Here we are. Down to the final four teams in the NFL playoffs. There are certainly some surprises. First is the fact that we witnessed for the first time three teams that played on wildcard weekend to advance to the championship games. I also believe this is the first time that two #6 seeds advanced, but I am not sure of that. I’m also pretty sure that 90% of the football public did not expect to see the Ravens, Cardinals, or Eagles in the playoffs much less one week away from the Super Bowl.
One would think that the home teams in divisional games would be obvious favorites and win the majority of the time. While that used to be the case this year’s 1-3 record put up by first round bye teams puts the home team in divisional week down to 7-9 over the last 4 seasons. What is the root cause of this? The biggest argument would be for parity, suggesting that we have reached the point where “Any Given Sunday” any team has just as good of a chance of winning as any other. I myself think it is more of a momentum/state of mind thing. Let’s take a look at some of the matchups since 2005 where the home team lost the game.
Panthers (11-5) over Bears (11-5) – Even records tell us that the Bears were not enjoying an enormous talent advantage. The Panthers had won their last two games by a total of 67-11 and were riding high. The Bears rested Rex Grossman who was coming off an injury and had played in two games all season. He completed 17 of 41 passes for under 200 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. The Bears lost their last game to Minnesota and gave playing time to Jeff Blake.
Steelers (11-5) over Colts (14-2) – The Colts were talked about as a 19-0 candidate with Peyton Manning lighting up the sky. Their Regulars lost to the Chargers in week 15 which was December 18th. Manning and the starters played a few downs from then until the playoff game on January 15th. They lost 2 of their last 3 and limped to a win against the Cardinals in the last week of the regular season. The Steelers were 7-5 and on the verge of possibly not making the playoffs before tearing off 4 straight and beating the Bengals in the Wild Card game. They outscored opponents 146-50 in that five game stretch.
Chargers (11-5) over Colts (13-3) – The Colts had things wrapped up pretty early with their big record and didn’t give it much of an effort against the Titans, who needed a win to get in. The starters really hadn’t seen a full, serious game’s action since December 23rd when they finally took the field for the playoffs on January 13th. The Chargers, though they had wrapped up the division, played their starters (even slightly banged up Ladainian Tomlinson) in the Broncos and and Raiders games the last two weeks. Rivers was even jawing at Jay Cutler during the week 16 game as if the game meant something. They won 7 in a row leading up to the divisional game by an average margin of 28-10.
Giants (10-6) over Cowboys (13-3) – The 10-1 Cowboys beat the 10-1 Packers in week 13 in what the Cowboys must have believed to be their Super Bowl, because they played the next five games without emotion. The barely edged the Lions and lost to the Eagles and Redskins en route to a 2-2 finish. In the last three games, Tony Romo threw 1 TD to 5 INT’s and completed about 50% of his passes before it was decided that he needed some rest and Brad Johnson took over after a few series the final game. The Giants played hard down the stretch, even taking the 15-0 Patriots down to the wire in a game meaningless for both teams (expect in the context of a possible undefeated season.) Eli Manning played very well that game and had a very competent playoff run. The defense really came alive and had a four game stretch for the ages.
Eagles (9-6-1) over Giants (12-4) – The Giants didn’t seem to learn from their tactics last season. After Plaxigate, they went 1-3 down the stretch and the offense was not clicking. The Eagles, after tying lowly Cincy 13-13 and being crushed by the Ravens really turned it on and with some help made the playoffs. They pounded the Cowboys 44-6 in a win or go home regular season final and outscored opponents in their 5-1 run leading up to the divisional game 171-74.
Ravens (11-5) over Titans (13-3) – The Titans lost 2 of their last three and sat starters in the final game of the season, meaning they hadn’t played a meaningful game since December 21st when January 10th arrived. The Ravens started out 6-4 before finishing 6-1 with their only loss coming to the tough Pittsburgh Steelers. They came in with a defense that was taking the ball away…16 times since December. The Titans defense had gotten the ball back only 6 times. The Titans looked rusty on their ball handling turning the ball over 3 times to the Ravens 0.
