Monday, January 12, 2009

From 8 to 4 in the NFL

I really need to stop predicting games. In fact, I am amazed that I keep trying, and I am amazed that people still care who I pick.

I seriously take my predictions very seriously. I study. I watch. I consider. And then I pick.

And time after time, I fail.

My 2008 Super Bowl? Dallas vs Indianapolis.

My Weekend winners? Tennessee, Carolina, New York, Pittsburgh

What a waste of time.

However, of the 4 games, we see yet again what a role turnovers play. Take care of the football, and you win playoff games. Turnover winners are 6-1-1 in the playoffs this year (Colts won turnover battle against the Chargers – Eagles v Vikings were even) and that renders home field useless.

See Below, the turnover results:

WinnerLoserTurnover +/-
PittsburghSan Diego+2
PhiladelphiaNew York+1

Table Tutorial

Let’s offer a paragraph or two on each of the 4 games this past weekend:

Baltimore At Tennessee

This game is going to make Titans fans crazy for years. They were home. They were healthy. They outgained the Ravens who were trying almost nothing on offense, 391-211. And yet, they lost. Early in the 3rd quarter, the announcers (who were not very good) pointed out that the Ravens were averaging less than 2 yards a play.

Joe Flacco is having a career run in his rookie year. He has taken no sacks, and
thrown no picks in the two playoff games. On Saturday, he won, but really made only a handful of throws. The deep touchdown to Mason, and the deep jump ball prayer to Mark Clayton. I am not saying he isn’t impressive, but I am saying how sometimes we over-rate who the QB is of a team that is a machine like this. Brad Johnson might have won both of these games, too. Understand, they are not asking him to do anything but not screw it up. But, he is the first rookie QB EVER to win two playoff games, so I will give him his due.

Meanwhile, for Tennessee, Chris Johnson was the great equalizer. He was awesome in so many ways in the 1st half – including consecutive plays where he avoided safeties after another amazing punt in the year of the punter. But, when he sprained his ankle, the Titans lost any advantage they had against the Ravens defense, and from there on were chasing the game. But, with Justin Gage’s career performance, they still had their chances. Lendale White and Alge Crumpler had fumbles, Kerry Collins had a bad Interception, and that was too much to overcome as a -3 at home. They were doomed, and the Ravens march on.

One last thought about Flacco perhaps stepping out of the back of the end zone. At the time, I thought he did. Then, I was amazed that Fisher did not challenge it. Then, I was amazed that CBS offered 0 replays. Then, I was amazed that Dierdorf didn’t even discuss it. So, while I don’t believe he actually did step out, you can tell I was amazed.

Arizona at Carolina

I was positive that Arizona was not going to be able to compete in this setting, but I surely did not see 6 Panthers turnovers of their own. Once up 7-0, the Panthers were down 27-7 at the half. Part was the generosity of Carolina, but let’s not forget the fact that they seemed to forget who #11 was for most of the night. I think Larry Fitzgerald is the real deal, but without Boldin, didn’t you figure that the Panthers could double down on Larry and make Breaston beat them? Instead, Fitz is running free in the secondary for much of the night, for 8 catches, 166 yards, a TD, and one of the greatest receiving performances I can remember in a playoff setting.

Once Delhomme went south, you could really tell that the guys on his sideline were losing faith in him quickly. I am curious what his future is, and am also curious how we could watch the NFL all year and here are the Arizona Cardinals hosting the NFC championship game??? I am also amazed that Kenny Albert is the best Fox can do.

Meanwhile, Kurt Warner is one win from becoming the 2nd QB to start a Super Bowl with 2 different teams, and could be the only one to win a Super Bowl with 2 different teams as a starting QB. Nice to see his revival.

Philadelphia at New York

Welcome back, Eli. We truly missed you. Actually, to be fair to Eli, I think yesterday, and for that matter all of December, we saw the Plaxico factor. It is so hard to win in this league without a lead receiver, and the Giants never had a chance. Eli was looking for Derrick Ward as his primary option on 3rd down, and the Eagles figured that out by the 2nd Quarter. Brandon Jacobs was awesome, but as that game went on, the Eagles put more and more pressure on Eli to make a play. The weather and the coverage made him lose faith in himself and his receivers, and the game was over.

Meanwhile, the idiocy of McNabb’s critics was apparent again. The guy has come up big in so many situations, and the only thing that keeps him from QB greatness is winning the Super Bowl. Well, he may have a chance real soon. In the 2nd half, McNabb converted a 3rd and 20 and a 3rd and 10 to help them get another Field Goal. He went back to Curtis after a big drop, and I thought demonstrated tremendous leadership. Sure, the stands by the Eagles defense won the game, but I find myself oddly drawn to the redemption story of Donovan McNabb. His phone issue was interesting and stupid, but I think overall he deserves a mulligan or two for all he has put up with his insane fan base. The dagger at the end by going for Desean Jackson for 47 yards was money.

