Saturday, December 12, 2009

Playoffs? Who Said Anything about Playoffs?

With just four weeks left in the regular season it's time to talk about playoffs whether the players and coaches want to or not. Mike Tomlin won't have to worry about any playoff discussion. Whatever slim chance the Steelers had of making the postseason went out the door with their horrendous touchdown-less loss to the Browns.

There are 17 teams (8 in the NFC, 9 in the AFC) that are still alive in the playoff hunt. In the NFC you have the Saints, Vikings, Cards, Cowboys, Eagles, Packers, Giants and Falcons. In the AFC there's the Colts, Chargers, Bengals, Patriots, Broncos, Jaguars, Ravens, Jets and Dolphins. I'm eliminating any seven-loss team from the race.

As interesting as the wildcard race should be, the division races may not be as suspenseful. The Saints and Colts have already clinched their respective divisions. The Vikings, Cardinals and Bengals all have commanding leads in their divisions. We didn't think there would be much competition for the Patriots in the AFC East. But all of a sudden things have gotten very interesting with the Pats losing three of four games. The Dolphins and Jets are just one game back and both split their season series with the Pats. However the Jets are in a tougher situation with a 2-4 division record. They will lose any tiebreaker with the Pats or Fins.

No one is talking about the AFC West race. It's almost as if everyone has assumed the Chargers have wrapped the division up. They are the hottest team in football not named the Colts or Saints but the Broncos lie just one game back. Denver has played much better the past couple weeks, reestablishing their running game. This may be the deciding week with the Broncos going to Indianapolis and the Chargers going to Dallas.

The most interesting division race will be the NFC East. I am waiting for the typical Cowboys choke job in December just like everyone else. This year it might not even be considered a choke job if it happens. The Cowboys have a brutal stretch to close the season starting with this week's game against San Diego. We very well could have a three-way tie for first after tomorrow's games if Dallas and Philly lose. Of course the Eagles are facing the Giants, who actually would have the tiebreaker as of now should this happen. But a loss would put them in serious trouble and all but out of the playoffs. On that note here are my picks for Week 14.

Vikings over Bengals
I think this will be a very close game and a really intriguing matchup. The Bengals have played very well on the road, beating teams like the Ravens, Steelers and Packers. But playing in the dome will get the usually high flying Vikings offense back on track. Expect a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson because I think he and the Vikings offensive line have something to prove.

Jaguars over Dolphins
This matchup involves the two quietest teams still in playoff contention. Hello everybody don't you realize that the Jaguars are 7-5 and the 6th seed in the AFC right now? I don't even think the city of Jacksonville knows. There might be more Miami fans in this standes even though it's in Jacksonville. I like the balance the Jags have on offense. Mercedes Lewis has stepped up as a  reliable target along with Mike Sims-Walker. But the key as always is to get the ball to Jones-Drew as much as possible. On the other side of the ball, I dont think Miami has the quality of receivers to burn the Jags weak secondary.

Colts over Broncos
The Broncos are almost as forgotten as the Jaguars after a 6-0 start that seemed like it occurred last season. I don't see any way a team not named the Chargers wins in Indianapolis this year. You think Peyton Manning cares that the Broncos secondary has more Pro Bowls than anyone else? He doesn't and he'll make them look like AARP members when the game is over.

Chargers over Cowboys
The team that never wins in December hosts the team that hasn't lost in the last four Decembers. I've been waiting for this Dallas defense to be exposed all season and it has continued to do a very good job. But the Chargers passing attack will finally make this secondary look bad. Antonio Gates has been a monster the past few weeks and LT is scoring TD like the good old days. Expect another tumultuous week in Big D this week.

Giants over Eagles
The Giants could actually be back in first place. It's hard to believe but I'm calling for it to happen. The Giants front four finally did something productive last week and I think they can build off of that in this game. Ultimately I think both of these teams will be in the playoffs and the Cowboys will be the ones sobbing on their couches at home in January.

That's all for now. Check out more from the Gridiron Guru next week.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

49ers' Playoff Hopes Fade Away

A Season that Began with High Hopes Looks to be Ending in Disappointment

 During this offseason the two words that will be uttered the most around the 49ers clubhouse and throughout the city of San Francisco will be "What if". What if Brett Favre didn't throw that miracle last-second touchdown in Week 3? What if Alex Smith doesn't throw that ill-advised pass on the final drive against the Texans that was intercepted to end it? What if he didn't throw the two picks in the 4th quarter against Tennessee? What if the Niners found a way to hang on to that 4th quarter lead in Indianapolis? What if the defense found a way to stop the Packers in the final 5:30 in Lambeau and give the offense the ball back? Would they have been able to complete that 20 point comeback if they got that stop? What if Vernon Davis catches that touchdown pass late in last week's Seattle game and the Niners don't settle for a game-tying field goal? What if the Niners came into Monday night's matchup against the Cardinals with a chance to grab first place?

Unfortunately there are no answers to these questions and the "What ifs" will have to remain just that. It will be a tough offseason for this young team, a team that has yet to have the taste of playoff football. Barring some sort of miracle, the Niners will have to wait another year for that opportunity. Taking out their blowout loss to Atlanta, San Francisco lost their other 6 games by a total of 26 points. The 49ers were within one score in all six of those losses. It's simple...the 49ers just find ways to lose.

