Tag:NFL Playoffs
Posted on: January 13, 2010 10:17 am

Mid-Week Mini-Rants - NFL Playoffs

I've already documented the Eagles loss in my last entry. But I haven't talked about the other three games from last week. So in this week's edition of the mini-rants, a quick reaction to the other three wild card games and a few other quick points.

You don't think that the Baltimore Ravens D wanted to hit Tom Brady last weekend? They thought (rightfully so) that they were shafted in their Week 4 matchup by the officials with some weak roughing the passer calls. So they took it out on the QB who asked and received those flags. By the way, Joe Flacco was 4-10 for 34 yards in this game and did a tremendous job of handing the ball off to his RBs Rice and McGahee. The Ravens had a combined 234 yards rushing on 52 handoffs. Hey Andy! Take a page of John Harbaugh's book, eh?

I've always had my doubts about the Jets. The main question I have is which Mark Sanchez will show up? The Sanchise, or Bad Mark? Against the Bengals in the playoffs, it was The Sanchise, who went 12-15 for 182 and a TD against the Bengals, who did put up a much better fight than in Week 17. But let's face it, the story here is Darrell Revis getting shafted for Defensive POY. Okay, Woodson returns for INTs for TDs. Revis is the best shutdown corner in the league and he's on one of the best defenses in the NFL. By the way, Woodson's D let up 51 points in OT, leading us too...

The Shoot-Out in the Desert. You want to know the difference from last year's SB Cardinals team to this years? Defense. Last year, they had it. This year, not so much. Still, they won and now the get the better matchup for them in New Orleans. They can't make the over/under in Vegas high enough for this game. You want to know the one thing that hasn't changed from last year's SB Cardials team? QB Kurt Warner is still adding to his HOF resume. He had more TD passes (5) than incompletions (4) in a day where he threw for 379 yards. I give the Packers a ton of credit for battling back. Much like the Eagles, they have a lot of youth and will only get better from here.

Now for the ending of the previous game. That was a nice sack/strip/return by the Cardinals D. There wasn't a flag on that play. Not a chance. But yes, you could argue that there was a facemask, and let's say there was. It's still the Cards ball at around the GB 35 or so. One first down and you're in good FG range (Rackers isn't missing twice) and GB hasn't stopped them all game. And I don't want to hear it from Packers fans. You were down three scores, battled back to OT after a missed FG and won the coin toss in OT. That's three strikes. You didn't deserve to win it in the end.

I have no problem with Pete Caroll bolting USC for Seattle. I do have a problem with USC hiring Lane Kiffin. I know he's a former USC guy, but look at the trouble he caused at Tennessee. This was a desperation hire by the USC staff. Why else would you hire a guy who has recruiting allegations and a big mouth to come to a school that's facing an NCAA hearing in a few months. Makes no sense to me.
Category: NFL
Tags: NFL Playoffs
Posted on: January 17, 2009 11:14 pm

Super Bowl Storylines and Picks

Thanks to my terrible internet connection, I'm writing this a little later than I wanted, but at least it's up for Sunday. I said yesterday that I was going to take a look at some of the potential story lines from the potential Super Bowl games. Here's what I came up with...

Cardinals-Steelers - Couldn't think of anything catchy for this one. Sorry, not feeling the creative juices today. But I still think this game could be a good one. The pass happy Cards going up against the high octane defense of the Steelers. Maybe a sleeper shootout game with both teams scoring 24-30 points.

Ravens-Cardinals - "The Underdog Bowl" / "The Rookie vs. The Wily Vet"

Both teams here are underdogs going into this weekend and most people are thinking that this game doesn't have a prayer. I am not one of those people, but as an Eagles fan, I'm not praying for it obviously. Rookie QB is going up against former NFL MVP and Super Bowl Champ Kurt Warner as the Ravens make their first SB appearance since 2000 and the Cards make their first SB appearance ever. I think.

Eagles-Ravens - "The Redemption Bowl" / "Backyard Bird Brawl"

As everyone knows by now, Donovan McNabb was benched after the first half of the previous Eagles-Ravens game. And now a few people think that it would be great if the Eagles had another shot at the Ravens (instead of playing the Steelers, who they've already beaten this season). Either way, this game should be entertaining to say the least, and the over-under for big secondary hits is about 20. And I'm taking the over.

