Monthly Archives: January 2013

NFL Playoff Picks: Divisional Weekend Edition

Well, last weekend couldn’t have gone any better for this sports blogger. Four for four. Perfection. An unblemished playoff record. Wild Card Weekend was tamed.

OK, enough of that. Aside from my dominating performance though, the games themselves were highly entertaining—save for the shellacking in Green Bay. They all had interesting storylines going into them, had drama throughout, and left me wanting more football.

Thank God the Divisional Round is upon us.

As good as those storylines were last weekend, the way the games played out there might be even better ones ahead of us. Three of the four games feature rematches from during the regular season. Odd thing is, all three regular season games were completely lopsided, be it on the scoreboard or just in how the flow of the game was. The home team in each of these games was the victor in the previous matchup as well.

Enough jibber jabber, though. Let’s get to the games.

Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos—Saturday, 4:30pm, CBS

The Hall of Fame career of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was extended for another week after an impressive win against the Colts in last weekend. This week, he’ll get one last crack against another future Canton-bound player—Peyton Manning.

To do so, Lewis is going to have to help Baltimore buck an awful trend against teams quarterbacked by Manning. Peyton has won his last nine starts against his former team’s former city’s current team. Two of those nine games came in the playoffs as well.

While Lewis did look a little slow and rusty in his first start back since tearing his triceps, he was still a force in the middle. Unfortunately, it won’t be the same rookie-QB-led Colts on the other side of the field again. He’ll have to try and stop one of the most methodical and intelligent quarterbacks to ever lace up.

Manning has the Broncos on an 11 game winning streak during which they’ve averaged 31.8 pts per game. Too much for an aging defense to handle. Broncos win 35-24

Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers—Saturday, 8:00pm, FOX

The second of three rematches this weekend. San Fran marched into Lambeau Field for their Week 1 matchup and effectively shut down the Packers. It’s a start to the season that Aaron Rodgers would have liked to avoided, but it’s one he’ll get a chance to avenge in his home(ish)town. Oh, and against the team that took Alex Smith with the first overall pick in the 2005 draft instead of him.

Absolutely gushing with gooey madness. Almost too much to handle.

One big difference exists, and it’s one that I think will result in a different outcome than the Week 1 game. And that difference’s name is Colin Kaepernick.

What the second-year pro (and Wisconsin native, ironically enough) brought to the 49ers while Alex Smith was out with a concussion was excitement, a new look, and a jolt of energy. It was enough to convince Jim Harbaugh to make the switch permanent. And while he’s been decent—thanks to his athletic ability—my gut just won’t let me trust him in his first postseason action.

Rogers has been here, and the Pack are hitting their stride at just the right time. They, of all teams, know the importance of getting on a roll in late December and January. Packers win 27-24

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons—Sunday, 1pm, FOX

Not to take away from Seattle’s impressive comeback in their Wild Card game against the Redskins, but what might it have looked like if Robert Griffin III’s knee was 100%? Whatever percent that knee was at during the first quarter was enough to put the Skins out in front 14-0 after two drives. A tweak, run, and a few tears later, the Seahawks found themselves marching on to the next round.

They won’t have the luxury of playing against an injured signal caller this week.

They will, however, be playing against the Atlanta Falcons. The team who hasn’t figured out how to turn their regular season dominance into post season wins in three of the last four seasons. Matt Ryan will look to buck that trend.

Something that I think leans heavily in their favor is the fact that Seattle will be making their second cross-country trip in a week. Seattle was 3-5 on the road this season. They will also have to do battle against the fifth ranked defense in the league.

Eventually something is going to have to go right for Atlanta in the playoffs, and there might be no better time than now. Falcons win 26-20

Houston Texans @ New England Patriots—Sunday, 4:30pm, CBS

Houston held on in the final minutes of their Wild Card game against the Bengals to advance to the divisional round for the second season in a row. Now they get a crack at Tom Brady and the Pats in Foxboro—the same team that romped them last month 42-10.

