27 January 2007

It was the best of times...

...it was (sometimes) the worst of times.

I was going to write up a season highlights/lowlights kind of deal, and as usual, goeagles99 not only beat me to it, but did a way better job than I could ever do. It's long, but go read it anyway.

I was also going to write a general overview of the season, but then philly.com interviewed Jaws, who, as usual, rocked the analysis. To summarize Inquirer columnist Marc Narducci's point: ESPN needs to pull its head out of its a**, fire that cracked-out tool Michael Irvin and/or that doofus Joe Theismann and put Jaws in the game! He speaks, and it's like the voice of angels. Football angels, that is.

Speaking of Jaws, the NFL Network has been playing half hour recap broadcasts of all the past Super Bowls. And Super Bowl XV came on during breakfast Sunday. It's amazing I could keep my omelette and bacon down. Why doesn't the NFL Network give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it while they're at it? Or replay Super Bowl XXXIX, which I was just starting to get over? Wanna kick some Philadelphian puppies too, NFL Network honchos?

Anyway, as football seasons tend to, this year held some major emotional swings.

Starting 4-1? High.

D-Mac and our receivers blowing up the secondaries of the Texans, the 49ers, the Packers, and the Cowboys for major yardage and points? High.

Blowing a huge lead and then losing to the Giants in OT? Low.

Losing Jevon Kearse for the season during that should-never-have-taken-place OT? Even lower.

Ronde Barber's TWO picks for TDs? Avert your eyes, kids.

D-Mac goes down for the year with a torn ACL on a completely innocuous-looking play? To quote Ray Charles: "If it wasn't for real bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all."

Getting THRASHED by the Colts? Is that singing I hear? Who invited that fat lady, damn it!?

And then...they fell like dominoes, one by one. The Panthers. The Skins (again). The Giants (what should have been again). The Cowboys (AGAIN!) And finally, the Falcons (even though it didn't matter by that point). 10-6. NFC East Champions. Wild card game win. Playing well against the Saints and coming close in a tough road game in the divisional round.

Best part? Watching my guys pick themselves up, come together as a team, and turn their season around, while every other NFC East team was preoccupied with one major locker room controversy or another. You think the stable organization Andy Reid has built means nothing? Look around the rest of our division.

A few thoughts...

On Offense

QB controversy, my sweet round booty. Please. I do hope we're able to hang onto both Jeff Garcia and AJ Feeley in case Big 5 isn't 100% by the start of the 2007 season, because they both stepped in - and stepped up - when the chips were down. Think AJ can learn to hold to Akers' satisfaction?

Our O-line was the most consistently excellent component of the 2007 team. Shawn Andrews was the only one to make the Pro Bowl - and sadly, after sustaining an injury in the divisional round against the Saints, he will be unable to play - but arguments could probably be made for several additional members, if not all, of our starting O-line to have joined him.

Our receivers were consistently inconsistent: amazing catch one play, dropping an easy one the next. Some of it is inexperience, either with the pro game (for our young guys) or the system (for our new guys), but they need to work on that. "Dropped Passes" is not a category in which you want to be leading the league, fellas. Speaking of new guys, while I'm hoping we can hang on to Donte, too, it doesn't seem critical to me. Reggie Brown is coming along great, both Hank Baskett and Jason Avant showed promise this year, and Greg Lewis is a low-key, consistent performer. I really think we're OK at receiver.

Westy, as I and many have pointed out before, was COMPLETELY robbed of a Pro Bowl berth. Enough said. Once MM opened up the offense, he came into his own. The guy's money, and we're lucky to have him.

I don't know if Buck's the answer for our short-yardage back problems, but at least he stayed healthy this year. I still miss Dorsey Levens.

LJ had a good year that probably would have been a great year if Big D had stayed healthy. But did you see his blocking in the bottom half of the season? YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

On Defense

For a few series or sometimes even a whole game, our D could be brilliant: sacking the hell out of everyone, shutting down some good runners (like Tiki Barber), mounting thrilling goal-line stands, and takeaways, takeaways, takeaways.

And then there were the other times...guys couldn't tackle to save their lives. Many, many offenses ran all over us, most painfully the Saints in the divisional playoffs. Stupid 11 foot tall Plaxico Burress could only be covered by Lito...standing on Sheldon's shoulders. (Is being that tall legal in the NFL? Shouldn't he have to go play basketball with the rest of the giants?) Stupid brilliant rookie year for Vince Young. (Hear that sound? It's Texans' GM Rick Smith still crying over Charley Casserly's idiotic draft choice.) In almost all of our losses, we were still in the game until the final series, when our D just could not seem to stop anyone from doing anything. Were they all off getting a pretzel?

No doubt, the loss of Jevon Kearse really hurt us. And we had more dumb penalties on defense than I care to count. Sure, Trot's a team leader, but I think his knees are shot. I hear Hugh Douglas' old bad-assador spot is open. Omar Gaither and Tank Daniels had good rookie years. Broderick Bunkley, not so much. We need some serious preventative maintenance on our defensive line and among our linebackers in the off season.

Our defensive secondary, on the other hand, includes two Pro Bowlers, Lito and Dawk, both of whom richly deserved their selections. Lito missed 4 games (5 including the playoffs) and was still an INT machine. Dawk did his usual stellar job of leveling some truly punishing hits and coming up with big plays at big times.

On the other hand, Mike Lewis and Sheldon Brown played like a couple of punks way too often. AR's cagey about injuries, so maybe that contributed, but there was just a serious lack of...fire? Interest? Competence? Rod Hood had the same problem, but I think he's looking for a fat contract and a one-way ticket out of town. Yo, Rod - forgetting to show for about 1/2 the season is not the best way to go about that, homes.

Special teams was, to coin a phrase, nothing special, on either side of the ball. I really like Reno Mahe - I think most people do - but it would be nice to see him rip a big play from time to time. No, one per season is not sufficient. I'm also glad to see us giving a tryout to a new punter.