- "The Keystone Bowl" / "Steelheads vs. Steakheads"

My favorite story line about this bowl is something that I wrote on Thursday involving PA Gov. Ed Rendell. This would be the 3rd* bowl that would feature two teams from the same state (and we use the term state losely). One was the 49ers and Chargers and the other was the Bills and NY Giants, who actually play in NJ, but whatever. One of my Steeler friends mentioned that you cook steak on steel grills, and since Philly loves cheesesteaks, well you get the idea. I should also mention the idea of CBS community member Pirateball who commented on a previous blog of mine that this game should take place in State College, PA at Happy Valley, home of the Penn State Nittany Lions. JoePa should be the honorary coin-flipper at the captain's meeting (along with Gov. Rendell). This would be sold out faster than the Cardinals - Falcons Eagles game.

Oh, and two more bonus storylines for Sunday's games.
Did you know that the Pittsburgh mayor changed his name from Ravenstahl to Steelerstahl?
And, that Donovan McNabb and Cards coach Ken Wisenhunt are neighbors?

Oh, yeah, I'm supposed to include my picks for these games, too.

Ravens vs. Steelers

I wouldn't be surprised to see either team win this game, but I am very wary of the fact that the Ravens gave up 400 yards of offense to the Tennessee Titans last week. I understand that the Ravens have a big play defense, but at some point, your offense needs to start producing on it's own, and I think that Joe Flacco is still a year away from that happening. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers won't have an easy time in beating the Ravens for the third time this year, but I feel more comfortable with the Steelers right now. PICK: Steelers

Eagles vs. Cardinals

I said the Eagles would have lost to the Panthers, because the scare me to death, but the Cardinals took care of that problem for me. The Eagles understand that the 48-20 whooping they put on Arizona on Thanksgiving means nothing, because both teams have improved since then. But the key for this late season run by the Eagles has been the loose and fun-loving mentality that Donovan McNabb and the Eagles have shown lately. I have always believed that Philadelphia plays its best football when they are loose and they certainly are right now. Why else would Donovan McNabb have asked the Giants phone company to book a flight to Arizona last week? PICK: Eagles

Yup, I am gunning for the all-Keystone state Super Bowl. Now, you might be wondering, where is my Super Bowl prediction? You've predicted every upcoming round also, Eagle, why stop now? Why? Because I've cursed two separate teams in back to back weeks. Maybe Carolina was intentional, maybe I was reverse-jinxing the Panthers, you'll never know. But I'm done with Super Bowl Predictions for the year. There's too much on the line and I am a very superstitious fan. I will not tempt the football Gods twice in one postseason (three if you count Week 17 and the Eagles making the playoffs.

Until my recap, enjoy the conference championship games.
Posted on: January 16, 2009 11:36 am
Edited on: January 16, 2009 11:39 am

NFL Conference Championship Preview

Welcome back to the CBS Community's #1 user preview (I'm assuming my Wild Card edition is still carrying that slogan). We're down to the Final Four in the NFL Playoffs and it's a conference championship weekend that is screaming upsets, because well, that's what we've had the past two weeks, why not a third? Both 6 seeds are still standing, Philadelphia and Baltimore, as they travel to Arizona and Pittsburgh respectively for their games. It would be hard to consider any of these games upsets now, but the favorites are the two Pennsylvania teams.

NFC Championship
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals - Sunday 1/18, 3:00 PM, FOX

The Arizona Cardinals are probably the surprise team in these two contests after dominating a Carolina team and earning a home game for the NFC Championship. The Cardinals have been leaning on Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald and a resurgent Edgerrin James on offense and a young defense that has stepped up for the postseason. That defense has had 9 takeaways so far in the playoffs, including 6 last week against the Panthers. The injury key for the Cards is whether or not WR Anquan Boldin will be ready to go for this weekend, and it appears that he will be playing.

The Eagles are no strangers to the NFC Championship game, this is their 5th in 8 years and also the 5th in the 10 years of Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid's tenure in Philadelphia. While the Eagles have only been to one Super Bowl, their consistency over the years has been nothing short of spectacular. The Eagles appear to be a little more banged up than usual, with RB Brian Westbrook, CB Asante Samuel and several others missing practice time, although everyone should be active for the game on Sunday.

The key to stopping Arizona will be to disrupt its passing game. There are generally two ways of doing this: blitzing the quarterback and double teaming the other team's best receiver. I have a feeling that Eagles DC Jim Johnson will be doing plenty of both. Larry Fitzgerald has been outstanding so far in the postseason, but now must get through a dangerous Eagles secondary. It remains to be seen if the Cards will also stick to their new found running game, with James and Hightower getting the bulk of the carries.

