Friday, January 18, 2008

Championship Weekend

We are down to the final 3 games of the NFL season. When these 2 championship games are over, it will pretty much be basketball season, so we must all brace for Memphis and New Orleans coming to town, and hearing about how improved Portland is.

I can live with it, but basically, I am going to try to soak in the glory of NFL season for a while longer.

These Championship games seem rather simple to call, based on a few theories at work. For instance, did the Giants and Chargers already win their Super Bowls? They had numerous critics throughout the land (me) who were quick to point out that they could not get it done when it was time to get it done. Now, they each have won 2 playoff games in 2 weeks, and regardless of the outcome on Sunday, they can classify their 2007 seasons as a success.

Also, both must now go on the road again, and despite the road success of each team, they have their most daunting task this Sunday given the roll their opponents are on and that neither road team is healthy. Sprinkle in some unkind weather, and it would appear you have the recipe for the favorites proving victorious.

My Picks:

In New England, the wind could even things a bit if it hamstrings Tom Brady’s ability to throw the ball. But, Gates, Rivers, and LT are all banged up, and I have a hard time seeing them rise up. New England 28, San Diego 17.

As a Green Bay supporter, I will tell you that I fear the worst, but I have to think if they get Ryan Grant rolling and the crowd does their thing, then I figure that the Giants and more specifically Eli Manning will be in for a rough day. However, this one is going to come down to a play in the 4th Quarter. So, give me Green Bay 23, New York 20.

Peter King looks at the games

Giants at Packers

One of the toughest games to pick in a long time. A long, long time. I'm torn.

First, forget the weather. Just tell me about the field conditions. When I talked with the Seahawks last Friday, they were very confident they'd get to Brett Favre. And we all know what happened in snowy Green Bay last Saturday -- no sacks, two quarterback pressures from a Seattle front four on a team that finished second in the league in sacks.

The Giants are first in sacks.

Will we see the real Michael Strahan going around the edge on right tackle Mark Tauscher, and the legit Osi Umenyiora winning a few battles with speed against Chad Clifton on the left side? Or will the field conditions negate all of that?

It's supposed to be around minus-5 wind chill, and breezy, with flurries. Last week, snow was not in the forecast, and the game ended up being played in a nor'easter. That's why I put so much emphasis on the condition of the field.

"Pass-rushers need torque,'' Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said last week. So I'm playing this one down the middle, with a nod to Favre's big-game ability, especially against a New York secondary that could be without two starting-quality corners if Aaron Ross can't make it through the game.

Green Bay 20, New York Giants 17

Chargers at Patriots

Wrong place, wrong time for the Chargers. It's going to be about 18 degrees at kickoff, 40 degrees colder than what they practice in before they fly east. No Antonio Gates, unless he visits Lourdes on Saturday. Philip Rivers will try to play without practicing all week.

LaDainian Tomlinson will play, but how healthy and effective will he be? That's not a recipe for success against New England's changeup defenses.

The Patriots are 13-0 at Gillette since mid-2006. I'd argue Tom Brady has never been better in a two-game stretch in his walk-in Hall of Fame career (last two games: 58-70, .829, 618 yards, five touchdowns, no picks, two sacks).

But football is such a great game because who could see the Jags winning twice at Heinz Field in a month and the Chargers defeating the Colts with Tomlinson and Rivers on the sideline? So I would never say San Diego doesn't have a chance -- especially after giving up 12 points a game over the last eight games. They'll send the house at Brady and hope to force some turnovers. But we've read that script throughout this season, and it always ends the same way.

New England 30, San Diego 13

My man, Pat Kirwan breaks it down

When the Giants have the ball

New York would love to come out and feed the ball to Jacobs. An ideal situation in the first half would be 15-18 carries for 70 yards and a score from the 265-pound back. Manning is only averaging 23 passes per game in the playoffs and, with no Jeremy Shockey and a less-than-100-percent Burress, that's the right way to play this game. Can they stick with that game plan if the Packers get off to a fast start? That's a different story.

The Giants' offensive line is a solid blocking unit, and the Packers did not have to face Jacobs the first time they played. In fact, Derrick Ward was the ball carrier and he only had eight carries in the first half. Look for the Giants to run an inside power game on early downs when Cullen Jenkins is lined up at end. In passing situations, when Jenkins moves inside, the draw play and the screen game toward Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila look like better choices. As for the downfield throwing game, Manning is going to see tight man coverage on his wide receivers with

Woodsen and Al Harris locking up Burress and Toomer. Look for some double moves to shake a receiver free, but it will be difficult with the lack of speed and quickness from the Giants receivers. There may be solid opportunities in the three-wideout sets to work Steve Smith and TE Kevin Boss against the safeties.

The Packers get solid play from their linebackers (Brady Poppinga, Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk) in the running game, and they are not afraid to dial up a blitz for any of them. If defensive coordinator Bob Sanders gets a good feel for the run game early, he will send a linebacker or two to meet Jacobs in the backfield.

