the scoring going with a 52-yard Sam Shields interception touchdown. Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick came right back, however, scoring and tying the game at seven with a 20-yard TD dash. DuJuan Harris, Green Bay's leading rusher with 52 yards on 11 carries, gave the Pack the lead back late in the first quarter with an 18-yard TD run. Back-to-back Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree touchdowns gave San Fran the 21-14 lead as Crabtree broke out for the game of his life (9 receptions, 119 yards, 2 TDs in his third career postseason game).

Aaron Rodgers isn't the kind of quarterback to step down, especially against an unproven, 25-year old Kaepernick. Rodgers came back out and led the Pack on a 69-yard drive, capped with a 20-yard strike to James Jones. Tied once again at 21. But just before the half Kaepernick one-upped the Super Bowl champion Rodgers, driving the Niners 79 yards down the field to set up a 36-yard field goal from seasoned veteran kicker David Akers.
Green Bay managed to tie the game for a fourth time on its second drive of the second half, setting up a 31-yard Mason Crosby field goal. But, it was all downhill from there. Green Bay couldn't seem to stop the running game, between running back Frank Gore (119 yards yards, 1 TD on 19 carries) or the speedy Kaepernick. Kaepernick has been a running threat all season, topping 400 yards with 5 TDs in his seven starts. On Saturday night vs. Green Bay, there were gapping holes which Kaepernick exploited. He finished the game with an NFL record 181 yards on the ground, adding two touchdowns 20 and 56 yards out. The rushing total is an NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game. Any game, not just a postseason game. Michael Vick was the previous record holder.

The Niners' 21 unanswered points in the second half gave San Francisco a 45-31 victory. Not only did Kaepernick outplay Rodgers, but the 49ers held the ball for 38 minutes and completely dominated all facets of the second half. Green Bay's late 3-yard TD pass from Rodgers to Greg Jennings was a result of San Francisco's defense slacking off, and I'd consider it garbage yards/points. It made Aaron's stats look slightly better, but I believe that the score of the game doesn't even tell the entire story. A great first half, but San Francisco absolutely blew the Pack out of the water in the second half.

In the fourth quarter, Kaepernick led an 11-play scoring drive that took nearly 8 minutes. Nine of those plays were running plays by Kaepernick, Gore and Anthony Dixon. By game's end, three different running backs, in addition to Kaepernick, had run the ball at some point in the game. Truthfully, I'm a little concerned for Atlanta's 21st-ranked run defense next week. San Francisco's running game looks to be unstoppable, and I clearly underestimated Kaepernick this past weekend.

Key Stats
*San Francisco combined for 323 yards and 4 TDs on the ground between four different runners. That's the most, by far, allowed by the Packers all season long. As a team, that's 7.5 yards per rush over 43 carries. Green Bay's rushing defense (17th) was ranked slightly higher than the Atlanta Falcons' this past season.
*Like I already stated, Kaepernick's 181 rushing yards is an NFL record for a quarterback in a single game. Any game. Vick previously held the record.
*The total plays of the game: San Fran 75, Green Bay 56
*Aldon Smith didn't record a single sack for the Niners (Patrick Willis had team's lone sack), and he recorded just two tackles all game, with one QB hit. Imagine what damage could be done if he can get to Matt Ryan next week?

Falcons Fend off the NFL's Newest "Comeback Kid" in Seattle's Rookie Wilson

Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan appears to have finally gotten that monkey off his back. As did future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is likely to retire after the season. Ryan, 27, was in the same draft class as Joe Flacco. But, unlike Joe, Matt is still winless in the postseason. Until yesterday of course.

It didn't come without a bit of a nail-biter, however. After another slow start from Seattle, who was looking to defeat two east coast teams on the road in the past two weeks, the Seahawks didn't give up without a fight.

Seattle's first four possessions ended with two punts, a Marshawn Lynch fumble and a turnover on downs, which came deep in Atlanta territory after head coach Pete Carroll elected to go for it on 4th & 1 (while down 10-0) instead of playing it safe and kicking a field goal. On Seattle's fifth possession of the game, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson drove the 'Hawks down the field on 13 plays but, with no timeouts left, Wilson was sacked for -9 yards on 3rd & 11 at the ATL 11-yard line. Unable to spike the ball and kick a field goal since it was already 4th down, the rookie attempted to just run one more play but the clock ran out prior to the snap. Seattle went into the locker room at the half down 20-0 and with an awful taste in its mouth.

Matt Ryan appeared to be on cruise control to his first postseason victory in four tries, throwing two TD passes to Gonzalez and Roddy White in the 20-point first half. But Wilson came right out of the locker room and led Seattle on a 9 play, 78-yard scoring drive capped off with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate. The scoreboard read 20-7, which gave the visiting 'Hawks hope. But that hope was short-lived as Ryan came out a couple minutes later and marched the Falcons into the end zone on a 5-yard pass to Jason Snelling, capping the 80-yard drive.
This drive is what appeared to put the Seahawks out of the game, despite it still being early in the third quarter. Seattle's No. 10 rushing defense couldn't seem to stop Atlanta's 29th-ranked rushing attack, led by veteran Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers. On 26 carries throughout the game, Atlanta combiend for 167 yards, which was good enough for 6.4 yards per carry.

But Wilson had yet to give up, as he led his offense to two consecutive scoring drives. It started with a one-yard run from Wilson early in the fourth, and was able to continue thanks to a key interception by safety Earl Thomas. Following the rare Matty Ryan mistake, the Seattle offense went 62 yards on four plays, as Wilson hit tight end Zach Miller in the end zone for a 3-yard TD strike. It was now early in the fourth and suddenly Seattle saw themselves down just six points, 27-21.

Seattle's defense finally stepped up its game in the fourth quarter stopping the Atlanta offense to three-and-outs on two consecutive drives and setting up the offense at its own 39-yard line with 3:00 to play. Managing to move up and down the field with seemingly no problems at all in the second half of play, Wilson once again led the Seahawks on a 60+ yard drive and capped it with a game-changing 2-yard rushing touchdown from Marshawn Lynch. After confirming the play in the booth upstairs, a Ryan Longwell extra point gave the Seahawks its first lead of the day, 28-27.

