In a little over two weeks, the National Football League will be crowning the Super Bowl Champion for the 2011/12 Season. The season has been great, and the playoffs, so far, have been completely awesome.
Every weekend of the playoffs, we have seen upsets, and the favorites win as well. Even, my original Super Bowl pairing as I mentioned in my last playoff blog, the New Orleans Saints (NFC) vs the New England Patriots (AFC) got blown up (or as Emmitt Smith would say , “blowed up”). The old adage is true: In the playoffs, anything can happen once teams get into the tournament. As Patriots coach Bill Belichick says, “It’s a one game season.” So true.
Let me get started with an analysis of last weekend’s Divisional Games:
New Orleans Saints vs San Fransisco 49ers: Well, by many of the “experts,” the Saints were expected to get the “can’t win a playoff game on the road” monkey off their backs and march into San Fransisco and beat the 49ers. Even though the 49ers had the superior defense, everyone’s favorite good guy, Drew Brees was going to come into Candlestick Park and go to town. Well, it did not happen quite that way. Look, as much as I like Drew Brees, and such, even he and the rest of the Saints need to learn that you can NOT turn the ball over 5 times and expect to win.
Denver Broncos vs The New England Patriots: Well, the Denver Broncos came into Foxborough , and some experts thought they may be able to give the New England Patriots’ 31st ranked defense fits. After all, the Broncos just defeated the team with the #1 ranked defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Well, let’s be honest here. While the Broncos did beat the Steelers, the Steelers came in banged up: Big Ben badly hurt.
Regular Center Marquise Pouncey was out and other injuries. Sure, teams are injured this time of year, but no one can say that was not a factor. Brett Keisel , and Max Starks got injured during game. Steelers also became arrogant in that they did not respect the Broncos…particularly their QB. The Steelers put 8 men in a box, and left their corner on an island with no safety help. Now how arrogant can you be? Steelers tend to play down to their opponent. Anyway, Denver winds up in Foxborough to face the Patriots. According to some, it should be a piece of cake, since the Denver QB is such a good guy and all.
Well, the Broncos got trampled. They faced a buzz saw named Tom Brady who showed everyone how the QB position is played. Brady threw a total of 6 touchdowns. I mean, what else is there to say? The much maligned defense stopped Denver’s vaunted running game, and their vaunted QB who has been on TV so much that one forgot that the Patriots were in the game. Well, Tom Brady and the gang not only reminded everyone they were present and accounted for, but they just laid waste on those Broncos.
The Houston Texans vs The Baltimore Ravens: The Texans should be congratulated on making it as far as they did considering the injuries they have suffered. As I watched the game, I wonder what would the outcome of this game have been had QB Matt Schaub not suffered (another injury yet again) that season ending injury late in the season. It was bad enough that had Jacoby Jones just had a better day returning punts it is highly possible the Texans are the ones facing Tom Brady and the Patriots this Sunday. Yes, even with T.J Yates.
The game was a defensive struggle between the Texans and the Ravens. Honestly, of the four games, it was the most boring. Sorry, but lack of offense from both teams really killed the game. The defense of the Texans was relentless when they got after Joe Flacco. Flacco got sacked four times, I believe. The only reason Flacco was able to throw TDs is because of the field position given to the Ravens thanks to Special Teams mistakes by the Texans.
I mean, before the game Flacco was crying about how no one respects him, and blah,blah, blah. Well, this game did not help his cause. Ravens, and Rutgers alumnus Ray Rice was the workhorse, as well as their defense. I could not help but notice that Mr. “Ball So Hard” Terrell Suggs wasn’t heard from much. Anyway, Ravens won in a defensive snoozefest.
New York Giants vs Green Bay Packers (Defending Super Bowl Champion): All I have to say is WOW. All season long, ESPN and NFL Network experts saying different versions of the following: “No team in the NFL can beat the Packers this year.” “The Packers are way ahead of any team in either conference.” “Only the Packers can win the Super Bowl.” All season long this stuff was spewed. The experts were talking as if no team could beat them, until one did, the Kansas City Chiefs. The last game of the season, after everything was wrapped up, the team rested QB Aaron Rodgers, and the backup , Matt Flynn put on a show, and beat the Lions, and the Packers finished 15-1.
I will say this: The Packers deserved a lot of praise. They had a fantastic year finishing 15-1, and Aaron Rodgers will likely get the MVP award, and deservedly so. I just disputed the notion that only the Packers could win the Super Bowl, and also the notion that after the Wild Card round, that the Packers were being “forgotten” and “disrespected,” when all season long, until the craze over the Denver QB got started, all we heard was how great the Packers and Rodgers were. They were hardly “forgotten.”
Anyway, going with the false notion that the Packers were “forgotten,” many experts did not think the Giants had a shot, because the game was being played at the legendary Lambeau Field, and it was going to be cold. The Giants were not given a chance to stop Aaron Rodgers and his excellent receiver core by the experts. After all, Aaron Rodgers was going to show the NFL world why he is the best in the NFL, and the Giants would not be able to recreate the 2007 run they had.
