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I served in the US Navy as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier from 2002-08. I engage in political activism in Democratic circles and occasional engagement with issues concerning Women and LGBT Rights. I have a cat and I am an Uncle. All opinions expressed in my blog are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

2012 NFL SEASON: DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS





I got a good start to the playoffs by correctly picking all four playoff games while Ms. Roberts of the TransGriot was a respectable 3-1. So far my playoff bracket is holding well but who knows what will happen with the games coming up this weekend.


BALTIMORE RAVENS AT DENVER BRONCOS, Saturday 3:30 PM (CT) CBS

For the purposes of full disclosure, my aunt's partner is a Broncos fan. Fine... that was a factor in my Super Bowl pick heading into the playoffs.

The AFC Divisional Round is a continuation of the theme where the division champions from 2011 are playing each other in 2012. Denver and Baltimore played each other this year because it was part of the rotation where a team plays an entire division within their conference once every three years. Denver played Houston and New England because those teams finished in first place in their respective division. Same reason why the Ravens got Houston and New England too.

Denver's record against the other 2012 division winners is 1-2 while Baltimore's record against the other 2012 division winners is 2-1. Denver's only win in that group was a Week 15 win at Baltimore. While the Broncos have a sub-.500 against the remaining playoff teams, it is worth pointing out that the Broncos are a different team than when they played Houston and New England earlier in the season.

The Broncos are the only thing that is hot in Denver right now as game time temperature is expected to be in the teens. Since starting 2-3, Denver has won 11 straight en route to the AFC #1 seed. Last time Denver had homefield advantage through the AFC Playoffs was in 1998, Peyton Manning's rookie season when he was with the Indianapolis Colts.

There are concerns that the cold weather might impact Peyton Manning's ability to grip the football due to the quarterback has made a remarkable recovery from a potentially career ending neck surgery that sidelined him in 2011. I believe that the two awards that are a lock are the 2012 Comeback Player and 2012 MVP. Either Peyton Manning or Vikings Adrian Peterson will claim the Comeback Player considering that both players came back from devastating injuries to lead their teams to the playoffs.

The Ravens played inspired football last weekend defeating the Colts in linebacker Ray Lewis's final home game in Baltimore. The Ravens want to cap this future Hall of Famer's career with a Super Bowl Championship in New Orleans. The key to a Baltimore victory will be their ground game in Ray Rice. Last weekend Rice gain 70 yards on the ground but fumbled twice. Rice only fumbled once in the regular season. If the Ravens play ball control and limit the number of possessions Peyton Manning has, they will win the game.

Also, their offense cannot have the same performance that they did in that loss in Week 15. Denver was up 10-0 going into halftime as the Ravens were putting their best drive of the game so far. A majority of their first half possessions ended in punts. It was appearing that Baltimore was going to put up a score....

Then this happened....


Am I changing my Super Bowl pick from Denver?

No.

I think the Broncos will win this game. Are there other factors that could impact this game? Of course always. The Broncos are well rested. They certainly earned their bye week having taking care of their business and the Texans losing 3 of their last 4 and the Patriots losing to the 49ers in December. Yeah, Peyton Manning's career playoff record is 9-10. Three of those losses have occurred when the game time temperature was below 40 degrees (again, kickoff in Denver it's going to be 18 degrees). Here are some things going for Manning: As a franchise, Denver is 13-3 in home playoff games. Manning has won 9 straight games against the Ravens including a 15-6 Colts win at Baltimore during their Super Bowl run in the 2006 Playoffs.

Here is the sticking point on why I like the Broncos not in this game but the team to win it all. We all remember who was the quarterback of the Broncos was last season.... right? All the hype surrounding that it was Tebow who miracled the Broncos into the playoffs in 2011 when in reality it was their defensive unit and their strong running game that got them into the playoffs. Denver making the divisional round last season was a shock with Tebow at quarterback. Now we are seeing what the Broncos are with a quarterback who can complete a forward pass longer than 10 yards and they are a Super Bowl contender.

The Mile High City will be rocking today.

BRONCOS 20, RAVENS 10


GREEN BAY PACKERS AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS, Saturday 7 PM (CT) Fox

With the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected quarterback Alex Smith from the University of Utah. The next quarterback was not selected until the 24th overall pick.