Normally, the key to stopping the Eagles would be to contain Brian Westbrook, who hasn't had a very productive postseason, with the exception of his 71-yard touchdown catch and run screen against the Vikings. That means the Cardinals defense will have to put pressure and disrupt Donovan McNabb, which is no easy task. The Eagles will move the ball in their standard offense, some runs and passing the ball to everyone who is eligible.

AFC Championship
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers - Sunday 1/18, 6:30 PM, CBS

The Pittsburgh Steelers, the highest remaining seed left in the postseason, are the only team that has so far played one game and the only home team last week that won a game. They were efficient at moving the football against the Chargers and held the ball for basically the entire third quarter in last week's win over San Diego. Big Ben Roethlisberger seemed to have no ill effects from the concussion he sustained in Week 17. Willie Parker had a tremendous game on the ground last week as well.

The Ravens might be a 6 seed, but they sure don't play like one. This game will feature the two of the AFC's and the NFL's best defenses. The Ravens used several key red zone turnovers last week to propel them over the Titans. The Ravens will need another big day from Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Co. as they try to make life easier for Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense.

Generally, when these teams play, it comes down to a defensive struggle. So I look to the offenses to key the games. Roethlisberger had a solid day passing against the Chargers last week, and he may need to have another one this week. Willie Parker has generally struggled against the Raven D, which is nothing to be ashamed of. But Parker will need to help the offense control the ball against the Ravens and limit turnovers to avoid the same mistakes the Titans made.

The Ravens offense will need to step up this weekend. They played conservatively in my opinion last week and it could have cost them against the Titans. Joe Flacco will have to move the ball through the air at times and we'll see if he's up to the challenge. He hasn't been phased by anything all year. And the Ravens can't be content to let the defense win this game for them, they need to put up points, probably 20 or more to have a good chance of winning this game.

Well, there's the preview. I'll have my picks/story lines entry tomorrow, highlighting what intriguing story lines there are for each potential Super Bowl Matchup. Thanks for reading and as always, feedback is encouraged. Thanks for reading.

- Eagle
Posted on: January 15, 2009 1:35 pm

Conference Championship Botherings

As we head into the conference championship games, there are a few things that are, well, bothering me. You see I have noticed several things about each of the remaining four NFL teams that are meeting to go to the Super Bowl this weekend. A few of these things I find important and a few could easily not matter this weekend. But I feel that if something is eating you on the inside, you should tell someone. So I'm going to bother everyone by writing a blog about the things that bother me about this weekends games.

Baltimore Ravens

1. Defense - Okay, I know the defense is good. It's really good. But they did just give up a ton of yards to the Tennessee Titans last week and were bailed out by several huge turnovers. If this team has any chance of winning, that can't happen this week against the Steelers. The defense will have to come up with several big plays again, as they have done all postseason, but the question remains, can this defense keep producing?

2. Joe Flacco - For the record, I like Flacco. I like Delaware, used to live there years ago. But I don't think Flacco is ready to win big postseason games yet on his own. He is truly a game-manager QB, and there's nothing wrong with that. But against the Steelers, he's going to have to make some big plays, like the throw he made to Derek Mason against Tennessee. Here's what doesn't bother me about Flacco, the guy rarely makes mistakes that lose games. But he needs help to make the winning plays right now and that's why Ed Reed and Co. are playing the other side of the ball.

Pittsburgh Steelers

1. Ball Control - The Steelers held the Chargers to this stat-line in the 3rd quarter last week: 0:17 seconds of possession, 1 offensive play, 1 interception. That is success so outstanding that it can't be duplicated. Here's why that bothers me, San Diego, which as a solid offense led by Philip Rivers, was able to move the ball on the Steelers. If the Chargers had a few more possession in that 3rd quarter, that game could have turned out differently. I don't expect the Steelers to have that extreme of a success against the Ravens.

2. Special Teams - The Steelers had a key punt return by Santonio Holmes in the first quarter to tie the game. It was the first Steelers punt return for a TD all year if I recall, and that's something that I wouldn't bank on for next week. The Steelers do not live and die by the big play, but this was a key moment in the game. If Pittsburgh has a good day in the return game, that will mean a shorter field for their ball control offense.