In the final analysis, I'm really looking forward to next year. I think this team is about 75% there. If we can get our starting QB back, get some sticky hands from our receivers, let Marty keep calling the offense, pick up a few guys to help us shut down the run, and get the occasional big play from special teams, I think another division title and run at The Big One is in the bag.


25 January 2007

Super Bowl Pick

Now that every team I care about is watching football from the comfort of their own living rooms, who do I think will win? More importantly, who do I want to win?

Those of you who've read this blog for any length of time know my long-standing antipathy for Peyton Manning (although I do find his MasterCard commercials hilarious). However, as my friend Obi Wan IT Guy observed earlier this week, Dungy's been owed ever since Coach Chuckie stole his Super Bowl ring down there in Tampa.

Furthermore, Dungy seems like a great guy. Then again, so does Lovie Smith. Both are good coaches, respected by their players and front offices. (On that note, has anyone other than me noticed that, since Parcells' announcement, Captain ME! has been referring to him in interviews as "Bill" rather than "Coach" or "Coach Parcells"? Classy to the end. What a tool!)

The thing is, we've already seen how Peyton Manning caves in the big game. Just for the sake of variety, it would probably be more fun to witness the particular contours of a Rex Grossman meltdown.

Ultimately, at this point, I really don't care. Now I'm just in it for the beer and funny commercials. But. if forced, I'll go with the pundits and pick the Colts, based purely on the fact that the AFC is the stronger conference. Which definitely means you should go withdraw your 401(k) and bet it all on the Bears.


22 January 2007

2006 Season Conference Championships Recap

In attendance: Ex-Navy Cheesehead, Shoegal, Chef Spouse. The stalwarts.

Menu: Shrimp etouffe and champagne in honor of the Saints. For all the good that did. Also ExNCH made a cake! And Shoegal brought shrimp cocktail and fresh cherries (plus the bubbly). So at least we were well-provisioned.

ARGH! OK, I seem to have come up with a sure-fire sports betting plan: whatever team I pick, you should bet the mortgage payment on the other guys.

THE GOOD

First of all, it was perfect football-watching weather here in DC. It started snowing about 2 hours before kickoff of the NFC game, so we built a fire in the fireplace and opened a bottle of nice Australia shiraz. Unfortunately, the snow meant that the crew left early in the AFC game, which was a shame because the REALLY good thing was...

The Colts/Patriots game. Wow, was that one hell of a game! Better, I'll wager, than the Super Bowl will be (which means you should immediately bet the college fund that the Super Bowl will be a barn-burner, too). And it was not at all what I expected. I thought the Pats would stomp the Colts. Which they did. For the first half. And then the Colts rolled out of the locker room like their pants were on fire. Tony Dungy must have given them an amazing halftime pep talk. Or maybe he started threatening to trade people to the Raiders? Either way, it worked like a charm! Peyton Manning finally overcame his playoff curse. Maybe he'd be willing to share his secret with Big 5? How do you think D-Mac would feel about sacrificing a goat or two?

THE BAD

That would be the Bears/Saints game. As Life-Long Eagles Fan Mom observed, the Bears started celebrating at the beginning of the 4th quarter. That would be because the Saints apparently thought the game was over at the half and went home. By the beginning of the 4th, the only thing that would've saved the game would have been if a bolt of lightning had hit the Bears' bench and killed them all, or at least knocked them all unconscious. And even then, it would've been close.

THE UGLY

The Pats' Reche Caldwell. Otherwise known as #87, Mr. Alligator Arms, and "Hey, That's the Guy Who Lost Us the AFC Championship Game! GET HIM!" He is SOOO fired. You-Two-Calm-Down-or-I'm-Turning-Off-the-TV Dad noted that he probably won't have a job next season. Next season? I'm thinking he'll be out of work by next week. At least he's practiced his look of sheer terror, which will come in handy when he returns to the Boston area. Assuming he's brave enough to do that.

The officiating at Soldier Field. Excuse me, but Michael Lewis was down. Are the zebras blind, or are they just unfamiliar with their own rules? We definitely bore the brunt of what seemed to be some suspiciously homer-ish officiating last week. It was sad to watch the Saints go down partially as a result of the same flaw (although turn about is fair play).

But it wasn't just the officiating. The Saints couldn't stop Thomas Jones and couldn't get Deuce McAllister, who ran for 4,973 yards against us last week, started. They enjoyed a brief few minutes of brilliance on either side of the half (Marques Colston's TD reception and Reggie Bush's beautiful 88 yard TD scamper), and then they just completely fell apart. To quote King Kaufman:

"I would argue that the turning point came before that safety. Starting with 11:25 remaining in the third quarter, the Saints, down 16-14, had driven from their own 18 to the Chicago 29, where they bogged down with three straight incomplete passes. That left them facing a 47-yard field-goal attempt.

That was beyond the range of their placekicker, John Carney, so kickoff specialist Billy Cundiff came on. Now, it's bad enough to spend a roster spot on a placekicker and a kickoff specialist, worse when your placekicker can't manage a 47-yard boot, and worse still when the kickoff specialist can't either. Cundiff's kick was short, and the Bears took over at the spot of the kick, the Chicago 37. "

And now two teams I don't care about are in the Super Bowl. Bleh. At least I'll be more fun during our Big Game party, since I won't be in a panic that my team's going to lose.

And finally, I had to witness Peyton Manning, Mr. Asshat in defeat, be all Mr. Charming "Gee, aren't the Patriots a swell team, Mr. Reporter?" in victory. I hate it when he gets to pretend that he's not 2 seconds away from tossing his entire team under the bus. If the Bears manage to upset the odds and win in two weeks, you just wait and see...