What's even more frustrating is that Mike Singletary preaches disciplined, tough football to this team. And then they play it for 45 minutes before folding when it matters most. Prime examples were the losses to Minnesota, Indianapolis and Tennessee. Or they'll come out totally flat and wake up sometime in the 2nd half when it's too late. This was the case in losses at Houston and Green Bay.

There might not be another team that can be as hot and cold in the course of one game. You'll see teams like Pittsburgh or Denver steamroll teams one week and then lose to awful teams the next. But how often do you see a team pull the Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde act during one game. This is what the offense does on a regular basis. And the defense certainly isn't the model of consistency. Good football teams find ways to overcome mistakes and make plays when there backs are against the wall. So if you put the pieces of the puzzle together...the Niners aren't a good football team, they just have the look of one at select, inconvenient times.

There is a lot of promise on this football team, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Rookie Michael Crabtree missed training camp and the first five weeks of the regular season and has still played like a legitimate #1 wide receiver, catching 32 passes for 406 yards and a touchdown.. Wide receiver Josh Morgan is just in his second season and has played very well in this new spread offense and has been a great complement to Crabtree. These two young receivers could become one of the best tandems in the league in the future. Then there's Vernon Davis who has been the go-to receiver in this offense and maybe the best redzone tight end in the league this season. Davis leads the NFL with 10 TD receptions this season. He is a freak athlete, the most athletic of any tight end. No other tight end has his combination of strength (benches around 470 lbs), speed (ran a 4.38 at NFL combine) or his leaping ability (vertical jump of 42 inches). Gore is still just 26 years old and should be good for another 2 or 3 solid years, although he has dealt with numerous injuries over the past couple seasons.

The big decision in the offseason will be what to do with Alex Smith. The #1 overall pick in 2005 has been considered a bust until recently and after Week 4 it seemed certain that he would be gone after the season. He has surprised everyone with his play this year and there will be plenty of teams who could use him as a starter if the Niners don't hang on to him. Most likely Smith will remain a 49er, unless he tanks in the final four weeks of the season. I'm interested to see how he does under the bright spotlight on Monday Night. As well as Smith has played this year, he has still faded under pressure. As a 49er quarterback this isn't acceptable. This city is used to their leader rising to the occasion. Montana and Young were clutch performers. Smith is no Young or Montana, but he still has the potential to be better than he's been in big situations.

There is certainly plenty for this team to look back on and think about. And there's still a chance to make a mark this season with four more games on the schedule. The tough losses should serve as a learning experience for the team. After all, you have to experience failure before you can experience success. But for now they'll just have to stick with "What if?"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Vince Young, Drew Brees Dominate Week 12 Headlines

Young's Titanic Drive
As Matt Leinart watched Vince Young make a last-minute, remarkable drive on Sunday he must've had a serious case of deja vu. Of course a little under four years ago it was Young who led his Longhorns in the closing seconds to a game-winning touchdown that stole a third consecutive national title from Leinart and the USC Trojans.  This drive may not have been on as bright of a stage,  but it was even more impressive.

If you look at the situation the Titans were facing, it was almost impossible to have the odds stacked against them any more than they were. Tennesse started the drive from their own 1 with 2:37 remaining. They converted on fourth down three times on the drive, including the final play of the game and a 4th and 4 from their own 7.

Disregarding the fact that this was a regular season game, Vince Young's drive could be considered one of the best drives of all time. John Elway's famous drive against the Cleveland Browns in the 1987 AFC Championship game covered 98 yards but took over five minutes. Joe Montana's drive in Super Bowl XXIII was just 92 yards and took over three minutes. And neither of these drives resulted in touchdowns on the last play from scrimmage. For Vince Young to go 99 yards in two and a half minutes is incredible, especially for someone who's just a month removed from riding the bench.

Whatever doubts the Titans had toward Young being the franchise quarterback were silenced after Young's drive. He showed tremendous poise under immense pressure, mixing timely runs with crisp, accurate passes. I'm not really sure why the Titans were so fast to bench Young for Kerry Collins last season. Young has been a proven winner throughout his career. He won the national championship at Texas, and he took the Titans to the playoffs in 2007 But for some reason after a bad opening game and a minor mental breakdown last season the Titans gave up on him. Young has come back with a vengeance to silence his critics with his 5-0 record as a starter this season.

Young is proving that the era of the dual-threat quarterback isn't quite over. Across the league, we've seen the quarterback position retreat back to pocket passing for the most part. Not only are there no quarterbacks that can run as well as Young, there are very few that even deserve a running play called for them. Young has been criticized in the past for giving up on the pass and running too often . But thus far he's been perfect with how he's balanced the two. His ability to make plays with his feet is helping the Titans overcome a below-par receiving corps because defensive backs have to keep an eye on him at all times.

It's unlikely that Young and the Titans will run the table like they probably need to in order to make the playoffs. But at least the Titans know where to go with their future.

Saints Brees-ing by the Pats
It's weird but over the past couple weeks Drew Brees was sort of flying under the radar as the MVP talks shifted toward Favre and Manning. Brees changed that in a hurry with his performance last night against the overmatched Patriots. You could tell that Brees wanted to make a statement not only for his MVP chances, but for his career. He wants to be put on the same level as Manning, Brady and Favre. Outplaying Brady like he did on national television did a lot for his cause.

