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Posts Tagged ‘AFC’

Tom Brady

Expect a big game from Tom Brady against the Jets Sunday afternoon.

Ladies and gentlemen…get ready for your main event!  The Jets and Patriots have been battling through the media since the preseason.  They’ve also met twice on the field with each team winning at home.  They most recently met in week 13 in a game that was never close.  Everything went against the Jets and the Patriots crushed them 45-3 in Gillette Stadium.  But they have split their last six games.

The Jets come into this battle off an excellent wild card win over the Colts in Indianapolis.  Rex Ryan shockingly called off the dogs, not turning on the blitz and dropping linebackers into coverage.  The Jets cranked up the running game gaining 169 yards on 38 carries.  Mark Sanchez didn’t play well but it did not end up costing New York.

New England was the best team in the NFL this season, winning 14 games and racking up 518 points, almost 100 more than the next best team.  The Patriots young defense struggled against the pass early in the season but has improved by leaps and bounds in the second half of 2010.  Tom Brady had an MVP season and the offense featured a number of new weapons with no weak link.

The Jets win if: They adequately cover the Patriots’ tight ends and backs.  New England is deadly with the underneath and delayed running back routes.  It is not the Jets’ strong suit but they are going to have to shut down the tight ends and backs as much as possible.

The Patriots win if: They can stop the Jets running game.  They cannot depend on as many things going wrong for New York as did in the week 13 game.  The defense needs to be stout and stack up the run, forcing Sanchez into third and longs.

Who do I like: Patriots 27-17

Why: After all the talking this week the Patriots will be ultra-motivated to beat the Jets, not that they need to be to beat New York.  I think the Jets will slow them down a bit but Brady will dink and dunk his way down the field on long drives with lots of passes.  I think Ryan’s best play this week will again be to drop more ‘backers into coverage.  I also think New England will force Sanchez into difficult situations and bring different looks to confuse him.

I definitely like New England by a big margin in this playoff matchup.  Let me know who you think will win and why in the comments section below.

Photo source: americanistadechiapas

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This almost had to happen didn’t it?  The Ravens and Steelers battered and bruised their way to identical 12-4 records.  They split their two meetings, with each team winning on the road.  And before, during and after the season many folks had Baltimore and Pittsburgh identified as NFL championship contenders.  On Saturday, they’ll meet one more time to settle the AFC North score for the 2010 season.

Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco's poise under pressure will be a key to the Ravens beating the Steelers on Saturday.

Baltimore comes into the game after an impressive Wild Card win in Kansas City.  The Ravens dominated the time of possession, held the Chiefs to just 161 total yards and forced five turnovers.

Pittsburgh had a bye last week by virtue of winning the AFC North and clinching the two seed in the AFC.  The key to the Steelers success throughout the season was their stellar defense, which was second in the NFL in allowing only 276.8 yards per game. 

The Ravens win if: Joe Flacco makes quick reads and finds the open man.  Flacco showed great poise in the pocket against the Chiefs and had the patience to let the underneath routes develop.  Obviously pass protection will be key as well.

The Steelers win if: The offensive line wins their individual battles.  To stop the Ravens from teeing off on Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh will have to mix the run and pass with success.  The Steelers line will have to drive the Ravens front seven off the line of scrimmage while giving Roethlisberger the time to look for Mike Wallace.

Who do I like: Ravens 14-13

Why: I think you can throw the fact that the Steelers have won the last six matchups against the Ravens with Roethlisberger in the lineup out the window.  What I think this game will come down to is emotion and motivation.  I think the Ravens will rally around the grief that Ed Reed is experiencing right now and be absolutely determined to win this game for him.  I think the game will come down to a last minute defensive stop by the Ravens after they get Ray Rice involved early.

How do you see this brutal battle playing out?  Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Photo source: swiecicki

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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

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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

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In my NFL divisional previews I have already posted who I thought would win each division.  Those predictions were based on my initial evaluations of the teams.  Since then I have gone through each team’s schedule, game-by-game, to predict their final record for the season.  This exercise did not change the divisional winners, but it has changed the order in which I think some of the divisions will shake out.

Here are my predicted records for each AFC team by division:

AFC East

Crystal Ball Wizard

And the crystal ball says...

