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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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With only four weeks left in the 2010 NFL season it’s time for the cream to rise to the top.  Last week it was the Steelers and Patriots making statements with huge wins over division rivals.  Who will step up in week 14?  Let’s take a look at the big matchups.

New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, 1:00 pm

Left for dead, the Vikings have gotten a couple of nice wins since the firing of Brad Childress.  The Giants need the victory to stay in contention for the NFC East and maintain playoff positioning.

Key to the game: New York’s sixth ranked rushing offense against Minnesota’s fourth ranked rushing defense.

Who do I like: With Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith back in the mix and Eli Manning protected by the controlled confines of a dome, I’m going with the Giants

Eli Manning discussing alignments

Eli and the Giants need a big W in Minnesota

Oakland Raiders at Jacksonville Jaguars
Sunday, 1:00 pm

Yes, this is a big game.  The Jaguars currently lead the AFC South while the Raiders are two games behind the Chiefs, have a game remaining against them and have already beaten them once.

Key to the game: Jacksonville’s second ranked rushing offense against Oakland’s 23rd ranked rushing defense.  All of the Jaguars offensive success starts with the running game.

Who do I like: I’ve got to go with Jacksonville and the East Coast 1:00 advantage.

Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
Sunday, 4:15 pm

A rematch from week one and unfortunately it looks very likely that the Chiefs will be without Matt Cassel.  Brodie Croyle has started nine games in his NFL career and has zero wins.

Key to the game: San Diego’s second ranked passing game against the 21st ranked passing defense of Kansas City.  The Chiefs have to stop Philip Rivers.  They’ll have no chance in a scoring battle.

Who do I like: Without Cassel, picking the Chargers is a no-brainer.

New England Patriots at Chicago Bears
Sunday, 4:15 pm

The Patriots put their four game winning streak on the line in Chicago against the Bears’ five game winning streak.

Key to the game: Chicago’s pass rush against New England’s offensive line.  To win the game the Bears must not allow Tom Brady to have time to throw.

Who do I like: I can see the Bears winning this game, but I’m not going to make that pick.  The Patriots are rolling.  I’m going with them to get the victory.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, 8:20 pm

A few weeks ago this wasn’t a game.  It is now.  The Cowboys have won three of four in impressive fashion since Jason Garrett became coach.

Key to the game: The Eagles stopping the suddenly hot Dallas running game.  The Cowboys have 134, 144 and 217 yards rushing in their last three games.

Who do I like: Despite the solid play by Dallas recently I’m still going with Philadelphia.  I think Michael Vick will be the difference maker through the air.

Who do you like in these games?  Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Photo source: AJ Guel Photography

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With the three Thanksgiving games behind us, it’s time to start getting fired up for week 12’s 12 Sunday matchups.  I’ve already individually previewed the two games I think are the most important, the Packers visiting Atlanta to play the Falcons and the Eagles taking on the Bears in Chicago.  As the playoff picture is becoming clearer there are a number of games that have important implications.  Instead of just tackling one more in-depth, I’m going to take the approach of asking one big question and providing an answer that I think will determine the result.

Air Force Honor Guard

It's almost time for NFL Week 12 to begin

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New York Giants

Q: Will the Giants and Jags set an NFL record for most combined turnovers in a game?

A: No.  While Jacksonville is currently ranked 28th in the NFL in turnovers and New York is dead last, I think the Giants will finally right the ship, cut down the turnovers and get a much needed win.

Minnesota Vikings @ Washington Redskins

Q: Will the brand new head coach phenomenon propel the Vikings to victory in Washington?

A: Yes.  The Redskins really should have lost last week to the Titans but Rusty Smith was completely imcompetent.  With Leslie Frazier now at the helm, a steady dose of Adrian Peterson should be enough for the Vikings to get the W.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Seattle Seahawks

Q: Can the Chiefs steal a win in one of the toughest places to play in the NFL?

A: No.  Kansas City is 1-4 on the road while the Seahawks are 3-1 at home.  Seattle needs this game to stay on top of the NFC West and I believe the 12th man will help them get it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Baltimore Ravens

Q: Are the Bucs legitimate contenders?

A: No, and the Ravens will handle them easily.  Tampa Bay has built up its 7-3 record against the eighth easiest schedule in the NFL.

