Coaching Matters in Championship Weekend

January 19, 2010

Two weeks ago I thought the Cowboys and Chargers were going to the Superbowl.  The recipe was in place: two red hot teams that match up well against any of their upcoming opponents.  For whatever reason I threw all historical and conventional wisdom out the window and picked Wade Phillips to face off against Norv Turner in the biggest game of the year.  This was very stupid.  Three minutes into Sunday’s game between the Vikings and Cowboys I knew I was cooked.  Wade Phillips had a 4th and 1 at the Vikings 31 and he decided to kick a field goal with the immortal Sean Suisham, whose biggest moment of the season was when he shanked a sure thing against the Saints when he was still on the Redskins.  That’s right people, Wade Phillips elected to kick a Field Goal from 49 yards on the road with a guy who’s already been cut once for missing a chip shot at home this season.  Needless to say he missed and the beating commenced.  After Minnesota’s beatdown the Jets and Chargers game started with Rex Ryan differing the ball to San Diego, a brilliant tone-setting move that the likes of Norv Turner could never come up with.  Ryan knew a) His defense is pretty good, b) His offense was not about to drive the ball the length of the field on the opening drive and didn’t want to lose field position early, and c) The crowd would stay quieter than if the Chargers forced a Jets’ 3 and out.  The tone was set; the Jets’ defense came to play and the Chargers were outcoached for 4 quarters.  The fact is that coaching matters when we get to this stage and never, under any circumstance, talk yourself into Wade Phillips and Norv Turner this time of year.  So where does that leave us heading into Sunday?  We have 4 coaches left in the mix: 2 who are in their first year, 1 semi-proven guy and 1 wildcard who could double as any creepy bad guy from any bad action movie ever made.  Let’s take a look at these guys’ resumes heading into the biggest game of their lives.

Sunday 3 PM EST: Jim Caldwell (Colts) vs Rex Ryan (Jets)

The Jury is still out on if Caldwell's headset is plugged in all the time

Jim Caldwell

Experience: Spent years under the tutelage of Tony Dungy learning the ins and outs of the Colts.  Started the season 14-0 and ironically decided to not play his starters against the Jets, which sacrificed a perfect season and allowed the Jets to get into the playoffs.  That decision may not have only cost him perfection but potentially a chance at the Superbowl if the Jets spring the upset.  I’m unclear as to whether or not his headset is actually plugged in at any point when the Colts have the ball on offense, as most television viewers have never seen him speak.  Up until the infamous 4th and 2 Sunday Night Football game against New England half of the country had no idea what he looked like.

Advantages: He has Peyton Manning, who by all accounts can make any coach look good, even Jim Mora.

Disadvantages: The Colts don’t do anything different then what they always have done, so a creative defense (hello, Jets) can come up with a unique gameplan to confuse Manning.  If this happens we will have no idea if Caldwell is capable of making adjustments because he’s never had to do so on a stage like this.

Pressure Level: Tremedous.  The blood will be on his and Bill Polian’s hands if the Jets win.  They let this team in by conceding perfection and now they need to knock them out to get to the Superbowl.  All that nonsense about “We want to win our last game of the season, blah, blah” will be for naught if they go down to the same team that wouldn’t be here if they had played out the string and gone for perfection.

Rex has his Jets rolling into Championship weekend

Rex Ryan

Experience: Son of famed defensive guru Buddy Ryan of ’86 Bears fame, he spent most of his pro career in Baltimore coaching the best defense of last decade in under various titles, including a spot as defensive line coach for the Superbowl Champion Ravens in 2000, which is only measured against his Dad’s ’86 Chicago squad in terms of greatness.  He’s a big fan of sleeveless sweater vests with turtle necks underneath and could potentially make millions as the next Subway spokesperson if coaching doesn’t work out.  Mistakenly thought his team was eliminated after a Week 15 loss against Atlanta only to find out not only were they alive but their final two opponents had nothing to play for.

Advantages: Playing with house money by getting to the AFC Championship.  All of his defensive players carry the same swagger and bravado as he does and they are playing as loose as any team around right now.  They also have the “nobody believes in us” mantra going for them which has fired up plenty of teams in recent history.  Also if the Jets need to go to a fourth string nose tackle he could most likely fill in.