Sean Payton called this game like he wanted to make a statement also. On the first play of the game he attacked the Pats with a long pass play to Devery Henderson. He repeatedly went for big plays on the first play of a drive, which would immediately suck away any momentum the Pats had and ignite the raucous Superdome crowd. Payton outsmarted and humiliated Bill Belichick in this one. He even went for it on 4th down in the 2nd quarter as if to say "Yea, we can do that too." Payton was Belichick-esque in the way he exploited the Pats weaknesses.

Give a lot of credit to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as well. When have you ever seen Tom Brady look that out of sync? He also shut down Wes Welker to just 6 catches for 32 yards. The Saints defense was always there to stick Welker as soon as he caught the ball. It was a lot of fun to see the looks of pure frustration on the sidelines especially from Welker and Brady. I've never seen them so upset and confused.

After the Niners, the Saints are my favorite team. They're so explosive, versatile and exciting to watch. On any given play they can score, whether they're on offense, defense or special teams. But I think I like them even more because of their city and fans. After Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans has rallied around this team. The passion these fans possess is unmatched around the league. The atmosphere of Saints' games is similar to that of a college game and the Superdome is easily the loudest stadium in the NFL. And then you see the fans stay after the game during ESPN's Monday night recap. I could barely even hear Stuart Scott talk over the "Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?" How do you not love that?

But let's get back to Brees and his case for MVP. He's 1st in passer rating, 1st in passing TDs, 4th in completion percentage and 5th in yards. So statistically he's got the numbers right now. The biggest thing he's got going for him is that there are no true stars on his team. Don't get me wrong, his supporting cast is extremely talented collectively. But I don't know if there's another Pro-bowler on that offense. Manning has Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. Brady has Moss and Welker. Favre has Adrian Peterson. Brees makes everyone around him better, similar to Manning. Also, if the Saints go undefeated he has the "I'm the best player on the best team argument."

One of the problems for Brees (if you want to call this a problem) is that his team has been too dominant and hasn't really needed him to make a last minute drive or a huge comeback to win. This shows that the entire team is playing well enough to have most games sealed up by the fourth quarter. Favre and Manning have had to lead their teams on comebacks numerous times. And the other this is the turnovers. Brees has thrown 9 interceptions as opposed to Favre's 3. Manning has 11 picks but his play late in games has made most of us forget them. Right now I'm calling it a three-way tie but I feel like Manning is going to find a way to squeak it out. The entire world is in consensus that no one player is more important to their team than Manning.

Defending champs lose 3rd straight, in jeopardy of missing playoffs
This is unfamiliar territory for the Steelers. They've now lost 3 in a row and are on the outside looking in. A lot can be blamed on misfortune. Come this time of the year the best teams are usually the healthiest and the Steelers certainly aren't. Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers couldn't really attack this weak Ravens secondary. And without Troy Polamalu, the Steelers didn't have anyone to contain Ray Rice who exploded for 155 total yards.

Dennis Dixon played well considering he was thrown into as tough a situation a quarterback can face. But his inexperience finally caught up to haunt him when he threw the interception in overtime that put the Ravens in field goal range. Things should get better for the Steelers as they get Roethlisberger back and face the Raiders and Browns in the next two weeks. It's very likely that the next Ravens-Steelers matchup will determine the wildcard playoff teams in the AFC.

49ers are still alive
No one was a bigger fan of Vince Young than me on Sunday. The 49ers' season was hanging in the balance on every one of those 18 plays on that epic drive. The Cardinals' loss dropped them to 7-4 and just two games up on the Niners who are 5-6 after their win over Jacksonville. Now the Cardinals play host to the Vikings while the Niners travel to Seattle. If the Niners win and Cards lose there will be just a one game gap and the two will face each other next week on Monday night for the division lead. Things could get interesting in a hurry.

But the Niners better not look ahead and take Seattle for granted. Seattle is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. On Sunday, San Francisco played their most complete game since a Week 4 win over the Rams. I finally got to see the offense open things up and air it out. Alex Smith is so much better running the spread offense and finally the coaching staff has put him in a position to succeed. This offense has the potential to be very dangerous. Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan are a pretty good 1-2 receiver combo and have plenty of time to improve. Vernon Davis is a Pro-bowler and a go-to target in the redzone. And Frank Gore is continuing his success as a rusher and a receiver.

Smith got the ball into the hands of his play-makers often against the Jags. The one concern is the running game, which averaged just 2.6 yards per carry. The offensive line is struggling to open up holes without Joe Staley and Tony Pashos. Running the spread is giving Smith just enough time to get rid of the ball though.

It's still clear that the Niners' secondary has some glaring weaknesses but I'm happy with how the defense held strong when the Jags got into the red zone. The defense did a great job in getting to David Garrard and forced two crucial fumbles. That is the kind of performance Mike Singletary has been hoping for and will need consistently in order for this team to make the playoffs.

