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Both the Packers and the Eagles were favorites to win the NFC Championship at some point this season.  They met week one in Philadelphia.  Kevin Kolb, who was expected to be the star quarterback for the Eagles, got hurt in that game opening the door for Michael Vick, who became the star quarterback for the Eagles.

Green Bay Packers hearse

Will the Eagles' championship hopes be taken away in a vehicle that looks like this?

With all the injuries that they’ve had, it’s impressive that the Packers were able to win 10 games and make the NFC playoffs.  They’ve played particularly well as of late with back-to-back wins over the Giants and Bears.  Aaron Rodgers, when not concussed, has been spectacular and the Green Bay defense has been mostly stellar.  It’s second in the NFL in both sacks and interceptions.

The Eagles rebounded from that week one loss and went on to win 10 games and the NFC East title.  Vick was brilliant for parts of the season, working his way into the MVP conversation but then working his way back out of that conversation.  Philadelphia also showed a potent running game but struggled some on the defensive side of the ball.

The Packers win if: They can get Vick uncomfortable early.  It may seem counterintuitive but Vick has actually been a much more effective quarterback while throwing from the pocket than on the run.  Green Bay will most likely focus on making Vick move to his right, making it much more difficult for him to throw the ball as a lefty.

The Eagles win if: They contain the Packers passing game.  Let’s face it, Green Bay does not have a running game to speak of.  The Eagles need to either confuse Rodgers by changing up their defenses (more likely) or  individually excel in their assignments (less likely). 

Who do I like: Packers 27-20

Why: It’s really tough to go against the home team Eagles.  Especially when you consider that Andy Reid’s teams are 7-1 in playoff openers.  For me what it comes down to is this – I just think the Packers have more playmakers on both sides of the ball and I really like their defense, which was second in the NFL in allowing only 15.0 points per game.  I think Rodgers will be steady and the Green Bay defense will prevent the Philadelphia offense from doing what they want to do.

Do you agree or disagree with my analysis of this matchup?  Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Photo source: kevindooley

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Sunday’s NFL Wildcard Playoff games start heating up at 1:00 pm when the Baltimore Ravens invade Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs.  While both of these teams play in the AFC they are not frequent foes.  They’ve only met twice in the last five years, both wins for Baltimore.

Arrowhead Stadium, Home of the Chiefs

Arrowhead Stadium will host Sunday's NFL wildcard matchup between the Ravens and Chiefs.

The Ravens were one of the favorites to wear the AFC crown coming into the 2010 season.  But they never became the offensive machine that they seem to have the potential to be.  Still, they are in the tournament, so that may happen at just the right time.  Baltimore is used to playing on the road in the postseason.  Their last five playoff games have been away from home.  They won in New England on Wildcard weekend last season.

The Chiefs are returning to the playoffs after a five year absence.  They are one of the NFL’s 2010 surprise teams.  They exceeded almost all expectations while winning 10 games and the AFC West division title.  For Kansas City it’s been improvement all around, but especially in the running game where Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones led them as the top offensive rushing team in the NFL.

The Ravens win if: They can slow Charles down and stop him from reaching the corner.  With 6.4 yards per carry over 230 carries Charles has proven he’s deadly.  Baltimore will have to create penetration near the tackle area to stop Charles from turning the outside corner and gouging them for big runs.

The Chiefs win if: They can stop the run.  It may be that simple.  In their last four games the Chiefs are 2-2.  In their two wins they held each of their opponents to less than 70 yards rushing.  In their two losses, each opponent carved them up for more than 200 yards on the ground.

Who do I like: Chiefs 17-16

Why: This is a tough one to pick.  The Ravens have won six road playoff games since 2000 and obviously will not be intimidated going into Kansas City.  I think the Chiefs will be able to slow down Ray Rice while getting Charles going.  I think they’ll be able to pressure Joe Flacco and prevent the Ravens from making a big play through the air.  I have faith in Romeo Crennel to build a defensive game plan that will keep Baltimore on their heels.  The second-most important thing for Kansas City in my eyes is for Matt Cassel to take care of the ball.  He has to be aware of Ed Reed and must stay away from interceptions.

Who do you like in this matchup, the upstart Chiefs or the veteran Ravens?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo source: Brood_wich

The New York Jets travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts in the Saturday NFL Wildcard Playoffs nightcap.  The last time these two met was just less than a year ago in the AFC Championship game.  The Colts won that game of course, 30-17, to advance to the Super Bowl.

