04 March 2014

Farewell #81

We all pretty much knew this was coming, particularly after the Eagles offered Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin good deals, but Jason Avant's time with the Eagles has come to an end.

To quote Jeff Lurie:
There have not been any players who've represented Eagles with more class and dignity.
He was the first player to wear #81 after the T.O. debacle, and he also restored the class and dignity of the number.

Although he was never a flashy player, he is 13th on the all-time Eagles receiving yards list, and, at least at Chez Snark, was known as Jason "Hands" Avant, aka Mr. Third Down. He has specialized throughout his tenure with the Eagles in circus catches made above him, below him, behind him, on the sidelines, etc. for critical third down conversions.


Once the starting QB position shifted to Nick Foles, though, the writing was on the wall. Jason never seemed to have the connection with Foles he enjoyed with Donovan McNabb and Mike Vick, and he became much more of a run blocker in 2013. He remained, however, an acknowledged leader of the locker room. By releasing him before the start of free agency, the Eagles give him the best possible shot at landing somewhere great, which I sincerely hope he will.

With that, I'll leave you with what may be his greatest play as an Eagle:

Typically unselfish, he laid the monster but clean block that sprang DeSean for the TD, giving himself a concussion in the process. (Have I mentioned that Chef Spouse and I were there? Because we were.)

Godspeed and good luck, Jason. I'll continue to wear your #81 jersey with pride.

10 January 2014

2013 Divisional Weekend Picks

Yes, my team is out of it, but I'm still watching the playoffs religiously and picking the games, same.

Last week was a tough one - I got two (49ers and Colts) and missed two (Eagles and Bengals). Let's see if I can do any better this week.

Saints at Seahawks: Because of my love of the city and writing for Chicks in the Huddle (among other things), I have many New Orleanian Saints fan friends (most of whom were very nice after last week's loss). One of them in particular was chatting with me about the rest of the playoffs. I congratulated her on her team's win and pointed out that I didn't like their chances this week. Neither did she. Seahawks.

Colts at Patriots: The Colts have been really inconsistent, particularly since losing Reggie Wayne. The Pats are REALLY young and REALLY banged up. Tom Brady plays great football in the playoffs, and they're at home. I give the Pats the slight edge because of the Brady/Belichick/selling of their souls combo, homefield, and the fact that the weather's going to be for shit on Saturday and the Colts are a dome team.

49ers at Panthers: These two teams match up really well - hot, top 5 defenses, middle of the pack offenses led by quarterbacks who can be explosive and who can also do really dumb shit occasionally. So, if this year's playoff pattern holds, that means the game will end up 51-48.  Just about everybody has the 49ers, and I think I'm on the bandwagon, too, but I think it will be a close game.

Chargers at Broncos:  EVERYBODY has the Broncos. But I remember that the Chargers won in Denver a month ago, and I also remember that while Peyton Manning may be the greatest quarterback to ever play the position, he's not brilliant in the playoffs. I'm going with the Chargers in the upset.

06 January 2014

Future's So Bright

Eagles 24, Saints 26, Saturday, January 4, 2013 

Let's get this out of the way right here. One, unless your team wins the Super Bowl, your season will end in disappointment. And if you say you think the Eagles were going to win the Super Bowl this year, I *know* you're lying. Two, when teams are pretty evenly matched, Vegas usually has the home team by 3. The betting line prior to Saturday night was Eagles by 2.5. This game was going to come down to whoever had the ball last, and the Eagles drew the short straw. Three, it sucks beyond belief to lose a home playoff game. Still, SO much better than expected this year.

Stud of the Week: Chip Kelly. I was not a fan of his hiring. College coach hires are fraught with peril.
More of those guys don't work out than do. I wanted Lovie Smith. I'll admit I was wrong. Chip's got the team playing well, playing together, and believing in themselves and the man standing next to them. I'm not in there, obviously, but the locker room culture seems great. The team is executing fundamentals like taking care of the ball, creating turnovers, and tackling (well, other than some inexplicably bad tackling Saturday night) far better than they have in several years. That's on the coach, and I'm feeling solid about ours.