I guess Giants’ DE Jason Pierre Paul’s inner Joe Namath must have brought good karma because JPP guaranteed a victory, and the Giants did come away with a victory over not only the Packers, but the referees. I have never seen a game so poorly officiated in my life, well, maybe since Super Bowl 40, but let’s not go there. How ironic is that the same crew from that infamous Super Bowl (save for a line judge) refereed this game. Bill Leavey and the gang really helped the Packers get two touch downs they should not have gotten. I mean, really. Again, one more time with feeling: Greg Jennings fumbled the ball!!! Osi Umeniyoira did NOT commit roughing the passer on Aaron Rodgers!!
Alright, now to the game: The Giants Defense took about a half to really get rolling, but they were getting to Rodgers. It didn’t help matters that Rodgers was not getting help from his vaunted receiving core. I mean, I never seen so many dropped passes in my life. I was wondering at times how these guys made it to the pros. Rodgers himself looked a bit out of sorts at times, as did the entire team. I don’t know if it was the rust or what. Rodgers, let’s be honest, had not played since Christmas. However, I figured once he got in rhythm, which I thought would take maybe a quarter, he would be better, but he really never got going. I barely recognized the Packers. The Packers 32nd ranked defense did not help much either. I found it interesting that this defense has been horrid all year, but the media, especially ESPN, gave the Packers a pass.
People questioning as to whether Eli Manning is “elite” should just stop. The guy is elite. It was a great job by Eli and the offense last week. That Hail Mary near the end of the first half was fantastic. Running game was great. The Giants overall came to play in Green Bay. The defense was all over that Green Bay offense. The whole team was really on their game. It was a very impressive win by the Giants.
Well, without further ado, here are my picks for Championship Sunday on January 22, 2012
AFC Championship Game : Baltimore (2) at New England (1) CBS 3:30pm
Team Strength: Running Game, Defense, Special Teams: Ravens’ biggest weapon as far as offense is their running game. Ray Rice is their “horse” so to speak. They got to ride him, and get him his touches. Rice must get at least 100 yards and at least one TD for the Ravens to have a shot. Their Special Teams is solid, and can get their offense in very good field position, and will take advantage of any muffed punts. The defense despite ESPN’s romanticizing, is NOT the vaunted 2000 Ravens defense, but it is still pretty good. Ray Lewis is not a spring chicken, but still plays pretty well. Ed Reed, though hobbled is a man Tom Brady will have to look out for, as well as Terrell Suggs. Ngata is another tough customer. The Ravens defense is the defense that has given Brady the most problems. They have to hit Brady, and get him off his “spot” and try to interrupt his receivers’ timing to try to slow down the Patriots’ potent offense.
Team Weakness: Coaching, QB, offensive line, offensive weapons (other than running back). I am going to start with the offensive weapons. The Ravens have some nice pieces like Anquan Boldin, and Lee Evans. However, can they even get open? I have not heard much from Evans lately till the Texans game. The offensive line of the Ravens can be good at times depending on the opponent, but Michael “Blindside” Oher has issues with penalties. As far as the Coaching, Harbaugh is a pretty good coach, but at times, he does not seem to have the team prepared. It seems that he outsmarts himself as a coach. In Week One of the season, he had the team ready to whoop on their main rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Well, the next game which was the Titans, the Ravens just fell flat on their faces. The Ravens also are iffy on the road also. He should have the team better prepared, and also, some of Cam Cameron’s play calling is a bit suspect.
Now to the QB Joe Flacco. In all honesty, if Ray Rice is somehow contained, and the Ravens are depending on him to win them the game, Flacco is the wild card. Before the Texans game, he said that if the team won, he knew that people would say it would not be because of him. In other words, he was upset because he felt disrespected. Well, ever since Flacco was drafted by the Ravens in 2008, the Ravens have made the playoffs. They made it to the AFC Championship game his rookie season where he lost to the eventual Champion, Steelers. Flacco is not a bad QB. It is just that he is on a team where they play football the old fashioned way: Run the ball and play defense. I would not call him “elite,” but he isn’t terrible. He is a pretty decent QB. Could he be trusted to win this game? I am not so sure. Even his own teammate, Ed Reed called him out after the Texans win. Of course, Reed is backpedaling, and everyone on the Ravens team are holding hands singing “Kumbaya,” but even in the Ravens organization, there are questions about Flacco.
The New England Patriots:
Team Strength: Coaching, QB, offensive line, offensive weapons, Special Teams
This is a team with the best coach in the NFL in Bill Belichick who I am sure has a great game plan. It just comes down to the players’ execution. I have a lot more confidence in confidence in him than in coach Harbaugh. Tom Brady, the best QB in the NFL is going for a fifth trip to the Super Bowl and for his fourth ring if he can lead his team past that tough Ravens defense. The man is an amazing QB. He finds his target , and just lasers the ball down field. The offensive line which has gone through a lot of lineup changes due to injuries is rounding into health. What they need to do is pretty simple: Protect Tom Brady from the Suggs, Ngata, Lewis onslaught, and especially from that Bernard Pollard. The Patriots have the advantage with the TE set of Hernandez and Gronkowski. They have the great Wes Welker and Deion Branch as well. Perhaps Chad Ochocinqo will decide to contribute. Our punter and our kicker do a great job contributing to special teams as well.