When the Packers have the ball

Green Bay will try to take advantage of the beat-up Giants secondary early and often. Favre has speed and size on the field with his three-wideout package. Greg Jennings is an emerging star who caught two touchdowns last week against a couple of excellent Seattle corners. Driver is very tough to cover and James Jones along with TE Donald Lee give Favre so many options down the field. Any reaction by the Giants to play coverage instead of the run first will put Grant in play. Last week, he broke the Packers' playoff record for rushing yards with 201.

Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has a fire-zone scheme that will bring pressure against the run and the pass. His instincts are to attack good offenses, and he gets great execution from his players. In the Week 2 matchup, the Giants defense really didn't know how to run the whole package, but they do now. New York led the NFL with 53 sacks this season after a very slow start. The Giants will disrupt the running game and they will get to Favre more than once.

The bottom line

The Packers can beat you a number of different ways, and they are healthy. The Giants don't have the speed at receiver, and they aren't healthy in the secondary. This game is supposed to be played in frigid conditions, which could affect the play-calling. Favre is superb in home playoff games, and now he faces the best road team in the NFC. It should be a lot closer than the first meeting, but New York's great season comes to an end at Lambeau Field as the Packers win it, 24-14.

Kirwan on the AFC

When the Patriots have the ball

Tom Brady and Co. understand the San Diego 3-4 defense, a similar version of which they see every day in practice. The Chargers will slant and pinch their front more than the Patriots, but Brady totally understands how the 3-4 pressure scheme works. Look for New England to start the game in empty sets (no one in the backfield) and shotgun, one-back sets to spread the Chargers defense out and identify where the pressure is coming from.

Last week, San Diego faced a similar offense from Indianapolis and needed three critical turnovers by the Colts to prevent some significant scoring. Moss and Wes Welker on the right side should generate 10-14 receptions and 165 yards. The last time these teams played, Moss and Welker combined for 16 receptions for 196 yards and two touchdowns. San Diego does a nice job of selling the outside linebacker blitz and then dropping into coverage. Merriman is capable of getting under a short Welker pass for a pick, so Brady has to be careful. Then again, Brady has only thrown nine interceptions all year.

If the Chargers roll their coverages to the Welker-Moss side, then Brady will go backside to Donte' Stallworth and Ben Watson. Stallworth will have his hands full trying to separate from Cromartie, but Watson can beat the Chargers safeties. I expect another big day from Watson, who caught two touchdowns last week, both in the red zone.

When the Chargers have the ball

The Chargers will not know if Rivers can play or hold up for the whole game. Belichick will pressure whoever San Diego has at quarterback. Neither quarterback has the mobility to escape and do a lot of damage outside the pocket, so the linebacker pressures will be dialed up early and often. The last time these teams met, Tomlinson had a 2.6-yard rushing average and only generated 58 yards from 22 touches with no touchdowns. Look for Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas to contain the running game with up-field pressure.

Since the Chargers acquired Chris Chambers in a trade from the Dolphins, they have gone 10-2. Chambers balances up the coverages and gives Rivers a target away from Gates. He also frees Vincent Jackson to work against smaller corners. In two postseason games, Chambers and Jackson have combined for 21 receptions, 395 yards and three scores. The Patriots like to play zone coverages, and this game will be no different. If Gates isn't available to split the cover two, then the safeties can cheat to the two wide receivers and let the corners (Asante Samuel and Randall Gay) make plays on the ball.

The bottom line

New England got out to a 24-0 halftime score when these teams met in Week 2 by being aggressive with the passing attack. Brady threw 23 passes in the first half and hit seven different receivers. I expect the Patriots to come out with a similar plan and -- if the weather isn't a major factor, especially the wind -- get up early.
San Diego has had a heck of a season, but a third postseason game all the way across the country with a number of players injured is too much to ask against a team such as New England. I like the Patriots to put 35 points on the board and restrict San Diego to 17.

Jason Garrett stays

After looking into two coaching jobs, Jason Garrett decided to remain offensive coordinator of the Cowboys after Dallas made him the highest-paid assistant coach in the NFL.

The Cowboys promoted Garrett to assistant head coach and gave him a new contract that will pay him in the ballpark of $3 million per year, ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting.

Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips' salary is also in the $3 million range. There is no word on whether the team plans to adjust Phillips' salary.

Matt Mosely with an intriguing look at the Garrett/Phillips situation

Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett could've become the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens or Atlanta Falcons this week, but he decided to wait on his dream job instead.

No one knows for sure what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said to Garrett on Wednesday night, but it was compelling enough to convince him to stay in Dallas for at least another year.

It doesn't take an Ivy League degree to know when you have leverage, and the mild-mannered Garrett arrived at last night's meeting with plenty of ammunition. It's believed that Jones bumped Garrett's salary to somewhere in the $3 million range, which is startling when you consider that Jones has always thought coaches were overrated.

