Archive for January, 2010

Colts and Saints - two #1 seeds and two potent offenses

Superbowl XLIV has all the makings of a classic match, and kind of reminds me of the titanic Steelers Cowboys Superbowls from the 1970s.

Only difference being this is two high-octane offenses against two overachieving defenses.

There are going to be intriguing battles all over the field next Sunday in Miami, here are five of those chess matches that I think will determine if Peyton Manning or Drew Brees will hold the Vince Lombardi trophy above their head and shout to the skies ‘By the power of Greyskull……..I have the power!”

Saints RB Pierre Thomas v Colts defensive tackles Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson – The sexual chocolate that is New Orleans RB Reggie Bush has shown that once and for all his talent does not lie by getting 4 to 5 yards a pop up the gut, so that job of moving the chains in the traditional method is left to Pierre Thomas.

Thomas has had a quiet season, with only one one hundred plus yard ground game (Week 3 v Buffalo) but he did finish the regular season with an impressive 5.4 a carry. Thomas has only had 33 touches in two playoff games so far so this could be the time he is unleashed as part of a ball control gameplan by Sean Payton, the former Leicester Panthers quarterback.

Going against Thomas will be the rather unknown pairing of Muir (312 lb) and Johnson (310lb). Seen by some as a weakness these two pillars have nullified both Ray Rice and Thomas Jones in the postseason, and they have the intestinal fortitude to do it one more time.

The Colts have given up 20 points overall in their last two games, and Rice and Jones (two dominant rushers) combined for just 109 yards on the ground.

Neither had the opportunity to pound the rock twenty times or more because their teams were required to come back from deficits using the passing game, but the combo of Muir and Johnson have become unsung heroes on a team that if full of no name defenders, with the exception of pass rushing defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Advantage – Saints – Thomas has not been asked to carry the ball 25 times a game so he will be fresh. With Mike Bell there to pick up some short yardage runs Thomas could be an MVP candidate but only if the gameplan flows the way of the ground game.

Well it’s that time of year, when we get two stunning contests between the cream of the NFL. God I love the conference championship games, and this season we have two intriguing contest between four very different teams.

AP has been quiet in January but next will be his crowning glory against the Saints

The Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints have shone throughout the season and are the #1 seeds respectively, with the Minnesota Vikings looking good all round and the New York Jets acting out a Disney sports movie script.

I have done a TO and got the popcorn ready, as well as some alcoholic ginger beer (lovely) and some chips and dips. Ok I’ll look like death warmed up in the morning but lets hope its gonna be worth it.

My predicting skills have been pretty average in the playoffs as I have got 5 out of 8 correct so far.

Here goes with my conference championships predictions;

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP – Vikings @ Saints

This game is not exactly your traditional NFC championship, where defense dominates and the score finishes 13-10.

Minnesota and New Orleans are explosive high-powered offensive led teams with lots of talent across the field.

Both play in a Dome, both rely on young studs with speed, agility and soft hands, and both have quarterbacks that are grizzled veterans who both deserve to be playing in the Superbowl for what they have done this season.

This game has all the makings of a wild west shootout, with Brett Favre looking to take the Vikings to a place they haven’t been since Fran Tarkenen and the Purple People Eaters reached four Superbowls in the 1970s (losing all four).

Favre has shown that he can both play disciplined football and also air it our when he needs to, and he has turned Sidney Rice into a megastar, in a way that I suspect Sage Rosenfels or Tavaris Jackson would not have been able to in 2009.

Adrian Peterson has been strangely quiet in the second half of the season and has quite remarkably gone a little under the radar. This I think will all change in the NFC Championship as Peterson will show some of those jaw dropping skills that made him the most exciting rookie since Barry Sanders.

The Saints will simply be unable to bottle up Peterson for 60 minutes, and that my friends will be the difference in the game.

