NFL Playoff Preview – Wild Card Weekend

My final record for the regular season as far as picking the correct winner of a game without a spread was: 166-89. I’m at least sure that that is close to Scottie and Matt so I’ll take solace in that.

Wild Card weekend 2013 is approaching in two days and there are some interesting matchups that could make for some fantastic Divisional Round games. There is so much to talk about when you look at the teams playing this weekend, so let’s get to it.

Saturday, January 5th at 4:30pm ET – Cincinatti Bengals @ Houston Texans

For me, this is the least interesting game of the bunch but it’s still appealing considering the Texan’s late season difficulties in winning. The Texans have lost two straight and while they are the favorite in this game, with home field advantage, it’s still a very winnable game for the Bengals.arian_foster_2

For a team that was in first place in the AFC for 16 weeks of the season, the Texans seem to have peaked too early. While I think that any of the other 4 AFC playoff teams would have posed a harder matchup than the Bengals, they still have a good team on their hands to deal with. The bright side for them is that Bengals Andy Dalton hasn’t been playing well lately and the man that is carrying the Bengals offense, Benjarvis Green-Ellis, will be up against the Texans NFL 7th ranked rush defense. If the Texans can contain Green-Ellis, they will be in a great position. While the Bengal’s always have that bomb to AJ Green in their back pocket, if Houston can contain the run they can focus more on a turnover-prone Dalton and take advantage of his mistakes.

The Texans have more than the sufficient tools to get the job done, they just need to execute. I can’t confidently pick against them in this matchup, so:

Winner: Houston Texans

 

Saturday, January 5th at 8:00pm ET – Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers

Green Bay defeated Minnesota in Green Bay 23-14 in week 13 of the regular season. Minnesota defeated Green Bay in Minnesota 37-34 just last week in week 17 of the regular season. Since that week 13th game, Minnesota has not lost and is on a four-game winning streak. In both of the times that these teams met this season, Adrian Peterson, the potential MVP of the league, has gone crazy. Week 13: 210 yards and 1 TD. Week 17: 199 yards and 1 TD.

la-sp-sn-adrian-peterson-rushing-record-201212-002Aaron Rodgers had a great game in their loss to the Vikings and an OK game in the win. That tells me that the Packers don’t absolutely need Rodgers to have a career-game to win and that isn’t really anything new when you look at the Packers as a team.

Christian Ponder went 16/28 and threw for 234 yards, 3 TD’s and no interceptions in the Vikings win last week.

Christian Ponder went 12/25 and threw for 119 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT’s in the Vikings loss in week 13.

Assuming that Peterson is going to gain his crazy yardage and at least one rushing TD, it seems that the Vikings need Ponder to perform well and not turn the ball over to win this game.

This is a fantastic divisional matchup and should be an exciting game that will probably come down to the wire and I can’t wait to watch it. I’m going with the more balanced team on this one and choosing:

Winner: Green Bay Packers

Sunday, January 6th at 1:00pm ET – Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens

The Colts are coming off of a big win against the, at the time, first place Houston Texans. The Ravens are a beat up team that still managed to win their division. The Ravens had a much better first half of the season at 6-2 and a second half at 4-4. The Colts have won 5 of their last 6 games coming into this week with a rookie Quarterback who broke the record for most rookie passing yards on a season with 4,373.luckvikings

When you look at average yards against per game, both Passing and Rushing, neither team are fantastic but Baltimore gets the defensive edge by quite a bit. That speaks to how poor the Colts defense is.

I would really really love to see the Colts win this and have a Broncos/Colts second round matchup with a Manning/Luck game in Denver. I have a gut feeling that the Ravens pull this one out due to their experience and of course due to Ray Rice. The Ravens win with one of those Torrey Smith 60 yard TD throws and 20+ carries from Ray Rice, I think. But I’m going to go with the hot hand and the momentum and hope for a dramatic second round matchup:

Winner: Indianapolis Colts

 

 

Sunday, January 6th at 4:30pm ET – Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins

The battle of the rookie Quarterbacks: Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III.

Russell Wilson tied Peyton Manning for most TD passes for a rookie and RG3 broke Cam Newton’s record for most rushing yards by a rookie QB. Seattle has a better record at 11-5 over Washington’s 10-6 but Washington takes home field advantage and the higher seed as they won their division.

Seattle is on a 5 game win streak while Washington is on a 7 game win streak.

dm_121129_nfl_griffin_top_jerseyThis should be a great game with a lot of rushing yards. Seattle takes the overall defensive advantage in this one and Washington has a marginal offensive advantage. Washington’s defense will do their best to make Russell Wilson beat them through the air as you can guarantee they focus to stop Wilson and Lynch on the ground. Seattle will have a similar plan with Morris and RG3’s rushing being the main source of offense for Washington. Does this come down to which Quarterback has a better game passing the ball without turning it over?