I know there are a couple of plays the guys wish they had back. Riley Cooper getting so excited about all that green in front of him that he forgot to catch the ball. Nick Foles taking the sack that forced Alex Henery to try - and miss - a 48 yarder. Roc Carmichael's bone-headed kicking a punt nearly downed by Brandon Boykin on the 2 into the endzone. Cary Williams seeing only Alex Henery between Darren Sproles and the end zone, realizing Henery is no David Akers, and reacting by taking the penalty to stop Sproles however he could, when it might have been smarter, on reflection, to let Sproles score and get the ball back. The defense's sudden inability to stop the run. Signing Patrick Chung in the off season. So many things you wish they could do over.

But if you step back for a minute, you'll realize that the future looks great for this team. We seem to have the coaching situation figured out. It remains to be seen whether Nick Foles is more RGII (great first year as the full time starter, terrible second year, suspect future) or Donovan McNabb (great first year as the full time starter followed by four NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl), but we may have the QB situation figured out. Chip and Nick still need to keep improving, innovating, and developing, but I think the core is there. The front office has done a great job in the draft recently, particularly in 2012 (thanks for one last gift, Big Red), leaving the team young, talented, and just needing some experience. Well, and an upgrade at defensive secondary and potentially kicker (as an aside, I don't blame Henery for the missed 48 yarder. That's not automatic for anyone. I blame him for a season's worth of poor kick offs, including the back breaker Saturday night that started the Saints last possession).  Special teams still needs work - their punt coverage has generally been excellent, but the return game is just sad. DeSean Jackson needs more touches next year. There are plenty of holes, and lots of room to improve.

In the meantime, the Giants are old and are headed by a quarterback and coaching staff who seem to be on the decline. And the Redskins' and Cowboys' meddling owners have led to teams that are a circus (Redskins) or a punchline (Cowboys). That bodes well for the Eagles' playoff chances in the coming years, assuming they can build on what they started this year. And it feels to me like they will.

03 January 2014

2013 Wildcard Weekend Picks

Let's get this out of the way right away: the Saints are a better team than the Eagles. The two teams are closely ranked offensively, but the Saints have a top 5 defense. And while the Eagles defense has improved as the season has progressed, they're no one's pick for top 5. Also, Nick Foles and Chip Kelly are both making their first playoff appearance. Drew Brees and Sean Payton? They only won a Super Bowl together. Also, the Saints had a better regular season record in a tougher division.

That said, we all know that the Saints have never won a road playoff game, because the sports media can't shut up about it. They don't play well outdoors, or in the cold (and it is going to be f-ing freezing in Philly tomorrow night). The Eagles come in to the playoffs smokin' hot, going 7-1 over their last 7 games. The Saints, not so much, having lost 3 of their last 5. And the Eagles are playing with house money at this point, which means they have pretty much nothing to lose.

ESPN jut quoted an interesting stat: the Saints only averaged 18 points in road games this year. If that holds true tomorrow night, the Eagles got this. On the other hand, the Eagles are favored by 2.5. And when teams are evenly matched, the home team is normally favored by 3. Which means the margin for error is razor-thin.

Here's the thing: my head says Saints. They have to win a road playoff game sometime, and I'm pretty sure Drew Brees will pick the Eagles secondary apart. I'm probably going to have a nightmare about Jimmy Graham tonight.

My heart says Eagles. Of course, but also the second half of the season (aside from the outlier that was the Vikings game) has been magical. I'm not ready for it to end yet, and I don't believe they are, either.

For what it's worth, Chef Spouse thinks the Eagles will win this week, beat the Panthers next week, and then go on to lose the NFC Championship Game in Seattle, as he puts it, "just like old times!"