The last month of the season, starting with that rough one in New England, was quite terrible for Schaub and the Texans who went 1-3 and fell from the 1st to 3rd seed. It was good that they got the win to start the post season, but having the bye would have benefitted them, allowed them to regroup, and (more importantly) play this Divisional Round game in the confines of their own dome.

But they flopped, and now have to travel back to Foxboro. No one’s fault but their own.

Tom Brady is who he is. Analyze it anyway you want and you should (if you know what you’re talking about). Brady can roll out of bed and throw four TDs, while wearing Uggs, and I expect nothing less here.

If the Texans want to have any chance in this game, Arian Foster’s going to have to get more than 15 carries (and more than 46 yards).

It’s not going to happen though. These are the Patriots, and these are the NFL playoffs. Patriots win 37-27

The Mishandling of RGIII

Time to add my two cents to the conversation about the handling of Robert Griffin III by the Washington Redskins. I’m going to do this not as a Philadelphia fan, but as a fan of the game, and a fan of watching young talent perform at the highest level–not being used like a piece of meat to feed a head coach’s ego or personal agenda.

If you can’t tell by that, I’ll spell it out for you. I’m with the rest of the medials in my belief that Head Coach Mike Shanahan and the entire Redskins organization is completely to blame for the mishandling of their franchise quarterback. The man that they mortgaged their future on in last April’s NFL Draft, is the same man that they trotted out onto a poor excuse for a football field for three and a half quarters, clearly affected by whatever was going on in that right knee, only to see that same man’s knee completely fall apart as he crumbled to the “turf” while reaching for a bad snap.

It was reported Tuesday that Griffin underwent surgery to repair complete tear’s of the ACL and LCL (if I were in Dan Snyder’s shoes–not that I’d ever want to be–Shanny’s contract would be seeing a complete tear as well). Recovery time could be anywhere from eight to 12 months. Congrats, Redskins brass; you’ve successfully shelved your franchise QB for at least the start of next year, maybe longer. Hail!

I’m hard pressed to believe that Shanahan had RGIII’s best interests in mind, not just when he cleared him to play against Seattle, but throughout the entire season. Professional football has never been played at a faster pace than the one it’s being played at today. Turnover at positions such as running back and on defense, where guys give and take the hardest hits, is incredibly high. SO riddle me this: Why the hell would you want your franchise quarterback running the ball 120 times in one season, mostly on designed runs?

Don’t get me wrong Griffin is a gifted athlete, and his mobility is what makes him a tough player to prepare for and defend against, but why risk the inevitable injury? As a fan of the team who has (not for much longer) Michael Vick at quarterback, I know what it’s like to watch a game  and cringe with every hit he takes, and wonder just how many more he’ll take before he just doesn’t get up anymore. Griffin might be bigger, but, as the Skins found out, it just takes one awkward hit to derail a season. That hit came on December 9 against the Baltimore Ravens.

Haloti Ngata's hit on RGIII on Dec. 9.

Haloti Ngata’s hit on RGIII on Dec. 9.

After that moment, when Haloti Ngata took Griffin down hard, the rookie quarterback, and his injury, were completely mishandled by the Redskins. From Dr. James Andrews’–the renowned knee, elbow, and shoulder specialist–denial that he ever cleared Robert to return to the Ravens game, to letting him return after sitting out one week to take on a pathetic Eagles team, to not removing him after clearly tweaking the knee in the first quarter of the playoff game. There were so many opportunities for the coaches to put Griffin’s health, and the team’s future, ahead of winning one playoff game in a year where they weren’t even projected to make the playoffs. (Sidenote: Andrews’ presence at the Wild Card game seemed like nothing more than a publicity stunt. I’m sure if he were given final say on when to pull Robert, it would have been done before the game.)

