Jets Win War Of Words, Lose Actual Game

While I may have been off in some of my picks last week, one thing I was right about was this: Rex Ryan does not shut up- ever. It’s fine for a coach to do the talking, especially since come Sundays, all he can do is use words to try and help his team win. However, encouraging your team to insult the opponents through the media is simply classless. The Cowboys of 90’s were a hated team because of their swagger and arrogance and it seems the Jets are aiming to take on the role as “Most Hated Team in America”. Only difference between the two: The ‘Boys have the rings to show for it. Pardon my rant and allow me to get to my picks.

6 New York (12-5) at 1 New England (14-2) [-8.5]

The Jets came out swinging in the media this week, but the Pats will wait to take their shots on the field. Antionio Cromartie had a lot of words for Tom Brady this week, which I am sure Brady won’t forget about come game day. Cromartie has had some coverage issues all season, so he may have picked the wrong time, and wrong QB to go after. The Pats can rotate receivers and change the look of their passing game better than any other team in the NFL, so if the Jets want to have a chance, Cromartie may need to play the game of his life. Given the upgraded Pats running game (I use “upgraded” lightly) the Jets defense will need to play like they did the first time these teams met in 2010. I dont see Sanchez and company being able to put up enough points to out-score the league MVP. My Pick: Patriots 31 – Jets 20

5 Baltimore (13-4) at 2 Pittsburgh (12-4) [-3.5]

The Steelers secondary had a week to rest, so that means Troy P. will be ready to fly around the field. That is bad news for the Ravens who continue to struggle in the passing game and who got a good first-half scare from the Chiefs last week. These are two very equally matched teams on paper, and their regular season stats also showed how similar they can be. The Ravens have no problem playing in the cold outdoors, but playoff time in Pittsburgh is always a very tough road game for anyone. I think this game comes down to which QB makes fewer mistakes..and which defense can capitalize on them. My Pick: Steelers 13 – Ravens 9

6 Green Bay (11-6) at 1 Atlanta (13-3) [-2.5]

The Vegas odds-makers have decided what most people who watch football have decided as well: This game is a toss-up. The Falcons were unbeatable at home in 2010, but the Packers are the hottest team entering the playoffs. They were dominant against the Eagles last week and there is no reason to think they can’t be again. Their defense is spectacular against the run, so lots of pressure will fall on Matt Ryan to carry the team. Can he throw a few TDs and avoid turning the ball over to a swarming defense? I have my doubts. I think this game will probe that the Packers are the best team in the NFC. My Pick: Packers 24 – Falcons 13

4 Seattle (8-9) at 2 Chicago (11-5) [-10]

The Seahawks surprised everyone last week, myself included. Despite their record, could this team really be this good? Short answer: No. They won a home game with some great play by the offense, but much of that was due to very poor defense that allowed big plays. You can bet (and I am) that Chicago will not allow the Seahawks to break 10 tackles on a single play, or throw long TD passes in the 2-minute drill. The Bears defense is leaps and bounds ahead of the Saints, so expecting Seattle to score many points would be mistake. The Bears love the cold and snow of Chicago almost as much as they love playing shut-down defense. My Pick: Bears 20 – Seahawks 6

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Outside Looking In

As a Giants fan, I have no horse in this race, although based on my last post, there are some horses I hope do not make it close to the finish line. Billy has made his predictions, so here are mine.

5 New Orleans (11-5) at 4 Seattle (7-9) [+11]

Seattle doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs, but thanks to a weak division, they are hosting the defending champs in what should be a blowout. The Saints have issues in the running game, but with Brees behind center, the air attack will be more than enough to carry them into the Divisional round. My pick: Saints 27 – Seahawks 10

6 New York (11-5) at 3 Indianapolis (10-6) [-3]

A few weeks ago, the Jets played a team (Patriots) with a dominant passing game, an inconsistant running game, and a sub-par defense. The Jets lost that game 45-3 and were outmatched in every aspect. While I don’t see this game being a mirror image of that game, the Jets only chance to win is if they can out-score the Colts, which I doubt they can do. Peyton Manning has a second gear come playoff time and he has enough tools on offense to find the open man. Mark Sanchez is still learning on the job and will need a Manning-type performance to give the Jets a chance. My pick: Colts 28 – Jets 17