Arizona Cardinals

1. Turnovers - You aren't getting 6 turnovers from Jake Delhomme and the Panthers, or Donovan McNabb and the Eagles, or anyone. That is a career bad game that almost never happens in the NFL, and certainly not in the postseason. The Cardinals were more or less handed that game. That will not happen this weekend. The Cardinals defense has stepped up lately and they aren't the same team that lost to the Eagles 48-20 on Thanksgiving.

2. Running Game - I know Edge James has had a mini-resurgence, but he hasn't been spectacular. The Cards are definitely a pass first team, but they aren't one-dimensional either. But this balanced offense might rest on the health of...

3. Anquan Boldin - If he's healthy, it bothers me for the Eagles, if not it bothers me for the Cardinals. Listen, there is no way to completely shut down both Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, and I'm betting the Eagles will be trying to stop Fitzgerald, who had been making ridiculous catches through two defenders anyway, but that's not the point. I truly believe that Arizona needs Boldin to win this game because he adds that extra wrinkle that Jim Johnson and the Eagles defense has to account for. Speaking of the Eagles...

Philadelphia Eagles

1. Brian Westbrook - Not because he's injuried (he's always listed on the report), but his production. It bothers me in two ways, the fact that this could continue and the Eagles will have to win again with out Westbrook gaining a ton of yards (i.e. good for the Cardinals) OR the fact that he could break out and have a ridiculous game (i.e. good for the Eagles).

2. Asante Samuel - He's had two picks this postseason, one for a TD against Minnesota (the play where Tavaris Jackson gets "jacked up" by Chris Clemmons) and one that set up a 1-YD TD sneak by Donovan McNabb against the Giants. Basically, he's averaging a TD a week. This could continue, someone else could pick up the slack, or it could not continue. Again, Arizona will throw the ball and with two excellent WR's to cover, it could be a long day for the Eagles secondary.

3. Offense - The Eagles offense almost seems content to just moving the ball late in games, but don't have the killer instinct to put away games like against Minnesota. They're going to have to score early and often to keep the big-play Arizona receivers from staging a late game comeback. The Eagles were solid on third downs last week, converting several third and longs against New York, but it would be nice to have some shorter conversions.

4. Correll Buckhalter - Let the man run the ball a little. Westbrook is a more dangerous all around playmaker, but Buckhalter might be the better pure runner out of the backfield. Give him 10 carries or so and I'll be a happy man. He's a good complement to Westbrook and could help wear down a surging Arizona defensive line. He had a 27 yard run or so against the Giants and then I don't remember him getting a lot of touches.

Okay, this last one doesn't bother me in particular, but it should bother Cardinals fans. Have you seen Donovan McNabb on the sidelines? He's got that goofy, lopsided grin on his face to go along with those playoff beards. I've seen that look before. That means the he, and the Eagles team, are loose and confident. They're having fun. Why else would McNabb attempt to run back a pass he caught on the sidelines at the end of the Vikings game or answer a telephone on the Giants sideline? I've always thought the Eagles are playing their best when they're loose and goofing off a little, and they're playing really well right now...

All right, no more rambling or the word bother anymore. Playoff preview tomorrow and my picks Saturday. Check out my previous entry on what Gov. Ed Rendell will do if there's an all Pennsylvania Super Bowl, really good story there. Thanks for reading.

- Eagle
Posted on: January 14, 2009 9:44 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2009 9:59 pm

Gov. Ed Rendell and the all PA Super Bowl

Ok, so I was browsing the web when this story from the NY Times about Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell catches my eye. You see, it is common for Mayors and Governors to have a bet over the Super Bowl. But Gov. Rendell is a season ticket holder for the Eagles and the former mayor of Philadelphia, so we obviously know who he is rooting for.

But if the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles meet in the Super Bowl, he's already arranged a bet. Against himself. Assuming that the Eagles and Steelers beat the Cardinals and Ravens respectfully in this weekend's Conference Championship games.

If the Eagles win, Pittsburgh would donate sandwiches from the Primanti Brothers to a homeless shelter and senior center in Philly. If the Steelers win, Philly would donate Pat's Cheesesteaks to a shelter/senior center in Pittsburgh.

This essentially leads to a win-win for everyone, regardless of the Super Bowl outcome, in the state of Pennsylvania. And essentially, isn't that what sports is for. I already thought the idea of an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl, and now I have a real reason to root for it. Other than I'm and Eagles fan anyway.

I'll have my preview/picks entries later in the week, and maybe something random for tomorrow. Just wanted to get this story out there for everyone to see. Thanks for reading.

