Saturday, April 19, 2014

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

Indiana Pacers vs Atlanta Hawks

Season Series: 2-2

The Matchup:
Indiana limps into the playoffs playing sub .500 basketball since the beginning of March, including one loss to the Hawks where they trailed 42-15 in the second quarter (universally looked at as rock bottom of Indiana’s slide). In fact, the only thing that could make this a series is the fact that the Pacers are going through this slide.  A methodical team, the Pacers were grinding teams down with their slow play (20th in pace) and suffocating defense (1st in points per 100 possessions) when they were playing at their optimal level.  During their skid, it was really their offense that let them down, failing to break 90 points 10 times (and going 0-10) over that span.
Atlanta should be applauded for fighting so ferociously; not just at the end of the season to secure a playoff berth, but for refusing to tank when their best player (Al Horford) went down for the season in December with an oblique tear.  Jeff Teague and All-Star Paul Millsap have carried the Hawks all year.  While Atlanta is thin offensively in the post, they were 2nd in the league in 3 pointers attempted and look to hoist it from deep to compensate for their lack of down low scoring.
Atlanta’s best chance is probably hitting a high percentage of those threes they always jack up, but the Pacers are 4th in defensive 3 point percentage in the league.  I’d look for the Hawks to get some early offense in transition against the Pacers, it’s probably their best option for attacking the league’s best defense.  When going down the lineup, Millsap and Teague are better than their counterparts (David West and George Hill) but Indiana holds the edge in the other 3 position matchups.  Mike Scott for Atlanta is the best bench player in the series, but Indiana has more experienced depth. As mortal as Indiana has looked lately, I just can’t see them losing this series. Pacers win series 4-1.

Miami Heat vs Charlotte Bobcats

Season Series: 4-0 (Miami)

The Matchup:
Miami looked to have the 1st seed sewn up as the Pacers came back to the pack after their hot start.  After they were unable to beat Atlanta late, they were relegated to the 2nd seed.  Part of the reason they’ve ended up behind the Pacers was their unwillingness to play Dwyane Wade any more than they felt that had to, pulling him out of 28 games this season due mostly to precaution. Miami’s defense has been the least efficient of the “Big 3” era, ranking 11th in defensive efficiency.  Moreover, their 3 point FG% plummeted from 2nd last year to 12th this season with the departure of Mike Miller and Ray Allen’s decline.  Despite them still boasting the most talented starting 5, this is a much different Heat team that will struggle mightily to go to their 4th finals in as many years.
The Bobcats were a surprise to many as they officially left the doldrums of the NBA to the posh pastures of postseason ball.  Charlotte propelled themselves into the tournament because of their defense and Al Jefferson.  Despite losing one of their best defenders in Jeffrey Taylor, head coach Steve Clifford cobbled together a 5th ranked defensive efficiency rating.  Jefferson is having his best year in the NBA in his 10th season.  While he has earned the player of the month and week awards he garnered, assistant coach Patrick Ewing has helped the big man immensely.  Add Kemba Walker’s steady play and late game heroics, and the Bobcats outperformed many pundits’ expectations.
There’s a reason Miami is 4-0 vs this team. It’s simply a terrible matchup for the Bobcats.  The Heat just have too many guns for a team that struggles to score (and I won’t mention that whole “LeBron dropped a 60 burger on the Bobcats” thing).  I hate picking against my squad, so I think they’ll scoop a game at home but Miami wins 4-1.

Toronto Raptors vs Brooklyn Nets

Season Series: 2-2

I pride myself on seeing the truth in a player’s game, to accurately predict what their maturation will be.  So I was extra shocked to see Kyle Lowry’s emergence this year.  He should’ve been an All-Star as he had a career high in points per game, assists per contest, and 3 point percentage.  DeMar DeRozen continued to hone his scoring ability, cracking 20 points for the first time in his short career. The Raptors have assembled a talented backcourt and an athletic frontcourt with Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas.  This is not some lucky team, the Raptors are a young talented group.

The most talented group may be in Brooklyn.  They lost Brook Lopez and Deron Williams early in the season, and even after Williams returned Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko have both had problems staying healthy.  No problem, this team has had several guys step up in different games all season; sometimes it is Williams, or Shaun Livingston, or Mirza Teletovic, or Mason Plumlee, or Andray Blatche.  And that list doesn’t include their late-game heroes Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce—or for that matter their late season acquisition Marcus Thornton who has gone for 20+ points 5 times since his late Feb trade.