6 Green Bay (10-6) at 3 Philadelphia (10-6) [-3]

No team comes into this weekend hotter than the Packers have been the last few weeks of the season. Hot teams that peak at the right time often make a run in the playoffs and the Packers may be that team this year. The Eagles haven’t played their best football since the Giants game and Michael Vick may be a little banged up. I am not convinced that he can put this team on his shoulders against one of the best defenses in the NFC. This one stays close, but a FG may win it. My pick: Packers 23 – Eagles 20

5 Baltimore (12-4) at 4 Kansas City (10-6) [+3]

In what may be the most boring game of the first round on paper, the Chiefs come into the playoffs after a pounding from the Raiders when they had a chance to clinch the #3 seed. The Ravens are playing typical Ravens football with great defense and just enough offense to win close games. While Flacco has been missing some reads over the past week, he has all the tools to move the Ravens up and down the field. This game may still be close at halftime, but in the second half, the Ravens pull away. My pick: Ravens 17 – Chiefs 9

NFL Playoffs: It’s “Prediction” Time

It’s that time of year.  The NFL playoffs have arrived! In the words of our favorite Jersey Shore characters, “It’s T-Shirt Prediction Time!”  Now us prognosticators and blogonuts have our say in what will happen.  The games begin Saturday at 4.30pm ET (1.30pm PT) in Seattle.  Let’s begin there (the non-I95 game) and then I’ll do the I-95ers (lucky, they are in that order chronologically):

BILLY’S NFL WILD CARD PREDICTIONS

5 New Orleans (11-5) at 4 Seattle (7-9) [+11]: As I have stated previously, the Seahawks have no business being in the playoffs.  Lucky for all of us, they get to play the defending Super Bowl champions.  Drew Brees will pick them apart.  Start taking that 12th Man flag down early.  If you like blowouts, you’re in for a treat.  I won’t even go farther.  The Saints are winning, 100% lock, and cover the spread.  Saints then have to wait until Sunday to know whether they’re headed.

Saints 38 – Seahawks 13

6 New York (11-5) at 3 Indianapolis (10-6) [-3]: Rex Ryan’s record against Peyton Manning has been well documented this week.  Not counting the Great Benching Incident of 2009, Ryan has never defeated Manning.  The Jets have been up, down, forward and back this year.  It reminds me a little of last year’s team that backed in and then took out Cincy and San Diego.  This year, Indy is banged up and certainly not as talented.  The Jets barely survive Peyton’s air assault down the middle.  A late turnover by the Colts might do them in.  Manning’s magic needs to end sometime.  Tomorrow night it will, at least for this season.

Jets 27 – Colts 26

5 Baltimore (12-4) at 4 Kansas City (10-6) [+3]: Going to Arrowhead is a tough challenge for Baltimore because it will be incredibly loud.  I expect their offense to be more like when they played the Saints and less like when they faced the Browns and Bengals.  The Chiefs are inexperienced.  Cassel will make his first playoff start.  Ray Lewis and Co. are going to make Cassel’s life difficult.  The game stays close until an Ed Reed Pick Six in the early 4th quarter.

Ravens 31 – Chiefs 20

6 Green Bay (10-6) at 3 Philadelphia (10-6) [-3]: This game is going to be low scoring.  The Packers defense will give Vick fits.  Aaron Rodgers has been in one playoff game.  Andy Reid usually wins Wild Card games.  Despite the Eagles being awful late in the season, I expect they make the adjustments to keep Vick upright just enough to win.  Green Bay will score early and then struggle to score late.  Six FGs make it a last possession win for the Eagles.

Eagles 19 – Packers 13

Home Theater Playoff Special: For the I-95 Giants and Redskins & the other 18 teams watching the postseason from their couches, here’s a reminder that you aren’t in the playoffs.  Enjoy!

