Saturday NFL Playoff Picks

I had a good start with my playoff predictions last week going 4-0.  I’ll try to replicate my success this weekend with some good games on the slate.  Here are my picks for Saturday’s match-up

Broncos QB Peyton Manning

Broncos QB Peyton Manning

Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (4:30 PM, CBS) – A lot of people are liking the Ravens for this game.  It is a continuation of Ray Lewis’ retirement tour and Peyton Manning is 0-3 in playoff games under 30 degrees.  It is supposed to be only about 18 degrees at kick-off.  The Ravens could be primed to go into Denver and upset the Broncos.  I’m not sure I agree with that sentiment though.  For starters those 3 games that Manning lost in the cold were all road games, this one is at home.  The Broncos have a much better defense than the Colts teams as well.  Basically it comes down to this – who do you trust more – Peyton Manning against the Ravens defense or Joe Flacco against the Broncos defense?  I take Manning every time.  Ray Rice will try to keep the Ravens in it but I think at the end of the day Manning gets it done.  Flacco will be a liability for the Ravens and will throw 2 INTs that Manning will take advantage of for TDs.  I say the Broncos take this one by 10.

Final Score Prediction:  Denver Broncos 31, Baltimore Ravens 21

Packers CB Charles Woodson

Packers CB Charles Woodson

Green Bay Packers at San Fransisco 49ers (8:30 PM, FOX) – The Niners have a very underrated defense.  They will test Aaron Rodgers and try to take away the running game and put it on Rodgers to beat them.  The problem is that Rodgers will feel comfortable in his home state of California where the conditions should be conducive to an attacking passing game.  Colin Kaepernick is a wild card in this situation.  This is his first playoff game and the pressure will be on him to keep up with the Packers’ high-powered offense.  The Niners did win a game with Alex Smith at QB last season against the Saints in the playoffs but Smith was a 7-year vet.  Kaepernick is only in his 2nd NFL season.  Most of the guys on the Green Bay roster won a Super Bowl 2 years ago and I think that experience carries them over to another NFL Championship game appearance.  It’ll be close but Green Bay’s offense will be a bit too much for the Niners to keep up with.

Final Score Prediction:  Green Bay Packers 24, San Fransisco 49ers 17

I’ll be back Sunday AM with my Sunday picks.

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NFL Wild Card Weekend Playoff Predictions

It’s that time of year again…NFL Wild Card weekend.  Always an exciting weekend and I like the way the NFL has spread out the schedule in the past couple seasons with a different schedule on Saturday and Sunday.  There should be some good games this weekend, there always are.  20 years ago we had the greatest comeback in NFL history ever.  I doubt any of this weekend’s games will live up to that game since it was basically the greatest game ever but maybe we’ll get a little excitement.  Here are my picks:

Texans DE J.J. Watt

Texans DE J.J. Watt

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (Saturday 1/5 4:30 PM, NBC) – This is a re-match of last year’s AFC Saturday wild-card match-up.  It was the Texans first playoff game ever and they started back-up QB T.J. Yates with starter Matt Schaub injured.  The Texans got by the Bengals this year and I expect that they will again this season.  Sure, the Texans have been scuffling but they’ll be at home for this game and that should help them and their defense.  Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have matured in their 2nd seasons in the NFL and former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis has given them an added dimension in the running game.  The Texans play tough defense at home, led by Defensive Player of the year candidate J.J. Watt and they should keep the Bengals offense at bay.  Defensively the Bengals are very underrated with a star of their own at defensive end in Geno Atkins.  Schaub is a good QB and Arian Foster is one of the toughest runners in the league.  I don’t think the Texans will put up too many points but they’ll do just enough to advance to New England.  I expect to see a low-scoring game with the Texans utilizing their home-field advantage to pull this one out.

