Friday, January 8, 2010

Wild Card Weekend

Last year before Fack Youk went approximately 99% Bronx-centric, a relatively large amount of our coverage was geared towards the NFL Playoffs. This post, linked to by Deadspin and shamelessly sampled without attribution by Kissing Suzy Kolber (#22), was our first big hit.

Well, the 2010 NFL Playoffs are here. Despite the fact that second favorite team of the blog, the Giants, aren't in the Tournament of Twelve, there are certainly some Jets and Pats fans out there at the very least. Even if you don't follow any of the teams partaking in the postseason, the NFL Playoffs are undoubtedly the greatest four weekends in sports. They also mark the last significant sporting events until Pitchers and Catchers report to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida on February 17, 2010.

Here is my take on the 2010 Wild Card Weekend featuring three Week 17 "rematches" (the 10th, 11th and 12th times this has happened since 1990 - previously, one team won both games four times and the teams split five times). Let's see if watching 10 games a weekend for 17 weeks via NFL Sunday Ticket actually did anything for me:

New York Jets (+3), at Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday 4:30 EST, NBC.

Some say that the Jets "backed in" by virtue of Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian being smart and realizing that Super Bowl championships and not perfect (or 18-1) seasons are what you play for. Well, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. This first game of Wild Card Weekend is also the first Week 17 rematch - when the 9-7 Jets trounced the Bengals 37-0. Interestingly enough, the 2001 Jets beat the Raiders in Week 17 but lost to the Raiders in the Wild Card game (the Raiders subsequently lost to the Patriots in the infamous Tuck Rule game).

Back to Week 17, the Jets were playing for their proverbial playoff lives and the Bengals weren't playing for anything, sat Cedric Benson and called 11 total pass plays for Carson Palmer. The pumped-up Jets relied upon their NFL-leading rushing attack which overpowered the 7th ranked Cincy run defense.

How the Jets Can Win: Keep it on the ground and limit the throws of rookie Mark Sanchez, Palmer's fellow USC alum. Rookie QBs + Playoffs = Golf. Darrelle Revis also needs to shut down Ochocinco like he did in Week 17.

How the Bengals Can Win: On offense, the Bengals need to be able to sneak a few big plays past the NFL leading Jets pass defense. On defense, they will have to play like the defense that ranked 7th in the NFL against the run.

Injury Notes: Chad Ochocinco injured his knee in pregame warmups but it appears that he will play. Bengals DT Pat Sims suffered a broken forearm on Sunday and was placed on IR, but fellow DT Domata Peko is expected to be back from knee surgery, bolstering the Bengals Run D that gave up 257 Yards to the Jets.

Random: I expect many Jets fans to call the Bengals Jerk Line at 513-381-JERK (5375).
My Prediction: Given that the Jets ranked 8th against the run and 1st against the pass, and that the Bengals finished 7th and 6th in those respective categories, I expect this be one hell of a low-scoring affair. I say that the Jets prevail with a Thomas Jones score and a couple of FGs from Jay Feely.

Jets: 13
Bengals: 10

Philadelphia Eagles (+4) at Dallas Cowboys, Saturday 8:00 EST, NBC:

This is also a rematch of the Week 17 game in Dallas in which Tony Romo and the Cowboys completed the exorcism of their December demons and shut out the Iggles and their chance for a First Round Bye 24-0. The Eagles had to fly out to Philly after the game and fly in to Dallas again this week despite not staying in nearby Mexico on the dime of a certain quarterback on their roster with the name of Ron Mexico.

In the regular season, the Cowboys defeated the Eagles twice on their way to the NFC East title. Can they beat them a third time? You know what they say about beating a team thrice - it is nearly impossible. Or is it? Twelve of the 19 times the team who swept the regular season, won the 3rd game.