Aaron Rodgers grew up as a fan of the 49ers and played college football at Cal in nearby Berkley, CA. The 49ers coaching staff passed on Rodgers and went with the more mobile Smith. During his tenure with the 49ers, Smith has battled being labeled a bust. I don't think Alex Smith is a bust like how Ryan Leaf, Andre Ware, or  David Klingler were. Why did the 49ers end up with the first overall pick in 2005? They finished 2-14 in 2004; their 2 wins were against the Cardinals both by 31-28 overtime wins. Generally teams that have the first overall pick in the draft were the worst team the previous season. My view of the 49ers was a team of stability and the ideal organization to model on; my football viewing began when San Francisco had Steve Young as their starter and there was still some animosity towards the Joe Montana trade. The 2000s for the 49ers was in the wilderness. Young had to retire after taking a nasty concussion hit on Monday Night Football in early 1999. Jerry Rice signed with the Oakland Raiders after the 2000 season. Jeff Garcia led the team to the playoffs in 2001 and 2002 (2002 was the year of the comeback against the Giants in the NFC Wild Card Game) but the team was dismantled due to the salary cap and the trading of receiver Terrell Owens to the Eagles in 2004.

From 2004 onward, the 49ers changed coaches going from Dennis Erickson to Mike Nolan to Mike Singletary and a handful of different offensive coordinators and assistants. That does not bode well for the progression of a quarterback. Also Alex Smith was often injured.

The hiring of Jim Harbaugh from Stanford revitalized the 49ers last season as they finished with a top 5 defense in yards given up and their first NFC West Title since 2002. The 49ers repeated these feats in 2012, but not without their struggles. Alex Smith did win a playoff game last season for the 49ers, but after a 24-24 tie at home to division rival St. Louis Jim Harbaugh has gone with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Smith had a 6-2-1 record, completed 70.2% of his passes, and threw for 13 touchdowns vs. 5 interceptions as a starter in 2012 while Kaepernick has a 5-2 record, completed 62.4% of his passes, and threw for 10 touchdowns vs. 3 interceptions. Kaepernick has some big wins under his belt: his first start against the Bears at home on Monday Night and then their shocking Week 15 win at New England on Sunday Night.

Kaepernick has two advantages over Smith: since Week 10, Kaepernick has the third most rushing yards among quarterbacks. Only Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton have more yards. In passes over 20 yards, Kaepernick has completed 59% of his passes. Second place is 47% held by Robert Griffin III.

The 49ers hopes for their first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years rests on the decision that Harbaugh made in choosing Kaepernick over Smith.

So what became of Aaron Rodgers?

He went to the Packers and saw occasional action in his first three NFL season. There was some guy named Brett Favre starting ahead of him.

Oh... and in 2006 the Packers hired Mike McCarthy as their new head coach. He had a previous stint as the 49ers offensive coordinator in 2005.... the same year that the 49ers passed over Rodgers for Alex Smith in the draft.

Rodgers was named the starting quarterback of the Packers in 2008 amidst the Favre saga of retirement, then unretirement and then finally trade to the New York Jets. As starter, Rodgers has led the Packers to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons and in those playoff seasons posted a quarterback rating of better than 100 and won 10 games or more. Rodgers capped the 2010 season with leading the Packers to their first Super Bowl title in 14 years as the game's MVP and their first post-season win in the Metroplex since the 1966 NFL Title Game at the Cotton Bowl.

Since starting the season 2-3, Green Bay has now won 10 of their last 12 including their Wild Card round victory over the Vikings at Lambeau last week. Rodgers's stats back up the Packers winning ways. Green Bay was 3-1 in their final four games of the regular season with Rodgers completing 68.7% of his passes, averaging 318 yards per game, 11 touchdowns, and most importantly.... ZERO INTERCEPTIONS.

When the media was writing off the Packers early in the season, Green Bay responded with a 42-24 over the unbeaten Texans in Houston back in Week 6 on Sunday Night Football. Rodgers completed 24 passed out of 37 attempts for 338 yards and 6 touchdowns. Oh and most importantly.... ZERO INTERCEPTIONS.

This is what Rodgers had to say in the post-game interview:


While Rodgers has the ability to play lights out, my concern is the offensive line's ability to protect their quarterback. The 49ers defensive front is led by Justin and Aldon Smith. It remains to be seen if Justin Smith will be ready to play after missing the final two games of the regular season with a partially torn left triceps tendon. At this time Justin Smith is listed as probable.

If I was a Packers' fan, I'd be concerned about their running game. When these teams met in Green Bay back in Week 1 (man... that felt like another lifetime), it was a statement win by the 49ers saying that last season was not a fluke. Green Bay ran the ball 14 times for 45 yards in that game. Green Bay finished as the 20th ranked team in running the ball. At this time of year, you have to have an effective running game and that is the Packers weakness.

