Friday, January 13, 2006

NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF PICTURE!

So Wildcard weekend was, frankly, wild!

1. The Panthers cut the Giants down to size; hey, the bigger they are... the G-Men made RB DeShaun Foster look like RB Jim Brown, the Secondary was gashed yet again, and the entire game plan was flawed from top to bottom. Big Blue WR Plaxico Burress didn't show up to play the game, he didn't show up for the team's final meeting, and who knows if he'll even show up for NEXT season?
There was a reason the Steelers allowed him to leave without much of a tussle and now we know why. Athletes such as Plax', Moss, T.O ... they are all cut from the same selfish cloth.

2. The Steelers tamed the Tigers... once Cincy' lost the head of their pack, Quarterback Carson Palmer (done for 8-9 months with a torn ACL, MCL and dislocated kneecap), 1/3 of the Playbook went out the window and most of the team's confidence went with it. In addition, the Cin' City Seconday was exposed and the 'backers were mere speed bumps to RB Jerome Bettis. QB Ben Roethlisberger thumbed his nose at the Beng' D-backfield and may have played his best game as a pro EVER. "BB" threw for an efficient 208 yards and tossed a trio of TDs on 14 completions!

3. New England is the best Playoff team in history, QB Tom Brady the best money player in NFL history. Period. The run D took Greg Jones and Fred Taylor out of the game, and Jag' QB Byron Leftwich was clearly rusty. It is my considered opinion that a game-ready David Garrard should have stewarded that team in its biggest game. At the very least, Garrard was up to speed.

4. The Washington Redskins may have beaten the Bucs'... but they shot their load in the process and haven't a prayer this weekend. RB Clinton Portis was reasonably efffective against the over-aggressive Tampa D... but QB Mark Brunell was nothing short of awful; he threw for a meager 41 TOTAL passing yards (Portis had more on the ground) and looked thoroughly gassed. It was quite apparent that physically, the 'Skin Field General was not intact.His ankle clearly hindered his ability to plant and throw, and I am betting the Ranch that backup slinger Patrick Ramsey hits the field sometime around the mid-3rd to early 4th Quarter in order to see if he can bail the team out. The only upside of this game for Tampa... if you must look for a silver lining- they have a gutty, future franchise QB in Chris Simms. Simms showed a lot of poise, physical skill and determination, and having had the pleasure of seeing his old man play.... Chris has a LOT of his pop (Superbowl winner, Phil) in him.

So, now that we've touched upon last week's Wild-Card round... let's take a little bit deeper look into THIS Weekend's excitement!

WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE:

SEATTLE:
Seahawk 'slinger Matt Hasselbeck has been money... and few realize just how competent he is. Know who he is? Matt Hasselbeck is the NFC's Pro Bowl STARTER! Dude threw for almost 3,500 yards this season... to an injury depleted receiving corps. Top target Darrell Jackson (knee surgery), #2 Bobby Engram (missed a 3 game mid-season stretch), and even return specialist and slot-receiver Peter Warrick (he's ALWAYS out with one injury or another, and will NEVER again be the explosive athlete he was as a collegian) all missed time and suffered injuries. Anyway, Hasselbeck and greybeard pass catcher Joe Jurevicius, late of the Buccaneers, developed a fantastic rapport. Joey J. snared a career-best 55 balls, hung a 2nd best total of 694 receiving yards, blew away his career TD mark with 10 scores (his next best scoring season was with Tampa in '02-'03. That year he recorded a whopping 4 TDs), and kept the chains moving with a career-best 39 1st Downs.
What am I driving at? Even if the 'Skins manage to take RB Shaun Alexander out of the game and render the 'Hawks Offense 1-dimensional, something I have a VERY hard time seeing them do but for the sake of argument let's say they accomplish this herculean feat, then QB Matt Hasselbeck has the skills... and tools, to beat Washington and win the game on the strength of his arm. That, my fantasy friends, is what I am saying.
**NOTE: 'Beck was playing UN-conscious ball over the final 1/4 of the season. Dude posted a Passer Rating of 137.5 in his last quartet o' starts, with a TD : INT ratio of 9:1 ... how ill!