This series is going to be a good one, and the most entertaining of the East’s first round affairs.  It will be highly contested and full of highlights. I’m picking the Nets to win in 7 because of their depth and experience.  Picking a team based solely on intangibles is always a crap shoot, but no one on that Raptors team has won much of anything of note, and everyone says how different playoff basketball is from the regular season.  While I think the coaching matchup favors Dwayne Casey (a Coach-Of-The-Year candidate this season) over Jason Kidd, the onslaught of championship-caliber talent will be too much for the surprising Raptors, and the Nets will win in 7.

Chicago Bulls vs Washington Wizards 

Season Series: 2-1 (Wizards)

First, let us applaud Coach Tom Thibodeau for his coaching performance this year.  The man loses Derrick Rose early to injury, and loses Luol Deng to a trade midseason that yields nothing in return.  Two out of the 5 projected in the starting lineup are gone and Thibs still glided this team to homecourt in the first round of the playoff—impressive.  Equally impressive has been the play of Joakhim Noah and Taj Gibson, the collective heart of this team.  Gibson is a candidate for the 6th man of the year award, and Noah has done everything for this team; scoring, rebounding, and creating for his teammates in the most perilous of times.  This Bulls team is based more on grit than talent, much like last year’s incarnation that beat the more talented Nets in the first round of the playoffs.
The Wiz Kids look to finally be living up to their prodigious talent.  John Wall and Bradley Beal have both taken leaps and moved into contention for the “best backcourt in the league” contingent.  It would be easy to think that because the face of this team is young and the franchise hasn’t experienced much success in the playoffs that the team is too green to do anything this postseason.  Take a closer look at the roster and see Andre Miller, Trevor Ariza, and Al Harrington.  With Nene coming back just in time for the playoffs, the team’s attack won’t just be from the perimeter. Their offensive balance will be important for a team that can struggle scoring the basketball.

It’s really hard to go against a team as tough as the Bulls, but eventually the talent will win out…right? Plus, I’m really excited to see Bradley and Wall in the postseason; I think both will elevate this team and make it an incredibly difficult out.  Both teams rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency, but the Wizards are better on offense with Nene’s return. Wizards in 6.     

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Michael Sam's Story

I struggle with writing about social issues; not because I don’t think it’s important, but because I fear I won’t do it justice.  I thoroughly believe sports can open doors and hearts the way that very few things can.  That said, my own apathy for stories involving the personal lives of athletes is well documented.  So when Missouri defensive end (and potential 2014 NFL draftee) Michael Sam announces nationally that he is gay, I have a decision to make; do I treat the story as I normally would, peeking into the information only to glean what it might mean to on-field play? Or do I attempt to put the social issue in a larger historical context?

I can’t pretend I care about what Sam does in the bedroom, but I also won’t pretend that his announcement shouldn’t be met with some sort of reaction.  Sam’s announcement stands in stark contrast to Jason Collins’ coming out process.  Collins was at the end of his career (Collins still hoped to be picked up in free agency, but regardless of why he isn’t playing now, he was undoubtedly in the twilight of his basketball life), while Sam’s declaration on the beginning of the most scrutinized part of his life—a time that will determine his finances in the near future.

I feel like this story should be framed properly.  Women have been coming out nationally for years (Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, and Sheryl Swoopes to name a few) but it is only the men that have drawn such national media attention.  Playing sports is largely (and incorrectly) considered a masculine venture.  One of the stigmas associated with being gay is that somehow homosexual men are less than, because of their sexual orientation.  I hate to overdo what sports can do for people.  I hesitate to say that baseball healed a nation after the Yankees made a run to the World Series following the tragic events of September 11.  No amount of runs scored will give thousands of families their loved ones back.  But for issues such as the one presently presented with Sam’s announcement, maybe it can dead a ridiculous school of thought relating to the toughness of a man based on who he loves.

The story may be the most important for homosexual adolescents (especially boys) who may fight the stigma of being gay and too “soft” to play sports.  In the country’s most violent and tough game, stands an SEC co-defensive player-of-the-year competitor who came out to his team this past august, and was accepted.  Surely this story of athletes coming out to their respective teammates will be one repeated more and more frequently in the coming months and years. Eventually it will become so commonplace that it won’t scroll at the bottom of the screen and an alert won’t be sent to your phone; in the interim, pretending we have reached that point rings untrue.   