And some breaking news: Parcells apparently decided that he just couldn't stand any more Captain ME! antics - or maybe he's just not up to coddling a QB who's bound to start 2007 emotionally fragile - so he's hanging up his spurs, if I may pun for a moment.


20 January 2007

2006 Season Conference Championships Picks

I know all the pundits - and more importantly, the bookmakers - are calling Colts and Bears. And I think the last time the two road teams won the Conference Championships was in the Paleolithic Age (when the game was much more difficult because they played with an ACTUAL rock), but I'm calling a Patriots/Saints Super Bowl.

The breakdowns:

Colts/Pats -This rivalry has become the NFL-equivalent of the Hatfields and the McCoys. Or maybe the Germans and the French, with the Colts standing in for the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."

Which reminds me of one of my favorite old jokes.

"What's the first thing they teach in French war college?"

"How to say 'I surrender' in German."


You know, if your major industries are wine and haute couture, perhaps it is not a wise move to pick a fight with a country whose nursery schools are so regimented they make our Navy SEAL training look like a love-in. But I digress...

OK, sure the Colts seem to have fixed their defensive problems(and I'll bet Tony Dungy thanks God on his knees every night that Bob Sanders is back in the lineup), and the Pats would have lost last week had the Chargers not handed them the game on a silver platter. With a box of chocolates. And a balloon bouquet. But the Pats, not to disparage the high quality of the team over the past several years, always manage to get lucky in the playoffs. And while it's better to be lucky than good, it's best to be both. My oft-stated theory is that Belichick and/or Brady has insured this by selling one or both of their immortal souls to the devil. Which seems to be working out well for the team.

Of course, the Ravens pretty much handed the Colts' their win last week, too. Maybe Tony Dungy's gotten on board with the whole "selling of the soul" program? The Colts sure needed something to end their playoff doldrums.

Hmmmm - maybe that's our problem. Big Red, being a Mormon and all, is unlikely to be down with making a deal with the Prince of Darkness (Satan, that is, not Donald Trump) to ensure playoff wins. Someone really ought to work on that in the off-season. If he's not up for it, maybe Jeff Lurie or Joe Banner could be talked into it? It's worth looking into.

Anyway, having learned my lesson last week, I will NOT be picking against Belichick when the playoffs are on the line this week, and I'm calling the Pats to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLI.

Bears/Saints - I have a long affection for the Saints, as I tend to like to root for the perpetual underdogs (see below in my entire blog re: being a long-term Eagles fan). And New Orleans, even post-Katrina, is just about my favorite place on earth. And the city could really use the boost of their first-ever Super Bowl appearance.

And none of those are the reason I'm picking the Saints. Frankly, they're the better team. Rex Grossman is an INT waiting to happen, and the Saints' defense is going to have a field day, complete with a moon bounce and cotton candy. And I don't think the vaunted but banged-up Bears' defense is going to have any better luck with the multi-headed Hydra that is Bush, McAllister, and Colston than we did. Particularly since one of the cut-off heads - Joe Horn - seems to have grown back. Yeah, it'll be cold and likely snowy and they're playing away from their fan base, but I really don't any of that will matter. Geaux Saints! See you in Miami!


16 January 2007

2006 Season Divisional Weekend Recap

Eagles at Saints, Saturday, January 13, 2007

In attendance: Shoegal, me, about 150 screaming Eagles fans, and about 1/3 as many somewhat quieter Saints fans (or maybe they were just disgruntled Giants fans who would've cheered for Kim Jong Il if it looked like he had a shot at beating the Eagles).

Menu: ROCKIN' burgers and beer. Lots and lots of beer, courtesy of the nice Budweiser rep who arrived at the bar in the fourth quarter. Which was greatly appreciated.

Chef Spouse was on a business trip in LA - actually Beverly Hills ("swimming pools" - only record cold in LA meant no one was getting in them - "movie stars" - or at least lunch at the next table over from Jon Voigt), so Shoegal and I decided to head up to Gotham for a ladies' weekend, taking in the sights and buying shoes (of course), among other things, at the January sales. I promised I wouldn't make her give up 14 prime shopping and cocktailing hours to the playoffs, as long as we could watch the Important Game (and I got some Sports Center time to catch up on the other games). Shoegal acquiesced and generously gave up prime party hours on Saturday night to sit with me and the aforementioned screaming fans at Tonic (Chef Spouse's recommendation) to watch the game.

The game. It's already been dissected to death. A few of my thoughts:

1. While Andy Reid's call on punting on 4th-and-15 seems, in retrospect, to have been wrong (he admitted as much himself in the post-game interview), I can understand why he did it. Yeah, sure, our D had not been exactly brilliant at stopping the run. But after the false start penalty on Scott Young, we'd been backed up to our own 39 yard line. We turn it over there, the Saints are already practically in field goal range, which would have put the game completely out of reach. So you gamble that the D can hold and get you the ball back. And speaking of that false start penalty...
2. Sean Andrews. Man, losing him really killed us. We were out 2/3 of our Pro Bowlers. And it really hurt us. As did losing Shawn Barber. We were dropping like flies there. Speaking of our Pro Bowlers...
3. What happened to Brian Dawkins? He really wasn't a factor that I could see. That was an outcome of losing Lito I never anticipated.
4. We just had some bad luck. Guys forced fumbles that the Saints picked up or that bounced harmlessly out of bounds. Our dropsies came back. Garcia seemed to have a hard time settling down (that may have been related to the fact that he rarely got more than 2 seconds to get rid of the ball). And he threw a few times when it seemed to me that he should have run. Dumb penalties took away big plays on both sides of the ball. And our D could not stop the run, inside or outside. On that note...
5. I know it's only the sore loser who cries about bad officiating. And I was in a VERY loud sports bar that wasn't actually playing the audio until late in the 4th quarter. But there was some strange officiating. There were several plays that looked to me like Saints fumbles that were blown dead before anyone had a chance to recover. There were some odd penalty calls on us. There was some REALLY obvious Saints' holding that wasn't called, particularly on those running plays I mentioned we couldn't seem to stop. We got a terrible spot that resulted in a field goal rather than possibly the go-ahead TD in the 4th quarter. At which point I remarked (loudly) to Shoegal, "I don't mean to be the Voice of Doom, but I think that's the game."

