Sunday, January 20, 2008

Who Will Be Super Bound on Championship Sunday?

Something to bear in mind: in games in which the NFL's final four had a 100-yard rusher, the Giants (6-0), Packers (5-0), Patriots (5-0) and Chargers (6-1) won 95 percent of the time.

Also bear in mind both of these matchups are repeats of Week 2 and both of the underdogs this weekend were blown out in Week 2.

San Diego @ New England

Flying Nowhere Fast...

You want a challenge? Try and figure out how the Chargers have a chance to win this game.

First of all, the odds of the Chargers gimping their way two weeks in a row to shocking upsets? Forget about the injuries to their starting QB, their star running back and their All-Pro tight end and think about the fact that the Pats are 13-2 in the post season since Coach Happy Face Belichick took over, 7-0 in the postseason at home and of course, 17-0 so far this season.

That isn't to say just because nobody's beaten the Pats yet since the preseason that the Chargers are incapable of winning this game. It just makes it bloody improbable.

But oh, it's the turnovers the Chargers are so famed at, it's the turnovers giving them an advantage, a prayer...blabla...The Patriots turned the ball over just 15 times this season, a franchise record and the fifth-lowest total in league history. So much for that game plan and prayer.

Yeah yeah, the Chargers are hot leading up to this game not having lost since Thanksgiving but what's hotter than an undefeated season? And besides, even if the weather is frigid, hot in the cold, since 1993 New England is 22-3 (including playoffs) when the kickoff temperature is 34 degrees or less.

About the only teeny tiny thing that the Chargers might like to think in their favour is the controversy surrounding the extortion in an alleged assault and battery case against Randy Moss and the distraction it causes. Distraction? Does it really seem possible that the Pats are capable under Belichick, this season, being distracted?

They might also rest their hats on the fact that a Chargers victory would likely be the biggest upset in AFC Championship history. After all, who would have bet on them beating the defending World Champions minus their three offensive stars?

But let's be real. The Pats are not the Colts. Brady is not Manning and the Chargers are not going to be catching anyone off guard.

QB Philip Rivers has two gimpy knees and is presumed to be the starter. Stupid move. If you want to give Rivers some playoff time, give it to him only if Volek can't handle it. Otherwise you stand the chance of a gimpy and immobile Rivers getting stuffed, panicking, fumbling, throwing interceptions and letting the game get away from them early and permanently. Let's not forget, gimpy or not, Rivers doesn't have any AFC Championship experience.

Not only that but Billy Volek once had two consecutive 400-yard passing games while subbing for Steve McNair in Tennessee.

Somebody is going to have to use those Charger receivers to expose the Patriots less-than-impressive secondary but if the Chargers fall behind early the game will get out of hand very quickly.

Forget about the upsets. If you're a Chargers fan your best bet is to pick them with the points and hope the game isn't overturned too quickly.

Who's your hero, baby?

Believe me, I'd like to be that crazy guy (no, not THAT one shirtless at Lambeau tonight) who says oh, I've just got this feeling that the Chargers will pull out another surprise and oh, no team has ever gone 18-0 in history and what about the last time the Chargers ventured into Gillette Stadium with a historic Patriots winning streak on the line? They beat the two-time defending Super Bowl champions to a pulp, 41-17, in Week 4 of the 2005 regular season. New England entered that game having won a franchise-record 21 consecutive home games dating to Week 17 of 2002 but...

Just for fun, I had a read through the San Diego papers. I mean what's it like to have to write for a sports page about a game your team has been told by the entire country they have absolutely zero chance winning.

Are Perfect But Not Unbeatable


Prediction: Patriots 24 Chargers 13


NY Giants @ Green Bay BRRRR

They just won't shut up about the cold for this game, will they?

First of all why the hell are they playing this game at night? Won't it be cold enough even at mid-day?

Think they'll be making snow angels on the sidelines this game or will their teeth be chattering so hard they won't be able to move? Mark Schlereth, a former lineman who's undergone more than a dozen surgeries in his career describes stepping out of the tunnel onto Lambeau Field under these conditions as "being punched in the face."