Defensively the Vikings are a remarkable unit up front, with Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams in the middle and the on-fire Ray Edwards at the other end.  This is a front four that should have helped a team to reach a Superbowl by now, and they will have to be tackling for their lives against the eel like Reggie Bush, and the the powerful and speedy Pierre Thomas.

The Saints D is led by veteran safety Darren Sharper, who has had an Ed Reed type season, picking off passes and being in the right place at the right time far too many times for it just to be luck or coincidence. Former Jet LB Jonathan Vilma is playing the best football of his life, and underrated pro’s such as Will Allen and linebackers Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle deserve to win today for their consistent effort on a team that has not always been this good.

X-Factors = The obvious x-factors in this game are Reggie Bush for the Saints and Percy Harvin the electric rookie WR for the Vikings.

Thing is I don’t like obvious, and I will instead look at some lesser known players that could be the difference between a trip home and a trip to Miami….

Saints TE David Thomas – With Jeremy Shockey not 100% Martin could be asked to catch 5 or more passes, and this could include in the redzone

Vikings RB Chester Taylor – Taylor has been a passenger in the Viking sailboat that has plundered and pillaged the NFL this season, leaving him fresh for this game. He is the best pass catching back on the team and could break a catch in the backfield and turn it into six huge points.

Prediction – Vikings 33-30 Saints – MVP Adrian Peterson 131 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP – Jets @ Colts

Everyone loves an underdog and the New York Jets , who snuck into the playoffs on the back of the Colts decision to rest their starters in Week 17, are going to have a lot of neutral fans rooting for them. Only problem is Rex Ryan and the Jets don’t consider themselves underdogs, and that positive mentality has willed the Big Apple warriors to the AFC Championship game.

The Colts on the other hand are doing what they always do, winning 12 or more regular season games with relative ease, and without a mind-blowing running game. The last time the Colts won a Superbowl they did it with a precision passing game and a combination of Joesph Addai and Dominic Rhodes in the backfield (sometimes both on the field at the same time). Not much has changed, Addai still has a partner, but this time he is the veteran and Donald Brown is the rookie who knows no better.

Peyton Manning does not need much of a description here, just look in a dictionary for the definition of an All Pro QB and Manning’s face will be there.

Marvin Harrison is gone at WR, but in his place are Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, who have both stepped up when needed and have helped catapult the Colts to a championship game.

The Jets have won games the way they used to be won, with a big nasty offensive line and a running game that gives opposition DCs nightmares. The combination of ‘the most underrated RB in NFL history’ Thomas Jones, and rookie rocket pack Shonn Greene, is pretty much perfect, and FB Tony Richardson is one of the best in his position in the past 30 years.

New York will go into this game with a rookie under center, and unfortunately this will be the game that brings Mark Sanchez crashing down to earth. It’s not that Sanchez can’t move the ball or pass accurately, its just that Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney will be more pumped up than the world’d biggest hot air balloon.

We all know that Darelle Revis the Jets CB should have been voted NFL Defensive MVP this season, and we also know that he will do an outstanding job tracking whoever will dare to matchup with him. It’s the rest of the Jets corners that I have bigger issues with.

X-Factors =This comes down to the Jets offense being able to move the ball and the Colts defense showing that their game last week was no fluke.

Colts – Defensive tackles Antonio Johnson and Daniel Muir are pretty much unknown outside of Indy, but they hold the key to this game. If they can hold the Jets running game it could be a long night for Sanchez.

Jets – WR Braylon Edwards. Yes Edwards has had a lot of stick recently for dropping passes, but he has the talent, the speed and the desire to show why he was an early first round pick by the Cleveland Browns. Edwards, if he is given the opportunity by the play calling, could surprise all NFL fans with a monster game.

Prediction – Colts 26-16 Jets – MVP Peyton Manning 289 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Mark Sanchez is the new Cinderella with some facial hair

He may be a playboy but to me Mark Sanchez is a big girl.

What! you may say, how can I call a rookie quarterback who is 60 minutes away from playing in the Superbowl a big girl?

