Saturday, January 10, 2009

8 In The Box

1. Wildcard weekend and the divisional playoff weekend are the 2 best weeks of the NFL season. It's not even close. Football all day Saturday and Sunday, with just 1 game to focus on and pick apart, between reasonably good teams. Add in an ample supply of Michelob Amber Bock and you've got yourself a weekend there.

This year's wildcard weekend kicked off with the Falcons going to Glendale, AZ, to face a Cardinals team that had been decidedly un-playoff like the last month and a half or so. The Falcons were actually favored, and picked by me to win. That didn't happen.

Michael Turner was completely shut down, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin provided an explosiveness to the Cardinals offense that the Falcons didn't have, and the Cardinals "dusted off" Edgerrin James (I swear I must have heard that expression about 25 times last weekend, it's like one person said it and then everyone else was like oh that sounds good, I'll say it too, Edge must have been one dusty dude) to provide some balance to the offense that was missing all year. Put all that together, plus a really bad botched handoff that gave the Cardinals a TD that proved to be the winning margin, and the Cards defy all the doubters and win a playoff game for the first time in 10 years, 30-24.

2. The Cardinals advance, and now get to fly across the country. Everybody knows that everytime that happens, they end up playing in 2 feet of snow and lose by 40 points. Or at least I saw that happen once, I will just assume that happens everytime, even if they are playing in North Carolina this week where to my knowledge it doesn't snow all that much.

Carolina's been killing people lately, ever since DeAngelo Williams suddenly became Teen Wolf and started rushing for 175 yards every week. Arizona faced another stud running back last week in Michael Turner and shut him down, and if they can do the same to Williams and his understudy, Jonathan Stewart, they may have a chance.

The Cards have already shown they can hang with the Cats. Earlier this year they went to Charlotte and had a 17-3 lead at one point. They couldn't hold onto that lead though, because they can't run the ball. Anquan Boldin was their leading rusher, and they dusted off Edgerrin James for this one too but he only managed 17 yards on 7 carries. Arizona's defense couldn't do much to slow down Carolina, with Williams rushing for over 100 yards and Jake Delhomme completing 20 of 28, and the Panthers came back and won 27-23.

As for today's game, there is one way to beat the Panthers, and that' s to run it on them. They rank 23rd in the league in rushing yards per attempt against, while they rank 7th in that same category against the pass. Arizona can't run no matter how non-dusty Edge is. Yes, this is a very similar matchup to what they had against the Falcons last week, but Jake Delhomme is not a rookie, and Steve Smith is more dangerous than anyone on the Falcons. The Panthers win this one, let's call it 34-17.

3. The most notable thing about the Chargers 23-17 OT win against the Colts, was that it pretty much ended the San Diego career of LaDanian Tomlinson. LT suited up, and even scored a touchdown, but he could only carry 5 times, making this the second year in a row he has been unavailable in a playoff game. However, Darren Sproles came on in his place and dominated. Sproles had 150 yards from scrimmage, and 178 more on kickoff and punt returns, leading the Bolts to victory and most likely earning himself a spot as the Chargers feature back next year.

As for the Colts, well, what else is new. This is what they do pretty much every year in the playoffs, meaning they crap themselves. Three times in the last 4 years one and done.

4. The Chargers have now won what have in essence been 5 consecutive elimination games. Their next one will be Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are kind of a mystery right now, my last enduring image of their season is Ben Roethlisberger on a stretcher with his facemask drilled off, giving the thumbs up sign while Mike Tomlin was standing on the sidelines giving the "I fucked up royal by keeping my QB in a meaningless game and now he's dead" sign. Ben, remarkably, is going to play in this game. He suffered a concussion on that play, but I guess since it's only his brain that he's going to rub some dirt on it and get after it this week.

Again, this is another re-match of a game we saw in midseason. The Chargers visited Pittsburgh in Week 11, and lost 11-10. That score was deceiving though, as the Steelers racked up 410 yards of total offense versus only 218 for SD. What kept the game close was that the Steelers were flagged for over 100 yards in penalties. That's not going to happen again. The Steelers win this one 27-13.

5. There isn't a team that looks scarier than the Ravens right now. After their 27-9 deconstruction of the Dolphins last week that saw them pick off Chad Pennington 4 times like he was Brett Favre or something, they've now given up 10 points or less in 5 out of their last 7 games. When you can win a playoff game by 18 points despite having your quarterback go 9 of 23, you've got a chance to win the whole thing.

This Ravens team is almost a verbatim copy of the Steelers team that won it all in 2005. Young QB with a big arm who makes just enough big plays, bowling ball running back, suffocating defense. The difference is, if they are going to get to the Super Bowl, they are really going to have to earn it. They now probably will have to beat Tennessee on the road and Pittsburgh on the road to get there, 2 teams that play the same style they do. It's funny that Baltimore, Tennessee, and Pittsburgh are so very similar, and are the 3 best teams in the AFC.

6. So what about that Ravens/Titans game in Nashville? That's the game that kicks off our weekend of football, and will feature Steve McNair doing the coin flip with half his body painted purple and the other painted Columbia blue. The Titans have been shaky lately. They reached back and found something extra to beat the Steelers 31-14 a couple of weeks ago and earn the home field advantage, but they've also recently lost to Houston and Jets. These teams were very evenly matched when they met in Week 5 and the Titans won 13-10. Since then, the Ravens have gotten a lot better, and the Titans have kind of slowly gotten worse. Now throw in that Tennessee is banged up, and Albert Haynesworth is going to be less than 100% if he plays at all, and I think you've got a case of a red-hot team playing a team that has already peaked. I like the Ravens here 20-10.

7. I am President and Treasurer and Eminent Warden of the Donovan McNabb Hater Club, but I do have to hand it to him, he played a very good game against the Vikings and is the main rason why his team is moving on to the second round. McNabb completed 23 of 34 for 300 yards and a TD to lead the Eagles to a 26-14 win over the Vikings on a day that Brian Westbrook was held to only 38 rushing yards on 20 carries.

Playing almost as big a role as McNabb in the Eagles' win was Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson completed only 15 of 35 passes, negating a strong running attack for the Vikings, who had 131 yards on 32 carries from Adrian Peterson, and Chester Taylor, who was a big contributor.

8. The Eagles now move on to face the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants. Of course, these teams, being NFC East rivals, have met twice already this year, and the Eagles came out on top in their last meeting, and it was at Giants Stadium. Of course, a lot of teams have been beating the Giants lately, they've lost 3 out of their last 4. They even lost to the Cowboys in December, a team that redefined the term "disintegration" during that same month. In honesty, I write this Eagles-Giants preview on Sunday morning, after a Saturday that taught us a lot about what happens in this years playoffs to teams that have peaked too soon. That's a shoe that fits the Giants, and they're going to have to wear it. Again, I hate the Eagles, but I put my foot down here and use it to jump on the bandwagon, Eagles win 27-20.

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