I gotta go with my heart: EAGLES! #FlyEaglesFly

In the other matchups:

Chiefs at Colts: Speaking of inconsistent teams, hello Chiefs/Colts. Both of these teams are capable of playing great or stinking it up, and it's hard to know which you're going to get. This is the only game where weather won't be a factor this weekend, which favors passing offense, and even without Reggie Wayne, the Colts have a significant advantage over the Chiefs there. Sorry, Big Red, but I think your trip stops here. Colts.

Chargers at Bengals: The Chargers backed into the playoffs. And while the Bengals are stuck with Andy Dalton, they also have an INSANE defense. And did you hear that it's going to snow and then temperature is going to drop like crazy in Cincinnati Sunday? And the Chargers play in San Diego? Yeah, I got the Bengals. I don't think they're going anywhere else in the playoffs, but I think they'll win this week. Bengals.

49ers at Packers: The Packers, who limped into the playoffs, are down to Aaron Rodgers and, uh, well, that's pretty much it at this point. Now, the high is going to be FOUR in Lambeau Sunday, and the 49ers are a Cali team, too. But they're a running team, and I think they'll run well in the cold and beat the Packers. 49ers.

01 January 2014

Annual Walk of Shame Post

It's time for the annual reckoning.

As a reminder, I post my predictions for the playoffs before the season starts each year - here's the link to the 2013 picks.

My overall weekly game picking results: 160-95 (of course we all missed out on that tie)

I was down this year, and was not good enough for Chef Spouse and I to place in his office pick 'em league, but I was equal to or better than several of the ESPN analysts, who are getting paid to do this.

On to my playoff picks:

AFC East 
I picked: Patriots
Actual winner: Patriots

AFC North
I picked: Ravens
Actual winner: Bengals

To be fair, I did have the Bengals for wildcard and pointed out that I thought it was likely the two would swap.

AFC South
I picked: Texans
Actual winner: Colts

I am not the only one who got fooled here, although again, I had the Colts for wildcard and thought the two might also flip.

AFC West
I picked: Broncos
Actual winner: Broncos

AFC Wildcard
I picked: see above, I had the Bengals (or Ravens) and Colts (or Texans) 
Actual winners: Chiefs and Chargers

AFC West dominates (well, other than the Raiders, of course)! Clearly I should've had more faith in Andy Reid.

So, although my placements were a little screwed up, I picked 4 of the 6 teams

NFC East
I picked: Redskins
Actual winner: EAGLES!

Totally not sorry to be wrong about this one, although I did know FOR SURE that there would be no Wildcard team from the East. Then again, EVERYONE knew that.

NFC North
I picked: Packers
Actual winner: Packers

Although if you'd asked me how I felt about this pick in November, I would've been inclined to recant. Fortunately, that's not an option, ARodg came back, and all is as it should be in the NFC North.

NFC South
I picked: Saints
Actual winner: Panthers

I did NOT see the Panthers coming this year. I knew Cam Newton would likely recover from his sophomore doldrums, but I never would have picked them to leap the Saints in a million years.

NFC West
I picked: Seahawks
Actual winner: Seahawks

NFC Wildcard
I picked: 49ers and Falcons 
Actual winners: 49ers and Saints

So again, although the placements were a little screwed up, I had 4 of the 6 teams in the playoffs (8 or 12 all together) and when I haven't picked the Eagles to make the playoffs and they do, I'm always happy to be proved wrong!

30 December 2013

NFC East CHAMPS, Bitches!

Eagles 24, Cowboys 22, Sunday, December 29, 2013

I would rather have enjoyed a nice relaxing blowout win like the Eagles had over the Bears a week ago, but apparently, the Chipster and the boys in green thought it would be more fun to give me a heart attack. Hey, at least they won, and I will not be the first - or last - to say that I definitely didn't see 10-6 and the divisional title coming.

Stud of the week: Should I go with Mychal Kendricks, who had a forced fumble AND a pick? What about Connor Barwin who batted down the 4th-and-1 conversion AND, if I recall correctly, also batted down the two point conversion pass attempt that would've tied the game? Or Brandon Boykin, with the pick that sealed the game for the Birds?

