Before we get to some various other links, please know that it is time for the 2009 NFL Playoffs this weekend. I trust you don’t need me reminding you.
Here is the menu …
Parity. Roger Goodell and the NFL love it.
That will be evident when the playoffs start with the wild-card round this weekend. Five of the eight participants will be teams that missed the postseason a year ago, and one of them, AFC East champion Miami, actually finished 1-15.
In the NFC, there is only one repeater from 2007 among the six entries: the defending champion New York Giants, who are the top-seeded team in the conference and will have the week off.
Other than New York, which finished 12-4, the rest of last year's NFC playoff teams were a combined 36-44, including Seattle, which finished 4-12 this season, and Green Bay, which was 6-10. That "left out" group also includes preseason favorite Dallas, whose players consistently dubbed themselves "the most talented team in the league," but were sent home with an embarrassing 44-6 drubbing in Philadelphia last week.
Atlanta (11-5) at Arizona (9-7) – 3:30 Saturday NBC
The Cardinals, who finished by losing four of their last six and allowing an average of more than 40 points in those games, benefited from playing in the weak NFC West, where they were 6-0. So they get the first playoff home game for the franchise since 1947, when they won the NFL title as the Chicago Cardinals.
Indianapolis (12-4) at San Diego (8-8) 7pm Saturday NBC
Baltimore (11-5) at Miami (11-5) 12pm Sunday CBS
These are the two AFC teams that aren't playoff repeaters; they were a combined 6-26 last season. In fact, Miami's one win in 2007 was in overtime over the Ravens after the usually reliable Matt Stover missed a 44-yard field goal attempt that could have won it for Baltimore — and possibly sent the Dolphins to an 0-16 season.
Philadelphia (9-6-1) at Minnesota (10-6) 3:30om Sunday FOX
Here is what I like to happen this weekend. First, the Falcons are a nice story, but Arizona can be a tough place to play and John Abraham being hurt is a major concern, because that is where the Falcons pass rush happens. On offense, I am not sure the Cardinals can slow down the ATL, but I like Arizona 31, Atlanta 27.
Then, the Colts-Chargers is a game we have seen many times. But, after the Chargers went into Indy last year and won the playoff game behind Michael Turner’s big day, I think the Colts make them pay back in San Diego. I just cannot pick Norv and a 8-8 team to beat Peyton. No way. Colts 28, Chargers 20.
Sunday, in a game where I don’t think I like either team, either I am taking a Dolphins team to Wildcat its way to a playoff win, or I am taking a rookie QB on the road in Joe Flacco. I guess I will have to pick though, so let me say that Ryan and Flacco are both studs, but neither wins on the road in the playoffs and Miami advances with an odd 13-9 win.
And finally, the Vikings-Eagles should be entertaining, but if you are asking if I think Tavaris-Gus or McNabb are more likely to make plays when the game is on the line, I will take Donovan to win in a game that will have Vikings fans trying to get Matt Cassel to Minnesota immediately. Eagles 24, Vikings 16.
Now, on to some links:
Winter Classic? Awesome. The Red Wings screwed it up being so good, but the Blackhawks-Wings put on a fun 10 goal show with big hits and good times. Love the concept for sure. Also, the Anthem was amazing. If you saw it, you know, if you missed it, I cannot describe how cool it was.
Verdi on the Winter Classic …
Besides that 6-4 final for clearly the better team, this Winter Classic had to be the most fun Hawks fans ever had with all those clothes on. After the event was awarded to Chicago, there was thought of staging it at Soldier Field, for greater gate receipts. Also, the chore of laying a rink over grass would have been bypassed because there is no grass at Soldier Field.
However, Wrigley Field proved perfect for 40,818 witnesses. They paid dearly for seats, but thousands shunned them, standing for two anthems, scores and highlights, then a seventh-inning knockoff sung by sports legends. Harry Caray would have loved it. His first play-by-play in St. Louis was hockey. Then he found baseball, wondering, "How can a guy who was born in Mexico lose a ball in the sun?" Flurries never materialized Thursday, but I swear I heard him anyway: "How can a guy who was born in Flin Flon lose a puck in the snow?"
Only last season, when the Red Wings came to town, the United Center was overrun by red jerseys of Detroit fans who couldn't gain admission there, so they came here, where plenty of tickets were always available. On other nights, the building remained a sea of scarlet, the color of empty chairs. The Hawks were so insignificant, the local mood so apathetic, that the idea of luring people inside from the cold was folly. To borrow from Mike Tyson, the Hawks had sunk into "bolivian."
Now, the Hawks uproot people from fireplaces in the middle of winter for a coming-out party. The transformation of the franchise is not to be believed, except it's true. Not once in this 48th season since that last Cup—the longest existing NHL drought—has management uttered the tired term, five-year plan. That would be much too slow for a team on the fast track in the world's fastest game. Institutional objectives are raised, and the organization has undergone a personality transplant. The Hawks aren't angry at anybody anymore, except the other team. See: Brent Seabrook removing Dan Cleary from the premises early Thursday.
