Saturday, November 22, 2008

Week 12 Picks...

Okay, so three weeks ago I struggled a little with my picks (2-3). But in my defense, I took some chances, and two of the three incorrect picks were very close games. After two weeks of rest, I'm ready to take some more chances. Here goes nothing.

New England 27 - Miami 20
Miami trounced New England 38-13 in week 3. However, I haven't seen too many teams fool Bill Belichick twice. Even with the Wildcat offense, I cannot see Ronnie Brown and the Dolphins running all over the Patriots defense again (even with Adalius Thomas out). With that being said, I still think Miami will pose problems for the Pats. Last week, Matt Cassel showed us he could respond to those types of problems. In the battle of the Bills (Belichick & Parcells), I'm taking the Pats in a close one.

New York Jets 19 - Tennessee 23
Two weeks ago, I started thinking the Jets were going to be the team to hand the Titans their first loss (if the Jags did not). Well, today isn't too weeks ago. Since then, the Titans have overcome a 14-3 deficit against the Jags, and Jeff Fisher has jumped out of a helicopter (arriving at practice, in an effort to motivate his team. I don't know what Jeff will have to do to get them past the Steelers and Colts, but at least he doesn't need to do anything extreme to get them past the Lions on Turkey Day. Oh, and just to comment on this weeks game: the Titans defense should slow down Thomas Jones and capitalize on some dumb throws by Brett Favre en route to victory.

Carolina 30 - Atlanta 17
Last week started what I anticipate to be the decline of this year's surprise story: the Falcons. Carolina's defense should take Michael Turner out of the game. Although Ryan has progressed since their last meeting, I think Carolina's defensive pressure should be too much for him as well. Throw in the one, two punch of DeAngelo Williams & Jonathan Stewart, and its easy to see why the Panthers should be a lock to win in Hot-Lanta.

New York Giants 31 - Arizona 27
This is a real tough call. The Giants are arguably the best team in the NFL right now. On the other side, the Cardinals are impressing all as of late. Kurt Warner has been the surprise player of the year, and Larry Fitz & Anquan Boldin are practically unstoppable. If the Giants defensive front can get pressure on Warner, and I think they will, Boldin & Fitz will have little time to get open. Boldin is such a threat receiving at the line of scrimmage that I do think the Cardinals will generate a lot of scoring, but with the Giants run game controlling the ball, and enough pressure to force a fumble or two out of Warner, the G-men should squeeze out a victory.

Indianapolis 31 - San Diego 20
It's been a surprisingly tough year for the Bolts, who at 4-6, need a victory if they want to preserve any hopes of winning the division. Unfortunately for them, the resurging Colts are coming into town. Look for the Bolts' struggles to continue, with a two-touchdown loss to Peyton and the Colts. I still wonder, was it really worth getting rid of Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season, just because of one playoff loss to the Pats? I'd be worried if I was Norv Turner.

Green Bay 24 - New Orleans 34
New Orleans has had a disappointing season thus far, but there's still a small window of opportunity left for them to make a move. The return of Reggie Bush would help. After all, in his last appearance on Monday night, Bush dazzled spectators with two punt returns for TDs (three if he hadn't slipped on the turf). While Bush's return is still left uncertain (I think he'll give it one more week of rest), I think the Saints will pull it out either way. The Packers defense has been tough as of late, but Drew Brees has been something else thus far. The Saints love playing in front of that home crowd as well.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Down to the Wire...

With the NFL season just past its midway point, and the playoff future of many teams still left uncertain, I thought I'd make some predictions. Here's what I expect to see come January:

AFC East:
New England Patriots (11-5)

If I've learned anything from this decade in football, it's that you can never count out a Bill Bellichek coached team. Even in the absense of stars Tom Brady, Rodney Harrison, and now Adalius Thomas and Laurence Maroney, I still think the Patriots will win their division. Matt Cassell has been up and down at times, but in the last few weeks he has demonstrated an ability to lead. The Patriots have also managed to keep the running game going in the absense of Maroney. They rank 7th in the NFL in rushing, and the recent emergence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (I know, that's a lot of first names) shows an indication that their ranking may only get better. The Patriots have also shown they are confident enough in Cassell to take chances down the field. As Moss and Welker continue to gain confidence in their quarterback, the only place the Pats can go is up. Oh and right, they're already in first place in the division.

AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
This division will come down to one game. December 14th, Steelers vs. Ravens, at Baltimore. While the Ravens defense may be thriving once again, its the Steelers that hold the NFL's top defense. Combine that with a more experienced quarterback and a Pro-Bowl running back's return, and its easy to see why the Steelers should prevail. Both teams face a tough road ahead, but the Steelers are just a little bit better.

AFC South: Tennessee Titans (13-3)
This one isn't that difficult. At 9-0, the Titans are pretty much a lock for the division title. Their final 7 games are fairly tough though. I expect their undefeated season to come to an end in the near future, and with a comfortable division lead in the final weeks, I expect to see some more losses to teams vying for playoff spots.

AFC West: Denver Broncos (9-7)
The AFC West has really fallen off this year, huh? Even so, someone has to win the division. I think Denver will squeak it out in the last game of the season against the Chargers. I haven't given up on Jay Cutler, and I think RB Ryan Torrain should be the surprise sensation that vaults the Broncos into the playoffs.

AFC Wild Cards:
Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Manning and the gang have looked like anything but the Colts of recent years this season, however, I think we'll see a late season surge from them. They seemed to be back on track these past two weeks, and they've successfully made it through a brutal schedule. The road ahead matches the Colts up with five, below .500 teams. If the Colts maintain their current groove and avoid lapses against inferior opponents, they should coast into the playoffs.

New York Jets (10-6)
Well, as I predicted on the day of the trade, Brett the Jet should propel the Jets to the playoffs. Although lately it doesn't seem like Favre deserves the credit. The Jets have a great running attack, in Thomas Jones & Leon Washington, and their defense has really bailed them out as of late. With a schedule as weak as they have ahead, it would be sad for Brett and company to miss the playoffs.

NFC East: New York Giants (13-3)
Even with the toughest schedule to close out the season (remaining opponents have a combined .621 winning percentage), I still see the Giants taking the NFC East. They've put themselves in a good enough position to withstand the tough road ahead. The division should continue to beat each other up. Barring injuries, I think the Giants will continue to show the league why they are the defending Super Bowl champs.

NFC North: Chicago Bears (10-6)
I should hold my breath when saying this, but in honor of my dear friend Christoph Schoenbeck, I'm taking the Bears. Minnesota came through with a big win last week versus Green Bay, but they face a difficult schedule to close the year. Even though Chicago has blown games I didn't think were possible to, I just have a feeling they're going to pull it out. Their defense is strong, Orton's playing great and should return from injury in a few weeks, and Matt Forte has been all that Cedric Benson was not.

NFC South: Carolina Panthers (11-5)
Carolina has really impressed me over the last few weeks. I doubted them early in the season, but they've proved me wrong, week in and week out. Delhomme has been consistent as always, and young backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have been great compliments to star wideout, Steve Smith. They also have a strong defense to sweeten the pot. Look for them to edge out the division title from the Bucs.

NFC West: Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
Who needs a young franchise quarterback like Matt Leinart, when you've got 37 year-old Kurt Warner? The Cardinals certaintly don't. Warner's looking young as ever these days, and Anquan Boldin seems unstoppable. Even after a near career-ending play that sidelined Boldin for two games, he still leads the NFL in TD receptions with 10. He sure is making a case for himself in a contract year. When Boldin is covered, Warner has Larry Fitz, speedster Steve Breaston, and RB Tim Hightower to look to. Ironically, the team oddly resembles "the fastest show on turf", Warner's old supporting cast.

NFC Wildcards:
Washington Redskins (11-5)
Expect the NFC East's surprise team of the year to hold off both Philadelphia & Dallas for a WildCard spot. The offense has come together under Jim Zorn more quickly than anyone would have ever expected. Portis has been having an MVP-like year, Santana Moss is torching defensive secondaries, and Jason Campbell isn't making mistakes. Expect a big win for Washington versus Dallas or Philly to secure a second place finish in the competitive NFC East.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)
From Day 1 it was considered a lock for three NFC East teams to make the playoffs, but I don't think its going to happen anymore. The NFC South has surprised everyone with three teams at 6-3 or higher right now. I think the NFC East will continue to beat each other up, opening the door for Tampa Bay to steal the last playoff spot. Dallas could turn it around and take the spot, thanks in part to their 13-9 win over Tampa earlier in the year, but I can't see it happening right now. Yes, Dallas does have Romo back, but I expect problems in their defensive secondary to prevent them from redeeming themselves for last years unexpected loss in the playoffs. Tampa Bay's schedule isn't much easier, but it should be just easy enough to get them into the playoffs.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Friday, November 7, 2008

Another Night, Another Upset...

