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!