So after the game ended, the one really loud Saints fan (who had been sitting right behind us) came up to the bar, where I congratulated her on their win. Turns out, she's from the Philadelphia area, so would normally have been rooting for the Eagles. If it wasn't for the fact that she's Sean Payton's cousin. So I guess I can forgive her. Also, small world.

Speaking of Payton, one of the things I love about him is something he shares with Belichick - he just balls-to-the-wall goes for it. I love AR, and I think his style suits the style team he's constructed in Philadelphia. And it's too early to make any sweeping pronouncements about Payton's greatness (see Romo, Tony and Bowl, Pro). But he shares that slightly-crazy edge Belichick has, which may take him far as a head coach.

Several of my regular readers left comments on my game-preview post about all my thoughts about the season, the team, the coaches, and the fans. A lot of the people around here are of the reasonable-fan stripe. I almost forget that the nutballs are out there. Until I hear a story like Chef Spouse's. Sunday, he flew from LA to Vegas for Leg Two of his business trip. He found a good bar on the Strip from which to watch the Sunday games and, shortly after being seated, found a fellow Eagles fan next to him. They commiserated about the loss for a minute, and Chef Spouse was ready to end the conversation and get on with watching the Bears/Seahawks game. And then Asshat Fan gets going on "the Eagles need to fire Andy Reid, the Eagles need to trade Donovan McNabb, the Eagles need to sign Jeff Garcia to a long-term contract (HE'S 37!), the Patriots aren't actually a good team, Tom Brady's a bad quarterback," blah blah blah, yackity-smackity, idiotic-opinion-palooza. Chef Spouse, busy with business tripping, had not had a chance to read my dissertation on why the Eagles are a good team and fans like that shouldn't be allowed to speak publicly about football, so he was unprepared to respond. But he did mention that he kept thinking, "I wish Red was here - she'd put him in his place." True dat.

But in the end, both teams showed up to play and played hard. They were well-matched, and the Saints won by the generic home team 3 point advantage. I had commented to Shoegal early in the first quarter that the game would probably come down to whichever team had the final possession. And I was right. I will be very pleased to cheer the Saints on to the Super Bowl, and hopefully to a win in Miami. Geaux Saints!

In the rest of the playoff games...

WHAT the HELL is going on? The Colts are WINNING playoff games? Well, actually, the Colts aren't winning playoff games. On Saturday at least, it was pretty much just Adam Vinatieri. He was helped by a lot of Ravens turnovers, of course, but he really did the yeoman's share of the work in that game. First all-field-goal playoff game since the 70s. Bet the Colts are glad they dumped Vanderjagt. Who, may I remind you, has been watching football from his couch since Thanksgiving. Interestingly, the Colts/Ravens was the only game last weekend NOT decided by 3 points.

Seahawks/Bears was sloppy on both sides, and the Bears needed an OT field goal to beat the completely mediocre Seahawks. Yeah, I know they get to play at home in the cold, but I don't see them beating the Saints next week.

I broke my own rule and was punished for it. Of course the Patriots pulled off the upset win over the Chargers. Never bet against a Sicilian when death is on the line, and never bet against Bill Belichick when the playoffs are on the line. I will not make the same mistake again. Even though LT scores more touchdowns before breakfast than most players do all season, the rest of the team - and the coaching staff - and the Schott - made more than enough dunderheaded decisions to offset that. I mean, my God. Actually, you know what? Just read King Kaufman - he says it way better than I could.

Conference championship picks later this week...and maybe a season recap/review if I can get my act together.


11 January 2007

2006 Season Divisional Weekend Picks

Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints? Hopefully us.

I just spoke with Life-Long Eagles Fan Mom, and I realized that it's at times like this that I particularly miss living in the Philly area.

Philly news? 24/7 Eagles coverage. DC news? New mayor Adrian Fenty (don't get me wrong - I voted for him, and he seems like a decent guy - but details of his plan for streamlining the building permit process are not nearly as exciting as playoff coverage).

Philly stores? Wall-to-wall Eagles merch. DC stores? They've given up on the Skins and have replaced everything with Caps/Nats/Wizards/United/anything else they can dig up to try to take the stench of another lousy season out of the air.

Philly malls? Akers and Garcia signing autographs. DC malls? Post-Christmas sales.

Sports coverage in the Inquirer? All Eagles, all the time. Sports coverage in the Post? Well, since the Skins season is over, let's pretty much just ignore the playoffs and feature high school wrestling on the front page.

Oy.

Life-Long Eagles Fan Mom: "Well, it's not like this happens that often."

Me: "I don't know - I call 5 times in 6 years pretty damn often."

Which brings me to my larger point. Plenty of people who know a lot more about football than I do have handicapped this game. Short version? The teams are pretty evenly matched and are probably the two best - certainly the two hottest - teams left standing in the NFC. The Eagles have an edge in post-season experience. The Saints have an edge in the #1 ranked offense (of course, we're #2, so that may not help them that much). Both teams have good but inconsistent defense, that both makes and sometimes gives up big plays. We'll be hurting without Lito, but they'll be hurting without Joe Horn. It really could go either way, and no one will be shocked. And if we can't go to the NFC Championship game and rep the NFC in the Super Bowl, the Saints are definitely my second choice, no question.

So what is my larger point? This is the only place I post, but I lurk around plenty of other fan sites. And the amount of carping and whining about Andy Reid, Marty Mornhinweg, Jim Johnson, Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia, and pretty much every other player you can name is just ridiculous.