As for Dallas, the last team they had a chance to beat a team three times in the same season was in 1998. They ultimately lost to the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card Round after besting them twice in the regular season. And of course, in 2007-2008, they beat a Giants team twice in the regular season before losing in the NFC Divisional Round and were but a speed bump on Big Blue's way to Super Bowl glory.

Cowboys Can Win If: Tony Romo can exorcise his playoff demons and the 19th-ranked pass defense can avoid the big play from Donovan McNabb to DeSean Jackson, like they did on Sunday. They will also need to avoid costly Flozell Adams penalties and kicker Shaun Suisham will need to avoid imploding.

Philadelphia Can Win If: DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin can make the simple catches that they missed last week and the secondary makes the tackles that they missed. A healthy dosage of blitzing from every angle like the Jim Johnson defense of yesteryear will also be needed to disrupt and frustrate Romo. Without the heavy blitzing, Romo will beat you, as evidenced on Sunday.
My Prediction: This game will be closer to the 20-16 Week 9 affair than Week 17's game. I liked Philly's game plan on Sunday but they just couldn't execute. There is no way that this poor execution will be replicated. They are too good of a team. Romo will have 2 TDs but also throw 3 INTs. McNabb will throw for one, Westbrook run for one, and Jackson will run back the other. The difference will be a seemingly innocuous first half field goal.

Philly: 24
Dallas: 21

Baltimore Ravens (+3.5) at New England Patriots, Sunday, 1PM EST, CBS:

The Patriots were my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl. And they were my pick to win the Super Bowl at 12:59 EST on Sunday of Week 17. But then the hahhts of Bawston were-ah broken when Wes Welkah had his knee blown out and my picks were facked. In regular American English, the genius Bill Belichick decided to play Wes Welker, in a meaningless game against the Texans and Welker, Brady's favorite receiver and the yang to Randy Moss's yin, subsequently tore his ACL and MCL on the Pats' first drive of the game. I guess I could put it in a simpler and more vulgar manner--the Patriots are fucked and the downward spiral of Boston athletics continues.

If the Pats don't lose against Baltimore, they surely will lose in the Divisional Round. Julian Edelman is no Welker. Teams will double Moss on every play. The Patriots did have the 12th ranked run offense in the league, but that was with Welker. And Baltimore's Run D, at #5 in the NFL ain't too shabby.

Patriots Can Win If: Edelman turns into Welker and Randy Moss has 3 TDs. Or Moss has 2 TDs and the Pats score multiple Defensive TDs. Big Ben Watson must also pick up some of Welker's possession catches.

Ravens Can Win If: 2nd Year QB Joe "Skinny" Flacco limits his INTs while playing at the hostile Razor and Ray Rice runs rabidly. Also, WRs Mason and Clayton will have to come up with a key catch sooner or later - surely not the most dependable WR duo in football. On defense, double team Moss most plays. When he isn't doubled, triple team him. Hit him early and hard and he will probably give up.
My Prediction: In front of the cold, hostile Bawstonians, Flacco, Rice and Ray Lewis tell the Patriots "Nevermore." Brady plays like Brady with 2 TDs, but ultimately the absence of Welker is too much for them to overcome as the Ravens D shuts down any modicum of a Patriots rush attack.

Ravens: 20
Patriots: 17

Green Bay Packers (+1.5) at Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, 4:40PM EST, FOX:

Another Week 17 rematch--last week the 5th-seeded Packers crushed the 4th seeded Cardinals 33-7 with Matt Leinart and my fellow BC alum Brian St. Pierre (who may have the best job in the world) at the helm in Glendale. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to go with a plain gameplan so as not to tip the hand of this week's gameplan.

Last year, as a Falcons fan, I salivated at playing the Cardinals on Wild Card weekend. Well, the Cardinals won the game. Next up, the Carolina Panthers were booking their flights for the NFC Championship. The Cardinals couldn't possibly win a fucking playoff game on the road, could they? Of course they could. Shame on everyone for thinking elsewise. And from there they continued to defy football fans across the globe by adding to Andy McNabb's NFC Championship Game losses and coming within a miraculous Roethlisberger to Santanio Holmes touchdown from becoming Super Bowl XLIII champions.