In the end, while both teams’ offenses have been putting up impressive point totals in the past few weeks, I think that Seattle’s defense will do enough to limit the scoring that RG3 will conjure up.

Winner: Seattle

 

 

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Week 8 – The Mattyoshow Review

In this segment I will provide a weekly review for the previous weekend’s Patriots game, as well as my prediction for next weekend’s game.

-If you told me before Sunday’s game that the Patriots would hold Adrian Peterson to 92 yards (with one touchdown) on 25 carries, I would have considered that a solid performance by the Pats’ defense, predictably en route to a New England victory.  After watching Sunday’s game, I would call their performance against Peterson and the Vikes’ rushing attack much more than solid, it was downright impressive.  It’s not the total that I am concerned with, as 92 yards for most rushers in the NFL would be a good day.  The most important number to look at is Peterson’s longest carry on the day went for 9 yards.  Adrian Peterson has a history of punishing defenses in between the tackles, and when he eventually breaks a run outside, it goes for big yardage.  Well, not on Sunday.  Limiting Peterson’s big-play ability was the most instrumental part leading to a Patriots’ win against the Vikings.

-After being limited to 44 yards in his last two games combined, BenJarvus Green-Ellis broke out in a big way Sunday, rushing for a career high 112 yards on 17 carries, and pounding in two touchdowns (the last of which sealed a Patriots win).  Green-Ellis’ play has been limited recently with the emergence of Danny Woodhead as a viable backfield option, but with a lead in the fourth quarter the Patriots turned to Green-Ellis to control the clock and bring home the win.  BenJarvus did just that, continuosly running the ball very effectively late in the game, burning down the clock and bringing the Pats into scoring position.  I loved the attitude that BenJarvus ran with on Sunday.  Hopefully Belichick doesn’t pull his usual nonsense and Green-Ellis will see somewhere in the vicinity of 20 carries next week at Cleveland.

-For the fourth game in a row Jerod Mayo has been the Patriots best defensive player.  In my “What to look for…” segment last week, I highlighted the Mayo-Peterson matchup, explaining that the battle between those two may very well decide the outcome of the game.  On Sunday, Jerod Mayo won the battle.  He amassed 14 combined tackles (7 solo, 7 assisted), making key plays all over the field.  The most impressive of his plays came in an Adrian Peterson touchdown run.  Mayo hurdled several linemen to whack Peterson mid-air, causing his forward movement to stop completely and actually sending him about one foot backwards.  The touchdown call was upheld in a review (which I still disagree with), but that play was eerily reminiscent of Tedy Bruschi flying over offensive lineman in a goal line stance to make a huge hit.

-It seems as though I can’t go even one “Mattyoshow Review” without mentioning Devin McCourty.  This kid impresses me on a weekly basis.  McCourty ended Sunday’s game with four tackles and one interception.  McCourty has now recorded in interception in two consecutive weeks.  The interception came late in the third quarter.  The Pats were up 14-10, but the Vikes were driving down the field.  As Harvin caught the ball and was falling to the ground, McCourty ripped the ball from his hands and returned the pick 37 yards down the field (outrunning the speedy Harvin the entire way).  This play was huge in terms of momentum in the game and his own personal development.  What might have been even more impressive than that interception is that McCourty had to leave the game for one play after getting the wind knocked out of him.  That was the first and only defensive snap that McCourty has missed the entire season.  Pretty damn impressive for a rookie…

-As I am writing this post I received a wonderful text message informing me that THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS HAVE WAIVED RANDY MOSS!  This isn’t the time for me to start ranting about how the Patriots should sign him back immediately, but it is a great segue for my next point.  Ever since the Randy Moss trade was completed, I have failed to see a viable option on this team as a deep threat.  I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it, Brandon Tate isn’t really what we thought he was going to be after the departure of Moss (and yes, I did see his 65 yard touchdown catch, but the credit for that play falls solely onto Tom Brady).  Deion Branch looks slow out there.  He finds soft spots in zones and makes plays, but he isn’t burning guys deep.  Welker hasn’t been very productive since Moss left.  Hernandez has played great, but he’s not a vertical guy.  Who else do you turn to?  Brady threw for 240 yards and a touchdown.  With Moss leaving, I can say that I was ready to turn my back on the days of Brady airing it out 50 times for 400 yards, but throwing for 200 yards every week isn’t going to consistently get it done.