Shanahan managed the situation as if there was some sort of urgency to win now, which–while it may be the truth, personally, for the head coach with the worst spray-tan in the league–it’s far from reality for the guys wearing the pads. The Redskins have plenty of pieces in place, especially on offense, to be successful for years to come. There was no need to risk Griffin’s health and future to win one playoff game in his first season in the league.

Then there’s what Shanny said during the post game presser, when asked why he let Griffin continue to play. Griffin said he was fine… That’s all it took? Shanahan said he believes that players know the difference between being “hurt” vs being “injured,” yet he allowed his clearly “injured” quarterback convince him that he was OK to keep hobbling out onto the field. I’d expect Robert, like any athlete and competitor, to be too proud and not be willing to say he can’t play. That’s one thing. But for the head coach to put him back in when he’s visibly struggling, is just amazing. Anyone with two working eyes (maybe even one) who was watching that game could have told you that RGIII had no business being in there.

The dynamic of how DC teams handle injuries with their star players seems to be all over the map. Here, you have the Redskins who offer the no. 2-overall draft pick as a sacrificial lamb in the hopes of winning one playoff game. Then there’s Davey Johnson and the Nationals who shut down their ace, Stephen Strasburg, after 160+ innings, two weeks shy of the playoffs–just when it looks like he’s hitting his stride–because that’s the team’s policy for players coming off of Tommy John surgery. Both have led to massive outcry from the respective fan bases (because they are different in so many ways, believe it or not).

Am I spot on with all of this, or missing the mark? How would you have handled RGIII’s injury if you were Shanahan (or even Strasburg’s if you were Davey)? Share it all in the comments.

NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: The Winner Is…

I’m not jealous of the peeps that get to vote for this one this year. It’s by far one of the hardest most difficult categories to pin down, but I’m going to do my best and offer my two cents, and hopefully clear things up for them a bit.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s as difficult a decision as most in the media are making it out to be. Sure, there are three obvious frontrunners for the award: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson. (A case could be made for Redskin’ s running back Alfred Morris, but let’s be honest, the focus has been on the rookie QBs all year, so there’s no chance a 6th-round back is going to sneak up on anybody and take this award.) But the choice is pretty clear cut.

The 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award should be given to Andrew Luck. Hands down.

I know a lot of the DC residents I live near and around may have a few choice words for me, and they certainly have their own case to make. I’m not buying into any of it though.

Andrew Luck meant more to the Indianapolis Colts this season than RGIII meant to Washington. There I said it. While Griffin certainly received far more hype (granted I’m in DC, so I’m sure I’m getting a skewed view of things—it’d be interesting to hear thoughts from fans in other cities on this), Andrew Luck provided more to his team overall.

Same goes for the guy out in Seattle. While Wilson took his time getting used to the offense and settling into his role, the Seahawks’ defense kept the team afloat. Even while Wilson set some of his own rookie marks, he still had the NFL’s no. 4 defense to lean on when the going got rough. Indy’s defense was far from spectacular this season, and about 90% of their wins are purely thanks to Luck and his last-minute heroics.

In her column on the Friday before Week 17 games were played, ESPN.com writer Ashley Fox listed a few of the rookie records that Luck set this year.

“In 15 games, he set the rookie record with 4,183 passing yards. He set the single-game rookie record with 433 passing yards against Miami in Week 9. He set the rookie record for attempts (599) and is within 29 of Sam Bradford’s rookie record for completions (he finished 15 shy of the mark). Luck’s six 300-yard passing games are two better than Peyton Manning’s previous rookie record of four, and his 10 wins are the most ever by a No. 1 overall pick, three better than Bradford’s seven.”

The knock against Luck—and conversely, the thing voters are going to notice about RGIII—is the amount of interceptions (18, to RG’s 5) and completion percentage (54.3% to III’s 65.6%). Fair, but I’d argue this: No team has asked more, statistically, of a rookie QB than the Colts, and the stats/newly set records that Fox presents prove that. Further, according to ESPN the Mag (side note: I swear this isn’t an ESPN-advertised post) Luck led all QBs, not just rookies, in average air yardage per pass attempt—he’s the only QB to average over 10 yards through the air per pass. So, while Griffin has thrown plenty of pretty bombs this season, a majority of his 3,200 yards have come on dinky-dunk passes and screen plays.

