Sunday NFL Playoff Picks

So I didn’t do so well yesterday going 0-2.  I guess it serves me right for going against both Harbaugh brothers.  I’m still 4-2 on the post-season so hopefully I can get back on the winning track today.  Here are the picks:

Falcons QB Matt Ryan

Falcons QB Matt Ryan

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons (1:00 PM, FOX) – I love Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson.  Pete Carroll not so much though.  The Seahawks have been an incredible story, coming out of nowhere to win 11 games and then winning on the road against RG III and the Redskins last week.  The Seahawks have a great defense but they will be tested today in the dome against Atlanta’s high-powered offense.  The match-up between Seattle CB’s Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman facing off against Atlanta WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White will be a fun one to watch.  I’m not too sure who will get the upper hand in that one.  The Falcons are OK on defense.  Hopefully they were watching how Green Bay handled the read option last night against San Fransisco and do the opposite of what they did.  Seattle uses the read option to feast on opposing defenses and if they get that going it could be a long day for the Atlanta defense.  A lot of people have pointed out this week that rookie Russell Wilson already has more playoff wins than Matt Ryan.  Despite being the NFC’s #1 seed people aren’t expecting much from the Falcons.  I think Matty Ice finally gets it done today as the travel will become too much for the Seahawks.  If the Seahawks had home-field advantage I would ride them all the way to the Super Bowl but they don’t.  I think Ryan does just enough to get his first playoff win and put Atlanta into the NFC Championship game.

Final Score Prediction: Atlanta Falcons 27, Seattle Seahawks 24

Patriots RB Stevan Ridley

Patriots RB Stevan Ridley

Houston Texans at New England Patriots (4:30, CBS) – I’m thinking that this game will be much closer than the one in Foxboro last month.  Matt Schaub has struggled in the last few weeks but he can wake up today against a below average Pats secondary.  On defense J.J. Watt has to show up more than he did in New England.  The key for Houston is to slow down the Pats offense just enough to keep it close.  Another factor for the Texans will be to limit the mistakes on offense.  On the Pats side obviously they have a lot of playoff experience and the best playoff coach in the game in Bill Belichick.  The Pats will try and do their thing on offense and they should move the ball with everyone healthy.  Stevan Ridley will be key as they will need him to move the ball without fumbling it.  The team who plays mistake-free ball will be the one who advances.  I expect to see a more efficient Matt Schaub this time around against the New England defense but his one mistake will be the difference in the game.  The Pats will take advantage and go into a re-match of last year’s AFC Championship game against the Ravens.

Final Score Prediction – New England Patriots 34, Houston Texans 24

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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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Breaking down the mess that Peyton Manning has left in his wake

So Peyton Manning called John Elway this morning and informed him that he has decided to join the Denver Broncos.  Now the Broncos and Manning’s representation with put the finishing touches on the contract which the parameters seemed to have been established during the recruiting process.  Here’s a breakdown on how it will affect the other teams and players left in the wake:

  • Tim Tebow, current Broncos starting QB – Tebow will now be placed on the trading block.  Tebow was an exciting player last year but he still needs time to develop into the NFL game.  Elway and Fox clearly preferred a more traditional pocket passer and they jumped at the chance to acquire Manning and mitigate whatever backlash from the fan base that would be caused by jettisoning Tebow.  Now Tebow will be shopped around to other teams, some who need a QB and even some who don’t.  The best play for Tebow would be to go somewhere where he could develop but I could imagine one of the teams desperate to sell tickets, and there is two of them down in Florida where Tebow is heralded as football royalty, might make a big push to get him in and sell tickets.
  • San Fransisco 49ers – The 49ers and Alex Smith where playing a cat and mouse game that culminated in the Niners dabbling in the Peyton sweepstakes and Smith flirting with the Dolphins and the Seahawks.  You would assume that the Niners would move quickly to bring Smith back in the fold.
  • Alex Smith, current 49ers starting QB – Smith and the Niners are clearly the best fits for each other but negotiations turned south for whatever reason and led to the situation that I outlined above.  Smith looks to have two choices now – re-sign with the 49ers or essentially punish them by signing with the Dolphins.  Of course you could make the argument that he would be punishing himself if he signed with Miami.  I think cooler heads will prevail and these two sides will get back together and work things out.  You don’t fix what’s not broken and the Niners and Smith were a score away from the Super Bowl last season.
  • Tennessee Titans – They were the other runner-up in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes.  Honestly the collateral damage seems to be limited here.  The Titans made it no secret that it was an ownership call to pursue Manning and it didn’t come from the football people.  Matt Hasselbeck has always been a pro and he knows that he doesn’t have much time left in the game so he should come in and work hard like he always has.  Jake Locker shouldn’t be effected either because he was either going to develop under Hasselbeck or develop under Manning, now it should take less time for him to get in the lineup with Hasselbeck in front of him.
  • Miami Dolphins – The Dolphins are in a slightly worse position than they were yesterday.  Sure they could try and acquire Tebow but there will be 30 other teams that could be in on him.  The Manning signing puts pressure on the Niners to re-sign Smith and let’s face it – if your choices are San Fransisco and Miami who would you choose?  The only hope is that the Smith/Niners relationship is damaged beyond repair but it doesn’t seem that bad at this point.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars are a new entry into the QB carousel.  Like the Titans in the Manning sweepstakes the football guys would just as well go with what they have, 2nd year QB Blaine Gabbert battling it out with newly signed Chad Henne, but their is a new ownership in Jacksonville and the Jags haven’t been able to sell tickets in years.  If it comes down to an ownership call (and as we’ve seen in the past few weeks it could happen) expect Jacksonville to jump into the Tebow derby and try to bring him home.
  • Cleveland Browns – The Browns only shot at acquiring a veteran quarterback was if Peyton chose Tennessee.  Mike Holmgren would have no doubt tried to re-unite with Matt Hasselbeck but since that won’t happen they will probably sit tight.  Unfortunately for them sitting tight probably means reaching for Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill with the #4 pick.  They could jump into the Tebow derby but I doubt they will.
  • Matt Flynn/Seattle Seahawks – Matt Flynn, the other QB on the free agent market, played his situation as best he could.  He identified the two teams, Seattle and Miami, desperate for a QB that Peyton Manning wouldn’t consider.  He visited with both of them and made a call on where he felt most comfortable.  Now both Flynn and the Seahawks can sit back and watch everything else unfold.