San Diego Chargers @ Indianapolis Colts

Q: Will Philip Rivers further solidify his MVP candidacy with a win in Indianapolis on Sunday night?

A: Yes.  It surprises even me to say this but I’m taking the Chargers to beat the Colts.  San Diego is making its late season run and Rivers has been incredible with a receiving unit made up of castoffs.  With Vincent Jackson back and Ryan Mathews healthy the Chargers are very well positioned.

What are your thoughts on these five games?  Do you agree with my answers?  Am I asking the right question?  Let me know what you think by posting a comment below.

Photo source: NYCMarines

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NFL Week 10 opened with a bang on Thursday night with the Ravens and Falcons putting on quite a show that came right down to the last minute.  And it was entertaining in between, with two overtime games, two statement wins (Dolphins and Bears) and a couple of big surprises (Broncos and Cowboys).  Now it will be capped off with two critical battles, the Patriots versus the Steelers and the Eagles at the Redskins.

Falcon

The falcon was the mightier bird on Thursday night

As the Patriots-Steelers game is being played, here are the Average Guy NFL Week 10 Awards:

Most Impressive Win

Atlanta Falcons – 26-21 over the Baltimore Ravens

Most Important Win

Miami Dolphins – 29-17 over the Tennessee Titans

Worst Loss

Houston Texans – 24-31 at Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest Surprise

Dallas Cowboys

Biggest Disappointment

Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive MVP

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons – 32 completions 50 attempts 316 yards 3 TDs 101.8 QB rating

Defensive MVP

Mario Haggan, Denver Broncos – 3 sacks 6 tackles

Special Teams MVP

Devin Hester, Chicago Bears – 2 kickoff returns for 100 yards 2 punt returns for 47 yards

Most Surprising Performance

Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills – 25 carries 133 yards 1 TD 6 receptions 37 yards 1 TD

Most Disappointing Performance

Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings – 18 completions 31 attempts 170 yards 1 TD 3 interceptions 44.5 QB rating

Offensive Rookie

Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns – 18 completions 31 attempts 205 yards 1 TD 0 interceptions 88.8 QB rating

Defensive Rookie

Bryan McCann, Dallas Cowboys – 101-yard interception return TD, 5 tackles

Most Impressive Performance in a Loss

Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs – 35 completions 53 attempts 469 yards 4 TDs 116.0 QB rating

Welcome Back Mike Williams

Mike Williams, Seattle Seahawks – 11 receptions 145 yards

Quick Takes

  • I watched the entire Ravens-Falcons game on Thursday night and I was really glad that I did.  It was a very entertaining game with two teams that are among the best in the NFL.
  • Matt Ryan was spectacular.  I’ve really been doubting him all season.  After seeing him play on Thursday night I’ve done a complete 180.  His accuracy was really impressive.  His control of the game was superb and he was masterful in bringing his team back for a win for the fifth time this season.
  • I now believe that the Falcons could absolutely represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.  Beyond Ryan, I was especially impressed with both of their lines.  The O-line protected Ryan very well and the D-line was disruptive on almost every play Baltimore ran.
  • The Ravens cannot be happy with Michael Oher’s progress at left tackle.  He was victimized repeatedly by John Abraham.  My notes from the Ravens-Patriots game earlier this season also show him performing poorly.
  • I was surprised the Ravens didn’t go to Ray Rice more often.
  • Looking at today’s games – I’m really impressed with the way the Denver run defense completely turned around against the Chiefs.  They are ranked 31st in the NFL against the run but managed to hold the number one ranked rushing offense to 51 yards on 22 carries.
  • I often like to point to the third down conversion numbers as one of the most important statistics to watch.  This week’s example is the Vikings-Bears game.  Minnesota struggled to convert third downs, finishing one of nine.  Meanwhile Chicago converted 11 of 19.
  • I love the Rams but there are some ugly stats from their game with the Niners today.  The two teams combined to convert a miserable two of 25 third downs.  They were also flagged a total of 26 times for penalties.

One BIG Question

After showing so much promise early, are the Texans now done?

What surprises and disappointment stick out the most to you in week 10?  Let me know by posting a comment below.

