Who Am I?

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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2011 NFL SEASON DIVISIONAL ROUND






This first round, while not memorable, had some exciting moments to them.

Not so much for my picks. 1-3 in the first round. Ms. Roberts, on the momentum of the Texans first playoff win in team history, successfully went 3-1. She would have been 4-0 IF it wasn’t for Tebow Time in the shortest OT finish in regular season and the playoffs in NFL history.

If Houston wins this coming Sunday, they will match the number of playoff wins the Cowboys have had since their last championship…. (sigh)…

That’s the problem with the playoffs. You look at every possible angle and you try to find that ONE team that could make that deep run. I figured the Falcons were due for a playoff win, but for them to put up THAT performance…? Their only score came on Eli Manning intentionally grounding a pass in the end zone that resulted in two points. Atlanta was 0-3 on fourth down conversion plays; two of them were short yardage situations. If you can’t convert those…. You don’t deserve to advance!

Now, here is the REAL challenge: which of the teams that won the first week have the ability to move on to the Conference Championship Game Round? I will tell you… but you have to read on.

All the home teams held their own so both the AFC and NFC playoffs feature 1-versus-4 and 2-versus-3 matchups in the divisional round.

Again, my Baltimore-Green Bay Super Bowl prediction at the start of the season is holding because both those teams had the week off. Is this the week where that prediction is busted…?

KICKOFF TIMES ARE CENTRAL TIME

New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers, 1/14 3:30PM Fox
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots, 1/14 7PM CBS
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens, 1/15 Noon CBS
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, 1/15 3:30PM Fox



New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers, 1/14 3:30PM Fox

Coming into 2011, the 49ers looked like a team that was in transition. Another head coach hire for this franchise; their fifth since 1997. This time from the college ranks bringing Jim Harbaugh over from nearby Stanford. Quarterback Alex Smith whose career has been labeled a bust by some draft experts was getting ANOTHER chance to be the 49ers starting quarterback.

After splitting their first two games, it looked like the 49ers were headed towards another tail spin season. Their best hope was to enter the “Suck-for-Luck” campaign.

Instead San Francisco won their next eight games to push their record to 9-1. They followed that up by losing two of their next three, but ended the season on a three game winning streak.

That’s probably the most anyone knows about this team because they play on the Pacific Coast and their games don’t get the same television coverage that New York, Dallas, New England, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans. Honestly ask yourself this… if you live in the eastern part of the US, how many 49ers games have you seen? I can think of four 49ers games that aired in Dallas: their Week 2 matchup against the Cowboys and their November matchup against the Giants. If you have cable, you can add their Thanksgiving matchup in Baltimore and their late season contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The key to the 49ers success has been their defense specifically in the run defense department. If you managed to pick this defense up in fantasy, boy did you make a find. San Francisco has the number one ranked rush defense and did not give up a rushing touchdown until their Week 16 matchup at Seattle. That was also the only time the 49ers gave up a 100-yard rusher as well. The last time a team did not surrender a rushing touchdown in an entire season… you’d have to go back to the 1920 Decatur Staleys when they did it in a 13-game season.

Never heard of them…? Maybe you know them by their current name of the Chicago Bears.

Anyways, the defense is led by linebacker Patrick Willis. Even though he missed the final three games due to a hamstring injury, Willis was second on the team in tackles with 74. Willis has been compared to Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis in the way he plays the game. Lewis in an interview said that Willis would be a worthy successor to his reign as the best linebacker in the game.


The 49ers pride themselves with the ability to take the ball away. They were tied for second in the NFL with 23 interceptions and tied for first in fumble recoveries. Cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson each had 6 interceptions and for that, both made the Pro Bowl.


First round pick outside linebacker Aldon Smith has been a great addition to this team. Scouts compared him to Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Even though he did not start every game, Smith had 14 sacks, breaking the 49ers rookie record for sacks in a season set by Charles Haley. For his efforts, he was named Rookie of The Week in Weeks 5 and 6 and Rookie of the Month for October.

Points did not come easy when teams played against the 49ers. Among teams remaining in the playoffs, San Francisco surrendered the fewest points with 14.3 points/game. At home is where their defense shines giving up 20 points twice. Their final three home games the 49ers gave up 10 points…. Not per game, but TOTAL in those final three home contests.

Offensively, San Francisco ranks in the tops of the bottom quarter. Even though quarterback Alex Smith set career marks in passing yards, completion percentage, and passer rating, and have playmakers in tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore, the 49ers are the worst team offensively among remaining playoff teams.

Last week in their wild card round victory over the Lions, New Orleans continued their streak of 40+ points in a game. The teams combined for a playoff record 627 yards. Saints quarterback Drew Brees passed for the second most passing yards in a playoff game with 466 yards.

New Orleans last four games have been played indoors starting with a 42-20 win at Minnesota in Week 15. The last time New Orleans failed to put up 35 points was in their 22-17 win at Tennessee. Their defense held off a furious Titans comeback that resulted in a defensive stop on fourth-and-goal on the last play of the game.

I do not expect a repeat performance by the Saints when they play at San Francisco. The stats do support that they become a different team when they go on the road. At home the Saints average 41.6 points per game while on the road they average 27.3 points per game, a net change of 34.4%. The 49ers average 27.6 at home versus 19.9 on the road…. But this game is being played in San Francisco.

Do you think that upset by the Rams in Week 8 could come back to bite the Saints in the ass…? Maybe…

That was the last time the Saints lost a game. Since then, New Orleans has won their last nine games.

Drew Brees’s stats are noticeably different when he starts on turf vs. grass, but Drew Brees is still Drew Brees.

The 49ers have a Pro Bowl running back in Frank Gore who can keep the Saints offense off the field. Though I feel that the Saints can play keep away too with their running backs Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory and passes to tight end Jimmy Graham. Also, remember their defensive coordinator is Gregg Williams. He knows how to get after a quarterback and Alex Smith is perfect.

This has the makings of a repeat of last season’s first round matchup where the Saints lost at Seattle, but New Orleans seems focused.

If the 49ers are to win, they’re going to have to play lights out…


I don’t think that this contest will turn into a shootout which will benefit the Saints. On the other hand, the San Francisco offense lacks the same power to match the Saints score for score. The 49ers will be ready to play in their first playoff game since the 2002 season, but I can’t see the Saints making the same mistakes that other teams have made against them.

New Orleans will win their first road playoff game and punch their ticket to their third NFC Title game in six seasons.

THE PICK: Saints 24-20



Denver Broncos at New England Patriots, 1/14 7PM CBS


Broncos quarterback completed 10 passes on 21 attempts for 2 touchdowns. He rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown.

Oh… his passing yards…

316 yards with an average of 31.6 yards per completion.

Interpret it however you want.

It should be noted that this was the first playoff game played under the modified overtime rules for the playoffs. In the playoffs it is not where first team scores as it is in the regular season. Yes, I am aware that Denver won, but they won with a touchdown. If the Steelers held Denver to a field goal or no points, then it would have reverted to the status quo. Moot point now.

The rules were changed due to the result of the 2009 NFC Championship Game. If you recall, Brett Favre threw an interception late in the game as the Vikings were driving for a winning field goal. The Saints won the toss and methodically drove down the field for a game winning field goal. Minnesota never got the chance to possess the ball.

http://mrhonner.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/nfl-ot-new-rule.jpg

In 1974, the NFL did two things. First, they moved the goal posts from the front of the end zone to where they currently are out of concerns for player safety and the introduction of soccer style kicking making field goals almost automatic. The second innovation was introducing overtime to the regular season in order to reduce the number of tie games. Since that change, 17 regular season games have ended in a tie.

The first NFL regular season game to go to overtime was a 1974 Week 2 matchup of the Steelers at the Broncos. The game ended in a 35-35 tie.


That play last week against the Steelers was the quickest end to any overtime game in NFL History. In eleven seconds, the Steelers season was over. In eleven seconds, the Broncos were heading to New England.


The two players involved in the play, Tim Tebow and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, were drafted by the Broncos in the first round in 2010. Their coach was Josh McDaniels who was involved with the Patriots from 2001-08. McDaniels was recently the Rams offensive coordinator this season until he was released from his contract after the season ended. He returned to New England replacing Bill O’Brien who was hired by Penn State during the Patriots bye week.


Quarterback Tom Brady started his 5,000 yard passing season with a 517 yard passing game on Monday Night Football in Week 1. Three of Brady’s top ten passing yards in a game came in 2011. Three also occurred in 2007, 2009, and one came in 2002.

What is helping Brady amass these yards? Having pass catchers in Wes Welker who led the league with 122 receptions and tight end Rob Gronkowski with his 17 touchdown catches setting a new mark for tight ends.


Tight end Aaron Hernandez isn’t that bad either after catching 79 passes for 910 yards and 7 touchdowns. Super Bowl XXXIX MVP wide receiver Deion Branch who caught 51 passes for 702 yards and 5 touchdowns might be a factor down the stretch.

While Brady is amassing these great statistical accolades and making the case for his second consecutive MVP award, he doesn’t care about the stats. Take the Week 6 contest against Dallas. Brady was 27-41 with 289 yards, 2 interceptions, and 2 touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 82.3, the second worst for his season.

The most important statistic…


The Patriots got the win. It wasn’t his best performance as a passer this season, but as you see in that scoring drive, Brady did everything he could to win the game.

The Patriots are on an eight game winning streak, something they don’t want to end. There is one streak that they want to stop: their post-season losing streak. The last time the Patriots won a playoff game was the 2007 AFC Championship Game where they surpassed the 1972 Dolphins for most wins to start a season and matched the number of wins obtained by the 1984 49ers and 1985 Bears.

One problem… the next game…


Since defeating the Chargers in the 2007 playoffs, New England has matched a franchise record of three consecutive playoff losses stretching from 1976-1982. While the first loss occurred in Super Bowl XLII, the next two happened at home, including last season’s 28-21 loss to the Jets as the AFC’s #1 seed.

New England is 0-2 against the Broncos in the playoffs, but both those contests took place in Denver.

The only weakness that will hinder the Patriots is their defense which ranks next-to-last in total yards and next-to-last in passing yards. I cannot see Tim Tebow exploiting the Patriots weaknesses. I expect it to be like their first meeting from a month ago: Denver is going to hang tough, but then the Patriots are going to make the adjustments necessary to put the game away in the second half.

THE PICK: Patriots 38-20



Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens, 1/15 Noon CBS


Last week playoff football returned to the city of Houston for the first time since 1993. In their first playoff appearance, the Texans clobbered the Bengals 31-10 by capitalizing on three Andy Dalton interceptions. The game turned on this interception return for a touchdown by rookie defensive end J.J. Watt before halftime.


From that point on the Texans never surrendered their lead. Running back Arian Foster closed out the game with this stunning 42 yard touchdown run.


Despite losing their starting quarterback and backup quarterback to season injuries, the Texans have forged on. Yes, they lost their final three games to close out the regular season, but so did the Broncos and the Saints when they won the Super Bowl two years ago. Like the Texans, the Broncos and 2009 Saints won their playoff games.

If the Texans are going to continue their journey in the playoffs they are going to need a similar performance to the one they had last week and do much better than their last visit to Baltimore. In Week 6, the Ravens defeated the Texans 29-14. It is one of those situations where the final score is misleading. Houston actually hung tough with the Ravens before the Baltimore closed out by scoring the game’s final 16 points.

When talking about the Ravens, you talk about their defense. Linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, and safety Ed Reed… enough said.

Offensively, they can run the ball too. Led by the NFL’s season leader in total yards from scrimmage with 2,068 yards and 15 total touchdowns, running back Ray Rice is a force for opponents to try to counter. Quarterback Joe Flacco has weapons in wide receivers Anquan Boldin and rookie Torrey Smith, but the team leader in receptions was Rice with 76. Rice also was third on the team with 704 receiving yards.

Baltimore ranks in the top five in fewest points surrendered, fewest total yards given up, fewest passing yards, and fewest rushing yards.

So does Houston…

I don’t think this game is getting the same amount of coverage that the other three games are getting. I understand. One game has the offensive juggernaut in the New Orleans Saints; the other features the New England Patriots and the Tim Tebow led Broncos. The final game has the defending NFL champions against the New York Giants. This matchup is the ideal playoff game: top ranked defenses with top notch running backs.

I picked the Ravens at the beginning of the season to represent the AFC and I am going to stick with that prediction. It would not shock me if Houston wins, but at the start of the year I had this feeling that Baltimore was due for a Super Bowl run after the past three seasons of their playoff run ending on the road; two of those instances ending at the hand of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We’ve seen this story told in NFL Films many times over: a team is on the cusp of a title, but there is that ONE team in their way… Well, the Ravens swept the Steelers en route to their first AFC North crown since 2006.

Once again, I got to stick with my pre-season pick of the Ravens to represent the AFC in Indianapolis.

The line has Ravens by 9. I think it is going to be closer than that.

THE PICK: Ravens 20-16



New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, 1/15 3:30PM Fox

Last week the Giants dispatched the Falcons in a quick manner. Meanwhile, the Packers enjoyed their bye week after capping a 15-1 season. They had the best record in the NFL and a perfect record in against NFC opponents.

When these two teams met in New York back in Week 13, the Giants gave it their best shot at hanging a loss on the Packers. A last second field goal kept Green Bay’s record unblemished until their loss in Kansas City.

People point out that the result was the same as when the Giants lost to the Patriots in 2007. Here’s the thing… after that loss, the Giants went on a four-game winning streak that concluded with a Super Bowl win.

The Packers’ loss was followed by a comeback win over Dallas, a disgusting loss at home to the Redskins, a win over the Jets where quarterback Eli Manning completed 9 passes on 27 attempts with one interception even though he passed for 225 yards and it included a 99-yard touchdown catch and run by receiver Victor Cruz, and then closing the season against a Cowboys squad that couldn’t cover worth a lick.

Even though Eli Manning has had some amazing moments this season, I don’t think this team has the same magic from 2007. Green Bay is healthy and ready to play. Even though Aaron Rodgers didn’t play in the season finale, he should have no problem picking up where he left off.

This is the Packers first home game since the 2007 NFC Championship Game and Rodgers first home playoff game since being named the Packers starting quarterback in 2008. I expect Rodgers to utilize his receivers and tight ends early and often.

This is another game that involves my early season Super Bowl pick. Once again, I see no reason to stray away from it. The Giants will make it a contest, but the Packers are the better team here.

THE PICK: Packers 38-24

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