Ravens wide receivers Jacoby Jones, right, and Torrey Smith celebrate after Jones scored on a 70-yard touchdown to tie the game in the final minute of regulation. Kicker Justin Tucker won the game in the second quarter of overtime with a 47-yard field goal, giving the Ravens a 38-35 victory. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)
One year later, here we are getting ready for the AFC Championship in New England. One year later, the Patriots and Ravens are each 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl. One year later, I’m still asking the same exact questions about the Baltimore Ravens.
Will the Ravens magic carpet ride continue? The answer to that question lies in the answer to the same exact question I asked almost exactly one year ago - Can Joe Flacco do enough to propel the Ravens past the Patriots?
Truth is, I don’t know. I’ve never been completely sold on Flacco but he’s played like the elite quarterback he says he is in the playoffs. After throwing four touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first three postseasons, Flacco has nine touchdowns and one interception in the playoffs over the past two seasons.
That’s pretty damn good.
However, Flacco is 0-2 in AFC championships, losing in 2008 and 2011. According to ESPN Stats & Informationose their first three conference championship starts, the only quarterbacks to l are Donovan McNabb (2001-03), Ken Stabler (1973-75), Bernie Kosar (1986-87, 1989) and Danny White (1980-82).
Flacco’s seven playoff wins are the most by a quarterback who has never made a Super Bowl appearance. It’s also two more playoff victories than any other quarterback in the Super Bowl era to have never reached the Super Bowl.
Flacco’s head coach John Harbaugh is 0-2 in his career in AFC title games. He could become the fifth coach to lose his first three conference championship game appearances.
The others: John Madden, Chuck Knox, Marty Schottenheimer and Andy Reid.
So again, one year later we’re asking the same questions
NFL playoff action resumes Saturday (Jan. 12) with the Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers. It’s time for the divisional round in both conferences and by the end of the weekend fans will know which teams are playing for the AFC and NFC championships.
The first game is Baltimore at Denver, with the start time at just after 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS. It’s taking place at Mile High, which means the game is going to be mighty cold. The winner of this game will advance to play the winner of the Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots game on Sunday.
The Texans at Patriots game is at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS and it all takes place at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady will be looking to take his team back to another AFC Championship Game while Houston is looking for its first.
On the side of the bracket, the Packers at 49ers game is the one that takes place on Saturday following the conclusion of Baltimore at Denver. Kickoff is scheduled for slightly at 8 p.m. ET on FOX, with the game being played at Candlestick Park. Look for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to come out of the gate hot in this one.
The other game on Sunday is the Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons. That game takes place at 1 p.m. ET on FOX and pits the No. 1 seeded Falcons against the wild card Seahawks. On paper, the 13-3 Falcons seem to be the favorite, but the team hasn’t proven much in the postseason over recent years.
Which game on the docket are you most excited to see? Any predictions on which team will advance to the Super Bowl out of the AFC and NFC Playoffs?
The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft has come and gone (in just over 3 hours), teams are now settling in and getting ready for the second and third rounds, which will take place tonight. Outside of the first two spots occupied by Andrew Luck and RG III, the first round was highlighted by a flurry of activity with teams wheeling and dealing to jockey for positioning to get the player(s) they coveted. In fact, the wheeling and dealing began roughly 45 minutes prior to Andrew Luck being announced as the first pick. The Cleveland Browns — who started the night with 13 picks — traded the fourth pick over all and their fourth-, fifth- and seventh-rounders to take over the Minnesota Vikings’ third overall pick (detailed below). Apparently concerned that another team was going to try to get in front of them, the Browns made the move to select Alabama running back Trent Richardson. That was the first of a record 19 trades, the most since 1970, including two out-of-character moves up by the New England Patriots, which they used to shore up their defense.
The trades were made easier and more appealing by the rookie wage system that went into place when the new collective bargaining agreement was agreed to last summer. That system reduced the price tag of the top picks by about half from what they were paid before the new deal, reversing the trend of just two years ago, when the price of the top few picks was so prohibitive that nobody wanted them.
