Saturday January 9, 2010
NY Jets v Cincinnati Bengals 4:30pm EST
Weather: Snow Flurries 22F - temps falling into teens during the game
Jets - Mark Sanchez, Thomas Jones, Jerricho Cotchery, Darrelle Revis, D-Line
Bengals - Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles, Cedric Benson, Defensive Front 7
Keys to the Game:
The Jets must keep their ground game rolling and they will, though probably not quite to the extent that they like. Mark Sanchez is going to have to make a few vertical plays work in the passing game. Not too many, but enough to keep the Bengals defense honest. You may see 9 in the box on obvious run down and distance. If that is the case, then Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery will be isloated one on one. This is where Sanchez must come through at least 50% of the time.
The Jets defense must get pressure on the QB. If they limit the vertical game, they can load the box and stuff the run. Frustration is the key here. They must get the Bengals thinking that the only way to win the game is through the air. Revis will be up to the task for certain and If they can get Carson to put the ball up all day long, Darrelle will come down with at least one. These are the keys to the Jets success on defense.
On the other side the Bengals must get their passing game in synch to have a chance. Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco (I still prefer Johnson) must do what they have struggled to do all season - make several big plays in one game. Laveranues Coles must be a factor as well. Running the ball is another issue. Cedric Benson has looked brilliant in a few games this season and Larry Johnson adds a nice wrinkle, but if they are going be able to contribute, it must be set up by an accurate and rhythmic passing attack.
On defense, they must slow down the run (because they will not stop it completely) and get off the field on 3rd downs. That is going to be a very difficult task. If they start to load the box every play, then their corners had better be up to the task. Sanchez may be a rookie, but he knows how to play the game. This is not going to be a fun day for the Cincy defense, but I do expect them to keep it close.
In the end, even though they are at home, the Bengals come up just short. I see a likely scenario where a worn-down Cincy defense gives up a long drive to the Jets in the closing minutes of the game. Even though they get the ball back with time left to win or tie, Palmer and Company succumb to the pressure and come up short on a 4th down just out of FG range.
Jets 27 Bengals 24
Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys 8pm EST
Weather: Clear 30F (roof likely closed)
Keys to the game:
The Eagles first must put last week behind them. Same opponent, same venue, but everything on the line this time - not just seeding, a bye week, or a home game. They blew those already. Do not underestimate Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb - they have been here plenty of times before. Both of them must rally the troops and review a whole lot of film from the debacle on Sunday. I think they figure it out - look for a lot of bubble screens to McCoy and Westbrook if he is game, along with quick slants and seem routes to Brent Celek. DeSean Jackson gets a Bomb this time for sure. And maybe a return TD. No way this team throws up another goose egg, but will the offensive adjustments be enough?
On Defense it is pretty simple. Play like you are capable of playing guys. Pressure Romo til the cows come home - everyone knows the guy is susceptible to making bad decisions when on the run (and yes some big plays too). Limit the number of offensive plays you give to the Cowboys as well. Take away the long, sustained drives, or if you give one up, make sure it ends in 3, not 7.
For the Cowboys just keep on doing what you have been doing for the past 3 weeks. Give Tony Romo time to pick apart the Eagles defense and feed Marion Barber as often as you can. Keep it simple and do what you do best. If Wade Phillips starts to get cute with some trick plays, that is where the Cowboys will shoot themselves in the foot.
On defense - keep the pressure on. The Eagles are going to score some points on you, so keep it in the ball-park... In other words -No Bombs to Jackson allowed! Most importantly make sure they cannot execute when it counts the most - end of half and end of game of course.
Bottom line - This will be a much closer contest than either of the previous two games. In fact, the Eagles will win. I can hear the disbelief and outrage coming already. It is difficult to beat the same team twice, much less 3 times and this is the Eagles v Cowboys 2009, not Ravens v Steelers 2008. Sorry about that Dallas, but that is the way I will call it until you prove otherwise. The Kicking game may very well be the difference - Advantage Eagles
Eagles 27 Cowboys 24
Sunday January 10, 2010
Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots 1pm EST
Weather: Sunny 24F
Patriots: Tom Brady, Lawrence Maroney, Randy Moss, Julian Edelman, Team Defense
Ravens: Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Joe Flacco, Todd Heap, Ray Lewis, Defensive Secondary
Keys to the game:
For the Patriots it is a no-brainer: Let Belichick design the scheme and then just go execute. If New England is not the scariest team in the playoffs this year, well it doesn't matter - Hoodie is the scariest coach by far. Julian Peterson is not at Wes Welker's level, but he is a very solid possession receiver as he demonsrated this past Sunday against the Texans - 103 yards is not too shabby for a back-up. The one thing they will miss the most is Wes' experience. He had the innate ability to put himself where defenders weren't. He never rattled. We will see how Edelman does in his first playoff game as a #2 receiver in the offense. And obviously, Lawrence Maroney must contribute in the ground game - especially to set up Tom Brady's devastating play-action game.