The lesson? Play those December games as if they matter, even if they don’t. If not, you can find your dominant season going up in a smoke of one and done.
There is no question what was the dominant deciding factor in the games this weekend. Turnovers. The four winning teams turned the ball over 3 times. The four losers turned the ball over 14 times. Of course, the Panthers were responsible for 6 of those 14 themselves….
Eagles over Giants or “12 point win over favored Giants not enough to keep Philly fans from clambering for Kevin Kolb.”
From the start of last season until sometime late this season I actually have heard quite a few Eagles fans saying that they can’t win with Donovan Mcnabb and would rather switch over to the highly accomplished Kevin Kolb. Donovan Mcnabb’s numbers for this game are not spectacular but I thought he played pretty well considering that the Eagles running game did not really exist. His first interception was on a 3rd and 9 shot downfield that gave the Giants the ball at their 20. They likely would have punted had the ball landed incomplete so not much harm was done. The second was on a pretty freaky Fred Robbins batted down/stuck to hands play.
The game didn’t start out well for the Eagles offensively. Luckily, Asante Samuel picked off a pass just about the same place he did last week and ran it back to the two yard line, eventually giving the Eagles a touchdown. Up to the 2 minute warning in the first half the offense had mustered only 19 yards of total offense. I was thinking it incredibly unlikely that they would be able to move the ball very much the rest of the game. When they got the ball back at their own 25 with 1:33 and 1 timeout, I figured that they would be intent on running down the clock and going into the locker room only down one point. Suddenly, the offense clicked and they went on a brilliant 12 play (!!! 12 plays in 90 seconds with 1 timeout! That’s clock management!) drive that spanned 68 yards. They had to settle for a field goal from the seven yard line due to time constraints, but I think it did a lot to bolster their confidence that they could in fact do this. They went into halftime with the momentum and despite a first possession interception, it appeared to carry over.
In the previous two contests between these two teams, the Giants defense failed to register a sack on Donovan Mcnabb. They must have been convinced that this was a key to the game because they chose to blitz on what seemed like every passing down. There was some pressure early on in the game but eventually the offensive line and running backs picked up on the blitzing schemes and started to buy loads of time to pass the ball. They allowed him to stand in the pocket for 4, 5, even 6 seconds on some plays. It makes me wonder if the week or two of “rest” actually made them tire more quickly…as the Giants Offensive Line also seemed tuckered out as the game went on.
This can be seen pretty clearly by the two fourth quarter possession where the Giants chose to go on 4th and 1 and 4th and 2. The first attempt was a quarterback sneak call for Eli Manning. The offensive team really just needs to come out and make a decent showing at moving forward to be awarded a first down. The also have the advantage of knowing the snap count and thus being able to get moving before the defense. Eli Manning started forward and saw his offensive line just getting pushed backward. They got absolutely no push and he was stopped for no gain. The second time around the Eagles had once again stacked the box full of half their roster. Knowing that the offensive line moved nowhere on the last attempt, the Giants decided to call a Brandon Jacobs rush right down the gut. The Eagles were ready for it, the line failed to move forward, and they were stopped on fourth down again.
Perhaps one of the biggest possessions of the game came near the end of the second half. With a 1st and 5 at the Eagles’ 21 yard line, just under two minutes and holding timeout, the Giants called pass, pass, pass which was incomplete, incomplete, gain of four. You have time to run the ball in this situation and you have been pretty effective up to this point, averaging 4 yards per carry. Surely they can get five yards in three chances! Run a few times, get a first down, hopefully get a touchdown, and grind the clock down to next to nothing so you go into halftime with the lead. Instead they settled on the three and gave the Eagles the ball back. At this point they had outgained them 162-19 but were clinging to only a 1 point lead. The Eagles offense got into sync, marched, and took the lead going into the half.