Final Score: Houston Texans 20, Cincinnati Bengals 13

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (Saturday 1/5 8:00 PM, NBC) – Adrian Peterson had a huge season against the Packers, netting nearly 400 yards in the team’s two match-ups.  This one is going to be at Lambeau Field at 8:00 in January.  That may present a problem for the Vikings offense.  Christian Ponder is an average QB and may struggle in the cold.  The Vikes will have to depend heavily on Peterson and hope to limit what they ask Ponder to do.  Defensively the Packers will be getting future Hall of Fame CB Charles Woodson back and he should boost the Packers pass defense.  The Pack’s front 7 will have to keep Peterson at bay.  If they do it could potentially be a long day for the Vikings.  On the other side Aaron Rodgers is used to playing in the Lambeau elements.  The Vikings have a veteran defense but are used to playing in the friendly indoor confines in Minnesota.  Green Bay’s offense is relatively healthy so they should be clicking on all cylinders for this one.  I like Green Bay to advance to San Fransisco with a win over the Vikings.

Final Score: Green Bay Packers 31, Minnesota Vikings 17

Ravens legendary LB Ray Lewis

Ravens legendary LB Ray Lewis

Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens (Sunday 1/6 1:00 PM, CBS) – Chuck Pagano was a great story this year and it will continue beyond it as him and Andrew Luck build a winner.  Unfortunately for him they are facing a buzzsaw called Ray Lewis in his last home game after 17 years as a Baltimore Raven.  The Ravens, particularly their defense, should be fired up for this one.  Andrew Luck had a good year but was inconsistent at times.  Fellow rookie Vick Ballard ran the ball well however he’ll be facing a stout Ravens defense.  Offense might be tough for the Colts to come by in Baltimore.  On the other side Joe Flacco is a better home player than on the road and the Colts defense may struggle to contain Ravens RB Ray Rice.  Indy is a young team and have played fearless all season long however Hurricane Lewis (pun intended) and company will be too fired up for the Colts to overcome.  They’ll be back but not this time.

Final Score: Baltimore Ravens 27, Indianapolis Colts 10

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson

Seattle Seahawks vrs. Washington Redskins (Sunday 1/6 4:30 PM, FOX) – It’s a battle of rookie QB’s on Sunday in Washington.  It’s an interesting match-up of QB/RB combinations.  RG III and Alfred Morris have been terrorizing opponent’s defenses all season long.  The Seahawks will likely not back down too easily however as they had the #3 ranked defense in the NFL this season.  On the other side Seahawks’ overachiever Russell Wilson pairs with Marshawn Lynch to make a formidable 1-2 punch in the Seahawks offense.  The Redskins are no slouch on defense either and have stars at all levels.  The Seahawks play a lot better at home then they do on the road so they may be at a disadvantage in that regard.  It should be an exciting game and although both teams boast good defenses I expect both rookie QBs to flex their play-making muscles.  I’ve picked all home winners so far and the Seahawks only won 3 road games all year but I’m a believer in Russel Wilson and I think he does just a little bit more than RG III to make it to the 2nd round.

Final Score: Seattle Seahawks 30, Washington Redskins 27

We’ll see how good I do this weekend and I’ll be back next weekend to defend my picks.  Enjoy the games.

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Best Super Bowls of all-time – #5 – Super Bowl XXXII – Green Bay Packers vrs. Denver Broncos

John Elway had been one of the best quarterbacks in the league in his 15 years as a member of the Denver Broncos.  He was the first overall pick in the 1983 NFL draft and had already started 3 Super Bowls but he had yet to win one.  On the flip side it had only taken Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre 6 years before he won his 1st Super Bowl championship in 1996 and he was looking for a repeat.  He’d have to get through Elway and the Broncos first.