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Boom. Bang. Pop. Crack.

Insert your favorite comic book onomatopoeia; all of them were in play in Seattle’s defensive backfield.  I knew the pash rush on Peyton Manning would be important, and it was.  The defensive line pressured and hit Manning, forcing him off his spot and threw off the timing of those Denver precision routes.  But the physicality exerted by the Legion of Boom (an appropriate title if there ever was one) was diabolically painful.  The secondary became villainous as hit after hit compiled to permanently etch a grimace on my face.
I commented during the game that Denver hadn't been hit like this all year.  The pop of the pads was obvious all game, what was perhaps less obvious was the way the receivers responded after each hit.  The Denver receivers looked physically shocked, and it became obvious when they began to put balls on the ground on relatively mundane hits/plays.

The comment about previous competition for the Broncos got me to thinking, “why don’t we look at strength of schedule for the Super Bowl, like we look at it for the National Championship in college football?” If Auburn had smoked Florida State this year like Seattle murked Denver, the chants of “S-E-C” would still be echoing.  Every year pundits describe the competition each college team has faced all year; usually, this involves detailed analysis of each team’s respective conference.  The fact that Denver played several below .500 teams and the Seahawks were arguably in the league’s toughest division never came up in the two weeks of pre-Super Bowl coverage. I understand that the tourney format (where teams play the best of their conference) changes the analysis a bit, but in the future I will at least glance at the competition the team has consistently faced in the games leading up to the final game.

It’s appropriate that I haven’t mentioned Russell Wilson’s name until the 4th paragraph. Has there been a QB as talented, efficient, and effective as Wilson who has received less publicity?
In essence, he is what people said that they loved about Tebow, isn’t he? He’s a devoutly religious, humble, talented player who “just wins” (28-9 as a starter) regardless of the personal stats and accolades.  Plus, he can actually play the position of the NFL QB.  It seems like he should be America’s darling. Wonder why isn’t as beloved…What’s more because of the paucity of his contract (he made $681,000 this year) and the CBA (he is unable to augment his current contract through his first three years) the Seahahwks will have enough cap room to re-sign players or go after new ones for next year.  People talk about the Seahawks and duplicating their blueprint; sure, go out and draft your starting QB and the league’s best corner on days two and three of the draft. Good luck with that.

Peyton Manning

So…now what? He’s won 1 of 3 Super Bowls and has a litany of accolades, so where does this place him in the pantheon of All-time great QBs? Surely his place is secure given that he just came off a record-setting  5th MVP season.  But once people get to the all-time best QBs, the splitting of hairs and the picking of nits will lead to the postseason record (most losses ever) and the recent Super Bowl losses.  Manning is one of my favorite QBs ever, but his shortcomings in big games cast a bit of a pall over his otherwise sterling career. It only seems unfair because it is.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What's up with UNC basketball?

Coach Roy WIlliams has had to do a lot more teaching with this young squad than he probably anticipated

This season has hurt.  I didn’t have high expectations this year.  I thought UNC would be solid, certainly not as good as Duke’s star-studded squad, but respectable.  I glanced at the schedule, games against Louisville, UK, and Michigan St. would surely be challenging, but I figured it would toughen up the team so that by the time ACC play started (and PJ Hairston came back) the Tar Heels would be fine. Fast-forward to three top five wins, some befuddling losses to the unranked Belmont and UAB, and PJ Hairston’s ineligibility and I’m already exhausted halfway through the college basketball year. The team has had its share of ups and downs and now it appears a thorough low point will be home base for UNC basketball.
Enough with the anguish, analytically what is the team missing?
1)      Shooting: I’ve never seen such a poor shooting team.  Outside of guard Marcus Paige, the team doesn’t have any decent shooters. They shoot 31% from 3, and are an abysmal 62% from the free throw line; shots that should be renamed for this team because they have cost UNC a couple of games already

2)      Player Development:  