Here’s a breakdown of each one of the trades made in round 1 on Thursday night:
- Cleveland gives up a 4th, 5th and 7th round pick to Minnesota to move up from 1.4 to 1.3 - Minnesota made a killing! They got 3 picks for a player they clearly were not going to draft by simply threatening Cleveland with the idea that they could make a deal with someone else to jump up and get Trent Richardson. Minnesota gets the player they were going to take at 3 anyhow at 4 and now add 3 more picks. Nice move for them. Cleveland better hope Richardson is the real deal and is another Adrian Peterson-like performer o else they got fleeced on this one, big time.
- Jacksonville gives 4th rounder to Tampa Bay move up from 1.7 to 1.5 - Huge move for Jacksonville! They got what they see as the best offensive playmaker in the receiving game and they only had to give up a 4th rounder to do it!
- Dallas gives up a 2nd rounder to St. Louis move up from 1.14 to 1.6 -Bold trade by Dallas. They saw that Tampa Bay moved back to #7 and they immediately trade up in front of them to nab Morris Claiborne. Getting the best CB in the draft is worth giving up their 2nd rounder. As for the Rams, they have turned the #2 pick into the #14 pick and 2 second rounders this year and 2 first rounders next year. Awesome job by a team with lots of needs!
- Philadelphia gives up a 4th and 6th round pick to move up from 1.15 to 1.12 – Seattle does well to get a 4th and 6th rounder to only move down 3 spots. Good move for them. But the Eagles get arguably a top-8 player in this draft in Fletcher Cox and only have to give up two late round picks to move up to get him. That is the definition of a great trade!
- New England gives up a 3rd round pick to move up from 1.27 to 1.21 – We are so used to seeing New England move down and get better picks or future picks, that I am surprised to see them move up for once. They know what they are doing. And only giving up a 3rd rounder to end up with Chandler Jones is a hell of a move. Being the anti-Boston fan I hate them!…..but damn they are smart and good at what they do during the draft.
- New England gives up a 4th rounder to move up from 1.31 to 1.25 – And the rich just keep getting richer. After one heck of a move to get Jones they land Hightower for simply a 4th rounder to move up. I am sick. Nice job New England.
- Minnesota gives up a 4th rounder to move up from 2.03 to 1.29 – The trade itself was fair for both sides. But I did not like the selection for Minnesota. Baltimore does a nice job to fall back only 6 or so picks and get a player that is the same caliber of what they would have picked at 29 while adding another 4th rounder.
- Tampa Bay gives up a 4th rounder to move up from 2.05 to 1.3 1- Nice job by Tampa. They moved back and still got Barron then used the pick Jacksonville gave them to move up in order to move up here and select the second best RB in the draft. Hell of a job working the board by TB.
Now that I’ve taken a look at the trades from round 1, it’s time for the winners and losers despite it being way to early to make any such determination but what the hell? Let’s do it anyway!
Minnesota Vikings – Able to trade down one spot, still get the player they wanted.
Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers are great at evaluating players and the really good ones tend to fall in their laps. This year was no different when they grabbed David DeCastro at #24
San Francisco 49ers – The surprise team of 2011 surprised everyone with the selection of WR A.J. Jenkins at #30. Jenkins is a very good receiver who might start at the next level. The question here is whether his value justified the selection.
What can we expect when rounds 2 and 3 get started tonight at 7:00PM? More trades? We’ll all have to tune in and find out. I’ll be back tomorrow to give my winners and losers just as I did today.
Eli Manning is now a two time Super Bowl MVP (AP)
Super Bowl XLVI is in the books. We’ve seen this movie before from the Giants. The New England Patriots wee once again on the receiving end of a crushing defeat.
The New York Giants reign victorious over the New England Patriots once again. Four years ago in Glendale, Arizona the Giants shocked the world by defeating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII and ruined the Patriots attempt at perfection. Fast forward to November 6, 2011 – week 9 of the season – the Giants defeated the Patriots one again. This time, it was in the Patriots back yard, Foxborough, Mass. Eli Manning engineered yet another fourth quarter comeback and led the Giants to a 24-20 victory. The loss to the Giants in week 9 was the last time the Patriots tasted defeat in the 2011-12 season prior to Super Bowl XLVI.