Disadvantages: Has a rookie quarterback about to play in a hostile atmosphere in the biggest game of the season against one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game on the other side.  Completely one dimensional on offense and cannot rely on Mark Sanchez to out-duel Peyton Manning under any circumstances.  If the Colts get ahead early his team has little to zero chances of coming back.

Pressure Level: None.  Nobody thought the Jets would be here and for a fanbase as tortured as the J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! fans, two playoff wins is more than enough.  Even if they get dismantled on Sunday look for Fireman Ed to motion for a 300 lb statue of Rex Ryan to be built in front of the new stadium next year.

Sunday 6:40 PM EST Sean Payton (Saints) vs Brad Childress (Vikings)

Brees and Payton have been the NFL's most potent offensive duo in recent years

Sean Payton

Experience: After brief stints with the Eagles and Giants in the late 90s he moved within the division to Dallas where he worked under Bill Parcells as an assistant coach.  Was dealt a short hand while in Dallas having to coach Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe but hit the jackpot when he took over in New Orleans and Drew Brees signed on as a free agent.  Of all the coaches in the Conference Championship round, Payton has the best credentials.  He led the Saints here three years ago but got throttled in Chicago by the Bears; many of the players remain on the Saints this year and will be ready for the challenges to Conference title game brings.

Advantages: Will be coaching at home in what should be the loudest Superdome crowd in history.  The Saints have the best homefield advantage in all of the NFL and it will be thunderous in New Orleans on Sunday.  He is the most creative playcaller left in the playoffs and has a plethora of weapons at his disposal.  He creates matchup problems for any defense which will help neutralize Minnesota’s pass rush.

Disadvantages: The jury is out on if his defense can come through in a big game.  If the Vikings pass rush is getting to Brees he is going to have to dig deep into his bag of tricks to get the Saints moving.  While the Saints are capable of winning any kind of shootout they’ll need some semblance of defense to avoid an early deficit and keep to the Superdome rocking.

Pressure Level: Moderate.  While the Saints are the favorites in this game the good people of New Orleans will not be calling for anyone’s head if they go down.  After Dallas ended their run at perfection in December the Saints fans stayed an applauded once the final whistle blew.  A win would push him to “never have to pay for a meal in New Orleans” status but everyone’s safe if they lose.

A made for TV movie villian has a chance to go to the Superbowl

Brad Childress

Experience: Worked under offensive guru Andy Reid for several years in Philadelphia and unfortunately inherited his former boss’ clock management skills as well.  Bounced around a good chunk before landing in Philadelphia then ended up in Minnesota where he probably would have already been fired if the team hadn’t landed Adrian Peterson in the 2007 NFL draft.  His career record with the Vikings is 36-28 and 1-1 in the postseason.  Wears an odd earpiece/headset thing to communicate idiotic time management and play calls back and forth.  Decided to grow a beard to distance himself from looking like any made for TV movie serial killer but ended up looking like a picture seen on the news in any kind of Amber Alert case.

Advantages: Brett Favre has enough playoff experience to make up for the rest of the Vikings who may have a deer in the headlights look shared by their head coach.  Adrian Peterson can run and help keep the Saints’ offense of the field and New Orleans has a below average secondary that Favre will pick apart if given the time.  Unless he reverts back to the recent playoff Favre where he will throw at least 2 spine crushing interceptions for Vikings fans.

Disadvantages: Cannot handle the two minute drill whatsoever, is incapable of properly working with timeouts and often challenges calls that you are not allowed to challenge.  He also has the ticking time bomb that is Brett Favre who can explode for 4 picks in 6 possessions if he gets the yips.

Pressure Level: High.  Favre came back to win the Superbowl, America had to sit through the entire offseason soap opera and if they don’t get to the big game bringing him back got one more win in the playoffs then last year and now they have to deal with the will he or won’t he talk through minicamp and beyond.  Enjoy!

If we had to rank these coaches it would go something like this: 1. Payton 2. Ryan 3. Caldwell 4. Childress.  There are going to be plenty of other factors at play and Peyton Manning pretty much levels any slight edge Ryan has over Caldwell.  You can’t get this far without being somewhat competent but you also need savvy along the way.  But how would you feel if your favorite teams’ season rested on the acumen of Brad Childress in a big spot?  These are the questions that are going to decide who plays in Miami in a couple weeks.

Stay Tuned for a podcast and picks for Championship weekend later in the week.