Troubling Falcons overcome injuries to find a way to win.
Atlanta probably saved their season with their last second touchdown from Chris Redman to Roddy White to defeat the Bucs. But the joy of this win should be short-lived because Matt Ryan and Michael Turner won't be playing next week. Roddy White has been banged up as well and hasn't been nearly as effective as he was early on in the season. Redman played pretty well last week but it won't be easy for him against the Eagles next week. I just don't see this team being able to overcome all of these injuries and make the playoffs.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Week 11 Fantasy and Game Predictions

Will the Saints and Colts remain undefeated? Will the Patriots get revenge on the Jets and end the "Why did you go for it on 4th and 2" talks? Will the Chargers continue their hot streak and take the division lead? Will this playoff race get any clearer after this week? These are all questions that will be answered tomorrow. But I'll try my best to answer them now.

Here are my picks:

Colts over Ravens
The "Charm City Classic" matchup between the team that broke Baltimore's hearts against the team that has their hearts figures to be a pretty good matchup. The Ravens are better than their record says, losing by just 21 points in their four losses and winning big when they've won. It's surprising to see that the Ravens are favored in this one but I'm not buying them winning this one. Their defense is not what it used to be despite a deceiving shutout victory over Cleveland last week. Corners Fabian Washington and Domonique Foxworth have been getting burned for most of the season. Reggie Wayne is not who these guys want to see right now. Plus Peyton Manning is known to be a Raven-killer. Throw in the injury to Terrell Suggs and I just don't see the Ravens being able to stop this machine that is the Colts' offense.

Giants over Falcons
After a bye week and a lot of time to work on things and get healthy, I think the Giants will come out with a W. The Falcons are going to have to go without the heart of their offense, Michael Turner, who is out with an ankle injury. This will put even more pressure on Matt Ryan who is in a serious rut right now. On the other side of the ball, the Falcons defense isn't much  to brag about right now. I think Eli will get back on track as well.

Patriots over Jets
The Pats haven't lost two games in a row since 2006 when ironically they lost to the Colts and Jets in consecutive games. I don't see that happening again here. Tom Brady and the Pats offense have the most to prove with the way they were held in check in the last matchup between these two teams. Brady wasn't quite himself the last time they played the Jets but he is on top of his game now and will throw for over 300 yards once again.

Chargers over Broncos
Anyone that saw Chris Simms play last week knows that the Broncos are in serious trouble if he has to play in place of Kyle Orton. Orton is a gametime decision and won't be 100% if he does play. The formula to stop the Broncos in recent weeks has been stack up against the run and make Orton beat you in the passing game. (which hasn't happened). The Chargers are playing at their best right now which means even more trouble for this reeling Broncos team.

Eagles over Bears
Jay Cutler is playing in primetime football once again. You know what that means? Should be another epic choke job. In three primetime games this season, Cutler has thrown 11 picks. The Eagles will have to go a while with Lesean Mccoy as their starting running back with all the concussions to Brian Westbrook. I hope Westbrook will have a swift recovery but I'm not sure if it really matters who's in the backfield for Philly with as much as they've thrown the ball (Donovan McNabb threw it 55 times last week). For the Eagles this is almost a must-win game after losing two straight. I like them in this one, even on the road.

Fantasy Heroes
Brandon Jacobs  RB NYG
Jacobs has been disappointing fantasy owners this season, mainly because the Giants have been throwing the ball more than usual and Ahmad Bradshaw has been taking a lot of his carries. But the Falcons are ranked 25th in the NFL against the run. If the Giants were smart, they'd get back to their bread and butter and run the ball.

Beanie Wells RB ARI
Wells has started to come on lately but Cardinals fans are waiting for him to really break out. I think he'll get more carries than usual against the Rams, especially with all the garbage time. And that should mean a big day for big Beanie.

Roddy White WR ATL
I own White in both of my fantasy leagues and have been disappointed to see him not get into the end zone the past couple weeks. But he's always going to get plenty of targets. I think he'll score this week and put up big numbers because with Jason Snelling as the Falcons running back they are going to need to pass. The Giants secondary has been giving up big plays all year and might be seeing the back of White's jersey quite often.

Calvin Johnson WR DET
Calvin is back in the lineup now and has a very favorable matchup against the Browns this week. I am just waiting for the world to realize the immense talent that this kid has. I'm looking for a big game...maybe over 100 yards and a touchdown in this one.

Rashard Mendenhall RB PIT
Mendenhall has always been hit or miss in fantasy. Last week he got me 5 points. But this week is a different story when the Steelers face the Chiefs and I think Mendenhall will have an impressive performance.

Fantasy Zeroes 
Joseph Addai RB IND
The Ravens pass defense is pretty poor but their ability to stop the run is about the same as it's always been. Addai doesn't usually get more than 12 or 15 carries anyway. He may get a few catches but I don't think he will be able to continue the recent success.

Darren Sporles RB SD
We haven't seen a whole lot of Sproles in recent weeks because LT has been healthy and running well. Denver has a pretty good run defense anyway so I wouldn't expect him to touch the ball more than five times in this one.

Todd Heap TE BAL
Heap is only an average tight end at best this season. Now he faces a Colts' defense that allows the fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends. The Ravens will probably look outside to their wideouts or to their biggest playmaker, Ray Rice.

Santana Moss WR WAS
I'm giving up on Moss now. I can't believe that he's the #1 receiver on this team with his pathetic numbers this season. The Skins need to give up on him as their big play guy and find some big receivers who can actually get open (not Malcolm Kelly or Devin Thomas).

Jay Cutler QB CHI
See above.