·         Again, exclude Paige from this discussion. He’s on pace to lead the team in scoring and assists, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Phil Ford.
·         Isaiah Hicks has looked completely overwhelmed every time he has been in the game.  I heard about Hicks and his game awhile ago, which makes his current lackluster play all the more deflating.
·         Brice Johnson has shown plenty of potential with his length and athleticism.  Coach Roy Williams has been hesitant to play Johnson more than 20 minutes per game average (6th most on the team) he currently has.  The bench needs a scoring punch, but the starters could probably use a rim protector that they have been missing for the duration of the season.
Coach Williams Thought both these gentleman would still be playing in Chapel Hill this year

3)      Consistency:

·         If I were to describe the Tar Heel season in one word (instead of this meandering filibuster) I would be with “inconsistent”. In addition to beating three top 5 teams (an unmatched feat this year) they also recently handed Clemson a thorough beatdown at the Smith Center.  While they extended the longest win streak against one team at home in the country, they also managed to topple a team in Clemson that handed Duke a loss earlier in the season. 
Normally all of this would be a cause for celebration, but losses to several unranked teams and a 1-3 start in conference play has been befuddling.

If only this team had a fully developed player to rely on, especially for shooting accuracy; perhaps one currently in the D-League. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line; in this case, UNC is exactly a PJ away from being a national contender. I’m so confused as to the future of my favorite team, recent wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech give me hope.  It’s apropos that this post is so disjointed; hopefully the season will end with a bigger bang than this article.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Saturday's NFL Playoff Matchups

New Orleans Saints vs Seattle Seahawks

New Orleans

I don’t want to toot my own horn about calling Mark Ingram’s big day… but, beep beep.   The Saints are as complete a team as there is in the playoffs. With Drew Brees struggling to pass the ball, the saints turned to Ingram and Sproles and a more conservative passing game.  What’s more, the team held the Chip Kelly express to 24 points in Philadelphia. In every facet of the game the Saints are competent and effective; and while Brees is no stranger to turnovers, I doubt the future HOFer will be as bad as early last week.  When a team can win when its biggest weapon isn’t clicking, it’s a sign of a quality team.


The Seahawks in Seattle are an obvious problem.  They were 7-1 in that building this season, and the bye gave Percy Harvin another week to prepare for his second game of the season.  While young, this is Russell Wilson’s third playoff game and I think he’ll be sharp early.  The Seahawks will need him to be,  Seattle averaged just 19.25 points the last four games of the regular season.  The defense is phenomenal, but in the playoffs having only one side of the ball play well won’t win you much.
The Seattle secondary is the best in football. Ballhawks abound in the back of the defense, and at the front are several lineman that interchangeably pressure the QB.  With such a talented defense, and the hyped 12th man, any signal-caller setting foot in Seattle will have their work cut out for them.

With the weather, this may be the most important battle of the game


The Saints got dismantled when they flew up to Seattle earlier this year. I don’t think it’ll be a blowout again, but it’s impossible for me to shake the mental image of the Saints getting curb-stomped. Seattle is such a dominant team in Seattle that I can’t pick against them. There is one thing that is bothering me, there’s going to be a torrential rain/wind storm in Washington’s capital city (big surprise). I’m not so sure that the Saints won’t be better suited to run the ball than the Seahawks. I know Seattle is more known for their running attack, but Marshawn Lynch only averaged roughly 64 yards over the past six games of the season (maybe the beast began to wear down?). Plus, the Saints looked pretty damn good handing the ball off last week; could Sean Payton have more of the same in store this week? I’m tempted to pick the upset, but I got too much faith in Wilson to pick against him this week.  Seattle 27 Saints 20.

Indianapolis Colts vs New England Patriots


I like Andrew Luck. Really, I think he is going to be very good; still don’t see how the storyline coming out of that Cincinnati game was how well he played, though.  While he led the comeback in the improbable victory, he was also largely responsible for the steepness of the deficit that they had to climb. If a team wins with a QB throwing three interceptions, that probably says more about the competition than the team coming from behind.  Still, you have to give the Colts credit for rallying late in that ball game; they showed a ton of heart .
I'm finding it more and more difficult to hate this guy

New England

Seriously, they’re here every year but this may be the most spectacular coaching job I’ve seen from Bill Belichick. This team has lost so many of its key players: Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Tommy Kelly, Vince Wilfork, Danny Amendola and Jerod Mayo all missed parts or all of the season. Add Brandon Spikes to the list, as he re-injured a knee injury in the final game of the season and will have to watch the Pats from the sidelines for the remainder of the their postseason run.