- Eagle

LINKS - in case the hyperlinks don't work...
NY Times - http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/s
Primanti Bros. - http://www.primantibrothers.com/
Pat's Steaks - http://www.patskingofsteaks.com
Posted on: January 11, 2009 10:46 pm

NFL Divisional Recap

It seems everyone was a week early with the road teams winning games. Last week, all four road teams were favored and rightfully so in most people's opinions. But last week, only two road teams won as the Cardinals pulled off a solid win and the Chargers had the shocker of the week over the Colts. This week, three road teams won, and really only one was a true shocking upset, the Cardinals. There's no way anyone could have predicted the Cards to win that game in that fashion. And if you did, you're either lying or a psychic. But I'd like to mention on little stat that seems to have been a trend for the Divisional round: All four winning teams won the turnover battle, especially if you count turnover on downs. Don't quote me on that because I can't find a solid box score, but it's something to consider. Ball security is even more critical in the playoffs, and there are four teams going home, and two in particular, that failed to protect the ball in their games. The Sunday games

Baltimore 13 - Tennessee 10

Yes, I picked the Titans to win this game, but I'm not shocked that they lost the game. What does shock me is how they lost it. They dominated the Ravens and moved the ball effectively against one of the league's best defenses, then shot themselves in the foot repeatedly in the red zone. Three key turnovers killed the Titans, including two that probably would have resulted in at least FG attempts for the Titans. The Ravens D was gashed repeatedly by Kerry Collins through the air but was able to get key stops and turnovers through out the game to key the victory. My friend also added about the no-call on that delay of game. I reminded him that his team didn't deserve to win after turning the ball over in the red zone repeatedly and he didn't really complain. Also, Joe Flacco is also the first rookie QB to win two postseason games. When asked whether he was the most successful rookie QB of all time, Dan Marino said that Flacco could be no higher than third on the list because he occupied the first and second spots. Bill Cowher recommended Big Ben Roethlisberger. Speaking of the Steelers...

Pittsburgh 35 - San Diego 24

I was actually anticipating a much lower scoring game than this, but the score doesn't indicate how well Pittsburgh played, especially defensively. Let me explain to you the 3rd quarter of this game: Pittsburgh scores a TD on an 8-minute drive to start the half/quarter then kicks off and Sproles has a solid return, setting up the Chargers in great field position. Next Charger play, Rivers' pass is tipped and picked off by the Steelers. Pittsburgh then drive the ball for another 7 minutes before getting stuffed on a 4th-and-goal, IN THE 4TH QUARTER!!! The Steelers held the ball for 14:43 seconds OF THE ENTIRE THIRD QUARTER!!! There's no way you can come back from that. The Steelers established a running game and passed when the had to and Roethlisberger came through.

Arizona 33 - Carolina 13

Sorry, I just got off the phone with the Panthers, they wanted me to be their QB. Seriously, was that Jake Delhomme? There's no way that was the Delhomme from the regular season, throwing behind and high over almost every receiver. And there's no way that was the same Cardinal defense from the regular season either, ball hawking and stopping the run. Okay, it's easy to win a game when the opposing QB loses a fumble and throws 5 picks (and 4 were legit, only one, the Steve Smith deflection, was unlucky), but Arizona actually deserves to be hosting the NFC Championship game. I can't believe I just typed that sentence. Edge James is having a mini-resurgence that will certainly get him a contract somewhere next season and Kurt Warner is still proving he's among the league's best. And Larry Fitzgerald now makes leaping catches between two defenders on a weekly basis. Never count out the wily veteran QB's.

Philadelphia 23 - NY Giants 11

This might be the weirdest game I have ever watched. With the score 7-5, 7-8 and 10-8, I was openly making baseball jokes throughout the 2nd quarter (There's only one NFL Playoffs! There's only one Super Bowl!). I will contest the intentional grounding/safety play, but not enough to actually care. A case could be made for a "hit as he threw" defense in a court of NFL law, but that's as far as I'll go. The Asante Samuel interception really changed the game however, because even if the Giants were close, every Giants fan I was watching the game with didn't like how the first half ended, with the Eagles marching down the field running the two minute offense for a FG to take a 10-8 lead at the half. However, the Fred Robbins interception was high comedy and had a chance to change the game but the Giants couldn't punch it in and settled for a FG, the last points they would score all game. The Eagles would score 13 straight, including a TD pass to TE Brent Celek  on a play-action pass on the goal line that I wanted in the first quarter. The ironic moment of the game, the Giants getting stuffed on back-to-back possessions on short yardage conversions, just like they did to the Eagles in their first matchup in the regular season. The entire Giants day was summed up in one play. Eli Manning hit Steve Smith for a pass late in the 4th-quarter and while avoiding a tackle, Smith just fumbled the ball, dropped right out of his hand. It was one of those days for the Giants and we have two underdog and bird themed Conference Championship games to play out next week.