Well he is wearing a rather frilly dress and has had his hair done up like a freaky deep-South beauty pageant because Sanchez is the Cinderella story of this season’s NFL playoffs.

Not that I didn’t predict it. I have predicted the J-E-T-S to win their last two playoff games – two away games in the cold of Ohio and the sunshine of California.

Regardless of the Jets record entering the playoffs when you have the number one defense and the number one running game and relatively few injuries, you stand a damm good chance of advancing in the quagmire that is the playoffs.

I am less concerned about Sanchez’s play in the AFC Championship on Sunday than the ability of one of his wideouts to catch his laser passes.

Braylon Edwards is for some odd reason looking like a rookie, despite the fact he has been to a Pro Bowl and can win games with his speed and agility.

I’ll do a bigger preview of the NFC and AFC Championship games later this week but for now I am just glad that the Jets caused an upset as the rest of the playoff games were not exactly exciting.

Lets just hope the Superbowl slipper fits Mr Sanchez’s plates of meat this weekend.

Like poo on a shoe I have a feeling the Cardinals will not be removed from the playoffs this week as Kurt gets busy through the sky

There’s nothing like starting my divisional playoff predictions with a Kylie Minogue song reference, but ‘I can’t get the Cardinals out of my head’ and as long as Kurt Waner hasn’t been concussed and is lying in a heap on the Superdome floor I smell an upset.

I got three out of the four Wild Card games right last week, with my only mistake being predicting an Eagles win against the Cowboys. I have to admit the only reason I went with Philly was because they were my pre-season Superbowl prediction, and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

Well now its time to dust down the Mystic Meg costume and sprinkle so prediction powder on the 2009-2010 NFL Divisional Playoff round;

NFC – Cardinals @ Saints

If you thought you saw an unforgettable fireworks display last week in the desert, this could be bigger, better faster and even higher scoring (seriously). Bizarrely this game will not come down to the quality of the QBs or WRs, it will come down to the team that has the most convincing running game. Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush versus Tim Hightower and Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells. Momentum is a funny thing and the Cardinals will have it in bucket loads after their electric game last week, whereas the Saints looked awful after they lost their unbeaten record to the Cowboys (and yes I know the Saints were playing scrubs Week 17). Both teams have dominant All-Pro safeties in the form of Adrian Wilson and Darren Sharper, but both team CBs (as a unit) are not the best in the league. Providing the Cardinals offensive line keeps up the work rate then they have the ability to push Arizona into a 2nd NFC championship in a row.

Prediction – Cardinals 38-33 Saints – Game MVP Kurt Warner 307 yards passing 3 touchdowns.

NFC – Cowboys @ Vikings

I have even having to type the word Favre, seeing as he should have retired in the last decade, but here I am again talking about Mr Wrangler. The Vikings and the Cowboys match up pretty well, and I have to say this is going to be the biggest game of the weekend, with two star studded squads that can boast remarkable offensive lines, excellent quarterbacks, and defensive studs – exemplified by the Cowboys DeMarcus Ware and the Vikings mullet wearing nut job Jared Allen. Both teams have receivers that have had bonanza breakout seasons (Miles Austin and Sidney Rice), and both have some depth and ability to change the gears with their running games. Now the romantics will want Brett to take his weapons to the NFC Championship but I have Dallas showing why they are no longer a team to be laughed at when it comes to the business end of the season. That and the fact Felix Jones is just about the only human being I know that could keep pace with Chris Johnson in a running race. Wait for Felix to do something jaw dropping and then let others know you read it here.