Last night in Indianapolis, Indiana in Lucas Oil Stadium – the “House that Peyton built”, Eli Manning and the Giants got the better of the Patriots for the third straight time and the second time in four years on the worlds biggest stage. The New York Giants finished the job and defeated the New England Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI and earned the right to be called champions.
From the moment the Giants traded up for Manning in the 2004 draft, rather than take Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger, there has been a constant argument among fans and pundits over whether that move was a smart one.
Manning has constantly had to deal with comparisons to his talented older brother Peyton, while many said he was not in the same class as Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, and even after winning his first Super Bowl four years ago, a typical NFL talking point has been whether Eli can be considered an ‘elite’ quarterback.
Tom Coughlin, Eli’s head coach of his entire career thus far, says it’s time for the talk to stop.
New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin holds the the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the Giants' 21-17 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. (Chris O'Meara / AP)
“I thought again about this business of elite quarterbacks. I think that question has come and gone. I don’t think we will hear much about that again.” - Tom Coughlin
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, normally keen to steer clear of such talk, chose the presentation of the MVP award to comment on Manning’s place in the rankings of top quarterbacks in the league.
“He’s only the fifth player to be named on a multiple basis as MVP of the Super Bowl, and he joins a pretty elite group of quarterbacks that achieved that.” - NFL commissioner Roger Goodell
Manning though, preferred to talk about the contributions of his team-mates and their prospects for the future.
“I’m excited about a number of young guys who stepped up this season. There were some questions going into the beginning of the season on a few spots, but that quickly got answered. Victor Cruz has been a great story, Jake Ballard. Some of these guys have played great football, made great plays for us this year. We felt we had talent across the board on the team, that there were a few spots where we needed young guys to step up, as any team always does every year. You’re going to need young players to come in and play a role, and give you a chance to win a championship.” - Eli Manning
While the talk over Manning’s elite status may subside, the comparisons with his brother are unlikely to.
Peyton’s future, as he tries to return from a neck injury, is uncertain but it could well involve a move away from the Indianapolis Colts.
The two brothers spent some time in conversation after Sunday’s game but Eli said there was no issue of him now having ‘bragging rights’ over his brother who has a single Super Bowl ring.
“This isn’t about bragging rights. This is a lot bigger. This is about a team, an organization being named world champions, and that was the ultimate goal.That’s the only thing that’s important, is the team finding a way to get a victory. That’s the only thing I care about and Peyton and I both know that’s what the goal is every year. It’s not about anything else.” - Eli Manning
Eli is right, but he’s certainly got the right to brag and a heck of a lot to brag about. Eli Manning is no longer in anyone else’s shadow. He’s earned the right to stand alone. Today, he’s standing alone with the rest of his teammates on top of the NFL’s mountaintop as Super Bowl champions. The New England Patriots are standing with the other 31 teams in the NFL wondering what could have, should have, or might have been.
You can’t spell elite without the ELI.
Super Bowl XLVI logo
We’re finally less than 48 hours from the kick off Super Bowl XLVI.
It’s the Super Bowl matchup that must make Rex Ryan’s skin crawl. On one side, there’s the rival that shares a home stadium with the Jets. On the other side, there’s the rival from within their division and the gold-standard franchise of the AFC.
It’s the Giants. It’s the Patriots. It’s Super Bowl XLVI.
Even though his team has failed to win a championship, Ryan was correct with his belief that the Road to the Super Bowl goes through his team. The Pats haven’t lost a game since beating the Jets in November, while the G-Men have remained undefeated since they defeated their co-tenants at the Meadowlands on Christmas Eve.
The Giants and Patriots are the fifth pair of teams to meet in multiple Super Bowls. Not only is Sunday’s game a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants stunned the football world by upsetting the previously undefeated Patriots, this game marks a rematch of a Week 9 regular season contest from earlier this season. The Giants beat the Patriots 24-20.