Statistical Notes – The Giants took down Donovan Mcnabb 15 times in 2 games last season, and zero in three games this season. Eli Manning threw twice as many touchdowns (2) in this game as he did in all four playoff games last season. John Carney was 35/38 on field goals during the regular season and 3/5 this Sunday. Donovan Mcnabb will be starting in his fifth conference championship game. He is 8-2 in all other playoff games (including a Super Bowl loss) and 1-3 in the NFC Title game. Asante Samuel has played in 11 playoff games and has 7 interceptions in the postseason. Not bad. Brian Westbrook has averaged 4.7 yards per carry over his playoff career but is just under 2.0 yards per carry in two postseason games this year. The Eagles defense has created 10 turnovers in the last three games.
Steelers over Chargers or “Charger’s faithful pin photos of Eric Weddle to their Dartboards.”
Free Safety Eric Weddle led the Chargers in tackles during the regular season and came up with a huge 86 yard punt return for a touchdown in week 13 against the Falcons to keep the Chargers in the game. This Sunday he led the team in tackles as is usual and came up with a third down sack of Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter. He was having a decent game…until the second half happened. Within four football minutes he let a stray punt hit him right on the head and get recovered by the Steelers on the Chargers’ 23 yard line and interfered with a pass in the end zone resulting in a 44 yard penalty and a 1st and goal at the 1 yard line. Ouch! Some days things don’t go your way.
I still don’t see the point in most end zone interference. I saw this a lot in the last few weeks of the season from the Bears. Run Devin Hester down the field, toss the ball in the air, hope he draws a flag. Many of those Hester passes as well as this weekend’s shot at the end zone to Nate Washington are not easy balls to catch. I would contend it is more likely that a team will score given four tries from the 1 yard line than it is that a wide receiver comes down with one of those deep throws. Force the other player to make a play! Go with the chance that he comes down with it rather than the sure 44 yard penalty. Of course….some may argue that this interference call was a little bit on the soft side but when it comes down to it I do believe he interfered and the correct call was made.
Being the last game of the weekend and karma smiling down on the wild card weekend teams, I watched as the Chargers gained 75 yards on four plays on their opening drive against the best defense in the league and thought “Here we go again!” Philip Rivers hit Antonio Gates, Darren Sproles, and Vincent Jackson for increasingly large gains and didn’t appear to have broken a sweat. Of course, reality struck and they gained 40 yards in the next 45 minutes of football but still…
I am really coming around on Philip Rivers. Part of me thought he was a mentally unstable brat who doesn’t know when to shut his yap, can’t control his emotions, and happened to inherit a highly skilled team from Drew Brees’ departure. First came last season’s effort in the AFC Championship game where he went out there and gave it his all with a (Sprained/Torn ACL I think?) I look at the season he has had, with very little support from his running game and injured/sporadic receiving targets and realize that he’s a darn good football player. Seeing the camera shots on the sidelines of him in the third quarter when the Steelers would reach third down giving the Chargers defense another chance to make a stop somehow made me realize just how committed the guy is to winning. He could probably show his emotions in better ways but if I’m a Chargers fan I’m happy to know that I have a reasonably young and increasingly skilled QB that is going to leave it all on the field.
Which brings me to quarterback number 2. Ben Roethlisberger. In him I saw a guy surrounded by a team talented enough to go 28-9 (including post season) during his first two season while he dinked away throwing 12 passes a game while the running game and defense did all the work. I felt vindicated when he actually had to throw the ball to try to win his third year and tossed 23 INT’s and completed fewer than 60% of his passes. I came around on him last season not because of the gaudy TD numbers but because of how bad his pass blocking was and how his huge, seemingly slow body managed to get him out of trouble to make some plays.