Thanks for reading. I'll be back to recap everything next week.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Week 10 Didn't Clear Anything Up For Us

After Week 10's action, the only thing that is solved is that the Colts are going to have home field advantage throughout the playoffs and that Bill Belichick is borderline insane. The Colts have a two-game lead over the next best team in the AFC, the Bengals and now have a three-game lead over the usual powerhouses, New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego. I don't think its going out on the limb saying that they'll secure the #1 seed in the AFC.

As for the rest of the NFL...who knows? Here's a look at the playoff picture right now.

1. Indianapolis Colts 9-0
2. Cincinnati Bengals 7-2
3. Denver Broncos 6-3
4. New England Patriots 6-3
5. Pittsburgh Steelers 6-3
6. San Diego Chargers 6-3

On the outside looking in: Baltimore Ravens (5-4), Houston Texans (5-4), Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4) Miami Dolphins (4-5), New York Jets (4-5)

The NFC playoff picture is even less clear:

1. New Orleans Saints 9-0
2. Minnesota Vikings 8-1
3. Dallas Cowboys 6-3
4. Arizona Cardinals 6-3
Four-way tie at 5-4: Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants
Other teams on the outside looking in: San Francisco 49ers (4-5), Chicago Bears (4-5), Carolina Panthers (4-5)

Each week it appears to look more and more like we will see the Saints and Vikings face each other in the NFC Championship Game. Obviously it's way too early to know, but the inconsistency of everyone else in the NFC makes me feel were destined for a Saints-Vikings matchup. Both teams have all but clinched their respective divisions and should have plenty of time to rest and be perfectly healthy going into the playoffs.

Of course the NFC East is a mess right now. It seems like none of the teams even want to win this thing. It must've been nice for the Giants to have a bye and see both the Cowboys and Eagles lose. If it continues down this road, we may actually see the Redskins get back into the race. A Skins win over Dallas could have the entire D.C. area talking about the Super Bowl again. And I really don't want to hear that nonsense.

There are 7 NFC teams within a game of each other all battling for 2 playoff spots (of course some of these teams still have a good shot at winning their divisions as well). This is one jumbled-up playoff race.

Next week will be huge for these NFC wildcard hopefuls, with 6 of the 7 facing each other. The 49ers travel to Lambeau, the Eagles will face the Bears, and the Giants will host the Falcons.

In the AFC, the Bengals are in great shape to win the North with their season sweeps of the Steelers and Ravens. They'll be awarded three easy matchups for their hard work. Their next three games are against Oakland, Detroit and Cleveland.

The Patriots look to have a firm grasp on the AFC East, but if the Jets can somehow pull off another upset over the Pats this week things could get very interesting. A Jets win would pull them to within a game of the division lead and they'd have the tiebreaker over New England.

When people ask how the west was won they will probably look at this week's Chargers-Broncos matchup. These two teams are heading in completely opposite directions. Since the last time these two teams met the Chargers haven't lost and the Broncos haven't won. The health of Kyle Orton may go a long way in deciding this one.

So obviously nothing was cleared up from last week. But I'll try to clear things up with my projections for who will be in the postseason.

1. Colts
2. Patriots
3. Bengals
4. Chargers
5. Steelers
6. Chargers

1. Saints
2. Vikings
3. Giants
4. 49ers
5. Eagles
6. Arizona

So let's start off with the AFC. I've already talked about how the Colts have locked up the top spot. The Patriots have a very favorable schedule and I think they'll move ahead of the Bengals for the 2nd seed. I'm not convinced on the Bengals yet and could very easily see the Steelers win the AFC North. But I like Cincy because of their tiebreaker and their next three games.

But down the line it will be much tougher with trips to Minnesota, San Diego and New York left on the schedule. The Chargers will complete yet another comeback over the Broncos and steal the division. I like the way the Chargers defense is playing, especially Shawn Merriman who is making a bit of a resurgence. Philip Rivers somehow seems to stay under the radar despite putting up big numbers week after week.

I do think the slipping Broncos will edge out the final wildcard spot. The Ravens schedule is just too tough and the Texans and Jaguars are a year away (I know people have been saying that about Houston for years).

In the NFC, there's no surprise as to who will be sitting out during the wildcard round of the playoffs. I think New Orleans will go 15-1 with their one loss coming to the Patriots in a couple weeks. I see the Vikings going 13-3, maybe 14-2 on the season.

Now it gets interesting. For some reason I just don't see the Cowboys winning the NFC East. They're too inconsistent. Case in point their pathetic offensive performance in Green Bay last week. I don't think this team takes care of the ball or plays smart enough to be a playoff team. The Giants are too talented to continue to play as bad as they have. I think they'll turn things around starting this week at home against Atlanta.

Now for my biggest surprise of them all...the 49ers. Yes, I'm biased but hear me out for a minute. After this week at Green Bay the schedule is pretty cake: Jacksonville, @ Seattle, Arizona, @ Philadelphia, Detroit, @ St. Louis. The Cardinals do look impressive right now but they have a three-game stretch where they play at Tennessee (a different team as of late), host Minnesota and then travel to San Francisco. The Monday night matchup between the Niners and Cards will probably determine what happens. But remember the Niners already defeated Arizona on the road, so they can definitely do it at home. And that would give them the tiebreaker...and I think these teams will be tied at the end of it all. With Frank Gore healthy and playing well and Alex Smith getting more acclimated with the offense I feel like the offense will turn it around

I have the Eagles and Cardinals as the two wildcards in whatever order. These two offenses are very explosive and make them dangerous in the postseason. For the teams left out, I think the Packers line is too weak and Aaron Rodgers will be lucky to finish the season. Matt Ryan is making in too many mistakes in his sophomore campaign and the Michael Turner injury will put even more pressure on Ryan. The Cowboys will find a way to choke as always.