NFL Russian Roulette: Which Team Will Knock Your Team Out?

Happy New Year I-95ers!  The arrival of 2011 means the NFL playoffs are about to kickoff.  Of course, we have one last regular season Sunday before next week’s Wild Card round.  There is still seeding to be determined in both conferences although most of the participants have been decided.  For us along the I-95 corridor, four of our six teams have already qualified for the postseason, with a fifth team needing some help.  If you want to watch Redskins playoff football, load Madden 11 right now.

The question now remains, what match-up best favors your I-95 team next week and beyond?  The Patriots are, at the moment, the only team based on their #1 seed sitting out the Wild Card round (Baltimore can clinch a first-round bye with a win and some help from PIT).  For the others, none actually know who they will play next week.  But be careful what you wish for because on any given Sunday?  It’s like the six chambers in a gun playing Russian roulette.  Each team represents a chamber.  Which chamber holds the team’s bullet that will knock you out?

New England Patriots (Clinched AFC #1 Seed – First-Round Bye & Home-Field Advantage)

Here we are again.  A Pats rebuilding year turns into the best record in the NFL.  Year after year, Belichick transforms young, inexperienced players into postseason gold – and sometimes Tiffany sterling silver shaped like a football.  The AFC’s playoff seeding is a fluid situation so the Pats could be in-line to play virtually any team in the Divisional round.  Depending on tomorrow, the Pats could play Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Indy, KC or the Jets.  That’s a lot of teams to scheme for but I’m sure Belichick and Co. are up to the challenge.

My Take: The Pats are young but lethal.  If there is one team that can parlay its success from regular to postseason, it’s New England.  Tom Brady hasn’t thrown an INT since mid-October and the defense is points-stingy.  If Peyton makes it in, would you want him coming to town?  If I put my money on an easy win for the Pats, Jacksonville would be my first guess.  Although, if the Jags can’t get a win with that Indy loss and are sitting home next week, KC is the next best thing.  Pats fans should hope that Kansas City drops to the #4 seed and Indy, who would be the #3 seed, beats the #6.  That would send QB Matt Cassel, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel back to New England for a match-up with his former team and a game Belichick will win.  A third choice would be the Pats opening a can of you know what on the Jets… again.

The Bullet that would knock them out: AFC North survivor in the Championship game (either Baltimore or Pittsburgh)

Philadelphia Eagles (Clinched NFC #3 Seed – Wild Card Round Home Game)

The Eagles are locked into the #3 seed which means they will host the #6 seed.  Three potential teams could emerge with the final NFC spot: the Packers, Giants or Bucs.  Good news for Philly is the success they’ve had against the Giants this year, especially with that amazing comeback a few weeks ago.  A loss against the Packers Week 1 is so long ago, it really tells us nothing about how they would match-up next week.  They haven’t played the Bucs this year.  Perhaps playing in under 42 degree weather will affect Tampa?  If Vick puts last week’s tepid performance against Minnesota behind him, he should play equal – if not better – than he did during the regular season.

My Take: Bucs, definitely Bucs.  But with Chicago locked into a bye and the Falcons playing the lowly Panthers, the Packers have an easy path to that final spot.  If I were the Eagles, I would want the G-Men.  Beating a team three times in a season has occurred, but not often.  If the Giants sneak in though, their performance against the Skins would be determinative of whether I’d bet the house on them against Vick and their favorite punt return specialist, DeSean Jackson.  This year, I think the Eagles have the Giants covered.  Aaron Rodgers is due for some playoff magic and if I were Vick, I wouldn’t want it at my expense.

The Bullet: Green Bay Packers

Baltimore Ravens (Currently AFC #5 Seed – Can Move Up to #2 Seed & First-Round Bye w/ help)

The Ravens have been an enigma this season.  When they beat the Jets in week 1, they shut up Gang Green’s Super Bowl talk.  Since then, they have had a strong but not convincing championship run.  Their losses aren’t shocking (at NE, at ATL, PIT) save the week 2 loss to Cincinnati.  Their wins, based on the schedule, are mostly unimpressive.  They stuck it to the Saints and beat the Steelers at Heinz Field which are very notable.  A win plus a Steelers loss would give the Ravens a bye, making much of this talk moot.  However, Cleveland put the kibosh on Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes last season.  I doubt a repeat is in order.