Tom Brady had 50 passing TDs, and this may be his best season as a QB. Somehow he piloted this offense to another 12-4 season.  He hasn’t always been sharp (some of the early criticism of his wide receivers probably should’ve been partitioned to include a Brady section) but he has battled, and that kind of heart is endearing. One of his best moves this year has been the spin…and handoff.  The Patriots are running the hell out of the ball, Lagerrette Blount (one of a platoon of talented running backs at Belichick’s disposal) went for 189 yards in the final game of the regular season. That running back corps racked up enough yards to be top 10 in rushing yards per game, not something many predicted at the start of the season.  Again, kudos to Belichick for changing his system to fit the personnel he had—phenomenal.


It’s simple for me, I don’t think a young QB goes into Foxboro and comes out on top matching wits with a Belichick team. T.Y. Hilton went bananas against the Chiefs, and has been the primary receiving option for Luck since Reggie Wayne went down in week 7; the Patriots take away what you like to do the most on offense and make you beat them with your secondary options.  Add that to the Patriots lack of offensive weapons, and I think this is going to be a low scoring, tight affair. Tight playoff game? Give me Brady. Pats 17 Colts 14.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Wildcard Weekend Preview

Before I get into Wildcard weekend, let me say how amazing the last week of the regular season was.  Because of all of the division matchups late (a scheduling tactic the NFL switched to a couple of years ago), the playoffs essentially started in Week 17. Green Bay vs Chicago came down to the last possession, the Cardinals nearly played spoiler to the 49ers defending their NFC Championship crown, and San Diego nearly gagged away a game that they should’ve controlled; and I lapped all of it up like a thirsty pet.
But enough about all of that, we have wildcard weekend coming up and I have nothing better to do than to analyze them all.

Kansas City vs Indianapolis:


You know what’s weird? The last few weeks of the season, the national media hopped off the collective jock of the Colts.  After hearing about how Andrew Luck was the best thing to happen to football since the invention of the laces, the Colts largely flew under the radar as they finished with three straight wins after alternating wins and losses for six weeks. Part of that is probably the fact that the AFC East was pretty atrocious this year.  During that time the Colts have only turn the ball over once and have averaged 122 yards on the ground per game (including surpassing 100 yards on the ground vs the vaunted Chiefs defense, their best competition in that span), which I’m sure came as a welcomed relief to Andrew Luck.  By balancing the offense and defense they became a more potent offense and put together the best point output since early in the season.  Add that to Robert Mathis’ ability to pressure the QB, hot finish, an underrated secondary and an extremely talented/versatile QB and the Colts could very easily be a tough out.


The Chiefs came out like gangbusters, starting the season 9-0 and looking like strong contenders for home-field advantage in the playoffs. Then their fortune ran out. And those close games that they won early (in one score games, KC was 3-0 to begin the year), they began to lose (0-3 in such games to end the regular season).  So a team that began 9-0, finishes the season 11-5. Did I mention that their best wide receiver (Dwayne Bowe) and two best pass rushers (Tamba Hali and Justin Houston) are all coming off injuries for Saturday’s game in Indianapolis?

I won’t have a whole team recap of a playoff team with bad news though, right? Right. They showed a lot of fight in their final game vs the Chargers even with 22 of the 24 starters pulled to rest up for this game. Not to mention the fact that the maligned offense began to put up more points (meeting or surpassing 28 points in four of the final five games of the season). 


I don’t believe in Kansas City. Never did.  A good defense probably got the benefit of looking great against several backup quarterbacks early in their schedule).  I don’t think Alex Smith is anything more than a mediocre quarterback with good weapons at the skill position. I love Jamaal Charles (who is arguably the best running back in the game), but I can’t believe a playoff team would allow Charles to beat them by himself.  With one team finishing the season strong and the other limping along, give me the hot team with the better QB at home. Colts beat Chiefs 24-13.