Once again, we saw the incredible take place in the Georgia Dome. Matt Ryan came away with a clutch 3-yard drive with :31 to play, throwing passes of 22 and 19 yards to Harry Douglas and Gonzalez. This set up a game-winning 49-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to send the Falcons to the NFC Championship game next Sunday afternoon.

Key Stats:
*Next weekend is only the third NFC Championship appearance in Atlanta's 47-year history (1-1 in previous two championship games). They are 7-11 in postseason play, and 3-5 in the Divisional round of the postseason.
*This game was Matt Ryan's first postseason victory (1-3) and first postseason game with 3 TDs. His rating of 93.7 is the best he's posted in the playoffs.
*Atlanta ran for 100 yards as a team only six times all season, and their 167 yards in Sunday's win over Seattle was the most in 2012-13 by 21 yards. They went 6-0 in games in which they ran for over 100 yards.
*As a rookie, Wilson posted a 102.4 rating with 572 yards, 3 TDs and just one interception in his first two postseason starts. He also ran for 127 yards and a TD in his two games against Washington and Atlanta while his Seahawks put up an average of 26.0 points per game (39 of the 52 points came in the second half, and there were zero first quarter points). Not bad for a rookie, huh?
*The win was the first postseason win for ATL tight end Tony Gonzalez in his illustrious 16-year Hall of Fame career (he's now 1-5 with the Chiefs and Falcons). The 13-time Pro Bowler is expected to retire at the end of the season, so next week could be both his and Lewis' final game. If not, then Super Bowl Sunday will be.

Patriots manhandle Texans, Move on to Host AFC Championship in 2011 Rematch with Baltimore

The first two possessions for New England's offense was a little alarming, and it looked as if the Texans defense could maintain the tempo and slow down Tom Brady's roll. Ehh, not so much once the second quarter rolled around.

Sure, the Houston defense forced a three-and-out on the opening drive while putting up three points thanks to a Shayne Graham field goal with its first offensive possession. Another punt on the second New England drive gave J.J. Watt and Houston confidence, and the Texans trailed just 7-3 at the end of the first.

But Houston quarterback Matt Schaub appeared a little too cautious with the ball and, because of that, Houston had several early drives stall and were forced to punt. Settling for two first half Graham field goals diminished the offense's confidence as they trailed 17-13 heading into the half. A scoreless third quarter for the Texans allowed the Pats to jump 31-13, and then extend that lead to 38-13 early in the fourth quarter.

New England's running backs had busy days. The youngsters Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen combined for 124 yards on the ground in addition to two rushing TDs a piece. The hardly-used Vereen (62 carries in 13 games this year) added in two receiving touchdowns from Brady (Brady threw for 344 yards and 3 TDs on the day), totaling a career-high 3 TDs for the game. Already down by 25 points, Houston's 15 fourth quarter points made no difference as the Pats rolled to a 41-28 victory. Putting up 41 points on the 10th-best scoring defense, in a postseason game no less, is pretty impressive. Even if it is the New England Patriots.
There's really not much to say about this one, as this was expected. Watt and Brooks Reed got Brady on the ground early in the game, but that was the only sack of the day. Despite being hit 7 times, Brady stood in the pocket and hit five different receivers for the second-most passing yards in his 23-game postseason career.

There is one big headline that came from this game and will have a major impact on next weekend's match-up at Gillette Stadium, and that's that tight end Rob Gronkowski re-broke his forearm and will miss the rest of the postseason. He may even require a second surgery on it. This injury is likely to effect the beginning of next season as well, although I expect him to be just fine by the time September rolls around. Luckily for New England, Gronk didn't have an impact in yesterday's game (he was re-injured on the only play he was thrown to), so maybe they'll be able to manage without him next week.

Key Stats:
*The victory is the 17th of Brady's postseason career, surpassing Joe Montana (Tom's childhood idol) on the all-time postseason wins list by a quarterback.
*In this game Brady also became just the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 40 postseason touchdowns. He now has 41 of them in his 23 starts. Joe Montana and Brett Favre were the other two to accomplish this feat. Montana had 45 in 23 starts while Favre had 44 in 24 starts.
*Thanks to his 8 catch, 131 yard performance, Wes Welker now has 61 receptions for 569 yards and 3 TDs in his eight game postseason career. All coming with New England, the Patriots are 5-3 in those games.
*Arian Foster's 1-yard TD run gives him at least one in each of his four career postseason starts over the last two seasons. Houston is 2-2 in those games and he has a total of 6 touchdowns (five rushing, 1 receiving).

- - - - -

There's no doubt we witnessed some of the best weekend of playoff football in a long time, as we had a much higher scoring slate of games than the previous week. Each of the eight teams managed to put at least 28 points up on the scoreboard and we got to see the highest-scoring weekend of playoff football, with 276 total points being scored throughout the four games. That's an average of 34.5 per team.

What a weekend. But the best part about this is Championship Sunday may even top the excitement we witnessed these last two days.
The 49ers will look to avenge last year's NFC Championship loss to the Giants as they travel to Atlanta to take on the top seeded Falcons (3 p.m. eastern time on FOX). On the AFC side of things, the Ravens will look to get its revenge on the Patriots after falling just short of the Super Bowl, at the hands of the Pats, in last year's AFC Championship game (6:30 p.m. eastern time on CBS).

How about that, three of last year's Championship teams managed to get back to the big game for a second consecutive season. There's even a chance we could see another Harbaugh Bowl on Super Sunday.

The All-Out Blitz's game picks will come later on in the week––we need some time to mull over the match-ups.

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Playoff Preview: Sunday's Divisional Match-ups

Rough day in regards to picking games yesterday, as the 10-point underdog Ravens upset the No. 1 Broncos in double overtime and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick literally ran away with a 45-31 victory in the second half against Green Bay.

But today is a new day, and there are still two more games to be played this weekend. Here is a quick preview of both match-ups.