Photo source: mikebaird

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The 2nd most important game of the NFL’s week nine is:

Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
Sunday, 4:15 pm

I don’t think anybody predicted before the season that this matchup in week nine would be so important to the AFC West.  The Chiefs have shot out of the gates with an outstanding 5-2 start.  Their only two losses were respectable efforts at Indianapolis and at Houston.  The two things they’ve excelled at is running the ball and stopping the run.  They have one of the most dynamic backs in the game in Jamaal Charles who’s piled up 666 yards while averaging 6.5 yards per carry.

Oakland Raiders gravel

Can the Raiders maintain their momentum?

An argument could be made that the Raiders are the hottest team in the NFL.  They’ve piled up more than 500 yards in each of the last two games while scoring 92 points in blowing out the Broncos and Seahawks.  Darren McFadden is finally starting to reach the potential that made him the fourth pick in the 2008 draft.  He’s run for 668 yards and caught 20 passes for an additional 217.

The Chiefs win if:  They can hold the Raiders running backs to short gains on first down.  The Raiders are second in the NFL in rushing yardage per game and if Jason Campbell is going to be successful in the passing game they are going to need to have the run be a threat on every down.  With third and longs that won’t be the case.

The Raiders win if:  They can contain Charles.  Not to sound like a broken record, but clearly both teams rely on their running game a lot.  That’s obvious in that they are the top two running teams in the NFL.  Charles is an absolute gamebreaker who is a threat to get to the end zone on every carry.

Who do I like:  Chiefs 24-10

Why:  The Raiders have played the run well in the last two games.  It’s important to note that those games were against the worst rushing team in the NFL (Denver) and the 27th rushing team in the NFL (Seattle).  They won’t be able to do it against the Chiefs.  I think Charles and Thomas Jones will be able to run for big gains against Oakland’s front seven while the Chiefs defense slows down the Raiders running game. 

Photo source: allaboutgeorge

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What can top a wild NFL week five?  How about day full of colossal matchups?   There are a lot of important games on Sunday.  As I was pulling together the NFL battles to highlight in week six, the initial list started with eight games.  It wasn’t easy, but I carved it down by cutting out the Falcons-Eagles and Jets-Broncos matchups.  Here’s a look at the six NFL games I think are most important this weekend along with my predictions:

6.  Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins
Sunday, 8:20 pm

Indianapolis Colts all the way

Are hopes still this high for the Colts?

The Redskins have used smoke and mirrors to work their way to a 3-2 record.  They are seventh in the NFL in passing yardage but are also 30th in passing defense.  Last week Donovan McNabb rallied the team to a comeback win over the Packers in overtime.  The Colts are coming off a tougher-than-most-expected win over the previously undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.  Indianapolis has the fourth ranked passing offense in the NFL but Peyton Manning looked off against the Chiefs.  They are struggling to run the ball (28th in NFL) and to stop the run (29th in NFL), although they did alright in both of those categories last Sunday.

The Colts win if: Manning can work the short passing game first to open up the downfield passing game later.

The Redskins win if: They can get their dormant running game going.

This battle of division leaders is an interesting matchup.  The Redskins have seemed to be overmatched heading into most of their games but have somehow found a way to beat teams that look more talented than they do on paper.  I don’t think that trend will hold in this one.  I like the Colts to get their passing game back in gear and to exploit the Redskins offensive line with their pass rush.

5.  Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
Sunday, 1:00 pm

Many experts and football fans were doubting the Chiefs and their undefeated record as they prepared to go to Indianapolis.  Even though they lost the game, Kansas City turned many of those doubts around with their solid performance against the Colts.  Their defense and running game were especially impressive.  The passing game is clearly their biggest weakness.  Matt Cassell’s inconsistency and a lack of weapons at receiver inhibit their ability to move the ball through the air.  Houston lost badly to the New York Giants last week.  They were down 21-0 pretty quickly and never seemed to find their stride on offense.  The Giants defense was superb, holding the Texans to only 24 yards on the ground and 196 through the air.

The Chiefs win if: Their defensive front plays as well as they did in the second half against the Colts.  Tamba Hali should have the opportunity to cause havoc like he did last week.

The Texans win if: They can limit the yardage the Chiefs gain on kickoff and punt returns.  KC counts a lot on that yardage to win the field position battle.