One more theme from my weekly picks. I'm 4-4 so far in picks, but most importantly 0-4 on Saturday games. This means that I'm also 4-0 on Sunday games, which are the only ones left on the schedule. It doesn't mean that I'll win them, I'm just saying. I also happen to be one of the very few happy football fans in the Northeast, but I'm not going to gloat. My team has to beat a wily veteran QB next week on the road...

- Eagle
Posted on: January 10, 2009 11:28 am

NFL Divisional Picks

Another week means another round of playoff picks that are sure to fail. Don't believe me? Just check out my Playoff Picks entry and don't look at my Super Bowl champion. So after mutilating my original bracket with the Colts, I'm going to re-predict the winners of the conference championship game and the Super Bowl just for fun. It's really only for the AFC, because my NFC predictions are still alive, for right now. Anyway, I'm sitting at an even 2-2 for the playoffs and I don't use the spread because I suck picking with it, so I'm only doing winners here.

AFC Divisionals
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans - Sat. 1/10, 4:30 PM - CBS

This was one of my original games and I have no reason to change it. Personally, I have nothing against the Ravens here and I wouldn't be surprised if the win this game. But Ed Reed and the Ravens D will have to come up huge. I just don't see Joe Flacco winning this game. Kerry Collins has been here before, he's a veteran and he knows how to get to a Super Bowl. If the Titans offense limits mistakes and forces Flacco to win the game late in the 4th, I like Tennessee's chances in this game. Their defense can shut down the Ravens running game and force young Flacco to make plays and I just don't see that happening. That's not a knock on Flacco, but he's young and a game manager right now. So is Kerry Collins, but I saw him win a game against Chicago with his arm and I trust him. I can't believe I just said that...PICK: Titans

San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers - Sun 1/11, 4:45 - CBS

Something about this game bothers me. Because the Chargers most likely won't have LT for this game, and that means that Darren Sproles will be the feature back for the weekend. And the thought of a 5'6" RB heading into the teeth of the Steelers D makes me wince, even though I love Sproles. But the Chargers aren't facing the Colts D, they're facing the Steelers. I can't see the Chargers having a lot of success on offense and that means they'll have to stop Big Ben and the Steelers offense, and personally I don't see that happening. I think the Steelers will play aggressive defense and use their offense to control the ball and the clock and wear down the Chargers. PICK: Steelers

AFC Championship
Steelers at Titans

Assuming this game happens, I'm taking the Steelers because I like their offense more. They have the big play ability and I'm picking them knowing that the Titans already beat them once in Pittsburgh. But the Titans faltered down the stretch and the Steelers stayed strong throughout the season so I'm picking them as my new AFC Champ. Hopefully they won't be cursed like the Colts. PICK: Steelers

NFC Divisionals
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers - Sat 1/10, 8:15 - FOX

A lot of people didn't give the Cardinals a chance last week. I did, even though I didn't pick them to win. And this week, people aren't really giving the Cards a shot to win. I know they kept the first meeting close, but the Cards don't have a reliable running game and Anquan Boldin might miss the game due to injury. That's very bad news for the Cards, and I haven't mentioned they suck on the East Coast and the Panthers were 8-0 at home this year. I still think this game could become a shootout because the Panthers secondary isn't that great, but if they can limit the big play and slow Larry Fitzgerald down, I like their chances. PICK: Panthers

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants - Sun 1/11, 1:00 - FOX

Last week I mentioned I picked the Eagles as a homer pick. And it was only partially true. You see, every Giants fan I know, and I know alot since I live in Connecticut, is scared to death of the Eagles. They don't want to play Philly. I can say the feeling is mutual, but in reality, the Eagles have a good shot to win this game. Their defense is playing as well as it has all year and Andy Reid has figured out how to run the ball. If the Eagles do both of those things this week, they have a good chance. The Giants' X Factor will be Brandon Jacobs. I'm assuming he's healthy and he didn't play the last time these two teams met. He will be the difference if the Giants win this game. But I'm still going with my Eagles. PICK: Eagles