Sunday January 13, 2013

5 Seahawks @ 1 Falcons
1 pm (eastern time), Georgia Dome

The AFC's No. 1 seed has already gone down, and I think later today the NFC's No. 1 seed will fall as well. People don't seem to be giving the Seahawks any credit for its victory last weekend, but the truth is they are probably one of the hottest teams in the NFC right now. A scary combination of defense (No. 1 in the league) and a running game.

Atlanta's offense put up 30 or more points five times this season and has the league's 6th-best passing offense, but a lack of a capable running game may hold back Matt Ryan and his Falcons. Say all you want about this league now being a pass-happy league, but you still need a great defense and a consistent running game to win playoff games and honestly I don't think this defense will be able to limit Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch on the ground.

Seven of Atlanta's 13 wins this season have been by a touchdown or less and, personally, I always found this Falcons team to be overrated. Ryan is 34-6 at home in his career (including a playoff loss to Green Bay), but the postseason has been a different story as he's gone 0-3 with 4 interceptions and a 71.2 rating.
This is a new season, however, and the past postseason games for Ryan do not matter today. With Ryan playing at home, he should have a decent game, but Atlanta's 29th-best running game is likely to be non-existent against Seattle's No. 10 run defense.

On offense, I'm expecting to see rookie Russell Wilson at his finest and we should see a lot of plays coming out of the pistol with some option runs, because Atlanta hasn't seem to be able to stop the opposition on the ground this season. No turnvers from Wilson, and this offense could put up 30-40 points inside Atlanta's dome. Sorry Tony Gonzalez (Atlanta TE), but I think you'll fall to 0-6 in your postseason career today.

Prediction: Seahawks 34, Falcons 24

3 Texans @ 2 Patriots
4:30 pm, Gillette Stadium

Earlier this season, just a couple of weeks ago actually, Tom Brady carved up Houston's 10th-ranked defense for 42 points on the primetime Monday night stage. It was all downhill for Houston after that, as they finished the season 1-2 and backed into the postseason. They had a shot for a couple weeks to clinch home-field advantage and a first round bye, but failed to do so.

A sloppy 19-13 Wild Card victory over Cincinnati last week got Houston to this point, but it's not looking too promising for Matt Schaub's Texans. Of course, the Ravens already proved us all wrong this weekend, so perhaps the Texans can do it again today? I'm playing it safe and going with New England, who always seem to have the highest-scoring offense year-in and year-out.

Going against Brady and head coach Bill Belichick in the postseason is not a smart move. With a 16-6 record in his illustrious postseason career, Brady's level of play elevates once January and February rolls around. In past seasons New England was a pass-oriented team that never really worked at establishing the run, but with Stevan Ridley on the field this season, New England has been a much more rounded offense. On less than 300 rushing attempts, the 23-year old Ridley broke out with 1,263 yards and 12 TDs on the ground.
Arian Foster running for 100+ yards is likely today against New England's defense, but we've seen that a 100-yard rusher isn't going to automatically put a team in great position to beat the Pats. We've seen that all season, as the Patriots have gone 7-3 this season when allowing 100 or more yards on the ground. Nope, Matt Schaub will actually need to make some plays in the passing game (and limit INTs) in order to come away with a win today. A couple of big plays on defense from J.J. Watt or Connor Barwin wouldn't hurt either.

Though he was voted to a Pro Bowl this season, I always thought of Matt Schaub as more of a game-manager in this offense. But if he wants to prove his worth to me today, he'll need to make some big plays. I don't think Houston's defense will be able to limit the damage that Brady leaves, and the Pats will advance to the AFC Championship against Baltimore for the second consecutive season.

Prediction: Patriots 35, Texans 21

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Photo of the Night: Peyton and Family Congratulate Lewis after Victory

I don't think it matters who you cheer for and cheer against, or which players you like and dislike. Either way, this is an image that you'll remember for the rest of your life.

Two legends: One is just starting a new chapter in his illustrious career. The other is just about to finish the last page of his legendary career. Denver's Peyton Manning fell to Baltimore Saturday night, but that didn't stop him (and his family) from congratulating the legendary linebacker Ray Lewis for his latest win.

With no more than three weeks left in his NFL career, as he announced he'd retire from the game following this season, Lewis and his Ravens have fought to live another week.

In what may go down as one of the best postseason games in history––it'll go down as one of the best in Baltimore and Denver's franchise history, at the very least––Baltimore came away with a 38-35 victory in two overtime periods.

The image below may go down as a legendary photograph, as Peyton––one of the classiest quarterbacks this league may ever see––stayed after the loss to congratulate Lewis on his team's victory.

What a great game, and what a great time to capture the moment.

Note: We do not own the image, no copyright infringement intended.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

16 Bold Predictions for NFL Divisional Round Weekend

We've already discussed our predictions for today's two Divisional round games between Baltimore and Denver, and Green Bay and San Francisco. But, we have yet to discuss the possible happenings during the weekend's four games.

Will Ray Rice break 100 yards against Denver's defense? Can J.J. Watt get 2-3 sacks on New England's Tom Brady? How about Colin Kaepernick: can he throw 200 yards and run for another 100 against Green Bay?

Here are a couple of stats or feats that we, the All-Out Blitz, believe will happen throughout today's and tomorrow's four games (sorted by games):

Baltimore at Denver

*Bernard Pierce out-rushes Ray Rice for the second consecutive week, but neither breaks 100 yards for the game.
*Ray Lewis makes 10+ tackles again, but Baltimore's defense fails to force any Denver turnovers.
*Joe Flacco throws for 200 yards and a touchdown, but also throws two picks and is sacked four times in the loss.
*Peyton Manning throws for 300 yards and 3 TDs, while WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker both manage 100+ receiving yards.
*Von Miller records two of Denver's four sacks and Champ Bailey makes his third career postseason interception.
Green Bay at San Francisco

*Green Bay's defense keeps Kaepernick to under 200 passing yards and Frank Gore to under 100 rushing yards for the game.
*Aaron Rodgers spreads the ball around the field, hitting 10 different receivers for over 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
*Clay Matthews puts pressure on Kaepernick, recording 2 sacks and just causing an overall ruckus against San Fran's offensive line. In seven career postseason games, Matthews has recorded 24 total tackles and 6.5 sacks.
*Aldon Smith records the only two sacks of Green Bay's Rodgers, and San Fran fails to force any turnovers for just the third time all season (Week 6 against New York and Week 13 against St. Louis).