Prediction – Cowboys 27-24 Vikings – Game MVP Tony Romo 311 yards and 2 touchdowns

AFC – Jets @ Chargers

It doesn’t matter what you wear, what you smell like or whether you know your tango from your Foxtrot, providing you have a ticket to the dance you can do whatever you like on the dance floor. Take a bow the Rex Ryan led New York Jets. The Jets have the number one defense and the number one running game, but they now face a team that has the hottest winning streak in the NFL. We all have to admit that Ladanian Tomlinson is no longer the same 20+ touchdown monster that he has been, but he still has a nose for the end zone. The maturation of Vincent Jackson has countered the decline in LT’s skills, and Antonio Gates continues to remain at top three fantasy TE for San Diego. This should be the game that signifies the Philip Rivers era in the AFC, but Jets CB Darrell Revis is that good that he can kill off Jackson and force Rivers to make passes that he might not want to attempt. This game will be the lowest scoring and it could come down to the kicking game (both field goals and field position from punts). It could be a bit of magic from Darren Sproles that blows this game open but I see the Jets leaving California with their Superbowl dream still intact.

Prediction – Jets 19-16 Chargers – Game MVP Thomas Jones 103 yards rushing 1 touchdown

AFC – Ravens @ Colts

The Ravens blew past the Patriots from the first offensive play and then like a skilled surfer dude they rode the wave of momentum to build up a lead that even Tom Brady could not claw back. The Colts will simply not allow this to happen as Peyton Manning will lock and load time after time to help Indy create an early lead. The Ravens running game is pretty special and Ray Rice was rewarded for his show of skills by gaining a 2nd Team All-Pro selection earlier this week. With support from Willis McGahee the Ravens running game has been  up there with the best. This game is in my opinion the Colts to win, with their home fans, home turf and NFL MVP. If the Colts get a 21 point lead this game could get ugly. I would love to see the unfashionable Ravens get the upset and set up a defensive slug fest with the Jets for the rights to go to the Superbowl, but this is Manning’s time. The Colts have no Steelers or Patriots to face and they just have to much speed to be stopped. Reggie Wayne to have a beast of a game and Dallas Clark to cause headaches to the Baltimore D all day long.

Prediction – Colts 30-19 Ravens – Game MVP Reggie Wayne 121 yards and 1 touchdown

Any thoughts???????

Some lunatic wasted an All-Pro vote on Andre Carter!!!

I am always fascinated by the NFL  AP All-Pro teams for selfish reasons. I play a game called Action PC football, a pc based head to head game where you manage a full NFL roster.

All-Pro voting is reflected in the ACtion PC player’s ratings when they are published every March (for the previous NFL season), so I use the All-Pro voting as my guide  for high-end trade valuations.

This makes the total voting that bit more interesting, as the people who finish third and fourth become players I suddenly find extremely interesting.

I did like some recognition being given to certain non-household names.

This includes the likes of Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, ILB David Harris of the J-E-T-S and Texans safety Bernard Pollard.

I just question the sanity of the person who voted for the Redskins DE Andre Carter. The Redskins D can’t tackle for toffee (apart from London Fletcher) and the only reason Carter got the sacks he did in 09 was because of the extended time the defense spent on the field.

2009 All-Pro Team Voting

Results of The Associated Press 2009 NFL All-Pro balloting selected by a national panel of media members:

Quarterbacks

Peyton Manning, Indianapolis, 36½; Drew Brees, New Orleans, 12½; Philip Rivers, San Diego, 1.

x-Running Backs

Chris Johnson, Tennessee, 50; Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, 17; Ray Rice, Baltimore, 12; Steven Jackson, St. Louis, 9;Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville, 6; Thomas Jones, NY Jets, 3; DeAngelo Williams, Carolina, 1.

Fullback

Leonard Weaver, Philadelphia, 24; Le’Ron McClain, Baltimore, 14; Lousaka Polite, Miami, 9; Lawrence Vickers, Cleveland, 1; Tony Richardson, NY Jets, 1.

Tight End

Dallas Clark, Indianapolis, 25½; Antonio Gates, San Diego, 10½; Vernon Davis, San Francisco, 9; Jason Witten, Dallas, 4; Heath Miller, Pittsburgh, 1.