This game has the makings of an instant classic. Last season's NFC Divisional Playoff between San Francisco and New Orleans turned into a shootout in the final five minutes. It has the makings of a Rodgers "FU" Game. After being passed over by the 49ers, Rodgers said this back in 2005 when being interviewed by the CBS affiliate in San Francisco:


You have two of the most visible linebackers in 49ers Patrick Willis and Packers Clay Matthews. The 49ers have a versatile running game in Frank Gore. While his production is not what it was, Gore is still a power back and a threat as a pass catcher when he comes out of the backfield. Tight end Vernon Davis, who grabbed the game winning touchdown in last year's playoff win over the Saints, is both a blocking and pass catching threat.

In the end, I see San Francisco coming out on top as the most complete team out of all the remaining teams in the NFC. They are my NFC pick at the start of the playoffs. There is just something right about playoff football in San Francisco. It is good that it is back.

49ERS 16, PACKERS 13


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT ATLANTA FALCONS, Sunday 12 PM (CT) Fox

If Seattle makes it to the Super Bowl, they will have earned it. They started the playoffs by flying cross country to DC to play the late Sunday afternoon game followed by returning back to the Pacific Northwest as victors. Now Seattle is flying back east. This time to the home of the famous Delta Airlines Hub in Atlanta, GA for the early Sunday divisional playoff game. They probably did a connection in Salt Lake City.

Anyways, Seattle is about perseverance. The Seahawks finished with a perfect home record, but they are the NFC 5-seed meaning that they will most likely have to play all of their playoff games on the road. Seattle was 3-5 on the road, but won their final 2 regular season road games. Seattle was 6-5 after a loss at Miami and they haven't lost a game since. Seattle was down 14-0 after the first quarter in Washington and outscored the Redskins 24-0 from that point on. Seattle had won their first road playoff game since their victory over the Dolphins in the AFC Divisional Playoffs in 1983. Yeah, the Seahawks were once an AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE team. Yeah, I had just turned two months old when that happened.

Yup, I'm old.

Seattle has proven that they can play with the league's elite. They beat New England who finished with the same record as the Falcons. Seattle was 5-1 in the regular season against teams that won 10 games or more. Marshawn Lynch has emerged as the running back he was supposed to be as a first round pick of the Bills back in 2007. Lynch finished the season with 1,590 yards. Ahead of him was Redskins Morris and Vikings Adrian Peterson.

Meanwhile, this is my reaction to the Falcons ending up as the NFC 1-seed:


I have to strain to think who is on the Falcons.... Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzales, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Julio Jones... Jamal Anderson? Andre Rison? Deion Sanders?

The Falcons are probably the most under the radar 1-seed I can think of. Being the NFC 1-seed has not been a good thing in recent seasons though. In the current 12-team playoff format that was adopted in 1990, the NFC 1-seed was a lock to advance to the NFC Title Game posting a 17 game winning streak. Since the 2007 Playoffs, the NFC 1-seed has lost the last 4 out of 5 divisional round teams. Look at the matchups that took place:

PLAYOFFS
NFC #1 Seed
Result
2007
Dallas
L NYG, 21-17
2008
NY Giants
L PHI, 23-11
2009
New Orleans
W AZ, 45-14
2010
Atlanta
L GB, 48-21
2011
Green Bay
L NYG, 37-20
2012
Atlanta
TBD

In 2007, the Giants beat the Cowboys en route to their upset over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The following season the Giants were the #1 seed, but lost to the Eagles who made a deep run to their fifth NFC Title Game in the 2000s. In the 2010 Playoffs, Atlanta was blown out at home by the Packers who became the first NFC 6-seed to win the Super Bowl and the following season the Giants returned the favor by defeating the Packers en route to their Super Bowl XLVI win over the Patriots.

The only NFC 1-seed to win their opening playoff game in this time period was the 2009 Saints and we all know the result of that outcome.... NFC Title Game against Vikings, Brett Favre getting the hell beaten out of him, Favre throws an interception on third down at the end of regulation, Garret Hartley's game winning field goal in overtime, Saints go to Super Bowl against the Colts in Miami, onside kick to start second half, Tracy Porter intercepts Manning, "Get ready to party with the Lombardi", Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees holding his son while wearing ear protection.

Since the start of the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan Era in 2008, the Falcons have lost their last three playoff games. Now in their defense, all of those losses were to the eventual Super Bowl participant (Cardinals 2008, Packers 2010, Giants 2011) and two of them were to the eventual Super Bowl Champion in blowout fashion (the 48-21 home loss to Green Bay in 2010 as shown above, 24-2 at Giants in 2011). Eventually that will start to weigh heavily on a team.