Now you can just see old notoriously bad in the cold Eli Manning playing a big psyche job on the Packers like even though historically he sucks in cold weather, up until a few weeks ago when he "found himself", "turned the corner" he sucked generally as a QB anyway, this new Eli is in fact, quite capable in the cold and fools them all.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, via a column by Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News, Manning has played in only six games where the temperature was 39 degrees or less, and only one game where it was 29 degrees or less. He has four touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a passer rating of less than 60 points in those games.

On the other hand maybe he'll only have to throw 20 passes all game and simply hand it off to Brandon Jacobs, who at |6-foot-4, 265 pounds is the biggest back the Packers have faced all season.

Super Zoom Zoom?

That's maybe something you're dreaming about if you're dreaming about a Giant upset. Especially as it keeps your mind out of those nightmares wherein Favre picks apart the Giants' continuously depleted secondary or former Giant Ryan Grant running rampant past the Giants front line who won't get good enough footing on the icy pitch to mount any kind of rush or trouble for Favre. You might see a performance by Favre
somewhat similar to the ease with which Brady turned out the Jags last weekend. But no, because Favre is generally not as patient as Brady and you'll not be surprised to see him throwing a pick or two, even against the depleted secondary.

That plus the fact that the Giants will likely blitz the hell out of him every time the need arises.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Manning,
Brett Favre
is 43-5 in home games when the temperature is 34 degrees or less.

But here are the things: the cold will sufficiently negate the passing attack of the Pack and even if it didn't the Giants will come at Favre hard, from all directions and force him into Favre-like mistakes. Grant was once dumped by the Giants and his mincing running will not be suited to a cold, icy pitch whereas the Giant combo of Jacobs and Bradshaw will combined for over 150 yards rushing. Manning will be managed appropriately so that he won't have the opportunity to make Favre-like mistakes.

Bottom line is I'd much rather see a rematch of the Pats-Giants final regular season game than listening to Favre accolades for the next two weeks.

Prediction: Giants 24 Packers 16

Monday, January 14, 2008


Should we be thankful not to see the predictable league finales, the Godzillas v the Mothras and instead watch the King Kongs v The Faye Wrays? Or should we bemoan the lack of the Super marquee but predictable matchups, the #1's v #2's, the Pats/Colts and Giants/Packers?

For one, the two QBs more famed for their performances on the field rather than the advertising market will be there. Brett Favre and Tom Brady are still potential Super Bowl opponents and they are by lengths, the most accomplished QBs remaining and frankly, would have been even if the Colts had been able to beat the Chargers.

And whilst many are certainly sick of Peyton Manning and have been for years and there still we be a Manning present, at least it is the New York media's favourite whipping boy this time around, the Manning who appears to have finally turned the corner, the Manning who is infinately less annoying and is certainly easier to root for.

On Saturday we had the Snow Bowl after all, after hearing all week the weather was not going to be a factor confined to a "few flurries". Surprise. Not only did the Packers fall behind quickly (14-0 after 4 minutes quickly) due primarily to a few fumbles by the man who would later become their hero in Ryan Grant but with the homefield snow falling at a near-blizzard rate, the Pack proceeded to score on their next 6 possessions, pulling away once and for all, leaving the Seahawks and Mike Holgrem in the snow, 42-20 as Grant redeemed himself with three touchdowns and 201 yards rushing.

Several records fell along the way but perhaps most interesting was that Favre joined Joe Montana as the only QB to throw for over 5000 post-season yards. A few of those yards came on that crazy underhanded toss for a first down that Favre made - an ill-advised toss for nearly anyone but Favre who wins ugly as he wins often.

Among the rants and raves:

"Patrick Kerney was billed as the next big thing as far as NFL defensive linemen are concerned. Kerney, one of the league's leading sackers this season, was invisible, and it wasn't because he was wearing a white jersey in a snowstorm. Mark Tauscher and the Packers' offense silenced the overhyped Kerney."

Failing, quietly in the snow...


The other Saturday game featured the fearsome and fearless and undefeated Patriots of New England and, as they have in every other game they've played this season outside of the exhibition season, the Pats won and as usual they won with a fair amount of ease.