This season his numbers are down….mostly because that pass blocking is even worse but have been in awe of his ability to make plays when it matters. The constant stream of defenders in his face the last two or three years has forced him to learn how to get rid of the ball really quickly. I watched him this game and saw how he is reading the play and going through his progressions AS he drops back. If you blitz him you better get there within 2 and a half seconds, because he’s throwing the ball by three. The first drive of the second half showcased Big Ben at his finest. He converted 3rd and 7, 3rd and 11, and 3rd and 8. It was capped off by him facing heavy pressure on 2nd and 6 from the 8, rolling out, and finding the underneath guy Heath Miller instead of trying to wing it into the end zone. He put the ball in the hands of his Tight End to make a play, and a touchdown broke out. Seeing a guy that looks like an oaf look at the defense and change the play to a squib punt a la Randall Cunningham (A squib punt that pinned the Chargers inside the 10) was awesome. Big Ben is the real deal.
Another leader of this offense for some time has been Hines Ward. I like his attitude because he isn’t a “GIVE ME THE BALL GIVE ME THE BALL” kind of guy. For a “Stud” receiver he has hit 1000 yards only twice in the last five years, topping off at 1043 yards, but he seems to be there when they need a big play. He makes the most of his time with the ball. His incessant jawing, smiling, and overall smug look infuriates defenders and often makes them do something stupid. Cletis Gordon wanted to take him down even though Ward reached the sidelines. Gordon made a half hearted effort to rough him up which Ward made look like a hit deserving of a felonious battery charge. Of course, the flag flew and he got up with that smile and smug look on his face.
I have long believed that most NFL running backs are interchangeable with one another or their backup, with the system, the offensive line, and the quarterback being more responsible for their success….Except for a few elite runners. Ladainian Tomlinson was always one of those irreplaceable guys to me. Darren Sproles couldn’t get anything going on the ground, but this IS the Steelers defense and nobody really has been able to run on them. Sproles still made himself known in the passing game breaking a huge 61 yard touchdown. With the success that Michael Turner had in limited carries for the Chargers, I’m starting to think not even Tomlinson is exempt from the interchangeable running back theory.
Statistical Notes – Of course I didn’t have time to talk about Willie Parker and the Pittsburgh run blocking which is probably the ultimate reason they won this game. The Steelers outgained the Chargers by 150 yards on the ground which has the side effect of a huge edge in time of possession (36:30 to 23:30). The Steelers defense had a poor outing. They allowed an entire 290 yards. That is 54 yards more than their average (237 yards per game!) The League average is somewhere between 310-320 yards per game. Only the Titans have put up more than 300 (322) on this unit. Lamar Woodley and James Harrison had 3 combined sacks to add to their 27.5 regular season total. Philip Rivers threw for more TD’s than INT’s for only the second time in six playoff games. Darren Sproles put up 596 all purpose yards and 3 touchdowns in two post season games.
Cardinals over Panthers or “No really, the Cardinals…the ARIZONA CARDINALS are in the NFC Title game!”
Ok, for the second straight game the Cardinals have outrushed a big time rushing team by a decent margin. They held the time of possession edge on the Panthers 39:49 – 20:11 on the Panthers home turf. What the heck is going on here? After me displaying a huge man crush on Kurt Warner, his uncanny accuracy, and some nice fantasy numbers that took me at least as far as the second round of my fantasy playoffs in all three leagues I had left them for dead against the Falcons and again left them for dead against the Panthers. Suddenly Edggerrin James, who I recently trashed as being a complete jerk and someone I wouldn’t want on my team is getting the ball, running hard, looking happy, getting embraced by Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone and being mildly productive. Did I mention that Anquan Boldin was sitting on the sidelines for this game?
