Tag Archives: NFL Playoffs

Apparently Falcons Are Lucky, Packers Are Good

Well, that’s what seems to be the foregone conclusion among some of the so-called experts who are going to spend the next few days telling all of us what to expect during the NFL playoffs this weekend.

Alas, these “experts” have apparently chosen to not allow facts and reality to get in the way of them tooting their own horn, and continuing to doubt the Atlanta Falcons.

Supposedly the fact that the Atlanta Falcons have won several close games means they aren’t really that good, and are due for a playoff loss. Never mind the fact that the Falcons did what you’re supposed to do, find ways to win. These “experts” conveniently seem to forget that while Atlanta only lost three games, and Green Bay found a way to lose twice that many, of the Packers 10 victories, many of those could have been losses.

Apparently these people forget this is the NFL, where any given Sunday any team can beat anyone else (how else do you explain the Patriots losing to the Browns?). Winning is the name of the game, just getting victories is hard enough. When talking about the health of the game, they love to refer to this as parity. When talking about the Atlanta Falcons, they try to refer to it as weakness on part of the Falcons.

I imagine when examining the Packers schedule and results, they just decided it was parity there too. Sure, Atlanta’s 13-3 could have easily been 10-6, or 7-9. It also very easily could have been 15-1. Just as Green Bay’s 10-6 could have easily been 6-10. But people forget that, don’t they?

The Eagles opener? Could’ve just as easily been a loss (as I’ve heard people refer to the Bengals game as one Atlanta could have lost, so, this qualifies too). I seem to recall the Eagles having the ball, down 7, in Green Bay territory with less than 2:00 to go in the football game. But I guess Green Bay just dominated that game though, right? Had this been the Falcons we’d only hear about how fortunate they were that Vick hadn’t come in the game earlier? Or how fortunate they were that Andy Reid can’t manage a clock or appropriately call plays in short yardage situations.

Detroit, at home, a few weeks later? The Packers win this one by a paltry two points, at home, over the Lions. Detroit, like Philadelphia, had the ball, with a chance to win, in the middle of the 4th quarter. But alas, this wasn’t the Falcons, so it’s a case of a win being a win, who cares how it happened, right? Had it been Atlanta, we’d be hearing about how pitiful it was for the Falcons to squeak by such an inferior opponent.

Minnesota, three weeks after that? Down just four, inside the Green Bay 20 late in the 4th quarter. The Vikings actually scored the go ahead touchdown, but had the play reversed. Minnesota wasn’t able to get the points back. But obviously, this wasn’t a game Green Bay could have lost, was it? Had it been Atlanta, we’d have been hearing about how lucky they were the play was overturned.

In the season finale against Chicago, Jay Cutler and the Bears were marching their way towards a tying touchdown when Jay Cutler had a relapse into the Cutler of old. To hear the experts, it was Green Bay’s defense making a play and rising up. Had this been the Falcons, we’d be hearing about how lucky they were that Jay Cutler made a bad decision there.

Let’s also keep in mind that the three teams Atlanta lost to all made the playoffs this year, two of them won their division and the other would have been the number two seed if not for having to play in the Falcons division. One of those losses came by a field goal, and the other came in overtime.

Keep in mind that Green Bay had losses to the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions this year. Such losses to such teams don’t exist on the Falcons resume.

Now don’t take this as me undermining what Green Bay has done this year, or to suggest they didn’t deserve those wins, not at all. What Green Bay did this year was make enough plays to win 10 games, not 11, not 9, but 10. Atlanta made enough plays to win 13 games, not 14, not 12, but 13.

*Also keep in mind, 5 of the Patriots victories this year came by single possession margins, but to suggest this would be complete blasphemy*

It’s funny though, Green Bay was scrapping out wins, and doing just enough to get in the playoffs, and apparently showing us how great they were. Or at least that’s what we are led to believe. The Falcons meanwhile were just the beneficiaries of some lucky bounces and advantageous officiating decisions, or so we’re told.

We hear how Green Bay was the hottest team coming into the playoffs. I’m sorry, didn’t they lose HALF of their last six games? Didn’t they manage a total of 13 points against the Lions and Bears in two of their final four?

I know full well how good a football team Green Bay is. They have an elite quarterback. They have a tremendous attacking defense. They play good special teams. They’ve won quite a few football games. The thing is, the same can be said of the Falcons, only, they’ve managed to win a few more, including one over these same Packers.

