Friday, January 12, 2007

NFL Playoffs Round 2 preview

If the onset of the playoffs signifies the beginning of the real NFL season then the weekend of the second round should be called the For Real Men Only.

After all the Wild Card round is just a bone to give sorry-ass teams like Dallas, the Chiefs and both New York teams a little glimmer of hope that they could end their mediocre seasons with a Super Bowl-sized bang. More often than not they either go out with a pathetic whimper, or soul-crushing collapse.

Speaking of collapses, in the FRMO round there's no room for guys like Tony Romo. He was so busy teasing the media with "is he or isn't he dating that C-list singer?" shenanigans that he forgot how to do what he had spent the first 3 years of his career doing- hold the freakin' football for the kicker! As for Romo's teammate T.O.-D, we all know that pill-popping, preening, prima- donna pussy is no real man.

There's also not any room in this round for a squad like the New York Giants, with players & coaches who would rather backbite and snipe at one another than go out and play & coach up to their potential. Has there ever been a sorrier waste of talent on a football field? I'm sure there has but this group of narcissistic, overrated bitches is right up there. Plus they're bringing Corporal Coughlin back for another year? No wonder Tiki's retiring.

For Real Men Only would definitely exclude the Chiefs and Jets as well, as both squads were exposed in the first round for what they actually were: an overrated underachiever (KC), and a "oh shit we're just amazed we got here" overachiever (NYJ.) A team in either one of those categories isn't making it past the first round, and definitely don't belong in the round where the real men reside.

With that into done let's take a look at what teams will advance past the FRMO round and which ones will be going home with their man-purses between their legs.

Indianapolis (13-4) @ Baltimore (13-3)
4:30 EST CBS
Line: BAL -3 1/2

Manning: 362-557, 4,397 yards, 31 TDs, 9 INTs, 14 sacks
McNair: 295-468, 3,050 yards, 16 TDs, 12 INTs, 14 sacks
Harrison: 95 recs, 1,366 yards, 12 TDs
Clayton: 67 recs, 939 yards, 5 TDs
Addai: 226 carries, 1,081 yards, 7 TDs, 2 fumbles
Lewis: 314 carries, 1132 yards, 9 TDs, 4 fumbles
Clark & Utecht: 67 recs, 744 yards, 4 TDs
Heep: 73 recs, 765 yards, 6 TDs

What to look for:
This game should test the age-old adage "what wins playoff games- a great offense or a potent defense?" Indy brings the 2nd highest-scoring offense (27PPG) into whatever the hell name of the Ravens stadium is this year, while B-More boasts the stingiest defense in the NFL by far; its 12.6 PPG allowed is a whole 2.2 pts better than the next best team, which happens to be the Pats.

It's going to be a battle of wills, as in will Payton Manning & his explosive playmakers (Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Joseph Addai and the tight end law firm of Clark & Utecht) get the best of the the offensively-average Ravens (22PPG, t-12th in NFL) OR will the super-stingy Ravens D stomp on the Regular Season Wonders and send another Manning-led team home early for the year?

Don't forget the whole "the Colts abandoned the city of Baltimore in the middle of the night and relocated to Indy nearly a quarter century ago" hate factor here. A lot of people in the region would love to see the team that replaced their former team punch that former team squarely in the face. Literally & figuratively.

What could happen:
Manning rebounds from his sub-par performance against KC last week (30-38/268/ 1TD/3INTs) to throw for 300+ yards and 3 touchdowns as the Colts offense breaks down the Ravens defense plus Indy's defense plays as inspired & unified as it did in shutting down the Chiefs last week.

What should happen:
The Baltimore line, led by Terrell Suggs, Trevor Pryce (13 sacks) and Haloti Ngata, chokes the life out of Manning & forces him into making bad throws again while LBs Ray Lewis & Adalius Thomas (11 sacks) lie in wait. That way Baltimore's DBs like S Ed Reed (5 INTs) and CB Chris McAlister (6 picks) can do what Ty Law loves to do- pick off Manning repeatedly. This is an opportunistic D that compiled 60 sacks and 28 interceptions so Payton should be running for his life all day.

Also Indy can't count on Addai, who is banged up with a rib injury anyway, to run wild on the Ravens' rushing D- it was ranked 2nd in the league, allowing a measly 76 YPG.

And the FRMO winner will be...
Real men, we talkin' 'bout real men? Hmmm let's see, the Colts sport a whiny, endorsement-obsessed, stat-fanatic of a quarterback who's never won a big game in his career (including at Univ. of Tennessee), a soft-spoken wisp of a #1 receiver and a tight end (Clark) who complained that a commercial for a video game made him look bad.