RB Shaun Alexander is a freak of nature... and I mean this as a compliment. The nicest of men, I had the great fortune to make his acquaintance in Las Vegas... but what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas... so I say no more. With 1,880 rushing yards and a "ree-freakin'-diculous" 28 TDs, "Alexander the Great" won the league rushing title AND conquered the single-season scoring record. These are no small feats considering the Seattle Offense boasts a Pro Bowl QB and skilled receivers. In addition, Shaun-A' became the only player in league history to notch 15 or more TDs in 5 consecutive seasons. Let me tell you... the 'Hawks are rueing their ill-informed decision to not lock him up to a long-term contract when they had the chance. Although there's no palpable anymosity... there will be no "Home-town discount" either Shaun worked his tail off for every yard... and will deserve every buck of his upcoming "Mega-Millions" Lotto Jackpot contract. It's almost a lock that Alexander's contract will break records.
Look for the 'Hawks to give the 'Skins a steady diet of Alexander in order to force talented, if problemed, Safety Sean Taylor to creep up in run support. Taylor slipping closer to the box will force man-coverage and free up the deeper sideline routes for D-Jax, Joey J., and Engram.
These 2 teams met up during week 2, and the Seahawk back ran for 98 yards and a TD. The more impressive stat' is that the potential Hall of Fame back averaged almost 5 yards a tote that day. Running behind FB Mack Strong and a Pro-Bowl bound left-side (Steve Hutchinson and Walter Jones), Alexander could again control the tempo of the game and render the playaction pass... deadly.

***NOTE: In his 4 contests against the Redskins, Alexander has stumbled. Shaun-A' failed to eclipse the century mark in ANY game against those nutty Washingtonians... will he have a short memory? Or, do the 'Skins have some sorta' MoJo? We shall se.

WRs Darrell Jackson (in 6 games, Jax' hung a line of 38/482/3), Bobby Engram (67/778/3), Joe Jurevicius (55/694/10), and TE Jerramy Stevens (45/554/5) are an impressive bunch. Joey J. gets by with guile and impecabble route-running, D-Jax' is the speed merchant, and Engram is simply consistent. D.J Hackett will hit the field in spread sets, and leviathan TE Jerramy Stevens, who finished the season on a roll, may play a significant role this game. in his final 4 games, Stevens caught 16 passes for 142 yards and 3 TDs.

The 'Hawk D is formidable against the run, and they have the speed and strength to bottle up RB Clinton Portis. However, the Seattle Secondary is troublingly soft versus the pass. Holding opposing backs to under 95 total rushing YPG (ranked 5th) consitutes a stout run D. But, surrendering almost 223 passing YPG (ranked 25th) to a team featuring Liquid-slik' Santana Moss and soft-handed and slippery H-Back Chris Cooley could prove... problematic, shall we say?

REDSKINS:
In just his 2nd season back at the helm of his beloved Redskins, coach Joe Gibbs has taken Daniel Snyder's laughable crew and whipped them into a playoff worthy bunch. Curiously, both teams can look in the mirror and see similar images. We have unsung yet highly competent Quarterbacks, top-notch RBs, and stout... yet vulnerable Ds. The 'Skins may have an edge on the 'Hawks with Santana Moss... but if that consitutes an advantage it's awfully slender.
QB Mark Brunell is fumblin', stumblin' and bumblin' to quote the incomparable Mr. Berman. While he started the year off in dramatic fashion, I would say that sometime around Week 9 or 10, his game fell off. By Week 9, Bru' had already thrown for 12 TDs with a mere 3 INTs, and enjoyed 6 games of 224 passing yards or more. In conjunction, he notched a pair of 300+ yard passing games and 1- 290+ yard game. AFTER Week 10 this same Signal Caller never again eclipsed 200 passing yards, he threw another 9 scores... but 4 came in 1 game against Dallas, guy tossed 5 picks, and fumbled the ball 5 times. It was almost as if another QB was under Brunell's helmet.