Yeah, those are all good choices, but on a night when he took the rushing title and TWO Eagles
franchise records (most rushing yards from Wilbert Montgomery and most all purpose yards from Brian Westbrook), I think I'm contractually required to go with Shady. Who actually didn't have a huge night - 131 rushing, 3 receiving, 1 TD. The Cowboys game planned well for him, keeping him pretty well contained for the most part. But he's had an OUTSTANDING season, and definitely deserves his 2013 three-peat as SotW.

The game was a nail-biter. The Eagles didn't play all that well. Nick Foles was running for his life all night and was sacked about 1,434,536 times (actual number: 5, which is still a lot). Kyle Orton? Sacked ZERO times. The Birds' smoking hot offense had an uncomfortable number of three-and-outs. The Cowboys clearly cast some sort of miasma over Nickfolesian Dynamite. He was not great, but he was good enough. The defensive scheming was not good, and BGN explains why really well.

On the up side, Brent Celek made a few key plays, including a TD. Jason Avant (Jason Avant sighting!) had a critical catch. Bryce Brown also had a few key plays on the series that led to his TD that put the Birds ahead for good. Donnie F-ing Jones AGAIN with the clutch punting. DeMarco Murray only had 51 yards. (Let's not talk about Jason Witten, OK?)

As Tommy Lawlor put it:
The Eagles made more plays than Dallas. The Eagles protected the ball better than Dallas. The Eagles were smart.

Finally, you know I'm not one to fuss about the officiating, but I have a hard time believing that the Cowboys didn't commit a SINGLE penalty all game long. Oh, I didn't forget the muffed play clock loss of five yards for delay of game mess. Believe me. Cris Collinsworth wouldn't SHUT UP about it. He's probably still whinging. I actually had to leave my Eagles womancave and go watch the rest of the game on a different TV with the sound off to keep from putting my foot through a wall. Let's not even talk about the two personal foul hits out of bounds (on Celek and Avant), the (at least) one pass interference (Celek again), the blow to the QBs head after he'd given himself up, holding all over the damn place (pretty sure Riley Cooper would have something to say about that), or the spearing call (isn't that a FINEABLE offense you committed there, DeMarco Murray?) that weren't made on the Cowboys. Oh no - none of that matters. All that matters was the TRAVESTY that led to a FIVE YARD PENALTY. You know Cris, despite your apparent belief that the delay of game was a worse miscarriage of justice than Dred Scott, OJ Simpson, and George Zimmerman combined, it was FIVE MEASLY YARDS. So no, Cris, that doesn't mean the Cowboys are automatically owed a TD (although apparently Patrick Chung thought so, too). Stabby. Very, very stabby.

On to hosting a playoff game! 

And really, a year after 4-12, the firing of a head coach with 14 years' tenure (and the entire rest of the coaching staff, pretty much), a change of QBs, a change of offensive schemes, a change of defensive schemes, new players, new culture, new everything (Tommy has a good summary of exactly how much is new), at this point, everything else is icing. We already got the cake last night, and oh baby, did it taste good!

26 December 2013

2013 Week 17 Picks

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the fact that the NFL now has all divisional games the final week of the regular season. Rivalries, playoff spots on the line, likelihood of wackiness - it's got it all.

The big news for 2013's week 17 is that two NFC divisions are "win and in" matchups, with the Bears hosting the Packers and the Cowboys hosting the Eagles. You knew one of those games would get flexed, and I'm psyched it was Eagles/Cowboys.

The Eagles have had a wild ride this year: new head coach, new coaching staff, new defensive scheme, QB controversy, you name it. They shocked everyone by killing the presumptive NFC East front runner Redskins on Monday Night Football to open the season (yeah, the final score was relatively close, but the game itself wasn't), followed by two close losses, then the trouncing by the Broncos that may have been the low point of the season.

