23 January 2006

2005 Post-Season: Conference Championships

Two totally unprecedented things happened yesterday: a sixth-seed team beat the number 1, 2, and 3 seeds on the road to advance to the Super Bowl AND I got ALL my playoff predictions right!

It was a bad day for the Jakes, but a very good day for tall quarterbacks (check it out - Plummer and Delhomme are both 6' 2", Hasselbeck's 6' 4" and Roethlisberger's 6' 5"). Last year, at the end of the AFC Championship loss to Patriots, the Bus and Big Ben were "boo-hooing" (Bettis' words) on the sideline, and Roethlisberger asked the Bus to give him one more year, so Ben could get him to the Super Bowl. Somebody get me his email address - I want to ask him about next week's Powerball drawing.

Jake the Snake went back to being Jake the Mistake in the Mile High city. The Steelers played practically flawless football. They are just on fire. I don't even know what else to say. Let me turn it over to this week's guest columnist, Chef Spouse:

"See, I think the Steelers won because they scored MORE points than the Broncos. Conversely, the Broncos scored LESS points than the Steelers, which may have contributed to their loss."

Thanks, Chef Spouse. Penetrating analysis.

The Panthers, in the meantime, also on their third road game in a row, ran out of steam. The game was a LOT more lopsided than the 34-14 final score would indicate. The Panthers first TD should have been called back because there was a pretty obvious block in the back that created the hole Steve Smith ran through, and officials were throwing flags, and everyone including Steve Smith sort of let the play die out, only Smith did manage to get into the end zone before he stopped running, and then the officials inexplicably picked up the flags. (Speaking of, for maybe the first time this season, the officiating in both games wasn't egregiously bad.) And their second touchdown came because the Seahawks had forgotten that the game was still going on - they were all on their cell phones like: "Hey Mom! I'm waving to you! Can you see me on the sidelines? I'm wearing my NFC Champions hat and t-shirt! Woo-hoo!" Meanwhile, Mike Holmgren's all: "People! The game is not actually over yet! Hello? Anyone?" And you could see it in the Panthers' faces, too: "Do we really have to finish this mess? Couldn't we just forfeit right now and get to a bar? Does anybody have a flask?"

So it comes down to the Seahawks and the Steelers, and unless the Bus actually gets HIT by a bus in the next two weeks, there's no way it's not all Steelers. Yet another Eagle will get his Super Bowl ring somewhere else (I still miss you, Duce), and Bettis will get to wrap up an exceptional career with the biggest win of all. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

16 January 2006

2005 Post-Season: Divisional Playoffs

GREAT GOOGLEY-MOOGLEY THE STEELERS BEAT THE COLTS! Well, there goes my Super Bowl prediction. And once again, I'm at .500 in my picks for the week. The Editor, you called it at our favorite dive bar on Thursday night: it's very rare for the number 1 and 2 seed teams to get to the Super Bowl.

Seahawks/Redskins (20-10) - I was right.
Shaun Andrews got NAILED (as in concussion) in the first quarter, and it was looking like it might be all over for the Seahawks. Hasselback had a good year, but Andrews is the frikkin' NFL MVP. 28 touchdowns this season (half in the MNF game against the Eagles). It was looking like the 'Skins luck was going to hold. But Hasselback put that team and its playoff hopes on his shoulders and carried them right into the NFC championship game. Once again, the Redskins couldn't find their offense (Gibbs, I told you to look in the kitchen junk drawer. Did you look? Look now...we'll wait...SEE, I TOLD you so!), and although the Seahawks certainly made mistakes, their D stepped up and the 'Skins O was so bad it didn't matter.

Broncos/Patriots (27-13) - I was right.
"10-0 is as far as you go" read the sign in Mile High Stadium, and boy, were they right. Yes, there was a bad interference call that went against the Pats and gave the Broncos their first TD, but in the end it didn't matter. The Pats have been like a beat up car that's being held together with Bondo and duct tape all season long, winning the weakest of the 8 divisions, and just like in the final reel of the Blues Brothers, when Jake and Elwood arrive at the Chicago tax office, the car had gone as far as it could go. There's a reason no one three-peats in the NFL, people.

