I have given the Keys to Victory for the Baltimore Ravens.
I have given the Keys to Victory for the San Francisco 49ers.
Now, it’s prediction time.
It’s no secret to anyone that I don’t like Ray Lewis and I would like nothing more than for his Hall of Fame career to end with a bitter Super Bowl loss. In fact, I would be ecstatic if, between now and game-time Sunday he was suspended. Earlier this week, according to Sports Illustrated Lewis used a banned substance to repair his torn triceps.
Despite all the attention Lewis is receiving, the game depends on the two quarterbacks. After setting a postseason record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a playoff game with 181 against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick had just two rushes for 21 yards against the Falcons in the NFC championship.
More of the same will come Sunday. If one actually expects Kaepernick to be successful running the ball against Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, and Lewis, you’re either crazy or an extremely devoted 49ers fan.
As for Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco, this will be his best chance to silence his critics. Flacco got the rematch with New England in the AFC championship that he wanted and he didn’t waste that opportunity, winning in Foxboro. He won’t waste this one either.
It is going to be a low scoring game; that’s a fact. Yes, statistically the Ravens had the 13th worst passing defense and the 10th worst rushing defense in the regular season, but they are finally healthy.
With that said though, the 49ers’ defense still has the edge. San Francisco had six defensive players named to the Pro Bowl, including three of their four starting linebackers (the lone exception being Ahmad Brooks).
San Francisco has more talent on their roster. They have a better quarterback, better wide receivers, a better tight end, and a better defense. But Denver and New England also had more talent than the Ravens and Baltimore won.
But football isn’t played on paper. The Ravens are on a mission to have Lewis go out on top. If they can beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, they can beat Kaepernick.
The x-factor will be 49ers kicker, David Akers. Akers was superb in the 2011-12 season making 84.6 percent of his kicks. This year though, Akers made just 69 percent.
In a low scoring game, field goals will make the difference. San Francisco has zero confidence in Akers and will have to be aggressive on third downs unless they wamt Akers to trout out onto the field and miss.
The aggressiveness on third down by the 49ers will play right into Baltimore’s hands. Despite Kaepernick continually saying that he doesn’t feel pressure and “pressure comes from lack of preparation” will ultimately catch up with him. That being said, Kaepernick will have plenty of more chances, but it appears to be the Ravens time.
I have a feeling Kaepernick will turn the ball over late in the game and the Ravens will drive down the field, and will pull a Santonio Holmes by catching the game-winning touchdown in the final minutes. (Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch but you get the idea)
When the two teams leave New Orleans, Ravens head coach John Harbuagh will have ultimate bragging rights over brother, Jim, head coach of the 49ers.
As much as I would like Ray Lewis to not another ring, he’ll get one as the Ravens will win 20-14 with Boldin as Super Bowl MVP.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens have had two weeks to get ready for one another. Two whole weeks. That is plenty of time for these coaches to come up with their keys to victory. The problem with having two weeks, however, is some coaches can over think the game itself. While the media stays wrapped up in the narratives, the staffs on each of these teams are continuing to break down tape to find an edge. Here are what I believe the 49ers have to do in order to have the best chance of hoisting the Lombardi trophy on Sunday night in New Orleans.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
O-line Must Get Offensive – The 49ers have one of the best offensive lines in the league, but it will be going up against a trio of powerful defensive linemen and some quality edge-rushers. Those linemen will be attempting to eat up as many blockers as possible and controlling the gaps at the line of scrimmage. If San Francisco is to have any success in the running game, its offensive linemen must focus on getting to the second level and neutralizing Baltimore’s linebacking corps.
Cary Edmondson, USA TODAY Sports
Run Baby Run – The running game will be San Francisco’s best asset in this contest. The 49ers were able to churn out 149 yards on the ground against Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game, due in large part to their ability to dominate at the line. Colin Kaepernick didn’t have to do too much, and he put together an efficient performance.
Baltimore finished the regular season ranked No. 20 against the run, but the Ravens have been much more stable this postseason. For San Francisco to open up some big plays later in the game, it needs to first dominate up front and keep Baltimore off balance with a strong effort from Frank Gore.
Ultimately, Kaepernick is San Francisco’s best big-play weapon, whether he gets it done with his arm or his legs. Kaepernick is still fairly inexperienced, though, and the 49ers have to limit the production of Baltimore’s safeties.
