National Football Conference
Final Four: GB, Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans
Conference Final: Green Bay v. Detroit
American Football Conference
Final Four : New England, Houston Pittsburgh, Baltimore,
Conference Championship: New England v. Houston
Super Bowl: Houston v. GB
Super Bowl Champion: Green Bay
In 2009, former New York Jet Punter Steve Weatherford missed a playoff game due to an irregular heartbeat, for which he had heart surgery in 2010. Yesterday, Weatherford, playing in his home state of Indiana, set the Super Bowl record with 3 punts inside the Patriots’ 10-yard-line, the first of which directly led to the first points of a game, a safety that set the low-scoring, field-position tenor of the game.
Which heroes on YOUR team aren’t getting their due?
Notwithstanding the Eli Manning v. Tom Brady hype, it is teams, not players, that win Super Bowls, and the team with more playmakers tend to win them. It’s also axiomatic that the team that turns the ball over more times almost always loses the game. Why? Because they either make mistakes early and have to play catch-up, or they fall behind and have to take more risks.
So who has more play makers? Unless what’s meant is the literal play “maker”, which may mean Bill Belichick, the Giants have more playmakers, at least healthy ones. The Giants have the most ferocious defensive line in football, with all four of their D-lineman potential game changers. The Patriots have one: Vince Wilfork. Granted, his the “largest” playmaker on the field, but he is only one guy (even if barely).
On the offensive side, the Giants have perhaps the best WR-corps in football, and certainly Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are playmakers. True, the Patriots have (had?) the best two-TE set in football, but Rob Gronkowski, who just had the greatest statistical year by a Tight End in NFL history (and scored more TDs than any two other Patriots combined), is recovering from an ankle he sprained in the Patriots last playoff game.
When completely healthy, the Patriot offense is built to exploit the Giants biggest defensive weakness: tight ends who can stretch the field. However, with “Gronk” hurt, even though sure to at least start the game, the Patriots may have a hard time getting a tight end deep. While the other half of the great TE duo, Aaron Hernandez is also a downfield threat, and should see plenty of throws his way, he may be less of a force when the focus is not on Gronkowski. There is still Welker, a pass-catching machine who should find openings in the middle, but unless Ochocino finally get the playbook under his belt, there’s no WR threat to find deep openings, even if Brady can stay upright long enough to toss the pigskin deep.
Eli Manning probably won’t have the same difficulty launching balls to Cruz, Nicks and Manningham. They’ll be open, it’s just a matter of whether Belichick’s coaching staff can find enough ways to pressure (or trick) Eli into interceptions or at least not finding the open man. Twice in the SF game, Eli put the ball up and two SF defenders collided with each other rather than corral the football for a turnover. The Patriots do not have the defensive prowess of the 49ers and may not be able to pressure (and hit) Eli as well as the 49ers did. But, IF they do, it’s likely they can eke a turnover or two out of Eli. That’s what the Pats need, because it’s unlikely they’ll force too many Giants punts.
Without turnovers or a kick return TD (which may take a heroic game from quarterback-turned-punt-returner-turned-wide-receiver-turned-defensive-back, it’s unlikely the Patriots will be able to develop enough pressure to keep Eli and Company off the field long enough to support the weak Patriots secondary. Of course, if Rob Ninkovich can force an Ahmad Bradshaw fumble, or if Rutgers -product Kevin McCourty can snag an interception or two, things could change in a heartbeat.
But unless the pride of Tom Brady can effectively utilize the Patriots running game and Bill Belichick can summon a surprise method of slowing the Giants’ WR corps before they spread the Patriot secondary thin, the Giants may win this one going way.
A record-setting Quarterback at Kent State whose college coach told him that he could make the NFL as a special teams player, Julian Edelman is, I believe, the only player in the NFL who plays special teams, offense AND defense. I also believe he’s the only Jewish player in this year’s game. Let’s see what he can do!
As a rookie in 2005, Alex Smith had 1 Touchdown and 11 Interceptions. This year, he led the league in lowest interception percentage.
This year, Alex Smith led the league in times sacked (44, as many as Eli was sacked in 2010 and 2011 COMBINED). Neither Eli nor Peyton was ever sacked 40+ times. Papa Archie was sacked 40+ four times. Eli’s backup, David Carr, has the most, and the third-most, sacks against in league history.
This year, Alex Smith led the league in 4th Quarter Comebacks and Game-Winning Drives. Eli did that one – in 2007! (Tom Brady has never done that.) This year, Eli was one 4th-Quarter Comeback behind Smith and matched Alex’s 6 Game-Winning Drives.
Whichever team wins, this game may well be defined in terms of the two quarterbacks. If Atlanta wins, Matt Ryan will be said to have finally won a “big game” and enter the group of great current QBs, while questions will be raised about where Eli Manning’s 2007 playoff magic disappeared to. If the Giants win, Eli will solidify Giants’ fans views of him as a better clutch QB than many of his contemporaries: Philip Rivers, Tony Romo and, yes, Matt Ryan.
But this game, as are many games in this, the greatest Passing Era in the history of the NFL. really may be about whose supporting cast performs better. First, as often is the case, the team that pressures the opponent more is likely to win the game, while the converse is true as well: whoever gives their QB the most time will probably win. And the Giants are doing a much better job of pressuring QBs lately. The key will be whether the Giants newly invigorate pass rush will be able to pressure Ryan before his deep threats can get deep.
Both QBs have elite receiving corps. The one edge that the Falcons have here is that they also have a big-time pass-catching tight end.
And Atlanta has the better RB in Michael Turner, whom Atlanta will try to consistently feed. The Giants have a two-headed running monster of Bradshaw and Jacobs underperformed this year, but have played better as late. Atlanta has a chance to win if Turner can eat up big yardage on the ground.