Super Bowl XXXII – Green Bay Packers vrs. Denver Broncos – January 25, 1998, broadcast by NBC, announced by Dick Enberg, Phil Simms, and Paul MacGuire

Terrell Davis paced the Broncos with 157 yards and 3 TDs

Favre started off hot on the Packers’ opening drive of the game.  After moving the ball down the field through the air running back Dorsey Levens took three straight hand offs for a combined 27 yards to set the Packers up at the Denver 35 yard line.  Two plays later Favre connected with receiver Antonio Freeman on a 22 yard touchdown completion to give the Packers the early 7-0 lead.  The Broncos were set up with good field position at the start of the ensuing drive when kick returner Vaughn Hebron returned the ball to their own 42 yard line.  After a long 27 yard run by running back Terrell Davis set the Broncos up deep in Green Bay territory Elway helped his own cause by scrambling for a 10 yard gain to set up 1st-and-goal at the 2.  Two plays later Davis took it in from a yard out to tie the game a 7-7.  Favre and the Packers could not respond to that score as Favre was picked off by Denver cornerback Tyrone Braxton on only the 2nd play of the next drive.  Starting the possession at the Packers’ 45 yard line the Broncos marched right down the field, paced by their ground game.  Elway took it in himself from a yard out to give the Broncos a 14-7 1st quarter lead.

Once again the Broncos defense harassed Favre on the next Packers drive.  Safety Steve Atwater sacked Favre and forced a fumble deep in Green Bay territory.  Defensive end Neil Smith recovered the fumble at the Green Bay 33.  The Broncos couldn’t manage a first down but Jason Elam hit the 2nd longest field goal in Super Bowl history from 51 yards out to give the Broncos a 17-7 lead.  After the teams exchanged punts the Packers were backed up at their own 5 yard line with a little over 7 1/2 minutes remaining in the half.  Brett Favre took all of the field and all of the clock and marched the Packers on a 17 play drive that ended when he found tight end Mark Chmura from 6 yards out with just :12 left to go in the quarter to get the Packers to within 3 at 17-14 at the half.

Elway made his famous "Helicopter dive" on 3rd and 7

The Broncos took the ball to start the 2nd half but on the very first play Davis was stripped of the ball by Green Bay defensive back Tyrone Williams who recovered the ball himself at the Denver 26 yard line.  The Broncos originally held the Packers to a field goal try but they jumped off sides on the attempt giving the Packers a fresh set of downs.  The Packers still couldn’t convert a first down and despite the second chance their drive ended at the Broncos’ 9 yard line.  Kicker Ryan Longwell converted the 27 yard field goal attempt to tie the game at 17-17.  Both defenses held up over the next few possessions and the teams exchanged punts.  After the Packers pinned the Broncos back at their own 8 yard line Elway went to work with a drive reminiscent of “The Drive”.  He took the Broncos on a 13 play drive, the biggest play was a 36 yard completion to receiver Ed McCaffrey.  The most memorable play of the drive however came on 3rd down and 7 from the Packers 12 yard line.  Elway dropped back to pass but had to scramble out of the pocket to elude the pressure.  He ran for the first down marker and as he dove for the first down he was hit by two Packers defenders on either side of him, sending him in a helicopter-like motion.  He came down with the ball past the marker for a first down conversion.  Two plays later Davis scored again from a yard out and gave the Broncos a 24-17 lead as the 4th quarter neared.  Elway had a little more than a quarter to play but he could taste his first Super Bowl victory.