It was a huge deal when he gave coordinators Sean Payton and Mike Zimmer $1 million each after they turned down offers from the Raiders and Cornhuskers a few years ago. Jones would never make this type of financial commitment unless he was convinced Garrett would be his next head coach.

And in the short term at least, it could be the worst possible move for the franchise. If you thought Wade Phillips acted paranoid down the stretch this season, just wait until next year.

At his season-ending news conference Monday, Phillips was beyond defensive. He said the best team didn't win in last Sunday's game and talked of the Cowboys' "Elite 8" status. (No word yet on when the Elite 8 banner will be raised at Texas Stadium).
In a telling moment during the news conference, Phillips talked about how his defense held up its side of the bargain. The inference was impossible to miss: the offense didn't score enough points to win.

He would never admit it publcly, but Phillips had to be rooting for Garrett to leave. And who would blame him?

Phillips is more of a lame-duck coach than ever, and anything short of reaching a Super Bowl will probably signal the end of the road in Dallas. In fact, a Super Bowl appearance might not do the trick because Garrett would receive another batch of lucrative offers.

Jones started down this path when he hired Garrett to be his offensive coordinator before a head coach was in place. I don't think Phillips will function well in this type of environment, but Jones is willing to take that risk.

In reality, he fired Phillips last night. We'll just have to wait another 11 months for the announcement.

The Curse of Flutie

The only flakes floating around football today are the folks who no longer believe in the Curse of Doug Flutie.

The Curse is alive and well and stronger than ever, casting its web of defeat around anyone who employs the architect of the Curse, Wade Phillips, and rewarding those teams that free itself of his shackles of ignorance.

If you didn’t believe in the Curse before, this is a good time to grab an oboe or sousaphone and hop on the bandwagon. After all, some phenomena are beyond the explanation of logic, science, human perception or, even, the blind, sober reasoning of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.

The Curse of Flutie is just such a phenomenon. It had a hand in both divisional playoff games Sunday, lifting San Diego to an upset victory at No. 2 AFC seed and defending Super Bowl champion Indy, and squashing the hopes of No. 1 NFC seed Dallas in historic fashion.

Most Cold, Hard Football Facts readers know the story:

The Curse of Flutie was born back in the 1999 playoffs and continues to haunt the Buffalo organization and any team or coach that employs Phillips.

San Diego employed Phillips from 2004 to 2006 – a period during which the Chargers failed to win a playoff game and suffered two humiliating postseason losses at home to inferior foes. In the 2004 wildcard playoffs, Chargers kicker Nick Kaeding missed an easy 39-yard field goal in overtime, allowing the underdog Jets to pull out a shocking 20-17 victory in San Diego. Last year, the Chargers were 14-2, the AFC's No. 1 seed and undefeated at home when they suffered an improbable 24-21 loss to a 12-4 New England team that did everything in its power to lose (including three picks thrown by Tom Brady) but somehow came out on the winning end.

Now, without Phillips on its coaching staff, the Chargers are in the AFC title game for the first time in 13 years.

Dallas employed Phillips this year. They ruled the NFC from wire to wire and entered the playoffs as the senior circuit’s No. 1 seed. They, too, failed to win a single playoff game, suffering a home loss to the No. 5 seed Giants, a team that Dallas beat twice in the regular season.

Phillips poured all of the ingredients for the Curse of Flutie into his steaming brew kettle of stupidity back in 1999, when he was Buffalo’s head coach. It was at the end of that season that he benched Flutie, Buffalo's starting quarterback, right before the playoffs, despite the fact that the famously diminutive passer had led the Bills to a 10-5 record.

The Curse of Flutie wasted no time casting its tragic web of inexplicable defeat upon Buffalo and anyone associated with Phillips.

Cowboys Fan Breaks it Down

Cowboys loss going well with Washington Fans


BACM said...

Oh what a creative sense of humor the Redskins fans have.

P.S. Sean Taylor is still dead.

Lance said...

Phillips can say his defense held up its side of the bargain all he wants, but that doesn't make it true. All I know is that drive by the Giants at the end of the first half was a massive momentum killer. If anything, it was his defense that was the obvious weak link of the team the entire season. Jason Garrett will be the head coach when the Cowboys open the new stadium in 2009, you can basically bank on that happening now.

Flaco said...

Bob, I'm disappointed.

There was your captain last night, checked head first into the boards last night, and no boarding call was made.

Moments later, with blood running down his face and jersey, he was doing his captains duty, in discussion with the officials over by the scorers booth.

I was proud of our captain and our little stars last night, and yet Eli dumb face manning gets more blog time?

Boo, sir. Boooo.

Matt Steele said...

Flaco has a pretty good point. It is understandable that you do not talk hockey on the radio because you are interested in ratings. But for those of us who have considered you our stealth hockey leader, we would like to see your interest in the second best professional sport represented here on your blog.

Also, here's to hoping that the forced chemistry between you guys and Brenden Morrow gets better soon.