Seattle at Atlanta

*Matt Ryan throws three interceptions against Seattle's defense, and Atlanta gains under 80 combined rushing yards as a team.
*Both Julio Jones and Roddy White are limited to under 100 yards through the air as TE Tony Gonzalez is Atlanta's leading receiver. Unfortunately, the future Hall of Fame tight end will fall to 0-6 in his postseason career.
*Marshawn Lynch will bring extra Skittles to the game and break out for 150 rushing yards and two TDs for Seattle.
*Russell Wilson plays mistake-free football in the dome, as he hands Atlanta its fourth consecutive playoff loss.
Houston at New England

*Houston's J.J. Watt sacks Tom Brady twice, despite the Texans allowing 400 total yards and 30+ points to New England's offense.
*Arian Foster breaks 100 yards for Houston but Matt Schaub is sacked three times and throws two picks, which New England turns into 14 points.
*Tom Brady throws for 300 yards and 3 TDs against Houston's 10th-ranked scoring defense, improving to 4-1 all-time against the Texans (first meeting in the postseason).

Do you have any bold predictions for this weekend's games? If so, share them here!

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Playoff Preview: Saturday's Divisional Round Match-ups

Last week the All-Out Blitz went 4-0 in our Wild Card picks. Can we improve to 8-0 after this weekend? Here's a look at our picks for today's first two Divisional round match-ups, which we are now just over three hours away from!

Saturday January 12, 2013

4 Ravens @ 1 Broncos
4:30 pm (eastern time), Sports Authority Field at Mile High

Heading into halftime last Sunday against the Colts Baltimore led 10-6, but the offense came out in the second half and took the game over. Joe Flacco led the attack with a spectacular showing (12/23. 282 yards, 2 TDs), which I admit is not something I was expecting to see. I predicted that a Baltimore victory would come through a heavy dose of Ray Rice, but it was actually Rice's backup rookie Bernard Pierce who stole the show against Indy.

Rice ran for just 68 yards on 15 carries while losing two fumbles and almost costing Baltimore at critical times in the game, while Pierce stepped in and ran for 103 yards on just 13 carries as the Ravens managed to easily move the ball up and down the field. Flacco hit Anquan Boldin five times in the second half, for 145 yards and a touchdown.

On defense, Baltimore felt the presence of returning linebacker Ray Lewis as he made 13 tackles and nearly made an interception early in the game. Paul Kruger put pressure on rookie signal caller Andrew Luck for most of the day, sacking him 2.5 times and Baltimore forced two Luck mistakes. The Colts' offense held the ball for nearly 38 of the game's 60 minutes as Luck set a rookie record for pass attempts in a postseason game (54), but were forced to settle for three Adam Vinatieri field goals and never got into the end zone against Baltimore's stout defense.

This week will be a much different story for Baltimore, as they get a match-up with the No. 4 overall defense on the road. Sure, Flacco and company could handle the Colts and move on with a 24-9 first round victory, but now they are forced to travel to the Mile High and face a much better defense. Indy was ranked 21st in overall defense, 21st in pass defense and 29th in run defense. The Broncos are 4th, 3rd and 3rd and somehow get overlooked as a top defense around the league.
Indianapolis didn't exactly have a standout pass rusher on its squad this season (Robert Mathis' 8.0 sacks led the team), but the Broncos have two guys in Von Miller (18.5 sacks this season) and Elvis Dumervil (11.0) who don't waste any time getting after opposing QBs and eating them for lunch. Mathis got to Flacco just once last week, but if I'm Flacco I'm not exactly looking forward to this match-up in Denver.

How can the Ravens pull off a victory today? Mistake-free. If this offense makes just one mistake, they aren't winning this game. Peyton Manning and his No. 2 scoring offense will make Baltimore pay dearly for any mistakes they make on the offensive side of the ball. Going for his 5th career MVP trophy this season (hopefully Adrian Peterson will win it instead), Manning is playing a strong as ever right now and has turned Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker into Pro Bowl-worthy wideouts.

Prediction: Broncos 31, Ravens 14

3 Packers @ 2 Niners
8 pm (eastern time), Candlestick Park

Despite the Vikes not playing with starter Christian Ponder last Saturday night, the Packers' 24-10 victory over Minnesota last Saturday night looked pretty impressive. Quarterback Joe Webb couldn't complete a pass to save his life, and I even think he failed to hit a trash can two feet away from while attempting to throw his Gatorade cup away on the sidelines (no joke). Completing just 11 of 30 attempts, Minnesota's offense once again consisted of: Adrian Peterson running a heavy dose.

After allowing 409 rushing yards to Peterson in the previous two match-ups between these two teams this season, Green Bay surrendered just 99 yards on 22 carries. So anytime you hold AP to under 5.0 yards per carry, you're gonna have a good day. The only time Minnesota got into the end zone was on a 50-yard pass from Webb to Michael Jenkins with under four minutes to play in the game, so you can almost call it garbage yards and points. The game was long over by that time.

Aaron Rodgers (23/33, 274 yards, 1 TD, 104.9 rating) played near-flawless football against Minny's 15th-ranked defense, but tonight will be a bit of a different story. Going up against San Fran's No. 2 defense will be a huge challenge for Rodgers and this offense. But with a banged up Justin Smith and after surrendering 34+ points to New England and Seattle late in the season, it's been proven that it's possible for a high-scoring offense to put up points on the Niners.