The defense for NE is not the same. No Bruschi, Seymour, Harrison, Law, etc. They do not scare anyone, but kind of like a mid-level QB, they can manage the game. That is what they will have to do against Baltimore. Slow down the run game as much as possible and keep the plays in front of them. A mix of 8 in the box, zone-blitzing schemes, man-under, run-blitzes, etc. should do the trick. Keep them guessing - I am sure that Bill is all over it.
The Ravens must run the ball. McGahee and Rice all day long. Pound the rock until the Patriots wear down and start cheating up, then unleash a couple of deep outs and hit Todd Heap in the middle of the field when the Safeties start biting. They will have to stay one step ahead of the Patriots defense. Don't be afraid to run on passing downs and pass in running situations. If they can bait, confuse and execute, they have a chance to score some points. They had better, because it is going to be tough to outscore NE at home.
Ray Lewis. Ray had better have one of his best performances as his teammates Ed Reed and Tyrell Suggs are both nursing injuries. I have no doubt that they will play, but how well and for how long is the question. The Ravens really just have to stop one thing to win: Tom Brady. Good luck with that.
I have waivered on my score and pick for this game even while I am writing this blog. It is a really hard game to call. So much experience and talent exists on both sides, but the edge at the most important position - QB - obviously goes to the Patriots. As does home-field advantage. Gillette Stadium is a nightmare in January. The Ravens will be game, but the Patriots will win.
Patriots 34 Ravens 27
Green Bay Packers v Arizona Cardinals 4:40pm EST
Weather: Dome (but just in case you are wondering it will be partly cloudy and 71F - nice!)
Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Ryan Grant, Donald Driver, Charles Woodson, Atari Bigby, Line-Backing core
Cardinals: Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, Antrel Rolle, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Neil Rackers, Offensive Line
Keys to the game:
This is Aaron Rodgers' chance to prove all of the doubters wrong and forever endear himself to the Green Bay faithful. The question is, will he do it? The weapons are there for him and so is their collective experience so that is a positive. The just beat the crap out of the Arizona back-ups, but those were back-ups. Great numbers during the regular season, even after spending the first 6 games on his backside. Overall the offense looks good. Just protect the ball, sustain drives and put up points - 3 or 7 - each time you get the opportunity.
Defensively, the Packers are stout. They have some starters dealing with injuries, but heck, everyone is banged up after 16 games. I am not concerned with Woodson or Bigby, but the other side of the secondary had better be ready. Arizona is going to pass to set up the run and they will test Green Bay early and often. The LBs are going to have to be all over the place - pressuring the QB and stopping the run. Double duty is never fun, but it is part of the game. Lets hope the defensive co-ordinator has a solid plan because AJ Hawk and company are going to be the key to Green Bay's success this week.
Arizona's offense better show up this week. I think they will. Kurt Warner has a ton of post-season experience and there are only a couple of QBs in the league that I would rather have running my offense in the playoffs. The receiving core is unbelievable. Fitz, Boldin, Breaston and did I see Early Doucet (from LSU)on the depth chart? He is to the Cardinals what Legedu Nanee is to the Chargers. He can make a play when no one is expecting him to get the ball. Just keep putting it up Kurt, good things will happen. Oh and just like I did, make the Packers forget about your running game and you will be able to break off some really big runs with Hightower and Wells when they least expect it. In order for all of this to happen, the Offensive Line must play out of their heads this Sunday. 'Nuff said.
I am a little worried about the Cardinals defense. Not that they are suspect, I mean 20 pts a game is not bad, but I think they are susceptible to the big play. If this turns into a shootout, which it may, they are going to have to make some stops late in the game. They have great play-makers in the secondary - Rodgers-Cromartie and Antrel Rolle should be able to pick off a pass or two and they had better, because it may very well be the difference in the game. More important than that is the ability of the Front Seven to put pressure on Aaron Rodgers. When he has time, he is deadly. Do NOT give him the time.
This was by far the most difficult game for me to pick. The Packers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL going into the playoffs, but the Cardinals have been there before and relish the underdog roll so much that it propelled them all the way to the SuperBowl last season. Warner is a wiley veteran. Rodgers is the talented, young up and comer. I think they cancel eachother out. It is going to be the defensive playmakers that win this game. Going to give it to the Defensive Player of the Year - Charles Woodson and the Pack win.
Notable: the Cardinals K Neil Rackers is injured, so my guess is that you will see AZ going for it on 4th down outside of the 30 yard-line. This may be a major factor in the outcome
Packers 31 Cardinals 28
Here's to a great weekend of NFL Playoff Football!!!