Captain Perfect Leads the Charge

Now as formidable a named QB as Favre, Pats QB Tom Brady was offered a wide open field of short passes by the Jacksonville defence who double and triple teamed Randy Moss and dared anyone else to beat them.

They didn't need to ask Brady twice to dink them to death.

"It was a dump-down game," Jaguars rookie safety Reggie Nelson sniffed. "Anybody can go 26-of-28 in a dump-down game."

Nearly perfect on the short pass, Brady completed 26 of 28 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns and one of those incompletions was a dropped pass. He went 12 for 12 in the first half for 120 yards. His 92.9 completion percentage was an NFL record in the playoffs and regular season but perhaps more impressive that he's improved his post-season record to 13-2.

Of course the game wasn't all Brady. The Pats remained perfect as a team this season bar the two losses in the preseason (to Tennessee 27-24 on 17 August and to Tampa Bay 13-10 the week before that) and the defence, led by Rodney Harrison's late-game preserving interception was stout enough to hold off the Jaguars' final charges. Perhaps most surprising was Lawrence Maroney's 122 yards rushing which in fact outgained the vaunted rushing attack of the Jags all by himself.

Was the game actually closer than the 31-20 would suggest?

Well, consider that despite near-perfection, the Pats only outgained the Jags by 53 yards all game, they held the ball less than five minutes longer than the Jags and the game was in fact, tied at the half. The biggest difference might well have been two turnovers by the Jags, none by the Pats. The Pats were actually penalised more than the Jags, an appalling 74 yards in penalties which coach BB will certainly rage about all week in preparation of the injury-depleted Chargers.

Sunday's Upsets

In a sense, it was Sunday that saved us from the predictable. History shows that there are oftentimes upsets against the homefield favourites at this stage of the playoffs and 2008 was no different.

It might have appeared shocking that the Mighty Colts, defending champs and home of the explosive offence would have lost their final game in the Ugly Dome. But consider that this isn't even the best offence in the NFL anymore, not by a long shot, and that the defence has been decimated by the loss of a pair of key players maybe not so suprising.

Then again, if you said the Chargers would lose, on top of their All-World tight end their All-World running back and their starting quarterback you'd certainly not have given the Chargers much of a shake.

You might have even thought that given a few dodgy calls by the refs in the Colts favour in the first half which drove the normally placid Norv Turner into sideline rages, this was not a game the Colts would lose.

For one, the subs filling in for LT and Philip Rivers performed admirably. Michael Turner finished with 71 yards and a better yard-per-carry average than LT and even Billy Volek managed to lead the final drive and score the winning touchdown.

I mean what were the odds of that happening, Chargers losing essentially all of their key offensive players yet still scoring 4 TDS? For one, Rivers didn't miss the entire game and whilst he was playing he was playing admirably, perhaps even over his head, given the time the failing Colts pass rush was giving him to throw.

On the other hand you could point out that the Chargers would appear to be Peyton Manning's new achilles heel, having lost to them three straight times now and having thrown 10 interceptions in those three games.

Of course in winning their 8th straight game the Chargers proved they are no flukes. Yes, they started the season slowly, ridiculously, hopelessly even but since that slow start they've rolled and that roll has been led by a defence that does the important thing: turnovers. Two Manning interceptions killed deep scoring threats and were key moments in the game. They didn't always stop Manning but they made it count when they did - even though the Colts lost only 6 fumbles all season, the cough-up by Harrison who was stripped on his first catch of the day and remained silent thereafter.

And perhaps most importantly, when it counted, the Colts vaunted offence was not better than the Colts defence and in the end, the 28-24 victory, narrow as it was, was well-deserved. One only wonders whether or not the Chargers deserve facing the 17-0 Patriots next.


And of course whilst one Manning brother was losing in an upset another was winning in an upset.

You can't accurately call the Giants victory over the Cowboys an upset. Sure, the Cowboys had the best record in the NFC and were playing at home but the weeks leading up to this moment had been tinged by poor and perhaps even worrying performance, particularly by Tony Romo, who did himself no favours with a highly publicised jaunt to a Mexican resort with Jessica Simpson when many QBs, either Manning for instance, would have been spending the off week studying the defences of potential opponents.