San Francisco defeated Green Bay 30-22 in the first game of the season, but there's a huge difference between then and now. First off, Alex Smith was the Niners' quarterback back then while now second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick is under center for San Fran and he has zero postseason experience. Second off, the Packers failed to run the ball effectively (14 attempts for 45 yards). Rodgers was the team's leading rusher in that game, running the ball 5 times for 27 yards while Cedric Benson ran 9 times for 18 yards.
This week will be a whole new story, as the Packers have appeared to have found its guy in the backfield. Second-year back DuJuan Harris ran the ball 34 times for 157 yards and 2 TDs this season, but over the last two weeks he's been the guy for Green Bay, running the ball a total of 117 yards on 31 carries with a touchdown. Harris and Alex Green have been splitting carries and make for a formidable one-two punch alongside Rodgers in the backfield.

Now I wouldn't take Green Bay's backfield over San Francisco's Frank Gore, but the fact the Rodgers may finally have a couple of capable runners coming out of his backfield to accompany his high-flying passing offense is a scary thought. Putting pressure on SF signal caller Kaepernick will be key for the Pack's defense, and I'm not so sure I trust this Niner offense with Kaepernick. I'd take Rodgers and his superb postseason track record (plus experience) ove Kaepernick and the Niners defense any day. Don't forget that Green Bay lost a game to Seattle that they should have won (replacement officials gave Seattle a game-winning TD that should've been ruled an interception at the end of the game), meaning Green Bay would have ended up being a higher seed than San Fran.

San Francisco is favored by 3 points, but I'll take the underdog Packers in this one.

Prediction: Packers 24, 49ers 14

A little later this afternoon I will be posting an article with all of our BOLD predictions for all four games this weekend! Plus, look out for more predictions for tomorrow's games as well.

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Putting the RGIII Injury to Rest: Shanahan Played Situation Correctly in Heat of Battle

Okay, here's the deal: We get that there are some Washington fans that are upset about rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III's knee injury towards the end of the Skins' first round playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. That's understandable.

But calling for Griffin to have been benched before the re-occurring injury happened in the fourth quarter? Now that's where you're wrong.

Yes, Griffin appeared to tweak his sprained knee early in the game and came up limping afterwards. Luckily for the Skins, however, he didn't have to miss a play. It was a failed third down conversion and RGIII went directly to the bench after the play to get it taped up. The next drive he came back out ready to get back to work.

Then, there was a play halfway through the fourth quarter in which Griffin collapsed after once again hurting his knee. Down 21-14, Griffin and the Washington offense started the drive at its own 24-yard line. Griffin was sacked by fellow rookie Bruce Irvin for a 12-yard loss on the first play and, facing 2nd & long, fumbled the shotgun snap on the following play. In an attempt to recover his fumble, Griffin tweaked his injured knee and awkwardly collapsed, unable to get up as the Seahawks recovered the ball at Washington's 5-yard line.
It was at this point that Griffin couldn't get up on his own and needed assistance to get to the sidelines. With Dr. James Andrews on the Washington sidelines, Griffin and the Washington trainers/coaching staff made the decision to take RGIII out of the game. Which was the right move.

Seattle went on to score three more points with a 22-yard Steven Hauschka field goal four plays later. The Skins' second-string quarterback and rookie Kirk Cousins came into the game for the final two drives to attempt the comeback, but failed. Cousins finished 3-for-10 for 31 yards, failing on two fourth down conversions, as the Seahawks pulled away with the 24-14 victory.

Here's where the "controversy" comes in. Should Robert Griffin have been taken out of the game when he came up limping in the first half?

For some reason fans and a select few so-called experts seem to think that head coach Mike Shanahan and Dr. James Andrews handled the situation incorrectly and caused further damage to Griffin's knee injury.

Following the game Griffin stated that he told his coach he was good to go, and that's where another question mark pops up: should the decision to play or sit be put in the athletes' hands? Most say no, but I think this entire conversation is pointless.

If there was a big enough concern on Dr. Andrews' part, the coaching staff likely would have forced him to sit. Watching the game, you could see he was ready to go despite the limp. This is a playoff game, and the only reason that fans have a problem with this is because the Redskins lost the game. If they had ended up completing the comeback in the second half, there would be no concern over his knee and he would be branded a "hero" and/or "beast" by some.

This is ridiculous. You have to respect what Griffin III has done this season, and with his playing-style he will be taking hits and playing injured his entire career. Just look at guys like Brett Favre, Steve Young, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, etc. They played (or still are playing) injured on most occasions because of their respective playing styles. Favre and Young loved scrambling around for as long as possible and making risky throws on the run. Roethlisberger holds on to the ball as long as his line will allow him, waiting for a receiver to break-free from coverage. Vick, well, he's a lot like Griffin. Loves to take off with the ball himself and doesn't usually run out of bounds.
Fans love seeing players play through the pain and the knee injury clearly had effected his mobility in the previous two weeks yet there wasn't any concern from fans. Why? Because the Redskins won. Seattle outplayed the Redskins in the final three quarters of play and played mistake-free football. The better team that day came out on top, and the D.C. area seems to be making excuses for the loss and throwing their own coach under the bus.

There was no way you were peeling Griffin off the field (until the tweak late in the game that left Griffin unable to move). Also, take note that the injury was a freak accident. Without a bad snap Griffin would have been perfectly okay, but because his momentum took him one way while the ball went another, an awkward fall took place. There was no contact from any defenders.

So, while you guys continue to look for a way out of a third consecutive playoff exit at the hands of Seattle (last two playoff appearances ended at the hands of the 'Hawks), I will continue to believe that Griffin belonged in that game and that Kirk Cousins was not going to bail out the Redskins against Seattle's No. 1 defense.

I expect to see RGIII a bit more cautious when taking off with the ball once next season rolls around. If not, he will continue to play injured, whether you like it or not.

All this being said, for a young guy such as Griffin, he surely handles himself well and deals with the press as well as anyone in the league. We here at All-Out Blitz wish him a speedy recovery.


By the way, more reaction from this past weekend's games, in addition to a preview of this weekend's Divisional match-ups, will be on the way in the next couple of days. Stick around for it!