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Colts Don’t Match Up Well With Jets

This game, to me, might be the easiest to predict, and by predict I don’t mean who will win. I do think though, the ways in which this game could play out are relatively few and far between.

The only death sentence in this game I can see for the New York Jets is if they fall behind early. While there are several quarterbacks in this post season clearly capable of rallying their team from double digit deficits, even in the 4th quarter, I do not believe in this particular game Mark Sanchez is one of those.

Yes, Sanchez has five game winning drives this season, three of the fourth quarter comeback variety. However, keep in mind that these rallies came against the likes of Denver, Detroit, Cleveland, and Houston. Not exactly defenses that strike fear into the hearts of anyone, save their own fans.

Yes, I’m aware that the Colts defense hasn’t exactly been scaring anyone this year either, however there are two points that remember when discussing this Colts defense. One, they have been playing much, much better in the last few weeks of the season. Two, and this is part of a reason for number one, they have been afforded the luxury of playing with leads more often in the last few weeks of the season as opposed to the seasons first third.

The difference in the Colts defense when ahead, or trailing, is like night and day. Their run defense doesn’t have the ability to consistently stop people. In fact, teams gain positive yardage running on the Colts defense 84% of the time. That’s the 6th highest total in the league. With numbers like that, if a team has a lead, or is in a close game and can commit to running the ball, the Colts defense can be in trouble, big trouble.

The problem is right in the middle. Teams have punished Indianapolis right between the guards, as the Colts defense has been the 5th worst in the NFL at defending runs right up the middle. Why is this such a big problem? Only five teams have been better at running up the middle this year than the Jets.

Against the passing game he Colts have been pretty solid at slowing down the other teams wide receivers. The chink in their pass defense has been covering backs out of the backfield and tight ends. Fortunately for Indianapolis, the Jets attempts to incorporate LaDanian Tomlinson, Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller into the passing game have been rather futile. Neither of the three have been very dangerous in the passing game, despite the fact that Dustin Keller has been targeted over 100 times.

This could prove critical late in the game as teams with late leads on the Colts, and using the ground game to control the clock and keep Peyton Manning off the field will use play action extensively, and often these play action plays will consist of tight ends or backs in the flat. The Jets inability to take advantage of this weakness with the Colts could ultimately be the difference in their ability to put this game away if they are fortunate to be playing with a lead in the second half.

On the flip side of the coin though, when a team is playing from behind, play action becomes relatively useless and ineffective, and that is t area of pass defense that the Jets can hope best to exploit. This is why it’s vital for the Colts to be playing with a lead in this game.

Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are as good a pass rushing duo as you will find in the league. Unfortunately for the Colts, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to rush the passer when the other team has the lead, or is having lots of success running the ball and can still incorporate that into their game plan.

Throw in the factors of playing at home in front of a raucous crowd, indoors, on a fast track, with the struggling Mark Sanchez at quarterback, Freeney and Mathis are foaming at the mouth to be unleashed on Sanchez. If the Jets fall behind and are forced to abandon the running game, and consequentially play action passing, Sanchez could be in for a long, long night, and things could snow ball quickly.

On the other side of the ball, does much more need to be said than simply, Peyton Manning? Perhaps.

The year began with lavish praised being heaped all over this Jets defense. Near the middle of the season however some questions had begun to arise as a couple of different squads had put up some big numbers on the unit. I think those questions should be put on the shelf.

The Jets haven’t been the league’s best unit this year, but they’ve been an elite one. After Pittsburgh, you could throw a blanket over the next 5 or 6 teams, so there’s no place for questioning the validity of the Jets defense.

The pass defense was expected to be a major strength, and for the most part, it has been. Darrell Revis hasn’t exactly been a complete shut down corner, but he’s been more than adequate, to say the least. Missing games, and the hamstring injury limiting him when he first returned all factor into the numbers not being perhaps as impressive as one would expect. Not to mention, having Revis out for such durations forced some shuffling in the secondary that ultimately resulted in teams being able to take advantage of what was the number two corner spot quite a bit.

All told though, the Jets secondary, while not able to really take away one particular target from the offense, also wasn’t particularly hurt by any one particular target. They covered number ones, they covered slot receivers, and they covered backs and tight ends all equally. In other words, there aren’t many holes in this secondary. Without Dallas Clark and Austin Collie, do the Colts have the pass catchers to find what few holes are there?