I'm sure you won't find anyone else with these playoff projections. As the Gridiron Guru you gotta go out on the limb sometimes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Belichick Gets Busted

Throughout Bill Belichick's career there has always been this aura of invincibility surrounding him. Common belief has said that you can't outsmart him. His play calling and decision-making has rarely been questioned, unless it was whether or not he was running up the score. And when a team beat his Pats, he usually found a way to adjust and return the favor the next time. But somewhere along the line the success of his team and his quarterback has gotten to his head and he thinks he can move the chains in any third or fourth down situation. Maybe last night's debacle in Indy will serve as a wake up call.

When I saw the Pats offense line up on that play the first thing that went through my mind as well as everyone else's mind had to be that they were just trying to draw the Colts' defense offside. I'm sitting there like "OK you're wasting your time time they won't jump...What?!! They're actually going through with it?". I originally thought Faulk's forward progress got him the first down on the catch. And even after watching the replay I still think he may have had the yardage necessary. Of course it's the Pats fault for not being able to challenge the play because they wasted all their timeouts just moments earlier.

I was really angry at the time because I thought Belichick had cost me my fantasy battle. At the time of the play I was up 7 points with Brady on my team but my opponent had Manning and Dallas Clark. Thank God the TD went to Reggie Wayne and not Clark...allowing me to escape with a three-point victory.

Now after the play I immediately thought that Belichick was trying to catch the Colts defense (who may have been expecting Brady to draw them offside) sitting on their heels because they would be trying so hard not to jump offside. Maybe Belichick thought that this moment of hesitation would allow them to get the two yards needed for the first down. Even if Belichick had this mindset I don't think it would've been the right decision, but at least it would've been a nifty thought and I'd have more respect for the decision. But it's clear that this didn't even cross his mind. He never mentioned it in either of his press conferences. He just thought he could gain two yards and seal the victory. His over-confidence came back to bite him.

This time the mad scientist was in way over his head. The chances of getting that first down are 50/50 at best...and when you have a six-point lead with two minutes remaining, the result of the game shouldn't be determined by a coin flip. When you make a decision you have to figure in the consequences and Belichick just flat out ignored them. Going against Peyton Manning probably had something to do with the decision to go for it. But that's also the reason not to go for it. Giving Peyton Manning the ball on the 30 yard line is like cutting your wrists and jumping in a shark's all over. At least if you punt and he gets it at his own 30 yard line you give your defense (which played pretty well for most of the game) a chance. Even with Manning behind center, it's not easy to go 70 yards in 2 minutes without a timeout. I don't think anyone ever made Manning feel better about himself than Belichick did last night.

As much of a compliment as it was to Manning, Belichick's decision was even more of an insult to his defense. Coming in to that game the Pats had the second best scoring defense (Colts are first) in the league! Instead Belichick threw them under the bus, forcing them to try and stop Manning and Co. on a short field. If I were on that Pats defense, I'd be pretty ticked off.

This may have been the best game we've seen between these two teams and it almost certainly will be considered the best game of the regular season. We got to see two hall of fame quarterbacks at the peak of their careers. The "Who's Better: Tom Brady of Peyton Manning" is probably the biggest debate in football and last night may have muddled it more for everyone. Personally, I'd take Manning. We also got to see maybe the two best wide receivers in football. Randy Moss and Wayne are 1-2 in receiving yards and probably both will be hall of famers as well (Moss is already a lock). We saw plenty of big plays, scoring, controversial calls, and an epic comeback. What more can you ask for?

The difference in this game was simply... clock management. The Colts were absolutely perfect in the way they used the clock during the 4th quarter. Down 34-21 with less than five minutes left they scored in just over two minutes. With all three timeouts left they were able to kick the ball away even though they lined up for an onside kick. They got the touchback which prevented any extra seconds from ticking off. And then they were able to call all three timeouts on defense before the two minute warning, giving them a chance even if the Pats had punted it away.

On the other side, the Pats were pathetic in managing the clock. They burned two timeouts on their four-and-out possession, one of those came before the first down play after the kick off. At the time it didn't seem like it mattered.  It was almost like Al Michaels had a sixth sense when he mentioned how this could really hurt the Pats. How right he was. Wasting those timeouts eventually prevented the Pats from challenging the 4th-and-2 play. And they couldn't stop the clock when the Colts were about to score. This gave Brady no time to try and mount a final drive of his own. In a game where both teams were pretty much dead even on offense, defense and special teams, it was clock management that proved to be the difference.

This heartbreaking loss cost the Pats any chance at home field advantage in the playoffs. The already-infamous 4th-and-2 play has already been talked about and shown more than Brett Favre's miracle TD pass over the Niners and is the most talked about play since Santonio Holmes' game-winning TD catch in last year's Super Bowl. The criticism of Belichick is ringing out everywhere. But Bill is so oblivious to the fans, media and anything that isn't between the front and back cover of his playbook that I don't think it'll affect him one bit. And I bet you if given the chance, he'd make that same wrong decision again.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

That Wasn't How It Was Supposed To Go!