And, since we are enjoying Seabrook this morning, here is Ott vs Seabrook
Revo echos BaD Radio …
It’s been said more than once that the very thing that makes Tony Romo great on the field — his almost Jedi-like ability to make something out of nothing — is too often also his greatest undoing.
Let’s take that rationale a step further. The thing that makes him so likable — his candor and honesty — is also what creates doubt in people’s minds that he can ever be the Super Bowl-caliber leader and quarterback Dallas Cowboys’ fans so desperately want him to be.
Strangely, it’s a whole lot about perception, and, while you would think that Romo might have learned a little something about that after last January’s trip to Cabo before the Cowboys’ playoff game with the Giants, I submit that he still doesn’t quite get it.
His postgame news conference after the 44-6 debacle in Philadelphia on Sunday is a prime example.
He stood there, in obvious pain from a rib injury after being hounded by the Eagles all afternoon, and spoke directly from what we all fully expected to be a broken heart.
But was it?
Here’s the exact transcript of Romo’s response when someone asked ... and him how he dealt with such a devastating loss. It made me proud of him it made me flinch, too.
"I wake up tomorrow and keep living. You don’t [deal with it]. You just keep playing the game. It’s a fun game, and it’s enjoyable. We’re going to try to win next year. We’re going to try to get back in the playoffs, and we’re going to try to win a Super Bowl.
"If you don’t, OK. If you do, OK. Then you’re really a great player. If you don’t, you’re just a solid, good player, and I’ll have to deal with that, not you guys. That’s just part of the job.
"I’ve had a lot worse things happen to me than a loss in a sporting event, that’s for sure. If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me, then I’ll have lived a pretty good life."
In other words, folks, it’s just a game, not life or death, and he’s right. It’s a
mature, grown-up philosophy, an attempt to try to put it all back into some semblance of proper perspective.
Only one problem. As much as I agree with Tony Boy’s candor and admire his willingness to state his life philosophy out loud, I seriously doubt that Cowboys fans were looking for rational perspective from their quarterback at that point.
They wanted heartbreak. They wanted pathos. They wanted their quarterback to stand there and tell them how bad he felt, how he would do anything in the world to change things if he could.
While I suspect that Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman both share Romo’s overall philosophy on life and games, I don’t think any of us ever heard either of them shrug and say after a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking loss, "Hey, too bad, but the sun will come up tomorrow."
For most Cowboys fans, the sun won’t come up again for many, many months.
They want their quarterback to not just understand their despair, but to share in it, not stand there with that smug, I-get-it-and-you-don’t half-smile, in that goofy-looking hat and tell them that things aren’t really so bad after all and that they could be a whole lot worse.
The season just ended in ignominy and disgrace, for crying out loud. Act like it. Don’t stand there offering homilies and life lessons, as sincere as they may be. For most Cowboys fans, it was the worst day of a truly horrible year.
Garrett hangs up on the Lions …
Sources close to the National Football Post have informed us that Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has withdrawn his name from consideration for the vacant head coaching position in Detroit.
Our sources have informed us that Garrett decided to withdrawal his name after he spoke with officials from Dallas.
Rafa Vela breaks down the Cowboys OL season …
Offensive line has been the black hole for several Dallas personnel departments, going back to the late '90s. The team has drafted 21 offensive linemen since Larry Allen was selected in the '94 draft's 2nd round. Only three of those can be rated as hits, players who started multiple years and played at a solid level. Two of them, Flozell Adams and Andre Gurode, anchor the current Dallas line. The third, Oliver Ross, had three decent seasons for the Steelers in the mid-'00s.
The remainder are a testament to the worst of Jerry 1.0 and of the Parcells days: George Hegamin, Shane Hannah, Cha'Ron Dorsey, Clay Shiver, Steve Scifres, Tyson Walter, Kelvin Garmon, Solomon Page, Al Johnson, Justin Bates, Rob Petitti, Jacob Rogers, James Marten, etc., etc. If Doug Free fails to emerge, Parcells and his protege Jeff Ireland will have a perfect, in the worst sense, 0-for-9 draft record with offensive linemen.
The price tags on free agent linemen have blown up in recent years, as the demand for quality linemen has far outpaced supply. When a team finds just two O-line starters in fourteen years, it puts itself as the mercy of the market. Such are the Cowboys, who have signed Marco Rivera, Kyle Kosier and Leonard Davis to huge deals in recent years, because they could not develop their own young linemen.
Some of these players have earned post season honors. Three current Cowboys, Adams, Gurode and Davis, were tapped to the '07 Pro Bowl team. But are the Cowboys getting the maximum return on their massive investment? I don't think so.
And, then, Does the same thing to the special teams …
All the Wade's horses and all of Jerry's men couldn't help poor Bruce in the end.
The job was simply too big for him. Nearly all the team's talent was placed at his disposal. Every linebacker save Demarcus Ware and Greg Ellis participated on the unit. Every secondary player except Terence Newman and Ken Hamlin took part.
