know what time it is… the NFL playoffs. And after taking the season
off to get settled in and focused on other projects, I’m returning
in time to chase that ever-elusive perfect postseason run.
year I’m going to tackle it alone. Too much still going on to
make arrangements with everyone and get the work done. But next
year… I’m looking for a full slate of participants depending on
everyone’s schedule, and that includes the return of Molly and
Gus to the weekly selections.
now, we’ve got two articles to get things started. This one will
allow me to give you some thoughts about every team in the playoffs.
The other one will give you my choices without the spread from
beginning to end, as well as the week one selections against the
not going deep into each team here. Fact is, the coverage has
picked up. But I still think there are some special things to
consider for all of the clubs participating in the race to Indianapolis.
(Yes. Indianapolis. The Super Bowl this year is in Indianapolis.)
England – The Patriots could win it all… and the
Patriots could lose their first playoff game.
problem is that they are so darn unpredictable.
one side of the argument, you have the most explosive offense
in the AFC… and nothing else is even close. They present coverage
problems that any other team would dream of just being able to
offer a portion of... Brady… Gronkowski… Hernandez… Welker. And
now signs of a running game? Yikes.
there is a dark side.
the defense has tightened up in the second half of recent games.
Powerhouses like Denver, Buffalo and Miami all sprinted out to
early leads over New England, and all did so recently ion late
hasn’t looked as sharp in early portions of games as you would
hope. Some say it takes time to read what he is being challenged
with by a defense… others whisper about an injury that takes time
to warm up and stretch out.
you have all five AFC clubs bringing some form of an aggressive
defense that is much better than New England has faced most of
the year. (I’m not going deeply into it… but New England has not
faced many good times this season.)
class of the AFC? Sure they are. But if they don’t improve defensive
play and score more than 24 in every game, class could be dismissed
trick is… almost all of this is out there. No surprises from New
England. We know they’ve lost their last three playoff games (Super
Bowl against the Giants, and then opening round games against
the Ravens and Jets). We know the last four playoff losses (add
in one against the Colts where they sprinted out to that 21-3
lead) were borderline stunning defeats. And we know that the defense
is very likely to give up just over 20 points.
my problem with Baltimore… Ray Rice.
hold on… I think Rice is awesome. His run against New England
two postseasons ago set the tone for that entire dismantling of
the Patriots. I am not saying Ray Rice is the problem.
2011 season… and Baltimore’s problems.
went 4-4 on the road. And in those games, they seemed to forget
they had Rice on their team.
the four road losses, Rice never got more than 20 touches. In
fact, he averaged only 9 carries a game in the road losses.
the four road wins… even including a blowout of St. Louis where
he only carried the ball 9 times… Rice averaged 20 carries per
you see that? Road wins… carries alone… Rice averages 20 per game.
Road losses… carries and receptions… Rice didn’t get
a total of 20 in a single game. (He averaged less than 16 touches
per game in the losses.)
yeah… the Ravens seem to forget about Ray Rice at times, and when
they do, they lose.
know how every so often you wonder about a team and whether or
not just being happy to make the playoffs is casting a cloud over
their chances? Ok… get this…
The Texans… with a shot at the top seed in the AFC, though facing
injuries including a ridiculous run on quarterbacks… lost to Carolina,
lost at Indianapolis, and lost to Tennessee.
Jake Delhomme. I kid you not. This is where he is, and there is
a chance he will be the one handling Houston and their chances
in the playoffs. And even if he isn’t the quarterback, for the
Texans… hold on… next thought…
Take out the 22 they scored against Tennessee, and the fact that
they went for a two-point conversion to win the game. (It was
a great move, but after decided to attempt it they looked just
awful on that conversion, taking a wonderful moment and turning
it into a joke.) Want to tell me the last time the high-powered
offensive unit of Houston scored more than 20-points in a game?
Yup… that’s right… November 13th against Tampa Bay. Long enough
ago that Matt Schaub was playing… and, as you may know, Tampa
has been letting every team score 30 on them this season.