Last Saturday, fans across the country watching to see if Texas could survive its last difficult test before the Big 12 championship, got quite a show. The Longhorns, fresh off wins against #1 Oklahoma, #11 Missouri, & #7 Oklahoma State, seemed almost unbeatable coming into the game. But Texas Tech was looking to show the country that there was more than one undefeated team in Texas; they did just that.

For the first time this season, the Red Raiders, criticized for having no defense, silenced the critics with a defensive pounding right from the start. On Texas' first possession, running back Chris Ogbonnaya was swallowed in his own endzone by a fired up Texas Tech defense for a safety. The defense didn't stop there. They continued to bruise Texas' offensive line, constantly applying pressure on QB Colt McCoy, and produced a few 3 and outs and many short drives for the Longhorns. They held Texas to a first half total of only 6 points.

On the offensive side, Texas Tech lived up to their hype. They moved the ball efficiently and with ease throughout the first half. QB Graham Harrell found different targets all over the field. However, Texas' defense was able to slow them down near the redzone, and thanks in part to a dropped TD pass in the endzone, the Red Raiders went into the locker room with a 22-6 lead at the half. A score that, although a blowout, didn't do justice for the dominance Texas Tech showed.

In the second half, just like he had against Oklahoma, WR Jordan Shipley got Texas going with a 45 yard punt return for a touchdown. With the score at 22-13, and a Texas comeback knocking at the door, Tech's defense rose to the occassion again. This time it was safety Daniel Charbonnet coming through in the clutch, with a 23 yard interception returned for a score, to put the Red Raiders up 29-13 in the 3rd.

But Texas wasn't done yet. QB Colt McCoy showed why he was the favorite to win the Heisman, leading Texas back with three scoring drives, throwing two TD's (91, 37) in the process. The third and final scoring drive put Texas up for the first time, 33-32 with just 1:29 remaining.

Fortunately for the Red Raiders, their offense had already scored 10 times this year in a 1:30 seconds or less. They also had a confident quarterback at the helm, looking for revenge on the school that said he wasn't good enough to lead their team. Well Texas, it looks like you were wrong. Harrell led his team all the way down the field, and in quick fashion. On 1st & 10 at the Texas 28, with only 15 seconds remaining, Harrell fired a ball into the flat that bounced off the hands of his intended receiver & floated for what seemed like a year in the air. As it came down into the arms of a Texas defensive back, it appeared the Longhorns had survived again; someway, somehow. But wait. Unexplainably, the gift of an interception slipped right through the hands of the Texas defender, giving new life to the Red Raiders with just 9 seconds to go. At the 28, Texas Tech faced a 45 yard field goal with only a walk-on halftime contest winner and a shaky backup to kick it through the uprights. For these reasons, Texas Tech tried to squeeze in one more play. A quick out-route to make the kick a little shorter would probably be the way to go, right? Wrong. How about a downfield pass to the best wide receiver in the country, Michael Crabtree? Yeah, that'll do. If you had never heard of him, and you've seen ESPN in the last week, you know him now. Crabtree casually ran down the sideline in double coverage, probably thinking, "Yeah, I'm about to score the game-winning touchdown", made a play back to the ball thrown behind him, and made a leaping grab near the sideline at the five. Every fan watching must have thought it was over, knowing Crabtree would naturally run out of bounds to set up a nice chip-shot field goal. But no, Crabtree decided it would be best to just break a sure tackle while tip-toeing the sideline, and run it right in the endzone for the win. It was unbelieveable.

With Texas being the third #1 to go down this year, Alabama was finally given a taste of the nation's top-ranking. Texas Tech's upset didn't go unnoticed though. They jumped up to the #2 spot in the country, with a BCS title bid in their hands. It's only a matter of whether or not they can hold on. It won't come easy though. Texas Tech has to take down #8 Oklahoma State and #4 Oklahoma, in Oklahoma, all before the Big 12 Championship. If they can somehow survive those three tough tests, they'll find themselves in the BCS National Championship. Can they do it? It is possible. Will they do it? I can't see it happening. If they can survive this weekend, I expect to see Oklahoma play the role of the spoiler again, and end their perfect season. I will certaintly be rooting for them though. Texas Tech is the most exciting team in the country, and I would certaintly rather see them play, than a Penn State team who's only significant victory came against one of the many overrated teams in the Big 10, Ohio State. The upsets never seem to stop coming though. It should be a crazy finish.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports