Posts Tagged ‘NFL Playoffs’

Who Will Make it to the Super Bowl? Here are Our Predictions!

Today will determine who will be going to the Super Bowl on February 5th.  Will the Chicago Bears win today in the longest rivalry in the history of the NFL?  Or will the Green Bay Packers represent the NFC and make a run for the ultimate title?  In the AFC, will the Steel Curtain be lowered on the Jets or will New York find a way to soar above Pittsburgh’s tough, stingy defense?  Whatever the outcome, this is shaping up to be an electrifying day for gridiron fans!  Here’s our take on who emerges victorious today.

Chicago has home field advantage, but we think the Packers’ overcome the crowd, weather conditions and the Bears’ defense and win in a close game.  Aaron Rodgers is playing phenomenal football and we think he will do whatever it takes to win the game. The keys to a Green Bay victory are…

  1.  Keeping the game from being one dimensional.  Most of the season, the Packers relied almost exclusively on Aaron Rodgers and the passing game.  When they found a running game, they became a much more balanced offense that is simply harder to defend.  The Bears have the #2 rushing defense in the NFL, which will make it a real challenge for Packers RB James Starks.
  2. The Packer’s defense needs to pressure Bears QB Jay Cutler.  Last week against the Seahawks, Cutler had 274 yards passing and 2 TDs, but that was against a Seahawks defense that did little to pressure him.  The Bears have the #5 pass defense in the league, which means Cutler will be facing a much different situation than he did last week.
  3. The Packers need to stop Matt Forte.  Forte poses a threat as a running back and a wide receiver and is peaking at just the right time.  If the Packers don’t have an answer for Forte, he may just win the game for the Bears – especially given the frigid, wintry conditions expected at Soldier Field today.  Since the Packers are better at pass defense than run defense, Forte could be a real game changer.

 

The Jets/Steelers game is a tough one to call.  Big Ben has the experience to take the Steelers into the Super Bowl and is hard to pick against.  But the Jets are coming off a huge upset win against the Patriots and sometimes sheer momentum is enough to beat even the toughest opponents. We pick the Jets in what should be another close one!  For our prediction to come true here is what has to happen.

  1.  Real pressure on Big Ben.  Last week the Jets defense pressured Tom Brady, causing him to lose his rhythm.  Big Ben has the physical size, strength and mobility to escape that pressure.  For the Jets to win, they MUST find a way to disrupt the two-time Super Bowl winning QB.
  2. Contain strong safety Troy Polamalu and head hunter linebacker James Harrison.  If the Jets cannot control these two defensive dynamos, Sanchez is in for a very long day – much of it on the ground looking up at the sky!
  3. Make Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson key components in the offensive game plan today.  For the Jets to win, they must run a balanced offense, using their two RBs and using a game plan that allows Sanchez to make quick, short throws downfield.  This will be an enormous challenge, given the relentless rush defense of the Steelers.

Given all these seemingly impossible tasks, why have we picked the Jets over the Steelers?  Jets coach Rex Ryan has lost two AFC Championships in a row and simply won’t tolerate a third.  Combined with the momentum the Jets are on after last week’s defeat of the Patriots, we think he and his team will back up their season long tough talk with a victory over the favored Steelers.

Flying Under the Radar – Why Aaron Rodgers Thrives on Being Stealth

Snubbed by the Pro Bowl this year, overlooked by most of the media and having endured playing in the shadow of Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers is now making his presence known.  Even Troy Aikman stated this week that if he had a team, he would choose Rodgers as his starting QB.  As Rodgers leads his Packers into the NFC Championship, he is playing like not just a would be Pro Bowl QB, but quite possibly an MVP.

His path to the NFC title game was not easy.  Coming out of high school, Rodgers was not offered a single Division I scholarship offer.  Never one to give up, he went to Butte College, a small community college in California and led them to a 10-1 season and number 2 national ranking.  His performance there caught the attention of the University of California, who offered him a scholarship.  As a Golden Bear, Rodgers once again played exceptionally well and set a number of passing records as a sophomore.  He led his team to a victory over Virginia Tech in the Insight Bowl and elevated himself to national recognition. 

Rodgers entered the 2005 draft and was considered to be the top QB and likely number one overall pick.  But Rodgers was overlooked by the teams many considered would take him and was finally chosen by the Packers as the 24th pick.  Unfortunately, he found himself on a team with one of the most elite QBs in the history of the game – Brett Favre.  For the next three seasons, Rodgers waited for his opportunity to play.  Upon Favre’s departure in 2008, he earned the starting position.  Despite his solid play, the Packers had a losing season and fans directed their anger and disappointment towards their new starting QB. 

In 2009, Rodgers led the Packers to an 11-5 record and a wild card spot in the playoffs.  While the Packers lost in the first round of the playoffs, Rodgers had a very successful season.  He was the first QB to throw for over 4,000 yards in both of his first two seasons as a starter.  Rodgers was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2009.

This season, he was the top ranked NFC QB with a rating of 101.2.  He passes with incredible accuracy and is the epitome of a pocket passer.  His incredible ability to read defenses quickly and pick them apart is reminiscent of Peyton Manning. Like Manning, he also changes the play at the line of scrimmage when he sees a better read – that is a true testament to the confidence his coaches’ place in him. Rodgers also has the ability to run and was the Packers’ leading rusher this season, rushing for nearly 400 yards and 4 TDs.

While most of the attention in last week’s playoff game focused on Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan who was selected for the Pro Bowl, it was the QB NOT selected by the Pro Bowl who had the big day.  In that game, Rodgers was 31 of 36 for 366 yards, 3 TDs and a 48-21 victory.  It seems Rodgers thrives on the underdog status, playing like a man with something to prove.

Flying under the radar is something Aaron Rodgers has become accustomed to.  From his early days when he was overlooked by Division I colleges, to being passed over in the draft and living in the shadow of Favre,  Rodgers has maintained his dignity, while preparing for his day in the spotlight.  That day has finally arrived and it seems Rodgers is fully prepared to take center stage.   With this new found attention and hype, will Rodgers’ hot hand continue?  Or does he perform better when he is the underdog and plays with a chip on his shoulder?  Sunday’s game should answer that question and I, for one, cannot wait to discover the answer!

Risk Taker or Play Maker? Which Jay Cutler Will Show Up?

As the Chicago Bears head into Sunday’s NFC Conference Championship game against the Green Bay Packers, the question on many fan’s minds is which Jay Cutler will show up.  Cutler is a complex character both on and off the field.  On the field, he has moments of sheer genius, coupled with moments of utter idiocy.  Off the field, he is seen by some as aloof, while others view him as something of a wise-guy jerk.  One thing is for certain, Jay Cutler will be key to the Chicago Bears’ destiny this weekend.  Love him or hate him, he is the Bears’ quarterback who will try to propel his team into the Super Bowl.   Here’s our view of the complicated Cutler.

Last week against the Seahawks, Cutler played in his first post-season game and had an outstanding day.  In that 35-24 victory he threw two TDs, ran for two TDs, had no interceptions and earned a respectable 111.3 QB rating.  But the Seahawks defense failed to effectively pressure Cutler for most of that game.  Their coverage seemed to break down, leaving wide receivers wide open.  Cutler made the throws he needed to and the Seahawks paid for their miscues.  But can Cutler expect the Packers’ defense to play that poorly?  He shouldn’t count on it.  The Packers’ defense has a blitzing, aggressive style that could expose Cutler’s tendency for making poor decisions that lead to turnovers.

Packers’ defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, has had to devise schemes in the past to deal with Cutler.  Capers had to defend against the Chicago QB 4 times and was quite successful, with the Packers winning 3 of the matchups.  The Packers’ defense held Cutler to a 56% completion rate and only 4 TDs.  In those 4 games, Cutler threw 9 interceptions and his QB rating was a pitiful 57.49.

 Green Bay likes to employ nickel and dime defensive sets – meaning using either 5 or 6 defensive backs.  Cutler has struggled against this scheme in the past and Capers will likely use this strategy to rattle Cutler into making some of his infamous bad throws into tight coverage. 

So which Cutler will show up for Sunday’s pivotal game?  Will it be the risk taking Jay Cutler who has never led his team to a winning season since his high school days?   Or will it be the effective playmaker we saw last week against Seattle?   No one denies his arm strength and his ability to make big plays as a gunslinger-style QB.  But given his record INTs last season (26) and his tendency to take risks when pressed, he is an unpredictable factor in this week’s game.  An impulsive, risk-taking QB with a brooding personality in an NFC Championship game?  Sounds pretty irresistible to me!

There’s No Place Like Holmes!

As we gear up for this weekend’s NFL Conference Championships, we plan to take a look at some of the intriguing players and plots among the Steelers/Jets and Packers/Bears.  Today we highlight New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes. 

Holmes was drafted by the Steelers in 2006 in the first round.  He was both a receiver and a punt returner.  Holmes went on to become the Super Bowl MVP in 2009, when he caught the game winning TD with 35 seconds left in the 4th quarter to give the Steelers their 6th Super Bowl title.  It was one of the most amazing receptions in Super Bowl history, as he had to balance himself and make a tip-toed, far-reaching catch!  