My theory on why the Falcons are "The Under Radar NFC 1-seed" is the "Living Dangerously Theory." This theory is based on a team that plays a lot of close games which I define as 8 points or less. Why 8 points? You're down one score and it's the last play. You need to tie the game to extend the game into overtime. 8 points is the result of a touchdown plus the two point conversion after touchdown.

Teams that play a lot of close games and end up with a win, you ask yourself this: "Is this team really good or were they just lucky?"

Atlanta was 7-2 in games decided by 8 points or less. A play here, a yard there.... and the Falcons are 2-7 in those games and we're looking at a .500 team. In those 7 wins decided by 8 points or less, 2 of those wins came against playoff teams (Denver, Washington). The other five wins by the 8 points or less margin were against the Cowboys (8-8), Panthers (7-9), Buccaneers (7-9), Cardinals (5-11), and Raiders (4-12),

Their two losses were to the Buccaneers at home in Week 17 despite playing their starters and their first loss of the season in a road loss to the Saints in Week 10. Fine, I will concede that the close games did involve divisional opponents and there is familiarity between those teams. However (comma) Atlanta beat the Raiders and Cardinals by a combined 7 points.

The Falcons have the ability to play up to their competition. Yes, I saw the Monday Night Game in Week 2 against Denver when they intercepted Peyton Manning 3 times. But remember, Manning ALMOST brought the Broncos back to win that game. I did see the Week 13 game where they ended Drew Brees's streak of games with a touchdown pass when he threw 5 interceptions. The 34-0 shutout of the Giants in Week 15 was surprising. It could be attributed to lousy Giants offense, but why didn't the Falcons do that to the Cardinals and Raiders?

What causes the "Living Dangerously Theory" to be proven is there is that ONE moment when all the breaks you had earlier in the season suddenly go against you. A controversial penalty, a deep pass gets lost in the stadium lights, a key fumble.... Eventually your luck has run out.

I am sold on Russell Wilson carrying this team to an appearance to the NFC Title Game. Remember, he was a third round draft pick and won the starting job in training camp. He is part of the three-person race for rookie of the year. Yeah, I think Alfred Morris should get some consideration, but it is a quarterback driven league.

The Seahawks are a dangerous team.

SEAHAWKS 24, FALCONS 20


HOUSTON TEXANS AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, Sunday 3:30 PM (CT) CBS

The third rematch game in the NFL Divisional Playoffs is between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots.

At the start of December the Texans were 11-1 and looked like the team to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

Then they traveled to New England to play the Patriots on Monday Night.

That was the definition of a beat down. Quarterback Tom Brady was in the zone that night. By halftime it was 21-0. By the time Houston scored a touchdown, Tom Brady had already thrown four touchdown passes.

There seems to be something off about this Texans team. Maybe it was playing two consecutive overtime games in a span of five days in November. They beat the Jaguars at home that went deep into the extra period, had a brief period to recuperate, and then travel to Detroit for the Thanksgiving Day Game where that game went to overtime as well.

Ms. Roberts will point out that the 2009 Saints lost three of their final four games and ended up as the Super Bowl Champion. She will forget to mention that their path to the Super Bowl was at home and they had to play the Cardinals who had Kurt Warner, the Vikings with Favre, and Peyton Manning's Colts. All three of those quarterbacks will end up in Canton, OH. Warner and Favre were at the end of their careers. Brady still has some football left in him, but I think the Patriots know that this era will eventually end.

She will also point out that back in 2010 the Patriots did the same to the Jets in a late season Monday Night Game. The rematch took place in the playoffs and the Jets beat the AFC 1-seed Patriots 28-21.

And we got one of the best post-game interviews....


This is not the 2010 Playoffs; it is the 2012 Playoffs. Remember who the coach of the Patriots is...


I bet in the team meetings he is telling his players: "We were the #1 seed in 2010. We kicked the shit out of the Jets in a regular season game on a Monday Night in December. In the playoffs, we lost."

The Patriots once again are on the quest for their fourth Super Bowl Title in the Belichick-Brady Era. The Texans have not been playing good football over the last month. Yeah, they have Arian Foster running the ball and J.J. Watt, who Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called one of the best defensive players he has ever coached. But riddle me this, Batman? The Texans outgained the Bengals last week 420-198 but won the game by six. If it wasn't for an overthrown pass by Andy Dalton to receiver A.J. Green in the final five minutes, the Houston sports media would be in an uproar over the disastrous 2012 Texans Season and Monica would have written a manifesto about the ongoing torturous sports history of Houston sports teams.

This game can easily turn into the blowout we saw last month. I don't think that will happen this time around. It will be closer than 28 points, but closer than 9-1/2 points which the Patriots are favored by according to Vegas (again, for entertainment purposes)...?

PATRIOTS 35, TEXANS 20

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