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

NFC Wild Card Preview: Two Rookie Quarterbacks Square off at Fedex Field

Here we are, the fourth and final game of Wild Card Weekend. The NFC East Champion Washington Redskins will be hosting the 11-5 Seattle Seahawks later in the afternoon at Fedex Field. We'll get the privilege of watching two top rookie quarterbacks––Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson––go at it in a very loud environment in Landover, MD.

The headlines will be given to RGIII and Wilson, but I think it'll be the two defenses that play a key role in how this one plays out.

Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins
4:30 PM, Fedex Field
Favorite: Seattle by 3

On offense, it will be a tough task for the Seattle defense to stop the two top rookies on Washington's offense (RGIII and the league's second leading rusher Alfred Morris). But if any defense out there can contain these two, it's Seattle's. As the league's best overall defense, Seattle has the ability to take away the passing game and make the Redskins a one-dimensional offense. Robert Griffin hasn't looked like the same runner since his knee injury, so I don't think they'll have as much trouble stopping him as people seem to think.

Alfred Morris is who I'd be more concerned about if I was Seattle's defensive coordinator. The explosive rookie back makes it look easy out there and is tough to stop this season. On offense, however, Seattle can pound the ball with Marshawn Lynch early and often to take the pressure off Wilson and control the clock.
Offensive 2012 Stats

Seattle: 9th-ranked scoring, 27th-ranked passing, 3rd-ranked rushing
Washington: 4th-ranked scoring, 20th-ranked passing, 1st-ranked rushing

Defensive 2012 Stats

Seattle: 1st-ranked scoring, 6th-ranked passing, 10th-ranked rushing
Washington: 22nd-ranked scoring, 30th-ranked passing, 5th-ranked rushing

Clearly Washington has had great production in all aspects of the offense, leading the league in rushing and seeing its rookie signal caller post a 102.3 rating with just 5 interceptions on his way to a Pro Bowl appearance. But this game will all come down to who steps it up on the defensive side of things, and we'll see the top-ranked scoring defense go head-to-head with the 4th-ranked scoring offense.

Defense wins championships, and as both teams have a knack for causing turnovers (both teams have 31 on the season), it'll come down to whoever can get its defense off the field. We wont see these two quarterbacks throwing 30+ times for 300 yards and 3 TDs, but we may see both starting running back (Morris and Lynch) break 100 with a couple of TDs. Lynch has the advantage over the young Morris, despite facing the 5th-ranked run defense in Washington.

For Wilson, he will need to limit mistakes and play perfect football. If you turn the ball over against this Skins team they will turn it into a touchdown. If Wilson manages to do this, and Lynch breaks 100-120 yards, the Seahawks will be able to wear down Washington's banged up defense and control the clock. I'm expecting the Seattle front 7 to pressure Griffin all day and keep him in the pocket.

Griffin will outplay Wilson, there's no doubt about that, especially since he'll be playing in familiar territory. But as a team Seattle is a superior team over Washington and will be able to manage the clock and prevent damage on offense with its top scoring defense.

The one-two punch of Griffin and Morris, the youngest QB-RB combo out there, has proven to be deadly this season, but it has also been proven that they are beatable when rushing for 200+ yards in a game. In fact they have run for 200 or more yards as a team on four different occasions this season, and went 2-2 in those games with two early-season losses to the Bengals and Giants.

Things to Remember While Watching

*Washington has put up 30+ points seven times this season, going 6-1 during those games. But on defense they've limited their opponents to under 20 points just three times all season.
*Alfred Morris finished 2012 as the league's second-leading rusher with 1,613 yards (second in TDs with 13), and Marshawn Lynch was third with 1,590 (t-fifth in TDs with 11).
*Seattle's Russell Wilson orchestrated four game-winning drives this season.
*Wilson also had a higher TD% (6.6) than guys like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, behind only Aaron Rodgers on the season, while tying Peyton Manning's rookie passing touchdown record of 26.
*RGIII has outrun Wilson this season, 815-489 and 7 TDs to 4 TDs.
*Washington started the season with a 3-6 record, but a current 7-game win streak put the Skins in the postseason. Seattle is riding a 5-game win streak, including back-to-back 50-point games in mid-December.
Key Players for Each Team


*Marshawn Lynch: A lot rides on the legs of Lynch in today's match-up, as he will need to have a great game in order to keep up with the running game of this Redskins squad. I expect him to bring some extra skittles with him today and to run for another 100 yard game in his third postseason appearance (had 131 against New Orleans in 2010).

*Richard Sherman: Seattle's front seven will do everything they can to keep Griffin in the pocket, and if they are successful, Griffin will be passing the ball a little more often than usual. Turnovers are key in this game, and if Sherman can come away with at least one interception (had 8 during the regular season) it could pay dividends for Wilson and the offense.


*Alfred Morris: Griffin III hasn't been the same runner since his knee injury against Baltimore, so it will be up to Morris again this week to put the team on his back. I'm not expecting another 200-yard performance from the guy, but 120-130 could do wonders against Seattle's defense this afternoon. Both offenses will be battling over control of the clock, and it'll all come down to Lynch and Morris.

*London Fletcher: The heart and soul of Washington's defense, the veteran Fletcher will need to help contain Wilson and keep him in the pocket today. With Seattle's dangerous defense likely to limit what Washington can do on offense, Fletcher and his defense will need to do the same in order to have a shot at knocking off these 'Hawks.

This may be the most evenly-matched game we'll see this weekend. Both teams with rookie quarterbacks who have the ability to make plays with their legs, both have top three running backs and both teams have solid defenses. Washington has the advantage at the quarterback position, but I'd take the combination of Lynch and Seattle's No. 1 defense over Morris and the Skins' injury-riddled defense (have been without Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for most of the season).

Seattle will take this one on the road in a very close game.

Final Prediction: Seahawks 28, Redskins 24

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Wild Card Preview: Ray Lewis to Play Final Game at M&T Bank Stadium

Yesterday's games went as planned, with Houston knocking off Cincy for the second consecutive season and the Packers destroying the Christian Ponder-less Vikings. We have the final two Wild Card games today, starting with a (No. 4) Baltimore Ravens squad hosting (No. 5) Indianapolis.