NFC Championship
Eagles at Panthers

Assuming this game happens, again I hate the Panthers. They are do everything on the offensive side of the ball that I wish the Eagles did. I said last week that I hate playing them and I stand by it. I've never liked playing the Panthers for some reason. Can't fully explain it rationally, but Carolina has that sleeper feel to them. And that bothers me. PICK: Panthers

Super Bowl
Panthers vs. Steelers

I had the Panthers representing the NFC all the way and losing to the Colts here. But that can't happen now so I've got them matched up against the Steelers. I like this game for some reason. Both are No. 2 seeds, that might be the class of their conferences after the late drop off of the No. 1 seeds. To win this game, the Steelers will have to move the ball through the air, something I know they can do, but generally chose not to do. I think the Panthers might be the better all-around team, even if the Steelers have the edge on defense. If it comes down to air attacks, I tend to side with the Panthers, even though both teams are more power running teams, they're both playing into each other strengths on defense. So, I'll put my Super Bowl curse on...PICK: Panthers

*Note: This could be an elaborate jinx on the Panthers. Or maybe I really like them because no one is talking about them. I don't know.

I love the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. It's the last week you get two games on both Saturday and Sunday and it rarely has blowout games. Plus, with the entire Northeast about to be blanketed in another snow storm, the only thing I'm going to be able to do is think about warm thoughts from my vacation to Mexico last week. And watch football. I can live with that.
Category: NFL
Posted on: January 10, 2009 1:27 am

NFL Divisional Preview

And we're back with CBS' favorite preview blog. I'm not sure if it is the favorite, but there were 1500 views of my Wild Card blog last week so I figured I'd do the Divisional round as well. Whether or not it gets featured on the CBS Community home page is not up to me, but thanks again to whoever decided to do that.

Last week the theme was road favorites, with both 6 seeds, Philadelphia and Baltimore, advancing to the next round. This week's theme is rematches, because all four games were played in the regular season. The key is whether or not those games play a factor into this week's playoff game. You probably wouldn't look at game that was played in September because teams could have changed many different schemes and players have been injured. But a game that took place in December would hold a lot of value to teams as they go into the Divisional rounds. Will all four home teams having an extra week of rest be a factor? And what about the terrible whether moving towards the northeast? I might be doing my recap entry with a foot of snow on the ground...

Baltimore Ravens (11-5, 6th seed, Wild Card) vs. Tennessee Titans (13-3, 1st seed, AFC South Champ)
Week 5 (10/5) - Tennessee 13 @ Baltimore 10

The Titans haven't played a meaningful game since Week 16 when the beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at home to clinch home field advantage. Baltimore has been playing very well down the stretch, winning five of their last six, the lone loss coming to the Steelers by four points. That doesn't include the Ravens romp over Miami last week. The first game between these two teams was all defense and I expect nothing different in this game either. But while everyone is focusing on the defenses, I'm going to be watching the QB match-up, rookie Joe Flacco for the Ravens going up against the veteran Kerry Collins and the Titans offense. I expect both defenses to be blitzing and putting pressure on the QB's and which signal caller handles the pressure could determine this outcome. Both defenses will pounce on errant throws and knowing that ballhawk Ed Reed is lurking in the Ravens secondary means that every pass his way could be an interception at this point. How he didn't win Defensive POY is beyond me, with 10 INT's in his last seven games (including last week vs. Miami). I'm not a gambling man, but if I was, I'd bet the under in this one.

Arizona Cardinals (9-7, 4th seed, NFC West Champs) vs. Carolina Panthers (12-4, 2nd seed, NFC South Champs)
Week 8 (10/26) - Arizona 23 @ Carolina 27