Last week, during the Wild Card game against Tampa, Brunell was fortunate to have RB Clinton Portis pull his ass from the fire. The Redskin Field General threw for a paltry 41 yards on a 7 of 15 afternoon, with no TDs, 1 pick, and 2 Sacks. With an aggressive Seattle pass rush itching to get in Bru's mug, the 'Skins will probably go run heavy... right into the teeth of the Seahawk defense. However, C-Port's no ordinary back. Powerful enough to tote the mail between the Tackles and swift enough to bounce it outside, the Redskin runner is no less dangerous than his C-Hawk' counterpart. Defenses continually underestimate Portis... much to his delight. Seattle won't make that mistake this week. Last week, Tampa did just what I feared they would; they over-pursued. A cut-back runner with phenomenal field vision, Portis won't hesitate to slash a run back against the grain, essentially breaking the intended play off. Interestingly enough this season, Portis matured by the game. Last year, still stuck in a "Denver run-game" mind-set, Portis was continually running up his linemen's asses. This season, the guy has shown much more patience... he waits for his holes to develop... he uses his blockers. Should the play get sniffed out, Portis can freelance and is strong enough to make his own hole. Continually pumping his legs, he rarely loses yards and always finishes his runs with proper body lean.
Even with a solid run D, Seattle will have its hands full. Portis is no wide-eyed rookie like Carnell Williams was last week. And, spelling Portis is the very adept Ladell Betts. Another power back, Betts averaged a hair under 4 YPC this season and serves as a nice change-of-pace runner when C-Port' needs a breather. Betts can also catch the ball coming out of the backfield.

If the O-Line can but Brunell some time, a suspect Seahawk Secondary will have a hard time containing H-Backs Mike Sellers and Chris Cooley, and they will simply have fits trying to restrain explosive WR Santana Moss.
Simply put, Moss makes tungs happen; he's fearless, can catch most anything thrown his way, runs crisp routes, blocks downfield for Portis, and is amongst the top 5 at his position. However, truth be told... and I tell no lies, the Achilles heel of the Redskin O is the lack of a complementary pass catcher. Moss, acquired from the Jets for fellow WR Laveranues Coles, can do only so much. At his height and size, it's easy to lose track of the human-ricochet receiver. Plus, his ability to make things happen after the catch is what makes him so damn dangerous. H-Back Chris Cooley is the penultimate Red-Zone weapon and ranks as a top fantasy option. Brunell looks for, and finds him with regularity.

The Redskin D is the team's bread and butter. Sure, Moss and Portis are a nice 1-2 punch, but the team has won by keeping games close. Ranked 13th against the pass Wash' allows 105 rushing YPG, and 10th against the pass, they surrender fewer than 195 passing YPG. The D is of the "bend but don't break" variety. They are ranked 9th in "Points Allowed" with 293 scored against them, and 9th in "Total Yards Allowed," having surrendered fewer than 300 total yards o' O each week.

IN CONCLUSION: I think the Redskins shot their load last week... and I think we saw the best Washington had to offer. Their lukewarm O will NOT be enough against a rested and ready Seahawk squad. While the Redskin D features some very, VERY capable players such as LB LaVar

The teams will follow similar templates. Seattle's gonna thrust "Alexander the Great" like a spear into the heart of the 'Skin D and see how they respond and react. After pounding and slashing away with the run game, it's likely that Alexander will have ripped-off several big runs. At that point, the VERY capable and savvy Hasselbeck will air it out. WRs Darrell Jackson and Joe Jurevicius... and maybe even TE Jerramy Stevens will see loads of action.
On the other side of the field, it's all about RB Clinton Portis. Portis will try and take it between the Tackles, he'll try and turn the corner on a few pitches... ultimately, though, a swift flowing, sure-tackling group of 'backers led by none other than a rookie, Lofa Tatupu, will shut the lights on the C-Port show.
The only chance the Redskins have is if Mark Brunell shakes out of his stupor and frustrating Football funk. He must load his arm, improve upon his statue-esque mobility, and be able to improvise is the play breaks down. I just don't see it happening.
After the 'Hawks bang off what little rust may have accumulated; Seattle 27 and Washington 13

Alright, that game really intrigued me for some reason... but let's speed things along.