In April, after a number of off the field issues including a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the Steelers traded Holmes to the Jets for a 5th round draft pick.  Given his Super Bowl performance and some impressive games over his years as a Steeler, the news stunned the sports world.  The NFL handed down a 4 game suspension to Holmes because of his substance abuse violation at the beginning of the season.   Holmes became eligible to play for the NY Jets on October 11th against the Vikings. 

Through twelve games, Holmes had 52 receptions for 746 yards.  While those may not be eye-popping stats, it is his ability to make clutch plays that makes Holmes so valuable.  Just like the Super Bowl catch that earned him MVP status, Holmes made another unforgettable big play in last week’s divisional game vs. the top seeded Patriots.  The game was still close, as the Patriots had just scored to make it 14-11.  On third down early in the 4th quarter, Holmes made an incredible TD reception, managing to get his knee down in the end zone while extending his body in an extraordinary display of control and athleticism!

The Jets defeated the Steelers 22-17 in Week 15 at Heinz field.  Once again, Gang Green will head back to the land of the twirling “Terrible Towels”.  Will Santonio Holmes, the ultimate clutch player, have one of his unforgettable performances that change the outcome of the game?  Will his play be one of vengeance, where he stuns the Steelers into wishing they had not traded him?  Or will the Steelers shut Holmes down and feel validated by their decision to rid themselves of the controversial WR?  Tune in Sunday and watch as Holmes’ intriguing story unfolds in this AFC Conference Championship game!

Click Here to See Holmes’ Amazing TD Reception vs. the Patriots

Seahawks vs. Bears – Two Teams Seeking Respect

Today’s NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Chicago Bears and the Seattle Seahawks reminds us of a Quick Pick lottery ticket.  It is a thrilling game and is difficult to predict!  The improbability of the Seahawks mere presence at this point in the season, combined with the inconsistency of Chicago QB Jay Cutler and the Bears sets up an intriguing scenario.  Today’s winner will face the Green Bay Packers next week for the NFC title.

The Seahawks and Bears met back in October, with Seattle winning 23-20.  Much has changed since that first meeting.  After struggling early in the season, the Bears changed their offensive philosophy.  Their rushing game improved and they are now a much more balanced offense.  Given Jay Cutler’s tendency to throw into tight, dangerous coverage and cause turnovers, a dual threat offense is vital.  Chicago RB Matt Forte could be the key to the Bear’s success today.

The Seahawks are the first team with a losing record (7-9 regular season) to win a playoff game.  But they have been tweaking their roster all season long and seem to have found their ideal starters at the perfect time.  Their unlikely journey to this point has given the team a loose, confident aura that may just allow them to silence all their critics.  Rather than focusing on their losing season, the Seahawks like to look at the fact that they are 2-0 in 2011. 

Marshawn Lynch’s amazing 67 yard TD run last week against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints was one of the most phenomenal efforts we have seen all year and worthy of all the highlights and replays on TV.  But given the Bear’s defense, it is not likely to happen today.  Hasselbeck will have to find WR Mike William if the Seahawks have a chance.

Matt Hasselbeck has 11 playoff starts in his career.  In the last 8 years, Hasselbeck has made the playoffs an impressive 6 times.  Meanwhile Jay Cutler is making his first playoff start.  Like the Seahawks, he too is looking for respect.

A Seattle win would be a more captivating story, given their dubious path to the playoffs.  With Hasselbeck’s experience and the “nothing to lose” attitude the Seahawks bring to the game, like a “quick pick” lottery ticket we are choosing them in an upset!   Look for a close game, with Cutler turning over the ball to give the Seahawks the slight edge needed to win.

Ravens vs. Steelers – Are You Ready for Some Smash-Mouth Football?

After a crazy Wild Card weekend, the Divisional Playoffs are now upon us.  Over the next few days, we will look at this weekend’s games, which should prove to be just as exciting as last weekend’s contests.  We went 1-4 in our Wild Card predictions, so if you’re entering an office pool, you may want to reconsider putting any wagers on our picks!

The first game this weekend is an AFC North Divisional Playoff featuring Baltimore and Pittsburgh.  Game time is 4:30 pm ET on CBS.  These two hard hitting teams embody good ol’ fashioned, smash- mouth football and the testosterone level will be sky high!  What better way to start the divisional playoffs than with an intense rivalry between two physical teams?

It’s a home game for the Steelers and fans will be out in force, frantically waving their “Terrible Towels” and cheering for their beloved team.  The last time these teams met was in early December when the Steelers overcame a 10-3 deficit, scoring 10 points in the 4th quarter to pull off a 13-10 victory.  Earlier in the season, at Heinz Field, the Ravens defeated the Steelers, but it was a game in which Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was missing due to his NFL suspension.