Do or die week pretty much ended in death for me. The 49ers blew a game against the Titans at home, putting their playoff hopes in serous jeopardy. The Titans had just picked up their first win the previous week, there's no explanation for losing to that team at home. Alex Smith threw two costly picks at the end of the game that led to Titan TDs. Everyone keeps saying that Mike Singletary made the right decision by going with Alex Smith over Shaun Hill at quarterback but I'm not convinced. They say he has a stronger arm and he's more mobile. Ok, he has thrown more TDs in two and a half games than Hill did in five and a half. But all I see is one important number...a big goose egg in the W column.

For all of Hill's deficiencies, he has done one thing in this league and that is win games. Hill was 3-3 as a starter this season, but I wouldn't blame him for the Atlanta loss where the defense just didn't show up ready to play. And in Houston, I realize that Hill didn't have a good first half but he still hadn't thrown any picks. The decision to bring in Smith looked like a great one when he came in and threw three second half TDs but people forgot that it was Smith who threw a costly interception on the Niners' last drive in that game that ended it. Smith keeps making costly mistakes at key points in games. The mistakes that Hill didn't make (Smith has more INTs than Hill this season).  I'm not saying that Smith needs to go back to the bench just yet. I just think people should look at other things besides touchdowns and yards when comparing these two. As a QB you need to win games to be successful.

And that ESPN Page 2 writer Gregg Easterbrook is a complete idiot for suggesting that Michael Crabtree is the reason why the Niners are on this losing streak (this article was on ESPN's front page yesterday Crabtree has already become the number one receiver in this offense and has finally given us a weapon to go to on the outside. And he hasn't said one word. I'm sorry Easterbrook but you don't know what the hell you're talking about.

Well my fantasy team lost as well, dropping me to 5-4 for the season and all but eliminating me from the running for the regular season or total points title. I had a pretty good week with Michael Turner and Tom Brady putting up pretty good numbers for me. But Roddy White did very little because of the Falcons big lead and Kevin Smith's injury kept him from getting enough touches to produce.

I did OK with my picks this week going first week with a winning record in quite some time. I made a nice call on the Cardinals over Bears upset. But it looks like I'm completely wrong about the NFC East, the Giants don't seems to be getting out of the rut they're in and the Cowboys aren't pulling their annual choke least not yet. I'll say I got 1.5 of my 5 fantasy studs right (Ryan Grant, Matt Ryan). I'm still shocked that Green Bay's defense gave up 38 points and lost to the Bucs. I ended up doing better with my fantasy dud predictions getting 3 out of 5 right. Tony Romo took care of the ball much better than expected against the Eagles. And I was right that Hines Ward and Mike Wallace would have better fantasy days than Santonio Holmes, but Holmes still ended up with 93 yds (no TDs) so I can't say he was a dud.

Now for my High Five/Low Five

Best Teams
1. Indianapolis Colts- I don't care that they don't score as many points or beat their opponents by as much as the Saints. The Colts play defense and play it very well. They have allowed the least points per game in the league and have done it without their defensive MVP Bob Sanders who's now done for the year. What's new right? The past two games their offense hasn't been clicking the way it usually does, especially in the red zone. But the defense has come to the rescue both times. The defense can really prove something to the world if it shuts down Tom Brady & Co. this week.

2. New Orleans Saints- For the second time in three weeks the Saints overcome an early double-digit lead to win. The defense came up with another touchdown, their seventh of the season. That is more than the Raiders entire team has for the season and it's tied with the Browns! The one worry on this team has to be the rushing defense. They've allowed Michael Turner and Deangelo Williams to go off in consecutive weeks.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers- Up until the this week, no one has been talking about the defending champs. Their defense has been playing superbly, coming up with another TD against Denver and holding them to just 27 yards on the ground and forcing Kyle Orton to throw three picks (he had only thrown one all season and that was on a hail mary). The offense seems to clicking on both sides too. With their quality wins over Denver and Minnesota, I believe they are the third best team in the league and will be a force in the playoffs.

4. Minnesota Vikings- Since they lost to Pittsburgh I had to put them lower than the Steelers. But they very well could get their rematch with the Steelers in the Super Bowl. With all the flip-flopping in the NFC East it is definitely shaping up to at least look like a Vikings-Saints NFC Championship game.

5. New England Patriots- The Pats have taken advantage of a very favorable schedule over the past few weeks and the Tom Brady-isn't-the-same talks have been silenced. And after last week, the Where's Randy Moss? talks should be quieted as well. But let's see how good this team is this week when they travel to Indianapolis to face their old rivals. The Pats have a chance to eliminate both of the remaining unbeatens with the Saints looming on the schedule in a couple weeks. 

You may be wondering where the Bengals are on this list. I don't agree with their #4 ranking on ESPN's Power Rankings. I feel like they've caught a lot of lucky breaks in their wins, especially their first win over the Ravens. We'll see how they fare in Steeler Town. A win there will change my mind.