Patriots   13-3
Jets   12-4
Dolphins   8-8
Bills   3-13

AFC North

Ravens   11-5
Steelers   10-6
Bengals   10-6
Browns   2-14

AFC South

Colts   12-4
Titans   11-5
Texans   9-7
Jaguars   5-11

AFC West

Chargers   12-4
Chiefs   8-8
Raiders   5-11
Broncos   3-13

AFC Wild-Card Games

Titans over Colts
Ravens over Jets

AFC Divisional Games

Patriots over Titans
Ravens over Chargers

AFC Championship Game

Ravens over Patriots

Who am I underrating and who am I overrating?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo source: seanmcgrath

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Last week I posted my NFC X-Factors, or the guys flying below the radar whose performance I think could impact their team’s record more than the average player.   Today it’s time to tackle the AFC.

Baltimore Ravens – Fabian Washington, CB

Baltimore Ravens Parade Car

Will this car be driving to the house that Jerry built?

A thin unit became even more so when cornerback Domonique Foxworth went down in the preseason with a season-ending injury.  Now it’s up to Washington to come back strong from offseason knee surgery and hold down one side of the Ravens’ pass defense.

Buffalo Bills – Demetrius Bell, T

The Bills offensive line was atrocious last season.  A seventh round pick in 2008, Bell was forced to start halfway through 2009.  They’ll need him to be a big anchor at left tackle if they hope to have any sort of success.

Cincinnati Bengals – Terrell Owens, WR

I’m sure Owens would not want to be considered anybody’s X-Factor.  But he is not the player he once was.  The Bengals were handcuffed at the end of last season when it became clear Chad Ochocinco was their only option in the passing game.  If TO can capture some of his past glory Cincinnati could make a Super Bowl run.

Cleveland Browns – Brian Robiskie, WR

Robiskie barely played in his rookie year, finishing with seven measly catches for 106 yards.  The Browns need a spark for their passing game, which finished last in the NFL in 2009.  Jake Delhomme is used to just heaving the ball and having his main receiver make a play for him.  Perhaps Robiskie can be that receiver for him this year.

Denver Broncos – Robert Ayers, LB

Even without the injury to Elvis Dumervil the Broncos were going to be pushing Ayers to improve their ability to get to the quarterback.  Now that Dumervil will be out for the season, Ayers needs to step up to be their featured pass rusher.

Houston Texans – Glover Quin, CB

Ranked 18th in the NFL, the Texans had a respectable pass defense in 2009.  But they lost free agent cornerback Dunta Robinson to the Falcons in free agency.  Quin will be in only his second year in the NFL but Houston hopes he can step into Robinson’s position as shut down corner.

Indianapolis Colts – Donald Brown, RB

The Colts could not muster a running game last season, finishing last in the NFL.  Brown has the power and breakaway speed that Joseph Addai lacks.  He could be the difference maker when carrying the ball for Indianapolis.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Aaron Kampman, DE

After finishing last season dead last in the NFL in sacks the Jags sought out to improve their pass rush.  They hope that Kampman will help them out greatly in that department.  He missed seven games last year after a season-ending knee injury but had 37 total sacks in the three seasons before that one.

Kansas City Chiefs – Glenn Dorsey, DE

Two years into his professional career, the man many thought would be a brute force on the defensive line has struggled.  The time is now for Dorsey to step up and be an anchor for the Chiefs’ front seven. 

Miami Dolphins – Cameron Wake, LB

With the loss of Joey Porter and Jason Taylor the Dolphins need Wake to step up and become a complete player in 2010.  He was strong with the pass rush last season, his first in the NFL, finishing with 5.5 sacks.

New England Patriots – Devin McCourty, CB

There is no doubt that New England’s most questionable unit is the secondary.  They drafted McCourty in the first round to help them solve the issues.  He’ll have every opportunity to start alongside Leigh Bodden at the cornerback position.

New York Jets – Braylon Edwards, WR

Nobody questions the ability of Edwards.  It’s his heart that is questioned and it’s usually after he goes through one of his episodes of dropped passes.  With high expectations and the progress of Mark Sanchez at stake the play of Edwards could be the difference between the Jets having a great season and a good one.

Oakland Raiders – Tommy Kelly, DT

The Raiders were 29th in the NFL against the run last year.  If the Raiders are going to achieve respectability in 2010 they need Kelly to become the player they thought he would when they gave him a big contract a few years ago.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Wallace, WR

Coming off an excellent rookie campaign, Wallace will be expected to provide even more bang for the Steelers’ offense in 2010.  They need to replace the 79 receptions, 789 yards and six touchdowns Santonio Holmes provided last season.  Without a doubt, Wallace is the best candidate to do it.