Steelers/Colts (21-18) - I was wrong.
OK, I thought the hump Peyton Manning had to get over was the Patriots. Turns out, it's the playoffs in general - and it seems to run in the family. The Colts were totally outplayed. This was, by far, the MOST exciting game of the playoffs to date. If you didn't see it, I feel sorry for you. After sluggish play throughout the game, the Colts were handed two big opportunities to win it: the atrocious call that overturned Polamalu's interception (what the hell were the officials thinking?) and Bettis' uncharacteristic (first this entire season) fumble. And the Colts still couldn't pull it out, including a missed Vanderjagt FG, which almost never happens. Manning was, as ever, notably ungracious in defeat, blaming everyone but himself for the loss. Dude, if you hadn't gotten so rattled by the Blitsburgh Steelers for 3 1/2 quarters, it wouldn't have come down to a long FG. Bettis meanwhile took full responsibility for the fumble, with Roethlisberger supporting him the whole way, saying that in 100 situations like that (up by 3, close to the goal line, too much time left to knee it out), they're going to do the exact same thing all 100 times. Good thing Roethlisberger made that tackle, though, since he was, as Hines Ward pointed out, the only one on the field at that time with any speed. The game was incredibly well coached by Bill Cowher and incredibly well played by the entire team, from the blitzing to Roethlisberger's passing game, to the multiple times they went for it on 4th and short. They were playing to win, hands down, against a team no one thought they could beat, and it made for an afternoon of HIGH drama. Oh - and to all those Philly playa-haters: are you SURE you'd rather have Manning than McNabb? Thought so.

Panthers/Bears (29-21) - I was wrong.
Why oh why didn't they pull Rex Grossman? Yes, he's the future of the team, but Kyle Orton totally stepped up this season and was the one who got the Bears to the playoffs (at the top of the second weakest division in football this year, but still...). Sure Grossman's got the arm, but he's hardly played at the pro level. What was Lovie Smith thinking? I was sure Grossman would be pulled at the half, if not before. The Panthers played a great game, and they got lucky on the weather, but come on! But they lost a key player - DeShaun Foster - to a broken ankle, and he won't be back, so it was a costly win.

So now what?

Seahawks/Panthers: I have to stick with my original Seahawks pick. Plus with their playoff history, they are the underdogs, which means I'd like to see them win. And Philly Girlfriend could say that she went to the game where we got trounced by the NFC rep to the Super Bowl. Chef Spouse's picking the Panthers because he wants to see two wildcard teams in the Super Bowl, which brings me to...

Broncos/Steelers: All the numbers are in the Broncos' favor, but the Steelers are playing like they mean it this January. I don't know if it's Cowher, or Big Ben working out his playoff nerves, or a team-wide desire to send Bettis into retirement with a big ole ring, of they all started eating their Wheaties, but if they can sustain the level of intensity they've maintained throughout the playoffs for one more week, I think it's all them, baby!

09 January 2006

2005 Post-Season: Wildcard Weekend

Three teams couldn't find their offenses with both hands (OK, we couldn't find ours with both hands, a map, and a flashlight these last two months, but that's neither here nor there at this point), and one of them managed to win anyway! I'm 2-4 in my playoff picks so far, but one of the misses wasn't my fault.

Redskins/Buccaneers (17-10) - I was wrong
"Offense wins games, defense wins championships." I don't think this is what they usually mean by that. To be fair, the 'Skins offense did manage to score three WHOLE points all by themselves. Next they'll move on to learning to tie their shoes. Chris Simms provided an enormous amount of help to their cause by throwing all those picks (honey, when you're at home, you wear the RED jerseys - if you get confused, just look down at your own chest). But that whole game was one big, serious fluke. It actually looked a bit like our last game against the Skins - the Bucs just got no breaks. Everything that could go against them did. Don't get me wrong - I'm always happy when Chuckie loses, and it's nice to see the old man advance beyond the wildcard round - but there is NO WAY the 'Skins should have won that game. Look for them to get THRASHED by the Seahawks this weekend.

Patriots/Jaguars (28-3) - I was right
Two word game summary: Thag smash. The Editor tribute game summary: "The Mind of Tom Brady: Get ball, throw ball. Get ball, throw ball. Get ball, throw ball." Losing 28-3 in the playoffs is pretty damn humiliating. But not as humiliating as...

Panthers/Giants (23-0) - I was right
It's been 26 years since a team got shut out in the playoffs. TWENTY SIX YEARS. 11010 years (for those who prefer binary). Did somebody forget to tell the Giants that the game was this PAST Sunday? And it was the playoffs? And they were actually IN the playoffs this year? Wake up guys: the Eagles didn't win the division this year - you did. No, really. No. REALLY.