Cincinnati vs San Diego:


Let’s be honest, this division wasn’t very good; ESPECIALLY early in the season.  By the time the Steelers (who should probably be in the playoffs) and the Ravens got their acts together, the Bengals had pretty much sewn up the AFC North. The team is absolutely loaded on offense with its weapons.  Phenom AJ Green and dependable running back Benjarvis Green-Ellis were known quantities, second-year wide receiver Marvin Jones and rookie Giovanni Bernard were pleasant surprises to make the offense much more dynamic. Speaking of known quantities, I think I know what the Bengals have in Andy Dalton—a mediocre talent.  In the past two postseason, Dalton has failed to score a touchdown.  And while he had a career high in yards (over 4,000) and TDs (35), he also turned the ball over more than he ever has in his career (24).  But more than the aggregate stats, Dalton’s inconsistency has been staggering; 5 TDs one game, 3 picks in the very next. I just don’t think that a team can win with a decent quarterback in today’s pass-happy/heavy score league.

To be fair, the defense (which was branded as the best part of this team) took a MASSIVE hit when former All-Pros DT Geno Atkins and Leon Hall went down for the year. Safety Taylor Mays joined them on IR a short time later, and LB Ray Maualuga has missed significant time as well.  Funny thing happened though, the defense remained good.  They’ve given up the third least yards and fifth least points in the league according to Somehow Marvin Lewis kept the defense together and this team in command of the division.

San Diego:

May I chuckle at the fact that the AFC West got THREE teams in the playoffs? No? Not funny to anyone else? As a Raiders enthusiast I am painfully aware of how awful this division was just last year, and to see them with the argument as the best division in the AFC tickles me mercilessly. Anyway….

It’s great to see Phillip Rivers back on his game.  There were a couple of years not that long ago that had people (myself included) wondering if he still was a quality QB.  Turns out, when you don’t re-sign talent around a quarterback (ignore that QB in Foxboro), he isn’t as good.  Now, Rivers has Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, and Eddie Royal were all invaluable pieces to the offense.  Maybe more important than the additions was the health of Ryan Matthews and Antonio Gates.  Both are talented players who have struggled in recent years to stay on the field.  And while the defense isn’t a star-studded group, it improved.  After giving up an average of 23.6 points per game in the first 11 weeks, they allowed an average of only 17.6 points per game.  Every year in football we look back on a team that played well late and ends up making a playoff run.  The Chargers feel like that sort of team.


I don’t believe in Dalton. At all.  It isn’t a coincidence that in his two appearances in the playoffs (where the competition naturally rises) he has failed miserably.  I remember vividly watching them last year and Dalton was terrible.  I won’t make the mistake of believing in him (and by extension that team) again. Cincy beat San Diego in Cali and that gives me pause, but that was several weeks ago.  Plus, I might have to be talked out of the Chargers making a surprise run in the playoffs.  Keep in mind, San Diego had to win all four of its final games to reach the postseason. I’m so sure that San Diego is going to win that I’m starting to doubt myself, so I’m going to shut up now. Charger 23 Cincinnati 17.

San Francisco 49ers vs Green Bay Packers:

San Francisco:

At the beginning of the year, San Francisco was one of the teams that was widely held to be thought of as a Super Bowl contender given their talent and title as reigning NFC champions.  Fast forward to the playoffs and the 49ers are still a feared team despite having to play on Wildcard weekend.  While QB Colin Kaepernick struggled a bit early, he rallied later in the year when his weapons became healthier (Michael Crabtree’s return has helped bolster the wide receiver corps) and he settled in while starting his first season as the number 1 QB on the depth chart.  While the read option has virtually been non-existent in their offense this season, the running game was still dynamic enough to finish as the third most potent rushing offense in the league. Last year in the playoffs, the 49ers beat the Packers using the read-option that allowed Kap to rush for 181 yards and carve up the Cheeseheads 45-31.  The 49ers beat the Packers in week one 34-28 as Anquan Boldin had the best game of his career. It will be interesting to see how this incarnation of this rivalry will turn out; but the constant of the 49ers defense (3rd in points allowed this year) serves as a well-known refrain to each verse of the song of this rivalry.

Green Bay:

Aaron Rodgers is a monster. I was concerned that he was coming back at exactly the wrong time for this team given that they were essentially in a play-in game against Chicago last week.  With everything on the line (and after two turnovers that were so uncharacteristic a spectator could only chalk them up to rustiness) Rodgers discount double checked the Packers into the playoffs on this play. Coming off a collarbone injury that sidelined him for nearly half the year, and he comes out the box with a game-winning play—just another story for his legend. On the receiving end of that preposterous throw was Randall Cobb, who had been dealing with his own set of ailments this season; Cobb bolsters a WR group that is always dangerous. And speaking of Packers players on the mend, Eddie Lacy participated in his first Thursday practice in several weeks, indicating he is as healthy as he has been all season. I’ve often wondered what Rodgers would look like with a competent and reliable running game, Lacy’s presence means I no longer have to wonder on the subject—he went for nearly 1200 yards and is the odds on favorite for Rookie of the Year.