I know, I know - obsessed fans have to talk about something. And every team's fans are critical of missteps by the owner, front office, coaching staff, and/or players. But Eagles fans take it to an art form - the Dark Arts. I'm pretty sure I've seen Voldemort in the stands at the Linc, wearing a Dawkins jersey.

No, AR & Coaches haven't produced a Lombardi Trophy to date. AR is pass-happy and hasn't always displayed the best clock management skills. JJ can get blitz-happy and leave our secondary with their asses hanging out. Mornhinweg might get nabbed by some other team as their new head coach in the off-season. McNabb isn't a perfect QB, and neither is Garcia. They've both had their share of bone-headed plays. McNabb tries too hard to make the big play at times and isn't always as accurate with the ball as he could be. Garcia's short, he doesn't have the biggest arm in the world, and his emotions sometimes get the better of him. Jon Runyan and Trent Cole suffer from the same problem. Trotter's lost a step or two. Jerome McDougal has turned out to be a disappointment (which is a real shame after he fought back from last summer's gunshot wounds). Our receivers still drop too many passes. And we never know from one year to the next who we're going to have. We tried to pick up a marquee wideout, and it nearly wrecked the team. Reno Mahe has broken maybe ONE big kick off return in his entire career. Sheldon Brown and Mike Lewis get beat occasionally, particularly by guys who are taller than 5' 10" (aka, most of the receivers in the NFL). Westy's had a lot of problems with injuries over the years (not this year, thank God, and knock on wood). So has Jevon Kearse. So has Buck. The past two years have been David Akers' worst ever (he's only at 78% on field goals this year). And Philadelphia hasn't seen a sports championship since humans discovered fire.

But could we all just calm down for a minute? I was chatting with an intelligent, reflective, life-long Skins fan over cocktails last night (you know, not the typical "5-11 this year? Next year, we're DEFINITELY going to win the Super Bowl!" type), and of course the conversation turned to football. He had nothing but praise for Jeff Lurie, the Eagles front office, Andy Reid, and most of our players.

In Philly, we have a few bad games, and the next thing you know, the fans are out for the blood of AR, JJ, Big 5, and anyone else in the vicinity. Let me remind you of something: we've won the division 5 out of the last 6 years. The Cowboys, Giants, and Skins would LOVE to see us get rid of Reid and/or McNabb. Not only would they then have a shot at picking up those two themselves, they also might have a prayer of winning the division.

What? It's so easy to win the division year after year? It's so easy to win Super Bowls? Name me two teams that have had more consistent success than the Eagles since AR and D-Mac came on in 1999. Sure, the Patriots. Who else you got? Thought so.

Yeah, I want a Super Bowl, too. I still hate the Raiders for whomping us in Super Bowl XV in 1981. But just about everyone in the football viewing world gave this team up for dead when McNabb went down against the Titans or, at the very latest, when we lost to the Colts Thanksgiving weekend. And we went on to win the division and our first playoff game.

So regardless of what happens Saturday night, let's all try to take a breath before we start calling for heads to roll. Remember that Andy Reid is the winningest coach we've ever had in Philadelphia. Remember that Jeff Garcia is almost 37 years old and has shown us some big brass ones in the last six weeks. Remember that McNabb has led us to more post-season wins than any QB in Eagles history. Remember that David Akers will probably end up in the Hall of Fame. Remember that when the **** hit the fan, this team didn't give up, even though everyone expected them to. They decided to pull it together and do whatever it took to save their season. And remember that six short weeks ago, nobody saw any of this coming. And try to enjoy it for once, for chrissakes.

WHEW.

OK, Colts/Ravens - not only do I think the Ravens will win, if the Colts are smart, they won't even get off the bus. Can you say grudge match? I predict the boos of the Baltimore fans will shake the very ground, and Ray Lewis will probably end the game carrying Peyton Manning's recently ripped-off head around the field on a pike.

Seahawks/Bears - ay yi yi. Neither team is looking particularly, you know, good, at this point. But I think the Bears' defense, depleted as it may be, will manage to edge out the sputtering Seahawks', well, everything. This will probably not be one of the more brilliant games we've all witnessed. Although hopefully it won't be as painfully bad at the Seahawks/Cowboys mess last week. Dude, that was just embarrassing.

Pats/Chargers - I'm ignoring my own advice and picking against the Pats in the playoffs. Which almost definitely means I'm wrong. But the Chargers are just too good at everything. Their one weakness is that Philip Rivers is new to the playoffs, and I'm sure Evil Genius Bill Belichick will find a way to exploit that. That week off may not actually have been all that helpful. And Martyball is always lurking in the background, like some cartoon villain with a Snidely Whiplash mustache, ready to tie LT to the train tracks. The Schott does not have the best post-season record ever. Evil Genius Belichick, on the other hand, does. Still, in LT I trust.

08 January 2007

2006 Season Wildcard Weekend Recap

Eagles v. Giants, Sunday, January 7, 2007

In attendance: Ex-Navy Cheesehead, Shoegal, Chef Spouse

Menu: hot wings and crudities, graciously provided by Ex-Navy Cheesehead.

Let me be the 89 millionth person to note what a wild wildcard weekend this was. Although actually, not really, as all the home teams won.

As I write this, I'm watching NFL Replay of our Week 6 game in New Orleans. Just watched the Saints go slowly down the field, burning up the last of the 4th quarter when we had no timeouts left, run the clock down to about 3 seconds, and kick the game winner. Look familiar? Seems like AR's been paying attention.

Our boys beat TWO opponents Sunday: the Giants and the zebras. I know, I know, complaining about officiating is pointless, particularly when your team won. And I'm sure there were bad calls on both sides, although what I mostly saw was the Giants O Line holding the hell out of our defenders and getting away with it all damn day. And I like Tiki Barber, too. As I've mentioned, he seems like a decent person, and he's definitely retiring. But that doesn't make it OK to throw the game to his team just because you like him!