San Diego Chargers – Antoine Cason, CB

Antonio Cromartie’s trade means it’s time for Cason to step into a starting cornerback role and be productive.  To get to the Super Bowl the Chargers will need to be able to depend on Cason to help slow down the air attack offenses of the Patriots, Colts and Ravens.

Tennessee Titans – Kenny Britt, WR

Britt put up some good stats in his rookie year, finishing with 42 receptions, 701 yards and three touchdowns.  If the Titans are going to strongly contend for a playoff spot and win the division, Britt will have to expand his game and provide a consistent downfield target for Vince Young.

Who do you see as the X-Factors for AFC teams?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: Maryland National Guard

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After starting the weekend with promise and nailing my first two picks on Saturday, I took a steep fall and got both predictions wrong on Sunday.  I wasn’t that surprised by the Vikings win over the Cowboys.  However, I was absolutely shocked that the Jets beat the Chargers.  The Jets hung in there long enough to give themselves a chance, and again Mark Sanchez did just enough to win while the defense made the Chargers offense look average at best.  Nate Kaeding’s bad field goal misses certainly helped the cause as well.  Hopefully this weekend will bring two hard-fought, entertaining games.

New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts

This will be a “rematch” of the infamous week 16 game in which the Colts sat their starters while up 15-10, enabling the Jets to win 29-15 and push their way into the playoffs.  Popular opinion is that the Colts would have won that game if they kept their starters on the field.  Will they end up deeply regretting the decision to rest them?

Keys for the Jets
Even as they continued to struggle for yardage in the first half against the Chargers, the Jets stuck to their game plan – managing Sanchez’s pass attempts and relying on the running game.  It paid off in the fourth quarter when Shonn Greene broke off a 53 yard touchdown run against a worn down San Diego defense.  This week the power running game will again be key for the Jets.  They’ll need their big offensive line to maul the smaller Indianapolis defense and neutralize their quickness.  Defensively the Jets will need to mix up their blitzes and get to Peyton Manning.  Manning is unmatched in his ability to read a defense pre-snap and know exactly where to go to beat the blitz.  But if the Jets can get to him early and make him have happy feet in the pocket, the Colts rhythm-based passing game will not be as effective as usual.

Keys for the Colts
While not great, the Colts offense was effective enough to get a win last week.  That’s understandable against the Ravens.  This week they will face a defense with a similar scheme, but one that will be relentless in its effort to hit the quarterback.  For the Indianapolis offense to move the ball successfully Manning will have to continually find Dallas Clark in the middle of the field.  San Diego was effective in finding Antonio Gates early in the game last week but then seemed to go away from that strategy.  You can bet that Manning and the Colts will stick with Clark in the middle of the field if it continues to work.  On defense the Colts must beat the Jets blockers at the point of attack to slow down the power rushing game.  They need to continue to use their speed to their advantage just like they did against the Ravens.

Prediction
Colts 23-10.  The Jets have been a great postseason story but it will end in Indianapolis.  The Colts just have too much experience on both sides of the ball and too many weapons in the passing game.

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints

Both of these teams are coming off extremely impressive wins last week.  The Vikings beat the very hot Cowboys and the Saints blew out the Cardinals.  This matchup has all the makings of a classic…let’s hope it delivers.

Keys for the Vikings
The Minnesota offense looked spectacular last week, well at least the passing game did.  Brett Favre showed some old magic and Sidney Rice made some special plays.  However, for the Vikings to win this week they will need to get Adrian Peterson back to being the best runner in the game.  The real key to doing that is to get a much better performance from the offensive line.  The linemen need to drive out the Saints defenders right from the snap.  When the Saints have the ball the Vikings defense will have to get the same extremely high level of play from their front four as they did last week.  Ray Edwards and Jared Allen were especially dangerous off the edge.  If they can get to Drew Brees this week it will prevent him from hitting the deep pass that the Saints love to rely on.

Keys for the Saints
The Saints offense did almost everything right last week with a balanced attack and no turnovers.  Reggie Bush showed the all around explosiveness that has been expected of him since he entered the NFL.  This week the Saints must focus on their protection schemes.  They must keep the Minnesota pass rushers off Brees and allow him the time to find the open receiver, even if it means keeping a tight end and/or a back in to block.  Defensively the Saints must go after Brett Favre the same way they did Kurt Warner last week.  They need to hurry Favre and make him constantly think about getting hit, forcing him to throw too early and increasing their chances for interceptions.

Prediction
Vikings 27-24.  The Vikings D will allow points but ultimately their front line will slow down the Saints enough to allow Favre and Peterson the chance to pull out a win in the final two minutes of the game.

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