Mark Sanchez walking

The Jets need a solid game from Mark Sanchez to beat the Colts Saturday night.

The Jets did not have the dominant year that many expected.  Still, they finished a solid 11-5.  However, three of those five losses occurred in the last five weeks of the season.  The Jets defense showed some cracks, especially while letting up 38 points to the Bears in week 16.

Like the Jets, the Colts did not live up to lofty preseason expectations.  But they did do enough to win the AFC South, which ended up being a much weaker division than expected.  Peyton Manning went through a rough stretch where he was throwing a ridiculous number of interceptions and the Colts battled injuries all season long.

The Jets win if: They can get pressure on Manning.  That’s not an easy task.  The Colts tied the Giants for the NFL lead in only letting up 16 sacks.  The Jets defense was eighth in the NFL with 40 sacks.  You can count on Rex Ryan drawing up some aggressive blitzing and trying to make Manning start counting the seconds in his head as he drops back.

The Colts win if: Their run defense is aggressive and holds the Jets to very short gains or better on first and second downs.  Indianapolis wants to create third and long situations so they can allow their two excellent edge pass rushers to try to tee off on Mark Sanchez.

Who do I like: Jets 21-20

Why: I watched the Colts several times this season and was never impressed.  Manning looked to have lost a little something and it was clear that the receiving corps is not performing up to the usual standards either.  I think the Jets defense will get to Manning.  I think they’ll hassle him, break his rhythm and force mistakes.  I think the Jets offense will be able to run on the Colts and that Mark Sanchez will be able to string together enough nice pass plays for the Jets to get the win.

Who do you think will get the victory in this matchup?  Let me know who you like by posting a comment below.

Photo source: Nmajdan

The NFL Playoffs start Saturday afternoon when the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks kickoff at 4:30.  These two teams played in Week 11 with the Saints dominating the Seahawks 34-19 in New Orleans.  Drew Brees threw for 382 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Saints to victory.  Matt Hasselbeck had one of his best games of the season, completing 32 of 44 passes for 366 yards.

New Orleans Saints timeout

Drew Brees and the Saints offense should have a prolific day on Saturday.

New Orleans comes into this game on a down note, having lost to Tampa Bay last week at home.  But that came right after a solid 17-14 win over the number one NFC seed and division rival Falcons.  After winning the Super Bowl last year the Saints clearly know what it takes to go all the way.  The question will be do they have the horses to do it again.

As you’ve probably heard a million times, the Seahawks are the first NFL team with a record below .500 to make the playoffs.  They lost five of their last seven games but still won the NFC West.  They certainly don’t have playoff caliber talent so I think you’ve got to give a lot of credit to head coach Pete Carroll in his first year in Seattle.

The Saints win if: They take care of the football.  Brees was second worst in the NFL with 22 interceptions.

The Seahawks win if: Leon Washington really catches fire and pulls off a miraculous three returns for touchdowns.

Who do I like: Saints 35-10

Why: New Orleans is better than Seattle at every position on the field besides special teams.  The Seahawks were 27th in the NFL in pass defense and they’ll be facing the third best passing offense in the Saints.  I think Brees will come out hot early, quiet the great Seattle crowd and New Orleans will cruise to victory.

Do you see any scenario in which the Seahawks win?  Share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

 Photo source: smoorenburg

It’s always fun to make preseason predictions and it’s usually a nightmare to go back and look at them. 

Fortune teller with crystal ball

I don't think I've quite figured out how to interpret my crystal ball yet.

With a quick glance I can tell that I wasn’t very creative with my 2010 NFL predictions.  Here they are with the actual records next to them in parentheses:

NFC East

Cowboys   11-5 (6-10)
Giants   10-6 (10-6)
Redskins   9-7 (6-10)
Eagles   8-8 (10-6)

My shining jewel in the NFC East – my New York Giants prediction.  I also picked Tono Romo to be division MVP, Donovan McNabb to be the Top Newcomer in the division, Linval Joseph to be the Top Rookie (he did make six tackles!) and Malcolm Kelly to be the Most Improved.  Ugh!

NFC North

Packers   12-4 (10-6)
Vikings   10-6 (6-10)
Bears   5-11 (11-5)
Lions   2-14 (6-10)

Not too bad with the Packers but I was off by at least four games with the three other teams in the NFC North.  I did better in the individual categories.  I picked Aaron Rodgers to be the NFC North MVP, Clay Matthews as the division Defensive Player of the Year and Julius Peppers to be the Top Newcomer.