As much fun as the Packers offense is to talk about and watch, their offense this year has been pretty terrible.  They rank 25th in points allowed per game, and they will likely be without their best weapon Clay Matthews (thumb injury). The defense necessitates that the Packers win in a shootout, always a dangerous proposition against a team with a stout defensive squad.


It scares me how much this team relies on the Green Bay offense, and they won’t be going against a Bears team that was missing a piece in the defensive line, linebacking group, and secondary; they will be going against one of the most consistent defenses in the playoffs. What’s more,  Green Bay gave up the 3rd most rushing yards per attempt-- think they might see a healthy dose of Frank Gore? I love Aaron Rodgers, but he can’t play defense, and the 49ers are a more well-rounded team.  The game is in Green Bay, but teams with defenses and run games play well on the road regardless of the location of the contest . Besides, Kap’s arm wouldn’t be affected by a nuclear winter, much less a Green Bay one.  San Francisco 28 Green Bay 21.

New Orleans Saints vs Philadelphia Eagles:

New Orleans

Yea… my bad.  I thought New Orleans would be better this year. I just didn’t know that their defense (which gave up the most yards ever last year) would be good.  How could they be? The personnel is largely the same from last season’s squad, the biggest change is at the coordinator position.  Rob Ryan has been the most important acquisition of the offseason for any team.

Drew Brees keeps being fantastic.  Brees just completed his fourth 5,000 yard season, no one else has done it more than once.  I know passing statistics at large are a bit inflated given the rule changes, but even amongst the most pass-happy QBs he is right there at the top. Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles, and his pick-a-WR-to-go-off-this-week formula just presents too many weapons for most defenses. Brees is so great he has been able to (slowly) move General Managers off the statue-esque  6’5” QBs that were thought to be the only option at the position. More interesting, Mark Ingram has shown signs of life recently for the team.  Ingram has been buried on the depth chart behind Sproles and Pierre Thomas despite being a Heisman trophy winner and 1st round draft pick. There’s no way to know about how many touches he will get this postseason, but his development might be something to keep an eye on during the tournament.


Remember when I wrote earlier in this post that Rob Ryan was the biggest offseason acquisition? Chip Kelly may have something to say about that. Kelly turned this team of talented offensive players into an incredibly potent offense led by a QB many had no idea about to start the season. Look at it this way, the Eagles scored the fourth most points in the NFL this season and they didn’t even have Jeremy Maclin.  Besides the obvious increase in pace, Kelly also incorporated beautiful route combinations to make the decision making easier for the young QB; Foles responded with an insanely efficient 27 TDs and 2 INTs for the year. It also doesn't hurt to have the league’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, helping out the young QB.  By spreading defenses out, the Eagles were able to run early and often against opponents, a change from Andy Reid’s mostly throwing attack.

The Eagles defense has been the weak spot for the team for years. While the defense is far from a stalwart, it improved throughout the year.  After giving up 34.5 points per game through the first four weeks of the season, the team only gave up more than 21 points once for the rest of the year.  The defense doesn't have to be great for the team to have success; as long as it doesn't allow an insane amount of points, the offense will keep the team in every game.

The Saints’ troubles away from the dome in New Orleans this season have been well documented. New Orleans and Seattle are the best home teams I’ve seen all year, but the Saints won’t be back in Louisiana for the rest of the season—it won’t matter, I can’t see picking Foles over Brees in such a close game. Plus, in the season finale, Foles really struggled with pressure from Dallas (a team that didn’t pressure the QB well this year) as Cris Collinsworth pointed out in the game. When the pocket began to collapse, Foles was looking to get out of there after he got knocked around a bit early on; I think Ryan will dial up some exotic pressure to keep Foles off his game.  Combine that with a mediocre defense facing the Saints offense, and I think it’ll be too much for the Eagles in a really tight contest. New Orleans 24 Philadelphia 21.