San Diego at Pittburgh

Four outdoor games in January, and no snow until the final game? But, who doesn’t love flurries in an amped up Hines Field? And, finally a game I predicted correctly! This game was about the Pittsburgh offense running the football like they wished, with Willie Parker looking quite healthy with 146 yards on the ground. And yet, the game was all about the deep ball. Phil Rivers hit Vincent Jackson early, And the Steelers kept going deep all day. By the way, when will the opponents of the Steelers learn that Nate Washington has no other role on the Steelers except to run 50 yards down field and either catch a bomb or draw a pass interference? He seems like he does that 4 times a game.

The Chargers were in the game at the half, but a 3rd quarter that many of us will never forget put the game right in the Steelers win column. 3rd quarter plays? 24 to 1. Yardage? 122 to 0. Time of Possession? 14:43 to :17. And turnovers? 0 to 2? How did the Chargers run 1 play and turn the ball over twice? Special teams, bro. Special teams cost the Chargers more than anyone this weekend, as the Steelers returned a punt for a touchdown and also recovered a punt that bounced off Eric Weddle on a Chargers return (Tra Battle in Pittsburgh, anyone?). To me, there was something soothing about a Steelers win, as I was not eager to see a Chargers team that was 4-8 in the Super Bowl. Would things have been different if Ladanian Tomlinson was on the case? We will never know, since it seems he is never healthy in January. Ravens at Steelers on Sunday Night? Yes, please.

So, with all of the road teams winning, we are all left to question the meaning of home field advantage and the bye week. It used to be something you had to have.
Now, for the first time EVER, you have 2 #6 seeds in championship games. Only 1 other #6 seed has made it this far, the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers who won the Super Bowl.

Below, please find the 10 year trends of home field advantage and seeds remaining in the AFC and NFC title games. Teams with the asterisk are the teams that won and advanced to the Super Bowl.

YearHome RecordAFC SeedsNFC Seeds
19988-21* vs 21 vs 2*
19997-31 vs 4*1* vs 2
20008-22 vs 4*1* vs 2
20017-31 vs 2*1* vs 3
20028-21* vs 21 vs 2*
20036-41* vs 31 vs 3*
20046-41 vs 2*1* vs 2
20054-62 vs 6*1* vs 5
20068-23* vs 41* vs 2
20075-51* vs 32 vs 5*
20083-52 vs 64 vs 6

Table Tutorial

From 1998-2007, the home team was 67-33. But, this year, the home teams are just 3-5. And as you can see, there has never been a year without either #1 seed in the title games…until now.

Good Stuff, Good Stuff.


Jay Beerley said...

No Michael Young talk? I am so torn on this. Eventually a move to solid youth is in order, but I don't think 32 is washed up by any means. I know it's the Rangers, but it's also Mike Young!

ben8gan said...

Good stuff as usual Sports Sturm.

Agree with you 100%. It appeared to me that Fisher got outcoached in that game. That Flacco-safety play was too close not to challenge. Would have totally changed the makeup of the game. And why is a 12 men on the field play challengable, but not a delay of game? Makes no sense...

A couple of real iffy play calls by the Titans o-coordinator as well. 2nd quarter, 2nd and short, youre running lights out with Johnson and you run 2 straight passes, and lose valuable field position taking you out of field goal range. Tough loss for the Titans. Having lived in Nashville, I know the hate for the murderous (Pun intended) Ravens runs deep.

fickle said...

Another plea for Michael Young talk.

Randy Shipp said...

Bob said:
One last thought about Flacco perhaps stepping out of the back of the end zone. At the time, I thought he did. Then, I was amazed that Fisher did not challenge it. Then, I was amazed that CBS offered 0 replays. Then, I was amazed that Dierdorf didn’t even discuss it. So, while I don’t believe he actually did step out, you can tell I was amazed.

I, too, am surprised, amazed, and sickened by the role that the friggin' networks play in the outcomes of these games. How many times have we (and, oh yeah, the teams) been treated to endless shots of the head coach pacing the sideline, red flag in hand, listening to his headset waiting for some indication from his staff whether a challenge is a good idea? Here's an idea...SHOW A REPLAY instead of a guy waiting to see your friggin' replay!

But during the Philly game, there was a close, huge play, and the network seemed like their ass was on fire they ran for the replay button so fast! No chance here to line up and run a play. I'm not saying either way is better than the other...well, you know what, yeah I am. The problem is that NFL coaching staffs should not be waiting for friggin' FOX to show a replay in order to make decisions about their games. The network's purpose is to entertain their audience and sell advertising, not help the NFL run fair sporting contests. That a bazillion dollar business like the NFL cannot supply their own cameras for replay purposes is silly. Official goal-line cameras would be a start, but there's no reason they couldn't run a whole crew, with the teams wired in to get instant replay information, and with official replays for refs to consider.


P.S.-- Hockey, too...why the NHL can't mandate a camera DIRECTLY over the goal line in every arena for replay is a mystery, but they don't seem interested in improving their calls. If they were, they'd imbed a transceiver in the puck, wires in the ice, and there'd be no doubt when the puck crossed the goal line.