PITTSBURGH AT INDIANAPOLIS:
Pittsburgh:
Roethlisberger (2,385/20/9) may have played his best game EVER as a pro last week. "Big Ben" knew what time it was... it was time to win. Prior to the games, in my "Playoff Pick 'Em," (wherein I went 4 for 4 by the way... ouch, ouch. Sprained my arm patting myself on the back. Sorry, couldn't resist) I stated that if Roethlisberger was forced to drop back more than 23-25 times, than the team was out of its game plan and all was lost. Well, as you surely know by now, the Pitt' Signal Caller completed 14 of 19 passes for 208 yards and tossed a TD trifecta. The man-child protected the ball and refused to force his passes, and he took but a single Sack. Now, the Beng' pass rush isn't relentless, but the Secondary DID have ball hawk a rep'. It was fine practice for Roethlisberger who faces a weightier challenge this weekend.
The two teams last clashed during Week 12 at Indy, and the Steelers lost... no, the Steelers got WAXED, by a score of 26-7. Part of the problem Pitt' ran into was the raucous nature of the Colts' dome-Home... the locale of this weekends' game! Playing in the "RCA Dome," the noise can be deafening and playcalling becomes impossible. That Week 12 game was, coincindentally, Big Ben's only Road loss in 13 career Road games. In addition, the noise forced the Steelers to commit 5 costly "False Start" penalties.
Look for Big Ben to approach this game with a bit more confidence. The Steelers are healthy, and WRs Hines Ward (69/975/11), Cedric Wilson (26/451/0), and Antwaan Randle El (12/73/1 rushing) and TE Heath Miller (39/459/6) will give a short... but swift, Colt Secondary a tough time.

It is, however, going to be a smashmouth game-plan for Pitt'. Head Coach Bill Cowher will try and rob the Colts of their most valuable weapon... their team speed. Using RBs Jerome "The Bus" Bettis (110/368/9) and "Fast" Willie Parker (255/1202/4), Cowher and Roethlisberger will try and slow down the pace of the game and keep the hi-octane Colt O' from taking the field and developing a rhythm. Bettis will be used as the "sledge," Parker the "anvil," and the Steelers will try and eat-up the clock and win the "time of possession" battle. Looking at Pitts' team speed... they're a plodding bunch, and the Colts' speedier squad is eminently capable of beating Pitt' off of the snap. Given the Colt pass rushers and run-stuffers, the virtually unseen "game within the trenches" will decide the outcome, to some degree, anyway. Look for "The Bus" to pound away at a 16th ranked InDY run D that cedes slighly more than a buck-10 per game. And, with a slasher such as Parker and a "Boom-Boom-Boom" we all falll DOWNNN! back like Bettis, the Steelers indeed have a shot at imposing their offensive will.

WR Hines Ward (69/975/11) is an under-rated commodity. Dude is fearless over the middle, he shuns the flash that the more visible and less-talented pass catchers seek, he can run virtually any route and he can beat press, man-to-man, and zone coverages. From the "fade" to the "post" to the "square-out," Ward is sticky-fingered and possesses remarkable body control. Opposite him, former Forty-Niner Cedrick Wilson came from nowhere to snare 3 balls for 104 yards and a touch'. Given his relative lack of any in-season presence... Wilson will have to prove last week's game wasn't the abberartion it likely was. WR Antwaan Randle El (35/558/1), on the other hand, is versatile and as elusive as a drop of Mercury on Waxed paper. Look for the Steelers to try and put his tremendous skills to use again. Last week, he was a key component in a successful flea-flicker trick play. Cowher is a solid in-season tactician... and a brilliant POST-season tactician.