The most convincing reason why Luck deserves the award is this. He’s led the Colts on seven game-winning drives this season, and single handedly carried them into the playoffs. Luck’s emergence was predicted (as was RGIII’s), but no one could have expected the returns would have come in so soon. His ability to turn a 2-14 team around and put them in the playoffs has been nothing short of miraculous. The only real veteran leadership on the offensive side of the ball came from Reggie Wayne who accounted for fourth of Luck’s TDs and yards. The rookie could always lean on his veteran for help in crunch time, but Luck still had to step up to the plate and perform, and he did. He did so with other rookies surrounding him; four rookie receivers, a rookie tight end, and a rookie running back. Luck willed the Colts to nine more wins than their previous season total.

Was Robert Griffin III an exciting player to watch, of course. As was Russell Wilson. Like I said at the outset, any of the three rookie quarterbacks would make for an excellent recipient of the award. But in the sense of who was the best pure quarterback, who provided the most to their team, and who statistically performed the best out of these three, there’s no question in my mind that Andrew Luck should be the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Agree? Disagree? Make your case in the comments.

My New View On Writing

Writer’s block. It’s one of the most frustrating things to overcome as a writer. I’m either struggling to find the right words to “put on paper” to describe what it is I’m blogging/writing about, or I’m having trouble even coming up with a topic to share some opinion on.

There are plenty of great articles out there on how one can overcome the annoying impediment–including one by our very own Pat Fiorenza.

All of them have great tips and provide interesting insights on what works for the writer. Most of the time they can be helpful–other times, I find myself frustrated that these authors were able to find something to write about how to find something to write about.

Then I read Seth Godin’s take on it all, which he posted on his blog last week.

Despite the short length of the article, Godin (a well-known author and entrepreneur) may have changed my entire outlook on how–and why–I write.

The man may have found a cure for writer’s block, and possibly even the vaccine to prevent writers from ever suffering from it again.

Before 1940, writer’s block wasn’t even a thing, Godin writes. “The reason: writing wasn’t a high stakes venture. Writing was a hobby, it was something you did in your spare time, without expecting a big advance or a spot on the bestseller list.”

Nowadays, that’s certainly not the case. Every time I sit down to write a blog post, or even an article for work, I find myself obsessing over making everything perfect. It’s one thing to carefully craft an article and think about how the placement of the words have an effect on what the reader might get out of it. It’s another to second-guess the very words your putting onto a page or document because you’re concerned about how the reader will perceive you, the writer. Not to say that I don’t like the style of writing I’ve made for myself, but one can’t help but wonder sometimes, who’s going to be reading this article, and how those 500 words could impact my career.

We’re all writers these days, though, thanks to the proliferation of blogging. We organize our words into thoughts, put those thoughts into a post, and share that post (in theory) with hundreds of thousands of people on the internet. Because of this, as Godin notes, we perceive the stakes of writing to be higher than ever. Fear of failing increases as well.

So how can we reverse this awful trend? Take Godin’s advice:

Consider the alternative to writer’s block: the drip. A post, day after day, week after week, 400 times a year, 4000 times a decade. When you commit to writing regularly, the stakes for each thing you write go down. … You don’t launch a popular blog, you build one. The writing isn’t the hard part, it’s the commitment.

The line that Godin emphasizes in that quote is what struck me hardest. No one simply starts writing and becomes famous, or attracts a large following overnight. It’s a matter of sticking with it, getting into a routine, and finding your voice. Just like the overused sports cliche, writers need to practice their craft in order to produce perfect content. Find your groove, get into it, and stick with it. The more you write, the easier and more freely the words will come.