The Cardinals didn't exactly finish the regular season strong, losing four of their last six before ousting the Falcons from the playoffs last week. The Panthers were within an overtime of clinching home-field advantage in the NFC and have won four of their last five. Carolina also boasts the only undefeated home record in the NFL at 8-0, while the Cardinals are only 2-20 in their last 22 games on the East Coast. The only thing that bodes well for the Cardinals is the fact that the Panther pass defense isn't really that strong, and since the Cards don't have a reliable running game, this might keep things interesting for a while. But I don't see the Cardinals lingering like they did in the first match-up between these two teams.  The Panthers are just too good at home and if they dominate ball control in this game, I could easily see them winning this one going away and covering that absurd 10-point spread. The major key here is Anquan Boldin health. Odds are he's not 100 percent and that's going to be a major problem for the Cards if he can't go because then the Panthers could put their focus on Larry Fitzgerald and attempt to slow him down. Even with all his weapons, Kurt Warner is still going to need a running game to help him out, and I can't see the Cards running much on that stingy Panther defense. Plus, the Cards have to also stop the Panther offense, featuring Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith and the duel running back tandem of Williams and Stewart. This is a tall task for the Cardinals.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1, 6th seed, Wild Card) vs. New York Giants (12-4, 1st seed, NFC East Champs)
Week 10 (11/9) - New York 36 @ Philadelphia 31; Week 14 (12/7) - Philadelphia 20 @ New York 14

The New York Giants could have packed it in after beating the Panthers and clinching home field in Week 16. But they played their starters for a half in a meaningless game in Minnesota that they almost won were it not for a last-second Viking field goal. The Giants did struggle down the stretch and desperately needed the time off to get RB Brandon Jacobs healthy. Jacobs and WR Plaxico Burress were both out for the Week 14 match-up that the Eagles won. And this time around, the Giants will need a healthy Jacobs to fend off a confident Eagles team that has been lighting it up for the past month. The Eagles were counted out after a Week 16 loss to Washington, but got some help and made the playoffs and now are looking for another berth to the NFC Championship game that they always seem to be in. Donovan McNabb and Brain Westbrook lead the Eagles offense and Def. Coord. Jim Johnson and FS Brian Dawkins lead the free-blitzing Eagles defense. If Andy Reid sticks to the running game like he did last week, the Eagles should be in good shape, although I'd like to see RB Correll Buckhalter used a little more in the running game. Reid tends to abandon the run, but it worked out last week as the Eagles wore down the Vikings defense and Westbrook scored on a back-breaking 71-yard screen. I think the Eagles defense can have another solid game this week, but it's the offense that needs to finish more drives. The Eagles scored three field goals last week in the first half against the Vikings, but they're going to need to punch it in early and often to keep the Giants at bay. A winter storm is going to slam the Northeast this weekend, but the game conditions should be fine.

San Diego Chargers (8-8, 4th seed, AFC West Champs) vs. Pittsburgh (12-4, 2nd seed, AFC North Champs)
Week 11 (11/16) - San Diego 10 @ Pittsburgh 11

The Chargers might be the hottest team in the AFC right now after winning four in row just to make the playoffs and knocking off the Colts last week. The Steelers had a major question mark with Ben Roethlisberger (concussion) getting injured in the last week of the season. But Big Ben seems to have recovered and will be a go for this weekend. LaDanian Tomlinson on the other hand, will most likely be out for this game for the Chargers. That means the Wild Card hero Darren Sproles will most likely get the bulk of the carries into the bruising Pittsburgh defense. The first match-up between these teams ended with that weird, hook-and-ladder interception/forward pass that Troy Polamalu should have had a touchdown on. Again, I don't see this game staying as close as the first matchup. San Diego's offense won't be able to move the ball effectively without LT and with Heinz Field's notorious reputation for sloppy conditions, this weekend's weather won't help that. The Steelers defense should be able to contain the Chargers' running game and then attack Philip Rivers when he drops back. One interesting stat I've seen a few time this week: The Chargers have only beaten the Steelers twice in Pittsburgh, and both times came in the playoffs.

One quick tangent before I wrap this up. I've heard this from a few places, articles, etc. Instead of re-seeding the teams in the Divisional round, let the number one seed pick who they want to play. Meaning, I think both the Giants and Titans would have rather played the fourth seeds (Arizona and San Diego respectfully). There's no way the Giants want to see Philly right now and the Titans would probably have an easier time with the Chargers D than the Ravens. I think it's an interesting concept and maybe it should be looked into.

Again, I'll have my picks sometime later today since I'm posting this late Saturday morning. I am incredibly excited for this week's slate of games. I think all four could be great games, unlike last week when I could see all four being complete duds. And I can't wait to hear Joe Buck's FOX promo: McNabb! Manning! Westbrook! Jacobs! Eagles! Giants! The Rematch! It's the Divisional Playoffs on FOX!

Can it be a "rematch" if it's a divisional rivalry? Is it a re-rematch? I don't care, I just know he's gonna say it.

- Eagle
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com