It didn't matter. The Cowboys special teams were awful -- across the board. There was no single area in which they excelled, or were even middling. They were:
• 31st in kickoff distance;
• 26th in kickoff yardage allowed;
• 21st in kickoff returns;
• 17th in punting;
• 23rd in punt yardage allowed;
• 24th in net punting
• 30th in punt returns;
• tied for 26th in scoring.
There was no benefit to be found in any area. On a team with disciplinary problems, special teams more than contributed to the malaise. The Cowboys led the league with 119 penalties. 19 of them were committed by special teammers.
Coaches will tell you that good special teams units will win a game for you over the course of a year, and sometimes steal a second. Read's units cost Dallas the Arizona game, with sickening symmetry: they allowed J.J. Arrington to rip them for a 93 yard TD on the game's opening kickoff and broke down on the game's final play, when Mat McBriar's punt was blocked and recovered for a second touchdown.
It was fitting, given the copious breakdowns, that Dallas was penalitzed for an offsides penalty on the play. It was also cruel, but typical, that McBrian was injured on the play, and was placed on I.R. the next day.
In between, Nick Folk negated the one good play the special teammers made that day. He smacked a field goal attempt off an upright three plays after Tashard Choice recovered a Cardinals fumble.
It was that kind of year. Finding a quality replacement for Read should be treated with the same seriousness as finding a coordinator. A wiser, more decisive coach could iron out a significant percentage of the unit's penalties and give the Cowboys consistently better field position.
Special Teamer of the Year: It's sad when your MVP has a handful of black marks. Nick Folk was his solid self, but he had that key miss in Arizona to ponder, and missed a short field goal early in the 2nd half at St. Louis which helped build the Rams avalanche. He also yanked two kickoffs out of bounds.
Runner up -- Felix Jones made the special teams play of the year in week two, when he returned an Eagles kickoff 98 yards for a score. He made several more big returns before he was lost in game six with a hamstring injury. He's thekickoff return playmaker this team has lacked for years decades. Heal well, Mr. Jones.
Knucklehead of the Year: Pat Watkins. The Cowboys entered the season with a core group of players who participated on every unit. Watkins, Kevin Burnett, Bobby Carpenter, Justin Rogers and Keith Davis were the assumed leaders on special teams.
Watkins couldn't stand the pressure. He committed one third of the special teams' penalties, most of them of the fifteen-yard variety. (No other special teammer committed more than two.) He took three in the first Eagles game. Two weeks later, against Washington, he committed another special teams' penalty and took a critical
12-men-on-the-field penalty when he failed to sub out after a time out. Watkins demonstrated on more than one occasion that his mind was not always in the game.
This is the type of player who gets coaches fired. Wade Phillips sent Bruce Read packing. If Wade values his own job, Pat Watkins may not be far behind.
If you are watching the Cotton Bowl today from an NFL draft perspective, This site provides some decent scouting info on who is thought of as a prospect …
And here is a Mock Draft for you …
another day, another Leach feature …
Leach has guided the 11-1 Red Raiders to their best regular season in school history and a national ranking that reached as high as No. 2. In one magical season, Tech made itself relevant in a conference that includes tradition-rich programs Texas and Oklahoma. Suddenly, Leach has gained the respect of his peers and the nation.
He can no longer be considered a mad scientist.
"Mike has a goal and a passion and he stays with that thought process and he doesn't flinch," Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. "He stays with what he believes in."
Leach won two national coach of the year awards this season – the Woody Hayes and
George Munger awards– and was mentioned in almost every major coaching search. Tech has offered Leach a five-year, $12.1 million contract that would extend his current deal three years, through the 2013 season, but he has yet to agree to the terms.
A few weeks ago, Leach even got the opportunity to meet with President George W. Bush and take a tour of the White House. On Sunday, he'll be featured on CBS' 60 Minutes.
In November, Tech played in ABC's national prime-time Saturday game three times. None was more riveting than the Red Raiders' last-second home win over then-No. 1 Texas that started the media rush to West Texas.
"It's all been good. Anything positive that happens helps the overall program," Leach said. "We've had a chance to have a lot of people watch us and a lot of people see our games. The attention drawn to the program in a positive fashion helps everybody – helps our players, helps recruiting, helps our fans, the excitement of it and the rest."
Two challenges remain for Leach. He has yet to lead the Red Raiders to a Big 12 championship or a BCS bowl.
But Tech has played in a bowl every season since Leach took over in 2000, winning five of their last six. Those five victories match the program's number of bowl wins during the 75 seasons prior to Leach's arrival.
Record-setting quarterback Graham Harrell said Tech has never been a destination school for the nation's – or even the state's – top high school recruits, making what Leach has done in Lubbock that much more impressive.
Harrell has shouted to the world this season that Leach "does more with less talent than any coach in the country."
Tech's average recruiting class the last five seasons, according to Rivals.com, has ranked 37th nationally. That's considerably lower than Oklahoma's (eighth), Texas' (11th) and Texas A&M's (21st) average ranking. During that span, Leach has led Tech to a 45-17 record, with at least eight wins and a bowl bid each season.
60 Minutes Teaser …