NEXT WEEK’S PREDICTION – Patriots 27 – Browns 13

What to Look For…

The New England Patriots are off to a somewhat surprising 5-1 start (tied for the division lead) and look to continue to build on the success and the development of their young players as the season progresses.  Contrarily, the Minnesota Vikings are off to a disappointing 2-4 start (3rd place in the NFC North) and are hoping that week 8 marks the beginning of their turnaround.  Here are a few things to look for during Sunday’s Patriots vs. Vikings game:

-How could I start this segment without mentioning Randy Moss?  Moss returns to New England, just four weeks after being traded to Minnesota for a 2010 third round pick.  There are a ton of questions swirling about Moss’ return.  Will he give the Vikings some of the Pats’ defensive calls/signals?  Will he be applauded or booed?  How will coach Belichick and Brady greet Moss after the game?  But the most important question in my mind is how will the Patriots’ game plan and coverage schemes look against Randy Moss.  As I continuously say every week, this secondary is very young and although they get a bit better every week, are guys like Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington ready to individually handle Randy Moss?  I look for a safety to be over the top of Moss all game.  But, one thing we can be sure of is that coach Belichick will have a great game plan on how to contain Moss.  What to look for: What defensive schemes the Patriots’ defense uses to minimize the “Moss-effect.”

-Speaking of game plan, how can you create a game plan for a guy like Adrian Peterson.  Peterson is a one of a kind, once in a generation type of back.  His combination of speed, strength, desire, determination, and just downright pissed-offness (yup, made that one up) is unlike anything that the Patriots have or will see.  Peterson runs harder than any back that I have ever watched play the game.  The key with him is that every year he seems to be amongst the league leaders in yards after contact.  It takes two, three, and sometimes four defenders to take Peterson down.  Tackling will be huge in this game, and I look for Jerod Mayo to lead the charge in attempting to contain Adrian Peterson.  What to look for: How the Patriots’ defense performs against one of the best running backs in the league.

-Last week the Patriots passing offense did not perform up to its usual standards.  I am completely aware that even soon to be Hall of Fame quarterback is allowed to have a bad week once and a great while, but if you put two performances together like that back-to-back, then I begin to worry.  I stand by my notion that this offense seriously lacks a deep threat (with both of the longest passes in each game going to Hernandez, where the yardage was attributed mainly to yards after the catch).  Brandon Tate hasn’t done anything since Moss left.  Deion Branch has been a pleasant surprise, but his production has led to a serious decline in Welker’s impact.  No one seems to be able to get behind the defense (Taylor Price earned co-practice player of the week honors this past week, maybe signaling some upcoming playing time for the young speedster out of Ohio), which after a couple of weeks of film, and safeties creeping closer to the line of scrimmage, will hurt this Patriots’ offense.  What to look for: How the offense continues to evolve, now four weeks (and three games) after the departure of Randy Moss.

-Speaking of practice player of the week awards, Price received the honors along with practice squad corner Tony Carter and the ever-elusive corner Darius Butler.  Butler’s role in the defense has basically dwindled to nothing ever since his disappointing performance in week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Butler’s playing time has essentially been limited to dime or quarters packages (6 or 7 defensive backs on the field).  This has been a major disappointment, especially for me because I really thought that Butler was primed to have a big season.  Receiving recognition for his work in practice may be the first step towards getting back on the field and having a real impact on this defense.  What to look for: How much playing time Darius Butler gets after a great week in practice, and against a talented Minnesota receiving corps.

-I wouldn’t be happy with myself as a source of information and wisdom if I didn’t at least touch on the Brett Favre situation in this post.  We all have heard it a thousand times, Favre is an iron man.  He plays through injuries that other guys would be out weeks with.  Yes, 291 straight starts is very, very impressive.  I’ve got it.  Sadly, Mr. Favre, you playing this week against the New England Patriots is NOT in the best interest of your team.  In 2007, Tavaris Jackson started 12 games (essentially his one season as a starter).  Jackson threw for almost 2,000 yards (with a 58.2% completion percentage), with 9 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  He also rushed for 260 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Jackson compiled a passer rating of 70.8.  In 2010, Brett Favre, through 6 games, has thrown for almost 1,200 yards (with a 58.1% completion percentage), with 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.  Favre has compiled a passer rating of 68.0.  After looking over those stats, let me restate what I said earlier: Sadly, Mr. Favre, you playing this week against the New England Patriots is NOT in the best interest of your team.  What to look for: How the whole Brett Favre/Brad Childress/Tavaris Jackson/Jen Sterger/Roger Goodell/Scottie (oh sorry, nix that last one) saga plays out.

-THIS WEEK’S PREDICTION – Patriots 35 – Vikings 34