Getting the running game going and forcing Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard active in the box will open up wider windows for Kaepernick in the passing game, especially in the middle of the field where Vernon Davis can do a lot of damage.
AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Jose Luis Villegas
Rolling in the Deep – The deep routes up the sidelines will be there at times, but the window will be microscopic with Baltimore’s safeties playing back in coverage. If the 49ers hope to make big plays in the passing game, first establishing the run and setting up play-action will be critical.
Baltimore and San Francisco have been terrific on offense this postseason, but with two weeks to game-plan and prepare, both defenses will be ready for a much more low-scoring affair. Limiting mistakes and protecting the football will be a big key for both teams, and could ultimately decide the winner of Super Bowl XLVII.
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 2012 NFL Draft is finally finished and now all the experts are breaking down the big winners and losers, but what teams made the biggest improvements with all their off-season moves? Here is a breakdown of the top teams this off-season and what moves they made to make their fans excited about the 2012-13 season.
On the Rise
Buffalo Bills – Chan Gailey’s bunch is certainly worth mentioning as a team on the rise. The Bills made some impressive roster moves since the end of last year. The team added pass rush specialist Mario Williams during free agency and followed that up with a terrific draft. Corner Stephon Gilmore will solidify the Bills secondary and adding offensive lineman Cordy Glenn in round two was a terrific move as he can play either guard position and will give Buffalo some much-needed depth on their line.
Dallas Cowboys – The ‘Boys have been a trendy pick for the past several years and fans constantly hear how the their team is set to become contenders for a Super Bowl title, but they haven’t been able to avoid a late season swoon. However, after the moves the team made this off-season, 2013 could become their year to get over the hump. Dallas has terrific talent on offense, but defensively they have suffered with their lack of pass defense, but with free agent corner Brandon Carr now on the roster and the team trading up in the draft to take Morris Claiborne, Dallas is set in the secondary and it allows the ‘Boys’ to pay their blitz style defense with great effectiveness.
Philadelphia Eagles – The “dream team” entered the 2011-12 season as a favorite to win the Super Bowl as the Eagles added several talented free agents, but the defense didn’t play well and the team chemistry was missing in the first half of the season and it cost the team a shot at the playoffs. This year the team has added tackling machine DeMarco Ryan at linebacker and with the draft choices of Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, and Vinny Curry this team has added depth and talent all across their defensive roster and will enter the season looking to overtake the New York Giants as the best team in the NFC East.
Combining youth and veteran players doesn’t always mix, but these three NFL teams have added the pieces necessary to become winners. Improvements might be slow, but with moves like these this off-season, it won’t be long before fans of these teams have reason to cheer.
Cincinnati Bengals - While most teams hope to add depth and a couple starters from a draft, the Cincinnati Bengals could have added the best group of youngsters in 2012 with their selections. The Bengals made huge strides last year and did so with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green, but the players they added over this past weekend could surpass the class of 2011.
The front office added talent all across their roster and it started in round one with the picks of corner Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama and guard Kevin Zeitler from Wisconsin. Both players will jump into the starting rotation and give the Bengals more talent then they currently have on their roster.
San Francisco 49ers - As I said in my post a few days ago, the 49ers were one of the biggest surprises in the NFL last season and I expected a lot from them in the draft. For me, I feel they left something to be desired with their selections. Frankly, I feel like they reached early for some guys that probably would have been available in later rounds. Just some odd picks. A.J. Jenkins is a good football player, but better than Alshon Jefferey, Rueben Randle and a host of other wide receivers? I don’t think so. LaMichael James is a peculiar pick too. Not bad value, but not great either so why take a player who plays a position of absolute strength if it’s only moderate value? I like the Darius Fleming and Cam Johnson picks. Just some odd ball picks early for me.
Jacksonville Jaguars - You can’t draft a punter in the third round and not be held accountable. I don’t even hate the move as much as everyone else because the way I see it if he’s a really good punter then you got a guy who can play the position the next 15 years–and no other 3rd round pick will give you that longevity. Still I find it hard to believe that he would have been drafted by anyone else in the third, and probably even the fourth round. This is the very definition of a reach–getting a guy you could not get if you waited. I also don’t love Justin Blackmon or the Andre Branch fit. None of the day three picks excite me.
Seattle Seahawks - I will probably be battled on this, but I didn’t like what the Seahawks did here. We’ll see. Pete Carroll has done a solid job despite going against the grain before. Still right now Bruce Irvin is Aaron Maybin coming out of college. Can the Seahawks get him to be more? I like the Jaye Howard and Winston guy picks, the rest I would have gone a different direction.