How does Plax draw an interference call when covered by Sheldon Brown, and like, 4 minutes later, same contact, same positioning with Reggie Brown covered by Jason Bell, and no interference call? Well, OK, Plax is a big whiner who gets about 50% of his catches due to pissing & moaning about interference, but come on! And this was just after the zebras called back Westy's punt return TD because Tank got his feet caught up with a Giant who was nowhere near the play, and they both went down. Excuse me, but what the hell? I actually got so mad, I had to stop watching for part of the 4th quarter, and missed the end of the drive where the Giants tied it up. Chef Spouse called me back to watch the drive that led to Akers' game-winning field goal, which I watched through my fingers, which were covering my eyes at the time.

(With the rain and after the Bengals/Broncos in week 16 and the mess with Romo Saturday night, I sure was glad to see Koy Detmer back. Maybe it is worth giving up a roster spot just for Akers' favorite holder. Could they teach him to do something else, too?)

Oddly enough, I called Life-Long Eagles Fan Mom right after the game, and she did the exact same thing - she got so pissed at the bad officiating that she had to stop watching part way through the 4th quarter, and You-Two-Calm-Down-or-I'm-Turning-Off-the-TV Dad called her back to watch the game-winning drive through her fingers, which were covering her eyes at the time. The apple doesn't fall far from the psychotic fan tree.

We continue our streak as a completely different team than we've been up to this point: a smash-mouth defense that makes it nearly impossible for opposing teams to get anything but a field goal and a grind-it-out offense with a tough mo-fo of a running back who rips 141 rushing yards, 12 receiving yards, and a TD even though he spent halftime communing with the porcelain deity, receivers who actually catch critical passes, and an even tougher QB who doesn't do anything showy or spectacular, but who absolutely refuses to lose. Where did these guys COME FROM, and can we keep 'em?

We have a lot of young guys and guys with NO prior playoff experience, and in the end, they played well enough to win. There were only a few big penalties - that interference call thanks to another Oscar-worthy performance from Plax and Runyan's inexplicable foolishness that, thanks to Barry Cofield, didn't cost us anything - and the guys kept their heads when things weren't going their way (did we start any possession in the entire first quarter outside our own 5?) And that's all that ultimately matters.

I'm sure everyone's heard the bad news about Lito at this point. We are going to miss him big time. But as I kept saying when it looked like the zebras were going to make sure we lost yesterday if we couldn't do it on our own, "We're not supposed to lose at home this week to the Giants! We're supposed to go to New Orleans next week and lose to the Saints! At least the guys will be able to console themselves with easily-accessible sazeracs!"

Also, dislocated elbow? OW! That sounds really painful. If we manage to clear the Saints - which is a long shot, Eagles fans - I really hope we get him back for the NFC Championship against the Bears. Oh come on - you know there's no way the Seahawks beat the Bears. I don't care if they play Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, or Soupy Sales at QB. It won't matter.

Around the rest of the wildcard games...

I was wrong about Colts/Chiefs. But to be fair, the Colts looked like an entirely different team Saturday afternoon than they had for the previous 17 weeks. So it's not entirely my fault that I was expecting them to play like they had all season and allow Larry Johnson to run wild. Also, who could have predicted that the Colts would pull it together for the playoffs, rather than getting their more customary case of the vapors? Finally, how does Peyton Manning throw 3 picks and the Chiefs come up with NO points from ANY of them? Did they realize that this was a playoff game? They really, really deserved to lose. REALLY.

Unsurprisingly, the Pats beat the Jets. For a while, it looked like the Jets were going to make it a game, and then...no. That was an embarrassing second half. On the up side, it looks like Belichick and Mangini have resolved their personal issues. Or they were so tired of listening to the media hoo-ha that they decided to fake it, even though they still really hate each others' guts.

Watching the Seahawks/Cowboys game, what I was mostly thinking (other than "PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE can there be career-ending injury for TO?" which I think every time the Cowboys play) was: "How in the hell did EITHER of these teams get into the playoffs?" Two seriously pathetic showings. Most Painful Playoff Game of the Week. I'll go right ahead and call Most Painful Playoff Game. Ever.

So we're sitting on the couch watching the end of the 4th quarter. The Cowboys are setting up for the go-ahead field goal with just over a minute left, and Chef Spouse says, "Think of all the problems the Cowboys have had with kickers this year. Wouldn't it be great if Gramatica muffed the kick?" Me: "No frappin' way. It's not even an extra point." Not 15 seconds later (real time, not football time), Tony Romo blows the hold, picks it up to run and is tackled about 1/2 yard short of the first down, and it's O-V-E-R.

By the time Chef Spouse had recovered from his hysterical laughter, the game had ended, and he commented, "I feel bad for Romo. Both teams sucked, and the Cowboys have lots of problems, but he's going to get blamed for everything." I responded, "I don't feel bad for him. He chose to play for the Cowboys, he deserves every bad thing that happens to him." Chef Spouse: "He was young, they offered him a lot of money. It's not his fault." Me: "Would you play football for Satan?"

So now what? Well, Chef Spouse and I were each 3-1 for the weekend. I picked Seahawks, Pats, and us right and got the Colts wrong. Chef Spouse got Colts, Pats, and us right and got the Seahawks wrong (I haven't started divorce proceedings yet, but he's walking a fine line). But both of us think that Super Bowl XLI will come down to Saints/Chargers and the Chargers will win, neither of us would be surprised to see it come down to Saints/Ravens and the Ravens will win, and we both agree that THE game of the post-season will be the AFC Championship matchup between the Ravens and the Chargers.


04 January 2007

2006 Season Wildcard Weekend Picks

Take these with a grain of salt (see below), but here's what I think will happen this weekend.