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The Superbowl Podcast

January 14, 2010

The guys pick a winner, roll through some crazy prop bets and try to figure out how to fix the halftime show:

Superbowl XLIV Podcast


Rants, Raves and the NFL Wild Card Picks

January 8, 2010

Before we get into the Playoff picks for the week there are a few things this week that deserve a rant or a rave.

Whatever fake contrition Arenas showed was quickly wiped away with this photo

Rant: Gilbert Arenas…I mean, really?  Let’s lay this one out: he plays for a team that changed their name to the Wizards after their late and beloved owner Abe Pollin decided “Bullets” had too many negative connotations in the 90s.  Abe Pollin just passed away in late November and now we have Gilbert who brings guns into the locker room, first citing that they were unsafe to have in his own home.  Then we find out (according to him) he played an elaborate joke on his teammate Javaris Crittenon involving these unloaded guns.  He then releases a statement that he didn’t write which comes across as apologetic and contrite.  How do I know he didn’t write it?  Because he then had the audacity to turn around and pretend to use his fingers as two pistols in the middle of a team huddle before the start of Tuesday’s game which shows that he still thinks this all one big joke.  I don’t think Arenas was suspended indefinitely because of the gun “prank” I think its because he was either too stupid, too ignorant or too arrogant and made a mockery of a situation that makes the NBA look bad.  David Stern will not stand for that and I don’t think we’ll see Agent Zero again this season.

Rant: Talking heads on sports radio and television shows that use the: “I picked team X and Y at the beginning of the season so I can’t stray from that now!”  when asked who’s playing the Superbowl.  Your job is to objectively process and analyze sports information so yes, you can indeed change your picks from the Ravens and Vikings given the mountain of evidence that has emerged over the last 17 weeks.  No one expects you to pick the Superbowl every year; give me some updated, fresh analysis of the contenders that have emerged.

Rant: Chicago Sports…I live in this city, I read the papers and listen to the radio call-in shows.  This past Monday my podcastmate and I went to the Bulls/Thunder game at the United Center.  What was staggering to me was that the Bulls were blown out of the gym in the second half but no one seemed that outraged.  This is the same team and head coach that blew a 35 point second half lead this season and here they were again with a slim halftime lead that quickly evaporated but no one said a peep.  Are spirits too broken to muster a boo?  Vinny Del Negro is the most incompetent head coach in the NBA–how are people not more outraged by this?  Then the Bears announce that Lovie Smith is staying despite having gone 23-25 since a Superbowl run 3 seasons ago.  Mike Shanahan was available up until Wednesday, Bill Cowher is being pursued by the Buffalo Bills, yet the Bears remain content with mediocrity because they’re too damn cheap to can Lovie and hire a coach with a Lombardi Trophy on his resume.  Again people just seem to accept this fate.  Chicago sports fans…to paraphrase from one of your city’s favorite sons: You have to force the change you can believe in.  Boo Vinny, scowl at the Bears, skewer the management, stop buying tickets–basically force their hands.  These teams have proven that as long as the money is coming in the commitment to winning is not as paramount as the bottom line.  It’s like having Donald Sterling without the shady off the field proceedings.  Get fired up and help bring some winners to this town.

The new and improved Belmont stop is making everyone's commute easier

Rave: The Belmont Red Line Stop…After three long years the northside exit opened up for the New Year!  That means I can get off the train, walk down the stairs, and hop on a waiting bus right under the tracks on the North side of the street.  No crossing the street, no chasing the #77 down; just pure bliss from door to door.  They also added an escalator for the northbound platform for trains heading to Howard in the morning.  The train crew I ride with have used phrases like “life-changing” and “glorious” in regards to these recent events.  Bravo Belmont stop!  You’ve made my and many others lives somewhere between 3-5% better during the week.  It was worth the wait.

Rant: The CTA bus “Double Stack”…I am a frequent bus taker, especially in the morning.  Yesterday morning we were getting pounded with snow and as I was walking towards my bus stop and a #77  bus pulled away in front of me…damn.  Then another 77 was right behind it pulling away as well.  How does this make sense?  The goal of public transit is to transport the citizens of this city to work but people get to the bus stops at different times; shouldn’t the CTA spread its resources out?  Why would we need two buses at the same stop when others are arriving 5-10 minutes later then those who are boarding immediately?  If two buses are behind each other one of them should wait a bit so all the resources the CTA has at its disposal are used to their full capacity.

Alright, onto the playoff picks.  McGinn and I will be back with a podcast for the divisional round next week.