What They’re Saying
As for the other teams in the draft, here’s what the experts are saying:
CBS Sports Draft Grades
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.
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.
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!
Before we kick off the blog, I would like to clear up an editorial gaffe that I made last week. For those of you keeping up with current events, former Syracuse Mens Basketball assistant coach Bernie Fine is being investigated for sexual abuse of several former Syracuse ball boys. I accidently referred to Bernie Fine as “Larry Fine” in one of my paragraphs, Larry Fine of course is one third of the famed “Three Stooges”, and I would like to apologize for the editorial mistake. Screwups out of the way, it is now time for the blog!
Here are my Top Three Performances from NFL Week 13:
1. Running back Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens): With the wind and the rain as the main elements affecting the Baltimore Ravens road game against the Cleveland Browns, it was more than likely that the game would be determined by the running game. The Ravens kept to that gameplan and used their running back Ray Rice as much as needed. Averaging nearly 120 rushing yards per game in his career against the Browns, Rice eclipsed that number greatly. Rice ran for 204 yards on 29 carries and scored one touchdown to give the Ravens a 24-10 road victory against the Browns, and kept the Ravens in first place in the AFC North for yet another week.
2. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (Denver Broncos): I understand that Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is the big sensation in the NFL at the moment, but what about his supporting staff? You have a stout defense, solid running game, and clutch receptions to account for the Broncos winning streak as well. No catches were more clutch than those made by Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in the Broncos 35-32 road victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Thomas caught four receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns, making Tim Tebow look good in the process.
3. San Francisco 49ers Defense: Not much needed to be done here. One win at home against the horrible St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers win the NFC West division crown. In this case, the 49ers did what needed to be done to pull off the 26-0 shutout win at home against the Rams. The 49ers defense held the Rams offense to 157 yards, two turnovers, six quarterback hits, four sacks, and nine total tackles for loss of yards.
For you college football fans out there, it looks like we will get a much anticipated SEC rematch in this years Allstate BCS National Championship Game. The undefeated SEC Champions and number one ranked LSU Tigers (13-0) will be taking on the number two ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1) in a heated National title match that could end in a last second play, much like the last contest. In other BCS Bowl games: The Clemson Tigers face the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Discover Orange Bowl. The Virginia Tech Hokies take on the Michigan Wolverines in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Oklahoma State Cowboys face the Stanford Cardinal in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. And the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Oregon Ducks in the Vizio Rose Bowl.
The 77th Annual Heisman Trophy Presentation will take place this Saturday night in New York, and the odds on favorite could be the Stanford quarterback, and the possible number one pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Andrew Luck. Don’t count out Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III…or Alabama running back Trent Richardson…or Wisconsin running back Montee Ball…or LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. Griffin III has been a threat in both the passing game and the running game for Baylor, Ball is on pace to break Barry Sanders NCAA touchdowns record, and Mathieu’s defensive and kick return abilities have led the LSU Tigers to the National title game. However, look for Luck to win the award with Richardson coming in at a close second but then again, anything is possible with the Heisman voting.
On July 22, 2012 in Cooperstown, New York, Chicago Cubs great Ron Santo will be inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame after being on the ballot for 32 years. Santo will be the 47th Chicago Cub to be inducted into Cooperstown and honestly, it couldn’t have happened to both a better player and a better human being. Santo was one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball right next to Baltimore Orioles great Brooks Robinson, winning five gold gloves along with nine All Star appearances, 342 career homeruns, and 1,331 RBI’s in 2,243 games. Before his death to pneumonia and complications to bladder cancer at the age of 70, Santo spent 21 years as a Cubs broadcaster, played most of his major league career with diabetes, and basically never gave up no matter how bad things got for himself or his beloved Chicago Cubs.
New Orleans Hornets player Chris Paul may have a new home before the NBA regular season tips off on Christmas Day. New York Knicks players Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have been courting Paul to come to the “Big Apple” but there is so much more interest in Paul than just New York. The Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Atlanta Hawks are among the teams interested in Paul, even the Boston Celtics will trade their star player Rajon Rondo to acquire Paul. Look for Paul to hit the big city lights of New York and become one third of the Knicks triple threat.