Chiefs/Colts - Chiefs. The Colts can't stop the run, and Peyton Manning can't win a playoff game.

Cowboys/Seahawks - Seahawks. This was a tough one. Neither team looks strong heading into the post-season, but I'm picking the Seahawks because of the 12th Man, Shaun Alexander, and the fact that if I picked the Cowboys, a bolt of lightning would fall from the sky and strike me dead. And if, by some miracle, I survived the lightning strike, no one in my family would ever speak to me again.

Jets/Pats - Pats. But this one wasn't an easy pick either. Like us and the Giants, they split their regular season games. But it's never smart to pick AGAINST Brady and Belichick in the playoffs.

Eagles/Giants - Eagles. Duh. Because, unlike some NFC East teams I could name, we actually know how to stop, or at least slow down, Tiki Barber. Also their entire team hates Tom Coughlin. Also, Manning Playoff Curse.

So how did I do with my preseason picks? Not very well.

AFC:

AFC South: I picked Jags, Colts won. 0-1.
AFC North: I picked Bengals, Ravens won (although to be fair, I did note that the Ravens would be contenders, but almost doesn't count...). 0-2
AFC West: I picked Broncos, Chargers won. Was I on crack, or did I just forget about the existence of the Chargers? Oy. 0-3.
AFC East: I picked Dolphins, Pats won.

Result: I get punked by the AFC to the tune of 0-4.

On to the NFC...

NFC South: I picked Panthers, Saints won. Never have I been so happy to be wrong. 0-5.
NFC North: I picked Bears. Hey! I got one right! 1-5.
NFC West: I picked Seahawks. That's 2! But the NFC West is so terrible, this was a gimme, even with the Super Bowl/Madden NFL Curse rule in play. 2-5.
NFC East: I picked us, and mid-season I was feeling like a real chump. Thank goodness our boys ultimately proved me right. Or was that wrong?

Anyway, I finished 3-5.

Moral of the story? Read my blog for laughs, since I obviously have no idea what I'm talking about.


03 January 2007

Contenders/Pretenders

AFC

Chargers: Definite contenders. And the team to beat. Beware the return of Martyball, though.

Colts: Pretenders. Their D sucks, and then there's the Manning Playoff Curse.

Pats: Perpetual contenders. Belichick's a frappin' genius and Brady's the definition of clutch.

Ravens: Definite contenders. Their D is brutal, and their offense is good enough.

Jets: Probably pretenders. But Mangini still did an amazing job with that team this year.

Chiefs: Probably pretenders as well. But way to go, Herm!

NFC

Seahawks: Pretenders. The only reason they're even in the playoffs is thanks to a weak division. Look for the 49ers to come on strong next year.

Saints: Contenders all the way, baby. In all honesty, I think they'll rep the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Eagles: Contenders, because we have this thing known as "hotness." Unfortunately, I don't think it's enough to get us past the Saints, because that would be one hell of a conference championship game. Too bad we can't play the Bears next weekend.

Bears: Pretenders. Their D was dominant early in the season but has been less so recently, and their O is disintegrating before our very eyes.

Cowboys: Pretenders. How on earth did Tony Romo get into the Pro Bowl? That's just a travesty.

Giants: Pretenders. See above re: Manning Playoff Curse.


02 January 2007

Let the beheadings begin!

OK, Jim Mora and Dennis "Wildman" Green were a gimme. Although I really hope The Wildman gets to stay around - his press conferences were a hell of a lot more interesting than Big Red's: "Yes." "No." "Yes." "Thank you." But did Art Blank even wait for the plane to land back in Atlanta before he fired Mora? Flight attendant: "You may now use your cell phones as we taxi to the gate." "Ring...ring..." "Mora here." "You have Mike Vick, DeAngelo Hall, and Alge Crumpler and we went 7-9? You're sacked, buddy! Don't even bother to get off the plane."

But what other heads will roll? More importantly, which ones should roll? I'll write up my thoughts, but y'all should feel free to weigh in.

Will roll? Art Shell. But there's a rumor that the Raiders will try to get Marty Mornhinweg to replace him, and if they do, I'm going to kill them. He's the first man in recorded history to successfully convince AR to do this cool thing called "running the football."

Should roll? Deadhead Skins Fan and Spouse and Cool Web Dude (Skins Fan) are going to KILL me, but Joe Gibbs. He never should have come out of retirement, and if he can't stand up to Danny "Wait - real football is different from my fantasy league?" Snyder, and do what the team needs, he should to go back to NASCAR.

Will roll? Tom Coughlin. The entire team's on board with this one, and will probably whack him and dump his body in the end zone of the new stadium they want if the Maras won't oblige.

Should roll? Bill Parcells. Another one who should have stayed retired. Looking at his face all season dealing with Captain ME!, I wish I owned stock in GlaxoSmithKline (maker of Tums). Actually, Captain ME! is the one who should be let go, but Jerry Jones is too much of a tool to see that.

Will roll? Jon Gruden. This is speculation, but the Bucs just suck, and people were calling for him to be fired LAST year - which he should have been after losing to the Redskins in the wildcard game.

Should roll? John Fox. Dude's got Steve Smith and the ever-terrifying sacking machine Julius Peppers, and his team misses the playoffs for the second time in 3 years? I could've coached them into the playoffs, man.

Edited to add: Got the Panthers' coach's name wrong initially. Bad writer. No donut.

Will roll? It's looking like Scowly McOldSchool (aka Bill Cowher) is going to hang it up under his own power with one year left on his contract. Don't go Scowly! I'll miss you!

Should roll? Mike Shanahan. Dude, how do you lose to the 49ers at home with the playoffs on the line?

Will roll? Nick Saban, although it's also looking to be under his own power. But taking a team that many people - myself included - predicted to make the playoffs to a 6-10 finale does not bode well for his continued presence in the NFL. The University of Alabama might just be saving Dolphins' owner Wayne Huizenga the trouble of firing him.