Winners in bold.

McGinn:

New York Jets at Cincinnati
Philadelphia at Dallas
Baltimore at New England
Green Bay at Arizona

Regular Season total: 157-85 (Missed Week 5)
Playoffs: 0-0

Hugh:

New York Jets at Cincinnati
Philadelphia at Dallas
Baltimore at New England
Green Bay at Arizona

Regular Season Total: 174-82
Playoffs: 0-0

Hugh’s Picks vs the Spread: Jets (+2.5), Cowboys (-4), Patriots (-3.5), Packers (+2.5)

Regular Season vs Spread: 137-119
Playoffs: 0-0


Week 17 NFL Picks

January 1, 2010

Happy New Year everybody!  I hope you are enjoying this football buffet.  Here are the Week 17 NFL Picks.

Winners in bold.

McGinn:

Indianapolis at Buffalo
New Orleans at Carolina
Jacksonville at Cleveland
Chicago at Detroit
New England at Houston
Pittsburgh at Miami
New York Giants at Minnesota
San Francisco at St. Louis
Atlanta at Tampa Bay
Philadelphia at Dallas
Green Bay at Arizona
Kansas City at Denver
Baltimore at Oakland
Washington at San Diego
Tennessee at Seattle
Cincinnati at New York Jets

Last Week: 10-6
Overall: 143-83*

*Didn’t Pick Week 5

Hugh:

Indianapolis at Buffalo
New Orleans at Carolina
Jacksonville at Cleveland
Chicago at Detroit
New England at Houston
Pittsburgh at Miami
New York Giants at Minnesota
San Francisco at St. Louis
Atlanta at Tampa Bay
Philadelphia at Dallas
Green Bay at Arizona
Kansas City at Denver
Baltimore at Oakland
Washington at San Diego
Tennessee at Seattle
Cincinnati at New York Jets

Last Week: 11-5
Overall: 161-79

Hugh’s Picks vs the spread: Bills (-7), Panthers (-7), Browns (-3), Bears (-3), Texans (-8), Steelers (-3), Vikings (-8.5), 49ers (-7), Buccaneers (+2.5), Cowboys (-3), Cardinals (-3), Chiefs (+13.5), Raiders (+11), Redskins (+7), Titans (-5), Bengals (+9)

Last Week: 7-9
Overall vs Spread: 127-113


Sorting Out the AFC Playoff Picture

December 29, 2009

Before we get to sorting out the AFC playoff picture, I have an announcement:  I am resigning from this blog.  Actually its more like a leave of absence…on second thought I’m just going to keep going with it as scheduled.  Glad we got that out of the way.

Also, just one quick thought on the biggest news story of the weekend: so this guy Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who allegedly tried to blow up a plane supposedly was on some kind of “watch list” but deemed “not dangerous enough to be on a no-fly list.” Can we all agree that if you’re on a watch list it’s a good idea to just go ahead and bump them to the no-fly list?  I mean, he had to be doing something to get on the watch list so let’s just not take chances in this type of situation in the future.  How does that sound to everybody?

Onto the hazy AFC Playoff picture.  After a crazy Week 16 in which we saw a team concede perfection (Colts), a team who is so undisciplined they let their bitter division rivals keep breathing (Ravens), a team fight all the way back on the road only to lose control of its own destiny in the final 2 minutes (Broncos) and an emerging juggernaut (Chargers) blow out one of the hottest teams in football on the road, I think it’s a good time to sort out this mess as we head into the final weekend.  We know four AFC teams are locked into the playoffs: Colts (1), Chargers (2), Patriots (3), and Bengals (4).  The only shifting that can happen to these four teams this weekend would be if New England loses and Cincinnati wins; Cincinnati takes the 3 spot heading into the playoffs.  The 5 and 6 seeds remain up for grabs, so let’s run down the teams in contention going ranging from win and in scenarios all the way through teams needs all kinds of help.  Seven teams make the list: The Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Dolphins, Texans, Jaguars and Broncos.

*Note: if there is a tie in any of the below even more hell will break loose and also lead to some confusion from Donovan McNabb*

In Control of their own Destiny:

Baltimore Ravens (8-7): Despite being the team that has perpetually underachieved and committed idiotic penalties in key moments all season, if the Ravens win in Oakland on Sunday they will be in the Playoffs.  At first glance one would think that this is an easy W for Baltimore but 4 of Oakland’s wins came against Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Denver.  For whatever reason Oakland shows up against contenders but if Baltimore can beat the Raiders,  the Ravens are in.