I really liked what I saw from the Chiefs against the Colts but I think the Texans will win this game, if only because they have to.  They have tailed off since that opening win over the Colts and have lost their last two home games to NFC East opponents.  I think the Texans and their fifth ranked rushing defense will hold Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster in check and get the W.

4.  New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, 1:00 pm

All of a sudden things aren’t looking so good for the defending NFL champs.  They are down a couple of running backs, coming off a bad loss to Arizona and playing a division rival with a surprisingly strong record and will to win.  This is where the Saints need to buckle down and bring home a solid victory.  The Bucs shocked the NFL with a win in Cincinnati last week.  They clearly put their bye week to good use and got solid performances from a rookie on each side of the ball – Mike Williams on offense and Cody Grimm on defense.  If Tampa Bay can find a way to win this game, their schedule includes a couple of very winnable games after this weekend, so they could be 6-1 going into their week nine game at Atlanta.

The Saints win if: They take care of the ball.  They’ve lost the turnover battle in each of their last three games – two were losses and the other game was a near loss to Carolina.

The Bucs win if: They can manufacture a score on defense, whether it’s a return touchdown or something that gets them close to the end zone.

Tampa Bay has clearly outplayed their talent level so far this year, at least when tracked by Ws and Ls.  I think the Saints learned their lesson about valuing the football in the loss to the Cardinals and I like them to rebound and beat the Bucs.

3.  Miami Dolphins at Green Bay Packers
Sunday, 1:00 pm

This is a big game for both teams.  Expected by many to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, the Packers have been sluggish on offense and have doomed themselves with penalties and turnovers.  Now, they’ve lost offensive focal point Jermichael Finley, possibly for the season, and may be without Aaron Rodgers in this game.  Miami had a bye last week but before that lost two divisional games at home, and looked pretty bad doing it.  They are in the middle of a brutal stretch in their schedule and stealing a win in Green Bay would help them stay in playoff contention.

The Dolphins win if: Rodgers doesn’t play.  If he does, Miami will win by forcing turnovers.  They need to be aggressive on defense.

The Packers win if: Their pass rush is strong.  Getting a few hits on Chad Henne and making him uncomfortable will throw off the rhythm he has developed with Brandon Marshall.

This is a tough one to call, in part because of the Rodgers injury.  Ultimately I think the solid Miami offensive line will keep Henne clean and open up holes for the running backs.  I think the outside speed of the Dolphins’ pass rushers will befuddle the Green Bay tackles.  I’m going with the Dolphins in this one.

2.  Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
Sunday, 1:00 pm

While not in the same division, these two AFC powerhouses are very familar with each other.  They met in the wildcard round of the NFL playoffs last year in a game the Ravens led 24-0 at the end of the first quarter.  The Patriots could not stop the run, turned the ball over four times and were embarrassed on their home field.  You can bet that Bill Belichick should have plenty of material to motivate his charges for Sunday’s game, which is again in Massachusets.  New England also has the advantage of coming off a bye week.

The Ravens win if:  Joe Flacco is on target.  He has not been as good as expected this season.  But this could be his get well game.  The Patriots secondary is young and the defense has struggled against the pass in their first four games, ranking 28th in the NFL in average passing yardage given up. 

The Patriots win if: Brandon Tate can step into Randy Moss’s shoes.  He needs to be the deep threat that Moss was.  Officially, the Ravens have the second best passing defense in the NFL, but that may be misleading because the only team they’ve played so far with a good passing game is the Broncos, who got more than 300 yards through the air.

New England has won 11 straight regular season games at home.  But Baltimore has already scored road wins over the Jets and the Steelers, not to mention their playoff victory at Gillette Stadium last season.  I think it’s going to take the Patriots at least a few weeks to get their offense running at a high level again after the trade of Moss.  Right now I think the Ravens are a better team and I’m picking them to win this game.

1.  Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, 4:15 pm

Could this be a playoff elimination game?  With both of these big name NFC teams at 1-3 this game is absolutely critical.  The Vikings made the most recent splash with their acquisition of Randy Moss.  It almost paid off in a big way on Monday night but Brett Favre could not quite pull the game off for the Vikes.  The only one of their three losses that looks bad is their home defeat to the Dolphins.  The Vikings pass defense has been solid (6th in the NFL) and their running game has been good as well (9th in the NFL).  But it was clear before the Moss trade that Favre did not have enough weapons in the passing game with Sidney Rice out with an injury.  The Cowboys have not played anywhere close to their expected potential this season with the exception of the game at Houston.  Their offensive line has struggled and their defense has not been as strong as advertised. 