Thank you for reading my blog this week! Hopefully there will be no more editing gaffes and we can continue to give you sports the right way! Feel free to check me out on Facebook or e-mail me at email@example.com for any information regarding my blog and future projects. Enjoy your Monday night, I am out.
Can you believe it’s Thanksgiving?
Maybe it’s the unseasonably warm weather, or the absence of NBA games that were supposed to have already started, or that I haven’t heard a whole lot about this year’s Black Friday mega-deals, but it sure seems like Turkey Day snuck up on me this year.
Of course, you are probably almost as excited about watching an entire day of football as you are enjoying the best (and likely biggest) meal of the whole year and the company of loved ones.
Like cooking out and baseball on July 4th, and college football (and hopefully not too much of a hangover) on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and NFL football combine to make one of the greatest days of the year for sports fans.
This might be the best Thanksgiving football schedule that I can remember.
Packers @ Lions 12:30p.m. TV: Fox
NFL football on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit is a tradition that goes all the way back to the 1930s, but over the last decade the Lions have been out of the postseason race by Turkey Day.
This year is a little different.
The much-improved Detroit Lions will take on the red-hot Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the first of three exciting games scheduled on Thanksgiving Day.
Adding to the excitement of this game, the Packers come to Detroit as NFL’s only undefeated team left in the 2011 season, and they are the first unbeaten team to play on Thanksgiving in 50 years.
But this game will be no cake walk for the Pack.
This game is one of the most anticipated games in Detroit Lions football history in almost a decade, and the Lions come into this big Week 12 game with confidence.
Last year the Lions beat the Packers at Ford Field, after knocking QB Aaron Rodgers out of the game early. You can bet Lions DT Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit defense will be up for the challenge.
The pick: Lions in a shootout 37-34
Dolphins @ Cowboys 4:15p.m. TV: CBS
Just a few weeks ago, this game might have seemed like a dud, but the Dolphins have surged to 3 straight victories, including this past week’s 35-8 drubbing of the Buffalo Bills.
Once considered the frontrunners in the “Suck for Luck” sweepstakes, the Dolphins are showing signs of life and competing every week behind quarterback Matt Moore and Reggie Bush, who is starting to resemble the Reggie Bush of years past.
Dallas comes in at 6-4 and tied for the NFC East lead. Say what you will about the Cowboys’ postseason failures and Tony Romo’s lack of clutch play, the fact is that Romo and his team are dominant in November. In November, as a starter, Romo is 18-2 with 49 touchdown passes against only 12 interceptions in his career.
The Dolphins are going to come back to earth sometime, and I expect that to be now. On a short week, traveling to Dallas, Miami will struggle in all phases, and I see Dallas rolling over them and staying atop the NFC East.
The pick: Cowboys 27-16
49ers @ Ravens 8:20p.m. TV:NFL Network
Yours truly will have a first-hand front row seat for this one. The Brothers Harbaugh square off against one another for the first time as NFL head coaches, with Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers, a surprising 9-1 and the runaway leader of the NFC West traveling to face John Harbaugh’s Ravens, who are tied for the AFC North lead after beating the Cincinnati Bengals last week.
These teams are built similarly, with punishing defenses (the 49ers are 1st against the run, the Ravens are 3rd) and elite, multi-purpose running backs (Frank Gore and Ray Rice). The winner of this game will likely be the team who is able to have more success running against the other’s front 7.
Of concern for the Ravens is getting Rice consistent touches. This season, Rice has averaged just over 14 carries per game, which for a star back is not nearly enough. He is a valuable part of the receiving game too, with 51 receptions, but the Ravens need to find a way to establish Rice early and often.
The Ravens’ game plan lately has been a pass-heavy attack, but Joe Flacco is not Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees; he is not the type of quarterback who can give his team the best chance to win by consistently throwing over 35 times per game.
I think the 49ers will be able to run on Baltimore, especially if Ray Lewis were to miss the game (he is questionable currently with a toe injury that forced him to miss the Cincinnati game). As long as Alex Smith is able to play conservative, mistake-free football like he has done in the first 10 games this year, I think the 49ers win.
However, I’m having a hard time convincing myself that Alex Smith will be able to play conservative, mistake-free football for four quarters against the Ravens defense. Ray Lewis’ playing status changes things, but it doesn’t change the fact that Alex Smith must avoid the big mistake. I think the 49ers will give the Ravens all they can handle but in the end, it’s the Raven defense that makes the big play to gain victory.
The pick: 17-13 Ravens