NFL Playoffs Are Looking to Clip A Few Wings

Now that the only high seeded team left is the Pittsburgh Steelers I think it is official that all bets are off. Say what you will about the Steelers defense, the offense has been inconsistent and the playoffs, especially the conference championship, is no time to test your defenses ability to carry a game.

The AFC Championship pits the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Baltimore Ravens. The game is in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field which gives Mike Tomlin and the Steelers the advantage, but they are playing a bitter division rival which pretty much means anything can happen. From a pure numbers standpoint, Pittsburgh beat the Ravens twice during the regular season. For that very reason alone, I think the Ravens will be on their way to an all bird Super Bowl.

I say there is no way that one playoff team beats another playoff team three times in the course of a season. I do not care about the defensive numbers (which are pretty much the same) or the offensive stats. This is an attitude call and Baltimore is too good to let themselves lose three times to the same team that they know as well as themselves. If Pittsburgh is able to win, then they are without question going to win the Super Bowl.

The NFC Championship game has the Philadelphia Eagles at University of Phoenix Stadium to play the Arizona Cardinals. I think the biggest question, apart from the obvious (can a Cardinal beat an Eagle?) is injuries. Anquan Boldin is a huge part of the Cardinals offense and Brian Westbrook is an even bigger part of the Eagles game plan. Both are playing through injuries, so the question is who will be able play closer to 100 percent.

At this point, the Cardinals defense has really stepped it up and is playing on par with the three remaining playoff teams (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Philadelphia all have top five defenses, scary), so there relative paltry numbers from the season are no longer relevant. I guess I see this as a race to 100. The first player to 100 yards, Westbrook on the ground and Boldin through the air, wins.

Personally, I want to see the Cardinals win. It would be great to see this terrible franchise finally return to a championship six decades later. Also, if McNabb plays poorly, then the Bears might be able to work out a trade and get a real quarterback on the roster. Alas, well see if my picks are bad as last week and how off I can be when attempting to decipher the Super Bowl.

NFL Playoff tickets

Home Field Disadvantage, the NFL Divisional Playoffs

The experts are dumbfounded and I am looking back at most post Friday and wondering how I could have been so blind. Surely, everybody in the Carolinas and Tennessee assumed they were going to have another week to find NFL Playoff tickets. Three of the four favored teams lost this weekend. The Ravens started out by surprising the Titans 13-10, then Cardinals embarrassed the Panthers 33-13, and the upsets were capped off by the Eagles delivering the emotional defeat of the New York Giants 23-11. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to take advantage of home field advantage in a 35-24 win over the San Diego Chargers that was much more one-sided than the score reveals.

How did the Baltimore Ravens beat the Tennessee Titans? The Titans had 391 yards of total offense while the Ravens only had 211. The Titans had the ball for 34:07 minutes while the Ravens only had 25:53 to work with. The answer is turnovers, three turnovers inside the 20. That is 21 potential points erased by two fumbles and an interception.

On October 5, the Titans won in a reversal of the score. This time the Titans could not overcome the unflinching Joe Flacco, whose greatest contributions were three huge passes, including a perfect 48-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason and two long throws that set up Matt Stover for two field goals. Stover’s last field goal broke the 10-10 tie with 53 seconds left and won the game.

The Titans moved the ball easily up to the 20, when a rash of great hits and terrific pressure ended promising scoring drives. Justin Gage had 10 catches for 135 yards to make up for a running game that went without Chris Johnson after he left in the second quarter with an injury to his right ankle. Also, Tennessee managed to aid Baltimore by committing 12 penalties.

The Arizona Cardinals were the last team expected to make it to the NFC Championship two weeks ago. The Panthers were the last remaining unbeaten home team in the playoffs, they had the quarterback with the best rating coming into the game, Cards were 0-5 in the Eastern Time zone, and ‘Zona was missing one of its key receivers thanks to a hamstring injury. But, despite all evidence to the contrary, the Cardinals completely and utterly dismantled the Panthers.

Arizona and Jake Delhoume forced the Panthers to abandon a strong running game to try and keep up with its explosive offense. Delhoume’s 34th birthday began in pleasant fashion with an opening touchdown drive to give the Panthers the games first touchdown. Then Cardinals again shocked many by establishing a run game. They also had a surprisingly soft coverage on Larry Fitzgerald that gave Kurt Warner no other choice but to throw him the ball. Fitzgerald had 153 yards in the first half.