With Boldin out, Fitzgerald is going to get double teamed and for all purposes taken out of the game, right? Ok, not a chance. Fitzgerald seems to be getting into that unstoppable zone. For the second straight week, Kurt Warner looked for a big play from Fitzgerald early on. For the second straight week, he looked to find Fitzgerald double covered. For the second straight week, he lobbed the ball up in the air anyway and let Fitzgerald use his athleticism to come back amidst two defenders and come down with the ball. Last week he got into the end zone but this week it only got them to the six. Bah. Fitzgerald caught a touchdown later in the game while two Panthers defenders frantically tried to run him down. He angled towards the sidelines and stretched at full extension to hit the pylon and put up six points.
Panthers fans, I can feel your pain. It’s a distant pain but I still feel it looking at seasons past. My feisty 2001 Packers team was better than people thought (At least that is what we thought in Wisconsin) and had beaten the 49ers and headed out to play the Rams. An early 7-7 tie turned into a 45-17 route while we all watched our hero, Brett Favre, throw SIX interceptions. On the other side, who else but Kurt Warner was there completing 18/30 for 216 yards, 2 TD’s, 1 INT (Eerily like his 21/32, 2 TD, 1 INT 220 yard performance on Saturday). Jake Delhomme was absolutely terrible and I had mentioned this as a possibility in the playoffs somewhere around the time he had thrown for 170 yards, 2 TD’s and 4 INT’s in two games against the Broncos and Raiders this season. The Panthers lack playmakers on offense short of Deangelo Williams and Steve Smith and it showed.
Why wasn’t Deangelo Williams more of a factor? He looked ready to have another 200 yard, 3 TD performance after bursting out for a 31 yard gain on the first drive. I’ll tell you about it. I hate this method of play calling. A team will go up by a touchdown early, notice it ran the ball well on that scoring drive, and decide to run the ball. On the Panthers second possession they called Run, Run, Run. On first it was predictable. No gain. On second and 10 it was not, gain of 8. On third and 2 is was predictable. No gain. Mix it up a little! When you say you are going to run, run, run it doesn’t have to be literal! Run, Run, Pass. Pass, Run, Run. Run, Pass, Run. They are all acceptable. Williams had 6 carries at this point in the game with the Panthers up 7. He would only touch the ball 6 more times. Once a team gives a back the ball three straight plays and they don’t gain 10 yards, they decide the run isn’t working and must throw it. Let me tell you, it doesn’t work well that way.
The shocking thing is the team that Delhomme had such a bad outing against. The Cardinals had given up 30+ points in four of their last six regular season games. The Eagles, Vikings, and Patriots combined to run for over 600 yards on them. They hadn’t forced more than one turnover against a team not named the Seahawks, 49ers, or Rams all season except for a week 5 Buffalo Bills Meltdown. If you can name a Cardinals defensive player you are a pretty decent football fan. Name two and you are on the ball. Name three and you really deserve credit. That covers Antrell Rolle, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Adrian Wilson (The former two having distinctive names). Name 4+ and you are either in a deep IDP fantasy league, are a Cardinals fan, or need to stop spending so much time watching/thinking/talking/dreaming about football. Ok, I named 8 off the top of my head but I CLEARLY need to stop spending so much time on football activities. My point is, they are mostly “no names”. They have three pro bowl appearances to split between the entire squad and with the exception of 3 or 4 high round picks they are mostly 3rd, 5th, 6th, and undrafted players. On the opposite side the Panthers have 7 or 8 first rounders that allowed 22 first downs and a 10/18 third down conversion rate. With the talent on that defense, Kurt Warner should be the one wallowing in the agony of utter failure.
Statistical Notes – Larry Fitzgerald has 20 catches, 496 yards, and 5 touchdowns in his last four games. Kurt warner is now 7-2 in postseason games. Edge averaged about 8 carries a game in the regular season and 18 in two playoff games. Steve Smith has 8 touchdowns in 8 playoff games. The Panthers allowed 15.5 points per game in their first 10 games this season, 29.5 in their last 7 games. The Cardinals defense allowed at least 323 yards in 11 of their last 14 games before the playoffs began. In two playoff games they have averaged 259 yards. 3 of the 5 Panthers losses this season came the only three times they did not rush for 100 yards . Tim Hightower has 12 touchdowns in 18 career games.