Wide Receivers

Andre Johnson, Houston, 44; Wes Welker, New England, 20; Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis, 12; Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona, 8; DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia, 6; Miles Austin, Dallas, 6; Vincent Jackson, San Diego, 2; Brandon Marshall, Denver, 2.

Tackles

Ryan Clady, Denver, 30; Joe Thomas, Cleveland, 18; Michael Roos, Tennessee, 12; Jake Long, Miami, 12; Jason Peters, Philadelphia, 5; Jon Stinchcomb, New Orleans, 5; Bryant McKinnie, Minnesota, 4; Michael Oher, Baltimore, 4; David Stewart, Tennessee, 3; Vernon Carey, Miami, 2; Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati, 2; D’Brickashaw Ferguson, NY Jets, 2; Marcus McNeill, San Diego, 1; Willie Colon, Pittsburgh, 1.

Guards

Steve Hutchinson, Minnesota, 31; Jahri Evans, New Orleans, 28; Logan Mankins, New England, 12; Kris Dielman, San Diego, 9; Alan Faneca, NY Jets, 7; Chris Snee, NY Giants, 5; Leonard Davis, Dallas, 4; Carl Nicks, New Orleans, 3. Brandon Moore, NY Jets, 1.

Center

Nick Mangold, NY Jets, 31; Andre Gurode, Dallas, 9; Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis, 8; Shaun O’Hara, NY Giants, 2.

Placekicker

Nate Kaeding, San Diego, 27; David Akers, Philadelphia, 11; Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland, 8; Rob Bironas, Tennessee, 1; Stephen Gostkowski, New England, 1; Jeff Reed, Pittsburgh, 1; Olindo Mare, Seattle, 1.

Kick Returner

Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland, 45½; DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia, 3½; Percy Harvin, Minnesota, 1.

DEFENSE
Ends

Jared Allen, Minnesota, 45; Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis, 36; Trent Cole, Philadelphia, 9; Julius Peppers, Carolina, 6; Robert Mathis, Indianapolis, 1; Andre Carter, Washington, 1; Randy Starks, Miami, 1; Will Smith, New Orleans, 1.

Tackles

Jay Ratliff, Dallas, 29; Kevin Williams, Minnesota, 24; Darnell Dockett, Arizona, 23; Haloti Ngata, Baltimore, 14; Vince Wilfork, New England, 6; Pat Williams, Minnesota, 1; Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh, 1; Tony Brown, Tennessee, 1; Cullen Jenkins, Green Bay, 1.

Outside Linebackers

Elvis Dumervil, Denver, 46; DaMarcus Ware, Dallas, 37; Brian Cushing, Houston, 5; LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh, 4; James Harrison, Pittsburgh, 3; Lance Briggs, Chicago, 3; Anthony Spencer, Dallas, 1; Shaun Phillips, San Diego, 1.

y-Inside Linebacker

Patrick Willis, San Francisco, 49; Ray Lewis, Baltimore, 13; David Harris, NY Jets, 10; Jon Beason, Carolina, 9; Jonathan Vilma, New Orleans, 7; DeMeco Ryans, Houston, 4; London Fletcher, Washington, 2; Curtis Lofton, Atlanta, 2; D.J. Williams, Denver, 1; Jerod Mayo, New England, 1; Gary Brackett, Indianapolis, 1.

Cornerbacks

Charles Woodson, Green Bay, 48; Darelle Revis, NY Jets, 48; Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland, 2; Leon Hall, Cincinnati, 1; Asante Samuel, Philadelphia, 1.

Safeties

Darren Sharper, New Orleans, 46; Adrian Wilson, Arizona, 29; Brian Dawkins, Denver 10; Ed Reed, Baltimore, 4; Nick Collins, Green Bay, 4; Jairus Byrd, Buffalo, 3; Bernard Pollard, Houston, 1; Antoine Bethea, Indianapolis, 1; Brandon Meriweather, New England, 1; Tyvon Branch, Oakland, 1.