NFC South

Saints   12-4 (11-5)
Falcons   11-5 (13-3)
Panthers   5-11 (1-15)
Buccaneers   4-12 (10-6)

Let me first apologize to Tampa Bay for being so far off.  I’d like to apologize to myself next for giving the Panthers too much credit even though I wanted to pick them to have far fewer wins.  My individual award picks for the NFC South were a Saints and Falcons lovefest.

NFC West

49ers   10-6 (6-10)
Cardinals   6-10 (5-11)
Rams   4-12 (7-9)
Seahawks   4-12 (7-9)

The Rams definitely surpassed my expectations, which was exciting – well at least up to last night.  I expected big things from Frank Gore, Alex Smith and Beanie Wells.  Oops.

AFC East

Patriots   13-3 (14-2)
Jets   12-4 (11-5)
Dolphins   8-8 (7-9)
Bills   3-13 (4-12)
 
I was pretty good in the AFC East just missing each team by one game and calling the order of finish.  While I did pick Tom Brady to be the AFC East MVP, I also picked Shonn Greene to be Offensive Player of the Year, C.J. Spiller to be the Top Rookie and Aaron Maybin to be Most Improved.

AFC North

Ravens   11-5 (12-4)
Steelers   10-6 (12-4)
Bengals   10-6 (4-12)
Browns   2-14 (5-11)

I thought the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger would hurt the Steelers a lot more than it did.  I also blew it on the Bengals.  I expected Joe Flacco to really turn it up and be the AFC North MVP.  That did not happen either.

AFC South

Colts   12-4 (10-6)
Titans   11-5 (6-10)
Texans   9-7 (6-10)
Jaguars   5-11 (8-8)

Other than the Colts I got this division all wrong.  I did call Arian Foster as the Most Improved Player in the AFC South.

AFC West

Chargers   12-4 (9-7)
Chiefs   8-8 (10-6)
Raiders   5-11 (8-8)
Broncos   3-13 (4-12)

I clearly trusted the Chargers too much.  I wanted to buy more into the Raiders but I couldn’t find the wins.  I did say that Vincent Jackson was the Most Important Player in the AFC West because of his holdout.  That may have proven to be true.

So another NFL regular season is in the books and my predictions mostly stunk.  I only predicted one team’s record correctly.  I’m pretty sure you could randomly generate records and get one right.  But don’t worry fearless readers it won’t stop me from making more predictions!

Photo source: Steve Snodgrass

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to say that I’ll be watching the Rams play in a game that really matters in the grand scheme of things in the NFL.  They last made the playoffs six years ago and posted the worst combined three-year record going into this season.  Nobody could have expected them to be playing for an NFC West title on the last Sunday of the season.

Ram

The young Rams must be ready to stake their claim to a division title tonight.

I’ve been a Rams fan since I was a little boy.  They are the one team that I can say I am a life long fan off.  How does a boy growing up in Central New York become a Los Angeles Rams fan?  My older brother liked them and so I decided I was going to like them as well.  And I’ve supported them in good times and bad.

I loved Eric Dickerson and then Jim Everett.  I hated the 49ers…and I still do.  I watched them play terrible football in the 90’s while I took them to Super Bowls in Madden on the PlayStation.  And I experienced the magical ’99 season when Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk took them to a real Super Bowl.  I’ll always remember that day.  I was a ball of excitement and nervousness.  And when the Rams won I think I mostly felt disbelief.  After those many years of fandom it was wonderful to have the Rams holding up the Lombardi trophy as NFL champions.

But, bringing it back to today, the Rams have far surpassed my expectations for this season.  I picked them to be 4-12.  My hopes for the year were that the Rams would win a few more games, show some solid improvement on defense and protect Sam Bradford. 

I’ve gotten the chance to watch a couple of their complete games.  I’ve been very impressed with what Bradford has done with limited weapons and with what Coach Steve Spagnuolo has been able to do with the defense. 

