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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.

Sunday, January 24, 2016



FiveThirtyEight odds of winning the Super Bowl


Now for the conference championship round picks.

AFC Title: Patriots at Broncos, CBS 1:00PM (MT)

Since 2000, the AFC Championship Game has been dominated by these three quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Peyton Manning. The only AFC Title Game in this time frame to not feature one of these quarterbacks: 2000 and 2002. This will be the Patriots 10th AFC Championship Game in the Belichick-Brady era and their fifth consecutive starting from 2011.

Even though the Patriots beat the Chiefs by 7, the Patriots benefited from two things: a full receiving corps and poor Andy Reid clock management in a key situation.

First, against the Chiefs, wide receiver Julian Edelman was in the lineup and caught 10 passes for 100 yards and tight end Rob Gronkowski caught both of Tom Brady’s touchdown passes. In the last meeting in Denver last November, Edelman was sidelined with an injury and Gronkowski left the game with was then feared to be a knee injury.

The poor Andy Reid clock management: You can almost guarantee you will see this in key moments of games involving his teams. The last time Andy Reid coached against the Patriots in a post-season game was in Super Bowl XXXIX. Now this Super Bowl has a special memory for me because I was on deployment. My ship was heading west, and we were in the same time zone as Hawaii so the game kicked off at a reasonable time. I was on watch during the game, but my duties allowed me to go out of the plant to tour the shaft alley spaces. The entrances to the shaft alleys were on the mess decks where the game was on television… so like a good shipmate I provided regular updates of the game to those on watch while also making sure I toured my spaces.

The Patriots kicked a field goal to go up 10 with 8:40 to play. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb threw the second of his three interceptions in the game, but the Patriots went three-and-out on their ensuing possession. I got off watch to see the ending, and this is what I remember most about the game.

With 5:40 to play and starting from their own 21-yard line, the Eagles began their next-to-final possession with two timeouts remaining and the two-minute warning. If the Eagles were going to tie or even win the game, they needed two scores with at least one being a touchdown and in between the scores, somehow get the ball back either by forcing a New England three-and-out or an onside kick.

McNabb throws a pass for 4 yards… Another pass for 4 yards… A 5-yard pass to receiver Terrell Owens who had come back from a broken leg to play in this game… A 2-yard pass…

All these short passes were eating up clock. By the time the Eagles crossed into Patriots’ territory there was inside 3 minutes left in the game. Those that were watching the game in the M-Division lounge were in shock that the Eagles weren’t acting with more urgency. Two Eagles fans I knew – Milton Abbott, our Reactor Department yeoman, and Dave Olsen, a fellow 1-planter – were in utter disbelief that their team was taking too much time to get a score.

The two-minute warning came after a 13-yard pass from McNabb to running back Brian Westbrook. Two plays later, McNabb threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to cut the Patriots lead to 3. Had the Eagles scored BEFORE the two-minute warning, they could have kicked it deep, forced a three-and-out by burning their final two timeouts AND getting a free timeout with the two-minute warning, and gotten the ball back with reasonable field position to mount a final offensive drive with a decent amount of time remaining.

The touchdown drive covered 79 yards in 13 plays. All were passing plays except for one. McNabb posted a quarterback rating of 112.8 for the drive and six different Eagles caught passes. Not a bad drive

Except that it took nearly four minutes of game play.

The Eagles onside kick was unsuccessful, but they were able to force a Patriots three-and-out. However, scoring a touchdown prior to the two-minute warning cost them even more time. By my calculation, if the Eagles scored and kicked off prior to the two-minute warning, they would have gotten the ball back with about 1:50 to play in the game. In reality, the Eagles got the ball back with 46 seconds needing to travel 80 yards for makeable field goal range.

The very first play was a 1-yard pass to Brian Westbrook which ate up nearly half the time that was remaining. Two plays later Rodney Harrison intercepted the ball to secure the Patriots’ third Super Bowl in four seasons.

Almost the same event happened last week in New England. This time Andy Reid is the Chiefs coach and is trailing by 14 with a full complement of timeouts remaining as well as an extra timeout being the two-minute warning. Instead of going up tempo, Kansas City took their time to get the first of two necessary touchdowns to extend the game. The drive was 80 yards in 16 plays with 6 runs, 4 of those running plays were by quarterback Alex Smith. Yes, his strength is running, but that is not a luxury you have in this situation.

I am sure people were screaming at their televisions that the Chiefs had a full complement of timeouts remaining and were not using them to save as much time as possible. If the goal was to save the timeouts, then the Chiefs should have scored with more urgency. The touchdown came after 2 plays and 42 seconds had elapsed after the two-minute warning. The total time of the drive was 5:16. That drive made the Eagles Super Bowl XXXIX last touchdown drive look like “The Greatest Show on Turf.”