Also, whichever starting quarterback wins – Brady or Eli Manning, he will take sole possession of the mark for most road or neutral-site postseason game victories with seven. I say this because it’s obvious that the most important player for each team is its quarterback. Whether you rank Manning or Brady first and second or vice-versa, they are the two most important players in the game. The third-most important player is Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who continues to receive treatment for a high left ankle sprain – an injury that leaves his status uncertain for Sunday’s showdown. He is the player whom Brady utilizes most effectively in the Patriots’ passing game and he is the one who creates mismatches in the Giants secondary.
If he plays – and can do so effectively – the Patriots have a greater shot at winning.
New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree (85) make the catch over New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison (37) in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ on Feb 3, 2008. (John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE)
But, as I have stated in recent weeks through out this most recent playoff run, there is something special about this Giants team and season. This game stands to be a career-defining moment for Eli Manning, who can move ahead of his more famous brother on the Super Bowl victories list with a win and improve to 2-0 in Super Bowls when going head-to-head against Brady.
A New York win will not mean that Eli is better than his brother Peyton or Brady, for that matter, but it will mean that Eli belongs in the elite class of active quarterbacks in the NFL. And that recognition is all he has wanted this season. This Sunday, he gets what he wants.
Prediction: Giants win 31-26
Super Bowl XLVI takes place on Sunday February 5 from Indianapolis, Indiana. Kickoff is set for 6:29p.m. eastern on NBC. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will have the call.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady :: Credit: SI
Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.
For a decade it has been the NFL’s must-see quarterback rivalry — or at least it was until Manning’s neck surgery turned the 2011 Colts into a football team best left unseen.
Peyton’s little brother Eli is the “other Manning” no more. Brady vs. Manning will not die.
The Manning who four years ago engineered the last-minute scoring drive that derailed New England’s pursuit of perfection in Super Bowl XLII gained admittance this season into the NFL quarterbacking elite. NFL know-it-alls now speak of the 31-year-old Eli as respectfully as they do Peyton and Tom and Aaron and Drew. Next Sunday in the House That Peyton Built — Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium — Eli will oversee the family business of rivaling Brady when the Giants and Patriots meet in Super Bowl XLVI.
Tom Brady, who is 1-2 all-time against Eli, 8-4 against Peyton says this about Eli:
“He does everything you’re looking for as a quarterback. I’ve seen first-hand what he can do in the fourth quarter of these games. He’s a great leader. You always hear that coming out of New York. The guys really have a lot of respect for him, and so do I.”
Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson went to the Super Bowl five years ago as a Chicago Bears rookie and lost to Peyton and the Colts, 29-17. Anderson, not wanting to compare the brothers, said about Eli this past week:
“He’s looking like one of the greats right now. He’s playing at a high level. It’s our job as a defensive line to slow him down, and try to mess up his whole momentum right now.”
In soggy San Francisco last Sunday, against the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense, Manning set Giants franchise playoff records for completions (32) and pass attempts (58), producing 316 passing yards and two touchdowns (no interceptions) during a 20-17 overtime victory. The 49ers defense sacked Manning six times, and hit him 12 other times. Manning has seemed unfazed by his leaky offensive line. In three games this postseason he has thrown eight touchdown passes, one interception.
Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork:
“You’ve seen him grow, you’ve seen a guy not making the boneheaded mistakes. He’s protecting the football, and that’s first and foremost.”
One would think Patriots coach Bill Belichick is experiencing flashbacks to Eli’s famous escape and heave to David Tyree four years ago in Glendale, Arizona. This past week he also mentioned Manning’s ability to escape from the pocket.
“Not that he’s looking to run for 100 yards or anything, nut converting on third down. Scrambling out of the pocket. Keeping plays alive. We’ve seen that before.”
Eli Manning (credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images), Tom Brady (credit: Elsa/Getty Images)
During the 2011 regular season, Manning threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns (16 interceptions), including an NFL-record 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes. Two of those fourth-quarter TD passes came in the final 3:03 at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 6. Manning threw a 1-yarder to tight end Jake Ballard with 15 seconds left for a 24-20 victory.