Indy's rookie Andrew Luck led his Colts to an 11-5 season under head coach Chuck Pagano, who has been battling Leukemia but returned to the sideline last week to lead the team over Houston. The Ravens will have soon-to-retire linebacker Ray Lewis back on the field today, in what will be his final game at M&T Bank Stadium. Perhaps that adds a little bit of added motivation for Baltimore?

Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens
1 PM, M&T Bank Stadium
Favorite: Baltimore by 7

Baltimore's Joe Flacco is the first quarterback since Otto Graham to take his team to the postseason in the first five seasons in the league. With a 5-4 career postseason record and an expiring contract this season, Flacco and the Ravens offense will be looking to take the team to the next level. New offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will need to get the ball to Ray Rice early and often, however, in order to pull away with a victory over Indy today.

The Ravens are 0-4 all-time in postseason games in which Flacco attempts 30+ passes. Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice has just three career postseason touchdowns and 444 yards in 7 games, with one 100+ yard performance. Against Indy's 29th-ranked run defense, Rice will need 25-30 touches in order to control the game clock and wear down the front seven of the Colts.

The most important thing for Indianapolis to accomplish on offense will be to protect Andrew Luck. A healthy Lewis and Suggs could be trouble for this offensive line, and if he isn't protected against a team such as Baltimore, turnovers are bound to happen.
Offensive 2012 Stats

Indianapolis: 18th-ranked scoring, 7th-ranked passing, 22nd-ranked rushing
Baltimore: 10th-ranked scoring, 15th-ranked passing, 11th-ranked rushing

Defensive 2012 Stats

Indianapolis: 21st-ranked scoring, 21st-ranked passing, 29th-ranked rushing
Baltimore: 12th-ranked scoring, 17th-ranked passing, 20th-ranked rushing

With offensive coordinator Bruce Arians of the Colts hospitalized, the young rookie will be thrown out there with quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen calling the plays today. Without much of a running game––rookie Vick Ballard was team's leading rusher with 814 yards, 3.9 Y/C––all the pressure will be on Luck to perform. If he isn't protected against this Ravens' defense, they will eat him alive. And I expect that to happen to the poor guy today.

An even more motivated Ravens' defense, which will be looking to get Ray at least one more game, and a motivated, healthy Lewis, will be enough to limit the damage Luck and Reggie Wayne do in the passing game. It'll be tough to win against this team with a one-dimensional offense (not expecting much from the running game).

The key will be on offense for Baltimore, as they will need to put 20+ points up on the scoreboard today. If Caldwell is smart, he will get Rice the ball from the start. Rice has yet to get 30 carries in a game this season, but they went 5-1 in games that Rice received 20 or more carries. Also, 6-2 in games that Rice gets into the end zone. I'm sure I sound like a broken record, but come on, how long do you think it'll take Baltimore to realize that they win games under Rice, not Flacco?

Things to Remember While Watching

*Indy's Reggie Wayne needs just 6 receptions to jump to No. 2 on the all-time postseason receptions list (Jerry Rice is No. 1, of course).
*No Bruce Arians today, so quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen will be calling the plays for Luck.
*This will be Ray Lewis' first game since October 14, 2012.
*Baltimore's offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell was Indy's head coach from 2009-11.
Key Players for Each Team


*Andrew Luck: Without play-caller Bruce Arians on the sidelines calling the plays for today's game, even more pressure falls on Luck's right arm. He could have a good day if he receives the necessary protection, but a four or five sack game could be coming his way against Baltimore's rested up defense.

*Dwight Freeney/Robert Mathis: Indy's two top pass rushers will need a huge day in putting pressure on Flacco. If you get enough pressure on him and rattle him, he starts to make mistakes and turn the ball over. Forcing turnovers on defense will be huge for the Colts and may be the only way they have a chance at getting the Ravens off the field if Rice has a good day.


*Joe Flacco: Hopefully, for Baltimore's sake, Flacco wont be throwing the ball 30+ times today. But he's still a key player because what he does will obviously play a huge role in what the Ravens do offensively. In his nine career playoff games, Flacco has 8 TDs and 8 INTs. Seven of those eight interceptions came in losses, including two multi-interception games. Clearly, he'll need to protect the ball and pass under 30 times in order for this offense to click today.

*Ray Rice: The only two key players I'm mentioning are offensive players, and there's a reason for that. I don't think it's any secret that the Baltimore defense has the advantage over Indy's offense. But the result of today's game revolves around what the Ravens can do on offense. I'm thinking Indy sees a heavy dose of Rice, and he breaks 130 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

This is a tough match-up, but I think we'll at least see a close game today unlike last night's Packers victory. A mistake-free day for the two quarterbacks is crucial, but with an advantage in the run game and on defense, not to mention Baltimore is playing at home (6-2 at M&T this season), I believe the Ravens will prevail in this match-up and live to see another Ray Lewis postseason game.

Final Prediction: Ravens 21, Colts 17

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Wild Card Preview: Vikings, Packers Meet Again

The second of two Saturday wild card match-ups features yet another "rematch" of two teams. The 6-seeded Minnesota Vikings (10-6) and 3-seeded Green Bay Packers (11-5) have only met in the postseason once (Vikings won 31-17 in the 2004 Wild Card round), but they meet twice in the regular season every season.

Green Bay traveled to Minnesota to face its NFC North division rivals just last week. In dire need of a victory to fight for its playoff chances, Minnesota knocked off the Pack with a late field goal from rookie kicker Blair Walsh to snag the second wild card slot in the NFC, 37-34.

A 1-1 regular season split further adds fuel to the postseason fire. Who will get the last laugh in the NFC North tonight?

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
8 PM, Lambeau Field
Favorite: Green Bay by 8

Adrian Peterson fell just eight yards shy of tying Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 after his 199 yard, 2 (total) TD performance in last week's victory. The near-200 yard performance gives AD 409 rushing yards and 3 TDs against the Packers this season. For his career, Peterson has 268 yards and 5 rushing TDs in three postseason games (1-2 record).