So can the Colts find some success on the ground? It’s highly unlikely. The Jets run defense was a top five group, and the Colts running game, well, we know what it was. Yes, injuries galore decimated it, and Colts fans have to hope the return of Joseph Addai at the close of the season means good things for the playoffs.

Addai hasn’t been anywhere close to the back he’s proven capable of, but he’s been clearly better than any other option the Colts of trotted out with Manning in the backfield. The Jets defense however is too good for just adequate to make much of a dent. Addai absolutely must suddenly revert back to his normal self, and now, for the Colts running game to have a chance.

The one weakness the Jets have has been stopping teams in short yardage situations. Luck would have it for the Colts that they’ve been pretty futile in such situations, so any hopes of trying to take advantage of this doesn’t seem like a plan that will work for the Colts. Furthermore, the Jets are high among the elite teams in terms of not allowing big plays via the ground game. The Colts, as you can probably guess, rank near the bottom in big plays from the rushing attack.

When it comes to special teams, there’s hardly anything worth discussing here. Only the Chargers had worse special teams play this year than the Colts. The only edge the Colts have is if it comes down to a late field goal they have Adam Vinatieri. No team in the league is worse at covering kicks than the Colts, and nobody has been more proficient returning them than the Jets. So even if the Colts score, the Jets are more than likely going to start with good field position. Similar things can be said of the punting game.

So what happens?

Simple. The Colts need to turn Mark Sanchez over, and do it early. They need to get a lead, and then let the dogs loose on Mark Sanchez. Then they need to keep forcing turnovers, get up, and get up big.

If this game stays close, it’s hard to like the Colts chances. Yes, one would say, “close game, 4th quarter, I’m taking Peyton Manning over Mark Sanchez, all day”. And I would too. However, I’ll take the other 44 guys suited up in Jets uniforms over the 44 in Colts uniforms, and that’s what is going to win this game.

Perhaps, perhaps, thanks to all the talk that has been going on all year, if the game is close late, the Jets crumble, succumbing to the pressure they’ve placed on themselves all year as they see their season potentially ending in the first round of the playoffs.

But I doubt it.

I say the Jets win.

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Saints Ripe For an Upset??

Maybe this is wishful thinking, maybe it’s lunacy, maybe it’s both. I like the chances Seattle has in this one.

The loss of Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas is huge for the Saints. Do you really want Reggie Bush trying to take advantage of this run defense? Do you want to hitch your wagon to him as a number one running back? I would think not.

I understand that they do have Drew Brees, and a fantastic passing attack. However, also recognize that in the past few weeks, as they’ve gone 1-2, teams have really been able to get after and bother Drew Brees with a ton of pressure. Expect Seattle to do it too.

While I think Baltimore, Atlanta, and Tampa possess much more talent and speed on defense than Seattle does, a couple of factors could help balance this out. One, the injuries to the running backs obviously factor in, and it also matters in blitz protection and pick-up, and could force some more max protect packages. Two, the weather doesn’t promise to be very befitting a high octane down field passing attack. It’s expected to be about 40 degrees and raining. New Orleans should be glad it’s not the 8 pm game as the rain will become snow. Three, the crowd noise. There were some pre-snap issues in the game at the Dome for the Saints, and Quest Field can absolutely be loud enough to cause some in this one.

There is the other matter though of how the heck the Seahawks are supposed to score. The Saints defense is actually probably better than it was last year, just sans the turnovers. Seattle can be apt to turn the ball over though, and in poor weather conditions, we’ll see how it goes.

The Seahawks would be wise I think to use Justin Forsett more often. Marshawn Lynch really just doesn’t offer much of anything at the running back position. At least with Forsett, you have a chance for the big play. People were clamoring after the Baltimore game that the weakness in the Saints defense was exposed. Horsecrap. The Saints run defense is not a weakness, in fact, it’s been pretty good.

Another tidbit with that run defense, that should absolutely go into the play calling for the Seahawks is that the Saints only allow opponents to succeed on 40% of short yardage running situations, best in the league. Playoff football comes down to inches, to the little things, the Saints ability to stop people from running the ball for first downs in short yardage situations, especially in inclement weather, could be vital.

So, what I’m saying is given all the circumstances and conditions surrounding this game, I don’t expect a lot of points. I expect the scoring to be rather low, which in a playoff game like this, in this type of crowd environment in this type of weather, the key will be special teams.