Team Weakness: Defense, running game
This is the main weakness. DE Andre Carter’s season ending injury against Denver in Week 10 really hurt the defense. He really could be used for pass rushing situations. However, I think the defense is improving, and they are not giving up a lot of points. The question for the defense is : Can they stop or at least slow down Ray Rice? That is key. Getting a pass rush and stopping Rice are a must for this defense, and that is a concern. Running game could be an issue depending on how much pressure Brady is under, unless Aaron Hernandez is used as a RB again.
My Pick: Well, I think on paper, Baltimore has the better defense, and running game, and such. All season long, they were heralded as the “best team in the AFC” by the experts. I am no expert, but unlike some, *cough Mike DItka cough* I have the guts to pick my horse and rides them. I predict a physical game, and to some people’s surprise, I think the Patriots can keep up with the Ravens. I think the Patriots offensive line will be able to protect Brady, and the Patriots defense will be able to contain Ray Rice. Lots of people like to bring up 2009. People forget that the Pats didn’t have Welker. Brady banged up and recovering from the ACL surgery. Both teams were different. I do expect a close game. Winner: Patriots: 31-28
NFC Championship game: New York (4) at San Fransisco (2) 6:30pm FOX
New York Giants
Team Strength: Coaching, QB, Offensive Line, Offensive Weapons, Defense
Well, Coach Tom Coughlin, despite yearly reports of his firing, is back, and he gets his teams well prepared. Once known for being overly tough, in 2007, he let his guard down a bit, and got to know his players, and coached the Giants to victory in Super Bowl 42. Well, it looks like, despite some media reporting he may be fired, he has gotten this team in shape, and the Giants are one win away from the Super Bowl. Coughlin had to deal with a team that was a virtual MASH Unit coming out of pre-season, but is now very healthy. Eli Manning has been incredible this season. He was awesome this post season as well. The Offensive line has been doing a pretty good job this season. What is helping Eli is his core of young, talented receivers such as Hakeem Nicks, and Victor Cruz, along with TE Jason Ballard. The Defense has finally come into form as far as their health with Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora battling injuries. The defense is a force to be reckoned with.
Team Weakness: Play Calling , Running Game, Special Teams
The Play calling by Kevin Gilbride at times can have fans scratching their heads. Sometimes he calls run plays at weird times. The running game has been scarce, and RB Bradshaw who is 265 pounds doesn’t run as hard as he used to, and it is a shame, because a few years ago, it took two or three guys to bring him down. Now, he reminds me of Franco Harris who went out of bounds all the time. Special teams is alright.
San Fransisco 49ers
Team Strengths: Coaching, offensive line, QB, defense, special teams, offensive weapons, running game
I think a lot of people have heard of the “Horse Whisperer.” Well, Jim Harbaugh, rookie head coach of the 49ers should be called the QB Whisperer. I mean, seriously. He turned this team around from last year’s dismal season, and turned Alex Smith into a pretty good QB. Now, I am not saying Smith is an elite QB, but he has become a very good QB. The team’s O line does a great job protecting Smith. Their special teams is good with David Akers having a career renaissance. Their offensive weapons WR Michael Crabtree (who has to watch the dropsies), and TE Vernon Davis are pretty good as well as their star running back, Frank Gore. That opportunistic defense is fantastic. Pass rush defense is awesome.
Team Weakness: Red Zone offense (in general)
At times, the 49ers have issues with their red zone offense and have been kept to field goals, but otherwise, this is about the only weakness.
My Pick: These two teams have a well known rivalry with the 49ers leading 4-3 in the playoffs. The weird thing about it, is that the winner of this game between them went on to win the Super Bowl. There were two notorious playoff games involving these two teams. One of the games was the 1990/1991 NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park where 49er QB Joe Montana, battling the flu, was being battered something awful by the Giants defense. The game ends with the Giants’ kicker, Matt Barr kicking the winning field goal, and sending the Giants to the Super Bowl where they won SB 25 against the Buffalo Bills in the infamous “Wide Right” Game. The other was in the 2002/03 Wild Card game at Candlestick where the Giants defense gave up a 24 point lead, and the game ended in a controversial manner when the Giants were going for a winning FG, and due to a bad snap by the long-snapper, the kicker tried for a TD pass, and it failed. The controversy came when once again, the refs screwed up the call. So there is a history between the two teams which makes this game interesting.
So, your Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis will be a rematch of Super Bowl XLII
Patriots (AFC) vs NY Giants (NFC)
Terri Bey currently blogs for CamelClutchBlog.com about Wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture related subjects. Her work has appeared in BleacherReport and for F4WOnline.com. Terri can be found here at Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/TerriBey and at Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/missedgehead