Green Bay will have a tough day against Minnesota's run game, that is for sure. Ranking 17th in the league against the run, 457 of its 1,896 allowed rushing yards this season have come against these Vikings. That's basically a 1/4th of the yardage allowed in just two games. But at the same time, when Minnesota played in Green Bay and lost on December 2, the temperature was around 45 degrees. Tonight's forecast for Green Bay, WI: 25 degrees (wind chill of 16), 30% chance of snow flurries and winds at about 10 MPH. That's no walk in the park for a group of guys who play 8+ times a year inside a dome.
Offensive 2012 Stats

Minnesota: 14th-ranked scoring, 31st-ranked passing, 2nd-ranked rushing
Green Bay: 5th-ranked scoring, 9th-ranked passing, 20th-ranked rushing

Defensive 2012 Stats

Minnesota: 15th-ranked scoring, 24th-ranked passing, 11th-ranked rushing
Green Bay: 11th-ranked scoring, 11th-ranked passing, 17th-ranked rushing

Clearly Green Bay has struggled stopping AD, but Clay Matthews III came out and said earlier this week that there was no way they were giving up another 200 to him. The GB defense's focus is on stopping the run, which means they're challenging second-year quarterback Christian Ponder to step up and make plays. Considering Ponder isn't really a cold-weather QB (plays in a dome and played college ball at Florida State), it's going to take some adapting to this sub-freezing weather at the Frozen Tundra. I don't trust Ponder to step up and make the plays necessary to keep up with Aaron Rodgers' high-powered offense.

It has already been proven that it's possible for the Pack to defeat this Vikings team even if Peterson comes in to Lambeau and runs for 200 yards and a touchdown. December 2 they proved it after Peterson's 210 wasn't enough to put up any more than 14 points on the board. In that game Ponder completed just half of his passes for 119 yards and two INTs. What do you think will happen if he steps into Lambeau, stakes even higher and weather even colder? I don't like this match-up at all, even though Peterson is likely to accumulate around 150 yards once again.

The Packers' key on offense always surrounds around protecting Rodgers in the pocket and getting the ball down the field to Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley. Unfortunately in last week's loss the Packers were unable to protect Rodgers for very long and he was sacked 5 times. Despite the pressure, however, Rodgers still managed nearly 400 yards and 4 TDs. The key for Minnesota on defense will be to force turnovers. That's the only way to get Rodgers & Co. off the field is forcing turnovers, which is a rare event (Rodgers has combined for just 14 interceptions the last two seasons).

Minnesota will be running the ball heavily, while the Packers? Not so much. Ranked in the bottom half in the rushing yards category this season, the run game has been lacking since the injury to Cedric Benson. So putting pressure on Rodgers will once again be the key focus for Minnesota tonight.
Things to Remember While Watching

*Green Bay went 7-1 at Lambeau this season (Minnesota 3-5 on the road), and is 11-4 at Lambeau in the postseason during the Super Bowl era.
*In four of his last five road games, Ponder has completed less than 54% of his passes and never recorded a quarterback rating higher than 83.9. The Vikes went 2-3 in those games.
*During Minny's current four game win streak, Adrian Peterson has accounted for 49.2% of the team's total yards. Peterson ran for more yardage than Ponder threw for twice during the four game span.
*The Vikings are 3-5 this season in games that Ponder throws at least 1 interception, but are 4-2 in games that he throws for multiple touchdowns.

Key Players for Each Team


*Christian Ponder: Like I said, the Packers are keying in on stopping Peterson and the ground game. This gives Ponder the perfect opportunity to set the tone early in the passing game. A couple of deep play-action passes could be the difference between 14 points and 28 points by the end of the game. The Vikings have seemed to live and die by Peterson all year, but as I showed with the numbers above, the Vikings have a much better shot in games when Ponder is effective. If he doesn't show up today, Minnesota will not get out of Lambeau alive.

*Jared Allen/Everson Griffen: Aside from 199 yards on the ground, it was the defensive front that helped win the game for Minnesota last week. The third-year defensive end Griffen sacked Aaron Rodgers three times last week and the Vikes combined for 5 sacks total of Rodgers in the victory. The two ends Griffen and Allen combined for 6.0 sacks in two games against Rodgers this season, and they can set the tone on defense with early pressure on Rodgers tonight.

Green Bay

*DuJuan Harris/Ryan Grant: Green Bay hasn't had a true No. 1 back this season. At least not since the injuries to Cedric Benson and James Starks. The Packers O has had to rely on the vet Ryan Grant and two young guys in Alex Green and DuJuan Harris. Harris broke out for a career-high 70 yards on 14 carries in last week's loss, and I expect him to once again take a bulk of the carries this week (I guess you could consider 14 carries the "bulk").

*Clay Matthews III: Matthews has missed a significant amount of time this season (four games for Matthews is considered a significant amount of time), but now that he's back and healthy I'd expect him to get back to doing what he does best: bruising quarterbacks. Stopping the run is a total team effort, but when it comes to sacking and putting pressure on quarterbacks, Matthews can do that all on his own. If Matthews is in tip-top shape today, and can punish Ponder with a couple of hits, the passing game has potential to basically be non-existent for Minnesota.

It's really tough to pick against the Packers at Lambeau Field, especially in the postseason. And I have yet to trust Christian Ponder with the ball in his hands. After watching the Packers knock off Minnesota 23-14 despite Peterson's 210-yard performance a month ago, it's obvious that the Vikings need Ponder to make some plays too. Peterson ran the Vikings all the way to the postseason with his 2,097 yards on the ground, but they're gonna need a little more than that to get past the first round. Sounds a lot like Eric Dickerson's 1984 L.A. Rams, doesn't it?

No upset here, I'm taking the Packers in a near-blowout at Lambeau.

Final Prediction: Packers 35, Vikings 14

Note: We do not own the above images. No copyright infringement intended.