Ravens over Titans or “One RB who I think is not interchangeable…..”
A few weeks ago I voiced my opinion that Chris Johnson should at least get MVP consideration. The dynamic of the Titans offense changed very drastically when Chris Johnson left the field. The Titans offense gained 261 yards in A SINGLE HALF against the Ravens defense. When the cameras panned to the sidelines in the second half and showed the star running back in the big fluffy hooded jacket that screamed “He is not coming back in”, it conjured up images in my mind of the grim reaper standing there watching with his sickle firmly planted on the Titans Super Bowl dreams.
I argued earlier that last season’s Titan team was very similar in all aspects of the 2007 version of the group save one….This season’s team had a fast, athletic game breaker. They had a go to guy in the form of the dual threat home run hitting back. I think Lendale White is great in certain circumstances and is an excellent compliment to Johnson, but the team just isn’t the same with him as the every down guy.
I mentioned last week that I thought that the difference in this game would be the Quarterback play. I said that when the two teams faced last that Joe Flacco was a really green rookie and was prone to giving the ball away. This time around he had more than a full season worth of experience under his belt. The result? Pretty low numbers put up by Flacco overall but ZERO turnovers, ZERO sacks, and two really big plays. The first big play obviously as the 48 yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason. Flacco did a few important things on that drive to get to that point. First, he was able to push up the middle on 3rd and 1 to keep the drive alive. Second, he stood in the pocket with with 275 pound defensive tackle Jason Jones barreling down on him remaining calm and delivering an 8 yard completion while drawing a roughing the passer penalty. I really think the Joe Flacco of week 5 would have tucked and taken a big hit/lost yardage/fumbled or else tried to throw while evading the defender leading to an incompletion/interception and no roughing penalty.
I also mentioned that I wasn’t convinced that Kerry Collins could win a game for you if you needed it. He played all right but missed some big passes (Overshooting Justin Gage early in the first half, for instance.) He turned the ball over and took a big sack that gave the Ravens good field position but he probably played well enough to win.
One possession that I found to be….curious was after an Algae Crumpler red zone fumble gave the Ravens the ball on the 1 yard line. They needed some breathing room to avoid a potential safety or other disaster so Joe Flacco goes up the middle to get them out to the three. The next play they come out in the I formation with…..Leron Mclain up front. A few minutes later, we saw Leron Mclain limp/hop off the field. At this stage in the game in this spot on the field why give the ball to someone that could barely get off the field? Result? Back to the one yard line. Time to go to the air. Joe Flacco drops back and I SWEAR he stepped on the line in the back of the end zone before throwing an incomplete pass. Ouch. Somehow, Sam Koch managed to get a respectable punt off standing in the back of the end zone to give the Titans the ball at the Ravens 42 yard line.
What’s up with Justin Gage? In his six year career he has never caught more than 53 passes gained more than 750 yards. Last season, when the Titans needed a win to get in to the playoffs, he caught 7 balls for 104 yards. To wrap up homefield advantage against the Steelers in week 16 he caught five balls for 104 yards and a touchdown. In this big playoff game, he caught 10 passes for 135 yards. He has five career 100 yard games and all of them have come in big time situations.
In the end, I think the Ravens were pretty lucky to win this game. The Chris Johnson injury, two huge fumbles, and 12 Titans penalties helped them overcome deficits of 180 yards and five minutes time of possession.
A lot has been made of the delay of game no call. The play clock had clearly hit zero while two seconds ticked off the game clock and no flag was thrown. I hate to say it but if I’m the Titans or a Titans fan this is not something that I want to hang my hat on and say “See, this is why we lost the game.” This kind of call does not directly impact the game in a way that a holding call would. Yes, the rules are there for a reason and yes, this should have been a delay of game but there have been far worse calls by officials this season. The fact that the Ravens got away with something so minor doesn’t take away from the fact that the Titans shot themselves in the foot repeatedly during the contest.