Playoff Outlook: Very Good

Rex's Jets may waddle into the playoffs depsite a shaky second half

New York Jets (8-7): Simple equation for the Jets: beat Cincinnati at home on Sunday Night Football and they are in the playoffs and will head to New England for the Wild Card Round.  Cincinnati is in a position with little to gain, so much like their fraudulent win in Indianapolis on Sunday the Jets will benefit from playing second string players.  If the Bengals beat the Jets there is no scenario in which they can get into the playoffs.  The Jets have the same fate as Baltimore: Win and in, lose and the Jets’ season is over.

Playoff Outlook: Good

Teams that need a win and some help:

Denver Broncos (8-7): The Broncos were close to going all the way back in Philadelphia, and being in control of their own destiny as they prepare to host the horrendous Kansas City Chiefs at home to close out the season.  The reality is that we are probably looking at one of the few teams ever to go 6-0 and the miss the playoffs.  They are the only team that could potentially get in with a loss as well but if they lose at home to the Chiefs they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.  To get in the Broncos need:

  • A Win and a Jets and Ravens loss
  • A Win and Jets and Steelers loss
  • A win, a Texans win (vs New England) and a Jets loss
  • A win and a Steelers and Ravens loss
  • A win and a Texans win and Ravens loss

They can also get in if they lose and…

  • The Steelers, Ravens, Texans and Jaguars all lose
  • The Steelers, Ravens, Texans, and Jets all lose
  • The Steelers, Ravens, Jaguars and Jets all lose
  • The Steelers, Texans, Jaguars and Jets all lose
  • The Dolphins, Ravens, Jaguars, Texans and Jets all lose

Playoff Outlook: They will be big Bengals fans on Sunday and given the Jets history of ripping their fans hearts out and stomping them into the ground there is a chance Denver avoids a complete collapse–not a good chance, but consider the Broncos’ Lloyd Christmas after a chat with Mary Swanson (“So you’re telling me there’s a chance!!!”)

Looks like it will be another dissapointing title defense for Big Ben and the Steelers

Looks like it will be another disappointing title defense for Big Ben and the Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers: The defending champions need to win in Miami on Sunday to have a chance which is no easy task.  On top of that they also need Houston to lose to New England (The Pats will be resting their starters) and a Jets loss vs Cincinnati (not likely but possible).

OR

  • Win at Miami, Houston loss to New England and Baltimore loss at Oakland (again not likely but possible)
  • Win at Miami, Jets loss, Ravens loss, and Broncos Loss in Denver to Kansas City (more likely then a Ravens loss but not something to be counted on)

Playoff Outlook: Unlikely

Houston Texans (8-7): Let me be the first to offer the Texans a congratulations on another year that will have people thinking “Hey this team isn’t that far off, they finished strong down the stretch last year!!” late next summer.  Houston needs to win at home over New England; the Patriots will treat this game like a preseason game, a series or two for Brady and the starters then the Brian Hoyer show will take over from there.  Given that at full strength the Patriots secondary has been picked apart by elite offenses this year I would expect Andre Johnson to have a monster day vs the New England backups.  On top of a win the Texans need a Jets and Ravens loss.

OR

  • A win, Jets loss and Broncos loss
  • A Win, Ravens loss and Broncos loss

Playoff outlook: Not likely but not inconceivable (scenario 2 being the most likely way in)

Teams that need a ton of help:

Miami Dolphins (7-8): A valiant season put in by Miami this year that will ultimately leave them on the outside looking in.  There is only one scenario that gets Miami in: a win over Pittsburgh and  the Jets, Ravens, Texans and Jaguars to all lose (Jacksonville is at Cleveland, which is no gimmie: cold weather, improving team, Jags coming off an embarrassing loss in New England).  Even if the Browns pulled an upset the likelihood of the Jets, Ravens and Texans all losing plus the need to beat Pittsburgh gives Miami as good of chance of getting in as Tiger had of not getting caught.

Playoff Outlook: Almost impossible

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8): The Jags travels to Cleveland in hopes of stopping a 3 game losing streak; meanwhile the Browns are on a 3 game winning streak and are looking to finish the season strong after playing flat out abysmal football for the first 13 weeks of the season.  Any playoff scenario for the Jaguars starts with a win.  If they do avoid an upset the Jags need the Steelers, Ravens, Texans and Broncos to all lose.