Steelers/Bengals (31-17) - I was wrong
OK, this one wasn't my fault. Who could predict that Carson Palmer would go down with a knee injury in the opening series (and right after a BEAUTIFUL 60 yard completion to Chris Henry, who also went down about 3 plays later)? Poor Jon Kitna got thrown into it, and did a great job for the first half, at the end of which the Bengals were leading by 3. (Hey, I think he's a free agent next year. Lurie, Banner, Reid, and co., are you listening?) The Steelers went into the locker room and came back out with a better idea how to defend against him. But the Bengals might still have pulled it off (only to get crushed by the Broncos this coming weekend) had their defense not COMPLETELY fallen apart in the third quarter. Related to the demoralizing Palmer injury? I'd have to say yes. The Steelers continued their reign as one of the few pro teams that pulls trick plays with a beauty - Antwaan Randle El took the snap, Roethlisberger ambled towards the sidelines, picked up Randle El's flea-flicker lateral and threw to a wide-open Cedrick Wilson for the nail-in-the-coffin TD at the end of the third. And that was pretty much a wrap.

So here's how the divisional playoffs stack up now:

Seahawks/Redskins - Seahawks
Bears/Panthers - Bears, particularly if it's cold in Chicago Sunday, but this promises to be an interesting game
Broncos/Patriots - I'm sticking with the Broncos, but wouldn't be stunned if the Pats pull off the upset win
Colts/Steelers - Colts, much as I'd like the Steelers to win, I just don't see it happening

Eagles news:

It looks like they're going to try to trade TO rather than just releasing him outright. The Eagles front office has OKed Rosenhaus to start looking at offers. I guess they're trying to salvage SOMETHING from the whole mess, but realistically, it's unlikely to happen. Why trade for a guy who, however talented, is known to be a huge pain in the tushie (and have to assume his huge contract in the process) when you can wait a week for him to be cut and pick him up off the final clearance sale rack? To refresh your memory, when we traded for him, we gave away a nothing player who's out of the league now and a fifth round pick. If he wasn't such an a**, he'd command a lot more in trade. Of course, if he wasn't such an a**, we wouldn't be getting rid of him in the first place.

NFL news:

Looks like Herm Edwards is going to be filling Vermeil's old shoes in Kansas City. Good luck, Herm. Hope your QB holds up better next year.

02 January 2006

2005 Week 17 Recap

Eagles v. Redskins, Sunday, January 1, 2006

Let the beheadings begin!

Mike McMahon: dude, after two months starting, you should have gotten SOMEWHAT better. My crystal ball predicts flipping burgers in your immediate future.

Koy Detmer: you're supposed to be EXPERIENCED! How did you manage to fumble and throw two picks in, like, 5 minutes? Are you TRYING to kill us? I know Akers likes you as a holder, but is that really sufficient to keep you on the team?

Dexter Wynn: repeat after me: catch FIRST, THEN run. See, when you do it the other way, the punt bounces off your chest, and an opposing team member picks it up, giving them excellent field position.

Jevon Kearse: where the hell have you been? If that $60+ million we paid you is slowing you down, I will generously sacrifice myself and take some of it out of your pocket so you can DO YOUR JOB.

And, finally, TO: May a camel in heat romance your left shin for the month of July and may you be picked up by an arena football team.

In our last game of the season, we played pretty decent football for three quarters. And they were all in one game! Unfortunately, football games remain, as they have always been, FOUR quarters. Every time we did something good, it got taken away. 30 yard Ryan Moats run? Sorry, offsides penalty. Sheldon Brown pick? Nope, defensive holding. Great defensive stop provides good field position? Sorry, McMahon's too busy fumbling to take advantage. Another Reggie Brown TD? Uhn-uhn, illegal motion.

If you look at all the stats other than interceptions and unrecovered fumbles, we should have - hell, would have - won the game. But with our QBs throwing more passes to 'Skins than they did to Eagles (are they both red/green color blind?), there was just no way to overcome the mistakes, even though we led for most of the game.

On the up side, this was my first trip to the Linc. It's really nice. Of course, any stadium looks pretty damn good from the 30 yard line, 8 rows in. But the seats were nice, there were enough bathrooms, and the food concessions weren't terrible, other than being staffed by geriatrics who moved at about 1/4 speed. Going for a beer could cost you half a quarter.

So what am I asking the Easter Bunny for? (hey, I missed Santa by about 10 days)

A bigger running back, maybe Buckhalter if he can stay healthy for two consecutive games.

A good #2 QB. OK, anybody but Testaverde or Favre. Or the jokers we have right now.

Another good WR - Brown's still pretty green and Pinkston - assuming he comes back from his Achilles rupture - is too specialized. He's a field stretching niche player, not a multi-carry every game machine.

A stronger O line - D-Mac's not 23 any more, and he needs a little more protection.