The Giants won that evening without wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (76 catches, 1,192 yards, 7 TDs during regular season), who was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Nicks this postseason has 12 catches for 220 yards and two TDs.
Nicks and Victor Cruz (82 catches, 1,536 yards, 9 TDs during the regular season) are a challenge unlike any New England’s secondary encountered during the AFC playoffs. Cruz, a UMass product, had six catches for 96 yards against New England in the regular-season game. He had 10 catches for 142 yards last Sunday against the 49ers.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty said the presence of Nicks and the evolution of Manning makes the Giants’ offense more dangerous than it was on Nov. 6. Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw also did not play in the teams’ regular-season meeting due to a foot injury.
“I just think to prepare for all those guys is the toughest thing.”
With Peyton Manning having missed the entire 2011 season, Eli has emerged totally from big brother’s shadow. As the first overall pick in the 2004 draft — by San Diego, which swapped Eli to the Giants for Philip Rivers after Eli and dad Archie made it known Eli did not want to play for the Chargers — Manning was expected to be this good. If the Giants win next Sunday, Eli will have two Super Bowl rings to Peyton’s one. He will have beaten Brady’s Patriots twice in the Super Bowl.
Most of all, Eli Manning wins. No matter which Manning is on the opposing sideline, Tom Brady can’t seem to escape the Manning family. With a victory on Sunday in Indianapolis, Eli may very well be considered Tom Brady’s kryptonite.
Let the countdown begin.
We are finally only hours away from finding out who will represent the AFC and who will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI. The “experts” have had their say as to who will win, but now yours truly is putting on the prognostication hat to pick the winners of the AFC and NFC Championship games. Both games promise to be great TV viewing, as the New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC and the San Francisco 49ers host the New York Giants in the NFC.
Let’s get to the picks!
The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will meet in the postseason for the second time in three years, though this time a Super Bowl berth is at stake. (Winslow Townson, AP)
At first glance last week I thought the Baltimore Ravens didn’t stand a chance in this game after being thoroughly outplayed by a depleted Houston Texans squad. I really believe had the Texans had adequate quarterback play, they would be playing the Patriots this week for the AFC Championship. In fact, I believe the Texans are a healthy quarterback away from winning their own Super Bowl. In my mind, Houston was on a direct path to being the number one seed in the AFC if it weren’t for the injuries to the quarterback position. However, the Baltimore Ravens have lived to fight another day and will be ready to play the Patriots. As I wrote earlier this week, the Ravens have got to play better in all phases of the game in order to win. Especially offensively where we all know it begins and ends at the quarterback position. The quarterback position has always been a topic of conversation for the Ravens and to some extent, it still is. The biggest question, for me, is whether or not Joe Flacco can do enough to propel the Ravens to victory. Listen, do I think the Ravens can win? Yes, absolutely. However, it’s not about Ray Rice or Ray Lewis or Ed Reed. It’s about Joe Flacco. I believe it’s going to be up to him to make a play that lifts the Ravens over the hump.
Brady and Lewis will match wits in the AFC Championship Game. (Getty Images)
On the other side, the Patriots defense has been atrocious all year and a lot of the defensive short-comings have been covered up by the Patriots explosive offense. That said, the Ravens defense presents the toughest challenge the Patriots offense has faced this year. The Ravens defense will have to capitalize on the opportunities given to them. Last week, despite intercepting T.J. Yates 3 times, the Ravens dropped quite a few balls that could – and should have been – intercepted. If those types of opportunities present themselves today, the Ravens have got to take advantage in a big way. They will have to get a score from their defensive unit in this game to assist in offsetting their offensive short-comings. While we know how explosive the Ravens can be, not sacking Yates one time last week is a frightening thought; due to the fact that the only way to slow the Pats down is by pressuring Brady. Baltimore hasn’t given up 100 or more receiving yards to opposing TEs in a while, but when was the last time there was a combo like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez? Also, there’s been a lot of focus on Ed Reed leading up to this one. Reed is one of the best safeties in the game, but the Patriots offense will minimize his impact on the game. New England throws more short passes and screens than they do long passes. Therefore, Reed will most likely be helping with coverage on one of the TEs, leaving the middle of the field open.