Statistical Notes – The Ravens take away tear continues, with 32 in the last 11 games. Over that span they turned the ball over only 8 times. A +24 ratio is a good thing. The Ravens were held to under 100 yards rushing for only the second time this season. Their yards gained on Saturday was a season low and yards allowed a season high. The Ravens have allowed more than 13 points only once since week 12. Before this year, Derrick Mason’s last playoff win came when the Titans beat the Ravens in 2004.
As for what is on the menu this week….
Eagles (9-6-1) at Cardinals (9-7): (Eagles -3.5)
Yup, a Title game hosted by the Arizona Cardinals. Had the Chargers managed to beat the Steelers we would have seen the Title games hosted by teams with a combined record of 17-15. I’ve been saying this the last two weeks but I just can’t see the Cardinals winning this game. The Eagles absolutely destroyed the Cardinals in week 13. The Cardinals seemed to have changed significantly since that point and actually are running the ball. However, there is a big difference between running the ball with some success against teams ranked 28th and 20th in yards per carry allowed (Falcons and Panthers) and a team that is stout against the run (the Eagles are 4th in YPC allowed). The Cardinals will likely have to become one dimensional again early on. The Eagles have been able to move the ball well against 2 good defenses in the postseason so despite the sudden appearance of a defense in Arizona I do not think that they will have problems scoring points.
There is a possibility that the strange inept version of the Eagles shows up on Sunday. You know, the one that posted a tie against the Bengals? They tend to be a streaky team though and are pretty hot right now. I think Brian Westbrook poses a big problem for the Cardinals defense whose front seven is not all that talented.
The Eagles defense big weakness probably has been giving up big plays in the passing game. With Larry Fitzgerald playing like one of the few receivers who can take over a game, they have to watch out for that. I would think the Cardinals will try to go downfield in the first quarter to jump out to an early lead. Despite the good things I have said about Donovan Mcnabb I think that he tends to get a bit rattled if his team goes down by 10 or more points early and is more prone to mistakes.
Result: Eagles win fairly handily.
Ravens (11-5) at Steelers (12-4) – (Steelers -6)
The last two meetings between these two teams were excellent and I expect more of the same out of this one. The big issue for me is the injury report. Derrick Mason, Terrell Suggs, and Samari Rolle are all key Ravens players that are questionable. Without Mason, there simply is no passing game in Baltimore. He has been absolutely outstanding this year and is the only pass catcher who rookie Joe Flacco can count on consistently. Defensively I think they are good enough to survive if Rolle sits out but Terrell Suggs is a very important piece of this game. They need him out there to help chase down Willie Parker and attack Ben Roethlisberger.
Once again I think this is a game that will come down to quarterback play. Both teams have extremely tough defenses. Both teams, good running teams though they are, will probably have a hard time moving the ball on the ground. As well as Joe Flacco has played lately I think dealing with the Steelers intense pass rush is going to give him some major problems. He has to keep his head about himself and throw the ball away instead of trying to force something if the defense is coming at him. Big Ben is no stranger to getting hit as his offensive line has not really been spectacular at keeping him upright in recent years, but he handles pressure about as well as any QB in the league. He is no stranger the playoffs (6-2 career record) and is going into his third Title Game. I’ve been increasingly impressed with him and I think he will find a way to make just enough plays to put the Steelers in the Super Bowl.
Result: Pittsburgh wins by a field goal
Filed under: Articles, Predictions | Tagged: Cardinals, Chargers, Chris Johnson, Darren Sproles, Donovan McNabb, Eagles, Eli Manning, Giants, Jake Delhomme, Joe Flacco, Kerry Collins, Larry Fitzgerald, Panthers, Philip Rivers, Ravens, Steelers, Titans | 1 Comment »