OR

  • A win and a Steelers, Ravens, Broncos and Jets Loss
  • A win and a Steelers, Ravens, Texans and Jets Loss
  • A win and a Steelers, Texans, Broncos and Jets Loss
  • A Win and a Ravens, Texans, Broncos and Jets Loss

Playoff Outlook: Enjoy the offseason

I would say the most likely scenario is that the Jets and Ravens are in and will promptly lose to the Patriots and Bengals in Round 1.  All season long I’ve read articles about how the parity era is ending with these decade-long dominating teams but given that we have no idea what is going to happen heading into Week 17 I think somewhere Pete Rozelle is smiling.  Onto the top 12 as we sit on the doorstep of the playoffs:

1. Colts (14-1): They win that game if Jim Caldwell doesn’t rest his starters–a philosophy I disagree with as I wrote about a few weeks ago.  He did put a stamp on his season though, so if the Colts lose in the playoffs the biggest piece of the blame cake is going to the rookie head coach.

2. Chargers (12-3): Now in possession of the league’s longest current winning streak at 10 games, the Chargers look like a juggernaut after dismantling the Titans on Christmas night.  Interesting debate for you to have: if you’re a GM with the #1 pick in the 2004 draft who do you take?  It’s between Rivers and Big Ben and it is very close.

3.  Eagles (11-4): The return of Brian Westbrook is a welcome one and their offense looks as good as it has all decade.  One concern would be the Eagles propensity to allow teams to hang around in the second half which could come back to bite them in the playoffs.

4. Saints (14-2): Its not just the two straight losses that should have New Orleans fans concerned; since crushing the Patriots on Monday Night the Saints barely beat Washington (Abysmal), Atlanta (without Matt Ryan) then lost to Dallas and Tampa Bay in the Superdome.  That’s 4 straight below average performances for a team that may have already peaked.

5. Vikings (11-4): You can’t blame last night’s loss on Favre’s wheels falling off in December but for the third time in 4 games the Vikings secondary was shredded.  Once in Arizona, once in Carolina and now in Chicago by a quarterback who may throw the most interceptions in a season for this decade by the end of next week.  (First on the list: Brett Favre!)

6. Patriots (10-5): Outside of their one blowout loss in New Orleans the Patriots’ other 4 losses are by a combined 12 points. (7 at the Jets, 3 at Denver, 1 at Indianapolis, 1 at Miami).  The Patriots are flawed but will be a tough out for any AFC team. (Thank you to my buddy James for that stat as he was trying to talk me into a Patriots’ playoff run when I was back home this weekend)

7.  Packers (10-5): If not for a loss with no time on the clock in Pittsburgh a week ago, Green Bay would currently be riding a 7 game win streak.  They still have issues on the offensive line but with Ryan Grant keeping defenses honest Aaron Rodgers continues to shine in his second full season as a starter.

8.  Cardinals (10-5): They know how to win on the road in the playoffs as we learned last year and the equation remains the same: keep Warner protected and the Cardinals can beat anyone.

9.  Cowboys (10-5): The Cowboys have won 2 meaningful games in December for the first time in the Tony Romo era but they need to win a playoff game for me to buy into any kind of “Look out for Dallas” talk.  A playoff warm up in Jerryworld this weekend against the Eagles could end up being the spark to get the Cowboys rolling.

10.  Bengals (10-5): Consider these guys a mega sleeper–nothing about them stands out but they will be able to keep high powered offenses such as San Diego or Indianapolis off the field with their stout running attack.  It doesn’t appear that they have enough fire power to pull a monster upset this season though.

11. Ravens (8-7): Underachieving whiners for the majority of the season it will be interesting to see who they blame for their first round playoff exit.

12. Jets/Broncos/Steelers (8-7): Take your pick, whoever ends up in this spot will have a razor thin chance to win a road playoff game in New England.


Week 16 NFL Picks

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas everyone! Week 16 is most likely going to lead to absolute chaos in the playoff positioning for the AFC. I hope Santa treats you well.

Winners in bold.