On the other hand you've got a squad that boasts an (alleged) murderer (RayLew, product of Da U), a running back who served time in federal prison for drug trafficking (Jamal Lewis) and a bad-ass Pro-Bowl safety (Reed) who also went to Da U and loves to hit receivers like Harrison in the mouth all- day- long.

Now ask yourselves, who are the real men here?

Exactly. In fact the only real man I can think of on the Colts roster is Adam Vinateri, and he's a freakin' kicker, so what does that tell ya?

It tells me that although the Colts might cover if it is indeed a tight, low-scoring affair, but the Ravens are the pick to advance here, and the Regular Season Wonders will have another long off season to ponder why Dungy & Manning cannot win the Big One.

Philadelphia (11-6) @ New Orleans (10-6)
8:oo pm, EST FOX (UGH)
Line: N.O. -5

Garcia: 116-188, 1,309 yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs, 6 sacks
Brees: 356-554, 4,418 yards, 26 TDs, 11 INTs, 18 sacks
Brown: 46 recs, 816 yards, 8 TDs
Colston: 70 recs, 1,038 yards, 8 TDs
Westbrook: 240 carries, 1,217 yards, 7 TDs, 1 fumble
McAllister: 244 carries, 1,057 yards, 10 TDs, 2 fumbles

What to look for:
The newly repaired roof of the Superdome was in danger of blowing off when the region's beloved Saints returned to New Orleans after 21 months in exile last September and beat up the Atlanta Falcons.

This time the roof might be in worse danger.

The Saints returned to the hurricane-ravaged bayou country and brought their long-suffering fans something to smile about: an impressive team that delivered the 7th playoff game in the team's 40 year history. Free agent signee & NFL MVP runner-up QB Drew Brees feeds the ball to a bevy of talented receivers and Deuce McAllister pounds the rock on the ground, thus the team has become a balanced offensive power, leading the league in yards per game (392) and finishing 5th in PPG(26.)

Philly is merely the hottest team in the league besides San Diego and the Eagles owe all the recent success to former castoff Jeff Garcia. Whether it's a TO curse being reversed or just a short, bald former Pro Bowler getting his mojo back, Garcia has led the formerly floundering Birds to 6 wins in the last 7 games since taking over for injured Donovan McNabb. Oh yeah, the team second to New Orleans in yards per game? Philly.

But it has been the resurgence of the running game, anchored by Brian Westbrook, that has really been the difference between losing under McNabb and winning under Garcia. The Eagles finished 11th in the NFL in rushing (124 YPG), where New Orleans was only 19th (110 YPG.)

What could happen:
Garcia's magic act continues as he finds that balance between running the ball and making the right passes when he has to. Westbrook continues his string of solid play, which I think all started when he had that game-winning TD that wasn't at RayJay, and the high-flying Eagles soar to yet another unbelievable win.

What should happen:
The Saints come out with guns blazing, fired up by the fanatic home crowd and the first playoff game in the Superdome in 2000. Brees immediately sets the tempo by spreading the ball around to his stable of receivers- Reggie Bush, Colston, Henderson, Horn, and Terrence Copper- McAllister pounds the ball on the ground and Bush does his thing, which means catching 3-yard passes and turning them into 8-9 yard gains.

Neither team is very dominant on defense; despite the fact that most people think Philly is the superior defensive team the stats don't back that up. In fact the teams are nearly dead even in yards, points and rushing yards allowed per game, and New Orleans actually holds the advantage with the 3rd best pass defense in the league to Philly's 9th ranked unit.

In other words points should be plentiful in what is sure to be a raucous environment to say the least.

And the FRMO winner will be...
I've been behind the Saints ever since that Falcons game, when I realized that this could be a special year for a team, region, and community in need of something positive to grasp onto. Once the newness of them being good wore off everyone started to realize that they just weren't a feel-good story, the Saints were a bona-fide real good team. plus they are loaded with real men, like Brees, ROY runner-up Colston, tough-as-nails veteran Joe Horn and battering ram McAllister.

Not to take anything away from the Resurrection of Garcia but real men aren't accused by teammates of being gay (even if it was from TO, where there's smoke...) and it shouldn't take 5 years for someone who many call a prime running back to reach his first 1000+ yard season.

The Saints' story trumps all others this year and I can't jump off that train now. Although the confident Eagles should cover the number I like the Saints to win a high-scoring but close game. Then when it's all said & done the people of New Orleans will be cheering one thing...

"The Saints, are coming...the Saints, are coming...the Saints, are coming..."

...right into the NFC Championship Game.

I hope Bono & Billy Joe can make it.

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