I know Terrell Suggs told us not to doubt “his boy” because there aren’t many quarterbacks you could compare to “his boy.” Well, Suggs, you are right. We can’t compare Joe Flacco to Tom Brady because that would be flat out idiotic. Your boy may have a 5-3 career playoff record , but New England’s golden boy trounces those numbers, and he has the rings to prove it.
If there’s one advantage the Ravens do have it is on offense. If the Pats allow Rice to be a factor in both the passing and running game, this will end up like their 2009-10 playoff matchup. And as has been the case all season, the Patriots secondary is their weak-spot. New England has to hit and pressure Flacco, or else he will have a field day throwing down field to Boldin and Torrey Smith.
The key for New England in this one will be to stretch out drives and wear down Baltimore’s defense. Let Tom Brady not only control the game, but let him take over. We know he doesn’t like to lose, and this is the perfect game for some revenge. In some cases defense does win championships, but as aforementioned, New England has never lost an AFC Championship game at home. Numbers never lie.
Prediction: Patriots in a dog fight that will end closer than you may think.
I’ve been basically picking against both of these teams for the majority of the season and look where they are now. What makes it even worse is that this might be the best matchup in the NFC this year besides the Packers and Saints in Week 1. So now what?
Eli Manning of the New York Giants drops back to pass against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. (Nov. 13, 2011) || Photo Credit: Getty Images||
Both teams are coming off huge victories and are simply playing smash-mouth football. Their defenses are amongst the best in the league, which could make for a low scoring game. Yet, this game will feature two first-round draft picks, which could make for a high scoring game.
Unlike in the AFC matchup, defense will be the factor to winning this game. Alex Smith showed a lot of adversity and dedication last week, leading a game-winning drive with just nine seconds on the clock. Smith made accurate passes and great plays all game which contributed to their victory. On the other side, Eli Manning did the same exact thing, using his tandem of receivers en route to triumph against the defending champs.
Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora have emerged this post-season and possess the ability to control the tempo. San Fran has some play-makers too, but New York is playing like a team that just can’t be stopped. They won their week 13 rematch against Green Bay last week, and I think they’ve got a great chance to win their week ten rematch against the 49ers this week.
And just remember, you can’t spell “elite” without Eli!
Prediction: Once again, my rooting interest prevents me from giving an honest and un-bias opinion so I’ll just sit back, relax, enjoy the show while rooting hard for Big Blue.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco endures one of five sacks in Sunday's divisional playoff win vs. Houston. (By: Eileen Blass, USA TODAY)
Can the Baltimore Ravens offense keep up with New England’s explosive offense? More importantly, can Joe Flacco do enough to keep up with Tom Brady? I’m not the only one asking these questions, Flacco’s teammate Ed Reed took time to voice his opinion on his quarterback earlier this week.
“I think a couple of times he needed to get rid of the ball. It just didn’t look like he had a hold on the offense… He can’t play like [he did against the Texans].”
Joe Flacco has given the Ravens organization and their fans something they haven’t had – security and consistency to the quarterback position. Think about it. You have to realize, the likes of Trent Dilfer, despite winning the Ravens a Super Bowl, only started a grand total of eight regular season games for them? Look at how dire this list is. Before Flacco, the Ravens cycled through fifteen different starting QBs in a span of 12 years. I looked at that list and literally could not remember Randall Cunningham ever playing for this team. The turnover in Baltimore was so fast, you barely had time to notice. Remember Anthony Wright?
Ravens fans – most of them anyway – are incredibly loyal to Flacco because because he was able to bring some semblance of order to a chaotic situation. The problem is that may be ALL he brings. He’s like a pitcher who gives you lots of innings without ever having an ERA below 4.00. Flacco has taken the Ravens to the playoffs his first four seasons. No other QB has done that, but let’s be honest: It’s not as if Flacco has been solely responsible for those playoff runs, not when the Ravens consistently feature a good defense and a healthy running game.