Five Worst Teams
1. Cleveland Browns- Their one win was a 6-3 triumph over Buffalo. I'm being extremely sarcastic with the word triumph. It really shouldn't be counted as a win if you don't score an offensive TD. In my book the Browns still are winless. This team is a complete embarrassment. ESPN should've tried to get a flex schedule for Monday Night Football so it could avoid showing what will be one of the worst debacles caught on TV when the Browns play the Ravens.

2. Detroit Lions- After the first few weeks of the season I thought the Lions were a decent football team. Of  course they always find a way to underachieve. Losing to the Rams at home is awful and almost placed them as my worst team in the NFL. Congrats Lions, you're only the second worst team in the league.

3. St. Louis Rams- Sunday's game against the Saints should be funnier than any South Park episode. Bet on the Saints now...the line is only 14. New Orleans should win by 50.

4. Tampa Bay- The Bucs have the best win of this bunch, a 10-point victory over the Packers. Maybe this kid, Josh Freeman is the franchise quarterback they've been looking for since...oh wait a minute the Bucs have never had a franchise QB. No, Brad Johnson doesn't count. Well at least they had hall-of-famer Steve Young as their QB for a brief time. Very brief.

5. Washington Redskins- I really don't see the Skins winning another game for the rest of the season. The only winnable one is at Oakland, but that's not easy considering Philly lost there. So the standard is gotta be 2-14 or worse to get the first pick in next year's draft. I'm sure at least one of these team will do worse.

Five Worst NFL Broadcasters Currently on TV

Currently is the key word here because there are plenty more I'd like to add to the list including Emmitt Smith and Bryant Gumbel who were wisely let go.

1. Cris Collinsworth- To me it really doesn't matter if Collinsworth says anything intelligent or not. His voice is too annoying to listen to. And he laughs at his own corny sarcastic jokes. The world is really missing John Madden right now.

2. Keith Olbermann- I can't stand listening to him do highlights on NBC. His jokes are over everyone's head and the one's I do get aren't funny. And all he does is continue to make these jokes that get an uncomfortable silence from the other anchors who don't know how to react.

3. Tony Dungy- Stuttering Stanley!...Stuttering Stanley! It's hard to believe that this guy led a football team to a championship. He's so unauthoritative and can go through one sentence without stumbling. He looks uncomfortable and frightened on camera. What makes it worse is that Dungy, Olbermann and Collinsworth are all on NBC's coverage of Sunday Night Football. What a horrible combination.

4. Dan Dierdorf- Mr. Obvious has nothing intriguing to say and he doesn't belong on CBS's number two broadcast team.

5. Tony Siragusa- I'm not a big fan of how Fox uses the Goose on their broadcasts. They basically have him as a second color commentator and he'll talk during the play sometimes. Then they'll show him watching a monitor thats on the sideline instead of watching the action on the field when it's right in front of him. And I think he talks about food more than football when he's on the air.

MVP Candidates
1. Drew Brees- Brees continues to lead this offense of nobodies to success. Seriously, besides Reggie Bush, who isn't even one of the top options in this offense who highly touted coming out of college? Marques Colston...7th round draft pick,  Devery Henderson...2nd round pick who did  nothing before Brees came, Lance Moore...undrafted free agent. Brees has made these guys into great receivers and that's why he's the MVP of the league right now.

2. Peyton Manning- Brees and Manning really are 1A and 1B for MVP and may end up getting a split for the award. I give Brees the edge just because of Manning's performance the past couple weeks. He's only thrown one touchdown against two average defenses. And he has Dallas Clark, the best tight end in the league this year, and Reggie Wayne, probably the best receiver in the NFL this year.

3. Ben Roethlisberger- My top three MVP candidates come from the three best teams on my power rankings. Big Ben is probably the best QB in the league outside of the pocket. His ability to extend plays has won them games this season. With an on-off running game it's Roethlisberger the former game manager  who will lead this team to another division title.

4. Cedric Benson- He continues to carry the Bengals on his shoulders game after game. He averages almost 25 carries/game. That's the definition of being a workhorse.

5. Brett Favre- This team is practically the same from last year with the exception of Favre and the improvements on offense are immense. Similar to Brees, Favre has made a mediocre-at-best receiving corps look great. We haven't seen him make those patented gunslinger errors of the past either. But it's almost impossible to think he can be MVP with the best rusher in the game behind him and Manning and Brees having the great seasons they're having.

Best Players on Bad Teams
1. Maurice Jones-Drew- There is no player more important to their team's offense than Jones-Drew. He is so dynamic both running the ball and receiving out of the backfield. And for some reason the Jaguars still don't realize the importance of getting him enough touches.

2. Chris Johnson- CJ might be the fastest player in the league. The Titans aren't playing better because Vince Young is in the game...they are playing better because they are finally getting him the ball. He's averaging 6.7 yds/carry and has the most 40+ yard runs in the league. There is no stopping this guy.

3. Steven Jackson- I love the way he runs with his bruising style. He craves contact and injects fear into opposing linebackers even though his team doesn't inject fear into anybody.

4. DeAngelo Williams- Williams has really picked it up in recent weeks...rushing for 548 of his 768 yards in the past four weeks. He almost single-handedly gave the Panthers and upset over the Saints last week.

5. Calvin Johnson- I know he's barely seen the field this year and hasn't done much when he is in. But this guy is the most athletic receiver in the league and if he ever gets out of Detroit, he'll be the best in the league.

Check out the Gridiron Guru later on this week for Week 10 predictions.