And here is where the Seahawks may have the edge. While on paper, the Saints hold a rather distinct edge it would appear on both offense and defense (though less so with the injuries in the backfield), the Seahawks hold a very distinct edge in special teams. It could be argued the difference between the two special teams units is as gaping as the difference between each offense or defense.

The Saints special teams were borderline bad. The Seahawks were an elite unit.

Leon Washington has a chance to make a big difference in this game. Seattle’s kick return unit was the second best in the league this season, whereas New Orleans kickoff coverage unit ranked merely 16th. The difference is less so in the punting facet of the game, but the kick return unit for Seattle could prove important when it comes to answering any New Orleans scores. Nothing changes momentum like big special teams plays, or back breaking returns, and with this Seattle crowd, a big play early by the ‘Hawks return game could really give the team, and crowd, some major life.

The key might be hitting a big special teams play early, using some of that momentum and energy to hang around the game a bit. Because if it’s close towards the end, who knows what can happen? That’s what playoff football is about.

I’m going way, way, way out on the limb and taking Seattle. But alas, it’s probably more hoping for Seattle, as I’d much rather see them in Atlanta next Saturday.

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Quit Being Lazy Trent Dilfer

Some people just blow my minds with their ignorance, stupidity, or laziness. Trent Dilfer, you’ve managed to once again personify what makes the “Worldwide leader” a joke so often.

Seriously, you’re doubting the Falcons because you compare them to the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs? If you want to doubt them, fine. But at least try to find something factual, relevant, and accurate to base your belief on.
Sure, the Chiefs had a great regular season and got beat in the first round. But you know what? A lot of teams have done that in NFL history. So let’s compare the Falcons to all of them. Or, better yet, let’s compare the Falcons to all the teams who had good regular season and who went on to have deep January playoff runs. The Falcons could compare to all such teams, as your criteria for comparison is pretty much that they were football teams who won a lot of regular season games.

The Chiefs had an abysmal defense that year. And I don’t mean just a merely mediocre defense, but absolutely horrible. They were the 25th best defense of the year, however, they had the next to last ranked run defense in 2003. It was atrocious.

In general, teams that make deep playoff runs play good run defense. You can escape shoddy pass defense, but if you can’t stop the run, you generally don’t stand a chance of playing late into January. If you can, you can mask other defensive deficiencies, especially if you have a good offense that doesn’t turn the ball over.

So heading into the 2003 season playoffs, the Chiefs biggest weakness was a HUGE weakness. Red flags were up everywhere.

Beyond just the huge red flag of an absolutely worthless run defense, Kansas City had not exactly come into the post-season on a high note. They started the year 9-0, but finished it 4-3. The Chiefs spent the 2003 season losing 3 of their last 4 road games, including the last two by 18 points and 25 points.

A sign of a team ready to compete in January is a team that can win on the road. Winning on the road consistently, against anyone, is the sign of a contending team. The Chiefs were not only not winning on the road, in their final two outings they weren’t even competitive.

They allowed 159 or more rushing yards in 5 of their last 7 games, including three games of allowing 200 yards on the ground.

So the thought of the Chiefs losing their first playoff game should not have been unheard of, or thought to be crazy. It especially should have been deemed less insane if this defensively challenged team were to face someone with an offense equally as explosive as theirs, like, say, the Colts.

The result, a game with no punts that the Chiefs lost. If their lousy defense can get one stop somewhere along the way, they win the game. However, when your defense was as lousy as theirs, playing an offense like the Colts, it’s not shocking.

Now compare that team to the Falcons.

That Atlanta defense, overall, has been rather medicore, ranking 16th. However, in terms of points allowed, they’ve allowed the 7th fewest. But more importantly, their run defense has been a top ten unit. Atlanta can, and often does, stop the run. The Chiefs couldn’t have contained this year’s Packers running game.

Atlanta has also closed out the year winning 8 straight games, and it would take a collapse of epic proportions to not wind up winning 9 of their last 10.

They’ve also gone 6-2 on the road this year, losing in overtime to a pretty dadgum good Steelers team, and a loss in Philadelphia. They’ve endured a stretch of four road games in five weeks, and simply won all five games, by an average of 12 points.

So yeah, these two teams are just mirror images of each other. Nice call Trent. Just laziness from an “analyst” who wanted to find something controversial to say, and find some way to back it up. Perhaps he and Skip Bayless should do lunch.

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