Meanwhile, Delhoume had an awful day with six turnovers, with five interceptions and a fumble. In the end it was a combination of a solid offense by Arizona and a mistake prone quarterback behind the Carolina center that made this a nightmare for the Panthers. Now Arizona gets to play another day and because of this next game, they get Cardinals tickets to host the NFC Championship.

The Philadelphia Eagles were the one team that as overwhelmingly favored by the fans despite being underdogs. Now they get to have an all bird showdown. The game looked close for about three quarters before all the factors finally became too much for last year’s Super Bowl champs to win. Eli Manning was terrible under pressure, no Giants’ receiver could replace Plaxico, the wind had a personal vendetta against kicker John Carney, and the complete lack of pressure against McNabb following a safety in the second quarter and the Giants looked feeble.

McNabb looked like a Pro Bowl quarterback, hitting third and longs all day, making the pressure pass, and just managing the game better than his counterpart. Yes, the Eagles managed to win again despite never getting the running game going. Philadelphia might be in for a second riot and McNabb might be in for another shot at a Super Bowl ring.

The last game of the Divisional Playoffs went as planned. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 35-24, but really had the game with 12:52 left and a 28-10 lead. Sure the game was close in the first half but the Steelers and Roethlisbeger ended the game by holding the Chargers to, I believe, zero yards of offense.

Roethlisberger has been criticized for his difficulty to adjust that demands more accuracy and fewer big throws. Well, Willie Parker ran for 181 yards on 27 carries and let Roethlisberger play comfortably in his old role of making big plays. He threw countless passes for big third down conversions, punted, and hit Heath Miller for a touchdown.

The Chargers defense held Darren Sproles to 15 yards rushing, though he did have 5 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers offense ate up enough time (36:30) to keep Philip Rivers off the field. Rivers had 308 yards and three touchdowns. Though he threw one pick, he surely would have had a few more touchdowns if Pittsburgh was not able to relentlessly run the ball 42 out of 69 total offensive plays.

Now Steelers tickets to Heniz Field will host the bitter division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, for the AFC Championship game.

The NFL Playoffs Begin With Tickets to Studs and Duds

After four weeks of meaningless preseason games and 17 weeks of football that twisted and turned, beginning with an injury that cost the Patriots NFL Playoff tickets and gave every team a chance to fill the void in the Super Bowl, the wild card round of the postseason finally began.

Saturday proved to be an exciting start. The first game featured two teams that many did not expect to make the postseason, the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals. I had become enamored with the Falcons and their incredible story. This story took them from a shattered franchise thanks to the actions of Michael Vick to a second year surge thanks to a roster full of young talent.

I was sure that Matt Ryan would continue playing like a veteran and that the team would continue rolling after winning five of their six games to enter the playoffs. I though Michael Turner would have a career day against a soft Cardinals defense. However, it was the Arizona Cardinals that will play next week. They won 30-24 thanks to a suffocating defense and despite losing star receiver Anquan Boldin to a hamstring injury in the second quarter.

Kurt Warner threw two touchdown passes. One came early in the game off a flea flicker. The pass floated deep to a double covered Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald and the two defenders jumped, but it was Fitzgerald who came down in the end zone with the 42 yard pass. The second came off a seemingly mundane short drop off to Boldin. Boldin turned the quarter and sprinted up the sidelines, turning a seven yard gain into a 71-yard touchdown. He left the game with a hamstring injury on the run and would not return.

Sure Ryan finished the quarterback doing his best John Elway impression, ending the half with a two-yard touchdown pass to Justin Peelle and giving the Falcons a 17-14 lead. The second half proved to be his undoing. He had a pick in the first half, but it was the short armed handoff to Jerious Norwood that turned into a 27-yard fumble return for a touchdown by the Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle.

Edgerrin James kept the ball moving on the ground proving to those fans at the University of Phoenix Stadium that Arizona could do more than rely on the arm of Warner. The Cardinals would score later in the third on a four yard Tim Hightower run forcing Ryan to take risks.

Ryan held the ball too long and was called down in his own end zone when he was wrapped by Card defenders. The call could have gone either way, but his desperate pass was seconds too late and the game seemed out of reach. Still, Ryan began working form a 30-17 deficit and put together an impressive drive that closed the gap to 30-24, but the Cardinals were able to waste four minutes and keep Ryan off the field, cementing the victory.