The Steeler D is formidable and boasts a top-tier pass rush. LB Joey Porter is an under-rated defender. He brought assorted Signal Callers to Earth 10 times, and fellow pass-rusher Clark Haggans did the same 9 times. In addition, guys like CB Ike Taylor (75 solo stops), LB James Farrior (76 solo stops and 2 Sacks), FS Chris Hope (70 Tackles 3 INTs) and Hairy-Human-Heat-Seeking-Missile S Troy Polamalu (74 Tackles, 3 Sacks, 2 picks) helped lead this Steeler D to a 3rd ranked run D (allowing a measly 86 rushing YPG), a unit ranked 4th in "Yards Allowed," (fewer than 285 YPG) and 3rd in "Points Allowed."

The "bend but don't break" Pitt' D allowed 258 total points, and if ANY unit is capable of slowing the charging Colts... it's this one. Look for the Steelers to try and take the passing game away and make stud RB Edgerrin James beat them.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS:
Quarterback Peyton Manning (3,747/28/10) is at the very apex of his skills. At his disposal; a nearly peerless pass catching contingent and a stud Running Back. Capable of making every throw in the book, P-Mann' can thread the needle, throw a brilliant fade, hit his receiver mid-stride, and few throw a better deep ball. In addition, while Peyton will never be confused with Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb... he has the presence of mind to elude the rush and hit his safety valve receiver or throw it away to avoid a Sack. He can sense pressure and is a student of the game- a coach playing Signal Caller. No slinger' is more astute, few are more accurate; the total package.
Given the Steelers' weakness that is its Secondary, look for Manning to completely and throughly dismantle a tired Pitt- D-backfield. Safety Troy Polamalu will be forced to creep up in order to slow a well-rested RB Edgerrin James, and I look for Manning to air it out early and often. The Steelers can ill-afford to enngage in a shootout, and once the Colts approach 21 or so points, the Pittsburgh will be lost as they are NOT a come from behind team. Manning will force the boys from PA back on their collective heels by stretching the field in the 1st and 2nd Q's. He'll also balance it out by handing the ball off to a bruising yet still nifty Edge'. Once the Steelers have been burned by "Marvelous" or Reggie once or twice and are looking pass, the older Mann' will allow James to tear off huge chunks of rushing yards. I look for yet another standout game from the game's pre-eminent passer.

Rumor has it that the Steelers are going to try and choke off the Colt passing game and dare RB Edgerrin James (360/1,506/14) to beat them. The Colt runner may not be the "slash and dash" kind of back he was as a youngster fresh from University of Miami... but Edge' changed his game after he tore up his knee amid the '01-'02 season. A physical specimen and bull of a man, James keep his feet churning, keeps moving forward, and can catch the ball coming out of the backfield as his 337 receiving yards attest. Should the Steelers dare James to beat them... and this is solid "Bulletin Board" material for Indy, he IS capable of beating them. Quick and powerful linemen and nifty feet will see to that.
While James will probably not be the pivotal Colt... expect 60-80 rushing yards, 30 or so receiving yards, and at least 1-2 TDs.

Marvelous, Reggie, Stokely and TE Dallas Clark promise to punish an iffy Steeler Secondary. If any time was a good time to play B-Stoke', a guy who clearly benefitted from Manning's record-breaking '04 season, it's him. Likewise, TE Dallas Clark has a nifty knack for finding the soft spots in zone coverage, can get himself open, and is a dangerous "after the catch" receiver.
I like this Colt contingent against what WILL be an over-matched Steeler Secondary.

IN CONCLUSION: While it could be close... playing at Home, rested, and motivated by the death of coach Tony Dungy's son, James, the Steelers will be outgunned and beaten. Double-diggy' points? Maybe not, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. Look for Harrison and Reggie Wayne to each approach 100 yards receiving, and one of the 2 pass-catching Colt TEs (Utecht the other) will snare a 6.

THE REST TO FOLLOW!

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home