For all the criticism that Mark Sanchez has had to deal with from Jets fans and through the media, statistically speaking – Sanchez has more road playoff victories than any other quarterback ever. You don’t see that little stat keeping Jets fans from wanting him booted out the door. And with good reason, because Sanchez is a thoroughly average, maybe even a below average quarterback.
Flacco may be better than Sanchez, but you’d be shocked at how close of a contest it is. Flacco’s numbers over his career have remained almost exactly the same. He always throws ten to twelve picks. He always throws 20-25 touchdowns. And he always passes for 3,600 yards (three years in a row). There’s been no indication that he’s actually improving. Keep in mind, this is with the Ravens handing him more and more weapons each year to work with (Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, etc.). In fact, Flacco’s completion percentage this season (58%) was the worst of his career. At this point, he may be as good as he’ll ever be. There’s no reason to think he’ll suddenly make a leap and start playing like Aaron Rodgers.
That’s a real problem, because the Ravens need Flacco to play at a higher level if they want to start winning Super Bowls with him at the helm. Sunday is the biggest game of Flacco’s life. If he can somehow pull out a 250-300 yard game with 5 touchdowns, then maybe all of us, even Ed Reed, got Joe Flacco wrong.
Saints at 49ers
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the fourth quarter. (Marcio Jose Sanchez | AP Photo)
Given the choice of all eight starting quarterbacks this weekend, not many would have picked Alex Smith as the guy they’d want to lead them down the field for a touchdown at the end of a game. Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers? Yes please. Tim Tebow? Last gasp heroics are his stock in trade. Eli Manning? Hey, he’s done it in bigger games before. Of the two remaining, Joe Flacco, too, might have been a more popular selection than Smith – the former first overall draft pick whose previous six years in the league had been a study in mediocrity and whose confirmation as the starter in preseason drew grumbles from the San Francisco faithful. Since then Smith had a solid year, but the sense around the league was still that he was nothing more than a game manager, someone who could just about be trusted not to ruin the good work done elsewhere. And yet at Candlestick Park on Saturday, Smith engineered not one, but two touchdowns in the final three and a half minutes of the game – closing the show with an 85-yard drive capped by a laser beam to Vernon Davis (whose 180 receiving yards represented a new playoff record for tight ends) that had Bay Area sportswriters evoking both The Catch by Dwight Clark and Terrell Owens’s 1999 sequel. This was a play and a game that will go down in 49ers folklore, one that may well appear in future rundowns of the league’s greatest playoff encounters. Even before the final flurry that brought four touchdowns, and four lead changes, in four minutes, it had been compelling fare – San Francisco’s defense assaulting Drew Brees and the Saints’ ballcarriers with a ferocity that for three and two-thirds quarters was enough to blow the league’s most explosive offense off-course. A defense such as this might well be what wins championships. But the 49ers are no longer solely reliant on Frank Gore to win the games along the way.
Broncos at Patriots
All of the "Tebowing" in the world couldn't of saved Tebow and the Broncos from Tom Brady and company
“Say your prayers, Timmy,” boomed the front page of the weekend’s Boston Metro, merrily casting the hometown Patriots with a picture of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady set against a backdrop of angry flame. And a suitably hellish visit it turned out to be for the Broncos, their defense ripped to shreds by Brady while their New England counterparts pummelled Tebow – sacking him five times while allowing just nine completions for 136 yards. Is this the end of TebowMania? Of course not. Everyone is well aware of his pulling power and with CBS already hoping to have him on as a studio analyst next weekit seems certain that we will be seeing plenty more of him in the coming weeks and months. What will also be fascinating is to discover whether the Broncos look to give themselves another option at QB between now and the 2012 season. The lack of public pronouncements supporting Tebow from John Elway has widely been interpreted as a lack of faith that he is the man to take this franchise forward. But for now we can turn our attentions back to the Patriots – with Brady reminding us all why he used to be the guy dominating the news agenda. He added yet another NFL record to his collection by becoming the first quarterback ever to throw for five first-half touchdowns in a playoff game – three of them to tight end Rob Gronkowski. But Brady has enough of those already. What he and Belichick would both really like, is another ring.