My Take: For argument sake, Baltimore remains the #5 seed.  Who would they want?  It’ll be either Indy, Jacksonville or Kansas City.  Despite probably having a better record against each of these teams, they will be on the road.  Manning in Indianapolis?  Nope, don’t want that.  Chiefs at Arrowhead, in the playoffs?  No.  Jacksonville?  Yes.  But if the Jags don’t make it, I’d take the Chiefs.  Last year was a Colts year and they are certainly nowhere near that.  But would you want your Ravens D against Peyton or an inexperienced KC squad.  Yeah, I thought so.

If Baltimore manages to secure the #2 seed, they would, like the Patriots, have numerous teams they could be playing.  I’m thoroughly unconvinced with the Jags.  Based on the scenarios, if the Jags are in and if Baltimore were a #2, the Jets would have to be the #5.  If the Jags beat the Jets, that would speak volumes about the Jets, not the Jags.  They would be my first wish.  But if not the Jags, then I could see a promising Divisional victory against the Chiefs.

The Bullet: Pittsburgh Steelers

New York Jets (Currently #6 Seed – Can Move Up to #5 Seed w/ a win + BAL win + PIT loss)

Gang Green has been all over the place this season.  The aforementioned Week 1 loss to the Ravens showed the ineptitude of their offense.  The next week’s win against the Pats showcased Sanchez as the future standard-bearer of AFC East quarterbacks.  The Jets play like the class of the AFC until Denver nearly knocked them off and then put up an offense egg against Green Bay (literally no points).  Since then, the Jets have either won games unconvincingly, barely escaping with overtime road wins or getting embarrassed by their AFC East counterparts New England and Miami.  Luckily for Jets fans, a win at Pittsburgh and a hard-fought losing effort in Chicago may illustrate that the Jets are getting revved up for another playoff run.

My Take: The Jets will be on the road next week and are comfortable in that position.  They were better on the road than at home (it was a brand new home though).  Depending on seeding, they will be, like the AFC North runner-up, playing in either Indy, KC or J’ville.  As I have stated before, Peyton Manning unnerves me at home.  I have a strange feeling that if the Colts are in, #18 is going to have one last gasp before a road loss in the Divisional.  The Jets would certainly relish the chance to get revenge for last year’s loss in the AFC Championship where it went down.  Again, Jacksonville would be the Jets first choice but that will only happen if the Jets move up to #5.  That requires Baltimore to win the North, which I think will not happen.  I am also unenthusiastic about a trip to Arrowhead.  KC is undefeated at home this season.  The Chiefs defense has played above their potential this year and the offensive protects the ball.  This is a tough call but if the Jags are not an option, I’d be in for a trip to Indy and a shot to knock off one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks having an awful season.

The Bullet: New England Patriots

New York Giants (Currently Outside Looking In as NFC #7 Seed – Can Move Up to #6 w/ win and GB loss)

The Giants have looked horrible the past two weeks.  Ugly losses have shown their vulnerabilities.  The freaky fourth-quarter debacle against Philly was just the beginning of the end.  What was telling was their inability to bounce back.  The Packers dominated New York in every facet of the game.  The Giants looked magnificent the first half of the season but have regressed.  Eli Manning looks weak and listless.  Coughlin’s in the hot seat now with Bill Cowher waiting in the wings to take his job.  If the players really want another Coughlin season, they better go to Washington and embarrass them.  Then they need to do some damage in the playoffs.

My Take: There is one playoff scenario for the G-Men.  If they are so fortunate to win and have Green Bay lose, they will face the Eagles in Philadelphia.  They will need to forget Week 15.  Matt Dodge will have to punt out of bounce, the offense will need to light up the scoreboard and the defense will need to play sixty minutes.  This might be the one time the Eagles where three times a charm for the winners of the previous two division games.