Actually, I take that back. The low point of the season was the home loss to Dallas when Mike Vick was out with the hamstring, Foles went down, and Matt Barkley threw 4,356,273 picks. The following week, the Eagles lost to the totally sad-sack Giants and were standing at 3-5. And I was starting to think that my hopes of an 8-8 season were a little optimistic.

The following week, Nick Foles had an historic game in Oakland. Since then, the team has gone 6-1. The defense is playing much better. LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson are both having outstanding seasons. Riley Cooper has come out of nowhere to be a stud #2 receiver. Zach Ertz is looking like a genius early second round draft pick up. Trent Cole finally adjusted to the 3-4 and is playing great. DeMeco Ryans is turning into an excellent field general for the D. The offensive line has been playing amazingly well. Nick Foles is f-ing on fire. BRANDON BOYKIN (maybe my next jersey)! Donnie Jones for Grand Pooh-Bah of the punting universe!

Oh - and did you hear? Tony Romo's totally not going to play on Sunday. Yeah, I know Jason Garrett is publicly hedging his bets, but Tony's out and Kyle Orton is in. You heard it here, well, not first. About 234th. And Dez Bryant is iffy. And Sean Lee is probably out.

Thing is, none of that matters. To quote Cary Williams: "We’re on a mission and they’re in our way." The Eagles are going to KICK ASS in Allas (because they have no D).

In the other matchups:

There are a LOT of games with playoff implications, which makes picking a little crazy. That said...

Panthers at Falcons: Did you hear that if the Panthers win, they win the NFC South AND get a first round bye? And they're facing a team that's 4-11? Yeah, I'm going with the Panthers.

Ravens at Bengals: Did you hear that if they Bengals win, they ALSO get a first round bye? The Ravens are fighting for a playoff spot, but I don't think it's going to matter. Bengals.

Jaguars at Colts: Nothing is at stake here. Well, actually, that's not true. If the Colts win and the Bengals lose, the Colts will get the #2 seed in the AFC. And they will. But it won't matter (see above).

Jets at Dolphins: If the Dolphins and the Ravens both lose, and the Chargers win, the Chargers will sneak into the playoffs. Which is, I think, exactly what's going to happen. Jets.

Lions at Vikings: Can you believe the Lions blew it AGAIN? Nothing's at stake here, and they're playing in Minnesota, but I have to go with the Lions playing for the tattered remnants of their pride.

Redskins at Giants: OH, THE HUMANITY.  Don't watch this game. If it's the only game playing in your area, Sunday would be an excellent time for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon. Or drinking until you pass out. EVERYONE has the Giants, but I think the Redskins will pull off the upset and just maybe get Kirk Cousins an offer somewhere else.

Browns at Steelers: Another upset pick in what is essentially a meaningless game, since a MIRACLE has to happen for the Steelers to make the playoffs. Browns.

Texans at Titans: Damn it, I'm picking the goddamn Texans. So there.

49ers at Cardinals: The 49ers will win to try to jump the Seahawks, which they won't, of course, but they will do their part.

Packers at Bears: Did you hear that ARodg is back? And did you also hear that the Bears have NO DEFENSE AT ALL? Yeah, the Bears are dead meat, and the Packers are going to win the NFC North. After which Jim Schwartz and all the Lions will start DRINKING HEAVILY.

Bills at Patriots: I'm picking another upset - the Bills. Hey, Chef Spouse and I got knocked into third place in his company's pick 'em league, and this is my LAST chance to make up some ground.

Buccaneers at Saints: Saints. Superdome magic, and the #6 seed.

Broncos at Raiders:  Nothing at stake, so John Fox may rest his starters, but it's the Raiders. Broncos.

Chiefs at Chargers: I think the Chargers have this - as you already know, since above I said that the Chargers would sneak into the playoffs.

Rams at Seahawks: Also with the homefield, and because the Rams are NOT the Cardinals, Seahawks.