The Cowboys win if:  They can stop the run.  They may be tempted to focus on shutting down the new toy, Moss, but they have to emphasize containing Adrian Peterson and forcing Favre to beat them.

The Vikings win if:  The front four can consistently get pressure on Romo.  They will need all of the linebackers and secondary to help close throwing lanes so it is important that the D-line gets to Romo.

This is another game that I can see going either way.  Ultimately I think it will come down to which defense steps up and makes stops.  The Cowboys have the best defensive player on either side in DeMarcus Ware, who is clearly a playmaker.  I think Ware will make a big play to pressure Favre in the 4th quarter and force a turnover to help the Cowboys get a huge victory.

Do you disagree with my picks?  Tell me why in the comments section below.

Photo source: Jerry

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What a strange day of football. It is appearing more and more like this will be the NFL season of uncertainty. Just when you think you have a good feeling for a team they go out and do exactly the opposite of what was expected.

Uncertainty

Trying to decipher this NFL season?

For the first time in 40 years not a single NFL team achieved a 4-0 record. The Chiefs were the last team with a shot at that mark and I watched them lose to the Colts. Kansas City had plenty of opportunities to win the game but could not take advantage of them.

As I was looking at candidates for this week’s Average Guy NFL Awards I had a lot more for the negative awards on both the team and player sides than I had for the positive awards. Regardless, here are my choices:

Most Impressive Win

New York Giants – 34-10 at Houston Texans

Most Important Win

Indianapolis Colts – 19-9 over Kansas City Chiefs

Worst Loss

New Orleans Saints – 20-30 at Arizona Cardinals

Biggest Surprise

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Biggest Disappointment

San Diego Chargers

They Are Who We Thought They Were

St. Louis Rams

Offensive MVP

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens – 27 carries 133 yards 2 TDs 4 receptions 26 yards

Defensive MVP

LaRon Landry, Washington Redskins – 1 interception 13 tackles 1 tackle for loss

Special Teams MVP

Stefan Logan, Detroit Lions – 105-yard kickoff return touchdown

Most Surprising Performance

Jason Campbell, Oakland Raiders – 13 completions 18 attempts 159 yards 1 TD 117.6 QB rating

Most Disappointing Performance

Todd Collins, Chicago Bears – 6 completions 16 attempts 32 yards 4 interceptions 6.2 QB rating

Offensive Rookie

Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 7 receptions 99 yards 1 TD

Defensive Rookie

Cody Grimm, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 11-yard interception return for touchdown, 11 tackles

Most Impressive Performance in a Loss

Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos – 23 completions 38 attempts 314 yards 2 TDs 104.5 QB Rating

Quick Takes

  • After watching the Chiefs play today I think they are really in it for the long haul.  Their defensive game plan was superb.  Tamba Hali was a beast.  The defensive line looked stout in the second half and they have a good young secondary.  Jamaal Charles has impressive speed and explosion, but goes down too easily.  Dexter McCluster is exciting to watch as a kick returner.  I’m worried about their passing game though.  They didn’t mix in enough short passes to Charles and McCluster.  Rookie tight end Tony Moeaki looked like their only dependable receiver.  Dwayne Bowe dropped a touchdown and another pass.  Also, for the life of me I could not understand why they’d be running pitches with Thomas Jones when they have Charles and McCluster.
  • I’m not sure what it was but something was clearly off with Peyton Manning today.  I’ve never seen him so inaccurate.
  • Painful day for the Rams.  That’s all I want to say about it.
  • Wondering why the Cowboys lost?  Look no further than their 12 penalties for 133 yards and their three turnovers.
  • And one big reason the Titans won – zero turnovers.
  • And another, the good Chris Johnson was back with 19 carries for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Thank goodness I did not have to watch the Bears-Panthers game today.  The two teams combined to go six of 33 on third downs, not to mention the abysmal quarterback performances.

One BIG Question

Have you ever seen so many coaches looking like they could be fired this early in the season?  I’m thinking it’s possible in Dallas, Cincinnati, San Francisco and San Diego.

What performances did you like or dislike in week five?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: Marco Bellucci

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