Saturday, January 06, 2007

Let the REAL season begin: NFL Playoffs start today

After 17 weeks of the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Yucs, of Bengals coming to play harder at the Cincy PD than Paul Brown Stadium, of the Detroit Lions and their naked drive-thru-loving assistant coach, of Nick Saban, Dennis Green and Art Shell, of endless Brett Favre slurping, the Jay Cutler Experiment, Ben Roethlisberger's medical issues, of Chris Simms' lost spleen, of head-stomping (Albert Haynesworth) & groin kicking (Tyler Brayton), of spitting (TO) & quitting (Randy Moss), and of the insufferable Jim Moron, Jr. it's finally time...

...for the REAL NFL season to start.

Oh sure the regular season is great, as we get a chance to witness the record-breaking brilliance of LaDanian Tomlinson, the excitement of a team like the Titans climbing from the depths of the winless to the cusp of the postseason, and the people of New Orleans not only getting to bask in the return of their beloved Saints but enjoy a postseason appearance to boot.

But the season also meant listening to Chucky Gruden explain why he's sticking with an over matched rookie quarterback when he had a serviceable (and high-paid) vet on the bench all along, Monday Nights filled with Tony Kornheiser attempting to be natural & funny while Joe Theismann pretended to care, and weekly T.O.D.-incited melodrama.

So I say bring on the playoffs and let's all enjoy this brief but exhilarating run to SB XLI.

Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) @ Indianapolis Mannings (12-4)
4:30P, NBC
Line: IND -7

Oh goody, just what all us Manning-haters were hoping for: a run-dominant team that could give Indy's horrid rushing defense fits and keep the Mannings' offense off the field for a good chunk of the game.

How bad was Indy's rushing D? How about last in the league, allowing a staggering 173.0 yards/game, which was a mind-blowing 27.6 yards per game higher than the second-worst team (St. Louis, 145.4 YPG.)

And who do they get to face in round 1? None other than Grandmama himself, Larry Johnson, the man who set a new NFL record for carries in a season with 416 and who finished 2nd in the league in rushing with 1,789 yards, 26 fewer than LT the MVP.

LJ's production helped KC to the be the 9th best rushing team in the league and means that Indy better be ready for a ground pounding when the teams square off at the RCA Dome. But the thing about Kansas City is that if they can't run for some reason either Trent Green or Damon Huard is capable of moving the chains through the air as well. While Green has struggled since his return from an early season concussion (7 TDs, 9 INTs in 7 games), Huard excelled in Green's absence, compiling 1,878 yards with 11 touchdowns and only 1 pick in 9 games.

But let's get real here, this is going to be a classic "my strength can beat your strength" contest: Kansas City will run, run, run, pass to Tony Gonzalez, then run some more and make the beleaguered Indy front line stop Johnson from gashing them for 200+ yards and carrying the Chiefs to a date in the next round.

And Indianapolis will wait for their name-calling, underachieving, aw-shucks leader to call out the correct plays at the line, hit receivers Marvin Harrison & Reggie Wayne and TEs Ben Utecht & Dallas Clark and hope rookie RB Joseph Addai can somehow duplicate his 171-yard effort against Philly in Week 12; Addai had only one other 100+ yard game all season.

The good news for Indy is that Kansas City was a middling 18th vs. both the pass (208.4 YPG) and the run (120.5 YPG) this year, plus it has the benefit of experience, the "been there, done this" factor, while the Chiefs might just be happy to be here.

But us Manning Haters know what happens to the Regular Season Wonders once the real season begins...

...they turn in to the Post Season Chokers.

MY PICK: I know, I know, I've been laying off the predictions and made it one of my resolutions for the new year- I shalt not make horrendous sports predictions- but I'm just going to give a roundabout guesstimation.

Based on the evidence KC should gash the Mannings on the ground and force Indy to play long ball all day. Yes Manning loves to pass, but with their ground game non-existent and the time getting short he could be haunted by ghosts from his playoff past...

...Ty Law with a another big interception of Peyton and Adam Vinateri with a game-losing shank.

A guy can dream, right.

I'm not sure about the score, but I do believe that it will be close.
Chiefs will cover

Dallas Cowboys (9-7) @ Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
Line: SEA -2

This one could be called the Freefall Bowl. Both teams come into this game on major down slides at the end of the season; Dalls lost 3 out of its last 4 and looked awful in doing so, and the Seahawks limped to the finish line, also losing 3 of its final four, although it ended on a winning note (of course, they played the Yucs.)

So it will be interesting to see which team comes out and can establish some sort of consistency and control on the game with bot having been so rickety going into the postseason.

Dallas' defense has been the major problem for the Cowboys, as it surrendered 33 PPG the last 4 games. Although the rushing defense finished a respectable 10th in the NFL, allowing just over 103 YPG, it will be thoroughly tested this evening as the 'Hawks will try to establish Shaun Alexander early & often.

The burning question for the Cowboys and its fans is which Tony Romo will show up? Will it be the cocky & confident kid who leapt into the starters role with a flourish, winning 5 of his first 6 starts while throwing 12 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions? Or will the shaky, starlet-eyed greenhorn who lost 3 of his final 4 and seemed less worried about his 6TD-6 INT ratio than which C-list songstress he was rumored to be dating show up and give the game away?

Defending NFC Champion Seattle has struggled to find an identity, as so many teams do in their post-Super Bowl seasons (except the Pats of course), this year, mainly due to major injuries to key players. Although it pulled an early-season coup by trading for receiver Deion Branch, the team couldn't fully utilize his talents because his quarterback and key component of the running game both missed significant time.

Now that Shaun Alexander & Matt Hasselbeck are back and fairly healthy Seattle should be able to incorporate Branch into the attack for this game and form a potent offensive trio for the Cowboys to defend. If Alexander can get going play like he did against Green Bay (201 yards) and San Diego (140 yards) after missing 6 games with a broken foot, then Seattle has a solid chance to advance.

Dallas needs Romo to get back to his early form, which he may be able to achieve due to a number of injuries in the Seattle secondary (Marcus Trufant, Kelly Herndon, Jimmy Williams); for Marion Barber III and Thomas Jones to move the rock on the ground; and the defense to contain the two-pronged Seattle attack.

Not to mention T.O.-D. I mean I would prefer not to mention T.O.-D. Let's just say one of the most infamous moments in the Dennis Rodman-izing of Owens' career came at this very site, when he scored a touchdown as a member of the 49ers, raced to the luxury seats in the end zone of Qwest Field, pulled out a Sharpie, autographed the ball and handed it to his manager in the front row.

And a primma donna was born. Let's hope there are no moments like that tonight.

The hotter team normally wins these games and by virtue of spanking the Bucs the Seahawks qualify as the hotter team here. Dallas ended the season by allowing 39 points to Detroit in a humiliating home loss. How quick can you bounce back from something like that, even with an irritated Tuna barking at you all week?
Seattle to Cover

Either way this should be an intriguing evening- it could be another sad chapter added to the Payton Post Season Failure opus, and the end of Bill Parcells career as a coach.

Then again it might just be a stepping stone to Manning's first Super Bowl and win #1 in Tuna's quest for a third ring.

It's the No Freakin Logic league for Pete's sake.

Anything can happen.


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