The Bullet (if they make it): Philadelphia Eagles

To Recap:

  • Pats want JAX, KC, IND; Knock-out: BAL or PIT
  • Eagles want TB, NYG; Knock-out: GB
  • Ravens as #2 or #5 want JAX, KC, IND; Knock-out: PIT
  • Jets want JAX, IND, KC; Knock-out: NE
  • Giants want a win, GB loss and a Philly forfeit; Knock-out: PHI

Don’t Count Out the NFC Beast

I understand the point my colleague is trying to make about the state of the NFC East, but with all due respect, I believe he is misinformed. I will be doing a season outlook for the division before kickoff, but I feel I must defend this division and try and get the last word in.

On paper, the Cowboys do have the beat team in this division. ON PAPER. Unfortunately for the ‘Boys, games are played on football fields, so paper victories mean nothing. The coaching of this team is still a big question mark, as is the linebacking core, and yes, even the wide receivers. Can everyone expect another stellar season from Austin Miles? Can Roy Williams find his form as Pro Bowl WR? Can Jason Witten stay healthy for a full season? Nobody doubts the talent that this team has, but before we give them a division title, let them play some real games first.

As for the rest of the division, I do not think you can count out the Eagles and Giants from the conversation about NFC East champs – and certainly not from the Wild Card discussion. The Eagles are starting a new regime at QB with McNabb in Washington, but all Kolb did in 2 starts last season was put up 718 yards, 4 TD’s and a 65% completion rate. There are sure to be bumps on the road for a “rookie” QB, but the Eagles still have a quality defense, a young, talented group or WRs and RBs, and a coach that knows how to win ballgames. On the flip-side, the Giants have all of the pieces of a top-notch team, but can they stay healthy? Injuries did the G-Men in last year, and training camp hasn’t been good to therm either, but if they can keep their core guys on the field, this is not a team to take lightly. The defense, which collapsed last season, has a new leader and a new look. Kenny Phillips is back from injury, and key new additions Rolle, Bulluck, and Grant and depth that was sorely missing last year. The Giants still have one of the best D-lines in the league, and the offense took major strides last year. There is no reason to think this team will not be in the hunt all season.

The Cowboys may be in prime position to bring home the NFC East crown, but if the Eagles and Giants have any say in the matter, expect a fight to the end.

2010 NFC East: Disaster on I-95

Cowboys – Eagles – Giants – Redskins.  This is perennially the hardest division in football, maybe in sports.  They pound on each other like Rocky working on steaks in a meat locker.  The rivalries go back decades.  The NFC East is flush with Super Bowl titles and no one is ever guaranteed the division title.  This year, the I-95 teams are not endearing themselves to anyone.  Philly, Big Blue, Hogs – you’re going nowhere.

We know each team has a laundry list of weaknesses, save the Cowboys.  We know the Dallas bandwagon cannot get any fuller.  Billy’s on the wagon too.  The Cowboys should not run but sprint – sprint – away with the East.  The Cowboys at 12-4 and the I-95ers at 8-8 apiece.  And by making that prediction, I’m virtually certain that no wild card teams will come from the East, the first time since 2004.

Eli Manning is not elite but he’s a solid QB; though Super Bowl XLII was a long time ago and David Tyree is nowhere to be found.  Kolb’s young and capable but his team is by no means ready.  We should talk about Rex Grossman and John Beck because let’s face it, the Eagles made a smart move.  If Donovan McNabb has been injured the past eight years, what will his injury report speak of over the next two.  So what are you saying to us Billy Bob, Tony Romo is the best quarterback in the division?  Ummm… This year – Yeah.

The NFC East is in transition.  The Skins are on the rise, the G-Men are waning and the Eagles are retooling.  Big-D, at the moment, is loaded.  If there is football in 2011, this division will be competitive.  For 2012, the NFC better be on notice that the East is back on top.  I wouldn’t worry I-95er fans, the Cowboys will not be playing in Super Bowl XLV at Jerry World.  Jerry Jones’ hype and Wade Philips coaching will make sure that doesn’t happen.

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