Tag Archive: Playoffs


Super Bowl Thoughts

Another Super Bowl has come and gone, an excellent ending to an excellent year of football- let’s hope the CBA gets done and next year is as good.  So what did we see & learn yesterday?

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The Green Bay Packers came into the season with lofty expectations- A potent offense, a ball-hawking defense, and a young quarterback coming into his own was expected to carry this team to the Super Bowl.  And here they are, but certainly not by the road most expected them to take.

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Over the next two weeks, every possible story line will be exploited, every aspect over-analyzed.  I am contributing by breaking down every aspect of both teams.

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Conference Championship Thoughts

  • Bizarre finishes to both games.  The eventual losers were down and nearly out at halftime; both staged rallies that fell just short.  Thankfully for the viewers, it made the second half of games interesting, because the first halves were not.
  • There is reason for optimism in the offseason for both teams.  I have long held that it’s better to lose in the Conference Championship than the Super Bowl.  The Bears uncovered a gem in Caleb Hanie, and now face an interesting choice in the offseason (although, if both Cutler and Hanie are under contract in 2011, expect them to keep both, a la the Eagles this year), while the Jets get a little closer each year.
  • The Jets need to win the division to get to the Super Bowl.  This is a strong team, but they need to beat New England in the standings AND in the playoffs.  Road trips to New England, Pittsburgh and/or Baltimore are the road the AFC playoffs go- and that’s not a gauntlet any team can run.  They need at least one home game in there to get over the hump.
  • Rodgers had a small meltdown in the second half.  He will need to turn in a strong 60 minutes in the Super Bowl for them to win.
  • Pittsburgh got away with mistakes it won’t against Green Bay.  They need to play cleaner if they’re going to win.
  • Defense still wins championships.

Caleb Hanie- Unexpected hero of the Chicago Bears

I have never seen a Championship loser as happy as the Chicago Bears.  As Caleb Hanie came off the field after being picked off by Sam Shields, teammates swarmed around him, hugging him and commending him.  His teammates responded to him on the field, as he did more for their chances of winning in a quarter of play then the two guys ahead of him on the depth chart had done all day.

He made great throws when he needed to, including great ones to Knox and Bennett.  He made mistakes- a pick six to BJ Raji, and the game clincher at the end.  But he gave the Bears a lot more hope than Cutler did, who went out at the half with a knee injury that caused twitter to blow up and demoralized his teammates.  After an ineffective Todd Collins came out, Hanie came in and injected some fire into the entire Bears team.

The Bears lost the game.  But they found something that will get them back to the NFC Championship- a quarterback with the strength, accuracy, smarts and heart to lead a team.  Color me impressed.

I will not be adding to barrage of ‘the last time these teams played in the playoffs was just a couple days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor’ clamor, because frankly, it has no bearing on anything.  These teams play each other twice a year, so we should pay attention to recent history when sizing up this game.  Chicago leads the rivalry all time, with a 93-83-6 record.  However, since 1990 it has been the Packers controlling it, posting 10 consecutive victories over the Bears from 1994-1998.  But the real story here is the Tale of Two Quarterbacks.  I’ve said it before, I hate the notion of ‘quarterback wins’, but in this case, it makes the story better- Aaron Rodgers will vanquish the ghosts of you-know-who as he rides into the sunset in a trail of interceptions and text message allegations, while Chicago paid royally for Jay Cutler, and have the chance for that to pay dividends (it helps that Josh McDaniels, you know, wasted the picks he got in Denver).

In addition to all that drama, let’s not forget defense.  These are two secondaries that have played in another universe over the last few weeks.  Tramon Williams (CB, Packers) got paid- and then showed why, making himself a household name with two last week against the Falcons and a game-clincher of Michael Vick in the wild card round.  And then there’s the defending Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Woodson.  Their defense ranks second in the NFL in sacks, and has always showed up in big games.  Chicago, meanwhile, ranks ninth in YPG allowed, and signed pass-rusher extraordinaire Julius Peppers in free agency, and he has played exceptionally well for them.  Both quarterbacks can expect to be harassed on all fronts, and using the running game to set up passing will be a deciding factor.  This will benefit whichever team wins- they face a strong defense in either team left in the AFC.