The second game featured two teams on winning streaks. The Indianapolis Colts had won nine straight and the San Diego Chargers had won four straight, including the division winning in Week 17. The game was teeming with history too. Last year in the second round of the playoffs the Chargers shocked the NFL with a win over the Colts.

This time the Colts came in favored again and again the Chargers played the role of the upset. San Diego won 23-17 in overtime in an exciting game that had a strong performance from NFL MVP Peyton Manning and LT’s backup, Darren Sproles.

Manning threw for 310 yards and a touchdown, but suffered from an offense devoid of a running game. The Colts could not stop Sproles in any facet of the game. Sproles finished with 105 yards rushing and two touchdowns, five receptions for 45 yards, 106 kick off return yards, and 72 punt return yards after taking over for an injured LT.

The Chargers special teams did more then simply have great returns for great field position. San Diego punter Mike Scifres punted six times and each time put Indianapolis deep inside its own 20. He averaged 52.7 yards a kick with a long of 67.

In the end it was the Colts who helped the Chargers the most, committing costly penalties that set up the game tying field goal at the end of the fourth quarter and set up Sproles for the 22-yard game winning touchdown in overtime.

Sunday proved to be a le down after Saturday’s games. The day began with the Baltimore Ravens at the Miami Dolphins. The Ravens decimated the Dolphins 27-9. The stats do not do justice to the level of dominance of Baltimore.

Chad Pennington may have thrown for 252 yards and a touchdown, but he also had four picks, including one returned for a touchdown by Ed Reed. He was also sacked three times and the Wildcat formation was fruitless against Baltimore.

Joe Flacco only completed 9 of 23 passes for 135 yards, but he seemed to hit have all those completions for big plays. Willis McGahee had a big 48 yard run and finished with 62 yards on seven carries and Le’Ron McClain had 75 yards on 19 carries in a game that had the Ravens running down the clock from the opening minutes of the third quarter on.

The second Sunday game was between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings came in as favorite despite barely beating the second string of the New York Giants. The Eagles entered the playoffs in spectacular fashion, tearing apart the Cowboys with defense and forcing turnovers.

I felt the story line coming into the game was the match up of two quarterbacks who have reclaimed their starting roles after losing them earlier in the season. The difference in the 26-14 Eagles win was that Donovan McNabb earned his way back while Tavaris Jackson returned under centre thanks to the back injury to Gus Frerotte.

Philadelphia was not able to establish a run game, but was able to come through with big plays. It was the 44-yard interception return by Asante Samuel that kick started the lingering doubt of Jackson by the Viking fans in the Metrodome and it was the screen pass to Brian Westbrook that went for a 71-yard touchdown in the middle of the fourth that broke the game open 23-14 and left the next round beyond the Vikings grasp.

Adrian Peterson had two touchdowns, one on a 40 yard run where he came through the line barely touched to begin the second quarter and one from thre yards out to end the quarter. Still, he only managed 83 yards on 20 carries thanks to the underwhelming performance by Jackson.

A Peterson facing nine men at all times could do little to keep the game close in the end and McNabb’s ability to feel the pass rush coming and move in the pocket kept the Eagles offense on the field.

Next Saturday the Baltimore Ravens go to LP Field to play the Tennessee Titans and the Arizona Cardinals travel to Bank of America Stadium to play the Carolina Panthers. On Sunday, The Philadelphia Eagles meet the division rival New York Giants at Giants Stadium and the San Diego Chargers travel from the West Coast to the freezing cold at Heinz Field to play the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL Postseason Set After Terrific Week 17

The NFL postseason is set after an improbable Week 17. The Dallas Cowboys came into the week as the last wild card team for the NFC. Dallas’s hope for the playoffs was thwarted by the Philadelphia Eagles. It was clear before the game began that the Cowboys that their fate would be determined in a game that was without question the primetime game of the second afternoon game.

The Tampa Bay Bucs were the first team waiting to knock off the ‘Boys. They lost to the lowly Oakland Raiders 31-24. Some may say that the Raiders were exciting to find some meaning in playing a game with some contrived meaning. I do not think the Raiders were excited to possibly keep a team out of the postseason, rather I think they were just happy to be playing without the ghastly shadow of Al Davis looming from the owner’s box.