Elway and the Broncos celebrated that elusive Super Bowl title

After Antonio Freeman fumbled the ensuing kickoff Elway and the Broncos looked as if they might have been ready to put the Packers away for good.  They went for the end zone on the very first play but Elway’s pass to receiver Rod Smith was picked off by safety Eugene Robinson and returned to the Packers’ 15 yard line.  Instead of having a two touchdown lead Elway turned the ball over to Favre, who now only needed a touchdown to tie the game.  Favre rekindled some of his magic from the previous Super Bowl and took the Packers right down the field on 4 straight completions, 3 to Freeman.  The final play was a 13 yard score on a pass from Favre to Freeman to tie the game up at 24-24 with a little over a minute gone by in the 4th quarter.  Both teams punted on their next two possessions and the Broncos got the ball on a short punt at the Packers’ 49 yard line with 3:27 to go in the game.  Davis ran for 2 yards on the first play but was grabbed in the face mask and the ball was advanced to the Green Bay 32 yard line.  Two plays later Elway connected with fullback Howard Griffith for 23 yards to set up 1st and goal at the Green Bay 8 yard line with 2:00 remaining.  After a holding penalty brought the Broncos back 10 yards Terrell Davis rushed for 17 yards down to the Green Bay 1 yard line.  Denver took a time out with 1:47 left.  Packers’ coach Mike Holmgren instructed his team to let the Broncos score to preserve as much time on the clock for Favre to drive down the field.  Davis scored his 3rd TD of the game on the next play giving the Broncos the 31-24 lead with 1:45 left to go.  Elway and the Broncos were a minute and forty-five seconds away from that elusive Super Bowl glory but Favre and the Packers had one more chance.  Favre hit Dorsey Levens on the first two plays of the drive for gains of 22 and 13 yards to set the Packers up at the Broncos 35 yard line with 1:04 remaining.  Favre gained 4 yards on the next pass completion to Levens but the next one went in and out of the hands of Freeman.  Favre missed on the next one and that set up 4th and 6 from the Broncos 31 yard line.  Favre’s pass intended for Mark Chmura was broken up by linebacker John Mobley and the Broncos finally got their 1st Super Bowl victory in 4 chances.

Final Score: Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24

Super Bowl victories are team victories and this one was no exception but there is no doubt that the Broncos team as a whole had a little extra motivation in helping Elway win his 1st ring.  Elway had already put together a Hall of Fame resume in his 15 years in the NFL but had been 0-3 and his prior Super Bowl appearances, all bad losses.  Elway had one of the more gutsy performances that you will see from a veteran quarterback in this game and even if you weren’t a fan of the Denver Broncos it was cool to see Elway finally celebrate with the Lombardi Trophy.

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The 10 best games of 2011 (as viewed by me) – #10 – NFL Week 1: New Orleans Saints vrs. Green Bay Packers, September 8, 2011

There are 10 weekdays left in 2011 and to ring in the new year I’ll look back at the best games that I saw in sports all year long.  We’ll start with #10, the NFL opening night match-up between the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers.  The Packers raised the banner on their 2010 Super Bowl championship that night and played host to the previous NFL champions, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.  What ensued was an awesome aerial display by two of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.

Aaron Rodgers was nearly flawless for the Pack in the 1st half

Rodgers started off the 2011 by going 5 for 5 on the Packers’ opening drive, culminated by a 7 yard TD pass to Greg Jennings.  After a Marques Colston fumble Rodgers quickly got the Packers back in the end zone with a 3 yard TD pass to Jordy Nelson.  Brees got his team right back in the game by throwing a 36 yard pass to Darren Sproles followed by a 31 yard TD strike to Robert Meachem three plays later.  Rodgers went back to work and engineered another quick TD drive by the end of the quarter with a 32 yard TD throw to his newest toy, rookie wide receiver Randall Cobb.  At the end of one quarter it was 21-7 Packers.  Aaron Rodgers was 14 of 15 for 188 yards and 3 TDs.  In the first quarter.  Brees was 4 out of 6 with 87 yards and a TD but he had the ball to start the 2nd quarter.

Brees started the quarter by executing a pretty 13 play drive in which he went 7 for 9 with 47 yards but he could not get into the end zone so the Saints settled for a 30-yard John Kasay field goal to make the score 21-10.  Rodgers got the ball back but for the first time in the game the defense held the other team to a punt.  He wouldn’t have to wait long to get the ball back however as Darren Sproles took the ensuing punt back 72 yards for a touchdown, making the score 21-17.  Rodgers and the Packers got the ball back with 8:37 and decided to respond to Brees and the Saints’ lengthy drive to start the quarter with a methodical drive of their own.  They ran a 14 play drive in which Rodgers was 4 out of 6 for 39 yards.  Running back James Starks took the ball from 17 yards out to make the game 28-17 Packers at the two-minute warning.  The Saints two-minute drive ended after a holding penalty on guard Jahri Evans forced a punt.  At the half it was 28-17 Packers.  Aaron Rodgers was 18 for 23 for 227 yards and 3 TDs.  Drew Brees was trying to keep pace, going 15 for 22 and 161 yards and a TD.  And there was still a whole half to play.