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Appreciating how unprecedented the release of Peyton Manning is

Peyton Manning will be released by the Colts today.  It’s weird just to write it.  Imagine if you had just read that the New England Patriots were going to release Tom Brady.  If you had told someone either of those things this time last year people would have called you crazy.  Now one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time is going to hit the free agent market.  Not because his contract is expiring and he will be too rich for his new team to pay him but because the Indianapolis Colts decided to replace him with Stanford QB Andrew Luck and cut him outright.  In an industry that has been as cut-throat as any in its history no bigger athlete has had his contract terminated by a team than Peyton Manning.

Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay will officially break up today after 14 years

Obviously the question is can he still play?  Judging by how quickly 8 or 9 teams have already jumped up to greet him at the door as he enters free agency I’d say that’s a pretty good sign.  Couple that with the positive medical records over the past few weeks as well as the leaked video of him throwing (leaked by his camp no doubt) and it doesn’t look like Manning is ready to walk in the sunset.  He’ll be supremely motivated as well after what’s gone on in the past few weeks, months, year.  Remember, each team will give him a physical by their own team doctors so if an offer is extended you’d have to assume that the doctors liked what they saw.  Sure he could just retire regardless, he holds a ton of league passing records and he’s won a Super Bowl, but would a Hall of Fame quarterback really want to go out like this?  Cut by a franchise that he turned around and made relevant because he was injured and the team fell apart without them which allowed them to position themselves to draft the next, well, Peyton Manning?

Instead Peyton Manning will enter free agency and play out his career for another team.  I estimate that 15 teams – the Giants, the Eagles, the Rams, the Lions, the Packers, the Falcons, the Panthers, the Saints, the Patriots, the Raiders, the Chargers, the Ravens, the Bengals, the Steelers, and the Colts – will not even do due diligence on Manning due to their current QB situation.  That leaves 17 teams that could look into the situation. Out of the 17 a few might to some due diligence but never fully jump into the pool.  I can see the Bears, Bills, and Broncos fitting into that group.  And while there may be no better fit for Manning to go and be a Super Bowl contender right away than the San Fransisco 49ers, word is that they have an offer out to incumbent QB Alex Smith.  With Manning hitting the market I think it might be wise for Smith to sign that contract soon.

Peyton Manning will don a different uniform in 2012

In the end these are the teams that will definitely be in the running – the Redskins, the Dolphins, the Seahawks, the Cardinals, the Chiefs and the Jets.  You can add a few dark horse teams in there.  Le me throw something out there for you – the Dallas Cowboys.  We all know Jerry Jones loves the attention and how much longer is the Tony Romo experiment really going to go on in Dallas?  Most of the talk is centered around Washington and Miami but keep an eye on Kansas City.  They have a new coach, Romeo Crennel, who won three Super Bowls on Bill Belichick’s staff in New England, a Pro Bowl running back in Jamaal Charles, and a tough defense.  It would be tough for Matt Cassel to lose his job because of an injury but it’s tough for him to complain when the same thing just happened to one of the greatest free agent of all-time.

Peyton Manning is going to be a free agent.  You can put his name on the list along with LeBron James, Alex Rodriguez, Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie White, and Pete Rose as the biggest guys ever to go out on a free agent market.  All those guys had expiring contracts.  Peyton is getting cut.  The turk is coming for Peyton Manning.  Guys like Joe Montana and Brett Favre put on another uniform at the end of their careers but they were traded by their old teams, not outright released.  One thing for sure is that we’re a far cry from where we were last off-season in the NFL.  This time last year a lockout was starting.  One year later Peyton Manning is hitting the free agent market.

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