Punter

Shane Lechler, Oakland, 48; Donnie Jones, Rams, 1; Andy Lee, San Francisco, 1.

x-two voters selected only one running back.

y-one voter selected only one inside linebacker.

It may have taken over 6o minutes for Adams to make a good play but boy did he make it count

As I watched in awe last Sunday night as the Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers racked up the points (in their NFL Wild Card game) like a serial offending drunk driver I couldn’t fail to notice one man looked to be having a nightmare of Elm Street proportions.

Cardinals defensive back Michael Adams simultaneously looked lost at sea, was paddling upstream without a paddle and was in charge of his own proverbial rudderless boat (not sure where all the oceanic references are from).

Play after play he was either committing a defensive penalty, getting burned by the likes of Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley or getting substituted.

After some plays I just wanted him to get hurt so he wouldn’t have to come back on the field to be victimized by Aaron Rodgers.

The result of Adam’s lack of coverage skills – the Packers mount a mind-blowing comeback and we go into overtime in the highest scoring NFL playoff game in league history.

Green Bay won the toss, and with scores standing at 45-45, it looked like it was going to be a case of first team to get the ball would go 80 yards for the winning score.

Aaron Rodgers took the reins at the start of the drive and began to move the ball, but a huge holding call on Calais Campbell forced the Pack into 3rd and long.

Back goes Rodgers into the pocket, and out of nowhere comes the one man curse, the Frank Spencer of the NFL, Michael Adams the blitzing demon defensive back.

Adams managed to administer the perfect hit on Rodgers, which dislodged the ball, that was subsequently plucked from the air by Karlos Dansby and returned for the winning score.

This to me was the personification of never giving up. Adams must have felt so bad after 60 minutes of ‘hide behind your hands’ football ineptitude, that he channelled all his energy into that blitz that shattered the dreams of thousands of Wisconsin residents.

Could this be the start of a second dream run for the Cardinals? You know what I wouldn’t put it past them, and I would’t put it past Adams doing something game changing against the Saints this weekend.

Its the 49ers v Broncos at Wembley in 2010 - Not exactly my dream matchup

In 2007 we had the New York Giants team that went on to lift the Superbowl, In 2008 we had offensive fireworks as the San Diego Chargers and the New Orleans Saints trading touchdowns like they were right hooks in a ring, and in 2009 we were treated to future Hall of Fame bust owners Tom Brady, Randy Moss and coach Bill Belichick.

In 2010 we have Kyle Orton and Alex Smith and two teams that have combined for JUST 2 playoff wins combined in the last 10 full NFL seasons (a 49ers Wild Card win in 2002 and a Broncos Divisional round win in 2005).

Yes the 49ers have a stud running back in Frank Gore, and a WR with big ‘potential’ in the shape of 2009 1st round draft pick WR Michael Crabtree, but their defense is pretty grotty aside from Patrick Willis.

As for the Broncos they have a Bears reject at quarterback, a Pro Bowl WR who seems to be a petulant liability (Brandon Marshall), a defense that ranked 26th in the league in rush defense.

Bottom line this is my least favourite matchup of teams that will make the pilgrimage to London, England.

When I say least favourite I mean in a 2010 exciting and meaningful game context.

I do appreciate the history of both teams, having grown up watching Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Tom Rathman, Roger Craig, John Elway, Steve Atwater, et al.

I just have to say I am not exactly blown away by a Kyle Orton short passing game versus a similar activity delivered on the sacred Wembley turf.

I have to admit I will pay extra attention to the free agency moves of the Mile High crew and the Goldrush fanatics, and their subsequent draft picks.

I just have a feeling that unless both teams do some significant off-season roster pimping then we could be in for a rather dull 16-10 sort of game where it becomes a festival of field goals.

Using an analogy from the wrong sport I do wonder if the NFL has scored an own goal with these two definitions of mediocrity.

I wonder if you think like me and would have rather seen someone like the Indianapolis Colts up against the Green Bay Packers? This from a Redskins fan!