Will this year's Cardinals team also begin a Super Bowl run by beating a 5th seeded team, who many believe are better, and with a talented young QB making his first ever playoffs start (Aaron Rodgers)? While it may seem like fate dictates such, the Cardinals injury list may defeat such.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the standout Cardinals CB, bruised his left knee in Week 17 and is questionable. The Cardinals leader in INTs will be needed to shut down the prolific Packers passing attack; so too will defensive end Calais Campbell who broke his thumb and is expected to play with a cast. WR Anquan Boldin, who surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the fifth time in his career during the game, was injured in the 3rd Quarter after Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt inexplicably left him in, sprained his left ankle. Boldin, a true gamer, expects to be ready to go. The Cardinals need all of their receiving corps to spread thin the Packers pass defense that ranked 5th in the NFL (their rush D led the league).

Cardinals Can Win If: Boldin plays, thereby enabling Larry Fitzgerald to does his best impression of the 2009 Playoffs. The absence of Boldin will also make it that much easier for the Packers to stop the Cardinals' anemic 28th-ranked ground game. Rodgers-Cromartie will also need to play as the Cardinals will need multiple turnovers.

Packers Can Win If: Aaron Rodgers doesn't have 3+ turnovers.
My Prediction: Rodgers doesn't have 3+ turnovers and the Packers 2nd ranked overall defense shuts down the Cardinals offense.

Packers: 24
Cardinals: 10

Enjoy the games with family and friends and good luck with all of your betting! If I have any credibility left, look out for my Divisional Round previews.

Morning Linkaround

Time to pull together some odds and ends, friends:
It appears that Kevin Towers will be joining the Yankees as a consultant in 2010. Why only a consultant? Because if he had a higher title, he wouldn't be able to continue collecting his salary from the Padres. How's that for revenue sharing, San Diego?

Just like he did last winter with Robinson Cano in the Dominican Repbulic, Kevin Long is already working with players on their swings. Long has already visited Nick Swisher, is working with A-Rod this week and Curtis Granderson in the near future.

The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog compares the 2008 and 2009 Yankees defenses. Hopefully there will be another jump forward in 2010.

In light of David Cone's departure from YES, Larry from the Yankeeist gives his thoughts on the broadcasts and wonders whether we'll ever see a true sabermetrician in the booth.

After covering each team in the AL East individually, the folks at Beyond the Box Score have taken to comparing them using their slick DiamondView graphic. The Yankees lead in both on base ability and power, while the Rays have the best fielding and baserunning. The Red Sox run second in each of those categories, making them the jack of all trades but the master of none. And there's nothing wrong with that.

River Ave. Blues presents their long-awaited Jesus Montero prospect profile.

A-Rod reportedly has a new lady friend, a 25 year old Miami socialite named Elaine Spottswood. Over/Under on this one: 2 Weeks.

Alex Remmington at Big League Stew tells you everything you need to know about UZR.

First up in the BBWAA backlash category, Deadspin lists the worst Hall of Fame voters. You know how I can tell Barry Petchesky isn't really a baseball fan? There are only three on his list and none of them are Dan Shaugnessey or Jon Heyman.

Ken Rosenthal thinks that, in addition to adding web-based writers to the BBWAA, they should be subtracting voters who are out of touch with the game.

Sky Andrecheck half-jokingly suggests 5 things players can do to improve their chances of getting into the Hall of Fame as a way of pointing out the flaws in the voting. Of the 5, there is only one that a player himself could control and it runs contrary to the interests of the team (working fewer walks).

Lots of words have been spilled about the Expos lately, most notably from Jonah Keri. He recounts some personal memories from his youth at Olympic Stadium during an ode to Tim Raines while Tyler Kepner has a column in the Times today about the former stars who came from Montreal.