Here are the three key things the Rams need to do to win tonight:

  1. Be rock solid on kick and punt coverage.  Leon Washington is always a threat for the Seahawks in the return game.  He’s returned three kickoffs for touchdowns this season while averaging 25.9 yards per kickoff return and 14.0 on punt returns.  The Rams gave up a punt return for a touchdown just last week to Ted Ginn Jr.
  2. Protect Sam Bradford.  The Seahawks are tied for 12th in the NFL with 34 sacks and Chris Clemons is also tied for 12th among players with 10.5 sacks.  The Rams offensive linemen have to win their battles with the Seattle defensive linemen and linebackers.
  3. Mix up defensive looks and blitzes.  Charlie Whitehurst is inexperienced at quarterback.  The more looks and blitzes Spags throws at him the more likely he is to make bad decisions that result in turnovers.

So those are the three things I’ll be focusing on tonight.  You may have noticed that I did not make a prediction for the game.  I won’t make predictions for Rams games – I think it’s bad karma.

I’d be happy to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to post a comment below.

Photo source: Rennett Stowe

With NFL playoff berths on the line, week 16 was absolutely critical for teams that hoped to compete in the postseason.  Some squads stepped up (Packers, Bears, Chiefs and Rams) and others fell on their face (Chargers and Jaguars).  Let’s take a look at the performances I thought were most noteworthy.

Here are the Average Guy NFL Week 16 Awards:

Most Impressive Win

Green Bay Packers – 45-17 over the New York Giants

Lambeau Field

The Packers need to beat the Bears in Lambeau next week to sew up a playoff berth.

Most Important Win

St. Louis Rams – 25-17 over their division rival San Francisco 49ers

Worst Loss

San Diego Chargers – 20-34 at Cincinnati Bengals

Biggest Surprise

Detroit Lions

Biggest Disappointment

Jacksonville Jaguars

Offensive MVP

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers – 25 completions 37 attempts 404 yards 4 TDs 139.9 QB rating 2 carries 26 yards

Defensive MVP

Chris Harris, Chicago Bears – 1 interception 1 fumble recovery 11 tackles

Special Teams MVP

Jacoby Ford, Oakland Raiders – 99-yard kickoff return for TD 5 kickoff returns 188 yards

Most Surprising Performance

Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals – 16 completions 21 attempts 269 yards 4 TDs 157.2 QB rating

Most Disappointing Performance

Eli Manning, New York Giants – 17 completions 33 attempts 301 yards 2 TDs 4 interceptions 63.6 QB rating

Offensive Rookie

Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams – 28 completions 37 attempts 292 yards 1 TD 107.0 QB rating fumble lost

Defensive Rookie

Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs – 54-yard interception return for a TD 4 tackles

Most Impressive Performance in a Loss

Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers – 6 receptions 122 yards 1 TD

Quick Takes

  • I watched the entire Jets-Bears game today.  It was an excellent matchup but I was surprised that it turned into shootout.  I expected much more of a defensive battle. 
  • The Bears started with a lot of momentum and took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.  The Jets owned the second quarter, scoring 24 points and taking a 24-17 lead into halftime.
  • Jay Cutler was on fire in the third quarter, throwing three touchdowns and propelling the Bears to a 38-31 lead.  But then the defenses stepped up in the fourth quarter.  The only scoring was a field goal by the Jets.  It wasn’t enough, and the Bears got a big victory over the team that just won in Pittsburgh last week.
  • Mark Sanchez looked good today.  His throws were crisp and he was making good, quick decisions.  The Jets also did a good job integrating the Wildcat into the offensive game plan.  On defense, they really struggled to generate a pass rush without major blitzes.
  • The Bears offensive line has really improved.  They did a good job of protecting Cutler and giving him time to make his throws.
  • Of course, while I was watching that game I was tracking the 49ers-Rams game on the computer.  I was psyched when the Rams got off to a good start but they let up the two big plays and made it too close.  It’s always great to beat the Niners, but especially today with everything that was on the line. 
  • I really hope the Rams can win in Seattle next weekend for the obvious reason that I’d love to see them win the division and make the playoffs but also because I think it’s important for the NFC West winner to at least have a .500 record.
  • What a strange week this will be – with the rescheduling of the Vikings-Eagles game there will be NFL games on five days in week 16 – Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
  • Couldn’t believe it when I heard on the Giants-Packers telecast that Eli Manning has 29 turnovers this season.
  • A couple of other considerations for Offensive MVP this week – Matt Cassel and Matt Forte were also very impressive – but I had to go with Rodgers.
  • Jeez, the Patriots are good enough, but when you give up seven turnovers how in the world can you expect to compete Buffalo?

One BIG Question

After the last two weeks will the Giants have anything left to give next Sunday?

Let me know what sticks out to you about week 16 by posting a comment below.

Photo source: Brian Giesen