McGinn:

San Diego at Tennessee
Buffalo at Atlanta
Kansas City at Cincinnati
Oakland at Cleveland
Seattle at Green Bay
Baltimore at Pittsburgh
Houston at Miami
Jacksonville at New England
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Carolina at New York Giants
St. Louis at Arizona
Detroit at San Francisco
Denver at Philadelphia
New York Jets at Indianapolis
Dallas at Washington
Minnesota at Chicago

Last Week: 9-7
Overall: 133-77*

*Didn’t Pick Week 5

Hugh:

San Diego at Tennessee
Buffalo at Atlanta
Kansas City at Cincinnati
Oakland at Cleveland
Seattle at Green Bay
Baltimore at Pittsburgh
Houston at Miami
Jacksonville at New England
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Carolina at New York Giants
St. Louis at Arizona
Detroit at San Francisco
Denver at Philadelphia
New York Jets
at Indianapolis
Dallas
at Washington
Minnesota at Chicago

Last Week: 9-7
Overall: 150-74

Hugh’s Picks vs the Spread: Titans (-3), Bills (+9), Kansas City (+13.5), Browns (-3.5), Packers (-14), Pittsburgh (-2.5), Miami (-3), Jaguars (+8), Saints (-14), Panthers (+7), Cardinals (-14), Lions (+12), Eagles (-7), Jets (+5.5), Cowboys (-6.5), Vikings (-7)

Last Week: 8-8
Overall: 120-104


Bruschi Hangs It Up

August 31, 2009

One thing I promise never to do is to turn into an insufferable blowhard that you can read, watch, or hear on several sports media outlets throughout the country.  In doing that I try to avoid phrases like “He plays the game…THE RIGHT WAY!” or “<<Player X>> should be ashamed of himself!” when I put these posts together.  After 3 weeks of Vick, Favre and now the recent Brandon Marshall drama, it is clear that sports journalists in all outlets have opinions to which they are entitled.  Personally I think that if you’re trying to find a moral compass by watching professional athletes, you should read a book instead.  Michael Vick is a scumbag, Brandon Marshall is a baby, the list goes on and on.  My recommendation would be to lower your expectations of millionaires who are overpaid and immature.

As we move forward into the 21st century it has become harder and harder to find likability in some of sports’ biggest superstars; maybe it’s due to over-saturation from the media, maybe it’s the money they make, maybe it’s the fact that a lot of them leave college or never attend, and maybe it’s a combination of all of it.  I don’t expect Eagles fans to defend Michael Vick but I do expect them to root for their team.  If he does well, so be it.  It’s not like you have to start loving a guy who drowned, hung, and electrocuted innocent dogs for several years.  Brandon Marshall’s pathetic display on the practice field is indefensible but if he comes back and starts scoring touchdowns in Denver I would expect the Broncos’ faithful to cheer.  Many reports indicated that Manny Ramirez flat out quit on the Red Sox last season and I still hold a soft spot in my heart for him, even after he’s been bagged for steroids as well.

tedyThis all leads me to today’s news that Tedy Bruschi is retiring after playing for the Patriots for 13 seasons.  You’re going to get blasted with stories of how he played hard every down, played the game the right way, and on and on as these retrospectives come together.  What I liked most about Bruschi is that he enjoyed being a Patriot, he liked winning, didn’t scoff during the Pete Carroll era and was a major cog on three Superbowl Championship teams this decade.  He’s a guy who suffered a stroke and then came back to play in New England again, and perhaps his best trait has been his loyalty.  In a 2008 interview with the Boston Globe Bruschi said: “There was a moment within an hour after I was drafted, I was in my college apartment telling my family that I want to stay with this team my entire career – I only want to be a New England Patriot. Growing up, seeing players going from team to team, coaches going from team to team, I never wanted that to be me.’’

After the Spygate mess early in the 2007 season that put both the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick under some serious scrutiny as to how the team had gone about winning their games, the Pats responded with a 38-14 beatdown of the San Diego Chargers in week two.  Belichick had been fined 500,000 dollars of his own money and the Patriots had to sacrifice a 1st round pick just days before.  As the Charger game was winding down there was a shot on the sideline of some of the Patriots’ players huddled around their coach showing support and there was Bruschi: arm around his head coach cracking a joke after the longest week of Coach Belichick’s career.  A lesser team could have cracked after their entire reign of success was called into question, but the Patriots, led by seven-time defensive captain Tedy Bruschi rallied and ripped off a perfect regular season.  There are days when watching sports and rooting for athletes isn’t fun, especially when you see Brandon Marshall taking a ball out of the ball boy’s hands and punting it into the stands.  But when you look at guys like Tedy Bruschi and how they handled themselves on and off the field it helps you remember why you like sports in the first place.