Then the Chicago Bears start strong and finish pitifully weak in a 31-24 loss to the Houston Texans. Looking at the stats and watching the game it is really quite unbelievable that Coach Lovie Smith has not figured out that is helpful and necessary to stop the best player on the other team. Andre Johnson had 10 receptions for 148 yards and two touchdowns. He was not double teamed and sometimes he was not even covered.

In the end it was up to Dallas to put their differences aside and find the fortitude to win and go into the playoffs strong. Tony Romo managed to complete a mere 21 passes in 39 attempts and average 4.7 yards and throw one pick with zero touchdowns. The Philly defense forced five turnovers on their way to a 44-6 bombastic win.

The AFC was much less of a whiplash inducing turnstile trip. The Baltimore Ravens completed their amazing run with a 27-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Joe Flacco continued to defy his rookie expectations with 17 passes completed on 23 attempts for 297 yards.

New England must be crying in their beer after finishing 11-5 with a 13-0 win over the Buffalo Bills. The other playoff game was Sunday Night Football. The San Diego Chargers made it four straight wins and the Denver Broncos made it three straight losses. The last loss was a huge 52-21 blowout. Philip Rivers threw two touchdowns, LaDainian Tomlinson ran for three touchdowns and averaged 6.9 yards a carry, Darren Sproles ran for 115 yards and scored a touchdown, and fullback Jacob Hester scored as well.

The NFL playoffs tickets are set and the weeks ahead are promising to be as unpredictable as the regular season. This has been a pleasant surprise every since Tom Brady went down in the first game of the season. This year has been cinematic genius so far and the postseason should have just as any twists and turns.

NFL Playoff Picture Becoming Foggy

This week in the NFL is almost over all that remains is a game between the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles, who really have no shot at making the playoffs at this point. After 15 games I am more confused than ever and completely perplexed by the last remaining division races and the teams clawing at each other for the final wild card spots.

The week started off with the Chicago Bears defeating the New Orleans Saints to keep pressure on the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. I do not know how the Bears won on Thursday without any passing defense in the second half and without any means by which to move the ball forward. Really it was a pitiful win, but a win nonetheless.

The Viking responded by ravaging the Cardinals defense in a 35-14 game. Adrian Peterson was amazing with 165 yards and the Arizona had such awful pass coverage that Tavaris Jackson threw four touchdowns.

Minnesota should win the North based on talent and team play, but their last two games are far more difficult than Chicago’s. The Vikings play the Falcons, a team just as desperate for a win, and the Giants. The Giants that will show up in Week 17 will probably have Brandon Jacobs and the fact that they will be playing for home field advantage in the NFC playoff picture gives them motivation despite their clinching of the division.

The Bears get a revenge game against the Green Bay Packers. Avenging the 37-3 loss is enough reason to play, but add in a possible playoff spot and Chicago might have enough reason to go out destroy the Pack and then run all over the Houston Texans.

The other division without a clear winner is the AFC East. The New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, and New England Patriots are each 9-5. Each team won this week and the games on each team’s schedule little to help pick a winner. The Pats have the Cards and the Bills and the Jets and Dolphins have creampuffs before they meet each other in the last game of the season.

I do not know who should win or who will win. This is the division to watch and might actually inspire me to watch the terrible NFL coverage on CBS these last two weeks.

Elsewhere, the NFC wild card has come down to the Dallas Cowboys, Tamp Bay Bucs, and Atlanta Falcons. Right now the Falcons are the odd man out, but with two weeks left, a feud still brewing in Dallas and the Bucs offense relying on a 38-year-old quarterback, the young, fun Falcons could easily be in the playoffs.

One wild card spot has been all but decided. The Indianapolis Colts have played far from the pretty offensive game that had become their staple but with 10 wins they should get one of the wild card spots.

That leaves whoever does not win in the AFC East and the Baltimore Ravens competing for one spot. My guess is that Joe Flacco continues his descent back to the rookie world and the second place in the East gets the last spot. Flacco has had two abysmal games in a row and I do not think he has enough experience to bounce back from that kind of funk yet.

I may be utterly lost when it comes to the NFL Playoffs this season, but I that kind of competition is what drives the sale of NFL tickets and is really making me wish I did not live in a cold weather city.