D - we need something, but I'm not sure what. We didn't suffer many injuries there. Have other teams figured out Jim Johnson? Was everyone just tired from being on the field too long? We should've had a great D this year, and we didn't. AR and company need to figure out why not in the off season and adjust as necessary.

Around the rest of the NFL, the AFC seasons mostly sputtered out, with nearly all the playoff spots decided before the weekend. In a move that shocked no one, the Steelers beat the Lions to secure the final AFC wildcard spot. The Giants did take the NFC East, with a win over the 4-12 Raiders. Unbelievably, Dallas LOST to the Rams. We managed to beat the Rams with McMahon at the helm. Pathetic. Of course, by the time they played, there was no way for the Cowboys to make the playoffs, so I guess they just didn't care. Which is yet another reason why the Eagles are a better team. Even with our season in the crapper and 20+ players on the IR list, we still kept trying. Which is why the 'Boys are, and shall remain, putzes.

South came down to it, with the Bucs winning over the Saints to take the division and the Panthers TROUNCING the Falcons, who with Michael Vick healthy nearly all year really have no excuse, taking the other NFC wildcard.

And the Texans finally won something: the Bush bowl, with their loss to the 49ers. They will have first right of refusal on USC's star running back Reggie Bush. But why would anyone turn him down?

On the topic of rolling heads, here's a list to date of coaches who've been fired:

Steve Mariucci (Lions) - fired earlier this season, still no permanent replacement

Mike Martz (Rams) - sure, they finished at 6-10, but so did we. And they beat the Cowboys Sunday night. Martz was coaching a ROOKIE QB who graduated from HARVARD, for God's sake. And he has a heart condition (Martz, not the 23 year old Fitzpatrick). Give the man a break! How many top QBs can you name out of Harvard?

Mike Tice (Vikings) - OK, there was the Super Bowl ticket scalping incident last year. And the Sex Boat cruise. But the poor guy lost his top receiver to free agency (and the Raiders) and his starting QB to injury, and still managed to almost make the playoffs. They either should have fired him right after the Super Bowl scandal or given him another year. And speaking of the Raiders...

Norv Turner (Raiders) - even with Randy Moss, he couldn't turn things around. Norv, seems like just yesterday you were getting fired by the Redskins...

Mike Sherman (Packers) - guy's 57-39 overall and has led the Packers to three division titles in six seasons. He lost his entire running game to injury, leaving the team dependent on Favre's increasingly unreliable arm. Firing the head coach because your QB sucks seems unfair.

Dom Capers (Texans) - does this really surprise anyone? But if the Texans' dismal 2-14 season does lead to the acquisition of Reggie Bush, I really think he ought to be given some valuable parting gifts. Hey! Maybe EA Sports' Madden NFL 2006? I suspect that's the closest he'll be getting to a pro football team for a very long time.

Jim Haslett (Saints) - um, is there anyone who could have done a better job with a team with no place to play whose homes were, in many cases, under 20 feet of water for most of the month of September?

Coaches who've quit:

Vermeil (Chiefs) - DVerm, we're sorry to see you go, but at 69, you've earned your (third and presumably final) retirement. Jaws sends his love.

Coaches who might quit:

Herm Edwards (Jets) - wow, who knew that coaching Vinny Testaverde was this big a buzz kill?

Bill Parcells (Cowboys) - but only to avoid being fired, which seems possible. Jimmy Jones isn't very happy about losing to the 'Skins twice AND missing the playoffs. Again. The Tuna hasn't quite been able to get his coaching act together without Bill Belichick at his side.

AR - just kidding! I don't think he's THAT depressed about the way the season went. But Brad Childress will probably be a head coach somewhere else next year.

Finally, it's that time of year! My playoff predictions...

Wildcard weekend:
Buccaneers versus Redskins - Bucs
Panthers versus Giants - Panthers
Jaguars versus Patriots - Pats
Steelers versus Bengals - Bengals

Divisional Playoffs:
Buccaneers versus Bears - Bears (much as it pains me to say so, the Bucs are a good team this year, but I think they're too battered to take the Bears)
Panthers versus Seahawks - Seahawks (the Panthers are good, but the Seahawks are unstoppable this year)
Bengals versus Broncos - Broncos (but I wouldn't be shocked if the Bengals won)
Pats versus Colts - Colts (c'mon, Peyton finally managed to win in Foxboro!)

Conference Championships:
Bears versus Seahawks - Seahawks
Broncos (or Bengals) versus Colts - Colts

Super Bowl XL
Seahawks versus Colts - Colts

At least I'll be able to relax and enjoy the playoffs this year with nothing at stake. And those of you who will attend my annual Super Bowl Blowout, know that I'll be a lot more fun to be with this year.