On the other side, the Falcons are missing their best cornerback, Brent Grimes, which means the difficult task of covering both Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks will be even harder. Based on recent stellar performances by Cruz, I’d guess the focus will be on him, giving Nicks and Manningham the chance to thrive.
An injured defense is not a good way to slow Eli Manning, who’s had his best statistical year. However, if Atlanta can confuse Eli into a few misplaced balls, they can win.
Giants are healthier and have the home game.
Giants 34 Atlanta 27.
Strange to see Pittsburgh, whom many have selected to go to the Super Bowl, have to play on the road at Denver, which is thought to be the weakest of playoff teams. As we saw last year, when, despite a losing record in the regular season, Seattle beat New Orleans in the playoffs, home field can have a big effect in the playoffs. And playing at Denver is usually difficult for any team.
All that said, it is unlikely Denver can put up enough points to win a playoff game against a team with a good defense. It is helpful, however, to Denver’s chances that Pittsburgh has suffered injuries to its QB, Ben Roethlisberger (ankle), and RB Rashard Mendenhall, who is done for the year. Plus Denver has a good defense of its own. So, Denver will likely be able to limit the Steelers’ offense, but without much firepower on the Denver side, a low-scoring game might only keep Denver “in it” rather than giving them a great chance to win it. To keep in the game, Denver must keep Pittsburgh’s offense off the field by maintaining the type of long drives that Tebow has not usually been able to sustain.
With Tebow, anything can happen, but Denver would need an awful lot of breaks, literally and figuratively, to win this one.
Pittsburgh 23, Denver 13.
In this, the Year of the Pass, can any AFC team score with New England. Pitt may have had a chance to at least generate some long drives, but now they are down to a backup RB and an injured Big Ben. Baltimore certainly could eat clock with Ray Rice, but can Flacco can go head to head with Brady? Perhaps, if the Ravens’ D can apply enough pressure on Brady.
And Denver? That ship has sailed. Denver’s defense may come to play, but they’re not going to score enough.
So look for Baltimore at New England, I think NE just scores too much.
The NFC is wide open in the sense that any of the playoff teams could go on a run. But the NFL world would be surprised if neither Green Bay nor New Orleans goes to the Super Bowl.
New Orleans hasn’t played an outdoor game up north since the first week, when the Saints lost at Green Bay. That may tamp down New Orleans’ offense enough for QB Aaron Rodgers to win without a running game. If Rodgers can sustain drives long enough to keep Brees and Co. off the field, they should beat New Orleans….if NO can get past SF. If Eli holds up, Giants should win a home game v. Atlanta, but can JPP disrupt GB enough at Green Bay? Perhaps. but since neither the Giants nor GB can run, Rodgers gets the edge at home. GB-NO for all the NFC marbles…..Green Bay’s at home and if it’s bad weather, they’d get the big edge, unless New Orleans can sustain a running game. Think a NO or GB vs. NE Super Bowl would be high scoring?
It’s looking like virtually every NFC playoff game this year is going to be a high-scoring game. It certainly should start that way, as Detroit has the league’s best WR (Calvin Johnson) and New Orleans has the league’s most prolific offense. The Saints’ biggest problem is that if they play Green Bay, it will be at Green Bay, and it appears that the Saints have not had an outdoor game up north since they lost at Green Bay in week one. None of which matters against Detroit, which stands ready to give New Orleans a battle.
Sure, Brees set the NFL yardage record with 5,476, and added 46 TDs, but Stafford wasn’t far behind with 5,038 and 41 TDs. That passing prowess may well keep Detroit in the game, but the team’s inability to run will put a lot of pressure on Stafford to play mistake free football. Because the Saints have a great O-line and can run better, with the 3-headed-monster of Sproles-Ingram-Ivory, they have the better chance to sustain long drives, keeping Stafford-to-Johnson off the field. Plus, Johnson is recovering from an injury and would need to have a huge game to keep Detroit running with the Saints.
Detroit’s a young team and should be title contenders next year, but for now the veterans can win the day if they can withstand a Detroit second-half run.
Saints 41, Detroit 31
Cincinnati at Houston: I assume someone will score in this game eventually (has there ever been a 7-0 playoff game?), and that’s likely to be Houston, because they can run the ball and WR stud Andre Johnson is supposed to be healthy for this one. Actually, it’s amazing that Cincinnati even made the playoffs, because they haven’t beaten anyone and the average non-fantasy-playing, casual sports fan cannot name anyone on the team. Here’s one: Andy Dalton, one of whose high school teammates is also in the NFL. How many of YOUR high school friends are in the NFL?
Of Cincy’s 9 wins, 5 came against last place teams, 2 came against next-to-last teams, and 2 came against 2nd place teams. But in their defense, all of their losses were to playoff teams. Another thing they have going for them is that Wade Phillips coaches for Houston. Then again, Wade’s always been a good D coach. Houston 24, Cincy 17
Cincinnati at Houston: I assume someone will score in this game eventually (has there ever been a 7-0 playoff game?), and that’s likely to be Houston, because they can run the ball and WR stud Andre Johnson is supposed to be healthy for this one. Actually, it’s amazing that Cincinnati even made the playoffs, because they haven’t beaten anyone and the average fan cannot name anyone on the team. Here’s one: Andy Dalton, one of whose high school teammates is also in the NFL.
Of Cincy’s 9 wins, 5 came against last place teams, 2 came against next-to-last teams, and 2 came against 2nd place teams. But in their defense, all of their losses were to playoff teams. The other thing they have going for them is that Wade Phillips coaches for Houston. Then again, Wade’s always been a good D coach. Houston 24, Cincy 17