Texans at Ravens
Courtesy of Getty Images
New England can hardly have been quaking in their boots at the prospect of a visit from Baltimore either, after the Ravens required a lot of breaks to get past the Houston Texans. The tone was set just minutes into the first quarter when Jacoby Jones inexplicably attempted to field a punt which had already bounced with two opponents close at hand, duly fumbling at the three-yard line then watching as the Ravens punched it in for the touchdown. From there it would be a story of turnovers and missed opportunities for the Texans, who coughed up possession on three further occasions while failing to recover any of three fumbles by Baltimore. Yet despite a -4 turnover margin and the fact that their third-string, rookie quarterback TJ Yates was struggling badly in a hostile environment, they still only lost by seven points. That will be hard to take for Houston, who must surely wonder how things might have panned out had Jones simply got out of the way. But for Baltimore such numbers ought to be cause for real concern. New England will not be so forgiving in Foxboro.
Giants at Packers
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning reacts in front of Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, right, after throwing a 37-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks at the end of the first half. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
There was no bigger divisional weekend surprise than the ease with which the Giants saw off the Packers. Well, perhaps Alex Smith’s TD run, but that aside, there was no bigger surprise. But should it have been such a shock? A month ago it would certainly have been a huge upset, with the Packers chasing a perfect season and the Giants losing at home to the Redskins. That week the Packers lost too, for the first time this season, but it was against a briefly reinvigorated Kansas City and we all figured that it was probably best for Green Bay to get a defeat out of the way before chasing the prize. But between then and now much happened that maybe wasn’t properly appreciated: that Redskins defeat left the Giants in a state of permanent knock-out football – and they rose to the challenge. NY blue beat NY green convincingly on Christmas Eve before the Giants again beat the Cowboys, again convincingly, on New Year’s Day. And into the playoffs they strode to, again by several scores, snuff out the Falcons. Each game a must-win, each won with comfort (at least in the end).
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers lays on the field during the second half. Giants won 37-20. (Jeffrey Phelps / AP)
Aaron Rodgers meanwhile had only played once during that period. He sat out the last game of the regular season and saw his understudy step up – although the Packers’ defense caused a brief flurry of concern that day. He sat out the bye week. And then he – and the Packers – looked out-of-sorts at Lambeau Field when the big test came. But, to be fair to the Giants, this result wasn’t just about the Packers underperforming. It was about the Giants offense getting smoother by the week. It was about the Giants secondary clicking. It was about a Giants defensive line featuring some big beasts. But, most of all, it was about the Giants once again getting results when it matters. It’s a good thing the 2004 mega deal wasn’t a reality for the Giants. Key figures involved in the proposed trade were the reason why the Giants were able to upset the Packers at Lambeau Field, again. Hey, the Giants might wanna paint that stadium in blue because they own that place!
Tim Tebow is in over is head and as a result, the Broncos good fortune will come to an end tonight. The deck is stacked against him both literally and figuratively but thats where Tim usually thrives.
Not this time.
Tim Tebow has captured the nation’s attention so much that Tom Brady’s very rarely seen these days in the media. Brady and his super model wife are usually plastered all over the media but Tim Tebow has overshadowed Tom terrific. The question is, can Tebow and his Broncos outshine Brady’s bunch on the field tonight?
Not a chance.
Brady is coming off one of the best seasons out of the 12 he’s spent in the NFL. While he doesn’t offer a pose like Tebow, his skills are every bit as sharp as the genuflection seen in the Broncos. The odd’s makers, who apparently don’t bank on Jesus saving this game, put the Broncos as a 13 1/2-point underdog.
Frigid temperatures at game time might hamper Tebow a bit, as he hasn’t been in many games below 20 degrees. The weather predictions call for the coldest day of the 2011-2012 winter yet. Brady’s used to the frigid New England weather, while the Broncos star played four seasons at Florida.
Will tonight’s game offer a repeat of the last time the Patriots and Broncos went head to head at Foxboro? On December 18th, New England won big over Denver at 41-23.
Tonight will be the night when the Tebow train will derail badly if Tim Tebow does not put in a better performance. Let the most talked about game of play off football in recent memory begin.