There are three plays that I stand out for me when it comes to Tedy Bruschi, and since the NFL has done a wonderful job with their network and NFL Films footage they are impossible to track down.  If I can find the videos I will post them later, but they are (in order):

dynasty3.  December 7, 2003:  The Patriots were in the middle of what would turn into a 21 game winning streak when they hosted the Miami Dolphins at a snowy Gillette Stadium, they clinched the division title with a 10-0 win, and the lone touchdown was Bruschi’s interception deep in Dolphins territory.  He gleefully ran to a snow bank and tossed some of the white stuff that had been accumulating all weekend up into the air, a tradition Patriots fan carry to this day when the weather turns nasty in December.

2.  AFC Divisional Playoff, January 16, 2005:  The height of the Pats v. Colts rivalry, after the Patriots derailed the Colts the year before in the AFC Title game they hosted Indianapolis again in the 2005 divisional round.  The Colts much-ballyhooed offense came into town after crushing the Broncos 49-24.  The Pats were up 6-0 early and the Colts were driving until Bruschi literally ripped the ball out of Colts running back Dominic Rhodes’ hands.  A message play to the softie Colts to say, “I want this more than you do.”  The Patriots ended up winning the game 20-3.  My favorite postgame Bruschi moment came this game as well.  After Colts GM Bill Polian cried about the Patriots physical secondary play in the previous year’s title game, the NFL instituted its “Illegal Contact” penalty, which says you can’t touch the receiver past 5 yards or it’s a 5 yard penalty and an automatic first down.  After beating down the Colts even with the rule change Bruschi quipped: “What rules do they want to change now? Maybe it’ll be, ‘We can’t play a game if it snows.’ I don’t know. I was just tired of it. I was tired of hearing this and that, talking about the last game and how we didn’t win the game, they lost the game by giving the ball away. Last time I checked, turnovers are when defenses take it away. And we just took it away again today. To hold that offense to three points, I mean, their players are great. I respect what Peyton Manning did this year. I respect those players. Sometimes you’ve just got to be quiet and play football.”

1.  Superbowl XXXVI:  The beginning of the dynasty, on a 3rd and short play in the first half with all-world running back Marshall Faulk in the Rams’ backfield, St. Louis calls on Faulk to pick up a yard and Bruschi stonewalls him for no gain.  Leading up to that week all the Patriots heard was how they didn’t stand a chance against the greatest show on turf.  This play personified that team and what would happen in the years to follow.  I remember this being the play where I began thinking “You know, the Patriots could win this game.”  For you fellow Patriot fans it’s on the season recap DVD, Bruschi jumps up after the stop and screams.  Little did we know this was the start of something unimaginable just 3 years before with Coach Carroll on the sidelines.

One final note, in today’s press conference officially announcing Bruschi’s retirement the usually emotionless Bill Belichick (especially to the media) delivered these remarks according to the Globe’s Mike Reiss:

From Boston.com:

(10:56 a.m.) Bill Belichick says he’s coached a lot of great players and he puts Bruschi up there with all of them. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player do what he’s done,” he said, reflecting on how he made the transition from defensive end to linebacker. Belichick said “instinctiveness” and “passion” are two words that he thinks of with Bruschi. He calls him the “epitome of everything you’d want in a football player.” Belichick is emotional as he delivers his remarks.

(10:59 a.m.) Bruschi is wearing a beige suit with a blue shirt. A lot of smiles throughout the first 10 minutes. He seems at peace with his decision.

(11:01 a.m.) Belichick repeats that Bruschi “always did the right thing.” He lists some plays that stand out in his memory. As he talks about Thanksgiving Day interception in Detroit, he looks back at Bruschi and the two smile at each other.

(11:03 a.m.) “How do I sum it up? How do I feel about Tedy Bruschi in five seconds. He’s a perfect player. He’s helped create a tradition here we’re all proud of.” Belichick walks off the podium and the two embrace.

If you play so hard that you can draw that kind of praise and emotion out of Coach Belichick, you’ve done something substantial on the football field.  As a Patriots fan I’ll miss getting to watch him each day but am sure he will be involved in the organization moving forward.

Post Script: Here’s video of the press conference today. Again it just speaks to the kind of player and person Tedy Bruschi is to catch Coach Belichick with a lump in his throat.