On the other hand, Jessica Simpson is a nice distraction from the rigeurs of an NFL season and Romo, despite all the negative publicity, was not the sole cause of the Cowboys' downfall.

For one, as he has now for several weeks on the trot, making the league wonder if perhaps he hasn't turned the proverbial corner and is now ready to take over the reigns as Top Manning, Eli Manning had a flawless game in leading the Giants.

In particular, the inspirational and rapid touchdown just before the end of the first half when most of the world was ready to believe that the demoralising and incredibly time-consuming march, led by Romo, to a Cowboys touchdown with under two minutes remaining in the half was going to cook the Giants' goose, proved instead to be the turning point of the game after all.

Sure the Giants still had to win it but standing back up after the Cowboys thought they'd given the Giants their final fateful kicking of the season just before the end of the half was a sign from the Football Gods that this game, like the one that preceded it, was not going to play out based on predictive methods.

And perhaps even more exciting than younger Manning's coming of age or the Cowboys losing was the creepy post-game tears shed by Terrell Owens who is clearly mixing and abusing his medications again.

Owens, laughably, argued that he'd "always had his QB's back" which might come as a surprise to people like Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb, the other two QBs he's played with, both of whom he viciously stabbed in the back.

So with the Cowboys out there's really nothing left in the NFC to hate any more. Unless of course you don't fancy spending the two weeks leading up to the Stupor Bowl listening to how fantastic Brett Favre is or what a great fairytale it would be to see him win it all after all he's been through. Another redemption of a lost career, etc. etc.

Best pray for a Giants-Pats rematch if you're looking for excitement.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

So, the cat's out of the bag.

My bold Redskins 26-24 victory over the Seahawks prediction in the Wild Card Weekend was never meant to be. The momentum of 4 victories on the trot, the inspiration of the dead teammate, the legendary coach leading them, all alot of blablabla in the face of the Seahawks flashing their invincibility at home around like 100 dollah bills at a car wash full of pimps.

Instead, a 35-14 pasting and the end of the season for the nation's capital.

But not before that brief, dramatic turnaround in the 4th quarter that showed at least that they weren't going down without a fight. Well, not until Scott Suisham choked that kicked that would have maintained the momentum the Skins had ripped from the unsuspecting arms of the Seahawks.

And next week the Seahawks won't have the homefield advantage on their side.

They will be in Green Bay.

Some insiders fancy Seattle of all the NFC teams to make it to the Super Bowl and whilst the chance of Destructo Favre showing up instead of Super Favre is always a possibility, the Pack won't fold so soon. Green Bay 30 Seattle 20.


Jax 22 Pittsburgh 16

This ended up looking a little better for Sports Amnesia's crack betting crew which lost on one match but won on the other.

There was never really any doubt that Jacksonville, having dismantled Pittsburgh already this season, would prove unable to do so again, especially in light of Steeler wounds.

And up to the 4th quarter that proved to be right but just like in Seattle, the losing team did not go down without a fight and it wasn't until a demoralising holding penalty on a 2-point play that would have cut the Steelers' deficit from 5 points to 3, that the game began to turn again.

Still, without that failed 2-point conversion the Jags would have had to have done more than kick a wobbling field goal to win and the smart money now says that their first playoff win since 2000 will be their only playoff win of 2008.


NYG @ Tampa Bay

Eli "Bad Decisions Under Pressure" Manning zero post season wins. Jeff Garcia, two post-season wins against the Giants in two tries.

Gruden's decision to rest starters the final two weeks of the season means there's a chance they'll lose the crucial battle between each other's run offence v run defence. So long as the Giants can run Eli will not choke as badly as he has often choked in the past. Giants 31 Bucs 23

Tenn @ San Diego

Last year's wunderkinds did the predictable Schottenheimer Shuffle out of the playoffs and began this season under the guidance of Coach Turner as though they were ready to fold an entire season into one neat little compartment of failure.

They haven't won a playoff since 1994 and although they did beat these Titans on the road already this season, QB Rivers has not yet proven he can handle the post-season pressure. On the other hand Vince Young appears to thrive in the spotlight.

The Chargers have momentum and home field advantage.

Final Score: San Diego 23 Tennessee 21