Should roll? Probably Rod Marinell. How long does he get a free pass on the Lions sucking? But I'd like to thank him personally for engineering that win over the Cowboys. Big kiss, Rod!

PS to Romeo Crennel: watch your back, too, man. You're hardly the only one at fault in Cleveland, but it doesn't look good.

So weigh in - who do you think stays? Goes? Should go?


01 January 2007

2006 Week 17 Recap

Eagles/Falcons, Sunday, December 31, 2006

In attendance: Chef Spouse, Ex-Navy Cheesehead (in tux), Shoegal (in Manolos)

Menu: Chinese takeout

Happy New Year, Eagles Fans!

We were up in the Philly area this weekend for Philly RN's wedding (congrats, you crazy kids!), and we debated staying up there to watch the games with the fam. But we didn't want to end up driving back to DC at 8 pm. So we boogied south after a late breakfast, receiving periodic updates on the first half of the Lions/Cowboys game via cell phone, and arriving home during the half. How very sweet it was to witness the wheels not only come off the Cowboys' bus but roll into the next county. Just to remind you, prior to yesterday, the Lions had won only TWO games, against the Bills and Falcons, both at home. Their last win was almost two months ago. Then they go to Texas Stadium and beat the Cowboys, who only had the division championship on the line.

I had switched the living room TV to our game with the Cowboys game ticking down to the last few seconds. Meanwhile, Chef Spouse was keeping an eye on Cowboys/Lions in the kitchen. Thus we knew the result about 3 minutes before anyone at the Linc. Cue the champagne Chez Redhead! Akers must have been totally confused when the fans started cheering BEFORE he made his 41 yard field goal. And you could see Big Red and JJ going through their rosters on the sidelines: "Garcia? Out. Westy? Out. Dawk? Out. Lito? Out. Is it too late to dress out the practice squad?"

And then we STILL beat the Falcons. We beat their starters with our second and third teamers. I was very surprised that Jim Mora didn't pull his guys. Jim, even if you won this game, it wasn't going to save your job. Trust me on this one, dude. What were you thinking? Vick got hurt - again - and you're lucky it wasn't serious. Because, unlike you, he'll still be around next year. I haven't heard anything about Tyrone Willingham wanting to retire. Any interest in going to Oakland? They'll probably be looking for a new coach, and even you would be an improvement. But more about potential coaching changes in a later post...

Around the rest of the NFL...

The Giants managed to hang on to their wildcard spot by beating the Redskins Saturday night. They'll be one-and-done after facing us next Sunday, though. Bye, Tiki! You gave us fits over the years, but you seem like a classy, intelligent guy. No wonder you want to get the hell out of the Giants' organization.

The Panthers managed to beat the Saints' second team, bringing their season to a disappointing 8-8.

The Texans beat the Browns. Whatever.

The Lions beat the Cowboys. At Texas Stadium. With the NFC East title on the line. I know I've already mentioned that, like, a hundred times, but it never fails to bring a smile to my face.

The Jags sent in their third string QB after more David Garrard picks, and Trent Green got shnockered again - does he have a target on his chest or something? - but Damon Huard proved up to the task of handing off to Larry Johnson for a few downs until Green was able to return and hand off to Larry Johnson himself, who won the game for them, with 3 TDs. Which turned out to be important because...

The Broncos put their heads together and figured out a way to lose to the 49ers. At home. With a wildcard spot on the line. I'm still scratching my head over that one.

You know who else choked, losing a game they should have, and needed to, win? The Cowboys. HA!

The Pats ended the Titans winning streak at 6, finishing a surprising 12-4 thanks to Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and a bunch of no-names.

The Jets beat the Raiders, also surprising no one and securing the other AFC wildcard spot in the process.

The Bengals, otherwise known as the Blazing Saddles team (because, you know, they're all named "Johnson" and thanks to Deadhead Skins Fan for pointing that out), needed to beat the Steelers and get some other help to squeeze into the post-season. They got neither, ending a disappointing season ignominiously. It was a disappointing and adversity-filled season for the Steelers, too, but at least they managed to scrape together 8-8. I really hope this isn't Cowher's final season in Blitzburgh, though. I'd miss Scowly McOldSchool if he wasn't around the sidelines anymore.

The Seahawks beat the Bucs, ending a mediocre season with a bit of a bump. At least they managed to avoid the Super Bowl loser/Madden NFL curse. If they weren't facing the Cowboys next week, they'd be one-and-done, too. They're lucky we won NFC East.

By the time the Rams and Vikings played, neither team had anything on the line. And the Rams won. Yawn.

The Chargers and Cardinals also had nothing on the line, and the Chargers won. Again, yawn. But there is a bit of bad news - both QB Rivers and LT sustained injuries of some sort during the game (an updated report hasn't been posted yet to my knowledge). Frankly, it was an odd choice to have both play the majority of the game. But the ways of the Schott are mysterious and not to be understood by mere mortals like myself. The Chargers are still the team to beat. But we're all waiting to see if Martyball rears its ugly head.

The Ravens beat the Bills, surprising no one.

The Colts beat the Dolphins, also surprising no one. They're still gonna be one-and-done, though. Count on it.

And the Pack stomped all over the Bears at Soldier Field. The Bears' first team did play a good chunk of the game, but really didn't seem to give a damn. Rex Grossman continues to look REALLY shaky, and frankly Brian Griese wasn't much better. The only guy who seems marginally competent in the QB role there is the punter. The Bears may be 13-3, but recently they've looked more like an 8-8 team at best. Lovie Smith might want to call Tony Dungy this week to get his perspective on how it feels to secure the bye and home field and still be out after one post-season game, because that's what I see happening, particularly given the unseasonably warm winter.

In closing, did I mention that the Cowboys LOST to the previously 2-13 Lions yesterday? Good times, people, good times.