I say more?
want you to believe they overcame injuries late in the season.
Sorry. This is not the same club.
honestly don’t know why more people aren’t looking for the Cincinnati
upset in this game. I really don’t.)
team in the playoffs. Quarterback has problems. Defense has been
torched by some decent teams. It’s a recipe for disaster.
yet… they have found a way to get into the fourth quarter of a
few games with only a score or two needed to pull victory from
the jaws of defeat. And folks… they have this amazing look in
their eyes where they seem convinced that they can win every game
if they can get to a last possession that only needs a field goal
as a result. And I mean just that… convinced of victory, even
when trailing, as long as it’s close.
you telling me that they couldn’t get to halftime against a wounded
Pittsburgh team with a score of say 10-6? I think they could…
in fact, I think they could get to halftime leading the game.
this won’t be a long playoff visit for Denver. They cannot sustain
it for multiple games. One surprise victory… maybe. A run? Not
the funny thing.
think Pittsburgh is in for an amazingly rude awakening.
week, a story came out about Roethlisberger getting hurt a bit
against Cleveland. And as I finished the article, I had the distinct
impression it was a smokescreen. A misdirection of sorts. Kind
of like they were playing with Denver.
the thing is… they are hurting. Their center is out… starting
running back is out… defense is dipping into the depths because
of one starter that won’t play because of Denver’s high altitude.
This is all adding up.
no one… not a sole… is giving the Broncos a chance against the
Steelers. And folks, much more often than not, when the conventional
wisdom is unanimous in one direction, you should run… not walk,
run… in the opposite direction.
is a Pittsburgh team that… I know, 27 against St. Louis, yawn…
hasn’t scored more than 14 points in four weeks. In fact, in the
last six games, four times they were held to 14 or less. Heck...
let’s make them healthy… in seven games this season they scored
17 or less. That’s half the year.
on the road? 5-3… victories include Indianapolis, Arizona, Kansas
City, Cleveland and Cincinnati… and only three times did they
score more than 13 points.
say that separately and more clearly…
8 road games this season, only 3 times has Pittsburgh scored more
than 13 points.
be surprised if they struggle. (And even if they get past Denver,
there is no way they will win three road games in a row.)
is my playing-with-house-money team.
by youth that doesn’t know they are supposed to play like the
Bungals and lose, I think they actually could scare a couple of
teams. Trouble is that number six seed.
they get Houston first… which as noted in describing Houston,
works in their favor. After that though, the number six seed can
only go one place… and New England really isn’t the place for
the Bengals to be thinking winning streak.
like the energy… like Andy Dalton… really like A.J. Green.
don’t like them to play well when the stage gets bigger than the
first ever playoff game for the wounded Houston Texans.
Deservedly the favorite, and you don’t need me to tell you how
talented they are. But you can throw against them… and the top
threat in the NFC, New Orleans, can throw pretty much like no
other team in history. Plus… the Giants, Falcons and Lions can
all pass as well.
this is no easy path for the Packers.
top of that… guess what? Remember when the Patriots beat the Giants
during the regular season four years ago? Then the Giants… not
afraid of them… took the Super Bowl? Well, the Giants team has
a regular season result from this year that leads me to believe
they might not be scared of heading to Green Bay. (Which is an
opening round possibility for the Packers.)
think the defending champs stub their toes at some point, and
don’t repeat. Just not sure where it happens. One thing is certain…
there is a definite chance the AFC winner will be significantly
less battered and bruised heading to the Super Bowl than the NFC
winner will be.
I want to like the 49ers. They’ve responded to every challenge
this year. Seriously…
they play in a horrible division. Go beyond that. They managed
to go 6-2 on the road, including wins over two playoff teams.