Rookie Randall Cobb electrified the Lambeau crowd with a 108 yard kickoff return

Brees and the Saints started out the 2nd half with another one of those methodical drives, running 14 offensive plays and again they settled for only a field goal.  Brees was 4 out of 6 for 39 yards on the drive but took as sack on third down that set up the 38 yard field goal by John Kasay to make the score 28-20.  Like Rodgers earlier, Brees didn’t realize he would be back at it so soon.  Packers rookie Randall Cobb took the ensuing kickoff 8 yards deep in the end zone and ran it all the way back for a 108 yard touchdown.  The Packers led 35-20.  Not to be outdone, the Saints’ Darren Sproles took the next kickoff 57 yards to set Brees up at the Green Bay 46.  Three plays later Brees connected with Devery Henderson on a 29 yard touchdown to make the score 35-27.  Green Bay went three and out for the 2nd time in the game and Sproles was at it again, taking the punt 20 yards to the Green Bay 49.  Brees took to another short field but this time he could not get in the end zone.  He could not shake the Green Bay pass rush on a 4th and 1 play on the Green Bay 7 and the ball went back to the Packers on downs.  Rodgers and the Pack took over at their own 7 and started down the field.  6 plays later they were at the New Orleans 40 and the 3rd quarter was over.  Through three quarters Rodgers was 22 for 29 for 279 yards and 3 TDs and Brees was 22 for 31 with 261 yards and 2 TDs.  The Packers lead 35-27 with 15 minutes to go.

Rodgers and Brees met after the game

Rodgers continued the drive into the fourth quarter with 6 more plays to match the 6 from the previous quarter, the last being a 1 yard TD dive by FB John Kuhn, making the score 42-27 with 11:50 to go.  New Orleans could only manage a three and out on the next possession, giving the ball back to the Packers with 10:27 left.  The Packers managed 7 plays and one first down before they had to give the ball back to Brees and the Saints with 5:35 left.  Brees returned to form, engineering a 12 play drive in which he went 5 for 10 for 73 yards, the last 5 coming on a TD throw to breakout star tight end Jimmy Graham.  The score was 42-34 Green Bay, the Saints needed a TD and a two point conversion to tie.  Their defense did their job, holding the Packers to a three and out.  The Saints took over at their own 20 with 1:08 left needing to get into the end zone to keep the game going.  It was a almost an impossible feat, going so far in so little time.  Brees was methodical, hitting 5 passes in a row for 71 yards, taking the ball to the Green Bay 9 with 3 seconds left in the game.  Brees had one more shot.  He took the snap and scrambled around before tossing the ball to Darren Sproles in the middle of the end zone.  Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk jumped on Sproles’ back before the ball even got there, committing a pass interference penalty and giving the Saints one more shot with no time on the clock from the 1 yard line.  All they needed was 1 yard.  Instead of putting the game on the shoulders of former league Offensive Player of the Year Brees the Saints called a run up the middle with rookie Mark Ingram.  He was stuffed and the Packers took the opening game of the 2011 season 42-34.  Rodgers finished 27 of 35 for 312 yards and 3 TDs while Brees went 32 of 49 for 419 yards and 3 TDs.  Neither guy threw an interception.

14 weeks later the Packers are 13-1 and the Saints are 11-3, the top two teams in the NFC.  There is a likelihood that there could be a rematch between the two teams in the NFC Championship game.  That game, however, will be played in 2012.  This was the best regular season game that I saw in the NFL this season and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again next year.

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