Last weekend the Ravens beat the Chiefs in a Wild Card game that held KC to only 7 points, despite the Chief’s prolific rushing offense.  Their 30-7 victory certainly provides momentum coming into this week’s heated rivalry with the Steelers.  But their win last week had a lot to do with the turnovers (3 interceptions and two fumbles) committed by the Chiefs.  In the third quarter Baltimore led only 10-7, but their powerful, fast defense rattled the Chiefs and the offense was able to capitalize on the KC’s miscues.  Ravens QB Joe Flacco completed 25 of 34 passes for 265 yards and 2 TDs.

Flacco is 4-2 in road playoff games and will need an error free day to win against a tough Steelers defense.  Running back Ray Rice will need to have a big game as well.  The Steelers led the NFL in rush defense this season and held Rice to just 32 rushing yards and 18 passing yards in their last match up.

Defensively, the Ravens have 4 Pro Bowlers on their roster – linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and safety Ed Reed.  Ranked third for fewest points allowed this season, the defense wins them games and will be crucial if they are to emerge victorious against the Steelers on Saturday.  Safety Ed Reed is a critical defensive factor, capable of making some big plays.  Ray Lewis is the leader on the field and also provides the inspiration and motivation 

The Steelers, on the other hand, had a bye last weekend.  They will be rested and ready to face their division nemesis.  Since 1970, the Steelers have not lost to a divisional rival in post season play. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has won his last 6 games against the Ravens, even after suffering a broken nose in the first quarter of their last meeting.  He has thrown 158 straight passes without an interception.  Big Ben has playoff experience (and two Super Bowl Championships) and will undoubtedly be poised and ready to play in front of his home crowd.

Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh is also known for its defense.  Safety Troy Polamalu has game changing abilities.  He played a pivotal role in the last game between the Steelers and Ravens when he stripped the ball from Ravens QB Flacco, which led to the game winning TD.

With the two defenses so evenly matched and the last 4 games being decided by a 3 point margin, who will prevail in this clash?  While the Ravens have momentum, we think Pittsburgh wins in a close battle that comes down to the 4th quarter and possibly even overtime.  The home crowd, combined with Big Ben’s playoff experience, should be enough to give Pittsburgh the edge in this tough, physical matchup.

Eagles vs. Packers/Vick vs. Rodgers…Who Will Win the Final Wild Card Game of the Weekend?

As Wild Card Weekend winds down, we are gearing up for what should be a great contest between two high powered offenses!  The Ravens defense held strong in this afternoon’s game, in part due to the many mistakes by the Chiefs.  The Ravens join the Seahawks and Jets as winners of this weekend’s playoff games. Will it be the Packers or Eagles that joins them?

Get ready for the next game – Go Eagles!

NFC Wild Card Game – Packers vs. Eagles

It is no secret that we are BIG admirers of Michael Vick.  With that in mind, here is our view of today’s game.  It should be a wild wrap up to this Wild Card weekend!

The Packers and Eagles met in Week 1.  The Packers won that game 27-20 and starting Eagles QB Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion, allowing back up Michael Vick to take over.  Vick brought the Eagles back from a 17 point deficit that fateful day, throwing for 175 yards and rushing for over a hundred yards.  While he may not have been able to ultimately win that game, he did put himself in the position to win the starting QB position for the Eagles.  The rest is history.

Michael Vick is the key to an Eagles victory today.  The past few weeks, Vick has struggled against the blitz.  When the Eagles played the Vikings earlier this season, he was sacked 6 times.  Green Bay will likely use a similar strategy and throw some innovative blitz packages at the elusive QB.  It will be up to Vick to read them and adjust. 

In their first meeting, the Packers sacked Vick 3 times in only 19 attempted passes.  Look for Packers cornerback Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews to play big roles in disrupting Vick today.  The Philly offensive line will have to play better than they have in the last few weeks in order to protect him and give the Eagles a chance. 

Aaron Rodgers’ passing ability defines the Packers offense.  Rodgers has the third highest QB rating in the league and the Packers are ranked 5th overall in passing in the NFL.  Despite injuries to both his starting RB and TE, Rodgers has propelled the Packers into the post-season.  Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are Rodgers’ leading receivers on this pass-first team.  If the secondary cannot contain them, Rodgers could put up some serious points. 

With two high powered offenses facing each other in a “do or die” situation, this game is hard to predict.  But given our love for Michael Vick, we find ourselves inclined to pick the Eagles to win.  While the Eagles lost their last two games, we don’t see it as the beginning of a losing streak.  A healthy Michael Vick, with his dual threat ability, is hard to contain.  If the Packers blitz all day, LeSean McCoy’s blazing speed should be enough to win this one for the Eagles, even facing the NFC’s top ranked defense.

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