(Detroit and Cincinnati.) At home… 7-1… they defeated Pittsburgh
and New York (Giants).
lost to a solid playoff team, Baltimore, by 10 points. The other
two losses came by 2-points and an overtime field goal. Yeah…
they were this close to 15-1 on the year.
don’t mistake the 49ers as some product of an easy schedule or
other unusual circumstance. Ball control, good defense, and not
making a critical mistake… simple recipe and effectively carried
problem I have with them is that they are really good at stopping
the run… and every other NFC team made the playoffs based on really
good to simply amazing passing games.
path to the Super Bowl likely includes facing New Orleans to start,
and then Green Bay on the road.
Orleans – I
love the Saints.
last year Seattle caught them by surprise and wiped out their
postseason before it even started. But this year seems different.
think the Saints have a chip on their shoulders. Part of that
includes that humiliating loss to the Seahawks. I think part of
it comes from the press-happy following the Packers have received
all season. And I think part of that is going 13-3 and yet having
to play the opening week of the playoffs.
passing game and a very strong running game make this offense
about as tough to stop as any other in the NFL. Perhaps New England
and Green Bay can roll out as many threats and problems… I still
wouldn’t want to face New Orleans or pick against them being the
defense is ok… middle of the road for giving up points. (Oh yeah…
by the way… both the Patriots and Saints gave up about 21 points
per game. Playoff teams that gave up more than that… Atlanta (22),
Green Bay (22), Detroit (24), Denver (24), New York (25). Just
worth noting while everyone talks about all the passing yards
Green Bay and New England surrender. (And Green Bay and New England
do give up a ton of passing yards.) The numbers can be spun in
tons of directions.)
York (Giants) –
I would be afraid of the Giants if I had to play them… nor would
I be a big believer in their chances if I was a fan.
they lost to New England a few years ago, there was something
in the air about it. Something special in how they went toe-to-toe
with the Pats while nothing was on the line for them. And they
turned it into a special run.
this year, for the first time in many years, the Giants never
ran off a long winning streak. (They had two 3-game streaks. Nothing
longer. Tough schedule. I get it. But never a dominant run.) They
looked inconsistent… fighting hard against Green Bay in a loss,
and dominating New York and Dallas to end the year… getting pasted
by Washington in the fourteenth game of the year (and swept by
the Redskins for the season), and I have no clue what happened
yet… remember the fun I had with Pittsburgh’s inability to score,
especially on the road? Only three times all year did the Giants
fail to score 20 or more. And, as shown by the late victories
over New England and Dallas, Manning continues to be solid and
unfazed late in games.
is a club that has the ability to win the NFC. I don’t think they
can… the likelihood of two road games against the grouping of
Green Bay, New Orleans and San Francisco just really stacks the
odds against them… but on any given day they can generate a great
pass rush, and they have a quarterback that deserves credit for
what he’s accomplished.
I just don’t know.
one is the road. The Falcons have shown an ability to play well
at home in recent years. In the playoffs they will travel pretty
much as long as they win.
two is the opponents. I think the Giants are better than their
record or performance have shown to date. And that starts things
out for the Falcons. They want to face the Saints again, feeling
they have something to prove there, and yet the seeding means
they would have to beat New York and Green Bay… cold weather,
outdoor road games… before seeing New Orleans in this postseason.
three… did you see above that their defense gives up points? Not
too bad. Middle of the postseason pack. But the other five NFC
clubs are scoring machines… and that doesn’t help.
Johnson is about as close to unstoppable as we’ve seen in some
time. I mean, come on, any time they get coverage for a big game
they talk about how stopping Johnson means everything… and yet
the Lions still get the ball to him.
on top of that… Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards. Four receivers
were over 600 for the season. So it’s not just Johnson, and Stafford
the defense has an attitude.
troubles? Ok… only 5 times has the opponent failed to score more
than 20 points. The Lions give up tons of points.
top of that… would you believe they don’t have a running back?
Not kidding. Not one person rushed for 400-yards or more this
they did beat Denver, in every other game this season against
a playoff team, the Lions lost.