The Chiefs attempted the onside kick to extend the game, but the Patriots recovered. A 12-yard pass to Edelman followed by three Tom Brady kneel downs secured the victory and advanced the Patriots to another AFC Title Game.

In Denver last week, Pittsburgh played a nearly perfect game despite not having wide receiver Antonio Bryant. It looked like the Steelers were going to pull off the upset until a fourth quarter fumble gave Denver the ball. On the ensuing Broncos possession, running back C.J. Anderson scored the go ahead touchdown to put the Broncos up for good. A defensive stop followed by a field goal secured the Broncos second trip to the AFC Title Game in three seasons.

The Steelers were an offensive juggernaut and had their key players not been devastated by injury this season who knows what could have happened. Perhaps even a rematch in New England with a chance to play in the franchise’s ninth Super Bowl and to extend their Super Bowls won by two over Dallas and San Francisco.

This is likely the last Manning-Brady matchup. It would be great to see a quarterback showdown, but this game could be dictated by defense. As shown in FiveThirtyEight, the NFL’s final four is one of the best collection of teams since the 1970 merger.

I cannot get over the fact that the Broncos could not quickly put away a Steelers team that was without a couple of key players. If it wasn’t for that fumble, it would be Pittsburgh and New England playing in the AFC Championship in Foxboro. Though the Broncos have the #1 ranked defense and the only Steelers touchdown was a rushing one, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards in the loss.

I expect Brady with his full complement of receivers to score a couple of touchdowns in this game and advance to another Super Bowl.

Patriots 27, Broncos 16

Cardinals at Panthers, FOX 4:30PM (MT)

I understand why the Cardinals went for the jugular on their final offensive drive of regulation. If you score a touchdown leading by 4, you make it a two possession game and effectively put the game on ice. As we saw back in December, never give Aaron Rodgers a chance. Even though he was on the losing end of this game, I would not be shocked if he garnered a few MVP votes for the Hail Mary against the Lions that saved the Packers playoff chances and the one that forced overtime against the Cardinals.

When Larry Fitzgerald finally retires, his 2008 playoff run and this game should solidify his Hall of Fame induction. Fitzgerald has 13,366 receiving yards and is part of the 1,000-catch club. He currently has 98 receiving touchdowns trailing Packers Hall of Famer Don Hutson with 99. If he joins the 100-touchdown club, he would join Hall of Famers Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Tim Brown, and Steve Largent.

In 8 playoff games, Fitzgerald averaged 114 yards per game and at least one touchdown. Remember, in Super Bowl XLIII he caught the touchdown that gave Arizona the lead before the Steelers answered with one of their own to take the lead back. Fitzgerald easily would have been the game’s MVP having caught 7 passes on 8 targets for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

Speaking of aggressive play calling, the Packers should have gone for two and the win instead of kicking the extra point and going for overtime.

As explained in detail by the nerds at FiveThirtyEight, successfully making a two-point conversion since 2001 is 47.2%. The road team has won 45.5% of the time in overtime over the same time period. Combined with making the new 15-yard line extra point (94.3%), the odds of making the extra point AND winning in overtime is 42.9%. Making a two-point conversion is ALMOST a 50-50 proposition; the same as say… flipping a coin. I would like to dive further into these figures and wonder how many teams won the overtime coin toss and won the game vs. those that lost the toss, but still won the game as well as winning the toss and losing vs. losing the coin toss and losing the game.

Math… my old nemesis…

Seahawks fans are upset that they lost on Sunday because they had to play in the early Sunday slot instead of in one of the two television windows on Saturday. The Seahawks played in Minnesota twice this season with both games kicking off at 10 AM Seattle time and winning both games. The Panthers were clearly ready to play this game and raced out to a 31-0 halftime lead.

In the second half the Seahawks made it a game by scoring 24 points and proving that they would not go down without a fight.

As I said at the start of the playoffs, 15-1 does not necessarily guarantee a Super Bowl berth. The only teams to have won 15 or more regular season games and win the Super Bowl: the 1984 49ers and 1985 Bears.

Since then a missed field goal cost the Vikings a chance at their first ever Super Bowl championship in January 1999. The Steelers might have ended the Patriots regular season streak, but in the playoffs it was the Patriots moving on to the Super Bowl on the Steelers’ home turf for the second time in four seasons.

The Giants played spoiler for 15+ win teams in their two Super Bowl victories. In Super Bowl XLII, Eli Manning ended the Patriots quest for perfection. Nearly four years later the Giants beat the Packers in Green Bay in the divisional round.

Can the Cardinals make the Panthers the most recent 15+ win to suffer playoff disappointment?

I said at the start of the playoffs it would Patriots and Cardinals meeting in the Super Bowl.

And I am sticking with it.

Cardinals 31, Panthers 27

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