The line: Packers by 3.5

My Pick: Packers 28, Bears 17

So the AFC comes down to this- The New York Jets in their second AFC Championship in as many years and the Pittsburgh Steelers, overcoming the four-game suspension of their starting QB to have yet another quality season.

The Jets put together a stellar defensive game plan to stop Tom Brady and 10 other guys, but now they face almost the polar opposite- a strong running game and a rock-solid defense.  They will have to pound the ball at least somewhat effectively to set up play action for Sanchez- a tall order.  Passing on the Steelers defense is no easy task, either, and both safeties have been playing very well lately.  Sanchez will need to be mistake free all game for them to make it further than last year.

For Pittsburgh, they can expect to face something other than 11 active DBs for the AFC Championship.  Expect them to run hard and often, before getting safeties to bite on play action on second- and third-and-short.  They will have to honor it, and Mike Wallace will make them pay.  On the defensive side of the ball, they will have to shut down Greene and Tomlinson, which is not easy task, but if they can force them into passing situations early and often, they will force Sanchez into making bad passes or holding the ball to long.  Look for Polamalu to line up in the box and drop into coverage, and blitz from deep.  Sanchez has a lot of upside, but is young and can be rattled and tricked into making mistakes.  A veteran Steeler secondary will take advantage.

The Line: Steelers by 3.5

My Pick: Steelers 24, Jets 17

Divsion Round Thoughts- Sunday

Another great weekend of football is past- but the Championship games look awesome.  Let’s hope the trend holds.  Here are my thoughts, observations, and whatnot from yesterdays games:

  • Can we be done with the ‘Quarterback wins’ metric?  Matt Ryan has played in TWO playoff games, and lost both.  Aaron Rodgers caught a lot of flack coming into this postseason for his supposed inability to win playoff games.  But what about Tom Brady?  He has lost three in a row- does that mean he’s a bad quarterback?  What about Mark Sanchez, since he’s won a bunch, but isn’t really that great?  It’s stupid to tie a handful of games to a quarterbacks legacy, especially when they’ve only been playing/starting for a few years.
  • The playoffs do not need to be reseeded.  Sure, the Seahawks went 7-9 in the regular season, and won the division, and yes, I see how that is kind of lame, but when is that going to happen again?  Let’s keep it the way it is and in 20 years or so, when it happens again, we can all be mad about it (it won’t matter, there will be an 18 game season), but if the playoffs are reseeded now, it’s closing the barn door after the horse is out.
  • Excellent game plan by the Jets.  I don’t have to say anything that has been said a hundred times already, but I will add this- you should come up with a game plan because of your quarterback, not in spite of him.  The defense was spectacular, but the offense (Sanchez) still made mistakes, and if the defense was anything but stellar, we’d be previewing a Patriots/Steelers championship.  Sanchez is still to hot and cold to be effective over two more game against better defenses than he saw Sunday.
  • I won’t say much about the Seahawks here- I have a whole post about that- but they should be proud.  They got as far as they did winning when they needed to, in the face of a lot of doubters.  Good teams need to do that, and they can be proud of that.
  • The Bears will have to play much better than they did yesterday when they play Green Bay.  Green Bay has a potent offense and and incredible secondary.   They will make Chicago pay for any mistakes, and Seattle let them get away with quite a few.
  • That being said, Cutler was spot on all day.  He didn’t make many of the mistakes he usually does, and showed why Chicago gave up a kings ransom for him.

Another great day of football, although the late game was somewhat disappointing, Aaron Rodgers and Tramon Williams more than made up for that.  Here are my from-the-hip observations:

The Line: New England by 8.5

New England’s Key to Victory: As usual, Tom Brady.  The jets have a potent secondary, but if Brady is on, he will light them up.  And Tom Brady doesn’t have off days, so look for him to have a big day.

New York’s Keys to Victory: Predictably, stopping Tom Brady.  More accurately, slowing down Brady.  On top of that, they need Mark Sanchez to play like Brady, and he’s struggled with any kind of consistency all year.  With that said, he has good receivers around him, and New England has a young defense that can be tricked and exploited.  If Rex Ryan and the rest of the Jets coaching staff put together a solid game plan, they can pull off the upset.  However, they can’t afford the mistakes they made against a banged-up Colts squad.  They will have to play mistake-free ball in order to keep this from being another blowout.

My Pick: Patriots 35, Jets 21